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The Rocky Road to WrestleMania 34



This Sunday, WrestleMania will take place at The Superdome in New Orleans, and the biggest event of the year has nearly a week of festivities planned around it, including the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. With fans from all over the globe that make the trip to see the WWE spectacular, many independent groups run events in the area as well as a part of the WrestleCon event. The entire scenario brings fans several shows in the span of just a few days and the sum total of everything presents what truly is the biggest weekend of the year in the sport. All that is only possible because of the foundation that WrestleMania provides that draws fans from around the world.

However, the build up toward “The Showcase of the Immortals” has been rocky, to say the least.

There are over a dozen matches scheduled, with ten of those bouts to take place during the main five-hour show. I’ve written it many times, but a longer event doesn’t necessarily translate to a better show. In fact, booking what will ultimately be a seven-hour show when the kickoff event is counted, is a very tough task regardless of the line-up. As anticipated as a WM might be, is there a realistic demand for almost seven hours of wrestling? It appears that the show will drag on at some point, simply because it could be an unavoidable situation with such a lengthy pay-per-view.

The under card is mostly fine. Maybe there are too many multi-person matches, but that’s to be expected so that more athletes can get a spot on the card. But, many of the contests at the top of the card haven’t generated much buzz or anticipation thus far. The WM brand is what sells tickets because there’s a standard and sometimes the bar is set too high or there are unfair expectations. Still, the top-tier matches just don’t have that “must see” atmosphere ahead of show time.

Ronda Rousey is an incredible athlete, but her transition into the world of sports entertainment from the octagon hasn’t been smooth. Granted, her name value puts her under a microscope, but that goes along with the territory because that same name value was what allowed her to get a spot in the WWE. At the same time, the writing team did her no favors in recent weeks and she hasn’t been put into situations that cover for her lack of inexperience. She doesn’t sound comfortable on the mic and her promos are sometimes cringe worthy with forced clichés and awkward pauses.

Rousey’s popularity will allow her a certain period of time to adjust to professional wrestling, but if she is going to have more than a brief stint in the genre, she must fully transition to the entertainment business. If her selling after the table spot on RAW is any indication of her sports entertainment skills, it will be a rough transition for her. I get the point of the Olympic tag team, and it’s a scenario that can camouflage her inexperience, but the involvement of Stephanie McMahon was cringe worthy. It’s almost as if Stephanie gets to work with Ronda as a way to allow her to get press as well. Don’t get me wrong, Stephanie is a solid villain on television, but she’s not nearly as effective as Vince was.

At this point, Stephanie and Triple H have been overexposed on TV and the whole “heel authority figure” has become extremely stale. Maybe I’m too jaded, but I couldn’t care less to watch Stephanie get offense against Ronda just so that it can be a photo-op for ESPN. Stephanie, a non-wrestler, putting a former MMA champion through a table is ridiculous even within pro wrestling. If anything, the more logical story of the entire scenario should be that Stephanie escapes Ronda for weeks until Rousey finally gets her hands on McMahon for an arm bar. Ronda finished twelve opponents and never went to the scorecards during her mixed martial arts career, how is it logical that Stephanie could put her in jeopardy?

Why is it even a priority for McMahon to look like she could put Rousey in jeopardy? Stephanie isn’t starting a full-time career, why does she need to “look strong” against a former UFC champion? Again, it makes more sense that the story of the match is the question of if or when Rousey finally gets her hands on Stephanie. Personal agendas seemed to dictate the way this storyline was presented to the audience. If McMahon gets offense against Ronda at WM, how does that maintain Rousey’s credibility for matches against full-time wrestlers?

The Undertaker/John Cena match is “technically” not scheduled, but rumors persist that it will take place at the show. If it happens, the set up for this one was confusing and bizarre. The whole premise of the angle is that The Undertaker won’t show up despite the demand of the fans. Doesn’t this make Undertaker look like he just doesn’t care enough to appear? Isn’t that an odd sell considering that he’s one of the most respected figures in the history of the industry. Is the angle supposed to get the Undertaker heat for not showing up or are the fans supposed to resent Cena for insulting the legend?

If the contest is designed to be a “surprise” bout, it’s doubtful that will be the perception at WM. Without any build up at all, what exactly is the basis for the match? Why did Cena decide to challenge The Undertaker? Despite a month of promos, there’s still no clear answer as to why this match is important to Cena. He could’ve claimed it was one of the few things he hasn’t accomplished in his stellar career. The writing team didn’t help this angle and if there’s a Cena/Undertaker match at WM 34, it will basically be a random bout, not the epic confrontation it could’ve been if it was built up as a major match. I just don’t understand how the way to sell a potential match is, “hey, there is no match.” If The Undertaker doesn’t wrestle at WM then why waste the TV time? Either way, the conclusion of this storyline could fall flat.

Another point is, if The Undertaker should work another match at all. While I wasn’t thrilled with Undertaker being used as a part of the Roman Reigns super push last year, at least it allowed him to possibly retire after a main event at WrestleMania, which is the stage he earned for everything he contributed to the sport. But, the Undertaker showed his age last year, and nobody wants to see an underwhelming performance from such a legendary athlete so the retirement might be a better decision than another match. Either way, the entire storyline hasn’t done much to create any anticipation for the possible match.

The main event is perhaps the match with the least amount of buzz around it, simply because the result is predictable. Even with Roman defenseless last week, the beat down from Lesnar garnered, “you deserve it” chants. Reigns isn’t exactly the sympathetic baby face. As I’ve written several times before, Roman is the anointed champion and the fans resent it. The perception of the industry is much different in 2018 and the audience knows when a competitor is getting a forced push. But, WWE brass has too much invested in Roman Reigns to change course. Roman was built up from scratch within the WWE system so if he fails, what does that say about the performance center or the WWE philosophy of how to discover a “superstar?”

In some ways, if management admits that Reigns failed to get over, the company itself admits failure. Nothing about the Reigns super push is organic and spontaneous, which is counterproductive to anything that decided the top star in prior eras. As I said in previous articles, most of that is a moot point. The WWE owns professional wrestling in the United States and there’s not competition to push them to present the best product possible. Corporate agenda, not fan demand, dictates the direction of the product. As a result a level of complacency happens, but even that doesn’t matter. Management touted record revenue for last year so why should they change their plans? Until it affects revenue, and it won’t, there’s no reason for WWE to change the plan.

Although, maybe the entire lack of a build up or anticipation for these matches is a moot point when you consider that a free month is offered for new subscribers in an attempt to boost network numbers. Instead of WrestleMania subscriptions being a revenue source, improving the stock price seems to be more important. The stock price might be more valuable than the potential extra revenue from new subscribers, but it almost indirectly lowers the standard for the show. Shouldn’t the biggest event of the year be something that fans are willing to pay to watch?

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta