What to Watch on the Busiest Wrestling Weekend of the Year

Wrestling Features
What to Watch on the Busiest Wrestling Weekend of the Year

Wrestlemania is this Sunday. That means the entire North American wrestling industry has converged on the Dallas-Fort Worth area this weekend, drowning the metroplex in top-shelf ring action for a solid four days. Ring of Honor, EVOLVE, Shimmer, Kaiju Big Battel and more have shows in town this weekend, and WWE has a big event every night through Monday. Some of the highlights aren’t being streamed or aired anywhere (sorry, Ring of Honor fans), but there’s more than enough that’ll be available online live or on demand. The fun started last night, but it kicks into high gear this afternoon with the first of two EVOLVE shows. If you can only pick a few shows to watch online this weekend, here are our recommendations.

1. NXT Takeover: Dallas
Friday 4/1/2016 at 9:30 PM ET
Only on the WWE Network


Ostensibly the WWE’s developmental league, NXT has become the hottest promotion in wrestling today, much to the chagrin of those who’d prefer not to support WWE. There are two major reasons for its explosion in popularity. First off, the weekly program on the WWE Network is a competently booked, classically oriented wrestling show, with consistent characterization and logical storytelling that almost always portrays the talent in the best possible light. It’s also turned into a dream federation stocked with some of the best in-ring talent from around the world. Tonight’s show has an NXT title showdown between Finn Balor, the Irish wrestler who became one of the top workers in the world as Prince Devitt in New Japan (where he was the original leader of the Bullet Club), and Samoa Joe, the grizzled veteran who’s been one of the best wrestlers in the world for over a decade now. Expect whoever loses this match to be up on the main roster as soon as Monday night. Austin Aries, an all around stand-out with a long history in both Ring of Honor and TNA, also makes his in-ring debut against the indie-hating big man Baron Corbin. Other matches pit the team of Chad Gable and Jason Jordan, the modern heirs to the machine-like tag team prowess of The World’s Greatest Tag Team and the Midnight Express, against NXT tag champs Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson, a couple of top-notch technicians who are like the classic Horseman team of Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard if Tully had been replaced with a second Arn Anderson. Womans champion Bayley, probably the most beloved wrestler in NXT, defends against the peerless Asuka in what could easily be the match of the night.

As stacked as this card is, the main draw for wrestling fans is probably the WWE debut of Shinsuke Nakamura, who will face crowd favorite Sami Zayn. It’s a first-ever match-up of two of the best wrestlers in the world, and (with all apologies to Hideo “KENTA” Itami and Jinsei “Hakushi” Shinzaki) the debut of the biggest Japanese star to come to WWE since before Vince McMahon bought the company from his dad. Nakamura is one of the most inherently charismatic wrestlers of all time—he is genuinely on the same level as Ric Flair, the Rock or Steve Austin, even though he almost never spoke English during his New Japan tenure—and it’ll be fascinating to see if WWE can properly capitalize on that charisma. His NXT/WWE debut tonight is probably the single most exciting story in wrestling this weekend—at least that we know about in advance.

2. EVOLVE 59
Saturday 4/2/2016 at 1 PM ET
Streaming through the World Wrestling Network


The second big EVOLVE show of the weekend boasts what could be the best match of the entire weekend: Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay. You might be familiar with Ricochet from his New Japan appearances or as Prince Puma in Lucha Underground. Will Ospreay is a young British wrestler who, in only a few years, has become one of the very best in the business; he recently signed a full-time deal with New Japan, where he should become a bedrock of their Juniors division. They are perhaps the smoothest, most acrobatic high flyers in wrestling today, and they should put on a master class of cruiserweight action this weekend. It’s not the only big match on this show, though. The phenomenal Zack Sabre Jr., who was just announced as one of the participants in WWE’s upcoming Global Cruiserweight series, will take on the prodigy Matt Riddle, a former MMA fighter who started in pro wrestling just over a year ago and is already getting buzz as a possible top star for WWE within a short time frame. These two could steal the show from Ricochet and Ospreay—assuming EVOLVE champion Timothy Thatcher and Marty Scurrl don’t steal it first.

3. Wrestlemania 32
Sunday 4/3/2016 at 7 PM ET (Pre-show at 5 PM ET)
Available on the WWE Network and Pay-Per-View
Pre-show on the WWE Network
An hour of the pre-show will be on the USA Network starting at 6 PM ET


Earlier this week we shared our predictions for the big show. This is clearly the most important show of the weekend—it’s the only reason all these other shows are even happening. It’ll also probably have a lot of fantastic wrestling up and down the card. Even the head-scratching devotion to pushing the largely reviled Roman Reigns as the top face and the silly decision to main event with a 51-year-old part-timer facing a 46-year-old non-wrestler will stop being distractions if the actual matches are as entertaining as they probably will be. We are excited for Wrestlemania, even if it’s about as underwhelming as the show’s ever been. We’re particularly excited about three matches. First off, there’s the women’s triple threat match, where the NXT-style women’s main event will hopefully finally come into its main roster own on the biggest possible stage. Long-time favorite AJ Styles will make his Wrestlemania debut against Chris Jericho in a match that could be the best of the night. And Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar, who are probably the two most popular wrestlers on the roster today, should have a wild brawl for the ages. Add in a multi-man ladder trainwreck match that should generate deserved “this is awesome” chants, whatever antics the New Day will pull off at the biggest WWE show ever, and some guaranteed surprises, and Wrestlemania will probably be a blast, no matter how blase we all feel about it in advance.

4. WWN Supershow: Mercury Rising 2016
Saturday 4/2/2016 at 9 PM ET
Streaming through the World Wrestling Network


This indie supershow will feature a lot of the same wrestlers as the EVOLVE shows, including Ospreay, Scurll, Sabre, Riddle, Thatcher, Chris Hero, Johnny Gargano, Drew Gulak and more. It’ll basically be a one-stop primer on the current cream of the indie crop. That’s a good reason to watch it. The best reason to watch it, and the main reason we’re highlighting it, is Kota Ibushi. The Japanese star announced he was no longer contracted to DDT or New Japan earlier this year, and this is the first major American show he’s appeared on since becoming a true freelancer. If you believe the rumors he’ll be one of the stars of WWE’s Global Cruiserweight series, and it would not be a shock to see WWE sign him to an exclusive deal. If you miss Ibushi in New Japan, or want to see why he’s been widely hailed as one of the best talents in the world the last few years, catch him live on this show.

5. SHIMMER 80: The Heart of SHIMMER Championship Tournament
Saturday 4/2/2016 at 5 PM ET
Streaming through the World Wrestling Network

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NXT didn’t invent legitimate women’s wrestling. SHIMMER has been producing some of the best women’s wrestling ever seen in North America for years, and its latest event will crown the brand new Heart of SHIMMER champion. Top women’s wrestlers like Cherry Bomb, Kimber Lee, Veda Scott, Leva Bates (aka NXT’s Blue Pants) and more will be in the single-night tournament. If you can’t get enough of the serious, competitive women’s wrestling you’ve come to know and love in NXT, check out SHIMMER, the top independent group for women’s wrestling.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections.

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