I love the Stanley Cup Finals. As a novice to hockey, I'm consistently amazed at how enveloping the NHL playoffs can be for any sports fan, regardless of whether they understand off-sides or that "power play" isn't just a business term. Arguably, it's the most exciting postseason in all of the major professional sports.
I love the NFL playoffs. One loss and you're out? In a professional league? My God. Not growing up with a local football franchise, I've come to appreciate the fanaticism tied into these four weeks in January after living in New York for two years. I've completely bought in, watching every game, even though I have no rooting interest, except the ever-present burning desire I have for Tom Brady to fatally collide with a well-placed flying cleat to the throat.
I love the World Series. I grew up playing baseball, understanding the incredible difficulties of the sport even as men who could be my father still dominate the game. I find the unpredictability of the playoffs completely fascinating, with matchups and momentum being more integral to baseball than to any other postseason.
But today....we're talking about the Road to Wrestlemania. This my friends--not the NFL Playoffs, not the Stanley Cup round, not the Fall Classic--represents the best time of the year. The three month build to professional wrestling's crown jewel event is some of the best drama anyone could possibly manufacture.
The question, as it is every time in early January, is who will own the right to main event Wrestlemania? Unlike the other sports, the matchups in sports entertainment are predetermined by World Wrestling Entertainment grandmaster Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Simply owning a headlining spot, regardless if the wrestler is slated to win or lose that night, is tantamount to winning the Superbowl or hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy.
As of today, we've got several revolving pieces hurtling towards Wrestlemania 29. The Rock. John Cena. CM Punk. Brock Lesnar. The Undertaker. Triple H. Ryback. Sheamus. Even, perhaps...Stone Cold Steve Austin
With all these names tumbling around in Vince McMahon's menagerie of gladiators, there's a million possibilities heading into Metlife Stadium on April 7th. The Raw Librarian and I have been tossing around e-mails for weeks, trying to speculate who will make it through the rocky Road to Wrestlemania and emerge as the top dogs. As MAMBINO often does, we're going to break down the possibilities piece by piece, one wrestler at a time. Here....we....go!
Most Likely Matchup
The RAW Librarian: Team
You have to give credit where credit is due; HHH has to some extent revitalized the tag team division. However, it's still no where near the Hardyz/Dudleys/Edge and Christian era of the early 2000's. After all, that was tag team wrestling at its apex. I also have to give Kane major credit for improving every facet of his game in 2012. He dramatically revamped his character and added a great deal of credibility to tag team wrestling. His backstage segments with Daniel Bryan (and Harold) were often the highlight of the show, not to mention he became self aware in what has to be the promo of the year during this Anger Management sketch.
Rhodes Scholars became my favorite tag team of all-time the moment they called out the Brooklyn crowd for being hipsters (I believe my esteemed colleague was at the arena that night). This match makes sense because if you are going to place an emphasis on tag team wrestling, you want to showcase the two best tag teams at the "Granddaddy of 'Em All."
As TRL noted, yes I was in attendance at the TLC PPV in Brooklyn, and I booed the Rhodes Scholars vociferously. Not because I disagreed with them, but just because I felt like getting rowdy. I loathe hipsters.
Looking at the marketable guys available, the WWE has to cram as many marquee names as humanly possible onto one four-hour long show. That might not seem like a difficult task, but with a roster of dozens, there's always going to be someone left out. Sin Cara and Rey Mysterio are huge selling points for the young kids in the audience, so unless the two masked Mexicans embark into their long-expected feud and split immediately (before winning the tag-titles), I see a three-way tag match as most probable.
Best Match for Business
TRL: Team Friendship vs Rhodes Scholars vs Sin Cara/Rey Mysterio vs World's Greatest Tag Team Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas
Screw it. If HHH wants to make tag team wrestling a thing again, then don't just stick one foot in the water; go all in. I'm talking about bringing back the former Team Angle. "The World's Greatest Tag Team" Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas are about as cohesive a unit as they come. You won't have to worry about Charlie Haas getting no reaction with wrestlers like Bryan and Cody's mustache involved. If the WWE holds off on their plan of feuding Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara, they should be inserted into this match as well. I know how tempting it must be for them to set the Guinness Book of World Records for "most masks worn" or whatever they were contemplating doing. Make this a fatal four way tag team elimination match.
