A Round-table On WrestleMania 32 and It’s Divisive Build

 

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The poster for this year’s WrestleMania at JerryWorld, credit: WWE

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article about Daniel Bryan, his career, and the magical but fleeting zenith of it that was WrestleMania 30. In that article, I mentioned the probability of writing about this year’s ‘Show of Shows’, though at the time, I didn’t have a handle on what to write about. Now, just days before Mania, I’m still struggling to grasp how I feel about the show, and it strikes me that – to differing extents – that is how I’ve felt about the builds to each WrestleMania for the past three years, starting at that show.

For this article, I had initially planned something snappier than the veritable essay I wrote about The Last of Us, but this being about what I warmly refer to as ‘The Real Christmas’, I’ve decided to take a page from Vince McMahon’s dog eared playbook and bring in some big names for a one-shot deal to write about this year’s WrestleMania. Of course that means this is going to be lengthy, but I think the insights of these wonderful, smart, and funny people will provide some insight on to how WrestleMania has come to be of late. Before we get to them though, I’m going to introduce my point of view to measure it against as I get the feeling that this year’s show has had a wider, though not necessarily fervent, range of feelings towards it.

I don’t know if this is a trend I have convinced myself of, but it seems like after WrestleMania 29, the ‘Road to WrestleMania’ became a bumpier and more fluid place. Before that, once the Royal Rumble was done it felt like WrestleMania matches were set in stone. Approaching WrestleMania 30, until the latter stages of the build, it seemed like we were getting Orton-Batista, only for the collective will of fans and probable reactionary nous of WWE brass to enter Daniel Bryan in to an equation which left the main event unclear until after the show was underway. Since then, the Road to WrestleMania has had the air of a negotiation period between fans and WWE bookers with WWE offering fans a main event, fans weighing up their approval of the players involved and voting with their cheers and boos regardless of the presentation before them.

This isn’t right of wrong necessarily, it just feels different, but there certainly are pitfalls of this form of build. The Royal Rumble, unfortunately, has become a referendum on Roman Reigns over and above the great, open-ended spectacle it once was, in which Reigns enters, is booed relentlessly until he is eliminated, and whoever squares up against him is instantly supported. This has led to nothing short of surreal scenes two years running at The Rumble, both associated with Reigns. Last year, the near unimaginable happened when fans drowned Reigns and a bemused looking The Rock of all people in boos after Roman won his WrestleMania shot. Conversely this year, Triple H became a hero to the people, somehow, simply for stopping Reigns from winning. I still enjoy the Rumble, but their Reigns-centricity has been an unfortunate turn for it of late. What’s worse, is i’m not sure how to even fix the trend.

On top of the effect on the Rumble generally, I think this veil of negotiation, whether or not it’s just a mirage cultivated by the WWE, has led to a climate in which WrestleMania can strike gold, as it did in New Orleans, but which I fear could also fail just as spectacularly. This year, my main feeling about WrestleMania is one of confusion. I’m confused about how to feel about Reigns and Triple H, I have no idea what is going on between Shane McMahon and The Undertaker, I’m not exactly sure what The New Day are, and I don’t understand why Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens can’t just slug it out without five others, including Zack Ryder, sharing the ring with them.

I think Reigns has a heap of potential, but it is clear that something isn’t working. His spectrum of responses go generally from mild approval to the tunnel vision hatred of the crowd from the go-home RAW. Meanwhile, the booking alterations to address this seem to be miniscule while Reigns himself still seems on auto-pilot most of the time. Meanwhile, contextually, Trips is still ‘The Authority’ heel, but when he’s intense, committed, and when he’s beating Reigns down, he is beloved. At this stage, it would seem simply tone-deaf to give us the Reigns victorious confetti ending and the program appears to be crying out for some deus ex machina similar to that of Seth Rollins closing last year’s show.

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Reigns cashing in Money In The Bank and keeping the title from Reigns turned a good, fun show, in to a great show, credit: WWE

At least contextually, the Reigns-HHH story follows rough logic; the Shane-Taker feud is perhaps the most confusing main event program WrestleMania has ever seen. Shane-O got a great response upon his return because people associate him with some cool moments, and genuinely missed him because he is kinda goofy and hasn’t been seen from in years, but by the end of the night, it was buried under a brow-furrowingly strange match-up with The Undertaker. Against most people, Shane would be a loveable fan favourite (in an alternate universe, Shane vs Triple H would be a logical barnstormer), but against The Undertaker, he is sharing the spotlight with the WrestleMania G.O.A.T. respected by all in a feud that is full of sizzle but bereft of meaning, with more equaling less. Between the high stakes that stink of contrivance, and the splitting of loyalties between the combatants, it is hard to find the hook for this. I like the idea of Shane sticking it to Vince (at least in kayfabe) and changing RAW, which is a weird thing to tease fans with if it isn’t to happen, but especially at WrestleMania, I don’t want to see Taker lose to Shane, especially with the caveat that it would trigger it being his last WrestleMania. I respect Shane and the crazy things he does, but I just wish he was doing it against someone else. To make it worse, Shane has sounded monotone and shaky throughout, his words not matching his actions, while The Undertaker just seems to be moving through it all, a pawn on a bigger board. Of course, part of that is intentional, but the effect that should have of creating intrigue hasn’t come to pass as a result of the strange ingredients surrounding it.

The fact is, WrestleMania 32 will probably be great. Intrigue for WrestleMania 31 wasn’t in a much better state than this year’s until the end of the event and Seth Rollins’ intervention. I won’t go off half-cocked on the idea that WWE may be restling on laurels in the knowledge that people will watch Mania because they are subscribed to the WWE Network or can get access to the Network for free; but I will say that I get the feeling that their successes in the last two years with standout Manias that succeeded almost in spite of their developmental build process has made WWE somewhat complacent about this year’s show. Is a great WrestleMania worth a build process that involves months of mostly bland TV focused on manipulating and alienating fans just so the big event can succeed in response? More importantly, what happens if WWE can’t replicate the magic of this recent formula and WrestleMania 32 isn’t even that good? What do we have left then?

So wrapping up my part of the article, I will go through what I care about on the show, what I want to happen, and what I think will happen before handing over to my friends and comrades. I won’t be reading what they write before me, and will only minimally edit, so similarities in opinion can be read as something of a trend (within a tiny microcosm of course).

