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I didn’t become a fan of wrestling until I was 22 years old.
As a kid I was smug about it, dismissing WWE fans in my elementary peer group as ill-informed. Didn’t they realize it was fake? Who cares about guys fake fighting in a ring with a system of rules that are followed at a comically low rate? As a kid, I was no fun and the worst.
But in college I tagged along to a party for WrestleMania 30 and was immediately hooked — the entrances, the over-the-top characters, and the drama that inherently comes with any event being broadcast live in front of millions of people was immediately captivating.
Chances are you’ve noticed an uptick in wrestling coverage in mainstream media. WWE athletes are now somewhat regular features on ESPN, and among sports journalists being a wrestling fan is almost as common as keeping up with “The Bachelor.”
As you might’ve heard by now, WrestleMania 33 takes place this Sunday in Orlando, Florida. It’s a stacked card, filled with matches that could surely make instant fans out of a few of you, just as it happened to me three years ago. And since I’m willing to bet there are more than a few people out there still bewildered, yet curious at the idea of wrestling, and maybe you’re not lucky enough to have a friend who will invite you to his or her Mania party, feel free to consider this your invitation.
Below is a breakdown of the storylines heading into Sunday. I do my best to introduce you to the stories as they stand before the match, what’s at stake, what fans expect to happen, and what could leave people in shock. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned watching wrestling, it’s that when the lights are on, anything can happen.
The Hosts of WrestleMania: The New Day
The story going in: The New Day are the most entertaining act in wrestling, full stop. Since uniting under what is best described as a gospel choir gimmick, Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods were given a degree of freedom rarely seen in the WWE, embraced the power of positivity, and became the longest reigning champions in Tag Team history. Since dropping their title, they’ve held on to their pizzazz while searching for a new place show off their talent.
What’s at stake: Very little. The role of “host” at WrestleMania is rarely used, with Hulk Hogan and The Rock as the most notable masters of ceremonies in the past. The New Day will come out, get cheered like you can’t believe, and leave the crowd extremely excited for what is to come.
What to expect: Dancing, joy, and hopefully a trombone.
Potential shocker: There is a very slight chance that The New Day get involved in some chicanery. They could potentially interfere with the Raw Tag Team Championship, or possibly mix it up with the Hardys, one of the best tag teams in the world whose recently rumored return to the WWE is a poorly kept secret. But chances are anything this insane would happen the next night on RAW.
Gallows & Anderson (c) v Enzo & Cass v Cesaro & Sheamus
The story going in: Gallows and Anderson are powerhouses from New Japan Pro Wrestling that debuted with WWE last year and have finally claimed the Raw Tag Team Championship. Cesaro and Sheamus are an odd couple pairing of in-ring workhorses that started off as enemies before finding common ground in a shared love of beating the crap out of people. Enzo Amore and Big Cass are fan favorites who while showing strength on the main roster have yet to claim their first title.
What’s at stake: The RAW Tag Team Championship
What to expect: Enzo and Cass have an entrance that you have to see (embedded above for your viewing pleasure!) to believe, and at WrestleMania there will be 50,000 people chanting along with Enzo Amore as he proclaims himself as “ A Certified G, and a Bonafide Stud.” It’s going to be great. The match itself is a ladder match, so you can look forward to a few high spots. Gallows and Anderson can both give out and take a beating, so be ready for some hard hits. And chances are Cesaro swings somebody and Sheamus gives someone a boot to the face. In my fantasy, Enzo and Cass will climb to the top of the ladder and finally claim their titles, but a lot could happen in this one.
Potential shocker: Back when they wrestled in New Japan, Gallows and Anderson were both members of “The Club,” a crew of bad guys that brought havoc to anyone that dared to cross their path. Since their move to WWE, a few other members of The Club have followed, including AJ Styles and Finn Balor. Fans have been waiting for the moment The Club would reunite to take over WWE, and while I highly doubt it happens here, it’s something to look for in the near future.
Dean Ambrose (c) v Baron Corbin
The story going in: Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin are both bad dudes that don’t really like each other. This is wrestling distilled.
What’s at stake: The Intercontinental Title
What to expect: Baron Corbin is the younger guy here and less well established but shows a ton of promise, so chances are he comes away with the title in a show of strength. Dean Ambrose cut his teeth in hardcore matches that are too bloody to believe, so this match has the potential to get pretty crazy. Baron Corbin’s finisher, “End of Days,” is one of my favorites in wrestling and Dean will sell it like a million bucks.
