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Triple H, October 2011:

“When I grew up, I hated Hogan. I thought he was terrible and didn’t like to watch him. I was like Punk in a way. I liked the Steamboats and Flairs and the ones that could go. Would I be right in saying that Hogan was the wrong guy to go with, and they should’ve changed directions and gone with Steamboat because he was the better wrestler? Ludicrous.” - Triple H. October, 2011.

Wrestlemania 35

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Here's the build.

Wrestlemania 35, the 129th WWF PPV, comes to you on PPV from East Rutherford

(Dark: British Strong Style (Dunne/Bate/Seven) d. GDI (Cole/O’Reilly/Fish)
            The Clique (Riddle/Lee) d. Blood Warriors International (Alexander/Tozawa)
            Gargano d. Velveteen Dream)

The announcers are Ranallo (his 15th PPV, Heyman for the first half of the show, it’s his 14th, and Nigel for the second half, it’s his 11th)

The show opens with a taped package.  Now, that’s normal, except this year it’s not – this year it’s been a cold open on Rousey for each PPV to subliminally express that she’s apart from the promotion – maybe even that she’s above the promotion. But not anymore, she doesn’t need more building up, there’s no more need to sell Rousey, if you’re watching, you’ve bought, and now it’s time to re-establish that there’s nothing as important as Wrestlemania.

The taped package opens with the first WWF appearance of a babyfaced Kurt Angle, 20 years ago, at Wrestlemania 15, walking onto the ramp for the first time – our first time seeing him on WWF television. And then a shot of SummerSlam ’96, even further back, for the first Hardys dark match; Owen Hart’s young boys Matt and Jeff coming to the ring.  Then a clip, courtesy of Ring of Honor, of Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson, squaring off in 2002.  Then Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, working in a WWFU ring in 2013.  Then Prince Devitt and Ricochet squaring off in 2013, courtesy of Revolution Pro. AJ Styles in WCW in 2001. Rey Mysterio at the ECW Arena. Brock Lesnar and Shelton Benjamin on Kurt Angle’s reality competition show, Camp Angle. Sheamus and McIntyre tagging in WWFU in 2007. Ronda Rousey at the 2008 Olympics. Shinsuke Nakamura in a shootfight against Daniel Gracie in 2002. And then quick action shots of all of them from present day – ending with a tape dated from just a couple of hours prior – it’s Kurt Angle arriving at the building, getting out of his car with his bag, waving to some fans, shaking hands with security, entering the building for the final time as a WWF wrestler.

Fade out – and then in on Jeremy Borash, WWF ring announcer, it is the first ever Wrestlemania without Howard Finkel – and he introduces the first match:

1. MUSTAFA ALI/MASCARA DORADA d. HARDYS (MATT/JEFF)
-The Hardys returned in the Broken persona two years prior, but it has been 17 years since they wrestled in the WWF together as Matt and Jeff Hardy; this is a solid match really designed to get in some old Hardy stuff for nostalgia and put Ali and Dorada over as the better workers currently.  Matt takes the fall – postmatch there’s a clip package of the Hardys Wrestlemania careers:

WM15: Hardys take the straps from Rock/DLo, their first ever tag titles, 20 years ago
WM: 16: Hardys regain the belts in the first ever TLC match, beating the Dudleys and Edge/Christian
WM: 17: Hardys were one of the losing teams in a tag title match with the Dudleys, Edge/Christian, Raven/Taz
WM: 18: Hardys one of the losing teams in another TLC title match, with Jericho/Storm and Bubba/Spike
WM 19: Matt went over RVD
WM 20: RVD beat Matt in a tables match
WM 22: Matt beat Flair
WM 23: Matt beat Edge in the main event; a Cell match that had been signed at the prior year’s Mania.
WM 24: Matt attacked Punk after the main event, held the WWF title belt aloft as the show ended
WM 25: Ten years ago Matt sent Jeff out of the WWF in a Montreal Match that also included Edge and Christian
WM 26: Edge and Matt beat Punk and Christian, Edge turning on Matt postmatch
WM 33: The Broken Hardys return, taking the title belts from Trash
WM 34: Matt lost to Nemeth in the Final Deletion match.

And then there’s a hand held cam from the dark match at WM14, Edge and Christian, their fellow Young Boys, leading the crowd in a “Let them Play” chant prior to Matt and Jeff squaring off.  We get a shot of a very young E/C, Matt and Jeff all standing together in the ring – 21 years ago.

And then Edge and Christian’s music hits – and they’re here.  Edge and Christian make their way to the ring, 21 years later, the four men recreating their pose from WM 14, they accept the crowd applause and exit the ring together, perhaps, we’re told, for the final time.


