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.

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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?

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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 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

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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).

WrestleMania 33 Season News and Notes

WrestleMania season is always the best time of year to be a WWE fan, and with just two weeks left until WrestleMania 33, this year is no different.  The hype for the big event is in high gear at this point with 11 matches already announced for the card.  Things took an interesting turn today when the WWE got some press the probably weren’t hoping for.  News broke that one of the hosts of WrestleMania, Xavier Woods of The New Day was featured in a leaked sex tape with likely-soon-to-be-former WWE Superstar Paige.  It’s a New Day, yes it is!

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One of the WrestleMania 33 hosts, Xavier Woods of The New Day holding his trombone.  His other instrument was just shown to the world in a leaked sex tape today.

The press around the sex tape notwithstanding, the WWE always casts a wide net during WrestleMania season to attract both hardcore and casual fans.  The economic impact due to WrestleMania to the city of Orlando is expected to be massive. WrestleMania is the best opportunity for the WWE to increase the subscriber count for the WWE Network.  So, if you are a hardcore fan, you are likely to be happy with some of the announced matches on the card as they are geared towards you.  Some other matches, geared towards the casual fan, not so much.  There is a lot of good going on right now, and a little bit of bad.

What’s Looking Good So Far

No better place to start with the good than with the two major title matches.  One features two full-time superstars who are deserving of the honor of carrying one of the main events at WrestleMania.  The other features a part-time feature attraction, and a returning hero, years past his prime but still capable of producing an entertaining spectacle.

The Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton match is one that current fans should really enjoy.  It is a WWE title match built on a long-running and emotional angle. There is a huge amount of animosity between the two and has the potential to be a classic.

The new WWE Universal Championship will be defended for the first time at a WrestleMania when Brock Lesnar and Goldberg collide in the other main event.  This match is a bit more controversial among the regular fan base, with many bemoaning the fact that a part-timer and a returning superstar are taking away a spot from two regulars who should be in that spot instead.  I don’t share that view, I think that the build since Survivor Series towards this match has been pretty solid.  Despite the fact that Goldberg can’t wrestle for more than about five minutes, he is an imposing physical specimen, and carries himself with the same ferocity and intensity as he did during his WCW heyday.  The WWE had to put this match on the card, it will certainly bring back more than a few fans who were fans of the old WCW that have been gone for a long time.

Just behind the two main events on the “good” spectrum are two grudge matches, one between Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens and the other between AJ Styles and Shane McMahon.

The Jericho vs. Owens match is for the WWE United States Championship, but that is merely a footnote in this match. Their rivalry is built on a slow-burn storyline that has spanned months.  With their once comical and entertaining friendship now shattered, the animosity between the two is immense.  Both men are in a position to deliver one of the biggest matches of their respective careers.

AJ Styles will get a chance to showcase his talents for the second time at a WrestleMana against the unpredictable and risk-taking Shane McMahon.  Styles has been a smash-hit in his 14 month WWE tenure, drawing in-ring ability comparisons to Shawn Michaels, and having already captured and lost a WWE Championship.  Shane McMahon has earned the fans respect over the course of his on-and-off tenure with the WWE by laying it all on the line during his matches.  He might not be the best wrestler, but he can be counted on to practically risk his life to put on a good show, especially at WrestleMania.

What’s Looking Bad So Far

With probably what will add up to more than 11 matches and over 7 hours of content, there is no way that everything we see will be top-notch.  Either because the talents involved in them aren’t the best, or because the matches are geared towards entertaining the casual fan, chances are we are going to get a few stinkers.

First, there is The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns match, the match that virtually no fan wanted to see at WrestleMania.  The Undertaker is widely regarded as the best WrestleMania performer of all time, and sports an unprecedented 23-1 record at the biggest event of the year.  Roman Reigns, on the other hand, is absolutely terrible.  He has done nothing to gain the respect of WWE fans.  It’s not like he hasn’t had his chance, he’s already been in not one, but two WrestleMania main events.  If he hasn’t caught fire yet, he never will.  One can only hope that the rumors he will ruin a third WrestleMania main event next year never come to fruition.

The Undertaker deserves better than this, he should be in the ring with John Cena or Braun Strowman this year.  Both men were rumored to be WrestleMania opponents of The Deadman, but that obviously did not happen.  The WWE even teased Strowman as the Undertaker’s opponent a few weeks ago on Raw. The live crowd was buzzing as the two men stood toe-to-toe in the ring.  Then the WWE made the creatively foolish decision to have Strowman, who was riding a high wave of heel heat as a monster heel, back down to the Undertaker and retreat from the ring.  You could feel mood in the arena deflate as Roman Reigns hit the ring instead and challenge the Undertaker to a WrestleMania match.

I’d prefer to have seen either Cena or Strowman take on The Undertaker.  Heck, I’d take pretty much anybody on the roster over Reigns.  Instead give me Big Show, Dolph Ziggler, Kane, Luke Harper, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Charlotte Flair, whatever!  Anybody but Reigns!

Or course, the most god-awful WrestleMania booking decision that I can even remember, is the mixed tag team match pitting John Cena and Nikki Bella against The Miz and Maryese.  It’s hard to say where “Big Match John” went wrong, but something is amiss if he suddenly was reduced from main-event status to being in what essentially is a commercial for The Total Bellas reality show.  This match isn’t targeted towards the loyal fan at all.  Instead it is intended as a gimmick to gain the interest of people from outside the circle of WWE fans.

Think about it for one minute.  John Cena is in a match versus Maryese.  Maryese!  Has she even had a match?  I fast forward through all Women’s matches on Raw and Smackdown, but even still, I don’t recall ever seeing her even wrestle!  Nikki Bella’s matches are almost always a series of botches and mistakes that are painful to watch.  John Cena is going to be in the ring with both them!  He’s a multi-time WrestleMania main-eventer!

To their credit, Cena and The Miz have done their best to build towards this match, cutting pretty vicious reality-based promos on each other.  The Miz is a dependable heel, and Cena is pretty much the best wrestler in the WWE right now.  But, like a guy at my old Harley Davidson dealership once told me: “You can’t polish a turd.”.  This match is going to suck.  It should have been a singles match between Miz and Cena, but we are going to have to suffer through this mess instead.

It also bad that there doesn’t appear to be an obvious top spot for Braun Strowman headed into WrestleMania.  Strowman is a rare case of the WWE building someone organically into a top heel.  Ever since the brand-split in July 2016, Strowman was showcased in a way that gave him a chance to gain the respect of WWE fans who want to see more of him.  Instead, it doesn’t look like he is going to be prominently featured on this year’s WrestleMania card, and if he isn’t, that is a shame.

The falling cruiserweight and women’s divisions will also be featured in at least three matches on the card.  Neither division is any good, and they very rarely produce interesting matches, at least not on main WWE programming.  These matches are great if you need to make a beer run or have to hit the bathroom, but they are certainly going to be bad if you have to sit there and watch them.

What We Don’t Know Yet

There’s still time between now and April 2 for the situation to develop.  Certainly, Braun Strowman is going to fit in somewhere on the card.  It looks like Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin are set to collide in a singles match for the Interconnectional title.  If this comes to fruition, it will be a nice departure from the regular 7-man ladder match for the IC title we get every year.  There are still many spots open in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal match which could lead to a special moment.  There is always a chance for a surprise NXT call-up, a returning legend to make a surprise appearance, or an unexpected heel turn.  I’ll be sure to stay tuned these next two weeks to see what else happens headed into the biggest night of the year in professional wrestling.

