Thursday, April 18, 2024
EditorialGunther's Potential Opponents for WrestleMania XL Examined

Gunther’s Potential Opponents for WrestleMania XL Examined

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With Elimination Chamber coming up tomorrow, the #WeWantCody movement in full swing, The Rock’s return, and so much more stealing the spotlight for WrestleMania XL, one element is getting completely lost in the shuffle: Gunther’s Intercontinental Championship match.

It very much seems as though the plan was for The Ring General to face Brock Lesnar in what would surely have been a brutal battle. However, with The Beast Incarnate’s involvement in Vince McMahon’s lawsuit making him persona non grata (at least at the moment; we’ll see what the future has in store), WWE is distancing themselves from Lesnar in all aspects. No Royal Rumble to set this up, nor will he be at WrestleMania.

So what does Gunther do instead?

He’s had too legendary of a title reign to just be tossed aside and skip two nights worth of the biggest event of the year. Gunther deserves to not only compete at WrestleMania, but to shine bright.

The trouble is that WWE Creative has limited options. 90% of the Raw and SmackDown rosters either aren’t viable contenders anyone would consider worthy of any hype (because let’s face it, if you say Gunther is fighting Apollo Crews or Sanga, nobody will care) or they’re busy elsewhere.

Who, if anyone, does that leave left to pick from? Who could come across as a worthwhile WrestleMania opponent, rather than the 8th string filler replacement?

Despite a huge amount of extremely talented WWE Superstars at the company’s disposal, I think we’re looking at some pretty grim options, where almost nobody will come close to what we were supposed to get. But that doesn’t mean we’re left with Gunther fighting Kale Dixon.

As such, being in this unfortunate predicament, here are the top contenders I would be pitching if I were on WWE Creative:

John Cena

It’s a long shot. A really, really long shot. But if you’re looking for someone to replace Brock Lesnar to give Gunther a marquee name to fight, he’s the best possible person for the job.

I would have tossed out a few other names like Batista, but none of them would be as believable as a potential “get” as Cena, who should definitely want to wrestle at least once this year to cross that off his list.

Granted, not only do I not know what his schedule is like, so I’m not saying this is even remotely possible. This is just a pitch. But I would focus on a few key reasons why this would make the most sense.

First off, star power. WrestleMania XL loses nothing by having even more big names advertised. Marketing Cena as appearing will boost interest, allow him to do media coverage, and tap into those fans who will get even more excited.

Second, his popularity aside, there’s an easy story to tell. Cena never won the Intercontinental Championship. That’s what is keeping him from being a Grand Slam Champion. All we need to do is have Gunther cut a promo about how he’s run through everyone on the roster (even though he hasn’t, people are hyperbolic all the time) and he’s on a legendary run. Not even the legends of the past could have matched up to him.

That prompts a living legend in Cena to come out, mention the IC title as one of his final things to cross off, talks some trash about Imperium, gets some good ol’ USA chants going, and you’re off to the races.

Gunther retains and moves on to another feud after WrestleMania, an even bigger star than before, having beaten the franchise player.

Sheamus

If the plan is to have the title change hands by any means, there are only 3 people I would want to see win it at this particular moment. Sheamus is arguably at the top of the list for me solely for the reason that he, too, needs to win that Intercontinental Championship to become a Grand Slam Champion.

He’s expressed this before. It’s basically his only goal left. Let’s give it to him.

Now that Gunther has surpassed Honky Tonk Man’s record, there’s no need in having him need to still be champion going forward that would dictate that he cannot lose the belt here.

The downside to this is that it’s been done before multiple times. How does WWE spice it up and regenerate interest when essentially microwaving a stale feud?

It’s easier said than done, and it’s far, far, far from my favorite booking idea. Frankly, I hate when they just go back to the well and say “do a third/fourth/fifth match” and that’s it.

Some fans would probably be fine with the match just being announced as is, and wouldn’t need anything else. I’m a harsher critic, so even I can’t think of anything that I wouldn’t criticize. There’s no avenue I can conjure up where this wouldn’t get a little eye roll from someone like me to write up an article where I’d say “But there’s no story here, as Gunther’s beaten him multiple times.”

But I’d rather have Sheamus fight Gunther in another banger, especially with Sheamus winning that title, than to have Gunther just fight Dexter Lumis and squash him. Given the people left on the roster to pick from, those are most of his options at this point.

Chad Gable

If we’re talking redemption stories, Chad Gable had something great going when he was fighting Gunther last year. Many people really got on board the hype train and were backing him as the guy who should take the title away from The Ring General.

It naturally didn’t happen, but he came close a few times. Close enough that if WWE hadn’t completely sidelined him, I would think he’d still be in the running for a match.

That might be what WWE is trying to do here with Gable’s most recent comments about turning things around. I have my doubts they can recapture that momentum in any significant way, and I think WWE shoots themselves in the foot too many times when they think they can just put things on hold, let them go cold, and then the fans will do all the heavy lifting in remembering how they felt months or years prior. But if there’s an ember, you can respark a fire.

