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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

 


WrestleMania XXXII Preview

wwe-wrestlemania-32WrestleMania is once again upon us. This year the flagship show of the wrestling year is coming live from Dallas, TX in front of what could be a record-breaking crowd at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. This should be the most exciting time of the year for wrestling fans, but this year’s edition of WrestleMania has a different feel. Injuries, always a factor in sports and wrestling, have played a huge role in shaping this year’s card. None of last year’s title winners will be able to compete this year due to injury. Daniel Bryan, who last year won the Intercontinental Championship in a ladder match, was forced to retire due to injury. Other competitors who can’t compete include Seth Rollins, who won the WWE Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXXI, John Cena, Cesaro, Sting, Randy Orton, Nikki Bella, and others. This makes booking the show a real challenge, but there’s also opportunity. It’s been a pretty good year for NXT graduates, and some of them will be putting their talents on display Sunday. Still, there’s mounting criticism that this show has not been booked well and expectations are probably lower than they’ve been for a WrestleMania in a long time. I’ll get to those issues and more as I walk you through the card for WrestleMania XXXII. I’ll make a prediction on who I think will win as well as include the “opposite momentum” prediction. If you’re not familiar with the concept, opposite momentum refers to the character who looks weakest on the most recent episode of Raw (e.g. – Rock blasts Stone Cold with a chair to close-out Raw only for Austin to win on Sunday) who often ends up winning at the Pay-Per-View. Determined wrestling fans have tested the theory out and it’s usually right in about 80% of matches. As always, card subject to change.

3029093-20160307_wm32-keyart_match_kalistoryback_1920x1080--983d76314f9262b3c351e91fbcefe253Pre-Show: United States Championship Kalisto (c) vs Ryback

This year’s edition of WrestleMania has three pre-show matches scheduled. The pre-show is two hours long (ugh) and one of those hours will be shown on the USA Network and both hours will be on the WWE Network. The first match, as of this writing, pits the US Champion Kalisto against the bruising Ryback. The story-telling for this match has mostly resided on the lesser shows like Smackdown and Superstars. Kalisto, after trading wins with Alberto Del Rio, has been a mostly quiet champion. It’s hard to understand what the future for him is. How much is the WWE behind him as a champ or is he just a place-holder? Meanwhile, Ryback has made a slight heel turn and traded in his air-brushed attire for black trunks prompting chants of “Goldberg” from the audience. The lack of real story development is what probably landed the match on the pre-show. It also raises questions as to why this match isn’t the big ladder match for a minor title instead of the Intercontinental Championship match. I think a lot of behind the scenes guys have always envisioned big things for Ryback, so a win here seems likely for the big guy. Who knows if the program between the two will continue beyond WrestleMania? Match-wise, this one could surprise. Kalisto, for all of the questions around his character and story direction, is a great in-ring talent and Ryback has come into his own (when he’s not trying to wrestle like a cruiserweight). I don’t think they’ll be given enough time to be a true show-stealer, but I expect a solid bout, though the threat of a squash win is always in place in this type of match-up where one guy has such a huge size advantage.

Opposite Momentum Winner:  N/A

Prediction: Ryback

Wrestlemania-32-10Pre-Show:  Brie Bella, Paige, Natalya, Alicia Fox, and Eva Marie vs. Lana, Naomi, Tamina, Emma, and  Summer Rae in a 5 on 5 Tag Match

This is a classic “It’s WrestleMania and we need to get everyone involved” match. Basically, all of the women wrestlers on the main roster (plus two who mostly wrestle on NXT) not involved with the Divas Championship match are in this one. As a fan, these matches kind of suck because the storyline leading up to it is nonsense, or nonexistent, and the matches are usually filler. As a human being, it’s understandable why the WWE wants to get everyone involved. For a lot of wrestlers, being left off the WrestleMania card is devastating for multiple reasons. Unfortunately for Brie, this is probably her last match before she heads off into retirement (unless she decides to wrestle one more match the next night on Raw) and it’s probably going to be a lackluster one. Including Eva Marie with the babyfaces is also bizarre as everyone hates her. I don’t know if it’s bad story-telling or if if she’s supposed to be hated by her teammates. Anyways, the prevailing storyline leading up to this match is Lana vs. Brie. As such, I expect Brie to “do the honors” (the tradition in wrestling where an outgoing star puts over a rising one) and take the pin here with maybe some treachery from Eva being involved. It’s also possible Brie and Lana face-off in a one-on-one match on Raw to close things out, or she takes on Eva Marie if there’s a double-cross at WrestleMania.

Opposite Momentum: Lana, Naomi, Tamina, Emma, and Summer Rae

Prediction: Lana, Naomi, Tamina, Emma, and Summer Rae

HDGdNr4vPre-Show: The Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz

Our last pre-show match pits the babyface duo of The Usos vs. the newly anti-table Dudley Boyz. Borrowing a bit from Mick Foley’s old anti-hardcore gimmick, the Dudleys have given up on tables and turned heel determined to be perceived as something more than a mere nostalgia act. Meanwhile, The Usos are just The Usos and have been in and out of the tag team title picture for years now. Not much is expected from this match, and if it is indeed the final match of the pre-show, it could be pressed for time. If the WWE wants us to take the Dudley Boyz seriously, then they could really use a win here as they’ve mostly been glorified jobbers since they made their return. Longterm, I have no idea what the plan is for this feud, but it seems like The Usos are better equipped to handle a loss than the ECW vets.

Opposite Momentum: The Dudley Boyz (though it’s pretty flimsy)

Prediction: The Dudley Boyz

The Main Card

28aaf_wrestlemania_32_andre_battle_royalThe André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal – Various

This is the male match designed to get everyone not involved in a feud onto the card. Debuting at WrestleMania XXX, the Andre The Giant Battle Royal seemed like it was going to be a one-time thing and also a stepping stone for the victor, Cesaro. Instead, Cesaro’s post-Mania push fizzled and the giant trophy awarded to him was rendered a silly prop. The following year, The Big Show emerged victorious making it kind of a lifetime achievement award for the modern era Giant. This year, I expect the match to also be a reward for an aging wrestler looking for one last moment of glory. Aside from that, there’s not much to say about it. WWE has left the final few slots in the match a mystery, so there could be some surprises or maybe Legends cameos. Regardless, expect a pretty mundane battle royal that lasts ten minutes or so that has no longterm storyline implications.

Opposite Momentum: Not Big Show and not Kane.

Prediction: Mark Henry, who is expected to retire at some point in 2016.

20160324_WM32-keyart_MATCH_8man_1920x1080--70dc5220e7bb48fa403c6d116518156aLadder Match for the Intercontinental Championship: Kevin Owens (C) vs. Sami Zayn vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Zack Ryder vs. Stardust vs. Sin Cara vs. The Miz

This is another “get everyone involved” match, but at least the participants and the gimmick may lead to an above-average match, potentially a show-stealer. Expect these guys to go all out and try to make this a memorable match. Pretty much all of them are still looking for that “WrestleMania Moment.” While Ziggler, Miz, and Stardust have been here before, Ryder has been with the company for years but never given a chance to shine at a WrestleMania outages of the battle royal at WrestleMania XXX. For the incumbent Owens and challenger Zayn, this is their first go at WrestleMania (in Zayn’s case it’s his first PPV with the main roster), for the longtime real-life buddies this will probably be a big moment for them in front of the biggest crowd they’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that this match would be far better as just a one on one bout between Owens and Zayn, continuing their NXT feud which was cut short by Zayn’s real life injury. The US title match would be better off in this spot as the big cluster-fuck match. As it stands, four of the competitors here are extreme long shots to win and a program between Zayn and Owens seems inevitable. It’s possible WWE views that feud as one that doesn’t need a title involved, but that would be a mistake. Zayn got the best of Owens on Raw, so he’s the opposite momentum long shot. Poor planning aside, I am looking forward to this match though I also know that the current climate in WWE means this ladder match has no chance of approaching the Attitude Era ladder matches but it should still be fun. This match should tell us how behind Owens the creative staff is. Owens seems like a future main eventer, and by future I mean soon. A big win here at WrestleMania could help to solidify his standing. A loss in such a chaotic environment could also be seen as a win for him as it frees him up to chase the big one, though like I said earlier, a program with Zayn seems like the next step.

