Wrestlemania 34: Preview

Well, it took longer than usual, but we finally have an (almost) set card for Wrestlemania. And, despite the reservations that come with pretty much every WWE pay-per-view these days, it’s now looking like a pretty stacked card. Let’s take a look at what we potentially have in store.

Kickoff Pre-show: Finals of the WWE Cruiserweight Title Tournament
Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali

Kickoff Pre-show: Inaugural WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal
Mickie James, Bayley, Naomi, Becky Lynch, Liv Morgan, Sarah Logan, Ruby Riott, Lana, Natalya, Sasha Banks, Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville, TBA

Kickoff Pre-show: Fifth Annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Scott Dawson, Dash Wilder, Baron Corbin, Tye Dillinger, Mojo Rawley, Matt Hardy, Dolph Ziggler, Tyler Breeze, Fandango, TBA

Don’t want to go too in-depth on the kickoff show matches – there’s a lot to get through on the main card – but, for what it’s worth, I expect Mustafa Ali to win the Cruiserweight Title and Cedric Alexander to turn heel. I expect Becky Lynch to be rewarded for her continued stellar efforts with an inaugural Women’s Battle Royal win. And, lastly, look out for a returning Bray Wyatt to win the Andre Battle Royal. Failing that, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a debuting Adam Cole pick up the win, if only for the cheap pop.

Fatal 4 Way for the WWE United States Title
Rusev vs. Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Randy Orton (C)

There’s plenty to criticise WWE for, when it comes to its long-term booking, but Creative’s ability to book on the fly has always been pretty impressive, and the decision to add the insanely-over Rusev to what was looking very much like a piss-break match is another example of that. Orton, by and large, tends to deliver on the big stage, but the problems come from elsewhere. Roode’s main roster run so far has been pretty poor, exposing him as a poor face with excellent entrance music. And, as much as I personally like Mahal as a heel, I accept that he attracts X-Pac heat in a way that actively turns many people off. The decision to add Rusev has made lemonade from lemons, immediately revitalising hype around this match, and I expect this hype to extend to the result – Rusev becomes your new United States champion and likely heads straight into a feud with a newly-turned heel Roode.

Triple Threat for the WWE Intercontinental Title
Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor vs. The Miz (C)

It’s difficult to imagine that this could be much better than Monday night’s outstanding bout between Rollins and Balor – arguably the best TV match of the year so far – but the addition of The Miz gives it a very different dynamic, adding a sense of uncertainty (the good kind) to the match. The Miz may not quite be at the in-ring performance level of his opponents, but his charisma is unmatched and his presence means that you’re always wondering if he’ll grab a pair of trunks or steal someone else’s pin. Rollins has been Raw’s MVP for well over a month now, starting off with his outstanding hour-long performance in the Gauntlet match, and it’s clear that the higher-ups rate him extremely highly, but it just feels like Balor’s time. He’s been playing catch-up ever since having to relinquish the Universal Title and, after an underwhelming few months of midcard water treading, has had a fantastic six months, which I expect to be topped off with him standing tall with the IC belt raised high.

Raw Tag Team Title Match
Braun Strowman and a partner vs. Cesaro and Sheamus (C)

WWE finds itself in a real Catch-22 situation at the moment with the Monster Among Men. They have to keep him away from the main event scene, because he’d immediately be the most over competitor, undoing some surprisingly successful work in finally getting Roman over. At the same time, they’re in danger of ruining the legitimacy of any future main event run with this bizarre comedy booking. As much as I chuckled at Braun introducing his brother “Brains”, it just doesn’t fit long-term. By booking the tag title match in the way they have, they also risk making his mystery partner the focal point, when it really should be him. Regardless, Braun and partner should walk away from Mania as the new tag team champions – the division has become stale under the reign of Sheamus and Cesaro (through no fault of their own, I might add), and new fresh champions might just serve as the shot in the arm it needs. And I still think Neville will be that mystery partner.

Triple Threat for the SmackDown Tag Team Titles
The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers vs. The Usos (C)

Call it fatigue, but I find it difficult to get hyped for this match, despite many of its participants being great. The Usos are a top-five-in-the-world tag team (that’s right, you read it), Big E is still one of the best big men in the company, and Luke Harper one of its most underrated. Yet, the addition of the Bludgeon Brothers doesn’t change the fact that we’ve been watching the Usos vs the New Day for a long time now. In fact, we’ve seen it so often in recent PPVs that I find myself openly pulling for Harper and Rowan to walk away with the belts, just so we can get some different match-ups. Nevertheless, I expect the match itself to be solid and decent filler material that will hopefully keep the crowd engaged.

Raw Women’s Title Match
Nia Jax vs. Alexa Bliss (C)

Firstly, let me say that Nia has improved tremendously in recent months – both in-ring and out – and this has been a surprisingly intersting feud (even though some of the comments about Nia’s weight are depressingly familiar for anyone who’s watched the product over the last 10-15 years and really should have been eradicated by now), despite its condensed form. I just don’t think the crowd is yet behind her enough to make her champion. Alexa Bliss, on the other hand, has had a superb 12 months, establishing herself as THE outstanding performer on the Raw roster and surprisingly surpassing the likes of Sasha Banks and Bayley to become the face of the Women’s division. Hopefully, they keep Mickie James out of the picture, and we get a genuine one-on-one match between the two. Alexa should, and likely will, retain, but keep an eye out for a possible Carmella cash-in, because there is absolutely no way that she cashes in on either Charlotte or Asuka.

