The PCHA Wrestlemania XXX Preview

Thank you, C.M. Punk.

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Wrestlemania XXX is arguably the most important event for the WWE since Wrestlemania III. It has a big round number, and the WWE loves to play up round numbers. The company recently launched the WWE Network, the much-discussed online streaming and on-demand subscription channel that will air all future pay-per-views, original programming, and an insane amount of material from the vault. WWE’s stock price has tripled in the last 18 months on the back of plans for the network, and Wrestlemania is the first big test for the new business model.

Will the network be able to make up for the lost revenue from people buying pay-per-views from cable and satellite services? Will the technology hold up, or will high demand cause a whole lot of fans to miss some or all of the event? Is the Network the future of content or Vince McMahon’s next XFL? This Sunday will go a long way to answering these questions.

Additionally, the roster of talent is at a pivotal point right now. Several youngish wrestlers seem on the verge of breaking out of developmental cocoons and turning into major long-term stars (Daniel Bryan, Roman Reigns, Cesaro, Bray Wyatt). But the old guard has been around forever and grown predictably stale — how many John Cena/Randy Orton matches must we endure? Cena has had a longer run at the top of the company and the industry than anyone since Bruno Sammartino in the ’60s and ’70s — even Hulk Hogan didn’t last this long as the #1 dude.

McMahon and the WWE braintrust seem reluctant to hand the reins over to the new breed though — they don’t believe in small or unproven wrestlers enough to replace Cena as the guy handling Make-a-Wish duties and radio talk show appearances. The time is ripe to let Bryan, Wyatt and the others break through, but the suits are dragging their feet, fearful for what a mistake would do for profits. In the meantime, the entertainment value of the product suffers as a lack of long-term planning and fickle decision-making affect what goes on TV.

So from both a business and creative standpoint, Wrestlemania XXX is a watershed moment for the only company that really matters anymore in pro wrestling.

And it was almost a disaster.

(It still might be, but we’ll get to that.)

Had C.M. Punk not suddenly abandoned the WWE two months before Wrestlemania, the card for this marquee event might have been legitimately terrible. Plans were apparently in place for this lineup to constitute the top of the card:

  • Randy Orton v. Batista
  • Undertaker v. Brock Lesnar
  • C.M. Punk v. Triple H
  • John Cena v. Bray Wyatt
  • Daniel Bryan v. Sheamus

The Cena and Undertaker matches are still happening, as is. Thanks to Punk’s absence, Bryan will now wrestle Triple H, with the winner to be added to the Orton/Batista championship match. The original plan might have led to legitimate riots at the Superdome — fans have loathed Batista (who was a major star during a very dark age for the WWE in the mid-Aughts) since he returned in January as an out-of-shape, cocky buffoon who we were nevertheless told to embrace. So the championship match at Wrestlemania XXX stood a good chance of getting booed out of the building.

Bryan v. Sheamus would be a slap in the face to fans as well — fans who have demanded for months that Bryan is “their guy.” Sheamus (a hulking Irish cartoon of a wrestler) famously squashed Bryan in 18 seconds at a previous Wrestlemania, so booking this match with no stakes would have been a message to fans that Bryan has not risen at all in stature in the last two years — when in reality, he has main-evented five pay-per-views in the last seven months.

Punk’s departure forced the WWE to scramble and change the card. While the loss of Punk — arguably the best combination of talker and wrestler in the company — hurts, his leaving had a net positive effect on Mania.

So thank you, C.M. Punk.

Now, the card still doesn’t resemble anything of the quality you’d expect for a major, ten-year-milestone Wrestlemania. It’s incredibly shallow, but that reflects how underdeveloped most of the wrestlers on the roster are right now. Outside of the top 10 or so guys, there’s very little interest in anyone else. So WWE’s solution was to throw all those undercard guys into a 30-man battle royal, rather than take the time to build interest in several different matches made up of talent from among that group.

