WrestleMania 33: Looking Up at the Lights, and Going Out on Your Back

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The Undertaker salutes the end of the greatest career pro wrestling will probably ever see. Credit: WWE

As someone who attaches emotion and meaning to everything I enjoy, WrestleMania is a very intense week for me, from the floods of tears during the Hall of Fame, to the Christmas-like anticipation for the event, to the awe I have watching it that will never go away. WrestleMania’s come and go, and whether they are good or bad, they are always significant – the platitudes about it being the ‘showcase of the immortals’ and ‘WrestleMania moments’ are, incredibly, not really exaggerated. I enjoyed WrestleMania 33 which I found to be consistently enjoyable, even if it lacked a real show-stealer match. The moment I can’t shift from my head (the reason we’re here) came at the very end, when Undertaker, after struggling to his feet following a loss to Roman Reigns, started to leave his gear in the ring. If there’s one thing Taker has always excelled at, it’s exuding meaning and emotion (despite often being near emotionless outwardly), and after he removes his hat for the final time, he takes this huge breath, a sigh not quite of relief, but of rest. The ride is finally over, and he can rest. I immediately burst in to tears.

I am going to write the qualifier I have seen several people write. The Undertaker wasn’t ‘my guy’, and yet there is something about him that seems to engender total respect and reverence. He’s not the best talker, but he is the best character; he’s not the best wrestler, but he does have some of the best matches ever. He understands wrestling and performance better than anyone, and takes it seriously, and everyone respects him for it. He might not be your favourite, but whenever you hear a gong, or see him toe to toe with someone, you know, almost by definition, that something significant is happening. He’s the best of pro-wrestling, and represents 20+ years of some of the most vivid, memorable years of it.

Perhaps that is why he is loved so. He has been a legitimising backbone of this crazy travelling roadshow we love and has dedicated himself to it longer, frankly, than his body would allow. He helped build WrestleMania and created many of it’s most special moments. His passing of the torch and leaving the ring no longer a warrior may well be a crucial moment in wrestling’s future, and it was sure one of the most moving in wrestling’s history.

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Undertaker, leaving his iconic hat and coat in the ring, symbolising the end of his storied career. Credit: WWE

Though I am more than happy to wax eulogistic about Undertaker’s career though, that beautiful end is only around half of the reason i’m writing this. Undertaker was the main reason I decided it was ‘now or never’ for attending WrestleMania 30 – I decided that I had to see him on his greatest stage before I lost the chance, I had to see that entrance. And I did. For that event though, I chose to wear a Bray Wyatt shirt. Bray has been a real darling of mine ever since I started watching him on NXT, and there are certainly similarities to Undertaker in him, mainly in his dedication to a character which bends the rules other characters play by, occasionally traipsing in to the supernatural. Wyatt, in fact, is a far better talker than Taker ever was, and with his commitment to every part of his character, I had never been so excited about the future of a wrestler and my related enjoyment of them.

The difference between him and Taker is, and remains, that it’s never really gone anywhere. At WrestleMania, I had the honour of seeing ‘The Streak’ broken, and the joy of seeing ‘Yes-tleMania’, but under that, I had the disappointment of seeing Wyatt fall to Cena when a victory could have really set him along the course of a phenom himself. The next year, Wyatt lost to Undertaker fairly handily to help Taker recover from the loss of the Streak, and then last year, Wyatt made the best of being booked alongside The Rock, but would never be able to overcome Rocky being important and easily murking him and his family. Wyatt has never won at WrestleMania, or really won a significant match on a big stage. His strength of character and performance though has seen him recover of late to the point where John Cena insisted on putting him over clean for the WWE Championship. A significant achievement for sure, but it lacks the historical significance that the real top guys have propping them up. The significance, say, of defeating The Undertaker in his final match.

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The Rock, delivering the People’s Elbow to Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 32 after quickly dispatching the rest of the ‘Family’. Credit: WWE

Writing this isn’t intended to throw shade at anyone other than the decision makers who booked Wyatt to lose this year, not even Orton, who probably could have spoken up to lose as Cena had earlier.

Part of the respect that the Undertaker commands without demanding it, is that he will always do what’s best for the business, and rule #1 in that regard is that, when you go out, you ‘go out on your back’, giving someone else the chance to profit from it, and by extension, the business. Roman Reigns has become something almost other to wrestling. For his part, Reigns has grown quietly but enormously as a performer, especially in recent months, and he was a big part of making Taker’s final match powerful and entertaining. He clearly hasn’t been handled quite right though, to the point where, regardless of his performances, he will be booed. Fans treat him like the most boring or lazy denominator almost regardless of what he does. Usually, the honour of ‘retiring’ The Undertaker would be the biggest lay-up of all time to stardom for a persons career, but whether that happens for Roman, remains to be seen. The hope is that either he will somehow inherit Taker’s inherent respect value (after all, this was a metaphorical transferring of ‘the yard’ to Reigns), or he can build a white hot heel run from his actions.

With Wyatt though, there is a feeling of complacency on management’s part in a way that may be due to his success at portraying the character. Losing in itself has never really seemed to damage Wyatt – he can always ‘turn it on’ and be mesmerising. But after years of constant losing on big stages, it’s hard not to see diminishing returns from him, regardless of his exceptional efforts. He recovered miraculously from it when he was reduced to comic jobber to The Rock, but this slip up when he had returned to his most powerful may be even more damaging.

Everything about his match at WrestleMania 33 seemed geared to be his moment, to showcase him in a way that suited only him. The most memorable part of the match was the recurring projections of imagery of death, disease, and pestilence on to the ring. Regardless of what people say in retrospect, coloured as it is by the match result, at the time, fans were losing their minds over this, including me. It was different, and though simple, was shocking due to both the fact it had never been done before, and the nature of the imagery. Initially, Orton and everyone else involved sold these projections. That is until Orton hit a trademark unexpected RKO for the win to become a 13 time champion. Wyatt falls short again.

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Though later mocked by some, the various visuals of decay projected by Wyatt on to Orton and the ring were shocking, and unlike anything ever seen before in WWE history. Credit: WWE

Again, with no disrespect to Randy Orton, why does he need a 13th championship here, at a time when Wyatt could have taken a big step towards lasting significance? The disgusting projections even provided him with a ‘get out’ for the loss. What do we get from this? Orton doesn’t need a win basically ever these days and can have whatever feud management want down the line. It has been suggested to me that this was the natural ending of the story – a point I understand, but it is also important to realise that sometimes (not often) the bad guy wins, and it could have lit a fire under Orton too. Meanwhile, Wyatt seems almost goofy for trying his antics in a loss. Even if he wins his rematch, it’s on a much smaller stage. If Wyatt wins this match as it was produced, he gets a big showcase win, a championship retention, and a memorable WrestleMania moment; what happened instead was people viewed him as a loser and started mocking the projections too. Once again, he was forgotten, looking up at the brightest lights there are, with management neglecting the gift he is. What happens to him in the weeks following this year’s WrestleMania and at next year’s Mania will be very telling about how damaging this was. I hope i’m wrong.

Most losses aren’t significant gestures to the future as Undertaker’s was, and it is there that him putting Reigns over in his final match will hopefully benefit him. There is a chance though, that it will just further complicate Reign’s relationship with the fans and be wasted. Further, Reigns is already treated like a top guy, and clearly will be going forward. It’s just a shame that another veteran in Randy Orton couldn’t put over Bray in a similar spot, and so the difference between Undertaker and Wyatt remains – one is an outlaw that went out on his back, and the other is a pretender that has been left on his back for three WrestleMania’s in a row. I can’t help but wish the stars had aligned a little differently, and the best Bray Wyatt had faced Underataker this year. Not only would their characters have gelled well once again, but Taker’s final sacrifice would have had the definite result of making Bray Wyatt, overnight, one of the most significant superstars in the world.

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After the fans were gone and the ring was being taken down, Undertaker’s hat and coat remained untouched in a startling and moving show of respect. Credit: @samirkh75387729 on Twitter

Thank you Undertaker.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

WrestleMania 30: Daniel Bryan and Letting the Good Times Roll

Bryan WM

Bryan celebrating his iconic moment, and a moment that will stay with me forever. Credit: Bleacher Report

I wasn’t expecting to be writing a new post for a while. I was close to writing an article about the incredible documentary ‘Unforgivable Blackness’ related to Cam Newton’s journey to Superbowl 50, but was beat to the punch by a writer at the Washington Post, so with the excitement of the Superbowl and the slow play-through i’m experiencing with The Last of Us, I thought it would be a while until an idea came to me – perhaps waiting until WrestleMania 32 for inspiration. Tonight though, I find myself writing about WrestleMania 30 instead; an event I will always feel privileged to have attended, but now for an extra somber reason, that reason being that the show’s undoubted star and main draw, Daniel Bryan, has announced his retirement.

