In case you haven’t looked at a calendar recently, we are now (as of the day this column gets posted) 24 and 25 days away from WrestleMania 37. The biggest wrestling event of the year is a mere three weeks away.
My God, we’re in such a wild and crazy spot, both in and out of the wrestling world. COVID-19 is still out there doing its thug thizzle, but vaccines are being given out in record numbers. For the first time in almost a year, people are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel with this virus. Many sporting events are starting to perform in front of larger and larger live audiences, with those numbers growing by the month. UFC President Dana White just announced that UFC 261, the company’s upcoming event on April 24th, will be held in front of a capacity crowd (15,000) at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. It will be UFC’s first event with no crowd limitations since March 7th of last year. Hmm… a combat sport running a major show in the state of Florida during the month of April… if you don’t think Vince McMahon is paying very close attention to this decision by the UFC, you’re kidding yourselves.
WrestleMania 36 was the strangest, and most surreal, event in WWE history. It went from an event usually held in front of 80,000+ rabid fans to looking like a glorified training session at the WWE Performance Center with no fans in attendance. Everyone on the card busted their asses, but they would be the first ones to tell you that things just weren’t the same. Pro wrestling is incredibly dependent on the reactions of a live crowd, and now that we’re seeing what the sport is like without any real noise, I respect what these men and women do for us. We’ve already heard that WrestleMania 37 will be held in front of fans. The initial story was that WWE was hoping to host 25,000 fans on each night, in a stadium that has an expandable seating capacity of 75,000 people, which isn’t counting any fans that could be at field level like we always get with Mania events in large stadiums. Then, the hopes of 25,000 turned into hopes of 30,000 fans each night, which then turned into hopes of 45,000 fans each night. Super Bowl 55, held in the same stadium (Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida) WrestleMania will come to us from, saw an official attendance of 24,835 people. If you’ve followed Vince McMahon and his desires for WrestleMania through the years, one of his biggest wants and needs is to either beat the NFL to the punch at a new stadium/venue, or to smash the NFL’s attendance records for a stadium/venue into a billion little pieces. If the NFL had 24,835 people for the Super Bowl, Vince would like nothing more than to beat that number by a good amount. 24,836 would beat the Super Bowl’s number, but you know that’s not good enough for Vince. 30,000? Fuck it, why not 45,000? 50,000? Let’s go with the capacity of 75,000 people, but everyone will be forced to have someone else sitting on their shoulders, bringing the total number of people to 150,000. Are there any pregnant women in the crowd? Let’s count their babies to get us to 150,037. You know… carny shit like that. We’ll have to see what happens, though, because Mania tickets were supposed to go on sale this week, but that on-sale date has been pushed back. Some say Vince heard that the UFC is going to capacity, so he wants to see if WrestleMania can do it, too, and do it two weeks earlier, no less. Some say the on-sale date has been pushed back because of another COVID outbreak with NXT, its roster, and its employees. It could just be some more back-and-forth between Vince and the city of Tampa, trying to get permission to have more and more people in the building.
Now that we’re seeing matches for WrestleMania get announced (four as of this sentence being typed), I wanted to give some thoughts on where we are. This isn’t going to be a full-fledged “fantasy booking” column. I might have some “so-and-so should be wrestling so-and-so instead” here and there, but I’m just looking at the current status of WrestleMania 37 and how we got to this point. You know the deal by now… this is in no particular order. Let’s get things poppin.
More Isn’t Always… More: Look, I’m just as excited to see 100,000 people in attendance for WrestleMania as anybody else not named Vince McMahon. I’m still just a little nervous about having large groups of people in the same place at the same time, especially when some (most?) of those people are coming in from other places and will then be returning to said places once the event is over. My wife is a nurse and has been working on the front lines of this thing since the beginning, so I’ve gotten to see and hear about the damage that the virus has done. Light at the end of the tunnel is cool, but you still have to reach the end of the tunnel to experience it. The United States can see the light, but we’re not at the end yet. There are already too many people celebrating a victory that hasn’t taken place. Go find any number of fail compilation videos on YouTube to see how poorly that usually ends. I’m not saying we should do a show in front of zero fans again. We’ve moved beyond that point. If Vince wants to be able to brag about WWE having the largest gathering of fans for a sporting event since the country shut down, he’s likely going to need 41,000+ people in attendance. Five days before WrestleMania, Major League Baseball will open their 2021 season, and the Texas Rangers will play their opening game in front of a full capacity stadium. Globe Life Field’s listed capacity is 40,518 people, so WWE needs to beat that. That will give Vince the “win” he craves, and it will also give Mania a loud, boisterous crowd that will make watching from home a lot more enjoyable, but without filling the stadium up too much and running the risk of ruining things again. That way, everybody wins.
