I took a look at the Road to Wrestlemania a couple of weeks ago when the card was only beginning to take shape. And my opinion on this coming Wrestlemania? Less than optimistic. So, how about now, with just a shade over 18 days left in WWE's period of reflection and penitence?
I'm going down the card as it stands, and like others around here have done, I will give my opinion on each match before giving my level of anticipation for the whole show. Expect plenty of my usual snark regardless of whether my opinions are positive or negative, as I am nothing if not a picker of nits. So wheels up, ignition on, let's ride!
Rock (c) vs. Cena - Let's put aside for one second the absence of one of the players in this particular drama. WWE's sell-job on this is just mind-boggling. How is the supposed downfall of John Cena supposed to sell this match as something spectacular and special, exactly? If anything, to me, it gives off this vibe that it is "just another WWE feud", as it feels like something WWE would do for any other feud at any other time of the year with any other pairing of characters. And the video package, while technically great as per the WWE norm, is both confusing and in some ways offensive to me. Even knowing full and well that there are wrestlers who live for the business to the detriment of all else (Exhibit A: Ric Flair), WWE is asking us to believe that the reason Cena got divorced was because he couldn't handle getting beat by the Rock. That doesn't require disbelief to be suspended; it requires it to be put into sensory-depriving lockdown. I am no more sold on this feud than I was two weeks ago, and the absence of the Rock sure doesn't help.
Undertaker vs. CM Punk - I'm past both the whole "sub-optimal situation for Punk" thing and the belief that Undertaker may not be able to perform at his usual high level. I was sold on the angle after last week and how they balanced the feud with the remembrance of William "Paul Bearer/Percy Pringle" Moody. However, I think they've started making this feud a little too heavily focused around Moody's death. Referencing and working around it one week is understandable; two is stretching it; if it continues further, I feel like it becomes exploitative. Still, what is good about the way this feud is being built is that Punk is something different from Undertaker's last several Wrestlemania opponents. He doesn't care about the mythology of the Deadman. He's cocky, but he's not overly arrogant. He isn't going after the Streak entirely out of vanity; he wants to face the Undertaker because he believes he is capable of breaking the Streak. Most importantly, he's not wrong: he's had the longest WWE Championship run in several years, and he's faced several of the most formidable opponents imaginable and won. The only thing that could make this better would be for there to be vignettes where 'Taker tries to do his magic mindgame mojo on Punk, only for Punk to have no part in it. I am seriously looking forward to this feud, though the potential future booking of it does worry me.
Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar (No Holds Barred for Trip's Career) - The stakes were high for this one, but the questionable stipulations knocked them right back down. This is another one in a long line of examples from wrestling where the axiom "Simple is Best" got thrown out the window and five miles down the road. Triple H wanting to come back and beat Lesnar down on behalf of his pa-in-law was great. You didn't need anything else to sell it except maybe a more suitable match stip. Extreme Rules, Street Fight, Three Stages of Hell, I Quit match. Any one of those. Hell, even Last Man Standing, my personal favorite match stip, would have been great (provided it ended with an actual KO and NOT FRIGGIN' DUCT TAPE). Instead it's...No Holds Barred, a stipulation that honestly I don't feel is very clear. (What does it mean, anyway? Can you still get DQ'ed for using a weapon? Can you still get counted out?) Also, it's for Trips' wrestling career! ...Which was pretty much over anyway, at least until a jackass big man spun an old guy onto his fragile hip. And it also makes for an overly predictable finish, given what we know about Brock and Hunter's respective career plans. What could have been a pretty compelling match has become an overbooked mess. So in other words, TNA/late WCW fans will love it! (Cheap shot! I still got it!)
