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OO ROAD TO WRESTLEMANIA
Road to WrestleMania XX: A Compulsive 
Fan's Guide to the Granddaddy of 'Em All
Part Four of Four

by Rick Scaia
with an Assist from the Entire Cast and Crew of OnlineOnslaught.com

 

WrestleMania XX Pay-Per-View Preview

Let's be honest, OK? You're reading this website.  I'm running it. We're not your usual breed of wrestling fans.

We all get super-fired up for even the shitty WrestleManias.  Even the ones where you can kinda tell going in that they aren't gonna deliver a whole lot, we can latch onto one thing and hope.  And usually -- like with Bret/Austin and Hogan/Rock at the otherwise forgettable WM13 and WM18, respectively -- those things end up entertaining us well enough that we walk away with another WrestleMania memory or two.

But this Sunday, nobody I know is expecting one of the shitty ones.

Even if you just limit yourself to what the show looks like on paper, the 12 announced matches, you'd have yourself a reason to shell out your money and invest your evening in WrestleMania XX.  You've got at least 3 Match of the Year candidates staring you in the face.  You've got a chance for sweet, sweet Smark Vindication in the form of both Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit wrestling in title matches.  You've got the pure entertainment of seeing the Rock (in one of his final wrestling matches ever) and Mick Foley (in his return to wrestling after a 4 year retirement) in action.  You've got the special aura that goes along with the first batch of RAW vs. SD! matches in about 2 years.  And you've got a supporting undercard that has way more good than bad to it.

Yeah, this is looking like an OK Mania.  But that's only part of the story.  Because this is WrestleMania XX.  The Fed is taking us back to Madison Square Garden, site of the first WrestleMania, and site of the ground-breaking tenth WrestleMania.  The successes of those shows bodes well for this Sunday's twentieth installment.  Already, legends and guest stars like Jesse Ventura and Pete Rose have been announced as taking part in the show, and many other legends (none bigger than Rowdy Roddy Piper) are known to be in NYC this weekend, amidst rumors about other possible guests popping in on the show.

WM20, in addition to whatever it has going for it on paper, looks to bring intangible factors to the table, kind of a simultaneous honoring of the past (all 19 years of it) while forging boldly ahead into the future (as both past MSG Manias did).

And that's without even getting into the wild theories about the secret hidden meaning of the "It All Begins Again" subtitle and worked-shoot of Brock Lesnar's impending retirement.  Look: nobody will be happier or more entertained or blown away if the past couple weeks of rumors are leading up to a Montreal-like scheme on Sunday.  But the fact is, even if I think the idea of Brock Lesnar quitting wrestling to join the NFL is ludicrous, even after I said on Wednesday that I have few doubts that Lesnar will, some day be back in a wrestling ring because this all just feels wrong, the thought of Brock on a defensive line somewhere in August is STILL less outrageous than some of the scenarios I've seen some people spinning about WM20 ending with the creation of a new WCW, with Brock as a centerpiece, under the command of Heyman and Bischoff or some such nonsense.

Hey, that'd be ultra-sweet.  But guess what?  We're ALL better served sticking to the storylines the Fed's actually been telling on TV, and trying to enjoy the show on Sunday that way.  And plus, if there was gonna be some kind of neat-o swerve on the show, isn't the way to enjoy it to be completely blindsided by it anyway?  

So, with all this in mind, let's cut the crap and the conspiracy theories.  We all know about 12 matches and a load of extra guest appearances.  We should talk about those.

And because it's WrestleMania, baby, we're not gonna do it the usual way.  Yeah, I'll still tell you the story and try to get you to care about each match on the card.  But then, I'll turn it over to the incredibly talented, insightful, witty, charming, and (in at least one case, anyway) good-looking staff of OnlineOnslaught.com for predictions and thoughts. I wracked my brain for literally SECONDS to come up with a funny improper use of the capitalized "OO" for that section ("prOOgnostications" was the best I came up with, and even I'm not that shameless).... but I'm sure you'll be able to follow along. 

We'll run the card in three sections: RAW, SmackDown!, and then InterPromotional.  Here's the Show:

RAW PRESENTS....


Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit
(World Heavyweight Title Match)

Of the three or four potential Main Event matches on this card, this one is perhaps the least sensible or sensational in terms of marketability.  But the talents of the men involved pretty much speak for themselves, rendering as bankable as it is thrown-together.

The story?  Well, Shawn Michaels and Triple H's claim of a rivalry that is "a decade" old is hyperbole at its worst.  Ten years ago, Triple H was working anonymous 3 minute squash matches on WCW Saturday Night as "Terra Ryzing" and Shawn Michaels was a mid-carder who was very close to being pegged as more trouble than he was worthy by the WWF (in fact, most experts assumed Michaels was leaving the Fed after WM10 to jump to WCW).  Hell, six years ago, HBK and HHH were thick as thieves both on-screen and off.  This rivalry, however you want to couch it, could not have started until well after Michaels injury-induced semi-retirement in 1998.

At some point in those past six years, though, the story has Shawn Michaels festering at home, jealous at the success HHH and Degeneration X were having in his absence.  He'd make periodic returns to the Fed, throughout it all, but never stuck around long enough to really get involved in a storyline with his old running buddy.

That all changed about two years ago.  Following WM18, Michaels made another one of his re-appearances, this time to join the nWo with two of his other Clique buddies... but when Scott Hall got fired and Hulk Hogan turned babyface, there really wasn't any nWo any more.  Shawn Michaels needed something else to do.  RAW General Manager Eric Bischoff came to the rescue: Shawn was assigned to manage HHH.  But HHH saw that as an unnecessary drag on his career.  He grew petulant, and even after Michaels tried to smooth things over by proposing the return of DX, HHH was not interested.  He finally attacked Michaels, figuring that would be the end of it.  But it wasn't.  Michaels was healthier than he'd been in years, and was willing to face HHH, one-on-one, in an unsanctioned Street Fight.  When Michaels won that match, HHH got mega-pissed, and put Michaels back on the shelf with further back damage for a few months.  But Michaels came back again, this time ready to wrestle a conventional, sanctioned match.  He won the World Title from HHH.  HHH won it back in short order, but the two haven't been far away from each other since.  

Still, even if their feud is more accurately tagged as "almost two years in the making," HHH and HBK's issue dwarfs any real motivation for Chris Benoit to be involved in this contest.  Benoit, in late 2003, made SD!-brand WWE Champ Brock Lesnar tap out in a non-title match, and was promptly black-balled by Lesnar-enthusiast and SD! General Manager Paul Heyman.  Benoit was told he would NEVER be granted a shot at Lesnar or the WWE Title.

So Benoit promptly schemed his way into the Royal Rumble match against Heyman's wishes.  Heyman made him start the match at #1.  Benoit won, earning the right to face the Champ at WMXX.  So instead of reveling in the chance to stick it in Heyman and Lesnar's face by going after Brock, Benoit popped up the next night on RAW and announced his plan to wrestle for HHH's World Title.  Hey, it STILL sort of frustrates me, but what's done is done.

It was billed as a "loophole" that allowed the Rumble winner to face whichever champ he wanted.  And boy did Benoit's decision ever upset Shawn Michaels.  His feud with HHH had been revived in recent months, and in two major matches, HBK came thisclose to upending the champ.  Both matches went to draws (one was a double pin, the other a double count-out), and Michaels felt he deserved another shot.  Even "Sheriff" Austin agreed. 

But Benoit had the legal claim to the WMXX title shot.  So what to do?  Well, Michaels superkicked Benoit during a contract signing and put his own John Hancock on the papers.  I'm sure the lawyers out there were cringing, but in the world of pro wrestling, that's all Eric Bischoff needed to declare that Michaels now had just as much of a legal claim to a title shot as Benoit.  So that was it:  a Three Way Dance was the solution.

In the weeks since that proclamation, the hostilities have grown steadily.  Michaels hasn't liked HHH for 2 years.  Benoit just plain wants HHH's title after an 18 year career.  Benoit also doesn't like Michaels for horning in on his Rumble-earned title match.  Michaels doesn't like Benoit for jumping from SD! and getting in his way.  And HHH doesn't like either guy, cuz they both have the audacity to come after the title that he worked (in the bedroom with the boss' daughter!  HA!) damn hard to earn.  Mind games, sneak attacks, fractured alliances... you name it, these three have been up to it lately.

For all the exaggerations of HHH and HBK's feud and for all the tacked-on-ed-ness of Benoit's presence, the simple fact is that HHH is a really good heel, Michaels is a classic white-meat babyface, and Benoit is so damned crisp that most fans absolutely respect him even if they don't realize it... and because of that, the chemistry here works.  On paper, this sort of seems like it's the least "main event-y" of the possible main events.  And yet, I can't shake the idea that these three men could blow the roof off MSG if they went on last.

That's a suspicion, by the way, backed up by rave reviews from a trio of house shows last weekend, where these three put on great matches around the horn.  This one'll be good.  And if Benoit, after 18 years of not getting the respect he deserves, wins, it'll be even better. 
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
HBK: 6 votes / Benoit: 2 votes / HHH: 1 vote

Rick Scaia says:
The only truly satisfying finish here would be Benoit getting the title.  If this one goes on last, I'd say it's a lock for Benoit.  HBK and HHH have just been around the horn together too many times for one of them to beat the other and call it the climax of WM.  That said, the Fed has laid out a few interesting possibilities.  A recent tweener-turn for HBK has his character acting a bit more self-centered, and the next PPV is in Canada, where a Benoit title win might "mean more."  So could HBK win the belt, only to revive the 1997 vibe, be a heel in Edmonton, and drop it to Benoit there?  It's certainly a possibility... part of me even thinks it'd be RIGHT.  But you know what?  I can't do it.  I can't get too cute with my prediction.  HBK's knee is supposed to be shot, anyway, and Trips is off to make a movie or something, so I'm gonna stick to my guns.  

Benoit is the champ.  Finally.

Jeb Lund says:
I guess Rick is handling the backstories of all these matches, thus enabling people like me to be doubly flippant and half as accurate. So what's going on? What's the crimson, Timson? What's the low-down, Brown? What's the scoop, Betty Boop? I'm on my way into town. Can you tell I'm listening to Tom Waits' Nighthawks at the Diner?

Let's face it: Benoit ain't got much in the charisma department. About all that he's got going for him is his inspirational story of finally making it to the top after over 15 years of struggle. Except for one thing: he's Canadian. Were an American wrestler in his position, losing at WrestleMania would be a death knell for his inspirational story. However, the next pay-per-view, Backlash, is scheduled to be held in Canada. Benoit can stand to lose.

That's why it makes the most sense for Michaels to win here, for a couple of reasons:
1. Triple H has gotten the better of Michaels in almost all of their battles. Michaels winning not only screws Triple H, but it also provides a kind of feelgood victory moment here. Michaels can go back to being 100% babyface for this night only.
2. If Michaels' win comes obviously at the expense of what should have been Benoit's win, Benoit and Michaels go into Backlash in Canada for what would be a sure-fire intense and must-watch match: Canada's long-suffering faithful son v. perhaps the most reviled American Judas.

Prediction: Benoit obviously knocks the hell out of Triple H, but Michaels snatches the victory by getting a sucker-kick on Benoit and wins. Triple H can keep his heat by claiming he was never pinned for the loss. Benoit can claim he had the match won, and Michaels can spend the following weeks braying like a jackass. Then we go to Backlash with a story that's almost too irresistably good.
Erin Anderson says:
I want Benoit to win. I really do. I also don't think it will happen, for the simple reason that Backlash is in Edmonton. My scenario: while the ref is bumped, Benoit makes Triple H tap out. Michaels intervenes, superkicks Benoit, and then pins Triple H. It will end HBK's feud with Hunter while continuing his scuffle with Benoit, and sets everything up perfectly for a Benoit win the next month. The Wolverine has a very slight chance of winning, but I'm only certain of Triple H leaving without a title around his waist. If he can still fit it around his waist, that is. Diet time, Trips.  

