WWE Backlash 2021: Every Match Ranked

Our first post-Wrestlemania PPV is in the books, and it was pretty good. It suffered from a lack of stakes, as every show around this time of year does, but there were plenty of good-to-great matches on offer and only one baffling creative decision, which is pretty good for WWE.

7 – Damian Priest def. The Miz
(Lumberjack Match)

I’d love to comment about how well these two men matched up in the ring, but I cannot remember a single beat of in-ring action because of…well…the zombies.

I get it was just a giant advert, but the whole thing makes absolutely no sense to me. In kayfabe, were these supposed to be real zombies? Or people dressed as zombies? Because neither makes any sense. If they’re real zombies, why are they observing the rules of the lumberjack match, and why does no one else on the show care? If they’re just actors, The Miz shouldn’t give a shit because he could easily beat them all up at a moment’s notice.

I mean, it was certainly more interesting than the match I was envisioning, so I guess well done? It was still crap.

6 – Sheamus def. Ricochet
(Kickoff Show)

Not much to say here, a quick match with good action but a weird finish. I assume Sheamus just didn’t have enough room to get his foot up for the Brogue Kick. Don’t get me wrong, it was a brutal-looking knee-strike, just made for a very abrupt finish to the match.

5 – Rey Mysterio & Dominik Mysterio def. Dolph Ziggler & Robert Roode(c)
(Smackdown Tag Team Championships)

They really did their damndest to stack the odds, didn’t they?

I joke, but I think it made for a much more dramatic match, with more compelling stakes. Rey’s always been great at taking a beating and then fighting back from underneath, so he got to show his full arsenal in this match. Ziggler & Roode pulled out their fair share of innovative tag offence too. It’s nice to see them gel as a team just in time to lose the titles.

I thought the pacing was good for the most part, but each section dragged on just a bit too long. This match ended up being the second-longest on the show, and it really didn’t need to be. We knew Dominik would show up eventually, but they dragged it out for a bit too long. Then, even once he did show up, the dynamic of the match didn’t change; the Mysterios were still fighting from underneath the whole way.

That said, the action was still really good, and the story was compelling. On top of that, we got a nice moment with Rey & Dominik winning the tag titles, in what will hopefully inject a bit more life into the tag division on Smackdown.

4 – Rhea Ripley(c) def. Asuka & Charlotte Flair
(Raw Women’s Championship)

This was definitely an improvement on the Wrestlemania match. I still enjoyed the Wrestlemania match between Rhea & Asuka, but it was clear their chemistry wasn’t the best. Thankfully, adding Charlotte into the mix made up for that deposit, and her presence brought the best out of Rhea & Asuka. Rhea felt like the Rhea we saw in NXT for the first time since coming to Raw, while Asuka got to show more of the edge she’d been lacking since last summer.

The action was fast-paced and fun to watch from start to finish, which is exactly what I was hoping for. It didn’t fire off at the incredible pace of the triple threat for Takeover: In Your House last year, but they still pulled a lot of tricks out of the bag to bring up the energy. Towards the finish, they really put their foot on the accelerator, and it ramped up the excitement perfectly.

My only complaint was the awkwardness of the finish. After Charlotte kicked Asuka, it seemed like she was in a prime position to break up the pin, but the camera later showed she’d fallen to the floor for…no reason? It seems like this was more on production than anything else. Either the cameraman wasn’t in the correct position, or the director didn’t cut to the shot, but it made for a bit of confusion on the finish. Rhea winning was the right call, though, and hopefully, Charlotte will get sidelined with Alexa Bliss sooner rather than later, so we can stop worrying about WWE screwed Ripley out of the title.

3 – Bianca Belair(c) def. Bayley
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

I said in my predictions that I thought Bayley was the perfect first opponent for Belair, and I think this match proved my statement to be entirely accurate.

Bayley’s slightly more deranged attitude came through perfectly in this match and is yet another testament to how incredible she is at character work. It gave this match an extra layer of intensity and made Bianca’s ability to overcome it feel more earned. I thought the story of the hair being a key factor in the match was well done. They set it up like a Chekov’s Gun towards the start of the match, and it paid off in a great way that presented Bianca in an intelligent light.

The action throughout the match was really enjoyable and kept me engaged from start to finish. Bayley dominated the majority of the match, but her intermittent use of dirty tactics made it feel believable and didn’t cast anything bad on Bianca. Bianca’s flurries of offence were a lot more enjoyable because of it, and she was great at making me feel the effort she was going to in order to get back on top.

As I’ve said, the finish showcased Bianca’s intelligence and ‘veteran instincts’ but has also left the door open for a rematch if that’s the direction they want to go in. Personally, I think a Triple Threat between Bianca, Sasha & Bayley would be the best move going forward, but we’ll see.

2 – Roman Reigns(c) def. Cesaro
(Universal Championship)

I was amazed that this match got almost half an hour, but it was definitely worth it.

If you don’t think Cesaro is a main eventer after watching this match, then I honestly don’t know what to tell you because he knocked it out of the park. The match took a slower pace, but it was filled with powerful moves and technical back-and-forth action. Cesaro getting the upper hand early on and forcing Reigns to reset himself was a simple and effective way to establish Cesaro as someone who could hang with Reigns.

