Maybe you’re a die-hard World Wrestling Entertainment fan. Maybe your appreciation for wrestling stopped when you weren’t living in a dorm anymore. Or maybe Hulk Hogan’s Saturday morning cartoon represents the last time you could relate to a wrestling-related storyline. You’re going to a WrestleMania party, though, and the host has requested that everyone bring some sort of food or drink to share, with bonus points (no cash value) awarded for dishes that play off of some aspect of the event. It’s Saturday, the event’s on Sunday, and your culinary creativity is stuck in the Million Dollar Dream.
Whatever you are, you’re no chef.
Fear not, friends. In a special guest column for Irony or Mayo, MMA columnist Eric Reinert -- host of just such a party -- has offered to write up a preview of Sunday’s pay-per-view event, with food suggestions for each bout. Consider them as you would writing prompts for a creative essay.
This is [cue entrance music] the Official Irony or Mayo WrestleMania 29 Party Primer.
Good guys vs. bad guys, an introduction
A “face” is a hero. The faces [Short for babyface, aww. --Ed.] are the wrestlers WWE wants the fans to cheer for, and are typically the most popular characters. Opposing them are the “heels” or villains. [Short for ‘shitheels’? --Ed.] The heels are tasked with making the audience detest their very presence, something that’s often much easier to accomplish than winning their affections. Heels are also prominently featured in WWE programming and often carry one of the promotion’s various championships for extended periods of time to build up to the magical moment when the hero prevails (as they always eventually do in pro wrestling). For years, it was a face’s sport.
But in the mid-1990s, WWE began to acknowledge the entertainment side of the promotion, and allowed the industry’s curtain to be pulled back a bit when storylines became too silly for the notion of pure competition to hold. The little kids of the 1980s, who rooted only for WWE’s faces, began as teenagers and adults to recognize the dramatic and athletic skill of many of pro wrestling’s heels. This is why you’ll hear a lot of people at MetLife Stadium on Sunday booing people who are ostensibly faces -- because sometimes the heels are that much more talented.
And that’s when the heel/face relationship is cut-and-dried. Other times, it’s a little more complicated...
WWE Championship: The Rock (c) vs. John Cena
As the result of the company’s consolidation of its competitors over the years, WWE has many championships. Of all of these, however, the WWE Championship is the most coveted. The man who holds that belt is the company’s flag-bearer, and often represents the narrative direction of the entire promotion. The industry’s most famous stars (Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin among them) have all held that belt at one time or another, and the current champion certainly belongs among that group of greats.
For years, The Rock was one of WWE’s biggest draws. Along with Austin, The Rock helped propel the company and the industry as a whole onto a new plane of popularity. During WWE’s “Attitude Era” (mid-1996 through about 2002), he was one of the people who pushed the limits of what was considered acceptable for television. His star shone most brightly during this period when WWE’s mission was to be the cultural foil to the political correctness of the Clinton-era ‘90s, and fans ate up every bit of vulgarity The Rock could manage to produce.
The Rock parlayed his immense popularity from wrestling into a career as an action-movie hero, where he could make millions on the silver screen and not have to get hit with as many steel chairs. At the same time, the WWE was moving away from its more controversial storylines and once again taking a more family-friendly approach, and perhaps no current WWE Superstar embodies that transition more than John Cena.
When Cena first broke into WWE in 2002, it was as a white rapper/pseudo-gangster character. He’d wear big chains and oversized basketball jerseys and cut promos (those things where wrestlers talk to the camera about how badly they’re going to beat up their opponent) while rhyming. Think Channing Tatum in his early roles, but add like 60 lbs. of muscle. As the years went on, though, Cena slowly began to shed the shtick and became an enthusiastic superhero of sorts, who sometimes wrestles in baggy cargo shorts and tennis shoes rather than tights and boots. Kids absolutely love the guy, and Cena has reportedly done more than 300 visits for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Cena now represents all that’s good and squeaky-clean about professional wrestling, and as a result he gets a lot of hate from older fans. Adding to this is his average ability in the ring, which kids don’t really notice but which also earns him a lot of criticism from adult fans. (Even though pro wrestling is “fake,” you might be surprised at the greatly varying abilities of different wrestlers to convincingly and entertainingly do battle.) Listen for the alternating “Let’s go, Cena!” and “Cena sucks!” chants on Sunday.
The match between The Rock and Cena, while billed as WrestleMania 29’s main event, is far from the most entertaining bout on the card. For starters, the two did battle at last year’s WrestleMania in what was supposed to be a “once in a lifetime” showdown between the top stars of two eras. Look at the WrestleMania 28 poster; it actually reads ONCE IN A LIFETIME. In all caps. Suffice it to say that the hype for the sequel has not matched that of the original.
