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A Bloated Preview of WrestleMania 34

3365454-dekI swear the WWE won’t rest until it dominates every facet of my life. WWE already wants me to watch 5 hours of television programming per week, plus 2 hours of additional content on the Network each week. Then they drop in a special Facebook tag team tournament and a Pay-Per View event almost every other week that routinely runs 4 hours. Now they want me to devote upwards of 7 hours of my Sunday to WrestleMania every year. Let’s be realistic, 7 hours is way too long for any single event be it a World Series game, Super Bowl, Daytona 500, or whatever. I’m not even sure how often I’ve sat and watched 7 hours of a favorite TV show in a marathon fashion. And in the case of WrestleMania, that 7 hours is the capper to a weekend of wrestling content as the Hall of Fame ceremony and NXT Takeover events occur the previous nights.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it, and honestly it does dampen my enthusiasm for WrestleMania, which I otherwise normally really look forward to. I like that it’s over the top and the big capper on what feels like a “season” for WWE programming. And I do understand why it ends up being so damn long because the talent on the roster all know how important WrestleMania is so WWE seems to try its best to include everyone. This is how you end up with a giant card and two battle royals. It used to be that everyone on the card would receive a payment proportional to the “gate” for the event, which included PPV buys. As a result, WrestleMania was always one of the best pay days of the year for wrestlers. Now, with everything being on the WWE Network for the low, low price of $9.99 per month, that annual payment probably is much smaller since fewer people watch the event via PPV, but it’s still probably a better pay day than every other event they put on.

Nonetheless, I try to do a wrestling post once per year around this time, though i failed to last year. It’s something I still follow, though I can’t keep up with everything as there’s just too much content (as highlighted earlier). This WrestleMania though is pretty interesting. It’s a start for some, and an end for others. There’s some uncertainty on the card, and the roster is just so damn big now that it’s hard to figure out where all of the moving pieces are going after the event. And since this card is so massive, and this post is also kind of a year-in-review for WWE, this entry is going to be equally massive so maybe I should stop with the introductions and just get on with it. Let’s start with the Pre-Show matches:

The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

maxresdefault-23The big battle royal, named after the 8th Wonder of the World, has seen its prestige drop over past few years. It debuted at WrestleMania XXX and was won by Cesaro who went on to experience a push immediately following the event. He was paired with Paul Heyman and seemed destined to be a singles star, but behind the scenes Vince McMahon wasn’t sold (as he openly discussed on an episode of Steve Austin’s podcast) and the push was quickly cooled. Cesaro would then suffer a pretty serious shoulder injury and miss a bunch of time and ever since returning to health he’s been relegated to the tag division once more where he and Sheamus currently hold the Raw Tag Team Championship. Despite all of that, he’s still the most successful winner of this battle royal. The following year, The Big Show won as sort of a lifetime achievement award that did nothing to really further his character. Following him, a debuting Baron Corbin won. He received a push on Smackdown that peaked with him winning the Money in the Bank briefcase. He then suffered the embarrassment of being one of the very few to fail to win the championship with that security blanket and he now finds himself competing in the battle royal once again. Would winning a second time be an achievement or the ultimate rib? Last year, with help from New England Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowski, Mojo Rawley won the battle royal and he too is featured in the match again this year. Unlike Corbin, he has really nothing to show for winning the event other than a heel turn. One year later, it seems clear he was allowed to win more for his real life friendship with Gronkowski than anything else. This year, who wins seems less important than ever. Is this match a true stepping stone for a young wrestler, a gift for an old reliable superstar, or just the pre-show filler it truly is? I have no idea, and thus my prediction feels kind of pointless so I’ll say a new version of Bray Wyatt debuts and wins, because why not?

Prediction:  Bray Wyatt

WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal

womensbattleroyalThe women’s roster, thanks in part to a rise in the quality of women’s wresting on WWE programming and the brand split, is now large enough that it can support its own battle royal. Decades ago, the women were more likely to be tossed into some stupid pillow fight or just used as eye candy for an unrelated match or event, so even though I kind of dumped on the men’s battle royal, this one does feel like progress. Next year we can get cynical about it. Though WWE almost dropped the ball with this by originally naming it after The Fabulous Moolah who has been accused of stealing from other wrestlers and for essentially being a pimp. In other words, whether true or not you probably shouldn’t name a match after her on your brightest stage. Rather than finding someone else to name it after, they just went with a conventional name. This match actually has some storylines heading into it as both Absolution and The Riot Squad  have been booked as invading wrestlers on Raw and Smackdown respectively, so a number of the other women probably want to get their hands on them. There’s also the rivalry between one-time bestie Sasha Banks and Bailey. The feud between those two is deserving of its own match, so it’s rather disappointing to see it relegated to this event. Unfortunately, the card is so stacked that there wasn’t really any room for a traditional grudge match. Personally, I would rather see that match instead of either of the non-title tag team matches, but I get why those are on the card and this is not. Because of their rivalry though, I don’t expect either Banks or Bailey to win this match. It’s possible this match goes to a debuting NXT star, but I’m not sure if any of the ladies at NXT are in-line for a promotion at this point in time. Instead, it may be used to elevate one of the members of the aforementioned stables, or as a lifetime achievement award to a vet like Natalya. WrestleMania typically doesn’t feature many heel victories, and this card appears to be no exception, so perhaps this is an easy spot to toss in a heel win.

