Why the build for Wrestlemania XXXIV has been so poor

WM34Wrestlemania is WWE’s biggest show of the year. The 34th edition of the ‘Grandest Stage of them all’ has one of the most stacked cards in history. There is no shortage of talent on display. However, the majority of these matches are multi-person contests to get anyone with a performer contract an appearance on the event. Tag matches, triple threats, a triple threat tag team, see a pattern? Whilst some noteworthy collisions have been created, the buildup has been poor at best and for many matches simply nonsensical. The anticipated outcomes are equally predictable, further dampening down excitement levels of this particular viewer.

WM34_Lesnar_ReignsBrock Lesnar (c) v Roman Regins for the WWE Universal Championship

Let’s start at the top with what is likely to be the Main Event. This has had some positive moments in the buildup, particularly when Paul Heyman has been on the microphone. The previous contest three years ago was a very good physical bout which got usurped by Seth Rollins. Hopefully they will put on another solid effort but we all know that Roman is going to triumph. Dana White has confirmed that Brock is returning to UFC. Frankly this is a good move as Brock’s year long run with the top title on RAW has weakened the belt’s value and ensured that week after week the top athlete in the company has not been on the flagship show. Fans may not want Roman as ‘the guy’ but Vince McMahon does and that’s the end of that.

The reaction of the crowd will be interesting. Whilst it is undoubtedly a good move to give the belt to a full-time performer, capable of consistently putting on solid matches, fans may not want it to be Roman Reigns. For me it is his overuse of the Superman punch that riles me about Reigns. Hitting five of them on RAW this past week proves my point. It’s overused and just looks a bit rubbish. That said I am looking forward to a Reigns title run against some deserving challengers like Samoa Joe, Finn Balor and others.

WM34_AJStyles_NakamuraAJ Styles (c) v Shinsuke Nakamura for WWE Championship

Now this is one match that I am actually excited about. It hasn’t needed much to build anticipation as many predict that it will be a classic. Previous history in Japan, including their WrestleKingdom 10 match which received a 4 and 3/4 star rating from Dave Meltzer, has been alluded to but not the focus. It is simply a match where two of the best wrestlers in the world will collide to work out who deserves to be the champ. Here’s hoping for a five star contest. If delivered the winner won’t actually matter too much.

WM34_Kurt_Ronda_HHH_StephRonda Rousey and Kurt Angle v Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

Since her debut at the Royal Rumble all roads have built to this, Rowdy Ronda Rousey’s first match in a WWE ring. Rousey’s signing to the company will have drawn additional attention to the product. Unfortunately, this has proved to be a double edged sword. Rousey’s inexperience in the Sports Entertainment environment has been exposed with poor delivery of her scripted promos. In terms of the match, Rousey against Stephanie is no contest at all. Whilst one has no previous experience in a WWE ring, the other’s is pretty limited. In fact Stephanie’s last match was at Summerslam in 2014. It is therefore unsurprising that more experienced hands Triple H and Kurt Angle have been added to the match. Unfortunately, Angle is not in great condition. His inability to stand up straight in the ring is one obvious example. When he covered for Roman Reigns at TLC Angle was protected, actually having a break in the middle of the match before getting a triumphant return. Triple H will be a safe hand guiding the match but few expect Rousey to lose in her first WWE match then we can all move on.

WM34_Asuka_CharlotteCharlotte (c) v Asuka for the SmackdownLive Women’s Championship

Now we get onto the more nonsensical stuff. Fair enough Asuka won the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble and could challenge either Women’s champion. We all anticipate a good match but the way these two have been pushed together highlights how poorly the Women’s division on SmackdownLive has been booked in recent months. Despite performers like Becky Lynch and Natalya, Asuka has been brought in to provide Charlotte with competition for the biggest show of the year. Asuka’s streak against Charlotte’s title makes plenty of sense but ridicules the so-called brand split. Having two competitors on different shows has limited the opportunity for confrontations, not that that matters anymore. Corey Graves manages to make both shows. Also if Asuka wins, and we all expect her to, then will the title go with her to RAW?