This article will be a much more personal reflection on my admiration for Daniel Bryan, and the direction of booking and decision-making in the WWE, all crystallized in this event which is one of the most vivid and treasured in my life. I’m like millions of people, young and old, across the world who grew up watching wrestling, and especially WrestleMania, and it seeming like a different world representing the pinnacle of life. I couldn’t even imagine being at a WrestleMania as a kid growing up in Britain – it was something that other people went to, an alien world I could only dream of. Growing up of course, it seemed more and more like an achievable dream and with more years behind me and a job which paid just enough to afford me the opportunity, I started thinking about the dream of attending WrestleMania.

This article will focus a lot on Daniel Bryan, but he is only one half of this story as the real draw for my attending WrestleMania – this WrestleMania – was The Undertaker. Even as an adult fan exposed to the light and dark of the business, The Undertaker still seemed other-worldly to me. He was never my favourite wrestler and I never really liked hearing him speak, but he made my hair stand up on end. All the platitudes about him are true, or at least nearly all. He is a phenom, he is the greatest character of all time, he is WrestleMania. With WrestleMania 30 coming up though, he was clearly slowing up and it seemed to me that he could retire at any time; the window to see the ultimate wrestling spectacle I could imagine – The Undertaker at WrestleMania – was closing. The decision to go cost me the most money I’ve ever spent at once and quite possibly a relationship, but especially now, learning of Daniel Bryan’s untimely retirement, I have absolutely no regrets.

Taker WM

The reason I was at WrestleMania 30, The Undertaker makes his chilling entrance. Credit: sparxentertainment.com

As I look back at this event, it seems to me that it symbolises in it’s two most memorable stories, two approaches to booking and making wrestling shows that can coexist (as they did in New Orleans), but only when there is a sincerity and organic process behind them – an ideal which was already eroding in WWE long before WrestleMania 30, and which feels yet further abandoned just two years later in the build up to WrestleMania 32. Starting with The Undertaker, he is perhaps the perfect realisation of an aspect of wrestling which will never truly go away, and that is the larger-than-life, gigantic characters. ‘Taker is certainly the last of a specific generation of over the top, cartoonish versions of this, but the distinguishing factor of such gigantic figures is still attainable, and indeed is still attained by characters like John Cena, The Rock, and Bray Wyatt. These are characters that, in some form, seem like an ‘other’ being, characters who exist almost outside of the rest of the ‘universe’, yet still affecting everything in it. Unfortunately for WWE, and all promoters, this isn’t something you can simply book a wrestler with – they have to exude it. With Rock and Cena, it’s a ‘star’ power – they’re like superheroes, acting as deux ex machinas above the action, impenetrable and constant. Despite the lack of material he’s given, Bray Wyatt, to his credit, has retained this quality. Though he frequently loses, his ability to command your attention, and his extra bit of venom both in and out of the ring, makes his arrival on any stage noteworthy and potentially chilling. Then you have the Undertaker, a wrestler who barely seems human, even when his own mortality is plainly obvious. A man who has been wrestling for longer than a huge chunk of the audience has been alive, a spirit with powers beyond that of any other, who held a streak unfathomable even in a sideshow where the results are predetermined, and man who’s entrance you could watch dozens of times and still get goosebumps because decades of destruction have trained us to know that when The Undertaker glides to the ring, something significant, and by virtue of the man, historic, is about to take place.The Undertaker is wrestling in it’s purest form: accepting a universe, ignoring the different realities behind the man and the ‘story’, and watching a force fight for something, good or evil.

I had fantasized my entire life about it, and then standing in the Superdome in New Orleans, a house of voodoo, glory, and suffering, I heard the gong, and I fought back the tears. Outside of his matches, it was possible to view Taker a bit more bluntly. I knew he wouldn’t lose, not that I wanted him to, and seeing The Streak itself was the privilege. Of course, the secret to The Streak was the years of genuine history behind it which made it so precious. Away from the match you didn’t believe he would lose it, but every year the character was put in to situations where we believed he could lose; we’d gasp at near falls, hearts racing having been given a taste of the end of The Streak without actually losing it. But then I watched as it ended. I’ve never felt anything quite like it – the exaggerated reaction shots after the three count weren’t anomalies, they were the norm, it was me. I was shocked, even a little angry but stunned in to silence; and then I realised, later, that the only thing that afforded more privilege than seeing The Streak, was seeing The Streak end. That feeling can’t be manufactured. You can’t take two people at random, say they are suddenly important, and expect it to feel important. It was wrestling at it’s purest and it worked because it had the right players involved, and over 20 years of history behind it.

Before there was a ‘Divas Revolution’, there were things like the ‘Vickie Guerrero Invitational’, a throwaway excuse to get all the divas WrestleMania airtime. It’s was a sorry use of talent, but on this occasion, the sort of conceit that was necessary. I feel sorry for the women involved because the audience was somewhere between dead and angry throughout the match. It provided an opportunity with basically no consequences to consider to reflect on the history witnessed and start to come to terms with it, because following it was the main event, and a magical moment in the career of a magnificent wrestler.

The term ‘wrestler’ feels inseparable from Daniel Bryan. He shares some traits with the big characters mentioned earlier, but above any of that, the main trait he is defined by is his humanity. I don’t think there has ever been a more relatable guy who is so easy to like and root for. He’s not super, he’s not a phenom, he’s like us, but he’s just also the best wrestler. That last bit is crucial to what makes him significant, and what made him significant that night in New Orleans. He wasn’t just a guy the WWE picked to be ‘the best wrestler’, he was the best wrestler, and that formed his whole story there. I’m not sure exactly to what level this was true (WWE did sign him after all), but it was clear that the WWE didn’t see Bryan as a WrestleMania headliner and that, to an extent, they had little interest in pulling the trigger on him because he didn’t fit their historic requirements, the requirements that fit, funnily enough, characters like The Undertaker. As mentioned before, I bought my ticket to ‘Mania to see The Undertaker, but as it approached, I was struggling to be excited about the main event. Batista had been brought back and quite obviously handed the Royal Rumble and a spot in the WrestleMania main event. It was a transparent booking decision and left many fans feeling flat, and many feeling downright angry. The scornful response to Batista’s Rumble win started a trend that has continued ever since, and that I will discuss more later, but it was a direct response to an ever-increasing scrutiny of WWE booking which had been accelerated with CM Punk’s ‘Pipebomb’, was dancing the knife-edge between reality and story, and finally topped over when the most popular guy on the roster was being overlooked by a returning star we were being told to be thankful for.

That reaction at the Rumble was unprecedented though, and again, though I don’t know how resistant WWE were to Bryan being made the face of WrestleMania that year, they were all but forced to alter their plans to avoid a flop with their first WWE Network WrestleMania. In retrospect, as soon as Bryan was handed the stipulation setting a path for him to possibly win the title, it perhaps should have been obvious that WWE would follow through with it. It didn’t feel that way at the time though. To me it seemed like the WWE, both in story and in reality had it in them to give us the Bryan bait and switch to try and placate fans while still getting to the same result. The desire for Bryan to succeed was obvious in the furious ‘Yessing’ throughout the build up to and matches at WrestleMania 30; for the years he had spent in WWE to that point, spinning very ordinary yarn in to gold both as a wrestler and as a personality at the centre of mid-level storylines, he had shown a mainstream audience what made him an ‘indy darling’ and they were ready and hungry for him to achieve that ‘WrestleMania Moment’ to validate it. So we watched the predetermined wrestling take place before us, hoping ‘our guy’ could finally get his moment at the expense of the established norms of Randy and Batista. This too, was wrestling in it’s purest form.

