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Putting the "Mania" Back in WrestleMania
March 27, 2010

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OOWrestling.com


Sorry this is a day late getting out to you fine folks... I'd intended for it to be included on Friday at the same time I posted Pyro's match-by-match predictionary column, but let's just say typing MY column directly into the bare bones freeware HTML editor I greatly prefer over MS Word's ham-handed bloatware HTML code turned out to be a mistake.
No trusty auto-save. D'oh. And thus was lost 3 hours of work...

After deciding to just hang it up and agree to be pissy for the night, I've gone ahead and done my best to re-constitute this document as best I can this afternoon. Just be forewarned that if you spot me being uncharacteristically brief, or spot me glossing over some sort of interesting observation that you'd usually trust a man of wit and wisdom to make, well... it's only because I already wrote this once.
Writing it a second time isn't exactly the most fun I've had this week. But I'm doing it because, quite frankly, this WrestleMania is worth it, and should be the most fun any of us has had watching wrestling in substantially longer than a week.
Here's my take on things, folks...
WrestleMania 26: The Set-Up
I've mentioned it a few times, but let me make it plain: to me, this is the first WrestleMania in a long time that FEELS like a WrestleMania. I'd go back to 2004 and WM20 to find the last time that a Mania seemed like a truly special once-a-year spectacle heading into the event.
Sure, in the interim, there have been Manias that wound up being perfectly entertaining ways to spend an evening, and there have even been a few memorable Mania moments peppered in along the way. WM22 in 2006 strikes me as the poster child for the "it didn't seem like a whole lot going in, but once all was said and done, that sure was a hell of a lot of fun"... and stuff like Shawn Michaels' last two outings have been truly remarkable, but were "moments" that exceeded expectations and which stood out at least in part because of how weak the supporting cast was.
This year is different... it's "different" in that it's almost exactly the same as how things USED to be, back in the long ago, when wrestling was always fun, and you KNEW it was always gonna get more fun come March. You were gonna see something you didn't get to see on other shows; you were gonna get to see something that you'd been waiting MONTHS (maybe even the better part of a year) for; you were, in simple, gonna get to see annual spectacle that was (and this year, once again IS) WrestleMania.
How'd WWE pull it off? A bunch of different things, and a bit of dumb luck didn't hurt. There's one match that we've been salivating for since July, a situation that WWE fell ass-backwards into due to a fluke injury.
There's another match that we haven't seen since last year, and this time around they built it up perfectly and even raised the stakes, all to make us believe it'll be even better after we've waited 12 months. There's that one match that happens ONLY at WM, and has been a once-a-year Mania Tradition since 2005. And how about the match that'll finally put a capper on a 12 YEARS worth of simmering hatred and animosity? Are you kidding me? When does something like THAT happen? Ever? This year, WWE made it happen.
And while those are the notable highlights, not EVERYthing has to be about the once-a-year special attractions. There are spots on the card that I'm looking forward to just as pretty exceptional cases of sustainable episodic TV and characters who are just hitting their stride and NAILING IT with every appearance they make. Two of the most compelling heels in recent memory are front and center at Mania, and make their respective matches must-see events, even if they are things we've seen before.
Here's the way I see it: WM26 has 10 matches on the card. Seven of them I am absolutely fired up for; some more than others, sure, but seven matches that have got my juices flowing and are can't-tear-myself-away-from-the-TV affairs. That's a show where the term "piss break" once again regains meaning... you'll have to find the right spot to slink away to tend to the evacuation (and mixing/imbibing) of various fluids, for once. Beats the hell out of WWE's recent norm of asking us to pony up $50 for three-hours worth of piss-break.
Of the three matches that don't exactly hoist my main sail, get this: one of 'em is a throw-away women's match, which is par for the course in this fairly underwhelming post-Trish/Lita/Molly/et al era of "divas." But another one of 'em features Triple H. Yeah, the guy what's boning the boss' daughter and can pretty much call his own shots couldn't even figure out a way to use his stroke to feature more prominently on the show; there was just too much other good stuff happening that no matter what, he was kinda screwed and relegated to jerking the curtain. That's a mighty strong show. Oh, the third piss-break match? Has Randall Orton in it. But he tends to be an after-thought to me no matter what show he's appearing on...
