Friday, April 1, 2011
As happens quarterly, I write a preview of the big WWE PPVs for the benefit of my longtime on again/off again writing partner Kirk Hiner; were you inclined, you could get to last year's preview piece here. In one form or another, I've been doing these previews for Kirk since somewhere between Wrestlemanias 12 and 13; meaning I've now been his primary contact to the world of wrestling almost as long as he was an active fan. At some point, one assumes, I will stop writing these previews. Time marches on. Sunrise. Sunset. Sunrise. Sunset.
But this is not that point. Today is not that day! Nosir!
Because this Sunday is the granddaddy of them all, the Count of Monte Fisto; like the day you lost your virginity and the last episode of Seinfeld all rolled into one - it's Wrestlemania by-God 27, from the fightin' city of Atlanta, GA.
For those of you who are not Kirk Hiner, you can stay if you care - but it's a little voyeuristic, like peepin' in on me when I do my late night sexy dance. Maybe one day I'll put that it the blog too. Late night sexy dance - the granddaddy of all sexy dances!
Saturday Night is the Hall of Fame induction...but not on TV. It will air on USA Monday at 8 - also beginning Monday after RAW is the return of the reality show Tough Enough, which USA has gotten solidly behind in an attempt to hop into the reality show business. Austin to host, with involvement from Trish and Booker, all 3 of whom are involved in Sunday's show.
Inducted this year - HBK, Road Warriors, Sunny (and that will be your lineup on the USA broadcast) Hacksaw, Abdullah the Butcher, Bullet Bob Armstrong, and Drew Carey. I know what you're thinking - why do all these wrestlers deserve to get in with Drew Carey?
The announcement of Carey's election got some mainstream talk, which is of course the whole point, and an online media trade magazine wrote some piece to the effect of "Drew Carey Named to Wrestling Hall of Fame" - to which WWE gently replied that this was incorrect - it isn't a wrestling hall of fame - WWE doesn't employ wrestlers. It's an entertainment Hall of Fame filled with superstars and divas (who have never won titles, or belts - only championships). This week, Edge and Christian worked their first RAW match together in a half dozen years - Cole referred to them as the greatest tag team in entertainment history. The word wrestling (and, I'd argue, the act of wrestling) has never been more unwelcome in any wrestling company in history, than right now in WWE - in fact; one would have to look a long way to find more hostility from a corporation to its central product than WWE shows toward wrestling.
Unclear who the announce will be Sunday - Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler are in a match, making it seemingly hard for them to do the broadcast - JR (and for that matter, Joey Styles) are still under contract, but the company has been loathe to use him in that manner, despite how much sense it makes. Josh Mathews and Booker T is the current B crew, and one assumes they'll play some role.
Keri Hilson will be singing America the Beautiful.
9 matches on the card.
1. WWE Title: The Miz v. John Cena
-When last we left, The Miz beat Randy Orton at the Rumble to keep the strap he's held since just after Survivor Series; they started building for Miz/Cena at the Rumble - and in February it became not just the centerpiece of Mania, but the flashpoint for a real ratings surge with the return of the Rock.
So - sometime in the last couple of years, Cena gave at least one interview, perhaps more, but there's one that I specifically recall, where he took some shots at the Rock for distancing himself from WWE in a way that Cena theoretically would not do if he could have gotten his movie career to take off. Cena, as was pretty evident in his public appearances after Benoit, never says anything that isn't fed to him by the company, so best wisdom at the time was he was a vehicle for Vince, as Rock clearly had been looking to stake a separate "Dwayne Johnson" like persona for obvious reasons.
Rock returned to RAW - and cut a promo on Cena, essentially saying that Cena sucks.
Which he does.
This is now minority opinion - at the beginning of Cena's push (which has been financially successful; he's been their top guy for years in terms of business) his best comparable was the Ultimate Warrior - a not uncharismatic guy who was pushed despite not really being much of a worker.
Opinion has moved pretty far away from this, to the point where he's viewed as more than competent - I'm pretty opposed to this sentiment, strongly viewing wrestling analysts as grading modern WWE on a ridiculously easy curve, with Cena as the primary beneficiary of the grade inflation. Today's A student was yesterday's B- student (that's both Cena metaphor and actual reference to academia).
