The Bumpy Road to WrestleMania 32

It seems of late that many WWE bloggers have seized on the opportunity to twist the WWE’s annual “Road to WrestleMania” metaphor that is used to create hype for WrestleMania season.  I figured I might as well join in the fun, considering the state of affairs in the current WWE landscape.  Between the rash of injuries, questionable storylines, a failed “Divas Revolution”, and the horrific decision to make Roman Reigns the WWE champion, there has been a viewer exodus of WWE programming since the beginning of 2015. There is both empirical and measurable evidence that 2015 ended on a sour note for the WWE and that things aren’t looking up any time soon.  The timing couldn’t be worse as we are just about 3 months away from WrestleMania 32 at AT&T Stadium, a facility which has the potential to hold the largest crowd ever to attend a WrestleMania event.

Injuries on The Road to WrestleMania

There seems to be a WrestleMania 31 curse on anybody who won or retained a men’s championship at last year’s event at Levi’s Stadium:

  • WWE Tag Team Champions Tyson Kidd and Cesaro are both on the shelf with injuries. Tyson Kidd suffered a career-ending injury and was nearly killed in the ring when he broke his neck during a match with a careless Samoa Joe.  Cesaro injured his shoulder and is out indefinitely following surgery.
  • Daniel Bryan wasn’t able to defend the WWE InterContinental title he won at WM 31, having suffered a career-ending concussion shortly thereafter. The WWE medical staff will not clear Bryan to return and we have seen the last of the charismatic fan-favorite as an in-ring competitor.
  • John Cena won the WWE United States Championship at WrestleMania 31. In early January 2016, he announced on Twitter that he was having surgery on his shoulder.  The timeline for his return is unknown, but he won’t be back for WrestleMania 32 in an in-ring capacity for sure.
  • Seth Rollins saw his inspirational WWE World Heavyweight Championship run come to an abrupt end when he broke a knee during a match with Kane on a recent European tour. He had to vacate the title and will be lucky to be back in the ring by the time SummerSlam rolls around. This is probably the most upsetting story out of the four as his surprise championship win at WrestleMania 31 was the feel-good story of the year in the WWE.

The curse didn’t stop with the champions at WrestleMania 31, as several other talents that were prominently featured on the show were also felled with major injuries:

  • A decrepit 56-year-old Sting, who had no business in a WWE ring at his age, suffered a neck injury at WWE Night of Champions against Seth Rollins. Sting, of course, jobbed to Triple-H at WrestleMania 31.  His WWE career pay-per-view record has ended at a pathetic 0 and 2.
  • Randy Orton defeated Seth Rollins in a hotly-contested grudge match at WrestleMania 31. In late October, he badly dislocated his shoulder while taking out the trash.  The subsequent operation to repair the damage is going to keep him out for an extended period of time.  It’s unknown if he will recover in time for WrestleMania 32, but it doesn’t seem likely.

Considering the fact that none of these competitors will be physically able to compete in time for WrestleMania 32, it is going to have a drastically different look than last year’s event.  But it is going to be a big question mark as to who on the current roster, or what legends will be called out of retirement, will be featured in the main events this year.

Bad Storylines

When professional wrestling is at its best, you can find yourself immersed in a match that tells a story and you forget that it is a work.  When it is at its worst, you get bad television which not only ruins the moment, it damages the talents that are forced to participate in them, leaving them as afterthoughts in most fans minds.

While there have been a lot of poor story arcs in the WWE in the past 8-9 months, the one that stands out to me as the worst was the Dolph ZigglerSummer RaeRusevLana love square.  Not only was it bad television at the time, but it did irreparable damage to each of the four talents that will dog them for the rest of their careers.

Dolph Ziggler has floundered in the mid-card for his entire career so he pretty much broke even at the end of this debacle.  Summer Rae was already the kiss of death (see her association with Fandango) for anybody she latched on to, so she as well wasn’t harmed much.

The one who suffered the most from this mess was Rusev.  Headed into WrestleMania 31, he was among the hottest heels on the roster.  He was booked strongly with a “destroyer from an enemy country” gimmick. His pairing with Lana was one of the few instances in recent years that an association with a diva was helpful for a superstar rather than harmful.  He had an undefeated streak and was on a roll.

Once Rusev lost to John Cena at WrestleMania 31, his momentum slowed down.  He could have easily recovered had he not ended up in this storyline.  Whereas Lana made him look strong and powerful, Summer Rae made him look weak and vulnerable.  Mercifully, the angle was killed off abruptly when TMZ reported that Lana and Rusev were engaged in real life.

Rusev was once again paired with Lana, but the damage was done.  Instead of being a feared and hated destroyer, he’s now languishing in the mid-card as a member of the hastily arranged “League of Nations”.   Anytime he enters the ring, it is hard to take him seriously as someone who can win any match he is in.  In fact, he’s expected to lose.

Early in 2015, Rusev was poised to become a main event-level heel.  His entanglement in one bad storyline has destroyed his credibility.  At a time when the WWE desperately needs talent to step up to replace those on the injured list, Rusev is not currently an option to take that spot due to bad booking.  It remains to see if he can recover at all.

The Divas Revolution

I can’t remember a time as a wrestling fan that a fellow fan has ever said to me: “I can’t wait to see the Divas match at the next WWE Pay Per View”.  I also can’t find any evidence that a Divas match has ever ended a pay-per-view.  It doesn’t seem to me that the division has been much of a draw of any kind for the WWE.  Conversely, the Divas matches on the development promotion, NXT have drawn critical praise and the division has drawn the attention from senior management within the WWE.

Following the momentum of the NXT Divas division brief success, the WWE decided to double-down on the main roster WWE Divas division by calling up several NXT talents at once and calling it a “Divas Revolution”.  Several months into this Divas Revolution, not much has changed at all.  In fact, it’s likely that this Divas Revolution has done the talents more harm than good.

The Divas segments on Raw (the word Diva still drives me nuts!) are nearly unwatchable.  It is impossible to distinguish between the babyfaces and the heels.  Their matches are three minutes long and are filled with blown spots. Despite his involvement in the story with his daughter Charlotte, not even Ric Flair himself has been able to save this train wreck of a division.  Some revolution this turned out to be.

Roman Reigns as Champ

It was rumored for years that Roman Reigns was the golden boy, the chosen one that Vince McMahon personally selected as the next megastar babyface champion and face of the company.  The WWE fans made it clear during the Royal Rumble in 2015 that they were not onboard with that sentiment.  The booking decision to have Roman Reigns win the Rumble was met with a near-revolt from the Philly fans in attendance that night and the Internet crowd wasn’t much better.

The WWE wisely decided against making Reigns the champion at WrestleMania 31 and instead put the title strap on Seth Rollins.  Rollins carried the title well during his reign, slowly winning over critics as time went by.  During that same time, Reigns continued to flounder, showing no improvement whatsoever.  He still can’t carry a long promo and his matches lack basic ring psychology.

