I’m somewhat late with my Wrestle Mania review this year, thanks to a holiday and the demands of work. On the plus side, that gives me the chance to consider the aftermath of the show on TV and to have a look at the direction if WWE programming for the coming year, as well as looking back at the biggest show of the year. All things considered, this was quite a show, as good a pay per view as the company has staged for a long time and I certainly found it most enjoyable. With that said, let’s have a look at it match by match.
The show began with the World Heavyweight Championship bout that saw Sheamus challenge champion Daniel Bryan. This has been received by many as the big disappointment of the night, being a blink-and-you-missed-it eighteen-second affair. That Sheamus won came as no surprise to most, including myself, though the manner of the victory took everybody by surprise. After their match last year was bumped from the card altogether most of us were hoping that this year would see these two strong performers given a chance to grab some of the limelight. Instead, we saw one Brogue Kick from Sheamus, a cover and an instant pinfall, which many are taking as a great insult to both men but to Daniel Bryan in particular. Nevertheless, it opened the way for Bryan to blame his defeat on girlfriend AJ, which gives him some room to further develop his character and gain some more heat and that is exactly what we saw happen on Raw the next night. It was a disappointment, then, but one that came with possibilities for the future. No real point giving this any marks out of ten, since it was so short.
Next up were Kane and Randy Orton in a match that had largely failed to grasp the imagination of most fans in the build to the show. Nevertheless, this was a competent and enjoyable bout with an ending that I certainly did not see coming and I imagine few others did either. The fact that this feud seemed somewhat thrown together meant that pretty well everybody expected it to end perfunctorily with a victory for Orton but instead WWE opted to give Kane the victory. Since then the feud has intensified, with Orton winning a Street Fight rematch on Smackdown last week, only for both Orton and his father, Cowboy Bob Orton, to fall victim to Kane this week. I’m happy with this outcome. The feud is fun, in my eyes and keeps Randy Orton out of the title picture for the moment, which is no bad thing as that can safely be left to less established stars, such as Sheamus, Daniel Bryan and, of course, the returning Alberto Del Rio. I give this a seven out of ten; both for a good match in its own right and for the subsequent developments.
The next match was the clash between The Big Show and Cody Rhodes and another surprise for me. I certainly expected Show to get some sort of revenge on Rhodes after the way the youngster had consistently embarrassed the big man in the build-up but I never expected Show to score a clean victory. After all, Big Show hardly needs to be Intercontinental Champion at this stage of his career. However, Show certainly sold his victory well, which made it something of a Wrestle Mania “moment” for him, rather than the somewhat irrelevant victory it might easily have been. The match itself was perhaps a little short but then, long matches do not really suit Show’s style and I don’t think this really hurt Cody in the long run. Since then we have seen Show taunting Cody in the same way that Cody taunted him in the weeks prior to Mania, which makes sense and suggests to me that Cody may eventually regain the belt from Show and emerge from this feud stronger than he went into it. Six out of ten, and heading towards seven.
After that it was the Divas tag match, pitting Beth Phoenix and Eve against Kelly Kelly and Dancing With The Stars contestant Maria Menounos. Not too much to say here, really. The good girls won, the bad girls got their come-uppance, and the crowd were into it, at least as much as one can hope for from a Divas match these days and there were some nice spots in the match. It was a little surprising to see Beth Phoenix taking the pinfall – I had rather expected Eve to do that job, since Beth is the current champion. Shouldn’t that entitle Menounos to a shot at the title? Realistically, the only way this goes on at all from here is Kelly feuding with Beth until, presumably, Kharma returns to the show full-time and finally faces off with Phoenix in what could be something quite interesting. Five out of ten (but then, I expected nothing more).
At this point the show had been relatively unremarkable but that seems to be the pattern these days for Wrestle Mania. The first hour is usually a case of easing into things, taking care of the lesser matches before we move into the star attractions and this year was no exception. Going into the show there were three matches that were, for various reasons, expected to be especially good and it was now time for the first of them. This was the End of an Era match, Triple H versus The Undertaker in a rematch from last year, with the added spice of Shawn Michaels as guest referee and the ominous inclusion of the Hell In A Cell stipulation guaranteeing that this would not simply be a repeat of what was, undoubtedly, a great match. After the obligatory but excellent recap of this feud it was time once again for The Undertaker to defend The Streak, his awesome run of Wrestle Mania matches. Last year, Triple H had won the fight but not the match. Undertaker had nineteen victories in nineteen matches at Wrestle Mania but Triple H had won more Hell In A Cell matches than anyone else in history and, moreover, had never lost a match that his old DX buddy HBK had refereed. It was beautifully poised.
The match did not disappoint. All three of the men inside that cage are consummate performers and all three brought their A-game and then some to the night. The great thing about Triple H and The Undertaker (and Shawn Michaels) is that they do not simply have great matches in isolation. They pay attention to their history, so that this felt every bit like the final chapter of an epic story, rather than merely one great match. The presence of Jim Ross at the announcer’s desk only added to the epic feel. The match itself was brutal and uncompromising, going beyond even last year’s relentless physicality. Last year, Triple H and The Undertaker achieved an impressive feat by topping their legendary Wrestle Mania X-7 clash. This year, they achieved near perfection in going beyond even that. Michaels played his part perfectly, as he begged first one man then the other to simply end the match. The crowd were given every reason to suppose that the winner would have to absolutely destroy the loser in order to win this match.
