Since The Rock is headlining WrestleMania 29, let’s borrow one of his favorite phrases.
“Finally, PhillyPhanatics.com has turned over the WrestleMania preview to … Achilles Heel!”
It only makes sense, right? Why leave the WrestleMania preview to Eric Fisher when you’ve got the Greek god of wrestling on your payroll?
Admittedly, Fisher does a surprisingly good job updating his “top WrestleMania matches of all-time” list – I have a few disagreements on the order, but the list is terrific – but his knowledge and background are, obviously, far inferior to my own. That’s why Fisher and Ron Opher finally relinquished the reins and turned over the WrestleMania preview to Achilles Heel.
First, let’s get the “what, where and when” out of the way. WrestleMania 29 takes place Sunday (7 p.m.) at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
On Saturday night, the exemplary Class of 2013 gets inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame at Madison Square Garden (highlights on USA Network on Tuesday, 10 p.m.). This outstanding class includes Bruno Sammartino, Mick Foley, Bob Backlund, Trish Stratus, Booker T and Donald Trump.
Now, let’s get to the matches.
Background: This is a rematch of the main event from WrestleMania XXVIII. Rock (left) won that match, then proclaimed the next night that he would face the WWE champion at the Royal Rumble. Rock defeated C.M. Punk in a fantastic match at the Royal Rumble to recapture the WWE Championship. Meanwhile, Cena has been stewing over his loss to Rock for a year. He seems to want redemption as much as he wants the WWE Championship.
Analysis: Cena and Rock are arguably the two biggest stars in WWE. Rock, with his movie career, has reached new heights in terms of being a recognizable public figure. He gets WWE the type of mainstream publicity it can’t buy. Cena is a big enough star that he’s the new face of Fruity Pebbles. (That’s a cereal, for those who don’t know.) Cena receives a split reaction from crowds, but sells a ton of merchandise and represents WWE as a true “good guy,” particularly while granting more wishes through the Make a Wish Foundation than anyone in history. Cena’s character is usually a little too jocular for me, so I liked his serious promo on this past Monday’s RAW (others didn’t like it so much).
Heel’s prediction: Last year’s match was an epic event, but wasn’t a great match. Watching Rock’s matches with Punk encourages me to believe this year’s match will be better than last year’s WrestleMania match. The right thing to do is to have Cena win the match and the WWE Championship. I think that’s what will happen. Rock was the clear favorite last year in Miami, where he went to college, and the fans went home happy. It will be interesting to see how the New York/New Jersey crowd reacts to a Cena victory.
Background: Undertaker is 20-0 at WrestleMania. Punk is trying to end the streak.
Analysis: Punk is being presented as a man who isn’t afraid of Undertaker (left). He has tried to prove he won’t be at a psychological disadvantage by stealing the Undertaker’s urn and then, after a beatdown on RAW this past week, pouring the “ashes” from the urn, supposedly belonging to the recently deceased (in real life) Paul Bearer, all over the Undertaker. Undertaker hasn’t wrestled on television or pay-per-view since defeating Triple H at Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania XXVIII.
Heel’s prediction: Undertaker hasn’t been in a singles match in a year, so he may have some ring rust. But Punk is one of the best wrestlers in the world, so these two should be able to put together a terrific match. The challenge is to create moments when the crowd will genuinely think Punk is going to end the streak. It would be interesting – and a huge boost for Punk – if he’s the man that ends Undertaker’s streak. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. 21-0.
TRIPLE H vs. BROCK LESNAR (No Holds Barred, Triple H’s career on the line)
Background: Brock Lesnar returned to WWE almost a year ago. He attacked John Cena and injured Shawn Michaels and Triple H. After Lesnar broke Triple H’s arm at SummerSlam last year, Triple H spoke as if he was considering retirement. This time a loss will make retirement official. One of the stipulations for this No Holds Barred match is that if Lesnar wins, Triple H must retire. Triple H, who hasn’t wrestled since SummerSlam, returned to the ring because Lesnar delivered an “F-5” to Vince McMahon, Triple H’s father-in-law. McMahon required hip surgery (but not really because of Lesnar). In their first physical confrontation this spring, Lesnar was busted wide open after Triple H sent him head-first into the ring post, requiring numerous staples to close the wound.