Prediction:  Mandy Rose

WWE Cruiserweight Championship (vacant)

Cedric Alexander vs Mustafa Ali

mqdefaultTwo wrestlers making their WretleMania debut, Alexander and Ali will be competing for the vacant Cruiserweight title. The Cruiserweight Division experienced a rather tumultuous 2017 marked with outside of the ring scandal and beset with poor story-telling and little direction. The brand has been sort-of rebooted over the past six weeks and I hear its show, 205 Live, is much improved, but I personally haven’t watched it. As a result, I’ve got little to say about this match. I doubt these two talented wrestlers will be given enough time to really shine under the bright lights, but there’s a small chance they put on a show-stealer. Alexander seems like the rising star of the division so a win for him is likely, though it could really go either way.

Prediction:  Cedric Alexander

WWE Smackdown Tag-Team Championship Triple Threat

The Usos (C) vs The New Day vs The Bludgeon Brothers

bludgeon-brothers-vs-usos-vs-new-day-wrestlemania-34I’ll give credit where credit is due, Smackdown has done a good job of making this match something to look forward to. The rivalry between the champs, The Usos, and The New Day has been very enjoyable and evenly matched. Toss-in the undefeated Bludgeon Brothers and you get a nice twist. Though a match between The Usos and New Day may have been a better direction, at least The Bludgeons, in spite of their stupid gimmick, are competent wrestlers and should work well. Truthfully, I do not know what the order of the card is so I’m predicting this will be the curtain-jerker for the main show because The New Day seem like the perfect cats to get things started. Last year they didn’t get to compete and were relegated to host duties, so this is a welcomed to return to actual competition. Meanwhile, the other four participants weren’t featured on the main card and instead were relegated to the battle royal, except for Rowan who was injured. In other words, they all have something to prove. A lot of the titles look like they’ll be switching hands during this event, so I’ll predict that the Smackdown Tag Titles will be one of the few that does not.

Prediction:  The Usos

Raw Women’s Championship

Alexa Bliss (C) vs Nia Jax

maxresdefault-24This storyline had one of the shortest build-ups thanks to the uncertainty over who Royal Rumble winner Asuka would challenge at WrestleMania. That was unveiled at Fastlane when she challenged Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair leaving Alexa without an opponent for WrestleMania. Truth be told, I always assumed Asuka would be paired with Charlotte leaving Bliss to square-off against either multiple women or Nia Jax. Jax has played the role of protector for Bliss for most of 2017 into 2018. With Bliss being a natural heel, it made sense for her to not appreciate what Jax does for her leading to a fractured alliance. Bliss is also conventionally attractive and that’s worked into her persona as she’s presented as conceited, shallow, and just one of those “mean girls.” Jax, on the other hand, is a pretty large woman making her weight an easy thing for Bliss to poke fun at and that’s been the basis for this feud. Both women are returning to WrestleMania looking to make-up for losses at last year’s event. Bliss dropped the Smackdown Women’s Championship to Naomi in a six-woman match, a classic brief match where WWE just tosses a bunch of women into a chaotic match to get them on the show (it lasted barely over 5 minutes), while Jax failed to come away with the Raw Women’s Championship in a four-woman match won by Bailey. Jax has also never held a title at either WWE or NXT despite being booked like an unstoppable monster at times. She’s essentially a victim of the big wrestler bias where the “monsters” are often kept away from the titles (like Undertaker, Big Show, Andre, etc.). Lucky for her though, every big wrestler usually gets a couple of title reigns here and there and I think she’s in-line for one here. The storyline of Bliss poking fun at Jax’s weight is inherently mean and it makes little sense for WWE to go there and not have the heel get what’s coming to them. Of course, they’ve done stuff like this in the past and gone the other way (perhaps most infamously with Triple H vs Booker T from WrestleMania XIX), but WWE seems to be more concerned with its image now more than ever. Jax has also come close on numerous occasions to winning the belt and it seems like another tease could really harm her progression. For her to not win, it will likely take interference from Bliss ally Mickie James. Neither woman appears primed for a new opponent after WrestleMania, so they could always trade wins at the next PPV too.