Prediction: Michaels

Matt Hocking says:
If Shawn Michaels isn't as injured as I'd originally thought, then I've got to say that the best course of action is for him to win the title.  He is still enough of a face that fans will be happy for his win, and he's enough of a heel that he will be able to complete his turn in time to drop the title to Benoit at Backlash.  HHH isn't in much of a position to stick around with the title (though that's when he usually does) and Benoit, in my opinion, needs another month and a hometown crowd to make his title win something really big.
Canadian Bulldog says:
I'm making two assumptions here that are kind of related: that this match will go on last, and that Vince McMahon's WrestleMania mandate is to send the fans home happy (WrestleMania 2000 is the only exception I can remember to that rule). Using that logic, Triple H leaves MSG beltless, leaving things to either Benoit or Michaels. Which face is more over? As much as the smark community probably hates to admit it, it's probably HBK. Which is unfortunate, but I figure Benoit will get his chance to hold the big belt at Backlash next month, in his hometown, no less, so everybody wins. A Shawn Michaels victory at this commemorative version of Mania would probably send more people home happy.
Big Danny T says:
I would absolutely be ECSTATIC if Benoit walked out of Wrestlemania with the title, but I’m skeptical as to that actually happening. Benoit’s energy has been too focused on HBK the past few weeks and him getting the belt at Wrestlemania would just feel anticlimactic. Also, HHH has defied tradition twice (Heel leaving Wrestlemania with the big one) so what with HHH being so into tradition and history, one would hope that he would come around this year for Wrestlemania. So I’ll go with HHH dropping the title to his Clique Buddy HBK, and Benoit chasing it until Judgment Day.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
My heart tells me to go with Benoit but in all fairness I should use my head for these predictions.  Therefore, I choose Triple H.  My hope is that Benoit comes out of the match strong enough to get the rematch and win the title at Backlash.
The Immolator says:
Something's afoot. Your main event at Backlash in Edmonton should by all rights be Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit. But who will have the belt? Do you give it to Benoit at WM, or in front of his home fans? I believe the best story arc calls for Benoit to win here, ideally with help from a certain Alberta product with a history against Michaels. That'll give people a reason to buy Backlash. A big reason.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: Chris Benoit.  If Benoit doesn't win this one, they might as well fire the guy.


The Rock and Mick Foley vs. 
Ric Flair, Randy Orton, Batista

Even as some are exaggerating their feud lengths, here's an issue that probably goes back a bit further than most fans realize.  Unless some of you actually have memories that go back past last December.

In fact, a case could be made that this is a match that is four years in the making.  It was back in 2000 that Mick Foley made a run at Triple H's WWE Title... and came up just short.  In fact, per a stipulation, Mick was forced into retirement after a Hell in the Cell brawl against HHH.  In Mick's subsequent part-time returns to WWF/E TV (including as Commissioner), he and HHH never quite saw eye-to-eye, as you might imagine.  You never forget the guy what retired you.

In the summer of 2003, Mick made another one of his comebacks, and again, HHH was part of the reason why.  Foley was tapped by co-GM Steve Austin to be an enforcer referee for a HHH/Kevin Nash PPV showdown.  Although Foley wound up calling the match down the middle and HHH retained his title, the two still rubbed each other the wrong way.  It led to a confrontation backstage on RAW, and in that confrontation, HHH was backed up by Evolution.  The four-on-one attack climaxed as the rest of Evolution stepped aside to let nascent "Legend Killer" Randy Orton to the final honors: he tossed Foley down a set of stairs.

Foley disappeared for several months, only to pop up in November.  With Eric Bischoff now in full control of RAW, Foley was assigned by Linda McMahon to balance Bischoff's megalomaniacal tendencies.  The one-time commish had no trouble wielding his power, and it didn't take long before he again crossed paths with Evolution.  Randy Orton, in particular, was not pleased at seeing one of his Killed Legends come back to life.

It came to a head in December, when it appeared Foley and Orton would wrestle live on RAW.  But instead of fighting, Foley left the arena.  Thus began a 2-month-long smear campaign by Orton, who called Foley the "Hardcore Coward" and his "bitch."  Finally, after hearing weeks of this and being personally challenged to defend his name by Sheriff Austin, Foley returned to RAW.  He explained that he left RAW that night because he'd lost his edge, lost his hatred in 4 years of family life.  But now, Randy Orton had brought that hatred back.  The two brawled, Foley got the better of it, and had made it clear he wanted Orton one-on-one at WrestleMania.

Orton declined, feeling Foley was below him.  But that didn't stop Orton from orchestrating three-on-one attacks, with his Evolution pals, against Foley.  And Foley kept coming back for more.  Finally, Orton realized Foley wasn't gonna go away, and offered to grant Mick his request for a one-on-one match.  But Mick had learned his lesson: there would never be a one-on-one as long as Evolution was around.  So he countered by unveiling his old friend and tag team partner, the Rock, as a secret weapon.  Immediately, a Rock 'n' Sock Connection vs. Evolution handicap match was agreed upon by all parties.

The storyline was played beautifully.  Foley's crisis of confidence added depth to his own decision to return to action after honoring his "retirement" about eight times longer than most wrestling stars.  The slow-play of Rocky's return makes his presence feel special and necessary, rather than as a tacked on Obligatory WrestleMania Appearance for Mr. Hollywood.  If I had a gripe, it'd be that I could have envisioned this being SO much more intense and interesting if the match was Rocky/Mick vs. Orton/HHH.  Not only would it have cleaned up the World Title picture (something compelling could have been done with HBK vs. Benoit, one-on-one), but HHH vs. Mick is STILL a hot issue, even after four years.  Hotter than anything involving Ric Flair (who COULD have made himself into a valuable part of this storyline by virtue of his mouth, but who was forced to let Orton stumble his way through inferior promos, instead) and Batista (who is as generic and un-compelling a heel as has ever stepped into a wrestling ring).

I digress...  this match hasn't been crafted to be really special or historic.  In time, there will come the Foley vs. Orton one-on-one match (and I'd wager that when the time comes, it'll be a Hell in the Cell match to keep Evolution at bay, because dammit, Mick doesn't know when to quit), and that'll be the big one.  For now, this one is about hitting the high spots and entertaining the fans.  Rock and Mick already showed that -- even after lay-offs of one and four years, respectively -- they can do that in Monday's "This is Your Life" segment, and I think they'll bring it even harder at WM20.  

Prepare to be electrified.
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
Rock 'n' Sock: 9 votes / Evolution: 0 votes

Rick Scaia says:
Rock and Mick aren't coming back to lose.  This match is about 100% pure entertainment, sending 'em home happy, and that means the Rock 'n' Sock Connection get the win.

And like I said above, down the line, Foley's still gonna have to deal with Evolution and Orton.  And that's when Orton can officially (and to the disgust of wrestling fans everywhere) notch his Legend Killer belt with Foley's name.  Maybe in so doing, he'll enrage the Rock enough that the Rock will make one final comeback for NEXT year's Mania to put the kid over?  But I'm getting ahead of myself: on this night, he's got the right pal in his corner.  Good will triumph.

Jeb Lund says:
By now most of you are familiar with my unceasing disgust with Randy Orton. But please believe me when I say that putting my feelings aside still leaves me with the sense that Evolution must lose. Basically all the practicalities and indicators point to a loss.

There are the basic rubrics:
1. Evolution beat down Rock and Foley on the last show before the pay-per-view, and that usually points to a loss for the "beat down" team.
2. Foley has never been on the winning side in his clash with Orton. The only time he had the advantage was when he eliminated Orton from the Royal Rumble. It's time for payback.
3. Rock and Foley are outnumbered, and having them lose just seems too predictable. Where is the drama if two men lose (logically) to three men?
4. People want to see a feelgood outcome. And the nature of the men competing means that Evolution is not "feelgood." Rock and Foley are.

But the more subtle indicators still point to a Rock/Foley win. The fact is that these guys are special attractions. They are rarely on TV, and they have a special aura about them. Losing to them is perfectly reasonable, since they are both fan favorites and also not going to linger on future shows and present incontrovertible proof that Orton is not a legend killer.

Finally, there's no shame in Orton losing to Rock/Foley — or to Foley in particular. These guys really are legends: they're so much bigger than wrestling that they can disappear for a year or two, then return to as much fan elation and with as much credibility as ever.

Prediction: Orton finally meets one legend he can't beat. Rock nails Batista and Flair, keeping them out of the way, allowing Mick to finally get the decisive pin. Orton stays as much of a legend killer as ever; Rock and Foley disappear, and Evolution really doesn't lose that much momentum. (Especially if they and Triple H lose: those losses will motivate changes in the group and add to the drama. If anything, getting knocked about makes them less stagnant and more must-see. That would add momentum.) Plus, if Orton develops into a legitimate star, I'm pretty sure Foley would have no problem jobbing to him two years down the road. That's Foley: generous to a fault. Even if Orton's a scum-sucking moron indistinguishable from the "Legendary Date-Rapist" on any state-college campus.
Erin Anderson says:
I could realistically see either team winning here. But since Evolution got the last laugh in before Wrestlemania, I have to pick Rock n' Sock to get the victory. Foley can put Orton over later in a singles match, if he must. Better yet, he could deliver such a devastating Socko Claw that Orton permanently loses his powers of speech. If that happens, then Foley really IS God, and my personal Lord and Savior.
Matt Hocking says:
This is an interesting case.  While Rock is certainly gone after Mania, and who knows what Mick's mindset will be after this match.  Every indication
says he's willing to work a few more dates.  While it would certainly be useful for Evolution to win a big match over two of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era, I don't think they get the win here.  Neither Orton nor Batista is going to be hurt by laying down for Rock OR Sock, and Flair CERTAINLY wouldn't.  Foley beats Orton, to give fans a fun Rock and Sock moment.
Canadian Bulldog says:
Could Mick Foley really go through with one of the most baffling self-written storylines of his career, only to lose to Randy F'ing Orton? I seriously doubt it. Even though there will be the inevitable Foley-Orton singles match down the road, I'm picking Rock and Sock here. If nothing else, we'll get a terrific mini-match between The Great One and The Nature Boy here, which we haven't seen since their brief but memorable encounter on Raw a couple of years back.
Big Danny T says:
Well, Rock isn’t going to be around for much longer after WM, if at all, so they should make his appearance count. And Evolution has beat up on Mick enough. I think its time that Mrs. Foley’s Baby boy walked out of Wrestlemania a winner. My pick, Rock and Sock.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
A frustrating match as 60% of its participants aren't full time wrestlers.  And the other 40% bore me to tears.  Still it should be a fun and exciting match, especially if everyone is on their A game.  Rock and Sock get the easy win with Foley pinning Orton.
The Immolator says:
There is no acceptable finish but for Rock n' Sock to win. Randy Orton will eat a mandible sock and a people'e eyebrow. Mick will steal the Rock's catchphrases.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: Rock n' Sock.  I can't think of a single reason why Rock n' Sock should win this one, but the Rock Rule of Inverse Invicibility states that in a two-on-three match, the Rock wins.


Chris Jericho vs. Christian

No match on the show presents me with quite the same paradox as this one.  One on hand, it reduces me to an obnoxious tittering bitch.  On the other, it allows me to flex my big Smark Muscles quite a bit.

To wit:

This is essentially a fight over a girl.  Six months ago, Chris Jericho thought, "Hey, I think boning Trish Stratus might be cool."  Can't really blame him for that.  Around the same time, Christian was taking a shine to Lita.  The two Canucks put One Dollar Canadian on the line: whichever one of them tapped that ass first took the coin.

And then three things happened: (1) Trish fell for Jericho, (2) Chris fell even harder for Trish, and (3) Trish found out about The Bet just hours before she was going to surrender the pink.  Needless to say, that shattered RAW's infamous Love Rhombus into tiny pieces.  Trish and Lita were hurt and maybe a bit embarrassed.  Jericho realized he'd fucked up badly, and tried to plead his case to Trish, but it fell on deaf ears.  Probably because even as Chris was protesting, his buddy Christian was arranging for Battles of the Sexes between Vitamin C and the girls, and other shifty stuff like that.  