KOBEsh: Team Friendship vs. Sin Cara/Rey Mysterio
I highly doubt that the WWE would leave out Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow, considering how hard they've worked this year for the company. However, the best match for business has to be the simply told story of the two most popular tag teams facing off against each other.
TRL: Daniel Bryan vs CM Punk 30 minute Iron Man match
Wrestling purists will probably have to wait a little longer for this one to happen. Daniel Bryan is a tag team wrestler at the moment and neither guy appears on the others' radar. I'm confident this match will eventually take place, but it'll be during one of their slow months on a PPV that normally does a low buy rate. This way the "small" wrestlers can get scapegoated for not selling enough PPV purchases.
KOBEsh: I'm with my man TRL here. I'd love to see these two go for 30 minutes, pulling out everything from their Ring of Honor playbook. I'm in agreement that we'll eventually see this bout whenever Team Friendship has run it's course, but that could be a long time to come. I'm a little concerned that, as Punk said on this week's RAW, that perhaps Bryan is painting himself too much into a corner with his crowd-pandering catchphrases, rather than relying on his superior wrestling ability. In creating this caricature-like character, I don't know if DB will get himself into the main event picture again anytime soon.
Most Likely Matchup
TRL and KOBEsh: John Cena vs The Rock II
We'll know for sure after Royal Rumble but it looks like this match is shaping up to be our Wrestlemania headliner. John Cena vs the Rock.....once in a lifetime....again! They delivered big last WM, and I fully anticipate them doing so again. The only caveat is that it should be fairly obvious what the result of this match will be. It is looking like the Rock will go in as champion after defeating CM Punk at the Rumble and John Cena will get his win back from last Wrestlemania.
Best Match for Business
TRL and KOBEsh: John Cena vs The Rock II
This match is the biggest possible draw. It pits the WWE's current biggest superstar (sorry Punk) against the WWE's most successful Hollywood breakout superstar (sorry Suburban Commando). They can only wish the Rock would sink low enough to star in one of their shitty direct to DVD Marine sequels. Expect the promotion of this match to close many RAWs in the foreseeable future and hopefully Rock comes a little better prepared this time. Writing notes on his hand won't cut it.
TRL: As a small aside, I'll be at Mania this year and I'm just going to enjoy this match for what it is. Going in expecting a Cena victory should help dull the pain.
TRL: John Cena vs Dolph Ziggler
Let's just say that no match involving John Cena constitutes a dream match for me, but I really like the way these two wrestlers work together. They have fantastic chemistry in the ring, being that Ziggler's a bumping machine and Cena knows how to dish it out. This match isn't likely because I'm assuming the feud between these two will be ended by Mania. Zigs needs to concentrate on the World Title picture and obviously Cena will be occupied with Rocky soon. Regardless, I would personally like to see this feud revisited at some point.
KOBEsh: John Cena vs. The Undertaker
At this point, the Undertaker is just not going to lose at Wrestlemania. The 20-0 streak is too good of a gimmick and too reliable of a selling point for the WWE to give away. Perhaps most importantly, the man himself is simply too respected to have over two decades of hard work and sacrifice be thrown away to put another man over. After all, is there a wrestler alive with a great enough future in the business who would be important enough to defeat one of, if not the greatest WWE superstar of all-time in his yearly apex?
John Cena is that man. He hits all the marks for the type of guy that Taker would want to put over, if he decided that he'd be willing to tear up his undefeated streak: a younger wrestler with an enormous standing in the industry, a long-term future as the face of the company and of course, carries the Dead Man's respect. If there is a wrestler in WWE who could possibly live up to the impossible expectations of carrying the title of "man who broke the streak", it would be John Cena. He doesn't necessarily need "the rub" from beating the Undertaker, but because of how massive a star he is and his age, he's the only wrestler in the company that it'd feel right for the veteran to lay down for.
However, the goal, as always, isn't to have the Dead Man lose. Ultimately, the Undertaker isn't going to lose, no matter if he fights John Cena, Brock Lesnar or a time-traveling Bruno Sammartino. And everyone knows this. But what the WWE should strive for is to provide, if not for any stretch of time longer than a few minutes, a small, gnawing question in your head: "Could he actually lose this match right now?" John Cena would give you that pause.
In that regard, this is a dream match for me. The Dead Man has beaten everyone. Everyone except for John Cena.
