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It’s Time To TakeOver Wrestlemania Weekend

Here we are at last on day one of the most sacred weekend of the WWE year.

As is the case for most prePPV reports, I’m here to breakdown everything we know about the next few days and offer my match predictions. I’m doing pretty well when the company doesn’t make last minute changes, so let’s hope there aren’t too many of those this weekend. We start of course with the Friday night action…

NXT TakeOver: New York, Friday April 5

It’s a stacked card with titles on the line in every single match. There are also plenty of interesting directions to go with any of those titles, so let’s do our best to sort out the possibilities.

NXT Title (currently vacant): 2 out of 3 Falls Match: Johnny Gargano vs Adam Cole (Bay Bay!)

Originally this was going to be the culmination of three and a half years of storytelling between sometimes friends, sometimes enemies Johnny Gargano and former NXT champion Tomasso Ciampa. Had that been the case, I would feel fairly confident in picking Johnny Wrestling to FINALLY win the big one for the happy ending of his NXT years. Unfortunately, Ciampa had to vacate the title and get neck surgery. The powers that be through 5 of NXT’s top stars into a match and came out with Adam Cole as the man who faces Gargano Friday night for the vacant title. They could still move forward with the original plan of Johnny getting his big win. They seemingly pulled back on his main roster call up and could use his leadership both in and out of the ring as they rebuild the NXT landscape in the coming months. That said, there are seemingly title challengers of the good guy variety at the top of the roster, so continuing to have a heel champ like Cole could also be beneficial. Then again, when it comes to NXT, faces and heels seem to matter less than talent to the die hard fans. Prediction: Johnny Gargano wins the one title that has eluded him for the last 3+ years

NXT UK Title: Pete Dunne(c) vs Walter

Dunne is only the 2nd man to hold WWE’s current UK title, and he’s defended it successfully for over 680 days. He’s been the standard bearer for the fledgling brand. He kept the title relevant with his appearances on NXT for over a year while waiting for NXT UK to finally get its own show. When that show did happen, Dunne (along with his British Strong Style partners Trent Seven and Tyler Bate) were the men that division was built around. He successfully defended the belt against some high caliber challengers including the man he beat at NXT UK’s first TakeOver special Joe Coffey… And then came Walter. The big Austrian has held titles all over Europe, and he made an immediate impact when he arrived at NXT UK. After a nearly 700 day reign it’s going to take someone very special to get that title off of the Bruiserweight. Considering that Triple H is very high on Pete Dunne’s potential, it could finally be time to unburden him of this belt so that he can chase others on either NXT prime or even the main roster. Prediction: Walter

NXT Women’s Title: Fatal Fourway: Shayna Baszler(c) vs Bianca Belair vs Kairi Sane vs Io Shirai

The Queen of Spades has been THE Woman on the NXT roster for quite some time now, and she’s more than ready to make a huge impact on the main roster. I even reported recently that they’ve been trying out new roles for her friends Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir at NXT house shows. The problem they have is that no other woman on the roster feels 100% ready to unseat the champ one on one, but having all 4 of her top challengers in the ring at the same time could be just what is needed. Sane is the only woman that has beaten Baszler for the title previously, but she feels too much like the 3rd wheel in this group of challengers. Belair had a starmaking performance against Shayna at the last TakeOver event, but Shirai seems to have all of the momentum at the moment. Prediction: Shirai wins the title, Belair continues feuding with her and wins the belt at a later date, Baszler gets called up, and Sane takes a cruise (or something)

NXT Tag Ttiles: War Raiders(c) vs Aleister Black & Ricochet

This is the one and only match where the outcome seems pretty clear… unless of course they do something crazy this weekend. Black & Ricochet have been on a huge momentum role lately while they’ve been pulling triple duty for WWE. They earned this title shot by winning this year’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Tournament, they nearly won the Raw tag titles last week, and 2 days after TakeOver they get a shot at the Smackdown Tag Titles at Wrestlemania. Unless they’re going to walk into that Mania match already carrying the NXT tag titles, I think it’s pretty obvious that they just put on a really good show against a dominant team in their final NXT appearance. Prediction: War Raiders

NXT North American Title: Velveteen Dream(c) vs Matt Riddle

This is perhaps the most difficult of the matches for me to predict. Given how short Johnny Gargano’s title reign was before losing this title to the Dream, it feels wrong to once again hot shot the title to the next guy. Then again, if Gargano wins the NXT title, Dream would be a great challenger for him in the months to come. Riddle is also currently undefeated and clearly being seen as a major star. He could potentially hold on to this title for a lengthy run and make it mean a little something. Every person to hold the North American title so far has been extremely deserving, but none of them have held it for very long. Could the original bro be the guy who finally does? Prediction: Riddle (Velveteen is somewhat teflon when it comes to losses)