In the matches, Jericho laid back, but Christian reveled in beating Trish and Lita.  Finally, that phase passed, and Chris was FINALLY able to get his message through to Trish that, yes, his pursuit of her started out as part of The Bet, but then it turned into something else.  Even if she could never have feelings for him again, he wanted her to know he didn't meant to hurt her, and hoped they could still be friends.  Trish finally softened, and started hanging out with Jericho again.  Jericho started doing nice stuff like stopping Trish from getting beat up unnecessarily, even at the expense of his own matches and career.  And even as they both claimed to be Just Friends, it was obvious to just about everybody else that the old chemistry was simmering back into existence.

That's where we've been for weeks: claims of Just Friends, but being just one Trish-or-Jericho admission away from bona fide World Class Grab-Ass/Make-out Session.  But through it all, Christian's been lurking, making sure Jericho never got up the balls (or the opening) to tell Trish how he really felt.  His schemes came to a head when he left Jericho for dead in a beat-down at the hands of Kane, and then used Chris' absence to put the moves on Trish.  When she didn't reciprocate, he took it badly.  When he was "ordered" by Eric Bischoff to face Trish in a match, Christian only feigned being upset about wrestling his "friend" for a few moments before viciously turning on Trish and making her submit to Jericho's own finishing hold.

Trish has been absent on TV since, selling the injuries, but Jericho returned and confronted his friend.  First, Christian tried to claim he did it for Jericho and for their friendship, because Trish was clouding his mind, making him lose matches, and coming between the two long-time buddies.  That got a big ol' No Sale.  So the next week, Christian went back to his tried and true tactic of attacking Jericho from behind just before Chris could proclaim his true love of the maiden Trish on the phone.  And then he made a get-away in a car driven by... well, somebody.

Which brings us up to Sunday, where Jericho will exact his revenge on Christian, and hopefully, defend the honor of Trish Stratus in the process.  Believe me, nobody is sicker with me at knowing all the ins and outs of this ricockulous six month soap opera than I am... and yet, in a way, its liberating to have gotten to tell it my way:  you'll note I left out the crap.  Mae Young was never in the shower!  The horrible and almost embarrassing dialogue from Trish and Jericho's lone kiss has been excised from the record!  What's left is still a soap opera, I have no illusions about that.  But it's one I can stomach.  It's a story that touches my soul and tugs at my heart strings.

OK, so I made that last part up.  I'm a soulless bastard, and if my heart has strings in there, I should probably visit a doctor, cuz that don't sound normal....  but the point is, from a form that is often called "soap opera for men," this is pretty much a straight up soap opera in the girly sense of the term.  A love story that, with just the right dose of the standard pro wrestling window dressing, has sucked even me in.  To the point that, goddammit, I want to see Jericho beat up his jealous former buddy and get the girl on Sunday.  Stupid soul....

Which is where the aforementioned Smark Muscles come into play.  Because one can't help but ask a few simple questions, like: Could Trish REALLY have forgiven Jericho for humiliating her with The Bet?  Who was driving that get-away car on Monday? And, Doesn't somebody have to turn heel to offset Victoria's face turn?  If Jericho wins and gets the girl, Christian's worthless, right back to a lower card heel gig.  Maybe that'd be OK, cuz then he and Matt could form a team and immediately become the best thing going in the RAW tag division...  but at least part of me has to consider the ending that has Trish turning on the man who fell for her, siding with Christian, and together staying near the top of the heel roster, at least for a while.

I can't get away from these festering Smark Thoughts.  They underscore just exactly what I loved about this whole storyline as it was going on: the ambiguity.  I know what I WANT.  I know what I think is RIGHT.  But I don't know with certainty that that's what'll actually happen.  They've left so many options open, laid the foundations for just about any finish they want to do.

And, oh: before they do it, we'll probably get a kick-ass wrestling match, too.  These two are damned good.  I guess I should probably mention that before I wrap it up.
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
Christian: 5 votes / Jericho: 4 votes

Rick Scaia says:
This is another one not unlike the Triple Threat.  I can SEE one possible finish, but I just feel so strongly that another one, even if "obvious," is too RIGHT to pass up.  In this case, that means, I'm gonna keep it simple.  No Trish turning heel, nothing fancy.  I mean, seriously, they've given us ambiguity, but "clothesline that looked like it broke Trish's neck" takes precedence over "mystery driver" in my book.  More work has gone into Trish getting with Jericho than has gone into her turning on him, I think.  You want a Russo-caliber shocking swerve? I really think Edge running out and helping his "brother" would make more sense.

So I'm going with Jericho getting his first TV win in months, smiting his jealous buddy, and then getting to kiss the girl.  God I make myself sick.

Jeb Lund says:
There isn't much to say about this match. The Jericho-Christian-Trish triangle spun its wheels story-wise for so long that this recent explosion of enmity, jealousy and confusion seems rushed. This triangle can use more changes and also one or two more pay-per-view conflicts before the issue is resolved.

Moreover, Trish has been the vanilla babyface darling girl for so long that her character could really use some shaking up. Given that Victoria is pushing more into babyface territory, it would behoove the WWE to try deepening Trish's character by turning her heel. It would shake up the women's division, help put over other other women wrestlers and also add a bit of spice to the Jericho-Christian friends-no-more story.

Prediction: A treacherous and selfish Trish turns on Jericho, giving Christian the victory. Both of them pulp Jericho's handsome face and turn his blonde hair bloody in a vicious post-match beatdown. They then consummate their evil bond with a kiss. J.R. says the word "Jezebel" at least fifteen times. Christian smiles, and Jericho is certain of being in the midcard for another three months. Triple H slumps in a full-bodied sigh of relief and pays the bookers what he owes them.
Erin Anderson says:
Honestly? I haven't the slightest clue. Both guys traditionally get the short end of the booking stick. Christian could benefit from a big win, but so could Jericho, who could use the babyface momentum. And does Trish stand by her man or turn heel? The match itself should be quite good, and I hope it's the breakout in-ring performance that Christian has been needing lately to go along with his fantastic mic work. Ah hell, I'm flipping a coin.

Prediction: Jericho, who finally gets the Big Kiss from his Canadian Princess.

Matt Hocking says:
A lot of this match will hinge on whether or not Trish is turning.  Do I think she will?  Everything in my head is screaming "Yes, Matt, yes she will.  It makes the most 'Wrestling Sense.'"  However, that makes me think she won't.  I don't think Trish Stratus is ready for a heel Trish Stratus.  She's just not going to get booed, no matter how much she might goad Jericho.  Jericho and Trish, on the other hand, have a fairly good chance at being a popular couple for a possible turn down the road.  Jericho snaps his Mania losing streak and wins this one.
Canadian Bulldog says:
I still can't believe that, with the months of buildup that went into this, they handled the final split between Vitamin C in such a lame fashion. Oh, well. Jericho has to win this one, if for no other reason than he's going to be one of the big faces on Raw this year, and a loss to Christian would be meaningless. Call me crazy, but Trish Stratus might, just might, interfere here.
Big Danny T says:
Ahh, the first option where a SHOCKING SWERVE™ could present itself. The time when Trish turning to have the most impact would be at Wrestlemania, so I’m going to venture into unpopular territory here and say that Christian wins this one with help from Trish.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
I don't know why everyone thinks this will be a ****+ match.  I've yet to see a great singles match from Christian.  Plus with the heavy soap opera storyline surrounding it, workrate is likely to be secondary.  I hope that they don't pull a Russo finish and turn Trish heel, but I wouldn't be surprised.  I'll say Christian in an upset.
The Immolator says:
These guys will steal the show with a 20-minute classic. And the end game will see Edge come out... on the side of his brother! A WM swerve! Unbeleebable! Jericho loses, but wins the love of Trish in the process.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: Christian. I see Trish Interference here, ending with her turning Heel. 


Victoria vs. Molly Holly
(Title vs. Hair Match)

For almost eight months, Molly Holly reigned as the Women's Champion, and did it with style.  Oh, we already knew she could have the good matches (if we could be bothered to watch Heat, anyway), but starting last summer, Molly finally became a heel you could care about, and it was all because SHE cared about something: the women's title.

Instead of trying to convince us that Molly's ass was too big or that virgins are crafty and not to be trusted, the Fed settled on "Will Do Anything To Hold The Title" as Molly's gimmick.  And suddenly, she was doing classic shtick like shoving pages of Lita's own autobiography down her throat and bossing Gail Kim around for her nefarious purposes.  THAT I can boo.  Well, not really.  But I've been accused of being a slut for the heels, so...

But that doesn't explain why my fondness for Victoria hasn't faded with her recent face turn.  It could be as simple as the fact that she's plenty competent in the ring and her motivation hasn't really changed any even if fan response has: she just wants the title, too. And after pinning Molly in two non-title situations, Victoria finally got her shot at the belt two weeks ago.  And she made good on it, pinning first Molly and then Lita in an elimination-style match to win the belt.

How badly did Molly want to get her belt back?  Bad enough that when Steve Austin suggested she put her hair on the line against Victoria's title, she accepted.  Hair matches are a staple of wrestling, but to the best of my knowledge, only one has ever taken place involving women (on the only WOW PPV back 3 years ago)...  which should result in even more crowd interest than usual in this showdown.

The general rule of thumb in wrestling is that you don't tease a crowd with a stipulation like this if you don't intend to pay it off...  WOW actually did shave one of its girls bald.  Which leads me to want to do a discussion about whether or not Bald Molly is something I actually want to see.  I mean, on one hand, I'm on record as thinking the bald chick in the first Star Trek movie was still pretty hot.  On the other, I'm pretty sure I don't have any weird fetish or anything, I just think short hair (even baldness, apparently?) looks real good some times, not so good some others.  

But then I realize something: this ain't about whether Bald Molly would still look good.  It's awfully small-minded to approach it from that perspective.  It's about whether Bald Molly's a character people would care about.  And I think, especially after her compelling work the past two weeks (the hair pulling brawl and the promo with Austin, especially), that a crazed, bald Molly would be pretty over.  A win and she gets the gold back.  But a loss, and if nothing else, it would leave her on the map: the new hairstyle would essentially be a free pass to about 3 more months of being the top female heel on RAW.  And then she'd be just about back to where she was right after the change to brunette (but before she grew it into that ill-advised femullet), and the specialness would be gone...  but hey, I'd take three more months of Molly before they resort to Chyna 2.0 (Shaniqua, who'd be a division killer, if you ask me, and should go back to making people care about the Bashams). 

Oughta be interesting to see how they play this one...
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
Molly: 5 votes / Victoria: 4 votes

Rick Scaia says:
A total crap shoot.  On one hand, Molly can win and give the bottleneck of popular divas something to chase.  On the other, she can lose, get a haircut, and give the fans something to remember this match by.  Trying to figure out which of those two things the Fed would deem more valuable is tough. 

I'm gonna go ahead and say Molly wins: as a champion with a full head of hair, I think she'll continue to enrage fans and give the more popular divas the foil they so desperately need.

Jeb Lund says:
Has a woman ever had her head shaved bald in the middle of a wrestling ring? If one has, I haven't heard of it, and likely most people haven't either. Now is the time for it to happen. Plus I've always thought of Molly as the female Kurt Angle (without the mic skills), and I'd like to see my opinion supported more.

As I said earlier: Trish Stratus has been the vanilla babyface so long that it would greatly energize her character and the women's division to have her turn heel. Additionally, Victoria has been flirting with being a babyface for the last few weeks. Seeing her become a slightly nutty "good girl," while Trish turns into a manipulative Delilah and Molly becomes a bald furious shitkicker would refresh the women's division, making it must-see for at least a couple of months.

Prediction: Victoria wins, providing another feelgood victory. A defeated Molly fights against restraints and froths at the mouth while Victoria shaves her head in the middle of the ring. If it happens, people won't forget this match for a long time. If anything, it might bring the women's division to the attention of more viewers.
Erin Anderson says:
Putting Molly's hair on the line was a brilliant move to put heat on the match, which will no doubt be good if given enough time. But I don't see Molly losing her hair any time soon, as she's a pretty girl but probably couldn't pull off the cue-ball look the way Austin does. Give 'em at least ten minutes to put on a clinic for the other women in the back, and let Molly keep her hair.

