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Did you know Wrestlemania is this weekend? Oh, it’s true! It’s damn true! It’s being held at JerryWorld, and it’s going to be four hours long!
It is the 32nd edition of “The Grandaddy of them All!”, a phrase they stopped using because it supposedly devalued their other products and events. But, fuck it – this still seems like the one time of the year everyone tries to actually go above & beyond.
In case you thought the popularity of the product was declining, well – it is. House shows are bare draws, and the live TV events are barely able to sell-out before broadcast. The “PG era” has brought them younger fans – and their parents – at the expense of the rabid “Attitude Era” fans. The thinking, like at Pokemon, is that as a majority of fans ‘age out’ of the product, more will take their place, and the ones they do keep will continue to purchase the product. If a TV broadcast isn’t around a major event*, it is common for them to tarp off the non-TV side and crowd the fans in front of the camera to make the place look full. The advent of the “WWE Network” has brought them guaranteed revenue, but cost them in terms of being unable to spike prices for cornerstone events, and that the availability of the product at home means attending a live house show doesn’t matter any more. (Think Sunday Ticket versus game-day attendance.)
However, Wrestlemania is still the big show, and people will drop real sums to attend, because for all its flaws, the performers and company go all out for this one time of the year. The bottom rung on the ticket ladder was $42 up by the roof; the average ticket price is $250; and ringside seats were listed at $2300. By all accounts, the show is a sell-out on paper, and they are going to try and actually break the (inflated) record of 93000 people they supposedly crammed into the Silverdome for Wrestlemania III.
Unlike a Cowboys game, people will actually want to be there. Remember Opening Day 2014, when Dallas opened at home versus the 49ers, but the crowd was half Niners fans because the locals sold their seats? Al & Chris remarked about it during the broadcast, because the crowd noise was causing the Cowboys to commit false starts in their own stadium. That’s not brand loyalty, that’s season tickets as obligation; the fans coming from out of town have no loyalty whatsoever. Tickets for Wrestlemania went on sale November 6th, when the Cowboys were facing full Romobyl, so my guess is the locals bought tickets under the same false assumption that – come game day – things would be better.
But, like a Cowboys game, the WWE lineup is full of people the organization didn’t start the season with, and you wonder if they’ve got the same level of talent, but fans have already bought tickets to see the event so the show must go on. Here’s a partial list of key players they’d expected to have for this year’s Mania, but are out due to injury: John Cena**, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Bray Wyatt, and Sting; CM Punk quit 18 months ago out of frustration; Daniel Bryan was forced into real retirement by his injuries. Right there, there are 3 mid- to top-of-the-card matches. If the quality is off in the early matches, you could see this event going sideways loudly and quickly.
So, they’ve had to make do with what they had lying around. If you are passingly familiar with the product, some of the names in the matches being prepared will sound familiar.
Breaking down the card, in order of matches: (There’s also a pre-show, but I don’t care.)
League of Nations vs. New Day [Handicap Match (4 vs 3)]
- It “looks” like a handicap match, but really isn’t. One of the guys in the League – Wade Barrett – is made of tissue paper, and will sit out most of the match. Sheamus, the guy with the red mohawk, is “Rocksteady” in “Ninja Turtles 2” – that means more to Vince than the wrestling.
- The New Day have been the best group in the “E” for the last four months, in terms of both comedy and wrestling talent. They talk like gospel preachers, wear unicorn horns, and promote “Booty-O’s”.
- Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback – United States Championship
- This is a match between a 5’6” 175-pound Mexican wrestler with moves all day, and a 6’4” 300-pound meathook. It will last 5 minutes because they need to fill out the card.
- Kevin Owens (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn, The Miz, Stardust, Sin Cara, Zack Ryder – Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match
- The only important people are the first three guys; everyone else is filler. Owens & Zayn have history going back to the indies, so they should be a good time. Expect lots of risky moves and leaps off of things.
- Owens should win Sunday, but lose on Monday.
- Chris Jericho vs. A.J. Styles
- This has the potential to be the match of the night. One guy (Jericho) on his possible last hurrah, and the other is a seasoned vet but new to the WWE and looking to make a statement. Both have great move sets, and a spot on the card like this is most likely going to will them to try and outshine what comes before and after their match.
- Charlotte (c) vs. Becky Lynch, Sasha Bank – Divas Championship Triple Threat
- This should be the match of the night. Three women who are actually wrestlers, and have history wrestling each other. If it goes over 15 minutes, that’s both a show of faith in their ability and a sign the rest of the card may suck.
- Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose – No Holds Barred Street Fight
- This match should be bloody, but I don’t know if Vince wants to risk losing that precious PG market he’s been catering to for the last 10 years. This might be the one time of the year blood is allowed.
- The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon – Hell In a Cell [If McMahon wins, he will control Monday Night Raw and Taker will not fight at WrestleMania again].
- Here’s how hard they are trying to sell a match between a 51 year-old part-timer and a 46 year-old non-wrestler:
- When people see “Hell In A Cell”, they think the Undertaker throwing Mick Foley off the cage, and BAH GAWD Jim Ross losing his mind. That won’t happen here, but that’s what they want people to envisage.
- It will be a bonkers match nonetheless, but another one of those “it’ll get settled on RAW” matches.
- Triple H (c) vs. Roman Reigns – World Heavyweight Championship
- Things are so thin talent-wise that they had to drag out HHH’s carcass to wrap with the belt in order to introduce some drama. Fans HATE Roman with a passion not seen in years – think X-Pac heat.
- Since Roman is related to The Rock, expect some form of interference here. Rocky has professional history with Hunter, so it should work. But the last time they tried something like this, even Dwayne got booed – in Philly, mind you – leading to a change in the Wrestlemania 31 main event.
Because this is the biggest show of the year, there is always the chance for a surprise or two, but the days are long, long gone where they could pull off a major coup by sneaking in someone from a rival promotion for a debut at the big dance. By crushing their competition, they watered down the product, and have nowhere realistic to turn to bring up fresh talent. So they poach talent from other, smaller federations that can’t afford to keep the talent they have. It’s no wonder the McMahons consider themselves Patriots fans.
Most of the new hires that have gone into immediate rotation on the various shows – Styles; Finn Balor; Asuka – have come from Japan; guys like Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens have come from Ring of Honor. The WWE farm team – NXT – is where they send most of the new folks to give them 2-3 years seasoning before they hit the main roster. The track record of wrecking that talent on the big show is high, because Vince McMahon, like Roger Goodell, is a capricious master, subjecting the talent to the whims of his tyrannical rule.
Will it be worth the $70 Pay-Per-View cost? OH, HELL NO! I’ll be watching it at a friend’s house, because he pays the monthly Network fee, I’m bringing some local micros as payment, and I don’t feel like closing Russian gambling popups every five minutes to steal a feed. Also, I’ll be hurrying home afterwards so I can see who gets killed in the “Walking Dead” finale. Something tells me that will also cost Vince a lot of viewers, and will have a lot more blood.
* = the RAW on the night after Wrestlemania is usually the start of a new year of story-lines. Plus, anything that was botched the night before can be fixed at this show. It is the one guaranteed sell-out, is part of the package of tickets for the weekend, and usually makes for great TV.
** = rumour (March 31) has it “Big Match John” will be putting in some type of appearance, because CENA WINS LOL!!!