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Throwing the Book at ‘Em: WrestleMania 33

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It’s February, and that means we’re buckled up and on the way for our annual family car ride to the Super Bowl of combat sports. I bet you can already hear the echoes Michael Cole or JBL screaming that we’re on the long and bumpy road to WrestleMania. But have you ever noticed that nobody tells us who exactly is driving us there? It certainly isn’t us, the fans of the sport. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had Roman Reigns win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship last year, or at least in the manner in which he did win it.

So, let me just take a wild guess and say that Vince McMahon is driving this soccer van, Stephanie and Kevin Dunn are screaming directions at him from the passenger seat and the next nearest one from the back, the wrestlers (who can occasionally wrest the wheel from the chairman) are just trying to get mentally ready for the matches ahead, and we the tagalong fans are sat way in the back near the trunk.

But how appropriate is it that this year’s Show of Shows is taking place in Orlando, Florida. Much like any road trip to Disney World, the focus is more on the destination than the journey or the stops along the way. For me, Elimination Chamber and Fastlane are already in the books, and instead of playing a game or listening to Bob Ross so I can sleep on the way, I’m going to sketch out my idea of the best extravaganza Wrestlemania 33 could be.

Spoiler alert: I’ve got more than a handful of matches planned for the big day. If WWE wants to start things off at 4:00 PM Central Time, then they might as well go for broke and give the Network subscribers their money’s worth as well as the fans that are just filing into the stadium. If that is unfeasible, then perhaps some of these preshow bouts can be taped at AXCESS and shown on screens as the fans wait in line.

INTERPROMOTIONAL MATCHES

Kickoff Show Match – Baron Corbin vs. Sheamus: WINNER – Baron Corbin

It’s a clash of the heavyweights, young gun against veteran, you get the idea. When I saw these men together in the ring at the Royal Rumble, I really wanted to see these two go at it. Despite Sheamus’ stagnant character and some apathy from the fans, he is a very good fighter with a distinct look; Corbin is one of Smackdown’s most improved talents who just wants to get into stomp anyone into the ground. The Celtic Warrior could lead for a portion of the match, then giving The Lone Wolf time to pounce and call some of the action and some always welcome polish when mixing it up with world champs. Expect potatoes galore, clubbing clotheslines, and a Brogue Kick attempt that leads into a sick End of Days and victory for Corbin.

Kickoff Show Match – Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal featuring Kane, Apollo Crews, Curt Hawkins, Dolph Ziggler, Kalisto, Tyler Breeze, Fandango, Simon Gotch, Titus O’Neil, Primo, Epico, Rusev, Jinder Mahal, Xavier Woods, Mark Henry, Austin Aries, Jake Roberts, Santino Marella, Tye Dillinger, Asuka: TOP FIVE PICKS FOR WINNERS – Rusev, Tye Dillinger, Apollo Crews, Asuka, Titus O’Neil

My dream card is so laden with dynamic, high-stakes bouts that I just can’t find a spot on the 7:00 PM time slot for this one. However, properly promoted, the fourth-annual over-the-top-rope contest should get fans really invested into the unpredictability of this year’s WrestleMania. We have punching bags, middle-of-the-road contenders, dead ringers, and some surprises that will tickle the funny bone and make people pop for nostalgia and the future. Since I can’t pick just one wrestler to win in honor of The Eighth Wonder of the World, here’s a brief rundown of why five have a claim to fame.

Rusev: he should have been in the world title scene for over a year now. The Bulgarian Brute has wrestling acumen, strength, and a new dry wit personality. It’s time for a big win.

Dillinger: plenty of the NXT faithful will be in the seats witnessing the in-ring feats, and The Perfect 10 has earned everyone’s respect by persevering and getting over by keeping it simple. Who wouldn’t root for Tye?

Crews: the ATGMBR has been used as a launch pad for a new Superstar two out of three times so far, albeit with varied degrees of success. Apollo is just flashy, skillful, and strong enough to pull off such a victory, but then it’s time to give the man some time to talk and gain support; even video packages can help this dynamo.

O’Neil: I’ll admit it, I’m a Titus mark; he’s a kind man with impressive size, improved grappling, and boatloads of charisma. He never should have turned heel. Turn him face again, let him talk about his redemption for his family and kids in the charities he supports, and just let millions of dollars roll in. It’s that simple.