2. MIXED TAG: HORSEMEN (ROODE/FLAIR w/STRONG) d. BULLET CLUB (ANDERSON/LYNCH w/GALLOWS)

- 4-Ground came out of WWFU and dominated the women’s division under the guidance of Ric Flair. Paige won the title first, but Charlotte decided she was bigger than the group, took the strap via chicanery and left the group.  She and Banks had a long program, exchanged titles, Lynch alongside her friend Banks – but Lynch then joined the Bullet Club, took the belt and held it for a year, losing it last year to Asuka at WM34.  This year saw the rise of Ronda Rousey and the Horsewomen, taking the women’s division apart and leading to a reuniting (if only momentarily) of 4-Ground (with Bayley taking Paige’s spot).  This defrosting between Lynch and Flair doesn’t seem to have taken however, and they meet here in the first mixed tag match in Wrestlemania history.  Flair does a couple of double team spots with Roode; Flair’s tough guy rep was really strengthened during her two losses to Rousey; she’s had a couple of physical encounters over the course of the year with Bray Wyatt that went in her favor, and this match is designed to add to that a little bit.  Roode gets the fall on Anderson, it would appear that this feud between Flair and Lynch is far from over.

3. TYLER BLACK (w/RENEE) d. CLAUDIO CASTAGNOLI (w/GARGANO)
-It may have caught your attention that Tyler Black, who has been at the top of the card for a long time, coming off a huge Loser Leaves Town win over Ambrose at the Rumble, wound up in a heel v heel match without a lot of heat.  Sure, it’s a good match, Claudio doesn’t have bad matches, but it’s like 14 minutes long and more like a really good TV match than something special.  Black goes over and that’s it.  Curious.

4. USOS (JIMMY/JEY) d. REVIVAL (DASH/DAWSON) (w/special guest referee Sami Zayn)
-Best match of the night to this point; this is really just a “I’m better than you” feud that began a year prior; the Usos had been cocky heels, but now are largely just good, cocky wrestlers and they go over here in what is an excellent match.  The frosting to this one is the return of Zayn; the former El Generico has been gone for a year; this is his first appearance as himself.  The crowd starts the Ole’ chant, but Zayn shakes his head in disapproval. All four wrestlers pay respect to Zayn as they enter, he seems embarrassed…maybe even irritated by the attention.  What we don’t know yet is that Zayn is not just a special guest referee – Zayn is now a WWF official; he moves to full time work tomorrow night.  He doesn’t cut a promo, he’s not in any angle; he just becomes a referee.  Note, he never works a Kevin Steen match.  The Reigns illness had not been part of the story, but it had been talked about on the various chat programs on the Network, so most of the fans understand what’s up when Roman appears postmatch, comes down to the ring and celebrates with Jimmy and Jey.

5. UNDERGROUND (ALEISTER BLACK/BUDDY MURPHY w/REGAL) d. SHOOT NATION (GABLE/LASHLEY)
-The new crop from Underground announced its presence with authority by taking Nemeth apart prior to the Rumble; Shoot Nation attempts revenge here, but Gable and Lashley cant quite get it done, Murphy gets the fall on Lashley; the rest of Underground (AoP, Gulak, Lorcan) hit the ring postmatch for the show of force/celebration.

6. CAGE MATCH: KINGSTON (w/LANGSTON&WOODS) d. RUSEV (w/STROWMAN&LANA)
-A year+ later this feud ends. It’s big man/little man stuff; Rusev throws Kingston around, Kingston gets color, Kingston fights from underneath, does some high flying stuff, gets the clean pinfall.  Outside, there had been some type of power spot from Langston on Strowman, and some type of Woods using his crutches to distract Lana spot – it’s a full victory for the New Day and they celebrate in the cage postmatch


Halfway point of the card; it’s the promised announcement by Heyman of his newest talent acquisition.  Heyman comes to the ring, says he’s managed wrestlers now for over a quarter of a century – but now, he’s acquired his very best.  A man without peer.  The next big thing.

Walter.

Walter enters – it’s his first WWF appearance; he comes to the ring in a Paul Heyman Guy t-shirt; shakes Heyman’s hand.  Heyman says very, very soon – Walter will take any title belt he wants.
(in fact, that will happen; Wednesday, at Dark Ride, Walter and Heyman appear, challenge Kushida, Walter goes over in a devastating match and takes the belt).  That ends Heyman’s portion of the show, Nigel is with Ranallo to finish the card.