The WM XXX could easily could have looked something like this:

  • Orton v. the HHH/Bryan winner
  • Triple H v. Bryan
  • Undertaker v. Lesnar
  • Cena v. Batista
  • The Shield v. The Wyatts (a continuation of the best faction v. faction feud in recent memory)
  • Big E Langston v. Dolph Ziggler (Intercontinental title match)
  • Cody Rhodes v. Goldust (which could have been a spiritual successor to the Bret Hart v. Owen Hart brother v. brother match at WM X)
  • The Usos v. The Real Americans (tag team titles)
  • Sheamus v. Alberto Del Rio v. Damien Sandow (winner gets first shot at the IC title)

Instead, we have what we have. It could have been much, much worse. But it also could have been much, much better.

So let’s break down the card

Pre-Show WWE Tag Title match: The Usos vs. Ryback &  Curtis Axel vs. Real Americans (Jack Swagger & Cesaro) vs. Los Matadores

The story here is the Real Americans. Los Matadores are a joke (literally), Rybaxel have zero momentum (and only a modicum of ability), and the Usos are fine if unimaginative tag champions.

The Real Americans, though, have been teasing tension and a possible break-up for months, feature rising stud Cesaro, and the underrated Jack Swagger. Either on their own would make compelling singles wrestlers. Together, with Tea Party rascal Zeb Colter as manager, they’re fascinating. It seems unlikely they’ll win the titles, given their probable pending breakup.

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This match is likely to be chaotic, with Michael Cole screeching about the carnage in and out of the ring. It’s also likely to not be very good, because out of 8 wrestlers and a tiny bull midget, there are really only two or three guys who can wrestle.

Get ready for: Colter’s racist sign about the Usos and Los Matadores
At stake:
The tag titles, recently rendered meaningless by the New Age Outlaws
Should win:
Real Americans — a break-up would be even more meaningful if the tag belts were involved
Will win: Usos

Divas Title match: A.J. Lee defending against Tamina Snuka, Naomi, Cameron, Brie Bella, Nikki Bella, Natalya, Eva Marie, Emma, Aksana, Alicia Fox, Summer Rae, Rosa Mendes, and Layla

Ugh. There are actually a couple interesting female wrestlers right now (A.J., Emma, Summer Rae), but because Total Divas on E! is a thing, everyone has to be involved, meaning this match is going to be a complete clusterfuck.

Get ready for: Jerry Lawler’s jokes about boobies.
At stake:

Should win:
A.J.
Will win: A.J. Always bet on the champ when there’s not one challenger who really stands out in a multi-person title match.

Andre the Giant Memorial 30-man Battle Royal

Poor Andre’s ghost.

Andre

Of the 27 entrants announced for the match, at least 16 are absolute jobbers with no chance to win and nothing to contribute. Plus, battles royal usually suck as matches. The Royal Rumble succeeds because everyone isn’t in the ring at once, allowing for compelling one-on-one action throughout the match. Battles royal are just a jumble of bodies with little movement and less story. See

Get ready for: some light shoving!
At stake: A medium push for the winner, probably. A giant trophy getting broken over someone’s head, definitely.
Should win: Assuming none of the three unannounced entrants are noteworthy, Dolph Ziggler could benefit most from the exposure of a win.
Will win: A good guy has to win the first-ever Andre the Giant memorial battle royal, right? That leaves Big Show, Sheamus, Big E, and maybe Ziggler with a chance. My money’s on Big Show.

Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H (winner gets added to title match)

OK, here we go. The matches that actually matter.

If the WWE’s plan since the middle of last year had been, “Let’s do a slow build with Daniel Bryan. Have him get screwed at every opportunity until fans are thirsting for the Authority’s blood. Make it look like we’re going to bury him for real, only to have him overcome the odds and win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the biggest show of the year in amazing fashion,” — well, that would have been awesome. But that wasn’t their plan. Their plan was, “Throw Bryan in some main events until Cena gets healthy and Batista arrives, and then push him back down to the mid-card where he belongs.”

This match, which could be wonderful, is an accident of history. McMahon and Triple H never dreamed that Bryan would get over as much as he has. So thanks to a genuine uprising, and the good timing of Punk, Wrestlemania XXX belongs to Daniel Bryan. He’ll almost definitely wrestle two matches — one for the title and the other against one of the all-time great stars, who is doing the best work of his career on the microphone right now.

