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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Are You Listening, WWE?

Earlier today WWE announced that WrestleMania 29 was the highest-grossing event in the company’s history. And while WWE executives and stoc holders may be thrilled with the record-breaking revenue WrestleMania brought in, it is of little comfort to the scores of fans who were left underwhelmed by the event. 

Yes, I am quite late in weighing in on the April 7 event, which I attended in person. And maybe that’s a good thing. Perspectives always benefit from the passage of time, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the show, I now understand why many fans did not.

My first reaction when I read the litany of negative reviews was, “What were they expecting?” WrestleMania 29 went almost exactly as I thought it would: John Cena beat the Rock. The Undertaker’s streak remained intact. And, all-in-all, the night’s matches went about as I figured they would.

But maybe that’s just it. The problem isn’t that WWE gave fans what they expected; it’s that what fans expected and what they wanted were two different things.

As vehemently opposed as I am to the Vince Russo booking philosophy of unpredictability for unpredictability’s sake, WWE also can’t stubbornly tell the stories it wants to tell—as logical as they may be—if the fans simply don’t want to hear them.

I’ve often made the argument that, just like in all storytelling, the predictable outcome is often the right one. Good conquers evil, the guy gets the girl, and they all live happily ever after. And while that argument remains sound, there’s one thing I didn’t consider: It’s not enough to simply tell a story logically. Fans have to be interested in that story to begin with. And that’s where WWE has a big problem. Never was that more apparent than the night after WrestleMania, when 16,000 fans inside the IZOD Center absolutely refused to go along with the storylines that WWE was offering. They cheered passionately when Ziggler, a rulebreaker, dishonorably captured the World championship. They sang along with the theme music for Fandango, another bad guy. And they heckled supposed fan favorites Randy Orton and Sheamus throughout their match.

And then, of course, there’s WWE's biggest conundrum of all: the fact that its number-one hero, John Cena, gets the loudest boos every night.

Clearly, there’s an unrest among many WWE fans that has grown too big to simply ignore. This isn’t to say that WWE should acquiesce to short-sighted and unrealistic fantasy bookers whose ideal WrestleMania would have included Ziggler cashing in, Punk ending the Streak, and Cena turning heel.

But it is to say that WWE should do a better job of listening to its fans. I think most of those fans aren’t asking for a complete overhaul of WWE, but rather just a sincere effort to mix things up a bit.

In truth, WWE is doing a much better job at keeping its product fresh than it was just a few years ago, when Cena faced Randy Orton in nearly every WWE pay-per-view main event. Relatively new acts like The Shield and Ryback have been featured prominently, and there has been a steady stream of talent debuting on the major brands.
But WWE shouldn’t rest on its laurels, and shouldn’t dismiss the sentiments of its fans when they’re not going along with the storylines. 

Al Castle
PWI Senior Editor

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

WrestleMania 29: PWI Staff Picks

Some questions surrounding this Sunday’s WrestleMania are tough to answer. How will WWE keep its wrestlers warm in 40-degree temperatures? What color shirt will John Cena unveil? How long will it take The Undertaker to beat CM Punk?

Still, our staff members believe they have the answers to who will come out victorious in the show’s matches. Here are there picks:

Wade Barrett vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental championship

Stu Saks: The Miz
Dan Murphy: The Miz
Harry Burkett: Wade Barrett
Al Castle: The Miz
Dave Lenker: Wade Barrett
Louie Dee: Wade Barrett
Kevin McElvaney: Wade Barrett
Mike Bessler: The Miz

Commentary: Our staff is evenly split on who will come away with the Intercontinental title at WrestleMania. On one hand, the “Barrett Barrage” has shown no signs of slowing down. On the other, WWE seems insistent on having The Miz win over fans. Kicking off the biggest show of the year with a title victory would be an important step in that direction.

Brodus Clay, Tensai, Cameron, & Naomi vs. Rhodes Scholars (Cody Rhodes & Damien Sandow) & the Bella Twins in a mixed eight-person tag match

Stu Saks: Team Brodus
Dan Murphy: Team Brodus
Harry Burkett: Team Brodus
Al Castle: Team Brodus
Dave Lenker: Team Brodus
Louie Dee: Team Brodus
Kevin McElvaney: Rhodes, Sandow, & Bellas
Mike Bessler: Team Brodus

Commentary: The PWI
team is solidly behind “Tons Of Funk” to get the duke in what will likely be more of a feel-good dance party than an actual wrestling match. Whatever the case, let’s hope Brodus leaves his Momma dance troop at home this time.

Chris Jericho vs. Fandango

Stu Saks: Chris Jericho
Dan Murphy: Fandango
Harry Burkett: Chris Jericho
Al Castle: Chris Jericho
Dave Lenker: Fandango
Louie Dee: Fandango
Kevin McElvaney: Chris Jericho
Mike Bessler: Chris Jericho

Commentary: With his ridiculous new character, it’s hard to take Fandango seriously. And so we are not. As logical as it would seem for WWE to give a newcomer an important win in his first match, we’re not sold on the former Johnny Curtis having what it takes to beat a world-class wrestler like Jericho on such a big stage.

