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The Best and Worst WrestleMania Build-Ups


Liam O'Rourke
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For this week's podcast, we're looking to discuss the Best and Worst WrestleMania builds ever done, looking at the run-ups to the biggest show of the year and breaking down what did and didn't work, and want to know your personal suggestions.

So, with that said, when you look back over the years, what do you consider to be the best and the worst "Road to Mania" periods, with the strongest or weakest build-ups/hype jobs for Mania, and why? Select one for each, the more explanation the better, and as always the best contributions will be read on the show and discussed.

So which Mania's get your vote, the ones that did or didn't work for you, and why?

EDIT - The show is now available here: https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/download/zjhwrf/SCG_Radio_149_-_The_Best_and_Worst_WrestleMania_Builds_Ever.mp3

Edited by Liam O'Rourke
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Benchmark is WrestleMania 14. From the moment they hit January and left the post-Bret doldrums behind they were almost note perfect all the way to Mania. Austin/Tyson has been talked to death but it was so utterly brilliant and the Rumble was too. Wasn't the strongest roster but was booked perfectly to make it all about Steve Austin which it needed to be. With hindsight, Michaels injury was the best thing that could have happened to them as it kept him from being overused on TV and kept him and Austin apart at No Way Out. Vince being a great foil for Austin in the meantime and the Tyson interaction just kept it moving at such a pace. The angles and promos and video packages were just great.

It wasn't a one match show from a build POV either because Taker/Kane was MASSIVELY anticipated having started in October and being built brilliantly through the Rumble. Cactus & Chainsaw vs. the Outlaws was another well built fight coming off that great dumpster angle (even if they should have sold it a few weeks). Then you had Sable - being the most popular woman they've ever had who was completely in her pomp at the time. Just a brilliant, brilliant period. There have been other good ones that will get a mention. None are better than this.

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For worst, I kind of have to look at Wrestlemania 17, just for how vast the gulf is between the quality of the build and the quality of the show.

They're doing Rock vs. Austin, with Austin's first Wrestlemania back from injury, Rock about to go to Hollywood, and building to Austin turning heel. And what do they do? Make half the feud about Debra.

Triple H vs. Undertaker built up by restraining orders, kidnapping Stephanie McMahon, and Undertaker doing his "I'll make you famous" catchphrase on Triple H, while Kane gets involved only to end up dicking around with the Hardcore Title.

Vince vs. Shane, built up by Linda being drugged, Vince macking on Trish Stratus, and Mick Foley having a magic box of contracts.

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Great idea for a show!!

I find that the best Wrestlemania's usually have the worst builds.

Take Wrestlemania X-7 for instance; we all (well, I certainly do!) believe it is the best Wrestlemania, but the build for it is pretty 50/50

Austin vs Rock - we all remember fondly thanks to the awesome "My Way" package, but there was that awful, convoluted 'Debra is Rock's manager' garbage. What was the point in that? I think the final sit down interview "I have to beat you Rock" saved it.

Angle vs Benoit - well, that was only announced a week before because Kurt had nothing? There was no intricate storyline; just filler to get two of the best wrestlers on the card. 

TLC II - I remember an episode of Raw where the Tag Team Titles changed hands twice; just to set up an issue between the three. Yes it was awesome that Edge and Christian debuted Rhyno and Dudleyz debuted Spike.

There was still some awesome builds though;

Jericho peeing in Regal's Tea?

The McMahon saga; for me, I really enjoyed it. I was hooked on seeing how much more evil Vince could get, and loved seeing him get his comeuppance. Though it should lose (but gains points in my mind!) for Trish barking!! #WomensEvolution

Kane and Undertaker threatening to kill Stephanie? Yes please!!

 

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Undertaker's builds from WrestleMania 25-27 were excellent. You had the teasing over a long period of him and Michaels through Royal Rumbles and so on up to their match at 25, then you got Michaels' desperate quest for another chance in the lead-up to 26. You also get the 'Running Up That Hill' video.

I think it was @ShortOrderCook who wrote that superb write-up of the build to the WM27 match with Triple H, but without echoing him, it was just excellent. Possibly the best use they've made of part-timers and they did the 'point at the sign' stuff before it got old-hat and something everyone did.

I think there's something in the idea that a bad build doesn't necessarily mean a bad 'Mania. If the show itself is good enough, it can exist in a vacuum that few other shows can because it's WrestleMania, and it doesn't matter whether the build was rubbish because you remember the match itself or the great moments within it. 