WWE Elimination Chamber Analysis and Predictions

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The final Smackdown-branded WWE pay-per-view before WrestleMania 33 takes place tonight in Phoenix, Arizona. The aim of this show is to build some momentum for WrestleMania and continue the momentum from a Royal Rumble that produced some surprise results.  Not too many people had picked John Cena to capture his 16th WWE Championship.  Likewise, Randy Orton wasn’t too high on anybody’s list of picks to win the Royal Rumble match and head to the main event of WrestleMania.

Tonight’s card is a two-trick-pony with a lot of filler that won’t really have much of a consequence for WrestleMania or otherwise.  The six-man Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Championship and the Luke Harper vs. Randy Orton singles match are likely the only two matches that will have a major impact on WrestleMania.  As such, I’m not going to waste your time breaking down the women’s matches, the Dolph Ziggler handicap match, or the tag team turmoil match.  There might be some drama in the men’s matches, but the end results won’t matter much in the long run.

Luke Harper vs. Randy Orton

Randy Orton is a hot commodity these days.  After missing significant time last year due to an injury that cost him a spot at WrestleMania 32, he will now be featured prominently at WrestleMania 33.  Having been involved in a somewhat aimless angle with the Wyatt Family for several months, things took an interesting turn when he won the Royal Rumble match.  On his way to the win, a feud with Luke Harper was solidified when the bad blood between the two boiled over during the match.  The Wyatt family was destined to break up from the beginning, but it seemed like a more obvious path would have been for Wyatt and Orton to turn on each other.  This was a bit of an unexpected twist, and it gives Luke Harper a chance to have a showcase match.

Luke Harper has long been an under-utilized talent behind Bray Wyatt.  He has shown flashes of brilliance on the microphone and can certainly carry himself in a singles match.  Other a brief run as Intercontinental Champion that was highlighted by an entertaining feud with Dolph Ziggler, Harper’s WWE run has been that of a second fiddle.

There is a compelling story to be told with this match as both Orton and Harper have shown allegiance to Bray Wyatt, but can’t co-exist as members of the Wyatt Family.  The outcome of this match is likely to set up another match at WrestleMania, with one of the two possibly facing Bray Wyatt.

Like I always say, professional wrestling is at its best when it showcases a one-on-one grudge match without any stipulations.  I expect nothing but the best from these two top talents in this match, and it will likely be the best one of the night.

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

John Cena (c) vs. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz vs. Baron Corbin vs. Bray Wyatt in an Elimination Chamber match or the WWE Championship

Much like the Royal Rumble match, there is a lot of speculation about what may happen in the chamber match, with no clear favorite to win.  There is a lot of guessing about what could possibly happen with the WWE Championship as a result.  Would John Cena lose his 16th championship just weeks after he won at Royal Rumble?  Why would John Cena and Randy Orton face each other on Smackdown this week if that very same match was the plan for WrestleMania?  What about Bray Wyatt, could he win, setting up a match between himself and Randy Orton?  Does AJ Styles win his title back and head to ‘Mania as champ?  Let’s take a look at the possibilities for each competitor.

  • Baron Corbin: This is the highest-profile match of Corbin’s short WWE main roster run. His booking has been somewhat uneven since his splash debut at WrestleMania 32, but as of late he has a lot of momentum which has brought him to this match.  He is the longest-shot to win this match, but expect something to happen that sends him on a clear path for a match at WrestleMania.
  • The Miz: This former WWE Champion and WrestleMania main-eventer is a dark-horse to win the match and head back to the main event at The Show of Shows this April. He is among the most dependable heels in the WWE today, virtually all fans at live shows hate him and boo everything he says and does.  He can be counted on to be the foil for a babyface Randy Orton if put in that spot.
  • Dean Ambrose: Dean Ambrose is also a former WWE Champion who has main-evented several Pay Per View matches in the past few years. Following a lackluster match between himself and Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 32, it would be good to see him have a chance for a WrestleMania moment worth of remembrance at this year’s show.
  • Bray Wyatt: As far as I am concerned, Bray Wyatt is at a crossroads. He either needs to win a singles championship or win a match at WrestleMania or I will completely stop caring about him.  No better way to give him a push like that than to set him up to wrestle his protégé Randy Orton at WrestleMania with the WWE Championship on the line.  I think there is a strong likelihood this could happen.
  • AJ Styles: Styles continues to impress since his surprise debut at the Royal Rumble in 2016. Very few have done so much in their first year in WWE as Styles has.  He is coming off of an instant-classic match with John Cena at the Royal Rumble. There are a lot of compelling reasons to believe that Styles could be headed to WrestleMania as champion.
  • John Cena: “Big Match John” as he is sometimes referred to continues to get better with age. He is overall the best full-time talent the WWE has on the active roster and is riding high since his championship win just a few weeks ago.  It would be a shame to see him lose the title so quickly, but if he does, expect it to set up a very high-profile grudge match between him and someone else at WrestleMania 33.  Perhaps The Undertaker imposes his will on this match?

The WWE has advertised that the Elimination Chamber is “all new”.  Not really sure what that means, but it could add to the drama of the match.  Without a clear-cut winner, expect the unexpected in this match.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, John Cena

 

WWE Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

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Unlike the past two WrestleMania seasons that were plagued by the predictability of a push of Roman Reigns that virtually none of us wanted, most WWE fans have no idea what to expect headed into The Royal Rumble this Sunday.  The only thing that is for certain is that the WrestleMania card will begin to take shape in more ways than one.

The Royal Rumble match itself is stacked like none other has been in recent memory.  In the absence of a strong rumor suggesting a WrestleMania main event is already planned for one of the competitors, the field is wide open, and you could make the case for at least 10 guys to win the match.

More importantly, a product of the brand split in July was the addition of a second major title for Raw.  This year, the winner will become number one contender for one of the two titles, whereas in previous years there was only one number one contender spot up for grabs.  This adds to the unpredictability factor of who might win, as the WWE is not painted into the corner creatively by only having three or four competitors in the match that had a legitimate shot of winning and going on to headline WrestleMania.

Given the number of main-event caliber talents in the match, there will also be many other stories told other than that of the winner.  Chances are that several other feuds will either be enhanced or will develop during the match that will lead to one-on-one matches at WrestleMania 33.

Aside from some filler matches, the undercard has two interesting matches for the top championship titles.  There is a lot of buzz and guessing going on right now, all of which is building anticipation for what, on paper, is a very exciting Royal Rumble card.

I’m not going to bother previewing the Cruiserweight and Women’s matches, as they will likely be very uninteresting and won’t really lead to anything of note at WrestleMania.  Instead, I’ll focus on the two title matches and the Royal Rumble match.

Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns in a No Disqualification match for the WWE Universal Championship Chris Jericho will be suspended in a shark cage above the ring

Talk about an interesting stipulation for a championship match!  Here’s one you don’t see very often, someone known to help the heel champion cheat to win that is locked inside of a shark cage and suspended above the ring.  This one is so unusual, it is hard to predict what might actually happen. On the one hand, it would seem like that Chris Jericho will be completely neutralized in this match and will not be able to interfere on behalf of Kevin Owns like he has done in the past.  On the other hand, something tells me that it would be pretty boring for Jericho to simply dangle above the ring for 20 minutes, and that something could happen that could bust him out of the cage and allow him to get involved in the match somehow.  I’m not sure exactly which one will happen, but I’m thinking it’s likely to be the latter.

The Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho partnership has been unexpectedly riveting to watch.  Jericho was pretty much a washed-up has-been during his latest WWE run until he teamed up with the talented and charismatic Owens.  Their “friendship” is comically tenuous, and will of course break up and lead them to a one-on-one match (maybe at WM 33?). In the meantime, you never know what they might do to keep the WWE Universal Title on Kevin Owens.

Owens has been extremely impressive as WWE Universal Champion.  He works as a heel but he is so good at everything he does that the crowd can’t help but pop for him when he makes his ring entrance.  He overshadows his opponent in this match in every possible way.  Roman Reigns is the exact opposite of Owens, Reigns works as a babyface and the crowd continuously boos him out of the building.  He is a failed experiment that the WWE doesn’t seem to want to walk away from.  He has been pushed down a notch from main event status, let’s hope that he doesn’t find his way back on top for a third straight WrestleMania.

As I eluded to earlier, the stipulation for this match makes it tough to predict.  I don’t think it is likely that Jericho doesn’t find his way down somehow to interfere in the match in some way.  But the question is, when he does make it down from the cage, on whose behalf will he interfere?

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, Kevin Owens.

AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena in a singles match for the WWE Championship

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is nothing better than a one-on-one matchup for a championship with no stipulations attached to it.  When two top talents with a grudge against each other face off for a WWE Championship, it gives the fans an opportunity to enjoy the art of professional wrestling as it was originally intended.  AJ Styles and John Cena are two of the absolute best active wrestlers in the world today and I fully expect them to bring the house down.

John Cena is recently back in the WWE from his latest stint away from the company to film a reality TV show.  During his first night, back on Smackdown, he showed a bit of attitude by referring to the “New Era” as “B. S.”.  For a moment, I almost thought it was a heel promo.  But it was good stuff from Cena, working the crowd and giving us something to think about.

Very few talents have had the same impact in their first year in the WWE as AJ Styles had in 2016.  He got off to a strong start with his surprise entry into the Royal Rumble match.  Fans of his from his days in TNA, ROH, and NJPW where thrilled to see him finally get his shot in the WWE at age 38.  I watch none of those promotions so the first time I was exposed to him was that night.

At first I was somewhat underwhelmed with Styles and couldn’t understand what the hype was about. He had an interesting offensive move set, but was undersized and didn’t seem like he had very much charisma.  But a mid-summer heel turn really got him to take off.  His heel promos are top notch and his “Beat up John Cena” catchphrase became an instant classic.  It was only a few months into his first year in the WWE that he won his first major championship.

There is a lot on the line in this match.  First of all, John Cena stands as a 15-time World Champion.  He is one championship win shy of tying the all-time record of 16 World Championships held by the legendary Ric Flair.  It is hard to say if the WWE would let him tie the record at the Royal Rumble, or let him hang on until WrestleMania to finally tie the mark.  Also on the line is a chance to claim the prestige of defending the WWE Championship at WrestleMania.  It is likely that the winner of this match will not lose the title before ‘Mania.

This should be the best match of the night, nobody can tell a story better in-ring than these two can right now.  There is a reason that Cena is a 15-time champion and that Styles is the current champion, and those reasons will be on display during this match.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

2017 Royal Rumble Match for a World Championship Match at WrestleMania

There are many possibilities in this match, not only for a winner to emerge, but for many other stories to be told.  At the time of this writing, there are only 22 announced participants, leaving 8 more as a surprise.  The known and unknown competitors can be fit into four buckets.

No Chance in Hell

  • Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods: This comedy-based trio turned their fortunes around as failing singles wrestlers and ended up setting a record as the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions of all time as The New Day. None of them, however, are positioned to work a WrestleMania main event at this time.  Look for the possibility of a heel turn and a breakup of the New Day in this match.  It has to happen sometime, why not now?  Maybe they can combine the heel turn with the annual “Kofi finds a way to miraculously stay alive in the Rumble” spot.
  • Big Show: I love the guy, but the IWC doesn’t call him “The Big Jobber” for nothing. He’s been used poorly by the WWE for 8 years now, there is no way he is going to win the match.
  • Big Cass: Not ready yet. Maybe someday, but not now.
  • Cesaro: He never was over, he’s not over now, and he never will be over. Move on, Cesaro Section, start rooting for Kevin Owens instead.
  • Dolph Ziggler: Time is running out for the career of this habitual under-achiever.
  • Luke Harper: He’s at the bottom of the Wyatt Family pecking order. Harper is an under-utilized talent; the WWE needs to send him in a new direction.
  • Mojo Rawley: Who?
  • Rusev: This guy is on a roller coaster run in the WWE, he’s had a lot of highs and lows. Right now, he’s pretty low.  He has main-event level talent, but he’s not going to win this year.
  • Sami Zayn: He hasn’t done much of anything useful in his WWE run other than his feud with Kevin Owens.
  • Sheamus: This former Royal Rumble winner and WWE Champion is holding up a tag team right now. Don’t look for that to change anytime soon.

Just Maybe…

  • Baron Corbin: The surprise winner of last year’s André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania might have another trick up his sleeve. He’s already surprised us once, why not one more time?
  • Bray Wyatt: Maybe the WWE finally just gives him a shot at a singles championship. It’s kind of ridiculous that he’s never been in the title picture yet.  He certainly can cut good promos headed into WrestleMania.  They need to either push Bray Wyatt to the top or cut bait in 2017.
  • Randy Orton: This odd pairing of Randy Orton with the Wyatt Family hasn’t really paid off yet. Not much of anything interesting has happened since Orton joined forces with Bray and Luke.  Time for them to finally break up and send Randy in a different direction.  Orton is a known commodity that can be trusted to carry a WrestleMania main event.
  • Dean Ambrose: On several occasions, Ambrose has handled PPV main event duties well. He is also a former WWE Champion.  Maybe he gets another shot at the prize this year.
  • The Miz: A former WrestleMania main-eventer as WWE Champion, the consummate heel is at the top of his game right now. The crowd hates him and he’d be the perfect foil for any babyface champion to face at WM.
  • Braun Strowman: This monster heel has benefited greatly from the brand split and his re-branding following his split from the Wyatt Family. Make no mistake about it, Strowman was built up very carefully over the course of the last 6 months, starting with his matches against “local talent” and working his way up to several possible feuds with top contenders in the Rumble match.  He has the size and the look, I’m not fully convinced about his talent on the microphone and in the ring yet, but I’d like to see what he can do on the grand stage.  If he doesn’t win this match, look for the seeds to be planted for a one-on-one matchup at WrestleMania against someone like The Undertaker or Brock Lesnar.

The Unknown Competitors

After DDP returned last year, no telling what relic the WWE is going to take out of the mothballs and give a quick spot to in the Rumble.  Jake “The Snake” Roberts, anyone?

How about a celebrity entry like Drew Carey? Shaquille O’Neal made a surprise visit to WrestleMania last year, maybe he takes his shot at The Rumble.  Or what about the kid from “The Arrow”?  What was his name?  Never mind, it doesn’t matter what his name is!

What about a returning superstar that still has some gas left in the tank?  Does Cody Rhodes patch up his differences with WWE creative and come back home?  Is Ryback just swerving us with his podcast that he uses to constantly bash the WWE?  Is the newest member of the WWE Hall of Fame, Kurt Angle aiming for a final run with the WWE?  Does CM Punk give up on his ridiculous and failed UFC dream and resume his professional wrestling career?  OK, that’s a stretch but never say never in the professional wrestling business.  After all, Bret “Hitman” Hart came home to the WWE years after the Montreal Screwjob.

