WrestleMania 33 Postscript: Farewell to the Deadman

Prior to WrestleMania 33, the last time WrestleMania was held at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL was WrestleMania XXIV in 2008.  The most memorable match of that night was Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair as it was Flair’s last match in the WWE.  The running storyline was that Vince McMahon told Flair that Flair would have to retire should he lose a match.  So, it was pretty obvious that Michaels was going to win the match, sending Flair into retirement.  We could see it coming, but it was a very emotional and sad moment for fans of The Dirtiest Player in the Game.

Headed into WrestleMania 33, there were rumors that The Undertaker could be retiring soon, but nothing was confirmed.  We also didn’t know the ordering of the matches on the card, with many speculating that the Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg match would end the show.  There weren’t loud rumors that Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns would close the be the final match of the night.

The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns match was difficult to watch for many reasons. First off, Roman Reigns stinks and has virtually no command of the crowd with his limited offensive move set.  Someone at my WrestleMania party noted that “you could count the number of moves this guy has on one hand”.  All the Superman Punches that Reigns threw at The Undertaker were met with silence from the crowd.

But more upsetting than watching Reigns wrestle, was watching The Undertaker try to make it through the match.  There were several spots in the match that he didn’t seem like he had the strength to follow through.  Most notably, he barely was able to lift Roman Reigns up for The Last Ride powerbomb.

Father Time has caught up to The Undertaker.  His last great matches are long in the past and he was a shell of his former self at WrestleMania 33.  It was like watching the greatest shortstop to ever play baseball, Derek Jeter, struggle in his final season with The Yankees to hit .256 as they failed to make the playoffs.  It was similar to watching Martin Brodeur, the greatest goaltender in the history of hockey, make it to the Stanley Cup finals with the New Jersey Devils in 2012, only to get outplayed by the Los Angeles Kings’ young goaltender Jonathan Quick, and to watch The Kings win the cup.  In all three cases, Brodeur, Jeter, and Undertaker, it was heartbreaking to watch an all-time-great who’s career that I had followed from the very beginning while their skills eroded at the end of their careers.

Following the match, after his loss to Reigns, when The Undertaker took off his iconic gloves, jacket, and hat and laid them down in the ring to signify his intent to retire, it felt like it was the right time for him to go.  The WWE played out his exit from the ring and the sport of professional in a classy and dignified manner.  It was sad to see him go, but it was the right thing to do.  It was a beautiful moment, one that won’t be forgotten by fans of The Undertaker.

546_WM33_04022017mm_11163--5c16a48f847caac053b4a78fe915b0a4.jpg

One of the last moments of the iconic career of The Undertaker.

The flip side of the coin, however, was the baffling decision to make Roman Reigns the winner of the match.  Now the proverbial “torch” has been passed to Reigns, and he will be known as the person who retired The Undertaker.  Reigns has now been in three straight WrestleMania main event matches, and each one was a dud.

One of my readers told me before the show that if Reigns won, he’d cancel his WWE Network subscription.  After the show, he e-mailed me his confirmation e-mail saying that his subscription was indeed cancelled.  The mood at my viewing party was pretty grim when Reigns won. In fact, a guy wearing an Undertaker shirt left before the match even started because he was worried that he would lose and he didn’t want to see it.  That, and it was very late!

Our worst fears as WWE fans have been realized: The Undertaker, after 26 glorious years in The WWE has called it a career, and we are left with Roman Reigns on top.  What else is there to say?

541_WM33_04022017mm_10951--e42d9420af15a9a80bbb48916601fc71.jpg

Here’s your new face of The WWE, Roman Reigns.

WrestleMania 33 was an interesting show, but in some ways, it was disappointing.  The big problem I had was the length of the show.  Counting the pre-show, it was just a shade over seven hours long!  This is bucking the trend in sports, the NFL, MLB, and NASCAR are all making changes to their events to make them shorter, and the WWE is bucking that trend by headed in the opposite direction.  Less would have been more for the WWE, had they cut out the women’s matches, shortened some of the entrances, and knocked out the mini Pitbull and Flo Rida concert, it would have been a much more manageable show.  Most of the people at my viewing party were falling asleep on the couch after 11 PM.  I can only imagine how worn out the live crowd was.

Only time will tell, but none of the matches jumped out at me as an “instant classic”.  Other than The Undertaker’s retirement, there weren’t too many other indelible WrestleMania moments.  There were however, some good spots and matches on the card, and I’ll break them down by looking at the winners and losers on the night.

The Losers

  • Rob Gronkowski: He was too injured to play the second half of The Patriots’ NFL season but he was good enough get physical on the WrestleMania pre-show? Hopefully, Bill Belichick was watching and plans to cut Gronk from the team in response.
  • Braun Strowman: He had a great build from July until the month before WrestleMania. Just as he was starting to get over, he jobbed to Reigns, backed down from The Undertaker on Raw, was relegated to the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal on the WrestleMania pre-show, and was eliminated early in the match.  He had momentum, now he has lost all credibility and probably won’t recover.
  • The Big Show: In what was likely his last WrestleMania, he was also eliminated early from the Battle Royal. Unfortunate send off for the big man.
  • Baron Corbin: Underwhelmed and lost in his first WrestleMania one-on-one match.
  • John Cena: No, he didn’t really get engaged to Nikki Bella after their awful match. This was done as a commercial for a reality show, folks.  Cena deserved a better WrestleMania moment than this.  He once was a WrestleMania main-eventer, what happened?
  • Bray Wyatt: Now 0-3 at WrestleMania, and was champion for just over one month.
  • Samoa Joe: Why wasn’t he anywhere on the card?
  • The Cruiserweight Division: Still not over with the fans.
  • The Women’s Division: Not only is it not over with the fans, it will never be over with the fans, and now it is completely over-exposed. Both women’s matches were brutally awful to watch.
  • WWE Fans: We sat through seven hours of a show that ultimately anointed Roman Reigns as the face of the company for years to come. He’s worked three straight WrestleMania main events, he’ll never be any better than he is now.

The Winners

  • Mojo Rawley: For what it’s worth, winning the Battle Royale was an important win for him. Let’s see if he can capitalize.
  • AJ Styles: Made his match with Shane McMahon look great, and he got his first career WrestleMania win at age 39.
  • Shane McMahon: The daredevil held up his end of the bargain in his match against Styles. McMahon never disappoints.
  • Dean Ambrose: The WWE’s hardest worker walked out with his Intercontinental title in hand. He’ll never be the face of the company, but is a steady hand that the fans enjoy.
  • Kevin Owens: Owens added another title to his resume after an entertaining program and WrestleMania match against Chris Jericho.
  • Chris Jericho: After a long and mediocre career, Jericho finally got hot these past eight months. Good for him, that at his age he was able to perform well in a one-on-one WrestleMania match.
  • The Miz: The match was awful, but he drew raves for his skits spoofing The Total Bella’s show these past few weeks. He’s one of the best heels the WWE has right now and can build off of this momentum.
  • Triple H: Coolest entrance of the night. He got to ride a custom-built trike to the ring with a police escort.  How great was that?
  • Seth Rollins: Toughed out a recent knee injury to put on a good show.
  • Stephanie McMahon: The 40-year-old mother of three never looked better. She did a great job of selling her bump through the table, something she rarely does.
  • The Hardy Boyz: Triumphantly returned home to the WWE with a raucous reception from the crowd as they won championship gold.
  • Jim Ross: After he was unceremoniously fired in 2013, Ross made his surprise return to WrestleMania to call the main event match.  Good end to a tough two weeks for Ross following the tragic death of his wife.
  • Brock Lesnar: Back on top as “The Destroyer” after he beat Goldberg to win the WWE Universal Championship. It was a fast-paced match and the crowd was hot for it.
  • Goldberg: Exercised the demons from his initial WWE run with a highly entertaining program with Brock Lesnar. He got to be champion one more time, and he got to wrestle in front of his young son.  This match was immensely better than their previous clash at WrestleMania XX.
  • The Undertaker: Had one of the best careers of any professional wrestler. Thanks for the memories, Deadman.  It is hard to imagine WrestleMania without you.

With WrestleMania 33 in the books, expect things to reset starting with Raw and Smackdown this week.  There are likely going to be wrestlers called up from NXT this week, and there could be some trades between the Raw and Smackdown brands.  The WWE never takes any time off, it’s the story that never ends.  It will be interesting to see where things head this month.

If you have any questions or comments, please comment below or send me an e-mail (advice@njnonconformist.com).

