The Road To WrestleMania is special for fans but let’s not forget that practically every second year WWE screws it up in ways that leave us tearing our hair out. Whether it’s pushing forward with an entirely unwanted Roman Reigns victory lap, trying to sweep Daniel Bryan under the rug until the very last minute, cutting CM Punk out of an earned WrestleMania main event so Rock and Cena could go around for ‘Twice in a Lifetime’, Brock and Roman’s lame tug o’ war over the belt, or a dozen other feuds and lackluster moments that hindered rather than helped sell the biggest show of the year, they often miss the mark. Vince McMahon usually tries to gear this time of year towards those fans who might only watch if they hear good things are happening or big names are going to show up, but the truth is you need to both entertain the fans who stick with you as well as offer something to potential new fans. Anything less and you risk missing out on those dollars, and so expect WWE to once again try to pull out all the stops as we head into the Road To WrestleMania, but also expect some familiar failures to be potholes along the way.
Unfortunately, WWE has established that they are incapable of avoiding a slew of mistakes under this high-pressure season. Thinking that you’re definitely doing the right thing when it’s proven itself to be a mistake year after year is some of the insane thinking that WWE fans have to live with from their chosen wrestling source. Ideas that look good on paper but tank in practice, or cliches about ‘wins and losses not mattering’ come back to haunt WWE time and time again despite them clearly knowing better. Instead of looking back after WrestleMania and lamenting these troubles, we’re looking ahead and laying them out clear as can be so that there’s a chance WWE can recognize these faults and save them from themselves.
15. Weakening The Monster
Much of the speculation regarding Braun Strowman’s WrestleMania opponent centers around Triple H, with their Survivor Series encounter being the catalyst for a feud between the two. Obviously, WWE’s goal at this point will be to make Braun look good in the win.
If they follow their old standard Triple H booking they’ll spend weeks leading to WrestleMania undercutting Braun’s momentum to make him look ‘vulnerable’.
WWE should be doing the exact opposite with Braun, which is exactly why he’s gotten to where he is now. By being treated as the freaking colossus he is, not backing down from fights (let’s forget that dumb thing they did last year when Braun was backing away from The Undertaker), and generally wrecking everything within his arm’s reach.
Triple H should try to weaken Braun, escalating efforts each time, but everything, every week, should backfire. If they go the standard route, by the time WrestleMania comes around we’ll be sick of pretending Triple H has a chance and merely relieved if Braun manages to squeak out a win, rather than elated he pummeled the COO and continued looking insanely badass. Triple H better watch he doesn’t ‘Get These Hands’, but that’s all we really want to see from this.
14. Stephanie McMahon Everywhere
This may tie into the first point if Stephanie gets involved in Triple H’s affairs, but generally speaking the less Stephanie on WWE TV the better. If she begins throwing her untouchable status around and Braun Strowman of all people is forced to kowtow to her, let alone the entire Women’s roster who she keeps taking credit for at every turn, it’s going to be a long Road to WrestleMania.
If the expected Ronda Rousey involvement comes along and instead of a marquee match with one of the talented women currently on the roster she is embroiled in something with Stephanie, it weakens the entire division by ignoring it.
Stephanie McMahon doesn’t have to automatically be a negative influence on Raw but ever since The Authority angle, she’s been near unbearable at every turn. Worse, she’s clearly attempting a 2nd rate imitation of Vince’s Mr. McMahon schtick and she isn’t able to strike that right balance between corrupted power and receiving comeuppance. Fingers crossed she’s in the background or absent entirely this year.
13. Delivering The Payoff Way Too Early
WWE has a bad habit of not knowing when to strike while the iron is hot. Many times they’ll leave the fire burning until it’s petered out, but in this case, they often give up their patience and throw things out that should’ve been left to heat up that little bit more. Remember last year when they had Bayley win the Raw Women’s Championship BEFORE WrestleMania? In that same month, they also had Charlotte, who had established a PPV undefeated streak that was referenced constantly and would’ve been a brilliant stake to add to any WrestleMania bout, lose at Fastlane. This was not only bad at the time, but it retroactively damaged all the unnecessary PPV wins Charlotte had stolen from Sasha Banks over the preceding months, only to give it away in anticlimactic fashion.
