Dan Wahlers previews WrestleMania

Wrestlemania 27 Preview and Predictions        
Part 1:  Cena/Miz, Rock's Involvement, Taker/HHH, Edge/Del Rio        
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It's finally here.  After the weeks and weeks of Fruity Pebbles references, battle raps, cabins in the middle of the rainy woods, face to face staredowns, awesome video packages, and people pointing at the Wrestlemania sign, we've reached the end of the long and winding road.  We are now just a few days away from what is the biggest show in wrestling every year.  Wrestlemania 27 is this Sunday from the sold out Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA.  The show is expected to draw a legit crowd of 65,000 plus.  
The show has been built around the return of The Rock, and to whatever degree the show is a success or failure will rest largely on how much of a draw Rock is in 2011.  His return has certainly helped boost WWE's business over the last two months.  TV ratings are up, live event attendance is up, merchandise sales are up, all of the usual positive business indicators.  
The question is will this upswing in business buck the current downward trend, and result in an increase in PPV buys from last year's 885,000 buys.  A lot of people are predicting that it won't, and that this year's show will come in under last year's numbers.  Here's what I think about that.  
WWE went into their bag of tricks this year, and pulled out their trump card, the one guy that hadn't returned in seven years, The Rock.  There's no one today that would mean more at this time than him, because of the fact that he hasn't been around, and he's not like an Austin, or a Hogan, whose returns have been squandered and wasted over the years.  There is an excitement that he's brought back to wrestling that I haven't felt in a number of years.  So his return should count for something.  And the way I look at it is, if they can't pop a buyrate with Rock, then they can't pop one with anybody.
You also have to take into account the fact that last year Wrestlemania came the night after the very successful UFC 111 PPV.  WWE can deny it all they want, but UFC is their main competition in the PPV market today, and there's no doubt that WWE PPV's don't do as well coming on the same weekend as UFC shows.  There's no UFC shows this weekend.  Wrestlemania has the weekend all to its self.  I believe that will have a positive impact on the PPV numbers.  
When you add that fact to The Rock, and the anticipation of what he's going to do with John Cena, and the fact that they're riding a huge wave of momentum after the fantastic go home show they had this past Monday on Raw, where the show stealing angle was actually involving Undertaker, Triple H, and Shawn Michaels, I'm predicting that Wrestlemania does at least 1 million buys this year.  
I'll go with 1,025,000 buys to be exact, which will bring it in under the 1,250,000 buys that WM 23 did for the Donald Trump angle in 2007, and the 1,068,000 buys for Ric Flair's career and Floyd Mayweather at WM 24.  But that will still make it the third most purchased PPV in WWE history.  I think a combination of Rock's return, the awesome Taker/HHH/HBK angle on Raw, and having no competition for the weekend, is worth at least 140,000 more buys from last year.  I don't think that's an unrealistic expectation.
If they don't reach the coveted 1 million buy plateau, it certainly won't be due to a lack of trying on WWE's part.  They have promoted and built the show very well this year.  In addition to what I already mentioned, they have Steve Austin returning on the this show, to referee the Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole match, which up until this week was arguably the hottest angle in the company.  Austin isn't going to mean a lot, because he's been back so many times, and he's really in the background on this show.  But having him on the show certainly won't hurt.  
You have the Lawler/Cole issue that I mentioned, and after really building up the Michael Cole asshole heel character for the better part of a year, it has come down to where everyone wants to see him finally get his ass kicked.  You have the mystery surrounding what the role of Shawn Michaels will be on the show.  You have a nice mixture of some new talent in key matches on the card, like The Miz, Alberto Del Rio, CM Punk, and others.  I think they've really done a nice job of putting a little something for everyone into this show.  
With that in mind, it's time to get into the part of the show that WWE would like to pretend doesn't exist, the wrestling matches.  They can call themselves an entertainment company all they want.  At the end of the day, wrestling is now and always has been about compelling personal and emotional issues that are settled in a wrestling match, inside a wrestling ring.  Some of these matches are even contested where the winner gets a championship BELT.  There are a couple such matches on the Wrestlemania card this year, and that's where we begin.
