Wrestlemania 37: Every Match Ranked

And finally, we have reached the end of this week of wrestling. I thought it was a bloody good one. I don’t think this Wrestlemania will go down as one of the all-time greats, but there was undoubtedly a lot more good than bad across both nights, and that’s good enough for me.

No point rambling up here, let’s talk about the matches.

14 – Randy Orton def. The Fiend

This match had interesting implications, but as a match in and of itself, it was crap.

Firstly, The Fiend was literally burned alive, and that didn’t stop him or keep him down, but a single RKO is enough to keep him down for three? That can piss right off. The little action we did get wasn’t particularly exciting either, just the standard stuff we’ve come to expect from both of these guys.

The stuff with Alexa Bliss potentially rebelling against The Fiend has tonnes of potential, and I’m interested to see where it goes, but it didn’t make for a good match here. It was such a weird one to open the show with too, the crowd just didn’t know how to react to any of it, and I don’t blame them.

13 – Natalya & Tamina def. Lana & Naomi, Billie Kay & Carmella, The Riott Squad, Dana Brooke & Mandy Rose
(Winner gets a Women’s Tag Team Championship match on Night 2)
(Tag Team Turmoil)

I’d hoped that this one would be better than I was expecting, but unfortunately, I don’t think this clicked at all. It may have been due to the chaos around the weather throwing them off their game, and I sympathise if that’s the case, but I didn’t enjoy what I saw in the ring.

Almost none of these teams have any natural chemistry, and it showed in this match. The Riott Squad are the only team that I’d say actually worked well together, and that’s no surprise when you see how long they’ve been paired up for. WWE think they can just throw whoever the fuck together and expect them to wrestle decent tag matches, but it just doesn’t work that way. Even outside of gelling with your partner, there are so many different aspects to the psychology of tag matches that you can’t expect someone without experience in that field to do well at it.

On top of that, it didn’t help that each stage of the gauntlet way maybe 5 minutes, if that. I get why there wasn’t time for five full-length matches, but maybe just build a proper tag division, and that won’t be a problem? For all the progress WWE has made in recent years at booking the main-event level of their women’s divisions, the mid-card is still treated terribly. If you’re not the four horsewomen or a select other few, you just get treated like a nobody, and it leads to situations like this where we don’t care about any of these people, despite most of them being great.

Also, Natalya & Tamina was completely the wrong choice to win. I would’ve preferred any other team as I think all of them would’ve worked better with Jax & Baszler.

12 – Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler(c) def. Natalya & Tamina
(Women’s Tag Team Championships)

Case in point…

Again, this match wasn’t terrible, and it showed pretensions of being something greater in places; I just didn’t click with it on a level I consider to be anything meaningful. I can be a bit harsh about it at times, but the truth is I don’t like Jax, Tamina or Natalya in the ring. I think they’re slow, clunky, and their movements are awkward. Conversely, I love Shayna Baszler, but she can’t make this match great on her own.

There were good spots. Towards the end, things got interesting, and there were a few good false finishes. I can’t call this a bad match; I just think it doesn’t compare to much else on the card. I also have no idea where the women’s tag titles go from here. All of these thrown together teams have been beaten, so unless they’re going to go back and fight one of them, there’s pretty much no one. Unless this is what WWE has Becky do straight out of her return, maybe she teams up with Charlotte or Asuka. I think that’d be a bit crap, though.

11 – Braun Strowman def. Shane McMahon
(Steel Cage)

Well, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. However, when you have to say something like that about a match, something’s already gone very wrong.

There wasn’t anything functionally wrong with this match. As stupid as it is to see Shane hold his own against Strowman, the match was worked well and told a decent story in the ring. I just had absolutely zero investment because the story leading up to this match was terrible. The pre-match attack gave a bit of justification to Braun not immediately crushing Shane’s skull in his palms, but when Shane started doing his weak-ass jabs, and commentary started putting over how he’s some elite striker, I just rolled my eyes and lost interest. Apparently, when Shane returned in 2016, everyone in creative forgot that Shane’s character’s whole point back in the attitude era was that, while he won championships, he couldn’t actually wrestle all that well and needed TONNES of help to get wins.

It wasn’t all bad, as there were some cool moments. When Braun did get to look dominant, it felt like the Braun of old, which I want back so very badly. Him ripping open the side of the cage was a cool spot that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before, so big thumbs up for that one. Then, of course, who doesn’t love seeing Shane get thrown off of something tall?

As I said, nothing exactly wrong with it, I just didn’t get on with it that well.

10 – AJ Styles & Omos def. The New Day(c)
(Raw Tag Team Championships)

Despite the relatively low placement of this one, I do think it was a really fun one.

The way the roles played out in this one was interesting. Traditionally, it’s the heels who cut off the ring and prevent the hot tag, but in this case, it was actually the New Day who got to do it. The justification for this was brilliant and played up to the idea that tag team specialists are much better at tag team wrestling. A crazy idea, I know, but it works. Styles was the MVP of this match, and the way he mixed it up with both Woods and Kingston was super fun to watch. The narrative thread of him trying to get the tag to Omos was precisely what this match needed to be compelling too.

Eventually, Omos did get in the ring and…yeah, he was alright. He didn’t do that much, but at this early stage, it’s unclear whether he was just booked that way, or that’s genuinely all he can do; that’s something we’ll get to in the future, though. In this match, it was the perfect way to bring the story to a conclusion. New Day did a fantastic job of making Omos look invincible, not just in their selling of the moves, but in how they reacted to just about everything he did.

I’m 100% behind the switching of the titles, and I look forward to hopefully seeing Omos grow throughout this reign.

9 – Bad Bunny & Damian Priest def. The Miz & John Morrison

I know, a celebrity match ranked higher than an AJ Styles match. Blasphemy, but I think this was a hell of a lot of fun.

In my predictions, I was cautiously optimistic about what Bad Bunny could do in the ring, and I’m pleased to say that my optimism was not misplaced because he really pulled it out of the bag. Obviously, he lacked the polish of a proper wrestler and couldn’t carry the sections between the moves very well, but that’s ok; no one expected him to. Instead, he impressed me with the vast array of moves he busted out and the fire with which he delivered them.

Miz was the perfect person to be on the receiving end of most of this, as his reactions to everything were priceless. He also added the necessary story beats to the match, as he got frustrated that he was getting his arse kicked by this tiny celebrity. The highlight of the match was, of course, Bad Bunny busting out a Canadian Destroyer out of nowhere and no one in the ring quite knowing how to deal with it. As much as it was a bit over the top, and I think the Canadian Destroyer is a dumb move, that moment was just beautiful.

What’s great is that Damian Priest didn’t feel overshadowed either. While Bad Bunny held his own, Priest was always presented as the one who could get in there and finish the match. Once he did get in, it was pretty much a done deal. He kicked out of everything Miz & Morrison threw his way and laid them out in short order.

Was it some wrestling masterpiece? No, but for what it was, I thought it was super enjoyable.

8 – Apollo Crews def. Big E(c)
(Intercontinental Championship)

This was a fun sprint of a match that ended in unexpected fashion.

Weirdly, I think the fact that this match only got 7 minutes was a bit of a boon to this match. I meant that neither men had to worry too much about conserving their energy for the long haul or blowing their big spots too early, they just went for broke right from the word go, and it was a bit of fun to watch. Both men got to show the intensity I wanted from them, and the match moved at a brisk pace through each of the spots.

My personal favourite was right at the beginning when they were wailing on each other with kendo sticks, but there was plenty to enjoy; the gong around the place, the fighting around the stairs and of course, Apollo’s beautiful frog splash through a table. I did not see the ending coming, but I am quite happy with it. Dabba Kato coming in and being Apollo’s heavy out of nowhere works for me. As much as I wanted Big E to retain, I’m thrilled Apollo is getting an IC title run with this great character, and I’m glad Big E didn’t have to lose clean.

The fact that it was so short and did end with interference means I can’t rank it TOO high, but I did enjoy this one from start to finish.

7 – Bobby Lashley(c) def. Drew McIntyre
(WWE Championship)

After the weather delayed the show by about half an hour, it felt like the wind had been taken out of the show’s sails a bit. The impromptu promos from everyone were really good, but given that both men had to keep themselves pumped up and ready to go at a moments notice, I think this opening match really put the show back on track.

It was a world away from their singles match at Backlash last year, and it just goes to show just how far both men have come over the past year. Lashley felt so renewed as a performer and like an absolute force of nature, while Drew’s hunger upped the intensity and led to a match that moved quite quickly. The thread of Drew constantly trying to avoid the Full Nelson made for some pretty dramatic moments, and it was mixed in with a lot of varied offence.

The finish wasn’t the best, but I don’t think it dragged the match down. Drew essentially losing cos MVP just shouted out, “I’m a distraction!” was a bit dumb, but I think it was a decent way to avoid Drew losing clean. On top of that, there’s the fact that he was in the Full Nelson for ages. Normally, it’s an instant pass-out for people who are in it but Drew fought back a couple times and almost broke it at the end. If WWE wants to keep this feud going past Wrestlemania, then this finish definitely gives them grounds to do so.

As for Lashley winning, I’m disappointed in the right way. I don’t think it was a bad decision, I’m just disappointed because the good guy I wanted to win didn’t win. Lashley has easily been doing the best work of his WWE career, and I have absolutely no issue with him getting to continue his reign.

6 – Rhea Ripley def. Asuka(c)
(Raw Women’s Championship)

It was Rhea’s brutality, and it was fairly brutal.

I had trouble ranking one because it was really good, but it did undershoot my expectations a little. It was a different kind of match to what I was expecting. I thought we would get something along the same lines as Rhea & Charlotte last year: an in-depth & balanced technical contest. What we got was more methodical, though, which is often a bad thing, but I think they did a good job of working the slower pace.

Rhea got to look quite dominant in places, which is absolutely what she needed, and Asuka settled into the underdog role really well. The balance of offence was interesting because Rhea had the advantage more often than not, but Asuka got on top sporadically throughout, making it feel more even than it was. With how quickly Rhea rose as a face in NXT, it’s easy to forget that she was a heel for the entirety of her run in NXT UK, and you can see how comfortably she fit into that role in this match.

The ending sequence was a bit quicker and more back-and-forth, with a bunch of exciting counters. Rhea hitting the Riptide out of nowhere was a lot of fun for the final spot, and it left me feeling satisfied with the match, even if it was different from what I was hoping for. Rhea was absolutely the right choice to win. Now WWE just has to avoid instantly giving the title to Charlotte…

5 – Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn

As expected, these two put on a great match.

Naturally, it touched on a few spots from their previous matches in WWE (of which there have been a few). The classic spot where they just wail on each other was in there at one point, along with teasing the powerbomb onto the apron. With the Pop-Up Powerbomb right at the start, followed immediately by the apron Brainbuster, it feels like the match skipped to the middle and just went from there. Given that they only had 10 minutes, I actually think it was quite a good way to deal with the time constraints.

