Wrestlemania 32 is coming to you LIVE from Jerryworld tonight starting (officially) at 7, but the pre-pre-show kicks off at 5 p.m. This is the biggest event of the year for semi-scripted "Sports Entertainment", and WWE is pulling out all the stops to make it one of the biggest Mania's in history.
I'll cop to not following the WWE as cloely this year as in years past. The older you get, the more responsibilities you tend to accomulate and dedicating multiple hour+ chunks a week to professional wrestling becomes less and less appealing, especially as the product has (at times) treaded water at best. Part of that malaise has been due to injuries to major stars; this Mania is missing main eventers in Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan (retired), and Seth Rollins, mainstays in Cesaro and Neville, and probably the biggest star of them all, John Cena, to say nothing of the gaggle of guys who are working injured or retired. And to be fair, the creative side of the business has definitely struggled to put forth compelling storylines, in part because it seems like there is still meddling from Vince McMahon to push certain stars despite critical and fan resistance, and in part because writing compelling live television for 4+ hours a week is immensely difficult. Still, it hasn't been a great year in terms of storytelling, and they have limped somewhat into Dallas this weekend.
All that said, the card definitely has some compelling matches and there are enough rumors (Goldberg's possible return pops to mind) and last-minute storyline changes to goose fan interest. So here's a brief breakdown of the top matches (note - I'm skipping a couple of low-energy/pre-show-type matches):
The New Day vs. The League of Nations: The WWE has always struggled to generate organic comedy that has mainstream appeal; what makes people laugh in the context of wrestling doesn't always translate to others. But the New Day have seemingly broken thru; our own Brian Cook admitted to enjoying the New Day's antics in large part because they are a mix of absurdism (they sell headbands with unicorn horns and an off-brand "Booty O's" cereal, have a trombone mascot named Francesca that Xavier Woods uses to play songs like the Chocobo Race song from Final Fantasy) and competent performers. The League of Nations, on the other hand, have a singular characteristic of being "foreigners", which, yep, this is wrestling. The New Day should win, and if nothing else there should be some great comedy bits.
AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho: Styles is being touted as somewhat of a "rookie" but he's been one of the best wrestlers in the world for over a decade now; he was the face of the flailing TNA wrestling promotion before leaving last year, and his momentum hasn't really abatted since making his debut at the Royal Rumble. Jericho is the definition of a consumate veteran, using his name recognition to put over the newer stars, and since shedding his "Cool Dad" face character his heel work has been great. Expect him to put on a good match here before Styles wins.
Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks: This is the marquee women's wrestling event of the year in all likelihood, and all three of these women have history stemming from their time in NXT (WWE's developmental program that had a GREAT event on Friday to kick off the Wrestlemania weekend). Charlotte Flair is the daughter of, yeah, that Ric Flair, and has been doing solid heel work after winning the Diva's title. Becky Lynch is a workhorse who hasn't quite connected with the fans but is still money in the ring. And Sasha Banks of a magnetic presence who is also the cousin of Snoop Dogg, recent WWE HOF inductee. Money is on Banks leaving with the title, but regardless this match should be extremely fun and will hopefully continue the WWE's refocus on livening up the female wrestling scene.
Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Stardust vs. Zac Ryder vs. Sin Cara vs. Miz: You know how I said injuries had sapped some of the star power from this event? Exhibit A is Hype Bro himself Zac Ryder getting a spot in this Intercontinental Title scramble match. Owens is the champ, and he was feuding with Ziggler until Zayn returned from injury. Zayn and Owens have a history that could fill a bookshelf, having wrestled against each other across basically every relevant independent promotion in North America and Japan, and expect them to have even more fireworks in a WWE ring. The rest of the participants are mostly there for a paycheck and to help with some high spots, but this match should still have some drama and I wouldn't be surprised to see a secondary character like Stardust steal the show. Owens retaining makes the most sense given his character and the storylines that lay ahead with Zayn and Ziggler.
Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose: The Beast who broke the Undertaker's undefeated Wrestlemania streak battles the Lunatic Fringe in a no-holds-barred hardcore match. The past couple of weeks, the storyline has been that Ambrose is no match for Lesnar heads-up, he is insane enough (and has a high enough pain threshold) to keep it interesting. Plus, Ambrose has been picking up an assortment of weapons - achainsawb and a arbedwire bat are the highlights - to help in his quest. And the WWE seems to be loosening their grip on the PG-level of violence standard, so this coule get interesting. Not "Brock Lesnar gets cut in half with a flaming axe" type of interesting, but you might see a little more color than in previous hardcore matches. Still, I expect Lesnar to win but for Ambrose to acquit himself well, and perhaps set up a future program for the World Title.
Triple H vs. Roman Reigns: You know how Dave Brandon used to try to make the fans love stuff (new seating, piped-in music, Brady Hoke) they clearly rejected? Yeah, that's sort of Roman Reigns right now. He's not a bad performer by any stretch, but his timing has been terrible and the fans went from loving him as part of the Shield to bemoaning him being pushed down their throats as the next "chosen one". Triple H is a transitional champion but has done good work as a real-life wrestling executive who also represents the Authority tyrants. WWE is going to try again to make us love Reigns, and I expect him to win the title again. Depending on the crowd response, a cameo from the Rock wouldn't surprise me as well.
- Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker: The is your main event in all liklihood, and it features a 40-something non-wrestler who hasn't been in the ring for years now versus a 50-something part-timer icon wrestling a Hell in the Cell match. Expect LOTS of outsider interference and gimmicks, but Shane has always been willing to risk his body to sell a match, and this is a match that plays into extreme spots. They already gave away a flying elbow throw the announce table on Raw, so who the heck knows what will happen here. There is a story about ownership of Raw and Undertaker's forced retirement in the background, but this is all about spectacle. My guess is Shane wins due to something flukey, and we see some major storylines kicks off tomorrow on Raw.
So there's the bulk of the card. Enjoy.