Wrestling legend and WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley (Mankind, Dude Love, Cactus Jack) once said that winning a WWE title was like winning an Oscar. As such, we’ve decided to treat Wrestlemania, the biggest show in wrestling, the grand-daddy of them all, like we do other major awards shows. In this primer, we’ll run down the full card from bell to bell and briefly recap the major story lines going into the matches.
The KFC Finger-Lickin’ Good Georgia Gold Rocky Mountain Oyster Kickoff Show Presented By Snickers
The PPV-length show before the show, the Kickoff is where WWE puts some of the lower card matches while the Superdome Crowd files in. This year, the pre-show is dominated by not one but two multi-person battle royals and will finish with the perpetually curtain-jerking Cruiserweights.
The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Known among fans as the ARMBAR, the men’s battle royal is entering its fifth year of existence. Ostensibly a great honor to win, the Andre the Giant Battle Royal is really just a chance for the less important wrestlers on WWE’s payroll still get a spot at Wrestlemania. However, there is a chance this year’s match might be more marquee, due to HBO releasing a documentary on the late Mr. The Giant on April 10th.
Won in the past by such luminaries as Cesaro (WM 30), Big Show (WM 31), Mojo Rawley (WM 32), and Baron Corbin (WM 34), the ARMBAR usually is where the WWE advances mid-card stories and gives sneak peeks at new talent. Confirmed wrestlers for WM 34 include ex-winner Corbin, multi-time champion Dolph Ziggler, the veteran Goldust, and tag teams The Revival and Breezango. Previous royals have allowed for appearences from both legends like Tatanka (buffalo) and NXT wrestlers like Killian Dain, so there’s always room for surprises in this match.
The Battle Royal Formerly Known As The Fabulous Moolah Women’s Battle Royal
Like most of WWE’s attempts to “make history” with their women’s division, the Women’s Battle Royal has been a mix of good ideas and massive blunders. The first year for the match, the WWE is under pressure to make sure it’s more like the Women’s Royal Rumble, and less like the multi-women matches of the Diva’s era. Unlike the men, who have plenty of opportunities across the card to advance stories, the women are having to cram a a massive amount of continuity into this match.
For starters, the long simmering tensions between former best friends Bayley and Sasha Banks will finally come to a head in this match. Ever since Sasha betrayed Bayley at Elimination Chamber, the two have been trading vocal jabs and passive-aggressive comments every week, culminating in Sasha ramming Bayley into a wall of lockers two weeks ago, followed up by a headbutt from Bayley last Monday. Their feud has been largely fought back stage and behind the scenes, particularly on social media, but this will be their first chance to lock horns in the ring. A match that we thought could stand on its own back in January, it’s more likely that the WWE plans for the two to feud until a big show like Summerslam, meaning one will no doubt cost the other the match.
In addition to fighting each other, the faces will also be dealing with Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose from Absolution, who took advantage of their dissension on Monday to hand out a rough beat down. With the vindictive Paige still pulling the strings from ringside, Absolution will try to hit hard and fast in its first Wrestlemania.
On Smackdown, Becky Lynch and Naomi have been almost singlehandedly dealing with the dominance of the Riott Squad, the machinations of Miss MITB Carmella, the smug power of Natalya, and whatever it is Lana does. Ruby Riott is trying to save face after tough loss to Charlotte at Fastlane and hopes that she, with the help of lackeys Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan, can walk out of her first Wrestlemania with the win, but Team GlowFire is going to have something to say about that. Carmella will try to stay fresh in case any big opportunities arise during the big championship matches (I hope she cashes in on Roman), while Natalya holds on to a division that seems to have passed her, and her cat ears, by.
Filling out the ranks of the match are Titus World Wide’s number cruncher and ex-Charlotte protege Dana Brooke, angry wine-mom Mickie James, and ex-manager Lana. As with the ARMBAR, there’s a good chance NXT Women like Nikki Cross or Billie Kay will cameo, as well as legends like Michelle McCool or Lita. Cameos like these have a slim chance of winning, but the success of such appearances at the Women’s Royal Rumble shows that the crowd still stands behind the Women’s Revolution.
You Don’t Have to Cruiser-wait, Brother
The Cruiserweight Division has had an even rockier time than the women’s division. Not only did their biggest champion Neville leave earlier this year, but his successor Enzo Amore was caught in a sexual harassment scandal and subsequently fired. Left holding the belt, the WWE had to adapt and hold a 16 round tournament for the purple belt on 205 Live. After three months of intense competition, only two remained: Alicia Fox’s ex Cedric Alexander and former policeman Mustafa Ali, the WWE’s first Pakistani wrestler. The two will go at it with the Cruiserweight Division’s trademark speed and high-flying and, as a face vs. face match up, will have quite a bit of fun doing it.
