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Written By: Mark Armstrong
Having looked at the road to WrestleMania 32 a few days ago, I will now provide my predictions for all of the matches this Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
Before beginning with the bouts, I’ll speculate on the potential involvement by legends and/or injured stars. The Rock is confirmed to be on hand, which I see most likely being as part of a talking segment with Steve Austin. I can also see Mick Foley being part of this to deliver a feel-good moment for the fans (albeit one not quite as memorable as the Austin-Rock-Hulk Hogan interaction at WM XXX). As for other stars, I can say Seth Rollins popping up in a backstage moment, and Shawn Michaels will probably appear at some point, although the Texas location means that Shawn will have to favour a babyface if his involvement is to leave the desired impact.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the matches, beginning with the three Kick-Off Show bouts.
1. The Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz
I was hoping that this should be a tables match, but it looks like it’ll remain a regular tag team match. This should be a really good start to the night’s action, and an underrated first-time meeting between two of WWE’s top tag teams. I think The Usos will win this match, but that the feud will continue beyond Mania, which could lead to a Tables rematch at a later date (then again, most expected the same during the Dudleyz-New Day feud in autumn 2015).
Prediction: The Usos
2. Brie Bella, Alicia Fox, Paige, Natalya and Eva Marie vs. Lana, Emma, Naomi, Tamina and Summer Rae
Team Bella will win, with the about-to-retire Brie Bella making Lana submit to the Yes Lock after a fairly short match. Nothing else to say for this, really. I tried to think of something else to discuss here but I can’t, unless you wonder aloud why WWE thought the hateable Eva Marie would receive a babyface reaction when she was revealed to be a part of this match.
Prediction: Team Bella
3. Kalisto vs. Ryback (United States Championship)
Kalisto vs. Ryback has so little energy to it that one can understand why it is now on the Kick-Off show. I can see Kalisto retaining here in another upset win over The Big Guy, but I’m thinking it’s more likely that Ryback wins here, possibly to drop the U.S. Title straight away to an NXT call-up (Finn Balor or Samoa Joe?). It’ll be a decent match, but nothing memorable (which must be annoying to Kalisto after his show-stealing performance back at TLC).
1. The New Day vs. The League Of Nations
Onto the main card now: The New Day will defeat The League Of Nations. The LON have nowhere near as much momentum or popularity as New Day, who have just turned babyface after months of being cheered by many crowds. The match should be decent, but it may be more notable for the entrances (I anticipate a grand, unicorn-and-trombone-themed entrance for New Day). There isn’t really much else for me to say about this; New Day will win, and will probably be given fresh opposition on Raw the following night (possibly Enzo Amore and Big Cass?).
Prediction: The New Day
2. Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal
This has now been moved to the main card, which suggests that something fairly momentous could happen. This could be through a main roster debut, a returning legend or simply the beginning of a major push for an existing star.
I’m going for the latter and picking Braun Strowman, or Bray Wyatt if he’s entered (and where are The Wyatt Family on the Mania card anyway?). One could suggest just about anything from the standpoint of an NXT name debuting or an old favourite appearing, so I’ll take the safe route and pick someone currently in the fold. Based on those already entered and the names who strangely don’t have a match scheduled, I’m picking either Braun or Bray to win. And if I had to pick one, I’ll go for the newer face and pick Braun.
Prediction: Braun Strowman
3. Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles
There’s only one logical outcome here, and that’s AJ beating Y2J. It would bring a smooth end to the feud, and give recent signing Styles enough of a boost to progress up the card in some fashion. Besides, he’s making his Mania debut and is still relatively new to WWE. It would be a pointless booking decision to have Jericho win here, especially since Y2J’s current run in WWE will be ending soon.
If they get 15-20 minutes, both men have the opportunity to put on a really good match. We’ve already had three thrilling bouts so far, each one better than the last, so the hope is that both well-travelled, experienced and talented veterans will put on a Mania match for the ages in Dallas. That depends on how much time they’re allotted, but this has the potential to be the match of the night, if not a contender for Match Of The Year.
