Friday, March 29, 2019

The History of WrestleMania: 25-XXVII

Welcome to Part 9, beginning with the 25th Anniversary....of the year before WrestleMania started!

Reliant Stadium - 4/5/09

Speaking of WrestleMania cards I wasn't excited about, we now arrive at the "25th Anniversary" of WrestleMania (good lord that marketing drove me nuts - does WWE think people can't count?).  Early 2009 was an extremely stagnant time for the company, where the same 5 or 6 wrestlers were being shuffled around the same 5 or 6 spots and no new talent was breaking into the main event scene.  If you take the seven participants in the top three matches of 'Mania 24 and compare them to the top three matches of 25, swap out Flair for The Big Show and you have the same seven guys.  Couple this with very poor buildup for both Championship matches and you have a recipe for an anemic WrestleMania season.  As it turned out though, the show was pretty good. 

Triple H vs. Randy Orton took the main event slot and despite an awful, awful buildup (Explain to me again why I'm supposed to cheer for the all-powerful McMahon family just because Randy Orton beat them up?  Didn't Steve Austin make a megaface career out of beating up the McMahons?) and a suitably disinterested live crowd, they managed to salvage a solid Title match out of it.  But really the only good segment leading up to this match was when Orton handcuffed Triple H to the bottom rope and forced him to watch Stephanie be DDT'd and kissed by his arch-rival.  Then the following week all the tension was immediately diffused as Triple H broke into Orton's house and beat the snot out of him.  I thought the whole point of the PPV match was to get the audience to want to see the villain get his comeuppance.  If that happens a week before the big match, why should we care?  Also given the highly personal nature of this feud, you'd think WWE would've made the match a no-DQ match of some sort.  Instead the only stip was that if Hunter got disqualified he'd lose the Title.

Oh look, it's the only good part of this feud

The Smackdown Title match was a Triple Threat that I was equally blase about - Edge vs. John Cena vs. The Big Show.  Their feud centered around some twisted love triangle with Vickie Guerrero, yadda yadda.  Bottom line is that the match was actually really entertaining.  I was very shocked by how much fun it ended up being.

But the real standout of 'Mania 25 was of course the epic 30-minute war between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.  I honestly didn't get caught up in the build for this match either and by this point was so fed up with WWE's lack of star-building that I half-expected this to be mediocre.  I was wholly incorrect, as these two legends showed us all how it's done.  This match ended up being one for the ages.

How did this not kill him??

The 4th biggest match on the show was Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy in an Extreme Rules match.  While their feud was very convoluted (centered around Matt's jealousy of being the "#2 brother"), the match itself was fine with some decent highspot wrestling.

Once again there was a Money in the Bank match, and once again CM Punk took home the briefcase.  WWE had squandered Punk's first World Title push and since they weren't bothering to make any new stars in 2009, this was almost a do-over for him.  What's disturbing is that over three WrestleManias, Punk hadn't yet graduated from the Money in the Bank match.

The award for Biggest Waste of Talent goes to the Chris Jericho vs. The Legends handicap match.  Somehow the company couldn't come up with anything better for Jericho than fighting three retired wrestlers with a combined age of about 180 - Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka, and Ricky Steamboat.  I'm not sure who thought this was a good idea, but amazingly Jericho's segments with Steamboat were pretty decent, and it led to a show-stopping singles match between the two at Backlash.  Why that couldn't have happened at 'Mania I'll never know.

The other two matches totaled about four minutes - Rey Mysterio beat JBL for the I-C Title in seconds, and WWE brought in a ton of former Divas for a Battle Royal, and then didn't introduce any of them or show them clearly onscreen.  Seriously, they were eliminated so fast I wasn't even sure who I was looking at.

WrestleMania XXV has aged decently, despite being a show I really didn't care much about at the time.  Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker more or less saved it from being a rather forgettable event, but watching it now there are a good five matches worth seeing.

