The Idiot’s Guide to Wrestlemania

(So your friend or significant other has Shanghai’ed, assuming I can still use that term, you into watching Wrestlemania with him or her…but likely him. Before you wind up feeling totally lost, check out this little idiot’s guide to the event so that you don’t look like…well, an idiot. Here we go…)

THE EVENT

WHAT IS WRESTLEMANIA?

Since 1985, Wrestlemania has been the biggest card of the year for the WWE (formerly World Wrestling Entertainment, formerly the World Wrestling Federation, formerly the World Wide Wrestling Federation). Originally held at Madison Square Garden, the event quickly expanded and has generally been held in massive stadiums (save for the occasional return to the Garden or a period in the mid-to-late 90’s when the company wasn’t drawing well enough to justify a stadium event.) While the WWE frequently holds other “super cards” nothing compares to Wrestlemania for the scope and sheer pageantry of the event. It’s truly WWE’s Super Bowl.

WHAT IS WWE?

Formerly a territory that only operated in the northeast corner of the United States, Vince K. McMahon expanded the WWF into the first truly national wrestling company. Since then, he’s had a unique talent for putting his competition out of business. In the 1980’s, it was the other regional territories, with McMahon signing away their major stars and stealing their TV time slots out from under them. In the 1990’s, it was his only other major competitor, the Ted Turner-owned WCW. Since purchasing WCW in 2001, WWE has held sway as the only U.S.-based wrestling promotion worth talking about.

WHERE CAN I FIND WRESTLEMANIA?

For years-decades really-the event was only available on pay-per-view. It recent years, it’s been moved to the WWE Network, the company’s over-the-top streaming service. It’s a $10 monthly charge and they usually throw in the first month for free when you’re trying to get Wrestlemania.

HOW LONG IS THE EVENT?

When it was a PPV exclusive, the event usually ran four hours (five, if you counted the free pre-show.) Now, with PPV strictures removed, the event lasts anywhere from six hours to nine days. (Kidding…sort of…)

THE MATCHES

THE UNDERTAKER VS ROMAN REIGNS

WHO IS THE UNDERTAKER? Taker

The character is a walking dead man, a cross between the prince of darkness and a zombie. In reality, Mark Calloway, who plays The Undertaker, is a living legend in the business; an agile big man who’s capable of having tremendous matches against a variety of talent. He’s also maintained a strange sort of dignity through the various preposterous storylines he’s been fed over the years. He’s most noted for his undefeated streak at Wrestlemania, winning 21 straight matches until finally being defeated by Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemaia XXX. Taker (as he is commonly known) bounced back from that to win his two most recent Wrestlemania matches. Still, in recent years, age and injuries have restricted the Taker to working just Wrestlemania and making appearances in the buildup to it.

WHO IS ROMAN REIGNS? Reigns

A member of the famed Anoa’i family (which includes Dwayne Johnson AKA The Rock) Roman Reigns leaped to WWE fame as a member of The Shield, a trio of thugs-for-hire which included Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. When the group inevitably broke up, Reigns was tabbed by the McMahon family as its star of the future. However, any fans over the age of eight and outside of the McMahon family haven’t exactly cottoned to the idea. The result is that every time Reigns enters an arena, he’s treated like a walking Ebola virus. In many ways, though, Reigns is a doppleganger for The Taker; an athletic and charismatic big man who can work with just about anybody.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT THIS MATCH?

Well, it’s probably going to go on last, meaning it’s the main event. Beyond that, rumors indicate that this might be The Undertaker’s final match. At 52 and suffering from a degenerative condition in his hips and lower back, it’s hard to see The Taker going much longer, even as a part-timer. To that end, this would be a perfect “passing of the torch” scenario…if again, the fans could at all tolerate Reigns. While WWE has never been shy about taking the “people will like what we tell them to like” approach, they’ve been reticent about doing at Wrestlemania, as if afraid to drop a load on their own front doorstep.

WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH: GOLDBERG VS BROCK LESNAR

WHAT IS THE UNIVERSAL TITLE?

Try to follow me on this one: when WWE bought WCW back in 2001, they decided the best way to handle all of the new talent on their roster was to create a “brand extension”. In short, WWE split it’s company into two mini-companies: Raw and Smackdown. Each mini-company was given its own world title. After a few years of this arrangement, WWE began to slowly integrate the two rosters until finally s**tcanning the whole brand extension concept and going back to being one company. Toward that end, they united the two world titles. However, last summer, WWE, for reasons passing understanding, decided to give the brand extension concept another shot. This necessitated creating another world title. Smackdown got the WWE World Title and the Universal Title was created for Raw (which means, I guess, that the thing can be defended on f**king Neptune if need be.)

