David: As I write this, we are less than three weeks away from WrestleMania XXX. As we found out on the March 17 edition of Monday Night Raw, Triple H will face Daniel Bryan, with the winner entering the main event, which now will be a triple threat match. We’ll talk about that concept in depth, I’m sure, but I actually want to rewind a bit. On the March 10 episode of Raw, Daniel Bryan filled the ring with members of the #YesMovement, “hijacked” the show and set up his storyline with Triple H and his potential entry into the WrestleMania main event.
When it happened, I was standing in my living room “Yes”-ing my little heart out, but when I went on Twitter a little later, and the next day, it seemed like some people didn’t like it as much as I had. I saw reactions that ranged from jubilation to “that was so corny.” I’m not sure if I ever saw a full reaction from you… and even if I did, maybe our readers didn’t. What was your reaction to that scene, and if it wasn’t entirely positive, what do you think could have been done differently from a storytelling perspective?
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Scott: The scene itself left something to be desired, though I can’t quite pin it down. For one thing, the crowd (the real Memphis crowd, not the staged occupiers) lacked the unison intensity of the “Yes!” chants that accompanied Bryan’s forceful exit from the Wyatt Family in a steel cage on a mid-January Raw. That was a goosebump moment as it unfolded live. The Memphis bit, though, as it played out seemed more like something that would look great in still images and the inevitable promo video than a “Raw moment” worth replaying for many years to come. (I have similar feelings about the Lawler-Shield-Kane bit from March 17. It was great, but I wanted more; it lacked the buzz of the Shield-Wyatts showdowns from February.)
Maybe what was off-kilter was Triple H’s aggression. He was selling it verbally and facially, but given the ruthless beating he delivered March 17, in retrospect his restraint in Memphis seems uncharacteristic. Could he have dominated an entire ring full of “fans”? Maybe not. But it sure seems like he would have tried.
Or maybe it was timing. The segment might have fit in better with the aesthetic of the March 3 Raw in Chicago. But there is something to be said for drawing out the story progression, especially important on the long road to WrestleMania. Ultimately the ends trump the means. We get Bryan wrestling HHH at WrestleMania for a chance to be in the title match at the end of the night. There have been some real woofers in the long history of triple threat WrestleMania title matches, but I have confidence enough in Bryan’s ability to prefer this than a Bryan-Batista bout, especially since that would have put Bryan’s title win at the Chamber.
The upside to the Bryan-HHH story dragging out is the added layers to the Batista-Orton relationship as well as the interplay between HHH and his former evolution cohorts. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Ric Flair somehow involved in the story between now and New Orleans. Unlike John Cena, the overest underdog ever, they’ve built a compelling story for Bryan with all sorts of odds to overcome and demons to put in his past. And they’ve jerked him around for so long, it’s not inconceivable they’d do it again, which makes the matches themselves worth watching.
One other small upside: Before Triple H made himself eligible to qualify for the title match, I was worried the Bryan-HHH bout would end in somewhat screwy fashion, requiring something like the intervention of Hulk Hogan to right a wrong and send Bryan to the main event. That would have bothered me, and now I’m less worried about that possibility. I do have two other WrestleMania worries — one is Hogan somehow upstaging the battle royal winner (though if Cesaro wins and giant swings Hogan back to Tampa I’ll be delirious); the other is Cena triumphing over Bray Wyatt and taking the steam out of his momentum. Do you share that concern?
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David: Let me ask a rhetorical question first: does it feel odd to you the first match in this feud is going to be at WrestleMania? It does to me. WrestleMania feels to me like a show where feuds should begin or end, not move forward. I know that isn’t always the case, because the 2012 CM Punk/Chris Jericho feud didn’t really start to get going until after their match at WrestleMania XXVIII. But I guess that’s neither here nor there.
To answer your question, I do worry about Cena taking the steam out of Wyatt’s momentum. But I’m not necessarily sure Cena triumphing does that. Cena winning is not the worst thing that could happen to this feud, because killing Bray Wyatt’s momentum would be more about how he wins. Based on Wyatt’s March 17 promo, I think they are setting up for a Cena win, because Wyatt said “At WrestleMania, I don’t care if I never leave. I don’t care if I die, as long as the world sees you the way that I do.”
