Ladies and gentlemen, I come to you under somber circumstances. Going into Wrestlemania week, I had hoped that we happy few members of the NAIborhood would find nothing but frivolity and joy, but it seems, as with all things, we must take some time to be sad.
Today, we lay to rest one of our dearest favorites. . . Someone whom we thought might one day live forever.
Today, we say goodbye to the dearly departed Bray Wyatt.
Mr. Wyatt came to the attention of WWE fans during my Lost Years, but even as only a very casual observer, I remember being puzzled by the then-named Husky Harris. “The Army Tank with a Ferrari Engine” remains as one of the all-time dumbest nicknames I have ever heard in my life. I knew he was the son of a legend, yet I also knew there was much more work to be done in order for this character to become a mainstay. I was not surprised when young Husky disappeared from view.
My Lost Years became truly lost as the 2010’s rolled on. Marriage and focusing on my career took precedent over reading RAW results and perusing news sites. In fact, I believe I was unaware of the existence of this so called “Wyatt Family” until deciding that I would once again re-enter the wrestling watching fray with the debut of the WWE Network, and when I did, the man I knew as Husky Harris was literally and figuratively unrecognizable.
Slimmer, shaggier and with a wardrobe that I believe was actually pulled from the Waylon Mercy collection, Bray Wyatt was a monster unlike few I had seen before. Part Skinner, part Raven and yes, even part Undertaker, I drank the Wyatt Family Kool-Aid soon after our first meeting, and yes friends, that was without seeing any of their feud with The Shield.
I firmly believed that Bray Wyatt was a stone’s throw away from greatness.
In hindsight, I can not be blamed for this. The man was in the midst of a feud with John Cena, multi-time world champion and face of the company! Surely this was going to be the debut ball for Monsieur Bray, and when that demonic child sang to Mr. Never Give Up, giving Wyatt the win, I knew there had been the dawn of a new era in WWE.
This was Bray Wyatt’s world. . . It was in his hands. . . We merely lived in it.
While he didn’t win the war with John Cena, I did not lose heart. Merely being in the ring, merely standing toe to toe with “The Face That Runs The Place” was enough. His next target was Chris Jericho and with all due respect to Y2J, he was clearly a foe much more easily vanquished when facing the might of the Wyatt Family. It is worth mentioning that he did, in fact, win that feud. Bray Wyatt was on the periphery of the main event scene, and when Bray set free his Family, I knew this was a symbol; the heralding of Bray Wyatt’s arrival.
Bray’s next target was Dean Ambrose and in him, I believe Wyatt found a kindred spirit. Both, I believe, were agents of chaos, as evidenced by the wildness of their matches. One more, Bray Wyatt stood tall and once more, I knew this was the final hoop to jump through before ascending to the throne of the immortals.
Then came, as Michael Cole so often says, the turning point - Bray Wyatt challenged The Undertaker. . .at Wrestlemania.
Those of us still under the thrall of our Face of Fear leader danced in celebration - The Streak may be over, but the legacy of The Undertaker is without compare. This could be the torch passing we had all expected - The symbolic movement from one WrestleMagic Phenom to another.
For the next two decades, the world would tremble at the feet of BRAY WYATT!
Then he lost. Badly. Sure, we could blame the unfortunate injury Wyatt suffered mere days before Wrestlemania, and yes, Bray Wyatt still shared a ring with The Deadman on the grandest stage of them all, but this was a blow, without question. If Bray Wyatt was not the next great supernatural wonder. . . Who was he? We quickly learned that he was the man to take on Ryback, and if the loss to Taker didn’t begin to make you question your faith. . . This did.
Sure, Bray Wyatt defeated Ryback at Payback but what was he doing there in the first place? This man challenged icons. Legends. Men far above, or at the very least on the same level as Bray himself. . . Now he chooses Ryback? Skepticism reigned. . . Until...
Roman Reigns. Those of us who questioned our savior once more drank from the cup of good tidings - Roman Reigns was the heir apparent to the title of “Mr. WWE.” To feud with him, especially in the way said feud started, made us revel in the wonder of the feeling that Bray Wyatt was moments away from being the Piper to Roman’s Hogan, the Orton to Reigns’ Cena. He couldn’t be THE guy, of course, but being THE guy’s most hated rival is certainly a badge of honor.
Then he lost. Again. Once more, the excuses poured into our minds, but at the same time, we began to see them as excuses for the first time. One can only take so many of the same kind of beatings before you begin to realize that the common denominator in all of them is YOU. Were we wrong to put our faith in Bray Wyatt? Was he not going to save us after all?
Members of our congregation, who had already began leaving in dribs and drabs, started to depart with more haste and vigor. I held firm, though, especially when it seemed the feud with The Undertaker (and by proxy, Kane) would resume. Once more, I allowed my rational brain to. . .well. . . rationalize. “Of course, Undertaker can’t lose at 2 consecutive Wrestlemanias. . . This is where the torch passing will happen. Sure, it won’t have the same effect as it could have, but it will still be memorable.”
Then he lost. AGAIN. When next we saw Bray Wyatt and Family, they were feuding with Team ECW, a group of talents whose primes, with respect, were not in this decade. . . If even this century.
It was then that I had to make a hard choice. I looked in the mirror and, perhaps for the first time ever, truly realized what Bray Wyatt was.
Bray Wyatt is, at his very best, a B+ heel in the WWE.
He can feud with the greats of his day, though he will rarely, if ever, come out victorious. He will dominate the mid-card when it suits him, but the idea that he could truly climb to the top of World Wrestling Entertainment was a falsehood.
The Golden Calf of the Wyatt Family was hollow all along.
I tried to make the best of it. After all, not only am I the Pope of Positivity but I am also the Maven of the Mid-Card. If Bray Wyatt’s ceiling was the IC and US title scene, I would be happy with that.