In an effort to not have an incredibly enormous column for people to read, if I were to cover all nine matches at once, I'm breaking my preview up into two parts as I did last year.  Today, I'm looking at the Cena/Miz title match, and what Rock's involvement will be in that match, the Taker/HHH match, and what the role of Shawn Michaels will be, and the Edge/Del Rio title match.  On Thursday, I will look at the rest of the card, including Lawler/Cole, Orton/Punk, and right on down the line.  So check back for that.  
WWE Championship Match:  (C)The Miz vs. John Cena
The Miz's ascension to WWE Champion is quite a story.  He's someone that has truly worked his way up the ladder the hard way.  He's gone from competing in Tough Enough, to hosting the Diva Search, and botching his lines so badly that he had to pull a Sarah Palin, and write them on his hand so he wouldn't forget them, to having his belongings thrown out of the dressing room by veterans like JBL and Chris Benoit, because he had violated locker room etiquette.  
He worked his way through ECW and Smackdown before finally coming to Raw.  He had a couple United States Title reigns, and Tag Team Title reigns.  Last year, he worked in the opening match of Wrestlemania.  This year, he's the reigning WWE Champion, and he's defending the title in the main event.  It's really been an amazing journey when you think about it.
Unfortunately, he's been booked very up and down since he won the belt in December.  He had convincing clean wins over John Morrison, Jerry Lawler, and Daniel Bryan.  But in his feud with Randy Orton, they were more concerned with protecting Orton, than getting over their new champion.  Whenever he beat Orton, it was always because of a fluke, or due to outside interference, or whatever else.  Has the whole “undeserving champion” thing ever worked out for anybody?  I don't think so.  It sure didn't do Jack Swagger any favors last year, nor Sheamus.
Miz has been an after thought in the build for Wrestlemania, as all of the focus has been on John Cena and The Rock.  If you didn't know any better, you'd swear that it was Cena and Rock facing each other on Sunday, instead of Cena and Miz.  To their credit, they recognized that they weren't giving Miz the support he needed, and booked him to attack Cena and leave him laying on four consecutive Raw's.  That was all well and good, but just when he was starting to build up some much needed momentum and gain some credibility, he was tossed out of the ring like a piece of garbage, and treated like a total fool in the final go home angle on Raw this past Monday.
Now I'm not saying that they shouldn't have been featuring Rock, because he's the main reason a lot of people are going to order the show.  So he should be featured.  But there was a way to do it where the WWE Champion wasn't treated like such an unworthy loser.  That's the problem Miz has.  He has all the talent in the world.  He can talk with anyone, he's got charisma, the look, he represents the company well when he does all his talk show and media appearances.  He carries himself like a star.  But that can only get someone so far, if the booking isn't strong, and the company doesn't get fully invested.  Right now they're more like half invested in Miz, and that's not good enough.
What Miz needs on Sunday he's never going to get.  What he needs is a clean win over John Cena.  He needs to keep the belt, and keep trying to build some momentum, and try and get to that level that he's very much capable of getting to, a lot more than Cena needs title win number 9,10, 26, 42, whatever the actual number is, I've lost count.  Cena doesn't need the belt, he's already the top star in the company.  He's gonna stay that way win, lose, or draw.  
Miz is trying to get to that level, and in wrestling, the only way you get to that level is to beat guys that are on that level, and beat them clean, not cause there was outside interference, or cause the opponent slipped on a banana peel.  Those type of finishes don't help anyone, and actually do a lot more damage, cause all it does is reinforce the perception that the guy that won didn't deserve to win, and he doesn't deserve to be in the position he's in.
If Miz does win and retain the title, it will be because Rock interfered and cost Cena the match.  Ref bump, Rock comes down, sneaks in the ring, drops Cena with a Rock Bottom as payback for the FU on Raw, Miz crawls over and picks the bones.  He slinks away with his belt, as the after thought he's been booked to be, and once again, the focus turns back to Rock and Cena.  I could possibly see something like that happening.  But I have to go with the conventional wisdom on this one.
