By Rick Morris
With the most recent WWE Draft just behind us, the post-WrestleMania transition period is now complete and the start of the next year of programming is upon us. As we’ve done before here, we have an early wish list for the next year’s card. Before that, though, here’s some developments that should occur over the next year:
^ John Morrison and Wade Barrett should win the Money in the Bank briefcases and each should win as every previous holder of the briefcase has. While only one of the two should compete in one of the ‘Mania main events, each will factor in somewhat based on these victories (more below).
^ Alberto Del Rio should win King of the Ring (with semifinals and finals at Night of Champions in September) and get a briefcase of his own. That will tie into the Raw ‘Mania main event (again, more below).
^ With Michael Cole and Vicki Guerrero serving as the biggest heel heat generators in the company, they should be collectively put with what could be an awesome group on Raw. Keep Vicki as Dolph Ziggler’s manager, but make Cole the “agent” for Ziggler, Jack Swagger, The Miz and Del Rio. Ziggler and Swagger should at some point soon win the tag titles and be the top team in the company for most of the next year (with Vicki on their corner at all times). This would elevate the belts by keeping them on two of the top rising heels in the company and it would elevate them by putting them at a level just below the WWE and World Titles. Win-win.
Now here’s how the card should materialize, working within the realm of what is possible given the company’s predisposition on certain matters:
^ John Cena vs. The Rock. For this match, announced an unprecedented year in advance and slated for the football stadium in Rock’s hometown, there is no doubt that this match will go on last and be presented through the marketing as the true main event. Notwithstanding any talk of the WWE Title being on the line here, it should not happen, because it is unnecessary for a clash of this magnitude and it is needed for the purpose of elevating other stars. While the WWE probably did not succeed at WrestleMania 27 in terms of significantly elevating anyone to the “next level” in terms of public perception, they cannot afford to miss the chance again next year with the eyes of the world focused on the first match in eight years for one of the industry’s five all-time top draws. Rock’s never had a problem putting over anyone and the “rub” that Cena would get with a win would do a lot to rehabilitate him in the eyes of fans not alienated for good by his pro-kiddies persona.
^ Alberto Del Rio (WWE Champion) vs. The Miz. The man whose career trajectory has mirrored The Rock should get a chance to do what (unbelievably) Dwayne Johnson never accomplished: a face title win at WrestleMania. While the crowds are undeniably open to cheering Miz heartily right now (and sometimes do anyway), this should be a slow-burn path for him. Put him with Cole’s group for now and use the following setup: in a rematch with John Morrison at the TLC PPV in December (with Morrison having earlier used the briefcase to take the belt off of his longtime nemesis), Morrison injures his leg in a tables match. Cole sees this and interferes to make Miz go through a table, thus leaving the belt on Morrison and leaving him vulnerable to Del Rio coming down to cash in HIS briefcase. This sets up a short-term Del Rio-Morrison program and positions Miz for a Royal Rumble win to culminate his face transition and a full-throated assault on ADR and Cole’s group leading up to WrestleMania. By the way, that title win should not be Del Rio’s first one, because his momentum would stall without it way before December: let him take it off of John Cena at the Fatal Four-Way PPV, setting up the first ADR-Cena singles WWE Title match at SummerSlam. Miz should go over in Miami and start a strong run on top as a face. His subsequent title matches with Cena would then be positioned with both as big faces (given that the company will never turn Cena heel) along the lines of Hogan-Warrior or Rock-Austin (going into ‘Mania 17).
^ Wade Barrett (World Champion) vs. Randy Orton. Whey Barray, err Wade Barrett should cash in the suitcase on Orton late in the year after Orton has worked some programs with Sheamus and Cody Rhodes. Orton should be immediately diverted into a side feud with Ezekiel Jackson, however, and should gain his rematch for WrestleMania at the Elimination Chamber PPV. This would be a very straightforward build and would give Orton what he is also missing from his resume: a face title win at WrestleMania.
^ The Undertaker vs. HHH. As “The Streak” moves to 20, this is a fitting place for the career of both men to head into the sunset. As with the second HBK-‘Taker match, it will be almost impossible to top their effort from the previous year, but with “no tomorrow” for either man, they are free to pull out all the stops. As a matter of fact, neither man should be reintroduced into the picture until the start of the ‘Mania 28 build season.
