6 Biggest Storylines to Follow for Road to WrestleMania
WrestleMania is the grandest stage in all of professional wrestling.
The pomp and circumstance that surrounds it has made it a must-see event, and as the Showcase of the Immortals enters its 30th year of existence, there are no signs of that changing. The glitz, glamour and grandeur bring a uniqueness and importance to the show that makes it feel different from every other event on WWE's calendar.
For all of the lights, cameras, celebrities and pyrotechnics, however, the quality of WrestleMania will always be judged on the in-ring action delivered by the talented men and women that set foot inside the squared circle on that magical night.
The best and most memorable matches in WrestleMania history typically are backed by strong stories that have built to a climax over a period of weeks, months and, in some instances, years.
The Hulk Hogan-Randy Savage main event from WrestleMania V, billed as "the Mega Powers Explode," was a year in the making. The epic Bret Hart-Steve Austin Submission match from WrestleMania XIII was the culmination of a rivalry dating back to six months earlier. And The Rock's war with Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIX was the third in a long, arduous trilogy that began four years earlier.
While today's wrestling world is not suited to overly lengthy stories, the stories behind this year's marquee matches will go a long way in determining how they are viewed by future generations.
Behind every iconic bout is a great story that captures the imagination of the fans.
Here are the six stories to watch on the road to WrestleMania XXX.
The Dead Man Rises Again
While Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and John Cena have defined different generations, and Shawn Michaels has been labeled as "Mr. WrestleMania," The Undertaker is WrestleMania.
The Phenom's storied undefeated streak has eclipsed the WWE Championship match in terms of importance and has brought a certain mystique that cannot be replicated with any other match or stipulation on the 'Mania card. Fans buy tickets and order pay-per-views based solely on the fact that, this year, the Dead Man will be tasked with defending his legendary streak against another ready and willing Superstar ready to be the man to knock off the most storied win-loss record in wrestling history.
There has not been a single hint on WWE programming as to whom Undertaker will be paired up with come April 6, but there are plenty of possibilities.
"The Beast Incarnate" Brock Lesnar would make for the most physically imposing challenger to the streak, while a match against John Cena would make for one of the hottest bouts in terms of crowd response in 'Mania history.
A match against Daniel Bryan would be completely different in that it would likely be a more mat-based, wrestling-heavy match that would cut down on the high spots. It would be easier on Undertaker's body than highly physical matches against Lesnar and Cena.
Which Superstar Undertaker eventually does clash with on April 6 is almost irrelevant, though. The match itself will be one of the major selling points of the show, and the story behind it will only help to fuel anticipation, as well as pay-per-view and WWE Network sales.
John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt
The enigmatic Bray Wyatt has repeatedly mentioned his desire to bring down the so-called "machine." While he has has been anything but specific in regard to the topic, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to assume that he means the WWE as a whole.
What better way to start than with the most recognizable star in the industry, John Cena.
At Sunday night's Royal Rumble pay-per-view, Wyatt and follows Luke Harper and Erick Rowan interrupted the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match between challenger Cena and champion Randy Orton. The interruption provided just enough of a distraction that Orton was able to catch Cena with the RKO and retain the title.
Wyatt's post-match assault on Cena with Sister Abigail only fanned the flames of the rumors, per PWInsider (via WrestlingInc.com), that emerged early in the week of a WrestleMania showdown between WWE's answer to Superman and the talented third-generation Superstar.
It will be very interesting to see how Cena plays his role in the story. Will he basically no-sell Wyatt's creepiness factor by reverting back to the humorous promos that irritated so many fans as late as a year ago? Or will we see a more serious side of Cena, one in which he takes the threat of the Wyatt Family seriously and, as a result, brings credibility to the story being told?
If there is to be any belief that Wyatt, who is still early in his WWE career, is to stand a chance against someone with the resume of Cena, it will be up to the 14-time champion to put in the effort to make him look like a threat.
The good news is that so much effort has been put into booking Wyatt and his family that it is doubtful that the creative team will let the performers or fans down when it comes to crafting a story that the WWE Universe can invest itself in. The presence of Cena only strengthens that belief.
Batista, Lesnar, Orton and the WWE World Heavyweight Title
Batista's Royal Rumble victory seemed to set up a showdown between he and former Evolution teammate Randy Orton for Orton's WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
The following night on Raw, Batista confronted Orton to a chorus of boos from a crowd that was anything but thrilled about the prospect of their unexciting WrestleMania bout.
Enter Brock Lesnar.
The Beast Incarnate threw his name in the race for the title, and the image of three of the young stars from the Ruthless Aggression all grown up and standing face-to-face-to-face in the center of the squared circle injected some intrigue into the title picture, at the very least.
Whether Lesnar sticks around in the title picture is the real question.
Reports dating back to October from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, by way of Wrestlezone.com, have linked him to Undertaker at WrestleMania. While plans constantly change in World Wrestling Entertainment, a second report from PWInsider Elite, by way of WrestlingInc.com (dated January 25), indicates that match is still planned.
