(Note: John suggested I post this article tomorrow morning, but I just survived a major car accident and walked away unscathed, so I feel like living in the moment and posting this now! Sorry Johnny!)
The day after Wrestlemania 27 in 2011, the main event was set for Wrestlemania 28 one year in advance. This move was a departure from the WWE booking team’s modus operandi of booking on the fly, and their bold decision was met with praise from even the most nitpicky of critics. Although not nearly as blatantly advertised as the year before, the main event for Wrestlemania 29 was also set one year in advance. The booking team knew one year before that the main event for this year’s Wrestlemania would be The Rock defending the WWE Championship against John Cena. The Royal Rumble, as it has done in years past, would set the stage for the main event.
So why am I waking up the morning after the 2013 Royal Rumble and seeing such outrage that the match has been set, as if any other outcome was possible?
Let’s look at the evidence. The Rock, a part-time, semi-retired wrestler, gets a clean victory over the biggest full-time draw WWE has in the main event at Wrestlemania. The only way this was going to fly is if Cena would get the win back in a rematch. Granted, this rematch didn’t necessarily have to take place at next year’s Wrestlemania. Some had surmised that the rematch would happen at that year’s Summerslam. Whenever it would happen, a rematch was guaranteed the moment Rock pinned Cena for the clean 3. Intrigue was added when the Rock declared his intentions to be WWE Champion the night after Wrestlemania 28. Considering who made the proclamation, it was basically a lead-pipe cinch that The Rock would once again be WWE Champion. The only question was when.
That picture became much clearer last July at Raw 1000 when The Rock announced he would be facing the WWE Champion at the Royal Rumble. No matter who the WWE Champion was, his fate was sealed come January. Most likely, that champion would be CM Punk considering how he attacked The Rock at the end of the night and turned heel. The only surprising part was that Punk had an uninterrupted title reign leading up to last night’s match, and it was a welcome surprise. I’ll have more on Punk in a moment.
Forgive me for underestimating the naiveté of the modern wrestling audience, but I’ll repeat: with all this evidence pointing to The Rock as WWE Champion from as far back as the day after Wrestlemania 28, why are people upset that Rock beat Punk? You all had from July to make your peace with the fact that no matter how great Punk’s reign was going to be, The Rock was going to end it last night. I’m one of the biggest CM Punk fans around, and I’ve followed him since his Ring of Honor days, and even I made my peace long ago that this was the route WWE was going.
To anybody that’s upset about a full-time actor, part-time wrestler holding the company’s top prize, I need to remind you not to be a mark for the belt of a scripted show. This isn’t David Arquette we’re talking about. It’s a guy who’s proven he can go in the ring and is one of the biggest draws in WWE history along with Hogan and Austin. Plus, he’s a bona-fide A-list actor and a box office draw. Putting the strap on The Rock is extremely good mainstream press for WWE. Rock as champion will bring in more eyes, and more eyes equal more buys.
Also, please shed no tears for CM Punk. He may be shut out of the main event of Wrestlemania (again), but his consolation prize is pretty sweet: the longest WWE Championship reign in nearly 30 years, and an all-but-set match against The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. You could argue (and I’ll certainly argue), that trying to beat The Streak, from a kayfabe perspective, is more important than winning the WWE or World Championship at Wrestlemania. Title shots can come and go throughout the year, but you only have one shot per year at attempting to defeat The Undertaker at The Granddaddy of Them All. This opportunity is so rare that I once mused out loud about the possibility of adding the opportunity to face The Undertaker at Wrestlemania as a third option for the Royal Rumble winner, considering its significance. With Triple H confirming that Undertaker will be back, Cena being tied up with Rock, and Triple H’s match with Undertaker last year being billed as the last one (although they billed Rock and Cena last year as “Once in a Lifetime” and we all saw how that turned out), there are only two conceivable options for opponents for Undertaker at Wrestlemania: Brock Lesnar and CM Punk. Rumblings are that Brock Lesnar will face Triple H in a rematch of their Summerslam match, and Punk’s plans have suddenly freed up. If anybody other than Punk or Brock faces Undertaker, feel free to kvetch. Otherwise, I feel good about Punk’s opportunities for exposure over the next couple months.
And as for Cena? I’m willing to bet that the same people who are complaining about how predictable his Rumble win was were the same people complaining about Sheamus winning last year’s Rumble when Chris Jericho winning the Rumble was the most predictable outcome. The only difference here seems to be that Jericho is universally liked while Cena is much more polarizing. Rock vs. Cena II was obviously going to happen, so I’d much rather they go the traditional route of setting up the match than having yet another unpredictable Rumble win and find another way to slip Cena into the Championship match. It’s actually refreshing to have the Royal Rumble winner go on to face the WWE Champion and win at Wrestlemania in the last match, something that hasn’t happened since 2003 when Brock Lesnar won. Call me a sucker for the classics, but I really like this narrative.
To those who are upset that the outcome is too predictable, I reply that everybody who saw Titanic knew the ship was going to sink, yet it still smashed box office records and won Best Picture at the Oscars. If you want to apply the comparison to wrestling, everybody knew Hogan was going to beat Slaughter in 1991, Shawn was going to beat Bret in 1996, Austin was going to beat Shawn in 1998, Austin was going to beat Rock in 2001 (although few knew how), Hunter was going to beat Jericho in 2002, and Brock was going to beat Angle in 2003. In fact, I seem to recall a lot of outrage that Rock didn’t beat Triple H in 2000 because WWE wanted to do something unexpected and actually have the heel retain. For the most part, Wrestlemania rarely has been about the unexpected. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the ride.
Frankly, I’m looking more forward to the build for Rock/Cena 2 than I was for the original encounter. This time, it’s actually based in wrestling as they’re fighting for a title. Last year, I thought they were spinning their wheels with the personal attacks, when it really didn’t have anything to do with the match itself, and by the time Cena finally delivered his “I have to win” interview, it felt like too little, too late.
I’ve heard it all on Twitter and the message boards: “I’m not going to buy Wrestlemania!” “WWE just lost a customer!” All I know is that I bought my ticket to Wrestlemania back in November knowing full well that the main event was going to be The Rock defending the WWE Championship against John Cena, and I certainly don’t regret it. I’m very much looking forward to The Road to Wrestlemania this year, and I find that keeping a positive attitude makes the viewing experience much better. There’s too much messed up stuff going on in the world right now to be so preoccupied with professional wrestling booking anyway.