Late in 2015, the WWE made the fateful decision to make Roman Reigns the champion.  They booked him as the underdog against The Authority, reprising a tired and old storyline that goes back to the Attitude Era and Stone Cold Steve Austin’s days a champion.  The biggest problem here is that Reigns still isn’t very good and the fans aren’t buying the underdog angle at all.

Headed into WrestleMania XXX, Daniel Bryan gained a lot of momentum with his conflict with The Authority.  The big difference with Daniel Bryan was that senior WWE management really didn’t like him at all and were frustrated by the fan base that demanded he become champion.  They finally caved and made him the champion when it was apparent that the fans were not going to accept Batista in that spot.  The Roman Reigns conflict with the authority, however, has no basis in reality.  Everybody knows that this is the opposite situation and that management was behind Reigns all along.  This is not an organic movement and the fans are still not behind Reigns.

Right now, the Roman Reigns experiment has us facing a situation with a weak hand-picked champion, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Lex Luger’s run as champion over twenty years ago.  He isn’t going to approve any time soon, or probably ever, and we are likely stuck with him at the top for quite some time.

What Happens Next?

Time marches on and The Royal Rumble is upon us.  Right now we know virtually nothing about the WrestleMania 32 card of who will be featured on it.  We could see some faces from the past such as Bill Goldberg or Shawn Michaels come out of retirement to add a jolt to the card.  We could see current mid-card stars such as Kevin Owens be called on to carry main event level matches.  We could see NXT talents such as Finn Bálor called up to the main roster.  No matter what happens, all we can do is hope for the best headed into WrestleMania season, and hopefully get a turnaround from what has been a big downturn in the quality of the WWE product as of late.

WWE Night of Champions Analysis and Predictions

Coming off of an exciting SummerSlam weekend in August that saw the WWE sell out the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn three nights in a row, the WWE found a way to grind things to a screeching halt with the events that transpired following the big event.  In somewhat of an unfortunate turn of events, they brought back several relics from the past that are way past their prime, they bombarded us with the dreadful “Diva’s Revolution”, and they derailed a promising young talent’s progress by putting him in an emasculating love triangle.

Even with all of this nonsense, there is some potential for at least half of the card to be decent at this Sunday’s Night of Champions, which will be anchored by the top heel in the company, WWE Champion Seth Rollins.  Let’s take a look at what to expect:

Neville and The Lucha Dragons (Kalisto and Sin Cara) vs. The Cosmic Wasteland (The Ascension (Konnor and Viktor) and Stardust)

The first match advertised on the card isn’t all that interesting.  There hasn’t been much of a build up for this six-man feud.  The natural tag teams in this contest don’t have much momentum right now.  The Ascension is one of the rare few NXT call-ups of late that failed to catch on.  The Lucha Dragons are a one-dimensional act that have virtually no personality.  The Neville and Stardust feud could be interesting, but they keep getting paired with other talents so their animosity towards each other gets lost in the shuffle.

I don’t expect this match to impress from either an emotional or stylistic standpoint.  We may see a few high spots from the Neville lead high flyers, but those tend to get boring after you’ve seen them enough times.

Prediction: Winners, The Cosmic Wasteland

Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and TBA vs. The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, and Braun Strowman)

A second six-man tag team match pits the old Shield against the newly re-formed Wyatt family. You get the impression that the WWE feels like they split these two factions up too quickly and never capitalized on what could have been a money-making extended feud during their original run so they are trying to re-capture that lightning in a bottle by staging this match.

The Wyatt Family now features a new member, NXT rookie Braun Strowman.  Strowman has the look and attitude of a potentially successful character player in the WWE.  Early impressions are that he is being packaged in a gimmick that works well naturally for him, that of an evil and brutal big man that can’t be pushed around by the babyfaces.  I’ve been critical of Bray Wyatt getting stale of late, but at least a new member gives the Wyatt Family something different to work with.

The same can’t be said for Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. Ambrose continues to show promise after having worked several main-event programs last year.  Unfortunately, he is once again tasked with carrying the underperforming Roman Reigns in a match.  If you don’t believe my repeated criticisms of Roman Reigns, take a listen to a recent Stone Cold Steve Austin Podcast at around the 1:25 mark.  In the midst of reviewing SummerSlam, Austin ripped Roman’s performance to shreds in extreme detail.  As only an insider of Austin’s stature can, he pointed out every single hole in Reign’s game and listed everything that he should be doing better.  From the way he smiles too much, to his inability to work a credible offense set, to his inability to sell, and to his inability to buy time in his matches, Austin made a great case for why Reigns needs to go back to school and learn how to wrestle.

There are a lot of theories on line on who the unannounced third member of The Shield’s team will be.  Could be a returning regular like Kane or Randy Orton, could be an NXT rookie making his surprise in-ring debut.  Hopefully, whomever it is will be ready to make up for Reign’s lack of ability and has some chemistry with the Wyatt Family.

It feels like it is a safe bet that The Wyatt Family goes over this time.  They will likely want to showcase the new big man in Braun Stroman and get him over as a crusher that can’t be stopped. Whomever is the TBA will likely not be involved in the finish.

Prediction: Winners, The Wyatt Family

Nikki Bella (c) vs. Charlotte in a singles match for the WWE Divas Championship; If Bella gets counted out or disqualified, she will lose the title.

You got all that?  Eh, don’t bother.  I’ll skip straight to the prediction, not even the daughter of one of the all-time-greats can save this train wreck of a match.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev

I am outright bewildered when I watch what the WWE has done to Rusev.  After building him up for almost an entire year as a superior athlete that hates America and destroys anybody in his path, they have systematically reduced him to a henpecked wuss in a matter of months.

When Lana was Rusev’s spokesperson, her speeches gave Rusev depth that he wouldn’t have had on his own.  She told his story and made the crowd hate him. Her presence only empowered Rusev and made him seem stronger and dominant.

His pairing with Summer Rae has rapidly destroyed the illusion that he is a force to be reckoned with.  Not only do the two have no chemistry with each other, but she has done nothing but make him seem like a oppressed loser who doesn’t even realize that he is being dragged down by their relationship.  Who would take him seriously these days as someone who is a legitimate threat to his opponents?

Dolph Ziggler peaked as a professional years ago.  He doesn’t have the skill set to work as a babyface but he has been stuck in that role for quite some time.  He moves from feud to feud with little stability or direction.  His pairing with Lana doesn’t do much to enhance his character as the two also have no chemistry with each other.

