The road to WrestleMania is often regarded as the most exciting three month period in the WWE season.
It’s where all the big returns, dream matches, and thrilling storylines take place. Basically, the only three months of the year the writers actually do what they’re paid to do (allegedly).
Each week, I’m going to analyze every road to WrestleMania from the last decade.
Last week I brought you the lowdown on WrestleMania 27, which brings us nicely to Once In A Lifetime a year later. The Granddaddy Of Them All emanated from Miami, Florida back in 2012, with hometown icon, The Rock, squaring off with John Cena.
WrestleMania 28 also saw the End of an Era take place, with Triple H and The Undertaker battling inside Hell In A Cell. What era actually ended, however, we are still unsure of. Elsewhere on the card, The Big Show was looking to become Intercontinental Champion for the first time in his career, CM Punk faced Chris Jericho for the WWE Championship, and Daniel Bryan lost in just 18 seconds.
The tail end of 2011 saw mysterious vignettes pop up, which only means one thing in WWE: someone big was about to make their return. That person turned out to be Chris Jericho, who had a rather lukewarm reception. It didn’t help that he trolled the audience by going weeks without uttering a word before finally saying, “this Sunday at the Royal Rumble, the world as you know it will be over.” Cryptic stuff. Not exactly enthralling, but cryptic nonetheless.
Jericho did not win the Royal Rumble, however, as that honor instead went to Sheamus. That same night, CM Punk successfully defended the WWE Championship against Dolph Ziggler in a decent encounter. This began to set the ball in motion for a WrestleMania showdown with Y2J. The angle started the next night on Raw with Jericho lambasting Punk for stealing everything he made cool. In return, Punk replied with one of the most iconic lines in wrestling history: “While I was swimming with the sharks, you were off dancing with the stars.” Classic put down.
Things only escalated from there, with Jericho making things personal by bringing up Punk’s alcoholic father and drug-addicted sister. Nothing says “wholesome family entertainment” like alcoholism and drug abuse. The story itself was fine for what it was, but did we need all these layers? At its core, the rivalry was just about an aging lion who felt the young lion had stole his spot and he had come to reclaim it. Sometimes keeping things simple is the best way to go.
The other world championship match at WrestleMania saw Daniel Bryan defend the World Heavyweight Championship against Royal Rumble winner, Sheamus. Bryan cashed in his Money In The Bank briefcase at TLC on The Big Show and instantly became a smarmy heel that everyone wanted to take shots at. He was a weasel that managed to escape every dastardly scenario put in front of him, from a triple threat steel cage against Big Show and Mark Henry to the Elimination Chamber. He somehow survived it all, but could he survive The Celtic Warrior?
Sheamus was on the roll of his career, knocking off everyone in his path and thriving in his new role as a top babyface. He was roaring into WrestleMania, and if he was facing anyone else, I truly believe WWE would’ve had a new face of the company for years to come. Unfortunately for him, his opponent was Bryan and they only got 18 seconds to work with. No Shawn Michaels-esque show-stealer on the cards there.
Speaking of The Showstopper, he was the man designated to be in the black-and-white stripes for Triple H’s rematch with The Undertaker. Only this time, it would be contested inside Hell In A Cell. Incidentally, this was the first Cell encounter to take place at WrestleMania since the infamous hanging of the Big Boss Man at WrestleMania 15. Attitude Era….such good…you know the rest.
At WrestleMania 27, Undertaker preserved his streak by defeating Triple H. He had to be stretchered out of the stadium due to the severity of the beating he took, however, and we didn’t see him again that year. As for Triple H, he was put in charge of WWE following the ineptness of Mr. McMahon. It was in storyline only, of course, because how preposterous would it be if that happened in real life? Anyways, one thing led to another and McMahon returned, stripping The Game of his duties and putting John Laurinaitis in his place. That’s like replacing Jose Mourinho with Rafa Benitez.
At the turn of the year, Triple H was about to wield the axe on Big Johnny before Taker made his return, sporting the worst wig seen since the days of George Costanza in Seinfeld. Why he couldn’t have just worn a hood is beyond me. Triple H refused to face him again because he knew if he did, he would have to end The Phenom’s career. To get The Game to accept the rematch, The Undertaker took a shot at his ego by reminding him how much better Shawn Michaels was. This was enough to get Hunter to accept and make it a Hell In A Cell bout. The moral of the story? Never insult Triple H’s ego.
Big Show’s build to WrestleMania 28 saw him repeatedly get humiliated by reigning Intercontinental Champion, Cody Rhodes, who found great joy in replaying footage of past WrestleManias where Show was embarrassed. Who can forget the time he wore a thong to compete in a sumo match? Most are still having nightmares about it to this day. The outcome of all this was very predictable, but the story itself was pretty fun and gave Cody another marquee singles bout on the biggest card of the year.