Asuka: The Empress of Tomorrow has done everything she can do in NXT’s Women’s Division. The competition aside from Nikki Cross and Ember Moon is more than a step behind her. Even if she doesn’t graduate to the main shows due to a need for depth in the developmental league, this amazing wrestler should have no problem dumping some men over the top rope to take a men’s title, something she could perhaps pursue in NXT…

The Big Show vs. Shaquille O’Neal: WINNER – Shaquille O’Neal

I can’t even really say much about this one. Sure, it has some history behind it, but this match isn’t consequential in the slightest. If this were LeBron or Curry or even Kobe taking on The Big Show, the contest would feel timelier. We all know the Shaq Attack is going to prevail and that Big Show is just having fun (LittleKuriboh for the win). I don’t really care if it airs before the PPV or during. So let’s move on.

RAW MATCHES

Kickoff Show Match – HoHo Lun vs. Noam Dar: WINNER – HoHo Lun

For me, this match would have to start off in front of a live crowd. What better to get the fans pumped up than the Cruiserweight Division? HoHo Lun and Noam Dar bring so much to the table with their unique in-ring skills, and Lun’s attire/look and Dar’s odd charisma only add to their upside. Plus, WWE could market this opener as a testament to their international market; Dar could draw in appeal from Scottish and Israeli fans while Lun, who’s helped drive the wrestling scene in Hong Kong, can be a centerpiece for the Asian market due to his aura and great English speaking skills. In the end it’d be a tough call, but I’ll give the win to the Chinese emissary in a fast-paced affair.

Kickoff Show Match – Akira Tozawa vs. Ariya Daivari: Winner – Ariya Daivari

A contest for kicking connoisseurs features The Stamina Monster and The Persian Lion. These two may not have a boatload of character development yet, but they’re more than capable of matching Dar and Lun in the technique department with a little more emphasis on the oomph. Tozawa is a headbutting, sentoning, kicking machine, but Daivari is a legitimate black belt who won’t mind throwing down, even if it gets to the down and dirty. Since the 205-and-under division needs more stories to keep the WWE Universe invested in their fare, Daivari will take a cheap victory on Sunday, giving Tozawa even more drive to suplex him back to Minnesota in the future.

Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho: WINNER – Kevin Owens

Not much to say about this featured contest. The tension between these two best friends and their ongoing story regarding their kinship is well documented. All that’s needed is a stiff contest with plenty of KO trash talk and Y2J showboating, and the fans will eat every bite. Those that don’t will have made The List.

Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax: WINNER – Nia Jax

Unfortunately, The Boss has to bear another Mania defeat this year in my book. Sasha has tremendous potential and has utilized as much as she can for audience cheers. Nia Jax is still a work in progress, but with an improved game in between the ropes and a dominating presence, she cannot afford to lose this match like she has with Bayley and Asuka. Jax should crush Sasha in about ten minutes, and twenty-four hours later, a stewing Sasha should boil over and go to the dark side.

Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker: WINNER – Roman Reigns

If you didn’t close this tab after reading the line above, thank you. This was a hard decision to come to, but it’s the best way to properly harness the acidic feelings for Vince McMahon’s new golden boy. Although I’d love to see Taker mix it up with Sting at some point, he’s the consummate professional, and not one who will blindly kowtow either. Perhaps The Phenom could convince the chairman and The Big Dog that it’s time to finally start a monster Reigns heel turn. A high-impact fight with false finishes is usually standard for Undertaker Mania matches, but a twist seeing Roman bludgeon The Deadman out of frustration, pinning him, beating him some more, and lashing out at the fans could really elicit the most aura from both men.

Cage Match – Seth Rollins vs. Triple H: WINNER – Seth Rollins

Some folks have speculated that The Game need not wrestle at The Showcase of the Immortals, that Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe can wow the masses by themselves. True, both of those men can put together a mat classic, but since Daniel Bryan is unlikely to be cleared for competition anytime soon, we need some closure in a long-burning feud with an authority figure. Why not lock Hunter and ol’ Rambo Apocalypse inside four sides of steel and let them rumble? Cap it off with Rollins ditching the Pedigree for a Phoenix Divebomb (nee Splash) from the top of the cage, and this baby will be nicely put to bed.

