So I know I’ve said it in past years, but this just doesn’t feel like WrestleMania week. And while I’ve often asked myself if maybe I’m just getting too old to care so much about this “monumental occasion” as WWE likes to tell us each year that it is, I really think it’s a completely different reason since I quite often find myself getting overly amped up for NXT Takeover specials and live events in my area. Heck…when NXT ran a non-televised house show down in Asbury Park in February, I had a countdown going on inside my head for weeks! And while I knew no titles would change hands and that nothing of any significance would happen on said show, the fact that I knew I was going to be able to see my favorites do what they love to do live, really made all the difference for me.
Last summer, NXT also ran their first Takeover event outside of Florida’s Full Sail University here at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY the night before Summer Slam. It was a big event not only for me to be able to see these guys & girls do their thing here in NYC, but I also got to meet a number of people who I had previously only spoken to either on PWInsider audio or through facebook or text messaging. It also meant that I was able to share this new brand of WWE wrestling with a couple of friends who up until then, had never given the time to the brand to watch it on the WWE Network. It’s kinda like our secret that we keep spreading to those who are looking for something new to dig their claws into and get behind. So while Rich & Tony got to experience NXT in Brooklyn for the first time, Danielle got to experience NXT in Asbury Park for the first time as well. I mean I can remember back to the Attitude Era of WWE and how exciting it was to bring people who had been wrestling fans in the past back to check it out again and get them hooked all over again. It’s also like back in the day, when a friend of mine from high school let me borrow his VHS tape of this wrestling show he had recorded late one night of this little company putting on shows unlike anything I had ever seen before…you may have heard of them, they went by the call letters of ECW.
While the main product of WWE may feel a bit stale and oversaturated, this new product called NXT from the same company is anything but! And the exciting part about it is that we’re getting on on the ground floor. A year ago last month, they first ventured outside of Florida and ran a few shows in Ohio which were largely successful. As they continued to push their boundaries, they secured the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY the night before Summer Slam since WWE had the venue locked up for the whole weekend and sold the joint out…the same building they sold out the next two nights for Summer Slam and Monday Night Raw respectively. Last year, they decided to run a small show a couple of nights before WrestleMania in San Jose and were quite surprised by the turnout…this year, had they not had such a different layout for the Hall of Fame Ceremony the night before WrestleMania, they would have put the NXT show in the American Airlines Center (a 20,000 seat venue where the NHL’s Dallas Stars and the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks play). Instead, they booked the event for the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center — a 10,000 seat venue, and while I know it’s going to be a great time for all attending, I can’t help but think that maybe WWE misstepped here. Something special is happening here, something organic that needs to be nurtured, to help to continue its growth and with so many people in town from across the globe to attend WrestleMania at the massive AT&T Stadium, which boasts space for over 100,000 attendees. Why not try to expose this fresh, new attraction to this unbelievable number of the die-hardest of the diehard fans who have traveled across the globe to convene for this celebrated weekend of professional wrestling activities?
Now don’t get me wrong, NXT is in no way about to start to lose steam here…with constant new signees who keep the product fresh, entertaining and vastly different from what is offered from the main roster of WWE, it would also make the most sense to try to get as many eyeballs to see this new product to continue its growth. But it’s this excitement that the NXT product brings to professional wrestling which I remember having this time of the year, on the week of Vince McMahon’s “Grandaddy Of Them All”, the “Showcase of the Immortals”, WrestleMania. And it’s just not here this year, nor has it been in a number of years. However this year specifically, we’re really lacking some of the luster that we have had in previous years.
It’s gotten to the point that when tickets go on sale for WrestleMania, that none of the card is announced and the event is sold out simply because everyone wants to go to WrestleMania. Unfortunately, for those who bought tickets months ago for this event expecting to see the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, Sting, Nikki Bella, Cesaro, Luke Harper or Neville are all going to be let down as WWE’s roster has suffered a LOT of injuries recently. So much so that after almost 7 years, Triple H is once again the WWE Champion! That’s right, Triple H’s last championship reign ended on April 26, 2009 when he lost the WWE Title to Randy Orton in a 6-man tag match involving Batista, Shane McMahon and The Legacy.
So let’s get into the top-billed matches on the card and you’ll understand a bit more my lack of interest in this year’s WrestleMania, shall we? First off, Triple H is defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Roman Reigns. While I think Roman has really grown as a performer both in the ring and also on the mic, the WWE fanbase continues to rail against him, trying to send a message to Vince McMahon that he isn’t the guy they want in this spot. That they’re not happy with what’s been force-fed to them and it’s resulted in him being booed out of the building on a somewhat nightly basis. And while he’s actually a former 2-time WWE Champion, Triple H played up that he’s only held the belt for five minutes and fifteen seconds, which ignores the entire month-plus that he held the title after winning it from Sheamus on Raw in mid-December and then losing it in the Royal Rumble at the end of January. So while Triple H has been doing his best to make Roman the sympathetic babyface character who keeps fighting through adversity, the fanbase doesn’t care and continues to cheer on Triple H. Even a couple years ago, when Roman won the Rumble and they sent out The Rock to help fight off the bad guys and to celebrate with his cousin, the fans railed against that as well! So this all should make for an interesting finish to the biggest show of the year, should Vince be so thick-headed to go this route to close out the show. Nothing like 100,000+ people booing your new champion!
