Monday 6 October 2014

Fantasy Booker: Hell in a Cell 2014 to WrestleMania 31

I know what you want to know. It’s what the world wants to know. What direction would I take WWE in if something dreadful happened to Vinnie Mac, Triple H, Big Stepher, the entire creative team and everyone else currently employed by the company in any role? Well, you don’t even need to ask because I actually sketched out a WrestleMania 31 card last month. But that’s not enough is it? The result is all well and good but what’s really needed is detail on the journey. And that’s what I’m going to write here.

That said I’m not going to go overboard on detail. I’m sure I could, if I put my mind to it, provide a relatively elaborate account of what I’d put on TV every week between Hell in a Cell and WrestleMania. But that would be insanely long, and this is already a very (some, probably many, would say overly) long piece of writing. Instead I’ve limited myself to planning out pay-per-view matches for significant members of the roster and a general idea of what would happen between major shows.

Who counts as a significant member of the roster? Good question! The current main event crew basically consists of John Cena, Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar when he’s around. So they’re significant. As are the three former Shield guys, Rusev, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler. Daniel Bryan and Triple H are significant too, natch, but they’re injured and part time respectively. I’ll mention Trips as and when necessary and assume that D-Bry will be fit to return to the ring by Royal Rumble.

Ready? Then let’s do this.

Without Brock Lesnar making a WWE title defence I think there’s only one match that should be considered for the main event of Hell in a Cell: Rollins and Ambrose in the cage. The gimmick is at its best when attached to a long-running feud with heated personal issues. Ambrose has been hunting Rollins down since June after Rollins swerve turned on him. It’s the only feud WWE has going that warrants the Cell treatment. They’d main event the show. I’m not going to try and suggest spots for a Cell match because it’s incredibly hard to do (seriously, sit and try to come up with something suitably momentous that hasn’t been done) but they’d be given the freedom to do whatever they wanted. Ambrose would win, probably via a barrage of weaponry and Dirty Deeds onto a chair or steel steps or something.

Randy Orton would face Cesaro. Neither man would officially turn face but the audience would not be discouraged from backing Cesaro. And the match would be laid out to give him babyface moments. Which basically means he’d try to get the swing a few times and that Orton would escape each attempt before it was finally hit at the conclusion of the match. The bout could be set up with Orton interrupting a couple of Cesaro backstage interviews with comments to the effect of “Nobody wants to hear what a loser has to say.” Not imaginative no, but it makes use of Cesaro’s recent losses in IC title bouts. Plus it gets us to a good pay-per-view match.

Orty would win with the RKO immediately after stumbling to his feet following a swing. Cesaro can get over with a competitive performance and his loss can be played as Cesaro’s own fault, using a move that the fans love but that makes him dizzy and leaves him prone to his opponent.

Cena has been moved into the orbit of The Authority, which makes finding an opponent for him harder than usual. I don’t see any option other than to stick him against Kane. To make up for this match happening again it would be put in the opening spot (getting Cena out of the way early), feature Corporate Kane (the bestest Kane), and be a last man standing match (the gimmick which Cena is historically best at pulling off). John would win. I don’t think this match merits any storyline reason beyond Cena being a target of The Authority.

In the middle of the card Dolph Ziggler would successfully defend the Intercontinental championship against The Miz, Rusev would dispatch Big Show via The Accolade and a tap out, and there’d be the token Divas and tag team title matches. After the IC title match the lights would flick on and off to reveal the Wyatt Family (who I’d be keeping together and who wouldn’t have appeared on TV since mid-September) in the ring with Ziggler. They’d duff him up, making it clear that’s the new rivalry on the block.

You can't fantasy book a modern day WrestleMania without this guy!
The following evening’s RAW would open with a victorious Ambrose talking about defeating Rollins but not being finished with him. The Authority would interrupt to shift the plot to a broader Ambrose versus The Authority feud. Cena would also get involved. Because he’s Cena and because he is now involved with The Authority too. There would be further teasing of tension between the good guys, which would lead Trips to announce them in a tag match main event. He would imply their opponents to be Orton and Rollins, but he wouldn’t actually say it.

Ziggler would be announced as not in attendance. Wyatt would cut a Wyatt-speak promo about wanting the Intercontinental championship. ‘The Show Off’ would be back the following week for the standard run of singles outings against Harper and Rowan and tag and six man encounters mixing other feuds.

One such feud would be Cesaro v Orton. They wouldn’t necessarily have a rematch, but if they did Orton would win with a shock RKO. Any multi-man encounters involving both of them would see Orty pinning Cesaro. The story is that Cesaro can hang with Orton, he just can’t get the win on him.

Rusev would blast through a rematch with Big Show, spend a week or two trouncing mid-carders, and then be confronted by a pro-US Sheamus. A title match would be set up for Survivor Series. Beforehand Shaymo would make it clear that he loves America, that it was his dream to move there as a kid, and that he’d take it as a huge honour to have fans chant “USA!” during his match with Rusev. They’d clearly want to, this move would encourage them to follow their hearts and dreams… much like the founding fathers did. AMERICA!!!

The main event of the post-HIAC RAW would see Rollins and Orton brought out in their ring gear by Triple H… only for The Ascension to be introduced as their foes. I know! Swerve, right?! They’d go over with Konor pinning Cena after The Fall of Man, designed to show how devastating that move is (it put Cena down, so it must be good). The Ascension would become Authority henchmen after that, participating in beatdowns and the like, but they wouldn’t be full-on members leering in the background during Tripper promos. They’d be muscle kept at a distance.

