EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 16: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson attends a press conference to announce that MetLife Stadium will host WWE Wrestlemania 29 in 2013 at MetLife Stadium on February 16, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images)
WrestleMania 28 is just a month away! Catch up on what you may have missed with our in-depth primer on players and storylines leading up to the big event.
WrestleMania 28 will take place on April 1 in Miami, FL. As always, it is expected to be the biggest wrestling event of the year and (as the WWE hopes) one of the most-purchased pay-per-view events of the year, as well. If you've ever watched a WrestleMania before, you know that the annual show is the Super Bowl of professional wrestling. And if you've never watched a WrestleMania before...well...it's the Super Bowl of professional wrestling.
But what if you haven't watched wrestling since last year's WrestleMania? Or for years? Or since the WWE was still called the WWF? Well, you don't have to worry about looking like a "jabroni" (wrestling term), because we've got you covered. We're going to run down all the relevant stuff you need to know to get ready for this year's event, without all of the stupid stuff you're lucky you missed, like the farting daughter of Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, or a leprechaun using his Christmas Wish to get his voice back so he can be vaguely racist.
Enjoy this handy guide to the key players and storylines in today's WWE. All photos are courtesy of WWE.com.
WWE Champion: CM Punk
CM Punk gained notoriety last year when he delivered a scathing, free-form rundown of everything that is wrong with the current state of the WWE, capped off by suggesting the company would finally improve when Vince McMahon died. Although Punk had been a critical and Internet darling for years, as well as a multi-time World Heavyweight Champion, the promo catapulted him to superstardom. He defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship at the "Money in the Bank" PPV in July of 2011, after which he "left the company" with the title belt for a brief time. He is now one of the most popular stars in the company and holds the top title heading into WrestleMania.
World Heavyweight Champion: Daniel Bryan
Aberdeen, Washington native Daniel Bryan holds the second-most-prestigious title heading into WrestleMania. What you need to know about this guy is that as independent wrestler "The American Dragon" Bryan Danielson, he was regarded as the very best wrestler in the entire world for years before being signed by the WWE. He's still a fantastically great wrestler and is starting to find himself as a character, portraying a somewhat-cowardly and cocky jerk who won't stop telling everyone he's a vegan. This guy is fun to watch all around. Gets bonus points for using "Flight of the Valkyries" as a theme song and currently sporting an impressive beard.
Intercontinental Champion: Cody Rhodes
This guy, if you can believe it, is the son of Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes and the brother of Goldust. After treading water for years as a bland tag team partner of other second-generation wrestlers, he has channeled a level of dickishness and arrogance that hasn't been seen in some time. His in-ring work has drastically improved and he's one of the most entertaining wrestlers in the company. Endeared himself to everyone by bringing back the white-strap Intercontinental Championship belt worn by luminaries like Shawn Michaels and the Ultimate Warrior.
U.S. Champion: Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger was supposed to be the second coming of Kurt Angle but ended up being the first coming of a big, lisping doofus. Fine in the ring, awkward on the mic. Occasionally shows flashes of greatness, but rarely gets the opportunity to capitalize on them. Was briefly the World Heavyweight Champion, but hardly anyone even mentions that now. Defeated fan favorite Zack Ryder for the U.S. title because WWE wanted to punish their fans for cheering for the wrong guy. Really.
Tag Team Champions: Primo & Epico
Primo is the brother of Carlito Caribbean Cool, who you may remember. Epico is another guy. You likely won't see them at WrestleMania, because no one cares about tag team wrestling any more.
Divas Champion: Beth Phoenix
Beth Phoenix is likely to be the Divas champion forever, because she's a foot taller and sixty pounds heavier than all the other women wrestlers in the company. (Yes, Kharma -- AKA Awesome Kong -- is still in the company, but the WWE hasn't expressed any interest in using her lately.) Notable for being the only Diva in the WWE (other than Kharma, shush up) who doesn't actively stink as a wrestler.
