John: Welcome to the TJRWrestling WWE WrestleMania 33 Preview. It’s finally here. There are 13 announced matches scheduled for at least six hours of content with the Kickoff Show starting at 5pmET and the main show at 7pmET.
Normally I write some words about the show in this spot, but this is a 10,000 word preview, so I might as well just get to it. Joining me for the preview are Kurt Zamora, Mike Holland and Matthew J. Douglas. Get a drink because it’s going to be a big one. Let’s get to it.
(Note: All graphics are from WWE.com. The banner is courtesy of our friend Melo Man.)
Kurt: Since there’s so many matches on the card, John wouldn’t let me present my 500 word essay on why I think Mojo Rawley should win this in honor of Zack Ryder. I’m sure everyone is going to predict Braun Strowman to win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he and Big Show eliminate each other and leads into a post WrestleMania feud. They had a great match a few weeks back that I think would lead to genuine interest in that storyline. My prediction is Sami Zayn just for the simple reason that I’m overly optimistic and really have to think all the work and fighting uphill he’s had to do is going to lead to something positive.
Prediction: Sami Zayn
Mike: The most entertaining aspect of this Kickoff Show match for me is the prospect of the winner carrying around the Andre trophy for a whole year. Think of it like when Bad News Brown beat up Bret Hart over that supersized bowling trophy in the glorious '80s. A match like this is generally difficult to predict without knowing exactly who's in it, but to me the only possibilities among the announced crew are the absurdly obvious (and Andre like) Braun Strowman and the plucky and tenacious Sami Zayn, who was one of the few Raw roster members positively impacted by the whole Stephanie McMahon/Mick Foley oddness.
Strowman winning is not really the question. Far more interesting will be what they do with Sami in the long run. My feeling is that he hangs around and gives it a good run until sadly being the last one eliminated before the coronation of the former Wyatt bouncer. Strowman has to have validity when he's invariably reinserted into the title picture in the future and this would qualify.
Winner: Braun Strowman
Matthew: I can’t remember ever really caring much about this match in years past, and this year I somehow care less. At one point this match was a backdrop for The Miz and Mizdow to finally come to blows. Now, I really can’t think of a compelling story that will be taking place within the confines of the ultimately meaningless match at the Ultimate Thrill Ride Wrestlemania.
I expect Braun Strowman (who is just the greatest), Big Show and Sami Zayn to be heavily featured in this match. I won’t be surprised at all to see Show put over the new monster Strowman at some point during the battle royal. My pick ultimately comes down to Braun or Sami Zayn. Either they let Braun be victorious in an mostly meaningless way, or they let Sami get a pretty hollow victory that will be forgotten in weeks. I could agonize over this decision, but we all know this match doesn’t matter.
Winner: Braun Strowman (because letting him win at Wrestlemania is important I suppose)
John: Battle royals don’t excite me. Maybe when I was a kid I cared about it a bit more, but those days are long gone. It would be nice if there was a prize for the winner of the battle royal instead of a trophy that doesn’t mean anything. Give them a title shot or something to that effect.
I think guys like Braun Strowman, Big Show and Sami Zayn will play key roles in the match. Strowman and Show will eliminate a lot of the smaller guys and guys that don’t mean much. They’ll have big showdown in the ring with Strowman dumping Show out. As for Zayn, he should do a good job of coming close to winning, perhaps teasing an elimination of Strowman and in the end he’ll fail because this is about putting Strowman. Both Strowman and Zayn deserved bigger roles on this show. Too bad they are only in the battle royal.
Winner: Braun Strowman
Cruiserweight Championship: Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries (Kickoff Match)
Kurt: One of the true feel good moments for me in this card is seeing Austin Aries getting a one on one match in WWE. It wasn’t very long ago that this would’ve never been a possibility. This is a tough match to choose as Aries has literally only been back a couple weeks and Neville has been tremendous in his new role. I personally think I would like to see Aries continue to chase for a little longer and get the fans behind him even stronger. I have a feeling this will be the first match of the night, which is unfortunate that more fans won’t be able to get to their seats to see this as they will put on one hell of a match.
Prediction: Neville retains
Mike: Now we're getting to the good stuff. Neville is proof positive that you get to have way more fun in the wrestling business as a heel, and he's grown into his character tremendously. It's been very effective at getting the average fan hot and bothered about unseating him as champion, and that's where Austin Aries comes in. Aries, highly regarded and experienced coming into the company, has demonstrated a great grasp of both the physical and the verbal sides of the game. He looks and acts like a winner, and I'm bullish on his future as a top hand.
Whether he defeats Neville here is a coin flip to me. The match will be fantastic, and a bright spot for the Cruiserweight division which has been a black mark on Raw since its inception through no fault of the workers. Considering the strap seems to change hands at every pay-per-view, I'd understand the feeling that AA's time is now. But I personally think we'll have to wait for a rematch. Two title changes before the main card even starts seems a bit unrealistic. You should have put this on the real card, WWE. Weak.
Winner and STILL WWE Cruiserweight Champion: Neville
Matthew: It’s great to see that Neville will get to compete at this year’s Wrestlemania after having to miss last year’s event due to injury. He’s been hitting on all cylinders since turning heel and has been a huge bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming Cruiserweight Division.
Aries had one of the best go home weeks of any superstar employed by the WWE on the road to this Wrestlemania. He cut a stellar promo on 205 Live, got to show off his considerable skill, and has established himself as a big deal in the process. This match should be bananas, and I seriously don’t want to miss it.
Winner and Still Cruiserweight Champion: Neville (because he’s still got juice as the top heel with the title)
John: This match features two of my favorite wrestlers in the company. Neville has improved a lot since his heel turn. He’s getting promo time on a consistent basis, he gets booed by the crowd and his matches are awesome. Aries has looked awesome since his return to action. I have liked him as a heel in the past, but he’s done well as a face so far.
