The Casual Fan's Guide to WrestleMania 29: Your Big Show Primer and Preview
Are you a lapsed wrestling fan? The kind of guy or gal who once watched both Raw and Nitro on a long Monday night? One of the legions of Americans who went to work on Tuesday morning with bloodshot eyes and joy in their heart?
There are plenty of you out there: Former fans who have abandoned the glorious art of pro wrestling for girls, jobs or the visceral thrill of the UFC.
If you have the urge to rejoin the motley crew of wrestling fans, if only for one night, have no fear. There's always WrestleMania, often the one time a year former wrestling fans drop $59.99 to relive their youth.
And luckily for you, Bleacher Report is here to fill you in on who is who and the backstory you need to know to enjoy the show.
Not sure how the Rock came to be feuding with John Cena?
Don't know your Dean Ambrose from your Damien Sandow?
We're here to help. Click through for your guide to the biggest wrestling show of the year.
John Cena vs. The Rock
Dwayne Johnson, you may recall, was once the biggest wrestling star on the planet. Before becoming an action and Disney staple, he was the Rock, a foul-mouthed charmer who reinvented our perceptions.
The Rock is the template for what a wrestling star in 2013 is supposed to be. He had the look, the swagger and a special way with words. All those horrifyingly lame comedy bits you have been forced to watch other wrestlers fail their way through for 10 years? Those are all the Rock's fault. He made it look so effortless, but no one has yet been able to match his combination of brawn and charm.
John Cena, in many ways, is the replacement Rock. He's been his generation's top star for the last five years. He's like Rock Lite—possessing many of the same attributes, only slightly less gifted in all areas.
In a sense, Cena's limitations have been a blessing for the WWE hierarchy. He's good enough to move merchandise and tickets but not quite compelling enough to make the jump to Hollywood the way the Rock has.
This is the big one, the main event of the evening. The story is simple, at least on the surface. At last year's WrestleMania, the Rock beat Cena. Now the WWE's top star is looking for payback.
Simmering beneath the surface is a lot of interesting stuff. Cena isn't just fighting for himself—he's battling the perception that he and every other wrestler in the locker room pales in comparison to the Rock and other Attitude Era superstars.
When the Rock was in his prime alongside guys like Stone Cold Steve Austin, wrestling was a big deal. Today, Cena presides over a much-diminished business. Is he in the Rock's league? Does he deserve to take the stage with the "Great One"? That's what this match is really about.
What to Expect
Everyone knows the Rock will lose to Cena here, go back to Hollywood and continue to star in small movies he tries to make large with his mere presence (and his oversized arms). It's what makes the most sense.
Usually that's the best time for a swerve, but I don't think we get one here. Rock doesn't have time to make an extended cameo over the summer. Cena will win.
The only question is whether he will have to turn bad to do it. There were hints of that on the final Raw before WrestleMania. Will the promotion's longstanding hero become its greatest villain? That's the real question that will have WWE fans watching this match closely.
CM Punk vs. The Undertaker
Now 48 years old, The Undertaker is the final remaining bridge to the WWE's gloried past. When he debuted with the promotion back in 1990, Hulk Hogan was still the top dog. He's seen it all since then: The lows of the early 1990s, and the highs of the Austin/Rock era.
He's navigated it all with success, taking what could have been just another lame WWE gimmick and making it work. Taker has reinvented himself several times over the years.
He's gone from an undead zombie of sorts to a tough as nails biker to a tough as nails biker/zombie who studies a lot of mixed martial arts in his spare time. He's veteran presence personified and an important senior leader in the clubhouse.
CM Punk has risen to the top of the WWE universe despite looking like a short order cook at the Waffle House. He doesn't have the looks or the muscles. He's the exact opposite of larger than life. Making matters worse is a real-life personality that's prickly at best.
What he has is talent to spare. Punk is a genius on the microphone and a wonder in the ring. Those traits have been enough to make it big in the sport—just not quite as big as Cena. Punk has never been "the man." And that clearly gnaws at him.
The Undertaker has never lost a match at WrestleMania. Twenty times he's come to the ring. Twenty times he's had his hand raised.
