Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Welcome to the WrestleMania Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, April 2nd 2018. As WrestleMania week, weekend and the days immediately following all kinda smosh into one, the preview is a once again a bumper edition taking us well into next week too. Let’s get to it!

Monday, April 2nd – Raw

Key points: Raw’s go-home show for WrestleMania comes from the Philips Arena in Atlanta. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon will have a face-off with Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle, plus Seth Rollins vs Finn Balor.

What to expect: WWE has been inviting questions on social media for the face-to-face between Team Authority and Team Rousey, so expect the segment to be promo-based (and possibly mediated). The Authority pairing haven’t really come out of any exchange in the ascendancy so far, so them leaving Rousey and Angle laying as a cliffhanger for WrestleMania is a possibility. Similarly, Roman Reigns may need to take a piece of Brock Lesnar to complete a violent build to their title match on Sunday. Completing the hat-trick of big names in big segments, John Cena will be waiting on The Undertaker to accept his challenge for WrestleMania – which will surely happen here rather than being left in any doubt. It’s odd just to consider WWE would do Cena vs Undertaker at WrestleMania but not be advertising it by a week beforehand.

There’s a chance the announced match between Seth Rollins and Finn Balor might get thrown out through Miz interference (although Rollins may be due getting a win back on Balor). Miz became a dad this past week – many congratulations to Miz and Maryse – so expect that to get mentioned at least. The Women’s Championship program will hinge on whether Nia Jax is finally able to get her hands on Alexa Bliss, or whether that’ll be saved for Sunday. Sasha Banks and Bayley got into a backstage fight last week and that’ll probably be followed up here, although as well as that story is developing it’ll just feed into the build for the women’s battle royal. There’ll also be some short segments setting up further threads for the men’s battle royal. Finally, there’s an outside chance of Braun Strowman’s partner for his WrestleMania tag match being revealed here – although, depending on how high-profile it is, it’s possible the surprise could be kept until Sunday.

Tuesday, April 3rd – SmackDown Live, 205 Live & Mixed Match Challenge

Key points: The final Tuesday night before WrestleMania comes from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Nothing announced for SmackDown, but 205 Live has Mark Andrews vs Drew Gulak and the Mixed Match Challenge finals will take place between The Miz & Asuka and Bobby Roode & Charlotte Flair.

What to expect: SmackDown Live might need to address two notable developments for WrestleMania matches. Firstly, Rusev’s popularity has forced him into the United States Championship match; watching the build for the match prior to last week – the presence of Jinder Mahal during the Orton/Roode feud predates Fastlane – it’s clear this wasn’t originally the plan. Congratulations to Rusev! Expect him to be further established here opposite the three men who were already set for the match. Meanwhile, Shane McMahon is coming off a legitimate diagnosis of acute diverticulitis and an umbilical hernia (which will need surgery); if this is going to affect his involvement in WrestleMania, surely it would be addressed here.

Otherwise Shinsuke Nakamura’s efforts to get inside the head of AJ Styles will conclude; this has been played pretty well, teasing the prospect of them going head to head effectively without (so far) giving anything away for free. The Bludgeon Brothers have shown little weakness in their program with The Usos and The New Day – perhaps this is the point where the latter teams get an upper hand going into WrestleMania. There’ll also be more battle royal talk.

Charlotte Flair will be back after missing last Tuesday due to dental surgery, although it’s possible at least some elements of her showdown with Asuka – which has to happen here, as they’ve only come face-to-face at Fastlane so far – may be saved for the Mixed Match Challenge finals. Asuka and The Miz are widely expected to win that. Finally, 205 Live not only has Gulak vs Andrews but will likely spend time building towards Cedric Alexander vs Mustafa Ali for WrestleMania.

Wednesday, April 4th – NXT

Key points: Roderick Strong & Pete Dunne vs The Authors of Pain in the finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Also, Killian Dain vs Lars Sullivan.

What to expect: It’s spoiling nothing to say the situation following the finals of the Dusty Cup is going to be complicated; the winners, decided this week, are due to face The Undisputed ERA at TakeOver, but WWE has now broken cover with the news that Bobby Fish has suffered a knee injury (which despite the timeline stated in the article actually happened about a month ago). A ‘Plan B’ of some sort – and how the winners of the Dusty Cup figure in that – should therefore be fleshed out here.