There are a number of active competitors who should make an appearance.  Kane certainly comes to mind, he could get a chance to enhance his impressive Royal Rumble elimination statistics.  Maybe Goldust or Curt Hawkins will get a chance to show up and get thrown over the top rope.  Of course, James Ellerton will be there to take a short, if not comedic beating.

What about Triple H?  Aside from an unexplained run-in where he screwed Seth Rollins out of a WWE Universal Championship match, we haven’t seen him in a WWE ring since he lost the title at WrestleMania 32.  It’s time to set him up for his WrestleMania match.  And what about Rollins?  Did he really lose his spot in the match?  Is he not booked at all for the Rumble?  Wouldn’t that be strange?  Shouldn’t he at least start up a feud with Triple H so they can finally clash at WrestleMania?

How about some NXT call ups? Could one of them surprise us with an appearance?  Could they surprise us even more with a Rumble win? Shinsuke Nakamura is 36 years old, it is go or go home time for him.  Same goes for the 37-year-old Samoa Joe.  Joe got off to an auspicious WWE start when he recklessly injured Tyson Kidd during his first match and nearly killed Kidd, instantly ending his career in the process.  He has been in NXT long enough, hopefully he has learned how to use the Muscle Buster on his opponents without maiming them and can make the jump to the main roster at the Rumble.

Is there another AJ Styles out there?  A guy who paid his dues in every promotion other than the WWE and is looking to make his mark in the big leagues of professional wrestling?  Given the success AJ Styles has had, it would make sense for the WWE to try to find another proven commodity like him and give him a shot at the Rumble.

If I Were a Betting Man…

  • Chris Jericho: How about a Jericho Rumble win combined with an Owens championship defense? Former best friends face off for the WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania, maybe even with Jericho’s career on the line?  Sound good, anybody?
  • Brock Lesnar: The Beast looks more likely to resume his feud with Goldberg at WrestleMania than get a title shot, but maybe he comes out on top of the Rumble while he is at it.
  • Goldberg: See Brock Lesnar, same story for the former WCW standout.
  • The Undertaker: How great would it be to see the Deadman get a title shot at WrestleMania? Now that The Streak is history (although he is working on a meager 2-0 win streak right now which is actually better than a lot of people can say), he needs something to fight for.  How about a major championship of his choosing since he seems to be brand-agnostic?

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

The possibilities for the outcome of this match are nearly limitless.  I like not knowing what to expect, and it looks like most WWE fans are like-minded.  Tell me, what do you think will happen at The Royal Rumble?

WWE Survivor Series Analysis and Predictions

As far as I’m concerned, everybody on Smackdown is dead to me.”  Among my circle of friends who are fans of WWE, this has been the going sentiment since the brand split in July.  None of us are really excited about another brand split and we can’t understand why the WWE is repeating an experiment that has already failed. We didn’t buy into the phony competition between the two brands the first time the WWE tried this and we aren’t buying it now.  Most of us are suffering from WWE fatigue from having to watch two shows to keep up with what is going on, or just not watching Smackdown at all.  This is not what the WWE wanted.  They really think we have enough time to watch three hours of Raw, two hours of Smackdown, and maybe a three to four hour pay-per-view each week!

The brand split comes into play at the Survivor Series as three matches on the will feature talents from both shows competing against each other.  Instead of the traditional babyface vs. heel Survivor Series teams that we have seen in the past, allegiances are based on brand.  Teams are now a confusing mess of good and bad guys that don’t have a compelling reason to care about each other.  In fact, in some cases, the card just looks plain silly.

For example, on Team Smackdown for the 5-on-5 elimination men’s match, Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton are on a team with Dean Ambrose.  It just looks outright silly to see Bray Wyatt in a blue Smackdown t-shirt and acting like he cares about the match and his teammates.  It also doesn’t make much sense for the Randy Orton storyline, having recently joined up with the Wyatt Family.  This doesn’t really cement his status as a member of an outsider heel faction if he is suddenly teaming up with several babyfaces he should be in a rivalry with instead.

On the other side of this match on Team Raw there is an even more ridiculous scenario with Roman Reigns teaming with Seth Rollins.  What possible reason could these to have to get along as teammates following Rollins’ betrayal of The Shield two years ago?  Why are they suddenly cooperating with each other?  Where is the logic behind this?

The overall issue with the three Survivor Series matches on the card is the fact that we won’t be able to really decide which teams to root for.  The fans don’t really care about Smackdown vs. Raw, we just care about good guys vs. bad guys.  And we want to decide who the good and bad guys are, not be told who they are (see Roman Reigns for example).  The best thing to hope for is some entertaining spots in these matches and hope the storylines progress on individual levels.  As such, I’m not going to attempt to predict who will win or lose these matches.

There are some things to look for with the rest of the card, certainly highlighted by the return of Goldberg to face Brock Lesnar. There is also a chance that we will see The Undertaker return in some capacity, and we may also see the beginnings of some WrestleMania storylines. Let’s take a look at the remaining matches.

The Brian Kendrick (c) vs. Kalisto in a singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship; if Kalisto wins, the title and the cruiserweight division will transfer to SmackDown

That certainly is some stipulation!  I have no idea why it’s needed.  Do the fans really care which show the cruiserweight division competes in?  Is this stipulation going to somehow enhance this match?  Can’t Kendrick and Kalisto have a championship match without having to worry where they show up for work this week?

The Cruiserweight division seemed to do well on its own when it kicked off this summer with the Cruiserweight Classic specials on the WWE Network.  It was marketable to a niche set of WWE fans that appreciate the type of fast-paced and high-flying action that the cruiserweights deliver.  It had a mix of young and veteran talent, and was well received by the fans.

When the division made it to Raw, it has gotten lost in the shuffle.  It doesn’t pair well with the rest of the roster, and in many cases, it is illogical in the sense that there are other competitors that compete at under 205 pounds but are not obligated to only compete as cruiserweights.  Maybe it needs more time to settle in, but the division doesn’t work well for me right now.

This match will be a typical cruiserweight match with lots of quick spots and back-and-forth action.  Look for Kalisto to attempt to defy gravity, and hopefully for Kendrick to use some sort of underhanded means to gain an advantage in the match.

Prediction: Winner and still Cruiserweight Champion, The Brian Kendrick

The Miz (c) (with Maryse) vs. Sami Zayn in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship; if Zayn wins, the title will transfer to Raw

Here we go again with another Raw vs. Smackdown angle, this one around the prestigious Intercontinental title. The Miz surprisingly won the title from Dolph Ziggler on Raw and was inserted into this match at the last minute.  I’m not sure I understand the logic behind this, especially since Ziggler was the one who issued the challenge to the Raw roster to defend the title against one of them.  Then again, there isn’t much logic to what we’ve seen lately in the run up to Survivor Series, so what’s the difference?

The title pictures are a muddled mess between the two brands.  It’s hard to tell what is what.  The only obvious ones are the Smackdown Women’s and Tag Team Championships because they are named after their own brand.  But the Intercontinental title isn’t named after a brand so somehow it floats in the middle of things.

What is important to me is the prestige of the IC title itself. Some of the greatest wrestlers of all time have proudly worn the IC championship belt, and it often has been misused in the past decade or so with forgettable and brief championship runs.  The Miz is one of the best IC champions we have seen in a long time and has held the title for most of the last six months since the Raw after WrestleMania.  He is a dependable heel, and cuts some of the best promos in the business.  The fans genuinely hate the guy and that in turn helps his opponents look better as they chase the title.

