Wrestling Preview: WWE WrestleMania 35

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The seeds for WrestleMania 35 were first planted at WrestleMania 34.

That night, Ronda Rousey made her in-ring WWE debut in spectacular fashion, as she and Kurt Angle defeated Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. More notable than the expected babyface triumph concerned Rousey’s performance; considering that it was her first wrestling match, she performed to a very high standard, a level that she has continued to compete at ever since, making her rookie year an overwhelming success. That same night, Charlotte Flair shockingly ended Asuka’s undefeated streak to retain a SmackDown Women’s Championship that she would lose to Carmella (cashing in Money In The Bank) two nights later.

Despite the latter setback, Charlotte’s big-stage victory was a major hint that WWE was planning to hold a huge Ronda vs. Charlotte bout for WrestleMania 35, and a historic first all-female main event for the Showcase Of The Immortals at that. Rumours prior to the show suggested that Asuka would dethrone Flair and remain undefeated until a battle of the titans against Rowdy Ronda on April 7 2019 at MetLife Stadium. Asuka’s defeat meant that, while unconfirmed on-screen for obvious reasons, Asuka seemed to be out and Charlotte seemed to be in. And since Rousey and Flair will share the ring this Sunday, that theory seemed to be true. But something funny happened along the way …

Becky Lynch was a participant in the Women’s Battle Royal at WM 34, and one who was easy to forget. Having made a fairly big splash upon her arrival to the main roster in 2015 (after shining in the ring in NXT), Becky would go on to become the first SD Women’s Champion at Backlash 2016, before losing the gold to Alexa Bliss at TLC of that year. In the 18 months that followed, Lynch remained fairly popular, but her on-screen status had plummeted. Prior to Money In The Bank, Becky began to build up some momentum through various wins en route to potentially capturing the MITB briefcase.

That didn’t happen, but the happy-go-lucky Irish Lass Kicker continued winning, until she finally earned a title shot against Carmella at SummerSlam 2018. However, a few weeks beforehand, Charlotte returned from a brief absence to earn a way into said contest. This didn’t please Lynch at all, who had fought long and hard to return to the top of the division, and now with her big title shot in sight, Flair was potentially coming to take it away. Becky and Charlotte remained on fairly cordial terms, given that both were babyfaces at this stage.

At SummerSlam, Charlotte pinned Becky to capture Carmella’s crown, and fans weren’t happy at all. Neither was a frustrated Lynch, who attacked Charlotte and destroyed her all over ringside. She had turned heel, further evidenced by her slating the fans a few nights later. A newly-confident, cocky and rebellious Becky would make Charlotte’s life a misery for the next few weeks, blaming her for stealing such an opportunity away from her. The only thing was, fans were still cheering Becky (they were wildly in favour of her cause when she assaulted Charlotte at SummerSlam), and they were booing Flair.

Becky took the title from Charlotte at Hell In A Cell, retained after a DQ loss at Super Show-Down, avoided defeat in a SmackDown title rematch, and finally beat Flair in a memorable Last Man Standing match at the first all-women’s PPV in WWE history, Evolution. Throughout all of this, fans were solidly behind Becky, so much so that by this point, Lynch was a heel in name and presentation only, because the audience weren’t buying it. In contrast, Flair was a babyface who was being treated as a heel.

Also at Evolution, Ronda retained the Raw Women’s Championship against Nikki Bella in the main event. She had almost defeated Nia Jax for the gold at Money In The Bank before interference from Alexa Bliss led to a successful cash-in on Jax. Ronda captured the title at SummerSlam, and retained against Bliss at HIAC, before beginning the storyline that led to her beating (and seemingly retiring) Nikki on October 28. Up to this point, fans were wowed by Ronda’s rapidly-developing ring skills and impressed with her bad-ass attitude. Next stop: Survivor Series, where Raw and SmackDown collide for the only night of the year on PPV (which may not be true). And this is where things get interesting.

It was announced that the two Women’s Champions, Ronda and Becky, would clash at Survivors. It promised to be a fun match, and a chance for Lynch to enhance her star
power opposite Rowdy Ronda, though there was the risk that Ronda might receive some boos against the increasingly-popular Becky. A few duelling promos across both shows, and a bit of Twitter banter (a sign of things to come), was followed by the angle that was ultimately responsible for 2019’s Mania main event.