Opposite Momentum:  Kevin Owns

Prediction:  Kevin Owens

wwe-rumors-wrestlemania-32-matches-final-card-ladder-match-intercontinental-title-match-order-kickoff-main-event-styles-jericho-670x377AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho

This would normally be a classic blow-off match if not for the fact that there isn’t a classic feud-ending gimmick involved. No cage, no unique win conditions, it’s not even no DQ. This is a feud that has been going on basically all year, with the two trading victories before the newcomer Styles picked up a rubber match win. That lead to a brief pairing of the two that last just long enough for WWE to print “Y2AJ” t-shirts before Jericho turned on Styles. There’s no real opposite momentum prediction here as no one really got a leg-up on the other on Raw in a convincing fashion, but expect Styles to come out ahead as he’s the guy expected to hang around while Jericho probably goes back to podcasts and Fozzy gigs. These two guys have a chance to steal the show with a mat-classic on par with Savage/Steamboat, but absent a title, I don’t expect the two to be given enough time to deliver that good a match. Hopefully they’ve held back some spots just for this occasion to elevate this one beyond something we’d see on Raw.

Opposite Momentum: N/A

Prediction: AJ Styles with The Styles Clash

20160315_WM32-keyart_MATCH_NewDay_LON_1920x1080--716572d60de9dac6f4d7d0b626de49e9Handicap Match:  The New Day vs The League of Nations

The New Day enters this match as Tag Team Champions but the belt will not be on the line unless a change is made last minute. It’s also a 3 on 4 handicap match presently but there’s always the possibility of a surprise entrant. The League of Nations debuted earlier this year as a stable and seemed like they were primed for success as a powerful heel faction. Instead, they’ve been afterthoughts ever since Sheamus dropped the WWE Heavyweight Championship and Del Rio the US Championship. An injury to Wade Barrett has mostly kept him on the sidelines but it’s strange it’s taken them this long to get involved with the Tag Team Championship. Meanwhile, The New Day has been one of the hottest acts in the company even though they’re supposed to be bad guys. The audience has latched onto them and started cheering them and they’ve embraced those cheers and become a true baby face squad. Since the titles aren’t on the line, and the League of Nations needs a big credibility boost, I expect them to prevail. If not, they’ll be effectively buried absent a creative finish if they can’t take advantage of the numbers.

Opposite Momentum:  The New Day

Prediction:  The League of Nations

Dean-Ambrose-vs.-Brock-Lesnar-WrestleMania-32No-Holds Barred Street Fight:  Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar

While the majority of matches preceding this one have suffered from some creative missteps, Ambrose vs. Lesnar is not among them. While one could argue that one, or both, participants should be in the main event this rivalry has been rewarding and this match is perhaps the most intriguing. Lesnar has been billed as unstoppable, often only losing when a triple threat stipulation keeps him from being a part of the decision. When Ambrose has challenged him physically he’s been unsuccessful, which is why this one is being sold as an anything goes match with Ambrose loading up his “red wagon of doom” with various instruments of destruction on Raw. They’ve kept these two from getting physical leading up to the event, so no one has an edge or non-edge heading into this one. I expect a very physical confrontation, and hopefully WWE lets them get as hardcore as they want to otherwise all of the build-up will look silly. With the way Lesnar is booked, it seems unlikely that Ambrose can win here without some outside interference. The Wyatt family lurks, and they don’t have a match anywhere on the card. A Bray Wyatt vs. Lesnar feud has been teased several times so it would make sense for him to cost Lesnar a match here. Perhaps with Lesnar getting decimated so he can be off TV for awhile, per usual.

Opposite Momentum:  N/A

Prediction:  Ambrose

wrestlemania-32-the-undertaker-vs-shane-mcmahonHell in a Cell for Control of Raw:  Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker

The match that came out of no where. I was pretty excited to see Shane come back a few weeks ago, like apparently everyone else, but I was not happy to see him booked against The Undertaker. This is a spot that could be used to elevate a younger guy, especially if rumors of Undertaker’s imminent retirement were true, but instead it’s just a quick and cheap way to add some star power with a returning Shane to a card decimated by injury. Hell in a Cell is also a match I’d like to see put on hiatus for awhile. The creative aspects of the match have been exhausted and few have come close to matching the original Hell in a Cell match and its follow-up. The stipulation here is that if Shane wins he gets control of Raw, and effectively control of the whole company. If Undertaker loses then this is his last WrestleMania match. That part of the stipulation is an empty threat as if Shane gains control of the WWE there’s nothing stopping him from reinstating The Undertaker. And since he’s just doing what Vince tells him to do, Shane really has no reason to hate Undertaker. That stipulation was just a last ditch effort to add some motivation for Undertaker and it failed. As far as the ending of this one goes, it’s anybody’s guess. It seems far-fetched to expect Undertaker to lose to a non-wrestler at WrestleMania, but since his streak ended a few years ago, perhaps it’s in the cards. After all, who cares if he has one loss or two at WrestleMania? The number people cared about was zero. Undertaker could pull a fast one on Vince and allow Shane to pin him, a returning John Cena could somehow get involved, a returning Cesaro, the Wyatts, etc. And no one would be surprised if it turns out Shane and Vince are in cahoots and maybe this was a way to force Undertaker out? That wouldn’t make any sense, but that has never stopped WWE in the past. Maybe the best outcome would be Reigns getting involved on Shane’s behalf, with Shane doing the same in the main event to create a Shane-Roman alliance going forward. I do hope for a Shane victory that keeps him as a baby face because the era of the heel controller of the show has been around way too long. In the end though, I think this match is what it is, a one-off for Shane to liven things up for WrestleMania only.

Opposite Momentum: The Undertaker

Prediction: The Undertaker

20160308_WM32-keyart_MATCH_charlotteshasha_1920x1080--eb9510721be038b7c73cef69ecd758a0Divas Championship Triple Threat:  Charlotte (C) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch

I am not one for hyperbole or prone to exaggeration, so it’s saying something to call this the most important match in the history of women’s wrestling as far as the WWE is concerned. For as long as I’ve been alive, the women’s division has either been an after-thought or a way to inject some sex appeal into the show. Ever since NXT proved the women could be just as entertaining as the men, there’s been a push for the main roster to showcase the women in a legitimate way. It should come as no surprise then that all three participants are graduates of NXT. Charlotte is the heel, daughter of The Nature Boy, she’s had a nice little run with the belt. Banks is the heir apparent and one of the most over stars in the company. Like The New Day, she’s basically a heel that the crowd adores, making her a baby face. Confused? Becky Lynch is the wild card. Every bit as talented as the other two, she’s never held the NXT Women’s Championship and has been riding in the backseat while Charlotte and Banks drive the bus. If rumors are true, this will also be the last match for the Divas Championship as it will finally be tossed aside in favor of a new WWE Women’s Championship. The ending seems too obvious, but oftentimes WrestleMania is fairly obvious as WWE likes to have its fan favorites emerge victorious on the biggest show of the year. For that reason, I see a Sasha Banks victory. She will be the one to carry the Women’s Division into the future and it seems like WrestleMania XXXII is the best way to spotlight her and get the Sasha Era started (especially since the main event seems destined to disappoint). My fantasy booked hope is to have Banks win with a rematch occurring the next night on Raw in the main event to further drive home the fact that the Women’s Division is an important part of the card. In truth though, I could see any of the three women emerging victorious Sunday night.

Opposite Momentum:  Becky Lynch

Prediction:  Sasha Banks

maxresdefault-1200x675WWE World Heavyweight Championship:  Triple H (C) vs. Roman Reigns

It’s possible this match isn’t the main event as the crowd revolt against Reigns continues. Triple H is supposed to be the heel in this one, but the crowd’s disgust with Reigns being forced upon them for over a year now just seems insurmountable. Reigns is not a bad wrestler, but his character is kind of bland. I don’t detest the guy, but he’s not my pick for champ. Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to boo him, and that makes me a part of the minority, I suppose. The dilemma facing the WWE with this match is if it stays on script and has Reigns go over Triple H they risk having 100k people ending WrestleMania with a rain of boos descending on the ring. That’s fine when a designed heel prevails, but the joyous celebration in the ring would not mix well with such a scene. The alternative is to have Triple H win, but I don’t think that’s really in the company’s best interests either. Last year, with the same problem, WWE inserted Seth Rollins into the main event at the last minute to have him steal the belt from Brock Lesnar by pinning Reigns. There’s no Money in the Bank briefcase this year to save them, making the most likely outcome some kind of a crazy finish that sees other baby faces get involved to maybe give Reigns a rub. However, when WWE tried that last year with The Rock, of all people, the crowd still unleashed the boo-birds on Reigns. It would seem a heel turn for Roman Reigns would be best, but is WWE ready to give-up on Roman Reigns as the top baby face in the company not named John Cena? Probably not.