Survivor Series would be headlined by a four-on-four elimination match. I’d say traditional, but it’s not. Traditional Survivors matches are five-on-five. Fact. It would see The Authority, represented by Triple H, Randy Orton, Seth Rollins and Kane, take on Dean Ambrose, John Cena, Cesaro and a returning Roman Reigns.

Ambrose could issue the challenge on an episode of RAW, leading to a two week sequence of Ambrose trying to recruit his team. Cena would obviously volunteer (because he’s Cena). Cesaro could be persuaded to join up because it would give him a chance to get at Orton. The final RAW before the PPV could be built around Ambrose revealing Reigns as his final teammate. That could lead to the standard issue Massive Brawl™. Care would need to be taken to drop hints and make it as obvious as possible that the final guy was Reigns, otherwise people might start hoping for Daniel Bryan.

Kane would be eliminated within the first five minutes. It would be a lengthy match and he’s the obvious first guy to go because he’s the most frivolous name involved by a significant margin. Reigns would not be tagged in at all until the second half of the match, to protect his aura. In wrestling logic terms this would be achieved by The Authority isolating each member of the face team in turn and eliminating them one-by-one, one of them dashing across the ring after every pin to knock Reigns to the floor to ensure anyone but him entered the ring and became the legal man. The story as told by the commentary team would be that The Authority want no part of Reigns until he’s alone because they know how dangerous he is. Put to the back of your mind all the previous booking that contradicts this uber-efficient Roman: I’d want to establish Reigns as a man of few words, lots of action and short appearances to try and build up some mystique.

I’d like to put Cena out next but that doesn’t really make much sense considering his standing and Superman gimmick. Cesaro would therefore be the first face out, once again falling victim to a surprise RKO. Perhaps it could be reversed from the Swiss Death uppercut somehow. I can’t envisage a way to do it but maybe the wrestlers could. Cena would go out second, probably going down to a bevy of finishers ending with a Pedigree.

With the match down to Ambrose and Reigns we’d finally get Reigns coming in to play. You can’t have the faces so dominated and tell the ultra-efficiency story without a hot tag to the guy being built up as the star of the show. Ambrose would break free of a beating and make the tag, Reigns coming in and cleaning house before ultimately tagging back out to a rejuvenated Ambrose who could hit a dive or something similarly pop-inducing before falling victim to a Pedigree or a Curb Stomp.

That would leave Reigns alone. Naturally the chosen one would battle back and make some headway into overcoming the odds. Orty would fall to a spear. Rollins would eat a Superman punch. But then Orton would return to the ring and drop Reigns with an RKO, Tripper following up with a Pedigree for the tainted three count.

Rusev: King of America.
There are only two undercard matches involving key guys for this PPV. The first would be Rusev versus Sheamus. I’d love to do a second Survivor Series match pitting Henry, Show, Sheamus and Swagger against Rusev but the trouble is that there’s nobody on the roster who works as a partner for Rusev. His character is so heavily built around being anti-American that anyone getting paired with him could be seen as having the same (kayfabe) view. That could make it tough for partners and also detract from Rusev’s heat. I also think the title match I’d actually be booking would benefit from a non-clean finish, to keep the title on Sheamus and setup a rematch, but with so few feature matches I don’t think that would be right to do. So Rusev would win the United States championship.

The second undercard match would be Ziggler defending the Intercontinental championship against Bray Wyatt. Zigs would overcome the mandatory outside interference from Rowan and Harper and become the first man (that I can remember anyway) to counter out of Sister Abigail, slipping behind ‘The Eater of Worlds’ and dropping him with a Zig Zag for the victory. This match could easily get around fifteen minutes considering the name-heavy main event and distinct lack of much else on the show.

Coming out of Survivor Series The Authority would break into their own feuds. Triple H would make his arguments with Ambrose and Cena a weekly thing and begin sending The Ascension after them. Reigns would be reserved for end of show run-ins and the odd very brief interview to avoid overexposing him. During one of these run-ins he’d hit a Superman punch on Triple H, leading to a singles match, after a little coercion, between ‘The Game’ and ‘The Empire’ at Vengeance (which would be replacing TLC because I don’t like themed pay-per-views).

Meanwhile S-Roll attack Ziggler after an IC title defence against Wyatt in the main event of the December 1 RAW (a match that could be announced and hyped a week in advance on the post-Survivors episode). The next week Rollins would describe himself as the fastest rising star in WWE (maybe he could say fastest rising star ever, for the lols) and state that he feels entitled to the IC strap as said fastest rising star. Wyatt would give a Wyatt-speak promo about wanting the title for himself and be interrupted by The Miz. The two would have a number one contendership match at Vengeance.

Cesaro would issue a challenge to Orton. Orton, being a bit of a scumbag heel, would avoid the challenge for two weeks before catching Cesaro by surprise with another RKO. He’d then agree to the match. By this point it would need a stipulation added to it, and as the rivalry is based around wins and losses I think the logical one to go with is two-out-of-three falls. Orton’s reasoning? It would safeguard him from a fluke Cesaro win.

At this point it’s probably worth addressing the Lesnar issue, seeing as he would not have appeared since Night of Champion two months earlier. It would have been confirmed by Triple H that Lesnar would not be defending the championship again until Royal Rumble. That decision could be attributed to a “special agreement” between the bosses and Lesnar. An agreement which could of course be described as “best for business.” Heyman would make intermittent appearances to remind everyone Lesnar exists, perhaps under the guise of scouting potential opponents on the champ’s behalf.

