By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
WrestleMania 34 is essentially two pay-per-views in one, and not just because the show is going to last more than six hours. This year, SmackDown’s contributions to the event are anchored by what should be some fantastic wrestling. While the Raw matches might have some good spots in them, the show’s calling card this year is drama and character development. There are even a couple of matches which are really just there to set up future bouts, which might be a first for the company’s biggest night of the year.
Let’s look at the soap opera which is Monday Night Raw’s half of the granddaddy of them all. [Check out our previews and predictions for SmackDown Live’s portion of WrestleMania here.]
The first-ever WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal Match
(WrestleMania Kickoff Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: WWE trying to find ways to throw a bunch of extra people into WrestleMania to get them exposure and a paycheck has become one of the more annoying traditions around the biggest event of the year. This used to be a big thing in the early years, but it has returned as a big theme of the show recently, which is one of the reasons the show is too long and has too many wasted people. This year’s attempt to get as many superstars on the show as possible comes in the form of a second battle royal. WWE is trying hard to even things out, like they did at the Royal Rumble, by adding the women’s equivalent of the Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal, which we covered in the SmackDown Wrestlemania preview here. The difference between the two is that, unlike the men’s version, this contest has a chance to create a star. While a lot of big names are in this match, including Sasha Banks and Bayley, this is a great opportunity for WWE to give a rub to a new face. Absolution has been getting plenty of attention lately, which makes me happy because Paige not only deserves to keep a job in WWE after her injury cut her career short, but also can be an asset to the company as a heel manager, which their aren’t enough of these days. One of her proteges, Sonya Deville, has looked strong in recent weeks, and would be a good choice to pick up a win here. She’ll have to wait a bit to get into the picture against a currently star-studded division, but she’ll become a player in the division with a win here and could provide a different opponent for some of the established names down the line. If nothing else, it’s a good chance to try something different. WWE could go the easy route and have Bayley beat Sasha somehow, probably from behind, to set up a future PPV match, but I think they can have a moment within the match to set that up without being in the finish. Neither of them need a win here, whereas someone like Deville does. There’s a lot of buzz about Natalya winning on the internet, but I think that’s just designed to make Brad cry.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Haha, yes, Matt, I will cry if Natalya wins this match. But at least she’s not on TV right now on that divas show acting like a complete fool. Those moments should have made everyone cry. As I wrote in the men’s battle royal preview, it’s nearly impossible to pick a winner here, and if either me or Matt does, we deserve bonus points. (By the way, Matt keeps promising he’s going to do a comprehensive won-loss record for the two of us picking WWE PPV’s over the years, which I’m still waiting on. Tick tock. Tick tock.) If you’re going on who should win this match, as in the best workers in the company, than Sasha Banks, Bayley or Becky Lynch would win. If you’re going by shock factor, Lana would win. If you’re going with claw your eyes out horrible, Natalya would win. I believe Sasha and Bayley will eliminate each other, however, and Lana and Natalya aren’t winning, so at least we can all breathe a little easier. Carmella is going to have her real moment later on in the show, so she’s not going to win. It leaves the one woman who really needs a push because she deserves it and would make total sense as a top challenger waiting in the wings for the Raw or SDLive women’s champion … Becky Lynch. I have zero faith WWE will actually pick her to win the match, but Lynch is the only choice here to win the first-ever WrestleMania women’s battle royal.
Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: I’m glad to see Nia not only finally get the chance to be in a huge match, but finally be given some actual personality. Unfortunately, the company gave her a whiny character which hurts Jax’s dominant look and wrestling style. If you’re not going to give Jax anything good to say, just make her a silent assassin, like peak Goldberg. WWE is going for sympathy here, trying to make Bliss the bully and Jax the underdog who is tired of being bullied. Jax, however, just doesn’t come off like an underdog, and her new persona hurts her intimidation factor. If Jax isn’t intimidating, she’s useless as a performer. Before Jax’s act change a couple of weeks ago, I was sure she was on the way to becoming champion. Now, I don’t know if her character can get over as a strong champion. The fans want to see her throw Bliss around the ring, but Bliss is too much of a star right now to lose the title to someone who cries all the time. If they were going to give someone like that the belt, Bayley would be a champion. Bliss wins a stunner.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: If you don’t believe the fans are into seeing Nia Jax get her hands on and beat up Alexa Bliss all you had to do was listen to the pop when Nia charged the ring last Monday night and briefly got a grasp of Bliss. The crowd went crazy thinking Nia was going to get a measure of revenge. Bliss escaped, but it really gave everyone a wake-up call, if they needed one, that this is actually a match people want to see. Rather, a beat-down people want to see. I agree with Straub about the Jax character not being put forth in the best possible light, but it’s working as well as it could. Fans want to see her put the bully Bliss in her place, and the only way they could do that is for this storyline to play out as it has. On a side note, Mickey James has taken the brunt of the beatings since Bliss was caught on camera belittling Jax, but remember, James actually told Bliss she shouldn’t be saying those things. So, James actually deserves a little credit, as opposed to the beatdowns, but I digress. I can see either Jax or Bliss winning this match, but I still see the ultimate finish going the same exact way. Carmella is going to pull the shocker and cash in her Money in the Bank contract, beat whoever just won the title, giving everyone a cool WrestleMania moment to remember from the “other” women’s match on the card, as Charlotte and Asuka is the big one. For picking a winner here, I’m going with Jax, who really has to get her revenge with a title win, but the reign will last just a few minutes, if seconds, until Carmella gets her moment. That briefcase has to be used sometime, and what better time than here? Carmella’s reign won’t last long, and I'm guessing Bliss gets it back, but we’ll worry about that when she shows up on Raw the next night.
Sheamus & Cesaro vs. Braun Strowman and a mystery partner of his choosing
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Well, at least Strowman is on the show with something interesting to do, something which I wasn’t sure was possible after he got pushed out of the title picture for no good reason. Despite Strowman’s fall from importance, I think he’s actually finding his stride by doing some of his best work of late. He now gets to show his funny side, which works really well, while still doing his typical feats of strength. Speaking of feats of strength, Braun got to this point by winning a tag team battle royal by himself, and has made The Bar appear scared of him even without a partner. His “partner,” won’t exist, which is a scary proposition for WWE. Strowman could easily beat both men by himself and look like the star he’s meant to be, but if he does so it hurts The Bar considerably. Strowman pummeling people no one cares about is funny. The Bar getting hammered would be a big problem going forward. Strowman wins, but I think it’s more of a fluke or a comeback after The Bar works him over for an extended period. If this happens, WWE will force Strowman to get a partner later, The Bar will win the rematch, and Strowman will beat up his soon-to-be former partner.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: This is a tough one for me because Braun Strowman winning this match by himself would be a cool sight and give him not one, but two titles to carry to the ring. But the sacrificial lambs for this would be Sheamus and Cesaro, the best tag team in the WWE. Build Strowman up however you want, but if he beats Sheamus and Cesaro and wins the titles by himself, the tag team division might as well close up shop and disappear for good. There’s no way the best tag team in the company should lose to one person, even if that person is Steve Austin or the Rock. So, going on that premise, we need a tag team partner for Braun, and this is where we’ll actually get a nice (hopefully) surprise for WrestleMania that rivals the Hardy Boyz return last year. It probably won’t be as big a pop, but I’m hoping it’s something at least close. Who that person will be is anyone’s guess. I have no idea. I’m not sure anyone on the NXT roster would be known enough to make a big splash if they were the surprise partner. Is there someone returning from injury that could make a splash? Dean Ambrose apparently isn’t ready to return, but Big Cass might be, but he wouldn’t get the kind of pop we’re all looking for at WrestleMania. Elias has been brought up a ton, but nothing has been even hinted at that happening over the past few weeks. Samoa Joe would make the biggest splash return, but he’s a heel, so it wouldn’t make total sense. Of course, when does WWE ever make sense? Nobody is mentioning Chris Jericho, who apparently has a concert that night, but man, wouldn’t that be a moment everyone remembers? I guess the point is, who knows who’s going to team with Strowman? All I know is Strowman and somebody is going to win the titles, I just hope they don’t make a joke of Sheamus and Cesaro in the process.
