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Friday, March 29, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 32

Jeezus, this show just didn't end.  I think it's still going on.....

AT&T Stadium - 4.3.16

Vince McMahon's stubborn refusal to move on from the Roman Reigns pet project continued with 'Mania 32, as Reigns would challenge WWE Champion Triple H (Yes, Hunter Hearst Helmsley was WWE Champion in 2016.  For fuck's sake.) and theoretically send everyone home jubilant.  Except that by 2016 Reigns was as unpopular as ever, and this main event took place in front of a crowd that had already sat through SIX HOURS of wrestling.  But we'll get to that.  Let's take a look at the "biggest" WrestleMania of all time.  And by "biggest" I mean "most reminiscent of being stuck in a well for several days as a senile old man bludgeons you with a loaded colostomy bag."  This show went on FOREVER.

The three pre-show matches all roughly amounted to filler.  Kalisto vs. Ryback was the best of them and really should've been included on the PPV (instead of the stupid battle royal).  Kalisto looked good and had surprisingly okay chemistry with Ryberg.  The 10-Diva match was actually watchable and just about everyone got some time to do stuff.  The Usos-Dudleyz bout was your basic free TV match.  Meh.

The real show kicked off with the 7-man Ladder Match, as I suspected it would.  I wasn't much looking forward to this, but I'll be damned if they didn't knock it outta the park with this one.  Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn carried the majority of the workload, and based on their innate chemistry it understandably gave this spotfest a big boost.  Sin Cara, Zack Ryder and Dolph Ziggler all got a big spot or two as well.  The crazy moments in this match were much more memorable than in 2015's Ladder Match, and while Ryder winning this just to drop the Title to Miz 24 hours later (They seriously couldn't have given it to Sami and had his feud with Owens be for the belt?  Ya know, to make the Intercontinental Title mean something?), I liked this match a lot; much more than the previous year's Ladder Match.

Zayn is a madman

Next up was AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho, part 4.  This got 17 minutes and was easily the best these two produced, but also had a nonsensical ending, as Jericho beat AJ to tie their series 2-2.  The next night AJ would win a great Fatal 4-Way and become the new #1 Contender.  So why'd he lose this match??  Still this was a damn fine undercard bout and a strong Match of the Night contender.

One of the best dropkicks in the biz

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 31

And we're past enumerated WrestleManias, moving on to symbols instead.....

Levi Stadium - 3.29.15

WrestleMania 31 (or Play Button as Vince apparently wants it known) had probably the worst buildup in over a decade.  There was almost no urgency to the product leading into this show, and my expectations were as low as I can remember for a WrestleMania.  As it turned out though, this was a very solid PPV featuring several good-to-very good matches and no real stinkers.  I've read some reviews of 'Mania 31 calling it one of the best WrestleManias of all-time (Dave Meltzer initially called it one of the best shows he'd ever seen but dialed back his praise on a second viewing).  Personally I find that assessment waaaaaay overboard.  I mean let's be honest, this show was nowhere near as good as 'Manias 17 or 19.  Come on.  Hell, it wasn't even on par with 'Mania 30.  This PPV had several good matches but no all-timers, some great results and some not so great, not nearly enough wrestling for a four-hour broadcast (The seven matches totaled about 100 minutes which is downright skimpy), and the longest match was in my opinion the worst by far.

There were two preshow matches (I will never understand why WWE can't fit nine matches on a four-hour PPV when they routinely fit eight on a three-hour one), and one of them was quite entertaining.  The Fatal 4-Way tag match had highspots galore and lots of fun tandem offense that showcased three of the four teams (Sadly Jey Uso sat out the match with a legit shoulder injury).  Cesaro & Kidd won as expected, and I liked Cesaro's douchy heel move of letting Jimmy Uso hit his finisher on Big E, tossing Jimmy out of the ring and covering E himself.  Fun way to open the festivities.

The Battle Royal on the other hand I found rather pointless.  The only participant who gained anything from it was Damien Mizdow (and by proxy The Miz I guess), when he finally turned babyface and nearly eliminated Big Show to win the whole thing.  And of course the company followed up on Mizdow's crowd support with....nothing.  Overall WWE wasted several opportunities to make some underneath guys look good - The New Day all got owned by Show and looked stupid in the process, Hideo Itami from NXT was given about thirty seconds to shine before also being punked out by Show (How pissed d'ya suppose Triple H was by this?), and finally Mizdow failed to get the job done in the end.  The announcers pushed the whole "Big Show has never won a battle royal" thing, but was anyone really clamoring to finally see that happen?  This ended up being another one of those matches that didn't help anyone.

D-Bry becomes a Grand Slam Champion


Moving along to the main card.  The Seven-Man I-C Ladder Match opened the show as I figured it would, and it was a fun watch that didn't really feature anything we haven't seen before.  Once it was over it was forgotten, like a run-of-the-mill Adam Sandler movie (back when he was funny).  Obviously Daniel Bryan winning the one Title he'd never held was a great moment, and had he not suffered another injury shortly thereafter I've no doubt he would've revitalized the I-C Title much as Cena did with the US.  As for the multi-man Ladder Match I think it's time to retire the concept, for a while at least.  There's simply nothing more to do with these matches.  Every conceivable high spot with ladders has been done it would seem, and each of these matches now blurs into the rest.  What's most significant about this match now is that it was Daniel Bryan's final 'Mania match for a while, and he became a Grand Slam Champion.

Next up was one of the two high points of the night - Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins.  At the time I was flabbergasted how early this was placed, but by the end it made sense.  Orton and Rollins nearly tore the house down as expected.  The bout was fast-paced and featured multiple intricately timed spots, including a breathtaking finish where Orton countered a Curb Stomp attempt into an RKO.  Unfortunately these two were only given 13 minutes so the match wasn't able to get out of ****1/4 territory.  Had it gone five minutes longer we'd probably be looking at a Match of the Year candidate.

