Triple H, October 2011:

“When I grew up, I hated Hogan. I thought he was terrible and didn’t like to watch him. I was like Punk in a way. I liked the Steamboats and Flairs and the ones that could go. Would I be right in saying that Hogan was the wrong guy to go with, and they should’ve changed directions and gone with Steamboat because he was the better wrestler? Ludicrous.” - Triple H. October, 2011.

Road to Wrestlemania 31, Part 1

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Rumble is here.

We're going to split this in half.  Top 4 matches today.  Everything else in March.  Mania in April.

Two time WWF Champion Bryan Danielson returned unepxectedly after a 6 month absence to close the Rumble, getting some shots in against Kenta in front of a stunned Lesnar.

Danielson opens RAW the next night with a promo.  He hasn't shaved or cut his hair since Mania; he's now the longest haired version of real world Bryan.

He says that six months ago he was told it would be a significant neurological mistake to return to the wrestling ring.  

He says he's been in the main event of the past 3 Manias - and now, at WM31...he's going to be in a 4th.

From above the ring, the banner for Mania is unfurled - it says Danielson vs. Kenta. The Best Wrestlers in the World.

Kenta. For you.  For this.  I'll make that mistake.  

That's Kenta's music cue, he and Heyman come to the ring.

Throughout this section, Kenta and Danielson go nose to nose while Heyman talks.

Heyman says Danielson won't believe this, but he's glad he's back.  Because he wants to be in the winning corner for Danielson's last match.  He came back to the WWF with Brock Lesnar to destroy GDI, to destroy the idea that independent wrestling had transcended ECW.  And here we are.  Brock Lesnar beat CM Punk half to death and CM Punk is gone.  Brock Lesnar took Claudio Castagnoli's title.  And Brock Lesnar hit you so hard, Bryan Danielson, that you can only get clearance to wrestle by waiving the WWF of all liability.  

Heyman says Danielson's ready to fall - and Kenta, the best wrestler of the 21st century, is the man to finish the job.  Heyman says 31 years of Wrestlemania have all been building up to that moment, when Kenta, the lineal descendant of the greatest professional wrestling the world has ever known - ends Bryan Danielson's career.

Danielson's still not looked at Heyman once and doesn't now - he just addresses Kenta.

I'll see you in the ring.

Most of the build is now pure sports.  Danielson goes away for the entire build; when we see him its in MMA training vignettes; Steamboat is there at those sessions but obviously not leading them.  

Kenta has two matches, once early in the build and once in the go home.  Early in the build he goes over Nemeth; there's a spot where he's outside and Steen comes to the ring, he doesn't interfere but the message is clear that he could get to Kenta anytime. After that, Heyman sends Kenta home, And we get vignettes of Kenta preparing, ideally in a NOAH dojo, ideally with Kobashi at those sessions.

We'll talk about Kenta's return for the go home momentarily.  There's also a pre Mania press conference we'll discuss.

Lot of talking heads in the build - it's presented as maybe the ultimate fantasy match; Danielson, the leader of the 21st century independent movement vs Kenta, the culmination of the All Japan/NOAH style - in the main event of Wrestlemania.  It is (behind the curtain) more than I ever could have hoped for when putting together the counterfactual and that's the spirit of the build.  We couldn't do Kobashi vs. Benoit, but we can do this.  

The title match is a rematch, Brock defending against Claudio in a No DQ match.  First match was straight, this is No DQ.  Brock is totally obsessed with Danielson, ideally he comes out of the Rumble with a black eye so there's a representation of what Claudio can do to him. He and Heyman do a promo relatively early in the build, Heyman tries to talk about Claudio but Lesnar goes off script and starts yelling about Danielson.  He just works himself into a lather - Danielson was dead and buried over the summer after the battle royal, Danielson's some kind of freaky wizard, Danielson never really beat him, Lesnar wants him again - Lesnar wants to wrestle Danielson any goddamn day.  Lesnar's tears the ring apart, rips a top rope off and the ring falls apart.  

