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WRESTLEMANIA XXVIII PREVIEW

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March 31, 2012

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WRESTLEMANIA XXVIII PREVIEW

Wrestlemania season is upon us once again! And by that I mean it’s almost over. Wrestlemania XXVIII arrives April 1 with a lot of hype. WWE hopes to break the buy-rate record set at WM 23 (1.25 million) and they have a decent shot to do so with the Rock’s return to wrestling on the big stage. Some of these matches are highly anticipated, others appear to be duds out of the gate. I’ll go through each in what I’m guessing will be the order. Here goes:

Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus

Just a guess that this will be the opening match of the night. It’s relatively high-profile, with the second-biggest title at stake, but the buildup for it has been relatively weak. After unexpectedly winning the Smackdown Money in the Bank match (granting him a championship match at any time) in July, Bryan was buried for several months. As a fairly milquetoast babyface, he declared that he would not cash in the briefcase until Wrestlemania. The creative team showed impressive restraint in at least holding out until December’s Tables, Ladders, and Chairs PPV, where Bryan cashed in on a weakened Big Show, who had just defeated Mark Henry for the World Heavyweight title. The MITB winner has to either be a heel or turn into one, because the manner in which they utilize the briefcase is almost always incredibly sleazy. This case was no exception. Luckily, the vegan, nerd, submission-specialist persona works incredibly well as a villain. A condescending attitude, chickenshit tactics, turning WWE Diva AJ into the modern-day Miss Elizabeth, and repeatedly screaming “Yes! Yes! Yes!” can do wonders in getting a crowd to turn on a character.

Sheamus’s journey has been less enjoyable. The pasty Irish ginger has been working his way back up the card in no small part thanks to allegedly being workout buddies with on- and off-screen power player HHH, but mostly because of an increased in-ring ferocity and the telling of random Irish folk-tales that vaguely relate to whoever he’s wrestling that week. After a surprising win at the Royal Rumble, he set his sights on Daniel Bryan’s title. The problem with the build has been that, despite the likelihood that these two men will put together a good match, they haven’t really been going head-to-head and there’s no real justification other than both guys wanting to be champion. They’ve been built up individually pretty well, but their feud has no real depth to it.

What I’d like to see: Bryan retains his title, continues playing the abusive boyfriend role to perfection.

What I think will happen: Sheamus counters a submission hold into one of his finishers to become champion. Bryan chases after the title for the next couple PPVs.

Randy Orton vs. Kane

Orton is either the 2nd or 3rd biggest draw in WWE (behind John Cena and probably CM Punk.) He’s been a little injury-prone lately, which has probably kept him out of the Heavyweight title picture. Kane has come back from injury with his an older version of his gimmick, the angry masked guy from Hell. Most recently, he’s served as a filler feud for John Cena before Wrestlemania season hit. That’s basically the role he’s playing here. The justification for the feud has been that in a match last year, Kane lost to Orton and then shook his hand, indicating that he’s gone soft in his old age. Now, he wants revenge or something… I appreciate that they tried, and used past history as motivation, but that’s pretty weak. Of course, both their characters are unhinged enough that a real reason to brawl isn’t entirely necessary. I don’t know anyone who’s particularly excited for this one, and the result is not really in doubt.

What I’d like to see: Orton RKOs Kane after about 10 minutes of brawling.

What I think will happen: See above.

Maria Menounos/Kelly Kelly vs. Beth Phoenix/Eve

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that WWE doesn’t have any female writers. The build to this feud has largely been featured on a few episodes of Extra!, wherein Beth and Eve confronted co-host Menounos during an interview with Kelly Kelly. See, they want to be on the cover of Maxim and on shows like Extra. Admittedly, this is still better than Edge and Booker T feuding over a shampoo commercial. Beth is the reigning Divas champion, but hasn’t wrestled in a while. The brief female storyline on TV has been focused on Eve, who admitted to using both John Cena and Zack Ryder for her own devilish female reasons. She’s now playing some sort of Bizarro Second Wave feminist while fans yell and call her a whore (except they say “hoeski”, like “broski” but a ho. Nobody said wrestling fans were progressive when it comes to female self-actualization. Also, she’s a ho – I mean, she totally kissed a dude!) This outcome is also obvious. From Mr. T winning at the first 2 Wrestlemanias, to Lawrence Taylor at WM XI, to Snooki last year, the celebrity always wins when they’re in a match. (One exception: at Wrestlemania II, Andre the Giant won a Battle Royal that featured a bunch of NFL stars, including the Fridge.) Maria Menounos has been splitting her time between Extra, Dancing with the Stars, and training for this match, and has suffered a couple broken ribs somewhere along the way. I’d expect her to sit out most of the match, then do one move and get the pin.

What I’d like to see: Beth vs. Kharma or Natalya.

What I think will happen: Maria sits out most of the match, then does one move and gets the pin. People take their pee breaks.

