Heat transfers exist all around us. We put ice in our water to keep it cool. We cook food in an oven to make it edible. But in the world of professional wrestling, heat transfer is an intentional, complicated process: take the crowd reaction one wrestler earns – positive or negative – and transfer it to another. At Wrestlemania XXXI, Vince McMahon and his creative team will attempt to take the kinetic energy from the Undertaker’s 21-match Wrestlemania win streak, have it flow through Brock Lesnar, who ended the Streak last year, and create a new mega-star in Roman Reigns. It is the most daring attempt to “make” a wrestler since the Stone Cold Steve Austin baby-face turn eighteen years ago, and the top reason to watch this year’s show.
The build for Wrestlemania XXXI left many fans wanting more. On paper, booking Brock Lesnar to defend his World Heavyweight Championship, the Undertaker in a featured return match, and Sting in his first ever WWE bout seems like the key to an event for the ages. In reality, all three, along with Sting’s opponent, HHH, appear infrequently or not at all on television. As a result, most of the unbearably long three-hour Raw shows leading into Wrestlemania focused more on Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins, the multi-man Intercontinental Title ladder match, the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal match, and John Cena vs. Rusev for the United States Championship than the actual main events.
Regardless of television hype, WWE typically produces incredibly entertaining and newsworthy shows on their biggest night of the year. Wrestlemania XXXI airs live on the WWE Network from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California this Sunday at 7:00pm ET/6:00pm CT. Here’s everything you need to know to prepare for the extravaganza:
Intercontinental Title Ladder Match (Wade Barret defends against Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper, Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth, and Stardust)
At Wrestlemania XXX, Daniel Bryan defeated HHH to earn his way into the WWE Heavyweight Championship Match vs. Randy Orton and Batista. Bryan’s “YES!” chants and his incredible in-ring talent made him the most popular man in the company.
D-Bry took home the title and looked well on his way to a memorable run at the top. The following week, his father passed away suddenly. Two months later, a career threatening neck injury sidelined him and cost him his championship. Now, Bryan finds himself relegated to this dangerous match for a less-than-meaningful title. WWE, questionably, spent months of television time criticizing Bryan for his short stature, his unkempt beard, and his “weird” vegan eating habits. The crowds finally wore down. Rather than make money hand-over-fist with an underdog story, WWE squelched that YES Movement. This ladder match exists to showcase athleticism and bring casual fans to their feet. I expect Bryan or Ambrose will win and the match will be quickly forgotten.
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal (30 participants, most unannounced)
For the second consecutive year, the Andre the Giant Memorial Trophy will be awarded to the winner of a 30-man, over-the-top-rope elimination match. With most of the top wrestling talent pre-occupied with singles matches or the IC Ladder match, this battle royal lacks depth and intrigue. The Miz – former Real World cast member Mike Mizanin – and his “stunt double” Damien Sandow lead the way here. Sandow mimics outside the ring what happens to Miz in the ring. Miz has treated Sandow with less and less respect over the past few weeks, so Sandow will likely see the light and turn on Miz at some point in this match. The crowd will eat it up, but it may not affect the outcome. I look for Ryback to come away with the victory and a renewed push this spring.
Rusev (with Lana) defends the United States Championship against John Cena
Rusev, a Vladimir Putin sympathizer and general foreign menace, has never submitted or been pinned in a WWE match. He dominated a number of opponents with his Accolades submission finisher and beat John Cena, albeit with a low blow, in the most recent pay-per-view. Rusev’s valet and real-life girlfriend, Lana, sparkles in her role. She has impeccable delivery, great-for-wrestling acting skills, and the ideal gimmick to draw ire from fans. Hopefully she gets to speak at some point during the show. John Cena is still the most marketable star and biggest draw in WWE. I expect he brings the United States title back to the good ole’ U.S.A.
