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WRESTLEMANIA: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
WrestleMania 29: In Depth Preview
April 4, 2013

by PyroFalkon
Master of the PyroFalkon Multimedia Empire, Incorporated
Follow Pyro's Tweets
on Twitter --/-- View Pyro's Videos on Youtube

 
With WrestleMania 29 around the corner, it's time once again for my favorite piece of writing for this website: my WrestleMania preview column! I started this three years ago on a whim just because I wanted to do something extra for WWE's biggest show of the year, and I've enjoyed it so much that I'm going to keep up the tradition until aliens abduct Rick and turn the Online Onslaught servers into new parts for their intergalactic microwaves.
 
WWE is slowly starting to recover its audience from the Attitude Era days, but it's mostly filled with the same teenage lunatics who feel that “interpersonal communication” refers exclusively to Facebook and Twitter posts. It's not without a little reservation and embarrassment that I admit how much I continue to enjoy WWE, and ever since CM Punk's “Promo Heard 'Round the World” in the summer of 2011, WWE has seen fit to reintroduce a little of the maturity of the storylines from the old days. Well... as “mature” as WWE can ever be, but I digress.
 

The point is, while being my being a WWE fan continues to push me out of the core demographic a little bit more every year, all wrestling fans can unite for the single night that is WrestleMania, the night WWE usually puts its best foot forward and closes the book on several storylines. The wrestlers themselves know how big of a night it is as well, and we usually see some top quality sizzle (if not always the best workrate) for a single show. This year should be no different.

As always, this article approaches WrestleMania from a mark's perspective. I've long-since admitted and accepted the fact that I'm more of a mark than any writer who has ever contributed to this website. While discussion of some off-screen antics and situations is unavoidable, I'm mostly going to discuss the on-screen storylines and relationships between the players. This should help lapsed fans understand the current pace and reasons for the feuds, and should give regular fans a bit of a refresher. I'll also give you my predictions for the matches, of which I've been laughably inaccurate of the past few years.

So, sit back, enjoy, and check out this preview of WrestleMania 29 from yours truly, Jon “PyroFalkon” Michael!

The Rock (c) vs. John Cena

Match type & stipulation: Standard singles match for the WWE Championship

What's led up to this: This match starts with a real-life feud between The Rock and John Cena that I explored in more detail last year. To make a long story short, Cena publicly called out The Rock (or at least voiced his grievances) concerning Rock's ever-increasing absences from WWE. Rock had slowly but steadily increased his Hollywood acting commitments until, eventually, he stopped showing up to WWE altogether. Conversely, Cena worked week in and week out, and despite having some special appearances in TV shows and acting in The Marine, Cena continued to work on-screen for WWE aside from injuries.

Rock took umbrage at Cena's words. He defended himself, then countered that Cena's gimmick was too childish and ridiculous. The night after WrestleMania 27, in which The Rock cost Cena the WWE Title, Cena challenged Rock to a match one year later so they could bury the feud.

As WrestleMania 28 approached, Cena's and Rock's separate promos amounted to the fact that they each “had” to win: Cena declared he needed to win to be considered in the same realm as The Rock, almost as if he needed to justify his own fame and success, and that his “gimmick” was the real him. The Rock said he needed to win because he had already beaten the greatest wrestlers of other eras, including Stone Cold Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan, and to be the greatest of all time, he'd have to beat Cena too.

At WrestleMania 28, the crowd was extremely hot. The Rock proved in Survivor Series 2011 that he hadn't lost a step, and in truth may have been in the greatest shape of his life; he continued that pace in the main event of WrestleMania 28. It wasn't spectacular, but it was certainly a worthy main event to WWE's greatest show, mostly helped out by the audience reaction. At the end of the night, The Rock won, then promptly went back to Hollywood.

John Cena then started backsliding pretty significantly. CM Punk held the WWE Title after WrestleMania, and Cena had already feuded with him pretty regularly through 2011. Cena was at the back of the line, and he didn't make things any better on himself by losing to just about everyone who challenged him. Cena was ultimately victorious in the mini-feuds of 2012 that he was drawn into, but between injuries and losses, he was no longer the dominant superstar he once was.

As the Royal Rumble approached in 2013, Cena started getting a little louder and declaring that he would, in fact, win it to start his career comeback. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Royal Rumble was that there were no surprises: Cena won clean by eliminating Ryback.

Meanwhile, The Rock stepped up his appearances for WWE. Not significantly—it's still less than a half-dozen—but he did seem to be more of a threat. At RAW #1000, The Rock was the special guest host. A brawl broke out between Cena and Big Show, and The Rock tried to make the save on Cena's behalf. He started to drop the People's Elbow on Show, but CM Punk slid in the ring and hit him with a GTS, thus igniting a feud between the two and turning Punk heel.

Rock disappeared, and Punk spent the majority of 2012 insulting The Rock when he (Punk) wasn't involved in other feuds. Punk's line of promos was similar to Cena's last year, namely that Rock was a poser who didn't really stick around while Punk actually worked week-in week-out. Punk started calling himself “the best in the world,” and while he conceded that Rock might be the best “entertainer” of WWE, Punk himself is “the best wrestler,” not just in WWE, but all over the globe.

Punk busied himself with other feuds, winning them all and holding onto the title for over 400 consecutive days, a record not seen since Hulk Hogan in 80s. But as December approached, Rock came back, and the two started feuding again. Rock declared that he wanted the WWE Championship, that it's been ten long years since he'd held it, and he wanted it one more time.

Rock beat Punk at Royal Rumble 2013 in a very solid match to secure the title. Punk initially won, but that was after some interference from The Shield. Vince McMahon arrived and wanted to strip Punk of the title, but Rock wasn't having that, and asked for the match to simply be restarted. Fifteen seconds (and one People's Elbow) later, Rock took the win and won the WWE Title once again. Punk invoked his rematch clause to trigger an automatic title rematch at Elimination Chamber in February.

Meanwhile, Cena won the Royal Rumble match itself, thus granting him the right to challenge for either of the top two titles at WrestleMania. He pointed out that he had feuds with both guys on RAW: his feud with Punk was an extension of their incredible feud from 2011, and that he had never beaten Punk. But he had never technically beaten The Rock either (given they had only faced each other once), and despite being allowed to go for the World Heavyweight Championship instead, it was a pretty obvious choice to make. He opted to face whoever was champion after Elimination Chamber, Rock or Punk, at WrestleMania.

At Elimination Chamber, the match was a lackluster chinlock-fest that bored the crowd to tears. The commentators did what they could to salvage it during and after the match, but those who saw it agreed that it was a shadow of their effort at Royal Rumble. No explanation has really been given to why they had problems—it's been speculated that Punk was dealing with some nagging injuries—but it doesn't matter. Rock won cleanly again, and secured the title.

The next night on RAW, as Rock debuted a new title that we around OO are calling the Bedazzled Belt, Punk continued to whine and moan about not getting a title shot. Cena decided to put his WrestleMania spot on the line to have one more match with Punk. Punk was confident since Cena had never beaten him. A week later, the match took place, and it was awesome: Cena and Punk prove that they seem to step it up to a different level when they're against each other. Cena won clean, snapping his no-win streak against Punk, and finally securing his place opposite The Rock in the main event at WrestleMania.

Despite last year's match being billed as “once in a lifetime,” Rock and Cena will get one more chance to face each other.

What's expected: Given his matches over the last couple years, including with Punk, The Rock showed that he's not only stayed in great shape, he's learned some new tricks too. He's shown more technical wrestling than he used to display, and his moves continue to be crisp. There doesn't seem to be a speck of ring rust on him.

Meanwhile, Cena showed some new tricks of his own in that last match against Punk. Cena still isn't anywhere near a technical marvel, but he busted out a perfect flying missile dropkick off the top rope, which is a scary proposition when the dude is nearly 300 pounds of sheer muscle. And while Cena and Punk inspire the other to step up a level, Cena and Rock seemed to do the same. Like last year, the crowd will be hot as well, and now the title is on the line too.

It should all add up to be a crowd-pleasing, blistering hot match that, admittedly, will not quite reach its level of hype. No one is expecting anything insane or mind-blowing to occur, but at the same time, there are at least a half-dozen wrestlers on the roster who could put on a better match that would moisten the collective panties of the ridiculous subculture that is the Internet Wrestling Community.

