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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 29: Review and Live Thoughts


Wrestlemania 29 is officially in the record books. It’s time to sit back, ignore your office work and reflect back on last night’s event. Yours truly went 7 for 8 on his Wrestlemania predictions…and the one outcome I got incorrect saw Ryback standing tall with his music playing after the match was over. Even though the PPV as a whole was predictable, did the Granddaddy of them all deliver? Depends on who you ask. Despite taking zero chances and booking in the laziest, safest way possible, Wrestlemania 29 was still a pretty good show. Not great, but it definitely had it’s moments. Below are my comments on the event, and some live commentary from KOBEsh, who was in attendance last night.

(note: I arrived at my Wrestlemania watching destination just as the Miz/Barrett match was ending so I will not be reviewing that match. The Miz won. Joy.)… Read more...

MAMBINO’s Wrestlemania 29 Preview, Part 2


Welcome to part 2 of this year’s Wrestlemania preview. In yesterday’s column KOBEsh and I broke down the undercard. Today, we tackle the main events. Some complaints have been made that the outcomes seem far too determined. We’ll continue to address the predicted outcomes as well as what might be a better direction to take. Without further adieu, let’s get at this thing.


Alberto Del Rio vs. Swagger (World Heavyweight Championship)
Why does Del Rio retain?
The Raw Librarian: Finally, what we’ve all been waiting to see. A millionaire Mexican aristocrat cheerleading for America against a Kurt Angle rip-off and his Uncle who holds Tea Party meetings in his basement. In all honesty I am the more excited about this match than any of the others if only for the fact that there is some unpredictability in the outcome.
Depending on where this match gets placed on the card will determine the finish as well. Another factor in this match is Jack Swagger’s real life DUI and possession of marijuana arrest that has seemingly gone unpunished. That’s a slightly different reaction than when the SAME EXACT thing happened to Rob Van Dam in 2007 and he was forced to abandon two titles and was suspended for 30 days. If it wasn’t for Swagger’s DUI, I’d say there was a pretty decent chance he would have won the title. But I think that would send the wrong message to the locker room, therefore I don’t see it happening.
Why does Swagger go over?
KOBEsh: MAMBINO’s resident librarian and Philadelphia’s own is obviously still seething because ECW alumni Rob Van Dam was thrown deep, deep into the doghouse for a pot bust (and never recovered), while Swagger has gone largely unpunished.
That being said, Swagger’s ascent has been so strong and rapid that I find it hard to believe that the WWE would simply Heisman his progress when it feels the natural ending point would be a title win at Wrestlemania. I’ve never been a fan of Jack’s, but he’s always been a decent ring technician (but not necessarily a great pro wrestling storyteller, ya dig?) and that lisp simply kills any momentum his physicality gives him. However, with Zeb Coulter and an extremely controversial anti-immigration gimmick, Swagger’s character has been stronger than I’ve ever thought possible. He’s riding such a hot button issue right now and to the chagrin of the non-believers, has been getting insane heat. The WWE has bet big on Swagger thus far–I don’t see any reason why they don’t just go all-in.

The Preview to the Preview of Wrestlemania 29


With just a little over a month to go, we now have a few Wrestlemania matches set in stone. As Damien Sandow would say, “OH, YOU WERE NOT AWARE OF THIS?” The bulk of the card has been booked, but we’re still waiting to find out what kind of role some marquee wrestlers will have at the Granddaddy of them all.
Our main event features a “Twice in  a Lifetime” Wrestlemania rematch with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson defending his WWE Super Bowl ring title against the “Doctor of Thuganomics” John Cena. HHH has valiantly returned to defend the honor of his father-in-law, Vincent Kennedy McMahon against “The Current Big Thing” and former UFC champion, Brock Lesnar. Alberto Del Rio is set to defend the World Heavyweight championship against Jack Swagger, who will no doubt be accompanied to the ring by everyone’s favorite racist uncle, Zeb Coulter. And after winning the Fatal Four-way match two weeks ago on RAW, CM Punk has earned the distinguished honor of losing to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania.
Is anyone else feeling a little underwhelmed?…

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.


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...