An iconic image: A despondent Cena following his loss to The Rock on the grandest stage
With the caveat that I have enjoyed every recent WrestleMania, I can quite confidently say that this was the best WrestleMania in years, and can less confidently suggest (without the benefit of historical hindsight) that it will stand out as one of the best ever. That’s not to say it was perfect, but each of the top three matches delivered in their own unique way, while being backed up by decent enough to strong matches pretty much throughout. The set was also ‘da bomb’. But more on all that, well, NOW! (It should also be noted that I only predicted one match incorrectly here, so my opinion must be worth something, right?)
Match 1) Sheamus def. Daniel Bryan w/ AJ to Win the World Heavyweight Championship
What to say about this match? Well, nothing, as it lasted one move and eighteen seconds. That doesn’t, however mean there’s nothing to say. My initial reaction to Bryan being pinned before I was even really prepared (never mind Bryan!) was like everyone else on the internet -fury, indignation, a feeling of being cheated because Daniel Bryan deserves to show his wrestling wares on the grandest stage and be given time to shine. However, it is important to realise that the IWC isn’t the only audience, and is in fact probably the minority audience, especially for WrestleMania, when more people are watching generally. Daniel Bryan, completely unlike Daniel Bryan the wrestler, deserved what happened to him. His reign was characterised by escaping title defences in the least satisfying ways possible, and constantly dodging challenges. Sheamus, as Royal Rumble winner, and a very popular wrestler, was destined to finally end all that and deal out ‘Art of War’ style justice in blunt fashion, and this effect was achieved with perfection. Sheamus came out without too much pomp, but Bryan came out with a brand new robe for the occasion, chanting the now iconic ‘YES!’ chant, and insisted on an ceremonial kiss from AJ before the match, only for all that to be met with a kick to the face and pin to undermine it all. The more I think about it, the better it was for Bryan, allowing him a memorable moment that will actually add to his character and help him move to the next level, but more on that in my RAW post following this, where i’m sure ‘YES!’ will be typed a lot.
Match 2) Kane def. Randy Orton
This was the match I was looking forward to least going in to WrestleMania, and it seems the fans felt the same as the match started, showing solidarity with Daniel Bryan, who everyone felt slighted, by chanting his name just as they did when he was fired in 2010. It should be said though, that this match was pretty good. Not great, especially when compared to the top three matches, but good. The first half was some very equal and watchable brawling, and the match built in the second half, achieving a dramatic feel I wouldn’t have thought possible. After kicking out of a Chokeslam, I was sure of a tokenistic RKO victory, but instead it was just helping Orton’s reputation, as soon after he climbed to the second rope, only to be Chockeslammed again, this time from the greater elevation, a move he couldn’t kick out of. I think Kane winning makes a lot of difference here. In my preview, I spoke of how the story was boring and lazy, and that a Randy Orton win would only add to that, and at least a Kane victory would make people take notice and hopefully save the Kane character from industry burial (I differentiate because with Kane, ya never know!). Luckily, that is exactly what happened, and guess what? I’m actually interested in what happens next between them. This match did a good job of saving two cool characters from a lackluster feud.
Match 3) The Big Show def. Cody Rhodes to Win the Intercontinental Championship
And now to the only match the result of which I was wrong about. Rhodes-Big Show was thematically very similar to Bryan-Sheamus in that Rhodes had been scoring victories and psychological points against Big Show while usually avoiding a one-on-one physical confrontation. For that reason, the story of this match was Big Show finally getting his hands on Rhodes, just as the earlier story was Sheamus finally getting his hands on Daniel Bryan. The main difference between the matches (time aside) was that Rhodes was taking on a Giant. Rhodes had built to this in a very well-imagined match with The Great Khali in which he systematically took the Punjabi (Wrestling) Nightmare before beating him. In this match, Big Show swatted Rhodes away in the early going before Rhodes went back to his Khali strategy, targeting the leg of Show and applying heel hooks and other submissions to it. Of course The Giant wasn’t going to tap, but it weakened him, allowing Rhodes to hit more impact moves, including a thunderous Disaster Kick. Instead of going for the pin though, Rhodes went for another, only to be (kind of awkwardly but still devestatingly) speared by Big Show. This left him vulnerable to what Big Show has wanted to do for months: knock out Rhodes – which he did momentarily to win the Intercontinental Championship. A good match with a strong story there with Rhodes doing as well as he could against Big Show. I was disappointed that Rhodes lost, and lost his title, but I see this as an opportunity. He had the title for one of the longest reigns in it’s illustrious history, and that’s a good start; now he can take the traditional route of moving on to a top title. My worry is that the title will languish in the hands of the Big Show, but on the other hand, he is a big name to be holding the belt, and could only add to it’s prestige. Hopefully he can drop it to a hot up-and-comer like a Drew McIntyre.