WHO IS GOLDBERG? Goldberg

One of the few homegrown stars WCW created back in the 90’s, Bill Goldberg was a former football player who looked like someone had injected Stone Cold Steve Austin with that Bane Venom stuff. Goldberg was red-hot for a few years, largely due to a cool entrance and a few power moves. His momentum faded near the end of WCW, due to a combination of bad booking and multiple injuries. He had a brief run in WWE circa 2003-2004, but it was largely disappointing. Goldberg had been out of the business since, but made a return this past fall (largely due to his inclusion in the latest WWE video game.) He’s made an impact, crushing Brock Lesnar and later winning the Universal Title.

WHO IS BROCK LESNAR? Lesnar

A former wrestling All-American and national champion at the University of Minnesota, Brock Lesnar was an instant star due to his massive size and cold charisma. He quickly won the WWE Title and shortly after that, headlined Wrestlemania. However, the WWE’s travel schedule quickly wore on Lesnar and he decided to walk away from the business in 2004. He made a brief attempt to play pro football and wrestled in Japan before deciding to go into MMA. Despite losing his first match, Lesnar quickly rebounded and became UFC’s heavyweight champion. Shortly after losing the title, Lesnar returned to WWE on a part-time basis. Since his 2012 return, Lesnar’s ended The Undertaker’s Wrestlemania winning streak, had a run with the WWE Title, headlined another Wrestlemania and established a reputation as The Beast Incarnate.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT THIS MATCH?

Well, Vince McMahon would certainly appreciate it. Word on the street is that this is Vince’s pet project, something that’s been in the works since Goldberg’s return last fall. The set up has been carefully orchestrated. Goldberg squashed Lesnar in their first meeting in November. Following a brief appearance at the Royal Rumble in January, Goldberg squashed Kevin Owens to win the WWE Universal Title. Since he’s used exactly two moves and been allowed less than two minutes ring time TOTAL, one gets the impression Goldberg’s being protected, likely due to extreme ring rust (and the fact that, as a worker, he was never much to write home about in the first place.) Lesnar, via his amateur and MMA backgrounds, is certainly a more capable worker than Goldberg, but since his return to the ring, has been strictly a stay-in-your-lane type. He hits opponents with suplex after suplex and for some reason, fans have never gotten bored with this. So, to put it mildly, you’ve got two guys who aren’t exactly versatile in the ring. The match is going to draw interest for it’s sheer spectacle. Whether that spectacle resembles a couple of gladiators clashing in the arena or a car crash on the interstate remains to be seen.

NON-SANCTIONED MATCH: TRIPLE H VS SETH ROLLINS

WHAT IS A NON-SANCTIONED MATCH?

Back in the old days, when wrestling pretended to be a legit sport, it had to actually be sanctioned by state athletic commissions. A non-sanctioned match was, essentially, the commission washing its hands of the proceedings and letting the wrestlers do whatever they wanted. Dress anyway you please, bring any weapon you want, shoot up the joint, whatever. It’s not our problem.

WHO IS TRIPLE H? Triple H

Originally the “Connecticut Blue Blood” Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Triple H became a major star in the late 90’s and most of the 00’s through an uncanny combination of athletic skill, ring psychology and marrying the boss’ daughter. These days, fans tend to have conflicting opinions about Triple H. On the one hand, there’s the lingering resentment that he used his place in the family to give himself a main event run he did not entirely earn (a little unfair, given that he was seen as a potential star from early in his career.) But as a member of WWE’s front office, he’s seen as the Great Hope; the only guy whose vision of the business combines old school mores with an understanding of how the business has changed. Unlike a lot of his comrades in power, he’s willing to listen to what the fans want and doesn’t regard “wrestling” as a dirty word. But the Triple H we get at Wrestlemania is the wrestling version.

WHO IS SETH ROLLINS? Rollins

The first one to break away from The Shield, Rollins became a major heel by being portrayed as a tool of The Authority (the name given to the McMahon family whenever they flex their power.) To that end, Rollins had a run with the WWE Title that was derailed by a knee injury. He returned in the summer of 2016 and quickly established himself as a top contender for the new WWE Universal Title. However, his pursuit of said title was hit with a major whammy when Triple H turned on Rollins and assisted Kevin Owens in winning the belt. Since then, Rollins has pursued Owens, Triple H and anyone who gets in his way, winning over beaucoup fans in the process.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT THIS MATCH?