Those five minutes could've easily been taken away from match #3.  Personally I found Triple H vs. Sting a pretty wretched affair.  They started out having an okay match and after ten minutes it disintegrated into a total Seniors Tour clusterfuck involving DX and the nWo attempting to brawl around ringside.  The live crowd went nuts for this, but I spent the next ten minutes groaning.  In the first place this match was never supposed to be about WWF vs. WCW.  Sting even said as much in his promo.  But ol' Vince couldn't help shoehorning that tired, fifteen-year-old concept into the proceeding.  Second, why on Earth would the nWo ever rush to Sting's aid?  They were mortal enemies in WCW (minus the idiotic Wolfpac angle), and two of the three members are Hunter's best friends!  Not to mention all three are obviously working for WWE now.  None of this lunacy made any sense, and when it was over we were once again left with the takeaway "WCW are poopyheads, WWE rules!"  This match felt like it was booked by a child.  I half-expected a reveal that Will Ferrell and the kid from The Lego Movie were behind it all.

This broke the Guinness record for oldest combined age in a wrestling ring

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XXX

It's time to talk about YES-tleMania!

Superdome - 4/6/14

2014's installment was probably the only time I can remember where the fans wielded so much power that WWE was forced to overhaul the lineup of their biggest show of the year.  The originally planned headliner was Randy Orton vs. Batista for the WWE Title.  I'm not sure how anyone in the company thought that was a fitting main event for WrestleMania, but the fans reacted to this development with unbridled hostility.  Add to that the departure of CM Punk (slated to face Triple H) and the surge of fan support for Daniel Bryan, and Vince eventually changed everything around, making Bryan's journey to the Championship the main story thread of the night.

First up, the pre-show Fatal 4-Way Tag match was a fun, action-packed bout and would've been a welcome hot opener on any card.  It really should've been exactly that on the actual PPV.  Nice to see The Usos retain, and even nicer to see Cesaro turn on Jack Swagger and begin his rise to singles stardom.  More on that later.

The PPV itself opened with the obligatory Hulk Hogan host segment, but Steve Austin and The Rock made surprise appearances, and seeing all three in the ring together was certainly historic.  Unfortunately the segment lasted twenty-five minutes.  Twenty-Five.  Look, I get that this was a really special moment, having these three in the ring at the same time, but this is WrestleMania.  This night should by and large be about the actual wrestling and the promos should be kept to a minimum.  A promo is meant to sell a match or an event.  We've already purchased the event, so what are you selling us at this point?

Anyway getting past that, the opening match (which incidentally didn't begin until 38 minutes in!) was the much-anticipated Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H main event qualifier.  And as expected it was an epic duel.  Both guys played their roles to perfection and told a helluva Face-In-Peril story for 26 minutes.  As predicted, Bryan won the match clean to propel himself into the WWE Title match, but Hunter attacked him after the bell in the hopes of rendering him too injured to compete later on.  Made perfect sense and beautifully enhanced the drama of Bryan's quest.

One of the more symbolic feuds in WWE history...

The Shield vs. Kane & The New Age Outlaws bout was rather a disappointment as I had hoped for a solid eight minutes.  But Ambrose, Rollins & Reigns made the most of their allotted three minutes and emerged once again as a dominant faction about to have much bigger fish to fry.

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XXIX

Once in a Lifetime!  And by "once," we mean "once plus one"......

MetLife Stadium - 4/7/13

'Mania 29 will go down as one of the least exciting PPVs ever.  It wasn't good enough or bad enough to be very memorable.  It's a completely middle-of-the-road WrestleMania that didn't really advance any storylines or elevate anyone.  The three main event matches featured four part-timers and only two current stars.  Two of the three main events were unnecessary rematches of recent bouts that weren't good enough to warrant a second go-around.  It didn't feel like the company took any risks whatsoever with this event, and the result and quality of nearly every match was terribly predictable.

First the pluses: to be fair a few of the undercard matches were fun.  The opening six-man between The Shield and Randy Orton/Sheamus/Big Show accomplished perfectly what any good opening match should.  It was high energy, showcased some young, exciting talent, and got the crowd hyped.

The Tag Team Title match of Team Hell No vs. Dolph Ziggler and Big E. Langston was also solid, though too short to be significant.  But at least Daniel Bryan finally got a real match at WrestleMania, and even got the win.

Chris Jericho and Fandango had an unexpectedly good match that seemed to start Fandango's WWE career off with a bang.  Of course the company didn't follow up on it and so Jericho put him over for nothing.  Stuff like this is why a scatterbrained 68-year-old shouldn't be booking the show.

The Undertaker and CM Punk predictably stole the show with a dramatic and memorable 4-star bout that showed Punk able to hold his own against The Phenom.  For the first time in many years it seemed The Streak might actually be in jeopardy, and in hindsight given what happened the following year they probably should've just let Punk be the guy to end it.  It would've done more for Punk than it did for Brock.  2013 was the year Punk became Jobber to the Part-Timers and it was instrumental in his leaving the company in 2014.  Throw the guy a frickin' bone.

Wow, this wallpaper's BOSS.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XXVIII

Another potentially great WrestleMania ruined by stupidity....

SunLife Stadium - 4/1/12

And here's Part 2 of WWE's slap in the face to Daniel Bryan and Sheamus fans of all ages....

'Mania 28 was a good show.  I daresay it was a very good show.  And it was also one of the more disappointing 'Manias because it could and should have been a truly great show.  It was one match away from achieving greatness.  One match away from four of the eight matches on the card being heralded as classics.  I'll give you three guesses which match I'm referring to.  Go on, think about it, I can wait.....

