Culture of Pop

The Seven Questions That Will Define WrestleMania 33

1: Will fans care about Brock Lesnar vs. Bill Goldberg

I’m not the person to ask, because frankly, I don’t really care about Brock Lesnar vs. Bill Goldberg. And if you want to read that as “Sonny doesn’t care about Bill Goldberg” that would be much more accurate.

My gut reaction is that it won’t be as bad as their WrestleMania XX debacle, but there will at least be a portion of the crowd, and maybe it’s not the majority, that doesn’t play the game that WWE expects and hopes that they will. We’ve seen WrestleMania crowds go against the grain and do their own thing before; they’ve cheered heels and booed babyfaces. The WrestleMania 28 crowd (one that I was fortunate enough to be a part of) created “The Yes Movement,” which vaulted then-heel Daniel Bryan to superstardom two years later. The WrestleMania 29 crowd turned “Fandangoing” into a word (and that did nothing for the career of Fandango). These crowds play by their own rules.

Smart fans know that this will be Goldberg’s final match with WWE, and Lesnar will remain a part-timer, and they typically aren’t kind to guys of that mold. There are noticeable recent exceptions … The Undertaker will forever be cheered, and The Rock received warm crowd reactions at WrestleMania’s 28 and 29. Neither Goldberg or Lesnar have gained that sort of universal respect. The presence of these two in the Main Event all but guarantees that this will be the worst WrestleMania main event since Bam Bam Bigelow faced Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania XI. Yeah, you read that correctly.

With all due respect to Lesnar and Goldberg, I’m hopeful that the WrestleMania crowd will be displeased that this is the Main Event of the biggest wrestling event of the year, and that they will voice their displeasure. I hope they give the guys who are there every night the credit, respect and auditory approval they deserve. Maybe then WWE will begin booking their young, full-time talent in Main Events rather than two guys who made their names between 15 and 20 years ago and probably can’t wrestle a match together that goes beyond ten seven five three minutes.

2: So which match should be the Main Event?  

The traditionalist in me says it should be Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship. Orton won the Royal Rumble Match in January, and once upon a time that was a qualifier to receive a Championship match in the Main Event, the final match of the night, at WrestleMania. Not only that, Orton and Wyatt have the longest-running, full-time storyline heading into WrestleMania 33. Their WWE Championship match will be the culmination of a multiple month long feud; one that has been a unique and daring build with enough twists and turns to keep it fresh and interesting since the Fall. Orton and Wyatt started as rivals, turned into teammates, and emerged as rivals again once WWE turned onto the Road to WrestleMania. Orton is the supposed baby face in this feud, but I suspect the fans in Orlando will treat Wyatt well. Bray has been a workhorse since he arrived in 2013, but he’s fell short in WrestleMania matches against John Cena and The Undertaker. This should be his time to get a marquee win on the big stage.

However, if this is going to be the final match of The Undertaker’s career then there is a different answer to this question. I’m typically not one who is in favor of giving part-timers and past-their-primers the spotlight over the young guys who are working every night, but The Undertaker’s participation at WrestleMania has elevated the annual event for years. The quest to break “The Streak” became the biggest storyline each year, and when it ended after 21 straight WrestleMania victories it was one of the most monumental moments in wrestling history. Whenever The Undertaker has his last match, he should go on last. And since the very tippy-top of the card (i.e. Goldberg vs. Lesnar) is so uninspiring, there’s no reason why anyone should be in the Main Event if this will be the last time The Undertaker makes his long walk to the ring.

3: How should Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker be booked?  

There’s an avenue where WWE can absolutely nail The Undertaker’s farewell AND properly handle what to do with Roman Reigns, the polarizing face-of-the-company in waiting that WWE can’t seem to get the crowd behind. The decision to put Reigns in a match against a beloved WrestleMania performer and book him as they typically would a traditional heel perhaps indicates a change of heart or a moment of clarity in the WWE writing team. The potential Reigns heel-turn has been a viable option essentially ever since word got out that WWE would be fast-tracking the former Shield member to the top of the company in early 2014.

WWE has been trying to get fans on board for Reigns’ ascension for almost three years, but it just hasn’t worked. He was mercilessly booed after winning the 2015 Royal Rumble, received lukewarm reactions in back-to-back WrestleMania Main Events against traditional heels Brock Lesnar and Triple H, and couldn’t even effectively get crowds all the way behind him when he was feuding with Bulgarian bad guy Rusev over the summer. As much as WWE likes to believe Reigns has it in him to carry the company like John Cena has, fans don’t feel the same way. It’s not that fans don’t want to see Reigns … they just don’t want to cheer for him, and there’s a big difference.

I remain firmly in the “Push Reigns as the Biggest Heel in the Company” camp, and I’ll feel vindicated if WrestleMania 33 is when WWE’s creative team finally realizes that this would be the best use of Roman Reigns in the short term and long term. It’s indisputable that Reigns is extremely talented and he’s improved a great deal since he debuted along with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose in late 2012. Reigns belongs in WrestleMania Main Events now and in the future, just not cast in the role as babyface.

Whether they go on last or not, Reigns should be booked in a dominant victory over The Undertaker and WWE should welcome the boos the fans would shower him with. In fact, just to ignite the crowd, I would book Reigns to finish The Undertaker off with Taker’s patented Tombstone Pile Driver, the move that The Undertaker won 21 consecutive WrestleMania matches. WWE doesn’t need Reigns to carry the company. They need him to be the biggest heel in pro wrestling history, battling with the likes of Seth Rollins, Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura. And in time, once Reigns has mastered the art of being a loathed wrestling heel, the jeers will turn into cheers.

