I think the first wrestling argument I ever had with Kirk Hiner came a little over 20 years ago in the build to Wrestlemania VI; I was obsessively against what looked to be the upcoming title switch to the Ultimate Warrior, almost to the point of distraction. We were 19 year old college sophomores who had created a comedy troupe together, largely for the purpose of getting girls (in hindsight, there were probably better strategies) and when we weren't arguing about how much our act should rely on puppeteering or the merits of the aphorism "there's no such thing as a free lunch" - much of our time was spent in the discussion of graps - WWF graps to be specific, because the world in which I could watch downloaded puroresu torrents on my cellphone did not exist at the beginning of 1990.
As we've aged (horribly so, the realities of time just ravaging our once lovely faces; I'm on the left, 18 years old in the spring of '89, yeah, yeah, that's the stuff)
our wrestling conversation has continued; Kirk, now mere days from turning 40, approaches wrestling the way healthy adults do, as a curiosity in which to occasionally dabble as time permits, like religion or jogging.
On the other hand, I do this. And because of that, I'm the one who writes the quarterly previews - for each of the major WWE PPVs (which, I guess, will drop to 3 this year) I have, for the better part of the past fifteen years, sent Kirk a preview to catch him up on whatever elements of the narrative he may be unaware . Now, I don't have time for any human interaction in my life that doesn't involve sex, a paycheck, or this blog (and occasionally some unholy combination therein) so the wrestling previews all go here. The one I did for January's Rumble is here.
So - if you're not Kirk Hiner and would like to read my thoughts about this weekend's Wrestlemania 26 - you may, but you may prefer to re-read the Pie v. Cake tournament in last week's Tendown. If you are Kirk Hiner, here's your big, big show coming up this Sunday from Phoenix.
Oh - in my head, next year, I'm going to re-watch all of the Manias, maybe starting right after the Rumble, and I'll do running commentary blog posts for them, sort of like the one I did (and plan to do more this year) for the NBA Draft. That'll be a "if time permits" in 2011 sort of a proposal.
With that - the Hall of Fame broadcast is on USA again at 11:00 Saturday night - there isn't the level of mainstream appeal for this year's inductees (DiBiase, Stu, Gorgeous George, Antonio Inoki, Wendi Richter, Bob Uecker, Mad Dog Vachon) so I'm not sure how they'll structure the TV packaging of the ceremony.
As for Sunday - Fantasia is singing America the Beautiful, JR has been gone for the better part of a year after his Bells Palsy returned and then his deal expired, and he's expected to return in some capacity. There isn't any other (unless I'm missing something) celebrity involvement - they've added concerts in recent years that have had the impact on my interest that you'd expect - and they've had celebrity angles (Mickey Rourke, Floyd Mayweather, Donald Trump) that have been much of the focus of the past handful of shows.
None of that's present this year - and it's for the better - from both a storyline standpoint and, from my perspective the far, far more important in-ring standpoint, this looks like a really strong card. It's been several years, maybe since XX, that I looked forward to a Mania more than the one coming up Sunday - and given my level of constant dissatisfaction with WWE, that's of some moment.
Here's the card.
1. No DQ: Streak v. Career: Undertaker v. Shawn Michaels
-So, Shawn Michaels is retiring on Sunday. And that's sort of a big deal.
As I mention every year when previewing his match, WWE has done a terrific job adding value to Mania by building up the Undertaker's unbeaten streak - I'll be interested, when going back and watching the shows, when it was it was first referenced, as it seems to me this was less planned and more stumbled upon. For the past several years though, it's been a ready made go-to storyline - last year, Undertaker beat Shawn in a match that was simultaneously 4 stars and one of the most overrated matches in WWE/F history (it won match of the year, both in the worked WWE voting, which played into the storyline for the rematch, and among wrestling fans who care about that sort of thing - I didn't have it in my top 40.) It was at the Slammy Awards where Michaels accepted the award for match of the year that he revealed his loss at 25 still ate at him and he needed a rematch to make his life worth continuing.
The back and forth saw Michaels cost Undertaker the Smackdown Title at the February PPV by interfering in his match (Jericho now has it) and Undertaker demand that Michaels put up his career if he wanted to get the rematch.
