WrestleMania XXXIII is approaching this Sunday and the matches on the card have been set. Unfortunately the maneuvering of talent to set up these clashes has been largely predictable and none of the match-ups are inspiring sections of the WWE Universe. Just look at Bayley’s promo from this week’s RAW. When asked who was excited for Wrestlemania, the WWE Universe gave what can be best described as a muted response. Similarly on SmackdownLive it took a few seconds for the yes chant to get going and even then it was hardly rapturous. It is an event being promoted as ‘The Ultimate Thrill Ride”. But yet none of the matches are thrilling on paper. By analysing the card I shall explain why each contest is failing spectacularly to generate my personal interest in the ‘show of shows’ this year.
Goldberg (c) v Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship
Where to start with this one. So back in November Goldberg returned to the ring to take on Brock Lesnar one more time. Fantasy warfare became reality. Unfortunately all the hype was misplaced as Goldberg squashed Brock in 1 minute 26 seconds. Although rumored to be a decision made by necessity due to an injury in the build up, it made Brock look terrible. This was accentuated in the Royal Rumble when Goldberg eliminated Lesnar with ease. So after losing two recent encounters, plus the Wrestlemania XX bout, it made little sense for Brock to issue another challenge. Even then he’d still be unable to overturn the current 2-0 scoreline in singles matches. Acknowledging this flaw the only strategy was to put the top RAW title up for grabs, taking it from an unfortunate Kevin Owens, in a desperate attempt to make fans care about this match. The only logical outcome is that Lesnar will win as you cannot see Goldberg having a continued title run after ‘Mania. Goldberg even posted a cryptic message on his instagram that suggested this match will be his last. How the contest will work in the context of the recent squash jobs is anyone’s guess. On RAW this week Goldberg again crushed Lesnar with a spear. But yet we all expect Lesnar to defy logic and win. A victory for either man is likely to be met with total ambivalence from the capacity crowd. Speaking of crowd reaction…
The Undertaker v Roman Reigns
If Roman Reigns was to win this match then the whole of Orlando might very well riot. Now whilst few question Reigns’ abilities many are irritated by the way he is presented to the audience. Personally the overuse of the Superman punch is what really winds me up. He is so often portrayed as the man who can overcome all obstacles, even in failure. Most recently it was his defeat of the colossal Braun Strowman on Pay Per View that emphasized this point. Strowman himself was very respectful in his backtracking out of the ring when faced with the Undertaker. Reigns did the opposite and if he was to win at ‘Mania he will get booed out of the stadium. Think Hogan turning heel levels of animosity. Although two victories have followed since the streak was broken, Undertaker’s continuing Wrestlemania run must be drawing to an end as his advancing years are obvious. With fewer and fewer appearances the selection of Roman Reigns as an opponent feels like a missed opportunity. Sadly the alternatives are few and far between. The dream match with Sting for instance has gone, we are not likely to see that now due to injury. In that context at least Undertaker is still on the card. Similarly at least Reigns isn’t entering the event as the Royal Rumble winner…
Bray Wyatt (c) v Randy Orton for the WWE Championship
The title of Royal Rumble winner goes to Randy Orton. It was a strange selection back in January but one the WWE Universe were mercifully content with when given the prospect of another Roman Reigns victory. At the Rumble event John Cena won a historic 16th world championship. The lineup of Orton v Cena yet again made everyone wince. So rather predictably Cena dropped the strap in the Elimination Chamber, making his fortnight reign as champ utterly pointless. It was equally apparent that Bray Wyatt was going to pick up the win in the Chamber given his long running storyline with Orton to set up a clash at the top show. The inevitable was prolonged further with Orton’s Rumble triumph being made redundant when he had to face AJ Styles to confirm who would battle Wyatt. When Orton aligned himself with Wyatt and Harper I didn’t buy it. Putting his hood up didn’t speak to me of Randy fully embracing the ways of Wyatt. Perhaps he should’ve tried growing a beard? So when the turn came, although very well done, it didn’t come as a surprise. Whilst the match will no doubt be solid, the hope is that a Bray Wyatt win will cement his spot at the top of the SmackdownLive brand. An Orton win won’t really achieve much. Both top titles have been snatched from those who have held it for the longest over the past 12 months to create these Wrestlemania matches. Of the two AJ Styles probably has the most to feel perturbed about…
