On Monday, I watched a 46 year old non wrestler who just learned how to throw a punch without limp wrists the week before Wrestlemania beat the hell out of a monster that has been impervious to pain for the lion’s share of a quarter of a century. If Shane McMahon defeats The Undertaker in a Hell In A Cell match, Shane “takes over” Monday Night Raw. More importantly, The Undertaker’s storied career will come to an end…or is it just his Wrestlemania career that ends? We do not really know because Vince botched the big announcement. The timing of this announcement was also a mistake as it would have made more sense for Undertaker to initially refuse the match only to be forced into it by Vince. This screw-up is a microcosm of not only the booking for this match, but the overall booking of the Wrestlemania 32 card.
The Shane/Taker match premise boils down to this: A fight between two men who had no beef with each other fighting in a Hell In A Cell match in which the best possible result is nothing. If Taker wins, he goes home and so does Shane. Nothing changes. If Taker loses, his career and/or his Wrestlemania run is over. Will Vince sacrifice Taker’s legacy for a hackneyed GM storyline? One more Undertaker match against John Cena is much more interesting than a new Raw GM that is still being booked by the same staff of people that have provided us with a forgettable, regrettable, replay-laden Monday night marathon for the last six months. If a new era is indeed impending, how long will Shane-O-Mac actually play an on-camera role? If Dolph Ziggler can lose a match to Triple H with the stipulation of missing Wrestlemania and then book himself in an Intercontinental title match the next week with the blessing of Triple H’s heel wife, then what makes you think that Shane won’t disappear from the WWE by Summerslam? Even if Shane reinstates Undertaker the next night on Raw, the “Wrestlemania Moment” of Undertaker’s career ending at the hands of a middle aged man that has fewer overall matches under his belt than the Undertaker has Wrestlemanias lives forever.
What role will Stephanie and Triple H play in the match? Oh wait…that portion of the storyline appears to have been dropped. Vince is the true heel, but he only gets his comeuppance at the Undertaker’s expense. The only emotion that I will feel when watching this match is dread. As much as I will love to see Shane drop an elbow from the top of the world’s biggest HDTV through the Cell, no stunt can sway me from the discomfort of Shane McMahon potentially retiring an unparalleled icon. Ironically, the best ending for Wrestlemania in Dallas will be like the horrible ending for the 80s TV series Dallas. When the Undertaker wins, Shane disappears and Undertaker goes back into self-imposed exile with nothing changed, it will be as if it was all just a dream.
From two faces in an impossible, implausible situation to two heels in the same quandry, Triple H vs. Roman Reigns absolutely has to deliver a swerve. What swerve can amend this unfortunate situation? Vince McMahon will have to find a way to execute the elusive double turn. It has only happened one time successfully with Austin and Hart (my apologies to Del Rio and Swagger for their 2012 attempt…or was it 2013? Who cares?). If there is a crowd susceptible enough to a double turn, it is this one. Six figures of smarks will have very little trouble cheering for the Father of NXT against the golden boy who is actually perceived as the biggest heel in the company. The best way to ensure that the turn takes hold is this: Shane beats Undertaker after Shane shockingly aligns himself with Vince. The Shane/Vince alliance interferes in the main event and costs Triple H the title. Roman Reigns is the new corporate champion. This trio just retired the Undertaker and made sure that the most hated man in the company (don’t deny it – Reigns has made the leap from “50-50” cheers and boos to wholly despised) ends up with the big prize. Given the corner that WWE has written itself into, this is probably the best way out. Match placement will dictate if this is possible. To support the aforementioned theory, Michael Cole endlessly pushed the “this is your main event” sentiment throughout Raw which leads one to believe that HHH vs. Reigns will indeed be the last match.
For Roman Reigns’ sake, this would be the best case. For the last month, Roman Reigns has gotten paler, looks to have dropped a few pounds, and can barely keep his eyes open. From a purely physical standpoint, he looks exhausted. His intensity is at a two on a one to ten scale. Given the tools, stories and scripts that he has been given to work with, it would be easy to understand a disenfranchised Roman Reigns. If a person goes to a really hard job every day for months, follows direction that he knows is wrong only to be held responsible for said actions when he was just following orders, and is forced to confront the real possibility that the job he has been given will inevitably never work out and will result in a demotion and/or an eventual firing, how well will that person sleep at night? Compound that by said worker having a wife and daughter that have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Add the aspect of said worker being an alpha male that has been experienced success in all previous endeavors that is now forced to silently take the garbage that he is given and spin gold. As if that is not enough, throw in 100,000 people a week telling the man to his face that he totally sucks at his job while hundreds of thousands more blow up the internet with the same stance. One look in Roman Reigns’ half-closed eyes tells anyone who is paying attention that he does not believe in the current course. Nor should he.
As far as the rest of the Wrestlemania card is concerned, the issues are not as prevalent. Lesnar and Ambrose should be an entertaining affair, but one would think that Heyman and Ambrose would have spent the last six weeks in a promo battle for the ages. On a show with a heavily depleted roster, one would figure that more talk time could have been afforded to the only singles face with superior mic skills in the company on a three hour show. However, Roadblock does take precedence over Wrestlemania, so time was at a premium as the fans continue to demand more Goldust/R-Truth. The Mick Foley spot was PERFECT use of Mick Foley and a much needed tease for good ol’ fashioned violence. The Terry Funk spot was directed and edited horribly and of course introduced a chainsaw into the equation. What could have been written off as a mistake was rehashed last Monday. The main takeaway from the Lesnar/Ambrose build is this. Dean Ambrose is going to cut Brock Lesnar’s leg off to win. In all seriousness, this match could be a watershed moment for Ambrose as the bloodied, never say die character that the WWE has lacked since Stone Cold (again, shades of Austin/Hart). Like Austin, Ambrose can lose and be completely made…unless the Harperless Wyatts ruin everything.