Sami Zayn continues to underwhelm audiences all over the world.  Having been known as a Kevin Owens ally prior to their WWE runs, Zayn has been outshined by the more talented Owens in every way.  His matches and his promos are average at best and he really hasn’t done much to distinguish himself.  It would be a disservice to see him win the IC title.  The title works best when the talent is already over before winning the belt.  It doesn’t work very well when the title is used to get the talent over.

I wouldn’t expect this match to be remembered as a classic.  One thing for sure, Maryse will certainly interject herself in the match in an attempt to help Miz gain an advantage.  Other than that, this will probably be a pedestrian effort and an average match.

Prediction: Winner and still Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg

At least this match has nothing to do with Raw vs. Smackdown!

I had the privilege of attending WrestleMania XX in person in 2004 at Madison Square Garden.  The worst match of the night was Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg.  Stone Cold Steve Austin was the guest referee, and even he couldn’t bring any excitement to the match.  At some point during the match, a fan in the upper deck dressed up as Hulk Hogan started posing to the crowd, and he got bigger cheers then either of the two combatants in the match.  It was a forgettable affair, not suitable for WrestleMania, and both men left the WWE immediately after WrestleMania XX.

For some reason, in Goldberg’s first match after a 12-year absence, we get the exact same matchup for his return.  The placing of this matchup tells you a lot about what WWE things of Goldberg.  His first match back is at Survivor Series, not WrestleMania.  The rivalry had a short build, and it started with an ESPN interview in which Goldberg said he’d like to grant Lesnar a rematch.

The build has been shaky at best.  Even Paul Heyman himself has struggled to get the crowds to treat Goldberg as the babyface and Lesnar as the heel.  His promos were designed to get the crowd to chant “Goldberg” and more often than not, the crowd cheered “Goldberg sucks!” instead.  It didn’t help that the WWE tried to push this angle in Lesnar’s home state of Minnesota.

It would be a huge mistake for Goldberg to win this match.  The WWE painted themselves into a corner when Lesnar ended The Streak at WrestleMania XXX.  Once Lesnar made The Undertaker 21 and 1, they set him up for a future as a destroyer that can’t be beat.  If Lesnar loses to a man who is in his late 40’s and hasn’t wrestled in 12 years, it invalidates everything they built for him as The Conqueror.

One final note about Goldberg, he was advertised as “The Greatest WCW Champion” upon his WWE return.  Did the person who wrote this line think we’d forget about Ric Flair? Please!

There’s not much of a need for me to predict what this match is going to look like.  Pull up their match at WrestleMania XX on the WWE Network and see how bad the first one was for yourself.  Is the rematch somehow going to be any better?  I would doubt it.

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

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 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!

WWE FastLane Analysis and Predictions

WrestleMania season should be the best time of year to be a WWE fan.  I haven’t found myself to be this underwhelmed by the road to WrestleMania in years.  Due to a roster that has been decimated by injuries, an ill-advised monster push of a mediocre talent in Roman Reigns, and the inability of the WWE to build any new main-event-level stars in years, there hasn’t been much to look forward to lately.

The biggest problem I have is that I can see the ending coming from a mile away.  Roman Reigns is going to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 32.  Not only does it suck knowing the ending of a story before it has been told, but it is an ending I don’t want to see.  We are going to have to suffer through weeks of promos on Raw between FastLane and WrestleMania that are going to highlight Reigns’ inability to put two sentences together or wrestle a coherent match.  Every single flaw of his is going to be highlighted on his way to headlining his second WrestleMania in a row.  As a lifetime fan, I just don’t get it.

The rest of the card doesn’t excite me very much.  We have not one, but two Divas matches to sit through.  The rest of the matches were hastily thrown together and it is not clear if any of them are going to set up something for WrestleMania.  There is a chance we get a surprise visit from a returning star that we know will be at WrestleMania (Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Undertaker) or a surprise return of a former big star such as Goldberg or Shawn Michaels.  Maybe even a NXT rookie gets the call and jumps into the mix.  Failing that, there is not much to look forward to on this card.

With any luck, we will get a few surprises and get something exciting to look forward to at WrestleMania 32.  If not, I might be asleep by the time the main event comes along.  Let’s take a look at the card.

AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho

The WWE decided to bring Chris Jericho out of mothballs and throw him into the WrestleMania mix.  This is about his 10th surprise return and it is just about as unimportant as the last nine.  His timing is a step behind both in the ring and on the mic.  He looks old and in poor shape and he can’t seem to decide if he is a babyface or a heel.  If they had to find a legend to bring back to generate some excitement, it’s hard to understand why it was Jericho, unless he really needed the cash and Vince McMahon felt bad for him.

AJ Styles is an interesting watch.  As a WWE-only fan, I have never seen him wrestle in the past but the fans seemed to be excited to see him, as he was a well-known name in the lesser professional wrestling promotions in the past.  The WWE clearly thinks very highly of him as they sent him to the main roster right away without having him spend some time learning the ropes in NXT.  This is a good opportunity for him to show the WWE audience what he is capable of, and if he is lucky, he will get a prominent spot on the WrestleMania card.

If this match is going to be any good, AJ Styles is going to have to carry it.  Jericho clearly is having a hard time moving around and doesn’t look like he is capable of carrying a match on his own.  I wouldn’t expect too many high spots or extreme moments, and would instead think that we are going to get a technical showcase.

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

Kevin Owens (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Kevin Owens had one of the hottest rookie starts we have seen in a while since he hit the main roster in 2015 with a big feud against John Cena.  Since that time, he has been a victim of 50/50 booking in the WWE that so many talents have had to endure.  The win one week, lose the next.  There is never any consistency and it is hard to expect anything from them headed into big matches.  This is a big mistake; Owens has the potential to be the biggest heel in the promotions.  He is a natural jerk and an innovative wrestler.  The fans (especially in the adult demographic) have already connected with him and he can go places if he is used properly.

It is good to see that he is the IC champ once more, but I don’t like that the title was switched on a Raw episode.  The IC title should mean something and it seems like he won it in a throwaway match.  Hopefully he can hang on to the title for quite some time and emerge as a main-event level talent through the course of his run.

Dolph Ziggler is in the “what you see is what you get” phase of his career.  He isn’t getting any better, he isn’t getting any younger.  He is a natural heel working a babyface gimmick.  He over-sells for his opponents and hasn’t had a memorable match in almost a year.  He is a decent hand to have around if the WWE needs to make someone else look good.  Hopefully he does that for Kevin Owens.

This match has potential to be one of the better ones of the evening as I would expect the unexpected from Kevin Owens.  His matches are fast-paced and have a lot of false finishes and tense moments.  Ziggler is one of the best on the card right now that can match that style.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens.

Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks vs. Team B.A.D. (Naomi and Tamina) in a tag team match

The first of two awful Divas matches on the card.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Charlotte (c) (with Ric Flair) vs. Brie Bella in a singles match for the WWE Divas Championship

Not even ‘Naich himself can save this match.  Charlotte is the best female competitor on the roster these days but that’s not saying very much.  Brie Bella can’t retire fast enough for me.  Watching her attempt to emote during her promos makes me uncomfortable.

Prediction: This match is going to suck, probably just slightly less than the Team B.A.D match.  Either way, don’t watch it.

Ryback, Big Show, and Kane vs. The Wyatt Family (Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and Braun Strowman) (with Bray Wyatt) in a six-man tag team match

The odd pairing of Ryback, Big Show, and Kane was hastily thrown together to give the Wyatts a chance to compete on the card.  It is unfortunate that Kane has slid back into a minimized role after a great run as the evil COO of The Authority.  Kane is one of the most underrated talents of the past 20 years in the WWE and he is capable of playing much more than this bit part.  Same goes for The Big Show, the way he is booked doesn’t give much integrity to his character.  Ryback can hold his own in a big match, but he is mainly a one-trick-pony with his “feed me more” chant that really has to change.