Sami got to look a lot better than I thought he would, and I’m glad that WWE is remembering that Sami is actually a brilliant wrestler, not just a comedy guy. This felt like the right place for Owens to be following his feud with Reigns, where he lost at every juncture. Not just because he got the win, but because it’s something that felt meaningful to him, he still got to stand up for something and be challenged, only to come out on top in the end.

The post-match stuff was fairly predictable, but I’ll always be pleased with a cunt like Logan Paul getting Stunnered.

4 – Sheamus def. Riddle(c)
(United States Championship)

I did not expect this one to be this good, but I am thrilled we got to see it because it blew my expectations out of the water.

Despite Sheamus putting on some great singles matches so far this year, the concept I had of him from the early 2010s still lingered in my mind. The idea that he was just this boring guy who was alright sometimes but didn’t deserve anything too major. I realised during this match that I was completely wrong to hold onto that vision for so long.

This was a case where two guys just clicked in the ring and led each other to one hell of a match. It was medium-paced but played with a lot of hard-hitting offence that kept the level of intensity bubbling away, only releasing the pressure in a select few high spots. Things like the belly-to-belly off the top, the wide array of counters, and of course, the finishing spot were all brilliant. In almost any other match on the card, a significant botch like the one they had would’ve risked killing it, but it barely felt like a blip on the radar because of how much I was into the match by that point.

The finish was the highlight, with Sheamus kneeing Riddle in the face while Riddle was upside-down attempting a Moonsault. Yes, it wasn’t as good as when Adam Cole & Ricochet did it, but who cares? It still looked brutal and bloody awesome. I would’ve preferred Riddle to win, but after this match, I have absolutely no complaints with Sheamus holding the US title for a while.

3 – Cesaro def. Seth Rollins

As expected, two great wrestlers put on one incredible match.

This one was fast and fun from the word go. It felt extremely balanced, and no man ever stayed on offence for that long at once. Rollins worked to slow the match in places, but it never lasted too long and gave us the rest we needed before the next extended flurry of fun moves. The main story beat here was that this was Cesaro’s first singles match at Wrestlemania, and he made it clear he should’ve been getting them for years before this as he pulled out all the stops.

There were a bunch of really inventive counters too. Rollins managed to turn a Neutraliser into a Powerbomb and then into Pedigree, which absolutely blew my mind because it happened in the space of about 2 seconds. Cesaro busted out a bunch, too, turning a Stomp attempt into a European Uppercut – a move that always looks brutal and impressive. Listing the great spots is all I can do because this match was just full of brilliant action.

Cesaro getting the win is fantastic too. I’m still not super optimistic about whether WWE will turn this into a sustained push, but he has this moment of triumph at Wrestlemania now, and no one will ever be able to take that away from him.

2 – Bianca Belair def. Sasha Banks(c)
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

This match was tied with the Universal Championship match in terms of what I was most excited for going into the show, and BOY did it deliver. It was everything I’d hoped it would be.

This match was the culmination of Bianca Belair’s rise. Not just from the past year, but from the start of her run in NXT. In the space of about three years, she went from a wrestler who was kind of green but had potential into a fully formed main event star ready to claim her crown. Just looking at her previous major matches in NXT and you can see how incredibly far she’s come, and it’s such a joy to see her reach the spot we’d all hoped she would.

The moment at the very start of the match where Bianca took everything and had to hold back the tears was so precious and heartwarming. It told you everything you need to know about how important this match was to her and how hard she’d worked to get there. When the action kicked off, she was all business and – to the surprise of no one – these two had incredible chemistry from the word go.

Sasha has had a great run as a face, but she’s such a natural heel performer, and that was obvious in this match, where she took the role as the defacto heel, despite not explicitly being a bad guy. Sasha used her experience and confidence to press down on Bianca as much as possible, which was perfect for Bianca to fight back against. Every move felt so significant and carefully crafted to build everything to a brilliant conclusion.

Sasha locked in the Bank Statement surprisingly early, and from then on, Bianca did not let her get it a second time no matter what, which was a brilliant touch. The finish was also fantastic, with Sasha repeatedly finding ways to slip out of the K.O.D until Bianca caught her with no escape, made for such a tense sequence with a cathartic payoff when she hit it and got the win.

It was a beautiful match that steadily built to the perfect climax and gave us the heartwarming win we wanted. Easily one of main roster WWE’s best matches so far this year.

1 – Roman Reigns(c) def. Edge & Daniel Bryan
(Universal Championship)

Say what you like about the rest of the card, but you can’t deny that WWE nailed booking their main event scenes for this show.

By the time all three men made their entrances, I was ludicrously hyped for this one, and it did not disappoint. It didn’t move too fast, instead giving us a more tensely paced match that felt like it could end at any moment. The opening was the fastest section, where all three men just wanted to beat each other up. We then brought the element of Jey Uso in to give Roman the advantage before removing him from the equation for the bulk of the match.

From there, it was all the trimmings that make triple threat matches great. All three men cycled round, coming in and out of the match at certain intervals to ensure that the dynamic never got stuck on one path for too long. Things were constantly shifting and evolving, which not only made it more interesting to watch but kept that tense atmosphere bubbling, with any man potentially coming in and picking up the win at any moment.

The highlights include Edge locking in the Yes Lock, with the aid of a steel bar, only for Bryan to suddenly show up and ALSO lock in the Yes Lock on Roman Reigns before both men proceeded to headbutt the shit out of each other. My personal favourite moment was when Bryan pulled the referee out of the ring on Edge’s pin because I genuinely bought that as the finish before it was snatched away from me.

The finish was really good too. The Con-Chair-To is a brutal looking move at the best of times, but that doubles when done to Daniel Bryan. Edge’s choice to do it slowly gave Roman the opening to turn the tables and end it for Edge, and the way he pinned both men at once was just beautiful. If this was a year ago, the internet would’ve exploded with rage at the sight of Reigns doing something like that, but it was just perfect for his character. It makes Reigns seem truly invincible, and whoever finally beats him (I hope Big E, but it could be anyone at this point) is going to become an instant star.

This match lived up to the hype and will absolutely go down as one of the best main events in Wrestlemania history.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this and all my posts over the last week. Let me know what you thought of Wrestlemania either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Saturday, where we go back to the world of video games and I talk about the characters that mean the most to me!

Wrestlemania 37: Predictions & Analysis

After what has managed to be both the shortest and longest year of all our lives, we’ve got ourselves another Wrestlemania to enjoy. The build this year has been a bit muted, in my opinion. There’s not that usual buzz that comes with Wrestlemania season. Is it because we had a Pay-Per-View less than a month ago? Who’s to say (it is).

Regardless, there is still plenty to be looking forward to on this show. All of the main event matches promise to be absolute barn-burners in their own way, and the undercard is full of matches with tonnes of potential. On top of that, we’re finally getting fans back in arenas! Whether or not you think it’s a good idea, the fact is, it’s going to do wonders for the atmosphere of this show. While Wrestlemania last year was still great, it felt like it had been taken down a peg by being stuffed into the Performance Centre. Not only did it make it look like an indie show, but it made it look & feel like every other show WWE had because they all had to be out of the PC. With the big stadium and all the fans, things are looking much better for the feel of this year’s show, and I’m looking forward to it.

Enough chatter, we’ve a lot of matches to pick.

Night 1

Lana & Naomi vs Dana Brooke & Mandy Rose vs The Riott Squad vs Natalya & Tamina vs Billie Kay & Carmella
(Winners get a shot at the Women’s Tag Team Championships on Night 2)
(Tag Team Turmoil)

The women’s tag team division has been in dire straight for a long time now. For the first few months of 2021, we’ve had champion & challenger combinations team up to face Nia & Shayna, and one of them even won the titles for a brief spell. WWE doesn’t care about their men’s tag divisions either, but at least they keep a couple of established teams lying around for situations like this. Here, we have one team with an established history but very little credibility and three teams that have basically just formed. Sure, they’ve been vaguely aligned with each other for a while, but they’re not over as tag teams.

I’m expecting this match to be given less time than it should, which does undermind the point I’m about to make a little bit. However, I’m hoping this match serves as a good show-case for the woefully underutilized & underpromoted women’s mid-card. WWE have such a strong & deep women’s division if only they’d try and use it properly. I’m praying that at least one wrestler comes out of this with people thinking, “wow, she’s really good, she deserves more”. The truth is, all of them deserve more, but WWE just isn’t willing to give it to them.

Due to so little build or attention being paid to these teams, it’s pretty up in the air who will win. The title match on night 2 won’t be heel vs heel so that rules out Natalya & Tamina right away. Dana Brooke & Mandy Rose haven’t done anything of note since about this time last year, so I’m casting them aside too. This leaves us with the one established team, who has been doing ok recently, even if they are still under pushed; or the rag-tag team of Naomi, who has been underappreciated her whole career and Lana, who is still a crap wrestler, but at least has some story with Nia & Baszler.

I really don’t know between those last two, so I’m going to go with what I want and say The Riott Squad will get the win.

Cesaro vs Seth Rollins

A few months ago, we were all sure Cesaro was getting this big push, and he’d get to fight Reigns. That didn’t happen, but I’m still thrilled that he’s getting this opportunity.

I’ve been a bit critical of Rollins’ character, and I stand by what I said about his current direction feel stagnant. However, I’ve come to appreciate how well he’s been performing it in recent weeks. The segment on Smackdown last week where Graves oversaw a confrontation between them was excellent, and both men really fed off each other in a way that only wrestlers who know each other as well as these two do can. Cesaro has got to feel like a legitimate contender for the first time in forever. While I’m pessimistic that this will lead to anything significant for him, it gives me hope that he still has somewhat of a bright future ahead of him.

When it comes to in-ring action, you surely don’t need me to tell you how great this has the potential to be. Rollins is one of the best pure-wrestlers in WWE right now (and has been for a long time), and it should never be understated just how bloody brilliant Cesaro is when he’s let loose. I’m expecting a technical affair with plenty of fast, flying action and exciting counters. It feels like the perfect show opener, let two incredible wrestlers do whatever they want for 15 minutes to start things off with a bang.

I’m pretty torn on picking a winner too. Cesaro getting one over on Rollins seems like what would make the most sense to the story. On top of that, Cesaro is seeing a new rise and having him win his first-ever singles match at Wrestlemania would easily launch him forwards for whatever they want to do with him next. Unfortunately, I’m just not sure I have that kind of faith in WWE. They’ve almost pushed Cesaro so many times that I can’t bring myself to believe it’s going to happen. Rollins is the bigger star, and – with the exception of last year – he doesn’t tend to lose at Wrestlemania. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m picking Seth Rollins to get the win.