WM34_Alexa_NiaAlexa Bliss (c) v Nia Jaxx for the RAW Women’s Championship

Now this has been embarrassing. Alexa has proved herself to be a tremendous champion. A heel champ that fans actually respect and like to a certain extent. The manufactured friendship breakdown has been done simply to give Alexa an opponent and that’s fine. What is completely unacceptable has been the ‘fat shaming’ of Nia. Yes Alexa is a heel but it is totally unnecessary. For all of WWE’s positive steps forward with the Women’s division this strategy is embarrassing. Not least because it comes from a talent who admits to have struggled with an eating disorder in the past. It also makes a mockery of the company’s anti-bullying messages.

Rumours are circulating regarding Carmella’s Money in the Bank cash-in opportunity. I have a feeling that Alexa might fluke a win, Nia will destroy her in frustration only for Carmella to cash in and take the title. This would see Carmella move to RAW and Asuka, assuming she wins, moving to SmackdownLive.

Now look at the next few bouts. Multi-man matches rule this year and remind me of WrestleMania 2000 which was hugely overbooked. The remainder of the card is a mishmash of multi-man contests that sadly reek of getting performers a ‘Mania pay cheque. At least one tag match has the benefit of a returning hero!

WM34_OwensZayn_DanielBryanShaneDaniel Bryan and Shane McMahon v Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

The confirmation that Daniel Bryan was cleared to return to the ring has been a huge lift for SmackdownLive. For a start it actually provides closure on a storyline which has been meandering for months and months. Owens and Zayn have been an entertaining force on the blue brand but their confrontations with Shane have been crying out for a resolution. Bryan has turned from being on their side to an adversary to create this match. Perhaps it will be revealed that he remains on their side after all? It would be surprising to see Bryan lose on his return to in ring action but turning on Shane would see him move from General Manager back to being a wrestler. It would also setup a Shane v Bryan contest at some point and ensure that Zayn and Owens remain contracted to WWE.

 

WM34_Miz_Finn_SethThe Miz (c) v Finn Balor v Seth Rollins for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Three top stars in the company clash for the IC title. Whilst this is sure to be an excellent match, part of me thinks that not only have the combatants been thrust together with nothing else on offer but that they should be colliding for the main prize. The Miz is a fantastic Intercontinental champion and his character suits carrying gold. Post-Wrestlemania I would like to see all three individuals push on and challenge for the Universal title. Finn was robbed of a decent run with the belt due to injury, Seth’s best work came when he was the WWE champ and The Miz’s excellent work this past year also deserves reward. For now, the combination of one heel and two faces will probably divide the audience with many also cheering for The Miz, making for an interesting atmosphere. At least the match itself will be high on quality.

WM34_Jinder_Orton_Roode_RusevRandy Orton (c) v Jinder Mahal v Bobby Roode v Rusev for the WWE United States Championship

Speaking of competitors thrust together because they have nothing better to do. Randy Orton has been going through the motions for a couple of years now. A veteran who has accomplished so much he has little more to strive to achieve. Jinder’s poorly judged reign with the top title on SmackdownLive would’ve been better suited to a run with the US championship. To do so now would be pointless. As for Bobby Roode, his is a character that needs to be a heel. He hasn’t connected with the general audience as well as he managed in NXT. The ‘Glorious One’ gimmick is crying out for becoming an arrogant heel and the US title would help with that. However, if you want someone who is properly over with the audience then look at Rusev. His addition to the match is at least acknowledgement of his growing popularity and a Rusev victory would provide a popular Wrestlemania moment. But even then another run with the US strap is hardly progress.

WM34_Usos_NewDay_BludgeonThe Usos (c) v The New Day v The Bludgeon Brothers for the SmackdownLive Tag Team Championship

Whilst The Usos will finally get a spot on the Wrestlemania main card it will be another multi-man collision. Given the setup at Fastlane and the brutality of The Usos and New Day’s epic Hell in a Cell match, this match needs a stipulation. With that rivalry prolonged a win for The Bludgeon Brothers will hopefully provide the tag team division on SmackdownLive a refresh. That said, The Usos have been outstanding champions and are more than worthy of their spot on the main card rather than kickoff show fodder.