The Showcase of the Immortals
Every title is on the line this year, and in the minds of many, the Wrestlemania is set to be one of the best in years. From the first ever one-on-one women’s title matches at Mania to the return of Daniel Bryan to the ring to the long awaited match up of Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles, there really is something for everyone this year. Unlike the Kickoff, the order of the card isn’t quite set. Other than a near-guarantee that Roman vs. Brock will close the show, the rest is up in the air.
The Miz and the Intercontinental Championship have been seemingly inseparable for over a year now. He’s carried it between brands and through multiple defenses, but if anyone can separate the two, it’s the two men who he’s facing on Sunday. But backed by the Miztourage and as wily as ever, The A-lister will be pulling out every trick he has to hold on to a title he views as more important than the Universal Championship. And he’s not above pitting his ostensibly face opponents against each other, either.
Finn Balor has been trying to reclaim his place on the card since an injury cut his Universal Championship run down to a single day. He’s reconciled with his ex-Bullet Club compatriots Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, but that might not be enough. He hasn’t been the demon in a while, but if there was ever a time to this is it.
Rollins has fallen a little since his height as WWE Champion. The much-vaunted SHIELD reunion collapsed quickly as Dean Ambrose got hurt and Roman had to return to his perpetual main-event status. The IC belt may be Seth Rollins’s best chance to stay relevant as he waits for his partners to heal up and finish their stories.
The Midcard Strikes Back
Can you believe they scheduled Rusev to wrestle on Rusev Day? Since Randy Orton won the title off of Bobby Roode at Fastlane, he and Roode have been fighting each other as well as ex-US champ Rusev and former WWE champ Jinder Mahal. The four of them are going to fight and one of them will win.
Beard, Bearder, Beardest
The Raw Tag Team Division might have reached its nadir. Not only is most of the division tied up in the ARMBAR, its champs The Bar have been suffering beatdown after beatdown at the hands of one man: Braun Strowman. Ever since he intervened in a number one contender’s match, he’s been sending Sheamus and Cesaro scurrying week after week. But rules is rules, and even the Monster Among Men has to have a partner on Sunday. Will it be Batista, Mr. McMahon, or maybe Braun’s nerdy brother “Brains”? We’ll have to wait and see.
DEFINITELY Not A TLC Match
By contrast, the Smackdown Tag Teams have been having a banner year.
The New Day (Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, and Big E) are as hot as ever, having spent 2018 getting pancakes, of all things, over as a wrestling prop.
Current champions the Uso’s have been incredibly successful since their heel turn. Not only do they want to retain their belts, they’re also hoping to send the other two teams to their “Uso Penitentiary.”
The Bludgeon Brothers, formerly known as Rowan & Harper, are the newest additions to the roster. Two big, burly men with big, burly hammers, they’ve crashed and smashed their way through jobbers, tv’s, and razors on their way up the card.
Not only are the three teams in this match some of the best in the company, its rumored that this match will be a TLC match. Whether through plunder or pure wrestling, these three teams will no doubt put on a blinder of a match this Sunday.
The Goat Returns
FINALLY! The end, has come back, to this storyline! If you’ve been watching Smackdown for the past, oh, year, maybe, then you’ve seen the build to this match seem to dominate the show each week. After multiple cases of Shane screwing over Sami and Kevin, Sami and Kevin screwing over AJ Styles, and weeks upon weeks of repetitive Kevin Owens promos, Daniel Bryan has decided to end it once and for all. Stepping into the ring for the first time in two years, the former WWE Champion will help defend Smackdown’s honor against the duo affectionately known as “Kami.” But Shane IS A McMahon, after all, and will no doubt be looking for any chance he can get to turn the GOAT into a ScapeGOAT.
Olympic Medalists vs. Corporate Executives
The most improbable match in recent history: Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey vs. WWE COO Triple H and his wife Stephanie McMahon. In the works since Wrestlemania 31, Kurt has stepped in for the increasingly busy Rock “The Dwayne” Johnson as the former Authority attempts to exact revenge on the newcomer.
Ever since Ronda debuted at the Rumble and pointed a bunch of times, the question of how she was going to be used has been on everyone’s tongues. We got our answer shortly afterwards when Steph and Trips made the mistake of talking down to the former UFC Champ. Over the last few months both Triple H and Rousey have gone through tables, Steph’s taken a Samoan drop, and Kurt has said about 60% of his words correctly. The likely layout of the match is obvious: Triple H and Kurt will do most of the wrestling until its time for Ronda to flatten Stephanie and lock in the armbar. Stephanie and Triple H have no reason to go over at Mania and giving Ronda a big win in her first match, at Wrestlemania no less, will be “best for business.”
