Creative Control: It Has Come to This…(Wrestlemania XXX, Daniel Bryan, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, Batista, Undertaker, John Cena)

Warmth has finally returned to New England. This past weekend it was a glorious 50+ degrees. I was able to ditch my heavy winter wool coat for a lighter leather jacket. Granted we have been under perpetual rainfall the entire time, but at least it is not more snow.

On an administrative note, there will be no Creative Control next week. With Wrestlemania this coming Sunday, anything I come up with will likely be ignored and/or lost in the postmortem for the biggest pay per view of the year (much like my post Royal Rumble column). I am not staying up until 3am to watch the show and then try to come up with a relevant post-Wrestlemania fantasy booking plotline to make my 6am deadline. Therefore, I am taking the week off to review, analyze, and come up with all new intriguing twists and turns to explore the possibilities of storytelling in the realm of professional wrestling. That’s my story at least.

Second Thoughts:
Several great and insightful comments regarding my take on the situation with the announce teams in the WWE. Swayze and waltkovacks hit the nail on the head where the biggest problem with the announcing is the endless schilling that dominates the commentary on Raw and Smackdown. A perfect example played out on Raw last week with the Sin Cara/Damien Sandow “match.” We start with an ad for the Scooby Doo/WWE movie. Sin Cara comes out in the Mystery Machine, accompanied by someone in a Scooby Doo suit (has anyone heard any rumors of who was in the suit?), Sandow gets pinned in just over a minute, all the while the announce team makes jokes about Scooby Doo and each other, without calling a move. Then we go to the announce crew on camera, holding up the DVD and reminding us for the umpteenth time in five minutes that it came out the next day. I actually found this hysterical because it drove Swayze’s point home so beautifully.

Walt also noted the Cody Rhodes/Fandango match perfectly illustrated the announce team generally ignoring the action in the ring to talk about anything and everything other than the match itself. I give them credit to at least talking about the confrontation between Summer Rae and Goldust on the outside, which as noted by other reviewer here, was entertaining (“Are you making fun of me?” “Yes, I am!”)

The most interesting collection of comments from several people was the defense of Michael Cole. People noted that it is not solely Cole’s fault that the commentary was so bad as he is only a puppet of the production booth and Vince McMahon. Most who responded had no problem with keeping Cole and JBL together, provided they were given more leeway and control over the commentary. It is like the situation with promos; most of them are now scripts the wrestlers have to learn word for word, rather than a series of talking points they need to hit and are allowed to find their own voice as performers in delivering them. I am willing to give Cole and JBL a chance, provided they were allowed to be more organic in their announcing. However, it would be a small window of opportunity as I still believe some of Cole’s flubs are his own and cannot just be passed off to those who speak into his headset (getting the names of wrestler’s wrong; forgetting the names of basic moves).

Lastly, near universal agreement for making Renee Young and William Regal the announce team for Smackdown. Some suggested adding Byron Saxton to the duo to create a three person booth to mirror Cole, JBL, and King. I could go along with that. I do hope the WWE considers creating a new announce team for Smackdown, just to allow variety on their two main shows. They have less motivation to do so since the brand extension is dead, but perhaps a little friendly competition with rival announce crews would bring out the best in everyone.

Your Destination Is Just Up Ahead
So back in December when I started writing here at the Pulse, I came up with a hypothetical Wrestlemania XXX card (located here and here). With the big show six days away, I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast what I came up with versus what we are about to see.

WWE World Heavyweight Title
Kincaid: Brock Lesnar (champion) vs. Daniel Bryan
WWE: Randy Orton (champion) vs. Batista vs. (winner of Daniel Bryan/Triple H)

Thoughts: My title match was the result of John Cena winning the unification match at TLC only to lose to a returning Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble. Lesnar was brought in by The Authority to be their corporate approved champion; someone who fit their mold of an “A-level” wrestler, but who also played by their rules; unlike fan-friendly Cena. Naturally, Bryan won the Rumble and went on to complete his hero arc quest that began at SummerSlam by capturing the WWE Title.

