It’s April and Wrestlemania is in the air, Christmas time for wrestling fans and this year there is a lot of great stuff to unwrap under the Wrestlemania Christmas Tree.
However before I get to all the presents I’m looking forward to diving into over the coming days, I want to address the pair of partially completed gifts sitting in the corner of the room and let you in on the real reason some high profile matches have been left without a complete build up this Mania season.
While Braun Strowman’s tag partner still remains a mystery, the main culprit of this incomplete storytelling has of course been John Cena, who has done absolutely everything he could to call out The Undertaker but has so far failed to generate any response from The Phenom. As of writing this column John Cena will apparently be sitting in the bleachers sipping brews with the working man come Sunday evening. However, we all know that isn’t what is going to happen, it is a basic tenet of story that you don’t signal for something that won’t pay off. Furthermore the WWE is not going to leave their biggest star of the last 10 years without a match and is absolutely not going to trample the name of its most legendary character through the mud with no pay off. The real reason the WWE has not finalised this build is that they are sacrificing proper storytelling in the hope of creating a viral social media news story when The Undertaker shows up at Mania and slaps a beer out of Cena’s hand.
The WWE has always been keen to leverage social media and use it to build up its brand. They were amongst the first to promote hashtags along with their shows, have been early adopters of live streaming and last year at Wrestlemania harnessed the explosive power of the surprise Mania entrant with The Hardy’s return, getting their name trending worldwide and earning stories in mainstream news outlets. They did the same thing with Rhonda Rousey’s debut at the Royal Rumble, securing headlines from some of the biggest media outlets in the world and the reason Cena v Taker’s confirmation has been saved for the night of Mania is they want to artificially generate a story that explodes on Twitter, Facebook and across ever other thread full of wrestling fans. They are counting on all the shocked reactions, immediate memes and general chatter to make the biggest water cooler story of the day all about them.
Needless to say I do not like this sacrifice of story for publicity. As Maverick put so eloquently last week Wrestlemania is already so weighed down with hubris and to me, such naked grasps at PR just adds to it. Done in a different way the idea of a star sitting out in the crowd could be interesting but not with Cena, whose goofy pantomime act has never lent itself to the subtlety required to pull something like this off.
Of course all this could change with a simple announcement but one thing’s for sure, when The Undertaker finally returns serve I will not be following along with the hashtag Michael Cole.
But that is enough of the story I least like this Wrestlemania season, let’s get onto the fun part of today’s column the five stories I can’t wait for this Wrestlemania weekend.
Let me preface this by saying I am not an indy wrestling snob, I’m barely even a regular indy wrestling viewer so no one is more surprised than me that story I’m most hyped for this Wrestlemania weekend is on the Ring of Honour show. However I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t been totally sucked into this salacious struggle for power, hook line and sinker.
To catch the WWE crowd up on what is going on, since taking over the reigns from the departing AJ Styles at the start of 2016, Kenny Omega has been the undisputed leader of the NJPW and Ring of Honour faction The Bullet Club. However his reign has been thrown into chaos this year by the open rebellion of one Cody Rhodes, who sowed the seeds of doubt in Omega’s leadership in the middle of last year and openly attacked the faction leader in January. The collateral damage of this leadership challenge has been significant within The Bullet Club. Cody knows he cannot topple Omega at the head of a united faction so he has used Omega’s reunion with former tag partner Kota Ibushi to drive a wedge between Omega and the rest of the Bullet Club, including his closest allies The Young Bucks. That particular arc between Kenny and The Young Bucks came to a head with their excellent, emotionally charged match at Strong Style Evolved just two weeks ago, but The Buck’s allegiance still remains an open question as they are now wondering aloud if they can trust either Omega or Cody.
The whole saga has been brilliantly chronicled in the Youtube show Being The Elite, a weekly Youtube show that has blended social media vlogs with kayfabe, and the whole thing has me on the edge of my seat waiting for the next show they are involved in or clip they will release. The most recent episodes have watched like something from Game of Thrones where the Littlefinger like Cody has been constantly whispering sweet nothings to the Bucks and other Bullet Club members, turning them against the nobel hero that is Kenny Omega.
What this all comes down to though is the peerless in ring skills of Kenny Omega against the maniacal manipulator that is The American Nightmare Cody Rhodes. Since leaving the WWE Cody has matured into one of the most hated men in all of pro wrestling and it has largely come off the back of the attack on the current darling of indy wrestling. In an open 1-1 match it is hard to see Cody topping Omega but so far Cody has had an answer for everything Omega has come at him with. The allegiance of those close to it all still remains a question in this highly emotional battle for control of the most powerful wrestling faction in the world.
When Roman Reigns debuted as part of The Shield in 2012 the group declared they were in the WWE to right the injustice that surrounded them on the WWE roster. They were three men with a chip on their shoulders who felt like they were being held back and mistreated, at the time they said “they didn’t just know injustice, they lived it”. As the trio rose through the ranks of the WWE this theme of injustice has not always been clear but has never quite disappeared. Be it Dean Ambrose fighting against Seth Rollins after he betrayed the unit, Rollins later calling out Triple H who deserted and attempted to debilitate him or Reigns fighting The Authority who conspired to strip him of a title he rightfully won.
