Royals have been Rumbled, Chambers have been Eliminated, No's have turned into Yes' and Hogans have been Hulked. This Sunday, all the talk will come to an end as the world (including the now-sold out Woolshed Baa & Grill) sits down to see the 30th anniversary of the Superbowl of pro-wrestling unfold: WrestleMania.
This year they've gone all WrestleMania 10 on us and delivered a two-fold main event (that oddly also has weird parallels with the WrestleMania 20 one) as Daniel Bryan must get past Triple H in order to earn his spot in a triple-threat match with the latter's former Evolution teammates, Randy Orton and Batista, for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The Undertaker puts his 21-0 streak on the line against 'The Beast', Brock Lesnar. John Cena looks to elevate much-hyped Mania newcomer Bray Wyatt to main event status. Meanwhile, as Hulk Hogan hosts, 30-men (i.e. the rest of the roster) compete in the first-ever Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
With so many issues outstanding, we at Balls.ie have recruited a crack team of experts from all walks of life to give their final thoughts on the ten most prevalent matters going into the show. Our experts are as follows:
Jay Hunter (@OSWReview): Host of wrestling's #1 web TV series, OSW Review, and long-time wrestling fan.
Don Marnell (@LandfillKennedy): stand-up comedian, radio personality as featured on 98FM and others, plus host of Balls.ie's brand new WWE podcast, Low Blows.
Mark Farrelly (@MarkFarrelly131): Balls.ie deputy editor and old school WWE fan who's re-finding his enthusiasm for the product.
Rick Nash (@AMTRick): former pro-wrestler, official Balls.ie WWE correspondent and founder of WWE Parties Ireland.
1) Does the card live up to your expectations of what a ‘WrestleMania 30’ card should be? Is there anything missing?
Jay: WWE have fixed the title situation by putting Bryan in two matches, Brock Lesnar's going to beat the tar out of 'Taker, and there'll be a total cluster with the Battle Royal. Aside from fantasy booking (Austin vs Punk) I'd like a mat-based match (e.g. with Ziggler) ...but it's as much as you can really ask for.
Don: Wrestlemania 30 for me should do one of two things: Either celebrate the past in a big way or make a bold statement about where the business is going. I feel like the final card is trying to do both without really doing either. If the event ends with Daniel Bryan and 70,000+ fans chanting YES!, it will be an incredible moment but alongside Cena/Wyatt and Taker/Lesnar, it seems like that’s all they had planned. There are some superstars like The Shield, Cesaro and Big E that should be much better placed on the card and some of it seems quite slapdash. And I’m not a fan of the 30-man mid-card-keeper-busier. It serves the same purpose as Money in the Bank did in previous years but without any ladders...or anything at stake.
Mark: I think if they’d gotten their act in order six months earlier it could be better. There are a lot of good wrestlers who’ve been up to nothing much lately but had they been involved in better storylines then it could have made for a better card at Mania.
The 30-man Battle Royal is a load of nonsense if you ask me, and I’d have to liked to have seen the likes of Ziggler, Sandow, Cesaro and Rhodes in a smaller feud brought to the fore instead. Perhaps a Money in the Bank type match but with a different reward.
Rick: It's impossible for them to live up to expectations once our dream matches become logistically real, for example I'm pretty sure I'd have hoped for a CM Punk match to liven things up, but they've managed to put what should be a justifiable card forward by adding the Bryan/Triple H caveat to the mix. If Bryan is to win, it'll tick our 'memorable moment' box, Taker and Lesnar give the event the grandeur that it needs, Hogan ticks off the nostalgia box, Cena should elevate Wyatt in a match that'll look more important in years to come and the preliminary matches look entertaining enough. And that's just what they've announced. Even with a solid card like this they've still left room for a surprise or two (see the Battle Royal) and I have to believe they're going to pull a special rabbit out of the hat. It could have been a lot worse, I think we'll be happy (well, as happy as a community of notoriously nitpicky fans can be) Monday morning.
2) Is it possible that the final image of Mania will be anything other than Daniel Bryan screaming ‘YES!’ in front of 70,000 people with the WWE World Championship?
Jay: Not really. But Batista with the belt, putting on shades and telling the crowd to deal with it would be hilarious. For about 2 minutes.
Mark: I’m still holding a tiny tiny bit of hope that Wrestlemania will finish with Daniel Bryan about to win the title only to be taken out by the newest recruit of The Authority – Mr CM Punk!