7. REY MYSTERIO/La SOMBRA w/ZELINA d. KALISTO/APOLLO CREWS
-Rey is the Godfather, the locker room leader, his sway over all the masked wrestlers in the promotion has drawn the irritation of Crews, given that he and Kalisto are longtime partners. In the key moment in this match, Sombra is injured on the outside; the official throws up the X. Rey and Kalisto go outside to aid him, it appears for a moment the match will just be stopped – but Crews is not having it, he attacks Rey and yells at Kalisto to get his head in the game. Kalisto shakes his head no and aids Zelina in helping Sombra from ringside.  Rey and Crews continue, the match now just between the two of them, and Rey gets the fall. Postmatch, Crews attacks, it’s clearly a heel turn; Crews wearing out Rey – when a fan hurdles the barricade and hits the ring and goes after Crews.  The fan gets the better of Crews, cleaning house.  Rey is startled – and then more so when the fan removes some prosthetic on his face to evidence that he is Kevin Steen (we learned in the build that Steen, who was driven out of the promotion by Rey) had been attending WWF events incognito as a fan.  Steen exits the ring, goes back through the crowd.

8. WWF TAG TEAM TITLES: SHOOT NATION (LESNAR/ANGLE/BENJAMIN) d. HOOLIGANS (SHEAMUS/McINTYRE/MIZ)

-It’s Kurt Angle’s final professional wrestling match; pre-match is the clip package of his Wrestlemania career:

WM 15: Angle stops Jeff Jarrett from burning an American flag
WM 16: Angle beats Taz
WM 17: Angle beats Benoit to win the WWF Title
WM 18: Angle keeps the WWF Title over Hennig
WM 19: Angle beats Lesnar to keep the Undisputed Title
WM 20: Benoit takes the title from Angle
WM 21: Angle beats Christian
WM 22: Benjamin beats Angle, it’s his final WWF match before headed to TNA
WM 33: Angle’s return to the WWF as the special guest referee in the Styles/Aries main event
WM 34: Angle and Gable beat Anderson/Gallows

-Lesnar gets the fall here on Sheamus; Shoot Nation becomes the 107th WWF tag team champions; it’s Benjamin’s 4th title run, putting him (I think) in the group behind only Tony Garea for most tag title runs. And – as the three men from Shoot Nation celebrate, both their win and Angle’s final match – the video wall makes clear that something else has happened – Brock Lesnar has won the Triple Crown (Angle points this out to Brock, he has to explain what that is.  Lesnar digs it -and we see the shots of all the prior winners, as is tradition:

PEDRO MORALES

BRET HART

SHAWN MICHAELS

OWEN HART

STEVE AUSTIN

CACTUS JACK

EDDY GUERRERO

REY MYSTERIO

CHRIS BENOIT

CHRIS JERICHO

EDGE

NICK NEMETH

AJ STYLES 

And as the name Brock Lesnar is added to the list; the shot on the video wall is from 2002; it’s Brock/Angle/Benajmin all standing together in the ring on Camp Angle 17 years prior.  And here they are again – reunited, holding the WWF tag team titles as Kurt retires from the sport.  Quite a Wrestlemania moment (or Kurt could have lost to Baron Corbin..I mean, either way)

9. WOMEN’S TITLE: ASUKA d. RONDA ROUSEY (w/HORSEWOMEN)
Asuka’s undefeated – they do the full IRL Goldberg thing with her, the walk from the back, the security guards, the fireworks, the chants, the signs – she ran through Dark Ride Wrestling, she ran through the division, took Lynch’s title a year ago.  And now she runs into shoot fighter Rousey, she and the Horsewomen have smashed the promotion to bits for a year.

This is a big match – immovable object and irresistible force.  They give it every possible drop they have to make it a classic – Asuka beats Rousey clean as a sheet in the middle of the ring.  Postmatch, Rousey stops Asuka’s celebration – for a second we think they might go – but Rousey extends her hand and the two women shake.

Tomorrow’s RAW opens with Rousey’s music – she comes to the ring with the Horsewomen, thanks the fans, says she had a helluva time and who knows, maybe she’ll come back someday.  Baszler says no she won’t – because Rousey showed just like she showed with Holly Holm that when all the chips are in the middle, she can’t get it done.  Rousey and Baszler go nose to nose and then Duke and Shafir attack Ronda – the Horsewomen beating Rousey down – Asuka runs into the back for the save; Asuka and Rousey get an advantage but then Baszler grabs a chair and lays them both out.  The Horsewomen stomp out Asuka and Rousey to end that segment.  It's going to seriously injure Asuka enough that she will be forced to relinquish the belt.

We don’t know about any of that yet, that’s tomorrow.  For now it a nice moment – Asuka and Rousey shake hands – Asuka remains undefeated.