On the November 12 Raw, Becky attacked Ronda in her dressing room, and led a SmackDown female invasion on Raw’s women’s division. It was an almighty brawl, and Becky had the upper hand over Rousey, trapping her in the Dis-Arm-Her backstage and levelling her with chairshots. She retrieved to the audience, who were lapping it up
big-time. By this point, Lynch had been busted open, the result of an errant punch from Nia Jax. No big deal, it seemed, given how well the angle had gotten over.

But then came the news that the punch from Nia had caused a broken face and a concussion to Lynch, thus preventing her from facing Ronda at the Series. Fans were
gutted, and so was Becky, who had just participated in a star-making angle only to be removed from the bout that it was setting up. On the November 14 SD, Becky played the role of a vengeful babyface as she selected Charlotte to face Ronda. It was either the quelling of hostilities or a diversion from kayfabe as Bex and Flair shared a moment together, with the shared message of beating Rousey on Sunday. The presumed WM 35 match, the first women’s main event for a WrestleMania, was coming several months early, and with only five days’ notice.

In hindsight, this was the best possible thing that could have happened to Becky. No doubt, she’d have put up a fight, but she almost certainly would have submitted to Rousey, thus dousing her heat somewhat. Instead, this turn of events only made fans warm to Becky even more, and put her on a pedestal that very few female competitors had ever enjoyed. In little more than 24 hours, Becky had gone from an enjoyable Women’s Champion to arguably the most over act in the promotion. Meanwhile, Nia (who had fortunately just been turned back heel) became public enemy #1, and was massively booed from that point on.

At Survivors itself, Ronda and Charlotte had quite a battle, though it ended with an abrupt disqualification as Charlotte suddenly went crazy. Channelling Becky (who had taken to calling herself The Man by this point), Flair pounded Rousey with several hard kendo stick shots. Though Flair lost, this beating endeared her to the Los Angeles crowd, who had suddenly forgiven her for the previous few months. Rousey, meanwhile, was booed out of the building, really for no reason at all. The next night, Ronda vowed revenge on both Charlotte and Becky, and so the plan was beginning to formulate for Mania 35.

Becky and Charlotte quickly feuded again, and they battled alongside Asuka in a TLC match, the main event of that card, for Lynch’s title. That night, Ronda cost both Bex and Flair the title by tipping a ladder over, allowing Asuka to win the gold. Though many assumed that the next stage was for Becky (who was receiving increased air time, and even teamed with John Cena to beat Andrade and Zelina Vega, followed by her denying a Cena handshake) or Charlotte to win the women’s Royal Rumble match and go on to face Ronda at Mania, though this thought process altered somewhat when Lynch earned a title rematch against Asuka at RR.

Becky, by this point a clear babyface with a Steve Austin-style anti-authority attitude, surprisingly submitted to Asuka cleanly to open the Rumble PPV, but her night wasn’t over. In a booking development that was unfortunately too predictable to achieve the full impact, Lynch replaced an injured Lana to enter the women’s Rumble, and though Nia Jax again targeted Lynch by beating down on her knee at ringside, this wouldn’t deny the Lass Kicker. As Charlotte heelishly targeted the injury, Lynch fought back and knocked Flair off the apron to win the Rumble. The next night, she marched to the Raw ring and blistered Ronda in a face-to-face confrontation, as fans wildly cheered for her. In contrast, they booed babyface Ronda out of the building, not even allowing her to speak.

In the meantime, doubt was cast on-screen as to whether Lynch was medically able to wrestle Ronda, which opened the door for a controversial yet crucial decision: after Becky had offended and even attacked Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, she was ordered to apologise to them to keep her Mania spot. She did so, against the will of her character, but that didn’t stop Vince McMahon from suspending Lynch for 60 days, keeping her out of action until after Mania, and replacing her with Charlotte Flair (because, well, WWE love Charlotte). Flair had dropped hints of a heel turn by sarcastically congratulating Lynch on her Rumble win, and this completed said development, outraging fans in the process.

The suspended Lynch appeared at Elimination Chamber and attacked both Ronda and Charlotte with her crutch in a violent yet well-received angle. HHH vowed to have Lynch
arrested if she tried to do that again, and when she did on February 25, she ended up in handcuffs. Meanwhile, Ronda insisted that Stephanie re-insert Becky into the WM match, and even apparently relinquished her Raw Women’s Title in protest. McMahon decided to reinstate Lynch, and she announced that Becky and Charlotte would battle at Fast Lane to determine a new Raw Women’s Champ, only for Rousey to bounce in and take her title back. As Steph confirmed that Becky would now fight at Fast Lane to earn her way back into the Mania main event or she would be “done”, Ronda turned heel by chastising the fans and attacking both Becky (who was still selling the knee injury at this point) and Charlotte, but more so Lynch.

