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 3: The Raw Matches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Triple H

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, and still WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg

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

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

 

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 2: The Smackdown Matches

Part two of my four-part series on WrestleMania focuses on the Smackdown matches.  In the nine months since the brand split, The Smackdown brand has done a good job of building up superstars who wouldn’t have had as much time on television otherwise.  This has given us a good lead-in to WrestleMania 33, and a very balanced list of matches on the card.  With the obvious exception of the mixed tag team match, these matches are gimmick free and will engage the wrestling purists among the viewing audience.

Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles

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A classic Shane McMahon high spot during a recent Smackdown episode.

In January of 2016, neither of these two men were actively employed by the WWE.  In 2017, both are featured in a high-profile match against each other at WrestleMania. There has been a lot of fan backlash to his match, with many upset with the idea of pairing the immensely talented AJ Styles with a non-full time wrestler, Shane McMahon.  I don’t share in this criticism, I think that this is an intriguing matchup and that both men will get a chance to shine on professional wrestling’s greatest stage.

AJ Styles made his WWE debut (not counting his failed quick tryout in 2002) at the Royal Rumble in 2016, and within a few months he had caught fire and become WWE Champion.  It was a pretty remarkable debut year and something you don’t see very often, if ever.  Someone in their late 30’s that makes a debut on the WWE main roster and quickly becomes champion is more or less unprecedented.

Styles is regarded by many as a “Modern Day Shawn Michaels” in the sense that his in-ring work is reminiscent of The Heartbreak Kid.  I don’t see the exact comparison, but I can’t deny that he is among the best wrestlers in the WWE today.  Very few can keep pace with him during matches and that is where the criticism of this matchup comes into play.

Shane McMahon has always endeared himself to WWE fans through his willingness to take incredible risks and almost impossible looking bumps.  He left us with indelible memories from the Attitude Era when he jumped off the Titan Tron, got thrown through a plate glass window, or jumped coast-to-coast across the ring.  His most recent death-defying stunt was when he jumped off the top of Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania 32 last year.

The flip side of that coin is that Shane is known as a one-trick-pony who’s matches are only meaningful if he takes a crazy bump.  He isn’t known as a sound technical wrestler. A number of fans are vocal in their displeasure of Shane being Styles’ opponent for this reason.

I’m going to take a wait-and-see attitude before I rush to judgement.  Both men are veterans and have delivered when put into the spotlight countless times throughout their respective careers.  This match doesn’t appear to be designed for Shane to take a crazy bump (Styles as much said so on the go-home Smackdown this week), but he doesn’t have to do that in order for the two to tell a story with this match.

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse in a Mixed Tag Team Match

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This is seriously the best they could do with “Big Match” John Cena?

This match is one of the aforementioned creative missteps that I alluded to in my previous blog post.  John Cena and The Miz are two of the absolute best in the world right now and deserved better than to be saddled with a mixed tag team match.

This isn’t WrestleMania VI when it was a novel idea to have a mixed tag match between “Macho King” Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri vs. “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire. At that time, women’s wrestling in WWE was occasionally interesting to watch, and Sherry and Sapphire were two of the best there were.  These days, women’s wrestling in WWE is insufferable to watch, a cacophony of shrieks and botched spots.  Nikki Bella embodies this terribleness as one of the absolute worst there are today.  Who would even know if Maryse is any good?  Does she even wrestle?

The Miz has been on a roller-coaster of highs and lows over his decade-long WWE run.  He was the main event winner at WrestleMania XXVII over John Cena and walked out of the building as the reigning WWE Champion that night.  Since then, he has toiled in the mid-card, not having worked any main event-level angles in that period of time.  He has shown steady improvement that entire time, however, and has become one of the most dependable heels on the WWE roster today.  The crowd genuinely hates him.