As things moved towards the middle, it dragged a little, but the action picked up and eased off at a good pace that kept pulling me back into it. Reigns established his dominance well, never drowning Cesaro out. Then, Cesaro got close with Reigns a few times towards the finish, although it never felt like he genuinely had Reigns beat. At least not in the same way Kevin Owens or Daniel Bryan did. Cesaro showed plenty of heart and resiliency by powering out of the Guillotine a couple of times but eventually succumbing to it in a strong performance that benefitted both men.

The stuff after the match is interesting. I think Cesaro vs Seth Rollins inside Hell in a Cell is the direction they’re going with this one, which is not what I would’ve done, but it’s alright. I suppose they could put Seth in with Roman & Cesaro for a triple threat, but it looks more to me like Reigns will be facing Jimmy Uso at the next PPV instead.

1 – Bobby Lashley(c) def. Drew McIntyre & Braun Strowman
(WWE Championship)

Three big beefy boys doing big beefy boy things.

This match was a hoss-fest full of chaos, and it was absolutely brilliant. Despite the fact that everyone knew he was never going to win, Strowman worked his ass off in this match and felt like the biggest threat of the thing. The moment where Lashley & Drew decide to team up take him output over his threat level more than anything did in the build. Drew & Bobby pulled their weight, too, and it created this brilliant feeling of all three men going all-out for the title.

Drew hitting Braun with the Claymore to send him over the barricade was great, and Bobby going through the LED board was a brilliant climactic spot to send us into the final act of the match. Momentum never stayed with one wrestler for very long, and that kept the pace going for an extremely brisk-feeling 16 minutes.

The finish gave Bobby a strong title retention but left the door open for both Drew & Braun to get a rematch if they wanted. Based on Raw last night, it looks like Bobby vs Drew is most likely for Hell in a Cell, which should hopefully be a killer end to their feud.

WWE Backlash 2021: Predictions & Analysis

There’s a Pay Per View this weekend? Oh, ok, I’ll do predictions then.

Wrestlemania already feels like it was aeons ago, but this show still managed to sneak up on me. It’s not been a particularly active month creatively for WWE, and even this show is still trying to cling to the Wrestlemania name. There’s some cool stuff lined up for this show, though, so it could end up being one of the more underrated ones of the year.

Damian Priest vs The Miz
(Lumberjack Match)

For a man who was WWE Champion just three months ago, The Miz is still being booked like a complete chump.

I really have no idea why this feud is still ongoing. Well, I do, it’s because they don’t have any other ideas for Damian Priest, but that’s beside the point. At least if Bad Bunny was still involved, I’d understand having the celebrity appeal, but we’re done with that now; Priest isn’t going to gain anything by beating The Miz again.

This match should be alright, but the Lumberjack stipulation could overbear on it a little. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of shenanigans involving said Lumberjacks. I just hope this isn’t some lame excuse to give The Miz a cheap win. Just let Priest get the win here and wash his hands of The Miz. I’m pretty sure John Morrison’s going to turn on The Miz soon too, so hopefully, that goes somewhere.

It might be a stupid heel win, but I’m going with Damian Priest to get the win on this one. He’s still a fresh face, this is the first PPV singles match, so he has to win.

Dolph Ziggler & Robert Roode(c) vs Rey Mysterio & Dominik Mysterio
(Smackdown Tag Team Championships)

Smackdown has tag titles? Who knew.

As much as I mock, Smackdown does have the makings of a great tag scene right now. Ziggler & Roode are pretty good heels, even if they don’t have the best chemistry. The Street Profits are extraordinary, Otis & Gable have good chemistry, the Mysterios are tremendous, and The Usos are back in action now.

Speaking of The Usos, word on the dirt sheets is that they’re going to get together and beat a face tag team for the titles, so I don’t fancy Ziggler & Roode’s chances in this one. Even without that, I doubt they’d hold onto the titles here anyway. Their heel run has been fine, but I think it’s run its course. The Mysteries have a more fresh and exciting feel to them, and I’d like to see Dominik start to get some credible accolades under his belt.

Even if they are only going to hold the titles briefly, I think Rey Mysterio & Dominik Mysterio are coming out of this one as the champions, in a feel-good family moment.

Bianca Belair(c) vs Bayley
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

Simply put, Bayley is the perfect first opponent for Bianca.

Even putting how incredible she’s been since turning heel aside, Bayley’s character is so perfectly opposed to Bianca in every way, it feels like they’re destined to be eternal rivals. Everything that went on between them in the build-up to the Royal Rumble was pure gold, and now they’re back at it again, and it’s a joy to watch.

Bianca’s match with Sasha at Mania was one of the best of the year so far, and I’m expecting a similar level of performance from these two, provided it’s not poorly booked. The matches they’ve had here and there on Smackdown were great, so giving it 15-20 minutes on PPV is all you need to satisfy me here.

Bianca Belair will win because she absolutely should. Her crowning as champion was the emotional high-point of Wrestlemania, and it would be a travesty to see it snatched away so suddenly. Sasha may get involved to screw with this match, but I’m hoping any such shenanigans happen after the match, not during.

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

I’ve had pretty mixed feelings about this whole feud.

I think Lashley has been a fantastic champion so far. He’s got a presence and intensity like something we haven’t see in a long time, and MVP as his mouthpiece makes him this brilliant total package. Drew’s been ok as a challenger, but I feel like he’s lacked a lot of fire since losing at Wrestlemania, the intense spark that he had while chasing Lesnar for the title isn’t there this time. Admittedly, creative isn’t giving him much to grab onto, but what can you do?

