Apex Predator, Sole Profession: A POW Wrestlemania Roundtable

Our main event crew is back to break down this Sunday's Showcase of the Immortals and all the wacky storylines and narrative fuckery that comes with it.
By    April 5, 2019

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The blood smells like copper in the air, the cracked bones sound like broken wood. Those are the best wrestling cliches, but they’re not emblematic of Wrestlemania, which is all pomp and pageantry and pyrotechnics, the glamour, glitz, and grand showmanship. Wrestlemania is a stage show par excellence, a bruised Broadway — putting the opera in soap opera — with suplexes instead of singing. People from all over the world converge on whatever stadium is holding it to watch the sweat drip and the tears flow. It’s the biggest moment in most wrestlers’ careers and some wrestlers’ lives.

Wrestlemania weekend is upon us, the funnest holiday weekend of the year and most certainly the one with the most pancakes being tossed into the crowd. Before you dive into your eight hours of WWE on Sunday (and the multitude of shows happening around the weekend, including NXT Takeover: New York and Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Supercard, the latter live from Madison Square Garden), allow your favorite WWE devotees some commentary on Sunday’s most important stories, discussed amongst ourselves in the weeks leading up to Sunday. But first, allow me to introduce the players:

Doc Zeus: three-time Best Matches List contributor
Evan McGarvey: Passion of the Weiss WWE scribe and premiere WWF obituary writer
Henry T. Casey: one-time Best Matches List contributor and Cageside Seats contributor
Douglas Martin: Best Matches list creator and five-time list contributor

Evan McGarvey: Happy to dive in first.

I’d love to tackle the more interesting of the two title matches, to me at least. Eco-warrior bad guy Daniel Bryan and his sustainably harvested wood pulp WWE Heavyweight Championship up against, presumably, Kofi Kingston and his moment in the sun.

The other week on Smackdown, Vince McMahon—firmly in his King-Robert Baratheon-demands-more-wine phase—dropped the kind of truth that isn’t so much a bomb as it is a virus. As Vince said, Kofi Kingston isn’t a main event guy. He isn’t going to the Hall of Fame on his own. He’ll do it as part of the New Day, and he’s the least memorable part of the trio. Kofi has spent the past decade mostly being relevant for minutes at a time in gimmick matches like the Rumble. Yes, the WWE Universe has willed Kofi to this position, but those emotions will fade. Ask Cesaro. Ask Zach Ryder.

I’ll offer my own shot across the bow: Kofi’s flirtation with the main event will spell the end of The New Day. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kofi won at Wrestlemania, and had a 24 hour run with the belt before Bryan snatched it back the next night on Raw. Cue a crestfallen Xavier and an enraged Big E. They used all the juice and good will accrued at The New Day for this? Out goes Kofi. Maybe Kofi keeps the title, bungles some non-title matches and we get a slow burn breakup. Whatever it is, a heel turn sits on the horizon. Imagine Xavier and Big E as an Odd Future-esque heel duo, maybe even with Velveteen Dream being called up into the Randy Orton ‘dangerous prodigy’ role?

Henry T. Casey: I’m just going to go in on tonight’s big hair-pulling moment:

I am so happy for Kofi, but also so enraged for Asuka. For whatever reason, she’s gone from undefeated to weird hot-cold booking and winning only because of that weirdo Rousey to now tapping in a surprise title match
less than two weeks before WrestleMania, I’m just confounded.

What can be done to bring the greatest NXT Women’s Champ Ever back to her glory? Or is she just destined to get GIFs of Cody Rhodes with his ear out, and some day rejoin KENTA back east? WWE’s complete inability to do right by its Asian-American talent — what the fuck happened to Nakamura — is beyond depressing.

Yes, they’re finally, possibly, maybe going to do something to rectify the mistake of Triple H going over Booker T, but sacrificing Asuka to … make the first women’s main event at WrestleMania more special — and that doesn’t feel like it’s happening right now — just … this feels wrong, right?

Doc Zeus: I have two general thoughts about Asuka’s loss on Smackdown this week:

First, you guys are correct. It’s offensive that WWE stripped the title off a worthy champion like Asuka and slapped it on Charlotte Flair’s waist for the unnecessary purpose of building WrestleMania’s main event. Asuka’s entire reign has been a complete afterthought since she won the title, largely because Smackdown’s other two biggest stars are in a feud over o Raw with Ronda Rousey. She barely appears on Smackdown these days – even less than Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville or even the IIconics. This is yet another example of WWE mistreating their Japanese wrestlers.
It’s clear to me that WWE never had any idea what to do with Asuka after Charlotte broke her streak at WrestleMania last year. Asuka is easily WWE’s most accomplished female performer so it’s somewhat baffling that they don’t want to showcase her as WrestleMania this year, especially in a year when the Raw women are headlining the show. Couldn’t they have used the time that they have been giving Lacey Evans to wander aimlessly around Raw and Smackdown to building a feud between those two? What’s Nikki Bella doing?

