Dave Batista, Triple H, Randy Orton, and Daniel Bryan :: Getty Images
WrestleMania 30 takes place this Sunday from New Orleans and I rounded up a panel of top-notch experts to get their thoughts on the Super Bowl of pro wrestling. Brandon Stroud writes for With Leather and his recaps of WWE shows are must-read material. Rick Scaia (a.k.a. - The Rick) has been writing about pro wrestling since 1995 and is the brains behind OOWrestling.com. Sean Grande is the radio voice of the Boston Celtics and diehard wrestling fan. The Celtics are 23-52 this season so he welcomed the opportunity to discuss something else. For more WrestleMania predictions, check out SI.com's interview with Mick Foley earlier this week.
SI.com: Who do you think will be wearing the WWE Heavyweight title when the night is over?
Stroud: I think Daniel Bryan's the only choice that makes sense. It's one of those situations where the negative response to thinking outside the box would be so ridiculous that it wouldn't be worth the effort. There's a weird sense of ownership amongst wrestling fans already, and if you screw with them for eight months and don't give them at happy ending at the "happy ending" show, you're toast. So Daniel Bryan.
At the same time, though, the nihilist in me wants to see what'd happen if Batista just powerbombed Bryan and pinned him clean in the middle of the ring to end the show. The Superdome might end up on fire.
Scaia: Daniel Bryan. He's the safe/obvious pick. WWE didn't want to have Bryan in the main event; this is a last second change of plans, due to Randy Orton's general, pervasive mediocrity, and the fan revolt against Batista. WWE made the change because they didn't want their biggest show of the year ending with the fans crapping all over the main event; ergo, knowing how the fans will react to anything less than Bryan winning the title, one has to assume WWE will give the fans (especially the hyper-"smart" crowd that assembles for Mania) what they want.
Grande: I don’t think there’s a choice. The show will end the only way it can, with Daniel Bryan, possibly on the shoulders of most of the locker room (a la Bret Hart in 1994), and the whole place chanting “Yes”. Whether or not he has the belt, come June or July is another story, he’s clearly better chasing it, but they’re 95% of the way to the perfect finish of the year’s biggest show. And the fact we’re obsessed with whether or not they planned it this way all along is just another example of us being the marks on a ride, which really is when we’re the happiest anyway.
SI.com: Does Brock Lesnar have any chance of defeating the Undertaker and breaking the streak?
Grande: Yes, the same chance Jose Reyes does of staying healthy all ye--what's that? Oh. No, we’re past ending the streak. There was a time for it, but that time has come and gone. For a long time, I thought it was the right thing for business, like Andre, like all the greats, to “do the honors” because whoever took the streak would be a made man forever. CM Punk would’ve been a great choice. But Brock doesn’t need it. And if Flair, Shawn, HHH, Punk and so on couldn’t do it, at this point it probably shouldn’t be done. Brock comes out stronger, I can see Taker left laying….but I don’t see him losing. I think next year clearly we need to see Undertaker against the 76ers. Streak vs. Streak
Stroud: Oh, absolutely not. I have as good of a chance of breaking the streak as Brock Lesnar does. The success or failure of this match for me depends on the playing-out of this weird scenario in my head where Lesnar has to go for the second shooting star press of his (main roster WWE) career. I just want to see him go for it again. If he misses it, that's the match. If he hits it, I either want to see him so stunned by hitting it that he stalls and gets caught in Hell's Gate or for Taker to simply kick out of it. Kicking out of a Brock Lesnar shooting star press is basically the bottom line of "Undertaker is never losing here" discussion.
SI.com: How do you see the John Cena-Bray Wyatt match playing out?
Grande: As the four-star match that steals the show. Bray is so beyond his years in psychology and creating a fresh character we haven’t seen before, you forget he’s just approaching his physical prime (26), and historically the 2nd-generation guys are way ahead of the curve in the ring (Owen Hart, Bret Hart, Orton, Rock, Windham, etc.). And I know it’s not cool to champion him or point this out, but has Cena ever had a bad “big” match? Hopefully, this is a longer program with more twists, but when it’s over, people will be putting Bray in the WWE title conversation.
Stroud: Attitude Adjustment. Probably the STF. Easy victory for John Cena.