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 3: The Raw Matches

Part three of my four-part series on WrestleMania 33 will focus on the Raw matches.  On paper, these matches, in isolation, would make for a great pay-per-view card.  As part of the overall show which is much bigger, the performers in them are going to all have to step things up a notch in order to be noticed and remembered.  There is no shortage of opportunities here for some of these matches to considered classics if done well.

Seth Rollins vs. Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Match

071_RAW_03272017jg_2164--7e5838ec8954acb50ffac5b0b79e71d7.jpg

Nothing like a contract signing to get the juices flowing for a WrestleMania match.

This match is a great example of how long-term storytelling can build a tremendous amount of anticipation for a match.  This match was made to be at WrestleMania for almost three years now and we finally can get out payoff for years of investment in the storyline.

The Shield was the most popular faction the WWE had seen in years when it made its debut on the main WWE roster in 2012.  At the time of their arrival, it seemed that all three members had unlimited potential as singles competitors, and they had their chance to do such when Seth Rollins turned on the other two members of The Shield in a masterfully orchestrated heel turn in 2014, and aligned with Triple H.  Rollins immediately overshowed Roman Reigns who turned out to be the most overrated of the three.  Rollins went on to be WWE Champion and United States Champion over the course of a torrid heel run.

Unfortunately, Rollins lost all the momentum he had when he badly broke his knee at the tail end of 2015, forcing him to forfeit his championship and to miss WrestleMania 32.  Upon his return in 2016, Rollins was eventually placed in a match for the new WWE Universal Championship which he lost to Finn Bálor at SummerSlam.  The feeble Bálor was injured during the match and had to immediately vacate the title, thus setting up Rollins for a second chance to win it in a fatal-four-way match on Raw.  Much to everybody’s surprise, Triple H, who hadn’t been seen on TV since WrestleMania 32, made his return to Raw, and gave Rollins The Pedigree.  This handed the championship to Kevin Owens and turned Rollins babyface.  It also set the stage for this match at WrestleMania 33.

Unfortunately for Rollins, he re-injured his previously broken knee in the run-up to WrestleMania 33 earlier this year.  There was speculation that he wouldn’t be medically cleared for WrestleMania yet again this year, but he appears to have re-habilitated his knee to the point that he will be able to make it through a match.  The WWE added his knee injury to the creative angle of the match by making it a non-sanctioned match, ostensibly forcing Rollins to waive any liability to the WWE if he suffers further injury.

Triple H has amassed a 9-11 WrestleMania win/loss record in his 20 WrestleMania appearances. Very few of those matches are remembered as timeless classics, he always seems to be overshadowed by somebody else on the roster.  But there is no doubt that The Cerebral Assassin brings his best to WrestleMania.

If there is one thing Triple H is good at, it is building and selling a hot wrestling angle.  His verbal assault and his beatings he’s placed on Seth Rollins these past few weeks have been absolutely brutal.  He has the crowd in the palm of his hand, with them all hoping he gets beat by his former protégé. Not to mention, he always has an outrageous entrance at WrestleMania that is sure to bring the crowd to its feet.

I have high hopes for this match, as long as Rollins’ knee is up to the task.  If he is healthy enough to perform, I would expect that Rollins will put on a technical masterpiece, and this match will tell an intense story.

Prediction: Winner, Triple H

Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries in a Singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

The cruiserweight division has not caught on and is not over with the fans of the WWE Raw flagship show.  Once the division made its debut on Raw in 2016, it lost all momentum it had gained after the critically acclaimed Cruiser Weight Classic tournament.  In the isolation of their own show on the WWE Network, the cruiserweights were able to put on an entertaining program.  When thrust into Raw, the individual competitors got lost.  There’s no good reason for the fans to care about any of them, they just showed up with over-the-top ring entrances and theme music with no other real backing of their characters.  Eventually, I would just start to fast-forward through their segments and matches because they are boring.  I’m done with it, something is going to have to drastically change for me to care about the Raw Cruiserweight Division.

I suppose that if you are actually paying attention, these two are going to lay it on the line and perform some high-flying spots designed to get a pop out of the crowd.  The match won’t go very long as it is part of the pre-show, where it belongs.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax in a Fatal 4-Way Elimination match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

Not even the daughter of Ric Flair can save this match from being a total abomination.  At least it will be a good time for a bathroom break during the show.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Chris Jericho (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

This match is a shining example of how great storytelling, the right setting, and the right amount of time, can set up a stellar matchup at WrestleMania.  The months-long “friendship” angle between Owens and Jericho seemed like it was designed to be a joke or a one-night-only occurrence at first.  But the angle was kept alive for months, and delivered enough twists and turns to take us to an eventual WrestleMania match between the two.

Chris Jericho has never been the best, despite his massive ego and how he refers to himself.  He was overshadowed by his contemporaries like The Rock, Kurt Angle, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Shawn Michaels for good reason.  They were all better than him.  His many returns as a nostalgia act over the past several years didn’t catch on at all, and resulted in some boring and routine matches that didn’t resonate with the WWE fan base.  All this changed when he paired up with Kevin Owens in his most recent run.

Kevin Owens caught on with the WWE audience since day one.  He doesn’t have a prototypical WWE wrestler’s look, in fact, he’s clearly overweight and not a physical specimen at all.  However, he connected with the fans as someone who is relatable to them.  Despite the fact that he has worked exclusively as a heel, he appealed to adult fans and gets his fair share of cheers.  Fans respect his ability to get a storyline over with his great promos, he can be funny, evil, arrogant, and sarcastic, just like any top heel should be able to do.  He has an innovative in-ring style, and his matches keep you on the edge of your seat.

The pairing of Owens and Jericho has revitalized Jericho’s career. Some say this is his best and most memorable run ever.  At age 46, he probably is nearing retirement from the ring, and this match could be his last chance to create a lasting WrestleMania memory.  Owens, on the other hand, still has plenty of gas left in the tank and wants to show the world that he can be a WrestleMania headliner at some point in his career.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Kevin Owens

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Cesaro and Sheamus in a Triple threat ladder tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

Unlike most of the matches on the card, this one has veered towards “overbooked” territory.  It would be one thing if it were a just a triple-threat tag team match.  All three teams have had a great year and are deserving of being on the card somehow.  But the late addition of the ladder stipulation was unnecessary.  It’s almost as if somebody in WWE creative said to themselves last Monday “Oh, crap!  We forgot to book a ladder match at WrestleMania!  It’s not WrestleMania without a ladder match!”

The triple-threat ladder match at WrestleMania was revolutionized by Edge and Christian, The Hardy Boys, and The Dudleys during The Attitude Era.  The revolution grew organically because the talents in them had shown the ability to work well in ladder matches prior to WrestleMania.  The trio of wrestlers in this year’s ladder match don’t exactly have the same resume as those three classic teams had headed into WrestleMania 2000.

Gallows and Anderson have had a start-and-stop push since their WWE debut in 2016.  In the beginning, they made a big splash as members of “The Club” along with AJ Styles and were received well by the fans.  They ended up somehow getting lost in the pack after the brand split in July, but hung in there and were eventually awarded the Raw Tag Team championship.  They seem to be still finding their way in the WWE, but this championship run, along with this match on WrestleMania 33 will certainly help their cause.

Enzo Amore and Big Cass hit the floor running when they received the call to the main roster last year.  Their exposure from NXT had the crowd chanting along with their cadence on their very first night.  They are an entertaining duo despite the fact that they work exclusively as baby faces.  This is the type of pairing that is destined to break up at some point and feud with each other, so it is best for them to seize the opportunity they have now while they are still together.

Cesaro and Sheamus are together as a team, likely because the WWE has run out of ideas what to do with them as singles competitors.  Cesaro is never going to catch fire, and Sheamus has been to the top but that was in the distant past.  They found chemistry together and work well against both of the teams they are facing off against in this match.

This match could be either remembered as a classic, or bowling shoe-ugly.  The ladder stipulation isn’t helping matters much.  Instead of tagging in and out, all six men will be in the ring at the same time, making it difficult for them to time their spots well.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

Goldberg (c) vs. Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) in a Singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

209_RAW_03272017mm_1662--d6445e9605731a7005971a0c1bc5bd94.jpg

WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg is ready for his WrestleMania rematch against Brock Lesnar.

Who would have seen this match coming this time last year?  Goldberg was an afterthought, a revered WCW hero who never caught on in the WWE, who seemed to be happy to have moved on with his life. All we knew about his departure from the WWE was that it was acrimonious and it didn’t seem like, at age 50, he was destined to come back for one more run.