I know there’s feck all chance of it happening but if it did it would be one of the best surprises in years.
Rick: There's a chance. Remember the end of WrestleMania 2000? There's every chance they could have Big Dave win the belt and further troll Daniel Bryan fans. And if they do it right, it could work too, as long as they plan to pay it off like they did in 2000 with a great one-on-one win the following month. But I wouldn't put money on it. The temptation to end the show with 70,000 people screaming 'YES!' will be too big to resist. If they don't have Mr Farrelly's suggestion of an evil CM Punk lined up (which we'd totally all go insane for, by the way), then this is probably the best finish possible. So go for it. Sometimes the most predictable outcome is still the best one.
3) Now that we’re almost on the ‘other side’ of the whole Bryan/Orton/Triple H saga, what are your thoughts on how WWE handled the angle? People got pretty upset as it went on, do you think WWE have redeemed themselves going into Mania?
Jay: September to January were abysmal for WWE's main storyline. PPV refunds, fans hijacking segments with Bryan chants... Remember Big Show taking the yes chant, main-eventing Survivor Series, then dancing as the New Year's Baby? A lesser talent would've been killed but Bryan has remained extremely popular in spite of his storyline. It's been disappointing to put it mildly, but I'm glad WWE got their act together in the end.
Don: People will say that WWE booked this terribly and had to make a lot of last minute changes to redeem themselves but to quote Homer Simpson “Allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment!”. WHAT IF, ever since HHH screwed Bryan at Summerslam this was all planned. That WWE knew that Batista as a face would get heat. That WWE knew removing Bryan from the Rumble match would result in a crowd backlash. That positioning Orton vs Batista as the Main Event of Wrestlemania 30 would get everybody saying “Well the only thing that could save this would be Daniel Bryan!” And it was all leading up to the now seemingly inevitable YEStlemania moment. Now there may be more holes in this theory than Spongebob Squarpants at a Hole concert but at the end of the day WWE has always sought to get a reaction from the fans by blurring the lines of story and reality. And they’ve now seemingly done this so well that here we are, grown men, asking where the lines are drawn. Whether or not HHH wins the match at Wrestlemania 30, he’s already won the psychological booking war.
Mark: I think they’ve played the Bryan thing well but the problem has been the other feuds that revolved around the WWE World Heavyweight Title in the meantime have been dreadful.
Fair enough, play the long game with Daniel Bryan but the every feud Orton has been in while champion has been boring and predictable. All we took solace in is the fact that at least there wasn’t another Orton/Punk or Orton/Sheamus storyline.
Rick: Agree completely with all of the above, even though they all kinda disagree with each other. As Don said, I feel this was all in the pipeline (save for the Triple H match which likely would've went to Punk). But as Mark and Jay have pointed out, just 'having a long gameplan' doesn't excuse poor execution at times. Heel heat should be fun to be a part of. We should get a perverse pleasure from being wound up (the same thing that keeps us coming back for Eamonn Dunphy's football analysis) and eager to pay money to see more. I think they've hung their hat on knowing the Bryan story would have a big payoff and tried to use that as an excuse for, at times, lazy booking. But we'll forget about that in years to come if the moment is memorable enough on Sunday, so on the whole they can consider it a win.
4) Undertaker puts his 21-0 streak on the line against Brock Lesnar in a match not many see Brock winning. Will The Streak ever be broken?
Jay: It should (in order to make a huge star in one night) but I don't think it will.
Don: It will one day. Believe that. And believe...in Roman Reigns. ...I wish I truly believed that but the fact is I’m just a big Roman Reigns mark right now! I don’t think it ever will. But if it is, it had better be for the right person. That said, rumour has it Mark Henry was preliminarily booked to end it in 2006 at WM22...so let’s just thank god that didn’t happen.
Mark: No. It’s actually a credit to Taker and co. that his matches have stolen the show over the last four or five years despite the fact that we realistically know he is going to win every time.
