The road to WrestleMania is often regarded as the most exciting three month period in the WWE season.
It’s where all the big returns, dream matches and thrilling storylines take place. Basically, the only three months of the year the writers actually do what they’re paid to do.
Here at TWM, I’m going to analyse every road to WrestleMania from the last decade.
Last week, I brought you the lowdown on WrestleMania 28, which brings us nicely to the next instalment which saw The Rock and John Cena do it all over again, but this time the WWE Championship was also on the line.
WrestleMania 29 also saw The Undertaker have his last truly great Mania spectacle opposite the increasingly frustrated CM Punk. Brock Lesnar returned to the big dance to clash with Triple H in a brutal, if overly long, No Holds Barred Match. Elsewhere on the card, The Shield made the ultimate statement in their show opening extravaganza, Chris Jericho flopped with Fandango, and Alberto Del Rio met Jack Swagger for the World Heavyweight Championship. Yes, Del Rio wrestled Swagger for the World Heavyweight Championship. At WrestleMania. Mind boggled.
When Brock Lesnar left the WWE in unceremonious fashion to ply his trade in the NFL in 2004, no one thought we would ever see The Next Big Thing in Vince McMahon’s company again. However, never say never in wrestling. Fast forward eight years and The Beast was back in the squared circle destroying John Cena. It was like nothing had changed, but things had changed. During his time away from WWE, Lesnar conquered the UFC and became a household name. This piqued Vince’s interest, and he was finally willing to offer Lesnar the contract he had always wanted – minimal dates for maximum pay.
There’s no denying that Brock Lesnar is a major draw, and he did help spike WWE’s dwindling ratings upon his return, as well as their PPV buyrates. However, there still seemed to be some resentment on McMahon’s part for Lesnar walking out on him. He booked Lesnar to lose to Cena in his comeback match, before having The Beast portray an entitled cowardly bitch on TV. Finally, things settled down for Lesnar when Paul Heyman returned to the fold and began doing all the promos. This led to a decent encounter at SummerSlam with Triple H, in which Lesnar convincingly went over, snapping The Game’s arm in the process, in storyline only of course. This would lead to their needless WrestleMania rematch.
The angle got restarted at the turn of the year when Lesnar drilled Vince McMahon with an F5. That must’ve felt good for Brock, not so much for Vinnie Mac. This brought back the badass version of Triple H, shaven head and all, to avenge his family. It was a good story, albeit one we have seen numerous times involving Triple H. With neither man willing to wrestle on weekly TV, the feud was basically just promos. The best of which was a contract signing with the stipulation being that Brock could decide the match type and what was on the line. Triple H accepted, wanting to get his hands on Lesnar, and the bout was set. The match type was No Holds Barred, and the stipulation read that if Triple H lost then his career would be over. Thanks for telegraphing the result on that one.
At WrestleMania 28, Daniel Bryan lost the World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus in a record 18 seconds. However, something special happened that night. The fans suddenly galvanised behind Bryan, and the Yes Movement was born. Bryan became an overnight sensation and fast approached one of the most popular athletes on the roster. See, Vince McMahon knows what he’s doing after all.
Granted, Bryan did not stay in the main event spotlight, instead moving down to the tag ranks with Kane, and forming one of the most entertaining mismatch pairings in WWE history called Team Hell No. They were comedy gold. Sometimes things just click, and this was one of those times.
In the run up to WrestleMania, Bryan and Kane managed to win the Tag Team Titles and began feuding with Dolph Ziggler and relative newcomer Big E. The bout didn’t promise much, and in truth didn’t deliver much either, but it did confirm Daniel Bryan as the next star in WWE. One year later, he would be on top of the world having defeated Evolution in one fell swoop.
The man who was on top of the world was CM Punk, a guy who was increasingly growing frustrated with WWE around this time. He wanted time off, he wanted to be treated like a star, and he wanted to headline WrestleMania. He got the time off, but was he ever treated like a star? He may have been WWE Champion for over a year but it was often John Cena who got the headline slot on PPV. As for main eventing WrestleMania, he has yet to have that opportunity. Although, facing Undertaker at WrestleMania is the main event and he should have been grateful for getting such an honour.
Punk was fresh off losing the WWE Championship to The Rock in back to back matches at the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber in rather disappointing affairs, it has to be said. Punk was losing the motivation to be the best and it was beginning to show. He won a Four-Way bout on an episode of Raw to earn the right to face Undertaker at WrestleMania which has to be one of the worst ways in history to set up The Phenom’s challenger.
During the rivalry, Undertaker’s manager Paul Bearer sadly passed away in real life. WWE decided to use this to get more heat on CM Punk. They had Paul Heyman dress up as Bearer in a mocking tribute, while Punk beat down The Deadman with the urn. Classy stuff all round. Even during the build, Punk seemed nonplussed and bored. No one could’ve expected the effort he would put in at WrestleMania. The respect for The Undertaker he has spoke volumes here.
Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins burst onto the scene at the 2012 Survivor Series and instantly made themselves big-time players. They were fresh. They were exciting. They had that it factor that had been sorely lacking in WWE for far too long. All three men grabbed Vince McMahon’s imaginary brass ring and tore it down. Collectively, they were known as The Shield, the Hounds of Justice looking to seek and destroy all those in front of them.
Their big WrestleMania debut was to be against Randy Orton, Sheamus and The Big Show. Not many would’ve predicted that as it seemed Vince had pulled their names out of a tumble. Still, fans were invested in The Shield and wanted to see them continue their undefeated streak and hot run of show-stealing matches. As talented a trio as they are, even they couldn’t steal the show with the opponents they were given.
WrestleMania 28 was promoted on the basis of the Once In A Lifetime dream encounter between The Rock and John Cena. It broke all records, and all McMahon could think about was doing it again. So they did do it again, the following year with the WWE Championship on the line. To get the title, Rock beat CM Punk in two straight PPV battles, becoming the WWE Champion for the first time since 2002. Meanwhile, Cena won the Royal Rumble Match to officially set up the rematch.
While the promos were good, they weren’t a patch on the previous year’s efforts from both men. Maybe they had no insults left to throw at one another. The feud also lacked that special aura which they had in 2012. We had already seen this match and weren’t exactly thrilled about seeing a sequel. But a sequel we got, even though it should’ve been a Triple Threat involving CM Punk. That was your money match. That was the way to give Punk his Mania main event. To stay true to your promise of Once In A Lifetime. And to give the fans a fresh bout for WrestleMania. Instead, it became rematch season.
So, let’s get to the event itself. It opened with The Shield overpowering Orton, Sheamus and Big Show and coming out on top once again. They looked great, and the match was pretty decent. The three veterans did all they could to put over the newcomers. Although, we could’ve done without yet another Big Show heel turn post-match.
Next up, was Mark Henry’s nonsensical victory over Ryback, who was well on his way to matching John Cena for fan reactions at this point. What possessed Vince to put a stop to The Big Guy’s push is anyone’s guess. Maybe he pushed past Vince in catering or something. Needless to say, the match sucked.
Team Hell No successfully defended their Tag Team Championship against Dolph Ziggler and Big E in a surprisingly entertaining sprint. The cheers for Bryan here with something to behold. Luckily, it would only take WWE another 11 months to catch on.
The oddest match of the night saw Fandango, in his debut match no less, defeat the legendary Chris Jericho, who was visibly pissed off at what he was being tasked with on the biggest show of the year. Jericho dominated proceedings, but one misstep allowed Fandango to roll him up for the three count and create one of the major upsets in WrestleMania history. No surprise Jericho was done with WWE a few months later.
A babyface Alberto Del Rio finally had his WrestleMania moment by successfully retaining the World Heavyweight Championship against Jack Swagger. Apparently, Swagger was set to take home the gold until he was caught DUI. Some guys truly are idiots. Del Rio’s feel good moment wouldn’t last too long however, as he lost the title the following night on Raw to Dolph Ziggler, who cashed in his MITB contract to one of the biggest pops in Raw history. He would’ve got the loudest cheer of all time if he had interfered in this WrestleMania drivel.
The first, and best, of the three WrestleMania main events saw CM Punk attempt to end The Undertaker’s fabled Streak. It was a classic, no question about it. Both men pulled out all the stops in a barnstormer of a contest that had near falls galore and also told a compelling story throughout. In the end, Punk succumbed to the Tombstone Piledriver and The Phenom went to 21-0. Punk left WWE to recharge his batteries afterwards before returning a few months later to do battle with Brock Lesnar.
Triple H managed to keep his career alive by toppling Brock Lesnar in a brutal No Holds Barred Match that could’ve been a classic had ten minutes been shaved off. It just dragged in bits. We all knew Triple H wasn’t about to retire so it just rendered Brock’s dominance meaningless. The loss put another dent in Lesnar’s aura, but he would get it all back the following year when taking on The Undertaker and doing the unthinkable.
The main event between The Rock and John Cena seemed rushed, and maybe they were running out of PPV time. This was before the Network and 10 hour long WrestleManias were a thing. This bout was nothing more than a finisher spam, and failed to connect with the live crowd. It also didn’t help that Rock injured himself midway through the contest. Obviously, Cena won to get his win back and become the new WWE Champion. Both men embraced afterwards to end their rivalry.
Fun fact – Rock was set to clash with Brock Lesnar the following night on Raw to set up their WrestleMania 30 showdown, but injury forced Rock away and WWE had to abort their plans. So, in a roundabout way, The Rock is the reason The Undertaker’s Streak died at WrestleMania.
Overall, WrestleMania 29 was an average event. For a normal PPV it would be considered awesome, but for WrestleMania it just lacked that something special. We had seen all the main events before, and the undercard was rather drab. All three main event outcomes were super predictable too, and WWE didn’t even bother throwing us a surprise.
Come back to TWM next week where I will be looking back at the road to WrestleMania 30 which saw The Yes Movement take over WWE, John Cena bury Bray Wyatt, and Brock Lesnar conquer The Undertaker’s WrestleMania Streak. I’m still not over it.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!