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 30

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Rumble is here.

Wrestlemania is coming in March from New Orleans.

First – let’s talk programming; on the WWF Network there are 30 minute highlight packages for every Mania, much like NFL Films has those Super Bowl packages.  They’d only be available during this build each year-  they’d appear the day after the Rumble, disappear the day after Mania.

Also – building off the Clique Wrestlemania moments features from the build the Rumble – “My Favorite Mania Moment” features start running, short clips during the programming, longer pieces on the Network.  It’s wrestlers talking about a match they weren't a part of– I’d like a generational mix here, current workers talking about older matches, older workers on those legends contracts talking about more recent matches.  Also – and this is true for all shows, not just Manias, I’d like alternate commentary tracks with the wrestlers/managers/referees/whomever was a part of the match.  That’s less for this build and more of an ongoing project.

For example: (rolling out in intervals during the build, so we focus on a specific Mania on the Network, February 25 is Wrestlemania 17 day on the WWF Network, or whatever makes sense to make the math even.  All employees tweet about that Mania during that day.  Every day during the build should be a dedicated push to 30.)  

Wrestlemania – Bryan Danielson on Steamboat v. Windham
Wrestlemania II – Dean Ambrose on Funk v. Funk
Wrestlemania III – Ric Flair on Steamboat v. Dynamite
Wrestlemania IV – CM Punk (taped before he left) on Bret v. Savage
Wrestlemania V – Nick Nemeth on Rude v. Hennig
Wrestlemania VI – Edge on Bret v. Shawn
Wrestlemania VII – Tyler Black on Shawn v. Marty
Wrestlemania VIII - 1992 – HHH-M on Owen v. Shawn
Wrestlemania IX - 1993 – Sheamus on Bret v. Razor
Wrestlemania X - 1994 – Claudio on Owen v. Bret
Wrestlemania XI - 1995 – Chris Jericho on Bret v. Shawn
Wrestlemania XII - 1996 – Tyson Kidd/Natty Neidhart on Owen v. Davey Boy
Wrestlemania XIII - 1997 – Paul Heyman on Cactus Jack v. Vader
Wrestlemania XIV - 1998 – Rey Mysterio on Taka Michinoku v. Mr. Aguila
Wrestlemania XV - 1999 – Mick Foley on Al Snow v. Steve Austin
Wrestlemania XVI - 2000 – Shawn Michaels on Hardys v. Dudleys v. Edge/Christian
Wrestlemania XVII – Bret Hart on Kurt Angle v. Chris Benoit
Wrestlemania XVIII - 2002 – Roddy Piper on Flair v. Hogan v. Undertaker
Wrestlemania XIX 2003 – Steve Austin on Angle v. Lesnar
Wrestlemania XX - 2004 – Vickie Guerrero on Eddy v. Chavo
Wrestlemania XXI – Dean Malenko on Eddy v. Benoit
Wrestlemania 22 - 2006 – Joey Styles on Cactus v. RVD
Wrestlemania 23 - 2007  - Steve Regal on Fit v. Flair
Wrestlemania XXIV – Christian on Edge v. Jericho
Wrestlemania Silver 2009 – Pac on CM Punk v. Ricky Steamboat
Wrestlemania 26 – Fit Finlay on Jericho v. Regal
Wrestlemania 27 – Ricky Steamboat on Danielson v. Rey
Wrestlemania 28 – Brock Lesnar on Nick Nemeth v. Jack Swagger
Wrestlemania 29 – Hulk Hogan on Bryan Danielson v. Brock Lesnar

Let’s get to the card.
WWF Title: Bryan Danielson v. Claudio Castagnoli

IC: Ladder Match: Sheamus v. Nick Nemeth

Tags: The Shield (Black/Ambrose/Langston) v. Usos (Reigns/Jimmy/Jey)

Brock Lesnar v. Jack Swagger (w/Heyman and Bellas)

Rey Mysterio v. Bray Wyatt (w/Harper)

Tables: Ka$h Kingston v. Tyson Kidd v. Primo Colon v. Yoshi Tatsu

AJ Lee v. Natty Neidhart

Legends: Miz/HHH-M/New Age Outlaws (w/Hall and Nash) v.               Undertaker/PAUL/Kane/Henry

Wyatt Family (Virgil/Cena w/Harper) v. Defiance (Orton/Cody w/Bernard)

The title match has, say 3, weeks before it gets made.  We’re aware that Danielson will be making the announcement.  In the interim, Claudio has the best matches he can have in going over Generico and Pac, ideally generating increasing “Hey” chants.

