The Eternal Optimist Presents: Wrestlemania 34 - Evaluating Each Match Against Its Expectations

The Eternal Optimist Presents: Wrestlemania 34 – Evaluating Each Match Against Its Expectations

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What matches at Wrestlemania 34 do you think are most likely to outperform and fail to meet expectations?

Hi kids.

Before I pull a Daniel Bryan and dive head first into my next article, I have a quick announcement to make regarding my Royal Rumble Series. I will be temporarily putting it on hold until after Wrestlemania. I’m doing so for two reasons.

First, Wrestlemania 34 is only a couple of weeks away. There are several topics that I want to tackle head-on, and I don’t want that to suffer on the account of my column series.

Second, my second child is due in five days. I’ll need to temporarily ease up on the column writing for a few weeks, so I wanted to make sure that I discuss Wrestlemania as much as possible with the little amount of time that I’ll have to dedicate towards writing.

On a somewhat related note, is it socially acceptable to refer to baby #2 as “Dropping a Deuce”?

Anyhow, onto the column. I believe that the Wrestlemania card is set at 14 matches. This year’s card is unique in that I feel just about every match on the card invokes strong emotion from the fan base. I’ve had some time to think about each of the matches, and I’m surprised at how much my feelings have changed when it comes to specific matches on the show.

With that in mind:

The Eternal Optimist Presents: Wrestlemania 34 – Evaluating Each Match Against Its Expectations.

The United States Title Match Will EXCEED Expectations.

CUE THE HATE MAIL EARLY! The Eternal Optimist is about to say something nice about Jinder again! All joking aside, I’ve found very few people that are at all excited about this match. I can’t say that it’s the match that I’m looking forward to the most, but I think it will be far better than anyone is willing to give it credit to be.

Both Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal sucked it up in the majority of their matches in 2017. However, Punjabi Prison debacle aside, they showed pretty good chemistry when in the ring with each other. Orton and Roode took a little while to get started at Fast Lane, but they ended up putting together an excellent match with an old school feel to it.

I love the psychology of the two baby faces being egged on by a cowardly heel. I don’t think we’re getting a masterpiece, but I think we’ll get a solid 3 star effort here. Considering that this is everyone’s pick for worst match of the night, I have little doubt that they will outkick the expectation.

The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal Will MEET Expectations.

The expectation is that the Andre The Giant Battle Royal will be a fun match not to be taken too seriously, and that’s exactly what I think we’re going to get. The male side of the card is loaded with blockbuster match after blockbuster match. Unfortunately for the Battle Royal, the depth of the male side of the card means that it will serve as the deposit box for the likes of Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin.

The one thing that The Andre the Giant Battle Royal has going for it is that it has delivered tremendous entertainment value each and every year, regardless of the strength of the roster in the match. Whether it be Cesaro body-slamming The Big Show over the top in an incredible feat of strength, the implosion of The Miz and Mizdow, Baron Corbin making his mark on his very first night or a Rob Gronkowski appearance, this match has always provided us with a water cooler moment to discuss. This year will be no exception.

The Cruiserweight Title Match Will FAIL to Meet Expectations.

Cedric Alexander v Mustafa Ali is a fine example of cruiserweight wrestling. They are both fantastic in the ring and I have little doubt that they will put on a good match at Wrestlemania 34.

My issue is with the expectations that many have for this match. Most people that I’ve spoken with believe that this match will the one that opens the door to the cruiserweight division being a mainstream success in the WWE. I couldn’t disagree more. While both wrestlers are likeable baby-faces, there is absolutely no story to tell here. The WWE would have been much better served to have Drew Gulak be Cedric’s opponent for Mania. A traditional good v evil storyline would have captured the interest of more wrestling fans than two white meat baby-faces on a brand very few people are watching.

If you don’t believe me, just look at last year’s Wrestlemania Cruiserweight Title match offering. Cedric v Ali doesn’t hold a candle to Neville v Aries when it comes to the in ring product, the storyline or the star power involved. If that match didn’t lead to the renaissance of the cruiserweights, this match certainly won’t either.

The Smackdown Tag Title Match Will EXCEED Expectations.