Team Johnny (Captain: David Otunga, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, Drew McIntyre, Mark Henry, The Miz) vs. Team Teddy (Captain: Santino Marella, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston, The Great Khali, Booker T, Zack Ryder)

I can’t lie, the Battle of the General Managers has been kind of enjoyable. Teddy Long, the oversized-suit-wearing, hip-hop-slang-spouting, Frog-from-Chrono-Trigger-lookalike, has been running Smackdown since 2004. Basically, he says “Holla holla holla”, makes “surprise” tag team matches, and has inappropriate sexual conversations with attractive Russian women. John Laurinitis was a middling wrestler who spent much of his career in Japan before becoming a backstage talent wrangler with WWE. After CM Punk’s infamous worked shoot speech last June in which he ripped on Big Johnny, Laurinitis became an on-screen authority figure. At first, he seemed like a shittier version of Vince McMahon’s reality-bending character Mr. McMahon. In time, I came to realize that he’s actually more like Bill Lumberg from Office Space, and his bumbling ways have become a highlight rather than a flaw. After some minor skirmishes and backstabbing, the two men have decided that the company would be better served if they ran both programs and began putting together teams to compete at the big event. Team Johnny is made up of a bunch of former champions, including two of the best performers of 2011 in Ziggler and Mark Henry (albeit for diametrically opposite reasons.) Otunga isn’t a very good wrestler, but he’s married to Jennifer Hudson and he’s muscle-bound and drenched with baby oil, so Vince loves him. He’s a Harvard Law graduate, and his lawyer schtick has been pretty amusing of late. Long’s team has some moderately popular guys. Santino is one of the most over guys in the company, and while Ryder has been stumbling of late, he’s still pretty over. R-Truth’s schizophrenic weirdo was better suited to be a heel, but he’s still pretty good. Khali is basically as bad as the Gobbledygooker but smellier. Essentially, it’s a team of goofballs, and by all rights they should lose embarrassingly.

What I’d like to see: Team Johnny wins and he takes over both shows.

What I think will happen: Team Teddy wins, but Otunga wrote some weird thing into the contract and the status quo remains as far as GMs.

Intercontinental Champion Cody Rhodes vs. Big Show

Big Show has a bad track record at Wrestlemania. He’s been involved in two of the celebrity matches, losing a sumo contest to Akebono and a boxing-wrestling hybrid to Floyd Mayweather. Big Show’s nickname is “The World’s Largest Athlete”, but the emphasis is decidedly on largest rather than athlete. His matches are generally pretty bad to watch. Cody Rhodes has been mocking him with weekly segments devoted to embarrassing WM moments, and it’s been very entertaining. The son of American Dream Dusty Rhodes and brother of Goldust has come a long way since being a Randy Orton underling just a few years ago. Since then, he’s been Dashing Cody Rhodes, the modern-day Narcissist. After a kick to the face from Rey Mysterio, he wore that Rip Hamilton mask and became a strange self-hating grotesque monster. This was especially amazing because he looked exactly the same as he did before. He doesn’t have as well-defined a gimmick now, but he’s been killing it, and is the current favorite among the Internet Wrestling Community. He’s held the Intercontinental Title since August, but hasn’t defended it too frequently. He’s deserving of main-event status, but is probably stuck in the upper-midcard for a little while.

What I’d like to see: Cody talk lots of shit and win big.

What I think will happen: That, and then he’ll lose the title in the next couple months before feuding with Sheamus for the Heavyweight title over the summer.

WWE Champion CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho

Best in the World. Both men lay claim to that title, and this match will theoretically decide it. Following a series of vague, apocalyptic vignettes, Jericho returned to wrestling in January. After a few weeks of trolling the audience by running around in a blinking jacket and saying nothing, Jericho set his sights on Punk. Most fans believed that Y2J was supposed to win the Royal Rumble, but the WWE decided to give the fans the old swerve by putting over Sheamus. In the following months, Jericho worked his way into the title picture anyway, but it might have been better had those “End of the World” shorts actually meant something. Since re-energizing wrestling fans last summer, Punk’s character has grown a bit stale, in part because of corny feuds with the likes of HHH, Kevin Nash, and John Laurinitis. The return of Jericho seems to have returned Punk from his aimless sarcasm. Their rivalry amped up over the past month, as Jericho utilized a storyline from Punk’s indy days by attacking the straight-edge Punk for his alcoholic father (true), his drug addicted sister (seemingly not), and the fact that he’s the legal definition of a bastard (but did he lose his fortune by allowing his half-brother to design a car whose horn plays “La Cucaracha”?) In addition to being two of the most gifted speakers in wrestling, these guys can really wrestle. I fully expect this match to steal the show, and will be disappointed if it doesn’t.

What I’d like to see: Jericho wins, they trade the title a few times over the next 6 months before he goes back on tour with Fozzy.

What I think will happen: Punk wins, and Jericho gets the title at the next PPV.