I’m going with Neville retaining the title in a 15-minute match that should be on the main show instead of the Kickoff Show. He should hold it for a few more months, until perhaps SummerSlam because if he is established as a long-term champion it would mean a lot for the credibility of the Cruiserweight Title.
Smackdown Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss vs. Mickie James vs. Natalya vs. Naomi vs. Carmella vs. Becky Lynch
(Note: This was set as a Kickoff Show match earlier in the week. Now it’s on the main show.)
Kurt: I can't begin to describe how thrilled I am that I had to rewrite this entire match preview now that this match is back on the main card. The Smackdown women have consistently carried two to three viable storylines since the brand split and have created new stars in Alexa Bliss and Carmella. (Don't think Carmella is a star yet? Look at how much merch she has.) They deserve this moment just as much as the Raw women do, if not more.
I love Alexa as champion and would hate to see her lose the belt again already, but it seems like Smackdown has found lightning in a bottle with Naomi. I can't explain how she got so popular, but good on her for capitalizing on her chance. Now that the match is where it belongs, Naomi should get one hell of a moment in front of her home crowd. I would expect to see a couple more names show up in this match, but no Eva Marie is really going to make me All Sad Everything. See what I did there?
Prediction: New Smackdown Women's Champion, Naomi
Mike: While the blue brand has been far better overall since the split, their side of the Women's ledger has been disappointing. I don't blame current champ Alexa Bliss for that, as I feel she's been a very solid heel and done great promo work at every opportunity she's had. I do blame silly matches like this one, which starts with her defending against "every available woman on the roster" and sounds patently ridiculous. I'm quite sure we're all pining for Asuka to come up from NXT and claim the gold, but let's get real: It's meant to add excitement to a match that desperately needs some of it, and it fails in that regard.
For the bout itself? WWE seems committed to having Becky Lynch flounder after such a strong start, and Mickie James has already lost some of the fresh heel fun in order to be reduced to an also-ran cheerleader. Carmella? Don't get me started. Bliss has had a good run, but WWE already wanted Naomi as their champion once and that was only ended due to an unfortunate injury situation. Little reason to think Orlando's own doesn't rectify that here.
Winner and NEW Smackdown Women's Champion: Naomi
Matthew: Ironically the strength of this match is one of its weaknesses. Its greatest strength is that it highlights the depth of the Smackdown Live Women’s division. All of these ladies have character and bring something unique and special to the table. From top to bottom, the division has a great mix of vets, prospects and characters.
Unfortunately, that means for a bit of a muddled storytelling situation. I enjoy a complicated tapestry as much as the next writer, but it’s hard to see what stories should be focused on. Naomi’s return and addition to this bout helps in terms of focus, and I’m sure all of the women involved will get time to shine. I’m looking forward to it.
Winner and New Smackdown Women’s Champion: Naomi (because it’s her hometown and she never lost the belt in the first place)
John: I’m glad that Naomi is back from her knee injury. The pop for her return on Smackdown last week was good. It also makes me think that she should win this match. Of course, if somebody like Natalya or Mickie James got the win I’d prefer that over anything because they are two veterans that could have great matches with anybody.
I think the result is either going to be Naomi getting the win in her hometown or Bliss finding a way to get a cheap pinfall and keeping her title. I’m going with Naomi. Also, I know there’s speculation of other women being added to the match. I don’t think that’s going to happen, though. It feels like it will just be a six pack challenge kind of match.
Final point on this match is to say I’m glad it got moved on the Kickoff Show. For the “women’s revolution” to mean something, this needed to be on the main show. People don’t remember Kickoff Show matches after all.
Winner and New Smackdown Women’s Champion: Naomi
Raw Tag Team Championships Ladder Match: Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (c) vs. Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. Sheamus & Cesaro
Kurt: I’m a huge fan of Gallows and Anderson. However, I’m a huge fan of theirs for everything they do outside the ring. From their appearances on Talk Is Jericho on the Talkin’ Shop episodes and lately, their appearances on Southpaw Regional Wrestling. That sort of charisma and entertainment though, isn’t allowed to be shown on TV, which is a damn shame. Steve Austin even made that point on his podcast and said they would be way over if they were allowed to, which I completely agree with. I don’t see the need to force a ladder match stipulation to this match as the story already wrote itself. Enzo and Cass win their first tag titles, feel good moment, that simple. I’m sure they’ll all work their ass off, but just an unfortunate scenario to be pigeonholed like this.
Prediction: New Raw Tag Team Champions, Enzo and Big Cass
Mike: The most exciting thing about this overstuffed triple threat match is the prospect of the Hardy brothers coming in and reminding everyone how excellent they were with ladders. I would temper your expectations, folks. Adding the ladders was a cheap and effective way to make an obvious outcome seem less obvious. No more and no less. Do I think the Hardys are Titan Tower bound? Certainly. Do I think they'll be involved in this? Not even remotely.
Why are Cesaro and Sheamus even a team anymore? It still feels like it did at the beginning, an excuse to give Cesaro a shiny object to work on while all the important matters happen elsewhere. I will give a solid thumbs up to Gallows & Anderson finally being presented as baddies who will take every advantage to get the drop on their opponents, but as long as they are still calling people "nerds" it remains lame. Wake me when the Bullet Club is a reality. Just like the Hardys, that's going to happen right? Shiny object.
Winner and NEW Raw Tag Team Champions: Enzo & Big Cass
Matthew: There really isn’t a single person in this match that I’m particularly excited to see involved in a ladder match. This stipulation was added at the last minute, in what seems like an attempt to spice up an otherwise cold three-way rivalry.
