Predicting WWE Extreme Rules 2016

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Hey, I haven't done one of these in a while, but at WrestleMania 32 (which for my money was one of the most spectacular things I've ever seen) WWE began firing on most if not all cylinders and despite a mere 3-week build here I'm pumped up for another edition of Extreme Rules. So here we go!

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Unbooked Matches
WWE loves to throw out unannounced matches to buffer and/or pad these special events, and I will not be surprised to see one or two during Extreme Rules.
Perhaps the most exciting WWE happening for me right now is the recent main roster debut of Dana Brooke. I have a thing for wrestlers whom I initially despise but grow to respect as they win me over with their dedication to self-improvement, and Dana has come a long way since first appearing on NXT. My fan love affair with her began with a hate-absorbing response to a sarcastic tweet I sent suggesting she'd soon win me over if she kept getting better the way she was, and it's only grown. For various potentially beneficial reasons I was even open to the idea of her re-teaming with Emma, another wrestler I've been more or less infatuated with in recent months (her bout with Asuka at NXT TakeOver: London is my personal 2015 Match of the Year). On one hand of course it's severely unfortunate Emma suffered a ruptured disc and is out indefinitely recovering from successful surgery, while on the other this does thrust Dana in to the spotlight that much more. Thus far, she is thriving.
At Extreme Rules, Dana could find herself opposite Becky Lynch once more. In my opinion, Becky (another wrestler I'm basically head over heels for, go figure) should hand Dana her first main roster loss, leading to the continuation of their feud.
I might say Colón brothers and apparent repackage specialists Primo & Epico will show up on the Kickoff Show to treat us to their new so-far-so-good, let's-give-it-a-chance, elitist-tour-guide-ish Shining Stars gimmick, though this seems more likely to stick to Raw and SmackDown for the time being. In that tag match's stead we could get a reprise of Golden Truth against FaBreeze (which compared to "Breezango" is a much, much better - though admittedly still bad - team name). I do wish the amazing talent and brilliant gimmick of Tyler Breeze was not being raked through the comedic muck of this never-ending Golden Truth angle, but at least the ordeal has provided some amusement here and there. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy weaker bits during the Attitude Era (Moppy, anyone?).
Who would win this free TV-worthy matchup? Let's just say Goldust and R-Truth get the pinfall, attribute their victory to aligning their chakras, then treat us to 5 months of vignettes featuring bizarre DDP Yoga pratfalls.

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Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler - No Disqualification Match
One of my favorite aspects of WWE right now is that the roster is loaded with talent I am genuinely excited to see perform every week. Baron Corbin leapt on to my radar at a house show, as he cut a scathing promo of quality I didn't previously believe him capable of. He's only improved since, and his condescending, apathetic attitude somehow feels refreshing. My biggest couch-pop watching WrestleMania came when he shockingly appeared in - and then won - the third Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Hey, that actually sounds like something important when I'm not hearing JBL shout it at me.
I'm also actually glad Corbin isn't being sent down the undefeated streak route again, having suffered a roll-up loss to Ziggler on the Payback Kickoff Show. All that said, I do wish he was on the main card, and I do wish he was wrestling someone other than Ziggler. Apart from maybe one actual squash against the now-released Damien Sandow, we've only seen Corbin in singles matches against the Show Off. I do expect a late babyface comeback from Ziggler here, but it's time for Corbin to decidedly leave him laying and move on to something else.
Winner: Baron Corbin

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Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows vs. The Usos - Tornado Tag Match
The most surprising thing about Anderson & Gallows' debut/return to WWE is that they have not been made out to look like absolute monsters. That's fine, I suppose, but they've also almost exclusively gone head-to-head with Jimmy & Jey Uso. Of course this makes sense as an extension of the Club-versus-Bloodline World Title angle, though just like the Usos themselves it's become incredibly stale. I expect a competitive match that will hopefully feel fresher than the one we seem to get every Raw and SmackDown, hopefully with a conclusive Club victory - perhaps one that puts the Usos out of commission until Money in the Bank.
Winners: Anderson & Gallows