There aren’t enough accolades to describe John Cena at this stage of his career.  He’s taken a slight step back in his wrestling schedule, taking a few months off per year to film TV shows and movies.  When he is working WWE matches, he proves time and time again why he is the best in the world and has earned the moniker “Big Match John”.  He can work matches with anybody on the roster, and has spent a considerable amount of time making NXT products such as Rusev and Kevin Owens look good early on in their careers.  He also produced one of the best matches of the year against AJ Styles.

Much credit should be given to The Miz and John Cena for trying to make the most out of this mess.  The satirical comedy that The Miz and Maryse have performed in their take on “Total Bellas” has been hilarious.  They have done a good job of bringing the reality of the situation into the storyline, especially when pointing out the very real nature of Cena’s and Bella’s relationship together, one that is not based on love but the desire for the both of them to build their brands.  Cena has consistently and expertly countered their barbs and come back with clever one-liners of his own.  Nikki Bella has been terrible as usual.  Luckily, Cena, Miz, and even Maryse have overshadowed Bella’s awful performances so they are barely noticeable.

The bottom line is that John Cena and The Miz deserve better than this.  This should have been a singles rematch of their WrestleMania XXVII match, maybe with their respective significant others in their corners.  Maybe.  Instead, two of the best we have today will be saddled with this aborted mess of a match.  A match that is not designed to entertain regular WWE fans, but is designed to be a commercial for the “Total Bellas” reality show.

Prediction: Winners, The Miz and Maryse

Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Baron Corbin in a Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

This match is an exciting opportunity for both the fans and the competitors alike.  The fans have a chance to see a meaningful title matchup for the WWE Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania for the first time in recent memory.  For the competitors, they both have an opportunity to make a statement with this match, and propel their fledgling careers.  Both men come into this match with a reasonable amount of criticism about their in-ring work and ability to entertain on the mic.  But they can put a lot of that talk to rest with a strong performance in a WrestleMania match.

The reigning Intercontinental Champion, Dean Ambrose, is in his fifth year on the main WWE roster.  He immediately rose to the top as a member of The Shield, and has had nearly three years to show us what he has as a singles competitor since the faction was broken up.  Ambrose is a former WWE Champion and has worked many pay-per-view main event matches.  His critics will point out that his in-ring work is lacking, especially given that he can’t throw a credible working punch.  It also feels like at times that he is trying too hard to act “insane” rather than just to be himself and let the crowd decide what they think about him.

Baron Corbin is just about to celebrate his first-year anniversary on the WWE main roster.  He was a surprise entrant in the André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania, and shocked the audience when he was the winner.  In the year since, he has been given a chance to get over with his “Lone Wolf” gimmick.  Most of the criticism towards Corbin is directed towards his ability to deliver convincing promos.  He sounds very scripted and insincere, kind of like he is trying too hard and not being himself when he talks.

These two were handed the ball when their feud was set up at Elimination Chamber when Corbin beat down Ambrose after Ambrose had eliminated Corbin from the match.  They’ve had a series of brutal encounters on Smackdown since, culminating in the announcement of their WrestleMania match.  It is put up or shut up time for these two.  If they come through and give us something to remember for years to come, it will go a long way towards getting them over permanently.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Baron Corbin

Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Mickie James vs. Carmella (with James Ellsworth) vs. Naomi in a Six-pack challenge for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

This match is on the pre-show.  If you are at WrestleMania, you can stay in the parking lot and get drunk and you won’t miss much.  If you are watching at home, you can flip through the channels and maybe watch bowling on ESPN 4 and you won’t miss much.

Prediction: This is going to be the worst match of the night by a wide margin.  We’d be better off with nothing in its place.

Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Randy Orton in a Singles match for the WWE Championship

Randy Orton’s unexpected win of the Royal Rumble match in January took him to a very circuitous route to the WWE Championship Match against Bray Wyatt.  As a loyal member of the Wyatt Family, Orton immediately refused his guaranteed title shot at WrestleMania, citing his allegiance to the WWE Champion, Bray Wyatt. This set in motion a series of events that lead to AJ Styles winning a match against Luke Harper for the right to face Wyatt at WrestleMania 33.

