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Growing the WWE product through Wrestlemania: Do “special attraction” matches work?

Brock Lesnar is done as a MMA fighter. His UFC career was limited to a handful of matches (8 official bouts to be exact), in which his meteoric rise was strangely counterbalanced with an almost anonymous fall from grace. In a strange brew of bizarre injuries and generally being a supreme asshole, Lesnar retired from his third sport, four if you count the wonderful world of sports entertainment. Brock Lesnar is 35 years old.
 
His Wrestlemania and now Extreme Rules opponent Triple H has seen a similar fade into off-screen anonymity, though for the real-life Paul Levesque, he’s never been more invested in the professional wrestling business. Married to the daughter of the WWE Alpha and Omega Vincent K. McMahon, Triple H now represents one part of the Holy Trinity behind the world’s leader in sports entertainment. He has a legitimate role running the everyday operations of the company, even going so far as to cut his legendary locks that made him look like a cross between Clay Matthews and Saul Goodman. Hunter is semi-retired from the in-ring competition, only participating in four matches over the past 12 months. Paul Levesque is 43 years old.
 
The match proceeding Hunter and Brock’s featured the legendary Undertaker. Mark Calloway, as he’s known to his friends and anyone that wants to get their ass kicked, just embarked on his 24th year cashing in a check penned by Vince McMahon. He’s played the part of a cartoonish “Dead Man” for a significant portion of his adult life, tweaking his character by adding nuances as small as MMA-style fighting gloves and as substantial as riding a motorcycle to the ring while shaming the WWE audience into cheering during Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit theme music. Taker has been a consistent main event player since his inception during the November 1990 Survivor Series, staying relevant long after all his contemporaries charge $10 for a picture at a Philadelphia Comic Con. As he’s aged well into his 40s, Calloway has become more and more the Dead Man than ever before, now needing no makeup to accentuate his naturally sunken eyes and sharply gaunt cheekbones. The Undertaker is 48 years old.
 
The Rock continued his sporadic two year return to the company jettisoned him into mainstream superstardom with a WWE Championship matchup with John Cena. Is it counter-intuitive to think that as Dwayne Johnson moves further away from the daily grind of the highly physical life of a professional wrestler that he’d actually get into better shape? Now equipped with more money than any of his sports entertainment brethren, Rocky is has been blessed with the best trainers, personal chefs and fitness consultants he can buy. For a man of his age, Johnson is in tremendous physical shape, so much so that he was emboldened to come back to the WWE after not wrestling a match for six years. The Rock is 41 years old.
 
Throughout all their journeys out of and back into the WWE ring, these four legendary wrestlers—some moreso than others—have one way or another managed to stay within the fan base’s consciousness long enough to take four of the six spots in the three most bankable matches at the biggest pay-per-view of the  year. The Wrestlemania main event picture is a complicated formula, with the Holy Trinity deciding on matches based on criteria varying from how it could elevate an unknown wrestler, to how much mainstream attention the match will create to how badly the weekly watching WWE Zombieverse wants that particular bout. Seeing as the McMahons put over 80,000 fans in stadium seats on … Read more...

Wrestlemania XXIX Prospective Main Events – Who Will It Be? Part 2

(Yesterday, The Raw Librarian and I covered several different prospective main events that could headline Wrestlemania XXIX, emanating live from MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on April 7th, 2013. We’re both so fired up that new pants are entirely in order. Check out Part 1 right here)

THE ROCK

Most Likely Match and Best Match For Business

KOBEsh: We covered this largely in our John Cena section yesterday, but it’s clear that Rock-Cena II is going to be in the cards. The only factor that’s somewhat murky is what the stipulations are going to be for the match itself. Will it be for the title? Will it be fought under the pretenses of No Holds Barred? Will there be a Special Guest Referee? Does any of that matter? 


IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES ARE. This match is going to blow the figurative roof off of MetLife Stadium.