Frankly, there isn’t a lot of suspense about who will win either, because The Rock -- despite being the current WWE Champion -- has been basically working part-time. The Rock isn’t a wrestler anymore, he’s a movie star, and WWE can’t have someone who only shows up once every so often be the company’s flag-bearer. The Rock was given the title earlier this year in order to set up the re-match with Cena, the biggest star in WWE. The match should be a decent closer for the show, but if Cena (who last held the belt in 2011) doesn’t leave the ring with the title, everyone watching will be surprised.
Food Suggestion: The People’s Elbow Macaroni and Cheese
World Heavyweight Championship: Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Jack Swagger
The World Heavyweight Championship is second fiddle to the WWE Championship belt. It was only introduced to WWE after the company purchased its primary competitor, WCW, for whom the World Heavyweight Championship was the top title. [Think that big gold belt Ric Flair used to lug around in the 90’s. --Ed.] The person who holds this belt is promoted heavily, but the WWE Championship will always have a more coveted position in the company.
On Sunday, current World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio defends his belt against Jack Swagger to settle a rivalry that briefly caught the attention of those outside the wrestling community. Del Rio hails from Mexico, where he became a star on that country’s luchador circuit (and, in “real life,” holds a 9-5 record as a professional MMA fighter). He first came to WWE in 2009 and portrayed a heel until very recently, when he made a face-turn and won the World Heavyweight Championship. Since then, he has touted the virtues of the American Dream while also appealing to WWE’s considerable Latino fanbase.
On the other side of the ring will be Jack Swagger. Swagger first came to WWE in 2008 after a stellar amateur wrestling career at the University of Oklahoma. Swagger, competing under his real name, Jake Hager, was an All-American at OU in 2006, a season during which he pinned 30 of his opponents, an NCAA Division I record. That was basically his character for the first several years in WWE - a big guy who was actually good at “real” wrestling. [Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar were both gone by 2008, and WWE likes to have a real wrestler in the stable. --Ed.]
While no one doubted Swagger’s considerable ring skills, his ability to connect with fans on the microphone has always been lacking. For this reason, Swagger has often been accompanied by a manager who serves as his mouthpiece. Swagger took some time off in September 2012, remaining absent from WWE programming for several months. When he returned in February, it was with a new manager and new attitude.
WWE has long been a hotbed of racism and misogyny, and not just from the heels. But while WWE still retains many of its decidedly un-PC elements, outright racism is now a trait taken on exclusively by heel characters. Enter Jack Swagger and his new manager, Zeb Colter, a name heavy with political significance. The duo has adopted a strong anti-immigration stance and spouts Tea Party-esque right-wing rhetoric. Their performance caused such a stir in some circles that WWE actually had Swagger and Colter break character in this video to explain to the industry’s critics how pro wrestling and televised drama works. (Watch the whole video, or just skip to about 1:30 to see what I mean.)
Of course, Swagger and Colter serve as magnificent foils to Alberto Del Rio, and the build-up to the match has reached a fever pitch, with Swagger recently breaking the ankle (no, not really) of Del Rio’s beloved ring announcer, Ricardo Rodriguez. Del Rio is out for revenge, and he’s going to take out all his frustration on Swagger.
Food Suggestion: We the Peeple (Red, White and Blue Peeps)
The Undertaker vs. CM Punk
Of all the matches on WrestleMania 29’s jam-packed card, this is the one that appeals to fans like me the most. The Undertaker has been a WWE staple for more than two decades, first debuting as a monster heel in 1990 (when I was six years old) and quickly becoming one of the industry’s most popular stars. These days, the 48-year-old Undertaker wrestles just once or twice a year, but is the sort of legend that will always get a gigantic cheer from the fans whenever the lights go out, the bell tolls, and he enters an arena.
What’s on the line in this match isn’t a WWE title, but rather a streak as legendary as The Undertaker himself. Since his first WrestleMania appearance (VII, in 1991) the Undertaker has yet to be defeated at the WWE’s biggest event, giving him a perfect 20-0 WrestleMania record (he did not participate in WrestleManias X or XVI). This is an astounding feat even for a scripted event, considering that most wrestlers don’t even make it in the WWE for half that amount of time, let alone are respected enough to constantly be made the winner in the industry’s most important show.
