Friends! It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As I write this,wrestling fans from around the world are descending on Miami for the annual celebration of sports entertainment excess known as Wrestlemania XXVIII.
I’ve already wasted a few hours of your time here on PFG examining and evaluating the job the WWE has done in promoting and building interest to the show in the past month and a half, but you might have noticed I haven’t had much to say about it recently. The reason’s simple enough: my interest peaked about three weeks ago, around the time Shawn Michaels was announced as the referee in the Undertaker/HHH match and John Cena scored a verbal knockout on The Rock. At that point, I was actually considering plunking down the coin to order the PPV [something I’ve only done once before, to see my friend D’Arcy hold up a sign informing the world I smelled during Matt Hardy’s entrance at WM 23]. But by the end of the build, culminating in this week’s RAW, I was getting kind of tired; the car was spinning its wheels on a gravel road.
This sort of thing is to be expected: going into the show, especially one with as many high-interest matches as this one, the WWE isn’t going to take any risks with the talent, which would explain why RAW this week featured an extended video package on Taker/HHH and ended with The Rock and John Cena talking at each other again.
But the time for talk is over! Come Sunday we’ll get to see what all the build was for, and if it was worth it. Check my picks and predictions behind the jump.
Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos vs. Beth Pheonix and Eve Torres
On a show like Wrestlemania, when so many of the matches are emotionally charged, you need moments to break up those heavy moments and give the crowd a chance to relax and catch its breath: something like the presenting the Hall of Fame inductees or the Divas match. It’s an important role, and I’ve no doubt the women in this match will work their asses off, but you’d have to search far and wide to find a fan with any emotional investment in this match. It’s the pissbreak match, which is unfortunate for the competitors, since Beth, Kelly and Eve have all worked hard to up their wrestling game in the last year [well, Beth already had that game on lock].
Most fans and critics have questioned the involvement of Menounos, an correspondent on the entertainment news show Extra and contestant on this year’s season of Dancing With the Stars. Online scuttlebutt [OSB] suggests Menounos is a big fan of the business and wanted to get involved, which is great, and gives the WWE a pinch of the mainstream exposure it craves like a crack junkie, but this isn’t a storyline on RAW, this is Wrestlemania: the point is to sell tickets, and Menounos isn’t going to up the buyrate. Her involvement takes a payday away from away from Natalya or one of the other Divas [I’ll explain that later], and brings the overall of quality of the match down. Not worth it, in my opinion.
Should Win: Phoenix/Torres.
Will Win: Kelly/Menounos. Matches like this, the ‘celebrity’ always goes over.
Randy Orton vs. Kane
If there’s one match I’m invested in less that the Divas match, it’s this one. While I respect the work Kane’s put in throughout his career, and appreciate how over Orton is with the crowd, I just don’t care very much about either of these guys as performers. This isn’t even the dreaded ‘X-Pac Heat,’ where you dislike a guy’s work you no matter what he does, this is a step down from that; Orton and Kane can’t get a reaction out of me one way or the other, through no faults of their own. I don’t know how or why this feud started and don’t care how it ends.
Should Win: Randy Orton
Will Win: Randy Orton. Kane, ever the yeoman, will do his duty and take one for the Viper. Randy will do his, ‘I’m insane with rage!’ pushups and win with an RKO. Yahoo.
Team Johnny [Jack Swagger, Drew McIntyre, David Otunga, Mark Henry, Dolph Ziggler and The Miz] vs. Team Teddy [Booker T, The Great Khali, R-Truth, Santino Marella, Kofi Kingston and Zack Ryder] for sole control of both RAW and Smackdown as General Manager.
Also known as ‘The PPV Bonus Match.’ Some business speak: In the WWE, the talent aren’t employees of the company outright, they’re considered independent contractors who ply their trade exclusively for the WWE. They get signed for a base amount, and get cuts of merch sales and bonuses for every pay-per-view appearance: the more successful you become, the more shows you show up on, the more cash you make.
