Wednesday, April 10, 2024

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. Steve Austin vs. Kevin Owens - WrestleMania 38, Night 1

19 years after his untimely retirement at age 38, Stone Cold Steve Austin finally came home for one last hurrah, facing a man who idolized him growing up, Kevin Owens.  While the company's build to this match was pretty wretched - Owens was left to hype the match all by himself a la Shawn Michaels vs. Hulk Hogan in 2005, and no official match was announced until WrestleMania itself, during a KO Show segment - the match made for a feelgood finale in front of a nuclear hometown crowd.  At age 57, Austin was of course very limited in what he could do, but Owens worked hard to hide said limitations and the two brawled all around the stadium, up the ramp, down the ramp, and back into the ring, where they traded Stunners before Austin got the win.  This was no in-ring classic by any means, but it was an enjoyable romp and allowed one of the industry's biggest stars to have one final moment in the spotlight.

29. 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.

28. 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.

27. 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.

26. 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.

25. 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.

24. Chris Jericho vs. Triple H - WrestleMania X8

This might be the one WrestleMania main event that suffered the most from a bad build.  Chris Jericho famously defeated The Rock and Steve Austin in one night to become the Undisputed Champion, which surely should've boosted his credibility big time, right?  Well, no.  Upon winning the unified titles, Jericho was booked as a joke champion, often opening RAW and Smackdown in matches against guys like Maven and Tazz, whom he struggled to defeat.  Making things worse was Triple H's Royal Rumble win establishing him as the #1 contender at WrestleMania, because Hunter was much more concerned with his estranged wife Stephanie than with the task of defeating the Undisputed Champ.  Thus Jericho was portrayed as Steph's lackey, bringing her hand cream, watching her dog, ya know, stuff a World Champion does...  Y2J was made to look like such a lowly chumpstain it totally killed any interest in this main event, and on the night of the PPV the two headlined in front of a dead crowd (It didn't help of course that The Rock and Hulk Hogan had torn the house down and the crowd was just done after that).  These two worked a good match but everything fell flat, and thus Triple H's big moment was more of a whimper than a bang.  Imagine sabotaging your own main event program just to make yourself appear out of the other guy's league....

23. Roman Reigns & The Rock vs. Cody Rhodes & Seth Rollins - WrestleMania 40, Night 1

Unique among two-night WrestleManias thus far, WM40 featured a Night 1 main event that included the two participants for Night 2's main event and directly influenced how that match would go.  After much hemming and hawing over whether it would be Royal Rumble winner Cody Rhodes or back-from-Hollywood and now TKO board member The Rock would be challenging Roman Reigns for the title.  Thankfully the fans made their voices heard and overwhelmingly favored Cody finishing his story.  But the spiteful Rock turned heel and joined The Bloodline, challenging Cody and Seth to a tag match at Night 1.  This was a pretty great twenty-minute match that unfortunately went 44 minutes.  After interminable crowd brawling and a lot of stalling, the bout finally settled into a really strong 15-minute closing stretch that saw Roman accidentally spear The Rock, Cody nearly defeat Roman again only for Rock to attack him with a weight belt, and Roman spear Cody before The Rock demanded the tag to finish him off with a Rock Bottom/People's Elbow combination.  This was a good match that would've been great at half the running time.

22. Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Mick Foley vs. The Big Show - WrestleMania 2000

WrestleMania 2000 has to be the strangest edition of all time (except for maybe the COVID one).  There wasn't a single solitary one-on-one match under standard rules (Terri vs. The Kat had an over-the-top-rope stip), and the main event was a Fatal 4-Way elimination match, just so they could shove the entire McMahon family into the proceedings.  Jesus H. Christ, if I never see any of these people on my TV again it'll be too soon.  So instead of the expected Rock vs. Triple H headliner they added The Big Show (who technically won the Royal Rumble due to The Rock's feet accidentally hitting the floor first) and then just to give Mick Foley a WrestleMania moment they unretired him to complete the square.  The match was fine, rather overlong, and in the end anticlimactic.  The Big Show got triple-teamed early and was ousted from the match in under five minutes, Mick Foley turned in a less-than-stellar performance, not having gotten back into ring shape in time, and Rocky and Hunter carried the bulk of the bout.  It seemed a foregone conclusion that The Rock would defy the odds and regain the WWF Title, but in the interest of swerving everyone, Rock's cornerman Vince screwed him, delivering two chair shots to allow Hunter to retain the belt.  The Rock flipped out after the match, hitting Stephanie with a Rock Bottom/People's Elbow combination.  A month later at Backlash The Rock would win the title back anyway, so in hindsight it seems silly not to just have him win at the biggest show of the year.  Then again Triple H's victory here was historic as the first time a heel left WrestleMania as WWF Champion.  This was a so-so main event. 

21. John Cena vs. Triple H - WrestleMania 22

Here's a match about which I had no interest going in, but it turned out a pretty interesting main event.  John Cena was riding high as WWE's poster boy, but there was one problem - the fans had turned on him big time by late 2005.  During his feuds with Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle, Cena was roundly booed while his heel opponents were treated like heroes by the WWE faithful.  Literally the only bad guy who managed to get a proper heel reaction while feuding with Cena was The Rated R Superstar Edge, who shocked everyone by cashing in the first Money in the Bank briefcase after Cena had survived an Elimination Chamber.  Nowadays everyone's accustomed to the stupid briefcase gimmick and it's been done to death, but in 2006 no one expected Edge to exploit the "anytime, anywhere" loophole, and it was a big deal.  Edge drew good ratings as the champion but since Vince had his mind made up that Cena vs. Hunter was the 'Mania main event, Mr. Copeland's first WWE Title reign only lasted a paltry three weeks.  A cleverer promoter would've saved Edge's cash-in for the end of WrestleMania, just inside the one-year deadline.  Regardless, Cena vs. Triple H, while a pretty dull match on paper, turned out to be a very well-worked match that began the process of silencing Cena's "You Can't Wrestle" critics.  Hunter obviously led the dance, but Cena kept right up with him, and the 22-minute war ended with Hunter once again tapping out to the babyface.  What really made this match interesting though was the crowd, who booed Cena umercifully and cheered the crap out of Triple H; not long after, Hunter turned babyface and reunited with Shawn Michaels as DX.  Edge really got the last laugh in this situation, as he and Mick Foley easily stole the show with their Hardcore Match; Mrs. Foley's baby boy finally got his proper WrestleMania moment.

And that concludes Part 2 of our countdown - click HERE for part 3.....

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