What we didn’t know, was that Goldberg had the desire to come back one more time due to a life-changing event, the birth of his son.  As he grew older, Goldberg wanted to give his son, Gabe, a chance to see him wrestle one more time.  It seems that this humbled Goldberg and he was able to patch up his differences with the McMahon family and agree to return for the Survivor Series in 2016 for a match against Brock Lesnar.

The professional wrestling world was shocked at the outcome of the Lesnar/Goldberg Survivor Series match when Goldberg easily defeated Lesnar in about a minute and a half.  Critics were quick to point out that they thought that the reason this happened was because of Goldberg’s age and lack of ability, the longest he could last in a match was under two minutes.  What the critics didn’t see, however, was the WWE building towards a bigger feud between the two that will culminate in a WrestleMania 33 match between the two.

This is a very interesting angle that the WWE used to build this match.  Brock Lesnar has been presented as an unbeatable destroyer since he ended The Streak of The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX.  By painting him as someone who “underestimated” Goldberg, causing him to lose, it keeps his credibility as a destroyer intact.  It also paints Lesnar as a credible threat to turn the tide and defeat Goldberg the second time around.

I had the misfortune of seeing their first matchup at WrestleMania XX live at Madison Square Garden.  That match was a mess as both men, and the audience, knew they both were about to leave the WWE after that night.

This time around, both men are in a different place in their careers and their personal lives.  Both genuinely want to put on a good show this time around, and make up for their lackluster performance in 2014.  Goldberg isn’t known for putting on long matches, and at this age, it’s not known if he even can perform in a long match.  But, that is beside the point.  If this match goes 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 30 minutes, it will certainly be designed to tell a story and give the live crowd something to react to.

Prediction: Winner, and still WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg

I realize I’m going against the grain with this pick.  The betting odds heavily favor Lesnar as Goldberg is rumored to be done with the WWE after this match.  But the WWE shocked us once before at Survivor Series the last time these two faced each other.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it happens again at WrestleMania 33.

Stay tuned for more analysis between now and Sunday.  If you have any questions or comments, please comment below or send me an e-mail (advice@njnonconformist.com).

 

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 1

The pinnacle of the professional wrestling year, WrestleMania 33, takes place this Sunday.  The WWE has come up with a new tagline for this year’s installment: The Ultimate Thrill Ride.  Given that it starts at 5 PM EDT and will likely not end until about midnight, it had better be thrilling to keep us engaged for 7 straight hours!

WrestleMania has grown at an exponential pace over the last decade.  It has a tremendous economic impact to the city it takes place in, and it gives the WWE a chance to connect with people who are not members of its current fan base.  Most importantly, it helps drives subscriptions to the WWE Network, the centerpiece of the WWE’s long-term business strategy.

Given all of these factors, WrestleMania will have a different look and feel than other pay-per-view events throughout the year.  For one, it’s much longer because the WWE no longer is subject to the hard-out times of cable operators and can stream for as long as they’d like on their own network.  There are also entertainers brought in that don’t normally appear on WWE programming. Booking decisions behind matches are also sometimes out of the ordinary.

The unusual feel of WrestleMania may at times cause the serious fan to feel somewhat alienated.  Given that we are already hooked on the product and spend our money on merchandise, tickets to live events, and the WWE Network, we aren’t interested in the gimmicks that the WWE uses to lure casual fans to the product.  This year, however, the WWE has done a good job of protecting us in a lot of ways through the build-up and matchmaking decisions for WrestleMania 33.

With the exception of a few egregious creative missteps, the WWE has done a good job of delivering a compelling set up matches for WrestleMania 33, many of which we are emotionally invested in as the means to an end of a long-running story.  Unlike the WrestleMania’s of recent years past, this year’s card is full of one-on-one matchups, built around feuds and championships.  There are fewer all-hands-on-deck matches that clutter up the card than in years past.  For once, the Intercontinental Championship won’t be settled in a 7-man ladder match, instead the winner of a one-on-one matchup will be crowned champion.  In this WWE blogger’s opinion, this is the best WrestleMania card we’ve seen in a very long time, possibly even since the Attitude Era.

If you are interested in the entertainment aspect of WrestleMania, someone named Tinashe is going to sing “America the Beautiful”.  Pitbull, Flo Rida, Lunchmoney Lewis, and Stephen Marley are also going to perform in some capacity.  I’ve heard of none of them other than Flo Rida, and I only know him because he performed at WrestleMania XXVII.  Al Roker is going to be the guest ring announcer for the John Cena match. Most importantly, Metallica’s “Am I Savage?” will be the official theme song for the Triple H vs. Seth Rollins match.

Closer to home, The New Day are scheduled to appear, but in a non-wrestling capacity as the hosts of WrestleMania.  Other than a big entrance and a comedy-based skit, it’s anybody’s guess what their angle will be during the show.  Maybe they get involved in a match?  Maybe they are confronted in the ring by a returning WWE Superstar or NXT call-up?  Maybe one of them turns heel and attacks the other two?  How cool would that be?

The potential outcomes of the matches, or any unexpected participation by superstars not currently announced to be on the card, are almost endless.  Some feuds will come to an end, and others will continue on for some time.  Some competitors will look to deliver a career-defining performance.  In a crowded field of 13 matches, we may bear witness to an instant classic like Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV.  Maybe we get a double-turn ala Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XXIII.  Maybe Roman Reigns won’t suck for once.  OK, that last one is a longshot, but one can hope for the best!

This is the first of my 4-part series on WrestleMania 33.  Part 2 will cover the Smackdown matches, Part 3 will cover the Raw matches, and Part 4 will be dedicated to The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns match.  I’ll break down the competitors and likely outcomes of each match, and offer my expert pick for the win.  To round this first blog post out, I’ll give a rundown of the battle royal as it doesn’t fit any of these three categories.

2017 André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

20170307_WM33_Andre--430c681388814db3ef74fcdfd3f2bdd8.jpg

The André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal Trophy along with it’s namesake.

In only the 4th installment of the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, the match has lost a lot of the original luster it had at WrestleMania XXX.  Nothing much came of the first two that were won by The Big Show and Cesaro, and last year’s surprise victory by Baron Corbin was unexpected.  Instead of build on last year’s momentum, the WWE has moved the battle royal back to the pre-show.  The full entrant list is already public and there will be no surprises, unlike last year when Shaquille O’Neal entered and Corbin qualified by winning an NXT even the night prior.

Most of the competitors in the match have no shot at winning.  They barely are seen on WWE live TV, and many of them are in tag teams that have lost their push and barely have an impact on any ongoing storylines.  Only a handful seem likely to emerge as the victor, either because of past experience, or an apparent desire for the WWE to give one of them a push.  Here are the competitors, bucketed by odds:

No chance

  • Aiden English
  • Bo Dallas
  • Chad Gable
  • Curt Hawkins
  • Curtis Axel
  • Epico
  • Fandango
  • Goldust
  • Heath Slater
  • Jason Jordan
  • Jey Uso
  • Jimmy Uso
  • Jinder Mahal
  • Kalisto
  • Konnor
  • Mark Henry
  • Primo
  • Rhyno
  • R-Truth
  • Simon Gotch
  • Sin Cara
  • Tyler Breeze
  • Viktor
  • Tian Bing

Longshot

  • Apollo Crews
  • Dolph Ziggler
  • Sami Zayn
  • Titus O’Neil

Favorite

  • Big Show
  • Braun Strowman
  • Mojo Rawley

It is disappointment to see the veterans Goldust, Mark Henry, Rhyno, and R-Truth in the No Chance category.  They all have an impressive resume, highlighted by solid heel runs in the past. There just doesn’t seem to be any room for them in today’s WWE product to be featured in any other capacity than a quick in-and-out at WrestleMania.

The longshots have a chance because they gather a bit more attention on regular WWE programming.  Sami Zayn and Apollo Crews are relevant as recent NXT products who appear to have a push behind them.  Dolph Ziggler and Titus O’Neil are career underachievers, but are bolstered by the fact that they occasionally do get a moderate push.

The favorites, in my opinion, are The Big Show, Braun Strowman, and Mojo Rawley.  The Big Show is rumored to be winding down his two-decade-long career and was also rumored to have almost been in a match against Shaquille O’Neal that didn’t come together.  The WWE may want to give him the consolation prize of his second career André trophy.  Braun Strowman was in the middle of a huge push when he had all of his momentum derailed as a pawn in the Roman Reigns/Undertaker feud.  The WWE might want to re-start his push with a win in this match.  Mojo Rawley is a man without much of an identity at this point, but has spent a lot more time on TV lately, and is likely somebody the WWE has plans for going forward.  The André trophy could be the catalyst for him taking the next step in his career.