Potential shocker: Blood. Blood is not something that happens a ton in modern WWE, but knowing these two there’s a chance we see some color in this match, which would be notable.
Chris Jericho (c) v Kevin Owens
The story going in: OH MAN WHERE TO BEGIN. Chris Jericho is a legend in wrestling and involved in any conversation for the best to ever enter the squared circle. Kevin Owens made it to WWE last year after being an indie sensation, and quickly made his mark after pinning John Cena clean in his debut. The duo got together and quickly became best friends, staying true to each other and putting any potential enemies on “The List of Jericho” which Chris dutifully kept on his clipboard. After a run of success where both men stood as champions, Jericho decided that they deserved a “Festival of Friendship” to celebrate the glory that they had gained together. Then, in a turn that shocked the WWE Universe, Kevin Owens turned on Jericho, leaving the former best friends as mortal enemies, destined to fight at WrestleMania.
What’s at stake: The United States Championship. The Future of Friendship.
What to expect: This could be the match of the night. Despite his age, Jericho is down for anything (he took a body slam into tacs last year), and he will want to do anything and everything to make KO look amazing. I’m hoping this match gets at least 20 minutes and becomes an instant classic.
Potential shocker: Kevin Owens has a plethora of moves that he honed in his indie days that he still hasn’t shown off in the WWE. We could see some amazingly dangerous and beautiful flying here. Also, a powerbomb from the top rope is well in play — you’ll know it when you see it.
Bayley (c) v Charlotte Flair v Sasha Banks v Nia Jax
The story going in: Bayley, the perennial underdog who fights with all her might to overcome the odds is the RAW Women’s Champion, thanks in part to a little help from her good friend Sasha Banks. Charlotte Flair, daughter of Hall of Famer Ric Flair is a former champion that is probably the most impressive woman currently in WWE. Nia Jax is a giant that towers over all three of her opponents.
What’s at stake: The RAW Women’s Championship
What to expect: This match could go so many ways. It’s an elimination match as opposed to a traditional Fatal Fourway, meaning the champion will be the last woman standing as opposed to the first to score a pinfall or submission. Expect Nia to toss her opponents around and land more than one Samoan Drop, but other than that, anyone could take the title here.
Potential shocker: Sasha Banks could turn on Bayley, which would be absolutely heartbreaking. There are few people as positive and loving as Bayley (her shirts are often emblazoned with the words “I’m a Hugger”), and to see her best friend slam her to the ground would be devastating, but also extremely entertaining.
John Cena & Nikki Bella v The Miz & Maryse
The story going in: It’s a tale of two couples. Cena and Bella are two of the biggest names in wrestling and rightfully so, while The Miz and Maryse are both self-absorbed with their own greatness. It’s been an amazing storyline to follow because it’s very real, see above for some of the low blows The Miz has fired off at Cena.
What’s at stake: A lot of bragging rights. The Miz has already pinned Cena at WrestleMania before, and Cena is not a man that like to lose twice in a row to an opponent on wrestling’s biggest stage.
What to expect: A whole lot of fun. Few characters are as compelling as The Miz on mic, and Cena will not be looking to let the crowd down. Nikki Bella has a ton of talent as a wrestler while Maryse is well practiced at the art of pulling off cheap moves without the referee noticing.
Potential shocker: Women and men rarely enter the ring against each other in the WWE Universe — even in intergender matches like this one. But The Miz is quite a weasel in the ring, and Nikki Bella can take a hit… a combination that could lead to a very angry John Cena.
Shane McMahon v AJ Styles
The story going in: AJ Styles, The Phenomenal One, has been the best wrestler on the roster since his debut at the Royal Rumble last year. He’s been the leading draw on SmackDown Live, and put on absolutely incredible matches — he’s a guy you have to see to believe. His opponent at Mania is Shane McMahon, commissioner of SmackDown Live and son of WWE Uberlord Vincent K McMahon. AJ has been disrespected, and is angry (rightfully so!) that he does not have a title match at Mania, and recently showed his frustration by putting Shane through a car window. Shane recovered, and challenged Styles to settle their differences in the ring.
What’s at stake: The balance of power at SmackDown Live
What to expect: Absolute insanity. Shane McMahon is known less as a wrestler and more as a madman. While he’s far from a regular in-ring competitor, when he does enter the squared circle, Shane-O-Mac is fearless in terms of putting his body on the line. He’s jumped from the top of cages and broken through more walls and windows than the Kool-Aid man. AJ Styles is something of a daredevil himself, and with a few weeks preparation there is no telling what could happen in terms of carnage.
