I needn’t explain why the Road to WrestleMania is the most exciting time of the year to be a WWE fan. The very fact that you’re here reading this is a sign that you understand and appreciate its significance.
But such significance comes hand-in-hand with high expectations, and (to paraphrase an unlikely combination of Charles Dickens and Stan Lee) with great expectation comes great responsibility.
The relationship between these two variables is, in essence, the intangible agreement, the psychological contract if you will, that binds us, the fans, to the WWE itself. We hold the expectation, imparting upon the WWE the responsibility.
And while you can depend on these levels of expectation and responsibility to remain largely unwavering, the extent to which the WWE actually delivers upon its responsibilities is often a more questionable matter.
So how has the WWE fared along the Road to WrestleMania so far?
It may be early days, but I'd have to say very well so far in my opinion—here’s why.
While we were told on Raw this past week that the Road to WrestleMania officially starts at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, that is in fact not entirely true.
The journey often begins at the turn of the year, as soon as the jovial festive frolics have drawn to a close. This time, though, we saw the foundations being laid as far back as last November when the idea of a title unification was proposed for the December TLC PPV.
Not only does this make the title scene more important, but there are further knock-on effects that upon closer inspection are greatly beneficial.
For example, the decision to (re)unify the two top titles was made with the television audience in mind. One of the chief reasons why the WWE maintained two world championships for so long was so that they could essentially have two different champions appearing at two different house shows on one single night.
Eradicating that possibility shows that the company has made a conscious decision to prioritise the quality of their on-screen product over of the quantity of their live house events.
The result of which is that we, the WWE-following community as a whole, become the winners.
There is now an increased competition for the belt. Main event stars are no longer being diluted between two top titles. Instead, we are getting blockbuster main events such as the Orton vs. Cena programme that is currently proving to be a hit, in my eyes.
With big-name title matches like this taking place in December/January, one can safely presume that the WrestleMania main event will be an even greater affair.
This improvement in WWE programming brings me nicely to my next point: the WWE Network.
The significance of this landmark announcement cannot be overstated, but thanks to the Network we will be treated to more WWE content than ever before.
And though many of the benefits of the Network lie in the long-term, there is also a great short-term impact in that the announcement has created a tremendous amount of buzz. There is a real feel-good vibe in the company at the moment, both internally and externally.
Staging the big reveal at the start of the year—and scheduling WrestleMania to be the first-ever PPV on the new Network—does nothing but build the hype ahead of the biggest wrestling show of the year.
These points are enough to gear any fan up for the pre-WrestleMania program. However, remember that these aforementioned developments are, by-and-large, long-term projects that the company has set in motion. We haven’t even considered the immediate, short-term revelations that have affected this year’s road to WrestleMania.
And surely the most prominent of these short-term events is the high-profile return of two of the company’s biggest stars of all time. Admittedly, the big-name returns have been a hallmark of the Road to WrestleMania in recent years, but this time things appear a little different.
We’ve already seen the sooner-than-expected reappearance of Brock Lesnar. And his pre-Rumble return, coupled with the announcement of his world title aspirations, would suggest that the behemoth will be involved in more than one main event feud over the coming months. This is great news.
Furthermore, the company has gone all out to secure the return of Batista, easily one of the WWE’s biggest stars of the past decade. And rather than have him show up for the Show of Shows then retreat back to Hollywood, CM Punk told MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani that the six-time world champ is "in it for the long-haul." Even greater news.
As a result of these returns the WWE’s roster suddenly looks rather stronger, and a knock-on effect of that means the midcard has substantially improved.
In recent weeks we’ve seen the likes of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, arguably the company’s most popular superstars at present, feuding lower down the card with The Wyatts and The Shield respectively.
These rivalries have yielded some great matches and some truly memorable moments; I for one won’t be forgetting the electric reaction that Bryan received upon turning on Wyatt two weeks ago on Raw.
Sure, it may not be the main event picture that most fans want to see these two former indie heroes in, but overall I’d say it’s an effective use of these two massive talents. It makes for a much more well-rounded show, and when you factor in the fantastic tag team action that we’ve been treated to as of late you end up with a card well worth the watch.
To summarise, the WWE has made a strong start along this year’s Road to WrestleMania.
The WWE Network launch promises to be one of the most game-changing moments in the history of professional wrestling, while the title unification and big-name returns have made for a more competitive environment and a better all-around card.
With further in-ring returns likely in the coming weeks—Rob Van Dam, Triple H, the Undertaker, and possibly even Shawn Michaels or Chris Jericho—the exciting times look set to continue.
But what do you guys make of the Road to WrestleMania so far?
Please feel free to share your views and let me know your thoughts on any of the points in the article by commenting below.