Samoa Joe vs. Cesaro: WINNER – Samoa Joe

I must thank a random commenter online for this whole matchup, which really could stand out as a showstealer and masterclass in brutality. The Destroyer has laid waste to all kinds of challengers, but Tyson Kidd is the unfortunate casualty in the lineup having suffered a real, possibly career-ending injury during the Muscle Buster. Enter The Swiss Superman, who should have been a top singles star the entire time, to stand up to Samoa Joe after he took out Seth Rollins. Fighting for his best friend’s honor, this contest will really show the inferno that Cesaro possesses as he gives Joe his toughest test to date. Joe will withstand it all and choke Cesaro out (showing the man’s resolve to never quit), but not after having been battered from pillar to post and having exhausted every move in his arsenal.

Tag Team Championship Four-Corners Sudden Death Match – Champions Bulletproof (Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows) vs. The Certified Gs (Enzo Amore and Big Cass) vs. The New Day (Kofi Kingston and Big E with Xavier Woods) vs. Tony Nese and Drew Gulak: WINNERS – Enzo Amore and Big Cass

All three tag team scenes are on the mend at this point, but RAW is doing the least with its diverse talent pool. They’ve let the hottest tandem in Enzo and Cass mill about in a maligned story with Rusev and Jinder, their record-setting trio The New Day has just seemingly given up chasing anything, and that leaves the new champion Good Brothers without a sense of urgency to do much of anything. That stops come WrestleMania. New Day will make another grand entrance and put both teams on notice why they were the best for so long, Anderson and Gallows will use their smashmouth style to render anyone in the match in a perilous position, but it’s time to pull the trigger on the best tag team to not hold a championship yet. What else to say but “How you doin’?”

Well, since it’s Mania, let’s add in an X-Factor (without Uncle Kracker). With a congested division that can’t seem to build up more than two interesting characters, it’s time for cruiserweights Nese and Gulak, having already teamed together often, to be the first to step up to the heavyweight division and showcase their bruising, acrobatic skillset. They won’t win, but they’ll sure scare every man not in their corner something awful.

Cruiserweight Championship Ladder Match – Champion Neville vs. TJ Perkins vs. Cedric Alexander vs. Brian Kendrick vs. Rich Swann vs. Mustafa Ali vs. Jack Gallagher: WINNER – Neville

To me, it seems like one of the reasons the Cruiserweight Championship was reactivated was so it could eventually be placed in a car crash like a ladder match? Well, ignore all of the traffic lights because this is a perfect way to feature this division on the grand stage. Since Neville missed last year’s multi-man affair for the Intercontinental Title due to injury, he has even more motivation to put on a venomous clinic with ladders. Add the athleticism of men like Cedric Alexander, Swann, Ali, and TJP, the experience of veterans such as Brian Kendrick, and the showmanship of The Extraordinary Gentleman, and you have an amazing start to the PPV proper.

Women’s Championship Match – Champion Charlotte vs. Bayley: WINNER – Bayley

All good (or tiring, in some cases) things must come to an end, and it’s time for Charlotte’s Sunday Night win streak to greet a “1” in the loss column. Charlotte is an amazing villainess and wrestler, but her formulaic losses on television and eked-out victories on Pay Per View is wearing on many, myself included. If only we had a popular, sympathetic babyface who appeals to all ages that has the chops to take her down…oh wait! Imagine all of the hugging in the crowd when Bayley pulls off a miracle win, and it will only serve to fuel The Queen’s rage, and with Nia Jax and Sasha Banks lurking in the shadows, RAW will finally, FINALLY have a viable alternative to Smackdown’s deep women’s division.

United States Championship Match – Champion Braun Strowman vs. Sami Zayn: WINNER – Sami Zayn via DQ

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m really digging Braun Strowman and his whole development now. He’s not the finished article, yes, but he’s being established exactly how a new star should be by crushing local talent, laying waste to jobbers, and now stomping in the upper midcard/main event scene. It’s time he won the tertiary belt to legitimize his rampages, and he should do so by eviscerating newly-turned Gift of Jericho on RAW.

But Braun isn’t just a one-man show. Sami Zayn, Team Red’s top singles good guy (or at least the most consistent good guy, which makes him number one) has played the perfect foil for the mountain of a man. The ten-minute challenge was good and the Last Man Standing brawl was top form for the David vs. Goliath type of spectacle. This program has plenty more mileage, and Zayn can notch a victory after flummoxing Strowman to the point of driving him through a table or flattening him with a chair.

