The Road to WWE Wrestlemania 35 : Where are we now?
This past week on staring at the lights you’ll probably have noticed there were only two voices. Unfortunately I was unable to make this week’s show, so to do my part, I wanted to look at where we stand right now in the run up to Wrestlemania.
If you keep up to date with our podcast, you’ll realise that we we’ve been quite perturbed with the overall quality of WWE’s product over the last few months.
This past week, however, in true WWE fashion, they threw out the rule book and defied expectation. Not only was this episode of raw a marked improvement, it was probably the best episode they’ve produced in the last decade. We opened with a segment that is likely to go down as one of the pivotal moments of the modern era, the return of Roman Reigns. To hear him come out on Monday Night Raw to such an ovation, and get to stand in the ring and announce “I’m in remission y’all” was an incredibly touching moment. As so many of us have, in some way, been effected by the devastating impact of cancer, there’s nothing that will give you goosebumps more than to see one of our own not only beat the disease, but return to what they love doing in the process.
So where does this put Roman in the Wrestlemania picture? Will he find his way into the Universal title match? Will he possibly take a slot lower in the card against one of the other big names yet to be tied to a match? Perhaps John Cena or Braun Strowman, two individuals who have a history with the returning Big Dog. At this stage we’ll have to wait and see, but to see Roman there in any capacity will be awesome, really bringing an incredible journey full circle.
Possibly my only gripe over the last couple of weeks has been The Revival continuing failure to beat two singles competitors who literally don’t need that rub.
Black and Ricochet are the future of the company, hands down. These are two wrestlers who could become international megastars even with the anchor of poor WWE booking, they are simply that good, they would benefit more from a surprise debut to the main show in which each showcased the level they are on, in their on individual way. They’ve literally taken two guys who stand alone in the industry when it comes to what they do, and packaged them together, doing nothing but diminishing their spectacle all the while deepening the pit the revival are desperately trying to dig themselves out of.
If The Revival manage to make it to Wrestlemania, it’s very likely we’ll see them loose the belts on the pre-show to a pair of singles superstars struggling to get over solo. This may be for the best, forcing the hand of the the current Champions to consider alternative routes of employment. Though Cody has been very clear that AEW aren’t simply looking to hire any disgruntled, ex-WWE talent who come their way, The Revival have a history with The Young Bucks despite never standing in the same ring together, they would be a very sought after get, and a team that the upstart company can really build a strong tag team division around.
As for the Smackdown Tag-Team titles, it would appear that The Hardy Boys have conveniently returned just in time for Wrestlemania, landing nicely into a comatose tag division for a card that is looking for that nostalgia dollar, not a bad thing, but we did that only a couple of years ago. The other options may see The Bar reclaim the gold, or possibly one of the many languishing tag teams that really deserve a shot, such as The Authors of Pain or Sanity.
So looking towards the possible Wrestlemania main event, we’re still awaiting confirmation as to who Ronda will be facing. Will we see a singles match against either Charlotte Flair or Becky Lynch? Or will we see the expected triple threat with all three women sharing the spotlight? The booking for this match has been very effective, despite my personal interest in Becky diminishing over the last couple of weeks due her antics being fairly copy and paste from one episode of raw to the next (She’s not scheduled to appear, she sneaks in, she attacks Ronda or Charlotte and gets escorted out) we get it, they want her to be the female Stone Cold, that’s all well and good but let her be herself, we understand the comparison it doesn’t need to be so overt.
On the plus side they’re finally factoring in Ronda to the storytelling, this past Monday saw the Raw Women’s Champion relinquish the belt following a really good promo where she begged Steph to reinstate Becky, but her request fell on deaf ears. On a side note to this, It’s pretty interesting they’re running with an angle that centres around contention controversy, as the UFC’s have found themselves under fire for their questionable matchmaking decisions as of late. Their number one contenders and former champions rarely seem to get their deserved shots.
Cast in one of the most believable segments broadcast on raw in years, Dave Batista closed the show in perfect fashion, not only ensuring eyes will be on raw next week, but also setting up the Wrestlemania match we thought may not be happening. I just want to say hat’s off to the production team, They factored in a reason as to why the cameras were able to capture the action, they managed to keep Batista’s involvement in the show a secret, despite him now being one of the biggest stars in the world.
All the players involved in this angle are consummate professional wrestlers, they come from a time where keyfabe whilst on screen was paramount to having your audience invest in your actions, and it shows. Ric sold the beating like death (I imagine there was explicit instructions to check the septuagenarian for razor blades before they went on air) triple H seemed genuinely concerned as he rushed to the back to check on his mentor and dear friend, they ensured there were plenty of huge names from Ric’s past to serve as a bait and switch for Batista’s arrival, and lastly Dave pulled of a stellar performance, one befitting his Hollywood status. He showed aggression, spoke minimally, and sent raw off the air with a classic ruthless aggression era cliffhanger.
