Sunday night in Orlando, the 24th edition of wrestling's pinnacle takes place, with the usual combination of main event level matches and celebrity appearances. So inbetween appearances from John Legend and Floyd Mayweather, you'll find two top tier championship matches, another high quality ladder match, and the final match of Ric Flair's career. A rundown of the festivities:
WWE WrestleMania XXIV
Sunday, March 30 - Orlando - 7:00 PM (EST)
24 Man Battle Royal
(Winner receives an ECW title shot later that night)
Elijah Burke - Lance Cade - Trevor Murdoch - Hacksaw Jim Duggan
Hardcore Holly - Cody Rhodes - Mark Henry - Tommy Dreamer
Snitsky - Brian Kendrick - Deuce - Domino
Val Venis - Chuck Palumbo - The Great Khali - Kane
Jesse - Festus - Jamie Noble - Shannon Moore
Jimmy Wang Yang - The Miz - Matt Striker - Kofi Kingston
Alright, you've got a lot of dead space here, with only about half of these guys being legitimate shots to win here. If you put Hacksaw in the thing, he's going to be the fan favorite. There are some once and future main eventers - Kane and Khali - in this thing as well, but you have to wonder if it's the best move to put the ECW belt on them so as to make them a more full time part of what seems to be a dying program on Tuesday nights. You've also got to consider who can turn around and go with Chavo later that night. If it were up to me, I'd love to see old school Tommy Dreamer get the win and go onto victory later...but I think the best bet, and the course WWE will take, is to take someone mammoth and put the belt on them, and then spend months playing everyone else on the roster against them.
Will's Pick: The Great Khali
Chavo Guerrero vs. Battle Royal Winner
Chavo's held the belt for a little while now, but you probably don't go to all the trouble of a battle royal to then let him win again, and fresh blood may help. Chavo's proven and capable on the midcard level, which is probably about what ECW main event is in the grand scheme of things, but again - if it's Khali or otherwise - I'll take the battle royal winner here.
Will's Pick: Battle Royal winner
Women's Tag Team Diva Lumberjack Match
Ashley & Maria vs. Beth Phoenix & Melina
(Special Guest: Snoop Dogg)
The "let's get as many women as we can in one place" match - a lumberjack match, for the unfamiliar, involves the ring being surrounded by, in this case, all the women on the roster. In the ring, you've got the faces and the heels - shockingly, both the faces have been in Playboy - but my quick point would be this: you don't need them to win this match to make people buy more copies of Playboy. Beth Phoenix is the only real female athletic talent they've got, so they should sell her. Fo' shizzle.
Will's Pick: Beth Phoenix & Melina
No Disqualification Belfast Brawl
JBL vs. Finlay
Here's a "this is the best we can do with this angle after six months" match - Vince McMahon - who will make his WrestleMania appearance here, I'm sure - and his illegitimate son the midget Hornswoggle, which is probably the strangest line in the history of this blog - who turned out to be the son of Finlay, who's now facing JBL in a no DQ Irish flavor match. Right. Finlay is like 50 years old himself, and the crowd will be behind him, but JBL should absolutely get the win here to he can continue to be a top level heel. As quickly as possible.
Will's Pick: JBL
Money in the Bank Ladder Match
(Winner receives a world title contract)
Carlito - Chris Jericho - CM Punk
John Morrison - Mr. Kennedy - MVP - Shelton Benjamin
There are less stars in this thing than last year, but that doesn't mean it won't be a better match. Jeff Hardy's substance abuse suspension does take a little bit of the edge off, but what you've got here is Chris Jericho and six guys who could use a push. Don't just assume that Y2J is going to win here just because he's the only name you've heard of. Last year, they took Edge and Jeff Hardy out of this thing early with a swanton bomb off a 15 foot high ladder onto Edge below in an especially violent spot. Jericho, who is highly innovative and right behind Shawn Michaels in the creativity and big money big match guarantee line, is already promising something new. And the other six guys will put themselves on the line, because this match can make you a star. So while I love Jericho and wouldn't mind at all to see him win, Jericho can get a title shot by being Jericho; these other guys need this. Kennedy actually won this thing last year before getting hurt two weeks later, so he's an option. CM Punk will be a fan favorite option, but they may want to keep him in ECW. My money's on them having Kennedy steal a win again, and then just continuing his push from 365 days ago. Should be highly entertaining.
Will's Pick: Mr. Kennedy
Raw vs. Smackdown
Umaga vs. Batista
Not that this isn't an interesting matchup, but how is this the best you can come up with for Batista, who's arguably your second biggest draw? You could make a solid argument for John Cena vs. Batista as the main event for the epic WrestleMania 25 next year, but this time around, the best we can do is "let's take one guy from Raw and one guy from SmackDown and put them together"? However, this is an excellent opportunity to push Umaga. He's been hovering at or below the main event for six months - now's the time. Beating Batista at WrestleMania could cement him as a major player that the WWE could really use. They could move him to SmackDown and have him feud with Batista to continue this if it's a good match. If Batista wins it's just another win. If Umaga wins, it's a huge push. Use the push.