The lights go out and then dim for the In Memorium package; an Oscar’s-like clip package of those prominent in the sport who have died subsequent to last year’s Wrestlemania:

DYNAMITE KID
VADER
PEDRO MORALES
ANNETTE PALMER
ARKANGEL
BIG BULLY BUSICK
SALVATORE BELLOMO
BRIAN LAWLER
BRICKHOUSE BROWN
CHRIS CHAMPION
ROCKIN’ REBEL
DIRTY DICK SLATER
EL PICUDO
DOC DEAN
DON LEO JONATHAN
FRANK ANDERSSON
JOSE LOTHARIO
BELLADONNA
LARRY THE AX HENNIG
THE DESTROYER DICK BEYER
UNIVERSO 2000
VILLANO III
LIN BRYON
MASA SAITO
MATT CAPPOTELLI
LES THORNTON
LUSCIOUS JOHNNY VALIANT
KOJI KITAO
RAYO de JALISCO
PAUL JONES
KING KONG BUNDY
NIKOLAI VOLKOFF
JIM THE ANVIL NEIDHART
MEAN GENE OKERLUND
BRUNO SAMMARTINO

The lights go out again, there’s a three bell count, and then they are back on.
So, so far, it’s really a show more about moment than work; both the Usos/Revival and Asuka/Rousey feel like four star matches, but not all time classics – really what stands out is the Hardys, Edge and Christian, and Angle/Lesnar/Benjamin and Steen and Rey, and Reigns and Zayn.  The workrate success of the show really depends on the 3 upper card matches hitting hard; the goal for the top of this card is pure match quality.

10. THE AMERICAN DRAGON BRYAN DANIELSON d. SAMOA JOE
-I don’t know how many years ago it was, but it was a long, long time ago, when I talked about the ideal GDI arc leading to Danielson against Joe at Mania.  Here we are.  Joe left ROH, went to TNA to become one of the cornerstones of that promotion.  Danielson came to WWF, took over as leader of GDI, won the WWF title a couple of times.  Danielson became WWF Commissioner; Joe came to WWF and started Dark Ride Wrestling.  Joe’s won the WWF Title and with Danielson coming out of retirement, we’re here.  Danielson beat Joe at Survivor Series; Joe beat Danielson at the Rumble.

Joe’s a babyface, but really he’s just Joe – grumpy, ass kicking Joe.  Danielson has been total white meat his entire WWF run…but this year…inch by inch…not so much.  We see that in this one as well, although it’s a little subtle, no overtly heel actions as we’ve seen by Danielson in the first two matches of the series – but Danielson does wrestle as the heel in this one; the addition here is Danielson’s refusal to break (happens once) and he (not in an over the top way, just matter of fact) says “I have til 5, referee”.  You never know if this chance ever happens again, so they give it all they have – and Danielson is going to submit Joe in the middle.

Now a highlight package – every IC Title match in WM history:
WM1 – Piper takes the IC from Valentine in a dog collar match
WM2 – Savage takes the IC from Piper
WM3 – Savage keeps the belt over Jake
WM4 – Bret takes the belt from Savage
WM5 – Rude takes the belt from Hennig
WM6 – Bret keeps over Shawn
WM7 – Bret keeps over Tenryu
WM8 – Savage keeps over Piper in a parking lot brawl
WM9 – Shawn keeps over Hennig
WM10-Razor took Shawn’s belt in the ladder match
WM11 – Razor regained the belt, beating Owen
WM12-Vader kept over Undertaker
WM13-Cactus kept over Vader
WM14-Shamrock and Austin fought to a draw in the Octagon with Mike Tyson as the referee
WM15-Al Snow took Austin’s belt in a falls count anywhere match
WM16-Eddy took Jericho’s belt
WM17-Austin regained the belt from Regal in a falls count anywhere
WM18-RVD kept over Austin
WM19-Rey kept over Chavo
WM20-Eddy took from Chavo in a ladder match
WM21-Edge kept over Regal
WM22-Fit kept the belt over Regal but then dropped it to Hunter
WM23-Orton took the belt in a 3 way over Jeff and Helms
WM24-MVP kept his belt in a 3 ay over Kendrick and Noble
WM25-Rey regained the belt in a Mask v Title over MVP
WM26-Sydal kept over Tatsu
WM27-Sheamus took from Nitro
WM28-The Rock took from Sheamus
WM29-Nemeth took the belt in a 3 way over Rock and Swagger
WM30-Nemeth regained the belt in a ladder match over Sheamus
WM31-Bray took from Luke Harper
WM32-Generico took from Styles
WM33-Brock kept over Jericho
WM34-Nakamura took from Lesnar in a title v title match

