Friday, March 30, 2007

WrestleMania 23 Preview

It's been five years since I got a chance to see WrestleMania, but this Sunday night I'm throwing down the cash ($49.95?! When did that happen?! Probably sometime in the last five years, eh?) to watch the greatest moment in wrestling each year. Even with ratings down and a hole in the talent roster due to TNA defections (most notably Kurt Angle), stubborn legends who won't take a pay cut (most notably Hulk Hogan), injuries (most notably Triple H), and retirements (most notably The Rock) - hey, it's WrestleMania. And while true wrestling fans aren't going crazy over the over-publicized Vince McMahon-Donald Trump feud, there's still some things to look forward to. The double main events may not be instant classics, but both are old school vs. new school showdowns, with the old school drawing the majority of the fan support in both cases. And the eight man Money in the Bank ladder match is what I'm looking forward to the most. And there are still gripes - aside from the missing talent, the Intercontinental Title will not be defended (that's Umaga), the ECW title will not be defended (that's Lashley), and the tag team titles will not be defeneded (John Cena & Shawn Michaels, who're facing each other, but at least that'll still be interesting on Monday). Anyway, here are the ramblings of a now-casual wrestling fan, on the eve of WrestleMania...

(These are the announced matches, but there are so many "superstars" left off the card as it stands, there's gotta be some sort of tag team gauntlet or battle royal or something that they're not talking about, or maybe will be a dark match...)

Kane vs. The Great Khali
Here's your typical "we need an angle - let's put two giants against each other!" match, short on storyline and big on physical violence. The Kane character is now a ten year veteran and a former world champion back towards the beginning of his run. Khali - who is currently most famous for a bit part in the new Longest Yard movie - has the size worthy of a push. Early rumors had Khali being Vince McMahon representative at WrestleMania, to face Hulk Hogan and Donald Trump. When Hogan backed out - reportedly because Vince told him he wouldn't be earning more money than everyone else - Umaga took Khali's spot, and now we have this match. Kane stands 7'0", Khali 7'3" - it's rare that you see someone significantly taller than Kane - and both have no personality. But Kane has some sentimental value with longtime fans, while Khali is a relative newcomer. So it's one thing to have Kane come out on top in this match - it's another to Khali's longevity to have him steal a win here. I like Kane as a heel and I'd like to see him move back toward the main event, so I'm pulling for him, but it's probably a smarter move overall to have Khali win and gain more credibility, and I think that's the direction they'll go.
Who I hope will win: Kane
Who I think will win: The Great Khali

WWE Women's Championship - LumberJill Match
Melina vs. Ashley
New concept, and it's smart - 12 other WWE divas will surround the ring during this match between the champion Melina, and recent Playboy covergirl Ashley. And even if they've still got enough credibility to land one on the cover every now and then, the female division at WWE ain't what it used to be with Trish Stratus and Lita no longer around. Longtime wrestling fans never thought they'd say "Man, I miss Chyna." Anyway, Melina is the one who screams all the time, and that's annoying, so let's go with Ashley. She's hot now, she'll probably win.
Who I hope will win: Ashley
Who I think will win: Ashley

No Disqualification Eight Man Tag
ECW Originals (Rob Van Dam, Sabu, Sandman & Tommy Dreamer)
vs. The New Breed (Elijah Burke, Kevin Thorn, Marcus Cor Von & Matt Striker)
Another easy storyline to write...RVD is rumored to be on the outs, that's why he doesn't get a more high-profile match after winning the WWE Championship just 10 months ago. The ECW Originals are still fun to watch, and these new guys may end up being nothing but cannon fodder - of them, only Elijah Burke seems like someone that has real potential. Same with Kane/Khali - if the WWE wants to give them a name and give ECW more of a future, they'll let them escape with the win. RVD's future absence may help that. But WrestleMania has a way of giving the people what they want. Joey Styles fans, mark out.
Who I hope will win: ECW Originals
Who I think will win: ECW Originals

United States Championship
Chris Benoit vs. Montel Vontavious Porter
All together now: "Chris Benoit deserves better!" After falling out of the main event picture, they put the US title on Benoit back in November and keep leaving it there - hey wait, is this WCW? - so the question here is, does Benoit drop the belt and signal a continued move up for MVP, while putting Benoit back towards the main event himself...or does MVP, who's gotten some significant SmackDown wins but is currently most famous for getting really set on fire in an inferno match last year, get squashed here and go down a peg? I don't like MVP, who has the worst attire since Owen Hart's "I look like a @#%! street sign!" costume. So we're pulling for Benoit, but it'd be better long term if MVP gets the belt here.
Who I hope will win: Chris Benoit
Who I think will win: MVP