On the subject of Heyman, a promo between Survivor Series and Vengeance would be interrupted by John Cena. He’d want a rematch with Heyman’s client. Heyman would state Lesnar has no interest in facing Cena again, having thrashed him at SummerSlam and been close to finishing him off at Night of Champions before Seth Rollins interfered. Cena would go to get physical with Heyman (because attacking a non-wrestler is something babyface Cena does all too often) but be stopped by The Ascension. They’d growl at him to find a partner for Vengeance. That would bring out Ambrose for a big ol’ fight and acknowledgement of Cena and Ambrose facing Konor and Viktor on the PPV.

Vengeance would open with Wyatt and Miz. Wyatt would win clean with Sister Abigail. He’d work as a face, with Miz controlling the pace, but his act would mostly remain unchanged. He was practically a face months ago when he was being booked well because his character’s so good. I’d want to get back to that.

That would be followed Cena and Ambrose taking on The Ascension. The match would chug along for six or seven minutes before The Ascenion went overboard and brought wrestle-weapons into play, getting themselves disqualified. The idea would be for them to go unpinned and unsubmitted for a long time, to make them look unstoppable. Like in NXT, basically. But losing by DQ is fine.

Match three would be Orton and Cesaro. ‘The Apex Predator’ would take the first fall fairly quickly with an RKO. That would leave Cesaro to struggle back and be extra cautious against further RKO attempts. He’d even the score with a Neutralizer and then get the third and deciding fall after countering at least two desperation RKO attempts in quick succession and flooring Orty with a Swiss Death uppercut, netting him his big win.

That would be followed by a Divas match, which would in turn be followed by Rusev and Sheamus’s United States championship rematch. It’s possible this would be turned into a stipulation match, to spice up the card a little. I originally liked the idea (when I was making notes and had TLC in this spot) of them having a tables match. It would allow Rusev to lose the strap, if required, without taking a pinfall or submission loss and would also allow ‘The Celtic Warrior’ to chat about the tables match being his match because he won his first WWE title in one. That that title win was presented as a fluke at the time wouldn’t need to be dwelt on.

But with this said there’s something nice about the idea of keeping Rusev away from gimmick matches. It allows his dominant streak to have more meaning, all of his memorable wins coming via decisive pinfall or, more likely, Accolade-fuelled submission. If this ended up a regular match Rusev would win via The Accolade. If it were a tables match Rusev would win via Rusev Crush (a table).

After that we’d get the first airing of a vignette announcing Daniel Bryan’s comeback for the January 5 2015 RAW. They’d play on every episode of every WWE TV show until the return. Placing the first one at this point in the show would revive a potentially flagging audience and avoid the main event being overshadowed with “Yes!” chants.

A filler match featuring mid-card guys in a storyline of some sort (and if I were doing this for realsies I’d be making an increase in mid-card material a priority) would be followed by Rollins and Ziggler for the Intercontinental championship. This would be the latest in a string of minimum-fifteen minute pay-per-view matches for Ziggles. He and Rollins could have a cracker of a match and would hopefully look like bigger stars doing so in the semi-main event spot. It would help the standing of the Intercontinental belt too. Ziggler would lose the title to Rollins clean. Rollins would ultimately lose the title back to Ziggler via interference (as you’ll read below) so he’d need the clean win here to demonstrate that he can beat people and win championships fair and square. Even for a sneaky heel that’s important to establish when someone’s being moved up the ranks.

The main event would be an arena wide brawl (the standard upper-card match, basically). Reigns would take out interfering Authority members, all of whom helpfully attack one by one instead of rushing Reigns en masse, then pin Triple H with a spear and a Superman punch. The punch is what would put ‘The King of Kings’ down. I think that’s a better looking and more believable finisher than the overdone spear.

The following evening’s RAW would open with Reigns saying that now he’s dealt with Triple H he’s free to focus on winning the Royal Rumble (look at that, immediate mention of the Rumble and someone saying they want to win it) or perhaps even beating Lesnar for the title at the show. Ambrose and Cena would come out, in that order, to express the same sentiments. Cena would be particularly animated about getting a title shot after the unsatisfying conclusion to his Nihgt of Champions challenge.  

Orton would join them. He too would express interest in a title shot at the Rumble. He would be less interested in competing in the match itself. Stephanie, Kane and Rollins would join Orton on the stage. Steph would say room could be found for all of them in the Rumble and that she and Triple H (who’d be off TV for a week to sell his match with Reigns) would take their requests for a Rumble title match with Lesnar under advisement.

The under advisement line would become a running theme across the following three weeks of TV. Guys would talk about being in the Rumble and Trips and Steph would “take it under advisement.” This would be make it clear that the Rumble’s important and lots of guys want to be in it (something WWE haven’t bothered with for years). No Rumble participants would be announced until the championship match was set. Steph’s comments mentioned in the previous paragraph would be a placatory thing rather than an official decree that people are in the match.

Before the Royal Rumble the focus would be on building towards the January 5 RAW. We’d already know Daniel Bryan’s return would be happening. In addition to that Bray Wyatt get his Intercontinental title match with Rollins and Ambrose versus Cena would be announced, with the winner earning “the best spot in the Royal Rumble.” This would be done to drive a wedge into the already uneasy alliance between the two men against The Authority. By this point it should have been established that they don’t care for the other’s style.