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Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho - Asylum Match
Lest it was all a work, I can only imagine what deal was struck backstage to get Y2J to stick around longer than was expected for his current WWE stint. Though it pains the Jericho fan in me to say, for years his angles have been dull since you always know he's going to lose and leave in the end. Yes, this is a fitting role for a bonafide legend no longer wrestling year 'round (which is not to accuse Jericho of being a "part timer") but for him it's overdone and predictable. When he actually managed to defeat AJ Styles at WrestleMania after telling an effective in-ring story, he felt legitimized once more.
Not only is Jericho an actual threat again, he's also cutting some of the best promos of his recent career and sounds more free on the stick. This is saying a lot considering A) he's freaking Jericho, and B) most of these promos have been about a potted plant.
The Dean Ambrose feud may have come from nothing - I still don't buy that they hate each other because of some silly "talk show" double-booking or whatever - but the segments that have come from it have been pure gold, and consistently the most enjoyable part of Raw and SmackDown. Ambrose has been sympathetic and vengeful, while watching Jericho heel it up has been a delight. Killing "Mitch" was a dastardly move for the highlight reels (no pun intended), and trapping Ambrose in a straight jacket was sheer genius. When Dean destroyed Jericho's latest jacket I was genuinely shocked. It may not have cost the purported $15,000, but it's not like that thing was some company prop.
After the straight jacket segment, I was pleading for a "straight jacket match" to be booked where the winner would be the first wrestler to incapacitate his opponent enough to fully strap them in a straight jacket. The reward would then be that the winner gets to exact punishment on their helpless victim. My armchair vision had Jericho winning to even out the feud, and "drinking in" the moment before turning to find an empty jacket and an Ambrose ambush. I was thrilled at the announcement of an Asylum match (complete with straight jacket in the prop list), and hope the result is the same. A match of this nature feels like a blowoff, though selfishly I'm crossing my fingers for one more showdown at Money in the Bank if only so I can enjoy more superbly entertaining free TV bits between these two superstars.
Winner (for now): Chris Jericho

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Kalisto (c) vs. Rusev for the United States Championship
Just when it seemed there was no hope left for salvaging Rusev, the guy appears on Raw looking more impressive than ever, and gets himself in position for another US Title run. Not much to this one, folks - after some exponentially strong showings with Ryback, Kalisto's reign has run its course and it's time to give the gold back to the Bulgarian Brute. Here's hoping this is the first milestone in a memorable road to the top of the card for Rusev. Contractual rematch with the same result on Raw, then cue John Cena's Memorial Day return (with Rusev going over in the feud this time)?
Winner and New Champion: Rusev

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The New Day (c) vs. The Vaudevillains for the Tag Team Championships
The insanely entertaining New Day have deservedly remained tag team champions for quite a long time now, though it can be easily argued this is in part due to the formerly weak state of their division. With the tag scene weak no longer, it is time for change. Personally I was never the Vaudevillains' biggest fan during their time in NXT, though it is undeniable they have a unique gimmick and put on some excellent matches. Since arriving on the main roster for some reason they've felt oddly stilted between the ropes, and as expected haven't quite been able to get over solely on the merit of their entrance (though the promo work has been suitably despicable). To me, this means the titles are the perfect thing to elevate them at this point in time.
Much as I love Enzo & Cass, wish for Enzo's safe return after that horrifying injury at Payback, and continue cheering for Big Cass' endearing perseverance in Enzo's absence, I do not expect their presence to be significantly felt here. By hook, crook, or Dudley Boy, Aiden English & Simon Gotch need to walk away with titles around their waists.
Winners and New Champions: The Vaudevillains

