By Matt Straub
We’re coming off the Super Bowl and are in the middle of the NCAA Tournament, two events which have something in common. Each draws in the most casual fans of the sport because it is the showcase event of the year.
Another showcase which attracts in the most casual fan is WrestleMania. You know it’s the best wrestling event of the year because it’s the one which leads your friend who barely watches to ask you what’s going on in preparation to tune in for the big one.
This year’s “Granddaddy of them all” has a chance to be an excellent show because it has some of the kind of matches which make it stand out from the rest of the year. In an era with 12 pay-per-views a year and the weekly television shows featuring famous wrestlers facing off in every episode, it’s hard for a matchup to feel important anymore, but this year’s show has a few of them.
Of course, there is also the annual controversy over the main event. The yearly backlash against the title challenger at WrestleMania began the night of the Royal Rumble, with hatred against Roman Reigns growing. It seems to be lessening as time goes on, as there were even pro Reigns signs at Raw this week, but to say he isn’t over with the majority of the crowd at this point is an understatement. I maintain the venom against Reigns is as much backlash against the lack of Daniel Bryan in the main event as it is about Reigns’ underdeveloped character itself, but whatever the reason, he certainly isn’t popular with most fans these days. I also will be considered biased by many since I can’t begin to imagine why anyone likes Daniel Bryan, but we’ll get back to that in a bit.
For now, let’s look at the card for the most watched show of the year with a preview of each match so even those who are making their once-a-year return to WWE will know what to watch and when to grab a snack.
WWE Tag Team champions Tyson Kidd & Cesaro with Natalya vs. Los Matadores with El Torito vs. The Usos with Naomi vs. The New Day
The pre-show needs a match to make sure everything works for the real broadcast as well as get fans signed into the network before the real show begins. I can’t think of another reason to get you to watch this one, unless you like the bizarre scene from Monday night when El Torito, a midget wrestler, beat Natalya, a woman. The tag team division was already bad, but when they ruined the Ascension’s rise a few months ago, it doomed things even further.
Matt’s Prediction: Severe boredom and an Usos victory.
Brad's Prediction: Can I steal Matt's boredom line? Even picking a winner is boring, but I'll go with the Usos cause it makes some kind of sense, I guess.
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal: The Miz, Damien Mizdow, Kane, Big Show, Erick Rowan, Mark Henry, Curtis Axel, Ryback, Fandango, Adam Rose, Zack Ryder, Jack Swagger, The Ascension, The Primetime Players, Sin Cara, Goldust, Heath Slater, and a WWE NXT talent to be announced.
The Ascension apparently gets to be part of the now annual battle royal, which seems to be a way to get random people onto the show to make some money. I would have picked Curtis Axel in a bit of an upset to give him a push, but I think when you get thrown out of the ring by a 60-year man and a skinny rapper your career path is on the way down. This could be a chance to set up a couple of new feuds, but I don’t have much faith in WWE to make it happen.
Matt’s Prediction: Mark Henry wins and gets back on the map because Vince McMahon loves to push big guys with name recognition. Erick Rowan is a dark horse.
Brad's Prediction: Battle royals were so lame back in the day, they created the Royal Rumble, which became and still is a huge hit. But apparently the WWE forgot about that and has brought back the 20-man over-the-top-rope cluster where nobody has any idea what to focus on until the end. Andre The Giant is too much of a legend to have his name attached to it, but at least he's being exposed to the new generation who believes John Cena is an all-time great. Oh, yeah, a winner ... I would like to see Damien Mizdow win because he's interesting and fun, but the WWE likes Ryback, so Ryback.
WWE Divas champion Nikki Bella & Brie Bella vs. Paige & A.J. Lee
The big angle here is whether or not Paige and A.J. stay together or start feuding again, but I still can’t comprehend how the Bellas got back together after one forced the other to be her servant. Logic doesn’t apply to the Divas division, which is just fodder for the Divas show.
Matt’s Prediction: The Bellas win when Paige turns on A.J.
Brad's Prediction: This is seriously a WrestleMania match? Am I being too negative so far? Paige and A.J. Lee win. (Why not have a title match?)
WWE Intercontinental champion Bad News Barrett vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Dean Ambrose vs. R-Truth vs. Stardust vs. Luke Harper vs. Dolph Ziggler
They were so close to making the intercontinental belt mean something again. Then WWE decided to throw everyone in the IC belt mix into one match because they couldn’t stand the thought of letting them feud two at a time for the next year or two because that would require planning ahead. So we get stuck with this ladder match. Daniel Bryan will do something crazy and he and Ziggler can start a good feud for the IC belt, which to me is the best way to use Bryan.
