Warning: overly emotional, smart-mark bitchfest incoming.
Last Thursday night, The Rock appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Oops, sorry, I mean Dwayne Johnson did. The Rock sure as hell wasn’t there, because if he was he’d surely have that shiny new WWE Championship in tow, extolling the upcoming WrestleMania XXIX pay-per-view. Instead, Dwayne plugged his movies, didn’t so much as mention professional wrestling once, made some vague sexual references and called it a night. At the end of the day though, I guess that sounds like your standard 2013 Rock promo anyway. “Finally…,” esoteric local anecdote, slanderous insinuations about his opponent’s genitalia and/or sexual orientation, “if ya smell…,” ???, profit. Profit BIG TIME.
‘The Rock’? What? Oh, no, that’s not me. It’s just a lovingly endearing nickname I’ve given my penis.
Of course, I guess I’d rather see Dwayne plug his movies on RAW than having The Miz and Wade Barrett parading around doing the same thing every week, because at least Dwayne’s movies are major motion pictures with a national release, and he actually has a speaking role in them. Seriously, Wade Barrett has to be in Dead Man Down for a combined 45 seconds, and we’ve seen that more times than we’ve seen the WWE Champion! I don’t think it would be possible to create a more lackluster build to a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania. I really don’t. I was more emotionally invested in The f-----g Miz and John Cena from two years ago in what up until this year I considered to be one of the worst ‘Manias ever.
Simply calling this year “RematchMania” doesn’t do the problems justice. Plenty of ‘Mania main events have been rematches and have been excellent. Austin and The Rock himself squared off three separate times on the Grandest Stage of Them All and they’re all considered bar-setting classics. The problem with this year’s WrestleMania doesn’t have much to do with the matches themselves, it’s the total lack of build or excitement attached to them. The angle of Cena seeking redemption, and his WrestleMania 28 loss starting the downward spiral that was his kayfabe career is a fine, if flimsy story (adding in news clips of his real-life divorce, stressing that it ruined his life, was a nice touch), but talented as they are the WWE video production team can’t sell a match alone.
About the only thing going right for the build-up to WrestleMania this year is CM Punk and the Undertaker, and even that is really more sheer dumb luck than anything else. The death of anybody is never a positive thing, but Paul Bearer’s demise can certainly be described as fortuitous for this plucked-out-of-thin-air feud. Sure, the feud would have carried more weight if maybe CM Punk had some kind of a streak of his own going…maybe one 20 times The Undertaker’s—say, 434 days? Ahh well, too bad things couldn’t come together like that. It was far more important for Dwayne Johnson to keep the Championship in his duffel bag as he galavants around Hollywood trying to get Clint Eastwood to respect him.
I understood it at first; I really did. I put my CM Punk markdom to the side and faced facts that The Rock promoting his blockbuster movies with the WWE Championship proudly hoisted atop his shoulder on the red carpet makes great business sense, and it’s the kind of mainstream acceptance that keeps Vince McMahon up at night, softly massaging his misshapen pate, thinking “why don’t people take me seriously?”
Oh, right. That’s why.
Last week’s RAW did offer some actual character development in John Cena and built up their feud somewhat (shocking, things happen when Dwayne actually shows up), but it’s still on the bottom half of matches I’m most looking forward to at WrestleMania this year. Sometimes I can’t get over how contrived those types of segments end up coming off though. WrestleMania feuds used to be the culmination of the most personal, gritty, and heated rivalries of the entire year; now it just seems that the creative team actually pulls out the Raw Roulette wheel and spins it to see what type of hokey, cliché segment they should utilize next. Contract signing? Debate? Strongman competition?! The world is our shoddily put together, vapid oyster!
Maybe even a bigger problem this year is the undercard. As much as I’m entertained by Fandango, I can’t help but shake the nagging feeling that there just might have been a better use for Chris Jericho this year than a feud with a character who has never wrestled in the WWE predicated entirely on the fact that no one can say his name correctly. It’s funny, and it’ll probably be a great match, but that’s less “WrestleMania” and more “Vengeance.” Or… “Sunday Night HeAT.”
And now recently they’ve officially added the amicably-broken-up-but-not-really-I-guess Team Rhodes Scholars and the returning Bella Twins vs. Brodus Clay, Sweet T and the Funkadactyls. I’m sorry, but the fact that Sweet T is on the WrestleMania card and someone like US Champion Antonio Cesaro isn’t even featured rustles the f--k out of my Little Jimmies. Sweet T! Are you kidding me?! I digress, but has anyone noticed the similarities between Sweet T’s first WWE run during the Attitude Era, and this current one? Mildly auspicious initial gimmick with regal qualifier (Prince Albert/Lord Tensai), followed by a drop of the title and any uniqueness to generic, pissed-off everyman (Albert/Tensai) to buffoonish oaf designated by a single letter and ridiculous descriptor (A-Train/Sweet T). But hey, he’s fat and he likes to dance, and to Vince McMahon that is basically the height of comedy, so I guess we’d better get used to it.
Vince when he sees fat people dancing, grown women farting, or venerable stars humiliated in their hometown.
The Intercontinental Championship match is solid, but like most of the card haphazardly thrown together at the last second. I can’t help but think The Miz would be doing a lot better as a face if they actually put any kind of thought behind what he’s been doing. Hosting Miz TV and jobbing out every week isn’t exactly going to get many fans behind him. If only Ric Flair could keep his vascular faculties in order, they could have had something good on their hands with a full-on Naitch endorsement. The Miz seems rejuvenated and does his best work in the presence of his childhood idols, too; you could practically see his Most Must-See Boner tenting his ungainly plaid slacks when he was elbow dropping sports jackets and falling on his face in the ring with the Nature Boy. Alas, it should be a decent match, if one we’ve seen dozens of time on RAW before.
The matches I haven’t touched upon I don’t really have much of a problem with: The Shield vs. the Superfriends could be huge for Rollins, Reigns and Ambrose if done correctly, and Ryback vs. Mark Henry in the classic “anything you can do I can do better” angle seems only natural with the return of the World’s Strongest Man. I only fear that WWE is growing increasingly complacent. It’s no secret that they phone in a good deal of storylines and sort of have RAW on autopilot with completely predictable squash matches and downright insulting at times segments, but WrestleMania is supposed to culminate the one season of the year where the creative team actually gives a s--t.
And this year, ‘Mania doesn’t feel like ‘Mania. It just seems like business as usual.