A much better Championship Ladder Match would have been American Alpha vs. The Usos vs. The Revival. That would be action packed clash of styles. These three teams don’t do much for me. I know Cesaro will bring the heat, Sheamus is no slouch (even though I never will like him), Gallows and Anderson are great workers, and Cass and Enzo can be an entertaining twosome, but none of them scream Ladder Match stand out to me. I’m sure they’ll try like hell to prove me wrong.
Winners and New Raw Tag Team Champions: Enzo and Cass (because sometimes somebody has to reach the pinnacle for the first time at Wrestlemania)
John: It feels like WWE came up with the idea of making this a ladder match within the last week. There was no hint of them adding the stipulation prior to last week’s Raw, yet there they were using ladders in a backstage attack. Why did they announce the Ladder Match on social media on Tuesday instead of during Raw? That was weird.
This should be Enzo & Cass’ big moment. They didn’t win the NXT Tag Titles and they haven’t won titles on the main roster. Put them over huge in this match. It’s the easy way to go. I think it should be a pretty good match since the ladders are involved, but I don’t expect an all time classic or anything like that.
Winners and new Raw Tag Team Champions: Enzo & Cass
Intercontinental Championship: Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Baron Corbin
Kurt: In the words of Paul Heyman back in the day, Baron Corbin is The Next Big Thing. I love this guy. He’s finally come into his own since the calendar turned to 2017. I knew he was destined for big things once he was the one that eliminated Braun from the Rumble in January. Dean can be hit or miss, but he’s been more hit once he lost the WWE Title and seemingly didn’t feel the burden anymore of carrying the company. I’ve really enjoyed this storyline and I would like to see a lot more of it post-WrestleMania. These guys could have an outstanding Last Man Standing match, or something along those lines, down the road. I hope they get enough time here and it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as this should be a big moment for Corbin.
Prediction: New Intercontinental Champion, Baron Corbin
Mike: I'm writing a preview, and I forgot this match was happening. That should tell you something right off the bat. Was it me, or did they spend NO time promoting this on Smackdown Live Tuesday? As in zero, nada, nil. Speaking of zilch, that's exactly how much excitement surrounds the former lightning rod Dean Ambrose as Intercontinental Champion. He's been defanged and neutered, reduced to menacing glares and bad comedy spots. Unfortunate.
This would have fared better as a no-DQ match in my view, as it would give both guys a chance to play with toys and better captivate our attention. I'm not sure what's next for Ambrose, as I fear a Ziggler-like fall from grace. Corbin is out of his league here, but WWE loves the big guys and his presentation has improved. A championship is needed for the next level, and so he'll get his time in the sun. Ambrose should play the lotto and pray feverishly for a Shield reunion to fix the bad juju.
Winner and NEW Intercontinental Champion: Baron Corbin
Matthew: I’m a huge Dean Ambrose fan, but this matchup does nothing for me. The build has been lackluster and the segment that they had on Talking Smack this week was excruciatingly and cringeworthy. I also don’t have much hope for these guys meshing well in the ring together.
Corbin in my opinion isn’t ready, and I’d have much rather seen somebody else in this spot challenging Dean for the Intercontinental Championship. Almost anybody else would have been an improvement to me, and it’s not at all that I don’t like Corbin. I just don’t think this was the place for him right now.
Winner and Still Intercontinental Champion: Dean Ambrose (call it wishful thinking)
John: I liked the way this feud started at Elimination Chamber and some of the things immediately after, but the last few weeks were poor with regards to this feud. They lost some steam. They weren’t even on Smackdown. They were on Talking Smack, though.
Corbin is on his way to becoming a main event level performer. To get there, he should go over some upper midcard faces, so that’s where Ambrose fits in. Ambrose has credibility as a former WWE Champion and the current IC Champion. The announcers will put over how big of a win this is for Corbin. I don’t think it’s a lock that Corbin is going to win, but it would be a surprise if Ambrose held onto the gold.
Winner and New Intercontinental Champion: Baron Corbin
Raw Women’s Championship: Bayley (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Nia Jax
Kurt: I’ve predicted a lot of title changes, but here’s one where the title will stay put. That’s not a good thing though. Anyone that knows anything about wrestling, knows that Bayley beating Charlotte at Fast Lane made less than zero sense and absolutely took the appeal out of this match. Imagine if Bayley was still fighting for her first title and Charlotte still had her PPV undefeated streak, but is having to put up everything against not just one or two opponents, but three? And one of those three is Nia Jax. That’s a story everyone can invest in. Instead we get a match that WWE is trying their damndest to make feel important, but it just isn’t.
My gut feeling is that it’ll come down to Bayley and Sasha and Bayley will win, thus starting the Sasha heel turn. Maybe even immediately after the match. However it goes though, it’s a missed opportunity.
Prediction: Bayley retains the Raw Women’s Title
Mike: It was a roundabout way to get to the match they wanted to do all along, and I admit to being as surprised as anyone that they ended Charlotte's PPV run early instead of saving the Bayley moment for WrestleMania. While this match is notable for featuring three of the four Horsewomen, I can't say I'm enthusiastic about another iteration of Bayley/Charlotte. I like that Nia Jax is in the match, as she deserves it, but it's a bit early to see her walking away with the title belt. Get the Ronda Rousey promo ready.
The Sasha Banks heel turn has been way overplayed and telegraphed enough to make Samuel Morse envious, so there's little doubt she factors into the eventual decision in some way. I don't see that being enough to make her champion here, so she either gets jobbed at the end and turns on Monday's Raw in anger or attacks Bayley after the bell has sounded. Banks/Bayley feels fresh and will have plenty of juice, so I'd rather just see that.
Winner and STILL Raw Women's Champion: Bayley
Matthew: So it’s pretty clear that we’re headed toward a Bayley vs Sasha Banks program coming out of Wrestlemania. The questions are whether or not it will be a championship rivalry (duh!) and who will be the Champion once the feud begins.
