WWE's annual supercard has a history of shocking outcomes and superstar returns. But it feels like the company has been making a more concerted effort to book one at least one absolute stunner at the show since WrestleMania XXX, when the jaws of wrestling fans collectively hit the floor as Brock Lesnar pinned The Undertaker to end his mythic 20-win streak at the annual show.
The next year saw Seth Rollins cash in his Money in the Bank contract during the main event between Lesnar and Roman Reigns — the first time it's been used at WWE's biggest show of the year. WrestleMania 32 didn't quite deliver on the surprise front: Any awe at The Rock's return was snuffed out by his overlong flaming sign introduction and subsequent clowning of The Wyatt Family, and John Cena's save was an afterthought. Also, Shane McMahon jumping off Hell in a Cell was something we totally expected — we just hoped he loved his kids enough not to attempt suicide in front of them.
But at WrestleMania 33 last year, WWE reaffirmed the event's ability to shock the hell out of us when the Hardy Boys returned as last-minute participants in a ladder match for the Raw tag team titles. It was the opposite of the streak ending, the mood as jubilant as the Dead Man's loss was mournful, but the moment was just as out-of-nowhere. And The New Day's introduction of Matt and Jeff was perfectly crafted, teasing that the WrestleMania 33 hosts would insert themselves into the fray until the Hardys' bass line hit. Unsurprisingly, it was WWE's most-watched YouTube clip of 2017.
What surprises could we see at WrestleMania 34? I suppose being able to predict them negates the purpose, but I've been right before. So here we go:
5. The Undertaker vs. John Cena is a traditional match. Monday's Raw could ruin this prediction, but the build to this match just hasn't felt like the build to The Undertaker vs. John Cena at WrestleMania. The tone hasn't been epic, it's been grounded in basic human emotion: Cena's desperation to be part of WWE's biggest event of the year, and Undertaker's apparent determination to walk away. And I say "apparent" because Undertaker hasn't even been part of that build. So at this point, the surprise would be him and Cena just going out there in New Orleans and having a 15-20-minute main event match like everyone else. Whether it's Undertaker returning as his dreadful biker alter ego, as rumored, or some sort of a squash, I'm expecting something different.
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4. Ronda Rousey is good. The former UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion has been decidedly underwhelming as a WWE superstar. Between her wooden speaking and her even stiffer judo moves, Rousey is shaping up to be a dud so far, and hopefully WWE wises up before it feeds the entire women's division to her. But there's always the possibility Rousey shows the kind of frightful physical charisma that made her a modern-day Mike Tyson in the octagon. And, working with three pros in Kurt Angle, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, she'll have the platform to surprise us at WrestleMania.
3. Carmella cashes in her Money in the Bank contract. Unlike Rollins at WrestleMania 31, a lot of wrestling fans are expecting Carmella to cash in her guaranteed shot at the Smackdown Women's Champion. Or at least they expect her to try. One scenario I've seen is Carmella running down the ramp in New Orleans only to fearfully reconsider cashing in on a victorious Asuka, and the image is so fun I might have worked myself into thinking WWE will do it. Besides, the Empress of Tomorrow's undefeated streak doesn't leave a lot of possibilities open. If Charlotte defeats Asuka, Carmella cashing in makes the streak an afterthought. And if Asuka wins, that means the streak would end not to benefit another superstar, but to support an unpromising angle. So I don't see it happening.
2. Dean Ambrose returns. As the main WWE roster goes, the biggest surprise return at WrestleMania would be Ambrose, who's been out with a torn tricep since December. Though he's still a ways away from his projected nine-month recovery window, his removal from Axxess has fueled rumors that he's either slotted to return or that he's suffered a setback. My money, regrettably, is on the latter.
1. Brock Lesnar retains the WWE Universal Championship. Lesnar is likely on his way out — and good riddance— but we thought the same thing prior to WrestleMania 31, when he coined "Suplex City" and became a fan favorite ass-kicker. So the former UFC Heavyweight Champion negotiating a contract extension so he can fight in the octagon again and return for features at WWE's tentpole shows isn't outside the realm of possibility. If so, hopefully he stays the hell away from the Universal Championship — and any superstars WWE doesn't want to damage.