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ONLINE ONSLAUGHT
Putting WrestleMania 29 in Perspective
April 14, 2011

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OOWrestling.com

 

WrestleMania has always been about spectacle... but even by those standards, this year's version is unique.
 
Wrestling legends like Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin have always anchored the shows in the main events. And mainstream megastars have (generally) been used as special attractions on the undercard.
 
But this year, the star of the #1 movie in America -- who just happens to be a wrestling legend in his own right -- is headlining WrestleMania 29. And he's not just a gimmick performer (like Mr. T) nor a past-his-prime non-wrestler (like Lawrence Taylor). He's the Rock.
 

If I know my wrestling fans (and I think I do), this probably isn't a big deal to you... you'd rather have CM Punk defending the title in the WM main event, against Dolph Ziggler, or something. And there's nothing wrong with that. But no matter how much it pains you, I insist you recognize what a special circumstance this is.
 
This one isn't for "us." At least, not directly. But if I let the whole big picture really seep in, and reach the Inner 10-Year-Old hiding down deep in my soul, I can kinda feel the tingle. And then I remember there are Actual 10-Year-Olds (and even 15- or 16-year-olds, or wherever the cut-off is when you stop thinking that a shitfest like the GI Joe movie is actually a big deal), and I can't blame WWE for taking this WrestleMania the direction they have.
 
A chance to make use of the arguable biggest box office draw (action movie division) presents itself, and you don't turn it down.
 
And so here we are, with a top heavy WrestleMania that seems to lack even one true "workrate classic," and which may be genuinely lacking in terms of in-ring grapplingsmanship. And yet, the Spectacle may make up for that.
 
Rock vs. Cena for the title. Taker vs. Punk for the Streak. Lesnar vs. HHH for shits and giggles. And hell, even the outdoor NYC venue lends extra uniqueness to the event (WM has had ubersmart northeast crowds before, but never has there been a cold weather Mania).
 
But after that, this year's show is admittedly weak in construction and build-up. It's those three matches and "everything else." Nothing stands out; we know there will be about 90 minutes of grandeur, but the other 2 and a half hours will basically be stuff you'd get on a standard episode of RAW or SmackDown.
 
Well, that kind of stuff, and ludicrous amounts of fluff, filler, and hype, because WWE treats this show as if the viewers have never seen wrestling before, and have to be brought up to speed with nonstop video packages and other no-value-add segments. [I know WM gets quadruple the viewers of any other PPV, so it's fair for WWE to assume WM viewers haven't seen WWE PPVs. But WM gets only 25% as many viewers as WWE's weekly TV shows, so it is NOT fair to assume WM viewers are unfamiliar with the product. The WM audience isn't made up of non-fans being lured into the product by big names; it's made up of existing wrestling fans who just don't care enough to buy every PPV, but do buy this one. Ergo, I reject the mindset where WM must be made any more fluffy or mainstream than any other show. But nobody asked me.]
 
By the way, while we're on the topic of time management for Sunday's show, let me pass along something I got in email. A loyal reader cribbed this from Dave Meltzer, and it purports to be an rough sketch format sheet for the PPV, with times for each segment. Enjoy:

  • Rock vs. Cena -- 25-30 minutes
  • Taker vs. Punk -- 20 minutes
  • Lesnar vs. HHH -- 25-30 minutes
  • Alberto vs. Swagger -- 15 minutes
  • Superfriends vs. Shield -- 15 minutes
  • Tag Title Match -- 12 minutes
  • Ryback vs. Henry -- 12 minutes
  • Jericho vs. Fandango -- 10 minutes
  • Mixed Tag -- 8 minutes
I can't speak to the accuracy of these figures (I still have my sources, but they're busy, and I haven't talked to any since Wednesday), but Meltz isn't the most creative intellect in the world, so I doubt he decided to just pull these out of his ass. My opinion of these figures? Off the top of my head, if there's ANY chance for the undercard to feature some good rasslin', it'll be in the tag title and Jericho/Fandango matches... but it won't happen unless each gets at least another 5 minutes each. You don't have to do epic matches on the undercard, but let's at least remember that Steamboat/Savage was 20 minutes, which is about right for a match having enough gravitas to reach memorable/rewatchable status.
 
Ryback/Henry going 12 minutes sounds like a trainwreck in the making.
 
And mostly: add those numbers up. WWE has accounted for 2 hours and 30 minutes of a 4 hour show. So: 90 minutes of filler? Oy. Even penciling in Alicia Keys ("America the Beautiful"), Puff Diddily Daddily (sucking out loud), and the presentation of Hall of Famers, there's, like, 75 minutes unaccounted for. That's a lot of elaborate ring entrances (including Living Colour being there live to play CM Punk to the ring!), lengthy post-match celebrations, and video packages.... like I said: Spectacle, thy name is WrestleMania 29.

