It is the WWE's annual rite of Spring. Wrestlemania weekend. This year, Wrestlemania goes outdoors at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands of East Rutherford, NJ, but tonight, the annual Hall of Fame induction takes place at hallowed Madison Square Garden. Let's take a look first at the Class of 2013, which has a decided New York flavor........
*Mick Foley (inducted by Terry Funk): Foley has oft told the story about how he was at MSG 30 years ago when "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka dove off the top of a steel cage onto "Magnificent" Don Muraco after their match. Now, he joins them in the Hall after arguably becoming more famous than both. In addition to his 3 WWF titles and a number of tag titles in WWF & ECW, Foley has also become a best-selling author in both non-fiction (his memoirs) and children's literature.
*Donald Trump (inducted by Vince McMahon): 6 years ago, Trump put his famous weatherproof hair up against McMahon at the big dance, but, like, did you really think the hair was really in danger? Now, McMahon, whose ring persona was a candidate for the looney bin for the last decade and change, will welcome his good friend into the celebrity wing of the Hall. Trump is the only one to host back-to-back Wrestlemanias (4-5 were at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City in 1988-9), and that's not likely to change. On the other hand, with all the hot air Trump's been spewing out lately, do we really need him in this spot? Hmmmmm, wellllllll, of course not!
*Bob Backlund (inducted by Maria Menounos): In his prime, the Minnesota-born Backlund had heels taking advantage of the revival of a certain 50's icon in their promos, dubbing him "Howdy Doody" because of his cherubic face. He has the record for the longest stretch between title reigns (10 years, 11 months), having lost the title in December 1983 to Iron Sheik, then beating Bret Hart in November 1994, only for that final title reign to last just a couple of days before losing to Kevin Nash (as Diesel). For those keeping score at home, current champion Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson went 10 years and 5 1/2 months between title reigns (lost to Brock Lesnar at Summerslam in August 2002 before beating CM Punk at the Royal Rumble in January 2013).
*Booker T. Huffman (inducted by Lane Huffman, aka Stevie Ray): Queue up Harlem Heat's theme song, "Rap Sheet", as the former WCW tag champs will reunite for one night. Stevie Ray retired rather than join his brother in the then-WWF in 2001, and watched little brother add 4 more tag titles and a World title during his first WWF-E run (2001-7), among other things. Currently the figurehead GM of Friday Night Smackdown (complete with a look that makes him look like Whoopi Goldberg's little brother), Booker's not about to dust off the tights & boots any time soon.
*Trish Stratus (inducted by Stephanie McMahon): She was only on the active roster for 6 1/2 years, but the Toronto-born Trish made a lasting impact in the women's division, shattering the record for most title reigns by a woman (she retired with 7), a mark not likely to fall any time soon. This will be the first time Trish & Stephanie will be on the same stage at the same time in 12 years (at the most), both now successful businesswomen after hanging up the tights. Sorry, boys, but like Stephanie, Trish is taken.
*Bruno Sammartino (inducted by Arnold Schwarzenegger): This is the one everyone wants to see, and they can thank Triple H for making it happen. Sammartino had a falling out with Vince McMahon several years back over the direction of the company that saw him end his run as a color analyst, during which time he served as a buffer between McMahon & Jesse Ventura. However, I can't think of anyone who sold out MSG more often than "The Living Legend". Not even Hulk Hogan comes close, and wouldn't you know? MSG is sold out for tonight, too.
Now, it's on to Wrestlemania 29 at the Meadowlands. The recent cold snap in the Northeast may be a factor, and not everyone is accustomed to these adverse conditions on a big stage like this.
WWE title: The Rock vs. John Cena: Last year, with no titles on the line, Rock beat Cena, which made a lot of people happy. Those people despise Cena because they don't like that he's been marketed as this generation's Hogan, even though his won-loss record on PPV in 2012 wasn't that good. Cena moves too much merchandise (t-shirts, caps, etc.), so a heel turn ain't happening, despite what a lot of people think. Cena in this spot is like Shawn Michaels vs. Hogan at Summerslam 2005. The difference is, there will still be haters. Rock has another movie opening later this month ("Pain & Gain" with Mark Wahlberg), and while he had a zillion press junkets the last couple of months, he doubled as an ambassador for the company while champion. However, it's time for this thrill ride to end and for things to go back to normal. The Pick: Cena.
WWE World title: Alberto Del Rio (w/Ricardo Rodriguez) vs. Jack Swagger (w/Zeb Colter): Del Rio is being posited as WWE's new Latino superhero. Rey Mysterio has lost favor, it seems, and Sin Cara has been injury prone and otherwise a disappointment. Del Rio, from this desk, is the 2nd coming of the late Eddie Guerrero, and the feud with Swagger recalls Guerrero's 2004 feud with John Bradshaw Layfield, who will be calling the match alongside Jerry Lawler and either Michael Cole or Jim Ross, depending on what WWE decides by this time tomorrow. However, Dolph Ziggler is waiting in the wings with the Money in the Bank briefcase, which he has teased cashing in, but doing so now would be anti-climatic and a waste of everyone's time, since Ziggler's about as charismatic as a used bar of soap, and has no credibility. The Pick: Del Rio.