Then it happened. The final nail in the coffin for the character of Bray Wyatt.
The Wyatt Family, in full costume, went to Wall Street and rank the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
There is no coming back from that. You can not possess Wrestle Magic whilst in Midtown Manhattan. Once you ring the bell at the Stock Exchange, there is no mystique to you anymore. You’re just an unshowered man in hippie clothes who speaks in half-worked riddles.
At 9:30 AM on Monday, March 28, 2016, Bray Wyatt passed away. He leaves behind multiple members of his family - Braun Strowman and Erick Rowan (please pay them a visit down in NXT sometime in the next few months) and, saddest of all, Luke Harper, who had to watch this travesty unfold while preparing for knee surgery. I sincerely hope that Harper can be saved - In fact, perhaps the House of Harper can rise from the ashes of The Family of Wyatt. . . But at this point, can we even hope for that?
I am the Pope of Positivity and I will try, as delusional as I may seem, to find the silver lining in all things. I take solace in the notion that by the end of this calendar year, perhaps Luke Harper will get a chance to set his own course in World Wrestling Entertainment. His talent is on par with the best in the company, and I believe he’ll get a chance to show it.
As for the man formerly known as Bray Wyatt? I believe, my friends, only days past the Easter holiday, that Bray Wyatt can be resurrected! HE CAN BE SAVED! However, he’ll need some help…
Remember, they are kindred spirits, both agents of chaos. They also have recently both caught the ire of one Brock Lesnar. This sounds like the beginning of a Two Man Crazy Train to Suplex City, except just like in Batman Begins, the train is planning on blowing itself up, taking the city with it.
Faces. . . Heels. . . I don’t think it would matter. The combined insanity of Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose would be a joy to watch.
Shane has repeatedly mentioned the problems in WWE, specifically the ones about the wrong guys getting all of the attention, while the truly talented ones get screwed. Go back and read this eulogy again - HE’S TALKING (ALONG WITH OTHERS) ABOUT BRAY WYATT!
Plus, who is Shane battling? The Undertaker! It’s not like those he and Bray are chums!
Bray Wyatt helping Shane McMahon beat The Undertaker is, in my mind, WAY better than any Bullor / Ballet club storyline. First of all, Wyatt is already a known commodity, which, and I’m sorry friends, Bullet Club is NOT. People will recognize the T-shirts, but that’s about it.
Second, Shane has spent all this time talking about the guys currently in the company. He has NO NEED to look elsewhere for help. There should be a line out his dressing room door of guys willing to take out Taker in order to give themselves a better shot in Shane’s “New” WWE.
Now we come to my favorite one. . . Which, of course, means it is the most ridiculous.
I’ve been saying for months now that Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas are far more similar than many of us choose to think. Both were cult leaders in their own right - Bo Dallas, sadly, just never got the chance to amass a following. They each preached in the power of their philosophies, which involved saving WWE from itself.
Why couldn’t they join forces - The yin and yang saviors?
If this idea doesn’t work for you, don’t worry, I’ve got another one - PUNT! The gimmicks aren’t working, so trash them and give them new ones. Let these boys embrace their kayfabe heritage as the sons of Irwin R. Schyster!
Ladies and gentlemen, I present Harris Wyatt and Dallas Beau, the Rotunda Brothers! Each has callbacks to their previous gimmick (in Bray’s case, his past 2 gimmicks) while also sounding extra snooty. Put the hair in ponytails (or cut it short - let’s get CRAZY), dress them up in suits (with red suspenders in homage to Daddy) and let them have some fun! Make them Authority lieutenants, put them in the tag division to feud with New Day, the Usos and Enzo and Cass. . . I don’t care - Just do SOMETHING!
Put their real life sister Mika with them. . . BUT HER NAME IS ABIGAIL!!! ABIGAIL ROTUNDA! SHE’S THEIR SISTER AND HER NAME IS ABIGAIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
. . . . Ok, I might have gone too far with that one.
Yes friends, Bray Wyatt is no more. . . But if WWE has taught us anything, it’s that one can never say never. . . and nothing is ever truly gone forever.
Yesterday, my esteemed partner in podcast crime Doc Manson posted an article about the reasons why he was excited for this Sunday's Wrestlemania. Never one to shy away from borrowing a good idea, I've decided to go ahead and offer my own reasons. In order to keep the good Doctor from screaming about plagiarism on this week's DDTpod, though, I've ranked the matches in order of my excitement AND I have included the three prospective pre-show contests.
The Usos vs. The Dudleys
As I wrote on the forums last week, this has not been a pretty return to World Wrestling Entertainment for Bubba Ray and Devon, as evidenced by the fact that they are in the pre-show and nowhere near the tag team titles. They face the main roster equivalent of Blake and Murphy (ie the Biggest Black Holes of Charisma) The Usos, so yeah. . . I'm not on the edge of my seat for this one.
Why I'm Excited: Well, I'm obviously not, though I suppose the wrestling itself will be good. Plus, I haven't actually watched a Dudley match since they turned heel, I don't think, so that will be nice.
Kalisto vs. Ryback for the US Title
While Ryback's slightly-heelish-but-not-quite character change has been better than anything else he has done of late, I'm still not pumped for this contest. Kalisto became as much of a household name as he currently is by doing crazy things with a ladder - Why not give him the opportunity to do so again at Wrestlemania?
Why I'm Excited: There are few wrestlers in WWE I am continually entertained by more than our United States Champion, and this particular David vs. Goliath matchup will certainly wind up in Kalisto being tossed around like a lawn dart, though it won't be as good as this was...
Divas Tag Match
To be honest, I'm actually a little excited for this match.
