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.

Road to Wrestlemania XXIV - Part One

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wrestlemania XXIV from Orlando is coming.

The night after Rumble 2008, RAW opens with Joey Styles on the announce with Mick Foley.

Styles is selling the Bradshaw clothesline from the night before; he quickly explains that as a result of violating the edict that announcers cannot engage in physicality - Taz, Dreamer, and Bradshaw have all had their announcing contracts terminated.  Joey thanks Taz, who has been the primary analyst for almost 5 years, and wishes him well in his future endeavors.  Foley hopped into the analyst's chair during the Rumble - and Joey says Mick has some busy travel days ahead - as he'll be the analyst through Wrestlemania, not only on RAW, but also on GDI - and on Fight Night.  Foley makes triple crown pun - and we're off to the ring.

Steamboat enters.  He's going to announce the 3 (emphasis on 3) title matches to be wrestled at WM24.

First - the tag team titles.

Steamboat introduces the challengers, who won the number one contenders match last night at the Rumble, they are from Fight Night - with their manager Arn Anderson - Weapons of Mass Destruction: Leviathan and John Cena!

Leviathan (Batista) and Cena enter with Arn.  It's the first RAW appearance for all 3 since they moved to Fight Night.  Arn left with his then tag team Strong Style (Haas/Benjamin), Leviathan was essentially let go, his once promising career (he and Flair were tag champs) largely stalled, and Cena, who previously was half of the tag champs with Orton, was traded along with Kennedy and Noble, to Fight Night for Benjamin. 

They're all flexing and bouncing pecs, all swagger and confidence. 

Steamboat introduces their opponents, the tag team champions - The Cliq: Shawn Michaels and Hunter Hearst Helmsley McMahon!

Michaels, a 4 time tag champ, and HHH-M, a two time champ, enter wearing mock Hart Foundation hockey jerseys.  Last night, along with Edge, they swerved Jericho and are making sport of the jersey ceremony that Jericho and Edge had at the top of the Rumble. 

They hijack the proceedings, as everything's beneath them.  They call Howard Finkel into the ring to present him with a number one Hart Foundation jersey, they've scratched out Dynamite's name and scrawled in "The Ring Announce Dude."  They are juvenile, 40 year old smug heels.  They completely ignore the bouncing pecs of their challengers. 

Steamboat tries to take back the moment, but can't - Hunter says it might be tempting to overlook the tag title match, 'cause let's face it - it's gonna be a squash... the face of the other two title matches, there's the IC, with it's workrate and nearfalls - and then the tables and ladders and chairs main event -- so Hunter says he made a couple of phone calls and there's gonna be a very special guest referee for the tag title match.

Steamboat sighs, because he knows Hunter's gone over his head.

Hunter teases it for a moment - then he and Shawn let out a "Wooooooo" and a brief Flair clip package appears on the video wall.

Between now and Mania, we'll have 6 in ring promos by Flair.  He's gonna do the full Ric Flair thing, cutting promos (while the men are also each in the ring) on all 4 wrestlers, Arn, and Steamboat.

The narrative is "how will Flair call the match, is he on anyone's side" given that Flair has history with everyone in the ring, except for Cena.  And in those promos, besides being entertaining and giving Flair some run, he'll help develop the characters of everyone else. 

With Hunter, they establish that they've become closer in the year since Flair's retirement (Flair lost to Fit for the new NWA Title at XXIII) that they were never that close as partners in the 51% Solution, but have found common ground over the past year (that's why HHH feels so smug about getting Flair as very special guest referee).  They put over that Hunter's undefeated at Wrestlemania (as is Mysterio, I think) and he's become more than just the guy who carries around Shawn's bags.

And that's where it turns.

Flair says but with all his power and influence and money, with his marrying into the family that controls wrestling - the best Hunter can do for himself is to be the lesser half of a tag team with Michaels.  40 years old - still carrying Shawn Michaels's bags.  Embarrassing.  Pathetic.

When it's the Michaels promo he says Shawn's a triple crown winner, arguably the greatest wrestler who ever lived.  He's done it all and done most of it twice.

And then...

He hasn't been WWF Champ in a decade.  A decade.  Know who has been WWF Champ since Michaels?

"Me.  And I'm washed up.  Wooooooo."

With Cena he says he likes his fire, likes his aggressiveness, and admires his courage when the fans still laugh at him sometimes.

With Leviathan, he apologizes.  Leviathan was his protegee, his tag partner, Leviathan counted on him and Flair swerved him - left him for dead, left him to be savaged by Helmsley and Arn - left him behind when they formed the 51% Solution.  Flair's sorry.

But did you ever ask yourself, Flair says, did you ever ask yourself why we didn't want you in the first place?  We needed a big man, we got Lashley.  You we left to die.  Why do you think we did that - what do you think is missing in you that we wouldn't bring you in for the win?

With Steamboat, they roll over their life together.  Mid-Atlantic.  NWA.  1989.  Running the WWF together. Flair swerving Steamboat when he formed the Solution.  At every stop, Flair says, Flair was just a little bit better.  What's that like, Flair says, to be Ricky Steamboat, to be a two time WWF Champ, to have won the main event at the first ever Mania, to be the man in charge - the man who has unified the title belts after a year and a half, and be standing in the ring with a man better at every single element of his life.  Woooo.

Steamboat gets to comeback, unlike the wrestlers who have to take it.

Steamboat's response is that after Mania, Flair goes back home, no tv, no cameras, no ring -- and Steamboat will stay doing the work, stay in the business, stay in the sport.  So maybe there's one step that Steamboat took that Flair didn't.

And finally, with Arn there's discomfort.  They reminisce.  They do the old days.  And then Flair shows Arn's surprised reaction from  the RAW after the Rumble when HHH-M revealed Flair would be the guest ref.  Why wouldn't Arn know - Arn wouldn't know because he and Flair don't talk.  Flair's been gone a year, and they haven't spoken in a year.  Flair says he leaves messages - but Arn's too busy, too busy with his young wrestlers, too busy trying to win tag titles, too busy trying to hang on for another bit of reflected glory. 

So, that's the set up.  What will Ric Flair, as guest referee, do in the tag title matchup between the Cliq and WMD at WM XXIV?  The road continues.

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