Remember when I said in my post from a few weeks ago that not every piece I write for this blog will be catered to a wide audience? This one is probably going to be the most glaring example of that. That’s because if you’re not a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment, I can just about guarantee you’re not going to care even a little bit about anything I’ve written here. So to my non-wrestling-fan readers, this is the part where I say check back in next week! I promise I’ll have something more palatable for you then.
I’m going the wrestling route this week because the best 9-day period on the WWE calendar is upon us. Wrestlemania 35 is this Sunday, and truthfully I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a wrestling show of any kind. Growing up, I was a die-hard fan who tuned into every Raw, Smackdown and pay-per-view to watch the likes of The Rock, Triple H, Mick Foley, and my all-time favorite, Stone Cold Steve Austin battle it out in some of the most intense feuds in WWE history.
My fandom cooled off significantly in the mid-2000’s, and since then I’ve been what you might call a casual observer of WWE. There have been spikes in my giving-a-shit correlating with the rise to prominence of some of my favorite superstars of more recent times, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan foremost among them.
Even through the times that I wasn’t watching regularly, I’d always make a point to tune into Wrestlemania, simply because it’s billed as the best show WWE puts on every year, and more often than not it does live up to that billing. But this year, I’ve been keeping closer tabs on a weekly basis. There are still plenty of issues that I have with WWE’s booking choices, but I get the sense that they are building to what will be one of the better Manias in recent history based on the card they’ve put together over the last month or so.
So this week, I’d like to take a run through the planned card for Wrestlemania 35 and give my breakdown on how the storylines have been written, and what I anticipate will happen at Metlife Stadium this Sunday. It should be said that at least as of now, neither the Raw or Smackdown Tag Team Championships have been booked for matches, but I anticipate that will change between tonight’s episode of Raw and tomorrow’s Smackdown. That said, let’s start with the undercard before we get into the main event scene.
THE WOMEN’S BATTLE ROYAL/THE ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL
This tradition started a few years back and is very transparently WWE’s way of trying to cram as many people on the Wrestlemania card as possible. There is little to no intrigue involved with these over-the-top-rope competitions, which is why it breaks my heart to see performers as talented as Asuka and Braun Stroman relegated to this gimmicky clusterfuck on the most important show of the year. I imagine that those two will at least come out on top as the winners of these filler matches.
As an added wrinkle, also competing in the men’s version of this match alongside Stroman will be SNL Weekend Update co-anchors Michael Che and Colin Jost. Which, just, ugh. That’s brutal. That’s to say nothing of Che and Jost’s abilities as comedians, but having those two start a “feud” with a guy in Stroman, who could legitimately play a strong role in an upper card program with a championship on the line is a laughable waste of the man’s size and talent. This is after last year’s Mania when Stroman won the tag team championships with a nine-year-old child named Nicholas. Vince McMahon is notrious for falling in love with huge dudes and having them run roughshod over seemingly everybody. But for whatever reason, Stroman has never properly gotten his shine on “The Show of Shows.” Maybe next year. But I won’t be holding my breath.
CRUSIERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Tony Nese
I have to admit that I do not watch 205 Live, which is the program on which the cruiserweights are given the vast majority of their on-screen time. I’ve been told that I absolutely SHOULD be watching that show, and that doesn’t surprise me. When I think of the cruiserweight division, my mind automatically goes back to the golden days of WCW, and the amazing high-flying matches that Rey Mysterio, Billy Kidman, Ultimo Dragon and Eddie Guerrero (to name a few) used to have that were candidates to steal any show they were featured on.
Even though I can’t claim to be overly familiar with either Buddy Murphy or Tony Nese, I’d be willing to bet that these two will put on one of the more memorable matches of the entire evening. Wrestlemania has a tendency to bring out the best in competitors who don’t normally get a chance to perform under this kind of spotlight.
Kurt Angle vs. Baron Corbin (???)
This one is a puzzler. Kurt Angle has made it known that his match at Wrestlemania this Sunday will be the final one of his illustrious career. He also announced on Raw a few weeks back that he made a decision on who his opponent would be, and that he had chosen to take on Baron Corbin.
I’m not going to make it a point to crap all over Corbin here. He’s…fine. But since this announcement was made, seemingly all of WWE fandom has been up in arms about how dumb this is. Angle deserves to have his final match be against someone BIG. The fact that the commentators on WWE programming have not made any attempt to hide the fact that their fan base is upset about this match-up makes me believe that there’s actually something else going on here.
