”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Are you currently satisfied with the match that your favorite wrestler is slated for at WrestleMania this year?
Marking out is awesome, isn’t it? There might not be a better moment in wrestling fandom than when something happens that makes you beam with excitement, allowing even the most dialed in, diehard smark to completely lose him or herself in the show. I marked out last night, myself, but it was for a reason I would not have expected a few weeks ago; I marked out because Seth Rollins and Finn Balor are going to challenge The Miz for the Intercontinental Title at WrestleMania 34 in five weeks.
A week ago, a triple threat for the IC gold seemed pretty obvious and hardly the inspiration for a mark-out moment, but a prominent rumor posted by a Sports Illustrated writer created a side narrative that sparked within me feelings of intense negativity toward this year’s Show of Shows. He reported that the plan was for Miz to defend the IC Title not in a triple threat, but in a Fatal 5-Way against the aforementioned Balor and Rollins, plus Braun Strowman and Elias, and further speculated that it could be a Ladder Match. Instantly, my enthusiasm for ‘Mania dropped through the basement; I selfishly had no desire to see my two favorite wrestlers end up in a cluster match (screams “creative has nothing better for you”), I could probably go fifteen years without seeing another 5-6-7-way match in WWE after the 80,000 of them that we have seen in the past 13 months (more is not merrier!), and – my own preferences aside – I really felt like Miz, Rollins, and Balor deserved a spotlight that would allow their respective character motivations and various histories with one another to intersect on the grandest possible stage.
The rumor may not have been credible, but the source gave it credibility, so I accordingly spent the past week preparing myself for an exercise in expectation-lowering (see just another 5-way or Ladder Match) rather than spending that time ramping up my anticipation (see triple threat) for what I feel might be the most likely candidate to push AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura for Match of the Night at WrestleMania and what could also potentially be the mid-card classic that every Showcase of Immortals truly needs to maximize its top-to-bottom quality. Those emotions taken into consideration, perhaps you can understand why, after Kurt Angle announced the triple threat for Mania last night, I had myself a good, old-fashioned mark-out moment! I may as well have done my own personal “Yes” chant in the man-cave; it suddenly pushed my WrestleMania eagerness to great heights.
You see, every WrestleMania card has that one match that you most identify as the bout you are most excited to see and, if you are anything like me, then if that particular match rates at an “8” or above on a 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) anticipatory scale, that enthusiasm pierces every other facet of how you view the show, for better or worse in the end. I first noticed that trend with my own fandom at WrestleMania XIX. The thought of Angle vs. Lesnar for the WWE Championship instantly resonated with me; when fate threatened to take it away, I became far less pumped for that year’s biggest event, but when fate intervened again to reinstate it as the headliner, I was overjoyed (felt similarly about Triple H vs. Rollins last year). That was one of the most stacked WrestleManias ever, but I hung my positivity hat on Lesnar vs. Angle and it made everything else on that show seem that much more engaging on account of its presence. For the past fifteen years – from Angle-Guerrero to HBK-Angle to Edge-Foley to Cena-HBK to Edge-Taker to HBK-Taker to Edge-Jericho to Punk-Orton to Rock-Cena to Punk-Taker to Bryan’s night to Rollins-Orton to Banks-Bayley-Flair to Rollins-Triple H – there has always been one match on the ‘Mania card that made me feel more passionate about the entire weekend. This year, for me, it’s Rollins vs. Balor vs. Miz.
“What about Styles vs. Nakamura?” some of you might be wondering. Though I fully expect that the WWE Title match will steal the show, just as the majority does, I have spent much of the first few months of 2018 reestablishing the core tenet of fandom – that wrestling should be five times more fun than it should be anything else – on the basis of cheering on my favorites; I needed to do that after a very jaded 2017. So, while I respect Styles as much as any other wrestler alive, Rollins and Balor are my favorites (along with The Boss, for future reference) and I want them to have a great chance at maximum success; I feel like this triple threat with Miz (who I also highly respect) will give them a unique chance to add something valuable not just to this year’s card itself but also to WrestleMania lore.
Here is what I see in this triple threat: I see a champion who has never had a stand-out WrestleMania performance hungry to check that mark on his career resume and who has a major piece of WWE history staring him in the face as the soon-to-be longest reigning Intercontinental titleholder ever; I see Balor as a challenger who cannot wait to have his first WrestleMania Moment and who is itching to find the consistent creative direction that being IC Champ in this era of the title’s resurgence could provide; I see Rollins as the challenger who views stealing the show at WrestleMania (arguably for his third time in three tries) as a rite of passage back to the main-event scene and who no longer wants to be the only member of The Shield yet to win every title in WWE. I see this triple threat and I think immediately about Miz pushing for Rollins to reconnect with Dean Ambrose and later Roman Reigns, I think about Rollins bringing back the Stomp at Balor’s expense, and I think about the numerous interactions between Balor and the Miztourage; this is a triple threat with several layers of story behind it instead of just a triple threat booked for the sake of having a triple threat.
Because of the presence of Rollins vs. Balor vs. Miz on the card, I am already more excited about the prospect of Undertaker vs. Cena, Reigns vs. Lesnar, Rousey/Angle vs. HHH/Steph, and other matches that beforehand were not exactly tripping my trigger. That’s a good feeling…
Other Raw Notes:
-Nia Jax vs. Alexa Bliss was a tough sell on Monday at 8PM ET; by 9PM ET, I was sold on it.
-Ronda Rousey has been booked very well so far and I have found each of her segments quite compelling
-If John Cena puts his career on the line at ‘Mania against Undertaker, I will be 50% more interested even though I will likely know he isn’t going anywhere
-Reigns vs. Lesnar is looking more appealing by the week; I said on The Doc Says podcast late last year that the build would crucial this time around and that they would not be able to phone it in like they did in 2015. Thus far, I think the build has been three times more intriguing in 2018 vs. 2015.
-What the heck is Braun Strowman going to do at WrestleMania? Is he really just going to get thrown into the Andre for a second straight year?