The man looking to end The Undertaker’s streak is CM Punk, a man who recently held the WWE title for 434 days (an impressive stretch in and of itself). CM Punk represents the “smart” fans of 2013 -- those for whom a wrestler’s ability in the ring and on the microphone are paramount, superseding face or heel status. CM Punk, perhaps more than any other WWE Superstar on the roster, possesses the greatest total amount of both ring and mic skills. He is a ruthless competitor on the mat, and excels at drawing out precise fan reactions.
CM Punk is the perfect wrestler for the WWE’s “Reality Era,” a demonstrated best in his now-famous “pipe bomb” promo from 2011 where he took WWE and its chairman, Vince McMahon, to task for several minutes on live television. It was the first time in years that WWE fans, even the ones who considered themselves “in the know,” weren’t really sure what just happened. Punk is a “smart” fan who just so happens to have fought and clawed his way to the top of the WWE heap, so he knows what wrestling fans want to see. For this reason, he’s revered by many fans, even those who boo him the loudest.
After CM Punk lost the WWE Championship to The Rock in January, many predicted he would be the next man to try and break the Undertaker’s famous streak. Those people were proven correct in March when Punk defeated three other competitors to earn the opportunity. He was given even more rhetorical ammunition when The Undertaker’s longtime manager, Paul Bearer, passed away (for real) the following week, and since then he has taken to desecrating Bearer’s memory (as the real-life Bill Moody, may he rest in piece, would have no-doubt wanted it). So not only is The Streak on the line, but also the opportunity for The Undertaker to silence Punk’s insolence.
Without question, this is my most anticipated match of WrestleMania 29.
Food Suggestion: Go To Sleep Homemade Turkey Sandwiches
Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H
Non-WWE appearances are as regular a WrestleMania feature as an Undertaker match. Many times these celebrities serve auxiliary roles (ring announcer, “official timekeeper,” etc.) but once in a while a non-wrestling celebrity will actually step into the ring. Mr. T tag-teaming with Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania I), New York Giants great Lawrence Taylor, backed by a cadre of other NFL tough guys, facing Bam Bam Bigelow (XI), and perhaps most absurdly (and, in a way, pretty awesomely), Nicole Polizzi; better known as Snooki, she scored a pinfall at WrestleMania 27 during the height of her Jersey Shore popularity.
This year, the night’s celebrity guest isn’t much of a reach. Before becoming the UFC Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar plied his trade with WWE, winning the WWE Championship three times during his brief tenure at the beginning of the last decade. A failed attempt at making the NFL led to a blockbuster arrival in the world of mixed martial arts. (Lesnar was the 2000 NCAA Division I heavyweight champion at the University of Minnesota.) He would win the UFC heavyweight title in just his fourth pro fight, but the so-called “baddest man on the planet” retired from MMA after his eighth, citing multiple bouts with diverticulitis. A whole bunch Alistair Overeem’s body kicks likely had something to do with it, too.
In the time since, Lesnar has made sporadic appearances for WWE, most recently establishing a rivalry with the iconic Triple H. A holdover from the Attitude Era like Undertaker, Triple H is another wrestler whose on-screen and in-ring time is fairly limited. But unlike other aging Superstars, Triple H’s work has transitioned to a behind-the-scenes role, where (in real life) he works as WWE’s Executive Vice President of Talent and Live Events. He is also married to Vince McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie (again, for real), and the two are expected to eventually assume control of the company.
Triple H’s recent in-ring activity has been limited to big event matches. He faced The Undertaker at the previous two WrestleMania events, and has not competed in the ring since August, when he lost to Lesnar. In that match, Lesnar broke Triple H’s arm for the second time (not really), and has lorded this victory over Triple H ever since.
Sunday’s match, which is billed as “No Holds Barred,” will almost certainly be the most violent of the evening. WWE has shied away from allowing their performers to bleed in recent years, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one if not both competitors in this match “get color.” The outcome doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of WWE storylines, but it should be an entertaining brawl.
Food Suggestion: Pedigree Puppy Chow [Or raw beef cannibal sandwiches? --Ed.]
Sheamus, Randy Orton and The Big Show vs. The Shield
The fact that this epic six-man tag-team match will likely take place somewhere in the middle of the WrestleMania card shows just how stacked the event is. This would easily serve as the co-main event, if not the main event, on another card and will probably be one of the night’s most exciting matches.
The Shield is a three-man wrecking crew consisting of WWE newcomers Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. The group debuted in November at the end of the Survivor Series pay-per-view and have been terrorizing WWE’s faces ever since. Their official in-ring debut took place in December, where they defeated the team of Daniel Bryan, Kane and Ryback (all of whom will also compete at WrestleMania 29). The team defeated a second squad of WWE all-stars (Cena, Ryback and Sheamus) in January and have looked unbeatable ever since.