In recent years, WWE has used this as a selling point. Who will be the man to finally end the streak? Some of the biggest names in the business have tried and failed. And now it's Punk's turn.
This time, however, the wrestling gods have upped the ante. The Undertaker's longtime manager and friend Paul Bearer recently passed away after a battle with cancer. Wrestling being wrestling, promoters saw an opportunity too good to pass up. Punk stole Paul Bearer's urn and mocked him and Taker. On the final Raw, he actually dumped the ashes on a fallen Undertaker.
So, yeah. This one is going to be a grudge match to end all grudge matches.
What to Expect
No one seems to know. The Undertaker looks like he's 48 going on 148. His body is clearly broken down. It's been in the process for years, but he's always managed to pull out one amazing performance a year for WrestleMania. Can he make magic again?
One way or another, the streak has to end. Will the Undertaker go out on top, forever remembered as being unbeatable at WrestleMania? Or will the WWE use this as a final bit of rocket fuel to propel Punk to the very top of the business?
My expert analysis? A shrug and a handful of popcorn. I'll be waiting for the answer with baited breath like everyone else in the industry.
HHH vs. Brock Lesnar
Triple H (aka Hunter Hearst Helmsley) may be the smartest man in the wrestling business. While others have battled WWE owner Vince McMahon for a tiny share of his giant wrestling empire, "The Game" did an end around, sneaking up to the owner's box and sitting next to the boss's foxy daughter, Stephanie. The two fell in love and got married, and he's been by her side (and Vince's) ever since.
Triple H's ascension to the throne has actually hurt him in some ways. Fans are so skeptical of his connections, seeing nepotism and favoritism around every corner, that he has been cheated out of the credit he deserves for his continued success. Now 43, his Hall of Fame career is slowly coming to a close, derailed by a series of injuries and a desire to take a larger role behind the scenes.
Brock Lesnar is a monster of a man. A former NCAA wrestling champion, he rose to the top of the WWE almost immediately in his first tenure with the company. He's a dream villain, mean looking and imposing.
But Lesnar, in many ways, wasn't built for the wrestling business. He hated the travel and the political pressure and departed after lighting every bridge on fire, then pouring kerosene on the ashes and burning them too. Soon he was UFC champion, a bigger star outside the WWE than he ever was in it.
His ability to draw a huge crowd, along with time, healed all those old wounds. He has returned to a limited schedule, which makes him happy, and to great effect at the box office when he does wrestle, which makes McMahon happy. He recently extended his contract and may be sticking around for a while.
The feud between Lesnar and Triple H revolves around Helmsley's sometimes-acknowledged role as one of the WWE's key backstage leaders. The two squabbled on television over contract terms and appearances, and eventually Lesnar made his final counterclaim in the form of breaking Triple H's arm.
Then he broke Triple H's best friend Shawn Michael's arm. When "The Game" sought revenge at SummerSlam last year, he had his arm broken again. 2012 was not a good year to be a Triple H appendage.
Now Triple H is back, siding with Vince against Lesnar and his evil representative, Paul Heyman. Lesnar and Heyman have raised the stakes here significantly, goading Triple H into signing for a match with stipulations of their choosing by attacking an already-hobbled McMahon.
Not only is the match "No Holds Barred," presumably a Lesnar specialty from his days in the UFC, but Triple H had to put his career on the line. If he loses the bout, The Game's water-spitting days are over for good.
What to Expect
Lesnar won the last match between the two. Normally, in classic "even Steven" WWE booking, it would be Triple H's turn to get his hand raised. On Raw, it was announced that Michaels would be in his corner, yet another reason to expect Hunter to walk away victorious.
Not this time. I expect a brutal and hard-hitting match. These two are going to try to raise the bar for physical brutality. But Lesnar will triumph here, with Triple H assuming McMahon's old role as the on-screen owner and authority figure for the next decade. He will get back at Lesnar from the boardroom instead of the ring.