Most Likely Matchup
TRL: CM Punk vs The Miz
I know it's premature, but I just want to take a moment and applaud Vince McMahon for sticking with CM Punk as his champion for over a calender year. There have been more than a few occasions were I thought they would snatch his title away, specifically struggling ratings or smacking a fan in the face would exert a swift reprisal from WWE's top brass. Punk recovered nicely after having the legs cut out from him last year and realistically he never should have dropped the belt after winning it at Money in the Bank in Chicago. For some asinine reason it was decided to give the belt to Del Rio and have the WWE's hottest commodity feud with aging/retired wrestlers in HHH and Kevin Nash. That was just stupid, STUPID!
It looks like this Miz face turn is actually going to be a thing. I like the Miz and I'm rooting for him to succeed, but Miz TV is one of the worst things to happen to the WWE. The only reason it seemed semi-tolerable was because of how bad the John Cena/AJ Lee/Vicki Guerrero segments were at the time. Right now, CM Punk has no obvious opponent. Miz is a blossoming baby face. CM Punk isn't turning anytime soon. This match would be logical. I just wouldn't expect these two to tear the house down. And it would be a step down from the fantastic Jericho/Punk match at last year's Wrestlemania.
KOBEsh: CM Punk vs Undertaker
What to do about CM Punk? Right now, it's looking like Rock vs. Cena II is the landing spot for the two, leaving the 400+ day reigning WWE Champion out in the cold. As much as it seems like a disrespectful ending to a man who's entire character is based on respect to drop the title to a part-time wrestler-slash-actor, it looks like the Rumble may be the end of Punk's time on top.
Without a rematch against Rocky or Cena at the big show (no, the actual big show), Punk deserves a match befitting how successful the last year and a half of his career has been. I can think of no better opponent than the Undertaker. Breaking the streak fits in with Punk's current "Best in the World" mantra, while giving the man a reward for gracefully stepping aside while Rock and Cena do their two-step once more. We'll discuss the Undertaker's potential opponents more tomorrow in our part 2 post, but a wrestler of Punk's newfound stature might be enough to keep the Dead Man from retirement for at least another year.
Best Match for Business
TRL: CM Punk vs the Undertaker *If Brock Lesnar doesn't return
Is there anyone in the WWE that has a realistic shot of ending the Undertaker's undefeated streak? The answer is no. The only way I see this match being booked is if for some reason Punk was able to hold onto the title through Rumble. Then there could be some serious streak ramifications on the line. Streak vs streak plus the title on the line. However, it is unlikely and not very plausible. Taker doesn't have it in him to wrestle full time anymore and without the title, Punk doesn't appear like a viable threat in order to end the Dead Man's streak. Still this has the potential to be an absolute classic.
KOBEsh: CM Punk vs. *World Champion X
CM Punk is the best heel in the business right now. Even as a seasoned wrestling fan, there's still a visceral part of me that wants to punch him in the face when he delivers a devastating "bad guy" promo like he did on Monday night. As such, don't you want your top heel in the main event title match?
The truth is that Rock vs. Cena II doesn't need the title to be epic. However, they've set it up in a way that the match needs another ingredient to be different than last year's and I can't imagine them changing course now. Whatever the situation, CM Punk deserves to be defending or fighting for the title. He's been the biggest breakout star since Cena's ascent almost ten years ago, and deserves to be a featured player at the top of the card. Realistically, it doesn't matter who the World Champion is come early April, whether it be Big Show, Randy Orton, the Miz, Ziggler, Ryback, Sheamus, et al. That mean just needs to be fighting the Best in the World.
TRL and KOBEsh: CM Punk vs Stone Cold Steve Austin
Let's just resign ourselves to the fact that this match is not going to happen....for now. You heard it first here at THE GREAT MAMBINO, The RAW Librarian is predicting Stone Cold vs CM Punk will headline Wrestlemania XXX. Watch this sit down interview conducted by Jim Ross with Punk and Austin. Tell me those two aren't dying to get in the ring with one another. Austin supposedly had a recent knee surgery that's precluded him from action, and more to the point, feels that he doesn't really have anything left to prove in the ring. He's right. He doesn't.
But this match would be the perfect bout between Stone Cold and a guy who's doing the same act, with a different flair and better skills on the microphone. Let's dream for a year folks.
Check out Part 2!