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  Wed, Feb 6, 2002

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WrestleMania 31: Main Events

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WrestleMania line-up fails to impress

By ROSS WILLIAMS -- for SLAM! Wrestling

I'm not particularly looking forward to WrestleMania. Certainly an auspicious start to my first submission to Slam! Wrestling but I'm a pretty straight to the point kind of guy. As a wrestling fan, with the biggest card of the year in our sights and the ratings edging up following the nWo revival, surely I should be extremely excited about the current state of play. The truth is that, as much as I want to get hyped up about Mania, I find myself growing more and more sceptical by the day.

Allow me to backtrack for a moment.

One year ago, Kurt Angle had just dropped the World Title to The Rock in a blistering encounter at No Way Out, a card which also featured an incredible best of three falls match between Triple H and Steve Austin. The build up for WrestleMania revolved around the big match for the World Title, The Rock versus Steve Austin. Both men were faces but both men made their desire for the top honours very clear. The undercard for the big event was shaping up as well -- the promise of TLCII was the nearest thing to a guarantee of a quality you could get, Angle vs Benoit appealed to wrestling purists, Undertaker versus Triple H was intriguing (if only to see who would do the job), Shane's "purchase" of WCW was handled in style and the match between he and his father was built well. Heck, even the gimmick battle royal had piqued interest!

I watched WrestleMania X7 unfold from the VIP section of WWF New York and I must say that rarely have I had a better night. The audience interaction and surroundings just added to what was a tremendous card of action. Granted, it didn't get going for a few bouts and Chyna "wrestled" in an attempt to dampen my spirit but once Angle and Benoit had provided a technical clinic, once Ivory was left without the gold she actually deserved and once Tazz had managed to make himself look like a bumbling imbecile by blowing up within a minute and stumbling around the ring like a drunken angry dwarf, the card got down to business. Was Vince going to put his son over? Were the Dudleys going to keep their tag titles? Was Taker going to sell ANYTHING? Most importantly, was The Rock going to finally get his high-profile WrestleMania main-event win? So many questions and it was easy to see any of the matches going either way. I was on the edge of my seat for the best part of 90 minutes as the card weaved its way towards the slightly predictable but well orchestrated finale.

Fast forward to February 2002. The Invasion angle has been royally flubbed and the Alliance has been well and truly demolished. In the process, various credible main event contenders have been reduced to playing the Undertaker's "bitch", having Rikishi wipe his butt in their face or feuding with a man dressed as a glow-in-the-dark condom. No Way Out was probably the worst WWF pay per view I have witnessed in several years. The crowd seemed to be in their seats though the lack of noise prevalent throughout the event made me wonder if they were all cardboard cutouts. The nWo, after a promising start, have become rather predictable, as was Jericho's tainted win over Steve Austin. Speaking of the undisputed super-duper champ (the really good one), how many Raws or Smackdown!s has he headlined in a singles bout? I actually can't remember a single one. What worries me even more is that, when asked who the main players in the WWF are, most fans will mention the name of Kurt Angle before the get to Chris Jericho.

This is not to say that the WWF didn't have the right ingredients for a tasty wrestling event, merely that they've not cooked up something with flavour -- they're dishing up a very bland slice of action and there is no icing on this cake. As I write this, I am aware of the following matches: Triple H versus Chris Jericho for the super-duper title (the really good one), Steve Austin versus Scott Hall, Hulk Hogan versus The Rock, The Undertaker versus Ric Flair, Kurt Angle versus Kane and Billy and Chucky versus The APA.

Last year, Edge and Christian lifted the tag titles in a tremendous bout. This year, it's likely that the APA will no-sell their way to victory over Billy and Chuck. Somewhat of a comedown, no? I had hoped that The Royal Rumble would be the last time we'd see Flair attempt to compete -- sadly no. The tragic irony is that I'd still rather see Ric in the ring that the woefully washed-up Undertaker. Why is Angle versus Kane on the card? The only thing both men have in common is that they are lost in limbo between the main event and the mid-card and they both didn't have an opponent for WrestleMania. Call me old-fashioned, but that somehow doesn't seem enough.

This leaves the top three bouts to consider -- Hogan versus The Rock does seem to be interesting, mainly because of the spectacle it will create with two bona fide stars squaring off for the first time. However, as a match, it will probably suck. On top of this, it's Hogan's first WrestleMania bout in 9 years and Rocky's win streak at WrestleMania is limited to an awful IC title defence against the Sultan (Rikishi) and a DQ-reversal against Ken Shamrock. Following that, he's lost in the main event three years running. I suspect that Hogan will get the win here, but this is, far and away, the least predictable match of the night.

Who is the top guy in the WWF? Well, Triple H and The Rock may come close but it's clearly Austin. He wrestles like it, he is treated like it and he is marketed as it. Conversely, who is the lesser of the three nWo members? Hogan's clearly Number One and Nash is a moderately close Number Two. This leaves Scott Hall several laps behind in the Number Three position. As such, what on earth is the point booking the top WWF guy against the bottom nWo guy? This bout has no drama - even if Scott Hall DOES pull out a surprise victory it would merely shock as opposed to entertain.

Finally, the main event, a bout so incredibly one-sided that it makes the idea of a baseball game between America and Botswana look competitive -- Jericho versus Triple H. The most interesting thing about this is the question as to whether the Canadian crowd will back Triple H against the flubtastic one. HHH will likely give Jericho nothing and the match will be used purely as a vehicle to raise Triple H to the top rung as a face. I must say that, unless Jericho ekes out a win here (and I don't discount this at all), the last 4 months worth of push will have been wasted. If you're going to go with an "unlikely" champ like Jericho as the heel who always manages to get away with it, much like Flair in the NWA during the 80s, he's got to hold on to the belt for a long, long time. It just doesn't feel like a match to me, more of a question awaiting an answer. My guess is that Triple H will squash Jericho for the title. Does it really feel like a main event, let alone a WrestleMania main event? Does it really seem right that the World Title is on the line for THIS bout? I can't say I agree with it. It's not Rock/Austin or Hogan/Warrior. It's not even Hart/Yokozuna or Undertaker/Sid. It's the same situation as Hogan/Sgt. Slaughter, and we all know how that one ended up.

Of course, maybe there's something I'm not seeing, but surely a line-up of Hogan versus Austin for the World Title, Rocky versus Kevin Nash and Kurt Angle versus Scott Hall, plus Triple H versus Chris Jericho with Steph's turn on Triple H coming DURING the match at WM would have been better? Heck, after winning the Number One contendership at No Way Out, Angle could have offered the spot to his "all American hero", Hollywood Hogan -- of course, before being punked out by Hall to set up their match. To me, this lineup would actually feel like a WrestleMania not the feeble offering we've got on the table right now.

Don't get me wrong -- I WANT to enjoy WrestleMania, it's clearly the highlight of the wrestling year and if the WWF can prove me wrong, I'll be delighted. Unfortunately, at this point in time, I'm not optimistic.

  • Ross Williams hails from Royal Berkshire, England and has written for several wrestling newsletters since 1996. He currently writes for and co-produces e-zine The Shooting Star Press.

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