Many fans, including yours truly, have complained about the relatively poor quality of Wrestlemania for the past 2 years. For whatever the reason, the aura of the once-proud event still remains, but the actual in-ring action and angle development has gone by the wayside.
Wresltemania 15 in 1999 had a mess of an undercard, including two well promoted feuds for the Hardcore and Intercontinental titles shuffled around by Vince Russo for no apparent reason. Why the Outlaws had their matches switched still makes no sense to me. It featured the hasty inclusion of the Big Show, and an inexplicable European Title win by Shane McMahon, which forced the WWF to simply retire the title for a while. More than anything, WM15 seemed to lack any “big payoffÃ¢â‚¬Â of a feud, except for the relatively well promoted main event of Steve Austin vs. The Rock.
Last year’s event even had an intriguing main event, but not only did the heel win for the first time in WM history, but the main storyling involved the McMahons, a disturbing trend in WWF TV since that point. The event’s one marquee in-ring affair, the Tables and Ladder match between Edge&Christian, The Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz had its legacy reduced with the more amazing Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at Summerslam 2000.
What is most upsetting about the disappointments of the last two Wrestlemanias is that the PPV immediately preceding them, St. Valentine Day’s Massacre in 1999 and No Way Out in 2000 were great events. But even more than quality, they featured main events that were huge blowoffs to major federation storylines.
St. Valentine’s Massacre was headline by a cage match between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon. Most believed the quality of this match would be poor, but McMahon surprised everyone by taking a brutal beating and highlighted his performance by a wicked bump from the cage through an announce table. In addition, this match featured the WWF debut of The Big Show, who burst through the ring in support of Vince McMahon, but tossed Austin through the side of the cage, allowing him to escape and win the match.
First in-ring matchup between two long-feuding characters. The debut of a new major player. A huge bump off a cage. A stunning and unique image to end the match. All of these factors made the main event feel special, and all of these factors were missing in the Austin/Rock matchup the following month at Wrestlemania. The Rock and Mankind, who’s feud had been a smashing success, also saw the last match of their World Title feud at the Massacre. Even the IC Title feud was built well, with Ken Shamrock’s sister involved with Val Venis. By the time Wrestlemania rolled around, the issues that had been simmering in the WWF for months were basically over, and the event lacked, well, pop.
A similar occurrence took place last year. The No Way Out main event featured a Hell in a Cell World Title match between Triple H and Mick Foley. All the pieces were in place for a huge main event- the World Title, the vicious Hell in a Cell, two hatred rivals, and most remarkably, the career of Mick Foley. This match would have been a fitting main event for Wrestlemania, considering the magnitude of the match and its stipulations. It was a fantastic match, and saw the career of Mick Foley basically come to an end.
Since Steve Austin’s return to the promotion in the fall of 2000, every major storyline has built towards a HHH/Austin matchup. From the revelation of Rikishi as the driver, and then HHH as the mastermind behind it, the WWF has made HHH/Austin their main issue for the good part of the last 5 months. And it appears as though the major payoff will take place at No Way Out, setting up a probable Austin vs. Rock main event for Wrestlemania 17.
The appeal of a Rock/Austin main event is clear. They are the two top stars in the WWF at a time where the promotion is riding high. However, with only about 6 weeks between No Way Out and Wrestlemania, how can the buildup possibly be fitting of the match? Will the WWF proceed with a face vs. face main event akin to the Hogan/Warrior matchup at Wrestlemania 6? Or will the WWF pull off a major heel turn of Austin or Rock, either of which would be a huge decision and require a lot of work and commitment by both the wrestlers involved and the booking team.
With a double main event of HHH/Austin and Rock/Angle, the WWF is showcasing the top four main event draws of the past year in two great matches, both of which have had a good build. Wrestlemania looks to have Rock/Austin and probably HHH/Angle, neither of which have the freshness or storyline support of the No Way Out matches.
Regularly, I’d give the benefit of the doubt to the WWF’s stellar booking team, but their planning and future thinking have been limited in recent months. While an Austin or Rock turn, if done correctly, could be the buzzworthy boost the WWF needs at this time, I’m concerned that the WWF creative team wouldn’t implement it properly. In addition, Rock or Austin could be less than receptive to turning at this point, and could not sell the heel turn (like a disgruntled Goldberg did last summer). With basically no interaction between Austin and Rock, a few weeks doesn’t seem like enough time to properly build the match (which we haven’t seen in years), and that should be backed with a titanic storyline.
No Way Out 2001, even with only a couple matches announced, is looking like a good PPV on paper. I just hope the WWF isn’t wasting all its good matches and storyline buildup on a minor February PPV at the expense of Wresltemania. Will WM17 disappoint like 15 and 2000 have in the past? Sadly, the WWF is already setting themselves up for it.