Braun Strowman vs Shane McMahon
(Steel Cage)

This is the one match across both nights that I don’t see any potential in at all. The story surrounding this match has been utter crap. I’ve complained about it already, but Strowman has been utterly destroyed over the past 12 months, and this is just putting the cherry on top of all the shit he’s been put through this year. We’ve got Shane, who I don’t to see wrestle, taking on an absolute monster of a man for reasons that are still unclear. That’s already bad, but when you throw on top the involvement of slime and report cards and all kinds of other stupid crap, I just don’t even slightly care about this match.

I’ve got no faith in the in-ring action either. I’m not a fan of Steel Cage matches at the best of times, which is far from the best of times. I’m expecting Shane to pull out all sorts of shenanigans and jump off of the cage at least twice. It’ll make for a nice still-shot, but that’s about it. Braun should absolutely wipe the floor with Shane, but he’s probably going to be made to look like an idiot like he has this whole feud.

This should be an easy pick, but I’m expecting the worse. Everything about wrestling logic says Braun should win, but Shane just wins matches when he has absolutely no right to. I can easily see WWE copying from a few years ago and having Strowman throw Shane from the top of the cage to the floor, meaning Shane wins on a technicality. I’m going to take the leap of faith, though and say WWE won’t fuck this up. A risky move, I know, but I’m picking Braun Strowman to win.

Bad Bunny & Damien Priest vs The Miz & John Morrison

Remember when The Miz was WWE Champion? That was a wild Monday.

I think the fact that I see more potential in this match than Strowman/Shane should say everything I need to on how much I’m not interested in that match. Looking at this one, it’s always hard to tell how good a celebrity match is going to be. Maybe they’ll be a Stephen Amell or Pet McAfee and do a really good job. Maybe they’ll be like pretty much every other celebrity that’s wrestled and be crap. At the very least, I definitely feel like Bad Bunny understands what he’s getting himself into, it’s clear he loves and respects pro-wrestling, and I can’t take that away from him.

The Miz as his choice of opponent isn’t very exciting, but it makes sense. From a character perspective, they’re pretty diametrically opposed, and from an in-ring perspective, there are few safer hands to guide Bad Bunny through the match. With Preist & Morrison able to get in the match, I’m expecting this to turn into a shenanigans-fest pretty quickly so Bad Bunny doesn’t have to do too much in the ring. As long as Bunny’s competent in the ring and there’s a couple of fun moments in there, I’ll be happy with this one.

Bad Bunny & Damien Priest is going to win for sure. The Miz has been booked like chump supreme for almost a year now, and there’s no way WWE will bring in a big celebrity like this and have them lose. On top of that, this is Priest’s first major PPV match, and he’s not going to lose. Giving him the celebrity rub like this hopefully means they’ve got big things in mind.

The New Day(c) vs AJ Styles & Omos
(Raw Tag Team Championships)

Well, the tag titles may not be treated with that much respect these days, but at least the Raw ones made the show…

I’ve not been thrilled with the developments in the Raw tag division as of late. Styles & Omos teaming up is a good thing and puts some more star power into the division, but WWE just keeps breaking up great tag teams. I like the New Day, but I don’t care that they’re tag champions, they’ve been the titles ‘default’ setting for years now. They’ve only become 11-time tag champs because there’s no one else to hold the belts. The Hurt Business should’ve kept those titles, and it blows my mind that WWE decided breaking them up would be any kind of a good idea this soon.

Hopefully, this match will be good, it definitely has the potential to be. Kofi & Woods are as good as they always have been. While I’m tired of seeing them as champions, I’m not tired of watching them in the ring by a long stretch. Styles can still turn it on whenever he wants, so I’ve got absolutely no worries there. Omos is the only unknown factor here, but I’m going to choose to be optimistic. He’s been entertaining as Styles’ sidekick, with some surprisingly great comedic chops. He’s got a great look and carries himself like he knows how great he is, which I love. Will he be any good in the ring? Hard to say without seeing any of his work, but he’s going to be in there with a wrestler who should be able to bring the best out of him.

I’m going with AJ Styles & Omos to win because it’s by far the more interesting choice. This is Omos’ debut, and having him lose – even if it’s not his fault – wouldn’t be a good look. There’s the potential here to build a relationship similar to watch Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez currently have in NXT if they win the tag titles, and it’ll do wonders for Omos’ career.

Bobby Lashley(c) vs Drew McIntyre
(WWE Championship)

Bobby Lashley turned into one of Raw’s best wrestlers, so gradually, I didn’t even notice until I became super hyped for his title win. He was thrown about for a couple years following his WWE return with nothing interesting – and also a cucking angle. Once he got together with MVP, the trajectory was only upwards. His run with the US title was really good, and The Hurt Business became far and away the best part of Raw week-on-week. Why WWE decided to break up the faction, I still don’t know, I think it was a terrible decision, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m in love with Lashley right now, and I’m very excited for this match.

Drew has had exactly the kind of year we hoped he’d have when he won the WWE title. He held it for almost the whole year and decisively beat everyone who was put in his path. This past year has solidified Drew as a top guy in WWE for the rest of his career, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for the guy. His style should mesh perfectly with Lashley’s for a hoss fight to end all hoss fights. I’m expecting a lot of high-impact stuff, with a slower pace but meaningful action that draws you in right until the close.

I think the winner is a little up in the air too. Conventional wisdom says Drew is going to win back the title. It seems like WWE want Drew to get the moment he didn’t get last year, winning the WWE title in front of a stadium of cheering fans. I could see Lashley continuing his run, though, and I wouldn’t be against that. As I said, I’m enjoying his work like never before, and it would be a shame if he only got to have a short title run. I’ve got to go with what my heart wants, though, and my heart wants Drew McIntyre to get that title back and spend at least another few months continuing the fantastic run he’s been on for almost a year now.

Sasha Banks(c) vs Bianca Belair
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

I really hope this is the main event of night 1 because these women deserve it.

Bianca Belair’s rise has been such a joy to watch. I don’t just mean from the Royal Rumble either, I mean from her time in NXT, where she was seen as someone who couldn’t hang in the world’s best women’s division. She’s one of those wrestler where I can so clearly see the monumental improvement she’s gone through in her career so far, to the point where she is absolutely worthy of being at the very top of the wrestling world. Her character as a heel was a joy to watch, but once she turned face, she somehow managed to get even better. Her cocky attitude switched to one of the most hard-working and genuine wrestlers on the face of the planet, and I’m so endeared to her. Her Royal Rumble victory has been the highlight of 2021 so far in WWE, and I’m extremely excited for this match.

Sasha, meanwhile, has spent the six months having the best title reign of her career. Similarly, a fantastic heel character gave way to a somehow even better face character, having a feud of the year with Bayley and defending her title against all comers in good-to-great matches. There are no doubts in my mind that this will be a great match, one worthy of a Wrestlemania main-event spot. Banks has been an incredible technical wrestler for years, and her in-ring storytelling ability is second to none. Belair, meanwhile, is exactly what she says she is, the EST of just about everything.

Bianca Belair has to win this, she just has to. I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see Sasha retain since Belair is still a relatively fresh face, but this story would be so perfect if it ended with Belair on top. WWE has put such an emphasis on how hard she’s worked to get to where she is, and everyone is behind her on this one. I’m praying for the feel-good moment of the weekend when Belair holds that title aloft, crowned as the star she will always be from now on.

Night 2

Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn

When you’re looking at ol’ reliable matches in WWE, few are as evergreen as this one has been.

As Owens said on Twitter, these two have fought hundreds of times across their career, so for it to finally happen at Wrestlemania just feels right. They haven’t played up the history so much this time, but that’s mostly because they don’t really need to. Zayn’s conspiracy theory stuff has been a really strong story for a long time now, and when you’ve got something as strong as that at the core of your narrative, you don’t need to pull in the other elements. Owens is continuing his fantastic run as a face. I’ve gushed about him several times before already, but there’s something about the genuine way in which he cuts promos and interacts with Sami that makes him one of the best of this era.

This is going to be great in the ring, of course, it is. These two have chemistry like few others because they’ve been inexorably linked in their careers, like you wouldn’t believe. In terms of their WWE history, at least, this has a bit more of a fresh twist to it, as this is the first time the heel/face roles are this way around. I think it’ll be interesting to see how Owens makes himself look more like an underdog against a guy he’s been fairly dominant over in WWE up until this point. I’m sure they’ll nail it though, I have all the faith in the world.

As for a winner, Logan Paul being an outside factor (I’m not going into it) does throw a bit of uncertainty in there. Normally I’d say they wouldn’t have a celebrity align with the heel, but Logan Paul is pretty hated by the mainstream audience, so it wouldn’t be unjustified here. Ultimately, I think Kevin Owens has to come out the winner. While his work in his feud with Reigns was excellent, he did lose A LOT, and you can’t be keeping that up forever. Giving him a win over Zayn will give him a new launching point for whatever endeavours he pursues after Mania. It’ll be a shame to hand Zayn another loss, but his character is pretty resilient against losses right now. I know eventually Vince will lose interest in it, and that’ll be that, but let’s make the most of it while we have it.

Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler(c) vs Night 1 Tag Team Turmoil Match Winners
(Women’s Tag Team Championships)

I’ve already said everything I wanna say about the women’s tag division, so let’s just get down to business.

Will this be a good match? If it gets time, then hopefully yes, but much like with the night 1 match, I’m not confident it will. Each team will bring a different dynamic to the match, so things could be very different depending on who wins on night 1, but as I said, that won’t make much difference if they get less than 10 minutes.

I’m going with Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler to retain, whether it’s the Riott Squad or one of the other teams who challenges. Jax & Baszler are the only properly established team on the roster right now, and flipping the titles onto one of the other teams would only lead to the belts being treated even worse than they currently are. That’s not how it should be, and I wish I could be more optimistic in my hopes here, but WWE has given me absolutely no reason to believe they have any interest in properly investing in this division any time soon.

Riddle(c) vs Sheamus
(United States Championship)

I’m really not sure what to think of this one.

At the moment, I’m pretty firm in that I like both wrestlers. I’ve had plenty of ups and downs with Sheamus, but since his feud with Drew McIntyre, he’s been really entertaining both in and out of the ring. Riddle, meanwhile, he’s good in the ring, but outside of it? I’m just not liking any of it. WWE is forcing this outdated style of stoner comedy onto him that I just don’t find funny. Tom Riddle’s credit, he’s been performing it about as well as it can be performed, but they’ve lost the intense side to Riddle’s character that made me love him so much in NXT. That’s not saying he has to be all serious, of course, one of the best things about Riddle is that he can mesh the serious & the silly to great effect, that’s why his tag team with Pete Dunne got over. I just think that what they’re doing now is uncreative and unfunny.