Reigns Rumble

The Rock is stunned by the hateful reaction Roman Reigns got after his 2015 Royal Rumble win. Credit: justyouraveragefan.sportsblog.com

Though this was more obviously tied to backstage booking, it never felt just like a booking decision, it felt like the culmination of a journey, and even if we felt it was WWE finally getting behind Bryan, it was because they were forced to, and not that they were the ones presenting Bryan. Bryan’s mixture of years of toil, natural and overwhelming likability, and his obvious passion for what we were passionate about made this all possible, and while WWE helped frame a perfectly-told culmination of it, it was part of an organic process where Daniel Bryan was the only person who could close that show covered in confetti. Like with the huge, larger-than-life characters, WWE couldn’t just have picked anyone and made them Daniel Bryan, they needed Daniel Bryan to tell an incredible story. That story filled an almost palpable void left by the end of The Streak, and the Yessing after Bryan’s win was one forged from relief as well as joy. Though Bryan and Undertaker are two very different characters, what makes them work is the same as what means they can coexist in the same universe – if you tell a story naturally, letting the performers exude what makes them work, almost whatever you do with them will work, because we’ll trust it, we’ll go with it, and we’ll let the good times roll.

As clean (though slightly contrived) as that end would be, unfortunately, it leads to a second and more negative point about how WWE continue to make booking decisions in the main. While WrestleMania 30 became an instant classic because of WWE’s acceptance of Bryan’s earned place at the top, it resulted in them becoming even more obsessed with booking to manipulate the audience. It may be that this is just what they’ve always done, including with Bryan, and that they are as smart as their success suggests, but in the two Rumbles following WrestleMania 30, it seems like WWE have failed quite badly in creating similar organic journeys, and at the centre of it all is the beleaguered new face of WWE, Roman Reigns. There is nothing new about what i’m about to say so I won’t dwell on it, but Roman Reigns is nearly everything you could want from a megastar, right down to his blood, but he lacks one thing, the validating journey to the top.

In The Shield he became incredibly popular, partly due to how cool The Shield was, but also on merit as an athletic powerhouse punctuating their beat-downs. It was a good first step on his way to stardom, but then when The Shield broke up, he was simply plugged in, without much delay, as a top star. Perhaps in the past this could have worked, but in this era where booking is scrutinised, Reigns has become stuck somewhere between the two types of star earlier described – a near unstoppable superhero (right down to the Superman Punch), and a trod upon everyman. The problem is that while he has the look, size, and athleticism to be larger-than-life, he lacks the charisma and personality to command respect and attention against other interesting characters, and he certainly lacks the organic journey to validate him as an anti-authority firebrand. Most infamously, at the 2015 Royal Rumble, he was booked like a superhero but couldn’t pull it off, and with that as the case, it came across as an almost cold business decision by WWE, just as it had with Batista the year before and he received just as much ire, even with the support of The Rock. In retrospect, the appearance of The Rock probably made things worse as not only did Roman compare unfavourably to a successful (among the most successful) superhero archetypes, but it also smacked of him getting validation through nepotism – something which goes against the organic hero archetype. It seemed like Roman was on a straight path the WWE Championship, and as the audience reacted with ire similar to that suffered by Batista, it transpired that Seth Rollins left WrestleMania 31 as WWE Champion instead. Whether that was the plan all along, or whether it was a second amended WrestleMania main event in a row, it highlighted the Royal Rumble as a booking decision rather than a special part of the Road to WrestleMania. Eventhough it has always, of course, been a booking decision, it has never felt so palpably so until these latest years.

Even this year at the 2016 Royal Rumble, the spectre of Reigns and how to book him overtook the whole thing. The booing started as soon as Reigns entered, and the fans became truly invested when he was eliminated. Though Triple H has gained a lot of good will with great recent matches and his nurturing of NXT, it is still hard to believe fans accepting a Triple H win and WWE Championship reign in 2016 in any other context than it was him instead of Reigns. Perhaps the only way for WWE to avoid this in future years is to exclude Reigns from the Rumble match and have him in regular matches instead for a couple of years to disassociate him from it’s recent history of frustrating booking.

The problem is wider though. Even if WWE are masterminding these booking controversies to get their stars over, it isn’t a sustainable model, and in what I fear is the more likely scenario, they’re trying to replicate previous successes without the right people or organic journeys. It’s not that Roman can’t be a star or tell stories, but he needs to tell his story, not Steve Austin’s of Daniel Bryan’s or whatever vague roguery he is going for here. I don’t know what that is, but I do know he’s an incredible and marketable athlete and with some significant, organic storylines behind him in which he can develop a layer or two, he could be what WWE so desperately are begging him to be too early – a superstar. In the mean time, they are spoilt for choice with people who could be stars if they let them embrace their creative side and what makes them worse. Let Bray Wyatt talk dark and specifically about what he’s doing and go wild with it, for instance, let Sasha Banks talk about being The Boss, let Kevin Owens loose away from just his (great) in-ring rants, and perhaps most obviously, let Cody Rhodes do whatever he wants, either as Stardust or as Cody. Rhodes is a sad example of WWE smothering talent with their narrow view of booking. These are examples, but it goes for everyone. Give them something to do, let them express it, and watch the talented ones rise to the top as either a phenom or organic hero.

Just to refocus finally on Bryan, that night was one of the most special nights of my life and he will always have a huge part in my heart for that, as well as for the rest of his career. It’s a shame that it was also really a short stint in the position he deserved before starting on his injury-related spiral to today, but it’s an accomplishment – one of many – that can never be taken from him. He is so popular because of how down to earth, passionate, funny, and quietly confident he is, and it is for that reason that his retirement has led to such upset and tributes. The notorious line in wrestling is that you can make friends, or you can make money, but with Bryan, no one has a single cross word to say about him. That’s a sign of the man he is, and though I harbor fantasies about him staying involved in wrestling in some way, I am glad he’ll be able to choose his destiny rather than run himself further in to the ground, whether it be my dream of him being an entertaining, neutral GM like Mick Foley, or him settling down with Brie and watching as a fan. Whatever he does, he deserves our thanks, and has left an indelible mark on an iconic night in wrestling history.

 

 

WrestleMania XXVIII Preview & Predictions

WrestleMania XXVIII, 01/04/2012, from the Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL

WrestleMania XXVIII, 01/04/2012, from the Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL

What more to say? This is WrestleMania. Always iconic. Almost always brilliant – This is WrestleMania, and I couldn’t be more excited. The card is very good, and if I may be controversial, certainly better than last year’s (already stellar) card. It will be a privilege to witness Rock vs Cena; it is truly what the hype says – icon vs icon, arguably the biggest match in the history of wrestling. Aside from that, we have Taker-HHH, which is a match I didn’t look forward to last year, but which delivered in the end. More crucially, my two favourite wrestlers ever, Chris Jericho and CM Punk have alligned and are wrestling one of the top matches on the card. All that, mixed with a strong card almost throughout makes this a really mouthwatering spectacle, and I, like any true wrestling fan, can’t wait!

Match 1) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Daniel Bryan (c) vs Sheamus
Yes it’s a shame that this match, for one of WWE’s most prestigious titles will only be defended during the first match on the card, but, like last year, this actually is quite a boon, helping to frame the event with a feel-good finish. Indeed, the result has a lot to do with me placing this first on the card, though I should also say that my prediction has become less confident of late given the sheer brilliance of Daniel Bryan recently. I was of the opinion that Bryan was just being given a run with the title until dropping it to Sheamus in order to provide the Celtic Warrior with his ‘moment’ at WrestleMania to really cement him as a top guy. However, this narrative may have been altered by the fact that Daniel Bryan has become one of the best characters in the whole of the WWE since becoming champion. His slimy, overly-confident, overly-congratulatory, wily champion character has brought him tonnes of heat, and he has really shone brighter than even Sheamus. With this in mind, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they extended AmDrag’s run. I am, despite this, sticking with Sheamus, and that is for the simple reason that a Sheamus win allows for a feel-good moment, the continuance of the feud as well as Sheamus’s moment in the spotlight. The match could be really good given time, and I imagine AJ will reluctantly get involved, will be banned from ringside, and as a result, D. Bryan loses the title clean, allowing for his rematch clause to be activated and the feud continuing.

