This Week in ‘E – Preview of the Big Dance

There’s a PPV coming up soon isn’t there?

Opening Witty Banter
We are less than a week away from the Showcase of the Immortals – WrestleMania XXIV. While I agree that the build to this year’s show has been quite lackluster, and that shows leading up to it have been missing that “big event” feel, but as the event draws nearer I can’t help but get excited for it. WrestleMania has become less about the big match main event and more about the entire aura and spectacle around the show. What was once an afternoon wrestling card has now turned into a weekend-long destination event. Cities are lining up to host the event as stadiums are filled with 50,000 fans deep each year. So this week sit back and enjoy one last update/preview on the biggest wrestling event of the year. Think of it like WWF’s old update centers, only with less Sean Mooney.

The Big Story: WrestleMania Preview
WWE Championship Triple Threat
Triple H v. John Cena v. Randy Orton (c)

Randy Orton has been reining as WWE Champion since early October 2007, which is quite the feat for a heel in WWE, especially a heel that is overshadowed by both John Cena and Triple H. Triple H and John Cena is a rematch two years in the making. Orton and Triple H have been penciled in for a WrestleMania main event since 2005. Cena and Orton are arguably WWE’s two biggest young stars to develop since the brand expansion and have always seemed destined to match up on a big stage. They are the last three holders of the WWE Championship. All the history is there between these three to make for a phenomenal build-up. Instead we got weeks of booking each other in matches so as to wear each other out. All three are decent promo men and the build could have used more home run worthy interviews. Think about it, Randy Orton is a conniving, cocky heel champion with championship pedigree and family legacy to rest on. Triple H is the face of the company who has essentially been out of the WWF Championship picture for two years and knows it’s his time to reclaim his “throne.” John Cena is the former champion taken out by injury only to return long ahead of schedule to get back his title and gain revenge on the man who injured him and his father. WrestleMania is also a time for happy endings and for the good guy to come out on top. The question is does the eleven-time champion Triple H finally regain his old glory, or does the Superman-like John Cena continue his utter dominance of WWE?

World Heavyweight Championship
The Undertaker v. Edge (c)

To say the finish of this match is a foregone conclusion is an understatement. Undertaker walks into WrestleMania with his unblemished and much hyped 15-0 WrestleMania winning streak. Edge looks to be just number sixteen on the list. Much like the WWE Championship match, the build to this bout leaves something to be desired. This match is a year in the making. Undertaker walked out of WrestleMania 23 as World Champion, only to lose the Championship in late May 2007 due to injury and Edge’s opportunistic Money in the Bank cash-in. Since then Edge too went down with injury and after stopgap measures with The Great Khali and Batista, the inevitable Undertaker-Edge rematch is back on. Up until last year Edge was also undefeated at WrestleMania so this could have had the makings of a streak versus streak match. And if WWE chose to acknowledge their history, they could have also brought up their past of Edge being a minion of Undertaker in the long-forgotten Ministry of Darkness. Not to mention this a very fresh match-up, and there is theoretically a lot of mileage left on this feud.

Floyd “Money” Mayweather, Jr. v. The Big Show
This has been hyped as “The Biggest and The Best.” A 150 lbs. legitimate prizefighter versus one of WWE’s most versatile performers. Big Show has been able to fill in any role that has needed, whether it be comedy mid-carder, legit main event talent, monster heel or mainstream attraction, Show has done it all. While this match holds no real interest to me as a fan, this match is the card’s mainstream bread-and-butter. WrestleMania thrives on celebrity involvement and media attraction, and this match fills that void to a “T.” It’s also pretty obvious that the ending of this “match” will be Mayweather standing tall over an unconscious giant. The booking has painted Show as the heel and Mayweather as the face, despite differing fan reactions. It has become a rare “David versus Goliath” story where the majority is rooting for Goliath to reign supreme.