Prediction: Molly Holly

Matt Hocking says:
I'm going out on a limb on this one.  A very odd and unusual limb.  But it's WrestleMania, and I've gotta take one chance.  Because it's my job to notice stupid minutiae, I've noticed that Stevie and Victoria haven't necessarily been very "couply" lately.  I don't know that they'll shave Molly's head, so I think she'll win when Stevie turns on Victoria.  What do I know?
Canadian Bulldog says:
Though my picks have been more or less face-centric so far, I still think Victoria will be able to pull it off here. Especially if she wears one of her new outfits here, because.. uh, those help her wrestle better. Yeah, that's the ticket. I'd also like to see if they go through with Molly getting her head shaved – can't say I've seen that angle ever used with the WWE divas before.
Big Danny T says:
Is Molly going to go G.I. Jane? Well, she has needed a character shakeup for a while (at the risk of sounding sexist, even for a women’s champion, her reign was pretty bland), so I’ll say yes and give Victoria the Duke (Duchess?) here.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
As much as I enjoy seeing Victoria have "her precious" back and as interesting as I think it would be to have Molly be bald, I just don't see them pulling the trigger on that one.  I see Molly regaining her title and having this feud go on through the summer.
The Immolator says:
Molly loses and gets her head shaven. There's a number of scenarios where other divas could come out and gain some revenge on Molly, but I've already pencilled in two run-ins, so let's not go there. A clean Widow's Peak for
the Duchess of Cheek.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: Molly Holly. The only time you lose one of these matches is if you were planning on cutting your hair anyway.

  
Rob Van Dam/Booker T vs. the Dudley Boyz vs. 
Mark Jindrak/Garrison Cade vs. La Resistance
(World Tag Team Titles Match)

You want the one part of this card where even I can't muster any enthusiasm?  You're looking at it, Junior.  A few years ago, I isolated the phenomenon of every WrestleMania, no matter how well crafted, having one match that was pre-determined to be a bathroom or beverage break.  In honor of the man who was in his second or third year of being in said match, I dubbed it the "Bull Buchanan Special."

That's this one.

The storyline here is -- and I really shit you not -- that there is no storyline.  Rob Van Dam and Booker T won the titles 3 weeks ago from Evolution.  Evolution, because they are big and mean and tough and never have to show ass, didn't get even remotely upset about it.  They never even mentioned it.  So RV-T were the champs, and had nobody to fight.  They kinda just said "Uh, who wants next ups?" and found themselves fighting random challengers for two weeks until somebody came up with this idea: let's just put four teams in the ring and call it a Tag Title Match.

So these four teams got the nod (or won their way in over even MORE directionless teams), and the closest we've come to storytelling was a sloppy-ish eight-man tag match this past Monday where wunderkinds Jindrak and Cade scored the upset pin over over Booker T, indicating that they are just as good as the champs.  Or something.  Then their fellow partners in the match, La Resistance, argued with them when they tried to celebrate the win, and we're supposed to care about this, I guess.

In fact, for all my displeasure with the lazy, half-assed way this match was set up, the truth is that people WILL care about it.  Crowd heat/interest shouldn't be a problem because most fans aren't cynical assholes like me.  They like the Duds (hey, so do I).  They like RVD (so do I).  They like Booker (so do I).  They are suckers for the cheap heat masters, La Resistance (No Sale!).  In a way, this match could be the perfect opener: get in, get out, scratch the fans where they itch with the four fan favorites hitting their spots, and get them keyed up without actually giving away anything of substance.

Even I couldn't complain too much about that...
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
RVD & Booker: 4 votes
Jindrak & Cade: 3 votes
Dudleys: 2 votes

Rick Scaia says:
Um.... RVD and Booker just got new team music on Monday, which is  usually a sign that a duo will be sticking together.  And they've certainly been doing a solid slow build with Jindrak/Cade lately.  It's between those two teams.  The Duds don't need the belts to be over as long as they've got tables, and La Resistance doesn't need the belts to be over as long as they pretend to be from France.  

Between the other two, it's a coin flip.  I'll take Booker and RVD just on the grounds of Because.

Jeb Lund says:
I have very few thoughts about this match, and what I do have is a lot of exceptions:
1. No one wants to see La Resistance with the titles again. Except maybe twitchy masochists who staple their toes together and read Jewel's poetry.
2. No one needs to see the Dudleys win the titles again for several months. I like the Dudleys, but I like them more when they counter, adapt and diversify what they do in the ring.
3. People pop for Booker T and RVD all the time, no matter what they're doing. Aside from the Dudleys, they're obviously the strongest team in this match. Having them win makes them almost division killers, as no one wants to see the heels pursue a face team that stands little chance of losing.

Prediction: Given the above, I think CadeDrak take the win here. The win helps define them as a team, gives them heat they wouldn't otherwise have, and having the Dudleys and RVD/Booker in the chase extends those teams' shelf-life a little more — having them learn to overcome cheating and unfortunate circumstances all over again. Plus, I don't have to see La Resistance parading around with a seven-dollar bottle of Louis Jadot Beaujolais, claiming that they're French and drinking one of the worst French wines on the planet. Yes, this sort of thing matters to me.
Erin Anderson says:
Do you even care? The lazy buildup makes it impossible to pick a winner. I like the idea of a Booker/RVD tag team, but they've barely been established as a pair, and only been given approximately 45 seconds of promo time since winning the belts. That screams "transitional champions" to me. Give the titles to the youngsters and see if they can run with them.

Prediciton: Jindrak and Cade

Matt Hocking says:
Jindrak and Cade may be a rising tag team repleate with DROPKICKS~!, but their match with Rosey and Hurricane show they've got a LONG way to go.  The Dudleyz are very very popular, but there's not really a good reason to put the titles on them right now.  La Resistance are out of the question in my mind.  Who's left?  RVD and Booker.  They've even got "new" music.  I think an RVD/Booker T feud has some good potential, but they'll need a little time to build it up.  I think they retain the titles here, only to lose them in somewhat convincing fashion down the road and then running a feud until WWE decides (IF they decide...) to move RVD to Smackdown.
Canadian Bulldog says:
And the winner is… who the hell cares? Jindrak and Cade could have became the unlikely heel underdogs here and made this whole match more interesting, but they've been relegated to Heat without a whole lot of character development. So I guess The Damn Dudleyz win, giving them, what, 2000 title reigns now? Boring.
Big Danny T says:
Seeing as how there is currently NOTHING going on in the tag, taking the titles off RVD/Booker T would make no sense. Champs retain, and move on to a belated feud with Evolution.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
Absolutely no one cares about Jindrak and Cade right now.  The Dudleys are just downright boring nowadays.  And while La Resistance has improved in the ring thanks to the addition of Conway, they have not been build recently to be credible.  I'll take the fact that RVD and Booker came out to a mix version of their theme songs as a sign that they're staying a team for awhile.  The champs retain here.
The Immolator says:
Dudleyz win, and I can see a post-match staredown with Edge and Christian, if they run the Vitamin C match first. This match would be another attention-grabber for Backlash, and I'd keep these guys at the top of the tag order for as long as it takes to re-build the division.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: The Snackbar.  What a freaking snoozefest.  Let's call it for Jindrak/Cade. Given that Jindrak/Cade are the only guys in this match that HAVEN'T held the belt ten billion times, I call it for them.  But it will suck.

 
SMACKDOWN! PRESENTS....


Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle
(WWE Title Match)

Talk about turning the corner.  From the Bull Buchanan Special to the quiet, sleeper-y match that I am flat-out most looking forward to on the entire show.  It's not as sexy or flashy as some other matches/feuds on this show, but it's the one I likes best.

Now, you could probably infer from previous comments that I'd REALLY have liked to have seen a Benoit vs. Lesnar WWE Title match headlining the SD! side.  And you'd be right.  I think it'd have a ton more sizzle than this; it'd have had 3 months more of back story, if nothing else.  And in the ring?  I think it would still have come pretty close to delivering what Eddie and Kurt will give us.

And therein lies the rub.  Eddie and Kurt's feud is less than a month old.  And month-old feuds simply do NOT headline WrestleManias.  Usually.  But these two are anything but the usual.  The obvious thing to do is praise the fact that it's probably next to impossible to find two guys this talented to put in the same ring.  But just as important, to me, are the personalities both bring.  It's only a month old, but by sheer force of Dick, Kurt has pushed through a heel turn in that time, while Eddie's phenomenal populist appeal has finally been exploited to the fullest by putting him in the main event.

In one month, the intensity of this feud actually (in my opinion) exceeds that of the RAW title match.  HHH/HBK, as good as it's been, still has a bit of been-there-done-that to it, leaving the only truly satisfying outcome to be a Benoit win.  Here, I think ANY ending could be compelling and set up plenty of future options.  And on top of that, you've got two guys trying something fresh, but still so perfectly in line with what we've seen before that it rings true and feels right.  

The story of Eddie Guerrero overcoming his addictions is REAL, but Kurt Angle is that straight-laced All-American guy who doesn't think any addict can be trusted.  It's just the slightest tweak on the guy who got over as a heel by professing the "Three I's" of Intelligence, Intensity, and Integrity.  Then it hits another, more entertainment-y/storyline level as Eddie continues to preach Lying, Cheating, and Stealing.  And that's a perfect match for Angle (and the 3 I's) again.  Angle's righteousness seems reasonable in its way.  Not "yay, go Kurt" reasonable, but "well, we should have seen this coming" reasonable, if that makes sense.

The result: this thing reached its flashpoint real fast.  In just two weeks, it's hit its peak: that's all it took for Angle to ruin Eddie's honeymoon after winning the title, to question his worth as a champion and as a man, and in the process to put these two on pace to steal the show at WrestleMania XX.

That's the other part of this equation: that these two are every bit as much about Go as they are about Show.  Give them 30 minutes, and they'll fill it up with nothing but rasslin' goodness.  The fact that their personas and the guaranteed heat will be laid on top of that are just gravy.  You could put these two inside a ring in an empty arena and somehow I think the story of the match and the intensity would still come through.

And believe, me, there aren't too many pairings of guys about whom I'd say that.  All due respect to the guy in the RAW title match, but these two really are that damned good.
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
Eddie: 7 votes / Kurt: 2 votes

Rick Scaia says:
As alluded to above, you could go either way with this finish.  Eddie smites Angle to establish his status as a new, reformed man, or Angle defeats Eddie to prove his moral (and wrestling) superiority.  Either way, doesn't matter.  The feud can (and should!) continue.  

I'm gonna go smark on you here and apply the "WWE doesn't tell the same story twice on the same show" heuristic.  A babyface is winning the RAW Title (even if I'm wrong in picking Benoit, HBK will win it), so I say Angle walks out with the SD! Title.  But Eddie will chase.  Oh will Eddie ever chase... but much like Mick Foley, I don't know as that he'll ever enjoy more than a month or so at a time with the belt.  But it won't matter, cuz it'll still make for out-freaking-standing TV.

Jeb Lund says:
Angle is untouchable. The guy is and ever shall be a credible main-eventer. Eddie on the other hand hasn't had an untainted major championship win. His defeat of Lesnar was marred slightly by the fact that Goldberg's spear of Lesnar rescued him. Since then he's been busy with Heyman-related nonsense, Angle's heel turn and the machinations of the Chavos Guerrero. It's time for Eddie to have a definitive win and cement himself as the equal of the champions of the ages.

Prediction: Eddie wins, as cleanly as reasonably possible. If it isn't a totally clean match, with Angle and Eddie putting on a clinic and Eddie getting the righteous win, then the dirtiness will be unequal. By that I mean that Eddie could fulfill the "Lying, Cheating and Stealing" thing by doing something cheap, giving us that Eddie Smirk and picking up the win. However, if he cheats, I think it will be less than Angle's cheating. Basically, I think that Eddie will only cheat if Angle starts it and then takes it too far. Kind of like Eddie saying, "I thought we were gonna have a match. But, if you wanna play it that way, I can play that game too."
Erin Anderson says:
This match should kick more ass than anything in the history of Things that Have Kicked Ass. It will be a joy to watch, and Angle would definitely make a credible champion. Unfortunately for him, Eddie is on such a hot streak that I can't see WWE taking the title off him just yet. If the news reports are correct, house show attendance went up considerably once Eddie won the title. Gotta go with the money here, and if there's any justice in this world, this match will be the last on the card. Make me proud, boys.

