WWE WrestleMania 28: Match-by-Match Guide to Tonight's Card for Lapsed Fans

David Bixenspan@davidbixFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2012

WWE WrestleMania 28: Match-by-Match Guide to Tonight's Card for Lapsed Fans

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    Your mileage may vary if it's realistic, but one of WWE's goals with WrestleMania 28 this Sunday is for lapsed fans to be drawn in by the older stars in the top matches on the shows and be impressed by the younger stars elsewhere on the card (and John Cena in his main event match against The Rock) to the point they stick around. 

    With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to target those lapsed fans who might be Googling for WrestleMania news and write a a preview of the card just for them.

    So, if you're intrigued by The Rock main eventing WrestleMania again or Triple H vs. The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match but haven't watched WWE television in a while, this is for you.  Let's get on with it!

Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos vs. Beth Phoenix & Eve Torres

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    Maria Menounos is the host of the syndicated American entertainment news show "Extra."  Eve Torres and WWE Divas' Champion Beth Phoenix barged onto the set of the show a few weeks ago to make a really fake-looking challenge and, umm, that's about it.

    Menuonos has had a couple novelty matches before in the past and is clearly a big fan, but she broke a rib this week during a "Dancing With The Stars" practice session, so her involvement will be even more limited than it would be if she was healthy.

    Kelly is the perennial top babyface of the women's division.  A bikini model hand-picked out of a catalog by Talent Relations head John Laurinaitis (seriously), she's athletic enough to get by with some gymnastics-based moves, but is still lacking when it comes to basic wrestling fundamentals.  Her ineptitude at running the ropes has become a widespread running joke online in the last year.

    Torres was right there with Kelly until recently, when she turned heel by revealing she was trying to sleep her way to the top.  While she's done well in her new role, she was probably a better pick for the top babyface of the division than Kelly, as she has a more approachable type of charisma in the role and is a better in-ring performer.

    Phoenix has barely been on TV lately for whatever reason in spite of being champion.  A very good wrestler with pre-WWE experience, she's been lost in the shuffle at least in part due to WWE arbitrarily limiting how many segments the women can have on Raw.  Since her team is pretty obviously losing the match, her standing is only helped by being on the card.  Hopefully she won't have to take the fall.

    This should be perfectly fine, but it will likely go on right after Triple H vs. Undertaker to give the fans in the stadium a breather, giving it the worst atmosphere of the night.

Kane vs. Randy Orton

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    Kane returned from injury leave last fall with his old mask as a heel and just finished a feud with John Cena that was occupying the latter until The Rock came back. 

    Orton suffered a concussion that knocked him off of the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view card in February and some subsequent shows, which locked him out of a long-term angle for WrestleMania.

    With the Money in the Bank match that was originally scheduled for this show canceled and moved to its own event later in the year, this left us with big stars who didn't have a big match and in terms of WWE hierarchy, are supposed to get big payoffs for the show.  So they were thrown together in a singles match.  That's really all there is to it.

    Kane has been hit or miss lately, but he's been having good house-show matches with Cena.  Orton generally has very good to great matches at WrestleMania, so I expect this to be fun, but it needs to go on early in the show to get a good crowd reaction. 

    Don't be shocked if the match ends with Orton countering the chokeslam or the flying clothesline into the RKO for the win.

Team Johnny vs. Team Teddy

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    Teddy Long is still, after all these years, the fair and reasonable Smackdown General Manager.  John Laurinaitis is the evil Executive Vice President of Talent Relations and Raw General Manager.  Each wants to have control of both shows and the WWE Board of Directors decreed that it be settled in a 12-man tag team match at WrestleMania.  Pretty simple stuff.

    Team Johnny consists of legal advisor and team captain David Otunga, Jack Swagger, Drew McIntyre, Mark Henry, Dolph Ziggler, and The Miz, along with flag bearer Vickie Guerrero, who is also the manager of Swagger and Ziggler.  Team Teddy has Assistant to the General Manager/team captain/United States Champion Santino Marella, Booker T, The Great Khali, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston, and Zack Ryder.  Teddy Long's love interest, Aksana, will be at ringside, as will Hornswoggle as the team's mascot.

    With the vast majority of the guys in the match being at least pretty good so many people at ringside, expect a fast-paced, wild match where the wrestlers all hit their finishing moves and everyone not officially in the match interferes. 

    Having a heel GM rule over both shows at this point would be beyond tired, even if Laurinaitis is entertaining.  On the other hand, Long has been on TV in basically the same role for a very long time, first becoming Smackdown GM in July 2004 and serving in some variation of that role (sometimes assistant GM, sometimes ECW GM, but mostly Smackdown GM) ever since.

    So...who will win?  I guess it depends on if they're following up on this.  If this is a semi-permanent change and someone is being taken off TV, Long is older and more stale as a personality, so he's more likely to have his team lose.

Intercontinental Championship: Cody Rhodes (c) vs. the Big Show

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    Rhodes has been Intercontinental Champion since the Aug. 9 Smackdown taping last year and brought back the classic 1985-1998 version of the title belt a couple months later. 