“Every single week me and them boys run across this world and we bust our arse and Brock just shows up whenever he wants to or when the money is right.”
In the last few weeks Roman Reigns has called out the great injustice that has been festering within the WWE for the last year, the conduct of the Universal Champion Brock Lesnar. In a year as champion Lesnar has put in less than an hours work in the ring, his refusal to turn up for anything beyond the biggest of cards has been an affront to not just the rest of the roster who are expected to turn up to every TV show, house show, signing and press interview they are scheduled to do but an insult to the fans who expect to see the champion act in a way that resembles more than passing interest in the sport we love.
Five years have passed since Reigns Shield debut and in that time the trio have gone from outsiders who didn’t even use the same entrance ramp as the rest of the roster to the leaders of the current locker room. Never was this more evident than when ‘the boys’ including the likes of The Bar and Miztourage who Roman recently battled with, parted and let Reigns at Brock on the go home Raw show. While the result seems inevitable I for one am looking forward to seeing Roman enact his own brand of justice on Brock and truly establish this generation at the pinnacle of the WWE.
The daughter of perhaps the greatest wrestler of all time, who has established a legacy as one of the strongest champions of the current generation of wrestlers, against a seemingly unstoppable force who has gone unbeaten for over 900 days as she rose through the developmental ranks, won the Royal Rumble and now comes to her first Wrestlemania.
While there are some stories that are complex and rely on betrayal, injustice and hurt, others are far more simple. Charlotte v Asuka for the Smackdown Women’s champion is about as simple as it gets in pro wrestling: who is the best female wrestler in the world?
And yet this is a match that is made all the more powerful for its simplicity. The best Wrestlemania championship matches are the ones that put the biggest names in the division against each other on the biggest stage they have to offer. Charlotte and Asuka are two wrestlers that have built up substantial reputations for excellence in results and in ring work. With the built up legacies that each women already poses and the fact they have so far never met in ring, it will possibly not get bigger than this match in the women’s division for a long time. However by the end of the weekend this match will answer the question who is the best women’s wrestler in the WWE.
Tag team breakups are a dime a dozen and as predictable as Tomasso Ciampa’s turn on Johnny Gargano was, when it finally went down their split felt far worse than so many others. With their tag team DIY it genuinely felt like the audience had a stake in their success, the third man in the team if you will, so when Ciampa turned he wasn’t just turning on his best friend and roommate but on us too.
Since the split Ciampa’s shadow has haunted Gargano. A simple DIY shirt tossed into the ring cost him his first high profile singles match against Cien Almas at TakeOver Brooklyn III. At TakeOver Philadelphia Ciampa was there to add just a little extra sting to Gargano’s failure to win the NXT Championship and Ciampa repeated the treatment in Gargano’s Championship v employment match just a few weeks later. With these actions Ciampa has become one of the most hated figures in the WWE and each set back has only made Gargano more likeable.
One of the things that has me so excited for this TakeOver match is their absolute character masterpiece at the CWC in 2016 which saw both men battle with their dark side before they were a tag team force. The stakes are only higher now and the stage even larger so I cannot wait to see what they can come up with. Sadly the minute Gargano beats Ciampa this feud is going to lose a whole lot of its steam so to those hoping for a happy ending at TakeOver New Orleans, you may want to have a childhood teddy bear ready for the end of this one.
This is perhaps the most subtle of the stories I’m into this Wrestlemania with a plot that has come about seemingly more by chance than the conscious actions of either of the combatants. On closer inspection though you can see a well developed pattern of one upmanship by two wrestlers desperate to prove their best days aren’t behind them and a potentially outmatched champion who is obsessed with his own glory but has been smart enough to pit the other two against one another so far.
This combustible mix is really focused on Finn Balor and Seth Rollins, two wrestlers that go out to the ring each week with the best of intentions and who have both achieved great feats in 2018, Finn running as the ‘iron man’ of the 2018 Royal Rumble and Seth setting a record for longest time in the ring on a Monday Night Raw during the epic February Gauntlet Match. However neither have anything of consequence to show for their efforts. Both former champions have been starved of the success they crave for too long and have gone tit for tat in the lead up to Wrestlemania, a build up that has pushed these two good men to their breaking points.
Throw into this combustible mix The Miz, who while devoid of the obvious physical talents of his two opponents does have the Intercontinental Title on his shoulder and is on the verge of breaking the record of being the longest serving Intercontinental Champion in WWE history. His mixture of ambition and in-ring smarts still make him a dangerous opportunist who could well end the night still as champion if the other two men end up focusing on one another too much. However in the past he has occasionally overplayed his hand and ended up on the canvas while the other two fight it out. All three men all chasing glory they feel they deserve but only one can bring it home.
That wraps it up for me today though Lords of Pain, despite my reservations around small parts it is safe to say I am pumped for not just Wrestlemania but the whole weekend of pro wrestling. What are the matches or stories you are most excited for? Let me know in the comments below.
Make sure you check in after Wrestlemania finishes for my regular post PPV Biggest Winners & Losers column and if you want to talk wrestling you can follow me on Twitter @Sir_Samuel or why not pop into the LOP Forums. My first suggestion would be to join in the Wrestlemania prediction comp I am running down there, you can find it
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