11. IC TITLE: RICOCHET (w/BWI) d. PRINCE DEVITT (w/Kushida)
-Devitt and Ricochet just need to burn it down like it’s the finals of the Super Juniors; it’s a year long program, Devitt taking on all of Dark Ride Wrestling with Blood Warriors International on the front line.  Ricochet had to relinquish the Dark Ride title to accept this match (the title was then won by Kushida, who was revealed to be part of the Bullet Club, giving Devitt the thing he always promised – control of Dark Ride Wrestling) Devitt comes to the ring carrying both the IC belt and the Dark Ride belt to shove it one last time in the faces of that entire imprint. But – its Ricochet who takes the IC here; going over Devitt with the 630.  Big celebration in the ring as the big players in Dark Ride all emerge from the back to celebrate – there’s the Clique, and GDI and British Strong Style and even Gargano – all there in a moment of unity to celebrate with Ricochet as they vanquish Prince Devitt.  Ricochet becomes the 72nd Intercontinental Champion

A clip package of every WM WWF Title match…

WM1-Steamboat kept his belt over Windham
WM2-Dynamite takes from Steamboat
WM3-Steamboat retakes from Dynamite
WM4-Dynamite retakes from Steamboat
WM5-Savage keeps the belt over Bret
WM6-Hennig keeps the belt over Savage
WM7-Hennig keeps again over Savage, forcing Randy to retire (albeit, not really)
WM8-Bret takes the title from Flair
WM9-Bret kept the title over Razor
WM10-Owen took the title from Bret; Savage and Perfect, bitter, bitter rivals, shake hands postmatch
WM11-Bret regains the belt, beating Shawn
WM12-Shawn regains from Bret in the Iron Man match
WM13-Austin takes the title from Bret
WM14-Owen keeps the belt over Shawn
WM15-Cactus regains the belt, beating Owen in a pure wrestling match
WM16-Benoit takes the title from Cactus
WM17-Angle takes from Benoit
WM18-Angle keeps over Hennig
WM19-Angle keeps over Lesnar
WM20-Benoit regains the belt from Angle, he and Eddy celebrate postmatch
WM21 – Eddy took from Benoit in an Iron Man match
WM22-Rey kept over Benoit (this is Benoit’s last match)
WM23-Booker beat Lashley to win the vacant title
WM24-Punk took in a TLC over Benjamin and Nitro
WM25-Jericho kept over Michaels
WM26-Jericho kept over Regal
WM27-Punk took the title from Edge…and then immediately lost it to Nemeth
WM28-Danielson kept over Jericho
WM29-Lesnar took from Danielson when Punk threw in the towel
WM30-Claudio took from Danielson
WM31-Brock kept from Claudio
WM32-AJ won the vacant belt in the Elimination Chamber
WM33-AJ kept over Aries
WM34-Nakamura kept over Lesnar in the title v title


12. WWF TITLE: AJ STYLES d. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
-AJ Styles regains the belt, becoming the 58th WWF Champion. It’s a main event style match; long (needs to be long, needs to feel grueling, needs to have all the epic trappings) all the big spots, the hot finishing sequence, all the nearfalls – it’s a 30+ minute epic and it ends with a Styles Clash.

AJ is exhausted postmatch; Nakamura disappears and AJ stands alone when..appearing on the ramp is his old stablemate/rival Prince Devitt.  Devitt lost in the prior match – and now he stands on the ramp, facing off against AJ Styles – what’s going to happen – are they going to go – are they going to ---

And then Styles is hit in the back of the head…

….by a briefcase….


…swung by Tyler Black….

AJ is out – out cold on the mat – Black, who had emerged from underneath the ring (he went under in the In Memorium blackout) hits AJ with the Money in the Bank briefcase won at last year’s Mania (the stip was he could cash it in through this year’s Mania, go ahead and check) and then hands it to the official – the timekeeper rings the bell.

13. WWF TITLE: TYLER BLACK d. AJ STYLES
And Tyler Black pins AJ Styles to win the WWF Title.

Why did Black move into a very minor program following his win over Ambrose? Why haven’t we seen the briefcase since Survivor Series?  Just an attempt to hide in plain sight, so at least some fans would be surprised at this turn of events.

The Bullet Club lost the mixed tag – they lost the IC – but none of that matters now as they all hit the ring – Anderson/Gallows/Lynch/Kushida/Renee and Devitt all join Tyler Black in the ring; the night began with Nakamura as WWF Champion…but now it is Tyler Black….the Bullet Club…once again in control of the World Wrestling Federation Championship as the show ends.

Back next month to start a countdown of the 100 greatest matches in WWF history (PPV only).

In August – the wrestling year begins anew.  One assumes it will be perfectly normal, run of the mill, no weird cataclysms threatening the entire globe. 

Road to Wrestlemania 35 Part II - The Tags

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Part 1 was here

A reminder of what we set up last month.