I’m looking forward to this match from an in-ring perspective, though. Riddle’s style meshes technical manoeuvring with hard striking in a way that I find fascinating, and I’m hoping that’ll mesh really well with Sheamus’ brutish style. I think it’ll be really fun to watch if they can establish a firm balance between a technical and hard-hitting style that plays to both guys’ strengths.

My gut says  Riddle, so I’m going to go with it, but I’m not super sure about myself. Sheamus has been a feature player on Raw since the start of the year, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a US title reign was the way WWE went to keep that going. The argument against that is that A) It’s very similar to what Lashley did with the title not very long ago, and B) Riddle is the younger star, and it’s his first Mania, so he should win. As I said, I’m going with my gut and picking the champion to retain, but this is one of the ones I’m most unsure of.

Big E(c) vs Apollo Crews
(Intercontinental Championship)
(Nigerian Drum Fight)

Weird name aside, I’m really looking forward to this one.

The match between these two at Fastlane showed us a little hint of what they can do, and I wrote in my review of that show that I wanted to see more, and I’m thrilled that more is what we’re getting. Big E has found such a wonderful balance between his eccentric and intense character modes since becoming Intercontinental Champion, and it’s just confirmed what I, and many others, have been saying for ages now, which is that Big E is a future top guy in WWE. Apollo Crews, meanwhile, has been doing the best work of his whole career. His new character direction has made me sit up and pay attention to what he has to say every week, which I couldn’t say at all this time last year.

As for what I want in the ring, I want the stuff we got a hint of at Fastlane but like…more. More intensity, more hard-hitting offence with a fast through-line of action to carry the thing. I’m not entirely ensure what a Nigerian Drum fight entails, but I think it’s fair to assume it’ll be some variation of a street fight. This will likely lead to a slower-paced match, but that could work well with the styles we have at play. As long as I feel the intensity is there and the action keeps me engaged, I’ll be happy with this one; and I think they’ll deliver.

I’m a lot less confident about this match than I was at Fastlane, that’s for sure. It’s a matter of whether I think WWE are ready to push Big E up the card any time soon. I could easily see him being in the Money in the Bank ladder match this year, but the mid-card champions are in those matches all the time, so whether or not he has the belt is largely irrelevant. Crews absolutely deserves another run with a mid-card title, and if you were going to do it, now would definitely be the time. I just think that belt is going to stick with Big E a little longer. He’s had a really good reign so far, and it would be ok if he lost it, I just want to keep this train rolling.

The Fiend vs Randy Orton

There’s no way this can be just a straight-up singles match, right? It just feels wrong. At the time of writing, no extra stipulation has been announced for the match, and it has me quite worried. This feud has involved burning people alive, a possessed Alexa Bliss and vomiting black goop at every available opportunity. If this were to just end with a plain old wrestling match, it’d be such an anticlimax. In an ideal world, we’d get another Firefly Funhouse match, but given that they’ve got a crowd this time, I doubt they’ll do a whole match on VT. It’s a crying shame because last year’s was one of the best things I’ve ever seen on a wrestling show, but it looks to be a one-off.

Truth be told, one of the reasons I don’t want this to be a straight-up wrestling match is because I don’t think it’ll be all that good if it is. Neither of these guys are bad wrestlers, but The Fiend wrestles a very specific style, and it’s one that I haven’t really got on board with when he’s just left to wrestle a regular match. It’s this weird balance that has to be struck because his character-work and overall creative output is utterly incredible, once in a generation kind of stuff, but his in-ring work feels a bit dull. That’s not a knock on Bray Wyatt’s ability, he’s had plenty of amazing matches, and I applaud him for committing to that style with the character, it just doesn’t grab me.

Picking a winner is a tough choice too. It was so long ago that it’s easy to forget, but Orton did win their last match. On top of that, it’s The Fiend, and he has just risen again after being burned alive. It’d be a bit crap to see him eat an RKO and take a pin after all was said and done. On the flip side, it is Randy Orton, and he doesn’t lose too often unless he’s going to be going away for a little while after Wrestlemania. It makes me wonder if there’s some creative way to get out of the situation where The Fiend wins the match, but Randy somehow frees himself from The Fiend and his world, thereby getting a symbolic victory and allowing him to move on. It’s a tough call, so I’m going to go with what I think should happen and book The Fiend to win.

Asuka(c) vs Rhea Ripley
(Raw Women’s Championship)

To think that a few months ago, the plan was Lacey Evans vs Charlotte Flair. That is a match I’d be significantly less excited for.

This is the nicest surprise of the card, as I did not expect to get this match in this form. It’s a genuine dream match for WWE’s current women’s division, and I’m thrilled that WWE is investing in Rhea Ripley again this year, much like they did last year. I’m glad it’s just a one-on-one too. That’s not to knock Charlotte, if the reports are true and she’s really just been left off of the Mania card because of a false positive on a pregnancy test, then that’s awful. However, given how badly WWE has treated Asuka since the end of summer last year, it feels pretty vindicating for her to get a major singles match at Wrestlemania.

I don’t know how these two will mesh in the ring, but I’m confident that I’m going to enjoy it. Both of them are among the best of their generation. Rhea isn’t very technical but has outstanding in-ring flair (pun sort of intended). Her match with Charlotte at Mania last year was the best pure-wrestling match of the entire weekend, and I’m hoping she can work her magic again with Asuka, this time in front of a crowd. Asuka is no stranger to working a hard-hitting style and is great at mixing in the mat-based grappling. On top of that, these are two women who played a huge role in defining their respective eras in NXT, so as far as hype goes, I’m about as high as you can get.

Once again, this is a match that I think could go either way. Rhea is obviously someone WWE want to go far, so putting the Raw Women’s Title on her right out of the gate would be a fantastic movie. On top of that, it lines her up perfectly for a rematch with Charlotte after Wrestlemania. Turning that around, though, it could be argued that it’s way too soon, and given that the original plan was for Charlotte to have the title coming out of Wrestlemania, maybe WWE will just want to put it right back on her? If that’s the case, then it’d be far less damaging for Asuka to lose the title to Charlotte than Rhea. Similarly, will Becky Lynch be coming back any time soon? We’ve not heard anything about it, so I’ve honestly got no idea. If Becky is coming back, though, surely it makes more sense for Asuka to have the title since Asuka never beat Becky to win the belt?

There are many different arguments to make on this one, and all of them make sense. This means that I’m going to do the only thing I can think of and predict the outcome I want to happen. That outcome is Rhea Ripley to be crowned champion.

Roman Reigns(c) vs Edge vs Daniel Bryan
(Universal Championship)

Just look at that lineup. There are few matches more worthy of the Wrestlemania main-event spot than that.

Throughout February & March, I had so many complaints about how WWE was booking Daniel Bryan, and I was made to look like a complete fool when it turned out to be part of WWE’s plan all along. Since the triple threat plan became apparent, I’ve been totally behind this story, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. The shades of grey they introduced in both Bryan & Edge has been excellent, as both men have excelled as heels & faces in their career. Meanwhile, Roman has continued to do the best work of his career as the Tribal Chief, sitting and overseeing everything.

I cannot wait to see this one get down to business in the ring. You’ve got Daniel Bryan, who is – in my humble opinion – the best in-ring wrestler of all time. You’ve got Edge, who is a fantastic wrestler, riding a great story and the comeback we never thought we’d see. Then finally, you’ve got Roman Reigns, who is arguably the best character in WWE right now who has also evolved into one of this generation’s best wrestlers. It’s a triple threat, so it means the pace is going to be fast and furious throughout, letting us switch between the different combinations of competitors in the ring and building that drama all the way to the second bell.

Who’s going to win, though? Beats the hell out of me. When it was just Roman vs Edge, I was 100% sure Roman was going to win; there wasn’t a single doubt in my mind. Now Bryan’s been thrown in the mix…I honestly think all three men have an equal chance. Bryan has said he’s considering retiring from in-ring competition in the next year, so this could be the last chance to give him another world title run. I don’t think it’d be a particularly long one, but I’d be overjoyed if we got to see it happen. If Edge were to win, it would be a culmination of his comeback story, and even if he is going to be on a part-time schedule, I don’t mind at all if we just get a few dream matches out of his title run before he drops it at Summerslam or something like that. Then you have Roman. As I’ve said, since his Summerslam return, he’s been a highlight of programming in just about everything he’s done. WWE has finally crafted a situation where Roman can be a world champion without everyone hating it. Do you really think they’re going to let that go so easily?

I’ve been turning this over for literally days now, and I’m still no more certain than I was. I want Daniel Bryan to win, I want Edge to win, and I think they both could. I just can’t pull myself away from Roman, though. Would WWE have their top heel retain in the main event of Wrestlemania? It wouldn’t be the first time, but it hasn’t happened in a long, long time. I don’t know. I just don’t know, and it’s tearing me up a little bit that I can’t make this decision.

Roman Reigns. There, I’ve typed it now, no deleting that. I have no confidence in that pick, but I’ve done it.

I’m just so excited to see this one.

NXT Takeover: Stand & Deliver: Every Match Ranked

NXT is back bay-bay!

This was easily the best show NXT has put on in over a year and is definitely up there with some of the all-time great Takeover shows. Everyone brought their A-game over the past couple of nights, which feels like the start of a new era for NXT. Both in a metaphorical sense with the rejuvenated roster and quality shows and in a literal sense with new champions crowned across the board.

I’ve got nothing else to say, so let the gushing commence!

12 – Killian Dain & Drake Maverick def. Breezango
(Pre-show)

There was nothing wrong with this match, it just doesn’t stand out on an incredible card like this.

Dain & Maverick have really entertaining chemistry. I enjoy the fact that Dain just gets tired of Maverick’s shit sometimes and does things like powerbomb him onto the opponents. It’s a shame Breezango didn’t get to make much of their tag title reign, but I think they’re great for spots like this when we just want to see a good match and some friendly faces.

There’s no way Dain & Maverick are winning the tag titles, but I can’t wait to see them try.

11 – Zoey Stark def. Toni Storm
(Pre-show)

This was in no way a bad match, it’s just this is such a stacked show, even a really good match like this isn’t going to get very high up the list.

It’s clear that the people behind the scenes at NXT are really high on Zoey Stark, and this win will no doubt do wonders for her. I’m a little sad that Toni Storm has had to eat so many losses as of late, but I don’t mind that much since this is just helping an already stacked division get another prominent star. Not much more to say about this one; it was a good match with a nice pace and a surprising but satisfying conclusion. Thumbs up.

10 – Johnny Gargano(c) def. Bronson Reed
(North American Championship)

Takeover lists are always difficult to write because I have to stress that even though I’ve ranked this as the “worst” match on the main show, it was still really good. However, I’ve got to rank something at the bottom, even if I like it.

