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The WWE Post-‘WrestleMania’ Excitement Index

Gauging our hopes for the ‘Superstar Shake-up,’ ‘Greatest Royal Rumble’, Reigns v. Lesnar II, NXT call-ups, and everything else in flux

WWE/Ringer illustration

Sorry, Super Bowl bandwagon riders and remaining baseball loyalists, there is no greater comedown in sports than the period immediately following WrestleMania. Unlike pro-league organizations, WWE doesn’t retreat into hiatus after its signature event. It does, however, stumble and stagger its way toward more meaningful content until SummerSlam heats up in August. One way the McMahons have sought to correct that is by repurposing the first Raw and SmackDown after Mania as platforms for major roster call-ups from WWE’s developmental arm, NXT. That, as well as surprise returns of long-exiled talent and rollouts of experimental programming, like April 27’s WWE Network–exclusive Greatest Royal Rumble, airing live from Saudi Arabia (a certain polarizing Hall of Famer would no doubt approve).

The Greatest Rumble is but one of WWE’s many points of spring intrigue, including the question of where the bulk of its televised programming will even air in the years to come. So whether it’s next week’s two-night Superstar Shake-up or where in the heck ultimate outcasts Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn wind up, here’s our handy, scale-of-one-to-10 excitement index—one meaning “meh” and 10 connoting unhealthy levels of anticipation —for what’s on offer as we collectively crash from last Sunday’s Mania high.

The ‘Superstar Shakeup’ Looms

The Gist: Once WWE absorbed competing promotions WCW and ECW in the early aughts, its ranks swelled. Good thing they had secondary cable broadcast SmackDown every Thursday (and then Friday, and then Thursday, and finally Tuesday) to augment Monday Night Raw. Over the past 17 years, the two brands have sporadically merged talent and then eventually redispersed, most recently via July 2016’s heavily hyped brand-split draft. Naturally, that was backed up in short order with 2017’s Superstar Shake-up, which bypassed pesky trade talks and waiver-wires protocol by randomly reassigning folks from Raw to SmackDown and vice versa. And so that April tradition resumes next Monday and Tuesday, and thus we’ll finally have an answer to the question of whether No Way Jose will get to tango opposite Fandango.

Likely End Result: Seth Rollins will (finally!) bring the intercontinental belt back to SmackDown (which could mean Jinder Mahal’s U.S. title is Monday-bound); the New Day will bring some much-needed silliness to Raw; Asuka will move to Tuesdays and take her frustrations out on newly crowned women’s champ Carmella; Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt seek to wake and break SmackDown tag champs (and Bray’s former disciples) the Bludgeon Brothers; and, in all probability, the previous rounds of of NXT alumni—Riott Squad, Absolution, Elias, etc.—will get shuffled around as Authors of Pain, the Iconic Duo, and others get cozy in their respective new environs, among other minor and momentous migrations.

Overall Post-Mania Anticipation Rating: 7

Where Does Ronda Rousey Go From Here?

The Gist: In brief, lifelong wrestling mark and former UFC champ Rousey had an already legendary slow start, lacking polish and—strangely—passion over the course of several spotlighted cameos and promo work with eventual Mania antagonists Triple H and Stephanie McMahon (which, in retrospect, was a tough assignment). But then the bell rang. Rousey was (along with fellow women Charlotte and Asuka) the MVP of a mixed Mania bag, and an already robust women’s division can now outhustle its male counterparts on any given night.

Likely End Result: OK, so the Rowdy One’s schticky Raw-after-Mania reprise with Steph wasn’t super-encouraging, nor did we get a feel for how her WWE career will carry on in earnest now that the part-timing power couple laid down. Fact is, it probably doesn’t matter all that much. Given how that other MMA beast, Brock Lesnar, lackadaisically lumbers around the four corners when duty calls, Rousey’s genuine commitment and evident ease outside the octagon should be enough to afford her latitude for learning on the job.

Overall Post-Mania Anticipation Rating: 8

Daniel Bryan’s Return ... to Title Contention

The Gist: No one said world title, necessarily. But as Shane McMahon reaffirmed on SmackDown, the formerly retired Daniel Bryan is, for the first time in three years, a full-time performer. So, as my colleague the Masked Man recently asked, now what? The rest of us are no doubt thinking: What else besides his first championship run since anticlimactically abdicating the intercontinental strap after Mania 31?

Likely End Result: As with his abbreviated comeback in 2015, Bryan may work his way back up the ladder, however literally. Pending Superstar Shake-up outcomes, that could mean crossing paths with Seth Rollins for a shot at picking up where he left off as an IC contender. Then again, imagine the “dream match” racket if (i.e. when) Shinsuke Nakamura takes the world championship off AJ Styles, clearing a path for he and Bryan to battle over who’s better at kneeing people in the face. Or maybe WWE will put Bryan in the real spotlight on Raw after next week and sets his sights on the winner of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns’s steel-cage contest at Greatest Royal Rumble (more on that just below). To quote the late Tom Petty, Bryan’s future is wide open, so let’s get into it.

