March 19, 2017
Over the past five years, WrestleMania has been about part-timers and major stars from eras past. WWE has used this formula to pit its current top stars against living legends and future WWE Hall of Famers.
The result has been one WrestleMania after another with record-breaking attendance numbers among other impressive key business indicators. But for those not in the main event, WrestleMania becomes a source of intense motivation to steal the show in the spirit of Ricky Steamboat and Macho Man Randy Savage. And while obvious candidates like Goldberg and Brock Lesnar have shined as integral parts of WrestleMania, in 2017, a select few unheralded WWE Superstars seem primed to upstage them.
Kevin Owens did all he could and then some to portray the wicked heel who got his comeuppance at WWE Fastlane. With Goldberg in and out of WWE TV and a man of few words on the mic, Owens carried their program as a suit-wearing villain who betrayed his best friend and told anybody who would listen that he would defeat Goldberg.
Owens was equally entertaining on Twitter (h/t Wrestling Inc) where he outwitted the smoke-breathing legend. By the time the bell rang, he only lasted 22 seconds with the now-current universal champion, but it didn’t damage him in the least because he played his part perfectly. Owens will now enter a highly anticipated United States Championship feud with Chris Jericho in a strong match of the night candidate.
Though he is heavily cheered as a heel, AJ Styles has captured the true essence of a bad guy in professional wrestling throughout his feud with Shane McMahon. The most effective heels have valid points that carry an element of truth but deliver these points in an obnoxious manner.
Randy Orton forfeited his WrestleMania opportunity. Styles earned his right to replace Orton. Orton then burned down a man’s house and earned an opportunity to replace Styles in said WWE Championship match. Styles has every right to be angry and took his frustrations out in a sneak attack of the WWE Commissioner.
Now that he has been fired, Styles has been celebrated as somewhat of a folk hero given his plight, and WWE has an opportunity to truly kick this rivalry into another gear by having Styles show up as the newest member of WWE Raw.
Roman Reigns has always been better by speaking softly and carrying a big stick. His promo against Shawn Michaels this past week on Raw was the perfect example.
As Michaels tried to reason with Reigns, the defiant Big Dog scoffed and insisted he would put an end to The Undertaker’s career before storming out of the ring. A top star who many feel is being groomed as the next John Cena, Reigns is convincing as somebody who could potentially earn an elusive victory over The Undertaker, and that’s why this feud works. It’s as simple as “Whose yard is this?” and doesn’t need much else.
Ever since his career-defining promo on Talking Smack last summer, The Miz has not let up as the best heel in the entire promotion. In an age where both babyfaces and heels receive mixed responses from fans, nobody unites people in disgust quite like The Miz. Miz was at his sanctimonious best when he verbally undressed John Cena for calling him a thief.
Miz, like Styles, has several valid points—in this case, against Cena. But unlike Styles, he is able to deliver these points in ways that get under people’s skin. On paper, TotalMania (Cena-Nikki Bella vs. Miz-Maryse) seems like a dud given Cena and Miz once main-evented a WrestleMania together. But thus far, the execution has been almost flawless.
Though fans are now beginning to turn on him, because that’s what wrestling fans do, Goldberg has been exemplary as a top babyface, and the ratings show. Goldberg’s return popped an enormous viewership of 3.13 million per ShowBuzz Daily (h/t Wrestling Inc), and his appearances have continued to coincide with strong numbers for WWE’s flagship. Per an article I penned for Forbes, Goldberg’s appearances on Raw have averaged just over three million viewers. Though his upcoming matchup against Brock Lesnar does little for WWE’s long-term future, it feels like a blockbuster WrestleMania main event.
Alfred Konuwa is a Featured Columnist and on-air host for Bleacher Report and Forbes. Like him on Facebook.