I think Rock's role is going to be to swerve Cena.  He might even help Cena win the match.  He has heat with The Miz too, don't forget.  Cena wins the belt, everyone thinks that Rock and Cena made up.  Maybe Rock has respect for Cena now for having the temerity to jump him on Raw.  Maybe they'll even shake hands in the middle of the ring.  The storybook ending to Wrestlemania.  Drop the confetti and shoot off the pyro.  
Only the fans would be booing, because a lot of them wanted to see Rock kick Cena's ass.  They shake hands, Cena goes to walk away, Rock holds on, pulls Cena in, and wham Rock Bottom.  Rock leaves to a huge ovation, although mixed, since Cena has his loyal fans that will be pissed.  Cena is left laying, and that's how Wrestlemania ends.  That leads into Raw the next night, where Rock is scheduled to appear, and it continues into whatever the end game is gonna be for Rock and Cena, which it would appear might be a match.  
The only question is do they have the patience and the ability to hold off on it until next year's Wrestlemania in Miami, where it would mean the most, or do they do it at the next major PPV, which is Summerslam.  Or do they try and strike while the iron is hot, and do Rock/Cena at Extreme Rules, the next PPV after Wrestlemania?  It's all speculation at this point, and that's one of the fun things about being a wrestling fan.  Not knowing what is going to happen next.  
Prediction:  I'm going with Cena to defeat Miz to win the WWE Title, perhaps with help from The Rock.  And followed by the post-match scenario that I laid out, where Rock swerves Cena.  
No Holds Barred Match:  The Undertaker vs. Triple H
I've been looking forward to this match, because I've always been a big Undertaker fan.  I was 10 years old when he debuted at Survivor Series in 1990, and I was in awe of him, as a lot of kids my age were at the time.  I've followed his career through the years, and he's been the one constant during that time.  They've all come and gone.  Hogan, Piper, Savage, Warrior, Hart, Flair, Michaels, Austin, Rock, and the list goes on.  Undertaker has out lasted them all.  
Amazingly, 21 years later, he's still doing his thing.  Although, obviously a lot less frequently than he used to.  Father Time has caught up with Taker, as he eventually does to us all.  He's now 46 years old and he's broken down physically.  The most recent ailment was a torn rotator cuff, which he had surgery for last October, and he returned a lot sooner than he should have, so he could walk the aisle at Wrestlemania one more time.  This time to a classic song by the incomparable, late Johnny Cash.
They call him “The Last Outlaw” now, and that's a very appropriate name, because he's like the last gun fighter in the Old West, tired, worn down, beat up.  And you know his time is coming soon, but you just don't know when.  That's why the story they told on Raw, with Triple H telling Undertaker that it was time, was so poignant.  Everyone knows Undertaker is on the final run of his career.  But just like the old gun fighter, he wants to go out on his own terms, when he's ready, not on someone else's terms.  It's really a great story that they're telling.  A story that everyone can understand and relate to.
Up until Monday, it had been your basic Wrestlemania build.  It wasn't special for most people, just another match.  But what they did on Raw elevated it to a whole new level.  They took a match that some people had been ambivalent towards, and made it a match that everyone is talking about.  Whatever the match was lacking before, they brought it and then some.  
And they did it without any physicality, Undertaker and HHH never touched once during the build for the match.  It was all about the story, the psychology, and the history between three men.  It definitely wasn't an accident that this all happened to coincide with Shawn Michaels returning to Raw, and sticking himself squarely in the middle of this issue.  As the great Hall of Famer Jim Ross would say, business has picked up.  Hope we get to hear his voice calling some matches on Sunday, needless to say.  
It's amazing how guys like Shawn Michaels can be gone for a year, come back, and it's like they never left.  I said the same thing when Rock returned.  It comes down to the fact that some guys simply have it, and some guys don't.  Michaels is the master at telling you exactly what he's thinking, just by a look on his face, without even saying a word.  