That's how I see every Cena match ending. It's my natural response. You could ask me how I see the John Cena vs. God match playing out and I'd call God tapping to an STF he doesn't even have locked in properly. I'd love to see Bray pull it out here. Cena isn't hurt by losses, but a victory over him -- a victory of note, possibly involving blood and mayhem -- at the grandest stage of them all? That'd mean something. They could erase it the next night by having Cena do one of his dopey, "I lost, but I'm here tonight to FIGHT" things, but for one beautiful Sunday night I'd like to see WWE's dynasty broken up and crazy on the floor.
Scaia: Bray Wyatt will -- as the late, great Gorilla Monsoon used to say -- take home the winner's share of the purse. He's got the numbers on his side (although I fully expect Harper and Rowan's participation to be limited to the early part of the match, when a ref ejects them mid-match, similar to Diesel at WM10 or Rhyno at WM17). But they'll still do some damage, and Wyatt will capitalize in the end. You've already got Taker winning (for sure) and Bryan winning (almost for sure), so this is the best spot for a big heel win.
As always, the next PPV is "Extreme Rules," which usually features a bunch of WM rematches, with added stips, where feuds "really" end. It'd be easy as pie for Cena to take the loss on Sunday, and get his win back in 4 weeks.
SI.com: Any out-of-the-box predictions for Sunday night?
Stroud: I'm still all-in on a CM Punk return. I want Corporate Champion CM Punk. I want him to return in a suit with his hair neatly coiffed and GTS Daniel Bryan for ultimate nihilistic satisfaction. Also I'd kinda just like him to be on shows again, because his absence doesn't do great things to the crowd.
Aside from that, they should have someone huge covered in a white bed sheet enter the memorial battle royal as "The Ghost of Andre the Giant."
Grande: It will be a better show than you think. You’re going to have two matches with Daniel Bryan in them for starters, there’s your $10 monthly Network bill in less than an hour. I think Randy Orton is tired of being seen as something less-than, and will rise to the night. The Shield is about to both split, and pop, this is the perfect breakout spot. And clearly, while “let’s go Cena/Cena sucks” is the new beach ball for the crowd to play with, he’s a first-ballot hall-of-fame, Rushmore guy that always delivers on this stage. Plus, remember, 1997/WM13 was a mess two weeks out with Shawn holding it hostage, and out of it came in my view the greatest WM match ever (Hart-Austin).
Scaia: I don't know if anyone follows the betting odds for WWE PPVs, but this is a real thing you can do. As of this writing, Triple H is the second biggest underdog on the entire show (behind Lesnar)... but my spidey sense is tingling, and I think money placed on HHH (in his match against Bryan) might pay off. This could accomplish two things: (1) it gives Hulk Hogan something to do in his otherwise-nebulous role as "host," if he has to re-insert Bryan into the WWE Title match after HHH scores a tainted win. And (2) it makes the main event a 4-way (with both HHH and Bryan), which is something that -- thematically -- would fit the story WWE has told so far WAY better than either of the possible 3-ways. So I wouldn't be shocked if both HHH and Bryan work twice on Sunday (with Bryan losing first, and winning second; you know, just like Bret Hart exactly 20 years ago).
It's not my prediction, but Steve Austin has gone on the record predicting CM Punk has already negotiated his return, and will do a run-in at WM. He hasn't said what the plan is, but if *I* was doing the booking? My "out of the box" idea would be to have Punk return and turn heel by screwing Bryan out of the WWE Title. This would set him up, instantly, as a top heel, and given what the "smart" fans (think they) know about his situation, he'd be "selling his soul" to come back to work as HHH's pawn (presumably for a huge raise and certain other promises). It'd be beautiful... but unlike my other predictions, I would NOT bet on it. It IS the only way you could end Mania with a heel winning, and have it be a satisfying/effective conclusion, but I just don't see it: even if Punk returns, the best use of him is as a babyface, given the glut of heels.
Another one: somebody who has not yet been announced as a participant will win the Andre Battle Royale. WWE's done a great job of using TV to paint it as Big Show's match to lose (with Rey, Sheamus, and Miz being the only other ones remotely involved in storytelling). But there are, by my count, 3 spots open. They might not all be shocking or surprising, but they should include the eventual winner. Rob Van Dam makes a lot of sense. The rumor-mongering "rasslin newz" sites are advancing Sting and/or the Ultimate Warrior. But my money's on Alexander Rusev, who had been getting a huge push as a major debuting star, but has suddenly (even SUSPICIOUSLY) gone silent the past 2 weeks.