Yet Ronda actually helped Becky to get back into the Mania match with a simple punch to the stomach while she was locked in a Figure-Eight by Charlotte, earning Becky a tainted DQ win at Fast Lane. This didn’t go over very well, feeling like a let-down, and by this point, fans were starting to feel overwhelmed by the splurge of angles to promote the match. Nevertheless, the hype rolled on, which included Ronda and her husband Travis Browne attacking security, Charlotte and Becky having a wild brawl on The KO Show, and Ronda and Becky exchanging increasingly-powerful social media threats (some of which were said to have caused genuine friction). Oh, and Ronda posted a video online where she broke kayfabe and slagged off wrestling and wrestling fans, which infuriated fans of a form of entertainment they have known to be predetermined since the day they began watching.

On March 25, it was officially confirmed that this would indeed be the last match at Mania, a historic moment for WWE’s women. After Becky beat Ronda and Charlotte in a Beat The Clock challenge against each Riott Squad member (for, erm, I dunno, momentum I guess?), we had another big twist as Charlotte unexpectedly reclaimed the SmackDown Women’s Title from Asuka on March 26. This meant that both the Raw and SD prizes would be on the line in the triple threat showdown, making it Winner Take All. To cap off the build-up, after managing to co-exist to defeat Riott Squad in a six-woman tag, all three women had a hell of a brawl, which saw each of them handcuffed, only to continue fighting each other and security with kicks and other arm-less attacks. They were led backstage, but the scrap rolled on, with Becky and Ronda kicking at each other in the back of a car, Ronda driving said vehicle (without hands) into another cop car, and Flair kneeing Ronda in the head while she was looking out of a car window that her own feet had destroyed. Wow!

It’s been one hell of a ride to MetLife Stadium, and the build-up has been, on the whole, the best for any Mania match in five years (if you assume that Daniel Bryan’s rise to the top in 2014 was all planned). Ronda’s first year in WWE surpassed all expectations, Charlotte has proven (especially in recent weeks) why she is worthy of being involved in this milestone encounter, and Becky managed to get over organically on a massive level, so much so that WWE simply had to include her in the main event of WrestleMania, one year after she performed on the Kick-Off Show. All eyes will be on these three this Sunday, and it’s bound to deliver in the ring itself.

All of this would be enough to carry one WrestleMania, it would seem, but there’s more. Lots more, actually.

Let’s start with Roman Reigns. He lost to Brock Lesnar at WM 34, which was a huge surprise as it was assumed he would finally pin Lesnar to win the Universal Title there. He did eventually defeat him at SummerSlam, by which point WWE needed to have Braun Strowman on-hand for a MITB cash-in that never happened to retain fan interest in the crowning achievement of its picked hero. But his fate would take a stunning turn on October 22, with Roman making the shocking announcement that he had lived with leukaemia for eleven years (unbeknownst to most viewers) and that it was back. He would need to forfeit the title and temporarily leave wrestling to go home and fight the illness. Fans didn’t know what to say, but they did cheer his fight against cancer on and chant “Thank you Roman!” as he left the arena.

Happily, Roman succeeded in beating leukaemia for a second time, announcing that it was in remission on February 25 in a moment that was as heart-warming as his previous statement had been heart-breaking. From there, The Shield reunited one final time to defeat heels-on-the-block Baron Corbin, Bobby Lashley and Drew McIntyre at Fast Lane. The next night, McIntyre prevented a Roman-Baron match by hitting Reigns with two Claymores, the latter sending him into the ring post. Drew went on to challenge Reigns for WrestleMania, which Roman accepted. Drew would still have the upper hand in their fresh feud, as we prepare for what (and this is easy to forget amongst all the excitement of Mania season) will be Roman’s first singles match in around six months at MetLife Stadium.