Since August, Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax have been close friends in a division that has been unfriendly to both of them. After using the big Samoan to fend off challengers like Sasha Banks, Alexa tried her hardest to avoid wrestling the increasingly dominant Jax by staying on her good side and encouraging her to keep trying. Little did Jax know that she was being used by Bliss as little more than a pawn. Not only that, but Bliss also disliked her. Because she’s fat.
Yes, we’ve regressed back to the body shaming angles of yesteryear. It’s not the worst storyline, as Alexa Bliss has been playing “bitchy cheerleader” for years now and Jax is a natural babyface custom-made for the role of “non-traditional role model.” But, in typical WWE fashion, its as discouraging and unfortunate as it can be. Including Mickie James, now heel and acting like Alexa Bliss’s midlife crisis mom, is just strange, considering she herself was part of the infamous “Piggie James” angle during the Diva’s Era.
Bliss needs to drop the title, but the big question is how. The most likely scenario is an old-school face vs. heel match, with the dastardly Bliss evading Nia as long as she can until the face can clobber her and get the pin. But will Vince let his seeming golden girl go out so clean after being dominant for so long? Does the WWE believe in Nia Jax as a women’s champ beyond a feel good moment, despite her non-traditional body type? And how will all of this play out in a year-and-a-half on Total Divas, Only on the E! Network?
The Smark Wet Dream Match
Nerds in Bullet Club shirts tell me this is going to be the greatest match ever to happen on American soil since Abraham Lincoln invented the chokeslam. However, just going off of the work done in the WWE, this match has a very strong chance of being match of the night. AJ Styles has yet to have a bad match in WWE, and if he can pull a quality performance out of Jinder Mahal, working with longtime friend Shinsuke Nakamura, no slouch himself in the wrestling department, should be a piece of cake. Shinsuke is coming off of a big win at the Rumble and the crowd remains hot for him even after his (fantastic) entrance ends. The respect these two have for each other is apparent in how they’ve built this match, with Shinsuke supporting AJ’s defenses of the belt even as he was up front about his designs on it. The two will work stiff and they’ll work fast, and if there’s any contender for 5 star match on the card, it’s this one.
The Queen vs. The Empress
I’m too scared of Asuka to make a funny title for this one.
The “Empress of Tomorrow” is THE most dominant wrestler in WWE today. Her streak stretches back through her time on the main roster and even her time in NXT. She has never been pinned and never submitted. She never lost the NXT Women’s Championship, dropping it only as a formality so that she could find better challenges on the main roster. Even then, nobody was ready for Asuka. Beating down 30 women and standing tall at the Royal Rumble, she knew that only one woman could give her the challenge she’d longed for: Charlotte Flair.
Charlotte has lived up to her title of “Queen” on Smackdown, as she’s dealt with the the Welcoming Committee, Miss MITB Carmella, and finally the Riott Squad in her time on team blue. As champ, she’s come into her own in the ring and on the mic, standing atop the division as the undisputed best of the best. At the end of Fastlane, she could weep, as there were no more wrestlers to conquer. Then Asuka appeared.
Striding out in a robe nearly as magnificent as her own, Asuka removed her mask, grinned from ear to ear, and pointed, silently, at the Wrestlemania sign suspended above the ring. As Asuka’s theme rang in her ears, for the first time in months, the Queen felt doubt.
“Iron Sharpens Iron” has been the motto of this feud, and there is no doubt that they will bring out the best in each other. Asuka Lock vs. Figure 8, Moonsault vs. Buzzsaw Kick. If AJ and Shinsuke doesn’t get Match of the Night, then this match certainly will.
5th Time’s The Charm
Last year he conquered the Undertaker, the year before that he beat Triple H, before that he won the Royal Rumble. Roman Reigns is going to become the champion if it kills him. Or kills the fans, more like. The match between Brock and Roman was passable at 31, and since then Roman has become one of the best wrestlers in the company. As long as Brock wears his working shoes, this match will be incredibly fun to watch. Even if the outcome has been telegraphed for over a year.
Say it with me: OOOOOOOOOOAAAHHHHHH!
Is It Happening?
John Cena has been trying his damndest to get onto the Wrestlemania card. He’s been on both brands and in multiple matches and has always come up short. A few weeks a go, he went nuclear. He challenged the Undertaker, the Wrestlemania stalwart Roman Reigns seemingly retired a year ago, to a math. So far, the Deadman has been silent. But all signs point to a return by Taker. The real question is…which one?
Last year, Undertaker left his iconic hat and coat in the ring after his loss to Roman. But Taker hasn’t always been a zombie wizard undertaker cowboy. For a period in the early-2000’s, he was a goth redneck biker. Not only that, but the man who performed his first theme song, Kid Rock, is being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year. Hmmmmm.
You can catch Wrestlemania 34 April 8th, 2018, only on the WWE Network. The whole thing kicks off, live from New Orleans, at 4:30 pm EST, with the main festivities starting at 7:00 PM.