The point is, WWE is going to do something dumb this year, whether it’s giving away a returning superstar’s first match, or changing a title without the appropriate fanfare.
This could include cutting a Championship reign short and generally look like they’re flying by the seat of their pants when you’d hope the ideas for this year’s extravaganza were locked in months back. For certain things, we fans are happy to wait for the biggest stage, and WWE needs to recognize those situations far better and keep a lid on it.
12. Any Celebrity > Trained WWE Wrestling Professionals
There’s nothing that causes your brain to itch and your brow to furrow more than watching the wrestlers you’ve been supporting all year get obscenely outmatched and outclassed by any celebrity who happens to waltz into the WWE sphere. Celebrity involvement is a staple of WrestleMania since its inception but this year it would be nice if one of our current superstars wasn’t belittled and marginalized by Flo Rida or someone equally pointless to the wrestling landscape. WWE, seems to sell their soul to anyone who will have them for just a hint of the mainstream press and it does more harm than good.
Certain celebrities like Stephen Amell, Hugh Jackman, William Shatner, Snoop Dog, Maria Menounos and Seth Green came into WWE and actually added to the shows, and that’s the type of celebrity involvement that should be on the cards. If Samoa Joe gets choked out by Tom Cruise while he’s promoting a movie you’ll hear fans groaning across the globe and no one is going to be more excited to watch WrestleMania when the wrestlers aren’t perceived as worthy of it.
11. Kurt Angle, Bumbling GM/Father
Kurt Angle originally showed in WWE that he had the peculiar knack for being goofy outside the ring yet competent in the ring, which propelled him to his Hall Of Fame career. Now though, between being a pseudo-father to Jason Jordan, having Stephanie undercut him at every turn, and having Triple H glare down at him whenever he shows up.
We’re getting dangerously close to where Mick Foley was before he left, which is Kurt being an ineffective, unlikable waste of a GM.
We’re not quite there yet thanks to Kurt’s legit talents and still putting in some respectable in-ring performances, but it’s not looking good. Compounding this was the recent episode of RAW where Braun Strowman’s rampage and Stephanie re-hiring him via phone call all made Kurt look helpless. Not to mention his hilariously bad acting when exclaiming “They cost $12 million!” which did him no favors. Kurt should not be just another aged wrestler who gets made GM and turns into a wilting flower. He’s an Olympic Gold Medallist, dammit! “The Three I’s” need to make a comeback and Kurt needs to not be diminished one bit further.
10. Pointless Tag Team Blobs
Vince’s lack of concern for promoting tag teams is well established, but the reality is the tag team division has given us some of the best matches on both Raw and SmackDown this year. Between The Shield, The Bar, The Usos, and The New Day both rosters have had PPV stealing efforts from their duos that need to be rewarded. Instead what we’re likely to get is that all tag teams forget their current storylines, every team makes a bland challenge to the reigning champions, and then we get them all thrown into a mess of a match where no one stands out.
It’s a disservice to the efforts of the wrestlers and an insult to the fans who invest in them to not have major events happen in the division that is low-key carrying the workload. Here’s hoping Jey Uso’s recent DUI troubles don’t derail what could have been a great WrestleMania program. At least before Vince gets the chance to derail it himself.
9. Musical Interruption
We mentioned Flo Rida earlier and his recent years-long “feud” with Heath Slater, but Flo Rida, Pitbull and other repeat offenders to wrestling are the mid-show concerts that WWE seems compelled to put on each year at WrestleMania. Not only that, in the leadup to WrestleMania there’s often another musical representation or song taking up precious time on the cards and it needs to stop happening.
No one is tuning into WWE for the musical portion that isn’t a wrestler’s theme song.
When matches that have been built up for months are being shortened, dropped to the pre-show, or outright cut all together for a bathroom break performance of a song, it’s massively infuriating to fans and probably even more to the affected wrestlers who work year-round for that one shot at immortality on the Grandest Stage Of Them All.
