The news that John Cena was to undergo shoulder surgery (as of this writing, I believe he should have already completed the procedure) shocked the wrestling world yesterday, and we’ve spent the last 24 hours or so trying to absorb, analyze and appreciate the fallout.
The biggest issue, at least in a global WWE sense, is how Cena’s absence will affect Wrestlemania - No matter what the actual booking was going to be, John was to have a major role in the grandest stage of them all, and when you combine his injury with the others in the company. . . Well, let’s just say I imagine there’s some panic happening over there at Titan Tower.
Relax, WWE. I’m here to help.
The way I see it, there’s three real ways that WWE can handle this news, from a philosophical standpoint.
Number one - They treat business as usual, continuing on the path they were seeming to head down before the injury news broke, figuring that since WWE is really the only game in town (and has the New Japan members to fall back on coming out of Mania), they’ll be fine with a roster that is mainly on the disabled list.
Number two - They adopt a safe booking strategy centered around nostalgia (hereby known as NAIstalgia), with the sole goal of creating a card that gets people excited for Mania itself, even if it doesn’t further anything for the remainder of 2016.
Number three - WWE treats Wrestlemania 32 as a watershed moment in company history, being the card that signals the coming of a new era, so get on board or get out of the way, dang it!
I’ve put on my Fantasy Booking Hat to take a look at what these three ideas could result in, card wise, and I leave it up to you, dear NAIbors, to make your own judgements on which philosophy you like best.
Roman Reigns vs. Triple H
I really thought we were going to see this match at the Royal Rumble, but based on what happened on RAW this past week, I think we can officially toss that idea out the window. Come April, this feud will have had close to 6 months to build and percolate, which should result in a pretty exciting main event.
Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker in a career vs. career match
While Brock and Taker haven’t done battle since October, it is technically the last feud either were a part of, and I’m not sure it got the definitive ending it was supposed to at Hell in a Cell. With no real obvious other choice for either of them at Wrestlemania, putting them in some sort of Last Man Standing, This is it, I mean it! Anybody want a peanut? match would certainly bring some attention to Dallas.
(If you caught the Princess Bride reference, good for you.)
Fatal Four Way for the IC title - Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho vs. Neville
This match addresses a lot of stories all at once. Dean and Y2J have unfinished business from Night of Champions. Owens and Neville haven’t liked each other since NXT. Ambrose and Owens are currently involved in a very heated feud. It’s got something for everybody! Plus, it’d be an excellent match that could easily burn 20+ minutes, and with this philosophy, that’s all we’re going for - stalling for time.
The Wyatt Family vs. The League of Nations
Bit of a reach here, but they did have that unusual encounter a few weeks ago, so I’m extrapolating. As in the previous match, lot of talented wrestlers in one ring means the match can go long while still keeping fan interest. The Bray vs. Rusev face-off alone would be worth the price of admission.
The Annual Wrestlemania Multi-Team Tag Title Match
Seriously, go back and look at the history of recent Wrestlemanias - This match happens every year. New Day, Lucha Dragons (assuming Sin Cara is healthy by then), Usos and the Dudleys. Or whomever. Another 12-15 minutes booked right there.
Paige vs. Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch
It’s taken a long time (too long, for most of us), but the PCB implosion officially reaches its end with this Triple Threat match. And that’s all I have to say about that.
The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Usually delegated to the pre-show, this match would get some high-profile booking on the show, once again, just to kill time.
Remember, Wrestlemanias are usually four hours, not just three.
The Rock, hosting Wrestlemania, checks the Social Outcasts into the Smackdown Hotel
There’s always got to be some #WrestleSilly at a Wrestlemania, and this is where it’d come from. The Rock, Bo Dallas and Heath Slater in the same ring? I’m sold.
Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar
While it’s not ancient NAIstalgia, a rematch from last year’s Wrestlemania, without the MITB briefcase looming in the background, makes a lot of sense. Plus, it adds the sixth or seventh ending to the Roman Reigns Road to Redemption.
The Rock vs. Triple H
We’ve been speculating about this match for close to a year now, and this would be the perfect time to make it happen. Throw Stone Cold in as outside enforcer and you’ve got your entire Attitude Era audience locked up. . . Well, almost. . .
Undertaker vs. Kane
Anyone not sold on the previous match forks over their $9.99 with this one, as the Brothers of Destruction have one more battle before they both head off into the spooky #WrestleMagic sunset.
Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho for the IC title
That Night of Champions booking was so flipping strange, so I have to assume they’re going to have some sort of payoff.
Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn
They have history from NXT, they have history from before NXT and provided they can both stay healthy, they’re going to have lots of history in WWE, so why not get Round 1 done at Wrestlemania?
The Wyatt Family vs. a collection of old rivals
More than likely this would be the Big Show (based on RAW), Kalisto (let’s assume they have a quick feud in the winter), Ryback and a returning Daniel Bryan, adding some wistful NAIstalgia to the card. This seems to be all the Wyatts can do lately - Beat up people they’ve already beaten - So why not keep it going?
New Day vs. The Dudleys vs. The Hardy Boys in a TLC match
With the rash of injuries, WWE will likely be trying to bring all hands on deck for this card, provided those hands don’t belong to Kurt Angle. (Sad, but true.) Matt and Jeff would make sense as an addition to the tag team scene and would fit right in with this match type. It’d be like Mania X7 all over again, except much older, slower and with unicorn horns.