Intercontinental Champion The Miz vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: This is one of the few matches on the card which could go any way. With The Miz becoming a new father in real life after his wife had the most must-see baby in WWE history, it makes sense to give him some time off. This would leave Rollins and Balor to fight over the belt for a period of time, with Miz coming back to claim the belt he never lost in a one-on-one match. It’s the easy solution, and provides the three men with an entertaining story to tell for months to come. The complicated part is determining who wins the title Sunday. It feels as though people are starting to take small shots at Balor in promos, and his reunion with his club could be signaling a heel turn because of those shots. This would lead to a Rollins-Balor feud, the one we never got to see finish two years ago, until Miz returns. I’m going to take Balor, with help from his friends, which gives the rematch with Rollins more heat. Whatever plan they go with, we should be guaranteed a few months of good matches. I’m very worried about this match, since I feel like any pick I make will be dead wrong, but I’m very excited about the trio’s future.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: My first thought was to pick the Miz to retain, allowing him to get what is a useless record in the process, longest total days in history as intercontinental champion. But Straub makes a valid and possibly mind-changing point of Miz actually getting some time off to be with his newborn daughter. It actually makes complete sense and now I’m thinking it’s what I’m going to believe as well. Thanks, Straub. That leaves the choice to Seth Rollins and Finn Balor, which could go either way. I loved Rollins as a heel, but absolutely hate him as a face. He’s actually so vanilla and beyond boring in that role it really makes me cringe. He’s not good-guy cool and has proven it time and time again during promos. He can wrestle for sure, but what does it matter when your character sucks? Finn Balor has been teetering on the edge of turning heel, only to continue to do face things in the end. Feuding with Miz helps, and Finn is always going to be cheered no matter what. If WWE still believes in Balor, and he was the first universal champion, so there was a time Vince did believe he was a big star, a title win here would be a nice jump-start for his reemergence. Rollins could stay in the picture for a bit before moving on to a possible friend vs. friend rivalry with Roman Reigns, while Balor and Miz continue to feud for the next few months over the IC title. Ultimately, hopefully, Balor is in the main title picture soon after that. But this would be a nice start for him. Whomever wins, it’s going to be a fun ride getting there. This could be the match that steals the show and really anyone winning will be totally believable and worth the investment of time and energy watching it unfold.
Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Ronda Rousey couldn’t be in a worse position, but it’s also the best position possible for her. Putting Rousey’s debut match at WrestleMania is setting her up to fail if she doesn’t look great. It will be hard for her to look great against Stephanie, who wasn’t exactly a strong worker in her younger days. At the same time, Stephanie will throw herself around for Rousey, her biggest investment in some time. This will let Rousey look strong, and Stephanie going through a table is a pretty safe bet and is why this is a good start for the former MMA legend. Rousey needs to be as strong as possible since WWE has butchered her introduction. Rousey is legitimately excited to be part of the WWE, and you can tell every time she comes to the ring and briefly turns into the 12-year old wrestling fan she once was. The problem is, for Rousey to work as a wrestler, she needs to take a page from the Brock Lesnar playbook. I know it’s an easy comparison because of their backgrounds, but Rousey should be packaged the same way as Brock. She doesn’t need an advocate, but she should be as quiet as possible, smile less, and put people in arm bars. Her finest moment so far was when she beat up Absolution. Her worst moments are when she giggles during promos and fumbles lines. Make her a dominant force which borders on uncontrollable, like she was when Angle had to beg Rousey not to break Mandy Rose’s arm on Raw, and no one cares anymore about how her UFC career ended. No one remembers Lesnar’s mixed results in UFC, they just remember he was a champion, because we see him hurting people in a WWE ring all the time. Keep booking her like this, and it could be a huge flameout for Rousey. Make her strong and she’ll be a hit. As for the guys in this match, they’re basically an excuse to keep Ronda and Stephanie out of the ring for stretches. It’s an odd thing to say about a pair of Hall of Famers (Hunter will be in someday), but it’s true in this case. Ronda wins, buying WWE time to rebuild her after a rough start.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Everything Straub wrote about Ronda Rousey is completely true, so my breakdown is going to be a little shorter than usual. I know, you’re welcome. For a prediction, I easily could see Stephanie and Triple H putting themselves over, because of course they would put themselves over. This is WrestleMania after all, and why wouldn’t these two believe they deserve to win? It could be as simple as having Triple H pin Kurt Angle. Or have Triple H deliver a pedigree to Ronda while Stephanie comes in for the pin. Possible? Well, it would continue this feud, keeping Ronda out of the ring for real for several more weeks in the process, before an ultimate payoff at SummerSlam with Ronda vs. Stephanie. And if that’s the end game, then sure, go for it. But if this is to set up Ronda for an actual beginning to her real WWE career, she’ll need a victory to send her on her way. It’s a strange predicament actually. How exactly do they treat Rousey’s climb up the ladder? If she had the title, it would be easy, just face the next challenger and dismiss them, ala Brock Lesnar. But she’s basically a rookie. So does that mean she’s going to wrestle Dana Brooke at the next PPV? We’ll get to see some of what Rousey can do in the ring Sunday and maybe that will give us all the answers we need. We all know she’s not ready on the mic, but that will all be forgotten if she can actually put together a match that won’t have everyone covering their eyes in cringe-worthy embarrassment. I’d rather see Stephanie pin Rousey, but that’s probably asking for too much, so I’ll go the easy route and pick Rousey and Angle to get the win. (Didn’t I say this would be shorter than usual?)
John Cena vs. The Undertaker
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: WWE is still insisting the match won’t happen, but we’re putting it in here since we all know it will on some level. Cena didn’t cut all those promos in recent weeks to go to WrestleMania as a fan. They’re going to fight. My prediction, and I wish I could take the credit for the original idea instead of a poster on WWE.com’s preview, is Kid Rock doing a medley of his songs to celebrate his induction into the Hall of Fame, with the last one being American Badass. This leads to Mark Calaway, wearing normal biker gear (the Undertaker retired last year after all) coming to the ring and challenging Cena to a fight. It’s not an official “match,” but they fight for awhile, and set up something for this summer. Why you would use the biggest show of the year as a springboard is beyond me, but I guess the road to the next WrestleMania has to start somewhere. Of course, nothing about the promotion of whatever this is going to be has made sense. Whatever you think of Cena’s character, and as glad as I am to see him out of title picture now that he’s an admitted part-timer, it’s insane to turn him into a loser who has to beg for a match at Mania. It doesn’t sell any tickets or T-shirts. No one wants to root for a loser. Nor do people want to root for cowards, so why book the toughest guy the company has had in years, the guy who once stood at the curtain at the behest of his company to make sure someone did a job as requested, as someone who is scared to confront Cena? Doesn’t one of your company’s stalwarts of the last 25 years deserve better? Putting his hat and gloves in the middle of the ring last year should have been the last time we saw him until he goes in the Hall of Fame. If he insists on ruining that moment fine, but don’t turn him into this. The whole idea for this has done nothing but tarnish the legacies of two of the most loyal men to work for the company in my lifetime. And for what? A street fight which has nothing on the line? This whole thing is a disgrace.