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The Miz (c) vs. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn - Fatal 4-Way for the Intercontinental Championship
Perhaps the most consistently impressive pure wrestling in WWE's recent weeks has come from the Intercontinental Title scene - a program featuring some of the foremost athletes in the company today, and a source of both brilliant and questionable booking.
At Payback, the fluid segue of Owens vs. Zayn in to Miz vs. Cesaro was beautiful in its simple sensibility, and I'm not sure anyone can argue with the continued undercurrent of Owens and Zayn's deep-seated rivalry. At the same time, the main roster incarnation of Owens/Zayn has felt obligatory at times, and as with Club/Bloodline we've recently been inundated with various combinations of these four wrestlers going bell-to-bell. As entertained as I'm sure I'll wind up thanks to the performers in this Fatal 4-Way, I've had trouble actually getting excited for the darn thing.
It is possible, however, that I'm having trouble getting hyped for this one simply because it's difficult to envision an outcome that is not a Miz win. Respect it or not, Miz is one of the very best true heels in the company today, and the thought of him retaining his championship here is effectively annoying - a job well done on his part. My gut tells me Zayn will be our next Intercontinental Champion, but Extreme Rules will not be his night. If I had to guess, I'd say Miz gets a sneaky yet completely legal pinfall on someone he did not do the damage to.
Winner and Still Champion: The Miz

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Charlotte (c) vs. Natalya - Submission Match for the Women's Championship
If Ric Flair disobeys his ban from ringside, Charlotte will lose the title
The big question here isn't whether Natalya will wrest the Women's Title from Charlotte's grasp, it's whether this is Natalya's last match with WWE. Amidst dissatisfaction with her sideline role in her division, plus rumored legal battles concerning her husband Tyson Kidd's latest injury, it is widely supposed that this current "push" has been in part a response to her substantial Raw-after-Mania pop but also more of a farewell.
I have no clue what will happen with Nattie, but I can say with some confidence that she will not be going home with an extra carry-on around her waist. I believe Charlotte needs to prove she is capable of winning on the main roster without daddy nearby to lend a hand, and once this is done she needs to kick Ric to the curb - turning even more heel in the process. Shove him down! Throw that Rolex on him! Dastardly! Then, whether it all happens at Extreme Rules, spills over to Raw or gets spread out even further, I think we all agree there's only one superstar we want to see standing toe-to-toe with Charlotte for an epic build to SummerSlam. If you need me to tell you that superstar is Sasha Banks, maybe you haven't been paying attention.
Winner and Still Champion: Charlotte

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Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles - Extreme Rules Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
I'm just going to say it. Roman Reigns has won me over. That's not saying much for how long it took, but from where I'm sitting the experiment finally started paying off the night after WrestleMania when Roman - for the first time since his Shield days - came to the ring looking like a certified badass. No more smile, no more succotash, just a hulking package of confidence and brute force. The work he put in to his first match with AJ at Payback is easily my favorite I've seen from him. He was an immovable object and AJ had to find a way to make him budge.
As for AJ, while I was never one way or the other based on the admittedly little I'd seen from him in TNA, with WWE he's earned his way on to my radar in short order. Though all of us knew there was no way he'd walk away with the title at Payback, he was built up as a credible threat to the point that in the back of our minds we thought, "Maybe there's a chance!" I'm even more certain he will walk away empty-handed from Extreme Rules, though that doesn't take away the fact that when he and Reigns stand off - be it in a ring or backstage area - there is a palpable sizzle I haven't felt in ages.
I fully expect Reigns and Styles to tear the house down, no matter who interferes (Wyatt Family?) or what McMahon-related shenanigans may occur. But yeah, Reigns will likely be our champion... I'm going to say until Night of Champions, when Rollins wins it back. Fingers crossed!
Winner and Still Champion: Roman Reigns

Please disregard the fact that I've selected only heels to win. Reigns counts.


WWE Elimination Chamber 2015 Predictions

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We thought we had seen the last of it - and I, for one, wasn't too bothered by that - but somehow all of a sudden WWE has managed not only to schedule a last-minute Elimination Chamber special (on the last day of a free Network subscription month with only an hour to cancel afterward if you don't want to pay $9.99, how crafty), but they have also built it to be one of the year's most promising events.

Check out this 40-second trailer for Dark Departure Movies, then scroll down to get the lowdown on what will go down at Elimination Chamber.