What I Care About At WrestleMania 32
I’m currently most looking forward to Ambrose vs Lesnar. Lesnar and Heyman are Lesnar and Heyman. Heyman’s hype is always second to none at this time of year, and Lesnar is easy to hype as he retains the impression at all times that he might tear someone apart. Here, his journey from amused, condescending humouring of Ambrose to someone who he wants to tear apart because he won’t go away has frequently been the most intriguing part of the show and Lesnar has been a great adversary for Ambrose to grow against. For the first time in months, Ambrose was able to show what the ‘Lunatic Fringe’ is beyone a haircut-sounding piece of marketing and stands above all others as someone willing to throw his body in to the meat grinder because he loves it and it’s all he knows. The street fight stipulation helps the match too as it legitimately plays to Ambrose’s character against the prize-fighting Beast, gives Ambrose legitimate hope in the match, and promises a degree of grindhouse insanity.

The second match I particularly care about is the Divas title match. The build has spun it’s wheels a bit for the last few weeks, but the mixture of the history and chemistry the women have in-built from NXT mixed with Charlotte’s coming in to her own as a condescending, fathered-in heel, the clear fun that Becky Lynch is having while clearly passionate, and Sasha showing glimpses of the true ‘Boss’ while interacting with Becky has made this feel like a fulfilling feud that should culminate in an exciting match.

I’m excited about Jericho and Styles, and seeing Zayn and Owens on the big stage, but both aren’t so developed that I am especially looking forward to them as perhaps WrestleMania demands. Saying that, I think if we get the best of Jericho, his match with Styles could be an absolute show-stealer.

Also, the New Day’s entrance and potential fourth partner.

What Do I Want To Happen at WrestleMania 32
I think this Mania will live or die, believe it or not, based on the success of it’s main event. While i’m most baffled by the Shane-Taker feud, I think it is so baffling that it can almost get away with being OK as long as Shane gets in some sports, no one gets hurt, and we move on. On the other hand, while I do like Reigns, I couldn’t help but have a bit of an empty, disappointed reaction to him overcoming the odds, surrounded by confetti. Triple H seems to be in amazing shape, and I trust him implicitly to tear it up, but Reigns needs to do something new – not necessarily because he’s doing something wrong, but because the fans – rightly or wrongly – will reject it out of hand if he doesn’t.

If it was up to me, I would certainly be looking at the double-turn. Triple H’s recent promos about obsession, and striving to be the best is easily translated to a more sports-like heroic figure, fighting for the company and ‘sport’ he loves. I’d like to see Reigns give in to his petulance and not be able to take down Trips legitimately while we see Hunter give everything he has to succeed. I think Reigns has to win in these circumstances, and rob Triple H of the title. If i’m being really greedy, I would love to see this trigger a road to where Triple H becomes an authority figure more like we have at NXT – a respected veteran who genuinely wants what’s best for business, and does it with a nod to respect and fairness. Reigns’ turn can perhaps be linked to whatever the result of the Shane/Taker match is. The embittered loser of the battle between Shane and Vince could take Reigns corner as a heel, proclaiming him as the future of the company and a way to keep an investment in the company following the event. That may be a step too far, but if done well, it could give the event as a whole a cool narrative thread.

What Do I Think Will Happen at WrestleMania 32
The only thing I am particularly confident about at the event are that The New Day will beat The League of Nations given the gulf in interest and popularity between the two teams.
Beyond that, I simply don’t see Shane beating Taker, so ridiculous would that be at WrestleMania.
And for the main event, it just seems like Reigns is nailed on to win as Triple H only makes sense as champion almost as a metaphor. The question is whether Reigns wins as a face or heel, and that i’m not really sure of. WWE have done a good job in recent years of delivering great WrestleManias in spite of their own booking and build, and I do trust them to do that, so I see Reigns winning in a way that is somehow less than pristine.

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Ambrose seems primed to shine on the big stage, win or lose. Credit: WWE

Luke Healey (@pitxapillar)
More will be written about this one day, but the era of wrestling we currently find ourselves in – common wisdom has it that Grantland columnist David Shoemaker coined the term “reality era” in the aftermath of 2011’s Money in the Bank PPV, but looking back it appears Shoemaker initially favoured the phrase “worked shoot era” – is defined no matter what you call it by repeated attempts on the part of management to negotiate hostile crowd responses to the product. If the rebellion against a stale main event scene incited by CM Punk in his now-legendary “pipe bomb” promo that year set the precedent for arena crowds crossing the streams of kayfabe and vocally demanding that the “workrate” guys get a look in on the upper-card spots typically reserved for the “body” guys, it was Daniel Bryan that pushed this phenomenon to its peak in the three years that followed.

Wrestlemania XXX was not the end of the story, however: somehow, despite the clear signalling from WWE that they had taken note of the relative crowd reactions to appearances by Bryan and Batista (who was supposed to be the brightest star on that year’s mega-card) and had adjusted their plans accordingly, we are still witnessing the kind of booking that made the “pipe bomb” and the “yes movement” seem so necessary and so vital in their moment. The decisions that made Roman Reigns’ rise to the top of the company by contrast seem inorganic and ill-advised don’t need to be rehashed here; what is most significant in the build-up to this year’s Wrestlemania is that this time the WWE don’t appear to be prepared to pull out any measures to adjust course in the wake of Reigns’ increasingly calamitous audience reception as the company’s apparent top babyface.

The legacy of the previous two years’ Wrestlemania shows has been decided by thoughtful kayfabe responses to real problems with hostile crowds: in 2014 Bryan was worked into the main event via a choreographed fan “occupation” of Raw and a match of the year candidate with Triple H, and last year Seth Rollins’ deux ex machina run-in with the Money in the Bank briefcase spared WWE from either having to hand Reigns a defeat in his first Wrestlemania main-event or to find out what a smark-filled Levi’s Stadium sounds like when a man the crowd refuses to love gets the win over a competitor that had been for a year been built up as nigh-on indestructible.

