March 20, 2006
Plenty at stake at WrestleMania
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling Columnist
Many wrestlers wait their whole careers for a chance to shine on the industry's biggest stage, and many have delivered memorable performances when WrestleMania rolls around. Even on years when the whole card didn't come together, something always stands out. It may be a cliché, but careers really can be made if someone comes up big when the whole wrestling world is watching.
But effort and dedication aren't enough to make it to the top, as countless examples over the years have proven. Wrestlers need to have their hard work intersect with opportunity, and that means having the right spot on the card. You don't need to be in the main event, but you need to be somewhere something positive can spin out of a great night in the ring.
Running down the card for WrestleMania 22, there are a few people who are in position to gain or lose more than the rest:
There might not be a performer on this year's card whose immediate future seems as cloudy as that of the current WWE champion. While his gimmick has progressed ever so slightly away from hip-hop to the point where his promos now remind you of The Rock (in a good way), it's clear the fans aren't all behind him. He's received a mixed reaction from crowds for so long now that the WWE brass has to be concerned. Add that to the fact that his last WrestleMania match was, to be kind, not too exciting, and it's not hyperbole to say that the 22nd could be a career crossroads kind of night for the Doctor of Thuganomics.
Could a victory over Triple H be the cure to what ails Cena? It might give his title reign a bit more credibility, but simply having the belt around his waist hasn't been enough to get people to cheer for him. A double turn a la Steve Austin and Bret Hart makes some sense, though the current writing team's track record doesn't exactly inspire tons of confidence that such a move could be pulled off successfully. Plus that would involve The Game actually wanting to turn face, something he isn't likely to want to do.
Whatever creative has planned for Cena, one thing's for certain: simply getting wrecked by Triple H won't be doing him any favors. He needs something, anything, good to happen to give him some momentum for the rest of the year.
Love him or hate him -- and hating him is the point of his character right now -- it's hard to deny that things got interesting when Edge cashed in on his title shot a few months ago. The ratings spike during his very brief title run probably had more to do with lowest common denominator curiosity in the "live sex show" than anything else, but since the WWE took the strap off of him so quickly, we'll never know for sure.
Fortunately, Edge is in a great position to gain some steam despite participating in a non-title match, something that doesn't happen all that often. Common sense dictates that he'll be booked to win since he's facing a part-timer in Mick Foley. And if he does, it will only make the fans hate him more, which won't bother him a bit. Stranger things have happened, but it's not hard to see Edge leaving Chicago poised to be a factor in the WWE title picture all year long.
As always, Rey is fun to watch in the ring, and his win at the Royal Rumble (dedicated to Eddie Guerrero) couldn't help but make you smile. The doubters were proved wrong over the past few months as Mysterio held on to his slot at WrestleMania. Actually, make that mostly wrong, since the WWE hedged its bets by adding Randy Orton and making the match a three-way dance. Having Kurt Angle and Mysterio involved virtually guarantees the Smackdown main event will be worth watching for its in-ring value, and that hasn't been the case for quite some time.
If Rey comes out on top, he would be the feel-good story of the year in much the same way Guerrero and Chris Benoit were two years ago. The trouble is, putting the belts on two veterans who paid their dues didn't exactly do much for business, so the WWE could justifiably be gun shy about doing it again. Fairly or not, there are always going to be questions about a performer Rey's size and whether or not fans buy him as a champion against the big boys. It will be interesting to watch how Mysterio fares in his biggest opportunity and how he's used going forward.
Everyone in the Money in the Bank Match
Edge already proved that this match can be the springboard to bigger and better things, even if the writers don't have you take advantage of the title shot right away. Simply having the title shot in your back pocket makes you a main event factor. Oh, and the briefcase makes a handy weapon if you happen to be a heel.
A win would be a boon to any of the six combatants, but three stand out as especially intriguing possibilities. If Ric Flair comes out on top, it could be a signal that he's getting a final shot this year as a prelude to retirement. A victory for Rob Van Dam would jumpstart the push he's never quite received despite a long run as a fan favorite. And Matt Hardy prevailing would also be a fan-friendly move, at least if the people who vote in the WWE's online polls are representative of the fan base as a whole. More than any other match on the card, the winner here is guaranteed to have a higher profile over the next 12 months, so it behooves the powers that be not to miss out on the chance to do something with it.
This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as Mark Henry has about as much chance to break the Dead Man's WrestleMania streak as I have of getting a call to do a run-in to help The Boogeyman. But the Undertaker's spotless record at wrestling's biggest event is about more than just wins and losses. Almost every time out, 'Taker has found it within himself to turn in great performances, often while suffering injuries and occasionally (Giant Gonzales, anyone?) against less than stellar opposition. If he can carry Mark Henry to a decent match, it might trump everything he's done so far.
The Raw announce team
It's not only the wrestlers who have something to prove come WrestleMania time. Michael Cole and Tazz seem pretty solid as the team calling the action on Smackdown, but even though many fans -- including this one -- got what they asked for when Joey Styles joined Raw, the three-man booth with Styles, Jonathan Coachman and Jerry Lawler hasn't seemed to click too often. The trio experiment should probably be ended no matter who's involved, but that's a column for another time.
If the pattern of the last few years holds true and the announce teams from both shows get to call their respective matches, expect Styles to shine in his first crack at WrestleMania. The onus will be on the color guys to make the commentary shine the way the biggest night in wrestling deserves.
Last but certainly not least, the Chairman deserves a mention along with everyone else. After all, he's put himself on the card, and pretty high up by the looks of things. Catching a glimpse of McMahon on the cover of Muscle and Fitness suggests that if anyone can semi-believably be in the ring at his age, he can. Still, his bout with Shawn Michaels will have to have more than just McMahon family shenanigans to hold fans' interest.
The larger issue is whether or not the next year holds more air time for the McMahon clan. Vince and company pop up seemingly any time business is slumping or stagnant, and the jury is always out on the benefits. Vince's match could simply be the culmination of his feud with the Heartbreak Kid, which has had its moments, despite not being overly original. But it could just as easily be the onset of another year of Vince, Stephanie and Shane on camera again, and the world might not be ready for that.
Nick Tylwalk has been a SLAM! Wrestling contributor since 1998, and his column, Walkin' That Aisle with Nick Tylwalk, appears most Mondays. Comments, compliments and complaints can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.