With Reigns out of the Universal Title picture, Brock Lesnar would regain the gold (to worldwide groans) by effectively squashing Braun Strowman at Crown Jewel. Brock went on to defeat Daniel Bryan in a non-title match at Survivor Series, before retaining his title against Finn Balor at Royal Rumble. That same night, Seth Rollins (who had stated way back on November 5 that he vowed to dethrone Lesnar) won the men’s Royal Rumble match, and unofficially chose Lesnar to be his opponent at WrestleMania by taking six F5’s.

Honestly, there isn’t that much to say about the hype for this one. Rollins and Paul Heyman had several, very similar promo battles, and Seth moonlighted to participate in The Shield reunion. Lesnar did appear on March 18, distracting Seth to take a loss against Drew McIntyre. After another promo war with Heyman, Rollins finally achieved real momentum with two low blows and a Curb Stomp to Brock on April 1, allowing him to stand tall in his final on-screen appearance before battling The Beast at WrestleMania.

As for Braun Strowman? In the aftermath of Crown Jewel, the initial belief was that he’d challenge Lesnar himself, and maybe even dethrone him, at Mania. Instead, after beating Baron in a TLC match (while still recovering from shoulder surgery) to earn his Universal Title match against Lesnar at Royal Rumble, he was actually removed from his own title shot by Vince (to which he responded by tipping over McMahon’s limousine). After failing to win the Rumble (Rollins eliminated him last), and being the victim of a Shield triple-powerbomb by Corbin, Lashley and McIntyre at Elimination Chamber to set up a Shield reunion match that he didn’t take part in, Braun’s attention was captured by Saturday Night Live performers (and apparent WrestleMania correspondents) Michael Che and Colin Jost, Braun entered himself into the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and verbally forced both SNL guys to enter as well. If you think this represents a massive dip for The Monster Among Men, you’d be right. Where’s Nicholas when you need him? (In school, probably.)

Mind you, another monster was back on the scene: Batista. The Animal had long hoped online and in media interviews to return to WWE one day in order to have one final match, a retirement match, against Triple H. Despite his increased star power due to his movie success, WWE weirdly seemed to be ignoring Batista, and there was even a rumour (spread by Dave himself) that he had been contacted about teaming with Ronda Rousey to face HHH and Stephanie McMahon at Mania 34, only to be replaced by Kurt Angle without even been contacted about the decision.

But Batista finally returned on the 1000th episode of SmackDown as part of an Evolution reunion. In his hometown of Washington D.C., Batista was treated like a true hero, and he reeled off the achievements of his Evolution cohorts, saying that Triple H “has done everything … except beat me!” This led to an intense square-off, but this would not be the night to renew hostilities. As it turned out, HHH then suffered a torn pectoral muscle when teaming with Shawn Michaels against The Undertaker and Kane at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia (imagine reading that statement one year ago), which put his Mania status in jeopardy. Thankfully, he was deemed to have recovered sufficiently in time to compete at Mania, thus allowing his WM storyline to be green-lit.

Ric Flair’s 70th birthday celebration on the February 25 Raw had been hyped for three weeks, so you knew something big was gonna happen. Though some expected Becky
Lynch involvement at Charlotte and Ric’s expense, instead we saw Batista return proper as he dragged Flair out of his own dressing room, before asking HHH if he had his attention. The Game responded the following week by stating that he did (noting that Batista would not fight the character but the man, and no not Becky). Then the two men had a verbal confrontation that, thanks to online video mixes, almost descended into unplanned comedy, but the upshot was that Batista would have his last match against HHH at Mania under No Holds Barred rules, though Batista also vowed to end The Game’s career. So much so that HHH was “asked” to put his career at stake, a stipulation to which he obliged. Batista’s final response before Mania? “Hunter, kiss my ass.”

Speaking of retirements, Kurt Angle revealed on March 11 that he would have his farewell match at Mania. This had been long expected, since Kurt has been clearly struggling in his limited in-ring appearances since returning to WWE in 2017. Over the next few weeks, Angle racked up a few wins against Apollo Crews, Chad Gable and Samoa Joe, as well as a no-contest against AJ Styles and a non-match against Rey Mysterio due to Baron Corbin, who was named as Angle’s final opponent to a very angry response by many, who believe that Baron is a let-down as Kurt’s last adversary, even given the fact that Kurt’s in-ring time was drastically reduced to almost-zero in the final weeks before Mania due to his health. We may yet get a swerve on the night involving a name from the not-so-distant past (cough John Cena), but as things stand, Angle is retiring against Corbin on Sunday.

