It might be Spring Training for Baseball, but right now is the final homestretch for wrestling fans. Wrestlemania is only a few weeks away and the card is firming up quite nicely. We’ll examine the matches and also who is NOT on the card.
THE BATTLE OF THE BILLIONAIRES
Vincent Kennedy McMahon’s HAIR vs. Donald Trump’s HAIR
SPECIAL Referee: STEVE AUSTIN
BOBBY LASHLEY (ECW CHAMPION, TRUMP rep) vs. UMAGA (VKM rep)
It’s hard to believe it’s been less than a year since Umaga (formerly Jamal of 3-minute warning) vacated the All-Japan Tag Titles and returned to the WWE. The gimmick seems to be a throwback to the Wild Samoans and may have started as somewhat of a rip-off of Samoa Joe (UMAGA: “Samoan Wrecking Machine”, Joe: “Samoan Submission Machine”), Umaga firmly planted himself in the top echelon on RAW very quickly. Second only to Edge, John Cena’s feud with Umaga was resulted in a host of fantastic matches in 2006 and a very exciting encounter at this year’s Royal Rumble. I still feel that Umaga has plenty of credibility as a vicious and dangerous heel despite his losses to Cena.
Bobby Lashley’s road to this important match has been stop & start the past 18 months. Like Umaga, Lashley is relatively new to WWE television (he debuted in September 2005). He has feuded with the top heels on Smackdown (JBL, King Booker, Fit Finlay) before moving to ECW in November 2006 to win the ECW Title from Big Show. Having already defeated Test (now released), Hardcore Holly and RVD, there isn’t anyone on ECW who really represents a very credible threat to Lashley’s ECW title at this moment though I imagine that post-WM the new top ECW heel will be Snitsky. Reportedly, Vince McMahon is actually viewing the entire ECW promotion as little more than an opportunity to make a star out of Bobby Lashley. At one point, when WWE was negotiating with K1 star Bob Sapp for ECW, there was discussion of turning Lashley heel, but momentum in that direction dissipated awhile ago.
So, you have two fresh stars – a strong babyface (Lashley, aligned with Donald Trump) and a strong heel (Umaga, aligned with Vince McMahon). They’re both large, young, formidable opponents that will gain excellent exposure by being in this important event. There are still some questions that remain:
• Is there enough motivation behind the actions? Why exactly does Lashley want to defend Trump’s hair so badly?
• Austin vs. McMahon is always the undercurrent whenever Stone Cold is around. Will that add to the dynamic of the match?
• Can these two click? Lashley has been dreadfully exposed in some matches and Umaga hasn’t done a lot of long, competitive matches with anyone.
• Will all the mainstream exposure on the B-circuit television shows equate to a bigger buyrate?
• Do people actually believe there is any chance that Trump would lose?!
WWE RAW HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE
John Cena (CHAMPION) vs. Shawn Michaels
This has been the classic build for a babyface versus babyface. Cena is the hot, charismatic of the 2000s. HBK is the superstar from the 90s who has returned and been walking stars to great match. They’ve got the tag titles to build the “two guys that don’t want to get along” vibe which has always been great fun. (There was a very similar to build to the Rock/Chris Jericho feud in Fall 2001.)
Cena had a stellar year as champion in 2006 feuding with Edge & Umaga. HBK put on a clinic at the Royal Rumble with Undertaker once again demonstrating how he’s got it. I expect a very good match from these two. Michaels had a great bout with Hogan in 2005 and Cena is far more mobile and agreeable than the Hulkster has ever been! I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Micheals wins this match for another short title reign as a reward for his years of service. Then again, he’s needed time off since DX feuded with the Spirit Squad and this could finally be the big paycheck that signals his departure for a little while.
WWE SMACKDOWN HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE
Batista (CHAMPION) vs. Undertaker
Batista is a ticking tricep-tearing timebomb. Undertaker is the undefeated (at Wrestlemania) undead phenom. It would be an enormous waste to end the UT’s streak this year. The crowds are still fully behind Taker and have begun turning on Big Dave whenever they are forced to choose between the babyfaces. Undertaker showed some real fire last year in his matches with Kurt Angle and this year at the Royal Rumble showdown with HBK. The age difference between the two is a lot smaller than you’d probably ever believe. I dearly, dearly, dearly hope that Undertaker walks away with the championship. Have him do a short feud with King Booker, Fit Finlay, a returning Mark Henry or even one last time with Ken Kennedy. Just don’t leave the title on Batista.