I think many expect this match to be spectacular. Even so, I don’t think the bar has been set NEARLY high enough. I have little doubt that this will be the BEST match on the entire show.

How could it not be? The Usos and The New Day have been on fire in the ring together for the better part of a year. Both teams will be heavily motivated. The Usos have never been on a main card and the New Day were the freaking HOSTS last year. The Bludgeon Brothers will add a nice wrinkle and I strongly suspect that a gimmick will be added to spice things up even further. This will be the match of the night. Mark that down in pen.

The Raw Tag Title Match Will MEET Expectations.

The Raw tag title match is a tricky one for me to rate. It more or less came out of left field. Most figured that The Bar would have a throwaway match and Braun would be involved in a major single’s storyline. Instead, Braun gets a tag title shot and The Raw Tag Title gets elevated in stature.

The expectation here is pretty simple – a squash match that is a showcase for Braun. That’s what we’ll get. The only real drama here is who will be Braun’s partner. There are several directions that the WWE can go in, and all are intriguing. Samoa Joe is the wrestler with the highest profile and Elias has a built in storyline that would likely lead to comedic gold. My choice is Big Cass. All signs indicate that he is ready to be cleared and I love the idea of pairing the two monsters together.

Nonetheless, this match is likely to be both non-competitive and entertaining. That’s all anyone is looking for, and I suspect that we will all get what we paid for.

The Women’s Wrestlemania Battle Royal Will FAIL to Meet Expectations.

On paper, the Women’s Battle Royal should be a lot more exciting than the Men’s. It’s the first of its kind, and the WWE traditionally tries to make anything that is trendsetting an event to remember. Second, the inclusion of NXT wrestlers adds an element that is likely to go over well with the audience in attendance. Lastly, there’s a rock-solid built in storyline between Sasha Banks and Bayley that looks to be blown off during this match.

So why is it that I think it will fail to meet expectations? It’s an issue of card positioning more than anything else. There are a tremendous amount of high profile matches that are simply going to eat up all of the desirable real estate. This match looks destined for a death spot, wedged in between the likes of Cena/Taker and Styles/Nak.

We all know how death spot matches work. It rarely matters who is involved. Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan had a fascinating match against The Bar at the 2018 Royal Rumble. You could hear a pin drop in the arena because everyone in attendance was absolutely drained from the Men’s Rumble match. Such will be the case here. It is a shame, as I believe a spot on the preshow would lead to more time, better focus and a much stronger outing.

The Intercontinental Title Match Will MEET Expectations.

There isn’t much to discuss here. Rollins v Balor v The Miz is a match that just about everyone can agree on. It’s going to be spectacular. Neither The Miz nor Seth Rollins ever “miss” at a big event, and Finn Balor has shown that when given the opportunity, he can deliver top notch work.

This match is heavily anticipated. The general feeling is that it could contend for match of the night, and I don’t disagree. I suspect that the IC title match will open the show and electrify the crowd. With so many matches on the show, I would be surprised if this one gets any more than 15 minutes. Nonetheless, I believe that these three men will give us everything that we are expecting, a borderline match-of-the-year quality effort.

The Raw Women’s Title Match Will EXCEED Expectations.

I really don’t understand the hate towards this match. Alexa Bliss is without question the most over full-time wrestler on the women’s roster. Half of the audience hates her for her heelish actions and the other half cheers her because they are in love with her. Nia has been built slowly and effectively over the past year to the point where she’s absolutely ready for a major spot on the Wrestlemania card. The storyline is as old school as it gets and it’s being received tremendously well each and every week on Raw.

Again, what’s there to hate? I see many going as far as to say that this will be the worst match on the show. I just don’t see it that way. I’m expecting tremendous storytelling. Nia will dominate and stalk Bliss the entire match. Bliss, the cowardly heel that she is, will do everything that she can to avoid contact. Matches with this type of psychology ALWAYS go over well.

On top of that, I think we’re in for a big-time angle during this match. I don’t see Nia reigning victorious here. I think it’s likely that Bliss uses dastardly tactics to retain. The storyline writes itself from there. Nia will snap and destroy Alexa. Seeing Bliss unconscious in the ring will prompt Carmella to come down and cash in her briefcase, switching brands and becoming WWE Raw Women’s Champion.

With a tremendous storyline going into the match, a solid psychology-driven story to tell in the ring on game day and a blockbuster angle to close it out, there’s NO CHANCE that this match ends up being one of the worst on the show.

The Smackdown Women’s Title Match Will FAIL to Meet Expectations.

Ugh, I hate that I even need to go here. I absolutely LOVED the idea of Charlotte v Asuka at Wrestlemania. Charlotte is without question the top female on the entire roster and Asuka’s Royal Rumble win has clearly shown that in the eyes of the WWE brass, it’s her time. However, there are a couple of problems at play here.

First, there isn’t much of a feud. I was expecting a heel turn from Charlotte that hasn’t come. She just isn’t nearly as interesting on the microphone as a baby-face. Asuka is clearly not going to be the person that carries the feud with her words. As such, Charlotte v Asuka is a storyline without a feud. It’s strictly about competition – who’s the best. That’s ok under other circumstances, but lacks the punch needed to be considered one of the top matches on the biggest show of the year.

Second, Asuka just isn’t THAT over. She’s been getting diminishing returns each and every week on Raw despite being booked in a Lesnar-like favorable way. I’m not convinced that the live crowd is going to be all that interested in seeing her reign supreme.

I think Charlotte v Asuka would be well-served to go on early in the show while the crowd is still red-hot. Charlotte is a tremendous physical specimen and some of the moves that she pulls off in the ring are breathtaking. However, her in-ring psychology is definitely not on par with the likes of Sasha Banks and others within the division. If the appetite for an Asuka win just isn’t there and Charlotte doesn’t have the chops to pull the crowd back into the match, this one could fall flat. The idea that this is the best match on the show and should close is the definition of an unrealistic expectation.

The Mixed Tag Team Match Will MEET Expectations.

A weird thing happened with the mixed tag match. I knew that I wanted to write this column months ago. When it became apparent that we were going to see Rousey in a mixed tag match, I was certain that it would fall under the group of matches that failed to meet expectations. My thought at the time was that her match would be viewed as a tremendous spectacle that couldn’t possibly live up to the hype.

Much to my surprise, the expectations just aren’t there. Maybe it’s because of how unbelievably strong the rest of the card is and maybe it’s because the WWE is fearful of exposing Ronda’s limitations. Regardless of the root cause, this match has been booked as almost an afterthought. As such, I don’t think there are ANY expectations going in.

I think this match has settled into a reasonable space in the eyes of the majority of the fans. It’s no longer a match that’s expected to carry or sell the show. It’s a sideshow that will provide a couple moments of entertainment value and nothing more. I’m perfectly content with that.

The Daniel Bryan Tag Match Will EXCEED Expectations.

Despite my concerns about future health issues that Bryan could have, I could not be more excited about his in-ring return. There is an incredible buzz when it comes to the tantalizing dream matches that are now on the table. With all of that said, I still think that people are UNDERRATING how good this match will be.

Sure, Daniel Bryan will be a little rusty. That’s inevitable. Still, we’re talking about one of the all-time great workers. If he’s even at 50% of his capability, that’s still better than most. Shane McMahon, for all of the nepotism that he is the benefactor of, works his ass off whenever he gets in the ring. With the exception of his match with the Undertaker, he’s put in nothing but rock-solid performances since he returned to the company. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are A+ workers and they’ve finally regained some of the momentum that they had lost over the past two months.

Most of the discussion has been centered on how great it is to see Daniel Bryan back. People haven’t looked at this match and gotten nearly as excited as they should be over what the actual in-ring product will look like. I believe that the match will be every bit as spectacular as the hype surrounding Bryan’s return.

The WWE Title Match Will FAIL To Meet Expectations.

Man, the booger eaters are out in full force when it comes to A.J. Styles v Shinsuke Nakamura. To an extent I get it. This match is all that they ever wanted in a Wrestlemania main event. It signifies that the WWE is listening to THEM – something that rarely happens at any big event.

