Having previously prognosticated an era of potential hyper-regulation and sheer boredom, I think it’s proper this week to dwell on the mostly positive present, focusing specifically on the main event performers (across the three brands) in WWE, during the now customary build up to Wrestlemania 25. I may be of the prevailing opinion that the current batch of top-line stars could do with an infusion of new blood, but that doesn’t stop me f rom giving credit where it’s due. The present grouping produced arguably one of the most consistent, high-performance years yet seen in 2008. The results didn’t always fall as they should have, but the preceding physicality was usually of the highest standards. A sturdy backbone featuring the likes of Edge, Randy Orton, the emergent Jeff Hardy and Chris Jericho, ably augmented by the veteran splendour of The Undertaker, Triple H (in the ring, anyway) and the indomitable Shawn Michaels, provided a worthy and compelling mixture of scenarios in 2008. Jumping forward to 2009, it seems this abundant richness of quality shows no signs of abating.
The Royal Rumble yielded, in Randy Orton, the correct and most logical choice as winner. Orton’s present dimension as a menacing, psychotic desperado is a provocative adjustment to the Legend Killer persona. Orton’s warped obsession with omnipotence and his stalking, Alpha Male-like quest for dominance over all echoes aspects of Triple H’s violently calculating heel mindset, circa 2000, and Steve Austin’s memorable (and equally demented) run as king of the jungle in 2001. Indeed, since Orton’s real life penchant for chicanery and general silliness reached a crescendo in 2006 he has continued his, ahem, evolution into the fully-formed high calibre performer he was born to be. Confidence has never been a problem for Orton; even so, the manner in which he has carried himself recently as a wrestler and a character elevate him well beyond the usual fare. Its regrettable that his recent, intense association with the McMahon’s has, rather predictably, yielded a feud with the 41-year old “boy wonder” Shane McMahon, who’s propensity for the bright lights has dimmed many a potential opportunity for the rank and file. Fortunately, some wise soul has at least persuaded Shane of the necessity of his opponent looking like he might actually win before he wins. In 2003, the freshly unmasked Kane’s monstrous aura (and thus potential drawing power) was mortally wounded by the absurd site of Vince’s podgy heir smacking him around, before he arbitrarily secured victory in circumstances that had more than a craven whiff about them. Thankfully, with Orton decisively winning their feud, this nonsense has been successfully sidestepped.
I had been hopeful that Edge’s capturing the World Title would lead to a title unification match at ‘Mania. That Triple H found himself in possession of the WWE strap only lent credence to speculation (As if Machiavelli’s favourite son would miss that opportunity.) Alas, Greenwich’s finest has latched onto the aforementioned momentum Randy Orton has generated in his campaign of aggression against the McMahons and hitched a ride. We’ll simply overlook the utterly incongruous sight of a man who, alongside Shawn Michaels waged his own, drawn-out feud with the McMahon family as recently as 2006, and is now positioned as their White Knight against the scoundrel Orton. How the writers will reconcile story-line and reality regarding the sudden re-interaction of husband and wife is crucial to going forward. Its possible they will simply refer to the lingering impact of their prior union to explain Helmsley’s bout of nostalgic compassion. I’m also quite sure husband and wife formulated a most convincing argument as to why Triple H should get to main event Wrestlemania for the sixth time in ten years. If you include simply being in a World Title match as a main event, that statistic becomes eight in ten. Thankfully, in Randy Orton the right man stands at the centre of this oh so overblown, melodramatic egomania. He has a diary date with the richest main event slot in all of wrestling. As the focal point and central attraction, we’ll get to see if he really can dance before the brightest lights of all.
