By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Last year, I compiled a list, in descending order, of the things I was looking forward to the most when it came to ‘Mania weekend (remember when NXT did things like Walter vs. Tommaso Ciampa?!?). At the very least, there was good reason to find good things between a two-night Takeover, a two-night WrestleMania and everything in between.
Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly in an unsanctioned match. Asuka vs. Rhea Ripley. Bianca Belair vs. Sasha Banks. Shoot, even Roman Reigns vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan was awfully intriguing on paper (and, to be fair, it kind of/sort of delivered). This year, though? Something’s missing. Or, for that matter, maybe it’s just the biggest “It’s not you, it’s me” I’ve felt for a big wrestling event in a long time.
Either way, I got to thinking about why I just can’t get up for this year’s event. And then I started to break down the elements that continue to leave me either scratching my head, feeling overly disappointed or, worst of all, just plain apathetic. What did I find?
THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE
Well, first of all, we need to talk about Cody Rhodes.
While we can’t confirm he’ll be in the cards as of this writing, we’ve been hearing for weeks that it’s all but a done deal. And then, for that matter, we heard it actually was a done deal. Seth Rollins vs. Cody Rhodes.
In some ways, the build has been brilliant and something that appears to have perhaps been intentional from the start. Low-key support the “Is he coming?” push and pull that the more passionate fans read about on a daily basis. Have crowds every Monday for at least a month chant Cody’s name in hopes that the night the show is in their town will be the night that he debuts. Give the match to Seth, who’s as good as anyone in WWE when it comes to building a match in a smart way. Let nature run its course.
But in other ways, the build has been the reason I can’t quite get as excited for it as I should be. Unless something happens tonight (and it probably won’t given today’s WWE video with Vince McMahon saying Rollins will have to wait until match time to learn who his opponent will be), we need to take a look at what it is we’re going to see here. Two wrestlers who haven’t had any physicality, have no ongoing issue, and are essentially walking into this thing cold having a match for the sake of having a match.
Don’t get me wrong. They’re great and I’m sure they’ll have a very good outing. But right now, this isn’t a Cody Rhodes story. This isn’t even a Seth Rollins vs. Cody Rhodes story. Instead, this is a Seth Rollins story. And it’s not a great one, at that. Every year, we get the tired “I need to have my WrestleMania spot/moment” from at least one wrestler (and sometimes more). Couldn’t you figure out a better way to debut Cody Rhodes than to have him be a random dancing partner with a random wrestler?
And then there’s this: Imagine how much more effective this would have been had nobody known Cody was going to WWE. Comparisons to Scott Hall showing up on WCW Nitro, I don’t think, would be terribly off-base. Cody leaving a company he helped start — and a company, mind you, that he helped start while being very vocal about the fact that it existed in large part to spite WWE — to come back to WWE is great stuff. This era of spoilers and Internet-ism sucks. I know things will never be the same, but thinking about what could have been when it comes to how big of a surprise this could be is deflating.
So, yeah. I don’t know. Maybe they have something up their sleeve and I’ll read back on this in a week and remind myself how stupid I am. As of right now, all I really have is a shoulder shrug.
DON’T TRUST ANYBODY
Speaking of knowing too much about a business that is at its best when the public knows little to nothing, a Kevin Owens vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin program has to be one of the few things we all believed would be a slam dunk, right? Owens is one of the best talkers in all the wrestling world and Austin is … well, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, damn it. Plus, Owens can work and Austin looks to be in really good shape, so if things were to get physical … yeah, sure, I’m in for that.
But here’s what we got: A bunch of weeks during which Owens half-ass put down the state of Texas in seemingly random comments. A pretty good vignette from “Stone Cold” out in the middle of nowhere. The rumor that Austin was coming out of retirement to do an actual honest-to-goodness match. And then the retraction of said rumor in favor of a more reliable outcome, which is that the interaction would merely be a segment, not a match, and it would play out on an episode of The KO Show to boot.
Owens trolling the audience on Raw last week was some of the best stuff Raw has seen in years, make no mistake about that. And at the very least, the segment at ‘Mania probably won’t suck. From what the reporting says, there will be physicality, which will then presumably turn into Austin giving Owens a Stunner and laying him out, all while probably having jean shorts on. Beers will fly, the crowd will cheer and Texas will be saved by its lord and savior, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
Where things get twisted for me is the initial report that we were getting a match. A match would be interesting. A match would be fascinating, actually. Imagine Austin in those black trunks one last time, grabbing a collar-and-elbow tie-up. We’ve seen him show up every now and then to give someone a Stunner and drink some beers — why are we to believe this will look or feel any different than that?