To their credit, the WWE usually uses Wrestlemania to incorporate as much of the talent as possible, to try and give as many of the workers that PPV bonus. This is why you always end up with some sort of giant tag match or lumberjack match or whatever, just to get as many guys as possible on the show [this one’s got flag bearers and mascots and lord knows what else].
Despite being loaded with comedy guys like Santino and Zack Ryder [both of these guys are dangerously close to being past the point of no return regarding fans’ perceptions] the match has the potential for some good mayhem. I think it could exceed expectations, and I hope to see a decent high spot or two from Kofi, some devastating power moves from Mark Henry, and fun chain wrestling from Ziggler and Ryder.
Should Win: Team Johnny
Will Win: Team Johnny. We may have seen it since the days of Austin/McMahon, but it’s always more interesting, and most fans can relate better when a jerk’s in charge.
Cody Rhodes [C] vs. The Big Show, for the Intercontinental Championship
Much as I’m not comfortable with former World Champions competing for the ‘lesser’ belts, I’m pretty impressed with the way this match has come together, with Cody Rhodes pointing out how consistently The Big Show’s been embarrassed on Wrestlemania Weekend, from competing in the Sumo match one year, to getting knocked out by Floyd Mayweather another, to my personal favourite, gladhanding at WWE New York one year he didn’t have a match on the card [Woooooo!]. The video pieces [as always, shouts to the WWE video team] have really helped to build Cody up as a performer, and combined with the boxing glove beatdown he gave Show a couple weeks ago, make him look strong enough to be a viable contender in the match. It’ll be an important night for Rhodes, he’s got the potential in him to be a big player going forward, and this match could be one of the first steps on that path.
Should Win: Cody Rhodes
Will Win: Cody Rhodes. It’ll probably take some sort of heelish chicanery to keep Show looking respectable as a monster, but I think everyone involved in this match sees it as a prime opportunity to take Rhodes up a notch on the totem pole, and Show’s a great worker who has no problem helping to make guys.
Daniel Bryan [C] vs. Sheamus for the World Heavyweight Championship
The match the WWE forgot. With so much focus on the three matches on the top of the card, most fans have stopped thinking about this match, and probably don’t expect much of it. Which is really a travesty considering the work Daniel Bryan’s put in since getting the title. I admit I wasn’t a fan of him always barely weaselling away with the belt because I thought it made him look weak, but the addition of AJ as Bryan’s girlfriend has added an interesting element to his character reminiscent of Randy Savage and Elizabeth when Mach started turning heel in the 80’s [check this blog Bryan wrote on Facebook on how AJ could be a better Diva for some hysterical old fashioned heel heat]. Plus, everyone knows Bryan’s got better wrestling chops than most. I’m sure these guys have no illusions about their place on the card [these two had their match for the US Title bumped to a dark match on last year’s show] and will likely be out to steal the show. They might not be able to do it, but they’re sure to give us something to talk about.
Should Win: Daniel Bryan
Will Win: Sheamus. The narrative might have been buried under everything else at this year’s show, but Sheamus still won the Rumble this year. Much as I’d love to see Bryan scurry away with the title again, he pinned Sheamus clean on RAW this week, so traditional wrassling knowledge looks for the Great White to get his Wrestlemania moment on Sunday.
CM Punk [C] vs. Chris Jericho for the WWE Championship
What a strange turn this match has taken. What originally started as a contest to be best in the world, with Jericho going after Punk for ripping off Y2J, this added attempt at emotional resonance, bringing in the substance abuse of Punk’s family as the origin of his straight-edge lifestyle, it’s all pushed the match off course. When you have two guys with the chops of Jericho/Punk, wanting to be the best is reason enough. As fans, we didn’t need all of this to generate interest in the match. Given Jericho’s frequent appearances via satellite, maybe he wasn’t available to be at RAW for things like run-ins or other heat-getting interference, leaving Punk to take out his aggression on guys like poor Christian [and further bury Capt. Charisma in the process].