It Seems Like AJ Styles Is Being Wasted: Styles is one of the absolute best in-ring performers of this generation, and he’s still putting in top-notch work. He’ll be turning 44 in a few months, which should indicate that he probably doesn’t have 15 WrestleManias left until he retires. In January, he pointed out that he doesn’t have definitive plans for retirement yet. He said that, at his age, it’s all about listening to his body as it tells him when his time is up. He said that some days he feels like he can keep wrestling for five or six more years, while other days, he feels like this is going to be his last year. Putting him in a Tag Team Title match, completely out of the blue, just comes across as a waste, in my opinion. To make it worse, he’s basically working a handicap match. Omos wrestled his first match almost two years ago, and has wrestled a whopping six matches during his entire time with WWE. None of those matches have been televised, and none of them have taken place since February 15th of last year. You have to wonder about why he’s been given non-wrestling role after non-wrestling role for the last nine months. Even if he has improved, and putting him in a match at WrestleMania might indicate just that, he’s a special attraction. He won’t be in the ring for 12 out of the 14 minutes that the match is given. AJ will handle the majority of the work, Omos will come in for some spots where he can toss the ultra-athletic Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods, and then Styles will come back in to finish the match. I know that the “hook” here is Styles going after his first Tag Team Title reign in WWE, which would make him a Grand Slam Champion, but this is still a weird placement on the card. Again, it came out of nowhere. He just randomly shows up as the new champions are celebrating their victory, says he wants a match, and that’s it? What kind of lazy writing is that?!? You know what? Nevermind.
Drew McIntyre Is A Helluva “Replacement” For Brock Lesnar: Did you know that Bobby Lashley and Brock Lesnar have never been in the ring together? Not just in a one-on-one situation. They’ve never been in the ring together. Period. Full stop. Not in a tag match, multi-man tag match, Royal Rumble… anything. That’s one of those facts that initially surprises you, but then it makes sense the more you think about it. Brock had already left WWE by the time Lashley debuted for the company, and Lashley was long gone from WWE when Lesnar returned in 2012. I still hold out hope that we’ll get to see them go to war eventually, but the odds get slimmer all the time. Lashley is going to be 45 in a few months, while Lesnar turns 44 a few days earlier. Brock has transitioned from a part-timer to an almost-never-timer. He wrestled three times in 2020, which was his lowest number of matches in a year since he wrestled three times in 2013, and that came after two matches in 2012. I’m starting to lose faith. If we’re not going to get Lesnar back for a match with Lashley, Drew McIntyre is an amazing “consolation prize” for us. McIntyre has been booked to be an absolute monster for over a year now, starting with him eliminating the aforementioned Lesnar in the 2020 Royal Rumble and then beating Brock at WrestleMania a couple months later. Lashley, of course, is having as dominant a stretch as anyone in recent memory. That goes back to what a main event at WrestleMania was supposed to be… the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Two out-of-control locomotives on a collision course with each other. It’s a simple thing to make happen. As an added bonus, I would expect to see the Lashley vs McIntyre match last longer than Lashley vs Lesnar would. We’ve been watching McIntyre, Lashley, and Sheamus beat the dog shit out of each other for the last few weeks, and just a wild guess, but I think that continues at Fastlane with McIntyre vs Sheamus, and then at Mania. Both the champion and the challenger have something to prove. Buckle the fuck up.
Get Thee Entire Fuck Out Of Here With This Braun Strowman vs Shane McMahon Rumor: The “Monster Among Men” that stands 6’8″ tall and weighs 385 pounds is standing in the middle of the ring, looking like he wants to cry, talking about how he was bullied all his life by people who called him names and said he was stupid. His newest bully? A 51-year-old who hasn’t wrestled in a year-and-a-half and who turns a sweaty purple just by walking to the ring for some reason. Braun comes to the ring, demands an apology, doesn’t get one, leaves the ring, comes back to the ring later, demands an apology, doesn’t get one… and the vicious cycle continues. I hate every second of this garbage. In trying to prove that Braun isn’t a complete moron, WWE has him get completely outsmarted by Shane at every turn, making Braun look, incredibly, like a complete moron. I’m not sure why WWE feels people want to see this. Braun isn’t a sympathetic babyface that you’re watching get pushed around by the evil regime and you want to see them fight back and overcome the odds. Shane, looking and sounding like he might croak in the middle of a promo at any given time, isn’t exactly the terrifying “heel boss” character that should be doing this type of bullying. None of it makes any sense. Stop it. If WWE knew any better, Braun would just d-e-s-t-r-o-y Shane at Fastlane and move on. They don’t know any better, though, so it won’t happen and we all have to suffer.