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I love WrestleMania 22 as it’s a bloody good card which holds great personal memories for me – being the first one I ever watched live - but I have huge problems with the build-up for both the main title matches on this show. Let me illustrate this with two quotes:

On the RAW side you’ve got: “You happen to not be a very good wrestler”. 

On the Smackers side you’ve got: “Eddie’s down there, in hell!”. 

Trying to build a title match using a dead man’s memory whose body was barely cold is always going to be in poor taste, but it could have had some upside if handled correctly. However, the tacky Mysterio Rumble victory and the senseless way he was portrayed after that was “classic” WWE babyface booking. Rey being dumb enough to put the shot on line and then lose it to Orton at No Way Out, having to mope around about the injustice only for Teddy Long to reinstate him in the match (after which he pumps his fists and hugs the turnbuckle like a child who’s just found a shiny Charizard) did the opposite in preparing Rey for his newly bestowed role as plucky underdog hero champion. His title run went down like a wet fart on a Tinder date for many reasons (losing to Khali and Menry on Smackers for example) but here was the first clue that they just didn’t know what to do to make him a success in that position. Fans in Chicago wanted Angle to win this match and I don’t blame them.

John Cena vs Triple H was, also, a case study in how to make a babyface look like a chump with zero regard for the future. Here’s the face of the company who is going to be further minted in this position by beating an established star at the big show, yet his opponent is allowed to denigrate him “4 REAL” referring to his shit wrestling ability. Cena’s cheesy lines in response don’t help the situation (his “a mark of a true champion is…” speech at the press conference makes me cringe to this day) but H’s selfish mic work drew attention to Cena’s flaws and only encouraged fans to put the boot in. Cena was depicted as a chancer who’d be destroyed, and despite winning the match the build-up was so distorted that it reinforced a stigma on the guy which in some corners STILL holds to this day.

Great show though.

Edited by Otto Dem Wanz
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I started to write up a post about the build up to Daniel Bryan's win at Wrestlemania 30 but realised the 'Monster' video they did for him sums it up far better than I ever could. One of the best builds I've ever seen for a Wrestlemania match. Ultimately, it was one of those years-in-the-making stories that can only really happen in wrestling. The indies were red hot while Bryan was on the scene and at the top of ROH, and when he joined WWE, it was fair to assume that he'd never be much more than a midcarder.  Especially when he got fired for that choking incident. His rise through the ranks from wrestling in sports halls to winning the belt at Mania was beautiful.Whether or not it was WWE's first choice for the plan at WM30, you've got to give them credit for adapting and going with the story that they did.

It really kicked off with his win over Cena at Summerslam in 2013. Trips was the ref for the match and Orton cashed in to win the belt to close out the show. From there, the 'Yes' movement turned into something legitimately special, and someone on here recently said they doubt there'll ever be an act as over as that again (especially during that Bryan/Wyatt cage match). I agree. Then Batista won the Royal Rumble and shit really hit the fan. Anyway, I'll post the video because it's still worth a watch and I got goosebumps again from it.

Triple H and Stephanie played their roles superbly through it, and I'm not usually one for blurring the lines between wrestling and reality for the sake of it, but it was perfect here. Trips telling Bryan that he didn't want him as the face of the company was so simple but effective and it made so much sense. But you couldn't not support Bryan's cause. Fucking superb.

It will take something other worldly to recreate something like that again.

 

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I don't think the build ups really matter that much ,it can be the best build to a show you have ever seen but the problem is that Wrestlemania as a whole is just completely unwatchable as a event nowadays.

7 hour total show, dead crowd from hour 4, far too many matches, the list just goes on.

 

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One that hasn't been mentioned yet which I feel should be in with a shout is Mania V. People think of it as a one year build starting from Mania IV but the creation of the Hogan/Savage friendship started on The Main Event several weeks earlier with Mania IV really only being a cementing of their alliance. You only have to watch SummerSlam *, Survivors, the Rumble and the key episode of Saturday Nights Main Event, where the MegaPowers fought the Twin Towers and the wheels really fell off, to get an idea of the story, but for a 12 month build it was incredible execution. Liz being integral was very important to the story and the mirror opposite of the much-maligned "shoe Debra into the Mania 17 build." Underneath there's plenty of good value from a storylines point of view - Mr Fuji's quest to relieve Demolition of the belts he helped them win, Jake and Andre had a lengthy build related to the Giant's fear of Damian, and even the throwaway matches had some storyline - Hercules wrestling a Heenan family member, Jimmy Hart sending Honky and Valentine after Bret and The Anvil and so on. It's not match for match perfect but the build for the main event alone means for me it needs to be in the discussion.

