Always Be Closing – Picking The WrestleMania Main Event

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By Andrew Terrance Kaberline

Wrestlers have personal goals, but it seems the defacto supreme goal is the same for all aspiring grapplers. Not making it to WWE, not winning a World Title, but main eventing WrestleMania.

For the first 17 years of WrestleMania’s existence, it was clear who was and should be in the main event. In the early years, WrestleMania wasn’t even promoted as an event so much as one big attraction match, the way a boxing superfight runs. I’m sure a lot of you know the result of Mayweather vs. McGreggor, but could you tell me who won any of the other fights on that card? Are you surprised to hear that there were other fights on that card? Well that’s how the main event used to be at WrestleMania.

There was an attempt at WrestleMania 2 to do four main events spread across four different arenas with a lot of closed circuit television thrown in for good measure. It didn’t work logistically or narratively.

In 1993 the winner of the Royal Rumble gained entry into the main event.

Then WrestleMania 19 changed everything. The brand split had happened, muddying the idea of the world champion, since there were now champions for each brand, like being American or National League champion in baseball. Logically the WrestleMania main event could be a meeting of these two champs, like the World Series. But why do that, if you could build a show around multiple main events? Appeal to different breeds of fans simultaneously? Give them each their OWN main event, regardless of whether it was the last match of the night.

This idea has pervaded WrestleMania ever since. Four matches will be referred to as “Main Event Matches.” The winner of the Royal Rumble will have their match before the other World Title. Sometimes, like just last year, the last match on the card doesn’t even have a title attached to it.

Lots of wrestlers can claim they’ve achieved the greatest pinnacle in the business, main eventing WrestleMania, but deep down we all know if you don’t go on last, you’re not truly a main event.

This year, there are six potential matches that can reasonably lay claim to closing the show. I’m going to attempt to play both the proverbial angel and devil who sit upon my respective shoulders. I will give you passionate reasons why a match should be graced with the main event, AND snarky asides on why such a decision would be an utter disaster.

So, let’s begin, going from least likely (but still possible) through what I’d put my money on.

Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair

The Case For

If you haven’t been watching wrestling with a close eye recently, you’ve missed WWE’s initiative to feature women more prominently. No more degrading “bra and panties” matches, lots more women’s firsts.

These past two years we’ve had the first women’s hell in a cell match, money in the bank match, elimination chamber, royal rumble – they are even getting their own version of the “Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal,” at WrestleMania, which is now unnamed (google Fabulous Moolah to learn the dark reason why)

The pioneers of this new movement have been consistent in their statements of their ultimate goal:
To have women main event WrestleMania.

This is their first legit opportunity (no Sasha Banks pun intended)

Asuka is the female version of Goldberg. No, she’s not a bald dude who wears boring black trunks, she’s the opposite in that regard, a color wheel in hair and attire alike, but she is an undefeated killing machine. She can work a longer, better match than Goldberg to boot.

She’s running into Charlotte Flair. The most well-rounded female star in WWE. She’s physically imposing, beautiful, charismatic, and maybe the best athlete in the company, gender aside.

It also doesn’t hurt that her father, Ric Flair, is the most recognizable wrestling star pre-90s, and has been making a resurgence in the cultural lexicon with his recent 30For30 documentary, and an influx of athletes and rappers sharing their love for the Nature Boy with pre-game routines of his famous promos, putting him in their music videos, and even wearing cleats with his likeness.

It’s not a coincidence that “The Queen,” Charlotte has added Flair back to her on-screen name.

Asuka is the undefeated empress. Charlotte Flair is the Queen. It’s Queen vs. Empress. It’s the female match that should be the first to main Event WrestleMania.

The Case Against

I agree! But it has NO CHANCE IN HELL of doing so.

There has been almost no build to this match. The match was announced late, with the Ronda Rousey situation having to be figured out before Royal Rumble winner Asuka could pick her opponent. Also, there hasn’t been the opportunity to have these two women talk smack, with Asuka’s English still limited and Charlotte Flair’s poorly-timed emergency oral surgery.

This match got shotgunned to an already stacked card. Had they waited it out, this could’ve been the main event at next year’s WrestleMania for sure. Now it’ll just be another part of the show.

HHH and Stephanie McMahon vs. Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey

The Case For

This one is like a summer Hollywood blockbuster, it ticks all the boxes that should get eyes on the screen.

There’s relics from the golden age of wrestling in HHH and Kurt Angle
There’s a big mainstream star in Ronda Rousey
There’s a potential for a first time ever main event featuring women

This match is getting the most mainstream news attention (albeit more focused on time travel than the actual show). Ronda Rousey isn’t undefeated boxer and former WrestleMania competitor Floyd Mayweather, but she sure is Money.

