For those keeping track at home, this weekend’s Wrestlemania, which goes down in Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, is the 31st to happen in the WWE’s history (it’s the sixth Wrestlemania to occur in California, fun fact). This is the first Wrestlemania not to feature a numerical designation, in a shallow attempt to hide its age, a branding facelift. In lieu of this, a video player play emoji is being jutted under the chrome Wrestlemania logo, which according to WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon represents the technical prowess of Silicon Valley. I postulate that the chrome Wrestlemania logo color scheme represents the cold future dystopia the San Francisco Bay Area is terraforming in to. But I digress.
Before we begin, of course wrestling is scripted and the matches are pre-determined. And no, stop calling wrestling soap-operas for men, that’s boring and reductive and doesn’t account for the amount of girls and women who watch the product. Neither does it account for the pageantry and theatrics professional wrestling can carry with it. While wrestling is serialized and melodramatic, I liken wrestling more like musicals, where instead of breaking out into song, highly trained athletes ply their craft in a ring which tells its own story.
Now that’s out of the way, Wrestlemania is like Super Bowl meets the season finale for your favorite cable prestige TV show. At Wrestlemania, story lines between wrestlers have built up over weeks, sometimes months, are brought to a head, then are resolved in tremendous fashion that usually involves fireworks. Seeds for future storylines are planted. The agreed upon start date for the Road to Wrestlemania begins in January with the Royal Rumble pay-per-view where wrestlers begin pairing off in matches, not unlike the days counting down to a middle school dance and the audience’s emotions and pathos are lathered up to a fever pitch. Also, there are cutaways to the Wrestlemania sign hanging in whatever arena RAW is taking place that night. It’s a shame because the road to this year’s Wrestlemania Play Emmoji hasn’t been the most pathos heavy, one might even say boring, or slapdash. But it’s not like Vince McMahon and turn the goddamn wrestling car around and making a beeline back to Titan Towers in Connecticut.
At worst, the innate pageantry and spectacle of a Wrestlemania shapes up to be like eating lukewarm instant ramen out of your grandmother’s heirloom antique porcelain bowl. That said, let’s take a look at the matches happening this Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. And if you’re a fan of LL Cool J, you’re in luck, as he will be hosting and performing in this year’s Wrestlemania, along with performances from Skylar Grey, Kid Ink and Travis Barker.
Brock Lesnar (champion) vs Roman Reigns for the WWE Heavyweight Championship
Current WWE heavyweight champion, former UFC heavyweight champion, and NCAA Division 1 Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar proclaimed on Tuesday in an ESPN interview that he wasn’t returning to the UFC and instead signed a multi-year contract with the WWE, which just made the main event of Wrestlemania Play Emoji interesting. Originally thought of as the moment that Brock Lesnar runs out his WWE contract, drops the title to number one contender Roman Regins, and runs back to the UFC to headline pay-per-views against over-the-hill heavyweight cans, Lesnar staying opens up more opportunities for storytelling in the match itself and in post-Mania weeks.
Roman Reigns, former member of the Shield/human exclamation point (believe that!), turned daily affirmation incarnate (I can. I will.), and member of the Anoaʻi wrestling family (including Yokozuna, Rikishi, Umaga, The Tonga Kid, The Usos, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) own Road to Wrestlemania was paved with the blowback for having a rocket ship straight to the main event moon strapped on his back. The scion hand-picked by Vince McMahon to be the new face of the company due to his look (perpetually wet hair, racially ambiguous, built strong, kind of looks like Jason Momoa), and not so much his current in-ring ability or ability to monologue in front of the audience (notably, reciting Jack and the Beanstalk as an intimidation tactic to Big Show and actually uttering “suffering succotash.” Unironically.). Reigns’ January’s Royal Rumble win, guaranteeing him his main event shot and title shot against Lesnar, that many (read: all) felt should have gone to Daniel Bryan, who won the championship last Wrestlemania in New Orleans but had to resign the title and sidelined most of the year. The crowd has turned on Roman Reigns and his beautiful flowing damp locks.
Paolo’s Pick: Brock Lesnar retains the belt with Summerslam levels upon of violence inflicted upon Roman Reigns.
April’s: Pick: Roman Reigns because fuck it, let’s sink this ship right good.
Triple H vs. Sting
At its most reductive, Triple H vs. Sting is the battle of the sledgehammer (Triple H) vs. the baseball bat (Sting) in a battle of foreign object supremacy. The man called Sting, described by the WWE as the greatest wrestler to have never wrestled in a WWE ring, made his debut on WWE programming last November at the Survivor Series pay-per view. Sting wrestled for former WWE rival WCW (World Championship Wrestling) and did not make the jump over to WWE when WCW was bought out in 2000. After spending the 2000s in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, the consummate fan favorite, the vigilante will finally be able to wrestle inside a WWE ring for the first (and probably last time).