While the Wyatts have been a neverending well of frustration and failure, Kevin Owens has successfully seized the title of the greatest heel in the company. Built as a monster when he needs to be and a chickensh*t heel when he wants to be with no concern for anyone but himself, Owens is exactly what a 2016 heel should be. He feels elite. Every second of an Owens match (even multiple reverse chinlocks) is enjoyable, but seeing him tag with Stardust and Miz against Sin Cara and “Mr .500” Dolph Ziggler only to take a pin after two moves from Sami Zayn is sort of a bummer. It makes the IC belt that Ambrose and Owens fought over so ardently for a short spell feel as if it has descended one rung back towards the Bad News Barrett level. This negative momentum must be stopped before the belt reaches Curtis Axel levels (YEEEE!)
Speaking of Curtis Axel, let Mark Henry win the Battle Royal in his home state and then go into the Hall Of Fame next year. The last couple of years haven’t exactly been a victory tour. Say goodbye to Mark Henry in the most grandiose way possible. As for the rest of the pre-show, Dudleys and Usos will be good enough and the 10 Diva tag match will be shorter than the entrances. As a quick aside, did Paige run over a McMahon with her car? What could she have done to go from upper echelon Diva/PR darling/Tough Enough host to female Sandow? Ryback and Kalisto will also face off for the U.S. Title on the pre-show to officially cement the death of any and all equity that John Cena worked so hard to build in that title. As Michael Cole said on Raw, “will it be Feed Me More or Lucha Lucha Lucha?” This must be the laziest line ever spoken or written to promote a Wrestlemania title match. Anyone could headbutt a keyboard ten times and come up with a better line than that.
The New Day puts no titles on the line in a handicap match against a Bulgarian whose potential, hopes and dreams have been dashed to bits, an Englishman who has already checked out as his contract draws to a close, an Irishman in the twilight of his twilight, and worst of all Alberto Del Rio. Let’s hope for a New Day squash followed by a comical implosion of the group that has appeared with all four members in a healthy state approximately three times. On Raw, JBL compared them to The Four Horsemen. CALM DOWN JBL. The only possible saving grace for this is a mystery fourth partner that electrifies AT&T Stadium. Imagine the pop for The Immortal Ricardo Rodriguez.
The two potential show stealers are of course AJ/Jericho and the Divas title match. The AJ/Jericho feud has not been perfect, but it has been entertaining because there is a true face and a true heel (nothing is better than a classic crowd-ripping by Chris Jericho). Jericho has stated repeatedly that he only comes back for short runs because he wants to and will only work with talent that he selects. Thanks to the wrestling podcast revolution and its effect on what the fans know about backstage machinations, it is common knowledge that Jericho will fearlessly defend his points and pitch his ideas to the WWE powers-that-be no matter what. This angle reeks of Jericho from a storytelling standpoint and it has produced an entertaining story arc. Granted, Jericho probably has enough money to never come back so he can fight the machine and pester Vince all he wants without fear of repercussion (If Vince pushes back, Jericho only has to say the word “Fandango”). If the Roman Reignses of the world had the chutzpah of previous generations that had other employment options to fight for their characters, wouldn’t the WWE have a better chance to produce better material? At the very least, the results would be more organic than the canned product that fans have been saddled with in this era.
Like Jericho, Sasha Banks had a firm grasp of her character in NXT. In the WWE, it seems as if Sasha has lost some dimension due to the limited exposure that she has received on televisions. My hope for this match is that Sasha Banks overdelivers and justifies all of the hype on the biggest stage. Kudos to the WWE if they are indeed holding her back only to let her explode at the perfect moment. This storyline has forced her into the ‘tweener role which is never easy to play when you have such a solid definition of face and heel in the other two combatants. Becky Lynch has successfully catapulted herself from also-ran to legitimate player. Her crowd reactions have improved substantially from audiences that are probably not familiar with what a steampunk is. Becky has delivered a couple of really solid promos and been made to look strong. Conversely, Charlotte is the best non-Kevin Owens heel in the company. The genetics, the intimidating physical presence and the bullying promos make for a perfect heel before you add the Ric Flair toadie element. Wait…did I just describe Charlotte or Roman Reigns?
The hope is this. In the past couple of years, the build to Wrestlemania has been awful. The cards themselves have turned out to be enjoyable because last minute changes have pulled the creative plans out of a nose dive. This year, there is no Daniel Bryan groundswell of support or Seth Rollins briefcase that can alter the maligned angles. All of the problems will have to be mended by the performers in the ring. Regardless of hopes that will hopefully be fulfilled or nightmares that could potentially come true, we will see deserving women shine on the big stage. We will see a world class wrestler have his moment in the sun on the big stage that no one thought he would step foot on. We will see stupid bumps off of and through ladders. Bah gawd we will see Shane McMahon broken in half. We may even see Brock Lesnar get cut in half. Even if the show ends with Undertaker gone forever and a “face” Reigns being showered with unironic fireworks…we still had NXT Takeover. You know something? I do feel better! Enjoy Wrestlemania!
The Twitter is @writedougwrite. Feel free to express your burning love or your blazing hatred.