Imagine my relief when the opening bell rang and the ring announcer declared, "The opening contest is for the World Heavyweight Championship."  Fantastic!  Daniel Bryan and Sheamus got screwed last year, but WWE is making amends by giving them a second chance to fight at WrestleMania, and for the World Title no less!  This is gonna be a great match and I don't even care that it's on first!  My excitement would last eighteen seconds.  One Brogue Kick later, I found myself in the exact same state of unbridled rage as I had a year earlier.  So Sheamus and Daniel Bryan were cheated out of a WrestleMania moment not once, but TWICE.  I just wish I could've been in on the creative meeting where the "18 seconds" decision was made.  I just want to hear the logic that was used to rationalize this booking.  Just a few points for Vince and his creative team:

1. Whether you realize it or not, both Sheamus and Daniel Bryan are very over with a good portion of the audience and those people are really looking forward to this match, especially since they didn't get it last year.  Making this a one-move match will really piss those people off and you'll already have lost them for the rest of the show (which is how I reacted - I seriously didn't care about the rest of the show until Match #7).

2. How do you expect Sheamus to get over as a top-flight babyface when he just won the World Title by essentially sucker-punching his heel opponent?  In what universe is that a good way for a babyface to get over?

3. How much does it cheapen the second most important Title in the company to have it change hands in an 18-second opening contest?

4. Why would you ever charge your audience $70 a pop for an event and then intentionally not deliver on one of the top four advertised matches?  What did you think was going to happen?

Stupidest decision ever made by human beings.

Anyway you all know the rest, the fans were highly pissed and all but ruined the second match, Randy Orton vs. Kane (which was actually a pretty good contest) by chanting "Daniel Bryan" for the next 20 minutes.  Thus began the trend of live crowds hijacking WWE shows in support of Mr. Bryan.  Obviously in hindsight this little 18-second incident helped catapult Bryan to where he is today, but so would an amazing 15-minute war where Sheamus just barely eked out a win (which would've gotten Sheamus over as well).

Bad decision #2 was next, as Intercontinental Champion Cody Rhodes, who was in the middle of a great run and hoped to break the Honky Tonk Man's 15-month record, lost to The Big Show in a five-minute throwaway bout (Rhodes would win the title back four weeks later, making this title change pointless).

Bad decision #3 followed as celebrity guest (God I'm tired of those) Maria Menounos teamed with Kelly Kelly to face Divas Champion Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres.  After an okay four-minute women's match, Beth got pinned by Maria.  I'd like to repeat that: the physically gifted and imposing Divas Champion, accomplished pro wrestler Beth Phoenix got pinned by Access Hollywood co-host Maria Menounos.  See what I mean about celebrity guests making the business look stupid?

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XXVII

What a disappointing bag of crap this show turned out to be....

GeorgiaDome - 4/3/11

Oh man, this segment and the next are going to exhume all kinds of buried anger.  Just warning you...

'Mania 27 ranks at #2 on the Most Disappointing WrestleManias list.  Not since 15 was so much potential wasted at the biggest show of the year.  For the first time in several years, three new uppercard heels were featured prominently on the card, the WWE Title match included a first-time champion, and a large contingent of young, rising talent was given some of the 'Mania spotlight.  Then everything went to Hell.

**Note: I did not read any internet wrestling news the day of this show so any last minute card-shuffling was unknown to me when the show started.**

I knew something was wrong right out of the gate when 'Mania host The Rock opened the show with a pointless, meandering monologue that went on for 15 minutes and actually, I sh*t you not, included him leading the fans in a "Wrestle! Mania!" call and answer.  Fif. Teen. Minutes.

Then bafflingly the opening match was the World Title match between Edge and 2011 Royal Rumble winner Alberto Del Rio, in what should've been Del Rio's breakout match.  Instead what transpired was a very good eleven-minute hot opener where #1 of WWE's three new top heels failed to close the deal and went home a loser.

Next was a very solid midcard match between Rey Mysterio and Cody Rhodes that oddly got more time than the World Title match.  But it was a fine contest so I didn't complain.

Third was an 8-man tag that could've been a fun, wild brawl.....had it been given more than 90 seconds.  Yup.  Ninety seconds.  The Corre vs. Big Show/Kane/Santino Marella/Kofi Kingston was given less time than it's taken me to write this paragraph.  Their ring entrances lasted longer than the match.  I can't imagine in my wildest daydreams why this match wasn't simply bumped off the main card.

Up next was another very good match - CM Punk vs. Randy Orton.  Finally Punk would be given a real 'Mania match that went into double digits.  These two told a really great story and delivered a near show-stealer.  Unfortunately as with Punk's 'Mania 26 match, WWE decided to give the babyface the win in the first encounter, making the subsequent PPV rematch unnecessary and devoid of any heat.  Score 0 for 2 for the WWE's new top heels.

Match #5.  Sigh.....  Announcer Michael Cole vs. Wrestler-turned-Announcer Jerry Lawler.  WWE had turned Cole heel months earlier and thus the announce table became a massive, non-stop bickering session for every TV taping.  These two could barely concentrate on whatever match was happening in front of them every night because they were constantly cutting into each other.  Just painful to listen to.  Now I gave this program the benefit of the doubt and thought it would lead to a mildly entertaining 5-minute beatdown on Cole which would really get the crowd going.  Instead we were subjected to nearly 14 minutes of Cole beating up Lawler (?!), after which Lawler made his comeback and won the match, after which the Anonymous RAW General Manager (one of the worst ongoing angles ever) disqualified Lawler due to referee Steve Austin's physical involvement in the match (one of the worst-ever uses of Steve Austin).  Fourteen minutes this match got.

Yup, this got more time than the World Heavyweight Championship.