Rick: I've been a big advocate that The Streak should be broken one day. Having been a pro-wrestler, although neither I nor 99% of wrestlers in the world can know what's going on in Taker's head, I have to imagine that the thoughts of how he'd eventually drop The Streak one day keep him awake at night. Wrestlers don't care about wins or losses, they think about (money and) big payoffs, (and money and) structuring a match to tell a good story, (money and) getting amazing crowd reactions in big-time events and (money and) making a legacy on the industry they've dedicated their lives too (have I mentioned money yet?) Going 22-0, or 25-0, or whatever it ends up being, wouldn't particularly matter to Taker. Creating an instant superstar in an unforgettable moment that would live with fans forever would. The Streak will still be The Streak. We remember the journey more than the destination, him losing one day to an as yet unnamed opponent won't make his matches against Shawn Michaels or Triple H any less epic. He won't lose it this Sunday, losing to Brock Lesnar does nothing for nobody, but I can see him dropping it one day to the likes of Reigns or Bray Wyatt. Speaking of which...
5) Is a midcard match with Bray Wyatt befitting of a guy as decorated as John Cena at an event this major?
Jay: I'm happy to see it but I think it's a waste of someone of the stature of Cena. This could main event a different PPV. Bray is still relatively new and his in-ring is a bit dodgy. Cena's match isn't a draw this year, it's very weird - I really hope Bray benefits greatly from the match.
Don: If Cena wins, it’s an absolute waste of everybody’s time. He gains nothing, we gain nothing and the kids who pop big will forget about it on the car ride home. But if Bray wins, and relatively clean, then that positions him as a major player heel going forward. Something WWE has struggled to create in recent times. See messrs Del Rio and Ryback.
Mark: I think it’s a good thing in the long run if it can elevate Wyatt into a main event role. I have my worries that they’re pushing him a bit too fast though. It could end up likes Cena’s feud with Barrett which tore Barrett down as quickly as it built him up.
Rick: I like it a lot. I think this is going to be the opener, as WWE loves to open Mania with a "Woah...we're doing this now??!" moment, and Cena's music hitting right away would give us that shock. And I also think Cena will win. Have to slightly disagree with Don here, I think even standing alongside Cena at WrestleMania and wrestling a competitive match is a massive rub for Bray. It's a bad example because of how it turned out, but remember Damien Sandow opened Raw in a long match with Cena? Now his push died because of how it was handled, but simply being placed beside someone of Cena's stature and being portrayed as an equal is huge. I think Bray will dominate Cena fairly during the match, only to have Cena pull out an Attitude Adjustment or quick rollup to win. If only because we all think Bray is winning by default. This feud will continue and he'll go from strength-to-strength.
6) Will winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal elevate whoever does it? Could this become a new WrestleMania ‘thing’?
Jay: Nah. I bet the last to be eliminated comes back into the ring and destroys the trophy. Straight out of Mania 2!
Don: They’ve got to have some sort of big spot planned for it but I think it’ll come down to the likes of Sheamus, Barrett and Big Show and maybe just pave a rivalry or two going forward in the midcard. I don’t see it being a monumental victory for anyone.
Mark: If the winner is a bit of a surprise then yes but for the likes of Sheamus it does nothing. It’s lose lose for him really.
Rick: I'm predicting a few surprises here, with the winner being one of them (don't look up odds on this if you want it to stay that way though). It really depends on how the match itself goes whether or not it'll become a regular deal, but I do think Mania is crying out for a new multi-man match like this with some perceived importance now that Money in the Bank is a PPV. And Battle Royals are perfect for a bit of meaningless, popcorn fun.
7) The Shield seemed certain to split just a few short weeks ago before they found a new lease of life as babyfaces, ahead of their 6-man against Kane and the New Age Outlaws. Do you see this run lasting or is a split still imminent in the very near future?
Jay: Hopefully they stay as a unit for a while longer. To me, they're still fresh and great together. Rollins has been showcased as the best wrestler of the trio recently. Break up for SummerSlam, why not?
Don: It’s tricky to say. They haven’t gone stale in any way but WWE might be conscious of that and keen to split them before they do lose momentum. All three men have had their chance to shine and in very different ways so I don’t fear for any of them going forward. Still, as we’ve seen before WWE’s plans change all the time and I’ll say, out of hope more than anything else, that the hounds of justice will be around for a while to come.
Mark: I think they’re still one of the best aspects of WWE at the moment. There’s no rush to break them up as long as they stay relevant as a trio. When you look it in the long run, it wouldn’t be completely crazy to keep them together for another year even. They’ve long careers ahead of them when they do break up so why rush it? Also it’s not impossible for Reigns to become involved in a WWE World Heavyweight title feud while still part of the trio.