So here’s my prediction. I think that on the day of Wrestlemania, maybe even as Corbin is coming out to the ring, he will either be interrupted or attacked…and I think the person who is going to do that will be none other than John Cena. You may remember that Cena’s first ever match for WWE was against Angle. Cena responded to an open challenge proposed by Angle, and came oh so close to beating the Olympic champion at the height of his powers. You know the rest. Cena would go on to become the face of the company for well over a decade. I think the idea of harking back to this moment in history would get one of the loudest pops from the crowd all night, and to have Angle beat Cena in his retirement match would just be SO much better than anything he could possibly do opposite Corbin.
The Miz vs. Shane McMahon (Falls Count Anywhere)
This feud has been crafted pretty darn well. After having these two team up to capture the Smackdown Tag Team Championships, the easy thing to do probably would have been to have The Miz turn on Shane, seeing as how the former has done plenty of respectable heel work for most of his career. But reversing the roles, and having Shane go into this contest as the heel was 100% the right move.
The fact that this will be a Falls Count Anywhere match means one thing to me. Shane is going to take at least one disgusting bump that would probably maim or kill the average person. More often than not at Wrestlemania, the heel tends to get their comeuppance after perpetrating their dastardly deeds, which in this case took the form of Shane not only executing a vicious blindside assault, but also then putting his hands on The Miz’s father who was sitting at ringside. So I’m gonna predict that The Miz will be the one that goes over by the time the final bell rings.
WOMEN’S TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP: Sasha Banks & Bayley (c) vs. Beth Phoenix & Natalya vs. Tamina Snuka & Nia Jax vs. The IIconics
Kudos to WWE for finally creating a championship for the women’s tag division. Reverse kudos to them for completely botching the build to what will be the first Wrestlemania match to feature these belts. There is simply zero juice for this match, and that’s because instead of having Sasha and Bayley have a legitimate feud with one other rival team, WWE creative has turned this into a situation where there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen.
First, it has to be said that the team of Tamina and Nia Jax just doesn’t bring anything to the table here other than, “Hey, those two women are noticeably larger than the others!” I would have much preferred the champs take on the returning Beth Phoenix and Natalya in a straight-up two-on-two match, even if that means that there wouldn’t be a classic babyfaces vs. heels dynamic. All that said, I’d be surprised if Sasha and Bayley didn’t retain their titles by the time this is over.
UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP: Samoa Joe (c) vs. Rey Mysterio
This is the match on the undercard that I think has the most potential to be a show-stealer. It’s safe to say that neither of these superstars are in their prime, but they are both still so remarkably consistent, and both are the kind of performers who elevate their game for the big moments.
I trust these two completely to pull off the classic David vs. Goliath match trope to perfection. But please, please just let Samoa Joe win this thing. I so badly want to see him get the push he has always deserved, and a successful title defense against an all-time great would be a solid step in that direction.
INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Bobby Lashley (c) vs. Finn Balor
This is another example of a program that could have been booked much better. In fact, it’s been so all over the place that I get the sense that WWE has been scripting it on the fly week to week. At one point, Balor won the title off Lashley, not by beating him, but by beating his undersized right-hand man and mouthpiece, Lio Rush. That never made any sense. But to put the belt right back on Lashley a few weeks later made even less sense. All it did was squash Balor’s momentum while doing relatively nothing to push Lashley. In other words, it helped no one.
I have to believe they’ll have Lashley retain here, simply because the hot potato game they’ve been playing with this belt is not a good look for what is supposed to be one of the most prestigious championships in the business. But I’m hoping WWE realizes they have a special talent in Balor. He deserves better than what he’s gotten over the years.
Triple H vs. Batista (No Holds Barred)
This is the first of what can be considered the main-event caliber matches on the card. Triple H has put his in-ring career on the line against his former Evolution stable-mate Batista, who has already said that this will be his final match.
This came to be after Batista ambushed 70-year-old Ric Flair on an episode of Raw that was supposed to be a celebration of Flair’s birthday. And honestly, that was just chef’s kiss quality stuff. It has sadly become rare that a WWE television episode has provided the kind of shock and awe reaction like that moment provided. It was brilliant.
Even though I doubt this match will go longer than 10 or 15 minutes, it figures to be one of the more intense bouts of the night. I could see Batista going over in this one, because I find it wholly believable that Trips might actually be ready to officially move on from the in-ring side of his on-screen character. It would be very fitting if these two had their last matches against each other. This is obviously an opportunity to do just that. But my gut tells me Triple H will get the win here and at least leave open the possibility that he wrestles again.
A.J. Styles vs. Randy Orton
Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to say about this one other than the obvious. These are two industry veterans who are extremely good at what they do. There’s no doubt in my mind that there will be more than a few spots in this match that will get an “Oh shit!” reaction. It’s a toss-up as to who will get the win, but seeing as how Orton is the WWE lifer, whereas Styles made his fame moreso in the independent circuit, I have a feeling the McMahon machine is going to reward the guy who has spent more time with the company. So I think Orton wins it with a patented RKO outta nowhere.