    After doing a Dr. Doom gimmick where he wore a mask because he had become "hideous" after an unnoticeable facial injury, he became a regular cocky heel who happened to gain a lot of muscle on the last European tour.

    The buildup to this match has pretty much all been Rhodes taunting Big Show about being a choke artist at WrestleMania, having lost to non-wrestlers (Floyd Mayweather in a mixed rules match and Akebono in a sumo match) in addition to generally having a losing record at the event.  It culminated in Rhodes putting on boxing gloves and beating the hell out of Big Show.

    Rhodes has really come into his own lately and Show has been motivated recently in a series of fun three-way matches with Mark Henry and Daniel Bryan, so this should be a pretty good match.  Unless WWE panics, the obvious result is Show shutting up Rhodes by beating the hell out of him and taking his title.

World Heavyweight Championship: Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Sheamus

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    Daniel Bryan (former independent and international standout Bryan Danielson) was the underdog going into last year's Smackdown Money in the Bank ladder match. 

    In a great match that opened the best show of the year and one of the best shows in WWE history, he battered Wade Barrett with elbow smashes atop the ladder until Barrett fell over, allowing Bryan to win the match and the right to a title match at any time in the next year.

    At the Tables, Ladders, & Chairs pay-per-view event five months later, Bryan cashed in his shot.  The Big Show had just won the World Heavyweight Championship from Mark Henry, but Henry ambushed him after the match, giving Bryan the chance to run in.  Bryan's title win got a big reaction live, but he soon got cocky and became a villain who emotionally abuses his girlfriend A.J.

    Meanwhile, former WWE Champion (his trajectory has been odd, to say the least) Sheamus won this year's Royal Rumble match in something of a surprise, as he hadn't gotten a big push in a while.  He promised to announce which title he wanted to fight for at WrestleMania after the title matches at Elimination Chamber, which he did by laying out Bryan with the Brogue Kick.

    For whatever reason, that's been pretty much the whole build-up to this match, which was actually scheduled for last year's show as a U.S. Title match before being moved to the off-air/DVD exclusive spot.  From there, it turned into the "get everyone a WrestleMania payoff" battle royal.

    They had been expected to have a great match, so a lot of fans were disappointed.  This year, they absolutely need to have a great match, especially if they get enough time as they are expected to.  With no buildup other than facing each other in a tag team match on Raw on Monday, they need to make it memorable by having a hell of a match, which they likely will.

    Given the Raw tag match result, Sheamus should win on Sunday.  He was expected to anyway, as a babyface who live crowds love but needs the title to move up to the next level.  Still, Bryan is getting better and better as a character, so the timing of the title loss feels wrong unless they keep feuding for the next several months.

WWE Championship: CM Punk (c) vs. Chris Jericho

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    After having planned to leave WWE and take time off for the previous six months, CM Punk cut the promo of a lifetime to build up his farewell match last summer.  You may have heard about it.  Full of pent-up frustration that was shared by fans, he was suddenly the hottest wrestler in the business.

    In his hometown of Chicago, on the day of what was originally planned as his last WWE match for a long time, Punk re-signed with WWE.  Legally bound to the company, he defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship in the consensus match of the year in front of the most emotional crowd ever to attend a WWE pay-per-view event. 

    With "his contract an hour away from expiring," he exited the arena through the crowd, capping off what may have been the most completely flawless major show in the history of WWE.

    With no viable main event for Summerslam, Punk came back a week later.  From there, we can argue all day about how WWE may have mishandled him, but he cemented himself as one of the top guys in WWE, especially when he broke John Cena's stranglehold on the No. 1 merchandise seller slot. 

    He lost the title while constantly staying in contention, but eventually regained it in Madison Square Garden at Survivor Series by defeating Alberto Del Rio in front of the second-hottest crowd of the year.  He has been champion ever since.

    Chris Jericho returned at the beginning of the year after weeks of self-parodying cryptic videos.  He barely spoke for several weeks, doing a parody of his smiling generic babyface character in WCW who yelled "C'MON BABY!" a lot.  Eventually, he set his sights on Punk, who he took issue with for calling himself "the best wrestler in the world."

    Jericho earned the title shot by winning a battle royal and, during an in-ring segment, essentially agreed with Punk to have the best WrestleMania match ever.  In recent weeks, Jericho has taken shots at Punk's family and that has become the primary issue, but the other draw is still there: They are going to try to have an amazing match.

    They will pretty easily have a great one, as they had great matches during Jericho's last run and Punk is a better wrestler now than he was then.  The question is how great.  To avoid time restrictions and guarantee a molten crowd, they may open the show.

    They probably have a ton of creative stuff planned, and it wouldn't shock me if they also repeated sequences from the classic Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat match that took place 25 years ago at WrestleMania 3.  Punk is a huge Savage fan, and Jericho idolized Steamboat growing up.  Combine their goals with their fandom and the anniversary, and it seems likely.  I would hope it's not TOO obvious and rehearsed-looking, though.

    As for the result...

