Just in case you weren’t aware, or had simply forgotten, Wrestlemania 29 took place on Sunday. Yes that’s right, the biggest event in the wrestling calendar, the granddaddy of them all, the showcase of the immortals happened just 5 days ago! This year the company made a whopping $12.3million on the live gate alone and will probably make roughly another $25million in pay-per-view revenue. If they managed to draw enough buys, this could have been the biggest money wrestling event in history, topping the record set by Wrestlemania 28 a year ago. In any other sport in the world, the fall out of such an event and the results of the matches would be talked about for months on end whilst experts offered in depth analysis on what the future holds for each and every person involved. In wrestling though, what took place was only newsworthy for 24 hours before a tremendous episode of Raw was broadcast and in many ways overshadowed the big event itself.
All this might have left the average wrestling fan feeling a little short changed by the WWE. When the weekly, free-to-air television show is such an enjoyable viewing experience that the show that you have to pay to watch is almost eradicated from people’s minds by the end of the next night, you can forgive them for feeling that paying to see Wrestlemania was a waste of money. You could also understand them feeling as if they’d have been better off putting aside the time and effort to watch Wrestlemania and reinvesting it in Raw the next night. Not that I completely agree with some people’s take that Wrestlemania 29 was a wash out, far from it, I actually thought that what the WWE served up was as good as anything they have offered at the big one in the last couple of years. But you have to question the business sense of offering so much on free television when you want people to be confident that all the most important happenings take place when you have to pay for the privilege.
That being said, WWE should be commended on booking a very good show this week on Raw. Again contrary to the feelings of some, this week’s episode wasn’t just a spectacle because of that fantastic crowd. In fact, WWE booked the show in such a way that tried to place members of the roster who represent the future of the company in the spotlight and moved it away from the part-timers and current headline acts. Of the 6 men who took part in the 3 main matches at Wrestlemania, only John Cena and The Undertaker appeared. The Undertaker’s appearance was limited to coming to the ring, saying one line that dedicating his Wrestlemania match with CM Punk to Paul Bearer before being interrupted by The Shield. Whilst Cena took up more time, his presence served to place Ryback in the money position by the end of the show, rather than building on Cena’s already over-exposed character.
Returning to that Undertaker segment for a moment, it was extremely encouraging that it was the Shield chosen to interrupt ‘The Phenom’ rather than somebody who would benefit less from the rub. The company’s booking of The Shield thus far has been for the most part excellent (save for an unfortunate appearance on the microphone or two), they remain undefeated and on Monday targeted perhaps the most over, popular and respected individual on the entire roster. The fact that they were thwarted from attacking him by the run in of Kane and Daniel Bryan made this an even more clever angle as it placed Daniel Bryan in league with the Brothers of Destruction, a position that can only be good for him and teased the faint possibility of a six-man tag match down the road at some time, possibly at the WWE’s next pay-per-view Extreme Rules. If that should take place, what better way would there be of putting over The Shield as a force to be reckoned with than if they were booked to be Undertaker’s storyline reason for disappearing from the screen until next year’s Wrestlemania season?
As previously mentioned, Cena was also elevating another one of the up and comers as his match with Henry ended with the Ryback run in and apparent heel turn after he shook Cena’s hand before blasting him with the shell shock. Some have speculated that WWE might not yet be ready to fully turn Ryback, especially given the reaction from the fans, I guess we will need to wait and see what Mr ‘Feed Me More’s explanation/justification is for attacking Cena. Whatever the case, there is no better way to put Ryback over as a top tier player than have him standing over the company’s biggest star as the crowd are going wild, holding aloft the WWE Championship belt. This was essentially the crowning of Ryback as the ‘next big thing’ in the company and one hopes that WWE has got something to follow this up with. Cena needs some fresh challengers and with the exception of Ryback and Henry, he has for the most part exhausted his possibilities for the time being, so this could be either man’s time to shine (though I’ll admit to not exactly be relishing the prospect of their matches).
I can’t believe I have got all this way into an article about the post-Wrestlemania Raw without mentioning Dolph Ziggler’s cashing in of the Money in the Bank briefcase and subsequent capture of the World Heavyweight Championship! Undeniably, Ziggler’s victory garnered one of the biggest pops of the night as the hardcore fan base, who were present in their numbers at the show, had been waiting for him to do so for such a long time. Widely considered to be one of the top talents in the locker room, Ziggler may finally be about to take off and become a genuine main event player in the company and this was a great way to get that process underway. Again, the company provided one of its younger talents with the forum on which to create a star-making moment on the show. In front of the loudest crowd since Money in the Bank 2011, Ziggler celebrated winning the World Heavyweight Championship to a crescendo of noise. Ultimately, it made the wait all the more worthwhile, though you can’t really help but wonder why they couldn’t do this at Wrestlemania.