Opposite Momentum:  N/A

Prediction: Roman Reigns

 

There you have it, my picks for the entire WrestleMania XXXII card. Honestly, it doesn’t look like a great show on paper but maybe low expectations will help. The only matches I’m looking forward to are the Women’s match, the Ladder match, and Ambrose/Lesnar. The card is so loaded that there’s going to be some victims of time. I’m interested in the outcomes of the main event and the Hell in a Cell match, but I don’t think either match will be exceptional. Here’s to hoping that WrestleMania will be the start of a new era, one where creative actually listens to the audience and gives them more of the wrestlers they really want to see, and less of the ones they don’t.


WrestleMania XXXI Preview/Predictions

WM31PosterIt 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

NXT star Hideo Itami will make his WrestleMania debut during the Andre the Giant Battle Royal.

NXT star Hideo Itami will make his WrestleMania debut during the Andre the Giant Battle Royal.

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

Cesaro and Kidd have been one of the few bright spots in a lackluster tag division.

Cesaro and Kidd have been one of the few bright spots in a lackluster tag division.

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

The mega-popular Daniel Bryan will be looking to win his first Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania XXXI.

The mega-popular Daniel Bryan will be looking to win his first Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania XXXI.

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 last time wrestling fans saw The Undertaker it was following one of the most shocking moments in wrestling history.

The last time wrestling fans saw The Undertaker it was following one of the most shocking moments in wrestling history.

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 years of waiting for the right moment, Sting will make his in-ring debut for WWE against Triple H at WrestleMania XXXI.

After years of waiting for the right moment, Sting will make his in-ring debut for WWE against Triple H at WrestleMania XXXI.

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

Uncertainty clouds the main event of WrestleMania XXXI, which is how it should be.

Uncertainty clouds the main event of WrestleMania XXXI, which is how it should be.

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.


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.


Ranking the WrestleMania Main Events: The Top 3

We are now just a little over 24 hours away from WrestleMania XXX. Considering it’s the 30th edition of the WWE’s flagship show we should expect something grand and whether we get it or not will surely be debated come Monday. What has come before it has been a mix of good and bad, immortal and forgettable, but these last three main events have all been great, for one reason or another. Though as a sort-of final thought on the WrestleMania main events on the whole, I would offer that they do not represent the best of WrestleMania. In doing this feature I realized that most of the greatest matches of all time occurred during the undercard. I’m not sure what that says about the event, other than that Hulk Hogan was a pretty poor and predictable wrestler, but I suppose it doesn’t matter much in the long-run so long as the entire show is good. That said, these last three matches actually do represent the best of the card from their respective WrestleManias and the fans should have been sent home happy after witnessing these three.

wrestlemania153. The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (WrestleMania XV)

The main event for WrestleMania XV is your classic good guy battles through adversity and comes out on top at the biggest show of the year. It’s a pretty common formula for the industry and that’s because it works. WrestleMania often has the good-guy challenger come out on top in the main event with successful title defenses being pretty rare. Successful heel title defenses are even rarer. For XV, The Rock was the undisputed top heel in the business, and fresh off a long feud with Mankind, he was set to take on Austin. Austin and The Rock had previously battled over the Intercontinental title so a match between the two wasn’t foreign to wrestling fans, but by 1999 both were so huge that it felt like an all new feud. Austin was coming off of his feud with Vince McMahon which had finally resulted in an actual match between the two at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre the previous month. The feud would carry-over in the next pay-per view, Backlash, but was at long last starting to wane.

Austin and The Rock put on a great show for the fans with lots of outside the ring work and humorous character spots. This match strikes a nice balance between wrestling and entertainment. The Rock’s character was so over-the-top that his main event matches needed to have something special added to them to take advantage. Their follow-up WrestleMania match at XVII had a little more of this extra-curricular stuff, but the finish to it was too drawn out and I disliked Austin’s heel turn, which is why I rank this one ahead of it. Hopefully we one day get another match-up between two huge superstars like this in a WrestleMania main event (some would argue we did with Rock and Cena, but Cena’s love from fans is not universal like Austin and Rock’s was in 1999) because it is awesome when the crowd is this into it.

Two of the best.

Two of the best.

2. Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker (WrestleMania XXVI)

Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker stole the show at WrestleMania XXV in what many fans consider the greatest WrestleMania match of all time. WWE recognized how well-received it was so they did it again at WrestleMania XXVI only this time in the main event and with Michaels’ career on the line as the match stipulation. Other than the career vs streak booking, there were no actual titles on the line in this main event and no one cared. At this point, Undertaker’s “streak” is bigger than any belt when it comes to WrestleMania. Maybe next year I’ll rank his best WrestleMania matches and that way I can find out just when the streak became a major plot device for the WWE. It’s now the only time The Undertaker even wrestles giving WrestleMania this video game vibe where Undertaker is like the final boss of the last level.

I believe I am in the minority when I say the rematch between Michaels and Undertaker is actually my favorite of the two. They’re both excellent, but I enjoy the added drama of Michaels’s career being on the line (though I also love the moonsault-tombstone ending of the previous match) which helps add even greater weight to the whole thing. This match seemed quicker with fewer pauses for rest holds and such (aided greatly by Undertaker not botching a suicided dive to the outside of the ring). Undertaker and HBK just work exceptionally well as opponents. HBK has always been able to effectively sell his own offense despite often being much smaller than his opponents. Michaels is also the perfect size to sell Undertaker’s more high impact offense as he can carry Michaels around the ring and toss him like a rag doll, if he so pleases.

The two go all out, which is something a superstar can do if he knows it’s his last match or that it will be his only match of the year. There’s a nice diving moonsault to the outside by Michaels and plenty of stiff shots. As I mentioned earlier, the storyline ending is just icing on the cake and Michaels gets the send-off he deserves as one of the greatest of all time. This one was a strong contender for greatest WrestleMania main event of all time, but it comes up just a little bit short to the next one.

Michales and Hart would battle for over an hour to determine the WWF Champion.

Michales and Hart would battle for over an hour to determine the WWF Champion.

1. Shawn Michaels vs Brett Hart (WrestleMania XII)

The Iron Man Match. That’s all that really needs to be said to any wrestling fan and they’ll know what you’re talking about. Iron Man Matches had occurred before but most fans had never heard of it. Even today, it’s not a common match type as it requires its competitors be willing and able to wrestle for an hour. I think many guys could pull it off, but not sell it as a great match. Even two guys in excellent physical shape like Shawn Michaels and Brett Hart had to stop for rest holds and such, but the vigor at which they’re able to go at each other impresses me every time I view this match.

For those unaware, an iron match is a timed match in which the competitor who scores the most “falls” in the allotted time limit wins the match. For this contest that meant pinfalls, submissions, count outs, and disqualifications were all on the table. The beauty of this match was that there were no falls recorded during the sixty minute time limit. When it seemed like the match would end in a draw, Brett Hart was ordered back to the ring to continue into overtime where Michaels eventually won via pinfall for his first WWF Championship. The finish is great, but getting to it was better. Yes, there are the previously mentioned rest holds and slow parts, but the match really takes off during the middle stages and the two competitors somehow keep it going. There are great moments of aerial superiority from Michaels, while Hart is able to sink in a  sharpshooter at one point as well. Michaels and Hart worked so well together that it’s a shame they didn’t have more main events at WrestleMania (they were supposed to main event WrestleMania XIII, but Michaels pulled out due to injury). Their chemistry in the ring is unrivaled as they’re able to realistically sell each other’s offense and pull off what should be unrealistic counters. They have a flow like two expert dancers and their contrasting personalities help to elevate the show side of the match. The Iron Man Match is not only the greatest main event in WrestleMania history, it’s also the greatest match in WrestleMania history and it will take one-hell-of-a-match to knock it off the top of the mountain.


Ranking the WrestleMania Main Events (11-4)

We’re now just one week away from WrestleMani XXX, which means I need to get this feature wrapped up!

 

 

Triple H and Jericho felt like natural rivals whenever they matched-up.

Triple H and Jericho felt like natural rivals whenever they matched-up.