Career Threatening Match
Ric Flair v. Shawn Michaels

Since the Ric Flair retirement angle kicked off months back everyone knew the ending a mile away. Flair would finally bow out at WrestleMania. It was going to be the journey to WrestleMania that was going to be the fun part. Fans speculated wildly on potential opponents for Flair and how the storyline would go. We hoped for cameos from Ricky Steamboat, Terry Funk and other ghosts of Flair’s past. Everyone seemed to peg Montel Vontavious Porter, Randy Orton or Mr. Kennedy as potential “career killers.” Yours truly was holding out for a Sting appearance. So when it was decided upon Shawn Michaels as Flair’s opponent reaction was mixed. Some felt a young heel should get the retirement rub while others agreed that Michaels would at least be able to pull out an entertaining match with the quickly deteriorating Nature Boy. The build has been kept to story of mutual respect between two veterans as opposed to a short-term heel turn by Michaels. One thing is for certain, these two men have too much ego and pride to not go out there and put on the most absolutely fantastic match they possibly can at this point in their careers.

Money in the Bank
Mr. Kennedy v. Shelton Benjamin v. Chris Jericho v. Carlito v. MVP v. CM Punk v. John Morrison

Up until a couple weeks ago this match seemed like another foregone conclusion. The absolutely red-hot Jeff Hardy, who was on the roll of a lifetime, seemed destined to dominate this ladder match and gain a World Championship match. The ladder match is his signature and Hardy was poised to put another star-making, show-stealing performance. Then he gets suspended thanks to the WWE’s Wellness program and suddenly the field of viable challengers is wide open. The match is now being billed as a seven-man affair as opposed to the originally eight-man event. This means one of two things, either Matt Hardy returns as a surprise eighth entrant to fill his brother’s slot or it remains open as an omen of Jeff’s absence, based off of respect and/or ominous warning. Of the seven men announced no clear-cut favorite emerges. Chris Jericho, current Intercontinental Champion, is always considered a legitimate World Heavyweight Championship contender. Kennedy, Benjamin, Porter, Carlito and Morrison are all essentially in the same position. All five have the potential to be the next great top card heel; it’s just a matter of who emerges here that will help determine their pecking order in the company. CM Punk has become the face of the ECW brand and is slowly becoming the big fish in a small pond. If he walks out the winner here then his stock will rise immensely in the company. All I know is that with Hardy out of the picture this match just got a whole lot more interesting.

Battle for Brand Supremacy
Batista v. Umaga

When you break it down virtually half the matches on this card are inter-branded. But what do you do when you have a couple top card talents worthy of a WrestleMania payday? Pair then against each other and build up a simple brand loyalty storyline. It’s a simple, easy-to-follow angle, and both men are bruisers who have been effective in building themselves up through a series of one-sided matches. These are two guys who are able to put on entertaining and effective squash matches in this day and age. It has been a simple, effective, old school build with minimal contact between the two opponents, which is a refreshing change from the normal way things have been done in the past few years. This is a first time pairing between these two and their lack of pre-match contact will make their match seem like something special.

24-Man Battle Royal – Winner Faces ECW Champion
The Great Khali, Kane, Chuck Palumbo, Jaime Noble, Mark Henry, Big Daddy V, others TBA

ECW Championship
Chavo Guerrero (c) v. TBA

Most years, WWE is really good at putting together some sort of WrestleMania match “just to get the boys a payday.” This year’s variant of that is the 24-man (get it? It’s WrestleMania 24) ECW Championship contender battle royal. And with the added prize of an ECW Championship match tacked on the end makes it seem more than just a run-of-the-mill battle royal. I am a huge mark for battle royals so I’m personally stoked for this match. Plus Chavo Guerrero is a pretty talented guy so whoever emerges as the winner should theoretically be able to put on an entertaining bout with Guerrero. So far Kane, Great Khali, Mark Henry and Big Daddy V have been hyped up as the forerunners to win the match, which is common booking logic as the big men are always pushed as the favorites in a battle royal setting. It’s called something along the lines of the “Andre the Giant effect.” Thirty-eight men across the three brands are available for the eighteen open spots and so I’m looking for appearances from men like Snitsky, Bob Holly, Cody Rhodes, Tommy Dreamer, The Miz, Elijah Burke, Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch among others. As for potential opponents I would expect Kane or Dreamer to come out as winner. Kane is easily the biggest face not featured in a more prominent match, and I don’t expect a super heel like Chavo to paired against another heel, especially the one the caliber of someone like Khali or Big Daddy V. As for Dreamer, this would make for a feel-good moment with him, the last vestige of the old ECW, challenging for his prized Championship on the grandest stage of them all.