On the Raw where Danielson is to make the announcement, he’s in the ring and then confronted by the rest of GDI, led by Steamboat, who, recall, is no longer on television; in storyline he is scouting talent.  Danielson’s surprised to see the full group, surprised to see Steamboat.

He says he’s there to speak on behalf of the guys. All of Danielson’s brothers are in agreement, there’s only one word to explain who should be his opponent at Wrestlemania 30.

Unbeknownst to a surprised Claudio – everyone backs away from him so he’s standing alone across from Danielson (he was behind Steamboat) and they all point “Hey.”

The Hey Chants increase – Claudio and Danielson go nose to nose – Danielson points to the XXX banner, nods, shakes Claudio’s hand, lets the fans chant, and we have our match.

It’s a babyface v. babyface build – as it goes on you can see Danielson’s amusement increases with the Hey chants; maybe reaching the border of irritation as we get to the end.  Claudio’s story is that he’s never been the guy; it was always CM Punk or Low Ki or Samoa Joe or Bryan Danielson.  Claudio was the other guy in the Kings of Wrestling; the guy who could work but not really connect with the public like Chris Hero. He just lacks something, people always said.  

Claudio says he’s not Bryan Danielson – everyone’s always known that he was the best wrestler, he’s always been at the top of the card, he’s always been the guy.  An A+ player. He was in the main event at Wrestlemania 29, he’ll be in the main event at Wrestlemania 31.  He’s the Best Wrestler in the World.

But not at 30 – for one night, one magical night – Claudio Castagnoli gets to be the man; and 75,000 in New Orleans will help make it so.

Danielson’s counter is that Claudio’s right.  Danielson’s the best wrestler in the world, was last year, will be next year.  And will be at Wrestlemania 30.  Wrestling matches aren’t won by monosyllabic chants – and whether the crowd is with him or against him has never mattered.  Every man, woman, and child can chant "Hey" all night long, during every match, during every move, during every moment. The Hey Movement got second life after the Rumble, breaking through into college sports, at a Michigan St basketball game, following a blown call, the fans pointed at the official "hey" - and now we see fans taunt opposing players and cheer their own players with the "hey" chants (spoiler alert - over the summer it will become the rallying cry of the San Francisco Giants, who will add the word "say" in front of it as homage to Willie Mays, "Say...hey...say...hey...say...hey....hey...hey....hey"  Hey Movement.

And at the end of the match, the result will be the same – Bryan Danielson, WWF Champion, Bryan Danielson, Best Wrestler in the World. 

The Brother vs. Brother theme continues in the IC match. 
Soon after the Rumble, maybe the next night, Underground meets in the ring, all with new t-shirts.  Sheamus is in front.  Kidd just behind.  Sandow, you probably wouldn't note, is anonymously buried in the group. No Nemeth. The developmental guys are there too so there are nearly 20 wrestlers in the ring. 

Sheamus is now a two time IC Champ, with aid from Kidd (wearing the headphones around his neck for the first time) and its clear that Underground has once again gone heel, Sheamus’s worldview having won out.

He calls out Nemeth – who enters – it’s a callback to the way Nemeth once offered Swagger the second spot in the faction, as Sheamus makes it evident that Nemeth is now to take this new shirt and stand behind him.

Nemeth says nah.  Instead of that, he’ll go to 30 and take Sheamus’s title.

Sheamus says he’s not surprised – the ranks start to close around Nemeth; Sheamus says out of respect to what he’s meant to Underground, they’re going to let him go.

Kidd holds the ropes open for him.  Nemeth, as if considering if he’s going to fight everyone, makes an executive decision and exits.  Underground does a rousing “Whose House, Our House, Whose House, Our House” chant.

Sheamus and Kidd team up to go over someone (lets say the Colons) the following week.  

The full Underground squad again appears to celebrate – Nemeth, carrying a ladder, then sprints down the aisle and hurls it into the ring.  He grabs another ladder, helpfully laying flat at ringside, and throws it into the ring – he enters the ring, fights off a couple of guys, grabs one of the ladders, does the Terry Funk airplane spin, bodies hit the floor, Sheamus and Kidd bail out, Nemeth climbs to the top of the ladder and points at Sheamus in the aisle – then points at the Mania banner. 

Like Razor v. Shawn at X, like Chavo v. Eddy at XX, the IC at XXX will be a ladder match between brothers, Sheamus v. Nemeth. 

The tag title is a year in the making; the Shield has the longest title reign in two decades, all three men will be legal when they take on the three man Usos.  With typical relaxed rules and all 6 men being in the match, we should have a wild brawl, typical of the televised matches in the tag division with these teams, Wyatts and Defiance. 

