And let's start by noting how different the scene is today than just nine months ago, at least as far as WWE is concerned. Nine months ago, ECW was still a big question mark. How was it going to return, exactly? Could it sustain its own show? Rob Van Dam had cashed in his Money in the Bank at One Night Stand II and was now WWE as well as ECW champion. Sabu was a major player. Kurt Angle had just jumped brands (brands, not promotions, at this point) for the second time that calender year. Rey Mysterio was World champion, worrying about JBL, the Great Khali, anything but King Booker (who wasn't even King Booker yet). Batista wasn't even back yet.
And then in the span of a month, everything started to change again. RVD and Sabu sabotaged their momentum on the side of the road, Edge won the WWE title, Big Show got the ECW belt, and King Booker bested Mysterio. Heck, even Batista was back, finally. Now, if you will, flash-forward to the present.
John Cena is champion again. Heck, people don't even seem to mind anymore. He's being embraced. Batista is champion again. You might call this a flashback to 2005, but the circumstances have wildly changed for both stars. Batista's past is long behind him now. Now, he's the beloved champion who was once forced to surrender his title, but made a heroic comeback to reclaim his thrown from pretenders. Bobby Lashley has the ECW title, and a third era for that brand has begun, one for the first time without Paul Heyman. This is the era set for WrestleMania 23, and it may make for the best WrestleMania in years.
- At the top of the card you have Batista defending his championship as he challenges the Undertaker's legendary undefeated streak. Naysayers have been suggesting he won't be able to snap it, because his bosses see him as too little dedicated to the sport, that Batista being the man to end the streak wouldn't be appropriate. They call him the new Ultimate Warrior, a fairweather wrestler, like Goldberg, or Brock Lesnar. Me, I don't see that. Batista is his own man, and I believe in his commitment. I believe that he may even see his career as a debt owed to Eddie Guerrero, the man who truly ushered him into the ring. When he gave up that title more than a year ago, I believe it really pained him. If he lacks commitment to any degree, it's because he knows his body can't withstand the rigors required of most other competitors. Two major injuries in his WWE career may already have made that point for him. The Undertaker has come a long way since I proclaimed his career over when he feuded with JBL some two years ago. I believe once again that he's as great an asset to the company as he has ever been. But sooner or later, his days in the ring will become so far in between that he won't truly be considered a contender, but a special attraction. Will he deliver a match for the memories? There's no doubt about it. But does he have another championship run in him? I think this year he loses. Whatever it ultimately means in Batista's career, however long that is, however much longer he's champion himself, this moment belongs to him.
- On the other end, there's Cena defending his own title against Shawn Michaels, another monumental figure in WWE lore, who has proven time and time again that you can never count him out. Win or lose the actual match, John Cena going to be the real winner here, just because he's been given a match against HBK at WrestleMania, where the Showstopper stops the show each and every year.
- In the Battle of the Billionaires, Umaga will defeat Lashley, likely because Chris Masters, irate over his Masterlock finally being broken, will interfere. However, if that's not how the match finishes, Lashley wins, simply because it's far more likely Vince McMahon will volunteer to have his head shaved than Donald Trump. Either way, there's Steve Austin here!
- MitB III will be the best yet, simply because the caliber of competitors is at an all-time high. Edge seems destined to win, simply because of his own undefeated streak at this event, but the climax will definitely involve Randy Orton, because these two are going to be feuding very soon.
- Kane beats Khali, more than likely.
- Ashley captures the Women's championship from Melina.
- Chris Benoit will likely retain the U.S. championship over MVP.
- The ECW match will be interesting. I peg the ECW Originals as winners, but the reverse could work, too, if someone steps up to provide an awesome finish for the group. Either way, it's nice that RVD and Sabu get to cap their work over the past year with something like this, even if they've been not exactly given the same opportunities throughout.
- I project Carlito to wrestle Ric Flair, probably announced next week on Raw, and emerge triumphant. I'm so glad they're doing this for Carlito, who completely deserves what is fast becoming Chris Jericho 2.0, an improved version that may shoot past Y2J's success into the realm of The Rock.
- I also see Paul London and Brian Kendrick defending their tag team titles against M-N-M, and probably retaining.
- And Chavo Guerrero defending his cruiserweight title against Gregory Helms, though the winner could be either one. Though these final two matches, if they happen at all, as much as I'd love for them to happen on the main card, may take place on Heat, or something to that effect.
I'll usher updates as they become available. Two weeks left!