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   Mon, March 12, 2007



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More than titles at stake at 'Mania
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling Columnist
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The WWE's ads for WrestleMania once breathlessly touted the event as the birthplace of immortals, and while that seems a bit like hyperbole, it is the granddaddy of all pay-per-views. Even when things are otherwise down, the federation always tries to put its best foot forward in early April.

This year's show is no exception, as it is coming together nicely. Several storylines are coming to a head, and the pay-offs should be good. It behooves everyone on the card to take advantage of their opportunities and give the fans something to remember.

While anyone could see their career get a boost or suffer a setback depending on their WrestleMania performance, some have more on the line than others. This year, it's the various champions who appear to be in those positions. Their title belts are up for grabs, but there's much more for them to gain or lose in Detroit.

Here's one man's opinion on what's at stake for the champs:

John Cena

What a difference a year makes. At WrestleMania 22, Cena was still dealing with a very divided crowd reaction and it looked like the WWE writers would never be able to push him as the top face. He's come so far since then that he's essentially in a face-versus-face match with Shawn Michaels -- though HBK is being built up as the one who might take a shortcut to win -- and there are no worries that he'll get more boos than cheers. That's progress.

Cena still has his share of critics, most of whom think he's not that great a wrestler. That may be true, but it's hard to argue his effort every time out and his ability to entertain. He opened my eyes with a much better match than I expected against Umaga at the Royal Rumble.

He can still take another step up with a great performance against Michaels. There seems to be some chemistry there, and you know HBK will go all out on the big stage. It's especially important for Cena to shine if he drops the belt, because he can carry that momentum into non-title feuds.

WrestleMania bouts between two crowd favorites can definitely work. The build-up for Steve Austin and The Rock was fantastic at WrestleMania X-7, and the match didn't need the Austin turn at the end to be something memorable. I see a terrific match taking place and Cena leaving with his stock even higher, win or lose.

Batista

The Smackdown champ has even more to gain or lose than Cena -- possibly the most of anyone on the card. A large chunk of the fans are still behind Batista, but he's looked less than impressive over the past few months.

You know The Undertaker will pour whatever he has left in the tank into this match. All accounts are that his WrestleMania legacy is important to him, and he always gets it done on big shows in any case. He'll do his best to make Batista look good.

Batista's situation is the opposite of Cena's, as he has more at stake if he's booked to win. I can't see Undertaker saying farewell to his undefeated Mania streak this year, but if he does, that's a ridiculously high honor to give to the world champ.

Has he done anything to earn that? I don't think so. Batista will get his chance to prove me and any other doubters wrong in Detroit. I hope he makes the most of it.

Bobby Lashley

The ECW champ is in a unique position as one of the participants in the match getting the most mainstream media attention. He could sure use it too, because ECW is just tough to watch on a weekly basis.

I like Lashley, but his silent powerhouse gimmick is one we've seen plenty of times before. He seems to be a little charisma-challenged, but so was one of my favorites of all time, Chris Benoit, and he still made it to the top. Of course, Lashley doesn't have Benoit's superior skill set, but he does have a better look for a heavyweight champion, so I'm calling that a wash as far as his chances of making it.

The match-up with Umaga has a nice "unstoppable force versus immovable objectChris Benoit sort of feel to it. It's also guaranteed to be physical, which should help make up for the fact that it won't be a technical classic. I'll go so far as to say that it will absolutely be better than the last match with this type of feel, Goldberg-Brock Lesnar. And yes, that's not going out on that much of a limb.

I expect Lashley to win, which should give him a boost. If an angry, bald Mr. McMahon continues to meddle with him, that might not be a bad thing, as it's worked for the careers of numerous other wrestlers in years past.

Melina

Don't think I'd leave out the women's champ as long as we have to watch her wrestle. The female division is in bad shape, as just last year we had Mickie James and Trish Stratus, two ladies who could go, and now we have, well, Melina and Ashley.

I sometimes have to remind myself that Trish couldn't wrestle much when she started and put in a lot of hard work to get to the point where she was pretty good. Maybe Melina will reach that point someday... but that's a big maybe. Since the WWE seems to think its mandatory to have a women's title match at WrestleMania, she'll have the biggest possible spotlight to show everyone what she's learned. Good luck!

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    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 ntylwalk7@yahoo.com.