Strowman’s presence is fine. I didn’t want to see Drew & Lashley go one on one again anyway, so why not throw in a third hoss to this contest of big beefy boys. As much as the build hasn’t been super interesting, I think this could be a killer match if all three men are allowed to go wild. They could really try to destroy each other, and it’d be tonnes of fun to watch.

Picking a winner is tricky. Some people have said Strowman’s just there so Drew doesn’t have to pass out again, while others have said it’s so Lashley can lose the title without being pinned. I think one of them is correct, but I don’t know which one. I expected Drew to win the title back at Mania, and when he didn’t, it signified to me that WWE was choosing to run with Lashley for the time being. As such, I don’t see why they’d back down on that plan now. So I’m going with Bobby Lashley to retain the title.

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

The weird circumstances surrounding Charlotte’s lack of participation at Mania seems to have brought the best out of the situation. I couldn’t be more thrilled at Rhea getting to hold the title. I know people are upset that Asuka’s not being treated so great, but she was champion for almost a year, she can go on the back burner for a bit, and it won’t hurt.

Charlotte, meanwhile, has reverted back to her heel persona, which is where she should always be. She was a face so briefly, but even in that short time, it was clear that it wasn’t working. People just aren’t willing to cheer her, and she performs so well as a heel that her face work comes off as disingenuous. Regardless, this is a triple threat match between three of the best women’s wrestlers active in WWE right now, so I’m excited to see what’s they can do when all put together.

I don’t know where the result is going through. Rhea should win, that much is obvious. She’s only had the title for a month, and it would totally undercut her Wrestlemania moment. That said, the momentum is 100% in Charlotte’s corner. She has been the driving force of this story, and it would almost seem weird for WWE to go so hard on this angle and not put the title on Charlotte. On the flip side, there is the looming spectre of a Becky Lynch return, which could be a straightforward device to sideline Charlotte for a while without giving her the title.

At the end of the day, I’m going with Rhea Ripley because it would be a disaster for her title reign to end so soon, and I’m putting a little faith in WWE to do the right thing.

Roman Reigns(c) vs Cesaro
(Universal Championship)

FINALLY.

It felt like we’d never see the day, but here we are; Cesaro is getting a one on one shot for a world title in WWE. Even though there’s no way he’s winning, it feels good to see. He’s been a force of nature since Wrestlemania too. His association with Daniel Bryan kept him in the backseat while boiling up for a while, and finishing out his feud with Seth Rollins was enjoyable to watch. Since he’s had his sights set fully on Roman, it feels like the Cesaro we’ve known was there this whole time can finally shine.

I have pretty high expectations of this match. I know there will be some Uso-based interferences (there always are), but there’s a lot these two guys can work with. Reigns always wrestles a powerful style, and Cesaro can absolutely match that while bringing in an extra dose of technicality. Cesaro should really be able to take Reigns to his limits, and that’s what will do him good in the long run.

As I’ve said, Roman Reigns is absolutely going to retain, but that’s ok. If Cesaro puts on the killer performance he’s capable of, he’ll have the momentum that’ll stop him from falling back into obscurity once this is all over.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Let me know what your predictions are, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here early next week for my review!

WWE Fantasy Booking: A Better 2020

So I’ve never tried my hand at fantasy booking before because I think there are people out there on the web who do it better than me (looking at you, Mr Blampied), but this was a fun idea I came up with, so I’m giving it a go.

Every year when we look back on the year that was in WWE, we see a lot of glaring errors they made, and we wonder what could’ve been. So I thought, hey, let’s try and analyse what should’ve been in 2020. Obviously, this will be heavily influenced by what I did & didn’t like, so I may make some choices you disagree with, but that’s why this is fantasy.

I’m not going to be rebooking every single storyline that happened in the company in 2020; I don’t have the time or energy for that. So instead, my goal here is to run through the year focusing on the major things I would change, explain a little bit about why and see where the company would be at the end of 2020 had they done things my way. As such, if I don’t mention something, it’s safe to assume I’d just leave it the same as it was.

Now some rules:

– This is just going to be rebooking of Raw & Smackdown’s storylines from 2020

– While injuries are often a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ thing, it can be a bit uncomfortable to book around these things, so I’m going to say that any injuries that happened in 2020 still happened and lasted for the same length of time.

– Finally, I’m keeping any/all NXT call-ups in the same place they happened in real-life because changing that would potentially change NXT storylines, and I don’t want to touch that.

With that established, let’s start this booking with…

January

So we’re all on the same page at the start; here were the champions in WWE at the start of 2020.

Raw:

WWE Champion – Brock Lesnar

Raw Women’s Champion – Becky Lynch

United States Champion – Andrade

Raw Tag Team Champions – The Viking Raiders

Women’s Tag Team Champions – The Kabuki Warriors

Smackdown:

Universal Champion – The Fiend Bray Wyatt

Smackdown Women’s Champion – Bayley

Intercontinental Champion – Shinsuke Nakamura

Smackdown Tag Team Champions – The New Day

24/7 Champion – I’m not dealing with this title, and you can’t make me

Truth be told, in January, there isn’t all that much I would change. Rumble season is always a bit quiet where the titles are concerned, and 2020 was no different. The Fiend vs Daniel Bryan feud was reaching its peak. Meanwhile, on the women’s side of things, Bayley was having an ok feud with Lacey Evans and Becky Lynch was having a brilliant feud with Asuka.

