We're approximately one month away from "The Granddaddy Of Them All", WrestleMania. One month away from the biggest event of the WWE year. One month away from all the pomp and circumstance that comes with what has, essentially, become a week-long event. At this point, we have several rumors floating around, detailing possible matches and happenings that will be taking place at the event, so it's time to take a look at them. Some are good, and some... well... aren't as good. Even this far away from the show taking place, I have ten thoughts about what we've seen, what we might be seeing, and how we're getting there. Some of these opinions could easily change over the next few weeks, simply based on a storyline tweak here, a title change there, or a superstar returning from injury. Let's see if we're all on the same page or not.
1. John Cena & The Miz are probably going to be wasted on the card. Alright, I've seen the defenses of the rumored mixed tag match that will see Cena team with Nikki Bella to face The Miz and Maryse. People say that Nikki is coming to the end of her career, and that both she and Cena will probably love getting a chance to team together in a match before she retires. People say that being in a match against John Cena at WrestleMania is a huge reward, no matter where it takes place on the card. That's fine and all, but the first point is irrelevant, and the second point simply isn't true. I don't doubt that Johnny Boy and Nikki Girl would love to have a match together before their careers are over, but having it at WrestleMania just seems wrong. It would be a really nice way to sell a smaller event, whether it be a Smackdown-only event or even the company's second-biggest show of the year, SummerSlam.
Through the years, I'll always be at the front of the line to criticize The Miz for his faults and any wrong doing he does. When his mind doesn't appear to be in the game, he comes across as an incredibly lazy in-ring performer. His strikes are often downright horrible, and his overacting is cringe worthy, even in the over-the-top world of professional wrestling. However, when he's "on", he's as "must-see" as his character claims to be. Since Maryse made her return to the company during the night-after-WrestleMania episode of Raw last year, Miz seems to be as motivated as he has ever been. He's showing a fire in his promos that he has never shown before. His in-ring work isn't exactly stiffening to the point where he looks like a 1990's Puroresu phenom, but he's a lot more "believable" (I don't even like using that word when it comes to wrestling) these days. With all the work he's been putting in over the last year, I feel he deserves a high-profile singles match at Mania. I've seen folks that were calling for him to win the Royal Rumble, as well as folks who wanted him to win at Elimination Chamber. There are only so many spots at the tippy-top of the card, so I don't know if I'd go that far, but he does deserve better than a mixed tag match. Maryse hasn't wrestled in nearly six years, but her return isn't a "story" like, say, the return of Trish Stratus or Lita would be. It isn't even on the level of Mickie James returning to WWE after six-plus years away. You just know the company will try to paint it as a huge deal, though, with the two-time Divas Champion returning to the ring. It all comes across as phony and hollow, you know? In no way am I saying the match will be a zero-star dud or anything like that. It's just my personal opinion that the match could/should be bigger for both Cena and Miz, and let's not even get started on the all-time stupid way that the match is going to be put together, with Nikki accidentally spilling makeup and powder on Maryse during a backstage brawl with Natalya. To quote a great philosopher... that is just turrible. Turrible.
2. WWE has backed themselves into a corner with how the Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar match can go. Not like you all need the memory jog, but go back to Survivor Series a few months ago, and the match that Goldberg and Brock Lesnar had. It was hyped to incredible lengths, and then it was over in less than 90 seconds. Now, fast forward to this year's Royal Rumble match. Both Brock and Goldberg were in the match, so we were looking forward to seeing if Mr. Lesnar could get some revenge. He did not. Goldberg eliminated him rather easily. Now, fast forward to the here and now. We're waiting to see what is being hyped as Brock's final shot at Goldberg, after the loss at Survivor Series, the elimination at the Royal Rumble, and the loss at WrestleMania 20.
If you polled wrestling fans, the majority would probably say they're expecting Lesnar to win, sending Goldberg into an official retirement. I'm predicting a Lesnar victory, as well, but how does it happen? Does it become an epic battle between "monsters", with 20 minutes of two men beating the hell out of each other? Wouldn't that only continue to make Lesnar look "weak"? He basically got destroyed two times in a row, and then needed everything he could possibly muster to beat a 50-year-old man in the last attempt. I've seen a prediction or two that Brock gets the dominant win this time around, squashing Goldberg in two minutes. Alright, but that makes the last half-year look like nothing but flukes. It looks like Goldberg accidentally stumbled into a quick victory, and then Brock did the same thing down the road. This all goes back to what I said after Survivor Series, echoing the thoughts of a very large percentage of the WWE Universe... having Goldberg win his match that way was stupid on an astronomical level. It did nothing for the company, and it made Brock look terrible. By the way, that's the same Brock that WWE had spent a few years making look like an unstoppable, God-like character, feeding him some of the company's biggest names, as well as The Undertaker's WrestleMania streak, in doing so. The company has put itself in a position that is almost impossible to get out of without hurting yourself, kind of like the middle pages of the Kama Sutra. Now go ahead and picture Vince McMahon performing things from the Kama Sutra while I move along to my next thought.
3. Chris Jericho vs Kevin Owens could be a classic. This one is a pretty simple one. You can make an argument that Kevin Owens is currently one of the best in-ring performers in the world. You can also make an argument that Chris Jericho is one of the sport's all-time best in-ring performers. No, Jericho isn't the proverbial "spring chicken" anymore, but he can still "go". Even if there were no story, and the match was taking place at a house show in Maine, you would expect it to be something entertaining. Being at WrestleMania is only going to motivate them more, but it's the way the Festival Of Friendship ended that has me excited about the match. As I said in a previous column, that has the potential to go down as an all-time great segment, helping Owens get over as the jerk heel he should have been all along, and helping Jericho to probably get the biggest babyface sympathy he's had since people thought he defeated Triple H for the WWF Title on Raw. The fans have been dying to cheer for him in recent months, and now they have that chance.
Most of the early rumors have this being nothing more than a grudge match, without the Universal Title on the line, as Owens looks like he's losing the title to Goldberg at Fastlane. While it would be nice to see these two square off for the biggest prize the company has to offer, the title being on the line would only be secondary, anyway, to the story of Owens betraying Jericho. Because of that, I don't even view it as a problem if the title isn't involved.
If these two are given a good amount of time (no less than 15 minutes, please) to put on a show in the ring, they'll deliver. I'm talking Match Of The Night, and perhaps even a Match Of The Year candidate with all of the heat that the crowd will give. Let's cross our fingers and hope this doesn't get lost in the shuffle.
4. Trying to turn Bayley into the "new Daniel Bryan" is failing miserably, and is going too quickly. The "Daniel Bryan is a B+ player" story is one of the best that wrestling has ever seen, mostly because of how organic and natural it was. There were points where it didn't seem like anything was being scripted. We, as fans, were pouring our hearts out for a competitor that we loved and wanted to see succeed, and WWE wasn't giving us what we wanted. They tried to give us this guy and that guy on a platter, but gosh darn it all, we wanted Daniel Bryan, and we were going to make that vocal until we got Daniel Bryan pushed to the top. It took fans on a roller coaster ride, leading to the ultimate high of WrestleMania 30, where Bryan defied the odds and won it all to one of the biggest face pops the business has ever seen.
As is always the case in wrestling, when a story works out well, of course there will be attempts at recreating it at some point. That's apparently what we're getting right now with Bayley on Raw. Bayley is, for all intents and purposes, the "female Daniel Bryan". She might not have the normal "look" of a champion wrestler, but she's who the people have chosen to support. Now, she's in a storyline where people like Stephanie McMahon and Charlotte get to tell her that she isn't very good, that she'll never be a top-tier talent, and so forth. Putting Bayley in a story like this makes sense, but WWE has gone about it all wrong. First and foremost, we had to deal with agony after agony with Daniel Bryan. His hardcore fans from his time as an independent darling wanted him to be pushed to the top from the moment he signed with the company, but we got to watch him make his way up from NXT "rookie" to midcard worker before finally reaching the main event scene, and even then, he wasn't just given the keys to the castle, so to speak.
