No matter how disenchanted, jaded or unhappy a wrestling fan might be there is something about the so-called ?Road To Wrestlemania? that tends to reignite whatever passion may have been summarily misplaced. Wrestlemania represents the culmination of one yearly cycle and the commencement of another and as such, WWE invests an abnormally large amount of time and money in the months leading up to – and culminating in – the ?Mania supershow. The purpose of such expenditure is to begin the new cycle in the finest possible fashion. This all works out beautifully for wrestling fans, as WWE invariably reserves only the most epic, suitably vintage sagas for the grandest stage of them all.
The problem (and there is always a problem) is WWE has become too singularly invested in the success of Wrestlemania. The name and success of the annual ?Mania show is seen as the company banner, and as such Vince McMahon invariably loads the card to the brim with celebrities, melodrama and marquee matches. This is all wonderful if you believe ?Mania should be little more than a carnival of celebration and excess, but less useful if you examine the need for a company to secure it’s long-term future.
For the record, I am really looking forward to Wrestlemania XXVI. The scope, grandeur and decades of historical collateral seduce wrestling fans like nothing else, and this writer is no exception. The card plays host to several genuinely intriguing, must-see matches that will doubtless provide satisfaction and oodles of entertainment. The thing is, everyone tends to get so caught up in the hype for the show that they fail to notice the forlorn individuals churlishly uttering the same concern, year on year: This is not new and we have seen it all before.
As marvellous as ?Mania undoubtedly was, is and always shall be, it is to the idea of wrestling shows what Ric Flair is to the boys in the locker room. It doesn?t matter that ?Mania is ? year on year – a showcase of stars past and present rather than the dawning of a new and exciting age for a new generation. It’s Wrestlemania. It’s the same logic that has resulted in fans and promotions alike forgiving Ric Flair his every transgression (in and out of the ring) because he’s Ric Flair. As far as both ?Mania and Flair are concerned, the rules either don?t apply or simply don?t exist.
This is a blas? attitude that is easy to maintain and even support when the going’s good. Despite its creative inertia, WWE remains a moneymaking juggernaut the likes of which makes even Corporate America bluster. WWE is so enormously profitable that the idea of ?Mania being anything other than an orgy of herculean proportions seems redundant. Nevertheless, last year’s ?Mania was the first in several years to be almost universally condemned for its indulgence and absolute lack of consideration for the future. This notion, neatly encapsulated by the heat-free bore that was the ?HHH vs. Orton 5678? main event, rings true when appraising this year’s festivities.
WWE has yet again demonstrated the eternal folly of promoting two world titles with the Edge vs. Chris Jericho World Title match. Edge – the winner of the Royal Rumble – should by definition main event Wrestlemania, and by main event, I mean wrestle in the last match on the show. Whilst this still might occur, all the speculation points to ?Cena/Batista II? as the probable finale. Though it is difficult to debate the merits of such a decision (or the possible use of ?Michaels/Undertaker II? in this spot) it is mildly infuriating nonetheless. It is but a minor niggle in an otherwise grand scheme, however. The real concern is the pervading sense of d?j? vu that plagues this card from top to bottom.
To be fair, WWE does deserve some credit for its mid-card scenarios, which are on the whole fresh and relevant. The CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio contest ought to be tremendous, even with Rey’s latest knee-based impediment. The abandonment of the proposed ?hair vs. mask? stipulation strongly indicates a loss for Mysterio. Regardless of the outcome on the night, Rey faces yet another six month lay-off. Given his continued injury problems and seemingly unstoppable erosion in popularity (owing entirely to his shameless exploitation of the memory of Eddie Guerrero) it will be extremely interesting to observe the activities of Rey Mysterio in the interim and leading up to his return. For CM Punk though, ?Mania should be a springboard into genuine and unbreakable headline prosperity.