I can see this going a few ways. I could see Bayley and Sasha helping each other to eliminate Nia Jax and Charlotte, Bayley notably saving Sasha from a few precarious situations along the way, such as breaking up a nearfall or saving Sasha from a submission. Once its down to just the two of them, Sasha takes advantage of a Bayley injury to win, or loses to her friend surprisingly, despite a myriad of attempts to submit and pin Bayley.
In either case, the full turn can be saved for the following night’s Raw, either with Sasha as Champion saying she did what it took to win and turning on her friend, or a jealous Sasha betraying Bayley.
Winner and Still Raw Women’s Champion: Bayley (because knowing the WWE’s track record, the jealous heel angle is the route they’ll prefer)
John: If you read my stuff regularly then you know how I feel about this. I think WWE messed up the build to this match. Bayley should not be walking in as the champion. They should have kept the title on Charlotte, had Bayley come close to beating her multiple times and finally get her title win at this event. Same way that Enzo & Cass should get their title win on Sunday, which they probably will. Why has WWE forgotten how to build up big moments? I don’t understand it.
The elimination match concept is the right way to go with this. It means the winner has to get through three others in order to have their hand raised instead of one fall for the finish. It could be Banks and Bayley at the end with Bayley proving she’s better by beating her. It wouldn’t shock me if Jax is the one at the end with Bayley. Charlotte could make it to the end, but if it’s up to me I’d eliminate her earlier because the other three women could use a boost.
I think Bayley’s going to retain the title. The Sasha Banks heel turn could start as soon as Monday’s Raw because something can happen here to set it up. I think heel Banks will be the one to take the title from Bayley, but it’s going to be a few months.
John Cena & Nikki Bella vs. The Miz & Maryse
Kurt: I remember when this match was first announced was the plan by Dave Meltzer (back in January) and everybody bitched about how it wasn’t a match that anyone wanted to see. It was a waste of both Cena and Miz. I wasn’t one of those because I thought it was a great reward for Miz (and Maryse for that matter) for the work they’ve done as of late. Cena doesn’t have many matches anymore, but any match he does is going to be presented as a huge deal. Plus, whether we like it or not, Cena and Nikki tagging up for the first time ever was guaranteed to bring in new eyes from the entertainment world. Outlets like Nickelodeon, The Today Show, they’re all talking about this match because of Cena and Nikki. This is the match I’m most interested to see, just because they brought back the age old adage, “talk ‘em into the building”.
The promo work by everyone involved has been A+. The Total Bellas parodies were some of the best pre-taped segments in a LONG time. I know the predominant thinking is that Cena and Nikki will win and Cena will propose to Nikki afterwards. I’m going to take a different spin on it. I see Nikki taking the loss for her team and Cena can’t believe it. He actually walks out on Nikki, disappointed that when all eyes are on them/him, they lost. Playing up the stuff that Miz has said about Cena being all about himself, he can leave and look like he’s only caring about himself. He’s obviously taking some time off after Mania, so you can have Nikki stay on TV and being despondent and wondering where she stands with him. Then Cena can come back, play up what he’s going to decide to do with Nikki, and then you have him do the proposal. Don’t bring it up out of nowhere, build to it. That’s something Smackdown is really good at doing.
Prediction: The Miz & Maryse
Mike: One of the chicken and the egg philosophies in the WWE concerns new talent. Do they suffer from a creative malaise because they aren't as good as the old guard at getting you pumped to watch them perform, or does creative simply not give them the time of day while they are buttering up the names of yesteryear in a vainglorious attempt to beef up the biggest card of the year? I'm not sure of the true answer, but exhibit A is right here, as the build for this match has been over-the-top and fantastic.
Miz and Maryse's promo work leading up to Sunday has been the stuff of legend, and far better than any actual acting Miz has done. For Cena's part, he carried the torch in a major way on Tuesday's Smackdown Live, delivering a passionate promo that sounded incredibly real because, hey, it was! I've said over and over that incorporating the reality into the fantasy is what makes a match tick, and I am over the moon that these four performers have made me care about a Total Divas storyline and a mixed tag.
Well, care a little. I do! Pun intended.
Winners: John Cena & Nikki Cena
Matthew: Mike “The Miz” Mizanin has long been one of my favorite performers in wrestling. Not because of any particular exemplary performances in the ring, but because I find his character fascinating. He is a truly sympathetic and somewhat tragic character. A monster of the wrestling fans making. He is the kid that grew up watching wrestling, wanted to become a wrestler, entered a contest that would help him do it, and once he made it, nobody accepted him.
The wrestlers rejected him because of a Reality TV past and the fans rejected him despite the fact that he is the closest thing to one of us getting to be a WWE Superstar. He’s a great performer, but what makes his heel persona great is that he never really lies. He is persecuted. Nobody respects him, and in this last year we’ve seen that fact cause spectacular outbursts.
John Cena delivered a hell of a promo on The Miz on Tuesday in response to Miz and Maryse’s hilarious Total Bellas parodies. This has been the single best built match on this card and it isn’t even close. Both pairs brought the goods.
Winners: John Cena and Nikki Bella (because I really don’t see any other way for this to end, which is a damn shame)
John: The build has been awesome for this match. I didn’t expect to write that last month, but they won me over with the promos. The best rivalries in wrestling are the ones where it feels like Wrestler A hates Wrestler B legitimately. In this case, it’s four people, but I really feel like they have captured the audience in terms of what they’ve been saying week after week. John & Nikki are the bigger stars, so Miz & Maryse did what they could to get under their skin, which included parody videos for a couple of weeks. By the way, I didn’t realize Maryse could get any hotter, but brunette Maryse is fantastic. Just saying.
The way Cena fired back on Miz & Maryse this past week on Smackdown was incredible. One of the best promos Cena’s ever done. That’s because it felt like it was John ripping on these people as individuals. It’s all done in character, but it felt legit. We need more promos like that.