Prediction: AJ Styles
4. Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match
This should be a similar spot-fest to last year, perhaps slightly better given that this is the Mania debut for Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn (both of whom will be determined to leave a lasting impression), and gives Zack Ryder what is probably his last major appearance on a WWE card (especially since he’s only involved as a replacement for Neville). A Pop-Up Powerbomb off a ladder by Owens seems possible, but other than that it’s hard to predict what the major spots will be here (which is good for a match that is supposed to be).
The result is a bit unpredictable too. Some see KO retaining the gold, others believe that Sami Zayn will triumph. Given his push over the last ten months, I’m choosing Owens to win here, with a view to him feuding with and losing the IC Title to Zayn at a later date.
Prediction: Kevin Owens
5. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch (Divas Championship)
The three-way between Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch has the potential to be the greatest ever WWE women’s match. If it lasts 15 minutes or more, I think that’s what we’ll get, since all three will be going all-out to make history and essentially complete the revolution of female wrestling in WWE. This one depends on time, at least when it comes to match quality.
As for the result: the slow-burning push of Sasha makes me think that she will be the one to win on Sunday. Becky Lynch is also very talented, but she hasn’t quite got the momentum or the popularity of The Boss. I expect Sasha to win by making Lynch submit to the Bank Statement to become Divas Champion (although rumour has it that a new Women’s Title will be unveiled on the post-Mania Raw) and heading into a feud with the supposedly-unbeaten former titleholder Charlotte from there, or if Charlotte and Becky concluded their storyline after WM, Sasha’s first opponent for her newly-won title could be Bayley if she debuts on Raw the night after Mania.
Prediction: Sasha Banks
6. Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar (No Holds Barred Street Fight)
On the one hand, Brock Lesnar can’t afford to lose again, having won so few matches of consequence since he lost the WWE Title at Mania 31. On the other hand, Ambrose has built up enough momentum that it would represent a squandered opportunity if he lost here and returned to his usual spot on the card.
I see Lesnar winning the match, but in a fashion that enhances Ambrose. If Dean is seen to take such a beating that it builds sympathy for his character and, more importantly, has fans rooting for him to pull off an unlikely win, then this match should be a tremendous success even if Brock wins. The main thing is for this match to benefit Ambrose, and since the chances of him beating Lesnar are slim, then a never-say-die performance to rival Steve Austin against Bret Hart at WM 13 is probably the way that WWE will go.
Perhaps of greater interest is how violent this match will get. Since WWE went PG, the use of genuinely dangerous weapons and the use of heavy blood loss have been eliminated, yet recent weeks have the match hinting at Ambrose using a crowbar, a barbed wire baseball bat and even a chainsaw. Most likely, there may be some minor blood from some harder-than-expected blows, and Ambrose might get in one shot to the back with “Barbie”, but those expecting something along the lines of Edge vs. Mick Foley from Mania 22 might be disappointed. It’ll still be a great brawl, though, and a contender to steal the show in Dallas.
Prediction: Brock Lesnar
7. The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon (Hell In A Cell Match; Career vs. Control of WWE)
Undertaker vs. Shane is the most intriguing match of the night. If Shane wins, he takes control of Raw and has promised mass changes (that didn’t happen when he temporarily managed Raw in late 2008 but I guess we’re not supposed to remember that), meaning that many fans want him to win. However, even with The Streak no longer a factor, fans still do not want to see Taker lose, especially with the added stipulation that Undertaker’s career is essentially over if he does taste defeat and go 22-2 at Mania.
The build-up and storytelling has been hit-and-miss, and there remains some confusion at the idea that we could accept non-wrestler Shane as an opponent for Taker, but there is still more good than bad within this set-up, especially when it comes to the match itself.
It will feature little wrestling but include plenty of standout spots and diversions, all of which should create a very entertaining atmosphere. The inevitable use of the Hell In A Cell cage and likely use of weapons will disguise the limitations of both (Taker has just turned 51, don’t forget), as will the guaranteed involvement of Vince McMahon.