I Don’t Know What’s Happening With Edge: Remember when Edge made his shocking return to the ring during the 2020 Royal Rumble? It brought grown men to tears. It was one of the most memorable moments in Royal Rumble history, and perhaps even pro wrestling history. He followed that up by having two very good, albeit overhyped, matches with Randy Orton before a torn triceps muscle put him on the shelf. He made a triumphant return to win this year’s Royal Rumble, and things were really looking up for him. In the six weeks since winning the Rumble, Edge has gone from being viewed as a legitimate threat to Roman Reigns and his Universal Title to somewhat of an afterthought as the booking story has shifted more to Daniel Bryan and his near-desperation to be in the main event of WrestleMania. People started wondering if Daniel Bryan should be inserted into the Mania match to make it a Triple Threat to wondering outright if Bryan should be the one in the match instead of Edge. How do you stomp out so much momentum that quickly? Edge should be the main focal point of this, but he isn’t. I’m not one of those people who feel he should be replaced, or even pushed to the side. I do think Reigns vs Bryan would be slightly better from an in-ring quality perspective than Reigns vs Edge, but that’s more praise of Daniel Bryan than it is a knock on Edge. I’ve been saying from the jump that Reigns vs Edge could, and should, be fantastic. I have no doubts about that. I’m just wondering why the Royal Rumble winner is being reduced to playing the third, and sometimes fourth, wheel in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania.
Damian Priest Is Going To Be A Big-Time Star: For years now, we’ve all seen and heard the reports that Vince McMahon has been looking for a new Latino star he could push to the top. Every signing since Rey Mysterio, from Alberto Del Rio to Sin Cara, has been looked at as a possibility, but they’ve all failed to reach those levels for one reason or another. Now, Damian Priest appears to be the next-in-line. Being placed alongside Bad Bunny means that all those extra eyeballs are seeing Priest work. He’s got a lot of what it takes to become a major star in WWE down already, and the expected spotlight match at WrestleMania is going to go a long way in seeing if he can be the guy to do it. Some people are predicting a Priest & Bad Bunny vs The Miz & John Morrison match, but Morrison may or may not be injured, depending on who you believe, so it could end up just being Priest vs Miz, with Bad Bunny and Morrison at ringside. Again, with all the extra attention that Bad Bunny is going to bring to WrestleMania, especially if he’s wrestling, this could be Priest’s chance to strap the rocket to his back. If it goes well, don’t be surprised if he’s in contention for the WWE Title (or the Universal Title if he switches brands in a potential Draft) before our calendars turn to 2022.
Charlotte’s Gonna Do It Again, Isn’t She?: WrestleMania 32 featured Charlotte taking on Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch in a Triple Threat Match for the brand new WWE Women’s Title. Going into the match, it sure seemed like it would be Sasha’s time, but Charlotte came out victorious. WrestleMania 34 saw Charlotte defend the Smackdown Women’s Title against Asuka. All the momentum was on Asuka’s side, as she was undefeated on the main roster and hadn’t even been on the losing side of any match in nearly two years, but Charlotte came out victorious. WrestleMania 36 saw Charlotte challenging Rhea Ripley for Ripley’s NXT Women’s Title. Heading into Mania, Ripley was one of the hottest acts in all of wrestling, looking like she was on the verge of becoming a mega star, but Charlotte came out victorious. Here we are at WrestleMania 37, and it looks like we’re going to get Asuka vs Charlotte for Asuka’s Raw Women’s Title. Even though Asuka will have been the champion for over seven months by the time Mania rolls around, you wouldn’t really know it by looking back at the last few of them. She’s been involved in a tag feud, as well as losing and looking weak to Alexa Bliss and her Fiend mind games. She hasn’t defended the title in four months, and that last defense saw a disqualification victory over Lana after being attacked by Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler. If you want to go back to the last truly successful title defense she had, you have to go back to the September 28th episode of Raw, when she defeated Zelina Vega by submission. That was six fucking months ago!!! If there was ever someone who needed a big singles win, it would be Asuka. It might not matter, though, with Charlotte on the other side of the ring. Already a 12-time Women’s Champion, Charlotte hasn’t had a singles title in over nine months now, and over 17 months if you’re only counting the main roster titles. This is the longest she has gone between title reigns since first winning the NXT Women’s Title back in May 2014. She’s “due” at any moment, one would think. Poor Asuka.
