The card for Sunday night’s WrestleMania 34, which will air live on WWE Network from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, is the best in recent memory. The event promises to be both long and dense, with 13 matches announced (14 are expected) across a seven-hour time slot, with two of those hours given over to a pregame show. This is most certainly a lot of wrestling, but of all those matches, only one looks anything less than great on paper. Everything a fan could want from WrestleMania appears to be in place—huge stadium setting, unique matches that should deliver in the ring, a celebrity presence in the form of Ronda Rousey’s in-ring debut. All very good.
But fans were going to watch this anyway. Even if you’re not watching WWE regularly, though—and even if you’re not watching it much at all—this looks like a potential classic, and one well worth watching. With that in mind, here’s an attempt to preview the card for lapsed fans and non-fans alike.
(Do not expect this to reflect the bout order, by the way.)
Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon & Triple H
The former UFC Bantamweight Champion’s pro wrestling debut is by far the most hyped match on the show and the biggest from a mainstream perspective. Both in her talking segments and when she’s gotten physical, Rousey has looked pretty unpolished as a performer so far, although she was noticeably more relaxed than she had been in earlier appearances on this week’s Monday Night Raw. Her struggles with the actual wrestling part of the job have been surprising, given that Rousey is an elite athlete and lifelong wrestling fan who has been training on wrestling moves for months. It may be a while before she doesn’t look somewhat rigid doing a basic moves, but her judo throws have, unsurprisingly, been more than fine.
Rousey’s partner in this match is so broken down that he looks like a danger to himself when he wrestles, so expect Rousey chasing McMahon around a lot while Triple H directs traffic. Another way to say that: expect a lot of bullshit (the good kind) geared towards a highlight package for SportsCenter. You’re tuning in to see Rousey throw and armbar Stephanie McMahon, and that’s what you’re going to get.
Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
This is all about Bryan returning after three years on the shelf, an absence that feels even longer because he had just returned from neck surgery before suffering the concussion that led to his retirement. With McMahon having been hospitalized for diverticulitis about a week ago, Bryan is likely to carry his team’s side of the match, which means it’s likely going to be a better and more exciting match than when it was originally scheduled. There was a long, complicated storyline setting this up for the last eight months, but you don’t really need to know most of it. All that you really need to know is that, in the storyline, Bryan and McMahon were running WWE’s SmackDown sub-brand, Owens and Zayn objected to their treatment in that sub-brand, and then beat up their bosses. With the three actual wrestlers’ skill level and long history on the independent scene before going to WWE, plus the significance of Bryan’s comeback, they will probably try as hard as anyone on the card to stage a show-stealer of a match.
The Undertaker vs. John Cena
This is one of the few remaining WWE dream matches but, at least officially, it’ hasn’t been announced as happening. It obviously is going to happen, though, and it’s been a long time coming. Thanks to a mix of luck and long-term planning, these two have not faced each other in a singles match in eleven and a half years; they haven’t even been on opposite sides of any match since Monday Night Raw’s 900th episode celebration, which was almost eight years ago. (WrestleMania is somehow also on the 15th anniversary of Cena and Undertaker’s first match against each other in 2003.)
The entire buildup has been devoted to Cena, who wants a marquee match of some kind if he can’t get a title shot and has been calling out The Undertaker—who teased the idea of retirement in his last two appearances—and getting no answer. With the stacked card, the match isn’t really needed to goose interest, and so WWE clearly decided to go with some non-traditional hype.
The “surprise” element of the match will likely boost crowd interaction, and that’s worth mentioning because The Undertaker hasn’t looked great in recent years, which has in turn hurt the engagement for his WrestleMania matches; he has not wrestled at all since major hip surgery in 2017. Everyone with an opinion on any of this is also predicting that, with Undertaker having left his hat, coat, and gloves in the ring after losing to Roman Reigns last year and Kid Rock being inducted into the Hall of Fame two nights earlier, “The Dead Man” will reemerge in his old “American Badass” biker persona. As for the match itself... well, that’s a glaring question mark given Undertaker’s poor performance last year and the unknown status of his hip after surgery.