WWF Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura v. AJ Styles
Women’s Championship: Asuka v. Ronda Rousey (w/Horsewomen)
IC Title: Prince Devitt v. Ricochet (w/BWI)
Bryan Danielson v. Samoa Joe
Claudio Castagnoli (w/Gargano) v. Tyler Black
Cage: Kingston (w/New Day) v. Rusev (w/Lana and Strowman)

Here’s the other half of the card; six tag matches.

Tag Titles: Hooligans (McIntyre/Sheamus/Miz) v. Shoot Nation (Lesnar/Angle/Benjamin)
No DQ: Shoot Nation (Gable/Lashley) v. Underground (Alestair Black/Murphy)
The Legendary Rey Mysterio/La Sombra (w/Zelina) v. Kalisto/Apollo Crews)
Usos v. Revival (Special Guest Referee – Sami Zayn)
Hardys v. Mustafa Ali/Mascara Dorada
Mixed Tag: Bullet Club (Anderson/Lynch w/Gallows) v. Horsemen (Roode/Flair w/Strong)

I’m guessing there’s a name there that at least a few folks did not anticipate.

Okay, in a big Rumble angle, Regal joined Underground in a hotel room beating of the leader of a prior Underground generation, Nemeth.  In the main event spot for RAW eight days later, Regal returns with his crew (Alestair Black, Murphy, AoP, Gulak, Lorcan) in tow.  For a few months, Shoot Nation (Angle’s stable) had been working with the next wave of Underground trainees to make their ways to the main roster.  It was a little big brother/little brother here, with the Shoot Nation guys in the dominant position.  That taps into the old Angle/Regal dynamic (Angle led a stable for which Regal was the Enforcer; in the intervening years, Regal had periodically inquired of former TNA wrestlers how Kurt was doing).  Lot of miles between here and there, Regal became the primary architect of the developmental system; he’s really one of the pillars of the promotion.  So – you can see where sliding into that subordinate position upon Angle’s return might have worn thin.  Regal lays this out here; weaving in the idea of needing to make a statement; as they did when Underground rose initially.  How better to make that statement than by taking out Nemeth, the former leader. 

Angle and Shoot Nation are going to enter here – Angle’s says that he was fine ending his career by taking a victory lap – but instead, he ends his career going to war.  And then there’s a brawl.  Regal half returns to the announce desk; he and Nigel are splitting Fight Night now, sometimes they’re away with managerial duties, and when they’re available, they do Fight Night.  Sometimes they’re both there – sometimes neither.  The new RAW analyst is Heyman; we learn that he and Brock have amicably ended their professional relationship (Ronda’s getting more per date than Lesnar was not navigable) and Brock’s gone back home to re-assess next steps. 

So – it isn’t as clean as just building to that match; because we are wrapping Kurt’s in ring career here and there’s a lot of stuff we need to stuff into this build.  Shoot Nation is named the number one contenders for the tag belts, and because Hooligans was only able to use two of their members at the Rumble, they are very clear they’ll be defending them at Mania with all 3 guys. 

And that presents a dilemma – Shoot Nation has five members (Angle, Gable, Benjamin, Lashley, Nemeth) but Nemeth is recovering from the attacks and unable to work Mania.  The feud with Underground is going to lead to a Mania match against their two top guys (Murphy/Black). Angle is clear that he wants the match – but Benjamin talks him down; this is the final match of his career, he has a chance to win the tag titles – Gable and Nemeth had grown very close and Gable needs that match and it makes sense that he takes Lashley with him. 

So – that match is set.  Gable/Lashley v. Black/Murphy.  No Disqualification. 

That leaves Angle and his old protegee, Benjamin, in a handicap match for the tag titles (Hooligans could relent, but Miz is clear, all 3 of them are in this match, it’s Wrestlemania and they’re defending their belts, they’ve earned this).  Angle’s been wrapping up his career with hand picked opponents and so that is folded into this.  He wants to work handicap matches to get ready for Mania.  He asks Rey for a match.  Rey has La Sombra – but needs a third and he asks Kalisto. 

Kalisto, of course, jumps at it – and that continues the fissure between he and his partner Crews (Crews believes Kalisto is overly influenced by Mysterio at the expense of their team).  Crews is going to take the rare (very, very, very rare) step of calling Rey out (Rey is the locker room leader, think IRL Undertaker) Crews says Rey needs to step back.  Rey mists him a little bit, does some veteran voodoo, convinces Crews that actually, he’s doing Kalisto a service by helping him – that’s just going to make he and Crews stronger going forward, and in fact, Rey ups the ante a little further – says his first Wrestlemania match since his return is coming up, and he’d like it to be a tag match,

Mysterio/Sombra taking on Crews and Kalisto.  Crews can’t help but be won over here; that is a high profile match and Crews has been knocking on the door for awhile.