Reigns would have another match with Randy Orton. No, it’s not fresh but it at least wouldn’t have happened since the “season premiere” in September and it’s sufficiently big for a hyped up show. Rusev would have a singles match against Cesaro, with the inference being that it’s punishment for Cesaro for daring to go after golden boy Orton.

On that show Rusev and Orton would both go over, the former clean in a twenty minute match and the latter via shenanigans in a significantly shorter match. Rollins would retain the Intercontinental strap due to Ziggler interfering and attacking him. That would lead to Wyatt attacking Ziggler for costing him his opportunity at winning gold. This would lead to a Ziggler v Wyatt number one contenders match on a future RAW. Rollins and The Ascension would interfere in that and lay out both Ziggler and Wyatt, along with Rowan and Harper. Rollin would announce that he’d defend against both men at the Rumble.

Back on the January 5 RAW Ambrose and Cena’s match would kick off the final hour. They’d do it face versus face but obviously Ambrose would be the crowd favourite. To demonstrate that Ambrose is a dude we can all believe in he would kick out of an AA, then hit a match-winning Dirty Deeds (it would naturally have to be the second of the match to keep Cena’s aura alive for the kids) on a shocked Cena. After the match they’d shake hands and jaw with one another. Big Stepher would come out to congratulate Ambrose… on winning the number one entrant spot in the Royal Rumble. Evil laugh. Leave.

The main event segment would feature Daniel Bryan’s triumphant return to the company. He’d have a chat about his recovery and fighting back before saying that he’s not interested in being in the Royal Rumble match, he wants to face Lesnar for the championship he never lost. This would bring out Triple H, who would tease not giving Bryan a title shot or a Rumble spot at the pay-per-view before granting his request and giving him a match with Lesnar. Because that’s what’s best for business.

The build up to the Rumble would see Lesnar appearing in pre-taped videos to discuss Bryan as a challenger and Heyman getting back into his role of speaking for the champ live in arenas, cutting one or two promos against D-Bry. Bryan would also be involved in segments with The Authority in which he’d say he knows he was only given the match with Lesnar because The Authority want to make it harder for him to main event WrestleMania. Trips would argue with this, saying that if he didn’t want Bryan in the ‘Mania main event he wouldn’t have him there. Bryan would remind him of 2014 and also state that he believes beating Lesnar is harder than winning the Rumble at this point. That gets over Lesnar but doesn’t really bury the Rumble as it’s only Bryan’s opinion, rather than a stated fact.

In the weeks leading up to the Rumble everyone would begin mentioning winning the Rumble. For most the reason for wanting to win would be the simple and obvious "I want to win the WWE championship at WrestleMania." This would be true for Cesaro, Ziggler and Reigns, and others we're not really focusing on. Speaking of people not focused on, I'd try to increase the standing of some of them to widen the selection of potential winners. Obvious candidates for that enhancement are Sheamus, Big Show and Mark Henry. There would ideally be others. Jack Swagger would be good: mid-card enough to be a dark horse but big and talented enough to be a believable push.

Something a bit biblical about this, no?
The rest of our guys would give more specific reasons for wanting to win. Ambrose would want to be in a position where Rollins is looking for a match with him. Because he wouldn't have forgotten about Rollins. He'd also say he wants to personally eliminate Rollins from the Rumble match. And his interactions with Triple H would lead to ‘The Game’ telling Ambrose he would personally ensure he didn’t win. Cena would want another match with Lesnar to prove he can beat him, and for that matter a rematch against D-Bry from SummerSlam 2013. I like the idea of Wyatt mentioning alchemy, the WWE championship being a representation of power and success. This is of course based on his promos from before this year's Money in the Bank. But it worked so well that it warrants becoming a bigger part of his act.

Orton still would not have had his much covered one-on-one rematch as a former champion. He'd also say he wanted to win for The Authority, a sentiment shared by Kane. Rollins would also mention winning for The Authority, but would also say that as a rising star it was his destiny. Finally, Lana would explain that Rusev wants to win for Russia. Yeah, for Russia. Because foreign heels. Not that they’re people that we’re particularly following with this post but The Ascension would be granted a tag title match for “all of their hard work” and there would be a Divas match. Again, if this were being done for realsies there would be a reason for that Divas bout happening beyond filling time.

The Rumble PPV would kick off with the three-way Intercontinental championship match. Two reasons for this. They’re the only guys working a regular match and the Rumble match, so going first gets them more time to get their wind back for later in the night. And it also gets the show off to a strong start. Wyatt would hit Sister Abigail on Ziggler only to be thrown out of the ring by Rollins, who’d get the pin on Ziggler. So a sort-of-clean win, but one that paints Rollins as an opportunist.

In match two Konor and Viktor would win the tag straps. I don’t know who from. It could be Goldust and Stardust, back to playing weirdo good guys, or it could be the Usos, having regained the titles from the dusts in the previous month or two. The Usos would probably work better for a one-sided trouncing but I don’t really have a preference.

After the Divas match we’d get Lesnar versus Bryan. I like the idea of mixing the excellent Lesnar v Eddie Guerrero match from No Way Out 2004 with the more decisive Lesnar victories opposite Cena. Bryan’s speed would go up against Lesnar’s brute force in a nice encounter. D-Bry could do a better job of putting up a gutsy fight than Cena without looking completely ridiculous (because he’s more used to the role than Cena) so this match could last longer. Bryan could kick out of an F5 and demonstrate a few counters to the kimura, playing off of his submission and mat wrestling background.