The match of the night was next, as Triple H attempted to end The Undertaker's 'Mania streak, and while full of typical No-Disqualification shortcuts, these two put on a very dramatic, brutal fight with some great nearfalls.  My only complaint about the match itself is that the final ten minutes mostly consisted of big move-two count-rest repeated several times.  Cut five minutes out of this 29-minute bout and you'd have an easy ****1/2 star rating.  The match ended with Taker submitting Triple H in the Hell's Gate, followed by Hunter walking out under his own power and the exhausted Taker needing to be stretchered out.  This segment from entrances to exits took about 50 minutes, which was totally excessive.  Side note: I don't wanna hear anyone ever claim AEW does too many finisher kickouts, as this match had seven of them.  Seven.  Three Pedigrees, two Tombstones, a Last Ride, and a chokeslam.  If you were find with that, kindly sit the fuck down with the complaints about AEW doing that sort of thing.


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

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.

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 25

Time to talk about the 25th Anniversary....of the year before WrestleMania started!



Reliant Stadium - 4/5/09

Speaking of WrestleMania cards I wasn't excited about, we now arrive at the "25th Anniversary" of WrestleMania (good lord that marketing drove me nuts - does WWE think people can't count?).  Early 2009 was an extremely stagnant time for the company, where the same 5 or 6 wrestlers were being shuffled around the same 5 or 6 spots and no new talent was breaking into the main event scene.  If you take the seven participants in the top three matches of 'Mania 24 and compare them to the top three matches of 25, swap out Flair for The Big Show and you have the same seven guys.  Couple this with very poor buildup for both Championship matches and you have a recipe for an anemic WrestleMania season.  As it turned out though, the show was pretty good. 

Triple H vs. Randy Orton took the main event slot and despite an awful, awful buildup (Explain to me again why I'm supposed to cheer for the all-powerful McMahon family just because Randy Orton beat them up?  Didn't Steve Austin make a megaface career out of beating up the McMahons?) and a suitably disinterested live crowd, they managed to salvage a solid Title match out of it.  But really the only good segment leading up to this match was when Orton handcuffed Triple H to the bottom rope and forced him to watch Stephanie be DDT'd and kissed by his arch-rival.  Then the following week all the tension was immediately diffused as Triple H broke into Orton's house and beat the snot out of him.  I thought the whole point of the PPV match was to get the audience to want to see the villain get his comeuppance.  If that happens a week before the big match, why should we care?  Also given the highly personal nature of this feud, you'd think WWE would've made the match a no-DQ match of some sort.  Instead the only stip was that if Hunter got disqualified he'd lose the Title.

Oh look, it's the only good part of this feud

The Smackdown Title match was a Triple Threat that I was equally blase about - Edge vs. John Cena vs. The Big Show.  Their feud centered around some twisted love triangle with Vickie Guerrero, yadda yadda.  Bottom line is that the match was actually really entertaining.  I was very shocked by how much fun it ended up being.

But the real standout of 'Mania 25 was of course the epic 30-minute war between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.  I honestly didn't get caught up in the build for this match either and by this point was so fed up with WWE's lack of star-building that I half-expected this to be mediocre.  I was wholly incorrect, as these two legends showed us all how it's done, with masterful storytelling, a couple of insane dives that probably should've killed each of them, and a few of the most shocking false finishes anyone had ever seen.  This match ended up being one for the ages.

Monday, March 25, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XXIV

For the second year in a row WWE delivered a shockingly good 'Mania....

Citrus Bowl - 3/30/08

After four years, WrestleMania returned to the roman numeral naming convention.  This was one of those PPVs that completely defied my expectations.  I went into this show not being very excited about anything except Undertaker vs. Edge.  I didn't care at all about the Orton-Cena-Triple H feud, didn't really want to see Ric Flair wrestle anymore at his advanced age, and most certainly didn't care about Floyd Mayweather.  But 'Mania 24 ended up being a pretty great show that really delivered where it counted.

Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair was one of the most emotional matches I've ever seen.  Michaels obviously deserves a lot of the credit for making this match great, as he bumped around like crazy, per usual.  But Flair's storytelling was also off the charts and he emoted wonderfully, making the audience really care about his career-ending journey.  The final seconds of the match when Flair tearfully begged Shawn to hit the superkick, followed by the sorrow on Shawn's face, made for one of the most memorable of all 'Mania moments.

The kick that ended Flair's career........it's gettin' a little dusty in here.....

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.  And 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.  Why the company thought this nothing match would ever evoke memories of Hogan vs. Andre on anything but a purely superficial level, I'm sure I dunno.

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.

Friday, March 22, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 22

We've fully entered the John Cena Era, as WrestleMania returns to Chicago....

Rosemont Horizon - 4/2/06

'Mania 22 reminds me a little of the old-school WrestleManias, where there was a whole host of different kinds of matches and a little something for everyone.  It ended up being a much more fun show that I expected, particularly since I was less than thrilled about most of the matches going in.
WWE was fully in "I'll do what I want and you'll like it" mode in 2006, making booking decisions that were absurdly perplexing to many of the fans.  John Cena was not getting over in the expected fashion, as about half the crowd started booing him on a regular basis.  His match here against Triple H was possibly the most infamous example of this, as easily half the Chicago crowd were rabidly cheering for Hunter to destroy WWE's new posterboy.  The match itself was very solid, partly thanks to the fans in the arena, and Hunter repeated his 'Mania 20-ending tapout in the center of the ring to help elevate Cena.

This looks awfully familiar....

The Smackdown brand's champion Kurt Angle defended his Title in a Triple Threat against Randy Orton and 2006 Rumble winner Rey Mysterio, in a match that fell horribly short of expectations due to the time constraints.  I'll never understand why this match only got 9 minutes when it was supposed to elevate Mysterio to the main event.  It was an excellent free TV match but just an okay 'Mania bout, and Mysterio would go on to have one of the worst Title reigns of all time as the company seemingly went out of its way to bury him in every non-title match.

