30 Thoughts with Al Laiman and The Doc - WrestleMania XXX Edition
By Al Laiman
Apr 3, 2014 - 11:14:13 PM
credit Tom Jenner
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30 Thoughts with Al Laiman and The Doc - WrestleMania XXX Edition
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1. It's that special time of year that calls for an additional edition of 30 Thoughts, to preview how far we've come going into WrestleMania XXX. With that being said, I usually reserve a spot in special editions for a guest writer, and who better to help me preview WrestleMania than the man who wrote the book on it, literally. We're going to trade thoughts about the thirtieth edition of this yearly wrestling mecca and discuss our hopes about the show, and our views on how we got here. Please welcome LOP columnist and author of "The WrestleMania Era" to my 175th column since being promoted to LOP, The Doc.
2. Thank you for letting me share half of WrestleMania's 30 Thoughts, Al. It was "The Showcase of the Immortals" that turned my childhood fascination into an adult obsession and, ultimately, inspired me to write a book on "The WrestleMania Era." So for me, as Jim Ross would say, "It don't get no bigger than this." I look forward to this weekend all year. Monday morning, I'll be thinking about WrestleMania 31. I've taken my critic hat off, set it on the kitchen table, and now I'm ready to don my WrestleMania 22 baseball jersey, throw my WWE Championship replica belt over my shoulder, and just be a fan. I'll admit that WrestleMania XXX isn't what I originally thought it would be, but I'll also admit to having appreciated the hype for what will be offered. My excitement level is, thus, pretty high up there, particularly for the three headlining stories
3. The aura is rather different surrounding this WrestleMania. Triple H verbally ushered in a new era a few weeks ago, calling it "The Reality Era," and it reflects what is transforming before our very eyes. The fans have more of a voice than ever, or so we've been told. While the incessant plugging does get obnoxious, the WWE is more interactive than ever, and while everyone can have their voice heard, we're learning that if enough people raise them long enough, they can make a difference. Sure, no superstar in the history of anything gets a one hundred percent favorable reaction, but this slow rise of Daniel Bryan over the last two years has been everything a push should be: a slow burn, a meteoric rise, and true odds to overcome. WrestleMania XX's slogan was "Where it all begins, again." That WrestleMania saw a similar story where an underdog had to overcome ironically one of the same guys that this underdog does. However, not a lot really changed in the WWE landscape with that WrestleMania, other than that token reign in my opinion. Is it different now? Is this WrestleMania where it truly all begins again?
4. Though the WWE used the "Where it all begins...again" tagline for Mania XX, I always thought it better fit WrestleMania 21 a year later. I have a hunch that history is going to repeat itself. Daniel Bryan is going to be, presumably, on a level that persona non grata could never dream of because, frankly, Bryan is over at a level that his Mania XX counterpart never could have dreamed of achieving. I think Bryan will walk away from Mania XXX with the credibility to be inserted into any headlining or main-event feud for the rest of his career, but I do not believe that his rise will signal any kind of substantial, product-altering shift. In my mind's eye, this will be what Mania XX became - a transitional WrestleMania. Next year, the WWE will position the likes of Roman Reigns at the top. Bryan will occupy the spot that I believe was destined to be given to Eddie Guerrero had Latino Heat not met a premature end. He will be one of the top stars, but someone else will soon emerge as the true next top star.
5. I think Bryan has the potential to be that top star, even with the likes of Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt breathing down his neck. Bryan has surprising crossover mainstream appeal, which is something that wrestling so often lacks. The "YES!" chant has spread to college basketball with Michigan State, and even Major League Baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates just last night. I think we're in line for a wave of new stars, or at least bigger stars, such as we were in the late 90's or, as Tito puts it, the "OVW Class of 2002." I see this WrestleMania as a chance for the torch of the times to really be passed, for a new wave of main-eventers being made. Daniel Bryan is spearheading it, of course, but there are so many just waiting to take the long-unfilled slots of the Mankinds, the Undertakers, the DX's of the new generation. A consistent main event scene with a multitude of stars in it is something we haven't seen in a long time, and I think we could be near the commencement of it.