It’s like, you had gold, guys. Most fans are expecting this to be the wrestling clinic, the Savage/Steamboat of WM28. You don’t need to fix what isn’t broken, just let the boys go.
Should Win: Chris Jericho
Will Win: CM Punk. I love both of these guys, and Punk needs the title more than Jericho does, but I think it could freshen up his character if he chased Jericho for awhile. That said, Jericho doesn’t seem as invested in this run as he has in years past. He’s probably going to have a busy summer, touring with his band and whatnot, so it makes more business sense to keep the belt on Punk, work this feud when they can.
The Undertaker vs. Triple H, Hell in A Cell. Shawn Michaels as Special Referee.
Let me not waste your time with recapping the story of this match, just watch this incredible video the WWE put together on it.
They do good work, give them that.
From day one, all this ‘End of an Era’ talk would seem to suggest that The Undertaker will retire after this match, his streak intact at a sweet 20-0 at Wrestlemania. Online scuttlebutt would suggest that Taker’s feeling good, and might not be interested in retiring yet, but continuing as a yearly attraction at Mania.
Personally, and I say this as a lifelong mark for Taker, he is my favourite wrestler of all time, but win or lose, I think he should retire after this match. I think they both should, to be honest. It’s too perfect a moment, and I really don’t know where either of them can go from here. What challengers are left for Taker, except for Cena? HHH has been moving into his backstage role more and more in recent years, and his brief feud with Punk last year didn’t do either of them any favours.
Hell, I don’t know what stories there are left for him to tell now. After the two matches with Shawn Michaels, and the war with HHH last year, I have no clue what story they could tell this year, and that’s what excites me the most. I don’t expect Michaels to interfere much in the match, but I’m sure some sort of confusion between him and HHH will lead to Taker winning and laying them both out. The role of the cell remains to be seen: given the PG-friendly nature of the product these days, the match won’t be the bloodbath it probably should be. But the story these three will tell will be better than anything else on the card, please believe it.
Should Win: The Undertaker
Will Win: The Undertaker, although I’m hesitant to predict it. The ‘End of an Era’ tagline makes it seem like HHH will end up putting him down, but if anyone deserves to go out on his feet, if he is in fact retiring, it’s Taker. He’s earned that right.
John Cena vs. The Rock
And here we are, the reason anyone’s tuning in. The build for the match has been uneven, the reasons for it are muddy at best, and keeping them from any sort of physical altercation during the lead-up has been a mistake in my opinion, but when they finally lock up on Sunday, the place is going to explode. It damn well better, after a year of build-up. It’ll be interesting to see how rusty The Rock is after something like seven years. As long as he grabs a headset and commentates the ass whupping he’s giving Cena at the time, I’ll be happy.
The issue at hand on this match is how the finish gets booked: who wins, is it a clean win, interference after the match, that sort of thing. I’ve gone back and forth on what I think should happen with this match, but two days away, there’s only one way I can see it going down.
Should Win: John Cena
Will Win: John Cena. Look, this is not the result I want, by any means. Much as I forgive of Cena, his schoolboy smirk and ‘Rise Above Hate’ thing have totally killed his character to anyone above the age of 9. I would love to see The Rock get the win. But that makes absolutely no sense for the company. When you compare it [and most people have] to Rock-Hogan from ten years ago, many of us expect it to play out the same way. At that time, Rocky was the future of the business with Hogan as the legend. While I don’t think anyone expected the level of fan support Hogan got that night, Rocky was a lock to win the match, because he was the guy carrying the brand. I expect Cena, as the future of the company and the guy carrying the brand, to be as much of a lock over The Rock, the current living legend. But, some are suggesting that The Rock’s been having fun since he’s been back, and they’re looking forward to what he can continue to do. If The Rock’s committed to anything down the line, they could really run with this thing for the next year. Have Rocky win at Mania, Cena at SummerSlam or Survivor Series, then Cena again to break the tie at WM 29. Money to be made, fellas.
Will I be proven right? Will they surprise me? Will I brave a Toronto movie theatre to watch the show live? Check back Monday and I’ll let you know.