Wednesday 3 April 2013

WrestleMania XXIX preview

Considering it will be the biggest and most financially successful wrestling event of the year the booking of WrestleMania XXIX has left quite a bit to be desired. The stories for many of the top matches have been botched, the only one of the big three that's managed to weather the storm being Brock Lesnar v Triple H.

Perhaps WWE are simply content to rest on their laurels. They know this show will make money so why overanalyse things and risk making it a sub-par event. Coasting will get them perfectly satisfactory results after all.

Blue Steel

Outside of the three main event matches the one with the most hype, and very probably the best story behind it, is Alberto Del Rio v Jack Swagger for the World Heavyweight championship. 'The Real American' has become more relevant than at any other point in his career thanks to his xenophobic overhaul and pairing with Zeb Colter. ADR has worked out well as a babyface, although his job is understandably easier in Latin markets. This means that we could  see a pretty hot match.

'Mania tends to attract hardcore fans who will happily cheer heels over faces if the mood takes them. I can't see that happening here, what with Swagger being a beardy racist and everything. This will be a test for Del Rio's popularity and ability to get a reaction from fans when not opposing an established headliner. How well he fares will play a part in determining what role he plays in WWE's long term future.

If it's given the time I think Del Rio’s WHC defence could be the best wrestling match on the show. Immediately after Elimination Chamber I thought Swagger seemed destined to get the gold. Following his drug-related arrest his chances have fallen. No ramifications for that act of stupidity have been made public. If there had been some they would likely have cropped up on a rumour site or two by now. This lack of punishment makes me think that Swagger was originally going to win the title from Del Rio and that WWE has changed their minds as a way of teaching him a lesson (that lesson being “say no to drugs”).

While I expect ADR to retain the big gold belt I don't expect him to leave with it. Dolph Ziggler still hasn't cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase he won last July, which grants him a WHC shot whenever he wants it. WrestleMania seems like a fitting time for 'The Show Off' to cash-in and I expect him to be successful. Not only would this make use of the talented and popular Ziggler (who I think is likely to turn face later in the year) but it could kick off a new three-way programme for the big gold belt.

Ziggler's scheduled appearance is in a tag team match alongside Big E Langston. Yep, Big E, the reigning NXT champion, will wrestle his first televised match as a member of the main roster at WrestleMania. That’s pretty much the ideal way to debut. And Langston’s not the only guy getting that treatment: somebody in WWE is taking pushing new acts seriously again.

Big E and Ziggler will challenge Team Hell No for the tag team championship. I don't think this match will get very long, unfortunately. I'm expecting Bryan and Ziggler to have a good wrestling exchange and at least one spot where Langston muscles Kane around. That would be fine with me. Bryan and Ziggler are two of the best on the roster and throwing 'The Big Red Machine' around will make Big E look good without asking too much of him.

It’s hard to pick a winner for this match, although Bryan and Kane need to lose the championships soon because their act has become tiresome. Both would benefit from doing something new. But if Ziggler's winning the World title (and I think he is, remember) giving him a tag belt too would be a peculiar move. Having two titles would be a good way to highlight 'The Heel' and could see a return of his two matches per PPV gimmick from late 2011. It’s just that it goes against WWE’s current booking practices.

Elsewhere on the undercard Ryback will tangle with Mark Henry. This is one of the matches I was alluding to earlier when I mentioned botched storylines. 'The Human Wrecking Ball' was originally announced for the six man tag match (see below, obvs). He was pulled from that after just a few days for a showdown with 'The World's Strongest Man', which was at one point advertised for an episode of SmackDown (it didn't happen due to an attack by The Shield).

A plot ripe with false advertising is not the best way to treat one of the top prospects the company currently has. WWE did it anyway. Because they know best.

I think Ryback seems a safe pick here. He needs rebuilding after losses to CM Punk at the end of last year, as well as his elimination from the Rumble by John Cena and his relatively clean loss to The Shield at Elimination Chamber. Once someone is established as a headliner in WWE they can lose as often as is needed. Before they've made it they need to show that they can win consistently. It's what WWE fans have been conditioned to expect from top guys.

This match seems like an elaborate excuse to have ‘Big Hungry’ hit his Muscle Buster finisher on ‘The World’s Strongest Man’. What a WrestleMania Moment™ that will be! It also has the added bonus of giving Michael Cole an excuse to get overexcited. I think we all want that.

Big Show replaced Ryback in the six man tag match. He will team with Randy Orton and Sheamus against The Shield. 'The Celtic Warrior' is cretinous but everyone else has something to offer. Rollins and Ambrose are both excellent and while I'm still not a massive fan of Reigns he's acceptable in small doses and multi-man outings. Big Show is Big Show. He'll be blown up by the time he gets to the ring, but he'll do everything with intensity.

Orton is probably going to be the star of this match. A heel turn has been rumoured for him for months and it's expected to take place here. The favourite prediction seems to be 'The Viper' blasting Sheamus with an RKO during or after the match. That would make sense from a storyline perspective and would set up the expected Sheamus v Orton programme, but people seem to be forgetting WWE's habit of changing plans that leak or seem obvious.

I don't think a Sheamus heel turn should be ruled out. Orton may have said he wants to play heel but that could be a ruse to misdirect fans. Or he could be denied his wishes as punishment for talking about them freely on Twitter. 'Great White' has been a disappointment as a headline babyface so a heel turn doesn't seem impossible. Orton is still a popular guy with fans. Turning him would freshen him up but it would cost the promotion more money than a Shaymo switch and be slapped with the dreaded predictable label.

I expect The Shield to win no matter what. I'm just not convinced it's 'The Apex Predator' who will go bad.

Chris Jericho v Fandango strikes me as an oddity. I’m not against the match being on the WrestleMania card. I’ve come around to the idea of ‘Y2J’ being used to elevate the ballroom dancer because WWE seems to be serious about getting the new act to stick.

Usually I’ll complain that I don’t think matches will get long enough. Here I’m going to hope they don’t. Fandango would be best served with a quick pinfall over ‘The Highlight of the Night’. Sticking in some stalling and a pre-match demand to have his name said correctly is fine, but once they lock up things need to be over quickly. Fandango’s still in a delicate position. Viewers need to be kept wanting more.

One match that I don’t think we’ll be wanting more of is the eight person tag team match. That the Rhodes Scholars have been lumbered with Tensai, Brodus Clay and four part time Diva wrestlers is an incredible disappointment. They’ve been so good as a unit that they deserved to be in a tag title match. At least they’re on the card, I suppose. That’s more than can be said for others who deserve it just as much.

We’ll probably have a clearer idea of who’s winning this match when we see where it’s placed on the card. It’s likely going to be strategically slotted in as a bathroom break after one of the bigger matches. If they’re following a heel win then it’s likely Tensai and Clay will go over, and vice versa. I’m going to officially select Damien Sandow, Cody Rhodes and the Bella twins to win. I care about the guys more, and the Bellas are better looking. It’s that simple.

Originally announced for the main card was an Intercontinental title match between former champion The Miz and current champion Wade Barrett. It got bumped down to the pre-show a week ago, likely because of time limitations. I think that’s fair enough. They’re still getting to wrestle in front of a WrestleMania crowd. In fact they’ll probably get a better reaction than they would on the ‘Mania broadcast because they’ll be one of the night’s first outings.

Barrett’s a Brit so I’d like to pick him as a national pride thing. Realistically I think ‘The Awesome One’ has a better chance. He’s not been pinned at WrestleMania and while I think it’s unlikely Miz is ever going to have an Undertaker style Streak I do think it helps his chances against a guy like Barrett. I think they’ll have a decent match.

On the subject of the pre-show I think there’s a good chance there will be a battle royal featuring everyone not in a match. With Antonio Cesaro not announced to defend his US title a battle royal defence could be booked. Alternatively ‘The Swiss Superman’ could face the winner of a battle royal.

If a battle royal for the United States strap happens I think it will come down to Zack Ryder and Cesaro. If Cesaro faces the winner my pick will be ‘Long Island Iced Z’. With this show being in Ryder’s home area he seems like the best bet to challenge Cesaro. WWE may go all the way and have him win but I think that would be going too far. Cesaro’s more valuable to the future of WWE. He should leave with the gold.

Another pre-show option is a Divas title match. It was hinted that Kaitlyn and AJ were going to square off at WM29 a week or two ago but no match was ever officially announced. If it ends up happening, and I think it should if enough time can be found, I’ll be picking AJ to win.

Then there are the main event matches. Cena v Rock II will go on last. I'm not sure which of the other two will get the higher billing but personally I think it should be Undertaker v Punk. For one thing Triple H v Lesnar is a rematch from last year. For another it's not as important as The Streak, despite its stipulations.

What 'The Game' versus 'The Pain' II has going for it over the other high profile bouts on the card is that it's not easy to predict. It's a no holds barred match which will see Triple H retire if he loses. The retirement stip had become surprisingly meaningful over the last several years, thanks to the send offs of Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels. Neither has wrestled again (in WWE anyway) after losing. That adds weight to the prospect of Triple H retiring here.

Before the retirement announcement I was in two minds as to who would win this match. The stipulation decided for me, really. I can’t imagine Triple H hanging up the boots quite yet. He’s too valuable as a part time performer. As long as he’s active ‘The Game’ will always be available to appear on a pay-per-view against a rising talent or a burgeoning main eventer. There’s not really anyone else who can perform that function.

Are WWE willing to put him on the shelf and deny themselves a reliable main event act? I don't know, but I know they shouldn't be. I think Lesnar needs the win more because he's going to be appearing in pay-per-view matches regularly (he signed a two year contract extension a month or so ago) and needs to be portrayed as a winner. But my feeling that Triple H remaining part time is good for business outweighs that.