The Wyatt Family continues to be an enigma in the WWE.  They have one of the most unique gimmicks we have seen in quite some time but there never seems to be any payoff to any of their storylines.  They never win championships (save for a brief IC title run for Luke Harper when the family had temporarily broken up), and never have big WrestleMania moments.  We never really know why they pick fights with others, and every feud they have just seems to die out with them losing.  It is a shame that they can’t get some sort of momentum behind this group, they can all wrestle and cut good promos.

There is probably something more at play with the Wyatts at FastLane than just this match.  Expect some sort of interaction or run-in that sets up one or more matches for them at WrestleMania 32, particularly with Wyatt and Strowman.

This match can be either really good, or bowling-shoe-ugly.  Everyone competitor in this match is among the most talented in-ring performers the WWE has to offer right now (yes, that includes the Big Show), but individual contributions may be lost in the shuffle in a six-man tag match.  If the Wyatts are going to have any momentum headed into WrestleMania, they are going to have to look strong in this match.

Prediction: Winners, The Wyatt Family

Dean Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) in a Triple threat match to determine the #1 contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 32

As I eluded to in the opening of this blog post, the outcome of this match seems obvious to any fan of the WWE right now.  Roman Reigns is going to wrestle a poor match, yet come away with a win and head to WrestleMania to challenge Triple H for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Dean Ambrose has proved time and time again that he can be counted on to handle himself in a main event at a pay-per-view.  Brock Lesnar is the best in-ring performer on the WWE main roster right now.  Roman Reigns is in way over his head in this match and has little chance of looking like he deserves the push to the top that he is currently riding.  I would expect him to be booed very loudly as during his entrance, and even louder when he wins the match.

Hard to say exactly what might happen in this match but I have a few theories:

  1. Dean Ambrose does a heel turn and turns on Reigns during this match. This would be especially satisfying if he somehow won while he was at it.
  2. Brock Lesnar is about to win the match, the Wyatts interrupt just as Lesnar goes for the pin and cost him the match. This sets up a clash between one of the Wyatts (Bray Wyatt or Braun Strowman) to wrestle Lesnar at WrestleMania.
  3. Reigns wins the match cleanly (boring!).
  4. Triple H somehow interferes and attempts to screw Reigns, but his plans backfire and Reigns wins the match anyway.

Prediction: Winner and new #1 contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Roman Reigns

I sure hope I am wrong with that last prediction, and I also hope that that FastLane exceeds my low expectations.  I think the biggest thing that could save the show is a surprise return, one that we didn’t see coming.

 

WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

The WWE will descend on Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center this weekend for the second biggest pay-per-view event of the year, SummerSlam.  This event was originally announced to take place in the Izod Center here in New Jersey, which was unfortunately shuttered shortly thereafter.  The move to the Barclays Center has been fortuitous for the WWE as ticket prices in the aftermarket have gone through the roof.  It was not as fortunate for me as I was unable to get tickets in the primary market (thanks for nothing, Ticketmaster) and I’ve decided against paying upwards of $500 to go see it live.  Call me cheap, but at that price I’m quite content to sit on my couch and watch it on the WWE Network which I already paid my monthly $9.99 fee for in August.

As SummerSlam returns to the New York area for the first time following a six year run in Los Angeles, the WWE is riding a hot summer.  Network subscriptions and quarterly earnings are up, and the stock price has risen as a result.  Looking to make a splash, the WWE has taken the unusual step of making SummerSlam a four hour event, a lengthy duration typically reserved only for WrestleMania.  Not only are they trying to sell this as a stand-alone even to drive network subscriptions, but they are also setting us up for WrestleMania 32 in April, an event that can potentially shatter live attendance records if it is marketed properly.

The card is loaded from top to bottom with veteran and young talent in nine matches, and is also peppered with celebrity involvement.  There are a few potential Match of the Year candidates, and two main-events which will probably have fans buzzing for weeks after the show is over.  Interestingly enough, there are three singles matches with no stipulations or titles on the line, they are simply old-school grudge matches.  There is so much publicity headed into the show that it actually going to be covered on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Sunday. Let’s take a look at what to expect.

Jon Stewart

The former host of The Daily Show was recently announced as the celebrity host of the show, his biggest public appearance since stepping aside from his own show.  Stewart is a huge wrestling fan and worked a faux-feud with Seth Rollins on the Daily Show earlier this year.  He followed that up with a live appearance at WWE Raw in Newark in March in which he hosted a humorous segment with Rollins and J&J Security that culminated with Stewart delivering a swift kick to Rollins’ family jewels.

While Jon Stewart was known for his polarizing political views as host of The Daily Show, he is also a talented entertainer, and has already proved that he can fit in nicely with the WWE talents in a live setting.  It is tough to say exactly how he is going to be used, but I’d expect it to be funny to watch no matter what happens.  If I had to guess, he’ll have some sort of interaction with Seth Rollins, likely agitating the heel champion.

Dolph Ziggler (with Lana) vs. Rusev (with Summer Rae)

Rusev enjoyed a spectacular run during his rookie year making his debut shortly after WrestleMania XXX in 2014 with his valet Lana.  After a few modifications to his character, including dropping his first name and re-branding his character as a Russian, he caught a hot streak that carried him all the way to WrestleMania 31 as an undefeated heel.  Lana was the perfect pairing for Rusev, often riling up the crowd with her faux-Russian accent, playing off of very real anti-Russian sentiment that was popular at the time due to the situation in The Ukraine.  Rusev was the classic foreign wrestling heel, and the pair could captivate an entire arena.

Unfortunately, Rusev has lost a great deal of momentum this year.  A high-profile victory over John Cena at FastLane in February was followed by three straight losses to Cena starting at WrestleMania 31.  He was legitimately injured in a match and missed some time with a broken ankle.  He was once again re-branded as a Bulgarian, his actual native country.  He split up with Lana.  But worst of all, he was paired with the odd-looking and talentless Summer Rae as his new valet.

Summer Rae is among the worst of the Divas currently on the WWE roster, and the bar was already set pretty low to begin with.  She couldn’t get Fandango over during her program with him, and nobody really missed her when she disappeared from TV.  Whereas Lana empowered Rusev with her promos by making him appear to be strong and ruthless, Summer Rae only emasculates Rusev and makes him appear to be weak and dependent on her.  She’s done nothing to advance his character and only continues to sabotage his career development.

Dolph Ziggler is back from filming another straight-to-DVD movie from WWE Films, having been written off of TV for a month following a faux-injury at the hands of Rusev.  Ziggler is at his peak as a wrestler, having never broken through to consistent main-event level programs.  He is an unnatural and awkward babyface and would be much better off if he returns to being a heel.  His pairing with Lana is uninteresting doesn’t really do either much good.

In summary, three of the four talents in this match are being misused, and the fourth, Summer Rae, really needs a pink slip.  Despite all of that, both Rusev and Ziggler are talented performers and both have the ability to carry an exciting match.  If the valets stay in the background, you can expect this to be an entertaining contest.  If the cameras focus on the Summer Rae/Lana feud, this could turn into a stinker.

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

The Prime Time Players (c) vs. Los Matadores vs. the Lucha Dragons vs. The New Day in a Fatal Four Way match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

Not much to say about this match, it is yet another indication that the tag team division is languishing.  It feels like every single major pay-per-view has a multi-team tag match for the championship for lack of a better idea for the tag team talent on the roster.

