I’m salty at this year’s Wrestlemania.
Not because I’m not excited about the matches (it’s a mixed bag at times, but I am excited) or the buildup to the biggest wrestling event of the year (it’s been whatever).
I’m salty because this should have been MINNESOTA’S Wrestlemania.
For a long time — over the last two years — it was rumored that Wrestlemania 33 would take place in Minneapolis in the new US Bank Stadium. Minneapolis is rich in wrestling history with the old American Wrestling Association and top-tier stars like Mr. Perfect, Verne Gagne, “Ravishing” Rick Rude (a new member of the WWE Hall of Fame) and Ric Flair. And that’s just for starters.
Plus, there was the chance to host a major event in a stadium before the Super Bowl or Final Four got to use US Bank Stadium.
Alas, wrestling rumors are stupid because Minneapolis didn’t get Wrestlemania. Orlando’s Camping World Stadium (which I’m calling the Citrus Bowl in this because the name Camping World Stadium is beyond dumb) got it for the second time. And then, New Orleans is getting Wrestlemania 34. And I have to go deeper into my 30s before I can go to Wrestlemania at a reasonable cost with my nerdy buddies.
In fact, when two of my buddies and I went to an NXT show (WWE’s developmental brand), a Wrestlemania 33 promo was met by a chorus of boos from the fellow wrestling nerds in Roy Wilkins Auditorium.
I hate wrestling for this. But like a relationship, I’m still in love with wrestling. I want wrestling to be great and I want people to enjoy wrestling without the weird stigma.
Wrestlemania 33 will draw the casual fan. So in an effort to bring the one-and-dones up to speed, here’s what to expect in this year’s show, which begins at 6 p.m. CST on Sunday.
Wrestlemania 33 card (subject to change)
(Pre-show) Six-pack challenge for the SmackDown Women’s championship
Don’t get mixed up with your cheap Wrestlemania beer. This is the best way to incorporate the six main women’s wrestlers from SmackDown. I’ll break down all the ladies here quick:
- The champ: Alexa Bliss. Angry cheerleader/Harley Quinn cosplayer.
- Becky Lynch. Steampunk aficionado. Orange hair. WWE doesn’t exactly do the best with character development.
- Mickie James. Returning vet from the early-mid ‘00s that has become the grizzled vet in bell bottoms.
- Carmella. Former Long Island hairdresser in NXT to … Long Island something? Moonwalks.
- Naomi. Normally she’s got one of the best entrances in wrestling with black lights and high-tempo dancing. Don’t know how the whole black light/glowing thing will work in a pre-show match in daylight. Also, hometown girl that should get a good pop.
- Natalya. Remember Bret Hart from the ‘90s? Remember his barrel-chested tag partner Jim Neidhart? No? Well, that’s his daughter. And because WWE, Natalya sadly plays up her uncle more than her actual father.
Carmella and Natalya don’t seem to have much of a chance here. The rest, you can make a case for. Bliss is in her second title reign and delivers some of the more convincing acting of the group despite her small frame. Becky, she’s what the SmackDown women’s division was built around, and hasn’t had the belt for a bit. Mickie, she just came back a few months ago and is a former champion, so why not let her be the woman to lead the next generation?
But, I’m thinking Naomi because of Wrestlemania being in Orlando. A short time after she won the title for the first time, she had to relinquish it due to injury, allowing Bliss to take the title again. A feel-good story seems like the way to go.
(Pre-show) Neville (c) v. Austin Aries (Cruiserweight championship match)
Yep! WWE acknowledges wrestlers that are billed under 205 pounds for the first time in a decade. Last summer, they had a killer tournament on the WWE Network called the Cruiserweight Classic that had a couple of my favorite matches from 2016 (Johnny Gargano/Tommaso Ciampa and Kota Ibushi/Cedric Alexander immediately come to mind).
So everything cool about that tournament — Fast-paced matches, moves you don’t see from heavier wrestlers, fake finishes — is NOT in WWE’s current cruiserweight formula. Sigh.
With that said, Neville (think of his character like Vegeta from “Dragonball Z”) and Austin Aries (the self-proclaimed “Greatest man who ever lived” with the greatest sideburns in wrestling) would be a match I could see steal the show… err, pre-show in this case.
(Pre-show) Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Anybody want a peanut?
Yes I would. And this will probably be the match where fans in the Citrus Bowl will get snacks. This is the match where the bulk of the roster will get its payday.
The guy who has gotten the hype is Braun Strowman, a real-life Appalachian strongman with a beard that is likely stronger than I am. The Big Show should win another battle royal that is named after his “dad” (at least that’s what WCW said back in the ‘90s. Not true, though). Your underdog choice: Sami Zayn, the resident ska kid every 30-year-old was friends with in high school.