Thursday, April 5th – Axxess opens

Key points: WrestleMania Axxess opens on Thursday at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans and generally marks the start of the weekend’s flood of content on social media and other channels.

What to expect: True, the details of Axxess – the annual fan festival WWE puts on before the year’s biggest show with autograph signings, exhibits, the odd live match and so on – are more relevant to people who are there than people who aren’t (so if you’re going, here’s the details from WWE.com). That said, it’s also the point where WWE’s social output for WrestleMania weekend starts to ramp up, so if you want to get into the WrestleMania spirit then fire up your channel(s) of choice and there’ll likely be plenty to see coming from Axxess. Alternatively, and doubly relevant if you decided to #DeleteFacebook or whatever, the WWE Network is running a Mixed Match Challenge marathon concluding with the finals that aired on Facebook Watch on Tuesday.

Friday, April 6th – Hall Of Fame

Key points: We’re off to the Smoothie King Center for the first of several visits over the weekend. The 2018 Hall of Fame ceremony starts at 8pm EST on the WWE Network with a ‘red carpet’ show from 7pm. The list of inductees, as announced by WWE.com, is as follows:

  • Goldberg (inducted by Paul Heyman)
  • The Dudley Boyz (inducted by Edge & Christian)
  • Ivory (inducted by Molly Holly)
  • Jeff Jarrett (inducted by Road Dogg)
  • Hillbilly Jim (inducted by Jimmy Hart)
  • Mark Henry (inducted by The Big Show)
  • Kid Rock (‘Celebrity Wing’; inductee to be announced)
  • Jarrius “JJ” Robertson (Warrior Award; inducted by Dana Warrior)

What to expect: The first thing to state is everyone on the 2018 list, individually, fully deserves their spot. The second thing to state is trying to refute the observation that, collectively, the lineup is among the less iconic from recent years isn’t easy. I was always a Bill Goldberg mark during the ‘Streak’ years in WCW and his initial WWE run and am happy to argue the case for this year’s headliner fitting the definition of ‘iconic’ during his peak. But to draw the most obvious ‘icon’ parallel – fellow WCW alum Sting who headlined in 2016 – it’s hard to argue Goldberg had a comparable cultural impact to the Stinger. No shade on Bill here though; I’m happy to see him inducted – and having Paul Heyman do so is the best way to introduce and sell anything.

In any case, arguments over Hall of Fame lists have been around as long as Hall of Fame lists themselves. All that matters on the night is whether the performers themselves are worthy and whether they and/or the people inducting them will have things to say that are worth hearing – and by those measures there’s a lot to like here. Asides from Heyman, Edge & Christian inducting the well-deserving Dudleys will provide a lot of value from two of the Attitude Era’s most entertaining teams. Jimmy Hart and the Road Dogg are obviously no average performers with a microphone, while the subject of the latter’s speech, Jeff Jarrett, is an intriguing case given his recent history with TNA and Global Force Wrestling. How much either man touches on that work will be interesting.

Nothing on ‘legacy’ inductees, a concept introduced for the last couple of years, has been reported or announced yet. Meanwhile if Mark Henry turns up wearing a salmon pink jacket, finish your drink.

Saturday, April 7th – NXT TakeOver: New Orleans

Key points: TakeOver starts at 8pm EST, preceded by a one-hour Kickoff show, live on the WWE Network from the Smoothie King Center. The officially-announced card at the time of writing is as follows:

  • NXT Championship: Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) vs Aleister Black
  • NXT Women’s Championship: Ember Moon (c) vs Shayna Baszler
  • Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa (Unsanctioned Match)
  • NXT North American Championship: EC3 vs Adam Cole vs Ricochet vs Velveteen Dream vs Lars Sullivan vs Killian Dain (Ladder Match)
  • NXT Tag Team Championships: The Undisputed ERA (c) vs Roderick Strong & Pete Dunne or The Authors of Pain

What to expect: NXT’s big shows usually have a pretty concentrated card, with a couple of solid matches backing up a marquee NXT Championship bout. Undercard matches, announced the week before and which you could either take or leave, are occasional but limited to a maximum of one. This card broadly follows the same pattern but is the strongest example the developmental brand has offered in a long time.

