Between last weekend's Elimination Chamber pay-per-view and the Monday Night Raw that followed, we got a much clearer picture of how their Raw half of the WrestleMania card will shake out. But even though a handful of matches are seemingly locked in or heading that way, there are still a number of top stars without a definitive direction.
With all of the different directions in which things could branch over the next five weeks on the way to WrestleMania 34, a panel of WWE on ESPN contributors set out to find the best way some of those stars could be used to their maximum potential to fill out the biggest show of the year.
Here's what we came up with.
Braun Strowman vs. John Cena
So, what does the WWE do with its top rising star at WrestleMania if he's not involved in anything specific at the moment? Strowman's booking for WrestleMania is simply one of the biggest challenges of sorting out the card.
The first logical option was to add him to the Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar match, given that he has had more than enough history with both of them -- and in all honesty, it would fit pretty well. The second logical option would be to have him pair up with Ronda Rousey in her match against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, but while that would indeed elevate him as far as the casual fan or outside audience goes, the match doesn't make a ton of sense and would likely result in McMahon and Rousey having extensive time in the ring.
So where do they turn? A return from the likes of Kane, Big Show, Big Cass or Samoa Joe? There are too many unknowns with most of those options, and really, for all that Strowman has done this year, each and every one of those matches is far less than what he deserves to get in New Orleans.
No match stands out, and fans just want to see Braun destroy something. So I propose that something is John Cena. I admit this is far from a match that makes me enthusiastic, but they've hinted at it a few times, given the matches they've worked together, and if anyone can show off his or her power while facing the strongest man in the place, it's Cena.
Good luck, John. Enjoy the running powerslams. --Andrew Feldman
Braun Strowman destroys EVERYTHING
Kurt Angle explains to Strowman, "I have nothing for you for WrestleMania." Strowman does not take kindly to that, and as history has taught us, when he does not get his way, he goes on a rampage. Except in this situation, nothing can calm him down. Because there is no match for him, and he still wants the Universal championship. So he begins to tear through WrestleMania. From the kickoff show through the last bell. Laying waste to anything in his path throughout the night, and ultimately ending with the main event between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns -- which forces Vince McMahon's hand, as he makes a rare on-screen 'Mania appearance. And then Strowman destroys the chairman at his show of shows, and perhaps goes so far as to try to destroy a section of the WrestleMania set. He proceeds to hijack WrestleMania until he receives his match the next night on Raw for the Universal title.
From there, Strowman wins the Universal championship on Raw in the main event, with an already enthusiastic crowd that's still buzzing from the night before. You want an unbeatable monster? That's how you get there. -- Omar Powell
John Cena vs. Rusev
After coming up short in the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber, Cena returned to SmackDown and immediately inserted himself into the WWE championship picture. Should he lose in the Six-Pack Challenge match at Fastlane, however, he'll still be left without a dance partner for WrestleMania.
With just weeks to scramble for something new, what could make for a better spectacle than Cena taking on the guy getting some of the biggest reactions in the business right now, Rusev? Sure, it wouldn't be the first time; as a matter of fact, they've duked it out in five pay-per-views -- four of them for the United States championship -- including a memorable contest at WrestleMania 31.
But this is a new Rusev. A much more popular Rusev. Imagine the endless cacophony from the crowd cheering and jeering. If Rusev were to win, it would be so huge that they might as well make it a national holiday. Maybe dub it "Rusev Day"? -- Matt Wilansky
John Cena vs Seth Rollins
On the Feb. 19 episode of Monday Night Raw, Seth Rollins put on the most impressive performance of 2018 by pinning both Roman Reigns and John Cena back-to-back, spending 1 hour, 5 minutes in a seven-man gauntlet match. After he was pinned by Rollins, Cena gave a backstage interview where he expressed that his poor performance was due to being unfocused. While neither superstar holds much of a grudge over the other -- at least not recently -- a rematch would be a matter of pride for Cena.
Provided he performs, John Cena is heading into WrestleMania one win shy of tying The Undertaker's record of 94 pay-per-view wins -- that is a WrestleMania moment waiting to happen.
Rollins has also made it clear in recent weeks that he intends to rise back to the top of the roster. After spending most of 2017 and the start of this year relegated to the Raw tag team division, a win over Cena at WrestleMania could breathe new life into Rollins' career. He has defeated Cena only once before in a pay-per-view match (with assistance from Jon Stewart), when Rollins became the only superstar in WWE history to simultaneously hold both the WWE and United States championships. This is a perfect opportunity for him to re-establish himself as a successful singles competitor, and he couldn't be riding a much better wave of momentum heading into the biggest show of the year.
Honestly, the chemistry between these two superstars is what excites me most about revisiting this match at WrestleMania. Last Monday, both men displayed incredible feats of strength and persistence, and I do not doubt their ability to do something even bigger and better this year at 'Mania. -- Meghan Tobin
Bayley vs. Sasha Banks
There are a few matches and rivalries that stand as cornerstones upon which the current WWE women's divisions sit. Milestone after milestone has been met and then demolished. But even among all of the successes and moments that have brought great women's wrestling to a mainstream audience in the WWE, Bayley vs. Sasha Banks stands out as a turning point that proved how tremendous it can be when all the stars are aligned.
