With the Elimination Chamber now in the rearview mirror, WWE is putting the final touches to feuds and storylines and preparing the card for what should be the grandest show of the year – WrestleMania 36. The top singles title matches have been in place for a while now (Brock Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns vs. Goldberg sigh), but that still leaves a lot of time to be filled. Looking at the ongoing feuds on both Raw and Smackdown, the potential matches are building up nicely; Edge vs. Randy Orton, AJ Styles vs. Undertaker, Becky Lynch vs. Shayna Baszler. Bayley’s opponent isn’t known right now, but it looks like it might be a multi-woman match of some kind with her best friend Sasha Banks in the mix. At least we’re certain of Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley which should be awesome.
One more match confirmed two weeks ago was “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena. This has piqued my interest because each outcome will influence how I believe WWE perceives and treats Wrestlemania. Not just this year, but in years ahead. It’s no secret that WWE showcases retired or semi-retired stars at WrestleMania, as well as a healthy dose of celebrities. This is to be expected, due to the high profile nature of the event, but does it come at a cost to the full-time talent and more importantly, the feuds they’ve been building up for months prior? Let’s look at the two outcomes and possible repercussions.
Cena wins – a likely outcome due to the nature of the show and the feel-good factor it will bring to audiences, but then what? Cena wins against the former Smackdown Champion, so does he become a contender once again? Unlikely. All I see with Cena now is him taking the Undertaker’s place as a Wrestlemania showpiece. One match per year against an opponent who could beat him, but likely won’t. I honestly don’t mind this as I’ve always liked the notion of the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania matches being an honour to be part of, although that aura has faded in recent years. If this is the direction they want to go with for Cena, then more power to him, just not against the Fiend right now, especially if he’s going to lose again.
The Fiend wins – The unlikely outcome, but possible. My gripe with the Fiend losing is that it puts the character back so much in such a short space of time. Nobody’s perfect, and WWE have made booking mistakes before, so although the Goldberg loss sucked, it can be forgotten over time depending on how the Fiend is booked going forward. This match, a win against John Cena at Wrestlemania, is a big step forward in putting that right. Cena doesn’t need the win. Cena is a tough opponent and the bigger the stage, the tougher he is to overcome. A win for the Fiend will rejuvenate his character and can be a bragging right for many months to come. A win against Cena can catapult him right back to the top – it worked well for Kevin Owens, didn’t it (the first time, anyway).
I think each outcome represents how WWE treats Wrestlemania, and to be honest, more of their ‘big’ PPVs. The whole purpose of Wrestlemania is that it should be the culmination of stories and feuds. Scores should be settled and champions decided. Matches that you’ve been waiting to see all year happen there. It should be special and where young wrestlers’ careers go to the next level. The term ‘Wrestlemania Moment’ sums it up perfectly. Think Kofi Kingston last year. Think Bret Hart vs Stone Cold. Think Daniel Bryan six years ago. Think Shawn Michaels in 1996. I get that the show is all about glitz and glamour and that every effort is made to make things special. Celebrities and retired stars are brought out to huge ovations and all to make the night that bit more special, but I think sometimes WWE is putting its focus on the wrong element of the show and prioritizing nostalgia over their full time talent.
Before I continue, I’m in no way saying that those who went before and who are legends in the industry shouldn’t be invited. Far from it. Though the WWE Hall of Fame isn’t in the same league as other ‘sports’ ones, I think it’s only right to celebrate people who have achieved so much in wrestling. I may not agree with all the choices (cough Bellas cough), but it is a good way to celebrate and recognize past stars. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should automatically be involved in a Wrestlemania match, nor should ‘retired’ stars be brought back for a big payday in the hope of a nostalgia hit at the expense of others.
Goldberg achieved a lot in his career, but giving him the Universal Title now was a huge error of judgment. Not only did it derail The Fiend, but he’s not the star attraction he once was and he’s not a top draw like Brock Lesnar is. Sorry, but I’m not excited about Goldberg vs. Roman Reigns at all, and I like Reigns.
I guess my point is that Wrestlemania is in danger of becoming a feel-good, nod to nostalgia instead of a place where feuds end and titles are decided. Every year we have semi-retired wrestlers take up time that could be used for a younger, full-time wrestler who could really use the exposure. Triple H has had a match every year since before Wrestlemania 30 (the famous Daniel Bryan victory) although he’s likely off the card this year. Shane McMahon has had matches at the last four Wrestlemanias. This will be Goldberg’s second one in the last four years. Undertaker is now back, even after ‘retiring’ three years ago. Though the show hasn’t focused on past talent entirely, WWE’s other PPVs and even the weekly shows do seem to hark back to a bygone era, ignoring the plethora of young talent they have at their disposal. This past week on Smackdown, an entire segment was dedicated to the NWO and their take on how to beat Goldberg. Smackdown has been struggling against Raw of late, and bringing in these guys for a cup of coffee isn’t going to fix that anytime soon.
In closing, I’d like to put on record that I’m in no way against nostalgia or reliving the past for a small amount of time. It can be beneficial and it’s right to remember and honour those who went before. Does NXT rely on past alumni to enhance their PPVs? No. Perhaps that old gripe rears its head too often nowadays; that WWE needs to invest their time and effort in showcasing the stars of tomorrow and not the past. Because if they don’t make stars of the current crop now, who will they turn to in the future when they need that boost of nostalgia for the fans?