By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
The SmackDown side of WrestleMania 34’s card is much different from Raw’s, and it sums up the differences between the shows perfectly. While Raw will feature over-the-top storylines and drama, SmackDown’s bouts will be built around quality in-ring performances. While some of the matches would have been better served by adding a bit more sizzle, much of Team Blue’s night will be so strong in the ring we won’t remember why they’re fighting in the first place. Many of the matches seem predictable, which could lead to some big surprises, but the bare minimum would be a fun night.
Let’s break down the SmackDown matches for Sunday’s show, plus the 205 Live title tilt, which will be overshadowed in terms of attention, but should steal the show in the ring. [Check out our Raw WrestleMania breakdown and predictions here.]
Kickoff Show: Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali
(WWE Cruiserweight Championship Tournament Finals)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Give WWE credit for coming up with a method to create an opportunity for a number of wrestlers to gain the spotlight after the departure of Enzo Amore. Because Amore was such a big part of 205 Live, the division could have died off completely, but the company has made an effort to keep it going. I’m just not sure if it worked. Alexander has been around a bit, but I just don’t feel Ali is going to be a star on any level. The setup for this match is interesting, with the two faces meeting in a respectful match, and the work will probably be strong. Still, this is nothing more than a kickoff opener. Alexander wins, but the division needs Neville back on top to matter at all in the big picture.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I really wish there was two other guys in this final, especially one replacing Cedric Alexander, who has seemingly been groomed for the title since the whole 205 Live show debuted. It hasn’t happened yet, as Neville ruled the roost and then Enzo Amore and his big mouth took centerstage. But now? It’s seemingly his time to finally take the title, but man, I wish it was someone else. Just look at those who took part in this tournament and the better options for this spot than Alexander. Tyler Bate. Roderick Strong. Hideo Itami. Drew Gulak. Mark Andrews. Buddy Murphy. All would have made this match more exciting. But Alexander is here opposite Mustafa Ali, who apparently has impressed everyone with his story and ability. They should give Ali this win and then let the title be all about what happens in the ring. But they won’t, even though Alexander has zero personality too. So, Alexander wins, but it really should be Ali’s time to take the title and show what he can do with it.
Kickoff Show: Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: We’ll put this one on the blue side because it feels as though SmackDown needs a new way to push some talent, so I believe someone from SmackDown wins this one. Unfortunately, this match has failed over the years to serve as a vehicle to make stars. Cesaro won the first one, but flamed out as a singles wrestler before finding success in Brad’s favorite tag team. The Big Show unnecessarily won the second match, while Baron Corbin’s push died quickly, and Mojo Rawley will only be famous if he convinces Rob Gronkowski to leave football for the WWE. The company might actually choose to restart a career here instead of trying to get a fresh face over considering how badly people like Rawley and Corbin have done after winning, so let’s look for a veteran who needs something to do. Raw’s Matt Hardy would be an interesting option, but he just doesn’t have the body type to believably win a battle royal. Besides, I refuse to give him any attention now that he’s back doing the “Broken,” thing, and his latest horror movie knockoff match with Bray Wyatt was worse than the one he had with Jeff Hardy at TNA. If Smackdown goes young here, look for a Tye Dillinger or Tyler Breeze to win. If they want a veteran who already has name recognition, which I think they do, I like Dolph Ziggler to win and get one more semi-push. Give me Ziggler, as long as we all understand the winner here means nothing.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: First, I enjoyed the Matt Hardy-Bray Wyatt showdown at the Hardy compound. It was weird, sure, but it was different, and different in a good way. It wasn’t a technical marvel by any stretch, but it was good enough to entertain. And although Straub would rather be bored by another talking segment to end a show, I’m sure most of us would rather be entertained in a new and different way. And with Straub being so weird and different, you’d think he’d love this, but apparently weird and different don’t like weird and different. Anyway, battle royals like this are pretty much impossible to predict. I think Hardy does have a solid shot to win, as he needs to keep his own momentum going, as it’s going to die very quickly, making Straub very happy. I don’t think it will be Dolph Ziggler because man am I tired of his whole act. Plus, why exactly did he give up the US title again? Baron Corbin got the last laugh on SDLive’s big tag team match, teasing his own chances at a second win. But reveres momentum takes him out of the question. It could be someone from NXT, but why waste a debut on the Kickoff show? So, from those announced, I’ll go with Tye Dillinger or Zack Ryder being possible winners. It’s boring and not interesting, but I’ll go with the Perfect 10 winning and setting up what will be another push that goes nowhere after winning this battle royal.
