Superstars to Watch for Andre the Giant Battle Royal at WrestleMania
Hulk Hogan kicked off Raw Monday night by announcing the newest addition to the WrestleMania XXX card: a 30-man over-the-top Battle Royal in celebration of the iconic Andre the Giant.
Andre, who was known as a dominant force in Battle Royal settings due to his size and strength, helped launch WrestleMania as a worldwide must-see event. He, with Hogan, catapulted the WWF into a new era at WrestleMania III.
The winner of the match will receive a trophy adorned with Andre himself. It's not clear if this will be an annual part of the show or simply a one-time attraction to pay homage to the company's 30th installment of WrestleMania. It's also not clear if the winner actually gets something more than the trophy or if it's going to be just like the long forgotten "Bragging Rights" trophy that held no relevance to weekly programming.
One thing we do know is that it's certainly an effort to get as many guys WrestleMania paychecks as possible. This used to be accomplished with the Money in the Bank Ladder Match before it moved to its own show. Then we saw a series of big multi-man tag matches that were thrown together at the last minute.
We won't see the true main-eventers in this match because they'll be preoccupied with matches of their own involving weeks of storyline development. But that doesn't mean the match can't be exciting.
Here are five names that you should watch for at this years show.
Big E Langston
The Intercontinental Champion Big E Langston was the second guy announced for the Battle Royal on Monday night. The first was Ryback. He will not be appearing on this list.
Langston has been lost since winning the belt from Curtis Axel. His emergence was sudden and surprising. It didn't take long for them to put the belt on him. It wasn't clear if they really thought it would give him a push or they became ashamed of the historically valued strap having been around Axel for so long.
Lately, Langston has just been a third wheel in the split between the Real Americans. Finally, he got a win back on Raw by pinning Jack Swagger, even though it was just with a roll up. He's been far from the dominant force they have attempted to portray him as.
So here is the "Langston wins" storyline. Big E, showing massive strength, eliminates three men at one time to earn the victory. He immediately falls to his knees, celebrating the victory while showing exhaustion. Hulk Hogan steps between the ropes and awards Langston the trophy.
Langston's mentor and friend Mark Henry, one of the three men part of the final elimination, walks up to him with a big smile on his face. He reaches out for a handshake, pulls him in and hits the World's Strongest Slam. He grabs the trophy and takes it to the back himself.
Henry, who is upset with Langston for not coming to his aid in his brawls against Lesnar, is tired of this punk kid thinking he's the strong man in the WWE. Mark Henry is still the most powerful man in town and Langston can have his trophy back when he peels it away from the world's strongest hands.
Go ahead and make the joke. A trophy of Andre the Giant would likely still be taller than Rey Mysterio.
Nonetheless, WWE will find a way to get Rey on the WrestleMania card and you can bet it'll be as part of this match.
Rey's been injured much of the last few years, only returning for short spurts before heading back to the disabled list. His contract is coming up soon, and Rey could be looking to head back to Mexico and rejoin his good friend Konnan in AAA. One of the top companies in Mexico will soon launch an American show on El Rey Network and having Rey himself in the fold would be a major feather in their cap.
WWE doesn't want to lose Rey, though. He rakes in piles of cash in merchandise sales and remains their only true Hispanic draw. No, Alberto Del Rio doesn't count. Sin Cara will never work out.
So what can WWE do?
Get Rey to ink a new extension and give him the WrestleMania spotlight—by being the littlest dog in the fight to overcome the odds once again and win an award in honor of the industry's one true giant.
Somebody from NXT
WWE has said it will be a 30-man Battle Royal. That's a lot of bodies that need to enter the ring and go over the top rope.
When choosing the last handful of competitors, the WWE will have the option of picking between the Curt Hawkinses and Justin Gabriels of the roster, or turning to their hot, new WWE Network property to fill out the match.
The NXT roster will be on-hand for WrestleMania. They will likely be part of the WWE Axxess event. The Thursday night time slot is one of the few pieces of new, original content airing on the Network, and WWE would love to get it more exposure to help drive up subscriptions.
If top NXT stars like Bo Dallas, Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville and The Ascension don't get thrown into a last-minute addition to the WrestleMania card, I'd expect to see at least one of them in what I'll call The Andre Classic.