Either way, this match is probably not going to be a classic.  When it starts off with 31 guys in the ring, all they can really do is throw punches and kicks at each other, and awkwardly throw each other out of the ring until there are maybe 5 or so competitors left.  At that point, the match may tell a story and give someone a bit of a push in the end.

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

Stay tuned for more analysis between now and Sunday.  If you have any questions or comments, please comment below or send me an e-mail (advice@njnonconformist.com).

WWE Payback Analysis and Predictions

The first Pay Per View after WrestleMania 32 is being billed as “The first pay-per-view of a New Era”.  I suppose they want us to think that a lot of things have changed lately and that is why this is a new era.  On one hand, we have a lot of new faces on Raw over the past few weeks and months, and that is a positive development.  On the other, we still have Roman Reigns being force fed to us as the babyface hero, and there is nothing new and exciting about that.

A month after WrestleMania 32 and it seems as though most of the show existed in a one-night vacuum. Consider:

  • The stipulation of the Undertaker/Shane McMahon match was that if Shane won, he’d gain control of Raw and The Undertaker would be done. So, Undertaker won the match, Shane took over control of Raw the next night anyway, and we haven’t seen the Undertaker.  You have to wonder if this was always the plan, or if the WWE was telling the truth when they said that the overwhelming response to Shane on social media was why he was running Raw.
  • Zach Ryder had a surprise WrestleMania moment by winning the Intercontinental title in a ladder match. The crowd went wild, he celebrated in the ring with his dad, and the feel-good story came to a crashing halt the next night when he jobbed to The Miz and lost his championship in about 24 hours.  The guy didn’t even make it to the next pay-per-view as champ!
  • Triple H hasn’t been seen on TV since he lost the title in the main event at WrestleMania. Shouldn’t he have at least shown up and talked some smack?
  • AJ Styles lost in a critically derided match to Chris Jericho, and somehow he became the #1 contender for the WWE title at Payback shortly thereafter.

Of course, as a wrestling fan, you are supposed to suspend reality, logic, and reasoning and become immersed in the show and just let it happen.  But, wouldn’t a little bit of continuity in the storylines kill the WWE creative team?  Some of these things are just head-scratchers.

Either way, if this truly is a new era, we have a chance to see how it all plays out in a new pay-per-view.  The names on the card certainly very different than the names on pay-per-views this time last year, so at the very least, we have something different to watch.  Here is my expert analysis and picks for each meaningful match.

The Miz (c) (with Maryse) vs. Cesaro in a Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

As much of a fan of The Miz as I am, I never enjoy when a guy who can stand on his own is paired with his real-life wife in a storyline.  He doesn’t need help drawing heat from the crowd, he is a natural heel that is easy to hate.  This pairing with the returning Maryese isn’t going to make him look any better than he already does.

The fan favorite Cesaro returned to Raw the night after WrestleMania to a hero’s welcome after a lengthy absence due to a nasty shoulder injury.  Maybe I’m forgetting something, but I can’t remember anything he really did to distinguish himself before he got hurt, and I can’t figure out why the crowd is so behind him.  It’s like the WWE fans want him to be the next Daniel Bryan for some reason that I can’t decipher.

I don’t have very high hopes for this match, Cesaro isn’t a technical master and often blows spots.  Maryese is certainly going to interject herself into the match in an annoying way, and nobody is going to come out of it looking very good at all.

Prediction: Winner and still Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho

Both of these guys are coming off of a very disappointing WrestleMania.  Jericho won a snoozefest against AJ Styles in the second match of the night, nearly putting the 101,000 fans in the audience to sleep in the process.  Ambrose was given a chance to make a career-defining statement against Brock Lesnar in a street fight.  He produced a match that was short and uninteresting, and it generated very little chatter.  It was not much of a career-defining statement for Mr. Ambrose.

These two were hastily thrown into a program via an argument over who got to host a talk show.  This is certainly the type of angle that lends itself nicely to a grudge match.  It remains to be seen if any of the heat that these two are carrying into the match is going to translate into something interesting to watch.  Jericho is about ten years past his prime and hasn’t put on a decent match since his latest return.  Ambrose has shown flashes of brilliance (his WrestleMania match against Lesnar notwithstanding), but he doesn’t have much to work with against a decrepit Chris Jericho.

Prediction: Winner, Chris Jericho

Charlotte (c) (with Ric Flair) vs. Natalya (with Bret Hart) in a Singles match for the WWE Women’s Championship

The WWE thankfully dropped the term “Diva” for good and that is the best thing that’s happened to women’s wrestling in recent memory.  Unfortunately, the quality of the women’s matches is still going to be awful.  The one bright spot we have to look forward to is the return to TV by Bret Hart for the first time since he announced that he was suffering from prostate cancer.  Let’s hope The Hitman is recovering well and looks good when we see him.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady vs. The Vaudevillains in a Tag team match to determine the #1 contender for the WWE Tag Team Championship

For the masses of fans who chant “N-X-T! N-X-T!” at live events, this match is for you.  Both of these teams have made a splash on the main roster, both of them making their first appearances on WWE TV after WrestleMania, and then making it to the finals of the #1 contender tournament for the WWE Tag Team Championship.

The Vaudevillains are working some sort of retro gimmick, with an overly-produced ring entrance, and an authentic Vaudeville-esque attire.  They haven’t had too much of a chance to show much personality yet, and it is hard to tell if they are heels or babyfaces.

Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady are working a classic gimmick of an “opposite” tag team.  They look nothing alike but manage to jell together as a team.  They built up such an avid following in NXT that the crowd chanted along with their cadence during their ring entrance during their Raw debut.  Anchored by Bergen County, New Jersey’s own Enzo Amore, this team is already a charismatic presence on the WWE main stage.

No telling what this match is going to be like, but these two teams are young and hungry and will certainly going to try to make a good first impression on a WWE pay-per-view and set themselves up for a championship run in the near future.

Prediction: Winners, Enzo Amore and Colin Casssady

Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin

The WWE went for a surprise moment when Baron Corbin won the André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania.  Corbin wasn’t even announced for the match; he was a surprise entrant representing the NXT brand.  He eliminated Kane and captured the trophy for himself.  It’s hard to imagine a better WWE debut moment.  Corbin rode his momentum to the next night at Raw and cut a great heel promo, totally turning the fans off to him.

Corbin is being fed Dolph Ziggler in his singles pay-per-view debut.  This is a good chance for him to show what he can do in a one-on-one match.  Ziggler is an experienced hand who oversells his opponent’s offense and will likely make Corbin look strong in victory.

Prediction: Winner, Baron Corbin

Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens

This has potential to be the match of the night.  In fact, it is the only match on the card that has me genuinely excited.  The storyline behind their feud is based on their actual real-life history together as friends and travel companions on the independent circuit.  The angle was built as a slow burn beginning in NXT last year and it has finally resulted in a match between the two on a pay-per-view.  In a way it is a shame this match wasn’t on the WrestleMania card.

Sami Zayn immediately got over with the fans as a babyface.  I don’t see the attraction, but the crowd has taken to his hokey entrance music and strut.  Kevin Owens is a natural heel and an innovator in the ring.  He is so good at his job that the crowds have no choice but to cheer him anyway.  He has performed at a very high level over the course of the last year he has been on the main roster.

This match should tell a fascinating and dramatic story.  Owens and Zayn have been in the ring together for years and should have a good chemistry with each other.  Expect lots of dramatic moments and near-falls.  This will be a classic good guy vs. bad guy grudge match.  Hopefully it won’t be the last matchup between the two.

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

Vince McMahon to announce his decision regarding Shane McMahon running Raw

Like I said earlier, this storyline doesn’t make much sense.  By way of his loss at WrestleMania to The Undertaker, Shane is supposed to be gone.  It’s somewhat intriguing that he’s stayed on WWE TV for so long.  It was initially believed that he was brought back to the WWE just as an emergency fill-in to give The Undertaker a credible opponent at WrestleMania, and that he was going to return to his day job after the match was done.  Not much is known about exactly why Shane left WWE seven years ago, but he certainly did branch out on his own and it is not publicly known if he plans to resume his career, or stay with the WWE on a more permanent basis.