Every time Triple H calls Daniel Bryan a “B+ player,” every time the word “tweet” rolls off his tongue like yesterday’s garbage, every time he trolls fans, every time Stephanie McMahon (also doing the best work of her career) sarcastically does the Yes! chant, I get a little closer to being able to die happy. The Bryan/HHH feud had by far the best build of any feud leading into Mania, which is problematic for the card as a whole given that the match wasn’t even supposed to happen.

Get ready for: so many sledgehammers
At stake: A title shot! The safety of residents of New Orleans!
Should win: Bryan, cleanly
Will win: I’m scared, guys. There’s too much potential for both Bryan and Triple H to be added to the title match for WWE to resist. So I think Wrestlemania host Hulk Hogan gets involved, brother, after some screwy ref-bump kind of finish, and says, “Whatcha gonna doooooo….when Hulkamania runs wild on you and adds both of these guys to the main event?!” He might even add himself, just to be safe.

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt

Like every good wrestling fan over the age of 8, I hate John Cena. But I actually think this is going to be a great match. Cena seems more engaged in this feud than most, he’s shown he’s capable of putting on excellent matches, and I think his style will mesh well with Bray’s.

Wyatt is a throwback to WWF villains of the late ’80s. He’s Jake Roberts. He’s Rick Rude. He’s Mr. Perfect. He’s a character, not a gimmick. (John Cena, on the other hand, is indecipherable from his Brawlin’ Buddy depiction.)

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Wyatt’s inhabiting his persona so completely that I wouldn’t be surprised to read that the real-life Windham Rotunda has moved to a cabin in the woods, studying tapes of Ben on Lost and making his own moonshine. He’s dope on the floor and he’s magic on the mic. He and his clan have a great theme song. If I had any faith in a clean finish, or for Cena to show genuine vulnerability, I’d say this match has show-stealing potential.

Get ready for: Jorts. Also, for Cena to make this face at least one time:

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At stake: John Cena’s legacy, for some reason? More realistically, Wyatt’s prominence over the next couple years.
Should win: Wyatt, cleanly
Will win: Wyatt, forever unclean. The only reason I’m picking Bray to get the win is because I’m having trouble seeing where the heel victories are coming from on this show, unless the unthinkable happens in the main event.

The Shield vs. Kane and the New Age Outlaws

See, here’s why people don’t trust Triple H. The Outlaws, his old pals from the Attitude Era, are 15 years past their primes and weren’t much more than a collection of catchphrases in the first place. When they re-appeared to win the tag belts out of nowhere a couple months ago, people naively assumed that it would play into the storyline of Triple H on a power trip, pushing his buddies to the top — and that they’d soon disappear from whence they came.

Yet here they are, getting a major match at Wrestlemania XXX, while rising stars like Cesaro and Cody Rhodes, or underutilized players like Ziggler and Sandow are tossed on the pre-show or a time-wasting battle royal. Triple H’s favoritism and abuses of power are real, and that’s why everybody is scared for Daniel Bryan.

The Shield deserved better than this — they’re the single best thing going right now, and they should be in the ring with people who can keep up with them. Their arguments about camels and llamas are more compelling than anything Kane has ever done in his life.

I would rather watch The Shield staring at a llama in a zoo than watch this match.

Roman Reigns's Big Day at the Zoo

Get ready for: A goddamn Superman punch that Kane is unable to adequately bump for
At stake: When, how and if the Shield are going to break up
Should win: Shield
Will win: Shield, unless that break-up begins again Sunday night

Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar

BRRRRRRRROCK LESNAR! THE BEAST INCARNATE! EAT. SLEEP. CONQUER. REPEAT.

Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Only the most uninformed of fans would ever have thought that part-timer Lesnar had any chance of ending Taker’s 21-0 Wrestlemania streak. If the streak ever does end, it’s going to be historic. It’s going to be done by a new golden boy. (It’s going to be done by John Cena.)

In terms of reality, Lesnar presents the smallest threat to the streak of anyone since Mark Henry at Wrestlemania XXII. In terms of story, Lesnar should have posed a legitimate danger to Taker. He’s a former UFC champion, former WWE champion, and real-life monster who is a terrifying presence. But as with much of the Mania build-up, WWE has botched this match. Taker has dominated the feud, which is the exact wrong thing to show.

