Saturday 6 April 2013

The Months After the Night Before

WrestleMania XXIX, like all good WrestleManias, is likely going to feature some title changes and heel and face turns, as well as the final in-ring appearances from most of the part time club for quite a while (and perhaps ever in one case). With their biggest audience of the year watching it's the perfect time for all of this. Old feuds draw to a close and new ones are started. It's as much a chance to convert casual viewers into full time ones as it is a payoff of stories that have been months in the making.

There are plenty of new directions open to WWE for Monday's RAW and beyond. Not all of them involve current members of the roster: there are several guys in NXT who are ready to be called into active service. The Rock is expected to stick around and wrestle at Extreme Rules. There's a chance Brock Lesnar will too.

But even if both men wrestle at the next pay-per-view they won’t be on every episode of RAW. Should some NXT stars debut before April vanishes from the calendar they won’t eat up much time either. That means WWE are going to have plenty of free time for their regulars.

Dolph Ziggler is one of the top names for a prime spot after WrestleMania. I'm expecting him to be the World Heavyweight champion by Monday. If I'm right he'll have cashed in on either Alberto Del Rio or Jack Swagger. That's an ideal starting point for a programme. Should Ziggler find himself opposing Swagger he can be turned babyface, although I think it's a bit early to go ahead with that and the turn should be teased for a while first.

The best option for 'The Show Off' post-'Mania would be a three-way feud with the Del Rio and 'The Real American'. That would allow him to play a tweener antagonising both his foes and encouraging a face turn to occur naturally. Y'know, by getting fans to cheer him while he's still officially a heel. A timely turn in the summer could see him prepped for a SummerSlam feud with Randy Orton. Assuming 'The Apex Predator's' a bad guy by then that is. Alternatively Big E could go heel on his boss and challenge him for the WHC at a summer PPV.

The guy on the right should be getting lots of screen time after WrestleMania

Should the Del Rio and Swagger dispute continue one-on-one without the World strap Ziggler will be at a slight loss for worthwhile opponents. Chris Jericho would be an ideal challenger but he will apparently be gone before Extreme Rules. Ziggler's best hope in this situation would be a programme with Sheamus, Orton or Big Show, all of whom seem unlikely because they're playing very different roles right now.
The likeliest thing I can think of is that he'll get paired up with Ryback or Mark Henry. There's no mileage in the current Henry v Ryback programme once we've seen 'Big Hungry' Muscle Bust 'The World's Strongest Man' (although it could run for years if Ryback botches his finish at 'Mania).

Henry and Ryback are an odd pair. They are very limited with regard to who they can work with. For Ryback this is because his status as a headline babyface is still precarious, mainly because losses have been heaped on him since his programme with Punk ended and his entire character is based around winning decisively all the time. For Henry it's because he's made from pure lard, becoming winded incredibly quickly and finding it tricky to provide quality matches to the masses.

Henry would best be used dominating expendable talent on TV and losing to worthwhile talent on pay-per-view. Any wrestler WWE wants to get over as a babyface would benefit from a win over a former World champ and an impressively large man like Henners. Such things mean something to WWE’s casual audience. I can't think of anything more worthwhile he could do than put others over.

Ryback's in a better position because he at least has fresh matches waiting for him with most of WWE's main event crew. That will keep him occupied on pay-per-views at least. Immediately after WM29 he could head into a programme with Big Show. While a Shellshock on 'The World's Largest Athlete' sounds like it should be WrestleMania Moment it's hard to imagine WWE keeping them apart for another year. It would be easy to set up the night after 'Mania too: Show could come out and say slamming Mark Henry’s not impressive, slamming him is impressive. A match at Extreme Rules would naturally follow.

Show's currently a face and assuming he stays that way inclined a showdown with 'The Human Wrecking Ball' is unlikely. That and a WHC programme with Ziggler aside Ryback could be placed into a worthwhile programme with Jack Swagger or Antonio Cesaro. The latter could lead to Ry's first title win. A comedown from the world championship? Yeah, why not? Rushing Ryback to the top is practically asking for fans to turn on him. He's done well to get over as a good guy. His popularity shouldn't be risked, it should be nurtured.

Cesaro is possibly more in need of direction than any other noteworthy name in WWE right now. Feuding with Ryback would help Cesaro too. Failing that he could tangle with pretty much any good guy on the roster. Daniel Bryan would be my preferred choice. It could provide an excellent series of matches. Check out some of the matches they had before joining WWE to see what they're capable of together.

