WrestleMania. The time of year when it feels that all eyeballs are on the WWE and the wrestling world. Seldom nowadays is it the best card of the year for us hardcore fans but there is no doubt at all that it’s the biggest occasion. WWE have done an incredible job over the last decade of elevating WrestleMania from simply being their biggest event of their to being something much bigger. Nowadays WrestleMania is like a festival of wrestling. WWE fills the weekend with events and activities such as NXT Takeover, the Hall Of Fame Ceremony and WWE Axcess. Hell, even the Raw After Mania has become a marketing brand in itself. Outside of WWE, independent companies from around the world come to town to capitalise on the tens of thousands of fans flying in for the big show. This year even sees companies like Progress, Rev Pro and WCPW flying the flag for UK companies – it truly is amazing to see every wrestler of any note in one city to be part of the occasion.
In mainstream terms, WWE are no longer content with marketing WrestleMania to their fanbase. Nowadays it is incredible to see WWE seep out in to mainstream consciousness, even for a weekend. Every media outlet in the western world seems to touch on the WrestleMania. It still amazes me when I see articles on the BBC website celebrating WWE. Unthinkable even five years ago.
Anyone reading this though doesn’t need an article such as ‘The Top 10 Reasons You Should Watch WrestleMania’. We are all going to be watching along whether we like the card or not. Will you be in the stadium in Orlando? Sitting at home with the WWE Network on your big screen? Or will you be among the cool kids and enjoying WrestleMania with hundreds of fellow fans at one of the Hooked On parties in London, Leeds, Brighton, Liverpool, Cardiff, Manchester, Nottingham or Birmingham? If not, if they haven’t sold out when you read this you might still be able to get yours from www.ringsideworld.co.uk .
As the first blog article on our new website we wanted to put together our thoughts on the WrestleMania card. Let’s call a spade a spade. There have been better events on paper. It’s not by any stretch looking like a bad event but I think we all would have done things slightly differently. That said, there truly is some gold in there. Some that will provide spectacle, some that will showcase ‘sports-entertainment’ at it’s finest and some that will be flat out damn good wrestling matches.
So with that in mind, here’s our breakdown of the card and our predictions for who will be walking out of WrestleMania with ‘the winner’s share of the purse’ (Thanks Gorilla Monsoon)
WWE Universal Title Match: Goldberg (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
Let’s start with a wager: Is this one going over or under five minutes? One thing we can be quite sure on is that this will be the shortest world title match at WrestleMania since Sheamus inadvertently catapulted Daniel Bryan in to superstardom.
If you would have told me after WrestleMania 32 that Bill Goldberg would be walking in to this weekend with WWE gold strapped round his waist I would have had you sectioned. But here we are. What started as a quick shot to build up a video game has mushroomed into a well-received and hugely successful return to WWE for Goldberg. The fans have embraced Goldberg on his return and quite quickly that one match became the run that was due to culminate this weekend against Lesnar. Make no mistake, the short interactions at previous shows have been done purposely to not give away the real match that we will get at Mania. It’s classic booking. Make no mistake, we are not getting 25 minutes of catch as catch can here but what we are going to get is a ‘proper match’ where Goldberg will likely finally take those bumps that he hasn’t needed to do yet. The question is, can he withstand the genuinely high impact, hard-hitting style of Brock Lesnar. It’s genuinely intriguing.
What can we expect from this match? A great atmosphere. Although Lesnar’s aura has undoubtedly cooled, he still garners a great reaction from the crowds. As does Goldberg. Despite a smattering of boos since he won the title, he still has the vast majority of fans on his side who are still enjoying the chance to be part of the Goldberg experience. We are certainly not getting a repeat of the poisonous crowd we saw last time these two met on this stage at WrestleMania 20.
Will it be a great match from a technical standpoint? Oh heck no. it will be hard hitting and short and expect Lesnar to walk out with the red belt around his waist. We have a choice with this one folks. It’s an attraction. We can either poo poo the simplistic nature of the match or we can enjoy the spectacle. I’ll be in the latter camp and I hope we get the ‘Goldberg, Goldberg, Goldberg chants’ at out party.
WWE Championship Match: Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Randy Orton
Another world championship match, another match where I have conflicting feelings. I’ve loved the Wyatt/Orton dynamic since they surprisingly began teaming last year. Clearly it was temporary and leading to a showdown but my god it worked, breathing new life in to both guys on Smackdown. When Orton won the Royal Rumble, a WrestleMania title match felt nailed on, and as it proved when Bray Wyatt won the belt at Elimination Chamber. All was set for a great build into the split and the Mania match and it began as such, bringing Luke Harper in to the story on the way in a hugely successful way.
Then Randy Orton burnt down Wyatt’s compound and the wheels came off entirely.
Who are we rooting for? Who’s the babyface? Who’s the dastardly heel here? I genuinely don’t know and neither do the audience and that has really dampened down the hype for this one because the audience is confused.