Getting to 7-out-of-10 took more than just some flukey injuries or Vince's open check-book, too... there's also a lot to be said for a slight change in the promotional and hype tactics leading up to Sunday's event. WM26 really has an "all eggs in one basket" feel to it, moreso than any Mania in a long time. WWE is back to treating the show differently this year, and I think that bleeds over to how we, the fans, are treating it, too.
A lot of the week-in and week-out WWE product has become a chore to tolerate. Nowhere is that more evident than in the fact that while interest in WM is very high (across the board, not just here at OO), last Monday's RAW did a 3.2 rating. The lowest in a while, and the least-watched pre-WM RAW since 1997. That's bad juju: the fanbase is clearly excited for Sunday's big show, but that doesn't mean they're any more willing than usual to tolerate WWE's weekly crap-a-thon...
A lot of that is due to the two-year-old (and still going strong) decision to run a G-rated product, and to "put the genie back in the bottle" when it comes to the more appealing aspects of the in-ring product that we'd come to know and love over the years. I stand by my belief that it's mind-numbingly stupid and irresponsible to take a genre that is fundamentally based on people settling differences in an anti-social fashion, and then try to water it down enough so that you're able to sell it to kiddies without zany bible-thumping assclowns getting on your case. The only thing I can figure is that this is a passing fad meant to facilitate Linda McMahon's attempt to get elected to the Senate, cuz otherwise, it rates a mighty WTF? from me and all thinking fans.
But here's where WWE has taken that new booking philosophy and put it to good use... interminable months of G-rated claptrap, and now, it's a show laden with no-holds-barred matches and ladder matches and all kinds of stuff that makes us feel pretty good about our chances of the Sunday night product more closely resembling what we remember from the good ol' days.
Another thing working in WWE's favor: the sometimes-insulting storytelling (aimed not just at kids, but seemingly at DUMB kids) is eyeball-roll-inducing when you experience it in real time... but then it turns out, it can be chopped up and condensed and recycled in such a way that -- whaddya know? -- it makes for damned fine hype package material. John Cena working a total of 8 minutes at the Elimination Chamber PPV and mysteriously acting like he'd just run eleventeen marathons? So f'n lame when it happened. But put it in a video package, throw it out as a soundbite, and all of a sudden, the reality of the situation ceases to matter: the NEW reality is that everything you need to know about Cena vs. Batista can be summed up in 3 minutes.
And when you do it that way: it makes for a pretty fine yarn.
Kudos also have to go out to the WWE production team for stepping up the plate, big time, on all those video packages. They've all been pretty excellent this year (to the point where this week's filler-laden SmackDown wasn't THAT awful, since at least the filler was top-shelf), but obviously the work they've done with Taker and Shawn is what stands out. From that first one the night after Elimination Chamber, and with each passing week (even including one set to Johnny Cash; how freaking spot-on sweet was THAT?), the tale of The Streak vs. The Career has been told just as well by the Monkeys in the Truck as by the two men involved.
If you want to take a look and see for yourself, WWE has a four-part WM Preview Show (featuring all the aforementioned video packages) on their website. You can check it/them out HERE.
And man alive.... Taker vs. Shawn. Is there any better microcosm of the successful build-up to this year's even than that one single match? I don't think so.
It's a match we saw last year. Yawn. Didn't really see any reason for them to do it again. Didn't really see any way they could improve upon the past. I could not have cared less when it became obvious this was the direction they were going... but with a few killer promos and even more pitch-perfect hype packages, they did it. They tricked me into caring even more about the match the second time around than I did the first time.
Just like it's a show that we see every year. Yawn. Don't really see any reason to make a big deal out of it. Don't really think they've delivered a good one in over half-a-decade. I was fully expecting not to care less once WrestleMania 26 (with it's rumored main event of HHH vs. Sheamus for the WWE Title) took shape... but with a few tweaks to the original plans and even more pitch-perfect hype, they did it. They tricked me into caring more about WM this time around than I have in a long while.