With that said, the idea that many fans believe that A.J. Styles v Shinsuke Nakamura will be the best match in the history of the WWE is laughable. For starters, Daniel Bryan’s return is the worst thing that could have happened to this match. It’s no longer at the top of the male pecking order on Smackdown. I think it’s a fair assumption that AT BEST the WWE views this as the 5th most important match on the show behind Lesnar/Reigns, Cena/Taker, The Bryan Tag Match and The Mixed Tag. With the importance placed on Women’s wrestling, it’s possible that the WWE also views Charlotte v Asuka and Nia v Alexa as more important matches to the card.

Why do I bring that up? On a crowded card where time is going to be at a premium, the match that the WWE views to be somewhere between the 5th and 7th most important match on the show just isn’t going to get 20-25 minutes to tell its story. The deck is going to be stacked against Styles and Nakamura from the start, and they have a tough task on their hands to deliver.

On top of that, while A.J. Styles is unquestionably the best in the business today, Nakamura is just “above average”. He has consistently underperformed on Pay Per View for the entire duration of his WWE career thus far. His plodding and methodical pace just isn’t well suited for WWE style matches. A.J. Styles is so talented that there’s no way that this match is terrible, but sniffing the conversation for best WWE match ever? Not a chance in hell.

John Cena v The Undertaker Will EXCEED Expectations.

As if I was going to come to any other conclusion than this, right? The idea that this match will fail is as laughable as laughable gets. Sure, The Undertaker isn’t what he used to be. His matches with Brock Lesnar, Bray Wyatt, Shane McMahon and Roman Reigns at the last four Wrestlemania events have indeed left something to be desired.

None of that matters. John Cena is significantly better than all of them and this match is FAR BIGGER than any of those were. This is the #1 dream match that the WWE can put on. Those of you who think this match is going to bomb haven’t been listening to the crowd reaction and simply don’t understand how wrestling works.

The biggest reason that recent Undertaker matches haven’t worked is because he’s been asked to do WAY more than he is physically capable of. That won’t be the case this time around. Both he and Cena are MASTERS of their craft. They don’t need to work a match full of tremendous high spots and fast paced action to put out an A+ product.

The crowd will be on fire for this and I’m fully expecting this match to look eerily similar to The Rock v Hulk Hogan from Wrestlemania 18. It won’t be about the specific moves that they execute but the story that they will weave. Both are MASTERS at in-ring psychology and their match will be a clinic on how to bring the crowd along on a journey without flips and high spots.

Buckle up and get ready for one of the most iconic showdowns that the WWE has ever given us.

The Universal Title Match Will FAIL To Meet Expectations.

I suspect that the majority of my readers are surprised that I feel this way. For months, I’ve been lauding the strength of their Wrestlemania 31 encounter. For months, I’ve been praising Roman Reigns and the improvements that he’s made in the ring. For months, I’ve been discussing how I feel that the fans are far more accepting of Roman Reigns and his inevitable conquer of Brock Lesnar. For months, all I’ve wanted to talk about is how I believe that their Wrestlemania 34 encounter will be BETTER than their first match.

Unfortunately, something went off the rails here. I enjoyed the story that they started to tell. Brock no-showing and Roman positioning himself as one of the boys is an effective way to establish the face/heel dynamic. However, the inclusion of Vince has really soured me. Not only is the wrestler v authority figure storyline as tired as it gets, but Roman Reigns is absolutely the wrong personality type to excel in that role. He doesn’t have the verbal chops to come off as defiant or as endearing as he would need to be in order for a storyline of that nature to be successful.

My concern is centers around more than just the direction of the story. I watched Brock Lesnar suplex Reigns on Raw this Monday and something just looks off to me. Gone was the explosiveness that we are used to seeing. His suplex looked weak and uninspiring. To me, Lesnar looks smaller than usual. Coupled with the rumors that he’s headed back to UFC competition, it’s very possible that Lesnar is currently cutting weight. If that’s the case, his weakened state could account for the poor looking suplex we saw on Raw. If Lesnar is less than 100% physically, this match could suffer.

I think even the fans who are aggravated at what they view to be a coronation devoid of drama are expecting the product between the two to be very good come game day. I never expected that I would have LOWER expectations than the general public when it comes to the Universal Title Match. Nonetheless, that’s exactly where I find myself.

That’s a wrap kids. Agree or disagree with my assessments? Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel
Twitter: @FFFightLeague


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