The Authority Figures
Vince McMahon is no longer in charge of the company, for storyline purposes. You may see him pop up at WrestleMania, or beforehand, but he's not a full-time on-screen presence any more. Here's the assortment of figurehead-types you may want to be familiar with.
Raw Interim General Manager: John Laurinaitis
John Laurinaitis was once a wrestler known as "Johnny Ace." He also happens to be the brother of Road Warrior Animal and the uncle of St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis. He became infamous behind the scenes by being the head of Talent Relations for years, which meant he was the person who was responsible for firing everyone. Parlayed his reputation as someone that no one likes into his current on-air role as the Raw general manager that no one likes. Is a compelling character who makes unpopular decisions for the good of the company. Looks and sounds almost exactly like Marty Funkhauser from "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Invented the Stone Cold Stunner. Seriously.
Legal Advisor to John Laurinaitis: David Otunga
Harvard law school graduate, former "I Love New York 2" contestant and husband of Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson, Otunga spent time doing various things in WWE before finding his calling as Johnny Ace's legal advisor. He gets to be hilarious on TV every week and coordinate his sweater, bow tie and socks with his coffee thermos. Can often be seen in the background being awesome.
SmackDown! General Manager: Theodore Long
Teddy Long is best known for telling players to hold on a minute and for being slightly inept as a general manager of a wrestling brand. Although the SmackDown and Raw brands are no longer divided, the shows themselves now have different general managers, which is confusing. We'll get into that a bit more when we get to the current feuds. Long has a history of on-air sexual harassment and favoritism, but still remains in power. I'm beginning to think this company plays by its own rules!
WWE COO: Triple H
Behind the scenes, Triple H is legitimately married to Stephanie McMahon. He is also legitimately transferring out of a wrestling role and into his position as Vince McMahon's successor. On-screen, he took over for Vince McMahon and was named the COO, so he still pops up in that role from time to time to override general manager decisions or whatever. Good rule of thumb: if Triple H comes out in a full suit and tie, he's going to say something in a COO capacity. If he comes out in street clothes or his signature tiny trunks...something else is happening.
The Key Players
Million-time world champion and all-time top wish granter for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Everyone over the age of 12 kind of hates his guts and everyone under the age of 12 loves him to death. Or at least, that's the line that we're fed. Company man to a fault, but is super, super good at what he does. There's a reason that guys become the biggest pro wrestler in the world and it's not because they're lousy.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has come back to the WWE and it's like he never left. By which I mean his act hasn't changed at all since the early-2000s.
Sheamus is a huge Irish monster. He's known for his pasty white skin and beating people up real good. Currently a good guy who is saddled with the endlessly unfortunate nickname "Great White." Revealed to be related to Beaker of the Muppets in-canon. (That's not a joke and it's exactly as awesome as you think it is.)
You probably know who Chris Jericho is. He's back and he's still great. He wears a light-up jacket now.
Dolph Ziggler is so good, it makes you forget that his wrestling name is "Dolph Ziggler." Originally introduced as a character whose gimmick was that he liked meeting new people, Ziggler has become the most consistent member of the WWE roster. Anyone who wrestles Ziggler is going to look like a million bucks. Generally takes at least three ridiculous and amazing-looking bumps per match. If you're watching WWE and Dolph Ziggler comes out, you're about to be entertained.
The Big Show
The Big Show alternates between being a monster and a goofball who wears camo and a beanie. Uses a punch as his finisher. "The World's Largest Athelete" is the most likely candidate to wrestle Shaq at WrestleMania.
Mark Henry is currently fighting a bevy of injuries, but has been showing up to voice his support of John Laurinaitis. Had a phenomenal run as an unstoppable monster and World Heavyweight Champion last year that ended far too soon.
Kane is wearing a mask once again. The hair is fake, but don't let that distract you. May be around for WrestleMania, but was last seen being thrown off an ambulance by John Cena, then being placed in said ambulance and driven to...somewhere.