Off the top of my head, I can think of two scenarios where Cena winning would be acceptable to me. The first is if he gets beaten to a pulp by Wyatt (and possibly Harper and Rowan) and getting the disqualification victory. That would lead nicely to a possible steel cage match or something similar at Extreme Rules. The other situation makes for a more interesting story.
My biggest hope is Cena and Wyatt brawl, with Wyatt taking most of the punishment. However, every time Cena hits him with a big move, he gets up… almost like early 90s Undertaker. I would like the story of the match to be that Cena doesn’t know how to beat Wyatt, because everything he normally does isn’t working. I’d like to see Wyatt take three or four Attitude Adjustments, and still get up. Maybe he could even get trapped in the STF and power his way out of it after a time, all while laughing like a maniac and getting under Cena’s skin, until Cena snaps and (in a PG manner) brutalizes Wyatt. The match could end with Cena getting a pinfall victory, but a closeup on Wyatt’s face reveals that he’s still smiling. Cena gets to celebrate at WrestleMania, but on Raw the next night, Wyatt gets to explain he wanted to bring out that violent, brutish side of Cena, so really he won.
I’m not quite sure where they could go from there, but I think it would be a good way to give Wyatt and Cena their WrestleMania moments, and allowing Bray to still be the dangerous cult leader… with his momentum intact.
As much as I hate to say it, if Bryan wins, I could see a feud with Batista starting immediately. If Bryan were to get the victory over Orton in New Orleans, Batista could come out on Raw and claim he wasn’t beaten and still deserves his title shot. That would conceivably give us a story that could go through Extreme Rules, but unless The Authority is still involved I’d have a hard time seeing that be a two- or three-pay-per-view feud.
What do they do with Bryan after he slays the giant Batista?
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Scott: Not only is it weird for Wyatt and Cena to start off with a WrestleMania match, it’s weird for Wyatt to basically shoot to the top of the card (though not the title picture). To me this program has to continue for a few months or it’s a total waste.
I feel sort of the same way about Daniel Bryan, or more specifically, the authority. Bryan winning the title definitively at WrestleMania feels like the only satisfactory ending to the story they started heading into SummerSlam. But (mixed metaphor alert) anyone who thinks a Bryan win takes all the wind from the Authority’s sails is missing the boat.
If Bryan wins the title at WrestleMania, it’s not as if Triple H and Stephanie McMahon are going to show up on Raw the next night with a conciliatory address. Much like Vince when Austin won the gold (note to self, watch the post WMXIV Raw for proof of this memory), they’re going to be enraged Bryan is the champ and do whatever they can to get the belts back.
Depending on how the main event plays out, that could start with them dumping Orton and sending Batista after Bryan. Or maybe they let Randy and Big Dave sort out their spat and get Lesnar to challenge Bryan at Extreme Rules. (He did say he wants to be champ, after all.) The beauty of having Bryan as champion is when he is put up against insurmountable odds, he can actually make that believable, unlike Cena, who ends all of his feuds by shaking off months of abuse and getting a clean victory.
Bryan’s versatility as an in-ring performer makes me think he can tell great stories with whomever Triple H decides is the best to unseat him in a given month. It could be a cage match with a monster, his technical equal (a heeled up Punk or one-off Jericho?), an old familiar foe (Sheamus), another triple threat, or a cage match or a gauntlet or whatever. The fact Bryan is a physical underdog (when that’s rarely true for Cena) is going to make the stories seem fresh. So long as Bryan is able to maintain his popular heroism (which Punk could not), there’s lots of options on the table.
It would seem the ultimate destination is for Triple H to decide none of the underlings can do it on their own, so it falls on him to take the titles away from Bryan in the ring. How long that can or should be strung out is up for debate. Obviously Bryan will lose the title at some point, but I’m assuming I’ll enjoy the ride.
Does that make sense to you?
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David: It does make sense. It fits with Triple H’s character in general, and it fits in with the way they’ve built him up for the past nine months. The idea of Triple H putting every conceivable obstacle in Bryan’s way, and Bryan overcoming them all, while vanquishing Triple H would be a great story to tell.
