Wednesday, March 03, 2004

#68. WrestleMania XX Preview

It's been a few months again, hasn't it? At any rate, WrestleMania 20 will be here in a scant few weeks, and the card is looking every bit as good as it should, given the occasion.

Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar
This is no huge surprise, as WWE has been building toward this since Royal Rumble in January, even earlier, if you count the encounter at Survivor Series from around the time I last wrote here. The parallels between their careers is unmistakable. What else was Goldberg in his WCW days than the Next Big Thing? What WWE did differently with Lesnar was allow him to lose a little more often, demystifying the mystique they built around him right away. You can be a dominant star and still lose. Maybe it has something to do witn Goldberg's ego. I can't really say. Nevertheless, the two are headed toward a collision, and I'm not sure who they're setting up to win this one. This is a good thing. Goldberg is a Raw superstar. He's just about the only wrestler on that roster who has been able to put chinks in Triple H's armor, although he hasn't done much beyond that (last summer, before that feud got underway, there was talk WWE was so upset at Goldberg's underperformance that they were pinning their woes on him). The big question for him now is this: has he proven that he merits the hype? Is his match against Lesnar a test? Win or lose, where does he go from here? Back to Raw, jump ship to Smackdown? For Lesnar, this match is testemant to where he is, without question. He's making his second WrestleMania appearance, after starring in it last year (and unfortunately, his signature was a botched moonsault). This match could be considered the main event (I'll get back to this later). He's proven that he can get booked to a match on the biggest card and that match not be over a title. And on top of that, like I said, it's pretty much the main event. I think Hulk Hogan did that once, though his big match was against Sid Vicious. Sid did a few things in the years following, but when he was WCW champion no one was taking much pride in that (witness Chris Benoit, but I'll get back to that, too). Anyway, for Lesnar, this is nothing to sweat about. This proves he's made it. For Goldberg, it very well could be a different story. But the two of them together equals, no matter where they are, one of the biggest encounters at WrestleMania since probably Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior. I'm talking about both competitors being at the same level (from whichever direction). Shawn Michaels was just getting to the top of the heap in '96 when he took part in the epic iron man match against Bret Hart; that's the last match I think would compare. Steve Austin and The Rock's matches are the next best things, but nobody ever claimed The Rock was dominant in the ring. He might have been, and still is, many things in WWE and beyond, but he was never pushed as the greatest wrestler of the day.

Okay, moving on...

Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit

This is for Raw's world title, and it's without a doutb Triple H's biggest challenge at WrestleMania yet. Either one of the competitors would have made it that, but both of them puts the match off the charts. Yet I wouldn't call it main event material simply because it's been blunted like that, made into a triangle match. Benoit, who should have been at the point by now where he wouldn't have to depend on someone else to bulster one of his matches (after more than a year's past classic Royal Rumble encounter with Kurt Angle, has been a world champion, just before he left WCW for WWE some four years ago (he defeated Sid for it). And he's proven time and again he's one of the best if not the best wrestler working in America today, in terms of technical skills if not bravado. It's precisely because he lacks bravado that he's been kept back all these years, and because he lacks the prestige of Triple H or Shawn Michaels that he needs them both to be allowed into such a forum as a world title bout at WrestleMania. Last year he was involved in an inconsequential tag team match, this just three months after his match with Angle. This will be the fourth time Michaels competes for a world title belt on the year's biggest card (there were the Kevin Nash, Hart, and Austin encounters previously), and first in over half a dozen years. He's worked hard to get back to this point. You can go see his effort last year against Chris Jericho at WrestleMania for evidence. he and Triple H have been friends and foes for years now. They just had a match against each other at Royal Rumble. Triple H more than deserves to be up here, dominating Raw as he has been for over a year now. And so does Michaels. And definitely so does Benoit. But all together? I don't know. Benoit jumped ship from Smackdown to get here. Should he have?

Eddie Guerarro vs. Kurt Angle

This is the match that resulted from Benoit going to Raw. It enabled Guerarro, equally worthy of finally entering the spotlight, to defeat Brock Lesnar last month for the Smackdown title and set up an obvious match with Angle, who for months had been working as an intermediary for no particular reason between Eddie and his cousin Chavo. This match could be seen from more than a mile back. It's the stage it was to take, the forum, that took me by surprise, though not after Benoit skipped over to Raw. I saw it coming. I've been following wrestling for over a decade now (it was WrestleMania 10 that took place when I was really getting into it). Guerarro and Angle are two of the better wrestlers I've seen in all that time. Angle lost the title a year ago when he needed neck surgery, which put into doutb how good a match he could put on against Lesnar, an encounter many had salivated over given the two's similar amateur backgrounds. This time Angle's victory would seem a synch, but they've just set him up on television as the heel. Not too many of those have come out on top at WrestleMania, and most of them were Triple H. Eddie deserves this run, and a month as champion seemed to be the most he could ask for. It's not a matter of how long he could last as champion, but how long the brass would allow him to go. Right now it seems the confidence is high for Latino Heat. He benefits from the kind of charisma Benoit lacks. The fans love him. Is this main event material? Even with Eddie so deserving and such a crowd pleaser, he's not at the level where you'd pin such a task on him. Maybe this is a stepping stone. Or maybe Goldber/Lesnar really is the main event.

There are a few other match-ups worth mentioning. The nonfighting Smackdown US champion Big Show stands for perhaps his greatest singles showing at WrestleMania when he takes on John Cena, who has been getting a generous push for quite some time now without actually going anywhere. Cena should win this, and thankfully he's reached a point in the ring where he deserves it. As far as I know, this match hasn't been declared yet (I don't get Raw, as I don't get cable, and so these developments are made aware to me on delay), but Christian and Chris Jericho should be meeting each other in the ring. This is not much news for Jericho. He was undisputed champion a few years back, but has struggled to follow that up with anything else. He gave a good fight to Michaels last year, but was denied the crucial victory. If not for that (and possibly Triple H and Goldberg, and maybe even Chris Benoit), he'd without a doubt being having a bigger match than this. But it's a good thing for Christian, who could use a good singles fight to elevate his status. If I got what I wanted, Jericho would land at Smackdown following this PPV, and Edge would finally return and maybe go to Raw like it has been speculated, and I would be fine with that. There's also Undertaker's return, as the Dead Man once again, and he should have a good match with Kane (a WrestleMania rematch, in fact), since Kane has improved exponentially in the past year as a presence in the ring, since he lost his mask and truly became a monster, as he was supposed to be all along.

In nonwrestling news, I've begun to soften my view of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. There's more to great achievements than just the trappings of writing and specific storytelling ability. He gave us a grand vision. Sometimes that's all you can ask for. Good for him and his Academy Awards accolades.

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