With a unification bout seemingly off the agenda, John Cena’s appearance on Smackdown and resumption of his rivalry with Edge seemingly indicates an Edge/Cena ‘Mania title match. Edge is such a completely over performer that virtually any direction they proceed in will not diminish the Rated “R” aura. The most complete and reliable heel to appear in WWE in years, Edge will make the robotic Cena look fantastic before probably losing to him, as per usual. Speaking of which, the Cena conundrum is fast becoming the Pre-NWO Hulk Hogan saga of our time. If you recall, the southern hillbilly lifeblood of WCW were initially reticent to cheer a northern poser like Hogan. This reluctance gradually evolved into searing, vitriolic hatred for the Hulkster, leaving him no alternative but to hop the fence (prolonging his career and making a fortune in the process.) Considering this issue, I couldn’t care less about the concerns of the so called “hardcore fan base”, as most of them are such fickle, unsalvageable marks that they add nothing of substance to the debate. Case in point: The so called “true fans”, busy booing the always honest Cena out of the building at Wrestlemania 22, couldn’t wait to line up and kiss the arse of his opponent, a certain Paul “Triple H” Levesque, a man who’s nakedly political and ruthlessly self-serving agenda has, over the course of the last decade, destroyed careers and cost a fortune in potential stars and scenarios. No wrestler past, present or future has hurt wrestling more consistently than the man formerly known as Terra Ryzing. A lot more than say, an ever so slightly dodgy punch?
The populist furore over Jeff Hardy’s elevation to the pinnacle has served as a logical segue into a Matt Hardy heel turn. A sturdy and otherwise highly capable performer, the elder Hardy as earned his big money Wrestlemania gig with Jeff. The Cane and Abel routine invariable yields a worthwhile and emotionally engaging conflict. It is worth remembering the last time the Brotherly schism was attempted (In late 2001) impatience on the part of the company, coupled with the one Hardy Brothers pay-per-view encounter being a slow burning, slightly dull affair, prompted the cessation of hostilities and a swift, highly damaging reconciliation. The great strides Jeff has taken as an all round performer should, alongside Matt’s famous reliability, quash any fears of repeated failure. I do, however, worry for Matt once the dust settles on this one.
To spend time on ECW is to pretend the brand actually matters which, for all intents and purposes, it does not. My heart sank when Christian made his long-awaited return to WWE TV and proceeded to mock a man for his lisp. I attempted to assuage my growing pessimism with the notion that perhaps it was the plan to have Christian totally dominate the already sparse ECW roster and then march on to greater glories. This might still come to pass. The omens are not good however. Whenever a babyface has to cheat to beat a heel it breaks one of the fundamental rules of wrestling (Especially a un-over greenhorn like Jack Swagger). Another such cardinal mandate comes to mind, applying to this situation and all of entertainment: “Give the people what they want”. The reaction Christian’s return garnered will not have gone unnoticed, but it will be completely ignored. Christian is a superb wrestler and an excellent character on either side of the fence. The public like him, but because the senile tyrant in charge of WWE, in all his arrogance and inverted wisdom, sees no star potential in Christian, it will take an enormous groundswell of support to overcome his jaundiced view. Hence why he’s over on ECW attempting to get the latest collegiate muscle-head over. Out of sight and out of mind. Utterly pathetic.
Although some years are better than others, the build up to Wrestlemania is always fun and suitably epic. I hope and pray Ric Flair stays retired. I, like many other fans, love the “Nature Boy” and the privilege of seeing him live is one of my favourite memories. I’d rather not have that devalued by a hopeless attempt by Ric to “have one more good run”. I’m curious to see just what the WWE has planned regarding Mickey Rourke and Chris Jericho. Jericho, although not a credible box office attraction, has thrown himself full force into his present considered, more intellectual heel character and, as a consequence, is as fresh as he’s been in years. He’s certainly earned the celebrity rub if it comes, and after the undeniable success of last years Floyd Mayweather/Big Show match, it should be a worthy and hugely enjoyable craic. Speaking of which, maybe Rouke’s ‘Mania involvement should simply involve him waffling Vinny Mac with his Oscar statuette. As anyone who’s seen The Marine will undoubtedly inform you, the resultant concussion is as close as the McMahon family will ever get to such an award. Nothing like ending with a smile, is there?