Speaking of great stories, the Shield seem to have gone from the verge of breaking up a few weeks ago, to becoming true purveyors of justice… and good guys?. When they came down on the March 17 Raw and defied Kane’s order to attack Jerry Lawler, it seemed to signal a shift in their mission.
They were no longer going to do the Director of Operations’ bidding, which led to Kane attempting to use Rybaxel and the Real Americans to take out the Hounds of Justice. When the New
Age Outlaws, who now are all grown up and wearing real suits (as opposed to the “Dumb and Dumber”-inspired apparel from a couple of months ago), joined the attack, it told us what we needed about what the Shield would be doing at WrestleMania.
Are you with me that the Shield’s story has been pretty good leading into this match, or are there things you would have done differently?
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Scott: As noted earlier, I thought the actual in-ring segment March 17 lacked some oomph. I enjoyed the most literal face turn in wrestling history as they slowly rotated away from Lawler to stare down Kane, but as far as wordless bits go it wasn’t quite as memorable as those Shield-Wyatts staredowns.
I love how the winter of Shield discontent served to better illustrate their individual personalities while keeping the group together, and how they’ve managed to — like Jake Roberts once upon a time — essentially maintain their character while simply shifting which types of opponents they target. That’s been a key WWE narrative problem in recent years. They develop compelling heel characters who happen to be fantastic wrestlers, then give in to public pressure once the performer starts drawing massive crowd response, except they have no idea what to do with the guy once they’re on “the good side.”
The WrestleMania battle royal is full of such guys — Alberto Del Rio, Dolph Ziggler, Big E, Mark Henry. You can say they don’t know what to do with good guy Miz, either, and it seems a lot of momentum has been lost as it relates to the Rhodes brothers. As we saw in the recent Intercontinental Title qualifying matches, it’s not like guys such as Ziggler and Del Rio have lost the ability to connect with a crowd. In fact, their skill in that regard probably keeps them very valuable on the house show circuit. And sure, not every segment can feature a white-hot star. But hopefully we’re going to see some more ebb and flow in the traditionally flexible spring and early summer.
Speaking of the Shield specifically, the other beef I have with their current situation is their WrestleMania opponents. Unlike with Bryan, whom I trust to deliver a great performance in nearly any match style, I’m less sure the Shield’s showdown with Kane and the Outlaws will allow the Shield to live up to its show-stealing potential. It’s sort of the same reason I’m not wild about the tag title four-way — it’s not the spotlight I’d have chosen for Cesaro.
That said, each match thus far has at least one wrestler whose ring work I almost always enjoy. I seem to be more excited for this WrestleMania than usual, but I suppose it’s hard to fully recapture emotions of anticipation once the event has come and gone. Looking back on the card for WrestleMania XXIX, however, I seem to recall only being really interested in the Team Hell No title defense and the Punk-Undertaker clash, though I was prepared to enjoy Brock and Triple H. I say this year’s show has the most potential of any recent Mania. Do you agree?
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David: When you say “recent” I have to take that as the last four, because I was on a self-imposed wrestling hiatus until 2010, and given those parameters, I do agree with you. WrestleMania XXVI had me excited for the second of the two great Undertaker/Shawn Michaels matches and CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio during the Straight Edge Society’s run, but little else. The three Manias following had good matches but also had glaring flaws in their build and match selection, not the least of which was three straight WrestleManias where the Rock, of whom I am not a fan, played a major role.
This year, the glaring flaw would have been, in my opinion, Orton vs. Batista in a one-on-one match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship as the main event. Luckily, we appear to have escaped that fate. Even the worst-case scenario, with Triple H beating Daniel Bryan for a chance at the title, is an improvement. However, I feel pretty confident that by hook or by crook, Daniel Bryan will beat Triple H and be in the main event at WrestleMania. As it stands, of the eight announced matches, I’m excited for three of them and think four of the remaining five will be flawed but entertaining. The fifth match is the 14-Diva, single-fall match that has the potential to be a complete disaster, and seems like a lazy way to shoehorn all the Divas into WrestleMania. However, I read something this morning that gave me pause.
Stephen T. Stone, who writes the Complete Shot Blog posted his WrestleMania predictions on March 27. His predictions consist of what he would like to see happen and what he thinks is likely to happen. For the Divas match he posted the following.