There were two title changes in January that I would like to undo, though. Firstly, The Viking Raiders lost their tag titles to Seth Rollins & Buddy Murphy. At the time, I saw this as a good move as Rollins’ story was starting to heat up, but with the power of hindsight, I can see that it went nowhere, so I’m just not doing it. Instead, I’d prefer to keep the titles on the Raiders for an exciting Wrestlemania feud. Secondly, Shinsuke Nakamura does not lose the Intercontinental Championship to Braun Strowman. Strowman ended up being a transitional champion to get the title from Nakamura to Zayn, but A) Braun Strowman should not be a transitional champion, and B) I think there’s a far more exciting way to get the title from Nakamura to Zayn a little later down the line.

As for the Rumble matches, I’d keep the men’s rumble EXACTLY the same. The 2020 men’s rumble was utterly brilliant, and I don’t want to change a single thing about it, including Drew McIntyre’s win. Truth be told, I’m not going to be changing much about Drew McIntyre’s story in 2020 because I really enjoyed most of it. On the women’s Rumble side, the only thing I want to change is the winner, which will be Shayna Baszler. Charlotte winning the Rumble was a good excuse to kick off her feud with Rhea Ripley, but it was ultimately unnecessary. Charlotte could just show up in NXT one week, and it’d have the same effect, maybe even better, because it’ll be a surprise. On top of that, you have the immediate shock factor of Shayna showing up on the main roster and winning the Rumble, which means you don’t have to waste an Elimination Chamber building her up.

February

First thing’s first, the night after Royal Rumble, Shayna Baszler immediately announces that she’s coming for Becky Lynch’s title at Wrestlemania. This is a feud that should’ve got far more intense than it did, and I want to start building it straight away. This first month should be this “anything you can do, I can do better” competition between Baszler & Lynch, where both women try to assert dominance in this game of one-upmanship. I’ll go into more detail with that when we get to March.

Next, it’s time to head to Saudi Arabia for Super ShowDown and oh dear…

Truthfully, this wasn’t actually that terrible of a show (at least, compared to other Saudi shows WWE have done); it just had one or two majorly terrible things that happened during it. Firstly, Brock Lesnar squashed Ricochet. I’m actually not changing this, I’d just make the match a little longer and let Ricochet get a tiny bit more offence in. Nothing major, just…something. Also, now The Viking Raiders are still tag champs, I would have them retain the titles over The OC. In real life, this was a match between Rollins & Murphy and The Street Profits, but I’m saving The Street Profits for a little later.

The show also saw the start of The Undertaker vs AJ Styles feud, and I’m going to change that because the way they did it here was DUMB. Instead of having The Undertaker show up, win a match he wasn’t in and then leave the trophy behind, AJ Styles is going to win the trophy. Then, on Raw the next week, Styles will show up with the trophy, he leaves it on the ramp during his match, then, at the end of the match, The Undertaker’s gong hits, the lights come down, ‘lightning’ strikes the trophy and it shatters. From there, you can build the story pretty much as it was; I just think this is a better way to start it.

The big one, though, arguably the biggest mistake WWE made the entire year, was having Goldberg beat The Fiend to win the Universal Championship. This was a terrible idea for all kinds of reasons, and I’m not going to waste time going over them all here. But, all you need to know is I’m reversing that result, and in this world, The Fiend beats Goldberg and retains the Universal Championship.

March

Thanks to the stupid Saudi show being in a stupid place on the calendar, we kick March off immediately with Elimination Chamber. This will be a meaty one; we’ve got a lot of Wrestlemania matches to set up.

First up, the Intercontinental Championship. In real life, Strowman faced Nakamura, Zayn & Cesaro in a 3 on 1 handicap match, Zayn got the pin, won the title, and both Nakamura & Cesaro were just fine with that for some reason. So, I’m making a few changes.

Firstly, as I said in January, Nakamura never lost the title to Strowman in this universe, so he goes in as the champion. Secondly, rather than being a 3 on 1 handicap match for the title, it’s a Fatal 4 Way, Nakamura vs Zayn vs Cesaro vs Strowman. This means the heels can still team up to take the monster down, but you can have fun with their conflicting egos. The finish of this match will involve Nakamura & Cesaro teaming up to take Strowman down, like, REALLY putting the work in to topple the monster. They smash him with finishers, ending with a double-superplex from the top rope, wiping out all three men. At which point, Zayn slides in the ring, pins Strowman and wins the title. This gets the title on Zayn as I want and can start to give us cracks in the skin of The Artist’s Collective, as Nakamura would naturally be pissed Sami stole his title.

Next, the Raw Women’s Championship. Since Shayna Baszler has already won the Rumble, this will be for the title instead of a Wrestlemania match. Baszler essentially goads Lynch into putting her title on the line in the Chamber as part of their game of one-upmanship that they’ve been locked in since the Rumble. The participants will be mostly the same as they were in real life, except I’ll swap out Shayna for Becky, as Becky’s the champion, and Asuka for Kairi Sane because…well, I felt like it. Becky obviously retains, but Shayna attacks Becky after the match and here is where we ramp up the brutality and intensity of this feud going forward.

Finally, we’re going to have ourselves another Chamber match to determine The Fiend’s Wrestlemania opponent. The six men I’d put in this match are Roman Reigns, Jeff Hardy, Kofi Kingston, Baron Corbin, Sheamus & John Cena.

Now here, we have to make an awkward decision.