That, my friends, is what makes this WrestleMania different from all other recent entries. It's what's got me fired up for Sunday night. Perhaps, it's why you'll be checking in, too?

WrestleMania 26: The Event

So now that I've done my song and dance about the set-up and why I'm feeling an unusual amount of enthusiasm, and done so in my standard long-winded, big-picture, theoretical sort of way, we might as well take a moment to look at the 10 matches on the card in the micro.
I won't get nearly as in-depth as Pyro did, so go read his thingie if you want the full stories behind the match and what-not... but I'll at least list the matches and offer a few of my own thoughts here to create a Complete WM Document for your edification.
Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (Streak vs. Career, Pinfall or Submission ONLY)
Surprisingly little has been made of the fact that this could, conceivably, be Shawn Michaels last match ever. Unfortunately, that's because -- here in the safety of the Previewening -- we can all be cynical jerks who know that there's no such thing as a real retirement in wrestling. The overwhelming preponderance of evidence suggests Michaels loses this match, but none of us really believe he'll never be seen again... 
But try telling that to us on Sunday, when the Moment gets to us, and we realize that -- even if the end isn't really here -- it's a LOT closer than we'd like to think. It may not be HBK's last dance, but it may be the last time we really get to see him do his thing at this level. And how could you NOT get a little sad at that thought?
Michaels helped redefine what was expected out of WWF Main Event Wrestlers in the mid-90s, bringing athleticism and action to a title picture that had previous revolved almost exclusively around no talent genetic freaks and brawlers. Then he got hurt, and didn't get to reap the benefits of pro wrestling's boom phase. Then he got both his body AND his soul straightened out, and returned to WWE just in time for the business to hit the skids. But the funny thing is: he was just as good as ever before, and if you go back and think about the past 8 years, and then try to re-imagine them WITHOUT Shawn in them, you're gonna be AMAZED at how much more frequently and thoroughly WWE would have sucked.
The thought of him heading off into retirement, at the very least, makes one ponder how bad WWE might get in his absence. And that thought is, to me, grounds to take a moment and just say "thanks for everything, HBK."
Of course, Shawn's not working alone tomorrow night. The Undertaker (from a purely physical perspective) probably NEEDS to retire more than Shawn, but they'll load him up with cortisone, he'll bring his massive "go ahead, set me on fire, and I'll still go out and have the Match of the Night" set of balls, and more than hold up his half of what should be a special match. The production crew will probably only add to that, as I've heard tell of impressive one-time-only effects/ring-entrances being busted out to set the stage for their match.
TIDBIT: Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker have faced each other one-on-one on PPV a total of 3 times. Two of those times were Matches of the Year (Mania last year, and the first Hell in the Cell ever). The third time was the match where Shawn suffered a mid-match injury that forced his 4-year semi-retirement from the ring. Signs point to greatness tomorrow night... and then further point to Shawn going away for a little bit. The cosmos has a killer sense of irony...
Batista vs. John Cena (WWE Title)
I'm quite sure this go on as the main event and last match of the night, simply because WWE has shown that is their M.O. in recent years: a title match, not a special attraction, headlines the biggest show of the year. Commendable enough, but man alive is everything that follows Taker/Shawn gonna be facing a tough crowd.
Cena and Batista won't exactly tear it up in terms of technical prowess, but have enough in their playbooks to keep things interesting. But more interesting still: how the crowd reacts. Batista has been absolutely gold since his much-needed heel turn, but Cena (especially at the biggest shows with the most loyal audiences) tends to generate -- at best -- mixed responses. If Batista's new character is so compelling that it's almost worth-cheering-for (no matter how big a jerk he is), then things might go beyond mixed reactions to near-unanimous mutiny.
Another reason why *I* would at least CONSIDER moving this off the main event spot: if the idea is to give fans the happy fairy tale ending of JonJon smiting the evil jerkface, how good an ending will it really be if he celebrates to a chorus of boos?