    The next pay-per-view event is Extreme Rules in Chicago, where filming for the documentary portion of the upcoming Punk DVD/Blu-Ray set will end.  I would expect a rematch either way, but Jericho winning the title so Punk can regain it in his hometown makes sense.  Then again, so does Punk returning as champion and retaining the title.  It really could go either way.

Hell in a Cell Match, Guest Referee Shawn Michaels: The Undertaker vs. Triple H

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    This is a rematch from last year, where The Undertaker kept his WrestleMania undefeated streak alive by the skin of his teeth after being battered with a chair, kicking out of Triple H's Pedigree finishing move, and kicking out of his own finisher, the Tombstone Piledriver.

    'Taker was unable to stand after the match and carried out a cart, not returning to WWE programming until a few months ago.  He has not wrestled at all since returning, saving his body for this match. 

    While he was away, Triple H claimed to have ended the streak since he beat the Undertaker so badly, even if he technically lost by tapping out after getting caught in the Hell's Gate (Gogoplata in Jiu Jitsu/MMA) submission hold.

    Michaels had wrestled 'Taker the previous two years in their own classic matches.  In the second one, he put his career on the line and was retired with a jumping Tombstone Piledriver.

    The buildup for this match consisted of the following:

    - The Undertaker returned (wearing a terrible wig since he had shaved his head last year) to challenge Triple H, who refused because, now that he's an executive, he needs to protect "the brand" of The Undertaker, which he'd ruin by ending the streak.

    - 'Taker sending in videos of him obsessing over last year's match and "cutting his hair" in a fit of madness.

    - Triple H accepting the challenge under the condition of it being a Hell in a Cell match after 'Taker had the gall to say Michaels was better than him.

    - Michaels taking exception to this and weaseling into the special guest referee spot while teasing he may screw Undertaker so he can take credit for ending the streak.

    As for the match, expect the Undertaker WrestleMania Classic Formula (kicking out of finishers with a burst of energy and then selling the damage for a while, crazy bumps from crippled guys, Undertaker's once-a-year dive to the floor, etc.) at the bare minimum. 

    With WWE having retreated more and more from the idea of being squeaky clean as TV-PG programming and the company having come under heavy criticism for the unprotected chairshot to the head in last year's match, expect the return of intentional bloodletting.

    As for the finish?  Triple H should not be the one to end the streak if anyone does.  I like the idea of Michaels trying to screw Undertaker and failing, possibly for a nearfall.  Maybe they'll do a reprise of the Summerslam '97 finish where Michaels, as referee, was goaded by Bret Hart, who ducked when Michaels swung a chair and thus hit Hart's opponent...The Undertaker. 

    Put 'Taker in Hart's role and Triple H in Undertaker's and it fits.  It could just be a near-fall, though.

    At any rate, The Undertaker will win, the question is how.

John Cena vs. The Rock

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    This goes back a few years.

    John Cena did interviews where he expressed the belief that The Rock didn't really love pro wrestling since he had left WWE for a career as an actor.  This ignores that The Rock was still under contract to WWE when he was first making strides as an actor, but WWE let the deal expire without discussing it with him for some reason, but, well, it's Cena and WWE likes to ignore that.

    The Rock had a distaste for Cena over this and they played off the legitimate beef when Rock returned to host last year's WrestleMania.  While The Rock wasn't wrestling on the show, it was effectively sold on the idea that they'd fight at some point during the card. 

    What ended up happening was that The Rock restarted The Miz's WWE Championship defense against Cena after both men were counted out and then hit Cena with the Rock Bottom to give Miz the win.  The show ended with Rock celebrating as opposed to Miz.

    The next night on Raw, they agreed a year out to a match for WrestleMania 28, a move that I and some others called when we realized The Rock hadn't done anything interesting at WrestleMania 27.  From there, The Rock was gone again. 

    Wanting to wrestle at Survivor Series at Madison Square Garden (he had debuted at the same event in the same building 15 years earlier), they teamed to thwart fired insurgents-turned-run of the mill heels Miz & R-Truth.  And then Cena got Rock Bottomed again.

    They've gone back and forth on promos for weeks going over much of the same material as they had before, save for the addition of a "shoot angle" where Cena called out Rock for having notes for his promo written on his wrist.  Since Rock had never done this before, it was a little transparent to some.

    This was part of WWE's goal for the match: Split the crowd as much as possible and try to make Cena seem cooler so he's not booed by adult males.  Since the hardcore fan/traveler heavy WrestleMania crowds always boo Cena anyway AND the show is in The Rock's adopted hometown of Miami, then, well, good luck.

    Who wins comes down to various factors.  Being in Miami, The Rock losing seems like a bad idea, but Cena is the full-timer.  If they're building to a rematch, then The Rock should win to send the fans home happy.  If The Rock is changing focus to someone else, then Cena should win.  If the rumors are true and Brock Lesnar is going to do something at the show, then all bets are off and I have no idea.

    Stay tuned all weekend for more WrestleMania coverage including lots more previews, live and postshow coverage in various forms, etc.

    David Bixenspan is the Team Leader of B/R Pro Wrestling and has written for the site since August 2011.  You can follow him on Twitter @davidbix.