WrestleMania is almost upon us, April 8th is the date, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, is the setting and all hands are on deck as far as WWE’s preparations are concerned. The event has been called a lot of names over the years, the “show of shows”, the “granddaddy of them all”, the “showcase of the immortals” and this year promises to live up to all those expectations with a stacked card full of dream matches and culminations to storied rivalries.
Without further ado, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and discuss the match card, the build-up and rumours going in to the biggest wrestling pay-per-view of the year.
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal:
A host of undercard performers from both Raw and Smackdown will face off in what has now become a Mania tradition, the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
Matt Hardy, fresh off his “ultimate deletion” shtick with Bray Wyatt, could be a dark horse if WWE are planning on giving him a push. Other contenders are former winners Baron Corbin and Mojo Rawley from Smackdown. Corbin, who was in the WWE Championship match at Fastlane not so long ago, picked up the pin in a big 8-man tag team match five days before WrestleMania. If you believe the WWE creative team’s booking formula though, he might not be the one walking out as the victor on Sunday. There could be some surprise returns, legends making a one-off appearance and NXT rookies making their main-roster debut.
WrestleMania Women's Battle Royal:
After a controversial original name, the WWE eventually changed the name of this Battle Royal to something simpler. This should be on the pre-show as well. With the main-roster relatively thin, women from Raw, Smackdown as well as NXT could feature in this match. Same as the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, expect to see some legends of the past making their return as well.
As far as contenders go, someone like Becky Lynch, who has been lost in the shuffle on Smackdown Live as of late, could really do with a big win at WrestleMania. However, many expected Sasha Banks and Bayley from Raw to have their own singles showdown on the show but with both being put in this Battle Royal, expect their feud to be the centre piece of the booking of this match.
SmackDown Tag Team Championship -- The Usos (c) vs. The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers:
It really is astonishing when you think that the Usos have not had a match on the main card at WrestleMania ever since their debut in 2010. All that should change this year with what should be a hard-hitting triple-threat tag team match. The Usos and, seemingly eternal rivals, the New Day, had some blockbuster matches with each other in 2017 and with talented performers like Harper and Rowan added to the mix, this is another match that has the potential to steal the show.
Expect to see the revamped team of Harper and Rowan as the Bludgeon Brothers take home the tag titles once the dust has settled.
Raw Tag Team Championship -- The Bar (c) vs. Braun Strowman & “Mystery Partner”:
Bruan Strowman teased that he could be teaming up with “Brains” Strowman on the final Raw before Mania in a comedic segment. However, that would have been a disappointment, much like Strowman has been used leading up to WrestleMania.
Many are saying the WWE appears to have dropped the ball with Strowman, one of the biggest babyfaces in the company, in having him compete for only the Tag Championships at the biggest show of the year. Strowman really deserved a marquee match at Mania after the 2017 he had. The fans are apparently expected to forget the Strowman-Triple H storyline from Survivor Series back in November.
Nevertheless, if his mystery partner can get even half the reaction the Hardy Boyz got at WrestleMania last year on their return, it should be deemed a success. Current rumoured favourites to be teaming up with Strowman are Elias, Mark Henry, Chris Jericho, Neville, the Big Show or Rey Mysterio.
Cruiserweight Championship -- Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali:
Two of the originals from the initial Cruiserweight division re-started by the WWE in 2016 clash on the grandest stage as former Ring of Honour (ROH) star Cedric Alexander takes on Mustafa Ali, an American of Pakistani descent. Ali, real name “Adeel Alam”, is the first wrestler of Pakistani origins to make it to the WWE main roster.
Neither of Alexander or Ali has won the title before and, if given the time, they possess the ability to have a very frenetic, high-flying and enthralling match from start to finish, the kind of match that led to the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016 getting rave reviews from fans and journalists. However, despite all the good that has been done in the Cruiserweight division the last few weeks, this match will most likely be on the pre-show.
