Andrew Goldstein is a Philadelphia native and a former member of the WWE creative team. He was on the creative team for nearly a year between 2006 and 2007 and currently works as a producer for VH1.
But his passion for professional wrestling remains, as he writes a weekly column for PWMania.com.
Goldstein recently took time out of his very busy schedule to break down the WrestleMania card with me and share some stories about what it was like preparing for a WrestleMania. You can follow Goldstein on Twitter @AngeGold.
Vaughn Johnson: What’s it like preparing and planning for WrestleMania?
Andrew Goldstein: In my time, there were these big white boards with future plans and WrestleMania was mapped out months in advance. Obviously, things change. People get injured. People leave the company. Storylines change for any number of reasons. [It’s] lots of emails, lots of talking, lots of fantasy booking and then ultimately all of that is filtered through Vince [McMahon].
Just like fans, we were tasked with, “Send us your dream cards. Send us what you want to see at WrestleMania. Where do you think we should be going?” We all did that and a few months later you have the big WrestleMania meeting or a meeting that pertains to WrestleMania and everybody is pitching these grandiose ideas and Vince [McMahon] out of nowhere just comes in, sits down and shocks everybody by telling us that, “We’re going to do a deal whereby I am in the corner of Umaga and Donald Trump is in the corner of Bobby Lashley and the loser gets their head shaved.” And we were just like, “What? Wait! Where did that come from?” We had no lead time in terms of Donald Trump, Lashley and Umaga and the whole deal, so that all had to be written from that moment going forward. There was no pre-planning there. That just came right out of Vince’s mouth from backroom deals he had cut with Donald Trump unbeknownst to everybody on creative.
VJ: So he just left it up to creative to write the whole story out?
AG: Yeah. Like I said, everything at that time was filtered through him. We sort of went back to the drawing board, put that story together or started to put that story together and then Vince says, “Sure, I like this direction” or “Keep trying. Keep working.”
VJ: As far as you know, how late in the game can you recall or hearing about plans getting changed for WrestleMania?
AG: I don’t have a good specific answer for you, but I’m sure it’s happened. I know for me on a lesser scale, I was there during the whole suspension for various reasons of people like The Great Khali and Bobby Lashley for elevated enzymes in his liver. You can quote me on that. That was the reason given on air. The Punjabi Prison pay-per-view … they had to change that to the Big Show versus I think The Great Khali in the Punjabi Prison instead of Lashley. Literally the weekend of the pay-per-view we found out Bobby Lashley was not cleared to wrestle, so they had to change the complete creative of that whole expensive endeavor with Punjabi Prison.
Author’s note: The event Goldstein was referring to was The Great American Bash in 2006. The Great Khali was scheduled to face The Undertaker in a Punjabi Prison match and Bobby Lashley was scheduled to challenge Finlay for the United States Championship.
VJ: What are your overall thoughts about this year’s WrestleMania card?
AG: In the last month, I’ve gotten really excited about this WrestleMania. If you think about it, it really is a stacked four-match card. Just the intrigue of this WrestleMania is so much more elevated than the last few WrestleManias. You have Daniel Bryan-Triple H. You have this seven-month story that they’ve been telling since Summerslam of Daniel Bryan being screwed every which way, six or seven times already out of being world champion. And now he has his shot, but he’s go through Triple H just to get in the match. A: It’s very exciting because of the intrigue of the whole Daniel Bryan thing. B: The long-awaited Brock-Taker match. Obviously, they wrestled back in 2002, but no one really remembers that. This is a huge, huge deal all the way back to the UFC pay-per-view where Undertaker was in the crowd just as a pedestrian and he and Brock had that stare down sort of outside of the wrestling circle. Ever since then, I’ve been super excited to see those guys lock it up. There’s intrigue for me with that match.
Then, you've got John Cena, the face of the company for a decade, wrestling a guy [Bray Wyatt] who’s basically in the first year of his career, so that’s pretty awesome to see a guy that new getting a shot at John Cena and being as over and that match having as much heat as it does.
Those three matches are super intriguing to me and obviously you have the main event: Randy Orton and Batista. Obviously, it’s kind of bland on paper. You put Daniel Bryan in there and he’s the consensus to go over and you get that big babyface moment... realizes a childhood dream. We go off air on WrestleMania and Daniel Bryan is in the corner with the two titles over his shoulders, confetti raining down and the whole Superdome chanting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Then on the other side, let’s just say Triple H won, that’s a pretty cool match, too. You have the three prominent members of Evolution all in the same match.
