WrestleMania 30: Best Moments so Far from Road to WrestleMania
With just over a week until World Wrestling Entertainment presents WrestleMania 30 from New Orleans' Superdome, the build to the event is winding down. For the first time in years, the company has done a very solid job of crafting stories up and down the card that fans can sink their teeth into.
There is Daniel Bryan's quest for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, a prize he can only attain if he can end his bitter, personal rivalry with The Authority by defeating Triple H in what is sure to be a heated match.
There is Brock Lesnar's attempt to solidify his own legacy by doing what no other Superstar has ever done: end the fabled undefeated streak of the Undertaker at WrestleMania.
John Cena's pride and fear have been preyed upon by Bray Wyatt and the Wyatt Family, creating doubt as to whether or not the 14-time champion can overcome the biggest threat he has faced in years when he and Wyatt lock up in one of the show's marquee bouts.
The Shield has undergone a change from villains to heroes and will set out to defeat Kane and the New Age Outlaws, three associates of The Authority, and deal out a heaping portion of justice at the same time.
With the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, plus tag and Divas title matches filling out the remainder of the card, there is something for every fan to be excited about come April 6.
As we gear up for the big show, here is a look back at the best and most memorable moments on the road to WrestleMania 30.
January 20: Batista Returns
In retrospect, the huge pop and chants of "Batista" that accompanied the Animal's return to Raw on Monday, January 20 were somewhat comical. After all, he entered the Royal Rumble some six days later and was booed out of the building as he eliminated Roman Reigns to earn a shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania.
Since then, he has been mocked and jeered in every arena en route to becoming on the most hated stars on the current roster. His sense of entitlement and the way that he looks down on the stars of today, most notably the wildly popular Daniel Bryan, has not endeared him to a WWE Universe looking more towards the future than the past.
For one night, however, the former World Heavyweight and WWE Champion received the ovation he had hoped for and made his intention to win the top prize in professional wrestling crystal clear to whomever held it come the Showcase of the Immortals.
February 23: Down with the Machine
At the Royal Rumble on January 26, the Wyatt Family interfered in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match between John Cena and Randy Orton, costing Cena the title.
There was very little follow-up from there, however, as the Wyatts spun off into a feud with The Shield and Cena was named one of the six competitors in the Elimination Chamber match that would headline the February pay-per-view.
Anyone wondering if the story had been dropped, however, would get their answer at the show, as the Wyatt Family interrupted the main event and left Cena lying on the mat following a Sister Abigail from Bray.
The appearance by the Wyatts caused Director of Operations Kane to enter the chamber, ultimately costing Daniel Bryan the championship and intensifying the leader of the Yes Movement's feud with The Authority.
That night and the events surrounding Cena's elimination from the WWE title bout served as the spark that ignited the rivalry between the top star in the industry and the self-proclaimed "Reaper of Souls," a rivalry that has become one of the most intriguing heading into WrestleMania.
February 24: An Immortal Return
No matter how many times he returns to WWE, there is something so right about seeing Hulk Hogan back in the company that he helped build.
On February 24, he stepped foot back inside a Vince McMahon-owned ring for the first time in seven years. He hyped the WWE Network and, more importantly, announced that he would serve as the special guest host of this year's WrestleMania 30.
A ton of credit for the success of the first WrestleMania three decades ago belongs to Hogan. He was the larger-than-life hero whom fans packed arenas to see beat up the loudmouth, dastardly villains. He was Americana and carried the wrestling industry on his back for well over a decade.
While injuries and wear and tear from years of ring wars will not allow his body to withstand an actual match at the Showcase of the Immortals, a spot on the show as master of ceremonies will allow him to step back onto the biggest stage in sports and entertainment, earning the adulation and respect of the fans for his role as one of the architects of the event.
February 24: The Dead Man Has Risen
It had been known for months that Undertaker and Brock Lesnar would do battle at WrestleMania 30, but that did not stop the Dead Man and the Beast Incarnate from stealing the February 24 episode of Raw with a phenomenal segment.
Paul Heyman discussed what he and Lesnar perceived to be cowardice on the part of The Authority when it came to awarding WWE World Heavyweight Championship matches and vowed that Lesnar would not compete at WrestleMania if he did not have the opportunity to make history.
The familiar sound of the gong filled the Resch Center in Green Bay as the Undertaker made his first appearance on Monday Night Raw in nearly a year.