This is another babyface match; The Shield has been increasingly booked like babyfaces and that was certainly true at the Rumble, given their fighting from underneath in both title matches.  Usos are entirely white meat babyfaces, and this has been a long anticipated matchup. Reigns is super well protected, as is Langston, just doing their limited moves while the better workers pick up the slack.  They can do some singles mixing and matching for the build, but no tags and Reigns stays away from singles work.  That won't last, but this is a money match, good to keep it that way.  

Brock Lesnar appeared to turn face at the Rumble, ripping off Heyman’s neckbrace when Paul stopped him from submitting Swagger.  Heyman, note still has Van Dam's ponytail pinned to his lapel.  

Two weeks after the Rumble is a Heyman Hustle with Lesnar and Swagger as the special guests. Note, this is before the title match is made. 

Heyman says there is no rift; mistakes were made in the fog of war at the Rumble, before you stand Paul Heyman Guys.  And they can all go forward once an apology is made.

Paul turns to Brock and tells him to apologize to Jack Swagger.

Brock looks at him like he has two heads.

Heyman says Brock got embarrassed when Swagger outwrestled him and threw out their battle plan.  But this isn’t about blame – let’s focus on where we are – CM Punk is gone, and at XXX, with help from his bodyguard Brock Lesnar, Jack Swagger will beat Bryan Danielson to become WWF Champion.  And that all can happen once Lesnar apologizes.

Brock tells Paul he’s lost his mind.  And tells Swagger he does need a bodyguard, but it’s to “protect you from me.”

Swagger tells Paul “I told you this old man wasn’t gonna go for it.”  And then tells Brock that Paul was just throwing him a bone; that he’s an anvil, dead weight – that Swagger and the Bellas – and Paul Heyman are destined to stand together at the top of the WWF, and if they need to step over Brock’s body to do that – all the better.

Lesnar stares dead at Paul, who won’t meet his eyes.  Lesnar asks Paul if this is how it is.
Paul, barely audibly, says yes.  Lesnar asks again and Swagger tells him not to address his manager, that who he can talk to is the man who is going to kick his ass at XXX.

Lesnar has continued to stare at Heyman, tells him “this next thing, the next part of this – that’s on you.”

Lesnar and Swagger go nose to nose, this is the last time we see Lesnar at all in the build – we talk about him almost every week, but he doesn't appear - Swagger gets a couple of big, mat based wins in the build – his amateur skills are played up; Heyman goes full barker in the build, Swagger is Lesnar 2.0, but he won’t quit to go win the IWGP title, won’t quit to go win the UFC Title – Swagger is here to become a legend. 

Heyman will reveal in the build that he and Lesnar have been friends since Lensar was here the first time, that Paul was an unofficial advisor even back then, and then through his time in Japan and in MMA.  The story Heyman’s telling is about his control over Brock, that he’s been his monster, unable to conform to society except through the guidance of Heyman – and now, without him – he’ll fold right over for Swagger.  It serves to keep us talking about Lesnar even when Heyman is ostensibly there to get over Swagger, it's "Lesnar is an unstoppable force, but that's only with me, and now I'm with Swagger, who by the transitive property becomes an unstoppable force."

Rey Mysterio had a big win over Dos Caras at the Rumble – he’s in Bray Wyatt’s crosshairs.  Bray focuses on Rey’s age, all his best days behind him, that now he’s just taking up space, sunrise, sunset, Bray does all of that cycle of life stuff.

Bray focuses on Mysterio’s mask – that Rey’s mask allows him to feel like it’s still 1997, but as easily as Virgil and Cena could be unmasked (and as easily as Bray could unmask Harper even though he didn't want it done) that’s how easily it can happen to Rey, and without his cape, Superman’s just another farmer.  Bray will have Harper in his corner – Harper showed disappointment at being the only member of the Wyatts not to get a Mania match, but Bray smacked him around, told him he was meat and that he was needed in the corner. 

Bray pumps Cena up, feeds Dustin’s grievances, and bullies Harper – that’s his manner of control for each different member of the Family. Bray controlling the family, that's an important story element to tell during every match they're in.  Rey is Rey, an all time legend, a Wrestlemania great, and we see if he can deliver one more time.

The winners of the Fight For Your Right matches set up for a four way, they add a tables stip and make it an elimination match – all four men legal, three will go through tables.  It’s sold as a spotfest, you’ve got four guys all willing to take risks, who knows who else might take this match as an opportunity to make an appearance.  These guys all wrestle each other in singles combos in the build, all short, full octane, all spot matches.  This is the juniors crash into stuff “will they steal the show” match.  No pretense, this is about spots.  

