QUESTION OF THE DAY: What are your thoughts about the way Wrestlemania 34 is shaping up?
It has come to my attention that my loyal readers feel that I have committed two cardinal sins. First, I haven’t been talking about Wrestlemania NEARLY as much as I should. Second, and perhaps more important, The Eternal Optimist has been neither Eternal (debatable) or Optimistic (less debatable).
Alas, here comes a sickeningly large dose of optimism heading your way. Without further ado:
This might sound like a crazy thought, but hear me out. By my calculation, the Wrestlemania 34 card goes a STAGGERING SIXTEEN matches deep. Not only is the sheer number of matches on the table impressive, but there’s a reason to be excited about each and every one of them.
Match #1: Universal Title Match: Brock Lesnar v Roman Reigns.
The formal announcement of this match was expected to be met with scorn and disdain. Much to my surprise, it hasn’t been there. The WWE has smartly decided to portray Brock Lesnar as the egomaniac who thinks he’s above the business and Roman Reigns as the “everyman” who’s just one of the boys in the back. It seemed on its face to be a blatant ploy to turn Roman haters into Roman fans. You know what? It worked. Reigns is getting cheered more now than he has in months, if not years.
The build has been simple yet effective. In 2018, Roman Reigns is twice the wrestler and half as hated as he was in 2015. The current build to the rematch is light years ahead of the build to Wrestlemania 31. Considering how strong the Wrestlemania 31 performance was despite its obvious shortcomings, there’s little reason to think that the Wrestlemania 34 main event won’t reach epic proportions.
Match #2: WWE Championship Match: A.J. Styles v Shinsuke Nakamura.
Ok, ok, I admit it. A guilty confession is on the way. I don’t really think that Baron Corbin is going to win the Six Way match at Fast Lane this Sunday. It was a troll article to get you guys going. You can send all hate mail to [email protected]
A.J. v Shinsuke is happening and it’s the right call. With a Universal Title match catered towards the casuals, a WWE title match that caters to the diehards is the perfect foil and exactly what the doctor ordered. The majority of the people that I have spoken with believe that this will be one of the best matches in WWE history. I don’t have nearly as high of expectations, but it cannot be argued that this match will be anything less than excellent. It’s a match that the fans want to see, the crowd response will be excellent, and it will deliver.
Match #3: Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey v Triple H & Stephanie McMahon.
I am and will continue to be skeptical about Ronda Rousey’s long term viability in the WWE. I think she’ll struggle to be anything more than a 2-3 match special attraction due to her obvious verbal shortcomings.
With that being said, I am all in on this mixed tag match. Ronda Rousey has one job to do: garner mainstream attention for the WWE. She is doing just that. I have seen a ton of articles on ESPN and other major “sports” websites regarding her match at Wrestlemania. Non-wrestling fan friends of mine have been asking me about her “fight”. Make no mistake about it – Ronda Rousey is moving the needle.
In addition, the crowd reaction to segments that would otherwise have been ho-hum absent her inclusion have been stellar. I have no doubt that this match will do exactly what it needs to do – bring eyeballs to Wrestlemania that wouldn’t normally be watching. Lastly, both Kurt Angle and Triple H were prime candidates to drag down a marquee one on one match against a current superstar. Their inclusion here in a singular celebrity-driven match allows for more time for the new generation to shine.
Match #4: WWE Smackdown Women’s Title Match: Charlotte v Asuka.
The lack of interaction between Asuka and Alexa Bliss on the past few episodes of Monday Night Raw has told us everything we need to know about the state of the Women’s Championship Matches for Wrestlemania. Alexa’s feud will be elsewhere and Asuka is heading to Smackdown to take on Charlotte.
It makes a ton of sense. In a bubble, Asuka v Charlotte is the biggest women’s match that the WWE can put on. Charlotte has been the alpha female for what feels like forever. Asuka is the unstoppable force that’s fresh on the scene. If the WWE wants to make Asuka’s historic Royal Rumble win feel as important as possible, Charlotte is the only opponent that makes sense. Much like A.J. Styles v Nakamura on the men’s side, Charlotte v Asuka gives the diehard wrestling fans something to dig their teeth into on the Women’s side of the championship card.
