Friday, March 22, 2019

The History of WrestleMania: 2000-X8

And we've arrived at a new millennium!

Arrowhead Pond - 4/2/00

The year 2000 saw the WWF freshen up its product in a major way.  The influx of WCW castoffs and new homegrown stars led to tremendous improvements in the in-ring product, and the absence of Steve Austin for most of the year forced the company to elevate several other uppercard talents.

That year's WrestleMania goes down as probably the strangest of the bunch, as the roster had gotten so large that everyone had to be crammed into multi-man matches and tag bouts.  In fact this edition of 'Mania featured nary a traditional singles match.

The main event saw entirely too much focus put on the McMahon Family squabbles, as each of the McMahons accompanied one of the participants to the ring.  Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Big Show vs. Mick Foley was a pretty good if overly long main event match, but sadly the company's owners took way too much of the spotlight.  This show holds the distinction of being the first 'Mania card to end with a heel Champion.

Say what you want about him now, but in 2000 Triple H was a BAMF.

Three of the WWF's newest stars got their chance to steal the show as Kurt Angle defended the I-C and European Titles against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit in a 2-Falls Triple Threat.  The match was nothing amazing, but it was a solid showing by three of the company's future main eventers.

Also on the card was a highly entertaining six-person tag match between the Radicalz (Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko & Perry Saturn), and Too Cool & Chyna. The wrong team won, but it was a fun, fast-paced bout.

The match that stole the show however was the three-way ladder match for the Tag Team Titles - The Dudley Boyz vs. Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz.  The WWF was in the midst of a tag team renaissance, and these three teams rose to the top of the division, in no small part due to their performance here.  This match took what Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon had done six years earlier and put the ladder match into overdrive.  The action was violent, explosive, and brutal, and 22 minutes later the TLC match was born.  Edge and Christian won the titles and soon after invented the comedic heel personas that took them to the next level, the Dudley Boyz became synonymous with table spots, and the Hardy Boyz established themselves as fearless daredevils for the rest of their careers.

These six men are obviously psychotic.....

While the four aforementioned bouts were all strong showings, the rest of 'Mania 2000 was a rather cluttered mess.  The need to fit as many stars on the show as possible led to multiple throwaway tag team matches (The Godfather & D'Lo Brown vs. Big Bossman & Bull Buchanan, Test & Albert vs. Head Cheese, Kane & Rikishi vs. X-Pac & Road Dogg), a strange Hardcore Title Battle Royal where the time was supposed to expire before Champion Crash Holly got pinned but Howard Finkel accidentally announced Bob Holly as the winner anyway, and a pointless Kat vs. Terri Runnels Catfight with Val Venis as the guest referee. 

The overall show just felt overstuffed and too far from a traditional supercard.  The standout matches were all quite good, but in retrospect they probably should've populated the undercard with some plain ol' singles matches to keep things grounded.  It was a decent PPV but didn't seem like WrestleMania to me.

Best Match: Three-way Tag Team Ladder Match
Worst Match: Terri Runnels vs. The Kat
What I'd Change: It's hard to say specifically - Rock vs. Triple H had been done so many times (and would be again) that a singles match between them might have felt unworthy of 'Mania.  I think I'd make the Angle-Jericho-Benoit match one fall for both belts, as the second fall for the lesser championship just seemed anticlimactic.  I'd also leave the Godfather/D-Lo vs. Bossman/Bull Buchanan and Head Cheese vs. T&A matches off the card.
Most Disappointing Match: There wasn't really a particular match that fell significantly short of expectations, but I guess the EuroContinental Triple Threat could've been longer and better.
Most Pleasant Surprise: There wasn't really anything good here that I wasn't expecting to like.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10

Reliant Astrodome - 4/1/01

Quite simply a masterpiece.  Not only one of the best WrestleManias of all time, but one of the greatest wrestling cards ever assembled.  'Mania 17 was the first PPV that was universally regarded as unequivocally superior to WrestleMania III, both in terms of the in-ring product and the scope of the show.  Hogan vs. Andre may still be the biggest single match ever promoted, but Rock-Austin II was a monumental event and a Match of the Year contender to boot.

This show is generally considered the climax of the Attitude era, and took place only about a week after the WWF finally conquered and absorbed WCW.  The wrestling industry would never be the same.  The two biggest stars of the late 90s boom squared off for the second time at WrestleMania.  It was Hogan-Andre and Hogan-Warrior rolled into one. 

Rock vs. Austin overshadowed its 'Mania 15 counterpart in every respect.  It featured better action, an epic 28-minute running time, and a major heel turn.  While in retrospect turning Austin heel was a pretty terrible business decision, at the time it was absolutely necessary from a creative standpoint.  The babyface Austin character had become extremely stale and it was clear from watching him that Austin the performer was growing tired of the same schtick week after week.  Watching Steve Austin during his 2001 heel run was a breath of fresh air and you could tell he was having tremendous fun.

Drinkin' beer with The Devil.

In the semi-main slot was Undertaker vs. Triple H, which was a PPV first.  This was a wild brawl that ranged all over the arena, and for the first time the Undertaker's 'Mania streak was really acknowledged AND in serious jeopardy.  Taker withstood a sledgehammer shot and eked out a win.

On the undercard, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit turned in an excellent mat-based contest in the tradition of Savage-Steamboat, Vince and Shane McMahon put on a fine example of sports-entertaining garbage wrestling, and Kane, Raven and The Big Show had a really great little Hardcore Title match.

