Thursday, April 15, 2021

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Main Events, Part 2 (#30-21)

Continuing with our WrestleMania main event rankings, let's get into #30-21!  

Check out Part 1, Part 3 and Part 4

30. The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns - WrestleMania 33

WrestleMania 33 was one of those shows with about four potential main events, where I believe the company wasn't even sure until that weekend which bout would go on last.  The Universal Title match pitted Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg, but you can't end a WrestleMania with a five-minute match, right?  Oh wait...  The WWE Title match was a laughably terrible Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt outing (later outdone in its awfulness with a rematch four years later).  The other marquee match that could've gone last was Triple H vs. Seth Rollins in a 25-minute mentor vs. student bout, which felt like a WrestleMania main event except that it took place three hours into a five-hour show.  But the company opted to put The Undertaker's swan song last, an intended passing of the torch to the current generation of stars, in particular Roman Reigns (Yup, Vince was still trying to make fetch happen with babyface Reigns at this point).  So the 52-year-old Undertaker, moving like a much older man, went out there and worked a 21-minute match with the spry, youthful Reigns, and more or less stunk up the joint, botching spots, hobbling around, and generally looking eons past his prime.  Reigns won the match after numerous spears, and in the segment's most memorable moment Taker took off his hat, coat and gloves and left them in the ring, as if to close the door on his legendary career.  The problem was, the match just wasn't very good, and Taker was so unhappy with his performance he unretired a year later, rendering the only truly effective part of the match meaningless.  It also didn't help that Taker's historic WrestleMania streak had already been broken three years earlier and thus Roman's win over him here was far less significant.  This is the kind of wastefulness that happens when you don't plan ahead and look at how a creative decision might affect the future.

29. Triple H vs. Roman Reigns - WrestleMania 32

Only slightly better than Reigns' third WrestleMania main event was his second, a dull, languid 27-minute outing against Triple H, who'd recently won a superfluous ninth WWE Championship at that year's Royal Rumble.  I know Seth Rollins' late-2015 knee injury threw a wrench into the company's WrestleMania plans, but was there seriously no one else they could've pushed into a WWE Title feud with Reigns here?  No?  Let's just go with another semi-retired part-timer in a top slot then.  Super.  Reigns had started to gain a bit of crowd support during his feud with Sheamus a few months earlier, Superman Punching Vince and savagely beating the Celtic Warrior to regain the championship after Sheamus's Money in the Bank cash-in.  But a month later at the Rumble the company booked him to look like an unlikable chump once more, as he voluntarily left the Rumble match to have a kayfabe injury tended to, only returning near the end.  Way to make your top babyface look the opposite of gallant.  Anyway, Hunter swooped in to win the belt, and the match was set for 'Mania, even though Dean Ambrose was WAY more over and in fact delivered a far superior match to this one only a few weeks earlier.  It's never a good sign when the B PPV three weeks before WrestleMania features a main event that bitchslaps the 'Mania one.  Maybe Ambrose should've gotten this spot instead, hmm?  But no, Vince was going to have his guy in the main event, and not surprisingly Roman failed to get over in a basic, sluggish Triple H snorer.  He'd drop the title to the returning Seth Rollins only a few months later, and then Dean Ambrose would immediately cash in Money in the Bank.  So the belt ended up on Dean after all....

28. Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Lawrence Taylor - WrestleMania XI

WrestleMania XI was the second edition to bump the actual main event for a far inferior #2 match, just for the sake of attracting mainstream appeal.  Instead of WWF Champion Diesel facing his former best friend Shawn Michaels in the final match of the night, the WWF put lifelong midcarder Bam Bam Bigelow against retired NY Giant Lawrence Taylor.  Uhhh....ok.  To be fair, Taylor did his homework in prepping for this match and turned in a more than fine performance, and Bam Bam led him through the match like a pro.  But why precisely did this match need to be in the main event slot?  Taylor was added to the show to grab widespread attention of course, but wouldn't the buyrate and news coverage be identical with this in the sixth slot as opposed to the seventh?  Furthermore, isn't the point of celebrity guests to get casual fans to order the PPV and then get hooked on the actual wrestling stars?  So why not present the lineup as "Okay you've seen your big NFL match, now we're gonna show you what we're really about.  Take it away, HBK!"  Or at the very least, why wouldn't you book Taylor against someone you intended to push hard coming out of this match?  Bam Bam was, as I said, a lifelong midcard guy in the WWF, and based on the followup to this show, he was never in line for any serious elevation.  In fact after turning babyface and sharing exactly one PPV main event with Diesel, Sid and Tatanka, he was gone from the company by the end of the year.  So again I go back to, what was the point of all this?  If Taylor's involvement wasn't to get mainstream fans interested in the WWF product by giving the rub to either the current main event guys or Taylor's WrestleMania opponent, why bother at all?  Like I said, from a workrate perspective this match was fine, but it did nothing for the WWF's shrinking bottom line (the buyrate was significantly lower than WrestleMania X's) and thus it has to be considered a failure.

27. Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior - WrestleMania VI

Time for me to take some more abuse...  I know Hogan vs. Warrior is one of the most beloved old-school matches of all time, but I think it's maybe the most overrated match ever.  The spectacle was there, don't get me wrong.  Two larger-than-life personalities, the babyface superhero champion vs. the babyface cosmic weirdo challenger, vying for the top spot in the company.  This was the first major babyface vs. babyface match since Bruno Sammartino vs. Pedro Morales, and the intent was for Hogan to pass the torch to the Warrior heading into the 1990s.  All the ingredients were there for this to be the biggest match in decades.  And then the match happened, and it was, well, pretty goddamn boring.  Yes, the Toronto crowd was red-hot, and yes, both men knew how to work them, but the pressure was on to make this match the most epic thing of all time, and so the company overindulged itself by booking this to go 22 minutes when neither guy was equipped to keep a match interesting for that long.  Such is the drawback of primarily pushing wrestlers based on musculature and not athleticism.  Hogan and Warrior bumbled awkwardly through basic offense, going for bearhugs and other rest holds only minutes into the bout.  Things eventually picked up toward the end, when Hogan missed his legdrop (for the first time to my knowledge), and Warrior barely hoisted him up for a gorilla press followed by the splash for the historic title win.  The crowd was super into this, and I get why it's remembered so fondly by my generation who grew up with it, but even as a 14-year-old I remember finding the match underwhelming and lethargic, a real chore to sit through.  Cut seven or eight minutes out and you'd have a Hulk vs. Thor smashing bonanza, but the company's mistake was attempting to pass these guys off as actual wrestlers.  Randy Savage could get a classic 20-minute match out of either guy, they could not get one out of each other.  I'm sorry, I know you all loved this, but I can't give it a thumbs up.

26. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant - WrestleMania III

This here might be the most star rating-proof main event in wrestling history.  A horribly injured 500-pound man against a two-move musclehead.  This match should be the worst thing ever.  And yet the 12 minutes during which Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant feebly pretended to beat each other up is still a supreme guilty pleasure.  You all know how this match came about; Andre was tired of being underappreciated and of Hogan getting all the attention, so he turned heel and aligned himself with Hogan's mortal enemy Bobby Heenan.  Andre tore Hogan's shirt, his crucifix, the skin on his chest, and the hearts out of kids everywhere, challenging Hogan to a WWF Title match at the biggest show of the year.  The company pretended they'd never wrestled each other before (even though they did numerous times in 1980), and that Andre had never been bodyslammed (he had been numerous times over the years, albeit at a substantially lighter weight).  The hype worked in spades, as 80,000 WWF fans packed the Pontiac Silverdome, creating one of the grandest visuals in wrestling lore - a colossal stadium interior, bathed in daylight from the translucent roof above.  The match was as basic as can be; Andre was in serious pain and could barely move, and Hogan simply worked around his limitations, bouncing off the ropes, selling punches and boots to the face as though they were sledgehammers, and finally after 12 minutes came the Bodyslam Heard 'Round the World.  One legdrop later and Hogan had vanquished the unbeatable ogre, to the thunderous cheers of legions of fans.  So why's the match only ranked 26th?  Well from a mechanical standpoint it's pretty awful.  Like, borderline incompetent.  But damn, is it still a fun watch for my inner eleven-year-old.  

25. The Rock vs. John Cena II - WrestleMania XXIX

Hey, remember that Once in a Lifetime tagline we used when The Rock and John Cena wrestled a year ago?  Yeah, forget about that.  What a sleazy promotional tactic; Vince had to know there would be a rematch sooner rather than later.  And in spite of numerous better options for a main event, for example adding Punk to make it a Triple Threat, or even doing Punk vs. Cena (a match that took place about a month prior to this one and blew it out of the water), Vince would have his planned Rock-Cena II match.  And it was.....a match.  Their first meeting was historic and felt huge.  This one was less historic and felt less huge.  And was messy in spots.  And The Rock got injured, delaying his scheduled film shoot and basically ensuring he'd likely never wrestle again since he couldn't afford to risk another filming delay.  Way to go, Vince.  This match was fine, but nothing more.  It was the main event of one of the more boring WrestleMania cards, a show propped up only by the excellent Undertaker-CM Punk match.  In that regard, this middling, forgettable encounter was a perfect choice to headline a middling, forgettable show.