We Really Don’t Need To Do Another Cinematic Match With Bray Wyatt: The early rumors were that we would be getting another cinematic (Firefly Fun House, perhaps) match at Mania, with Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt doing battle. Then, we found out that fans would be in attendance for WrestleMania, which makes the entire point of cinematic matches almost moot. We damn sure don’t need another match in that style. We’ve seen too many of them at this point. Right now, though, can you say a live match would be any better? In what seems like a theme for things I’m mentioning in this column, WWE has taken The Fiend and turned him from one of the most memorable and must-watch acts of the last decade into an eye-rolling gimmick that has overstayed its welcome. He’s like a hemorrhoid that just won’t go away, no matter what you do to it. Orton has been turning in some of the best work of his first-ballot Hall Of Fame career in the last year or two, and he’s now being relegated to being intimidated by Alexa Bliss and “vomiting” black goo. We’ll see what happens at Fastlane, where it is widely speculated that the new “version” of Bray Wyatt will be making its debut. Maybe it’ll be something good, and we won’t have to worry about any of this stuff. Stranger things have happened. People thought Bray was done before The Fiend character was born, and that gave him almost two more years of mileage. We’ll see.
I’m Wondering If It’s Too “Early” For Bianca Belair: Calm down. This is one of those matches where a strong case can be made for both wrestlers to come out with a win. Bianca Belair has all the potential in the world to be one of the all-time greats. Sasha Banks is already on that level. The champion has held the Smackdown Women’s Title for the last five months, which is longer than her other five main roster title reigns combined. Does that mean it’s time for her to lose? Is it too early for Belair? As of the date this column gets posted, Belair has only competed in nine main roster singles matches on Raw, Smackdown, or pay-per-views, while competing in ten main roster singles matches on Main Event. That’s not a lot. If you ask people for their predictions here, you’re going to see an overwhelming amount of them pick Bianca to become the new Smackdown Women’s Champion. I’m not so sure yet. She’s going to be a singles champion on the main roster. Not only that, but she’s going to be a singles champion on the main roster in 2021. I just can’t seem to shake the idea that Sasha is going to end up being a heel again, perhaps by turning at Mania itself to retain the title. That will have Bianca in line to hunt her down and finally take the title from her later on. I don’t know yet, because I haven’t made my prediction yet. I’m just thinking out loud here.
In Case You Couldn’t Tell, I’m More “Down” On What I’m Seeing Than Anything Else: I’m not one of those “ZOMG MAYNEA IZ GUNNA SUX” people. It’s WrestleMania. Those performing on both nights are going to bring their all, and it’s going to end up being fun, if perhaps a little too long. I just don’t feel like I have the proper level of excitement that I should have three weeks away from the event. It seems like Vince McMahon himself might be in the same boat, as rumors have said he’s gone through some major changes to the card in recent weeks. Maybe he has, and maybe he hasn’t. I am excited as all hell to see a major wrestling show in front of a large amount of fans again, though. That excitement is carrying me through some of the asstastic television that Raw, and occasionally Smackdown, has been delivering. There’s still a few weeks worth of Raw and Smackdown episodes to play out, so my opinion of the way things are going could change, for better or worse, quite easily.
Weekly Power Rankings
- Bobby Lashley vs Sheamus: Nearly 18 minutes of two bulls beating the hell out of each other? Works for me. It can be said that both men are on the biggest rolls of their careers right now, albeit going in different directions.
- Cedric Alexander & Shelton Benjamin vs Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods: It’s just an all-out track meet when these two teams face each other, and this was no different. Just four athletic marvels looking to create their own highlight reels. I’m not really sure we needed a title switch, but that leads us to…
- The New Day: This is the group’s 11th Tag Team Title victory, which ties them with The Steiners for 4th place on the all-time “major” Tag Team Titles won list. Only The Dudleyz (23), The Young Bucks (16), and The Hardyz (12) are ahead of them. Absolutely incredible work from a group (now pairing) that wasn’t supposed to work and looked like they were destined to flop when they debuted.
- Finn Balor vs Adam Cole: Balor continues his career renaissance in NXT, while Cole gets to go back to the heelish ways that helped him reach this stage of his career. This was a really good match, as expected, with Cole having an “out” with the distraction by Kyle O’Reilly. Balor now moves on to a feud with Karrion Kross, while Cole and O’Reilly will go to war next. Both feuds are perfectly fine with me.
