Wrestlemania 29 Preview

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sunday is Wrestlemania 29.

The first major sporting event I can specifically recall watching in real time is the ’77 World Series; I remember Reggie Jackson’s three homer game with more specificity than I do Albert Pujols matching him in 2011.

I had just turned 7. 

The year before the Reds won their second straight World Series; when I think about those late 70s Yankee teams I feel them as part of my life– the way I process thoughts about the ’77 World Series is very different than everything that came before.  Those Yankee teams were part of my life; the Big Red Machine might as well be the Gas House Gang to me.  

They’re pages in history books.

Popular sports bloggers now are younger than I am; there’s a heavily trafficked Giants blog whose author is too young to remember Will Clark.  I haven’t entirely reconciled that yet – probably in the same way someone of a generation previous to mine who read something I wrote about baseball fifteen years ago wouldn’t be inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt about Willie Mays.

I don’t remember any World Series before ’77 or Super Bowl prior to XII.

But Wrestlemania?  I was 14 in the spring of 1985, a wrestling fan for 2-3 years at that point.  I saw Rocky III in the movie theater and Hogan and Mr. T in their SNL sketch with Fernando as it was airing.

Not Fandango.  Fernando.  These kids today.

I’ve seen them all.  Every minute of every match.  Sunday we do it again.     

*WWE Title Match: The Rock © vs. John Cena
-A year ago, the build for the first version of this match was predicated on an intergenerational fight.  Rock, representing the “Attitude Era” the much lamented golden age of wrestling profitability criticized Cena (and, by extension, the ethos of modern WWE) as being a children’s product.  The Rock’s a weird vehicle for that as a broader perspective might see both as quarter pounders with different wrappers – the shift from Styrofoam to cardboard doesn’t really change a flavor designed to be palatable to the most mouths possible.  I still go to McDonalds sometimes; it’s a super familiar taste but 
I don’t confuse it with a 4 star sandwich.

Rock’s got the strap, which will surprise fans who only tune in once a year and wonder why the guy in those Paul Walker movies is on USA leading into a dancing segment by the Funkasaurus.  He ended CM Punk’s run, the longest since the Hulk Hogan title reign during which that first ever Wrestlemania  took place, at the Rumble (Cena won the actual Rumble to get the shot) and has presumably been toting this belt to all of his B list functions subsequent (I’m picturing Rock at In and Out with Dax Sheppard and Marlee Matlin; the newly designed title belt over his shoulder as they split some animal fries off the secret menu).

The storyline is that Cena lost a match he could not afford to lose at WM28 and it has ruined his life.  That might be more impactful had they played that at any point, in the way TNA is doing with AJ Styles.  Instead, Cena walked out of losing to the Rock and right into going over the returning Brock Lesnar at the very next PPV and spent the year being the same John Cena we’ve seen for years, unchanged by wins, losses, time, space.  He’s a cartoon.  Colorful, flat, voiced by Hank Azaria. 

He wins here, because he has to, in a match the will be just fine and too long and not worth watching a second time.
I think there’s a possible heel beatdown postmatch, either by Lesnar, taking out his frustrations over losing to HHH – or, more interestingly, by Lesnar and Punk together – finally joining forces under Paul Heyman to become a mega heel duo.   

24 minutes.  3 1/2 stars.  Comparable to last year's; about as good as two limited workers can do in a long singles match.  No fun postmatch shenanigans.  

*World Title Match: Alberto Del Rio © vs. Jack Swagger
-Del Rio has held the secondary world title belt since the beginning of the year, turning babyface in such a transparent way to gain Hispanic interest you’d expect that Rance Priebus has joined the creative team.  He’s been targeted directly by a newly repackaged Jack Swagger, now an anti-immigrant zealot with a particularly effective mouthpiece, Zeb Colter (Dutch Mantel).  Swagger may not come out of Mania with the belt, but he’s already polling really well in his congressional primary.  I look forward to reading his position papers on climate change (Like evolution and raising taxes on millionaires – another secular scientist hoax) and gun control (If Jesus wanted to limit  how many assault weapons I could own why did He give me two hands?).

Swagger won the Elimination Chamber match in February to get the shot and has taken out Del Rio and his walkaround guy Ricardo multiple times.  They’re both competent midcard workers; given them 14 minutes and they can give you a 3 ½ star match.  I’m going to say Del Rio keeps, but is then laid out by Swagger allowing for Dolph Ziggler to cash in the briefcase and win the strap. 

12:30. 3 1/4 stars.  Liked it fine and had they given it two more minutes, maybe I like it another quarter star.  They did the Ziggler angle the following night on RAW.  