The match is No DQ to cover up that both guys are shot - they're physically broken down, both guys have sucked pretty much every drop out of their bodies, so they'll add some bells and whistles to cover up that neither one is really in condition to go 20+ high intensity minutes in the ring. It'll be terrific - overpraised, but still terrific - and probably (although not certainly, in the way that it was certain Flair was going to lose that retirement match to Shawn) Shawn loses.
And I don't know what that means - the plan with Flair really was that he would never wrestle again (he's now managing AJ Styles in TNA and worked a tag against Hogan recently) Shawn won't do that - I expect Shawn to wrestle, in some form, as long as he physically can - but he is probably going away for awhile after Sunday (or perhaps a farewell angle Monday - years ago, in the Counterfactual, when Shawn lost at XIV, in my world, to Owen, I did a thing the following night on RAW where Hunter turned on him, leaving him laying in a retirement ceremony in order to get some rub - and it would not shock me, given that Hunter is in need of a turn, for them to do borrow that idea this year).
So - Shawn probably loses and goes away, maybe for a full year until they do an angle to bring him back at 27.
Or - he wins - because the Undertaker needs to go away too - both guys took the summer off in 2009, physically, they certainly look far worse than did they last year, I don't see much circumstance where either wrestles much the rest of the year. And maybe they decide to end the streak. That seems less likely to me.
2. Street Fight: Bret Hart v. Vince McMahon
-No one else is saying this - so I will. I think there's a really good chance Vince beats Bret Sunday. (Bret's saying he's done after Sunday, so that makes this theory nonsense).
Vince made a cryptic comment about Bret's family in the go home promo Monday that sort of sounded like a tease of a turn from the Hart kids (recall, Davey's boy and a good worker, Tyson Kidd, managed by the Anvil's daughter are a bottom card tag act on Smackdown). They haven't been part of the angle at all, but it would not surprise me (maybe because I just turned them in the build for Counterfactual 25) if they were to be shown in the crowd for Stu's induction Saturday - maybe come up to the stage for a Hart reunion and be prominently shown - and then come to the ring with Bret, or otherwise show up, since it's a street fight stip, during the match - and turn on Bret with the post-Mania storyline reason being they wanted to push their way up in the company ('cause that's what I'm going to be doing in the Counterfactual and how could you avoid it?) to help Vince get the win.
That would mean Bret comes back at some point - he's booked on a foreign tour after Mania but not after that as far as I know. But if it were to play out like that he'd need to stay for the next PPV or he'd need to come back.
Mine is the minority view - if you can find betting odds, my guess is Bret's a pretty overwhelming favorite to hit the sharpshooter and get the pop and redemption - but I think it plays out differently.
The build's been okay - they took out the real world aspect quick, they had Bret and Shawn make up the first night - then removed that aspect from the angle - Bret does not feel like the Hit Man anymore, one assumes its a combination of the stroke and his being away from performing on television for so many years - but the sense that he's a real guy doing real things - which he captured as well as did anyone, just isn't there.
This has been just a wrestling angle - Bret faked a broken leg to get Vince to agree to the match - obviously, neither man can do much physically (no idea what Bret can do, just none) so they'll need a lot of booking to get them through this match. But it's Bret Hart at Wrestlemania and how could you not need to see it?
3. RAW Title: Batista v. John Cena
Batista's got the strap - this is the lineal WWF title - at the February PPV Cena took the title from the rookie, Sheamus, who had beaten him for it - but immediately after Vince gave Batista a shot (they briefly had Batista and Cena in the Bret/Vince angle, so Vince was getting revenge) and he took the strap. It's his 2nd run with this belt.
This has been a good, old school angle - Batista is cocky heel - he is arrogant and dismissive of the fans, all he cares about is fame and money - and Cena's the white meat babyface who cares too much about what all those people think. They've done a good job - Batista particularly has really found a good heel groove.
Neither guy is much of a wrestler (my view of Cena's work is significantly below where others would rate him - I think he's the Ultimate Warrior) and this won't be a match I'll think a lot of. The story is that Batista always beats Cena - and I think it would be a mistake to lose that, but they've had Batista really get the better of the build - so let's say this goes to Cena.