Still, hype isn't a non-factor; a hot crowd can add to the suspense and intrigue of a match, and Rock and Cena are two guys who know how to work the crowd. Punk has his own issues to deal with, so this will likely be a clean match, and although Rock/Cena last year was solid, I have a feeling that they'll be able to outdo themselves.

My prediction: There were rumors before WrestleMania 28 that WWE management wants this to be a series of three matches, spread out over three WrestleManias. While I question the logic and forethought into that arrangement, given that last year was billed as a “Once in a Lifetime” match and they're doing it again, I have no reason to doubt that they've gone ahead with that plan.

Ergo, John Cena wins this time, and captures the WWE Championship. This way, they're tied at one match each, and we'll revisit the matchup one last time at WrestleMania 30 for the rubber match. Besides, despite Rock's big talking, he still isn't at WWE week-in and week-out, and it would be ludicrous for him to retain the title. The belt needs to come off him; there is simply no other logical reasoning.

If Rock does somehow win, look for him to lose it the next night, and for them to call an end to the three-match plan. But WWE is notoriously stubborn: Cena will win to tie the undeclared series, and look for me be to be repeating half this section of the article next year as well.

Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Jack Swagger

Match type & stipulation: Standard singles match for the World Heavyweight Title

What's led up to this: This match has sort of come out of nowhere. Big Show held the World Heavyweight Title for the majority of 2012, but toward the end of the calendar year, his real-life contract was close to expiring, and negotiations were breaking down. The roster was too heel-heavy on the SmackDown side, so shortly before Christmas, WWE pulled the trigger on turning Alberto Del Rio into a face to feud with Big Show. The unexpected happened: it went over like gangbusters.

ADR has always had the benefit of being saddled with Ricardo Rodriguez, who cannot be consistently booed. If anything, Ricardo is sort of an every-man: he might be ADR's “personal ring announcer” and servant (or something), but he doesn't have any bizarre heelish quirks that would make the fans hate him. As strange as it sounds, there's been an “innocence” about him since he oversells anything the heels do and generally acts like a kid in a candy store when he's had the chance to perform in the ring. Even when ADR was getting booed at his worst, Ricardo seemed at least to be tolerated.

So when Big Show started beating the crap out of Ricardo in December just to be a jerk, the fans started rallying behind ADR to get some vengeance. Other than a one-off night of being a heel (the Christmas episode, which doesn't really “count”), ADR switched to being a face almost overnight. He solidified his turn with a slightly ham-handed speech to Ricardo (“No one deserves to be bullied, especially not you, my best friend!”), and the fans completely bought it.

ADR and Show had several matches, including two absolutely outstanding Last Man Standing matches that served two purposes: first, it legitimately got the title off Big Show before his contract was up (Show re-signed anyway and the contract “scare” is now over with); and second, it gave ADR some very credible wins and power to solidify his position. If there had been a plan to put the title back on Show once he re-signed, it was aborted; ADR has been so efficient as a face and has connected so well with the crowd that he's The Guy over on SmackDown.

Meanwhile, Jack Swagger spent the majority of 2012 jobbing to faces. Actually, he spent much of 2011 doing such as well; his career simply wasn't going anywhere. In September 2012, Swagger told then-general manager Vickie Guerrero that he was going to take some time off and regroup. I'm not sure what the real-life reason he took time off was, but it was clear he needed to go away for a while for any reason just to stall his staleness.

Soon after the Royal Rumble, John Cena chose to pursue the WWE Championship, leaving the World Heavyweight Championship in WrestleMania limbo. General Manager Booker T on SmackDown decided that Elimination Chamber would be a good place to determine that brand's main event. He declared that the winner would take on ADR for the title at WrestleMania, and that he (Booker) would stock the chamber with nothing but former world champions to make it interesting. On February 1, Swagger returned to throw his name into the hat.

Booker T hadn't quite decided who exactly was going to get into the Chamber match, and that he was going to watch matches to look for those who “impressed” him. Jack seemed like his old self—a technical master showing his credible roots as an NCAA competitor—except much more aggressive and stiff. It was a change, but nothing noteworthy.

And then he introduced Zeb Colter, his new manager. That mere act pointed out the biggest flaw with Swagger's character: the guy just can't cut an entertaining promo. He needed a mouthpiece, and Zeb Colter was the perfect fit. Sporting a handlebar mustache not seen since the 1920s and with a mentality to match, Colter has gone on a verbal tirade about everything that's wrong with the United States, and how he and Swagger are among the few remaining true patriots. He's a parody of the current politics of the Tea Party, and he's so efficient that some real right-wing extremists don't realize they're actually being mocked.

They've gone all-in with the gimmick. Swagger named his ankle lock the Patriot Act (then renamed it to the Patriot Lock), and Colter and Swagger opened a YouTube channel where they give us “public service announcements” about how Mexicans are ruining America, how all foreigners are part of the problem, etc., etc. It seemed like an amusing aside, but it went over pretty well with the crowd, and Jack surprisingly won the Elimination Chamber match, thus granting him to take on ADR at WrestleMania for the title.

Unfortunately, the feud has already become a little stale. Colter isn't touching all political issues; he's just a thinly veiled racist, but he understandably can't cross a certain line as he insults ADR. (It would open up too many cans of worms if a WWE character took a position on the gun control debate, for example.) ADR also can't say much back against him since WWE is a PG-rated company. It's degenerated into an alternating screaming match consisting of “America is for Americans!” and “America is for everyone, and I was born in Mexico but made in America!”

The crowd is still buying the gimmick, but despite being less than two months old, I'm starting to grow tired of it. ADR seems to be too, as he and Ricardo have taken to making poor-quality parody videos of the Swagger/Colter PSAs. The fans are enjoying those too, so maybe it's just me who's out of touch. Regardless, Swagger has attacked Ricardo a number of times since Elimination Chamber, thus giving ADR the sympathy vote once again. It came to a head on the March 18 edition of RAW, when Swagger applied the Patriot Lock to Ricardo and snapped his ankle; ADR is out not just to defend his title, but for vengeance.

What's expected: Swagger isn't (or hasn't been allowed to be) a technical marvel like the Bret Harts and Chris Benoits of the past. However, his technical ability is very good, and his extra “oomph” he's now putting into his moves helps sell the danger. He looks as good as he ever has, perhaps better than even his forgettable title run. Alberto Del Rio is very good in the ring as well, but now that he's a face, he's added a bunch of crowd-pleasing medium-flying moves to his repertoire, and he's all the better for it. I think ADR is at the top of his game as well.

Combined, I think it'll be a solid match, but I don't think it's going to be anything super crazy insane. There are three matches that will likely get a bigger crowd reaction, so WWE won't want ADR/Swagger to be a five-star match. Last year, the World Heavyweight Championship match opened WrestleMania, and I have no reason to believe it won't again this year... though hopefully it'll last longer than 18 seconds.

My prediction: As Rick stated in a column or forum post recently, this matchup is curious because WrestleMania is usually the last chapter of a feud, not the first. Swagger may have won the Elimination Chamber, but this match against ADR is his first really important one since returning only a couple months ago. Odds aren't in favor of Swagger.

But really, once you add in some real-life drama, they're even less likely. On February 19, Swagger was arrested in real-life for a DUI while being drunk and high on marijuana. While it's the position of Online Onslaught that we don't give a crap about marijuana itself, the fact that he was behind the wheel at the time was the much stupider thing. Given WWE's Wellness Policy and its firm anti-bad behavior image it tries to throw around these days, I was all set to write off Swagger and see who his replacement was.

And... nothing happened. WWE said it didn't count as a Wellness Policy violation since Swagger wasn't drug tested in a WWE environment; their statement read something to the effect of, “What Swagger does on his own time is his business,” which is so insanely hypocritical that it caused me a minor aneurysm. If that's the way WWE wants to run things, fine; they're just not consistent about it. Regardless, not only is Swagger still in at WrestleMania, he wasn't even suspended, and he seemed to suffer no fallout.

Still, WWE would be criminally insane to give their #2 title to a guy who was arrested for that reason. Given WWE's heavy PR campaign, their Be A Star campaign, and so on, I just can't see them handing the title to him. Alberto Del Rio wins the match and retains, or at least retains off a DQ loss or something.

Hanging over their heads is also Dolph Ziggler, who still has the Money in the Bank contract. He has until July to cash it in for a title shot, and though he's teased it several times, he hasn't done it yet. But the thing is, given the other matches on the card, I simply cannot see him cashing it in for 'Mania. Dolph is an Internet darling, and if he were to win the title that way (at WrestleMania of all places), it would be big news that might overshadow some of the other results on the card, or it might be overshadowed itself with the other results.

If a miracle occurs and Swagger somehow winds up winning the title, Dolph definitely won't cash in his contract. It would turn him face, and his compatriots, AJ Lee and Big E. Langston, would have to turn face by proxy as well, which doesn't and wouldn't make a lick of sense. I can buy the idea that ADR wins the match and Dolph cashes the contract on him, since he'll still be a heel then can start a new feud with ADR. But that would shunt Jack Swagger into a corner, which doesn't seem wise... unless that would be Jack's punishment for the DUI.

I have little faith that WWE thinks that far ahead. In any event, why downplay Dolph's potential title win by proxy due to the other matches on the card? Dolph's time is coming soon, but I'll be surprised if it happens at 'Mania.

Undertaker vs. CM Punk

Match type & stipulation: Standard singles match, CM Punk is attempting to snap Undertaker's 20-0 WrestleMania streak

What's led up to this: There wasn't much of a build-up to this feud. CM Punk spent the majority of 2011 and all of 2012 as WWE Champion, turning heel halfway through when he GTS'ed The Rock at RAW #1000. Though he was in several solid feuds in the interim, including The Rock himself, they have no bearing on this match.

The Rock beat Punk cleanly twice, at Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber, to secure the title. Punk was given one more shot at a WrestleMania title match since John Cena put his Royal Rumble Winner's Spot up for grabs, but Punk lost that too (albeit in one hell of a match, probably his and Cena's second-best match to date). Punk found himself without an opponent for WrestleMania.

But not for long. Triple H had said during the Slammy Awards that “we have not seen the last of the Undertaker,” and like clockwork, the Dead Man showed up on RAW to indicate he would once again take on someone at WrestleMania.

A small amount of bickering occurred as Randy Orton, Sheamus, Big Show, and Punk all wanted to try him. Things were settled quickly: Vickie Guerrero held a Fatal Four-Way match to determine who would face Undertaker, Punk won it, and that was that.

Punk started the feud by just reverting to his “I'm the best in the world!” shtick, which was fine and all; Punk may damn well be the best at being an arrogant, magnificent bastard. But we'll never know exactly how the promos would shake out because on March 5, Undertaker's long-tenured manager Paul Bearer (real name: William Moody) passed away in reality at the age of 58. Even those who dislike The Streak in particular and the Undertaker in general liked Paul Bearer, and the wrestling world mourned.

It had been questioned whether WWE would incorporate Bearer's death into the storyline; the argument could be made either way. We got our answer the very next RAW, when the show opened with Undertaker doing his full entrance with an urn tastefully displayed on a black-covered pedestal in the center of the ring. Undertaker did his classic “Undertaker salute” to the urn, but was facing the Titantron in the process, and an “In Memory of William Moody” splash screen was shown on it. It was a beautiful, artsy shot that served as a great tribute to the man.

And then Punk interrupted, even going so far as to tell Undertaker, “I'm sorry about your loss... at WrestleMania!” He lightly mocked Bearer and heavily mocked Undertaker, and Kane came out to defend his on-screen father and brother respectively. Punk slipped out of a near-chokeslam on the stage, but Vickie Guerrero set a Punk vs. Kane no-DQ match as the main event for RAW that night.

Kane made his entrance with the aforementioned urn, and tenderly placed it on its pedestal near the commentators' table before getting the match started. It was a very good match, probably a pay-per-view undercard-worthy match, and Kane came out as the clean winner. To celebrate his win, it was Undertaker's music and lighting that played, not Kane's. Undertaker came out to the stage and did the Undertaker Salute to Kane, while Kane did the Undertaker Salute right back, which meant he did it to the Titantron, and again they showed the “In Memory Of” splash screen. Another artsy camera angle, another rather emotional moment.

And another moment ruined by Punk, who stole the urn and bashed the back of Kane's head in with it during the salute. The house lights came back on, and Undertaker bee-lined to the ring. Punk delivered a couple more shots to Kane, then ran around and away from Taker with the urn still in hand.

The next week, Undertaker hit the ring to deliver one of his usual “less is more” promos, which I personally love. He just said “I'm going to hurt you, Punk... and I'm going to hurt you bad.” And then Punk appeared on the Titantron, urn in hand, and was playing with it by bouncing it off his arms like NBA players play with basketballs. He wound up dropping the urn at one point (allowing an “Oh shit!” to nearly get through the USA Network censors), and said “No disrespect intended!” with an annoying little smirk. It was perfect.

As if things couldn't get worse, Punk declared on the April 1 episode of RAW that he was just trying to get into Taker's head; that he, unlike Taker's other WrestleMania opponents, would do anything to win. When Taker came out for the main event promo that night, some of his classic druids came out... but they weren't employed by Taker. A fake Paul Bearer (played by Paul Heyman) stood on the stage with the urn.

Taker headed up the ramp, but was assaulted by Punk, who was disguised as one of the druids. Punk beat down Taker with the urn as weapon, then opened it and poured the ashes on Taker's body. He finished off his display by wiping the ashes on his own face and doing the Undertaker Salute one more time over Taker's body.

What's expected: One reason Punk hasn't had any matches since losing to Kane is because of health problems. CM Punk has been battling injuries for a while—he had been WWE Champion for 434 days without any unusual time off after all—and even had some minor surgery in December on his left knee. He got injured again in that match against Kane, it was a “last straw” type of injury: all the pain and aches simply added up and reached a breaking point.

Punk isn't a cripple, and in fact looks pretty good in general. But Punk, much like Taker, is one of those guys who will never let on how much he's hurting, so we fans have no idea the extent of all his problems. Whatever it is, it's bad enough that he's been pulled from all matches and all house shows entirely. Punk has become a carton of eggs.

Punk is known to work hurt and can hide it well. Undertaker meanwhile is getting up there in years, but each of the past years, I've talked about what he “can't” do, and he makes me eat crow by doing it, such as the no-hands suicide plancha to ringside, also known as the “You gotta be f---ing kidding me, you're in your mid-40s!” move. So I'm not going to sit here and speculate what he's capable or not capable of, only to point out that he is past his prime.

So between Punk being hurt and Undertaker being old, this isn't going to be any sort of epic match of greatness. Still, Punk on his worst day can make anyone look good; I could have a match with Punk and if he's the ring general, he could make me look like a world champion. I'm not saying Undertaker is a bad worker at all; all I'm saying is that on Punk's worst day, he's still better than half the roster, and Undertaker has been around long enough that he probably knows all there is to know in the ring. Combined, it may not win any awards, but it damn sure is going to be a fun ride.

Or, hell, maybe it will win some awards. Even though Punk is less than 100%, he'll have enough in the tank and will have enough pride that he's going to bust out absolutely everything he possibly can, his body be damned. (He'll likely get some time off afterward anyway to heal up, and if so, he may as well leave it all in the ring, especially if he can't do worse damage to himself.) Punk's recent history, from John Cena to The Rock and everyone in between, shows that he is damn near the best in the world for real, and I have no doubt he'll bring his best for the WWE's biggest show of the year. Taker will be able to keep up with him, and it will be a solid match. Look for this one to go second-to-last on the card (or third-to-last if they put in a throwaway match between it and the main event).

My prediction: I always preface my prediction for Undertaker at WrestleMania with one qualifier: I cannot be objective about this match.

The majority of the Internet Wrestling Community is sick of Undertaker in general and The Streak in particular. I'm not going to get into the reasons why; it's opinion, and you know about the comparison of opinions to rectums. But in my opinion, I love The Streak, and Undertaker is in my top-5 favorite wrestlers of all time (possibly even top-3), so The Streak sells itself. I'm a total mark for this match every year, and I'm not influenced by others' opinions.