Best Match: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
Worst Match: Divas Battle Royal - and why did they have Kid Rock play them all down to the ring??
What I'd Change: CM Punk should've been a semi-main eventer and in one of the top matches by this point, and Chris Jericho should've fought Steamboat one-on-one.
Most Disappointing Match: JBL vs. Rey Mysterio - not that I was expecting a classic, but why bother booking a match that only lasts 21 seconds?
Most Pleasant Surprise: Edge vs. John Cena vs. Big Show - so much better than it really should've been
Overall Rating: 7/10

University of Phoenix Stadium - 3/28/10

'Mania 26 had one of the best buildups of any 'Mania card in recent memory.  From January to April 2010 WWE was in peak form, presenting exciting new feuds and expertly rekindling old ones.  WrestleMania XXVI was a grand culmination that felt very special.

Both World Championship matches involved fresh rivalries, or at least rivalries that hadn't yet been beaten into the ground.  John Cena vs. Batista had only occurred once before as a face vs. face Summerslam match, and in 2010 Batista was a ruthless, bitter heel; a role I always felt much better suited him.  In hyping this match WWE referenced Batista's clean win over Cena in 2008, and also had Batista physically maul Cena at every turn which truly put the babyface character in jeopardy.  This is how you build a classic hero vs. villain match.  Not only that, but they provided Batista's heel character excellent motivation in the form of professional jealousy over not becoming the WWE's Posterboy.  The match itself while not epic, was a strong WWE-style championship bout where Cena finally got a win over his larger rival.

On the Smackdown side, we were finally treated to a Chris Jericho vs. Edge PPV match (this was scheduled to happen in 2002 before Edge was rerouted into a tag team with Hulk Hogan, and again in 2004 but Edge got hurt), and WWE built their feud around the fallout from their shortlived tag team run.  Edge sustained an injury, forcing Jericho to find a replacement tag partner, and in doing so Jericho publicly threw Edge under the bus.  Edge unexpectedly returned at the 2010 Royal Rumble, targeting Jericho, and winning the title shot.  Nice simple way to build to a Championship match at 'Mania, and the resulting match was very good, if hampered by a rather lethargic crowd.

Finally we got a Jericho-Edge PPV match!

Elsewhere on the card, multiple newer talents got actual matches instead of being crammed into the annual Money in the Bank spotfest (this edition was won, surprisingly, by Jack Swagger).  CM Punk and Rey Mysterio got a pretty good little 6-minute bout (criminally short by my calculations), The Miz and Big Show successfully defended the Tag Team belts against John Morrison and R-Truth (even shorter), and Sheamus's first 'Mania match saw him take on his offscreen mentor Triple H (in Hunter's first non-championship 'Mania match since 2001).

The returning Bret Hart finally got his long-awaited onscreen revenge for Montreal, against Vince McMahon.  Sadly while the buildup to this match was pretty intriguing, the match itself was nigh unwatchable and about twice as long as it should've been.  Bret was severely limited in what he could do in the ring, and WWE blew what could've been a nice late-match twist.  During Vince's ring introduction he appeared with Bret's entire family seemingly in his corner, making it appear as though Bret would be facing a whole entourage.  Unfortunately it was revealed right at the beginning of the match that the Harts duped Vince into thinking they were on his side, thus destroying all suspense and turning the whole affair into a heel vs. 15 babyfaces scenario.  Not much of a match when the heel gets beaten up by 15 people for 10 minutes.

Once again the match that overshadowed the rest of the card was The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels.  The angle leading to this match was brilliant, with Shawn wanting redemption for 'Mania 25 and Taker refusing to oblige.  Shawn then banked on winning the Royal Rumble so he could challenge then-World Champion Taker at WrestleMania, only to come up short that January.  Instead Shawn crashed Taker's Elimination Chamber Title defense, costing Taker the belt and drawing the wrath of The Dead Man.  Taker accepted Shawn's challenge on the condition that Shawn would retire if he lost, and the greatest WrestleMania rematch of all-time was signed.  In another case of my underestimating both men, I figured they could never top the 'Mania 25 match and therefore was less than enthused about this one.  Once again I was proven wrong, as Taker-HBK II surpassed their previous encounter in a streamlined, drama and action-packed 24-minute masterpiece that echoed not only Taker-HBK I, but Flair-HBK from 2008.  Shawn's defiant throat-slash gesture at the end of the match followed by Taker's enraged Tombstone rebuttal was an all-time classic moment.

