This weekend Wrestlemania XXXII will take place at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas in front of what is expected to be the biggest Wrestlemania crowd of all time.
It speaks to the extraordinary ecosystem that Vince McMahon has built with his wrestling empire that even during a year where the company has been stagnant creatively and riddled with injuries to main event talent, the enduring appeal of Wrestlemania seems bulletproof.
This year is tipped to break their attendance record of 93,000 set at Wrestlemania III.
The complete list of performers that will be missing the show due to injury is too lengthy to mention in full but it includes talent such as John Cena, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Sting (who is possibly retired), Daniel Bryan (now officially retired) and Randy Orton. So whatever Plan A was for the Biggest Wrestlemania of All Time, it has long since been thrown out the window.
For the third year in a row, Wrestlemania has had a calamitously poor build up with the WWE fan base angrily and vocally rejecting the creative direction of the company. In 2014, the fans rejected Batista as the headline act of the show and the company capitulated at the last minute to give Daniel Bryan his moment in the sun. Last year the fans turned on Roman Reigns as the heir apparent to John Cena and the company wisely chose to end the show with Seth Rollins cashing in his Money In The Bank contract and leaving Wrestlemania as champ.
For 2016, the company finds itself in a similar position. Once again, they have gone all in on Roman Reigns as the centre piece of their main event and once again, the fans have revolted. Only this time there is no Daniel Bryan and no Seth Rollins to bail them out. As it stands, it looks like we have a main event where the crowd will either vociferously cheer the heel authority figure Triple H or perhaps act with complete indifference to the heavyweight title match altogether. Either way, it is an utter shambles. The unavoidable reality of the situation is that the fans have rejected Roman Reigns as the long term babyface of the company. But with the company having invested three long years into the Roman Reigns project, will they lose their nerve at the final hour? Or will they proceed with the shit show that will be a newly crowned babyface champion at one of the biggest wrestling shows of all time getting soundly rejected by their own fan base?
We don’t have long to find out.
There are plenty of positives to look forward to on the show as well. There is a well deserved Wrestlemania match for Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch – three women who revolutionized women’s wrestling in the last twelve months with their multitude of fantastic matches. If given the right amount of time, their match for the Women’s Title could be a show stealer.
It is also the Wrestlemania debut for international superstar AJ Styles. He’s working a match with ring veteran Chris Jericho in another dark horse for match of the night. Other noteworthy performers making their Wrestlemania debut include Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.
Lastly, the outcome of the Shane McMahon vs The Undertaker match which no one saw coming could give us a clue as to the long term creative future of the company. The company has had the same heel authority figures headlining the show for three years now (Triple H and Stephanie) and a win for Shane McMahon would finally force a different storyline direction for the WWE.
Here are my thoughts and predictions on the card for Wrestlemania XXXII.
Kalisto (c) vs Ryback
United States Championship
John Cena spent the better part of a year restoring the prestige of the United States championship by defending it against talented new rookies in his ‘Open Challenge’ matches on Raw. Eventually injury forced him to drop the belt to Alberto Del Rio who floundered with it for a handful of weeks before losing it in a back and forth feud to Kalisto. Kalisto is now defending the title on the Wrestlemania preshow against Ryback in a match that has been given little airtime and treated with complete indifference.
Back to square one I guess.
The winner? It doesn’t really matter. Which is what the problem with the US Title was in the first place.
Who Should Win: Doesn’t Matter
Who Will Win: Kalisto
Team Diva vs B.A.D & Blonde
The annual ‘get as many people on the show as possible’ match comes in the form of a ten man tag. While its disappointing to see once promising talent such as Paige squandered in such fashion, it is pleasing to see a Wrestlemania debut for Emma who has had a killer twelve months reinventing her character on NXT. Although a call up back to the main roster would be well deserved, it would almost seem a pity considering the calibre of matches she has been having in NXT.
This match had a bizarre last minute twist with the inclusion of the much maligned Eva Marie on Team Diva. Eva Marie was positioned as a triumphant babyface but the crowd gave her a very hostile reception. Not unlike the main event picture, it signifies the bizarre and at times utterly unbelievable tone deafness that the writers of the show have as to who their fan base engages with.