John and Nikki will get the win. I think Nikki will pin or submit Maryse. After the match is over, John will propose to Nikki and WWE will get a lot of mainstream press for it. That’s the whole point of this match.
Winners: John Cena & Nikki Bella
Non-Sanctioned Match: Seth Rollins vs. Triple H
Kurt: I can’t help but wonder how different this match would look had Rollins not gotten hurt again. I give credit to the writing team though for keeping this match quite appealing to me, while having to come up with a new story on the fly. I know many of you aren’t going to like this, but Rollins isn’t going to win this match. First off, it would look bad if HHH lost to a one-legged Rollins. Secondly, you know this is where Samoa Joe is going to show up. Lastly, they haven’t even gotten to the point where HHH addresses the fact that Rollins still uses the Pedigree. So a rematch is going to happen, maybe at Summerslam. So Joe will interfere, cost Rollins the match, and that will lead to Rollins’ next program all while setting up the eventual rematch with Triple H.
Prediction: Triple H
Mike: Exhibit B follows right behind, as Triple H has demonstrated his ability to create heat and build in this "unsanctioned" match against the Architect. Much like Undertaker, Triple H is generally a welcome presence on the WM card due to his ability to pick the right opponent and put on a damn good effort. Also much like Undertaker, some of that praise is diminished due to their stubborn inability to allow the newer lights to shine full blast for a few hours on the biggest stage they have.
Trips played his role admirably in Philly on Raw, blasting and emasculating Rollins in that fun way he has in which he taps into the true feelings of wrestling fans and plays them for fools while they spend money to endure it. While I can't say I always appreciate the gesture, it's incredibly smart. Everything about this match is stacked against Rollins, from his very real injury to the very fake prospect of him being saddled with it while he wrestlers with a crutch to the potential of a Samoa Joe appearance.
It is all those factors, of course, which will make Rollins winning that much better. Mick Foley's revenge. Count on it.
Winner: Seth Rollins
Matthew: This feud may have benefitted a little from Seth Rollins being injured for a sizeable portion of it. It had just felt cold given the long layoff between the inciting incident and strike back. I mean the whole thing started in August 2016 and didn’t really get picked back up until January 2017. The injury kind of raised the stakes a bit, and ratcheted up the intensity of the feud, while also not allowing it to become super overexposed.
Seth finally spoke about wanting redemption, which I’d been calling for since last year. He didn’t really go as in depth as I’d wanted him to, specifically mentioning his betrayal of who he is and of his family, The Shield, for promises of Championships and riches. With that said, it was his best promo since becoming a babyface.
Triple H has been usual Triple H. Longwinded in his promo style, always droning on and on, with several repetitions throughout. His promo on the go home Raw was particularly great while the others were closer to being bad for this fan. I don’t know what to expect from this match, which is good.
Winner: Seth Rollins (because if Seth Rollins doesn’t conquer his corruptor at Wrestlemania, I question what Wrestlemania is even for anymore)
John: It’s a shame that Rollins is coming into this match with an injury because if he was healthy I think they would have had an outstanding match. Remember Triple H vs. Dean Ambrose at Roadblock 2016, which was prior to WrestleMania? Outstanding match because it got over 20 minutes. I’m not sure if they can go over 20 minutes with Rollins at 80% or whatever he is with that injury. I think interference from Samoa Joe is likely while somebody like Sami Zayn, Mick Foley or Finn Balor will try to help Rollins. That should allow Rollins to get the win, which he should since he’s the younger guy and the full timer.
I don’t think Rollins winning is a guarantee. If you have Triple H win, the easy story to tell is that Rollins was banged up and Hunter took advantage of it. Rollins can feud with Samoa Joe for a few months while they build to a Rollins/Hunter match for SummerSlam with Rollins getting the win there. I’m still picking Rollins to win, but it’s far from a lock.
Winner: Seth Rollins
United States Championship: Chris Jericho (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Kurt: If I had to put money on which match bell to bell will be the longest of the night, I would put it on this match. If this is Jericho’s swan song for a while as he goes off to do his Fozzy work, then he deserves to be able to try and steal the show and have an instant classic with Owens. Everyone has said it, this is possibly Jericho’s best run ever, and we finally have the Kevin Owens from NXT that can truly be that top heel he’s destined to be.
Obviously with Brock and Goldberg both being part timers, whoever wins the Universal Title won’t be at every show, so Owens as the new US Champion will be the top guy for the majority of Raws and live events, so he’ll be able to really shine.
Prediction: New United States Champion, Kevin Owens
Mike: As usual, I'll lead with the obvious: This match should be for the Universal Title, and it's an injustice and travesty that it's not. Feel better? Me too. That said, in a way it's perhaps a great thing that it's not, because watching these two "former friends" battle each other will give everyone else on the roster a chance to see what they are capable of. Is it a foregone conclusion that they steal the show? You betcha.
Silently removing Owens from the Universal title picture to make way for the monsters was going to prove difficult, and that's why this feud is doubly intelligent. Jericho and his machinations give it a big feel fight, and even though the two are mining the EXACT same territory that Owens and real-life mon frère Sami Zayn did so well, who cares? It's been epic. We've had a list, a broken TV, retro pictures, and another list. All we're missing is a houseplant.
Y2J was an interim champ as soon as he won the belt, and it's well known he's got another Fozzy run coming up. Allowing Owens to get the nod here keeps him protected. Enjoy every minute. It's the best you'll get Sunday.
Winner and NEW United States Champion: Kevin Owens
Matthew: There’s been a lot of great stuff along the road of this rivalry. Their year of being friends was magical at times. These two had a chemistry that was just off the charts, and nearly everything that they touched was insanely entertaining.