11. Triple H vs Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XVIII)

WrestleMania XVIII is remembered for pretty much one match:  Hollywood Hogan vs The Rock.  It was Hogan’s first official match since re-signing with the WWF and the Montreal crowd didn’t seem to care that he was supposed to be the heel heading into it. It was a fun match, but the main event was pretty damn good too. It featured the newly crowned Undisputed Champion Chris Jericho vs Triple H, making his second appearance in a WrestleMania main event. Jericho and Triple H are a natural pairing. Both guys are good, technical wrestlers and Triple H’s more power-oriented offense complements Jericho’s up-tempo maneuvers just fine. The only thing that kind of sucks about this match is that the outcome is never really in doubt as it was pretty much a given that the WWF would put the strap on Triple H after letting Jericho have his fun for a bit. It was nice while it lasted though.

10. John Cena vs The Rock (WrestleMania XXVIII)

The first match-up between John Cena and The Rock is markedly better than the second. The year-long build-up worked well and seeing The Rock back in the ring was a novelty that hadn’t grown stale. Yes, he still wasn’t in great ring shape as the match was plagued some-what by rest holds and the like, but the two guys played off each other well and the finish was well-executed. This was one of the few matches in recent years where I had an interest in the outcome. Would the WWE let its top star get disrespected over and over by a visitor ultimately losing to said visitor in the main event of its most prestigious event? Would The Rock bother making a comeback just to lose to an opponent he seems to genuinely consider inferior to himself? The capper was the event being held in Miami, Rock’s hometown, so I was pretty sure Cena would be asked to take the loss. What I wasn’t expecting was the finish to be a clean loss, with Cena attempting to humiliate The Rock by performing the People’s Elbow only to have Rock bounce-up and nail him with the Rock Bottom for the 1-2-3.

 

Note to aspiring wrestlers:  this is not how to land a shooting-star press.

Note to aspiring wrestlers: this is not how to land a shooting-star press.

9. Kurt Angle vs Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania XIX)

This match is mostly remembered for Lesnar’s botched shooting-star press towards the end. Lesnar had created a buzz for himself long before he debuted on WWE television by performing the shooting-star press at Ohio Valley. For a man his size to be able to pull off such a crazy maneuver was unheard of. Turns out, big men aren’t meant to fly like that because when he unveiled it at WrestleMania he damn-near killed himself. It overshadows what is a great match of technical excellence. The only low-note for me is the early going where Angle and Lesnar both try to one-up each other with amateur wrestling maneuvers. I never understood why guys would choose to go in such a direction. Pro Wrestling is popular because it’s not the ground-based amateur style. We want flashy! Whenever guys with that kind of background step into a ring though it’s as if they feel they need to acknowledge where they came from. I’m very impressed by the fact that Kurt Angle has won Olympic gold in wrestling, but I don’t want to watch it.

8. Triple H vs The Rock vs Mick Foley vs The Big Show (WrestleMania XXVI)

The only four-way-dance in WrestleMania main event history! The genesis for this match was unconventional. Most had assumed that The Rock and Triple H were destined to headline WrestleMania 2000 as The Rock was the hottest thing going and Triple H was the company’s biggest heel (and Austin was still on the shelf following neck surgery). To keep Hunter’s momentum going, they had him battle Foley for two pay-per-views ultimately defeating him a retirement match at No Way Out. Vince McMahon, in a rare bit of booking with his heart, wanted Foley to realize his dream of main eventing a WrestleMania so he convinced him to come back for this one match just a month after his retirement. Foley was apprehensive, but went ahead with it as it’s just not something any pro wrestler can turn down. And since The Big Show wasn’t doing anything, they added him to the mix as well as part of this four-way feud between the McMahons. It wasn’t a classic match, and the most memorable spot is probably Foley coming up well short on a diving elbow to the announcer’s table, but it ended with Triple H vs The Rock anyways so it’s not like the fans were denied the match they were probably supposed to have. And with Triple H coming out on top it was really the first time in WrestleMania history that the event ended with a bad guy wearing the WWF Championship.

 

Undertaker earned a rare WrestleMania main event submission victory over Edge.

Undertaker earned a rare WrestleMania main event submission victory over Edge.

7. The Undertaker vs Edge (WrestleMania XXIV)

For all of the success that The Undertaker has enjoyed at WrestleMania, he really hasn’t appeared in many main events. At least he can say the ones he’s appeared in were all pretty good. This match with Edge is a pretty good representation of a good Undertaker match. Edge and Taker work really well together with Edge being one of my favorite opponents for The Undertaker for that very reason. At this point, The Streak was a plot line so there was little doubt that The Undertaker would come out on top, but despite that, the finish was still surprising and even a bit sudden with Undertaker locking in his Hell’s Gate submission maneuver for the victory allowing The Phenom to hoist a major championship at the show’s close for just the second time in his career.

6. John Cena vs Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXIII)

Shawn Michaels can wrestle a great match with seemingly anyone. Not that John Cena is an Ultimate Warrior or anything, but he’s certainly not one of my favorite workers. This match may not be a WrestleMania classic, but it’s great entertainment. It starts off kind of slow but the two eventually pick-up with the pace with a lot of back and forth momentum swings. HBK is the heel here and it’s the role I’ve always preferred for him. Once again he proves he belongs in the WrestleMania main event and it kind of makes me wish he could be included in all of them. Certainly he should have been in more during his career but at least the ones we have are preserved forever.

5. Triple H vs Shawn Michaels vs Chris Benoit (WrestleMania XX)

Oh boy, how do you rank this one? I suppose the easiest thing to do is to just judge it based on the merits of the match alone, which to probably no longtime wrestling fan’s surprise, is to say it’s fantastic. These are three of the best workers in the history of the business on the grandest stage going all out to entertain the masses. The only negative thing I can say about the match itself is that too often one guy gets taken out for too long of a time. It would be one thing if a guy was taking a piledriver to the concrete and being down for five minutes but it mostly seemed like generic maneuvers were keeping guys down just to keep the match a series of one on one confrontations. Such is the weakness of the triple threat match. Of course, judging the match in such a way ignores the elephant in the room which is that Chris Benoit is a known murderer who committed the unthinkable act of killing his own family. It’s impossible to separate the wrestler from the man when such has taken place, so I do not blame anyone if they have no interest in watching this match today. For me, it does harm the match quite a bit as the big storyline within the match is Benoit trying to win his first major championship in WWE, and at the time, the ending was immensely satisfying and one of the best examples of pure joy being on display in the ring. Sadly, the image of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit celebrating at the conclusion of the match is beyond bittersweet today.

 

One of the more memorable images from any WrestleMania conclusion.

One of the more memorable images from any WrestleMania conclusion.

4. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock (WrestleMania XVII)

WrestleMania XVII is justifiably remembered as one of the best WrestleManias of all time. It’s main event was a pretty big deal at the time too with two mega-stars in Austin and The Rock. The only other main event that even compares in terms of how popular both guys were heading into the match is Hogan vs The Giant; these two guys were just hugely over with the fans. Austin was competing for the Championship for the first time since his return from neck surgery and The Rock was not expected to just role over for the big star. With Rock becoming the top baby face in Austin’s absence, the decision to turn Stone Cold heel at the match’s conclusion was reached. Austin was the main driver behind this as he was concerned his character was growing stale. Plus he liked playing the bad guy. He also admits that if he could push the reset button on anything in his career it would be the end of this match. The two battled and had an astoundingly entertaining match with good in-ring spots as well as out of the ring spots. There was violence and comedy, and the end certainly left people talking. I too think the heel turn for Austin was a bad move. Not because he shouldn’t be a bad guy, but just the way it was done to have him suddenly align himself with Vince McMahon in such a way. It just wasn’t believable for his character. If he had used McMahon to win and then nailed Vince with a stunner or something it would have made more sense and let Austin play a tweener kind of role. Instead he became a sniveling coward which effectively killed his character.


Ranking the WrestleMania Main Events (19-12)

The year long feud between Macho Man and Hulk Hogan came to a head at WrestleMania V.

The year long feud between Macho Man and Hulk Hogan came to a head at WrestleMania V.

