Monday 1 September 2014

WrestleMania 31: The Long Game

WrestleMania 31 is still over six months away. There are no matches announced for it yet, obviously, but it's already looking like a show on which WWE could enhance a number stars. And if WrestleMania's not a show which can enhance stars then frankly no WWE show is.

Payback 2015 headliner? Stay tuned!
Let's start at the top. Roman Reigns challenging Brock Lesnar for the WWE world heavyweight championship is clearly very likely. Pretty much everyone thinks that's going to happen, and with good reason. By ending The Streak and easily taking the title from John Cena, Lesnar has established as an unstoppable force. In the world of wrestling an unstoppable force will always be stopped, and the WWE hive mind seems to have its act together enough at the moment to realise that a rising star would benefit most from doing the stopping.

Reigns beating 'The Beast' for the title in the WrestleMania main event would make him. There's a chance that the audience could turn on him in that situation because he'd be seen as a golden boy, a man hand-picked by management rather than fans, and because Lesnar, as the dominant heel, would likely be getting cheered at WrestleMania. But it's a risk worth taking. And WWE should be expecting the possibility of hostility for Reigns too, which might help them curb it (though I doubt that). But no matter the possible backlash it’s worth trying because it would get Reigns over in such emphatic style.

The other two star-making opportunities I foresee ever far further into the realms of fantasy booking than Reigns and Lesnar. The first is Rusev v Cena. It's clearly going to happen at some point and the natural place, in my mind, is WrestleMania 31. By that point Rusev will have had a year-long push and should be one of the most hated men on the roster. He won't be undefeated, because he's already suffered DQ losses, but he could still boast unpinned and unsubmitted. A foreign menace with a fearsome submission hold is the prototypical Cena foe (somewhat surprising as he’s face very few people who match that description in meaningful matches). After facing Wyatt this year I'm hopeful that the new approach with him at 'Mania's is working with rising names in grudge matches with no titles involved.

The trouble with this scenario is obvious to anybody who knows their WWE. Basically, Cena doesn't lose matches like this. He goes in there, does his version of selling for a bit, gets put in the heel's submission hold and powers out or kicks out of their finisher, and AAs them into oblivion. I'd hoped that the Wyatt match at WM30 would see a change to that routine, but no. If Cena v Rusev gets saved until WrestleMania there's a very real possibility Rusev will suffer his first main roster televised pinfall or submission loss. Because John Cena is the man that saves America from villainous Russians.

It's less about Cena overcoming Rusev and more about Rusev overcoming Cena.
If we think positively this match could do wonders for the upper reaches of the WWE roster. A win over Cena would turn Rusev into a made man. He'd be the man who overcame everything, not entirely dissimilar to another Lesnar (not really an issue as there's no guarantee Lesnar will stick around for the remainder of 2015 and even if he does he'll appear infrequently). In other words Rusev would be ideally placed as a challenger to a babyface WWE champion.

Rusev versus Reigns in a post-'Mania programme may not sound electrifying now but if both men were coming off career-making wins it would be a different story. That, however, is not the feud I'd like to see. It could be easily held off until SummerSlam 2015. I think a better and more likely programme would be Reigns versus Rollins. It's a more desirable feud that has a natural starting: Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank 'tract on Reigns either at WrestleMania or in the closing moments of the following evening's RAW, stealing his title, his spotlight and his moment all at once. Reigns could chase Rollins for the gold for a couple of months before regaining it in time to deal Rusev his first loss at SummerSlam. If Reigns found himself booed for being the chosen one in the rivalry with Rollins his follow-up tussle with 'The Super Athlete' would get fans back on side. Nothing gets WWE fans riled like a foreigner being proud of where they’re from.  

The other star-maker WWE have at their disposal is Triple H. Is he the best wrestler ever? No. But he is a significant name in WWE and a victory over him, particularly a clean one, is still a pretty big deal. Anybody who's over could be elevated by a 'Mania programme and win over 'The King of Kings' and I'm sure there'd be a strong argument for putting Dean Ambrose in the spot. The thing there is that Ambrose he already massively over. He'd benefit from the match but not as much as others. If WWE keeps giving him the same level of creative freedom as they have been and taking the same booking approach he'll remain massively popular.

Cesaro would probably be a favourite for most too, but I think a better choice would be Bray Wyatt. At time of writing Wyatt's stock has fallen. His matches with Chris Jericho have struggled to rise to average and he was booked to face (and lose to) Cena in a meaningless TV main event on the August 25 RAW. This isn't about his character not working or losing popularity. I don't think either of those statements is true. It's about WWE having a performer who four months ago felt like he was going to become something huge and doing nothing with him.

Why has Wyatt been allowed to simmer?
Getting Wyatt back on track with a face turn and a programme with The Authority would put him back at the top and make it clear WWE sees him as a major name. Which is exactly what they should see him as. With Corporate Kane, Seth Rollins and Randy Orton all linked to 'The Game' and Luke Harper and Erick Rowan linked to ‘The Eater of Worlds’ there would be no shortage of build-up matches. In fact the issue could start out as a feud between Wyatt and Rollins or Orton. Hey, if Batista came back they could do Evolution versus The Wyatt Family. If there's one thing we've learnt about WWE over the last eighteen months it's that they know how to put together a six man tag when the mood takes them.

Wyatt beating Triple H would be big. By the it happened he'd probably already be one of the company's top faces, that match would just confirm to everyone that he was staying on top. 'The Man of a Thousand Truths’ could even be put into a post-'Mania programme with Rusev. A loss there wouldn't hurt, he'd be over enough to take it and it would further enhance Rusev in preparation for his SummerSlam showdown with Reigns.

To sum up: make Reigns with Lesnar, Rollins with Reigns (and the magical golden briefcase), Rusev with Cena, and Wyatt with Triple H. That would give WWE four new main event calibre performers to mix with Cena, Orton and Daniel Bryan (who'll presumably be healthy by then). Five including Ambrose, who, as I've already said, could become a top guy just by continuing to do what he's doing around main event names. Then they could start work on establishing another batch of guys, headed by Cesaro.

Ohhhh, the possibilities for WrestleMania 32...

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