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
The closest WWE has come to garnering mainstream attention this Wrestlemania season came a few weeks back when Jon Stewart (yes, the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart) kicked Seth Rollins in the groin. It appeared Stewart would play a significant role in the promotion of Seth Rollin’s match and maybe even stand in Randy Orton’s corner at Wrestlemania. That, unfortunately, never came to fruition. Instead, we have a one-on-one grudge match. Rollins has been the breakout star in WWE over the past six months. He turned on Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns – his partners in The Shield – with some vicious chair shots in June. He went on to win the Money in the Bank briefcase, guaranteeing him a World Heavyweight Championship match at any time he desires, before triumphing in his feud with Dean Ambrose at Hell in a Cell. Rollins looks great in the ring, talks as well as anyone on promos, and has the storyline backing of the on-air Authority group. Orton’s character arc calls for a win here, but I think WWE protects Rollins by giving him a win, even if it takes outside interference from the Authority.
Sting vs. HHH
Speaking of the Authority, Sting made his WWE debut at November’s Survivor Series to cost Team Authority a win in the main event. As a result, HHH and his wife Stephanie McMahon were banished from power forever (about six weeks, don’t ask). HHH and Stephanie came back with a vengeance and HHH demanded a face-to-face confrontation with Sting. Sting stalked HHH and asked for a match at Wrestlemania. The hype here seemed like a no-brainer, but rather than the vigilante tearing down an oppressive management, WWE decided to tell a WWF vs. WCW story fifteen years after the fact. Sting headlined World Championship Wrestling for nearly a decade before Vince McMahon bought the company in 2001 and folded it into his own. Sting never wrestled in the WWF/WWE and signed his first deal late in 2014. Now HHH claims that, as the face of WWE, he must conquer WCW’s last remaining hero. Sting attempted to move away from this story in his first live WWE promo on the final episode of Raw before Mania, but it was too little too late. Fans want Sting to win. HHH, of course, wants himself to win, and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t.
The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt
The Undertaker won every match he wrestled at Wrestlemania from 1990 through 2013. The incredible streak included a WWF Championship win over Sid Vicious, three victories over HHH, and a win over Shawn Michaels that ended Michaels’ career at Wrestlemania XXVI. Brock Lesnar ended the streak in a disappointing bout last year. The loss shocked fans, and left many wondering if they would ever see Taker wrestle again. After a solid showing at the Royal Rumble, bizarre cult leader Bray Wyatt began calling out the Undertaker. Eventually, Taker accepted the challenge, but he still has not appeared live on television. I am skeptical this match will entertain beyond the two amazing ring entrances. Taker probably wins, but Bray shouldn’t lose much momentum.
Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) defends the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Roman Reigns
It all comes down to this. Brock Lesnar did what no one thought possible last year in ending the streak. He and the brilliant Paul Heyman parlayed that into a championship win against John Cena at SummerSlam and a six-plus month title reign. Lesnar carries himself as a true outlaw – a literal badass fighting champion willing to punish anyone. He has been a joy to watch his entire career, and especially over the past twelve months. Roman Reigns, conversely, rose through the ranks almost solely due to his look. He is tall, has big arms, and a face that turns heads at airports. He comes across awkwardly on the microphone and does little more than punch and kick in the ring. His hope for a money-drawing championship run relies entirely on the heat transfer. WWE built the Undertaker’s streak for years. Lesnar took the streak and ran roughshod for a year. Now WWE has to hope all that Reigns absorbs every last bit of goodwill for ending Lesnar’s run as champion if and when he pins Lesnar. Monday’s go-home Raw show did not exactly inspire confidence. The Los Angeles crowd reacted very little to Reigns’ entrance or bizarre title belt tug-of-war with Lesnar at the end of the show. WWE did not even trust Reigns to deliver the traditional good-guy promo to sell the most important match on the biggest night of his life. Little doubt exists regarding the outcome of the match. Reigns will win and WWE will hope he turns into the next John Cena-type top draw. The near-future business prospects of WWE rest on the unpredictable reactions of the fans on Sunday night.