'WrestleMania XXX' preview: Prepare for Sunday with a trip down the WWE Network rabbit hole

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Image Credit: Andrew Toth/FilmMagic

This Sunday is the biggest day on the calendar year for those of us who still prefer this Steve Austin over the one from The Six Million Dollar Man and who still get the urge to patriotically tear off our shirts whenever this terrible Rick Derringer song kicks in. It’s WrestleMania XXX (that’s XXX as in “30,” not in porn terms), and it’s airing live from New Orleans on Sunday night.

I’m particularly excited for this iteration of the show thanks to the development that has completely re-aligned the way I watch and think about the WWE’s theatrical grappling arts. A few months ago, the company finally pulled back the curtain on the long-awaited WWE Network, which went through a number of rumored versions before settling on a wrasslin’ fan’s fantasy come to life. For just a penny under 10 bucks a month, the network — which can be accessed via most every device that streams video — treats users to a 24-hour stream of curated programming that includes every monthly live pay-per-view event, as well as a crazy-awesome on-demand library that stocks old TV show and PPV events.

So even though I haven’t watched WrestleMania live in a few years, I’ll definitely be on my couch streaming the entire thing via the WWE Network. But the main reason I subscribed right away was for that on-demand library, because let’s face it: No matter how old you are and how good the shows are now, wrestling always used to be better. So I’ve had quite a time going back and reliving old shows I love as well as discovering stuff that I missed the first time around.

That has actually enhanced my appreciation for this year’s WrestleMania, as while I tend not to watch the weekly TV shows, I’ve been able to construct my own narratives for the matches on the card (which, I have to admit, seem relatively lackluster compared to previous years). It has never been easier to psych yourself up for WrestleMania with the aid of the WWE’s vast library, so check out the rundown of the WrestleMania XXX matches below with some suggestions on what past matches to watch in order to gain some insight, all of which are available on the network. You’ll be a professional smark in no time!

WrestleMania XXX Match: The Shield vs. Kane & The New Age Outlaws
Story: The Shield are a sort of paramilitary faction and one of the most exciting acts in WWE. Their intentions are not always clear, but we’re meant to believe they exist somewhere just outside the WWE system and make a habit of wreaking havoc. Though they had been on their way to being entrenched bad guys (or heels, in wrestle-speak), they’re playing the heroes here against Kane and the Outlaws, a trio who represent the WWE status quo. Kane’s mythology is deeply complicated and confusing: Introduced as the brother of the Undertaker who was horribly disfigured in a fire, he has traded in his mask for a business suit and is now known as Corporate Kane, with the Outlaws acting as his cronies. It’s a classic tale of the old guard trying to uphold the status quo and snuff out the young rebels.
Analogous Match You Should Watch: The Shield vs. Kane, Daniel Bryan, and Ryback (from TLC 2012). This was another six-man tag match that used a lot of weapons and plunder spots, but at its core it was a great example of how well the Shield and Kane can work off of each other. For a sense of how WWE handles the upstarts against old guys scenario, you can also check out the war of the generations that is the Rock vs. Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X-8. The crowd reaction is weird, but the story is tight.

WrestleMania XXX Match: The Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational (AJ Lee, Aksana, Alicia Fox, Brie Bella, Cameron, Emma, Eva Marie, Layla, Naomi, Natalya, Nikki Bella, Rosa Mendes, Summer Rae and Tamina Snuka)
Story: Vickie Guerrero is a sometimes authority figure in WWE who also happens to be the actual widow of the late Eddie Guerrero. She was insulted by current Divas Champion AJ Lee, so as punishment, Lee has to take on just about every woman on the WWE roster in a single match for the championship. The first woman to score a pin is the winner in what should be a brief, chaotic match.
Analogous Match You Should Watch: Trish Stratus vs. Lita (from Unforgiven 2006). In my opinion, Stratus’ final match in WWE is the best women’s wrestling has ever been (in this company, at least). The Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational won’t be nearly as good, but it will give you a good idea of just how good the Divas can be.

WrestleMania XXX Match: The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Story: Hulk Hogan has returned to the WWE fold for the first time since 2007, and he’ll be acting as the host of Sunday night’s show. He has stayed mostly out of the match-related stories leading up to the event, though his one piece of booking was creating the inaugural version of a battle royal that will theoretically become an annual thing. A total of 30 mid-card stars will be in the ring (27 have been announced), and last man standing after everybody else  has been tossed over the top rope will win the trophy (and probably a push up the card).
Analogous Match You Should Watch: WWF vs. NFL Battle Royal (from WrestleMania 2). Battle royals are notoriously terrible matches: There is usually too much going on and they are often rushed. WWE does a great one every year in the annual Royal Rumble match, though that gradually introduces wrestlers rather than start everyone in the ring at once. The WrestleMania XXX battle royal was named for Andre the Giant, who used to win a lot of these, so you might as well watch the match from WrestleMania 2 that finds Andre outlasting a bunch of wrestlers and some moonlighting football players (including legendary Chicago Bears star William “The Refrigerator” Perry). Or for a slightly higher-level match, check out the battle royal from WrestleMania IV. That’s a terrible event, but the battle royal—featuring a nice little mini-story involving Bret Hart and Bad News Brown—is a tight little bit of storytelling with some quality action.