Dream Match


TRL: The Rock vs HBK Shawn Michaels
These two had real life animosity going back to the Kliq days. HBK was aware of how over the Rock was getting and knew it meant bad things for his real life best friend HHH. He gave a shoot promo or two where he talked about “the Rock always trying to steal the spotlight from Hunter.” IF this match were to happen, it’d have a solid backstory beyond two of the greatest ever going toe-to-toe. 

But.

This match will never happen. Neither men are interested (especially the retired HBK) and the WWE wouldn’t want to blow all this money getting the Rock to wrestle again knowing that there are bigger bouts out there (i.e. Cena-Rock).


 
RYBACK

Most Likely Match


TRL: Ryback vs. The Shield

Whether it’s in tag team format or Ryback vs Dean Ambrose with Roman Reigns as enforcer, everything points to Ryback being involved with the Shield at ‘Mania. I don’t see any other obvious matches right now. I like Ryback, but I like the Shield a heck of a lot more. I need to praise WWE creative for some rare long-term booking and development here. They have yet to screw up any of these young performers. Look for these men to be involved in a match together in some capacity.

KOBEsh: Ryback vs. Big Show

Until I went and saw for myself in person, I couldn’t discern on television whether or not Ryback’s ascent to the main event picture was more manufactured than it was actual fan sentiment. It seemed to me that the volume was turned up all around the former Ryan Reeves in nearly every segment he was featured in. His music blared so loud that it obscured how much fans actually were applauding for him. When he threw smaller men around the ring, they landed with such force that the actual buckling of the squared circle elicited a reaction from the crowd, but more in the vein of awe than affection. As he chanted “Feed Me More”, the audience of course chanted along with him, but as CM Punk echoed this past Monday on Raw, the WWE fan base are like trained dogs–they’ll chant just about anything as long as it’s delivered to them with the same measured vocal pacing. Did people actually like Ryback? Or was the audio emanating from and around him manufacturing his hype as much as the WWE could muster? 

After watching the man fight The Shield in a TLC match in Brooklyn, I can attest that Ryback is more than hype. He’s the real deal Holyfield. The crowd eats him up, as if “Feed Me More” becomes more than just an infectious catchphrase. He’s physically imposing, brutal and pure charisma. He made a believer out of this jaded fan. 

That all being said, Ryback’s strengths are best shown not as actual feRead more...

Wrestlemania XXIX Prospective Main Events – Who Will It Be? Part 1

I love the NBA Finals. No matter who’s playing or how lopsided the matchup, I watch with full attention as a new titlist etches their name into an exclusive fraternity. It’s the sport I pay most attention to and the title history most meaningful to me as a lifelong fan of YOUR…16-time champion Los Angeles Lakers. 

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!

DANIEL BRYAN

Most Likely Matchup

The RAW Librarian: Team Hell No Friendship vs Rhodes Scholars

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 Read more...

Monday Night RAW Recap: 1000th Episode


Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Announcers: Jerry “The King” Lawler, Michael Cole, Good Ol JR (for one match)

Tonight was the celebration of 1000 episodes of Monday Night RAW but maybe more importantly was also the start of three hour episodes for the foreseeable future. 
Hate to spoil it, but this was a pretty, pretty…pretty good show. Lots of nostalgia tonight and a lot of winks at the ridiculousness of past story lines. Hell, Mae Young showed up with a grown up hand representing her and Mark Henry’s lovechild (seriously). If the Big Bossman were still alive, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have shown up with a Pepper doggy bag or tried to crash a funeral and drag a casket behind his police car. 

Let’s do this.
Amazing video package put together to start off the show. It encompassed a lot of the great moments in RAW’s history. I’m not ashamed to admit things got a little misty in this librarian’s household, especially at Mr. Yamaguchi telling Val Venis  “I choppy choppy your pee pee.

DX reunion 


We were promised DX would start off RAW so I was surprised when “No Chance” hit. I suppose if I was responsible for 20 years and 1000 episodes of a global entertainment entity, I would want to come out and soak up the “Thank You Vince” chants as well. 

