WrestleMania 29 match card preview: A cynic's take on Rock vs. Cena, Undertaker vs. Punk, and more!

Michael N. Todaro

Breaking down the WrestleMania 29 match card with a complete preview from the view of a mean old cynic.

My name is Scott, and I love professional wrestling, or rasslin, as I prefer to call it, with no apostrophe signifying that I'm cutting a "g" off of the word, because I'm not. "Rassling" does not exist. Rasslin, however, does, and it was never really real to me, damn it, nor is it now.

You might possibly know me from occasional comments here on Cageside Seats, or from my remarkable boxing work at SB Nation's Bad Left Hook, where I am King of the Mountain, Jeff Jarrett style, but now I am here, invading your rasslin blog, hoping none of you are so dorky and find rasslin so serious a subject that you're going to be offended by my calling it rasslin, over and over and over again. I mean it with love.

You see, I do not have the hate boner that the WWE has for the rasslin that Mr. Vincent K. McMahon rescued from exclusively taking place in smoky little arenas -- not even arenas, really, but rinky dink little turdhouses, somewhere above the laughable bingo halls where ECW ran. That is the rasslin I prefer. I'm not really that old (I'm 31), and yes, I grew up with the WWF and WCW, peaking in my fandom as most my age did between ages five (WrestleMania III) and nine, and then later again around 1997-2002, after which, as happened when I discovered masturbation, my fandom waned, eventually petering out, and since about 2006, I've had various long stretches where I wasn't really watching much at all.

But as I've said before about rasslin, on a stupid little Blogspot site I call Tape Machines Are Rolling, the great thing about the "sport" is that whenever life throws you a big ball of crap, and the world stops making sense, if you are a rasslin fan, deep down in your bones, this moronic shit is always there waiting for you, welcoming you back into the fold with open arms. It doesn't care that you missed the peak years of Edge; that's why they make DVDs, so you can watch all that crap.

Rasslin is stupid entertainment. One particularly notable "IWC" "writer" once said that the stuff can be Shakespeare, which is about the most enormous load of bunk ever typed into a computer and then put onto the internet, and that's really taking the internet's history into account. This is not high art. It is very, very low art. The sometimes ceaseless need to convince people who hate it that it's not what they think is pointless. It is exactly what they think it is, and that's just fine. These are the same people who say that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a legitimately great film, like it's Citizen Kane or The Godfather or something. It's not. It is great, but in a very different way, and it's dumb to even try and argue that it's something more than it actually is. We all have eyes and brains.

And rasslin is great entertainment, if you're into it. If you're not, then it's boiled down to its essence, and its essence is silly. It is grown men in their underpants pretending to hate each other until they have to pretend to fight about it, with various preposterous drama happening in the interim. And that is fucking awesome.

WrestleMania is a must-see thing for me every year, no matter how deeply I am currently into The Product, which is a stupid thing to call a rasslin show. In my bones, I "hate" the McMahons for what they've done, not because they've presented an inferior Product, really, but because they refuse to believe, in quite ludicrous fashion, that they're a rasslin company. McMahon, like a carny Don King without the prison time, envisions himself as something more than just a rasslin promoter.

"We make movies," he smirked in Beyond the Mat, chewing on food or drinking a Coke or something, I forget exactly, but I remember the look on his face, and the bold lie he'd just told, believing it all, or at least truly, desperately needing me and you to believe it. McMahon has made movies, kind of, and they suck. He's wasted money on bodybuilding "federations" and godawful football leagues and his wife's idiotic bids to become a Senator. He has taken rasslin and forced people who work for him to say "sports-entertainment," which is the dumbest thing, because how many times has someone asked you, or have you asked someone, "What are you watching?" Has anyone ever replied, "Sports-entertainment"? No, of course not. Because it's not really a thing. It's a way for the McMahons to not say rasslin, or even wrestling, though that word has started to come back with a very minor vengeance. A sheepish vengeance, almost.

I don't hate the McMahons in the way that, say, Jim Cornette might. Cornette has made rasslin his life, he believes it is supposed to be a certain, exact sort of thing, and the Vince & Co., well, they disagree. I'm not Cornette, having been professionally and personally offended by what Vince has done to This Business and The Product. I am just some dumbass who happens to correctly know that Freebirds-Von Erichs is the greatest feud of all-time, that there still hasn't been a series of U.S. matches better than the Flair-Steamboat run of 1989, that the actual artistically greatest years of WCW had nothing to do with Eric Bischoff or the nWo, and, reluctantly, that Shawn Michaels is the greatest American rasslin worker man of all-time.