Belfast Brawl
Finlay v. JBL

Two veterans who have known each other for years are set to do battle on the biggest stage they can in a all-out brawl, something these two men are most capable of doing at this point in both of their careers. They are friends behind the scenes and respect each other immensely. These are two guys, much like Michaels and Flair, who are going go out there with the intention of stealing the show. Why am I talking about the match in this context? Because I utterly loathe the whole “Hornswoggle’s real father” angle that surrounds the whole match. I guess this is the payoff to utterly pointless months long “Mr. McMahon’s son” storyline that somehow can all be blamed on Chris Benoit. Barring all the outside comedy and shenanigans that are sure to develop this match should be a fun, hard-hitting and stiff brawl.

Bunny-mania Lumberjack Match
Maria & Candice Michelle v. Beth Phoenix & Melina

Another post-brand expansion WrestleMania tradition that has developed is the Playboy cover girl Divas match. Their co-branding with Playboy for the past few years has also been a wonderful marketing tool for the company. These matches are short, harmless and give the crowd a little break and cool-down time in between high-energy events. What? Did you expect you solid analysis and potential match break down of this one? I mean Snoop Dogg will be involved for crying out loud.

celebrity involvement
* John Legend will perform “America the Beautiful”
* Snoop Dogg will emcee “Bunny-mania”
* Raven-Symone will appear as part of the Bacon, Bagels and Biceps brunch
* Kim Kardashian will special guest hostess of WrestleMania
* 50 Cent will accompany Floyd Mayweather and provide his entrance music
* Rev Theory will perform live

Everything Else Fit For Print
Sad news came out on St. Patrick’s Day that long-time promoter and on-screen manager “Playboy” Gary Hart passed away due to heart problems.

Hart was in his sixties so at least we aren’t talking about another performer going down in their thirties. Hart never really made his mark in the WWF but he was wildly successful in World Class Championship Wrestling as an on-screen talent and backstage booker. He is credited as the man behind the Von Erichs-Freebirds angle that carried World Class for years. He was also instrumental in bringing foreign talent like Kabuki and Great Muta to North American audiences. Hart doesn’t get enough credit for the contributions he gave to wrestling and he will be missed. At least he was introduced to whole audience of wrestling fans thanks to his heavy involvement in the two recent World Class documentaries. I wish the best for his family and friends during this time.

Candice Michelle has reportedly re-injured her clavicle during her tag team match last Monday on RAW. It’s the same area she injured initially months back in her two-out-three falls match against Beth Phoenix.

Candice has reportedly said she will compete at WrestleMania this weekend regardless of her injury. I’ve often heard that when a person breaks their collarbone it’s incredibly easy to re-injure it again. I appreciate Candice’s desire to compete on the biggest stage of her career and here’s hoping things work out for her. And even if she can’t compete, expect her to still make an appearance as a lumberjack.

Former Ring of Honor standout and current WWE developmental talent Matt Sydal has been reported as being the body double/stand-in/training dummy for Floyd Mayweather in regards to preparation for the match with Big Show.

This is great news for Sydal. He’s probably the guy closest to Mayweather’s size on the WWE roster and is able to put himself in a great spot. By being able to work in such a high profile situation he can get himself noticed by management in a different light than just his work in developmental. Plus if Mayweather or Big Show puts in a word for the kid it could maybe help him find a fast track to main roster.

According to Wrestling Observer, Royal Rumble 2008 is estimated at doing 534,000 worldwide PPV buys, with 336,000 domestic buys. Apparently last year the show did 525,000 worldwide buys, with 347,000 domestic.

Good news for the company. The Royal Rumble is always a big draw for WWE so the numbers shouldn’t really be too much of a surprise.

Developmental talent Afa Anoi’a has been suspended for 30 days for a Wellness violation. New company policy dictates that the performer’s name will be released if he/she is suspended, but their actual reason for the suspension will not released.

