Hey yo, it's a special time of the year and so I'm back with a special edition of the news and rumors here at rajah.com! With WWE's most important PPV of the year - WrestleMania 34 - ready to play out tomorrow, I sort of felt the urge to sit down and write about the event. WrestleMania 34 is a big one, both figuratively and literally, with 13 matches already announced and most likely a 14th scheduled, depending on what happens with the Undertaker and John Cena. Not only that, but pretty much everyone on the WWE roster is likely to be a part of the PPV as the company traditionally likes to get all their talent involved so they can all share in one the huge payday. There's multiple compelling stories in progress, including Ronda Rousey's debut, Daniel Bryan's return and of course Roman Reigns' coronation which has been like three years in the making. I have been quite horrendous in the past with "predictions", but I'll still try to touch on most of the matches with some thoughts and notes so with that said, here we go...
Now a staple of WrestleMania, the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal "headlines" the Kickoff Show and will feature virtually every WWE wrestler not booked into a match. That may seem pretty significant, but it's not because anyone who's a major player is already involved in a match on the main card. The list this year is currently led by Baron Corbin, Matt Hardy, Kane and also seems dominated by tag teams. WWE will no doubt bolster this lineup with some surprise/returning entrants but this is not like the Royal Rumble where entrances are anticipated when guys enter one at a time. Still, there's a possibility we'll see Samoa Joe, Big Cass, Jeff Hardy or any one of a number of wrestlers who were hurt but are otherwise now healthy. Bobby Lashley is another name I've seen tossed around and by all indications he has agreed to a contract with WWE. However, the thing with WWE is that they do like to keep some of their surprises for the post-WrestleMania season and Lashley's return seems to me like one of those moments. If I had to go out on a limb and predict a winner, I'd probably lean towards someone like Big Cass, who is likely in line for a major push once he's back. He was all primed for one last year, which isn't a surprise because WWE wasn't going to keep someone with his look and size in a tag team, but an injury at the absolute worst time put a damper on that. The thing I find funny about this match is that WWE seems intent to convince us that past winners have used it as a springboard to stardom, but that isn't going to happen unless they actually have intentions to push whoever wins.
Continuing with their theme of pushing a women's revolution in WWE, a battle royal featuring female talent is being showcased for the very first time this year. Unfortunately, much of the news so far has focused less on the talent involved in the match and more on the controversial naming of the tournament, at least initially, in memory of the Fabulous Moolah. Amid public and sponsor backlash, WWE relented and dropped the name and decided to go with something generic though I would loved for them to name it after someone like "Sensational" Sherri Martel. Anyway, this match is headed by ladies like Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch though WWE has promised to fill the rest of the lineup with NXT talent and possibly even some wrestlers from the past. I suppose to further their storyline, the match should in theory come down to Sasha Banks and Bayley, as they are the only ones who actually have something going but no singles match on the card to show for. The Sasha/Bayley feud is interesting because it's not completely clear who's playing the heel and who's playing the face, so this might be a great opportunity to define those lines by having one clearly screw the other.
I don't have too much to say on the Smackdown Tag Team title match, but I have a good feeling that it will end up being one of the better matches on the card. The Usos almost always put on a great show and they have some good chemistry with both the other teams. There's going to be a lot of title changes at WrestleMania but there's gotta be a couple champions who retain, so I'm going to go with the Usos retaining. A back story to this match is that it was originally supposed to be a ladder match and some hints of that did leak onto the internet. Why it was scrapped is unknown, but I wouldn't be surprised if Triple H's influence had something to do with it. NXT TakeOver tonight features a Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa main event where Gargano will be reinstated if he wins, which is awfully similar to Smackdown's WrestleMania match with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn trying to get their jobs back if they beat Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon. NXT tapes their shows weeks in advance and already set this up before Smackdown and the story I heard is that this frustrated Triple H to a degree. NXT also has a ladder match for the inaugural North American title and the powers that be probably didn't want a second duplication plus they likely want that as the only ladder match of the weekend.
There is significant intrigue around the Raw Tag Team title match, simply because WWE has yet to reveal one of the competitors in the match - Braun Strowman's partner. I really have no leads on who this person may be, but it's obviously someone who will make an impact if they hae held off announcing anything until the PPV. Whoever it is, Braun and partner could very well win the title, then team up for a few weeks or months, before turning on one another and feuding. If that is the case, someone like Bray Wyatt or The Big Show would make a lot of sense given their history. The other alternative would be for Braun's partner to turn on him during the match itself, which would immediately then give Strowman a program after WrestleMania since he's been kind of in limbo lately due to WWE staying committed to Roman Reigns as the guy to dethrone Brock Lesnar. You also can't count out someone like Elias, who has yet to be announced for the Battle Royal, and has history with Strowman as well but that would be an obvious choice and one that would probably let down a good chunk of the audience. Writing all that out, I prefer the first scenario so I'll tentatively expect Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman to win the titles, go on a bit of a run together, and then break up and feud.