The build to both these events was fraught at best and laughable at worst, but the last two Wrestlemania cards ended up delivering in a big way; it might not just be a case of recency bias when fans repeatedly proclaim these two shows to be among the best in Wrestlemania history. Which begs the question, how do the WWE pull it out the bag this time round, having passed up the opportunity to work Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar into the main event, and without the convenient device of a Money in the Bank cash-in? The WWE title match is one of the less promising matches on the card, but we’re not dealing here with something in the nature of The Rock and John Cena’s main events in 2012 and 2013; for all that the New Day’s first appearance on the Wrestlemania main show, the seven-man ladder match, the Ambrose-Lesnar street fight and, most notably, the triple threat match for the soon-to-be re-branded Divas’ Championship seem like the best bets for all-out pro wrestling gold, finding out what becomes of Reigns’ push is still an extremely interesting proposition. Fans, performers and bookers are still finding their way through the corridors that Punk and Bryan, to say nothing of NXT and its indie-inflected alumni, built in the first half of this decade, and this year’s Wrestlemania can’t help but go a long way towards showing us where we’re all at – assuming the company’s top brass are inclined to listen.

Team Total Divas vs Team BAD & Blonde
This match is mainly interesting because of the sudden introduction of two women – Emma and Eva Marie – that have lately been developing their character work effectively down in NXT. I sort of assume that from now on every call-up will have a proper fanfare, but I guess the two of them had already appeared on the main roster in any case. Have they explained yet what Lana’s beef is with Brie Bella?

Kalisto v Ryback
Going off what people have said about their Smackdown match last year I fully expect this to be an entertaining affair but the pre-show slot is hardly a vote of confidence for either man, especially given the pomp and circumstance with which the US title match was introduced last year.

Andre Memorial Battle Royal
It’s quite obvious that this is where Bray gets given something to do. Hopefully he, Rowan and Strowman get embroiled in some faction warfare with the Social Outcasts, leading down the line to Bo Dallas becoming the Wyatt he was born to be.

AJ Styles v Chris Jericho
It’s the sort of thing that would look careless in other circumstances, but I quite like that the build to this match is based off a number of recent in-ring encounters. There’s an effective asymmetry to the idea of a fourth match that spills out of the best-of-three series as a result of personal vendetta. On the other hand, we’ve seen these two pull out all the stops numerous times before, so I can’t see how this match ends up anything other than overshadowed.

Kevin Owens v Sami Zayn v Dolph Ziggler etc. etc.
I’m glad they’re not rushing into the Owens-Zayn blow-off in their respective first Wrestlemania appearances, but there are other aspects of this match which I seriously regret. Neville belongs here, but so does Tyler Breeze, and a match bringing together more former NXT talent (Sin Cara and Zack Ryder don’t count) would have made for a very effective use of this stipulation. Will still be fun, obviously.

New Day v League of Nations
All I want from this is for The New Day to ride out on unicorns, gradually parting to reveal their mystery fourth man, who pulls up in a golden unicorn-drawn chariot…it’s their captain, Seth Rollins.

Charlotte v Sasha v Becky
The news about the WWE’s decision to follow NXT in ditching the “Diva’s” label and bringing back the Women’s Championship is great news, as is the suggestion that this match might get a full twenty minutes. This needs to be the first example of a properly long, emotive, high-stakes NXT-style women’s match on the main roster, and I’m sure it will be. I’d love to see Sasha walk out as champion, but there’ll be plenty of time for that down the line.

Ambrose v Lesnar
Probably the most exciting match on the card. There’s a real sense of narrative purpose and momentum to this one, and the outcome is unpredictable. They’re teasing blood and gore, so I’m hoping for something that comes close to the drama of the “Grave Consequences” or “Cero Miedo” matches from the last season of Lucha Underground. I’m fairly sure this is the match that cements Ambrose as one of the company’s top stars for years to come.

Shane v Taker
You have to look through the recent booking short-cuts and think about this match in terms of its utter strangeness, a strangeness which was more palpable when Shane made his initial return last month. Shane McMahon. Wrestling the Undertaker. Inside Hell in a Cell. What!? This could go all over the place, both literally and figuratively, and is unmissable despite all the narrative mis-steps that have been made in the build.

(Editor’s note: Also check out Luke’s writing archive on tumblr, whatever that is).

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WrestleMania has a lot more to compete with these days, including bona fide dream matches under it’s nose. Credit: WWE

Adam Wilson (@gingerpimernel)
(Disclaimer: I make no pretense of being an impartial journalist. This simply predictions for each match, and what I’m looking forward to most, and who I want to win)

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Wrestlemania. The Grandaddy of Th-REDACTED: Wrestlemania is henceforth the Extremely fit and virile young man of them all looms. Biggest wrestling night of the year, easy. It’s become a thing unto itself, with independent companies from throughout the US around the world, converging on whatever city The Big Yin is running in. Even around the world, such as here in the UK, companies run shows on the night with screenings afterwards. It’s a great time to be a fan. Even if WWE isn’t your cup of hot beverage, there’ll be something on for you.

Truthfully, I feel underhyped. I’m more excited for the shows I’ll attend in person that day (Fierce Females and ICW, in that order), and definitely more so for NXT Takeover, because, y’know, SHINSUKE NAKAMURA. It’s not that I think the matches will be bad, far from it. It’s just the stories leading into it that haven’t gripped me personally (I watch shows to be INTO them, not to sit and go “Ooh, he’s selling that move well!”). Then again, people are daft about the Shane McMahon stuff and I don’t like The Rock, so what do I know anyway? That said, there is stuff in there I’m excited about, and the spectacle itself is always fun. Still no idea how they’ll top last years ‘OMG RUSEV IN A TANK’, but let’s take a look.

(note: I’ve no clue what the running order is, so I’m just going to do them in the order they’re listed on Wikipedia)

US TITLE MATCH: KALISTO VS THE RYBACK
Consensus seems to be this’ll be on the pre-show, and that’s probably fair. Not much of a build other than Ryback going “Here, you’re good and all, but I’m The Big Guy, and Big Belts For Big Guys”. Despite the slagging Ryback gets online, this’ll probably be a fun enough match. Wee flippy guys like Kalisto are usually a good foil for big guys (but for The Big Guy? Who knows?), David ‘n Goliath and all that. Anyhoo, my money’s on Kalisto to win.

THE TOTAL DIVAS VS B.A.D. AND BLONDE
Again, lifting that name off Wikipedia, and I got confused at first because I went “Here, Naomi and Tamina aren’t even remotely blonde”, until I cottoned on that it’s ‘B.A.D.’ as in Team B.A.D., AND Blonde, as in blonde lassies, because I’m a bit slow sometimes. Folk are moaning about Eva Marie making the save, as if WWE want folk to like her, even though her partners treated her arrival like a fart in a lift. Hopefully, like with NXT, they’ve realised no one likes her and play to that. Still shocking she gets a Wrestlemania payday and Bayley doesn’t though. B.A.D. & Blonde to win, probably with Lana pinning Brie Bella.