If I was booking like WWE was at the time, I would have Roman win, but I’m sitting here in 2021, and I know that the COVID-19 pandemic will become a lot more severe and force Roman to miss Wrestlemania. So do I book with the power of hindsight? Or do I act like I would’ve if I was in the moment, not knowing the effect COVID would have on Wrestlemania? Given that this is fantasy booking and most of what I’m doing is with the power of hindsight anyway, I’m going to say that I do book knowing the effects COVID will have.

As such, the winner of this match is John Cena.

April

It’s Wrestlemania time! And this show is going to look pretty similar to the real thing, just a few tweaks.

First up, Roman Reigns. Now, as I’ve already addressed, he missed Wrestlemania due to being vulnerable to COVID. However, since he didn’t pull out until a week before the show, WWE would still book him in a match, which is why I’d book Roman vs Goldberg, just not for the title, as The Fiend still has that. Then you can do the same thing that happened in real life where you substitute in Braun Strowman and have him beat Goldberg instead.

After keeping the Raw Tag Titles on The Viking Raiders for a few extra months, here is where they fight The Street Profits. The story to this could’ve been great, and the match would’ve been even better as The Street Profits never beat The Viking Raiders in NXT. You can still do the weird skit stuff after Mania if you want, I thought most of it was pretty funny, but the build to this should be serious, and the match will hopefully be great. The Street Profits will win the titles and do what they did in real life for the rest of the year.

Next, the United States Championship, and this is a bit of a weird one. Andrade actually missed Wrestlemania because of an injury, which surely means I can’t have him around, right? Well, I’m actually going to break my own rule here. Andrade’s injury only kept him out of action for a couple of weeks, and it didn’t seem to be that serious. So, I think it’s fair to call it a ‘wrong time, wrong place’ kind of injury, and with what I’m booking, he’ll be in a different place at a different time and hopefully won’t get injured. Which is good because I’m booking a Fatal 4 Way match with Andrade, Angel Garza, Humberto Carrillo & Rey Mysterio. Andrade had been involved with all these guys by the start of 2020, and it’s a shame it never led to anything interesting, so I’m getting something good out of it here. On top of that, Andrade is going to retain.

Jumping over to Smackdown, we have Sami Zayn vs Daniel Bryan for the Intercontinental Championship. So, after Zayn stole the title from Nakamura, The Artist’s Collective looked to be falling apart, but Zayn managed to win them back over, albeit things are still uneasy. Zayn then carries on doing his thing, which eventually causes Cesaro & Nakamura to abandon him, meaning they’re not in his corner for this match. This means that we get to have Zayn vs Bryan with absolutely no outside shenanigans, yes please. I’m also going to change the result and give the title to Daniel Bryan. Sami Zayn would leave the company for a few months because he didn’t want to put himself at risk of COVID. So once again, I’m using the power of hindsight to make sure he doesn’t have the title when that happens. Plus, it means Daniel Bryan gets to do great wrestling with the IC title for a few months.

For the Universal Championship, The Fiend defends against John Cena, which will be exactly how it was in real life. The Firefly Funhouse match was a creative masterstroke, and I want to keep it exactly the same. The only difference will be that there’s a title on the line, adding that wrinkle of Cena’s potential 17th world title. When it’s all said and done, The Fiend retains.

The only thing left that I’m going to change is Becky Lynch vs Shayna Baszler. For one thing, it should go longer than EIGHT pissing minutes. Lynch main-evented the show last year, and you’re not even going to give her 10 minutes to work with the next year? Piss off with that; this is a 15-20 minute match. Secondly, and this one is obvious, Shayna Baszler wins the title. With the power of hindsight, we know that Becky wouldn’t be able to defend her title anymore anyway due to getting pregnant, but even if you pretend you don’t know that, it’s so clearly the right move. Shayna’s run of dominance in NXT is one of the best things to ever happen to that brand – which REALLY saying something – it absolutely blows my mind that Vince can’t see anything in her for the main roster. Baszler is MONEY, and she is holding that Raw Women’s title well past the end of 2020 in my universe.

That’s it for things I would change, all the other results I’m keeping just the same.

May

Now we’re past Wrestlemania, things need to cool down a bit, and we can start to lay out some plans for the rest of the year. The first port of call for which is Money in the Bank.

In an ideal world, we would be building to a Shayna/Lynch rematch for this show, but as I’ve said, Lynch is pregnant by this point, so that’s off the table. So instead, Lynch just disappears after Wrestlemania, maybe showing up one week to make her announcement, because that was a lovely moment. With that off the table, though, I’m just going to go for Baszler getting to look extremely dominant, beating both Liv Morgan & Ruby Riott in a triple threat match.

On the title defence front, Daniel Bryan’s first post-Mania feud will also be a triple threat, as Shinsuke Nakamura & Cesaro team up on Bryan to get back the title Zayn stole from them. However, they will be unsuccessful. Then, with the Universal Championship, The Fiend, having erased John Cena from WWE, is going to start dismantling all our other heroes too. Jeff Hardy calls out The Fiend but deeply regrets it come Money in the Bank when The Fiend wipes the floor with him.

Not every championship is staying put, though, as Andrade’s reign with the United States Championship is coming to an end, and here’s where I feel a little cruel. In real life, Apollo Crews was the man to take Andrade down, but that’s not who I’m having it be. It’s not because I think Crews was a bad choice; he was a good champion. There’s just someone I’d rather have the title and could be built up even bigger with it around his waist. That man is Aleister Black.