Brock Lesnar © vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship
This is a rematch from the WrestleMania 31 main event, where Seth Rollins “cashed in” his Money in the Bank contract, which allows the holder a title shot at any time, and interrupted the match to win the title. That match, which was not built up particularly well, ended up surprising fans by being one of the best main events in WrestleMania history, and its inconclusive ending left it ripe for an eventual rematch. But it was also around then that the fanbase really started to reject Reigns, who was being pushed as a top guy a little too early and fed interview verbiage that made him look like an idiot, asshole, or both. Even improving to the point of being one of the company’s best in-ring performers, which Reigns has done, didn’t mean much. He was seen as Vince McMahon’s pet, and a wrestler who was only being featured because he’s a big guy who looks like he should play a werewolf on True Blood.
The last several weeks have changed that: With Lesnar’s contract about to expire, Reigns has been presented as the workhorse who busts his ass for WWE every night, while Lesnar is the greedy, lazy champion who doesn’t deign to appear regularly. That dynamic clicked, and Reigns finally seems like he’s on the verge of universal popularity. Whether that will stick after he (most likely) dispatches Lesnar is another story, of course.
A.J. Styles © vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship
Not much storyline to parse here: Nakamura got his choice of either Lesnar or Styles won the Royal Rumble in January and picked Styles immediately after the match. The two have a history in New Japan Pro Wrestling, including a classic at the Tokyo Dome two years ago, and little storyline other than competition, which makes this the one match clearly designated to be the in-ring peak of the show. Styles has been arguably the best in-ring performer in the world, or at least the consensus best American, for the last four years; Nakamura was right there with him before his WWE run. Since arriving in America, the Japanese star has relied more heavily on his charisma than before, but he’s looked more like his old self since his excellent Royal Rumble performance. The larger significance comes with the result: If Nakamura wins, he would be just the second Japanese WWE Champion, and the first to be acknowledged in the U.S.; Nakamura’s mentor, Antonio Inoki, had a quickie reign in 1979 that is not usually recognized by WWE.
Charlotte Flair © vs. Asuka for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship
As with the men’s SmackDown title match, this hasn’t been super storyline-heavy, with the dramatic stakes based mainly on Asuka choosing a shot at Flair after winning the women’s Royal Rumble instead of Raw champion Alexa Bliss. Asuka’s undefeated run in WWE is the big hook here: Will it continue, or will the most protected female WWE star conquer her?
Alexa Bliss © vs. Nia Jax for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship
This one, on the other hand, is VERY storyline-heavy. The opponents here had been allies until Bliss went extra Mean Girls on Jax. It’s worked to make Jax a crowd favorite, but it’s also a bit too close to the insult-laden, body image-centric style storylines that dominated the distaff division in the past. It’s all completely in character for Bliss and her “five feet of fury,” but Jax being vulnerable to the point of tears doesn’t really fit her monster persona and a position in which the WWE would never put a male wrestler. Unlike the other women’s title match, where there is genuine doubt about the outcome, this feels like an obvious Jax win to establish her as the top woman on Raw. As such, expect that it will be treated as a big deal.
That’s only the top half of the card and this story is already very long! Hopefully nothing in the bottom half gets shortchanged. Outside of the Randy Orton vs. Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev match for Orton’s U.S. Title, which doesn’t really offer anything compelling besides Rusev’s involvement, this is a pretty outstanding card from top to bottom with a lot of variety, including two tag team title matches, the finals of the cruiserweight title tournament, and two battle royals. The only conceivable way that this WrestleMania could fail to deliver would be through some unnecessary micromanagement by WWE that keeps the wrestlers from doing their thing. If something that stupid doesn’t happen—and it’s always a risk where WWE is concerned—this is as close to a sure thing as any WrestleMania in recent memory.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and everywhere else that podcasts are available. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix