Saturday, July 18, 2009

Post-trade WrestleMania 26 ideal card

By Rick Morris

After the results of "Donald Trump's blockbuster trade" (I feel like I just lost 50 brain cells typing that even though I put it in sarcastic quote marks), here is an updated version of what looks from here to be the best possible card for WrestleMania 26. With the company now putting themselves in position to have to fill domes for every 'Mania in order to make their nut for the rest of the year (since everyone has been waiting in vain for the next wrestling boom for years now), the company cannot afford to throw together as many matches for next spring at University of Phoenix Stadium as they did for this past year. WrestleMania 25 sells itself to an extent; WrestleMania 26 will not.

As always, these matches are a balance of the best possible card along with the realistic internal politics of the company.

RANDY ORTON (WWE CHAMPION) vs. JOHN CENA: Reportedly, the company has been eyeballing a matchup of the man slated to be the franchise face of the company over the next decade against his counterpart on the heel side. This is not going to be an easy sell in terms of coming off like a big-money match, not least of which because the two men are facing off (along with HHH) at Night of Champions this month and these three men headlined WrestleMania 24 in another title match. Beyond the very near term, the WWE has to find a way to keep these two men separated between now and the 'Mania buildup period, which will not be easy because it will mean sequestering one of them outside the title picture for almost half a year. IF they can do this and IF Orton can regain his heat from this past winter/spring and IF Cena can regain enough edge to his character to the point where fans are clamoring for him to stop Orton, this could be the big money match that the powers-that-be see it as on paper. Short of achieving those three objectives, though, it will flop and perhaps mightily.

CM PUNK (WORLD CHAMPION) vs. SHAWN MICHAELS: HBK doesn't like to work Tuesday nights because of his church schedule, but he could probably squeeze in a few in the 'Mania season (plus shooting some scenes on Monday nights that could be presented as "backstage from Smackdown"). Punk can become a franchise heel on Smackdown, but will still be in need of validation in that spot. Michaels has demonstrated time and time again his ability to get the most out of talented people that he works with and the "rub" from a win over him could really help, as it did for Cena at 'Mania 23. Plus, the company needs to work in a heel victory every once in awhile in these main and co-main event matches just to keep some element of unpredictability. The easiest way to interject Michaels into this match would be to have him bum-rush an Elimination Chamber match at No Way Out (similar to what Edge did last year), but have that match be for the #1 contender spot for the World Championship and the title match at WrestleMania.

VLADIMIR KOZLOV (ECW CHAMPION) vs. THE UNDERTAKER: This match is perhaps the most out of left field, but it would work in a way. Assuming that the company doesn't plug in another top star against Undertaker (Chris Jericho would work nicely if Edge doesn't return from injury in time), Kozlov works well as a big and tough young guy who would be credible but is probably not a future cornerstone who needs to be protected. Assuming that the company pulls the trigger on him as ECW Champion and he has the belt going into WrestleMania, he could start mouthing off about how he's run out of challenges and how he wants to beat the Undertaker at WrestleMania. With the Undertaker never having been ECW Champion (he's never fought for the belt, but why let that detail get in the way of the hype?), that adds another layer to the "behemoth trying to end the streak" storyline. How to get the ECW Title off of Undertaker in an orderly fashion post-'Mania when he won't be staying on the roster is potentially a problem, but if he gets "drafted back to Smackdown," then the Lashley precedent of '07 would be enough to strip him of the title because it is the only title on the roster specifically named for a brand.

MVP and EVAN BOURNE (UNIFIED WORLD TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS) vs. HART DYNASTY -- LUMBERJACK MATCH: Realistically, I'd like to see Legacy in this match, but Ted Dibiase looks certain to be turned face before then. With that being the case, this needs to be the match where the Hart Dynasty is elevated to the tag champs spot and I choose MVP and Bourne because I don't have them slotted into any other important matches and I feel like at this point of their careers, they need to have a high-profile match on this stage (either or both could easily fit into Money In The Bank, but since I'm picking another wrestler to win that, I'd rather put them into this match). Also, Bourne never really got a chance to play out a feud with these two before they were all abruptly yanked from ECW and there in some history and potential chemistry there. The lumberjack element could come into play since the match is cross-brand, with the loyalties of various wrestlers coming into play: will they side with their fellow faces/heels or with the wrestlers on their same brand? Plus, it gets everyone a 'Mania paycheck and interjects at least a touch of intrigue (at least theoretically) to everyone's storylines heading into the big card.

MONEY IN THE BANK -- JOHN MORRISON vs. THE MIZ vs. CODY RHODES vs. TED DIBIASE vs. JACK SWAGGER vs. REY MISTERIO vs. CHRISTIAN vs. MATT HARDY: If Jeff Hardy is still on the roster, he should be substituted in for Christian or perhaps put in with Kofi Kingston in the first-ever 10-man version of the match. This match has the potential to go beyond the spotfests of past years because of the personal issues that could be involved (Miz/Morrison, Legacy, Hardys). Announcers could play up the questions about whether the various wrestlers involved risk being too caught up with any grudges to focus on the stakes involved. In the end, Morrison is the wrestler most worthy right now of the elevation that comes with the "magic suitcase," and a series of matches next year against Punk for the World Title (with the roles reversed from their very good ECW Title feud back in '07) could be pretty hot.

MISS WRESTLEMANIA BATTLE ROYAL: While this year's match was basically a throwaway that the promoters devoted very little thought to, it turns out that this is the best way to shoehorn all of the Divas on the roster into one segment. Given the subtle comedic skills that Beth Phoenix flashed with Santino/Santina over the past year, a win here could be a good launching pad to go after Maryse in the form of a face turn.

HHH vs. BATISTA: With the aforementioned six obligatory matches out of the way, there is room for about three or four grudge matches or dream matches. Assuming that Batista returns from injury with enough time to at least briefly wrap up the Orton feud, a turn on HHH would be a good way to even out the face/heel imbalance on Raw. Before Batista's injury, some subtle seeds of discomfort between the two were planted this past spring. All that would be necessary would be the sense on Batista's part that HHH is holding him back as he was back in 2005. From a political point of view in terms of selling the match to HHH, the fact that he would be able to "get back a victory" from Batista after putting him over clean three PPVs in a row five years ago might be sufficient.

CHRIS JERICHO vs. EDGE: While Edge may not make it back with much time to spare, there is currently reason to hope that he could be in the ring by the start of April and this could even be his "big comeback match." The seeds for this one have already been planted and watered on WWE television over the past few weeks and once Edge is cleared to come back, the storyline could pick up from there. A Jericho win could prolong the feud into summer, giving Edge the chance down the line for a blowoff win that would catapult him into the World Title picture as a monster face for the first time on Smackdown.

JERRY LAWLER & THE GREAT KHALI vs. THE BIG SHOW & KANE -- NO DISQUALIFICATION: If Vince McMahon would really like to get "The King" into a WrestleMania match at some point, there aren't many ways to really make it work assuming that the match is supposed to provide a feel-good moment without damaging any useful heels in the process. The backstory for this one could be manufactured relatively easily, with both of these monster heels in situations where they end up bullying Lawler, only to have Khali come to the rescue. The "No-DQ" provision allows for Lawler to win cheaply by dipping into his own Memphis heel bag of tricks, maybe by throwing fire or using the proverbial foreign object. Lawler's potential for working comedy into a match could keep it from becoming too plodding given the size of everyone involved (although in fairness, Kane is one of the most talented big men ever and Big Show has become very, very good as well).

No comments: