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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: 2014 Wrestlemania Season Preview (Part 1: The Headliners)
By The Doc
Dec 4, 2013 - 8:13:17 AM

To purchase The Doc's first book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, click here

The best part of the wrestling calendar is right around on the corner. The WWE product is about to kick start its “Playoffs.” All due respect to the old WCW tagline, but Wrestlemania is where the “big boys” really play. Each year, careers are made and enhanced on wrestling’s grandest stage. Undeniably, it is the most exciting time to be a fan. Today, we preview the season that will lead us down the Road to Wrestlemania XXX in New Orleans, taking an in-depth look at the key players likely to be involved in the top matches and attempting to make educated guesses as to the card, itself.

We'll start with the Headliners today and move onto the Main-Eventers and my predictions for the card later in the week.

The Headliners

Triple H - The Game has participated in a headlining match at Wrestlemania in twelve of the last fourteen years (one year he was hurt; the other was a borderline headliner against Sheamus). He is a sure bet to keep on building his Show of Shows legacy in 2014. The Authority angle that has dominated the airwaves since Summerslam is likely to continue straight on through to Wrestlemania XXX. Rumor has suggested that Vince McMahon will somehow be involved. I can see that based on the idea that he might want to have his name on the marquee for his landmark event, but a storyline would have to develop substantially in the next few months for it make sense on TV. Vince has been on-board with the Authority as a lead heel. Though he and Triple H were feuding over the summer, it seemed that Hunter’s own heel turn put them clearly on the same page. If McMahon is added to the story, I do not think that it will lead to a match. Vince wrestling does not equal ratings, much less PPV buyrates, so the best bet on his involvement is to be in the corner of whomever Triple H wrestles.

Three candidates seem like strong possibilities, with a fourth opponent possible albeit unlikely. Big Show vs. Triple H seems likely to happen at some point. Could it be saved for Mania? That would assume that somebody in the WWE test group/fan relations department actually thinks that someone wants to see that match at Wrestlemania. The people definitely seem to be itching for someone to give Trips his comeuppance, but it is not the Big Show that they appear to be championing in that role. Rather, it is Daniel Bryan. Personally, I have seen Bryan vs. Trips as the end game for the Authority storyline since it began at Summerslam. Triple H has a name that could help get someone else over whenever he deems it appropriate and has always been willing to do so when he was a heel for the right guys. Is Bryan one of those guys? That remains to be seen. Somehow, Trips shrugging off Bryan’s challenge to a match right before Hell in a Cell did nothing but foreshadow, in my mind, their imminent showdown. Could it be possible that the WWE Championship might be up for grabs in such a match? I think it is. I would not rule out CM Punk as an option, here, for similar reasons as Bryan vs. Authority. Punk has started his own beef with the top heels recently and has a more proven headlining track record than Bryan. The fourth possibility is The Rock (again, a long shot).

Brock Lesnar - Rumors as to Undertaker’s Wrestlemania opponent in recent years have been pretty spot on, so I would expect that the WWE is, honestly, giving a lot of consideration to Taker vs. Brock in a match that would put The Streak on the line against the one guy that the Deadman has never defeated. If they’re going to do this and it be the primary drawing match at Wrestlemania XXX, then they need to try and get some sort of mainstream attention with it. That has been my one major hang-up on it from the business side of things. I just don’t think that there is a way to turn this into a huge draw anymore. Brock, with his 60% winning percentage and without his mystique from the UFC, is just another returning star in the mold of Taker and Trips, now. The WWE has proven - since 2010’s Mania went without a celebrity and underwhelmed at the box office - that they are going to have a socially relevant name in one of the top matches. The Rock gave them the best of both worlds. Brock doesn’t have that quality anymore, in my opinion.