19. Hulk Hogan vs Macho Man Randy Savage (WrestleMania V)

The clash of the Mega Powers!  The WrestleMania V main event was another early WrestleMania main event that wasn’t much to write home about, but one thing it did have was legs.  The main event for WrestleMania V was unofficially booked at the conclusion of WrestleMania IV when Savage won the WWF Championship to close out the night with the aid of Hogan.  For the next year the two would tag team and feud with Dibiase and The Giant until conflict would surface between the two.  With both guys being pretty popular with fans, the WWF needed to turn one heel and it unsurprisingly went with Savage, who despite being the champion, was not as over with the fans as Hogan.  When the two finally collided, it was a case of excellent booking with a good pay-off, the type of thing that doesn’t really happen in today’s world of short attention span fans.   As I alluded to at the start, the match itself was rather poor.  Savage was a real in-ring talent, but there was nothing he could really do to elevate Hogan and the match ended up being a typical Hulk Hogan match.

18. Triple H vs Batista (WrestleMania XXI)

Batista was a real throw-back superstar.  The only things separating him from guys like Hogan and The Warrior were tattoos and a crew cut.  He had the look of the behemoth and the grace to match.  His matches never did much for me and this encounter with Triple H was a dud.  The two would go on to have better match-ups centered more around gimmicks (maybe someone realized a straight wrestling match just wasn’t playing to their strengths), but never any real classics.  Triple H has also been a pretty good worker and he has the reputation of being a technical wrestler.  Personally, I’ve always felt his reputation was forced.  Great technical wrestlers can elevate their opponents and find a way to have good matches, I don’t think Triple H has ever been that guy and he certainly wasn’t able to pull a good match out of Batista at WrestleMania XXI.

17. The Undertaker vs Sycho Sid (WrestleMania XIII)

This is a match that really has no business being as good as it is.  That’s not to say it’s a classic by any means, but before I sat down to re-watch it recently after all of these years I was expecting the worst.  My preliminary thoughts on this list had this match coming in at around number 27 or so, but here it is at 17.  Sid Justice, at the time going as Sycho Sid, is not much of a wrestler.  He was a big guy and could do some big moves, but when it came to selling a match he was awful and that part of his game is on display in this one.  Despite that, there were some good moments and he and Undertaker were able to tell a pretty decent story.  By contrast, Undertaker has always been a big guy who was a plus worker, a hard combination to find, and both guys aren’t so big that they can’t take each other’s big moves and make them look good.  The match does suffer from too many interruptions (I’m not sure if Sid was balking at losing clean to Undertaker or if the Brett Hart run-ins were just meant to setup a new feud), but otherwise is solid entertainment.

16. Triple H vs John Cena (WrestleMania XXII)

With these last few matches, we’ve entered into the part of the list where the matches aren’t bad matches, but they’re not exactly main event at the biggest show of the year quality matches.  This is another match that kind of surprised me when I watched it recently.  I’m not a John Cena fan.  Like Batista, he’s a throwback to the eighties.  He’s a superman like Hogan was where he’ll take a beating and then suddenly kick-out of a big move and hit his finisher for the win.  He’s an attraction as he was in his match with Big Show years earlier where he got the giant up onto his shoulders.  This match though is a pretty hard hitting affair with some good pacing (after a slow start).  It’s nothing to write home about, but the fact that it’s not one of the worst matches is an accomplishment I wasn’t sure it would have.

The Rock loomed large at WrestleMania XXVII despite not even being on the card.

The Rock loomed large at WrestleMania XXVII despite not even being on the card.

15. John Cena vs The Miz (WrestleMania XXVII)

As a match, this one is probably worse than the previous two.  I’ve already shared my thoughts on Cena, but The Miz is no better.  He’s Cena without the look.  As a heel, which he was at the time of this match, he was pretty good at getting heat.  In the ring though he’s sloppy, lacks polish, and has a pedestrian arsenal.   The build-up to this match though had almost nothing to do with The Miz, who was actually the champion heading into WrestleMania!  No, the storyline centered around John Cena and the host of WrestleMania XXVII:  The Rock.  When The Rock returned to Monday Night Raw he almost immediately began picking a fight with John Cena.  Their feud would carry over into the next year’s WrestleMania, especially after The Rock played a role in the outcome of this match between Cena and The Miz, and it’s the buzz that surrounded this match that helps elevate it.  Otherwise, this was a main event more befitting of Raw than WrestleMania.

I'm pretty sure there's a law somewhere that says I have to post this picture if I'm going to talk about WrestleMania III.

I’m pretty sure there’s a law somewhere that says I have to post this picture if I’m going to talk about WrestleMania III.

14. Hulk Hogan vs André the Giant (WrestleMania III)

In terms of build-up and anticipation, there is no equal when it comes to Hogan vs The Giant.  This is the main event that shattered the all-time attendance record and would stand for a long, long time.  The Giant was a huge attraction and was billed as being undefeated over his career.  Hogan was Hogan, the biggest current attraction in the wrestling world. André had also never wrestled for the championship, mostly because promoters didn’t need him to and allowed for them to have two big matches on a card: an André the Giant match, and a world championship match.  Of course, come 1987 André was a shell of his old self and nearing the end, and Hogan was…well, I think I’ve ripped on him enough at this point.  This match is awful.  The Giant can barely move and Hogan is forced to try to sell his limited offense.  The only part of the match worth watching is “The Slam” at the end.  That was a huge moment and the crowd reaction sells it perfectly.  If this were a list of best moments from a WrestleMania main event, that would be the easy choice for number one.  It’s a big enough moment that it elevates a garbage match up to number 14, which isn’t too bad if you ask me.  It was one Hell of a slam.

13. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XIV)

Transitioning from the original mega stars of wrestling to perhaps two of the biggest in recent memory, here we have a match that really could have been something special.  It is special, but only because it marked the first time Austin won the WWF Championship and the added Mike Tyson factor at ring-side.  Unfortunately though, this was when Michaels was in tremendous pain following a serious back injury at Royal Rumble.  The injury would force him into retirement for four years before a comeback, but during the match it’s clear that Michaels isn’t right.  Some of it is a sell-job since play-by-play man Jim Ross wasn’t hiding the fact that Michaels was hurt, but a lot of it is legit discomfort.  Because of this, the match is real slow-paced with lots of rest holds and a feeling of restraint throughout.  It’s disjointed, but the finish was strong and the crowd certainly didn’t seem to mind once Austin hit the stunner.  Still, it’s hard to watch this and not wonder what could have been.

12. John Cena vs The Rock (WrestleMania XXIX)

Cena and The Rock ended their three year long feud at the conclusion of WrestleMania XXIX.

Cena and The Rock ended their three year long feud at the conclusion of WrestleMania XXIX.

The most recent main event, and part two of the Cena/Rock feud (unless you count their confrontation at WrestleMania XXVII as part one, then it’s part three) and at this point it was starting to run out of steam.  As much as people loved The Rock, myself included, it was hard to disagree with Cena’s assertions that at least he was a full-time wrestler, unlike The Rock.  The Rock was coming off as disingenuous, but he was still making people laugh.  In the ring though, it was becoming clear that Rock wasn’t the same guy as he was years ago, which is understandable.  This version of The Rock was really bulky, and since he wasn’t a full-time wrestler, he really didn’t have the stamina to carry a one-on-one match.  The two made it work the prior year, but come WrestleMania XXIX it was clear they were out of ideas as both guys resort to hitting their signature moves over and over.  Having a wrestler kick out of another guy’s big move can be a really effective way to sell the enormity of a match, but three times?  Four times?  It just loses impact.  In defense of The Rock, he did get injured during the match which may have affected his performance.  The enormity of the feud and star power of the characters is what elevates this match to this spot, not the in-ring performance.


Ranking the WrestleMania Main Events (29-20)

images-202It’s that time of year when WWE programming is officially declared as being “on the road to WrestleMania!”  This year, WrestleMania will be on April 6th and the main event will likely be a triple-threat match consisting of WWE Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton, Batista, and Daniel Bryan.  I say “will likely be” because technically Bryan needs to defeat Triple H in a one-on-one contest earlier in the card to secure his spot in the main event, which feels like a certainty considering the hostile crowd reactions of late towards the original main event of Orton and Batista.  No matter who is in the main event, this WrestleMania will be historic for the simple fact that it’s WrestleMania XXX.  Back in 1984 when the first WrestleMania hit pay-per-view it was considered a huge gamble for the then World Wrestling Federation.  The fact that we’re approaching the 30th edition of this event is remarkable.