Intercontinental Championship -- The Miz (c) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor:
With injuries to Dean Ambrose, Jason Jordan and Samoa Joe taking them out of the mix, WWE have had to improvise with storylines and this triple-threat match with three workhorses is what they have come up with.
Rumours had it that Dean Ambrose was supposed to turn heel by turning on Rollins (like the latter did to him four years ago), setting up a mouth-watering WrestleMania clash between the two before the lunatic fringe got injured. Then Jason Jordan was thrust into a tag-team with Seth before he too got hurt. Samoa Joe would have been another ideal candidate for the IC title match at Mania but, unfortunately, he too has been out since early January.
This one should be another great match with lots of high spots. Expect to see a title change, however, though if Miz can pull out a victory out of somewhere, it would be a great feather under his cap.
United States Championship -- Randy Orton (c) vs. Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev:
Some really messy build-up here with a confusing story being told by 15-time world champion, Randy Orton, a former NXT champion, Bobby Roode and 2017’s biggest rags to riches story of Jinder Mahal.
Many expected Roode to hold the title till WrestleMania before losing it to Orton, giving the Viper his “grand slam” collection of all available major title belts. However, the “glorious” one lost the belt to Randy at Smackdown Live’s Fastlane ppv in March, giving him a relatively short and lacklustre first reign with the US title belt. Now, with Jinder Mahal and, soon after, Rusev added to the mix, the build-up has lacked the steam you would expect from a high-profile title match at the biggest show of the year.
Expect “Rusev Day” chants to be churned out all match long and if creative are feeling generous, we could see Rusev, a fan-favourite, getting crowned champion in a feel-good moment. Although the bout could end up on the pre-show but, knowing Randy Orton, the Viper might find a way to slither onto the main show.
Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn:
After the sensational announcement of Daniel Bryan being cleared to wrestle, the next natural step was having his first match back be at WrestleMania. Owens and Zayn have been “fired”, like that’s ever stopped someone from appearing on TV the very next day in WWE.
The logic for this match is baffling and it is WWE at its best. Two of the four men are “unemployed” and yet they can appear and get a match on the biggest show of the year while other undercard and under-utilised talent do not get a match.
Nevertheless, the story is set, the two Canadians have been playing the cold-blooded heels to perfection lately and the quartet of Bryan, Shane, Sami and Kevin should provide us a match with great story-telling.
Shane McMahon had his own injury scare going into this match, having required a minor surgery a fortnight before. This match should have far-reaching consequences going into Smackdown post-WrestleMania. A heel turn from either Bryan or Shane would do wonders for the Smackdown viewership.
Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon & Triple H:
This is another match for which the seeds were planted long before. At WrestleMania 31 in 2015, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey appeared in a special guest capacity alongside the Rock as the duo stood face to face with WWE’s biggest power couple, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. What followed was a WrestleMania moment in itself with Rousey giving the game a hip-toss out of the ring and nearly breaking his wife’s arm.
Three years on and the former UFC Bantamweight Champions has signed a full-time contract with the WWE and is preparing for her first match on the grandest stage. Rousey made her debut at the Royal Rumble in January, confronting the Women’s champions of the two brands before another altercation with Stephanie McMahon the following night on Raw.
Triple H and Kurt Angle’s involvement goes as far back as the Survivor Series ppv in November where the “cerebral assassin” Triple H double-crossed Kurt Angle, pedigreeing him to the mat wanting the glory all for himself. Angle warned him the next night on Raw that they would have problems if that ever happened again. Triple H didn’t listen and decked Angle once more on an episode of Raw in February. This led to Angle, as the General Manager of Raw, announcing a mixed tag-team match between himself and Rousey against Triple H and Stephanie.
SmackDown Women's Championship -- Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Asuka:
Charlotte Flair and Asuka never crossed paths while down in NXT with the “genetically superior”, Charlotte, leaving for the main roster before the undefeated Asuka started making her mark in the division. The two women are arguably two of the best workers in the division right now and the first-time aspect just adds to the uniqueness the match has to offer.