In a Shakespearian twist, Orton abruptly turned on Wyatt and burned down the house that the mysterious “Sister Abagail” lived in, sending Wyatt into a rage.  In the process, Orton declared that he wanted his title shot back and was awarded a chance to face AJ Styles for the #1 contender spot in a match which he won.

It wasn’t the most straight-forward and logical wrestling angles we’ve seen, but it served the purpose to not only set up an emotional basis for the feud between Orton and Wyatt, but it also paved the way for the AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon match as well.

Randy Orton missed WrestleMania 32 last year with an injury, reportedly to his shoulder.  The Viper will be fired up and ready to put on a good show this time around.  He can always be counted on to deliver at WrestleMania, having been in more than one main event, most recently at WrestleMania XXX.

Bray Wyatt was at a career crossroads.  He had never won a WrestleMania match, nor had he won a singles championship of any kind since his debut on the WWE main roster as the Wyatt character.  He previously had an unsuccessful run as Husky Harris, but was re-packaged in NXT as an occult heel and the leader of the Wyatt Family faction.

At first, Wyatt was unique and a breath of fresh air. His bizarre ramblings and uncommon ring entrance were a big hit with fans despite him working mainly as a heel.  Unfortunately, as time went on, his act became old and stale, especially since he never seemed to be able to win a big match.  He was 0-2 at WrestleMania, and worked a forgettable angle with The Rock at WrestleMania 32 last year.  With no significant victories on his resume, you could pretty much count on him losing every big match he was in, thus making them difficult to become emotionally invested in.   All of this changed when he finally became WWE Champion in February at Elimination Chamber.  Suddenly, there became reason to believe he actually was a contender.

This match, along with any match Randy Orton is ever in, has the chance to be the match of the night.  These two have a bruising style, and move deceptively quickly for men of their size.  There is no doubt that they both view this match as potentially legacy-defining and will aim to bring the house down.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Bray Wyatt

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

 

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

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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.

WrestleMania 32 Postscript

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

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

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

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

Winners

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

Losers

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

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

WrestleMania 32 Analysis and Predictions (part 3 of 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WrestleMania 32 Analysis and Predictions (part 2 of 3)

Part two of this three-part series about WrestleMania 31 will feature the matches in the mid-card.  You never know what you are going to get from the mid-card at WrestleMania, but you can be assured that the performers are going to give 100% in an attempt to forge an unforgettable “WrestleMania moment” of their own.  Sometimes you get a standout match like The Ultimate Warrior vs. Macho King Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII, or Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania X that go down in history as one of the all-time greats.  Other times, you get bowling shoe-ugly showcases such as Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. Rick Martel in a blindfold match at WrestleMania VII, or what is widely considered the worst WrestleMania match ever, Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole at WrestleMania XVII.

The eternal WrestleMania mark in myself is hoping for something that fits in the former category, not the latter at WrestleMania 32.  Interestingly enough, since I published part one about the pre-show, the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was moved up from the pre-show to the main card.  It’s hard to say exactly why this happened, but it’s likely going to compress the rest of the matches for time as there are now eight matches to squeeze into a four-hour time frame.  Those matches don’t include other features such as an appearance by The Rock, the Hall of Fame introductions, and whatever other skits they have planned between matches.

Hopefully this time crunch doesn’t take too much away from any of the matches and the performers don’t try too hard to rush a “this is awesome” spot, and instead focus on the story telling of in-ring psychology.  At the very least, hopefully the Diva’s match is kept to about 1:15 so this doesn’t become too much of an issue.

As I said in part one, I predict that Braun Strowman is going to win the André trophy.  My analysis and picks for the rest of the mid-card matches are as follows.