I anticipate Shane taking such a beating that UT will relent to Vince’s chagrin, which will give Shane O Mac a way back in. He will still need assistance to truly gain the upper hand which may come from neglected stars who want the Authority gone (Dolph Ziggler?), legends with a reason to attack Taker (Shawn Michaels?) or even top names planting the seeds for a future showdown with Taker (John Cena?). Shane will bust out his signature spots, some of which will require the action to leave HIAC. I foresee Vince, Stephanie and even Linda getting involved towards the end, with Shane getting his shots in on Vince.
But in the end, I see Shane taking one chance too many by perhaps leaping from the Cell roof in the spot of the night, crashing and burning in some fashion, and Taker getting the win from there. I also see Taker attacking Vince post-match to reaffirm his babyface status.
Taker isn’t losing because his career simply couldn’t end at the hands of a non-wrestler. Plus, since Shane was WWE’s last resort as a Mania opponent for Taker, I see Shane’s involvement being a short-term thing. That being said, the match could perhaps be used to set up what will be Taker’s genuine last match at Mania 33, most likely against John Cena or Sting (we can only hope), with that bout possibly being announced as soon as the post-WM episode of Raw.
Whatever happens, this will be entertaining and memorable, and will probably exceed expectations – but I still wouldn’t expect anything other than an Undertaker win.
Prediction: The Undertaker
8. Triple H vs. Roman Reigns (WWE Championship Match)
Ten years ago at WrestleMania, John Cena defended the WWE Title against Triple H in a match preceded by almost venomous hatred towards Cena by the hardcore fans, despite him being the babyface and HHH being the heel. Many wondered whether Cena would turn heel that night and HHH go face, with Cena not leaving Mania as WWE Champion. As it turned out, Cena remained a face and successfully defeated HHH, and has been a babyface ever since. The half-cheers/half-boos reaction has almost constantly followed Cena since then, although it has not prevented him from becoming WWE’s biggest star since the end of the Attitude Era. That being said, it has always been mystifying how WWE could seem satisfied that its supposedly-top good guy would be booed by so many fans nearly every week.
Which brings us to its modern-day counterpart, as Roman Reigns fills the Cena role and HHH’s spot is taken by, erm, Triple H, except with The Game being the defending champion. Fans have been hating on Reigns since Royal Rumble 2015 up to Reigns’ WWE Title bout against Brock Lesnar at Mania 31. The boos continued throughout 2015 on and off, but it seemed like Reigns had found a way to eliminate the boos at TLC 2015 and thereafter. But since this year’s Royal Rumble, the problem has returned and has arguably been worse than ever; it seems like there’s nothing that will get the majority of fans to cheer Reigns, especially a hardcore crowd at a show like WrestleMania.
This has led to speculation as to whether or not WWE should curtail Reigns’ push by having him lose here, and/or turn heel. But whilst the reaction is obviously irksome to both Reigns and WWE, I believe that Reigns will still win this match, and that he should win the match, and even that he should remain a babyface. And here’s why.
Primarily, it’s because the boos are down to WWE rather than Reigns. It was WWE and not Reigns who chose to have him win the 2015 Rumble over Daniel Bryan. Bryan’s retirement this year probably suggests that WWE did the right thing (the booking of the match was horrible, mind you). Reigns was kept away from the main event scene for much of 2015, which also seemed to be the correct decision to defuse some of the heat. It wasn’t Roman’s fault that so many performers have gone down with injuries which have made it almost impossible to find anyone other than Reigns to main event Mania 32. It also wasn’t Reigns who decided that the only other viable contenders, Brock Lesnar and Dean Ambrose, would not be involved in the title scene, nor that HHH was effectively the only remaining heel to defend the title against Roman.
