Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Opinion: Bigger Than the Superbowl - Why WrestleMania Weekend is Kind of a Big Deal (Sean Taylor-Richardson)

Wrestlemania means different things for different people. For the host cities, it is an event almost comparable with the Superbowl, a surefire way to attract the gaze of the world’s media and a goldmine for the local tourist industry. For the hardcore fans, it’s not a single event, it’s a pilgrimage, a week that has evolved into festival of wrestling. It goes beyond just WWE, featuring a multitude of live events, Q&As and conventions that showcase stars new and old from around the globe. For the casual or lapsed fans, it is all about the Fed, and for many is the only pay per view of the year worthy of their attention. It is an event that features the biggest names on the grandest stage, a chance to feast on nostalgia and reminisce about a childhood passion. Whatever your current levels of fandom, there will be something occurring in the industry this weekend that will pique your interest. As we count down to this annual extravaganza, here are some things to look out for in Dallas, where each level of the wrestling pyramid is looking to put its best foot forward and provide fans with memories to last a lifetime.

british wrestling makes progress

Unless you’re a mad fan of the League of Nations or 10 diva tags, Wade Barrett and Paige’s ‘Mania moments probably aren’t doing much for you. But this weekend is still a very important one for British wrestling. Glance down the card of the live event portion of Saturday’s Wrestlecon and amidst the smorgasbord of US indie and ex-WWE stars, you’ll see some very familiar names fighting for a very familiar title. Marty Scurll defends the PROGRESS title against Will Ospreay in a match that will surely steal the show and enable each man to further cement their status in the game. Their January bout for RPW was sensational- the best Brit vs Brit match I’ve ever attended- and their exchanges in last Sunday’s PROGRESS main event pointed to a growing chemistry that could make this upcoming match even better. This is an excellent opportunity to promote the PROGRESS brand to a host of US fans; as well as the exceptional action, I’m sure the travelling UK fans will help recreate that Camden vibe in Dallas. A definite must see for all fans of indie wrestling; for those of us stuck in Blighty, hit up the PROGRESS demand service to see the match and marvel at how British wrestling continues to broaden its appeal.

enter nakamura

Unquestionably, the highlight of a stacked Takeover card this Friday is Shinske Nakamura’s first WWE outing; on this night ”The King of Strong Style” faces the heart and soul of NXT, Sami Zayn. This is the archetypal dream match that two years ago would have been associated with ROH but in the crazy world of 2016, this style of booking is very much a staple of the WWE’s increasingly global brand.  I think we can all guess the result here but there are other questions the bout poses: how will Nakamura be presented to the US audience? Will he work the same style that made him the number one star in NJPW?  Will this represent Zayn’s last stand in NXT? Expect big moves, big ovations and an emotional finish to boot. My pick for the wrestling match of the week.

tag team city

There was a time when ROH’s annual Supercard of Honor show would instantly be considered the cool, workrate heavy card of the weekend. Whilst the arrival of NXT has challenged that status quo, ROH’s Saturday television tapings do have a fight that could rival the aforementioned Nakamura/ Zayn tussle for match of the weekend honours (pun unashamedly intended): a four corners elimination match pitting The Addiction against The Briscoe Brothers, The Young Bucks and The Motor City Machine Guns. A study in tag team excellence, this combination of ROH legends will be one of the most exciting matches of the weekend. If high spots and superkicks are your thing, this is yet another dream match you need to search out.

roman reigns' sad face

Back in January, I asserted that Reigns had turned a corner and was on his way to becoming a bona fide babyface star. I also predicted that Arsenal would win the league and that Leo would have to wait at least another year before he landed that Oscar so what do I know? As it is, WWE have a predicament with their Mania main event. Now, that isn’t new in itself: in 2014 they changed course early and played their Daniel Bryan Card when it was clear Batista was bombing. Last year they had a Seth Rollins safety net which spared them the wrath of a hostile crowd. So what will they do this year?

What is certain is that Reigns, who looked so unhappy on Raw that I just want Bayley to appear and give him a hug, will be booed and HHH cheered. And that’s the best case scenario. The crowd could reject the entire spectacle and spend the whole match chanting for Messers Punk and Saxton, Mexican waving themselves to oblivion and destroying Roman’s reign before it can begin. Originally, I expected run-ins galore as this is a sure fire way to pop a crowd but now I doubt that many stars will want to be associated with this mess. So it may be a straight up one on one battle in front of the most apathetic/ hostile crowd in history. Such is the risk this match presents, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was pulled from the main event spot. This contest might not be pretty but it will be hard to take your eyes off it.

the real main event

Shane McMahon vs Undertaker is the true main event of the show. The most smarky smark in all of the internet must have enjoyed their salty exchange on Raw and popped a bit when Shane O’Mac dropped that flying elbow. He isn’t the most graceful striker (or dancer) but Vince’s former son epitomises daredevil risk taking. You just know at some point in the match, he’ll abandon his Gracie jujitsu in favour of a leap of the cage. This battle will feature stunts, weapons, blood and run-ins galore. It is a first time match between two performers who are massively over and with a result that matters: with the possible exception of Lesnar vs Ambrose, this will be the match that everyone is talking about after the show.  I’m calling Taker on the night but with a narrative twist on Raw offering Shane a second chance at ownership. Expect him to take that one. 

shuffle the deck. shuffle it hard.

The Raw after ‘Mania has a rep: a rowdy crowd, a few exciting debuts and a huge angle to set up the next big show. This year, we need more. Shane’s promises of change have to deliver more than Punk’s similar proclamations in 2011: something tangible needs to happen on April 4th. NXT calls ups are a given but more than a refresh of the roster, what the Fed needs most is real change is in the creative: if every angle has purpose, several new feuds are propagated and a couple of overdue pushes begin, there may well be enough excitement to back up the promos we’ve been hearing of late. And if rumours of brand splits, big heel turns and Balor clubs are true then this could be three hours that fly by.

So there we have it: if you’re fortunate enough to be going to Dallas, travel safe, take it easy on poor Roman and enjoy the rush of live wrestling. If you’re watching at home, pour a cold beer and order in your favourite pizza. For all of the flaws that exist in this crazy wrestling world, this weekend is a big one for all of us fans. Sit back, enjoy it and remember why we love this.

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