How do you solve a problem like Mania?

Roman Reigns looking defeated
Roman Reigns could be winner and loser this year

WWE is screwed.

The list of injured wrestlers is spiralling and today, with the news that John Cena is out to have surgery on yet another of the injured shoulders plaguing the company, we’re faced with every single wrestler who walked out of last Wrestlemania with a belt being firmly on the shelf. On top of that most of their other top stars are injured, and the few people left who will definitely put backsides in seats are virtually all part-timers.

Even before Cena got injured, things were so bad that the company had to put the title at stake in this year’s Royal Rumble, knowing that they didn’t have the stars to book a Rumble winner as well as a champion and challenger. Now, the biggest star in the company is going to miss the biggest show of the year – in the one year where they’ve picked the largest venue in Mania history. And nobody has any idea how to fill those 100,000 seats.

So let’s set the scene and draw our cast of characters for this sorry tale of woe in the men’s main event scene, when most of the stars who could elevate it – John Cena, Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton, even Cesaro – are out of the picture.

Dramatis Personae

Brock Lesnar: the absolute total main event guy who shows up about a dozen times a year

Roman Reigns: the current title holder who is still being established as Cena’s successor

Undertaker: mythical hero; also a native Texan who will go down well in the Dallas venue

Triple H: a company executive who only wrestles a couple of times a year for huge storylines

Sheamus: a recent champion who’s a decent wrestler but lacks charisma and isn’t quite suited to the title scene.

So what are the options?

Play it safe

If WWE is serious about cementing Reigns as the next top guy (and they need to be with Cena out), he needs to go into Mania as the champion. So far, his only reasonable established competition is Lesnar – which means they have to book a way for Reigns to win, and Lesnar to lose, the Royal Rumble so they can go into the main event at Mania.

That’s not necessarily a dealbreaker – you could always have a promising midcarder like Kevin Owens come out and eliminate him to begin a feud that blows off at interim pay-per-view Fastlane. (I want that match so much.) The thing is that does still put them at a big disadvantage, because if you’re just trying to get the big stars onto the Mania card then Taker vs HHH becomes the next obvious thing. How do you write that in at this point? And nobody will pay to see that anyway because HHH has lost to Taker at Mania on 3 separate occasions when they were both younger and fitter.

So you might then say that to spread out the draws on the card, it makes more sense to have Reigns and Triple H finish off their feud at Mania- but then that can’t be a title match, because Triple H definitely has to lose. Personally, I’m ruling out the idea of a Triple H title run because it would have to last a maximum of two-and-a-bit months, during which his character would avoid defending it (causing problems for Fastlane) but which would lead the kind of embarrassingly brief title run that mostly-retired performer Paul Levesque probably doesn’t want on his resumé. That means that you have to go back to the beginning, have Lesnar win the Rumble and then his match at Mania is for the title – but he has no viable opposition.

Nobody wants to see another episode in the Undertaker-Lesnar feud now, and even if they did, Taker can’t pick up the title. Sheamus is the last one left; not only is he not remotely a draw, but he’s wrestling Brock Lesnar at an upcoming house show. Generally the point of Lesnar wrestling at smaller events is to watch him destroy someone. If that happens Sheamus’ credibility is gone. And does anyone really think he could win?

The only way to build a Lesnar-Sheamus title match at Mania is to have Sheamus beat him thanks to some form of cheating in a non-title event at a house show which will be broadcast on the WWE Network, but won’t make it to mainstream TV.

Unless there are shenanigans at the Royal Rumble, which lead to Sheamus eliminating Lesnar. That leaves Sheamus walking into Mania as champion, Lesnar as his challenger, and Triple H and Roman Reigns second on the card.

That leaves Taker without a dance partner (like me at a school disco), but that’s fine – he’s Taker; he can slot in anywhere on the card. The biggest problem here is that you have Sheamus (c) vs Lesnar for the title in the main event of Wrestlemania, which is both a foregone conclusion and a match that I doubt will excite too many people. And of course, it means holding off on Reigns as the ace of the company once again – after he was screwed over in the main event of last year’s Mania, he needs to beat Brock cleanly before he can take his place as the top.

Build some stars

Most of this speculation is based on the thinness of the current roster. The fact is the characters – the stars – are weak, but the talent is not: with arguably one of the most talented rosters in the company’s history, WWE has failed to tell compelling stories and build engaging characters. As a result, there’s a locker room full of people who could be much further up the card than they are, but are being massively wasted. I would really, really like to believe that their current injury struggles will force the company to invest in some new main eventers.

Dean Ambrose: Ambrose winning the Rumble would be huge for his career, and would immediately set up some very interesting dynamics in his friendship with Roman Reigns – who would surely end up being his most important feud. If they plan to turn Roman heel (less likely now he’s champion), this is the way to go.

Kevin Owens: He’s been on a roll, he has a huge mouth and can go in the ring. They’ve clearly got big plans for Owens, and I’d love to see them give him a shot against Lesnar. Ambrose and Owens are currently in a feud over the Intercontinental belt, so they’d have to end that at the Rumble – but one of them needs to keep the IC belt so they couldn’t both move up at once.

Bray Wyatt: This is admittedly laughable given their recent storylines, but the Wyatt Family’s gimmick genuinely creeped me out in the run-up to their debut. If they were booked in a way that did justice to the power their characters should have, they really could be a force to be reckoned with.

Rusev: Talented. Marketable character – so much so that he entered last year’s Mania in a tank. Built like a brick shithouse. This should be an obvious push.

Trust the talent

In the long run, if WWE has the balls it could turn this Mania into a blessing in the long-term. That said, I think it’s fair that Mania 32 will be very hard, if not impossible, to sell out – but if the company invests in its own long-term future by trusting the talent to step up, it could give itself the star power to fill it in a couple of years’ time.

The vacuum at the top provides a perfect opportunity to give more time to the other titles and to different groups of wrestlers. If they don’t push them upwards they could give Owens and Ambrose a real chance to shine with a good long Intercontinental title match. Ambrose could move up the card, leaving Owens to build a title feud with Sami Zayn if he’s called up from NXT.

If something interesting can be done with Del Rio’s character, we know from Lucha Underground that he can grab your attention, so that could be a great US title feud with the right opposition. And you know what? We could even have more than one sodding women’s match. I can dream.

Charlotte vs Sasha Banks from NXT
More of this on Raw please.

2 thoughts on “How do you solve a problem like Mania?

  1. Great article and solid analysis. I’m hesitantly hopeful that WWE will step up and use all of these injuries as an opportunity to invest in its future and really give me something in the next few months.

    1. Hi- I very much hope so too, but past examples aren’t exactly encouraging. The kneejerk reaction of bringing in Chris Jericho, for example, suggests they’re still trying to use the older talent to plug the gaps…

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