That clear distraction is used by Steen - there's a Heyman Hustle where the guests are Steen/Generico/Pac.  Steen hits the "Brock better stop thinking about Danielson and start thinking about the 4 members of GDI who will be on the other side" note.  Unlike the Rumble, Claudio isn't sending anyone home - and this is a No DQ match.  Brock's gotta go through all of them to keep that belt.

When we see Claudio, we need a little bit of an effect from his match with Brock - that's the story for all Lesnar's opponents; Brock takes something away from them.  With Claudio, he's a little quieter, a little less effusive about how great everything is.  Previously, he'd lead the fans in the "hey" chant - he'd point at something and yell "hey" and that would kick it off.  He's the bandleader of the Hey Movement.  But not now.  When the fans yell "hey" - he'll respond, but he doesn't start the chants.

Lesnar works once, in a go home tag match with Kenta.  Lesnar's first tag match of this run (he may have done one with Swagger but he never got in the ring - Brock in a tag is weird psychology but we need to allow that for the sake of the build). But we're not ready for that yet.

So that's the story - Lesnar's only lost one match in his return, it was to Danielson, so he's obsessed with Danielson, and will that cause him to overlook Claudio, who might be called more serious, and also might be called concussed, just like everyone else who Lesnar has faced.

The Shield has hit very rare air; they will go to Mania as 2 year defending tag team champions.  

In that build they talked about joining Mt Rushmore of WWF title reigns.  Now they say the only faces who deserve to be on that mountain are there's. A win and they're the longest reigning holders of any title in the Mania era. 

It doesn't take long to find out their challengers, they do a promo (on Fight Night, which is super rare) saying there is no possible way anyone can dispute they're the greatest tag team ever.  Regal leaves the announce and comes to the ring.  

He says he disputes it.  It's a rare time for Regal to go face to face with members of Underground who turned their backs on him.  Regal says he feels the same way he did 5 1/2 years ago when he and Finlay lost their last match together,  The greatest tag team he's ever seen - is Division One.

Swagger and Nemeth, wearing the old D1 gear come to the ring to the old D1 music.  This has been building since the summer battle royal, the slow piecing back together of Division One - and now it's done, and they go noses to noses with all 3 members of the Shield.

That will be it, however, for Langston in this build - he won't be part of the program as he has a singles match.  We'll talk about that in Part 2.

Largely, D1 and The Shield are kept apart in the build. D1 doesn't wrestle together until the go home, which is D1 against Lesnar/Kenta (that's the match I've been referencing). The finish comes when Lesnar is on the outside and gets attacked by Steen/Generico/Pac allowing D1 to hit their double team finish to pin Kenta.

Lesnar fights 1 on 3 against GDI, but Claudio then comes down to the ring and together all four members of GDI are able to lay him out.

Having Kenta pinned, even in a 2 on 1, is a risk - but I want to make sure the tag title match is really put over.  Shield's had the belts for two years and Division One has a pretty good "what might have been if Nemeth didn't turn" mythology that's been intentionally fueled for many years, "well this team is good - but what if D1 was still together..."  When D1 beats Lesnar/Kenta that tag match really becomes super hot, giving us 3 matches at the top of the card that really sell this show.  

In advance of that go home, maybe even earlier that day, is the Mania press conference - included there is Lesnar going nuts when seeing Danielson; flipping a table, knocking over a podium.  There's real concern about Lesnars focus.  

The other title match is the IC - it's Luke Harper defending against Bray.

We stretch out the breakup of Bray and his former top man through one more program.  Cena attacking Dustin after his IC loss to Bray serves to allow a little more rope for the story.  Recall, at the Rumble, we had Sandow's conversion into Harper, so now we have two of them.  Bray's explanation to Luke Harper is that this is a win/win, Luke Harper isn't needed as a bodyguard anymore, he can focus on his IC title, because he has been replaced.