4. Smackdown Title: Chris Jericho v. Edge
Edge's body has really fallen apart in the past couple of years - last year it was an achilles tendon tear - he and Jericho were a tag act - Edge got hurt and Jericho cut promos on him that Edge was soft. Edge had a surprise return at the Rumble as number 30 and eliminated Jericho and went on to win to get a title shot (nearly inverted from the battle royal I wrote last year in the Counterfactual, with a babyface Jericho making an unannounced return to eliminate former partner turned enemy Edge to get the title shot). He chose Jericho's belt to challenge in that shot when Jericho took from the Undertaker in that match where Michaels interfered. It's Jericho's 3rd run with this belt.
Again, another very simple, effective storyline - Edge keeps spearing Jericho at every turn - so the match is built around if he can land the spear - he'll win the title. I assume this match will be good but it might be short, as I don't know Edge's physical condition - and more broadly, Edge was not as good a worker after he returned from the previous long injury layoff as was he before, it's reasonable to wonder what he can still do. Jericho's still awfully good; he and Rey had a really strong in-ring feud last year.
I'd guess Edge wins - but he might then immediately lose to the Money in the Bank winner, either right after the match or on Smackdown.
5. Rey Mysterio v. CM Punk (if Punk wins, Rey has to join his stable)
This is the match to which I'm most looking forward - if they give it time it'll be the best match on the show (but if it goes more than 12 minutes I'd be shocked, and more likely it's 8 minutes and I'm irritated). Punk's character has really deftly morphed into a messianic, cult-leader type (what's frustrating is it's what I've been building Counterfactual Michaels to turn into for a couple of years - but they're doing it better than I'll do it, and they beat me to the punch) - he cuts money heel promos every time out. This angle is Punk's trying to recruit Rey to join his flock - Rey obviously is refusing - Punk brought in Rey's kids to the angle, in what apparently was supposed to involve Punk shaving Rey's 9 year old daughter's head (which would have been awesome) but WWE backed away (Linda is in a hot Republican primary for US Senate in Connecticut, and that's propelled a real kid friendly product, with both positive and negative consequences). I assume Punk wins and they're going to keep this going; Rey was going to shut it down with knee surgery - but if he were to join Punk's stable they could change his style for awhile to cover for his injury until they do some type of injury angle.
6. HHH v. Sheamus
-Sheamus is the Irish rookie (not untalented, but there's no reason why he was chosen for the monster push from nowhere other than he and Hunter are boys) who came out of nowhere to take the strap from Cena (which, as mentioned, is now Batista's). Hunter eliminated him from the match in the February PPV which saw Sheamus lose his belt - Sheamus attacked Hunter subsequently. And here we are. It's a real heatless midcard match - I assume Sheamus goes over and it sets up a Hunter turn. There's no reason to think Sheamus can wrestle yet.
7. Money In the Bank: Benjamin v. Christian v. Matt v. MVP v. Swagger v. Kingston v. Bourne v. Ziggler v. Kane v. McIntyre
The Money In the Bank match is going away as a Mania staple, apparently - as they're going to take the gimmick and give it a summertime PPV. That's going to mean the winner here has to cash in the briefcase quickly, hence my thought that perhaps Edge beats Jericho and then quickly loses the strap. The odds on favorite is Drew McIntrye (he's IC Champ) - another heel newcomer, like Sheamus, who has yet to show if he can do much or not. I'm going to decide, based largely on wishcasting, that they don't do that - that instead, they put Christian in that spot - and then have him turn on Edge by cashing in the briefcase after Edge's title win. They've done a bad job with Edge and Christian since Christian's return, doing nothing to re-establish their brotherhood relationship - and since they have so many years of investment in that relationship, it's just silly to ignore it.
This is a good spotfest every year - there are 10 guys (ridiculous, but it gets them on the card) in this match - Shelton is in the same place he's in every year, the company's never going to push him. Christian's just lost his spot carrying the Tuesday show when ECW went away, so he's nowhere right now, hence my thought they might do something with him from this match. There's a lot of guys who are nowhere right now in this match - it's not a coincidence they are some of the better workers in the company. Matt's nowhere and maybe headed the wrong way both work and popularity wise. The company has lost interest in MVP after turning him face. Jack Swagger could be Kurt Angle someday if it breaks right for him, preferably without the maniacal quality, but he's nowhere right now. Kofi Kingston had a push last year but it's over - Evan Bourne has never gotten a push and it doesn't appear one's forthcoming. Dolph Ziggler is a good young worker, McIntyre I mentioned - and you know Kane. None of these guys are in any programs whatsoever that I can think of - McIntyre had to try multiple times to qualify for the match, which is why his winning makes sense from a storyline perspective. They really need to turn someone, even if they don't take my suggestion and propel Christian - because he, MVP, Bourne, Matt, Kingston, and Benjamin are all babyfaces - that's 6 guys all in the same place at the same time. They could turn Christian in the angle I mentioned, and still turn MVP in the next few weeks.
8 Randy Orton v. Cody Rhodes v. Ted DiBiase
-Orton has kind of turned face against his protegees, Cody and Ted, Jr. - but it hasn't really taken hold - Orton was the hot heel act in the company for several months in 2009, and it appeared they were building for this split - but it just never went anywhere. I guess they're married to Orton kind of being a face - it would make sense (I'm calling another turn here, not all of these turns will take place on the same show) if Cody were to have been swerving Ted - and he and Orton were to team up to take him out - re-setting this program as Orton and Cody as heels and Ted as a face - so they could then do Cody v. Ted and Orton could be a heel again.
An interesting situation they're in - and I'm guessing it's a result of the current composition of the writing staff - is the heel characters, for a couple of years, have been much, much - just a million times more compelling than the face characters.
Right now - this second - the best characters in the company are heel Punk, heel Batista, and heel Jericho - both Edge and Orton, who were supersharp as heels, have lost steam as babyfaces - and all three of the heels I just mentioned are much better in their heel roles than in their most recent babyface incarnations.
Babyface Hunter, as mentioned, is begging for a heel turn - I've always thought Cena was a terrible babyface character and never understood his appeal - and certainly don't understand it now. Babyface Shawn hasn't interested me in years - but whenever he does anything that smacks of being a heel he can still be that guy. Rey and the Undertaker are successful babyfaces - they did a real good job with Jeff as a babyface character last year before he left (he's in TNA now - he and Van Dam are tagging against Hall, Nash, and Waltman Monday) - but what's worth seeing about all those guys is they weren't over as faces based on their promos - it's not the writers who made those characters successful.
That's my sneaky smart observation for this preview. WWE needs a writer who can create a babyface character.
9. Tag Titles: Show/Miz v. Morrison/Killings
-Miz is both US Champ and tag champ - Show and Jericho were tag champs - they dropped and broke up, Show then picked up Miz, he and Morrison were previously tag champs - and now Morrison and Truth Killings have been thrown together (2 more random midcard babyfaces, to return to the Money In the Bank discussion - just a ton of guys all in exactly the same spot - you don't want to be a babyface, they can't get you over, you just run in place - now, another thought strikes me, part of that could be because the entrenched top guys - Hunter, Cena, Shawn, Taker - have been babyfaces a long time - sucking up all the babyface oxygen - could be, if Shawn and Taker leave for awhile, and Hunter turns - that will free up some babyface room, both literally on the card - and creatively, for some of these guys to get some babyface juice).
Show and Miz keep. It's probably quick and not that good.
That's the announced card - they'll probably throw a women's match on.
It should be good - Undertaker/Shawn is guaranteed to be good; every Money in the Bank has been good - depending on how much time they get Edge/Jericho and Rey/Punk will be good, and then you throw in Bret.
We'll see if any of those matches make this list - I'll close with my Top 20 Wrestlemania Matches of All Time:
1. Razor Ramon d. HBK (10)
2. Owen Hart d. Bret Hart (10)
3.Bret Hart d. Steve Austin (13)
4.Ricky Steamboat d. Randy Savage (3)
5.HBK d. Bret Hart (12)
6. Benoit d. HBK d. HHH (20)
7. Kurt Angle d. Shawn Michaels (21)
8. Edge/Christian d. Hardys d. Dudleys (16)
9. Edge/Christian d. Dudleys v. Hardys (17)
10.Randy Savage d. Ric Flair (8)
11.Undertaker d. Shawn (25)
12. Brock d. Angle (19)
13. Money in the Bank (Edge) (21)
14. Austin d. Rock (15)
15. Angle d. Benoit (17)
16. Eddy d. Angle (20)
17. Bret d. Piper (8)
18. Michaels d. Jericho (19)
19. Warrior d. Savage (7)
20. Austin d. Rock (17)