Tuesday 1 January 2013

Gazing at WrestleMania XXIX From Afar

So that was 2012. The year that gave us a year-long WWE champion, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in world title matches at WrestleMania, the Claire Lynch fiasco, a Jay Lethal heel turn, the continued abandonment of Kazarian's first name, Brock Lesnar's return to wrestling, and the Funkasaurus. It would have been impossible to predict all of that (plus everything else that happened in wrestling) this time last year, just as it's impossible to predict what 2013 holds for us now.
We do have some snippets to go on though. For example, Hulk Hogan announced last month (which is also last year) that he'd quite like to be TNA world champion. While that doesn't guarantee a title win for 'The Hulkster' it does mean that seeing him challenge for the title won't be a major surprise.
We also know that The Rock and CM Punk will wrestle for Punk's WWE championship at the Royal Rumble, the show that traditionally signals the beginning of WrestleMania Season. Between the Rumble and 'Mania itself WWE will shunt their major players around and line them up for April 7th. The card (or the matches we care most about) will likely be finalised by February 18th, the night after Elimination Chamber.
Usually by this point we'd have a decent idea of one or two big matches for the show. This year that's not the case. We know who the big names are so we know who will be in WrestleMania XXIX's main bouts, but we don't know who will be tangling with who.
Most of the names that will be involved in these matches are part time. The Rock will begin making WWE appearances on the January 28th RAW. The Undertaker, while not confirmed to appear on any upcoming programmes, is expected to compete at WrestleMania and could show up at any time. My belief is that something 'Dead Man' related will happen at the Rumble.
Then there's Brock Lesnar. He's been absent from WWE television since SummerSlam. The story excuse for this is that he's quit. The real reason is that he's signed a limited appearances deal with the company. WWE have wisely stored up their remaining Lesnar bookings for their most profitable time of year.
Triple H will probably appear too. He's written himself into a part time role in recent years. WrestleMania would be a logical event for him to wrestle at if he's planning on stepping into the ring in 2013.
Joining the part timers are TV regulars John Cena, Ryback and CM Punk. Cena and Punk are the only two men who are definitely going to be involved in a big match. Ryback might join them, but it's not a certainty. Guys like Randy Orton, Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler are important names and will wrestle on the card but they're not guaranteed to tackle anyone particularly important.
The line-up will become much more apparent once we've witnessed the Rock v Punk match and know who'll spend January to April as the WWE champ.
Should Punk win the options seem surprisingly limited. I can't imagine him facing the Undertaker as champion because that would necessitate a 'Taker championship reign (The Streak won't end, folks) and I can't imagine WWE having their most important belt on a part time guy after 'Mania. A non-title match between the two is far more likely. It's easy to imagine Punk's respect obsessed character launching an assault on The Streak.
A match between Punk and fellow Paul Heyman guy Brock Lesnar seems unlikely no matter who has the title. Both men are heels and it simply wouldn't make storyline sense to put them against each other without several months of teasing.
Punk versus Triple H was done in 2011 and received tepid reactions, so that seems unlikely too. Even more unlikely is a match between Punk and John Cena. They faced one another so many times last year that there's no chance WWE will pit them against one another at WrestleMania. It's far too stake a match.
A triple threat with The Rock, one the other hand, should not be blithely disregarded. WWE's two biggest regulars and their biggest outside star all being in one match would be an interesting premise and could draw a massive number. It would also create more options for the notoriously bland post-'Mania TV product. It's not a match to pin your hopes on though. While it would be interesting to see a triple threat wouldn't have the big match feel of a singles encounter.
There's also Ryback to consider when discussing Punk. They have have faced one another a lot over the last few months but big Ry' has never picked up the win his character needs. Having him win the Rumble and then dethrone CM Punk at WrestleMania would set him up as The Man. It's very easy to imagine a Punk v Ryback 'Mania match being framed as the night Punk's luck finally runs out.
Then there's The Rock. The obvious opponents for him would both be rematches. Should Punk retain the belt at the Rumble it's unlikely to be clean. Shady tactics would be a natural way of setting up Punk v Rock II at WrestleMania.
Even though 'The Great One' is working a light schedule and isn't expected to stick around after 'Mania XXIX that rematch isn't unlikely. There's a possibility WWE have managed to book Rock for SummerSlam. If that were the case then Rock leaving New Jersey on April 7 as WWE champion doesn't seem too farfetched. WWE could go a few months with sporadic appearances from their champion of they were to get a bumper payday at SummerSlam in return.