I’m very excited about the top of the card. The bottom of the card, I think it’s a lot of mish-mosh. It’s a bunch of guys put into multi-person matches just so everybody under the WWE umbrella could get a WrestleMania paycheck. That’s a big pet peeve of mine with modern WrestleMania booking, that it’s just sort of a way to get everybody their WrestleMania moment and the matches end up having no heat and they’re kind of bland.
This is the WrestleMania where I really miss Money in the Bank because I think this year, especially with the talent that they have on the roster and the mid-card, man, you could do an incredible Money in the Bank match … this would be the year of Cesaro.
VJ: What do you think about Daniel Bryan’s rise to where he is today?
AG: I think it’s really interesting. Part of me think it’s Daniel Bryan trolling the WWE, but I also believe it’s the WWE trolling the fans. I think this rise of Daniel Bryan has been in the works for a long time. I know WWE gets a lot of slack for not having any long-term booking, but you can play this story all the way back to Summerslam. That’s a seven-month build. That’s old school.
The WWE recognizes how over and how popular Daniel Bryan is and how over the “Yes!” chant is. Even though you watch week-to-week and it’s like, “Man they are just burying this guy left and right and burying the movement,” in fact, really what they’re doing is with the placement of this “Yes Movement” and the placement of Daniel Bryan … he’s been a main-event guy and the “Yes Movement” has been placed in the main event for seven months now. I think on one hand Daniel Bryan is playing the WWE in terms of that he’s so good that you can’t deny him. He’s just so good; he’s just so popular. You can’t deny him a spot in the main event at WrestleMania, but on the other hand I think WWE recognizes that and has recognized that for seven, eight months.
They’ve been playing this story to get that reaction out of fans. They’ve been purposely, storyline wise, screwing with Daniel Bryan. I think they’ve all been on board together. They knew that this whole thing was going to be drawn out for seven months to the point that fans we just ripping their hair out in being incredulous in that WWE will not give Daniel Bryan this opportunity. Cut to the main event of WrestleMania, there’s Daniel Bryan’s moment. Everyone was upset he didn’t get his Royal Rumble moment, but the bigger story is when he gets his WrestleMania moment. I think that’s where we’re headed. I think everybody has been in cahoots to make this happen.
VJ: I think at least since the Royal Rumble they’ve been building toward something and when CM Punk left that just swung the door wide open.
AG: WrestleMania probably would have been vastly different had CM Punk stayed. All of the Internet rumors were that it was going to be CM Punk versus Triple H and Randy Orton versus Batista solo and Daniel Bryan versus Sheamus, but I honestly don’t believe all of that because I know that the powers at be there are smarter than that. They’re better at booking than that. They’re more attune to what the fans want and what’s right for business, not to steal their phrase.
VJ: Does WrestleMania end any other way besides Daniel Bryan winning the title and having 70,000 people chanting, “Yes!” at the end?
AG: I have to believe that’s where they’re going. Every sign points toward that. WWE could decide to pull off the most epic trolling of Internet smart marks in the history of the business and put Triple H over in both matches and just piss everybody off, but I don’t they’re going to do it. If you look at WrestleMania as “the end of the season” and then the new season starts on the Monday after WrestleMania, what other finale is there to the last seven or eight months of what we just watched than Daniel Bryan going over and having that boyhood dream realized in the center of the ring? It would be that Chris Benoit-Eddie Guerrero moment.
You think about those big final moments of WrestleMania in years past and I think we’re going to get another one. I just think they want to go off air on the network, on the network that they’re trying to drive eyeballs to. Daniel Bryan was just written up in Rolling Stone magazine. If that’s not pop culture crossover, I don’t know what is. In an era where they’re trying to get as many eyeballs on their live streaming network, I don’t think they’re going to piss off the fans. I don’t think they’re going to not give the viewers what they want because it will just lead more eyeballs to their network. That’s really their main goal right now.
VJ: Have you been underwhelmed by The Undertaker-Brock Lesnar feud? In my opinion it has been underwhelming.
AG: I think there’s a fascination within WWE with keeping Undertaker strong, the whole mystique of The Undertaker. I think to the detriment of the story and to the detriment of Brock Lesnar, they’ve played into that, “Well, we have to have Undertaker look strong. He’s getting older now. We have to make him look stronger every single week. If I were a younger fan and not as smart-marky as I am, I would be a little skeptical in not even thinking that Brock Lesnar had a chance because they haven’t really teased us with Brock getting one over on The Undertaker except for last week, which was too little, too late.