6. Bryan has continually surprised me with his upward mobility. He rose to headlining status and I said that would be as far as he could go. He climbed higher. He main-evented Summerslam against John Cena and I said that would be as far as he could go. He climbed higher. He's main-eventing WrestleMania and I have warned my readers to enjoy this while it lasts because I think it will be a passing fad at the very top of the card rather than a statement of his becoming "The Man." He may well climb higher. He keeps on proving me wrong. I will definitively state that I do not believe that, should he beat Triple H AND win the WWE Championship on Sunday, his moment will have any rivals in WrestleMania history. It will be a moment unique to all of his main-event peers. Surely, that will be grounds for numerous other headlining matches in his "Showcase" future. I'd be surprised if he did not become this generation's Shawn Michaels.
7. I'd like to believe that can happen. As we know, with some of those Attitude Era stars still being called back on to perform every year, that vacancy they left since their prime has not been completely filled. But of course, this isn't just about the main event. Nearly every match has a WrestleMania moment waiting, a new beginning if you will. With the eyes of the wrestling world on New Orleans, a rising star can be placed in the sky numerous times throughout the night. Besides the obvious necessity for Daniel Bryan to have his moment, what other potential Mania memories do you see being ingrained into our heads ten years from now when we're discussing WrestleMania XL?
8. The obvious choice is the outcome of the match between Bray Wyatt and John Cena. I have been outspoken in my belief that Wyatt has to beat Cena on Sunday. I believe that we are seeing the first year of Cena willingly transitioning out of the spot that he has occupied for the last decade. A year from now, I think we'll see it further solidified. By two years from now, Cena will be the special attraction type that Triple H, Taker, and the returning stars have been. Yet, in order for him to transition to that role, there need to be stars who can assume the day-to-day top spots. You can't achieve that as easily through the top stars of today beating the potential stars of tomorrow. Wyatt defeating Cena gives Bray a launching pad, off of which he can skyrocket his career to a level that might find him in an even bigger match next year or the year after. Personally, that's why I find Cena vs. Wyatt so intriguing. The outcome, in my view, has long-term implications that only Bryan's story can match at this year's WrestleMania. What do you think about that match? Has it earned your interest, either on-screen or behind the scenes (or both)?
9. I'm inclined to agree with you on the intrigue, for certain. Ever since Bray Wyatt has debuted, opinions have varied about whether or not he was pushed too quickly. What I like about it is that it's a new attempt, a unique gimmick, and the guy delivers promos like no one else does. His entrance is the most memorable one to debut in years, and recently in 30 Thoughts I've been asking who is going to replace the Undertaker's mystique when he's gone. Bray Wyatt may have that potential. John Cena is about to become a special attraction like you said, and I see Bray Wyatt fulfilling the niche of the Undertaker for character and Mankind for the atypical big guy body type. Fans all over seem to love the gimmick, even cheering for it and clapping along with the really catchy Bayou tune. It definitely has my interest, and while I'm not as far on the scale of "needs to win" as I am with Bryan, I am inclined to agree that this may be part of his transition out of the spot he has now. There's a crop of hungry wrestlers just waiting to fight for that spot.
10. Foley is the legend whose name I most generally associated with Wyatt. Though, I agree with you, he does have the potential to fill the gimmick performer niche that Taker has owned for so long. I simply believe that much of that mystique would be lost if he failed to achieve victory over John Cena. As awesome as his match with Daniel Bryan was at the Royal Rumble, this is still, essentially, Bray's first huge match. To lose it? That has ramifications that go beyond the idea of "too much, too soon." In this day and age of the instant gratification society, I'm not sure there's any such thing anymore as giving a budding superstar too much, too soon. Simple questions need be answered such as "Do we believe he can succeed in the main-event now and in the future?" and "Is he in it for the long haul?" Both answers seem to be "Yes," so take the risk and let's find out what he can do. A loss limits his long-term potential, in my view.