As we have learned over the intervening months, what we were watching versus what the WWE was seeing were two different things entirely. While the majority of the fans embraced Bryan as the everyman, underdog hero looking to defy the odds, the WWE saw a flash in the pan, placeholder main event feud for the fall and winter. They were banking on the nostalgia of Batista to carry him from the Rumble to the main event of Wrestlemania. This backfired spectacularly on them. Give credit to the WWE for amending their plans and incorporating Bryan into the title hunt and having Batista go full heel. As CB noted last week, CM Punk’s unscheduled departure possibly bailed them out by shuffling Bryan into the feud with Triple H leading to the title match. Part of me wishes they had kept the title match Batista/Orton from a pure “train wreck” perspective. We might still get a fan revolt of sorts if Triple H defeats Bryan.

While it would have given us two years in a row of a part-time performer being champion during Wrestlemania season (a la The Rock from last year), going with Lesnar as the corporate approved champion would have been a more dynamic storyline and a more effective use of Lesnar (discussed in more detail below). Further, it gives the fans what they want in Bryan in his quest for the title. It boggles the mind that WWE obsesses over social media, but fails to understand the benefit. They strive to use it as a way of controlling the message instead of as a barometer for their fans.

Anyways, I am still interested in watching the title match, but potentially for the wrong reasons (but since they would be getting my money, the WWE won’t care what my reasons are).

The Streak
Kincaid: Undertaker vs. John Cena (vs. The Rock)
WWE: Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar

Thoughts: A lot of people have talked about how Cena is one of the few members of the WWE roster left that poses a legitimate challenge for the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak. It works as a feud too since it is one of the few accolades left for Cena to achieve. The feud also could also go back to Cena’s first year in the company where he had a “tough love” storyline with Taker, and looking to show the Phenom how far he has come. I tacked The Rock on to this feud having a triple threat elimination match in case they decided they wanted him as a part of Wrestlemania. It lets Cena and Rock have a rubber match while also having The Rock face the Undertaker at Wrestlemania, which has never occurred.

Instead, we have Taker in a match with Lesnar as Lesnar’s consolation prize for not being a part of the title match. They brought Lesnar back the night after TLC and Heyman did a great job promoting Lesnar as the self-proclaimed number one contender. However, they did nothing with it. They gave him a meaningless feud with the Big Show. They followed this up with Lesnar trying to bully his way into the title match after the Rumble, but being pushed aside. Having Triple H swallow his pride and bring Lesnar in as a corporate champion made sense as a storyline and show that the idea of Bryan as WWE Champion bothered him more than the guy who broke his arm. That Triple H would rather work with a man he had a blood feud with rather than accept the plucky underdog as the face of the company.

The build-up to the match between Taker and Lesnar has been underwhelming as well in my opinion. Outside of the initial moment where Taker came out, stabbed Lesnar’s hand to sign the contract and then chokeslammed him through the table, it has felt very flat. With the poor use of Lesnar since his return to the WWE (outside of the Punk feud), there is no sense Taker’s streak is at any risk. Lesnar does not feel like a legitimate challenger, he just feels like more grist for the streak-mill. At this point, I think there is a consensus that The Streak will never be broken. Therefore, it is important to sell the lead-up to create some anticipation and even a scintilla of speculation that maybe just maybe, this year’s opponent is the one. I feel John Cena is that kind of challenger. Lesnar is not. Could he have been? Sure, but not at the way he has been used over the past two years, and certainly not with the way it has been done for the last five weeks.

The Authority versus The Rebel
Kincaid Triple H/Kane (later Batista) vs. CM Punk/Dolph Ziggler
WWE: Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan (winner is put in the WWE Title Match)

Thoughts: I went with this match as Punk and Ziggler pulling a parody of Degeneration X against Triple H as the anti-establishment fan favorites who are the thorns in the side of The Authority. The idea behind the match was to help put Ziggler in a main event level feud and get the rub by securing the pin against Triple H. I originally had Kane as Triple H’s partner, but later amended it to Batista upon hearing about his return. In my column about Batista’s return, I had him come back as a heel, going with his attitude that people like Bryan, Punk, and Ziggler are not WWE material.