This match is somewhat intriguing because Punk has been on absolute fire since the Promo Heard Around the World in 2011. He's been bulletproof, and although some feuds have been better than others, he's absolutely fantastic at playing an arrogant heel. The timing of Paul Bearer's death, while tragic, gave Punk all the fuel in the work for being a top-of-the-line jerk. But not only are his promos against Taker fantastic, he's one of the remaining few who could credibly beat Undertaker. He's been around long enough that he could legitimately be considered to be a threat, but young enough that if he wins, he can ride that momentum and achievement for a good long while.

So I'd be slightly more undecided if Punk wasn't hurt. But given Punk's injuries, I don't see why Punk wouldn't take time off after WrestleMania; he has nothing pressing to do, no background feuds, and seemingly no plans. It's a great time for him to leave it all in the ring, leave to heal up, and come back better than ever. Taking that time off necessitates the obvious: Undertaker wins and extends his streak to 21-0, because it would be incredibly stupid for Punk to do the unthinkable and then disappear for a month or two (or more).

The Streak needs to continue because, as I mentioned last year, if The Streak breaks, then it stops being “The Streak,” and only becomes a streak. At this point, The Streak is bigger than Undertaker; it's a plot line, and removing it removes a plot as well. I doubt anyone is in WWE's plans to challenge The Streak—who would they trust to be at the company for 21 years and win at WrestleMania every time?—so there's no reason not to let it continue.

Regardless of who wins and whether Punk takes time off afterward (and for however long), I'm going to love the hell out of the match. I'm going to watch the thing intently without interruptions, and it will make my night. For me, this will be the main event, even if I'm alone in that opinion.

Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar

Match type & stipulation: No Holds Barred singles match, and Triple H must retire from the ring and all corporate concerns if he loses

What's led up to this: Brock Lesnar's last appearance in WWE before 2012 was at WrestleMania XX, back in 2004. That was also the last night of his opponent, Bill Goldberg, and the fans absolutely trashed the situation of seeing two power-heavy performers in a match that was literally meaningless. Lesnar flipped off all the fans for their reaction, then left to pursue a career in the NFL, in which he completely failed. He danced around a couple other non-American professional wrestling jobs before settling into the UFC, where he did respectably (including twice winning the Heavyweight Title from the company), but then retired after dealing with some potentially life-threatening surgery. All indications pointed at him returning to WWE, especially given he was included in the WWE '12 videogame for apparently no reason.

The night after WrestleMania 28, Brock Lesnar returned, and proceeded to beat the crap out of everyone. There was no real storyline here: the self-proclaimed “baddest man on the planet” just wanted to be a jerk and assault everyone to proclaim his alpha male status, or something. Lesnar's size and resume helped sell it, especially with Paul Heyman as his mouthpiece, and enough time passed that he was somewhat welcomed (albeit booed for the right reasons) by the WWE audience.

Since joining UFC, he picked up a kimura, an arm lock from the back that isn't seen very much (if at all) in American professional wrestling. So he busted that move out and proceeded to (kayfabe) break the arms of Shawn Michaels and Triple H (twice). Sure, Lesnar jobbed to John Cena in the middle of 2012 (probably as “payback” for the way he departed), but no one really cared.

So after Brock broke Triple H's arm back on April 30, they had a match at SummerSlam, where Trips lost clean to the same kimura. From there, Trips basically disappeared, cut his hair, and started being more permanent within WWE's corporate headquarters in Connecticut. (Vince McMahon is getting up there in age, and Trips is the heir apparent to the company, so we're probably seeing the second stage of transition here.)

Now, when Lesnar initially returned, several details about his real-life contract were leaked. The two most relevant here are that the contract would only last a year (expiring close to after WrestleMania 29), and that he wasn't scheduled to work too many dates during the year. After his match with Triple H, he “quit” the company and left, leaving Paul Heyman to manage CM Punk instead after Punk's heel turn.

But it was obvious that Brock would be back (again), and on January 28, 2013, he came down during a speech by Vince McMahon that was going to culminate with Heyman getting fired. Lesnar made his surprise return and hit Vince with his finisher, the F5. This caused Vince's hip to (kayfabe) break, requiring surgery.

At the Slammy Awards in December, Triple H appeared to introduce an award, but also to cut a promo against Lesnar. It was supposed to be emotionally charged, but it was a slight swing-and-miss. Suffice to say, Trips basically said that he couldn't tolerate seeing what Lesnar did to Vince (since Vince is his real-life and on-screen father-in-law); that despite Trips thinking about hanging it up, he got back in ring shape so he could get some vengeance.

After some negotiations between Heyman and Trips, Heyman agreed to broker a match between Trips and Lesnar... however, Trips would have to blindly agree to an unnamed stipulation before signing the contract. Trips did so, and while Heyman teased and sold the hell out of it, the finale was indescribably underwhelming: it's a simple No Holds Barred match.

Heyman did add one caveat: “Your career is on the line!” But that's all he said, verbatim. I've posited that it means Triple H's in-ring career is to be terminated if he wins, but it seems the stipulation is even less intriguing. Heyman did a pre-taped interview on the March 29 edition of SmackDown, and he confirmed that it wasn't just Trips's in-ring career on the line, but his whole career, including the corporate stuff, and possibly including the whole heir apparent deal.

What's expected: As Brock proved when he faced John Cena, he can still brawl with the best. And Trips, despite being in his mid-40s by now, still can too: this may be their second match, but both guys have a habit of being able to top themselves as necessary, and given that this one is no-DQ, I don't really expect more than an almost garbage brawl.

That's not an insult. Given the rest of the card, this one will be the likeliest to be a spot- and weapon-fest. WWE has backed off its “no blood” stance lately, including the last time Trips and Brock had a brawl: Trips got the best of it, and between any possible juicing or accidents, Brock absolutely gushed blood by the time it was over and wound up needing 12 stitches in his head. Brock was also given the chance to bloody Cena's mouth during their feud. Granted, it's all shown in grayscale on the replays, but we're thankfully past the days where they'll stop the match once someone is showing color.

My prediction: I don't believe Brock has signed any sort of extension, so it's possible that this is his last go for a while (or forever). He certainly has nothing left to prove, and it's clear the fans have forgiven how he left the last time around.

Given that, and given the stipulation, I'm sure Triple H will win, because why not? As I mentioned earlier, WrestleMania is the time to close stories, and Brock's “story” has been going since he came back. The feud with Trips may be relatively recent compared to his return a year ago, but his “return” was predicated on domination and beating the hell out of everyone, and it led to this: Trips has a reason to stop him, and Cena already did once (though not permanently).

About the only thing I haven't figured out is how they'll write Brock out if he loses, and that's the only reason I'm hesitating my pick. Trips has lost each time they've faced each other, and Brock has been playing the chicken heel and running from confrontation over the past month, so it all looks like a typical story where the good guy finally overcomes the obstacle. But... what of Brock? He won't just leave; even he's not that stupid. Maybe there's something in the works to keep him going a bit longer so he can be in some sort of retirement match? Although that kind of thing is usually for faces rather than heels.

I don't know. Honestly, I could see it go either way; you can come up with all manner of silliness for Trips to get his job back if he loses, or whatever. But historically, when the heel runs away this often, and given that it's WrestleMania, I don't see why in the world you wouldn't give the win to the face.

The only hesitation I have is that I still don't think WWE has clarified that Trips must retire if he loses: they've simply said his “career is on the line.” I can foresee a stupid situation where Heyman tells him that if he wins, he's out, and then Trips must decide between pride or continuing his dream job. I think that would be more intriguing, but I'm probably over-thinking it.

Either way, I'm betting on Trips to win; if my over-thinking is right, then it gives Trips a way to leave relatively quietly and focus on stuff behind the scenes (though it won't be acknowledged as such on-screen). If I'm wrong and the stipulation is at face value, then Trips winning sends Lesnar packing into whatever other job he wants to do, thus closing the story on a positive note.

Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane) (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler & Big E. Langston

Match type and stipulation: Standard tag match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

What's led up to this: After losing the World Heavyweight Championship in 18 seconds to start WrestleMania 28, Daniel Bryan has been a whining jerk for much of 2012. That match started with his then-girlfriend AJ Lee giving him a smooch to start the match, so he blamed her for the loss and treated her rather badly.