The match would end with Heyman getting onto the ring apron to harangue the referee, with Lesnar being pulled into a Yes Lock at the same time. Lesnar would not be shown to tap, but his body language would indicate that he’s on the verge of doing so. Then Rollins would slide into the ring and Curb Stomp Bryan while he has the hold applied. That would release the hold, Heyman would jump down to the floor, Lesnar would stagger to his feet, and hit an F5 for the win. This finish would be designed to raise the question of whether Rollins, and by extension The Authority, was working together with Paul Heyman.

The Rumble match… is hard to cover on things like this, as has been written before. I’ll cover the storyline points I’d include and we can assume that some mid-card disputes and Kofi’s annual miraculous survival spot would be sorted out nearer the time.

Ambrose, as established, would enter the match first. Going in at number two would be Randy Orton. The idea (pushed by the commentary team) would be that The Authority had fixed Orty going in at two to immediately eliminate 'The Lunatic Fringe'. Orton would convey (or attempt to convey) annoyance at entering so early, and the issue would be brought up on TV in the following weeks.

The ring would fill up with top rope fodder before Rusev entered at eight. He'd immediately eliminate a couple of guys, and get a few more throw outs before Cena came in at twelve. The pair would stare at one another and an exchange combining standard wrestling match spots with trying to lob each other out of the ring. Cena would get the better of the sequence and send ‘The Super Athlete’ flying out of the ring into the aisle. Lana would return from the back, beside herself with anger, scream at Cena, then slap Rusev and order him to the back.

Dolph Ziggler would come in at fourteen. Nothing to note with him beyond him being someone if significance. Reigns would rock up at seventeen, eliminate a guy or two, and have a tense moment opposite Cena. Before anything could happen between them Kane's pyro would go off and he'd enter at number eighteen. Further preventing them from coming to blows would be Orton attacking Cena. Kane would target Reigns. The two Authority members would work together trying to eliminate guys.

Cesaro would come in at twenty two and, like Ziggler, do nothing of special note. He'd last about five or six minutes before falling to a Kane and Orton double elimination, followed soon after by 'The Show Off'. This would serve to start thinning the field of big names and get heat on the Authority members. Kane would then be eliminated by Reigns, hopefully to cheers as the audience appreciate the justice dealt and realise Orton would be alone.

Wyatt would come in at lucky number twenty seven (the lucky number gimmick being something I've always been a fan of, though I can't really say why, particularly). That would leave Rollins coming in last to trigger our penultimate storyline sequence. His music would hit and Ambrose, having survived the long haul from the start of the match, would stand in the ring and ready himself for the arrival of his arch nemesis. Rollins would saunter out, in no rush, and pause before getting into the ring.

Ambrose would mouth off at him and Rollins would mouth off back. Orton would try and sneak elimination on Ambrose but Ambrose would fight him off. Rollins would take this opportunity to get into the ring as Triple H marched down the aisle. Rollins and Trips would immediately aid Randy in eliminating Ambrose three-on-one, with security and agents instantly swarming Ambrose and carrying him to the back, providing a reason for him not to return to seek revenge before the end of the match and adding to the heat on Rollins, Orton and Triple H. Before Tripper could leave he'd take a Superman punch from Reigns and Rollins would be given an AA by Cena.

The field would then be whittled down to a final four, with the Authority guys working together to get eliminations. The four would be Orton, Rollins, Cena and Reigns. With the final for established Orton would hear one order to many from Rollins and shove him. Rollins would shove him back and then Cena and Reigns would seize their opportunity to attack the pair. After some standard Rumble tusslings Rollins would take an opportunity to eliminate a prone Orton. With Orton selling disbelief at ringside Rollins would give him the old "Hey, it's nothing personal" routine and then be grabbed by Cena and AAed out of the match.

Cena and Reigns would then go back to their staredown. The thought behind having these guys as the final two would be to attempt a sense if mystery as to the winner (Cena could win for his deciding match with Lesnar or Reigns could win to ascend to the top) and to encourage cheers for Reigns. With Ambrose out of the picture people would hopefully back Reigns instead. Cena's presence would only encourage that, the idea being that people would cheer Reigns even if they weren't that keen on him because they'd hate the thought of Cena outlasting everyone else and headlining another 'Mania.

I'd like a lengthy, exciting finishing sequence but to be honest I don't think Cena and Reigns could be trusted not to botch one. It would be kept simple and fairly short. Each would try for eliminations on the other and fail. Cena would hit an AA. Reigns would slip out, down Cena with a spear, and tease a Superman punch from the corner. Cena would stagger to his feet, side step the punch, get Reigns up for an AA and try to chuck him out with the move. Reigns would escape the move at the last second, grab Cena, and charge across the ring to lob him out and win the match.

By now I think planning the following evening’s RAW is redundant. It would get done nearer the time to fit in with the general direction leading to No Way Out. What’s that? No Way Out? Yeah, totes. I’d be cancelling Elimination Chamber just like Vengeance, giving the gimmick a rest for a while until it feels natural to have six guys competing for the WWE championship all at once.

Cena and Rusev would not immediately get into a heated dispute. Lana would dismiss Cena’s elimination of the mighty Rusev as a fluke and emphasise that her charge remained unpinned and unsubmitted. For his part Cena would make a comment about Rusev being a fight for another day before turning his attention to The Authority unfairly eliminating him and others from the Rumble. He’d challenge the group to have any member face him at No Way Out. Bryan would ask for Rollins but be declined, with it being made clear enough that The Authority are protecting Rollins. Requests for matches from other people targeted by The Authority would lead to Triple H making an eight man tag match for No Way Out: Cena, Bryan, Cesaro and Bray Wyatt facing Orton, Kane and The Ascension.

