Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
Tag Team Titles – New Day vs. League of Nations
Background: A year ago, New Day were wildly unpopular as corny babyface wrestlers. In fact, they were so hated that “New Day Sucks” was last year’s “Yes” chant at the Raw after Wrestlemania. A year later, they have run the gamut of using that corny gimmick to turn heel, becoming extremely over as hated heels, and slowly gaining love and respect from the fans until they have organically become babyfaces once again. That status has led to them butting heads with the League of Nations, a group of traditional foreign heels with more accomplishments and championships than heat.
Analysis: The most innovative part of the booking in this match is that it includes all seven wrestlers who comprise the two teams. A two-on-two match with lots of outside interference would have made sense, but this tweak raises my eyebrows and makes it a little more difficult to anticipate. On paper, all seven wrestlers range from above average to outstanding. As I mentioned in the Intercontinental Ladder Match preview, it’s very difficult to tell a story in a match with this many wrestlers. Conversely, with the wrestlers boiled down into two teams, it seems more likely that they can create a classic match than the spotfest that is likely to open the show.
Prediction: Tag Team Title booking at Wrestlemania has not been paramount in recent years. Wrestlemanias 28, 30, and 31 featured multi-team matches on the pre-show. Wrestlemania 29 saw Team Hell No beat Dolph Ziggler and Big E and helped set up Daniel Bryan for his giant run over the next year. This match feels more like that one. New Day has been one of the best parts of WWE since they found their groove and it makes sense for WWE to see if they can make the cool heel to edgy babyface transition that got guys like Steve Austin and The Rock the mega heat that helped lead the company. Will one of New Day emerge as that standard bearer? Will their status as a trio lower their ceiling? Will they change our perception of trios in WWE? These are all interesting questions, and they need to come out on top of the League of Nations to truly test the answers.
WWE Title – HHH vs. Roman Reigns
Background: The rivalry between Reigns and HHH dates back almost two years. When The Shield started to rebel against The Authority, it morphed into an angle with the reunited Evolution. Seth Rollins then turned on his teammates, which was supposed to lead to Reigns becoming the conquering hero in time for his Wrestlemania ascension. Instead, the fans almost universally rejected Reigns from the Royal Rumble onward due to clunky booking, hokey promos, and an unrelatable character. WWE called an audible, Rollins left Wrestlemania with the title, and Reigns spent most of the last year rebooting for his moment of triumph. Certainly, fans hate Reigns less now than they did a year ago- and even cheered him when he won the title from Sheamus on Raw-, but the reaction to him in the last month has been either mixed or nonexistent. It was telling that HHH got the biggest cheers of the feud when he smashed Reigns’s face on Raw, and that Dean Ambrose was a more popular challenger on the intervening house show.
Analysis: In spite of his reputation to the contrary, Reigns has developed into a predictably very good performer in big matches. Similarly, HHH seems to be peaking as a technical wrestler in his mid-40s. It sounds strange to call the WWE Title match a sleeper candidate to be the match of the night, but I think that’s exactly the case. Reigns has demonstrated a propensity to take a huge beating and gradually earn the crowd’s support as he fights from underneath. HHH has the aggression, credibility, and diverse offensive arsenal to create that environment. The question is whether the hardcore fans at Wrestlemania will be skeptical of Reigns or if they will reject him outright. If fans keep enough of an open mind to let Reigns tell a come-from-behind story, I suspect that they will do it in compelling fashion.
Prediction: Last year, I predicted that Reigns would beat Lesnar and leave Wrestlemania as champion because I didn’t believe that WWE would deviate from a long term plan at the last moment. That exact reasoning can apply to this match, as well. I think Reigns will win the match and leave as champion, but it’s far from a certainty. Even if Reigns wins, I think the obvious fan preference for Ambrose over the last few months jeopardizes the likelihood of him holding the belt for a long time. For the record, I still think Reigns can work as a main eventer. He would immediately get heat as a punishing, corporate heel, and he would even get a better reaction if WWE would embrace his dominance and stopped trying to portray him as an everyman. Reigns has done very little talking for the last two weeks and has let his fighting speak for itself. That short stretch doesn’t refute everything that comes before it, but it is at least a positive sign.