His treatment of her drove her into the arms of a bunch of other men... or, more accurately, she drove herself into any man who gave her more than a passing glance. She showed interest in John Cena, CM Punk, and even Kane for no apparent reason. Through her cuteness, she posed a distraction to all the guys, including her crazy moment of dashing down the ramp, skipping around the ring while wearing a Kane mask, and skipping back up the ramp without a word to confuse the hell out of Kane.

This led some, notably her best friend Kaitlyn, to speculate that she had completely lost her mind. It didn't help that she decided to get married to Daniel Bryan for RAW #1000. As they stood in the ring, some awkward lines were exchanged, and AJ walked away still single but also the new General Manager of RAW on Vince McMahon's orders.

AJ seemed competent enough as GM, but the usual shenanigans happened among the superstars to accuse her of bias. This was compounded with CM Punk—still a face at that point but resistant to AJ's advances—who still held the WWE Title. Daniel Bryan was especially angry at her, so AJ ordered him to have “anger management.”

The anger management skits were some of WWE's best comedy, especially given that the “classes” were done in pre-recorded segments in what could easily have been a classroom in a YMCA. Co-starring the calm and overly friendly Dr. Shelby, DB dutifully attended his classes. But during that last class, Kane was the unexpected surprise member of the group, dressed in full ring attire despite the casual nature of the classes. Dr. Shelby asked Kane what makes him angry, and Kane answered with an absolutely glorious monologue in which he chipped at the fourth wall, calling into question every bad “character hook” he had been saddled with. He concluded with the brilliant line that he, “for some unexplained reason, [enjoys] tormenting Pete Rose.”

The monologue almost turned him face overnight, but his and DB's turns were solidified over the next couple months. They had a series of skits and matches that, at Dr. Shelby's request, forced them to get along. As they started having trust issues in the ring, Shelby had them “hug it out,” leading to some of the most painfully awkward bromance moments in the history of WWE, or quite possibly the universe. The peak came when they had a six-man tag match with Randy Orton and wound up “hugging it out” by squishing Orton in the middle of their man-sandwich.

They still had their “issues,” and in fact won the titles together while still taking solo credit for doing so, leading to the wonderful phrase “I am the tag team champions!” being added to the WWE lexicon, which might make English teachers have aneurysms, but it amuses the rest of us.

They eventually overcame their issues and became a full-time tag team. They argued over their team name, each demanding first billing, when Dr. Shelby decided they should be called “Team Friendship,” which was deliciously perfect. WWE let the fans decide in a Twitter poll, and though “Team Friendship” was among the choices, “Team Hell No” inexplicably won, thus proving the lack of humor and taste in the general public. (Online Onslaught doesn't recognize the stupid name outside of “official” columns such as this when we pretend we're professionals.)

During this whole mess, others continued to accuse AJ of favoritism, and it got to the point where she reluctantly resigned the general managership. It didn't matter: all the guys still ignored her, and it caused her to go... well, totally nutter bars.

Her behavior became more erratic, and it culminated when John Cena took on Dolph Ziggler in a Ladder Match for the latter's Money in the Bank contract. Although AJ had been trying to get into Cena's jorts for a couple months, she pushed over the ladder as he went for the case. Dolph grabbed it and retained instead, and AJ hooked up with him, thus turning her heel. She explained that she was sick of being rejected by everyone, and that she had to give up her dream job as general manager in the hopes of getting Cena. But Dolph was the man who stayed by her side and wouldn't reject her, so she returned that “love” (or whatever) by staying by his side and helping him win matches.

Then on December 17, AJ randomly unveiled Big E. Langston, a big dude with a tiny face who was promoted from NXT. He... uh... doesn't... really do anything. He just stands as the bodyguard to make sure AJ isn't accosted, and to help out Dolph as well during matches.

For the most part, Team Hell No and Dolph et al left each other alone, but their paths crossed more and more as we got closer to WrestleMania. It was inevitable, and soon they were openly assaulting each other, with Langston generally getting the better of it and hitting what is apparently his finisher—a shoulder-mounted sit-down gutbuster—on just about everyone.

Finally sick of their crap, and since Langston still hasn't been in an official match yet, Kane and DB challenged them to a match. The heels agreed if the champs would put the titles on the line, and Team Hell No agreed.

What's expected: Dolph continues to have solid matches despite his tendency to oversell. DB is solid as well in the technical and flying styles, with Kane doing well on power. From what we've seen of Langston, he's strong, but he hasn't been in anything even resembling a match yet on the main shows, so we're not sure what he's capable of. Well, if you watch NXT you have some idea, but I haven't since Girl NXT was a thing.

All told, it should be a good match, but probably won't be anything major; a “weekly show” effort, most likely. It wouldn't surprise me if this one jerks the curtain, or possibly goes second.

My prediction: Pretty simple here: Dolph Ziggler and Big E. Langston win and become the new champions. I don't like the idea of putting a title on someone on their first match, even the people I like... for example, as much as I love Gail Kim, her winning the Women's Championship on her first night in WWE just alienated her from the fans and lowered the credibility of the title.

However, the thing with Langston is that while this is his first match, we've seen his strength over the past few months. He's credible enough, and adding Dolph to the team gives it that extra credibility to make the team plausible. Beyond that, Team Hell No can't really go much further; they “hugged out” their issues, and without conflict, they're no longer overly interesting. Don't get me wrong, they're still very entertaining, but they're not interesting; there's a difference. Honestly, I forget they're holding the titles half the time.

Team Hell No can even get them back eventually; as usual, the better story is when the good guys are chasing a goal, especially the title. It's just, for now, the heels should win the titles. It'll give Langston legitimacy and give Dolph something to do until he cashes in his Money in the Bank contract. Or even, he could eventually be a multi-champion: it could help his own legitimacy and turn him into the #3 full-time heel on the roster.

Sheamus, Randy Orton, & Big Show vs. The Shield (comprised of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, & Roman Reigns)

Match type & stipulation: Standard six-man tag match

What's led up to this: The Shield is comprised of three men who were independent or developmental stars. While Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins were on NXT6, Dean Ambrose made the jump directly from FCW. As far as the main roster was concerned, they didn't exist.

They made their debut on November 18 at Survivor Series, where CM Punk was defending the WWE Championship against Ryback and John Cena in a triple threat match. Ryback seemed assured of victory, but it was a no-DQ match, and this trio jumped the barricade. They seemed like something out of the Attitude Era: random, all-black clothing (including tactical vests as if they're a SWAT team or something), and stiffly violent. They beat the crap out of Ryback, concluding with their finisher, a triple powerbomb that drove Ryback through the commentators' table.

They introduced themselves as “The Shield,” as in the “shield of justice.” They said they were in WWE to fight injustice, to right wrongs, etc. At first, fans weren't sure what to make of them; they had appeared to aid CM Punk, who had mentioned wanting change and “making WWE fun again” in the Promo Heard Around the World in 2011.

Some, including me, speculated that The Shield was a tweener who actually did want to enact their vision of “justice,” specifically the idea of workrate over stardom. Rollins and Ambrose especially have good wrestling experience, a little on the smaller side but with plenty of technical ability to make up for it, sort of like CM Punk himself.

It turned out to be wishful thinking. Over the next few months, The Shield went about assaulting faces, including Cena, for the flimsiest reasons that were thinly veiled as “justice.” They preferred attacking when they had a man advantage, and they would always “win” the assaults. Ryback and others started fighting back, and The Shield tended to back off whenever the numbers were even. Still, The Shield had two separate six-man tag matches, and they managed to win clean each time.

Among those they assaulted were Sheamus and Randy Orton. Ryback, who as mentioned had been The Shield's first victim, wanted some revenge, so a match was booked among the six. However, Mark Henry had been making aggressive waves at Ryback, so that match was signed instead, leaving one spot open for the faces.

Big Show meanwhile has spent most of the last year as a heel, turning during Punk's great run in 2011-2012 as he (Show) stuck around as John Laurinaitis's pet project. Show spent much of 2012 as the World Heavyweight Champion as well after winning it from Sheamus, but after losing it to Alberto Del Rio in December, he had nothing further to do. Show invoked his rematch clause on ADR, lost that too, and had no plans for WrestleMania.