If they’d reject my first and second options, and nobody was pitching anything better, here’s what I’d suggest for Gable’s comeback, told over a multi-week story.

Gunther says his next opponent has to earn the title shot. Mania is too important for him to waste it on some next passing fad contender. He wants a real man’s man to prove himself, and as such, he wants a series of matches or something along those lines.

You can go with a mini tournament that is held over the course of one full episode of Raw, or a gauntlet where Gable starts off at the beginning and wrestles for an exceedingly long time and manages to win (a la Rollins or Kofi Kingston in a way). We’re now at such little time that it can’t be a round robin tournament, and I don’t think a battle royal suits Gable in this position, so it’d have to be one of those two setups.

But the general concept stays the same. Gable has to tough it out like a mad man and beat multiple people who are just as high on the totem pole, if not higher.

By that, I mean he can’t be taking down Jinder Mahal and JD McDonagh and acting like that’s good enough. He needs to beat Ivar, Ricochet, Bronson Reed, Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor, Austin Theory, etc. Ideally, I’d book his final opponent to be someone who fans could see beating Gable for this spot, just so he can get the surprise full underdog victory, so maybe that should be a tweener-esque babyface. In my mind, I’d book Sheamus for this spot to make his comeback and play the part of the spoiler.

Hopefully, in telling that gauntlet story, fans get hyped for Gable to have something like a 2-out-of-3 Falls match against Gunther, just to add a little something extra to what is essentially another rematch.

Sami Zayn or Andrade (tied)

I wish I could be more excited about either of these guys fighting Gunther, but while they’re tied for the fourth best option in my mind, they’re still leaps and bounds less interesting than what we could have gotten.

In Zayn’s case, they already fought several months ago. Yes, it was months ago, and you might be willing to copy and paste, but I think that’s lame and not too effective, as there isn’t much of a story to tell. But WWE could be hinting at this with what I feel is a lackluster redirect by having Zayn say he’s putting his feud with Drew McIntyre on hold to find a different path to WrestleMania that can be “historic” and be “a champion.”

In my mind, he shouldn’t be a champion, but he should be a world champion. Zayn’s already won the belt 3 times. In fact, he’s the guy who dropped it to Ricochet so Gunther could win it. I’d rather Zayn win Money in the Bank in Canada later this year and capture the World Heavyweight Championship than to win the IC title from Gunther and still feel like he’s trapped in the midcard.

There’s no story when it comes to Andrade. He’s just there. But he’s a fresher talent who hasn’t fought Gunther before. So if we’re looking for just someone to fight him and to not repeat what’s been done before, he’s one of the better options on paper as it also gives Andrade something to do at Mania instead of being lost in the shuffle.

But to be honest, neither of these options excites me. It’s just that they’re better than the alternatives.

Omos (I know…I know…)

Yikes. Don’t crucify me here. I’m not saying I want this. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I hope WWE has something else up their sleeves that I’m not even thinking of, if they were to reject the other options I have listed here.

But you can’t deny that if WWE is looking at the current roster and trying to figure out SOMETHING that could look like a special attraction for Gunther to prove himself, Omos fits that bill.

They did it (stupidly) with Brock Lesnar. Gunther can be in that same spot. He can be challenged by the biggest giant on the roster, take him down, and come out of WrestleMania looking like there’s no one on this planet who could take that title from him.

The match would suck. Actually, it’d probably be the best match Omos has ever had, but it would still be a downgrade from what we’re used to with Gunther. But at least, again, it would be better than having Gunther fight Akira Tozawa.

Options That Unfortunately Wouldn’t Work Right Now, But Could Have

I can think of a few people who could have been great opponents if we could just go back a few weeks ago and redo a few other things, but at this particular moment, they’re basically a no-go.

For instance, Ilja Dragunov could have dropped the NXT Championship at Vengeance Day, been moved up to the main roster and picked a fight with Gunther. After all, he’s beaten him for the NXT UK Championship, and they’ve had killer matches, so it would be good to revisit that.

Had Bron Breakker not won the NXT Tag Team Championship alongside Baron Corbin, calling him up to the main roster for this match would have worked, too. Ironically, it would have meant he’d have filled in for Lesnar at Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. Breakker would have been my second pick above all others except for Lesnar, as I think he’d be a perfect person to dethrone Gunther and work his way up the main roster. Now just isn’t the time. But maybe, if Gunther is set to retain at Mania, Breakker can be the guy to take him out later in 2024 to free Gunther up for winning the World Heavyweight Championship at Bash in Berlin? Eh? Maybe? One can hope.

Guys like Bobby Lashley and AJ Styles and even X would work for great opponents for Gunther, but they’re all involved in something else. Pivoting now would be too drastic of a change and it wouldn’t make sense.

Obviously, if Kazuchika Okada were to have joined WWE, then he would have instantly become a major option. That doesn’t appear to be the case, though, and I don’t think there’s a single outsider beyond the WWE family who could fill a similar role.

All in all, who would you like to see Gunther fight at WrestleMania 40? Are you Lesnar or bust, or do you think there’s equal or better options on the table?

Drop your ideas in the comments below!

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