At WrestleMania, however, The Shield will take on the strongest team of WWE faces it has seen to date. All three are former multi-time WWE champions and are some of the most well-known wrestlers in the business today. Oh yeah, and The Big Show is 7-foot-1 and more than 400 lbs. The only question is whether Sheamus, Orton and The Big Show can peacefully co-exist; Sheamus and The Big Show were embroiled in a bitter feud just a few months ago, and Orton has never been keen on teaming up with anyone.
WrestleMania is when the heroes prevail and the villains get their comeuppance, so I expect The Shield will fall on Sunday night.
Food Suggestion: The Big Nac-Shows
WWE Tag Team Championship: Team Hell No (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler and Big E Langston
Speaking of dysfunctional tag-teams, no duo has performed so well while getting along so poorly as Team Hell No. Daniel Bryan and Kane could not be more different. Bryan is a 5-foot-8 technician who uses his considerable skills to succeed in the ring. Kane is seven feet tall and would aptly be described as a powerhouse wrestler. Much of Bryan’s character is based in irony. He, like CM Punk, is a younger performer who grew up in the postmodern era of pro wrestling. He fully understands the intricacies of building a relationship with the audience, both positive and negative, and he is second to none when it comes to in-ring abilities.
Kane has played the same “Big Red Monster” character unironically since his debut in 1997 when, and I’m completely serious, he was introduced as The Undertaker’s brother who was supposedly killed during their childhood. (Pro wrestling, folks!) Despite their differences, the two have formed an effective combination, capturing the WWE tag team titles in Sept. 2012 and holding them ever since -- though it’s likely only a matter of time before the partnership implodes.
Hoping to hasten the demise of Team Hell No is the duo of Dolph Ziggler and Big E Langston. Ziggler has had an interesting year, and I bet six months ago he thought he’d likely be higher on the WrestleMania 29 card than he is. Here’s what I mean:
Back in July, Ziggler won a match that granted him the opportunity to challenge the World Heavyweight Champion for his title any time for 365 days following the match. Since then, Ziggler has attempted to cash in his title chance at opportune moments, only to be thwarted time and time again. For a brief time, he feuded with John Cena, which led some to suspect he’d be receiving a main-event push sooner than later.
It was not to be, however. Cena went back to feuding with The Rock and all of WWE’s other faces were occupied in other rivalries, so Ziggler finds himself teamed up with the rookie Langston (a former powerlifter with pecs that would look ridiculous in any industry other than pro wrestling) in a match far from the night’s main event. Hey, at least it’s for a championship. Let’s not forget, though, that Ziggler could try to cash in his shot at World Heavyweight Championship if the winner of the Del Rio/Swagger match should take a particularly damaging beating.
Food Suggestion: Big Red Monster red velvet cake, or Jello Zigglers; I couldn’t decide which I liked more.
Ryback vs. Mark Henry
Two absolute powerhouses collide here in what will probably the night’s shortest match.
Ryback is a relative WWE neophyte, garnering the bulk of his attention since mid-2012, when he became an unlikely main-eventer after John Cena was forced out of action with an injury. He faced CM Punk for the WWE Championship twice: first in October, when he was screwed out of the win by the “corrupt” referee, and again in November, when he was screwed out of the win by the debuting Shield. He’s definitely a throwback to an earlier time in wrestling, when physique mattered far more than technique -- which is a nice way of saying that Ryback isn’t particularly skilled or charismatic, but really appeals to little kids because he looks like a superhero, so here he is.
His opponent, Mark Henry, is another guy whose skills are trumped by his size. A former Olympic powerlifter, Henry is maybe the strongest guy in WWE, and that strength has been his calling card throughout his career. Most recently, he’s basically been the heel version of Ryback, easily and mercilessly running through lesser opponents en route to their inevitable collision.
What this match will lack in longevity, it will make back in feats of strength. Expect both wrestlers to pick up the other at some point, and perhaps in an extremely perilous fashion like from the top turnbuckle or something.
Food Suggestion: Long Island Iced Tea (the World’s Strongest Drink)
Chris Jericho vs. Fandango
Chris Jericho might be my favorite wrestler of all time. He’s wrestled all over the world and impressed crowds wherever he went. He was one of the first wrestlers to perform with a sense of irony, realizing before many others in the business that many fans actually appreciate a more of a winking, tongue-in-cheek approach to professional wrestling rather than relying on straight intimidation. He was one of the first silly tough guys to break through and remains an incredible entertainer even at age 42.
