Tuesday, March 28, 2023

WWE WrestleMania 39 Preview & Predictions

It's that time again, folks.  It's the biggest wrestling show of the whole year, one that's been so watered down in recent years I've had a very tough time getting much excitement out of it.  But this year is different.

Yes, this weekend is the 39th edition of WrestleMania, the PPV WWE's entire calendar year used to build to.  And for the first time in a loooong time the build for this show and its on-paper lineup feel like something special.  I still haven't been watching the weekly programming (there are only so many hours in a day), but I've been keeping up with how most of these matches were put together, and it's been refreshing to see things done in a simple, logical, straightforward manner where the result in most cases will be a good in-ring payoff.  The main event is the culmination of a year-long journey for the WWE Title challenger.  Both women's title matches involve a decorated veteran facing a younger upstart, though in one case the veteran is the champ and in the other she's the challenger.  We have a rare celebrity match that could actually steal the show.  We have a massive Tag Team Title match pitting the dominant, long-reigning champs against two of the company's hottest babyfaces.  We have a Hell in a Cell match that was built up in the traditional fashion instead of just shoehorned in to fit a gimmick PPV.  We have a probable stinker between a finish-spammer and an immobile giant - hey, they can't all be good, it is still WWE after all...

But the point is, this is the most promising lineup for a WrestleMania show in I dunno how long, and it'll be the biggest test of Triple H's still-young tenure as head of main roster Creative.  If he knocks this one out of the park (and financially that's already been the case), regardless who buys WWE, there's little business reason for Vince to try and take back the reins.  But we'll see.  As someone who's been a jaded-at-best WWE fan for most of the last twenty years it feels good to actually care about WrestleMania again.

Let's look at the lineup....

US Championship: Austin Theory vs. John Cena

This old vs. young dream match of sorts is slotted to open Night 1.  Theory has long been touted as having the potential to be the next John Cena, and while I personally don't see it, let's not forget how not-promising Cena was at that age.  Anyway, this should be entertaining, as Theory does have natural charisma and Cena at this point is fun to watch at worst.  Generally speaking it doesn't make sense for the old guy to beat the current guy for whom you have high hopes, and I think Hunter would tend to agree.  Theory should retain unless the plan is for Cena to stick around for a month or more, which I don't think it is.

Pick: Theory retains

Becky Lynch, Lita & Trish Stratus vs. Damage CTRL

Another match featuring stars of old, there's oodles of in-ring ability and charisma in this one.  Unlike the previous bout though, there's no harm here in having the veteran team win, especially since Becky will likely be the one scoring the pinfall.  Should be a short but fun bout.

Pick: Team Becky

Brock Lesnar vs. Omos

Okay, here's the one shit show on the card, which if you've paid attention the last.....two decades or so feels like a record.  Seriously, this is the only match on either night for which I see no potential, and I can't remember the last time I said that about a 'Mania lineup.  Brock only took this match because the company's original proposal of Brock vs. Wyatt didn't appeal to him at all (kinda like in 2016).  And it's a good thing he turned it down since Bray is apparently dealing with some kind of illness (which has also put the kibosh on his planned match against Bobby Lashley - Lashley will almost certainly win Friday's Andre Battle Royal instead).  But Omos is a shit opponent, aside from the impressive visual of Brock suplexing him into oblivion.  If this match reaches two-star territory I'll be shocked.  I know at age 45 Brock should really be putting other people over from time to time, but Omos literally can't do anything in there.

Pick: Brock

RAW Women's Championship: Bianca Belair vs. Asuka

This one doesn't have much of a storyline but nonetheless it's one of the matches I'm most excited for.  Bianca has stolen the show the last two 'Manias and Asuka is one of the best wrestlers on the entire roster, plus her "violent clown" gimmick fuckin' rules.  I question the wisdom (for the second straight year) of putting both women's title matches on the same night, but if this gets adequate time it should be a highlight.  Bianca's had a yearlong reign as champion so I think it's time for Asuka to get the win, but I could see that being delayed so both women's belts aren't changing hands the same night.

Pick: Asuka

Seth Rollins vs. Logan Paul

Well the company figured out over the past few months that Logan Paul is a natural jerk and turned him heel.  But Paul is also a natural in the ring and should turn in a helluva performance.  The dynamic of one of the company's most proven "big match" guys facing a young daredevil who gives no fucks should make for another top contender for Match of the Night.  Nothing fancy here story-wise, just two flashy, arrogant dicks engaged in oneupmanship.  Sit back and enjoy.