The NXT Championship match between Cien Almas and Aleister Black will be hard-hitting, well worked and run a heel vs face dynamic that makes it a fitting headline match on the biggest weekend of the year. However they’re under serious threat of being upstaged by the six-man ladder match – the lineup for which carries the extra star power of new faces EC3 and Ricochet – and particularly the grudge match between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, which has levels of heat and anticipation behind it that makes it the closest rival to Sunday’s WWE Championship match. The TakeOver setting, with fewer marquee matches and more generous time available, might even make it a safer bet for stealing the weekend.

Otherwise the NXT Women’s Championship feud has been solid, well-written and with good promo work. Even the traditional late addition to the card is a tag championships match. Another top-quality TakeOver, possibly one of the best, looks guaranteed.

Sunday, April 8th – WrestleMania 34

Key points: The 34th edition of biggest show on the wrestling calendar comes from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (not the Silverdome, brother!) in New Orleans. It starts at 7pm EST and is preceded by a two-hour Kickoff show starting at 5pm. The confirmed card as we go to press looks like this:

  • Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Roman Reigns
  • WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura
  • Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey vs Triple H & Stephanie McMahon
  • Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon vs Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
  • SmackDown Women’s Championship: Charlotte Flair (c) vs Asuka
  • SmackDown Tag Team Championships: The Usos (c) vs The New Day vs The Bludgeon Brothers
  • Intercontinental Championship: The Miz (c) vs Seth Rollins vs Finn Balor
  • United States Championship: Randy Orton (c) vs Bobby Roode vs Jinder Mahal vs Rusev (Fatal 4-Way Match)
  • Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
  • Fabulous Moolah Women’s Battle Royal
  • Raw Tag Team Championships: Sheamus & Cesaro (c) vs Braun Strowman & TBC
  • Raw Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs Nia Jax
  • WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Cedric Alexander vs Mustafa Ali

For the first time in over a decade, John Cena has no match at WrestleMania! Unless by some miracle he ends up wrestling The Undertaker. Which is crazy talk, obviously…..

What to expect: Let’s start with structure before we move on to content. At least two, probably three of the fourteen matches (assuming the addition of Cena/Undertaker) will take place on the pre-show, with the Cruiserweight Championship match and women’s battle royal looking like the clear frontrunners for those spots. The possible third one is harder to call, but the SmackDown Tag Team Championships match would draw a lot of comment if demoted; The Usos are, bizarrely, yet to wrestle on the main card in six appearances. For all the talk of what constitutes a ‘main event’, at the other end of the card the final match of the night should either be Cena and Undertaker or the Universal Championship match. The event as a whole will comfortably pass seven hours and ‘comfortably’ probably won’t describe how you’re sitting by the end of it.

And so we arrive at content. Many commentators, including this website, predicted Roman Reigns beating Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship a year ago after WrestleMania 33 (if not earlier). I hope you’ve made your peace with it, because this will be a central pillar of the show and the match that WWE originally intended for WrestleMania 31. Will it be universally accepted by the New Orleans crowd? No. Will it be good? Most likely, yes. That first match in the San Francisco Bay Area was pretty decent even before Seth Rollins intervened. This match is likely to be the talking point of the show, but if the two men really lean into it there’ll be no reason why you can’t enjoy the ride – even if you know the destination.

The other big matches on the card offer a very healthy mix. The other major championship match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura warrants its hype, but is at least partially dependent on the injury status of Styles – reported to be working through a knee injury – and being given the time to deliver the five-star standard it’s capable of. The expected match between John Cena and The Undertaker will be an iconic moment in time but may be coming a few years after the optimum time for it to be much of a good match. This being the same arena where Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak ended in 2014 at least makes the result interesting; at the moment I’m leaning towards Cena doing the job.

Expect the Authority vs Olympians mixed tag to be little more than a limited showcase for Rousey, a nostalgia trip for Angle and another preposterous entrance for Trips and Steph – last year’s Cena/Bella/Miz/Maryse tag is a good template. The match involving SmackDown’s on-screen powerbrokers, meanwhile, will draw a huge amount of goodwill due to the welcome involvement of Daniel Bryan. It’s also in a really strange spot with Shane McMahon’s medical status and Owens and Zayn needing to win to be ‘un-fired’. There’s a good chance that match goes down in ways nobody’s yet predicted.