After I read this, it sparked something in my imagination. A few weeks ago, there was an article on WWE.com about Sara Amato (a.k.a. Sara Del Rey), the first female coach at the WWE Performance Center. The reaction to that article, at least in the corner of the internet where you and I reside, seemed to be overwhelmingly positive. In fact, I went on YouTube and watched four or five of her matches that day.
In the article, Amato says about a run in the WWE, “If the opportunity comes up, I definitely wouldn’t say no.” Well, what if she’s given a run starting at WrestleMania XXX?
I would love to see AJ Lee retain the title in the 14-Diva match only to have Vickie Guerrero come out and declare that AJ hasn’t defeated all the Divas that she invited. She introduces Sara Del Rey, Del Rey hits the ring, lands a few suplexes hits AJ with her signature move, the Royal Butterfly, and gets the win.
I know the chances of this happening are slim to none, and I’m probably crazy for publishing the idea, but I have to say it would breathe some life, in my opinion, into the Divas division. Furthermore, I think if Sara Del Rey were to get a surprise run, the WWE could do worse than starting it at WrestleMania, which does draw a pretty wrestling-savvy crowd that might know who she is without a lot of build up or explanation.
Given how unlikely my scenario is, are there any other ways to avoid a 14-person (because I don’t think this is a case of it having anything to do with the competitors) match turning into a complete train wreck?
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Scott: I have to say I disagree with your suggestion the Mania crowd would be savvy enough to recognize Del Rey on sight. I have no doubt she could put on a great show, but I think even Sami Zayn would fail to inspire the Superdome crowd, despite all his success on NXT. WWE crowds are conditioned to react to sameness. That’s why most guys don’t mix up their gear too often. It’s why theme songs, catch phrases and signature and finishing moves are a necessity — the routine helps fans prepare mentally for each stage of a match. You can have surprises at WrestleMania, but only if they revolve around someone a vast majority of the fans already know in some context.
That’s why you’re more likely to see a few “familiar” faces in the Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal than a shocking challenger for AJ. I do appreciate your idea — imagine if Tamina wasn’t in the match, AJ wins, then Vickie offers Tamina the chance to face the champ right then and there. Your excitement for that moment probably hinges on your belief in Tamina as a Divas champion. But for your scenario to play out as intended, it’s going to have to be someone people recognize, such as Kaitlyn.
So to answer your direct question, no, it’s going to be a train wreck of sorts unless there’s a major surprise planned. I’m not out of sorts or anything — I’ve been conditioned to expect the women’s division to be mishandled, especially show at WrestleMania. We walk a fine critical line here — not being excited about the product but being sure to place blame on the presentation and not the performers. The potential exists for great women’s wrestling within the WWE structure, but we’re not going to see it in New Orleans.
What are we going to see? Any predictions for the big night?
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David: So far, the name of Hulk Hogan has only been referenced once, so let’s deal with his presence as the “host” of WrestleMania XXX. The last time WrestleMania had a host was WrestleMania XXVII, when The Rock hosted and involved himself in the finish to the Miz/John Cena title match. That was, of course, a way to set up Cena vs. Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII. Luckily, I don’t think we have to worry about Hogan setting himself up for a match at WrestleMania XXXI. However, I do predict we will see Hogan involve himself with either John Cena (since Bray Wyatt riffed on the similarities between Hogan and Cena a few weeks ago) or Daniel Bryan (since getting involved with the most popular guy on the show seems like a very Hulk Hogan thing to do.) I’m not sure what form his involvement will take, but I’m sure we will see him doing more than just “hosting.”
I’m also going to predict an absence for this year’s WrestleMania. I don’t think we’re going to see an overblown, extravagant entrance for John Cena. I think it will be closer to his typical Raw entrance. The reason for this is twofold. First: he’s not going to be in the last match of the evening. Granted, he wasn’t in the last match at Wrestlemania XXV or XXVI, but still had the Cenation Army and the Air Force Honor Guard, respectively, lead him to the ring. The second reason, however, is I just don’t think an extravagant entrance would ring true with the tone of the match. Outside of some “jokey” moments Bray has handled well, Cena has done some good character work so far in this feud, and I think if he does an over-the-top entrance, it might detract from that.