Pick: Seth Rollins

Smackdown Women's Championship: Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley

Three years after one of the most nonsensical endings to a great match in 'Mania history, the company has the chance to right that wrong.  In 2020 Charlotte defeated Rhea for the NXT Women's Title, which did nothing to help NXT's ratings and derailed Rhea's push for months.  Now they face each other again, likely in the Night 1 main event slot, and the crowd is solidly behind Ripley despite her status as a heel.  If this match equals the 2020 iteration and has the sensible finish, it's a big success.

Pick: Ripley

Men's Showcase: Braun Strowman & Ricochet vs. Viking Raiders vs. Street Profits vs. Alpha Academy

It's great to see Ricochet finally get a 'Mania match after four years, and it's nice to see the Viking Raiders get their first.  This one and the women's version will both be fast-paced clusterfuck matches and neither is likely to last more than 10-12 minutes, but both could be enjoyable.  Braun and Ric make the most sense to win here, though I wouldn't be sad if the Raiders won (talk about yet another wasted tag team).  Street Profits have been on the verge of splitting for months now, maybe that happens on this night.

Pick: Braun and Ricochet

Women's Showcase: Liv Morgan & Raquel Rodriguez vs. Ronda Rousey & Shayna Baszler vs. Natalya & Shotzi vs. Sonya Deville & Chelsea Green

And here's the women's edition.  This one is a tossup between the first two teams.  Ordinarily I'd say Ronda and Shayna are a lock, but Ronda has been working hurt and recently trashed the company for not booking her feud with Liv better.  Man is it weird how far down the card Ronda's fallen in a year.  Her first two 'Manias she was a heavily featured player, last year she was in a major singles match, this year she's just one of the gals.  Anyway I think Liv and Raquel probably take this one, as Raquel seems to be in line for a well-deserved push.

Pick: Liv & Raquel

Rey Mysterio vs. Dominik Mysterio

Well it's finally happening, the first father vs. son WrestleMania match since 2001.  Seems like the build for this has actually been pretty good and Dominik is growing into his role (two years ago I had precious little hope for the kid).  Rey should be able to get a good match out of his offspring and hopefully make him look like a budding star.  If they're serious about pushing Dom, he basically has to get the win.  Side note: I like that he's adopted Eddie Guerrero's look.

Pick: Dominik

Hell in a Cell: Edge vs. Finn Balor

It's the Demon vs. the Goth dude, and this should be a fine Cell match.  A little blood would add to the drama but WWE is a blood-free zone, sadly.  Either way this one is another potential show stealer and will hopefully be the major victory Finn needs to get to the next level.  Guy hasn't sniffed either of the top belts since 2016 when he won the Universal Title for a day.

Pick: Finn for the win

Intercontinental Championship: Gunther vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Sheamus

This here is my pick for match of the night, maybe the match of either night.  Gunther is possibly the best worker in the company right now, his matches with Sheamus were awesome, and Drew always brings it when he needs to.  This will be 15-20 minutes of glorious pretend violence.  Betting odds don't really show a favorite here at all but I could see Sheamus finally getting that elusive Intercontinental Title.

Pick: Sheamus

Undisputed Tag Team Championship: The Usos vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn

This'll be epic and probably should be the Night 1 main event given how hot a star Sami is right now.  The story has been building for months and months and it's a great example of slowly but surely giving the fans what they want to see.  The Usos broke the longevity record for WWE Tag Champs and that will likely stand for a long time; there's no shame in them losing here, especially to two red-hot babyfaces.  15 years ago I got to see Kevin Steen and El Generico win the ROH Tag Titles in person.  It'll be heartwarming to see this team get another huge title win after so many ups and downs together and apart.

Pick: KO & Sami

WWE Universal Championship: Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes

And finally the big one.  The most dominant WWE Champion in a generation vs. the self-made megastar who had to leave WWE to find himself.  Over the last year (half of which he spent on the shelf) Cody has been the classic babyface the company was missing for so many years.  A consummate pro wrestler with a legendary pedigree and leading man good looks, Cody has all the tools to be a massive crossover star.  In hindsight AEW really should've held onto him, but then again AEW's audience didn't see him the way WWE's audience does.  Anyway, Cody is and should be the man to finally dethrone Roman Reigns after two-and-a-half years.  It's time, and Cody's already moving the needle.  Yet another example of the predictable outcome being the correct one.

Pick: Cody ends Roman's reign

There's your 13-match lineup, and it's a doozy.  If this doesn't prove to be the best WrestleMania in the last 5-10 years or more I'll be shocked.  Let's hope Hunter keeps Vince's groping hands far away from the booking this weekend.  

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