Why I'm Excited: After all this time, we finally will get to see if Lana can be a capable wrestler. I expect she won't get a whole lot of ringtime, hence the use of the multi-person format, but it will be more than we've seen so far. Besides Lana, it's always nice to see Natalya wrestle and it has been so long since Paige has competed on major WWE television that I've almost forgotten what she looks like.
She's the pale one, right?
Andre the Giant Battle Royal
Why I'm Excited: First and foremost, just to figure out exactly how they're going to fill the ring, what with all the talents being used elsewhere on the card. My main reason for excitement, though, is that a large number of my favorite WWE superstars will be featured here. Bo Dallas, Damien Sandow, Bray Wyatt (as sad as this makes me), perhaps we'll even get a look at the Ravenesque Alex Riley. I love the lower card talents, so this match is right up my alley.
Triple H vs. Roman Reigns
You might think it's unusual, if not plain old wrong, for me to have this match ranked fifth out of eleven, but really, this is a positive thing. This Mania is so good from top to bottom that the World Heavyweight Championship match technically ranks in the bottom half. How cool!
Why I'm Excited - Triple H won't be coming to the ring like a Terminator. . . I hope. . . And even if he does, this arena is indoors, right? We're not going to make the same mistake twice, are we?
Anyway, I'm excited because I'm expecting big things from Roman Reigns on Sunday. The last two weeks have been pretty much everything we could hope for and more and there is no reason to expect any different. Maybe modified theme music, maybe a new outfit (Really, Roman, just ditch the vest. Make the ladies - And some of the gents - happy!), but his evolution (HA!) concludes this Sunday.
Even when Triple H retains his title.
Full Disclosure: Don't tell him, but this match is ranked so "low" because deep down, I know Doc Manson is right, and I can't be too excited about a match where the outcome is so obvious. Fingers crossed for some sort of swerve!
Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles
I don't understand why so many people have been lambasting this card "on paper". Look at the talent on this show! This is like your WWE 2K16 game come to life! Stop riding the Negativity Narrowboat and climb on board the Paddlewheeler of Positivity - This is going to be FUN!
Why I'm Excited: It's Jericho vs. Styles, and despite the slight letdown of it being part 4 (the inner math nerd cringes when we have even numbered best-of series), this match is going to be pretty tremendous. Earlier today, I listed the "best" matches of the previous Wrestlemanias according to the ratings of Dave Meltzer and Y2J's name appears a couple of times. While I'm not willing to do the research required, let me just go ahead and assure you that AJ Styles has had some 5 star quality matches as well. They will not disappoint.
League of Nations vs. New Day
A lot of people were belly-aching (forgive me, NAIborhood, but it's true) about the fact that this match is no longer listed as being for the WWE tag team championships, but I don't think that's such a big deal. For one thing, how exactly do 4 people carry 2 titles? The Freebird Rule is soon going to be a Hall of Fame standard, so that makes sense. There is no precedent, that I am aware of, for more than three guys holding tag team titles, unless the Villano family did some crazy stuff in Mexico.
I know, I know, that was a deep pull. I'm proud of myself.
Why I'm Excited: This match will feature seven quality wrestlers. All of them are enjoyable to watch, when they feel like giving it their all in some cases, but these guys are going to put on a show. We've been pretty lucky to have some high quality tag team matches at recent PPV's (especially when you consider the relative weakness of the division) and I don't expect anything to change.
I agree with Doc that the New Day gimmick has started to. . .forgive me. . . sour a bit as of late, but unlike the esteemed Monsieur Manson, I find the League of Nations very entertaining, especially in recent weeks. No longer tied so closely to The Authority, they can be a bunch of international hooligans, and that's A-OK with me right now.
Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
Why I'm Excited: The same reasons you all are - For the first time EVER, the women's title match has a really good chance to steal the show. Along with looking up the best Wrestlemania matches this morning, I also went ahead and found the WORST ones, too, and more often than not, the female competitors found themselves on that list. In fact, I just went back and counted. They showed up 11 times. I can pretty much guarantee that won't be the case this time.
Intercontinental Ladder Match
I was delighted to see Miz tweet that he wasn't injured, he was simply acting. I don't buy it, necessarily, but at least this means he'll be competing in some form or fashion at Wrestlemania. In truth, him being injured isn't the worst thing in the world, since Miz' entire character revolves around him trying to sneak his way to victory. Remember when he won the IC title Battle Royal by hiding outside the ring? Expect more of the same Sunday.
Why I'm Excited: With the exception of Sin Cara, I enjoy all of these wrestlers, so putting them all together is never going to be a bad thing. Would I have liked to see Owens vs. Zayn? Of course I would, but I can also understand why WWE would choose to wait for that. You let that story build on the main roster and the payoff at Mania 33 (or 34, or 35, or 40) will be that much sweeter.
I know Sin Cara won't win the title, and I don't particularly want Dolph to win it (only because there's nothing new he can do with it) but outside of that, I am totally fine with any other competitor in this match being the one to bring down the title. That's a very good thing.
Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar
I saw somebody tweet earlier that they were disappointed that Dean Ambrose hadn't yet shown himself to be a true challenger for Lesnar. That's the entire point. Nobody in WWE right now, and in fact, nobody in NXT either, SHOULD be a challenger for Brock Lesnar. The man has been booked to exist on an entirely different plane of existence - Dean Ambrose should absolutely NOT be seen as a credible threat.
Which is why, when he wins, AND HE WILL, it will be that much sweeter.
Why I'm Excited: The no holds barred stipulation (or whatever they're calling it - all means the same thing) is what's going to make this match fun. Ambrose will wheel his shopping cart full of goodies down to the ring, including the chainsaw, and in between being suplexed, F-5'd and kneed right in the face, he'll use every single weapon in his arsenal to bring Brock Lesnar to his knees.