Considering the alleged importance of Legacy boys Ted Dibiase and Cody Rhodes to the long-term plans of WWE, their feud with mentor Randy Orton has thus far been muddled. Orton has repeatedly outshone and outmanoeuvred his erstwhile deputies, and the direction of their feud is somewhat ambiguous. It is essential that Dibiase and Rhodes be presented strongly and as legitimately competitive, lest WWE ?do a Randy Orton? (circa 2004) and damage the long-term prospects of two of its leading youngsters.
As for Triple H vs. Sheamus, the egomaniacal Hunter wanted this bland and irrelevant contest to be a WWE title match. Thankfully then, Vince McMahon (in a rare moment of lucidity) vetoed such an arrogant suggestion and demoted it to the mid-card status is so blatantly warrants. That the green, peculiar and frankly mediocre Sheamus will doubtless appear competitive against ?The Game? – simply because of his Gold’s Gym membership – is one of the many reasons Paul Levesque is almost universally reviled by old-school wrestling fans. Sheamus doesn?t belong anywhere near Wrestlemania at this stage of his career. Alas, as is typical of the most nakedly political grappler ever to work a crowd (and that includes Hulk Hogan) and so-called guardian of the business, he couldn?t give a shit. It’s fitting then, that this sentiment so accurately reflects the attitude of the average wrestling fan to his lacklustre, bootlicking Irish opponent.
The increasingly over-booked ?Money In The Bank? stunt festival will doubtless entertain; just as the useless ten-person Divas match will doubtless bore fans senseless. The Unified Tag Title match has considerable potential, but is more or less irrelevant within the bigger picture; just like the undefended US and Intercontinental championships, for that matter.
Much has already been written about the Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon ?fight?, and given the age and physical limitations of both men this will be a shortcut-laden brawl that nonetheless represents absolutely essential viewing. Bret Hart was always a consummate professional when it came to his performance and I have no doubt that the eternally po-faced ?Hitman? will be taking things very seriously indeed. The result is a foregone conclusion but the match is anyone’s guess. Maybe a little bit of ?Mania magic will occur and the same extraordinary bolt of lightning that powered McMahon vs. Hogan at Wrestlemania XIX to such astonishing heights will strike again. After twelve seemingly endless years, I sorely hope so.
I assigned an entire column to the question of ?Undertaker/HBK II? a couple of weeks ago, so a rehash is entirely unnecessary, except to note the cornucopia of emotions that this match has prompted in wrestling fans everywhere. It incorporates excitement, fear, uncertainty, wonderment, conjecture and hope. It is also absolutely unmissable.
All things being equal, the Edge and Chris Jericho world championship match ought to be exceptional. Jericho invariably abandons his customary clumsiness on the grandest stage and provided Edge is sufficiently recovered, he could carry a broomstick to a choice encounter and should play his role in affairs with customary quality. As for Cena vs. Batista, WWE damaged the aura of this feud before it even commenced by arbitrarily offering ?Cena/Batista I? at last year’s Summerslam. They surpassed expectations then and I expect them to do so again in what will almost certainly be the main event. The patient and surprisingly considered approach in the build-up should give way to an occasionally clumsy but hard-hitting and surprisingly choice donnybrook that both men, when they really focus, are eminently capable of. I fancy a feel-good Cena victory is on the cards in Arizona.
Like the timeless masterpieces of Ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt, we forgive Wrestlemania its flaws because such joyous grandeur and mega-event splendour is a truly potent experience to behold and it is easy to allow one’s self to become utterly swept up in the spectacle of it all. I will be watching (at an ungodly hour) and, as always, loving every minute of living for the moment. It is an undeniable truth however, that sooner ? rather than later ? Wrestlemania will have to start living for the future. Time stands still for no thing and no one; even the unbridled magnificence that is Wrestlemania is not immune to this truth. It is an insane truth then that come March 28th in Phoenix, we will forget all this (just like last year) and allow ourselves to be submerged in everything that is Wrestlemania.
Daniel R. Browne.