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 31, Part 1

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Rumble is here.

We're going to split this in half.  Top 4 matches today.  Everything else in March.  Mania in April.

Two time WWF Champion Bryan Danielson returned unepxectedly after a 6 month absence to close the Rumble, getting some shots in against Kenta in front of a stunned Lesnar.

Danielson opens RAW the next night with a promo.  He hasn't shaved or cut his hair since Mania; he's now the longest haired version of real world Bryan.

He says that six months ago he was told it would be a significant neurological mistake to return to the wrestling ring.  

He says he's been in the main event of the past 3 Manias - and now, at WM31...he's going to be in a 4th.

From above the ring, the banner for Mania is unfurled - it says Danielson vs. Kenta. The Best Wrestlers in the World.

Kenta. For you.  For this.  I'll make that mistake.  

That's Kenta's music cue, he and Heyman come to the ring.

Throughout this section, Kenta and Danielson go nose to nose while Heyman talks.  Danielson never looks at Heyman.

Heyman says Danielson won't believe this, but he's glad he's back.  Because he wants to be in the winning corner for Danielson's last match.  He came back to the WWF with Brock Lesnar to destroy GDI, to destroy the idea that independent wrestling had transcended ECW.  And here we are.  Brock Lesnar beat CM Punk half to death and CM Punk is gone.  Brock Lesnar took Claudio Castagnoli's title.  And Brock Lesnar hit you so hard, Bryan Danielson, that you can only get clearance to wrestle by waiving the WWF of all liability.  

Heyman says Danielson's ready to fall - and Kenta, the best wrestler of the 21st century, is the man to finish the job.  Heyman says 31 years of Wrestlemania have all been building up to that moment, when Kenta, the lineal descendant of the greatest professional wrestling the world has ever known - ends Bryan Danielson's career.

Danielson's still not looked at Heyman once and doesn't now - he just addresses Kenta.

I'll see you in the ring.

Most of the build is now pure sports.  Danielson goes away for the entire build; when we see him its in MMA training vignettes; Steamboat, never seen with GDI these days, is there at those sessions but obviously not leading them.  

Kenta has two matches, once early in the build and once in the go home.  Early in the build he goes over Nemeth; there's a spot where he's outside and Steen comes to the ring, he doesn't interfere but the message is clear that he could get to Kenta anytime. After that, Heyman sends Kenta home, And we get vignettes of Kenta preparing, ideally in a NOAH dojo, ideally with Kobashi at those sessions. The more we can tell the story of the Steamboat/Danielson relationship contrasted with the Kobashi/Kenta relationship is to the good - the more the All Japan turned NOAH lineage is contrasted with the US independent wrestling growth after the turn of the century is to the good.

We'll talk about Kenta's return for the go home momentarily.  There's also a pre Mania press conference we'll discuss.

Lot of talking heads in the build - it's presented as maybe the ultimate fantasy match; Danielson, the leader of the 21st century independent movement vs Kenta, the culmination of the All Japan/NOAH style - in the main event of Wrestlemania.  It is (behind the curtain) more than I ever could have hoped for when putting together the counterfactual and that's the spirit of the build.  We couldn't do Kobashi vs. Benoit, but we can do this.  

The title match is a rematch, Brock defending against Claudio in a No DQ match.  First match was straight, this is No DQ.  Brock is totally obsessed with Danielson, ideally he comes out of the Rumble with a black eye so there's a physical representation of what Claudio can do to him. He and Heyman do a promo relatively early in the build, Heyman tries to talk about Claudio but Lesnar goes off script and starts yelling about Danielson.  He just works himself into a lather - Danielson was dead and buried over the summer after the battle royal, Danielson's some kind of freaky wizard, Danielson never really beat him, Lesnar wants him again - Lesnar wants to wrestle Danielson any goddamn day.  Lesnar's tears the ring apart, rips a top rope off and the ring falls apart.  

That clear distraction is used by Steen - there's a Heyman Hustle where the guests are Steen/Generico/Pac.  Steen hits the "Brock better stop thinking about Danielson and start thinking about the 4 members of GDI who will be on the other side" note.  Unlike the Rumble, Claudio isn't sending anyone home - and this is a No DQ match.  Brock's gotta go through all of them to keep that belt.

When we see Claudio, we need a little bit of an effect from his match with Brock - that's the story for all Lesnar's opponents; Brock takes something away from them.  With Claudio, he's a little quieter, a little less effusive about how great everything is.  Previously, he'd lead the fans in the "hey" chant - he'd point at something and yell "hey" and that would kick it off.  He's the bandleader of the Hey Movement.  But not now.  When the fans yell "hey" - he'll respond, but he doesn't start the chants.  Announce speculates about his condition, tying Punk/Danielson/Claudio together and the physical toll just getting into the ring with Lesnar exacts.

Lesnar works once, in a go home tag match with Kenta.  Lesnar's first tag match of this run (he may have done one with Swagger but he never got in the ring - Brock in a tag is weird psychology but we need to allow that for the sake of the build). But we're not ready for that yet.