Some brief notes elsewhere: SmackDown’s Women’s Championship match will be featured more prominently than the Raw equivalent and comes with high expectations – it’s probably the biggest women’s match (not involving Rousey) that WWE could book right now. SmackDown also holds the edge in tag titles matches, though the identity of Braun Strowman’s partner could be a strong novelty selling point. The personnel in the secondary championship matches make them a fairly big deal too (and without a single ladder in sight).

Overall, the card might be long but it’s looking pretty solid. This could be the best WrestleMania since….. Well, since the last time we were at the Superdome for WrestleMania XXX. As always, John and the team will be here at the end of the week with the full match-by-match preview, so check in with us for that.

Monday, April 3rd – Raw

Key points: We’re back to the Smoothie King Center for the Raw after WrestleMania.

What to expect: As WrestleMania presents the closest thing to a hard reset of storylines that WWE offers during the year – despite the likelihood of contractual rematches and the like taking place at the next pay-per-view (Backlash, cross-branded now of course, on May 6th) – predicting what’ll happen in on main roster television the following week is a difficult task made no easier by having just watched several hours of WWE output the same weekend. Hence we might as well have a stab at it now.

The now-notorious ‘party’ atmosphere at the Raw after WrestleMania will inevitably see Michael Cole and the announce team throw the crowd under the bus at the start of the show. “They’ll cheer when they’d normally boo and boo when they’d normally cheer” is the usual line employed to describe the year’s most in-the-know crowd simply showing their appreciation for, er, the people who they appreciate. I fucking hate that, just so we’re clear.

Anyway, expect a couple of surprises, a couple of big matches or segments and potentially the odd new face on the roster (as well as some conclusion, assuming the news doesn’t break during the coming week, about the future of Brock Lesnar with the company). The Monday following the big show is rarely dull.

Tuesday, April 4th – SmackDown Live & 205 Live

Key points: The last time I have to write the ludicrous corporately-sponsored words ‘Smoothie King Center’ in this preview, and probably the most supportive crowd 205 Live will ever have had.

What to expect: A lot of hardcore fans will likely have stayed around for SmackDown on Tuesday and, asides from the usual fallout from WrestleMania matches and possible talent debuts that also applied to Raw, there is a very likely issue that will come up – the situation with the show’s on-screen authority figures. With Shane McMahon likely to be starting a period of absence and Daniel Bryan cleared to return to the active roster, naming a new Commissioner and General Manager will probably be one of the main stories on the show.

205 Live, revived by the change in creative control earlier this year, should now reap the benefits of a crowd that should be more receptive to good cruiserweight action. There’s a new champion – Cedric Alexander or Mustafa Ali – to bed in, while call-ups from NXT are also possible (particularly if Johnny Gargano loses his TakeOver match on Saturday).

Wednesday, April 5th – NXT

Key points: Usually the pre-show from TakeOver forms the body of the following week’s Wednesday show, and the same should apply here.

What to expect: With the TakeOver card for Saturday pretty much stacked, there should be some other popular acts working matches here. Taping matches before the main TakeOver card usually means a hot crowd and, despite these shows also tending to be peppered with recaps from the Saturday, improves things considerably (the reverse of which, of course, has caused the dead crowds that have cursed several episodes of 205 Live). The Street Profits, riding a big wave of popularity at the moment, and SAnitY are probably the safest bets this far out of who might turn up on this episode, but at this point it’s all guesswork.

Three Burning Questions

Some broad questions for WrestleMania week; give us a simple answer or explain in depth if you prefer; just throw down your answers in the comments section as usual!

  1. What speech are you most looking forward to hearing at the Hall of Fame?
  2. What match are you most looking forward to at NXT TakeOver?
  3. What match are you most looking forward to at WrestleMania?

As you might’ve figured out from the above, there’ll be no formal preview from me next Monday. I’ll be nursing a WrestleMania hangover! So until the following week, strap in, enjoy the weekend and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.