Conversely one match that got a stupidly excessive amount of time was Shawn Michaels vs. Vince McMahon, in a glorified 18-minute squash.  This match was completely one-sided for almost the entire duration and most of the action was run-of-the-mill garbage stuff until Shawn hit an elbow drop off a 12-foot ladder, smashing Vince through a table.  Eighteen minutes for one memorable spot.  Simply stunning.

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 21

2005: WWE banks on two new top babyfaces.....

Staples Center - 4/3/05

'Mania 21 is a show that has grown on me considerably over the years.  At the time it aired I wasn't that excited about it because most of my favorite wrestlers (Benoit, Jericho, Edge, Eddie) were being pushed to the background to make room for the OVW alumni like Randy Orton, Batista and John Cena.  I understood why the company was pushing these guys but I wasn't terribly excited about any of them.  I also knew they could never top the main event of 'Mania 20, so this show seemed anticlimactic.  Curiously 'Mania 21 is notable for not having any tag team matches whatsoever, which is a sad commentary on the state of the tag division at that point.  But in retrospect WrestleMania 21 was a pretty damn solid show, even if it petered out in the final third.

As with 'Mania 8 most of the good matches were placed early on the card.  Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero opened the show and while it failed to live up to their late 90s WCW work (and Rey struggled with mask malfunctions basically the whole match), it was still a strong way to open the show and get the crowd energized.

Next up was the first-ever Money in the Bank ladder match, which began a five-year regular WrestleMania feature, and would later spawn its own PPV event.  Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Edge, Kane, Christian and Shelton Benjamin put on a wild, chaotic spotfest that elevated Edge to semi-main event status and would lead to him becoming one of the company's top stars.

Edge finally climbs into the Title picture.

The Undertaker's streak continued as he faced Randy Orton in the third slot.  This match was a return to form for Taker (who had few, if any memorable bouts in 2004) and a real boon to Orton's career after a recent failed main event run.  These two worked extremely well together and would have a series of strong matches throughout 2005.

Bafflingly WWE chose to have Diva Search winner Christy Hemme challenge Trish Stratus for the Women's Title, and the results were predictably awful.  Lita had unfortunately suffered a legit injury at New Year's Revolution, preventing this show from including a quality Trish-Lita bout.

Far and away the Match of the Night (and WWE's best match of 2005) was the interbrand challenge between Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle.  These two put on a breathtaking 25-minute masterpiece that ranks high on the all-time 'Mania list.  In dramatic fashion Angle forced a rare Shawn Michaels tapout with the anklelock.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XX

WrestleMania: The Voldemort Edition....

Madison Square Garden - 3/14/04

Speaking of stacked shows, 'Mania 20 boasts probably the most impressive roster of any single WrestleMania card.  The WWE utilized the four-and-a-half hours they were given to cram as many stars on the show as possible.  Once again they returned to the place WrestleMania began - Madison Square Garden, and in front of a no-BS rabid crowd they put on an epic, if uneven showing.

The show started out with an okay US title match that helped establish John Cena as a rising star with a win over The Big Show, continued with the first of two throwaway 4-way Tag Title matches (unfortunately since either or both of them could've been a lot of fun), and then arrived at a pair of 'Mania-worthy bouts.

Chris Jericho and Christian had a mini-classic that ended with a nice Trish Stratus heel turn.  It was good to see both of them get enough time to steal the early part of the show, since neither of them had been used well at all for months.

Next up was a handicap match that was no mat classic but was tremendously entertaining - The Rock & Sock Connection vs. Evolution.  The Rock returned to the WWE for one match only, and with Mick Foley helped elevate Randy Orton and Batista in this wild 5-man brawl.

In the fifth slot was a Playboy Evening Gown match.  Say it with me - WHAT??  First, was a match like this responsible for even a single PPV buy?  Second, Sable and Torrie Wilson had both been in Playboy Magazine, naked.  So why would I want to see a match that's nothing more than an excuse for them to get not quite naked?

The entire Cruiserweight division was shoehorned into one match, which was given way too little time to amount to anything.  There were some decent spots, but this really should've just been a Cruiserweight singles match or maybe a Fatal 4-Way if it was only going ten minutes.

Next was quite possibly the most disappointing match in wrestling history: Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar.  You talk about dream matches, this battle of monsters was very high on the list.  Given fifteen minutes or so, these two could've beaten the absolute crap out of each other and left the crowd exhausted.  Unfortunately it was the last WWE match for both of them (until 2012 anyway), and neither guy seemed to care even slightly about going out with a bang.  Plus the MSG crowd knew they were both leaving and ripped them apart.  The crowd were the real stars here, since their reaction was way more interesting than anything happening in the ring.  Brock and Goldie would reconvene 13 years later to try and redeem themselves with a well-received five-minute sprint, but this sucked out loud.

Seriously, I'm pretty sure this was the first half of the match.

Oscar Film Journal: Alibi (1929)

Back with another super old-school Best Picture nominee to talk about in this installment of the Oscar Film Journal....


Yup, I'm still toiling in the Roarin' 20s, with a second-year nominee from 1929, Roland West's gangster film Alibi, starring Chester Morris and Mae Busch.  This very clunky early talkie centers around a mobster named Chick Williams, who's just been released from prison and elopes with his sweetheart Joan.  Joan's father and suitor are both high-ranking cops hell-bent on taking Chick down.  One night a robbery takes place at a warehouse during which a policeman gets shot, and Joan's father Pete and her jealous would-be fiancĂ© detective Tommy Glennon decide to do whatever it takes to pin the crime on Chick, despite Chick's seemingly airtight alibi.  The film plays with our sympathies as the story unfolds, presenting the police as immoral and crooked, and willing to intimidate or even torture a witness to get a confession, but later we realize the charismatic Chick Williams perhaps isn't the police harassment victim we were led to believe he is.  And poor Joan is caught in the middle of all these weak, angry men and their schemes.

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XIX

Despite a pretty bad build, WWE managed to pull off a classic show in 2003, my personal favorite.

