Twelve months ago, I wrote a morose assessment of Wrestlemania 33 describing the event as ‘one of the worst in recent memory’ with fans ‘reaching a point of numbness where they no longer care.’
Fast forward to the eve of Wrestlemania 24 and my anticipation levels couldn’t be more different.
It’s been a banner year for the wrestling industry. In the WWE there have been an absolute ton of breakout stars to get excited about ranging from the still-undefeated Asuka, to the stereotype-busting Mustafa Ali, to The Undisputed Era’s rise on NXT, to the ascension on Shinsuke Nakamura on the main roster. There’s Gargano and Ciampa’s incredible year long feud, a match for the ages from Andrada ‘Cien’ Almas and in the women’s division, Alexa Bliss cemented herself as one of the biggest new stars since the Four Horsewomen.
Last years Wrestlemania card reflected a stale roster that had very little upward movement for new talent and a depressing reliance on part-time special attraction performers to headline the marquee. This year’s card on the other hand, feels absolutely perfect. We’ve got a bona fide Wrestlemania dream match featuring two of today’s biggest stars in AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura. It is no exaggeration to say that the company’s highest profile women’s match of all time is Charlotte taking on the awesome, undefeated Asuka (a streak that lasted over an incredible eight hundred days).
Two of the greatest and most beloved wrestlers in the modern era make their return to this Wrestlemania with Daniel Bryan and Kurt Angle both on the card. And the biggest UFC crossover star since Brock Lesnar is Rhonda Rousey who has apparently signed on as a full time talent and is making her professional debut on the biggest possible stage.
For the first time in many years, this Wrestlemania card feels like a fair reflection of the interests of the fans and the work put in by the wrestlers over the last twelve months. All of the biggest breakout stars who have made the spotlight their own since Wrestlemania 33 (Braun Strowman, Rusev, The Usos, The Miz) have all been given a meaningful spot on the card.
This optimism even extends to the elephant in the room – Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar. Reigns has been an albatross around the neck of the company, who went all in, at all costs, to make this man the headline performer. That effort extended to three dominating Royal Rumble performances and four consecutive main event matches at Wrestlemania. It also meant that there was no mystique afforded to Brock Lesnar, as all his matches and angles were clearly framed to build him up as an unstoppable monster waiting to be conquered by Roman. It’s been announced that Lesnar is returning to the UFC after this Wrestlemania so there is no doubt about the outcome of this match. It is the WWE’s fourth attempt at giving Roman his coronation. It probably won’t go the way they hoped but at least it finally puts an end to a four year holding pattern that the WWE title has been in. After Wrestlemania 34 there will no longer be a part time champion in Brock Lesnar, Roman will have his time in the sun and then finally, a long line of deserving performers (Dean Ambrose, Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor etc) will have an opportunity to shine in the spotlight. I still expect Roman to be the centrepiece of Raw, but at least not every main event angle will be building towards Roman vs Brock which it more or less has been for four years.
Wrestlemania weekend is the WWE’s biggest weekend of the year but it has also become a celebration of the industry at large. And looking at the talent performing in various other organizations around the States, its clear that the industry is in a very healthy place. It’s hard to recall a more popular non-WWE faction than the Bullet Club, with Kenny Omega, The American Nightmare Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks become huge stars both in America and abroad. It’s fantastic to see New Japan Pro Wrestling make inroads into the North American market. And some of the UK’s biggest talent in Will Ospreay and Zack Sabre Jr are putting on one incredible match after another. Both seemed destined for stardom.
Wrestlemania weekend is here! There’s going to be some amazing matches, memorable moments and plenty of fun to be had.
Here are my picks and predictions for the biggest event of the year.
Cedric Alexander vs Mustafa Ali in the final of the Cruiserweight Championship tournament for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
The stammering and stuttering cruiserweight division seemed to be on life support in WWE after they attempted to build their 205 Live brand around Neville (walked out on the company), Rich Swann (arrested, retired from the industry) and Enzo Amore (accused of sexual assault) only for things to become spectacularly unstuck each time.
Incredibly, things have finally started to come together as a tournament was booked to crown a new champion and after several weeks of fantastic matches, we are presented with a final that stars two incredible underdog performers and no obvious winner.