Another match which produced a worthy moment for one of its participants was the Intercontinental Title bout between The Miz and Wade Barrett. With a large and vocal contingent of UK fans in the house who had made the annual pilgrimage from across the pond for Wrestlemania weekend, Barrett was over in a big way and the crowd got behind him rather than his supposed babyface opponent. After being booked to lose the title on the pre-show of Wrestlemania, this was a considerable step up for the Preston born Barrett who in his title winning victory looked a star. Heaven knows why the strap was booked to be exchanged twice in the space of 24 hours, other than to give Barrett the opportunity to win it back in front of a friendly audience on Raw, but ultimately, this was a really good moment for his career though admittedly, I’m not sure what it says about The Miz’s continuing fall from grace. After winning the main event of Wrestlemania 27, The Miz has dropped like a stone from the headline picture and you’d be shocked if he was ever able to return.
Surprisingly for the WWE, they also spent sometime promoting the next couple of week’s television in order to keep people tuning into future shows. It was mentioned that Triple H will be appearing on Smackdown this week to address his match with Brock Lesnar, rather than give this away on the Raw that was likely to be successful anyway, the company shrewdly chose to save it for the next television show it was presenting and therefore giving fans a reason to tune into the it. If the presence of Triple H on the show helps Smackdown attain a slightly higher rating than usual, this will expose a greater amount of people to the talent that predominantly compete on the show, and in turn give them a chance to up their own star value. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t rocket science but it is a departure from the way WWE had being doing business prior to Wrestlemania where they more often than not failed to advertise the appearance of The Rock and other part-time stars when they were scheduled to appear.
It didn’t stop with the promotion of Triple H’s appearance on Smackdown however. During a short interview with Paul Heyman, he announced that CM Punk would be on the following week’s episode of Raw to address his loss to the Undertaker. In booking Punk in this way, he gave viewers another little reason to keep watching in the aftermath of Wrestlemania weekend. Speculation has been rife that Punk is likely to take time off over the next 6 months as he is said to be suffering burn out on the back of nearly 8 years on the road with WWE. There was also talk of an injury prior to Wrestlemania that was keeping him off house shows at the time, and maybe, with the majority of Punk’s options exhausted after his long and memorable WWE Title reign, it is time for the character to take a break also and return in 6 months time, reinvigorated and fresh in the audience’s mind. If that is the case, then the chance to see Punk for the last time in a little while might just prove to be a way of drawing a number of the so called ‘hardcore’ fans to watch Raw next week, instead of choosing to give it a miss.
There were some unintentionally encouraging developments that came out of the show on Monday as well though. The fans humming of Fandango’s theme music has the potential to put the character played by Johnny Curtis over with the WWE Universe where at one point it seemed that this would just be the latest in a line of gimmick’s that Vince McMahon is alone in loving. Just as fans rapped along with Road Dogg or The Godfather during the ‘attitude’ era (turning them into over and enjoyable acts), getting fans to sing along with Fandango’s theme music could be the making of the character. My personal method of extracting the most out of the phenomena would be to have Fandango complain about the humming saying that fans weren’t taking him serious enough and in doing so, encouraging future crowds to sing along as well. Whatever the case, the reaction that he sparked on Raw, coupled with his decent showing opposite Jericho at ‘Mania should put Fandango in a far stronger position for the future than certainly I ever felt likely before the weekend.
Ultimately, this was a Raw that hinted that the WWE is looking at the future seriously. It is a fairly glaring issue that 4 of the 6 men involved in the 3 big matches at Wrestlemania are part time guys who are all in or approaching their 40’s and likely to have their final few matches in the next couple of years. Add to that noises that CM Punk has been making about calling time on his career early now that he has made enough money and still has his health in tact and that leaves only Cena of the top draws for this year’s Wrestlemania likely to be around for the medium term (though there have also been reports that Cena’s furiously busy schedule have left him with chronic injury problems). What this means is that WWE is in dire need of new stars to build the promotion around in the next 10 years. Put it this way, who are the returning heroes in the mould of The Rock, Triple H, Undertaker and Brock Lesnar going to be in 10 years time? At this stage in their careers do we really believe that Sheamus, Randy Orton, Alberto Del Rio or Wade Barrett are on course to be able to fill this role one day?
Monday’s Raw was the result of this, and WWE’s realisation (finally) that they need to do something about it. During the night, WWE elevated Wade Barrett, Dolph Ziggler, The Shield, Daniel Bryan and Ryback and were also handed a golden opportunity to make something of the Fandango character. They pushed the importance of this week’s episode of Smackdown and next week’s episode of Raw and gave fans a clear indication of their potential path between now and Extreme Rules. Theoretically we saw the foundations laid for matches at the next pay-per-view including Cena V Ryback (or Mark Henry, or both), Ziggler V Del Rio, Sheamus V Orton (or Big Show or both) and The Shield V Undertaker, Kane and Daniel Bryan. Most importantly of all we were offered new scenarios, with a host of new people involved in the big storylines and gave us reason to believe that the future may yet be very bright for WWE. I have been falsely optimistic in the past, but this time the WWE simply has to follow through with its long term plans if the company and its big money maker, Wrestlemania, is to continue to be successful in the future.