With McIntyre facing Reigns and Corbin squaring off against Angle, Bobby Lashley now needed an opponent for Mania. After losing the Intercontinental Championship to Finn Balor at Elimination Chamber (well, it was actually a handicap match involving Lio Rush, and Balor actually pinned Lio), Bobby regained the gold from Finn on March 11 thanks to Rush interference. But Finn earned a rematch by beating Bobby and Jinder Mahal on March 25, and he revealed that The Demon character would face The All-Mighty at Mania. Bobby’s first year back in WWE has been very underwhelming (it’s as if fans don’t give a toss about him, whether he’s a heel or a face), but at least he’ll be wrestling at Mania for the first time since he represented Donald Trump in 2007. Hmm, whatever happened to him?

If there wasn’t enough happening on Raw, Santa Claus (well, Vince) revealed on December 24 that WWE would soon crown Women’s Tag Team Champions. That happened when
Bayley and Sasha Banks, the Boss ‘N’ Hug Connection, triumphed in a six-way Elimination Chamber match. A title defence against Nia Jax and Tamina at Fast Lane was successful, but it was followed by Nia and Tamina destroying everyone, including guest commentator Beth Phoenix. This led out Beth’s old pal Natalya, who was also laid out. In the meantime, The IIconics dared Bayley and Sasha to appear on SmackDown with their titles (the belts are not limited to one brand), and when they did, Peyton Royce and Billie Kay picked up the win. The upshot of all this is a four-way title match at Mania, as Beth Phoenix has her first PPV match since 2012 in combination with Nattie against The IIconics, Nia and Tamina and the titleholders themselves, Bayley and Sasha.

Elsewhere, Alexa Bliss was named the host of WrestleMania 35, which raises further questions as to her in-ring future, considering she’s only had two matches on television since Hell In A Cell due to injury. And Elias has a musical performance for us all, and is adamant that nobody will interrupt him this time. If he isn’t interrupted by a big star on the night (The Undertaker, The Rock, or at least John Cena), fans won’t be very happy, as this represents the best opportunity for a surprise appearance.

Speaking of Taker and Cena, their futures have been the subject of much discussion, mainly because neither are officially booked to appear. They battled briefly at WM 34 in a well-built collision, but since then they have gone in separate directions. Taker beat Rusev in a Casket match at Greatest Royal Rumble before losing to HHH at Super Show-Down and being part of Shawn Michaels’ (erm, let’s be kind and say “disappointing”) comeback as he and Kane lost to DX at Crown Jewel. Cena was meant to appear at the latter show (he had pinned HHH at GRR and teamed with Lashley to beat Elias and Kevin Owens at SSD), but due to all the controversy surrounding it, he wisely avoided appearing. Cena has barely appeared on TV since then due to movie commitments (a few January matches were his only on-screen bouts), and Taker hasn’t appeared at all, with there even being rumours that he was finished (ironically, considering there were rumours at one point of another Taker-HBK bout on April 7). I’m still expecting one of them, if not both, to appear at Mania, even if they don’t wrestle. But their lack of involvement in the Mania 35 build-up has been a big talking point, one that we will only get true clarity on come the night itself.

Dean Ambrose’s name is also notably absent from the Mania card. That’s because he’s about to leave WWE, and he may have already made his final on-screen appearance. His departure was announced back in January, and WWE has handled it in a manner that is both good and strange. Still, assuming that he is leaving (some speculated initially that it was part of a big angle, but nothing has been rumoured about this in ages), he might make one final appearance during Mania, or if not then, maybe the next night on Raw. Supposedly, there were plans for him to wrestle Nia Jax in an intergender match at one point; I’ll let you decide if we should be disappointed that this match isn’t happening or not.

We’re only now properly getting to SmackDown! This time last year, Daniel Bryan was preparing for the ultimate feel-good comeback match, AJ Styles was about to defend his WWE Title against Shinsuke Nakamura, and Kofi Kingston of The New Day was considering what grand pancake-related entrance the faction would have at Mania 34. Now, at Mania 35, we’re about to see a heel Bryan defend the WWE crown against Kingston, while AJ faces Randy Orton in a mid-card match, and Nakamura might not even make the Andre. What the hell?

