It comes every year along with the spring. The “Showcase of the Immortals,” the grand-daddy of them all: WrestleMania. Ever since WWE Chairman Vince McMahon concocted the idea for a wrestling (ahem, sports entertainment) show with the same prestige as the NFL’s Superbowl it’s been an annual tradition. The event has had its ups and downs over the past 30 years. WrestleMania III famously set an indoor attendance record in Detroit with Hulk Hogan taking on Andre the Giant in the main event, and yet, the wildly popular Attitude Era, was kicked off with Stone Cold Steven Austin defeating Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship in front of a modest crowd of 19,000. The massive stadium shows have really only come back in the last ten years, and along with it, WrestleMania’s prestige. WrestleMania XXX was the best of the WWE Pay-Per View events in 2014, and that’s how it should be.
WrestleMania XXXI is arriving with a little less pomp than it has the last couple of years. The card for WrestleMania XXVII was not spectacular, but The Rock was hosting and had some real heat with John Cena. The following year, the two locked horns in the main event of WrestleMania XXVIII and would do so again at WrestleMania XXIX. Last year, Daniel Bryan was red-hot as he road into the Superdome for WrestleMania XXX, though arguably the event will forever be associated with The Undertaker and his loss to Brock Lesnar, his first loss at WrestleMania in 22 appearances. This year, the main event is champion Brock Lesnar taking on the up and comer Roman Reigns. The WWE fanbase is not as behind Reigns as the company probably expected they would be, with fan favorites like Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, and Dean Ambrose trapped in the undercard. Despite that though, the card has come together pretty well and there’s a chance for some classic WrestleMania moments. There’s also the chance the whole thing could blow up in WWE’s face. This is an important show for WWE as the company needs to keeping adding subscribers to its WWE Network. There’s a strong chance a lot of people jumped on board for WrestleMania season and plan to cancel after March (last year, a six month commitment was required to keep this very thing from happening but that restriction has since been removed) and a good showing could keep people around a little longer. I am cautiously optimistic about WrestleMania XXXI so let’s get onto the card and how I see things unfolding (note: I avoid online “dirt sheets” so I’m insulated from what is rumored to happen).
The Andre the Giant Battle Royal – Pre-show Match
Last year, the WWE debuted the Andre the Giant Battle Royal and the win went to Cesaro, who stole the spotlight by slamming The Big Show over the top rope. This year, the match has been moved to the pre-show and given that Cesaro quickly found himself buried on the undercard following his victory there’s less enthusiasm for the match this year. The biggest storyline going into the event is the growing rift between The Miz and his personal assistant, Damien Mizdow. There’s also a minor feud between Kane and Big Show while Ryback has been showcased as a potential winner on Raw and Smackdown. Sheamus has had numerous teasers air over the past month advertising his imminent return to the main roster and it’s possible he’ll be a surprise entrant. NXT star Hideo Itami won a tournament on Thursday that puts him in the match as well.
Prediction: Mizdow turns on The Miz and eliminates him, but he eventually is eliminated by Ryback who picks up the win. Itami gets a chance to shine while Curtis “Axelmania” Axel gets taken out before he enters the ring.
Tag-Team Championship Match: Tyson Kidd and Cesaro (C) vs The Usos vs Los Matadores vs The New Day
The tag-team division has been rather bland for the past year+ as The Usos dominated 2014 with little competition to play off of. Some of that has been poor writing and booking as there’s talent in the division, but with so much time devoted to long-winded promos on Raw focused on the main event talent, a lot of the undercard has suffered. Even though 2014 didn’t go well for Cesaro in singles competition, he and Kidd have made for a pretty entertaining tag-team and they have good chemistry in the ring. The New Day has been a flop, Los Matadors a side-show, with The Usos seemingly representing the only threat. There’s been no flow to the tag-team division all year, so given that, the match has a bit of a chaotic vibe. This match could be a nice opener for the show if given enough time (and really, that shouldn’t be an issue considering the show is booked to be four hours long), but it also could come across like a typical Raw match. If a match is to be squeezed for time, it will be this one.
Prediction: WWE could put the belts on The New Day in an attempt to jump-start a program that the promotion spent a lot of time hyping. The safe bet, and most likely outcome, is for Tyson Kidd and Cesaro to retain.