 * Brock Lesnar vs. HHH
-Imagine if you will, from a business perspective, the following counterfactual – Brock doesn’t put Cena over immediately upon returning to wrestling; instead, he takes that white hot reaction he received a year ago when he emerged, a conquering hero in the eyes of a wrestling public that viewed him as a legitimate, UFC approved, wrecking machine – and runs over everyone they put against him all year long until facing the Undertaker at Wrestlemania.  An unbeatable, maybe uncontrollable, legitimate force against the Streak.  Look, my wrestling preferences are not aligned with the business needs of WWE; I am willing to accept that the Wrestlemania I’d construct with this roster (Generico and Pac would get 22 minutes) is probably not the one best calculated to sell merchandise.  But nothing, from the time Lesnar walked from behind the curtain the night after last year’s Mania, could have seemed more obvious, from solely a business perspective, than Unstoppable force v. Immovable object, and they absolutely could have had that match and chose to toss it away.

Instead they have this.  Brock beat Hunter at Summer Slam, Brock broke Hunter’s arm (and Shawn’s, for good measure) and then F-5’d the Old Man.  Hunter busted up Brock hard way in retaliation and then was forced to put his career on the line to get this match. 

They’ve added Shawn for Hunter’s corner and made this a No Holds Barred stip, ensuring this will be a good match; I’d guess no worse than second best on the show.   Theoretically it’s possible that Hunter might lose (perhaps with Shawn throwing in the towel in a way that could lead to a year long build to a Hunter/Shawn match at WM30; maybe if they are both violating their retirement stip for one match they can get away with it – maybe DX goes into the Hall of Fame the night before) but I don’t know that Hunter has it in him to lose again to Lesnar.

22:30. 4 stars.  I am entirely alone in this view of the match; I think because I am totally disinterested in crowd reaction - your enjoyment of a match in no way impacts my evaluation of it.  The crowd was dead so the match was perceived as dead.  I think that's right.  Or I'm just wrong.  I liked it more than either of the Undertaker/HHH matches. I liked it more than this year's Undertaker match. Hunter wins.  

* CM Punk vs. Undertaker
What story were they planning to tell before Paul Bearer died?
In each of the previews I’ve written in this space, I’ve discussed Punk’s title run; encouraging as far back as August that it be centered around length.  Punk had the longest WWF/E title run in a quarter century; it’s the first line in his wrestling obituary.  So here he is, just two months after the end of that historic run in a match against what is probably the most focused upon streak in the history of wrestling – the Undertaker’s unbeaten record.

And instead of that story – we’re throwing around an urn.

Among the merits to the last four Undertaker matches was the lack of goofy.  The Undertaker is no longer undead, he’s a veteran athlete who, through guile and fortitude, can rise to the occasion one day a year and win his match regardless of circumstance.  He’s extinguished Michaels and Hunter in “last of a dying breed” matches – where the implicit (and last year, explicit) premise has been the last connection to the glory days of the promotion is on display, maybe for the last time. 

You know that when Hunter stood in the ring in the build to 28 and told the Undertaker that there weren’t any guys in the dressing room like the two of them anymore – that Punk would have been the most pissed off, the most likely to tell those old men to get the hell out of his ring. 

  Instead of that – instead of running on that kind of aggrieved, believable, “you Attitude Era assholes need to go away – and with my 400+ days as WWE Champ, I’m the guy to make it happen” fuel, they gave Punk Paul Bearer’s urn.  And that just makes the Undertaker so doggone mad.

There’s some mileage to be gained from an full attack on the Attitude Era – Punk could have told the Undertaker that not only is he better than the Undertaker, and Michaels, and Austin, and Rock – but there are a half dozen guys buried throughout the roster who are better than they are now or ever were and its time the WWE stopped living in its past.  Much like Punk’s original shoot promo, the way to generate some heat into this program would be to tap an existing vein.  I can believe Punk’s pissed off that the Undertaker is still hanging onto his Wrestlemania spot; I can’t believe that Punk is tormenting him about William Moody’s death.

The problem with using “real life tragedy” in a wrestling angle isn’t that it’s distasteful or disrespectful – it’s that it isn’t believable; it makes the program a joke.  No one above the age of 12 could possibly think that Punk could really be desecrating Paul Bearer’s remains, and no one under that age has any idea who Paul Bearer was. 

It should have been a one week reference; cut the heat promo on the dead manager, inject some personal animosity into the broader program – but what could have had some real energy just became a childish angle that makes this the most disappointing program of the Wrestlemania build.

It’s probably still the best match of the night, no worse than second behind HHH/Brock.

22 min.  4 stars.  Exactly the match, the result, the quality I expected.  

*Tag Team Title Match: Team Hell No © vs. Ziggler and Langston
Kane and Daniel Bryan have been champs since September.  It’s almost 7 months.  That’s the longest tag run in three years. 