We can probably stretch that out a little more - Bray treats Harper the way he used to treat Luke Harper - here Luke is with his IC title, his friend Dustin has been kicked out of the family, and Luke is getting ostracized, shunned by his father figure Bray.  Wyatt looks for every opportunity to elevate Harper as superior to Luke Harper until finally Luke Harper explodes, "if you think he's so great, let's see if he can take this title from me at Wrestlemania".

That's the trap - Bray says that makes Luke seem a little yellow, he wins the IC title and defends it against an old man like Dustin Rhodes and then a bodyguard like Harper.  Bray says it's shameful - this is Wrestlemania and Luke is the Intercontental Champion, he should defend it against a quality opponent.  Against a man.

Luke then challenges Bray.  Which is what Bray wanted all along.

Bray accepts and then Cena and Harper attack, incompacitating Luke so Bray can smack him around.

Luke Harper never actually strikes Bray in the build, if you recall the finish of the battle royal, that spot was teased at the end, Luke hitting Bray - but he couldn't do it and allowed Bray to win.  Bray hits that in his promos to build to Mania, that in the end, Luke won't be able to go through with it.

That's the top four matches for Wrestlemania 31.

Bryan Danielson v. Kenta (w/Heyman)
WWF Title: No DQ: Brock Lesnar (w/Heyman) v. Claudio Castagnoli (w/GDI)
Tags: The Shield (Ambrose/Black) v. D1 (Nemeth/Swagger)
IC: Luke Harper v. Bray Wyatt

6 more matches to come.  Including a Legends Retirement Match: Undertaker v. Sting

Back in March.  

Royal Rumble 2015

Friday, January 01, 2016

The build is here.

The 26th annual Royal Rumble comes to you from Philadelphia.

(Dark: Kenta v. Devitt
            Steen/Generico/Pac d. Kalisto/Crews/Callihan

As has been the case, Devitt’s match is not shown on the network or discussed on any WWF platform.)

Clips from each Rumble main event:
1989: WWF Title: Savage d. DiBiase
1990: WWF Title: Hennig d. Rude
1991: WWF Title: Hennig d. DiBiase (Savage attacks Hennig)
1992 WWF Title: Flair d. Davey Boy
1993: WWF Title: Bret d. Tenryu
1994: WWF Title: Bret d. Undertaker
1995: WWF Title: Shawn d. Diesel
1996: WWF Title: Bret d. Owen
1997: WWF Title: Bret d. Shawn (The reformation of the Hollywood Blonds)
1998: WWF Owen d. Austin
1999: WWF Title: Owen d. Cactus (Barbed wire match, this is the first WWF Title switch in Rumble history)
2000: WWF Title: Cactus d. Taz
2001: WWF Title: Benoit d. Jericho
2002: WWF/ECW Title: Angle d. Flair
2003: Undisputed Title: Angle d. HBK
2004: Undisputed Title: Angle d. Eddy (a title switch here)
2005: Undisputed: Benoit d. HBK
2006: Undisputed: Rey d. Crazy d. Psychosis
2007: ECW Title: Punk d. Matt
2008: WWF Title: Benjamin d. Rey (a title switch)
2009: WWF Title: Jericho d. HHH-M
2010: Christian d. Punk (This is the cage match where Matt and Edge aligned and Maria got killed; Rumble 2010 might be my favorite event in terms of storyline)
2011: WWF Title: Edge d. Booker
2012: WWF Title: Danielson d. Nemeth (title switch)
2013: WWF Title: Danielson d. Dos Caras, Jr. (Lesnar and Swagger form Paul Heyman Guys)
2014: WWF Title: Danielson d. Punk/Brock/Swagger (the Montreal Match where Punk left the promotion)

Your announce: Joey (his 38th PPV) Regal (8th) Christian (3rd)

We begin with the glass crashing; one-third of the championship committee, Steve Austin, comes to the ring.

An announcement from Austin was promoted in the build, he has two.

Austin says back in ’89, he wasn’t watching the first Royal Rumble, he was just getting started in the sport down in Texas, and down there, they watched the NWA.

