We are less than three days away from the biggest wrestling event of the year and WWE’s flagship, Wrestlemania (32, but apparently Vince isn’t so keen on numbering it any more!). So, what better way to prepare than by reading my exhaustive preview? I’ll keep this intro brief for reasons that will quickly become obvious, so enjoy!
The Total Divas vs Team B.A.D & Blonde
Really odd of them to have the piss-break match on the pre-show… Look, I’m being harsh. There are actually women I like on both sides of this match-up. Paige and Natalya are arguably as solid in the ring as any of the women in the Divas title match, I’m delighted to see Emma get another shot on the main roster, and Naomi may just have shown the most improvement of anyone – male or female – currently on the main roster. But there is just way too much dead wood on this card for me to care about. And that’s BEFORE we get to Eva Marie, who might be the only person on the night to get more heat than Roman Reigns (#AllRedEverything indeed, including my eyes when I scratch them out, rather than watch her “wrestle”). As for a winner, I would plump for the Total Divas, simply because that show needs some kind of ratings boost at the moment, and it also seems increasingly likely that this may serve as Brie Bella’s swan song. I’m hoping for the opposite result though, as Team B&B has more to gain from the rub.
The Usos vs The Dudley Boyz
Speaking of dead wood, it’s been hugely disappointing to see the Dudleys job on a weekly basis to the New Day, then the Lucha Dragons and now the Usos. Should they have taken the titles from New Day, which seemed like the original plan before the New Day became the company’s most-over tag team? Probably not. But by having them job consistently since, it’s greatly diluted a heel turn that could have been super effective, especially in helping to get the Usos over again after a few months in No Man’s Land. As it is, no-one is really expecting anything other than a win for the Samoan duo, presumably propelling them back towards the tag title picture, while the Dudleys may be due a break-up.
Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal
The first Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was a big deal. Even more so when the Big Show – who seemed an absolute lock to win it – was eliminated in crowd-popping style by Cesaro. Cesaro then spent the following year languishing around the mid-card with nothing more than a tag title reign to show for such a potentially huge win. When Big Show then atoned for the previous year by winning the second Battle Royal, I was pleased, to be honest, as he finally earned his overdue recognition as the best super-heavyweight since Andre himself. However, it certainly didn’t do anything to elevate someone up the card (it initially looked like Damien Sandow might be that guy, before WWE misused him too – seeing a trend here?).
Now, just two Wrestlemanias after that huge fanfare, the Battle Royal has been reduced to pre-card fodder and a way for WWE to ensure that as many wrestlers as possible can earn themselves a Wrestlemania payday. Whilst that could be seen as a noble gesture by WWE, it leaves us with a match in which I – and many others – have ZERO investment. My hope here is that Bray Wyatt is fit enough to compete (although that entrance loses all of its mystique, when performed in daylight, surely?) and begins on the long and arduous road of convincing fans that he’s still capable of being a main event player in future. Failing that, this seems like an excuse for them to follow up last year’s golden carriage clock presentation by giving the win to Kane. Which may just be the most depressing thing I’ve ever written. Sorry, Glen.
The New Day vs The League of Nations
A match that people were struggling to get on board with now makes even less sense, what with it no longer being for the tag team titles and also a handicap match. With the New Day’s face turn now being official, it’s difficult to see anything other than a convincing win for the trio, as WWE flogs the group and its immense merchandise-shifting power for all its worth. As for the League of Nations, it’s a pretty decent group of individuals but, other than Rusev, who has arguably emerged from this stronger than he was beforehand, the group has set back the careers of every other member of the group. Remember when Sheamus was booked as a strong bullying heel, who didn’t need back-up? Remember when Wade Barrett won King of the Ring? Saddest of all, remember when Alberto Del Rio returned, beat Cena on his first night back, and was booked like a legitimate badass for all of a fortnight? Actually, THAT may be the most depressing thing I’ve ever written. You’ve had a reprieve, Glen.
Best case scenario for this match? The League of Nations beat down the New Day after the match. Who could possibly save the day and repel this evil band of foreigners? Well…
You know you want this to happen.
