Friday, April 8, 2022

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Main Events, Part 3 (#20-11)

Moving on to round 3 of our countdown, here's where we get to the pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good stuff....

Click here for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.

20. 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....

19. 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. 

18. 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.

17. The Rock vs. Steve Austin - WrestleMania XV

The Attitude Era was in full self-indulgent, decadent swing in March of 1999, with Vince Russo overbooking the living shit out of every show.  His crash TV writing style was all over this PPV and the weekly television leading up to it (Imagine giving away a huge match like Austin vs. Big Show on free TV only a month after the latter's debut).  The Rock had been rivaling Steve Austin's popularity in the fall of 1998, and at Survivor Series the company held a tournament to crown a new WWF Champion.  Once Austin was unfairly eliminated The Rock became the fans' clear choice to win, a la Randy Savage a decade earlier.  But then came the big swerve - The Rock was in cahoots with the McMahons the whole time, and his tournament win made him their new Corporate Champion.  Austin was duly pissed and eventually targeted the young titleholder, becoming the #1 contender on a technicality (Vince won the 1999 Royal Rumble but since he forfeited his title shot, runner-up Austin would get it instead).  With that, the two biggest stars in the company faced off at 'Mania.  The match was typical Attitude Era chaos - loads of outside the ring brawling, smashed tables, run-ins from McMahons, substitute referees, etc.  As Vince Russo clusterfucks go, this was a hoot, but it doesn't exactly hold up as an in-ring classic.  Still, the crowd was electric and Austin's third WWF Title win sent them home happy.  It was the one good match on a pretty terrible WrestleMania card.

16. Randy Savage vs. Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania V

The MegaPowers EXPLODE!  One of the greatest long-term angles in WWE history culminated in this WrestleMania V main event.  Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, the two biggest wrestling babyfaces in late 1987, joined forces on Saturday Night's Main Event to form the MegaPowers, an unstoppable force for good.  Hogan helped Savage win the WWF Title at 'Mania 4, the pair teamed up at SummerSlam and Survivor Series, and all seemed well.  But Savage had slowly grown jealous over Hogan's bond with Elizabeth, and the situation came to a head at the second Main Event special in February of '89.  Savage was thrown out of the ring during the MegaPowers-Twin Towers match, accidentally knocking out Elizabeth, and Hogan left him to fend for himself while he brought her to the back for medical attention.  Savage took a beating for several minutes, realized his partner was nowhere to be found, and got duly pissed when Hogan returned.  The Macho Man walked out on Hogan and the match, and the two men got into a heated altercation in the locker room, where Savage pummeled Hogan with the WWF Title and left him laying.  The most emotionally charged WrestleMania main event in history was now on the marquee.  The match was classic Macho Man, a hotly contested, somewhat unruly main event where Savage dominated much of the action.  It was a pretty great match until the ending, when Hogan did his usual Hulk-up comeback in unintentionally comical fashion, puffing his cheeks and bulging his eyes as he no-sold everything.  Hogan kicked out of the Macho Man elbow and hit his big boot-legdrop combination to regain the WWF Title, and Savage was gradually moved down the card on his way to becoming a King.  At the time this was easily the best WrestleMania main event, and it would maintain that status for me until seven years later.  Great stuff until the usual unimaginative Hogan finish.

15. Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin - WrestleMania XIV

The Stone Cold Era began officially on March 29, 1998 (in my hometown of Boston), with a grueling WWF Title win over Shawn Michaels.  I went into this match super-hyped, as Austin and Michaels were my two favorite wrestlers at the time, and the company had brought in Mike Tyson to be the ringside enforcer and bring lots of mainstream attention to the show.  This was a dream main event for me, and while it was a damn fine match it didn't quite live up to my expectations.  The problem was Shawn's back, injured in a casket match with The Undertaker two months earlier.  Shawn began this match in expected high-energy form, but a botched whip into the turnbuckle seemed to aggravate his herniated disc, and he spent the rest of the bout barely gutting it out.  Still the agony on Shawn's face during every move added to the drama, and these two pros managed to put together a pretty great piece of gritty wrestling business.  The finish especially was perfectly executed - Shawn went for Sween Chin Music, Austin ducked and went for the Stunner, Shawn blocked it, shoved him into the ropes and went for another kick, Austin caught his foot, spun him around, kicked him in the gut and stunned him, as Tyson counted the pinfall.  The Boston crowd went apeshit as the Texas Rattlesnake held the title over his head, cementing his place as the new, unlikely face of the company.  Shawn took a Tyson knockout punch to put an exclamation point on the night, and it would be his last match in over four years.  As good as this bout was, I always wonder how much better it would've been had Shawn been at 100%.

14. Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair - WrestleMania 35

The historic main event of WrestleMania 35 marked the first time a women's match would headline the show.  The white-hot Becky Lynch won the 2019 Royal Rumble to punch her ticket to 'Mania, but her animosity with RAW Women's Champion Ronda Rousey went back further than that.  Their paths were supposed to cross at the 2018 Survivor Series, but a real-life broken nose/concussion handed to Becky by Nia Jax derailed plans (and also made Becky an even bigger star), and Charlotte Flair took Becky's place.  Thus anticipation for the Becky-Ronda showdown built for months.  Sadly the company felt Charlotte should be added to make the bout a triple threat; Charlotte vs. Ronda at Survivor Series turned out to be a violent, fiery encounter where Charlotte got herself disqualified and beat the tar out of Ronda with a kendo stick.  So there were unresolved issues between Ronda and both of her challengers, but the addition of Charlotte served to muddy the waters a bit too much, particularly since she was also hastily booked to defeat Smackdown Women's Champion Asuka so as to make this main event a double championship match.  The build became very confusing as the company didn't seem to know who should be sympathetic and who should be antagonistic.  Ronda had been a fan favorite upon her WrestleMania 34 debut but by the end of the year was greeted with increasing crowd hostility, while Charlotte was viewed as being overexposed and overpushed.  But hopes were still high that these three accomplished athletes would deliver in the clutch.  And for their part, they put together a very good main event with a ton of atmosphere.  The company sadly didn't set them up to succeed however, overloading the WrestleMania card with so many matches it was after midnight by the time the main event kicked off.  An exhausted, overspent crowd couldn't be asked to respond with much enthusiasm, and the main event they legitimately wanted to see unfortunately suffered a bit as a result.  Also working against the women was the finish, which saw Becky defeat Ronda not with her Disarm-Her finisher or even a decisive impact move, but with a botched crucifix pin where Ronda's shoulder was visibly off the mat for part of the three-count.  For a groundbreaking WrestleMania main event with so much at stake, this was a mild disappointment, but it still delivered big from a mechanical and character standpoint. 

13. The Rock vs. John Cena - WrestleMania XXVIII

The Once in a Lifetime....Until Next Year dream match between John Cena and The Rock took place in Rocky's hometown of Miami, in front of a vehemently partisan crowd, and was a major financial success for the company.  The bout was set up a year earlier when The Rock returned from a seven-year absence to host WrestleMania and left that show's two main eventers laying in the ring at the end while he celebrated.  A terrible ending to WrestleMania 27, but WWE's long-term planning was to be applauded at least.  The company had an opportunity to build interest for this match at the following Survivor Series as Rock and Cena teamed up to face The Miz and R-Truth, but unfortunately that main event was a glorified 20-minute squash and the two babyfaces co-existed just fine, leading people like me to question the point of it all.  The proper build began shortly before 'Mania 28, as Cena cut one of the most impassioned promos of his career, pointing out that while he was busting his ass week after week, The Rock had abandoned the WWE fans for Hollywood, and Cena needed to win this for the full-time WWE wrestlers.  I couldn't have agreed more; this was one of the few times where I was fully in Cena's corner in terms of the story being told.  But as they were in Miami, such an outcome wasn't in the cards.  For just over thirty minutes the two megastars expertly worked the audience and put together a very good, epic sports-entertainment main event.  I thought this went overly long; surely 25 minutes would've been enough.  But this had a big-fight feel in spades, The Rock looked to be in the best shape of his life, and they told a good story.  Cena kicked out of the first Rock Bottom of the night but fell to a second, to send the pro-Rock crowd home happy.  Their rematch a year later would fall significantly short of this bout.

12. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns - WrestleMania 34

Perhaps the most underrated WrestleMania main event was this rematch from Wrestlemania 31.  The year was 2018, and the Roman Reigns Top Babyface experiment was still chugging along, with no change in the results from three years earlier.  The fans still didn't like Roman in this spot, they still booed him out of the building every night, and the company still refused to turn him heel, using the dipshit excuse that "Any reaction is a good reaction."  Yeah, not when the reaction is precisely the opposite of what you intended.  Regardless, Vince once again stubbornly refused to change his plan, and booked Brock vs. Roman II as the main event of WrestleMania 34.  After a very good undercard featuring Rollins-Balor-Miz, Charlotte-Asuka, Ronda/Angle-Triple H/Steph, the return of Daniel Bryan, and AJ-Nakamura, the New Orleans crowd simply didn't want to see this match, and they let WWE know it.  Chants of "You both suck," "CM Punk," and "This is awful" rang out throughout this match, and Vince hedged his bets in the booking, changing the result the weekend of the show.  Brock shockingly retained the title, Vince holding out hope that by SummerSlam the fans would magically come around to Roman's side (The tone deafness on display was staggering).  So the company gave fans a lot of reasons to hate this match.  It was two guys everyone was thoroughly sick of, it came at the end of a five-hour show, and the finish of the match made the whole thing kinda pointless.  But really sit down and watch this match; it's a helluva fight.  These two monsters beat the absolute shit out of each other, each guy kicked out of numerous finishers, Roman took an elbow shot that split his forehead in two, and it stands as one of the most purely violent spectacles to ever headline a WrestleMania.  Was it as good as their first match?  No.  But was it light years better than the third and fourth?  Absolutely.  I don't care what anyone says, I liked this main event a lot.  As far as I'm concerned it was Roman's second-best WrestleMania main event by far up to that point.  That would change three years later...

11. Roman Reigns vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan - WrestleMania 37, Night 2

The final match of WrestleMania 37's two-night spectacular, this Triple Threat match pitted Universal Champion Roman Reigns, finally a monster heel at long last, against returning legend Edge, ten years removed from his untimely retirement, against perennial fan favorite Daniel Bryan.  Edge had won the 2021 Royal Rumble, entering at #1 and running the table, to challenge Roman at the Show of Shows.  But there was a problem; WWE forgot long ago how to book a likable babyface, and thus painted themselves into a corner by writing Edge as kind of a jerk.  And without someone to root for, an Edge vs. Roman main event would certainly fall flat.  Enter Daniel Bryan, the one man on the roster seemingly immune to inept booking.  No matter how many times they had Bryan lose, he could still get a strong babyface reaction from the crowd.  So Bryan was added to the match after Edge screwed up the Roman-Bryan bout at Fastlane, and suddenly it became much more intriguing.  These three worked a fantastic, chaotic Triple Threat, complete with Jey Uso run-ins, bumps on the ring steps, a broken table spot, a great moment where Bryan and Edge locked in simultaneous crossfaces on Roman and traded headbutts to knock the other guy out, and a controversial but decisive finish where Roman brutalized both men with chairs and stacked them on top of each other before pinning both.  Just an excellent, memorable way to close out the 2021 edition of WrestleMania.

We're almost to the cream of the crop - click HERE for the Top Ten!

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