With WrestleMania now longer than ever with a two-hour pre-show and around 5 hours of actual WrestleMania there are places where some cuts are fine and any stand-alone musical segments should go before any match does.
8. Battle Royal With Cheese
It was prestigious for about 24 hours after Cesaro stamped the first match with an incredible feat of strength, bodyslamming Big Show out of the match to become the inaugural winner. After that, he was saddled with Paul Heyman, and while that’s usually a good thing his orders were not to promote the Swiss Superman but to keep Brock Lesnar’s name on television. Due to that lack of follow-through, the Andre Memorial Battle Royal quickly became the match you shove everyone into for the sake of getting them in the ring at WrestleMania.
Big Show, Baron Corbin, and Mojo Rawley have done little to nothing with each of their subsequent wins, so even if your favorite superstar declares their candidacy for the match, it only means bad things and you shouldn’t get your hopes up. Even when a possibly interesting development can occur in the match, such as Damian Mizdow’s defection and liberation from The Miz, WWE chooses not to bother and disappoints out of sheer habit. Unfortunately, one of the potentially more fun ideas since Money In The Bank is now a pre-show filler worthy of little interest.
7. Cruiserweights Can Cruiser-wait
Last year one of the most anticipated matches, one that was helping sell the show and was close to being the best in-ring contest at WrestleMania didn’t even happen during the main card and was then cut outright from the WrestleMania DVD. That match was between Austin Aries and Neville over the Cruiserweight Championship (both who have since exited WWE or are sitting out voluntarily) and that shabby treatment cannot be repeated. The Cruiserweights proved in the Cruiserweight Classic Tournament that there is a money-making niche there to be filled, but if WWE continues to treat them as the lowest sideshow in their arsenal then they’re throwing not only money away, but throwing it directly to all the competing companies who know how to do that style correctly.
Considering the impending influx of talent for the division with Ricochet on the way and Rey Mysterio and others rumored to be coming they need to show off the roster and not sequester it in a dark corner. If WWE wants to do this right, they’ll have the Cruiserweight division making its mark heading into WrestleMania rather than what they’ve done in the past.
6. Misusing Midcard Titles
Almost every year, one or both of the mid card titles that we’re supposed to cherish and revere is unceremoniously dumped from the WrestleMania card, whether it’s to the pre-show or completely off the books by bell time.
The United States Championship was bumped off WrestleMania 32 despite Kalisto and Ryback having an underrated bout (in front of a mismanaged, nearly empty stadium).
The Intercontinental Championship match between Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin from last years WrestleMania 33, which was shaping up as a sleeper hit from the buildup, was tossed to the pre-show and given few minutes.
Those examples at least got on the card in some fashion.
For years either title went undefended at the big show, the champion either in a multi-man match or omitted from the show without explanation.
With The Miz having resurrected the Intercontinental Championship almost single-handedly the last few years and John Cena and others lending credibility to the United States Title, there are no excuses to fall back into bad habits. If WWE treats them like the cherished prizes they ostensibly are then the stories write themselves and improve the overall show and build up to it.
5. Feeding The Elderly
If there’s one thing WWE does pretty well it’s showcase former talents as long as they’re in the company’s good graces. Unfortunately, that can turn into self-inflicted damage when they feed current acts to them for cheap, short-lived moments that have long detrimental effects on the recipients. Heath Slater isn’t a serious contender in the fans eyes because in 2012 he went through months of humiliation at the hands of returning superstars week after week, making him look like a chump.
The Ascension went through the same thing when they hit the main roster, spending much of early 2015 being humiliated by old teams like The New Age Outlaws and The A.P.A all while commentary continually belittled them.
In essence, WWE has a bad habit of attacking its present to glamorize its past, and with current teams having it hard enough to maintain momentum, they can’t afford to stamp out tomorrow’s potential legends for yesterdays.