This announcement will probably turn into some kind of angle, likely with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, possibly even leading up to a match at the next pay-per-view.  Maybe the next match will have another useless stipulation attached to it.

Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles in a Singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

If this match is representative of “The New Era” in the WWE, please somebody take me back to The Attitude Era!  There are a lot of things wrong with this match, it’s almost hard to decide where to begin.  Let me give it a shot:

  • AJ Styles is clearly a babyface. Why did they book Roman Reigns against a babyface when he is supposed to be a babyface himself?  Wouldn’t they be doing Reigns a favor by booking him against a heel instead?
  • How did AJ Styles suddenly get booked in a main event? He just got to the WWE in January, now he’s a main-eventer?
  • Why should I care about a guy who couldn’t even beat Chris Jericho at WrestleMania?
  • Whatever WWE writer that came up with Roman’s new “I’m not a bad guy, I’m not a good guy, I’m just the guy” catch phrase needs to be fired and blackballed from the professional wrestling industry.
  • Roman even gave up his somewhat cool ring entrance through the crowd that originated during his days with The Shield and now comes down the ramp. Yet, he still wears that stupid flak jacket.

I could go on all day, but I am not impressed with either of the two and I’m not sure who to even care about in this match.  There will likely be some sort of involvement from Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows in this match as they are working an angle that leads us to believe they are about to swerve their friend, AJ Styles.

If anything, maybe we all get lucky and something interesting does happen.  Like AJ Styles does a heel turn and wins the match due to outside interference from Gallows and Anderson.  Or Reigns does a heel turn by joining forces by Gallows and Anderson and gains an underhanded victory.

No matter what happens, don’t expect the wrestling to be any good.  Roman Reigns has yet to look good in a singles match in a main event.  His match against Triple H at WrestleMania was average at best, and that was because he was in the ring with one of the all-time greats.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Roman Reigns

WrestleMania 32 Postscript

I’ve always felt that a hallmark of a great story is suspense and unpredictability.  WrestleMania 32 is in the books and gave us a long and entertaining evening last night.  The matches were mostly good and there were several fun segments throughout the show that made it look and feel like a special event.  Unfortunately, it completely lacked in the suspense and unpredictability category as we got a final result that the WWE fans have seen coming for the past two years.  Roman Reigns defeated Triple H for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.  The guy we didn’t want to see win it all just did and now we are stuck with him.

Overall, I’d give the show an above average rating of 3 stars on a 1 to 5 scale.  It was an unexpectedly long 7 hours total (the pre-show began at 5 PM EST, WrestleMania itself ran from 7 to almost 12 PM EST) so there was a lot to take in.  It is a tall order to ask every single minute of a show that long to be breathtaking, but there were enough cool moments to give you your $9.99 WWE Network subscription fee’s worth.

One highlight of the show for me was when Lita pronounced the Diva’s title dead in favor of the WWE Women’s Championship.  The women’s wrestling and promos are still going to be awful, but the annoying term “Diva” has been stricken from the WWE lexicon for good.

There were a lot of ups and downs for the various performers on the show and there are clearly some winners and losers coming out of WrestleMania 32.

Winners

  • The League of Nations: The international foursome was floundering on the show after each had shown promise as individual competitors in the past. This was a big win for them and hopefully it propels them forward.
  • Zach Ryder: The veteran had never competed in a match of this magnitude in his WWE career. He wasn’t even supposed to be in the match, having been inserted at the last minute due to an injury to Neville.  His win of the Intercontinental Championship was, by far, the biggest moment of the guy’s career, if not his life.  Let’s see if he is a one-and-done champion or hangs on to the belt for a while.
  • Baron Corbin: The NXT star wasn’t even advertised for WrestleMania and he still won the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Hopefully for him, the trophy actually gets someone over this year.
  • Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Cactus Jack: Yes, they looked old and were a shadow of their former selves, but it was still a trip down memory lane to see the three of them appear in a WWE ring at WrestleMania and entertain an excited crowd.
  • Shaquille O’Neal: The big man of NBA fame lived every single wrestling fan’s dream when he entered a match at WrestleMania. He even towered over The Big Show!
  • John Cena: Hard to say exactly what kind of shape he is in, but he did make it back into the ring for a few bumps and a WrestleMania moment, even if it’s not a high-profile match like we are used to seeing from him.

Losers

  • Triple H: This was probably the last we’ve seen of him ever wearing a WWE Championship belt.
  • AJ Styles: I knew nothing about the guy prior to two months ago when he entered the Royal Rumble. He was well received by the fans, skipped NXT altogether, and got a singles match in his first WrestleMania.  Forgetting the fact that he lost his WrestleMania match, more importantly he hasn’t done anything to live up to the “Phenomenal” moniker.
  • The Wyatt Family: Unless the WWE does something with them soon (and I mean soon), like giving them a championship or a high-profile win, I give up. All they do is talk nonsense and do jobs and it’s getting old and boring.  There is wasted potential across the board with all of these guys and their unique gimmick.
  • Ryback: The Big Guy was relegated to a singles match in front of a nearly-empty AT&T Stadium on the pre-show which he lost. Too bad, he has shown more potential as of late.
  • The WWE Fans: No, Vince McMahon does not care what we think. Roman Reigns is going to be our babyface champion whether we like it or not!

Things start over again tonight on Raw.  Not sure what to expect but hopefully the injury bug gets swatted and a few of our favorites return to the ring soon.  Maybe we get some meaningful NXT call ups to the main roster.  And maybe, just maybe, Reigns does a heel turn or drops the title quickly!

WrestleMania 32 Analysis and Predictions (part 3 of 3)

The first WrestleMania in 1985 was based around one main event featuring Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.  There were other matches on the card and several celebrity appearances, but the main event was really the only draw that made the event successful.  In order for WrestleMania to grow into the global phenomenon that is capable of selling out football stadiums that it is today, it had to feature more than just one main event to make the card special.

WrestleMania 32 will feature three main event-level matches that have been heavily hyped and advertised these past few months.  They will feature an interesting mix of legends who wrestle part time, full time competitors, the boss’ son, and a featured babyface that has been panned by the critics over the past two years.  Any one of these three matches has potential to be top-10 all-time great WrestleMania match, or perhaps even take a shot at being the best ever.

This is my final of three blog posts on WrestleMania 32 and it will feature my expert analysis and picks for the main event matches.  If you are going to be betting on any of these matches, you’ll want to pay close attention!

Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar in a No Holds Barred Street Fight

Any match with Brock Lesnar in the WWE is a main event.  Brock is a once-in-a-generation gifted athlete and is among the best in-ring workers we have ever seen in the WWE.  He looks like was chiseled out of stone and displays feats of strength in his matches that are almost unbelievable.  Unfortunately, he is not in the WWE title hunt this year like he deserves, but he is still going to put on a wrestling clinic at WrestleMania 32.  Of course, always at his side, his advocate Paul Heyman is certainly going to cut an entertaining promo during the show that is going to bring the crowd to their feet.

His opponent, Dean Ambrose, has been a surprise success on his own since The Shield broke up two years ago.  When he first came up, it seemed like he was destined to wrestle as a heel for his entire career but the crowd has taken to his “lunatic fringe” gimmick and he has worked in several pay-per-view main events as a solo competitor.  This match is a better spot for Ambrose than it is for Lesnar as it really gives Ambrose a chance to elevate his status with the WWE fans if he delivers an unforgettable performance.  A lot of critics have been calling for Ambrose to make a career-defining statement in this match and I think he has a chance of doing it.

The build for this match has been entertaining.  The creative angle of making it a street fight was done to give Ambrose the appearance of having a chance to win as there is no way he could beat brock in a straight wrestling match.  Ambrose has filmed several vignettes with hardcore legends such as Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie, with each of them “passing the hardcore torch” to the younger Ambrose by giving him their favorite weapons of choice.  Of course, Ambrose isn’t going to saw Lesnar’s arm off with Charlie’s Chainsaw, but it was certainly funny watching those segments.

This match is going to be wild and will feature Ambrose and Lesnar using all kind of prop weapons against each other.  It is going to be a stiff looking all-out brawl between the two and it could steal the show if these two can bring the best out of each other.

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match; if Shane wins, he will get control of Raw and Undertaker will be barred from competing at WrestleMania again.

This is the match that nobody saw coming headed into the final stretch of WrestleMania season.  The memories of a lackluster FastLane pay-per-view were quickly erased when on the opening segment of the next night’s Raw, Shane McMahon made his return to WWE programming after a seven-year absence and was put in a high-stakes match against the Undertaker at WrestleMania in a Hell in a Cell.  This caught almost all observers off guard as almost nobody guessed that McMahon was going to be this year’s opponent for The Undertaker.