Yes, it was awesome when Undertaker signed the contract for the match by stabbing Lesnar through the hand. Yes, Paul Heyman has done yeoman’s work making it seem like Lesnar has a chance, and this is a historic confrontation. But to plant even a seed of doubt in the audience’s minds that Taker would win, we should have seen Lesnar destroy Taker at every opportunity. He shouldn’t be scared of the usual casket-and-rest-in-peace mind games. He should have injured Taker in a pre-match brawl, so it seemed like a near-certainty that Taker would finally lose.

Instead, the streak marches on until next year. Ho hum.

Get ready for: Lesnar acting scared and surprised when Taker sits up after an F5, even though that is what the Undertaker has done in every single match he has ever wrestled.
At stake: Taker’s continued ability to put on entertaining matches despite his advancing age, injury history, and a seeming poor fit of an opponent
Should win: Taker
Will win: Taker

Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Winner of the Triple H/Bryan match (for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship)

Daniel Bryan: The most exciting wrestler who exists right now. Amazing in the ring, and good on the mic when the writers actually give him a character to serve and a chance to speak. Unquestionably the most popular guy around right now.

Randy Orton: Has been around forever, but has rescued himself from staleness by doing magnificent work as an alternately cowardly and cocky heel champion. During his 7-month title reign, he’s seemed like he cares for the first time in years. But seven months is long enough.

Batista:

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Old. Out of breath. Lacking charisma. Trouble forming coherent sentences. Dressed like a low-grade Eastern European drug dealer. Batista is an unfriendly reminder of the dark ages of the WWE. He was a top guy strictly because there was no one else. Now, he doesn’t belong. He’s back because he has movies to promote and Vince McMahon can never resist the golden allure of Hollywood. He shouldn’t be here.

Bryan recently told Rolling Stone:

“Brie and I would like a simple organic farm that’s not farming to sell stuff, but just to be self-sufficient,” Bryan said, adding that he feels it’s important because “you never know what the world’s gonna be like.”

That guy could be the next WWE champion. Or, you know, it could be the steroid freak who can’t wrestle but is appearing in a Chris Pratt movie this summer. Either way.

This match can either be the triumphant culmination of a months-long underdog story, or a blue-ball, stumbling ending of a mediocre Wrestlemania season.

I’m so excited. I’m so excited. I’m so…scared.

Get ready for: Bryan and Orton kicking the shit out of each other while Batista rests on the outside of the ring
At stake: Everything
Should win: YES! YES! YES! YES! YES
Will win: Fuck if I know.

Scenario A: Bryan gets the clean win over Triple H or Orton. All is right with the world. (the right thing to do)

Scenario B: C.M. Punk returns, attacks Bryan, costs him the belt, turns heel, and begins a feud with Bryan so McMahon can keep his promise to put the belt on Batista. (intriguing, but ultimately wrong)

Scenario C: Anything else (disastrous)

Bryan wins or we riot. Right, guys?

Your Wrestlemania XXX Drinking Game

Drink if/when:

  • JBL calls Michael Cole “Maggle”
  • The announcers belittle someone they should be building up
  • Cesaro does the Giant Swing on El Torito
  • A minor celebrity is shown in the crowd
  • Ryback taunts Twitter fans through pantomime
  • Christian looks like the Yellow King
  • Rey Mysterio makes someone lie awkwardly on the ropes while he does his 45-second preparation routine for a move that doesn’t look like it hurts at all
  • The words “Cena” and “legacy” appear in the same sentence
  • Bray Wyatt says, “New Orleans…we’re here.”
  • Cena kicks out of the Sister Abigail
  • ¬†Punk shows up (chug)
  • Hulk Hogan looks more like The Huckster than The Hulkster
  • Hogan needlessly inserts himself into the action
  • A Shield member turns on his teammates
  • Dean Ambrose ineffectually throws a piece of clothing at someone/something
  • There’s a reference to “Director of Operations Kane”
  • Stone Cold Steve Austin shows up
  • Someone gets put through the announce table
  • Undertaker sits up
  • The Streak Ends (drink everything in the house, immediately, for reals. Then shoot some heroin)
  • Batista botches a movie
  • Stephanie McMahon interferes in a match
  • Vince McMahon interferes in a match (chug)
  • Daniel Bryan wins the title (scream out your window, climb on your furniture, hug your children, and chug)

 

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