Show was still #1 heel on SmackDown, and he continued to behave as such. Then on March 1, he was in a match that also involved Orton. The Shield attacked Orton, but bumped into Show in the process. Show threw a WMD and knocked out Roman Reigns, signaling a start to their feud. Without help, Show too eventually took the triple powerbomb on a different episode, which was a scary sight.

Now armed with a reason, Show decided that he wanted to help the faces. He still technically hasn't turned face himself, but his alliance with Orton and Sheamus is one of convenience: they all have a common enemy, and you know the “the enemy of my enemy” cliché. The strangest part of the alliance is that it's Show and Sheamus who don't trust each other, and Orton of all people is trying to be the peacemaker. After a rough start, it seems they're all on the same page, standing tall against a couple attacks from The Shield in the past few weeks.

What's expected: The Shield is a damn good tag team. Individually, all three guys play their roles fine, but they have a great chemistry in the ring. Roman Reigns is technically the least skilled of the trio, but his weaknesses are hidden during matches: either he's doing power offense against an opponent who's down, or he's getting beaten by the faces, and he sells fine. Rollins and Ambrose do the conventional offense with some flight, and it works well.

Sheamus and Orton had a few tag matches themselves and did respectably. Big Show isn't the greatest team player due to his style, but tag matches hide his slower speed and slightly less cardio. All told, it should be a solid tag match... but probably nothing that's going to get anyone talking.

My prediction: This seems like a pretty formulaic story: the heels dominate, faces ally, a former heel tries to ally as well, the alliance finally gets over its issues and unites. Now the final chapter is that the new alliance overcomes all its problems and puts the heels down.

Except... The Shield has been very effective, not just in the ring, but the fans are firmly behind them. Sure, the fans boo, but they're booing for the right reasons; they're not booing for the quality of ring work. Why stop that momentum already? The Shield has months or longer left before they get stale, and the story as written has been just a little too straightforward and convenient.

I have a feeling that a swerve is going to happen; I'm just not sure what. I would love to see Orton turn heel, but he has way too many fans behind him for that. Still, either he or Show can have a “If you can't beat them, join them,” mentality and wind up being a surprise fourth member of The Shield. Regardless, I'm calling The Shield to win, probably due to an alignment swerve, and for the feud to continue for a while longer. The Shield, like all stables, will eventually need to lose and start to splinter, but I think it's way too soon for that. If this was any of the other pay-per-views in the Big Four (WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble), I would probably go the other way. But right now, it's simply too soon to slow The Shield down.

If The Shield does wind up losing against my better judgment, look for them to at least have the moral victory: after the match, they could produce weapons or something to gain the advantage and wind up standing over their opponents anyway. Either way, it's going to be The Shield standing tall and continuing the feud, not the faces.

Ryback vs. Mark Henry

Match type & stipulation: Standard singles match

What's led up to this: Ryback was first seen as “Skip Sheffield” back in NXT 1, where he was basically a forgettable back-story behind Wade Barrett and Daniel Bryan. Then he broke his ankle at a house show and disappeared forever as far as the main roster was concerned.

On April 4, 2012, he made an out-of-nowhere debut as a monster face with a shaved head and a beard who just squashed a bunch of jobbers. If that sounds familiar to Attitude Era fans, it should: most of the smarks in the live audiences were quick to start chanting “Goldberg!” at him over and over.

Ryback went over with the crowd for reasons that I still can't explain (I can never understand the appeal of soundless monster faces no matter how many times I see them), and he was soon a solid face.

His first real feud was against CM Punk, and Ryback chased the WWE Championship, but couldn't ever get it. First, Ryback suffered a low blow thanks to then-referee Brad Maddox at Hell in a Cell, then suffered an attack by The Shield during their debut at Survivor Series.

Ryback would then have an on-again/off-again feud with The Shield, having matches with them (or getting assaulted by them) in random events and shows throughout 2012 and 2013. In mid-February, after Randy Orton and Sheamus had their own problems with The Shield, it seemed that Ryback would join them for a six-man tag match at WrestleMania.

However, Mark Henry—who had been injured for nearly a year—made his return on February 4. Henry maintained his “Hall of Pain” gimmick as a heel who just wanted to beat the hell out of anyone who crossed him.

Henry and Ryback made eyes at each other several times. It was simply a mix of mutual respect and jealousy: Henry is billed as the “World's Strongest Man,” whereas Ryback has shown his strength, including hitting his finisher (involving lifting the victim onto his shoulders) on two men at once.

Eventually, the two stepped their feud up to the next level when they each hit their finishers multiple times on Drew McIntyre for no apparent reason other than to one-up each other. A match was booked for SmackDown, but Ryback won due to disqualification thanks to interference from The Shield. Henry was irritated with the loss but took out his aggression on Ryback: he hit him with three World's Strongest Slams.

Suddenly the feud was a lot less congenial. RAW General Manager Vickie Guerrero pulled Ryback from the planned six-man tag match, then booked him against Mark Henry. As a last sign of a “strength contest,” they were booked in a bench pressing contest on March 29. Henry went first, Ryback went second, and when Ryback looked to beat Henry's score, Henry pushed down on the bar, choking him with the barbell. Henry eventually backed off, but the damage was done.

What's expected: When Ryback debuted, he seemed like a one-trick pony despite the crowd's support, but he proved his chops on January 7 with a phenomenal TLC match against CM Punk. Although this match against Henry is a standard match, Ryback's ability to brawl is no longer in doubt, and he'll be able to hold up his end of the bargain despite having poor cardio.

Henry meanwhile is looking great. He was always sluggish and somewhat uninteresting, relying on overselling opponents to show off the power. However, the surgery proved to be a great boon: he's been moving much faster and smoother, and he seems to be in the best shape of his life since he turned heel and became credible.

All told, it's not going to be a workrate-heavy match, but it'll be a solid fight that will go back-and-forth from start to finish. With nothing on the line, there isn't a foregone conclusion here, which will add a little tension and intrigue. Even better, although I can't understand it, I won't deny that the fans are absolutely ecstatic for Ryback, and that'll help sell him in particular and the match in general.

My prediction: I have no idea. They really can go either way from here, and I highly doubt the feud is over regardless of the finish. I think the match will be enjoyable and watchable, two adjectives that I never imagined I'd use on either guy, let alone both. Hell, even I'm starting to get on the Ryback bandwagon, though I'm not exactly going overboard with him.

If this was one of the old Online Onslaught prediction games, I'd wuss out and actually bet on a no-contest, double pin, double-DQ, something like that... a non-finish, in other words. But not only is that a cowardly prediction, WWE has significantly reduced those finishes, especially at WrestleMania. Ergo, I'm forcing myself to pick, and I'm metaphorically betting on Ryback, since he's been generally the “victim” in the exchanges, and it's rare that the victim doesn't come back to win the big one. Regardless, look for the next chapter of the feud to get going on the April 8 RAW or April 12 SmackDown.

Tons of Funk (Brodus Clay & Tensai) & Funkadactyls (Cameron & Naomi) vs. Team Rhodes Scholars (Cody Rhodes & Damien Sandow) & The Bella Twins

Match type & stipulation: Standard eight-person mixed tag match

What's led up to this: Brodus Clay debuted his new “Funkasaurus” gimmick, pretty much a disco-dancing fat man with the Funkadactyls as backup dancers, back on January 9, 2012. He didn't have any seriously memorable feuds, but he went over with the crowd, and his power-heavy moveset was a crowd-pleaser as well.

Tensai, formerly “A-Train” and “Prince Albert” from the Attitude Era, redebuted on March 17, 2012. Tensai started off as a monster heel, lightly feuding separately with John Cena and CM Punk. However, despite being booked really strong, he just couldn't take off with the crowd. They frequently chanted “Albert!” at him, thus unintentionally making the gimmick flop. It didn't help that he followed up losses by beating the crap out of his male valet, Sakamoto, who eventually just disappeared from television.

Tensai's star fell quickly, as he began a serious losing streak in June (just three months after his debut). He spent most of 2012 on his back, even losing to lower-card faces such as Zack Ryder. Aside from an occasional win here or there, he just wasn't getting anywhere.