THE USOS VS THE DUDLEYS
I keep forgetting this one is happening. Which is a shame, because The Usos are fun as hell. Not really much to say about this one, other than I hope The Usos win to continue the ‘old Attitude Era duffers getting battered by the new breed’ thing they seemed to start at Wrestlemania 30.

(now I’m switching to reverse Wikipedia order, because otherwise I’ll finish on New Day v The League of Nations, and that CLEARLY isn’t main eventing)

THE NEW DAY VS THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS
The League of Nations confuse me, but then again, WWE’s historic “Multiculturalism? BOOOOO!” attitude generally does. I really like Barrett, and LOVE Rusev, and want better than this for them, but I cannot bring myself to cheer against The New Day, who’ve consistently been the most entertaining thing on WWE TV for the best part of a year now. That said, League of Nations will probably win, because there’s more of them, which I’m OK with because the titles aren’t on the line, and The New Day need to keep those FOREVER.

ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL
So who’s all in this? From what I’ve seen/remember, The Social Outcasts, Kane, Big Show, Darren Young, The Ascension… and I can’t remember anyone else offhand. According to this handy and informative Wikipedia article, Tyler Breeze, Mark Henry, Jack Swagger, Fandango, Damien Sandow, Goldust, & R-Truth have also been announced. I know they’re building the whole Kane/Big Show “we’re huge so your efforts to hurl us out are FRUITLESS” thing, but let’s face it, they’ve lost nearly every Over The Top style match they’ve ever been in. My pick here is Curtis Axel of the Social Outcasts, because it’d be an amazing tribute to his dad, after the lovely one he did on Raw the other night.

AJ STYLES VS CHRIS JERICHO AGAIN
I find it a bit weird this is on without a stipulation, given the amount of times it’s happened already. 2/3 falls maybe? It’ll be good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s been done to death. Also, while I’m at it, their bit on Raw was weird. AJ Styles coming out like “I’m not going away and I’m going to chant obnoxiously til I get what I want” is the logic of a four year old throwing a tantrum, and should not be encouraged. Meanwhile, Jericho initially refuses the challenge, which’d mean no Wrestlemania match, because he doesn’t believe they should, so he’s actually a man getting booed for putting his principles ahead of monetary gain. Weird. Anyway, this’ll be good and AJ Styles will win.

INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MULTIMAN MATCH
Again, thrown together and weird, but it’ll be heaps of fun. I didn’t like that Sami Zayn’s first pinfall over Kevin Owens was not only in a throwaway match on Raw, but didn’t actually get mentioned. To be honest, I can’t decide between Sami and Owens here. I can’t see any of the other guys winning it, but I’d prefer a Zayn title win over Big Kev to be one on one, so I’ll go with Owens for the victory. Also, non Shane O Mac mad bump of the night will probably go to Ziggler.

DIVAS TITLE MATCH: CHARLOTTE VS BECKY LYNCH VS SASHA BANKS
Of all the matches, this is probably the one I’m most looking forward to. I really want Becky to win this (even though my head says Sasha will), but most of all I just don’t want Charlotte to win, and nothing makes  a match more exciting than caring about the outcome. Anyway, between here and NXT, they’ve all shown they have great chemistry together, and in my opinion Sasha and Becky are two of the best wrestlers on the roster, regardless of gender, so this should be fantastic.

SHANE MCMAHON VS THE UNDERTAKER
I realise I’m overwhelmingly in the minority here, but I don’t really care about this one. As I said in the previous match, nothing draws you into a match more than caring who wins, and honestly here, I don’t. I’ve always felt a bit ’emperors new clothes’ when it comes to Shane. He’s done breathtaking dives and that, but as is so often said in wrestling, you should care about the person taking the dive, not the dive itself. The idea of Undertaker having a competitive match with him is baffling to me. That said, if Shane wins, and it puts an end to the era of the heel GM/authority figure on Raw, I’m all for it. Even more so if the prediction I saw that this is how they’ll debut Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows is actually correct. So aye. Shane to win here, probably, unless he doesn’t.

BROCK LESNAR VS DEAN AMBROSE
This is the other match I’m really looking forward to. Brock Lesnar, by virtue of being Brock Lesnar makes near enough any opponent he has an automatic underdog, and Ambrose is built for that. Taking every hit the most powerful man in wrestling can give, before laughing, thumbing his nose at Paul Heyman, and sticking his tongue out and waggling his fingers on the end of his nose at Lesnar, before being suplexed into Row Z or something. And not Row Z at the AT&T Stadium, but wherever they’re hosting Raw. And not the post-WM Raw, but one in like, three weeks. That said, Ambrose is my pick to win, so they can finally make him The Man, when he topples his BFF Roman Reigns, right? Right?

Let me dream, FFS.

TRIPLE H VS ROMAN REIGNS
I’m really trying not to be negative here, but I’m struggling to think of a Wrestlemania main event I’ve cared less about that didn’t contain The Miz or The Rock (nothing against you lads if you’re reading, but *blows massive raspberry*). Again, I’m sure it’ll be a good, physical match, I just don’t care about the outcome. I don’t hate Roman the way a lot do, but nothing about him as a solo act makes me want to get behind him. For me, watching him post-Shield is like watching Chris Cornell slum it in Audioslave after Soundgarden. And as much as I love what he’s done with NXT, I’ve still not forgiven Triple H for 2003. Roman’s obviously going to win, so hopefully if/when he feuds with Ambrose afterwards, I’ll be emotionally invested instead of watching it, knowing it’s good, but not being able to get into it. Though my dream ending for this is for Joe Hendry to make a surprise debut and beat them both. This is doubtful though, as he’s on at ICW just hours before, and thus Joe won’t be able to make it as he’s billing himself as the Local Hero again. Maybe if he still called himself the Global Hero, we’d be in with a shout.

I don’t want to end this on a down note, so I’ll note that I had similar feelings before Wrestlemania 30, and that was bloody terrific, so hopefully I’m wrong again. And as I said, there’s something for everyone this weekend, so I’ll have a splendid Wrestlemania weekend anyway. I hope you do too.

