If you're like me, and you've had the pro wrestling cliche that whoever stands tall on the "go home" show does the job on the pay-per-view (PPV) drilled into your head throughout your years of fandom, last night's Raw probably has you feeling a little queasy. Applying that old sawhorse to Daniel Bryan's successful assault of not only his main rival Triple H but also WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton and Royal Rumble winner Batista does not point to triumph for him in his match(es) this Sunday in New Orleans at WrestleMania 30.
Our fearless leader Geno Mrosko raised an interesting question on last night's Cageside Live podcast, however. How did past babyfaces on their way to being cemented as main eventers at WrestleMania fare on the last Monday night before they were crowned on The Grandest Stage of All? And since I
am in constant fear of losing my job live to serve (and because it's a really good question), I did a little digging.
The closest analogues I can find to the position our boi D-Bry finds himself in now are Stone Cold Steve Austin heading into WrestleMania 14 and a WWF title shot against Shawn Michaels, and John Cena seeking to defend his World Heavyweight Championship against none other than The Game at WrestleMania 22. Neither is a mirror image of Bryan's story; each occurred in a different era with a different type of performer. But both featured an upstart battling the entrenched establishment who had seemingly stacked the deck against our hero.
More importantly, both lead to the protagonist dominating the main event for years to come. In an effort to see if that could be where the current narrative leads The Beard, let's look back at how Stone Cold and Cena were booked on the last Raw before they were victorious in the main event of The Showcase of the Immortals.
March 23, 1998
The Monday before WrestleMania XIV opened with Kevin Kelly talking to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin had been on a meteoric rise since turning face in his match with Bret Hart the year before at 'Mania, and was the on his way to becoming the hottest thing in not only the then-World Wrestling Federation, but in all of pro wrestling. And that included WCW, who at that time was routinely beating Raw in the ratings with Nitro.
Stone Cold cuts a promo saying that Vince McMahon and WWF can throw as much crap at him as they want, but come Sunday, he is going to kick Shawn Michael's ass and become WWF champion. McMahon lackey Sgt. Slaughter comes out to inform Steve that Vince has booked him in a match with Rocky Maivia. Austin says that it's no big deal before delivering a Stunner to Slaughter.
Analysis: Well, we didn't get anything this strong from Bryan at any point last night, or in the last couple of weeks. It goes to the fundamental point that WWE has never booked DB as anything close to the asskicking machine they cast Stone Cold as.
D-Generation X (of which Michaels was the leader at this point) had a long in-ring segment later that put over Triple H's European championship win and their affiliation with special referee Mike Tyson. HBK basically says that while he appreciates Vince's support in stopping Austin's rise, Stone Cold needs to stop worrying about Mr. McMahon and worry about him.
Rocky is accompanied to the ring by his Nation of Domination stablemates Mark Henry and D'Lo Brown. Henry interferes during the match, but that doesn't stop Austin from stunning the Intercontinental champ and winning the match. An attempted chair assault by Brown after the match also gets him stunnered. DX had been watching in the back, and Shawn comes out to talk trash and try to get in the ring, but Hunter holds him back. Middle fingers are raised as we fade to black...
Not sure this tells us anything that we didn't already know -- we still haven't seen anything like the rise of Austin, and WWE has not booked anyone as strongly as they did him in his run to the top and subsequent feud with Mr. McMahon in the late 90s. It is worth noting that while he stood tall, he didn't do so by beating his 'Mania opponent, as Bryan did last night.
March 27, 2006
Like The Beard, John Cena headed into his first main event at The Showcase of the Immortals as a someone who had already held top titles in the company. In addition to his win the previous year over JBL for the then-secondary WWE championship, they were even trying to book him as an underdog reigning champ for his showdown with The Cerebral Assassin in Chicago for WrestleMania 22.
The Champ had also run afoul of Vince McMahon, who opened the 'go home' Raw by posing with his Muscle & Fitness Magazine cover and running down his own opponent for 'Mania, Shawn Michaels. HBK's match with Hunter mid-way through the show ended in a no contest when Vince got involved. Cena made the save before the father and son-in-law could assault Michaels with Haitch's sledgehammer, even dumping The Game to the floor from the ring before Vince could pull him away.
McMahon was already scheduled to fight Cena in the main event of Raw, and the events of HHH vs. HBK caused him to announce that for that match, the CEO would be in Trips' corner and The Showstopper would be in John's.
That match was another schmoz, as McMahon order Hunter and Shawn handcuffed to the ropes to avoid interference, then got himself disqualified for kicking Cena in the family jewels when he was starting to be out-muscled during the opening lock-up. Vince proceeded to unlock The Game, and the pair assaulted their 'Mania opponents with the sledgehammer and chairs, leaving them bloodied as the announcers urged us to buy the Sunday PPV.
Given that HBK would destroy McMahon in their no holds barred match and Cena would tap Hunter clean with an STF in the show-closing scene from Chicago, this one provides ammunition to those who want to be worried about how Bryan will be treated this Sunday. It's worth noting, but I'm not sure how it effects anything, that this was the start of the adult males and "smart" fans turning on Cena, as Hunter got his fair share of cheers throughout this program despite being clearly cast as the heel.
So, it's one-to-one. Let's look for a tie-breaker. And we don't have to look far, since the year before, while Cena was beating JBL in the Smackdown (brand split era, remember) main event, Triple H was putting over his Evolution running buddy Batista. While The Animal never quite reached the heights of Austin or Cena, he was a big deal, and ruled the roost on the blue brand for much of the mid-aughts. So let's see what happened...
March 28, 2005
Batista won the Rumble, and despite the machinations of Triple H and Ric Flair, decided to go after The Game's WHC rather than JBL's WWE title. This turned him face after almost two years of serving as the heel muscle for Evolution, and the push was on.
The main event for Raw, as it often did in those days, would give Hunter a microphone for a "Face Off" between the 'Mania combatants. General Manager Eric Bischoff set up the meeting, with the stipulation that there be no physicality that could threaten his big money match for Sunday. An earlier interview with Batista featured the challenger not making any promises, other than to finish whatever Triple H started.
The closing segment consisted of Easy E putting over The Cerebral Assassin, followed by about ten minutes of Haitch calling Batista an ingrate, giving himself credit for The Animal's success in the company and promising to end his ride at WrestleMania.
Big Dave responds by thanking Trips and Naitch for mentoring him, promising to win in Los Angeles and calling Hunter an "asshole". That lead to a slap from the WHC, for which Batista thanks him for breaking the seal on their "Face Off". Flair tries to pull him off of The Game, as do six "security guards", but The Animal fights through all of them to get more shots in on the champ, who eventually bails as Batista poses.
Now that's a little more like it. Still not a mirror image of how Bryan ended Raw on March 31st, but at least there's another challenger who stared his tormentor out of the arena and went on to pin him at The Show of Shows.
So what does all that tell us about Sunday? Probably not much. But it does show that there are examples from 'go home' shows that point to any number of possible outcomes on the event to which they're leading.
For Daniel Bryan fans, let's hope he follows the trail blazed by one of the men we hope he'll face in New Orleans, and follows up his victorious battle over several challengers on Raw by winning the war over them at WrestleMania 30.