The alternative would be to consider putting Batista over, but c'mon, now... that's kooky talk. Don't get me wrong: *I* would do it in a heartbeat, I just don't think WWE's got it in 'em to try something that unexpected.
Chris Jericho vs. Edge (World Title)
Here's one that's a good 9 months in the making. Maybe even a bit longer than that. Jericho and Edge formed an alliance last year to win the newly-minted "Unified Tag Titles" and re-invented it as a special and important title, due to the Brand Hopping privileges it brought with it. They ran roughshod over all other duos, but since there is no honor among thieves, it was widely presumed to be a matter of WHEN and not IF the two heels would implode and break up...
Most didn't give it much past SummerSlam before the two would cease being tag champs and start being in the mix for the SD World Title. But then Edge had to go and get injured. Put those plans on hold, and those of us in the Wanker Fanbase did some simple math, and started hoping and praying that Edge would be back just in time to face Jericho at Mania.
He did and he is, and as a bonus, the World Title is in the mix.
What these two can do in the ring is remarkable... but unlike the RAW Title Match, the crowd reactions will amplify the action, rather than be a distinct/distracting feature of its own. Jericho is killing as a heel, and Edge has fans eating out of the palm of his hand. Taker/Shawn has the pinfall/submission-only thing to work with, to add a lot of bells and whistles to their match; Jericho/Edge will stand tall, however, as the night's best flat-out, no-frills affair. They'll take 20-25 minutes, use every old tried and true trick/formula in the book, and make it work.
I'd love to see Jericho take it, but this whole thing has been built up as Edge's Fairy Tale Ending... the one fans will respond to the correct way. Some vestigial 12-year-old mark in me would almost be disappointed if Edge didn't get it.
Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon (No Holds Barred)
We all know the story, here. And if you don't: you got LOTS more reading to do than just this one-page WM preview. You could waste an entire day brushing up on why this match is happening, if you wanted to...
But it is, and I'm just hoping that it's not a total trainwreck.
They've handled most of the storytelling perfectly to get us to this point: I mean, if WWE is targeting 10-year-olds, they are targeting fans who weren't even alive the last time Bret Hart was relevant... so it's taken some pretty nice work to get this feud to resonate across the board with the entire audience.
That said, all the storytelling goes out the window on Sunday when Bret and Vince have to step into the ring and get physical. Bret was awesome in his day, which will no doubt cause cognitive dissonance when we see what he's capable of now; it'll be hard to get over, and we'll be ready to forgive, but still... and Vince was never awesome; always ready to take a risk, but pretty much objectively horrible as a wrestler. Who knows which way this one will break?
They've got the No Holds Barred, and I'm sure the storytelling won't actually stop tomorrow when the bell rings.... it'll continue, and they'll skate by on drama, force of personality, and a few well-chosen highspots. So long as the last one of those spots is Vince McMahon crying like a baby while in a Sharpshooter (and no Earl Hebner to save him), I will be happy. So happy.
Money in the Bank Ladder Match
So yeah: probably the worst MitB line-up ever. Myself, I'd have been happier if they'd scrapped the tag title match, and worked those guys in here so that we actually have a full roster of plausible winners. Cuz as it stands, there are 10 men competing, and only 2 have any business possessing a World Title shot.
The 10 (in the order in which they qualified): Christian, Kane, Shelton Benjamin, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, MVP, Matt Hardy, Evan Bourne, IC Champ Drew McIntyre, and Kofi Kingston.
The 2: Kofi and Christian. And Christian is a stretch just because I think we'd all agree it'd be fun if he took the chance to make life difficult for his ol' buddy, Edge (after Edge wins the World Title). Kofi's really the only one of this bunch on the cusp of long-term headliner status. Wish I could put Swagger in the same category, but c'mon: I watch the shows. I don't know who he pissed off, but I suspect he's a better candidate to get "Kennedy'd" than to win MitB.