His gimmick was tweaked to be more of a comedy face by proxy when the fourth wall was chipped. WWE spent most of Tensai's career trying not to acknowledge his past character, but they couldn't fight the crowd, and Santino Marella eventually called him “Fat Albert” in December. Tensai became a punch line at that point, and the face seeds were planted.

In January, Tensai wound up in a “dancing contest” with Brodus Clay. For reasons too contrived to get into here, Tensai wound up wearing women's lingerie to the contest as well, thus jettisoning the last shred of “monster” his gimmick still possessed. Still, Tensai started a winning streak, and Brodus stayed around to support him, thus slowly turning Tensai face by proxy. Eventually, Brodus and Tensai formed a tag team (sadly called “Tons of Funk”) and started a winning streak. Tensai concluded all his matches by dancing along with Brodus, including pulling out the “shovel step” made famous in WWE by Brian “Grand Master Sexay” Christopher way back during the Attitude Era.

The other side of the ring includes Online Onslaught favorite Damien Sandow, who debuted on April 6, 2012. His gimmick was to be the “intellectual savior” of WWE, using long-winded phrases and beautiful turns of phrases to get his morally superior attitude over his opponents. He's incredibly effective, and while booed, is booed for all the right reasons. His catchphrase, “You're welcome” in a dismissive tone, is one of the most memorable of the Modern Era.

He and Cody Rhodes formed a team together, calling themselves Team Rhodes Scholars (hereafter “TRS”) back in September. At the time, this was at the request of Dr. Shelby to give Team Hell No a challenge, but Sandow and Rhodes stuck together since then. They've been incredibly entertaining, as their “arrogant heel” combination plays well off each other, and both guys have the promo chops to really sell their goofy cockiness. Their team made a run for the WWE Tag Titles, but was slowed for a month in November due to a legit (but minor) injury that Rhodes suffered.

In early February, TRS announced they were breaking up the team to pursue singles careers and titles, but would remain “best friends.” That lasted all of two weeks, when due to legit injuries and other problems, the WWE tag team division suddenly lost a chunk of its members. TRS reunited and started winning again, even getting involved in a match against Attitude Era favorites New Age Outlaws.

Meanwhile, the Bella Twins were “fired” by Eve Torres on April 30, 2012; in reality, their contracts were expiring, and they had chosen to let the contracts go to pursue other things. But they made an unannounced return on March 11, 2013 (with Nikki debuting a bigger set of breasts as well), just to throw themselves at TRS. A storyline teased some sort of relationship between Cody Rhodes and WWE Divas Champion Kaitlyn (who enjoys Cody's new pencil mustache that he's calling the “Lovestache”), but Kaitlyn was wordlessly shunted away thanks to the Bellas.

In March, the Bellas didn't have any matches, but they got closer to TRS in all senses of the word. Eventually, the Bellas encountered the Funkadactyls in the backstage area on an episode of RAW. The Funkadactyls complimented them; the Bellas in turn mocked them and started a double catfight in the back. TRS added fuel to the fire by antagonizing Tons of Funk.

A couple minor matches happened in the interim, including a women's tag match on the April 1 episode of RAW, in which the Bellas pulled off the win. The full eight-person mixed tag match was booked silently; unless I'm mistaken, I don't think it's even been shown on any title splashes on either of the main shows prior to this last week.

What's expected: All four men are proven in the ring, skilled both as singles competitors and in teams. Tensai will likely be the face in peril since Brodus is more credible as a tag savior, but either way, all four can easily hold up their end of matches.

The Bella Twins were never among the better ring-capable women of WWE, but they are ring-capable, and their off-time this last year was somewhat spent on independent wrestling circuits. I confess that I didn't see their return match on Main Event, but they didn't seem to show any ring rust during their match on April 1. However, due to the format of an eight-person tag match, any rust will be hidden anyway.

This is especially important for the Funkadactyls. Naomi proved in NXT 3 that she's ring-capable, though she hasn't seemed to greatly improve since then (unlike, say, fellow NXT 3 competitor Kaitlyn, who went from being an in-ring liability to credible champion in little over a year). Cameron hasn't had any matches on the main shows that I can think of other than her April 1 tag match, but in her brawl exchanges, she's at least been able to throw credible punches and sells all right. Cameron is also a firecracker, and though her moveset is more roughneck than technical, she throws so much gusto into her attacks that it works well for her.

This all adds up to what will probably resemble an above-average standard tag match. The divas will be there to mess around and give the heels some cheap heat as the men tag out to them, but it's unlikely that they'll have any significant impact. The men will likely be the draw here, and will essentially run a standard tag match.

My prediction: That's not to say “standard tag match” is a pejorative term in this context. As I said, all four guys are pretty good in the ring and are firmly over with the crowd, so the match will be solid and entertaining. There are a few matches on the card that pointless or over-hyped; in spite of those matches, this eight-person tag match is a great addition. To use a baseball analogy, while most of the matches are swinging for the fences (and a couple others are barely bunts that result in obvious outs), this one is going to be a line drive double.

Because nothing is on the line, and because it is a solid addition to the card, I'm calling the faces to win it. If the heels win instead, the faces will at least be the ones standing tall in the ring afterward, dancing to celebrate their actual or moral victory. Look for this one to go in the middle of the card.

Chris Jericho vs. Fandango

Match type & stipulation: Standard singles match

What's led to this: Chris Jericho spent the latter half of 2012 not in WWE, as he toured (as he often does) with his band Fozzy. Jericho returned at the Royal Rumble as entrant #2. Though he lost, he has reverted to his catchphrase-happy face self, to the delight of the crowd; it made the Royal Rumble loss meaningless.

Since January, he hasn't really done a lot. He chased the Intercontinental Title for a bit, but ultimately came up short to Wade Barrett. He also had some issues and feuds with The Shield, but they've since left each other alone.

Meanwhile, Fandango exists. Johnny Curtis won NXT Season 4 to the surprise of basically everyone in March 2011. After winning, he had a grand total of zero matches on the main shows (while NXT4 “loser” Brodus Clay went on to debut quickly and well establish himself twice). They teased a gimmick where Curtis was freaking insane and pun-happy, once declaring that he would “not cry over spilled milk” as he dumped a bowl of milk and cereal onto his own head while grinning at the camera. It was like the old cartoon version of Beetlejuice, except with less makeup and more stupidity.

That gimmick, whatever it was meant to be, was aborted. Johnny Curtis remained persona non grata as far as the main roster was concerned. Then in November of 2012, vignettes started advertising a ballroom-dancing character named “Fandangoo” who would debut. The last O was dropped for some reason, and we soon started seeing more vignettes of Fandango dancing with a nameless vaguely Hispanic woman.

Vignettes by themselves aren't a bad thing, but Fandango got one vignette per show per week... until January, at which point it was two vignettes per show per week. If WWE's point was to establish Fandango as a heel just because of overexposure, well... they succeeded, but it was a crappy way of going about it.

Fandango eventually “debuted” on March 1, but took offense that interviewer Matt Striker couldn't pronounce his name right, so he refused to wrestle. He repeated this gimmick with each of his “debuts,” getting upset that the ring announcers or whoever wasn't “breathing the A's in 'Fandango.'” It agitated the fans, and at this point, I'm honestly not sure if the average fan is booing him for the right reasons or the wrong reasons. Personally, I'm booing him for the wrong reasons; I want him off TV as fast as possible. I think I'm with the majority, as the always-dangerous “You can't wrestle!” chants have loudly followed him for the past few weeks.

Eventually he ran into Chris Jericho in a backstage segment, where Jericho started mispronouncing his name intentionally with ever-growing ridiculousness. It was funnier and more entertaining than it had any right to be, but Fandango himself wasn't pleased. On March 22, Jericho had a match on SmackDown, and Fandango caused a distraction to make him lose. On March 25, Jericho attacked Fandango before Fandango's “debut” match; later that night, Fandango attacked Jericho after his match. The match between the two was then booked for WrestleMania.

What's expected: Jericho is a ring general and a veteran who, like CM Punk, can make anyone look like a world champion.

And then there's Johnny Curtis. I haven't seen him at all since NXT4, and in theory he could have greatly improved. He's got a nice little unique flourish to get over the ropes and into a the ring, sort of like a forward axe-kicking vault. It shows he's very lean and athletic, but... well, pure athleticism doesn't exactly translate into a worthy ring-capable wrestler.