Matt’s Prediction: Bryan and Ziggler steal the show, with Bryan winning, while I regret Kofi Kingston’s exclusion from this match.
Brad's Prediction: I can't wait for the Hardy brothers, Edge and Christian and the Dudleys to steal the show with another amazing ladder match on the big stage. Wait, what? Oh. Daniel Bryan is too big for the IC belt, sorry Matt, and I'd like to believe Dolph Ziggler is too, so the one who makes the most sense is Dean Ambrose.
Seth Rollins with J&J Security vs. Randy Orton
WWE has actually done quite well with this feud, which was built nicely and actually has believable hatred between the characters. If you’re going to have a good fake fight, I need to believe the guys really want to fight each other (a premise which will matter in another match) and this story works. It’s also one where I can see both guys winning, which is rare. Does Orton get his revenge, or do they keep Rollins looking strong?
Matt’s Prediction: Orton wins when J&J turn on Rollins or accidentally screw him, but Rollins will be back later.
Brad's Prediction: Seth Rollins is a darn good wrestler and gave the most impressive overall performance in the title match at the Royal Rumble against Brock Lesnar and John Cena. Randy Orton is stale. Rollins wins and we'll all wait and see what Matt has up his sleeve later in the preview.
WWE United States champion Rusev vs. John Cena
Speaking of a feud which has believable hatred, they’ve done a good job making Cena and Rusev feel like they actually want to fight. Rusev has grown into a true monster with his own personality now that he is free of Lana, and Cena’s story of just wanting to be a part of the show he loves makes sense, as does the added touch of protecting America’s honor. This one has been well booked leading up to the match, which makes me think they’re going to screw up the finish.
Matt’s Prediction: Rusev should win, continue building into something impressive, and eventually move into the title picture. Cena, however, will win for all the reasons listed above plus WWE’s desire to give him an easy way to stay important (a belt) without letting him tie Ric Flair as a 16-time champion for a while.
Brad's Prediction: Like Bryan and Ziggler before, John Cena is too big for the US championship. I don't think a "Champ Is Here" T-shirt would quite work the same if it wasn't the big one. Rusev retains the belt, but Cena wins by DQ.
The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt
Here’s one of those special matches you’ll remember for a long time from this show. Undertaker didn’t have much left at last year’s WrestleMania, but Wyatt is young enough to bump around for him and make him look good. His work on the mic about wanting to be the company’s new dark soul has been impressive, but this is also probably Undertaker’s last match. I can’t imagine he’d want to lose his last two WrestleMania matches. Wyatt always seems to be over whether he wins or loses, which means dropping this one to the Undertaker won’t hurt him. I’m really torn on this one, but I am pretty sure it will be memorable as an event if not a wrestling match.
Matt’s Prediction: The Undertaker wins, which pretty much has to be done even if it doesn’t make much sense for the company going forward.
Brad's Prediction: Undertaker shouldn't have lost last year. He makes up for it this year. Bray Wyatt is a great character, though.
Sting vs. Triple H
This one will be memorable for obvious reasons, as it is Sting’s first match in WWE. I grew up a big fan of Sting, and I’ve been waiting more than 20 years to see him in a WWE ring. I always thought Vince McMahon should have done whatever he had to in order to get Sting in the invasion angle many years ago, since he represents WCW more than anyone else, even more than Flair, who jumped ship more than once in his career. As Sting himself pointed out Monday, however, the idea of a WCW vs. WWE match no longer makes any sense. This is where I get back to the need for logic in storylines to help a match. Will Sting vs. Triple H be one of those dream matches? Absolutely. WrestleMania is about things we’ve never seen before, and this fits the bill perfectly. The 13-year old version of Matt will love getting to see Sting on the big stage. The Monday Night War path doesn’t work for this story, however. Monday was the 14th anniversary of the day WWE bought WCW. If Sting really wanted to get back at Triple H’s family for it so badly, why wait so long and spend so many years in TNA first? It’s as if Sting just recently remembered what happened in 2001. For me, the hole in this story is so big it takes away from the match, but seeing Sting in WWE is enough to make this one special.
Matt’s Prediction: For years, Sting said he never came to WWE because he didn’t trust Vince to use his character in a way he would approve of. I’m certain he didn’t agree to this without full control of how the angle would be laid out, and I’m sure he didn’t come to WWE to lose. Unless he’s desperate for money and willing to do anything to be on WrestleMania, he wins this match. One caveat: the original N.W.O. will be in town after Kevin Nash’s Hall of Fame induction, so if WWE wants to do some Monday Night War angle 14 years too late, it would be possible.