WrestleMania is the big one.  For the WWE, it’s the Superbowl of professional wrestling.  And as we’ve learned over the years, just because the Superbowl contains the top two teams in the NFL each year, it doesn’t mean we’re about to see the best game of the year.  WrestleMania, and its main event in particular, is guilty of that same phenomenon.  WrestleMania has been host to some of the best matches in professional wrestling history, some of which have been main event matches, but there have been a whole host of bad ones too.  The early events are particularly guilty of this as the main event was dominated by Hulk Hogan.  Hogan is arguably the most popular wrestler in history.  Kids loved him because he was basically a super hero in the ring, but from a wrestling perspective he was awful.  His arsenal of moves was pedestrian and his no-sell antics were cartoonish.  For wrestling fans, particularly modern ones, his matches are terrible.

Hulk Hogan was involved in some capacity with the WrestleMania main event a record nine times, all of which occurred within the first nine WrestleManias.  WrestleMania IV was the only one he did not compete in, while WrestleMania IX was billed as Bret Hart versus Yokozuna, only for an impromptu match between Hogan and Yokozuna to come together after the fact (it lasted for all of a minute).  And in those eight matches Hogan participated in, he only would lose one.  Yes, Hogan dominated the early period of WrestleMania.  Since his departure, other wrestlers have come close to matching the amount of main events that Hogan amassed.  Triple H has logged six main event appearances while Shawn Michaels has managed five.  John Cena, who currently is very much active in the WWE and not likely to quit anytime soon, has also managed five giving him a legit shot at matching, or even surpassing, Hulk Hogan for main event appearances.

Hulk Hogan was synonymous with WrestleMania for the better part of its first decade.

Hulk Hogan was synonymous with WrestleMania for the better part of its first decade.

As far as the WWE is concerned, Cena or Triple H probably already holds the record.  That’s because the WWE often likes to declare multiple main events for WrestleMania (which is why when discussing Stone Cold and the Rock you will often hear it said that Austin vs Rock is the only match to be included in the main event three times at WrestleMania, even though it was the final match of the night only twice).  As far as I’m concerned, the main event is a singular phrase, and therefore, there can be only one per card.  For this feature, I’ve decided to rank the final matches on each WrestleMania card one through twenty-nine to name a best match.  It should be said that a list of the twenty-nine best WrestleMania matches would likely look very different.  After all, some of the most talked-about matches in the history of the event did not occur in the main event.  I’m talking about matches like Steamboat vs Savage, Undertaker vs HBK, or any of the many ladder matches that have taken place over the years at WrestleMania.  Coming up with the thirty or so best matches would just be too daunting a task for me, but with the help of the brand new WWE Network, revisiting and ranking the best main events is a task I think I can handle.

29. Lawrence Taylor vs Bam Bam Bigelow (WrestleMania XI)

When it comes to WrestleMania, one thing fans are certainly assured of is a celebrity appearance or two.  Vince McMahon seems to love it when he can get a celebrity to participate in his events as a way of legitimizing what the WWE does, even if most of these appearances are looked-down upon by his hardcore fan base.  This trend began with the very first WrestleMania and continues today.  When a celebrity takes on the form of a guest ring announcer or valet most fans can excuse it, but when they get in the ring?  And when that celebrity is in the main event?!  It’s nothing short of awful.  To his credit, professional football player Lawrence Taylor doesn’t embarrass himself in the ring against Bam Bam Bigelow, but the two hardly put on on a match worthy of occupying any main event, let alone the main event at WrestleMania.

28. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff (WrestleMania)

The very first WrestleMania was the riskiest, and to make sure the event was a success, McMahon recruited any celebrity he could and even found one to include in the main event.  Mr. T, star of The A-Team, made numerous appearances for the WWF and was able to attract a lot of attention from the mainstream media.  Piper was able to get legitimate heat and people genuinely wanted to see Hogan and Mr. T kick he and Paul Orndorff’s ass.  The crowd was into it, which is the only good thing I can say about this main event.  Other than that, it’s awful.  Mr. T looks the part of a wrestler when he’s standing still, but when he tries to get involved he’s sloppy and out of place.  The other guys are unable to direct him and coach him to a decent match.  Hogan and T come out on top, but it’s not a fun ride getting to the finish.

Hulk Hogan vs King Kon Bundy at WrestleMania 2 has never been confused with a "classic" Mania match.

Hulk Hogan vs King Kon Bundy at WrestleMania 2 has never been confused with a “classic” Mania match.

27. Hulk Hogan vs King Kong Bundy (WrestleMania 2)

It’s somewhat surprising that WrestleMania has been the success that it is considering two of the first three matches on my list are occupied by the first two WrestleMania main events.  Hogan was able to avoid being in, what I consider, the worst main event in WrestleMania history, but the next few spots aren’t going to be too kind to the Hulkster.  This match appears in this spot not because it’s awful, but mostly because it’s so uneventful.  It took place in a steel cage and I can’t decide if that helped or hurt it as it limited what the already limited competitors were able to do.  Bundy was a mountain of a man whose size limited what Hogan could do to him.  He was also too big to scale the cage walls, not that he and Hogan were likely to orchestrate a big spot from up high even if he could.  At least Hogan won by going over the cage instead of out the door, because it always sucks when a cage match ends without someone at least climbing over it.

26. Hulk Hogan vs Sid Justice (WrestleMania VIII)

If you wanted to find a silver lining for the previous match, at least it was for the WWF Championship so that gives it some buzz.  This match between Hogan and Sid Justice was a non-title match, but the fans didn’t seem to care as they were pretty loud and solidly behind the Hulkster.  Sid is about as limited in the ring as Hogan, and when two big men with limited arsenals clash there just isn’t much room for a good match.  By now, Hulkamania was nearing its expiration date and the Hogan formula was well-established which meant there were no surprises, aside from the match ending in a DQ victory for Hogan.  This was a pointless main event at a forgettable WrestleMania.

25. Hulk Hogan vs Sgt. Slaughter (WrestleMania VII)

The main event for WrestleMania VII was supposed to mirror the conflict in Operation Desert Storm with the American aligned Hulk Hogan taking on the champion and Iraq sympathizer Sergeant Slaughter.  Slaughter was portrayed as a turncoat and traitor to America, which helped get the crowd into it.  In the ring, it was just another Hogan match where two guys wail on each other for ten minutes or so before Hogan “Hulks up” and takes care of business.

WrestleMania VI was hyped as The Ultimate Challenge by the WWF.

WrestleMania VI was hyped as The Ultimate Challenge by the WWF.

24. Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior (WrestleMania VI)

Some things that seem awesome when you’re a kid appear totally different through the eyes of an adult.  By WrestleMania VI, Hulkamania was running wild.  The super hero thing was working for Hogan, so why couldn’t it work for someone else?  Enter the Ultimate Warrior, who was basically an even more cartoonish version of Hogan.    He did everything Hogan did but just seemed crazier and looked more wild with his flowing locks and wild tassels.  He was impressive looking to me when I was a kid, but when I look at him now he just looks like a steroid junkie.  In the ring, he was arguably worse than Hogan as his arsenal consisted of clotheslines, shoulder tackles, and slams with the guerrilla press followed by a running splash being his version of Hogan’s big boot and leg drop.  He would even “Hulk-up” like Hogan, often running in place or grabbing the ropes for power, according to the announcers.  The whole show of the Warrior was ridiculous, and it’s no surprise he didn’t have the lasting power that Hogan did.  This match is now mostly just notable for being the only time Hogan lossed clean as a baby-face to someone.  Considering how much of a rip-off the Warrior was, it’s almost shocking that Hogan agreed to it.  The match itself is terrible, with Hogan either teasing a heel turn at one point or just plain forgetting that he was supposed to sell a leg injury.  Warrior even botches the press slam, but at least his splash looked okay.

23. Brett “The Hitman” Hart vs Yokozuna (WrestleMania IX)

Vince McMahon, and the rest of the wrestling industry, seems to love big men.  They’re viewed as attractions on their own and usually don’t even need an interesting opponent to be a draw.  Unfortunately, they’re also usually terrible in the ring due to their size.  Yokozuna is one such big man.  Billed as over 500 pounds, he’s every bit that and more.  He was supposed to be a sumo wrestler, though like most gimmicks, this was untrue but it didn’t matter because he looked the part.  He was huge and fat, and as a result, he couldn’t do much in the ring, and when he did, he became winded pretty quickly.  Brett Hart, one of the all-time great technical wrestlers, deserved better for his first WrestleMania main event.  Hart’s the type of performer that can elevate a poor opponent, but there was no elevating Yokozuna.  You either liked the spectacle or did not.  I did not, and this match is a series of clotheslines and rest holds.  Hart did manage to apply the sharpshooter, though it was kind of silly looking.  After the match ended in a Yokozuna victory, his manager Mr. Fuji quickly challenged Hogan to a match that the Hulkster would win in less than a minute.  This ridiculous finish is why I rate this match as slightly worse than the next one…

Yokozuna was a very big man.