SI.com: The RAW after WrestleMania is always the biggest of the year. What do you expect to happen?
Grande: We begin with Daniel Bryan as the new Austin with HHH as his VKM, kicking off his campaign to get the title off of him. I think what’s next for the Shield starts to move to the forefront as well. You literally have a dozen ways you could go with them. And for me, I’m looking at one guy, Dolph Ziggler. A year ago, he was Jeremy Lin from 2012. Now he’s Jeremy Lin in 2014 making you say “yeah, wasn’t he going to be the man?” It’s his time now.
Scaia: I expect that whatever happens with the WWE Title situation, it will involve HHH overstepping his bounds. Vince McMahon will return on the night after to put the kibosh on his daughter and son-in-law. The idea being that this shifts HHH out of his role as "active wrestler," and into a more Sports Entertainment-y role, while that actual full-time guys (Bryan, Orton, Batista) handle the WWE Title matches. Both RVD and Rusev will be going concerns after Monday. So even if I'm wrong about them working the Battle Royale, they'll be around on Monday.
I do NOT think Sting will be at the PPV, much less wrestling in the Battle Royale. You do NOT waste a rare (and expensive) wrestling appearance by a future 1st ballot hall of famer in an announced match. This is also why I laugh anytime I hear the "newz" sites predicting a surprise run-in/match by Lesnar on off-month PPVs. That's just not how the business works, people. But Sting, in a non-wrestling role, debuting the night after on RAW? That's entirely do-able, especially if he interrupts a Taker celebration, and instantly declares his desire to beat The Streak at WM31. If it was good enough for the Rock (when he challenged Cena a year ahead of time), it's good enough for Sting.
Stroud: 1. An absolutely asinine crowd that will do anything to get attention, because that's what post-Mania crowds are about going forward.
2. The guys who didn't have a spot to return at WrestleMania returning (Rob Van Dam, maybe Chris Jericho).
3. Alberto Del Rio beating a lower mid-carder and keeping the cross armbreaker on for too long. Hey, it's still an episode of Raw.
SI.com: The WWE Network is about a month old. Is there any PPV, match or even wrestler you recommend watching?
Scaia: Three words: Legends of Wrestling. If you didn't see these roundtable discussions (featuring Jim Ross, Pat Patterson, Michael Hayes, Mick Foley, Sgt. Slaughter, and lots of other legends) they did for the "WWE 24/7" offering (and based on subscription rates, you didn't; nobody did), WWE is rolling them out two or three per week, and they're almost all informative and riveting.
Some of the new original programming is fun, too, especially WrestleMania Rewinds and the Top 10 Countdowns. In addition to using Major League Baseball's advanced media division to handle the hardware and bandwith for the Network, it seems they borrowed a few ideas from MLB Network's off-season offerings (e.g. "Prime 9" countdowns, and Bob Costas reminiscing with old-timers). This is a very good idea.
The rest of the original programming is a bit too fluffy and self-promotional, with zero real value add, for my tastes. But hey, you've still got ever PPV ever, a growing number of WWE/ECW/WCCW weekly TV shows, and even televised house shows from WWE's glory days, too. Even if you hate the talk/analysis/story-telling, that's a metric crapton of 100% pure, uncut, in ring wrestling action. Best $9.95 you can spend.
Stroud: The Steiner Brothers. Go back and watch anything Steiner Brothers you can, at least from the era when they were young and wore pastel singlets that made them look like Trapper Keepers. Those guys were the best. I especially recommend the WrestleWar 1992 show where they brutally whomp Tatsumi Fujinami and Takayuki Iizuka. Nobody has ever won matches with violent authority quite like the classic Steiners.
Grande: I've become so obsessed with "Legends of Wresting" that I'm starting to sound like Pat Patterson calling games. "Let me tell you...EE-AS-AD it with dat REF-uh-ree. He’s going banana!” Every one of those shows is a masters level course in the industry. I can’t get enough. But to me it’s about your entry point, if yours is the attitude era, find some Flair and Steamboat and Four Horseman stuff to watch. If you’re a Mick Foley fan, find some Terry Funk. If you’re a Daniel Bryan fan, find some Jack Brisco. And with your 2014-teained eyes, see the guys who were so ahead of the curve, Dusty Rhodes, Snuka, Don Muraco, the Freebirds. The documentary potential on the biggest stars and greatest matches of all-time boggles the mind. Here, seriously, here’s my credit card number, WWE, charge me whatever you want.