Second, I think it also highlights that WWE still has real problems showcasing more than one women-driven story at a time. The company clearly has the most talented and diverse female roster that it has ever had but they often fail to tell more than two female-driven stories per brand at any given time. This has only gotten more pronounced with Smackdown’s two biggest female stars, Becky and Charlotte, pulling double duty with Raw these days. It’s completely pulled focused away from any other story that they could tell.

Douglas Martin: Justice for Asuka!

I thought Asuka’s mystique would be snuffed out when her 2 1/2-year undefeated streak was snapped in order to pad the achievement list of the most decorated women’s wrestler WWE has seen in decades (as if Charlotte needed it). Asuka shined in her diminished role throughout 2018 and was inserted into Charlotte and Becky’s ego-driven rivalry like nothing ever happened. She was depicted as the ring assassin she had been in her 30 months as arguably the best thing in all of women’s wrestling and won the Smackdown Women’s Championship in an awesome TLC match against the division’s biggest stars. She won against Becky in an almost-as-awesome match at Royal Rumble. It seemed as though all was right with the world.

And then she was kept off television for damn near a month, slotted into a boilerplate but still pretty fun feud with Mandy Rose while Charlotte and Becky stayed on Smackdown Live in order to promote a feud for the Raw Women’s Championship, and subsequently kept off television for damn near another month.
Everybody who reads about wrestling on this site knows I try to stay within the stories wrestling matches are trying to tell rather than the stories behind the scenes, but the most egregious thing about Asuka suddenly and unexpectedly losing her championship to a competitor in a title match for another fucking championship is that no matter how invested in the stories of the fictional world of WWE you are, this very obviously came across as a “creative decision” rather than following a narrative. There was no logical narrative reason for Charlotte to even be in a random-ass championship match on the Smackdown Live less than two weeks before Wrestlemania, and even less logical narrative reason for her to win when she is competing in a title match for another fucking championship.
More so than WWE’s pitiful track record of making non-white, non-American stars, more so than bailing out on the possibility of a fun Mandy Rose vs. Asuka match (or a more compelling match also involving Sonya Deville, given the story they’ve been telling with the slow dissolution of her friendship with Rose), this just suspiciously feels like The Powers that Be super-sizing their Wrestlemania main event because they don’t believe in their performers enough to carry the match on their own. Performers, might I add, who include wrestling’s next transcendent star, a sublimely gifted second-generation competitor, and a crossover star who has taken to the art of wrestling as well as any crossover athlete since Olympic Freakin’ Medalist Kurt Angle (I stand by what I said about her promos, but her ring work is most certainly top notch). It just seems like adding stakes for the sheer purpose of adding stakes.

It’s quite fitting they would use this particular narrative crutch after Rousey spent weeks decrying wrestling as “fake” on social media.

Evan McGarvey: Charlotte Flair (a talented but nasty, legacy-driven heel) getting a sudden, nonsensical win over a talented woman of color is the final form of the College admissions scam.

As frustrating as the Asuka situation is, it’s kind of amazing that five years removed from perfunctory eight woman tags and seven years removed from bikini matches, 2/3 of the compelling narratives around wrestlemania & the WWE are about the women’s matches.

Evan McGarvey: Can we talk about RAW?

I can never make it through the 3 hours of Michael Cole shrieks and mid-match commercial breaks, but I’m genuinely optimistic for Seth Rollins to become the Bret Hart 2.0 and eel 17-minute gems onto the show every other week. I think Brock is going to make Rollins look like Jaime Lannister crossed with Ricky Steamboat, and the curb stomp will make a glorious return to TV.
Any thoughts on the potential end of the Brock Lesnar era? If the Highlander energy transfer pertains to wrestling ( i.e. who  the guy you beat beat before you means everything) , we’re going to take the energies of Triple H, the Undertaker, Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman … and put them into a guy who has already been made ?
Or is Brock going to retain again?

Doc Zeus: God, I hope not.

Nothing would be more of a quintessential Vince move than to squander all the crowd’s recent goodwill towards Roman than booking him to finally go over Brock at next year’s WrestleMania. A sick part of me wants to see Vince throw Rollins under the bus here to try to make that moment finally happen after five years.

However, I think this will be the year that WWE puts all three major babyfaces go over at the big show. WWE has not had a true feel-good moment to close out WrestleMania in nearly five years. Thus, I think they will give happy endings to Rollins, Kofi and Becky this year in a mirror image of WrestleMania X and WrestleMania XX.
Moreover, it’s the right call in all three cases. They need to put the strap on Becky Lynch to formally crown her the biggest star in the company. They need to put it on Kofi to make up for the Booker T-Triple H debacle. And they should coronate Rollins because Lesnar’s absentee champion gimmick went stale two years ago. It’s the right time for all three of them to become champions.