Winner: Sheamus

Match 2) Intercontinental Championship Match: Cody Rhodes (c) vs The Big Show
Usually, I have no interest in a match involving The Big Show, but this match involves the eminently brilliant Cody Rhodes, and that gives me an instant degree of interest. While Show is a one-dimensional void of charisma (albeit a popular one), Rhodes has been growing in ring and in character for over a year now, and has done some great work with not very much material to add genuine tension to this feud. His delivery of the packages detailing Big Show’s flops at WrestleManias has been achingly callous and smarmy, and added to this have been efficient displays of stealth and intelligence, using anti-Big Guy tactics against Khali to show he could beat giants before trapping Big Show and humiliating him with a series of blows to the head with boxing gloves – a move also sinister in it’s brutality. Rhodes has played a perfect heel here, creating actual heat for what could have been a lacklustre feud, and providing a platform where people will really want to see Big Show finally get his hands on him and snuff him out. Indeed, i’ve seen some predictions where this very scenario is favoured, but I don’t see it happening. It’s great for Rhodes and the prestige of his title that Big Show is facing him for it, but there is absolutely no value in actually giving the title to Show. By WrestleMania, Rhodes will have held the Intercontinental Championship for 236 days, making Rhodes the longest-reigning IC Champ in nearly 8 years (only 8 days behind Shelton Benjamin), and 9th-longest-running IC reign of ALL TIME. Very impressive, great for Rhodes, great for the championship, and too much to waste on a momentary pop for a Big Show victory when Show is (in historical billing terms) above the title anyway. Even if it’s through cheating, give Rhodes the WrestleMania rub and help create a legendary reign for a future star.

Winner: Cody Rhodes

Match 3) Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos vs Beth Phoenix & Eve Torres
Ok, so this is undoubtedly the weakest match of the card. There were dreams of Beth vs Kharma, or Beth vs Natalya, or similar, but it hasn’t materialised. Nonetheless, WrestleMania thrives on celebrity involvement, and Menounos is a keen wrestling fan who will give her all (despite a rib injury), and her involvement may actually afford the divas more time than they usually get. The shame is that the babyface celebrity is surely almost certain to go over, and that harms our Divas Champion a little. I just hope she isn’t the one to get pinned (or, that i’m REALLY surprised, and Beth Glamslams Menounos for the win – you never know, Menounos could return down the line …).

Winners: Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos

Match 4) Randy Orton vs Kane
I’m a big Randy Orton fan. He’s a great wrestler. But to my memory, since wrestling a series with classics with Christian last year, and putting Mark Henry over as champion, Orton has struggled to get embroiled in a really good feud and, consequently, has suffered from less intriguing matches. He has apparently been lined up for a bit of a dream feud with Alberto Del Rio in the future, but for now he has been lumped with the freshly unemployed (in storyline terms) Kane after the Big Red Machine was dispatched by John Cena at Elimination Chamber. The feeling that these two big names have been thrown together because they kinda have to be at WrestleMania wasn’t helped by the arbitrary-feeling nature of their feud, justified as it is by Kane being angry that Orton humanised him last year on Smackdown by shaking his hand on Smackdown, a moment that has haunted Kane ever since, supposedly. It’s paper-thin, but I don’t want to bury this match before it’s started, so it’s also important to remember that Orton can put on great matches with anyone, while Kane is a seasoned veteran, and is always capable of shock. I expect Orton is probably the favourite for this, but I have the feeling Orton, Kane, and WWE will want to salvage something from this; so I think Kane might gain a shock win. If Orton was to win, Kane would have been polished off by two stars in as many PPVs, and would lose all of his credibility as a ‘monster’, while a win for Kane will completely reinstate all the credibility lost when he was dispatched by Cena. A loss could fire up Randy to come back at Kane in future matches ready to move on to ADR looking great. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, and Orton will just RKO Kane in minutes, but it’s what i’m going for.

Winner: Kane

Match 5) 12-Man Tag Team Match To Decide the Future General Manager of Both RAW and Smackdown: Team Johnny (David Otunga, Mark Henry, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger & Drew McIntyre) vs Team Teddy (Santino Marella, Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, Zack Ryder, The Great Khali & Booker T)
There’s a lot to talk about regarding that match, though not that it carries that much importance in many ways. This match was a good idea in that it gives twelve (mostly) deserving superstars a WrestleMania spotlight. I’m especially pleased about Zack Ryder (who deserves it for his hard work despite his shortcomings) and Drew McIntyre (who deserves it in every way) getting the call to Mania, though for people like Dolph Ziggler, Mark Henry and The Miz, it’s a shame that this match was the best they could do – especially Dolph and Henry, who have been some of the brightest stars in the company this year. I have absolutely no doubt that this will be a really fun match. Ther’ll be great spots from guys like Dolph and Kofi, while Santino, Zack, Teddy, and Laurinaitis will no doubt provide some swell comedy. What is more, at least one person will be given a good rub here, i.e., the person who gets the final pin (though the whole winning team will look good. That team will be, surely, Team Johnny. John Laurinaitis, flanked by David Otunga, have quickly become hugely effective at what they do, growing in to engaging and easily dislikable bureaucrats, while Teddy Long – with all due respect to the MacMilitant -has become a staid cliché (search for the comical Teddy Long flowchart, which illustrates the point). With that in mind, I can’t believe WWE  would back Teddy over Johnny, and so I think the heels will go over here. Which leaves us with the question of who will get the final pin. Well, it’s hard to rule any of them out. Apart from probably Jack Swagger, each man has a lot to gain from the rub, and a lot of currency to take it; Dolph as the fastest-growing star among them, Otunga as captain and fast-growing heel who has been doing some great work of late, Mark Henry, who is in the midst of renewing his dominance of a few months ago, The Miz, who main evented last year’s WrestleMania, and who seems to be on his way back, and finally, Drew McIntyre, who could use this rub as a catalyst back to his push of a year or so ago. My heart says McIntyre, but my head says Miz, who has a distinctly Jericho-esque tendency to sweep up the pieces to gain high-profile wins, and who’s success would be all the more poetic given the lengths he went to to even get on the team.

Winners: Team Johnny

Match 6) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs Chris Jericho
Ok, so it’s a shame that the WWE Championship match, and the match i’m most looking forward to, wont be the main, main event, but it is the right call. Not only is Rock-Cena one of the biggest matches ever, but as great as this match will be, and despite the fact that it will almost certainly be the stand-out wrestling match, it will struggle to follow the sheer mangitude of The Streak and Rock-Cena. Jericho at least will be smart to this following his experience at WrestleMania 18; this matches best chance for success is if The Streak and Rock-Cena have to follow them. That aside, it’s hard for me to properly express how much this match means to me. Jericho and Punk are not only two of the greatest wrestlers and sports-entertainers ever, but also happen to be my two favourite ever. This is my dream match, and it’s hard to say more than that. Give these two time, which I believe they will, and these two will dish up a bonafide classic. The build to the match has been great, with Jericho trolling us all with ‘the end of the world’ before launching in to this battle of Best in the World vs Best in the World. Tantalising enough, but Jericho then plunged the depths of the Reality Era by bringing Punk’s troubled family in to the mix to get under the champion’s skin. This is how the Reality Era should work. By playing off Punk’s history with an alcoholic father and difficult upbringing, Jericho in fact framed the Punk we see today wonderfully, making him and his straight-edged, stand-offish and rebellious character one we as an audience one we can really understand and see in a sympathetic light. Jericho is extremely popular with the fans, and from day 1 of his return he has been frustrating and annoying us to get heat, and he has been successful. With each passing week, his attacks on Punk get more personal, and more childish, and from huge pop at his return, Jericho is now hated again by the fans; he sure is a master puppeteer. As for Punk, he has shown a more vulnerable, but determined side, which mixed with the traits that got him over during the ‘Summer of Punk’, will make him even more of a top top star. That is how well considered and crafted this feud has been so far. I can only see one winner here though, and that is, rightly, CM Punk. Punk is the next person to be properly ‘made’. He already has been, it should be noted, ‘made’ as a top top star on par with John Cena, but he is still lacking his big WrestleMania moment like Cena had at WrestleMania 21. Also like John Cena, if Punk wins, he will join an exclusive club (only him and Cena) to have succesfully wrestled for the WWE Championship at all of the ‘Top 4’ PPVs in a single year. Quite the vote of confidence, and quite the change from this time last year. As for Jericho, I feel he’s deserving of another WWE Championship run, and believe he will get one down the line as his feud with Punk hopefully continues beyond WrestleMania. Jericho has been avoiding Punk, and getting shots in cheaply. The story of this match will be Punk finally shutting Jericho up and proving himself the Best Wrestler in the World!