Those early Wrestlemanias were built on the idea of crossing hip young culture with wrestling. You had Mr. T teaming with Hulk Hogan, and Muhammed Ali at ringside, and Cyndi Lauper was there, and MTV was promoting it all! Liberace was there! And who do young people love more than Liberace? Don’t answer that.

This might not be exactly the same, but it’s the closest thing we’ve had to pure OG WrestleMania mainstream glitz in a very long time.

The Case Against 

Only one of the four competitors can be trusted to carry a match as a wrestler at this given time, and he’s not an active wrestler anymore.

There is going to be a lot of Gaga in this one (no, not Lady Gaga, I mean there will be hijinks) but it can’t ALL be Gaga. There must be some wrestling in there.

Kurt Angle is one of the best in-ring wrestlers ever, but he came into wrestling with neck problems. Years of wrestling in the ring, wrestling through injuries, and wrestling through personal demons have left him a shell of what he once was. You can’t rely on him to carry the majority of the in-ring work of a tag team anymore, which is bad because…

His partner has never wrestled a match, let alone a WrestleMania match. Sure Mr. T main evented in his first match on WrestleMania, but that was before WrestleMania was a thing of legend. I don’t care how big Ronda’s star is. I don’t care that she is an amazing athlete. I think she could very easily become a great professional wrestler in a year’s time. She could main event WrestleMania…next year.

John Cena vs. The Undertaker

The Case For

At WrestleMania 20, John Cena made his debut on the big stage, and The Undertaker returned to his literal dead man gimmick. Since then, these two men have main evented eight of thirteen Wrestlemanias. Though never against each other.

You have the biggest star in WWE post-Rock in John Cena, and the best gimmick in WWE history in The Undertaker. If you put all the matches on this year’s card in front of a wrestling novice, and asked them to pick what the main event is, this is what they would pick.

There is the added appeal that this is a dream match that was thought to be impossible. As far as we could tell Undertaker retired at the end of last year’s WrestleMania, placing his iconic hat, coat, and gloves in the center of the ring, insinuating that Mark Calaway was leaving his storied character behind.

When it was announced that the Undertaker would appear on the Raw anniversary show a few months back, people speculated that he might announce an in-ring return to set up this very match, but instead, we got a vague promo that implied the retirement was still going strong.

Enter the fantastic, if implausible, recent story of John Cena, grizzled old veteran who maybe can’t cut it anymore, failing at every opportunity to win his way into the main event of WrestleMania 34. Desperate to remain relevant, Cena called out the last person he could think of who would elevate him to the main event, The Undertaker.

As of this writing, this match hasn’t officially been announced, the Undertaker has stayed silent and it feels like maybe he actually won’t respond, maybe John Cena will actually watch the show from the front row, actually just a fan without a match. This won’t be the case of course, but the build for this match has been compelling. There’s just one problem…

The Case Against

The match itself will be a dud.

Sure, these two guys can tell great stories in the ring and having great matches, but the Undertaker hasn’t just been playing the part of a broken down western star. That’s what he is. Last year, against Roman Reigns, he could barely walk.

This year he’s coming out of retirement because according to people like Bruce Prichard, The Undertaker “looks better and feels better than he has in 10 years.”

That’s because he has a new hip. If you’re getting back into the ring because you have a new hip, then you probably shouldn’t be wrestling anymore.

What’s most disappointing is that this match will undo the wonderful final images of his career, undermining the entirety of last year’s WrestleMania completely. And for what?

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn vs. Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon

The Case For

Daniel Bryan just dropped the biggest bombshell of the year, that he is cleared to return to in-ring action. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn have been featured as the main story on Smackdown for the better part of six months. Shane McMahon is a big-time authority figure who’s good to do at least one really crazy thing every time he wrestles.

Let us not forget, the best WrestleMania Moment in recent history was Daniel Bryan winning the WWE championship at WrestleMania 30, in the same building that WrestleMania 34 will take place!

The people love Daniel Bryan more than anyone else. He is a legit box office draw who we seriously thought would never lace up his boots again. Now, after three weeks of amazing promo work on his part, Daniel has ditched the retired man’s cardigan, and is ready to thread those laces.

The Case Against

I get it, Daniel Bryan is a big deal. He’s a big enough deal that he can hijack the show. While we’re waiting for this thing to main event the show, the other big time matches will be going on, and when John Cena gets the Undertaker on his shoulders to deliver an AA, will the people be chanting for Cena? Will they be chanting for The Undertaker?

NO. They’ll be pointing into the air saying “Yes” over and over again like idiots.

It was cute at WrestleMania 30 when Daniel Bryan was the center of attention during EVERY match, because the card was thin. That night started and ended with Daniel. It was his story. This year however, the ensemble cast is way bigger, and there is nothing worse that could happen than the fans not coming along because they’re waiting to see the American Dragon.

This should absolutely not main event. In fact, putting it anywhere other than the first match of the evening would be a disservice to everyone else on the card.