Still, that kvetching aside, you know this is the one time of the year where Shelton earns his paycheck and will kick ass. Bourne, Kofi, and Christian should all have tricks up their sleeves. Maybe Matt if he can pretend like it's 10 years ago. The rest just need to do their jobs as props, and we oughta be in for about 15 minutes of crazy flippy highspottery. I'll take it.
Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk
Along with the rumor that WWE originally wanted HHH/Sheamus as the WWE Title Main Event of WM26, the other big rumor back about 3 months ago was that Punk vs. Mysterio would be a Mask vs. Hair match. Nope. And a good thing, if you ask me: Rey without his mask just wouldn't be Rey (WCW proved that), and Punk is so f'n red hot right now that you do NOT mess with the formula until the fans start giving up on it.
So instead, the new stip: if Rey loses, he has to join Punk's Straight Edge Society. Perfect. Rey should lose, and he should join. And then, he'll have to fight his way out from under Punk's oppression, a process that could take, oh I dunno, till SummerSlam... where a Hair vs. Mask Match would fit in lots better, I'm guessing.
BONUS OBSERVATION: this is probably my "sleeper pick" for a Mutinous Crowd. The older/smarter fans seem to tire of Rey's plucky babyfaceishness, and are also the exact sort of wankers who were worshipping at Punk's altar back when he was working in front of 150 fans in high school gyms. Could be a recipe for disaster. Or maybe not: Punk's just THAT good of a heel right now. Either way: match should be a jim dandy.
Big Show/Miz vs. John Morrison/R-Truth (Unified Tag Title Match)
Last year at WM25, the Unified Tag Titles were created when Miz and Morrison (the SD tag champs) beat Primo and Carlito (the RAW tag champs)... OK, so not at WM, but on a pre-show dark match. Which goes to show just how important the tag titles were a year ago.
Which makes it all the cooler that they're now just about the #3 title in the whole company.
This match is also cool since the First Ever Unified Champs are on opposite sides here, which should have some excellent results. Miz and Morrison work great off each other. Big Show's been solid as the designated "hired muscle" for the tag division ever since he replaced Edge lo those many months ago. And R-Truth has been.... well, R-Truth. Three out of four ain't bad.
I think Pyro nailed it: of all the matches on the show, this is the one that'll be closest to a free-TV affair. But it'll be a GOOD free-TV match, so I'm more than happy to sit back and enjoy.
Triple H vs. Sheamus
Yeah, so then there's this. At least it's not the main event.
They at least added a nice little context to this by having Hunter remind us of when HE was a brash youngster who decided to challenge a legend at WM12, and he got his ass kicked by the Ultimate Warrior in 30 seconds flat. Sheamus countered with an unexpectedly strong promo in which he almost made me believe he wouldn't be quite so easily dismissed.
For me: this isn't a deal where Sheamus can "win" anything unless he wins the match. Guys who do that (think Austin at WM13) have a foundation of gravitas to work with. Sheamus don't got that, kids. And he's also got no real business winning the actual match, either, even if he is HHH's buddy. So I say just let Trips re-live WM12, but in reverse. Keep it short, don't torture us by having one of the night's piss-breaks over-stay its welcome, and Sheamus will still live to fight another day. It's either that or make the over-stay worth our time by honestly letting Sheamus pin the boss' husband. And that ain't happening.
Randy Orton vs. Ted DiBiase vs. Cody Rhodes (Triple Threat)
And then there's this. Would have come a lot closer to me-giving-a-shit if they'd done it a year ago, but nope, they dragged it out till now. Instead of doing it when Ted or Cody might have surprised us into caring, they waited a whole extra year, and had Ted and Cody get fully drenched in Orton's Stench of Mediocrity.
Instead of trying to break one (or both) of 'em out while the getting was good, WWE successfully lured us into expecting nothing good to ever come out of either of those two by forever linking them with Orton. And now, as a result, when the break up finally DID happen, the fans have decided to cheer for Orton (despite his mighty douchebaggery) rather than give the time of day to either of the other two Legacy weinerboys.
