A hail and hearty howdy, True Believers!
Yes, after an absence that's proven far too long, it is I, your Old Pal, the Elected Official, your Chief Executive and everyone's Favorite Politician... the Mayor of Parts Unknown, returning to Gonzogeek with another heapin' helpin' of news and views on the fine sport that is professional wrestling.
I must apologize for my protracted hiatus. It's not easy governing our Fair City, especially in these hard economic times. Luckily, the spandex factory -- Parts Unknown's primary employer -- is still going strong. In fact, demand is on the rise with the growth of CHIKARA and the expansion of wrestling into the subcontinent with the debut of Ring Ka Kin, a TNA-affiliated product, in India.
This Paragon of Politickin' also was distracted in recent months by lengthy and heated labor talks as we tried to work out a new union contract with our police department. As is apparently the case with EVERY labor union that has a chapter in Parts Unknown, the Bushwhackers are the union reps. Trust me, it's tough to cobble together an agreeable contract when the only discernable terms from the other side consist of "WHOOOOOOOA!" and "YAAAAAAAAY!" while gyrating one's arms up and down.
But I just couldn't let this weekend, that magical time for wrestling fans, slide by without weighing in with a few missives of wisdom from City Hall. Because this weekend, it's like Christmas for the wrestling afficionado. Whether you're a diehard fan of the mainstream stuff, or some hipster who claims they knew about CM Punk back when he was having 127-minute TLC matches with Chris Hero in a bingo hall in the Midwest, it's a time when all of us can set aside our cynical tendencies and Comic Book Guy-styled criticisms to appreciate the spectacle we are about to receive.
It's WrestleMania weekend. Nuff said!
Let's get right to it with a look at this year's card.
The Rock vs. John Cena
Billed as a main event "one year in the making", The Rock laid out this challenge the Monday after last year's WrestleMania, about 24 hours removed from costing Cena in the main event against the Miz. Since then, the Rock's shown up for the occasional promo, cane back through the promotion for a few weeks back in November to team with Cena and insure that Miz and R-Truth would be buried more thoroughly than a mobster's Cadillac in a Stephen King short story, then returned last month to begin the full-force build to this match.
So, what to expect here? Common logic would dictate that Rock, whose first priority these days is his movie career and has been for almost a decade, does business and elevates the guy who's become the closest thing WWE has had to Hulk Hogan. Then again, WWE sure likes to have rematches of marquee bouts at WrestleMania in recent years.
The biggest thing to take away from this program? The complete abandoment of WWE's PG restrictions. Cena and the Rock have pushed the envelope compared to recent years, when Cena's idea of edgy was making poop jokes. Now, instead of saying poop, Cena says penis.
Feel The Aggression!
The whole product's got more teeth these days, and the promo battles between these two have helped set that tone.
At the end of the day, though, I think Vince McMahon has his golden goose standing tall. Honk.
Hell In A Cell: Triple H vs. The Undertaker
Remember what I said about repeating major matches? For the second time, Undertaker's WrestleMania streak goes through an opponent he is wrestling in back-to-back years. This has been billed as the "end of an era" and for the real Continuity Scholar -- and if you are one and watch wrestling, we pity you, Sir or Madam -- this is sort of the culmination of an issue that started back in 2008 when Shawn Michaels "retired" Ric Flair at WrestleMania. (Theoretically, we can consider Flair still retired for the 99.5 percent of wrestling fans who do not watch TNA).
If we consult the Book of WrestleMania, we see that Michaels retiring Flair begat Michaels challenging Taker, which begat Taker retiring Michaels. Which begat the Fortunate Son In Law challenging Taker. Which begat Taker challenging his Large-Nosedness to this rematch, in which all the hype has tiptoed around without explicitly saying this will be the last time one -- or both -- of these veterans wrestles.
So, what to expect? Given the general push away from all things PG mentioned above, I think there's a good chance we see blood flow in a WWE match for the first time in several years. The Cell structure is kind of pointless without the crimson, and seeing its return -- in a big match like this -- would warm the cockles of this old-schooler's heart.
Michaels, by the way, is refereeing this one and there's already talk that we might see him against Triple H at NEXT year's WrestleMania as the result of whatever goes down Sunday. All in all, I'd say there's about a 40 percent chance of Shawnanigans (see what I did there?) at some point during the match.
There's a lot of debate over The Streak. Traditionally, a wrestler loses his final match. But if the Undertaker is going to lose to someone at WrestleMania, it needs to come against someone it will benefit and raise to a higher level. Triple H has already seen his best days come and go and is basically retired at this point anyway. It does nothing for him or the company for him to end the streak.
If this is it for the Undertaker, here's how it should go. Match ends. His hand is raised. The music plays. The house lights go out.
And when they come up, Undertaker's gone.
That's it. No schmaltzy farewell. No tearful scene of retirement and maudlin speeches on Raw the next night.
WWE World Title-CM Punk (C) vs. Chris Jericho
This, apparently, is the matchup that brought Jericho away from such riveting pursuits such as Dancing with the C-List Stars and back to the wrestling ring. It's definitely the Internet Fan's Dream Match, and should join Triple H-Taker and Rock-Cena as the bouts on this card to get significant ring time and the type of over-the-top entrances we've come to expect from WrestleMania.