Overall Post-Mania Anticipation Rating: 10

Greatest Royal Rumble Reverberations

The Gist: The first annual Greatest Rumble, “hosted in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia” as the signage goes, is many things: part exhibition, part litmus test for WWE’s ongoing push into territories like South Asia and the Middle East, and all hands on deck when it comes to A-list legacies in action (Undertaker vs. Rusev in a casket match!) and confirmed main events (Lesnar-Reigns in a cage and a 50-person battle royal!). The fact that it’s preceded by its own kickoff show (though you know how I feel about those) speaks volumes for the kind of splash WWE hopes to make, and how it held back a bit of Mania magic for this overseas affair.

Likely End Result: Don’t expect John Cena to suffer defeat to Triple H or Rusev to put Taker 6 feet deep. But will Cena and Taker brush past one another and plant a seed for Mania 35? It makes more sense than Taker keeping retirement at arm’s length just so he can go out by burying the Bulgarian brute. Bludgeon Brothers (current SmackDown tag champs) vs. the Usos will get more time than their Mania triple threat with New Day (how could it not?), but it’s hard to see Harper and Rowan being asked to hand over their belts, particularly since the undefeated-since-November narrative was just deployed for the first time Tuesday night. The titular battle royal will be a blast, but is more of an old-school meat market for new audiences than anything with lasting implications. Brock v. Roman is the real attraction and what gives Greatest Rumble urgency. Short of predicting a winner, I will note that if WWE wanted Roman to win his first Universal Championship without it raining boos, letting it happen thousands of miles from the nearest Northeast U.S. market is their surest bet.

Overall Post-Mania Anticipation Rating: 9

Bray Wyatt And Matt Hardy’s Family Affair

The Gist: Eerie backwoods bogeyman Bray Wyatt was beguiled and eventually victimized/revitalized by “Woken” Matt Hardy, the alien alias of a longtime WWE tag-team titan. Far sooner than expected, Wyatt materialized to help Matt win Mania’s Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and in the hours and days since, Bray’s been all smiles, handshakes, and honest work. It’s all a tad sudden and suspect, but the few live audiences that have bore witness (atypical as Mania and post-Mania crowds are notorious for being) haven’t blinked, so maybe it’s all gravy and Wyatt’s beard can simply no longer conceal his babyface.

Likely End Result: I’m not saying Bray’s going to reunite with Braun Strowman, Luke Harper, Erick Rowan, or any other of his former onscreen followers, but this reeks of a long-overdue turnabout for Wyatt, who himself got suckered time and again by pseudo-converts including Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan. (OK, it was those two times.) Or maybe the thinking was it’s better to hastily withdraw from Bray’s history as a heel—it worked for Rusev!—than go through the lengthy, risky proposition of total repackaging. Still, I smell setup.

Overall Post-Mania Anticipation Rating: 7

Where in the World Are Kevin Owens And Sami Zayn?

The Gist: The past half-year’s been an ostensible holding pattern for these real-life running mates and TV besties turned nemeses turned BFFs again. Their antics as SmackDown’s terrible twosome had more to do with sticking it to the man (Shane McMahon, specifically) than pursuing championships as a unit or individuals. With roster shakeups ahead, the dastardly duo—who jobbed to Shane and Daniel Bryan at Mania, were story-line jettisoned from Tuesdays and blew a Monday-night contract opportunity by wrestling each other to a stalemate on Raw—are in a uniquely unemployable hell.

Likely End Result: It feels like, by hook or crook, KO and Sami need to stay on the same program, if only to see through this partnership to its logical end (be that tag-team titles, a full-circle friendship implosion, or both). Raw GM Kurt Angle’s already put them through their win-or-go-home paces in a singles bout, and their bridges are burnt with Shane-O-Mac. Assuming Owens and Zayn don’t break up the band just yet, their dysfunctional brotherhood will only enrich whichever tag division they’re in. New Day would make for a karmically apt irritant-cum-foil, or they could give Jimmy and Jey Uso that last little nudge into neo-fan favoritism. In either, or any other, scenario, titles need not be the objective, though their love-hate volatility would be a recipe for the most entertainingly manic championship pair this side of Team Hell No. It’s been fun to watch these two squirm and get bested by their TV bosses, but an angle that lets them get back to the business of wrestling is long overdue.