11. I disagree, only because in losing, some superstars have been made and put in positions where they can again succeed. Daniel Bryan lost constantly, starting with WrestleMania 28 and moving forward. But I do agree that this is a much different rise, and the slow burn of Bryan doesn't work for everyone, because few stars have the power to stay over despite bad booking. While I don't see it as damning if he loses, I think it could hinder the glow of the rising star, at least for a time. Another star who seems destined for the main event is the aforementioned Roman Reigns, who will have three Attitude Era vets just waiting to put him over on the grandest stage of them all. Do you think Roman Reigns is ready to break out? He's another example of a guy who got over organically in a three-man stable, albeit for completely different reasons.
12. Roman Reigns is *on the cusp* of breaking out. Completely ready I do not believe him to be. I think the WWE made the right call in keeping The Shield together until further notice. Let their collective profile expand and turn the dial to "simmer" on the Roman Reigns singles career. He is inching closer to being ready. Another win at WrestleMania over relevant Attitude Era stars will work well for his future. I'll be using the reaction he receives in New Orleans as a gauge for just how ready. I do, however, think he'll be ready by the summer and by no later than the end of this year. When do you think they'll pull the trigger on The Shield break-up, I'm curious, if you think it might happen at WrestleMania?
13. On the cusp, I do agree. However, I don't see the need for the Shield to break up. What's wrong with keeping a bad-ass stable together with one main-eventer and the other two doing their thing, at least for a while? World champions don't necessarily need to be lone wolves, and as over as the Shield is, why mess up a good thing? I kinda like their face turn into these good guy Hounds of Justice, almost APA-like in their efficiency. Now, do I think WWE will pull the string on the turn? Yes. Do I think it will happen at WrestleMania? No. I think this match exists for the sole purpose of putting over the Shield as awesome, with Reigns as the main feature, and the likely member to get the pinfall after a Superman punch and a spear. It's even been mentioned that they could be making the save somewhere later in the night for an overwhelmed face. Do you see that as plausible?
14. I think it's possible that they could appear in the main-event, but I have not given that idea much thought, to be honest. I do agree about The Shield at this year's Mania. Their match exists to further drive home the point to a monster audience that they are a force to be reckoned with. Screwier things have happened, though, so I wouldn't put it past WWE to finish their previously teased break-up with so many eyes on it. I do think that they should break-up eventually. They could wait for a long time to do it and simply have Reigns lead the pack as a main-eventer, but they have to eventually cash-in on the break-up. That could be small time stuff or huge deal. Time will tell. It would certainly elevate them further in the eyes of the entire fanbase if they interfered on Bryan's behalf.
15. It definitely would, as anyone associated with Bryan in the last two years has gotten a boost from it. While I don't think we'll be seeing the Shield breakup at Mania, one team that is destined for a split this night is the Real Americans. Fans have been begging for Cesaro to split from Biff Swagger, and the "We, the People!" chants have been getting louder. Cesaro's Big Swing is something everyone looks forward to seeing every match, and it gets a massive reaction in its own right. I don't see him as being the top guy, but a tall, dependable, upper-midcarder with a run or two with the belt? I could see that road beginning with the split with Swagger happening during the four-team tag match. The Usos will likely retain the belts, but that match is about Cesaro, wouldn't you say?
16. "Not anymore," I say in response to that. Cesaro being on the pre-show basically makes that moment a non-factor in my opinion. If it were going to happen, it would be on the main card where people might actually see it. It's "Back to the Future" with WWE putting matches like this on the pre-show, aka Sunday Night Heat 2014. If that split happens at Mania, it'll happen through their last-minute inclusion in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. I'm disappointed in Cesaro's handling, frankly. I share your thoughts on his future, but for him to do nothing more than a pre-show tag match - even if the turn occurs - would be very underwhelming considering the February he had.
