WWE World Heavyweight Championship Triple Threat
Randy Orton (c) vs. Batista vs. Triple H-Daniel Bryan winner
All signs pointed to the rolling heel champ Randy Orton, holder of the WWE title since last August at SummerSlam, unifier of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship by defeating none other than John Cena, colliding with Royal Rumble winner and returning babyface hero Batista in WrestleMania's main event.
But then the WWE Universe loudly let their opinion on the matter be known.
Now Daniel Bryan's YES movement, and Triple H's crusade to end that cause, have overshadowed the one-on-one match-up between the two former Evolution stars. And one way or the other, The Beard and/or The Game will play a role in deciding who leaves The Showcase of the Immortals with the belts.
The Road to WrestleMania 30
The Viper has held the WWE championship since SummerSlam, when the Money in the Bank contract and some help from Triple H's heel turn allowed him to pin Daniel Bryan and keep that man's first run with that belt from leaving Los Angeles.
Orton became the "face of the WWE", christened as the main man by Hunter and wife Stephanie McMahon's authority (which would shortly become known as The Authority). That began a two month journey where neither champ nor challenger could get the upper hand - or much satisfaction:
- Bryan defeated Orton at Night of Champions, but The Game stripped him of the title the next night on Raw due to fast count by the referee which Triple H claimed that DB had conspired to make happen.
- At Battleground, their rematch for the "held in abeyance" belt ended in a no contest when The Big Show, frustrated by being blackmailed by The Authority, knocked out both men.
- Special guest referee and Daniel Bryan's former trainer Shawn Michaels superkicked The Beard at Hell in a Cell, allowing Orton to re-claim the title.
At that point, the powers-that-be attempted to move on with their plans, shuffling Bryan back down to the fringes of the main event while they inserted Big Show as #1 contender. When fans expressed their disinterest in that match-up with their voices and their wallets, WWE was able to distract them for the typically slower end of year shows by having Orton battle old foe John Cena with the new wrinkle of unifiying the WWE and World Heavyweight championships. Bryan spent this time working with CM Punk and Bray Wyatt, acts that the fans were enamored enough with to not revolt at their hero being removed from the title picture.
Then came Royal Rumble.
Despite zero indication from WWE that Bryan would even be in the Rumble match to determine the #1 contender to the now unified belts (retained by The Viper earlier in the show), fans were rabid for him to not only pull double duty on the show, but to head to WrestleMania for another shot at Orton. When that didn't happen, they took it out on everyone who wasn't Daniel Bryan - even a fan favorite veteran like Rey Mysterio.
No one got it worse than Batista.
After an initial warm reaction to the returning star, fans quickly turned on him. It was partially due to his not being Daniel Bryan, and the perception that he was being given a spot that Bryan had earned. Poor conditioning that kept him from doing much in the ring and antagonistic attitude toward fans didn't help, though.
Faced with a disasterous heel vs. heel main event that fans were openly hostile towards, WWE had no choice than to call an audible on their plans and give the people hope that they would get to cheer their favorite underdog on The Grandest Stage of All. Bryan began lobbying Triple H for a match at WrestleMania, stating that the only way he would ever get a fair shot, the only way he could ever be acknowledged as more than a B+ player, would be to beat The Game one-on-one. The Authority declined, and delayed. And then this happened...
The occupation of Raw lead to Hunter accepting not only a match with Bryan, but the stipulation that if The Beard could beat him, he would be inserted into the title match, which would become a triple threat.
If it seems like The Animal and the champ are getting lost in the shuffle of this, it's because they were. And that didn't sit well with either man, who lobbied the COO to reverse his decision and eliminate the chance of the YES man getting into their 'Mania main event.
Triple H didn't take kindly to being second guessed, or to his former Evolution stable mates doubting that he would take care of Daniel Bryan and end the YES movement before it ever came to a triple threat for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at The Showcase of the Immortals.
Now, both men know that they can lose the match, and the chance to leave WrestleMania with the title, without even being pinned.
With all of this swirling around them, their path to the the main event has been challenging in other ways. In addition to overcoming his cardio challenges to win the Rumble, Batista has had to shake off ring rust while feuding with multiple time champion Alberto Del Rio. And Orton had to survive five other men in the Elimination Chamber just a little more than a month ago just to keep his place in this match.
And while Triple H has been binding and beating his first opponent for tonight, Orton has dealt with no disqualification matches with both Bryan and Batista. Those bouts have seen The Animal and The Viper get in plenty of attacks on one another, while The Beard has celebrated with his followers.
Can the reassert themselves enough in New Orleans to overcome Bryan, Haitch...or both?
What's at Stake?
Not much, just the fate of the "reality era". With the exception of the Network stream, nothing at WrestleMania 30 will impact the immediate future of WWE like the booking of this story.
Would the risk a fan revolt of a magnitude of Pittsburgh times five by trolling the audience with a non-Bryan win? There's a school of thought that says the money is in the chase, and there's certainly people backstage who see something in continuing the "Daniel Bryan can't break through the glass ceiling" tale they've been telling for the last eight months. And there's also undoubtedly a few people who'd like to troll the smarks by keeping their "flavor the month" down.
Was Batista promised a title win when he signed his deal to return? Would they have committed to that win coming on the Grandest Stage of Them All? Can they count on him to deliver one-on-one main event matches if he's their champ?
Randy Orton has been doing some of the best work of his career as the insecure top man. Does the character still work if he doesn't have a strap over each shoulder?
Would the give the belts to a Hunter for a 14th time? Can he be the standard bearer of the company while also managing creative and developmental? Would the internet crack in two if he won?
With so many questions and so much at stake, it's not hyperbole to say that this match changes everything.
Follow the winners, losers and find out what happens next, right here at Cageside Seats!