My only hope is that we get a swerve. Remember back at Wrestle Kingdom when Katsuyori Shibata, who was never supposed to wrestle again, was booked for a grappling exhibition and then got in the ring, pissed off his bosses and demanded he have a match? That’s kind of what I’m hoping for here. I don’t want to see the jeans and the shirt. I want to see the knee brace and the taped fists. Will we get it? Probably not. But a boy can dream.
HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN
Count me among the many out there being unreasonably indignant about the fact that both male’s secondary titles are unlikely to be defended on this two-night event. Throwing more salt into the wound is the fact that the two people holding the two belts — Finn Balor is the United States Champion while Ricochet is the Intercontinental Champion — are great workers. They’d have great matches. In fact, all they do is have great matches.
But instead, we get one in a battle royal and the other in a three-way that’s kind of/sort of a handicap match. Oh, and did I mention those matches are on Smackdown? As in, on Friday. Not on Saturday. Not on Sunday. Not even the much ballyhooed Raw After WrestleMania on Monday. Two of the best in-ring guys in the company with two titles around their respective waists. And they can’t even hop on a two-night card.
Somewhere, the ghost of Ricky Steamboat vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage isn’t just rolling over in its grave, it’s trying to make sure Happy Corbin misses his flight so there will be a spot open on Night 1 for an Intercontinental Title match. It’s just sad. Beyond anything, sad is the most accurate word out there for something like this. It’s not disgusting or angering or disappointing or frustrating. It’s just really sad.
We all know WWE hasn’t taken these belts seriously in what feels like ages. And I’m sure if you asked some of the higher-ups, they would blame that on the talent and not the creative. “Go get the belt over, pal,” is a sentence I could imagine hearing in the halls of Titan Towers at some point. But even with all that considered, when you put something like this out there, front and center, it’s a slap in the face to those of us who love and respect those belts. You’re conditioning a whole generation of fans to not give a single shit about them when generations of fans prior — mine included — grew up caring more about some of those title runs than we did the main attraction.
Who knows. Maybe there’s a plan for after ‘Mania to turn up the heat on the U.S and I.C. At this point, I have to wonder why they didn’t just keep the I.C. strap on Sami Zayn, just to have him drop it to Mr. Jackass. Hey, at least then, the gold could gain some profile, right?
Is it me, or does this Ronda Rousey run just hit different (WWE 2K22 in stores now!)? And when I say “hit different”, I don’t mean that’s a good thing.
They brought her back at the Royal Rumble to win and give us the match we didn’t want to see — you’re wrong if you think anything other than “Becky Lynch” was the right answer to who we all wanted to Rousey face. And then she instantly felt petulant, resentful, angry — so much so that I wasn’t even sure if she was coming back as a heel or a babyface after her initial online-only interview that went down after the Rumble. She was pissed at the fans, yada, yada. Unless that’s all part of some wild long-term storytelling that will be paid off next year around this time when she does face off with Becky Lynch (presumably), she certainly changed the tone of how she is perceived among those who used to cheer her and maybe even some who still do.
And yet, here she is, booked as a babyface at WrestleMania.
Actually, that’s why I find myself rolling my eyes at her main-eventing Night 1 with Charlotte. Think about Rousey’s trajectory in WWE. She shows up in a mixed-tag match and kills it. Everyone loves her. She’s a natural. So then she signs a deal and shows up to tons and tons of fanfare. She continues to impress in the ring. She’s thrown into a few programs to varying degrees of success. She becomes the champion, but wrestling fans are wrestling fans and they start to get bored with her. The boo-birds pitter-patter here and there. She drops the belt to go have a child and in the meantime, she’s a bit mouthy about the whole thing. Then she comes back and here we are: She’ll wrestle Charlotte Flair, who can pull great matches out of everybody and she probably will here. Then, finally, Rousey will become a champion again to feud with … ?
The apathy meter just hit 11 and I don’t even know that it’s either wrestler’s fault. Everyone was hoping for Lynch vs. Rousey this year, so there’s an air of disappointment to some. The more affecting factor comes in the form of the booking, though. The last time something was hot in the women’s division, it was when things seemed to get real-life twisted between Charlotte and Becky and everyone bought into it with aplomb. This, though? It’s hard to buy into whatever issues they are trying to sell. In fact, the Belair vs. Lynch title match has done a better job at putting a story together — so much so that if you’re going to have the women headline a night of ‘Mania, maybe consider giving that spot to those two?
But, of course not. Rousey is a star (pal), and Charlotte is, too. So, good for them for landing the most prestigious place on Night 1’s card. Can they deliver? Let’s hope so.