IMPARTIAL JOURNALIST VIEW OF THE REAL MAIN EVENT
Shinsuke Nakamura is going to knee Sami Zayn to pieces. This is because according to my very real journalist sources, Shinsuke Nakamura is the King of Strong Style, whereas Sami Zayn is not.

(Sami, I love you, I love you lots, but you are not the King of Strong Style. Shinsuke Nakamura is)

So there it is. If you want to win Big Cash Money, there are betting websites you can visit where you can put every penny you have on these results. I strongly recommend you do if you want to be filthy stinking rich. Put the HOUSE on them. My name is Adam Wilson. Follow me on Twitter @GingerPimpernel if you so wish. I like wrestling and if you’re reading this, chances are you do too. So let’s talk wrestling and have a laugh.

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Multi-man ladder matches have become a WrestleMania staple, but does the hidden blockbuster story therein expose WWE’s wasteful approach to the show? Credit: WWE (and Snickers, I suppose)

Jacob Kerray (Not on Twitter, but everywhere else. Look him up)
I’ve heard more and more people who haven’t previously voiced any interest mention Mania this month. It makes me think Vince’s grand plan is working. For him not for wrestling fans. I think their attention is still centred on The Rock more than it is any of their current roster, especially judging by their most ubiquitous hype video. Vince doesn’t need to impress us, he has us hooked. We are junkies.

The quality of wrestling since I came back to watching it regularly around 2011 – coincidentally when Rock returned – has in my opinion exponentially increased and the athleticism and stronger style has made for some amazing matches. I can’t, however, think of one storyline they have told properly in terms of planned build and culmination. This isnt to say there hasn’t been good storylines but the good ones have happened by accident when the fans or talent have hijacked the show. I was watching the build to Starrcade with Sting vs Hogan recently, and Sting said with no irony, that ‘It’s best to keep me mouth shut’. The build was all based on either guys reputation and the fans desire to see babyface vs heel. The storyline worked so well and was so simple it made the panto style match seem good.

Can you imagine what Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, AJ Styles, and in fact any of WWE’s current talent – given the consistent level of quality they have – would do with a well considered simply plotted out storyline? With every opportunity they have been given to tell a simple good storyline that doesn’t expose either party they have missed and over exposed someone. Top to bottom of the card I have a problem with every part, highlighted mainly by Kalisto vs Ryback. To give those two a singles match but make the Intercontinental title match with a built-in storyline a 6 man spot fest is indicative of where they are, confused and panicky.

The only hope I see is that it will come out the same as last year. Low expectations leave room to be surprised. If there is not a major storyline shift after this Mania the. I will really feel like a junky sucking at Vince’s dry tits.

 

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Catapulted to the Glass Ceiling: The Bottle-Neck of New Stars in WWE (+ Some a Preview of Payback 2013)

The Wyatt Family - causing a stir and set to be the newest stars of WWE, photo credit to WWE

The Wyatt Family – causing a stir and set to be the newest stars of WWE, photo credit to WWE

WWE is increasingly finding it in a seasonal cycle. Precisely, a cycle of two seasons: WrestleMania Season, and Transition Season. WreslteMania Season is the period from (roughly) the TLC Pay-per-view until (roughly) the RAW after WrestleMania and is characterised by big-drawing part time stars and WWE’s toppermost talent being booked in dream matches, with only rare and fleeting appearances by full-time lower level talent and ‘divas’ who enjoy much less meaningful spotlight and feature time on WWE TV. This is a sea change from only recent years (up until WrestleMania 26 perhaps) when WrestleMania was traditionally a showcase for every active WWE talent to get a spotlight and a pay-day, even if it was just a spot in the preshow battle royal. WrestleMania 27 saw the return of The Rock to the WWE and the onset of part-time stars returning for WrestleMania builds and matches. During this time it becomes incredibly hard for non-established wrestlers to get any significant TV time to get over as top stars themselves. A recent exception to this has been The Shield who became firmly one of the most exciting, compelling and spotlighted acts on WWE TV in the build-up to WrestleMania 29, and even with that they were still only featured on an undercard match (though still a significant high-point of the show). This has led observers to criticise this new era of WrestleMania build for a short-sightedness regarding their year-round product and the state of their card after WrestleMania when the part-time stars are gone and they are left with spots to fill and only talent they haven’t deemed important enough for major spotlighting for 4 months previously (and so who the audience equally don’t deem important).

So after the post-WrestleMania RAW, with the part-time stars gone, WWE enters its Transition Season where they need to fill the vacated spots and – without the pressure of WrestleMania business – start to experiment with new stars and pushing stars to try and make more stars for the top of the card.

This roundabout summary of the WWE calendar is a way to set the scene for the topic of this article – the way fresh talent is pushed in WWE; and more specifically, how the way WWE cycles work is impinging on the potential of debuting new stars. In the past, around the time when – simultaneously – Brodus Clay, Ryback, and Lord Tensai debuted as unbeatable monsters (though of differing character), I had considered writing an article about how all these features basically guaranteed the failure of at least one of these unstoppable ‘big guys’ because they all had similar acts. I didn’t write that article but both Brodus Clay and Lord Tensai did indeed fall in to insignificance, together, as Tons of Funk. This article is about a similar danger. On top of Fandango, who only debuted towards the end of WrestleMania Season, WWE has introduced Curtis Axel and are set to introduce Bray Wyatt and his family in the coming weeks; and though they aren’t all similar acts, they all share the characteristic of being shot to prominent positions instantly upon their debut (Wyatt hasn’t debuted yet, but I think it’s clear that he’s only going somewhere prominent fast).