To me, what made this match fall to the bottom of the pile was that it just lacked that something special I expect from Takeover matches. Functionally, there was nothing wrong with it. I admit, I’m not as big on Bronson Reed as most other people seem to be, but this match still had plenty of upside. A good flow, an enjoyable back-and-forth style that let both men look great in their own ways.

However, when you look at the matches I’ve ranked above this one, there’s just something about them that ‘clicks’ more to me. It elevates them to be something worthy of a show like this, where NXT showcases the best of what they have to offer. I enjoyed this match. I just enjoyed the rest a lot more.

9 – Bronson Reed def. Leon Ruff, Isaiah “Swerve” Scott, Cameron Grimes, Dexter Lumis & LA Knight
(Winner gets a North American Championship match on Night 2)
(Gauntlet)

There was a lot about this match that I really didn’t see coming.

For one thing, it wasn’t the style of gauntlet match I thought it was going to be. However, I’d argue it was better. This way kept it to a more manageable time for the show and gave us much more interesting action when the ring filled up with guys, rather than being left with a bunch of slightly too short one on one matches.

The different phases this match moved through kept the action solid throughout. The dynamic between Ruff & Scott early on felt like the kind of match I want to see a lot more of down the line, and as people kept getting added, chaos reigned, and things got fun. Lumis didn’t have nearly as prominent a role as I would’ve thought. However, it looks like his next major feud is ready to go as LA Knight, despite getting the short end of the stick here, got over as much as he needed to on this show.

This left us with a final three of Grimes, Scott & Reed, which was way better than I thought it would’ve been. They generally avoided any man powdering out, keeping all three of them in the action for the entire time until Grimes was eliminated. Once Reed won, I began to doubt my statement that Gargano would lose the title on night 2, but I still think him winning this match was great for someone who I thought wouldn’t get a shot until later in the year.

8 – Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart(c) def. The Way
(NXT Women’s Tag Team Championships)

These women’s tag titles are essentially going to be used as a mid-card title for NXT’s women’s division, and I am totally down for that if matches like this are the result.

This one was a very gradual builder, but that made the heights it reached toward the end feel earned. The bulk of the match is the solid tag action that you’d expect from any match like this. The Way did a good job with the divide-and-conquer style of tag work, and the hot tag felt worth the relative slowness that proceeded them.

As always in tag matches, the best stuff came towards the end when things broke down, and people were jumping in from all over the place. It definitely felt like the women involved just let loose and did whatever they felt like in this last section, and it made for a lot of great moments. I’m glad the champs retained and that it was such a solid match because it definitely gives the feeling that NXT will be treating these titles a lot better than Raw & Smackdown have done.

7 – Pete Dunne def. Kushida

I’ll be frank, picking Kushida here was a bloody stupid pick. In hindsight, of course, Pete Dunne was going to win.

My stupidity aside, I really enjoyed this match. I think it would’ve been better with a more meaningful story, but there’s no denying the incredible technical prowess both men had on display. Kushida keeps impressing with his matches despite the fact that he keeps losing, and it’s these kinds of performances that’ll keep him bubbling away until he can finally start winning again.

Dunne, meanwhile, met Kushida’s quick offence with a range of counters, the likes of which you’ve never seen. Dunne worked to turn everything Kushida did against him, and as balanced as the match was in places, it definitely felt like Kushida never really stood a chance of winning. Dunne was able to decelerate and accelerate the match at his whim and had an answer for just about everything Kushida could throw his way.

I don’t know what they’re going to do with Dunne next, but I hope it’s something meaningful because matches like this make it so clear he’ll be able to run with whatever he’s given.

6 – Karrion Kross(c) def. Finn Balor
(NXT Championship)

Is this good enough for you? People who hate Karrion Kross for reasons I still don’t understand.

I’d say this is the point in the list where the matches reach that higher tier of quality that we always hope to get out of Takeovers. Both men played their roles in this match to perfection. Balor’s strategy of getting in Kross’ head early on was something we haven’t seen in quite that way for a long time, and I loved it. The way Balor painted the cross over his heart and then laughed in Kross’ face every time he’d get chucked across the ring was so good.

The action wasn’t the main attraction of this match because the storytelling carried it better than the action ever could. Balor looked so clever with the game plan he came in with, and for the first section of the match, he actually looked quite dominant over Kross. This time, Kross’s presentation has been different from the indestructible monster we saw last year, and I prefer it this way. Monsters should look beatable but still manage to win anyway.

When Kross took over and put the beatdown on Balor, things got more intense, and the dynamic evened out a lot more. The part of the storytelling I love most is how drastically Balor changed his style once he broke free of Kross’ beatdown. Gone was the slow, deliberate technician, and in its place was a quick and deadly striker, and that looked to end the match as quick as possible. The final portion of the match was far more back-and-forth, and it brought everything together nicely.

Kross winning was absolutely the best choice. Balor’s title reign has been fantastic – better than his first – but it’s Kross’ time. It’s been a long time since we had a true monster at the top of NXT, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the belt.

5 – Raquel Gonzalez def. Io Shirai(c)
(NXT Women’s Championship)

Honestly, when so many of these matches are so good, it becomes difficult to find different ways to talk about how good they are.

This match was a very clear clash of styles that they executed to a fantastic degree. Gonzalez’s ability in singles matches is understated, and I think that’s because her style is more muted than what we’re used to from the women’s division. I don’t mean that as an insult, to be clear, her movements are affectionately fluid, and she understands exactly how to work against her flashier opponents. Her power game is something to be envied, and she manages to mix it in with just enough fast-paced strikes and technical manoeuvres that she comes across as an extremely well-rounded performer.

This match wasn’t all about Gonzalez, though, as Io made sure that no one could forget her. She certainly had the most memorable moments of the match, with a Moonsault to the outside followed by a brilliant looking dive off of the skull (Speaking of, the set for this show looked really great). She understood exactly the kind of wrestler she was up against and adjusted her style to include a lot more of the muted but excellent technical stylings that Gonzalez is good at, and of course, got thrown around like a sack of potatoes at every opportunity.

This was a worthy send-off for Io Shirai’s fantastic title reign and crowned a new champion in spectacular fashion. Long may she reign.

4 – Santos Escobar(c) def. Jordan Devlin(c)
(Undisputed Cruiserweight Championship)
(Ladder)

I was unsure how these two would mesh their styles. As it turns out, the answer was bloody brilliantly.

I loved how they waited to get the ladders involved in the match. We got a solid 5 minutes of the match before either of them picked up a ladder for the first time. It gave the match a great sense of rising tension. It served the story as well, both men want to prove they’re worthy of heading up the Cruiserweight division, so they started out with some classic cruiserweight action.

Things kept building nicely once the ladders got involved. They still moved very quickly and incorporated the ladders into their offence in fun ways. It may not have been anything we haven’t seen in ladder matches before, but it didn’t need to be. The various leaps & falls off of ladders were the kind of spectacle we couldn’t see anywhere else on this show, and it helped this match stand out amongst an incredible lineup of matches.

As the match reached its climax, I bought into a lot of the false finishes. Which was helped by the fact that I really had no idea who was going to win. Ultimately, while I wanted Devlin to win, Escobar is probably the better choice. He’s been on a roll like few others since winning the interim title, and hopefully, Devlin can set his sights on a certain champion over in the UK…

3 – MSK def. Grizzled Young Veterans & Legada Del Fantasma
(NXT Tag Team Championships)

Chaos, that’s what this match was. Pure, non-stop chaos. What more could you possibly want?

It’s no secret that, in general, I like my wrestling fast and crazy, so this match was always going to tick all of my boxes. Having three amazing teams like these in the ring was a recipe for success from the word go, and they still managed to exceed my expectations. Every person in all three teams seemed to be in the perfect place at the perfect time to hit the perfect move. There was barely a moment to catch your breath in this one with how well it cycled between the active participants, and no one was underrepresented.

It felt like the bulk of the story was between MSK & GYV, with Legada Del Fantasma playing spoiler to that dynamic, getting involved when both of those teams got too mixed up with each other. It was a really interesting dynamic. It only got touched on in a few moments, but it added just that little extra bit of emotional investment I needed to become totally absorbed in the match. I really bought into a lot of the false finishes here, and with each one, I fell in love with the match more. It was the kind of match that built to what I thought was the climax and then managed to build even further.

MSK isn’t who I would’ve gone with to win, purely because there aren’t many people for them to face right now. However, it is absolutely deserved. They are clearly a fantastic tag team destined for great things in NXT. Maybe they’ll hot-potato the titles once or twice, but I have no complaints about them winning the titles.

2 – WALTER(c) def. Tommaso Ciampa
(United Kingdom Championship)

WALTER really is just one of the best wrestlers in the world. His style is so unique, but it’s almost intangibly great. He can work hard, fast, monstrous or technical depending on what the situation calls for, and he’s a brilliant judge of which style is needed for what opponent.

In my predictions, I said this match would have a bit of all WALTER’s best title defences so far, and I think I was pretty spot-on with that statement. The primary baseline of the match was the technical prowess of both men. When the two of them got tussling in that technical style, it was a thing of beauty. There was a bunch of brutality in there too. WALTER’s chops could win a title independently, but Ciampa wasn’t afraid to chop back just as hard. The striking segments felt like they carried this match a lot better than it should’ve been able to, and it added that brutal feel we were hoping for from this match.

What’s brilliant thought was how it pulled in the underdog vs monster dynamic. The truth is, I don’t think WALTER actually ever looked that dominant over Ciampa in the match, and yet Ciampa’s performance still made him feel like the incredible underdog you just had to root for. As soon as the weakness in WALTER’s right hand opened up, Ciampa desperately tried to do all he could with it.

It was a mechanically flawless match with an emotionally resonant story that filled the match at every opportunity. I will honestly be shocked if this match isn’t in my top 3 when I come to make my match of the year list this year.

At the end of night 1, I really thought nothing could top this match, but man… there was something on the horizon I couldn’t have seen coming.

1 – Kyle O’Reilly def. Adam Cole
(Unsanctioned)

What an epic match.

To address some of the criticisms I’ve seen. Yes, it was a bit long. It probably could’ve been 30 minutes instead of 40 and not missed out on much. However, it really didn’t seem 40 minutes long to me when I was watching it. It gripped me so completely that how long it was taking didn’t even enter my mind until it was over. The other major one I saw was too many kickouts, which I disagree with, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

As expected from a 40-minute match, it was a slow builder but a gripping slow builder. Things started out thick and fast, as you’d expect, with a feud as intense as this one, but the pace slowed very soon in, and the brutality slowly ramped up from there. The two men managed to balance the hard-hitting action with an intense set of technical wrestling moves for a lot of it, which kept the action ticking over and kept me interested for when the bigger spots started coming.