Analysis: There won’t be many wristlocks and arm-drags in this match. It will be an all-out brawl. Shawn Michaels will be at ringside, which should be beneficial to this match. Not only does Michaels provide tremendous reactions that enhance the action and emotion of a match, but he will likely get involved physically at some point. Either Michaels will attack manager Paul Heyman, get attacked by Lesnar – or both. Might we even see Stephanie McMahon during this match?
Heel’s prediction: I would like to see Lesnar win this match. But, unless Triple H truly is going to retire, going out on wrestling’s biggest stage, I think he gets “even” for his loss to Lesnar at SummerSlam in an intense, extremely physical match.
ALBERTO DEL RIO vs. JACK SWAGGER (for the World Heavyweight Championship)
Background: Alberto Del Rio underwent a makeover, transforming himself from an arrogant heel to a popular Mexican champion living the American dream. Jack Swagger re-emerged from obscurity as a so-called defender of the American way of life, with manager Zeb Colter doing a Tea Party-style riff. Swagger has been finishing off opponents with the Patriot Lock, an ankle lock that broke the ankle of Del Rio sidekick Ricardo Rodriguez. I, of course, preferred Del Rio as a heel, but I admit he’s a pretty good babyface, which is the role he played for almost his entire career in Mexico.
Analysis: This could be a run-of-the-mill match or it could get the crowd emotionally involved. Del Rio is very good in the ring. Swagger is also a good technical wrestler.
Heel’s prediction: I really like Del Rio. On the other hand, Swagger’s persona, along with Colter’s political rantings, could make him a very interesting champion. Claiming to represent “Swagger’s America” and repeating the mantra “We, the people,” Swagger could inflame passions as champion. If Cena wins the WWE Championship, having a heel as World Heavyweight Champion would make sense. That’s why Del Rio will defeat Swagger and (swerve alert!), after Swagger pummels Del Rio and puts him in the Patriot Lock, Dolph Ziggler will race down the aisle, cash in his Money in the Bank opportunity and become the World Heavyweight champion. This would also allow the Del Rio-Swagger feud to continue.
DOLPH ZIGGLER and BIG E LANSTON vs. KANE AND DANIEL BRYAN (for the World Tag Team Championship)
Background: Kane and Daniel Bryan, a mismatched tag team that doesn’t always get along, has destroyed the opposition since becoming tag team champions last fall. Langston is a powerhouse who was brought in by Ziggler’s girlfriend, AJ Lee, as a bodyguard. This will be Langston’s first official match in WWE. Langston has hit his finishing maneuver on both Bryan and, more impressively, Kane in recent weeks.
Analysis: Kane and Bryan have been terrific tag team champions. They have played the mismatched partners angle as well as it has ever been done. Langston is green in the ring, but tremendous technicians Ziggler and Bryan should carry the in-ring load and make this an extremely entertaining match.
Heel’s prediction: It’s difficult to project the outcome of this match without knowing if Ziggler cashes in his Money in the Bank opportunity. If Ziggler wins the World Heavyweight Championship, it wouldn’t make sense for him to win the tag team championship. Could Ziggler hold both titles? It’s possible. I could envision Ziggler and Big E having to relinquish the tag team titles in favor of the World Heavyweight Championship, which would plant the seed for whenever Langston turns on Ziggler down the road. WWE could then hold a tag team tournament to crown new champions. Meanwhile, both Kane and Bryan would become logical challengers for Ziggler’s title. Either way, I’m going to predict a title change.
Background: The Shield has been running roughshod over WWE. After months of interference, they made their in-ring debut with a victory over Ryback, Kane and Daniel Bryan at the Tables, Ladders and Chairs pay-per-view in December. They’ve won two matches since then as an “outsider” team seeking “justice.” Two of their primary targets have been Randy Orton (above) and Sheamus. When Ryback, one of The Shield’s earliest and most persistent targets, was removed from this match, Orton and Sheamus chose Big Show as their partner. Whether Orton, Sheamus and Big Show can get along and work as a team has been the most frequently asked question leading up to this match.