During this interim period Wyatt would shift away from Rollins, Ziggler and the Intercontinental title and begin focusing on Orton. He would prey on Orton’s insecurity of being surpassed by Rollins and do his standard nonsense spiel. They wouldn’t touch until NWO. The focus would be on showing that Wyatt has actually figured out how Orton’s feeling and Orton giving some spirited (I know, hard to imagine, right?) promos denying it.

Ambrose would not be in the tag match. He’d demand a match with ‘The King of Kings’ for taking him out of the Rumble. Tripper would decline, spinning the old not a big enough star yarn, and instead book Ambrose to take on Rusev. It would be made clear that Triple H has made the match in any attempt to get Ambrose out of his hair and teach him a lesson. Ambrose would try to get his hands on Trips but always come up against The Ascension and Kane. Basically the sort of stuff that happened to Bryan in 2014.

Ziggler would goad Rollins into having one final encounter for the IC title at No Way Out. Rollins would agree. This would be a good way to get a gimmick match of some sort onto the show, but there’s nothing obvious presenting itself now. It would be built up as the final encounter of the rivalry.

Could this man conquer 'The Conqueror'?
Reigns would not have a match at No Way Out. Instead he’d spend the month having dominant showings against mid-card guys with Heyman cutting promos to him after all of them. In these promos he would beg Reigns to decline the title match with Brock Lesnar, reasoning that Reigns suffered medical problems in 2014 while ‘The Beast’ went from strength to strength ending The Undertaker’s Streak, winning the WWE championship, destroying John Cena twice, and obliterating Daniel Bryan. Reigns, Heyman would say, has a family to provide for. He wouldn’t be able to do that if he were battered by Lesnar. Even if he survived he wouldn’t have the reputation of Bryan or Cena to allow him to rebound as they did from their humiliating losses. Reigns’s career would be destroyed by Lesnar.

This would come over a period of weeks, of course. And without a single appearance from Lesnar, either in person or via pre-recorded message. Instead their first face-to-face confrontation would be touted for No Way Out.

The show itself would feature these four announced matches and the meeting, plus a Divas match and a tag team turmoil match to determine number one contenders for the doubles gold at WrestleMania. The turmoil match would open the show and be won by Harper and Rowan.

That would be followed by Rollins and Ziggler’s final battle for the Intercontinental championship. They’d probably get around ten minutes, this show being pretty heavy on matches that would need a fair chunk of time. Bryan would interfere and hit a running knee on Rollins, Ziggler following up with the Fameasser for the win and his fourth Intercontinental title reign. An important note here is that Ziggler would see the interference and show no qualms about exploiting the situation. The commentary team wouldn’t mention that though. They’d just gush about the win, and in JBL’s case say it was a tainted victory. This would sow the seeds for something planned for Ziggles at ‘Mania.

After a quick Divas match (setting up whatever’s happening with the division at WrestleMania) we’d get Ambrose and Rusev. This would be presented as a tough challenge for Rusev but the result would be the same as ever: he’d win via The Accolade. Ambrose would last an age in the hold and eventually pass out. By this point Rusev should seem unbeatable. I think we all know where I’m going with this.

The meeting of Reigns and Lesnar would come after that. The two men staring at one another could be milked for a good minute or two before Heyman again started pleading with Reigns not to take the match, listing off a string of other matches he could pursue on ‘The Grandest Stage of Them All’. Lesnar would say nothing and look stoic. We should get the feeling that he’s taking Reigns more seriously than he took Cena. Reigns would listen to Heyman’s pitch, take a microphone and give a short speech about why he wants to face Lesnar: because ‘The Pain’ is WWE’s most dominant wrestler in years and Reigns has always wanted to main event the biggest show of the year. It should be long enough to get the point across and make it seem that there’s faith in Reigns’ ability to cut a long promo but short enough to avoid the crowd turning on him when it becomes apparent that he can’t, in fact, cut a long promo. The ideal closing shot of this would be Reigns and Lesnar face-to-face and Reigns saying “See you at WrestleMania.”

After a final filler match (featuring guys who’d have demonstrated that they’re trying to make use of what TV time they’re given during ‘Mania Season) we’d have the main event. The key word for this one would be chaos. There should be lots of action to disguise the fact that it probably wouldn’t be that great. Yeah, Orton, Bryan, Cesaro and Wyatt are in there. But so are Kane and Cena, neither of whom shine in tag environments, and The Ascension, who look their best when they’re running through people, which they wouldn’t be here. The face team would win with Cena pinning Kane, because more people on the face team need to look strong going into WM31 than on the heel team.

Which brings us to the final build for WrestleMania. Lesnar would disappear from TV again until the March 9 RAW, where he’d return for a contract signing segment ending with him and Reigns trading blows for the first time. Two weeks later he’d be back for the pre-‘Mania episode where the pair would once again fight, each trying for their finisher on the other but having it avoided. On Lesnar’s absent weeks Heyman would fill in by promoting about Reigns throwing his career away and condemning his family to a second rate future.

Lesnar would Skype in (not literally, but how hilarious would that be?) with his views on Reigns. He could acknowledge his football background and the fact that he’s a second generation dude, as well as his streak of dominance as part of The Shield, but say that none of it matters once WrestleMania comes. Lesnar’s good in these things. He finds a way to belittle his opponents while at the same time showing that he understands their accomplishments and what they mean.

