It’s hard to believe that it has actually been a year since The Rock defeated John Cena in their heavily hyped “Once in a Lifetime” match at Wrestlemania 28 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
One year later, on the grandest stage of them all, the same two will lock horns once again, this time at Wrestlemania 29 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The stakes are higher this go-round, with The Rock’s WWE heavyweight title on the line
But that’s not the only thing at stake at this year’s edition of Mania.
The Undertaker’s 20-0 undefeated streak is on the line against C.M. Punk, while Triple H puts his career up for grabs against Brock Lesnar.
Those are the three matches that will sell pro wrestling’s biggest show of the year. The rest of the lineup, while certainly Wrestlemania-caliber, is merely window dressing.
Alberto Del Rio defends his world heavyweight title against Jack Swagger in what looks like a title change. The talented Dolph Ziggler, who has yet to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase, could play a role in this match. Swagger may get his brief moment in the sun, but WWE is unlikely to reward him for his lapse of judgment a couple of months ago. On the other hand, Ziggler is more than overdue.
Ryback vs. Mark Henry is an intriguing matchup between two of the strongest men in WWE. Henry recently returned to the company after an extended absence while recovering from an injury, while Ryback has cooled off after suffering a series of big-match setbacks. Ryback, though, needs the win more than Henry at this point.
Kane and Daniel Bryan should retain their WWE tag-team belts against Ziggler and Big E. Langston, although the Hell No gimmick has grown tired and stale, and a breakup appears imminent.
Fandango finally gets to wrestle, and since opponent Chris Jericho isn’t a full-timer and usually takes the summer off to tour with band Fozzy, the newcomer likely goes over here. Jericho might not like it, but he’ll make Fandango look impressive in victory and will help make another star in the process.
The Shield, one of WWE’s recent success stories, should continue their run with a victory over the unlikely trio of Sheamus, Randy Orton and Big Show. It’s time for Orton to revert to his true nature and turn heel, and this would be the ideal situation.
For those who like to see blood, you’re likely to get your wish when Triple H and Brock Lesnar battle it out in a No Holds Barred, UFC-style match. While many insiders don’t foresee Triple H losing a second straight match — not to mention his career — against Lesnar, that’s the right decision in this case. After all, no one in the wrestling business ever retires, and there’s plenty to keep the boss’s son-in-law busy back at the office.
An added perk to the match was announced this past week on Raw. Triple H’s longtime buddy and DX colleague, Shawn Michaels, will be in his friend’s corner tonight. A turn could provide an interesting scenario for next year’s Wrestlemania.
While many have been predicting this will be the year The Undertaker’s streak comes to an end, they’ll most likely have to wait a little longer. Look for Punk and Taker to try to steal the show in this one, but the result will be the same as it has been every year since Taker began the run with a victory over Jimmy Snuka at Wrestlemania VII.
As for a prediction for the main event between Cena and The Rock, one might have to fast-forward to next year’s likely headliner to render an educated guess on how this match will be booked.
Unless there’s a major change in plans, a Brock-Rock showdown will be the main event at Wrestlemania 30 at the Superdome in New Orleans. That matchup had even been considered for this year at one point.
It’s not out of the question that The Rock, beginning his campaign for next year’s Mania, could score a second straight victory over Cena. If he doesn’t do it tonight, a rubber match is likely at an upcoming pay-per-view.
Cena-Rock II is hardly the most anticipated rematch in Wrestlemania history. But if promoted properly, and there’s little doubt that WWE wouldn’t miss on this one, Rock vs. Brock in 2014 could be one of the company’s biggest draws to date.
Rounding out the 10-match lineup: The Miz vs. Wade Barrett for the Intercontinental title; and Tons of Funk (Tensai and Brodus Clay) and The Funkadactyls vs. Rhodes Scholars (Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow) and the Bella Twins.
Denny Brown set for Fanfest
Former NWA world junior heavyweight champion Denny Brown says he’s no stranger to rejection.
At 5-8 and 170 pounds, the undersized performer had doors shut on him right and left as he tried to break into the business.
“Nobody really wanted me because I was so small. Everybody beat the tar out of me,” he says.
But that didn’t deter the tenacious grappler from achieving his dream.
“How many people do you know that come from my type of a background that gets to experience what I’ve experienced? The thing that I’m most proud of is that I got it.”
What Brown got was respect from his peers in the wrestling business and four runs with the NWA world junior heavyweight title during the mid-1980s.
Brown, now 57 and still in good enough shape to do some damage inside a wrestling ring, will be a featured guest at the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest on Aug. 1-4 in Charlotte.
“I attended Fanfest in 2005 and enjoyed it. I’m really looking forward to this year’s event.”
Brown broke into the business in 1979 under the tutelage of Rick Conners in Knoxville, Tenn.