Jack Swagger vs. Alberto Del Rio
Jack Swagger seemed to have every tool needed to thrive in the WWE. He was big and good looking, and he had a legitimate athletic pedigree (former All-American wrestler at the University of Oklahoma). He was the anti-CM Punk in other words, a wrestler who seemed destined to make it big.
But evidently, something was missing. Swagger, no matter the storyline or push, just doesn't seem to connect at the most basic level with WWE fans. The promotion gave him six months off, a chance to retool and reintroduce his character in a new package. He's now a nativist of sorts, cutting right-wing and vaguely racist videos in what appears to be a bunker with his new mentor, Zeb Colter.
With "We the People" as his motto, Swagger is the WWE's first attempt at a modern politics-inspired villain, filling shoes that would have once been occupied by sneering foreign heels like the Iron Sheik.
Alberto Del Rio, like Swagger, was once an amateur standout, competing for Mexico on the international level as a Greco-Roman wrestler. Wrestling was in his blood, both the amateur variety and the high-flying lucha libre variety of his homeland. His uncle was Mil Mascaras, a wrestling legend. Del Rio's father was Dos Caras, and he followed in his footsteps as Dos Caras Jr.
Del Rio wrestled with some degree of success in Mexico and Japan, even taking a handful of MMA fights (with his mask on, which didn't always work out so well). He then joined the big leagues in the WWE, in the latest attempt to attract and hold onto a strong Mexican-American fanbase.
Swagger and Colter yearn for a more traditional America. They're the kind of guys who refer to immigrants like Del Rio as "you people." Colter, especially, has shined bright with a series of interviews that sound like they were imported from a different era.
The angle was WWE's attempt to garner cable news play and free publicity for WrestleMania. For the most part, it has been a complete bust. To try to reignite things, writers pushed the feud back to more comfortable ground, having Swagger and Colter repeatedly attack Del Rio's valet Ricardo Rodriguez, even breaking his ankle with Swagger's new finishing hold.
WWE fans have greeted this with yawns. Del Rio isn't doing well as a babyface. He struggles to make a connection with the crowd, and his act is mired in the 1980s. Swagger, too, seems to be yet again on the path to irrelevance. If his character can't get over against the Mexican-born champion, what hope is there for the future?
What to Expect
Del Rio will get his revenge here. Not only is Swagger failing to get over with the audience, but he recently got busted for a DUI.
That's strike four and strike five for a struggling performer. This should be a good technical match—but a good technical match that leaves the audience yawning and sitting on their hands.
The Shield vs. Randy Orton, Sheamus and The Big Show
It's taken Dean Ambrose nine years to become an overnight sensation with The Shield. A longtime performer on the independent scene, Ambrose was introduced along with partners Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns as a major player in the WWE universe after years of toiling in obscurity. Suddenly he was in front of thousands rather than hundreds of fans.
Dean Ambrose had finally made it. And he wasn't about to fail.
Seth Rollins has a similar story. A former indy darling with Ring of Honor wrestling, competing then as Tyler Black, Rollins has done it all in the minor leagues. This is his first shot at corporate wrestling glory.
Reigns, however, has a different tale. Born Joe Anoa, his father was Sika, one-half of the Wild Samoans. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is one of his cousins. He is, simply put, wrestling royalty. A former Georgia Tech defensive lineman, he has the size, looks and pedigree to go far in this business.
On the other side of the ring are a trio of champions. Randy Orton is a third-generation star. He seemed destined to become a WWE icon at one point, the Rock to Cena's Stone Cold. But along the way, personal problems have plagued him. Still a fan favorite, several drug-related issues have kept him from ascending the throne to take his place on Cena's right hand.
A real-life Irishman from Dublin, Sheamus is almost exactly the character he plays on television. Once working security for the likes of Bono and bouncing in clubs, he's the same tough brawler in life that he is in the WWE rings. A former champion, he's made it to the Chris Jericho level of second-tier stardom. Already 35, that's likely as far as he'll ever make it.
The final member of Team WWE is The Big Show. Eighteen years after his WCW debut as the storyline son of Andre the Giant, Paul Wight is still going strong. After spending several months establishing Alberto Del Rio as a babyface champion, the 41-year-old Giant has segued nicely into this new feud.