Shane McMahon v AJ Styles
In defeat at the Royal Rumble AJ Styles and the victor John Cena but on a superb match all delivered within the ropes. Given that Cena would drop the belt a mere two weeks later Styles could’ve easily done that job. Having held the title since September Styles deserved better than a loss for the token gesture of giving Cena a record 16th win. Now he goes into Wrestlemania, having delivered a great match with Chris Jericho the year before, with a performer who is not even close to being a part timer in the ring. Make no mistake about it Shane O’Mac is no wrestler and certainly nowhere near the calibre of AJ Styles at the top of his game. I am really surprised that given the brutal attack that triggered the match and Shane’s announce table elbow, that a No DQ stipulation was not added. This was even pointed out on the SmackdownLive opening segment. Ultimately Shane McMahon is a stunt artist. An excellent one at that but a stunt artist nonetheless. Having been ‘the Champ who runs the camp’ for several months this is a real blow to Styles. Having a wrestling match with a stunt artist is a total waste of his talents on the grandest stage of all. But this is not just an occurrence on the blue brand with the red brand also guilty of punishing their most recent title holder…
Chris Jericho (c) v Kevin Owens for the US Championship
One of the highlights of RAW in recent months has been the Jeri-KO segments. Kevin Owens has taken the mantle of heel champion on brilliantly and delivered every single week. Jericho too has been thriving with his slightly pompous and arrogant persona. The List of Jericho was also a hilarious addition. Whilst I do want to see this match, one of very few I can say that of, it should’ve been for the Universal title. Whilst they’ve tried to do the ‘you robbed me of mine, so I’m going to take yours’ angle, it is unquestionably a step down from the main events since Owens’ late August anointing by HHH. Speaking of the COO…
HHH v Seth Rollins
Having been building since that August 29th screwjob this match was thrown into doubt given Rollins’ new knee injury. Losing the contest would’ve been a shame given Hunter’s spectacular promo performances thus far to antagonise the former architect of the Shield. We’ve also finally got ‘face’ Seth Rollins. Fans have been desperate to cheer him since he returned from injury and now they can. We now have an ‘Unsanctioned match’ which could be entertaining to watch but is perhaps a decision to protect the quality of the contest. Turning it into a fight removes the wrestling element and hopefully protects Rollins’ knee during the encounter. Given his inability to use a crutch properly on RAW over the last few weeks his knee should hold up fine. Maybe it will turn out like HHH v Shawn Michaels from Summerslam 2002 but we’ll have to wait and see.
Neville (c) v Austin Aires for the Cruiserweight Championship
This could be a show stealer. Austin Aires gets a chance to showcase his talents at the biggest show of the year and with a solid dance partner. However given that this is going to be on the kickoff show it probably won’t be allotted much time. Instead we’ll have highlights of the Hall of Fame, repetitive video packages and general inane ramblings from Renee Young. At least Shawn Michaels is on the panel with Jerry Lawler and Booker T.
Dean Ambrose (c) v Baron Corbin for the Intercontinental Championship
The futile attempts to get Baron Corbin over continue. However this match might at least give ‘Mania a story. Except if it’s anything like Zack Ryder’s win last year it will be short lived. If WWE officials genuinely believe that Corbin is a future headliner then beating Dean Ambrose at Wrestlemania could be a big step in that direction. Ambrose too was unceremoniously dropped from competing for the top title to the IC title and is currently just treading water. He’s in need of a gripping rivalry but Baron Corbin is not it for me. So whatever happens in this match I don’t really care.