Kevin Owens (c) vs. Sami Zayn vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Zack Ryder vs. Sin Cara vs. The Miz vs. Stardust in a 7-man Ladder match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

This will be the 10th ladder match in WrestleMania history and the third time that it will be used to decide the winner of the Intercontinental Championship.  This match is also a repeat of last year when the opening match of WrestleMania 31 when Daniel Bryan won the IC belt in a 7-man ladder match to start the show.  This year, Kevin Owens enters the match as the champion and has a mostly different cast of characters to compete against.

Kevin Owens is coming off of a strong rookie year in 2015 when he defeated John Cena in his first match on the main card, instantly giving him credibility with the fans.  Following a few high-profile rematches against Cena, Owens’ push was slowed down a bit.  He did, however, manage to win the IC title on Raw and is in a high-profile match at WrestleMania so he is in a good spot.  Owens is a rarity on the Raw roster today as his target audience is mainly adults, and there is nothing kid-friendly about him.  He is a perfect wrestling heel, he is obnoxious, cowardly, and cheats to win.

Sami Zayn is one of the higher-profile NXT call-ups as of late.  He didn’t have much luck in his first go-around on the main roster. During his ring entrance for his debut match, he raised his arms in the air and managed to break his shoulder, costing him over eight months of his career.  Anyway, he rehabilitated his injury and now is in the biggest match of his life to date.  Although he appears to be somewhat of a standard white-meat-babyface, the WWE fans have taken to his ring entrance and his character.  I am not convinced; I need to see a few good matches out of him before I make a judgement call on his abilities.

Dolph Ziggler has performed well in ladder matches, having won the Intercontinental championship in a standout ladder match against Luke Harper in 2014 at TLC.  Ziggler has plateaued in his career and no longer really shows any main-event promise.  He is a solid worker but he oversells for his opponents and is playing out of position as a babyface.  This is the right match for him to be in and he will certainly perform at the best of his abilities on the WrestleMania stage.

Zach Ryder is the lucky winner in this match.  He is filling in for Neville who badly broke his ankle and leg just two weeks ago on Raw.  Ryder was the low man on the totem pole in the WWE before went into business for himself by filming his own YouTube show.  Fans took notice and started chanting for him at live events.  A quick push disappeared as fast as it started and he has been languishing in NXT for quite some time.  This is an opportunity for him to showcase his abilities on the grandest stage of them all and he should be very highly motivated in this match.

Sin Cara doesn’t have much going on for himself right now as he has been outshined by his tag team partner, Kalisto.  He does not display any character and is mostly voiceless.  We don’t know much about him other than that he is a Luchador-style high spot worker.  I would expect him to try some sort of death-defying bump during this match just to get himself noticed.

The Miz continues to be under-utilized on the WWE main roster.  He was once the top heel in the company, having defeated John Cena in the main event at WrestleMania XVII with an assist from The Rock.  That was the highlight of his career as he has been booked in the mid-card at best ever since.  A ladder match doesn’t seem like it plays to his strengths as a performer.  Overall, it doesn’t make much sense for him to be in this match and it probably won’t advance his career very much.

Stardust is among the most talented performers in this match.  As the son of The American Dream Dusty Rhodes, he was born and bred to be in the professional wrestling business.  He has earned critical praise for being all-in to his Stardust character and plays a very convincing character.  He is yet another under-utilized talent on the crowded WWE roster.  He certainly is deserving of a premier spot on the card and hopefully is featured prominently in this match.

These seven-man ladder matches are a tough proposition for wrestlers these days.  We have seen too many of them. The wrestlers are starting to run out of ways to use ladders as weapons, or fall off of ladders through tables.  They constantly struggle to find new and interesting ways to take death-defying bumps to wow the crowd.  Timing is also key in a match like this as quite often one or more of them need to either disappear for large swaths of time, or be standing in the right place at the right time to take their bumps properly.  Like I said at the top of this blog, it could either be a standout classic, or very ugly to watch.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens

The New Day vs. The League of Nations in a 4-on-3 Handicap match

The New Day has enjoyed a very solid run as the top heel faction in the WWE over the past year.  They have been so good at it, they have slowly turned into a babyface trio as the crowd can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous things they say and do.  Their hard work and dedication to their gimmick has paid off as they have held the WWE Tag Team Championship using the Freebird Rule since the summer.  They are likely going to do an extensive comedy skit before the match as part of their entrance.  Let’s hope for everybody’s sake that they bring their best material as their skits can be hit-or-miss.

