One could make a fair argument that, in retrospect, the last two WrestleManias were merely prologue to this year’s event.
2011 saw The Rock “guest host” WrestleMania, eventually (and inevitably) involving himself in the main event match between The Miz and John Cena. That led to WrestleMania 28, where The Rock and John Cena met in a non-title “(Not-so-)Once in a Lifetime” match, won by The Rock. That, in turn, took us to this year, wherein The Rock and Cena defy all logic by going head-to-head again, this time with the newly-minted WWE Championship
Ring on the line.
Will we get a classic, thoroughly memorable WrestleMania? Or will this year’s Showcase of the Immortals in
New York / New Jersey merely provide even more foreplay in the ramp-up to the thirtieth edition of the event twelve months from now?
Let’s find out.
Sidebar #1: Before I dive into the card, however, I want to throw out a quick plug for a fun show that’s taking place tonight at The Creek and the Cave on Long Island, NY, at 9:30 p.m.. I’ve been informed that said venue has neither (1) a creek, nor (2) a cave, but don’t let that deter you. The show, entitled “Cupcake Carnage,” is a comedy wrestling event in the spirit of WrestleMania week, written and performed by a multi-faceted production company called Cupcake Lady Productions (with help with some friends in the NYC comedy scene and elsewhere). Longtime readers of the blog may recall Stephanie Sottile and Billy Beyrer from my own New York adventure in 2011, and they’ll both be involved in the show, with Stephanie being one of the aforementioned Cupcake Ladies. The show is a mere $5 (with cupcakes on sale for $1 each) and would be a bargain at twice the price. For more details on the show, please go here. If you’re within range, I strongly encourage you to attend.
Now, for WrestleMania. I should preface this rundown with the proviso that I don’t read “dirt sheets.” So, don’t expect any spoilers below, in the sense that all of this is my own intuitive speculation, fueled by nothing more than years of watching the occasionally-compelling, televised Mad-Lib known as professional wrestling. On the flip side, if, say, someone’s contract is up as of April 8, I don’t know about that, either. Hence, why I may foolishly predict that person will win.
Otherwise, I expect to be spot-on. Let’s begin!
WADE BARRETT (C) vs. THE MIZ – Intercontinental Championship
What Should Happen: I like the Miz. I really do. But the Miz as a face is an ineffectual, bland failure. Wade Barrett should have been World Champion by now, but an ill-timed and lengthy elbow injury derailed a lot of his momentum. Unless WWE has plans to elevate Barrett further and get him back into that world title picture, his dropping the belt to a weak character whose low-budget film debut already seems a distant memory would be a mistake.
What Will Happen: As I said above, Barrett losing would make sense if it meant he would be reintroduced into the world title picture. They already have at least three or four guys who should themselves be in that mix, but who are just treading water. Barrett wins (and stays put).
CHRIS JERICHO vs. FANDANGO
What Should Happen: Jericho does what he does best and makes someone else look like a million bucks. Ultimately, though, Jericho wins after a Code Breaker. Post-match, when prompted by a defeated, winded Fandango what Fandango’s name is, Jericho matter-of-factly says “Johnny Curtis” and leaves. It would be slightly ridiculous to have a guy who hasn’t officially wrestled a match, and who has pummeled Jericho twice in as many weeks, to beat a future Hall of Famer at WrestleMania. Unfortunately “ridiculous” and “impossible” aren’t one and the same. I’m a big Jericho fan, admittedly, but he needs to go over. Fandango can beat Jericho later if need be.
What Will Happen: All signs point to a Jericho victory, but the fact that Fandango is debuting at WrestleMania injects a bit of unpredictability. That, coupled with the fact that Chris Jericho is more willing to job for young talent than any other upper-tier guy . . . has me a little worried. Y2J is a glorified part-timer, after all. Still, they wouldn’t have a heel beat the crap out of a multi-time world champion face for weeks and then win at WrestleMania, would they? Would they?!? Jericho gets the victory. I think.