There haven’t been many celebrities, other than Drew Brees, who is involved with a charity auction, announced for this year’s WrestleMania yet, and as I write this, we are just more than a week away. Outside of Saints players, are there any New Orleans based celebrities you’re thinking might make an appearance? Do you have any other predictions for what we might see April 6?
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Scott: If I were more up on popular music these days, I might be able to predict who would sing “America the Beautiful.” I haven’t the foggiest idea. I’m stunned that for such a milestone event they haven’t dipped back into the old traditions of casting celebrities to handle ring announcing timekeeper duties, etc. One of the many drawbacks to the death of the backstage interview role as part of regular shows is it becomes unwieldy to shoehorn in someone like Mario Lopez to do the job.
Further, celebrities are involved on the weekly show now. Could WWE have waited on Betty White, Aaron Paul and Arnold Schwarzenegger for New Orleans? Probably, but I guess they’re more needed on Raw these days.
I also have a hard time accepting Hogan will be little more than stage decoration, although I’m shocked how little he’s been involved in the program since his return. (Not upset, just surprised he didn’t seek a bigger role for himself.) I’m also kind of stunned there’s been so little talk about the Ultimate Warrior. I didn’t expect him to have a return match or anything, but I feel people need a reminder part of Mania weekend involves giving that nutjob a live microphone at the induction ceremony. On that note, I do expect him on Sunday night to sprint to the ring and run the ropes a few times. Anything else would be a massive disappointment.
We’re going to get a “WrestleMania Moment” from Cesaro for sure (perhaps not a win, but he’ll swing someone, Ryback perhaps?) and at least Roman Reigns if not the entire Shield. There are only 26 participants named for the 30-man battle royal, and there’s a likelihood Christian will have to drop out. I don’t imagine Warrior or Scott Hall, er Razor Ramon, would get in the ring, but could Jake Roberts? A returning star, such as Rob Van Dam? I’d bet good money those last five spots don’t get filled with Camacho or Rowan and Harper.
There are only three title matches, a throwback to days of yore. I guarantee at least one title change on the night. I’d be stunned to see the streak snapped. I actually do think the Andre trophy will survive. I have no idea what surprises might be in store for the following Monday night, but tradition dictates something major.
Rather than ask for specific predictions, let me put it to you this way: What has to happen for WrestleMania XXX to be a success in your eyes?
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David: That’s an interesting question that really boils down to storytelling. As a fan of Daniel Bryan, I really want him to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and if the final moment of WrestleMania XXX involves Daniel Bryan and the 70,000 fans in attendance chanting “Yes!” I’ll consider the show a success, no matter what happened beforehand. I would also accept, grudgingly, Triple H winning the title but getting attacked by Bryan at the end of the show, with Bryan standing over him leading the “Yes!” chants.
Outside of that, I want to see story development. I want to see multiple feuds created via the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. I mean, with that many guys involved in one match, it should be a good vehicle for creating storytelling opportunities.
I’d also like to see progression with characters as well. Too often, wrestling seems static. Characters stay the same, even as their situations change, which isn’t natural. This is one of the big problems I have with John Cena. Even though I like him, nothing he goes through ever seems to affect him. I want that to change this year. I want to see psychological effects of this battle with the Wyatt Family. I want to see change going forward.
What are your measures of success for the show?
• • •
Scott: You hit on my biggest touchstones as well. I’m not one to think the Daniel Bryan chase has played out too long, but I do feel WrestleMania is the natural conclusion. There’s a way for him to emerge triumphant Sunday and get thrown into a different direction Monday and for it all to be coherent and compelling.
I also agree we need to see some development from Cena along the way. If here merely vanquishes Bray Wyatt in his first attempt, that will render the buildup useless, cripple Wyatt going forward and rob us of an intriguing Cena narrative. This story should continue for a few months — and not just to keep Cena away from the title picture (in the same way Cena’s Kane and initial Rock program allowed CM Punk to have different challengers).