Los Matadores have failed to get over at all on their own, the only thing going for them is they bring a midget to the ring costumed as a bull that kids seem to like.  The Lucha Dragons are never going to get a push, they are only on the roster to appeal to the Lucha Libre fans in the international audience.  The champions, The Prime Time Players, have simply been re-packaged as the same failed team they started off as several years ago.  It feels like they were given the championship simply because Titus O’Neil is highly regarded within the company because of his commendable community outreach work.

The crown jewel of this match is the Freebird-like three-man-tandem of The New Day.  What was originally supposed to be an uplifting babyface gimmick for the trio backfired and turned into a terrific heel gimmick.  They have the crowd right where they want them, even leading them in a chant that they know is going to be turned against them, getting themselves mercilessly booed every time they walk down the aisle.  I am also a huge mark for the “Freebird Rule” that allows two random members of the faction to compete as a tag team on any given night.  It is just so ridiculous that something like that could be a rule even in the fantasy world of the WWE, and that is what makes it so entertaining.

The Prime Time Players have churned out a few entertaining vignettes these past few months, but they really don’t have much else going for them.  The New Day was just finding their way as champions when they dropped the titles, it’s time for a second championship run for the trio.

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

Ryback (c) vs. Big Show vs. The Miz in a Triple Threat Match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

It has been a tough year for Intercontinental champions in the WWE.  Daniel Bryan won it at WrestleMania and immediately suffered a potential career-ending concussion before he could defend the title on a pay-per-view.  Ryback won the title and was felled by a staph infection.  Fortunately for him, he recovered in time to return to the roster without being stripped of the title.

This match was supposed to have happened already but was postponed due to Ryback’s injury.  The feud is stale at this point and this is going to be a “what you see is what you get” type of match.  The Miz has been stuck in neutral in years and spends as much time filming movies as he does working in the WWE.  The Big Show has flip-flopped sides so many times, the fans can barely remember if he is a babyface or heel week over week.  Ryback has the most upside out of the three of them right now, but even he is running the risk of overusing his “feed me more” tagline. I don’t expect this match to be remembered as a classic.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Ryback

Randy Orton vs. Sheamus

The animosity between these two was contrived only a few weeks ago, I think this match will be pleasantly surprising and should be entertaining from an aesthetic standpoint.  Both Randy Orton and Sheamus are known commodities and can work any type of match with anybody.  Sheamus has been criticized by some for not using much traditional heel psychology during his matches.  However, his new look and attitude, along with his in-ring talents are enough to cover him and get him over as a top heel that the company so desperately needs right now.  Randy Orton’s vicious and deceptively quick style should complement Sheamus’ penchant for brawling, and you can expect them to beat the hell out of each other one way or another.

The Money in the Bank contract that Sheamus carries around is going to be a permanent wild card until he finally cashes it in.  Is he going to win and cash it in at SummerSlam?  Is he going to lose and cash it in at SummerSlam?  Is he going to do a run-in during the title match, attempt to cash it in, and get thwarted by John Cena?  Who knows?  It certainly carries enough intrigue to get me to stay tuned.

Prediction: Winner, Sheamus

Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro

Cesaro can’t seem to get anything going.  He won the initial Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 30 and that was quickly forgotten.  He was paired with Paul Heyman, and they never really had much chemistry and the pairing was quietly dropped.  He was criticized for not getting over by Vince McMahon himself in a non-kayfabe interview on the Steve Austin Podcast on the WWE Network.  He was paired with Tyson Kidd in a tag team that the fans wanted to embrace, but unfortunately Kidd suffered what is likely a career ending neck injury at the hands of a careless Samoa Joe.  So, it’s back to the drawing board again for Cesaro.  This time around the fans are trying their own grass-roots effort to get him over by printing out “Cesaro Section” signs and handing them out to each other at live events. Even still, he stumbles through his promos and can’t seem to get through a match without blowing at least one spot.

Kevin Owens burst on to the scene with a surprise victory over John Cena at The Elimination Chamber earlier this year and immediately captivated the fan base that was hungry for new talent.  Of course, the WWE wasn’t going to let that victory stand for long and Owens lost his next two matches to Cena.  But the quality of his matches were unexpectedly good, and the rookie has the look of a can’t-miss prospect, reminiscent of a young Kurt Angle when he made his pro debut.

This match should be interesting, if only for the fact that both men are carrying themselves as someone with something to prove.  Expect to see a showcase of innovative offensive moves from the imaginative Kevin Owens, and let’s hope that Cesaro can keep pace.

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

Stephen Amell and Neville vs. Stardust and King Barrett

Every so often, the WWE brings in an outside celebrity to generate interest from fans from the outside.  In the past we’ve been treated to sightings like Liberace, Billy Martin, Cindy Lauper, Muhammed Ali, and Mr. T. at WrestleMania I, Ozzy Osbourne at WrestleMania II, Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania XI, and of course, Mike Tyson at WrestleMania XIV.  Maybe something is lost on me, but I somehow doubt that Stephen Amell is going to be regarded in the same light as the examples I just sited.  Perhaps I’m living under a rock because I have no idea who the guy is or why they brought him in.  I could google it but I care so little that I’m not going to waste my time.

I see what the WWE is doing here but this match just isn’t for me.  They want Neville to come off as a comic book hero for children, and Stardust to face off against him as a comic book villain.  Fair enough, but throwing in an actor and King Barrett, who changes direction almost monthly, is going to take away from what could have been a decent match.  They are going to have to cover for Stephen Amell’s lack of experience.  I can’t see how this is going to help Neville or Stardust much in the long run, and Barrett is basically a lost cause at this point.

I’ll keep an open mind, but I wouldn’t promise anybody that this is a must-see match headed into it.  I’m willing to bet that most WWE fans would probably laugh if Amell were legitimately injured in this match.

Prediction: Winners, Stardust and King Barrett

Team Bella vs. Team B.A.D. vs PCB in a Three-Team Elimination Match

So, the WWE decided to make a splash in the Diva’s division by bringing up a bunch of rookies from NXT, in the hopes that it would captivate the audience in a way not seen since the Wyatt Family and The Shield factions were brought up to the main roster.  Predictably, this angle has fallen flat and their segments and matches couldn’t be more agonizing to watch.  I fast-forward through all of them and it still feels like torture when they are on my screen.  I read somewhere that the fans at Raw were chanting for Brock Lesnar during one of their matches this past Monday so I’m probably not alone.

Out of respect for Ric Flair, I’m not going to throw his daughter, Charlotte under the bus.  As far as I’m concerned, the rest of them are talentless and I’d much prefer to not have them as part of the show.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper vs. Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose

A bit of a throwback here to the short-lived feud between The Wyatt Family and The Shield headed into WrestleMania XXX.  This time, of course, Seth Rollins is working a main event program as champion and Eric Rowan is out with a shoulder injury so we are down to four of the original six members of these two factions.

Dean Ambrose is still coming into his own and has already shown that he can work main event-level matches, having essentially filled in for Roman Reigns in 2014 while he was on the shelf with an injury.  Reigns continues to be limited both by his lack of compelling mike skills, and his unoriginal and repetitive move set in the ring.  The fans will never allow him to reach the top of the WWE unless he undergoes a significant improvement or radical change to his persona.

It was a mistake to break up The Wyatt Family without a workable plan for Luke Harper and Eric Rowan.  Both weren’t really given a chance to show their personalities and drew very little attention from the fans as singles competitors.  At least as members of the Wyatt Family, they seemingly had direction together.