TONS OF FUNK AND THE FUNKADACTYLS vs. TEAM RHODES SCHOLARS AND THE BELLA TWINS
What Should Happen: Both sides get to do their pre-match schtick. Everyone hurriedly runs through their signature moves (remember, there are eight participants), Naomi gets a chance to shine, and Damien Sandow pins Tensai.
What Will Happen: Something close to the above, I think. Considering I’m a huge mark for Sandow, my rooting interests are obvious. However, the fact that the Bellas won on the Raw before WrestleMania gives me pause. Maybe I’m again showing my biases, but I have to believe that WWE realizes that Sandow and Rhodes likely have brighter futures than Tensai and Brodus Clay.
RYBACK vs. MARK HENRY –
What Should Happen: Tests of strength. Insane power moves. Each guy kicks out of the other’s finisher. That thing where they run into each other at full speed, kind of bounce off, and neither one falls down, then they run into each other again. Fun for the whole family. Cole and Lawler let us know early and often that “this one won’t last long.” Personally, I like Henry better, I think he was a great World Champion last year, and I would prefer he wins. But, from an objective business perspective, there’s no question Ryback is over and has a lot to offer. He should probably prevail.
What Will Happen: I think WWE and I are on the same page. They love Ryback and have done a great job pushing him. I’m still not sure he’s WWE Champion material (at least not in this era—maybe they can build a time machine), but you can’t argue with how the WWE has cultivated the erstwhile Skip Sheffield. And you also can’t argue with what the fans want (except in the cases of John Cena and Zack Ryder, apparently). Ryback wins here after a stiff-ish match with a couple of “Holy shit, those guys are strong” moments.
TEAM HELL NO (C) vs. DOLPH ZIGGLER AND “BIG E” LANGSTON – Unified Tag Team Championships
What Should Happen: This is the second bout featuring a wrestler who has never had an official, televised match. That may have happened before at WrestleMania, but, excluding celebrity one-offs, I can’t recall it. And I’m too sleepy to devote twenty minutes to looking it up. Anyway, we should get an impressive display from Langston, similar to Fandango earlier. Except that it will be easier for him to look strong and still be on the losing side, thanks to this being a tag match rather than singles. A. J. will do her attempted distraction thing, and, just when it looks like she’s going to be the downfall of Kane and/or Daniel Bryan, Ziggler gets pinned.
What Will Happen: I’m a fan of all three of the known quantities in this match, and Big E has been fine so far. Under the circumstances, I don’t think a thrown-together tag team is going to win the titles immediately, although it certainly wouldn’t be the first (or fifth) time that’s happened in WWE history. Big E will get the spotlight for a bit, and A. J. may manage to pick the scab on Bryan and Kane’s recently-strong-but-tenuous partnership, but Team Hell No will retain.
SHEAMUS, RANDY ORTON, AND BIG SHOW vs. THE SHIELD
What Should Happen: I’m always quick to give WWE credit when it’s due—The company has learned from the failures of once-promising groups like The Nexus and built The Shield in a way that makes sense both from business and storytelling perspectives. The “brand messaging” has been consistent throughout, the membership of the group hasn’t changed, and The Shield has been made to look strong in a way that doesn’t detract from their opponents. To wit, the idea is that The Shield is a unit stronger than its constituent parts. So strong, in fact, that it can take on “supergroups” that include folks like Ryback or John Cena and still prevail. I see no reason to change that pattern at this particular moment. The booking is easy—Big Show doesn’t really like Sheamus or Orton, and, eventually, his team turns on one another while the Shield remains cohesive. There are a million angles post-WM that could spin off of that implosion. By contrast, a loss by The Shield would probably doom them to the same decline that killed off The Nexus, The New Nexus, The Corre, The Straight-Edge Society, etc. Eventually, the members of The Shield will need to break apart to begin singles runs (especially Ambrose, who is creepy in the most compelling way possible and would be an insanely good foil for someone like John Cena or Ryback). For now, though, I don’t think their momentum has crested quite yet.
