In the world of professional wrestling, no event comes close to the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania. Over the last 32 years, the most significant moments in sports entertainment have happened at WWE’s pay per view event, from Hulk Hogan bodyslamming Andre The Giant at WrestleMania 3 to Shawn Michaels “retiring” Ric Flair at WrestleMania 24 to Seth Rollins cashing in on Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns in the main event last year.
A lot can be said about whether WWE or Ring of Honor or even New Japan Pro Wrestling have the best wrestlers, but nobody can compete with WrestleMania. After all, how could any event compete with a show that took place in a NFL stadium, featured world famous musical acts, and starred the greatest wrestlers in the history of the business?
At WrestleMania 30, the show opened with Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson cutting a promo. Later on that night, the most famous streak in wrestling, the Undertaker’s WrestleMania run, was broken by former NCAA, UFC, and NJPW champion, Brock Lesnar. Then the show ended with “indy” icon, Daniel Bryan, defeating future hall of famers Randy Orton and Dave Batista for the prestigious WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Despite all of the talent that promotions like New Japan, Ring of Honor, and at points, TNA have boasted, they could never produce something like that.
At least, that’s how it used to be. This was before real-life COO, and future boss of WWE, Triple H turned the company’s developmental territory into its own mainstream brand. This was before the wrestling world fell in love with NXT. Paul Levesque, better known by his ring name, Triple H, managed to take a small promotion, used to develop the WWE stars of tomorrow, from a little untelevised show in a warehouse to a full blown promotion.
Despite how popular NXT has grown with the wrestling community, there’s a reason its stars are still in developmental. There’s a reason that these stars are on NXT and now Raw or SmackDown. Some are independent legends, who are there to bring young stars along. Others are stars from independent promotions who need to learn the WWE style. And others just aren’t good enough to be on television yet. On paper, there’s no way a group of developmental stars could ever compete with the main roster, let alone WrestleMania.
But this year, that may be the case. After some truly shoddy booking, and a vicious tear of injuries, the WrestleMania card isn’t very impressive. Sure, fans are excited about Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar, and the triple threat match between Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch could be the match of the night. But outside of that, and maybe the fourth match between Chris Jericho and AJ Styles, the rest of the card is a mess.
Vince McMahon’s son, Shane, who hasn’t wrestled in six years, has a Hell in a Cell match with the 50 year old “dead man”, the Undertaker in a match that either ends Taker’s career or gives Shane McMahon control of Monday Night Raw. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, who have a fantastic rivalry dating back to their days as a tag team in Ring of Honor, will be competing in a spot-filling multi-man intercontinental championship match that features the likes of The Miz and Zack Ryder. There’s a multi-diva’s match featuring the dreadful Brie Bella and Lana, who has yet to wrestle with the company. There’s a US title between Kalisto, who has been booked dreadfully, and RyBack, who has started ripping off gimmicks to get over with the crowd.
And then there’s the main event. The WWE World Heavyweight Championship match between Roman Reigns and Triple H. A match that even the most casual wrestling fan already knows the outcome of. Roman Reigns, despite being booed loudly for the last two months, has been forced down everyone’s throats by the WWE as the next big thing, and will obviously take the title from Triple H, who at 46, will likely be hanging up the boots soon. The fans have booed Roman at every event, to the point where the company faked an injury to dodge the infamous Chicago crowd, and the McMahon family has refused to accommodate their commands.
To be fair, it can’t be easy for the creative team to make a respectable WrestleMania card out of the wrestlers they have available. Former champions Seth Rollins, John Cena, Nikki Bella, and Randy Orton have been out for months, making the main event picture very small, and beyond that, even the mid-carders haven’t been spared. Nevile, Cesaro, Tyson Kidd, Luke Harper, and a host of the company’s best wrestlers have been benched indefinitely by no fault of the WWE. Without stars like these, the WWE have truly struggled to keep Mania afloat.
Unfortunately, the WrestleMania experience lasts the whole weekend, and they booked another show for Friday night, NXT TakeOver. For the most part, NXT has avoided the injury bug, only losing NXT Champion, Finn Balor for a few weeks a couple of months ago, and the majority of the roster remains intact. This gave Triple H and the rest of NXT’s creative team a full deck to play with, and they have.
The NXT card is made up of matches that fans thought they would never see in a WWE ring. It features the debuts of Japanese legend, Shinsuke Nakamura, as well as former Ring of Honor and TNA World Champion, Austin Aries. That goes without mentioning the rumored debut of Finn Balor’s stable, the Bulletproof Balor Club, a WWE version of New Japan’s wildly successful heel stable, the Bullet Club. The Balor Club is rumored to include Balor, along with former Bullet Club partners, Doc Gallows and Machine Gun Karl Anderson from NJPW. This debut would likely mark a Finn Balor heel turn, and call for the entire stable to get called up to the main roster.
The worst match on the card is between Apollo Crews and Elias Samson. That’s not to say that it won’t be a good match, as both Crews and Samson are great workers, only that the rest of the card looks so good. The American Alpha, an Olympic/comedy tag team featuring the wildly entertaining Chad Gable and Jason Jordan, will take on the red hot Revival, perhaps the hottest heels in the promotion, for the NXT tag team titles. NXT Women’s Champion Bayley will finally have a match with Japanese sensation, Asuke (formerly Kana) for the prestigious women’s title in a match that will almost certainly steal the show, and Finn Balor will defend his NXT title against Samoa Joe in a rematch of an excellent match from TakeOver: London.
The WrestleMania crowd is not dictated by the location of the event, as the most diehard fans from around the world will travel to wherever they need to for the show. These fans will spend thousands of dollars on travel, tickets, and the whole WrestleMania experience, so it’s a pretty solid bet that not only do they pay the monthly $9.99 for the WWE Network, but that they’re NXT fans as well. It’s very hard to imagine that they won’t sell out the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas two nights before WrestleMania, and that the roughly 10,000 fans in attendance will see a better show on Friday than they will on Sunday.