The segment centred around the chain, I thought, was particularly good without how they kept bringing it back into the match in unexpected ways. It’s that kind of style that wins me over with weapons matches, where the weapons are used as exclamation points on the action, no the sole focal point on it.

Where this match went from “bloody great” to “match of the year” was in the back half, though, when things were a lot slower, but every move became really meaningful. The various Last Shot attempts & dodges, the fall through the stage, it all elevated the match into that “epic” style few matches can reach. The kickouts, though, the kickouts. People said there were too many, I disagree. The thing is, if you look at the match, Cole only really kicked out of one big move towards the end – the Last Shot from O’Reilly. O’Reilly, meanwhile, kicked out of loads, and that is precisely the point of the story. O’Reilly keeps coming back despite being utterly dead on his feet. One of the last kickouts, where O’Reilly barely gets his shoulder a few inches off the ground, was so powerful to that end.

O’Reilly had to win this to become a star in NXT, which is exactly what he’s done. That long shot of him walking away from the fight, utterly battered, is the look of a hero. I don’t know where or when, but he’s our next NXT Champion, and no one can deny him.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you thought of the show, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure you come back here this time tomorrow for my Wrestlemania predictions!

NXT Takeover: Stand & Deliver: Predictions & Analysis

Every time a Takeover comes around, it’s always a bit of shame that so many talented performers get left off of the card. Thankfully, NXT finally decided to copy Wrestlemania, and now we’re getting a two-night show! Five matches each night, and honestly, all ten of them look like absolute winners, and I am pumped to see how all of these wrestlers try to top each other. Let’s get predicting.

Night 1

Pete Dunne vs Kushida

Not a whole lot of story riding on this one, but it’s two guys that absolutely couldn’t be left off of the show.

Kushida’s experienced a bit of a fall since losing to Gargano. I was pretty confident he would win, and now I don’t really know what they’re planning on doing with him long-term. That said, this match is a great way to tide him over. Pete Dunne similarly is feeling a bit directionless right now. He lost to Balor, and now he’s just hanging around. It doesn’t help that Burch & Lorcan are out of action right now, too, so he can’t even do faction-based stuff. That said, this match is going to be fantastic. Pete Dunne has been one of my favourite wrestlers for a long time, and there’s no doubting Kushida’s ability in the ring. I’m looking forward to seeing these two styles collide. Kushida works quick and technical, which should play quite well against Dunne’s slow, mat-based style.

Picking a winner is significantly more difficult, though, because both of them need a win. Both are coming off significant losses and are looking to regain momentum. It’s more of a matter of who I think will be in a more prominent position in the immediate future. I’m going to go with Kushida. While I think Dunne is a top-level talent, Kushida feels like he’s more on the rise at the moment, and a win like this could push him into a credible main event spot. On top of that, I think night 1 will be pretty heavy on heel wins, so this should balance it out.

Leon Ruff vs Isaiah “Swerve” Scott vs Bronson Reed vs Cameron Grimes vs Dexter Lumis vs LA Knight
(Gauntlet Match)
(Winners gets a North American Championship Match on Night 2)

Let’s just go through the list.

Leon Ruff – Dude became a star out of nowhere earlier this year, winning the North American title in the kind of shock title change that NXT hasn’t ever done before. Since then, he’s faded quite significantly, but that brief story has given him a foot in the door that cannot be removed. I think he’ll get the Kofi spot in this match, lasting the longest. However, I don’t think he’s going to win. If I were to hazard a guess, I think he’ll probably last until Cameron Grimes, where the length of time he’s spent in the match will catch up to him.

Isaiah “Swerve” Scott – I really thought he’d be a bigger star by now. He’s still a somewhat prominent player on NXT, but I’ve been expecting him to break through for a while now. Aside from his Takeover match last year with Escobar, he’s not had any major singles feuds in NXT. Unfortunately, I don’t see him going anywhere here, as I think Ruff will put him away in quick order.

Bronson Reed – A great wrestler, quickly on the rise. Unfortunately, the title scenes are just a bit too crowded at the moment to deal with him. It’s part of the problem we’re seeing with NXT’s new system of not sending people up as often. It’s just getting a bit crowded around the top, and I don’t think Reed will get a proper look-in at either of the main singles titles until at least the end of the year.

Cameron Grimes – For a while, I just didn’t get Grimes. His character was quite weird and kind of vague, but he’s slowly brought me round over the past 6 months by being one of the funniest guys on the roster. The way he plays everything is just hilarious. His anger, his fear, his joy, all of it just brings a smile to my face. The rich stuff he’s been playing up recently is some of his best work yet, and while it does have a limited lifespan, I’m enjoying it while it’s happening. I would be thrilled if Grimes got shot towards the title now, but I don’t see it happening. Heel vs heel wouldn’t really work in this instance, so we’ll have to wait a while before Grimes reaches the moon.

Dexter Lumis – This guy has to be the favourite, right? They’ve literally been building it for months now. Lumis has been on a one-man crusade against The Way. His weird and creepy attitude seemed like it would make him more of a heel, but he’s been quite carefully booked and is now a sort of twisted anti-hero that you can’t help but cheer. The simple fact of the matter is that Gargano vs Lumis has been a match they’ve been building to for ages, and it would be so weird if they didn’t follow through now.

LA Knight – I didn’t know much about LA Knight before he joined NXT, but I’d definitely enjoyed what little I saw of his time as Eli Drake. He’s been brought in a bit differently to most other signings, and I honestly thought he wouldn’t even wrestle on this show just because of how he’s been booked. That said, I’m glad he has. Hopefully, he can put on a really good final section of this match against Lumis. Knight is the only other person I think has a chance of winning, just because it’s his Takeover debut.

I’ve got to go with Dexter Lumis to win, though. Knight is possible, but given the heel dynamics at play here and how much Lumis has been built towards Gargano, I just don’t see it happening.

MSK vs Grizzled Young Veterans vs Legado Del Fantasma
(NXT Tag Team Championships)

I think I speak for everyone when I say that it’s a damn shame Burch & Lorcan didn’t get to defend their titles at this show. They’ve been a team for ages and have had so many moments of brilliance. They finally got their go with the gold, and it was snatched away from them before they could make a proper run of it.

That said, with unfortunate circumstances come opportunity for others, and now the door is wide open to swoop in and have a great title run. I think these are the perfect three teams to select for this match. There’s a huge mix of styles & characters in here that is bound to make for something incredible. NXT doesn’t do these multi-team matches all that often, but all of the ones I can remember have been brilliant, so I’ve no doubt this will be the same.

I think the titles could go any of the three ways, but there’s definitely one that sticks out in my mind as the better option. MSK are fantastic, they’ve made a hell of a splash in their short time in NXT so far, and they’re absolutely the future of this division. That future isn’t quite yet, though. Similarly, Legado Del Fantasma has done great work, and given that Escobar might not have that Cruiserweight title for much longer, giving them the tag titles could be a good way to keep their momentum going. However, I’m picking Grizzled Young Veterans. They fill a similar heel role to Burch & Lorcan, but they are enough their own team that it won’t feel like a cheap imitation. Gibson with a microphone in his hand is sure-fire entertainment, and they’d be the perfect foils if you want MSK to chase the titles following this show.

WALTER vs Tommaso Ciampa
(NXT United Kingdom Championship)

Definitely the match I’m most excited for on night 1. This could be a brutal match.

My favourite match of 2019 was Pete Dunne vs WALTER from Takeover: New York, and one of the reasons I liked it so much was because of how it balanced the intricate, technical, mat-based style with high-impact spots that made even some of the more mundane stuff feel like a huge deal. Stylistically, I think Ciampa has a lot in common with Dunne, except he has a bit of extra flair about him, which means he can turn the pace up to something incredible when he wants to. I’m expecting this match to be a bit of a hybrid of all of WALTER’s best title defences so far. It’ll have some of the technical prowess of his match with Dunne, the emotion of his match with Tyler Bate and a lot of the brutality from his match with Ilya Dragunov.

The one downside this match has is that I think the result is pretty obvious. While I don’t think it’s impossible, I would be incredibly shocked if Ciampa won that UK title. It would undoubtedly do wonders for the show, but I don’t think he quite fits with what they’ve got going on down there right now. It’s the kind of thing that, if they did it, I’d love it, but I also don’t really want it to happen. WALTER retaining is the sensible pick here, and he gets to continue his mammoth run with the title. I know he couldn’t defend the belt for most of 2020, but I honestly think he’d still be holding it now regardless. I have no idea who will finally topple him, but it’s going to be a huge deal when someone does.

Io Shirai(c) vs Raquel Gonzalez
(NXT Women’s Championship)

I was somewhat critical of NXT in 2020. They were still putting on great shows, but it definitely felt a tier below what they’d been doing for the past few years. The one person I never had such criticisms of is Io Shirai, who has been the absolute top star of NXT in my mind for ages. She carried the brand on her back throughout 2020 and has had the opportunity to put on several brilliant matches as the women’s division continued to fill with incredible talents.

So now, we’re in a situation where the division’s biggest and most unstoppable star collides with the fastest rising star the division’s seen since Rhea Ripley. In fact, it is pretty much exactly like the Baszler/Ripley thing, only with the heel/face dynamic reversed. Gonzalez doesn’t wrestle a very flashy style, but she can still use it to put on fantastic matches. I think many were sceptical of her abilities at first, but her time tagging with Dakota Kai and her singles match with Rhea Ripley silenced those doubts in my mind. She & Kai won the women’s Dusty cup, which was a great moment and, although it was brief, got to be the first NXT Women’s Tag Team Champions.

So is she going to win the title? I really don’t know. I think it’s a given that she will win the title; I’m just not 100% sure it’s right now. While Shirai has been champion for almost a year and done wonders, it doesn’t quite feel like the end of her time yet. On top of that, Gonzalez has Kai in her corner, and the tension between them is bubbling just below the surface. I could absolutely see a situation where jealous Kai costs Gonzalez the title. However, I could also see them playing the long game on that front, having Gonzalez win the title until Kai eventually decided she wants it for herself. That said, this is NXT’s biggest show in quite a while, and I think giving us a big change of the guard would be the right impact to leave, so I’m going with Raquel Gonzalez to become champion.

Night 2

Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart vs The Way
(NXT Women’s Tag Team Championships)

NXT getting their own women’s tag titles is something that’s felt inevitable for a while. When the main belts were first introduced, they made a big deal out of how they were going to be defended on all three brands, and then it just never happened. I think maybe once someone had a match with The IIconics? I honestly don’t remember. Now, with NXT having a far deeper women’s roster than it did a few years ago, something was desperately needed for the mid-card scene of that division, so these titles should do wonders to that end.