Prediction: Eddie

Matt Hocking says:
Eddie is still riding a wave of incredible popularity and Kurt is contemplating retirement.  What other big name faces are on Smackdown for Kurt to feud with?  Cena?  He's going to have the U.S. Title (I predict).  So Angle would have to feud with Eddie.  Again.  For at least two more months.  Or Undertaker.  I could see that, actually.  I think Eddie wins and feuds with Big Show.
Canadian Bulldog says:
WWE has stumbled onto a good thing with the popularity of Guerrero. I think they realize they have a marketable, over champion in Latino Heat, and well, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Angle doesn't need the belt to be taken seriously; he can go on for months as the evil protagonist. So I'm going with Eddy, in what should be the match of the night.
Big Danny T says:
Angle got a couple weeks of dominance in, and Now Eddie has roared back into fighting form, but it’s not going to be enough. Kurt will counteract Eddie’s Lying, Cheating, and Stealing with his own hypocritical shenanigans. But Damn if they won’t make this the Match of the night.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
You can make strong cases for either guy and both have been top notch in the storyline for this feud.  Since I chose the heel for the RAW title, I'll pick Eddie to retain here
The Immolator says:
Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle. Doesn't get much better than that. I hope Kurt has enough in him to go a good 30 minutes. Eddie wins another classic. Maybe Kurt shakes his hand after and heads off into the sunset. Hmm.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: Eddie Guerrero. Kurt, bless his heart, will gladly job to Latino Heat, setting up one of the best feuds of the decade.


Big Show vs. John Cena
(United States Title Match)

This one lends itself to a handful of snide remarks...  some might be directed towards the US Title's near-invisibility since it was won by Show last October; I actually think he went about three months before defending it on TV, and has probably put it on the line less than five times in six months.  Some others might reference the fact that this is a battle of the walking wounded; Show's got various aches and pains (a troublesome elbow, and a knee that he might opt to have scoped after Mania), while Cena's still dealing with a SD! Rumble knee injury of his own and also broke his hand/wrist last week.

But snide remarks at OO?!?  Never!  Let's try to stick to the business at hand.

Which takes us back to last November, when John Cena was still ostensibly a heel.  Sure, he was pretty much getting cheered in every city he visited, but he was SUPPOSED to be getting booed.  Until the weeks before the Survivor Series.  Paul Heyman needed a fifth man for Team Lesnar (Brock, Show, Nathan Jones, and Matt Morgan), and invited Cena; noting the bulk of the Team Lesnar members, Cena made a crack about "Team Sasquatch" that didn't sit well, and declined the invitation.  A week later, A-Train got the fifth spot and attacked Cena.  So Cena's response was to accept a spot on the opposing Team Angle.

It was in that match that Cena pinned the Big Show and Benoit pinned Lesnar.  The two were joint Survivors, and the path seemed clear: Benoit vs. Lesnar for the WWE Title and Cena vs. Show for the US.  But nothing's ever easy in WWE.  The Benoit/Lesnar thing, as noted above, was dropped mid-stream.  And it's taken four months to get Cena and Show in the same ring.

Both guys wound up getting tied into the WWE Title hunt after Benoit's departure clouded things on that front, and it was only after they were defeated by Angle in the 3-way #1 Contender's Match last month at No Way Out that they were free to rejoin their singles feud for the US Title in earnest.

On Sunday, Show makes a rare defense against the man who's been chasing him for months.  It oughta be pretty satisfying, especially considering Cena's popularity: don't over-stay the welcome, keep it tight and finish up with the "Holy Shit" visual of Cena F-U'ing Show, and I think this'll be good fun.  

Just a word of warning to John Cena:  Erin was right a couple weeks ago, babyfaces don't beg for cheers, they just get them because they're actually being clever.  Don't go trying to out-Rock the Rock (and you know what I mean)...  make sure you've got some lyric gold for Mania, because if there's one building full of assholes that'll cheer a babyface just to be contrary, it's MSG.  Well, actually it was ECW Arena, but MSG can be pretty finicky, too.  WrestleMania or no.
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
Cena: 9 votes / Show: 0 votes

Rick Scaia says:
No way this one doesn't go to Cena.  Show's done nothing for the US Title, and really, when you've got a guy who is 7 foot and 500 pounds, a title is not really gonna do much for him.  But on Cena, the belt might get defended a bit more regularly, and it'll also serve as notice that the kid is working his way up the card.
Jeb Lund says:
I think Show mauls Cena, works Cena's knee and generally acts like the big nasty bastard that he used to be. When all seems lost, Cena guts it out, hits the F-U, and picks up the win. Millions of Junior Eminems around the country brush their bleach-blonde Caesar haircuts a bit forward, sigh in relief, then ask their friends, "SNAP! What I tell you, dog?"
Erin Anderson says:
This is one of the few foregone conclusions on the card: Cena's been chasing Big Show since he pinned him at Survivor Series last year. One rap, a short match, and an FU later, and Cena's the new U.S. champ. Too bad the recent toning down of his character makes him look and act like a complete tool.

Prediction: Cena

Matt Hocking says:
Well, Cena fell short of his promise to be Main eventing Mania this year, but he'll win the U.S. Title.  Big Show has done literally nothing with the title since he won it, and Cena is a popular guy who would be helped by having a little gold around his waist.  Cena wins.
Canadian Bulldog says:
Big Show just might be set up to have his first halfway-decent WrestleMania match ever. Cena's popularity is starting to explode, and a U.S. title win would help to keep that momentum going. That said, if Eddy retains HIS SmackDown title, it wouldn't make a ton of sense for Cena to be the secondary champion, so this is a tough call. Still, I give the edge to Cena.
Big Danny T says:
Won’t be a technical Masterpiece, But I’ll put my bet on John Cena walking out with the US Title.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
No matter how many smoke and mirrors they try to use, they're not fooling anyone as to what the outcome is here.  Let's face it, Show has never won at WM and this is the blowoff to a (relatively) long feud.  Cena wins the title here in which should produce a huge pop from the crowd.
The Immolator says:
Um, Cena. I think the Fed has handled his ascension very well, not giving him too much, too soon. Although his character is totally different, I sense an Austin vibe here. Kudos to SD! for rehabilitating Show's monster status.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: John Cena. No contest on this one. 


Cruiserweight Open

Behind RAW's tag title match, this is perhaps the contest on the card that seems to have the least amount of thought, effort, and creativity behind it...  but in this case, who gives a crap?

The cruiserweights' jobs are to be under-appreciated, but to still go out there once a week and steal the show for a few minutes with some high flying action.  And they are supremely qualified to do so, even if the Fed hasn't exactly built up a ton of intricate storylines heading into this match.

The rules on Sunday are simple: Chavo Guerrero will defend his title in an elimination style match against any and all willing Cruiserweights.  Presently, nine opponents have declared their interest: Rey Mysterio, Tajiri, and then seven others who have absolutely zero chance of winning (Billy Kidman, Funaki, Jamie Noble, Ultimo Dragon, Akio, Nunzio, and Shannon Moore).

The primary story is champion Chavo versus Rey Mysterio.  Once necessity dictated that Chavo find something to do other than feud with his uncle Eddie, he wound up facing Rey Mysterio with the Cruiserweight Title on the line last month.  With the help of his ubiquitous father, Chavo Sr., Junior took the belt and has held it since.  Attempts to determine a #1 Contender for WrestleMania proved fruitless, and GM Paul Heyman was eventually forced to just say "To hell with it," and throw open the doors for any challenger who seemed interested.

Since that announcement, the Chavos have been outstanding in broadcasting their righteous indignation at being asked to defend the title against nine men, instead of just one, while the rest of the cruisers have been outstanding in having a pair of "trainwreck" style 6- and 8-man tag matches that pretty much spotlighted EXACTLY the kind of non-stop action fans can look forward to here.  It'll be ten guys (who knows? maybe one or two more if the Fed's got any surprises lined up for the "Open" stipulation), a rare case where the cruisers get at least 20 minutes of time to work, and it should be absolutely outstanding.
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
Rey: 5 votes / Chavo: 2 votes
Tajiri: 1 vote / Dragon: 1 vote

Rick Scaia says:
I see this as a 2-and-a-half man match.  Chavo could win.  Rey could win.  I'm such a Tajiri mark that I think he's a plausible champ, but realize I'm kinda deluding myself.  And then there's everybody else, who will show up, hit their spots, but powder out once the money's on the line.  

Even under fire from 9 directions, I think Chavo makes it through to the bitter end (thanks to assists from his increasingly-entertaining father)... but then the luck runs out.  Rey Mysterio walks out with the gold, but Chavo makes a strong enough showing that he's gonna remain right there as a top challenger in the aftermatch.

Jeb Lund says:
Oh, God, this mess. What do you want me to tell you?—that there's some logical certainty out there?—that this will be anything less than a clusterfuck of leaping around? Not only does it seem implausible that the human eye will be able to appreciate even one-third of what's going on in this match, but I don't think the human mind will be able to see that one-third and find a great deal of reason in it.

Plus, the very messy structure of the match tells me that this is a genuine opportunity to have a kind of "anything goes" result come of it. There are so many men and factors that can cancel each other out that it seems like a good idea to scrap the guys who have an obvious chance of winning. Because of that, throw out Mysterio. He's had the belt so much, and he's very popular. He doesn't need it; and if the division gets dull in the future, they can always hot-shot the belt to him. Additionally, scrap Chavo. He has the belt, and it will seem dull and uneventful if all that mess ends up with no change at all. Plus Chavo seems really compelling in the hunt: he has a cool menacing hunger, to say nothing of the extra interest generated by having his dad helping him out.

This is the time to try someone else, since the "open" aspect of the contest allows for so much possibility.

Prediction: Tajiri wins. Tajiri gets a good fan response, is a credible champion and puts on perennially entertaining matches. There's no shame in having him win the belt. Plus, two other factors make his victory interesting:
1. It's good to have at least a couple of matches on the WrestleMania card where a heel wins.
2. It would be neat to have a midcard stable dominate in the wake of his victory. Think of Tajiri as the head of a mini-Evolution, keeping the Cruiserweight Championship while managing Akio and Sakoda to a tag-team championship.

I think that would be neat and full of lots of fun possibilities. So that's what I'm going with. I'm a sucker for dynamic stories.
Erin Anderson says:
There are only two options here, given the build-up: Chavo or Rey. I'd love to see WWE throw a curve ball and put the title on someone like Ultimo Dragon. I'd also love to win the lottery. The cruisers got a nice chunk of time on this week's Smackdown!, so I think they'll be given plenty of time to put on a jaw-dropping spotfest. And that's just fine with me. Tajiri may also have an outside chance, but I say give Mysterio the win, in return for him and Matt Hardy getting only four minutes last year in favor of mindless bullshit like the Miller Light Cat Fight Girls and Limp Bizkit. And that leaves Matt the loser in this whole thing, poor bastard.

Prediction: Mysterio

Matt Hocking says:
Every sign going in says that this is just a way to get all these guys on the card (Ultimo Dragon lives out his dream!) and a block to stumble the inevitable Rey/Chavo match.  Rey wins the Open, and goes on to face Chavo. 
Chavo gets the win after Chavo Sr. helps him cheat to win.
Canadian Bulldog says:
Rey should get the win here, setting up for a rematch with Chavo the same night. But then, Chavo wins their one-on-one. No sense killing their feud with a win by Rey at Mania when they can drag it out, at least until the next SD-only PPV.
Big Danny T says:
No love for Paul London? Hopefully, this won’t be a 10 minutes special like Wrestlemania last year, and they’ll actually let a match develop. The person I’d LOVE to win? Akio! It would be so out of left field and it would put an interesting new angle up with Tajiri. But seeing as Rey Mysterio has been the only cruiserweight worth noting (according to WWE TV recently, at least), he’ll be the one to walk out with the gold.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
Given the setup for this match, the only likely outcome is Chavo overcoming the odds and retaining his title.  Most likely by doing nothing early on and cheating in the end.  That's fine by me and it'll make Cole really pissed off which should be funny.
The Immolator says:
I'm biased, but I believe that the best thing to do here is put the belt on Ultimo Dragon and market the holy hell out of him in Japan/Mexico. Also open a relationship with Toryumon. The Fed is gong to need some fresh blood in the worst way after this show.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: Rey Rey. Rey wins simply because he deserves to.

