Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XXVI

2010 saw one of the better-executed 'Mania builds, culminating in one of the better 'Manias in some time....

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 up to that point.

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


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