- The Entire Intercontinental Title Program: From Big E’s great promo about getting his revenge on Apollo Crews to E’s victory over Sami Zayn to the post-match sneak attack on E by Crews, this was a good week for the Intercontinental Title feud that is building very nicely. E and Crews have a title match at Fastlane, but at this point, they’re both deserving of a rematch at WrestleMania. Because it is WrestleMania, we can’t rule out a multi-man clusterfuck like a Ladder Match, especially with people like Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Rey Mysterio, Murphy, Daniel Bryan, Dominik Mysterio, Jey Uso, Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Zayn all potentially looking for something to do on the card. I’d definitely prefer the one-on-one between E and Crews, though.
- Jordan Devlin vs Santos Escobar Coming Soon: Thank goodness for the travel restrictions in and out of the United States being loosened, as we’re now on the verge of seeing the unification of the Cruiserweight Titles in NXT. Escobar has been doing tremendous work as the interim champion, but Devlin has been doing great work since NXT UK started back up. This one is going to be a ton of fun, whenever we get it. You’d have to assume that the Takeover: Stand & Deliver events before WrestleMania would be a good place for the match to happen, but we’ll see.
- Molly Holly: As the first member of the WWE Hall Of Fame Class Of 2021, congratulations were in order to begin with. Being surprised with the announcement by an emotional Hurricane Helms on WWE’s Network and YouTube simulcast, The Bump, made it even better. A true feel-good moment for a very deserving inductee. She was never the flashiest of in-ring performers, but she was easily one of the most consistent of her era. Good call getting her into the Hall Of Fame.
- Darby Allin: Admittedly, I was a little underwhelmed by the TNT Title match Allin had with Scorpio Sky on Dynamite. It wasn’t a bad match. I just had higher hopes for it. Allin retained, though, so he makes the list, especially because a ton of people expected Sky to win the title here.
- Leyla Hirsch: “Legit” Leyla is officially a signed member of the AEW roster. It’s about time. I will continue to say that she has a very bright future if things go her way. The natural fit, as I’ve been screaming from the tops of mountains since she made her AEW debut, is for her to align herself with Team Taz. It’s such a natural fit that people think it might make too much sense. I still say it needs to happen. Of course, if you watched AEW Dark this week, seeds were potentially planted for Team Taz to split up down the road, so none of this may matter in the coming weeks, anyway.
- Shotzi Blackheart & Ember Moon: Before I say anything else, I have to say that I hate, hate, hate the idea of having NXT Women’s Tag Team Titles. A big part of the enjoyment we’ve received with the WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles (and, to a lesser extent, the singles titles for the women) is that NXT has been in the mix. Seeing Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler on NXT to feud with the brand’s top team was cool. Picturing the likes of Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez as the champs and making appearances on Raw and Smackdown was even cooler. In typical WWE fashion, though, they took the hot act and kneecapped them, having Kai and Gonzalez lose in whatever “screwjob” the company was trying to go for. Then, instead of having the challengers get their revenge, we just got William Regal giving them their own Tag Team Titles. It never, ever goes over well when wrestlers are just given titles by authority figures, no matter what the reason is. Well, Kai and Gonzalez get to be the champs of something, so that counts, right? Right?!? Instead, their title reign lasted all of an hour, and they dropped the belts to Blackheart and Moon. So… congratulations to Shotzi and Ember on becoming the new NXT Women’s Tag Team Champions, but what was the entire point of the entire thing?!? Why not just say the Dusty Classic was to crown new champions so we could’ve avoided the entire rigmarole of having Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler involved?
This Week’s Playlist: “Summer Nights” by Lil Rob… “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince… “Summertime In The LBC” by The Dove Shack… “Livin It Up” by Ja Rule & Case… “Down On Me” by Jeremih & 50 Cent… “You Are Everything (Remix)” by Dru Hill & Ja Rule… “Keemy Casanova” by Akeem Ali… “Quicksand” by Morray… “Low Key” by Morray… “Switched Up” by Morray… “Kingdom” by Morray… “La Raza” by Kid Frost… “East Side Rendezvous” by Frost & A.L.T… “X.O. Wit Me” by Above The Law & Jayo Felony… “Sumner Days” by Above The Law… “Playaz Club” by Rappin 4-Tay… “It’s Going Down” by Celly Cel… “It’s Going Down (Remix)” by Celly Cel, Rappin 4-Tay, E-40, B-Legit & Mack 10… “Midnight On The Bay” by Mac Mall, Cash & Bavgate… “Pimp Of The Year” by Dru Down… “Let’s Ride” by Richie Rich… “Keep It On The Real” by 3X Krazy… “Cocktales” by Too $hort… “Can I Get A Bitch” by Too $hort & Ant Banks… “Top Down” by Too $hort