WrestleMania XXX Match: John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt
Story: Even if you don’t know much about WWE, you probably know who John Cena is. He’s the company’s biggest crossover star since Hulk Hogan back in the ’80s, and he has rarely been outside of the championship picture since he first won a world title in 2005. He is taking a break from chasing the gold to settle a score with Wyatt, a sort of backwater cult leader whose group has prevented Cena from winning a handful of championship matches over the past few months. Wyatt perceives Cena as being the WWE’s example of pure good, which he intends to corrupt.
Analogous Match You Should Watch: John Cena vs. Umaga (from Royal Rumble 2007). Wyatt is a methodical monster of a wrestler, and though his character is nothing like the late Samoan Bulldozer, it should make for the same style of match. All of Cena’s matches with Umaga were brutal, and Wyatt should deliver the same kind of brutality. It’s probably also worth watching Cena’s match against John “Bradshaw” Layfield at Judgment Day 2005, another hard-hitting walkaround brawl that may provide a template for the Wyatt match.

WrestleMania XXX Match: The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar
Story: The Undertaker has never lost at WrestleMania, and even though he’s technically a zombie cowboy in WWE story lines, he’s still interested in Mixed Martial Arts. Lesnar is an NCAA champion wrestler turned pro wrestler turned wannabe NFL player turned UFC champion turned pro wrestler again. Honestly, there’s not much story behind this, but the Undertaker’s undefeated streak coupled with Lesnar’s reputation as a badass is enough.
Analogous Match You Should Watch: The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar (from No Mercy 2002). During Lesnar’s first run with WWE, these two collided quite a bit, a fact that hasn’t really come up during the build-up to Mania (though they were two totally different characters then—Lesnar was pre-MMA, and Undertaker was working as a more muscular Kid Rock). But they never had a bad match, and their Hell in a Cell collision is particularly violent. Their square-offs at Unforgiven 2002 and No Mercy 2003 are also exceptional (and significantly less bloody than the crimson-drenched Hell in a Cell bout).

WrestleMania XXX Match: Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan
Story: This is by far the best-developed narrative at WrestleMania, and thus has the most riding on its outcome. Bryan is an undersized, beard-sporting indie darling who is beloved by Internet fans but who has been kept down both on-screen by cartoonish authority figure Triple H and off-screen by actual authority figure Triple H (who has taken on more and more backstage responsibility, mostly thanks to his marriage to Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie). So this is another suit keeping a rebel down match, except Bryan has momentum on his side (as well as one of the best chants in wrestling history that has bled into other sports) and a lot more riding on the finish, as the winner will be inserted into the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match that already includes Batista and Randy Orton.
Analogous Match You Should Watch: Triple H vs. Jeff Hardy (from Armageddon 2007). Triple H has been down this road before. Back in 2007, Jeff Hardy was just like Daniel Bryan—a fan favorite who was perceived as being held back by the powers that be. He was on an incredible run of stellar matches at the end of ’07, and he squared off in a number one contender match against Triple H with a title shot on the line. Hardy just eked out the victory, which is probably how the Bryan match is going to shake out on Sunday. Though the story would only be satisfying if Bryan wins, it’s entirely possible that Triple H could come out of this match on top, in which case you should watch his match against Booker T at Wrestlemania XIX or his victory over Randy Orton at Unforgiven 2004 for a lesson in how not to put people over.

WrestleMania XXX Match: Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Triple H/Daniel Bryan for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Story: Orton is the corporate pet, a third-generation star who has been on top for a long time thanks to his look and his pedigree. He’s the incumbent champion taking on the returning Batista, a former champ who has been away from WWE for a while but returned late last year (and will be seen in this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy). Orton and Batista used to be partners in a faction headed up by Triple H called Evolution, and though Batista is supposed to be the good guy, both he and Orton have been acting pretty heelish over the past few months (mostly because the live crowds have been booing them into oblivion). This match creates a lot of questions. We won’t know who the third participant is until the show starts, and no matter who ends up rounding out the contest, there’s no obvious choice for a winner (though if Bryan gets past Triple H, it would be insane not to put the belt on him at the end of the night).
Analogous Match You Should Watch: Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit (from WrestleMania XX). It may be difficult for some to watch a match featuring Benoit because of the horrible end of his life, but if Bryan wins, this is the match it will most likely resemble. Three-man matches are tough, because there’s almost always a third wheel, but this main event was masterfully laid out and was a tremendous piece of underdog storytelling. If Triple H ends up in the final match, it’ll probably be a lot more like the bland triple threat between John Cena, Edge, and Big Show at WrestleMania XXV. There wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with that match, but all those guys work pretty much the same way, and it ended up being relatively middling. Orton, Batista, and Triple H also share similar styles, so they may be headed for the same fate.

What match are you most looking forward to at WrestleMania XXX? And what have your favorite WWE Network discoveries been? Let us know in the comments!

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