Nobody should sleep on Alexander vs Ali. It should easily be one of the best matches of the night and the opportunity couldn’t have been presented to two nicer people.
I’m going with Ali to win this one but I’d be pretty happy either way. Hopefully this match will be the first in a series.
Who Should Win: Mustafa Ali
Who Will Win: Mustafa Ali
Wrestlemania Women’s Battle Royale
In a cameo of what modern day online activism can look like, the WWE proudly unveiled a new women’s battle royale contest, only to name it after The Fabulous Moolah, a prominent wrestler of the Seventies and Eighties, who has subsequently been revealed to be a horrific, abusive pimp. Fans rebelled against naming the contest after Moolah by notifying show sponsor Snickers. Snickers was appalled to hear their brand was associated with someone like Moolah and presumably put in a call to Vince. WWE hastily changed the name of the match to something more generic and here we are.
If there’s one match that we should be getting at Wrestlemania which we aren’t, it’s Bayley vs Sasha Banks. This feud was one of the highlights of NXT in 2015 and the storyline for their feud on the main roster has been over a year in the making. To that end, I think most people are hoping for Bayley and Sasha to be the final two so we can unofficially get the match that we want.
Alternatively, Becky Lynch. Everyone loves Becky Lynch.
Who Should Win: Becky Lynch
Who Will Win: Sasha Banks
The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale
This year’s jobber battle royal is one of the jobbiest I can recall, and I’ve seen battle royals with Barry Horowitz in them. This match has a real motley crue of performers including Primo Colon, Bo Dallas, Curt Axel, Curt Hawkins, R-Truth and Apollo.
They can go a couple of ways with this. Either reward and recognize a guy like Elias who has gotten over huge with crowds since moving up from NXT or they could have Curt Hawkins win. Hawkins has had an incredible 100+ match losing streak which has lasted longer than a year. A win here could provide a fun Wrestlemania moment for him.
Last year’s win by Mojo Rawley tells us their not too fussed about who wins this thing and it could well and truly be someone out of left field. Maybe Dash Wilder wins. I dunno.
Who Should Win: Curt Hawkins
Who Will Win: Elias
Alexa Bliss © vs Nia Jax for the Raw Women’s Championship
Once friends, now bitter enemies. One of the most successful new wrestlers in the division against a perennial under-performer. This match is one of the most low key matches on a star studded line-up but I kind of hope that the underdog status means that Bliss and Nia can surprise and delight us. Pint sized performers facing off against giants can be one of the most entertaining types of matches to watch when done right and I think these guys have it in them. I hope Nia gets her moment in the sun too. I think she deserves it and it opens up a fresh new set of match ups if she is the champ on Raw.
Who Should Win: Nia Jax
Who Will Win: Alexa Bliss
Randy Orton © vs Bobby Roode vs Jinder Mahal vs Rusev in a fatal 4 way match for the WWE United States Championship
A year ago, this would have looked like a pretty random mash up of performers to have in a match and yet in 2018, the likes of Rusev and Bobby Roode draw some of the biggest pops from the crowd. Honestly, both Roode and Rusev don’t need the title to maintain their popularity with audiences (although Roode is definitely better as a heel) whereas Jinder Mahal can antagonize and frustrate audiences like nobody’s business if he held the US title.
Do you reward Roode or Rusev for their connection with the fans or do you go with Jinder Mahal and set up a chase for a babyface to dethrone him over the summer?
Who Should Win: Jinder Mahal
Who Will Win: Bobby Roode
The Bar (Sheamus and Cesaro) © vs Braun Strowman and ??? for the Raw Tag Team Championship
Braun Strowman has had an improbably great 2017/18 and at Wrestlemania he should receive his just reward, squashing the tag team champs with the aid of a mystery partner. There’s lots of ways they could book this. You could have the return of a popular babyfacy like Dean Ambrose. You could reunite him with his Mixed Match Challenge partner Alexa Bliss. Or you could come full circle to the first match that started his current gimmick and have him reunite with James Ellsworth.
Whoever it is, enjoy your moment big guy. You earned it.