Next up, we’ve got The Undertaker, in his home state of Texas, taking on a returning Shane McMahon inside Hell in a Cell where the stipulation is that should Shane win, he gets control of Monday Night Raw plus the added motivation for Undertaker being that should he lose this match, this will be his final match at WrestleMania. So once again, the booking is really quite questionable here. You’ve got Undertaker who we already know is winding down his career, wrestling in his home state which is no secret anymore…everyone knows Mark Calloway is from Texas and lives on his ranch with his wife, Michelle McCool. And while it’s understandable with the storyline they’ve told with Shane coming back to take control of Monday Night Raw from Vince, Stephanie & Triple H, it does stand to reason that if Vince is going to make him win a match for it, who better to put him up against at WrestleMania than the guy who has only lost one match there in almost 25 years and to put it inside Hell in a Cell. However, to do this in Texas and essentially make Undertaker the heel that you want to see lose because Shane continues to come out and speak the truth about how stale the product has been for the last decade and how people have been pushed who the fans don’t want to see in those spots is very ass-backwards.
And finally, we have the Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar no holds barred match with no future implications involved. This one is just a simple “I think I’m better than you” match with a monster and an undersized underdog. Dean Ambrose is probably the most over guy on the roster, and while a match with Brock Lesnar is nothing to downplay, if WWE really wanted to cash in on the guy the crowd is clamoring for, Roman Reigns wouldn’t be in the title match. Dean had a great match with Triple H just a couple weeks ago at Roadblock and over the course of the last year or so, has really made a good case for putting the WWE Title on him.
His fan reaction has always been quite good, but for whatever reason recently, nobody has been hotter. And while the whole time, he’s been known as the “Lunatic Fringe” and has played a character who’s a little off the rails so to speak. Someone who really reminds me a lot of Steve Austin from back at the beginning of the Attitude Era. And by making this comparison, I’m not saying that Dean’s a potty-mouthed guy who likes to curse out his boss…he’s a lot more blue collar, hard working guy who has really good matches with just about anyone he is thrown in there with. He also lets on that he goes all out an will use up every ounce of energy he has to continue on in hopes of defeating his opponent, and while a lot of his offense has seemed to be rather haphazard, during his match with Triple H it was brought up that he seemed to come into the match with a gameplan. So for the first time, he was shown to be somewhat cerebral in his attack. If they continue to build on this for the Brock Lesnar match, this can really do something for the guy. And if by chance they decide that it’s finally time for someone to flat out beat Brock Lesnar on the level and give that rub to Dean Ambrose, I really don’t have a problem with that at all.
Because since being the first guy to defeat Undertaker at WrestleMania two years ago, Brock went on to win the WWE World Heavyweight Title from John Cena in convincing fashion by just decimating him at Summer Slam of that year. Following winning the title, he’s been somewhat unstoppable. He’s only “lost” matches by either not being the guy pinned or submitted in triple threat matches or losing via nefarious means such as when Undertaker had low-blowed him after tapping out to the kimura, which the referee conveniently didn’t see, but the timekeeper did — which prompted him to go into business for himself and rule the match over and ring the bell, sending the match into disarray, just enough for Undertaker to recover and pounce on the distracted Lesnar. Brock has even been a beast in the Royal Rumble, where it took 3 monsters who call themselves the Wyatt Family working together to toss him after having already been eliminated from the match themselves.
So for two years now, no one has defeated Brock Lesnar on the level, and there’s a pretty massive rub to be handed on to whomever it will be to finally complete this task. I think that of anyone on the active roster, the fans would “buy” Ambrose being that guy, because while it’s improbable maybe that a guy of his size would be able to take out someone like Brock Lesnar, it’s because of his over the top work ethic, heart and never say die attitude. However, if Dean doesn’t go over on Brock at Mania, sadly it’ll be another big match where he came “this close” and he starts to fall in to the Dolph Ziggler department.
Anyway, those are a lot of the problems facing WWE this Sunday at WrestleMania, and to be completely honest…while I’m not looking forward to the show for the nonsensical booking outlined above, I’m sure all involved will deliver their best effort and put on a very entertaining show. Now whether the stories that are told will be accepted by the masses or not remains to be seen, but only time will tell.
Until then, enjoy the show on Sunday and I’m sure I’ll be back with thoughts about what happened either in print or podcast form. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.