And yes, the battle royal must, like the Royal Rumble, must be a plot incubator. Rich Thomas asked on Twitter if any feuds would come forth and then directly asked me for a prediction. My first thought was whoever dumps Big E will be in line for an Intercontinental title program. I could see that match being announced for Raw during the day Monday. I suspect the battle royal will give an indicator of Sheamus’ next opponent as well, unless (as Tom Holzerman predicted over the weekend) he becomes hired muscle for The Authority. Brodus Clay is listed as a participant, and we’ve not seen him in the ring much lately, so I’d guess he’ll stand out from the crowd as well.
There’s not much more to say about WrestleMania except I’m anxious for the actual show. The days between the go home Raw and the opening bell make up one of the longest weeks of the wrestling year in my book.
But there’s time for one last question — a two-parter. What’s your best guess for the main event of WrestleMania XXXI, and what match would you book if left to your own devices?
• • •
David: Booking the big show a year in advance is, obviously, a difficult task. The prospect of returns, either from hiatus or injury, and the signing and development of younger stars means the roster probably won’t look exactly the same next year as it does this year. I mean, in the lead up to WrestleMania XXIX, would it have occurred to you Batista might be in the main event at WrestleMania XXX? I know I wouldn’t have thought of it.
That being said, when you look at the current roster, there are a handful of Superstars who would not cause anyone to blink if they were announced for a main event at WrestleMania: Cena, Orton, Batista, Bryan and the Undertaker. Additionally, there are a group of guys who are currently below main event standing I think could be elevated in the next year: Cesaro, all three members of the Shield, Bray Wyatt, Big E, Cody Rhodes and maybe Dolph Ziggler. Out of that group, I think Cesaro, Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt have the highest chances of being in a main event scenario at this time next year.
However, if I’m trying to be as realistic with this prediction as possible, then I have to take into account returns, and as we know the Royal Rumble season is ripe for big, surprising returns. I could certainly envision a scenario where the WWE entices CM Punk to come back with a promise of a main event at WrestleMania XXXI. He comes back at, and wins, the Royal Rumble, and goes against WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan in the main event in Santa Clara, Calif.
On the other hand, if left to my own devices, I’d have Sami Zayn debut on the April 7 edition of Monday Night Raw (he can still work in NXT, until this Corey Graves story is over), winning a hard-fought match against Cesaro. I would then have him hold a spot in the upper mid-card for the next 8-9 months, allowing the audience at large to get behind him, until he wins the Royal Rumble, the same night that Cesaro beats Daniel Bryan for the WWE World Heavyweight title. That would set up Zayn/Cesaro V for WrestleMania XXXI.
Are either of those scenarios you can see happening, or is my fantasy booking just that: fantasy?
• • •
Scott: After I asked this question I started thinking about WrestleMania history. King Kong Bundy was in the main event of WrestleMania 2 despite being in the company a little more than a year. Ted DiBiase was in the main event of WrestleMania IV shortly after his debut. Would anyone a week before WrestleMania VI have guessed Sgt. Slaughter would be defending the WWF championship at WrestleMania VII? As Hogan beat Sarge, was there any inkling the defending champ a year later would be Ric Flair, while Hogan battled Sid Justice and the Warrior was (supposedly) gone forever? And Yokozuna came from nowhere just before Survivor Series 1992 to headline WrestleMania IX.
I know the first decade of WrestleMania events took place in a far different landscape than the second and especially the third, but there’s enough of a track record to say nearly anything is possible as it relates to the WrestleMania XXXI card.
Certainly if Zayn and Cesaro aren’t featured somewhat prominently on that show there will have been some sort of unexpected calamity, such as the concussion issues that robbed Ziggler of any significance from his World Heavyweight Championship reign that started the night after WrestleMania XXIX. I’m intrigued by the Wyatt Family’s story potential, but I’m not expecting any involvement with title belts. Heck, Bray is making his WrestleMania debut against the biggest star in the company — the only way he can move up is by challenging the Undertaker.
The roster is brimming with potential and there’s just not enough spots, even on a four-hour show, to let each rising star have a chance to shine. The only way to improve upon this year’s card is to write current stars out of the plot by next April, and precious few of the upper echelon seem poised to move on from WWE, even as they’re being challenged from below by a bumper crop of up-and-comers.
The good news is that means the next 12 months could be a banner year for the company, especially as the Network grows into maturity. I’m anxious to see how it all plays out — but in the meantime, let’s have a great WrestleMania weekend.
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