Meaning, even though my feelings about the Rock returning were lukewarm (the Rock's a big star, and in the WWE Universe, the very biggest star, but this won't lead to a good match, and that's all I care about) I was solidly on board with his Cena criticism.
And that became the program - Cena and Rock cutting promos on each other with the Miz occasionally popping in to say "hey, remember me - I'm the heel champ". He's as third wheel as a world champ could be in this program, but I'm unsure how it could be otherwise - the money match is Rock/Cena, but the match they've got is Miz/Cena.
On the go home RAW - Rock hit Miz with the People's Elbow - but then took Cena's finisher.
It's unclear if we're going to get a Rock/Cena match, I think they got into the build hoping they could work Rock into a match as opposed to knowing he would do one down the road. Given the nature of the build, it seems like one has to come somewhere between the PPV after Mania and WM 28, but all of that probably has more to do with Rock's agency and whatever opportunities present themselves than with the needs of WWE creative.
For this match - my guess is it's okay, Miz has been in a couple of good matches this year; you wouldn't call him a good worker yet - but he does some good things; enough to say he's better than I thought he'd ever get and I don't dislike watching him. Cena's a B-. It's unlikely to be a match you'd ever need to see a second time, but it won't be terrible either. The ceiling isn't high, but the floor isn't that low.
I'd say Cena goes over - the show concluding with the Rock getting over on Miz, on Miz's walkaround guy Alex Riley - and I'll guess after a feint that he and Cena have made up - with a Rock Bottom on Cena too.
(2 1/4 stars, the finish, after a long dead spot and a Rock promo, killed what was only the most modest of mediocre matches. If anything, this is a quarter/half star generous. The choir was ridiculous. Miz keeps on Rock interference.)
2. No DQ: Undertaker v. HHH
-An annual angle is the streak, it's reached a point now where it's as big as any part of the Wrestlemania brand. The last two years it was Undertaker/Michaels, the first of which is largely considered the best match in Mania history (again, grade inflation) and the second one retired Shawn.
So - this year it's Hunter, there's nothing on the line for Helmsley, the build has used a lot of "we're the only real stars left in this place, and only one of us leaves the ring alive" bullshit, but they haven't actually put anything up.
Neither guy has worked much in the past year, Undertaker apparently is broken down, and Hunter has begun the transition into Vince's chair. They've got a No DQ stip so this will be the garbage match, and that should be enough to make it good - but given their position in the company, probably overly long and only dramatic if you have an investment in the characters. I do not have this investment. My expectation is it will be a good enough match that I'll like less than will others.
They added Shawn to the mix in the go home angle - where he was a little bit broken in the storyline, the Undertaker noting that his swagger was missing, and then easily blocking a Michaels attempt at a superkick.
Undertaker wins Sunday, of this there is no doubt - and based on Monday it's perhaps due to Shawn screwing Hunter, unable to watch his friend do what he could not do. And that might lead to Hunter demanding a match with Shawn, somewhere between now and WM 28, which might be Hunter's retirement match. I'm projecting a long way based on one RAW promo.
(4 stars, better than anticipated, not as good as its been viewed, I am perhaps a quarter star generous, it's at the low end of 4 star matches, with significant guys standing still sections being sold as "psychology". But I don't want to be overly negative, at 4 stars it was by leaps and bounds the match of the night. I never need another of these famous guys standing still matches again, however. And I'm irritated with myself about that extra quarter star. No Michaels involvement, Undertaker wins.)
3. Jerry Lawler v. Michael Cole (w/Jack Swagger) - Steve Austin, special guest referee.
Longtime babyface announcer Cole began to dip his toes into a new, dickish announcer character during season one of NXT when they had him serve as Vince's mouthpiece burying Bryan Danielson (because that's what they do - they take a wrestler who people like for non WWE reasons and they kill him dead) that meant Cole siding with the Miz (Danielson's antagonist) and when Miz then became champ, Cole remained his biggest cheerleader.