HHH and HBK invited X-Pac, Billy Gunn and Road Dogg to join them in the ring. No love for the 9th Wonder of the World Chyna? Apparently she couldn’t get a night off of her new career as an “adult movie” star. It’s never the divas you hope for, I guess. 

It was really cool for DX come out and do their schtick, especially because you could visibly see that these guys all looked like they were really enjoying themselves and having fun in the ring. I’m glad this was more of an homage and nostalgia rather than HHH and Shawn Michaels trying to convince us they’re still cooler than everyone else on the roster at forty years plus. 


Damien Sandow showed up to interrupt the DX reunion. Really? I can’t totally crap on this because I’m always talking about how they need to push younger talent. It was the right idea to have a young star get a nice rub from being in the same ring as these “legends” but was Sandow the best choice? They couldn’t of had Ziggler come out and show Billy Gunn who is the true Mr. Ass? (Editor’s note: That’s what you wanted to see, dude?). Cody Rhodes wasn’t booked for the show, I feel like he would have been a better option than Sandow.

(Follow my own personal fantasy booking for a moment. You have DX come out. They do their DX thing. The crowd eats everything up. Have X-Pac, Billy Gunn, and Road Dogg leave first up the ramp. Then while HHH and HBK are posing on the top ropes, have Lesnar come in the ring from the crowd. Hit HHH from behind, nail HBK with the F-5, leave.You let DX get their moment in the sun and you immediately transition and greatly up the intensity in the HHH/Lesnar feud. We’ll get to our double dose of HHH later.)


Damien Sandow, following in the illustrious footprints of the Spirit Squad by interrupting DX only to get buried. #RAWTonight

Three on three tag team match featuring JR on commentary
Rey Mysterio Jr, Sin Cara, Sheamus vs Y2J, Ziggler, Alberto Del Rio

I love the WWE’s blatant racist thought process when forming tag teams. We have nothing for Kofi Kingston or R-Truth to do? They’re both dark fellas, lets throw them togeRead more...

MAMBINO’s Wrestlemania XXVIII Preview

Much to the chagrin of some of you snobs, the average hardcore WWE fan isn’t that much different than your average American professional sports fan. Clean up, vomit spill on aisle Que-Ese.

There’s just a certain level of particular, isolted psychosis you have to have to follow a sport, or in my case sports entertainment, with enough fervor that you could call yourself something more than just “avid”. There’s the casual observer, who just likes to be momentarily entertained with movement on the screen and the occasional thrill associated with the clock winding down.

We are not those people. The hardcore sports fan knows the type of minutae usually reserved for people pacing busily in sanitariums, reciting that Piazza had a 1.012 OPS in his 2000 season, and that Pete Rose had 3,358 hits…just as a Red.

The WWE fan knows that the Iron Sheik surprisingly beat the World Champion Bob Backlund in 1983, only to lose the title to young superstar Hulk Hogan in January of 1984. Recalling ridiculous facts like John Cena has been champion 11 times, and yet the combined days with the strap don’t add up to Bruno Sammartino’s first reign back in the 60’s and 70’s. Knowing that Wrestlemania took place in New York, LA, Chicago, New York, Detroit, Atlantic City, Toronto, LA, Indianapolis, Las Vegas and New York again for the first 10 editions.

I am a crazy WWE fan. And I just summoned all that information up by pure memory.


So as you can see, we have a lot in common with the average MLB, NBA, NFL or NHL aficionado. We memorize our stats, whether they’re manufactured or not, take mental photographs of the great moments and idolize those that best exemplify greatness.

John Cena and the Rock are two of those legendary figures that resemble the Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken of their sport. Just like in baseball or basketball, there’s constantly the comparisons of who had the better career, the more dominant title reigns, could talk the best trash or in a fantasy situation, who could beat who. Fans love to pit favorite against favorite, regardless of if they fought in a different era with completely different styles in completely different circumstances. It’s just the way the sports world works. Just as basketball historians would define this era as LeBron’s, or the one before it as Kobe’s, and Jordan before him, and so forth and so forth, WWE historians (…nerds like you and me), do the very same obsessive matching game.