As Undertaker was talking about how HBK had retired full of regrets, and how he had humbled Shawn the past two years, Michaels looked hurt and on the verge of tears, as if those words had opened up an old wound deep inside of him.  He was teaching a master class on facial expressions and conveying emotions, and I hope everyone in the back was around the monitors watching, because they could all stand to learn a thing or two from Michaels, from all three of them really.
The ending of the segment was very intriguing, as HHH told Shawn to tell Undertaker why he was going to beat him on Sunday.  Almost as if he and HBK have some sort of plan hatched to beat Undertaker.  But Shawn put his head down and left, stopping to mouth to HHH the words, “I'm sorry, you can't beat him.”  So either they're playing the story that HBK really does doubt that HHH can beat Taker, or maybe he doesn't want him to beat Taker, with the idea that if he couldn't end the streak, then he doesn't want anyone to do it.  
Or maybe it was all part of a scheme to lure Undertaker into a false sense of security, and then on Sunday, some sort of plot between HHH and HBK is going to be revealed.  Once again, another case where I'm not sure exactly what's going to happen, and I love it.  Shawn Michaels will almost assuredly play some sort of role in the match, that much we know.  What exactly that will be is what remains to be seen.
The one thing we do know is that Undertaker is going over on Sunday.  He's not losing the streak to Triple H.  It's too valuable of a marketing tool for WWE every year, and if Undertaker is physically able, they are certainly going to want him going into 2012 with the idea of going 20-0 next year.  Some people say that knowing Undertaker is never going to lose takes away from the match for them, and doesn't allow them to get into his matches at WM.  
To me, it's more about the quality of match, then about wins and losses.  Everyone knew that HBK was retiring last year, but that didn't take away from the fact that him and Undertaker went out and had a classic match.  I've been watching wrestling for 26 years, so I usually have a pretty good idea who's going to win in a lot of matches that I see.  That doesn't take away from my enjoyment of a match, if two guys are out there busting their ass, trying to have a good match, as Taker and HHH will be on Sunday.
And I mean, if you can watch that Taker/HHH/HBK segment from Monday's Raw, and still say that you're not into the match at Wrestlemania, then I think you really need to examine why you watch wrestling in the first place.  That was a textbook display in how you sell a wrestling match.  You couldn't really ask for much more.
The No Holds Barred stip was a good idea, because both guys are very limited in what they can do in the ring, as both are coming off major injuries.  So they can use all the usual short cuts and gimmicks, the tables, the chairs, the sledgehammers, all the usual plunder, and get as much out of the match by doing as little as possible.  It certainly won't be a technical masterpiece by any means, but I'm confident that in such a high profile match, both guys are going to leave it all in the ring, and give us something memorable.
As far as HBK's involvement, I see them doing the spot where HBK gets in the ring at some point, and he superkicks Undertaker, cause that's what people would expect.  He ended his career and kind of talked down to him on Raw, so he has it coming.  HHH would smile and for a second it would appear that he and Shawn were in cahoots, but then out of nowhere, HBK would turn and superkick HHH too, because he feels like if he couldn't beat Taker, then no one is gonna beat Taker.  He'll stand there doing the sad/conflicted face that he does so well, then he'll take off, leaving both guys laying, and the crowd buzzing.  
Prediction:  When all the dust settles, Undertaker will pin HHH win the Tombstone right in the middle of the ring, and bring his undefeated streak to 19-0.  This match has a big time feel to it, like it's a showdown of the last two legends from a bygone era.  Regardless of what happens, I don't think we'll be seeing either guy back in the ring again for a long time after this.    
World Heavyweight Championship Match:  (C)Edge vs. Alberto Del Rio
This is a match that I think has a chance to surprise a lot of people, and be one of the best matches of the night.  Edge always knows how to deliver on the big stage, and Alberto is really starting to come into his own in the ring.  The two matches he had on Smackdown with Christian recently, which he both lost incidentally, were excellent matches.  Since he debuted this past August, he's shown all of the attributes that you look for in a top star.  Mic skills, charisma, look, the way he carries himself, he even dresses like a top star.  He's got it all.  
