RassleMania 25: This time, it is personal between Triple H and Randy Orton…but will it draw?
Following the brilliant duel between the Undertaker and Triple H to close the SMACKDOWN! Elimination Chamber bout at NO WAY OUT, I wrote: “… a [WrestleMania] main event of HHH defending the belt vs. the streak of the Undertaker would do big business, as unlike most big matches nowadays, the finish would be difficult for fans to guess. (In fact, things were so predictable at WrestleMania in 2008, the WWE title match finish in the Triple Threat was changed to Orton successfully defending the title over John Cena and HHH just to swerve the marks.) At this point, fans don’t believe ‘Taker’s WRESTLEMANIA streak is in jeopardy, no matter the opponent…with the possible exception of Triple H. Pulling the trigger on the match now would make sense, while ‘Taker is still viewed as a force and Triple H is still on top of his game.
Instead, in their infinite wisdom, WWE Creative, of course, decided to go in a different direction. And when I say “different,” I mean “the same ol’ direction” of a matchup we’ve seen several times, including high-profile PPV bouts: Randy Orton vs. HHH.
Ah, but this time, it was to be different. This time…it was to be personal. Apparently, Vince and Co. believed that by revealing the worst-kept secret in the biz—that Trips is married to Stephanie McMahon—and having Orton terrorize the McMahons would give the pairing a sledgehammer shot to the arm.
As I’ve mentioned several times, Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett used to remind each other that “personal issues draw money” when co-booking the Memphis territory. That philosophy was evident in the initial Lawler vs. Dundee series, a long program featuring heated promos and a series of stipulations over the summer of 1977 that captured the imagination of the fans. For weeks, the promotion featured the same bout on top, consistently drawing money.
July 11: Lawler’s Cadillac on the line vs. $4,000 of Dundee’s money; Attn: 8,044
July 25: Lawler’s Southern title on the line vs. Dundee’s Cadillac: Attn: 7,681
Aug. 1: Lawler’s hair vs.Dundee’s Southern belt and Cadillac; Attn: Sell-Out 11,300
Aug. 8: Lawler’s Southern title and Cadillac vs. Dundee: Attn: 11,100
Aug. 15: Mickey Poole’s hair (Lawler’s manager) vs. Dundee’s Cadillac: Attn: 8,397
Aug. 22: Poole’s hair vs. Dundee’s hair: 7,143
Aug. 29: Lawler’s hair vs. Dundee’s title and Cadillac: 7,420
Sept. 5: Lawler’s hair vs. Dundee’s hair: 10,129
Sept. 13: Lawler’s hair and title vs. Beverly Dundee’s hair (Bill’s wife): 9,000
The personal stips kept the matchup fresh and interesting, with the fans captivated consistently week to week. Other territories pulled this off as well, such as the Mid-Atlantic feud between Ric Flair and Rick Steamboat, and Flair vs. Blackjack Mulligan.
The more the wrestling business changes, the more it remains the same. Personal issues still draw money; however, because the majority of WWE storylines are developed by writers who don’t appear to grasp the basics of wrestling psychology, the execution is rarely there. Case in point: the “Extreme Rules Grudge Match” between the Hardy brothers at this Sunday’s WrestleMania is an afterthought—just another match on the card. And that’s mainly because the spilt wasn’t thought out and booked to that end. It was merely a last-minute swerve to fool a small amount of Internet fans who were expecting Christian—not Matt—to interfere in Hardy’s title match at the RUMBLE.
In the case of the buildup of HHH vs. Orton, the results have been decidedly mixed. Things started off well enough, with Orton taking out Vince with a punt to the head before the chairman of the board could fire his ass. Orton, who has developed into the best heel in the business, had a lot of steam at this point. Orton followed it up by winning the Royal Rumble, ensuring his “spot in the main event at WrestleMania.” Then came the hard-to-watch exchanges between Stephanie and Orton, capped off by the return of Shane McMahon to avenge his father on the Jan. 26 RAW, about which I wrote: “I swear, when Stephanie threatened the Legend Killer, uttering the words “bigger plans” and Shane stepped onto the ramp to confront Orton, I just knew Steve Austin or Undertaker would appear behind him seconds later. The collective fart heard around the country when reviewers realized “bigger plans” in fact meant “just my fat brother” was deafening. I’m not speechless often (imagine that), but I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing — an out-of-shape Shane destroying the WWE’s hottest heel faction … without even the benefit of a single bionic elbow.”
The Orton and Shane match at NO WAY OUT was just as ridiculous, as the Legend Killer gave his opponent far too much offense and appeared lucky to make it out alive. After finally disposing of Shane the next night on RAW, Orton RKO’d Stephanie, which (finally) brought out Triple H, who huffed and puffed with anger. At that point, I thought perhaps they had a hot angle on their hands, but it cooled on the Feb. 23 RAW, when Trips chased Orton and Legacy through the arena with a sledgehammer, a silly segment that didn’t come off realistic at all. The home-invasion angle was bad TV as well, another example of WWE trying to be Hollywood, when they should instead focus on being a wrestling promotion—a novel concept, I know. It’s hard to base a feud on a personal issue when the resulting angles are so over the top that it’s nearly impossible to suspend disbelief.
I will say the angle on the March 24 RAW, which was booked out of desperation when the company realized that the HHH/Orton program wasn’t as hot as they thought it would be, was well executed for the most part. Orton handcuffs HHH to the ropes, which brings out Stephanie, who apparently made a remarkable recovery for the previous attack. (Don’t even bother trying to explain the logic of Stephanie making the save when there are countless wrestlers in the back.) Orton’s cronies corner Steph onto the ring apron, and Orton seizes the opportunity to drill Steph’s head into the canvas again, as her husband can do nothing but watch. Orton was wonderfully sleazy here, planting the kiss on the lips of the fallen Steph. My only quibble was that the segment went way too long, and it would have been nice to see at least some attempt on the part of the wrestlers (excuse me, Superstars) from the back to make the save. The company followed it up with a strong close to the March 31 RAW, with the return of Vince and Shane by Triple H’s side to face off with Legacy. I have to believe a six-man tag between the two sides will likely headline the BACKLASH PPV on April 3. It is personal this time around, but will it be enough to draw? At very least, the personal touch has made this bout far more intriguing than either championship match last year and it does have an old-school feel to that. And you know I like that.
For my prediction of Orton vs. HHH, and the rest of the WrestleMania 25 lineup, check out comics101.com later today.