Who Should Win: Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss
Who Will Win: Braun Strowman and Bray Wyatt
The Usos (Jimmy and Jey Uso) © vs The New Day (Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods) vs The Bludgeon Brothers (Luke Harper and Erick Rowan) for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship
The veterans of the WWE tag team division should put on a fantastic showcase here. I kind of have the feeling that for the Usos and The New Day, they’re getting pretty close to the end of their current run as the headline performers of the division so I expect them to go all out. The Usos in particular should be commended for reinventing themselves in their current incarnation and getting themselves over as take no shit, no-nonsense heels.
I’d like to see The New Day get a crowd-pleasing championship win here. Especially if Kofi is closing to winding down his career.
Who Should Win: The New Day
Who Will Win: The Usos
The Miz © vs Finn Balor vs Seth Rollins in a triple threat match for the Intercontinental Championship
Three talented midcard performers, all capable of stealing the show. Given enough time, this could be one of the matches of the night. The Miz is not far away from breaking the record for the longest overall IC title reign and both Finn and Seth are former main eventers who I’m sure will be eager to make their mark at the biggest show of the year.
He’s just had a kid and is one of the hardest workers in the room. I’d be happy for the Miz to retain here.
Who Should Win: The Miz
Who Will Win: The Miz
Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey vs Stephanie McMahon and Triple H in a mixed tag-team match
I’m fascinated to see if Ronda Rousey can make a similar transition into pro wrestling, the way Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar were able to. She has the star power, the presence and the skill set to be a major star in the Womens Division. It’s great to see four womens matches at Wrestlemania this year and the women are only helped if Ronda can effectively bring across her mainstream appeal into future bouts.
I expect Kurt and Trips to do the lion’s share of the work in this contest but all eyes will be on Ronda to see how she handles her debut.
Who Should Win: Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey
Who Will Win: Triple H and Stephanie McMahon
The Return of the GOAT: Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn – if Sami and KO win, they’ll be reinstated. Lose and they remain fired
Daniel Bryan is back!
Is there a better story to come out of 2018 than Daniel Bryan’s successful rehabilitation and subsequent un-retiring? Bryan cruelly had his career cut short just as he was hitting his stride as a main eventer so its fantastic to see him back in the ring. Who knows how he’ll go and whether he will keep up a full time schedule but there are dozens of dream matches versus the likes of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura etc that suddenly loom large on the horizon. His return signals an exciting time to watch the Smackdown roster.
Who Should Win: Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon
Who Will Win: Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon
‘The Queen’ Charlotte Flair © vs ‘The Empress’ Asuka for the Smackdown Women’s Championship – Title vs Streak
The biggest womens match of all time in WWE history. The best performer of the modern era against an undefeated monster. The patient build up of Asuka’s undefeated streak has been one of the best storylines in WWE over the last two years and this is the payoff. Does she win the big one and potentially extend that winning streak into 1,000+ days? Or can Charlotte inflict upon Asuka her first defeat?
If given enough time, this should be one of the matches of the night.
I’d like to see Asuka win the title here and then have a big money match down the line with Ronda Rousey.
Who Should Win: Asuka
Who Will Win: Asuka
John Cena vs The Undertaker
In an otherwise impeccably built-up Wrestlemania, this dream match between John Cena and The Undertaker is a weird blemish. We’re not even sure they’re having a match? For weeks John Cena has called out The Undertaker and right up until the last Raw before Wrestlemania, he hasn’t responded to the challenge.
I think its interesting to see The Undertaker even speculatively being involved in a match. He was clearly intended to retire last year after his exit from the ring where he symbolically left his coat and hat. I can only assume that he wants a do-over because his match with Roman Reigns was…not great.
I have to think they’re not going to do this match this year. Not with that build up. To be honest, the show has enough big matches to push this out to next year.
Who Should Win: No One
Who Will Win: Match Doesn’t Happen
AJ Styles © vs Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship
A dream match. Two of the most talented workers on the main roster. A championship match. A North American iteration on their classic New Japan encounter at Wrestle Kingdom.
This is one of the those matches where it doesn’t really matter who wins. Both men have made it to the top of the mountain already and have nothing left to prove. We can just sit back and enjoy what should be a wrestling spectacle.
Who Should Win: Shinsuke Nakamura
Who Will Win: Shinsuke Nakamura
Brock Lesnar © vs Roman Reigns II for the WWE Universal Championship
Roman wins. We’re finally done with this match. Hooray!
Who Should Win: Roman Reigns
Who Will Win: Roman Reigns