Personally, this match will be my most anticipated for Wrestlemania weekend. Batista has campaigned for some time to return for one more run against his greatest rival, but he always attested that WWE didn’t reciprocate. It would seem that old Dave Keyfabed us all hard. We’ll likely see more of Batista over the next few weeks, hopefully having a warmup match at Fastlane. He’s already noted he wants to work house shows, so hopefully The Animal will stick around to add some much needed star power to proceedings.
We’re likely to see Elias in his usual singing/Comedy segment at Mania, and with the news that the Honky Tonk Man is entering the Hall Of Fame, it’s likely they’ll substitute the rumoured Dwayne Johnson for a more budget friendly alternative. It would be great to see the pink Cadillac roll into Wrestlemania one more time, and it would be kinda cool to see him eat one of Elias’ guitar shots too.
Moving over to Smackdown, What is going on with the women’s division? Take the most dominant pure wrestling female talent in the industry, and have her loose without rhyme or reason to someone yet to build up any significant singles momentum. Sure it’s a swerve, but it’s concerning that Asuka seems to keep taking needless losses, doing nothing but lowering her stock to give someone else a temporary rub that will soon fade into distant memory.
It seems that Smackdown’s women’s division lacks the depth of Raw’s. Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, Alexa bliss, Nia Jaxx, it’s very obvious the scales are tipped in favour of Monday nights. Sure Smackdown has Asuka, and Becky, but the former is currently suspended and uses all of her time chasing the Raw women’s title, it’s like they can’t multi task. There are so many talented female competitors but they just can’t seem to find a niche for them, they’re either breaking ground and setting the bar for the industry as a whole, or they’re very basic lower midcard characters who seem content to either not improve or even try to raise their stock to main event level. Some real work needs to be done to inject some excitement into the Smackdown women’s division. They need to ensure they protect Asuka and bring her some competition to really take her to the limit, could Mandy Rose be the one to do this? I guess we’ll find out come Fastlane.
Finn Bálor and the intercontinental title is Tough one. For my money he needs to face someone of similar calibre, both Nakamura and Samoa Joe would be incredible WM opponents for Bálor. What with their shared legacy as great NXT champions, and incredible in ring ability. It’s just a matter of having a reason to shift either man over from Smackdown. There’s nobody on Raw I’d really be interested in seeing fin work with, and I don’t see an NXT call-up going straight into the IC title picture. Hopefully they can shuffle some things around to really give the Demon King a challenge come April 7th.
R-Truth seems to be holding onto the US title at the moment, but his star is firmly seated in the midcard whereas both his challengers this past week would be more well utilised around a main event scene, this is especially true for Andrade, who should be one of the top stars in the company within the next two or three years.
Keeping with Smackdown, The WWE title picture is an Interesting one. The returning Kevin Owens adds an element of uncertainty. It’s reassuring to know they want to keep Kevin in the main event scene off his return, as he was starting to slide down the rankings on raw prior to his injury, but is he just there as filler for fast lane? A placeholder to Keep the deserving veteran Kofi Kingston away from singles competition with the reigning champion on the smaller pay-per-view, making room for a possible Cinderella victory at Wrestlemania. I’ve got high hopes they will pull the trigger on Kofi, my only concern would be the position on the card and the amount of time these guys will get. There are marquee matches, and I can’t see Vince considering this to be one of them. I would be delighted to be proven wrong, but I don’t expect to see the match take place among the last three of the evening, we’ll likely still be in daylight when they hit the ring.
The Universal title picture should remain relatively unchanged at this juncture, as much as Vince is probably dying to shoehorn Roman into this match, it’s just not the right thing to do on Seth’s part, and having Roman disrupt this match in any capacity would only lead a unwanted heat which would be a very foolish move considering his current favour with the WWE universe. Roman’s early return may very well have already effected the outcome however, they may look to keep the belt on Brock for a few more months past mania, to have Roman finally win the big prize to the reception Vince had in mind all along. In the end though, it all depends on Brock’s status. If he’s willing to stay, he’s keeping the belt, if he’s wanting one more run in UFC then we’ll likely see Seth pick up the win.
There’s still plenty of time for things to unfold, so this speculation is very much “Card subject to change.” Hopefully WWE can stay the course with some of these stories, as long term booking isn’t something they really practice anymore. Fans want to feel invested and are looking for a story with depth that culminates in a big pay off. I’m hopeful that this year’s show will proved to be one of the best we’ve seen this decade.