By Chuck Carroll
Although some wrestlers will be sprinting to the ring, WrestleMania 34 will be a marathon. This year's Super Bowl of pro wrestling is poised to be a seven-hour extravaganza including the pre-show. Officially, the card is jam packed with 13 matches and will very likely add a 14th, the highly anticipated match between John Cena and The Undertaker.
WWE has done a good job of keeping the anticipation of their clash building with Cena's repeated failed attempts to summon The Dead Man over a number of weeks on RAW. With the challenge unanswered, the storyline has Mr. Hustle, Loyalty and Respect headed to New Orleans as an overzealous fan. But if you stop to think for a second you'll realize that the return of The Undertaker has been teed up perfectly. As I see it, with Kid Rock going into the WWE Hall of Fame, the stage is set for Cena's challenge to finally be answered. Only it won't be The Dead Man who comes out, it will be The American Badass who reemerges as his theme is performed live. You see, the newest celebrity inductee did The Undertaker's music during the era when he rolled through the curtain on a Harley in full biker garb, including a leather jacket and bandana. That would be WrestleMania perfection.
The first ever Women's WrestleMania Battle Royal has been relegated to the pre-show despite being heavily promoted for weeks. Certainly, that is a WrestleMania moment worthy of a spot on the main card. The Andre The Giant Battle Royal and WWE Cruiserweight Title match round out the kickoff show.
The main WrestleMania card features six other championship matches which will all be overshadowed by Ronda Rousey's in-ring debut. It's no secret that WWE relishes mainstream media attention and the ultra-popular former UFC champion will give them all they hoped for and then some. Second to Rowdy Ronda grappling with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon is the return of Daniel Bryan. The leader of the Yes Movement refused to accept "no" as an answer. His real-life perseverance to get medically cleared to compete finally paid off after a two-year odyssey.
Predicting the outcomes of what is often the most unpredictable show of the year is a daunting task. Nonetheless, we're going to try anyway. Joining me as always are fellow wrestling scribes Scott Fishman and Aaron Oster who are behind in the standings through the first three pay-per-views of the year.
WWE Universal Championship
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns
Chuck: With his contract expiring, Brock Lesnar appears to be on his way out of WWE and into the world of UFC again. Enjoy the post-match boos, Roman. PICK: Roman Reigns
Scott: WWE seems steadfast in making Reigns THE guy, and defeating Lesnar on the biggest show possible will help with that. PICK: Roman Reigns
Aaron: WWE has been building to this moment for a year. They aren't second-guessing themselves here. PICK: Roman Reigns
AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Chuck: I'm expecting for this one to give WWE a taste of the strong style wrestling popularized in Japan. Despite Nakamura's recent surge, I think the shock here is Styles retaining. PICK: AJ Styles
Scott: It was a rollercoaster for Nakamura in 2017, but 2018 is a different story with a Royal Rumble win under his belt. It's time for the "King of Strong Style" to solidify his status as a major attraction for WWE by winning the WWE championship. PICK: Shinsuke Nakamura
Aaron: Nakamura gets the big win that we've been waiting for since his call-up to the main roster, and gives the fans the true Mania moment they want. PICK: Shinsuke Nakamura
John Cena vs. The Undertaker
Chuck: I get that The Undertaker "retired" after his loss to Roman Reigns at last year's WrestleMania, but the retirement doesn't apply to The American Badass gimmick. PICK: The Undertaker
Scott: With everything up in the air, if it does happen, Undertaker has to come at this strong after Cena running down his legacy for weeks. If it doesn't happen, perhaps Undertaker accepts the challenge for WrestleMania but WrestleMania 35? PICK: The Undertaker
Aaron: It would be ridiculous for this build to go this way and then have Taker show up for the first time just to lose again. If Cena was winning, The Undertaker should have returned this week to get in some sort of big blow. PICK: The Undertaker
Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon
Chuck: Zero chance Ronda Rousey doesn't win in her debut. Yes, a loss would be shocking, but it would completely crush her future in the squared circle. The Rowdy one will be built up starting here. PICK: Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey
Scott: With this being Ronda Rousey's in-ring debut, WWE needs to get her started on the right track. This is why a decisive win is so important over McMahon and Triple H. PICK: Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey
Aaron: Kurt will play the face in peril for most of the match, then Ronda comes in and dominates and taps out Stephanie McMahon for the SportsCenter gif of the week. PICK: Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey
Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Chuck: Like Rousey, it's difficult to picture Daniel Bryan taking a loss in his big return. Yes, it would set up a feud for down the line, but what a low-light that would be. PICK: Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon
Scott: Unless plans are for Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn to go to Raw, the stipulation kind of gives it away who is wining. Although it's strange for Daniel Bryan to lose his first match back in the ring. So, there is a toss-up feeling. I'm also going with Owens and Zayn because I think we may see the turn of McMahon and Bryan. PICK: Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Aaron: Daniel Bryan's return will be spoiled when Shane shocks the world and sides with Owens and Zayn so they get reinstated. PICK: Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
SmackDown Women's Championship
Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Asuka
Chuck: C'mon. Is this even a question? The only possible swerve I see would be Carmella unsuccessfully cash her Money In The Bank contract. PICK: Asuka
Scott: I'm not ready for Asuka's streak to come to an end. This match is big enough to save the "Empress of Tomorrow's" first loss one day to help someone who could use the rub. At the same time, I wouldn't rule out a Carmella cash-in. PICK: Asuka
Aaron: Asuka is going to win this match. The question just becomes does Carmella cash in, and will she be successful? PICK: Asuka
SmackDown Tag Team Championship — Triple Threat Match
The Usos (c) vs. The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers
Chuck: This one I wrestle with. The Usos have done so well during this run, but a title change is in order here. The Bludgeon Brothers are on the rise, but I think The New Day takes it here. PICK: The New Day
Scott: The New Day and Usos have gotten their time in the spotlight. It's time for a new duo to prove their dominance in Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. However, if they don't win, the Usos will be good as well due to their lack of WrestleMania history and participation. PICK: The Bludgeon Brothers
Aaron: The New Day, as great as they are, have never had an in-ring moment at Mania. That changes on Sunday. PICK: The New Day
The Miz (c) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor
Chuck: As of late this week, Finn Bálor was the odds on favorite to win. I can see that happening, but I don't think it will. I think WWE will put the ball back in Seth Rollins' hands. PICK: Seth Rollins
Scott: This is a match that could steal the show as Rollins and Balor proved in their match on Raw. Balor could benefit most from winning the Intercontinental title after some time as a background player. After injury and everything else in between, the Irishman deserves a 'Mania moment. PICK: Finn Bálor
Aaron: It would be great if Miz retained to put a stamp on this title reign. However, it's Balor's time. PICK: Finn Bálor
United States Championship — Fatal 4-Way Match
Randy Orton (c) vs. Bobby Roode vs Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev
Chuck: Randy Orton's first run as United States Champion will extend beyond Sunday, but Rusev's day could come Tuesday night. PICK: Randy Orton
Scott: I'm picking Rusev because it's a good story where fans relentlessly been showing they care about the Bulgarian. Until recently he wasn't in the match. Feel it's time for Rusev Day to truly be celebrated. PICK: Rusev
Aaron: Rusev was added to this match for a reason, and what do you know? WrestleMania is on Rusev Day! PICK: Rusev
RAW Tag Team Championship
Sheamus & Cesaro vs. Braun Strowman and a mystery partner
Chuck: The mystery partner is a great twist to this match. There have been rumors of Rey Mysterio being the man. Regardless, Strowman wins. PICK: Braun Strowman and mystery partner
Scott: Braun Strowman's partner could be Hand, the late Mae Young and Mark Henry's "child" or pretty much anyone or anything. He is winning gold here. PICK: Braun Strowman and mystery partner
Aaron: This completely depends on Braun's partner. If it's one of the rumored stars (like Rey Mysterio) he wins, otherwise he doesn't. I'll go against. PICK: Sheamus & Cesaro
RAW Women's Championship
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Nia Jax
Chuck: Nia Jax has been brilliantly built up and it's time for the payoff. PICK: Nia Jax
Scott: The story Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss have been telling can resonate with many people who have been bullied one time or another. And seeing Jax overcome the "bully" in Bliss sends a good message. PICK: Nia Jax
Aaron: If Nia Jax doesn't win this, just write her off. PICK: Nia Jax
WWE Cruiserweight Championship Tournament Finals
Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali
Chuck: Cedric Alexander has stepped up since Enzo Amore's abrupt departure. His reward is the vacated title. PICK: Cedric Alexander
Scott: This one can go either way, but I'm going with Ali because he has really done a lot to stand out with promos and ring work. PICK: Mustafa Ali
Aaron: Mustafa Ali's inclusion is curious, and makes me wonder if he could get the win, but this always has been pointing towards the crowning of Cedric. PICK: Cedric Alexander