AJ Lee and Paige vs The Bella Twins
Apparently WWE couldn’t settle on an opponent for Divas Champion Nikki Bella so we’re getting a tag-team match pairing her with her sister Brie against former champs Paige and AJ. Paige and AJ spent much of 2014 feuding with each other and they enter this match on rocky footing. Much of the build-up has been focused on those two at the expense of their opponents as well as on the Give Divas a Chance social media movement. Because of that movement, it seems likely these women will be given a solid amount of time and a legitimate chance at having a good match, as opposed to being a five-minute after-thought. I’d rather see a traditional one on one bout where two ladies are given the chance to steal the show, but we may have to wait until WrestleMania XXXII when (hopefully) NXT stars Charlotte and Sasha Banks are on the main roster.
Prediction: I’d actually love it if the nefarious Bellas took-out AJ before the match and one of those aforementioned NXT ladies took her place. That’s no slight on AJ, she’s just been a part of WrestleMania’s past, unlike Paige. The NXT women, and their incredible matches throughout last year, are the driving force behind the whole Give Divas a Chance thing and it would be great to see one of them be showcased at the event. Absent that though, I’m predicting Paige and AJ’s inability to cooperate leads to defeat, setting up a feud going forward while Nikki is free to focus on Charlotte, who I expect to debut on Monday’s Raw.
Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match: Bad News Barrett (C) vs Daniel Bryan vs Dolph Ziggler vs R-Truth vs Dean Ambrose vs Stardust vs Luke Harper
Barrett defeated Ambrose at Fastlane, the PPV event that preceded WrestleMania, and following the conclusion of that match, Ambrose made off with Barrett’s belt. Since then the belt has traded hands amongst the competitors in this bout despite no one actually winning the belt from Barrett. It was funny at times to watch, silly as well, but it’s hard to argue with this outcome. All of the guys in this match, even the often forgotten R-Truth, are extremely talented and if one match is likely to steal the show it’s clearly this one. Toss in the chaotic nature of a ladder match and this easily becomes one to get excited about. Some fans are ticked that a guy like Daniel Bryan is suddenly battling for a lesser title than the WWE Heavy Championship, but with Brock Lesnar being a part-time champ it makes sense to elevate the prestige of the mid-card belts.
Prediction: And that’s just what WWE wants. Bryan wins and becomes Smackdown’s fighting champion and a feud with Ziggler seems imminent. Those two could bring the house down if allowed and perhaps finally the Intercontinental Championship will seem like an important title, which it really hasn’t been for years.
Randy Orton vs Seth Rollins
This one is a classic grudge match between two personalities who hate each other. Orton was off of television for months to sell an injury at the hands of Rollins. Following a return at Fastlane, Orton played coy with Rollins before finally snapping a couple of weeks ago. Orton is a good worker, not a great one, but he’s fully capable of having a great match when paired with a complementary talent. Rollins definitely qualifies as he’s become one of the most electric competitors in the business. Strangely though, he’s still largely untested on the big stage when it comes to singles competition, with his best work often taking place in six-man or triple threat settings. Since the stakes in this match are so low, it’s also possible this match gets is a victim of time constraints if any of the earlier matches go on longer than expected.
Prediction: This one is hard to predict. Orton could use a big win, but Rollins could too. The wildcard is Rollins’ Money in the Bank contract which gives him a title match whenever he chooses to exercise it, meaning he could potentially end the night as WWE Heavyweight Champion. If that were to happen, then I could see Orton winning kind of like Owen Hart beat his brother Brett to open WrestleMania X, only for Brett to go on and defeat Yokozuna for the WWF Championship in the main event. I think the likelihood of Rollins ending the night as champ is low, so I expect him to go over Orton here.
United States Championship Match: Rusev (C) vs John Cena
For the past year, Rusev has been the unstoppable monster heel of WWE. No one has pinned him or made him submit yet, and his anti-US rhetoric makes him kind of a throwback heel. He’s fought mostly lesser stars, until last month when he took on, and defeated, John Cena. Cena has shown off a mean-streak since in getting Rusev to agree to a rematch at WrestleMania. Oddsmakers think this one will go Cena’s way, but I’m not sure.
Prediction: It seems hard to fathom that John Cena could lose twice in a row to Rusev. Last year, he was in a similar situation as he took on an up and coming monster heel in Bray Wyatt. Cena won that encounter, but it just doesn’t make sense to me for him to beat Rusev. Cena does not gain anything by beating Rusev, I’d prefer to see WWE save Rusev’s first loss for a less-established guy who can gain instant credibility. Someone like Adrian Neville, who’s expected to be promoted from NXT, would make sense. Cena does not. I expect Rusev to win, possibly by DQ so Cena can save some face.