Brad's Prediction: First, Matt's right, Sting has to win this match, otherwise why come back at all? Second, on an equal playing field, at this point in both of their careers, Triple H would probably win every time out. Third, Matt's N.W.O. theory is intriguing. Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Triple H could blow the roof (if there was one) off the place with the right angle. Sting could ultimately win out and be the hero by beating Triple H and besting the N.W.O., which would be epic.
WWE champion Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns
I admit it, I don’t hate Reigns. He’s far from my favorite, but I don’t believe he’s terrible, either. He definitely would have been better served by waiting a year and developing further before being thrust into the ultimate spotlight, but I hate the way WWE fans tend to eat their young. They complain all the time about hating seeing the same people on top of the card, like Cena, but complain further when the new blood they are given isn’t Daniel Bryan or Bray Wyatt, both of whom work better as attractions than champions. Remember, the Undertaker was only champion seven times, a number which is small in comparison to the guys who are always in the title picture. Bray Wyatt can stand on his own without going for belts the way the Undertaker did, and in some ways would have his mystique take a hit if he were just another guy challenging for a title. Bryan should be in the best wrestling match of the night, which is why he’s perfect for the IC belt. There are several ways to make a mark as champion. You can have a great personality, a great gimmick, or a perfect storyline. The championship match should feel like an event, which is why I just can’t get into Bryan in that role. If Vince wanted to appease his fans he’d give Bryan the belt, but he cares more about his ultimate vision than the fans’ short-term interest, something I agree with in this case. Reigns, with plenty of room to improve, already has the looks to make movies (which matters these days probably more than wrestling does to WWE), to go with his athleticism and size. He’ll need a manager or vast improvement on the mic to be the main guy going forward, but the mold is there with which to make a future star. Lesnar is already a star in and out of the ring, and is the ideal champion. He has the skills, the size, the look and a personality, even if it is provided for him by the incomparable Paul Heyman, who, by the way, would get Reigns over in a hurry if WWE wanted him to.
As for the match itself, things got much easier for the WWE Tuesday when Lesnar announced he had signed a new contract, taking away any fears of what Lesnar might have done if he were still champion heading into next week, when his contract expired. Had he remained unsigned, WWE would have had little choice but to get the belt off of Lesnar, likely by having Reigns win but having Rollins cash in his Money in the Bank contract and taking the belt, making Reigns and Rollins strong heading into a ready-made feud. They also could have tried a double turn which would finish with Reigns having the belt and Heyman to be his mouthpiece and turning him into the monster Lesnar is.
Now, none of that is necessary. It simply comes down Sunday to what WWE wants to do with its future. I can’t see Lesnar reupping with WWE only to drop the belt, but I believe Vince is heavily invested in his new pet project, Reigns. He also has made it clear he doesn’t always listen to the fans, so he is not afraid to make an unpopular champion and then try to build him up.
In the end, however, I believe Lesnar uses his new deal to win over the fans he hasn’t already and become even bigger than he has been, and WWE will love building off the attention he’s getting this week for turning down a chance to go back to the UFC.
Matt’s Prediction: Lesnar wins a longer and better than expected match. Rollins then comes down to try and cash in Money in the Bank, but Reigns prevents him from winning, setting up their feud.
Brad's Prediction: If Lesnar didn't re-sign with the WWE, I'd have gone with Reigns winning, some how, some way, and then quickly dropping the belt to Rollins, as Matt laid out. That changes now, obviously. Contrary to what Matt has said, I believe Reigns is terrible and completely not ready for this moment. You saw it first hand Monday night, when the WWE wouldn't even give Reigns the mic to hype the biggest match of the year, instead having him and Lesnar fake-jostle for the belt, which was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen. Reigns is so terrible, he hasn't even come up with a new gimmick, not advancing past his time in the Shield. He still wears the same outfit and he still enters the ring from the crowd with the same entrance music. His two finishers are boring, from the much-used spear to a "Superman" punch that is completely illegal in a WWE ring. Plus, it just looks dumb. So, Reigns doesn't win because he can't win. On the other hand, Lesnar has become one of the most impressive champions the WWE has had, definitely the best since the Attitude Era. Would he have been able to keep up with Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock? Probably not. But Lesnar is so much better than everybody else right now, which is more of a indictment on the current roster than anything else. Yes, I was a much bigger fan during the Attitude Era, if you couldn't tell. Lesnar will try his best to make Reigns look good during the match, but in the end, it's really no contest. Lesnar wins. Then comes Rollins to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase, which up until Tuesday afternoon probably was scripted to result in him leaving with the belt. But now, I see Lesnar beating him as well and cementing his status atop the WWE mountain top. One thing I would love to see is Lesnar and Rollins wrestling for another 10 or so minutes, not the typical one minute matches that result from cashing in a title match. That would be a great ending to the night and send everyone home happy. If Reigns wins, everybody except Matt will want to riot.