WADE KELLER PODCAST - EARLY PREVIEW OF ROYAL RUMBLE 2020 MEN'S MATCH, PLUS 2019 AND 2010 LOOK-BACK ROUNDTABLES
(Search "wade keller" to subscribe in podcast app or CLICK HERE to subscribe in Apple Podcasts.)
We are four days from Wrestlemania. All the bluster, the grandstanding, the contract and hold-harmless signings are over. Some of the matches taking place on Sunday have been building for months. Some, more recently. But now, all that’s left is to wrestle. With that in mind, here is how I’d rank the upcoming Wrestlemania matches (including pre-show bouts) based on how well they’ve been built on television:
(1) Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens: This match has had all the advantages: A multi-month build; main event positioning during that time; and a memorable angle to break up a friendship, at just the right time. WWE doesn’t always hit those kinds of notes effectively, but they did here. Jericho was pulled out of a lull during his latest run when he was paired with Owens. And Owens has been able to trade on his way with words to twist what he did to put himself in the right. He’s been true to his character, only looking out for number one. This has been a fun ride with both men playing their parts with aplomb.
(2) John Cena & Nikki Bella vs. The Miz & Maryse: I’ll admit that I was one of the naysayers when this match was announced, thinking there had to be something better for Cena. Not only that, but it meant another year of no Undertaker vs. Cena. The hype for this match has far exceeded my expectations. Cena and Miz have both brought it on the mic, and this match is happening at just the right time in Miz’s career. Bringing Maryse aboard his act has reinvigorated his character, and he’s being rewarded for it. It’ll be interesting to see if this is a stepping stone for him to break back into the main events this year. The Total Bellas spoof was on the high end of WWE comedy. The only ding here is that in the war of words between the two parties, Cena has come out on top a little too often it seems.
(3) Neville vs. Austin Aries: The third-place match in terms of best build will take place on the pre-show. Ever since joining the Raw announce team during cruiserweight action, the thought has been to build to an Aries in-ring return after healing from his orbital injury. Aries is a great heel, but he’s been a tremendous babyface thus far against the heelish Neville, who has run roughshod over the division since first competing in it. The segment where Aries, playing interviewer, was lured into this feud by an overconfident Neville, was well-done and the rare cruiserweight segment where the crowd was engaged. It’s been pretty basic, but these are two of the stronger characters in the division right now, so this was the right cruiserweight match-up for Wrestlemania.
(4) The Smackdown Women’s Title Match: After the top three, there’s a bit of a drop-off here. Alexa Bliss has taken back charge of the Smackdown women’s division after Naomi had to forfeit the title due to injury. Naomi returned this past week on Smackdown and appears set to join the match for Wrestlemania. Not much in the way of build here, other than the ladies interfering in each other’s matches the last few weeks. Lost in the shuffle is Mickie James turning on Bliss after initially aligning with her upon Mickie’s return to WWE.
(5) Triple H vs. Seth Rollins: WWE plain got this wrong when Rollins came back from his first injury and was re-positioned as a heel despite the fans clamoring for him returning as a babyface. Finn Balor’s injury led to Rollins turning babyface when he was abandoned by The Authority and Triple H. It was a weak reason for a turn and who wants to cheer a guy who is only a babyface because the bad guys stopped helping him and started helping another guy? Rollins suffered another injury at the hands of Samoa Joe, perhaps a blessing in disguise. It has helped garner him more sympathy lately and he seems to be building a better babyface resume once they’ve gotten away from Rollins complaining about Triple H turning on him.
(6) Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar: The build for this one began with their first match at Survivor Series, a match that Goldberg shockingly dominated. It continued at the Royal Rumble, where Goldberg again got the upper hand on Lesnar in eliminating him. All signs point to Lesnar getting his revenge here, even if Goldberg does re-sign (and given his admitted miserable state on the Edge & Christian podcast, that’s not a sure thing). The story above has been fine if not a little surprising, but the Universal Title on the line has been completely lost in the shuffle, Paul Heyman’s attempts to make it relevant on Raw notwithstanding.
(7) Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns: It’s a battle of Whose Yard Is It? on Sunday. The loss of Undertaker’s Streak to build his Mania matches around has really been felt the last few years. Bray Wyatt, Shane McMahon, and now Reigns. It just hasn’t felt the same. Reigns has shown some subtle heel tendencies in going into a match he’s expected to be booed out of the building. But they could’ve gone much further. Taker’s limited dates and limited mobility at this point has predictably put a limit on what they could do in the build for this one.
(8) Raw Women’s Title Match: This just feels like a massive lost opportunity. Bayley should’ve been crowned champion, ending Charlotte’s PPV win streak. Instead, WWE blew those two moments unceremoniously, and now we’re left wondering only if Sasha Banks will turn heel on Bayley here. Charlotte dropped the extra baggage in Dana Brooke during the build. Nia Jax was a late add and she looked strong on Monday, both signaling she’s likely to lose. Charlotte is still the top of this division, and this match has been hampered in part by the Bayley character not being booked all that well.
(9) Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton: Your mileage may vary on this, but it has all the hallmarks of a top-three build: Long-term storytelling, a major title on the line, and the reigniting of a stale character in Orton. But the big moment of Orton burning down Wyatt’s compound on his way to challenging Wyatt for the title at Mania didn’t come off well. Having Orton decline to cash in his Royal Rumble win against Wyatt at first, only to do so later, smacked of just killing time. Wyatt, once one of WWE’s more intriguing personalities, has left a trail of nonsensical promos and third-rate hokum in his wake. And despite all the development here, Orton is still Orton between the ropes.
(10) Shane McMahon vs. A.J. Styles: The problem here, in addition to the announcers and McMahon himself acting like Shane, a 40-something non-wrestler, can actually take Styles, is that Styles has often come across more as the babyface here than Shane-O-Mac. Styles has a legitimate gripe for being left out of the Smackdown Title Match. In a vacuum, the build the last few weeks hasn’t been bad, with A.J’s attack and putting Shane’s head through a window, as well as A.J. and Shane’s confrontation in the Gorilla position a few weeks ago. But in the end, I come back to: It’s Shane McMahon.
(11) Dean Ambrose vs. Baron Corbin: This is an intriguing match in and of itself, but WWE hasn’t really done a lot to build this. Aside from Corbin dropping a forklift onto Ambrose backstage, which was a “miss.” Corbin just wants to continue his path of destruction in the company, and Ambrose…well…Ambrose wants to retain the I.C. Title I guess. Aside from disliking Corbin, they haven’t done a good job of getting to the root of Ambrose’s motivation.
(12) Raw Tag Team Ladder Match: This was made a Ladder Match at the last minute. Anderson and Gallows walk in as champions. There hasn’t been a lot of development here other than the teams being matched up against each other week after week on Raw either in tag team or singles competition. There doesn’t seem to be much of a story here at all.
(13) Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal: Big Show is in it and he might win. Braun Strowman is also in it and he also might win. WWE has certainly let fans know this match is taking place.
Greg Parks joins Wade Keller on the PWTorch Livecast a couple times a month, usually after WWE Smackdown. Read additional columns from him at PWTorchVIP.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregmparks. Comments, questions and feedback are welcome, and can be sent to email@example.com.