The world of professional wrestling is so vast and fast-moving that it’s damn near impossible to keep up. Luckily, your pals at Deadshirt are here to keep an eye on squared circles everywhere, from modest bingo halls to packed football stadiums, and bring you the most notable matches and storylines from throughout the past week. And it’s a good thing, too, because there’s just TOO MUCH WRESTLING!
Go Big Or Go Home
Monday Night Raw (WWE)
3/27/2017, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
For my money, there are two very important Raws in the entire year. They are the Raw after WrestleMania and the Raw before WrestleMania. The Raw before is typically called the “Go-Home” Raw, and it has the arduous task of hyping up the audience one last time before the big event on the weekend. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t but in terms of the storyline, it’s always imperative to watch. WrestleMania 33 has had the most mixed build-up heading into Sunday than I think any time in WWE history. The majority of the Raw-branded matches have probably the best storylines I’ve seen in a long time, with only a few maybe feeling a bit lazy. I thought going in that Raw was setting up its WrestleMania matches way too early, but after watching this Raw I’m now convinced that Vince has built a solid rock upon which WrestleMania will succeed.
As it stands, Raw has six matches scheduled for WrestleMania, five of them title matches, all likely to be on the main card. (The Cruiserweight Championship may be on the pre-show.) That makes this year’s WrestleMania very skewed towards being a Raw-brand PPV and also gives them a tremendous opportunity to shake things up on the roster. Where to even start? I guess we’ll have a chat about the Women’s Championship match first, which been building up for about a year now. Charlotte still thinks she’s the most dominant superstar in the ring and she’s not wrong, but Sasha, Bayley, and now Nia Jax are hungry for that title. Nia Jax has proven in the past couple months that she can hang with the Horsewomen at least in the ring. It would be an interesting shake-up if Nia Jax wins the title at WrestleMania, but I think this one is going to Sasha Banks, maybe along with a heel turn. Hopefully, it’ll be a classic like the Women’s Triple Threat was last year, and if this episode’s preview is to be believed it has a lot of potential.
Speaking of potential, there’s no question that the most intriguing match this year is Kevin Owens facing Chris Jericho for the United States title, although the title really has nothing to do with it. This saga of Jeri-KO has been one of the, well, BEST stories in wrestling ever—maybe even better than Owens and his feud with Sami Zayn, which got an amazing follow-up this Monday. Zayn and Owens had a brutally entertaining match where they fight all around the arena until they were interrupted by Jericho and Samoa Joe. It’s a damn shame that this wasn’t a big match on WrestleMania itself, and that Mr. Zayn himself will be appearing on the pre-show. I think a shift to Smackdown Live is due for the superstar so he can compete for deserved titles in a smaller pond.
The two BIGGEST Mania matches (in my opinion) involve two former members of The Shield facing WWE legends. On this week’s Raw Seth Rollins signed a contract to fight in an “unsanctioned” match against his creator and his destroyer Triple H. The two exchanged vicious barbs at each other, with Hunter promising to end Seth’s career in Orlando. I’m not sure how involved this match is going to be considering that Seth is still recovering from an injury and Triple H is getting a bit older, but I kind of want this to be a complete squash. Rollins has built a character off being on the mend, and I want to continue this storyline of a broken Rollins who has nothing left to lose
This brings us to the match I’m most looking forward to, which has been dubbed “The Battle of the Yard,” pitting Roman “The Big Dog” Reigns against The Undertaker. Now, here me out, whether you have an opinion on Roman or not there’s no question that this is a huge deal, particularly for Roman’s future in the company. Could this be an opportunity to finally turn Roman into a superstar heel like he should be? Possibly, and it certainly feels that way judging by his admonishment of the WWE Universe this Monday. And typically, the Undertaker goes into WrestleMania as a face competitor, so win or lose I think this is going to be the most impressive showcase of their respective strengths.
There’s also, of course, the matter of that little Brock Lesnar/Goldberg title bout but I think that one speaks for itself. You’ll either be excited for this outcome or think it’s the least interesting match on the card, but nothing on this episode of Raw is going to convince you otherwise.
Extra High Spots: Tired match aside, Paul Heyman came out and delivered an amazing promo on Brock’s behalf and even integrated his Jewish heritage (and Goldberg’s) by saying a funeral Kaddish on Goldberg’s behalf. It’s a beautiful, stunning moment that slightly raises the stakes and my interest.