A lot of the suspense in this match was built around whether or not it would even take place. Rollins re-injured his knee during a conflict with Samoa Joe in January. There was some question as to whether or not he could make it back in time for Wrestlemania. Even now, some are wondering if Rollins rushed his rehab in order to make the match happen. The non-sanctioned clause might be a way of providing WWE with an out (some kind of weird happening or whatever) to keep Rollins from risking another injury. No idea what to expect here.

AJ STYLES VS SHANE MCMAHON

WHO IS AJ STYLES? Styles

For ten years, Styles was a major star in TNA, the only company in the country that provided even a modicum of competition to WWE. Styles’ fantastic work so impressed TNA management that they low-balled him with a contract offer, causing him to walk out of the company in 2013. After a few years in Japan and on the indie circuit, Styles made his WWE debut at the Royal Rumble in 2016. While expectations were low (WWE hadn’t been real kind to former TNA stars to that point) Styles’ work quickly won over the WWE brass. He had a classic series with John Cena last summer and eventually had a run with the WWE Title. After losing the title, Styles blamed his inability to get a rematch on Shane McMahon, the kayfabe head of Smackdown, prompting this match.

WHO IS SHANE MCMAHON? Shane

The scion of the McMahon family, Shane was once seen as Vince’s heir apparent. However, Shane left the company after being overshadowed by his sister Stephanie and her husband, Triple H. After a few years pursuing other ventures, Shane returned to WWE in early 2016. There’s plenty of backstage politics going on, but that’s another story. During his time with WWE, Shane has made a name for himself as a worker, of all things. While he’s not a trained wrestler, he’s a decent athlete and is willing to take bumps that would make a stuntman crap his pants. He reinforced that with a Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker at last year’s Wrestlemania.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT THIS MATCH?

At this point, you could put a broom in the ring and AJ Styles would find a way to have a decent match with it. Shane’s pushing fifty and has gotten a little doughy, but his willingness to take insane bumps remains in tact. It’s not hard to see Styles carrying Shane until the inevitable HUGE BUMP. Like Shane himself, what the match will lack in technical skill, it will make up for in sheer spectacle.

WWE WORLD TITLE MATCH: BRAY WYATT VS RANDY ORTON

WHAT IS THE WWE WORLD TITLE?

With a lineage going back to the foundation of the WWWF in 1963, the WWE Title has traditionally been the top title in the company. These days, it’s the top championship on the Smackdown brand.

WHO IS BRAY WYATT? Bray

In reality, Bray Wyatt is a bit of wrestling royalty. His father, Mike Rotundo, and his uncle, Barry Windham, were not only former WWE tag team champions, they were two of the most highly-regarded workers of their day. His grandfather, Blackjack Mulligan, was also a WWE tag team champion, a hell of a worker and one of the sport’s genuine tough guys. The character of Bray Wyatt, however, is something of a demented cult leader. Picture Jim Jones crossed with Satan crossed with one of the Duck Dynasty guys and you’ve pretty much got the character. While Bray has been one of the top heels in the company, his WWE World Title win got a HUGE reaction from the fans; to the point where Bray is the babyface going into this match.

WHO IS RANDY ORTON? Orton

Orton is, like Wyatt, a third generation wrestler. For the past ten plus years, he’s been a MAJOR star in WWE, having had multiple runs with the title and being seen as one of the best, most fluid workers in the company. His finisher, the RKO, is not only legendary, it’s inspired multiple You Tube videos.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT THIS MATCH?

The title aside, this match has gotten a better build up than any other on the card. Last summer, Orton decided to join Bray’s “cult”, the Wyatt Family. The two got along so well, they had a run with the WWE tag team titles. Randy also won the Royal Rumble, giving him the opportunity to wrestle for the WWE World Title. He initially declined the opportunity after Bray won the belt, then viciously attacked the Wyatts and decided to accept the opportunity after all. In doing all of this, they’ve managed to pull off the perilous “double-turn” and have Randy go from a face to a heel and Bray from a heel to a face. With two guys that can really work and a decent storyline to boot, this match could wind up stealing the show.

