Just Business: WrestleMania 34’s Undercard, and Why WrestleMania III Still Matters

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Just Business: WrestleMania 34’s Undercard, and Why WrestleMania III Still Matters

I have written at length in recent weeks about what WrestleMania 34 could come to signify historically if WWE make the right decision to back their full-time talents wholeheartedly from this day forward; I have written about how it could come to be the night WrestleMania 31 should have been but wasn’t.

This is a conclusion I arrived at when I began to notice the remarkable, almost fatalistic symmetry that 2015 and 2018’s Showcase of Immortals seemed to posses. The obvious mirror image is the presumptive-main event Universal Championship Match of course, and the concluding chapter (we can but hope) of the Ronda Rousey / Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley issue. But in smaller ways, it presents a mirror too: noticeably to me in the manner that the two men who wrestled over ‘the future’ at ‘Mania 31 – being Randy Orton and Seth Rollins – now occupy opposing spots in similar matches across two brands.

And yet, over the last two days particularly, I have also come to realise that there is another WrestleMania this year’s Granddaddy shares a certain trait in common with, and that is the truly iconic third edition of WWE’s global phenomenon, WrestleMania III.

Allow me to elaborate.

WrestleMania 32 and WrestleMania 33 were shows of two halves, and the split between those two halves sits like a chasm at roughly around the same point in time. The first two to two and a half hours of both events were, honestly, tremendous, with plenty to like about them. Reception to both has been, I think it fair to say, divided among the fans, but for my money both presented examples of undercards that felt wonderfully, refreshingly basic – a series of matches that delivered in quality terms on the night, and some of which at least had been built out of competently constructed narratives.

32’s opening Ladders Match is not a match tailored to my taste, but I find it comfortably re-watchable thanks to it following the best method that a match of its type can and tailoring itself around a central feud, in the form of Owens vs. Zayn. Chris Jericho and AJ Styles delivered a robust, character driven bout for fans of the workhorse. The New Day’s encounter with the League of Nations might not be up to much, but brought the shenanigans for fans of the nostalgia kick and, while Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar is considered a disappointment by most, I have a real soft spot for its subtle characterisation and dark wit. Then, to round off 32’s first half, three of the Four Horsewomen tore the house down in what is a massively under-appreciated WrestleMania classic, that even now feels very much like a show-closer in every way possible.

Then came the woefully bloated tale of The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon inside Hell in a Cell and, from that point on, the event becomes increasingly laborious – not to mention vainglorious – before ending on an anti-climactic disappointment.

This same pattern repeated twelve months later with WrestleMania 33, though the split came mercifully somewhat later in the show.

The return of the Hardy Boyz in a tag team Ladders Match brought the nostalgia fix and the spots. Chris Jericho delivered for the fan of the workhorse yet again with his characterful United States Championship bout against Kevin Owens in the climax of a story that had captivated the WWE Universe for months. The women delivered twice running, this time in a less verbose but, perhaps, equally competent Fatal Four Way Match that improves on re-watches. There were surprise hits, genuine WrestleMania Moments and it was all capped off with a stunningly intelligent encounter between Seth Rollins and Triple H; once again, the climax of a captivating story in its own right.

Lightening then struck twice, as the hot streak WrestleMania 33 had been on for its first half was blown away by the inexplicable, head-scratching production of Randy Orton’s inexcusable victory over Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship. While what followed on was received as a mixed bag, there’s no denying the event feels suspiciously like it loses its wind once the design of Wyatt vs. Orton becomes apparent.

What WrestleMania 34 is tasked with this year then, as I have discussed several times on The Right Side of the Pond in fact, is to find a way to get over that hump and close the split in the show. 32 had equal parts good and bad, though 33, I would argue, shifted the balance so that the majority of it was better than the minority. The pattern has to be furthered this year, and it looks like ‘Mania 34 is in a strong position to do just that – and WrestleMania III is the reason why I say that.

The wonderful trait WrestleMania III has is variety of story. It is a loaded three hour show, powering its way through 12 matches, most of which are relatively short. None of them, however, fail to have anything to say and none of them, I stress even more, feel toxically self-important. This is precisely because it is a well developed card of matches positively alive with character and narrative – and though not all of the characters and not all of the narratives might be to everyone’s taste, and certainly aren’t to mine, WrestleMania 34 can boast the same.