So, that sets up that match, Mysterio/Sombra v. Kalisto/Crews.

Rey’s team beats Shoot Nation in that match; it’s a handicap match after all – Benjamin eats the fall from Kalisto (which shows Crews that perhaps Rey is right). 

Angle only has one match left before Mania – and he tells Danielson he wants it to be against him.

He asks him to find two partners.  

Danielson says no – tells Kurt he understands why its not a singles match, he respects Kurt’s choices as a wrestler and wouldn’t want to put him in a position that doesn’t reflect where his career is right now.

But Danielson says a handicap match belittles both of them and he won’t do it and he, with respect, thinks Kurt should not do it at Mania.  Danielson says if Hooligans won’t drop down to 2 guys – then Shoot Nation should bump up to 3.  “Get a new guy, Kurt.  Big world out there.”

As for Danielson – he also needs to get a guy; it’s a mystery partner – so when  it’s match time, Angle and Benjamin are introduced first, then Danielson – he stands on the ramp and waits –
----
-----
…..For Kevin Steen.

It’s Steen’s return to the promotion after being run off by Mysterio following last year’s Mania unmasking of Generico.  It’s a surprise. 

Danielson and Steen go over. 

On a subsequent broadcast, an angry Mysterio calls Danielson out.  Says he was really clear, Kevin Steen has no home in the WWF and he wants that to be respected.  He’s earned it, after all. 

Danielson says no.  Steen’s paid his debt.  He’s a wrestler; just like Rey, just like Danielson.  No one likes what he did.  No one will forget what he did.  But he’s a wrestler; this is a wrestling promotion – he’s welcome in the locker room. 

Rey asks who Danielson thinks he is to get to decide he’s welcome. 
Danielson asks who Rey thinks he is to get to decide he’s not welcome.

The two veteran babyfaces go nose to nose – Rey says Steen isn’t like them.  He doesn’t love it.  Doesn’t need it.

Danielson says Rey’s wrong.  And shows him some footage – a cameraman spotted something a few months ago and then alerted a few people and they put something together.

It’s Steen at various WWF events, deep in the crowd, in enough disguise to not be noticed – and he’s marking out, totally wrapped up into whatever matches he’s watching.  He’s cheering for babyfaces (including Rey) booing heels.  He’s at TV – he’s at house shows; like a half dozen different events all from the last few months. 

Danielson says Steen wasn’t wanted here – but still couldnt stay away from wrestling.  That’s why Danielson called him up to be his partner.  Because he’s in this life.  He’s not a tourist, not a part timer, not an actor, he’s a wrestler.  And he deserves to come back.

Back to Angle. In the go home RAW, with the tag title still advertised as a handicap match (Hooligans has wrestled a couple of handicap matches in the build as well, unsurprisingly, there’s a scheduled in ring face to face of the 5 men on a Heyman Hustle episode.  Heyman and Hooligans poke at Angle a little bit – how does he possibly think he can win?  It’s a handicap match, for Chrissake. 

But it’s not, Kurt says.  It’s 3 on 3.  Because there’s a new member of Shoot Nation. 

And that’s when Lesnar’s music hits. 

Brock Lesnar has joined Shoot Nation – he, Angle, Benjamin stand together in the ring – just as they did at the beginning – and they’ll take on Hooligans for the straps at Mania.  There's no interaction at all between Heyman and Lesnar.  

Hooligans v. Shoot Nation.

3 matches left. 

The Revival took the belts from the Usos at last year’s Mania, Usos won the rematch at Survivor Series and they wrap up the trilogy here.  Largely it’s been a workrate program, a “we’re better than you, program” – with the Usos being the heels and the Revival as babyfaces, but fundamentally based on respect.  There’s less respect now – more “fuck you, you think you’re the best tag team in the world, we’re the best tag team in the world and you can die in a fire” – the Usos have gone from cocky babyfaces to cocky heels and are now just cocky.  They do a “If you want to cheer us, cheer us, if you want to boo us boo us – as long as you put respect on our names as the best tag team alive” sort of a thing. The Revival stop cutting promos entirely, not like Claudio “I won’t speak English to these people” – but instead saying they’re just over it; watch the matches, judge the matches, that’s it.  Two tag teams both claiming to be the best on the planet – each has beaten the other and it ends here at WM35.  There’s a special guest referee at each Mania – and this year it is the former El Generico, seen for the first time in a year, Sami Zayn. There’s a highlight package for that – the former Generico, tag champion, IC champion, returns to the WWF. 

Revival v. Usos.

