As of today, February 27, we are 30 days away from the biggest wrestling event of the year – WrestleMania. The 31st installment of the “show of shows” takes place on March 29th at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA on the WWE Network for only $9.99 (or $11.99 in Canada!). And thus far, the build to this show has been barely worth five bucks. Honestly, WWE is very lucky that the vast majority of people are going to watch on the network for ten dollars, because I cannot imagine people shelling out $70 to watch this on traditional PPV. And quite frankly, I am stunned that I feel this way.
More often than not, the period of time between January and April is typically the hottest time of year in WWE. January kicks the year into high gear with the number 2 PPV of the year, the Royal Rumble. This year however, they couldn’t shift out of park. The January 25th Rumble PPV that emanated from Philadelphia was nothing short of a disaster, for the second consecutive year. With the exception of the WWE title match, the show was very forgettable. One thing that will not be forgotten though, is the reaction to the Royal Rumble match, where Roman Reigns reigned supreme, and was the recipient of boos being rained upon him, as his “cousin” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (they’re not really related) attempted to stifle his frustration. The audience in Philadelphia set the course for what the “Road to WrestleMania” would come to look like at this point. Their passionate disapproval of the creative direction of the ‘Mania title program is quite glaring, even if you don’t follow the wrestling business closely. Anyone with any ounce of knowledge can tell that Roman Reigns is not ready for the spot for which he’s being groomed. This is compounded by the fact that he was programmed with the man that most people want to see in that spot in the first place – Daniel Bryan.
Bryan, who was forced into the main event picture last year, largely due to crowd reactions and CM Punk’s departure, has been embraced by the fan base as a main eventer, and the consummate under dog being held down by management. The fans feel a special bond with him that they don’t have with anyone else; they feel as if he’s their guy, their representative in the WWE world. He’s the guy that they willed into the WrestleMania XXX main event, and then he got hurt. He had to give up the title in order to have neck surgery last summer. He also encountered an elbow problem that kept him off the road even longer. The prognosis was unknown for months; nobody knew when he was coming back, with WrestleMania 31 being a potential long-shot. The Royal Rumble seemed unlikely. But then, on an episode of Raw a few weeks before the Rumble, Daniel Bryan made the announcement that he had been cleared and that he would be returning to action, and would be in the Royal Rumble match. At that point, the complexion of the WWE had changed, and the build to ‘Mania seemed like it had some new life injected into it; but that optimism has faded.
When Bryan made his return, the booking of WrestleMania seemed so obvious: Daniel Bryan wins the Rumble, and faces Brock Lesnar for the WWE title. Some may disagree, and say that I’m taking the “internet mark” position of siding with the internet darling Bryan, but watch the shows and listen to the crowd. Daniel Bryan has proven that he is over. Bryan has forged a connection with the audience that has led to him being the number 2 babyface in the company. Roman Reigns, at this point is struggling to make a connection. He’s got a great look and a great physical charisma, but that’s about it. His promos, largely because of the material, are sub-par. His ring skills are average at best. But that’s what Vince likes, so that’s what we’re going to get.
I’ll be honest, Brock vs. Reigns feels like a weak main event. Perhaps the weakest in recent memory, since at least the Hunter/Jericho match, but at least that show had Hogan vs. Rock. Aside from the snowstorm Raw the day after the Rumble, the build has been non-existent. I’m afraid of the reaction that the match will get, especially once Reigns wins. Reigns has been getting somewhat mixed reactions, however they’re nothing near what they should be for man in his position. John Cena gets a mixed reaction, but it’s passionate. People care about Cena, whether they like him or don’t, he gets a great response. Reigns’ reception seems more like apathy. People have conceded that fact that the Roman Empire will run wild in the WWE for the time being, but I don’t think the majority of fans on board. It’s more acceptance than excitement. And that sums up this year’s WrestleMania more than anything, it’s more acceptance and apathy than excitement. Aside from the novelty of Sting’s first WWE match, and seeing whether Undertaker will disintegrate, what is there to get excited about?
To me, it all starts at the top of the card. The main event is the tip of the pyramid, and everything else falls into place underneath. Brock vs. Reigns is a disappointment. Even though we’ve known forever that this would be the main event, there’s no anticipation. It’s colder than a nun’s tit. When Roman Reigns beat Daniel Bryan at Fast Lane, you could feel the air being let out of the sails of the company. Deep down everyone knew it was happening, but most people also know when they’re going for a colonoscopy, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
I want to be excited for this show. I mean, it is WrestleMania, and it’s the biggest show of the year. But the idea that Daniel Bryan could be wrestling for the Intercontinental Championship in a multi-challenger ladder match is mind-boggling to me. I’d much rather see him work Sheamus in a singles match, where there’s an actual story, not just a hollow trainwreck ladder match. I guess we’ll see what happens in the weeks to come.
I’m not ready to throw in the white towel just yet. They still have 30 days to get me interested in this show, but it’s going to take a lot of work to get me to where I was this time last year. But then again, last year they actually listened to the audience and put the right guy over, rather than blindly do what they pleased. Last year, there was real excitement and anticipation surrounding “The Granddaddy of Them All”, this year it’s apathy and malaise. It’s a sad state of affairs in the Roman Empire.