Since the past WrestleMania, Punk has greatly improved his stock in the company, going from a lower-upper-midcard role to become arguably the second most popular guy on the roster -- or the most popular with that segment of the fanbase whose testicles have dropped -- or the most popular with the non-female set -- or the most popular that doesn't wear brightly colored wristbands and jean shorts.
You get the idea, Beloved ...
Jericho's gone all "fourth wall" during the buildup to this match, calling out the straight-edge lifestyle of Punk and bringing members of his family and their past into play. If this were Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Jericho would have tied Punk into the ropes and force-fed him from a Jack Daniels bottle. Alas, such things are too "rasslin" for Vince McMahon and the TitanTown braintrust. Then again, if this WERE taking place in SMW, it'd be happening in the gymnauditeria in some high school in Southwest Virginia, not Miami. It wouldn't be on pay-per-view. And, since SMW had its heyday about 20 years ago, yours truly would be the Alderman of Parts Unknown, the Internet would yet to see widespread use in the population and this site -- not to mention this column -- wouldn't even exist.
Jericho lost to Punk in the Elimination Chamber and while WrestleMania traditionally sees the good guys triumph in the blow-off, in recent years the heels win more often than not so just they can do a WrestleMania redux at Extreme Rules and add gimmicks to matchups you already paid to see once. Yay?
Jericho tends to enjoy elevating others, though, so I think Punk wins here and we STILL get a rematch next month.
World Heavyweight Title-Daniel Bryan (Ch) vs. Sheamus
These two were the dark match of last year's WrestleMania and now find themselves doing battle for the big gold belt. Here's the thing. Last year's dark match might end up getting more time in the ring. This match has been kind of lost in the shuffle thanks to most of TV time being devoted to either the three matches listed above or the feud between the two general managers.
As a result, some of the outstanding work Bryan's been doing has flown under the radar. The former never-say-die gritty underdog good guy has been channeling his Randy Savage (1986 vintage), by hiding behind his valet, putting her in harm's way and generally acting like a jerk of the highest proportion while holding onto his title and winning matches due to a variety of sneaky underhanded means. Me Gusta!
Sheamus, meanwhile, has turned away from The Dark Side within the past year -- even though he continues to wrestle in the same way and kick people in the face. I say he kicks Bryan in the face, and wins the World Title.
Team Johnny vs. Team Teddy
The winning team's authority figure, be it John Laurinatis or Teddy Long, gets control of BOTH Raw and Smackdown. If this Masked Man were to endorse one of these individuals based on the way they picked their teams, I'd have to go with Team Johnny. Laurinatis chose Mark Henry, former world champion, Olympic strongman and general big-man Heel Of Awesomeness; Dolph Ziggler, the man who's had the best in-ring year in WWE since the last WrestleMania; a couple of other former world champs in Jack Swagger and the Miz ... and filler like Drew McIntyre and David Otunga.
Teddy Long's team consists of Kofi Kingston, a semi-retired announcer in Booker T and four comedy acts -- Zack Ryder, Santino, Great Khali and R-Truth. That speaks as much to WWE's lack of roster depth as it does Long's apparent numbskullery when it comes to choosing guys to fight his battles.
The heel authority figure narrative has been done to death not just in WWE but all of wrestling so I'd like to hope Teddy Long's team prevails. Instead, I think that the company goes with the easiest road and has Laurinatis win to give us an indefinite run of possible Dynamic Dudes jokes in future months. Oh, goody.
Beth Phoenix & Eve vs. Maria Menounos & Kelly Kelly
This special celebrity divas bathroom break -- errr, I mean, tag team match -- was a recent addition to the card. Menounos, who hosts the tabloidnewstainment show "Extra!" showed up on the WWE's Tribute to the Troops show and beat Phoenix on a roll-up. She's back now after Beth and Eve just so happened to crash the segment taping of Menounos' show. Luckily, the worst wrestler ever -- Kelly Kelly -- was on hand to help restore order. We can all be thankful that Kelly did not have to run into any ropes to save her quasi-celebrity friend. Or else, she would have come on the scene so slowly that young Maria might find herself in a full body cast today.
Celebrities don't go on WrestleMania cards to lose, so this match might as well be a foregone conclusion.
My hope? This is all one elaborate April Fool's, and right at match time, Kharma comes out, smashes Eve and Kelly Kelly and we get a singles match between her and Beth Phoenix. Menounos can referee if she likes.
Randy Orton vs. Kane
They might as well call this the "We Had To Give Orton Something" Match. Kane, you may recall, came back in a revamp of his old masked schtick in late December. After waging war with Cena for months trying to get Mr. Clean to "give into the hate", Emperor Palpatine-style, Cena won the feud over Kane at Elimination Chamber. At which point, Big Red apparently looked over to the Smackdown roster, saw Orton and thought, "Eh. You'll do."
Speaking for myself and all the others who are less than enthralled with Orton's slithery, mat-pounding, head-locking ways... we know how you feel, Kane. We know how you feel.
Orton triumphs with the RKO.