Match 4) Maria Menounos & Kelly Kelly def. Beth Phoenix & Eve Torres
Where did it all go wrong? I remember Beth & Nattie tearing through the divas division for a while, and now Maria Menounos walks off a set with broken ribs and rolls up The Champazon on the biggest stage of them all. Now, credit where it’s due – I really like Maria Menounos; she seems really nice, she genuinely likes wrestling, and she’s actually at least as good as some of the divas currently employed, even selling her ribs rather well. She’s also really pretty, so strictly-speaking, she belongs in a WrestleMania divas match, but it was still unnerving. It again shows the state of the division that showing the strength of the celebrity comes before getting the champion over. Menounos gets her moment if she pins Eve or if Kelly Kelly pins either (Kelly being a former champ), but to have Menounos pin Beth clean was the worst outcome for the champion and the championship. Not only that, but it was pointed out to me that Beth and Eve came out to Eve’s music and not the champion Beth’s! Our dominant divas champion was literally the least important competitor in that match, and that makes it a travesty. It was fun, and seeing Menounos in a WWE ring is a boon, but these plusses are only momentary; the continued death of women’s wrestling on WWE is chronic. Please, please let us have Beth, Kharma and Nattie (or a combination thereof) work together in the near future! It’s desperately needed!
Match 5) The Undertaker def. Triple H in a Hell in a Cell Match with Special Guest Referee Shawn Michaels to Bring his WrestleMania Streak to 20-0
“Don’t worry, ‘The Streak’ always makes for a good match. It has to.” I said to best friend and Mania watching-mate Luke Healey before this match began. This was said because the build to this match had grown a little tiresome and staid in the weeks running up to WrestleMania, leading to it not being quite as anticipated by us as perhaps it should have been. Indeed, this match deserved all our attention, becoming as it did, an instant classic of wrestling, theatre and emotion. Not only that, but it will be instantly added to my list of nominees for 2012 Match of the Year, just as it’s predecessor was last year. HHH’s entrance was as grandiosely medieval as ever, and Undertaker’s was the same as always, never having to change to remain the most eerie, thrilling entrance in history. The only change, in fact, was Undertaker’s hair. Many knew he had shaved off his iconic jet black long hair, but I worried that this would make Taker look more elderly and vulnerable than phenom; boy was I wrong as, if anything, it made him look more threatening than ever, and provided a necessary alteration to the character that was needed to prefigure what would happen in the match. Indeed this, more than any other match I have seen, was incredibly self-referential in regards to their history and especially their WrestleMania match last year. No more was this more apparent, perhaps, than with the inclusion of the Hell in a Cell structure. Usually, this structure is intended to be used as a prop in an ultra-violent match, with people being thrown in to, off of, and through the walls and roof of the cell, all while providing a rather uneasy, ominous atmosphere to do it all in. The atmosphere was sure there in this match, but aside from a move or two, the cell played no part in the match; it was almost irrelevent to the physical match. It wasn’t, however, irrelevant. Instead, the cell was used as a scene-setting prop that helped ground the occasion as the end of an era that it is symbolic of. The cell was created for The Undertaker, and he has had numerous amazing, iconic, and important moments in it, while Triple H has become almost equally connected to the cell, being extremely successful in matches involving it. As the announcers pointed out, before this Sunday there had been 24 cell matches, with only 6 of them not featuring either Undertaker or HHH. Another piece of trivia: between them, Undertaker and Triple H have won 11 of the 24 matches. They own this match, and it is only right that the end of their era featured the cell. Not only all that, but as I said, the cell brings with it an ominous atmosphere; an atmosphere perfect for the constant, knife-edge jeopardy of ‘The Streak’.