From the way things were going following the Rumble (and according to rumor), we were at least heading for Triple H versus Punk. Now however, we have Triple H versus Bryan. I have enjoyed the feud between the two and admit it feels more natural given everything that happened starting with SummerSlam. It almost felt like at times Punk was being forced into the Triple H feud in order to push Bryan away from the main event scene. Punk was a natural foil against Triple H with his anti-establishment persona, but Bryan had the legitimate grievance with the constant interference in his title hunt. I am also buying the feud because I feel the outcome for the match is not certain. We all want to think Bryan is going over and get into the title match, but I am not certain. Now maybe this is showing tremendous naiveté on my part, but there is a part of me that buys all the “megalomaniacal” Triple H rumors and wonders if he thinks he can get away with making himself champion one last time. We shall see.

Tag Team Titles
Kincaid: The Real Americans (champions) vs. The Usos vs. Big Show/Rey vs. Randy Orton/Alberto del Rio
WWE: The Usos (champions) vs. The Real Americans vs. Ryback/Curtis Axel vs. Los Matadores

Thoughts: Called two out the four teams, just had the champions wrong. The rise of the tag team division over the past year and a half has been great to watch. The establishment of actual teams who stay together longer than a few months and develop as a unit is fantastic. The Usos clinching the titles in Chicago over the New Age Outlaws was a great moment, although I would have preferred to have their storyline culminate Wrestlemania. How things have played out with the tag titles is better than I came up with. I like that all four teams are established unions and they did not go with pairs of upper-card performers who had nothing else to do (Show, Rey, Orton, and del Rio). I wish this was an elimination style match, but we cannot have everything.

Diva’s Championship 
Kincaid: Tamina Snuka (champion) vs. Natalya
WWE: AJ Lee (champion) vs. Every main roster woman in a cluster

Thoughts: When I made this match, I went with an actual storyline with the women that played off the alliance of AJ and Tamina and AJ’s obsession with the title. I also used the match as an opportunity to bring Paige up from NXT to the main roster. Instead, we get what has become a tradition at Wrestlemania where we throw every woman on the roster into the ring at once to flail about for a few minutes before a winner is declared. It is what it is, and as everyone knows my thoughts about the WWE’s treatment of women, let us just look sad and say d’oh.

Use of The Shield
Kincaid: Dean Ambrose vs. Big E. Langston (Intercontinental/U.S. Title Unification); Roman Reigns vs. Kofi Kingston; Seth Rollins vs. Sin Cara
WWE: The Shield vs. Kane/The New Age Outlaws

Thoughts: I was running with The Shield continuing down the road to dissolution with each member looking to shine on the big stage. Reigns and Rollins secured victories, while Ambrose lost to Langston, and looked to blame his partners for not backing him up.

Things certainly changed over the last few weeks as the WWE has turned the Shield face and kept them united. It is not clear why they have made the move. Maybe they were afraid they did not have anything for the group after they did the break-up. Maybe they feel there is still more money to be made with them as a unit. Whatever the reason, I have no problem with them staying together for a while longer. Someone once suggested that it would be nice to see the Shield dissolve under amicable terms whenever it is decided they have run their course. A novel concept for professional wrestling, but I do not think it is happening. The group is built on the concept that they are better together then apart. The only way they stop being there for one another is when the egos finally cannot be held in check. For the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the Hounds of Justice.