But because only this transitionary period from after WrestleMania until around Survivor Series is a time when WWE will put significant effort in to making and pushing new stars, these prospects find themselves trying to justify a top spot, and the creative team trying to write them in to top spots simultaneously, and when there simply aren’t enough top spots for them all. I think when you consider the push that Fandango got and the shine he got from being flavour of the month, that took him to a WrestleMania moment and a big victory over Chris Jericho, but when Curtis Axel debuted a few weeks later, he took the flavour of the month shine from Fandango before Fandango had really gotten over as a top star; and within weeks, Fandango seemed like an afterthought from the top of the card, stuck as he was in a triple threat with The Miz and Wade Barrett. Axel has replaced him in this feud, but that is more of a hotshot to make up for Fandango’s injury and is a match Axel will almost certainly win, giving him the title his father was one of the most celebrated champions of, and propel him further. Though Axel’s build has been based on somewhat sullied victories over top stars, he has been positioned among them, and certainly has the ‘new star glow’ that Fandango was enjoying before him. It will be interesting to see then what will happen to Axel and Fandango when Bray Wyatt and his Family debut (maybe even as soon as the next RAW). Wyatt has been the most hotly anticipated debutant in years having set imaginations alight with his genuinely scary, creepy, yet infinitely watchable preacher/cult leader character, and equally fascinating vignette’s introducing him. When he, his two Family members and his rocking chair finally debut on RAW, it isn’t difficult to imagine him being one of the brightest spots on the show, as well as the inheritor of that ‘new star glow’; and like Fandango before him, there is a risk that Axel could lose the rub that being the hot new star provides before he and WWE have capitalised enough to make him a top guy. This isn’t to criticise Fandango or Axel, who still very well may have bright futures ahead of them, it is simply to say that the frequent rate of debuts at this time of year, mixed with the simultaneous pushes of new stars handicaps their chances of success whereas if debuts were spaced out affording each new star the opportunity to grow in that valuable period where they are the freshest act on the show. Imagine if ‘another big thing’ debuted after Brock Lesnar – in retrospect, Lesnar would probably have made it anyway, but it would certainly have taken some shine away from him.

This isn’t the only problem though. As new debutants join the card, they join existing talent supposedly destined for success while much fewer leave or are fired. So while Fandango, Axel, and Wyatt have arrived to an opportunity to make themselves, their spot comes at the cost of another star deserving of a shot at the top. The two foremost examples of this in my mind are both members of Team Rhodes Scholars, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow, but also Sin Cara, who had a chance to capture the erstwhile WWE Universe’s interest before being overshadowed by others. Perhaps this is an intentional state of competition, bred to encourage performers to stand out, as Daniel Bryan has recently, above the rest of the roster. Bryan undoubtedly deserves, and will get, a push thanks to the overwhelming, infectious reaction he has been receiving of late, but that kind of reaction is a rare gem, and just because one stands out, doesn’t mean than those that can’t match up aren’t deserving of an opportunity. Considering the current crop of new stars, to my mind, no act will be able to live up to that of Bray Wyatt and the family, and given the fact that all three can’t long be sustained with simultaneous winning streaks, one or both of Axel and Fandango may have to slip in estimation and could slip in to irrelevance like Tensai and Brodus Clay before them. Though this fits the ‘survival of the fittest’ model, both Fandango and Axel have interesting acts that deserve attention, and could be successful if nourished correctly, or ideally, at different times. If they fail, but are lucky, they might be able to keep a spot for further down the line where their talent could shine through and they get another shot (though that’s more unlikely with is a gimmicky act like Fandango’s). This is where Rhodes and Sandow are – incredibly talented but overshadowed by a cycle of new acts coming and being given the spotlight; and while they are occasionally given prominent matches it seems right now that they might have to wait – possibly forever – for their next opportunity where they are given a push and attention.

This is what I mean by talent being ‘Catapulted to the Glass Ceiling’. WWE has enough faith in these talents to push them hard to the top, but usually not to the point where they win or even compete for top titles straight away, and especially with competition, they are almost doomed to failure to meet their expectations apart from the most notable of exceptions. To make things worse for the current up-and-comers, a bonafide top star in CM Punk is set to return to the WWE this Sunday at Payback, taking a top spot right away and creating even more competition for spots at the top and below as potential top stars are displaced. And so without further ado, some WWE Payback thoughts …

WWE Payback, 16/06/13, from the Allstate Arena, Chicago, IL, photo credit WWE

WWE Payback, 16/06/13, from the Allstate Arena, Chicago, IL, photo credit WWE

This wont be quite in the detail of the PPV previews from what i’ll go ahead and call the ‘RTV Era’ but you will get predictions in match order:

Match 1) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Dolph Ziggler (c) def. Alberto Del Rio
A sleeper match because Dolph has been away and the build has had nothing to do with him – a mistake seen as he could have been a visible presence on TV at least. These two could have a very good match together though to kick the show off hot, but Ziggler is champ to stay for a while.

Match 2) United States Championship Match: Dean Ambrose (c) def. Kane
Difficult o place it so early, but despite Ambrose’s talent and Kane’s veteran abilities, this will probably be the least intriguing match of all. After the strange decision to hand The Shield their first six-man loss ever on Smackdown, and seen as Ambrose has only been champion for a month, I don’t see him dropping the title because that would seriously damage one of the hottest acts on WWE TV.

Match 3) WWE Tag Team Championship Match: Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns (c) def. Daniel Bryan & Randy Orton
I feel we’ll get the ol’ Shield one-two here. Daniel Bryan is now the hottest act in wrestling, and the reaction in Chicago may well even match Punk’s, but saying that, I don’t think that leads to another tag title. I haven’t read any spoilers but an Orton heel turn seems possible – turning on Bryan maybe due to him stealing the show? At the very least they wont be able to stay on the same page against the ‘Hounds of Justice’, who will retain for the same reason Ambrose will.

Match 4) Divas Championship Match: AJ Lee def. Kaitlyn (c)
The Kaitlyn and AJ saga is one that has lasted, organically, for years. That makes it a welcome relief in the Divas division – an actual storyline that isn’t based on one simply calling the other a bitch. It’s telling that i’m eating it up and hoping Kaitlyn kicks the bejesus out of AJ for her treatment, but in my head the better story is AJ beating the emotionally broken Kaitlyn, holding a title alongside Dolph, and then having Kaitlyn, with the crowd right behind her, chase the title.

Match 5) Intercontinental Championship Match: Curtis Axel def. Wade Barrett (c) and he Miz
This was a terrible build made instantly more interesting by the introduction of current ‘hot new act’, Curtis Axel. In short, Axel can’t lose and i’ll be absolutely flabbergasted if he does. This is his first PPV match and that is a crucial spotlight and even if he didn’t take the fall, it would damage his shine. On father’s day, Axel will win the title his late father was one of the greatest champions of.