17. With the launch of the Network and the advent of social media usage, I don't think the pre-show means what it used to. Something like that may occur to kick off the show with energy, or like you said, it could happen in the battle royal. Speaking of which, the battle royal itself seems like a great chance to not only make a few stars, but make up for a less than stellar Royal Rumble match a few months ago. I don't think we'll be seeing the Big Show win, as that would be too obvious, so who in the lineup of 30 is deserving of being enshrined with Andre the Giant and likely having his hand raised by HOAK HOGAN?
18. Cesaro is a great candidate if he's in it. It would make a statement about his future...and I'm quite curious to know what they believe his future to be. Big E falls into that same category of star on the rise that could get a nice rub from it. Some LOP columnists believe that Miz is a strong candidate and he, along with Alberto Del Rio, could certainly pick up the win to re-establish their characters moving into the post-Mania season. I favor Sheamus, here. His career has been cyclical. In odd years, he's basically just there. In even years, he's been a major factor. It's an even year. Because of the Hogan factor, I think a babyface will win, so Sheamus is my pick. "As you travel to WRESTLE-MANIA," who do you favor winning?
19. It's not quite a streak-breaking rub to win this match, but it's pretty far up there to win a match with 30 participants, named after a legend, being "created" by a bigger legend, and even winning a five-foot trophy with Fezzik on it. I see Miz going far, because he's finally been doing something lately, but I think his destiny lies in coming up again with Dolph Ziggler in their rumored tag team. Speaking of rumors, Rusev might be making an appearance, and I'd be heavily against someone we've only seen cut a promo winning something of those proportions. That's probably why it'll happen. Maybe a dark horse in the running like Cody Rhodes takes it. I doubt Dolph would, as big of a pop as that might get at WrestleMania. I like Sheamus, but despite numerous pushes with the world title, it just doesn't seem to click, and I don't know if that match would help at all. The safe bet is Big Show, despite how obvious that would be, but I would favor someone who could really use that kind of a rub like Miz, Ziggler, Rhodes, or even Big E. I think ADR is on the decline with his time with the company, so I don't see that happening.
20. Do you think this could become an annual concept? The mid-card at Mania is well-known for its inconsistency in the modern era, so I think it works to get relevant names involved in a match with marquee appeal. Personally, I think that the success of this first one and how the winner gets booked in the next 6 months to a year will go a long way toward determining if this is something that will stick on the main card or if it'll just be a one off.
21. Money in the Bank started at WrestleMania, and was good for giving a group of talents their WrestleMania payday in one shot. Once it got its own Pay-Per-View, the focus of it shifted to the summer months where something like that was needed. This would be a bigger, better replacement for it, allowing everyone their chance to get on the card... at least until the WWE likes the hype it gets too much and makes the October Pay-Per-View "Andre the Giant Memorial Presents: Battle Royal 2019!" But I don't think they'd make a physical trophy if they didn't intend on engraving more than one name on it.
22. Well, one thing that has certainly managed staying power at WrestleMania is Undertaker's "Streak." He carries the kind of respect of his peers that make me think we could be sitting here as old men on the moon talking about the "Undertaker Memorial Battle Royal" 40 years from now. Here in the present, are you interested in the match against Brock Lesnar?
23. I haven't been disinterested in an Undertaker-Mania match since his clash with Mark Henry. Somehow, no matter what shape he's in, he works with a great wrestler to have a match of the night candidate. I'm really not sure what to expect as far as match quality goes. I've argued that if we suspend our disbelief and ignore the Undertaker's age, we could see something reminiscent of their feud from 2002. It's going to be violent, and Lesnar's going to have to be careful. Whether or not there's legitimate heat between the two of them, being responsible for injuring the Undertaker would not pan out well. I'm cautiously optimistic about it, but I don't think the streak will be broken... nor should it by a guy who wrestles five matches a year.