When the break up came, we all saw it coming but were sad to see their on screen relationship come to an end. It was one of the best angles in the biz for most of 2016, the break up angle was exquisite, and even though the build-up since the break up hasn’t recaptured the electricity of the break up itself, it’s still been one of the better things to see during this long wait in line to get on the Ultimate Thrill Ride!
I’m expecting these two to deliver a spectacular match.
Winner and New United States Champion: Kevin Owens (because Jericho is going away for a bit and this just makes sense)
John: Owens winning this match and the title makes a lot of sense. He’s the younger guy, Jericho’s going away for music commitments soon and logically speaking it’s the right call. The thing is, if they are booking so many title changes already they may want to hold off on doing a title change here. They could save it for Monday night or a Raw that follows. It could even happen at Raw’s Payback pay-per-view later in April. I’m going to pick Owens because it’s the easy thing. I’m just saying they could do something different here.
The build has been great. They may get more time than any match and I think the crowd is going to be into a lot. I’m excited to see it. I have high expectations for this match, which should be around 20 minutes of in-ring action.
Winner and new United States Champion: Kevin Owens
Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles
Kurt: I’ve stated multiple times and on multiple platforms that I was really excited to see this match. It would be built up as a big deal for AJ and would be a spectacle to see. I continued to feel that way until this past Tuesday. It was at that point that AJ cut his promo talking about how this is just a normal wrestling match and he will wrestle circles around Shane. Which is all true and makes me really question how good can this match be? It reminds me a little bit of Orton and HHH from WM25 when they had such a personal rivalry and then when it came down to the match, they could do nothing extracurricular and it ended up incredibly boring. Both men have even admitted such.
After Shane goes through a car window and bleeds, then AJ gets put through a table with Shane’s leap of faith, how can they just have a standard match? If I was booking, I would have it announced right before the match that it’s now No Holds Barred and play up the story that Shane is outsmarting AJ. No matter how the match ends up playing, AJ is getting his first WrestleMania win.
Prediction: AJ Styles
Mike: This match encapsulates everything that's wrong with WrestleMania this year for me. Not to be a downer, but why exactly do I want someone of AJ Styles' caliber wasted on a one-off with a member of the McMahon Family? It's one thing to have Shane-O-Mac go against the Undertaker in a Hot Tub Time Machine match, but AJ? What did he do to deserve this?
It's especially sad since Styles had one hell of a 2016. I think he proved many doubters wrong, and most of them were in WWE's office. How silly do they look passing on this guy for so long? Taking the belt from him may have been a necessary evil, and I'm all for the elevation of Bray Wyatt, but AJ frankly deserves better. Shane is a hell of a gamer and will undoubtedly bring a selfie stick moment or two, but there's primary school and post-graduate class.
I can only hope AJ beats Shane so senseless that Daniel Bryan has to come out to throw the towel in on his behalf and create some much needed friction in the hierarchy of the blue brand. Anything less is an insult.
Winner: AJ Styles
Matthew: I’ve made my feelings on this match clear in older posts, but I’ll reiterate that I simply don’t like it. It felt haphazardly thrown together from a storytelling perspective and AJ deserved something more meaningful for Wrestlemania. I get that wrestling Shane is a prime spot, but it’s birthday cake, meaning it has no nutritional value. I would have much rather seen a wrestling clinic put on by AJ/Shinsuke or AJ/Balor than see this match.
With all that said, I can’t think of many big time Shane McMahon matches that weren’t memorable. I expect AJ to get the absolute best out of the fans favorite McMahon, and I’m interested to see what they have up their sleeve for this one, because there’s got to be something planned.
Winner: AJ Styles (because if they make Shane beat AJ… I just can’t)
John: The prediction isn’t that hard. Styles is the full time wrestler that is the best in the world (I’m not going to say arguably because he is the best) and Shane is a part timer that has no problem putting people over. That’s what he does. Would I have liked Styles to face somebody else? Sure, but I certainly don’t mind Shane.
What I do question is why WWE booked this match without a stipulation? Fans want to see Shane jump off some high object and risk his life. It draws a big reaction. By saying this is going to be a regular match it hurts the match quality. It would have been nice if they planned it better.
This match may be used to turn Styles face as well. If they do something on Smackdown where Shane puts him over for being an amazing performer and Styles soaks in the cheers then it’s an easy way to set up AJ as the face of the Smackdown brand.
Winner: AJ Styles
WWE Championship: Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Randy Orton
Kurt: Let’s take a look back at last year’s WrestleMania. Do you remember what role Bray Wyatt had? If it took you a minute to remember, that’s because he was just a guinea pig in the highly forgettable segment The Rock had. At that point in time, there were a lot of people that felt Bray was not salvageable anymore. He has become scorched earth. Thankfully, a year later he’s in prime position to be the top guy on Smackdown. The way to complete this is with a decisive win over Orton. The stuff they’ve done incorporating Sister Abigail has been really interesting and has also led me to believe that Taker is done and a lot of his theatrics are not going to be “handed down” to Bray.
Triple H did an interview this week where he said that Orton could be so much better still but only does what he has to. I feel Orton has been completely involved in this storyline, but then there are moments where he’s being held down by Bray’s supporters in the sheep masks, and he’s not even putting up a struggle and looks disinterested. Moments like that make me understand what Hunter is trying to say. Nonetheless, there aren’t two better guys from a psychology standpoint to go against each other, not to mention both are third generation superstars, so I think this is going to be a dark horse match of the night candidate. I hope Harper and/or Rowan don’t come in to ruin the ending as like I said earlier, Bray needs a decisive, clean win.
Prediction: Bray Wyatt retains the WWE Title
Mike: Randy Orton as number one contender and possible Smackdown Live champion is a prospect that does not excite me, but I'll admit that the build with him infiltrating the Wyatt Family and burning down the house has been as good as anything WWE has done lately. That's why I'll forgive the WWE for once again giving us a Randy Orton main event, and also why I am positive this will deliver the goods in a way that could surprise some people. I would have appreciated some love shown to the highly underrated Luke Harper along the way, but you can't have everything. And you know Harper is destined to reunite with Bray down the road anyway.