Ember & Shotzi both seemed like they were ready to head up to the title scene, but they decided to give that spot to Gonzalez instead – a decision I agree with, all things considered – so letting these two run with the tag titles for the next while until the singles title is ready for them was definitely the way to go. The Way, meanwhile, has been excellent as of late. I had lost interest in Gargano as a heel before this faction came together, and I think they’re all much more entertaining together. Candice LaRae is another one who felt a bit directionless after losing to Io, and this seemed like the logical next move.

I have no doubt that these four women will put on a great match. I don’t think there’s any doubting the ability of any of them. I’m going with Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart to retain. Given that the first champs lost the title really quickly, I think doing another title change so soon would devalue these new belts, which is something they don’t need. I’d much rather Moon & Blackheart hold them until at least the summer to really show that NXT will be treating these belts with more respect than the main roster treats their women’s tag titles.

Adam Cole vs Kyle O’Reilly
(Unsanctioned)

This is the match I’m most looking forward to on night 2.

For the longest time, I was of the opinion that The Undisputed Era should never break up. I thought they should go to the main roster as a unit and stay that way until the time felt right. Then, when it became clear that they weren’t going to the main roster anytime soon, it became a bit muddier. THEN, Kyle O’Reilly had those pair of great title matches with Balor, and it became clear that he was ready to become an amazing singles star in NXT. This meant that, while it was still a sad occasion when Cole broke up the faction, it felt like the time was right.

Now we’ve got a match between two people who know each other in the ring like few else (they once had a singles match at Wrestle Kingdom, for God’s sake). They’ve by far got the hottest story going right now, and it’s going to be a barn burner. I’m expecting some real vicious action here, and I have faith in them to use the hardcore stipulation to its fullest potential.

As much as I’d like to pretend this one was up in the air, Kyle O’Reilly has got to come out the winner here. Unless they do a screwy finish (which is certainly possible), O’Reilly needs this win to establish himself as a main-stay in the main-event scene of NXT. I think he’s going to win the NXT title at some point in the next 12 months, and this needs to be the start of his rise. I love Adam Cole, but that dude can do whatever he wants in NXT for the rest of his time on the brand; he is fully established. O’Reilly still needs the firm footing of a vindicating victory here.

Johnny Gargano(c) vs The Winner of Night 1’s Gauntlet Match
(North American Championship)

So, it’s a bit harder to talk about this one when I don’t know who the challenger is going to be, but looking at Gargano’s run as champion, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag for me. His matches have always been great, there’s no questioning that, but his character has gained me and lost me at certain points. It was an exciting fresh direction for his character when he first turned, but it quickly wore thin. I think he tried too hard to be more menacing and threatening, and it just didn’t suit him. Eventually, he shifted it into more of a ‘chicken-shit’ heel, which suits him so much better. His interaction with The Way every week always has this bumbling comedic edge that is very fun to watch.

As I said in my night 1 predictions, I think the challenger will be Dexter Lumis. He’s been Gargano’s primary focus for months now, and it would be weird if anyone else won. I don’t really know how these two will mesh in the ring because I’m still not entirely sure what Lumis’ style is. He seems very fluid and adaptable to who he’s in the ring with. This is most certainly a good thing, it just means I’m unsure of what kind of match we’re going to get when these two collide.

What I am sure of is that Dexter Lumis is coming away with that title. I would actually say Gargano is going to lose the title no matter who the challenger is. He’s been around the North American title scene for a long time now, and it just feels like his time is up. Lumis makes the most sense to win the title, but even if it’s someone like LA Knight or Cameron Grimes, I think switching the title is the right move. The North American title needs to be around the waist of someone on the rise now, rather than an already established star.

Jordan Devlin(c) vs Santos Escobar(c)
(Undisputed Cruiserweight Championship)
(Ladder)

A match that we’ve been waiting for forever, and it’s finally happening. I was really excited when Devlin won the Cruiserweight title, but he ended up not doing much with it. It wasn’t his fault, of course, or anyone’s for that matter. The pandemic did what it did, and he was one of the casualties. Escobar was the star that was able to rise in his place, and he definitely made the most of it. Abandoning his mask and former ring name to become a fresh character, the kind of which the Cruiserweight division hadn’t yet seen.

Putting these two together in the ring seems like a recipe for success. At first glance, they don’t seem like they’d mesh, but Escobar has shown how adaptable he can be with the variety of opponents he’s taken on during his title reign. Devlin’s style is less fluid but just as good, and I think as long as these two click in the ring (which I assume they will), we should be in for a treat.

Picking a winner is a bit difficult. Giving Devlin the win would allow him to have the Cruiserweight title reign that I wished he could’ve had when he initially won the title, but Escobar has proved to be a great asset to the division in Devlin’s absence. NXT’s never been one to shy away from an unexpected new star when they come along, but they also like to stick to their plans wherever possible. It’s a tough one because I could honestly see them going either way. My gut says Jordan Devlin, so that’s what I’m picking. This is the one I’m struggling the most with, though.

Finn Balor(c) vs Karrion Kross
(NXT Championship)

This is the match I’ve been waiting for.

I’ve seen people be very critical of Kross’ astronomic rise in NXT, and honestly, I don’t get it. I know his match with Keith Lee was a bit underwhelming, but he was injured for most of it, so I actually think it was bloody good for what it was. On top of that, his character has this indestructible aura around him that we haven’t seen in an NXT Champion since Aleister Black & Tommaso Ciampa were holding the belts. I think he’s got all the talent necessary. His look is incredible, his entrance is even better; how on Earth could this guy do anything else but immediately become the champion?

Kross’ injury was extremely unfortunate, but it gave way to Balor’s run as NXT Champion which has been fantastic and by far my favourite run of Balor’s career. He’s made new stars and put on fantastic matches left and right with a character that has the kind of edge I’d been wanting to see from him since the moment he first showed up in NXT in 2015. I’m excited to see how these two mesh in the ring. Kross’ hoss style is an interesting one, and I think Balor will be able to adapt to it well. Balor’s current character allows him to be a dominating badass and a plucky underdog depending on his opponent, and I think he’ll be able to use both sides to great effect in this match.

I’m pretty confident about picking the winner here, but not as much as I probably should be. I’m going with Karrion Kross because it just makes sense. They gave him a Lesnar-style push to the title when he first debuted, and even though the injury derailed him a bit, I don’t see why they’d abandon those plans now. Balor has been a fantastic champion, and part of me does think they might just want to keep going with him. There’s the seed of doubt in my mind, but I just can’t bring myself to pick Balor to retain; it’d be a dumb move. It’s Kross’ time; let’s hope it can go as planned this time.

8 Times the Wrong Wrestler Won the Royal Rumble (and who should’ve won instead)

While the Royal Rumble is always an exciting time of year, and generally, the match itself is always enjoyable regardless of the winner, sometimes it can be hard to get around the fact that Rumbles are by and large remembered by their winners. This is fine for the most part, but there have been a few instances throughout history where thinking back, the winner seemed somewhat disappointing in the grand scheme of things.

Sometimes, when a Rumble winner is initially disappointing, it’s turned into an interesting story, and the whole thing works out in the long run, but that isn’t always the case. Thankfully, the 2021 Rumble winners seem to be excellent choices; however, in these instances, we’re going to discuss today, the person who won the Rumble either didn’t need it, failed to make any kind of impact in the long run, or was just a horrible choice compared to an alternative.

However, I’m not going to point out problems without suggesting solutions, so I will also cover who I believe should’ve won the Rumble match instead of the real winner, and we can have some fun speculating.

8 – Bret Hart & Lex Luger – 1994

A draw. The match ended in a draw.

Granted, the Rumble was still in its early days back then, so they could get away with more experimental stuff, but could you imagine how pissed off we’d all be these days if the Rumble ended in a draw? We’d be outraged and would mock it for decades to come, yet we all just seem to have accepted this one.

If I were to speculate, I think the reason this is the case is that Wrestlemania 10 ended up being a terrific show that told a pretty interesting story. However, no one ever gives a shit about Lex Luger’s role in that story. Seriously, whenever I hear anyone talk about this situation, it’s about how great Bret’s story was of wrestling Owen in the opener before coming back to defeat Yokozuna in the main event. Luger just gets completely forgotten.

Who should’ve won instead?

Bret Hart, on his own.

If you removed Luger from the occasion entirely, the whole story becomes so much better. You still make Bret wrestle Owen in the opener, and that match goes exactly the same way as it did in real life. The only difference is that you don’t have Luger wrestling Yokozuna earlier in the night, which means that come the main event, you have a fresh Yokozuna going up against Bret Hart, who not only put on a great match earlier in the night but lost.

You couldn’t ask for a better underdog story, and it would’ve added that extra layer of drama to the main event and an even bigger emotional exhale when Bret won the title. Not to mention, you don’t have to end the Royal Rumble in a sodding draw.

7 – Charlotte Flair – 2020

Truth be told, Charlotte winning this Rumble wasn’t actually that bad in the long run. Her story and match with Rhea Ripley was one of the highlights of Wrestlemania season this year, and the Rumble was a great place to start it. I just think there was a far better option on the table.

Who should’ve won instead?

Shayna Baszler.

Now, I know Baszler got her Mania match with Becky anyway, but I’d argue the Rumble would’ve been a far better way for her to get there. Consider what’s at play, Baszler entered in the number 30 spot in the Rumble that year, destroyed everyone in sight, only to get eliminated by Charlotte. It was a pretty underwhelming debut. Sure, she bounced back, but only after we had to sit through the most boring Elimination Chamber match I’ve ever seen.

If Baszler had won the Rumble, she would’ve come onto Raw with the kind of fire very few do, and you could’ve spent longer building her feud with Becky into something a lot more intense. You can still have Charlotte challenge Rhea for Mania because, let’s face it, all Charlotte would need to do is turn up in NXT and demand a match, or have Rhea show up on Raw and get in Charlotte’s face. Then, not only can you build a better story surrounding Lynch & Baszler, you don’t have to waste the Elimination Chamber on a match booked to be a complete and total snoozefest.

6 – Vince McMahon – 1999

I’m of two minds with this one. On the one hand, I can see how this Rumble win served the story, and it’s not like McMahon actually went on to fight at Wrestlemania, so what does it matter? However, I think there’s more to it than that. For one thing, this is one of the less-liked Rumbles as a whole, and I can see why it focused so heavily on McMahon & Austin that it felt like no one else involved in the match was even remotely important, other than maybe Chyna.

In many ways, wrestling fans view the Rumble as sacred. It only happens once a year (unless Saudia Arabia wants one) and to turn it into an hour-long angle like this wasn’t the best use of anyone’s time. I think this is a clear example of how wildly people’s opinion on things can change depending on who wins. The truth is, if McMahon had eventually been toppled at the final hurdle here, I think this match would be far more fondly remembered.