Triple H, the onscreen COO of the WWE (in real life, Executive Vice President of Talent/Live Events/Creative) along with Stephanine McMahon, the onscreen principle owner of the WWE (real life WWE Chief Brand Officer) are the leaders of the heel (bad guy) faction The Authority. He hasn’t wrestled since Wrestlemania last year against Daniel Bryan. The built in tension of a WCW vs. WWE brand match provides itself with raw material that slots itself in like IKEA furniture – serviceable but could have been crafted better. It’s not like WWE already owns the WCW brand, and proceeded to teabag the company further with it’s largely revisionist Monday Night Wars series on the WWE Network. Also it’s not Sting vs. The Undertaker, which was the original dream match for years.
Paolo’s Pick: Sting wins, setups the dream match with Undertaker next Wrestlemania in Dallas, Texas. Retirement match for the both of them.
April’s: Pick: Triple H takes the match as a final, resolute “suck it” to WCW.
Rusev (champion) vs. John Cena for the United States Championship
Rusev is a Bulgarian born wrestler positioned as the super athlete, and hero of the Russian Federation of the WWE. Along with manager Lana, they extol the values of Russia over America’s weakness and constantly unfurl a Russian flag over the ring upon winning his matches. It’s pretty spectacular, I won’t lie. Their entrance video package even contains a picture of tough-guy/human rights violator Vladmir Putin. Rusev has been in a warmed over version of Rocky IV for most of the year, involved in jingoistic battles with America proxies Jack Swagger, Big Show, and Mark Henry. Rusev’s most recent success has come in claiming the United States Championship from Irishman Sheamus, in some fevered version of what the American Dream really means.
In recent weeks, fifteen time world champion, walking billboard for Never Giving Up ™, John Cena jumped into the fray, wanting to take away his United States Championship belt take it back for America and The Troops ™ because they’re The Troops ™. Cena has been immigrant shaming Rusev for taking advantage of the opportunities in America yet his and Lana’s Boris and Natasha level dislike of America. Rusev puts his technically undefeated streak on the line, and this could be a chance for Rusev to breakout from the mid-card Oddity of the Other and show that he is ready for the main event spotlight.
Paolo’s Pick: John Cena wins it for American, children, The Troops ™, but Rusev gets put over and becomes more than just an unfurled Russian flag in the eyes of the audience (and hopefully booking/creative).
April’s: Pick: John Cena can do no wrong. Russian Rusev can do no right. Who wins? America.
Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match: Bad News Barrett (champion), Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth, Luke Harper, Stardust
The Intercontinental Championship, second only to the WWE Heavyweight championship was held by the likes of Tito Santana, The Ultimate Warrior, Shawn Michaels, and 2015 Hall of Fame inductee Macho Man Randy Savage. Recently it has been reduced to a mere party favor, a MacGuffin in a series of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”-esqe vignettes by the players in the ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship absconding with the belt, with the joke being on current Intercontinental Champion Bad News Barrett. A good half of the participants could have been given their own marquee match at ‘Mania, so expect chips on everybody’s shoulder to steal the show with this match.
Sidebar: Imagine a parallel universe where Daniel Bryan gets his main event title shot against Brock Lesnar. Imagine Daniel Bryan winning the WWE Heavyweight Championship from Brock Lesnar, and as the confetti and streamers flood Levi’s Stadium, imagine Giants Outfielder Hunter Pence (who brought Daniel Bryan’s Yes Chant to the SF Giants) running down the ramp to celebrate with Daniel Bryan. A mirror version of Daniel Bryan presenting Pence with a Championship belt at the Giants’ World Series parade last year.
Paolo’s Pick: While it’s not what we wanted for the main event of Wrestlemania, a Daniel Bryan win, former WWE Heavyweight Champion winning the Intercontinental Championship would return legitimacy to the Intercontinental Championship. But goddamn a Dean Ambrose or Dolph Ziggler win would be too sweet.
April’s: Pick: Dean Ambrose for the sheer sake of finally throwing some fresh blood into the shark tank of shit ideas.
The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt
The legendary Undertaker hasn’t been seen on WWE since his Wrestlemania 30 match against Brock Lesnar last year where his legendary streak twenty-one straight Wrestlemania victories was broken and this man became a star. All anybody had to go on was the occasion photo of The Undertaker (along with rampant speculation about his health) floating on Instagram throughout the year. Bray Wyatt is a spooky Bayou infused cult leader who wears jaunty hats and whose over-complicated and breathy promos sound like as if a Hallmark card writer wrote a spec script for a True Detective spin-off about The Yellow King overshadow the talent he displays in the ring. He has been calling out The Undertaker out for weeks, and on this week’s Monday Night RAW fulfilled his promise of being the New Face of Fear by saying he is the man that will rest in peace.
Paolo’s Pick: The Undertaker buries Bray Wyatt on his way to a dream match with Sting next Wrestlemania, but Bray Wyatt fully becomes the New Face of Fear.
April’s: Pick: There has to be a dignified way to send Undertaker off but I just don’t see it with Wyatt. Either Undertaker wins in a dominating enough fashion to warrant a final WM appearance next year or Wyatt ruins the event with an upset that fully buries Undertaker’s career forever.