At the heart of the animosity between Ziggler and Rusev is the rivalry between Summer Rae and Lana.  This rivalry has given us some of the worst TV the WWE has produced in years.  I’m not saying I’m happy that Lana was recently injured, but if I had to watch one more barefoot catfight between her and Summer Rae, I was going to kick a hole in my television.  The dopey jealousy angle between the women and the men and the cringe-worthy locker room scene with Summer Rae and Ziggler are just an outright insult to the fans intelligence.  All I can hope for is that this match ends this debacle and they all move along in separate directions when this is all over.

The match itself could be OK if Rusev and Ziggler were left alone to work with one another.  Ziggler has a tendency to over-sell, but Rusev is already a ring general that can work with anybody.  Sadly, there is no doubt that the women will play some sort of role in this match and it is not going to be for the better.

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

The New Day (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz in a Tag team match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

The New Day were unable to get over as a babyface faction so they turned heel.  They are so good as heels that the crowd now cheers them!  It goes to show that in today’s wrestling product, kayfabe is dead and the fans will decide who the good and bad guys are and can no longer be dictated to.  It also goes to show that the three members of this faction, Kingston, Woods, and Big E are all better off as a team than as solo competitors.  None of them were ever as interesting as individuals as they are now as a team.  I also love how they use the Freebird Rule to randomly choose two members each night to defend the titles.  It keeps the fans guessing and gives us unexpected moments whenever they compete.

It speaks volumes for the state of the tag team division that the WWE had to resurrect the careers of The Dudley Boyz and put them into the tile mix against The New Day for lack of a better opponent.  The Dudleys were given a hero’s reception by the crowd, but many people seem to have forgotten that the Dudleyz were most effective as heels during The Attitude Era, cheating and terrorizing their opponents by putting them through tables.

For personal reasons, it is difficult for me to me to be happy to see the Dudley Boyz again and it has all to do with an in-person encounter with one of them.  I’ve had opportunities to meet three professional wrestlers in my lifetime:

  1. I was childhood friends with Crowbar and we remain in touch to this day. I went to watch him wrestle at Iron Mike Sharpe’s school while he was still in training.  He was, and is to this day, the best kind of guy there is, he’d give you the shirt off his back.
  2. I met The Undertaker during Fan Axess the week before WrestleMania XXIX here in New Jersey. I paid for the VIP experience to meet Ric Flair, but unfortunately, his son died a few days before the event and he was replaced by The Undertaker.  My disappointment in not getting to meet flair was tempered by getting a chance to meet one of my other all-time favorites.  While our encounter was brief, I still thought it was cool to meet the man and he was very polite and friendly.  I asked him about his motorcycle and we spent about 45 seconds talking about riding while he posed for a picture with me.  It was a cool experience.

    WWE Fan Axess Undertaker Meet and Greet

    I took this picture while on line to meet The Undertaker at WWE Fan Axxess prior to WrestleMania XXIX

  3. A friend of mine and I spotted Bubba Ray Dudley at Bar Anticipation in New Jersey in the summer of 2011. My buddy suggested we go say hi and I agreed and we approached him.  The guy couldn’t have been a bigger jerk, waiving us off as if we didn’t exist.

I’m a big boy and it really didn’t matter too much to me that Bubba Ray told us to get lost at a bar.  Call me petty and immature if you will, but a jerk is a jerk and there is no way I’m rooting for The Dudleyz against one of my favorite current teams on the roster.

This match could be entertaining to watch especially if The New Day finds a creative way to use their numbers advantage to cheat.  No matter what happens or who wins, expect someone to go through a table.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Tag Team Champions, The New Day

Ryback (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Kevin Owens has shown flashes of greatness in his short time on the WWE main roster.  He made a splash with huge victory over John Cena in his first match, and although he went on to lose his next two to Cena, he made an indelible mark on the fan base as a rookie to watch.  I particularly enjoy his promos, he can convey many characteristics at the same time, mainly cowardice, false bravado, and most importantly, disrespect.  The way he needles his foes automatically makes you want to sympathize with them.  He has all the makings of one of the biggest wrestling heels we’ve ever seen. That along with his innovative in-ring style gives him unlimited potential in the WWE if he continues to improve.

Ryback works his role as a mid-carder admirably, finally earning his first singles WWE title when he became the IC Champ earlier this year when Daniel Bryan had to vacate the championship.  He works a kid-friendly superhero gimmick with a few over-used catch phrases.  At the very least, his matches tend to always feature a feat of strength that is fun to watch.

This match should have some dramatic false-finishes, and I’d expect both men to take a serious beating throughout its duration.  I’d give a slight edge to Owens as this could be a good time to continue his push by giving him a championship he can brag about and taunt his opponents with.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens

Seth Rollins (c) vs. John Cena in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

You’d be hard pressed to find a guy who has had a better year than Seth Rollins in quite some time.  He stole the WWE Championship in the main event at WrestleMania, a match he wasn’t even booked in.  He spent the following months as the top heel in the company, all along barely hanging on to his championship, like any good wrestling bad guy should.  He capped off a solid summer by defeating John Cena to win The United States Championship at SummerSlam and now is a dual-title holder.  Go ahead, name someone who had a better year in recent memory than that!

John Cena is continuing on in his role as the mid-carder who helps younger talents look good.  He hardly ever works main events anymore, but his persona is consistent to the point of constant frustration by the fans.  He never gets the credit he deserves for being a solid in-ring worker that can put on an entertaining match with anybody.

This match should go on early in the card, most likely first.  It will set up the main event that also features Rollins defending his WWE Championship.  I would expect that he will take a beating so as to give him a perceived disadvantage when he faces Sting in the last match of the night.  Cena and Rollins have already put on some entertaining matches against each other this year and they won’t disappoint when they meet again on Sunday.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Seth Rollins

Seth Rollins (c) vs. Sting in a Singles Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

In his second match of the night, Seth Rollins is going to be tasked with carrying the decrepit and haggard Sting.  For the second time this year, the WCW retread has been given featured booking on a pay-per-view.  Following his loss to Triple H at WrestleMania 31, Sting somehow managed to get himself into title contention with an 0-1 record.  Granted, win and loss records don’t mean much in professional wrestling, but it is a stretch to think that he’s actually earned this title shot.

I still don’t get why people are fascinated with Sting as a special attraction.  He wasn’t very good when he was young in the NWA, AWA, and WCW.  The only difference between then and now is that he’s a heck of a lot older and hasn’t worked regularly in years.  His match against Triple H at WrestleMania really only worked because of the outside interference by a slew of WWE Hall of Famers distracted us from what was going on inside the ring. Don’t expect much more out of him this time around.

I’m hoping for Rollins’ sake this match ends up halfway decent.  It is likely that there will be some sort of interference from someone on the outside on Rollins behalf, continuing along his path as a cheating heel who pulls out all the stops to win his matches.  There was a tease that Sheamus is going to cash in his Money-In-The-Bank championship shot but I don’t think that is in the cards this time around.  It feels like it makes the most sense for Rollins to continue his championship run and for Sheamus to continue to bide his time to wait for the most opportune time to cash in and win the championship.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Seth Rollins

There could be some surprises built into this show, especially if Kane or Randy Orton somehow get involved.  It will also be fun to watch how Rollins performs in two big matches on the same card and the measures he will resort to in order to try to retain both titles.