I do not how true this is, but CH Punk in his column last week reported the rumor that Kane’s original partners for this match were supposed to be NXT Tag Team Champs, The Ascension. The spot was given to The Outlaws instead to grant them one last Wrestlemania. I would not have as big a problem with it, if Billy Gunn and Road Dogg could still go in the ring like Goldust. At their current level of ability, The Outlaws are good for an occasional novelty act like Old School Raw, but as they have been used for the last four months on a fairly regular basis, all their competition has had to carry and protect them. Further, it seems extremely short-sighted from a business and storyline perspective to replace fresh and up and coming talent with a past their prime, dated, nostalgia act. The current card already had Batista, Lesnar, Triple H, the Undertaker, and Kane as names recognizable from the 90s and 00’s to rope in the casual, former fans. Why not take the opportunity to let those people see a dynamic match that features five newcomers and turn those casual fans into more regulars? It gave them the perfect storyline to call up The Ascension by Kane finding the next generation of monsters. They could have even gone the nostalgia route by having Kane wear his old red and black costume and mask (which goes with the Ascension’s color scheme).

Use of The Wyatt Family
Kincaid: Handicap Match, The Wyatt Family vs. Cody Rhodes/Goldust
WWE: Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena

Thoughts: The storyline that WWE came up with is better than my original plan. Where I went with a slow build-up of Bray Wyatt taking out the Rhodes brothers, the WWE goes with pushing him way up by giving him a feud with Cena. I have enjoyed the storyline and with the exception of one week, Cena has played it serious, treating Bray as a legitimate threat. Absent being in a feud with Taker this year, this is one of the best things for Cena right now as he helps elevate a new talent and it keeps him out of the title picture to let others shine. I hope Wyatt is victorious on the big stage (Cena can always get the win back at Extreme Rules), even if it comes with an assist from Rowan and Harper. Cena losing actually helps him as a character because it forces him to adapt from a place of weakness against an opponent who is not like something he has dealt with.

Filling Out The Card
Kincaid: N/A
WWE: Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, Christian, Brodus Clay, Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal, Drew McIntyre, Santino Marella, R-Truth, Fandango, Zack Ryder, Darren Young, Titus O’Neil, Mark Henry, Justin Gabriel, Rey Mysterio, Sin Cara, Big Show, Sheamus, Big E. Langston, Damien Sandow, The Great Khali, Alberto del Rio, Dolph Ziggler, Goldust, Cody Rhodes, Kofi Kingston, the Miz, and four unnamed participants

Thoughts: I came up with a 10-match card versus the current 8-match card. Two of my matches were cut out due to the Shield being in a six-man tag match. The memorial battle royal is a great idea, and it would be nice if it becomes a Wrestlemania tradition, as it can be used as a way to elevate the winner. It also finds a way to get more people on the card. My biggest complaint about the situation is I feel that at Wrestlemania, all the titles should be on the line, and it is time to unify the Intercontinental and U.S. Titles, especially given how infrequent Ambrose has defended the U.S. Title. At the very least, the Intercontinental Title should be defended. They could have saved the Intercontinental Title match from last week’s Main Event for Wrestlemania. This gives Christian and Langston the chance to have a nice, short feud that gives Langston a chance to show off his witty personality.

Pre-Show
Kincaid: NXT vs. WWE Match, Sami Zayn, Bo Dallas, Adrian Neville, Alexander Rusev, Aiden English vs. R-Truth, Xavier Woods, Ryaback, Curtis Axel, Fandango
WWE: To Be Determined

Thoughts: I hope that the pre-show will involve some NXT talent. It is a chance for another tradition to start at this Wresltemania: having the stars of the future open up the biggest show of the year.

And there you have it. It is amazing how much can change in four months and the different routes stories can take. I think the WWE has done some good things (Wyatt vs. Cena, the battle royal, The Shield remaining as a unit), but I think the decisions they made with the top of the card is a misfire that has been marginally improved with the potential addition of Bryan to the title match. I feel Lesnar continues to be wasted and that the build for the Undertaker’s streak match has not been anywhere as engaging as it has been in the past few years (especially with Punk last year). The proof will be in the execution of the show, but there should also be an element of anticipation and I am not completely sold on the show. Do I think my card was the be all and end all? Of course not, I am just a fan that thinks about this in his free time. There are hundreds of factors I do not have to account for. All I worry about is storylines. But take a look at the comparisons above and ask yourself: how many of the matches of mine would you prefer watching, versus what we are getting?

Until next time, I relinquish creative control.

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