The League of Nations is a group of guys who make you scratch your head and ask yourself “how did he go so wrong?”  Sheamus actually held the WWE World Heavyweight Championship for a few weeks last year, not that anybody would remember.  King Barrett was on top of the world with his “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news” catch phrase, only to have inexplicably lost his momentum after winning King of the Ring in 2015.  Alberto Del Rio used to have one of the greatest ring entrances of all time, driving to the ring in ultra-expensive luxury cars while his personal ring announcer introduced him to the crowd in Spanish.  Since his return to the WWE, he beat John Cena in a match and quickly got pushed down the card.  The most depressing case out of all of them is Rusev.  He was the best monster heel the WWE has seen in years headed into WrestleMania 31.  That day was the turning point in his career as he started a losing streak that he still hasn’t recovered from.  The low point was when he permanently lost all credibility as a bad guy when he was entangled in a bizarre storyline about a love triangle with Summer Rae, Dolph Ziggler, and Lana.

What we have here are two factions headed in different directions.  The New Day has a lot of upside potential for the rest of 2016 and beyond.  It wouldn’t surprise me if most or all of the members of The League of Nations aren’t even on the WWE roster by the time WrestleMania 33 rolls around.  That will be a shame, as they are all very talented and deserve better than what WWE creative has handed them.

This should actually be a decent match as there is a good combination of size, strength, speed, and agility across the board.  I have a strong feeling that this match will play out in such a way that The New Day come out of it as babyfaces and stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Prediction: Winners, The New Day

Charlotte (c) (with Ric Flair) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks in a Triple Threat match for the WWE Divas Championship

Not even Ric Flair himself can save this train wreck of a match from being awful.  All I can hope for is that it is very short.  If we are really lucky, the show will be running long and it will get bumped because there is not enough time to have it.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho

Chris Jericho is about eight years past his prime.  He looks chubby, slow, and old in the ring.  He has left and returned so many times that it is no longer shocking or interesting when he shows up in the WWE from out of nowhere.  Despite all of this, if there is only one thing that he is still good at, it is his ability to cut a great heel promo.  His diatribe towards the crowd at WWE Roadblock two weeks ago was simply brilliant and has the fans solidly rooting against him.

AJ Styles was well received by the WWE faithful following his surprise entrance at The Royal Rumble in January.  In somewhat of an unusual step, a WWE outsider was brought in to the main roster without having to stop off in NXT developmental for a stay.  Styles is apparently a well know performer from TNA and NJPW, but as a WWE-only fan, I don’t know anything about him other than what I’ve seen these past three months.  So far he has shown flashes of impressive wrestling offense, but he is rather dull on the microphone.  This is a very good spot for Styles to be in, having gone from relative obscurity to a singles match at WrestleMania in a short period of time.

This is a repeat match that we’ve seen twice already.  The two were enemies, friends, and enemies again in just a matter of weeks.  They already have a pretty decent rapport and familiarity with each other, with Styles proving that he can carry the older and slower Chris Jericho through a match. I’ve always felt that wrestling is at its best when two performers square off in a one-on-one grudge match with no distracting stipulations.  This match fits that category and could be very entertaining.

Prediction: Winner, Chris Jericho

Thanks for reading part two.  Part three is coming soon and will feature the three main events on the card.

WrestleMania 32 Analysis and Predictions (part 1 of 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners, The Dudley Boyz

André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Ryback

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

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.