We haven't seen that with Bayley. From the moment she debuted on the main roster, she's pretty much been involved in the title picture. Now, I totally get it... there are only so many women wrestling for WWE. It's not like you can have a woman wrestling lower-tier women for a while, then move up a level, then another level, and another level, and so on until they finally reach the point where they're fighting for title belts. However, it's that limitation that doesn't allow the Bayley story to feel organic. She hasn't been treated the way Daniel Bryan was treated. She didn't have to jump through the hoops that Daniel Bryan was forced to jump through. It's all forced, and fans are definitely reacting as such. I'm not sure Bayley is getting anywhere near the level of crowd reactions that WWE was hoping for, and that's a shame, because Bayley should be an absolutely can't-miss, money-making character.
Word is that we'll be getting either a Triple Threat or a Fatal Four Way at Mania, with Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Nia Jax as the participants. Bayley has long been rumored as the one to come out victorious, giving her a WrestleMania 30-like moment. Just don't count me as one of the people getting emotional over the win, like I did three years ago, thanks to the shortsightedness of the WWE Creative Team.
5. Facing Shane McMahon will not be a reward of any kind for AJ Styles. Since he made his WWE debut, nobody has been on the roll that AJ Styles has been on. One of the best "rookie" years in WWE history. Match Of The Year candidates left and right. Five-month reign as the WWE Champion. Even his biggest supporters couldn't have imagined all of this success for him so early on. Even though he isn't the WWE Champion anymore, he still deserves a "reward" as far as his WrestleMania match is concerned.
Shane McMahon is not that "reward".
Someone reading this is going to play Devil's Advocate, saying that a match with any of the McMahons is going to be just as high profile as any other match, if not more, simply based on how much the McMahon family loves themselves and loves putting their work over. While it's true that a match against a McMahon is going to be plugged and given plenty of television time to promote, this is a new era. This is a new time. This is a time when Shane McMahon is 47 years old, and outside of one suicidal bump in a match against The Undertaker and some dibble dabbling at Survivor Series, has done absolutely zero of note in the ring in what amounts to a decade or so. He's the on-screen Commissioner of Smackdown, and he isn't even as prominent on television as he was when the brand split started. There are times when he isn't even on television, letting Smackdown General Manager Daniel Bryan handle those duties. Putting AJ Styles in a match against Shane, as has been heavily rumored for months, is taking 2016's WWE MVP and saying he's no better than having the sixth or seventh biggest match at WrestleMania. That's not a "reward". That's not even fair. Imagine being the MVP at your job for 2016, and when it comes time to get those big bonuses that the company likes to hand out, you get one that isn't even close to being equivalent to people who you performed better than. You'd probably be pretty upset.
Bubbling just under the surface are the rumors of a potential Mania match between Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura. While I have no doubt in my mind that it would be a classic, and I would pay good money to even see Nakamura's entrance on a stage as large as WrestleMania, would that match be treated like it should? As big a star as Nakamura is in NXT, and throughout Japan, there is still a very large percentage of the WWE Universe that doesn't know who he is. With such little time between now and WrestleMania, how do you go about debuting Nakamura on the main roster and having him placed in a program with Styles that makes sense? I've pitched the idea of Styles challenging Shane to a match, based on AJ's anger at not receiving his one-on-one rematch for the title, only for Shane to pull the "I'm not a wrestler anymore, but I have someone who you can face instead" card and introduce Nakamura to take his place. Then it would be up to the writers, and for AJ himself, to paint the match as big as possible for the fans to truly understand the treat they would be in store for. Would I love to see Styles vs Nakamura on the WrestleMania stage? Absolutely, but I wouldn't count on it happening. Not this year, anyway.
6. New Day as "guest hosts" could be a disaster, potentially killing their heat. I'm a fan of New Day. I like the freedom that they obviously have with their characters and the promos they can cut on television every week. I like the chemistry that they have together, as they're obviously very good friends who enjoy working with each other. I even like the "big man, little man" dynamic of their matches. I can still admit that their act has been wearing a bit thin recently. There are a lot of people who aren't enjoying New Day as much as they used to. They feel the group has become nothing but shills for merchandise, with every promo being about the different things of theirs that you can buy. I'm seeing more and more people who are feeling this way, and WrestleMania could make a lot more fans have that opinion.