WM34_Bar_BraunThe Bar (c) v Braun Strowman and TBC for the RAW Tag Team Championship

The strength or failure of this match will be the identity of Braun’s partner. ‘The Monster Among Men’s decimation of the entire tag team division on RAW belittled all of those teams. Braun has been booked like the all conquering monster but has slipped down to the tag team division, again just to fit him on the card. His partner has not been revealed yet so WWE must have someone up their sleeve. Rumours are of an anticipated return from Samoa Joe, either at ‘Mania or the RAW following. Personally, I like the idea of Ellsworth being his partner. It continues the storyline that Braun doesn’t really need a partner and completes the circle of Ellsworth’s career in WWE. Whoever it is, they’ll have a tough task trying to match the pop that met The Hardyz last year.

For those who haven’t managed to make the main card, the kickoff show does provide an opportunity to get an appearance.

WM34_AndreThe Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

All the remaining male superstars will have the opportunity to lace up their boots and get in the ring at Wrestlemania. Unfortunately, it will be in the utter pointless Battle Royal. Actually winning the match is entirely meaningless. See Mojo Rawley last year. It is simply a device used to appease the athletes who have worked tirelessly all year only to have positions on the biggest show usurped by part-time performers. Hopefully it’ll be over quick.

WM34-Womens-Battle-RoyalThe Women’s Wrestlemania Battle Roya/l

The controversy over the initial naming after the Fabulous Moolah has overshadowed this match. Again it is an opportunity for the women on SmackdownLive, aside Charlotte, to get a Wrestlemania appearance. Hopefully this match won’t end in the same way as the first Women’s battle royal at Wrestlemania, won by a man, or the controversial ending to the Women’s Money in the Bank match. The likelihood is a continuation of the bubbling Bayley and Sasha Banks rivalry with one of those two favourites to lift the appallingly cheap looking plastic trophy. Whilst it would’ve been a stronger statement had this match been on the main card, supporting the self proclaimed Women’s revolution, this match may form part of the kickoff show screened on the USA Network. Thus it might get more viewers than a lot of the other matches so perhaps it is a wise move.

WM34_Cedric_MustafaCedric Alexander v Mustafa Ali for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

Hopefully this match will conclude the kickoff show. Concluding the tournament to crown a new champion for 205Live this should be one of the best contests in terms of in ring action. I have no preconceptions or expectations for this match so I’m looking forward to being impressed.

And then we come to this match…

WM34_taker_cenaJohn Cena v The Undertaker

Prepare for a rant.

At time of writing this match has not been confirmed but we are all expecting it. John Cena has failed on multiple occasions to create his path to a Wrestlemania match. The head of the Cenation, has since turned into a whiney irritant. It also sets a dangerous precedent. How many more superstars will fail and simply call out ‘Taker to get on the Wrestlemania card? This is not a match that I have any desire to see. Perhaps 10 or maybe even 5 years ago but not now. Rumour is that ‘Taker was unhappy with his performance last year and wants to correct it. How he expects to perform even better after another year out is perhaps an indication of his confidence in his surgeon rather than his own abilities. Undertaker’s match against Roman Reigns last year was a painful watch. But the story was told of a gunslinger’s final battle. He left the ring and the stage with dignity. It was very emotional. For that all to be undone just so John Cena can have a match is embarrassing. Anyway, shouldn’t Cena be planning a wedding? That, not in the least bit predictable and totally genuine, proposal was a year ago after all.

Fans are predicting a return of the American Badass gimmick, with Kid Rock entering the Hall of Fame. That is hardly something that people have been clamouring for. How many of the current fans even remember the American Badass version of Undertaker? A little promo video would’ve helped. Just let the man retire. The fact that we go into Wrestlemania weekend not knowing if this match will happen is ridiculous. Assuming ‘Taker does turn up, he has to defeat Cena so what does it accomplish? Maybe the match won’t happen this year but we’ll get the start of a build for Wrestlemania XXXV? Of course that is what this match will need, another year of toe-curling buildup!

Whilst I plan on staying up to watch Wrestlemania XXXIV this weekend I am not looking forward to it. Very few of the matches are ones I am keen to see. Perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment or anticipating some calamities but for all the talent on show the buildup has been utterly abysmal. It will take some stellar matches to engage me for what will inevitably be a torturous 6 hours of WWE programming.

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