Triple threat ladder match for the Raw tag-team championships
Because recklessly violent ladder matches have become a Wrestlemania tradition since Wrestlemania 10. And this time, we got three teams vying for the Raw tag-team belts. Let’s take a brief look at the combatants:
- The Club (Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson). A year ago, these two were in Japan as part of the Bullet Club, which is the modern-day NWO. You see the shirts everywhere. Now, they are bald guys who call everyone nerds. And now I’m sad because they should be so much better. As they are now, they’re still one of my favorites.
- Cesaro and Sheamus. The odd couple. Cesaro has superhuman ability in the ring and wears a tear-away suit like a male stripper (complete with James Bond backdrop when he comes down the aisle). Then there’s Sheamus, who is as white as the paste he uses to keep his mohawk up. Once enemies, they became partners and eventual champions until The Club decided to quit losing all the damn time.
- Enzo and Big Cass. Imagine Lenny and George from “Of Mice and Men” with Long Island accents. They’ll have a crowd of 70,000 people spelling out “S-A-W-F-T” to a round of cheers. Meanwhile, as an editor by trade, my soul will hurt because they intentionally spell “Soft” incorrectly.
While I’d want The Club to retain so they can help make the tag-team division matter, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Enzo and Big Cass get their “Wrestlemania moment”™ when a beat-up Enzo climbs the ladder the rips down the titles.
Dean Ambrose (c) v. Baron Corbin (Intercontinental championship match)
Why are these guys dressed like biker toughs?
I dunno. Vince McMahon is almost 70, so he probably thinks Hell’s Angels and James Dean are still in the current pop-culture lexicon.
I thought Dean Ambrose was going to steal the show in last year’s Wrestlemania, only to be disappointed that he didn’t have a bloodbath with Brock Lesnar. But if he’s given the time, Ambrose can be one of the best things in this PPV. He steps up in big matches.
As for Baron Corbin, I’m a fan. He’s believable as a bad guy because he’s not hard to imagine as a real-life prick. And he once had a life outside of wrestling (former Golden Gloves boxer and former Arizona Cardinals training camp attendee) which is sorely missing from wrestling nowadays. This could be a hard-hitting, entertaining match.
John Cena/Nikki Bella v. The Miz/Maryse (mixed tag-team match)
Why are we doing this?
Because The Miz deserves a marquee match for being one of the best things about SmackDown over the last six-plus months. The guy had such a rough go in the WWE for a long time for being a former MTV “Real World” personality. And that chip-on-his-shoulder entitlement has really been a focal point for him as of late. He honestly shouldn’t be a bad guy other than using the tried-and-true wrestling character tropes of elitist Hollywood attitude and a bombshell valet in Maryse (his real-life wife).
As for John Cena, you don’t see him wrestling a whole lot anymore, which I do enjoy. Cena’s a better wrestler than a crowd will ever give him credit for, and after 15 years, it’s time WWE started finding its new star. And his real-life girlfriend, Nikki, was a women’s division standout before messing up her neck. Rumor is, this is her last match, so why not put her in the ring with her boyfriend who just so happens to be modern-day Hulk Hogan (minus Hulk’s Gawker-related issues of the past few years).
This may not be a mat classic, but it should be entertaining. Also, Cena and Nikki will win because after 15 years of watching the guy, I’m not betting against jorts-wearing man-child John Cena.
Chris Jericho (c) v. Kevin Owens (United States championship match)
Why is the US title match between two Canadians?
Because all of our jobs are going across the border. Make Wrestling Great Again!
Dumb political joke notwithstanding, this is my pick for the show stealer. These two have been the most entertaining part of Raw for months with their ability to play off each other. Somehow, Chris Jericho’s schtick (think your friend’s lame dad trying to act younger after the divorce) along with Owens’ false bravado made for a hilarious dynamic that carried that show.
And then they broke it up (at a “Festival of Friendship“) because life means nothing.
That chemistry they had together, if just some of that can translate to them wrestling each other, could make this likely the one match the entire stadium will get behind.
Fatal 4-way elimination match for the Raw women’s championship
Why do the women’s matches have so many people?
Because all ‘dem wrestlers need to get ‘dem checks.
This could either be a standout match of the night or a trainwreck. A quick look at who’s in this:
- Bayley, the champion. Fangirl-turned-wrestler. Four of my nieces think Bayley is the best, and I did my job as an uncle by making them wrestling fans. Also, Bayley has a “Napoleon Dynamite” ponytail and wacky waving inflatable flailing arm tube men!
- Charlotte Flair. The prodigy. The multi-time champ whose father is “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, one of the most decorated champions in history. One of the few wrestlers that audiences actually boo unironically even though she’s very good at her job.
- Sasha Banks. She stole the show last year, and Sasha/Charlotte had, for my money, the best feud of 2016. Sasha has plenty of swag (do kids still use that term?) and throws caution to the wind in big matches. Probably explains why she’s hurt all the time.
- Nia Jax. The monster of the match. Easily the most green of all the wrestlers in the ring but she also is a wild-card. With so many model types that flooded WWE’s women’s division for so long, it’s awesome to have someone out there who is a believable ass-kicker.
