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Friday, April 1, 2011

New tries to catch up with old at WrestleMania XXVII

For its last big push before WrestleMania XXVII, WWE put two of its biggest stars in the ring during “Raw” on Monday night. At the end of the show, John Cena and the Rock went face to face to hype Sunday's pay-per-view card, the biggest of the year for the company.

It was the Attitude Era vs. the current PG brand. It also highlighted the trouble WWE has had in the transition between the two. It wasn't until the Miz joined Cena and the Rock that the two participants in the WrestleMania main event were in the ring together.

The biggest championship match of the year is the Miz (Parma native Mike Mizanin) defending against Cena. The Rock isn't wrestling on Sunday. He was brought in as the host. WWE needed star power to sell the show, so they inserted the Rock into the main event storyline, even though he won't be in the ring unless he interferes (that never happens).

The deal to bring in the Rock was necessary because departures and hiatuses have thinned the ranks at the top of the card. Shawn Michaels retired. Batista left right behind him. Triple H took a year off, and Chris Jericho is on "Dancing With the Stars."

This left WWE with a mishmash of overused main-eventers and wrestlers who had not yet earned that credibility with the audience. It had Cena, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Edge and the Undertaker, but they had been used in just about every combination WWE could think of in the last five years. The next tier included a bunch of contenders who had tasted a little bit of the limelight, but had also suffered enough head-scratching losses to the point it was tough to tell what to think of them. They included:

- The Miz: He's held the WWE title for four months and has shown promise not only because of his on-camera work, but also because he's been proficient representing the company on the promotional circuit. But he's also been third fiddle to the Rock and Cena in the lead-in to WrestleMania, even though he's the one Cena should be most concerned with.

- Sheamus: The Irish import has had two WWE title reigns totaling five months.

- Dolph Ziggler (Nic Nemeth of St. Edward High and Kent State wrestling fame): He was world champion for one day.

- Jack Swagger: World champion for 2 1/2 months.

- CM Punk: Three world title reigns totaling about five months.

With the exception of Punk, who has been pushed as the leader of Nexus, none of the above has been on top long enough to be a singular draw on the Raw or Smackdown brands. Instead of a couple big-time threats, it's a bunch who have some cache, but not enough.

A wrestler who doesn't even qualify for the above list is in the other main event on Sunday.

Alberto Del Rio, a 21st century Million Dollar Man, fulfilled his self-professed destiny to be in the other WrestleMania main event by winning the Royal Rumble. He chose to face the current world champion, Edge. Because both are on Smackdown, WWE has had to put Del Rio into guest appearances on Raw just so fans can get familiar with him. Del Rio is the No. 1 contender for the world title, but until January he was "who?" to many who only watch the Monday night show.

Del Rio's spot could have gone to Ziggler or another up-and-comer, John Morrison. Instead, they're stuck in a mixed tag team match with Snooki from "Jersey Shore." WWE also called in Trish Stratus from retirement to team with the trio. Stratus, along with the Rock, Steve Austin - who is the guest referee for the announcer battle of Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole - and Triple H are returning veterans added to boost the card.

Triple H hasn't wrestled in almost a year, and he is trying to end Undertaker’s 18-match WrestleMania winning streak. Until Monday night, the reasons for Triple H’s motivation were oddly vague. It had something to do with being the last outlaw, without a mention of their match at WrestleMania 17. But in a great promo on “Raw,” Triple H explained that someone needed to tell Undertaker it was his turn to be put down, and he was the one to do it. Shawn Michaels was also involved in the exchange long enough to make fans wonder if he’ll be also get involved on Sunday.

Michaels had his final match last year at Wrestlemania XXVI. Triple H, Undertaker or both could be in their last Showcase of the Immortals this year. It’s a WrestleMania of transition. If WWE does it right, it will only need the stars of 10 years ago for the Hall of Fame ceremony in 2012, not as participants in WrestleMania XXVIII.

WrestleMania is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday. The card, as of Thursday night:

WWE championship: The Miz (c) vs. John Cena
World championship: Edge (c) vs. Alberto Del Rio
Undertaker vs. Triple H
Randy Orton vs. CM Punk
Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole
Rey Mysterio vs. Cody Rhodes
John Morrison, Trish Stratus and Snooki vs. Dolph Ziggler and Lay-Cool
United States championship: Sheamus (c) vs. Daniel Bryan
Big Show, Kane, Vladimir Kozlov and Santino Marella vs. Wade Barrett, Ezekiel Jackson, Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel.

- Howard Primer


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