What we’re all looking forward to, though, is the Money in the Bank ladder matches themselves. Keep the entire premise of the match the same, although it was a bit too silly for some, personally, I loved the weird fever dream that was the cinematic Money in the Bank match last year. As for the winners, on the women’s side, I’m keeping that the same and having Asuka win. However, as Baszler is the champion in this timeline, Asuka will hold onto the briefcase for a little while rather than being handed the title straight away.

On the men’s side, it’s not going to be Otis, that was shit, and I’m not giving it to The Miz either because 2021 proved that it was entirely pointless. Instead, I’m going to give it to Bobby Lashley. Lashley’s run with the US title in the latter half of 2020 with The Hurt Business was terrific, but I can’t give him that title for this rebooking due to some plans I’ve got in place, so he can run with the briefcase instead. Plus, when the time comes for the cash-in in February 2021, things are much more straightforward, with Lashley taking the title from Drew straight off the bat, rather than using The Miz as a middle-man.

June

Straight out of the gate in June, Cesaro & Shinsuke Nakamura will win the Smackdown tag titles from The New Day. This happened in July in real life, but I’m pushing it forward a month. No real reason, I just wanted Cesaro & Nakamura to have a longer reign. That’s not the only title change, though, as AJ Styles is going to beat Daniel Bryan to become Intercontinental Champion, and this is where the IC title roughly falls back into the same path as real life.

The Fiend will continue to murder our heroes, this time Kofi Kingston is up on the chopping block. I don’t want this to be too dominant a victory, as Kofi deserves better than what he got at the end of his 2019 WWE title reign, but he will ultimately be vanquished by the Eater of Worlds.

Over on Raw, Lashley having the MITB briefcase means he can’t fight Drew at Backlash, so I’m going to pull a quick substitution and put Kevin Owens in against Drew here instead. He won’t need to turn heel for this; you can keep it face vs face pretty easily. I know this leads to Owens taking a big loss, but given that WWE were doing absolutely nothing with him around this time anyway, I’d argue this is still better.

Aleister Black’s first major feud with the US title can be with Apollo Crews because I feel bad about taking that title reign away from him. You know that match these two had on the Raw after Wrestlemania? The one that went 20 minutes and was really bloody good? Yeah, we’re just going to let them have that match at Backlash instead, and everyone will probably enjoy that.

With the Raw Women’s Title, Baszler will continue her run of dominance against Natalya. However, after the match, Asuka will come out with the briefcase and declare that she will be cashing in…at Summerslam.

July

One of the more uneventful months now, as we’re mostly biding our time until Summerslam.

On Raw, Aleister Black will defend his US title against Ricochet, playing off how they came onto the main roster as a tag team, and it’ll hopefully be a great match, not to mention a new one. The Raw Women’s Championship scene is going to heat up a bit too, with Asuka’s cash-in looming on the horizon, Baszler will defend her title against Kairi Sane. These two made magic in NXT, and I’d love to see some of that on the main roster, plus Sane & Asuka’s allegiance keeps Asuka at the forefront of the action in the build to Summerslam, as well as teasing Asuka vs Kairi, which would be a match people would want to see. Unfortunately, Kairi isn’t going to win, as she would retire from in-ring competition around this time. Hopefully, this was a worthy sendoff for her. Certainly better than Nia Jax almost killing her.

Over on Smackdown, Styles defends his IC title against Daniel Bryan, and we’re starting The Fiend vs Braun Strowman feud at last. One of the main problems with that feud in real life is that it just dragged on forever. They fought at Money in the Bank, then they forgot about it for a month until Bray suddenly showed up again, and they kept going for another couple of months. I’m shortening it by waiting until now to start it. You could do the cinematic match that happened in real life, but I thought it was crap, so I won’t. Instead, I’m going to have this be similar to the Money in the Bank match from real life, with the funhouse version of Bray fighting Braun instead. The only difference here is Bray will retain, but you can get some spooky shenanigans involved, so it’s not clean.

August

Summerslam time, and here I’m actually changing quite a bit.

First up, Retribution. As much as I think the whole idea of this faction is a bit naff, I’m going to do my best to improve it. I’ll keep most of the things about their introduction the same, but fuck those masks and fuck those stupid codenames. Let them be the same people they were in NXT; just give them more of an aggressive edge. Additionally, have them only show up on Raw, but DON’T give them contracts because that was DUMB. Just keep them as a presence that could strike at any moment and wreck Raw week in and week out.

At Summerslam, Aleister Black will be defending his United States Championship against Cedric Alexander, and this is where Retribution get involved in the show. During the match, Mustafa Ali’s music hits, and he comes down the ramp. Everyone’s a little confused as to why until Retribution jumps the barricade and storm the ring. Once they’ve taken Black & Cedric out, Ali gets in the ring and stands at the head of the faction as they all unmask themselves. We actually get to see their faces, and all of them, Ali, Dijakovic, Dio Madden, Shane Thorne & Mia Yim, stand in the ring until being chased off by security. More on this next month.

Elsewhere on the card, Jeff Hardy wins the Intercontinental Championship from AJ Styles. Again, keeping this the same as in real life, but let’s actually put it on Summerslam because that just feels better. Bayley continues her run as Smackdown Women’s Champion, but she’s not getting involved with Asuka in this timeline. Sasha & Bayley still win the women’s tag titles, but Sasha doesn’t get her hands on the Raw women’s title, and at Summerslam, Bayley will be defending against Alexa Bliss.