Daniel Bryan & Kane vs. Dolph Ziggler & Big E. Langston for the tag team championship

Stu Saks: Bryan & Kane
Dan Murphy: Ziggler & Langston
Harry Burkett: Bryan & Kane
Al Castle: Ziggler & Langston
Dave Lenker: Ziggler & Langston
Louie Dee: Ziggler & Langston
Kevin McElvaney: Bryan & Kane
Mike Bessler: Bryan & Kane

Commentary: It’s only appropriate that half our staff would answer the question of whether Team Hell No will retain the tag championship with an emphatic “Yes!” while the other half would reply with a firm “No!” Even if Ziggler comes up short in this title match, he may just leave MetLife Stadium with another championship, courtesy of that dusty briefcase he’s been lugging around since July.

Mark Henry vs. Ryback

Stu Saks: Ryback
Dan Murphy: Ryback
Harry Burkett: Ryback
Al Castle: Ryback
Dave Lenker: Mark Henry
Louie Dee: Ryback
Kevin McElvaney: Mark Henry
Mike Bessler: Mark Henry

Commentary: Most of our staff is convinced that the “Big Hungry” will scarf down his biggest meal to date at WrestleMania in the form of the 400-pound Henry. But a few are counting on the “World’s Strongest Man” dealing Ryback a rare singles defeat in one of his biggest matches to date. Don’t look for this one to be particularly pretty, but you can’t count on some amazing feats of strength.

The Shield vs. Randy Orton, Sheamus, & Big Show

Stu Saks: The Shield
Dan Murphy: Orton, Sheamus, & Show
Harry Burkett: The Shield
Al Castle: The Shield
Dave Lenker: Orton, Sheamus, & Show
Louie Dee: The Shield
Kevin McElvaney: The Shield
Mike Bessler: Orton, Sheamus, & Show

Commentary: WWE’s rogue law enforcers will continue their reign of terror, according to most of the PWI
staff. Orton, Sheamus, and The Big Show may represent The Shield’s biggest challenge to date, but they can’t seem to get on the same page. It will take a truly unified front to bring down The Shield.

Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger for the World championship

Stu Saks: Alberto Del Rio
Dan Murphy: Jack Swagger
Harry Burkett: Jack Swagger
Al Castle: Jack Swagger
Dave Lenker: Alberto Del Rio
Louie Dee: Alberto Del Rio
Kevin McElvaney: Alberto Del Rio
Mike Bessler: Alberto Del Rio

Commentary: WWE seems high on Del Rio’s potential as a superhero for its Hispanic audience, and getting the win here over the vile Swagger and his hate-spewing manager, Zeb Colter, may be key in that effort. We’re counting on A-D-R to pick up the W-I-N, but aren’t completely ruling out the possibility of Swagger winning his second World title.

Triple-H vs. Brock Lesnar in a no-holds-barred match with Triple-H’s career on the line

Stu Saks: Brock Lesnar
Dan Murphy: Triple-H
Harry Burkett: Brock Lesnar
Al Castle: Brock Lesnar
Dave Lenker: Brock Lesnar
Louie Dee: Triple-H
Kevin McElvaney: Triple-H
Mike Bessler: Triple-H

Commentary: Once again, we’re evenly split on the outcome of this high-stakes showdown. To keep Brock Lesnar’s reputation in tact as wrestling’s most dangerous man, a win here seems almost necessary—especially after having already lost one of his only two matches since returning to WWE a year ago. And, really, given Triple-H’s scarce television appearance, an official retirement is only a formality. That said, with the honor of his best friend Shawn Michaels, his wife Stephanie, his father-in-law Vince McMahon on the line, it’s hard to picture “The Game” losing.

The Undertaker vs. C.M. Punk

Stu Saks: The Undertaker
Dan Murphy: The Undertaker
Harry Burkett: The Undertaker
Al Castle: The Undertaker
Dave Lenker: The Undertaker
Louie Dee: The Undertaker
Kevin McElvaney: The Undertaker
Mike Bessler: The Undertaker

Commentary: None of us are buying that wrestling’s most revered winning streak will come to an end at the hands of CM Punk. But while the outcome may be a given, we’re still excited about what will likely be match of the night, and maybe, match of the year. And when 21-0 flashes on the Tron, we’re confident that, from somewhere, Paul Bearer will be watching with pride.

The Rock vs. John Cena for the WWE championship

Stu Saks: John Cena
Dan Murphy: John Cena
Harry Burkett: John Cena
Al Castle: John Cena
Dave Lenker: The Rock
Louie Dee: John Cena
Kevin McElvaney: John Cena
Mike Bessler: John Cena

Commentary: All signs are pointing to John Cena getting redemption, and the WWE heavyweight title, on Sunday night. Although the sequel may lack some of the intrigue of the original, the sport’s most prestigious championship is sure to up the stakes exponentially. A thrilling bout is almost guaranteed. The bigger question may be: When do we get the rubber match?