The inevitable Rusev and Cena feud would get underway the night after No Way Out. Lana would brag about how the US champion had defeated another pitiful American and announce that there was nothing left for him to accomplish. Cue Cena, to dispute that and cut a promo on the pair. He’d be serious, or at least he’d be instructed to be serious, throughout the entire feud. Rusev would have been built up for near enough a year at this point, and Cena not taking him seriously would undo much of that work.

They’d first come to blows on the March 2 RAW. Rusev would have one of his much-loved pro-Russia ceremonies, the point of which would be to officially retire the United States championship. Let’s face it, once it’s been on Rusev for some anti-America heat there’s not much else that can be done with it. Let it go out on top. Cena would fly to the ring seconds after Rusev had handed the US title belt to the representative of the Russian government (I like the idea of Bobby Fish being in this non-speaking role). Cena could obliterate everyone, maybe give the government guy an AA (because Cena), and then get attacked by Rusev. They could then have a second, just as wonderfully banal, brawl a couple of weeks later. Rusev would come out of their final pre-‘Mania encounter, whenever it occurred, with the upper hand.

Ambrose would continue targeting Triple H after No Way Out, as desperate to get his hands on him as he was Rollins. Because the two feuds mentioned above would each be getting a couple of brawls apiece it would be best to avoid attaching more to this rivalry. Plus a lack of brawls here would make people all the more keen to see Tripper and Ambrose collide.

Each week Ambrose would almost get his hands on ‘The Game’ only to be brought down by security and carried from the building. After weeks of this Triple H could relent and finally agree to face Ambrose at ‘Mania, but he’d tell him that he intends to end his career. Ambrose would just laugh. Because Ambrose.

Bryan and Rollins’ feud would have seen each man cost the other a championship. That’s reason enough for them to want one another at WrestleMania. Bryan could talk about how Rollins had taken away his chance to come back and regain the championship he never lost. Rollins could talk about how Bryan had set back his journey to the top, dropping in comments about being the future of the company and the business. Perhaps he could even mention Bryan being jealous of him.

The Orton and Wyatt programme could actually feature them having a few matches with one another, but not a singles encounter. They could be mixed with other feuds, for tag and six man matches, and Orton could have singles matches with Harper and Rowan. The most obvious would be The Ascension teaming with Orton to take on the Wyatt Family in their entirety.

Note the purple ladders.
The only WrestleMania match coming out of No Way Out with no foreshadowing would be Cesaro v Ziggler. Considering the use of both in the previous several months, Cesaro having had his breaking out moment opposite Orton and Ziggler having had solid matches with Wyatt and Rollins, I think Cesaro could just walk out the night after No Way Out and challenge Ziggler to a title match at WrestleMania. Ziggler, a fighting champion, could accept, and they could spend the following month taking it in turns to face the same guys each week, one on RAW, one on SmackDown, each winning to show how evenly matched and ready to face off they are. This would be a nice way to give reason to what would otherwise be generic TV filler matches too.

The prospect of an Undertaker match probably needs to be addressed. If he was up for coming back I’d put him against Sting. This is not a match I ever personally want to see, but so many people have talked about it since before WrestleMania XXX that there’s clearly a desire for it. It would get two big names on the show and keep them away from the matches that would contribute to the company’s future. If ‘Taker didn’t want to come back everything else would go ahead as planned. I’d have no interest in using Sting to face anyone else.

Assuming there’s a Sting v Undertaker match that gives us a nine match card. Below is a provisional running order. Things could be swapped about but the results would remain as written.

I’d open with Ziggler and Cesaro in a good, clean, face versus face encounter with a handshake at the start. Ziggler would retain the title after a super kick and a cover with a very clear handful of tights. Cesaro would not be impressed but they’d shake anyway because babyfaces, yeah?

Orton and Wyatt would follow. Wyatt, without Harper and Rowan at ringside, would win with Sister Abigail. That would be followed by Bray’s boys falling to The Ascension in the tag title match. The Ascension should get a good long run as the champions so their first (pinfall) loss means more when it arrives. That means sacrificing the Wyatt Family to them.

After that we’d have Cena versus Rusev. While neither man is particularly suited to long matches I think with the right layout, emphasising crowd working, a lengthier match could work here. Cena would not power out of The Accolade but he would counter it escape it via the ropes. Rusev would kick out of an AA. In the end Cena would pass out in The Accolade. That would keep his never give up credo alive and well and give Rusev the only victory he’d need to tip him over into megastardom.

Sting and Undertaker would follow. ‘The Dead Man’ would win with a Tombstone. There’s no logical reason for him to lose to Sting in what would almost certainly be Sting’s lone WWE in-ring performance. The Divas would follow them. For what it’s worth I like the idea of having AJ Lee v Charlotte for the Divas championship.

The final three matches would see Ambrose, Bryan and Reigns go over in their respective bouts. Ambrose via Dirty Deeds, Bryan via tap out to the Yes Lock, and Reigns with a Superman punch in the middle of the ring. I’ve listed those three as going on last because I like the idea of the three Shield guys being in the final three bouts on the card. But as I said above things would probably be changed around. These are the matches and results I’d go with though.

The following night on RAW… stuff would happen. Let’s not get into it, because this is already too long. The only thing I’ll mention, because it’s a key part of the plan, is that Rollins would cash-in on Reigns in the closing segment of the show. Reigns would have had his title chase and ‘Mania Moment then have to start all over again thanks to Rollins.