^ Champions Showcase Match: Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger (WWE Tag Team Champions), Drew McIntyre (Intercontinental Champion) and Cody Rhodes (US Champion) vs. John Morrison, Sheamus, Daniel Bryan and Christian. The company needs an “upper midcard showcase” to replace Money In the Bank and the concept of putting the non main-event champs in one match makes sense. Bryan and Christian would be an excellent tag team once Christian’s main-event run (sadly) ends (with an excellent mentoring aspect to this with Christian and the company’s rising star) and they should have a title reign under their belts heading into this match. Morrison could be transitioned to a McIntyre I-C feud once his main event time also (sadly) ends and Sheamus could come into this as a hot new face feuding with Rhodes on Smackdown. Sheamus would of course have some tension with the established faces on the team. The heels would have to go over to balance out the other face wins. By the way, this match assumes that the I-C Title is the one heading back to Raw; if it’s the US Title, then just flip the designations for McIntyre and Rhodes.
^ Sin Cara vs. Rey Mysterio. With WrestleMania being held in one of America’s top Latin markets, this one books itself. If this happens, it will be another manifestation of the old gunslinger vs. top new hotshot angle. The company would probably bill Mysterio as the top luchador of all time – and would not be completely shameless in doing so. Rey putting over his successor in the role he has filled so well for the last decade with the company would be a major step towards segueing into the goodwill ambassador role that his battered body needs.
^ Lumberjack Match: CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho. It’s always been puzzling why the company doesn’t throw a lumberjack match on the bill every year. It’s a way to get a paycheck for everyone in a way that doesn’t include a stupid dark battle royal that is only seen on the DVD. For Punk and Jericho, it makes sense to hold both of them off of TV (once Punk leaves for a break in a few months, as has been widely rumored) until the ‘Mania build season starts. Jericho could be set up as the face coming in to take down Punk and the promos between them would be priceless. Additionally, they would each have interaction on many of the programs leading up to ‘Mania with key lumberjacks (i.e. Big Show, Kane, Khali, Ezekiel, Santino, R-Truth) for some prime “whose side are you on” intrigue and some bits that might make some of those not wrestling on the card seem a bit more important. With Punk having more of a long-term future with the company (probably), he should go over here and it if is a result of some interference that sets up a good post-‘Mania program for Jericho, so much the better.
^ Bret Hart, Tyson Kidd and David Hart Smith vs. IRS, Ted Dibiase and Skip Sheffield. The card needs one more non-singles match and ‘Mania has really benefited from in-ring returns by major stars in recent years (i.e. Bret, Lawler and Steamboat). Granted, Rock is already coming back here, but that doesn’t negate the need for legend star power and the need to associate it with the next generation. This one is necessitated (in real life) by the fact that the company has completely dissipated the “rub” Kidd and Smith got from associating with Bret at ‘Mania 26 and subsequently having a nice run as tag champions (including being the first team to carry the new “unified” straps). Kidd and Smith have too much ability to be buried as they have been in the last nine months. While they should remain as singles wrestlers – and on separate brands so that there is never the pressure to put them back together – a “one night only” reunion is appropriate in a tag match with Bret. This match could come together as the result of three separate feuds: IRS and Bret, Dibiase and Kidd and Smith and Sheffield. At an “Old School Raw” later this year, IRS could object to some kind of honor being bestowed on the Hart Foundation and claim that Money, Inc. was better. From there, he could move onto having Bret “audited” for proceeds from his book and DVD sales. IRS, of course, has a natural tie-in to Dibiase (who, by the way, should have William Regal as his mentor as a way to rebuild Dibiase on Smackdown and also give Regal something substantive to do) through his Money, Inc. tag team with his father. Dibiase’s feud with Kidd could stem from anything, whether it be tag teaming gone bad or some other conflict. Kidd’s cockiness probably works better with him as a face anyway, since the company seems convinced that nobody his size can get enough heat on a babyface to be convincing. Smith and Sheffield could be working a powerhouse vs. powerhouse feud on Raw, meanwhile, with the various tensions culminating at Elimination Chamber. Picture Hart and Kidd getting interviewed, with Kidd, IRS and Sheffield all jumping them and Smith coming out for the save. The segments leading up to ‘Mania could be great, with Regal commenting on how far his old NXT protégé Sheffield has come and some awesome England vs. England matches on Raw and Smackdown between Regal and Smith (with mention made of Regal having also wrestled Smith’s father). The intergenerational aspects of the feud would have great resonance. Bret’s team going over would hopefully lead to renewed upper-midcard pushes on the two shows for the former Hart Dynasty components.
^ Miss WrestleMania Battle Royal. This is probably the best way to get the Divas on the show for a match that doesn’t sell any PPV buys anyway. Who wins? Again, it doesn’t matter, although for the sake of the overall card it should probably be a heel like Layla.
And there it is, nine matches, none of which should be shortchanged on time (except for the who-cares Divas match) even with the company’s insistence on goofy skits.