So, AJ retained against Shinsuke at Mania 34 and despite a post-match heel turn for Shin, Styles retained his title through the spring, summer and well into the autumn. Then, on November 13, AJ shockingly lost the WWE Title after 371 days (on a regular, albeit pre-PPV, SmackDown no less) to Bryan, who even more surprisingly turned heel in the process. His villainous approach was controversial amongst those who wanted him to regain the title as a babyface hero one more time at Mania, and I highly disagreed with this at the time. But Bryan has since become an exceptional, environmentally-obsessed heel who, not unlike CM Punk circa 2009, is sending out the right messages in the wrong, heavy-handed fashion. Bryan has also retained his prize (even if he replaced the leather belt with a championship created from hemp) ever since, beating AJ at TLC and Royal Rumble, against five men inside the Elimination Chamber, and against Kevin Owens and (Mustafa) Ali at Fast Lane. Even as recently as early February, there was no obvious opponent for Bryan, considering that he had already beaten AJ multiple times, The Miz was busy in another storyline (which we’ll cover shortly), and while babyface veterans Rey Mysterio and Jeff Hardy were possibilities, it would have seemed like a filler title match at best, even if the action itself was awesome.

Enter Kofi Kingston.

Originally, Mustafa Ali was in the Chamber match, only to be replaced due to injury shortly beforehand. His replacement was randomly picked to be Kofi, still in New Day and with no singles aspirations since the mid-2010s prior to February 12. That night, Kingston racked up several wins in a Gauntlet, performing to a high standard for well over half an hour, and this captured the fans’ imaginations. Even more so, Kofi survived to the end inside the Chamber itself, and almost had Bryan beaten numerous times before losing. But the heart that he showed, and the drama his performance generated, led to massive “Kofi!” chants in the arena, and #KofiMania trending online to encourage a Kofi title shot on April 7. Kofi did pin Daniel two nights later in a six-man tag, and then-babyface Shane McMahon said that Kingston would get a shot against Bryan at Fast Lane. But then on February 26 came a swerve which killed Kofi’s title hopes for Fast Lane, yet greatly increased them for
WrestleMania.

Just as Kingston was about to sign the FL contract, Vince McMahon removed him and inserted the returning Kevin Owens. A gutted Kofi thought he’d been thrown a bone at Fast Lane itself when Vince said it’d be a three-way for the title, only for him to face The Bar, while Ali was the third man against Bryan and Owens. The New Day asked Vince what Kofi had to do, and Vince responded by putting Kingston in a Gauntlet on March 19. Against all odds, Kofi beat Sheamus, Cesaro, Samoa Joe, Rowan and Randy Orton in an almost hour-long match, only to be pinned in a suddenly-announced scrap against Bryan. An aghast New Day suggested quitting WWE in protest, while Bryan stirred the pot by saying that Kofi had lost every big match en route. Vince did put Big E and Xavier Woods in a tag team Gauntlet, and they beat Bryan and Rowan to win it, thus finally giving Kofi a one-on-one WWE Title match against Bryan at WrestleMania.

On paper, it’s a lacklustre title match for the biggest show of the year (Bryan ironically calling Kofi a “B+ Player” could be taken literally by some). But the story that has been told is so natural, so organic, and so well-received by fans that, by unusually focusing on a true underdog challenge for Mania, WWE has created a match which is almost as anticipated as the Women’s Championship three-way. In two months, Kofi has gone from a pancake-tossing faction member to the potential next WWE Champion. That Bryan is now the man who everybody wants to see be defeated in a Mania title match is also incredible to think about. One thing is for sure, WWE has done a great job of taking a potentially-forgettable headline attraction and turning it into a must-see contest, which could result with a feel-good triumph for the ages.

Out of the WWE Title picture, AJ Styles’ attention was taken via a number of backstage confrontations with Randy Orton, which led to AJ hitting Orton with a Phenomenal
Forearm at Fast Lane. The two had an incredible verbal battle on March 12, followed by Orton RKO’ing AJ during his match with Kurt Angle on March 26, and more barbs were thrown on The KO Show on April 2. There isn’t a big story to go off here, but the promos have made sure that fans will be invested, and this should be a very good contest on the night.

Another big Mania match from the blue brand sees The Miz battle Shane McMahon under Falls Count Anywhere rules. At Crown Jewel, Miz reached the final of the Best In The World tournament, only to suffer an injury at ringside prior to facing Dolph Ziggler. A concerned Shane McMahon decided to replace him, and he hilariously pinned Dolph to win the cup, and the bragging rights of Best In The World. Rather than be angered, though, the heel Miz was unusually kind to babyface Shane, even suggesting that the two team up. Shane O Mac suspected a swerve, but Miz affirmed that he wanted to make his father George proud, which he could only do by teaming with Shane.