What’s more, Reigns has had some of the best Pay-Per-View matches of the last 12 months in WWE. And he did earn the cheers with his more aggressive displays in December 2015 and into January 2016. Let’s also not forget that whilst the hardcore fan bases boo Reigns, the majority of audiences do still give Reigns the desired cheers (and why did WWE decide to hold the pre-Mania editions of Raw in towns where Reigns was guaranteed to be booed). Finally, it is WWE who controls Reigns’ character, from his continuous use of Shield-related spots to his promo content to his unexplained or illogical absences between and during major matches.
On the road to WM 31, fans partly rejected Reigns because they felt that he hadn’t earned the spot. Yet, over the last year, Reigns couldn’t have done much more given the PG restrictions on talent, but this still hasn’t been enough to satisfy fans. Had WWE fast-tracked Kevin Owens or AJ Styles into Roman’s spot, those same fans would have been hypocritical to accept them wholeheartedly considering that Owens and Styles only arrived in WWE in late 2014 and early 2016 respectively.
This isn’t to suggest that Reigns is perfect by any means, nor that fans should just accept whatever WWE gives them. And WWE has definitely mishandled Roman’s character. But it seems that many fans don’t know what they want anymore. Unless a wrestler has competed extensively on the independent circuit and/or doesn’t resemble the bodybuilder type famously favoured by Vince McMahon, it seems that fans are inclined to reject them. Look at Sheamus, look at Ryback, look at Batista (circa 2014). Conversely, the CM Punks, Daniel Bryans and Dean Ambroses receive almost endless support, which they have earned because of their talent, but it does seem like fans are deliberately rejecting some performers for reasons unrelated to their skill sets, which really shouldn’t be happening. And even then, it is not enough for some fans, as evidenced by the disrespect shown by Brooklyn fans to the Raw six-man tag featuring such hardcore heroes as Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler and Sami Zayn.
Therefore, although the boos are a heavy distraction, one can understand why WWE chooses to ignore them and stick to its plans. If fans provide Reigns and HHH with the opportunity to do so, it is entirely possible that they can deliver a really exciting brawl which would be a worthy way of crowning Roman as WWE’s new top dog. Interference is possible, although WWE would have to be careful who it chooses to get involved (e.g. Shawn Michaels is guaranteed a babyface pop in his home state of Texas, so him helping HHH might only cause even louder boos towards Reigns). Either way, performance-wise this should be a good main event with the logical outcome of Reigns winning, but the fans could create a situation whereby Mania ends on a low note.
The only way around this is a double turn, but given what I have outlined above, I do not see it happening because Reigns has been pushed too hard for WWE to change course now. I can see Reigns turning heel in late 2016/early 2017 depending on how future reactions pan out, with a view to another, and hopefully more successful, babyface turn for Roman a year or two after that.
It may not be what fans want to see, but the only outcome I can see is Roman cleanly pinning HHH to become WWE Champion and remaining a babyface. And I do feel that Reigns has at least earned the opportunity to sink or swim as a long-term titleholder (he’s done more than John Cena and Batista did prior to their first title wins in 2005). It’s hoped that the match can be good enough to overcome what’s bound to be a loud and negative crowd reaction in AT&T Stadium. The other hope is that WWE tweaks Roman’s persona after or even at Mania so that he has a genuine chance of becoming as big a star as Cena did. A year from now, as WrestleMania 33 approaches, we’ll know for sure how the Roman Reigns experiment truly worked out, since nobody can say for sure until he’s given the hot seat for the long run.
Prediction: Roman Reigns
So, WrestleMania 32 is bound to be a memorable, entertaining and intriguing night of action. WWE is hoping that this will be a milestone Mania, one which will help to define the current era. The performances should live up to the standard set by previous Manias, the possibility of big surprises or major moments should also enhance the show, and the results will determine the path that WWE will be heading in the weeks, months and maybe even years to come.
Despite the negativity surrounding some feuds, matches or pushes, WM 32 will still be the biggest show of 2016, and let’s not forget how much of a success Mania 31 was after a very lacklustre build-up. It may not be quite the show that Vince McMahon envisioned when he first announced that the 100,000+ seater AT&T Stadium would host the event, but WrestleMania 32 is bound to be unforgettable, hopefully for the right reasons.