This match comes down to two things in my opinion. The first is whether WWE truly wants to present Bray Wyatt as a top caliber star, and the second is whether they are comfortable with both major titles changing hands on a night when I expect a heck of a lot of championships to be lost. Bray Wyatt is a truly unique character in both voice and presentation, and I love that he occupies this land of in between where you aren't quite sure what exactly he is and whether you should cheer it. His entrance is the only thing that harkens back to a level of Taker's, and it's no coincidence that timing is everything. WWE should concentrate fully on the actual over the superficial. Wyatt's work has been excellent since his debut to the bigs, and he deserves a lengthy and uninterrupted run with the belt.
Orton will give Wyatt a great match, and I wouldn't be surprised (or overly upset) if Rowan or someone else helped facilitate the victory. Heels don't have to win clean. This feud can continue for a bit longer, and that would be just fine with me, but this should be all about promoting and presenting Wyatt as a champion. Follow the buzzards. They're dining on viper.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Bray Wyatt
Matthew: This is one of the matches on this card with a really long build. They started off as enemies in the waning months of 2016, until eventually Randy pledged loyalty to Bray after losing to him. I appreciate the long term storytelling, but I really and truthfully think that the roles here should be reversed in every conceivable way. Bray should be the challenger, not the Champion. Bray should be the babyface and not the heel. Randy should be the vet putting over a long term project at Wrestlemania, providing a Wrestlemania moment to be remembered: Bray winning his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Instead everything is backward.
I would have loved Randy infiltrating the Wyatt Family with the intention of finding the source of Bray’s power, not just to get rid of it, but to steal it for himself. I wanted Randy to take Bray’s power and his Family and make them his own. Bray would be fighting as the challenger to win not only the Title, but the loyalty of his brothers, of his Family!
I’m assuming the match will be solid. Both guys have been part of great matches before and I expect them to bring their best efforts… I just think thematically and narratively that this whole thing could have been more interesting.
Winner and New WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Randy Orton (because the WWE still owes him for the Brock debacle of 2016)
John: The build for this match has been okay. I don’t want to say great because some of the sci-fi stuff is ridiculous, but I can understand why WWE does it with the Wyatt character. They like having a supernatural guy on the show whether it is The Undertaker, Kane or Wyatt.
I feel like they’re going to have an outstanding match. They have been kept apart for weeks now, so when they do get in the ring it will feel fresh. My feeling is that Wyatt should retain the title because he only won at Elimination Chamber in early February. Why take it off him so soon? He’s a first time heel champion with a strong personality that knows how to elicit a response from the crowd. Wyatt can be a long term WWE Champion. Orton is fine without a title. It’s okay to have him chase for a few months as well.
I’m going with Wyatt winning in a cheap fashion. Luke Harper was reluctant to finish him off in their match on Smackdown, which makes me think that Harper will align himself with Wyatt again. It’s also the perfect spot to bring back Erick Rowan, who is healthy after an injury. Harper and Rowan distract Orton leading to a cheap win for Wyatt. Sounds good to me.
Winner: Bray Wyatt
The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns
Kurt: The most hated man in all of Orlando is going to be the man WWE wishes you would love the most. That’s the day and age we’re in. If they want any hope of Reigns to be cheered moving forward, he has to lose this match. However, there are rumors that are gaining traction that this is Taker’s last match. With that in mind, Taker being of an old school mentality, he has to do the J-O-B on the way out.
The build up to this match has been good, not great. The crowds have been on fire for Taker, maybe a lot of them realizing this could be the last time they ever see him in a ring. Taker’s health is clearly a concern and so I can’t see this being an overly long match, which to me would lend towards a Reigns win. Because however much good will it would do to have him lose to Taker, you can’t have your new “face of the franchise” lose in under 10 minutes to an old guy who needs a new hip. I understand Taker’s “aura” but you wouldn’t have Reigns lose to Mick Foley would you? It’s the same thing in my eyes.
Prediction: Roman Reigns
Mike: I'm not sure that this is Undertaker's last match, as we've heard that as many times as Ric Flair's retirement party, but it should be. And that is said as a huge fan of the man and his work and with complete and utter respect. There comes a point where showing up to the Halloween party in your makeup and costume ceases being cute. That was five years ago at least in this case. Taker is a huge locker room asset and has more than obviously earned the right to do as he wishes, but the uncertainty has worked against him in this match. Since he's already lost once, what happens with another loss? Maybe it's the impetus he needs to realize he has come up short in his epic match with Father Time. As do we all. Cute vacation pics with Michelle McCool await.
WWE has handled this match awfully, even by their standards. Why exactly are these two fighting? Why is Braun Strowman always involved in it when he's not in this match? Why does Roman Reigns deliver exactly the same promo every week dissing the Deadman like a heel and then tremble in his boots when Undertaker does his parlor tricks? These are all questions that will never be answered. Roman coming into this match like a mega heel would make a cavalcade of sense. You can be assured that it's going to happen in the minds (and mouths) of the fans on Sunday when he goes over again, like always. Getting into a pissing contest with your paying customers is business as usual in Connecticut, but it's a bad business indeed.
If Taker wins, Roman loses. If Roman wins, Taker's legend loses. No matter who wins, we lose. Taker will put over the anointed to ride off into the sunset because that's how it's done in the old school. It is his yard, but it's McMahon's block.