The Phenom stalked towards the ring and came face-to-face with a clearly startled Lesnar. Never one to back down from a fight, the Beast signed the open contract that Triple H and Stephanie McMahon had drawn up for him, then forcefully attempted to hand the pen to Undertaker, who responded by stabbing the pen through Lesnar's hand to sign the document.
With one final chokeslam through a table, Undertaker had made a definitive statement as he prepared to defend his undefeated streak one more time.
March 3: The Shield Cracks
At the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view on February 23, The Shield and the Wyatt Family wrestled what many consider the early favorite for Match of the Year honors.
Two weeks later on Monday Night Raw, they delivered another fantastic match, but this time the tension between The Shield's Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose came to the forefront as Rollins jumped off the apron, refusing a tag from Ambrose and watching as his teammates were beaten down and left unconscious by the eventual victors.
For weeks leading into the match, it was becoming clear that there was a great deal of dissension among the Hounds of Justice. Ambrose and Reigns had repeatedly made comments about one another or had gotten in each other's faces but Rollins always managed to steady the ship and keep the group focused.
Tired and frustrated with all of the in-fighting, Rollins simply took a step back this time, making it known that he was no longer willing to play peacekeeper.
As Monday turned to Tuesday, it appeared as if the most dominant trio in WWE history had split for good.
March 3: "Who Will Be Left for You When I Take It All Away?"
The March 3 episode of Raw saw John Cena reiterate a point he had made in the past: If a WWE Superstar wants to make it to the top, they have to go through him.
Before he could continue, he was cut off by Bray Wyatt, who appeared on the TitanTron along with Luke Harper and Erick Rowan.
Wyatt compared Cena to a thoroughbred horse. He said that every horse gets tired and worn down and eventually ends up on a slab. The bizarre third-generation star promised to put Cena down at WrestleMania.
He also claimed to know what Cena fears.
"For the loneliest man on earth is the man who sits alone atop his empty castle. Who will be left for you, John, when I take it all away?"
Wyatt continued his stellar promo work here, introducing two elements of the feud (Cena's fear and his status as the workhorse of WWE) that would go on to define it. One of the MVPs on the road to WrestleMania, Wyatt's work will one day be looked back upon as some of the greatest promos ever delivered.
March 7: Reassembling The Shield
Just four days after fans believed they had seen the end of The Shield as they knew it, Seth Rollins joined Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose inside the squared circle on Friday Night SmackDown to discuss his actions from Raw.
Rollins explained that he was trying to prove a point, that he was trying to prove that The Shield had not been the same dominant force in WWE for a while. He tried to prove that the problems were not with the Wyatt Family but rather within themselves.
The Shield, he said, could split up and be perfectly fine since all three are talented Superstars. Or, he continued, they could get back on the same page and go back to "knocking down walls."
The confrontation became physical when Rollins and Ambrose exchanged blows, but ultimately the group showed renewed unity.
Reigns, Ambrose and Rollins have been absolutely phenomenal since making their main roster debuts back in November of 2012 at Survivor Series, and despite having several six-man tag team wars against the top stars in the industry, there is still a lot of uncovered ground for them as a unit.
Keeping them together and turning them babyface, as you will see in a moment, was smart booking and may lead to the Hounds of Justice taking the next step up the card together rather than separately.
March 10: Remembering a Giant
With a roster as large and full of talent as WWE's, there is always a fear that some deserving individuals will be left off the biggest card of the year.
Prior to the March 10 episode of Raw, there were very real concerns that former World and WWE Champions such as Big Show, Mark Henry, Sheamus, Christian, Dolph Ziggler and Alberto Del Rio may have a difficult time finding space on the card.
Then it was revealed that Hulk Hogan had a very special announcement to kick off WWE's flagship show. In an attempt to pay respects to his friend Andre the Giant, Hogan announced that WrestleMania 30 would play host to the first-ever Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, in which 30 men would fight for the right to hoist a 7-foot trophy in victory.
The announcement had to have caused a huge sigh of relief in the backstage area, as competitors who foresaw a WrestleMania spent in catering now had something to look forward too. Ziggler, Del Rio, Sheamus, Show and Henry all were announced for the match early, and all became early favorites to leave New Orleans with the aforementioned trophy.