Match 6) CM Punk def. Chris Jericho
This is the most intriguing match of the night, and only not the main event because a Cena match with that stipulation is almost main event by default. When this match was made, it came without warning out of left field as what otherwise seemed a throwaway segment on Jericho’s Highlight Reel, and for that reason I then didn’t believe for a second that we’d get that match, and i’m still not sure if we’ll get a straight-up match between the two, but the degree to which they’ve advertised the match makes me think Punk will certainly appear and may well wrestle. What actually happens is up in the air though – it really smells like some sort of twist will have to happen. I don’t think Jericho turns because he wont be around to follow up on it soon as he goes on tour, but think Punk turning on Heyman for exploiting his name and turning face is possible, and that doesn’t rule out a match. Now Axel is in a match, I don’t see him replacing Punk, so I don’t know what would happen is Punk shows but doesn’t wrestle, but if Punk wrestles, he probably goes over (with the outside guess that if Punk turns on Heyman before the match, Axel comes out and costs Punk the match).

Match 7) WWE Championship Match: Three Stages of Hell – John Cena (c) def. Ryback
I think Cena retains here as you’d expect him to retain more than once. I think because he is losing on PPV AGAIN he will win the first fall clean somehow, gives him a rub of a clean pinfall against Cena and gives Cena the mountain to climb, but then Cena wins the next two falls to retain. It also gives Ryback a reason to demand another title match next PPV. Though Bryan/Cena is rumoured, it doesn’t quite make sense to me. I don’t see Bryan going heel seen as he is SO over, and though there is a possibility of a Cena-Bryan respect feud it seems a little off to me on face value. I would finally give Ryback the title at the next PPV and have the much smaller but hotter Bryan chase, and eventually win, the title from the monster.

RAW Recall (10/01/2011): Trials by Fire

Miz leaves the ring 'like a scolded dog', unwilling to take on Orton

This week’s RAW was very segment heavy, maybe too much so. Indeed, I think there were only two really serious matches throughout the show, which isn’t really enough. Nonetheless, it was definitely a compelling show as ‘The New Nexus’ emerged for the first time as a definable unit and the dynamic between Miz and Orton continued to mature.

The first appearance of ‘The New Nexus’ was very similar to that of the older incarnation. Before a scheduled tag team titles bout, they came out and cemented their will, saying the match was now postponed. Punk’s promo was obviously very good, as you would expect, and he commenced characterising the Nexus along his own lines. Punk has always, as a heel at least, toyed with parallels (and parody) of Christ and organised religion, and this began in earnest with his new followers, saying that they could all reach a promised land (stardom and success in WWE) if they, including himself, were willing first to make sacrifices. The first one of which was a cancerous attack from the group to one of their own, Michael McGillicutty. And so, reluctantly at first, Nexus went about this familiar sight, hitting each of their finishers on McGillicutty. This seemed to provide a disturbing bodily bonding among the members, who carried the injured McGillicutty from the ring on their shoulders, as if to a pyre. Excellent viewing.

Husky Harris’s initiation was to receive three lashes from the remaining Nexus members, including Punk zealously strapping Harris nine times. This was an even more archaic ordeal, and the stunned silence in the scene and among the crowd spoke to the success of the scene as it carried a real atmosphere of genuine sacrifice.

At some point after this, we had a strange segment where Cole read an email from the Anonymous GM which praised Cole to the sky. Surely this makes it sure that the GM will be a heel and/or actually Cole? It’s pretty interesting, and is just waiting to be utilised in a storyline now it’s been in place for so long. I hope they do actually reveal the GM’s identity sometime.

David Otunga was next sent in to the archetypal lion’s den, to provoke the Big Show and take the punishment he would innevitable receive. Otunga appears to have changed from self-serving egoist under Wade Barrett to perhaps the most unquestioning of the Nexus disciples. Facing an angry Big Show, Otunga held out his arms and closed his eyes to receive the beating. The real success of these seacrifices, and especially this one for the sheer passiveness of Otunga is that it has managed to make an attack not shocking in it’s brutality, shocking, in an arena where violence is commonplace. This is because there is an innate lack of comfort with seeing a passive man get beaten up, especially when it comes from a supposed ‘hero’.

The first match of real note on the show was the re-booking of Sheamus against John Morrison. Though we must have seen these two square up a good dozen times or so now, they, for whatever, reason, have excellent chemistry meaning the booking hasn’t yet gotten stale. This match featured simply excellent storytelling with Sheamus wearing Morrison down while Morrison stayed in the game, showing a lot of ‘heart’. This feud has been excellent for both, helping Sheamus become a more rounded in-ring performer, and helping Morrison get over as a legitimate, tough, main event player. Apart from the solid technicality of the match, there were other eye-catching moments, firstly, Morrison attempting a Starship Pain, only to be shoved from the turnbuckle to the floor. This started an attack on Morrison’s arm, on which he landed awkwardly. That wasn’t all though. Sheamus also worked on Morrison’s abdomen. It’s not that often where you see an aggressor work on more than one area of the anatomy. The abdomen attack really accelerated when Sheamus hit a front suplex to Morrison on the ring stairs. At this point, Morrison was really debilitated, and Sheamus was setting up for his Brogue Kick. Now what happened next was remarkable (though i’m not sure it was intentional). At this point, you expect Morrison to turn around and either take or avoid a Brogue Kick. However, Morrison just, sort of, fell over. As I say, i’m not sure it was intentional, but if it was, what a powerful way of getting over someone’s vulnerability, especially in this industry where competitors can generally stand until they are actually beaten. Sheamus took this in his stride, and approached Morrison for more offense, before Morrison grabbed ‘The Celtic Warrior’s’ arm, dropping to the floor and snapping it against the top rope, leaving Sheamus vulnerable for his running knee smash, which again took Sheamus out for a three-count. Another excellent match between these two. I wonder what they’ll do now though. I feel they’ve exhausted the feud in storyline terms, so it’s important that both move on to new storylines and keep up the good ring-work.