Safeco Field - 3/30/03

This is still one of the most stacked cards I've ever seen.  I can't recall any other WWE PPV where the last five matches are good enough and/or big enough to be a main event.  'Mania 19 is really quite something.

The main event was Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title, and this marked the first WWE PPV since December 1997 wher the main event did not include Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, or the Undertaker.  For someone like me who was burned out on the Attitude Era Big Four, this was a real breath of fresh air.  Angle and Lesnar put on a wrestling clinic that featured suplexes and reversals galore, and culminated in one of the most frightening botched spots in wrestling history. 
Brock Lesnar went for a Shooting Star Press, a move he had performed dozens of times in OVW and planned to debut in a WWE ring.  Unfortunately he positioned Angle two-thirds of the way across the ring and there was no way he could've gotten both the distance needed and the rotation.  Lesnar landed on his head and ended up pushing Angle out of the way.  It's a miracle he squeaked by with only a concussion.  But they finished the match and it was a classic.


How this didn't result in Lesnar's untimely demeez is beyond me.

If Angle-Lesnar was the #1 match of 'Mania 19, Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho was #1A.  In a classic student vs. teacher-type bout, Shawn proved himself just as good as before he walked away from the ring in 1998, and Jericho proved himself just as good as Michaels (no small feat by any stretch).  This was a dazzling mix of aerial wrestling, mat technique, and plain ol' drama.  Personally I think Jericho should've won, but his kick to Shawn's junk after the match was a great exclamation point on a fantastic bout.

Say it with me: Right. In. The Dick.

'Mania 19 had a pair of huge marquee matches late in the card, the first of which was Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon's violent, bloody brawl that should've been a stinker but ended up pretty damn good, if about five minutes too long.  The match features probably my favorite evil Vince moment, as the camera zoomed in on him peeking menacingly over the ring apron while clutching a lead pipe.
The second match of this one-two combination was the final Rock-Austin encounter; their third WrestleMania match and their fifth PPV match overall.  It ended up being Austin's swan song and allowed him to pass a torch of sorts to The Rock (who also left the company shortly thereafter, but finally got a PPV win over his old rival).  It was arguably better than their 'Mania 15 match but not as good as the 'Mania 17 one.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: X8

The nWo invades WrestleMania, while the WWF Champion feuds with a bulldog....

Skydome - 3/17/02

Here's an example of a PPV far exceeding my expectations.  At the time I was not very excited about most of the show and figured everything other than the Triple H-Jericho Title match would be mediocre at best.  Bringing in the nWo was just baffling to me, as the WWF didn't need the extra star power or backstage headaches at that point.  But thanks in large part to the rabid Toronto crowd, this show ended up being pretty good.

The WWF Title match looked spectacular on paper, but unfortunately between the abysmal build (seriously, the WWF Champion is relegated to fetching hand cream for Stephanie McMahon and walking her dog??) and the exhausted fans, the match was only about a 3-star affair.  The Triple H-Jericho feud was a prime example of how NOT to hype a big match.  It was presented as a foregone conclusion that Hunter was walking out with the belts and that Jericho was little more than a placeholder.  The match itself was perfectly fine - overdub a hot crowd over it and it would probably gain about a half-star - but it just didn't belong in the main event slot.

In a rare case of a semi-main that should've trumped the WWF Title bout, The Rock and Hulk Hogan put on an incredibly entertaining money match.  About half the credit goes to the off-the-charts energy of the audience, but these two did everything they could to make this bout memorable.  It was just the right length and had enough action to be worthy of post-Attitude WWF.  The one negative thing I'll say about Rock vs. Hogan is that it started the WWE's trend of relying on past stars and dream matches with current headliners to sell the big PPVs.  In recent years this has gotten way out of hand, but more on that later.

Well Rock, are you surprised?  He does this literally EVERY match.

The History of WWE WrestleMania: X-Seven

The Attitude Era reaches its peak with a milestone WrestleMania....

Reliant Astrodome - 4/1/01

Quite simply a masterpiece.  Not only one of the best WrestleManias of all time, but one of the greatest wrestling cards ever assembled.  'Mania 17 was the first PPV that was universally regarded as unequivocally superior to WrestleMania III, both in terms of the in-ring product and the scope of the show.  Hogan vs. Andre may still be the biggest single match ever promoted, but Rock-Austin II was a monumental event and a Match of the Year contender to boot.

This show is generally considered the climax of the Attitude era, and took place only about a week after the WWF finally conquered and absorbed WCW.  The wrestling industry would never be the same.  The two biggest stars of the late 90s boom squared off for the second time at WrestleMania.  It was Hogan-Andre and Hogan-Warrior rolled into one.

Rock vs. Austin overshadowed its 'Mania 15 counterpart in every respect, featuring better action, an epic 28-minute running time, and a major heel turn.  Both men gushed blood by the end, and Vince McMahon got involved, sliding Austin a chair, which he used to bludgeon The Rock unmercifully to get the pin after the Stunner failed.  The show ended with Austin having "sold his soul," toasting his evil boss for the first time and signaling a new direction for the Rattlesnake.  While in retrospect turning Austin heel was a pretty terrible business decision, at the time it was necessary from a creative standpoint.  The babyface Austin character had become extremely stale and it was clear from watching him that Austin the performer was growing tired of the same shtick week after week.  Watching Steve Austin during his 2001 heel run was a breath of fresh air and you could tell he was having tremendous fun.

Drinkin' beer with The Devil.

In the semi-main slot was Undertaker vs. Triple H, which was a PPV first.  This was a wild brawl that ranged all over the arena, and for the first time the Undertaker's 'Mania streak was really acknowledged AND in serious jeopardy.  Aside from a silly-looking spot where Taker chokeslammed Hunter off a platform and on to a very obviously cushy foam mat (The cameras should've avoided showing Triple H's landing), this was a very entertaining semi-main.  Taker withstood a great-looking sledgehammer shot before hitting The Last Ride to eke out a win.

On the undercard, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit turned in an excellent mat-based contest in the tradition of Savage-Steamboat, Vince and Shane McMahon put on a fine example of sports-entertaining garbage wrestling, and Kane, Raven and The Big Show had a really fun little Hardcore Title match.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 2000

And we've arrived at a new millennium!

Arrowhead Pond - 4/2/00

The year 2000 saw the WWF freshen up its product in a major way.  The influx of WCW castoffs and new homegrown stars led to tremendous improvements in the in-ring product, and the absence of Steve Austin for most of the year forced the company to elevate several other uppercard talents.

That year's WrestleMania goes down as probably the strangest of the bunch, as the roster had gotten so large that everyone had to be crammed into multi-man matches and tag bouts.  In fact this edition of 'Mania featured nary a traditional singles match.

The main event saw entirely too much focus put on the McMahon Family squabbles, as each of the McMahons accompanied one of the participants to the ring.  Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Big Show vs. Mick Foley was a pretty good if overly long main event match, but sadly the company's owners took way too much of the spotlight.  This show holds the distinction of being the first 'Mania card to end with a heel Champion.

Say what you want about him now, but in 2000 Triple H was a BAMF.

Three of the WWF's newest stars got their chance to steal the show as Kurt Angle defended the I-C and European Titles against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit in a 2-Falls Triple Threat.  The match was nothing amazing, but it was a solid showing by three of the company's future main eventers.

Also on the card was a highly entertaining six-person tag match between the Radicalz (Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko & Perry Saturn), and Too Cool & Chyna. The wrong team won, but it was a fun, fast-paced bout.

The match that stole the show however was the three-way ladder match for the Tag Team Titles - The Dudley Boyz vs. Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz.  The WWF was in the midst of a tag team renaissance, and these three teams rose to the top of the division, in no small part due to their performance here.  This match took what Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon had done six years earlier and put the ladder match into overdrive.  The action was violent, explosive, and brutal, and 22 minutes later the TLC match was born.  Edge and Christian won the titles and soon after invented the comedic heel personas that took them to the next level, the Dudley Boyz became synonymous with table spots, and the Hardy Boyz established themselves as fearless daredevils for the rest of their careers.

These six men are obviously psychotic.....

Movie Review: Dune: Part Two


Click here for my review of Dune: Part One.

After nearly two and a half years it's finally here - the long-awaited conclusion (or is it?) to Denis Villeneuve's Dune saga.  Dune: Part Two is an even more masterful and satisfying effort than its predecessor; Part One set up the pieces on the chess board, this one not only shows us the riveting endgame but raises further questions and leaves a few threads open for an (hopefully) inevitable third film.

The story picks up more or less where it left off in Part One; the Harkonnens, on orders from Emperor Shaddam IV (a frail, melancholy Christopher Walken) have carried out their sneak attack to forcibly retake control of Arrakis, killing everyone in House Atreides, or so they think.  Paul and his mother Jessica have escaped into the desert and forged an uneasy alliance with the Fremen (Paul was forced to prove himself by dueling one of their warriors to the death).  Baron Harkonnen's older nephew Rabban has been placed in charge of spice production but Paul and the Fremen begin sabotaging their equipment through targeted raids, thus embarrassing the oafish Rabban.  Meanwhile the Fremen are divided about whether the sudden appearance of Paul and his mother are a sign that the messiah they've awaited for centuries is finally here.  Fremen leader Stilgar (a surprisingly amusing Javier Bardem) believes, and Jessica makes a choice to convert the skeptics (mostly so Paul, Jessica and her unborn daughter will forever be protected), but some of the younger Fremen like Chani (a splendid Zendaya) think the prophecy was invented so the Bene Gesserit sisterhood could control them.

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XV

1999: Vince Russo leaves a turd in the WrestleMania punchbowl....

First Union Center - 3/28/99

'Mania 15 holds the distinction, at least according to me, of being the most disappointing WrestleMania in history.  Never before or since has the WWF/E possessed all the tools, talent, and momentum to put on an unforgettable PPV only to completely squander it in almost every possible way.

First the good (there isn't much): The main event of The Rock defending the WWF Title against Steve Austin is a fine match.  Full of crazy brawling and guest referee shenanigans, it captured perfectly the peak of the Vince Russo era, for better or worse.  Rock and Austin would be hard-pressed to have a bad match, so this was just fine (though they would go on to top this match on PPV not once, not twice, but thrice).  It felt more like a good RAW match but given how bad the rest of this PPV is, I'll take it.

This match is the only reason to watch 'Mania 15.

The only other decent matches on this show are Shane McMahon vs. X-Pac, which far exceeded my low expectations (though it really should've been Test in Shane's spot), the Owen/Jarrett vs. Test/D-Lo Tag Title match (which was good but way too short), and the 4-way I-C Title match of the Road Dogg vs. Ken Shamrock vs. Goldust vs. Val Venis.  Now originally Billy Gunn was supposed to be the I-C Champion going in, and Road Dogg was the Hardcore Champ, but Vince Russo decided to swerve everyone and have them switch places, which made no sense and hurt the opening Hardcore Title match.

The other good thing to come out of this show was the Triple H/Chyna double heel turn angle.  During Hunter's match with Kane, heel Chyna turned on the Big Red Monster to reunite with Hunter.  Then during X-Pac's match, they both turned heel on Mr. Waltman, joining the Corporation.  It bordered on convoluted (as did pretty much every angle of the time), but it was a nice double-twist.
The rest of the show consisted of matches that were either too short (Mankind vs. Big Show), forgettable (Sable vs. Tori), or just boring (Undertaker vs. Big Bossman in the worst Hell in a Cell match of all time).

Monday, March 18, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XIV

WrestleMania raids my hometown to kick off the Austin Era....