Undercard stars such as 3MB, Zack Ryder and Justin Gabriel will all receive WrestleMania paydays and a chance to shine under the bright lights on the biggest show the sport has to offer.
Adding Andre the Giant's name to the match and offering up a trophy immediately makes it seem more important than your typical WrestleMania Battle Royal, and the crowd will react accordingly.
March 10: Bryan Occupies Raw and Triple H Snaps
This writer may not have loved the Occupy Raw segment from the March 10 episode as much as others, but to deny that it was one of the signature moments on the road to WrestleMania would be ridiculous.
Joined by dozens of fans (and WWE staff members disguised as fans), Bryan swore that he would not leave the ring or hand back control of the show to The Authority until he was granted a match against Triple H at WrestleMania. This of course brought out The Game and his wife Stephanie McMahon, who were none too pleased with the actions of the Aberdeen native.
The power couple attempted to resume the show by sending Damien Sandow to the ring, which didn't work. They tried to send security to the ring to handle the situation, but again it failed miserably. With only one option left, Triple H gave in and accepted the challenge.
Then Bryan took it a step further, revealing that he also wanted a WWE World Heavyweight Championship match. He suggested that, should he beat Triple H, he would then be added to the title bout between Batista and Randy Orton, making it a Triple Threat match.
The COO was infuriated and had to be held back by security, but he accepted the proposal.
While many look at it as a shining moment for Daniel Bryan on the road to WrestleMania (and it still may have been), the star of the segment was Triple H, who was absolutely red hot as the cocky and arrogant authority figure who saw someone working underneath him outsmart him and push him to the limit.
The passion and intensity that The Game showed in his mic work saved the segment and really helped fuel the pop that the crowd gave it towards the end.
March 17: The Hounds Bite Back
Director of Operations Kane made the mistake of trying to deflect blame that was rightfully his onto The Shield, then attempted to order them around for his own personal gain.
On the March 17 episode of Raw, he learned just how big of a mistake it was. The Shield defied orders from the Director of Operations to beat down Jerry "The King" Lawler in response to the previous week's Occupy Raw segment in Lawler's hometown of Memphis, choosing to beat on Kane instead.
To finish him off, they hoisted him high in the air and planted him with a triple powerbomb.
In the process, The Shield completed a babyface turn that allowed them to finally play to a crowd that had been hot for them for nearly a year.
It also laid the groundwork for Kane to recruit the New Age Outlaws and gain a measure of revenge by beating down Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose and setting up a six-man tag match between the two teams at WrestleMania.
March 17: A Cerebral Assault
One week after being embarrassed by Daniel Bryan in the Occupy Raw segment, Triple H claimed he simply wanted to talk to Bryan in the show-closing segment of the March 17 episode of Raw. To his credit, he spent the majority of the early portion of the segment doing just that.
Unfortunately, everything he said proved to be false or disingenuous, as Stephanie McMahon appeared flanked by police officers and ordered Bryan handcuffed and arrested. Triple H feigned anger at his wife, then entered the ring and dished out a brutal and violent beating that would not have been out of place in the Attitude Era.
Triple H was merciless in his assault of the Yes Movement leader, bashing him in the head with a steel chair and delivering a Pedigree, all while Bryan's hands were cuffed behind his back.
The final scene of the evening, which saw Triple H and Stephanie kissing and posing over a fallen Bryan, was such a great way to create even more sympathy for Bryan and make fans want to see the former champion get revenge against The Game at WrestleMania.
March 24: Behind the Mask
The usually unshakable John Cena admitted to experiencing fear ahead of his match with Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania while preparing for a bout against Luke Harper on the March 24 episode of Raw.
Earlier in the night, he was subject to some mind games that clearly affected him. Luke Harper took advantage of it and controlled the majority of his match against the leader of the Cenation. Just as Cena looked like he may have overcome the "Wyatt effect" and was on his way to victory, the arena went dark, and when the lights came back on, Cena was trapped in the ropes wearing Erick Rowan's sheep mask.
Wyatt bizarrely rubbed his own head on Cena's before uttering his catchphrase, "Follow the buzzards!"
The segment continued to play up the mental edge Wyatt holds over Cena at this point in their feud. It is a completely fresh approach to a Cena feud because he has spent so much of his career not being rattled by his opponents, no matter the adversity he has faced.
It immediately puts Wyatt over heading into the biggest match of his career.