Dean Ambrose's career leaps forward on Sunday. I can't wait to see it.
Shane McMahon vs. Undertaker
Why I'm Excited: It is rare in the wrestling business to have a match where the entire scope of the product hangs in the balance. Yes, I know that it's a storyline, and yes, I know that the powers that be will still be when the Cell raises at the end of the night, but regardless, in 170 hours we could be looking at a completely different WWE. How can that NOT be the most exciting part of Wrestlemania?
Shane McMahon, even at his accelerated age and with his phantom punches, is going to do a tremendous job and take a couple of risks he has no reason to take. Undertaker, as my column earlier today showed, has done his best work in the last 10 years, so there's few worries on his end.
AND ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!!! We could see Bullet Club . . . Or Balor Club. . . Or the Redneck Reppin' Crew (shut up, it could happen) Triple H could get involved. Kane could get involved. John Cena? Why not? Seth Rollins? Sure, it could happen! The Rock, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Sting? The list goes on and on.
Bold (and probably erroneous) Statement to end the Column: Since coming back to regular wrestling watching with the debut of the WWE Network, there has not been a main event match. . . or perhaps even a match itself. . . . I have looked forward to MORE than Shane McMahon vs. Undertaker.
For many in the NAIborhood, the last few weeks have been spent binge watching Wrestlemanias of old in preparation for next weekend's festivities.
However, not everyone might have had the time (or interest, honestly) to do so. Still, some sort of homework must be done, so leave it to "The Teacher" to have you covered.
This is the first of what might be a couple of Wrestlemania Watch Lists, where I offer a series of matches for your entertainment and education.
How do I select these? Well, I'd love to say that I've spent hours upon hours scouring through the entire Wrestlemania archive and using a carefully constructed criteria, have ranked everything myself. But sadly, even I don't have that kind of time.
So I'm using Meltzer's ratings.
Disclaimer: I am NOT in love with Dave Meltzer's ratings system. In fact, it's confusing and seems to have a whole lot of personal bias thrown in. However, until I find a better system (one with a clearly understandable rubric), this is all I've got.
This week: The Highest Rated Matches of Each Wrestlemania
Wrestlemania 1 - Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne - 3.25 stars
Note: If you don't know who Matt Borne is. . . It's Doink. The Dragon is wrestling Doink.
Wrestlemania 2 - The British Bulldogs vs. The Dream Team (Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake) - 4 stars
Wrestlemania 3 - Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage - 4.5 stars
Note: This match would appear on anyone's ratings system, I believe. Some consider it, from a WWF standpoint at least, the first "modern" match. If you have never watched it, fix that promptly.
Wrestlemania 4 - (3 WayTie) - 2.25 stars
Note: As the low rating suggests, Meltzer wasn't a huge fan of these tournament matches. I seem to recall finding them better than he did, but none of them were stand-outs. As for the winners, we have Ricky Steamboat vs. Greg Valentine, Randy Savage vs. Greg Valentine, and Savage vs. Ted Dibiase.
Tangent: Greg Valentine and Ricky Steamboat are really the standouts of the very early Wrestlemania years, as either man was part of the best matches of the first four Manias.
Wrestlemania 5 - Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage - 2.75 stars
Wrestlemania 6 - Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior - 3.75 stars
Note: Yes, Hulk Hogan had the best match 2 years in a row. Obviously Meltzer considers storytelling alongside (if not above) in-ring action.
Wrestlemania 7 - Randy Savage vs. Ultimate Warrior - 4.25 stars
Wrestlemania 8 - Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair - 4.25 stars
Tangent: The first decade of Wrestlemanias belonged to the Macho Man, as we can see, which makes the fact that he didn't wrestle at Mania 9 so curious. Was he injured? Was it really that Vince thought it was time to move on, since obviously Savage still had some gas in the tank. I mean, he had a very enjoyable match with Crush at Wrestlemania X. . . Odd.
Wrestlemania 9 - Shawn Michaels vs. Tatanka - 3.25 stars
Wrestlemania 10 - Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon - 5 stars
Wrestlemania 11 - Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel - 4 stars
Note: Really? I remember very little from Mania 11, despite it being as close to my hometown as you could get. I certainly don't remember this main event being anything good. . .
Wrestlemania 12 - Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart - 4.25 stars
Tangent: It's a shame we never got to see a prolonged feud between HBK and Macho Man. Apparently there's a match or two floating around out there on the Internet, though.
Wrestlemania 13 - Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin - 5 stars
Note: According to Meltzer, this and the ladder match from WMX are the only 5 star matches in Wrestlemania history. If you want proof that his ratings system is totally wrong, that's probably exhibit A.
Wrestlemania 14 - New Age Outlaws vs. Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie AND Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin - 3.25 stars
Wrestlemania 15 - Steve Austin vs. The Rock - 3.5 stars
Note: Impressive 3 year run for Stone Cold, especially when you consider he broke his neck in between Mania 13 and 14, forcing him to drastically alter his wrestling style.
Wrestlemania 16 - Dudleys vs. Edge and Christian vs. The Hardys - 4 stars
Wrestlemania 17 - Dudleys vs. Edge and Christian vs. The Hardys - 4.75 stars
Note: Only three matches will repeat as the best match of back to back Wrestlemanias - Without cheating, can you name the other two? Bet you can.
Wrestlemania 18 - (3 Way tie) - 3 stars
Note: Ric Flair vs. Undertaker, The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan and Chris Jericho vs. Triple H all share the victory here. Having just recently seen this PPV, I agree with the first two, but Y2J vs. The Game doesn't belong here. Good match, but not on the level of the others.
Also, despite this being the second decade of matches for The Deadman, this is his first appearance on the list, but nowhere near his last. More on that later.