Zack Ryder started as an impostor Edge, before starting a fairly groundbreaking gimmick as an irritating Long Island bro. He started his own YouTube webseries where he was funny, honest, engaging and entertaining, so fans started wanting to see a lot more of him. The WWE finally relented and gave him a long feud with Dolph Ziggler which ended in a U.S. Championship for Ryder. Then he spent a month being stalked by Kane and having his back "broken" as a means of teaching fans not to get emotionally invested in a wrestler that hasn't been pre-approved by the WWE. Not likely to be back on TV before WrestleMania, if ever.
Randy Orton is a third-generation wrestler and multiple-time former world champion. He's gotten way, way better at what he does over the years. He's coming back from an injury, but he'll likely get a feud and a match in time for WrestleMania. One of his nicknames is "The Viper" but he more closely resembles Battle Cat from "He-Man."
Longtime comedy wrestler who has recently been doing a great job getting the crowd behind him as a true underdog. Best in small doses. His finishing move is "The Cobra" wherein he puts a snake-patterned sock on his arm and pokes his opponent. Not any sillier than "The People's Elbow" really.
Come on, man. You know who the Undertaker is, man. He's the Grave Digger of pro wrestling.
The Rock vs. John Cena
The main event of WrestleMania 28 will pit the biggest current pro wrestler against his predecessor. The buildup to this was was very disappointing, with the Rock running through his talking points and taking jabs at John Cena is increasingly childish and undignified ways. On Monday night's Raw, Cena completely ethered the Rock, calling him out for his act being stale and losing sight of what their match is all about. Cena finally made the feud truly compelling by essentially saying that at Mania, he'll beat Rock up and prove he's better. When it all comes down to it, that's what pro wrestling should be about, right?
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho
CM Punk will defend his WWE Championship against Chris Jericho at WrestleMania. Their beef concerns Punk's claims that he is the "Best in the World," a title that Jericho believes he owns in perpetuity. This might be the match that ends this year's show, although the "main event" status clearly goes to Cena and Rock. Punk challenged Jericho to have the best WrestleMania match of all time against him. Given the talent level of these two, that challenge is absolutely within their ability.
Triple H vs. The Undertaker
One of the only things that still means anything in the world of professional wrestling is the Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania. Taker stretched his record to 19-0 last year when he defeated Triple H. Now on a strict one-match-a-year schedule, the Undertaker showed up to challenge Triple H to a rematch, but the COO took some convincing. Triple H was finally hounded into accepting a rematch, but he insisted on one condition: the match at WrestleMania will be a Hell in a Cell match. Undertaker is likely to stretch his streak to 20-0 in the roofed steel cage in what may be the swan song for both wrestlers, who are near the end of their careers. This is another match that could potentially steal the show.
Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus
These two will be facing off for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania. This one is pretty cut-and-dried. Sheamus won this year's Royal Rumble, which gives him the right to challenge for either world title at Mania. He picked Daniel Bryan's World Heavyweight title, so the match is on. Bryan changed his personality a couple months ago when he hid behind his girlfriend, A.J., causing the Big Show to inadvertently harm her. Since then, Bryan has created an intriguing character that you love to hate. The feud between Sheamus and Bryan will develop over the coming weeks, but you you need to know is this: the bad guy has the world title and the good guy wants it. Once again, simplest is best.
Team Johnny Ace vs. Team Teddy Long
As mentioned earlier, the WWE is no longer split into two separate brands, but the general managers of Raw and SmackDown! have been butting heads for months now. John Laurinaitis has seen his job threatened in recent weeks, but has assembled a group of wrestlers who have supported him, including Mark Henry, Alberto Del Rio and the returning Christian. Teddy Long has his own group of fan favorites who have been sticking up for their general manager. It appears a WrestleMania match between the two factions is likely, perhaps with one overarching WWE GM spot hanging in the balance.
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