Most people have a bucket list. You know, a list of activities they want to do or things they want to accomplish before they kick the bucket. Some people want to bungee jump, deep sea dive, travel around the world, etc. I think it’s something that every person should have. A bucket list gives you something to look forward to, or at least something to dream of doing. It allows you to be a part of something bigger than you. My bucket list doesn’t consist of the typical ride a hot air balloon/go white water rafting crap that most probably takes up lines on everyone else’s list. That’s just not me. I’m a sports fan and I always will be. Sports have been a major part of my life for twenty years. I learned how to catch a ball before I could walk. Hell, my first word was ball. My bucket lists consists of going to an NBA Finals Game, a Super Bowl, a Final Four, a BCS Championship Game (Or hopefully, the final of a College Football tournament… keep your fingers crossed), the Summer Olympics, a World Series Game, an NBA All-Star Game, a Home Run Derby, a Kentucky Derby, a UFC Event, a Boxing Title fight in Las Vegas, a Stanley Cup Finals Game, and a WrestleMania. Somehow, thanks to my Aunt Mary, the stars have aligned and in just one day I’m going to WrestleMania 28.
Non-wrestling fans won’t understand the magnitude of what this means to a wrestling fan. They’d probably scoff at two adult males who are giddy with anticipation about a wrestling event. They’d be even more baffled that anyone would pay over $100 for tickets to attend said event. WrestleMania is the Super Bowl of wrestling. It’s the grandest stage in the WWE; the biggest and most hyped event of the year where fans are typically treated to the best matches, storylines and performers. In a moment I’ll get to the card of the event, but there is so much more to be excited about besides the matches themselves.
15 months ago I was lucky enough to attend the Orange Bowl with my Dad, my Uncle Joe and frequent Captain’s Corner co-host, and my guest for WrestleMania, Paul Clark. I don’t think I can accurately describe what it was like walking into a completely empty Sun Life Stadium (host of WrestleMania 28 as well) knowing you were about to be a part of a spectacle. That was a moment. I gained some sort of satisfaction seeing that our quarto was one of the very first groups to fill in the stands of the stadium that would soon be holding upwards of 60,000 football fans, who were surely just as excited as we were. The story will be the same Sunday, when Pauley and I once again walk into a moderately empty Sun Life Stadium that will soon enough be packed with upwards of 60,000 wrestling fans, who I’m sure will be just as excited as we are.
My expectations for WrestleMania are obviously high. Despite not seeing the most competitive game in the Orange Bowl, my expectations were surpassed. Maybe it was because Andrew Luck, the most heralded college quarterback prospect since John Elway, was playing a brilliant game before my eyes. Maybe it was because of the Virginia Tech entrance into the stadium as “Enter Sandman” was blaring, just as it is for all of their home games. It was possibly because the Goo Goo Dolls put on one heck of a half time show. That’s right. I have no shame saying I enjoy the Goo Goo Dolls. Or maybe it was just the fact that like I said before, I knew I was about to be a part of a spectacle. It wasn’t just any ordinary football game. And WrestleMania isn’t just any ordinary show. I’m giddy to walk into the stadium and see the typical mind-blowing WrestleMania set-up. I’m ready for the show to go live and join every fan in the stadium in screaming their faces off. I’m ready to see Paul Clark, a 34 year old man, buy a Great White Sheamus t-shirt. Believe it or not, I’m excited to be terrified when Kane makes his entrance and I’m launched three feet out of my seat because of his pyro. And I’m ready to see if my expectations of the matches, not the event itself, can live up to the hype.