Prediction:   Nia Jax

WWE United States Championship Fatal Four-Way

Randy Orton (C) vs Bobby Roode vs Jinder Mahal vs Rusev

79e67b33cf6b943828442923f43ce53b_1200_675Aside from perhaps the pre-show matches, this match for the US Title is likely the one fans are looking forward to the least. All four participants are decent enough workers in the ring, but at least three aren’t particularly interesting. Orton is overexposed, and 2017 felt like the year where he tumbled from the main event scene, possibly for good, with his series of matches against Mahal being a low point for WWE programming after winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 33. And Mahal was equally a low point as WWE Champion as he shockingly won the belt not long after last year’s embarrassing elimination from the battle royal by Gronkowski. Mahal is an effective heel on the mic, but totally uninteresting in the ring. Perhaps for a heel to truly be hated though he should be a crappy wrestler since so many heels end up being crowd pleasers. Roode was promoted from NXT after last year’s WrestleMania and had an okay 2017. He’s terrible with a mic in his hand, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing when your entrance is the best thing anyone can say about your character. He’s also been booked like a babyface, even though his Glorious persona feels more like a heel one. Saving this match from being a total drag is the recently added Rusev. He was scheduled to participate in the battle royal and only recently was added to this match. It was done because his Rusev Day gimmick has gotten way over with fans, even though it probably was meant to just be comedy filler for Smackdown. It’s great to see though because Rusev is a tremendous talent and his fall in the company has been extremely odd. Since he was added in at the last minute, one could theorize that WWE has no real plans for him and they’re just capitalizing on his flavor of the month status. Or, as really the only guy in the match who’s even remotely over, he could be viewed as a lock to win this thing.

Prediction:  It’s Rusev Day

WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

The Bar (C) vs Braun Strowman and TBD

maxresdefault-22Possibly the weirdest match on the card. Cesaro and Sheamus went from after-thought singles wrestlers to tag team champs over the last two years. Meanwhile, Strowman has been one of the hottest guys in the company, but as a monster wrestler, WWE has struggled to find a place for him. His popularity warrants main event status, but he’s been booked as unstoppable and maybe they worry about how to book him as a champion, or as a failed challenger, even. In reality, it’s a total head-scratcher why Strowman isn’t the one getting setup to destroy Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship, but chalk that up to WWE’s insistence on making Roman Reigns “The Guy” in the promotion. Rather than demote Strowman to the IC title picture, they went in an odd direction and had him win a tag team battle royal to become the number one contender for the Raw championship, despite not having a partner. Since WWE has decided to withhold who will be competing alongside Strowman until the event, it would seem likely it will either be a returning superstar from either injury or outside the promotion, a celebrity, or an NXT call-up. I haven’t paid attention to the dirt sheets leading up to the event as I’d prefer to not have anything spoiled, but I’m well aware that Rey Mysterio is out there and would elicit a pop from the audience if he indeed teamed with Strowman. On the injury front, both Dean Ambrose and Big Cass could be ready to return as could Somoa Joe. Of the three, Ambrose is the biggest name, but I’d personally be really interested in a Somoa Joe/Strowman team should Strowman remain in the tag division for now. As for NXT, I have no idea, but Johnny Gargano would get a nice reaction if it were him so that’s who I’d like to see most. He being the consummate underdog could even eat the pin, allowing for him to move onto 205 Live and Strowman to resume his singles career. Lost in all of this is The Bar, who actually make a great team. While I would prefer to see a guy like Cesaro flourishing in the singles division, I’ve at least enjoyed their run, so I won’t mind seeing it continue. They will need some fresh meat following WrestleMania, so maybe a feud with The Hardys is to come.

Prediction:  The Bar

WWE Championship

AJ Styles (C) vs Shinsuke Nakamura

styles-vs-nakamuraStyles had a nice conclusion to 2017. Last year, he was the placeholder heel champ expected to carry the WWE title during the lean months, only to drop it before WrestleMania. As a result, he found himself in the curtain-jerker position last year facing off against Shane McMahon in a match that ended up being way better than it had any right to be. Perhaps as a reward for enduring such ignominy, he’s now the champ heading into WrestleMania where he gets to resume his New Japan feud with Shinsuke Nakamura, who is participating in his first WrestleMania. Because these guys have such great in-ring chemistry with each other and because they’re both world class workers this match is expected to be a show-stealer. I can’t think of another recent non-main event match that had such expectations, maybe the TLC rematch though that’s hardly recent. Smackdown did not have a good second half in 2017, but Stlyes and Nakamura remain over with fans and this is one of the few face vs face matches at this year’s event. It feels like if WWE is ever going to commit to giving Nakamura a run with the belt then it has to do so here. He had some big wins in 2017, but failed to dethrone Mahal when he got a title shot. Styles has sometimes been an after-thought as champ, with most of his feuds serving as vehicles for feuds between other wrestlers (namely, Zayn and Owens vs McMahon) so it’s hard to see where he’s going as a character. In other words, regardless of what happens at WrestleMania, these two seem destined to continue their rivalry.