WWE Hall of Fame Ceremony, Saturday April 6

Inductees for the 2019 Hall of Fame class (* indicates two-time inductees):

Degeneration X: Shawn Michaels*, Triple H, Chyna, X-Pac, Road Dogg, & Billy Gunn

The Hart Foundation: Bret “the Hitman” Hart* & Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart

Harlem Heat: Booker T* & Stevie Ray

Honky Tonk Man

Torrie Wilson

Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake

Warrior Award: Sue Aitchison

Wrestlemania 35, Sunday April 7

Host: Alexa Bliss

Special Correspondents: Colin Jost & Michael Che of SNL

Special Musical Guest: Yolanda Adams to sing “America the Beautiful”

Main Event: Raw & Smackdown Women’s Titles- Winner Takes All: Ronda Rousey(c) vs Charlotte Flair(c) vs Becky Lynch

No feud has received more attention than this one has during the last 6 months or so. It’s also been filled with increasingly convoluted twists and turns on route to this historic moment for the women of WWE. I could discuss those twists and turns at length, or I could just get to the point… if THE MAN does not win this match, there WILL be riots in the streets. Prediction: “The Man” Becky Lynch

WWE Title: Daniel Bryan(c) w/Rowan vs Kofi Kingston w/New Day(probably)

Clearly the 2nd hottest thing on this card and it wasn’t even supposed to BE on this card a few months ago. When (Mustapha) Ali had to be pulled from the Elimination Chamber due to injury the veteran Kingston was put in that match as a last minute replacement. Little did anyone know that he would go on to put in such a star-making performance that every plan WWE had penciled in for the following months had to be rewritten. Always a fan favorite, Kofi was now pure fire. The powers that be instantly put him into a one on one title match against Bryan at the next PPV event, but so over was Kingston at this point that it just didn’t seem quite big enough. He was quickly replaced at that event by the man most expected to see facing Bryan at Wrestlemania, Kevin Owens. Evil Mr. McMahon continued stoking the fire and making the underdog veteran fight for his big Wrestlemania moment. It is now upon us, and as with the previous match, if the underdog doesn’t win there WILL be rioting in the streets. Prediction: Kofi Kingston wins and I shed tears of joy

Universal Title: Brock lesnar(c) vs Seth Rollins

As the previous two matches caught fire with audiences this one seems to have faded in priority a bit. Of course that could also be contributed to general Lesnar fatigue. It’s time that one of the top titles in the company is no longer a part-time title. It’s beyond time. Too many talented full-time performers are being robbed of opportunities during its absence. My only concern is that WWE being WWE they may not be willing to give the fans exactly what they want in all 3 of the top title matches. Let’s just hope that they make the RIGHT calls in all cases rather than screwing the fans just for the sake of doing so. Prediction: Seth Rollins finally brings the belt back to raw full time

Intercontinental Title: Bobby Lashley(c) vs Finn Balor

This feud lost some of its luster when Balor pinned Lashley’s associate Lio Rush to win the title only to later drop it back to Lashley and resume the chase. That said, we know that Finn is bringing back his demon persona for the first time in quite a while, and that should be just what he needs to finally get the definitive one on one victory over “the Almighty.” Hopefully both men will finally move on to fresh feuds at that point. Prediction: Finn Balor

United States Title: Samoa Joe(c) vs Rey Mysterio (maybe)

For a while it seemed like we were going to see Mysterio and Andrade bringing their excellent feud to the grandest stage, and rumors had John Cena challenging Joe. They bought time for a while by having Joe, Rey, Andrade and R-Truth all in the mix leading to speculation this would be a multi-man match. Eventually though it came down to Mysterio getting the one on one match against the US Champion. Alas, this past Tuesday we got news that Mysterio had suffered an injury in his match on Raw Monday night and would need to be reevaluated prior to competing on Sunday. It’s unclear currently if this is a legitimate injury or part of the plan for a “surprise” replacement (remember those rumors about Joe vs Cena?). Regardless of who he faces come Sunday, I think it’s far too soon to take the title off of Joe. Prediction: Samoa Joe retains (we can’t have ALL the faces win)

Women’s Tag Titles: Fatal Fourway: Boss n Hug Connection(c) vs Natalya & Beth Phoenix vs Tamina & Nia Jax vs The IIconics

First, my colleague Gene has some thoughts on this one:

I don’t envy the champs or the veterans (Beth & Nattie) in this match. They’re going to have to carry other competitors who, as recent months have made abundantly clear, should never have been called up to the main roster so soon. Despite being gone for nearly seven years, Beth hasn’t lost a step. And while it would be awesome for her and Nattie to have a run with the belts, they just formed a tag team and need more time to build a proper program for the belts. The champs are keeping these belts for the foreseeable future (and possible curtain call at the end of the show). WINNERS: Boss n Hug Connection.