Think about last year's WrestleMania. It lasted nearly five hours, and that isn't even counting the pre-show, which was two hours all by itself. Just think about how many times you could see New Day on a broadcast that is nearly seven hours long. Think of all the backstage segments they could be involved in. Think of the in-ring promos. Think of the random shenanigans. Think about seeing Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods and Big E on your screens or monitors a good dozen or so times throughout the course of the night. Scary thought.
Maybe this is all part of a plan to turn New Day heel. Of course, with as much merchandise as they move, wouldn't it make sense to keep them face forever? Isn't merchandise one of people's first excuses as to why WWE will never, ever, ever, ever turn John Cena heel? We should be consistent, if nothing else.
7. Samoa Joe is in a golden spot, but a match with Sami Zayn is a demotion, planned or unplanned. Samoa Joe vs Sami Zayn would probably be a really good match. I have no doubts there. As much as I like Sami, though, it isn't exactly a stretch to say that his arrow is pointing down right now. Remember the whole hubbub recently about how Sami had backstage heat, and as a punishment, was made to look like a goofball on Raw every week? Does that sound like someone who is on the rise?
Joe debuted on the main roster in an absolutely beautiful spot. Aligning himself with none other than Triple H, and getting involved in a feud with Seth Rollins, pretty much signals at least a temporary "main event" spot. Not bad for someone making their debut. Then, through the fickle hands of fate, Rollins got injured and may or may not be available to wrestle at WrestleMania. Again, I like Sami Zayn, but in the world of WWE, Sami Zayn is no Seth Rollins. A possible match against Seth Rollins is one thing, but losing that and potentially having to face Sami Zayn instead? Them's the breaks in wrestling sometimes.
We know we're getting Joe vs Zayn at Fastlane. We know that Rollins will be at WrestleMania, but we don't know whether or not it will be to have a match. If Rollins is cleared to wrestle, then you might be able to forget about this particular entry, because we could still get a match between him and Joe at Mania. Of course, even if he is cleared, we could get the match we were originally rumored to get all along... Rollins vs Triple H... which could lead to a rematch between Joe and Sami. All that speculation is making my head hurt. This is one of the more wide open things about the WrestleMania card, all because of uncertainty surrounding an injury. Again... them's the breaks sometimes.
8. WWE will push Roman Reigns even further into the abyss unless they turn him heel against The Undertaker. Is it safe to say that WWE has trouble booking and creating face characters these days? Seems like every face on the roster is booked to be corny, have dumb catchphrases, or have character traits that aren't easy to like, all leading to them being unable to get "over" properly. When the company does see a face act take off, it's usually on accident, or it's a heel act that got over on their own (New Day, for example).
Whether we like it or not, "Roman Reigns as a top face" is still a thing. They've tried to get him over in numerous ways, all seeming to reek of desperation. There's just something different about this compared to what John Cena was going through for a while. When Cena made it to the top, he was as big a face as the company had. All the fan demographics loved him. Then, somewhere along the way, a certain portion of the WWE Universe began to grow sick of him winning all the time, so they turned on him. Roman's rise to the top seemed to mirror the following conversation between Vince McMahon and the WWE Universe:
"We're going to make Roman Reigns the #1 guy in the company."
"He's not ready."
"He's ready. You're going to love him."
"No, we won't. Don't do this. We're going to boo him."
"You don't know what you like. I know what you like. You like Roman."
Rumor has it that Reigns will face The Undertaker at WrestleMania. As we've seen in recent years, Taker is basically Teflon with fans across the world. He can act like the biggest heel and still be cheered, but you just know WWE is still going to try and paint Reigns out to be a face. They'll do anything short of personally handing out cash to get people to cheer for him. Trying him as any kind of face character against The Undertaker in a WrestleMania setting just isn't going to go the way they want it to go. This is as good an opportunity as they'll have to turn him heel. He basically acts like one, anyway. The majority of every crowd WWE performs in front of reacts to him like he's one, anyway. Might as well make it official.