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Jack Swagger - I would like to sum up my feelings about this feud in one word, followed by a lengthy explanation: VINDI-FRIGGIN'-CATION. Two weeks ago, I said that this feud didn't feel right to me, and now I know why: it's a difficult story to string out this long without a) any matches in between or b) having people who are capable of pulling it off. The last major time the immigration issue was deployed in a title feud, we had JBL and Eddie Guerrero going at it. JBL had a Cabinet with him to help keep Guerrero occupied in-between PPVs; Jack Swagger has...Zeb Colter. Guerrero and JBL both had sufficient mic skills to keep the material from going stale; Swag and Colter keep repeating the same stuff over and over. As JBL and Guerrero's feud continued, it changed and evolved, remaining rooted in racism but never really staying the same; this feud is gotten old already. And now, the major driving force behind ADR's face pops has been sidelined with a kayfabe injury. To those of you who are turning away from this angle, I would simply like to say, "Ha-ha, I told you so. Now get on the bandwagon; I'm driving."
Ryback vs. Mark Henry - I'll be honest with you all: I have never really liked "power monsters", especially not ones who are all power and just enough mobility to throw their weight around. It's on record that I don't like Mark Henry one bit in the ring. So speaking purely for myself, this "hoss fight" has no appeal. None. I will give credit where credit is due, though, because this is simple booking at its best. This is proof that WWE Creative is actually capable of solid and subtle booking, which I wasn't even sure was possible. It's just a shame that one of the best booked matches for 'Mania is also one I'm looking forward to the least.
The Shield vs. Sheamus/Orton/Show - The things to watch here are going to be how well the "Enemy Mine" situation works with the Big Show and whether or not they pull the trigger on Orton going heel. The worst thing to happen, though, would be for Orton to not only turn but to join the Shield. The Shield have a good thing going with Ambrose, Reigns, and Rollins, and Orton wouldn't add much of anything to it. If Orton does go heel, he should go off on his own, and let these three do what they do for now. I believe in the Shield. Randy Orton? ...Not so much.
Team Hell No (c) vs. Team Show Off - In my prior forecast, I stated that the team Hell No would face at Wrestlemania didn't matter. I would like to amend that prior statement. For the sake of Hell No's storyline, the fact that they are facing Dolph Ziggler and Big E Langston still does not matter. However, for Ziggler, who needs to start getting back on some kind of a winning track before cashing in his MITB contract, it absolutely matters. As much as we moan about the fate of the tag team belts, in order to get significant TV time in the current era, one almost needs to hold a title belt of some kind or chase one (in Zig's case, the briefcase counts as an equivalent). Basically, any championship is better than none, as getting significant TV time for non-title feuds is largely reserved for debuting superstars, perennial upper-carders, or novelty acts. So to start Ziggler on the road to the top, why not start him out by getting him the Spartan belt?
Jericho vs...Fandango!? - This is the best use Creative can come up with for Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania? Really? Going up against someone whose sole gimmick is that he is a dancer who is extraordinarily and inordinately persnickety about how his name is pronounced? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Personally, I would much prefer to see Jericho put over either Antonio Cesaro or his former protegé Wade Barrett, and it would go to be better use, as both belts need it desperately. Deploying Y2J to put over a newly debuting talent whom we know nothing about? Waste of my boy's talents.
Cesaro (c) vs. the Miz - I don't think this is over. However, if any of these conjectured matches is likely to be pushed to the pre-show, I'd think it'd be this one. It seems to have been somewhat forgotten by Creative, which is a shame for any title. Although, with Miz also being involved in the IC hunt, it presents an interesting uber-conjecture: what if the IC match is also Miz going against champ Barrett, and the Miz also wins against Cesaro? Can you say UNIFIED MID-CARD BELTS? ...Ah, who am I kidding; it's too good of an idea for WWE Creative to actually use.
Something with the divas - Either Kaitlyn gets a partner to face off against the Bella Twins to fight for Cody Rhodes' affections, or she faces them in a handicap match. (Either way, I expect the Kaitlyn/Bellas thing to also potentially cause a definitive Rhodes Scholars break-up, with Rhodes going face.)
Final thoughts: Whereas before, this upcoming Wrestlemania seemed possibly underwhelming, as of right now it feels more like it has Dis-associative Personality Disorder. It doesn't really know what it's going to be, and as a result, I'm not sure how to feel about it anymore. The main events are a complete mixed bag, the undercard feels thrown together, and God knows what horrors will be inflicted upon us as "entertainment" filler. Honestly? The one thing going for this Wrestlemania is the solid Hall of Fame class...and Donald Trump.