24. Yokozuna vs. Bret Hart - WrestleMania X

Yokozuna vs. Bret Hart II was historic as the first time the same match main evented two consecutive WrestleManias.  The story going into this sequel was better than its predecessor - Bret had just lost to his brother Owen in a grueling match earlier in the night, while Yokozuna narrowly escaped Lex Luger - but the action for me wasn't as crisp.  Yokozuna dominated the vast majority of the bout, his limited mobility often slowing the match to a crawl.  Guest referee Roddy Piper provided some energy and levity, but this match was all about Bret overcoming impossible odds and exhaustion to regain the title.  And regain it he did, in one of the sillier WrestleMania finishes - Yokozuna had worn Bret down to the nub and prepared to hit his patented Bonzai Drop from the second rope, but slipped for no particular reason and crashed to the canvas, allowing Bret to cover him for the pin.  Pretty lame, Milhouse.  The aftermath was a feelgood moment however, as every major babyface in the locker room swarmed the ring to congratulate Bret and hoist him into the air in celebration.  The storytelling was solid here, the action was just ok.

23. Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna - WrestleMania IX

I liked the wrestling better in this first encounter, as Bret was forced to get creative in battling a very unwieldy opponent in a clash of styles.  Bret stayed on offense for much of this bout, lending it a nice level of urgency.  His storytelling and ring generalship were so good in fact that it really looked like he might do the impossible and defeat a man over twice his size.  After felling the massive challenger with a clothesline, Bret wrapped Yokozuna's enormous legs around his own and pulled him up into a Sharpshooter, but then came Mr. Fuji on the outside with a handful of salt to Bret's eyes.  Yokozuna covered him to become the first heel to win the WWF Title at WrestleMania, and then of course the night totally went to shit, as referenced in Part 1 of this countdown.  Fuck Terry, Terry sucks.  So yeah, I wasn't about to ignore WrestleMania IX's actual main event just because of what happened immediately afterward.  This match was a solid piece of business except for the weak finish - come on, Yoko, at least finish him off with a legdrop or something.

22. Triple H vs. Randy Orton - WrestleMania 25

If ever a WrestleMania main event didn't tonally live up to the build, it's this one.  Triple H and Randy Orton had one of the most personal feuds ever to lead to a 'Mania headliner, with Orton punting both Vince and Shane McMahon, and even more dastardly, hitting Stephanie with a DDT while a handcuffed Triple H watched helplessly (Nevermind that for years the McMahons had all been presented as Grade-A assholes so it was basically impossible to sympathize with them here, but the angle was effective).  In retaliation Hunter broke into Orton's house and beat a raincheck into him, eventually tossing him out his front window onto the lawn as concerned neighbors looked on.  You'd think a feud with such rapid-fire escalation would culminate in a No Holds Barred match, a Hell in a Cell, a TLC match, hell, maybe a Chain match, why not?  Nope.  They just had a regular wrestling match to settle their differences.  A slow, methodical, Triple H-style main event wrestling match, where if Hunter got himself disqualified he'd lose the title.  Ya know, just to make sure the bout REALLY stayed orderly.  The pace and style of match didn't jibe at all with what fans wanted or expected, and trying to follow the epic, all-time classic Undertaker-Shawn Michaels masterwork two bouts earlier with a civilized Triple H-special grappling contest was an exercise in futility.  It's not that the match was bad by any means, on the contrary, it was a well-worked, fundamentally rock-solid wrestling match.  But it was 100% wrong for this particular feud.  What the company was thinking I'll never know.  But the crowd here was deader even than Hunter's WrestleMania 18 bout with Jericho.  It proved to me once and for all that Triple H doesn't make an effective babyface; his style is thoroughly steeped in deliberate, slow-paced wear-down holds that don't get the audience energized.  Couple that with Randy Orton's equally methodical cadence, and you have a recipe for sleepiness.

21. Triple H vs. Batista - WrestleMania 21

2005 was The Year of The Animal.  Big Dave Batista had emerged seemingly overnight as everyone's favorite rising star in the company.  After totally clusterfucking Randy Orton's babyface turn in 2004 by taking the smug, patronizing 24-year-old, putting the title on him, and expecting people to cheer him 24 hours later just because his asshole friends beat him up, the company took the slow-burn approach with his former teammate Batista.  Dave quietly waited in the wings as Evolution's muscle, having a mini-feud with Orton in which the fans overwhelmingly favored The Animal.  The planned WrestleMania 21 headliner of Triple vs. Orton (see WrestleMania 25 to see how well that would've gone) was scrapped, and Big Dave was on his way to the top.  Batista and John Cena were elevated simultaneously in the Royal Rumble, Dave just barely eking out a win, and after weeks of Triple H and Ric Flair urging him to challenge WWE Champion JBL, Batista turned babyface in earnest, announcing that he'd be coming after his former mentor.  The build was handled effectively, with Dave presented as a monster babyface who could believably plow through anyone he wanted.  That he'd decisively beat Triple H at the Show of Shows was one of those welcome foregone conclusions in wrestling (sometimes predictability is a good thing), and it led to big fan interest in the show.  The match itself was just okay, as Batista was still very inexperienced in a big match setting.  But it got the job done and cemented Dave as a brand new made man.  Hunter and Batista would have their feud-defining match a few months later inside a Cell, but this was an okay start.

And that concludes Part 2 of our countdown - stay tuned for Part 3 and #20-11!

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