Afa is a second generation star and part of the famed Anoi’a Samoan wrestling dynasty. He’s been around wrestling his entire life and so he knows the highs and lows of the business. Just on his family pedigree alone he will get a chance at some point to make his mark on the main roster.

WrestleMania Weekend Schedule of Events
Here’s a roll call of all wrestling-related events happening in the Orlando metro area starting this week and culminating Sunday night with the WrestleMania PPV.

Wednesday 3/26
– Jerry Lawler auctions off 15 pieces of artwork at City Works in downtown Orlando.
Vickie Guerrero will also be auctioning off a collage of Eddie Guerrero at the event.
Tickets for the event can be purchased from redchairproject.com for $50.
– WWE talent will be signing autographs at Wal-Mart on 8101 South John Young Parkway from 6-8 pm.

Thursday 3/27
– TNA Impact taping at Universal Studios. Show airs live on SpikeTV. Doors open at 8 pm.
– WrestleMania Rocks the Block street party at Wall Street Plaza at 7 pm.
– THQ/WWE Video Game Tournament at the House of Blues Downtown Disney at 7:30 pm.

Friday 3/28
– TNA Impact taping at Universal Studios. Doors open at 5 pm.
– WWE AXXESS Tour at Universal Studios.
– WWE talent will be signing autographs at Best Buy on 4601 East Colonial Drive at 6 pm.
– ROH “Dragon Gate Challenge III” at the Orlando Downtown Recreation Center at 8 pm.

Saturday 3/29
– WWE AXXESS Tour at Universal Studios.
– WrestleMania Reading Challenge Finals at Orlando Public Library in downtown Orlando at 10 am.
– Batista signing his autobiography at the Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney at 10:30 am.
– ROH Fan Fest at Orlando Jai Alai (6405 S US Highway 17/92 in Fern Park, FL) at noon.
– TNA Impact taping at Universal Studios. Doors open at 2 pm.
– ROH “Supercard of Honor III” at the Orlando Downtown Recreation Complex at 8 pm.
– WWE Hall of Fame ceremony at Amway Arena at 7:30 pm.

Sunday 3/30
– WWE’s Bacon, Bagels, and Biceps Brunch to benefit David Maus Foundation and Make-A-Wish Foundation at the Rosen Centre Hotel. Tickets cost $125. Event starts at 10 am.
– WWE AXXESS Tour at Thunder Field (across from Citrus Bowl).
– WWE WrestleMania XXIV at the Citrus Bowl. Doors open at 5:45 pm.

Hall of Fame Watch
This week’s induction: Eddie Graham

Already announced inductees:
“The Nature Boy” Ric Flair
“High Chief” Peter Maivia & Rocky Johnson
Mae Young
Jack & Gerry Brisco

RAW’s On Tonight!
It’s the go home show before WrestleMania, which makes it one of the two or three most important RAW episodes of the year. What will actually happen is anyone’s guess, but I’m sure John Cena, Randy Orton, Triple H and Robbie McAllister will all be featured prominently. Hey someone’s got to shine going into that big 24-man battle royal at WrestleMania.

On Last Week’s Episode…
Hepple and Provencio give you coverage of the SmackDown! I am currently watching via tape delay while I type this column.

Blatt reviews ECW and the epic feud brewing between Kofi Kingston and James Curtis.

Marshall reviews a RAW where the best spots including an elevated RKO on Cody Rhodes from Randy Orton with an assist from John Cena, and Santino Marella stealing Jerry Lawler’s sandwich.

How They Rated
A.M. RAW (3.15.08) – .65

RAW (3.17.08) – 3.5

ECW (3.18.08) – 1.3

SmackDown! (3.21.08) – 2.6

This is Boring, What Else is There to Read?
Glazer uses his column to call for Mark Henry’s arrival to Ring of Honor. Click to see if you think I’m lying or not.

Wiswell makes a counter argument to Glazer, saying Great Khali would be a much better fit for Ring of Honor than Mark Henry.

Iain Burnside chimes in a with a couple of WrestleMania themed columns, one highlighting Intercontinental Championship matches and another in regards to WrestleMania booking blunders

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