United States Champion Randy Orton vs. Bobby Roode vs Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev (Fatal 4-Way Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: One way you can tell Vince McMahon is still in charge of WWE, at least in the big picture sense, is the sudden loss of push for Bobby Roode. Roode was seeming to find his stride as a face, and the fans absolutely ate up his entrance. Putting him with Charlotte Flair at the Mixed Challenge gave him a bit of a rub from a star as well. So what did WWE do for a new face on a show in desperate need of new faces? They made him drop his belt to Randy Orton, who needs the U.S. belt as much as I need to eat more pizza. There was just no need to make that change, unless WWE wants to put the belt on someone else without having Roode lose to them. Enter someone who has also been getting lots of attention from fans: Rusev. Every day has been Rusev Day lately, and I could see him winning this match with a pin of Orton, allowing Roode to start a new feud without being further damaged. If this was the plan all along, I’ll withdraw my objection to Roode losing. If I had to guess, however, I believe Vince just decided it wasn’t happening for Roode and pulled the plug too quickly, the way he once did to Finn Balor or Jinder Mahal, the other participant in this match. I’m picking Rusev here and hoping we get Roode-Rusev soon.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Straub loves pizza so much he even managed to work it into his preview. The best part for me is bringing up his favorite, a meat lovers pie with some delicious sausage and meatball and bacon and the rest, and the fact he’s going to be thinking about that pizza the whole way through this article now. And starving because of it. At least until he picks up the phone, rings up the nearest pizzeria, waits a half-hour or more until it finally arrives, and then digging in. That Straub pizza struggle makes me happy inside. I’m sadistic in that way. I don’t agree with Straub’s take on Roode above. I still believe Roode is in the picture as one of the lead guys for the secondary title, so still very visible, but not main eventing anytime soon. I do believe WWE wanted to pay off Randy Orton with a grand slam of title wins to better set up his Hall of Fame resume, if that even needed to happen. So, Orton is a placeholder champion more than anything else, getting the title only to drop it soon after. Mahal won’t win it and Rusev isn’t going to win it either, although it’s likely only a matter of time before he does win it. That means the title goes back to Roode, and a feud is set up between him and Rusev for the title going forward. Rusev Day can begin after that. But I don’t see WWE pulling the plug on Roode just yet and he’ll get his WrestleMania moment with the victory.
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos vs. The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers (Triple Threat Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Since this is the seventh time in 10 months the Usos and New Day have shared a ring on a PPV, which has to be a record, WWE did the right thing adding something new to the equation. The Bludgeon Brothers are a great name, but needed a much bigger repackaging after leaving the Wyatt Family for me to take them seriously. Since there’s nothing else for New Day and the Usos to do with each other, it’s time for new blood in the division and a win for the Bludgeon Brothers. They can then feud with the team which doesn’t lose, and SmackDown can put it’s longest-running feud on hold for a few months. The two teams were great, but even The Rock and Austin fought someone else eventually. The Brothers win to mix things up a bit.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: There’s nothing really to add to this match, as everything that can have been written has been written. The Bludgeon Brothers win and, finally, some new blood takes over the SmackDown tag team division, which it desperately needs. Along with a couple of new tag teams. How about Sanity making the jump? Would love to see that.
SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: There are a million ways to sequence this show, which will go more than six hours if you count the kickoff matches, so I’m not even going to try and guess where this is on the card. Wherever it is, however, it’s going to be good. The build for this has been very good, even if it was a bit rushed while it got pushed under the big women’s match of the night, which we’ll get to in the Raw preview. I predicted all along we’d end up with Charlotte vs. Asuka, as giving Asuka the bigger name to wrestle would get her up the ladder faster, whereas Ronda Rousey can wrestle a broom for the first time and people will watch. Charlotte, like her father, could wrestle a broom and have a good match, but she won’t need to carry this one, as Asuka has been nothing short of spectacular since joining the main roster. With a “Superstar shakeup,” coming soon, WWE has an easy way to get Asuka over to SmackDown full time, which will make sense since she’ll be the SmackDown women’s champion after this match. Charlotte doesn’t need the belt to be a star, and Asuka’s push has been building to this. I can’t imagine this being anything but a great match, and the two hopefully will have a strong feud similar to what Charlotte had with Sasha.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: It won’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this match closed the show. Women closing WrestleMania is going to happen sooner rather than later, and this is easily the biggest match to date in the entire history of the division. It might not happen until next year, though, as Ronda Rousey against possibly Asuka could get that billing. But as Straub wrote, there’s no reason to even think about what the main event is or isn’t at this point, as there’s probably four options right now. I just hope it’s not Rousey and Kurt Angle against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, although that could be the odds-on favorite. This match should be one of the show-stealers, no matter its placement. The momentum is building for Asuka’s title win, and she should continue her undefeated streak here, but Charlotte has done just enough to make you believe she could actually win the match. Asuka wins because she both deserves it and it makes all the sense in the world to continue her amazing streak. If WWE ends her streak, well, that would be just another in a long list of stupid moves from the company. The other element to this match is Carmella finally cashing in her Money in the Bank briefcase. I believe that doesn’t happen here, though, but for the other title, which we’ll get to in our Raw preview.
Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Does anyone else find it strange that Daniel Bryan, after years of legitimately being blocked from wrestling by WWE’s doctors, can suddenly work again? And he’s cleared right before WrestleMania? The important thing here is Bryan’s health. While I’ve never been part of the “Yes movement,” (Bryan is one of my least favorite wrestlers), I hope he’s not making a bad decision by coming back. Concussions are not to be messed with, and Bryan needs to make sure his long-term health is his top priority. His big return is a tag match with Shane McMahon, which seems anticlimactic, but might also give us some insight into how WWE might use Bryan. He won’t have to be in the ring for the whole match, and it will be hard for him not to look good next to Shane. Owens and Zayn will bump for him, so he will likely look good even without Shane lowering the bar, even if Bryan is rusty. From a storyline standpoint, my guess is Owens and Zayn lose, which means they can no longer appear on SmackDown, and then head to Raw as part of the shakeup. This eventually leads to more disputes between Shane and Daniel, who have a match at SummerSlam. With Shane’s antics and a match which would be more of a fight than a spotfest, Bryan wouldn’t have to overexert himself to look good there, either. My guess is we see him a few times a year, like Triple H. I think I’m doing more than just guessing on the outcome Sunday, however. The execs win and send the heels to Raw, where a brand new audience can ask, “wait, I thought they hated each other?” like the rest of us. When Owens and Zayn would randomly go crazy punching each other whenever they were in the ring, even if they hadn’t feuded in a while, it represented WWE’s best use of logic in years. Now their reunion is an example of how little the company cares about continuity. At least they’re good workers, and this match should be entertaining. Shane and Owens are two of the company’s best in terms of putting emotion into the matches, and with the heels’ jobs on the line, it should be good.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Straub is one heck of a curmudgeon, isn’t he? Wrestlers feud, reunite, feud, reunite and feud again all the time in wrestling. Maybe he just lost his mind thinking about that delicious pizza he just can’t have, as he’s forgotten about the core of wrestling. Plus, on a side, Sami Zayn needed this more than he needed another fight with Kevin Owens. The two work well together and Zayn is in the biggest storyline on SmackDown because of it. So, it benefits him both in real life and for storyline purposes. Owens is right where he’s always been, in a top storyline. Now, this might be the toughest match to predict on the entire card. There’s no way Daniel Bryan is going to lose his return match, right? But there’s no chance Zayn and Owens are going to be fired, so they have to win, right? Both make sense and it’s why this match could go either way. So, how do we get to a conclusion? Zayn and Owens have to win and the only way they can do that is to either have Bryan or Shane McMahon switch to their side and help them win. It makes sense for that person to be Bryan, but he’s way too popular to turn heel, especially now. So, McMahon turns heel, joins Zayn and Owens during the match, beats down Bryan, setting up a later match and feud, while Zayn and Owens remain employed and move onto other feuds to better use their wide array of talents.
WWE Champion AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: This one won’t close the show, but it should. It’s a great example of what wrestling can be when you strip a lot of the soap opera elements out of the storylines and just let the wrestling take over. Yes, you need a plot of some sort to make the match matter, but a title belt and shows of respect between the two combatants are all you need to make a match feel important and believable. The way the two have helped each other in recent weeks, then teased taking cheap shots, only to stop in shows of respect have added an important element to the match. The title will add the drama, and the workers will deliver the action. Throw in the fact that either guy could legitimately win and you have a perfect recipe. There’s just no way WWE can screw this up unless there’s a run-in or they only give the match 15 minutes because Kid Rock did five songs earlier in the night. Nakamura’s entrance alone will be memorable, and I think he’ll have the last moment as well, as he holds the belt up high over a turnbuckle. There’s been some rumors about AJ being less than 100 percent lately, so giving Nakamura a run is the perfect chance to give Styles a break while creating a Wrestlemania moment. Besides, we need a reason for them to go again, so AJ shouldn’t win the first match.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Straub, surprisingly, is spot on here, and it’s actually a bit of a shock, as I would have thought he’d bury this match, which is all about the wrestling. But, yes, this is going to be awesome, if they give it the proper time to breathe and build to an ultimate conclusion that is sure to be amazing. There are high expectations, and that’s going to be hard to reach, as it always is, but if anyone can do it, it’s Styles and Nakamura. Straub’s right, though, this match won’t end the show even though it should, but being the main event has never been about the best wrestling match, only what Vince McMahon believes is the biggest. He’s been more wrong than right recently for sure, but only one man’s opinion counts. The buildup to this match has been different and it has worked perfectly, including the back-to-back head pats that gave this match all the added juice it needed. And it didn’t need much at all. Straub believes this match could go either way, but I see Nakamura being the only option to win. They already had him lose a title feud, to Jinder Mahal of all people, so there’s no way he’s going to lose this one too. If Nakamura does lose, that’ll really be the end of his stay in the main event picture. Styles is great, there’s no doubt about it, and the best wrestler in the company, but he doesn’t need the win as much as Nakamura does. Hopefully there’s a chant of “fight forever” during this one, as it will mean all of our expectations have been met. And hopefully it’s just the first of a series of matches between the two, where the title can be traded enough to keep both strong and at the top of the card as well. Nakamura wins, but this is all about what should be an awesome display of wrestling ability, suspense and excitement with a tremendous payoff that everyone will applaud and remember for a long time.