Who Should Win: Doesn’t Matter
Who Will Win: Team Diva
The Usos vs The Dudley Boys
For the last few years, the WWE has had a trend of giving nostalgia runs to tag teams who were popular over a decade ago. For the last two years it was the New Age Outlaws. This year its the Dudley Boys. The Dudleys are one of the all time great tag teams but seeing their characters neutered in a PG-era where they can’t cut profanity laden promos or wrestle in the style that made them popular is pretty sad.
The Usos are a tag team that I am largely indifferent to and have been around for a surprisingly long time. Despite being used quite prominently over recent years, this is their fourth consecutive Wrestlemania preshow match and they have never made it onto the main show itself. It speaks to the lack of importance placed on the tag team division in the modern era.
Who Should Win: Doesn’t matter
Who Will Win: The Usos
Andre The Giant Battle Royal
Conceptually, the Andre the Giant Battle Royal is a great idea.
Battle royals are a terrific visual spectacle, an easy way to get plenty of performers onto the show – including nostalgia acts and part time talent – in a contest that should theoretically act as a star-making catapault for the winner. The WWE managed to squander that goodwill in their very first year when Cesaro won the contest in extraordinary fashion by bodyslamming the Big Show out of the ring. The crowd reacted accordingly and a star appeared to be made. The company then proceeded to do absolutely nothing with Cesaro and then the following year, Big Show won the title and nothing came of that either.
Looking at the announced competitors this year? Once again, its no big deal.
Who Should Win: Doesn’t Matter
Who Will Win: Braun Strowman
Kevin Owens (c) vs Dolph Ziggler vs Stardust vs Zack Ryder vs Sami Zayn vs Sin Cara vs The Miz
Intercontinental Title Ladder Match
If given the right opportunity, two of the biggest future stars of the WWE are in this match. I’m talking of course about Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Their biggest challenge I suspect, won’t be winning over the crowds. It will be standing out in the WWE’s notorious quagmire that is their midcard. This match is full of misused performers, talent that the writers forget about for long periods of time and people who have been in the company way too long. This match should’ve been Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn as a singles contest.
As it stands, I’m expecting an entertaining spot-fest and hopefully a match which serves to cement Kevin Owens position as one of the biggest heels in the company.
Who Should Win: Kevin Owens
Who Will Win: Kevin Owens
New Day (c) vs The League of Nations
WWE Tag Team Championship
Two years ago, Vince McMahon had a pet project to make a tag team of do-gooders who preached positivity. Known as the New Day, they were met with complete indifference by the crowd. Xavier Woods approached McMahon and staked his career on changing their personas. He got his opportunity and the rest is history. The New Day are one of the most popular acts in the WWE currently and this match on the main card is just desserts for a year of fine work.
Rumours are that a fourth wrestle might appear on the night to even the odds. We shall see.
Who Should Win: New Day
Who Will Win: New Day
AJ Styles vs Chris Jericho
Although I’m pretty down on the WWE at the moment and in particular, their lousy creative direction, there is always something that keeps me hooked. An exciting new wrestler, a great match or a particular promo that catches fire and draws my attention. One of the things that keeps me watching currently is seeing what the WWE will do with AJ Styles who has been one of the most talented wrestlers in the industry for over a decade.
For his first Wrestlemania he will have a match against Chris Jericho that should be a fine showcase of what he is capable of. The two performers have met three times before in the lead up to this match but they haven’t quite had the encounter that I think both are capable of. Given the right amount of time and the setting, maybe this’ll be it.
Who Should Win: AJ Styles
Who Will Win: AJ Styles
Dean Ambrose vs Brock Lesnar
If you ask most people, Dean Ambrose should be the guy in Roman Reigns’ spot. He has won over fans in a more organic fashion as a scrappy underdog who doesn’t know when to quit. The company has teased the idea of Ambrose winning the title on several occasions but never pulled the trigger. If the dirtsheets are to be believed, he isn’t seen as a main event performer. This high profile match is yet another opportunity for Ambrose to prove the office wrong.
Since his return, a pet peeve of mine with Brock Lesnar is that he has been working in a lot of repetitive matches against the likes of John Cena, Triple H, Big Show and The Undertaker, all of whom he has faced on many occasions. Ambrose vs Lesnar is a fresh match up that I’m looking forward to.
If the company has any sense, this will be a well deserved moment to shine for Ambrose.
Who Should Win: Dean Ambrose
Who Will Win: Brock Lesnar
Shane McMahon vs The Undertaker
Hell In A Cell
What a strange match up this is.
Shane McMahon shocked fans when he returned to the WWE several weeks ago and they have been vociferously behind him ever since. In a curious move, the company have inserted him into a fourth wall breaking story line where Shane is a babyface authority figure pointing out that the company promotes undeserving talent, has stale story lines and poor tv ratings. Shane promises that winning the match and earning an opportunity to run Monday Night RAW would improve the product.
So…he has to win, right?
The company has booked themselves into a corner as Shane is facing The Undertaker who would be forced to retire if he loses the match thanks to a stipulation added by Vince McMahon.
No one expects the Undertaker to retire in this fashion but it seems insane to draw attention to the company’s shortcomings, highlight an opportunity to fix them, and then not follow through. Expect some major shenanigans in this one.
I honestly have no idea what to expect here. I don’t even know if this will be a good match, a great match or an awful one.
Who Should Win: Shane McMahon
Who Will Win: The Undertaker
Sasha Banks vs Charlotte (c) vs Becky Lynch
WWE Divas Championship
This triple threat match for the Womens Title is one of my most anticipated matches of the evening. Last year Sasha Banks was involved in three of my favourite matches of the year. She had an incredible title defence against Becky Lynch who took her to the limit. Then she had two famous ground breaking matches against Bayley.
As long as time permits (and it should given that this is a four hour show), this should be the greatest womens match ever held at Wrestlemania. Which probably isn’t a particularly high bar but I really hope these women can put on something special.
As for who deserves to win? I would dearly love to see a title change. But I’m completely torn between Sasha and Becky as to who deserves it more. Sasha clearly has the greatest potential as a star. But Becky Lynch is fantastic in her underdog role and it might be worth making fans wait that little bit longer for Banks reign as the champ. So I’ll go with Becky.
Who Should Win: Becky Lynch
Who Will Win: Sasha Banks
Triple H (c) vs Roman Reigns
Hell In A Cell
The main event that has train wreck written all over it.
I’m curious as to what happens here. He won’t be happy about it but Triple H is likely about to enter his third Wrestlemania main event where the crowd doesn’t care and he’s been completely upstaged by a match on the undercard. It happened at Wrestlemania X-8 when he fought Chris Jericho after The Rock vs Hulk Hogan. And then it happened seven years later at Wrestlemania XXVI when he and Randy Orton followed Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker. It’s probably going to happen here if Lesnar vs Ambrose or the Womens triple threat live up to their potential.
I expect that Triple H knows full well that this is a mess. And he is one of the very few performers in the company – maybe the only one – who would have complete creative control over his destiny. So what does he do? Suck it up and stay the course, putting over Reigns and soak in the boos around the stadium? Or flip the script at the last minute. But are they really any better served if he keeps the title?
This match should be Roman Reigns’ crowning moment but he has been handed some absolutely ruinous booking that did him no favours. He was never the most charismatic or talented performer in the ring. He was the chosen one by the office primarily because has ‘the right look’. Reigns hasn’t had a clean loss in his singles career on the main roster and has been booked more strongly than just about anyone in the history of the business (breaking elimination records at the Royal Rumble as well as winning it in 2015). This then completely flies in the face of the storylines which try to portray him as a plucky underdog and the people’s champion which he most certainly is not.
Used more sparingly in the past, Reigns used to be a fan favourite as a part of The Shield. But the horrendous force feeding of Roman as a main event singles star has caused open revolt with the fans.
It’s going to be a mess. But after getting cold feet last year, surely its now or never for the WWE. Either the Roman Reigns championship era is about to begin (in horrendous fashion), or they’re finally going to pull the plug on this whole sorry affair.
The best I can come up with is that Reigns wins the title but then something happens to draw the fans attention post-match. Bring back Rollins early. Have Ambrose go out and issue a challenge. Do something. Anything.
Who Should Win: Roman Reigns
Who Will Win: Roman Reigns