Next up was the initiation ordeal for Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel. CM Punk asked them to look each other in the eye and hit each other with kendo sticks until he told them to stop. This was another psychologically interesting one, but Gabriel and Slater refused to take part, even after Punk offered to let them attack him. It seems their problem was with the clear needlessness and irrationality of the act, which the announcers were talking about throughout. Indeed, given Punk’s clear parallels with Christ, even down to the stigmata, I think it was a conscious parallel of the irrationality of unquestioning followers of big institutions, such as organised religions, but not restricted to that. That is to be applauded not only for the sentiment, but for the creativity and depth of the storytelling. It seems, then, that Slater and Gabriel are out of Nexus (though it probably wasn’t clear enough), and Punk didn’t even seem that annoyed. If that is true, they could possibly get over as faces more than Barrett could, and so could possibly stay on RAW. Unfortunately, for Gabriel (though less so for Slater), he is/was infinitely better as a heel, and if he has to change, it’ll probably be to his determent. The other option is they follow Barrett to Smackdown, having realised that he was a less zealous leader. The Old Nexus, so to speak, could definately be a fresh entity on Smackdown, and would fulfil my dreams of Nexus permeating all of WWE. This of course is something Punk suggested in his opening promo, but perhaps it’s too much to hope that, if there are two organisations, they will be coordinated. As for the New Nexus, they need new members sharpish. There are lots of potentials: We know Awesome Kong is being considered, but aside from her, David Hart Smith hasn’t been seen on TV in a while, and certainly works better as a heel, similarly, Tyson Kidd could replace Gabriel as a disturbing high-flyer; and seen as this is the time of year where the brand borders become a bit more fluid (e.g. Wade Barrett to Smackdown); from Smackdown, Tyler Reks could potentially make a good member; and also, from FCW, Seth Rollins (Tyler Black) could get his break this way, the same maybe for Wes Brisco.

Next up was an incredibly moving and ‘showstopping’ moment as, in a relative surprise, Shawn Michaels was revealed as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and the first inductee in to this years Hall. Not only that, but he made an appearance! His music got a HUGE pop, and deservedly so. He looked great and very thankful to be there. Before he could say anything, however, Alberto Del Rio, who had managed to beat R-Truth again earlier in the night (including an ear-aching, heat-gaining Mariachi performance from Rodrigo Rodriguez), came out to some of the worst heat i’ve ever heard to make a name for himself against HBK. He cut a textbook promo to Shawn about him being washed up, and him being the future (a future hall of famer indeed) before Shawn delivered one more Sweet Chin Music to shut him up and make the crowd happy, before shining his old boot and leaving the ring to near-hysterical reactions from the crowd. J.R. pointed this out on his blog (I think): Shawn drew all this emotion and appreciation, without having to even say a word. Now that is a performer! The Hall of Fame is no less than the Showstopper deserves.

In a complete switch of mood, it was now Punk’s turn to undergo his initiation ordeal. He ‘stole’ the segment from John Cena, who was meant to address the crowd, instead appearing at the dizzying height of the top of the tron. A height that is of course, just another element of worship. Now, without seeing this segment, it may be hard to really comprehend the seriousness and gravitas of this promo, and for that reason, I will post a video of it below. The announcers really helped sell the danger here, as Punk was apparently about to leap from the top of the tron, which was basically up in the rafters of the arena. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think he was actually just going to jump to his death, but I thought he might dive in to a bunch of cardboard boxes or something like that (a’la Shane McMahon at Summerslam 2000), or jump off the back of the tron with a harness. Even knowing this, it would have been a spectacular and shocking move. The whole crowd bought it anyway, as did, i’m sure, most of the audience, and there was a real sense of panic among his baiting of the crowd. In the end, however, Punk revealed that he was never considering such a ridiculous act,  that, as leader, he doesn’t have to prove anything, and all that he did prove was how gullible the crowd can be. Indeed, this fitted in nicely with the whole theme of people acting irrationally in the face of charismatic/hope-giving/apocalyptic rhetoric.

(I’ll try to get a more specific video, but for now, the segment in question begins at 2.00 in this video).

Cena soon confronted Punk in full stride, by way of live satellite, saying that given that he had promised to take out every member of Nexus, Punk still needs to be ‘dealt’ with. Cena really cut through this atmosphere making him seem even more heroic, confronting this powerful new entity. He even got so heated that he said the slightly un-PG ‘i’m gonna whoop your ass’. Cena stated on twitter that he was fined for his outburst, but that makes me think that it was actually done on purpose. Why would Cena, the consummate company man, reveal that on twitter other then as a way of covering his own (and WWE’s) ‘ass’ for slipping that bit of impassioned speech in there. Well, maybe anyway. It’s not like ‘ass’ is that bad! Next week we’ll see Punk take on Cena, and I am fascinated to see what happens. I would like to see (and I think there’s a chance of it happening)  the debut of a new member to help Punk.

Our main event saw Jerry Lawler in the main event again, tagging with Randy Orton to take on The Miz and Alex Riley. This match was all about The Miz trying to escape the match with a victory. Miz had even said earlier in the night that he was worried about his WWE Championship match at the Royal Rumble because of how intent and demonic Orton is. During the match, Miz wanted no part of the action unless he was on top or was needed, tagging in when the opponent was beat-down. Of course, both Orton and Lawler took it to A-Ri, so Miz had to get momentum by manipulating the match. He did all this with the old-fashioned ref distraction. As Lawler was crawling to Orton for the tag, Miz got in the ring, meaning that the ref missed the tag to Orton, and while Orton was remonstrating, Miz dragged Riley to their corner and tagged him before knocking Orton from the apron. This was really good storytelling for a resourceful heel champion, but before he could hit a Skull-Crushing Finale on King, Orton recovered and hit an RKO on Miz. This left Riley in the ring with Orton, who received his own RKO before Orton tagged in Lawler to finish the match. In a move that i’ve never seen before, Orton (poetic licence being played with Orton’s obligation to vacate the ring) stood in front of Miz, daring him to save Riley and the match as Lawler dropped a fist on his apprentice from the second rope and pinned Riley. This was brilliantly played off by both men, as Orton glared glassy-eyed at Miz and Miz, intimidated and confronted by the challenge to his reign, backed down and left, hugging the title close to him. A good way for this feud to get the final word in on a show packed with emotion. Over the past two weeks, Miz’s contrasting performances have really set him perfectly as a man who is skilled enough to be champion, without necessarily being better than everyone else. He knows he could be beat on any given night, just as easily as he could win, and so he exercises excellent self-preservation. King is really stepping up in the ring, but i’m still not sure he should be appearing so regularly. I think it’s time for an up-and-coming face to take his place, the problem being, both blue-chip candidates, Daniel Bryan and Evan Bourne, are not suitable at the moment for varying reasons.