Wrestlemania 19 - Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar - 4.25 stars
Note: Imagine how good it would have been had Lesnar NOT landed on his head!!!
Wrestlemania 20 - Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H vs. Chris Benoit - 4.75 stars
Note: This is a 5 star match to me. Not sure what the .25 was Meltzer deigned to deduct from this Triple Threat, but it was as good as you can get.
Wrestlemania 21 - Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle - 4.75 stars
Note: I originally was trying to devise a formula one could use to accurately calculate "Mr. Wrestlemania", but after looking at this list, there's no point. Even the Undertaker, at 21 and 1, doesn't hold a candle to the Heartbreak Kid. Four Best Matches in a row in the 1990's, then 3 more consecutive ones in the 2000's, and we're STILL not done!
Wrestlemania 22 - Money in the Bank and Mick Foley vs. Edge - 4 stars
Note: Foley vs. Edge should be ranked higher, and not just because MITB is a glorified spot-fest (albeit a thoroughly enjoyable one). Mick Foley and Adam Copeland damn near killed each other (and Amy Dumas, while they were at it) and if you want to choose a single moment when Edge went from being a good wrestler to a main event juggernaut, I imagine this was probably it.
Wrestlemania 23 - Money In the Bank - 4.25 stars
Wrestlemania 24 - Edge vs. Undertaker - 4.25 stars
Wrestlemania 25 - Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker - 4.75 stars
Note: This is not only a 5 star match, it probably goes beyond that. In the NAI150, most people picked this match as the best one OF ALL TIME. Yet Lord Meltzer deemed it unworthy of such distinction.
Tangent: Seriously, why can't somebody come up with a better ratings scale? Do I have to do this? Is this what my life will become now?
Wrestlemania 26 - Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker - 4.75 stars
Note: Shawn Michaels stole the show at just about one third of all Wrestlemanias. Forget you, Triple H, let's all bow down to the REAL king, the guy. . . . The guy who probably wouldn't find it religiously appropriate for us to bow down to anyone. How about a hearty handshake, Shawn? Nice work!
Wrestlemania 27 - Triple H vs. Undertaker - 4.25 stars
Wrestlemania 28 - Triple H vs. Undertaker - 4.75 stars
Wrestlemania 29 - CM Punk vs. Undertaker - 4.5 stars
Note: It's worth mentioning here that Undertaker turned 40 years old in 2005, yet this Streak, if you will, didn't start until he was 43. From ages 43 to 48, Undertaker had the best match at Wrestlemania. Now, granted, his opponents (Edge, HBK, HHH, Punk) were among the best in the world at the time, but regardless. This might be even more impressive than being 21-1. Any other wrestlers you know that peaked in their 40's?
Wrestlemania 30 - Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan - 4.5 stars
Wrestlemania 31 - Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (guest starring Seth Rollins) - 4.5 stars
Note: Curious thought experiment would be what the ratings, and crowd response, would have been had we not been TOTALLY SHOCKED by Rollins cashing in during this match.
Twitter is ablaze with comments about the latest developments in the Undertaker v. Shane McMahon storyline that is being built for WrestleMania this year. The most vocal portions of the audience are displeased with the overall direction of the angle, and every new development only seems to heap more fuel upon the already blazing IWC (Internet Wrestling Community). I'm just not so sure that this storyline is as bad as everyone wants me to think it is.
Just this last week on Monday Night RAW, another stipulation was added to the match at WrestleMania. Not only is Shane McMahon fighting for control of RAW, but now the career of the Undertaker is on the line.
Well, sort of. It isn't exactly clear whether the Dead Man's career is actually at stake. When Vince McMahon made the stipulation, he said that if Taker loses, then this will be his last match at WrestleMania. It is entirely possible based on the exact phrasing used that Undertaker could conceivably continue to work for the WWE if he were to lose his match against Shane. Just never again at a WrestleMania.
The IWC is pretty much at a consensus that this is a completely pointless stipulation. The detractors of the angle say that if Shane were to win the match, then Vince would be out of power and Shane could just refuse to fire the Dead Man. I personally don't think that this represents a large hole in booking logic. In my mind, there are a number of ways that this could develop that would all ultimately result in good storytelling.
First, why isn't it possible that Shane would not want to hire back the Undertaker? After all, Shane is nothing if not a fierce competitor, and Shane has given the Undertaker every opportunity to back away from this fight. To some extent, by agreeing to and participating in the match, I could easily see Shane's viewpoint that the Undertaker is sealing his own fate. Frankly, I think it would be uncharacteristic of Shane, acting as a face or not, to allow Undertaker immunity from Vince's stipulation.
The other possibility that I see lies in the subtleties of Shane's own stipulation. If he wins, Shane gets control of RAW. Although it has been said on air that this would essentially put Shane in control of the company, the key word in that statement is essentially. In reality, Shane would run RAW, but not the company. Unless the stipulation changes before WrestleMania, even if Shane wins, Vince McMahon continues to be the Chairman of the Board. That means that contract decisions still ultimately fall to Vince and that Shane would really have no say in whether the stipulation is enforced on the Undertaker.
Honestly, I actually like that latter scenario a great deal. If Shane wins at Mania, I see him coming out on RAW, dismissing Stephanie and Hunter from their roles as the Authority, and then attempting to reconcile with 'Taker by offering to drop the consequences of the stipulation. This provides an immediate and logical reason for Vince to assert his Chairman authority and cements Shane as a face in front of an extremely pro-Dead Man crowd.
Don't get me wrong, I don't love the storytelling that has been going on in regards to Shane v. Taker these last couple of weeks. However, I hardly agree that WWE Creative has "booked themselves into a corner" on this one.
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For weeks, perhaps even months now, the WWE Universe has been wondering one thing…
Who will Undertaker face as Wrestlemania 32?