Since their debut in November, The Shield has wreaked havoc throughout the WWE universe. Supposedly out for justice, they always attack from the crowd, going after everyone from John Cena to Sheamus and Orton.
After months, some of the WWE's top stars finally decided to take a stand. Instead of battling against The Shield alone and losing, they joined forces. At WrestleMania, they will meet The Shield head on in the middle of the ring. No low cunning can help the Shield now. They will have to prove they can cut it face to face with the best in the business.
What to Expect
The Shield are still a hot act. They've only wrestled on television a handful of times, but every match has been an exciting and frenetic bout. I don't think they will lose here.
Will Randy Orton turn on his comrades and join the heels? Many expect it and that would give them a familiar face capable of main-eventing serious matches with the top talent in the company.
Chris Jericho vs. Fandango
Chris Jericho, once considered too small to make it big, has clawed his way to the top of the wrestling business. Part glam-rock frontman, part product of the Hart family Dungeon in Calgary, Jericho is the perfect package.
At 42, Jericho is now firmly in the "part-time" players camp, alongside fellow old men Triple H and The Undertaker. He takes frequent breaks to recharge his energy and body, and he has only recently returned to help launch the new Fandango character.
Fandango, aka Johnny Curtis, is a new favorite of Vince McMahon. A star on the developmental scene on NXT, Curtis has yet to make his actual in-ring debut as Fandango, a ballroom dancer with a penchant for fisticuffs.
Fandango has spent weeks avoiding getting into the ring and wrestling. Upset that ring announcers can't quite get his name right, he has refused to compete.
The worst butchering of his name, however, came from Jericho. He spent a solid segment mocking Fandango, who, truth be told, is easily mocked. Big mistake. Fandango showed an edge right out of the gate, brutally attacking Jericho several times and making sure his debut would be one to remember.
What to Expect
Wait, let me get this straight: Jericho is wrestling a ballroom dancer, and his own stint on Dancing with the Stars isn't front and center in the feud? Fandango is, purportedly at least, a favorite of Vince's.
I think he goes over strong in his first match to launch the gimmick. If Jericho gets his revenge, it will be on Raw to keep a good thing going.
The Rest of the Card
Date: Sunday, April 7, 2013
Start Time: 7 p.m. ET
Venue: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Live Stream: You can order the live stream through WWE.com by clicking here.
Pay-Per-View Info: You can order the PPV for your TV by clicking here.
Ryback vs. Mark Henry
Who: Two titanic behemoths in a battle of bulk.
What to Expect: Big men running into each other, and Henry prevailing to set up another match down the road.
Team Hell No vs. Dolph Ziggler and Big E Langston
Who: Daniel Bryan is the best technical wrestler in the company. He feuds, in a comical fashion, with his own partner, WWE mainstay Kane.
Dolph Ziggler holds the Money in the Bank, a briefcase that he can cash in at any time for a title shot. His partner is Big E Langston, a bodybuilder with gargantuan pecs. So far he's shown a real skill for standing around and flexing.
What to Expect: Shenanigans. AJ Lee, Ziggler's girlfriend, has also dated Bryan and Kane. Expect plenty of wackiness here as a result.
Tons of Funk and The Funkadactyls vs. Rhodes Scholars and The Bellas
Who: Tons of Funk are two overweight guys who like to dance in comical fashion. What else do you need to know?
Across the ring will be Cody Rhodes, son of the American Dream and brother of Goldust, and Damien Sandow, a once-promising prospect. The fact they are in this match tells you everything you need to know about how things are going for them. Both team are accompanied by their female valets.
What to Expect: The good guys winning. And dancing. And when fans are back with their popcorn, leaving.
Wade Barrett vs. The Miz
Who: The Miz is a former reality television star who burned to be a WWE star. He made it. Good for him. Horrible for those of us who have to watch him.
Wade Barrett is the intercontinental champ. Shawn Michaels stole the show at WrestleMania 10 in a match for the title that will be a prop for these guys on the pre-show.
What to Expect: I hope to all that is holy for a Barrett win.