Two other guys in need of some proper direction are Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow. They've been great since being slapped together out of the blue last autumn. Rhodes was pretty good before that, he just wasn't being given much of a chance to show it. 'The Intellectual Saviour' has been consistently excellent since debuting during the afterglow of last year's 'Mania XXVIII. No matter what dire segment he's been put into he's managed to shine by understanding his character.
Future tag champs? Don't get your hopes up
With there being so many mid-card heels on the roster right now the Rhodes Scholars are still best off remaining united. They could chase Team Hell No for the titles if they still have them. If not they could... well, they could do something. Hopefully WWE will see some sense and get some decent tag teams together soon. The Scholars could help the doubles division as champions. Failing that maybe Orton and Sheamus could stay together a bit after WrestleMania and feud with them and boost the tag scene.

That last suggestion seems unlikely to come about though. Orton v Sheamus was originally rumoured as a WrestleMania bout. It's now being rumoured for after WrestleMania. Rumours like this don't get started without a reason. Orton and Sheamus are fresh opponents for each other and they're both main event names. That they've been put together means WWE plans to split them. It's the way they write this stuff.

Assuming one man turns on the other at WrestleMania (I'm not convinced Orton will be the man to go bad) their feud is the kind that will run for months. They'll face off at Extreme Rules in May and Payback in June. They'll possibly even stretch to Money in the Bank in July. By that point I, and probably everyone reading this, will be sick of their promos on and matches against one another. Orton moving on to a WHC feud with Ziggler would be a good plan, as mentioned above. Sheamus would be well placed to elevate a mid-carder. Wade Barrett would be the best choice, followed by Sandow and Rhodes as singles competitors.

Speaking of Barrett I think he's losing the Intercontinental belt to The Miz at WrestleMania. If that happens an Extreme Rules rematch would seem likely. Barrett could regain the gold to keep the programme going and take us back to a time when the mid-card belts changed hands in feuds a little more routinely than world titles did. That's not likely though. 'The Awesome One' retaining and heading into a fresh feud would fit with the current WWE approach.

Should that happen Barrett could head into a programme with a babyface Big Show. I think they could have some pretty enjoyable matches. Victories over 'The Giant' wouldn't hurt 'The Brit with the Wit' (my suggestion for a Barrett moniker there) either.

That would leave Miz to segue into a feud with one of the various heels on the roster. Again Sandow and Rhodes spring to mind here. My top choice, however, would be Fandango. I think Miz, underrated as a loudmouth good guy in the 'Y2J' mould, could get some mileage out of that programme. Putting the belt on Fandango would help draw attention to him, make him seem credible (not everyone is a champ just a couple of months after their debut), and restore some prestige to the IC gold. It'd be a fresh match too.

I've already mentioned Team Hell No in passing. I've predicted they'll lose the titles (check out my WrestleMania preview here) at WrestleMania but I'm not totally certain on the outcome. I wouldn't be surprised if Ziggler and Langston left with the belts. Whatever the case Bryan and Kane need to lose them soon. They've got nothing left to do as champions and need fresh material.
I've suggested a programme between Bryan and Cesaro. ‘The World’s Toughest Vegan’ could also feud with Fandango, Barrett or Ziggler. A programme with Ziggler could be set up by having Bryan pin him in the WrestleMania tag match, which would mean he has a win over the World champion as the night closes. 'The Show Off' could then cost THN the tag straps on RAW to fuel the tension between he and Bryan.

Kane would do what Kane always does. Move into a back-and-forth rivalry with a heel that ultimately achieves nothing. Barrett would fit the bill. So would Cesaro. ‘The Big Red Machine’ could make an interesting first feud for Conor O'Brian too, especially if the direction I suggested for O'Brian here 
(basically a comedic take on the supernatural-inspired character he plays in NXT) were used. Both men would be doing similar things but on opposite sides of the heel-face divide. It seems an unlikely direction though.

It's pretty tough to see what The Shield will be doing after WrestleMania. Their programme with 'The Viper' and 'The Apex Predator' should be wrapping up on the big show. It's been going for months now. That leaves them with Big Show. He could either recruit two new guys to help him continue his fight or head off into a new singles programme.