JOHN CENA & NIKKI BELLA VS THE MIZ & MARYSE

WHO ARE JOHN CENA & NIKKI BELLA? John and Nikki

Cena has essentially been the face of WWE for the past ten years. He’s a good worker, a philanthropist (witness his tireless efforts on behalf of Make-A-Wish) and a terrific spokesman. That said, nobody who’s male or over the age of 12 can stand him. As such, he’s the epitome of WWE’s “people will like what we tell them to like” approach (though the hatred for Roman Reigns has taken some of the heat off Cena.) Nikki Bella broke into the business with her twin sister, Brie. Though both were around more for looks than talent, Nikki has worked to improve and has become a highly regarded worker. She’s also John Cena’s girlfriend (which, backstage politics-wise, has certainly not been a drawback.)

WHO ARE THE MIZ & MARYSE? Miz and Maryse

The Miz is Mike Mizanin, a former Real World star who dreamed of becoming a pro wrestler. And lo and behold, a pro wrestling star is exactly what The Miz became, having held nearly every important title in WWE and becoming regarded as one of the best heels in the business. Maryse is The Miz’s wife, both in kayfabe and reality. A former model and wrestler, Maryse today acts as her husband’s (kayfabe) manager.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT THIS MATCH?

75% of the people in this match are decent workers (sorry, Maryse) and in a tag team match, that’s usually enough. I’m guessing WWE isn’t going to place this TOO high on the card, meaning if you don’t ask much of it, it might just deliver.

RAW WOMEN’S TITLE FOUR CORNER MATCH: BAYLEY VS CHARLOTTE VS SASHA BANKS VS NIA JAX

WHAT IS THE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE?

It’s the top title for the women’s division on Raw. C’mon, you really didn’t need ME to tell you that, did you?

WHAT IS A FOUR CORNER MATCH?

There are four competitors in the match. Each can tag in or out of the match at any point. The first wrestler to get a pin on any of the others wins the match. This is a perilous situation for a defending champion, as they can lose their title without even being in the match.

WHO IS BAYLEY? Bayley

A self-proclaimed “hugger”, Bayley is a terrific worker and her consistent underdog status makes her one of the best natural babyfaces in the business.

WHO IS CHARLOTTE? Charlotte

A former Raw Women’s champion, Charlotte is the daughter of the legendary Nature Boy Ric Flair. She mixes a bit of her father’s arrogant persona and in-ring skill with a naturally powerful frame to be one of the best workers in the business.

WHO IS SASHA BANKS? Sasha

Formerly an arrogant heel, Banks has been something of an underdog face for the last year or so. She’s been a consistent thorn in Charlotte’s side, trading the Raw Women’s title with her on a number of occasions.

WHO IS NIA JAX? Nia

A former model, Jax has parlayed her size into becoming a monster heel. She’s also a surprisingly agile worker, capable of taking bumps whenever needed.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT THIS MATCH?

For years, WWE treated its women’s division as an excuse to strip pretty ladies down to their bra-and-panties. Even when they pulled back on that, the accent was still on looks over (any) skill in the ring. The company’s had an awakening in recent years and the four women in this match (along with Smackdown’s Becky Lynch and Asuka, currently in WWE’s developmental NXT territory) represent the best women’s wrestling has to offer. If the match is given time to develop, there are plenty of entertaining possibilities.

Okay, there’s about three other matches, but I’ve exhausted my space and probably your patience. Just check it out on WWE Network and enjoy the show!

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

BOOKING: In essence, the scripting of matches and storylines.

SQUASH: A match that is one-sided and/or brief.

SUPLEX: A wrestling move that can best be described as a “controlled throw” (since the person initiating the move maintains contact all the way back to the mat.) There are many varieties of suplex, including the belly-to-belly, the belly-to-back, the overhead and the snap.

HEEL: wrestling terminology for the bad guy.

BABYFACE OR FACE: wrestling terminology for the good guy.

FINISHER: the move or hold a wrestler generally uses to end a match.

ROYAL RUMBLE: a variation of the battle royal, in which new competitors enter every two minutes. Someone can only be eliminated by being thrown over the top rope and down to the floor. Last man standing wins.

TURN: The act of a babyface becoming a heel or vice-versa.

KAYFABE: Pig Latin for “fake”, it’s the line of demarcation between fiction and reality in wrestling. In the old days, protecting the truth about wrestling was considered “protecting kayfabe.”

BUMP: Being on the receiving end of a power move (i.e. taking a bump.)

HELL IN A CELL: A variation on the traditional “cage match”, a Hell in a Cell match sees the ring surrounded by a chain link fence, which includes a cover over the top.

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