Overall Post-Mania Anticipation Rating: 6

NXT Call-Ups (And Surprise Comebacks)

The Gist: The days after Mania mean big things for plenty of NXT hopefuls. This year, tag-team specialists Authors of Pain (who dumped their manager, Paul Ellering, on Monday), female force Ember Moon and dancing fool No Way Jose (replace the “J” with an “R” and that about sums up that gimmick’s mainstage potential) got the nod on Raw. However, it was Iconic Duo Billy Kay and Peyton Royce who really got to shine on SmackDown as they shamed and shellacked women’s champion Charlotte until Ms. Money in the Bank Carmella inevitably picked the bones and took her gold. No different than Rousey or, for that matter, surprise Raw return Bobby Lashley, it’s on all of them to make good on their featured introductions and revivals and ensure those still hoping for their shot are next in line.

Likely End Result: The book on NXT grads and returning veterans reads somewhat inscrutably. When it comes to Lashley, let’s pencil him in someplace between Shelton Benjamin (whose reunion tour with WWE has been fairly uneventful) and Lesnar, who took the company over by sheer force of … force. Lashley is a unique specimen though and could vault right to the top of singles competition by virtue of his promotable size and strength. The young guns are anyone’s guess. For every Ascension, Tyler Breeze, or Apollo Crews, who have foundered to varying degrees, there’s a Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Charlotte, or (tear) newly retired performer/just-appointed SmackDown GM (yay!) Paige as rebukes. AOP has it all—the look, the skills, the authentic tag-team vibe, and, as mentioned, Peyton and Billy scored big with both humor and haymakers. Though as Breeze and Ascension can attest, long-term survival often comes down to how well you adapt.

Overall Post-Mania Anticipation Rating: 6

Brock, Roman And What The Universal Championship Represents

The Gist: What a mess. If only WWE would have heeded a certain person’s fantasy booking and let Braun Strowman (another walking question mark) come out on top at Elimination Chamber, even if it meant never getting acquainted with Nicholas. Instead, another PPV ended with thousands of smarks showering Roman Reigns (and, in fairness, Brock Lesnar) with boos and taunts, and now nobody knows exactly how to feel or who to root for when the rematch goes down at Greatest Royal Rumble. It’s absolutely reasonable to opine that WWE needs to bail on two of its stubborn goals: (1) passing off Lesnar as some kind of throwback to the time when a champion’s mystique was married to his or her limited schedule; and (2) casting Reigns in the Cena role of thick-skinned merch machine. Otherwise, or until some new galvanizing challenger comes forth, WWE’s most prestigious (no offense, AJ) title will continue to lose its shine.

Likely End Result: It’s hard to see the company abandoning their above-cited intentions of having it both ways with Reigns, but thing is, he’d be so good as the heavy. In fact, pretty sure it’s been proven. And no one under the age of 10 is going to want his action figures any less just because he suddenly got cooler. Placing one’s wager on Roman doubles as a vote of confidence that Greatest Rumble is more than some standalone stunt. If that gamble turns out to be a winning one, then all bets regarding Raw’s next headlining acts are unequivocally off.

Overall Post-Mania Anticipation Rating: 10

Broadcast News

The Gist: Some of us remember watching WWF Saturday-morning program in syndication (not to mention NBC’s occasional late-night Main Event airings) during Vince McMahon and Co.’s initial national push. And if current industry scuttlebutt holds merit, the old man might be getting sentimental for some of that broadcast-network mojo. Rumors have had it for months that Fox is considering a bid to steal Raw and SmackDown from WWE cable partner USA when that contract runs up in September ’19. They’d reportedly slot Raw for Fox proper on Mondays (though hard to imagine Fox’s bedfellow, the NFL, being thrilled with the Monday Night Football pushback), with SmackDown keeping it real on cable over at Fox Sports 1. It’s all in-the-weeds stuff, but also quite plausible, given WWE’s relentless efforts to reassert cultural dominance a la those halcyon ’80s days with a combination of social-media savvy, streaming smarts, and a shockingly successful strategy for snaring more mainstream media coverage. And all of that says nothing of how their choice of broadcast partner sets the table for XFL’s 2020 return. Oy.

Likely End Result: If there’s more advertising revenue to be had on Fox, and the network believes in WWE’s proprietary formula for assessing what makes a hit televised product in the modern age, everything adds up. But, plainly speaking, it’s hard to imagine there being prime-time broadcast appetite for Raw, given the general public’s majority view that wrestling is fake or frivolous or what have you. On a sentimental level, prime-time pro wrestling and cable TV still feel like they belong together, but after a quarter-century (and Raw 25 was nothing if not a glorified reel for networks), and basic cable particularly outgunned by premium stations and streaming insurgents, no one could blame the McMahons for saving their biggest push for themselves.

Overall Post-Mania Anticipation Rating: 7