Whatever it is, it’s upon us. WWE’s, and the industry’s, biggest week and show happens in Dallas. WrestleMania 38 is just about the best representation of what “New York” is these days: scrambled, lazy, nonsensical, yet intriguing, loud, brash, and when they actually bother to try, containing some of the biggest matches anywhere. This Mania seems to lean more to the bad parts of WWE’s booking, with a ton of matches that show off its desperate chase of mainstream acceptance that it’ll sacrifice what fans like. Or matches thrown together with no explanation or thought. But there are some real gems here, and maybe just enough to save the whole show. We’ll run through it all, starting with Night 1 with Night 2 following later.
The KO Show with Steve Austin
Fels: I don’t ever remember a “talk show” being on a Mania, and certainly not getting this hype. Of course, we know that it’ll be more than that. We know that Stone Cold is going to do “something.” Is that just hit a Stunner and leave? Is it going to be an extended beatdown? Are they going to turn it into an actual match? There’s been buzz they might make this the main event, which would be horribly unfair to both of the women’s matches, but it’s also Austin in Texas. Which makes you think it might be an actual match. Whatever it will be, it will be short, Austin will hit all the notes, the crowd will lose its mind, and that will be that. I’m guessing this becomes an actual match somehow, though it doesn’t go more than five to seven minutes. It’s also something of a sign that the company didn’t feel they sold nearly enough tickets, if they had to pull the Rattlesnake out of mothballs. Which is frustrating, because they have a wealth of current performers that if they’d just put in a modicum of work into could fill this slot with KO. Hi, Mustafa.
Blum: I don’t mind having a segment as part of WrestleMania. It’s different and it should come off great, especially with the star power that’ll be in the ring together. Kevin Owens has been one of WWE’s best performers for the better part of the last decade. Stone Cold Steve Austin is the most popular superstar in company history re-entering the ring in his home state of Texas. This “talk show” shouldn’t have too much talking. Stone Cold will play his greatest hits full of “Hell Yeahs!” and eventually brawl with Owens. What will be interesting is where this leads. If it’s a one-off, it seems like a wasted opportunity and will come off like every other sporadic appearance Austin has had with the company since his last official match in 2003. If this leads to a match on Night 2 or more of a program down the road, I’m all for it. It is WrestleMania, especially with talk of this main eventing Night 1, it’s hard to see Austin not cracking a beer or six in the corner as the picture fades to black.
New Day v. Sheamus & Ridge Holland
Fels: This is a prime example of a match just thrown onto the card to fill it out. Not that New Day or Sheamus aren’t great, but they both deserve something with a build. This will probably harp on Holland breaking Big E’s neck and Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston seeking revenge. But a story born out of one wrestler being a dangerous clod doesn’t really grab anyone by the balls. We’ve seen this match in different combinations for the past month or two, which only dampens the buzz. Holland isn’t worthy of this stage, but luckily for him Sheamus will bring his working boots for the big occasion. Should be fine for eight to 12 minutes, and New Day takes it to give everyone a heartwarming moment.
Blum: This definitely came along because of Ridge Holland’s injury to Big E. While it was thrown together last minute, it makes sense. “You hurt our best friend, let’s fight” is simple and the right direction. New Day has to win, likely pinning Holland. Putting over the act that injured Big E, intentional or not, isn’t the right move here, even if a longer program is in the works. Every match on WrestleMania doesn’t need to have tremendous stakes. I like this as an appetizer to the bigger parts of the show.
Drew McIntyre v. Happy Corbin
Fels: Here’s another match we’ve already seen a ton of for like three months now, and this isn’t a culmination of a feud so much as just clearing it off everyone’s plate before they puke and to move onto something else. Corbin gets a lot of credit for being “fine” in both his in-ring work and his character work, and there won’t be anything particularly wrong with this match. Drew gets a win that probably starts his path toward Roman Reigns. He’s just about the only face they have who can line up with Roman (though a returning Big E could be that and more, depending on when he can actually return). Hardly feels like a Mania match, but something has to go in the middle of the show.
Blum: Gross. The name Happy Corbin and this match being on the show at all are gross. McIntyre was in a world title match at the last two WrestleManias and now he’s relegated to squash-match duty against a floundering act? Yes, I know he was hurt recently and it’s a built-in feud. There has to be something better than this for one of the company’s biggest acts on its biggest show of the year. McIntyre should win here. Why continue this feud past this show? Let McIntyre get back in title contention in a top-level scene that needs some sort of freshening up. And let Corbin do whatever.
The Mysterios v. The Miz & Logan Paul
Fels: This is the first match that causes me to make such a violent wanking motion that I might separate my shoulder. They’ve been trying to make Dominik Mysterio a thing for two years now, and it isn’t going to happen. The moldy bread in my kitchen has more panache and magnetism, and would actually cause a reaction. And he’s hardly the worst part of this! WWE always has a celebrity match on Mania, which is fine. It’s the one show that can and should creep into the mainstream consciousness. It’s part of the pageantry. However, this doesn’t feel like tapping into any sort of zeitgeist or trying to attract casual eyeballs. These are two entities, WWE and Paul, who are desperately clawing for any remaining relevance beyond their spheres to remain popular among whatever unidentified circus people watched them before but had given up. Paul is only here because he has nowhere else to go. He probably came cheap enough that WWE did the calculus on money spent vs. chance of reaching anyone new. This is hardly Bad Bunny from last year, who couldn’t be more known. This is a dipshit working for a dipshit organization for a short time so they can both convince themselves they’re not dipshits. This is where I get more tacos or pizza or both.