Potential shocker: When Mania opens, scan the set for the highest spot in the arena. Shane might jump off of it.
Triple H v Seth Rollins
The story going in: Seth Rollins was chosen by Triple H as the heir apparent to the throne of evil wrestler, with both men using The Pedigree as their finishing move of choice. But Triple H turned on Seth, enlisting the help of Samoa Joe to break Rollins into pieces. The plan worked, with Rollins sustaining a real injury that has kept him out of action for weeks now. Rollins is still not cleared to perform, but Triple H challenged him to a non-sanctioned match and had Seth sign a "Hold Harmless Agreement" that assures that he can't sue Triple H if he does irreperable damage.
What’s at stake: Seth Rollins leg
What to expect: Seth will figure out a way to pull this out. Triple H is evil, but Seth is one of the best wrestlers in the company and needs to land on his feet after a few recent injuries. Ideally, the duo will trade pedigrees much to the crowd's delight.
Potential shocker: Samoa Joe might show up in an effort to aid Trpile H and help finish what he started.
The Undertaker v Roman Reigns
The story going in: The Undertaker is a force at WrestleMania, having only lost on wrestling’s biggest stage once in his entire career. The story on Roman Reigns is that he has been chosen by management to be the next face of the WWE, and many fans hate him for it. In recent weeks Taker and Roman have been claiming ownership of the “yard,” an abstract concept that you learn to accept because The Undertaker says it matters and you do not question The Undertaker under any circumstances.
What’s at stake: The proverbial “Yard,” possibly the career of The Undertaker
What to expect: The latest rumor is this match might go on last, which will undoubtedly fuel speculation that this is Taker’s last match ever. That makes picking a winner even tougher — legends like to “go out on their back,” losing their last match in order to help make an up-and-comer look strong, but if WWE really let Roman put Taker in the ground the arena will be filled with some of the loudest boos you’ve ever heard.
Potential shocker: Braun Strowman, another former Wyatt brother and essentially a giant, has inserted himself into a few moments leading into this match, so there’s a chance he shows up unannounced and tries to dig a few graves of his own.
Bray Wyatt (c) v Randy Orton
The story going in: Bray Wyatt is something of a cult leader out of season one of “True Detective” and had temporarily recruited The Viper Randy Orton to be a part of the family. Orton betrayed Wyatt and is now using the title opportunity promised to him after his win at the Royal Rumble to take down his former brother. Also, a few weeks ago Orton burnt down Bray’s house for good measure.
What’s at stake: The WWE World Heavyweight Championship
What to expect: A great match. These are two wrestlers who can really work.
Potential shocker: A few former members of the Wyatt family — Luke Harper and Erick Rowan — could both potentially insert themselves into this match to sway it one way or the other. The question is, if they do come down the ramp, whose side will they be on?
Goldberg (c) v Brock Lesnar
The story going in: Two of the most powerful forces in wrestling collide, this time with a title on the line. Goldberg shocked the WWE Universe at SummerSlam when he destroyed Brock Lesnar in seconds. When the pair faced each other down in the Royal Rumble back in January, the story was much of the same — Lesnar entered the ring and within seconds was speared, thrown over the top rope, and eliminated. In this rematch, Lesnar will be looking to take revenge and send Goldberg to Suplex City.
What’s at stake: The WWE Universal Title
What to expect: Brock Lesnar does not lose all that often, and I’m not sure off the top of my head if anyone has ever beaten him twice. After being caught off guard twice in a row by spears to start the match, I’m thinking Lesnar has the move scoped out and is going to be ready for it this time.
Potential shocker: First, there is a chance that Goldberg beats Lesnar once again, and WWE leans into a story line where Goldberg “has his number!” for lack of a better term. This would be shocking. Goldberg is not expected to remain a regular attraction much longer, and again, no one beats Brock twice.
BONUS Potential shocker: Last year my favorite performer Finn Balor was called up from NXT and shotgunned right to the top, defeating Seth Rollins at SummerSlam to become the first ever WWE Universal Champion. Sadly, in the match that won him the title, he sustained a shoulder injury that has kept him out of competition since. It was truly devastating. Today, thanks to social media and reports from house shows, we know that Finn is now back in fighting shape, although he has yet to be seen on camera yet. While I expect them to save it for RAW the next day, there is a chance that after Brock wins the title and is standing tall in the middle of the ring, the lights suddenly fall dark and The Demon enters. It’s the best entrance in wrestling, and if this happens you can safely assuming I am openly sobbing.
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