4. Part-Timers Parade
The big brother of the previous point, no one is safe from this malady. Where a lot of the previous problems can be re-worked to avoid them (even though WWE making those changes is unlikely) the part-timers are coming and they’re fixing to take up most if not all of the main eventing slots. Only Roman Reigns can safely claim to have a shot at the marquee matches heading into WrestleMania, although we’d all like to believe the same of AJ Styles. But between Triple H, The Undertaker, Shane McMahon, The Rock, John Cena, Batista, Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar, recent history doesn’t allow much room for the week-to-week warriors.
Because of this tactic, there’s an entire generation of wrestlers who didn’t get to make the impact they would’ve without the low ceiling they were confined to.
WWE is rapidly running out of time to rectify that.
After cashing in Sting & Goldberg there’s precious few Attitude Era acts to milk anymore, so let’s hope WWE can finally step forward and give the big acts of today the chance to become huge. The New Day, Chad Gable, Dean Ambrose as a heel, there are many more as well who can all be legends later if they’re not caught in the queue behind part-timers now.
3. Ruining Surprises
WWE can’t help themselves from spoiling a surprise most of the time. In recent years they’ve made efforts to change this by keeping both The Hardys and Dudley Boyz returns under wraps but far more instances have them promoting someone’s epic return rather than capitalizing on that return by creating a moment that will hook fans more. WWE seems to not have the faith in their fans to tune in unless big names are advertised, but creating moments of surprise and awe stick far more in a fans mind when deciding whether or not to catch the next Raw.
When Batista’s return got spoiled, the backlash culminated in the massive rejection of what could have been a major moment. Conversely, when Gallows and Anderson showed up unexpectedly on the Raw eight days after WrestleMania instead of the night after, they blew the roof off the place. When WrestleMania XXX had Hulk Hogan hosting the show, they didn’t explicitly advertise Stone Cold or The Rock coming back, so when they showed up, it created one of the best non-match moments in WrestleMania history.
Long story short, if WWE gives us surprises and twists alongside publicized debuts and returns they’ll find a better balance for retaining the hearts of fans who will ensure to watch their show rather than only waiting for pre-announced acts.
2. Last Minute Scrambling
It’s happened a lot of times leading into WrestleMania, and it’s not always their fault due to circumstances out of their control, but plenty of times they’ll have a story suddenly need to scramble and claw to be WrestleMania-ready come the last week before showtime.
– Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar finally getting physical with their lame tug o’ war we referenced earlier is a classic bad example.
– WrestleMania 2000 didn’t lock in their main event until the last show beforehand.
– Daniel Bryan wasn’t going to be in the main event of WrestleMania until they were given no choice by the fans and had to cram two storylines together with Daniel pulling double duty just to fit everything together.
– Seth Rollins’ knee injury forced his match with Triple H to be touch-and-go until just before WrestleMania.
– Tag team storylines dropped for convoluted match types.
– A ladder match of some sort appearing every year despite the Money In The Bank concept getting its own show, forcing several singles guys into a car-wreck scenario.
– Usually having the women in a match involving every employed female who can take a bump.
1. Predictable WrestleMania Main Event
WWE has a bad habit of sticking to their guns on something only when it’s the one thing people don’t want. Such is the case this year with the long-predicted Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar main event that has been on the cards since before Brock even won the Championship last WrestleMania. However WWE gets there, whether it’s as straight forward as Roman winning the Rumble while Brock retains until Mania, or if they try to freshen it up by Roman winning it at the Elimination Chamber and Brock gets his rematch at The Grandest Stage Of Them All, it’s just not going to work how they want it to.
Roman is only ever properly over when he’s surrounded by the complete, original Shield lineup. Brock’s part-time schedule may artificially make him a special attraction, but it’s alienated the fans from the Universal Championship.
We’d love to be wrong about this and have WWE go nuts with Braun Strowman or someone else who’s on a hot streak, but the inevitable Roman train seems to be on track.
We’ll try to look surprised when Roman kicks out of the suddenly protected F-5, but it won’t satisfy like other matches could have in that slot. Fingers crossed they go nuts and something like AJ Styles Vs Shinsuke Nakamura headlines instead, but we’re not holding our breath.
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