Who should’ve won instead?

Stone Cold Steve Austin

This one’s pretty straightforward. Austin ended up getting the title shot at Wrestlemania 15 anyway, so why bother taking us around in circles like this? It’s like the build to Wrestlemania 35’s main event, the perfect story was standing there, and it was so simple. Then, they added all these extra layers, and it took the shine off the apple, so to speak. If Austin had won this Rumble, even if you’d kept everything else the same, the match would’ve felt like a compelling story that reached the proper climax. Yes, we would’ve gone through some boredom, but it would’ve been worth it for the payoff.

Instead, we ended up with an underwhelming match with an underwhelming winner. Plus, regardless of the circumstances, it’s never a good look when the person in charge of the show books themselves to win a big match like this.

5 – Sheamus – 2012

I’ve made no secret that I’m not a big fan of Sheamus in the past. In all honesty, I like him a hell of a lot more than I used to, thanks to his work in The Bar and recently with Drew McIntyre, but for the early years of his time in WWE, I couldn’t stand the guy. I thought he was boring and not even that good of a wrestler. As such, I’ve never liked the fact that Sheamus won this Rumble.

While I do think he was one of the best opponents for Daniel Bryan at the time, I don’t think we needed the Rumble win to get there, especially when the match ended up being the 18 seconds atrocity that sent the entire wrestling fanbase into a furious frenzy for the next 3 years. While Sheamus had been building as a face over 2011, he didn’t feel like a worthy top guy just yet, and sometimes a Rumble win can serve that purpose, but this one really fell flat.

Who should’ve won instead?

Chris Jericho

The story was so perfect. Not only was Jericho vs Punk a match people were ready to pay like mad to see, but this was Jericho’s big return after a few years away from the business. Jericho vs Punk had a great build and ended up being a fantastic Wrestlemania match, so why the hell didn’t they kick it off the right way?

Well, that’s the thing that makes this sting so much. Jericho was originally supposed to win this Rumble. He was to make his surprise return and immediately become a conquering hero by winning the Rumble and challenging Punk. However, it leaked in the weeks before the event that Jericho was coming back, so WWE decided to completely change plans for the Rumble, cutting off their nose to spite their face.

WWE has never seemed to grasp the fact that just because something’s predictable doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. It’s true that sometimes when we’re expecting one thing and get something else, it’s a fantastic thrill (see Seth Rollins cashing in at Wrestlemania 31), but sometimes things are predictable because it’s what should happen. In films, when the hero defeats the villain and saves the day, people don’t complain that it’s ‘predictable’ because it’s the correct way to round off the story in a satisfying way.

It was a stupid knee-jerk reaction to something leaking online (it only leaked that Jericho was returning, by the way, not that he was going to win) and left everyone watching feel deflated.

4 – John Cena – 2013

So you know how I just said sometimes it’s fine when things are predictable? This was a case when being predictable was bad.

After Wrestlemania 28’s main event between The Rock & John Cena was billed as ‘once in a lifetime’, it would’ve been safe to assume that the match would’ve only happened…well…once. WWE would disagree, though, as, from the very beginning, the plan was to do the match twice on consecutive Wrestlemanias. I know we’re always asking for more long-term booking in WWE…but not like that.

As 2012 progressed and Cena’s story continued to focus on his downward spiral with The Rock, only for The Rock to show up at Raw 1000 (in July) and announce that he’s going to challenge for the title at the Royal Rumble (in January), it became clear to everyone what was going on. After carrying the company on his back for over a year, CM Punk was going to get snubbed for the Rock/Cena rematch that no one really cared about or wanted to see.

This meant that everyone knew who was going to win the Royal Rumble in July, half a year away from the actual event. Now THAT is a case of lousy predictability.

Who should’ve won instead?

The Rock

Now, hear me out. While the story between Rock & Cena was boring and no-one wanted to see it, CM Punk vs The Rock was still a match that people were excited to see, and rightly so, it was a good match (even with the weird booking at the end). So, why not have that be the Wrestlemania match instead? That way, Punk doesn’t get snubbed from the main event (potentially convincing him to stay with the company a little longer), and the fans don’t have to endure a rematch from the previous year that was way worse than the first one. Hell, make it a triple threat if you’re that scared about Cena having nothing to do.

It was a simple case of WWE making their plans two whole years in advance and then refusing to budge on them when a new star rose up and took the wrestling world by storm. By all means, plan out grand year-spanning storylines, but if the times change, you’ve got to change with them.

3 – Randy Orton – 2017

The 2017 Rumble was fascinating because it was the first time in a long while where the winner didn’t seem blindingly obvious. See, as much as there are 30 participants in a Royal Rumble, there are usually only one or two realistic contenders to win the thing. Sometimes this is obvious in how stars are booked towards the Rumble, or other times it’s because the dirt sheets have already leaked what WWE is planning for Wrestlemania that year. However, in 2017, everything was still up in the air, and there was a whole host of different people who could conceivably win.

Brock Lesnar, Goldberg & The Undertaker were a heavy focus in the build, and they were all set to collide in the Rumble. Bray Wyatt was building back up after a relatively lacklustre year, and Braun Strowman was seeing momentum like never before. All of these people and more would’ve been exciting choices to set up a match for Wrestlemania. It seemed like WWE had a win-win situation on their hands because the fans would seemingly be happy with any of these choices.

Then Randy Orton won. Unlike over the past year, Orton was still a somewhat dull character in 2017, and no one had any interest in seeing him compete for a world title at Wrestlemania. Everyone knew his current partnership with Bray Wyatt was going to explode sooner rather than later, and it’s not like we needed a Royal Rumble win to make that happen. Not to mention, it wasn’t even that interesting of a storyline, and no one wanted it to be the biggest of Mania season.

Who should’ve won instead?

Chris Jericho

By FAR the most compelling story going into Wrestlemania that year was the story between Kevin Owens & Chris Jericho. They had worked their asses off all year, with both men doing the most entertaining and genuinely funny stuff on WWE TV week to week. With the Universal Championship over Kevin Owens’ shoulder, the pairing had been the focus of Raw ever since the brand split in June 2016, and their story was that should’ve been the most important one heading into Wrestlemania.

The Festival of Friendship, where Owens turned on Jericho, happened about a month following the Rumble. It was one of, if not the best TV segment of the entire decade and think how much better it would’ve been knowing they had a Wrestlemania match on the horizon. Instead of going with what was clearly the most compelling storyline, WWE destroyed Owens’ credibility by having him drop the title to Goldberg like he was nothing for a Lesnar/Goldberg rematch that, while good, did not need the title AT ALL. Jericho & Owens did get their Wrestlemania match, but it was for the US title as the 2nd match on the show, and it felt so underwhelming because the story hadn’t been treated in the way it deserved.

2 – Batista – 2014

Much like with the Cena/Rock situation, this was a case of WWE having already made their plans and stubbornly sticking to them rather than realising what all of the fans were crying out for.

In the build-up to the 2014 Royal Rumble, it leaked that Batista would be returning for the match shortly after finishing filming the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Naturally, WWE smelt money in the waters and thought that they quite liked the idea of having the WWE Championship over the shoulder of Batista when he goes to all of those premiers and is all over the news. There was a problem, though, because the fans didn’t give a shit about Batista. They instead had their hearts set on a different, smaller, bearded wrestler.

Who should’ve won instead?

Daniel Bryan

The moment Rey Mysterio came out in the number 30 spot of that Royal Rumble, to the moment the show went off the air, the crowd booed and booed until their lungs gave out, and can you really blame them? Since last summer, people had been clamouring for Daniel Bryan to claim his place atop WWE, and over and over again, the people making the decisions told us no. They had characters tell Daniel Bryan that he wasn’t good enough repeatedly, and then the real people behind those characters would book Daniel Bryan to lose, making it seem like they were right. WWE is so needlessly combative with their own audience sometimes it’s genuinely baffling.

The fans didn’t take any of that shit, though, and essentially told WWE that we’re going to keep booing every ‘top guy’ you put in front of us until you give us Daniel Bryan. At the 2014 Royal Rumble, WWE refused to give us Daniel Bryan and stayed the course, and no-one was happy about it. What’s worse is that immediately after the Rumble, CM Punk (another star beloved by fans) walked out of the company over what we would later discover was a laundry list of horrible things that happened to him there over the years.

What’s so baffling is that making the fans happy in this circumstance was the easiest thing in the world. They were quite literally chanting Daniel Bryan’s name ALL. THE. TIME. And yet WWE decided to plug their ears and push forward because, once again, they seem to despise their own fans. The upside here is that, eventually, it worked, WWE relented, and Wrestlemania 30 ended with Daniel Bryan holding the world championship aloft. However, WWE could’ve saved themselves so much strife if they’d have woken up sooner and given the fans Daniel Bryan at the Royal Rumble.

It doesn’t end there, though, because one year later…

1 – Roman Reigns – 2015

…WWE still hadn’t learnt their lesson.

I’m not going to tease you with this one.

Who should’ve won instead?

Daniel Bryan.

Take what I said about 2014, add a year of Bryan being tragically out of action with an injury, only to return just in time for the 2015 Royal Rumble. The story was perfect. After 8 months of pain and suffering as Bryan recovered from his injuries, he stood with the perfect chance to reclaim the championship he never lost by toppling the company’s biggest monster in years in the form of Brock Lesnar.

Once again, though, WWE had made their plans, and it was time to once again bury their heads in the sand and ignore everything else going on around them. WWE decided Daniel Bryan wasn’t the plan they had in mind and completely ignored the fans for the second year in a row, instead giving us the new WWE manufactured star in the form of Roman Reigns. Once again, the fans weren’t as stupid as WWE hoped they’d be, and they saw it for what it was, a transparent attempt to try and create the next John Cena in the form of Roman Reigns.

What makes this so much worse than in 2014, though, is that this choice didn’t just deny Daniel Bryan. It actively hurt Roman Reigns’ career for YEARS. While there were many other issues with Roman Reigns around this time, I genuinely think that him winning this Royal Rumble is what made it as bad as it was. To be clear, after this Rumble, the fans booed even the mention of Roman Reigns’ name for years. People’s opinion on him didn’t soften until late 2018 when he got leukaemia, and EVEN THEN, people didn’t start to properly enjoy the man’s work until the summer of 2020.

For 5 years, Roman Reigns was this absolute toxic entity that caused the fans to immediately hate anything he was involved with. While him winning this Rumble isn’t the sole cause, I believe that if Daniel Bryan had won this Rumble instead, the fans would’ve got over it a hell of a lot quicker than they did.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Let me know what you think of these Royal Rumble winners and my alternate bookings, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here next week as it’s Wrestlemania week and I’ll be doing both predictions & reviews for both NXT Takeover: Stand & Deliver and Wrestlemania!