The worst simply has to be Mania 18. Rock vs Austin setting up their clash of generations, legend vs legend match then following it with a ludicrous attempted vehicular homicide stunt only for Rock to be absolutely fine come the big night. Booker and Edge fighting over shampoo. Kurt Angle, after the incredible year he'd had, being paired up with Kane simply because neither had anything bigger or better to do. The Undertaker attempting to illicit heat based on kicking in David Flair (for fuck's sake) and best of all - Chris Jericho spending his time getting ready for the main event by walking Lucy the dog while the real feud plays out between Triple H and Steph. Woeful stuff for a B show, never mind the "granddaddy of them all."

* @IANdrewDiceClay of course, always watch the tape until the end. Blistering.

Edited by air_raid
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6 minutes ago, air_raid said:

The worst simply has to be Mania 18. Rock vs Austin setting up their clash of generations, legend vs legend match then following it with a ludicrous attempted vehicular homicide stunt only for Rock to be absolutely fine come the big night. Booker and Edge fighting over shampoo. Kurt Angle, after the incredible year he'd had, being paired up with Kane simply because neither had anything bigger or better to do. The Undertaker attempting to illicit heat based on kicking in David Flair (for fuck's sake) and best of all - Chris Jericho spending his time getting ready for the main event by walking Lucy the dog while the real feud plays out between Triple H and Steph. Woeful stuff for a B show, never mind the "granddaddy of them all."

I'm with you on all of this bar Undertaker/Flair - the build to that match was superb. Undertaker played a needlessly vindictive prick to perfection, and the idea of the retired wrestler being goaded out of retirement, and questions hanging over whether he could still go or not, is always a compelling story that WWE tend to shy away from as they prefer to pretend that aging wrestlers are always as good as they always were. That Flair as an authority figure really has to weigh up the implications of that role against being an active wrestler, and has to be effectively psychologically tortured into making that call, is so effective at putting over both roles, in stark contrast to "GM Shane McMahon books himself to enter a tournament in Saudia Arabia", for example.

The Undertaker is an absolute dick at the time, so Flair - in his capacity as co-owner of the WWF - takes exception to his actions and tries to put him in his place. Undertaker wants a match with Ric, but he refuses because he's no longer a wrestler. So he sets out to do everything he can to antagonise Flair into accepting - not just giving David Flair a kicking, which I actually thought was a good angle, but jumping Arn Anderson while he's just doing his job, and threatening to keep targeting Flair's family until he gets what he wants. That David Flair got his one and only WWF match out of the deal is just an amusing aside, and gave us his iconic entrance video.

They do a lawsuit/arresting angle, which I normally hate, but worked well here - Flair accidentally punches a fan, and Vince has him arrested for it. This allows Vince to call a meeting of the board of directors, who agree to suspend Flair as co-owner if he accepts the match - meaning Vince once again has total control, dovetailing the Flair/Undertaker feud into the broader Flair/McMahon programme (storylines that logically intersect, wha?!). With Vince in full control, he then has the authority to make the match No DQ, just because he can.

 

I love that build, and it all comes to a head perfectly in one of my favourite Wrestlemania matches ever.

Completely with you on all the rest of it, which was absolute bobbins, though.

The nWo had somehow already just become part of the scenery by Wrestlemania, the truck crash angle was insane (I believe it was intended to be aired on RAW after Wrestlemania to write out The Rock, but they brought it forward to try and get heat on Hogan), Scott Hall was made to look like a fool by Rock and Austin from day one, and somehow Kevin Nash ended up not even on the card (he wrestled the following night on RAW, so he presumably was able to).

I honestly think the nWo was a bigger own goal than the Invasion, in terms of WWE seriously fucking up a sure thing. I've made this point a thousand times, but the go-home episode of RAW featured The Rock & Steve Austin vs. Nash, Hogan & Hall. The nWo's first WWE match, Rock & Austin teaming together, the first time Rock and Hogan cross paths, the only time Austin and Hogan are opponents, the two biggest stars of the Attitude Era against the star of the Hulkamania Era, and two of the biggest names of intervening years. Austin 3:16 vs. the nWo in a battle of the most iconic T-shirts.