Yokozuna was a very big man.

22. Brett Hart vs Yokozuna (WrestleMania X)

A rematch of WrestleMania IX, only with the roles reversed with Yokozuna now the defending champion.  Both guys had to wrestle a match on the undercard, and the short-of-breath Yokozuna had even less stamina than usual for the main event.  This match is actually probably worse than the one at WrestleMania IX, but without the stupid finish.  Instead Hart wins and a bunch of wrestlers come out and celebrate with him.  Yokozuna, mercifully, never appears in another WrestleMania main event.

21. Triple H vs Randy Orton (WrestleMania XXV)

This was a joyless match.  Both guys are solid technical wrestlers, with Triple H probably being the better of the two.  Neither guy is so good that on paper this would be expected to be a classic, but a good, solid match was certainly likely.  I don’t know why these guys didn’t try to put on a better showing.  It was the main event of WrestleMania XXV for crying out loud!  Instead, this was a main even fitting of television.  They just don’t do anything to make it feel special, and adding to the lack of atmosphere is the fact that the crowd isn’t into it.  Both guys immediately blow through their special moves and a lot of the early part of the match consists of both men laying on the canvas.  It picks up slightly in the second half, but never to an exciting level.  This match just sucks, and for now, is the last main event Triple H has appeared in at WrestleMania.

20. Macho Man Randy Savage vs The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase

Randy Savage spent the better part of the 80’s playing second fiddle to Hulk Hogan, even though he was clearly the superior wrestler.  His match with Ricky The Dragon Steamboat at WrestleMania III is one of the all-time classics.  Come WrestleMania IV, the WWF finally saw fit to put the strap on him, but of course, Hogan was involved.  DiBiase was one of the great workers of his generation and a classic heel.  Given different circumstances, these two could have had a great match, but the format for WrestleMania IV was not conducive to that.  WrestleMania IV consisted of a tournament for the vacated title (Hogan and André the Giant battled to a double DQ which is why he wasn’t in the main event) which meant both Savage and DiBiase had wrestled multiple times already.  As a result, the main event was pretty conventional, with both Hogan and The Giant getting involved on the outside.  Savage would get the win with the flying elbow drop, setting the stage for a year-long storyline that would lead into WrestleMania V.


For All Mankind: The Life and Career of Mick Foley

For All Mankind:  The Life and Career of Mick Foley (2013)

For All Mankind: The Life and Career of Mick Foley (2013)

A great source of nostalgia for me is the mid to late 90’s wrestling scene.  Any time a DVD or Blu Ray is released high-lighting the career of a popular wrestler from that era it always grabs my attention.  I’m usually able to resist and wait for the price to come down, but every now and then I feel compelled to jump in right form the start and that was the case for me with the latest Mick Foley collection titled For All Mankind:  The Life and Career of Mick Foley.

Foley is the wrestling superstar who was never meant to be a superstar.  Bad-bodied and lacking any sort of flash, Foley seemed destined for mid-card status.  His defining trait was a willingness to sacrifice his body for whatever promotion he happened to be working for in such a way that it made other wrestlers look good.  This lead to the occasional program with some main event types like Sting and Stone Cold Steve Austin, but the glass ceiling was always firmly kept in place.  This changed though in large part to the WWF’s Attitude Era which gave wrestlers the freedom to express themselves to the audience on a more personal level.  The rise of the internet also helped spread the tale of Foley’s hardcore exploits in smaller territories and he fast became a legend amongst the diehard crowd.  As wrestling gained in popularity, the diehard audience became the mainstream crowd and the WWF saw fit to throw Foley a bone in the form of a (brief) reign as WWF Champion.

The story of the unlikely hero rising to the top is a familiar one, but Foley’s always felt special.  A major assist for that goes to Foley’s best-selling autobiography Have A Nice Day! which he wrote without the aid of a ghost writer.  When the book hit newsstands, Foley had already risen to the top so the book can’t take credit for that, but it can take credit for making Foley something more important to me than just another wrestler.  Foley’s writing was both witty and articulate.  He has a natural sense of humor and he comes across as 100% authentic.  He’s not afraid to boast of his good qualities, but he’s also quick to point out when he stinks up a match.  I can see how his willingness to pat himself on the back could rub people the wrong way, but I never found it off-putting.  He takes his job and his legacy seriously and he has a strong opinion of how the business of wrestling should be run.  This did get him into some trouble when he spoke ill of Nature Boy Ric Flair’s booking, but it’s the kind of thing readers are looking for when they buy this type of book.

With his unkempt hair and gap-toothed smile, Mick Foley never really embodied the image of WWF Superstar.

With his unkempt hair and gap-toothed smile, Mick Foley never really embodied the image of WWF Superstar.

Foley’s reputation for being a hardcore legend naturally sparked a great deal of curiosity on the part of wrestling fans who missed out.  A lot of these matches occurred in Japan or smaller promotions in the US which were never commercially released.  Fans were forced to purchase low-quality VHS bootlegs and trade them amongst each other.  As a result, Foley’s career has lent itself well to home video.  For All Mankind is his second major collection released by WWE following the more match-oriented Mick Foley’s Greatest Hits and Misses.  That collection contained a lot of the matches fans really wanted to see.  For All Mankind chooses to focus on Foley’s life and in many ways is like a visual complement to his written autobiographies.  There are matches included as well, but they’re secondary in this case.

I own The Greatest Hits and Misses set so I was more interested in the documentary this time around.  It runs around 2 hours and covers a lot of the same ground the books do but the visuals are a great benefit as some of the wrestlers Foley talks about have been almost forgotten.  It’s certainly familiar territory but the documentary livens things up with interviews from wrestlers past and present as well as some of Foley’s friends and family.  Surprisingly, we never hear from Foley’s wife which is too bad as I would have liked to have heard what was going through her mind every time her husband agreed to partake in some crazy barbed-wire death match or whatever.  Less surprising, but equally disappointing, is the absence of the Undertaker who was a big part of Foley’s WWE career.  The Undertaker is one of the few wrestlers left who basically refuses to break character so I didn’t expect to hear from him, but it didn’t stop me from holding out hope for it.

The documentary basically covers Foley’s entire profressional career, though it does refrain from acknowledging Foley’s run with TNA which is understandable.  There’s probably close to 45 minutes of outtakes on the Blu Ray release.  Most of these include funny stories from other wrestlers such as Triple H recalling a doomed attempt at a top-rope dive from Foley while other wrestlers rib him for his cheapness.  Foley himself comes across as a charming sort and it’s fun to hear him talk about all of the things he’s done.  He’s a natural story-teller that can draw in non-wrestling fans with little effort.

The set is light on matches, but does include a few bright spots including this barbed wire match with the Sandman.

The set is light on matches, but does include a few bright spots including this barbed wire match with the Sandman.

The other large portion of the release is dedicated to actual matches from throughout Foley’s career.  The set, like most WWE sets, seeks to avoid repeating matches that appeared on other sets which is good for the wrestling diehard that buys everything, but it prevents the WWE from ever putting out a definitive collection of matches for any one wrestler.  Foley is no exception as his best matches are on the previously mentioned Mick Foley’s Greatest Hits and Misses.  There are two repeat matches from the set; Foley’s debut match as Jack Foley and his infamous Hell in a Cell bout with the Undertaker from King of the Ring ’98.  The good thing about the HIAC match being repeated is that the WWE has now finally ceased censoring out the old WWF logo from its matches which helps enhance the viewing experience.  The previous release also was only available on DVD, but seeing these matches on Blu Ray does very little to enhance the experience as so many of them are taken from old masters.  A lot of the new matches added are from Foley’s early run with WCW including one against Sting.  There’s also a few choice ECW fights with the Sandman in a barbed wire match and a humorous bout with Shane Douglas during Foley’s final days with the promotion.  Unfortunately, a lot of the other matches are pretty forgetable but one match I was happy to see included was Foley’s original farewell match at No Way Out against Triple H.  It’s not the best match they ever had with each other, but I like having it for the sake of completion.