The Smackdown women's title features "undefeated" Asuka going up against the star of the brand women's division, Charlotte Flair. It's a bit of a non-traditional match as both women are babyfaces, but it is one of the more anticipated matches on the card possibly because these two have never wrestled anywhere before, at least in singles competition. If WWE had kept Charlotte's PPV winning streak going (instead of having her lose needlessly to Bayley last year whose character was then buried shortly thereafter) the stakes would be even higher. In any case, Asuka is the heavy favorite if only due to the fact that it is expected her streak will last well into 2018 and very likely into 2019 as well. In fact, much of the speculation is centered around her carrying her streak into next year's WrestleMania, where the plan might be a showdown against Ronda Rousey in perhaps the first women's WrestleMania main event ever. Post-match antics might be just as interesting as WWE has been teasing that Carmella will be cashing in her Money in the Bank briefcase. With the 2018 PPV of the same name just around the corner, it seems like a logical place for Carmella to cash in...unsuccessfully. Or maybe she'll try to cash in on the Raw women's title instead...?
WWE has been building towards Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax for a while, even though obvious signs didn't appear until recently. The reason for this is because WWE couldn't even reveal this match until it became official that Asuka was setting her sights on the Smackdown title after Fastlane. Logic would seem to indicate that Nia Jax will dominate and win this match, since this is one of those situations where good has to prevail over evil but I think this is a program that WWE will prolong beyond WrestleMania. It doesn't seem like a one-and-done storyline unless one of these ladies is being moved to Smackdown. Anyway, with that in mind, this also would be the perfect match where we'll get a disqualification or countout, which would accomplish the goal of getting Jax the win but keeping the title on Bliss, while also not upsetting the audience too much.
The US title match was originally announced as a singles match between Randy Orton and Bobby Roode, then it was expanded to a triple threat match with Jinder Mahal before WWE ultimately settled on a fatal fourway with Rusev's inclusion. Some have suggested that Rusev may have asked for his release from the company last month so they threw his name into the match as a way to appease him. I sure hope that it didn't take an ultimatum of that nature for WWE's creative team to see what they have in the guy because he's incredibly over despite very little in the way of a push. Rusev for the win!
The Intercontinental title match promises to be one of the best matches on the card from a pure wrestling perspective. Finn Balor and Seth Rollins previewed that on Raw this week, wrestling to one of the best bouts on Raw in a while. Meanwhile, The Miz's strongsuit is his work on the mic rather than his wrestling ability, but his presence doesn't threaten the action in any way. The competitors in this bout are interesting in that I think one of Rollins or Balor are going to be moving to Smackdown as part of the next Superstar Shakeup. I'm leaning towards Rollins because I think WWE is short on heels on both brands and he would make a more natural transition, possibly feuding with either AJ Styles and/or Shinsuke Nakamura. That would leave Balor to win the title or Miz to retain, but I can see after a tremendous match, WWE will want to end on a high note so I'm feeling Balor to win the match and the title.
Daniel Bryan's return to in-ring action is undoubtedly going to overshadow the fact that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are fighting for their jobs yet again. The rumor in this one suggests that one of Daniel Bryan or Shane McMahon is going to make a heel turn and the most obvious development would be for Shane to screw Bryan in order to jump start one of WWE's favorite all-time storylines - babyface underdog vs. heel authority figure. This would also make sense because it would give WWE an easy out to get Owens and Zayn back on the roster. Normally, I would lean towards Bryan being eased in as this is a tag team match but with Shane McMahon battling health issues, I don't think there will be a break-in period and honestly, I doubt Bryan even needs one. Hearing him speak with so much passion and watching him take those bumps so soon after being cleared, I had forgotten just how good he is. It's unfortunate that Vince doesn't see him in the same mold as a Roman Reigns because Bryan could be the babyface he's been looking for to carry WWE for the next many years.