WrestleMania 31 Postscript

The WWE gave us a nod to its past and a glimpse of its future with a solidly packed five hour long extravaganza last Sunday, WrestleMania 31.  It was a show full of pageantry, drama, and excitement and can’t believe that just two weeks before the show I wasn’t necessarily thrilled with how the card was shaping up.

I watched the show the way it should be done, with a room full of WWE fans in my apartment.  I spent all day cooking up a feast for everyone and had the WWE Network on all day.  We did what wrestling fans love to do, talk about wrestling with each other all day!  There weren’t too many Roman Reigns fans in attendance.

I took a ribbing from my friends as the show progressed and my picks that I blogged prior to the show didn’t exactly pan out the way I had predicted.  I was accused of being biased and told that maybe I should blog about gardening instead.  Well, I got some things right:

  • Cesaro and Tyson Kidd retained the WWE Tag Team titles. OK, who cares?
  • The Divas match sucked.
  • Triple H defeated Sting.

If I was going to get one pick right, I’m glad that it was Triple H.  I hated the whole Sting storyline and have very little regard for him as a wrestler, especially at age 56.  The fans were convinced that there was no way Sting was going to come to the WWE for one match just to lose it.  Well, that’s exactly what happened and I couldn’t be happier that match will define Sting’s WWE legacy.  It made no sense at all that they would have Triple H lose to a one-and-done relic like sting given the long term plans they have for him as the head villain in the WWE.  I have to hand it to myself on this one, I saw it coming a mile away!

Throw in the pre-show and WrestleMania was five hours long.  There’s a lot to say about the show, about both the matches that were announced, and the things we didn’t see coming at all.

The intensity of the wrestlers entrances was somewhat dampened by the daylight on the West Coast at the time.  It was particularly noticeable for Triple H, Bray Wyatt, and The Undertaker.  The production value they put in to some of the more elaborate ones more than made up for the lack of darkness.  The Triple H entrance was a classic, and even Sting’s intro was fun to watch.

The André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was more entertaining than I thought it would be, it worked well as part of the pre-show.  There were a few interesting spots with Curtis Axel and The MIz and Mizdow.  They even teased a repeat of last year’s finish with Cesaro tossing The Big Show over the top, but it wasn’t to be as The Show broke free and eliminated Cesaro and then the rest of his opponents to win the trophy.

I wouldn’t say that any one particular match is going to be remembered as a classic, but there were many surprise moments, and as a whole the show took an unexpected direction.  From a technical standpoint, probably the best match was Seth Rollins vs Randy Orton, particularly the crazy reversal of the curb stomp into an RKO for the finish.  But I felt like that underachieved a bit and could have been better had it gone longer.

The nod to the past was mainly apparent in the Triple H vs Sting match.  We were treated to a spontaneous re-creation of the Monday Night Wars as represented by members of The nWo and Degeneration-X who made run-ins during the match.  This was likely done to help cover the fact that Sting is too old and withered to carry a one-on-one match at WrestleMania.

Both the nod to the past and the glimpse of the future were evident in the surprise long-running segment that pitted Stephanie McMahon and Triple H against The Rock and Ronda Rousey of UFC fame.  This segment wasn’t even rumored to take place before the show.  There were rumblings that The Rock was going to join the show but nobody predicted that Ronda Rousey would end up in a WWE ring as part of the show. This segment was very likely a commercial for a huge event involving The Rock and Ronda Rousey as special participants, perhaps even at WrestleMania 32 next year in Dallas when the WWE will need a special attraction in order to break their WrestleMania III attendance record of 93,173.

The Undertaker looked good in his return, sporting a leaner physique than we’ve seen in previous years.  The lack of an undefeated streak to defend certainly gave his match against Bray Wyatt much less of a dramatic feel than a typical Undertaker ‘Mania clash, but it was good to see The Deadman erase any doubt that he could still compete at the highest level even on the week of his 50th birthday.

The main event championship match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns took an unexpected twist. Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract during the list minute of the match, turning it into a triple-threat contest and ultimately stealing the title in a feel-good moment to end the night.

This match was shorter than most WrestleMania events, likely victim to the time crunch caused by the Rousey segment.  Brock Lesnar cemented his status as the most popular superstar on the active roster today, and Roman Reigns didn’t do much to disprove his detractors that he was good enough to perform in a WrestleMania main event.  I was surprised that Seth Rollins stole a victory by cashing in the MITB contract, it is unusual for a WrestleMania event take a twist like that, most of the time it is just focused on the announced participants of the match.  Either way, you had to be happy for Seth Rollins as he got his hands on his first WWE championship in his third WrestleMania match.

Wins and losses in professional wrestling are obviously meaningless, but there are winners and losers in another sense.  People can come out of WrestleMania riding a wave of momentum headed into the next round of pay-per-views, or they can watch their current push go down the drain and head into mid-card purgatory for the foreseeable future.  Let’s take a look at the losers and winners.

The Losers

Daniel Bryan

How is Daniel Bryan a loser coming off of a win in the opening match to capture The Intercontinental Championship?  Simple, put it in the context of his career.  Last year, the fans propelled him to an improbable WWE Championship main-event win at WrestleMania XXX.  This year, he has been demoted to the mid-card and with the IC title around his waist, he is not going to be in the mix with Seth Rollins for the WWE Championship anytime soon.  Quite a fall from grace in just one year.

Sting

His WrestleMania legacy will consist of one match in that he looked old, slow, and incapable of holding together a one-on-one match without a major run-in from over a half-dozen others.  Farewell Sting, you won’t be missed.

Rusev

This guy rode a monster push in his rookie year that carried him to a high-profile match against John Cena at WrestleMania and it was predicated on his undefeated streak.  Now that streak is gone and expect him to slide back down the card.  His entrance was one of the best I’ve ever seen at WrestleMania, though.  Where did they get an actual tank from?

Roman Reigns

Just as every expected, the crowd was not on his side during his match.  He exhibited the same predictable offensive move set that he does in all of his matches and really failed to get over as the babyface savior that the WWE wanted him to become.  This will probably be the last pay-per-view main event for him in a while, perhaps ever.  I predict that if he’s not re-packaged, he will be gone in a year or two.

The Tag Team Division

There is not much excitement in this division right now.  The New Day gimmick couldn’t get over with a catapult, one of The Uso’s are hurt, Los Matadores never really had any momentum, and Cesaro and Kidd are a couple of retreads that are still searching for something that will make them stars.  This match wasn’t any better than anything we’d see on Raw or Smackdown.  This division is going to need an overhaul if anybody is ever going to care about it.

