By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Well, it’s WrestleMania Week.
The biggest show from the biggest promotion all year long has turned into an all-week affair. Beginning tonight, you’ll have nine straight days of wrestling to consume, if you want it. First, there’s Raw, then on Tuesday, the Hall of Fame ceremony will air. Wednesday and Thursday will include this year’s NXT Takeover, which spans two days. Then there’s Smackdown and boom: Saturday begins night one of this year’s WrestleMania. Next Monday night is Raw and then NXT begins its stint on Tuesdays.
I was fortunate enough to be a guest on Jason Powell’s Pro Wrestling Boom podcast last week, and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves in WrestleMania prediction mode. It got me thinking: We can speculate all we want as to how the booking should be, but with so much in front of us for the next week or so, it might be more intriguing to parse out what exactly it is that excites us about the next week.
Or, well, not “us.” More like “me.” But you get it.
In any case, I took a hard look at both the Takeover and WrestleMania cards and divided them up into five categories, the first of which features the matches about which I’m most excited to see, while the last section indicates I’ll be sure to switch things over to “60 Minutes” once those matches commence (but here’s a hint: That section has only one match).
The categories are named after eras of wrestling, and yes, these results were compiled via a very scientific method of wrestling-watching. That’s a lie. Let’s get to it.
Color me naive, but the match I’m looking forward to the most out of anything happening over the next week is the Walter vs. Tommaso Ciampa bout on the first night of NXT: Takeover Stand & Deliver (by the way, what the hell does that mean?). These are two tough dudes, and while there isn’t a single reason to think Ciampa will win, I’m awfully curious to see how he tries to make us feel otherwise. Something tells me this has the ability to steal the weekend. That is, unless if this is a squash. Because in that case … then, yeah, I’m a moron.
Nearly as compelling to me is the NXT Championship match between Finn Balor and Karrion Kross. Kross is booked to be a monster and Balor has all the credibility in the world each time he steps into an NXT ring. My hope is that this isn’t a one-off match and that whomever wins quickly moves on to whomever is next. We probably all assume that Kross takes back the title he never lost, but even if that happens, can we run it back in a few months?
Speaking of running things back, Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly in an unsanctioned match. Should we adhere to wrestling traditions, that means this ought to be the blow-off, but there’s something about Rockerick Strong’s potential involvement that suggests this might be the beginning to something else. Still, the video packages leading up to this have been excellent, and Cole and O’Reilly have done a terrific job establishing this as a blood feud filled with hate, resentment and vitriol. Plus, you just know there will be a spot in this match that will make you go, “oh, holy goodness gracious.”
Wondering where any actual WrestleMania matches are on this list? Well, we’ve got a couple in this top tier. First is the Raw Women’s Championship match between Asuka and Rhea Ripley. You can’t find a bigger fan of Asuka than I, but when you combine her with a can’t-miss wrestler that WWE spent the last year … well, missing on … you have to think all will be made right here, don’t you? Ripley’s match with Charlotte at last years’ depressing WrestleMania was the best of the bunch, which means this has every ability to be the same. Where Asuka goes from here, though? Well, that worries me.
Finally, we have The New Day vs. AJ Styles and Omos. Yes, dismiss it and sure, dock me some cool points (not that I have any to begin with). But even if this is a guilty pleasure of mine, there’s something I find borderline fascinating about the AJ/Omos pairing. AJ isn’t a tall guy to begin with, so when you put him next to a giant, the visual is that much more impressive. Rumors have been swirling about Omos, some positive, others not so positive. How he delivers here will most likely define his professional wrestling career, for better or worse, fair or unfair. I’m rooting for him.
THE ATTITUDE ERA
Blasphemy! Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair deserved to be in the Hulkamania section! Hey, pal. This isn’t your list, now is it? Anyway, while I sincerely hope these two get to main event the first night, and on their own, I’ve been a fan of their work for as long as I’ve watched them wrestle, there’s something about this program that just lacks juice to me. It’s been a lot of pointing, a lot of smiling and a lot of posing, and that’s about it. Save for that wild slap Belair landed on Banks last week, this feels like it suffers from the lack of a personal issue between the two. Either way, Belair has to win, right?
Just a tad less predictable is the supposed main event of night two at WrestleMania, Roman Reigns vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan for the WWE Universal Championship. Conventional wisdom suggests that Bryan was added to the match to protect Reigns and Edge because nobody thinks either one of those guys should be beat, but I’m going to head out on a limb and say Daniel Bryan is my pick to win this thing somehow. Bryan moves on as champ. Edge continues to throw fits because he wants his WrestleMania moment. And Roman keeps doing Roman, which means he doesn’t need a belt to be as hot as he is these days. Speaking of which, do we think the fans will continue to boo him now that his job is to elicit boos?
