Thursday, March 28, 2019

The History of WrestleMania: 22-XXIV

We've fully entered the John Cena Era......

Rosemont Horizon - 4/2/06

'Mania 22 reminds me a little of the old-school WrestleManias, where there was a whole host of different kinds of matches and a little something for everyone.  It ended up being a much more fun show that I expected, particularly since I was less than thrilled about most of the matches going in.
WWE was fully in "I'll do what I want and you'll like it" mode in 2006, making booking decisions that were absurdly perplexing to many of the fans.  John Cena was not getting over in the expected fashion, as about half the crowd started booing him on a regular basis.  His match here against Triple H was possibly the most infamous example of this, as easily half the Chicago crowd were rabidly cheering for Hunter to destroy WWE's new posterboy.  The match itself was very solid, partly thanks to the fans in the arena, and Hunter repeated his 'Mania 20-ending tapout in the center of the ring to help elevate Cena.

This looks awfully familiar....

The Smackdown brand's champion Kurt Angle defended his Title in a Triple Threat against Randy Orton and 2006 Rumble winner Rey Mysterio, in a match that fell horribly short of expectations due to the time constraints.  I'll never understand why this match only got 9 minutes when it was supposed to elevate Mysterio to the main event.  It was an excellent free TV match but just an okay 'Mania bout, and Mysterio would go on to have one of the worst Title reigns of all time as the company seemingly went out of its way to bury him in every non-title match.

Conversely one match that got a stupidly excessive amount of time was Shawn Michaels vs. Vince McMahon, in a glorified 18-minute squash.  This match was completely one-sided for almost the entire duration and most of the action was run-of-the-mill garbage stuff until Shawn hit an elbow drop off a 12-foot ladder, smashing Vince through a table.  Eighteen minutes for one memorable spot.  Simply stunning.

By far the most noteworthy match of the night was Edge vs. Mick Foley in a Hardcore Rules match.  This was a brilliantly executed bloodfest and easily Foley's best WrestleMania match.  Edge's match-winning spear through the ropes and through a flaming table is one of the most violent 'Mania images in history.

Sweet mother of crap.....

The rest of the show ranged from very strong (Money in the Bank 2, and Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James in one of the best Women's matches I've ever seen) to utterly useless (Booker T vs. The Boogeyman), but 'Mania 22 had quite a diverse palette that presumably allowed everyone to find something they enjoyed.

Best Match: Edge vs. Mick Foley
Worst Match: Torrie Wilson vs. Candice Michelle - Again with the Playboy-themed matches featuring women one could actually see sans clothing elsewhere.
What I'd Change: Take Orton out of the World Title match and put him against Shawn Michaels.  Then you'd have a really strong HBK-Orton match and a blistering Angle-Mysterio Title match.  Also drop the Playboy pillow fight as it's a full-on time waster.
Most Disappointing Match: Kurt Angle vs. Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio - Once again the Smackdown title match was grossly shortchanged and the new champion robbed of a significant 'Mania celebration.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Undertaker vs. Mark Henry - I figured this would be a real stinker but it was a solid Casket Match.
Overall Rating: 7/10

Ford Field - 4/1/07

WWE attempted to recreate some of the magic of WrestleMania III for the 20th anniversary of that event, by returning to the Detroit area and featuring another David vs. Goliath bout on the card.  Sadly the one that took place in 2007 was just a little less important than its predecessor.  Kane vs. The Great Khali was a throwaway match that went on second, and has been all but forgotten.

Fortunately the rest of 'Mania 23 was a fine outing, featuring two excellent World Championship matches and a Money in the Bank match that rivaled the original.  MITB opened the show this time and featured 8 men instead of 6.  The action was all over the map and included a comedy spot (Booker T's mini-ladder), some sick Jeff Hardy bumps, and some broken ladders.  In the end Mr. Kennedy took the briefcase, only to be suspended for a Wellness Policy violation very shortly thereafter, losing it to Edge in the process.  Thus ended Mr. Kennedy's WWE push, more or less.  I'm not sure why Edge and Randy Orton were shoehorned into this match when they could've easily had a singles match.

Holy Christballs.....

Ten years removed from his previous 'Mania championship opportunity, The Undertaker cashed in his Royal Rumble victory and challenged World Champion Batista in a shockingly good match.  Both guys put their working boots on and filled their alotted fifteen minutes with brutal big-man spots, the highlight of which was Batista powerslamming Taker through a ringside table.  This match strangely went on fourth out of eight, but set the bar very high for the second half of the show.

Fortunately the main event involved a man who made a career of clearing the bar, no matter how high - Shawn Michaels.  John Cena and HBK delivered a fantastic main event for the WWE Title that cemented Cena as the face of the company.  Shawn made him look incredibly strong and helped him rise above the "You can't wrestle" chants he had so long inspired.  For me this was the match where Cena turned the corner to become an accomplished worker who could consistently perform in a big match situation.