Do. Not. Care. I look for one of DiBiase or Rhodes to pin the other to get the "win," but then Orton will throw a hissy fit and RKO everything in sight to prove he's still the most vibrant shade of beige out of this threesome.
Mickie James/Beth Phoenix/Gail Kim/Kelly Kelly/Eve Torres vs. Michelle McCool/Maryse/Vickie Guerrero/Layla/Alicia Fox
And finally: this. Cross-brand Diva Action, with 5 faces against 5 heels. Wheee.
On the upside: it was really nice to see Mickie back on TV this week after she had a hell of a scare with a staph infection gone awry earlier in the month And it's also good that -- while Mickie was gone -- WWE was pretty much forced to pull the trigger on Beth turning face, which they'd -- for reasons I can't fathom -- been resisting.
On the downside: Vickie Guerrero. Ahhhhh, "X-Pac Heat," my old friend...
McCool and Maryse are the champs on SD and RAW, respectively, so the thing that'd make sense to me is to have the babyface team win (with a pinfall over one of the champs) to set up a new title feud(s). But watch them have Vickie take the pinfall, instead. I'd make a smartass comment about Vince's mind-bendingly juvenile love of humiliating people on TV, but in this case, Vickie came back; she's basically asking for it at this point...
There you have it... that's my piece. First in the macro, then in the micro. Those of you out there who are still watching didn't need me to make you care; WWE did a nice job of that, themselves, this past month or so. 
But I know OO is a gathering point for tons of casual and lapsed fans. Maybe, for you, this document was instructive, and you'll be inspired to check in -- even if just for one night -- on something you used to care a lot more about.
I know I'll be plopped down and enjoying myself on Sunday. And after I'm done enjoying myself, I'll be here with my full recap at some point around midnight. You can also make use of the Forums, where folks will be discussing the show and providing real time results. So keep on checking back to OO, and we'll make it worth your while.
See you again in about 36 hours, folks...

SMACKDOWN RECAP: Bonding Exercises
RAW RECAP: The New Guy Blows It
PPV RECAP: WWE Night of Champions 2012
RAW RECAP: The Show Must Go On
SMACKDOWN RECAP: The Boot Gets the Boot
RAW RECAP: Heyman Lands an Expansion Franchise
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Losing is the new Winning
RAW RECAP: Say My Name
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Deja Vu All Over Again
RAW RECAP: Dignity Before Gold?
PPV RECAP: SummerSlam 2012
RAW RECAP: Bigger IS Better
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Hitting with Two Strikes
RAW RECAP: Heel, or Tweener?
RAW RECAP: CM Punk is Not a Fan of Dwayne
SMACKDOWN RECAP: The Returnening
RAW RECAP: Countdown to 1000
PPV RECAP: WWE Money in the Bank 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Friday Night ZackDown
RAW RECAP: Closure's a Bitch
RAW RECAP: Crazy Gets What Crazy Wants
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Five Surprising MitB Deposits
RAW RECAP: Weeeellll, It's a Big MitB
RAW RECAP: Johnny B. Gone
PPV RECAP: WWE No Way Out 2012
RAW RECAP: Crazy Go Nuts
RAW RECAP: Be a Star, My Ass
RAW RECAP: You Can't See Him
RAW RECAP: Big Johnny Still in Charge
PPV RECAP: WWE Over the Limit 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: One Gullible Fella
RAW RECAP: Anvil, or Red Herring?
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Everybody Hates Berto
RAW RECAP: Look Who's Back
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Care to go Best of Five?
RAW RECAP: An Ace Up His Sleeve
PPV RECAP: WWE Extreme Rules 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Sh-Sh-Sheamus and the nOObs
RAW RECAP: Edge, the Motivational Speaker?
SMACKDOWN RECAP: AJ is Angry, Jilted
RAW RECAP: Maybe Cena DOES Suck?
RAW RECAP: Brock's a Jerk
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Back with a Bang
RAW RECAP: Yes! Yes! Yes!
PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28



Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.



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