I’d say go with Charlotte here. She is the crown jewel of this division (with Sasha not far behind) and it just feels weird without her holding the strap. Nia should look like a beast, Sasha will probably come close to breaking her neck and Bayley will get plenty of fun chants along the way from the passionate largely-overseas crowd.
Shane McMahon v. AJ Styles
Why is a middle-aged dad fighting a dude with a cougar haircut?
I dunno. AJ Styles deserves better.
If you were to pick an MVP from WWE in 2016, AJ Styles would get a lot of support. A familiar adage in wrestling is if someone is really good, they could have a match with a broomstick. And AJ Styles, he could put on a four-star match with a broomstick and an invisible man.
He held the WWE championship for most of 2016, and for a week, it looked like he would sneak into the main event. However, the McMahons needed a match somewhere.
Now, if there is any McMahon to have in the ring, it’s Shane. The guy is certifiable. Last year, he jumped off the Hell in a Cell through a table. And, in November’s Survivor Series, he got a legit concussion in the ring. The guy will put his body through anything to make the guy across from him look better. And I don’t think it’s possible for AJ Styles to have a bad match.
Still, I wish AJ Styles’ marquee match felt more important.
Seth Rollins v. Triple H (non-sanctioned match)
Non-sanctioned? The hell is that?
Street fight! It’s a no-disqualification match that needed (for some reason) a hold harmless agreement in the storyline. Uggg.
Seth Rollins is right behind AJ Styles as the best wrestler in WWE (No. 1 and 1A, really). And when he started as a singles wrestler, he was under Triple H’s wing and became champion. Then, Rollins hurt his knee and Triple H moved on. And since then, Seth Rollins has wanted to take Triple H’s head (complete with a kingslayer shirt) because… the boss doesn’t help him cheat anymore?
They at least cleared it up on Monday by saying Seth Rollins wanted to be able to look at himself in the mirror again, even if it means his already-shredded knee (legit?) is in jeopardy again.
After years of buildup and missing Wrestlemania last year, this should be the time Rollins gets his comeuppance.
The Undertaker v. Roman Reigns
Why is Roman Reigns’ hair so wet?
I dunno. There are things best left undiscovered.
In the annual Wrestlemania tradition, The Undertaker (the guy who has wrestled for WWE since 1990!) takes on one of the company’s top stars. And in this case, it’ll be against the guy WWE has unsuccessfully tried to shove down everyone’s throats as the new John Cena.
Roman is getting booed out of the building not because he’s bad, but because wrestling fans don’t like what WWE has done with him. And he shouldn’t be the problem with this match. If he can get a strong match out of a banged-up 50-plus-year-old Undertaker, that should get Roman a modicum of respect from annoying wrestling fans.
Also, bonus points for Undertaker if he rips off Roman’s stupid vest. Seriously. Roman is a jacked former college football player. Why does he need to wear a SWAT-like vest? That has been the most dumbfounding thing about being a pro wrestling fan for the last half-decade.
Bray Wyatt (c) v. Randy Orton (WWE championship match)
Wait, the champion has gross dreads?
Yep. That’s a thing he has. As Joe Froemming put it, Bray Wyatt “looks like a roadie for Korn. Not 1999 Korn, but 2017 Korn.”
Also, he comes to the ring surrounded by the crowd’s iPhone camera lights and a “smoking” battery-powered lantern. Just apply your suspension of disbelief and enjoy Bray Wyatt.
The guy’s just different and I mean that in the most complementary way. He’s a dude with a gut that talks like the Zorp cult leader from “Parks and Recreation” and spider-walks like Regan from “The Exorcist.”
For months, Randy Orton decided to go with the “Can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy with the Wyatt Family, winning the tag team titles along the way. Then, Randy Orton won the Royal Rumble (granting an automatic championship match) and played coy.
The rest has involved a lot of destroying from within and a bunch of bad horror movie stuff like desecrating a fictional character that talks to Bray Wyatt. Yes, it’s stupid. But I like stupid. That’s why the JOE-DOWN exists.
Goldberg (c) v. Brock Lesnar (WWE Universal championship match)
Wait, Goldberg? From the ’90s? Against the UFC fighter?
Yep. Deep breath, Joe.
This whole rivalry started by ripping off the plot from “Rocky Balboa:” What if two of the most dominant wrestlers of the ‘90s/early ‘00s took to the ring one last time? Well, let’s do it in the video game.
Then, it became reality, and a 50-year-old Goldberg beat Brock Lesnar easily.
At the Royal Rumble, Goldberg embarrassed Brock Lesnar. Again.
AND THEN, Goldberg beat Kevin Owens in seconds to become the Universal champion.
The problem with all this? This match already happened at Wrestlemania 20. And it got booed out of Madison Square Garden. And now, the combatants are 13 years older. And it’s probably going to get booed out of the Citrus Bowl.
This will be more of a spectacle than an actual match. I will hate it, but Wrestlemania is for people who watch wrestling once a year. So, those folks can enjoy this match while I kind of watch it while reaching for the final pieces of pizza and finishing my adult beverage(s).