Two more tags – Orton and Cody unmask Cena and Virgil, as discussed in the Rumble, and they approach the Wyatts with an offer; if Defiance wins at Mania, Cena and Dustin leave the cult and join Defiance.  Orton says they need numbers – and he and Cena were once tag champs, and Cody and Dustin have never gotten to team together for real, and this is their chance to compete with the GDIs and the Undergrounds.  Bray, speaking for his group, says Cena and Virgil aren’t prisoners, they’re free to go – but they’ll take the deal, if, the other side of the stip is that if the Wyatts win, then Defiance breaks up.

That’s the match – mix in Harper and Bernard and relaxed rules and that looks like a good brawl; they can mix and match in singles matches (not Cody v. Dustin, but anything else) in the build. 

The Clique got their match when the old men got involved at the Rumble – so they’re going to work in an 8 man.  The reveal is that the Undertaker will join the rest of what used to be DMW and Mark Henry as the opposition.  This is designated the Legends Match.

And if that’s not enough – the first all women’s match in Wrestlemania history.
So, you may recall we previously discussed the premise of Total Divas (Natty as mean girl heel, AJ as picked upon babyface).  Sometime in this build (whenever it made sense production wise) AJ walks off a shoot, takes off her microphone, tells a producer she’s done with this shit, tells Natty she should be embarrassed for reading those lines, and walks out.  Conveniently, this is recorded via camera phone and winds up uploaded someplace.

Not long after, AJ appears on RAW wearing a CM Punk t-shirt and cuts what becomes known as a pipe bomb promo.

She rips the promotion for a lack of emphasis on women’s wrestling, says for 30 years women have barely existed in the WWF, that their matches are impossible to find, never on PPV – certainly never on Wrestlemania where women are known for getting beaten up every ten years.

Well – it’s XXX, and there’s going to be a woman getting beaten up again, it’s Natty Neidhart “and the person beating her up will be me.”

Later, she’ll cut a promo about the homophobia in the promotion.

Two things going on here, one is that Punk’s just left the promotion, so having his wife “shooting” but without specifically talking about him is interesting, I think, both wholly within the counterfactual and in straddling the line with real world events.

The second is my booking mea culpa – I don’t care for women’s wrestling, as you may have noticed – and when thinking specifically about WWF/E women’s wrestling, even the best ever matches they’ve had hover around the 3 star range – like matches with giants, they’re the kind of thing this enterprise is built to move away from.

I don’t find that inherently problematic, New Japan isn’t booking too many joshi matches in 2015, much less Bella vs. Bella. 

What’s a problem, in retrospect, is that in that vacuum, what we have seen is women used as objects of violence, particularly in that repetitive Mania sequence that AJ is referencing.  I was looking to play off the ways women were used in ECW (in the way that I was influenced by the Christopher St. Connection in the Ultimate Warrior booking) to differentiate this world from real world WWF back at the first Mania – and then it became the Kane/Pete Rose spot.

It’s not a great look, I regret it.  There was some attempt at using the form to subvert it when it comes to race, I don’t know how effective that was either, and some attempt to use the anti-gay reaction that ROH got from Christopher St and that I expected to the Warrior in a Borat type of meta-commentary, I don’t know how effective that was communicated either.  Not well enough that I’d repeat it. 

So, we shift the sands a little here; I’m still only interested in good matches when I can get away with it, so you’re not likely to see a Bella wrestle.  But it could be that every now and again there will be a women’s match. 

There's one last item.  

As a special guest of the McMahon Family - attending his first ever Wrestlemania will be a man known in Japan as The Best Wrestler in the World - Kenta.

There's speculation about this; Danielson is asked once and angrily says he's only focused on Claudio.  Kenta - coming to Wrestlemania XXX.

It’s Wrestlemania XXX, coming next month, as it turns out.  And a reminder, the PPVs ain’t on the Network, you gotta pop for em.

WWF Title: Bryan Danielson v. Claudio Castagnoli

IC: Ladder Match: Sheamus v. Nick Nemeth

Tags: The Shield (Black/Ambrose/Langston) v. Usos (Reigns/Jimmy/Jey)

Brock Lesnar v. Jack Swagger (w/Heyman)

Rey Mysterio v. Bray Wyatt (w/Harper)

Tables: Ka$h Kingston v. Tyson Kidd v. Primo Colon v. Yoshi Tatsu

AJ Lee v. Natty Neidhart

Legends: Miz/HHH-M/New Age Outlaws (w/Hall and Nash) v. Undertaker/PAUL/Kane/Henry

Wyatt Family (Virgil/Cena w/Harper) v. Defiance (Orton/Cody w/Bernard)

See you in March.

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