It's entirely possible he's much better, but his assaults on Chris Jericho have been of the mounted punching variety that don't really show off much skill. His assumed finisher is a leg drop off the top rope, which is athletic and deadly enough, but a wrestler can't be judged or critiqued on a single move. I remember his matches from NXT were solid enough, but nothing to write home about.

All told, if Curtis can even remotely hold up his end of the match, Jericho can help him hide any weaknesses and give him some credibility. Still, the only other match on the card that I feel could be worse is Miz/Barrett, so you'll probably be able to safely use this one to visit the bathroom or grab a snack.

My prediction: Whether it's an old-school mentality or not, I despise the idea of a new character getting his debut match on WrestleMania. Even worse, I despise the idea that a wrestler will get his first win at WrestleMania. Until April 1, I actually feared that Fandango was going to get the win just as a major swerve. However, Fandango has always won these non-match exchanges with Jericho, and it's unlike professional wrestling writing to let the heel always win (aside from WCW's eventual mishandling of the nWo). I've had to change my mind twice, but now I've settled on Chris Jericho winning.

Still, the WWE “Creative” Team has written itself into a corner here: Fandango is in a situation where he can't lose. He's been teasing the debut for five months, and if he loses right away, he'll be even more of a punch line than he is now, killing the gimmick and rendering him useless. The fans are already rebelling, and if he loses, I don't think he'll be able to recover. The only scenario I can think of to let that actually happen is for WWE to abort the gimmick, let Jericho beat him, and let Johnny Curtis go away again for a year as they work out something more intelligent.

Until April 1, I didn't see that happening. Jericho is a team player and probably doesn't care about jobbing out to a newcomer, and it's not like Jericho can't win later: Jericho could turn around and beat him the next night on RAW, even. But this is Curtis's real debut not just as Fandango, but to the main rosters in general. It's crucial that he gets the first win, or else he's useless and becomes persona non grata again.

A friend of mine gave me one single scenario where Jericho could win and still have Fandango keep what remains of his credibility. If Fandango loses by intentional countout, he'll be angering the fans by walking out on them at WrestleMania of all places, thus increasing his heel status. But even in that scenario, the fans will rebel harder against him, and make it more difficult for him to recover and gain any sort of credibility. Either he's got to win, or he's got to lose and go away for ever; I think it's more likely for WWE to go with the latter option there.

Either way, this match is going to suck unless a miracle occurs (or if Johnny Curtis has been burying his own talent for some stupid reason). I hope it goes on early enough that we can move on quickly and forget about it.

Wade Barrett (c) vs. The Miz

Match type & stipulation: Standard singles match for the Intercontinental Championship

What's led up to this: This one was sort of thrown together, and the feud has been entirely forgettable. Well, so has The Miz, who turned face in November for basically no reason. He solidified the face turn at Survivor Series when he was on Team Foley, but ever since then, his promos have been watered down, and his matches aren't anything special. While some guys, like CM Punk, can be great as a face or a heel, Miz is one of those guys who just can't play a face to save his life.

Both he and Wade Barrett treaded water for much of 2012. Barrett won the Intercontinental Title from Kofi Kingston on December 31 in a forgettable match. Meanwhile, Miz consistently lost to everyone (especially Antonio Cesaro) until March 4, when WWE had another Old School RAW special. Miz beat Dolph Ziggler, but he needed the help of Ric Flair, and even took Ric's Figure Four leglock as his new finisher.

In the weeks after, Miz and Chris Jericho feuded for the #1 contendership to the Intercontinental Title. Wade Barrett attacked them both, prompting a triple threat match. Barrett retained, but Miz stayed in the title hunt by beating Barrett in a non-title match.

What's expected: Since turning face, Miz may have some fans on his side, but he's just not that interesting. He has no character hook, he has an infuriating douchebag-like promo delivery, and his insults are watered down. He's built to be a heel, even though all off-screen interactions have shown him to be a decent guy. The dichotomy is weird. Regardless, as much as I respect him, he was never all that great in the ring compared to his peers.

Barrett is more credible as a fighter due to his size, and he can cut a better promo, but he's been handcuffed with undercard activities for a year now, and he's not that interesting either. I don't think we're going to see much more than a lackluster match between both guys (not for lack of effort), one that hopefully won't go longer than ten minutes.

It was announced on April 1 that this match will be on WWE's WrestleMania 29 pre-show, which will be aired on YouTube at 6pm.

My prediction: If this was any other pay-per-view, I'd pick Barrett. But I'm probably already too heel-heavy on the wins, so I think Miz will win the Intercontinental Title, especially so they can pop the crowd early before the actual show starts. I don't think that's the right play—the title doesn't really mean much anymore and it can't help Miz at all—but given how much the average fans are getting behind Miz, it would be a good way to pop the crowd. Either way, I'll be greatly surprised if I can remember much more beyond the match finish the night after.

Prediction Summary

John Cena over The Rock, wins the WWE Championship

Alberto Del Rio over Jack Swagger, retains the World Heavyweight Championship

Undertaker over CM Punk

Triple H over Brock Lesnar

Dolph Ziggler & Big E. Langston over Team Hell No, win the WWE Tag Team Championships

The Shield over Sheamus, Randy Orton, & Big Show

Ryback over Mark Henry

Tons of Funk & Funkadactyls over Team Rhodes Scholars & Bella Twins

Chris Jericho over Fandango

The Miz over Wade Barrett, wins the Intercontinental Championship

Final Thoughts

WWE is slowly recovering from its thin cards in the post-Attitude, pre-Modern Eras. WrestleMania 29 isn't a top-to-bottom miracle card, but it's solid and should provide plenty of entertainment over four hours. I can't remember which year it was, but recently one of the cards was 10 matches strong like this year, but they had to bump one to get it into four hours. This year, with one of the matches bumped to the pre-show already, it should be better paced.

There has been some recent teasing between WWE Divas Champion Kaitlyn and her occasional tag partner Layla, who covets the title but hasn't outright done anything aggressive to chase it. I'm a little disappointed that WWE is brushing aside that story—probably one of the few times when WWE actually gets the point of subtlety to show the feud—especially in favor of sticking Jericho/Fandango on the pay-per-view. That said, the pre-show is a full hour long, and it's unlikely to be comprised of a single match with 50 minutes of hype. I'm hoping that Kaitlyn at least gets a match on the pre-show as well, perhaps one with Layla to continue the feud, since the “Creative” Team has completely ignored the divas division during the last month. Granted, the card is stacked with sizzle, and I get why the divas may be bumped... except for Jericho/Fandango, which has no reason to exist.

The song for WrestleMania 29 is “Coming Home” by Diddy feat. Skylar Grey, available on iTunes and other such services. Like the previous three years, it's melodic hip-hop, and like “I've Made It” (Kevin Rudolf), “Written in the Stars” (Tinie Tempah), and “Invincible” (MGK feat. Ester Dean), it's pretty damn awesome.

Sadly, like the previous years, Diddy is going to perform it live during the show. I always get really annoyed by in-event concerts, unless it's a situation like when Motorhead played Triple H's entrance song live, because it seems like a giant waste of time. The concert usually lasts fifteen minutes or more, which would be plenty of time for, you know, a divas match or something. But it's a mainstay, and the song choice could be worse, especially if Diddy decides to sing literally anything else other than “Victory.”

I'm a busy guy, trying to hold down three jobs (including this one) and starting to remove luxuries to just make ends meet. This isn't a call for sympathy or whatever; all I'm saying is that WrestleMania is one of the few days I really look forward to every year, and though I'll have fewer guests than usual, I'm still going to have one awesome time. It's one day out of the year I allow myself to jettison all my cares for a short time and just absorb myself into one of my favorite hobbies. I've got special drinks, special food, and set schedules to get some cleaning and organization done in time for the event. I'm ready, I'm stoked, and I can't wait for Sunday!

I hope you're as entertained as I'm sure I'll be! Enjoy the night, stay safe, and check back at Online Onslaught shortly after 11:00pm Eastern for Rick Scaia's recap, expert analysis, and insightful commentary of WrestleMania 29. I'll see you on Monday for the following RAW.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

 
E-MAIL PYROFALKON

BROWSE THE BYTE THIS RECAP ARCHIVES


  
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