Money in the Bank Ladder Match
CM Punk - Edge - Finlay - Jeff Hardy - King Booker - Matt Hardy - Mr. Kennedy - Randy Orton
The premise here, if you're unfamiliar, is putting a briefcase at the top of a ladder above the ring, and whoever captures it first gets a title shot anytime he chooses over the next 365 days. They did a great job of using this in a unique way to get the belt from RVD to Edge over the summer. Anyway, ladder matches are great 95% of the time - though Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero proved you can suck at one at SummerSlam 2005 - and with eight people involved, the stakes are high. With the exception of Finlay and Mr. Kennedy, I like all of these guys and think they can really go. CM Punk has a lot of pop with the crowd, Edge can play on the main event level and has legit heat, as does Randy Orton, King Booker (Booker T, in case you didn't figure that out) has been around the block, and the Hardys know how to work ladder matches. Edge and Orton are the two biggest names in this thing (sorry Booker), but they've been going at each other lately and may end up costing each other the match. Same potential exists for an instant-feud between the Hardys. Edge is undefeated at WrestleMania, and I like him as the heel enough to pull for him to get a title shot here, but the fact that they haven't been talking about his WrestleMania undefeated streak makes me think he won't win. Jeff Hardy is an attractive choice, but so is the Jeff vs. Matt feud, which makes me think about picking Booker...but we'll stick with Jeff.
Who I hope will win: Edge
Who I think will win: Jeff Hardy

Battle of the Billionaires - Hair vs. Hair Match
Bobby Lashley (w/ Donald Trump) vs. Umaga (w/ Vince McMahon)
Special Guest Referee: Stone Cold Steve Austin
...and let's forget any ideas that the main attraction here is anyone but Stone Cold. I was never a huge Austin mark - always more into DX and then The Rock during Austin's prime - but it's still fun and nostalgic to hear the glass break and then watch him walk down and raise both arms on the turnbuckle. Aside from the fact that it would get more national press, I just can't see Donald Trump coming out of this bald. Bobby Lashley can really go, and they've done a good job with Umaga (only career losses to John Cena for the title) so far. Two points if you know that Umaga is one of those guys from Three Minute Warning. One point if you remember Three Minute Warning. Three points if you can tell me if he was Rosey or Jamal. Anyway, logic says Lashley - who I bet is even higher up the food chain come WrestleMania 24 (outside baby, at the Citrus Bowl!)
Who I hope will win: Lashley
Who I think will win: Lashley

World Heavyweight Championship
Batista vs. The Undertaker
Here's a list of The Undertaker's victims at WrestleMania: Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Giant Gonzales, King Kong Bundy, Diesel, Sycho Sid Vicious, Kane in an Inferno Match, Big Boss Man in the worst Hell in a Cell match ever, Triple H, Ric Flair, Big Show & A-Train in a handicap match, Kane again, Randy Orton, and Mark Henry in a Casket Match. That's 14 wins, zero losses. When you look at those names, while they're missing the true legends (Undertaker faced - and lost to - Steve Austin and Bret Hart at SummerSlam, and lost to Shawn Michaels at the Royal Rumble, and traded victories with The Rock and Hulk Hogan at various points), it's still impressive. Twice - against Triple H at X-7, and in a match that exceeded everyone's expectations against Ric Flair the next year - I was sure the streak was going to end, but he kept going. So, why is Batista going to be the man that stops the streak? He's got the gold, but Undertaker is currently the biggest face in the WWE. And he's much better as the heel - I hope he wins the gold, because it would be an injustice to have Batista stop the streak, and then they find a way to turn him heel and put him against Bobby Lashley or someone like that. The best possible main event they could put together right now, with Triple H down, would be Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker. That's some real old school for you, right there. Put that on my fantasy wish list for WrestleMania 24 as a final farewell for both of them, along with a Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair match with the same stipulation. But I'm not running the show, now am I?
Who I hope will win: Undertaker
Who I think will win: Undertaker

WWE Championship
John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels
Mark it down: HBK will make this the best match of the night. That's just what he does. Love him or hate him, Shawn Michaels can still go, and when he goes, he takes the other guy with him and ends up making it the match of their career. Michaels' WrestleMania resume includes a 1-2 record with Marty Jennetty as The Rockers, and then a win over Tito Santana and an IC loss to Tatanka before he started making people famous. In the first ever Ladder Match, Michaels lost to Razor Ramon at X. He made the main event (because we don't count LT and Bam Bam) the next year and lost to Diesel. In the first ever IronMan Match, Michaels beat Bret Hart in overtime at XII. At XIV, he passed the torch to Steve Austin in the main event in his last WWE match for four years with a wrecked back, in one of the grittiest wrestling performances ever. Upon returning to WWE at SummerSlam in 2002, HBK took down Chris Jericho in a legendary return at XIX, was part of the Triple Threat Match with Triple H and Chris Benoit that gave Benoit his first world title at XX, lost to Kurt Angle at XXI in another legendary match, before doing the apparently mandatory "let's put him against Vince McMahon!" match last year. Even so, his matches with Razor Ramon, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, HHH/Benoit, and Angle are among the best in WrestleMania history. This is what Shawn Michaels does. Which brings us to John Cena - loved by few, hated by many. He's alright, I guess, he's just not the flagship. They may try and make him be by having him retain, but the louder the boos have gotten over the last few weeks, the more I think HBK is walking out as a five time champ. Shawn Michaels has always been my personal favorite - I think he gets to the top of the mountain one more time.
Who I hope will win: Shawn Michaels
Who I think will win: Shawn Michaels

If you're looking for more history, you can check out IGN's excellent piece on the 20 Greatest WrestleMania Matches of All Time.

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