Well folks, all of the wonder and speculation (stifled giggle) is answered, all roadblocks have been driven through and, barring a bizarre belt-switch storyline in the next few weeks, the two main event title matches at Wrestlemania 21 are up on the walls and open for our consideration. As predictable as a fluffed line from a Diva, it will be HHH against Batista for the World title and JBL versus Cena for the WWE belt and, if common opinion is to be believed, it looks like both belts will end up in the hands of the faces for the second year in a row; and that’s not where the similarities end. Both are unproven as champions, both are facing wrestlers with lengthy championship runs under their belts and both are going into their matches with the complete support of the crowd albeit for very different reasons. Ring any bells with Benoit and Guerrero from Wrestlemania XX? It’s even parallel down to the fact that the Smackdown challenger is the man of the people whereas the Raw version is the wrestler who does his talking between the ropes. Looking at the bigger picture, I find it a little against the odds that Vince will allow himself to be accused of following a character pattern so consistently, especially one only twelve months old, so I suggest that one of our two ‘sure thing’ new champions is going to lose. With that in mind, I will take a look at the two champions and match ups in more detail and assess which one of the two challengers could survive a loss at the big dance and how it would effect their credentials when, or if, they would be handed the title at a later date.
Let’s start with Smackdown for a change.
As I commented in a previous column, even I am surprised at how effective JBL has been as a champion. I can remember the first time I saw Bradshaw with his blonde hair and the beginnings of the success story gimmick and my initial reaction was to reject it like last night’s chicken tikka but I vowed to enter into this new phase with a clear head and some leeway, but not much. Ignoring his documented bullying tactics and offensive nazi gestures, even the most pious of WWE optimists must have been hard pushed not to let the smile slip a little on hearing that his push would continue right up to a title reign, especially over the outwardly popular but inwardly troubled Eddie Guerrero. Challenges and rematches for Guerrero, Booker T, Undertaker and Big Show have all proved fruitless in pulling the belt from his grasp despite overwhelming fan support for the idea of Vince placing the title around anyone else’s waist except his.
If you want to truly judge the JBL gimmick, compare it to his previous incarnations; Justin ‘Hawk’ Bradshaw the rope swinging Texan, Barry Windham’s tag partner in The New Blackjacks, tutor in American ways to Taka Michinoku, bodyguard to the Undertaker in The Acolytes and the brawling comedy routine in the APA with Ron Simmons. All similar in one very important respect; dull, lifeless, one-dimensional crap that JBL could do without even trying and often didn’t. He seems to like this new gimmick. Although his wrestling ability hasn’t improved, though his matches have through a combination of better opponents, decent booking and main event status, his promo skills have shone on Smackdown, out-performing Cena on many occasions, and each addition to the gimmick has worked better than expected. Even being lumbered with an out of favour tag team, an under-used lower card nobody and a grinning diva with dimple issues worked to his advantage and the cabinet (now minus Mss Weber) is still making the JBL experience a more enjoyable one.
On paper, the feud between JBL and Cena couldn’t be more appropriate. One is of the street while the other is establishment, one sold out while the other keeps it real, JBL is success while Cena is hunger. Their characters couldn’t be more diametrically opposed and, as long as Big Show is pushed onto someone else soon and the cabinet’s role is diminished, the two of them could greatly improve their stock regardless of who wins at Wrestlemania. My only concern is that when the bell rings and the match starts, will all of the build up and careful planning have been for nothing. As I said, JBL’s in-ring efforts have not improved and, excluding his recent bout with Kurt Angle at No Way Out, Cena’s mat work has suffered of late too. This match is a no gimmick, one-on-one encounter in a main event position expected to last around twenty to thirty minutes on the biggest card of the year. It will undoubtedly be littered with interference from JBL’s men and will involve the obligatory ref bump and other spots but this would still not be enough to salvage a good match from two bad performances.
So what do you think? Cena to lose and JBL’s glorious reign to continue? Almost seems unthinkable doesn’t it? The most over superstar on Smackdown in ages and he loses to a genuinely disliked champion on the grandest night of the calendar. Surely not? More of that later.
Now over to the red side of life and the Raw main event.
I’m not going to get dragged into this ‘banging the boss’s daughter/politics’ discussion, certainly not until the people who accuse him of being JUST that can find me a better all-round heel/wrestler/performer either in WWE or wrestling in general, so I’ll concentrate on the person I see on the screen. Just like JBL, ‘The Game’ has gone through a myriad of personas over the years but, unlike the current WWE champion, I don’t think the Evolution leader role is HHH’s best. Granted, the manoeuvring and occasional cowardice involved with trying to keep the group together has added a further dimension to the gimmick but I was always a fan of the single-minded purity of the cerebral assassin character. It would be easy for HHH to deliver very little on the microphone and rely on the hatred some ‘knowledgeable’ fans have for him but his promos are keenly crafted and founded more on the inferred blending of his either real or fake egomania (both in my opinion). HHH also seems to have regained his wrestling boots after a period of inconsistency due to his lengthy recovery from several injuries and it seems odd that Hunter is finally back to near his best at a time when a minority of fans want him to disappear from the main event scene completely.
No one puts over talent at headline level in the way that HHH does, no one. This is good news for Batista because god knows he’s going to need it. Despite Raw’s number one star and top face being as popular as free money, he is as basic in the ring as WWE gets with only a few notable exceptions. So to keep the action flowing the booking will have to be tight and the spots will have to be regular, a bit like the planning for a Royal Rumble match. The main drawback with this is that HHH’s offence is more likely to carry the match but big Dave will need to be seen to have been hurt by something other than that which takes down mere mortals (I predict a run into the ring-post or the steps on the outside at the ten-minute mark). Batista’s explosive style of offence is best saved for short bursts, especially at the start and at the end, and the exposure of his technical limitations should be kept to a minimum. I expect this match to be played out more as an interference-free match, Flair being banned from ringside or sent to the back early, but the distractions will happen in some form and a spot involving a sledgehammer will more than likely end the match. Overall, the match quality should be superior to its Smackdown equivalent and that’s why, in my opinion, it should finish the show.
But what of the result? Is the beast going to fall at the final hurdle and the Raw fans have to be subjected to another balloon laden Evolution victory celebration the following night?
It’s not a matter of saturation or freshness, both Cena and Batista are new to main event matches and the crowd are willing to invest a good deal of time and support in both men. It’s also not about positional problems, Batista is a friend of the ‘closest thing to management’ most wrestlers will encounter on a day to day basis and Cena is well liked equally by his superiors and his equals backstage. Nor is it about ability, both need good opponents to wrestle good matches. No, for me, the reason why one will lose and the other will win at Wrestlemania is the fact that only one of them can sustain their push and their challenge beyond the obvious heat of popularity and be in control of the way in which their feud with the existing champion develops in an enjoyable and storied manner. That’s why I think John Cena will not win the WWE title at Wrestlemania 21, and why on April 3rd Batista will be crowned the new World Heavyweight Champion.
Or maybe they’ll both win?