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Bo Dallas vs. Neville
I began regularly tuning in to NXT with the first Takeover, so I missed all but the finale of these two former NXT Champions' initial feud. I can't help but believe (Bo-lieve?), however, that what we're seeing now is but a pale reflection of that storyline.
I have been a fan of Bo Dallas for his brilliant gimmick and it's nice to see him back on television, but the miniature feel of this renewed rivalry seems to be doing nothing for him while detrimentally stunting Adrian Neville's gravity-defying rise in popularity of late.
I want both of these men to succeed, but at the moment Neville's success feels crucial. Dallas cheating to win, or taking advantage of Neville's (kayfabe) injury again would only extend an angle that needs either longer segments (which it will not receive) or to be nipped in the bud. Give me a Red Arrow, a pinfall, and an entry in to the Money in the Bank ladder match... or at least Intercontinental Championship contention.
Winner: Neville

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John Cena vs. Kevin Owens
NXT really is taking over! In case you haven't been watching: Kevin Owens is kind of the man right now. His shocking appearance on Raw last week - which ended with Cena laid out in the middle of the ring - is one of the greatest surprises WWE has given me. There are a few tricky elements in the prediction of this match's outcome, though.
First, Owens is the current NXT Champion, after retaining in a no contest against Sami Zayn at Takeover: Unstoppable. Sure, the United States Title is not on the line here (and sure, Paige did win the Divas Title while still holding the NXT Women's Title last year), but a victory might imply a cemented main roster status... and where would that leave the NXT Championship?
Second, this is John Cena we're talking about here. Because of everything that has been debated to death regarding his well-deserved position in the company, Cena is not an easy man to beat.
Third, even if Owens did forfeit his NXT title for a spot on the main roster a la Paige (unlikely), he would be leaving with unfinished business. He and the newly reintroduced Samoa Joe are on a collision course, and it doesn't seem like one to be handled as an afterthought while Owens' focus is elsewhere.
On one hand this is a major star-making opportunity for WWE. On the other, it is difficult to envision them allowing Cena to roll over for Owens. This is why I'm thinking the match will wind up akin to Unstoppable's main event - evenly contested until Cena suffers a powerbomb on the apron, at which point Owens begins a ruthless onslaught leading to a ruling of 'no contest'. Owens continues the beatdown until Samoa Joe appears to save the day. Owens looks like a beast, Cena is protected, and NXT's hottest new feud is promoted. It's almost too specific a prediction to come true, but there it is.
Winner: N/A

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The New Day (c) vs. The Ascension vs. Lucha Dragons vs. Los Matadores vs. Prime Time Players vs. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro
Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship
The most compelling aspect of this match is its status as the first time 12 men will be inside the Elimination Chamber as opposed to six. I'm honestly surprised WWE isn't going with a 3-team, one-wrestler-per-pod scenario. What's more surprising is that Los Matadores are in this thing instead of the freshly reunited Luke Harper & Erick Rowan. I'm half-expecting the former Wyatt Family to take out the Puerto Rican bullfighters on their way to the ring and enter the match themselves.
Recently WWE's Tag Team Title picture has revolved around two teams at a time, so while Lucha Dragons et al. may appear for an acrobatic exhibition from time to time, it's difficult to imagine a more sidelined team leaving with the straps. With New Day's reign still in its infancy and the group's heat growing hotter and hotter, I can only imagine Xavier Woods will concoct some nefarious plot to steal yet another win.
Winners: The New Day

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Nikki Bella (c) vs. Naomi vs. Paige
Triple Threat Match for the WWE Divas Championship
The weekly television segments have been hit and miss, and sure the Bellas' babyface turn was more obligatory than the last time Big Show turned face just because he came to the ring smiling, but for the most part I have found myself quite interested in the Divas Title picture in recent months. Nikki has improved immensely over the past year, and Naomi has performed her heel turn so well I legitimately don't want to see her win despite her storied talent! Also, Paige is Paige, and what more could you want there?
I could see this match going to either of the challengers, but my gut tells me Nikki will retain yet again. The Bellas have become an important brand that reaches beyond WWE's usual demographic, and keeping the title on Nikki - perhaps with the intention of breaking AJ Lee's record with the current "Divas" incarnation of it - seems like a business move the company won't resist.
If you're not a Bellas fan, look on the bright side: what better opponent for Charlotte Flair to crush?
Winner: Nikki Bella