Winner: CM Punk

Match 7) Hell in a Cell Match: The Undertaker vs Triple H w/ Special Guest Referee, Shawn Michaels
This is The Streak, and therefore it is exciting, and emotional, and the rest. Every year, arguably nothing more is on the line – a history that is literally perfect and untainted (just showing the genuine prestige involved in wrestling, despite it’s pre-ordained nature). Last year, I wasn’t so excited about this pairing going in, and it turned out to be a classic between to legendary veterans. I expect no less this year. What is more is that, somehow, WWE managed to rescue the aura of Hell in a Cell from the grasps of its PPV namesake, simply by playing to it’s strengths – announcing it unexpectedly, and using it to clean up a long-lasting rivalry. Perhaps the stip, and indeed, the introduction of Shawn Michaels, is so much smoke and mirrors, but it is certainly intriguing, and does a good job differentiating this match from last year’s. For that reason, a good job has also been done, along with playing to the memory of the beating Trips gave Taker last year, in renewing the feeling that HHH really could beat the Undertaker this year. That is all great, and my heart will be in my mouth during the inevitable near-falls HHH gets over Taker, but ultimately, I don’t think it will happen. There is absolutely no benefit to having Triple H end The Streak, except for H’s much-mythesised ego. So the question becomes, how will Taker maintain The Streak? The answers are limited, as they both have – by way of stipulation – have to relate to HBK, so either Michaels calls it down the middle and Taker wins legitimately, or HBK jealously screws his friend. I don’t know which it will be, but I certainly don’t want it to be the latter. Not only would it tarnish Taker’s win, and therefore, The Streak somewhat, but it would play in to a storyline that has been rumoured of late for next year’s WrestleMania: a main event match between HHH and HBK. That happening would be wrong for so many reasons, but most immediately, these two: 1) HBK is retired, and as much as the fans want to see him wrestle again, they want to see him not go back on his word for a pay day more, and 2) and HBK-HHH match is not only something we’ve already seen before, but it takes a spot away from the full-timers, who are already squeezed at WrestleMania, without being special enough to warrant it. But enough of that unpleasantness – The Undertaker will return, he will win a fantastic, dramatic match, and everyone will have another classic Undertaker-WrestleMania memory to hold as he takes it to a ridiculous, beautiful, 20-0.

Winner: The Undertaker

Match 8) The Rock vs John Cena
In many ways, this match is perfect. The Rock and John Cena are natural enemies from different spheres of the same world; one the ‘attitudinal’ electrifying and hyper-masculine Rock, and the other the ‘PG’, family friendly but unstoppable, never giving up franchise, John Cena. It is, for once, not hyperbole to call this ‘the biggest match of all time’, and ‘icon vs icon’, as well as any other superlative you may want to think up for it, and so the wrestling aside, this is destined to be an unforgettable match, and possibly the best of all time. For the longest time, I was convinced that Rock would win in his home-town, leading to futura battles between the two, but now it doesn’t seem quite so clean cut. If Rock wins, why would he come back to wrestle Cena again? Also, if Cena loses, and Rock goes away to film movies, what does that do to the credibility of the WWE roster? I think the second question is actually the most troublesome for a Rock prediction (after all, the same could be said the other way regarding the first). My answer to the second question is flimsy, but I think potentially good enough: Cena has won literally (not literally) every match he has competed in for the last seven years, and although wrestle fans have, of necessity, short memories, this one loss wont add up to undermining the whole roster. After all, Punk beat Cena twice this year, and is the WWE Champion, so Cena isn’t the only representative of the best of WWE, and Cena losing certainly doesn’t lower the bar for the roster. Actually, that isn’t so flimsy! The outcome of this match basically depends on how you think the whole Rock-Cena feud will pan out, but the constant is that the lasting image that needs to be created, is Cena overcoming the Rock. If you think this is their only match ever, pick Cena, if not, it’s so easy. Rock has already been announced as having a role at WrestleMania 29, and there are rumours that Rock-Cena will turn in to a trilogy of WrestleMania 28, Summerslam 2012, and WrestleMania 29. That seems good, and even likely to me, and so that is the framework i’m going to work from, and if that is the case, The Rock HAS to win. If the end-point of all this is Cena finally proving himself against Rock, that can only happen at the end of the feud, at WrestleMania 29. Cena can’t win at WrestleMania 28, because that gives us the moment of Cena proving himself prematurely, and renders the other matches essentially meaningless (at least in the Cena proving himself thread, and only if he wins clean). And so the sequence has to be this: Rock over at WM28, Cena over at SS, Cena over at WM29 to win the series. Given my earlier shakiness with my prediction, i’m now certain, The Rock will win on Sunday, in his home town. Cena will continue to evolve as a character, questioning himself and perhaps becoming obsessed with beating The Rock. The problem then becomes how to coax the Rock back to Cena’s ring, but then again that may necessitate something desperate and shocking from Cena, which in itself could be great. The journey could also be one which sees the fans come back to Cena as they watch and sympathise with him against an arrogant and gloating Rock. Maybe. But enough analysis. Whatever happens on Sunday (touch wood), this match will be, and indeed, already is iconic, and featuring two guys in their prime, will be a great match, as well as surely timeless.

Winner: The Rock

WRESTLEMANIA XXVII: Preview & Predictions

WrestleMania XXVII: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia, 03/04/2011

It was roughly this time last year when I started this blog, so moved I was by the event, and especially the performances of Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. This year I am here to cover the Grandaddy of them all, the annual blood-letting of wrestling, the most important day of the sports-entertainment year; WELCOME TO WRESTLEMANIA! (well, my preview of it …)

I’ve heard a lot about this WrestleMania having a disappointing build-up, but I really don’t understand that. It seems to me more like the bitter IWC shitting on whatever is offered to them. How people can’t get excited about The Rock and John Cena facing off, Alberto Del Rio and Christian (an IWC darling) making the main event, a Streak match against a credible opponent in future Hall of Famer, HHH involving the spectre of head of this year’s HoF class, Shawn Michaels.

The only fair criticism in my eyes is the loss of the Money in the Bank match. Until this year’s MITB PPV, this match was quintessential WrestleMania, and I don’t see why it couldn’t be involved this year round. Saying this, there is plenty of scope on a 9 match card to add to it, and I think some early electricity could be generated by our host, The Rock, by coming out, cutting a promo, and then announcing a MITB match. Wishful thinking perhaps, but if you can’t wish at WrestleMania, where can you!?

Dark Match) WrestleMania Battle Royal:
Being a dark match, this might not seem like a big deal, but it most certainly is. It is the route to WrestleMania for those not booked for the taped extravaganza, gives them a taste and a drive to progress, as well as earning them a PPV bonus. Especially with the probability of there being no MITB match this year, there is definitely licence to make a bigger deal out of the result of this match, maybe giving the winner some sort of accolade allowing them some TV time and a push, like the former benefits of the King of the Ring. As for who will win, there seems to be little reason to it as Yoshi Tatsu won it last year, but if more was to be made of it, I would suggest Sin Cara. He is to make his television debut on the RAW following WrestleMania in the aftermath of his very successful series of hype vignettes. A victory at WrestleMania would add even more momentum to his debut.

Winner: Sin Cara

Match 1) Corre (Wade Barrett, Justin Gabriel, Heath Slater & Ezekiel Jackson) vs Kane, The Big Show, Santino Marella & Vladimir Kozlov
This was the final match (as far as we know) added to the card, and so, you have to imagine, the one with the least creative depth to it. That, mixed with the big star attractions involved (Barrett, Kane, Big Show), make it the perfect match to open the show with. The combination of the faces seems a little thrown together, despite the fact that its made up of two genuine teams. Contrast them with Corre, who now hold three belts and a tonne of momentum, and it’s difficult to see why the faces would ever win this match. If anything, I think it’s more likely that someone from the faces could turn heel and possibly join the Corre, adding to their momentum and making them even more intimidating. Kane? They do have history with him? Big Show? He could do with a new direction. Kozlov? No longer a tag champ. Speaking of Kozlov, following a match at Axxess, he was attacked by Corre, who severely injured his shoulder. I don’t know whether this will affect the booking, but it will surely add a new story to the match itself. This is a great way for Axxess to be utilised. Not only does it give those in attendance more ‘axxess’, but it adds even more mystique to the whole build for WrestleMania, showing that it is more than a one-night thing where anything can happen at any time; it is a city-wide, week-long spectacle. This can only help Corre, taking some blame away from the faces when they lose. Though there is possibly a chance that the disadvantage factor could swing momentum towards the faces, whatever happens, Corre are going over.

Winners: Corre

Update!: Following the incident at Axxess, Kofi Kingston has apparently replaced Kozlov in the match. I can only think Kozlov is legitimately injured, which is a real shame if it is the case. I can’t see, on the other hand, WWE taking a Mania spot away from someone just to get Kingston involved live. Its difficult to tell how this could affect the match. The fresh element of Kingston helps the faces chances, but it is also offset by the consequent removal of the adversity factor of taking on a larger team. That being the case, i’m sticking with my original prediction.