WWE WOMEN’S TITLE
Melina (CHAMPION) vs. Ashley
Melina has cosmic heat backstage over hurting Mickie James in their latest matches. Allegedly, the ultimatum is “Have a good match with Ashley or get packing”. Some say that really the pressure is the belief that Johnny Nitro & Melina have the potential for main events, but she has to prove she’s got it. Any way you want to cut it, Ashley is basically in this match just to promote her (second) Playboy appearance. Forget the fact she can’t wrestle. This will hopefully be short and less ridiculous than the Pillow Fight. Expect this to go on before a big match as a way of calming down the crowd.
MONEY IN THE BANK LADDER MATCH
Randy Orton vs. Ken Kennedy vs. Fit Finlay vs. Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy vs. Booker T vs. CM Punk vs. Edge
The past two years have had significant, memorable Money in the Bank matches. This year has far more stories going into it as opposed to previous years. There is the Randy Orton vs. Edge RKO break-up dynamic. Ken Kennedy has been the WWE’s “Golden Boy” this past year being positioned in top feuds with Smackdown & ECW stars. Jeff Hardy & Matt Hardy will both be in this match; will we see a better encounter than the unmemorable match-ups in prior Royal Rumbles? CM Punk is the internet darling who has been positioned as a major player in ECW. And then there is Booker T. Poor Booker T, just sort of there. In terms of having the impact that Edge or RVD made last year, I can’t see Booker T making it. I expect Ken Kennedy walks away with this one. Shame there won’t be another Ric Flair/Fit Finlay “Battle-Of-The-Men-Who-Can’t-Wear-Their-Kneepads-Correctly”. I expect this to be the second best match on the show. But no Shelton Benjamin? Alas.
ECW NEW BREED vs. ORIGINALS
Tommy Dreamer, Sandman, Sabu, RVD vs. Elijah Burke, Matt Striker, Marcos Cor Von, Kevin Thorn.
RVD sneaks onto Wrestlemania teaming with SABU, SANDMAN and TOMMY DREAMER. I don’t think I’d have believed it a year ago if you told me they’d be on Wrestlemania in 2007. ECW is full of goobers. I don’t even know who this feud is really going to elevate – Monty Brown, perhaps? The heels have to go over in this one. The faces are all over as much as they will ever be and they're old, broke down men. I don't blame CM Punk though for not joining the goofs: the vampire, teacher, jumpsuit and alpha male. SHEESH~!
GREAT KHALI vs. KANE (Some Gimmick Match)
A lot of people were really down on the Kane run-in on Monday’s RAW but I liked it. For one thing, Khali/Kane needs a gimmick. Second, fans of Kane (there are actually some, believe me) dig his horror gimmick. So, adding a ridiculous meat hook/scythe is no worse than anything TNA did on it’s last PPV or the absurdity of the Inferno matches.
I expect tag matches, possibly with London & Kendrick and MNM. Also, there will be new ECW tag titles in the near future (Dusty Rhodes’ idea) with several teams including FBI (Nunzio & Vito) and Cade & Murdoch fighting for them. I don’t know when they are going to institute them, but perhaps soon.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Hulk Hogan claimed his offer for WM23 was $400k. I don’t know if that’s true. I do know that WWE is irate with him, especially for the stint when he put Johnny Ace’s secretary on the radio during Bubba the Love Sponge and revealed the Hall of Fame voting they were doing. It might seem surprising to have Hogan not on the 20th anniversary of his big show, especially seeing as they are back in Michigan, but his relationship with Vince McMahon is as volatile as ever right now!
Big Show is at home, losing weight and being a 35-year old guy that doesn't have to constantly tour or take bumps. Angle wants him for TNA. Hogan wants him for any project he would pretend to start. It's unknown if he'll do anything, but it's doubtful he'd commit to any long-term deal with any company besides WWE and he's already turned down the lucrative spots he could have had at WM23 so he's clearly hurting and wants time off.
Paul Heyman is still at home. Attempts to bring him back to ECW as an authority figure (RVD/Lagana's idea) were not accepted. He's also been rejected from going to OVW to teach promos.
Rey Mysterio Jr. is in for a monster push when he returns; they already have big plans for him and his merchandise continues to sell even though he's off TV; his lone appearance on Smackdown drew a very strong number!
Chris Jericho is sending out very mixed signals. He will probably return to wrestling some day, even "fairly soon" but right now there is definitely nothing definite. Hard to say whether he’d go back to WWE or rather opt for TNA’s lightened schedule.
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