None of the stars mentioned should win the trophy, especially if this is expected to become an annual event. However, seeing Zayn, Neville or Dallas standing across the ring from stars like Langston, Ryback, Kofi Kingston or Damien Sandow immediately makes them look like main roster talent. It elevates the individual and sends them back to NXT with something to brag about.
The second half of 2013 was incredibly promising for Cody Rhodes (who is still only 28 years old I'd like to point out). His brief run-in with Triple H, followed by the return of his brother Goldust and the subsequent title run and feud with The Shield, was star-making material.
Nowadays, Rhodes is being pinned (in a clean finish) in unadvertised matches in the middle of Raw by the likes of Seth Rollin.
But you know what? The Rhodes family knows something about hard times. And that's when the Rhodes family comes to fight and stands out.
At the top I pointed out just how young Cody really is. It seems like he's been around forever, but you can still count on seeing him in a WWE ring for at least another 10 years or so. He's racked up an impressive total of titles to his name, but if The Andre is going to become a new accolade worth flaunting, Rhodes would be a solid pick to be the first.
With years ahead of him, he'd be able to carry that mantle for years to come. Much in the way Chris Jericho rattles off his brag list, "First ever winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, outlasting 29 other men on the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania" is a nice line to throw into a hype promo—whether he's playing face or heel.
Cody also hasn't had much of a singles run in some time. He was running in circles before teaming with Goldust.
Reminding everyone just how good of a singles star he can be would go a long way to reestablishing Cody as a serious player in the mid-card with upward mobility. This could even spin off into a reason for a split with Goldust, as Cody remembers just how good he can be when he's flying solo.
The Big Show
And finally, there's the obvious choice: The Big Show.
It doesn't appear that the World's Largest Athlete is heading toward any major match at WrestleMania. He's been recently added to the Daniel Bryan story as Bryan's big pal in connection to his long-standing beef with Triple H. This, however, won't lead to involvement in the World Heavyweight Title match (if we're lucky).
Think back to his debut in WCW.
Before he was the Big Show, he was The Giant. He was handpicked by Hulk Hogan to come in and defeat him on pay per view because Hogan saw him as the heir apparent to Andre. Now, nearly two decades later, Big Show has proven greater staying power than any of us could possibly imagined.
Betting dollars to donuts, Big Show is my pick to win The Andre at WrestleMania. He's been a solid, reliable veteran for the WWE and one of the last remaining relics of the Attitude Era. He performed admirably in the fall during the first few months of The Authority storyline and did the job to Brock Lesnar at Royal Rumble to ready The Beast for his confrontation with The Undertaker at Mania.
This win is as much a lifetime achievement award as it's a thank you for working his hardest to get over other talents in the last year.
If this does become an annual event, it would go a long way toward the match's legitimacy as a big event to give it to a lock for the Hall of Fame. Big Show has been a solid company man for many years, rarely has any issues outside the ring, and will be remembered fondly by wrestling historians years from now.
He's a safe pick to receive this recognition.
Creating a Legacy
With the addition of the WWE Network and expanded opportunities for content, the WWE would be foolish not to turn this match into an annual spectacle.
Whether it's a special attraction at Axxess during WrestleMania weekend, part of the kickoff show and exclusive to Network subscribers or the opening bout of the main card, the WWE should make this match mean something more than a gathering of jobbers fighting for a trophy nobody respects.
The two keys to making it successful are including a combination of legitimate up-and-comers and veteran performers in the match, and making it worth more than the trophy. Don't use the Money in the Bank anytime, anywhere cash-in rule, but an understanding that the winner gets a title shot on an episode of Raw would create a buzz.
In this scenario, with Big Show winning the match, he'd then receive a match against the champion on Raw. With Daniel Bryan hopefully walking out of WrestleMania as the champ, this would pose a great threat to the champ and provide an intriguing little-man, big-man match up between two friends.
While many groaned at Hogan's announcement Monday, I was happy to hear it. No, it wasn't the huge, company shifting announcement some hope for, but it's a welcome addition to a WrestleMania card that got much more interesting over the course of Raw this week.