That said how good would it make Lesnar look if he could spend the next two years of his WWE contract bragging about ending the career of the COO? Perhaps WWE has a long term plan based around that.

The Undertaker v CM Punk deserves to be in the semi-main event spot, despite the spectacularly botched nature of their feud. As the year began it seemed obvious that Punk would drop the title to The Rock at Royal Rumble and then segue into a programme with the Undertaker at or around Elimination Chamber. That's what's happened but not in the way that was expected.

For starters Punk had to win a match to earn the right to challenge The Streak. I can understand the logic behind that in the abstract, but when it came to bell time the match had no drama as there was never any doubt 'The Second City Saint' would win. From there Punk and 'The Dead Man' progressed into a feud based around the death of Paul Bearer. While that's something that needed to be addressed, considering how important Bearer was to the early success of the Undertaker, it shouldn't have been the focal point of a WrestleMania feud. Not on grounds of bad taste (Bearer's family have signed off on everything that's transpired on TV) but on grounds of logical storytelling.

What the programme should have been about was Punk's continued quest for respect. After focusing so heavily on being the longest reigning WWE champion in twenty five years the natural thing for Punk to do next is try to conquer The Streak. And that's what it should be about: ending The Streak to prove he's 'The Best in the World', not nicking an urn and getting cheap heat with backstage promos.

The match itself could be good, but it's not a foregone conclusion. Undertaker has looked decidedly gaunt during his recent appearances and it's well known he's got an assortment of injuries nagging at him. Punk's younger and more used to being in the ring but his body's taken a beating over the last several months too. It's rumoured he'll be taking time off after 'Mania to rest up.

Both men take pride in what they do so I'm sure they'll do everything possible to make the match memorable. Injuries may ultimately hamper good intentions though.

Will CM Punk beat Undertaker? No. No matter what people say about building Punk up and 'Taker wanting Punk to be the man to end The Streak it's not going to happen this year. There are still big matches with The Rock, Brock Lesnar and John Cena to be had. If Punk does end it it won't be this year. Undertaker's appearances have become a draw in their own right for WrestleMania. He, like Triple H but for different reasons, is too valuable to let go of yet. I also think that when he does decide to finish his career up we'll know beforehand: the knowledge would add drama to every attempted pin of that final outing.

Finally we come to Cena v Rock II. Twice in a lifetime, as the wags are saying. There are a surprising number of people taking issue with last year's tag line being violated. I don't really understand why. WrestleMania XXVIII was the most financially successful instalment of the series ever. Much of its success is credited to Rock and Cena. Booking a rematch may be dull but it's the smart thing to do. At least they had the good grace to get to it by Rock winning the title and Cena winning the Rumble, as opposed to them simply challenging one another and deliberately going against the once in a lifetime line.

I'd like this to be a faster match than they had last year. Nothing about 'The Great One's' performances at the Rumble and Elimination Chamber makes me think he'll be capable of that. The fact that he's keeping his muscle mass up for his part in Hercules doesn't bode particularly well either. Nor does the fact that he's facing John Cena, one of the most predictable men on the roster.

It won't be a great match. Bear that in mind and limit yourself to hoping they better last year's performance and it could be a bearable main event.

Cena is the obvious pick to win. Not only did he lose last year (meaning it's his turn to go over this time) but Rock is going to be taking another sabbatical after the show. He'll be on the April 8th RAW and May’s Extreme Rules. Beyond those dates nothing's been announced regarding his WWE appearances before WrestleMania XXX, which he says he’s looking forward to wrestling at. It seems unlikely WWE would keep the title on him for another month after their big show.

WrestleMania XXIX looks like a bearable show. There's nothing about it that makes me think it can top 'Mania X7 as the greatest ever but it should avoid being counted among the dregs. It may have a few predictable outcomes in there but there are enough opportunities for surprises for that not to be an issue. Let's hope everyone tries to steal the show and forces quality up while they're doing it.

The real test will be for those of us sitting through it. Ten confirmed matches, three rumoured ones, and a musical appearance from P Diddy. The confirmed runtime for the ‘Mania show itself is four hours, with the pre-show taking it to five and the recently confirmed after-show stretching things to six. That’s a quarter of a day of live WWE coverage. Even for WrestleMania that’s pushing things.

Something tells me April 7th is going to be a long night.

Predictions summary:
John Cena to defeat The Rock
Undertaker to defeat CM Punk
Triple H to defeat Brock Lesnar
Alberto Del Rio to defeat Jack Swagger
Ryback to defeat Mark Henry
The Shield to defeat Sheamus, Big Show and Randy Orton
Team Hell No to defeat Dolph Ziggler and Big E Langston
Fandango to defeat Chris Jericho
The Rhodes Scholars, Nikki Bella and Brie Bella to defeat Brodus Clay, Tensai and the Funkadactyls
The Miz to defeat Wade Barrett

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