4: Who should we be cheering for: Kevin Owens or Chris Jericho? 

There’s no wrong answer here. If there were such a thing as the WWE MVP Award, Owens and Jericho would have been two of the top three candidates along with AJ Styles in 2016. Jericho began 2016 feuding with Styles, settled in on Monday Night Raw after the Brand Draft and became Best Friends with Kevin Owens along the way. Because WWE was forced to rejigger their plans over the Summer thanks to Roman Reigns’ suspension and Finn Balor’s shoulder injury, Owens became the WWE Universal Champion and the face of Monday Night Raw; two distinctions that were well-deserved.

Owens carried Raw to relevancy even though Smackdown had a clearly superior writing team and the luxury of having to create only two hours of television each week. A big reason why Owens was so successful … his on-screen partnership with Chris Jericho has been a delight since it’s inception. As a duo they’ve been both funny and villainous, and they’ve owned every segment they’ve been in for six solid months.

The build to their WrestleMania match has followed a traditional Friends Become Enemies script and there haven’t been any major surprises along the way, but Owens and Jericho (formerly Jeri-KO) are two of the best in the business and got the most out of what they were given each week. Even now, as Owens and Jericho head into WrestleMania as former friends/bitter rivals, their chemistry is magic and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t carry over into the ring. The United States Title is on the line, as are bragging rights and revenge, but the big prize will be if Owens and Jericho can effectively steal the show at WrestleMania 33.

5: Is this really the best use of John Cena? 

Even though Cena has been creeping toward part-timer for the last couple of years, his 2016 was sneakily impressive. No, this is not the best use of John Cena. A dream match with The Undertaker was rumored for months, as was a possible cross-brand “passing of the torch” match with Roman Reigns. The Cena/A.J. Styles feud could continue forever, and there will be a time when Cena/Samoa Joe will sell out arenas. As the last man on the Dolph Ziggler bandwagon, I still believe there is money to be made with a Cena/Ziggler program that focuses on Ziggler’s career-long struggle to get where Cena was able to get so quickly. Regardless, an icon of the business that can still produce a high quality big stakes match (see Cena vs. A.J. Styles at the Royal Rumble for the proof) deserves a high profile match at WrestleMania; one that is certainly bigger than what is, on paper, just a mixed tag team match.

Here’s the thing though: Thanks to brilliant build-up work by all four participants in the match, I’m actually looking forward to seeing how John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse plays out at WrestleMania. The likely result isn’t difficult to figure out … Cena will not lose twice to The Miz at WrestleMania and Nikki Bella won’t lose what most fans are expecting to be her final match in WWE. Cena and The Miz will carry the heavy lifting, and if they get the time to do so they can make it a match worth caring for. Against all odds, starting at last year’s WrestleMania, The Miz has regained much of what made him such an effective heel six years ago. Revisiting his feud with Cena should solidify him in that role moving forward.

6: Are there any surprise appearances in store? 

Unless The Rock is there to announce in front of 70,000 people that he intends to run for President of the United States in 2020, I don’t need any surprise appearances at WrestleMania. I just need high quality wrestling content and some hope for the future of our country … I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

7: What will be the Match of the Night? 

If it’s sounded like I’m moderately disappointed with or underwhelmed by WWE’s biggest event of the year, allow me to backtrack … I can barely contain my excitement for Sunday night. WrestleMania 33 has the potential to be a magnificent four hours for pro wrestling fans. There are at least a half dozen matches on the card that could bring the house down … it just so happens that Bill Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker, or the mixed Tag Team match aren’t possible Bring Down The House matches.

Owens vs. Jericho has show-stealer potential, but compared to other matches on the card it might not get the time it needs (or deserves) to reach that level. Based on the potential for bizarre in-ring psychology alone, Orton and Bray’s Title contest could stand out from the rest of the pack. AJ Styles could get a high quality wrestling match out of me, and based on recent history, it’s a known fact that Shane McMahon will enter his match with Styles with blatant disregard for his own body. It defies rationale that Shane O’Mac has been an above average in-ring performer for damn near 20 years, but that’s the world we live in. There’s a decent chance that Shane’s greatest (and potentially final) performance could come against Styles this Sunday.

My money is on the Non-Sanctioned Match between Triple H and Seth Rollins to take home Match of the Night honors. Rollins vs. Triple H was in the plans last year for WrestleMania 32, but Rollins’ real-life knee injury forced WWE to hold off for a year. When Rollins’ suffered another knee injury a month or so ago, their expected match at WrestleMania 33 match was in jeopardy. But Rollins has returned and the stage is now set for the type of match that many of Triple H’s WrestleMania matches in the past should have been … a passionate, physical brawl that feels as real as a scripted wrestling match could.

There were opportunities for this to be the case when Triple H faced Randy Orton at WrestleMania 25, and when “The Game” defended the WWE Championship against Roman Reigns last year at WrestleMania. WWE missed the opportunity to put Triple H in the environment where he thrives. The “Non-Sanctioned Match” stipulation for Rollins vs. Triple H indicates to me that WWE has figured out how to best utilize an aging veteran and an on-the-mend young star. We’re just days away from seeing those two beat the holy hell out of each other in the absolute fakest and most entertaining way possible, and I’m pretty sure that’s when pro wrestling is at it’s best, even if WWE would want you to believe pro wrestling is at it’s best when Bill fucking Goldberg is involved.

Yes, I’m irrationally bitter.

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