Monday 26 March 2012

WrestleMania XXVIII preview

We are one week away from WrestleMania XXVIII. If you believe the hype it will be the biggest sports entertainment event of all time. That claim is made every year. I understand why they say it but the fact that they do so only highlights the fact that it's not true. Personally I don't think they've ever topped WrestleMania X7. Funnily enough one of the key matches of that event was Undertaker v Triple H, back when The Streak was just beginning to become important.
Can this year's instalment better its 2001 counterpart? It's not likely but it could happen. This year's card is far more appealing than last year's.
Let's start at the top with John Cena versus The Rock. No matter how you may feel about either man this match is a genuine big money bout. Those are few and far between in wrestling these days and I think WWE did the smart thing when they announced the match a year in advance. That decision has allowed for the rivalry between the two to intensify naturally and provided Rock with a reason to keep returning beyond his (hollow) promise that he was never going away again. Had WWE waited to announce Rock v Cena they would have had to keep finding reasons for the two to butt heads and set up a challenge from one to the other sometime late in 2011. Simply having them make it clear they dislike each other, running their opponent down whenever the opportunity presents itself, has been a far better approach.

The biggest WrestleMania ever... until next year

This will not be the best match on the card. Wrestling-wise that distinction is almost certainly going to go to Jericho v Punk. It likely won’t be the most spectacular either. That will be Triple H v Undertaker. Nonetheless I fully expect this match will go on last, Cena to be booed very heavily, and Rock to lose. I can't see what the point of this match is if it isn't to put over the company's current lead guy. That's Cena.
Next up is Undertaker v Triple H in a Hell in a Cell match. I feel the End of an Era marketing is wholly unnecessary. The chief selling point of this match is The Streak. It doesn't need to be sold as the official end of the Attitude Era (or whatever the hell they're attempting to present it as). It doesn't even need Shawn Michaels as a referee or the cage environment, although those are more palatable additions. All this match truly needs is the combatants to be as good as they were last year.
I think they will be. I don't care about Shawn Michaels as the referee. He's been added in attempt to throw some doubt onto the outcome and create some false finishes that couldn't be achieved with a normal official. There's a mild possibility one of the three men will bleed. That would be impactful considering the absence of claret in today's WWE but it's not something I'm desperate to see. The other rumour is that we'll see a Top of the Cage Death Bump from someone. If that happens (and I don't think it's likely) it'll be 'HBK' that takes it, writing him out of the bout to allow a regular ref to enter the fray while allowing him to add to his legacy as 'Mr WrestleMania.'
I will be astounded if Triple H wins this match. WWE still has big name 'Mania opponents for 'The Phenom' in John Cena and CM Punk. If The Streak ends this year what will they present next year? Triple H's final challenge to the impressive record will go the same way as his previous two.
The CM Punk v Chris Jericho match should've remained focused on deciding who is the best wrestler. Jericho cutting promos about Punk's dad and sister doesn't get the right sort of heat and isn't the lighthearted entertainment WWE claims to be, so why do it? It's a bad choice that will hopefully be dropped for the final week of television before the show. I won't get my hopes up for that though.
On the night I expect 'The Straight Edge Superstar' and 'The Highlight of the Night' to put on the best wrestling match of the show. Hopefully 'Y2J' can sidestep his usual sloppiness and enter a crisp, clean performance that flatters Punk, the man who means more to the promotion's future. This is a match that I really could see going either way. I’ll pick Punk because that’s who I’d like to see win. I won’t be surprised by a Jericho victory though.

The World Heavyweight championship bout pitting champion Daniel Bryan against Royal Rumble winner Sheamus has been neglected by the booking team in the five weeks since it was announced. I suspect that part of the problem is that Sheamus v Bryan wasn’t the original plan (read more on that here). Going into the Royal Rumble Jericho and Orton were the favourites to win and I suspect WWE altered the original winner from one of those two men to Sheamus in order to (read more on that here).

That wouldn’t have been a problem had they put a plan in place to build Sheamus up for such a high profile spot, but that didn’t happen. Both ‘Great White’ and the World champ have done well with what they’ve been given for this feud, it’s just that they’ve not been given very much. I expect their match will be very stiff (because both men enjoy that style) which I’ll enjoy because it’s rare to see WWE performers get to work that way. It will be something different. I can’t see them getting long but I think they’ll make the most of whatever time they get and give us a memorable outing. Their interaction during the main event tag match on the March 23rd SmackDown was a great display of how a small cowardly heel can look great against a larger babyface opponent.
Can this man make it through WrestleMania with the World title?

As far as a winner goes I think Sheamus will leave as the new champion. The feud will continue for another month or so before both men move on to new things. For Bryan that will probably be something involving AJ, while for Sheamus I think it will be a clash with first Christian and then Wade Barrett. Those are both feuds I’d like to see.

As I said above I believe Randy Orton may have been the original planned opponent for Daniel Bryan. He is now scheduled to face Kane in what I suspect will be one of the most forgettable matches of 2012. ‘The Viper’ and ‘The Big Red Monster’ are both competent wrestlers but they have clashed many times before, which detracts from the interest of seeing them face one another here. It’s also been made very obvious from their previous encounters that they don’t produce the best matches.

I’ll predict a victory for ‘The Apex Predator’. He’s higher on the card and this is just a time filler feud (Kane’s speciality) so the bigger babyface star will go over.

