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.

The Road to Wrestlemania XXVI Part 2

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Part I, setting up the double main event and the opening tag is here.

CM Punk/Christian v. Edge/Matt Hardy

No DQ: The Messiah Shawn Michaels/Johnny Nitro (w/Natty Neidhart) v. Bret Hit Man Hart/Montel Porter

Hunter Hearst Helmsley-McMahon/The Miz v. The Flock: Tyson Kidd/Harry Smith

7 matches left.  

The 3 title matches, unburdened from the necessity of selling the show based on storyline, are largely designed for workrate.

WWF Title: Chris Jericho v. Steve Regal
IC Title: Matt Sydal v. Yoshi Tatsu (w/Michael Cole)
Tag Titles: D1 (Swagger/Nemeth w/Kelly) v. Young Money (Kingston/Killings)

At a year and a half, Jericho's run is now the longest with the WWF Title since Angle held the belt for more than 2 years from '01-03.  And that's what he is - he's the champ.  Meaning, he's positioned above the fray - his actions are motivated for the good of the sport, he sees himself as entrusted with something larger than he is.  He isn't immersed in his own life - his angles aren't deeply personal - he's the champ, defending the belt against those who deserve shots.

So - he defends against MVP, coming off the long IC run.  When he gave Matt his shot back, it wasn't because he wanted to beat Matt - it was because it was time for Matt Hardy to be put down.  

When Jericho cuts promos - they're about the state of wrestling, he talks about other programs, talks about the nature of wrestling - it's Jericho in his suit, with his belt, being Nick Bockwinkel.

So, on the first Friday in February - when Jericho shows up unannounced on Fight Night, to watch the blow off between Regal and Finlay discussed in the build to the Rumble, it isn't a shock.  Regal and Finlay aren't specifically in a retirement match, but as has been put over during the program, the locker room talk is the loser will be hanging up his boots.  

It's all the match you'd want - Regal going over.  And following - Jericho climbs into the ring, shakes Regal's hand - and gestures to the WM 26 banner as the show ends.

The program is largely bloodless, pre-taped Regal promos, being interviewed by JR in the empty arenas before and after shows, walking us through Regal's life story, from pitfighting at 14 through the European indies, and then his star crossed runs in the NWA and WWF, where he earned the distinction as the "greatest wrestler never to win a world title."

And that's the basic build - it's Regal, respected universally by his peers (a point made throughout by the boys, any discussion about the title match, including from GDI, is about Regal being viewed behind the scenes as the man) but has just never been able to get over the hump.  Regal burns hotter as we get closer to Mania, every time in his career that he's gotten closer - something has tripped him up, injuries, politics - his own reckless personal behavior.  Regal knows this is the singular moment of his life, the crystallizing of every moment of training - a chance to win the world title at WM 26. The program for 26 is about Regal, a veteran who will do anything he has to do to win the title - he demonstrates that on Fight Night against his one time stablemate, Shelton Benjamin (they were in Team Angle together, Regal was positioned as Benjamin's protector against a tyrannical Angle, eventually quitting the stable over the way Kurt treated the youngster).

Regal's merciless, ripping Benjamin apart, making a motion for the title belt.

Jericho remains above the fray, as he does - really not engaging in any sort of personal talk with Regal, he believes Regal deserves the match - agrees with every other wrestler who calls him the best never to win the title, and thinks it will be a great match for the fans at Mania.  Note, this approach is contrary to the weight of history - consider other long babyface world title runs by Bret and Angle, the runs most comparable to Jericho - by this point, each felt besieged - so few friends, so many challengers - each man succumbed to demons, lashing out at the fans in an uneasy is the head that wears the crown fashion. But Jericho's demons were years ago - Jericho's been depressed, unhinged, maniacal - but that was years ago, in his return to the WWF his excess has bent toward remaining above emotional investment.  Once there was JerichoDark.  Once there was the Lizard King.  Now - Jericho, always the actor, has slipped into the skin of the Champ.

Regal shows his anger at Jericho's seeming nonchalance (Jericho supporters would call it professionalism, a champion's mentality) during the contract signing at midring on RAW, when he cuts a "this isn't an exhibition for the fans, this is about the best wrestler you've ever faced hurting you so badly you relinquish your belt" promo - that ends with him putting Jericho in the Regal Stretch until it's broken up by backstage personnel.

It's Jericho defending against Regal at WM26.

The IC is a battle of former GDI 2.0 rivals Sydal and Tatsu.