Kalisto (C) vs Ryback – United States Championship match
Look, I don’t hate Ryback. I just don’t. At a time when WWE fans are complaining more than ever about the supposed entitlement of certain talent on the main roster, Ryan Reeves works his ass off to keep his spot on the card and – whether you want to believe it or not – has shown actual signs of improvement in the ring over the last 18 months. And, in Kalisto, he has an opponent who is willing to take exactly the kind of crazy bumps needed to get him over as a monster. The problem with this feud is that it’s difficult to ascertain exactly what they’re doing with Ryback. It appears that we’re supposed to see him as a heel but, other than his whole “small guys like you will never beat big guys like me” thread of promos, we don’t get any other kind of notion of that. Have we seen him attack Kalisto? No. Have we seen him attack Sin Cara? No. It seems like WWE might be hedging its bets and waiting to see the kind of reaction he gets on Sunday. Either way, I reckon we see a new champ on Sunday.
Kevin Owens (C) vs Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Zack Ryder, Sin Cara, The Miz and Stardust – Intercontinental Championship ladder match
There can, and should, be only one winner of this match. Kevin Owens is the single best thing on the WWE roster right now and should be positioned going forward as one of WWE’s three biggest heels (we’ll come to the biggest later). Many people were clamouring for a straight one-on-one match between Owens and Zayn. Understandable, especially for the more knowledgeable fans, but WWE has to cater to the mainstream, and the mainstream doesn’t know about the history between the two men, so I have no problem with a multi-man match, especially a ladder match that is sure to produce some highlight moments. Where I do have a problem is with the number of participants. For their work over the last six weeks, I think Ziggler and the Miz deserve to be there. They’ve both played their part in decent matches with both Owens and Zayn recently. The addition of Ryder, Stardust and Sin Cara makes absolutely no sense to me, and does little to shake the aforementioned theory that WWE is looking to make sure everyone gets a big payday. Still, we’ll get some decent spots out of this at the very least. But if Owens doesn’t walk out still the IC champion, then someone done f***ed up.
Chris Jericho vs AJ Styles
It hasn’t been brilliantly booked. It shouldn’t be the fourth match between these two. However, none of that matters, because Jericho and Styles undoubtedly have the ability to steal the show. The first three matches have been solid without being outstanding, but I believe they’ve been holding something back. Jericho can still go as well as anyone in the ring, and his heel turn has been carried out well (even if his insults have essentially been boiled down to variations on the words “stupid” and “ass”). Styles remains one of the most gifted in-ring performers of his generation and WWE has done a good job of showing his ability, whilst also keeping his mic work to the bare essentials. All in all, this adds up to a fun twenty minutes which might end up appearing on many future “underrated Mania classics” lists. Styles to take this one and move into his first midcard title feud, be it US or Intercontinental.
Charlotte (C) vs Becky Lynch vs Sasha Banks – Divas Championship triple-threat match
If Jericho and Styles don’t steal the show, then this match will. It’s taken a while, but the Divas Revolution finally has its watershed moment (literally, if the rumours about the rebranding prove to be true) as three of the four Horsewomen finally get to show the world what they’re capable of. Like the IC Title scene, many hoped for a one-on-one match-up between Charlotte and Sasha, but I’m personally delighted to see Becky being rewarded for a pretty stellar opening year on the main roster (also – and whisper it quietly – she might just be the best wrestler of the three). However, this likely eventually breaks down to Charlotte vs Sasha, and here’s why I have concerns. You see, after a rocky start, Charlotte has quickly become a pretty outstanding heel (who no longer needs her father, but that’s a conversation for a different time). The problem is that Sasha Banks could – no word of a lie – be one of WWE’s top heels. Not just in the women’s division, but in the entire company. But, at this precise moment, she’s essentially being booked as a face, which has led to more muted crowd reactions than she might otherwise have garnered. To get the best out of Sasha Banks as champion, you have to turn her heel. To turn Sasha heel, you have to give her a face to work with. And I think that’s precisely what they’ll do. Sasha wins the title and heads onto Monday Night RAW as champion. But no ordinary face will do. You put Sasha against Becky or Paige or Natalya, and Sasha still gets cheered. Therefore you need a mega face. A face who may have been tearing it up in NXT for the last year or so. A face who may no longer be NXT Champion after Friday night. You need the fourth Horsewoman. You need Sasha vs Bayley. And it will be glorious.