I’m about ready to be done with Bray Wyatt.  I really wanted to like him at first, if for no other reason than he was unique and mysterious.  His character seemingly had depth and layers of intrigue beneath the surface. He was tormented, evil, intellectual, and psychotic and could cut promos that nobody else on the roster could.

The problem I know have is that there is never any payoff to the mystery behind the man.  He talks and talks and talks and just goes from one inexplicable feud to another.  We don’t even know why he does what he does, he just picks on the next guy time and time again.  The whole thing is getting tired, he’s coming across as a guy whose mouth writes checks his ass can’t cash.  Even worse, he has yet to win a championship and he is a glaring 0 and 2 at WrestleMania.  He really can’t point to anything in the way of in-ring accomplishments to give him some validity as a competitor.  I still want to like the guy but something has to change in order for me to really get behind him.

This should be an entertaining match.  The three out of the four wrestlers in this match that aren’t Reigns should more than make up for his shortcomings.  Ambrose and Wyatt can both be counted on to do something unorthodox and outside the box in their matches against each other and have demonstrated chemistry in the past when facing off against each other.  This match could also have the possibility of something unexpected, like a heel turn or a surprise run-in that shakes up the finish.

Prediction: Winners, Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper

John Cena (US c) vs. Seth Rollins (World c) in a singles match with both the United States Championship and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on the line

It is always cool to watch a champion vs. champion match, they are few and far between.  I remember my first one as a kid, Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI.  The hype lasted for months and we couldn’t wait to watch the match.  The crowd was seemingly split between the WWF champion, Hogan, and the on-the-rise IC Champ, The Ultimate Warrior.  Neither man was remembered for their in-ring ability but that match is considered by many critics to be one of the best that either man had in their distinguished careers.

This match has nowhere near the mass appeal as Hogan/Warrior, but there are certain parallels to consider.  In many ways, John Cena is the modern-day Hulk Hogan, the fighting babyface champion who is a hero to kids.  Rollins, similarly to Warrior, is the up-and-comer.  He already has a WWE Championship victory at WrestleMania, but he is relatively new to the main roster as compared to Cena.  He still has a lot of upside potential that has yet to be taped into.

Cena has taken a step back as a main-eventer these past year since his defeat at the hands of Brock Lesnar at the last SummerSlam.  He has worked some high-profile programs with younger stars, notably Rusev and Kevin Owens, helping both of them get over with the fans.  Ironically, his first WWE Championship title shot since January, this match isn’t even the main event of the evening.

Rollins is running well as the heel champion.  I repeat the same thing in every blog post and I’ll say it again: he plays the role of the wrestling heel as it is written out in the textbook. He cheats to win, he whines and complains, and rather than pander to the crowd, he regularly insults the fans.  I’ve always felt that the WWE is at its best when the champion is a heel, and Rollins continues to prove that sentiment.

These two should work well together.  The triple-threat match they had at The Royal Rumble for the championship along with Brock Lesnar was the stand out match of the evening.  I’d expect the two of them to put on a good show without Lesnar as they are two of the best in-ring storytellers the WWE has on the roster right now.

I don’t see Cena winning this match.  He is currently one championship run of tying Ric Flair’s record of 16 championships, and I feel like they would save the moment he ties Flair for something of a larger magnitude, perhaps at WrestleMania, or at least at a pay-per-view where his match is the main event.  I also feel like there are legs to Rollins’ current championship run and he could possibly be set up for a title defense at WrestleMania 32.

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

Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker

April 6, 2014 is a day that will forever live in infamy for an entire generation of WWE fans.  The legendary undefeated WrestleMania streak, colloquially known as “The Streak”, was halted at 21 wins at the hands of Brock Lesnar.  A hush fell over the entire crowd of 75,167 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans after the referee counted to three.  Nobody could believe what they saw, and they didn’t know what to say or do.  It was the end of a storyline that lasted over 20 years, the type of which we will never see again.

Following the match, The Undertaker walked up the ramp and out of the stadium, not to be seen again on television or at a live event until WrestleMania 31 a year later.  In the meantime, Brock Lesnar used the victory to propel his status as The Beast and The Conqueror into the stratosphere as he embarked on a dominant run the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the early Hulk Hogan days.  He utterly destroyed John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam and carried the title to the main event at WrestleMania 31.

In the ensuing months following the end of The Streak, it always struck me as odd that there was no word from The Undertaker.  While it made sense in retrospect for The Streak to end in order to give the rub to Lesnar, The Deadman’s silence was deafening.  Was he just going to let the ending of his streak at the hands of Brock Lesnar go?  Where did he go after WrestleMania XXX and why did he never seek retribution from Lesnar?

We didn’t see The Undertaker at all until he walked down the aisle at WrestleMania 31 for his match with Bray Wyatt.  Although it was good to see that he was still in good shape and still had most of his hair, there were still questions that lingered after his victory about The Streak.  But once again, he walked up the aisle at WrestleMania without saying a word.

Everything changed at Battleground in July.  Brock Lesnar had Seth Rollins pinned and was poised to regain the championship he lost from Rollins at WrestleMania 31 only to have the lights go out in the arena as the referee was just about to count to three.  The eerie gong of the Undertaker sounded, the lights came back on, and there he was, in an angry stare-down with the man who ended The Streak.  The crowd was buzzing with anticipation, and interestingly enough, ‘taker initiated the physical encounter with a swift kick to Lesnar’s groin, a move typically reserved for heels.  He proceeded to beat Lesnar up and walk out of the arena, setting up what is now called “The most anticipated rematch of all time, a match too big for WrestleMania.”

The next night on Raw, we finally heard from The Undertaker and his reasoning for making a return was curious in that he claimed he was upset that Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar kept rubbing it in that Lesnar had ended The Streak.  Again, it seemed as though ‘taker was taking a heel-ish turn as that is the type of a promo that only a cowardly and insecure bad guy would cut.  Later in the evening, we were treated to an epic pull-apart brawl between The Undertaker and Lesnar that had a very realistic look and feel to it.

Finally, in the go-home Raw before SummerSlam this week, Brock Lesnar came out to a hero’s welcome in his home state of Minnesota.  With Paul Heyman singing his praises as the hometown hero, The Undertaker once again appeared out of the darkness, and once again went for the low-blow.  Just prior to the lights going out, Paul Heyman made a point of addressing the fact that The Undertaker delivered a low-blow to Lesnar at Battleground.  The crowd booed in disapproval, and suddenly it seemed that The Undertaker was meant to be booked as a heel along in this feud.

I would not have suspected that The Undertaker would seek vengeance for The Streak as a heel, he had worked as a babyface for many years, and returning legends typically are always cheered.  Not to mention, the fans loved the streak and hated to see it go, it seemed like they would want him to get revenge.

I like this twist as it was unexpected.  Both men have reversed roles since WrestleMania XXX, now Lesnar is the beloved babyface and The Undertaker is the vengeful villain.  He’s show that he will resort to any type of tactic to get his revenge, even if the fans disapprove.

This match should be nothing short of epic.  It won’t be remembered as a technical masterpiece, but it will be a wildly entertaining between two brutal ring generals who know how to tell a story with their actions.  I am just as caught up in the anticipation for this match as the WWE wants me to be and I can’t wait to watch it.  There could be all kinds of swerves and this may put an end to their feud, or it could be another chapter in a long-running conflict between these two legends.

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

Are you still reading this?  Ten matches is a lot for one pay-per-view.  It is top-heavy with two main events, but I really think that most of the matches should be highly entertaining. What are your thoughts?