John Cena & Nicki Bella v The Miz & Maryse
Talking of things I don’t care about. I have absolutely no desire to find out who the most dominant power couple of SmackdownLive is. However the Miz/Maryse Total Bellas parodies have been brutal in their genius. Unfortunately that shadow of Total Divas/Bellas has manufactured this matchup but puts the WWE’s biggest name on the card and has brought out the best in the Miz, his promo work. Cena’s responses too have been solid and genuine. But if this match was the plan all along then Cena’s 16th title reign has been made all the more pointless. Oh, and there’s a special guest ring announcer who I’ve never heard of.
Bayley (c) v Charlotte v Sasha Banks v Nia Jaxx for the RAW Women’s Championship
Although Bayley currently holds the gold the majority of 2016 was all about Charlotte and Sasha. In that period the belt exchanged hands multiple times. This was even pointed out by Nia Jaxx on RAW this week. Oh yes, Nia is on the roster so she needs to be involved too. The added elimination element extends the duration of the match but whatever the outcome it feels like the RAW women’s division is in need of a new direction. Nia won’t get the belt for reasons I won’t be crude enough to repeat. However if Asuka was signed from NXT it would spice things up and create new combinations for matches. After all these four women are literally the only four on the RAW roster.
Anderson & Gallows v Enzo & Cass v Shaemus & Cesaro triangle ladder match for the RAW Tag Team Championships
Given the use of a ladder, of all the available objects in the backstage era, during RAW this week it became obvious that this would be a ladder match. It was logical given the limited number of extreme stipulations on the show. Now ladder matches are always entertaining stunt shows. Wrestlemania has had some classics. But can this match get close to the triangle ladder match at Wrestlemania 2000 for example? Probably not.
Alexa Bliss defends the SmackdownLive Women’s Championship against every woman available
As you can probably tell by this point we’ve reached the point where whoever is contracted to the company gets on the show. This one however is an oddity. We still don’t know if it will be a match to be won by pinfall or submission, or an over the top rope affair. So little attention has been given to the match that they can’t even announce that. What we can tell from the peculiar wording is that a surprise entrant may make an appearance. We’ve already had Naomi return on SmackdownLive this week but perhaps Eva Marie will return to win her first championship? That would be a great way to get the capacity crowd onside(!)
Fourth Annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
And talking about getting all contracted superstars on the card the ultimate excuse is the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Expect Braun Strowman to cement his spot as the undefeatable monster, assuming he isn’t up against Roman Reigns of course. It does also provides an opportunity for surprise entrants, such as a rumoured Shelton Benjamin, which could prove crowd pleasing.
Although the list of matches for Sunday night is a lengthy one, few are eliciting anything even closely resembling excitement. Many of the contests I have little interested in seeing. Consistent performers have been sacrificed for either part-timers or to facilitate a storyline ending showdown. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens can feel pretty hard done by but knowing their professionalism they’ll still produce great matches. The main selling point of the Undertaker/Reigns contest is the hope that Roman can’t possibly win. Surely he can’t. They wouldn’t dare. Or would they? Matches like Jericho/Owens and Neville/Aries will be technically solid. Similarly Rollins/HHH and the triangle ladder match will be entertaining fare. But none of them are really grabbing me. As for the Goldberg/Lesnar main event, it was a let down at Survivor Series. You lost me then. So to get me interested in another match is just not happening. Try again next year.
Looking beyond Wrestlemania the post ‘Mania RAW is already being promoted with a special on the WWE Network. Unfortunately we seem to be able to predict what will happen on that show. Kurt Angle will become RAW General Manager. Expect a surprise return from Finn Balor, who also can feel hard done by for not appearing in a scheduled match at the big show. Perhaps Finn will be in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. But the likelihood is he’s being held back for RAW to begin a rivalry with Seth Rollins, who put him on the shelf. Goldberg will step away and Lesnar will hold the title with Roman Reigns likely to challenge him for the gold. I hope I’m wrong and surprised but over the next few days we will see if WWE can deliver and crucially how the diehard fans of the universe will react. So far however apathy has set in at a crucial time which could harm PPV orders and Network subscriptions.