As time goes by, that question becomes even more fervent, especially since all the likely options seem to be dwindling faster than Titus O’Neil’s WHC chances. (Though as I wrote last week, I still think there’s a way to salvage this from a storyline, which then means a PR, point of view.)
So on a whim this afternoon, I began jotting down a list of potential opponents for The Phenom. Some of these are popular options I’ve seen online; some are completely original. Well, technically I don’t think anything can count as original anymore, but some were created by me without getting help from the NAIborhood.
Therefore, I humbly present to you. . .
Kane - With only 45 days until Mania, the timeline for storytelling is slim, at best. With Kane, you have almost 20 years of history to use as fodder, so there doesn’t need to be much in the way of new tales told. In fact, all you need to do is have Kane turn on Ryback and Big Show at Fastlane this Sunday, joining the Wyatt Family. In the next week or two, Taker returns to save his brother, even if it means destroying him once and for all in the process.
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Brock Lesnar - I know the smart money is on the aforementioned Wyatt Family taking out Lesnar during the main event of Fastlane, therefore leading to some version of Brock vs. Bray at Mania. I do get that, but that storyline seems to have fizzled VERY quickly post-Rumble, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if WWE was just going to drop it entirely.
In my mind, Lesnar and Taker still have unfinished business. I didn’t find the Cell match they had in October to be definitive enough to be the ending of their story - There needs to be some finality. A handshake, a nod of mutual respect, or perhaps in this instance, the ending of a career.
Taker comes out to screw Brock over again, Heyman says Taker doesn’t have anything else worth fighting for, Mark Callaway puts his career on the line. To paraphrase one Mr. Schiavone, that WILL put some butts in the seats.
Sting - Once again, we all firmly believe that Steve Borden’s in-ring career is done, and while that’s likely true, it’s also possible he has one more match left in him, especially if it’s “The Battle of the Icons”
Undertaker comes out on the RAW after Fastlane and begins to issue an open challenge to the roster but before he can finish, Sting’s music hits and from the rafters (or as close to the rafters as WWE allows him to get), Sting points his bat ominously at The Deadman.
You know, these stories are pretty easy to write when you have a blank canvas to work with.
I know what you’re saying, “But DC, that’s a bit of a swerve right there, since Sting is technically on the published WWE roster.” That’s true, friends, but this is WWE we’re talking about. You’ve got to expect a swerve.
Speaking of which…
John Cena - Now I’ve gone to great lengths to explain why I don’t believe this is happening, and I still hold firm to that. The injury was too severe, the timetable was too short. Cena can cryptically tweet about gambles all he wants, but I doubt he’s going to seriously risk his career just for a chance at Taker. Especially when he’s locked in to be Taker’s opponent at Wrestlemania 33, most likely.
However. . . In the effort of being an impartial broadcast journalist (just like Bobby Heenan), we should consider the possibility. Undertaker comes out to make his open challenge, John Cena answers the call, shocking the world. The Phenom vs. The Face that Runs the Place. It’s a great storyline that would, like many of these others, not need a lot of extra work done.
So, it COULD happen. . . But I still say it won’t.
I’ll give all the credit in the world to NAI’s ace producer Bill Neville for putting this idea in my head, because it’s a solid one. Thanks, Bill.
Randy Orton is, or at least, he was, the Legend Killer. Even with the Streak ended, Undertaker is THE legend of WWE. Once again, the storyline writes itself. Same Taker challenge, same surprise return, with the added wrinkle of Orton trying to avenge his loss from Wrestlemania 21.
Want to make it even more interesting? Orton puts his own career on the line. There’s been rumors that Randy is leaning towards hanging up his tights and punting boots in the near future, what better way to do so than by one more epic battle with The Undertaker? Can you think of anyone else who deserves to put the RKO-master to bed?
Well, yes, if I may answer my own question. I can, and that brings us to my favorite “swervy” option of them all.
Some of you may scoff at the very notion of this statement, but be real with me, NAIborhood - More than a few of you just fanboy / girl-ed out at this very notion. We’ve heard that Stardust is being put to bed, and if that’s the case, Cody Rhodes needs to return in a BIG, BAD way. This is what does it.
I’m reminded of Taker vs. Jeff Hardy, back during the ABA days. Even in a hard-fought loss, which it definitely would be, a fist-bump or quiet nod of accomplishment from Taker to Cody puts him right back on the path to stardom, which is where so many of us have long believed he should be.
Think about it. It could work!
Triple H - This is where the storytelling gets a little murky, folks, I admit it. There’s not a great way to put these longtime foes back in each other's’ crosshairs. Still, there’s history there, which makes life easier, and I’ve long thought that Undertaker’s last match should be winning the World Heavyweight Championship, and then retiring on top.
Quick aside to explain that logic - Yeah, sure, there’s a whole lot of power to be had if you’re the guy who retires Undertaker, but the only person who really deserved that honor was Bray Wyatt, and that ship has sailed. Who else is going to do it? Cena? (Doesn’t need it) Owens? (Doesn’t need it - No, seriously, he doesn’t) Finn-flipping Balor? (Needs it but doesn’t deserve it.) Nobody makes sense.
So don’t do it at all. Let him win the title one last time and then retire as champion - The Big Dog still running his yard.
Plus, doing this allows you to once again take the pressure off of Roman Reigns (and, to a lesser extent, Dean Ambrose), allowing him to build at a more natural pace.
So what happens to the title? Glad you asked. Taker beats Triple H and wins the belt. Maybe he retires the next night on RAW or maybe, in one final display of WrestleMagic brilliance, he pulls a Keyser Soze and disappears from the ring, leaving the belt behind.
We’re not going to have a tournament since we just had one a few months ago, but luckily, help is on the way. It’s the Elimination Chamber, which took place at the end of May 2015. We get a series of qualifying matches and a truly meaningful Chamber match once more, which crowns a new World Heavyweight Champion.