If that is the case, that eliminates him from title contention at 'Mania, but it keeps alive the chance that he will compete for the title at Elimination Chamber.
Speaking of the title and the Elimination Chamber, Orton will defend his title in that match, meaning there is no guarantee that The Viper will enter the Showcase of the Immortals with the championship in-hand. Anyone from John Cena, to Sheamus to Daniel Bryan to one of whichever two Superstars fills out the remaining slots in the bout can enter New Orleans with gold in their possession.
One thing that is certain is that Batista will challenge for the title at WrestleMania. After four years out of the WWE spotlight, he returned and capitalized on his opportunity to earn a title shot. Which Superstar he will have to go through to achieve his goal of winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship remains a mystery and one of the key stories to watch as the road to WrestleMania continues.
Punk Bucks Authority
In the summer of 2011, CM Punk became the hottest star in professional wrestling for having the guts to say things about the state of the business that no other Superstar would say. He spoke his mind and became the antihero of professional wrestling, the dark knight of the squared circle.
Unfortunately, a feud with Triple H early in the fall brought the story to a halt and nearly killed the momentum Punk had established for himself in the months previous.
Ironic, then, that a feud with The Authority (led by Triple H) may be exactly what the doctor ordered for Punk to regain some of the edge he lost in 2013.
A lopsided title feud with The Rock, a hastily booked program with Undertaker leading into WrestleMania and a lethargic feud with Paul Heyman post-SummerSlam resulted in a disappointing year.
Renewing his rivalry with Triple H and dropping the same type of pipebombs that captured the attention of the mainstream media almost three years ago will only help to rekindle some of the excitement and controversy that he lost along the way.
Given the current state of the professional wrestling industry, finding things to voice your opinions and frustrations about should not be difficult. It is for that reason alone that the story that will unfold between Punk and The Authority should be one of the most engaging angles on WWE programming leading into WrestleMania.
Punk has oftentimes acted as the voice for wrestling fans fed up with the same tired show and the petulant backstage politics that have killed the pushes of so many talented stars over the years. Considering the controversy surrounding WWE's booking methods over the last six months or so, not to mention the wealth of comments that can be directed at Triple H on a regular basis, it should make for some outstanding television.
Dissension within The Shield
Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns dominated World Wrestling Entertainment in 2013, defeating nearly every top star in the industry and collecting the United States and Tag Team Championships along the way.
As last year came to an end, however, cracks began to show in the once-impenetrable Shield. Roman Reigns broke out at the Survivor Series, turning in one of that event's most dominant and memorable performances.
Ambrose, on the other hand, has shown great cockiness and arrogance in recent weeks, and it has backfired on more than one occasion. It has also drawn the ire of Reigns, who speaks little but whose facial expressions tell the story.
Rollins has been the glue that has held the group together, often times stepping in between his teammates before the opportunity presents itself for further dissension.
At Sunday's Royal Rumble, however, the cracks widened when Ambrose attempted to eliminate Reigns but failed. Moments later, Reigns returned the favor, succeeding by dumping both Ambrose and Rollins over the top en route to a runner-up finish in the match.
While the group functioned well the following night on Raw, it is unlikely that Reigns and Ambrose forget the events of the Rumble, and it is only a matter of time before they come to blows, signaling the end of the outstanding trio.
How will Rollins fit into the equation? Will he stand alone, or will he align himself with one of his teammates?
More importantly, will the group remain intact through WrestleMania, or will the Showcase of the Immortals be the last stand for the Hounds of Justice?
These are questions that will be answered in the coming weeks and months.
Daniel Bryan's Quest for Glory
Daniel Bryan is the hottest star in the professional wrestling.
Fans in arenas across the country chant "Yes!" and "we want Bryan" in support of the goat-faced Superstar who, despite the overwhelming support, has been jerked around by creative and management for the better part of six months.
He was champion, then he was not.
He was a babyface, then he was not.
He was a member of the Wyatt Family, then he was not.
Through all of the disjointed booking and storytelling, the audience has never let its love for the Aberdeen native falter. Now, as the road to WrestleMania begins, that same audience is letting management and other Superstars know about its admiration for Bryan by interrupting perfectly acceptable matches with loud and sometimes obnoxious chants.
By virtue of the victory he picked up alongside John Cena and Sheamus on Monday night, he will enter the Elimination Chamber on February 23 with the opportunity to capture the WWE title and head into WrestleMania as champion.
If that does not happen, nailing down Bryan's plans for the big show become more difficult. With John Cena, Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Batista, Randy Orton, CM Punk and Triple H busy elsewhere on the card, it would seem as though the only options left for Bryan would be matches against Superstars the next level down.
Matches against Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio or Kane would be a major step down for someone receiving the unrivaled attention and support that Bryan is.
At this point, with all of the hype surrounding him, anything outside of the top four matches on the card will be considered anticlimactic and disappointing.
With that said, whatever he is involved in over the next two months will elicit the loudest reaction from the audience and the attention of fans both casual and hardcore, thus making it a must-watch storyline.