Welcome to Last Word on Mania month at Last Word on Sports! All month long we will be doing articles to build up for Wrestlemania 31 on March 29, 2015. Be sure to read everything this month by clicking this link. Enjoy!
Battle Royals have a long standing tradition at WrestleMania, going all the way back to WrestleMania 2, which featured a number of National Football League players mixing it up with World Wrestling Federation superstars. In the end, after the smoke had cleared, the one man standing tall, towering over everyone else, figuratively and literally, was the man known as “The King of Battle Royals”, Andre The Giant. In less than one week’s time, we will be 30 years removed from Andre’s victory over men of both the squared circle and the gridiron, and after all these years, his legacy continues to live on in the form of the 2nd Annual Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
Last year, when World Wrestling Entertainment announced they would be holding an annual battle royal at WrestleMania to honor the late Hall of Fame “8th Wonder of the World”, there were mixed emotions among fans. Some were elated at the idea of paying respect to one of the WWE’s most influential and important stars in their history, while others had their doubts that the match would be treated with the reverence and respect deserving of Andre’s legacy. Heading into WrestleMania XXX, there were a number of questions waiting to be answered. Who would win the match? Would it come to mean anything? Would there even be a 2nd Annual Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal? One year later, we have the answers to all of those questions. Cesaro won the match, last eliminating the Big Show in memorable fashion, body slamming him over the top rope – a fitting ending for a battle royal honoring a man who utilized the body slam as a signature maneuver. Some feel the victory did nothing to raise Cesaro’s stock, but others disagree. As for the last question, fans got their answer a few weeks ago, when it was announced that the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal would become a WrestleMania staple for the foreseeable future.
While some fans saw the inaugural battle royal as a cheap gimmick to cram as many WWE superstars on the card as possible, those same fans walked away from the match feeling quite differently, largely due to the fact that it was well booked, with an incredible ending featuring a very hot act. This year’s edition has lots to live up to, and although there is only so much that can be done in a battle royal, there are several stories that can be told this year, given the participants, who are as follows (as announced at the time of this writing): The Miz, Curtis Axel, Ryback, Fandango, Adam Rose , Zack Ryder, Jack Swagger, Titus O’Neil, Darren Young, Big Show, Kane, Erick Rowan, Damien Mizdow, Sin Cara, Goldust, Heath Slater, Mark Henry, and the winner of an Axxess tournament giving one NXT competitor a spot in the match. That gives us 18 competitors. Last year there were 31 participants, and although Andre was a man of great size, there is certainly no set number for the match, as it is a tradition still in its infancy, trying to find its place on the grandest stage of them all. While anyone could walk away the winner this year, there are a number of competitors whom are more likely than others, and who can tell a story with their victory or loss.
The Miz or Damien Mizdow: This story of friendship gone sour has played out for months on WWE programing. It has captured the imagination of fans across the globe, and given time that isn’t common with today’s WWE product. Either man getting the victory here continues to tell that story, whether it be Miz eliminating Mizdow with some sort of underhanded tactic to gain the further ire of fans and Mizdow himself, or if it ends with Mizdow stepping out from the shadow of the Miz, to the delight of the crowd and ire of his former protégé.
Curtis Axel: Curtis Axel is a curious case, in which he has created a small cult following for himself, through not only his in ring work, but also through his delusions of grandeur as the greatest Royal Rumble participant of all time, and his current attempt at gaining traction, Axelmania. It’s admirable that Axel is trying so hard to get noticed, and it has paid off in additional screen time for the former Intercontinental Champion. The only question is, has he made enough of an impact to catch the eye of Vince McMahon?
Ryback or Erick Rowan: It isn’t difficult to see how these two competitors ended up in the same category. The last few months, the two have been teaming up for tag team matches with semi-regularity, and both are young, popular power house wrestlers with a similar smash mouth style. One could argue that Ryback has more momentum heading into the match, but that could also work against him if it is decided that the winner should be someone who could use a rub. If that is the case, then Erick Rowan is a more likely candidate. He has enjoyed some success, but has also spent a lot of time on the losing end of matches. A victory here could be the boost that he desperately needs.
Big Show or Kane: While it is no longer the year 2000, both the Big Show and Kane play an important role in the current WWE product, and WWE still holds them in high regard as valuable commodities. One only need look at this year’s Royal Rumble for proof of that. The WWE had Big Show and Kane absolutely decimate everyone in the Rumble match for a long stretch of time. It wasn’t a decision that everyone agreed with, but it goes to show that there is a possibility that either member of the Authority could walk away the winner. Big Show has been compared to Andre the Giant his entire career, so a victory here would help further cement that idea, while Kane has competed in a battle royal at WrestleMania XXIV, which he not only won, but earned him an ECW Championship match against Chavo Guerrero Jr. later in the evening, which he won. If history is any indication, Kane is a safe bet.
Mark Henry or Zack Ryder: This may be one of the only times that these two men will be compared in the same context. To be clear, Zack Ryder is undoubtedly a long shot to win, but he is returning from an injury, and has proven in the past to be very popular and social media savvy. While unlikely, it is possible that WWE could choose to give fans a shocking victory with Zack riding high at the end. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a man whose victory would be much less surprising: Mark Henry. While not making his return at WrestleMania, This would mark Henry’s first big profile match, and nothing would make a bigger or more bold statement than having the World’s Strongest Man win this battle royal.
The winner of the NXT tournament: If WWE wanted to top themselves from last year, one of the ways they could do it would be to have an NXT star win one of the biggest matches on the WrestleMania card. It would shine a spotlight onto NXT for those who are unfamiliar with the product, and if they are impressive enough, it could even help sell a few more subscriptions to the WWE Network, just to see where the competitor came from. It would be a gamble having a fresh face win such an important match, but the WWE has employed these sink or swim tactics in the past, so it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility.
Someone Unannounced: Right now there are only 18 participants announced for the match, and while by no means does the WWE need to include 31 competitors like they did last year, it is possible that we could see a few surprises in the match as well. Sheamus is set to return to action, but he has yet to be announced for a comeback date. WrestleMania might be the perfect platform for the angry Irishman to do so. Of course, we can’t rule out the possibility of other superstars making a return as well. Bo Dallas would be a true inspiration if he came back from injury to win a match that would have everyone Bo-Lieving. Chris Jericho is a name that consistently comes up when discussing surprises in big WWE matches, and there are a litany of others that could just show up unannounced and win the whole thing, and if you think that sounds unlikely, just remember that is exactly what happened last year, as Cesaro was not an announced participant, he just inserted himself into the match and ended up winning!
No matter who wins, just by committing to a second Andre The Giant Battle Royal, the WWE is making a statement about the prestige of this match. It doesn’t have the same kind of ramifications as the Royal Rumble or Money In The Bank ladder match with championship implications, rather it is more like the King of the Ring tournaments of yesteryear that were designed as a platform for stars to break out and stand in the spotlight. There is no telling if the light is one that will make them shine, or burn them up, but it is an opportunity nonetheless. It’s the kind of accolade that has been missing in the WWE for quite some time. The chance for a superstar to rise above their peers and spend one glorious moment standing on the shoulders of a giant.