I think that there are better opponents for Lesnar than The Deadman. He still has tremendous name value with the regular fan base; a win over him would really make a difference for a current roster member. A rematch with CM Punk and a Chicago Made victory would do wonders for the Straight Edge Superstar’s broader audience reputation. That’s the way that I would go. The WWE showed last year that it doesn’t matter if a feud seems creatively tapped; they’ll still go with it if they want to (ala Lesnar-Trips). I’ve always thought that Randy Orton would make a great opponent for Brock given their respective statuses as the youngest WWE and World Heavyweight Champions in WWE history. Orton’s name is back to where it needs to be for such a match to happen (only problem is that both are heels, but Brock has always been anti-Authority in his own right). Sheamus is another guy that would benefit. I’ve also heard some folks mention Daniel Bryan’s name as a potential, but I find that to be highly unlikely.

The match that seemed a lock prior to the summer was Brock vs. Rock II. I would not rule this out, frankly. If The Rock is up for it, then it’s the perfect Wrestlemania XXX match. I’m a Rock fan and I’m a little Rocked out, but I would enjoy the Brock-Rock bout for the historical context and the added attention that it would bring the rest of the card. I just don’t think Rock will be up for it after suffering injuries in the last two years.

Daniel Bryan - The Yes! Man has a lot of options for Wrestlemania, but I’m quite certain that he’s going to be involved in a headlining match that does not end in his losing an 18-second opener. He has earned his stripes in the last two years and has emerged over the last 6 months as the WWE’s third biggest star behind Cena and Punk (on the active roster). He also holds the distinction of being the most popular babyface in the company, which is hugely important given the lack of success that the WWE has had in finding a babyface their “universe” universally adores. I think that the diehards are going to have a “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude toward Bryan’s main-event/headlining hopes at Wrestlemania. I also think that, if you fall into that category of fan, then you should rest easy. At the very least, Bryan is going to be involved in one of the top 4 matches on the card. The backlash from the fans would be pretty substantial if he wasn’t. An IWC dream match against CM Punk is anywhere from possibility to probability. He could also renew the rivalry with Randy Orton for the WWE Championship.

I’ve always seen Bryan as being in the end game for the Authority storyline. He fits it too perfectly and he was the basis for it to begin with. The angle would have to completely shift gears to more of a Big Show-like direction for Bryan not to be involved in the payoff to that feud. Fan interest has dwindled considerably since Bryan was (temporarily) depushed out of the title picture. The angle suffers mightily from a “been there, done that” feel without Bryan in it. Bryan is going to be one of the heavy favorites to win the 2014 Royal Rumble match if he’s not competing for the WWE title at the PPV. My idea has been for Bryan to win the title before Wrestlemania and defend it against Triple H, who would assume that he, himself, is the best option to ensure that the Authority get the champion that they most desire. If Bryan is in the title picture – and a very strong argument could be made that the most passionate members of the current fan base wouldn’t accept it any other way – then there are other options to represent the Authority (such as Sheamus, who has strong ties to Trips and a history of defeating Bryan). But I think Bryan vs. Triple H is the strongest potential blow off to this entire storyline.

The WWE cannot ignore Bryan. He’s the most over star in the wrestling world. They didn’t ignore Eddie Guerrero in the same position. They didn’t ignore Rey Mysterio. Look for Daniel Bryan to have a shining moment at Wrestlemania XXX…

Other Prominent Stars on the Card

Randy Orton - His recent run of main-events suggests that he will be in a top level match, but no superstar has the longest sliding scale of potential Mania card placements as does Orton. He could be in one of the top three-four matches or he could slip back down to relative obscurity. The recent Wrestlemania formula has not been kind to stars that were not featured acts on either the previous Wrestlemania or Summerslam events. Orton’s role at Summerslam 2013 was important, but unadvertised. His role at Wrestlemania in the last two years has been insignificant. Bryan, Lesnar, Punk, or any number of upper mid-carders are potential opponents. It’s going to be interesting to see where they go with Orton. His role in TLC’s Undisputed title match makes it seem more like that he will be prominently featured, but we’ve seen other guys in huge matches in December wind up on the backburner by April before. If Orton defeats Cena (at TLC or later), my money would be on Punk vs. Orton for the title at Wrestlemania. If he loses to Cena (at TLC and later), his WMXXX future will be very much up in the air.