Up next is the much hyped mixed tag team match which will feature the WWE in-ring debut of Ronda Rousey. The back story in this match has been well discussed on multiple fronts, first with WWE choosing Stephanie as Rousey's opponent to help the WWE executive gain some mainstream publicity and second, the series of events that led to Kurt Angle being chosen as Rousey's partner. Not that this needs to be repeated, but The Rock was indeed WWE's first choice for this role, though I suspect this did not last very long because it was always extremely unlikely that he would be cleared to participate in any sort of physicality. I actually believe WWE knew this wasn't going to happen sometime in January which could be a reason why the Rock was barely even mentioned on Raw's 25th Anniversary show. They reportedly then contacted their second choice, Batista, but quickly abandoned those plans and went with Angle, as it was more realistically tied into their current storylines. Anyway, this match is arguably the easiest to call as Rousey's team is fully expected to get the win with Ronda herself scoring the pin or submission. I noticed that WWE had Asuka stop using the armbar as her finisher around the same time Rousey entered WWE which strongly supports the notion that Rousey will use that move to end the match, likely to have Stephanie McMahon tap out but it could also possibly be Triple H if WWE really wants to pull out all the stops to get her over.
WWE is promoting AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura's title match as a "dream match", which is great for anyone who follows wrestling in general, but perhaps a bit confusing for the newer, WWE-only audience. While Nakamura has generally underachieved in WWE, this is a prime spot for him to have likely his best match since moving up to Smackdown and there's a good chance that he and Styles will deliver. The direction of this match is tough to predict because to me, it ultimately depends on the plans WWE has for AJ Styles - specifically, whether they will keep him on Smackdown or move him over to Raw later this month. If rumors are to be believed, it is the latter as a way to infuse WWE programming with fresh storylines and new matches and that would imply a Nakamura title win so that he can continue as the face of the Smackdown brand once Styles leaves. On the flip side, it can be argued whether the timing is right for Shinsuke to win the title as he appears to still be trying to adapt to the WWE style of wrestling and perhaps more importantly, he is virtually non-existent when it comes to cutting promos. Jinder Mahal's title reign was a failure but at least he was able to set up his matches with his in-ring interviews. I suppose we can say the same about Asuka, but I think in her case, the significance of her undefeated streak gives the fans a reason to get behind her or at least get interested in her matches.
And finally, we get to the main event - Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal title in a match that has been years in the making. I think it's been said and written so many times that we don't need to get into how this has been Vince McMahon's project to build up Brock Lesnar over the last year, have him pretty much demolish everyone on the Raw roster, and then only to have Reigns kick out of his F5, pin him and win the title. Lesnar would then silently slip back to the UFC and Reigns would move forward for the rest of 2018 and quite possibly 2019 as the face of WWE. The plan hasn't gone as smoothly as anticipated as Reigns has been met with a chorus of boos for most of 2018 but Vince has remained adamant in his idea to keep him as a babyface. All of this is almost surely going to culiminate and come to a head Sunday evening when Reigns will hold the title up to an expected negative reaction and WWE will move forward lining up a slew of challengers for him - everyone from Samoa Joe to Braun Strowman to perhaps even someone like Goldberg, who I can see WWE trying to lure back next year.
There is one match that I didn't really get into and it's the hinted at but yet unannounced John Cena vs. Undertaker confrontation. This has been covered in great detail, but Undertaker will be at WrestleMania and he will be appearing on camera to respond to Cena's challenge. Despite the rumors that the two will engage in strictly a "confrontation", I believe there will be some wrestling in the form of an impromptu match. It's interesting to note that with Kid Rock in attendance, it's quite possible that when we see Taker, he will be coming out as the "American Badass" complete with the opening with the creepy little girls as this would also be consistent with the idea that he left his "Undertaker" gear in the ring last year. If true, this will no doubt disappoint a lot of fans though who equate the Undertaker with the "Deadman" and like to forget the American Badass period even existed.
A lot of people expected the Rock to appear at WrestleMania 34 but he appeared to shoot down those rumors recently during an interview with our friend Chris Van Vliet, simply saying we wouldn't see him at the PPV. While you can never really believe what a wrestler says about a possible appearance at WrestleMania or any PPV for that matter (Ronda Rousey denying appearing at Royal Rumble this year and the Hardys insisting they weren't going to be at WrestleMania last year immediately come to mind), the Rock did seem genuine when denied his involvement. If he does appear in some capacity, it's almost a guarantee that it will not involve any sort of wrestling or in-ring activity. We could see him in a concert with Elias, perhaps when the Hall of Fame inductees are introduced, though speaking of Elias, I can also totally see him getting clocked with Jeff Jarrett's guitar.
Well, that's all I got for today. Join us Saturday evening on the main page for live coverage of the NXT TakeOver event and then tomorrow afternoon for results of WrestleMania 34. Also thanks to everyone who is voting on Sujal's fantasy tournament, he is loving the participation and is getting ready to literally pull names out of a hat for round two that will begin Monday morning. Later and thanks for reading; all feedback and hate mail can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org