Bray Wyatt vs The Undertaker
The Undertaker losing at WrestleMania XXX was one of the most shocking moments in WWE history. At the time, I wasn’t sure it was the right move to have Undertaker lose to an already established guy like Brock Lesnar, but credit WWE for handling Lesnar well since then. Undertaker, meanwhile, has not appeared on WWE television since then even during the build-up to this match with Wyatt. Last year’s match with Lesnar was not a good one, due in part to Undertaker suffering a severe concussion during the match, but also due to Undertaker being 49 years old. It remains to be seen what he has left in the tank, even with a year off. And as much as I like Wyatt, I’m not sure he’s the kind of talent that can carry a hobbled Undertaker through a match. Expect a lot of posturing in this one.
Prediction: WrestleMania XXXII will be held in Dallas, Texas. Even though Taker has been famously billed as being from Death Valley, it’s fairly common knowledge that he’s actually from Texas. Therefore, I expect Undertaker to compete next year in what may very well be his retirement match. As such, Undertaker losing here and heading into next year 21-2 seems unlikely. I expect either an Undertaker win or a non-finish. If Wyatt and Taker deliver a great match, it’s possible next year we’ll get a rematch where Wyatt gets the win. Or it’s possible that Undertaker competes against another Texan, like a returning Stone Cold, or we could get The Dream Match which pits Undertaker against one of the guys competing in the next match…
Triple H vs Sting
After flirting with WWE for years, Sting finally appeared in a WWE ring this past November at Survivor Series, foiling the plans of Triple H’s Authority stable in the main event. Since then he has appeared sporadically, but the last month has been a busy one for the Stinger as he and Triple H have built up this match. Unfortunately, the wait for Sting to appear in a WWE ring has been so long that he’s now past the age of 50. These two men, combined, are over 100 years old and the quality of this match is very much in question. Hopefully, the prestige of the match-up is enough for them to feed off of because it would be a shame if Sting’s first, possibly only, WWE match was a poor one. Triple H, despite being a part-timer himself, has continued to look good whenever he does lace up his boots. He’s in great shape, and his ability to carry Sting through a match is likely the main reason why he’s in this position as opposed to The Undertaker.
Prediction: It seems almost pointless for Sting to finally appear at WrestleMania only to go down in defeat. Even though the opposite momentum rule, where wrestling often follows a predictable booking pattern of having the guy who looks strongest leading up to a big match lose, strongly favors Triple H, I still envision a Sting victory. Because these guys are as old as they are, it’s possible there will be a lot of interference in this one to slow things down. In the end though, Triple H taps to the Scorpion Deathlock. And if all goes well, maybe we see Sting next year against Undertaker.
WWE Heavyweight Championship Match: Brock Lesnar (C) vs Roman Reigns
Much to WWE’s surprise, Roman Reigns’ victory in the Royal Rumble was greeted with boos. Even a rare appearance by The Rock couldn’t change things. Since, WWE has tried to repair Reigns’ image with the fanbase, pitting him against Daniel Bryan in the main event at Fastlane and by limiting his mic work. Reigns has done well in this role and he is an up and coming talent. Maybe the spot will prove too big for him, but he and Lesnar make for a pretty solid pairing. The issue there is that “solid” isn’t what you want for a WrestleMania main event. Lesnar has been the absentee champion. His part-time contract with WWE means he’s been booked as an attraction. It was a risk putting the title on him, but he’s been so good in his role that it’s hard to argue with the results. The belt has real prestige, and whoever knocks off Lesnar is going to get a big boost in credibility from such a feat. I think these two are going to have a very good match, probably not the match of the evening, but a damn good bout.
Prediction: Up until this past week, Lesnar’s status with the company was very much in question. His contract was going to expire after WrestleMania, making his defeat at WrestleMania XXXI seem almost guaranteed (which is one reason why so many fans were upset when Reigns won the Royal Rumble as the perception was whoever won that match would be the next WWE Champion) as he teased a return to UFC. Speculation about Lesnar’s future ended though when he announced on ESPN that he had resigned with WWE and was closing the door on his MMA career. Now, it seems, the tide has turned completely and many now expect Lesnar to retain at WrestleMania. There remains the possibility that WWE will turn those jeers aimed at Reigns into a full-fledged heel run having Lesnar’s manager, Paul Heyman, turn on him helping Reigns claim victory. I don’t think that will happen, but it is a possibility. WWE has spent so much time building up Lesnar this past year that it just doesn’t feel like the right time to have him go down in defeat. Lesnar retains at WrestleMania.