Shayna Baszler vs Asuka is up next, and this is another point where I feel bad about the decision I’m making. Asuka’s run as Raw Women’s Champion in 2020 was great for the most part, and she absolutely deserves it, but this really is Shayna’s year. Shayna shouldn’t take a loss until at least Wrestlemania 37 in this universe, so she will retain her title over Asuka in this one.

The main event goes on as it did in real life, ending in the exact same way with Roman showing up and laying waste to everyone.

But wait! That’s not all!

For some strange reason, WWE booked another PPV a week after Summerslam, so I’ve got to book that too.

Randy Orton vs Keith Lee is up first, and I’m making a slight change in that this will now become a number 1 contender’s match for Drew’s WWE title, which Lee will win, as he did in real life. I want to keep the Drew/Orton feud, but I think it went on too long, so I’m breaking it up in the middle here with Keith Lee instead.

Secondly, Bayley & Sasha lose their tag titles, as they did in real life, however, Baszler & Nia Jax aren’t a tag team in this universe, so I’m putting the titles back on The IIconics because…it’s The IIconics.

Finally, Roman Reigns wins the Universal title from The Fiend. I know it’s unceremonious and not a great end to The Fiend’s title reign, but Reigns’ run in the latter half of 2020 was SO good, and I don’t want to change any of it.

September

The Intercontinental Championship gets firmly back on the path it had in real life now, with Sami Zayn returning and winning the title at Clash of Champions. The only change I’d suggest is maybe throwing Daniel Bryan into that ladder match too. Not required, but it might be fun. Drew McIntyre vs Keith Lee will be a great match, but Drew will ultimately retain. This serves more as a launching platform for Keith Lee than anything else; it would be a bad idea for him to win the title so soon. I’d have it be clean and let Orton attack Drew after the match, but if you wanted to protect Lee, you could have Orton spoil the match. Shayna Baszler will pick up a feud with Nia Jax now and wrestle circles around her with ease…that’s all I have to say about that.

Now, we pick up the Retribution thread again. The idea around this group should focus on what Ali has touched on a lot online recently about them being ‘underutilised’ wrestlers. Here, you can use the established identities of the group’s members to enhance this story. Dijakovic was constantly passed over in NXT for guys like Keith Lee. Shane Thorne was never given a proper opportunity to get off the ground, and Dio Madden was cast away from Raw commentary as quickly as he arrived. These aren’t complicated motivations, just use the character-building you already have right in front of you.

Anyway, after they ruin the US title match at Summerslam, Cedric runs off to join The Hurt Business while Aleister Black sets his sights on the faction. Once again, Retribution DO NOT get given Raw contracts. They are an outside force that is wrecking the shows; why would you ever hire them? They demand contracts from Adam Pearce, but he refuses them time and time again, so their antics get more violent, one week they’re actually on the brink of cutting the power and taking Raw off the air in the middle of the show when Black comes in and chases them off with a surprise attack.

This is the only time Black gets one up on the group, as after this, Retribution focuses solely on Black. Black wants to fight them, but Pearce won’t let him because “it’s too dangerous” or something like that, but Black won’t be deterred. Eventually, Black goes over his head and gets Vince involved, who makes a match, Aleister Black vs Mustafa Ali for the United States Championship at Clash of Champions. Ali forcibly adds the condition that if he wins, Retribution gets Raw contracts. Pearce pleads with Vince to not do that, but Vince blows him off with a cocky attitude because “no-one’s ever beaten me at this game before”.

So at Clash of Champions, Ali beats Black, wins the United States Championship and contracts for Retribution. On Raw the week after, Pearce can go to Vince and be like, “what do we do now?” to which Vince is like, “that sounds like a you problem”, and peaces out of there.

We’re not quite done in September yet either, as I’m booking Sasha Banks vs Bayley for Clash of Champions. While I think this feud was great, it was a bit disappointing that we only got one match out of it. So instead of having this feud weirdly skip this show, this is where it starts, and Sasha wins the title straight away. This might seem like an odd choice, but here we can play up the story of Sasha being unable to defend her titles, and that’s where the drama comes from in the Hell in a Cell rematch.

October

Heading into the final quarter of the year now, and here’s where my changes start to wind down. The rest of the year is more about seeing through all of the stuff I’ve already set up rather than bringing in anything new.

The major thing that happens in October is the draft, and while I did think about rebooking it, the more I thought about it, the more of a nightmare it became, so I’m keeping it as is. I’m including the New Day splitting up in that too. I still think it was a bad decision, but Big E has really started to flourish as a singles competitor (again) throughout the start of 2021, so I’m keeping him on that course.

Looking to this month’s Pay-Per-View, Hell in a Cell, and things are looking pretty similar. Banks & Bayley can still have their Cell match. Only Sasha will now be going in as champion. I think this will be better because the feud will have had more time to reach the kind of heat that would require the Cell, plus you can centre the story around Banks not being able to defend her titles. Banks will win, and she can carry on as she did in real life from now on. On the Raw women’s side, Shayna Baszler defends her title against Mandy Rose. Not much to say here, Shayna retains.