US Title Triple Threat - Alberto Del Rio vs. Sheamus vs. Ryback
No real NAIstalgia here, but everyone loves a good stable implosion, so why not the League of Nations!
Charlotte vs. Natalya
I know, I know, you’re screaming at your computer screen - ”DC, you moron! Natalya will never wrestle at a Wrestlemania!” You’re right, you’re right, except that she provides another link to NAIstalgia.
We saw this at an NXT TakeOver a year or two ago - Charlotte vs. Nattie, with Ric Flair and Bret Hart in their corners. They could do that exact match again, just in front of a much larger crowd. Easy to book and full of old names - Why wouldn’t they do this?
Stardust vs. Stephen Amell
We’ve known this was going to happen for a while. Safe, NAIstalgic and a whole lot of fun. Heck, let’s add it to my current booking Mania as well, since the feud seems to still be happening on Twitter.
Author’s Note: In booking this card, which was the one that got this column idea started, I thought about the WWE Roster, and picked out the talents that are, in my opinion, going to be their biggest stars for the next decade. Then I put them in either a high profile match against a seasoned veteran or put them in the forefront of the title picture, both of which would be a super positive sign heading out of Mania. Got it? Good.
Roman Reigns vs. The Rock
Maybe it’s a heel Reigns who gets fussy that The Rock hasn’t been supporting him. Maybe it’s a heel Rock not wanting Reigns to steal his spotlight. Maybe it’s just two cousins with nothing but love for each other seeing who is the best. No matter what, these two clashing would spark a lot of interest.
Why Rock and not Brock or Hunter? Well, for one thing, Roman is already a pretty big star, regardless of what the IWC thinks, so he doesn’t need to go over on someone as big as Lesnar. Second, this has family ties (not the Michael P. Keaton ties, the Hart brothers ties), and those feuds always have a little something extra.
The Undertaker vs. Kevin Owens
Besides Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens is THE next big superstar that WWE has right now (and who happens to be healthy). Not Dean Ambrose. . . Not Bray Wyatt. . . Kevin Owens. Putting him in a main event level spot at this show sends a definitive message that he’s one of the guys WWE will be built around in the coming years. The Undertaker, even with the Streak no longer intact, is still THE big dog in the yard, so putting these two together makes a lot of sense.
Want to make it even bigger? Put Taker’s career on the line, and have Owens win. That’s the biggest prize of all right there.
Dean Ambrose vs. Triple H
Assuming Trips and Roman Reigns end their feud at Fastlane (or maybe even at the Rumble - Who knows what’s going to happen in the coming weeks?), Ambrose is the next logical guy for HHH to have his Terminator sights set on. Ambrose, as much as people love him, isn’t on the same tier as Reigns or Owens, but he’s not too far away either. A victory over Triple H might be what catapults him into a legitimate main event guy.
Bray Wyatt vs. Brock Lesnar
Doc Manson and I awarded Wyatt with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Criminal Misuse, and I stand by that, but I will say this - If Bray Wyatt is the first man to pin Brock Lesnar since ending The Streak, you immediately erase the vast majority of the questionable booking decisions he’s endured over his career.
Beating Lesnar makes Bray a bonafide guy and gives you another main eventer to build around. That’s what this is all about, right?
Neville vs. Chris Jericho
Jericho isn’t at the level of the other “veterans” on this list (Sorry, Reese, but it’s true), but he is certainly worthy of a spot on this card, and Neville is the guy he should face. Y2J is always better as a heel anyway, and the match itself could be a show-stealer.
Kalisto wins the United States title, Rusev wins the Intercontinental title
Both of these guys could be main eventers if booked right, and these wins would put them on a path that could potentially lead there. Make the matches whatever you want but those bouts need to end with these guys raising the belts over their heads.
Oh, and bring back the tank. I loved that thing.
New Day vs. Dudleys vs. Hardys in TLC
I never said the matches would be all different, did I? This match gives New Day another boost (not that they need much more) and could be a sign solely in the execution that WWE was stepping in a more PG13 direction. Bring on the brutality!
Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks
This would be, in my booking, the Divas Revolution we always wanted but never got. Make it a ladder match for the new and improved Womens championship and now we’re really cooking?
Plus, Ric Flair would be banned from the arena. . . In fact, he can’t even be in Texas. . . My booking, my rules.
Stardust wins the ATG Battle Royal
Maybe he wipes off the paint at the end and becomes Cody Rhodes again, maybe he doesn’t, but Stardust has a definitive victory in this event, which would signify him becoming a mid-major to major player in WWE in 2016.
So that’s it. . . That’s the “Winds of Change” Wrestlemania booking ideas I had. . . Oh, no, wait. . . I forgot one thing.
Styles, Nakamura, Gallows and Anderson have front row seats.
During the opening half of the show, the cameras keep cutting back to an empty quartet of seats in the front, with the announcers first trying to laugh it off, then openly trying to figure out where the ticketholders are. During a down moment in the show, these four guys, who have been all but ghosts over the last three months, make their way through the crowd. Dressed in black, sunglasses on. The whole deal.
They watch the remainder of the show, making themselves known during one of the matches. Maybe it’s during the Ambrose / Triple H match, but more than likely the four of them wind up attacking Roman Reigns after his main event victory.
Wrestlemania 32 ends with a group of outsiders staging a Wrestlemania invasion. . . And WWE is off and running.
What do YOU think? Which Wrestlemania do you want to see? Be Heard.