But hidden in the spectacle, I'd like to draw your attention to the class of stars making their WrestleMania debuts this year... this is something I kept close track of in my annual "Road to WM" thingie, and even though I haven't published it in 6 years or so, I've kept my eye on it.
 
My hypothesis is that this could end up being the most significant WM Debut Class in over a decade. Obviously, the Class of 2000 is the gold standard for this, but since then, you haven't had any real stand-out years... in terms of numbers, there have been two years where the debuting class featured 19 people, but those were grossly inflated by (1) a 10-man cruiserweight match in 2004 and (2) a 25-woman battle royale in 2009. Most classes have featured 7-8 newcomers each year.
 
Ths year, there will be at least 10 newcomers (possibly more, depending on what happens with the pre-show; per OO Rules, dark matches don't count towards WM Participation, but any pre-show matches that are broadcast live do). And they stand a chance of becoming big time stars in the future: Ryback is already there, with Sandow not far behind in terms of "future world champ" potential. After that, Langston and Fandango both seem like projects WWE is committed to, and you gotta think at least one of the Shield will strike singles gold in time. Brodus is still young enough to rally, and the women's division is so wide open that one of the Funkadactyls might end up being something.
 
The only classes in the last decade (WM20 to present) to produce real, viable stars were 2010 (Sheamus and Miz) and 2011 (del Rio, with Barrett still having potential to break through). I think 2013's already already likely to top them both, with Ryback and Sandow plus one or two of the others listed making it, too. In a way, for all the top heavy spectacle, this WM may end up being remembered as something of a changing of the guard.
 
And wouldn't that be something? If so, it will only bear out my theory (and a belief held by many others, including those within the industry) that Johnny Ace was a bumbling sycophant in terms of talent scouting and relations, and things are only now getting better under Triple H. [Even before HHH was officiallly in charge, he had a hand in bringing in certain talents, including Sheamus and del Rio, so even those "wins" of the Johnny Era weren't his own doing.]
 
But enough about grand hypothesizing and synthesizing... I also want to toss out a few thoughts about each match on Sunday's card. Note, by "few," I mean "few," as there is no reason for me to duplicate the incredible effort Pyro put into his detailed preview. Make sure you've checked it out, and treat this as a supplement.
 
The Rock vs. John Cena (WWE Title Match)
 
For me, this would actually have played better without the title on the line, but that's just because I'm a wrestling fan who knows Rock won't be back any sooner than next January (he was at the WM30 Press Conference in New Orleans, leading to speculation that Rock/Brock might be in the works). Thus, he's not waltzing back to Hollywood as the champ.

Combine that with the not-quite-convincing casting of John Cena as a plucky underdog, and it's not exactly the most compelling wrestling storyline. But hey, neither was Hogan vs. Andre. Sometimes, "Hey, it's the two biggest stars we got in the same match" works. And as I noted above: Rock is in a whole other category of "big star" than WWE has ever had in a WM main event.
 
So there will be sizzle. But will there be steak? Rock's had three significant matches since his "return." One was very good (versus Punk at the Rumble), one was good (versus Cena at WM28), and one was not so hot (versus Punk at the Elimination Chamber). There's no trend line there, so you can't say it's a matter of Rock working his way back into shape or rounding into form... so it seems it's just gonna be a matter of how things click at gametime.
 
And yeah: I'm picking Cena to win. Duh.
 
Undertaker vs. CM Punk
 
A counterpoint to the main event, this one has had EXCELLENT storytelling building to the match. And that's a rarity with Undertaker WM matches in recent memory. Lately, it's been "Hey, I'm showing up at random for a WM Match" and then Taker ends up going up against another babyface in what amounts to a Mutual Respect situation. The last time Taker had a WM match where his opponent was a heel, and there was something resembling animosity was 5 year ago, when he faced Edge.
 
So: this is a breath of fresh air. In the sense that it's a down and dirty, old school "I hate you" feud. One performed expertly, by the way, especially by CM Punk (who's spent 5 weeks as the Ultimate Asshole).
 
Some abhor Taker's matches as of late, claiming it's all about drama and not about workrate. I expect they'll be disappointed again: Taker hasn't magically gotten younger in the last year, and Punk is working with nagging injuries (he may actually get a little respite from in-ring work after the PPV), so I'm betting on a mix of big spots, dramatic pauses, and oodles of psychology. Also: I'll love every second of it.
 
I pick Taker to win. Duh, again. For bonus points: I predict Punk outwrestles Taker, and looks good for vast stretches of the match, but the finish comes when he tries to use the Urn against Taker, and it backfires. The Spirit of Paul Bearer (possibly in the form of the "Spotlight Urn") will have some say in the outcome.
 
Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar (No Holds Barred)
 
The height of narrative laziness, this came across like a case of WWE having two leftover pieces after cobbling together the WM card, so they stuck them in a match with each other. Luckily, it just so happened that they had some history together.
 
Then the stip got even lazier: "If HHH loses, he can't wrestle anymore." Yep, a retirement stip for a guy who is already 97% retired (and has the corporate haircut to prove it). COMPELLING~! [To WWE's credit, Heyman did try to retcon another layer of evil into the stip last Monday. His speech about the end of HHH's in-ring career trickling down and affecting his professional and family life, and how it'd eventually drive him to lose it all, however, still counts as too little, too late.]
 
On the upside, Shawn Michaels declaring that he'll be at ringside for the match is compelling, in the non-sarcastic sense. Everything sucks a little less when HBK is involved. And it's not like HHH/Brock was gonna suck (even if the build up did), anyway. I expect an intense as hell brawl that should be enough to make you forget that you weren't exactly fired up about the preceeding backstory.
 
It's a tough call, but I'll take HHH for the win. Just enough to keep his in-ring options open, but then he'll drop a rubber match to Lesnar next month at Backlash. Afterall, Lesnar just signed a 2-year contract extension, and will be getting MORE involved in WWE storylines, while HHH will continue to be less involved.
 
Alberto del Rio vs. Jack Swagger (World Title)
 
Alberto turns face by standing up to Big Show, and becomes WWE's new go-to hispanic draw, just as Jack Swagger turns into a backwards Tea Party/FOX News character (along with new "mentor," Jeb Colter).
 
How convenient. But hey, it's worked well enough, mostly because del Rio has REALLY impressed as a babyface (it's like he unlocked an entire new section of his moveset, and plus, everybody loves Ricardo). Should be solid.
 
Part of me wants to take Swagger for the win, since if WWE didn't punish him for his DUI when it happened, they won't hold it against him now... but I think I'll do the Wanker thing, where I fantasy book the ending I want. In this case, that means del Rio retains after a brutal match, and Ziggler cashes in to walk out of WM as champ. [And if not at WM, then within a few weeks so that a three-way title feud is in place by Backlash.]
 
Big Show/Sheamus/Orton vs. the Shield
 
After Ryback, Sheamus and Orton were among the Shield's very first regular, repeat victims. So those two have tried (and failed) to get revenge on the Shield with various partners (Cena, Ryback, even Chris Jericho). Then Big Show became a much more recent target, and despite him being a heel, he asked to join Sheamus and Orton for this match.
 
The three seem to be getting along. But Shield's schtick is that they are a true unit, and their teamwork will trump the patchwork Marriage of Convenience. I'll say this: I've been surprisingly impressed by the Shield's matches for that very reason, the old school teamwork aspect. I'm expecting another nice little display of tag team psychology here.
 
Shield to win, says I. They're undefeated, and there's no reason to end that now. Internal friction among the good guys can even come into play for the finish (I wonder if we rekindle the Orton/Sheamus prickly heat, instead of doing the obvious and have Show turn his back?).
 
Kane/Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler/Big E. Langston (Tag Team Title Match)
 
This came out of nowhere, and I'm convinced it's just here to "mask" Ziggler cashing in (if he was left off the card, it'd be conspicuous). But then again, after I think about it more, the pieces are in place for this to be more than just a one-off deal.
 
Afterall, the reason the women's title isn't being defended on the PPV is probably because WWE decided the fans wouldn't give a shit about Kaitlyn/Layla. But Kaitlyn/AJ will work, and we've already seen the six-person mix tag version of this feud... Kaitlyn and AJ will assuredly be in opposite corners for this match, too. You can have all sorts of neat shennanigans, on top of the fact that anything between Bryan and Ziggler will be awesome.
 
I'd like to see Kane and Bryan retain, but do so in a way that keeps Team AJ invested in a feud. Then AJ expands her stable with another new guy, and keeps chasing the tag titles while Dolph goes and cashes in MitB. Then AJ beats Kaitlyn for the women's title. And all four hold gold at the same time! Suck on that, Horsemen! [Alternately, Dolph and Langston could actually win, to further obscure Dolph's later cash-in... then you still add the new guy, and let them defend Freebird-style for a bit, before basically phasing Dolph out of the tag aspect and into a full-time singles role.]
 
Ryback vs. Mark Henry
 
Feel the slobberknockertude!
 
This match exists solely for the visual of Ryback hitting the Shellshock on Henry. Which will be cool, but I'll still feel sort of bad for Henry, who's finally won me over with his perpetually-moist badassery in these, the waning days of his career.
 
Chris Jericho vs. Fandango
 
Could this be good? Sure. Jericho is Jericho, and Johnny Curtis -- despite not deserving to win NXT over either of Bateman or Brodus that season -- is capable in the ring, and increasingly a magnet for heat.
 
