I’m choosing to be optimistic.
Despite the overwhelming sentiment that this year’s Wrestlemania card leaves much to be desired, I am choosing to see the bright side and I think, overall, this is going to be a pretty darn good show.
My biggest gripe with the show is the age of the performers in the “Ultimate Thrill Ride’s” biggest matches. The six most high-profile matches on the card feature five performers age 46 or over, and five or six being only part-time workers (depending on whether you consider Chris Jericho full-time — I don’t. He’s leaving for a tour with Fozzy soon after ‘Mania).
That’s a problem. But while I would rather see Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, and Seth Rollins work with each other in the top matches rather than square off with the WWE’s nostalgia acts, there are definitely some things to look forward to on this card.
Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg — WWE Universal Championship
This might make me the single biggest optimist in the entire world, but I think there is a chance Brock Lesnar and Goldberg can have a very good match. They are two absolute freaks with real fighting backgrounds — Lesnar of course is a former UFC champ, while Goldberg has trained heavily in MMA. In my eyes, this could easily be a violent, stiff brawl that incorporates MMA-style offense along with explosive power moves. And of course a lot of suplexes.
While many people don’t necessarily enjoy heavy MMA influence in pro wrestling, when executed well, it is incredibly entertaining and it will be completely unique to anything else on the card. Plus they’ve had five months since their match at Survivor Series to figure out what they’re going to do.
Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker
Come on, it’s The Undertaker.
I know he’s 52 years old and needs a hip replacement and he has a terrible dye job, but this is Wrestlemania and this is The Deadman. Sure, his act is wearing thin for me too — he only works one match a year, he looks old and out of shape, and just watching him walk is painful. But Wrestlemania has revolved around him for years and he deserves one more.
And contrary to popular opinion, Roman Reigns is a great worker who can sell his tail off and is at his best when he can work as an underdog. Look no further than his match with Lesnar at Wrestlemania 31, in which he actually managed to win the crowd over, to see what he can do when paired with a monster opponent.
Plus nobody on the roster gets more heat. If the WWE wanted to make absolutely sure Taker would get 100 percent of the cheers at Mania, pairing him with Roman is absolutely the right call. Reigns is going to get booed out of the arena, Orlando and the entire state of Florida.
AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon
Wrestlemania is all about spectacle and AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon is definitely going to qualify. Probably no two wrestlers (I use the term loosely to include Shane-O) on the WWE roster are capable of the kinds of high spots these two are.
While it probably isn’t going to be a 5-star classic on par with some of Styles’ greatest outings, the highlights from this one are destined to be crazy.
Plus, Styles is such a tremendous worker, he can go in there and get the very best wrestling match possible out of any opponent, including the 47-year old boss’ son.
Strap in folks, it’s gonna be a car wreck.
Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens — US Championship
Two of my all-time favorite wrestlers going mano-e-mano, what’s not to love.
Chris Jericho makes a pretty darn good case for himself as G.O.A.T. and is one of my all-time favorites, while KO has been one of my favorites for years and years. Meeting him on his Ring of Honor farewell tour in Hopkins, Minn. is a major highlight in my wrestling fandom. He beat fellow future WWE-bound wrestler Tomasso Ciampa that night, by the way.
So, what’s not to love? Surprisingly, I’m a little less stoked for this match than most people. I didn’t care for the Jeri-KO shtick — it was just way too over the top and silly for my taste. And the “Festival of Friendship” turn that set up this feud was good, but not an all-time great angle as some have declared it.
And Jericho is definitely not the same worker he used to be. His series of matches with Styles last year might have been the worst big program of the Phenomenal 1’s whole year. The two all-time great performers just never clicked in the ring.
While Y2J is still as great a promo as ever — getting the List of Jericho, “It”, and his silly scarves over — I can’t think of a single memorable in-ring performance from him in recent memory.
Hopefully Jericho and KO have better in-ring chemistry than Styles and Jericho did, and the former best friends can have a show-stealing Wrestlemania classic. Nothing would make me happier.
HHH vs. Seth Rollins — unsanctioned match
This is going to be awesome. Triple H vs. Seth Rollins is a match two years in the making between two tremendous wrestlers.
They’ve done everything they have to do to set this up. It is awful that Rollins was injured during the build to this match and won’t be at 100 percent, but he is going to be determined to give it everything he can after missing ‘Mania 32.
Triple H looks absolutely phenomenal at 47 years old, and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. And his character work has been just perfect during the build. I love the way they have played off of Hunter’s conflicting identities as creator and destroyer.
By the way, Triple H wrestling a former ally in an unsanctioned match is highly reminiscent of his Summerslam 2002 match in which he faced Shawn Michaels in the Heart Break Kid’s first match in four years. Nobody knew if HBK’s back would hold up, and nobody knows if Rollins’ knee will hold up.
And the inclusion of Samoa Joe as Trips’ muscle has been tremendous. It’s a great role for Joe and if a Samoa Joe vs. Seth Rollins match comes out of this program, that’s even better.
This is without a doubt, my most anticipated match of the entire card.
…and the rest
I have no doubt that Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton for the WWE Heavyweight Championship is going to be great. This match has been building for the better part of a year and features two top-notch wrestlers. I really really hope Bray Wyatt wins. I have been begging for Wyatt to get a run with the title for years, and am very happy he has it now.
By the way, I met Bray and got his autograph at the World of Wheels car show at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago. And I met Randy Orton years ago at the Mall of America.
The Raw women’s championship fatal fourway elimination match will no doubt be tremendous. Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha and Nia Jax are tremendous workers who have absolutely revolutionized women’s wrestling in WWE. I can’t say enough good things about those four ladies and I hope they tear the house down in Orlando.
The Raw tag team championship triple threat ladder match between Gallows and Anderson, Sheamus and Cesaro, and Enzo and Big Cass will be a car crash. It’s probably going to open the show and fill the role that the Money in the Bank ladder match and Intercontinental ladder match has filled in the past. There will definitely be some exciting high spots. I’m not sure this many really really large humans have ever been in a ladder match before, so I am intrigued to see how this goes.
John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse will be fine. All of the interesting work has already been done. This feud is all about the promos and the video packages. Mixed-tag matches just don’t have any real appeal. But Cena and Miz have done a good job of selling it and it’s given us some laughs. It won’t be a good match, but it doesn’t have to be. It will be what it is.
I don’t have time to break down every match. This show has 13 matches announced and including the pre-show is expected to run around 6.5 hours. That’s a lot of wrestling, and I’m choosing to be excited for it.