24. I've been pleasantly surprised by this feud. Paul Heyman has carried the way with his promos and simply allowed the legacies of Brock and Taker to do the rest of the talking. They hooked me with that initial encounter on Raw 6 weeks ago and I'm actually quite pumped for their match. I had so badly wanted Cena vs. Taker to happen this year that it blinded me to the potential of Brock vs. Taker. I think it's going to be another match in the "Streak within the Streak." I expect some MMA touches in there, too.
25. I was psyched after the pen-stabbing incident. I even gave the Undertaker the HAM of the night for that. Heyman has been world-class with his promos building both the feud and both men in it. I do expect the streak to be broken next year, whether it be against Bryan, Reigns, Wyatt, or even Cena, although I don't envy the reaction he'll get for it. It's already mixed-at-best. What hasn't even reached mixed-at-best though is the Diva Invitational. Is there any chance of this being anything other than a mess the likes of the WrestleMania 25 battle royal?
26. You expect the Streak to end? Interesting. I remain in the camp that it will not. It's come too far to end, now. If they do it, I think they'll give it to someone new like Reigns or Wyatt, though, rather than someone who has already had their big moment like Cena or even Bryan. Divas? There's a Diva's match? Total Divas is on that night...
27. I do expect the Streak to end, and I expect it to be the Undertaker's last match when it does. The biggest rub in wrestling history should definitely go to someone who could use it, and that may be where someone like Reigns comes in. If Bryan gets his moment this year, I'm inclined to say that the biggest rising star of next year gets the chance before it's too late. But, to answer your second question, apparently every Diva on the roster gets to be in the match, thus making the title "invitational" completely irrelevant. My hatred for turning the division into nothing but a promotional vehicle for a reality show has been well-documented, and this match only exists to give a platform for an episode of that show.
28. Indeed, such is why we should move onto something that matters. Overall, how do you feel like this year's Mania has been hyped? Are you more critical of where they appeared to be heading and relieved that it all worked out the way that it did or are you in the camp of those that felt like where we ended up was inevitable and are simply enjoying the ride?
29. Definitely the former. For a while, I felt disenfranchised and watching RAW had become a chore again, but everything changed when they put things in gear and made the necessary changes. I was begging for WrestleMania to not be phoned in like it was last year, and while two months ago I thought it was going to be, CM Punk walking out and the reaction to Batista may have changed the best-laid plans. I don't think they had any intention of doing anything other than Batista and Orton, but thank JBL they called a serious audible. My expectations are as high, if not higher, than they were for Summerslam 2013, and while the fallout from that show was a letdown, the show itself was not. I'm optimistic, and I'm excited about most of the show, as opposed to one or two matches, which was the case for the last several years. Doc, it's been an absolute pleasure sharing this column with you, so I'll let you go out on the closing note by answering the same question you asked me. Thank you.
30. Since Summerslam 2013 ended the way that it did, I have been championing a match between Bryan and Triple H. I always believed that we would end up with that match. I can confidently state that even though I was a bit rattled by Royal Rumble 2014 and the odd choice to book Batista in a match against a guy with whom he could not even manage the main-event of Armageddon, I kept the faith it would all work itself out. Bryan was too over to be denied. For that reason, that night on Raw featuring the #OccupyRaw segment was so very, very gratifying for me. I had been on LOP saying "it's all going to work out; it's all going to be OK" for what seemed like an eternity and my bubble was nearly burst, but it did - thankfully - get sorted out. It's a true credit to the fans, particularly the vocal minority that has been much maligned in the past. Bryan's moment is their moment. It is the most compelling WWE story arc that I've witnesses in my adult life, hooking a part of the fanbase that is more difficult to please than any other. Kudos to everyone involved in making it happen. Yes! Yes! Yes! It's going to be awesome. It's been a pleasure being involved in your preview, Al. Thank you again for having me.
Hey, Al Laiman wrote a book about wrestling too! (4, but who's counting?) You can check it out here
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