The Intercontinental championship match between Cody Rhodes and Big Show is not a match I’m looking forward to. I believe it’s a waste of a talented rising star in Cody Rhodes. He’d be better served facing someone like Kofi Kingston. Big Show has been very reliable as a main event performer since last year and has earned a spot on the biggest show of the year, but a singles match feels like too much. He would have worked better as a member of Team Teddy, which would have freed up ‘The Dreadlocked Dynamo’ for Cody.

But what we have is what we have. Usually when the babyface’s past is used as part of the build-up to a big bout it means that they’re going to win, with the references to their past being one more obstacle that they’ve overcome. That’s not necessarily the case where WWE are concerned though. Several times in the past they’ve used this approach and had the heel win (most notably with the Booker T v Triple H match at WrestleMania XIX) so it’s not impossible that Cody’s taunting of Show’s ‘Mania losing streak won’t be overcome, leaving ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ to end the match by laying down for the three count.

I’m going to cling to that thought because I want Cody’s lengthy title reign to be ended by a fellow rising star who can be elevated by the win. That is not Big Show and Rhodes is not quite ready to move up the card to the main event. If he loses the gold now he’ll just get lost in the post-WrestleMania shuffle. Cody’s too good for the writing team to risk that happening.

The Divas tag team match exists solely to fill some time. There’s a vague storyline attached to it but not one that I’m interested in. I’d like to see the heels get the victory because Beth Phoenix is one of WWE’s best female performers (so she deserves a victory) and Eve Torres is only just starting out as a heel character (so she needs a victory). However as Kelly Kelly is the closest the promotion’s Divas division has to a lead babyface and Maria Menounos is something of a celebrity I think they’ll end up winning.

The final announced match for the show is Team Teddy versus Team Johnny. Apparently that match will be for control of both RAW and SmackDown. At time of writing the five men announced to represent John Laurinaitis are Christian (who will become number one contender to the World title should his team win this bout), Jack Swagger, Dolph Ziggler, Mark Henry and team captain David Otunga while Teddy Long has gone with The Great Khali, Zack Ryder, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston and team captain Santino.

Each team has a final member to reveal. That will presumably happen on RAW. I think the likeliest sixth man for Team Johnny is Alberto Del Rio, although a random inclusion like Mason Ryan wouldn't surprise me too much. I did think Booker T was a possibility for Team Teddy but I'm now edging towards 'The Funkasaurus' Brodus Clay instead. Again, a random like Justin Gabriel isn't inconceivable for the position, it would just be a tad anticlimactic.

It's also worth remembering Skip Sheffield when considering final members for either team. He was injured on a house show in August 2010 and hadn't been on TV since. His physique is very McMahon-friendly and he's been working dark matches and live events for a few months now. He's due a comeback and a push, so why not tie it in to a 'Mania bout?
The obvious thing to point out about this storyline is that if the WWE Board of Directors feel the need to eliminate one of the GM positions (and this match confirms that this is the case) then shouldn't Teddy get the job automatically? The former Dynamic Dude already has what ought to be a full time job as Executive Vice President of Talent Relations. Isn't his work there suffering from him running RAW too (I’m speaking in kayfabe terms here of course)? Plus he's only the interim RAW GM. That he’s not been made the permanent GM indicates that the Board still aren’t convinced by his performance.
That would make for a slightly less enjoyable TV product though. It would also mean guys who deserve to work the show wouldn't get to. I can overlook this plot hole for that.
Teddy Long has been on television in various GM roles for eight years. It's gotten to the point where there just isn't anything new for him to do. As far as being a TV character is concerned Laurinaitis is fresher and has far more potential storylines than does Teddy. That's the reason I'm predicting a heel win. It will continue the broad storyline of Johnny Ace becoming increasingly powerful in WWE. I'm expecting the Brand Extension to end this year and Laurinaitis running both shows would be a logical way of bringing that about.
I've mentioned before that I think Aksana will cost Teddy the victory, revealing she was in Laurinaitis's proverbial pocket all along. That would keep her on TV and turn her heel, a role I think she’s far better suited to. For fun I will make a specific prediction for the result of the match: Dolph Ziggler pinning R-Truth following a Zig Zag. I will be flabbergasted if that's what actually happens.
There's a loose end dangling going into the event: The Miz. The last month of television has seen him try several times to make it onto Team Johnny. He's failed every time and at time of writing has no match confirmed for the show. That may change on RAW but I think it's more likely he’ll end up matchless and get involved in someone else's bout. The way he's been booked has made it clear he'll do something at 'Mania, it's just difficult to say what.
This year's show, as I mentioned above, looks far stronger than last year’s. It feels like far more of an event than WrestleMania XXVII did. The two world title matches, Hell in a Cell and Rock v Cena are all great matches on paper and should be excellent additions to the card. I’m still not getting my hopes up for this show bettering ‘Mania X7 though.

Predictions summary:

John Cena to defeat The Rock
The Undertaker to defeat Triple H
CM Punk to defeat Chris Jericho
Sheamus to defeat Daniel Bryan
Cody Rhodes to defeat Big Show
Team Johnny to defeat Team Teddy
Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounos to defeat Eve Torres and Beth Phoenix
Randy Orton to defeat Kane

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