Where’s the buzz for WWE’s biggest show of the year?
Here we are less than three weeks away from WrestleMania 31. Sting is about to step into a WWE ring for the very first time as an active competitor. The Undertaker is on his way back to try to avenge his loss from last year’s event. Roman Reigns is the next big thing being groomed to take the title from the man FORMERLY known as the next big thing. This should all feel like a much bigger deal than it does right now. So what’s the problem?
For one, WWE made a big mistake by bringing back Daniel Bryan when they did if they had no intention of putting him in the WrestleMania main event. They had a ready-made story for a man still getting superstar reactions after eight months away from the ring and they squandered it. It was incredibly disheartening watching Bryan battle perhaps the worst-booked Intercontinental champion of all time in Bad News Barrett on Monday Night Raw (now 1-9 in non-title bouts on TV, for those keeping score) while the announcers were too busy cracking jokes with R-Truth to even acknowledge there was a match taking place in the ring.
What’s more, the decision to go with Roman Reigns over Bryan has done damage to Reigns in a way I doubt WWE had intended. Watching this week’s Raw main event, I don’t see how anyone could NOT be troubled by the lack of reaction during his handicap match against Seth Rollins and Randy Orton.
Then, there’s the buildup, or lack thereof, between Reigns and WWE’s most decorated absentee champion, Brock Lesnar. With just 19 days to go, we’ve seen the two men go face to face just once and there’s a reason for that. WWE is terrified to put them in the ring together before WrestleMania. The one time they interacted was the night after the Royal Rumble — in a studio with no crowd. They know that if and when they put these two in the ring together, the fans will cheer for Lesnar at Roman’s expense. They will cheer for the man who ended the sacred streak of The Undertaker. They will cheer for the man who nearly executed the company’s biggest babyface of the last 10 years. They will cheer for the man who, even now in storyline, they are pushing may desert the company (again) for a return to the octagon. We saw it just last night during Paul Heyman’s masterful promo. There is NO excuse to have Reigns and Lesnar on the same show, a rare occurrence given how seldomly we see Brock on TV, and not have some sort of interaction between the two. It doesn’t even need to be physical, at least not yet.
But this highlights a bigger issue with the top three matches on this year’s card. Each of those three matches includes at least one part-time performer who rarely appears on TV. Brock Lesnar is contracted for a handful of dates. Sting, if we’re lucky, may appear once before his match with Triple H, likely for a contract signing if I had to venture a guess. And there’s doubt as to whether or not The Undertaker will appear on TV at all before his battle with Bray Wyatt. WWE can get away with one special attraction match like that, but three? The “Road to WrestleMania” better resembles a stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere with nothing to see for miles.
This doesn’t mean the problem cannot be corrected. There is still time to right the ship. Many boxing and MMA fights aren’t “sold” until the publicity blitz comes the week before the event. WWE just needs to give its fans a reason to care about each of these matches. That goes for the undercard matches as well, including the hot potato contest we’re witnessing each week with the Intercontinental title. I believe there is great potential there to restore the championship to its place as the second biggest prize that leads to bigger and better things for those who hold it. Or, in the case of a veteran like Bryan, using his own starpower to help elevate the title to a higher level.
In the case of Wyatt and Undertaker, we can expect even more head games and special effects to build up their match. But it’s going to take more than a years-old, pre-recorded sound bite of the dead man’s voice and a written response on screen to get people invested in their match, especially when we’ve already see the exact same thing play out in the buildup between Sting and Triple H.
Which brings me to The Game and The Vigilante. There most definitely IS a certain level of excitement for this match, simply because it’s Sting’s first match inside a WWE ring. How could there not be? But it’s hard to fathom how little they’ve utilized Sting in these last few weeks. Typing words on a screen and distorting his voice in a promo package is likely NOT how people envisioned things unfolding. Triple H walks out on TV each week claiming that he helped kill WCW (no, really, stop laughing), so where is Sting to stand up to him face to face and talk about those dying days of WCW? Where is Sting to defend himself? Where is Sting to take a baseball bat to The Big Show, and to Kane? During his time in TNA, he showed off some pretty impressive promo skills. He’s a well-spoken, articulate guy and that talent has, thus far, been wasted. If this is his last stand (and I don’t believe it is, but it could be), he should be going out hitting homeruns with that bat, not foul tips.
And lastly, there’s Lesnar and Reigns. Roman needs to face The Beast head on. He was booed by a decent number of people last week in his match against Seth Rollins, but won the fans over after the match with his suicide dive to the floor and mid-air spear on Rollins where he nearly broke the man in half. THAT’s the Roman Reigns we need to see more of. I still remember a segment on Raw building to a Lesnar vs. Big Show match at last year’s Royal Rumble where Show hurled Lesnar across the ring like a small child right on top of his head. The idea was to get Big Show over as a monster on the same level as Lesnar. Reigns needs all the help he can get going into this match. Paul Heyman can sing his praises only so much before the fans get tired of hearing it.
Believe that? WWE needs to give us a reason to, and fast. There’s still time.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.