John Cena

There was a theory that if Brock Lesnar retained the championship that John Cena was going to be given the WWE US Championship at WrestleMania so that he could be the “main event guy” for house shows and pay-per-views that Lesnar did not perform on.  Only one of the two happened, so much for that theory.  This is the beginning of the winding down of John Cena’s career, don’t expect to see him in the main event picture as often as he used to.

Dean Ambrose

The high-profile program he worked while Roman Reigns was on the shelf really elevated his status in the minds of the fans. It looks like he is now on his way to being the first member of The Shield to be forgotten.  He’ll need to turn it around soon or he will turn into a full-time jobber.

Bray Wyatt

Wins and losses don’t always matter in the WWE, but the guy is off to a 0-2 start at WrestleMania.  He’s going to have to win some high profile matches or a title if fans are going to take him seriously.

Roman Reigns

This was his shot to win a main event at WrestleMania and he did not get over.  Towards the end of the match when he began to gain the upper hand on Brock Lesnar, the crowd could not have been more vocal in their disapproval.  They went so far as to cheer the heel Seth Rollins when he beat Reigns just because it meant that Reigns would not win the title.

The Roman Reigns experiment at the top of the card was a failure.  He did not get over as the babyface savior and he will need to be repackaged if he is ever going to win over the crowd.  Perhaps they should send him back to NXT for a few years to work things out.

The Divas

For yet another WrestleMania, The Divas match proved to be a waste of time, a kind of “working intermission” that gave the fans a chance to take a break without halting the show completely.  This situation is not going to change any time soon, The Divas will never work a meaningful WrestleMania match.

The Winners

The Big Show

It was good to see The Big Show finally win a WrestleMania match, his record is less than stellar.  The tired old bit of “let’s all gang up on the big guy” didn’t pan out and for once Show didn’t live up to his reputation as a jobber.  He should get some mileage out of this win.

Triple H

The Game still has it, he worked his way through that match with a nasty looking injury on his left leg.  Following that, it looks like he inserted himself into a potential return of The Rock and some sort of confrontation with Ronda Rousey.  Triple H will endure as one of the most important characters on the roster.

Shawn Michaels

Even if only for a brief moment, it was great to see the retired Mr. WrestleMania steal the spotlight and work the crowd like only he can.  It only lasted a few seconds but his superkick to Sting followed by an unapologetic stare down with the crowd was classic heel work at its best.  He’s still got it.

The Undertaker

The Deadman silenced his doubters and made his successful return to WrestleMania with a resounding win against Bray Wyatt.  There were rumors that ‘Taker was old and out of shape, but he came out looking much better than he did last year, appearing to have trimmed down, and with an actual real haircut again.  Look to see him again at WrestleMania 32 in Dallas and it wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see him on TV again until that day.

Brock Lesnar

Lesnar came into and left WrestleMania 31 as the hottest talent on the roster.  He had the crowd in his pocket and delivered a masterful performance in the ring last Sunday. Lesnar plays his part better than anybody else does in the WWE these days.  He is a must-see attraction, and with his part-time contract in hand, plan on seeing him show up for only the biggest events going forward for quite some time.

Paul Heyman

The best talker in the business can hang on for as long as he wants as Brock Lesnar’s advocate, or he can split off from Brock and partner with one or many of his opponents going forward.  Either way, the fans are going to eat up everything he says and give him one of the largest ovations of the night every time he speaks.  This was the third WrestleMania in a row that Heyman played a large part in, and expect that trend to continue for the former ECW mastermind.

WWE Developmental Promotion NXT

Most fans who complain that NXT talents aren’t given good enough pushes when brought to the main roster don’t understand the big picture.  Watch the progression of NXT call-ups Bray Wyatt, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Luke Harper, and Rusev and where they are today.  Each of them spent considerable time in NXT and were brought to the WWE main roster with a plan and a commitment, and thus far every one of them has turned into a star and participated in a high-profile match at WrestleMania 31.  There are a few misses along the way (Xavier Woods and Tyson Kidd for example) but expect the investment in NXT to pay off as a pipeline for new talents for years to come.  If you haven’t watched the show on the WWE Network, check out some guys like Kevin Owens and Finn Baylor.

Ronda Rousey

Nobody saw this angle coming, who would have predicted that Ronda Rousey would appear in a WWE ring at WrestleMania?  Ronda is a cross-industry superstar in several facets of sports and entertainment, building off her brand as the Most Dangerous Woman in the World.  Her bread-and-butter will continue to be her participation in the UFC Women’s division (note, that they don’t use the word “diva” in UFC!) but it seems like this angle is going to continue in the WWE and that we haven’t seen the last of Rowdy Ronda.  This could very well have been a preview for WrestleMania 32.

Seth Rollins

The man of the hour at WrestleMania was Seth Rollins.  Although many speculated that he could cash in the Money in the Bank contract during or after the main event, it seemed unlikely to me that the WWE would throw in a swerve like that and would stick to the one-on-one matchup of Reigns and Lesnar.  Well, that theory was incorrect and Rollins’ run-in with the MITB contract in the last minute of the match created an indelible WrestleMania moment as he stole the WWE Championship.  Rollins came up to the WWE main roster with a chip on his shoulder after having spent 2½ years in NXT developmental.  When he was given the chance, he ran with the opportunity he was given and eventually outshined his former Shield teammates and is now the top heel on the roster.

What’s next?

The Monday Night Raw following WrestleMania has given us a look at how the next few pay-per-views, and possibly even WrestleMania 32 are going to shape up.

The vicious beatings that Brock Lesnar delivered to the announce team and a camera man on Raw are going to be remembered for quite some time.  His subsequent “suspension” was a way of keeping him off of TV for some time until he makes his return to take a run at the title, I’m guessing at SummerSlam.

It was good to see Sheamus return with a new look and a new attitude on Raw.  He immediately inserted himself into a feud with either Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, or both.  I would expect this angle to turn into a highly entertaining set of matches in the coming month or two.

We got another call up from NXT when Neville made his debut on the main roster. Save for one match on Raw last year, we have only seen him on NXT.  I’m not sure what is with this last-name-only movement the WWE has instituted on new talents, but I would expect them to be very high on his abilities and he should work a high-profile program soon.

Seth Rollins has two potential opponents for his title in Randy Orton and Roman Reigns.  It seems likely that one of those two is going to get a shot at the title at the next pay-per-view, Extreme Rules.  In my opinion, the WWE is at its best when the champion is a heel and the babyface roster is chasing the title.

Not much was mentioned about it on Raw, but planning for WrestleMania 32 is already well underway.  There is a lot that can happen between now and then, especially among the 11 pay-per-views that will take place over the next year.  Expect evolving storylines that reach their crescendo at ‘Mania 32 involving The Undertaker, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, John Cena, Brock Lesnar and Triple H for sure, and possibly also involving The Rock, and Ronda Rousey.