I have to agree that Sasha & Bayley are going to continue to be the standard bearers of these new belts for the foreseeable future. They have many challengers yet to face on every brand of the WWE system before they drop them to a more worthy challenger than they face this night. Prediction: Boss n Hug

Smackdown Tag Titles: The Usos(c) vs The Bar vs Rusev & Nakamura vs Ricochet & Aleister Black

There had been rumors aplenty that we would see the brothers Uso facing the newly reunited brothers Hardy, but that never came together and Matt & Jeff found themselves in the battle royal (which Matt won last year). There never seemed to be any clear direction for a one on one (or two on two as it were) match with the entire stacked SDL tag division always in the mix. So here we are finally with 4 of the top teams on the roster squaring off. This is one of those situations where any of the 4 teams would be viable winners. the most interesting element in play though is the fact that this will be the 3rd tag title match for Black & Ricochet within the span of one week. They challenged the Revival for the Raw titles on Monday. They will challenge the War Raiders for the NXT titles on Friday’s TakeOver. Then they challenge for the SDL titles at Mania on Sunday. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that THIS is the one they finally win to cement their final ascension to the main roster. Prediction: Ricochet & Black

Raw Tag Titles: The Revival(c) vs Zack Ryder & Curt Hawkins

This match was a last minute addition announced via social media this week. If I had to guess, it will be on the preshow. The Revival are one of the best teams on the roster, but for whatever reason they’ve never really been treated as such since coming up to the main roster. They FINALLY got their hands on the Raw tag Titles only to be treated like unworthy champions in the weeks since. Hawkins has been on an epic losing streak ever since returning to WWE a couple of years ago. Reteaming with his original partner Ryder was supposed to be the key to breaking that losing streak, but so far it has not worked out. Part of me would love to see them get their happy ending at Mania, but not at the expense of the Revival. There are too many other “happy endings” already likely to be happening later in the night. Prediction: Revival retains

*Side note: Congrats to Zack Ryder and NXT’s currently injured Chelsea Green! The couple got engaged in New York this week.

Cruiserweight Title: Buddy Murphy(c) vs Tony Nese

These men were once allies, but Nese fought his way through a tournament eventually defeating former champ Cedric Alexander to earn this shot. I don’t follow 205 as closely as I should, so I’m going to have to just flip a coin here. Murphy has held the title for quite a while now, so let’s go ahead and say that it’s time for a change. prediction: Tony Nese

No Holds Barred Match: Triple H vs Batista

Movie star Batista is coming back for one more match against sometimes friend, sometimes nemesis Triple H. The added stipulation for the match is that if Hunter loses he’ll be forced to retire from in ring competition. As much as I’d like to see HHH focus all of his energy on running things behind the scenes rather than also be inserted into special matches twice a year, I feel like Batista repeating over and over that the one thing Hunter has never done is defeat him is definitely telegraphing a happy ending for WWE’s COO. Prediction: Triple H

Farewell Match: Kurt Angle vs Baron Corbin

I have nothing but mad respect for Hall of Famer Angle, but it’s beyond clear when you watch him that his days in the ring NEED to be at an end. He was one of the greatest wrestlers ever to lace up a pair of boots, but the years of doing so have taken their toll. Most of us expected a big name opponent from Kurt’s past to be his last rival, but instead we get Baron Corbin. Like it or hate it, it makes sense within the story that has been told over the past year on WWE TV. Having done a nice farewell tour on Raw and SDL recently against guys like Chad Gable, Apollo Crews, and Shelton Benjamin, I’m going to go the slightly unexpected route and say that the Olympic gold medalist does the job for his younger rival Sunday. Can you imagine the bragging rights Corbin can build the rest of his heel career upon after retiring one of the best of all time? Prediction: Baron Corbin shocks the crowd

Falls Count Anywhere Match: The Miz vs Shane McMahon

Gene is back again with thoughts on this one:

Never have two more polar opposite individuals crossed paths at Mania. We have a guy who does ridiculously insane stunts that even properly trained workers his age shouldn’t be doing vs. the King of Soft Style. This really could have been a great build to their confrontation, but Miz just isn’t believable in a brawling segment or cutting a “now its time to fight promo”. Hopefully neither gets hurt during their match. And hopefully this feud wraps up once the evil McMahon finally gets what’s coming to him. WINNER: The Miz.