But one thing Vince did, among many awesome things that have been great and made today's rasslin what it is and all that, is he created WrestleMania. The first WrestleMania was some kind of a big deal because Cyndi Lauper and Mr. T showed up, and then there was III, and then there was some other crap, and eventually there was one in Hartford, Connecticut, and it had a football player against Bam Bam Bigelow in the main event, and it all sort of went to hell for a bit, and then, at WrestleMania XIV, the winds shifted, Stone Cold Stone Cold Stone Cold, and off it all went.

By 2001, with WrestleMania X-Seven (still the best ever), the show had become the yearly spectacle that you could really rely on. It's not that every show is great, it's that every show really matters. It has truly become the Super Bowl of rasslin, a big-time happening every year, with them hanging off the rafters and all this, even if The Business is struggling overall.

That's because even people like me, who are not the diehard, gotta-see-every-show loonies we once were, are enamored with the mythical bullshit about the show. It is a marvelous spectacle, and is the rare thing, particularly in This Business, where those myths and exaggerations eventually became a reality. Every year, except the Cena-Miz main event a couple years ago, you can tell that this is truly where everyone wants to shine their brightest, where the stage is as big as it's ever going to get, where the performers try to reach new heights, topping one another, trying to have the show-stealing match, trying to plant the seed for next year's show, and a spot in that main event.

My point here, is that WrestleMania is No. 1 and the best. All this Showcase of the Immortals stuff, I buy into it every year. It is a part of my childhood, it is a part of my adulthood, it is simply an event that I look forward to more than any other sporting event or movie or whatever the hell else, year in and year out.

So, since I suck at segue, let's talk about this year's matches.

Intercontinental Title - Wade Barrett (c) vs The Miz

If there is one thing I know about Wade Barrett, it's that he's British. Barrett is a solid, workmanlike wrestler, the type of no-future guy that Jim Ross used to always call "a hell of a hand," which he would then follow with some well-meaning insult about why the subject has not advanced further in his career in WWE. Miz is the exact opposite, a wannabe from day one who will never really escape that tag, and it's kind of bullshit, because he's trained, he's a former (terrible pick for) WWE champion, he's paid dues, even if they didn't come getting shorted by Ian Rotten at the Lincoln Center in Highland, Indiana, working Ryan Boz and Danny Daniels, teaming with Trik Davis in Lafayette, losing in the opening round of the Ted Petty Invitational to Arik Cannon or whatever.

The problem with Miz is that he'll never truly feel right. He wasn't organic in any way, he was brought in as Former Reality TV Star The Miz, and that's what he's always been. He's had some good matches, he seems to try really hard, and it's quite obvious that he loves what he does for a living, and that he gives sincere effort. But he sucks, and Ric Flair pretending to endorse him means nothing in 2013, now that Ric Flair has become a running joke to a generation of fans who don't know much of anything about Harley Race wanting rid of Flair.

This is the "interactive pre-show match," so it should be relatively short and painless, unless Miz injures Barrett. I'll go with Miz to get the belt.

WWE Tag Team Title - Team Hell No (c) vs Dolph Ziggler & Big E Langston

The Bryan/Kane team has worked out better than I think much of anyone could have reasonably expected, keeping Kane relevant and with a relatively light work load, and giving Bryan something significant to do after they pretty clearly ran out of other ideas for him. Bryan has always been sort of appealing in a goofy way when he's allowed near a microphone, which meant that people back in "the day" thought he couldn't talk and lacked charisma, which he did not, it's just his sort of charisma didn't match the stereotype of the sort of guy who rassled the way he did, and still does, for the most part.

Big E Langston makes me laugh every time I look at him, and every time he speaks, though not in the way he has intended when he's spoken at times, but Ziggler is really a phenomenal talent, the sort of Shawn Michaels/Curt Hennig daredevil that makes little things look really amazing all the time, unlike the Jeff Hardy sort of daredevil who becomes played out so quickly that he makes amazing things seem routine and sort of boring, leading to a bunch of broken bones and all this crap, and, you know, try lacin' up my boots, etc.