Prediction:  Shinsuke Nakamura

WWE Intercontinental Triple Threat

The Miz (C) vs Seth Rollins vs Finn Balor

The-Miz-vs.-Seth-Rollins-vs.-Finn-Balor-WrestleMania-34-Intercontinental-Championship-MatchIt’s been a bit of an odd year for the participants of this match. Last year, The Miz found himself in a program with part-timer John Cena leading to a mixed tag match that was just a vehicle for Cena to propose to his real-life girlfriend and former WWE Superstar Nikki Bella. When he wasn’t away filming bad WWE films though, The Miz usually was wearing the Intercontinental Championship and doing well for himself as one of the company’s best heels. Rollins, on the other hand, has somewhat floated around for the past year. At WrestleMania 33, he had a big blow-off match with former mentor Triple H in which he had to return from a serious knee injury in short order to even compete. Since then he’s kind of flirted with the main event while remaining the workhorse for Raw. A Shield reunion and tag title run with Dean Ambrose was derailed by an injury to Ambrose. He was then paired with Jason Jordan and the two appeared to be on a collision course until he too suffered a real-life injury. As a result, Rollins has been tossed into the mix here along with fellow participant Finn Balor. Balor, of course, famously won the newly minted WWE Universal Championship (against Rollins, no less), but had to relinquish it the next night on Raw due to injury. He was ready to return at this time last year, but WWE chose to hold him out of WrestleMania saving him for Raw the next night. He had a way too long feud with Bray Wyatt, that he ultimately emerged victorious from, but has since been adrift much like Rollins. Balor has always felt like a main eventer in waiting, and his Universal Title win seems to add credence to that. He still needs some work refining his character a bit, but I could see the IC title being a reset for him. Rollins doesn’t need it, and if former stable-mate Roman Reigns is indeed victorious in his match with Lesnar, it’s possible WWE sees money in a Rollins/Reigns program atop the card. Meanwhile there’s The Miz, who apparently is approaching some sort of title reign record for the IC belt. He’s sort of become attached to the belt and will likely be remembered for his many reigns with it when all is said and done as more and more people forget that he once appeared in, and won, a WrestleMania main event. His retaining here would not be all that surprising perhaps leading to a one on one program with Balor.

Prediction:  The Miz

Tag-Team Match

Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Daniel-Bryan-Shane-McMahon-Sami-Zayn-Kevin-Owens-WrestleMania-34-645x370At this time last year, Daniel Bryan was simply an on-air character. Forced into retirement by a series of concussions, it was up in the air whether he would ever wrestle again. Most thought he’d finish his contract with WWE in his current role and then head to either Ring of Honor or New Japan to resume his in-ring career since it was WWE’s doctors that wouldn’t clear him. Instead, he surprisingly was medically cleared just a couple of weeks ago and immediately has been thrust into this match-up. Throughout much of the year, he was seen as an ally to Owens and Zayn and butted heads with his boss, Shane McMahon. After Owens and Zayn kayfabe sent Shane to the hospital following Fastlane, Bryan felt like he was forced to fire the duo resulting in them attacking him and thus leading to this match. Bryan and Shane are out for revenge, while Zayn and Owens need to win if they want to resume their careers on Smackdown. Notice the terminology there? It leaves open the possibility that Owens and Zayn could lose, but be hired by Raw. What shouldn’t be forgotten, is that Bryan and Shane were pretty adversarial throughout the year so their alliance is shaky at best. McMahon has more reason to hate his opponents, but that’s never prevented WWE from executing a swerve before. Now, I love all of the participants in this match (well, not so much Shane) because they’re great characters and even better wrestlers, so I’m actually disappointed to see them here. Owens and Zayn deserve better, but at least they aren’t in the battle royal. At this point last year, Owens was the recently defeated Universal Champion forced to do battle with his former ally Chris Jericho in a match for the US Title. That match was some-what famously not enjoyed by Vince McMahon which apparently put Owens in the doghouse. Zayn was forced into the battle royal, so his match here is definitely an improvement over last year. Ultimately though, this feels like a waste of Bryan’s in-ring return. In a rush to get him onto the WrestleMania card, I feel like WWE missed an opportunity to have his return be the main event at a different event. Here he’s kind of lost in the shuffle of a massive card in a feud that wouldn’t have made sense a month ago. A return match pitting him against Shane would have made way more sense, or better yet, one with The Miz. Alas, here we are though. I think these guys are capable of telling a good story and delivering a good match, but I don’t know if they’ll have the time for either. It seems weird predicting Bryan losing his return bout, but Shane could eat the pin or even turn on him, putting him right back into that underdog role he flourished in before his career came to a premature end.