Over the years, Austin says, almost all of the great World champions who started in the NWA made their way to WWF.  Race.  Flair.  Funk.  Steamboat. Dr. Death. Vader. Pillman Benoit.  Malenko.  Jericho.  Mysterio.

Austin says since 1982, there are only two NWA World Champions who didn’t also wrestle here in the WWF.

This year, the night of Summer Slam there are going to be some pre-show matches, just like tonight.  

And wrestling in one of those matches, for the first time ever in the WWF – will be this man –

And on the video wall, a package highlighting Jushin Thunder Liger.

Austin says Jushin Liger – for one night only, coming to the WWF. 

But, Austin says, that still leaves one man.  And we won’t need to wait until Summer Slam.  He’ll be here.  On  RAW.  Tomorrow night.

That leads to a highlight package for Sting.

Tomorrow night, Austin says, on RAW, there will be a celebration for one of the all time greats – hosted by his former tag team partner Mick Foley – tomorrow night, Sting, will be in a WWF ring. 

Fans react, one assumes, and we’re off.
1.       Usos (Reigns/Jimmy) d. Wade Barrett/Damien Sandow
-For the last year, Sandow’s been in sort of a fog; he can have flurries of decent work but then seems to be in a daze, that manifests itself here and he takes the fall.  Sandow just wanders away postmatch, leaving an aggravated Barrett shaking his head.

2.       Rusev (w/GHB and Lana) d. Truth Killings
-Squash.  Killings thinks he’s the Iron Sheik and Rusev is Nikolai and that he’s turned on him.  Killings, wearing the pointed boots (real world note, it’s a goofy coincidence that Xavier Woods wore them in the WWE December PPV) getting in Rusev’s face, telling him he’s going to make him humble. 

Rusev kills him in just a couple of minutes, pins him in a really arrogant way, it’s total destruction. 

There’s a shot from the back, Steen, Pac, Generico are leaving the building, Steen saying “if the champ says he wants to go it alone, he goes it alone.  The WWF Champ gets what he wants.”

3.       Tyson Kidd d. Ka$h Kingston
-Dr. Xavier Woods, PhD watches the match from the ramp at some point; this feud has gone on since the build to Mania, with Kidd now becoming a babyface.  Woods is new, dressed like a college professor, talking about a “new day” for marginalized professional wrestling populations.  He gets some fuel to the fire here when Kingston clearly has his foot under the ropes during the pinfall, but it’s missed by the referee. 

4.       Women’s Title: Paige (w/4-Ground) d. Natty Neidhart
-Natty became the first WWF Women’s champion of the PPV era at Survivor Series, but loses here to Paige.  Postmatch, she takes a beating from 4-Ground (Charlotte, Sasha, Becky).  There isn’t a women’s match at Mania, so this is the last time you’ll see them until the Summer Slam build.  4-Ground’s gonna keep stomping people out. 

5.       Jack Swagger d. John Cena
-The stip is that Bray/Dustin/Luke Harper/Cena can’t interfere in each other’s matches tonight, or they’re off the Mania card; that means Cena’s going it alone here and he loses to Swagger.

6.       IC: Luke Harper d. Dustin Rhodes
-It’s Dustin’s last, best chance at a singles belt after 25 years, he changed his name back to Dustin Rhodes in the build, so close he is to tasting gold.  Even though he’s the heel, he fights from underneath, just desperately so, probably attracting some fan support despite his brutal attack on his dad and Roddy Piper before Summer Slam. 

He can’t quite do it; Harper’s too young, too brutal, and he goes over. 

Postmatch, as Harper exits, he’s passed on the ramp by Cena – there’s a moment when it’s unclear what Cena’s doing, but what he’s doing is going to the ring to kick the hell out of Dustin – the announce explains, Dustin’s getting kicked out of the family.  Cena attacks a defenseless Dustin – save by Cody.

Cody and Dustin have been feuding for a year now, Dustin beat him pretty good at Summer Slam and Cody’s been gone since; Cena retreats – Dustin rises – and then he and Cody start punching each other.  Cody and Dustin fight each other, spilling out of the ring, fighting each other around the ring, fighting up the ramp.  What will need to happen to end this feud?