Match # 5: WWE Raw Women’s Title Match: Alexa Bliss v Nia Jax.
I never thought that this generation’s version of the Shawn Michaels/Diesel storyline would come from the women, yet here we are. If there were ever perfect foils for each other, it’s Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax. Alexa is your tiny, bleached blond cowardly heel whose mouth does more talking than her fists. Nia Jax is a monster, incredibly strong and powerful, a silent killer whose force of fist far outweighs the power behind her words.
Neither is particularly good in the ring. The match itself won’t be a five star classic. It doesn’t matter. The storyline is excellent and the fans will be invested in seeing Bliss finally get hers. Much like Reigns v Lesnar, Alexa Bliss v Nia Jax is right down the alley of the average casual fan. Again, the WWE did a phenomenal job of pairing the “like” championship matches with each other.
Match #6: WWE Smackdown Tag Title Match: The Usos v The New Day v The Bludgeon Brothers.
I’m not entirely sure of what the final match will look like, but this seems like the leading candidate. With all of the attention given to the Usos never making a Wrestlemania main card and the New Day ending up as hosts last year, it’s hard to imagine that both teams aren’t in the Smackdown tag title match. With all of the two on two matches between the Usos and The New Day over the last year, adding the Bludgeon Brothers makes the most sense to me. They have been the next contender for a while now, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that they interrupted the verbal altercation between the New Day and the Usos two weeks ago on Smackdown.
Both the Usos and The New Day have a major chip on their shoulders after being put on the Summerslam preshow. I fully expect them to do everything in their power to steal the show on the biggest stage of the year. In their previous incarnation, the Bludgeon Brothers had GREAT matches with the Usos – arguably the best matches that the Usos ever had prior to their series with the New Day. The chemistry is there and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this ends up being the best match on the entire show.
Match #7: Raw Tag Title Match: The Bar Open Challenge.
While the Smackdown Tag Titles are deservedly getting the lion’s share of the attention, I think The Raw tag team title match ends up being a sleeper match on the show. I thought The Bar’s promo from a couple weeks ago flew under the radar and went largely unnoticed. They heavily alluded to the fact that there weren’t really any teams left to face them at Wrestlemania. While it’s very possible that this could just be leading to The Revival answering the call and leading to an excellent but preshow worthy match, I think something else is at play.
The promo led me to believe that The Bar’s open challenge will be answered by either a debuting or returning tag team. If it’s a debuting team, it HAS to be The Authors of Pain. They have outlived their usefulness in NXT and the only reasonable move for them is a promotion to one of the main rosters. I can’t think of a better way to make a splash than by having them win the Raw tag titles upon their debut. If the challenge is answered by a returning team instead, how about The Dudley Boyz? They are going into the Hall of Fame the night before…..this could EASILY be a sendoff for them.
Regardless of which option that the WWE chooses, I think there’s both an incredible amount of intrigue and a solid payoff coming down the pipe.
Match # 8: Intercontinental Title Match: The Miz v Seth Rollins v Finn Balor.
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that isn’t looking forward to this one. All three men are universally loved. All three appeared to be on the outside looking in when it came to a major match at this year’s Wrestlemania. Instead, they’re now part of a can’t-miss triple threat match.
It’s hard to see how this ends up being anything other than a blockbuster. You’ve got a wrestler who always shows up on the big stage (The Miz), another wrestler who always brings it when it matters the most (Seth Rollins) and a wrestler who when given the opportunity, has put in stellar performances (Finn Balor).
Rollins and Balor’s shortcomings on the microphone as faces will more than be covered by The Miz’s elite work as a heel. All in all, this is YET ANOTHER example of a match that should be a tremendous success in the eyes of the entire audience come Wrestlemania 34.
Match #9: The Cruiserweight Tournament Finals.
