THE 3 BIGGEST CURVEBALLS IN THE ROAD TO WRESTLEMANIA
Since 1993, the winner of the Royal Rumble would go on to WrestleMania to face the WWE Champion. That year Yokozuna would go on to defeat Bret the Hitman Hart at WrestleMania IX. Between Royal Rumble and WrestleMania there are 2-3 months and during that time a lot can change. In 1995 WWE started having a Pay Per View every month. (Before there was just the classic five, Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, King of the Ring, SummerSlam and Survivor Series) In May of 1995 WWE introduced a new PPV called In Your House. There would be an In Your House PPV in between the classic five.
February 18, 1996 was the date of In Your House 6, and for the first time there would be a PPV in between Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. On this night, Bret Hart defended his WWE Championship against Diesel. That would not be the only thing on the line that night. Shawn Michaels, the winner of the Royal Rumble would defend his WrestleMania Title Shot against Owen Hart. Both Shawn and Bret would have successful defenses therefore there would be no curveballs thrown in the road to WrestleMania.
Now looking back at history, there are 3 times where I was completely shocked and the road to WrestleMania was not what I initially expected.
Lets go back to the 1997 Royal Rumble. The winner Stone Cold Steve Austin, although Bret Hart had all the momentum in the world going into it. The champion, Shawn Michaels. Shawn defeated Pyscho Sid that night to become the WWE Champion. Now we must remember, Austin was legally eliminated from the Rumble, but the referee did not see his feet hit the floor and he would go on to eliminate Bret, the last man standing. The champion however would run into a road block. During this time Shawn would be sidelined due to a knee injury and he would then go on to forfeit the title.
Shawn defeated Bret at WrestleMania XII and Bret would go on a hiatus only to return to face Austin at the Survivor Series who he defeated. The story of redemption presented itself. Bret vs Shawn II at WrestleMania XIII right? Nope, because Shawn Michaels “Lost His Smile.”
So at In Your House 13, the vacated title would be on the line in a Final Four Match. (Win by pin fall, submission or over the top elimination) With Pyscho Sid facing the winner the next night on Raw, the final four would see Bret Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Undertaker vs Vader (The Final Four of the Royal Rumble) Bret would win the title only to lose it the next night on Raw to Sid. Since Shawn was unable to compete at WrestleMania, Bret was left with Austin…but not for the title. Instead, Sid would face Undertaker .
Looking back, it makes you think how did we go from a possible Bret vs Shawn main event to Psycho Sid vs Undertaker?
After the Summer of 2002, there was two champions, one for Raw the other for Smackdown. When WrestleMania season came around, the winner of the Royal Rumble has the option of which champion he wanted to face. That years Rumble was won by Chris Benoit and he decided to challenge for Raw’s World Heavyweight Championship. Smackdown proceeded to have a Royal Rumble on their show with the winner going to WrestleMania to face the champion. Going into No Way Out (The final stop before WrestleMania) the champion,Brock Lesnar, the Smackdown rumble winner, Kurt Angle. Now these two men main-evented WrestleMania a year ago, a match in which Lesnar was victorious. A match of that caliber, why not have a rematch, especially when we did not get Bret and Shawn.
Perhaps an even bigger story could take place. Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg for the WWE Championship maybe? Why? At the Royal Rumble, the two had an exchange of words which led to Lesnar causing Goldberg to be eliminated from the Royal Rumble matchup.
Goldberg would obtain a “ticket” to Smackdown’s No Way Out from Raw GM Stone Cold Steve Austin. Lesnar would be main eventing No Way Out against Eddie Guerrero. While Kurt Angle was the number one contender going into WrestleMania, no one would have believed that former WCW Cruiserweight Champion Eddie Guerrero would be able to defeat the Next Big Thing, Brock Lesnar. That night Guerrero overcame the odds and became the new WWE Champion and went on to face Kurt Angle, while Brock Lesnar faced Goldberg with Stone Cold Steve Austin being the special guest referee.
In 2002 Eric Bischoff introduced a new match, the Elimination Chamber. A 6 sided chain-linked circular steel chamber which encloses the ring. In 2010 Elimination Chamber became its own PPV. Each year there would be two chamber matches. One where the losing brand of the Royal Rumble would put their 6 biggest stars and the winner to face the champion at WrestleMania. The winning brand usually has their champion defend the title in a chamber match while the number one contender awaits. In 2013, Smackdown was the losers of the rumble. Alberto Del Rio was the World Heavyweight Champion but he did not have an opponent for WrestleMania.
The Elimination Chamber match featured Jack Swagger, Chris Jericho,[Daniel Bryan, Kane, Mark Henry and Randy Orton. Going into this match Randy Orton was the face of Smackdown. That night in New Orleans he got the loudest pop in the arena. It was almost guaranteed that he would win the match. Daniel Bryan and Kane were tag team champions, Chris Jericho was in the title match a year ago, and Mark Henry who was one of the biggest heels in the company was a close second.
As the match drew near a close, the final three were Randy Orton, Jack Swagger, and Chris Jericho. Orton would hit one of his “Outta Nowhere” RKOs and score the pin on Jericho, but before he knew it Swagger would roll him up for the 1-2-3 and on to WrestleMania. The stage was set Jack Swagger vs Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship.
There were rumors that Swagger was due to win the title, but he got into some legal trouble and yet throwing another curveball in the Road to WrestleMania.
As we approach WrestleMania XXXI, will there be another curveball thrown this year, or will things stay the course. Only time will tell.