It’s going to be a spectacle, of that there is no doubt. It will also likely be a hard hitting, well worked match, Each of these men have a grasp of ring psychology that comes from growing up in the business and we will possibly see involvement from Luke Harper and a returning Erick Rowan. Ultimately though, they are going to need to tell a damn good story to bring the crowd back in to it. The first 5 minutes are critical.
Who will win? Randy Orton I suspect. The thought of The Viper in a title programme with AJ Styles is mouth-watering.
Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns
Let’s get this out of the way first. Roman Reigns is a damned good big match performer. Feel free to knock the booking and resent how he is pushed down our throats (Which he undoubtedly is), but do not knock this man’s talent to deliver on the biggest stage. This year he has been given the honour of wrestling the centerpiece of WrestleMania in The Deadman and if you believe rumours they will be closing the show – the third year in a row that Reigns will have done so.
This match is a logical piece of booking when you look at the long term. Rightly or wrongly, WWE want Reigns to be their top star going forward and therefore pairing him with ‘Taker (Rather than Cena which I and many others clamored for) makes all the sense in the world. Reigns has an opportunity to do here what only one man has done before and that is defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania. But should he?
Yes, he should. But only if it is done right. Let’s face it, Taker is not the force he once was. The man has given his all to the wrestling business and now it’s starting to show in his work and wellbeing. It truly is amazing that it’s taken this long. The scuttlebutt says that this could well be Undertaker’s last WrestleMania and if so, he really needs to go out on his Shield (outdated pun intended) and give Reigns the win. However, this could easily be counter productive. If Reigns wins a competitive match and walks out after a handshake or a hug with Taker, the crowd are going to absolutely crap on proceedings. This helps nobody. If however WWE uses this moment as a way to give Reigns the heel turn then we are off to the races. It is so, so obvious that the way to accomplish their goal of bringing the fans in to Reigns is to give him a short heel run. It will work incredibly well as it’s so natural. If they do that here, Reigns can turn back when the fans are dying to cheer him (And they will), and when that happens they will have a fresh, elevated, rehabilitated main event act on their hands that crucially will have EARNED the fans support.
Come on WWE, don’t waste this golden opportunity. Make it happen for everyone’s sake.
AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon
Yet again we come to a match that has frustrated many fans with the booking. There is a pattern here. Whilst many fans wanted to see the best wrestler in the world (Sorry Shane but I’m talking about Styles) in a match that would give him a chance to match the spectacle of the Okada vs. Kenny Omega classic promoted by NJPW in January. This match will not allow for that to happen. What it does though is give Styles a chance to be spotlighted in a clear main event match which will have a memorable impact. Shane McMahon is a key player in WWE. All one needs to do is look at the pop on his return last year and see how he spiked WrestleMania ticket sales for evidence of that. A match with the younger McMahon man is a clear endorsement of the exceptional work AJ has done in WWE since joining at the start of 2016. It bodes extremely well for his future prospects and my advice for Styles fans is to enjoy this match, safe in the knowledge that it paves the way for even bigger and better moments for the Phenomenal One. Shane is no slouch even in his 40s and AJ will be desperate to drag something great out of him and you know what? I think he will. This is unquestionably my sleeper choice for match of the night. Do not underestimate what these guys will do together.
As for a winner. It has to be Styles. Shane is 100% expendable and has never been a man that needs his ego stroking with big victories. He will know that the value going forward is in Styles winning and that will happen. I can’t wait for this match.
Seth Rollins vs. HHH
In my view, the best booked match at WrestleMania. Pretty much pitch perfect to get us to a point where many are desperate to see this match and it could well steal the show. It has also been successful in rehabilitating Rollins as a babyface. Something that was well needed after a mediocre run for him so far. This match is likely to be in a similar vein (Although not as epic) as HHH vs. Shawn Michaels at Summerslam 2002. Rollins real life injury has actually been a blessing for this feud and gives them another dramatic wrinkle to play with. Who’s going to win? Hard to say actually. Rollins probably should but this story likely isn’t over. There are rumours of a HHH led faction forming after this show and will one of the guys pegged in that group (his name rhymes with A Rower Toe) get involved here? Bank on it. Like Shane/AJ on Smackdown, this Indy darling vs. McMahon family member has the chance to blow away everything else presented by their respective brand on the night.
John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse
I don’t care what people say about this, I am bloody loving this feud and actually cant wait for this match. For many reasons. Firstly, the build has been great. Both men have been on fire on the microphone. They’ve been going down the well-worn ‘shoot’ road but in the best possible way. The barbs they’ve thrown have really raised the stakes in the feud and got the atmosphere up to boiling point. It’s going to be pure soap opera (Hell, most of us are expecting Cena to get down on one knee at the end!) but it’s going to be fun and hopefully, Miz’s exceptional work as a heel and level of loathing from the audience will result in Cena finally and deservedly hearing a cheering crowd at Mania. As fun as it is to boo Cena (Because nobody really means it nowadays, surely?), it would be so fitting for him to get that massive ovation that he has earned over the years. Let’s hope it happens. Surely Cena/Bella winning is the lock of the night? I can’t see any scenario where them losing serves any purpose.