While my disdain for 205Live has been strong, the reality is that the brand has taken tremendous steps in the right direction over the past month or two. Both the addition of Drake Maverick as the GM and the return of the top-notch action we came to see in the Cruiserweight Classic have completely turned the entire brand around.
I’m a sucker for tournaments in general and this one has been excellent. I think it’s the lock of locks that we’ll see Cedric Alexander take on Drew Gulak in the finals. Gulak was the #2 heel behind Enzo prior to Amore’s departure, and Cedric was being pushed to be the prime challenger on the face side. I think that given how much emphasis has been placed on the tournament, they’ll be given 15 minutes to put on the type of classic we saw during the inaugural tournament back in 2016. Sign me up.
Match #10: U.S. Title Match – Bobby Roode v Randy Orton v Jinder Mahal.
I’m basing this match on the fact that the storyline behind Bobby Roode v Randy Orton has seen Jinder Mahal attempt to turn both baby faces against each other. I think he interferes in their match at Fast Lane this Sunday and turns it into a non-finish. I really feel like Randy Orton being involved with the US Title is a mutually beneficial situation. For Orton, he was pretty directionless. Focusing on a mid-card title for Wrestlemania season feels fresh to me. As for the U.S. Title, there’s no chance that it sniffs the Wrestlemania 34 main card if Orton isn’t involved.
There’s a chance that Dolph Ziggler and/or Baron Corbon gets thrown into this and it becomes a clusterf*ck multi-man match, but I’m thinking the WWE keeps it a Triple Threat to counter-act the Raw mid-card title match. As for the match itself, I think it will be deceptively good. This may be an unpopular opinion, but Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal showed that they have excellent chemistry together. Their matches with each other were the best that either man had all of last year. When given the opportunity, Bobby Roode delivers. There’s very little reason to think that this can’t be a nice 3-3.5 star addition to the show.
Match #11: Kevin Owens v Sami Zayn.
The breakup of KO’s latest bromance is starting to become more and more inevitable with each passing week. It started with subtle hints on Smackdown but we are now at a point where it is staring us in the face. Truth be told, it couldn’t come fast enough. The plan on paper was for the pairing to elevate Sami Zayn to main event status. Instead, it feels more like Sami has brought KO down to his level than the other way around. I don’t say that as a knock to Zayn, but it appears to be the reality of the situation.
There’s always the chance that they end up in a tag team match against Shane McMahon and an unnamed partner, but that storyline has been cooled off significantly. I still think K.O. is a guy that the WWE views as a cornerstone going forward, and they’ll use the breakup and Wrestlemania match against Zayn to re-establish his credibility. As for the match itself, how can it be anything but straight fire? These guys have wrestled each other thousands of times and can have a 4 star match in their sleep. Even if given only 10-12 minutes, I have little doubt that they will put together something memorable.
Match #12: The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
You know what? I don’t get the hate for this match. It has provided worthwhile value all four years that it has been around. In the first year, we saw a crowd-popping win for one of the diehard darlings in Cesaro. Year 2 saw the best overall match by far, built around the implosion between The Miz and Damien Mizdow. Year 3 saw Baron Corbin win in his main-roster debut. In hindsight that one doesn’t look good, but at the time his victory was extremely well received. Last year saw the match far outkick its coverage – generating mainstream media attention when Rob Gronkowski got involved.
With the WWE involvement in the Andre the Giant documentary set to air on HBO later this year, all rumors indicate that additional focus will be put into this year’s version. Although I’ll argue otherwise shortly, that could very well mean Braun Strowman shows up to dominate. Even if he doesn’t, I am extremely confident that the Battle Royal will provide us with a memorable moment or two. After all, it always has.
Match #13: Bray Wyatt v Matt Hardy – Ultimate Deletion.
I count this as a match because a) it will be a physical altercation, and b) it will be given a significant amount of time on the show. I have to admit – nothing about the Woken Matt character has interested me in the slightest. I think he has been skating by on the goodwill he built up with the gimmick in TNA and the fans willingness to continue to chant “delete” despite a putrid product being put in front of them. The feud with Bray Wyatt has completely fallen flat thus far, as is the case with just about everything Wyatt touches these days.