Henry T. Casey: I’m almost certain that Brock is retaining and losing to Roman at Summerslam.

I can’t tell you what makes me so sure, other than Seth not having the steam right now, as that storyline has sputtered — as all Brock ones do — because Brock’s never around.

But, as much as many think Mania will end with WWE’s four horsewomen in the ring holding titles, I think a far better ending is Kofi and Rollins and Becky all with the gold, almost like Eddie and Benoit, and in some sort of two putting the third on their shoulders configuration. Sure, putting women in the main event is a kind of equality, but have all of the champions celebrate together.

How is WWE doing with keeping Roman in the mid-card? It looks like he’ll be dancing with Drew, but how should this go?

Douglas Martin: I would be remiss to not start off by saying how much I appreciate Rollins working overtime to make a feud with Brock matter.

The whole “Brock only has to show up for work fifteen days out of the year in order to be a millionaire” approach has been tried numerous times (most notably in the run-up to the match where Roman finally beat him), but Seth is putting his whole heart and soul into letting people know that being in a main event match at Wrestlemania is something he has been actively working toward since he was a teenager. He really brings home the well-worn idea that Brock doesn’t really care, he’s been “holding the industry hostage,” and Rollins himself being a lifelong WWE fan who is on the precipice of making his Boyhood Dream Come True.

Though I somewhat agree with the point Evan brought up about Rollins already being made, you could argue he’s in the CM Punk space, where he’s obviously one of the most popular and talented WWE stars, a top-level performer, but is more often than not positioned to lose against the tippy-top guys. (Even then, Punk’s character the vast majority of the time had John Cena’s number.) There’s a big part of me that feels Rollins needs this win over Lesnar to really be viewed from a character perspective as one of the true torchbearers of the next decade of WWE programming instead of just the guy they rely on to deliver spectacular matches. A win over Brock — who has been defeated, what, three times in the past five years? — would most certainly elevate Rollins in a substantial way.

And going back to Henry’s point about Roman being slotted in the midcard, I respectfully disagree that’s what happening. I think it’s more of Drew McIntyre being primed for a main event spot. There is only one main event match, sure, but think about 1997 where WWF had Bret, Shawn, Austin, and the Undertaker all mixing it up with each other to make their main event scene exciting and rich with talent, to the point where you could place any of those four guys in a main event match and we fans were wholly compelled and excited. I think a Raw men’s main event scene with Roman, Seth, and Drew — or one of these guys being drafted to Smackdown Live and placed in their main event slot — would be super fun.

Evan McGarvey: I have a strong feeling that AJ & Rollins are going to switch shows (Before their inevitable match at SummerSlam).

Which would add fuel to the “Lesnar retains AGAIN” theory.  The earlier in the card the universal title match appears , the more likely Lesnar retains

Zeus — Great point about how the Booker -HHH mess from Wrestlemania 19 hangs over the Kofi match . Listening to Bruce Prichard trying to defend  that decision on his podcast elicited a Liz Lemon level eye roll for me.  I still think Kofi will win and then lose it 24 hours later. (The rules for the post-Mania raw: a return, a debut, a turn, and a title change) .
I still think we’re getting the end of the New Day and a fantastic heel turn from either Xavier or E (or both!) in the coming weeks.

Further down the card : which is going to be better Drew / Roman  ( the pretty boy Hoss-off ) or Orton / Styles ( two Trump bois delight the smarks)?

Douglas Martin: I did kinda have the suspicion Rollins and AJ were going to get switched, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it were Roman.

Even though I feel as though Styles has ascended to flagship competitor status on Smackdown Live, I could see him coming to Raw to freshen things up a bit. I may be wrong about Seth staying on Raw, but Tuesday/Friday Night Rollins doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Though the Booker T vs. HHH match from Wrestlemania XIX (a match that I’ve mentioned more than once in this space that I saw in person) was very much pretty grim territory for a Wrestlemania to go down, it’s actually pretty emblematic of reality. Sure, professional wrestling is fictional and often times veers into complete fairy tale territory; sure a Booker T World Heavyweight Championship win over the reign of terror Triple H presided over for nine months would have been a massive feel good moment and a bold move toward meritocracy. But it’s fitting that the very racist overtones of Triple H’s promos was supported by the Powers that Be screwing a black man out of his moment in the sun. It reflect reality in a way people are still unwilling to admit. That’s what we don’t talk about when we reference that whole debacle.
Personally, I feel if Styles can wring a better match out of Randy Orton in Year of Our Lord 2019 than Drew vs. Roman — two legit and proven workhorses in a showdown buoyed by Roman’s real-life triumph over leukemia — he should be forever enshrined in the Top Five Dead or Alive list.
The IIconics win the Women’s Tag Team Titles or we riot!!!

Henry T. Casey: And they pin the Divas of Doom to do it. Period.

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