Prediction:  Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Smackdown Women’s Championship

Charlotte Flair (C) vs Asuka

maxresdefault-21Of the matches on the undercard, the two most likely to steal the show are the two big Smackdown title matches, the previously covered Syles vs Nakamura and the women’s match featuring champion Charlotte Flair vs Asuka. Flair went from a heel contender on Raw at least year’s WrestleMania to a babyface champion on Smackdown. Part of the reason for the switch seems to be the real life near death experience of her father, Ric Flair, which garnered her much sympathy as a result. She’s a much better heel than babyface, so I expect this match to be the start of a turn for her as she faces the mega-hot Asuka. Asuka has ridden an undefeated streak to the top of the Women’s Division that got started in NXT. At this time last year she was successfully defending the NXT Women’s Championship, which was kind of a surprise as most thought she would drop the title and then show-up on Raw or Smackdown following WrestleMania 33. Instead, she kept the belt and would eventually get injured forcing her to relinquish her title without defeat. As a result, we don’t know if the plan was for her to head to the main roster undefeated or not, but that’s what happened when she was cleared to return to action. Since joining Raw, she’s mostly been kept out of any major feuds instead simply winning whenever she’s featured in a match, including tag matches and most famously the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble match. At NXT, she never crossed paths with Charlotte so a match between the two has been something fans have been dreaming of for the past couple of years. The fact that it’s finally happening at WrestleMania is pretty awesome, though there is some fear that their lack of experience with each other could lead to a disappointing match. Both women are great in the ring, but neither one has yet developed a reputation for having great matches with anyone they’re paired with, though Charlotte is pretty close to that level at this point. What hasn’t been addressed in storyline is if Asuka is now a Smackdown competitor. Since challenging Charlotte, she has appeared on both shows and if she wins it’s assumed she’ll be Smackdown exclusive going forward. If she loses though, does she return to Raw? I don’t know, but it seems like a waste of her streak for it to end at WrestleMania against Charlotte, who doesn’t need the rub. Her streak has reached a point where it will be a major accomplishment for whomever ends it. While WrestleMania is a big enough stage for such a moment, it just feels like it could be a way to anoint an up and comer (even though Asuka is pretty much an up and comer herself). What I sincerely hope does not happen, is for Asuka’s streak to end at the hands of Carmella after she cashes in her Money in the Bank briefcase.

Prediction:  Asuka

Mixed Tag-Team Match

Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey vs Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

v2-Wrestlemania34The star power of Ronda Rousey will likely mean this is one of the last matches of the evening, even though few probably expect a good match. Rousey, having never wrestled professionally before, is about as green as it gets. That doesn’t mean she can’t make the leap and do so quickly, but it’s an unfair expectation even for the likes of her. Stephanie McMahon has also never been a full-time performer and to call her part-time is even a stretch. Still, she’s married to a future Hall of Famer and her McMahon lineage likely means she doesn’t want to embarrass herself so I expect competence, at least. Triple H is as good as ever, which is to say he’s a steady worker. He was never flashy, even in his prime, but usually effective. Kurt Angle, on the other hand, is one of the best all-time. Even thinking about his career last year when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame I wondered if he was my favorite wrestler of all-time. He could do anything in the ring, have a great match with anyone, and he was superb on the mic. Sadly, time and injury have left him a shell of his former self. He can’t be expected to carry a match in 2018, so I have no idea how he and Triple H can be expected to cover-up for the women if they’re not up to the task themselves. Even though it’s a four-participant match designed to protect Rousey, a lot does really rest on her shoulders. I expect this to be be brief, and more spectacle than anything. Angle and Triple H will probably get things started with a few minutes of mat-wrestling, but it could quickly turn into a squash. Stephanie’s character does not require any sort of in-ring credibility, and I don’t think Triple H is averse to putting over the biggest signing WWE has had in perhaps ever. This is the Rousey showcase match – hopefully she comes through and proves that she belongs in WWE.

Prediction:  Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey

Unadvertised Singles Match

John Cena vs The Undertaker

John-Cena-vs.-The-Undertaker-WrestleMania-34-750x430At this time last year, The Undertaker lost in the main event for only his second defeat ever at WrestleMania to Roman Reigns. Following that match, he removed his hat and coat (after briefly putting them back on which was sort of awkward) and laid them down in the ring before walking off into presumed retirement. In the real world, Taker was in need of hip surgery and it showed. His match with Reigns was not good, and it’s actually been awhile since he put on a good match. He looked like a guy who was ready to go, but here we are a year later and John Cena is issuing open challenges to him on WWE programming lobbying for a match at WrestleMania. The two part-timers certainly have the name power to make any match between them an event, even if there’s no real reason for it to happen. Which is probably why Undertaker has failed to answer those challenges. I expect him to finally do so at the event, which is still weird since it means WWE can’t exactly advertise it without giving it away. Now the prevailing theory around the internet seems to be that last year Undertaker retired his dead man gimmick and will return as American Bad Ass Undertaker, or Biker Taker, if you will. The fact that Kid Rock, who lent his song “American Bad Ass” to that gimmick and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend for his contribution, will be around seems to make that possibility seem likely. I can’t stress enough how much I hated that era of Undertaker so I won’t be popping on my couch when he comes riding out on his chopper, but I expect it at this point so I’m kind of at peace with it. He could come riding out on a chicken and the crowd would go nuts, so I don’t expect any snark. Kid Rock would probably normally be booed if he stepped out onto a WrestleMania stage, but since the crowd will know what his presence means they’ll likely pop for him too. What this match means for the future of The Undertaker is entirely unknown. Is this some encore to last year’s match and a true final match where he gets to go over without harming a young star? Or is it just another year of Undertaker serving as WrestleMania’s final boss with more to come? It’s quite possible it means nothing at all and it’s mostly being done as a favor to Cena, giving him a dream match for his years of loyal service to the company. One thing I do feel certain about is there’s no way Undertaker is returning just to lose to John Cena.

Prediction:  The Biker Taker

WWE Universal Championship

Brock Lesnar (C) vs Roman Reigns

WrestleMania-34-645x370Finally, we’ve arrived at the last match on the card. Though even as i type this I’m frantically looking over the card to make sure I didn’t miss anything because it feels like this damn thing is never ending. It feels kind of crazy, but Lesnar has been Universal Champion for an entire year having won the belt from Goldberg at last year’s event in a brief exchange that never made much sense. Lesnar has had a pretty bland year. WWE has built him up so much that actually defeating him is meaningful (even if Goldberg did it in about 20 seconds), so it’s probably put too much thought into how he should eventually drop the belt. In the real world, Lesnar’s contract with WWE is up following the event. I don’t know if it ends immediately or if there’s an appearance or two left, but all signs point to Brock leaving WWE to pursue a UFC career once again. Lesnar has never been a fan of pro wrestling, so it’s not surprising that he seems to get bored with it. His match quality has steadily gone downhill and a break from the company is probably needed. Hopefully, he takes some pride in in appearing in the main event for WrestleMania and gives a good performance in what could be his final match. Reigns, of course, got to take down The Undertaker last year and temporarily retire the Dead Man. His appearance in this spot has been assumed pretty much ever since despite his failing to become a repeat Royal Rumble winner. Reigns moves a ton of merchandise, which is why he’s booked as a top babyface despite the crowd often being very much against him. For this match, WWE has wisely booked him as the full-time dedicated wrestler railing against a no-show superstar like Brock. They even booked no-shows for Lesnar making fans wonder if his absence was part of the show or if he legitimately didn’t show up for Raw. It’s probably the only way WWE could make Roman the good guy here, but in reality a snarky WrestleMania crowd might just shit all over this one from the start making its placement at the top of the crowd some-what risky. WWE has proven that, if nothing else, it’s all in on Reigns so don’t expect a big surprise. Whether the crowd boos or not, this one is going on last and Reigns is going over. It might not be the best ending for WrestleMania, but after 7 hours, at least it’s an ending.

Prediction:  Roman Reigns

 


The WWE Network: The Review

WWE-NetworkIt has been nearly a year since WWE launched its streaming, on-demand network and even longer since the company originally announced it. First conceived as a standard television channel, the WWE Network would go missing for the duration of 2012 and 2013 despite teases prior to that of a nearing launch. When it finally did make it to consumers it was as the on-demand network present today. Consumers are able to access the network, for a monthly fee, through various external devices such as gaming consoles, Roku, and smart TVs much like other on-demand networks such as Netflix and Hulu. Priced at $9.99 per month, the cost is right around the same as other similar networks but with the obvious difference being this one appeals solely to fans of professional wrestling. Are there enough fans of professional wrestling, and specifically WWE, to sustain a pay-per-month service?