Expert WrestleMania 31 Analysis and Picks (part 2 of 3)

This is the second of a three-part series of my expert analysis and picks for the entire card.  Just three days to go until WrestleMania 31 in San Jose, California.  Excitement has never been higher following the announcement of the most public contract renewal in WWE history.  The Internet wrestling fan community erupted when news broke on Tuesday evening that Brock Lesnar had renewed his contract and will stay on past WrestleMania, thus ending his MMA career and ending speculation that he was going to return to The UFC.

In this article, I’m going to discuss Lesnar’s contract renewal and the domino effect it could have on the entire card.  I’m also going to break down and pick the mid-card matches between Triple H and Sting, Rusev and John Cena, and Randy Orton and Seth Rollins.

The Lesnar Contract Renewal

The rumors started in early 2014 but really picked up steam after June 2 when The Shield broke up unexpectedly on Monday Night Raw.  What had been a white-hot babyface faction was suddenly no more and all three competitors were about to go their separate ways.  The dirt sheets and rumor mill websites began to spread word that a monster babyface push was in store for Roman Reigns as a singles competitor, and it would culminate in a wins at the 2015 Royal Rumble and in a championship main event match against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31.  Lesnar would then step aside from the WWE and return to the UFC.

At the time, Roman Reigns was largely an unknown commodity as a singles competitor.  His promos and matches were almost exclusively held with his Shield teammates Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Any weaknesses he may have had either on the mic or in the ring could have been masked by the other two. I thought it was rather odd at the time that they would have already projected Reigns as the chosen one given that he had yet to prove himself.   I also was rather annoyed that the ending for WrestleMania 31 was leaked to the public about nine months before it happened.  But, I chose not to think too much of it as fact-checking and most wrestling websites do not tend to go hand-in-hand.  There was plenty of time to wait for the situation to develop so I sat back and watched.

And watched I did as Reigns began to underwhelm as a singles competitor.  His offensive move set was limited and repetitive.  His catch phrase was uninteresting and his promos were weak.  I felt that there was no way that they could continue with the rumored plan (if that rumor was even true to begin with) and they would have to give someone else the title shot.

Of course, Reigns went on to win The Royal Rumble and the crowd in Philadelphia was having none of it. Even a surprise appearance by The Rock couldn’t save the show, a victorious Reigns was booed out of the building.  A friend of mine who was at the show summed it up like this: the problem was that everybody there knew exactly what was going to happen.  The Internet fan community reacted similarly to the live crowd in Philly, denouncing Reigns and lamenting the eventuality that would be his win at WrestleMania.

The Road to WrestleMania was off to a bumpy start.  This was not the reaction the WWE was hoping for, and they seemingly had to change course in booking decisions.  Instead of showcasing Reigns as the one and only savior that could challenge and beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship, they had to spend the last two months trying to convince us that he was actually good enough to even be in the WrestleMania main event to begin with.

Most of us had resigned ourselves to the realization that the rumors from last year were true and that they were going to stick to the plan; Roman Reigns was going to win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania and Brock Lesnar was going to walk away from the company. The betting lines on Bovada reflected that sentiment as Reigns was the heavy favorite to win.

Well, the entire wrestling world was shaken to its core on Tuesday when word broke that Lesnar had re-signed with the WWE.  The WWE themselves broke the news on their website.  Never before have had they publicly commented on a contract signing like this, especially during WrestleMania week.  The blogosphere and twitterverse was abuzz with speculation that the plan might now change now that Lesnar was going to stay on and that he may retain the title.  Within a day, Lesnar became the favorite to win on Bovada.

Speculation also began about the effect this could have on the rest of the card.  As my fellow expert WWE blogger Bill Hanstock summed up, there is a theory that with Lesnar continuing on as a part-time champion that the WWE will elevate the secondary Intercontinental and United States championships by awarding them to Daniel Bryan and John Cena respectively so that they can carry the pay-per-view main events with them that Lesnar is not obligated to compete in.

I’m not sure that I buy all that and I am not backing off of my earlier prediction that Bad News Barrett is going to retain the IC title and it is not going to change my opinion of the Cena/Rusev match which I will discuss shortly.

Either way, for the first time since last June, we really do not know what is going to happen at the main event at WrestleMania 31 and that is the best possible outcome any of us could have hoped for.

On to the matches.

Sting vs. Triple H

I actually have very little to say about this special attraction match.  I am not looking forward to it and I think it will be an uninteresting bust.  The only thing that I am looking forward to is going to be Triple H’s entrance, he usually comes up big at WrestleMania with something creative every time.  But even still, I think he missed an opportunity to bring Metallica out to play during his entrance given that the show is being held in their backyard.

Sting

In one respect, this match is the last of its kind.  Sting is the last big-name active competitor that earned his stripes in the WCW but never once competed in The WWE.  There is nobody else that can really make that claim.

When it comes down to it, do people really care that much anymore?  Maybe it was a big deal in the years after the WCW demise when Goldberg came over the WWE for a stint.  But the Monday Night Wars were still fresh on the minds of the fans.  This week was the 14th anniversary of the end of the WCW.  Do people still even care?

I started to wonder why I did not like the idea of Sting making his debut in the WWE.  All I knew was that I really did not like him.  But I could not recall why.

As you can probably tell by reading my blog, I have spent a great deal of time watching wrestling.  The more I thought about it, I couldn’t recall any Sting matches.  I didn’t check YouTube or the WWE Network, I just tried to jog my memory and came up blank.  I think he feuded with Ric Flair for a bit but I don’t remember much else.  The guy absolutely failed to make an impression on me for all his years in the WCW.  I think that is my problem with him.

I may be in the minority opinion (not like that has ever bothered me in my entire life), but I did not find his debut in the WWE and his participation since then to be very interesting.  His entrances lacked excitement, his interaction with Triple H at FastLane lacked intrigue, and when he finally ended his silence and started talking last week, the words and emotions did not mesh well with his face-painted look.

Finally, there is Sting’s age to consider. He is in his 50’s.  No disrespect to my elders, but how many people are still in their athletic prime at that age?  Can he still bring it in the ring at the highest level at this age and this long of a layoff?  My hopes are not that high for that to be the case.

Triple H

The WWE COO is known as one of the all-time greats in the WWE and is a sure-fire first-ballot WWE Hall of Famer.  He is body of work at WrestleMania is rivaled by only a small handful of the best.  Despite his less-than-stellar record of 8-10 in his 18 appearances at ‘Mania, he has participated in some iconic matches and always delivers on the grandest stage of them all, particularly in the later stages of his career, his three matches against The Undertaker being among the most memorable.

