Sunday, January 13, 2008

WrestleMania booking Version 2.0

By Rick Morris

As I did back in October, I’m going to post an updated assessment of what would constitute a good WrestleMania 24 card. Additionally, I’ve got some thoughts on some directions the company should take beyond then. As always, I assume that the majority of these ideas will never be used by the company and an inferior collection of booking plans will probably be implemented.

^ WWE Championship Match: Randy Orton vs. HHH. I’d have rather seen a slow burn with the Orton/Jericho feud to WrestleMania, but that got hot-shotted right out of the gate – and predictably did nothing to improve business. This match clearly is the one the company is planning, and I don’t have a big problem with that. Since ‘Mania traditionally (with very few exceptions) ends with a big babyface win, this one should go on last. Where my plan likely diverges from WWE’s: I would not keep the belt on HHH for long, instead putting it back on Orton before John Cena’s return. A great three-way feud between face Cena, heel Orton and tweener HHH could well result and take the company all the way up to WrestleMania 25.

^ World Title Match: Edge vs. Undertaker. This match could not only be billed as “Streak vs. Title,” it could also be promoted as “Streak vs. Streak” – because Edge has not lost a singles or tag team match at ‘Mania, just last year’s “Money In the Bank.” A cocky heel like Edge would be expected to make the outlandish claim that his streak was as impressive as Undertaker’s, so I hope that this element becomes a part of the storyline when this match goes down as expected. I would like to see Undertaker “pass the torch” in this match and do (at least a relatively clean) job to Edge, who would benefit immensely from the accomplishment. With the great year that ‘Taker had in 2007, a loss here wouldn’t have to lead to his fade from the main event scene, and intriguing storylines could result in terms of ambitious heels trying to block him from getting back into the title picture.

^ ECW Title Match: CM Punk vs. JBL. Since the company has established that JBL can get involved with another brand’s matches during a pay-per-view, I’d like to see him somehow weasel his way into the #1 contendership during the February No Way Out event. The storyline explanation could be simple and effective: JBL, as a longtime ECW hater, doesn’t like Punk, who is an ECW Original at least in spirit. Backstage vignettes with Tommy Dreamer and Balls Mahoney praising Punk as a worthy torch carrier for ECW would give Punk even more of a rub and would enrage General Manager Estrada, JBL and everyone else looking to see a “new ECW” completely replace the old. Since JBL needs a WrestleMania match befitting his return from retirement and Punk needs a victory over an established name (and one who can give him a good match to boot), this match fills several needs. I would keep JBL on the Raw roster all the way through the feud, however, making this match one of the cross-brand matches we have seen at ‘Mania since the brand split. JBL and Punk can cross back and forth between the two shows to advance the feud.

^ Flair Must Retire If He Loses: Ric Flair vs. Batista. With Batista apparently out of the Smackdown main event picture for the big show and needing a substantive program, I’d like to see Edge and Vickie Guerrero conspire to pit these two longtime friends against each other. What could make the match more interesting is if their efforts have an effect on Batista and make him bloodthirsty at the thought of attaining such a precious achievement: retiring the ultimate legend. Having Batista heel on Flair heading into the encounter would add all the necessary heat and then some. Additionally, it would set up an Orton/Batista vs. HHH/Flair “Evolution Reunion Match” on Saturday Night’s Main Event heading into Orlando – providing the ultimate balance between giving away a great match on TV and effectively promoting two of your biggest matches on your biggest card of the year. The company’s plan apparently is for Flair to lose this match – and while my preference would be for him to drop a main event match on another pay-per-view instead of having the impact of his retirement match diluted by being just another in a long list of “WrestleMania moments” – so I think that if they go this route, Batista could benefit from this honor the most. It would then set up the “respect angle” where the two could reunite with Flair as Batista’s manager.

^ United States Title Match: MVP vs. Matt Hardy. This one sets up pretty easily. Between MVP’s heart issues of last summer and Hardy’s recent appendectomy, a climactic match between these two has been promised but not delivered for some time. Few are complaining, though, because these two play off one another so well in and out of the ring and each will emerge from this feud from a stronger position than when they entered. Given all of the buildup, Hardy needs this win, although there should be little doubt of MVP getting the belt back shortly and having another nice US Title run on his way to the main event. Plus, once MVP regains the belt, the WWE website can actually feel free to acknowledge MVP’s title victory this time!