It started with Bayley's never-ending journey for respect and success in NXT. Over and over again, she climbed up the ladder only to get pushed off right before reaching the summit. A lot of times, it was Banks pushing her off that ladder and forcing her to start all over again. When Bayley finally clawed her way back to the top one final time -- through Emma, then Becky Lynch and finally Charlotte Flair -- Bayley got her shot at Banks at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn. In what's now recognized as one of the greatest women's matches in the history of the WWE, Bayley finally became NXT women's champion, and the Four Horsewomen stood in celebration of what they'd collectively accomplished in NXT.
Bayley ultimately followed her three compatriots to the main roster, even debuting as Banks' tag team partner, and Bayley eventually became Raw women's champion against Flair. But somewhere along the way, she lost something. Through it all, Banks was her friend and ally, and despite friendly competition when their paths crossed, they never truly revisited their storied rivalry. There were subtle teases, but subtlety finally went out the window over the past month. First, Banks blindsided Bayley and tossed her out of the women's Royal Rumble match, and then, with an ear-to-ear smile on her face, kicked Bayley and sent her careening from atop one of the pods at Elimination Chamber.
Bayley was finally tired of being a floor mat and refused to tag in to save Banks on Monday night on Raw during a six-woman tag team match. A one-on-one women's match with a nuanced story and the potential for an incredible in-ring performance without a title being on the lone now seems a given -- and WrestleMania 34 will be all the better for it. -- Tim Fiorvanti
Finn Balor, The Miz and Seth Rollins
Intercontinental championship: Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor vs. The Miz
Both Seth Rollins, who has been given a heavy push in recent weeks, and Finn Balor beat Intercontinental champion The Miz on Monday night in non-title matches. Both proved they deserve a shot at his gold come WrestleMania.
So who should get the nod? Seems about 50-50 at this point, which seems to mean we're destined for a triple-threat showdown in New Orleans. Sure, we could have a Rollins-Balor battle in the next few weeks to determine the No. 1 contender, but it seems unlikely the WWE creative team wants to take away any momentum from the two baby faces -- and they could be destined to face off post-WrestleMania anyway.
Rollins showed discernible frustration toward Balor on Monday Night, when he interrupted Rollins' postmatch celebration and eventually beat The Miz in his own right. We're likely to see more grievances from each man, at which point Raw general manager Kurt Angle will storm from the locker-room area to announce the triple threat.
Pretty standard storytelling, but the payoff could be a showcase match for three performers who deeply deserve the spotlight of a high-profile WrestleMania match. -- Matt Wilansky
Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins
A match between Seth Rollins and Finn Balor at WrestleMania hasn't been fully set up yet, per se, but it seems like a logical place to use two of the most popular acts on Monday Night Raw. Balor was the first Universal champion, thanks to a win over Rollins, and while everyone else on Raw seems to have amnesia in regard to anything that's not happening in their current storylines, Balor makes it a point to remind us whenever he gets the microphone that he's eager to win back the title he never lost. Rollins also recently stated, "I want to be the man one more time" and then showed us why he deserves that spot by pinning John Cena and Roman Reigns during an hour-long performance in one of (if not the longest) matches in WWE history.
After falling short in the Elimination Chamber, both men will want to state their case for why they should be first in line to challenge the winner of WrestleMania's main event between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. They've already hinted at tensions on Raw this week, and what starts out as friendly competition turns personal in a hurry when Balor enlists the help of Gallows and Anderson to get the upper hand on Rollins. So at WrestleMania, we have Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins for the No. 1 contendership to the Universal championship, with this interlude against The Miz simply misdirection for everyone involved. This match makes WrestleMania better because it will deliver for the fans who love stories, as well as the fans who love wrestling. Adding the No. 1 contender's stipulation not only adds meaning to the match, but it also adds intrigue as to what will happen to each character next. -- Terrance Williams
For Raw, I think Seth Rollins vs Finn Balor would be a fascinating story culminating in a hot match. With apologies to Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins has been the hottest wrestler on this road to WrestleMania. Balor's union with Gallows and Anderson has breathed life into all of them and propelled Balor into some prime matchups. Unfortunately, neither Rollins nor Balor will be in the title picture at WrestleMania, so why not build on their pre-existing history and give the hardcore fans something else to latch onto?
There are so many different ways to get there over the next few weeks. Balor and the Club antagonize Rollins out of revenge, until Kurt Angle books a match between them at WrestleMania. Rollins grabs the upper hand and keeps getting the better of Balor in the past few weeks leading into WrestleMania 34. Balor realizes he can't beat Rollins without The Demon and brings him back for WrestleMania. This match can add the pure brawl that Wrestlemania is currently missing. And, maybe, the added bonus of a true heel turn for Balor. -- Sachin Dave Chandan
The Great War
Yes, you read that right. To salvage what has been, to put it lightly, a lackluster feud between Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy, aka Brother Nero, needs to be thrown into the mix ahead of WrestleMania.