I would have liked to have seen them build Brock a little stronger. More of a monster, more of an ‘Oh my God! This could be the year the streak gets destroyed because there’s no way this 50-year-old legend could beat this monster Brock Lesnar.' I just don’t think they’ve sold that part of the match.
I’ll go on record and say that I think we get on more Undertaker match next year and it will be against younger superstar. Not against a Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Brock Lesnar part-time guy. I think we’re going to get one more match with Undertaker and it will be against a young up-and-coming guy. I really think they should end the streak at some point. They’ve built up all of this equity in The Undertaker and The Undertaker’s streak. Wrestling tradition states that at some point you got to drop the title, you got to drop the streak and you got to give the rub to somebody else. At this point, it looks like Bray Wyatt can step into that role and be the guy. You have go into WrestleMania 30 and beat John Cena and then he goes to WrestleMania 31 and ends the streak and beats The Undertaker. You have your next giant superstar for the next decade.
VJ: What are your thoughts on the undercard?
AG: It’s terrible. Obviously, their heart is in the right place. They want to get everybody on their roster that they care about a WrestleMania payday. A WrestleMania moment and I’ve said in the past that I thought it was selfish of guys like Shawn Michaels and Undertaker to take as much time as they did with their matches because it cut a few people’s match. You could have cut a couple false finishes out of those matches and they still would have been just as good and you would have gotten these young kids on the card.
In one respect, I really appreciate trying to get the younger wrestlers and these mid-card guys on WrestleMania and give them that WrestleMania moment, but not to the point that they’re doing it this year. It’s just too much.
VJ: Are you excited for the Bray Wyatt-John Cena match?
AG: I love Bray. I think he’s great. My big thing is basically that we’re getting a reason why The Wyatt Family is doing what they’re doing. I think the initial few months of The Wyatt Family, they were just sort of cutting these half-hazard and gibberish promos and they were attacking people for no apparent reason. We were never given the “Why?” with The Wyatt Family. Just in the last four months since the Royal Rumble, we’ve started to get the “Why?” They’re anti-establishment, they’re fighting the John Cena decade of dominance and putting The Wyatt stamp on the next decade, which to me, it’s nice, logical personal conflict and it makes sense. I understand why they’re going after John Cena and this is a huge challenge for John Cena. On both sides, the babyface side and the heel side, I understand the conflict. I understand the match.
Wyatt’s promos with Cena have been great. John Cena as usual gets a little too jokey, but has approached this story much more serious than he did the previous two stories with The Rock, so I appreciate that. The go-home was a little weak in terms of the John Cena spook with wearing the sheep mask and surprising The Wyatt Family, but I’m excited for the match. Just watching Daniel Bryan and Brayy Wyatt steal the show at the Royal Rumble and seeing Bray Wyatt hit that running Sister Abigail on Rey Mysterio two weeks later, I’m super excited to see what John Cena and Bray Wyatt can do together in the ring.
VJ: Besides the show potentially ending with Daniel Bryan winning the title, what would be another big takeaway from the show?
AG: Obviously if The Undertaker’s streak goes away that would be a huge takeaway. I don’t necessarily thing it’s going to happen as we discussed. I think the rise of Bray Wyatt. If they put Bray Wyatt over John Cena, that’s gigantic for the guy’s career. To go over the guy in the company at WrestleMania, I mean they put The Miz over John Cena, but I feel like this is completely different.
I feel like John Cena is at a point in his career now, or at least I’m at a point now with John Cena’s career, where I never really need to see John Cena win a big match. He’s sort of in a Ric Flair category for me. I never need to see him win a big match. All I need from John Cena for the rest of his career is make his opponent look like a million bucks. He’s the best right now at doing that. He makes everybody he’s in the ring with him look a like a million dollars, which is what Flair made a 40-year career on. That’s why he was a 16-time world champion because he made every sort of babyface challenger he ever came up against look like a million dollars, look like a whirl beater. When I look at Cena now that’s what I think his role should be. Whether they look at it like that, I don’t know. I still think they look at John Cena as their guy, their horse and they got to ride him. Of course they got put him over at the biggest show of the year, but I would love to see Bray Wyatt go over.
Another takeaway could be a match people are sleeping on is the babyface Shield versus the Outlaws and Kane. I feel it would be a little hot-shotted at this point, but the big takeaway could be the other two members of The Shield turning on Roman Reigns. You could come out of WrestleMania with Roman Reigns as your next big babyface, just as I think Bray Wyatt could leave WrestleMania as the next big monster heel in the wrestling business. They could use the WrestleMania stage to make Roman Reigns be that next big, gigantic babyface.