McMahon agreed, and the two formed a slow bond that was surprisingly entertaining. They even won the SmackDown Tag Team Titles against The Bar at Royal Rumble, though they lost the titles to The Usos at Elimination Chamber. Miz vowed to Shane that they could and would regain the titles at Fast Lane in Miz’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, and with Mr. Miz himself on the front row. But they lost again, and though many expected Miz to back-stab Shane, instead it was Shane who turned heel on Miz in a violent attack, and Shane even scrunched up Miz’s dad’s face. Newly-heel Shane said he was fed up of people using him, and he relished assaulting Miz, so much so that he wanted a match against him at Mania. Miz accepted, and requested that it become Falls Count Anywhere (presumably so that we can get a massive bump from Shane). McMahon agreed, though he expressed regret that George Mizanin impregnated his wife to give birth to Miz. Ouch.

The United States Title picture has had various twists and turns since Jinder Mahal won the prize at WM 34. He lost it shortly afterwards to Jeff Hardy, who dropped it to Shinsuke Nakamura at Extreme Rules. Shin held the title for a while, eventually losing it to Rusev on the Christmas night SmackDown. Shin regained it on the Royal Rumble Kick-Off Show, only to be surprisingly dethroned by R-Truth two nights later (Nakamura and Rusev then formed a random heel alliance), before he lost the gold to Samoa Joe in a four-way match also involving Rey Mysterio and Andrade on March 5. Rey himself pinned Joe in a tag bout the following week, thus earning himself a United States Championship opportunity against Joe at Mania. Rey brought his now grown-up son Dominic (shame this wasn’t Mania 23, which had an All Grown Up theme) to several events, and said his son would be sat ringside at WM, which could only mean one thing for the younger Mysterio (is his name Dominic Mysterio?): a possible interaction with Joe on the show. But as I write this, Rey could be off the card altogether due to an ankle injury suffered against Baron Corbin, which leaves Joe in a quandary. It could mean that Rey misses a fourth WrestleMania through injury, and if WWE decides to just scrap the title defence altogether, Joe misses his third straight Mania, and would still be awaiting to make his bow on the grand stage. We shall see.

Back at the top of this article, I noted how Asuka lost her SmackDown Women’s Championship to Charlotte Flair last week. This also had a domino effect of her planned title defence being scrapped (despite a four-way #1 contender’s match between Carmella, Naomi, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville having been announced for that SD beforehand).
Instead, Asuka and friends will join other Raw females in the second annual Women’s Battle Royal (assuming you don’t count the match from Mania 25). That this will likely be on the pre-show will anger those involved, perhaps none more so than Asuka. Just remember: prior to WM 34, we all thought that Asuka would be main eventing WM 35 against Ronda. Instead, she may not even make the main card.

WWE still found space to add another match from the blue brand: a SD Tag Team Title four-way bout pitting The Usos against The Bar, Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev, and Ricochet and Aleister Black. This was revealed by WM host Alexa Bliss, who said that it was a repercussion for Jimmy and Jey forfeiting their spot in the tag Gauntlet against New Day. A title change is possible here, but since it’s filler, this seems to exist purely to get the combatants involved onto the card.

The final bout to mention is for the Cruiserweight Championship. Buddy Murphy’s challenger was decided in a 205 Live tournament, the second year running that the purple brand has utilised such a tactic en route to Mania. Tony Nese was the lucky victor, and he has the chance to claim his first WWE crown against Murphy (on the Kick-Off Show).

There you go, then. This is how we got to WrestleMania 35, amidst injuries, illnesses, title changes, babyface and heel turns (loads of them, actually), ratings drops, product  revamps, management returns, major comebacks, controversial international supershows, historic announcements, title introductions, ruined birthday parties and much more. It hasn’t been the smoothest Road To WrestleMania for WWE, and some – a fair few, actually – feel like the Mania line-up this year is a bit of a let-down on the whole. But the annual excitement is in the air, and we’re now just a matter of days away from WrestleMania 35, which will be the peak of the wrestling calendar, as the show always is.

Check back tomorrow to see our predictions for WrestleMania 35 as we continue our Mania-related coverage!