As the premier prize in the industry, the WWE Championship match at Wrestlemania should always be the most highly anticipated spectacle at the showcase of the immortals. But we’ve seen during the brand extension that that’s not always the case. When there are two world titles, one has to take priority over the other at the biggest show of the year, and just as it did in the early stages of the original dual world title era, this year it’s the WWE Title match that’s taking the back seat.
Part of that is because the build up to Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt this year has been… weird. In theory, this is a seven months storyline that has had its twists and turns, elevated both men with some character development and is peaking at the right time for maximum impact. Practically though, the last month or so especially has been confusing and very hit or miss.
The two originally began feuding on the SmackDown after SummerSlam in August last year. Randy Orton was conducting an interview while not medically cleared in the aftermath of his TKO loss to Brock Lesnar in the main event, and Wyatt appeared on the screen and taunted the Viper. They were scheduled for a match at Backlash where Wyatt attacked him backstage, rendering Orton unable to compete (in reality he hadn’t been cleared from his concussion suffered at Lesnar’s hands).
Orton and Wyatt finally did meet at No Mercy where Wyatt picked up the win after a distraction from the returning Luke Harper. It was at this point Orton said “if you can’t beat them, join them”, and aligned with the Wyatt Family.
They had a tumultuous relationship at times, with Harper not trusting the viper and Orton doing what he could to prove his loyalty to Bray. They competed as part of Team SmackDown at Survivor Series, where Orton took a spear from Roman Reigns – saving Bray – and meaning the two of them would survive in a SmackDown victory.
This endeared Orton to Harper to an extent, and when the Wyatt Family challenged for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships at TLC Harper took a gore from Rhyno to save Orton. The Wyatt Family would win the titles that night, giving Bray and Harper their first taste of championship gold on the main roster.
But that was where the good times ended for the trio. They would lose the belts to American Alpha in January, and after failing to regain the titles and weeks of miscommunications and arguments between Harper and Orton, the two would have a match right before the Royal Rumble. Orton won, and a post-match attack on Harper by Wyatt spelled the end for his association with the Family.
At the Royal Rumble, Randy Orton and Bray worked together, and ended up in the final three alongside Roman Reigns. Wyatt finished third, and Orton ended up victorious, earning him a championship match at Wrestlemania. And Orton being the Rumble winner is another reason why the lack of a “big fight feel” at Mania is an issue. Two weeks later, Bray Wyatt pinned both John Cena and AJ Styles inside the Elimination Chamber to win his first WWE Championship. The battle of the Wyatt Family seemed set for Wrestlemania.
Only it wasn’t as simple as that. Orton gave up his shot, saying he couldn’t fight Bray while he was still the master. So a battle royal was set up to determine who would face Bray, which Harper and AJ Styles “drew”. The next week Styles won a match to settle the issue, only for Randy that very night to turn on Bray by burning down his shack and attempt to reclaim his championship opportunity.
Then things got weirder than normal for Bray. Orton defeated Styles the next week to finally confirm who the number one contender was, but Wyatt appeared on screen. He claimed that even though Orton thought he had destroyed the shelter for the soul of Sister Abigail, and by extension robbed Bray of himself, her powers lived on through Bray. He bathed in her ashes. Seriously.
Then, finally, on the go home SmackDown, Wyatt was victorious against his former brethren Luke Harper, and Orton once again appeared on screen at the Wyatt compound. He drove a stake through the remains of Sister Abigail, once again apparently robbing Bray of his powers. Righteo then.
The thing is, this should have been such a simple story of deception, mind-games and revenge, and it almost feels like they’ve ruined it by bringing in all the supernatural elements. This is still the match with one of the longest builds on the show, and so much of it was so good that it’s still one of the strongest things for me on Wrestlemania. But where this last month should have been ramping everything up and making me really excited to see this match, if anything it has done the opposite.
There are still a lot of questions over this match, which helps it out a bit. We don’t know if Luke Harper will get involved – he has nothing else going on in the show as it stands – and for that matter Erick Rowan has been cleared and is awaiting his return too. There is also the question of who walks out with the championship, and that is where my heart is battling my head.
The feud is most likely going to continue in the month or two after Mania, so in a sense it doesn’t really matter who walks out with gold around their waist. I really want Bray to have a reasonable run at the top, and I feel like him losing to Orton tomorrow night would undermine his credibility as a real top guy. If he wins, he will have put John Cena, AJ Styles and Randy Orton away with a single Sister Abigail each in the last two months, and there aren’t many better ways to get a finisher over than to beat three guys of that calibre with it.
And Orton also doesn’t need the win. He’s already a 12-time world champion, and won’t really gain anything by winning another one right now. Before this rivalry, he had been out injured for months, and before that was toiling away as WWE tried to keep him out of the title picture for the time being. So this feud has elevated both guys in that Bray Wyatt is now WWE Champion, and Orton is a popular top guy on a brand again.
But, it is WWE, there are probably going to be a lot of heel wins on the show (if that even matters anymore with a Wrestlemania crowd), they like Orton and he is a fairly reliable choice to be the face of SmackDown in John Cena’s impending absence. He’s probably the most popular active face as it stands, and there are way more heel challengers for him to work with than there are face challengers for Bray to work with long-term. My head is saying Orton is the logical choice to win, but I really want Bray to extend his title run a bit further, if only for a couple of months.
None of this has even touched on the match itself. Maybe because of the last few weeks, I’m not expecting anything particularly spectacular from this match. I don’t really think that’s their role this year. But, that could work in their favour. Bray and Orton are both very capable workers, and having no real expectations, maybe they’ll remind us all of just how good they are. If they tell the right story, both men are good enough to deliver a match we’ll be talking about next week above most of the others we’ll see tomorrow night. They just need to be given that chance. Will they get it? We find out in just over 30 hours time.