Fleet Center - 3/29/98

It's fitting that 'Mania 14 took place on the anniversary of 'Mania 3.  The 14th edition was to the late 90s WWF as the 3rd was to the late 80s.  In both cases a major star (with serious back problems) seemingly nearing the end of his career passed the torch to the man of the hour, and a major boom period followed.

In the main event, Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels for the WWF Title, which kicked off possibly the most successful financial run any single wrestler has ever enjoyed.  The match itself, while not a five-star classic, was a very strong main event, and Shawn's performance is nothing short of a miracle given how badly he was hurting at the time.  This would be his final match for over four years.  On the outside of the ring was celebrity guest Mike Tyson, whose presence sparked a media frenzy which garnered a ton of mainstream hype for the event.  This, my friends, is how you utilize a celebrity guest star in wrestling.

The semi-main event slot went to the Undertaker and his onscreen brother Kane.  The buildup for this match lasted about nine months, from the original announcement that Taker had a brother.  When Kane finally debuted, the company did an excellent job of establishing him as an unstoppable monster, and held off giving away too much physical interaction between him and Taker.  By the time this match finally took place it truly felt like Taker would be facing his ultimate adversary, and the match didn't disappoint. This was arguably Taker's best 'Mania match to date and was also a career-making match for Kane.

It's like King Kong vs. Godzilla!  OH MY GAHD!!!

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 13

A "lost smile" threw a wrench into the WWF's plans for WrestleMania 13, but they managed to make some lemonade.  Mixed metaphors.....

Rosemont Horizon - 3/23/97 

1997 was the WWF's ratings nadir during the Monday Night War with WCW.  They were right in the middle of an 82-week trouncing, and their PPV buyrates reflected that - 'Mania 13 did an abysmal .72 I believe.

But early '97 was also the very beginning of the Attitude era, before the WWF even fully acknowledged that the business was radically changing.  Snow-white babyface characters were no longer cool to cheer for; instead it was a foul-mouthed, beer-swilling, redneck bully named Steve Austin who captured the fans' imagination and became their hero.  The company was about to switch gears in a major way.

The WWF's original plan for WrestleMania 13's centerpiece was a rematch of Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels from the previous year.  Shawn apparently suffered a knee injury just 6 weeks before the big show (which may or may not have faked, to avoid doing the job for Bret) and announced that he'd be taking time off indefinitely, thus relinquishing the WWF Title.  This left the company scrambling for a new main event to build the show around. 

Sucky main event, but this was a nice moment

Two title changes later, and the belt was back around the waist of Sycho Sid, who it was announced would be defending against The Undertaker (marking the first time Taker would challenge for a championship at WrestleMania).  Seemingly Taker and Sid tried to emulate the Taker-Diesel match from 'Mania 12, but unfortunately it failed to live up to that match, and a subpar main event was the result.  This match went too long and, as was often the case, Sid looked lost for much of it.  Taker finally won the WWF Title however, giving the show a feel-good ending.

The other big matchup was the aforementioned Steve Austin vs. an angry, edgier Bret Hart in a no holds barred Submission match, with UFC import Ken Shamrock as the guest referee.  The ensuing battle was nothing short of legendary.  From an action standpoint there have certainly been better matches (including Bret-Austin 1 at Survivor Series '96, IMO), but I can't think of a better example of pure storytelling in a wrestling match (in WWE at least).  Bret went into this match the babyface and left a reviled, vicious heel.  Austin went into the match a nasty bully and emerged as a gallant, tough-as-nails anti-hero.  The visual of Austin being trapped in Bret's Sharpshooter as torrents of blood streamed down his face became one of pro wrestling's iconic images.  Masterful work by both guys.

Is there a more violently iconic image in the history of wrestling?

Friday, March 15, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XII

Shawn Michaels realizes his Boyhood Dream.....

Arrowhead Pond - 3/31/96

'Mania 12 was a quantum leap over its predecessor in terms of big-show presentation and wrestling quality.  The card featured only six matches (plus one on the pre-show), but the WWF showcased their talented if somewhat shrunken roster plus a few nostalgic stars, with no guest celebrities whatsoever, and the result was a very solid show with few bad spots.

The hot opener was a very strong six-man tag with Vader, Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith facing off with Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson, and Jake Roberts. Yoko had just turned babyface after being scorned by manager Jim Cornette in favor of Vader.  Had Yoko's team won he'd have gotten Cornette in the ring for five minutes.  This star-studded match was fast-paced and helped build the Vader contingent as a dominant heel faction, after Vader took out Jake with a Vader Bomb.

Next up was the bizarre Backlot Brawl between Goldust and Roddy Piper - a very violent, stiff fight shot in the parking lot.  This portion of the "match" taken by itself was pretty solid and accomplished what it needed to.  Unfortunately it led to a lame recurring O.J. Simpson joke throughout the show and ended with Piper stripping Goldust down to his lingerie in the ring.  Not sure you could get away with an ending like this today.

STONE COLD!  STONE COLD!  ST-- Oh wait, that wasn't a thing yet?

In the third slot was the debut of a young lion named Stone Cold Steve Austin, who had a decent midcard bout with Savio Vega.  Nothing mindblowing, but not a bad 'Mania debut for the future Hall of Famer.  Austin won after hitting Savio with manager Ted Dibiase's Million Dollar Belt and slapping on a very bad looking Million Dollar Dream sleeper hold.

The fourth match was the only real throwaway of the night, as rising star Hunter Hearst Helmsley was killed dead by the returning Ultimate Warrior (who would be gone from the company again four months later and did basically nothing to increase ratings).  A pointless 90-second squash on the biggest PPV of the year.  Warrior infamously informed Hunter backstage, "I'm beating you in 90 seconds."  Things would get worse for HHH over the next few months in the wake of his friends Hall & Nash leaving.