Shane McMahon is competing for the opportunity to take control of the company away from his father and sister.  The narrative for this match was somewhat hastily implemented and it is almost bizarre in the sense as it is somewhat unclear what The Undertaker’s motivation was to compete against McMahon, but when the stipulation was added that if he loses to McMahon he can no longer compete at future WrestleManias, it gave him something to fight for.

Shane McMahon will always be admired by the fans because his resume of in-ring accomplishments from the Attitude Era are staggering.  He shed the notion that he was only part of the show because he was the boss’ son by taking death-defying bumps in almost all of his matches.  He displayed a surprising amount of talent and wrestling ability for someone who didn’t look like an athlete.  His willingness to lay his body on the line and take risks earned him respect and admiration from all observers of the sport.

The Undertaker has the best WrestleMania resume of any performer in WWE history.  Despite the fact that his legendary winning streak ended at WrestleMania XXX, he still boasts a 22-1 win/loss record at WrestleMania and has set a mark that will likely never be matched.  His WrestleMania matches, especially towards the end of his streak, would look and feel more important than the actual WWE title matches on the same card.  His match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV is widely recognized as the greatest WrestleMania match of all time.  There aren’t enough superlatives to describe The Deadman’s WrestleMania accomplishments.

The Hell in a Cell stipulation will add an element of surprise and danger to this match.  The HIAC structure became legendary when The Undertaker threw Mankind off the top of the cage in one of the most iconic moments in WWE history.  Nobody has ever been able to top that moment, but HIAC matches when done well have told dramatic and brutal stories.  Given the fact that Shane McMahon and The Undertaker are the participants in this particular HIAC match, it is a safe bet that this match could become an instant classic and be remembered as one of the best ever.  McMahon is likely going to damn near commit suicide in an attempt to wow the Dallas crowd.

I believe there are a few tells here that indicate the winner of match is going to be The Undertaker.  First off, it doesn’t seem likely that Shane McMahon is going to quit his day job and return to the WWE in a full-time capacity.  It also isn’t likely that The Undertaker is going to retire from WrestleMania competition any time soon.  He can still perform at a high level and has been advertised for future matches later this month in Europe.  If they are going to retire The Undertaker from WrestleMania, they might as well retire him for good.

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

Triple H (c) vs. Roman Reigns in a Singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

The likely outcome of this match is a moment that most WWE fans have been dreading for the last two years.  Vince McMahon’s insistence that Roman Reigns is the next face of the company is one of the biggest mysteries that WWE fans have pondered in years.  We clamor for pretty much anybody else on the card to be the top babyface champion in the company, yet we are met with Vince McMahon’s intransigent attitude on the matter.  His putting Roman Reigns in the WrestleMania main event for the second straight year is an example of his truculent stance against the fans.  It is as if he decided years ago that Reigns was going to be the top guy in the company and he is going to give it to us whether we like it or not.

The problem the fans have with Roman Reigns isn’t that he is the chosen one. The problem we have is very simple; Roman Reigns isn’t a very good wrestler.  He lacks basic in-ring psychology, never seemingly knowing when to sell an injury or when to make a comeback.  His offensive move set lacks excitement (who pops for the Superman Punch?) and he applies his biggest moves at the least appropriate times.  Most importantly, he lacks the ability to captivate the audience when he cuts a promo.  He is uninteresting and unable to properly emote.

This is not a case where a wrestler isn’t ready for the big time and needs time to develop.  Reigns was given the exact opportunity that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were to develop and get over with the crowd.  The sole problem that Roman Reigns has is that he is just not very good and he does not appear likely to ever improve.

Likely due to the rash of injuries and other extenuating circumstances in the WWE, Triple H had to insert himself in the main event picture to make this match interesting.  The WWE COO rarely wrestles anymore, but he always competes in a high profile match at WrestleMania.  This year, in his 20th WrestleMania, he enters the main event as WWE champion.  Given injuries to Seth Rollins and John Cena in particular, there weren’t too many people left that could credibly carry the title to the WrestleMania main event against Reigns.

Despite the fact that Roman Reigns is booked as the babyface and Triple H is booked as the heel in this match, the crowd have been audibly behind Triple H and not Roman Reigns.  Triple H received a huge ovation from the crowd when he viciously pounded Reign’s bloody face into the Raw announce table shortly after this match was announced.  It was a classic cowardly heel maneuver and yet the crowd loved it.  Conversely, nobody seemed to care when Reigns got his revenge several weeks later on Triple H by delivering him a beating of his own.  Both crowd reactions indicated less the fact that the fans are supporters of Triple H, and it is more likely that they are just solidly opposed to Roman Reigns and will support anybody who challenges him.

Triple H is one of the best WrestleMania competitors the WWE has ever known and can always be counted on to deliver a memorable match.  He is in his mid-40s and trains like a man half his age. He is seemingly still at his peak and will have to deliver the match of his life in order to carry the inferior Roman Reigns through this match.  The stakes are high and if Roman Reigns is going to be our babyface champion for the near future, this match is going to have to be top-notch.  If Reigns is ever going to get over, Triple H is going to have to act as the catalyst to make this change in attitude towards Reigns happen.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Roman Reigns

And with that, there is nothing else left to do than sit back and enjoy the 6-hour extravaganza on the WWE Network today, hoping for the best.  Enjoy the show!

WrestleMania 32 Analysis and Predictions (part 1 of 3)

Where have you gone, John Cena?  What’s become of you Daniel Bryan?  Does anybody know what actually happened to Randy Orton?  What about the “Next Best Thing”, Seth Rollins?  What fate befell Cesaro, Luke Harper, and Neville?

WrestleMania week is here and we are about to watch a show without the majority of the top and mid-level stars that we have come to love and hate over the past few years.  The WWE roster is riddled with injuries from top to bottom headed into WrestleMania and many performers who would have likely been featured in top matches are not going to be on the card.  And that is not counting C. M. Punk who abruptly quit two years ago and who fans still chant for to this day.

Still, the roster is loaded with talent, and WrestleMania always features a high-profile match or two with part-time talents that are a throwback to a previous era so there is potential that we could be treated to a very entertaining show.  Unfortunately, there is the specter of the main event hanging over our heads.  A match which will feature a legendary icon of professional wrestling versus an opponent who is not worthy of being the top star in the company.  For a second year in a row, the WWE fans are furious that Roman Reigns was given the top babyface spot in the main event of a WrestleMania, and we are cringing at the thought that he could finally begin his long-term championship run that most of us have feared for the last two years.

While this situation has persisted for quite some time, the flames of our ire were fanned in the lead-in to WrestleMania pay-per-views and Raw episodes.  First, at the Royal Rumble, the fans were exuberant when Reigns was eliminated from the rumble match, thus stripping him of his title.  Triple H was serenated with cheers when he won the title himself.  This, despite the fact, that Triple H was booked as the heel and Reigns booked as the babyface.

Any good feelings that were present at the end of the Royal Rumble were quickly squashed as Reigns was announced to be in a triple-threat match at FastLane against Brock Lesnar and Dean Ambrose for the #1 contender spot for the championship at WrestleMania.  Suddenly, the whole main storyline for WrestleMania 32 became very predictable: Reigns would win the match at FastLane and go on to defeat Triple H for the title at ‘Mania.

Sure enough, the first part of that dire prediction came true when Reigns did indeed win his match at FastLane and will headline WrestleMania for the second year in a row.  It is likely only a matter of time before the other shoe drops and he walks off with the title on Sunday.

WrestleMania is known as the most unique show of the year on the WWE schedule.  It looks different and feels different than every other pay-per-view.  As such, there is more to look forward to than just one main event match, typically there are several main event matches that fill out the card.  There is potential for this show to be remembered for more than just a disappointing end to the main event.

From the outset, it doesn’t look like this WrestleMania is going to become an instant top-to-bottom classic like WrestleMania X-7.  There aren’t too matches that are candidates for consideration as an all-time-great such as Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 25, or Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at WrestleMania III.  But hey, my WWE Network subscription is already paid for and I have a room full of people coming over to watch the show.  I’ll keep an open mind and hope for the best.

We have a card loaded with the best (and healthy) talents on the roster today, and a Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and the returning Shane McMahon so there are pieces in place that could steal the show and give us something to look forward to. We also know that The Rock will be on the show and there are rumors that Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin will be there as well.