– Andrew Niemann
The Penultimate Thrill Ride
3/29/2017, Orlando, Florida
This week’s NXT was more or less a clip show full of promos for NXT Takeover: Orlando, their WrestleMania weekend show. That’s not to say there weren’t a few matches, they just weren’t really all that interesting. Granted, Elias Samson did get sent packing in a “Loser Leaves NXT” match when he ate one of Kassius Ohno’s Death by Elbow elbows, but I’m sure that just means he’s getting repackaged or moved around. It’s not like he’s done much on TV since returning from his previous injury anyway. With that said, I think this is a good opportunity as any to talk about the Takeover card and make some predictions.
Before this week’s episode aired, the card only featured four matches, but it has now been finalized with a fifth: an eight-person tag match consisting of SAnitY vs. Tye Dillinger, No Way Jose, Roderick Strong, and the newly debuted Ruby Riot. As far as this match goes, I’d say it’s probably about 50/50 on who takes the win here. On one hand, Dillinger & Friends are really in need of a win. SAnitY has been ganging up and clowning on them for what feels like months at this point, and now that there isn’t a numbers advantage, this would be a good opportunity for Dillinger to take down Eric Young for good and end this feud. If this isn’t the end, it would be really cool to see Ruby pin Nikki in her official debut and maybe start up a separate feud that can segway into a title opportunity down the line. SAnitY does tend to keep winning big matches though, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it again here. That said, if I had to make a bet, I’d put it on the faces this time.
Next up is the debut of Aleister Black, a.k.a. the former Tommy End, the devil-tatted man from Amsterdam. His opponent for this match is Andrade “Cien” Almas, who’s been on a roll since his heel turn earlier this year. Black should have this one in the bag. He’s a hot, new talent coming off of several weeks of promo packages, and while he technically debuted as Tommy End at the UK Tournament in a losing effort to Neville, there’s no way he loses in his actual debut under his new name. Even with Alma’s momentum, Aleister will surely put it on hold with what I’m predicting will be strong showing.
The first title match of the night should be next, featuring the Authors of Pain defending their NXT Tag Team Championships in a triple threat against The Revival and #DIY. I have a feeling at least one of the teams in this match will be making their debut on Raw or SmackDown, so my guess is that AOP will retain and seal their spot as the new version of the Ascension, at least until we get some fresh blood in the tag division. The Revival are already two-time champs and easily one of the best tag teams in the world, so moving them to SmackDown to run roughshod over the division and help American Alpha reach their potential seems like a good move. As for #DIY, I can see them debuting on Raw because their strongest asset is how likable they are, something that show’s tag division desperately needs right now. The Authors of Pain retain in what could be the match of the night, thanks to sharing the ring with the two teams that put a match of the year quality bout last year.
Asuka vs. Ember Moon for the NXT Women’s Championship is a match that a lot of people have been expecting since Ember’s debut last year at Takeover: Brooklyn II. I wish I could be more excited for this one, but it’s been telegraphed for so long that it’s kind of lost its luster. This is made worse by the fact that Asuka has been built up so strongly that no one looks like they’re on her level, and Ember’s build feels like it started too late in the cycle. The only real talking point that she’s built around at this point is that her finisher is “devastating.” It’s possible that this could be part of a bigger plan, however. Before the SmackDown Women’s Championship match was finalized, I was predicting that Asuka would lose her NXT title, debut in that match the following night, and immediately take the SmackDown title. Now that this isn’t the case, I could actually see Asuka retaining, if just barely, to extend her feud with Ember and give her eventual win more meaning. I think this could be the case, so my money’s on Asuka.
The main event of the evening is for the NXT Championship, with Bobby Roode defending against Shinsuke Nakamura. Next to the Aleister Black match, I think this is probably the second easiest match to call. Nakamura has been headlining pretty much all of the house shows, the last four Takeovers, and is a former two-time champion. There’s no more room for him to grow in the developmental brand and he’s been phoning in more matches than not. He’s clearly a huge star and should have been moved up to the main roster a long time ago, so I think now is the time for him to bid farewell to NXT. Bobby took the title from him thanks to dirty tactics at the last Takeover, and I think we’re going to get a replay of that here. Due to Roode carrying this feud and the potential for elevating a rising star by knocking him off in the future, I think Roode is a lock.
All in all, the last few Takeovers haven’t blown my mind, but have been solid. I think this one has potential to be great, but I’m not expecting an event on par with the Brooklyn shows or Dallas.
Extra High Spots: Because I made this a predictions piece and not a review, why not let us know what you think and make some of your own Takeover and WrestleMania predictions in the comments below?
– Kyle Herr
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