But I'm still pissed this isn't Jericho vs. Cesaro for the US Title. That would have written itself ("No American can beat me" vs. "Yeah, well good thing I was born in Canada, then, Junior") AND been an incredible (potentially show-stealing) match.
 
Fandango wins. He pretty much has to, right? Otherwise, what was the point of all this? And plus, Jericho actually enjoys putting new guys over, especially if he's soon on his way out the door for another leave of absence.
 
The Dancing Fat Men and the Funkadactyls vs. the Rhodes Scholars and the Bella Twins (Mixed Tag)
 
Brodus and Tensai (a/k/a "Sweet T," which is the second time he's made this transition; remamber Albert abbreviating it down to "A Train"?) are a team as a result of the shared experience of participating in a Lingerie Dance-Off. I wish I was making that up. The Rhodes Scholars are a team despite publically breaking up, reuniting for a special One Night Only match, and then breaking up again. Confusing, I know.
 
But the results should be fun and crowd-pleasing. Or maybe I'm just saying that because Damien Sandow is pretty much my Onscreen Avatar of Intellectual Superiority. Also: Cameron makes me happy. In my pants.
 
Bad guys (and girls) win the match because Sandow and Rhodes have infinitely more value than Brodus or Tensai do, but post-match chicanery leads to a happy fun-time dance dance dancey dance because it makes people smile.
 
Wade Barrett vs. Miz (IC Title)
 
It's on the youtube pre-show (also on wwe.com and the WWE app), which would normally mean you mark it down as a 3-minute throwaway. But the pre-show for WM is a full hour long (starting at 6pm eastern), so they have time to fill. This might actual register as an Actual Match.
 
The question is, even if it's an actual match, is it worth tuning in for when you know the other 45 minutes will still suck? The PPV itself is already 4 hours, and will feature all the same video/hype packages, so adding another hour to the evening almost seems like more of a chore than anything else (unless they really do intend to fill it with real value-add content, instead of filler).
 
Either way: Barrett wins. These two have already fought a half dozen times, and if they didn't put the belt on Miz then, then there's no reason to do it now.
 
Other Stuff/Extras
 
There are a lot of guys without anything to do. And not just obscure guys like Yoshi Tatsu. I'm talking about real, actual stars who you see on TV every week.
 
In a perfect world, I'd add a Cesaro/Kofi US Title Match to the pre-show, and let it go 10-12 minutes. If, for some reason, I'm wrong about Kaitlyn being involved in the tag title match, then I'd absolutely figure out some throwaway opponent for her, too, since I think all champions should be involved at WM.
 
But more likely, we get a big ol' Battle Royale of Participation, just so everybody can say they worked the show. Cesaro and Kofi are the two biggest names who could go in, but you also have: Otunga, 3MB, the PTPs, Khali, Kidd/Gabriel, the Usos, the Colons, and Santino. Then you fill it up with your scrubs like Tatsu and Ryder and Junior DiBiase and JTG and whoever. Maybe throw in a few guys like Finlay and Regal just as a "thank you for your service" type of thing. And hey, let's not forget that Christian has been "almost ready to return" for damned near 3 months now, too!
 
Fill up the ring, quickly separate the wheat from the chaff, and you could actually have a pretty solid little 12-15 man affair, there. The only question is: does it also play on the pre-show, or is it saved back as a dark match (none of the past Battle Royales of Participation has ever made it to air on any preshows)?
 
That's probably it for in-ring extras.
 
We also know that: they'll present the Hall of Fame Class of 2013 in a nice little ceremony (Sammartino, Foley, Backlund, Trish, and Booker; OK, and the load known as Trump, too).... Alicia Keys is performing "America the Beautiful".... Pee Diddy is performing, no matter how much we wish he wouldn't... Living Colour will perform "Cult of Personality" live, when CM Punk enters the ring...
 
Weather-wise, it'll be cool, but not unpleasantly so (unless you're in town from, oh, let's say, California; I was out in LA last week, and went to a Dodger game; it was 58 degrees out, and everybody was bundled up like it was January in the Arctic Circle; sissies), and no chance for significant rain. So that should be good, too.
 
I think that's all I got. You should now be fully prepared for WrestleMania 29 on Sunday night... so here's to sitting back, with good food and/or beverage, and enjoying the biggest night of the year for pro wrestling!
 
And if you're passing on the PPV, well, that's what I'm here for. I'll have the full recap posted sometime shortly after 11pm on Sunday night, bursting at the seams with not only results, but also all the finest in analysis and punditry available on the internets! Once I've saved you the $60, don't forget to thank me for the service!
 
See you again Sunday night, kids....


  
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E-MAIL RICK SCAIA

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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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