Has this been a good year for Bryan Danielson?  A year ago, the most sustained show long crowd reaction the day after The Rock met John Cena was not for either of those guys, but instead for Danielson, who wasn’t even booked. Daniel Bryan chants filled arenas for months – and while you can’t call a 7 month tag title run a burial, he clearly isn’t as over as was he at this point last year.  He became a crutch for creative; Danielson could do the comedy vignettes that would fill the programming, and the lack of good matches and the disinclination to frame him for the WWE audience as someone who you can count on when you want to see a good wrestling match (which was how they branded Mr. Perfect, for example) makes this sort of a lost year.  Hopefully, what it’s done is eliminate the down side risk (good luck with your future endeavors) as his non-wrestling utility is probably accepted by management.  I don’t know if he’s any closer to a 25 minute Wrestlemania match today than he’s been throughout his WWF tenure.  Presumably, they recognize they can’t rely on Rock/Hunter/Undertaker for too many high profile matches going forward and would at some point utilize the star power of that generation to help create the next wave of wrestlers who will make the company money in future Wrestlemanias. 

 I’m tired of being wrong about the champs dropping this belt and Danielson breaking free of this tag team.  I predict it in every event.

I’m picking it here too.  Ziggler and Langston win the belts.
There aren't any more 3 star matches from the show.  This went 6:30 and was fine given the time allotted. Champs kept.  It never ends.     

* Chris Jericho vs. Fandango
For whatever reason, Vince became convinced that “evil ballroom dancer” was the right way to counterprogram RAW against Dancing With the Stars, and given his past appearance on that program (although I don’t know that it’s been referenced as part of this build) Jericho has gotten the call to help get Fandango over. 

The “evil” element of the Fandango gimmick is working pretty well; he’s viciously attacked Jericho multiple times and looked believable in doing it.  The ballroom dancer part of the gimmick has shorter legs; like Doink – it probably can’t work as a babyface.  I’d expect this to be too short to matter much with the dancer going over (Maksim Chmerkovskiy left Dancing with the Stars this season, his run in to aid Fandango would be the weirdest Mania celebrity cameo since Herb, the guy who never ate a Whopper, teamed with GenichiroTenryu. 

9 minutes, just okay.  Fandango beats him.  

* Ryback vs. Mark Henry
This is not an arm wrestling match or a bodyslam challenge, but, for those of you unfamiliar with these men, it might as well be.  They will stand in the middle of the ring and slowly hit each other with clubbering fists until Ryback bodyslams Henry and gets the win. 

8 minutes of bearhugs.  Henry went over and Ryback turned on RAW.

* Randy Orton, Big Show and Sheamus vs. The Shield (Rollins, Reigns and Ambrose)
If you’re like me you’re watching the inaugural season of Big Brother Canada…

…And you watch the US and UK versions as well – years ago, I was starting to go out with a woman and my brother said “tell her you own 5 wresting DVDs.  Five.  You keep that shit to yourself”.  My international interest in the Big Brother franchise isn’t that – but it can see that from there. 

So, if you’re watching Big Brother Canada you know that the main alliance in the house has nicknamed itself The Shield and uses the X armsign upon casting votes to evict.  I’m rooting like hell for them. 

I’m also rooting for their WWE namesake – The Shield hasn’t gotten nearly enough ringtime considering the quality of two of its members; WWE doesn’t have to become the workrate based promotion that I’d prefer to recognize that they can use match quality to help get guys over.  There’s no reason to beat them here against an ad hoc babyface team.  Randy Orton looks as bored as a 14 year old during a mitosis lecture.  If he doesn’t turn here he’s never going to pass Biology.

10:30, this was just fine, Orton was selfish and it pissed the Show off.  

* Brodus Clay, Tensai, Cameron and Naomi vs. Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Nikki and Brie Bella
There will be dancing. 

This got bumped.  There was no dancing.  

That’s the show – it’s perfectly fine.  The Undertaker/Punk and Hunter/Brock matches certainly have **** potential; the possibility of Ziggler cashing in his briefcase and Daniel Bryan wrestling for more than 18 seconds are also worth some anticipation.  The pre-show has a Barrett/Miz (and maybe a Cesaro?) match; it’s five hours of sports entertainment for your wrestling dollar, and is bound to be a happening.  


Mark said...

I reckon the story to tell here is Cena turning heel to beat The Rock in the same way Austin did at WM17 (maybe even with Heyman in the McMahon role).

Monday's heelish promo by Cena gave me the smallest hope that it might happen.

Blog said...

Jason Hanson retired today. Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?

Jim said...

Don't know.

The best I can do is say there are almost no closers who belong in the baseball hall of fame; no Sutter, no Smith. For someone with so few innings pitched to make it, you need to either have innings somewhere else (like Eck) or be the very best (like Rivera).

Kickers are similar; they don't play much and are largely interchangeable - you'd need to be the best to make it. The metrics really don't exist to do a good evaluation of that, we have FG% but can't do home field adjustments. It's hard to say, when looking at a guy like Ken Anderson who isn't in, that there are any kickers more worthy than he was.

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