WWE was wise to unleash the "Woken" Matt Hardy character unto the WWE Universe, but they've done a poor job of educating those largely unfamiliar with its past in Impact Wrestling of what "Woken" (or Broken) exactly means. To fans who don't pay attention to any companies outside of the WWE, Hardy's Woken persona has consisted only of constantly laughing, wearing outlandish robes, beating goldfish at chess and being obsessed with deleting his opponents.
The character was more nuanced in Impact Wrestling, where he was given more time on the mic, was treated as a legitimate threat and got to introduce the world to his interesting family (namely, King Maxel and Senor Benjamin). WWE hoped fans would buy into the Woken character with no backstory whatsoever, and the plan has backfired and devalued what could be one of the company's biggest stars.
Hardy's match against Bray Wyatt at Elimination Chamber showed how badly the long-term feud has fizzled. What was considered a dream match before Hardy returned to WWE has turned into a nightmare of a feud. The Las Vegas crowd chanted about beach balls, Rusev Day and even performed a wave over paying any attention to what was actually a decent match between the two. Wyatt lost to Hardy clean in the middle of the ring in complete silence exactly a year after winning the WWE title in the Elimination Chamber match to a chorus of cheers. The Las Vegas fans didn't care about the match because WWE hasn't devoted any effort or time into developing the backstory for a feud that badly needs it. Tacky backstage promos aren't going to get fans invested in this feud. Oddly enough, WWE needs to take a page out of Impact Wrestling's book, for once.
Wyatt tells Hardy he has someone secretly fighting on his side of the "Great War." Wyatt continues to deliver cryptic promos revealing a little more each week as to who this entity might be. Is it the Bludgeon Brothers? A physical Sister Abigail? No, it's none other than Brother Nero himself, Jeff Hardy.
Jeff has been on the shelf for months with a shoulder injury but is approaching a return. He could come back as Jeff Hardy before slowly introducing the audience to his alter ego Brother Nero, which is essentially a Broken (or "Woken," if you prefer) version of Jeff Hardy. Jeff can blame his brother for the injury and explain how during his time recovering, it was Wyatt who came to his aid. Matt, still undeterred in his place in the Great War, challenges Wyatt and his brother to a battle in Cameron, North Carolina at the Hardy Compound.
Final Deletion was a massive creative success for Impact Wrestling (please, do yourself a favor and watch it if you haven't already). Imagine what WWE's production team could be capable of by trying to one-up Final Deletion, especially if they are willing to dip even slightly into their hefty WrestleMania budget. Let Matt Hardy handle all the creative aspects, throw in cameos by King Maxel, Senior Benjamin, and Vanguard1 and a few appropriate WWE alumni and maybe we can forgive WWE for last year's House of Horrors mess and the rest of this Wyatt-Hardy feud. -- Michael Wonsover
Ladder match for the Raw tag team championships
Finally, it appears that Sheamus and Cesaro put an end to their lackluster rivalry with Titus Worldwide with a win at the Elimination Chamber this past weekend and a two-straight fall victory Monday on Raw. That notion, along with Seth Rollins' pairings with both Dean Ambrose and Jason Jordan being decommissioned due to injury, means it's time to put the Raw tag team division back on the map. What better way to do that than introducing two proven teams on the rise to the championship picture?
The Revival and Gallows & Anderson have been bickering over the past month, trading wins on episodes of Raw. Their rivalry should progress toward the tag team championships and The Bar, who are awaiting their next challenge. This is the revival (pun intended) the Raw tag team division needs to get back on track, as its depth has taken a hit thanks to the aforementioned injuries,
So how do we get there? With the score even between The Revival and Gallows & Anderson, it's as simple as setting up a No. 1 contenders match without a definitive result in which they'd both advance to a championship match.
Not enough? Why don't we up the ante? Perhaps the WrestleMania ladder match tradition could be come into play in this match for a second straight year. Taking an old-fashioned-styled tag team such as The Revival out of their element could make for compelling action.
Still not enough? The Raw tag team championship match featured a mystery team last year, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable moments of the night when the Hardy Boyz made their WWE return. This time, announce that a mystery team will be involved ahead of time to create some buzz heading into the match. The difficult decision would be in selecting the teams to be a part of a championship match on the biggest stage in sports entertainment, but there are options. This time around, instead of legends, it could be a great way of introducing a team such as the Authors of Pain or SAnitY as a big deal right out of the gate. -- Sean Coyle
It wouldn't be WrestleMania without a multi-man ladder match. With Money in the Bank now its own pay-per-view, this match has fallen on the secondary titles in recent years. With Sheamus proclaiming, "Who is there to face if there is no one left to beat?" why not have GM Kurt Angle give them a match with teams such as The Balor Club, The Revival and any number of others.
With the Usos (hopefully) getting their long-deserved shot at the WrestleMania main card this year, why not make the other tag team title spot a spotfest that can highlight several teams at once? -- Matt Willis