This year at WrestleMania there will be a match, relegated to the pre-show that will not only demean the talent that take part, but the legacy of the man it’s supposed to honour.
With time running out before the ‘Showcase of the Immortals’, a series of wrestlers - including Tylor Breeze and Kane - have sheepishly announced their participation in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, to little or no fanfare.
The history of Battle Royals at WrestleMania is storied. First featured at WrestleMania 2, nearly half of the Mania's in history have featured one in one guise or another. Among the 232 WWE Superstars, 25 Divas and even sux NFL players, 20 Hall of Famers have taken part. 20! It wasn’t always irrelevant.
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In a bygone era, the prestige of a Battle Royal was still very much intact and winning one in the eyes of the fans was a legitimate feat. There’s no doubt either, they’ve undoubtedly thrown up their fair share of entertaining and defining moments over the years.
For legends like Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales, the Battle Royal was their only competitive appearance at a WrestleMania. Strange but true. In hindsight, how significant a marker in WWE history was Bret Hart’s face turn after finishing runner-up at 'Mania 4?
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More recently, Cesaro’s display of pure strength, body slamming the Big Show over the top rope for the inaugural ‘Andre’ Battle Royal win was great.
The modern problem is not with the match per se. Its purpose is more transparent - they ensure a pay day for as many under-card and mid-card talents as possible, and that’s fine. But the cynical packaging of its most recent incarnation is almost unforgivable.
The reboot before WrestleMania 30 was supposed to return it to its former glories. WWE wanted instant credibility for the match and they got it by tying it to the name and reputation of Andre the Giant, one of wrestling’s biggest icons.
A man so awe inspiring he practically transcended the sport, the Giant was a major factor in WWE (then WWF) crossing over to becoming a pop culture phenomenon during the eighties boom– lest we forget, it was Hogan and Andre who drew a previously unthinkable and unprecedented crowd for WrestleMania 3.
The Memorial match then, by association should have accordingly scaled in importance and value – for the company, the talent and fans alike. But instead of a major push that winning the first-ever Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal should have fuelled, Cesaro’s victory amounted to…not much of anything.
That it was not a platform to bigger and better things all but buried the legitimacy of the match and the man himself – attaching the Andre name to the match was the equivalent of a cheap pop, but more cynical and insidious.
Vince McMahon had enormous respect and admiration for the Giant (a view shared almost universally) so it makes no sense that what he achieved for his business during his run with WWE is fated to become shorthand for creative inertia at the WWE.
This year, instead of a catch-all-match for disenfranchised talent or another ‘trophy’ accolade for aging big men, hopefully it will do what it should – honour the great man by elevating future main eventers.
At this moment, a number of talented stars can count themselves at a loose end for the Arlington showpiece. Now is the time to make it mean something. A tradition, however overdue has to start somewhere.
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