A tearful sendoff for the greatest wrestler of all time.....

WrestleMania XXVI was a smorgasbord of established veterans, new stars, and strong booking, resulting in probably the best 'Mania of the PG Era.

Best Match: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
Worst Match: Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon
What I'd Change: Cut Bret vs Vince down to six minutes and save the Hart Family twist until the end when Vince thinks he has Bret beaten.  Also, Punk vs. Mysterio should've gotten at least five more minutes and Punk should've won, leading to the rematch.
Most Disappointing Match: CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio - this should've been a blistering 12-minute show-stealer.
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Undertaker vs. Michaels II could actually be a better match than its predecessor.
Overall Rating: 8/10

GeorgiaDome - 4/3/11

Oh man, this segment and the next are going to exhume all kinds of buried anger.  Just warning you...

'Mania 27 ranks at #2 on the Most Disappointing WrestleManias list.  Not since 15 was so much potential wasted at the biggest show of the year.  For the first time in several years, three new uppercard heels were featured prominently on the card, the WWE Title match included a first-time champion, and a large contingent of young, rising talent was given some of the 'Mania spotlight.  Then everything went to Hell.

**Note: I did not read any internet wrestling news the day of this show so any last minute card-shuffling was unknown to me when the show started.**

I knew something was wrong right out of the gate when 'Mania host The Rock opened the show with a pointless, meandering monologue that went on for 15 minutes and actually, I sh*t you not, included him leading the fans in a "Wrestle! Mania!" call and answer.  Fif. Teen. Minutes. 

Then bafflingly the opening match was the World Title match between Edge and 2011 Royal Rumble winner Alberto Del Rio, in what should've been Del Rio's breakout match.  Instead what transpired was a very good eleven-minute hot opener where #1 of WWE's three new top heels failed to close the deal and went home a loser.

Next was a very solid midcard match between Rey Mysterio and Cody Rhodes that oddly got more time than the World Title match.  But it was a fine contest so I didn't complain.

Third was an 8-man tag that could've been a fun, wild brawl.....had it been given more than 90 seconds.  Yup.  Ninety seconds.  The Corre vs. Big Show/Kane/Santino Marella/Kofi Kingston was given less time than it's taken me to write this paragraph.  Their ring entrances lasted longer than the match.  I can't imagine in my wildest daydreams why this match wasn't simply bumped off the main card.

Up next was another very good match - CM Punk vs. Randy Orton.  Finally Punk would be given a real 'Mania match that went into double digits.  These two told a really great story and delivered a near show-stealer.  Unfortunately as with Punk's 'Mania 26 match, WWE decided to give the babyface the win in the first encounter, making the subsequent PPV rematch unnecessary and devoid of any heat.  Score 0 for 2 for the WWE's new top heels.

Match #5.  Sigh.....  Announcer Michael Cole vs. Wrestler-turned-Announcer Jerry Lawler.  WWE had turned Cole heel months earlier and thus the announce table became a massive, non-stop bickering session for every TV taping.  These two could barely concentrate on whatever match was happening in front of them every night because they were constantly cutting into each other.  Just painful to listen to.  Now I gave this program the benefit of the doubt and thought it would lead to a mildly entertaining 5-minute beatdown on Cole which would really get the crowd going.  Instead we were subjected to nearly 14 minutes of Cole beating up Lawler (?!), after which Lawler made his comeback and won the match, after which the Anonymous RAW General Manager (one of the worst ongoing angles ever) disqualified Lawler due to referee Steve Austin's physical involvement in the match (one of the worst-ever uses of Steve Austin).  Fourteen minutes this match got.

Yup, this got more time than the World Heavyweight Championship.