Match 2) United States Championship Match: Sheamus (c) vs Daniel Bryan
Last year, Sheamus took on HHH at WrestleMania whereas Bryan was still on NXT (I think), so both have had quite opposite fortunes over the last two years. Bryan had a very impressive US title run while Sheamus dropped from the WWE Championship to the US Championship. However, since picking up the US title, Sheamus seems to be on something of a climb-back to the top, while Bryan hasn’t had many opportunities on TV, having to contend with people like The Rock and Stone Cold for minutes. Nonetheless, Bryan has been involved in some of the best matches in WWE this year, and I fully expect him to make the most of his WrestleMania debut in a match with Sheamus who certainly has potential to put on a good match, especially with Bryan. Given time, which it should be, this could contribute to a consistently very high quality of wrestling on the show. The winner is seemingly quite predictable, however. Having just won the title a few weeks ago, I don’t see Sheamus losing his title.

Winner: Sheamus

Match 3) Rey Mysterio vs Cody Rhodes
This is among the most intense feuds on this year’s card; remarkable, seing as how it all started with an accidental injury in a TV match. This has been one of the most visually stimulating feuds for a long time, based as it is on Rhodes’s formerly ‘dashing’ looks turning beastly and requiring a mask of his own which is seemingly contrary to the meaning of Mysterio’s mask, which he then made a prize of. Since then, Rhodes has started to seem part-machine, part beast, making a point of using enhancements to his body, and using them as visual cues to their feud. Last year, Rhodes went down, along with Ted DiBiase, to Randy Orton to secure Orton’s face-turn. The idea of his affiliation with Orton was to propel him upwards. For DiBiase, it hasn’t yet worked, but Rhodes took on his ‘Dashing’ gimmick, and seems ready for his first iconic match on his way to the top. His natural talent, along with Mysterio’s wily high-flying experience, should make for another good match. I understand Mysterio asked for Rhodes personally, so that, along with the rise of Rhodes, makes me think Mysterio is going to put Rhodes over and help launch his career.

Winner: Cody Rhodes

Match 4) John Morrison, Trish Stratus & Snooki vs Dolph Ziggler, Michelle McCool & Layla
One of the most controversial inclusions in this year’s WrestleMania is Jersey Shore airhead, ‘Snooki’. I understand the skepticism, but I have no problem with her involvement. Like it or not, Jersey Shore is one of the biggest phenomenons in contemporary pop culture, and WrestleMania, like WWE in general is intentionally a pop culture juggernaut, as well as sports entertainment monolith, and from the original WrestleMania, the pop culture icons of the day have been a part of the event. She will hopefully bring eyes to the product and not actually wrestle enough to botch up the whole match. Meanwhile, Trish returning to the ring is always a pleasure, and especially when against the current heads of the divas division, LayCool. That is genuinely of interest. Also, there is the continuation of the burgeoning feud between John Morrison and Dolph Ziggler (a possible future main event in itself). Add all this together, and you have a nice mixture of pop culture and sports entertainment, as well as a match which promises to be fun. Perhaps to add some extra attraction to this match, it would be worth having a mixture of lumberjacks and lumberjills by the ring consisting of those not otherwise booked for the televised event. All this aside, it is absolutely clear that the faces will go over. Future Hall of Famer, Trish Stratus and celebrity guest Snooki wont be showing up to WrestleMania to lose. Snooki will get the pin over Layla, as I don’t see Michelle going through that indignity.

Winners: John Morrison, Trish Stratus & Snooki

Match 5) Randy Orton vs CM Punk
In complete contrast to the match before it, which is in many ways a relief match, this feud is as dark and intense as you would expect from CM Punk and Randy Orton. This feud goes back to Unforgiven 2008 where Orton as a heel cost Punk as a face his World Championship. When this was renewed, the feud had no pretense of good vs evil. Indeed, Orton seemed to know that Punk had a point. In fact, this seems more of a competition over who can be the most despicable. Orton certainly achieved that by punting the whole of the New Nexus in the head, but those four or so weeks of build were a repetitive waste. It was only when Punk was left alone that the match started to build well. Two weeks ago, Punk pounced on Orton’s understandable complacency by threatening The Viper’s family as a trap to lure out Orton and attack him with a wrench to the knee, saying ‘now ‘aint that a kick in the head’. He followed up on this the next week with another attack on a seriously injured Orton, showing the shift in momentum that has seemingly taken place. The textbook would suggest that Orton will come back and defeat Punk, but I have a feeling that there’s more to this feud, and that its continuation will be best helped by a Punk victory. Not only that, but Punk, despite being a definite top talent, would benefit more from the victory and be hurt more by the loss. Saying that, this is the first really difficult match to predict, especially seen as a Punk prediction will really tip the balance towards the heels. Nonetheless, i’m sticking to my (unsure) instincts.

Winner: CM Punk

Match 6) Jerry “The King” Lawler vs Michael Cole w/ Jack Swagger, with Special Guest Referee, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Like the Bret Hart-Vince McMahon match of last year’s WrestleMania, this match is not going to be pretty – this year’s blood-letting. The inclusion of Stone Cold and Swagger will just be to prolong the spectacle. Of course, if it was a one-on-one match, it would be over in seconds. I don’t expect it to be that long a match, but it will last out for some time. I imagine Swagger will get involved, gaining Cole the upper-hand for a while before Austin chases Swagger off, allowing Lawler to recover and beat Cole. After celebrating with a cold one, Cole will get up, only to be stunned back down. It wont be the best match, but seeing Lawler at WrestleMania will be special enough, and the sheer release of seeing Lawler finally dish out some justice to WWEs most obnoxious employee.

Winner: Jerry “The King” Lawler

Match 7) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Edge w/ Christian vs Alberto Del Rio w/ Brodus Clay
Ever since debuting in WWE, Alberto Del Rio has been on an express route to the top, and since winning the Royal Rumble, his path seems all the quicker. It seems clear that he can only prevail at WrestleMania, earning his breakthrough moment and continuing his meteoric rise. For Edge to beat him now would undermine this. His feud with Edge has been intense, but it was only when Christian became intrinsically involved that it really took off. The long history between him and Edge not only makes his involvement more anticipated, but more engaging. People seem to be sure that Christian will turn on Edge at this event, partly for storyline purposes, and partly to legitimise Edge’s loss. I too believe this is a strong possibility, and believe it is so obviously a possibility that WWE could add an extra element to this angle. It seems quite an oversight not to have Drew McIntyre on the card, and given that he has been feuding with Edge recently, this could be his opportunity to get on the show. Depending on how big of a rub management want to give the Sinister Scotsman, they could have him actually cost Edge the match as his retaliation for coming between him and Kelly Kelly. If not, Christian could cost Edge the title after McIntyre’s already interfered, making it seem like it takes even more to defeat Edge. Either way, Christian could continue to beat down on Edge after the match, saying he’s waited all these years to humiliate Edge on the grandest state of them all. The only problem with such a promo is that it would take some spotlight from Del Rio. Either that, or the swerve could be that Del Rio wins clean and Christian stays alligned with Edge. Either way, i’m sure Del Rio will be leaving WrestleMania as the World Heavyweight Champion.