“I trained the first two years,” says Brown. “Ricky would take me over to ‘the Bubble’ at the University of Tennessee and beat my (behind) every day. I had grass strains on my teeth.”
There was no place for a wrestling ring, so the grapplers trained on the ball field.
“I took backdrops on the ground. Rick literally busted my ears and my nose. But it made me tough.”
During the daytime, says Brown, they would work out with the UT wrestling team.
“We’d work out in the morning with the wrestling team and come back in the evening and work out on the field. I was getting it all the way around.”
When Johnny Majors took over as head football coach at Tennessee, says Brown, the wrestlers had to find a new home and took their training to nearby Carson-Newman College.
The training, however, didn’t get any easier.
“They let us in because they didn’t have any heavyweights to work out with. Rick and I worked down in the Dungeon, and every time they wanted to show how to hook or throw somebody, they called me over. They called me the ‘wrestling dummy.’ I absorbed all of that stuff. I did that for two years.”
Brown’s first match was in Chattanooga, Tenn., teaming with Crazy Luke Graham against Hector Guerrero and Bobby Ward. “We tore the house down,” he says.
He also fondly recalls another early bout with The Superstar (Bill Eadie).
“I didn’t know Bill very well, and Bill didn’t know me. I was only around 170 pounds. I was a little scrawny guy, but I was in shape,” says Brown.
“Bill did a duck-under, go-behind, waist-lift takedown. I had just got out of wrestling school and worked out with two different colleges. What do you think I did?”
Brown, who was well versed working the amateur style, simply did “what came natural.”
“I hit the ground on my hands and knees, sat out and spun around. I fired back up, we squared
off, and Bill had the biggest grin on his face. He loved it.
“He came back in the dressing room, walked over to me, shook my hand, and thanked me. He still beat me, but he said I gave him credibility. I didn’t mean to do it. It was just a reaction. I just did what came natural.”
No overnight sensation
“Downtown” Denny Brown got used to being rejected because of his size.
But he never gave up.
“I was let go three times,” he says. “But I had to work my (behind) off. I had to work twice as hard.”
“Chief Jay Strongbow told me to get out the first time he ever met me,” says Brown. “He said I had no business being there. I once went to the (Tampa) Sportatorium and talked to the booker, J.J. Dillon, who slammed the door on me and told me they weren’t looking for anybody. Dusty Rhodes later let me go.”
Angelo “Big Nasty” Mosca, he claims, once busted his eardrum during a match. Just because he could.
But Brown knew his day would come.
A welder by trade, Brown had been working in that vocation when he decided to drop by the Bayfront Center in St. Pete to say hello to an old friend, Les Thornton, with whom he had met in Tennessee.
Thornton, a top-ranked junior heavyweight, asked Brown if he was working.
“Yeah, every damn day,” Brown told him. “I’m working down on the beach humping steel and welding.”
“Les said, ‘You’re not working in the business?’ I told him nobody had offered me.”
Brown says former NWA world champion Dory Funk Jr. was the booker at the time, and Thornton invited Brown back to the dressing room to introduce him to some of the boys.
“He takes me back there and introduces me to Dory. Ric Flair came over to say hello because we had worked together in Southeastern Championship Wrestling in Tennessee. Les told me to sit down at this table and to not move.”
Next thing Brown knew, Funk came over with his booking sheet and asked Brown if he could make TV tapings that Wednesday night.
“They put me out there and I worked with Jimmy Garvin. I was like greased lightning anyway because I was so small. We were all over the place, and he hit me with a backdrop. My feet touched the lights up there. He beats me, and that’s it.”
The impressive newcomer was offered a chance to return the following week. There was only one small problem. He had a job that could be in jeopardy.
A couple days later, says Brown, Funk called him on the phone and said, ‘Hey, kid, can you come down and do TV?’ I told him I couldn’t because I would lose my job if I took any more time off.” Funk hung up, but 20 minutes later, promoter Eddie Graham called Brown. “He said, ‘Hey, kid, can you come down and do TV?’ I said, ‘Eddie, I can’t do TV on Wednesdays, they’re going to fire me.’”
Twenty minutes later, says Brown, Graham called him back. “He told me he’d pay me double what he paid everybody else. I told him he bought me.”
Brown, as he had predicted, was fired from his welding job, but he went on to work the match. Graham was so impressed with Brown’s performance that he gave the injured Terry Allen’s (the future Magnum T.A.) spot in a tag team with Brian Blair to Brown.
“Here I am working semi-main event every night teaming with Brian Blair all over Florida,” says Brown. “I was on my way.”
Proving himself again
When Funk left Florida for a booking job in Charlotte, things changed for Brown as Dusty Rhodes assumed control of the office.