Hopefully, Langston stays mostly out of the way, and Ziggler gets to pinball around for Kane, and work some lengthy sections with Bryan. Of course, it is unlikely that there will be any lengthy sections of this match. I'll go with Team Hell No to retain. They probably won't, but I don't want to bother with Big E Langston too much, and I don't want Ziggler getting put into tag team purgatory.

Chris Jericho vs FAHN DAHN GOOO

YEAH, SON! FAHN DAHN GOOO!

He should win. I have no really major thoughts about this match, other than I hope it's good. Chris Jericho: Utility Player is pretty fun.

Ryback vs Mark Henry

Something I truly love in rasslin, and have no shame about it, is a couple of big sons of bitches colliding to prove who the bigger, stronger, more masculine man's man really is. Ryback is the sort of "hoss" I don't much enjoy, all glamour muscles and intense face-making. Mark Henry, on the other hand, is the best thing happening in all of the world today. Mark Henry is so kickass great that I almost want to pretend that his first decade in the company was worthwhile, and that the amount of money they overpaid him was worth it, and I wonder if Vince does that, too? "I always knew he'd make it, that's why we made that long-term investment."

Mark Henry becoming a killer big man heel against all odds, well past his supposed expiration date, is a happy coincidence more than anything, but it's, like, the happiest coincidence. If I had my druthers, Henry would wipe out Ryback in about five minutes of pure strongman anarchy, then he'd World's Strongest Slam everyone in his path backstage for the rest of the show. Ryback will probably win.

Randy Orton, Sheamus & The Big Show vs The Shield

Being the cynical dick that I am, I didn't want to like Dean Ambrose, having heard so much about him before I ever saw him that I almost knew I was going to hate him, and find his supposed great mic work forced and over-the-top stupid, like Sting pretending to be The Joker or something. And while Ambrose has some artistic flaws in his delivery, the weird thing is, they make him more believable. He's not hitting every note perfectly, doesn't seem like he rehearses constantly to do everything exactly right. The best mic work guys of all-time have been able to improvise. Given how it works now, I don't think Ambrose likely gets to do that much, but for the modern era, he seems like a guy, along with CM Punk and maybe a couple others, who can save something that's failing, or have the sense to know when something's about to fail, and save it before it even starts to fall apart. Ambrose is the real deal.

Seth Rollins is someone I saw early in his career on IWA Mid-South shows, when he was a youngster teaming with Marek Brave, and I thought from the get-go that while his slam dancing and shit was mostly just something to make fun of, he had an "it factor," like many of us thought Punk had. He's not Punk at all, but he's made his own way. He's a good rassler with a future.

Roman Reigns is related to people, and played college football.

I don't know that there's been a day in my life when I thought Randy Orton was good, but he has been a notable player now for over a decade, which seems bizarre to me, not in a bad way other than the fact that I don't really want to believe I age. I kind of thought he'd wash out fast when he first came up, though that changed when he started to develop during his time with Evolution. Then I figured he'd be around a long time, but maybe fall short of expectations. I guess you could argue he has fallen short of expectations, but if he retired tomorrow, he'd be in the WWE Hall of Fame next year. Now, of course, Koko B. Ware is in the WWE Hall of Fame, and they put the Briscos in together like they had comparable careers, but that's a whole other ball of wax. Bird, bird, bird! Bird, bird, bird.

Sheamus does nothing for me, and likely never will. He's Barrett with red hair, a more enjoyable accent, and better connections. He also has the ability to seem likable, which is the real reason he's become a star. Big Show has been wrestling on my TV for almost 20 years and that is crazy, you guys.

I suspect The Shield figures their way out of another sticky situation and sneaks out with the win.

World Heavyweight Title - Alberto Del Rio (c) vs Jack Swagger

I want to love the Jack Swagger deal, because it's exactly the sort of envelope-pushing, purposely infuriating stuff I really like to see here and there. The character is designed to get heel heat the way that it was done in the olden days, where you make people actually hate your guts, because you're a piece of crap in one to five very glaring ways. And while Dutch Mantel has been great in his role as Zeb Colter, Swagger hasn't quite held up his end, in my estimation. Colter and the writing have been great, just incendiary enough, and Swagger has been serviceable in the role, but he's not really gotten better over time with the new character. Maybe he doesn't feel it totally. I don't know.