The best part is that he doesn't even have to do the actual turn until the night after WrestleMania. He can just continue acting like a dick leading up to Mania, and then wrestle the match at Mania with more heel-like tendencies. Simple, but that's fantasy booking for another article at another time. I just feel like we're reaching the point of no return when it comes to Reigns having a shot at being a successful face again, if we haven't already reached it. Not doing something drastic for WrestleMania might just seal the deal.
9. All eyes are on Braun Strowman. Hey, remember when Braun Strowman was nothing more than a joke? It's hard to say that about someone who is billed as being 6'8" tall and weighing in at 385 pounds, but it's the truth. When he debuted on the main roster in August of 2015 as a member of the Wyatt Family, all people could comment on were how weird his pants looked, and how he looked like Ogre from Revenge Of The Nerds (or Ray Jackson from Bloodsport, if you're kooky like that) on steroids. He was green as hell in the ring, didn't have the intimidating "look" that he should've had for someone of his size, and was part of a group that wasn't exactly setting the wrestling world on fire.
Move ahead to the here and now, and you'll find that Strowman is one of the hottest names on the roster. There was a buzz building around him last year, which led to many fans predicting that he would win this year's Royal Rumble. He didn't win, obviously, but many of those fans are sticking to their guns, saying that he'll be Universal Champion before the end of 2017. I've personally seen fantasy booking from people that would have Strowman facing Brock Lesnar for the title at SummerSlam, The Undertaker for the title at SummerSlam, John Cena (after WWE holds another Draft this year) for the title at Survivor Series, and Samoa Joe for the title at TLC. He's pretty popular in the "armchair booking" community right now, apparently. He has made great strides in the ring, improving in almost every aspect. He has shown freakish speed and athleticism for his size. He still isn't prime Ric Flair on the mic, but he doesn't have to be. He even looks a lot tougher since changing his hairstyle a little bit, which actually goes a long way.
Most likely, it's too late to get him involved in a main event match at WrestleMania, but all eyes are still going to be on him at the event. He has earned himself something special, at the very least. It's something that could/should set the tone for the rest of his year. A year which, yes, will probably include a run in the main event as a brand's champion. That's quite the jump.
10. A Bray Wyatt face turn could be a blast to watch. Did we already witness it on Smackdown? Randy Orton appeared to desecrate the remains of Bray's late sister, then proceeded to set the Wyatt compound on fire, Sister Abigail included, while Bray cried in the ring. Orton has never quite been a "red and yellow Hulk Hogan" type of face character, but in what world are those activities considered face-like? To me, Bray came off much more as a face there, watching in agony as his entire world came burning to the ground while he could do nothing to stop it. Of course, there was a loud "Randy" chant while it was all taking place, so who knows at this point?
After WrestleMania last year, it looked like we might be getting a face turn for Wyatt. He was placed in a team with Roman Reigns on an episode of Raw, and they did well in defeating the team of Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio. The match ended with the memorable spot of Wyatt pinning Del Rio, only to point at Sheamus at the exact moment Reigns ran up and delivered a Spear to the Celtic Warrior.
It was made to look like such an awesome moment, since Reigns was behind Wyatt, and Bray should've had no way of knowing Reigns would even be there to make the save. That helped to swing things as far as Bray's crowd reactions are concerned... only for him to injure his calf two days later and be put on the shelf for a couple months. When he returned, he was back to the heel Wyatt that everyone knew.
Crowds want to cheer for Bray. They have for a while now. After he won the WWE Title, he was met with "you deserve it" chants from appreciative crowds. Yes, crowds also want to cheer for Randy Orton, but he's had his chance to shine on both sides of the fence already, and besides, he'd be the first to tell you that he does his best work as a heel. With Orton doing what he did to get inside of Bray's mind, this is a great time to finally let Bray be a face, even with the recent split between him and Luke Harper.
A month away, but still plenty to chew on and digest. As always, I want to know what you think. Comment in the section below, or hit me up on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what your thoughts are about the Road To WrestleMania to this point. This is the time when we're supposed to be excited beyond belief. Are we?