Wrestling feuds are at their absolute best when the line between what’s real and what’s fake gets blurred. The crowning feud of the WWE in the 1990s, Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels, represented the pinnacle of that line-blurring storytelling that Vince McMahon has never been afraid of tapping into. This type of storytelling is something that other forms of competing TV entertainment can’t offer. Remember, Mr. McMahon isn’t in the wrestling business.
He’s in the sports entertainment business.
Over the past month, four WWE Superstars have brought their buildup to WrestleMania 33 — sports entertainment’s grandest stage — way closer to that blurry pinnacle than any of us were expecting. The unexpected matchup? John Cena & Nikki Bella vs. The Miz & Maryse
As I sat at home watching February’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, the moment when Cena pinned Miz after an Attitude Adjustment seemed like a fairly innocuous part of what turned out to be the greatest Elimination Chamber of all time. If somebody would have told me that moment would launch a feud that would make a WrestleMania 33 Mixed-Tag match my most anticipated part of this year’s “Show of Shows,” I’d think I was in the Twilight Zone. In an era when almost none of the company’s supposed heels can generate significant heat, these four have created quite the fire.
When Talking Smack first launched, I eye-rolled it as a throw-away WWE program to add to the already overcrowded weekly lineup. However, these four have shown why a show like it is worth having. Talking Smack co-host Daniel Bryan’s eventual WrestleMania XXX moment in New Orleans used real crowd anger at his lack of ascension up the ladder to advance the story leading up to his title coronation. Similarly, in this feud Miz and Maryse are making perfect use of fan perception that Cena gets handed whatever he wants, doesn’t have to work as hard as other wrestlers, runs the show backstage, and uses his position to further Nikki’s career trajectory. Credit must also go to Cena and Nikki for being comfortable letting rumors about their relationship and the lack of wedding bells be used to increase the tension between the four of them.
On the March 7th episode of Talking Smack, where the stakes in this feud really ratcheted up, Bryan’s real life and kayfabe life combined to take things to the next level. The combination of his ongoing feud with Miz and his real-life position as Nikki’s brother-in-law made him sitting there listening to verbal haymakers being thrown for ten minutes a segment of WWE TV I’ve revisited multiple times since it aired.
So, what’ll happen when these four finally meet in Orlando on Sunday, April 2nd? Will it be a Five-Star classic? No, but we’ll be invested in every second of it, which is something that doesn’t hold true for all the marquee matchups at WrestleMania 33. The result, whatever it will be, opens up a lot of interesting possibilities going forward. Does a Nikki pin on Maryse allow her to put a bow on her career and ride off into the sunset, or does Maryse scoring the victory mark a return to regular in-ring action for her? Does Cena take another high-profile loss and launch Miz right to the top of the title picture? Oddly, a victory for Cena would give him quite the rub, which is weird to type out considering how we generally think of his and Miz’s respective positions in the company.
Nothing else is a bigger testament to the greatness of this buildup than the fact that Miz, more so than the other three, has gotten this feud over with the audience to such an extent that in defeat, he could elevate the company’s biggest star. That doesn’t happen every day.
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