On Sunday, Jericho will face a guy who will actually be making his WWE in-ring debut, but only after a build-up that has lasted several months. WWE started running vignettes for a new ballroom-dancer character named Fandango in November, but then they mysteriously stopped until February. Eventually, Fandango’s official debut was announced, but he refused to compete because the person interviewing did not pronounce his name correctly. (Contrary to what you might think, his name is actually pronounced “FAAHHHNNN-DAAAAHHHNN-GOOOOO.”) This charade continued, with Fandango inching ever closer to in-ring competition before finding a way out of it.
Eventually, he had a backstage run-in with Jericho, who insulted Fandango by repeatedly altering his name. This incensed the new WWE superstar, who retaliated with a series of attacks on Jericho. Thus, a WrestleMania match was created, and Fandango will be making his WWE television debut on the largest possible stage against one of the industry’s most legendary performers. The pressure will be on, and this one should be good.
Food Suggestion: Apple Pie2J [I’d make MOHHH-FUNNN-GOOOO. --Ed.]
Tons of Funk and the Funkadactyls vs. Team Rhodes Scholars and The Bella Twins
Tons of Funk consists of the massive duo of Brodus Clay (the former real-life bodyguard for Snoop Lion) and Tensai (a former real-life schoolteacher who achieved the most success as a wrestler in Japan), who were put together because WWE likes to match up unlikely partners (see: Team Hell No). Clay’s character is that of a fun-loving giant who routinely brings little kids in the ring after his victories to dance. He and Tensai will be backed by Clay’s backup dancers, known as The Funkadactyls.
Team Rhodes Scholars is the criminally underutilized team of Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow, two of my favorite WWE performers. Rhodes is a master in the ring and not too bad on the microphone. Sandow is his unlikely counterpart, a verbose intellectual character who gets booed loudly wherever he goes. The two will be joined by real-life twins Nikki and Brie Bella, who left the WWE in mid-2012 before returning in March.
Every WWE pay-per-view needs a “go to the bathroom” match. Pure filler here, but tune in for Cody Rhodes’s sick mustache.
Food Suggestion: A normal, unspectacular eight-ingredient snack mix
WWE Intercontinental Championship: Wade Barrett (c) vs. The Miz
I would list this match higher in my preview, but it’s not actually appearing on the pay-per-view itself. Instead, Wade Barrett will defend his WWE Intercontinental title against The Miz during the event’s pre-show.
The Intercontinental belt was the WWE’s original secondary title, and is ostensibly meant to showcase the company’s rising stars. All-time greats like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Edge and many others had reigns as Intercontinental Champion before graduating to main-event status, but the title seems to have lost its luster in recent years. Where in previous eras, the Intercontinental Champion would almost never lose (unless it was for his title), we’re now seeing the title-holder routinely lose non-title matches to lesser-ranked opponents on TV events.
Wade Barrett, the current title-holder, is one of the few British wrestlers to experience success in the WWE. He won the first season of NXT (a reality-type program which introduced new wrestlers to the WWE audience) and soon became the leader of an evil stable known as The Nexus. Barrett suffered an elbow injury in early 2012, though, and would only return late in the year in an attempt to regain his past successes. He defeated Kofi Kingston for the Intercontinental belt on Dec. 31 and has held it ever since.
If you watched MTV in 2001, you probably saw Barrett’s opponent on The Real World: Back to New York. Those days, The Miz was just Mike Mizanin from Ohio, but he made his interest in professional wrestling plain. He began to develop his Miz persona during subsequent appearances on the various Real World/Road Rules Challenge competitions before eventually making it onto the WWE roster in 2006 [thanks in part to his own stint on an earlier WWE reality-competition show, Tough Enough. --Ed.]. The Miz has not had a long career in the WWE, but he’s already won multiple championships. He even main-evented WrestleMania 27 against John Cena, where he successfully defended his WWE Championship after The Rock’s interference.
Barrett and The Miz are actually well-matched competitors. They both were able to achieve spots at or near the top of the company after relatively short periods in the ring, and have now been moved back slightly to secondary status. Both of these guys have tasted true professional success and will be angling for another push. Even though this match is on the pre-show, catch it if you can.
Food Suggestion: Figure Four Pretzels with Awesome Sauce
If you've made it this far, you're certainly hungry by now. Get shopping, and whip up some Rowdy Roddy Pepper Jelly or Stephanie McMahon's chicken tacos with Beyond Chicken fake breast meat, or, shit, just pull an Andre the Giant and drink like a case of wine or something. It's WrestleMania, for crying out loud. Blow it out.