So there we are. That’s how I’d book WrestleMania 31. The idea would be to have a good show (obviously) but also to move into April 2015 with a number of new guys solidified as main event names and a variety of storyline options. Having Rollins as WWE champion would allow for Cena, Bryan (who would hold a pinfall victory over Rollins from ‘Mania, don’t forget), Ambrose and Wyatt to be used as challengers. There would be an option to kick Orton out of The Authority (for losing to Wyatt or being bitter about Rollins, take your pick) to work as a challenger too. Plus there’s the Rollins and Reigns rematch.

Ziggler’s less than honourable win would be the trigger point for a heel turn (foreshadowed as far back as his September 26 rope grab to successfully defeat Cesaro, but also more recently at No Way Out). His series with Cesaro could continue and they could progress into feuds with the Ambroses, Mizes and Wyatts of the roster, as well as a batch of guys chosen to make a strong, meaningful mid-card. Whoever had proven valuable during my first eight months would be used there, as well as Finn Balor, Hideo Itami, Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville and whatever Kevin Steen ends up being called.

The plan coming out of ‘Mania would be to keep the world championship on Rollins until July, at which point he’d lose it back to Reigns for Reigns to go on and conquer Rusev at SummerSlam. From there Reigns would hold the title until WrestleMania 32 and face Rumble winner Daniel Bryan in a face versus face main event, with Bryan winning. The story there would be that Bryan would not have had a fair one-on-one title shot without interference since being stripped of the prize in 2014, near enough two years earlier. That doesn’t preclude Bryan from challenging Rolling in 2015, it just means any matches they have need to end via shenanigans. After WM32 Reigns would turn heel, because I think he’d need time as a killer heel behind him for audiences to be ready to fully embrace him as a top guy (as was the case with Austin, The Rock, Cena and even D-Bry).

Of course it’s possible that people would have turned on Reigns during the WrestleMania 31 build. Were that to happen I’d stick to the plan of having him win the title from Lesnar and lose it to Rollins, but then I’d turn him heel shortly afterwards and pit him against the wealth of babyfaces on the roster. Anyone but Cena: that’s a natural main event for WrestleMania 33 (yes, I’m laying out plans here that stretch into 2017, what of it?). Reigns could get his year as a killer heel out of the way a year early, drop the belt to D-Bry at ‘Mania 32 as a bad guy, and then turn face in the following weeks by showing ‘The King of Beards’ the respect he refused him as a heel.

If Reigns were turned after ‘Mania 31 Ambrose could take his place in the title plans, dethroning Rollins in July and being the first man to defeat Rusev at SummerSlam. Whatever happened with the guys being pushed to the top there’d be a plan in place to – ahem – deal with it. Not that the plan would be stuck to at the cost of spontaneity dictated by crowd reactions, but it’s good to have something to go on. And this is all without planning for Lesnar sticking around. If only WWE had my foresight, eh?


For ease and simplicity here are the key matches I’ve laid out above.

Hell in a Cell (26.10.14):
Dean Ambrose def Seth Rollins in a Hell in a Cell match
Randy Orton def Cesaro
Rusev def Big Show
Dolph Ziggler def The Miz to retain the Intercontinental championship
John Cena def Kane in a last man standing match

Survivor Series (23.11.14):
Triple H, Randy Orton, Seth Rollins and Kane v Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Cesaro and John Cena ends with Triple H as the sole survivor, last eliminating Roman Reigns
Rusev def Sheamus to win the United States championship
Dolph Ziggler def Bray Wyatt to retain the Intercontinental championship

Vengeance (14.12.14):
Roman Reigns def Triple H
Seth Rollins def Dolph Ziggler to win the Intercontinental championship
Rusev def Sheamus to retain the United States championship
Cesaro def randy Orton in a two-out-of-three falls match
John Cena and Dean Ambrose def The Ascension via DQ
Bray Wyatt def The Miz for an Intercontinental championship match

05.01.15 RAW:
Daniel Bryan returns
Dean Ambrose def John Cena for the number one spot in the Royal Rumble
Seth Rollins def Bray Wyatt via DQ to retain the Intercontinental championship
Randy Orton def Roman Reigns
Rusev def Cesaro to retain the United States championship

Royal Rumble (25.01.15):
Seth Rollins def Bray Wyatt and Dolph Ziggler to retain the Intercontinental championship
The Ascension win the tag team championship
Brock Lesnar def Daniel Bryan to retain the WWE championship
Roman Reigns wins the Royal Rumble, last eliminating Randy Orton

No Way Out (22.02.15):
John Cena, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro and Daniel Bryan def Randy Orton, Kane and The Ascension
Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar come face-to-face for the first time
Rusev def Dean Ambrose to retain the United States championship
Dolph Ziggler def Seth Rollins to win the Intercontinental championship

WrestleMania 31 (29.03.15):
Roman Reigns def Brock Lesnar to win the WWE championship
Daniel Bryan def Seth Rollins
Dean Ambrose def Triple H
Rusev def John Cena
Bray Wyatt def Randy Orton
Dolph Ziggler def Cesaro to retain the Intercontinental championship
Sting v Undertaker
Charlotte v AJ Lee for the Divas championship
The Ascension v The Wyatt Family for the tag team championship

July 2015 pay-per-view:
Roman Reigns or Dean Ambrose def Seth Rollins to win the WWE championship

SummerSlam 2015:
Roman Reigns or Dean Ambrose retain the WWE championship against Rusev

WrestleMania 32:
Daniel Bryan def Roman Reigns to win the WWE championship

WrestleMania 33:
Roman Reigns v John Cena

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