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Dolph Ziggler vs. King Barrett vs. R-Truth vs. Rusev vs. Ryback vs. Sheamus
Elimination Chamber Match for the vacant WWE Intercontinental Championship
Well, if Daniel Bryan sadly cannot defend the midcard title he won at WrestleMania, I suppose the next-best thing to help it regain some lost luster is put it in a Chamber. How we're supposed to believe these wrestlers qualified for their spots in said Chamber is another story.
Several simmering rivalries aside, there's not much to say here except we can expect a hard-hitting match with a definitive victor.
R-Truth and King Barrett are fodder, and Rusev and Ziggler will likely cancel one another out with some kind of Lana involvement (a compelling storyline that Ziggler really has no business being a part of, except as a surrogate for Rusev to express his aggression upon). This leaves two strong-style behemoths likely to leave nothing but unrecognizable mounds of flesh behind in the ring - "The Big Guy" Ryback, and the newly invigorated (finally heel again) Sheamus. I dig both, and both have been pushed as different kinds of conquerors these past few weeks, but this is more or less a coin flip. With heels taking the other Chamber match I'm tempted to pick Ryback for his first WWE title win, but my gut is pointing me toward the Celtic Warrior - a man who just may need the win more than any of his opponents.
Winner: Sheamus

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Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match
Maybe it's because the renewal of Ambrose and Rollins' scintillating feud that was cut short yesteryear came as a pleasant surprise, maybe it's because we've only had two weeks of build-up to this particular match, or maybe it's because we know at least 300 other people will wind up interfering... but boy, it doesn't feel like this is real life!
During the days of The Shield we could only hope and dream of the day these two would headline a special event for the WWE Title, mano a mano. Rollins has been my personal favorite for a while now. Ambrose has been deserving of a main event spot - especially against Rollins - for just as long.  I feel like I'll only be "ready" for this once it's over and I'm able to look back on it as a whole.
None of that really matters, though, because it will be the shock of the summer if Ambrose actually manages to wrench the big one from his former partner's calculated grip. Rollins is the "beatable champion" we've seen so many times in professional wrestling, and there may well be moments where Ambrose has the cover but there's no referee to be found... but even 50 Roman Reigns clones at ringside wouldn't help me believe that Rollins won't hold on to his prize for at least several more months. Or, of course, maybe Roman turns on his friend Dean. I would disagree that this is the time for such a turn, but the deck seems to be dealing that hand. Remember, Roman and Dean are friends. They're friends, guys. Did Michael Cole mention they're friends?
Ambrose and Reigns can then fight over Money in the Bank (Reigns betrayal or no), for which Ambrose would make an ideal custodian. My money, however, is on Reigns. An explosive cash-in could do wonders in getting Reigns over as either a heel or a face. In fact, a wise route here may be a title rematch at the Money in the Bank event, leaving Ambrose fans less reason to boo a Reigns briefcase grab.
Winner: Seth Rollins


WWE Fastlane: The Roman Reigns Problem

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We've heard it a thousand times or more by now: Roman Reigns isn't ready. The former enforcer of The Shield and foremost contemporary of a Samoan wrestling dynasty is just too green to headline the grandest stage of them all - WrestleMania.

Of course, many of us were singing a different tune last year. Reigns was still with his already legendary stable, plowing through the ropes in a clinch and hitting energetic power moves - including one of wrestling's most beautiful spears - to save the day. It couldn't have been more apparent, however, that a returning Batista had been hand-picked to win the Royal Rumble and main event the big one.

The infamously poor reception Batista received upon his victory can, among other reasons, be chalked up to the fact that we all saw it coming at least a month out. The reason we were thrilled Reigns made it to the final two against The Animal is because it was unexpected. It was fresh. Plus, we had been in Reigns' corner since his impressive coming out party at the prior Survivor Series. There would surely have been backlash due to the relatively limited moveset Reigns has exhibited on television, but in the moment it was instantly exciting.