Winner: Alberto Del Rio

Match 8) The Undertaker vs Triple H
It will be a brave call if this match is not the main event after the effect the streak match not being the main event had on WrestleMania XXV. Nonetheless, for reasons which will become clear, I think the WWE Championship match will be the main event. As for this match, it obviously has the potential to steal the show, being as it is between two of the most decorated veterans in recent history. Despite his weaker body these days, we can always count on ‘Taker to deliver at WrestleMania, and as for HHH, he has his own history of great matches. The build to this match has been truly memorable. There has been no physicality whatsoever, as if these two ‘outlaws’ have no need to make any points through violence any more. This is purely a match based on respect, and no doubt that will show during the match. There will be lots of drama and near-falls, and with an 18-year streak on the line, the tension will be unbearable whenever there is a pincover, and that is surely the makings of another great streak match. I also believe the spectre of Shawn Michaels will be present in this match, especially after that mesmerising promo this week on RAW. There has been a lot of speculation that HBK may actually cost HHH the streak, angry that he feels he can do what Shawn couldn’t. That would surprise me though. For one thing, physical interference would affect the purity of the match and it would surely be something of unwarranted heel-turn for a guy who is actually retired and a new entry in to the Hall of Fame. What I can see is Undertaker using HBK’s music or something to get inside The Game’s head as part of his legendary mind-games. Despite how much jeopardy the streak seems to be in, I can’t see it being broken this year, if ever. If it ever is to be broken, which I don’t think it should be, it will be in Undertaker’s final match, and I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

Winner: The Undertaker

Match 9) WWE Championship Match: The Miz (c) vs John Cena
No one knows yet exactly what role The Rock will play at WrestleMania. I have a feeling he’ll be there almost throughout, appearing with as many superstars as possible to give them a rub, but one match where he will clearly play an important role will be this match. Before I get to that though, it’s important not to overshadow the Miz and this match in itself. This is actually quite the established rivalry. Years ago, when Miz was still a mid-carder, he started his rise to the top with his anti-Cena phase which saw him lose, but in some high-profile matches with the face of the WWE. From there he continued to periodically bash Cena before beginning this main event feud with The Champ. To me, The Miz has more than proved his main event status in his beat-downs and verbal assaults on Cena, and main-eventing WrestleMania will not only be the zenith of his rise, but also of his feud with Cena. Neither Miz or Cena are the greatest wrestlers in the world, but they are also both very underrated, and can and have put on excellent matches. They both have a real knack for drama in matches, even if its not based in technical wrestling. Regarding The Rock, most people are scared that this will all end in Rock deciding to back Cena, beating down Miz, and raising Cena’s hand at the end of the night. However, far too much seems to have passed between the two for such a clean, polished finish. There will be phsyicality between Rocky and both Miz and Cena. I don’t think Rock will cost Cena the match, but I do think Cena will take a Rock Bottom, and I do think Miz will retain. Miz has also been on a huge rise (like Del Rio), and for Cena to win at WrestleMania again would stall all that surely, denying Miz his WrestleMania moment. After a lot of confusion, and maybe interference from Alex Riley, Miz will come through and retain his title. I think this will close the show, not only because Rocky’s involvement is part of the marquee, and because Miz’s win will be shocking in many ways, but because I also see Cena turning heel. After losing the match, a furious Cena would attack Rock from behind and would later blame his loss on relying on his useless fans while Miz went all out to win the match using underhanded tactics. If that’s not shocking enough to cause a heel-turn, then maybe Cena will need to win the title in an underhanded, heelish way, while also attacking the Rock from behind after the match. Whatever happens, I think what happens at WrestleMania will only continue the feud between these three. Indeed, The Rock is said to be very open to wrestling again, and that could lead to him sticking around until Summerslam, or even WrestleMania XXVIII in his hometown of Miami. With all these variables, nothing is predictable with this match, but i’m going to stick with The Miz for this match, simply for the reason that it seems important to his rise to being undisputed top heel.

Winner: The Miz

Again, the idea that Cena will turn heel is perhaps wishful thinking, but this is one of the most timely opportunities for it to happen since Cena was forced in to the Nexus. Though that is desirable, even without it, this promises to be an excellent WrestleMania. Even the relief match should be good, while every other match has interesting or compelling reasons to watch them. The final two matches hold the most interest for me, but every match here could be satisfying and fantastic.

Hell in a Cell Preview and Predictions, 2010

Hell in a Cell (3/10/2010) from the American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas

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I’m pretty sure a two week build-up to a PPV is pretty unprecedented in it’s shortness, and a lot of people have been critical of this, including me. While I definitely about what will happen on Sunday, it hasn’t had enough time to distinguish itself as an event yet. Luckily, the feuds that will be on show are all solid, and if it’s anything like Night of Champions, it will be very good. I maintain that Hell in a Cell is one of the worst ideas in terms of gimmick PPVs as it will seriously detract from the aura around the match. The booking of a Hell in a Cell match is no longer because a feud dictates it, but because the PPV schedule dictates it, and that’s a shame. For instance, I like the chemistry Sheamus and Orton have together, but they’re nowhere near the heat required for a HIAC match … I would much prefer the idea if there was only one HIAC match, especially here as it is very apt booking for Kane vs Undertaker!

1) Hell in a Cell Match for the WWE Championship: Randy Orton (c) vs Sheamus
I think this is one of the more predictable matches on the card as Orton only won the championship two weeks ago, and hense the reason I think it’ll be first out. I have no doubt that both Sheamus and Orton will get pretty dark and have a decent HIAC match, but with no title changing hands, I think they’ll be holding back in stipulation terms for the second match (another problem with this sort of gimmick PPV). Since roughly Summerslam there have been speculating on Triple H’s return. Now I don’t know his exact health status, but I know he’s at least nearing a return, and I think now would be a good time for him to make it. Him somehow making his return and costing Sheamus the title (be it physically or not) would set up a hot feud between those two and help Orton move on to a new challenger. Also, while i’m sure this match will be pretty good, I also think it will be forgotten under some of the other matches, so a HHH appearance would allow it some headline-grabbing of it’s own.

Winner: Randy Orton

2) Intercontinental Championship Match: Dolph Ziggler (c) vs MVP (?)
This match is not booked yet, but after their attempt at a championship match on Smackdown and bearing in mind that the card is a little light, I expect at least one match to be added to the card – this being the most likely. These two, if booked together, will no-doubt put on a very good match, and while I think MVP would make a great IC champ, I can’t see him quite doing it this time. I think Ziggler has one or two further defences to achieve before he drops the belt, so, no doubt with some help from Vickie Guerrero, I think he’ll go over here.

Winner: Dolph Ziggler

3) Unified Divas Championship Match: Michelle McCool (c) vs Natalya
Now, I have no idea why Michelle is defending the championship again. I’d have thought this whole co-champion thing would mean Layla and Michelle would be swapping duties. That would certainly make it more interesting. It appears however that it is booked this way, though I hope for, and wouldn’t be surprised to see Layla bringing it up and actually wrestling the match for LayCool. This is a relatively difficult one to predict. On the one hand, Natalya is clearly an excellent wrestler with a lot of momentum that would make an excellent champion, not to mention that her getting gold may further catalyse the tension between the two Hart Dynasty boys. On the other hand, while LayCool have long been champions, they have only just become Unified Divas Champions, which might point to a retention. If this one gets ten or so minutes, it’ll be a very good match, and I think that LayCool have to sneak this one – though hopefully this gives Nattie a rub that will lead her eventually to the title!

Winner: Michelle McCool/Layla

4) Submissions Count Anywhere Match for the United States Championship: Daniel Bryan (c) vs John Morrison vs The Miz
I remember at last year’s underrated Breaking Point PPV really enjoying the submissions count anywhere match, so i’m looking forward to this version with a bona fide submission specialist taking part. This is another predictable one, with Daniel Bryan no doubt retaining his title here by making Morrison tap (so as to save Miz from looking weak). I actually think this could be the start of a Morrison heel-turn. After Bryan beats Morrison, Morrison tells him ‘I know I can beat you’ and sets up a one-on-one match which he will lose, driving him over the edge etc etc. By that time, Joey Mercury’s hair might have grown back enough to allow the much rumoured return of MNM …

Winner: Daniel Bryan

5) Tag Team Championship Match: Drew Mcintyre & Cody Rhodes (c) vs The Hart Dynasty (?)
Now i’m sure we’re all sick of seeing these two teams go at it by now, and this match is a lot less sure to happen than the IC match is, but I think if they have time to fill, this will be the match that is booked. I think this because I think it will be a way to get the future stars of Drew and Cody on PPV while providing the straw to break The Hart Dynasty’s back, so to speak. Basically, they lose again and start blaming each other and then beating on each other, setting up a small programme between Tyson Kidd and DH Smith. If that does happen, though the programme itself will be good, I wonder what will happen to them afterwards? Remember Cryme Tyme? What i’m saying is their tension is too insular at the moment, and to be successful, they will have to branch out. Anyway the champs will retain, and I imagine relatively quickly to further show that the team is no longer ‘working’.