Great spots abounded throughout. The moment when Undertaker caught Hunter in the Hell’s Gate submission hold on the steel ring steps, making everybody wonder if Hunter would be beaten the same way twice running, only for the Cerebral Assassin to stand up, dead lifting the Deadman before slamming his way out of the hold in an awesome (literally) display of strength and perseverance will surely live long in the memory. Similarly, the way The Undertaker shockingly locked the hold onto Michaels when all seemed lost, merely to stop him from ringing the bell and ending the fight, proving that he would do anything to keep The Streak intact was superb. Perhaps the most shocking moment came when Michaels, understandably irate after being choked out by The Undertaker, caught the Deadman with Sweet Chin Music, turning him into the path of Triple H who followed up with The Pedigree, only for The Undertaker to kick out of the DX finishing combination which had stopped so many in the past.
When the end came, it did full justice to a magnificent match. Echoing the way Ric Flair’s WWE career had ended at the hands of Shawn Michaels, and the Michaels himself had fallen to The Undertaker two years later, Triple H was finally left with nothing but his unconquerable spirit intact. One last desperate attack was foiled, one last defiant gesture was rewarded with a Tombstone Piledriver that Hunter knew he could neither avoid nor survive but which his pride demanded that The Undertaker deliver anyway. Last year, Triple H had walked away while The Undertaker had to be carried away from the ring but this year, it was Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker himself who had to carry the beaten but unbowed Game up the ramp. All the way from the ring to the back, all three men were still emoting and still telling the story. If this were to be the last match in Undertaker or Triple H’s career it would be a fitting swansong (although I’ll have some thoughts about that in another post). I said above that it was near perfect, because I consider that perfection is something always to be striven for but never achieved. Nevertheless, I’ll say now I do not see a single thing that these three men could have done better than they did on the night. Ten out of ten, obviously.
The crowd needed a breather after that and so did the viewers at home, not to mention the announcers. A good time, then, to look at those honoured by induction into the Hall of Fame this year. A worthy posthumous induction for Yokozuna, as well as the slightly controversial induction of the greatest incarnation of The Four Horsemen, Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard and Barry Windham (controversial because Flair now works for TNA and because some felt that other members of the group’s many incarnations should also have been honoured). Along with them were Ron Simmons, once known as Faarooq, Mil Mascaras and, of course, Edge. All well deserving of the honour, although some may have thought that Edge’s induction came a little early. I think WWE did this to help cement in the eyes of any doubting fans the idea that Edge is genuinely retired. His neck injuries make wrestling an untenable proposition but, given the nature of wrestling retirements, some still wondered if he might not make a return at some point.
After that it was Team Teddy against Team Johnny, with control of both Raw and Smackdown on the line and I was not best pleased to see Team Johnny take the laurels here. I had picked Team Teddy to win, more out of hope than expectation but as soon as I saw Eve accompany Zack Ryder to the ring for this one it was obvious to me that she would cost the good guys the win here. So it proved, with The Miz nailing Santino Marella with the Skull Crushing Finale for the win (and, incidentally, extending his own Wrestle Mania streak to three and o), giving John Laurinaitis control of both Raw and Smackdown. The match itself was what one would expect from a twelve man tag, being rather messy and disjointed and the prospect of Laurinaitis doing the tired old “evil boss” bit from here on is hardly enticing. Five out of ten.
After that it was back to the serious business, as CM Punk defended the WWE Championship against Chris Jericho, in what promised to be an outstanding match. Most had tipped Jericho for the win here but I joined Lance Storm in predicting a win for Punk. He needed it more, it made sense and, despite what some have said, offered just as much room for future storyline development as a Jericho win would have done. The stakes were upped a little as John Laurinaitis began throwing his weight around straight after his victory in the previous match, telling Punk that he would lose his title should he get disqualified in this match. This allowed for some extra drama as Jericho attempted to make Punk lose his temper and thus his title in the early part of the match. The bout itself was compelling and dramatic but in the end it was Punk who stood victorious, finally forcing Jericho to submit in the Anaconda Vice. Since then, Jericho has continued to harass Punk and I expect the two to progress to an extremely violent rematch at Extreme Rules. Eight out of ten.
Finally, it was time for The Rock to COME BACK to Wrestle Mania! John Cena versus The Rock had been a year in the making on TV, longer still in real life if one considers all the shots Cena has taken at Rocky in interviews over the years. We had to wait for this one, as there were various musical interludes by luminaries such as Flo Rida but we had waited a year; we could afford to wait a few minutes longer. The match itself was everything I expected and hoped for. The crowd were whipped up into virtual frenzy. The two wrestlers, although not performing with the same technical ability as Jericho and Punk, brought intensity and drama to the match. I had tipped a Cena win here (much as I didn’t want it) as that was what made the most sense for the company…unless, of course, The Rock intended to stick around after this show.
In the end, the latter proved to be the case. The Rock nailed the win with a Rock Bottom after John Cena got a bit carried away and decided to try a People’s Elbow on Rocky. The two men had done a good job of establishing an ebb and flow in this match as first one man, then the other dominated and they therefore gave the distinct impression that this could have gone either way, with the announcers wisely playing that element up. A rematch now seems inevitable and no bad thing. I was amused on Raw the following night when Cena said that some people would probably make this out to be the most important night of his career; had I been there, I would have responded that Cena did that himself in every promo he had cut for the preceding twelve months! However, the waters were shockingly muddied at the end of that night’s Raw when Brock Lesnar returned after eight years away from WWE and nailed Cena with the F5. This week’s Raw saw an excellent confrontation between the two men who will now face off at Extreme Rules in a match I am greatly looking forward to. Future showdowns between Cena and The Rock, and The Rock and Lesnar now seem inevitable and should provide a great deal of excitement. Nine out of ten seems a fair score both for the match and what has already followed.