The best thing they've done is make Colter the front-and-center guy, though, which is the right way to do it. For it to work -- and it has worked, but it's been a double, and not a home run -- it had to seem like Swagger went away and basically got brainwashed, led into the dark by a dangerously intelligent man who is using his intelligence to push ignorance, which is the way these things generally get started. I mean, you've seen American History X -- there's a lot of the Ed Norton/Stacy Keach dynamic here, but not done as well (after all, it's not like they're making movies here), and we haven't seen the down the road part yet, where maybe Swagger starts catching on to the BS he's been spoon-fed, and then Edward Furlong gets shot in the toilet.

As for poor Alberto, he just is not working as a top babyface. The amount of crowd reaction for a babyface with that great entrance music, who is holding any form of world title, has been pathetic. Del Rio is a good rassler and very good overall package, but he's a stopgap as a top guy. Swagger, frankly, probably peaks at that same level. This doesn't feel like that big of a match, and that's because it isn't. Del Rio should really retain, but if they want to push Swagger, they'll do it here, and hope for the payoff that the controversial and sudden JBL push delivered back in 2004. Sadly, Del Rio is no Eddie Guerrero, and I'm not sure Swagger is any JBL.

No Holds Barred - Triple H vs Brock Lesnar

If this were traditional booking, and these guys were full-timers who had a lot more coming immediately, then HHH should win this match. But since that is not the case, the thing to do here is put Lesnar over, which forces HHH's retirement, and then he can have the tearful moment in the ring, and everyone will chant, "Thank you Hun-ter," and some nerds will be like, "nyeeeeh!! he held people down In the Back!!! ahhh!!" and, really, who cares? He was great during his peak, good most of the time otherwise, and only had a relatively short period of total suckery, and a lot of that wasn't his fault. No one could help 2003 Scott Steiner, get serious.

I know, I know, he's mean. Whatever.

Lesnar is a compelling character because he gives the air of genuine danger and unpredictability, the latter something sorely lacking since the Monday Night Wars ended. Lesnar isn't even really a good rassler. At his best, he was the sort of guy who could be carried by someone like Kurt Angle or Eddie, but it's not like Lesnar ever really learned the finer points, because to hell with the finer points. Who needs them when you're an athletic freak who looks like some kind of backwoods simpleton lunatic, with your squinty eyes and vacant expression that can turn into pure rage any moment now?

Lesnar should win because there's more value in his spot appearances later, and we all know it's over for HHH. If you have Brock lose to an old man like Hunter, who's going to really care when Lesnar comes back later this year for whatever match is out there? I mean, if it's against Rock, sure, you can do that whenever, because it's two part-time, legitimate stars, but even still, it would be better to have highlights of Lesnar destroying and retiring HHH at WrestleMania.

One thing I really like about these Lesnar matches now, and with these matches where part-time old dudes come back, but aren't decrepit or anything, is that they always feel different, like something that has been forgotten along the way. They do what they know, and the things they know are not the general style of today, which seems safe, bland, and sort of sterile. We want blood, we want blood.

The Undertaker vs CM Punk

Speaking of old, part-time has-beens, here's The Undertaker. I think you could make an easy argument for Undertaker as the greatest WWE Superstar of all-time. Nobody has been more loyal, nobody has been more easy to call upon when you need a quick fix in the main event, nobody has survived playing this kind of character -- even counting the regrettable "American Badass" days -- for so long. Undertaker's WrestleMania streak is a sort of microcosm of his entire WWE career. He has faced guys on the way up, on the way out, superstars of equal value, and some real crap because that person happened to be tall, fat, or otherwise imposing. And through it all, he has remained an incredibly valuable piece of the puzzle.

Undertaker arguably has the two greatest matches in WrestleMania history partially to his credit, which is insane when you consider that neither he nor Shawn Michaels were in their prime when they pulled out those shockingly excellent matches, which frankly, going back and arguing with myself, may be damn close to on par with the Flair-Steamboat '89 series, and I know and fully understand that for someone who wasn't seven years old when those matches happened, and then a deranged tape collector in the 90s, watching all that stuff over and over, Undertaker-Michaels totally eclipses Flair-Steamboat. That is fair.

