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Despite expectations being pretty low heading into the event, Wrestlemania 31 ended up being a pretty good show. One would think that this could perhaps instill a new form of confidence for the fans that maybe shows that lack a tremendous build-up can still be very good. Unfortunately, fans are still rather skeptical of Extreme Rules and unlike Wrestlemania, it lacks the star power and the premium setting that can take a mediocre show and push it over the top.
On the top of the card, Seth Rollins making his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship defense against Randy Orton, inside a steel cage. On paper, there is a lot to like about this match. Seth Rollins is a legitimate heel that gets good heat and Orton is a legitimate babyface that fans want to see emerge victorious. Both men are among the best workers in the industry, and unlike past PPVs, WWE has put two guys in the main event that a majority of fans clearly want to see in that position.
But there are mitigating circumstances that have fans a little bit more down on this match than one would expect. WWE has decided that Rollins vs Orton is quite enough for the fans to really accept as the main event, so they had to insert Kane into the program, via a convoluted and wholly unnecessary storyline. Kane has been a solid asset for the company for nearly 20 years, but at this point there is not a whole lot WWE can do with him to make him seem interesting. Instead of having Rollins and Orton go nose-to-nose during the build-up for the PPV, Rollins has been sidetracked dealing with Kane. Kane has been assigned as the “Guardian of the Gate” for their match, which presumably means that he will replace the referee who normally is in charge of opening the door to the cage. Cage matches in WWE don’t have a real standard of rules, sometimes they can result in pinfall or submission, sometimes the only way to win is to escape the cage. Kane being named as the “Guardian of the Gate” pretty much confirms that there will be a moment in the match when Seth Rollins is about to escape out the door, but Kane refuses to open the door. My best guess as to what is going to happen is that Kane denies Rollins, but then also denies Orton when he tries to escape. Kane then enters the cage, chokeslams each man and then exits the arena.
Rollins clearly has the backing of WWE management, so it is unlikely that he loses the title this early into his title reign. He still has possible programs with Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar set up down the road, so taking the title off of him would take some steam out of those prospective feuds. The best bet would be that Rollins wins the match, probably in typical sneaky-heel fashion, setting up another match at the next PPV (Payback) where hopefully we will get a feud that actually focuses heavily on the two enemies instead of Kane.
Backing up the world title match is John Cena vs Rusev in a Russian Chain match. I’m assuming that the match will be like the traditional chain/strap match, where it is a normal match except the wrestlers are attached to each other and they must win via pinfall or submission, as opposed to the Texas Bull Rope match, where you have to touch all four ring posts. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of these types of matches. What the workers can do in the ring is pretty limited, and watching a guy get walloped with a chain isn’t that entertaining after you have seen it once or twice.
The match is pretty much going to make or break Rusev. This isn’t just a match against Cena, it is a match that is supposed to be HIS specialty. After already taking a loss to Cena at Wrestlemania, he desperately needs a victory here, and defeating Cena could really launch his career as a main event level heel. Unfortunately for Rusev, that result isn’t likely to happen. WWE is giving Cena a megapush as the United States champion, even giving him a new shirt that explicitly states that he is the US champion. When WWE produces a T-shirt saying something, it is safe to say that whatever the T-Shirt implies is going to be a reality for the next few months at least, especially when concerning John Cena. Cena will defeat Rusev when he applies the STF, only this time he is using the chain to apply the facelock, and goes on to roll over the rest of the mid-card while Rusev steps down and becomes the new Mark Henry, a big strong guy that does a lot of jobs.
Daniel Bryan may or may not be wrestling Bad News Barrett for the Intercontinental Championship, depending on his health. Bryan’s physical well-being might turn into one of the greatest tragedies in wrestling history, but for now he remains a potential major player in WWE. What I have a big problem with is the booking of Bryan during his injury. If Bryan isn’t ready to go, then they don’t have a match. But if Bryan can wrestle, then WWE has a match with no build, since they have kept Bryan off of television for the last few weeks. If they had him at least present on television to cut promos and work segments, they could still write him off TV on Raw or SD or even the Extreme Rules pre-show if he was unable to wrestle on the PPV. Now, whatever ends up happening, WWE has a less-then-desirable outcome.
In another adventure of poor booking, Roman Reigns will take on The Big Show in a Last Man Standing match. Remember when The Big Show was supposed to elevate Roman Reigns during their feud in January and February? Remember when that feud got Reigns over so little that the decision to make him the world champion was aborted just days prior to Wrestlemania? Despite the fact that The Big Show/Roman Reigns just doesn’t work, WWE has gone back to that well in hopes of getting Reigns over. It is actually impressive how WWE can try something, notice that it doesn’t work, and then try that same exact thing again, hoping for a different result. Reigns will win the match, but it won’t mean anything, just like his previous victories over Show have meant nothing for him.
The Diva’s match will feature Nikki Bella (who just passed the 150 day mark as champion) defending her title against Naomi. Naomi is a perfect example of why the training program for women beyond NXT doesn’t work. Naomi is a very good athlete, but she still struggles to fully harness that athleticism and the result of that is a lot of sloppy moments. The problem is, Naomi is the exact same way she was when she debuted on the main roster. Despite the fact that she has been working fairly consistently for the last couple years, there is a lack of noticeable improvement. The best case scenario for her would be to go back to Florida, work with Sara Amato, and then come back to the main roster.
Things get a little bit better as we move down the card. Dolph Ziggler vs Sheamus in a “Kiss My Arse” match is a dumb and childish idea that will have a result that will surely entertain nobody, but that shouldn’t take away the fact that this good be a very good match. Ziggler is a fan favorite and Sheamus is trying to get over as a bully, so he couldn’t really pick a better opponent. Ziggler is an excellent seller and should work well with Sheamus’ convincing, brawling style. The tag team titles are on the line, with The New Day taking on Cesaro and Tyson Kidd. The New Day is still a pretty terrible gimmick, but now that they are heels that refuse to accept that they are disliked is a step up entertainment wise, and the match features good workers so it won’t be a total waste.
Rounding out the card is Dean Ambrose and Luke Harper in a Chicago Street Fight. The match could be a decent kickstart for the show, but man, is Ambrose floundering. Instead of capitalizing on his anti-hero appeal and great promo skills, they have pigeon-holed him into a gimmick in which he goes around and hits people with stuff and falls off things. Almost every notable match he is in involves some form of no-disqualification, and while Ambrose can be entertaining in that role, he has so much more to offer.
Wrestlemania was considered a success, both commercially and critically, but after a few weeks of mundane Raws and a poor build towards Extreme Rules, it looks like that might have been more of an apparition and less of the reality. Wrestlemania is a special time of the year, but for a large majority of the WWE calendar the shows are a lot more like what we are going to see on Sunday.
You can follow Jesse Collings on Twitter @JesseCollings
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