“The Empress of Tomorrow” won the right to challenge Charlotte for her title after winning the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble match back in January. Asuka, a member of the Raw roster, made the switch to the Smackdown brand in order to dethrone the Queen. Charlotte, meanwhile, will be hoping to become the first woman to defeat the Japanese star since her debut in the WWE in 2015.
Raw Women's Championship -- Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Nia Jax:
Raw Women’s champion, Alexa Bliss, has been trying to use the powerful Nia Jax as a shield from the moment she joined the Raw roster. However, the two have since transformed into enemies after Bliss started taunting and bullying Jax over her weight and failure to end Asuka’s unbeaten streak. The final straw for Nia came when she discovered Alexa talking behind her back about how she never saw her as a friend and only as a tool to get what she wanted. General Manager Kurt Angle made the match official for Mania, with the two former on-screen best friends turned bitter rivals.
The two are best friends in real life and should be looking to carve out a WrestleMania moment for themselves. A perfect example of good friends making better enemies in the ring.
Universal Championship -- Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns:
Former UFC Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar, takes on Vince McMahon’s golden boy, Roman Reigns. After the break-up of the Shield in 2014, Reigns has speared his way to superstardom, main-eventing three WrestleMania’s in a row and he will make it four if this match goes on last on April 8th.
Reigns’ ‘Road to WrestleMania’ was finalised when he won a 7-man Elimination Chamber match at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view in February to become the no.1 contender for Lesnar’s Universal Championship. Before that, Reigns was in the final two of the Royal Rumble match for the fourth time in five years at the Royal Rumble event before being eliminated last by fan-favourite, Shinsuke Nakamura. This will also be WWE’s fourth consecutive attempt at crowning Reigns at WrestleMania after previous unsuccessful attempts at getting him accepted by the fans.
Brock and Roman have faced each other before at WrestleMania, in 2015, with Brock’s WWE World Championship on the line at the time. The match was marred by a spectacular cash-in by Money in the Bank briefcase holder and one half of Reigns’ former Shield brethren, Seth Rollins, who pinned Reigns to walk out of WrestleMania 31 the new WWE Champion. Lesnar and Reigns will be hoping they can settle their differences without any interference this time around.
WWE Championship -- AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura:
Like Brock and Roman, this will not be Styles and Nakamura’s first dance together at a showpiece event. However, their previous encounter came at Japanese promotion, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year, WrestleKingdom, in 2016. That instant classic of a match was for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Nakamura walked out the victor that day with the two men showing respect to one another after all was set and done. Weeks later, the two had left Japan and signed contracts with WWE.
The WWE have been teasing this dream match for months now with seeds being planted as far back as the Money In The Bank ppv when Styles and Nakamura abandoned pursuit of the briefcase after locking eyes on one another. The two have since, thankfully and cleverly, been kept apart up until the run-in to WrestleMania.
Nakamura’s won the opportunity to face Styles for his championship by winning the aforementioned annual Royal Rumble match in January. The Japanese star immediately declared that AJ was his desired champion, rekindling their old rivalry in Japan, despite having the choice of jumping ship to Raw and challenging Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship.
The former leader of the “Bullet Club”, AJ has had an injury scare with some fans worried they might not get to see their WrestleKingdom-rematch in the WWE. However, those fears seem to have been allayed as Styles has been cleared to compete in what has the potential to be the match of the night.
The Undertaker vs. John Cena (I guess?):
Technically, this is still not a match yet. However, unless you are extremely new to WWE programming, there is bound to be some sort of altercation the way that the build-up has been going. Cena has been incessantly calling out the Undertaker time after time in recent weeks but to no avail. Expect Taker to rise again and make a grand entrance at Mania.
Last year’s WrestleMania appeared to be the Undertaker’s swansong but the Phenom is big for another bite at the big-match apple, i.e., John Cena. Rumours are swirling that the “deadman” persona died last year and this year we might see the return of Undertaker’s ‘Big Evil’, ‘American Badass’ persona which he donned from 2000 to 2003.
Nevertheless, whichever Undertaker shows up, there should be no doubt that this is the last ride for the aging Phenom.