Wow. That went WAY longer than I expected. Time to move on.
Samoa Joe - I fully intended to write a column on how Samoa Joe can become the Ric Flair of NXT by winning the title during Wrestlemania weekend, and I do believe that to be the case. Perhaps later.
If that doesn’t happen, Joe would make an ideal Undertaker opponent. He’s got the size, he’s got the pedigree, he’s got the devil-may-care attitude that would allow an NXT superstar to step up and challenge the Deadman. It would work.
But like I said, he’s going to beat Balor and dominate NXT in a way we’ve not seen since Big E Langston. . . If not even more so. Still, nice idea.
I don’t recall quite what Corbin is booked to do during the Wrestlemania Takeover, and I’m glad for that. #SpoilerFree, folks. Regardless, it’s not the title match, so it could be more easily changed.
Again, this is a R-E-A-C-H, but like Joe, Corbin’s got the size and the attitude to be seen as someone who could feasibly stand toe-to-toe with Taker. It would also be a great way to introduce him to the WWE roster. Like with Cody, all he needs to do is look good in a loss, and his career is on the fast track to stardom.
I’ve begun to come around on Baron Corbin. No, I don’t think this option is feasible, but it’s something I at least considered, whereas even 2-3 months ago, I didn’t want Corbin in a wrestling ring. Marvel at the power of demanding someone go back to an independent promotion they were never part of in the first place.
This group goes beyond even reaches. These are the pie in the sky picks.
Bill Goldberg - The biggest Goldberg mark we all know, one Jason Moltov, is the first person I saw floating this idea around, though it’s a fairly common rumor. It would be The Battle of the Streaks, though a whole lot of work would need to be done on WWE’s part in order to educate the mainstream fans on who exactly Goldberg was and what his streak meant. Thankfully, they have WWE Network, so I imagine they could do that pretty quickly.
Truthfully, I’m just putting this here because I want to see and hear the tears of joy from Moltov if this ever happens.
How would it work, story wise? I’m not sure on all of the specifics, but it would help if you had Goldberg as a guest on a WWE Network show, to begin the education process and get the ball rolling. You know which one I’m talking about - The one hosted by the other bald guy with facial hair?
Stone Cold Steve Austin - This isn’t even pie in the sky, this is a chocolate souffle in the atmosphere type of pick. I don’t think Austin has any intention of wrestling again, nor (if I’m being honest) do I think this match would be any good even if it happened.
Still, I doubt Vince cares about that - He just wants the marquee matchup to sell tickets. And both of them are from Texas, which happens to be the home of Wrestlemania. . . And I suppose Taker and Austin never clashed at WWE’s Show of Shows. . . So, it’s at least remotely possible. . .
You use Austin’s podcast to set this up, too, having The Undertaker as the guest and having them both talk about the potential matchup. Both agree that it’s a ludicrous premise but there is some dissension between the two as to how it would end up - Each man claiming they’d be victorious. One thing leads to another, and away we go.
I know, I know, it’s borderline impossible. . . Just wait until you see my last idea.
With this idea, we’re beyond Earth’s orbit now - This is a Baked Alaska on the Coldest Side of Neptune idea. I mean, it is NEVER going to happen.
Let me trace my thought process for you - Undertaker has pretty much wrestled every big name in WWE / WCW history, save for some of the guys previously mentioned on this list. There is no other name in any other American wrestling promotion who could feasibly live up to the name value of a Taker Mania match.
. . . Except Kurt Angle, who truthfully didn’t pop into my head until I wrote the previous paragraph. . . That’s how far TNA has sunk in my memory. . . So let’s make this a baker’s dozen!
So I began thinking internationally, and of course my mind immediately went to Japan. Shinsuke was a possibility, but he has an NXT matchup, I believe, and whoever this is probably needs to be a one-time guy. I considered Jushin Liger for a quick minute, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
The Great Muta
While I lay no claim to having any puroresu expertise at all, what I can say is that Muta is, in my mind and I’m sure the minds of many others, the embodiment of WrestleMagic in Japan. The entrance, the face paint, the mysterious multiple-colored mists. He’d be the perfect choice to go up against Undertaker.
Now, Keiji Mutoh doesn’t work for New Japan - If my Wikipedia research is right he runs his own promotion called Wrestle-1. If he owns it, though, he gets to make the rules, so I’m not sure if anything would stop him from his first WWE appearance.
He’s also a guy who definitely belongs in any wrestling Hall of Fame, so that helps.
And with a Global Cruiserweight Series, you’re going to want some Japanese talents. If New Japan doesn’t provide them, Wrestle-1 could. In fact, on the Wrestle-1 roster right now are Kaz Hayashi, Sakamoto and Yoshihiro Tajiri, three talents who have WWF / WCW experience.
The more I think about this, and I feel that the more you do as well, the more this starts to make some sense.
Undertaker vs. Great Muta at Wrestlemania 32. That’s a 100,000 seat matchup right there.
What do YOU think? Be Heard
As much as I love the WWE Network (and if you follow me on Twitter, you know I obviously do), I miss the days of my youth watching WWF PPV’s. Inviting a group of friends over, my parents snacking us up, dragging a mattress down the stairs to have our own wrestling matches on the living room floor.
The reason I miss that so much is because with all that fun and frivolity, it didn’t matter if the wrestling wasn’t up to par. In the case of Wrestlemania 13, this was more of a double or triple bogey. Despite the incredible array of talent, this card was lacking.
Still, it is Wrestlemania season, and to be honest, this probably isn’t the worst card in the world. Onward!