When Lawler, Miz's broadcast partner, got a title shot - Cole remained in his Miz-cheering heel persona, including interfering in the match to protect Miz's belt - and that's driven us here, Cole has attacked Lawler's family - bringing back Brian Christopher for a show to cut a promo on his dad - JR returned and got put in an ankle lock by Cole's new bodyguard, Jack Swagger (a good use of Swagger in terms of putting him in a high profile angle, a bad use in terms of keeping one of your better workers out of a Mania match).
Cole and Lawler have remained broadcast partners, Cole dipping in and out of his heel character in a less than useful way. As a weaselly heel manager, Cole would find his niche in the business, perhaps after he loses Sunday they'll stick him with Swagger in that capacity.
They stuck Austin in the angle, for no real reason other than he's Steve Austin and coming back to host Tough Enough - and that means the match ends with stunners and beer drinking. It's been a good build and will be a terrible match that others will enjoy more than I will.
(Awful and long. On par with Bret/Vince from the previous year. Cole wins when Lawler is DQ'd after the match, I guess for Austin's actions during the match.)
4. World Title: Edge (w/Christian) v. Alberto del Rio (w/Brodus Clay)
When last we left, babyface Edge had the Smackdown Title - since then it was stripped and won back - Del Rio won the Rumble and decided to challenge for Edge's belt. He then added a bodyguard named Brodus Clay, an apparently untalented big guy from developmental - and that led Christian, gone most of the year with injury, to return on the side of Edge (who no longer is his brother in the storyline, a tremendous mistake).
Christian's beaten del Rio twice in the build - which means that if they aren't doing the Shawn turns on Hunter finish - they'll do a Christian turns on Edge finish. Because, after all, why isn't Christian wrestling at Wrestlemania - why has Christian been stuck on Jakked (there is no more Jakked, but I thought it a funny reference - feel free to replace with Shotgun Saturday Night) while Edge has been World Champ (even if it's just the Smackdown Title).
Christian hasn't cut those promos yet - cause he hasn't turned yet - but if he did cut those promos he'd be right. He is criminally underutilized, I'd welcome a turn if it means a push.
Del Rio goes over in what should be a good match.
( 3 1/4. It was a good match and opened the show. Edge keeps. Note I got almost every result wrong.)
5. Randy Orton v. CM Punk
My guess for best match of the night.
Punk traded in one heel stable (the Straight Edge Society) to take over leadership of another (Nexus) and then turned the guns of Nexus on Orton, ostensibly for revenge for Orton's having cost him his title back in 2008 (when Orton was a heel and Punk a face). Orton's taken out all of Punk's guys in the build - Punk injured Orton's knee, and terrorized his "wife" - and it has all the makings of a midcard Mania match.
Orton's a big enough act that they should give this match some time - and Punk's a good enough worker that he can use that time well; in a night where I'm not expecting any 4 star matches, my guess is this winds up as the best match of the evening. Let's say Punk goes over and the feud continues.
(3 1/4. It was not match of the night. It was good, but no better than that. Orton beats him.)
6. US Title: Sheamus v. Daniel Bryan
Probably this is the opening match of the night and gets 8 minutes; but if it had 15, it would be the best match, and as it is, it's the match to which I'm most looking forward as Danielson's making his Mania debut.
Danielson took the US belt from Miz in the feud previously mentioned - then dropped to Sheamus, who had been doing a losing streak gimmick since winning last year's King of the Ring. I'd expect Sheamus to keep. Danielson's the best wrestler in the western hemisphere.
(Thumbs up to the company for moving this to a dark match. Not enough time after all in between the Snoop Dogg, Pee Wee Herman, Mae Young comedy vignettes, the commericals for Tough Enough and the DVD, the long highlight packages, specifically before the main event, and the choir that came out to sing Cena's theme. I don't know this to be true, but if there's a 4 hour Mania with less actual bell to bell match time than 27, I'd be surprised. I did not care for Wrestlemania 27.)
7. Rey Mysterio v. Cody Rhodes
Cody was doing a "look at my pretty face" gimmick when Rey "broke" his nose - and that's the feud. The 21st century version of Rey is a wrestler named Mistico, who is readying to debut under a new name - were he to appear here in a babyface save of Mysterio that wouldn't shock.
Cody goes over, it will be a good match.
(3 stars, it was fine, but no better than a longer than usual TV match. Cody did go over.)