The the one area where he seemed to be having the most difficulty was adapting from the lucha style that he worked as Dos Caras Jr. in Mexico for 10 years, to the slower paced, more storytelling type style of WWE.  But lately, it's like the light bulb has gone off, because he's been getting it done in the ring.  Working with a great worker like Christian doesn't hurt, either.  
It would appear to me that he's got all the tools now.  And after being a little lukewarm to him initially, since he's won the Royal Rumble, and gotten the big push, the fans are getting into him, as well.  He's well on his way to being a top star in WWE for many years to come.  But like with anyone else, that all depends on if the company continues to stay behind him like they've been since the start.  If they do, I think the sky is the limit for Del Rio.
Edge has had a mixed bag title reign for the past four months.  He's got the best win/loss record of anyone in the company in 2011.  But the way they've been booking him leaves a lot to be desired, especially after the ridiculous storyline on Smackdown, where Vickie Guerrero stripped him of the title, awarded it to Dolph Ziggler, and then Edge won it back on the same show, 20 minutes later.  They hit the trifecta on that one.  They managed to devalue the World Title more than it had already been devalued, and they made Edge and especially Dolph look like a couple of buffoons.  That was just horrendous booking in every way possible.
But Edge is one of those guys that will always be over no matter what, and he will always be a top guy.  His position is set.  Much like John Cena, he doesn't need the belt.  And right now, WWE needs to be about getting over new stars.  So that's why Alberto Del Rio needs to go over in this match.  His new bodyguard Brodus Clay, who reminds me of the old cartoon Grape Ape, will be in ADR's corner, and Christian will be in Edge's corner.
Everyone seems to think that Christian is going to turn on Edge, and cost him the title.  Storyline-wise he has a legit beef.  He beat Alberto Del Rio twice, which you would think would have earned him a title shot and a spot in this match.  But instead, not only is he not in the match, he's not even wrestling on the Wrestlemania card.  He's in Edge's shadow once again.  That's the storyline they can play if they decide to turn Christian heel.  
And they sure have gone out of their way to play up the history between Edge and Christian, teaming them up a bunch of times, and having them be like two peas in a pod.  WWE usually doesn't do anything without a reason, so it would certainly seem like they're planting the seeds for a Christian heel turn.  People have been clamoring for an Edge/Christian feud for years, and this could be the beginning of it.  The question is will it happen here, or will they do something where Christian accidentally costs Edge the title, or something along those lines.  Or will Christian not turn at all?
Prediction:  Personally, I would like to see Del Rio go over clean.  This would be his big moment, and it would give him a lot more credibility if he won the belt clean.  The whole undeserving champion thing being a failed idea, and all.  But we know that this is WWE, and heels hardly ever win clean.  So it'll probably be some screwy finish, perhaps with Christian involved, perhaps not.  But either way, when all is said and done, Alberto Del Rio will be the new World Heavyweight Champion.  
Edge is a true professional, giving back to the business, and helping put over new stars, much the same way that the established stars put him over when he was on the way up.  That's how wrestling works, you give back to the business that gave to you.  Unlike some other top stars over the years, Edge has no problem doing what's right for business when the time comes, and that's why he will go down as one of the all-time greats.  
I think it's the right move long-term.  They've spent all of this time and effort building up Del Rio, having him win the Royal Rumble, and talking about his destiny every week, and getting the upper hand on Edge at almost every turn.  If you're going to do all of that, you might as well go all the way.  As I said, I think Alberto is more than ready.  And WWE is certainly more than ready for a new main event star, because god knows, they're long overdue.  But you already know that!!
That will wrap it up for today.  Thanks for reading Part 1 of my Wrestlemania 27 preview and predictions.  I will be back here tomorrow with Part 2, where I will cover the rest of the card, including the much anticipated clash of the titans, when The Corre takes on Big Show, Kane, Santino Marella, and Vladimir Kozlov.  That's right, Santino and Kozlov get on the Wrestlemania card, but guys like Kofi Kingston, Evan Bourne, and Drew McIntyre don't, among others.  Go figure.  We'll get into all that tomorrow.  Until then, take care and be well.
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