Rick: Many times before, I've said that The Shield should be like DX or The Four Horsemen in that they should be able to go off and do their own thing at times, then get back together when the time is right. WWE have stumbled upon the most effective stable of the 21st century, a trio that never has bad matches and is always over in any feud by sheer virtue of being good. Their face turn is the best kind of face turn: because people have come to appreciate how fantastic they all are and just want to cheer them (not dissimilar to how Daniel Bryan transitioned out of Team Hell No). All three are potential future WWE Champions. I hope the face turn has put the split on ice, but suspect not, this is classic WWE twist booking and how I, in fact, suggested they work a potential feud with Undertaker leading into Mania: have them agree to work together to battle a common enemy, then turn them while nobody is suspecting. I've gone back and forth on this one all week, but I think that turn happens on Sunday. Mania is great for ending feuds, but it's the perfect way to kickstart a new one too. Believe in the Split. Unfortunately.
8) Can The Usos elevate the tag-team division as champions, or do you see any other team in the Fatal 4 Way doing a better job?
Jay: No, WWE are too flippant with the tag division. I'm shocked that the Usos are as popular as they are without having real personalities and cutting promos. WWE can only concentrate on 2 things at a time, and the tag division is way down the pecking order. Ambrose & Rollins would make a great tag team.
Don: Right now, the Usos are the best they’ve got. As Jay (Hunter not Uso) said though, Ambrose and Rollins can and will be a major force in the tag team division. I’ll keep these words soft because I may have to eat them on April 7th but I see the Usos keeping the title for a while, until The Shield are ready to take them back. That could be mid-late summer.
Mark: I think the Usos may lose it again at Mania simply because the rest of the card is so predictable. Who’ll win it is anyone’s guess but perhaps the Real Americans. Simply because it seems like something the powers that be would do for no particular reason.
Rick: WWE take 'Total Divas' seriously, which is the entire reason behind the Usos resurgence. Jimmy, or Jay, or Johnny, I can never remember which one...is by far the most charismatic regular character on that show, to the point that he's single-handedly escalated what should be a tag-team act propping up the pre-show into champions with the force of his 'real life' personality. From that standpoint, they could in theory do some damage or at least steal a few shows and force WWE to remain interested. But all signs point to WWE losing interest in the division until they need it again.
9) Do you see guest host Hulk Hogan contributing anything major to the night, or will his appearance just be a cameo?
Jay: Just something akin to WrestleMania 21 (sending heels packing and posing for twice the length) would be perfect.
Don: The only thing I expect is a backstage spot with The Real Americans...anything else is a bonus.
Mark: He couldn’t be any more irrelevant in this day and age.
Rick: Who knows? He could end up going over in the Battle Royal, facing off with Piper, special refereeing the main event, or ending The Undertaker's streak. You can never rule out Hogan's capacity to pull rank.
10) Finally can we get your quick picks for the show itself?
WrestleMania 30 Card
DANIEL BRYAN vs. TRIPLE H
WWE World Heavyweight Champion, RANDY ORTON vs. BATISTA vs. DANIEL BRYAN/TRIPLE H winner
THE UNDERTAKER vs. BROCK LESNAR
BRAY WYATT vs. JOHN CENA
30-man ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL
6-man tag-team match: THE SHIELD vs. CORPORATE KANE & NEW AGE OUTLAWS
WWE Tag-Team Champions, THE USOS vs. REAL AMERICANS vs. RYBACK & CURTIS AXEL vs. LOS MATADORES
WWE Divas Champion, AJ LEE defends in the VICKIE GUERRERO INVITATIONAL
Jay: Bryan, Bryan, Taker, Wyatt, Sheamus, Outlaws, Usos, em... Tamina?
Don: Bryan, Bryan, Taker, Wyatt, Sheamus, Shield, Usos, Natalya
Mark: Bryan (unless Punk comes back), Bryan, Taker, Wyatt, hopefully Sandow but probably Sheamus, The Shield, Real Americans, one of the Bellas.
Rick: Bryan, Bryan, Taker, Cena, Surprise Entrant, Kane & New Age Outlaws, Usos & AJ Lee. Is it a bad omen that the only match everyone is disagreeing with is the Divas one?
Listen to the new official Balls.ie WWE podcast, 'Low Blows' as Rick and Don give their unique preview of WrestleMania 30:
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