Brock Lesnar vs Dean Ambrose – No Holds Barred Street Fight
What I’m about to say will be seen as sacrilege to many, but here goes: Brock Lesnar needs to go. Not permanently, of course. The fact that he allegedly still has two years on his contract will see to that. But there is no longer any mystique around him. This is partly down to overexposure. His title reign worked so well, because he only showed up when he had to, giving each match that fabled “big fight feel”. However, it’s also partly down to Lesnar himself. His matches have literally devolved into two moves – the German suplex and the F5. It was fun as hell to see him dole out sixteen Germans to Cena. A year and a half down the line, it’s not fun any more.
So thank the Lord for Dean Ambrose and a trolley-load of weapons. By pitting Lesnar against a much smaller man with a penchant for unorthodoxy, WWE has finally put him into a situation that interests me. Add in the fact that I expect this to be the match that will finally put Dean Ambrose into that elite super-stardom tier, and this might just be the most interesting match on the card. As for a result, Lesnar goes over a valiant Ambrose, who gains Lesnar’s respect along the way, ending with a “you done good, kid” from Lesnar and Heyman. Lesnar disappears for a couple of months to regain his mythic stature, and Ambrose heads towards a pretty inevitable and sustained main event run. Everyone’s a winner.
The Undertaker vs Shane McMahon – Hell In a Cell
If Lesnar/Ambrose is the night’s most interesting match from a opponent dynamic perspective, then there’s no doubt that this is the night’s most intriguing match from a storyline point of view. Could they actually do it? Could they actually retire Undertaker? In his signature match? At his event? In his home f***ing state??? The very notion is insane and, yet, if anyone is crazy enough to do it, it’s Vince. And, make no mistake, this would be Vince’s call, because Mark Callaway – as the ultimate company man – has always seemed willing to do what’s best for business and, of course, he’s not getting any younger.
But still…he can’t really retire with his two Wrestlemania losses having come at the hands of Brock Lesnar and…Shane McMahon…
There are so many subplots at play here – will Taker retire, is Shane back in a purely performing role, should this match actually go on last, will we get a clean finish, who gets involved – that it’s almost impossible to get an accurate read on it. Whatever way this eventually plays out (for what it’s worth, I refuse to let go of the notion that Steve Austin gives Taker the Stunner and Shane the win to make up for the end of Wrestlemania 17…it’ll happen, damn it!), it’s been a fascinating build. Here’s hoping we get a finish befitting the intrigue.
Triple H (C) vs Roman Reigns – WWE World Heavyweight Championship match
It’s difficult to see how this ends well for either man, outside of a double turn. If Reigns wins as a face, we may just have the worst crowd reaction to any match in WWE history. If HHH wins in any fashion, he’ll get a decent crowd reaction, but the IWC will rage at him for bringing out the golden shovel to bury a younger star and stroke his own ego.
It’s a shame, really, because I favour that this is going to be the most underrated match of the night. Trips is arguably in the best form of his career at the age of 46, and Reigns – for all his other problems – has genuine in-ring talent and that all-important marketable look. A Reigns win is the right decision. He’s 30 years old, has years left on his career and room for growth, and has shown himself to have broad enough shoulders to carry the company AND put up with the abuse he gets in every single arena.
Now is the time for WWE to capitalise on the heat and make the switch. And it’s so easy to do. Have him win clean, but then have him beat down HHH and shove Steph (I know intergender violence is frowned upon in WWE these days with good reason, but this is one shove and Steph’s a tough cookie). Then, to top it off, you send out The Rock to remonstrate with him and BOOM – Superman punch and Spear to his own uncle. Double turn achieved and your new face megastar, Dean Ambrose, has a heel champion to feud with.
So, there we have it. A preview almost as long as Wrestlemania itself. And I didn’t even touch on NXT Takeover: Dallas, which may have the best card of any WWE event in recent memory! What are your own thoughts? Hit us up in the comments or get me on Twitter (@PsychTyson).