Will's Pick: Umaga
Big Show vs. Floyd Mayweather
What they're going to do here, no one's really sure. It's wrestling, so it's obviously going to be scripted - though credit Big Show for letting Mayweather jack him right in the nose a month ago - but no matter how in shape he is, a 160 pound Mayweather is in serious jeopardy of getting hurt against a 450 pound Big Show if even the slightest thing goes wrong. WWE really screwed this angle up, and honestly I don't know why - if you follow boxing at all, you know that nobody like Mayweather, he's always the "heel". And being that WWE fans hadn't seen Big Show in around 18 months when he came back, of course they're going to cheer him. After about two weeks of them trying to play Big Show as the heel, they just gave up (original plans put superface Rey Mysterio in Floyd's corner, which also wouldn't have worked). So the crowd in Orlando should be decidedly pro-Show...which means that when Mayweather wins, and you don't show up for something like this if you're Mayweather unless you get to win, people will be unhappy. This is a case of good publicity for a bad result. Or maybe Show will just get pissed and rip Floyd's arms off.
Will's Pick: Floyd Mayweather
Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels
The real main event, if you will. The stipulation here is that Flair, who's 59 years young, has to retire the next time he loses, an angle they've been running since back in the fall and building momentum for this match by having him beat, along the way, Randy Orton, Triple H, Vince McMahon and a bunch of lesser foes. It's put Flair back in the saddle one more time, and now if you're looking for the perfect way to go out, there's no better place than WrestleMania, and there's no better opponent than Shawn Michaels. HBK's no spring chicken himself at 42, but there's still absolutely no one in this business who's better in big matches than Michaels. He won't have to fully carry Flair, but he'll certainly help along the way. This match could go 45 minutes and I wouldn't be stunned (HBK went 35 with John Cena in the main event last year). Now, Flair could still win and then retire the next night on Raw, that's out there. But in this business, you lose your last hurrah. Steve Austin lost to The Rock at WrestleMania XIX, Mick Foley has lost more retirement matches than I can remember, you get the idea. So being that Flair's business, I'm thinking Shawn gets the pinfall. They also screwed this up by deciding to have HBK play the icon vs. icon role for four weeks, the "Nature Boy vs. Showstopper" thing, which was fine...only to have him turn to the Old Yeller "I'm going to put you out of your misery" bit last week. I think maybe they're worried about the fans, who've been for both guys thus far, turning on Shawn at the beginning of the match spontaneously - but hey, Shawn's a big boy, he could've handled that. So instead of letting two of the greatest, if not the greatest mic-workers in the history of wrestling rip each other apart, they waited until the last week and then did it really quick. Still, you can't take much away from this match or either man's career. If Flair's gonna go, this is the way home.
Will's Pick: Shawn Michaels
World Heavyweight Championship
Edge vs. The Undertaker
Always more relevant at this time of year than any other, Undertaker is 15-0 at WrestleMania. Edge, lesser known fact, is also undefeated at 'Mania, if you don't count him not winning the Money in the Bank match last year. Edge is the champion and the heel, and a good one on both counts...but you just don't beat The Undertaker at WrestleMania, and if you do, it takes someone still a little bit bigger than Edge to finally do it, who I personally love but is still like a B+ level guy in the eyes of the majority. Taker and Batista put on a much better show than what I was expecting last year, and Edge can work, so this should be good as well. But at this point, it's just chalk, and even if they tried to swerve everyone by having Edge win, you'd be left feeling like he didn't deserve it when it was over.
Will's Pick: The Undertaker
WWE Championship - Triple Threat Match
Randy Orton vs. John Cena vs. Triple H
The thing about this match, which I have gotten more excited in the passing weeks, is that it's really going to be unfair to the two guys who don't win. For John Cena, my personal dislike of him aside, WWE built him as this determined, unbeatable champ - he won the belt back in September 2006, and then held it for more than a year, the longest WWE title run in almost 20 years - before he tore his pec and had to drop the belt to Randy Orton. Then, Orton received the (well deserved) push of pushes, getting Cena's belt in September 2007 and beating, since then, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho and Jeff Hardy. That's how you give someone like Orton real credibility and establish him as one of your top dollar superstars, and a solid heel. So when Cena makes a surprise return at the Royal Rumble and wins, they have Cena and Orton rematch at No Way Out in February, which ends in a DQ to no one's surprise. They could've had Orton vs. Cena rematch with some added gimmick at WrestleMania, and that would've been fine. The problem is, now you've added Triple H, who's over more with the fans than either of those two guys, and now he's the one everyone wants to see win. You've got Orton's current credibility, Cena's built-up credibilty and the fact that he hasn't been pinned since the Fall of 2006 (except by Shawn Michaels in a non-title WrestleMania rematch last April), and the fact that at WrestleMania, the fans are supposed to go home happy, which means Triple H should win. Tough call. If this was any other night but WrestleMania, I'd have Orton win this match straight up. It just makes him even more respectable and pushes that "Legend Killer" persona hard. If Triple H wins, he needs to pin Orton and not Cena, so they can then still use Cena's "I never lost the belt/I haven't been pinned" angle and build Triple H vs. John Cena for down the line (or next month, as Backlash has become the company's third biggest PPV it seems). If Cena wins, a lot of people are going to be unhappy, though some still love him, and it just seems to throw away what Orton's done. So...I'll take Triple H to win, but to do so in a fashion that builds either Triple H vs. Cena, or lets Triple H go face Umaga or the Money in the Bank winner while Cena and Orton face off again next month to finally settle their score, which needs to be done. The enduring image from WrestleMania XXIV needs to be Triple H holding that belt. They just need to do it in a way that builds for the future as well, because the road to WrestleMania XXV starts Monday night.
Will's Pick: Triple H