Universal Championship Match – Champion Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar: WINNER – Brock Lesnar

Well, here’s a match that I hate to put down as a main-event feature for the night, but that seems to be where WWE is headed at the moment, so let’s try to make the best of the poor booking the Universal Title, Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins have endured. Against all odds, big Bill Goldberg will be walking into WrestleMania with the belt, riding high off of his title win and dominance over The Beast Incarnate, ready for a twenty-minute-or-more showdown with Brock Lesnar.

Yeah, right. The only way this showdown should go down involves Goldberg being shot through a cannon into Suplex City. A single F-5 should then render Da Man’s championship reign as a thing of the past, leaving Lesnar and Heyman laughing and roaring about how that opposition wasn’t even worthy of the less than five minutes that comprised the match, laughing until the lights in the stadium go out, and a loud heartbeat brings forth flashes of red…

Universal Championship Match – Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Finn Balor: WINNER – Finn Balor

In my mind, there was only one real pick to win the Royal Rumble and headline the big dance. He may not have been cleared to go at it with thirty men, but The Demon more than has claim to what The Conqueror now holds. Everything about Finn Balor just screams Wrestlemania caliber: the music, the entrance crawl, the body paint (which could be something Disney related like Snake Jafar or The Beast; even Zelda’s Majora’s Mask would be epic.), everything.

These two battle-tested warriors will have no objections to working a fifteen-minute strong style affair, with Brock’s brutishness and Balor’s new, demon-paint-specific, feral style adding to the chaos of the match. Finn will target Lesnar’s historically troubled midsection, and a Coup De Grace will seal the deal and bring the fans to a fever pitch.

SMACKDOWN MATCHES

Natalya vs. Nikki Bella: WINNER – Natalya

Logic dictates that the centerpiece of the Bella Empire will rise above the violence and vitrol The Queen of Harts has thrown at her the past few months. Since it’s my dream card, that logic will be abandoned. I cannot stand the concept of Nikki Bella, her character, her mannerisms, almost anything about her. Is she much improved in the ring? Yes. Is she a prime, grating heel? Definitely. But she’s playing the babyface, and it does not work one bit. Her mic work and expressions have not sold me on her sympathetic plight one bit, and her posh, oversexed aura just doesn’t fit the heroic role.

Is Natalya completely in the right for ambushing her? No. But she’s tapping into some legit criticisms about Bella. The same can be said for her counterpart, and when they’re just doing shoots on Talking Smack, their animosity is engaging and draws on real emotion. But the face/heel dynamic that WWE is trying to push in lieu of painting both ladies as having valid points is completely off here. Nattie is far superior in every category regardless, so I am giving the win to her.

Submission Match – AJ Styles vs. John Cena: WINNER – AJ Styles

This attraction may be low on the physical list, but these men will likely and should likely close out the evening’s festivities. I can’t say enough positive things about the program between The Face that Runs the Place and The Champ that Runs the Camp. Everyone has pointed out all of the merits of both men when they lock up or trade words on the stick. What else can we do with them?

How about testing the limits of who will really never give up? Both Cena and Styles have signature submission holds, but I’m sure they would bust out maneuvers we haven’t seen out of them before, ones that will dazzle the crowd but decimate their opponent. Big Match John has won these types of matches before, but it’s time for him to finally rap his palm across the mat and do the honors once more for The Phenomenal One. This will set the stage for a quality double turn; the WWE Universe loves to cheer for AJ, and Cena’s new vicious wrestling and emotional approach will finally start to make him crack.

Tag Team Championship Match – Champion American Alpha (Jason Jordan and Chad Gable) vs. The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder): WINNERS – American Alpha

Team Blue has had the advantage in tag team storylines as of late, but with Slater and Rhyno all but done, The Wyatts in tatters, and The Usos being too familiar, there are no real viable contenders to Jason Jordan and Chad Gable right now, rendering the division weak. However, since Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder have done everything there is to do in NXT, why not let The Revival celebrate their graduation with a technical clinic against their old foes for the blue and silver straps?

Not much more needs to be said for this match either and I know I’ve been saying that a lot. But the chemistry, acumen, and charisma are all there for the Alphas and No Flips Just Fists to create another mat classic. If only Jim Cornette and Kurt Angle could be in the teams’ corners, then the old-school feel and new-school environment would be just perfect.

