Friday, March 27, 2020

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 23

Here's a WrestleMania I was not excited about, but damn did it deliver where it counted....

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 allotted 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.  Taker and Batista would feud on and off throughout 2007, providing one of the company's best rivalries that year.
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.  After 28 grueling minutes that included Shawn piledriving Cena on the stairs and busting him open, Cena gutted it out and retained, earning more than a few stripes.

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; Lashley returned a decade later after a critically acclaimed TNA run, while Umaga tragically died very young.  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 2000s.

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: 8/10

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