Yes, folks, it's that time of year.
No, not March Madness, the NBA striking closer to the playoffs or spring training for Major League Baseball -- but the "Road to Wrestlemania."
We at B5Q are a Badger-centric community, obviously, but professional wrestling runs through many of our writers' blood. My Kielbasa Kings Sports Extravaganza co-host, Scott Wisniewski, and I actually met on the independent wrestling scene here in Wisconsin. It's there we learned about our love of sports, and after matches together as a team and against each other, we combined our collective voices and here we are now.
With Wrestlemania 31 Sunday emanating from Levi's® Stadium from Santa Clara, Calif., our writers came together to talk about their favorite Wrestlemania moment, and what matches they're looking forward to.
As always, follow our great SB Nation cousins over at Cageside Seats who cover all the ins and outs of professional wrestling.
What is your favorite Wrestlemania moment?
Scott Wisniewski (@ScottWisniewsk2): I think there have been great moments at every Wrestlemania. I want to preface my comments by saying that I am not someone who is overly critical of the WWE product the last few years. That said my favorite moments are older. Perhaps because time has passed and allowed certain moments to become that much more historically significant.
Wrestlemania VI was fun for me because the then-WWF went back into a large venue after back-to-back Manias at the Trump casino. It was also the first one outside of the U.S.
Most significant was the Ultimate Warrior topping Hulk Hogan in the main event. Why was this moment memorable for me? When Hulk-a-mania began in 1983, I wasn't drinking the Kool-Aid. Even in the early 80s in my pre-teen and early teen years before I knew what happened "behind the curtain" something about Hogan didn't sit right with me. How come every one else would be down and out from a shot with a steel chair but not the Hulkster? Later, I learned Hogan was a politicking, passive-aggressive power-wielder who often held other people back to save his spot in the limelight (see Ricky Steamboat).
Fast forward to Toronto. There was no internet and no spoilers and back stage gossip sites. Warrior wasn't much better than Hogan backstage and not the perfect man in the white hat to beat Hogan cleanly in the middle of that ring. He did, however, have something other than his face paint and tassels going for him -- he wasn't Hogan! Though I watched wrestling since 1981, that afternoon in my living room with my buddy Todd and a sketchy mutual acquaintance named Pablo and I openly screamed, jumped, attempted some sort of dance -- and for all intensive purposes marked out loud for the new champ, the Ultimate Warrior. It was short lived as Hogan would return to power many times and be a constant thorn in my wrestling fandom side for decades after. Still I will always have Wrestlemania VI.
Andrew Rosin (@thegnc): I'm likely the most-lapsed WWE fan of the bunch on this here roundtable, and I'll tell you if you're wondering why I'm about to be salty, I have stopped watching. See, most of the truly great moments where the WWE seems to have lucked into something brilliant. They tend not to build on it. And it likely ends up dead within two months. It's why there will be some fans who could never forgive John Cena, and it's why you see the WWE shelling out millions for what are mostly nostalgia trips from the attitude era.
C.M. Punk never got that WrestleMania moment. He kept banging his head against the wall and it ultimately broke him. It did lead to the WWE actually doing the once-a-decade thing and having the WWE go and give the belt to the fan-favorite technical wrestler that Vince McMahon himself would never want to be and ultimately create a quality story and one of the memorable moments in the history of WrestleMania.
They take this guy, 5-foot-nothing, a hundred-and-nothing pounds, and every step of the way the WWE is out to make the fans think he's just some random geek who's only good in the Bingo Halls -- but he's spectacular in the ring. The "Yes!" Movement started after losing the strap to Sheamus in 18 seconds -- something many fans didn't like -- and you couldn't stop it. Bryan beat Cena clean for the title in a Summerslam match with John Cena in 2013, but "The Authority" got involved and Randy Orton left Los Angeles with the gold.
Bryan kept fighting. He beat Orton at Night of Champions. He's stripped the next night. He lingered for a while thereafter, but then came Punk forcing a storyline rewrite. Then came "Occupy Raw" and after not being placed in the Royal Rumble, Bryan had his chance at Wrestlemania XXX. He had to get through Triple H -- leader of "The Authority" and does that. Then came Orton and Dave Batista in a triple threat match. They have Bryan -- this guy the crowd refused to give up on despite the E's best efforts go through hell to win, but he did it. He got confetti and an NFL stadium to celebrate with him as he won the championship.
Jake Kocorowski (@JakeKocoB5Q): Though before my time in terms of actually watching and remembering a show, the Steamboat-Savage classic for the Intercontinental Title at Wrestlemania III stands out re-watching it over again. Great match and psychology, and it's stood the test of time to now (Steamboat's my all-time favorite face, FWIW). Then there's the Michaels/Ramon Intercontinental Title Ladder Match from Wrestlemania 10.
I agree with Rosin that last year's story with Bryan might just be my favorite Wrestlemania moment to date. The organic fan interest in him and the story build-up of Bryan culminated with climbing the moment to the championship in one night. He beat Triple H in the opening match, only to receive a major beatdown post-match. He overcomes the seemingly insurmountable odds thereafter in a triple threat match, forcing Batista (Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy) to submit to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The crowd felt it throughout the night, and seeing the reaction of the fans was something that won't be forgotten for years to come.
Drew Hamm (@drewhamm5): Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I have always had an affinity for wrestlers that started in Extreme Championship Wrestling. I used to watch ECW shows on Friday nights on some weird local access channel (because I was cool and had already talked to enough girls that weekend) with a buddy of mine, and the Dudley Boyz were always favorites of mine.
