We’re three weeks away from the biggest wrestling show of the year, WrestleMania XVIII. Time for me to start talking about the show. Here’s some thoughts from last night’s build up to the event on Raw:
. Never have world title meant less at WrestleMania than this year. C.M. Punk may be the hottest star WWE has created in ages, and has a pretty long WWE championship reign going. And one of WWE’s most talented workers of the last decade, Chris Jericho, just returned from a year-and-a-half hiatus just a few short months. And yet, this match at best will be third from the top. What does that mean for the other world title match featuring Daniel Bryan and Sheamus, who, incidentally, were booked to compete in the dark match of last year’s WrestleMania? Alas, they’ll be lucky to get ten minutes early in the show for their bout. All that said, WWE is not wrong for having handled these matches the way they have. The fact is that this show, perhaps more than any in years, is all about one match. Everything else takes a back seat. Still, with more eyes on this WrestleMania than, potentially, any in years, you can be sure that Punk, Bryan, Jericho and Sheamus will have their working shoes on.
. It wouldn’t be WrestleMania without a multi-person match that is on the card largely to give a bunch of wrestlers a pay day, and some exposure on the biggest stage of them all. If it were up to me, I’d go back to featuring the Money in the Bank ladder match on WrestleMania, rather than at a separate pay per view in July. I understand WWE’s reasoning that the MITB is a big enough draw on its own and is wasted on Mania, where it is, inevitably, featured as an undercard match rather than in a main event slot. But I really thought the MITB match was a great fit for WrestleMania for a number of reasons. For one, with Mania typically going four hours, it was wise to feature a “main event” in each of the four hours. The MITB match worked in the first hour, and even made for an ideal opening match with lots of thrills and actions to get the live crowd going (the TNA pay per view formula.) What’s more, because it was part of WrestleMania, where the biggest stars are typically involved in bigger matches, the MITB match featured a lot of mid-card stars who otherwise may never be in the running for a world title shot. When featured second from the top at its own pay per view in July, the contestants typically include more big name stars, and fewer underdogs. What’s more, featuring just one MITB match a year—rather than two at the July PPV—makes the match feel more special. And lastly, it’s a fact that just about any match feels more important when it takes place on the epic WrestleMania stage.
That said, in the absence of the MITB match, the planned 12-man tag team match pitting Team Long vs. Team Laurinitis is a fine concession prize. WWE has done an admirable job of making the storyline between the two warring GM’s feel meaningful, while at the same time not big-footing any of the more important Mania feuds. In fact, I’d say there has been better build to this match than any of the last few MITB ladder matches that were held at WrestleMania. Unfortunately, the reality is that with 12 wrestlers and 2 GMs involved—and likely not more than eight minutes or so of allotted time on the show—several talented wrestlers who have worked hard over the last year, including Mark Henry and Kofi Kingston, will be lucky to get even 30 second of ring time on the biggest show of the year. If you think I’m exaggerating, go back and watch last year’s eight-man tag team match that featured the likes of Kane, The Big Show and Kingston, and lasted just over one minute.
. I’ve been loving the build up to the “End of an Era” match between Triple-H and the Undertaker with Shawn Michaels as the special ref. The downside of the three veterans involved in this storyline being so good, is that they sort of expose how bad everything else usually is. I’m going to go out on a rather small limb and assume that the three icons—and not some 23 year old ex-soap opera writers—have been largely responsible for the direction of this storyline, and for the fantastic dialogue exchanges in recent weeks. The potential for to screw over either of the participants is a fun twist, and may be laying the foundation for Shawn to return to the ring. But here’s what WWE deserves credit for the most when it comes to this match: Every single year, WWE somehow makes us believe that there is a chance that the streak will come to an end. The moment ‘Taker’s hand is raised in victory, we all ask ourselves, “What were we thinking?” And then, sure enough, a year later a lot of us still aren’t quite sure what’s going to happen in this match. That’s quality storytelling right there.
. Last but not least, there’s Cena vs. The Rock. There’s a lot of debate out there about whether WWE has effectively promoted this match, or whether it’s actually damaged both stars by having them undercut each other with such brutal honest in recent weeks. To be sure, some things could have been handled better. But it’s also true that this match has as much buzz as any I can remember in ages. That’s because one of two fascinating and extremely rare things are going on with this bout: Option A) It has devolved into a “shoot” in which both wrestlers legitimately dislike each other, are going off-script to hammer each other on television and may be inclined to offer to teach each other a very real lesson when they square off. Option B). Cena, The Rock and the entire WWE are pulling the wool over all of us with an elaborate and intricately executed storyline that has convinced a lot of people that it’s Option A.