 
Rikishi/Scotty 2 Hotty vs. the Basham Brothers vs. the APA vs. the World's Greatest Tag Team
(WWE Tag Team Titles Match)

SD! four-way tag title situation is nominally more interesting than RAW's.  Without the bankable babyface crutches of RVD, Booker, and the Dudleys, it may not have the same fan appeal come Sunday, but at least I got the impression the SD! creative team was trying when they threw these four together.

It actually started back around the New Year when Rikishi and Scotty started chasing the champion Bashams.  They even got a non-title win over the not-quite-twins.  Finally, after two months of close-calls Scotty and 'Kish upended the Bashams in a match last month on PPV (even sending their manager, Shaniqua, back to the minors after pinning her in the contest).  Meantime, on the same show, the World's Greatest Tag Team were staking their claim to a top contender spot by defeating the APA in a revival of their long-standing feud.

A week later on SD!, the APA are shooting some card with the new tag champs, and let it slip in that they'd like a shot at the titles.  Scotty and Rikishi are OK with that.  This ENRAGES, Haas and Benjamin, who just got done beating the APA, and felt they should be ahead of Faarooq and Bradshaw in the line for title shots.  And then the Bashams, believing they deserved their obligatory rematch, got involved, and all four teams started brawling back in the APA office.

In subsequent weeks, we've had the requisite levels of all four teams sticking their noses in the others' business, and one-ups-manship in one-on-one and two-on-two matches.  We even had a perversely entertaining skit in which Haas and Benjamin dressed up as the APA and sang Curt Hennig's classic West Texas Rednecks theme song, with lyrics altered so that "The APA Is Crap."

Pure bottled genius?  Nah.  But at least these four teams have reasons to hate each other and be fighting over the tag team titles.  Plus, I'm a huge fan of Haas and Benjamin, and find myself hoping that the preceding show of personality, combined with a big title win at Mania, might be what they need to move up to the next level.  Fans, at large, might not be so interested in this one, but I also don't think it'll come even close to sucking: maybe use it as a palate cleanser during the latter half of the show? 
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
Haas & Benjamin: 7 votes / Schmozz: 1 vote
Rikishi & Scotty: 1 vote

Rick Scaia says:
I think you can eliminate the Bashams from contention.  With Shaniqua, they had a certain plausibility as champs.  Without, they're just two generic guys who used to like being dominated.  The APA are kind of like the Dudleys, only not over; they won't get the belts.  Which leaves us with the champs and the WGTT.  

Another coin flip, another one where I'll just let my personal tastes dictate my pick.  I dig Haas and Benjamin.  I say they win.

Jeb Lund says:
I almost want to apologize to all of these men, because I really don't care. I wish them the best, but I really wish that this could entertain me. Again, the only way I can really break down this match is by naming exceptions:

1. No one needs to see the Bashams carrying the belts again.
2. I like the World's Greatest Tag Team. Both Benjamin and Haas are excellent workers, and I'm excited to see them improve even more. But them winning puts a rush on their careers, at least in my book. They need the safety of a tag team for a little while longer. Ideally, they will struggle to win the belts for several months, all the while improving their promo abilities. Then they can win the belts again, have a decent reign and self-destruct a year from now. Then they can part ways as better-developed characters, have a good feud and go on to more reasonable and believable singles careers.
3. The APA is the APA, with or without belts. Let's have a beer and forget about the whole winning/losing hassle.

Prediction: Rikishi and Scotty keep the belts. There is "fun" resulting from their win. Good feelings abound. If someone else keeps the APA out of contention, we could even see a friendly and goofy Scotty/Rikishi/APA post-match celebratory dance. That's all I've got. Keep in mind that I don't really care about this match, and even this opinion was lackadaisically cobbled together.
Erin Anderson says:
Just like the RAW tag match, this one is almost impossible to predict.  If WWE put the tag titles on Scotty and Rikishi in the first place, then I honestly don't know how the hell they book these things. Throwing darts at a board with all the tag teams' names on them? Spinning a giant wheel like on RAW Roulette? I'll just pick the best team out of the bunch to win, and hope and pray that I'm right.

Prediction: Haas and Benjamin

Matt Hocking says:
The Bashams aren't about to win a Mania match.  Rikishi and Scotty might, but they won't win this one.  That leaves the APA and The World's Greatest Tag Team.  Shelton Benjamin especially has been ON recently, and that leads me to believe that TWGTT will get some recognition and a well deserved title run here.
Canadian Bulldog says:
See similar Raw-like match. No one cares about this match or its teams. WGTT have shown me a lot since their debut over a year ago, but its hard to get behind them when the company doesn't. I could see APA coming out on top, just to finally give them their WrestleMania win before they wither away and die. Either that or some of kind of lame double (er, I guess quadruple) disqualification schmozfest.
Big Danny T says:
Smackdown has put a little more effort into their tag division, but not much. But out of the burgeoning feuds, APA vs. The Worlds Greatest Tag Team seems to have the most legs, so I’ll call for Charlie and Benjamin to walk out with the straps.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
Let's do this by process of elimination, shall we.  Rikishi/Scotty 2 Hotty - SUCK.  APA - SUCK.  Bashams - SUCK.  That leaves the World's Greatest Tag Team.  Hopefully someone in CT has some brain cells and realizes this is the right choice.  TWGTT is my pick to win.
The Immolator says:
This will have to be the WGTT. Leave them at the end with Scotty and Rikishi, let Scotty hit the worm (tease them a bit with it earlier in the match), but give the bad guys the duke. WM is usually heavy on the faces winning, but it's also the place where the best guys should win.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: World's Greatest Tag Team. Given that Haas/Benjamin are the ENTIRE sum of talent involved in this match, it'd be criminal for them to lose.

 
INTERPROMOTIONAL ACTION...


Brock Lesnar vs. Bill Goldberg
(Special Referee: Stone Cold Steve Austin)

If this match goes on last at Mania, then and only then should you even REMOTELY start considering wild "worked shoot" possibilities.  But even if this thing goes on in the middle of the show, it's going to be damned impossible to keep the Smark Switch from flipping itself into the on position.

As the special ref might say, the Bottom Line: Bill Goldberg's contract with the Fed permits him to walk away from WWE following WM, and most sane observers think that's exactly what he'll do.  Brock Lesnar, worn down and frustrated by the wear and tear of the job, apparently announced his plans to quit WWE following WM to pursue a job in the NFL.  Which leaves referee Steve Austin as the only man who fans can count on seeing on TV next week.

Talk about bizarre.

Goldberg and WWE parting ways makes a certain amount of sense; WWE, either by virtue of mishandling Goldberg or by virtue of Goldberg '98 being a one-time phenonmenon, simply wasn't getting return on their investment there, and Goldberg wouldn't be happy making less money or occupying a lower spot on the card.  The Lesnar story still, however, is still so outrageous and wrong-feeling that I'm having trouble getting my head around the idea that Lesnar, on what is basically the two year anniversary of his WWE debut, might be working his last match.

And suddenly, those issues over-power the on-screen drama between Lesnar and Goldberg.  Not that that was too hard.  After making a grand total of about 3 appearance in the same arena as Lesnar, Goldberg exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to sit at home and rest until his final obligation at WM.  That's put the onus on Lesnar and referee Austin to try to tell a compelling story in his absence.  It has resulted, at times, in awkward phases where it seems like the PPV feud is actually Austin vs. Lesnar or even Austin vs. McMahon.

Goldberg vs. Lesnar is not without its moments: it's just that none of them are really recent.  Things started with Goldberg "stealing the spotlight" of Lesnar in an interview at Survivor Series.  Then, when Lesnar did the same thing to Goldberg at the next joint-PPV, the Royal Rumble, Goldberg stood up to Lesnar, verbally, and challenged him to do something physical about it.  So later in the night, in the Royal Rumble match, Lesnar made an unwelcomed run-in, F-5'ed Goldberg, and cost Goldberg his shot at regaining the World Title he'd just lost to HHH.  Goldberg was furious, and 4 weeks later, accepted a ticket from Steve Austin to sit ringside for SD!'s No Way Out PPV.  At the show, Goldberg hopped the rail and beat on Lesnar for a bit.  After that Goldberg was "arrested," but apparently busted out, because he re-appeared later in the night to attack Lesnar during his title defense against Eddie Guerrero.  Goldberg's attack switched the momentum of the match in Eddie's favor, and minutes later, he'd pin Lesnar following a Frog Splash.

So a case can be made that Lesnar cost Goldberg the World Title, while Goldberg returned the favor by costing Lesnar the WWE Title.  Which is all well and good, but it's not that sexy when you consider that once that part of the story was told, Goldberg was going to be absent for a month leading into the match.  Enter Stone Cold Steve Austin.  First, Austin made the mistake of trying to mediate a dispute between GMs Bischoff and Heyman over Goldberg and Lesnar's cross-promotional fuckery.  When Goldberg came out and got involved, he tried to Spear Heyman.  He missed and hit Austin.  Two weeks later, Austin was minding his own business when Lesnar made an unsanctioned appearance on RAW and F-5'ed the Sheriff.

For reasons his own, Austin thought it'd be pretty neat to see the two monsters face off at WM, but because it was a Cross Promotional rivalry, there was only one man who could make it happen: Vince McMahon.  And Vince had concerns about being able to control the contest.  When Austin announced he was perfectly willing to referee the match and maintain order himself, Vince finally relented and made the match.  Thus began two more weeks of Austin vs. Vince shenanigans and Austin vs. Lesnar hijinx (such as the stealing of Austin's justice buggy and subsequent storming of SD! by Austin to regain his ATV and brawl with Lesnar).  And two more weeks of pretty much forgetting about this Goldberg fellow.

Then this week, all the rumors about Lesnar retiring hit, and we've got another reason to not care about the posted reasons behind this match.  What has all the makings of a decent little power/strong-style match, one that would probably be pretty solid if they wrapped it up in 15 minutes or less, is overshadowed by Smark Concerns over how they'll finish it.  If Goldberg's gone and Lesnar is at the very least taking time off (if not actually retiring), they'll have to find a way to put referee Steve Austin over in the end.  Given his recent statements about there not being a man on either roster who can whup his ass, they're clearly positioning him to be a take charge ref on Sunday....

Folks: even under the best of circumstances, this one would probably have a hard time sniffing *** on the smark scale... but after what's gone down this last week, tell me you aren't going to be positively riveted to your TV during this one on Sunday.  You liar.  I'm gonna be really curious to watch this one...
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
Lesnar: 5 votes / Goldberg: 4 votes

Rick Scaia says:
I have no fucking idea.  Even if both guys were sticking around, the interpromotional-ness of it would make it hard to apply standard booking logic...  it's not like the face can lose and then chase later.  It's not like the heel can lose and then "get his heat back" down the line.  Toss in all the rumors and the fact that Austin's probably the only guy who SHOULD come out of this one smelling like  a rose, and it's a headache to pick a winner.  

I'm gonna take a flyer and say Austin hates Lesnar more than he hates Goldberg.  Their hostility bubbles over, causing Austin to attack Lesnar.  Goldberg capitalizes and scores the win.  Maybe Austin Stunners him for good measure, too.  Or maybe not.  But if he doesn't, he'll still be the last man in the ring after this segment (after Goldberg leaves -- or is Stunnered -- Brock comes to, he'll confront Austin, and eat a Stunner as a farewell gift, maybe).

Jeb Lund says:
Okay, so BROCK LESNAR is supposedly leaving the WWE for the NFL. And Goldberg, who was supposedly leaving the WWE for lazy and lucrative dates in Japan, may now be signing an extended contract. What a bunch of speculative bullshit.

One week ago, this one was a piece of cake to predict: Goldberg's leaving, so Lesnar wins. Now it appears the reverse: Lesnar's leaving, so Goldberg wins. Okay, I'll play that game.