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Yes, this whole thing has been a disgrace. It started out well enough, with Cena challenging Undertaker to a match and then saying it can’t happen. Then, again, specifically calling out and challenging the Undertaker to a match. That was cool. But then this whole build-up jumped the shark completely. Even worse, actually. This jumped the Cena. Yeah, it deserves it’s own catchphrase. There is no reason for Cena to call the Undertaker a coward, and other insults, for not replying to his challenge. No reason at all. Why? Because the Undertaker doesn’t owe anything to anybody. How in the world is the Undertaker a coward for not responding to John Cena when Undertaker ended his career in the greatest way possible at last year’s event? He’s freaking retired. What if Curt Hawkins challenged the Undertaker next week, should he respond? Of course not. It doesn’t change because it’s John freaking Cena, wrestling’s biggest hypocrite. It’s embarrassing and disgraceful for Cena to do what he’s been doing for the past several weeks. Especially when this is supposed to John Cena, protector of the innocent, objector to bullying. But Cena’s been bullying the Undertaker, name-calling on the big stage, in front of children. Great example there, John. It’s hypocritical to the upteenth degree and a reason most of us hate the guy in the first place. WWE deserves the blame too, but Cena doesn’t have to say what he doesn’t want to say. Needless to write, this could and should have been set up completely differently. Ever since Kid Rock was announced as a Hall of Fame member, I knew there would be a tie-in to Undertaker returning as the American Badass, as it’s really the only way for Taker to return without ruining last year’s awesome finish to a legendary career. It still tarnishes it a bit, but it's forgivable. Plus, none of us are going to complain about seeing Undertaker again, are we? I don’t believe it will be a street fight to set up another fight, as Straub predicts, however. This is going to be a match and Undertaker is going to win. Then, that’s it for the Phenom. Until next year, when Curt Hawkins calls him a coward and this whole thing starts again. Jumping the Cena.
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Just as I said before the Royal Rumble, don’t kill the messenger. I’m not the guy who booked Roman to headline WrestleMania for the fourth consecutive year. I’m not the guy who decided he should win Sunday, which he’s going to do. This year, however, it’s an easy call. Lesnar is most likely leaving, with Dana White predicting this week Lesnar will be back in an octagon soon. Even if Lesnar doesn’t leave, he has proven in recent months he can’t be trusted to continue a title reign going forward. WWE would have loved to take the belt off him sooner, but decided it would mean more if they did it at WrestleMania. I think the pair can put forth a tough, stiff match, which will be entertaining, if not pretty. Roman has to win, however. The key for Sunday is to give Roman one more shot, and Vince McMahon is hoping this one works. In his dream world, people are so happy to have the title back on a full-timer that they root for Roman, something which stunningly happened at Raw last week. WrestleMania tends to be a different crowd, however, so their reaction will be interesting, even if the easily predictable match won’t be.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Yes, this is easy. There is no reason to even harp on a prediction. Roman Reigns is going to beat Brock Lesnar and win the Universal title. And I think everyone is ready for someone to finally kick Lesnar to the curb, or more accurately, kick him back to the UFC. Nobody wants Lesnar around anymore, so we’ll all be happy when he’s finally not holding the entire show and title for ransom. Raw needs the champion on TV every week and defending at every PPV, so this is all a good thing. Well, except for the fact Reigns is going to be the beneficiary of it all. People aren’t going to like that part. But the same fans who boo the hell out of Reigns after he wins are the same who want the title off Lesnar, so it’s a good news-bad news kind of night. Things are going to be better after Reigns wins, even though nobody wants Reigns to win, no matter how hard Vince and company try to convince everyone otherwise. The only question remains is whether or not Vince decides to have Reigns winning the title as the last moment before WrestleMania goes off the air? I say no, even though it’s likely. (How about Cena-Undertaker?). Either way, this should be a fun WrestleMania and one we’ll all look back on in a favorable light when the six or seven hour journey finally ends will all of us exhausted but happy nonetheless.