Roman Reigns vs. Drew McIntyre
This is an excellent way for Roman Reigns to re-enter the singles match scene. Since returning from his very real leukemia diagnosis to announce that he is in remission, the fans have rallied behind him in a way that Vince McMahon could have only dreamed of during all those years he tried to shove Roman down our throats as “The Guy.” Reigns has always been an excellent in-ring worker, despite the fans’ resistance to him as the face of the company. Drew McIntyre is nothing short of a star in the making.
Credit to WWE for booking McIntyre as an absolute killer. In the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania, Drew has picked apart all three members of The Shield in convincing fashion. His mic work has been fantastic too, even if it included an extremely cringey moment when he said, and I quote, “Roman Reigns may have beaten leukemia, BUT HE CAN’T BEAT ME!” Yeah, that was pretty yuck. But that aside, this match figures to be very good. And honestly, I would not be surprised if they have McIntyre win it, potentially setting him up to then feud with Seth Rollins for the Universal Championship. Oh, speaking of which…
UNIVERSAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Seth Rollins
This has to be the end. This just HAS TO BE the last time we see the rarely-seen Brock Lesnar holding what is supposed to be one of the two most important titles in the company. Seth Rollins is the perfect choice to be the guy to take it from him, too. Rollins has been the backbone of WWE’s programming for the last year, and can seemingly get a high-quality match out of anyone. There’s no doubt he will do the same with Lesnar, who despite being the most part-time of part-timers, can always be counted on to deliver a worthy performance at shows as big as this. But if Rollins somehow doesn’t walk out of Metlife Stadium with the Universal Championship, there might be a riot.
WWE CHAMPIONSHIP: Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Kofi Kingston
This program has been magic, and the best sign yet that WWE has actually begun to start giving a shit about what their fans actually want to see. To be clear, Kofi Kingston was NOT supposed to be in this spot. He was only in the Elimination Chamber match this year because of an unfortunate injury to Mustafa Ali. But Kofi took that opportunity and ran with it. He was unquestionably the standout in that match, and his in-ring chemistry with Daniel Bryan was impossible not to notice.
The clever thing that WWE did with how they booked this was that not only did they realize how closely Kofi’s rise to the main event scene mirrors Bryan’s yes movement storyline from five years ago, they basically re-created it. This goes all the way down to the details. Bryan has been referring to Kingston as a “B+ player,” the same insult that The Authority used to hurl at Bryan to quash his desire to get a shot at the title in the lead-up to Wrestlemania 30. The only question left is will WWE go all the way and put the title around Kofi’s waist? YES! I think they will.
RAW WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP: Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch
This is a big moment in WWE history. It’s taken way too long to get to a point where a women’s match will be the last one to go on at Wrestlemania, but by golly is this the perfect one to do it. There is no doubt in my mind that this match will be spectacular, but the build to it has been…well…it’s been really, really strange.
As it stands right now, Rousey’s Raw Women’s Championship is the only one on the line in this match, despite the fact that just 12 days before the big show, WWE decided to take the Smackdown Women’s Championship off of Asuka and put it on Charlotte. I don’t necessarily hate that they did that, but it depends on what they do next that will determine whether or not that was the right thing to do.
First, it needs to be said that Asuka deserves so much better. Despite her language barrier preventing her from doing anything transcendent on the mic, her in-ring abilities are special. You could place her in a feud with any of the top stars in the women’s division, and you just know that they would knock it out of the park.
That aside, there’s really only one scenario in which I could see the dynamic of having two champions in the same match making any sense. And that would be if they unify the belts. Let’s face it, Becky Lynch is going to win this match. At least she damn well better. But if all she gets out of that win is Rousey’s Raw title, it would drastically dampen the impact of her victory if Charlotte can scurry out of the Meadowlands still holding gold. That’s just not how this should work. Unify the belts. Make Becky the one and only Women’s Champion. Then maybe we can do away with the brand split altogether. This would create so many different tasty match-up possibilities, it just seems like a no-brainer to me.
Regardless, I can’t wait for that moment when Wrestlemania 35 goes off the air with Becky Lynch raising those belts, and putting an exclamation point on a year that has seen her go from a star prospect with all the promise in the world to nothing less than a modern-day Stone Cold Steve Austin figure. It will be a night that will represent and honor how far women have come in the wrestling industry. And yet somehow it will be fitting when at the end of that night, the woman who has her arm raised in triumph will be the one who calls herself “The Man.”