Punk was an acceptable choice for this year's opponent, in that it's not actually all that interesting, and they've got to kind of dump on Punk for a while as return for his lengthy title run, but it's better than anything else they had on hand. Taker-Lesnar would have been cool, but Lesnar-HHH II makes more sense, and I'm not sure I'd want to put 48-year-old Undertaker in with someone as physical as Brock. Punk is a pro's pro who can be counted on, most likely, to give us a good match here. Not that Undertaker won't provide for everyone's entertainment, too, but every year we're closer to him stinking out the joint, at least a little bit, and the Michaels matches are something of a curse, too, in that he's never going to get close to that again, so even something as compelling and great as his latter two Mania matches with HHH paled in comparison.

I don't expect this one to even be as good as the HHH matches, but it will be good, and Undertaker will win. If you are wondering to yourself ever, "Should Undertaker lose the streak," just know that the answer is no, you weirdo.

WWE Title - The Rock (c) vs John Cena

Ah, God.

I didn't like this last year, and I haven't been looking forward to it over the 12 months since, either. I don't like either of these guys. The Rock is a dork, a total cornball, phony, obnoxious dweeb, who runs around this TV-PG world calling everyone gay and telling stupid stories about cars, yammering on endlessly about nothing in particular (hey, wait...), letting his charming charisma win over The People. "Ooh! The Rock! Tehe! Gay!"

Man, fuck The Rock.

I had a dream some weeks back, and I swear on my eyes this is 100% true, where Rock and Cena were about to get it on here at WrestleMania 29, and somehow I had made my way to the show, and I was in the audience. It wasn't a big stadium, though, it was your average looking, 1998ish Raw setup, a normal arena, maybe 12,000 in attendance, but the crowd was hot.

And anyway, these two were all talking to each other on the microphones before the match was going to start, and The Rock is doing his shtick, with the gay, and the ass, and the stupid sayings he puts on stupid ass t-shirts, busting out of his skin and apparently passing "wellness tests," all bald and annoying and looking kind of like ET, but somehow even more of an alien, despite features of a human being, sort of, and an ability to say more than, like, "Elliott," "ouch," and "phone home."

And The Rock is just doing all his normal crap, and in my head, see, people don't instantly start slapping their stupid hands together every time this happens, going, "duhh!!! yaaay!!!" like they do. "Buhuhuh! He said FAT TITS or something, YAAY!!" So since in my head, people don't automatically love this frat boy, rock n' jock bullshit, everyone is dead silent when he's looking for a big reaction.

So I stand up, and keep in mind, I'm no John Cena fan either, because I think he's a genuinely mediocre rassler, sort of a sanitized version of The Rock (for kids!), and I've never taken to him, though I did think he had some cool DISSES back when he was dressing like a 1999 rap-rocker, instead of now, when he's more like a 2003 northern redneck, the kind of cat who comes into a place of business and spits tobacco juice into a Vault bottle, but he's been to college and stuff, and he's not actually an idiot, he just likes the lifestyle, or the appearance of the lifestyle.

Anyway, I stand up, and I shout, clear as a bell, in this silent arena, "Man, fuck this! LET'S GO CE-NA! LET'S GO CE-NA!" and then everything goes all haywire, and then I woke up and took a leak or whatever I did that morning.

I don't really know what I want to happen here. I hope the match is awesome, and I'm sure a lot of people will think that it is, but I probably won't, because I'm a bitchy old man, and this is a show for kids and people who still believe and wonder and smile a little more than I do, your happy wanderers, who haven't reached true adulthood by having all their hopes and dreams trampled and shat upon by the stampeding herd of diarrhea elephants that is real life. The desire to find that again is what draws me to rasslin every time, but it'll never be there like I want it to be.

Still, having the desire itself is enough reason to bother in the first place, and is the sort of thing that keeps people getting out of their stupid beds, and taking leaks after dreams about chanting for John Cena, and then going about their day. Because sometimes, even if just for the 30 minutes or so like last year, when Undertaker and HHH had gone so balls to the wall that I had no other reactions left, and I took off my shirt and threw it at the television, it does happen, at least a little bit. And that's enough. That's what WrestleMania is all about, and that's what rasslin is really all about.

Enjoy the show.

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