So that's the story - Lesnar's only lost one match in his return, it was to Danielson, so he's obsessed with Danielson, and will that cause him to overlook Claudio, who might be called more serious, and also might be called concussed, just like everyone else who Lesnar has faced.

The Shield has hit very rare air; they will go to Mania as 2 year defending tag team champions.  

In that build they talked about joining Mt Rushmore of WWF title reigns.  Now they say the only faces who deserve to be on that mountain are there's. A win and they're the longest reigning holders of any title in the Mania era. 

It doesn't take long to find out their challengers, they do a promo (on Fight Night, which is super rare) saying there is no possible way anyone can dispute they're the greatest tag team ever.  Regal leaves the announce and comes to the ring.  

He says he disputes it.  It's a rare time for Regal to go face to face with members of Underground who turned their backs on him.  Regal says he feels the same way he did 5 1/2 years ago when he and Finlay lost their last match together to this team.  The greatest tag team he's ever seen - is Division One.

Swagger and Nemeth, wearing the old D1 gear come to the ring to the old D1 music.  This has been building since the summer battle royal, the slow piecing back together of Division One - and now it's done, and they go noses to noses with all 3 members of the Shield.

That will be it, however, for Langston in this build - he won't be part of the program as he has a singles match.  We'll talk about that in Part 2.

Largely, D1 and The Shield are kept apart in the build. D1 doesn't wrestle together until the go home, which is D1 against Lesnar/Kenta (that's the match I've been referencing). The finish comes when Lesnar is on the outside and gets attacked by Steen/Generico/Pac allowing D1 to hit their double team finish to pin Kenta.

Lesnar fights 1 on 3 against GDI, but Claudio then comes down to the ring and together all four members of GDI are able to lay him out.

Having Kenta pinned, even in a 2 on 1, is a risk - but I want to make sure the tag title match is really put over.  Shield's had the belts for two years and Division One has a pretty good "what might have been if Nemeth didn't turn" mythology that's been intentionally fueled for many years, "well this team is good - but what if D1 was still together..."  When D1 beats Lesnar/Kenta that tag match really becomes super hot, giving us 3 matches at the top of the card that really sell this show.  

In advance of that go home, maybe even earlier that day, is the Mania press conference - included there is Lesnar going nuts when seeing Danielson; flipping a table, knocking over a podium.  There's real concern about Lesnars focus.  There's a buzz at the press conference that can be discussed on the network in the analysis shows (the WWF network should have at least one PTI style show every afternoon talking about wrestling) that is speculation that win/lose/draw Wrestlemania will be Danielson's last match.  That is very late buzz, in the go home week, and doesn't make TV. 

The other title match is the IC - it's Luke Harper defending against Bray.

We stretch out the breakup of Bray and his former top man through one more program.  Cena attacking Dustin after his IC loss to Bray serves to allow a little more rope for the story.  Recall, at the Rumble, we had Sandow's conversion into Harper, so now we have two of them.  Bray's explanation to Luke Harper is that this is a win/win, Luke Harper isn't needed as a bodyguard anymore, he can focus on his IC title, because he has been replaced.

We can probably stretch that out a little more - Bray treats Harper the way he used to treat Luke Harper - here Luke is with his IC title, his friend Dustin has been kicked out of the family, and Luke is getting ostracized, shunned by his father figure Bray.  Wyatt looks for every opportunity to elevate Harper as superior to Luke Harper until finally Luke Harper explodes, "if you think he's so great, let's see if he can take this title from me at Wrestlemania".

That's the trap - Bray says that makes Luke seem a little yellow, he wins the IC title and defends it against an old man like Dustin Rhodes and then a bodyguard like Harper.  Bray says it's shameful - this is Wrestlemania and Luke is the Intercontental Champion, he should defend it against a quality opponent.  Against a man.

Luke then challenges Bray.  Which is what Bray wanted all along.

Bray accepts and then Cena and Harper attack, incompacitating Luke so Bray can smack him around.

Luke Harper never actually strikes Bray in the build, if you recall the finish of the battle royal, that spot was teased at the end, Luke hitting Bray - but he couldn't do it and allowed Bray to win.  Bray hits that in his promos to build to Mania, that in the end, Luke won't be able to go through with it.

That's the top four matches for Wrestlemania 31.

Bryan Danielson v. Kenta (w/Heyman)
WWF Title: No DQ: Brock Lesnar (w/Heyman) v. Claudio Castagnoli (w/GDI)
Tags: The Shield (Ambrose/Black) v. D1 (Nemeth/Swagger)
IC: Luke Harper v. Bray Wyatt

6 more matches to come.  Including a Legends Retirement Match: Undertaker v. Sting

Back in March.  


Mike Heine said...

A belated happy 10th anniversary! Bryan's retirement is probably not what you wanted as a gift... very sad. Wonder if that changes your plans at all?

Jim said...

Thanks! Not really, I was going to have him work dark at 32 and maybe the Rumble, if he continued in limbo, now I'm not. Doesn't change the finish at 31, doesn't change the post 31 plan. Broadly, big picture, this and Punk is a big hit, that was going to be a years long feud with them always on opposite face/heel sides.

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