I did not expect to like this match nearly as much as I did

The other heavily hyped match was The Battle of the Billionaires featuring Umaga, representing Vince McMahon vs. Bobby Lashley, representing Donald Trump.  This match ended up with far too much of the hype but was a decent little battle of the bulls.  Sadly neither competitor would reach their potential in WWE.  Incidentally the post-match shaving of Vince McMahon's head was pretty hilarious.

WrestleMania 23 was something of a "play it safe" kind of show in that no new stars were really elevated, but the important matches hit all the right notes, resulting in one of the stronger 'Mania cards of the past decade.

Best Match: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels
Worst Mach: The Great Khali vs. Kane
What I'd Change: Make Edge vs. Randy Orton a separate singles match (and have Edge win, giving him a small 'Mania streak for the following year) and have CM Punk win the MITB briefcase.
Most Disappointing Match: There wasn't really a match that failed to live up to my expectations.  On the contrary, several matches were much better than I thought they'd be.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Batista vs. Undertaker - I had little interest in this match going in, but these two worked so well together it was shocking.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10

Citrus Bowl - 3/30/08

After four years, WrestleMania returned to the roman numeral naming convention.  This was one of those PPVs that completely defied my expectations.  I went into this show not being very excited about anything except Undertaker vs. Edge.  I didn't care at all about the Orton-Cena-Triple H feud, didn't really want to see Ric Flair wrestle anymore at his advanced age, and most certainly didn't care about Floyd Mayweather.  But 'Mania 24 ended up being a pretty great show that really delivered where it counted.

Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair was one of the most emotional matches I've ever seen.  Michaels obviously deserves a lot of the credit for making this match great, as he bumped around like crazy, per usual.  But Flair's storytelling was also off the charts and he emoted wonderfully, making the audience really care about his career-ending journey.  The final seconds of the match when Flair tearfully begged Shawn to hit the superkick, followed by the sorrow on Shawn's face, made for one of the most memorable of all 'Mania moments.

The kick that ended Flair's's gettin' a little dusty in here.....

The most unexpectedly good match on this card was Randy Orton vs. John Cena vs. Triple H - again, I had no interest in seeing this match at the time, but for 15 minutes these three delivered an action-packed Triple Threat.  Orton's lighting-quick punt to Triple H's head to suddenly end the match was a nice surprise finish.

The main event and near-show-stealer was Edge vs. The Undertaker for the World Title, in an epic finisher-fest that truly made Edge look like a superstar.  There was little doubt that Taker would go over here (had Edge gone undefeated at 'Mania until 2008, that would've added some suspense), but even in defeat Edge showed that he was in Taker's league.  This match fell in the midst of an Undertaker workrate renaissance, as 2007-2010 was one of the best periods of his career.

One of the best feuds of 2008

'Mania 24 also featured yet another good Money in the Bank match with the best collection of workers since the original.  CM Punk finally got a chance to shine by nabbing the briefcase (though that spot was originally slated for the just-suspended Jeff Hardy). 

Also on the card was yet another case of a non-wrestling celebrity used in a wrestling capacity.  In this case it was Floyd Mayweather (lightweight boxing champion) vs. The Big Show (superheavyweight wrestler).  Now, I'm a guy who almost always sticks up for smaller wrestlers.  I don't think a wrestler has to be over 6'2", 275 pounds to be a main event superstar, and across the board I almost always prefer smaller, more athletic guys over power wrestlers.  But did WWE actually expect us to believe that the 140-lb. non-wrestler Mayweather would stand a snowball's chance in hell in a WRESTLING match against the 450-lb. former WWE/WCW/ECW Heavyweight Champion Big Show?  Really?  REALLY??  This match was arguably the most egregious case of a celebrity guest making the business look horrible by beating a WWE mainstay.  How damaging was that to the aura of The Big Show (not that his career had been without damaging losses in the past)?  Just awful.

The remaining four matches were varying degrees of throwaway, but as they totaled about 21 minutes of ring time, they're forgivable.  Overall WrestleMania XXIV was an  unexpected hit for me, featuring three main events in the 3 to 4-star range.  Not too shabby at all.

Best Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair
Worst Match: Batista vs. Umaga - Yikes this was bad.
What I'd Change: Well for one thing I wouldn't sign Floyd Mayweather to fight The Big Show unless he was willing to take a loss.  Otherwise I'd have mixed up the WWE Title picture a bit with some new blood.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably the Batista-Umaga mess.  I figured this would be at least as good as the previous year's Lashley-Umaga bout.  Nope.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I'd say just the fact that this overall show was strong.  I really wasn't expecting to like this 'Mania at all.
Overall Rating: 8/10

Part 7                                                                                                                                                Part 9

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