As good as the undercard was at WrestleMania 28, everyone bought it to see the Once In A Lifetime encounter between The Rock and John Cena. For one whole year, the pair had traded verbal barbs in some of the most cutting and entertaining promos in history. Both are great stick men, but they went to a whole other level in this rivalry. Maybe it felt so raw because of the genuine real-life disdain between the two, but it’s all patched up now. It’s amazing what millions of dollars can do for a friendship.
I genuinely didn’t know who was going to come out on top in this one. My heart said The Rock, but my head said Cena so Rock could pass the torch. That was the beauty of this rivalry; it made you second guess who would walk out the victor. They had backed one another into a corner where neither man could afford to lose. That’s how you build a WrestleMania main event. It helps when you get two of the most entertaining and over superstars on the planet of course, but there’s no reason why WWE can’t do this sort of thing more often.
So, let’s get to the event itself. It opened with that infamous 18-second match between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus for the World Heavyweight Championship. Bryan got a good luck (or I guess in this case, bad luck) kiss from his girlfriend, AJ Lee, before walking right into a Brogue Kick that ended his reign. The fans crapped all over it, but this did kickstart the Yes Movement that saw Bryan headline WrestleMania 30 and achieve his dream just 2 years later. Swings and roundabouts.
Next up, Kane surprisingly beat Randy Orton. What wasn’t surprising was how awful and sluggish the contest was. Who thought this pairing would be a good idea for a WrestleMania showdown? I’d skip this if it was on RAW, let alone the biggest show of the year. Not exactly the ideal way to follow up that 18-second burial of Daniel Bryan.
Then, The Big Show got his WrestleMania retribution on Cody Rhodes by defeating him for the Intercontinental Championship in a fun little effort. To be fair, this arguably would’ve been better suited as the opener. Rhodes worked hard to make Show look good, and The World’s Largest Athlete finally got a WrestleMania moment to be proud of. But he would go on to lose the title less than a month later by stepping on a table.
The regular WrestleMania celebrity spot fell to E! Entertainment host, Maria Menounos, as she teamed with Kelly Kelly to defeat Beth Phoenix & Eve Torres. Yes, it was as bad as it sounds. It didn’t help that Menounos had a broken rib and was still the best one in the bout.
Finally, the time had come for the colossal Hell In A Cell encounter between Triple H and The Undertaker, with Shawn Michaels as the man in the middle. Jim Ross was even brought back on commentary to hammer home the End Of An Era angle. This was a brutal, action-packed, slobber knocker. The fact that Bret Hart only gave it 4 stars out of 10 shows you once again that The Hitman knows about as much about sports entertainment as Mike Riley does about operating VAR. This was a classic, no question about it.
The Superkick into the Pedigree false finish was well done and had many fooled. Eventually, The Undertaker delivered a thunderous Tombstone Piledriver to pin The Game and take his WrestleMania streak to a perfect 20-0. It should’ve ended there with all three men embracing. That should’ve been the end of the era, with three of the biggest and most important stars in history going out on top together.
Complete filler next as two teams of 6 mid-carders battled on behalf of John Laurinaitis and Teddy Long to see who would run both RAW and SmackDown moving forward. It was a dire affair played to absolute crickets. The Miz won it for Team Johnny before Eve Torres completed her earlier heel turn by kicking Zack Ryder between the legs. That wouldn’t even get you a red card in the Premier League these days.
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho for the WWE Championship had the potential to steal the show, but they just didn’t click. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad by any means, it just didn’t get to the level expected of these two. The angle overpowered everything, and the slow periods with Jericho in control sucked the life out of proceedings. Punk winning was the right choice, but not sure why it had to be by submission. That always negates the reason for a rematch in my book. Thankfully, they did have a rematch the following month at Extreme Rules and tore the house down. It’s a shame they couldn’t do the same when the lights were the brightest, but that’s been the story of Jericho’s career.
The main event between The Rock and John Cena was a larger than life spectacle. If it had been ten minutes shorter, it would’ve been a masterpiece. But by the 25-minute mark, Rocky was sucking wind hard. It was a miracle he even finished the bout at all. But finish it he did, and with some aplomb, dropping Cena with the Rock Bottom and getting the victory. As Rock basked in the glory with his family and friends, Cena sat on the ramp as a beaten and broken man thinking things couldn’t get worse. Oh, but they can, John. Brock Lesnar returned the following night to unleash carnage on the poor guy. I’m thinking Cena toyed with the idea of going to Hollywood in earshot of Vince McMahon.
Overall, WrestleMania 28 was a good show. The two main events more than delivered, while the undercard only flattered to deceive. The first few matches slowed down the event, and it only really got going once the Hell in a Cell was lowered. The big names showed why they get paid the big bucks, while we could only sit back and marvel at their brilliance.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!