Women’s Championship Gauntlet Match – Champion Alexa Bliss vs. Naomi vs. Becky Lynch vs. Carmella vs. Mickie James vs. Eva Marie: WINNER – Naomi

For the past few years, each edition of this spring showcase has featured a grab-bag match for the female competitors, the most recent being the barnburner of Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks from Wrestlemania 32. This year, Smackdown has a prime chance to present their two of their top ladies feuds in one sitting with some new additions as well. The Lass Kicker and Little Miss Bliss have been on a tear as far as their entire game goes, and the returns of Mickie James and Naomi have added even more athletic legitimacy to the title picture. Everyone has a reason to chase the belt, and everyone is deserving of holding it. So let’s have them all go at it at a perilous pace.

So why did I add The Staten Island Princess and the absolute worst “Superstar” in the WWE into the mix? What’s Mania without some surprises? Carmella will reach the top of the division in the next few years, so she needs the experience; plus, who else would begrudge seeing James Ellsworth just being James Ellsworth? And yes, I know I sound insane putting Eva Marie in this turmoil-style fight, but not only would she draw an immense amount of heel heat from the audience, she would make the eventual winner’s final pinfall all the more enjoyable, and that fall goes to Orlando’s own Naomi. She’s very gifted in the ring and gets everyone pumped up, and I’ve felt she’s been ready for a championship run for years. This is the time.

Intercontinental Championship No Holds Barred Match – Champion Dean Ambrose with Renee Young vs. The Miz with Maryse: WINNER – Dean Ambrose

If the Submission Match between Cena and Styles draws parallels with Bret vs. Stone Cold at Wrestlemania 13 in terms of rivalry and workrate, this Intercontinental attraction will more than echo those attributes with a heaping helping of cathartic catastrophe. Since Daniel Bryan won’t be getting his own revenge on The Miz for his belligerence and insults, Dean Ambrose can readily step in not only as his avatar, but primarily as a proud champion who’s sick of Miz playing wrestler and going after his girlfriend.

Unlike Cena vs. Styles, there will be no double turn for The Lunatic Fringe and The Moneymaker. Ambrose may have shown darker leanings as of late, but fans still adore him and his common man character, and while we really give Miz props for evolving so well over the last year, he’s still the same despicable character we love to hate. Instead, the recipe will call for wild brawling, inventive uses of chairs, tables, and canes, and a little color if Vince isn’t feeling so skittish. It’s a street fight between two of the hardest workers in the company, and both men have shown a love for continuing to perform even if they are covered with welts or lose teeth. Give me Ambrose hitting Miz with Dirty Deeds on barbed wire, then embracing his love Renee Young even as blood drips from his forehead.

World Heavyweight Championship Match – Champion Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton: WINNER – Bray Wyatt

This is the best-case scenario if my (and almost every other fan’s) expectations are met inside the Elimination Chamber this month, and what a way to bring this story to a climax. But this is a tough call for me. Bray Wyatt is clearly playing the bad guy while Randy Orton is just waiting to exact revenge on him, but it’s not all that cut and dry. Remember, The Apex Predator said the Wyatt Family will set the World Title free from John Cena, and that seems more like a heroic aspiration more than just fan service to us smarks. The Eater of Worlds doesn’t need the gold since he already sees himself as the highest power in the land, but it makes sense if he becomes a face and wants to protect wrestlers from falling into a selfish, careless cycle by holding the title. He’ll basically act as the keeper of the treasure.

Then again, this whole feud is hinging on Orton finally turning on the monstrous Wyatt, and since he keeps getting massive cheers and RKO chants every time he comes out (Seriously, he says he loves playing heel, but he gets the best reactions when he isn’t. Go figure.), why not go with logic?

Barring another double character switch for the Tuesday brand, young Bray Wyatt absolutely needs as much momentum as he can get since he’s gotten new life breathed into his role. In the battle between Sister Abigail and the spider walk and the coil-up and the RKO, let Wyatt turn away The Viper and even an appearance from Luke Harper to keep the gold, and this feud can be settled a month or so down the line with Randy finally getting the upper hand.

And with the time it took me to put this little dream card together, I see that our tour van has finally stopped in time for the Elimination Chamber event. This pit stop and the road ahead are definitely shrouded in mystery and could be maddening, but the fact that the outcomes are uncertain actually works in favor of WWE this year. At least we’re guaranteed plenty of Mauro’s “MAMA MIA’s!” tonight.

this article come to us by way of Kai of @Beccasasylum

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