This Sunday brings us the 19th annual WrestleMania, an annual event which has proved the biggest supercard of its respective year. This year, amidst internal company struggles, bad business decisions that have hurt the company for a few years-so shockingly ignorant and ill-conceived that sabotage or an ignorance beyond the state of naïveté was the only explanation, numbers down across the board, and injuries eating up the roster, WWE goes into their big event with comparatively unprecedented low interest in the show.
While this year’s event is void of the lack of forethought and booking quality that ruined opportunities like with the 2002 Armageddon, this event is not as strong as it should be and the buys will most likely reflect that. The booking, while better in recent weeks, is still poor enough that the direction the PPV will take as it pertains to the company’s future is unknown. This all coming at a time where WWE is preparing to undertake a PPV split in June, that as I explained in a column earlier this month (http://www.trevorh.com/sitefiles/wrestling/columns/FFLL/vol3-ed8.htm), will prove a huge failure without great change in a company that refuses to accept change as an option until there is no other option. With the state of the company now, the McMahon family still has enough to justify further product expansion in their minds. WWE didn’t dig itself out of its previous down period until years of losing money, competition from WCW, and talent problems became too much to handle and changes were not made. Even then, the changes were not as sweeping as are needed now. Linda McMahon, who has to respond to the shareholders, still has a leg to stand on by the time she puts the company spin on things.
Where did WWE go wrong? There are a lot of issues which I will reveal and examine below but the main is simple, a complete disregard for the magnitude of the event. WWE will present an extremely strong card this Sunday but the booking effort that went along with it was extremely cursory, slipshod, and half-assed. Sometime things were hot, sometimes they were atrocious, sometimes they didn’t even put anything out there to be judged for better or for worse. Hot matches like HHH/T and Rock/Austin have been made to be worth very little. Except of course for McMahon/Hogan (or one has-been 107 year old man), the only match they booked like a big WrestleMania main event. Big egos, big mistakes. That should be the tagline for this year’s show.
The workrate has the potential to be off the charts, with few exceptions (Hogan/McMahon, Taker & Jones/A-Train & Show). With WrestleMania being the huge event, I bet we will see all these ladies and gentlemen bring their best to the table with some of the greatest work we’ve ever seen combined on a recent WWE PPV and perhaps a symbolic end to an era, several eras really. An end to this type of wrestling style due to injuries, and a harbinger to an era that distances itself from political games and writing dependant on formerly-successful formulas. Something new and fresh, yet created from what is already there, instead of hackneyed booking tactics that show no creativity. It’s funny when Vince calls some of television cliché, when his product falls into that category often.
WWE Title Match
Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar
This match is my personal favorite on the card for many reasons. When Paul Heyman was fired as head booker for SmackDown, it was understood that this match and the development going into it would change drastically. We didn’t know how drastically. This match was Paul’s baby and he’d been building up to it since he was forced to turn Brock Lesnar face. He wanted a serious feud to culminate with the biggest-profile match between NCAA champions gone-pro in the history of the sport. Instead he was fired, Hogan/Vince became more important, and Kurt Angle had an injury that changes not only the proportions of this match but will dramatically alter if not end Kurt Angle’s career just as he started to bloom. Kurt Angle is unequivocally the greatest wrestler that WWE has and in addition to that he is the full package. Entertaining, charismatic, fit, and a great worker. It was a given that with a few more years under his belt he could join the ranks of people like Lou Thesz (who loved Angle). When Kurt Angle was diagnosed with a broken neck, he went on to win the Olympic Gold Medal but a recent injury was much more ominous. When Kurt Angle wrestles this Sunday, it will be against his doctor’s stern warnings. Dr. Llyod Youngblood understands that wrestlers need to go back to the ring as soon as possible, but this time he told Kurt Angle and Vince McMahon that Angle should never wrestle again in life, even after he gets two separate surgeries on his neck (the latter which will mean he can no longer take bumps, will be postponed by a business-loving Angle). Angle, surprisingly (even to Mr. McMahon), went against doctor’s wishes and will compete this Sunday risking, in his own words, “paralysis or even death”. His motives seem genuine and he is respected for his decision, which will eventually equate to his biggest one-night payoff ever, which will (dependant on gate, match billing, and PPV buys) will be somewhere in between $250,000 and $500,000. This has obviously been the biggest story going into this huge match. The buildup has been, in my mind, amazing and the match will no doubt live up to the hopes.
World Heavyweight Title Match
Triple H vs. Booker T
The development going into this one has been interesting (in a bad way). HHH tried, insultingly and inappropriately, to get over on Booker by going down the race road. In the end, as I expected, Booker T is an extremely weak babyface going into a match with the heel world champ. The only thing Booker did to get over was cut a good promo for a video package and defeat Rocky in the battle royal. The involvement of Goldust to get heat on Hunter did not work and was just as insulting as going down the race road. If HHH brings his A-game, expect a good match.
Hulk Hogan Retirement Match, Street Fight
Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon
As I understand it now, this match is slated to go 25 minutes, which I think is good. It’s not going to be a **** match (Hogan is in horrible wrestling shape now; McMahon hasn’t worked a match in a while), but it should be a bloody brawl, which I consider the best ending for this. Watching the feud develop has been very interesting to watch from a historical perspective and there is a lot of history that went into this (although that’s a column for a different day, so I’ll leave that alone). The main criticism for this match, is that it was treated through promotion as more important than every other match on the WrestleMania card, including all of the matches from the RAW brand.
WWE Tag Team Titles Match
Team Angle vs. Los Guerreros vs. Chris Benoit & Rhyno
Three great tag teams put into a match, what could ruin it? Try no buildup or promotion.
World Tag Team Titles Match
Lance Storm & Chief Morley vs. Kane & Rob Van Dam
Scheduled for Sunday Night Heat on MTV. The road to this match has been interesting. Originally, I believed that Storm and Regal would go against the Dudleys and I suppose injury is the main reason that won’t happen. RAW Chief of Staff Sean Morley took the belts away from Lance Storm and William Regal citing the reason that they hadn’t defended the belts in 30 days which was an old WCW rule that I guess WWE has had now too. He then awarded the belts to himself and Lance Storm and was challenged by the top tag faces Kane and Rob Van Dam. How did they become the top tag faces? Good question. The Dudleys who previously held that role turned heel, mostly due to Bubba Dudley getting injured in the same match which has sidelined Dave Bautista and Randy Orton. So they turned heel for the reason that they “had to support their families” and get off suspension. Probably will continue on RAW.
WWE Cruiserweight Title Match
Matt Hardy vs. Rey Mysterio
As I understand, at this point, WWE will be continuing to work with these two together, with them having a match at Backlash, as I understand it. That sounds like a good plan. Making Matt Hardy the Cruiserweight Champion was an interesting choice but it has been nice to see him in it. The buildup has been little, a bit too little to comment on, which I guess translates to “the reputation, characters, and inherent talent of the workers will be enough to sell this match”. So that’ll have to do.
WWE Women’s Title Match
Victoria vs. Trish Stratus vs. Jazz
With Victoria, Trish, Jazz, Lita returning soon, and solid workers underneath (Jackie may be questionable at this stage of the game), the new RAW women’s division has been off the charts. As Michael stated in his brilliant work in our “Pay-Per-View Center” the basic foundation of the feud is simple (the women hate each other) but it was executed to perfection and each show built up to the PPV perfectly, even the crowd was often dead for the matches on RAW. As weird as this sounds, with the role reversal that leaves even I-a staunch equal rights advocate-with a pounding headache, Steven Richards was the eye candy, as Victoria’s bitch. Anyway, I digress. While the history of Women’s triple-threat matches is less than great, I don’t see why this one will be bad. I expect the billing to be “bathroom break time” right before the main event but it may be something you don’t want to walk out on because these ladies are all solid workers.
Rock vs. Steve Austin
The premise for this match, I suppose, is that Rock, an egotistical Rock albeit, is upset because he hasn’t beat Austin at a WrestleMania and then they get angry and interfere in each other’s matches, yet Austin gets the better of him week after week. Neither Austin or Rock openly admit that this match is that important in their careers, just that it’s possibly the last time. The buildup has been full of comedy, but there was little in terms of a serious approach towards building up a Wrestling match. This is and has always been the Brian Gerwertz dilemma. Austin himself has been hideous since returning. Note my choice of words. Not mediocre, not bad – but hideous. Austin has always been good at selling a match but there is nothing about him being back that would make me want to see his match with the Rock. I don’t know if it’s the way they are booking him or that he is to blame but there is something amiss. What is amiss, you may ask, inquisitive reader. Brian Camiller, a wrestling fan who is not buying WrestleMania this Sunday, tells you why: “I’ve seen them at two WrestleManias, countless other pay-per-views, and only about a thousand times on free television. Has WWE given me one reason to spend my hard earned money on this rematch? I say they haven’t. Austin has under-performed since his return to Raw. He has not had a match with a wrestler. He has not given a fiery interview. He has not come up with a new catch-phrase. In short, he has done nothing that I haven’t seen plenty of times before.” I am sure, in addition to the aforementioned, Austin is frustrated with his role and the problems in the company. At the other end of the spectrum, you have the Rock, who has been magnificent in his role. Every since he’s been in this marriage with Austin, I have thought of him as Maya Rudolph giving an excellent performance in a poorly-written Saturday Night Live skit. While I have enjoyed his segments with the Hurricane and with “The Rock Concert”, they were far from effective in leading to a match with Austin. Even less effective, unfortunately, were Rock’s confrontations with Austin – which were poor. The reason Rock turned heel is because the fans genuinely hated him. Why did they hate him? Because they were selfish… they missed Rocky. Instead of WWE making him into that heel and playing off the genuine hatred, they made the same heel Rock from before that the people loved and turned face. The fans in Sacramento, CA loved Rock, even when he was insulting them left and right. Rock was the heel he needed to be, then he switched to the RAW brand, and the way that was done and simply the fact that it *was* done was the first in a line of bad writing for his character. Zero plus zero plus zero still equals zero yet WWE is convinced that if they throw a few more zeroes into the equation, it equals a million bucks.
Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels
This is probably the longest intently planned for matches on the WrestleMania card this year and I feel the development going into it was very strong except for some key interruptions from Jeff Hardy, Test, and to some degree Christian, before No Way Out, that ended up amounting to absolutely nothing. The feud is set up as the clear, veteran, face – something of a Jeff Hardy in his times, who through years of carrying the company and a late maturation process has become a wise middle-aged man with morals. Against him is Chris Jericho, an egotistical, pompous, over-bearing, yet talented young man who once aspired to be HBK but feels that instead he bloomed over him and wants to prove it to him – his most important speech was on the 3/24 RAW where he cut a well-given and well-outlined speech before slapping Michaels and Michaels slapping him back. They tried to send a message by the fact that they never outright started fighting but instead laughed in each other’s faces. With, and perhaps I’m being to hopeful here, an interest in pushing Jericho towards a bigger position as a heel on RAW and perhaps future champion, I can see Michaels suffering a humiliating defeat. To support that, I also might have suggested that Michaels will retire or at least go on the Ric Flair/Mic Foley/Lou Thesz retirement but Shawn told WWE.com his thoughts on that theory earlier this week: “I’m as much a staple in this company now as I was before. Unless they know something I don’t, I don’t see them getting rid of me anytime soon,” he told WWE.com earlier this week. I think if Michaels loses to Jericho, even if he is staying for the long run, it could mean an interesting change of character going into a time when the RAW brand will have to fill three-hour PPVs with compelling feud and talent. I am hoping and expecting this match to be good.
The Undertaker & Nathan Jones vs. The Big Show & A-Train
When I look at this match on a piece of paper, it still manages to give me a headache but while if you are a fan of good work, this may not be your cup of tea, I still expect WWE to make something out of it. What that something is could be any number of things but I expect it to be Nathan turning on Taker in his debut and joining with Show and A-Train.
I can guarantee you that a lot of people will be skipping this Sunday’s PPV.
The cause of death for Curt Hennig has now been made public after a conclusive toxicology report determined how Hennig died, and it is very tragic. The official report is that Hennig died of cocaine causing the heart to stop, not an overdose as has been reported widely. What this means is that even a little could have caused the death. Suicide and foul play, while not having been ruled out, are not expected to be the causes. An investigation is underway because the police believes that there might have been a certain amount of tampering before they arrived and a few other leads. It’s a real shame. While cocaine was extremely popular in wrestling in the 80s, there were few deaths as a result and out of the last decade the most publicized death that came partly from cocaine use, was Brian Pillman who died in late 1997. The way Curt Hennig died should be-but isn’t-a profound lesson to dabblers in any kind of drug. Hennig was a happy family man but drugs ended his life prematurely.
Bill Goldberg publically announced that he will be on RAW in Seattle on 3/31, which I’ve understood as the plan from the beginning. I think we’ve gotten to a stage where I don’t have to give my opinion on this.
As I said last week, I would be attending the SmackDown tapings from this past Tuesday and I must say that I had a fun time. While far from my first wrestling show, it was my first TV taping and it was worth the money. The fans seemed to step out of a time capsule from San José circa 1998, considering the merchandise they were wearing was all from that time period. Anyway, to bottom line this quickly, it was loads of fun.
Speaking of loads of fun, there’s a lot of fun waiting for you on the TBL headlines board (http://www.thebalrogslair.com/headlines.shtml)… I promise.
That’ll do it for this week. Send your feedback, corrections, and random rants to THunnicutt@aol.com and include your name, fo’ sho. I’ll be back sometime within the next week with the complete Leglock review of ‘Mania and whatever else so inspires me.
What do you think? Head over to The X-Forums to let your opinion be heard!