Prediction: Goldberg wins.

Now some people would like to see Austin stunner both and leave it at that, but that's hardly an audience-friendly result. Given the hype and supposed allure of this match, having a no-decision is both cheap and also insulting to those who had any interest in it. Still, both men attacked Austin, and Austin has threatened both. He has to be involved in some way.

Extended Prediction: Goldberg attacked Austin, but he at least owned up to it and asked if things were "cool." I suspect that Austin returns the attack, but doesn't get carried away. With Brock, I expect a stunner and also some other violence. Austin will relish giving Brock the figurative shithammer, but will be pushed by circumstance to dole out anything to Goldberg. No matter what, Goldberg picks up the win.

But this match has the potential to be the most overbooked. Austin could eat a spear (thus setting up the stunner on Goldberg) and get knocked out for a bit. Bischoff and Heyman could run in with ref shirts on, trying to replace Austin and count a pinfall for their brands. Both could then eat stunners from an irate Austin.

Yet, in spite of the overbooking, I think the punishment and shenanigans for each competitor will probably be equal. Lesnar's a bitch, so Austin fucks him up. Goldberg accidentally hit's Austin, so Austin fucks him up, too. In spite of it all, Goldberg overcomes the obstacles and Lesnar. Hooray! And who's next?
Erin Anderson says:
The news of Brock quitting certainly throws a wrench into things, doesn't it? Well, maybe not. I thought Lesnar would win before I heard the news, and I still think he will because he's the more likely of the two to come back. I wouldn't want to bury Lesnar on his way out, so he picks up the win here. That doesn't matter much, though, since Austin will be the star of the show here. Stunners for everyone! Afterward, Austin shoots on both of them for being pussies and walking out on the company when they're needed the most and... nevermind.

Prediction: Lesnar

Matt Hocking says:
This match is nothing if not interesting.  Part of me just screams that Austin will just Stunner both guys for being idiots and then call out somebody like Vince and brawl for a while.  Failing that, however, I think that if Brock is serious about leaving, Goldberg will get the win (and then
eat a stunner at the end of the celebration).  Goldberg is the face, so if they're concerned about popping the crowd, here's another chance.  Plus, I think that there is a good chance we'll see one or two more matches out of Bill in the future, giving him a win here would build up some good faith.  Still, neither guy will end up looking great.  I expect a "you sold out chant" at both guys from the smart MSG crowd.
Canadian Bulldog says:
Now that both guys are bolting directly after the match is done, this is easily the toughest contest to pick a winner for. If you're in Vince McMahon's shoes, what the hell do you do? Either guy could be back by the end of 2004; neither are leaving on remarkably bad terms; both are very over and marketable. Goldberg was just as successful in his rookie WWE year as Lesnar was in his two with the company. So who to pick? I don't know; but my previous guess was that Austin turns on Goldberg, kicking off a new heel sheriff character for the Texas Rattlesnake. So I'll stick with Brock here, though barely. The other factor: who says Vince won't talk Brock into staying between now and Sunday night?
Big Danny T says:
Wow, how do I call this one? With both guys potentially gone after WM, it’s not like it really matters who wins. I predict that Stone Cold hits both guys with stunners at the 15 minute mark, and Goldberg follows up with Spear, Jackhammer, Win.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
Oh boy, where to start with this one.  Given this past week's news, it's anybody's guess.  I hope they don't have Austin stun both and declare a no contest.  Something still seems fishy about this Brock story, so I'll say that he's not leaving and still gets the clean win here.
The Immolator says:
Good thing Austin is involved here. If both guys are indeed leaving, he can go best the holy tar out of both of them. I suspect instead we'll see Austin cause Lesnar's defeat, and Goldberg will maintain some sort of relationship with WWE that lets him go to Japan or whatever while Lesnar tries the football thing.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: Brock Lesnar. Goldberg's departure from the WWF leaves ths one a moot point.


Undertaker vs. Kane

On Sunday, Taker vs. Kane will become only the fifth match in history to be repeated at multiple WrestleManias.  The two "brothers" first fought at WM14 in Boston, and my how things have changed.  Since that first fight, Kane has learned to talk, been unmasked, and shown to have been scarred more psychologically than physically.  And Taker lost all his supernatural powers, took a liking to motorcyles, then got buried alive, and is now coming back after apparently having found his super powers.

That's pretty much everything you need to know in a nutshell.  But maybe a bit more than a nutshell would be appropriate: this phase of the feud actually goes back to October, when the Undertaker (in biker mode) crossed paths with Vince McMahon.  Vince had cock-blocked Taker in his quest to win the WWE Title, and so Taker decided he wanted to fight Vince on PPV.  So in October, Taker got to pick the match: a Buried Alive match.  After spending exactly one week displaying the Bobbing Adam's Apple of Terror, Vince started getting really creepy.  He began displaying a perverse confidence and talking about a higher power that would help him defeat Taker.

Sure enough, at the PPV, Vince got his ass kicked for a few minutes by Taker, and then Kane, Taker's little brother and hungry for attention of his own, showed up.  Kane and Vince, together, buried Undertaker alive.  Kane immediately eulogized his brother, rehashing the key bits of their backstory (about how Taker always took the things that belonged to Kane, but now he was dead and it was Kane's turn to shine).  Everything seemed fine for three months or so.

Then at the Royal Rumble, ominous harbingers of the Undertaker started showing up. A BONG hit here, a purple light there, some spooky smoke and a TitanTron video in another place...  eventually the pieces came together, and it became obvious that the Undertaker, in some form, was plotting a return at WrestleMania XX.  Kane was adequately spooked by the mind games (no matter how gay some of them got), and demanded that Vince McMahon do something, because if he didn't, Vince (who was front and center in helping bury Taker back in October) might be next.  So Vince announced that he wanted to put an end to the mind games, and that at WM20, Taker would have to show up in the flesh to fight his younger brother once again.

Since his burial, Undertaker has not appeared on TV.  Only his symbols, his videos, his urn, and things like that have appeared.  He's been hard at work, though, growing his hair out in anticipation of bringing back the Old School Undertaker.  The Dead Man.  Last seen by WWF fans in 1999.  That alone makes even crusty ol' me kind of keen on this match.  I know it won't be a workrate classic.  I know the possibilities of Gay Spookiness run high.  I know that all the value that Taker and Kane have as Talented Big Men probably goes out the window because the Dead Man gimmick requires Taker to work a different style than the under-appreciated brawling he's done in the last year or so, and we'll be getting a ton of no selling and lumbering around.

But I my interest is still piqued.  A couple of tangential bonus issues help out on that front: for one, Taker's 11 match undefeated WrestleMania streak is on the line.  Part of me thinks that IF it is ever to be ended, Kane is the guy who should, poetically, get to do it.  But another part thinks that the nature of this match, the fact that nobody (until an afterthought this past Monday), has really mentioned the streak, means that this would be the wrong year to do something as major as asking Taker to lose.  Another thing: Paul Bearer, who many expect will be at Taker's side on Sunday.  The urn on Monday seems to support that, as it was always a Paul Bearer acoutrement; the bonus with Paul is that he also has a past with Kane, which might make for interesting swerve possibilities.  And finally, I would not be The Me if I didn't mention Pete Rose; he'll be in the house on Sunday, and part of me would love if this was the year when he FINALLY got the better of Kane.  But most of me knows it much more likely that he'll engage in another act of futility instead.  Keep on trying , Pete!
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
Taker: 9 votes / Kane: 0 votes

Rick Scaia says:
The Undertaker isn't coming back to lose his Perfect WrestleMania Record without any fanfare on that front.  I'm not serious when I say that it'll take Paul Bearer and/or Pete Rose to get overcome Kane, but one way or another, Taker gets the win and extends his remarkable Mania legacy.  

In the wake of this Lesnar news, I might be a fan of using Taker's win as a motivation to set Kane loose on a path of rage that ends with him going full-time to SD!, which could benefit from another top level heel.

Jeb Lund says:
Kane doesn't have a chance in hell, even if both he and Undertaker can summon powers from that place. The Dead Man returns and beats Kane. Period. The only possible twinge in this story that I think might happen is this: Undertaker beats Kane so badly — through fire or something else — that Kane is finally "burned" or hurt "in reality" and returns to using a small mask and his most recent body-covering outfit. The de-masked Kane has been such a botched concept. Thanks to a pointless three-month feud with Shane McMahon, ball-shocking, a faked death in a dumpster of fire and a pointless car accident, Kane has become crazy and still practically impotent. A return to the old mysterious Kane might reinvest his character with a strength and motivation lost for over half a year.

'Taker wins, but here's hoping he does it in a way that redefines Kane and sets him on a more vital and compelling course.
Erin Anderson says:
Kane destroys Taker and moves on to a title feud with Chris Benoit. Yeah, I didn't think so either. Taker gives everyone goosebumps with the old-school Deadman ring entrance, busts out the over-the-top-rope-no-hands plancha, and kills Kane. Then he'll hopefully move on to Triple H, who will take a LONG vacation to sell his injuries and make a few movies. Everybody's happy.

Prediction: Undertaker

Matt Hocking says:
Undertaker's got a streak to protect and I think he'll do it here.  I can't fathom them going through all this trouble of re-debuting the Deadman Character to have him lose his first match back.  Especially at Mania.  Taker wins in semi-convincing manner to set up his last big run.
Canadian Bulldog says:
The Dead Man wins it. No other explanation is really needed here. Maybe Paul Bearer shows up in Taker's corner.
Big Danny T says:
Lets see: Taker has undefeated streak to protect, is coming back from an extended absence, and has a brand new (old) gimmick to foist upon us, and no way is he getting the latest leg of his (possibly) waning career off to a start with a loss. Undertaker goes to 12-0, with Pete Rose’s help.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
We're not watching this match for its wrestling content.  WM XIV proved they can only do so much together.  We're seeing this match for Taker's entrance which will hopefully produce and unforgettable moment.  Hopefully Kane will get some offense in but no matter how much he gets, Taker will be going to 12-0.
The Immolator says:
Bung! Taker in a relative squash, with Paul Bearer along for the ride. I expect some interesting HybridTaker here, keeping the bike but regaining the Attitude-Era look. MSG will eat it up. The match itself might not be much, but we'll see.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: Let's see.  It's Wrestlemania. Taker has never lost at Mania, and he never will.  Especially not on his first match back.


Torrie Wilson/Sable vs. Stacy Keibler/Miss Jackie
(Evening Gown Match)

Wheeeee!  Half-nekkid women!  If you need me to explain this one to you, you are officially retarded.  Even if you, like, go for dudes or are a girl or something, you should be able to figure this one out.

Guys like nekkid women, and that what this one's about.  After Playboy had already done a photo shoot with past nekkid babes Torrie Wilson and Sable, WWE did an angle in which Playboy was Searching for the Hottest Pair of Divas.  This despite the fact that anybody who actually noticed those squiggly lines that could be strung together to form words in the pages of Playboy had already, weeks before, announced that they'd selected Torrie and Sable....

But now I'm thinking, and there's no place for thinking where bare ass is involved.  Finally, WWE revealed on TV what everybody knew already: that Torrie and Sable would be appearing together in a new Playboy magazine.  This enraged Miss Jackie and Stacy Keibler, who thought that THEY should have been on the cover (and more importantly, on the inside pages) of Playboy.  Various catty insults were exchanged from RAW to SD! and back again, and finally, a few weeks ago, Miss Jackie and Stacy convinced Vince McMahon to make a third InterPromotional Match for Mania so that they could show Sable and Torrie just which two divas are most awesomest.  And that wily Vince, he knows what sells, so he made it an evening gown match.

God bless 'em, I'm sure they'll try some wrestling to start.  Sable, actually, has two very credible wrestling matches under her belt at past Manias.  Jackie came up via the Tough Enough route and is at least semi-trained (even if her in-ring performances to date raise some questions).  Even Torrie has learned a thing or two in the times she's been asked to wrestle.  And Stacy, ummmm....  well, she's got that one move where she tosses an opponent into a turnbuckle and then she chokes her out with a boot so that JR can make some comment or another about how she's using all 41 inches of those legs.  That one's pretty fun to watch.