GDI today, of course, is Danielson/Low Ki and Steamboat traveling the world.  GDI originally, of course, came out of the defining moment in recent WWF history - Punk's relinquishing the WWF title belt that led to the company being split into thirds, with Punk controlling the newly formed GDI.

But there was a middle period, after Punk and before Danielson - and that period was daredevil highflyer Matt Sydal against a recently heel turned arrogant Yoshi Tatsu.  When Steamboat, at that point a mystery purchaser, bought GDI, Sydal/Tatsu and Tatsu's translater Michael Cole went to WWF.  Sydal made some noise in a program with Mysterio in which he wound up on the short side, but his aerobatics got him an IC shot against Michaels at the Rumble, of which he successfully took advantage.

Tatsu and Cole do a comedy bit - Cole, in full over the top announcer voice, translates Tatsu's heel putdowns of his opponents "In Japan, I had more titles than you've had pieces of ass." The opponents get mad at Cole the same way you'd get mad at a ventriloquist's dummy who insults you - but the idea is these words aren't Cole's, despite the gusto with which he says them - they are Tatsu's.

They do that program here - with their GDI history to play off of - it raises some discomfort for the announcers who aren't allowed to discuss the current GDI, which is an independent company, no longer under the WWF umbrella - but everytime the GDI origins of this program are mentioned, Striker (RAW color announcer) inserts some type of reference to the current GDI to tweak Styles.  

It's the spot match at Mania - and pushed as such, that if people want to see high flying action, they can see it at WM 26.

And finally, the tags.

When Arn took over as WWF GM at Silver, he announced the new year would see a resurgence of tag team wrestling, leading to a tag team WM 26.  The centerpiece of the new tag team division has been Swagger and Nemeth - otherwise known as Division One, or D1.  Swagger is the first graduate of the new developmental system in Florida (WWFU, or, the Underground) that has a streaming reality show online.  Nemeth was the only other person in The Underground who could stand Swagger, despite his being a babyface - as he was just too perfect, too "teacher's pet-ish".  And D1 has stormed through the tag ranks this year, taking the titles from Dead Men Walking at Summer Slam and running through the other contenders, including deposing their chief rivals, Defiance, at the Rumble.

Young Money's Kingston and Killings, also babyfaces, put together by Floyd Mayweather during his WWF stint, doing a L'il Wayne gimmick.  They've largely been a bottom card act, but won a contender's match at the Rumble to get here - D1 is a subtle heel in the all babyface program - asserting that they are a little more serious than Young Money - Kingston and Killings are fun and all, and the kids like them - but they don't exactly look or wrestle like serious champions.

The Young Money response is that D1 doesn't get to decide what champions look like or wrestle like - they hit that "we're for the people" button.  They do a promo where they dress in the singlets like D1, clowning them a little bit.  Kingston, surprising Killings during that bit - issuing an amateur wrestling challenge for Fight Night to Nemeth.  

During that match, which Nemeth wins, JR reveals for the first time that Kingston was a successful wrestler in high school, and he catches Nemeth in a couple of holds - but Nemeth goes over - and then Killings challenges Swagger to a "no holds allowed" match for RAW (I'm not entirely sure either) - Swagger thinks it's idiotic, but accepts - Swagger gets a little frustrated during the match, and gets DQ'd when he suplexes Killings across the ring.  Killings is shaken up but recovers and cuts "what happened to the All-American who never breaks the rules?  What happened to the wrestling robot?" promo.  There's a pull apart - and that's the program.

We're six matches in.

CM Punk/Christian v. Edge/Matt Hardy

No DQ: The Messiah Shawn Michaels/Johnny Nitro (w/Natty Neidhart) v. Bret Hit Man Hart/Montel Porter

WWF Title: Chris Jericho v. Steve Regal

IC Title: Matt Sydal v. Yoshi Tatsu (w/Michael Cole)

Tag Titles: D1 (Swagger/Nemeth w/Kelly) v. Young Money (Kingston/Killings)

Hunter Hearst Helmsley-McMahon/The Miz v. The Flock: Tyson Kidd/Harry Smith

And we've got 4 to go.  

There's the Legends Match.  It's WM, so there has to be a Legends Match.
There's Rey Mysterio's Match.  It's WM, there's going to be a Rey Mysterio match.
There's a Contract Match, in recent years, we've seen matches with WWF contracts on the line.
And there's a Loser Leaves Town match.  

Today's March 3 - the weekend of the 18th, I'll make that post, to build the remaining 4 matches - and then real world Mania weekend I'll put up WM 26.  One more.

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