This is the first of my three-part series featuring my expert analysis and predictions for WrestleMania 32.  Last year, my overall pick record wasn’t stellar, but I nailed the prediction that Triple H was going to beat Sting and I’m pretty proud of that.  Thank you for reading so far, and let’s see how I do this year.  Part 1 is going to feature the pre-show matches.

The Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz

A straight-forward tag team match is a safe way to get things started at WrestleMania.  While a lot of matches on a ‘Mania card tend to be over-booked or over-crowded, this matchup will showcase two pure tag teams in a grudge match without any stipulations or championships on the line.

The Dudley Boyz returned to the WWE in August of 2015 after a lengthy hiatus of roughly a decade and were immediately put in the tag team championship picture.  They were welcomed back as heroes by the fans and resumed their gimmick of a team that puts their opponents through tables.  Most of us who remember them from their heyday in the Attitude Era recall they did their best work as heels who became one of the most decorated tag teams of all time.

At first, it appeared that they were going to be back for a nostalgia run and ride a wave of good feelings towards them.  Finally, in Feburary of 2016, the Dudley Boyz did what they did best and turned heel when they attacked The Usos after a match on Raw.  For the first time since their return, the Dudley Boyz started to act like their old selves.

The Usos had an up-and-down 2015 as Jey Uso suffered a serious shoulder injury and missed six months, thus derailing their momentum.  The Usos returned in a lower spot on the card upon their return as their status as the #1 tag-team in the WWE was eclipsed by The New Day.

The lead-in to this match has somewhat been lost in the shuffle this WrestleMania season. We were given enough to see that there is bad blood between these two teams and it is clear who the good guys are and the bad guys are.

Stylistically, this match should look familiar to long-time WWE fans as The Usos have lifted most of the offensive move set from The Hardy Boyz, a long-time rival of the Dudleys.  The high-flying and risk-taking style of the Hardys formed an odd complement to the bruising and brawling style of The Dudleys in their many encounters.

I would expect this match to feature a lot of high-risk high spots off the top rope from The Usos, and at least one combatant in this match getting put through a table.  It probably won’t be given too much time to play out, so expect this to be fast-paced and quickly resolved.

Prediction: Winners, The Dudley Boyz

André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

For the third time, WrestleMania will feature a 20-man-over-the-top Battle Royal to determine the winner of the André the Giant Memorial Trophy.  This match hasn’t been too kind to its participants in its first two iterations.

Cesaro won the first one at WrestleMania XXX with a memorable spot by lifting The Big Show and tossing him out of the ring.  Following his victory, he immediately turned heel and failed to get over with the fans, even with Paul Heyman as his advocate.  He lost all momentum from his victory, didn’t really do anything noteworthy over the following year and a half, and then broke his shoulder and is currently out of action.

Last year, the Battle Royal match was bumped down to the pre-show.  The Big Show won the match, this time getting the upper hand from Cesaro and finally eliminating the crowd-favored Damien Mizdow.  He posed with the trophy for the next few weeks on TV and then went back to flip-flopping between babyface and heel, and jobbing most of the time.  Once again, the André trophy failed to give any lift to its winner.

This year, it looks like the WWE has completely given up on trying to make this a meaningful match.  The participants announced for the match look like they are only there as a consolation prize to get them on a WrestleMania card for just being on the roster.  Other than a few sentimental favorites such as The Big Show, Kane, Goldust, and Mark Henry, there is barely anybody left to root for in this match.  With such bums as Konnor, Viktor, Darren Young, Fandango, and The Social Outcasts in the match, it’s hard to pick a clear-cut winner as practically nobody in this match appears to be going anywhere with his career at this point.

I have a theory that we are going to get swerved.  The Wyatt Family has been mysteriously written off of TV lately.  Usually when that happens, they make a surprise return at an unexpected moment to cause some sort of havoc.  I think that one or more of them is going to enter the match and end up the surprise victor.

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

The Total Divas (Brie Bella, Paige, Natalya, Alicia Fox and Eva Marie) vs. B.A.D. & Blonde (Naomi, Tamina, Lana, Emma and Summer Rae) in a 10-Diva tag team match

Just thinking about this match makes my stomach hurt.  This has the potential to be the worst WrestleMania match since Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole at WrestleMania XXVII.  On a scale from one to five stars, I’m going to go ahead and give it a zero right now.

Prediction: This match is going to suck so much that I can’t even think of a word to describe it.

Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

This is one of the more unusual pairings on the card and has a potential to be a surprise hit match.  Both participants are performing at a very high level in their own respect and will compete in a standard match with a title on the line.

Kalisto was a bit of a face in the crowd on the WWE roster for most of 2015.  He was one half of the token Luchador style tag-team in the WWE, The Lucha Dragons along with Sin Cara.  Despite not having much of a chance to display any kind of personality traits from behind a mask, he managed to distinguish himself at WWE TLC in December by performing his Salida Del Sol (a form of a standing sitout shiranui DDT) from the top of a ladder and through another.  He was awarded with a Slammy, and went on to a feud with Alberto Del Rio, emerging with the United States Championship.

Ryback was on another aimless run, a one-dimensional babyface hero with a repetitive catch phrase and a hulking physique.  It seemed like the crowd was tired of him until he masterfully executed a heel turn following WWE FastLane and shifted his gimmick to more of a monster heel.  This turned the crowd sufficiently against him and he instantly began to draw heat on himself.

What we are left with is a perfect contrast in style, size, and attitude between the two combatants in this match.  I would expect Ryback to display several feats of strength by tossing the smaller Kalisto around the ring like he is a paperweight.  Of course, Kalisto is going to stick with his bread and butter by executing several fast-paced high spots, showcasing his speed and agility.  If given enough time, this match could tell an interesting and entertaining story.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Ryback

Later this week, part 2 will feature all of the mid-card matches.

Did we really get what we wanted at The Royal Rumble?

When you live in an apartment building that has a thin layer of separation between units, you get a lot of ambient noise from your neighbors in your place.  It can drive you crazy unless you just chalk it up to “apartment living”.  The best thing to do is to apply the Golden Rule and keep it down during what society would expect to be quiet time, say after 10 PM on work nights, and hope that your neighbors return the favor.

Well, if the Golden Rule is in force in my apartment building, I just set myself up for some trouble.  For at about 10:55 PM on Sunday, January 24, five out of the six people at my WWE Royal Rumble viewing party jumped out of their seats and screamed “YEEEAAAAHHH!!!” in response to Triple H throwing Roman Reigns over the top rope, eliminating him from the rumble match and ending his current championship reign.  The lone holdout from the celebration was the guy who drew #1 in our Royal Rumble pool and watched his chances of winning $120 go down the drain with Reigns’ elimination.

As he entered as #1, Reigns was booed very loudly and did nothing to win the crowd over during his time in the match.  Much like the scene in my apartment, the fans in attendance in Orlando popped very loudly when Roman Reigns got knocked out of the rumble.  As a fan, you have to wonder about that reaction.  After all, he was booked as a good guy, yet the crowd hated his guts.  This is not news; the subject of Reigns not being accepted by the fans has been discussed ad-museum for well over a year now.  But, what was that us fans thought we were getting when Reigns got knocked out?

While it certainly made us happy that his run as champ is over and we got caught up in the moment, you really have to ask yourself what happened there and what is going to happen next?  It might have seemed like the WWE yanked the title off of him because he wasn’t over and it was time to cash out and move on headed into WrestleMania.  Almost as if WWE management were actually listening to us.

But, not so fast!  Triple H left the rumble as the 14-time champion.  Wrestling common sense says that he is a transitional champion, one who isn’t going to do the house show runs and draw fans all over the country for months at a time.  He is a part-timer and is only playing a part in the WrestleMania buildup. Michael Cole announced that he is going to defend his title at WrestleMania immediately after the match ended.  But, what could the outcome possibly be?  Who is Triple H going to wrestle and who will leave Dallas as champion.  The matter of who he will wrestle will play out at FastLane (the winner of Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose will be named #1 contender) but it is fairly certain that he will not walk out of WrestleMania as champion.

This leaves us with the very real possibility that we are being worked.  That not only is the WWE doubling-down, but they are absolutely all-in on Roman Reigns.  This could very well be just a way for the WWE to give Roman Reigns his WrestleMania moment, the one he didn’t get last year.  We may have just been set up to watch Reigns defeat Triple H in the main event of WrestleMania 32 and walk out as the WWE champion to end the show.