What Will Happen: Even with all of that as background, I’m not entirely sure the WWE wants The Shield to go over yet another “super team.” I think they will, only because the booking seems so obvious. I’m going to go ahead and trust the WWE to do the right thing and have Ambrose, Reigns, and Rollins win after the face team collapses. In a swerve, maybe Orton and Sheamus will be the ones to crack under pressure and fight one another while Big Show attempts to play the unlikely role of peace-maker. I don’t think that one of the three will reveal himself to be a new member of the Shield, or anything of that nature. I’m very optimistic that booking will stay in the 90s where it belongs. The Shield wins.
ALBERTO DEL RIO (C) vs. JACK SWAGGER – World Heavyweight Championship
What Should Happen: Swagger, who has reinvented himself as an anti-immigrant heel (with a huge assist from Dutch Mantel / Zeb Colter), has done just about every heelish thing in the Big Book of Heelish Behavior (note: not a real book). This includes breaking the ankle of Del Rio’s ring announcer and “best friend” Ricardo Rodriguez, and leaving some nasty welts on Del Rio’s back after a crutch attack last Monday. In theory, we’re all supposed to be rooting for Del Rio to kick Swagger’s ass now. That’s what should happen. That brings me to my second sidebar . . .
Sidebar #2: We currently have, as one of the top heels in the WWE, a man who refers to himself in every promo as a “Real American.” This is a guy who criticizes illegal immigrants (sorry, Associated Press!) and foreigners generally. A generation ago, the top face in the WWF (and probably the biggest star in the history of the industry) was a flag-waving, muscle-bound hero who came to the ring accompanied by music literally entitled “Real American.” This was a guy who frequently feuded with foreigners, whether from Iran, Russia, “Japan,” or elsewhere. He would sometimes go so far as to desecrate their respective flags:
The point I’m making is that cranking patriotism up to “11” was considered a good thing in 1987. In 2013, it’s seen as something twisted and lamentable. I’m not sure either one is ideal, but I’ll leave it up to you, dear reader, to figure which is the lesser of two evils, as well as what this development says about our current culture. If you read me frequently, you can probably deduce where I stand on that. Now back to the matches . . .
What Will Happen: I think Del Rio goes over. He has a vicious match with Swagger, Rodriguez lays out Colter at some point, and Del Rio retains the title. This is one of two angles leading up to WrestleMania that seems fairly “old school” in its structure, albeit with a requisite modern twist. Swagger (or, really, Dutch) has done a good job in getting this character over. I dig it. But it’s probably that character’s role to lose at a show like WrestleMania. A case can be made that there’s more to do with this character, and the world title would be a next logical step, but I think the momentum for Del Rio to win outweighs that. Also, there’s a more important reason that Del Rio needs to win, here . . .
ALBERTO DEL RIO (C) vs. DOLPH ZIGGLER – World Heavyweight Championship (Money in the Bank cash-in)
What Should Happen: Maybe this is just wishful thinking from a Ziggler fan like me. I happen to think he’s a big part of the future of the company. Perhaps the biggest part. He’s also been pushed
less differently than any other Money in the Bank winner. The other MITB holders were presented as looming threats who, crucially, were independently dangerous. In other words, they not only had the briefcase in hand, but they also won a lot more often than they lost prior to cashing in—except when, as here, they had a match earlier in the night. That’s what I’m counting on with Ziggler. Taking a loss, then coming back later in the night and winning the title in the wake of a brutal post-bell attack by Swagger. Unfortunately, Ziggler has been jobbing right and left in recent months. That undermines him a little, but not so much that he can’t win Big Gold.
What Will Happen: Either what I just described, or no cash-in, or even a mention of a cash-in. But I don’t know why you would have Ziggler hold the briefcase for this long and not have him cash in at WrestleMania. Ziggler can be the top guy in the whole company at some point. There isn’t anything he can’t do. If he’s ever going to get there, putting him in a high-profile position (like being the first to cash in MITB at WrestleMania) is a must. Ziggler needs to ascend to his place at the elite level of WWE superstars. This could be the moment when he takes that step.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of the WrestleMania preview, wherein Tom tackles the top matches on the card, including what is probably the best angle the WWE has done in several years. In the meantime, don’t forget Cupcake Carnage!