THE VIEW FROM 10,000 MILES ABOVE
WWE is in a weird place right now. And while I know this entire piece could come off as just another guy eye-rolling at the best of what WWE has going for it right now, that’s truly not my intention. Nor is it my intention to now go into some diatribe about how WWE lost fan trust and they can’t get it back quickly and they need to hire wrestling people (as opposed to TV writers) and Vince McMahon needs to step down and blah, blah, blah, blah. We’ve all heard those things a thousand times a day for a thousand weeks and that’s not really my point here.
Instead, if you step back and take a look at the company as a whole, it has a lot of question marks in front of it. For argument’s sake, let’s not go a second beyond the end of Night 2 of this year’s ‘Mania and let’s just focus on the table in front of us. The Smackdown and Raw titles will be unified for the first time in quite some time. Again, let’s ignore the rumors that the unification won’t last for long. Instead, let’s just think about what happens next.
Who holds it? Presumably Roman Reigns, but if that happens, does that mean Brock Lesnar just goes away? That guy ain’t sticking around to be U.S. Champ in six weeks. But there also isn’t another main title for him to hold. So is this year’s WrestleMania some pseudo-goodbye for now? And what does this mean for appearances? If Reigns does win on Sunday, does he show up at Raw on Monday? And then Smackdown on Friday? And then Raw again next Monday? And then Smackdown again next Friday? Having one title over two brands where so many wrestlers get wasted anyway is going to be a tricky line to navigate. Besides: Who emerges as Reigns’s immediate dancing partner? And don’t tell me Cody because I don’t know if it would be wise to bring him in and instantly put him in a losing program.
Speaking of Cody, though, beyond what I said earlier, where does he go after this weekend? Is a long program with Rollins the answer? Or will he actually be working with Roman through … say … SummerSlam? A lot of us are holding our collective breath to see if this ends up being a splash of a debut with little to back it up in the coming weeks (which is a practice that both WWE and AEW tend to do, mind you). If Cody winds up on WWE Main Event by June, squaring up with Veer, the amount of “I told you so’s” will be world-record-breaking.
Then think of the other wrestlers and stories. I know the aftermath of WrestleMania is typically reserved for pressing the reset button on a lot of things, but WWE has some opportunities in front of it to begin to change the negative perception that a lot of people share about it, and that perception is that it’s old hat. There’s nothing new. It’s the same 50/50 booking. They don’t want to build new stars. They don’t give fan favorites a chance. The criticisms go on and on.
Igniting things in the wake of WrestleMania could do wonders for WWE this time around. A fresh face in Cody comes in. A new main title system plays itself out. There seems to be a trillion returns, specifically on the female side, that could cause some fun moving forward. There is a lot more this company could do coming out of ‘Mania this year than it’s felt like there’s been in previous recent years.
And so it must be said: If this year’s “Most Stupendous” event lacks juice for this fan, maybe it’s for the better and maybe it means more interesting things are on the horizon. And if that’s the case, and this year’s Granddaddy Of Them All exists to build a foundation for a larger vision, well, then maybe we haven’t been on the road to WrestleMania in Dallas after all. And instead, perhaps this weekend’s festivities is just the first leg on our drive to Los Angeles next year.
Suffice to say, if that’s the case, I’m in for the ride.
The joy and excitement I have for WM38 lies strictly with the fact I’m back in my hometown on a visit and will be crashing at an old friends house the whole weekend, and we’re intending to drink lots of beer and watch lots of wrestling and laugh. The good company makes the long ass weekend very appealing. Without it, Wrestlemania weekend sounds tedious and exhausting.
Wrestling fans are excited for Wrestlemania. Fat, dirty, neckbeard Meltzer smarks aren’t. WWE is smart enough to cater to the first group.
Two nights is overkill. Since when did WM become “everyone gets a trophy” time?
Your top performers need to be on this show. 7-8 matches at most (and yeah that probably means only 1 woman’s March). Sorry if that hurts everyone’s 2022 feelings but suck it up. And for the love of God no celebrities wrestling. Save that for summer slam or another PLE.
Celebrities wrestling on the card at Wrestlemania is literally something that’s been done since WM1. It’s part of why they were even able to have a WM to begin with.
Agreed on killing the 2 night concept and dramatically reducing the time and number of matches, but the revenue generated is so much that they won’t be doing it anytime soon.
Collin, the problem with Ronda is that her promos come across like she’s reading a grocery list, so there’s no build from her side. And Charlotte may be a great wrestler but she’s more of a pest heel than a villain. Meh
I’m with you. There is nothing, besides Edge/Styles (that could be on Raw at any time), that has me excited for this years’ show. I cannot believe how the mighty has fallen. It’s actually pathetic.