Winners: Drew McIntyre & Cody Rhodes

6) John Cena vs Wade Barrett
First of all, I would like to speculate that this match may also be in a Hell in a Cell. I wouldn’t want it to be, but there were three last year, and with Nexus already banned from involvement, it would be a natural way to ensure that they didn’t interfere. Now, I hold my hands up to saying – relatively recently – that I was 95% sure Cena will be going over on Sunday. However, ever since writing that, that percentage has been decreasing and decreasing. A lot of IWC hype, though to be taken with a pinch of salt, is suggesting that a much-needed Cena heel turn is being seriously discussed and that Nexus have more time on the clock – both assertions would of course suggest a Barrett win. Personally, i’ve noticed that Nexus are again being treated as a genuine and germ-like threat to the WWE, and have been somewhat rejuvenated. So my instinct is telling me that Nexus may well not be ‘done’. So , while it just be that WWE have done a great job of making an obvious result much more surprising, i’ve come down to being about 50/50 on this prediction. If forced to choose, I think (perhaps driven by the heart) i’m going to predict a Barrett win. Now, there are a few scenarios to discuss. 1) and the one i’d most like to see would be a 3rd man style swerve in which, rather than having a match, Cena just lay down for Barrett and joined Nexus of his own free will. That would send tremors through the wrestling world for sure. 2) Is some kind of Nexus involvement. Now I know they’re banned from interfering on pain of suspension, but the impact of that depends on interpretations of the word ‘interfere’. Perhaps they’re just not allowed to attack Cena, in which case they could distract him enough to cost him the match. 3) Is that Barrett wins clean, which would be huge in it’s own right. Pick your poison. If Cena wins it will be a disappointment, but at least WWE will have done a ood job of making it interesting.

Winner: Wade Barrett

7) Hell in a Cell Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: Kane (c) vs The Undertaker w/ Paul Bearer
This match will undoubtedly steal the show in my view. It’s a perfect storm of compelling narrative, fluent nostalgia and timely booking. These two wrestlers, and this storyline, are perfect for this match, and I hope and think that they will both leave it all in the ring. This one has the makings of a genuine classic, despite the predictable outcome. I think there will be at leat one more match (specifically, a Buried Alive match) between these two, and a Kane win would leave the Undertaker (and the storyline) with nowhere to go. These veterans could put on a match for the ages which Undertaker will win, reclaiming his ‘holy grail’ and necessitating a statutory re-match for Kane. I wouldn’t even be surprised, if one of them got busted open towards the end of the match, to see some untreated blood. Who’s going to stop the Undertaker when he’s about to ‘go home’!? I wouldn’t want to try. I can see this one running to Survivor Series, though i’ll leave speculation about that off the page for now at least.

Winner: The Undertaker

RAW Recall (30/08/2010): 900 and Counting

Some of RAW's top stars over the years: (from left to right) The Rock, HBK, John Cena, Y2J, and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin

Before I get on with review proper, I would like to state an obvious fact. It is a remarkable feat for any show to reach 900 episodes, and as the WWE kept on emphasising, that is a huge number (bigger than other juggernauts like The Simpsons or Friends etc), and is a testament to what is usually a high quality show and it’s place as a pop-culture juggernaut.

Despite all this, I doubt there were many that were satisfied by this show, both as a 900th anniversary, and as an episode of RAW generally.

The show started out appropriately enough, with Bret Hart cutting a nice promo about the history of RAW and how he and The Undertaker are the only remaining superstars to appear on the first ever episode. He was about to suggest a match with the Deadman when Kane inserted himself in to the situation, and cut another very good promo himself. He made an interesting point about wanting to replicate and even top his brother, and as ‘Taker retired Shawn Michaels, he wanted to take out Bret. At this point, Undertaker showed up from under his dark light, looking stronger than in previous weeks, leading the anonymous GM eventually booking the match between Taker and Bret. As booking goes, that was good for the nostalgia element. This would have been the perfect segment for HBK to make an appearance of some sorts, obviously not in a wrestling role, but perhaps as a special referee, given his history with both guys and the fact that he was aslo on the first episode of RAW. Him not being there wasn’t terrible, but it would have been a great addition to the show.

The first match was one of two decent matches throughout the show, and was another example of good booking. It was a triple-threat tag team match pitting the current NXT finalists, Michael McGillicutty, Alex Riley and Kaval, and their pros, against each other (apart from Kaval, who tagged with Daniel Bryan, which makes sense because he could hardly tag with both of his pros, while Bryan would get to share a ring with Miz). It could have done with more time, but it was a decent match. I like that there were three competitors in the ring at any time (rather than there being two and either competitor could tag anyone in), and that each finalist got to show off some on RAW. Afterwards, Miz again assaulted Bryan, further fuelling their rivalry. The only thing I don’t understand is why they US title match at Night of Champions hasn’t been announced yet. They easily could have announced it and started a more specific build-up by now.

The next match and segment may have been my least favourite. It was a divas tag match between LayCool and Melina & Eve Torres. It would have been nice to have seen a match of decent length given that LayCool were visiting RAW, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. We got about a minute of a match in which neither Michelle McCool and Eve Torres didn’t even feature. That was bad enough, but then we had the revelation that the two women’s championships will be unified at Night of Champions. In theory, this may be a decent idea, focusing the lost division. That will only be the case if the champion is obligated to appear on both shows. Unfortunately, I worry that it will be more like the Hart Dynasty currently – only really appearing on RAW. If that is the case, then it will leave one show with a divas division without a credible focus. I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, but if it turns out like I predict, it will be a step in the wrong direction.

Next up was another unsatisfying match, ostensibly to find new #1 contenders to the tag team championships. The match saw Truth & Morrison take on the new team of Cody Rhodes & Drew McIntyre. After another minute, this match had been thrown out. It was even unclear what was hapenning regarding the tag team championships. Lawler suggested that neither team would become #1 contenders, but if that was the case then the whole match would have been completely pointless and unsatisfying.

Then we had the Taker vs Bret match. That match didn’t take place either, after Nexus interfered and beat down Undertaker. There was some interest here as Kane and the Undertaker seemed to battle for control of ‘dark forces,’ with each controlling the lights at different points, eventually coming off best and distracting enough to have Nexus gain the upperhand on Taker and lay waste to him. Perhaps it was a little comic book, but I liked the representation of them battling for prominance. I doubt it is actually the case, but perhaps Kane could be a ‘higher power’ controlling the Nexus? Despite my liking that, it was shame to have one of the most hyped matches of the night effectively not take place.

Jack Swagger then took on Evan Bourne in a decent enough match. The story of it though, was Alberto Del Rio inserting himself in to the match, interrupting with his entire entrance while not caring about the match. Eventually, Swagger went over with his ankle lock. Good for him, but not that encouraging for Bourne. Del Rio then took over, saying he wanted to replay his attack on Rey Mysterio for the RAW fans. This was all pretty good, and was a good way to get Del Rio some air time on RAW. I actually think he would suit the show well. He was scuppered by Mark Henry, but he exited looking his usual egoistic dislikeable self and got over well as a heel.

CM Punk came out next with the Straight-Edge Society (minus Serena of course) and cut a fantastic promo which really acknowledged the nostalgia of the night and saying that he is better than The Rock. He was talking about how RAW was a sickening show which didn’t promote family values (a pretty funny point given the move to PG!) citing things like the infamous Katie Vick angle, and the beer-swilling “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. In a brilliant moment, he teased that Austin would again be making an electrifying entrance with a beer hose, only to reveal that he had tricked the audience! Great stuff. Eventually Big Show came out and confronted them, eventually sending them skulking off. The Stone Cold revealed one of the big problems of this show. Stone Cold wasn’t there, and neither was The Rock, HBK, or J.R. I realise they may not have been able to get Stone Cold, Rock or HBK, but they could at least have had J.R. call the main event! The show really missed that kind of appearance.

The main event saw the match I suggested booking for the ‘go home’ show: Nexus against Sheamus, Edge, Randy Orton, John Cena and Chris Jericho. Speaking of Jericho, he asserted earlier in the night that if he doesn not win the WWE Championship at Night of Champions, he will be ‘gone’ from WWE. This means one of three things: either Jericho will be winning the WWE Championship, Jericho will be taking time off, or Jericho will be retiring. I think the most realistic option is that he’s taking some time off, which is understandable. As long as isn’t retiring yet, that’s fine! This match was the other decent match of the night (i.e. not interrupted or something else of the sort). What was good about this match was how good the Nexus guys were made to look. Heath Slater pinned Sheamus, Justin Gabriel pinned Cena and Barrett pinned Orton for the win, making him look particularly strong seen as how strong Orton has been made to look recently. This was good build-up for the WWE Championship match at Night of Champions, and as I say a good match, but not enough to save the quality of the show. Having written this, I feel my initial reaction to the show may have been too harsh. After all, the show started well, had a good segment in the middle with Punk and ended well, but the rest was pretty horrible.