Also, Shane McMahon has legit Diverticulitis, Vince McMahon hated Kevin Owen’s match at WrestleMania last year, we’re not entirely sure Vince knows who Sami Zayn is, and finally, there has only been one tag team match to main event a WrestleMania, and that was at WrestleMania I. There’s no way this match sniffs the main event.

AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

The Case For 

We’ve seen these two men steal a show before, at WrestleKindgom 10 in 2016, The Japanese equivalent to WrestleMania.

Since then, these two technical wrestling masters have only improved their star status stateside, and it is a sure thing that they will have at LEAST a very good match together.

Even in this stacked card, there is no question to wrestling purists that this match has the highest ceiling for in-ring action.

This could be the moment that pushes Shinsuke Nakamura into the stratosphere of WWE Megastar. He’s a Japanese man with the fashion sense of Dangerous era Michael Jackson, and the flamboyant movement of peak Freddie Mercury, plus he hits people as convincingly as MMA knockout artists. Plus, Plus, he has a killer entrance, with the best wrestling theme song of anyone else in the company, which the audience at the Royal Rumble continued to sing throughout the match.

Oh yeah, did we mention that Shinsuke won the Royal Rumble? The match where the winner is in the Main Event of WrestleMania?

The Case Against

Winning the Royal Rumble doesn’t secure the top place of the card anymore. Just ask Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt how that worked out for them last year.

The biggest problem with this match is that neither of these guys are considered WWE guys, and Vince doesn’t like putting guys at the top who got famous without his help. AJ Styles was the lynchpin of TNA, now Impact Wrestling. Then, he was the leader of the Bullet Club in Japan, which is maybe the biggest competition to WWE, certainly in terms of merchandising. Everything AJ has done in his short tenure in WWE has lived up to his moniker of being The Phenomenal One, but we still remember too much of his time before then, like his excellent match with Nakamura in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

This match isn’t new, though it will be new to a wide portion of the American audience. Vince knows this, and if it ends up being a five-star classic, then WWE will take credit for putting these two together, trying to erase from your memory their success elsewhere.

That’s another knock against its main event potential – this is going to be a wrestling match in the fullest sense. It will take a patient audience to appreciate, and to ask it to succeed in the main event is asking a lot of an audience who will have been in their seats for seven hours before that.

Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns

The Case Against

People don’t particularly like these two wrestlers. Roman has been booed to close the last three WrestleManias, and you would have to think that the powers that be understand a fourth straight year of that would be bad for their image.

Both men have had drug issues in the recent past. Roman’s latest PED scandal is likely malarkey, but he does have a legit drug failure on his record. The entire reason that Brock is still in a wrestling ring instead of fighting in UFC is because he’s serving a suspension for steroids in his last professional bout against Mark Hunt at UFC 200, which went from a win to a no-contest.

The real reason though, that this can’t go on last, is because it’s going to be short. Goldberg vs Lesnar was a much better “car crash” kind of match on paper, and that lasted all of five minutes. WrestleMania main events have to go ten minutes. At least. I just don’t see these two holding a crowd for that long.

The Case For

For three years Roman has been last on the biggest show of the year, and his matches have been worse received with each attempt. The best match he’s had at WrestleMania though, was against Brock Lesnar, his opponent this year.

There’s hope for this to be a better outing for the Big Dog. Brock doesn’t seem to wrestle matches longer than ten minutes anymore, and when confined to that restriction, the idea of two big powerful men wailing on each other works the way watching a building get demolished works. There’ll be some fireworks, and then it’s over before you have to stop and think about it.

Plus, this time around, the WWE writing staff has put Roman in a position to succeed. Though it appears to be (mostly) a worked storyline, there are rumblings that Brock Lesnar might being leaving the company after WrestleMania to return to the world of Mixed Martial Arts. Brock being champion AND working a very limited schedule has made watching RAW on Mondays arduous. It’s easy for a fan base to turn on a champion who is seen less during Raw’s timeslot than the Chrisley Knows Best guy. When Roman cut his first promo against Brock, it made perfect logical sense. Why would we root for a guy who doesn’t seem like he gives a shit about wrestling, over someone who has been working hard on-screen week in and week out for the last three years? You might not like Roman, but he is always on the show. The only thing that keeps him out are drug test failures and the occasional outbreak of the mumps. He may have started to lose the newly won audience members when he suggested that he wasn’t favored by Vince McMahon, but beyond that lack of self-awareness, Roman’s character has taken some shape in the past month. Even though we’ve known this is the big money match for more than a year, I’m more excited for this Roman match than his last three WrestleMania’s combined.

Both these men met on the WrestleMania stage before, with neither getting the better of each other. Both these men are the only ones in the world who have beat the Undertaker at WrestleMania. This story has been telegraphed for a long time, with sharp storytelling down the stretch. It’s time to move along, with Roman Reigns finally being crowned as WrestleMania fades to black. ■


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