^ Money In the Bank Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho vs. Jeff Hardy vs. Rey Mysterio vs. John Morrison vs. Shelton Benjamin. Spots in this match should be awarded by interbrand matches on RAW, Smackdown and ECW on Sci-Fi. The injection of past main-eventers into this match will hopefully reinforce the importance of the guaranteed title shot. Ultimately, Benjamin should win to set up a good summer title feud vs. Punk in ECW.

^ Women’s Title Match, Lumberjill Rules: Beth Phoenix vs. Candice Michelle. This bout sets up nicely as a revenge match, as Candice should be fully recovered by WrestleMania. The “Glamazon” should win to solidify her strong title reign, but the feud should continue with Candice still possibly being the diva to knock Phoenix off the throne at some point. The “Lumberjill Rules” should be used for every subsequent women’s title match at ‘Mania so that all of the divas can be showcased in one segment.

^ Brand Rules Battle Royal. This would be a good use of all undercard wrestlers not participating in other matches: a “team battle royal” with 10 wrestlers from each brand all wearing matching T-shirts and trying to ensure that one or more wrestlers from their show will be in the ring at the very end. This is a good showcase opportunity for some of the “monster” wrestlers like Kane, Great Khali and Umaga. At the end, I’d have Santino Marella as the sole survivor, dumping out Carlito gratuitously along with another wrestler Carlito is about to eliminate – so that Santino can be the sole RAW wrestler to bask in the glory and foreshadowing eventual dissention with the cool one.

^ Finlay & Hornswaggle vs. Vince & Shane McMahon. The travails of “Mr. McMahon’s illegitimate son” seem to be building to a WrestleMania resolution, and there’s no better way to pull this off than to make a tag match involving his friend, the very over new face Finlay. This match could bring plenty of comedy moments, highspots from Shane O’Mac and great wrestling execution from Finlay. In the end, Finlay and Hornswaggle would come out on top, hopefully with a very memorable ending worthy of fitting into the lineage of “Mr. McMahon comeuppance moments.”

^ Kennedy vs. Lashley. This match would fit as a pure revenge affair. The storyline of Kennedy injuring Lashley last summer as a steppingstone is ready-made for a ‘Mania blowoff once Lashley has reestablished himself on the scene. Lashley would need to win, but not in a squash, as Kennedy appears to be a valued part of the future roster as well.

As for future developments, the first move I’d make would be to return the “WWE Draft” to the RAW that airs eight days after WrestleMania. That would allow the company to use all of their programs immediately after the big show to promote the draft show. Rather than engage in the wholesale and pointless shuffling of past years, I’d limit the event to two acquisitions per roster:

^ To RAW: Batista/Flair and The Edgeheads. Batista’s return to RAW with Flair as his manager would come at an interesting time, with HHH fending off Orton for the WWE Title and the entire former Evolution stable in the title picture for the first time ever. The Edgeheads should be separated from the champ, as I am very pessimistic that they will get over in their present role and all they will end up doing is leeching heat from the holder of the World Title. I’m not opposed to Edge having associates, but they should not be wrestlers who were previously just a step up from being glorified jobbers. JBL never gained anything by having wrestlers previously treated as non-entities as his “Cabinet.” The Edgeheads weren’t ready to be put into their role, and should move to RAW to join the tag team picture for the interim.

^ To Smackdown: Chris Jericho and Jeff Hardy. Both of these stars would make excellent foils for Edge and each would add interesting personality and great workrate to a World Title picture that already has both in the current beltholder. For once, Smackdown should emerge from the draft with a boost instead of gigantic holes that have been inflicted.

^ To ECW: Umaga and The Highlanders. Umaga is being stripped of his air of invincibility now that he has settled in as a “next-level heel” for top faces out of the WWE Title picture. A move to ECW, a feud with CM Punk and a reunion of sorts with General Manager Estrada would freshen him up greatly. The Highlanders are at the point of serving no purpose whatsoever on RAW and should be shuttled to ECW, where they can be part of the WWE Tag Team Title picture thanks to the talent sharing between ECW and Smackdown. The team might never be over enough to merit a title run, but they should get one last chance on a new show to prove or disprove that notion.

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