Gene and I somewhat disagree in our overall assessment of Miz as a performer, but we are in agreement on the outcome of this match. As a natural heel, Mike Mizanin has never had much success in previous babyface runs. Something about this particular saga clicked with people though and he’s finally over as a good guy. I’m not sure what the point of all this was if he isn’t going to get his revenge on the evil bossman. Prediction: Miz

Roman Reigns vs Drew McIntyre

In an alternate timeline Reigns would likely have been defending the Universal Title at Wrestlemania 35, but his reign ended prematurely when he had to take time off to battle leukemia. McIntyre meanwhile is a prime example of one of the guys I mentioned earlier who has suffered due to the fact that the Universal Title has not been present for him to chase. One or both of these men are going to challenge for that belt in the coming months regardless of who wins here, but I think Roman can eat the loss a little bit easier so I’m picking the Scottish Psychopath for the win. Prediction: Drew McIntyre wins and goes on to be Rollins first title challenger

Randy Orton vs AJ Styles

It seemed as those these two were thrown together simply because neither of them had anything else to do on the card. However, being the stars that they are, they made the most out of this thrown together match. In the last couple of weeks they’ve made it a battle of the home built WWE star vs the guy who worked his way through other promotions before finally making it to the big stage. Biting promo work has built this into a much better match than it had any right to be when it was first announced. I honestly don’t know who should win, but based on my other predictions I’m going to give the edge to a heel Orton who can then be a challenger for newly crowned WWE champion Kofi Kingston in the coming months. Prediction: Randy Orton

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Announced Participants:

Braun Strowman, Colin Jost, Michael Che, Andrade, Apollo Crews, Titus O’Neil, Tyler Breeze, Jinder Mahal, No Way Jose, Bobby Roode, Chad Gable, Kalisto, Gran Metalik, Lince Dorado, Bo Dallas, Curtis Axel, Heath Slater, Rhyno, Viktor, Konnor, Ali (the wrestler formerly known as Mustapha Ali), Shelton Benjamin, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy, Otis, Tucker, EC3

Some years this match actually seems to mean something, and other years it’s just a way to squeeze a bunch of guys onto the card who had nothing better to do. Looking at the announced line up, this seems very much to be one of the latter years. The only true top star in the match currently is Strowman, so it would be easy to pick him for the win. However, I feel like his presence is more about the main stream press picking up a fun moment between him and the guest stars from SNL. If the big man does indeed find himself eliminated by Jost and Che somehow then the field becomes wide open. Personally, I would love to see the win go to a rising star who can actually use the momentum boost to catapult to a higher spot on the roster such as Andrade. That said, there are a few people not announced for this match who happen to have nothing else announced for the show either. The biggest of these names would be Kevin Owens. To go from being penciled in for a WWE title match to not even being on the card at all seems unfair, so perhaps he’s a surprise entrant and picks up the win as a consolation for losing that main event spot. prediction: Andrade or Owens (yes, I am picking two people, but since one of them isn’t even in the match officially I call that a loophole)

Women’s Battle Royal

Announced Participants:

Liv Morgan, Mickie James, Nikki Cross, Sonya Deville, Zelina Vega, Dana Brooke, Carmella, Lana, Naomi, Ruby Riott, Asuka, Mandy Rose, Sarah Logan

Even more so than the men’s battle royal, this one seems to have plenty of room for some unannounced participants. It won’t be surprising to see them draw upon some of the NXT ladies to fill out the crowd, but there’s one particular “Lady” who I think is most likely to be a surprise addition. The former “Lady of NXT” Lacey Evans has yet to wrestle a single match on the main roster, but she has made her presence known each and every week since being called up. Many of my colleagues are not fans of Ms. Evans, but it’s well known that the powers that be in WWE are very big fans. Rumors have persisted for months that she was due for a major push, and there was even a lot of speculation that she would end up facing Asuka for the Smackdown title. That particular push never quite panned out, but what better way to begin such a push than by making a dramatic entrance into this match and winning it. Prediction: Lacey Evans

The rest…

In addition to all of that great action, WWE will also be doing a number of tapings during the Fan Axxess sessions. At least 3 episodes of NXT UK are supposed to be taped as well as a bunch of cross-brand matches that will be put together into another Worlds Collide special.

Have a great Wrestlemania weekend! I’ll be back later tonight with a recap of all the action from TakeOver: New York!

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