Friday, April 4, 2014

Will there be a game changer at WrestleMania?

That's we hope for every year, isn't it?  Some 'WrestleMania Moment' that we will remember for years afterward; something that signals the dawn of a new era (or the end of an existing one), or serves as breakout moment for an up and coming star, or introduces us to a new kind of match.  Will we get one of those at WrestleMania 30?  Are there even any candidates?  Or will this be one of those shows that is good for what it is on that day, and then is easily forgotten by the time Extreme Rules rolls around?  And what have been the biggest game changers to date (in my opinion, of course)?  Well, to answer the first two questions.....maybe, and yes.The last one is going to take some time to answer, so let's look at this year's possibilities first.  In my book, here are the candidates:

  • Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena - Wyatt is hot right now; fans have eaten up his character and he gets the most out of a limited moveset with great personality and psychology in his matches.  At 26 years old, he's at a point where a big win at WrestleMania could make him a permanent fixture at the top of the card for years to come.  At the same time Cena is not in either the main event or a WWE/World Title match for the first time since WrestleMania 20.  A loss here coupled with a Daniel Bryan coronation in the main event could signal the beginning of the end of his run at the top.  On the flip side a pinfall victory for Cena in his customary fashion could kill Wyatt's momentum and get him branded a B-level talent in perpetuity.
  • Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar - If the streak ends, we'll remember it forever.  End of story.
  •  The Main Event - Assuming Daniel Bryan gets there and wins, this would mark a rare time that the fans turned the bookers in their direction by force of will.  It could also lead to a sea change where 'Big Men' are not the default choice as champion if the crowd wants something different.  OK, not really on the latter.  There's no way Bryan is getting a long run with the title.  This storyline is a reflection of the real feelings of the booking committee.  They believe Bryan is indeed the B+ player that Triple H calls him on RAW.  Should he come out with the title, he won't have it past Summerslam if that long.  But him winning still marks a triumph of fans over bookers, even if briefly.
Now as far as what I think are the biggest game changing matches in WrestleMania history...Here's my top five:
  • Fifth Place: Undertaker vs. Jimmy Snuka, WrestleMania 7 - What, am I crazy?  Hear me out.  Undertaker debuted at the 1990 Survivor Series, and getting a push as a big monster heel.  Now given WWE (then WWF) history, this meant he was on his way to a eventual showdown with Hulk Hogan and an inevitable defeat.  But something different happened.  'Taker came out to face Jimmy Snuka, a WWE legend, cheered.  Big.  And the cheers didn't stop.  The reaction he got that night was similar to how the fans refused to keep booing the Road Warriors, because they were just too damn awesome.  'Taker got his title match against Hogan later that year, and the crowd was largely cheering him instead of the now passe Hulkster.  By the time WrestleMania 8 rolled around he was a face and the rest is history. If he'd gotten the expect heel response at WM7 he' may have been the next Earthquake or King Kong Bundy, and back in WCW a few years later.
  • Fourth Place:  Money In the Bank, WrestleMania 21 -  This was the first Money in the Bank Match, and since then it's become a big enough deal to warrant it's own Pay Per View event.  The winner almost always capitalizes on cashing in by winning the championship the match it's tied, so it's proven to be an effective predictor of future titleholders as well.
  • Third Place: Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff - This was the match that was trusted as the draw for what was hoped would be the biggest event on the wrestling calendar.  If it failed, then the last thirty years of wrestling history may have gone differently.  Depending on who you believe, there was enough money at stake to sink the company had this match not attracted the audience it did, and delivered enough to keep most of it around. The match itself was serviceable; Mr. T didn't embarrass himself and the other three guys were able to protect him so he could do his part.   But all in all, it delivered and set the path to get us where we are today.
  • Second Place: Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon (Ladder Match), WrestleMania X -This match is at the top of lot people's 'Best WrestleMania match ever' list.  It's not for me, but obviously I consider it to be super important.  The ladder match had been around for years in other organizations, but it was never had been done in the WWF before and never done like this.  Shawn Michaels added an extra dimension to the match by using the ladder as a prop for his aerial maneuvers.  This may seem like no big deal in 2014, but before this one ladder matches involved the likes of Dusty Rhodes and Tully Blanchard, guys who weren't climbing any ladder except to win the match.  Michaels performance was so spectacular that he and Ramon did it again a few months later.  And it paved the way for what would become the TLC match, now a Pay Per View staple that has it's own event as its namesake, and the previously mentioned Money in the Bank match.  Michaels theatrics in this match led to the Hardys, and Rob Van Dam, and everyone who's taken a dive off a ladder in a WWE ring for our entertainment. And last but definitely not least.....
  • First Place: Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin, WrestleMania 13 - This match is remembered for the image of Steve Austin, face covered in blood, locked in Hart's sharpshooter and refusing to tap out, and the double turn that happened immediately after.  It locked Austin in place among the top faces for the company, and gave him the momentum that would lead to his coronation as champion a year later.  It was also he harbinger of the Attitude Era that would redefine wrestling and turn around the Monday Night Wars in favor of the WWE once and for all.  The match featured a level of sheer brutality that had been foreign to WWE, and was the first sign that things had changed from the black and white, good guys and bad guys era to a new one where blood was spilled in buckets and no holds were barred.  It was from this point that we would get to Hell in the Cell, Hardcore matches, and so on, where the ECW style would become mainstream.  No other match changed the way things we done more than this one.
So that's it.  We'll see if anything on Sunday lives up to these.

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