8. John Morrison/Trish Stratus/Snooki v. Dolph Ziggler/LayCool (w/Vicki Guerrero)
This is the celebrity involvement for the night.
Morrison and Dolph are really good, they've been feuding - and now there are girls. Dolph's managed by Vicki, I think they've dropped the "and they're banging too" element of the storyline - LayCool is the diva heel act, half of them is Undertaker's current wife. Trish is an all time great WWE woman's wrestler, and back in the day so hot it would hurt to look straight at her. Snooki is on Jersey Shore.
The babyfaces win. Hopefully it's fast.
They won and it was fast.
9. Big Show/Kane/Santino/Kozlov v. The Corre (Wade Barrett/Justin Gabriel/Heath Slater/Ezekial Jackson)
When Punk took over Nexus they cut it in half, this is the Smackdown half, run by Barrett, who you may recall from his previous program with Cena. Barrett's the IC Champ - he just took from Kofi Kingston in this build. This is a throwaway match - Kane's apparently now a babyface, Santino and Kozlov were babyface comedy tag champs, they lost the belts to Gabriel and Slater, who are the current tag champs. Jackson is a bodyguard. The Show is the Show.
This will not be good.
That's the show - it's not bad, Danielson/Sheamus will be as good as the time they give it, Rey/Cody will be good, but also probably short, Edge/Del Rio will be good, and Punk/Orton I'd guess winds up as the best match of the night. That's 4 matches I'm looking forward to - and while I don't care about the 2 big matches, they'll both be worth watching, and there's intrigue given the third guy expected to be involved in some way.
For purposes of my Counterfactual, some multi-man dark match would be good (I was ready to lose Swagger, but no Christian is going to require some revision) and given the trajectory of Mania I'd expect that's likely to happen. As I write this, I've yet to post Counterfactual Wrestlemania 26, but it's written and ready to fire.
Mania's always worth watching - and I will watch it, probably first thing Monday morning.
I would not expect any of the matches at WM 27 to make this list (HHH/Taker may be the new 20th)- the 20 Best Matches in Wrestlemania history.
1. Razor Ramon d. HBK (10)
2. Owen Hart d. Bret Hart (10)
-I have these as the only five star matches in WM history; one could order them in either way.
3.Bret Hart d. Steve Austin (13)
4.Ricky Steamboat d. Randy Savage (3) (You remember Wrestlemania 3, brother - Andre the Giant had been dead for a week and a half and rigor mortis had driven up his body weight to eleven hundred pounds; as I stood in the ring I didn't know if he was going to do business or not; but when I lifted his corpse high over my head and heard those 2.6 million Hulkamaniacs in the Silverdome cheering me on, brother, I felt his life essence flow into my vital organs; and it was at that moment that I invented the NWO. I went to the back and called Ted Turner, who was running old tapes of Ric Flair wrestling a pig in the Omni...)
5.HBK d. Bret Hart (12)
6. Chris Benoit d. HBK d. HHH (20)
7. Kurt Angle d. Shawn Michaels (21)
-I've got all of these matches at either 4 3/4 or 4 1/2, the distance among them is slight enough that I wouldn't object to really any ordering.
8. Edge/Christian d. Hardys d. Dudleys (16)
9. Edge/Christian d. Hardys d. Dudleys (17)
10.Randy Savage d. Ric Flair (8)
11.Undertaker d. Shawn Michaels (25)
-These are the 4 1/4 matches, there's more distance between the prior group and this group than between this group and the rest of the top 20, which consists of nothing but 4 star matches. So, you could order this group in any way that suits you - and really could intermix this group with the balance of the remainder of this list in any way and not draw too much objection from me.
12. Brock Lesnar d. Kurt Angle (19)
13. Undertaker d. Shawn Michaels (26)
14. Money in the Bank (Edge) (21)
15. Steve Austin d. Rock (15)
16. Kurt Angle d. Chris Benoit (17)
17. Eddy Guerrero d. Kurt Angle (20)
18. Bret Hart d. Roddy Piper (8)
19. Shawn Michaels d. Chris Jericho (19)
20. Ultimate Warrior d. Randy Savage (7)
I don't have any other matches in Mania history at 4 stars - so for my money, these are my 20 best Wrestlemania matches.