That question has largely gone on unanswered since the Network’s launch in February 2014. I posted back then about my initial impressions and have kept my subscription active ever since, despite some early problems and a lack of original content. I am happy to say that the WWE Network has improved immensely in less than a year, but subscription numbers are reportedly still not where the company needs them to be in order to insure the long-term viability of the WWE Network.

The overall strategy of the WWE Network seems to be something along the lines of giving wrestling fans everything they could possibly want at a low monthly price. The WWE Network is loaded with content ranging from old editions of forgotten television shows such as Saturday Night Main Event to original documentaries of wrestling’s biggest stars. Each month, the WWE airs a pay-per-view event that is free to subscribers of the Network and there’s also new wrestling shows such as Superstars, Main Event, and NXT; WWE’s developmental show. Current episodes of WWE’s main cable programs, Raw and Smackdown, do not air live on the Network but many older editions are present. Joining them are old episodes of WCW Nitro and ECW Hardcore Television. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also every single pay-per-view ever aired by the big three, along with lots of archival cards from the 70’s and 80’s before the wrestling television boom. Since there’s so much content to cover, I decided I would list out and elaborate on the biggest pros and cons of the service to give my own personal take on the WWE Network.

NXT

The NXT events have been light-years ahead of the WWE events.

The NXT events have been light-years ahead of the WWE events.

NXT used to air on cable but ever since the launch of the WWE Network it has become a network exclusive. When it was on television I never checked it out, but strong word-of-mouth and the ability to watch the programs whenever I want turned me on to the product and I couldn’t be more impressed with what I’ve seen. NXT is recorded in a small arena at Full Sail University in Florida. There’s a weekly, hour-long show as well as quarterly “event” shows that are structured like a typical WWE pay-per-view event. What makes NXT so special is its incredibly talented, focused, roster. The best workers in WWE right now are at NXT. Grapplers like Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn, and Charlotte are supremely gifted, dedicated, in-ring workers who are honing their craft right in front of our eyes. The women’s division is so strong it’s stunning given the quality of the “Divas” matches that take place on Raw. And even though each show is only an hour long, there’s probably still more time devoted to actual wrestling than what takes place on Raw, where three-minute matches are common-place and long-winded Authority-led promos often dominate the show. NXT is simply a breath of fresh air and each one of the “pay-per-views” it’s put on have been better than every WWE pay-per-view that aired in 2014. The only bad thing I can say about NXT is that it makes the main roster look like crap making it even harder to tune into Raw on a weekly basis.

Beyond the Ring

Beyond the Ring is the section of the WWE Network devoted to biographical programs often focused on one wrestler. These should be familiar to WWE fans who have ever purchased a DVD set on one of their favorite wrestlers as these biographies are first released through that medium. Buying every DVD put of by WWE would be both costly and cumbersome, so it’s pretty cool to have them all here on the Network. There’s also wrestlers and personalities I was interested in learning more about, but I wasn’t quite willing to throw down cash on a set. There’s no set amount of time in place between release and when a biography will show up on the Network, but there’s already a healthy mix of new releases (the newest being the Paul Heyman feature which first hit retail shelves last summer) and older ones. Some of the wrestlers featured thus far have been Stone Cold, Rock, John Cena, Roddy Piper, Brett Hart, the Road Warriors, and many more. There’s also some “countdown” style features (not to be confused with the Network show called Countdown) that look at the best wrestlers of the 2000’s or top finishing moves. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed each of the features I’ve watched (the only one I really didn’t care for was Brock Lesnar’s) and often I learned something I didn’t know before.

The Monday Night War

Consisting of twenty episodes, The Monday Night War has easily been the best original program put out by the WWE.

Consisting of twenty episodes, The Monday Night War has easily been the best original program put out by the WWE.

The Monday Night War is WWE’s anthology series focusing on the mid to late 90’s and the ratings battle that took place between WWF Raw is War and WCW Monday Nitro. Consisting of twenty one hour episodes, the series looked at the start of both shows, the key moments and players within the rivalry, and ultimately its conclusion. When the WWE Network was first unveiled, this show was one of the few mentioned and promoted and was a factor in my signing up. It didn’t arrive until the fall, but it has mostly proved worth the wait. Considering it’s rather tight focus, the show did repeat itself at times but as someone who experienced the phenomenon that was the Monday Night War in the 90’s I found it really entertaining to go back and re-examine it. One could potentially criticize the program for painting too flattering a picture of the WWE in comparison to WCW, but considering WCW really only competed for so long because of the nWo and Ted Turner’s checkbook, the show is probably fair. Narrated by Keith David, the presentation of the program is handled well despite having to rely on television footage from before the HD era. All of the major players one would expect receive their own featured episode including Bischoff, Austin, the nWo, Degeneration X, Rock, Mick Foley, and more. It’s just a shame the show had to end.