But mostly, this one will get good only once the rolling around on the mat, the hair pulling, and the clothes ripping start.  The girls will be allowed to bust out their PPV-caliber under garments (OMG THONG~!), and with Miss Jackie around, well... let's just say that she was doing Wardrobe Malfunction before Wardrobe Malfunction was cool.  So you never know....
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
Torrie and Sable: 6 votes
Jackie and Stacy: 3 votes

Rick Scaia says:
Sing along with the Rick, now: And the winners will be... THE FANS!  God, I love the classics.

Nobody really cares who wins, as long as we see bare ass.  My guess at an outcome, though: Jackie and Stacy have made more of a show of being exhibitionists lately, so they'll actually "win" the match by stripping the SD! girls, and then, because they want to give us our money's worth, they'll get nekkid, too.

Jeb Lund says:
The women who actually appeared in Playboy win.

If you actually care about this, I will consider advertising your PayPal account in this column, so that my readers can contribute to helping you buy a fucking life.
Erin Anderson says:
Does this even warrant a prediction? Were it not for the Evening Gown stipulation, I might hope for a pleasant surprise in the same vein as Trish/Stephanie from 2001. But only one of these girls has any decent wrestling training, and even then took part in one of the worst matches in RAW history. The girls will roll around, pull hair, tear clothing, and possibly get naked. Really, the only reason to have the match on the card is the boobies. Or is that bOObies? Either way, I don't care, so I'm consulting my trusty coin on this one.

Prediction: Stacy and Miss Jackie

Matt Hocking says:
Will they punish Sable?  No.  Torrie and Sable won the Playboy contract, and they will win this match.  Stacy and Jackie will show their bra and panties clad goods, and a winner will be...us.  I guess.  At least My Darling Stacy is involved.
Canadian Bulldog says:
The only benefit of this match will be watching the reaction of the two prudish older psychos who gather at the North York, Ontario movie theater I watch PPV's at. They HATE any mention of T 'n' A (not to be confused with TNA) and this match should have plenty of it. Though… why on earth is this on the card? Seriously. I'm guessing that Torrie and Sable get the win here, though they could do a virtual replay of last year's Miller Lite crapfest and have "everyone win". Another prediction: Jerry Lawler has a heart attack while doing commentary.
Big Danny T says:
Umm, You’re kidding, right? Everyone knows who the real winners are going to be here: the fans! But seeing as how I actually have to predict a winner here: order of strippage goes as such: Sable, Jackie, Stacy, and for the victory pose, Torrie strips the gown off to reveal a little number to make even Dead or Alive Gamers blush.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
I'd like to say the fans would be the winners but why do I think I'll be underwhelmed with the outcome.  I'll say Torrie and Sable get stripped and it'll be a big whoop-de-do since I can see them more naked in my copy of Playboy. 
The Immolator says:
Let's face it - we're all winners. Torrie and Sable go over, but all of them will end up in a lovely state of undress. I'm assuming here that Sable will not be leaving the company to follow Brock - heck, someone's gotta pay the bills.
Kyle Maxwell says:
Winner: Bad taste world-wide.  Let's say Torrie/Sable.

 

The Extras: Legends, Memories, and Surprises

At five hours long, and with only 12 matches on tap, the Fed obviously has a few other things in store for us on Sunday.  First and foremost, you can count on copious video packages and historical moments being recapped.  They'll stop shy of showing entire past matches (or at least, they should, because otherwise, I'd be really pissed about shelling out my money to watch stuff that's already in my video collection), but I'm sure there will be no shortage of old footage that'll put a smile on the face of some of us long-time fans and that'll serve as a bit of a history lesson for you newer ones.

Helping out in that regard: a roster of legends and Hall of Famers who will be in attendance on Sunday.  The HoF Class of 2004 will all be in the house, including Jesse Ventura, Bobby Heenan, Superstar Billy Graham, Harley Race, Greg Valentine, Tito Santana, Don Muraco, Sgt. Slaughter, and the aforementioned Pete Rose.  Maybe they'll just be carted out for token ovations... but part of me thinks it'd be cool if they guys that are willing got a shot at being part of the show in throwaway moments.

You know... like Pete Rose doing something with Kane.  Or Harley Race making a mentor-y appearance with Triple H and Ric Flair.  Maybe Jesse Ventura popping in on commentary.  Maybe Bobby Heenan doing the same thing, or maybe even showing up backstage to lend some advice (as he so often has) to a Giant like the Big Show.

Past HoF'ers and legends will also be there, and a few surprise guests are not out of the question.  Already, Mick Foley has invited Jimmy Snuka to be at the show.  Evolution already has a one-man advantage over Mick and the Rock, so maybe Snuka could show up to even the odds at a crucial juncture?  And if he does, how fucking SWEEEET would it be if a certain coconut-bashing heel from the good ol' days made an unannounced appearance to un-settle the odds?  Or maybe even the father of one of the opposing team members who just so happened to be opposite Snuka as a fellow corner man at WM1? These are just some of the random thoughts and possibilities that occur to me as we head into a five hour Mania with only 12 matches on the docket.

Unless they serious piss me off and overload on video packages -- or unless they go the other way and ask for 30-plus minutes out of HHH/HBK/Benoit, Angle/Eddie, Jericho/Christian, Rock 'n' Sock/Evolution, and the Cruisers -- then it seems like we've got about an extra hour to fill up with stuff that hasn't been clearly delineated by WWE.

Favorite Mania memories, unannounced legends, surprise musical guests, who knows?  But when it gets right down to it, on Sunday, the only thing that would surprise me the most is if the Fed had no surprises at all in store for us....
 

OO STAFF PREDICTIONS
HBK: 6 votes / Benoit: 2 votes / HHH: 1 vote

Rick Scaia says:
By definition, these things are SUPPOSED to be surprises, so I feel kind of bad trying to guess at things that could be shocking ejector seat moments.  I mean, if I'm right, then I've spoiled the pure joy of the moment for us all. And if I'm wrong I not only look like an ass, but I've unfairly raised all our expectations.  But what the hell?  

Of the known legends, I say Pete is the one most likely to do something active.  Of the possible guests, I think I'd almost put money on Paul Bearer showing up.  Roddy Piper (doing something with Snuka, maybe) is the next  likeliest.  And a big part of me will actually be pissed if WWE tries to do this WM without Hulk Hogan; I'm not the biggest Hulkamaniac in the world or anything, but to suggest that we'd be here for WM20 without him is ludicrous.

I don't want to get into the wild conspiracy theories about a "new WCW" or anything like that, but I will say this: the brand war will also be addressed.  GMs might clash, and SD! certainly set up a "SmackDown! mutiny" angle that might land Paul Heyman in hot water. I actually had the image of a victorious Stephanie McMahon showing up at Mania flash past my eyes as I watched the entire SD! roster betray Heyman last night....  something might happen there.  Again, I'm not subscribing to convoluted theories.  But brand war/SD! mutiny stuff?  Yeah, I think we'll see some unexpected things there.  

A left-field prediction: one of the really good musical guests from past Manias will be back to do America the Beautiful.  Either Willie Nelson or Aretha Franklin, maybe.

Erin Anderson says:
I would not be surprised to see Paul Bearer at Undertaker's side. If Edge didn't have that ankle injury, I'd also predict an appearance by him. As far as big surprises go, Hogan and Bret Hart readily come to mind, but I'm not betting the farm on either of those two. Stephanie might show up and announce that she's taking over for Paul Heyman, which may very well happen after the "walk-out" on last night's Smackdown! Shane may appear as well, just because. Pete Rose will make his presence known and try to get the best of Kane after he's beaten by the Undertaker, but will get a tombstone from the Deadman himself (just for old time's sake). And we'll see a replay of the classic Savage/Liz reunion with Trish and Jericho, when Trish interrupts a post-match beatdown by Christian.
Matt Hocking says:
- Roddy Piper will make an appearence of some sort.
- The WWE will do something to honor Bret Hart and thus increase relations with him.
- Kane will chokeslam Pete Rose.
- Tazz and Lawler will do commentary on the Playboy match.
- J.R. will be unable to refrain from making at least one snide remark about Brock Lesnar.
Canadian Bulldog says:
I've already mentioned that Paul Bearer may show up, and we know that Jimmy Snuka, Pete Rose and Bobby Heenan are supposed to have roles on the show. The usual WWE affiliated guys (Mean Gene, Hillbilly Jim, Brock Lesnar) could also show up. I think that's more than enough 'ghosts of WrestleMania past' to satisfy cynics like me. Still, between the Hall of Fame dinner and that fanfest being held near NYC, it wouldn't shock me to see say, Tito Santana or Jesse Ventura do a walk-on. Hulk Hogan will NOT show up; he doesn't strike me as the type of guy to be sitting in the audience. Finally, I would expect some sort of backstage interaction between Bischoff and Heyman (and maybe Vince thrown in for good measure); I predict they're gonna have some sort of interpromotional war down the road and they have to get the wheels in motion.
Big Danny T says:
As mentioned before, Pete Rose will show up and provide an assist at just the crucial moment to allow Undertaker to get the win. Pete will jump in the ring to try hogging some of ‘Takers victory glory and eat a Tombstone Piledriver for his troubles.

Hogan will show up at some point, go on for a minute about how great it is to be at Wrestlemania. He’ll be interrupted by Roddy Piper, and they’ll do a quick 5-minute match ending in the big stinky legdrop and Real American being played one more time.

And you know Vince will show up at some point and give us sincere for a few minutes, thanking us for making a great 20 years, then moving into Mr. McMahon mode, start running down whatever target he feels deserves his attention, only to be interrupted by Stone Cold and eat a stunner.

World Champion Battle Royal! Ok, this is just wishful thinking, but wouldn’t it be great if we could get 15 former WWE and WCW champions (Bob Backlund, Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, Sgt. Slaughter, Sid Vicious, Kevin Nash, Lex Lugar, Vader, Sting, Jeff Jarrett, David Arquette [just kidding on that one], Scott Steiner, Dusty Rhoads, Ronnie Garvin, Harley Race, and of course, Bret Hart) and have something along the lines of the Gimmick Battle Royal? Yeah, I didn’t’ think so either.
Adam Gutschmidt says:
- Snuka will be in Rock and Sock's corner and Cowboy Bob Orton will be in Evolution's ala WM 1.

- Brock and Goldberg will be scrapped at the last minute and replaced with either Austin vs. Vince or Austin vs. Hogan

- Heenan or Ventura or both will be at the commentary table for a match

- A relatively big name in the music world will open the show and sing America the Beautiful

- An announcement for the site of WM XXI will be made

- There will be a last minute entrant in the Cruiserweight Open.  Possibly Dean Malenko

- The doors for the entrance will be designed and open similar to the ones they had at WM X

The Immolator says:
The only interesting thing I can think of happening besides the matches would have Pete Rose doing something active. There will almost certainly be plenty of appearances by the Hogans, Pipers and Snukas of the world, sure. I don't know how I'd creatively handle that, although some kind of torch-passing would be appropriate. The WWE needs all the rub it can get coming out of WM XX, considering who appears to be leaving.
Kyle Maxwell says:
-Pete Rose shows up.
 
-In an attempt to generate "Janet/Justin" publicity, we WILL see Jackie Gayda's tits.  I personally guarantee this.
 
-Bret Hart will NOT appear.

So there you have it...  as complete a look at Sunday's WrestleMania XX as you could possibly desire.  My thanks to you for sticking with us this far, and also to my OO mates for helping out to make this so complete and well-rounded a document.

Now, there is only one thing left to do: enjoy the holy living hell out of WrestleMania on Sunday night.  I'll be doing it, and I hope you'll do the same.

OO's coverage of WM20 resumes on Sunday night, sometime after midnight, when I will post an immediate post-show Recap.  Then on Monday, it'll be more fall-out and opinion with a day of cooling off and hindsight in my usual OO column.

I also encourage anyone who is interested to make use of the OO Forums for talking about YOUR PPV thoughts, or the OO Chat Room to discuss the PPV in real time.  Mix, mingle, and have fun... and I'll see you all again on Sunday night!

 

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