A match that could main event any PPV from 1998 to 2018, and they spaff it on RAW, the week of the PPV when these guys could have been wrestling for the first time. They just didn't know what they had.

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Mania 5 is a GREAT shout. I'm sticking with 14 but it's a very close second.

I thought i might need to think about worst given the dreary recent shows but then I realised it's obvious. It's Mania 11. I'm still more annoyed than any (alleged) grown man should be about that dogshit Rumble with the bogus 10 second gaps between entrants for the main event which is overshadowed completely by Pamela Anderson and Jenni McCarthy. In fact, the entire show is built on celebrities because the roster is diabolical. Bret is fucking about with Backlund. Razor is retreading over the IC title. RIP Bundy and all that but he's killing Taker's popularity. Which just leaves the eventual main event. Bigelow pulls off a miracle on the night but heading in you've got a football player building his little team to go up against Bigelow and the worst faction in the history of the company. Even worse than DOA. It's a hideous time.

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3 hours ago, tiger_rick said:

In fact, the entire show is built on celebrities because the roster is diabolical.

The constant vignettes at the time hyping up Salt N Pepa appearing did my nut in. People like Nick Turturro and the kid from Home Improvement... who cares? Having said that, if Bam Bam had the entire cast of NYPD Blue in his corner instead of Nikolai Volkoff, maybe he'd have won.

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Wrestlemania 15 was shit too.

On top you've got Austin and Rock getting overshadowed by Vince trying to be babyface and heel on the same show. Instead of the Corporation being focused on Rock defending his title against Austin you've got "A BEAR IN FLAMES. MR MCMAHON LAYING ON THE RAMP. WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?". Plus it all meant that Stephanie was on her fucking way.

Underneath this shitshow you've got Mankind and Big Show arguing about who gets to referee the main event - to this day I never got Mick's obsession with donning the stripes. Plus, Big Show jobs clean to Austin on the go home show - which pisses away the main event of Summerslam.

But wait, there's more. IT'S A SWERVE BRO as Road Dogg wins the Intercontinental Title whilst Billy Gunn grabs the Hard-core Belt - despite all the storylines indicating that they would compete for the opposite championships on the Mania card itself.

I enjoy Xpac and Shane and any interaction between Rock and Austin themselves was first class, but Christ you've got to wade through the wank to find it.

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14 and 5 were two that came into my head as being perfect nominations for two of the best built 'Mania shows, as Rick and air_raid have both mentioned above. I don't know if this will be met with as much appreciation by others, but I loved the whole period between January and March for WrestleMania 13.

I started watching around the build to Survivor Series 1996 so I was new to this whole wrestling carry on at the time, and everything just felt so exciting. Maybe it's because I was new to it all, but I've been watching the period back recently over the last few months and some of the episodes of Raw are fantastic. 

I know the card they ended up with isn't really that close to what they were planning several months before, and everything constantly changes with Shawn and Bret's bickering and inability to smile, but by fuck if all the shite backstage affected what ended up on screen, then it ended up doing so for the better.

The story obviously deviated every week, it felt chaotic because it was chaotic, and all the top guys were weaved together on screen (probably because Vince didn't know which piece he was going to be able to put where by the time they got to Chicago, based on the backstage carry on) but one thing never lost sight of was the title. Bret wanted the belt and Stone Cold. Sid wanted it too and Shawn to boot. Austin wanted the belt and Bret. Vader wanted the belt and Austin. Taker wanted Austin and the belt. Shawn wanted the belt and Bret, as long as he didn't have to lose I suppose.

All along the way you have a great Royal Rumble, that fantastic four way at IYH 13, several brilliant episodes of Raw with Austin and Bret trying to kick the lining out of each other, and that cage match at the end with Taker trying to help Sid and Austin aiding Bret, each their main enemy, all because they needed their match to be for the belt at the big show. It made 'Mania feel important, it allowed the belt to feel important and it allowed all of the top guys to not have to exist in a bubble with their current program. It may have been accidental at times along the way, but it kind of didn't feel that way in the end up. Plus, we ended up with Bret and Austin, so everything that went on ended up as perfect building material to allow that match to get over in the way it did, and to still be one match, of a very select few, that to this day could be held up as the best in company history. 

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