Given that HHH has scaled back his schedule to focus more on his front office work in WWE corporate, he only books himself in a few matches a year.  It makes sense that he put himself in the Sting match, might as well keep this situation between the two of them and not tie up an up-and-comer in a feud with a relic that should have stayed away.

The match:

I have very low expectations for this match and I hope that this is Sting’s one and only match in the WWE.  In that regard, it makes very little sense for him to go over, he should lose his only WrestleMania match and walk away for good.

Prediction: Triple H for the win.

WWE United States Champion Rusev vs. John Cena

Rusev

If there were a Rookie of the Year award in the WWE, Rusev would have won it running away in 2014.  In fact, I would go so far as to anoint him Rookie of the Decade, his debut year surpassing even those of The Shield, The Wyatt Family, and Daniel Bryan.

The way Rusev has been handled and presented since his debut in the main roster is a textbook example of how to build a monster heel.  It shows that with proper planning, along with the ability to adapt when needed, a developmental talent can take the roster by storm and get over with the fans.

His initial call-up to WWE was at the 2014 Royal Rumble as “The Bulgarian Brute” Alexander Rusev.  His debut was somewhat muted by the fact that most fans had never heard of him at the time and he was eliminated from the match without much fanfare.  He disappeared from TV for a few months and came back after WrestleMania XXX with a proper debut.

Paired with his valet Lana, Alexander Rusev was presented as a super athlete.  He had a unique and impressive physique, and wrestled barefoot.  He destroyed inferior opponents and the announcers began to take note that he was working on an undefeated streak.

Somewhere along the way, someone in WWE creative decided to tweak his character.  Noticing the anti-Russian and anti-Vladimir Putin sentiment in the country due to Russian aggression in the Ukraine, Rusev was re-branded as “The Hero of the People of The Russian Federation” and his first name was jettisoned.  This, despite the fact that he has a tattoo of the country of Bulgaria on his arm!  Nonetheless, with these changes to his character, he generated a great amount of heat and his rivalries began to script themselves.

Natural feuds began with Jack Swagger, Mark Henry, and The Big Show began, playing off of each superstar’s American patriotism, defending their country’s honor against the villainous foreigner.  Rusev topped them all and remained undefeated.

Throughout his run, Rusev put on a clinic in how to play a wrestling heel.  He has all the necessary elements:

  • He has a gimmick that makes it virtually impossible to like him
  • He regularly insults the crowd and his opponents
  • He doesn’t try to be “the cool heel” and rely on funny catchphrases
  • He has a brutal, dominating, physical wrestling style
  • His valet can do a great deal of the talking for him and she insults his opponents and the fans while praising him
  • He can hold his own on the mic and deliver a powerful promo
  • He cheats to win

His feud with John Cena has been entertaining thus far and I like the fact that this is a re-match of their first encounter at FastLane in February. We’ve already seen Rusev defend his undefeated streak against Cena and very little has changed since then.

John Cena

John Cena is 8-3 at WrestleMania. Last year his eighth win moved him into a tie with Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart for second place on the all-time WrestleMania wins list.  For the second year in a row, he has taken a step down from the main event and is giving “the rub” to a newcomer to the main roster, having defeated Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 30.

John Cena, polarizing as he is with the fans, is still the unquestionable “face of the company” at age 37.  It is rumored that nobody moves as much merchandise as he does, and he is particularly favorited by the children in the audience.  His appeal with children is likely what has him turned off to the adult fans.  His enduring “fighting good guy” persona has endured for a decade and has not varied much, if at all, during his run at the top of the company, to the frustrations of many.

While a full discourse of his remarkable career and the love-hate relationship the fans with him could be quite lengthy, it is important to note how well this matchup fits well within the context of his career.

John Cena really is the only person on the roster right now that can lend credibility to this match.  Given how many superstars have tried before him and failed to defend their country’s honor and snap Rusev’s undefeated streak, nobody else is left that could plausibly mount a challenge to The Super Athlete. Against the backdrop of the anti-American rhetoric that Rusev has peppered Cena with throughout their struggle, Cena has made the case that this is the most important match of his career because he is not just fighting for himself, he is fighting for his country.

Of course that is not really the case, any one of his main-event title matches, and especially his two “Once-in-a-Lifetime” WrestleMania matches with The Rock (if they were once-in-a-lifetime, how did it happen twice?) were certainly much more important than this match.  But this year, the WWE needs to make a statement of some sort to lend credence to the importance of this mid-card match, so why not use good old American patriotism to stir some emotion in the fan base?

The match:

Their first match at FastLane delivered in both brutality and suspense and had a well-planned ending with Cena passing out from the pain of Rusev’s submission hold, having ended up in such a predicament after Lana distracted the referee and Rusev delivered Cena a devastating kick to the plumbs. I think there is still life left in this undefeated streak that Rusev is working on.  I would like to see it, along with his feud with Cena continue on after WrestleMania and into the next pay-per-view, and I don’t think too many fans would see that coming.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Rusev

Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins

I have my eye on this match as the one that can steal the show, and it could possibly become an instant classic similar to Savage vs. Steamboat at WrestleMania III.  These are two of the best workers in the game right now, both have a smooth style and sell very well.  I expect this match to be fast paced and will tell an exciting story with numerous false finishes.

Randy Orton

Randy Orton enters his twelfth WrestleMania with a 4-7 win-loss record.  His career has been checkered with injuries, attitude problems, and issues with addiction.  Orton has seemingly straightened himself out these past three or four years and it shows in his performance.  Of late, he can be counted on to really get a storyline over and hold up his end of some pretty intense matches.

Having suffered from a bit of overexposure, he took some time off to film a movie and returned with a vengeance to WWE television a few weeks ago to resume his feud with Seth Rollins and The Authority.  His absence due to a worked injury at the hands of Seth Rollins has made their rivalry all the more intense.  In a way it goes to show that they can take overexposed superstars that the fans are bored with, take them off the show for a while, and have them come back with serious momentum if the story is written well.

Orton’s superior in-ring ability is often overlooked.  For a man his size, he can move very quickly and he paces a match very well.  There are never any wasted movements from Randy Orton, everything he does is for a reason.

Seth Rollins

Seth Rollins stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Rusev as one of the top heels in the WWE today.  Another product of the developmental system, Seth Rollins broke in with the high-profile Shield faction and kept his momentum since the group broke up in June.  He is a natural bad guy who, along with Rusev, does all the right things to keep the heat on himself and keep the fans from cheering him.  When Raw was in his home state of Iowa recently, the crowd wanted to get behind him during a promo but he preemptively insulted them and the entire state so they had no choice to but boo.

His handling of the Money in the Bank contract has added a dimension to his character and the fact that he has held it for so long shows that the company believes in his long-term prospects.  There has been speculation that he may try to cash in this Sunday immediately after the prone champion has just won the main event match but I don’t think that’s going to happen.  That scenario seems too far-fetched and over-worked for a WrestleMania.  The last time we’ve seen something like that was when Hulk Hogan challenged Yokozuna for the title at WrestleMania IX after Yoko had just defeated Bret Hart.  That finish is not remembered fondly by most wrestling fans.