SmackDown Women’s Title Match
Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair (C)

Speaking of which, could this be the best WWE women’s match of all-time? Very possibly. I mean…it’ll have to go some to beat Sasha vs Bayley in NXT, but if any two women on the roster can do it, it’ll be the Queen and the Empress. While the booking has been extremely scattergun in nature, starting with the Rousey intervention and then taking several weeks to confirm Asuka’s choice, I’ve actually been alright with them keeping both apart – when you don’t have an emotional feud, where pull-apart brawls make sense, then I think it makes sense to build the anticipation around what a fight between the two would look like, much like they do in boxing or the UFC. As such, it allows us to speculate – can Charlotte counter Asuka’s strikes? Can Asuka combat Charlotte’s length to get close enough to try for submissions? It’s a fascinating match-up, and one that I expect will eventually see a second Japanese world champion of the night crowned.

Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Undoubtedly the most intriguing match of the night, mostly down to the in-ring return of Daniel Bryan, but also because of the possibilities. Rumours persist about a possible heel turn for either Bryan or McMahon. Of course, should the Smackdown authorities snare the win, this may lead to Owens and Zayn defecting which, admittedly, would lead to a ‘rich getting richer’ situation for Raw and leave SmackDown without two of its most talented roster members. Either way, this match is going to be worth watching, if only for the huge pop Bryan is going to get as he “YES”es his way to the ring. However, look out for KO to be the MVP of this one – it’s been well documented that Vince was extremely disappointed with the Owens/Jericho match from last year, and Owens definitely seems the type to want to make up for that. Besides, a stellar showing could see Owens and/or Zayn back in the championship picture, where they rightfully belong.

Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

The one match on the card that could use some overbooked bullshit to make it interesting is probably the one match on the card that won’t get said overbooking, as WWE tries to prove that Rousey can hang in a wrestling ring. As such, don’t expect much from this one. What we’ll probably see is a lot of stalling, Stephanie and HHH playing to the crowd, and the two men in the ring for much of the match. And considering one of those men is a shadow of his former self, then it’s going to fall on HHH to carry the load. Thankfully, he can still go in the ring, but as a showcase for their big free agent signing, this isn’t a great look. Let’s all just hope that the ego of those in charge, as well as a fundamental misreading of how over Rousey is, doesn’t lead to this being the main event.

WWE Universal Title Match
Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar (C)

The easiest prediction of all-time, this one. With Brock making kissy faces in the Dana White’s direction, Vince’s continued push to get Roman fully over, and no Money In The Bank cash-in looming over proceedings, Roman finally and deservedly gets his clean win over the Beast. The only uncertainty here surrounds Lesnar and whether or not he’ll intentionally shit the bed like he did the first time he left in a dreadful match at Wrestlemania XX with the also-departing Goldberg. He’s been half-assing it (at best) for most of this title run and, with Roman not yet able to carry matches at an elite level, this could lead to a pretty terrible match, especially if it main-events. One can only hope that Lesnar can be convinced to go out in a blaze of glory.

WWE Title Match
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles (C)

Barring disaster, this will be the match of the night and, very possibly, WWE match of the year. Whilst the early months of Nakamura’s main roster run could be seen as being somewhat underwhelming – bout with Cena aside, of course – we know how well he works with the best wrestlers in the world and, in AJ Styles, he might be standing across the ring from THE best all-round wrestler in the world. Of course, anyone with even a passing interest in wrestling outside the confines of WWE will know that these two men have already put on an outstanding match in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Whilst it’s unlikely that we’ll see anything quite as hard-hitting here (it’s WWE, after all), what we’ll likely get is a 4.5-star match that will keep the crowd engaged from bell to bell and WWE’s first-ever Japanese world champion – a day many thought would never come.

John Cena vs. The Undertaker (maybe)

Let it be known, here and now, that I do NOT want this match to happen. People may not have agreed with Roman going over Taker last year, but the retirement moment – Taker leaving his hat, gloves and coat in the ring – was a pretty perfect ending to a fantastic career. Therefore, the thought of him coming back at least five years past his prime to fight Cena fills me with dread. Having said that, this IS going to happen. There is absolutely no way whatsoever that WWE will have allowed Cena to essentially shit on Taker’s legacy for the last four weeks, only to then shit on it further by not having him show up to answer the call. Will he show up as the Deadman? Will he show up as the American Badass? Will he show up as Mean Mark? Regardless, if this ends up as an official match, then he has to be given the win. Cena doesn’t benefit in any way from a win, while Taker FINALLY gets to ride off into the sunset for some long-overdue and well-deserved rest. Don’t be surprised to see this as the main event.

In summary, I don’t understand the apathy around this show. It features several show-stealing match-ups with the potential for shenanigans and will probably create some new storylines and feuds to sustain through the spring and summer months. If you haven’t signed up for the Network before, I would absolutely recommend taking advantage of the free trial. After all, even the worst Wrestlemania is still pretty good these days.