This set works best when viewed as a complement to Foley’s previous releases, including both print and DVD.  If you’re a Foley fan who hasn’t read his books for several years this should be a fun trip down memory lane for you.  Others looking for Foley’s craziest matches will be let down by what they find here.  It’s all about expectations.  I got a lot out of this release and if it’s something you’re interested in checking out definitely opt for the Blu Ray if possible as the extra content is worth the extra five bucks.  Foley’s documentary is good!


THQ Wrestling Games: End of an Era

200px-THQ_logo_2011.svgJust last week an auction took place in which all of the assets held by video game publisher/developer THQ were sold off as part of a bankruptcy filing.  Several games the company was known for will either cease to be or exist in a new form and smaller developers now find themselves being assimilated into much larger publishers.  Not to be forgotten are all the jobs that will be lost either by THQ no longer existing or by layoffs from the purchasing parties.  As someone who has been part of an acquisition I can say it’s not a fun experience and there’s lots of uncertainty for those involved.

What’s is certain is that THQ will no longer be in business, and as such, it’s partnership with World Wrestling Entertainment has come to an end.  THQ’s involvement with wrestling games predates the WWE license acquisition and fans have been enjoying THQ branded wrestling games for well over a decade at this point.  For the WWE, its license is now in the hands of Take-Two and 2K Sports who will only be the third publisher to hold the much coveted property.  What remains uncertain, is if developer Yukes will have any involvement with future games.  It’s entirely possible that Take-Two won’t want to ruin a profitable arrangement and hire Yukes to develop the successor to WWE ’13.

Such questions will be answered eventually, most likely at E3 if not sooner, but now is a time for reflection.  THQ’s wrestling games provided hours upon hours of enjoyment for myself and other gamers out there, but which games will THQ be remembered most for?  And also, which were the best and most ground-breaking titles?  The following is one man’s opinion on the five best wrestling games released by THQ:

WCW_vs._nWo_-_World_Tour_Coverart5. WCW vs nWo: World Tour (1997)

For most gamers, myself included, this was the first wrestling game any of us experienced that made us feel like we were part of the action.  Developed by Asmik Ace Entertainment and AKI, World Tour introduced to American audiences a whole new way to experience a wrestling game.  Prior games were little more than brawlers with a few noticeable moves and contemporary games like WCW Nitro and WWF Warzone were overly complicated and seemed inauthentic.  World Tour sacrificed some realism for entertaining gameplay and made use of a grapple system that allowed players to access various moves.  The whole system was rather simple and each wrestler essentially controlled the same, but the experience was truly captivating and horribly addicting.  I never owned this game for I didn’t own a Nintendo 64 at the time, but I rented it several times and always had a blast with it.  The sequel, WCW vs nWo:  Revenge is basically the same game just with a fresher coat of paint, so World Tour gets the nod on this list for being the originator.  This was the start of a very profitable relationship for AKI and THQ.

4. WWF Smackdown:  Here Comes the Pain (2003)

The console wars of the 32 bit era never approached the fever pitch that was the 16 bit era, but Playstation vs N64 was still a pretty solid rivalry.  Playstation tended to have the more mature games while the N64 had the classic Nintendo franchises to keep people happy.  One thing N64 gamers had over PSX gamers was wrestling games as the ones put out by THQ easily trumped the best Acclaim had to offer.  This rivalry extended into the wrestling word as it pitted WCW vs WWF who were in a dogfight to establish supremacy over television thru the now famous Monday Night Wars.  Eventually, WWF would overtake WCW and soon THQ would jump ship and partner with WWF to bring the WWF experience to console gamers.  THQ handed the license over to AKI and basically told them to turn Revenge into a WWF game, while Playstation gamers were asked to trust in a mostly unknown developer called Yukes.  Yukes was popular in Japan for its wrestling games over there, and soon their fast-paced brand of wrestling action was available state-side as WWF Smackdown.  Smackdown was an instant success and offered an almost completely different experience from the slower-paced AKI games.  The first game was rather bare bones while the second introduced a robust single player game and create-a-wrestler.  The series really cemented itself though with the Playstation 2 title Here Comes the Pain.

Previous Smackdown titles eschewed the grapple mechanics of the AKI games and opted to allow players to skip the grapple and initiate moves from a standing position.  Here Comes the Pain slowed things down just a touch and brought in a linking grapple system that helped lend a new level of authenticity to the matches and open up the move-sets.  This major addition to the gameplay combined with a wide selection of match type makes Here Comes the Pain the best of the original Smackdown series.

In Day of Reckoning 2, submission holds did more than just inflict pain.

In Day of Reckoning 2, submission holds did more than just inflict pain.

3.  WWE Day of Reckoning 2 (2005)

Into the era of the Playstation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube, THQ continued to opt for a different WWE themed franchise for each console.  While the Playstation brand held onto the Smackdown series, new ones were created for Xbox and Gamecube.  Xbox was given the lackluster Raw games while Gamecube got a new Wrestlemania themed one.  It wasn’t much better, but eventually it would be scrapped and Yukes would be called upon to create a new themed franchise which was dubbed Day of Reckoning.  Day of Reckoning was sort of the spiritual successor to the popular AKI games from the N64 days.  DoR put the emphasis on grapples and introduced a new system where submission moves took on new meaning.  This was the result of the inclusion of a stamina meter and limb-targeting.  The single player was also the most involved of any to date and even carried over (in a narrative sense) from the first game.  The game also looked excellent and sported an excellent create-a-wrestler mode.  If it was lacking in anything it was a defining match type.  Still, this one is a dark horse candidate for best of all time.

2.  WWF No Mercy (2001)

Some fans, to this day, still proclaim WWF No Mercy the best wrestling game ever created.  That’s high praise, especially if one steps outside the WWF/WWE/WCW games and includes the excellent Fire Pro series.  Undeniably, a huge reason for such claims is nostalgia and the good memories many have of the game.  No Mercy was the sequel to the first WWF/THQ game Wrestlemania 2000, which was basically WCW vs nWo: Revenge with a palette swap.  No Mercy brought a more robust single player game, new match types, and still retained the same tried and true gameplay that just wouldn’t get old.  There was also a nice rivalry between this game and Smackdown 2.  Fans of Smackdown pointed out how their game had Hell in a Cell and TLC match types while No Mercy fans held fast to the simulation cred the AKI games had garnered.  Whatever side you were on, you had a great game and No Mercy is still a fun experience today.  If you want more thoughts from me on No Mercy, check out this entry I made last year on the subject.

1.  WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2006 (2005)

The Buried Alive match was something fans had been asking for for a long time.

The Buried Alive match was something fans had been asking for for a long time.

The Smackdown vs Raw games were part of a new directive from THQ.  Someone wisely figured out that THQ was only competing against itself by putting out multiple WWE games a year.  While hardcore fans loved it and may have bought multiple games, most picked a series and stuck with it and the development costs just didn’t make it worthwhile.  So it was a sad day when franchises like Day of Reckoning came to an end with the Smackdown vs Raw series taking over.  It was basically a continuation of the standard Smackdown series, but overtime that game became more sophisticated, more varied, to the point where it resembled the original titles in the series in name only.  The gameplay was still quicker than the sluggish AKI games, but not cartoonishly so.  Each wrestler had various different grapples they could initiate which was just the starting point for unleashing pain upon the opposition.  Now games truly started to emulate the television product.  Yukes found a way to make a realistic wrestling sim while also keeping it fun to play.  A bunch of new takes on old matches, and new additions like the Buried Alive match, also enhanced the fun factor.  The GM Mode, while never truly realized, was also a fun diversion and the create-a-belt feature is superior to the current one in WWE ’13.

So have all of the games to follow these been inferior?  Not necessarily.  If I lined them all up and played them for an hour each I’m not sure which game I’d enjoy the most, it’s just that the current games have done little to advance the genre.  In that respect, maybe it’s a good thing for gamers that the WWE license is changing hands.  It might be nice to see what a developer new to the franchise could come up with.  If Take-Two intends on releasing a WWE themed game this year, it may opt to reach an agreement with Yukes for at least one more game since development on WWE ’14 was likely already underway.  And in turn, Take-Two could hand the license off to one of its development teams to get cracking on a game for 2014.  Time will tell, but Take-Two has its hands full if it wants to make fans forget about the glory days of THQ.


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