While WWE routinely relies on star power for its annual Wrestlemania show; this year’s card sports one of the better shows on a wrestling level in years (not that a few stars or former stars may drop by). It’s also the return of former WWE top star Daniel Bryan, and the debut of former UFC champ Ronda Rousey, the most popular female athlete in the world.
1. The match of the night: Shinskue Nakamura vs. A.J. Styles for the WWE World title. Nakamura and Styles have wrestled once before, when the two were winding out their days in New Japan, facing off at NJPW’s biggest annual event WrestleKingdom. Styles had extensive injuries and had not wrestled a regular schedule leading to the match, Nakamura was also battling injuries, but it didn’t keep the two from having one of the best matches on the show and of the year.
The two are three years older, but much healthier and expectations are high that the two - both considered the best wrestlers in the world at different points of their career - will steal the show with a memorable performance.
2. Daniel Bryan returns. Bryan, real name Bryan Danielson, was taken off WWE’s roster two and a half years ago due to WWE’s concussion protocol. Many thought the timing was strangely convenient for WWE, as Bryan’s crowd support was dwarfing that of wrestlers more favored by management. After years of continuing concussion tests, sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber, and visiting expert after expert, WWE cleared Bryan for a return three weeks ago, which happens to be six months before his contract ends, and when Bryan said he was planning to leave WWE and wrestle elsewhere if he wasn’t cleared for a ring return. The drama behind Bryan’s return has outshined his return match - he teams with Shane McMahon - son of owner Vince McMahon against Canadians Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, former independent and Ring of Honor wrestlers like Bryan that wrestled multiple dates in Dayton for years.
3. Ronda Rousey debuts. WWE signed Rousey, who had been in training before debuting two months ago on WWE television. She’s having an on-screen feud with Stephanie McMahon and her husband Triple H (Paul Levesque, WWE COO) over Rousey getting the best of the two at Wrestlemania 31 during a guest appearance. WWE made signing Rousey a priority given her starpower, WWE’s soon expiring television contract, and the desire by Vince to make his daughter Stephanie into a mainstream star. Rousey’s status as an internationally known athlete elevates the company’s women’s division and the company hopes that buzz will rub off on Stephanie. Rousey will team with former Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, who recently returned to the company, in what may be the first tag team of Olympic medalists in company history.
4. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka for the Smackdown Women’s title. Charlotte Flair is the daughter of Ric Flair, and is one of the most athletic wrestlers on the roster - male or female. She’s helped usher the change to a more serious style of
women’s wrestling in the company, pushing the envelope in match quality while dropping the salacious way the women’s division was portrayed during the company’s height. Asuka is a Japanese talent who wrestled formerly as Kanako Urai. Before wrestling, she was a video game designer and journalist. Since 2004 she’s ran through every women’s promotion in Japan, and upon joining WWE in 2015, was said to be “perhaps the best worker in WWE” according to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer. WWE has built this match for two years - Asuka hasn’t lost since coming to America in 2015.
5. Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali for the Cruiserweight title. Both wrestlers are part of WWE’s streaming show 205 Live, which focuses on high-flying cruiserweight wrestlers. Ali has won crowd support with his back story and solid matches, while Alexander has been a mainstay in this style since his days at Ring of Honor. The show is on the kickoff and will air for free.
6. “The Miz” vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor for the Intercontinental title. Rollins and Balor are two of the best workers in the company. The Miz, a former MTV reality show star from Cleveland, has been up and down WWE’s card for years, but has had one of his best runs as Intercontinental Champion thanks to his strong interviews and booking.
7. John Cena vs. ?. One of the more creative storylines in WWE, John Cena has been the company’s most recognizable star. Currently wrestling a part-time schedule, Cena didn’t have a match leading into the company’s biggest show, leading him to wrestle several matches to earn his way onto the show, each time losing. He began calling out retired WWE star Undertaker, since the two have never wrestled at Wrestlemania. It’s expected the Undertaker, who retired in the main event of last year’s show, will take on Cena for one last ride.
8. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal title. WWE has built Reigns as the face of its company for four years, and has been largely rejected by many fans because of it. WWE’s creative team has dropped the ball constantly with Reigns, and fans have resented the company continuing to push him so hard without earning their approval. Lesnar was supposed to hand off top star privileges to Reigns three years ago, but the response to him was so underwhelming, they changed the match finish days before the event. The company hopes they’ve done it right this time around, in what is likely Lesnar’s last match in WWE. Despite the crowd response, Reigns is an explosive wrestler and performer and has his best matches on the biggest stages.
9. The most watched Wrestlemania ever? Meltzer reported with the inclusion of Rousey on the card, Bryan’s return from retirement - and more importantly - the free trial month fans can get on WWE Network to watch the show, this could be the most-watched Wrestlemania the company has hosted. The 1980s featured most shows airing via closed circuit at arenas around the country. Pay-per-view grew in the 1990s, as did the cost of ordering the monthly shows. WWE’s Network can be had for a free trial month and for about $10 a month afterward, making it a good deal for fans who want to catch the PPVs.
10. While this is the best Wrestlemania card in years; it’s not even the best wrestling card in New Orleans this weekend. Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor at University of New Orleans will be the largest event in company history with around 6,000 seats sold out, scheduled for Saturday night. The card is loaded with match of the year candidates: Kenny Omega, regarded as the best wrestler in the world, vs. Cody Rhodes, the son of American Dream Dusty Rhodes, who has exploded in Japan in ROH as the most hated bad guy in the wrestling. ROH champ Dalton Castle vs. Marty Scurll. My favorite match of the weekend: The Briscoe Brothers vs. Jay Lethal and NJPW legend Hiroshi Tanahashi. And what many fans on social media expect to be the craziest match of the weekend, if not the year. SoCal Uncensored (Frankie Kazarian, Christopher Daniels and Scorpio Sky) vs. The Young Bucks and Flip Gordon in a six-man ladder match. Daniels is the best ladder match performer in history.