What a difference a year makes. Roman Reigns has won the Royal Rumble in questionable fashion, and we're not happy. Large contributors to this unrest are arguably the rumors that swirled all the way back to last year's WrestleMania - that Reigns had already been selected to headline in 2015. WWE has had an issue with telegraphing several months of television with the often predictable results of the Royal Rumble event, but here we all but knew for sure who would challenging whom for the world title much farther in advance. This also exhibits WWE's stubbornness, seeing as they are pushing forth with their selection despite Reigns' current and well-documented struggle to become a believable character.

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Some apologists have demanded Reigns' monster push be seen as a positive, as it further indicates John Cena's more than a decade on top is waning. To that, the response is simple: like him or not, Cena paid his dues, earned his spot organically, and hasn't relented. Reigns may well be a hard worker, but the way we're seeing him is not as a new face. He is being sold more as a remolding of the same old thing, and one that can hardly cut a promo, at that. More to the point, Reigns is being positioned to usurp the throne of the man who defeated the Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania... yet he's far from the most talented or most over worker in the company. So, are we complaining even though WWE seems to be moving new talent to the top as opposed to continuing the era of the Cenation? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Another argument in favor of Reigns is the ever-present concept that WWE works hardest to appeal to casual fans. We hardcore viewers will always be there, where channel-surfing casuals can be roped in by a good-looking guy like Reigns leaping through the air to deliver his Superman Punch. Speaking personally, however, there is not a single casual fan I know who does not root for Daniel Bryan. People I never thought would be interested in professional wrestling have tuned in just to see if Bryan wins. My own Cena-loving five-year-old daughter runs around, thrusting her fingers in the air and exclaiming "Yes" every time Bryan is on screen. Viewers of E!'s "Total Divas" even love the guy! Yet, two years in a row now, WWE has missed the Bryan boat and had to scramble to appease the American Dragon's fanbase. And anyone who doesn't believe Bryan vs. Brock Lesnar would be a believable contest, good ol' Jim Ross retorted best on his podcast: "Maybe you've never been beat up by someone smaller than you." I would add it's also possible you haven't heard of the time Eddie Guerrero defeated Brock Lesnar for the world title. David vs. Goliath is almost always a compelling story.

I can't say Bryan's return from injury has been botched, per se, seeing as it has made a Bryan fan of me (I was not a member of the "Yes Movement" in 2014, even going as far as to say the "Occupy Raw" segment was one of the worst Raw segments I'd ever seen), but it cannot be denied that Bryan's lack of significance in the Royal Rumble is also a contributing factor to this Roman Reigns problem. Yet again, the situation recalls last year's debacle when Bryan was not in the Rumble at all. According to reports, Bryan himself requested to be a part of SmackDown upon the show's return to Thursday nights, but would it not have prevented much of this mess had Bryan returned after the Rumble? Perhaps he could even have been a surprise at Fastlane a la Sting at Survivor Series to drive the idea that anything can happen at WWE specials (it is another free month for new subscribers, after all). And with that idea, fantasy booking time is over for now, I promise.

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So now we have Bryan - who was never defeated to lose his title - and Royal Rumble winner Reigns facing off at the inaugural Fastlane to determine who will face Lesnar for his title in the WrestleMania main event. It is difficult to envision a scenario in which Reigns does not go on to face Lesnar, whether it be one on one or a triple threat with Bryan due to some kind of no contest on Sunday. At this point, despite everything, I say just run with Reigns, and let Bryan shake his hand. Inserting Bryan at the last minute for a second year in a row could be difficult to stomach depending how it's sold. This new Bryan fan would rather wait to see it done properly rather than rushed. Give the man in his own match for now, whatever that may be.

On one hand, I'm sure WWE is enjoying the controversy as it brings attention to their brand. On the other, it makes the brand seem dull and out of touch, particularly when the "developmental" NXT is consistently showing it up with flying colors. It just goes back to WWE needing to listen to its fans, instead of playing their own game and adjusting crowd audio later.
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