A week out from WrestleMania 35, there was some fine-tuning to the card for the extravaganza during this past week’s television, an apparent determination of which match will close the show and additions to the Hall of Fame line-up for the 2019 class as the ever-changing world of sports entertainment works its way through its most interesting and financially lucrative portion of the year.
We now know that the grudge match between former Evolution brothers, Hollywood’s Dave Batista and Triple H, will include the stipulation that if Batista wins, Hunter will retire from in-ring competition. Another bout with some hard feelings to it, the one between former tag team champs Shane McMahon and the Miz, will be a falls count anywhere affair. Two bigger revelations were that the Rousey-Lynch-Flair three-way was officially christened the main event of Mania, with the participants making it to the ESPN airwaves to talk about their history-making effort in such a public way that it would seem to indicate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the match would have to go on last, even though that was not stipulated specifically.
Of course, Vince is famous for changing his mind and nothing with him ever seems to be a sure thing, but it would be tough to go in a different direction after such a mainstream declaration. Also, in a surprising move that seems to have many of Asuka’s fans on edge, Charlotte Flair defeated the Japanese sensation for the Smackdown title this past Tuesday, which adds another dimension to the Mania triple-threat with an additional title possibly in play. Exactly what the stakes will include will probably be made known on this week’s TV.
Ardent fans of Asuka were reportedly voicing their displeasure about her loss in large numbers on social media, already feeling that the talented grappler has been short-changed in recent months and disrespected as the Smackdown champion with Lynch on that show. Lynch is chasing after Rousey and the Raw belt. As talented as Asuka is in the squared-circle (and she is absolutely one of the best in-ring female wrestlers in the business today), she is limited on the microphone and is clearly not viewed by the upper crust as being as marketable as Rousey, Flair or Lynch or she would be in that mix for next Sunday. She could certainly show up and interfere to cost somebody the match at the end next week, especially if Rousey is leaving and losing, to set up a future program.
Another major development this past week on Smackdown was Kofi Kingston finally getting the nod to challenge Daniel Bryan for the WWE title after his New Day brethren survived a gauntlet match (Creative sometimes gets an idea and wears it out) with Kofi’s opportunity hanging in the balance. The Anderson and Gallows team were quickly dispatched at the outset (Do you think their refusal to re-sign and likely AEW or NJPW destination is affecting their booking?) and Big E and Xavier Woods eventually overcame Rusev and Nakamura and the Bar, before the Usos showed up and chose to forfeit out of respect for Kofi and the other pancake specialists. Bryan and Rowan came out and New Day eventually upended them when Rowan ended up buried under the announcer’s table at ringside.
Kurt Angle’s farewell tour continued on Raw and Smackdown with a victory over Samoa Joe in a quick match that made it look clearer than ever that Angle is hurting. The next night on Smackdown, Kurt was set to wrestle AJ Styles, an adversary he had some great bouts with while both were in TNA many years ago. There was outside interference by Randy Orton, who is working with Styles at Mania, so the match never really got going past a minute and a half. Joe is scheduled to face Rey Mysterio this coming week on TV and, while the idea of the farewell matches against really good opponents who are obviously willing to put him over might have seemed like a good one at the time, the wins have felt kind of hollow, especially after Angle was booked on a losing streak not too long ago against weaker names.
Reigns and McIntyre had a brief brawl to build for their Mania match and McIntyre defeated the departing Dean Ambrose in a last man standing main event to close out Raw. Lesnar advocate Paul Heyman did a promo cutting down Rollins, but after Rollins came on the scene, ended up cowering on the ramp begging for mercy and blaming everything he said on his client Lesnar in a classic 1970s heel manager role.
The Hart Foundation was officially announced for this year’s Hall of Fame this past week and it is expected that Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake will be added this coming week, along with having him be inducted by long-time friend Hulk Hogan, as the Hulkster comes back with a bigger profile for Mania weekend. Lots of names were added to the list of participants in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal for next Sunday. The Hardys are on the list, along with Saturday Night Live Weekend Update hosts Michael Che and Colin. Braun Strowman has to be a favorite. Shelton Benjamin, Curtis Axel, Andrade, EC3, Bobby Roode, Rhyno and Mustafa Ali, who is apparently now going only as Ali and could be another possible favorite if they don’t go with Strowman, are also on the list. Expect a somewhat careful entrance from Titus O’Neil.