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
In the org chart of The Authority, Randy Orton was its champion, its heavy, its golden boy. All this changed when Seth Rollins, the touted architect of The Shield, turned his back on fellow Shield members Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. He didn’t sell out as everybody else would allege, he bought in to the promise of The Authority, trading in his Shield para-military vest for what appears to have been shoddy Blade cosplay. After winning the Money in the Bank briefcase, guaranteeing him a heavyweight championship title shot anytime, anywhere made Rollins The Authority’s new golden boy. Rollins is great as the heel, as his modulates from being a total King Joffery-esqe arrogant, entitled chicken-shit in non-wrestling situations (flanked by his own his personal security detail of wrestlers Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble) but by being an absolute king slaying monster in the ring. Also recently in a blood feud with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart.
(I’m still holding out for a Jon Stewart vs. Craig Kilborn Daily Show retrospective match at Wrestlemania with special guest referee Bill Simmons.)
Third generation wrestler (and subject of the viral RKO outta nowhere Vine video compilation months ago) Randy Orton is on the road for vengeance after Seth Rollins performed his Curb Stomp finishing move on him, attempting to end his career and losing his favored position within The Authority.
Paolo’s Pick: Let Randy Orton RKO Seth Rollins into Wrestlemania history. Seth Rollins has got a novelty briefcase to cash-in.
April’s: Pick: Randy Orton for the win. I echo Paolo’s thoughts completely.
AJ Lee and Paige vs. The Bella Twins
While bra-and-panties-matches of the late 90’s Attitude Era have been discarded for PG-era holiday themed costumed matches, the women’s division (I refuse to call it the branded Divas division) of the WWE main roster has the talent (the match between Paige and Nikki Bella on this week’s Monday Night RAW demonstrates this), but the booking and creative reduces their stories and motivations to mean girls, frenedmies, and women be crazy, amirite?! That or women’s matches are just another avenue to promote a reality show on E! which three of the four participants in the tag match appear. For an example on how to a women’s division should look, please watch NXT’s women’s division. Also, get rid of the current Divas (ugh) championship belt, which looks like a Lisa Frank experiment in weaponized decorative gigantism gone horribly wrong.
Paolo’s Pick: The Bella Twins by bullshit mean girl twin magic but be sure to tune in to Total Divas on E! or something.
April’s: Pick: To not only reduce the women’s division to this but to slap on a tag team label (truly the McRib of matches) is pretty much the equivalent of what happens to me after I eat a McRib. I don’t care if it’s back. I’ll pass.
Second Annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale
If winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale means that you will be publicly shit on by Vince McMahon on a special episode of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast broadcast on the WWE Network as lacking charisma (Just ask Cesaro, the inaugural winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale), then holy God I’m afraid for what’s going to happen to this year’s winner. A rogue’s gallery of WWE lowcard talent strewn about into a gimmick match, featuring The Miz (you might remember him from the Real World: Back to New York), his stunt double/Single White Female doppelgänger Damien Mizdow, former NXT tag-team champions Konnor and Viktor of The Ascension.
In “NXT is Great” News: This year’s Battle Royale will feature NXT wrestler Hideo Itami! He won his entrance after winning an NXT tournament held at the WWE Axxess convention on Thursday evening!
In “The Second Annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale is Some Straight Bullshit Anyway” News: It was announced that the Battle Royale has been bumped from the main card to appear on the pre-show kick off along with the fatal four way for the tag team championships. It’s probably to make room for the other matches, or segments, or maybe LL Cool J wanted to perform another song.
Paolo’s Pick: Dear Die Hard, please let Damien Mizdow win. PS: Do you know Mad Max?
April’s: Pick: LL Cool J is the last man in the ring both in terms of lucky draw and as the match’s winner.
Fatal 4-Way Tag Team Match for the Tag Team Championship: Tyson Kidd and Cesaro (champions), vs The New Day, vs Los Matadores, vs The Usos
The first Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match at Wrestlemania 17 between the Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz, and Edge and Christian is one of my favorite matches of all time. So for much it’s just a disheartening shame that the tag team titles, those giant novelty smashed pennies of a belt is being contested as part of the pre-show kickoff on the grandest stage. It’s not like the tag division is lighting the world on fire either. When you have criminally underutilized talents talents Tyson Kidd and Cesaro facing off against The New Day (WWE’s shoddy answer to what they think black spirituality is), Los Matadores (WWE’s shoddy answer to what they think Spanish bullfighters are, complete with a little person dressed in a bull getup), and the Usos (progeny of Hall of Fame Inductee Rikishi, known for high-flying antics, face paint and Samoan war dances).
Paolo’s Pick: Tyson Kidd and Cesaro retain, look strong, and build to their eventual break-up and godlike feud.
April’s: Pick: Tyson Kidd and Cesaro. Please don’t fail me, y’all.