But once again it was three tag teams and some tables, ladders and chairs that arguably stole the show.  Edge & Christian, the Hardys and "those damn Dudleys" topped themselves again with a streamlined 16-minute demolition derby that also featured Lita, Spike Dudley and Rhyno.  The iconic spot of the match was Edge's sanity-defying spear off a ladder to Jeff Hardy as he dangled from the belt cable.

One of the damnedest spots I've ever seen.

Three bouts fell into the short-but-inoffensive category, starting with Intercontinental Champion Chris Jericho successfully defending against William Regal, continuing with Right to Censor vs. Tazz and the APA, and finishing with European Champion Test vs. Eddie Guerrero (notable for Test getting his foot stuck between the ropes for an uncomfortably long time).

'Mania 17 had a couple of low spots, specifically Gimmick Battle Royal (which was lame but short, and featured Bobby Heenan and Gene Okerlund on commentary), and the Women's Title squash between Ivory and Chyna. 

But overall this was an amazing show that capped off the most successful era in WWF history.  WrestleMania X-Seven is an essential part of any wrestling fan's collection.

Best Match: The Rock vs. Steve Austin (It's really close between this and the TLC match, but I'll go with the epic main event.)
Worst Match: Ivory vs. Chyna - this could've been good had Ivory been allowed to get any real offense in
What I'd Change: Almost nothing.  I'd skip the Gimmick Battle Royal as that time could've gone to one of the short undercard bouts.  But otherwise this is an almost perfect show.
Most Disappointing Match: Test vs. Eddie Guerrero could've been longer and had a less obvious screwjob ending, but that's a minor gripe.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Raven vs. Kane vs. Big Show - A terribly entertaining garbage match.
Overall Rating: 10/10 - it's rare for me to give a show the full A+, but WM17 warrants it.

Skydome - 3/17/02

Here's an example of a PPV far exceeding my expectations.  At the time I was not very excited about most of the show and figured everything other than the Triple H-Jericho Title match would be mediocre at best.  Bringing in the nWo was just baffling to me, as the WWF didn't need the extra star power or backstage headaches at that point.  But thanks in large part to the rabid Toronto crowd, this show ended up being pretty good.

The WWF Title match looked spectacular on paper, but unfortunately between the abysmal build (seriously, the WWF Champion is relegated to fetching hand cream for Stephanie McMahon and walking her dog??) and the exhausted fans, the match was only about a 3-star affair.  The Triple H-Jericho feud was a prime example of how NOT to hype a big match.  It was presented as a foregone conclusion that Hunter was walking out with the belts and that Jericho was little more than a placeholder.  The match itself was perfectly fine - overdub a hot crowd over it and it would probably gain about a half-star - but it just didn't belong in the main event slot.

In a rare case of a semi-main that should've trumped the WWF Title bout, The Rock and Hulk Hogan put on an incredibly entertaining money match.  About half the credit goes to the off-the-charts energy of the audience, but these two did everything they could to make this bout memorable.  It was just the right length and had enough action to be worthy of post-Attitude WWF.  The one negative thing I'll say about Rock vs. Hogan is that it started the WWE's trend of relying on past stars and dream matches with current headliners to sell the big PPVs.  In recent years this has gotten way out of hand, but more on that later.

Well Rock, are you surprised?  He does this literally EVERY match.

Speaking of the Attitude era, its biggest star Steve Austin was inexplicably wedged into a rather meaningless undercard match against Hogan's sidekick Scott Hall.  I assume if Kevin Nash had been healthy enough, Austin vs. Nash would've been the match - at least Nash was a former World Champion.  As it was, Austin-Hall only got about 8 minutes and it wasn't even RAW-worthy.  Sadly this would be the beginning of the end of the Austin era.

The rest of the show was chock full of solid short matches (Rob Van Dam won his first I-C Title from William Regal, Diamond Dallas Page beat Christian for the European Title, Kurt Angle got a shockingly good match out of Kane, Chuck and Billy successfully defended their Tag Team Titles in a slightly-too-long 4-way match with The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz and The APA, and Edge vs. Booker T made the most of a horrible angle involving a shampoo commercial.), but the real undercard standout was the amazingly brutal Undertaker vs. Ric Flair match.  In Flair's first truly good match since his WWF return, he bumped and bled all over the place to make Taker look like a sadistic, unstoppable bully.  This was another match in which I had little interest going in, but it really blew me away.

I mean Taker just beat the bejeezus outta that old man.

WrestleMania X8 ended up much better than it had any right to be, and while there were no Match of the Year contenders, it was full of solidly entertaining bouts and nothing really offensive.

Best Match: The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan
Worst Match: Maven vs. Goldust - This was a brief Hardcore Title match that led to an ongoing HC Title angle throughout the show.  When that's the worst thing on the PPV, you're not doing too badly.
What I'd Change: I'd have found something meaningful for Steve Austin to do.  He deserved better than a forgettable 8-minute jaunt with an unmotivated Scott Hall.  I'd also have made Chris Jericho look like a strong Champion going into the main event so the audience cared about it.
Most Disappointing Match: Austin vs. Hall - I figured this would at least be worthy of someone of Austin's stature, but it most certainly wasn't.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan - I was legitimately pissed when Hogan was brought back to the WWF, and had no interest in seeing him wrestle again.  But he and Dwayne stole the show.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10

Part 5                                                                                                                                                Part 7

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