Blum: My positivity for things being different on WrestleMania runs out here. I don’t understand why Logan Paul needs to be on the show or why the Mysterios and Miz need to be dragged down with him. There are plenty of other heels on the roster that could take this spot and put on a better match. Bringing a larger audience into the show is understandable, but it can’t happen as a sacrifice to the quality of the card at large. This pushes that boundary, unless Paul ends up being an amazing in-ring performer in his first match. He’s definitely athletic but it takes a unique skill set to be successful in the squared circle on such a large stage. I see Miz and Paul winning here, with Dominik Mysterio possibly turning on his father to set up a feud of their own. That maybe should’ve been the direction WWE went with this post on the card in the first place.
SmackDown Tag Team Championship: The Usos v. Shinsuke Nakamura & Rick Boogs
Fels: Remember when Nak had maybe the most anticipated match of Mania 34 with AJ Styles? And we hoped they would just run their Wrestle Kingdom match again? Seems a million years ago now, right? Do you even remember Nakamura holding the IC title and never defending it? Only acting as Boogs’s foil? Great times. Anyway, they’ve spent far too much time legitimizing Boogs to not have him go over here. And this Uso title run hasn’t gone anywhere. Try something new I guess. Or they retain and have five more matches with New Day. Whatevs.
Blum: I’ll never understand how Nakamura isn’t a main-eventer in this company. Possibly the most underutilized wrestler in the world. How on Earth is he in a tag team championship match on WrestleMania and that’s it? It would be a nice start to have him and Boogs go over here to do something new on SmackDown. I hope it leads to Nakamura eventually getting back to the guy who tore through the best in Japan because he could. Or else, he could want to be exiled just like Cesaro.
Seth Rollins v. Cody Rhodes
Fels: No, it’s not officially listed as this. But we all know. It’s what it’s going to be. And if it isn’t, it’ll be a huge shock, which is maybe why WWE is setting it up that way. If it is this, it would be utterly hilarious, and in character, for WWE to make this stink about getting their first one over AEW in bringing Cody back, and then have the ultimate company man Seth Rollins beat him and send Cody to his ultimate destiny of putting over Dominik Mysterio or Omos in three months.
But not even Vince could be that vindictive and stupid, at least not yet. Cody should be, and will be, used to demonstrate what WWE still has over the competition, just as soon as I figure out what that is (rhymes with $$$$). Cody wins, and gets a month or two of being top of the card. Maybe he’s the next to get fed to Roman.
Blum: Remember Cody’s entrance at Double or Nothing 2019? Some huge grandeur favoring WWE here would be cool. Yes, we’re assuming the mystery opponent for Seth Rollins is the biggest signed name for the company yet to make an appearance under their current contract. Rhodes coming back is a big deal for WWE, even without his AEW history. He’s the son of one of the greatest performers of all time. That alone is enough to give him the time to develop in WWE in 2022. A debuting superstar at WrestleMania can’t lose. Rollins doesn’t need this win. Cody does. The last time the lack-of-WrestleMania-match storyline played out four years ago at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans, John Cena’s clamoring for the spotlight ended with a beatdown from The Undertaker. I don’t think this will be as one-sided, but Cody needs to look impressive in taking down Rollins.
Raw Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch v. Bianca Belair
Fels: Now we’re talkin’. A match with two great performers that has had months of build to the point you can’t wait for the blowoff. Lynch’s heel-turn has still been wonky as fuck, but she’s good enough in the ring that it won’t matter here. They’ll build on Becky’s habit of cheating in the past but Bianca being wise to it now, and given the recent weeks it should be pretty brutal. It really should be the main event of this night given the stature of the two. My gut says Bianca gets her title back, and they probably keep running this for another month or two. But my head says Becky retains because there are just more people they can run at her and Raw probably needs the eyes (like Rhea or Sasha or a promoted Io Shirai).
Blum: This has match of the night written all over it. Then again, what other match has a chance at that honorary crown? Belair’s big moment last year over Sasha Banks at WrestleMania and her unceremonious dethroning at the hands of Lynch would make a full-circle moment great here for Belair to regain her title, handing Lynch her first PPV loss since January 2019. Is this the moment to end that streak? I’m not so sure. Does Belair really need it to gain legitimacy? It’d be another great moment and maybe I’m cherry-picking, but that’s it? I think Lynch winning here to try and stabilize her heel run would be my pick. It’ll be one heck of a match. I wouldn’t mind seeing Belair win under any circumstances, just think Lynch being protected isn’t a bad thing either.
SmackDown Women’s Title: Ronda Rousey v. Charlotte Flair
Fels: My shoulder is once again threatened with separation from the wanking motion. Not only is Rousey an awful, awful person, she’s wandered through her return to WWE like it was a timeshare presentation. She might as well be holding her check through every promo and match she’s had. WWE thinks she’s still box office, and maybe she is, but I simply don’t care and she hasn’t done anything to make me. Mania is an event that will have Charlotte’s interest locked in at least, so this won’t be terrible as long as Rousey can stop thinking about getting to the bank or endorsing Texas’ anti-trans bills for 15 minutes. It seems like Ronda is going to stick around a bit, so I guess that means she’s taking this and we can get more promos with all the feeling and oomph of reading off a mac & cheese recipe to your partner.
Blum: Rousey’s run has been… a run. She’s a big name but has come off beyond bland during this stint with the company. Flair hasn’t been great lately either, maybe Rousey rubbed off on her a little bit. For the biggest-hyped women’s match on the show, it’s completely underwhelming. Their match at Survivor Series 2018 was solid and I’d expect no less here. Rousey using her recent shortcomings on the mic to her advantage would be the smart thing. Pair her up with a manager who does all the talking for her and she turns into an arm-snapping beast. Rousey likely wins here, setting up a long reign and hopefully the long-anticipated one-on-one match with Lynch.