One way or another this guy will wrestle at WrestleMania
The other potential rematch would be against John Cena. Yes their encounter last year was billed as "once in a lifetime" but it's not like the wrestling business is known for honouring its word in these matters. Besides, WWE could just about get around that advertising misstep by having Cena winning the Rumble and Rock capturing the title, setting them on course for one another by chance rather than design (at least as far as kayfabe is concerned).
Rock feels like a more natural opponent for Brock Lesnar too. The spectacle of a former UFC champion facing a Hollywood star for wrestling's greatest prize is a cross-promotional dream, and the sort of thing Vince McMahon drools over. It should get a fair bit of media coverage too. It would mean WWE not having regular access to their championship after WrestleMania, but that's not enough of a reason to stop the match happening. I've already said I think they'd be happy to put the title on Rock until SummerSlam. If 'The Pain' re-signs for another year I think the same logic would apply to him leaving WrestleMania as champion, with the added bonus that WWE could burn through a few appearances and have him wrestle at the April and May PPVs, not an option with Rocky.
It's easy to envisage Lesnar doing a run-in at the Rumble. He could cost Rock the match to set up a non-title encounter, or attack 'The Brahma Bull' after the match to get a championship programme underway.
The chances of Rock facing the Undertaker seem slim. It would be a great spectacle but doesn't feel like a direction WWE will travel in, at least not this year. Rock does have the status to provide a believable challenge to 'Taker's Streak though, so it's not an idea that should be completely ruled out.
Rock taking on Ryback or Triple H isn't going to happen. Ryback would get booed out of the building against the charismatic Hollywood megastar which would undo the months of hard work that have gone into installing him at the top. Meanwhile there's no reason to put Rock against the storyline COO. They'd never live up to their excellent matches from the late 90s and early 00s anyway.
With all that said I'm leaning towards Punk losing the title to The Rock. John Cena could then win the Rumble match and beat The Rock for the gold at WrestleMania. Which would leave Punk, the most heavily pushed WWE performer of 2012, to be put on a respect-fuelled collision course with the man respected man in the locker room.
Cena versus The Rock headlining WrestleMania for the second year is unimaginative. That doesn't mean it won't happen though. Like it or not Cena is currently WWE's biggest name and The Rock is one of their biggest names ever. People will buy a show with them in the main event, especially if it’s a title match. Punk versus the Undertaker will provide an excellent secondary match. Triple H and Brock Lesnar will be left to provide Big Match Three. If that happens I fully expect 'The Pain' to take a loss. 'The Game' isn't the type to not pick up a return win.
What Ryback will be given to do is unclear. He'll very likely be dropped down to the second string alongside Big Show, Randy Orton, Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler. ‘Big Hungry’ been the subject of a huge push over the last few months and should find himself rewarded with a meaningful match on the card.

One possibility is that Ryback will tangle with Dolph Ziggler. ‘The Sole Survivor’ could cash-in his Money in the Bank briefcase and then be tasked with carrying ‘The Human Wrecking Ball’ to a passable World Heavyweight title outing on the show.
Alternatively the Big Show could keep hold of the World title until the big night. He could be booked to defend against Ryback in a match culminating in 'The Giant' taking a (probably very sloppy and unimpressive) Shellshock. That would provide a WrestleMania moment for the former Nexus member's career highlight reel. WWE loves stuff like that.
If Ziggler still has the briefcase at 'Mania he could cash in on the WHC match winner. If this is Ryback it would be a way of taking the title off him without resorting to a clean loss and it would set up a new feud for the dull post-'Mania season. Ziggler versus Ryback could easily run until May or June without becoming stale.
From a creative standpoint one of the of the goals of WrestleMania XXIX should be to solidify Ryback in the number two babyface spot. Either of these two scenarios would go some way towards achieving that. By having him continue to chase a champion (Ziggler in the above proposal) Ryback would retain his lustre. As soon as he becomes a world champion for an extended period people will stop asking “when will he become champion?” and instead ask “who’s going to give him his first clean loss?” That’s something WWE will want to avoid for as long as possible.
Another World title option is seeing a collision between Sheamus and Randy Orton. 'Great White' looks like he's currently on track to challenge Big Show at the Royal Rumble. I've a feeling hell finally regain the gold on the show. The long awaited 'Viper' heel turn would feel very natural if it revolved around jealousy of Sheamus and his success over the last year. A fresh match between those two would be a nice undercard encounter for WrestleMania XXIX, with or without the title.
A clash between Ryback and 'The World's Largest Athlete' seems likely. WWE's love of muscles and power moves would be satisfied by it. That would leave Sheamus and Orton to clash purely because of animosity, rather than for a belt. Maybe 'The Apex Predator' will interfere in 'Great White's' final, last-chance-ever-and-we-really-mean-it encounter with Big Show to spark his return to the dark side and instigate his new rivalry.
In all of this Dolph Ziggler would be left with nothing to do. Sad as it is to write I think that's fairly likely. I can imagine 'The Show Off' getting a meaningless undercard match and then cashing in his title shot later on the card.
How much of this predicted card (laid out for simplicity below) is likely to happen? At this stage it's impossible to know. I'd be surprised if none of it happened though. Not because I have such unwavering conviction in my predictions but because WWE so rarely offer genuine surprises. I'd love a card stocked with matches that currently seem unrealistic (within reason obviously, I don't think anyone wants to see Miz v Brodus Clay for the WWE title) but I don't think it will happen. The current vagueness and uncertainty regarding WrestleMania XXIX's line-up is about as mysterious as it's going to get.
Predicted WrestleMania XXIX card:
The Rock v John Cena - WWE championship match
CM Punk v Undertaker
Triple H v Brock Lesnar
Ryback v Big Show - World Heavyweight championship match
Sheamus v Randy Orton
A Dolph Ziggler cash-in

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