I certainly hope that Vince McMahon and his brain trust aren't surprised when the 70,000-plus fans that fill MetLife Stadium react negatively to their choice in face-heel alignments at this year's WrestleMania. The road to WrestleMania is officially underway, with the WWE Championship around The Rock's waist and John Cena's groan-worthy Royal Rumble victory securing him a rematch with The Great One in the main event of the year's biggest show.
As the Supercard comes together, though, it's clear that the company either doesn't know or doesn't care about how fans will react to the matches and results. It's fair to say that those who are willing to travel around the country, even the world, and spend the money necessary to attend WrestleMania aren't casual fans. These are rabid WWE fans who love wrestling and are most likely to be the ones reading Internet dirt sheets than buying John Cena wristbands.
It's cliche at this point, but "smart fans" are also highly vocal and feel empowered when surrounded by their geeky wrestling brethren. This means they are more likely to "cheer the heels and boo the faces." With this in mind, let's take a look at the known WrestleMania matches as reported by numerous outlets and how the crowd will most likely respond.
WWE Championship: John Cena vs. The Rock
This just in: People don't like John Cena. As stated previously, fans that spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to attend WrestleMania really don't like John Cena. The boos have been getting louder in the last year, which is impressive, considering how long they've been turning on him. Little kids and their mothers still pop for him, but it's safe to say that those favoring him to The Rock will be in a distinct minority at WrestleMania.
During the next two months, we will see John Cena once again positioned as the representative of the modern era here to redeem the current roster in the face of The Rock. Unfortunately, he'll do it with bad promos filled with even worse jokes and forced attempts at intensity. The crowd was ready for Cena to beat The Rock last year when he had a legitimate gripe against The Rock. Now, they are mostly annoyed by Cena for refusing to take anyone seriously. But when John Cena hits the Attitude Adjustment and pins The Rock in the middle of the ring at Wrestlemania, the crowd will boo. He'll smile. We'll fade to black and all remember what we have to look forward to over the next year.
Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar
The crowd went nuts for Lesnar when he returned. They popped huge when he busted open Cena and were mostly stunned when he lost at Extreme Rules. He's pumped up buy rates for Extreme Rules and SummerSlam, and that's mostly because the crowd wants to cheer for him because he's a bad ass. But for some reason, they think the best route for leveraging his popularity is to pair him with Triple H at WrestleMania in a rematch nobody has been asking for.
Lesnar has signed a two-year extension, but nobody knows the terms at this point. As a part-timer, he should be used primarily to create new stars. Unfortunately, again, this hasn't happened. He lost to Cena and has feuded with Triple H off and on for the last nine months. If Lesnar didn't extend his contract, the wrestling world wouldn't have changed one iota.
Fans won't boo Triple H because they don't like him. Die hard fans that attend WrestleMania respect Triple H and know he has a bright vision for the future of the company. But like Lesnar, they want to see him used to create new stars. If Lesnar isn't facing The Undertaker, he needs to be putting someone over that could really benefit from the exposure. Instead, he'll lose to a Hall of Famer that wrestles 2-3 matches a year. It's a waste. It'll be a great match, but still a waste.
Sheamus vs. Randy Orton
We still haven't seen a single seed planted for this supposed World Title match, but reports have listed it as one of the four matches WWE Creative has settled on for WrestleMania. Orton has been vocal about wanting to turn heel. With the Elimination Chamber a few weeks away, it would make sense to assume that he'll take the belt off Del Rio in the PPV's namesake match, followed by a Sheamus challenge. And by WWE standards, Sheamus should be the good guy in this contest, while Orton would turn heel in some way, shape or form.
The problem is, it's Orton's heelish, no bullshit attitude that makes the crowd love him. When contrasted by Sheamus' John Cena-lite, big smiling, laughing personality, it will only enhance Orton's vicious attributes and create a bigger pop. WWE likes to have happy endings at WrestleMania, which would mean a Sheamus title win and the crowd booing him. Brilliant.
Chris Jericho vs. Ryback
Now, this one is new. It is pure speculation right now. Jericho would run face, put over Dolph Ziggler at Elimination Chamber and then turn heel and feud with Ryback as the intellectual foil to Ryback's wrecking ball power. It's an interesting and compelling storyline, but entirely wrong for WrestleMania.
Chris Jericho just returned. Maybe Daniel Bryan received as big a pop in the Rumble match, but other than that, nobody came close to Jericho. He's a beloved fan favorite and they need to take advantage of that at this point. A two-month long feud against Ziggler that forces the crowd to actually boo Dolph at a time they are dying to cheer the man would steal the show at Mania. Perhaps that's their biggest concern.
They don't want people walking away from the show remembering Ziggler's star-marking moment and would prefer they think about that long-awaited WWE Title victory by John Cena or Triple H finally getting his heat back against Lesnar. Right? Wrong.
WrestleMania used to be about creating stars. In the last few years, it's been more about celebrating The Undertaker, The Rock and John Cena. This year doesn't look to be any difference.
Editor's Note: First four matches rumored via PW Insider (h/t Wrestling Inc.).