Analysis: The Shield’s matches have all been entertaining, and I don’t expect this match to be any different. There should be plenty of action, with teases of a lack of cooperation, if not downright dissension, between Orton, Sheamus and Big Show.
Heel’s prediction: The Shield should win in an exciting match. The interesting dynamic will be whether Orton or Big Show turns heel (Big Show already was a heel before this match).
RYBACK vs. MARK HENRY
Background: A battle to see which one of these powerhouses will have the upper hand. Henry is legitimately a former winner of strong man competitions. Ryback is unquestionably incredibly strong. They have taken turns demonstrating their power by decimating opponents, often in handicapped matches.
Analysis: Don’t expect a five-star wrestling classic. Ryback and Henry will match power moves in this match, which shouldn’t be longer than 10-12 minutes.
Heel’s prediction: This match could go either way. I would prefer a Henry victory, but I think Ryback will prevail. I only hope it’s not a decisive victory. An inconclusive finish would allow this feud to continue.
CHRIS JERICHO vs. FANDANGO
Background: Fandango is very particular about how his name is pronounced, refusing to wrestle if his name is not pronounced to his specifications. When Jericho made fun of his name, Fandango began launching attacks on Jericho.
Analysis: Jericho is still one of the better ring technicians in the business. He can make Fandango look good.
Heel’s prediction: If time is running short, I could envision this match not taking place. Fandango would walk away from a match at WrestleMania, which would further enrage fans and increase heat for Fandango when he finally deems WWE fans worth of seeing him wrestle.
TONS OF FUNK (BRODUS CLAY, TENSAI) and the FUNKADACTYLS (NAOMI, CAMERON) vs. RHODES SCHOLARS (DAMIEN SANDOW, CODY RHODES) and the BELLA TWINS (NIKKI, BRIE)
Background: There isn’t much background to this match. Tons of Funk beat Rhodes Scholars, which supposedly reformed for one match, at the last pay-per-view. The teams have been trading barbs since then, with the returning Bella Twins developing a rivalry with the Funkadactyls. All of these forces will collide in one match Sunday at WrestleMania.
Analysis: This match is presented, as far as the men are concerned, as size vs. brains. It should be a fun match. If WWE holds a tag team tournament, both of these teams would be contenders for the championship.
Heel’s prediction: It should be no surprise that I think Rhodes Scholars and the Bella Twins should win. WWE, however, wants to send its fans home happy. That doesn’t mean every babyface should win, but the faces can certainly win this match without doing any damage to the Bella Twins or Rhodes Scholars.
THE MIZ vs. WADE BARRET (for the Intercontinental Championship)
Background: Miz has been chasing the U.S. and Intercontinental championships since losing the Intercontinental Championship last fall to Kofi Kingston. Barrett has been champion for three months. Much to my chagrin, Barrett and U.S. Heavyweight champion Antonio Cesaro have often lost non-title matches, including matchups with Miz.
Analysis: Barrett is the better brawler. Miz is supposedly a better wrestler, although I would question that conclusion. Miz is using the Figure Four as his finishing maneuver.
Prediction: This match is taking place during the pre-show, which is used warm up the crowd. Considering that Ric Flair, who buried his son, Reid, this past week, is expected to attend WrestleMania, I think it’s likely that, with Flair cheering him on from ringside, Miz defeats Barrett with the Final Four then celebrates with the Nature Boy in the ring. The crowd gives Flair a heartfelt ovation, causing the emotional Flair to cry.
WrestleMania 29 has a strong card. Its success will depend on execution in the ring and the crowd’s reaction. Rock vs. Cena, Undertaker vs. Punk and Triple H vs. Lesnar should all be very good, with the potential to be great. Del Rio vs. Swagger, Kane-Bryan vs. Ziggler-Langston and Orton-Sheamus-Big Show vs. The Shield all should be good, and could rise another level or two. There doesn’t appear to be a potential dud on the card. In honor of the late Roger Ebert, I’ll predict a big thumbs up for WrestleMania 29.
(All photos except of The Rock by Eric Fisher. Please do not reprint without permission from Eric Fisher of PhillyPhanatics.com.)