Triple H (w/Shawn Michaels) vs. Brock Lesnar (w/Paul Heyman): Return match from Summerslam. Lesnar's broken the "Cerebral Assassin"'s arm twice, but he won't make it three times. I look for HHH to dust off an old submission finisher from his WCW run 10 years ago as Terra Ryzing, and make Lesnar tap if he can with the Indian Deathlock. Heyman's not going to be a factor, and maybe HBK can do us all a favor and knock him out with a superkick so he doesn't return later in the night. The Pick: Triple H.
CM Punk (w/Paul Heyman) vs. The Undertaker: Punk is so confident in thinking he'll end the Deadman's 20-match winning streak at the Big Dance, such that he stole the urn that the late Paul Bearer used to carry. To paraphrase the late Jim Croce, you don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit in the wind, you don't pull the mask off the Lone Ranger, and you don't beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Enough said.
Big Show, Sheamus, & Randy Orton vs. The Shield (Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, & Dean Ambrose): Since crashing the party at Survivor Series, the Shield have run roughshod over everyone. They always travel as a pack, like unto a gang of muggers, and they claim to fight injustice. Sorry, but they're the ones perpetrating the injustices, and their warped world view needs to be straightened out. Internet "insiders" seem to think Orton's due to turn heel. Show just turned face after his latest heel run netted a World title run, but now's the time to shut down the Shield. The Pick: Show/Sheamus/Orton.
Chris Jericho vs. Fandango: Fandango (they want you to pronounce it Fahn-dahn-go) is the former Johnny Curtis, winner of Season 4 of NXT, with a new gimmick. They've stalled on his first match as long as they could, which in this writer's opinion is wrong. The gimmick is lame, and Fandango's top rope legdrops on Jericho on Monday barely landed on target. Still, Vince McMahon wants to push this kid to the moon, even though he'll probably flame out before the end of the summer. See, McMahon is nuts. Jericho, though, is the vested veteran who doesn't need to win here. The Pick: Fandango.
Mark Henry vs. Ryback: Ryback (Ryan Reeves, formerly Skip Sheffield) is finally in the ring with someone who matches up with him in the power department. Henry's in the Jericho role of the vested veteran. Like, if Brock Lesnar could hit Henry with the F-5 11 years ago, the former Olympian could get a case of Shellshock. The pick: Ryback.
Intercontinental title: Wade Barrett vs. The Miz: Barrett, the current champion on his 2nd go-round as IC titlist, would, on paper, have enough of an advantage on the smaller Miz (Michael Mizanin), who has adopted the figure four leglock as his new finisher of late. The trick is getting Barrett down long enough to apply the submission and get him to tap. I don't see it. The Pick: Barrett.
WWE tag titles: Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane vs. Dolph Ziggler & Big E. Langston (w/AJ Lee): There has been talk of merging this match with a Divas title match between current champ Kaitlyn and Lee, with both titles on the line, which would ensure that Team Ziggler captures all the gold, and set up Ziggler for a World title match later in the show with the idea of being greedy enough to have virtually all the gold (save for the IC or US titles). However, they're better served just putting the tag titles on Ziggler & Langston. The latter is the NXT champ, but they've stalled on putting him in a match on WWE-TV as well for no real reason. Team Hell No's run ends here, and Bryan loses at the Big Dance for the 2nd year in a row. The Pick: Ziggler & Langston.
Divas title: Kaitlyn vs. AJ Lee: If they're smart, they'll leave Ziggler & Langston out of this one and let Lee, who hails from New Jersey, go it alone against her former friend and tag team partner. The last time AJ wrestled in front of her family & friends before the cameras, she was screwjobbed on Raw six months ago, but of course they want you to forget that now. It's time for AJ to get a reality check. The Pick: Kaitlyn.
The Pre-Show match, airing on YouTube, sees Tensai (the former A-Train), Brodus Clay, & the Funkadactyls (Naomi & Cameron) vs. Team Rhodes Scholars (Damien Sandow & Cody Rhodes) & the Bella Twins, who re-upped last month. Tensai's stock dropped in a hurry after returning last year, and he's been in a similar tag team gimmick before, with Scotty 2 Hotty 11 years ago. Figure Tensai & Clay win here, positing them as challengers to Ziggler & Langston in due course. Have to get the show off to a positive start.
Also on tap: 80's rockers Living Colour have been added to the bill, likely to play "Cult of Personality" for CM Punk. Sean "Diddy" Combs was previously announced as a performer. These kind of segments are distractions that cost the fans extra matches. They complain online, of course, but for McMahon it's all about getting across as many demographic platforms as possible for his bottom line. Not only that, but you'll get this on DVD 5-8 weeks later..........
Of course, I could be wrong about the picks. I usually am.