When Cena v Laurinaitis was announced I assumed shortcuts would be added in the form of a relaxed rules gimmick match or guest referee (I was hoping David 'Botch Machine' Otunga). That would have allowed the combatants the luxury of having to worry about match quality even less than they will anyway. Surprisingly no shortcuts have been added. Instead WWE have stuck to this being a straight singles match, even going so far as to introduce a stipulation that anyone caught interfering would have their contract terminated.
Unfortunately that presents us with an all too predictable finishing sequence. Monday's RAW saw the storyline firing of Big Show because he failed to provide a satisfactory apology for making fun of John Laurinaitis's voice (yes, really) which the GM had made a sackable offence the previous week.
That development could be leading elsewhere but it seems to me a very simple way of having someone interfere in the match without terminating them. Big Show could help Laurinaitis to win, regaining his job and setting him up as the next opponent for Cena. The stipulation that Laurinaitis will be fired if he loses (an addition made by the Board of Directors) makes me inclined to believe that Cena is going to lose this one. There are no alternatives for the on-screen authority role (no, Triple H isn't an option: he's being used as a recurring character and is preparing for a feud with Brock Lesnar) so if Laurinaitis lost who would take over?
I expect the match will go on last and be an absolute abomination. Laurinaitis is a trained wrestler but he's not wrestled regularly for over a decade. By all accounts (including YouTube) he wasn't much good even in his "prime." There are men in WWE who may be capable of dragging a bearable match from him but John Cena certainly isn't one of them.
While Cena v Laurinaitis exemplifies the sports entertainment approach to wrestling WWE has popularised over the past three decades it could be considered that the WWE title match between champion CM Punk and challenger Daniel Bryan represents independent wrestling at its finest. Both men made names for themselves prior to signing with WWE, in particular Ring of Honor where they both enjoyed reigns with the promotion's prestigious world belt. They are not sports entertainment Superstars, they're wrestlers.
The expectations for Punk and Bryan to produce something memorable are understandably high. Both have received strong pushes over the last year and both have formidable reputations when it comes to quality wrestling bouts. This is undoubtedly the match that should go on last but I'm sure it's destined to play second fiddle to Johns Cena and Laurinaitis.
I expect this match to be the best of the night. I'm picking CM Punk to leave as the champion. I wouldn't be massively surprised if Daniel Bryan won because he's so talented and someone WWE management clearly see as a reliable headliner but such a switch would jar with recent booking. It's not impossible but it is unlikely.
Beth Phoenix v Layla should have been built up into something special but the creative team have let the Divas down. Again. WWE has the talent to create a decent Divas division (Layla, Phoenix, the waiting-in-the-wings Kharma, Natalya and the ever-improving Tamina) but continually fails to do so. Because of this approach very few people actually care about the Divas or their title. It's almost impossible not to regard women's matches on a WWE show with disinterest.
I imagine this will be standard Divas fare. That means it will be booked as filler. I will only be interested in it if Kharma returns, which isn't an impossibility. She could come back to attack the winner, establishing her as the next challenger. In an ideal world that would be Layla, which would allow Kharma to capture the pink belt in a squash and have Beth Phoenix chasing her.
A winner? I'll pick Layla. Why? I'm hopeful WWE are going to do the right thing.
If the Divas division is in a bad way the tag team scene can only be described as worse. The doubles gold is thrown on to any two convenient singles guys who aren't doing anything else and gets sporadically defended before a new duo gets slotted together at the last minute to take the gold, leaving the original duo to fade into obscurity and never regain their prize. It's a frustrating approach as there are so many men on the roster doing nothing of value that it would easy to create three or four new teams and start work on rebuilding the division. The company sees no value in tag teams though, so we're unlikely to see that cycle change any time soon.
The match in and of itself will be good. Ziggler is one of WWE's best talents while Kingston and Swagger could both be bigger stars than they are if given the chance. R-Truth is the odd one out in that he's never going to produce the best matches on a show but he does stand out thanks to his gimmick. It should be a fun diversion. Ideally it will open the show or be placed around the mid-way point to break things up a bit. If we get to see 'The Show Off' interact with Little Jimmy so much the better.
As good as Swagger and Ziggler are as a team and as much as they would be the ideal candidates to head the division I don't think we'll see a title change. The promotion seems intent on pushing Air Truth, or whatever name they're going by this week, for the foreseeable future.
Finally there's the four-way World Heavyweight championship match. Had WWE concocted a long-term booking plan they could have given us two singles matches at this show and held off the four-way for next month's No Way Out. A World title match between Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio and a number one contendership match between Orton and Jericho (ending in some form of shenanigans to get them both into the title picture for June) would have been the better approach.
That would have allowed the four-way to come about naturally and given each man more room to breathe as a performer, rather than all cramming into one match slot. It would have bulked the card up to six matches too. That would have been a big positive: a five match pay-per-view seems a paltry offering for the biggest wrestling company in the world.
Proof, if proof were needed, that being on the poster of a WWE pay-per-view does not ensure the show will be built around you
The booking of Orton over the last few weeks could be the groundwork for a heel turn. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing: while he keeps getting good reactions as a blue eye he's not been part of a decent feud since the beginning of the year and there are several babyface stars 'The Viper' could elevate if he were to switch to the dark side. If that is the plan I don't expect him to turn at Over The Limit. While WWE generally rushes things these days they tend to book their bigger stars with care. It's something to bear in mind though.
I'd like this match to be great. It has the potential to be but something tells me it will fall short. Its quality will depend on Jericho not being sloppy and the crowd popping for face versus face action when 'The Apex Predator' and 'Great White' clash. Neither is assured.
Sheamus is my pick to win. WWE are said to want him to have a lengthy title run (which I agree he needs as it would help to establish him as a reliable good guy that fans can believe in) and I'm of the opinion that none of the other competitors have been adequately prepared to replace him at the top.
On the whole OTL looks like another lacklustre WWE B show. However I'm pretty sure that was the sentiment I expressed before Extreme Rules and that turned out to be very good. Laurinaitis v Cena aside (and even that has novelty value) every announced match could conceivably be worthwhile if given enough time and the right finish. Let's hope WWE pulls off another surprise performance.
Predictions summary:John Laurinaitis to defeat John Cena
CM Punk to defeat Daniel Bryan
Sheamus to defeat Alberto Del Rio, Chris Jericho and Randy Orton
R-Truth and Kofi Kingston to defeat Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger
Layla to defeat Beth Phoenix