WrestleMania has been the focal point of WWE television for 31 years and I have a hard time coming up with a Mania WWE Title contender or main eventer that is more tepid than Roman Reigns this year. And that includes Roman Reigns last year. His push has been completely mishandled from jump street and it has completely damaged him as a top level draw as he is currently presented. Did Steve Austin miss a month of TV in February 1998 because he was getting booed or ignored? Was Shawn Michaels hidden at home with a broken nose in 1995? 1996? I don’t recall Batista being MIA in 2005 or Sheamus in 2012. Even if you point to how poorly Rey Mysterio was booked in 2006, he was still really over with the fans AND he wasn’t slated to headline the show and become the company’s top draw. They are playing defense with Reigns and it is making him look terrible. And all the while, Dean Ambrose has had his ass kicked repeatedly since Fastlane and he just keeps plugging away like a badass and the crowd is responding accordingly. The disconnect is glaring and is going to cause some severe backlash come April 3 unless an (unlikely) audible is called. They didn’t make the change at Fastlane, but they have one more opportunity to pull the trigger and mix things up this weekend at Roadblock. I am not expecting them to do so, but it may be in their best long term interest to toss Reigns, Triple H, Brock Lesnar and Dean Ambrose into one match and let Lesnar or Ambrose win the title and have Reigns go heel afterwards. Time is running out…
With Raw’s numbers ebbing and flowing and the general level of angst within the core fanbase, many WWE viewers may have overlooked the elite level at which Chris Jericho has been operating during this most recent run. It is easily his most inspired work since the waning days of the JeriShow run, both creatively and in the ring, and his ongoing war with AJ Styles has been a highlight of WWE programming since January. Not only have they delivered a trio of great singles battles, but their tag team title match with New Day on this week’s Raw was fantastic and had the Chicago crowd rocking the whole way through. Jericho is at his best when his angles have depth and are a bit complex and when he works closer to the line as a heel as opposed to the “fun loving rock star” shtick he had been working as of late. He has clearly planted the seeds of annoyance slowly but surely since he popped back up on TV and everything finally boiled over with his angry post-match assault of Styles after their loss to the tag champs. This all sets up a big time blowoff match at WrestleMania, a bout that could easily steal the show if given the time. Also, why not throw a stip on things? Poster Worst in the World over at the Blog of Doom tossed out the idea of a haircut match, which I think could be a ton of fun considering who is involved. It has been refreshing to see a feud evolve as this one has and a natural, ultimate match with AJ Styles picking up his first WrestleMania win is a perfect payoff.
I like having Shane McMahon back on TV. He is fun, he brings energy, he reminds us of good times. I like having angry dickhead Vince McMahon back on TV. He is an asshole, he makes me laugh, he reminds me of good times. I am just not sure that we need to see them battling for the company yet again, especially dragging the Undertaker randomly into the proceedings and forcing Shane to wrestle inside a Hell In a Cell. The whole thing just drips of last minute desperation and seemingly has zero direction behind it, especially when it comes to Undertaker’s role in all of this. He still hasn’t said why the hell he agreed to this and what he has to gain. Vince and Shane (and Stephanie too) have been really good on the stick in the build to this, and on this week’s Raw we at least got a little bit of story and true heat inserted in with Vince saying his greatest creation would destroy his biggest failure, but there is still something lacking overall. Odds are the match will be fine because Taker is on a bit of a hot streak (of course, Brock Lesnar was heavily involved in that) and Shane will do Shane things and we will get tons of overbooked madness to mask the negatives, but it would still be nice to have the stakes better defined before Dallas. Also, does John Cena play a role in this one in any way if he is healthy enough get involved? Does he aid Shane in winning and set up that oft rumored Cena vs. Undertaker WrestleMania match a year in advance? Shane sticking around to run Raw would be really fun but at this point it is hard to see what the end game is. And maybe that isn’t a bad thing.
This week’s Raw saw the long awaited TV return of Sami Zayn and he immediately reignited his years long on and off feud with Kevin Owens. Their wars have weaved through the indy scene, into Ring of Honor, through NXT and now onto WWE programming. With the way that segment unfolded, it seemed like Owens vs. Zayn was being locked in for WrestleMania. Later in the night, Ryback had a face-to-face confrontation with Kalisto, basically telling him to dump Sin Cara and strike it on his own. Again, it seemed like they were sewing the seeds for a Dallas title match. On top of that, it has been rumored that there would be the usual multi-man bout for an undercard title on the show and with the way things played out, some began to assume it would be the US strap on the line, allowing Owens and Zayn to play out their story on their own. However, Dave Meltzer cleared things up in his report after Raw, stating that Ryback/Kalisto is set to be the singles title match while Owens’ IC title will be up for grabs amongst a bevy of contenders. On the surface this doesn’t seem to make sense, but if you look a bit deeper the pieces come together. Owens and Zayn have a deep history, but it hasn’t been fully mined or explored for a majority of the WWE viewership. With just three weeks to go before Mania, it would be a rush to get the feud in a place worthy of its potential. Why not have them be the centerpiece of the six or eight man battle, the fight that everything keeps boiling down to, capped with Owens just edging out Zayn to retain his title. Then they continue to build the story, develop it further and get it heated to the point of fans being fully invested in their first one-on-one tussle on WWE TV. Make it count.
I am loving the Pete Gas resurgence that has occurred due to Shane McMahon’s return to WWE. He was interviewed by Rolling Stone, has popped up on various podcasts and then joined the Kevin Kelly Show this week and had a really fun chat with KK. Pete seems like a real genuine dude in a great place in life that is also loving this little wrestling career bump. Hopefully the Posse makes an appearance in Dallas.
On Tuesday it was officially announced that WrestleMania 33 would emanate from Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. This will be the second time in eight years that Mania will be housed near the world of Disney but this time around there is an additional attraction in the mix. Along with Tuesday’s reveal, it was also leaked out that WWE is planning to construct a restaurant and physical Hall of Fame building within Universal Studio’s Citywalk in time for Mania. An actual Hall of Fame has been a long time coming and hopefully the company has learned from the failures of WWE New York and take the proper steps in setting up this venture up for success. It should be a no brainer, but with WWE these things are hardly a given.