With all that said, I’m strangely intrigued and optimistic about Ultimate Deletion. First, oddball pre-taped shenanigans of this nature have traditionally done well on the Wrestlemania stage. I have fond memories of the “parking lot brawl” between Rowdy Piper and Goldust at Wrestlemania 12. I think that Ultimate Deletion has a chance to be equally entertaining.
The Broken Matt Hardy character is much better suited for pre-taped backstage productions of this nature than the poorly produced in ring segments we have been subjected to over the past few months. Additionally, Jeremy Borash’s production and influence was considered to be a big factor in the gimmick’s success in TNA. Now that he is signed to a WWE contract, I expect him to be heavily involved in putting together Ultimate Deletion. While that doesn’t guarantee that Ultimate Deletion will turn around what has thus far been a historically bad storyline, it does give me confidence that we will see something that thoroughly entertains me.
Match #14: Bayley v Sasha Banks.
Women’s wrestling is here to stay. In a previous column, I discussed the importance of having secondary women’s storylines that lead to matches that don’t involve the championships on Pay Per View. Storyline depth is the next logical step in the Women’s Evolution, and Sasha Banks v Bayley appears to be the biggest step in that direction that the WWE has taken thus far.
The WWE has spent a tremendous amount of time hinting at a Bayley heel turn. It’s never going to happen. We all know that Sasha is going to be the one who ultimately stabs Bayley in the back. Sasha is money as a heel and completely lost as a face. A heel Sasha and face Bayley will allow them to recreate the magic they were able to make in NXT. While I don’t expect an all-time classic a la NXT Takeover Brooklyn I, I do think we’ll get a very solid 10 minute match between the two. This would mark the SIXTH match on the card that appears to appeal to the diehard fan base. That is a marked improvement from past Wrestlemania events and should not be minimized or forgotten.
Match #15: Braun Strowman v Samoa Joe.
As discussed earlier in the column, the most logical match for Braun Strowman to end up in is the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Although he would add tremendous value to this year’s rendition of the gimmick, I just don’t think that the WWE is going to pass up the opportunity to give him a showcase match on the biggest stage of them all. They have been grooming him to be a top star for almost a year and they will want eyeballs to be on him come Wrestlemania.
With that in mind, Samoa Joe is the only option for an opponent. He’s a reasonably big star whose age dictates that he is not part of the WWE’s long term future. He’s the perfect guy to put Strowman over at Wrestlemania. I love the potential physicality of this matchup. I feel like it could be a poor man’s Reigns/Lesnar. I’ve been a Samoa Joe fan for a long time. After all he’s done in the business, I will be head over heels for him to get a major Wrestlemania moment – even if it’s just to “Get These Hands”.
Match #16: John Cena v The Undertaker.
I really wish that I was better at embedding graphics into my columns. If I was, I’d insert the “Batman pimp-slaps Robin for saying something ridiculous” meme for all of you booger eaters that think this match will be anything less than legendary.
Stop it. Stop it right now. You heard the crowd reaction when Cena hinted at a showdown with The Undertaker a couple of weeks ago on Raw. Everyone lost their mind. You can convince yourself that it’s not a match that you want to see. Go right ahead. In the end, when The Undertaker’s gong hits and he’s staring down Cena in the middle of the ring, you’ll be marking out just as hard as everyone else.
This match has to happen this year. Cena has nothing else to do and The Undertaker’s unlikely to return for future Mania’s once he finally misses one. Although his outing against Reigns wasn’t great, Cena is a much better opponent for him. He works a style that is a lot less physical than Reigns, and it’s much more likely than he can get an aging legend to the finish line. I fully expect an epic performance from both men and the type of match the Undertaker deserves to have before riding off into the sunset for good.
With a staggering SIXTEEN matches that look like they could provide value, it’s hard to argue against Wrestlemania 34 being the deepest card in the history of the industry. I for one cannot wait.
That’s a wrap kids. Wrestlemania 34 is only a month away! Agree or disagree with my assessment? SOUND OFF BELOW!
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