Highlight: Even close to 20 years later, the thing that stands out to me now is the same thing that did back in ‘97 - Phil LaFon was a fantastic wrestler. With all the crazy characters and goofy gimmicks, I find myself drawn to the guys with serious in-ring talent. Hence why my Twitter images are usually of Malenko, Regal and Arn Anderson.
Lowlight: Honestly, I enjoyed this match a lot. I was sad that the Blackjacks and Furnas / LaFon got eliminated so quickly, so I guess if I had a problem, that’s it.
So What: With Wrestlemania 31 already having multiple multi-man matches, I doubt there will be anything more than a traditional tag match for the titles in a few short weeks. However, this was a fun way to start a show, and a KiddAro vs. Usos vs. New Day vs. . . . .
Seriously, I can’t think of another decent tag team. Man, WWE has a lot of work to do if they want to make tandem wrestling fun again.
I was all set to write about how this was a battle of two WWE Hall of Famers before realizing that The Rock hasn’t made it in yet. Let that sink in for a minute - Rikishi will soon be in the HOF, but The Rock is not. I know he will be eventually, but still, that’s a crazy statement.
Highlight: Despite the credentials, this is not the greatest match I have ever witnessed. In fact, it is easily the worst match of this Wrestlemania. My two highlights, if I have to pick them, are the fact that Bob Backlund is on my TV screen and Rocky Maivia’s hair. It was just so ridiculous.
Lowlight: The fact that even in 1997, WWF would take a Samoan, put a mask over part of his face and try to pass him off as an Arabian character.
So What: Seriously, The Rock isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet. To quote one of my favorite superheroes - “What’s up with that?”
So What 2: Those who think ths IC title isn’t being valued should go back and look at this. Comparatively, its no contest.
So What: Besides the fact that both of these talents will likely be wrestling at this year’s Wrestlemania, some 18 years after their match here, this will be four Hall of Fame talents wrestling in back-to-back matches at WM13. Yes, Goldust is a Hall of Famer. No, I don’t even think its debatable.
Highlight: Again, not a stellar match or anything, but its fun to watch these guys back then. Goldust back when his outfit was primarily gold and HHH doing the deep bow and acting all elitist - You know, back before he married into the WWE family and actually became elitist.
Lowlight: While I give all the credit in the world to Terri “Marlena” Runnels for being tossed around like a rag doll by Chyna at the end of this match, was it really necessary? I think not.
Ok, seriously, this is crazy. Rock. Rikishi. HHH. Goldust. Owen. Bulldog. Mankind. Vader. That’s 8 guys in the last 3 matches that either already are or will be in the Hall of Fame someday. At least in the NAI Hall of Fame. (Not even counting Paul Bearer, another HOF guy) I’m sure this has happened before, but I don’t remember a time when I saw a PPV card that looked to be stacked like this, even if the matches weren’t nearly as good as you would hope.
Highlight: Owen Hart was a phenomenal wrestler. He’s a fairly polarizing figure, but I really thought he was a special talent.
Lowlight: I don’t remember why Foley and Vader were a tag team here (was it just because of Bearer?), but they could have been a dominant force if booked properly.
So What: My own personal one here, but I can’t wait to get to the NWA / WCW cards on the Network that feature Vader vs. Cactus Jack. Such brutality.
So What 2: Do you think Owen and Bulldog ever get into the HOF?
Murderer’s Row of talent continues. Seriously, has there been a better lineup in PPV history?
Highlight: Has there been a better submission move in history? Just this single application - Can it be beaten? Cena passing out to the Accolade doesn’t come anywhere close to this. From Bret’s repeated uses to Austin pushing up, screaming, blood pouring down his face; just a perfect moment.
Lowlight: Back before WWE figured out how to properly film crowd brawls, these two get lost in the masses a couple times. Completely nitpicking, but this match was that good.
So What: I’m not sure if we’re seeing Cena and Rusev heading down the road to a Submission match at Wrestlemania, but after watching this, Dear God, I hope not.
OK, so the streak of Hall of Fame talents ends here, even though this features LOD, Ron Simmons and Crush, who is a guy I could probably make a HOF case for if I wanted to.
Highlight: Might be hindsight, but I love this Nation. The old-school one, back before The Rock got involved. JC Ice and Wolfie D rapping the entrance, D-Lo and others dressed in Malcolm X suits and surrounding the ring, even just the look for Faarooq, Savio Vega and Crush. This worked for me a lot.
So What: If New Day is going to turn heel at some point (and let’s face it, it’s bound to happen), this is what they should be seeking to emulate. Big E could pull off Faarooq’s look in this match, down to the beret and the uber-tight tanktop.
Lowlight: Well, as much as I enjoyed the build-up, the match stunk.
I’m not an expert on Mania main events, and I know that at some point The Miz is part of the conversation, but this match was completely underwhelming.
Lowlight: Much like Mania 25, I bet that if Vince could go back in time, the Submission match would be last (just like Taker / HBK) and he’d put the title match somewhere in the middle. There really is a difference between the best match and the one that is supposedly most important.
So What: I’ll say that again. There’s a difference between the best match and the one that is supposedly most important. In other words, please don’t end my Mania with Roman Reigns. . .
Highlight: Seeing the Old School Undertaker. Hearing Psycho Sid’s music, which is awesome. Watching Shawn Michaels, obviously under some sort of chemical influence, keep looking at himself in the monitors during commentary. Bret Hart owning the whiny character.
Basically everything but the actual wrestling.
Bret vs. Austin and it isn’t even close. Honestly, if it wasn’t for that match, my favorite one would be the tag team elimination match. Not the best Wrestlemania, despite perhaps the best cast.
Will New Day turn heel? If so, will it work? Should R-Truth be involved?
Should the IC ladder match go on last at Mania? It has to be first, right?
Is there a better roster than the one we saw here? Could it be more underwhelming?