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Chuck: You have to figure that we'll see the return of at least one WWE Superstar who has been on the shelf for a while. Big Cass, Samoa Joe, and Big Show all fit the bill if they're healthy. I'm going with the youngster. PICK: Big Cass
Scott: It's really head scratching what WWE has been doing with Dolph Ziggler, so it would be nice for him to get a nice win at WrestleMania. It would go a long way to put him back into a title picture or program of some sort. PICK: Dolph Ziggler
Aaron: This is always a stab in the dark. While I think it would be cool for Goldust to get the win as a gold watch, give me Big Cass in a surprise return. PICK: Big Cass
Women's Battle Royal
Chuck: It's mind-boggling that this match is on the pre-show with the hype of the women again making history. Shouldn't this be a main card moment? Anyway, look for the Bayley and Sasha Banks feud to be the focal point with the hugger going over. PICK: Bayley
Scott: The backstory here is with Bayley and Sasha Banks and their friendship. It's got to be one of these two. And I'm thinking Bayley wins and Banks attacks her and destroys the trophy. PICK: Bayley
Aaron: While Sasha and Bayley's feud is the main storyline, they'll eliminate each other, and Becky Lynch will get some much-needed recognition. PICK: Becky Lynch
Tenille Dashwood: All-In For ROH Supercard of Honor
Tenille Dashwood always knew she'd be in New Orleans for WrestleMania festivities. But she had no idea she wouldn't actually be wrestling on the show. Her sudden pink slip from WWE last fall caught her off guard. She was surprised, but rather than dwell on the end of her Emma persona, she focused on the new opportunities that were now knocking at her door.
Ring of Honor was among the promotions knocking the loudest and she was more than happy to open the door. Since her debut, she's quickly climbed the ranks and is now on the cusp of becoming the first ever Women of Honor Champion. She's one four women remaining in the women's tournament to crown the inaugural champ. The semifinals and finals are set for Saturday's Supercard of Honor that is expected to be the largest in ROH history. Before the bell rings, she'll also be among the plethora of talents signing autographs and posting for photos with fans at the Festival of Honor.
The show is being streamed on the promotion's new subscription-based Honor Club, marking the first big test for the platform. Non-subscribers will be able to watch the semifinal matches, including Dashwood's bout against Sumie Sakai, free of charge on Facebook during the pre-show. ROH is hoping to convert those viewers into paid subscribers.
Dashwood has been extremely active on social media in recent months and has amassed more than a million-and-a-half followers on both Twitter and Instagram. I had the opportunity to catch up with Dashwood as she packed for New Orleans in search of gold. This is the part one of a two-part interview.
I was just talking to Jay Lethal and I asked him how the crowd at Supercard of Honor compares to the crowd the night after WrestleMania, which is historically just bananas. He told me, "That's our crowd every night. Our fans are crazy. Where do you think the WWE fans get their chants from?" Has that been your experience so far?
Yeah. They're very passionate, they love to be a part of and involved in everything, start their own chants and their own identity as a fan, so I agree with that, for sure. The night after WrestleMania is not the typical WWE crowd I'd say. It's like you said, it's crazy. It's a crazy night where you never know what to expect.
You're facing Sumie Sakai in the tournament semifinals. She's been there for 15 years or so. Clearly you're a veteran in your own right, but do you still feel as though you can learn from somebody who's been around in that particular locker room for so long?
Oh, of course, and actually, Sumie have had this conversation. She said to me, "Teach us, we all want to learn." I said, "Teach me." I said, "You've been here for so long." She's traveled the world too and she's an amazing athlete and wrestler. I said to her, "I want to learn from you." There's so much to learn constantly for all of us, and she basically said the same thing back to me. We're on that same page where we all want to be better, we all want to keep showing the world what we can do. And getting new fans and bringing them in, and basically pushing the women's revolution outside of the WWE and around the world.
That seems like it must be pretty humbling if you're new in the locker room and others are already coming up to you and asking for advice.
Oh, for sure, yeah. I have so much respect for Sumie. It definitely was humbling.
Is it just Sumie who has come up to you or there are there others that have also tried to pick your brain?
It's a great locker room and the thing that makes it enjoyable is that everyone wants to learn and to be better. There's plenty of times I've had conversations, and I've only been there for a short time, but conversations asking for advice or a little input here and there. We can all learn from each other. Everyone has different styles and different things to offer, so that's a good thing is being able to ask for advice or to talk with one another to better each other.
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