Sunday, March 30, 2008

WrestleMania 24 preview

By Rick Morris

Earlier plans to live-blog this momentous event were shelved when the joint SportsTalkNetwork/FDH viewing party was scrapped by STN President Paul Belfi in favor of viewing the event at Harpo's Sports Cafe. Now, Harpo's is one of the greatest sports-themed restaurants in the world and it's within about two miles of my home, so my disappointment at not being able to live-blog is tempered by the anticipation of enjoying some great Harpo's wings and taking in the specter of the mark fans who invariably overrun Harpo's for every PPV.

On to the predictions ...

^ Battle Royal to determine #1 contender to ECW Title: This three-brand battle royal, which was moved from the broadcast to an online-only venue, demonstrates precisely what an afterthought the ECW (World???) Title has become. My guess, for the record, is that Kane emerges and gets the title shot on the PPV against Chavo Guerrero.

^ ECW Title Match: Chavo Guerrero vs. ???: Again, I think Kane will be facing Chavo and my guess is that Chavo walks out with the title by some nefarious means, setting up a spring feud between these two that will continue. Regardless of who Chavo faces, I don't believe WWE is giving away a title change with no buildup tonight.

^ BunnyMania Lumberjack Match: Ashley & Maria vs. WWE Women's Champion Glamazon Beth Phoenix and Melina: There's a certain percentage of the card that is going to have to contain heel wins just to even out the emotional high-spots, and the women's match has often been a place to do just that. In a match that means very little, and is almost certainly meant to do nothing but highlight celebrity participation, Melina and The Glam get their hands raised.

^ Brand vs. Brand, Umaga vs. Batista: Both of these guys are fringe main-eventers at this point, but You-Mang-a is probably fated (due to not getting to show any interview skills in his role as a "savage from the islands") to remain in the upper-upper midcard while Batista is on his way back to the main events at some point. Umaga is bulletproof in his role, having jobbed repeatedly to John Cena, HHH and Jeff Hardy, so a loss won't hurt him here. Batista wins.

^ Belfast Brawl, Finlay vs. JBL: This is a tough one to pick. JBL has gotten almost all of the heat on Finlay throughout this feud, from the abrupt (and botched) transition from a looming Finlay/Hornswaggle vs. McMahons clash to this battle. JBL seems to need a win more, since he's likely to get some WWE Title shots on PPV this summer due to the scarcity of top-level heels on RAW, but I think Finlay gets the win that the storyline has been pointing to, likely with Hornswaggle making a surprise return to help him in the end.

^ Money In the Bank Ladder Match to claim match at WWE Title, World Title or ECW Title, John Morrison vs. Kennedy vs. Chris Jericho vs. MVP vs. Sheldon Benjamin vs. C.M. Punk vs. Carlito: In the fourth annual MidcardMania match, one of these contestants will be crowned a future main event player -- which is sad for Jericho, who had alternated between the mid-card (mostly) and main event (occasionally) for more than a half-decade, before coming back last winter as a heavily-pushed main-eventer and then sliding quickly back into the midcard. Kennedy won last year and would have become a main-eventer already had he not gotten injured. His year was fairly star-crossed overall, in some ways because of his own stupidity, but I think he's a good candidate to win -- not as good as MVP, though, who is showing signs of living up to the hype of his character and becoming a legitimate player. I see MVP winning and ascending to either the World Title or ECW Title in the next year.

^ The Biggest vs. The Best, The Big Show vs. Floyd "Money" Mayweather: This heavily -hyped match will produce some memorable moments, largely because of a style clash that is actually being embraced by the promotion as some kind of surreal theater of the absurd. Mayweather will clearly have to take some big bumps here, and the guessing is that Show will be poised for victory when a member of his "posse" cheats him out of victory. Remember, the only stipulation is that there must be a winner. Mayweather will "dip into his $20 million" to get a WWE wrestler to turn on Show, setting up a subsequent feud for TBS. The only relevant point when trying to guess the outcome of this match is that Floyd Mayweather didn't sign this contract to end up losing.

^ World Title Match, Edge vs. The Undertaker: "The Streak vs. The Title" is the centerpiece of the "Smackdown Main Event," as Edge (who is also undefeated at WrestleMania in singles matches) takes on the 15-0 Dead Man. I disagree strongly with my friend Belfi, who on his PRO WRESTLING INSIDER show on STN (Tuesday nights, 7-9 PM EDT) expressed the markish (yes, I said it!) sentiment that 'Taker should keep the streak going and that Edge "didn't need the win." The very point of building up equity like The Undertaker has been able to do is to transfer the cache of it to another star at some point. Edge is the best main-event heel the company has had in years, probably since "Fac-Gime Era HHH," and his character can benefit immensely from the rub here. As you can tell, this is the outcome I am the most likely to disagree with, as all signs are that 'Taker will go 16-0. I have no problem with them giving The Undertaker another decently-long title reign, I just disagree with starting it here as opposed to a month or two down the road.

^ WWE Title Match, Randy Orton vs. HHH vs. John Cena: Three years after it was initially envisioned, we're seeing Orton vs. HHH for the title at 'Mania. One year after it was initially envisioned, we're seeing HHH vs. Cena for the title in a WrestleMania 22 rematch. We're getting both of these scenarios in one match, plus the hottest part of the match in terms of feud qualities in Cena vs. Orton. This should be a fantastic match, with all participants motivated to live up to the atmosphere and deliver a 3 1/2 or 4-star match. In the end, I think HHH "gets his wins back," after having finished the main event of the last three 'Manias he participated in looking up at the lights. He may be taking a lighter schedule later in the year when his "second McMahon heir" is born, so this is a way to strike while the iron is hot with him before he has another hiatus or semi-hiatus. Cena will still be waiting in the wings as the heir apparent to the title and I expect him to be protected here with Orton doing the job. For the record, although I'm a huge critic of HHH's positioning of himself during large stretches earlier this decade, I think this is the right move to make as he is having the best solo face run of his career (thanks to no storylines this time involving "his dog").

^ Career Threatening Match, Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels: I'm listing this match last in the vain hope that the company will do the right thing and put it on last. Good luck following this emotional moment! I don't believe it's a 100% lock that this will be Flair's last match, as a fairly elaborate swerve could be underway, but I do think it's probable that they will go in the anticipated direction and that Michaels will lead one heck of a great match. My biggest problem with Flair having this match on this card was the notion that his retirement match should headline a card and I thought it was improbable at WrestleMania, but this storyline has been such a huge part of the overall event that some of my objections have faded. Michaels probably wins after "The Dirtiest Player In the Game" fights and claws for his life.

In the interest of helping people to remember the greatness of Ric Flair, who was probably the greatest wrestler of all time, here's the excellent tribute to him that the company aired this past week:

And here's some of his great mic work from back in the day:

If this is the end, thanks for the memories, Ric.

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