7.       Bray Wyatt d. Nick Nemeth
-The way the stip on Wyatts interference was explained (each member named as opposed to a blanket statement that the Wyatts couldn’t interfere) comes into play here as we get a new member of the Family.  Harper.

Not Luke Harper, that’s the IC champ.  Harper.  It’s Damien Sandow doing a Luke Harper impression.  A year ago at the Rumble, Sandow lost to Bray and got carried off by the Wyatts – that pays off here, as we understand that the reason for his year  in a fog is he was under some type of control of Bray – and here, after a ref bump, he comes to the ring, hits Nemeth with one of Luke Harper’s moves, and Bray gets the pin.

Postmatch is a beatdown by Bray/Harper, face save by Swagger, he and Nemeth clean house, Bray and Harper celebrate their win in the aisle, Nemeth and Swagger hit the buckles triumphantly in the ring.

8.       Tags: Philly Street Fight: The Shield (Black/Ambrose w/Langston d. DDP/Bubba Ray Dudley (w/Booker)

The Shield wins, they’ll go into Mania on a 2 year tag title run.  Their opponents were a mystery team made up of former tag champs that Booker would lead.  Page held the NWA tag title with both Saturn and Kanyon, Bubba, as Joey will point out, is a 12 time tag champ (WWF, ECW, IWGP, TNA) and maybe the greatest tag team wrestler who ever lived.  He wears the tie dye here, the Philly fans probably react well.

It’s a match with lots of plunder, 2x4s, thumbtacks, barbed wire – there’s a diamond cutter and a 3D and Rhyno makes an appearance, goring Langston through the retaining barrier.

But in the end – it’s the Shield, Ambrose gets the fall on Page – and the Shield will, again, go into Mania as tag champs.

9.       WWF Title: Brock Lesnar (w/Heyman/Kenta) d. Claudio Castagnoli
-Lesnar wins his second WWF Title.  It’s a physical match, which is dumb to say, because it’s Lesnar, but Claudio is much bigger/stronger than either Punk or Danielson (and much better than Swagger, and these have been Lesnar’s opponents in this run) so Brock has to deal with some strength that he has not seen.  Spots showing how strong Claudio is are woven throughout the match; the psychology here is more like the Swagger psychology than Punk/Danielson – in those matches they fought from underneath against the mighty Brock – but the Swagger match had to sell the possibility that given Swagger’s youth he might have an advantage; the same idea is true here, the combination of Claudio’s skill and strength make him seem the better of the two for much of the match.

Until he’s not, Brock takes over late, establishes dominance, gets the better of the finishing sequence and walks away with the strap.

Postmatch, Heyman nods to Kenta in Claudio’s direction – and he enters the ring to get some retribution (recall, in the build, Steen attacked Kenta) and we know the GDI crew is not here, having seen them leave.

Kenta lays in a couple of kicks to the prone Claudio – when he is tackled by a crazed, hairy, Bryan Danielson.

Danielson’s been unseen for six months; his career seemingly ended along with Sydal and Tatsu when all 3 were attacked by Lesnar and Kenta at the battle royal.  Danielson is frenzied, lays in multiple shots to Kenta who is able to scramble from the ring.

Heyman grabs Kenta on the outside to prevent him from re-entering.

Lesnar is open mouthed, he’s frozen in place – he looks over to Heyman as if he wants Paul to fix it. 

Lesnar can’t quite comprehend what he’s seeing – like a dead man or a fictional character is standing in the ring.

Danielson’s still crazed – yelling at Kenta, yelling at Lesnar, yelling at Heyman to get into the ring and fight. 

That’s the end of the show – Heyman grabs Lesnar along with holding onto Kenta, Lesnar isn’t moving, stunned into motionless.  Danielson in the ring as the show ends.

Next month, the build for Wrestlemania 31.  Your main event…

Bryan Danielson vs. Kenta

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