WrestleMania 28 features an absolutely stacked card
In all honesty, if Duke “The Dumpster” Droese and Doink The Clown walked down the likely to be extended WrestleMania ramp to the squared circle, I wouldn’t complain. It’s Wrestle-Effing-Mania!!!! Lucky for us (myself, Pauley, and all wrestling fans), this year’s WrestleMania is headlined by a quartet of main event caliber matches that don’t include the “The Dumpster” or Doink. Back in January, Sheamus– a freakishly pale Irishman who transitioned earlier this year from a bad guy to a good guy—won the Royal Rumble, and as a result earned a title match at WrestleMania. Sheamus decided to challenge Daniel Bryan—a Vegan who has transitioned from a good guy to a bad guy— for the World Heavyweight Title, which is generally less prestigious than the WWE Title. Despite featuring two up-and-coming superstars in the company and having a title on the line, the World Heavyweight Title match has been pushed back to the fourth most relevant contest on the card thanks to six big name stars in the top three spots and a general lack of knowledge/interest in the WWE Smackdown roster, where both men typically compete. Hopefully, Bryan and Sheamus are given some time to show that they could very well handle the WrestleMania spotlight and remain main event caliber talents in the company for some time to come. As for a prediction, it’s hard to tell whether the WWE will want to push Sheamus as a face or Daniel Bryan as a heel more. I would expect either a clean Sheamus victory—with an ensuing Paul Clark celebration—or Bryan to retain the title due to some sort of underhanded tactic, only to leave Pauley devastated.Next up is the WWE Title Match, where CM Punk defends against Chris Jericho. Back in July 2011, I wrote about the rise of CM Punk and how if the WWE played their cards right, CM Punk could be a super-duper-star caliber talent, on the levels of Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin and John Cena. Since then, the hype has definitely died down, but there is still no questioning three things:
1- Whether you believe my hype of Punk was warranted or over the top, there was a two month stretch where he absolutely made WWE relevant on levels that transcend just WWE fans. It’s been a while since someone could claim that.
2- CM Punk is without question the best “wrestling” talent in the WWE right now. On top of that he is damn good on the microphone.
3- There is still time for Punk to reach the level I predicted… And defeating Chris Jericho at WrestleMania is a good starting place.
Chris Jericho returned to the WWE back in early January with the help of some slightly creepy promos that predicted “The end of the world as you know it.” I won’t deny that before the Jericho rumors hit the internet, I spent way too much time trying to decipher these promos and figure out who it was that was coming to WWE. When Jericho returned, it was with less than a bang despite such great promise and a sweet light up jacket. He didn’t speak for weeks, didn’t win the Royal Rumble (as most expected he would) and hasn’t come close to bringing about the end of the world. Instead, he’s verbally attacked CM Punk for claiming that he is the Best in the World, and for his straight edge beliefs. In my opinion, the build-up for this match could’ve been handled a little better, but in the end it doesn’t matter. The main selling point of this rivalry is that both men feel they are the best wrestler in the world. Luckily, the match will almost certainly surpass the build-up. I’d be shocked if this “wrestling match” doesn’t steal the show similar to Steamboat/Savage at WrestleMania 3, and Bret Hart/Owen Hart at WrestleMania 10. I say Punk retains the title, continues to build momentum as a top face in the company and Jericho collects a fat WrestleMania paycheck.
Now we get to the second ever Hell in a Cell WrestleMania match. For those who don’t know, the Hell in a Cell is an enclosed cage that surrounds the ringside area, and back before the PG Era of the WWE, it was the most brutal of all matches. Most of the time, it was the stipulation for a rivalry-ending match that left both competitors bloody and beaten. Since the PG Era began, it has become a selling point for matches and pay per views despite the fact it has lost what made it special in the first place; the sheer brutality. With all of that said, I expect the PG Era rule book to be thrown out the window for the third Triple H vs. Undertaker WrestleMania showdown.
Last year at WrestleMania 27, Triple H and Undertaker fought (a much better word for their match than “wrestled” would be) for the 2nd time on the WWE’s grandest stage, even though the promos and the build-up made it seem like it was the first time these two had ever faced each other before (maybe WWE is just trying to forget the horrible American Badass gimmick that The Undertaker used for a few years). Make no mistake, it wasn’t the classic arm-bar/head lock match that professional wrestling was founded on. It was more or less a brawl between two of the best from the previous era of wrestling that often time built rivalries around physical encounters like theirs. The Undertaker won, and maintained his undefeated record at WrestleMania, but as Triple H has stressed in the build-up to their WrestleMania 28 rematch, he, not The Undertaker, was the one who walked out under his own power that night. So now we have the ending of the trilogy between “The Last Outlaws” of the previous era of WWE. The kicker is Triple H’s real life and WWE storyline friend, Shawn Michaels, who will be playing the role as special referee inside the Hell in a Cell. Michaels himself has been previously unsuccessful at defeating the Undertaker at WrestleMania’s 25 and 26 . Combine that with his friendship with Triple H, there is a general belief that he may not be an unbiased official in this match. I hardly expect Michaels to remain unbiased in the match, but The Undertaker is not losing. Period. As much as I would love to still be a kid and believe that anything could happen in the WWE, I now understand that there are only a certain number of outcomes that are possible for every match. At WrestleMania, there is only one outcome in any match that involves The Undertaker… The Undertaker wins. To make up for the lack of unpredictability in its result, this match should be a genuine throwback to the original days of the Hell in a Cell match, which those two made famous.