Winner: Roman Reigns
Matthew: I’m just going to be a big old wet blanket for a while… this match has all the makings of a stinker. I feel bad saying that (not that bad because I’m not really an Undertaker fan), but watching the Undertaker move over the last couple months has been excruciating. I feel like I need a new hip just watching it. Not to mention Undertaker protecting his yard from a new dog on the go home Raw by hurling puns at Roman Reigns and then raising his arms… what was that. Give us something to get hyped about. Something to remember. Maybe a Spear at the same time as Undertaker summoned lightning. That could have been a spectacular still shot.
I expect Undertaker to struggle. I expect him to use some of the tactics he did against Brock Lesnar, which boiled down to well timed kicks to the dick. Roman will have to carry a lot of the load, but I’ll definitely struggle to suspend my disbelief as he sells during the match for this geriatric version of The Undertaker. In the end, I think Roman goes heel, whether it’s a character turn, or the audience entrenches themselves firmly against the man that annihilated The Undertaker.
Winner: Roman Reigns (because if he’s going to be hated, at least make him do something worth hating… even though I’ll secretly love it).
John: There are so many possibilities for this match. I wrote a long article for The Comeback a few weeks ago that focused on four scenarios that they could go with. The one I want is for Roman to win the match and then hit another Spear after the match to leave to huge heat. They could keep the camera on Undertaker after the loss, have him get back to his feet and soak in the cheers. If Roman went on Raw the next night bragging about how he ended The Undertaker it would help Roman a lot. However, I get the sense that they will do the “Roman wins and Undertaker raises his hand after the match” scenario. It’s not exciting by any means, but it’s probably what WWE is going to do.
I don’t think The Undertaker should win. With all due respect to him (does this sound like a Roman promo), he’s 52 years old. Much like Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels and most wrestling legends, the older guys should put the younger guys over. That’s how wrestling works. Reigns is 20 years younger, he has many more WrestleMania main events ahead of him and if he beats Undertaker here it would help him a lot. Sure, it may make some delusional fans hate, but that’s fine. It’s better than having Undertaker winning.
I also believe this is going to be The Undertaker’s last match. It was noted on JBL on “Bring it to the Table” on WWE Network on Thursday that he’s going to call the match with Michael Cole. I assume that was done because Undertaker is close with JBL and he may want his friend to be there to call this match.
I’m hoping that Undertaker’s health allows him to get through it okay. He has been laboring because of a serious hip injury. He had a surgery last fall, but he needs more work done. At 52 years of age, he doesn’t need to keep putting his body on the line to entertain us. If he called it a career on Sunday then people are still going to love him as much as ever.
The most likely scenario is a 10-15 minute match. The days of Undertaker having 25 minute classics are over. Be smart about it. Get through it as best you can. I think they will have each guy kick out of multiple finishers and Reigns will get the win after three Spears. I know that Dave Meltzer reported that this match is the probable main event, which also makes me think this is the end for Undertaker. I’m certainly fine with it going on last if they want to have Undertaker soak up the cheers one last time.
Reigns wins and if he doesn’t I’ll be very surprised. If he turns heel at the end of it, that would be the best thing they can do.
Winner: Roman Reigns
Universal Championship: Goldberg (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
Kurt: I’ll make this prediction as short as the match will probably be. I’ve really enjoyed Goldberg’s run. More so than I ever expected. However, Lesnar is sticking around and Goldberg is no guarantee to do the same. Having Lesnar look inferior once again will really kill his appeal and if he’s going to be around more, he needs to be looking as strong as possible.
I’d love a 7-10 minute brawl between the two, but I foresee Lesnar ending Goldberg rather quickly with two F-5’s to put the exclamation point on it.
Prediction: New Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar
Mike: Ugh. Is Finn Balor available?
Winner and NEW Universal Champion: Brock Lesnar
Matthew: This match is everything I hate about pro wrestling. The champion is 50 years old. His challenger is a part timer who can’t be bothered to do more than three moves in any given match. Goldberg’s promos have been better than we all could have expected, minus the one concussion induced hiccup, but that’s all I can say for him. I do not care that people in the arenas chant his name.
Survivor Series was a fun moment but completely killed Brock’s prestige and allure, and he won’t get it all back by winning here. The fact that either man will win this match kind of makes me sad. I hope it doesn’t get a lot of time and I’m expecting it to be fairly dreadful.
Winner and New WWE Universal Champion: Brock Lesnar (because somebody unfortunately has to be Champion coming out of this)
John: Do you know when the last time Brock Lesnar won a televised match was? SummerSlam 2016 against Randy Orton. It’s been a long time, yet here he is facing off against Goldberg, who has had two singles in 13 years, for the Universal Title. It’s hard to get too excited about this because they’re not going to have some classic match that’s going to be remembered for the next 20 years. This will probably be around 8-10 minutes at most, but it could be over in just five minutes too.
I hope this is Goldberg's last match. I don't need to see 50 year old Goldberg getting booked like 30 year old Goldberg. It's not entertaining and it's not something we need to see again.
I think Lesnar winning is the most realistic outcome since he’s going to be in WWE for at least another year while Goldberg has talked about how hard it is to keep up physically at his age. Lesnar should win and Goldberg should retire for good.
Winner and New Universal Champion: Brock Lesnar
John: That was over 10,000 words of content, so I’m not sure what else to say. I don’t think this show has the potential to be an all-time great WrestleMania or anything like that.
If you want even more discussion about everything going on in WWE this week as well as an audio preview of WrestleMania, check out this week’s TJRWrestling Podcast as Rey and I discuss it all. Use the player below, check it out on our Podbean page or search for it on iTunes by looking up "TJRWrestling" or "John Canton" on iTunes as well.
I will have a live review of WrestleMania 33 live this Sunday night. Check out TJRWrestling.net during the show or after it’s over for my thoughts on everything. Enjoy the show! Or complain if you want...the choice is yours!
Kurt - @KTankTMB
Mike - @DharmanRockwell
Matt – MJDP_GSE
John - @johnreport
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