The Other Original Programs

NXT, the documentaries in the Beyond the Ring section, and The Monday Night War are all strong parts of the WWE Network. Unfortunately, the other original programming is somewhat lacking. The latest, and likely intended as a replacement for The Monday Night War, is WWE Rivalries which focuses on one historic rivalry in a documentary style program. The first episode focused on Austin and Vince McMahon and was extended to two-parts, each one being an hour. After already focusing on the rivalry in The Monday Night War, this one felt too familiar. Other rivalries, such as Edge and Christian vs The Hardys, just didn’t feel all that compelling. The show isn’t bad, but it needs to focus more on rivalries not already covered extensively elsewhere, which may be hard to pull off. “Reality” shows, like Total Divas and Legend’s House, are not my thing and have never been viewed by me. Countdown is an okay time-waster if you want to see current wrestlers list their favorite trash talkers, high-flyers, and so on. Legends of Wrestlemania is basically a one-hour show where a Wrestlemania match is highlighted and then shown. It’s not a bad way to pass the time, but considering every Wrestlemania is already included on the WWE Network it hardly feels necessary. The two other WWE roster programs, Main Event and Superstars, are just as bland as they were on cable. Nothing ever happens on these shows, but if you’re a big David Otunga fan, it’s probably the only place where you’ll see him compete.

The Pay-Per-Views and Current Television Product

Vince McMahon needs to make some changes if he wants to regain his reputation as a visionary in the world of professional wrestling, or sports entertainment, as he likes to call it.

Vince McMahon needs to make some changes if he wants to regain his reputation as a visionary in the world of professional wrestling, or sports entertainment, as he likes to call it.

Really, the WWE Network is actually pretty awesome. It has almost everything from wrestling’s past that a fan could possibly want as well as some pretty entertaining new shows to go along with it. And at ten bucks a month, with the original six-month required commitment now abolished, it’s pretty easy to talk yourself into subscribing, especially considering that the monthly pay-per-views are included. Unfortunately, it’s those events that are lacking the most, and in general, the current state of WWE programming. WWE Raw is a pretty bad show at this point. The storylines are stale, the main event talent too predictable, and the tone is just off. Which is frustrating, because the current roster, from an in-ring perspective, is quite possibly the most talented ever assembled by the WWE. It compares rather favorably to those early 90’s rosters that featured major up-and-comers like Shawn Michaels, Brett Hart, The Undertaker, and so many more. I love watching Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, and Bray Wyatt work a match, it’s just that they aren’t always allowed to work a compelling one. The Divas division and tag team division are bad, and there’s little importance placed on the mid-card belts. This has lead to pay-per-view cards that are just plain boring, and WWE’s reliance on The Authority angle, where a heel personality (in this case, Triple H and his wife Stephanie) are in control and make life miserable in an illogical way for the “good guys”, is just plain boring. Everything has a “been there, done that” feel to it, and I often can’t stomach more than a few minutes of Raw before I inevitably switch-over to whatever Simpsons marathon is airing on FXX. The only pay-per-view event from 2014 I truly enjoyed was Wrestlemania XXX. If I had spent the fifty bucks or whatever the cable rate is for any of the other pay-per-view events in 2014 I would have been furious.

The WWE is at an odd place right now with its network. The company is coming up on one of its biggest events of the year, The Royal Rumble, and also planning on airing its annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony exclusively on the WWE Network. And there’s also Wrestlemania XXXI to think about in March. Right now, there’s enough content on the WWE Network that focuses on the past to keep me entertained, but I wonder how willing I’ll be to keep it once that content drys up. The Network does such a good job of high-lighting the glory days, specifically the Attitude Era, that it really harms the current PG Era by shining a light on just how bad it’s become. The Monday Night Wars program was very thorough in pointing out how silly and cartoony the WWF was in the mid-nineties before turning things around with a bold, new approach. Only the most ardent supporters of Vince McMahon would be unable to draw parallels between the WWF of the mid-nineties and the WWE of today. Sadly, McMahon had a sit-down with Stone Cold Steve Austin as part of a WWE Network exclusive in which he seemed to suggest that everything was great, and no one was worthy of a “promotion” to main event status(even singling out current superstar Cesaro, as being someone he was particularly down on despite most fans raving about him), demonstrating just how out of touch he is with the WWE audience. So long as he’s running the show, it’s hard to imagine things getting better.


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