The match of the night was next, as Triple H attempted to end The Undertaker's 'Mania streak, and while full of typical No-Disqualification shortcuts, these two put on a very dramatic, brutal fight with some great nearfalls.  My only complaint about the match itself is that the final ten minutes mostly consisted of big move-two count-rest repeated several times.  Cut five minutes out of this 29-minute bout and you'd have a 4+ star rating.  The match ended with Taker submitting Triple H in the Hell's Gate, followed by Hunter walking out under his own power and the exhausted Taker needing to be stretchered out.  This segment from entrances to exits took about 50 minutes, which was totally excessive.

At this point I was very surprised, and sort of excited, that my most anticipated match of the evening, Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan for the US Title, was going on so late in the show.  I figured it would've been on first or second to get the crowd going, but maybe the company really felt it warranted a later spot on the card.  More on that in a bit.

The next match was a mixed-tag match pitting John Morrison, Trish Stratus, and yet another celebrity non-wrestler Snookie vs. Dolph Ziggler, Michelle McCool, and Layla.  The action in this one was fast and furious, and had they been given 7 or 8 minutes this could've been a very entertaining match.  Sadly it only went three minutes, barely enough for all six participants to get any ring time.  I don't know exactly how much WWE paid Snookie for those three minutes, but I can definitely say they got ripped off.

Suddenly my night and my mood were ruined by what happened next.  The announcers turned their attention to the main event WWE Title match between The Miz and John Cena. 

Ummmmmm....What. The hell. Happened to the US Title match???  At this point I scrambled for my cellphone and looked up the latest internet wrestling news, to find that WWE in its infinite wisdom decided to bump Sheamus vs. Bryan to the pre-show.  Let me make sure I am crystal-clear on this: WWE decided there wasn't enough time on a four-hour show for a 15 to 17-minute (including ring entrances) US Title match, but there was time for The Rock to say precisely nothing for 15 minutes at the top of the show and participate in multiple unfunny backstage comedy skits, the 8-man tag that only got 90 seconds of in-ring time plus about five minutes of entrances, and a FORTY-NINE minute Triple H-Undertaker segment.

The Greatest Match to Ever Get Bumped from WrestleMania.

At this point I was livid (and thinking about this WrestleMania still bothers me for this reason).
Anyway, the main event was next.  The Miz (for whom I had very high hopes as potentially the next face of the company) and John Cena had a middling, awkward 16-minute match that wasn't even RAW-worthy, ending in a double countout.  Then 'Mania host The Rock restarted the match, only to Rock Bottom Cena and allow Miz to pick up the win, thus setting up the following year's WrestleMania main event.  And then The Rock laid Miz out and stood tall over both WWE Title match participants, in the worst WrestleMania ending since Hogan's impromptu Title win at 'Mania 9.

WrestleMania XXVII will go down as one of the most poorly-assembled shows in the company's history.  I can't think of a single PPV with worse time management or booking decisions.  The company bumped a somewhat highly-anticipated match off the card completely to make room for multiple unentertaining non-wrestling segments, gave far too much time to other matches that either didn't need it or didn't deserve it, made two of their rising heel stars look weak while elevating a heel announcer, and presented one of the worst 'Mania main event matches in history.  It seemed the whole purpose of 'Mania 27 was to set up the main event for 'Mania 28, and the biggest show of the year should absolutely never (NEVER) be used just to set up something else.  This event is one of the only times I can remember really feeling cheated out of my money after watching a PPV.

Best Match: Undertaker vs. Triple H
Worst Match: Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole
What I'd Change: Holy lord, where to begin.... First, instead of The Rock being the host, make him a guest referee in the main event (which would make his physical involvement and match-restart much more logical), have Sheamus vs. Bryan open the show, have Del Rio actually win the World Title, have Punk beat Orton, cut Lawler-Cole down to five minutes and have Lawler win (or better yet, have Lawler fight Jack Swagger with Cole at ringside), have Cena beat The Miz but then get into a confrontation with The Rock after the match to avoid both main event wrestlers looking stupid.
Most Disappointing Match: Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan, relegated to a four-minute no-contest-turned-Battle-Royal on the pre-show.  As for the main card, The Miz vs. John Cena.
Most Pleasant Surprise: There were no pleasant surprises on this show, only unpleasant ones.
Overall Rating: 5.5/10

Part 8                                                                                                                                              Part 10

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