Raw Women’s Championship Match: Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax
This has big boots to fill after the greatness of last year’s multi-women title match. This writer has to confess about having somewhat of a sulk on with this match. I was so adamant that Charlotte would be champion walking in to this event that I allowed my graphic designer (Big up, the talented Sam Ibrahim) to break my rule of not using images with title belts on for our poster for the Brighton party. Annoying! That aside, why did they spoil Charlotte’s well-built streak right before Mania? The title hot potato of last year was frustrating but ultimately did well in serving this image of Charlotte being unbeatable on PPV. Now, it’s for naught and we have a fairly aimless multi-women match here. Who wins? I’m going with Sasha Banks who will head in to a heel turn and feud with Bayley. I wouldn’t put the mortgage on that but that’s where I would take it.
Smackdown Women’s Title Match – Alexa Bliss (c) vs. The World
I love Alexa Bliss. Just love her. For me she is right up there with The Miz and Braun Strowman in the most improved stakes this year. She has got a big future and plays her character so, so well. That said, I don’t see her walking out with the belt here. Naomi is the hometown girl and the temptation to give her that Orlando title win will be too tempting to pass on. She’s winning. Will we see appearances from some former stars? It’s been rumoured and they’re all in town so let’s see.
US Title Match: Chris Jericho (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Team Friendship explodes! Whilst Rollins/HHH has been the best-built match on this card, this one runs it mighty close. The Festival Of Friendship was probably my favourite segment on Raw in 5 years. We are chomping at the bit to see this match aren’t we? Two guys who have clearly steered the ship towards this match will not disappoint on the big show. It’s going to be an exciting, passion filled match that I suspect will be full of suspense for the 15 minutes or so it gets. Expect the return of the more vicious Kevin Owens on the way to him taking that title off of his former best friend. It’s not a happy ending but it’s the right one. Jericho has been absolutely stellar all year and he knows this feud has to end with Owens looking like a true star. And he will. Can’t wait for this one.
Intercontinental Title Match: Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Baron Corbin
This is one match that really, suffers from being on this card. These guys have done really well in building up a good rivalry but ultimately it could never have been enough to crack the top of a card this stacked. It’s a shame and the hope is that they put in a good show here on the undercard and get more of the spotlight that they deserve on Smackdown’s next PPV.
It’s Corbin’s time presumably. All signs are pointing to it and the next step for him is title gold. He deserves it too. He’s had a good year and will make a good heel champion. And could we see this as the next step in a blossoming Wrestlemania streak for Corbin? Maybe. You heard it here first….
Raw Tag Team Title Ladder Match: The Club (c) vs. Enzo and Cass vs. Sheamus and Cesaro
This one is going to be our opener. Very little doubt in my mind. Enzo and Cass are becoming masters of hot PPV openings and the ladder match has also opened the show the last two years. This one seems nailed on. As far as triangle tag team ladder matches at Wrestlemania go, this has massive boots to fill and on paper, it cannot do that. The talent level just isn’t there. If we don’t get any surprises in this one then I would like to see Cesaro and Sheamus take back the belts as I am a sucker for an arse kicking face tag team. I would suspect Enzo and Cass would get the nod though which will be fine and all but crowds are starting to see through their act a bit. Are they more than just an entrance? Time will tell.
Could we see any surprises in this match? Who knows. I wouldn’t want to get your hopes up too much though. There is nothing worse than BROKEN promises….
Cruiserweight Title Match: Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries
What a shame this is on the pre-show. This feud, these two guys deserve the Mania spotlight and 12 minutes to wow the crowd. Instead they are likely to get 10 tops and still could well steal the show. Austin Aries is, well….Austin Aries. His moniker of The Greatest Man That Ever Lived isn’t that over the top. Neville has been a revelation since his heel turn and these two (With Tozawa and Gallagher in support) have breathed life into the 205 Live brand that in my eyes was dead on arrival. No longer. I seriously cannot wait to see this match and I am not alone. Who wins? Who cares, really. Either outcome will be satisfying. I hold both men in very high regard and both have bright futures.
Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal
On first look this match seemed quite jobberific. Looking closely though, there is some real talent in here and intriguing possible winners. It’s a shame American Alpha, Sami Zayn and Braun Strowman haven’t had higher profile showcase matches but it is what it is and let’s hope they make the best of it. It’s also been announced that Killian Dain (Big Damo and Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero) will also enter which will please a section of the audience.
The smart money is surely on Strowman to win and it’s the right choice. With a gun to my head that would be my comfortable prediction. However, if you like a flutter, my cheeky tip would be Tian Bing. His odds are long and rightly so but it’s worth remembering just how important cracking China is to WWE. It’s an enormous market awash with money and consuming more and more Western Media. WrestleMania will be the first ever WWE PPV aired live in China and what better way to make real waves in the country than have Bing take the win here. From a business point of view it would be massive and with my experience in international broadcasting coming in to play, I could completely see the logic in putting this scenario in place. So in a nutshell, Strowman is my favourite but Bing is my ‘I’m so smug because I look so smart with this prediction’ choice. If he is the second man eliminated then please forget I said anything!