Eliciting boos is something Sami Zayn is good at, and while his match with Kevin Owens feels thrown together to get a YouTube star on the card somehow, I could watch these two wrestle all day, every day for years on end. Throw in the addition of Zayn’s documentary and his conspiracy theory nonsense, and this could be an awfully entertaining match. Zayn has quietly rebuilt himself as one of the peskiest heels in the game, and Owens is coming off a months-long program with Roman Reigns. These two are primed for a great match.
Also primed for a great match — especially considering how they received the blessing of Shawn Michaels as he slid a ladder into the ring — are Santos Escobar and Jordan Devlin. It’s odd to me that WWE immediately took care of that whole double Intercontinental Title thing once Sami Zayn came back into the mix, and yet here we are, many months later, and the NXT Cruiserweight Title is still split between two wrestlers. Thankfully, that will be resolved this week when these two guys most likely tear the house down in a match that is most likely flying under the radar of most. I still have mixed feelings about Devlin and the allegations made against him, but those questions aside, this ought to be a lot of fun.
And so should Io Shirai vs. Raquel Gonzalez. Shirai has had the title for what feels like forever and a day, so why not move the belt off her and send her up to the abyss that is Raw or Smackdown? Gonzalez would be a tough-to-beat champion, and besides: If she can’t be the one to defeat Shirai, then who is? Wouldn’t it be fun if Rhea Ripley was the Raw Women’s Champion and Raquel Gonzalez was the NXT Women’s Champion? Let the fantasy booking begin!
I don’t really understand what, exactly, they are trying to accomplish with Seth Rollins, but I do really like that it looks like he’s being used to help elevate Cesaro (which is why I think Cesaro goes over here, but I digress). Weirdly, Cesaro feels more relevant now than he did when he was one-half of the tag team champions with Sheamus. My only hope is we don’t see some type of tomfoolery on behalf of Rollins, and in turn, Rollins gets a fluke win and Cesaro ends up back on Main Event by June. Don’t mess this up, WWE. Please.
Nobody could mess MSK vs. Grizzled Young Veterans vs. Legado del Fantasma up if they tried (but thank God this is taking place on Takeover and not WrestleMania). It’s a shame that they had to strip Burch and Lorcan of the tag titles because of an injury, but as one door closes, another opens, and these three teams will hopefully kick the rest of the door down as they settle into what should be the best tag match of the week when it comes to in-ring work. MSK is new and very good, but I want to see one of the heel teams win so MSK can chase them for the next few months. Just saying.
Having a heel win a title wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for Big E vs. Apollo Crews, either. The fans seem to be divided on Crews, but for my money, his repackaging has done him wonders and it’s added an edge to his persona. I’d love to see these guys keep going beyond this match (unless if Big E is destined for bigger things, which I’d be happy to see), but if they don’t, I want to see what Crews can do with a title around his waist and a new attitude to boot.
The biggest title on Raw will be up for grabs as Bobby Lashley takes on Drew McIntyre. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: McIntyre deserved a WrestleMania moment last year when he won the WWE Chamionship and beat Brock Lesnar, but he obviously didn’t get it because it was at the WWE Performance Center in front of a large ceiling fan. This year will be different, though, as WWE has done a great job building Lashley as a monster and if Drew can slay the beast, he’ll look all the better for it.
THE PANDEMIC ERA
I guess because there’s a steel cage, Braun Strowman vs. Shane McMahon won’t be worthy of changing the channel. I say that because obviously, Shane is going to attempt some type of stunt, and Crash TV does have its perks. Still, I’m not a fan of the story behind this match, nor do I think either guy involved is a particularly great wrestler. Even worse is that dumb train sound that echoes from the speakers whenever Braun shoulder-blocks people now. Come for the stunt, stay for the beard sweat.
What should be a better wrestling match is Riddle vs. Sheamus, a bout that turned some heads on Raw last week. It being for the U.S. Title and all, my thought is that Sheamus wins because he’s been on a really great run of matches recently, and at this point, it feels like he’s earned his keep. Riddle, meanwhile, is as obnoxious as it comes, and somebody, somewhere with even a modicum of brains at WWE ought to know that there’s only so much shelf life that playing the role of a doofus has in it. But inside the ropes, I’m looking forward to seeing how these guys perform.
Back on Takeover, Shotzi Blackheart and Ember Moon vs. Candice LeRae and Indi Hartwell feels like a television match, but in the spirit of defending all the titles at Takeover, it’s easy to see why this is here. I’m still confused by the Blackheart and Moon pairing, as they seem thrown together, but that could just be me nitpicking. I miss the days of the women’s tag-team titles being defended on every brand as it just added a sense of fun, knowing that whomever it is could show up on any brand at any moment. In any case, The Way wins this, right?
VINCE RUSSO’S WCW
The Fiend vs. Randy Orton. That’s it. That’s as bad as it gets. That’s the list. The Fiend vs. Randy Orton. I don’t have to say much more … do I?