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WHERE’S THE EXCITEMENT?

Wrestlemania this year feels flat – why is that, and is there anything the WWE can do to bring some more interest and urgency to its biggest show of the year? The last couple years have lost a fair amount of steam with regards to the Wrestlemania buildup, but this year is the first in a long while where there is genuine apathy towards the grandest stage of them all. This week, I’ll be looking at what has led us to this malaise and how other years have avoided the same fate.

There are a number of things that the good Wrestlemania events all have; the more of these boxes they tick, the better the hype for the show will be as a general rule.

The Kayfabe Turning Point. This is where a big storyline hits its climax and the characters involved leave the event permanently changed. Think Hogan vs. Andre, Austin vs. Hart, or Hunter vs. Batista. On this front, there really isn’t much to complain about. Sure, Roman Reigns may not be ready for the top spot and the IWC is still upset about the relegation of Daniel Bryan to the midcard, but in terms of kayfabe plotlines, Wrestlemania will have a substantial effect on the landscape of the WWE. Assuming Roman Reigns comes out victorious, he will usher in a new era. He will have won the undisputed WWE title for the first time and established himself as a main eventer. He will have also ended the year-long reign of terror of one Brock Lesnar, avenging the Undertaker and John Cena. Not small potatoes.

The Returning Legend. We regularly get treated to a one-off match by a wrestler who has been off the radar for the bulk of the year. We’ve seen a lot of the Rock in recent years, taking time off from Hollywood, as well as Triple H and Brock Lesnar making one of their few annual appearances at the Showcase of the Immortals. Again, this year is delivering quite nicely on paper. Sting vs. Triple H is certainly a match that few thought we would ever see and is one of the bigger dream matches available right now. Sure, Sting had a weird voice-over in a video package, but he looks to be in good shape and he still has all the psychological tricks up his sleeve to make for an epic moment.

The Streak. I had originally written “The Undertaker,” but I came to realize that the appeal was only partially Mean Mark himself. A lot of the mystique around the character was built around the question of if they would allow him to get another win and would he retire with the streak intact? Now that we know the answer to those questions, the draw of an Undertaker match is reduced significantly. Full disclosure, I am a HUGE Undertaker fan and I celebrate his entire catalog, but where there used to be a feeling of real anticipation for his matches, now I just find myself hoping he doesn’t get hurt or embarrass himself by going too long.

The Workrate Bonanza. Whether it be a singles clinic like Michaels vs. Angle, a lifespan-shortening stunt show like the TLC matches, or something in between like the original Money in the Bank matches, Wrestlemania cards usually have a match or two that will have the Dave Meltzers of the world mashing their asterix key before the opening bell. This year, we have a 7-way ladder match for the IC title and it should be a barn-burner, to borrow a phrase. While there is residual disappointment that we are not getting the rumored Bryan/Ziggler match, I believe that this will be a wild spotfest to open the show and will be looked back upon quite favorably.

Celebrity Involvement. From Liberace to Mickey Rourke, celebrity involvement in Wrestlemania has been a staple of the event, to varying success. This year has been strikingly bare on that front, with only the announcement of LL Cool J as the musical guest. I doubt very much that having an additional celebrity would fix the lack of hype surrounding this event, but its absence is certainly felt.

Looking at the above list, it doesn’t seem like the WWE has missed too many steps. Sure, an A-lister in the front row or an intact undefeated streak would help matters, but most of the pieces seem to be there on paper. Does this mean that the lack of excitement is not simply an indictment of this one show, but the entire creative direction of the WWE right now? Has the shifting of the revenue structure of the WWE pushed their priorities away from making an individual show feel huge? None of the above?

Check in after Raw next week when I will have a match-by-match preview for the alleged biggest show of the year.

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