The Undertaker vs. Triple H (Hell in a Cell Match with Special Referee Shawn Michaels)

These men fought last year as well, in what was either a glorified spotfest with too many finishers or an exciting 5-star match, depending on how cynical you are. I basically dislike HHH, although the Undertaker will always be cool. Still, hearing two middle-aged men ramble on about “this business” and “the end of an era” gets boring really quickly. There are 2 new wrinkles to this match. The first is that the match will be Hell in a Cell, a format which these two men are more than familiar with and which should theoretically add to the brutality. The first such match took place in 1997, when the Undertaker took on this match’s special guest referee Shawn Michaels (that’s the second wrinkle.) The Heartbreak Kid had two of the best matches ever against the Undertaker, losing at both Wrestlemania XXV and XXVI. He retired after the second match, and unlike beloved scumbag Ric Flair, he has stayed retired. The Undertaker hopes to go 20-0 at Wrestlemania, and HHH wants to be the one to break The Streak to prove that he’s better than his good buddy Shawn, who is considered by many (including me) to be the best wrestler of all time. That’s pretty much it as far as they’re concerned, although you wouldn’t know it based on how they prattle on. Michaels, on the other hand, has an interesting dilemma. His desperation to end The Streak ended his career, and while he may want to see his friend be the one to break it, he may also want to preserve it in order to maintain his own legacy and not be overshadowed by a brooding McMahon in-law. In all likelihood, the Undertaker will win once again, but at least the mixed allegiances of Shawn Michaels can provide some drama to this matchup.

What I’d like to see: HBK seems to be in support of HHH, then hits him with Sweet Chin Music to secure the win for Taker.

What I think will happen: Same as what I’d like to see.

The Rock vs. John Cena

This match will certainly be the last on the card. It was announced the day after Wrestlemania last year, and has been intermittently promoted over the course of the year based on Rock’s availability. In the past few months, however, the promotion has been near-unbearable. Cena has toned down his corny act to some extent, and he’s busted out some “freestyle raps” and busted out the Boston accent. (His style of rapping is slowly enunciating rhyming couplets over no beat. Hooray!) They haven’t really fought much, but his lack of selling extends to smiling like a doofus while Rock insults him. I loved the Rock in his full-time days, so it pains me to say this, but his return has been surprisingly lackluster. My favorite aspect of his persona was always that he was such a jerk, and would yell at the audience for chanting along with his catchphrases by declaring, “This isn’t sing-a-long with the Rock!” Now, he makes his money with action blockbusters and kids’ movies, and he can’t really afford to alienate a huge segment of his audience. His primary critique of Cena is that he’s been forced down the throats of the fans despite being devoid of charisma, but he expresses that widely-held opinion by proclaiming that Cena somehow has female genitalia, is a gay man, and also has no sex organs at all. All the while, he’s desperately tried to get foodstuff-related insults trending on Twitter. It’s a far cry from the good old days. Nevertheless, when given a choice between the two, I’ll be rooting for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He grew up in Miami and went to The U, so the venue will certainly give him home-field advantage. The Rock was surprisingly impressive when he wrestled at Survivor Series, and despite legitimate criticism of Cena’s wrestling ability, he can step up his game when the stakes are high and he has a skilled opponent. I was certainly much more excited to see this match a year ago than I am now, but when their entrance music starts up Sunday night, I expect to be fully immersed. Despite their best efforts, the stakes really aren’t high for this showdown, but the excitement will nonetheless be high.

What I’d like to see: Honestly, I don’t know. I like the Rock more, but I’m not sure it makes sense for him to win.

What I think will happen: Cena will pin Rocky and get booed hard.

In addition to these, there will probably be one more match somewhere. The tag team champions Epico and Primo will probably take on The Usos in a dark match for the live crowd, but I’d expect to see the Funkasaurus (a combination of disco, funk, a dinosaur, and Snoop Dogg’s former bodyguard) defeat some jobber (let’s say Yoshi Tatsu) in a squash match.

Finally, after the success (financially, if not creatively) of announcing the Rock vs. Cena match a year in advance, word is the WWE will announce a match for next year on Monday Night Raw on April 2nd. As I see it, there are two options that are worth discussing. The first is WWE Champion CM Punk taking on Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin’s last match was against the Rock at WM XIX, but there was no retirement fanfare as it wasn’t announced ahead of time that this would be his last match. After ten years, his neck, spine, knees, etc. may be healed enough that he could handle 20 minutes in the ring, and seeing two of the best shit-talkers go at it for a year could be exciting. The contrast between a beer-guzzling Texan and a tatted up straight-edge dude from Chicago writes itself.

The other option is for John Cena, having defeated the Rock, to declare that there’s only one challenge left in his career: ending the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania. He’s one of the very few people who it might make sense for: he’s young enough that he’s got a good ten years left in a full-time capacity, but he’s a big enough star that it wouldn’t be seen as a weak attempt to put over a young guy with potential. Even better, ending The Streak would be the perfect impetus to finally turn Cena heel.

So that’s all I got. Wrestlemania is always a big event, and this year could be one of the best ever. Cheer and boo as you see fit.

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