From Hercules and Billy Jack Haynes competing to prove themselves Master of the Full Nelson to The British Bulldogs and Tito Santana seeking retribution on Danny Davies, the referee who screwed them out of their respective titles, and Davies’ beneficiaries, the Hart Foundation; from Roddy Piper wrestling what was believed to be his last match with his famous long hair on the line, to King Harley Race seeking to humiliate JYD with the humble admission of a bow; from Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat’s year-long rivalry coming to a head, to André the Giant passing his torch to Hulk Hogan; WrestleMania III is as fine an example of character and story synergy demonstrated through an inspired card design as you’re ever likely to find in professional wrestling. If WrestleMania 34 is able to live up to its potential this year and avoid some of the egotistical pitfalls that have marred the last two editions in particular, then it could find itself reaching for III’s standard.

Every match on Sunday’s card has more than just a championship about it. There’s the character depth and rich history of the Intercontinental Championship Triple Threat Match. There’s the violent invasion of the Bludgeon Brothers into the Smackdown Live (SDL) Tag Team Championship scene with some of the most brutal beat downs we’ve seen in a while. There’s the moral conflict of the Monday Night Raw (MNR) Women’s Championship Match between former friends, and there’s the historic magnitude of the SDL Women’s Championship Match that feels like the most organic, biggest match between two new stars WWE has hosted in years. There’s the Heart and Soul story of rival journeys in 205 Live’s Cruiserweight Championship Match, the athletic promise of the United States Championship Fatal 4 Way Match, the tantalising intrigue of Braun Strowman’s mystery partner in the MNR Tag Team Championship Match and there’s even the poisoned core of the Women’s WrestleMania Battle Royal, that is the tarnished friendship of Sasha Banks and Bayley.

Nor does it stop there. The special attraction matches might not have titles on the line and they might not necessarily be anyone’s first choice, but what they have is a wealth of story. The Kurt Angle / Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H / Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley Mixed Tag Team Match hasn’t made for the most interesting television, and has often bordered on cringe-worthy, but its continuity stretches back to Survivor Series 2017, back even to WrestleMania 31 and presents a watershed moment in the company that isn’t a moment for moment’s sake, but will go on to have lasting impact on the product: the debut of Rousey in the ring.

More interestingly is the emotive return of Daniel Bryan to the wrestling ring for the first time since the spring of 2015, bringing his journey almost full circle. The Shane McMahon / Daniel Bryan vs. Kevin Owens / Sami Zayn Tag Team Match has been building, essentially, for an entire year, while its key emotional tangent has been building for even longer than that. It’s smothered in intrigue – Bryan’s health, the strength of both teams’ friendships etc. – and won’t need to be long to pack a punch.

And above all of this wonderfully vibrant undercard action are two main events that aren’t too dissimilar to the pairing that made WrestleMania III truly iconic. AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura is the kind of Savage / Steamboat affair that should not just prove irresistible to fans of the so-called ‘workhorse match’ but also, hopefully, prove to be the key that WWE needs in order to get past that deadly hump that has killed the last half of WrestleMania 32 and WrestleMania 33 both. If it succeeds in living up to its potential and, more importantly, to its expectations, then it could come to occupy, with 34, the spot Savage and Steamboat have occupied with III.

Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns, on the other hand, can yet prove to do likewise parallel to Hogan vs. André; it might not be the prettiest match in the world, but if WWE take it for what it should be and do what they should have done three years ago, it could be a not entirely dissimilar torch-passing moment. And that doesn’t just apply to Reigns, but to the full-time locker room at large.

As with all these things, only time can tell and we are now just a couple of short days away from it all going down. What is clear to me, though, is that 31 isn’t the only predecessor WrestleMania 34 has something in common with. Its card design, its wealth of story and its top two matches all seem to evidence, conceptually, a certain amount of symmetry with WrestleMania III as well.

And there aren’t many ‘Manias quite as influential as III.

Be sure to tell me what you think of WrestleMania 34’s undercard and the thoughts I’ve shared about it in this column down in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our very own LOP Forums – which you can reach by clicking on the Forums button up at the top of this page! And I’ll see you on the other side of another WrestleMania….

Another strong entry from LOP’s Columns Forum’s best new writer, Pennycook Mills, has found its way to our screens, and this time it’s all about the mystery of whether or not The Undertaker is going to accept John Cena’s challenge on Sunday! Just click here to read (and then sign up and have a go at column writing yourself!): Full Production Feedback: The Match That Isn’t a Match!

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