In the world of professional wrestling, having a catalog of stars with larger-than-life personalities is imperative to putting butts in the seats. If the audience isn’t invested in who’s walking out the curtain, then the product suffers, interest wanes, and viewership drops.
WrestleMania is the crown jewel of World Wrestling Entertainment’s calendar lineup, and with this year’s event looking to break an indoor attendance record at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, booking a jam-packed card from top to bottom with matchups the WWE Universe cares to witness was absolutely crucial.
Now while the event still has every opportunity to defy expectations, both financially and in the squared circle, the lineup is undoubtedly leaps and bounds from what the company originally envisioned for its yearly Showcase of the Immortals.
The injury bug has run roughshod through the main roster, putting several top superstars on the sidelines and off Sunday’s card.
LAST MATCH (TV/PPV)
John Cena- Shoulder 12/28/15
Randy Orton-Shoulder 10/12/15
Seth Rollins- ACL/MCL 11/2/15
Daniel Bryan Neck/Concussions 4/14/15
Cesaro- Shoulder 11/17/15
Sting- Neck 9/20/15
Tyson Kidd- Neck 5/31/15
Nikki Bella-Neck 10/26/15
Luke Harper-Knee 3/21/16
(Bryan retired from in-ring competition on Feb. 8, 2016)
As a result, the dream matchup of Sting and The Undertaker will not be taking place. Neither will a David versus Goliath confrontation between fan favorite Bryan and “The Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar. And former Shield member and WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins won’t be battling his “Brothers in Arms” for the gold in the main event.
John Cena – the face of the company for over a decade, and easily its most polarizing figure – won’t be bringing his “Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect” to the grandest stage of them all for the first time in 13 years.
In theory, wrestlers lower on WWE’s talent ladder would take advantage of the opportunity, upping their games on the big stage, With so many headliners out of the picture, what’s stopping someone like current Intercontinental Champion Kevin Owens from stealing the show? Why can’t a first-timer like “The Phenomenal” A.J. Styles take the ball and run with it.
Nostalgia. Time and again, WWE falls back on its most reliable meal ticket.
Of the six superstars squaring off in this year’s three main-event singles matches, four – Undertaker, Shane McMahon, Triple H, and Lesnar – work a part-time schedule, although Triple H makes regular appearances as an on-air authority figure. But they’re names from the past; sure things, or at least safe bets.
There’s a very real possibility not one of the aforementioned wrestlers laces up his boots (or Air Jordans, in the young McMahon’s case) at next month’s pay-per-view. No matter, WWE management would rather bank on sentimentality than roll the dice on an up-and-comer, seemingly believing there’s too much at stake.
Chairman Vince McMahon arguably had no other choice with so many reliable characters shelved. He’s been dealt a crappy hand, but the show must go on.
Wrestling doesn’t have an offseason. There isn’t a scheduled three-month gap for performers to catch up on some R&R, mend their aching bodies, and take a deep breath. In his infamous “pipe bomb” promo several years back, former WWE superstar and current UFC fighter CM Punk referred to himself as a “spoke on the wheel” – a wheel that would keep turning with or without him.
Truer words have never been spoken.
WWE hasn’t done itself any favors by failing to build a star on the level of, say, a “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, or even Cena for that matter. But there is a ton of potential just waiting to break out in a number guys and gals.
Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns round out the six names headlining this year’s card and, if handled correctly, they could be WWE’s next big mainstream cash cows. They’re the two left standing in a sea of broken bodies, with “The Lunatic Fringe” battling Lesnar in a No Holds Barred Street Fight, while Reigns challenges Triple H for the gold to close the show.
“The Brothers in Arms” are legitimate marquee stars, with WWE investing more than enough time to elevate Ambrose and Reigns to the top of the food chain. But the jury remains out on whether either can truly carry a show of WrestleMania’s magnitude.
It’s safe to assume they’d be placed lower down on the card’s hierarchy had Cena and Rollins been raring to go.
The lineup is indeed subject to change at a moment’s notice – a few special guest appearances are all but guaranteed.
This may not be the WrestleMania lineup fans wanted, but it’s the one they’re going to get.