While it remains to be seen if this scenario will play out, I can assure you of one thing.  If Reigns does indeed win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 32, my neighbors are going to hear a lot more annoying noise late on a Sunday night.  Except this time, it won’t be an exclamation of joy. It will be moans of agony.

Fantasy Booking WrestleMania 32

No doubt that The WWE is looking to make a splash when WrestleMania 32 is held in AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas on April 6, 2016.  Not that they ever put anything less than their best effort in for other WrestleManias, but this one could potentially be historic if they manage to sell enough tickets.  AT&T Stadium has a capacity of 105,000 for football if you include standing room.  The WWE has a chance to break the attendance record that was set at WrestleMania III in 1987 of 93,173 fans.  WrestleMania III was headlined by a main event matchup between Hulk Hogan and the so-called “undefeated” Andre the Giant.  It remains to be seen what the special attraction, or attractions, will be for WM 32, but the WWE is certainly already planning something special.

I was at dinner with some friends Pilsener Haus & Biergarten in Hoboken recently and my friend Ned went through a list of matches he’d like to see at WM 32.  It got me thinking about what I would do if I were given the book and told to book the event myself. Since I like to fancy myself as the hottest up-and-coming WWE blogger on the Internet, let’s see what I can come up with.

Main Event: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Brock Lesnar

As an avid listener of Steve Austin’s bi-weekly podcast, I’ve come to learn a lot about Steven Austin and his career.  Two topics come up often on his show.  One is that he didn’t want to have to retire early but was forced to do so due to a neck injury and he spent three years following his retirement in a funk while trying to find his way without a wrestling career.  Second is that he really does not want to come back for another match, citing difficulties in training, among other reasons.

Most of this was known before the WWE announced that WrestleMania 32 was set to take place in his home state of Texas.  Somehow you have to think that negotiations had already started to bring him back for the show around the time it was announced.  Rumors that this match is going to happen were certainly stoked last month during the Stone Cold Podcast on The WWE Network last week.  At the end of his interview with Paul Heyman, Austin suddenly broke into a kayfabe  promo target at Brock Lesnar, proclaiming that if he were to come back for one more match, he would deliver a beating to Lesnar.

This could have simply been done to generate interest in Austin’s next podcast, it could have been a joke, and it could have been many things.  But old-school Austin fans are now champing at the bit in anticipation that this will lead to a comeback by the Texas Rattlesnake for one more match at WrestleMania 32.  An Austin vs. Lesnar matchup could very well be the WrestleMania III-esque type of main event the WWE needs to break the attendance record.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship Triple Threat Match: Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns

The Shield was one of the hottest factions the WWE had seen in years when its members were called up to the main roster prior to WrestleMania XXIX. The combination of Reigns’ look, Ambrose’s personality, and Rollins’ in-ring ability were the perfect set of complementary traits that set them apart from the rest. Originally brought up as heels, the crowd eventually got behind them and they were the most popular babyface team headed into WrestleMania XXX. They were riding a high in the following months in a feud with Evolution, only to abruptly break up when Rollins turned on his team mates to join The Authority.

The split was shocking for several reasons, the biggest of which was that the group was routinely a main attraction on Raw and on pay per view events. It was unclear at the time what direction each would head and which members, if any, would lose momentum and be left behind. It has been just over a year since the breakup, and other than when Reigns lost some time to injury, the three have all emerged as major main-event level talents on their own. Ambrose has main-evened several pay-per-views, Reigns was the controversial winner of The Royal Rumble and competed in the WrestleMania 31 main event, and Seth Rollins is the reigning WWE champion.

The former-Shield member rivalry is still burning pretty hot. Rollins is often the antagonist for both Reigns and Ambrose and the crowd is still fully vested in the animosity that began when Rollins turned on the other two. At Payback in May we saw the three, along with Randy Orton, compete in a Fatal-Four-Way match. The crowd popped for a spot when the former Shield members performed their trademark triple-powerbomb on Randy Orton.

The ultimate payoff for this group would be a championship match with just the three of them at WrestleMania. Rollins would be the heel, Reigns the babyface, and Ambrose would be somewhere in the middle.  It would truly be a contest with no obvious winner headed into the match. The buildup would be intense and emotional. The match itself has the potential to be remembered as an all-time classic. Out of all the matches I’d like to see, this would be the one I’d hope the WWE actually puts on in Dallas.

Triple H vs. The Rock

The verbal confrontation between these two Attitude-Era icons at WrestleMania 31 was likely more than a one-time encounter. The two semi-retired legends have wrestled countless times in the past, but never at a WrestleMania.

Triple-H is a constant mainstay on WWE television as the villainous COO of the WWE. The Rock is a worldwide sensation in the entertainment realm as one of the biggest box office attractions in movies today. A match between the two would generate interest from long time fans and fans of The Rock’s movies alike. This one seems like a no-brainier to me.

Ronda Rousey vs. Stephanie McMahon

One of the most popular female athletes in the world today gave WWE fans a surprise appearance in a WWE ring at WrestleMania 31 alongside The Rock during his confrontation with The Authority. It was highly unusual to see an active UFC competitor in a WWE ring, but the drawing power of someone like Rousey was certainly enough for the WWE to make an exception. The confrontation ended with Rousey physically removing Triple H and Stephanie McMahon from the ring and has left the fans wanting more from her.

A lot of things would have to happen for Rousey to compete at WrestleMania 32, not the least of which would be for her to get clearance from UFC, and for her to train to compete in a worked match. But there is no doubt that if these hurdles were cleared, it would attract fans from both WWE and UFC to Dallas to watch this match.

This wouldn’t be a straight up wrestling match, given Rousey’s dominance in the UFC, it’s not realistic to think that Stephanie would be able to beat her one-on-one. This would be more of a special attraction match similar to Mayweather vs. The Big Show at WrestleMania XXIV where there would be some sort of mitigating factor that would tilt the odds in McMahon’s favor headed into the match.

Most importantly, this match would fill up the Diva’s slot on the card so we wouldn’t be made to suffer another low-quality and uninteresting match involving the likes of Paige or The Bella Twins.

Kevin Owens vs. Randy Orton

Kevin Owens is off to a hot start on the WWE main roster.  His first two matches against WWE United States Champion John Cena are already considered among critics as potential Match of the Year candidates. His innovative offensive style, combined with his natural arrogance and disrespectful attitude have built him into one of the top heels in the company. His rookie run is reminiscent of Kurt Angle’s WWE debut in the late 1990’s, and that is about the highest compliment a young talent can be paid.

Randy Orton is a made man in the WWE. He looks good no matter if he wins or loses. He can always be counted on to get an angle over with fans. His size and deceptively quick style make him one of the most talented wrestlers on the roster. He is going to be prominently featured on the WM card in one way or another.

I think this pairing makes sense for a lot of reasons. Similar to his current beef with John Cena, Owens can also disrespect the veteran Orton. The promos between the two headed into the show would generate a lot of interest in their match. Stylistically, we could expect a fast paced, seesaw battle between the two. This undercard match would be the perfect complement for the main event matches.

The Undertaker vs. John Cena

Not much is known about The Deadman these days. He only works one match per year at WrestleMania and makes very few, if any, public appearances. Not much is known about his health or how much longer he is willing and able to compete on the WWE stage.  The rumor mill continues to circulate that his in-ring career may not have much longer. That being said, he looked good in his match against Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 31 and gave no actual indication that he’s anywhere near done. If WrestleMania 32 is indeed his last ride, there would be no better place to have it than in his home state of Texas. Either way, an Undertaker match is always a must-see at WrestleMania.

The pairing against John Cena is something I’ve wanted to see for years but it has never worked out. Now that Cena has become a main-event-level talent on the mid-card and no longer in the title picture, this is a good place for him to land on the card. Long gone is the legendary undefeated streak of The Undertaker in WrestleMania competition, but a match against John Cena would have no obvious winner and would carry a lot of weight on the card as a legend vs. legend contest that we may never see again.

The Rest of the Card

There are a lot of other talents on the roster that could certainly deserve a chance to compete on The Grandest Stage of Them All. It remains unclear if Daniel Bryan will be healthy enough to participate in WM 32, but certainly we should count on something memorable from the likes of Bray Wyatt, The Big Show, Kane, Dolph Ziggler, Neville, Luke Harper, Rusev, Mark Henry, Ryback, or several other main-roster talents on the card. The pay-per-view schedule between now and then will undoubtedly set the stage for what is to come for WrestleMania 32.

What are your thoughts? Do you like my match list or would you re-write it in a different way?

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.