In case you’ve had WWE programming on mute for the past several weeks, WrestleMania 35 is fast upon us, which means it is our eminent duty to periodically roll out excruciatingly detailed previews of each individual match in the month-plus leading up to April 7. It is, to be pointed, The Ringer’s WrestleMania Match Book.
As of this writing, and with Fastlane in the rear view, the card for professional wrestling’s biggest night has swelled to feature several confirmed clashes, a couple of which—Brock Lesnar defending his Universal Championship opposite Raw poster boy Seth Rollins and Evolution alums Triple H and Batista’s settling old scores—we’ve already covered in depth. We’ll wend our way toward the riotous three-way dance among Raw women’s champion Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch, (and A.J. Styles vs. Randy Orton and all the rest), but for now, let’s continue this limited feature series by taking stock of the Miz’s and Shane McMahon’s unexpectedly dovetailing fates in an effort to deduce why we care and whether the Awesome One or the prodigal son will emerge on top.
WrestleMania Match Book, Chapter 3: The Miz vs. Shane McMahon
The Prologue: Part 1
Last summer’s years-in-the-making climactic series of matches between mutual side-thorns Miz and Daniel Bryan was arguably 2018’s most compelling story line. It had everything: the surreal joy of seeing Bryan back in action after an injury-hastened retirement; Miz and wife Maryse at the peak of their oxygen-stealing, power-couple charisma; and the rare opportunity to further an open-ended narrative that didn’t need to borrow from real world (no pun intended) drama (the rare opportunity to further a vital, open-ended story without wallowing in worked shoots). But once it was over, and Bryan set his sights on—and took from A.J. Styles—the WWE Championship, marking the start of an epic heel turn that’s kept him squarely in WWE’s uppermost card. The gods of kayfabe required reciprocal Miz turn to the side of good to maintain the cosmic balance. (Plus, with Season 2 of Miz & Mrs. slated for a spring premiere, it couldn’t hurt to soften the titular star’s on-screen edges.) But with Bryan busy in his own story line, who could help facilitate this exchange without further upsetting SmackDown’s moral standings? You’d need someone whose reputation for coming through in the clutch was nothing short of … Money.
The Prologue: Part 2
Remember back in the Attitude Era when we all hated Shane McMahon? That was a reasonable reaction to the on-screen ascent of the boss’s son. But then, defying all logic, as both his ego and physique inflated to unrelatable proportions, we became collectively endeared to Vince’s prodigal son. So much so that when he came back to WWE TV in February 2016 as SmackDown GM following his walkabout to dabble in cross-platform media delivery overseas, Shane-O-Mac was welcomed like a conquering knight.
And that was before he laced ’em up and hit his well-rehearsed repertoire of death-defying elbow drops and coast-to-coasts against the Undertaker, A.J. Styles, and Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at three successive WrestleMania spectacles. As it happens, his tag-team partner at Mania 34 against Owens and Zayn was none other than Bryan, who had been his co-GM on SmackDown before unretiring and with whom he had betrayed trace evidence of animosity. Alas, the pair savored their win, and McMahon stepped back and watched along with the rest of us as Bryan and Miz made waves. Or so it seemed.
If we’ve learned anything about Shane McMahon, it’s that he can’t keep those shuffling feet and five-knuckle fists on the shelf for very long, and, by fall 2018, he was apparently itching to be put back in the game. Lord knows the Saudi Arabia–staged Crown Jewel fiasco was in need of some extra headlining names. How else to suture the gaping wound left open after marquee guys like John Cena and Bryan bowed out rather than publicly play footsie with the crown prince. And here is where divine inspiration came in. Miz had reached the finals of Crown Jewel’s World Cup tournament, the winner of which would be anointed—wait for it—the Best in the World. But before taking on fellow finalist Dolph Ziggler, Miz “injured” his leg, left the arena, and was surreptitiously replaced by McMahon, the commissioner of the SmackDown brand and thus Miz’s unofficial front-office representative, who was watching ringside. McMahon triumphed, went home with a shiny trophy, and returned to SmackDown the next week, when he was guilted into further wrestling duty at the Survivor Series by overeager Miz. Both men would come to rue the day.
Before Shane could say, “Why did I come back from China?” he and the Miz were cocaptaining SmackDown’s Survivor Series squad (they lost) and bantering backstage about the pros and cons of forming a tag team in earnest. The joke was that since Shane had replaced Miz in the Crown Jewel tourney, together they were the best in the world—so why not make it official? Some moments were sublime (Miz is, if nothing else, always committed), while others were so over-the-top sentimental (and leaned so hard on Miz regressing into an almost feeble-minded sap) that they all but telegraphed Shane’s ultimate betrayal. By the time they’d surpassed the Bar at the Royal Rumble and won SmackDown’s tag titles—which they promptly dropped to the Usos three weeks hence—there was nowhere left for their relationship to go but belly-up.
Stung (and very, very sweaty) from their Elimination Chamber defeat, the former champs stood tall on SmackDown the subsequent couple of Tuesdays. They promptly challenged the Usos to a rematch at Fastlane in Miz’s hometown of Cleveland, where his proud, Miz & Mrs.–costarring papa could bear witness. At long last, with WrestleMania bearing down, all the elements were in place for Shane to disgrace the Mizanin name. That, and guarantee that curious Miz & Mrs. viewers making a leap of faith and setting their DVRs for SmackDown would encounter a story line they could half-recognize.
And so it was written and executed accordingly at Fastlane last weekend, as Shane—fed up with Miz for playing sycophant and not even carrying his weight in competition—duly throttled his prone ex-partner, humiliating him before Cleveland, his dad, and the millions streaming at home. We haven’t heard from the Miz himself as of this writing, though Shane took the initiative to show up on SmackDown Tuesday, rough up the ring announcer, ramble on about the price of privilege, and decree that he and Miz would meet as adversaries at Mania. (Talk about privilege—he didn’t even wait for the Miz to accept, because why would he? He’s the boss’s son and he can wrestle whoever he wants.) He even pointed to the sign and everything, although karma (and kayfabe) suggest he’ll be taking an L.
Shane’s capacity as a flex in-ring performer is what made Bryan’s and Miz’s delicate rotation as top villain and irrepressible fan favorite, respectively, add up. Shane’s annual token Mania spot (an honor he tacitly inherited from his ’16 opponent, the Undertaker) needed some freshening up. By now, we all suspend disbelief and chant “holy shit” every time Shane climbs a cage and sends a disproportionately larger man crashing through a tenuous table.
Heel Shane is a good thing. A Shane hiatus—at least on-camera—might be even wise once Mania’s a wrap. As for aw-shucks, daddy’s-boy Miz: The side of the angels is not and has never been his natural fit, but something tells me that once he’s done promoting this latest spin at the reality rodeo, some new film shoot will beckon, and then he’ll resurface several months on like he’d never forgotten that he was an arrogant jerk. Then again, he does turn 39 in October and, as he loves to note, has been a fixture in WWE for 12 years. While the door is certainly open for Miz to reclaim the top spot in the company (which would be an apt capstone to his own Bryanesque epic poem), perhaps the most unlikely future Hall of Famer of his generation is ready for his Hollywood close-up.