Whether Show sticks around or not Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns would benefit from fresh opponents. Ideally they'd be put into the tag team division. That would allow them to compete regularly, have more of a purpose beyond endless run-ins, get them working with a wider variety of guys and bring some interest to a barren league. Should Bryan and Kane stick together The Shield would make good opponents but other acts would be needed too if staleness was to be avoided (The Shield targeted THN last year).

Of course the big two names working full time will remain CM Punk and John Cena. No matter who feuds with who nothing is going to change that in the near future. They will remain the stars around which the company revolves.

Cena is likely going to walk out of WrestleMania as an eleven time WWE champion. He doesn't need the belt to be over but WWE likes putting it on him. His status as top dog allows him to enter a feud with anyone. Fellow main eventers are obviously fair game while mid-carders can be scripted to target him to use him as a stepping stone to greatness. The outcomes of most of Cena's potential feuds will never be in question but that doesn't decrease their number.

It may be difficult to imagine any of the mid-card pack challenging Cena right now but WWE would have six weeks between WM29 and Extreme Rules to build someone up. That should be ample. And it's not as though they're averse to selecting guys below Cena's station to oppose him on pay-per-views (see the WrestleMania XXVII main event).

Cena versus Cesaro, Barrett, Rhodes or Sandow seems massively unlikely. With The Rock appearing at the Extreme show a third instalment in that rivalry seems like it could be happening. Lesnar remains a possible opponent too, and would help attract more buys than a rising mid-card guy.

A further option is Ryback. This could be done with both men playing face or with one as a heel. I don't think either's going to turn at WrestleMania but they could. Ryback chasing a heel Cena could make him a white hot star if he was presented correctly. Remember how fans backed him against the popular CM Punk last year? I think they'd be even more keen on him of he was battering the smug Cena character every week.

Ryback going heel would be absolutely stupid right now. He still has fresh opponents in his good guy role and I think fans would be willing to support him as they did in 2012 if he were simply booked better. That said if did happen there would be nobody better to turn on than Mr Merchandise. Their matches would be horrible atrocities that nobody should be made to witness... but kids would love 'em! The valiant Cena battling against an animalistic madman who spends matches bellowing and working stiff? The CeNation would lap up Cena’s struggle there.
John Cena's next opponent?
The only downside is that the dynamic could potentially switch Ryback back into a face. The best option with a Cena v Ryback feud would be to book each to their strengths. For Cena that would be childish promos to get his supporters to buy into the story and rile those already inclined to boo him. For Ryback it would mean snorting and roaring and making it look as though he's trying to maul Cena in any confrontations they have. An audience split should be sought. Trying to force one of the two into a face role wouldn't work.

Finally there's CM Punk. He will apparently take time off after WrestleMania. If that happens it won't kick in until Tuesday, there's no way WWE would do the April 8th RAW without one of their lead players. Something could be set up for his return there. Someone could attack him and be credited with his absence or interrupt him to give ‘The Second City Saint’ someone to target upon his return.

Should he stick around Punk could spend his time trying to establish some new babyface acts. Feuds with The Miz or Kofi Kingston would be a comedown for him but a big boost for those guys. More likely are programmes with someone like Big Show or Daniel Bryan. A return to his ancient feud with Cena would be thoroughly unengaging but shouldn't be ruled out. Same goes for his programme with Ryback, although that would at least be less stale. 

If Lesnar's working Extreme Rules he and Punk could provide the biggest boost possible to the copper coin tag belts by teaming up. This would work very well if Team Hell No remain champions. The quality of Bryan v Punk is obvious to everyone and Punk has proven he can have good matches with 'The Devil’s Favourite Demon’. I'm pretty sure Kane and 'The Beast' could do some solid brawling and Bryan has proven many times throughout his career that he can have realistic interaction with men far bigger than he is, promising for potential interaction with Lesnar. The four could have a very good doubles match.

Long term there aren't too many fresh matches for Punk. There are even fewer for Cena. The man expected to walk out of MetLife Stadium as WWE champion has faced everyone on the roster numerous times. Some more recently than others but there's still not a noteworthy fresh opponent left for him. Punk's in a similar situation although he at least has Sheamus to tangle with (the prospect of that match doesn't fill me with joy). If built up right it could be a decent addition to an early autumn pay-per-view. It's not big enough for SummerSlam.
Pay attention to WWE’s programming over the rest of the month. I’m pretty some of this stuff’s going to happen.

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