This Sunday, Wrestlemania 29 emanates from the MetLife Stadium in Rutherford, New Jersey. I remember the days when I used to get pumped for this event every year; the Super Bowl of professional wrestling, the clash of the spandex clad titans. Starting with the Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View, which traditionally kicks off the “road to Wrestlemania” by determining who will challenge for the heavyweight title in April, the anticipation would build across weekly installments of Raw and Smackdown, as the storylines progressed to a fever pitch, with the performers putting everything they had into whatever feud they were embroiled in so that their inevitable collision at the showcase of the immortals would be an emotionally charged explosion of hard-hitting action.
But that was then, this is now, and this year I am anything but pumped for Wrestlemania. Let’s face it, the WWE has been on a downhill trajectory ever since John Cena inexplicably ascended from a mid card-dwelling pro wrestling version of Vanilla Ice to becoming the always-smiling, poop-joke-telling, always winning face of the company, but this year’s event just might be its nadir. I realize Vince McMahon could give a shit about insulting long-time wrestling fans, but goddammit I’m both insulted and saddened by what the multi-million-dollar flagship promotion of professional wrestling has become.
You know there’s a serious problem when the main event landscape is dominated by part-timers. Triple H, The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar and The Rock are taking up space that should be being filled by the Rocks and Triple Hs of the future. But the thing is, Vince McMahon has only been able to create two true superstars in recent times, one being the loathsome Cena and the other being CM Punk, and Punk has always been Punk, Vince and his cadre of yes men had nothing to do with it. You can only have Cena and Punk wrestle each other so many times, so what to do when no one else on the roster can rise to the occasion? Bring back the legends. Wrestling fans love legends. I love legends. But their time has passed. It’s time to create new legends. The problem is that WWE calls up the blandest of the bland from their developmental system and saddles them with the most godawful names and gimmicks imaginable. I mean Jesus fucking Christ, what kind of a ring name is Dolph Ziggler?!! Can you imagine a motherfucker that calls himself Dolph Ziggler headlining Wrestlemania?!! It sounds like it should be the name of the nerdy neighbor on some lame sitcom. Steve Urkel, meet Dolph Ziggler.
Ah, here is where WWE’s greatest weakness reveals itself. For every one Stone Cold Steve Austin they’ve given the world, they’ve given us literally dozens of Mantaurs, Bastion Boogers and Duke “The Dumpster” Droeses. Indeed, the crappy gimmickry has hit an all-time low with the recent introduction of Fandago, a wrestling ballroom dancer who can’t even keep his fake accent through an entire promo. Adding insult to injury, this nincompoop is booked to wrestle Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania on Sunday. Say what you will about Jericho’s endeavors outside of wrestling, but the man is without question one of the greatest all-around performers and technicians to set foot inside the squared circle. This is the part where you say: “but isn’t he a part-timer now too?” Hey, Y2J might not be on Raw every single week anymore, but when he shows up, HE FUCKING WRESTLES! This is the other problem with filling Wrestlemania with part-timers; coming out and cutting the same promo over and over again without any in-ring action or even so much as laying hands on each other prior to the Pay-Per-View is no way to build a proper feud, let alone generate any real excitement for the product.
What might really be saddest of all is that the best-built feud of this year’s road to Wrestlemania will probably be buried as the opening match. I’m talking about Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger; these two have done a great job of working an old school program with plenty of match interference, impromptu brawling and even some psychology. Swagger’s weak promo skills haven’t been an issue thanks to the presence of Zeb Colter (aka Dirty Dutch Mantell) as his manager/mouthpiece and both Del Rio and his loyal sidekick Ricardo Rodriguez have shown they can adapt well to the babyface role, although Del Rio needs to work a little harder at getting the fans behind him (the “Si!” chants that have been cropping up are a step in the right direction). Both men have plenty athletic ability, and both men wrestle just about every week, which automatically makes their storyline a hundred times more legitimate than anything you will see in the multiple main events.
But, I digress. Wrestlemania is at the end of the day one symptom of a company that has actually been hobbled by a lack of real competition. When the WWE’s dominance was being threatened by WCW and to a lesser extent ECW, they had no choice but to kick things into overdrive and deliver the best product in the business for every episode of Raw and Smackdown and every monthly PPV. With the immediate threats to the company’s supremacy long since eliminated, they’ve been allowed to coast for far too long, and Wrestlemania is just the latest and by far the most heinous example. I’m not sure if the WWE is still “what the world is watching,” given the drastically decreased TV ratings and PPV buys, but I for one certainly won’t be watching Wrestlemania.