“I had to sit through hours and hours of interviews with Dusty interviewing everyone. I walked in with two other job guys. I thought I was in a good spot because Eddie was my buddy. But Dusty said he didn’t need us guys anymore.”
Brown was crestfallen. “He dropped me like a bad habit.”
Rhodes told Brown that he knew he had talent, and said he could come back and do TVs every Wednesday and they’d see where things went.
Brown worked every week, and Rhodes became more impressed with every outing. He even asked the talented Hector Guerrero to work with Brown.
Their bouts routinely were among the best on the card.
“Nobody could keep up with Hector and me,” says Brown. “Tully Blanchard got so upset one night up in Ohio that he started cussing and screaming. Arn Anderson asked him what was wrong. Tully said, ‘How the hell are we going to follow that?’ Arn said, ‘It’s the first match. If you can’t follow that, you don’t need to be on top.’”
Brown says Rhodes eventually rewarded him with the world junior heavyweight title.
“Dusty finally came up to me and told me that we were going to have a world junior heavyweight division, and that I was the champ. I asked him when we had the tournament. He said we already had it, and that I was the champ.”
Brown was a regular on the popular Championship Wrestling From Florida show until 1984 when Rhodes took Brown with him to the Charlotte-based Crockett Promotions after he and Graham had a falling out.
Brown arrived in the Mid-Atlantic area that year and worked there until the late ‘80s.
He won his first world junior heavyweight title by defeating Mike Davis at the second Starrcade event in Greensboro, N.C., in 1984.
Within the next 13 months, he would also win the title from Gary Royal and Steve Regal.
“Dusty referred to the underneath guys as my guys. I was the junior champion,” says Brown.
His favorite opponents, he says, were Davis, Guerrero, Royal and Regal. “I could work with anybody. I could do it every single night and have good matches.”
Brown grew up an avid wrestling fan and vividly recalls watching Eddie Graham wrestle when he was only 7 years old.
One of his childhood acquaintances in his hometown of St. Petersburg was Richard Blood (the future Ricky Steamboat). The two went to school together and grew up in the same neighborhood.
“He was more friends with my brother because my brother is a little older. His family owned a gas station on the beach. We would hang out at the local hamburger joint. He had an old Chevy Vega. He was always interested in cars. Ricky was also the star running back on the high school football team.”
Brown, meanwhile, played baseball in school and was an accomplished catcher and pitcher.
But wrestling, his first love, eventually turned out to be his meal ticket. He served several years in the Navy before beginning wrestling training at the age of 23. He never looked back.
“I wasn’t the ‘show stopper,’ but I was the ‘show starter.’ That’s why they kept me around,” says Brown.
Brown learned early on the basics of wrestling, and he absorbed all the knowledge he could about the business.
“I traveled with Mike Davis and Mike Rotundo in Florida for several years. I’d sit in the back seat and keep my mouth shut. If I opened my mouth, they’d slap the crap out of me. But I was learning all the time.”
It was a good career, says Brown, who retired from full-time action in 1992.
Nowadays “Downtown” Denny Brown can be found back in St. Petersburg.
“I’ve got a nice place by myself. I have three boys (ages 14, 16, 19), but I’m not married anymore.”
Brown has worked for Progressive Insurance for the past five years, and is three semesters away from earning his associate’s degree at a local college.
“I was bored. I just didn’t have anything else to do,” says Brown, who is most interested in political science and philosophy.
Brown says he never was afraid of a challenge.
“I was an iron worker. I’m used to being out there doing stuff that most people are too scared to do.”
Like wrestling guys twice his size?
“I don’t think anybody really believed that somebody my size could accomplish so much. But I’ve been fighting guys bigger than me my entire life.”
Brown simply got used to overcoming the odds.
“I guess it was just kind of natural for me. Everybody in the neighborhood beat me up. I got used to it. But they couldn’t hurt me. I’d always come right back.”
Brown even jokes that he still might have another run left in him.
“It’s still a dream. In my mind I’ll never think that it’s over. There’s a little bit of a run somewhere. It may never happen, but you know what? It keeps me going.”
Would he do it all over again?
“I never have quit. I want to do it again now.”
-- Mark your calendars for April 22 when Old School Championship Wrestling brings its “Caged Carnage” event to the Hanahan Rec Center.
Billed as “a decades-long feud that finally comes down to this match,” Josh Magnum will come out of retirement to battle old foe Malachi in the main event.
The Sons of Midnight (Gangrel and Dr. Creo) also return to defend their OSCW tag-team belts against Caleb Konley and Michael Frehley.
For more information, call 843-743-4800 or visit www.oscwonline.com.
-- WWE will bring Monday Night Raw to the North Charleston Coliseum on June 24.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.