What Rollins lacks in size, he makes up for in other ways.  When he is handed an open mic, expect him to deliver an emotional promo that rivals the best in the business today.  He proved that he can carry a long segment when he was booked to a The Daily Show with John Stewart segment at a recent Raw in Newark.  I happened to be in the fifth row at that show and was impressed with how well he came off in his verbal joust with an actual seasoned comedic talk show host.

When given the opportunity to work a long match, Rollins has shown that he is one of the most reliable performers on the roster today.  His ability to sell is on par with a young Shawn Michaels.  He has surprising strength and speed, and is in prime physical condition. He is at his best when matched with someone on his level and given the time to tell a story in the ring.

The match:

I am very excited about this match.  Getting to watch two of the best wrestlers in the business settle a slow-burn feud in a long match at a pay-per-view is pretty much as good as it gets.  Add the possibility of the possibility of a run-in by The Authority and this match is a wrestling fan’s dream.

Prediction: Winner, Seth Rollins

Stay tuned for part three of this series where I will give you everything you need to know about the Divas match, and The Undertaker/Wyatt, and Lesnar/Reigns matches.  My analysis of the divas match is probably going to be at least 20,000 words.

Searching for WrestleMania 31 Excitement

17 days and two episodes of Raw to go until WrestleMania 31.  Normally, the level of excitement as a fan of the WWE is pretty high at this time of year.  Most of the WrestleMania card is in place and every episode of Raw is designed to build anticipation for the big event.  Right now, I’m not sure how I feel about the card from top to bottom.  There is some decent build up for some of the matches, but others feel uninspired, rushed, and forced.  Let’s take a look at some of the announced matches.

Starting with Triple H and Sting, the buildup for this match has the trademark of a Triple H “slow burn” angle that began at Survivor Series in November.  It began as a publicity stunt to get fans to watch the Pay Per View for free by teasing the first ever appearance of Sting in a WWE ring.  For reasons that were unknown to us at the time, Sting interfered with the main event, costing Triple H his job at the time.  A few encounters with a silent Sting between then and now lead to the challenge Sting made to HHH at the FastLane PPV.  During the last Raw, we finally heard Sting speak and explain his side of the story, one that had been pretty much one-sided in favor of HHH until that point.

The outcome of the events between Sting and HHH thus far haven’t surprised me in a bit, I am still convinced this match is a bad idea and will underwhelm.  While I like the slow burn approach to this angle, it hasn’t done anything to get me interested in the match between these two.  In fact Sting has come out flat on two big occasions when they finally gave us a chance to see him and have him make an impression.  First was the encounter at FastLane.  After months of teases, Sting entered the ring in the least dramatic fashion as possible, straight from the back with no dark effects or anything.  Didn’t say a word and silently challenged Triple H to a match at WrestleMania by pointing to the WM banner with his bat.  While it was somewhat unusual to get a wordless challenge like that, the follow up on Raw this past Monday was terrible.  Sting finally spoke, and when he did, it wasn’t even live, it was in a recorded vignette, the content of which could not have been more cliché.  All we got was a diatribe about how he wanted to avenge the demise of the WCW.  Come on, that was 14 years ago!  Even the fans that remember WCW could care less at this point.  Couldn’t they have thought of something else?

I stand by my earlier statement that his match is a bad idea.  The anticipation that was built around Sting’s arrival is going to fizzle when he actually sets foot in the ring.  He was never all that great of a wrestler to begin with, and now he is about 17-18 years past his prime.  Triple H can still bring a level of intensity to his matches but asking him to carry this match against a relic might be a bit too much to ask.  I have very low expectations for this one.

The André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal looks to continue to serve as a way to get the talents on the card that didn’t manage to land in a featured match.  A typical Battle Royal is difficult to follow, especially at the beginning when the bell rings and 30 competitors are in the ring together.  There isn’t much room for an individual talent to showcase much offense other than kicking and punching, and it is difficult to focus on any one particular part of the action.  Only after the first 25 or so competitors are eliminated does it begin to get interesting.

In the first André match last year, we were treated to a memorable spot when Cesaro picked up The Big Show and threw him over the top rope to seal his victory.  Unfortunately, it failed to get Cesaro over in the coming months and he is still searching for some sort of foothold with the fan base.

This year, it is difficult to predict who will win this match and what the outcome will be but it looks like they are going to attempt to settle several mini-feuds within this match, particularly between The Miz and Damien Mizdow, and The Big Show and Kane.  It is somewhat of a letdown that the long-running tag-team-destined-to-break-up storyline between the Miz and Mizdow is going to get engulfed by the number of other people in this match.  Same goes for Kane and The Big Show.  The conflicts between these men should really be settled in singles matches, not in one big Battle Royal match.  Either way, as I mentioned at the top, this match is difficult to predict and could surprise us with some high spots and a surprise victor, hopefully one that fares better with the win than Cesaro did last year.

The ladder match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship could potentially steal the show.  Thus far, we have a good mix of up-and-coming and veteran talents in this match whose styles should complement each other.  A multi-way ladder match has been a WrestleMania staple several times in the last 15 years and has produced some of the most memorable high-spots in WM history.  I would expect this match to be no different.  The storyline around the feud between the competitors in this match who keep stealing the title belt from Bad News Barrett and then from each other has been surprisingly comical.  I am looking forward to seeing what the relative WrestleMania newcomers such as Ziggler, Barrett, Ambrose, and Harper are going to do to try to cement their own WrestleMania moment.  I also like the veterans in the match, R-Truth and Stardust.  Either one of them can surprise us with a high spot that we wouldn’t expect.

I’ll have more to say about the main event matches of Lesnar/Reigns, Cena/Rusev, and Undertaker/Wyatt after next week’s Raw.  Right now, I’m interested to see if any of these questions are going to be answered soon:

  • Who else is going to be in the André match?
  • Is Golddust going to participate somehow? Rumor had it that he was going to retire but he was victorious in his last match at FastLane and that didn’t feel like a career-ending send off to one of the most enduring characters we’ve seen in WWE history.
  • What role, if any, is Shaemus going to play at WrestleMania?
  • What is Daniel Bryan going to do? It seems as though they’ve teased his involvement in the IC Ladder Match but that would be a precipitous drop-off from his involvement in last year’s WM which included a victory over Triple H to start the show, and his championship victory over Randy Orton and Batista in the main event.  Certainly they can find a one-on-one matchup for the guy between now and WM, can’t they?
  • Are they going to be able to get Roman Reigns over any more in the next two weeks? The fans still aren’t convinced that he is our “babyface savior”, especially given the “you can’t wrestle” chants that keep popping up during his matches.