The US title scene heats up now as Retribution is going to get involved with The Hurt Business (now with Cedric Alexander) as they did in real life. However, this time, Retribution will not lose and be made to look like fools every week. The central point of the feud for this month is going to be Ali vs Shelton Benjamin for the US title because Lashley’s got the Money in the Bank briefcase. The match will play out at Hell in a Cell, and there should be a lot going on around ringside for this one. Everyone in both factions should be getting involved. Said chaos leads to Benjamin getting caught up in the crossfire, and Ali gets the win. It’s not a clean win for Ali, but he should be able to hold his own in the match against Benjamin. I feel the need to specify this because, let’s be honest, in real life, Ali would be booked like a chump, and I don’t want that.

Finally, Drew vs Randy happens inside the Cell, as in real life. However, because of our detour with Keith Lee, people won’t have seen this match twice already and will hopefully be more up for it. The key difference here is that Drew is going to retain. I don’t know if WWE made plans and then changed their minds when they gave the title to Orton, but it seemed really dumb for Orton to win the title, only for Drew to get it back a few weeks later. This way, Drew gets to keep one continuous run as champ and doesn’t go into Survivor Series off the back of a huge loss.

November

Survivor Series time, and hey, you know all those Champion vs Champion matches? FUCK ‘EM! They’re gone. I’ll keep the men’s & women’s 5 on 5 tags as they are so you can still sell the show on the Raw vs Smackdown aspect, but the champion vs champion matches are horrible and pointless. Never mind the fact that everyone (including the characters) forget about them the moment the show ends, but it just makes one of your champions look weak, and that’s really dumb. The only change I’ll make to the tag matches is that Bianca Belair wins and is the sole survivor because that thing with Lana pouting like a schoolgirl then winning by accident was crap.

What to do with all these champions who now don’t have matches, though? I’m glad you asked. Sami Zayn can defend against Apollo Crews because they had a mini-feud around this time. Sasha Banks can defend against Tamina because, why not? Might be fun. Shayna Baszler will continue her run of dominance by blasting through Mickie James; haven’t seen her in a while. Roman can have a one and done match with Rey Mysterio because I think it’d be great, and Drew can start his program with AJ Styles a month early, with a regular match here, before getting more hardcore for TLC.

That just leaves Ali. He and Retribution are going to continue their feud with The Hurt Business. Initially, Cedric steps up to be the next to challenge Ali, but MVP says no, he wants this dealt with, and he wants it dealt with now, so Bobby Lashley challenges Ali instead. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go well. Once again, the two factions go at it at ringside during the match, except this time, it’s Cedric who accidentally knocks Lashley. Ali takes advantage and once again gets away with the title.

December

Our final month of the year, and straight away, I have to say that on the Smackdown side of things…nothing changes. The Banks vs Carmella feud gave us a good match, Big E winning the IC title on Christmas day was great, and the Reigns vs Owens feud was brilliant. Smackdown was really good in December, a streak it’s still somewhat keeping up now, so I don’t want to change any of it.

Raw is a different story, though. The Drew/Styles feud will keep ticking along, leading to a TLC match, only hopefully with more build now, and also there is no cash-in because Miz doesn’t have the briefcase.

While I’d love to end this on some massive high for Baszler’s title reign, it doesn’t really need one. This whole year since Baszler won the title has just been about letting her have good matches and getting dominant wins over a HUGE variety of opponents to solidify her as a main-event star for years to come. There are a bunch of different ways you can go heading into Mania 37 with Baszler. Charlotte vs Baszler would be a money match, Rhea Ripley vs Baszler would have great story potential as Rhea was the one to unseat Baszler in NXT. You could even have Baszler face off against Fiend-ified Alexa Bliss if you want something new and weird. However, this booking is just about 2020, so for now, Baszler defends her title in a chaotic tables match with Nikki Cross.

The Raw tag titles! Haven’t talked about those for a while. In real life, The New Day lost them to The Hurt Business at TLC; that isn’t happening here. The New Day are essentially going to get caught up in the war between Retribution & The Hurt Business. Both teams will try to take the titles from The New Day, but the two factions keep screwing each other over. This culminates at TLC with a triple threat tag match, The New Day vs Dio Madden & Dominick Dijakovic of Retribution vs Shelton Benjamin and…Bobby Lashley of The Hurt Business.

What’s Cedric Alexander doing? I hear you ask. Well, after Cedric accidentally cost Lashley his match for the US title at Survivor Series, The Hurt Business have been a bit pissed off at him. MVP essentially tells him, “you’ve made this mess, you clean it up”, and Ali vs Cedric for the US title is set for TLC. Additionally, because of how chaotic the fighting has got between the two factions, Adam Pearce decrees that the extra members of each faction are banned from ringside. To enforce this, he also states that if Retribution interferes, Ali will be stripped of the US title, and if The Hurt Business interferes, Lashley will be stripped of the Money in the Bank briefcase.

The Raw tag title match goes on first, and that is won by Retribution after Dijakovic pins Shelton Benjamin. Ali carries this momentum into his US title match. However, Ali underestimates Cedric, and they have a very even match. It comes down to the wire, but with the pressure on, Cedric pulls it off, wins the US title from Ali and is welcomed back with open arms by The Hurt Business.

From here, we should separate these teams and bring an end to the feud because it’s been going on for a while. Retribution can focus on defending their tag titles, first in a rematch with The New Day and then wherever, while Cedric can be the golden child of The Hurt Business for a bit. Lashley will be cashing in his briefcase to win the WWE Championship come February, so it doesn’t hurt him one bit to take a loss at TLC with a feud that would’ve hopefully made Raw a lot more fun to watch in the last quarter of 2020 than it was in real life.

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.