In back to back years (2000 and 2001), the Dudley Boyz, Edge & Christian and the Hardy Boyz (the early 2000s were prime "replace s's with z's in wrestling tag team names" years) participated in massively entertaining triple threat ladder matches, the latter being the first ever TLC match. The bumps in these matches were insane, including Edge spearing a dangling from the tag team title belt Jeff Hardy off a 20 foot high ladder and Jeff Hardy (Again, what a madman!) doing a swanton bomb on to Bubba Ray Dudley from 20 feet.
Those two matches are legendary and feature some of the greatest tag teams in sports entertainment history. I highly recommend finding the full matches on YouTube or by subscribing to the WWE Network (money please, Vince).
Match you're looking forward to in this year's Wrestlemania?
Scott: Three matches have me absolutely stoked for this weekends big show. Brock Lesnar versus Roman Reigns is intriguing for many reasons. First off, I'm unsure on how that match is going to end. Does Lesnar retain now that he's sticking around for a while? Does Reigns continue his rise to the top? Does Roman turn and become a ‘Paul Heyman Guy"? Does Rollins cash in his money in the bank contract and leave the bay area with the gold?
The other dynamic is the way the fans have treated Reigns. Let me start by saying I am not a fan of most internet wrestling fans in the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC). 15 months ago these "fans" were ready to riot because Batista won that 2014 Royal Rumble. IWC fans went ballistic. "We wanted Reigns to win" they cried. "Sick of these part timers showing up the full time talent" they squawked. "The problem with the WWE is they keep giving us these old guys. Wheres the push for the new talent" they asked. Along comes the rise of Reigns but now a little over a year later these same people who championed his cause now boo him mercilessly. Even worse are the uninformed and ridiculous internet comments still hurled at Roman. Truth be told Reigns is good. Decent for his size in the ring and a larger than life character with the "it" factor. His mic skills need work which is why a pairing with a top flight mouth piece like Heyman may be a match made in sports entertainment heaven.
The Intercontinental title match is going to be awesome as well. Some of the best in ring talent and Luke Harper will battle for the belt in a multi-person ladder match. I think this match will help bring glory to a once prestigious title that has been pushed to the back of the line all too often in recent years. Savage, Steamboat, Cena, Bret Hart, Ultimate Warrior, Stone Cold Steve Austin and many more legends held this belt in the past.
Who do I like to win? Perhaps Dolph Ziggler will continue his climb from the valley he dipped into after being the World Heavyweight Champion not too long ago. Fan favorite and owner of an epic beard, Bryan would be a good choice as well. Maybe the loose cannon and former Shield member Dean Ambrose walks out the champion. Will there be a surprise eight entrant? Maybe a returning former world title holder? Its gonna be epic.
Finally HHH/Sting. Critics are balking at the notion that this match could steal the show. I think it can. Some say Sting is too old. He is too old to wrestle on a regular basis. That said he is still in great shape and has had plenty of time to put his body and mind into this match. His opponent is one of the best in ring story tellers ever. Though it is 10-15 years later than I would have wanted. Finally, Sting will have his Wrestlemania moment. Remember mania isn't about just matches. No, it's about moments!
Andrew: I promise I'll go off on less of a tangent here, but honestly I'm interested in the main event. With Lesnar resigned for multiple years, what looked to be a coronation ceremony for Reigns now has a chance to be something else entirely. Add in what should be a quality match (even despite the likely result) in John Cena and Rusev? And you should get your bang for that proverbial 9.99.
And then Raw after WrestleMania's the next night. Those are always pretty great.
Jake: I think the Intercontinental Title Ladder Match can and probably will steal the show -- note how many show-stealing matches are the Intercontinental Title matches. However, I'm really intrigued to see Sting and Triple H wrestle and see what comes of it.
This is a dream match-up for those that have watched pro wrestling for years. For those that don't know, Sting was a wrestler who grappled in WWF-rival World Championship Wrestling (WCW) for the majority of his career before Vince McMahon bought WCW. They never signed Sting after the acquisition in 2001. In his mid-50s now, this is the first time wrestling a match in a WWE ring -- will he have the stamina and the energy to keep up in a match of this hype? Judging by this workout video released recently, I think he's up to the task, and I've gotten more excited.
He's going up against the COO of the WWE who's had an equally great career in the ring. Triple H only wrestles part-time now in-between his daytime duties helping run the sports entertainment juggernaut (including NXT -- perhaps the only show I religiously watch each week). When he comes out of the office and into the ring, he's still shown he can wrestle quite well (see: Daniel Bryan match from Wrestlemania and the bouts against the Shield from 2014). Can he do the same with "The Man Called Sting" -- now known as "The Vigilante Sting" in the WWE?
Drew: I don't watch as much wrestling as I used to, mostly due to working nights and also having a wife that would mercilessly make fun of me if I did, but the match I'm most looking forward to Sunday night is the Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match. Bryan is great, and has an excellent beard, while R-Truth has been doing some cool things recently. If I remember anything from watching wrestling growing up, it's that the guys in the Intercontinental division are usually younger, super-athletic, entertaining wrestlers just desperate for a push. While I was watching (read: drinking heavily during) the Royal Rumble this year, with friends far more plugged in than I, they noted that Stardust was a wrestler to keep an eye on. Also, ladder matches always rule (See: my favorite Wrestlemania moments).