Sheamus - The Celtic Warrior is a major star in the WWE. And returning during the Royal Rumble match has been historically kind to major stars. I quietly believe that Sheamus will have a fairly significant role at Mania 30. He has an every other year pattern of headlining and he’s due for this year (26, 28, 30). The fact that he’ll be a fresh face returning from injury aids his case. Lesnar provides the biggest match for Sheamus, but I like the odds of a top level upper mid-card feud against Orton or someone similar. I don't see him in a top three match, but easily top 4-5.

Alberto Del Rio - If he’s healthy, Del Rio is going to be doing something that matters. Years ago, Mania had a lot of matches worthy of hype videos in their upper crust just short of the headliner/main-event status. Chris Jericho vs. Christian comes to mind in that role, as was Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio and JBL vs. Finlay. The recent pattern has been to feature three top matches and let the rest of the card fend for scraps, but guys like Del Rio have emerged as the types who could handle a strong mid-card storyline based on a stellar headlining reputation. It would not shock me to see him put over Bryan if he The Goat falls further down the WM card than expected.

The Shield - If the WWE plans to go forward with the Roman Reigns babyface turn, then his best bet, in my opinion, would be to take the United States Championship off of Dean Ambrose in a mid-card match with a decent amount of hype behind it. A triple threat might be in order. I know that there is a lot of talk of Shield vs. Wyatts, but that would entail one of the factions collectively turning babyface. The WWE has been quite fond of clashes between heroes, but rarely villains. Both teams could also use the win. So, I’d suggest a different route for the squads. With a strong Rumble performance, Reigns could use a good follow-up at Mania. Add Rollins into the match to take the fall so that Ambrose doesn’t have to suffer the loss in front of the calendar’s largest wrestling audience and the Reigns-Ambrose feud could go on for months and enhance both of their careers as singles stars.

The Wyatt Family - I’m still not sold on the Wyatts, but they appear to be headed somewhere. Monday's Raw was Bray's best professional outing in the promo department, as it seemed to have some direction, focus, and definitive purpose. I expect them all to have strong showings in the Rumble. My Wrestlemania thoughts for them involve either a 6-man tag against three upper level babyfaces with nothing else going on (ala The Shield's match last year) or a tag team title match. They could also attack a guy like Big Show, who might be storyline foolish enough to face the three of them in a handicap match. Beating Show at Mania would look good for them.

Dolph Ziggler - As of right now, I’d just be relieved to see Ziggler make the card. He has fallen so far in the last six months that it is hard to imagine DZ doing anything relevant at Wrestlemania. I suppose it is not out of the question, but it seems highly unlikely. He'd be a good addition to that random babyface trio that faces the Wyatt Family. Hey, remember when Ziggler held the Money in the Bank briefcase and seemed like the breakout star of 2013? Yeah, that memory is fading for me, too....and it really sucks. #biggestwasteoftalentontherosteranditmakesnofriekin'sense! #hashtag

Cody Rhodes and Goldust - The world is likely going to call for Goldust or Rhodes to turn on each other and have a singles match, but they’d be just as well in a higher (than normal) profile Tag Team Championship match against the likes of the Wyatts. I would love to see them go head-to-head in the long-rumored brother vs. brother match, but the storyline would have to do such a scenario justice. With the creative short on, well, creativity, for the mid-card, I have my doubts about that being possible. If they can do it right, that'd be the kind of match that would enhance the overall card. You know that they'd each be very motivated to knock one out of the park. I'd turn Cody heel and elevate him with the victory.

Big Show - Much like Orton, Show is a currently relevant star that may find himself in a relatively irrelevant place on the Mania card or be in one of the top matches. If Show vs. Triple H has not happened by the Rumble, I would not be completely surprised to see it at the Show of Shows. I’d rather him stick to involving himself with up-and-coming talents as he’s done in recent years, however; unless, of course, he were to face Shaq. That’s the one Big Show match I’m interested in (from a purely markish standpoint).

Ryback - I’m not high on Ryback’s chance to even make the Mania card, frankly. He’s falling fast. Unless he was Goldberg fodder, then what’s the point? This guy is yesterday’s news.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What do you think is the BIGGEST possible match that the WWE could book for Wrestlemania XXX?

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