Hulk Hogan, the alpha dog of the 1980’s, was the first professional wrestler in Vince McMahons’ now national World Wrestling Federation to break out into the mainstream American media. His reign, title or no title, lasted throughout the early nineties, when Vince decided to go in a different direction with a young Canadian star named Bret Hart. Bret’s time came and went, and infamously passed the torch (unwillingly) to Shawn Michaels. After Michaels, the “Attitude” era was born, with Stone Cold Steve Austin being the first man to break in the new, edgier WWF. But as Austin’s body broke down, the first colored face to ascend the mountain was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Rocky remained at the top of the WWF card for a couple years, but before Hollywood came calling, a couple men tried to break through to the mainstream much like Hogan and the Rock did, but with so little success. That is, until John Cena became the top draw in the company.

I gave this little history lesson because with a couple i… Read more...

The Road to Wrestlemania: Little More Than Halfway Preview

The NCAA Tournament is really exciting. The NBA trade deadline is super fun. If I knew more of the NFL free agents beyond those that played for the rampaging Los Angeles Jaguars fantasy franchise, then I might get absolutely nothing done in March.
But for me, the most exciting part of this month is the Road to Wrestlemania. A month ago, we previewed the WWE Elimination Chamber PPV, which is the last major stop in the massive build to the biggest event in professional wrestling, Wrestlemania. In its 28th edition this year, pro wrestling’s Superbowl features the biggest match-ups with its star attractions, taking place in a gigantic football stadium, with a stage set-up and pyro that would make Metallica feel like assholes (….bigger assholes).
But there’s still about a week and a half to develop storylines and elevate excitement for various WM 28 bouts. As we hit nearly the end point here, let’s focus on what the best of what’s happened, and what still needs to occur to make this Wrestlemania one of the greatest of all time.

THE VERY BEST FROM VINCE’S LOINS

Without exchanging a punch, the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels have stolen the show already

Many times, the WWE gets accused of not having enough long-term planning, or even worse, aborting long-term plans midstream. No one can say that about the Undertaker-Triple H feud.
The conflict stems from last year’s Wrestlemania, in which the Undertaker squeaked out a near-fluke win over Triple H and extended his undefeated streak to a gaudy 19-0 record. Even in victory, the storyline dictated that the Dead Man won the match by only the slimmest of margins. In having to be carted away from the ring, Triple H has said that he lost the battle, but won the war. Undertaker hasn’t been seen on television since then, supposedly nursing injuries suffered at the hands of the now-WWE COO Triple H.
So the stage has set, and the conflict is relatively simple: Undertaker needs to again prove his dominance, as a simple “win” wasn’t satisfying enough for one of the greatest of all time. Triple H needs to prove that he can “stop the streak” and defeat a man who’s never been pinned at Wrestlemania. They’re doing so under the auspices of Hell in a Cell, a gigantic steel cage surrounding the ring that shortens careers, and quite frankly, bumps up PPV-buys.
Even though the set-up has been just as magnificent as this match will undoubtedly be, the thinly-veiled real-life references are what makes this bout so fascinating.
Both men have stated time and time again that this is “the end of an era” for wrestling, and that they’re “the last two left”. In many ways, they’re right. The Undertaker is the longest tenured wrestler on the roster, with Triple H coming in a close second. All their superstar contemporaries – Mick Foley, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall – have ceased to wrestle in any sort of active competitive manner, either to retirement or pursuit of other avenues. It’s been rumored that this could be the Undertaker’s last match with the company, as well as Triple H’s, whose on-screen role as COO mirros his real life behind the scenes job at WWE. The writers have been fantastic in acknowledging that this match will signify the unofficial end of the attitude era, as well as playing on years-long undercurrents, such as the extinction of the high-impact style of 90s/00s wrestlinRead more...