Finally, we get to the match that was booked one day after WrestleMania 27. After a year of back and forth trash talk and heavy duty promotional work, it’s time for John Cena vs. The Rock. Regardless of how you feel about either entertainer, they are two of the most influential men to ever work in the business. And the WWE has made no qualms about advertising the match as such. The Cena/Rock rivalry, despite very few physical altercations, has been the centerpiece of the WWE for a year. Even in the CM Punk rise during the summer, one of his gripes with the company that he mentioned during his now very famous shoot at the end of Monday Night Raw was The Rock’s popularity and already being booked in the main event at a pay-per view over half a year away. Even though there will likely be a rematch or two, there is good reason why this match is being hyped as “Once in a lifetime.”
From an outsider standpoint, aside from Hulk Hogan, no WWE superstars are as universally known as The Rock and John Cena. There is good reason for this. Aside from their side work as actors, they are two of the most successful, charismatic and entertaining individuals in the company’s history. They each helped usher in new eras of the company—Attitude Era for The Rock, and the highly criticized PG-Era for Cena, even though I think he could’ve excelled in the Attitude Era as well. They’ve both spent time getting jeered by crowds, even as they were supposed to be the good guy. Well before the “Cena Sucks” chants that so many WWE fans partake in now, The Rock was often welcomed into the arena with “Rocky Sucks” chants. Despite the fact that they are different in so many ways, they are also very similar.
It makes sense that ten years ago at WrestleMania 18 The Rock faced Hulk Hoganin an absolutely electric match The Rock won, while receiving some crowd hatred in the process. At the time, it seemed as if this was the metaphorical passing of the torch. The Rock was arguably the biggest draw on the WWE’s current roster, yet it took Hogan to make WrestleMania 18 worth talking about. The story remains the same ten years later. Since 2005 John Cena has been the face of the WWE, filling the void that was left by guys like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Cena has gotten the treatment of the typical face of the company; Holding the WWE Championship multiple times, always being involved in the marquee feud, always selling the most merchandise and doing everything else the WWE loves. However, the crowd has grown tired of the Cena shtick. They’ve turned their back on the “Face” of the company, almost begging the WWE to make Cena a “bad guy” so they would likely have a reason to cheer for him again. In comes The Rock, who a decade ago took the torch from the original torch holder, Hulk Hogan. Now, The Rock, who still gets a bigger pop than anyone on the everyday WWE roster, will likely hand over the torch to John Cena… unless the WWE does something that they rarely do, and that is become unpredictable.
Regardless of how it ends, The Rock and Cena will surely electrify the WrestleMania crowd
The best potential ending to WrestleMania 28 is an ending that no one sees coming, and one that will put the WWE in a better place than it was before WrestleMania 28 began. It would be easy for WWE to give us a match that results in John Cena winning cleanly, shaking hands with The Rock, and the torch is passed that simply. It would be even easier to allow Cena to move on from this match as the superman of the WWE, retain his title at some point, only to see the WWE fans turn on him even more. The WWE brain trust needs to carefully evaluate where they want to go from WrestleMania 28. Do they take the risk of allowing John Cena to become a heel… something that many hardcore wrestling fans want, but a move that could potentially crush its younger audience. Does anyone get involved on behalf of either competitor, an action that could potentially tarnish a great match that had great build-up that was solely based on The Rock and John Cena’s supposed hatred for each other. I don’t have those answers.
Ultimately, what I am most anxious for is finding out what the “WrestleMania moment” of WrestleMania 28 will be. Maybe it is Sheamus solidifying himself as a face in the company. Maybe it is the masterpiece of a match that Chris Jericho and CM Punk will likely give the crowd. Maybe it is the throwback to the original days of Hell in a Cell. Maybe it is the passing of the torch from The Rock to John Cena. But perhaps my “WrestleMania moment” won’t have to do with the matches at all. Maybe, once again my moment will be walking into an empty Sun Life Stadium knowing with total confidence I’m about to be a part of a spectacle.