Jeff Hardy and Mustafa Ali have been in a “the veteran takes the youngster to the learning tree” program – Ali’s youth and athleticism has brought into focus that Jeff’s not as young as springtime no more.  Ali starts to feel himself a little, tells Jeff that he wants to beat Jeff Hardy at WM (not in a heelish way, it’s youthful exuberance).  Jeff says that the singles spots on the card are full, maybe another year.  Ali says – what about a tag?  Ali says he’s been talking to Dorada that maybe they should do something together (it’s why Dorada is not around to be the third with Mysterio, he’s working with Ali at that time). They had some great matches against each other and they’ve been working on some stuff together during down time.  Ali asks Jeff if he thought maybe he could get a tag partner…

Jeff raises an eyebrow.  Says maybe he knows a guy. 

The next week is a video from the Hardy Compound.  There’s all the Broken Matt paraphernalia…but when the camera finally gets to Matt, he’s not there – what’s there is all the Broken Matt gear and a handwritten note…see you next week, Matt.

The following week – Matt Hardy, in streetclothes, no gimmick, is on RAW.  He says when he retired after last years Wrestlemania he meant it – his career is over in every incarnation.  But something hasn’t sat right with him.  His last match was on videotape in his house, as Broken Matt.  And that was fun – but it wasn’t wrestling.

Matt says he’s a professional wrestler, has been his entire life.  Not an actor – a wrestler. Like Danielson, like Rey, like Kurt Angle.  And his last match should be in a wrestling ring.  And it should be with his brother.

Jeff enters.

Matt says he heard Jeff’s been challenged to a tag match at Mania by some young whippersnapper. 
Matt says – one night only – one more round – the Hardys ride again at Wrestlemania.

The build is nostalgia – Ali/Dorada work as a tag on their own while the Hardys are gone, they put together a nostalgic video package – sort of like IRL “Tell Me a Lie” – with clips of the Hardys from their teenage days as Owen Hart’s young boy all the way to the broken universe.  One More Round.

The Hardys Ride Again. 

Hardys v. Ali/Dorada

And finally…

Paige/Becky/Sasha/Charlotte were 4-Ground, they dominated the women’s division – but then Charlotte joined the Horsemen and Becky joined the Bullet Club and we can’t have nice things.  Rousey’s entrance into the promotion catalyzed the group slowly moving back together.  Enough that Paige comes to the ring not long after the Rumble and asks that she be joined by the other 3 and Bailey, who, as Paige is medically retired, joined the other 3 against the Horsewomen.
Paige puts over Bailey; says if there’s any one who has the heart to take her spot – it’s Bailey.  And she says the rest of the spots should be filled. Come on home.  Sasha agrees, but the animosity between Charlotte and Becky is too strong – they start sniping at each other, they go nose to nose – and each of them exits the ring.   Anderson and Gallows started the wrestling year (post WM 34) by killing Arn Anderson; they’re laughing about it in the locker room, overheard by Roode and Strong.

They take offense – maybe Arn wasn’t with them, but that didn’t mean he isn’t a Horsemen for life, and they don’t want to her that shit. 

The Bullet Club asks what are they going to do about it – and that starts a locker room brawl that leads to a program – the Charlotte/Becky animosity is folded in -and you have set up the first mixed tag match in Wrestlemania history.

Anderson/Lynch v. Roode/Flair

Add a promised announcement of the newest Paul Heyman Guy to join the WWF – and that’s Wrestlemania 35.

WWF Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura v. AJ Styles
IC Title: Prince Devitt v. Ricochet
Women’s Title: Asuka v. Ronda Rousey
Tag Titles (Kurt Angle’s Final Match): Hooligans (McIntyre/Sheamus/Miz) v. Shoot Nation (Lesnar/Angle/Benjamin)
The American Dragon Bryan Danielson v. Samoa Joe
Rey Mysterio/La Sombra v. Kalisto/Apollo Crews
Claudio Castagnoli v. Tyler Black
Revival v. Usos (Special Guest Referee – Sami Zayn)
Cage Match: Kingston v. Rusev (If Kingston loses, New Day must disband)
No DQ: Shoot Nation (Lashley/Gable) v. Underground (Alestair Black/Murphy)
Mixed Tag: Bullet Club (Anderson/Lynch) v. Horsemen (Roode/Flair)
Hardys v. Mustafa Ali/Mascara Dorada (Hardy Boys Final Match)

I mean, I don’t know your life – but I think you’re buying this one.  You can’t get Wrestlemania on the WWF Network (I know, Vince is the one with the incredible business acumen and I just book dumb angles, but one of us recognized at the launch of the Network it was a mistake to give Wrestlemania away every year and it’s not the guy in Stamford) it’s only available on Pay Per View. 

See you in April.

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