The match itself started normally enough, with the two brawling in the ring, and a little outside with the cell, but it was notable that at this stage, Undertaker was in control, having his way with HHH and reasserting, crucially, his dominance after being humbled last year including using Old Skool, a move associated with the best of the Undertaker. The scene shifted though when Trips managed to reverse Taker in to a spinebuster on to the steel steps; a sickening bump made more sickening by the way Taker cracked his head on the steps. Following this, we went in to an almost hold for hold reply of segments from their match last year. With Taker down on the steps, Triple H approached him only to find himself caught in a Hell’s Gate. Last year, Triple H was supposed to pick Taker up and powerbomb him, but couldn’t due to exhaustion. This year, with a fresher Hunter and the boost of the steps, he managed the maneuver to finally take control of the match, and when he did, the scenes were eerily similar to last year. Triple H taking the opportunity to beat Taker down to a pulp, doing so with numerous, sickening times, leaving horrific welts on the Deadman’s body and a cut to his face. This was where Shawn Michaels came in. Up until now he had been simply fulfilling his duties, but Michaels is known for his incredibly earnest human emotion and conscience. Indeed, it is this trait which canonically contributed to him not being able to beat Taker on two separate occasions, and not one that his best friend shares. With Trips mercilessly pummeling Taker, Shawn was begging him to stop, and remarkably, Triple H was asking him to ring the bell: “You end it.” And indeed, HBK had the power to, and really looked like he may do it. The tension was unbelievable, Michaels was downright unstable, and somehow, someway, I was convinced, again, that The Streak could be in jeopardy. This was perhaps the best theatre WWE and wrestling has ever produced, and again, Shawn Michaels was stealing the show. HHH was telling Shawn to end it, Taker was telling him not to, and Shawn was conflicted between honour, compassion, and loyalty, and it was amazing. HHH then took it to the next level. He had seemingly learned from last year when even a glimmer of hesitation cost him the match, and this time he took no time in nailing Taker in the head with the sledgehammer. Even that couldn’t keep Taker down, so he moved to crush his head with a straight down-swing to Taker’s head, a motion which led to a gasp from the fans, genuine fear in JR and the announcer’s voices, and a thankful intervention from HBK. With things escalating, it looks like Shawn’s about to genuinely end it, leaving a somehow supernaturally Taker with no choice but to incapacitate him with a Hell’s Gate. HHH broke it up, but only ended up in the move himself. At this point, the callbacks continued as the finish of last year’s match was replayed. With HHH in the Hell’s Gate, he was reaching for his sledgehammer, but unable to get it, and looked like he might tap. From here, Taker regained the momentum, but couldn’t put HHH away with either a Chokeslam or a Tombstone Piledriver as the tension and drama only grew! Indeed, in the best near fall of the match, a conflicted Shawn Michaels Sweet Chin Music’d Taker straight in to a Pedigree before counting him, but only for a two! Shawn looked shocked, at Taker kicking out, and at his own actions. Amazing storytelling. With both men spent, HHH tried to pick up the sledgehammer, but Taker stood on it to stop him, and this time, Taker was the one dishing out hard chair shots. Again, they started echoing last year’s match, but this time, with Taker in complete control, and HHH a spent, almost pathetic force. Like when HHH simply refused Taker Chokeslamming him last year, Taker simply refused HHH’s sledgehammer shot, catching it, shaking his head, and knocking him away. Now like Shawn at WrestleMania 26, HHH gave Taker one last sign of defiance, a crotch chop for him, which led to Taker nailing him with the sledgehammer before Tombstoning him decisively for the win, finally, counted by Shawn.
Unlike last year, Undertaker was the one standing as his record flashed up on the stage brandishing his remarkable 20-0 record. Taker looked emotional, and despite what has been speculated, it really felt like an ‘end’ for him, and for HHH too, just as it already is for HBK. These three men, so indelibly linked in their recent careers and in their generation, finally stood on the ramp together, looking back at the ring after Shawn and Taker had tenderly helped HHH up the ramp. Truly, this felt like the closing shot to an era. About that, we’ll see, but don’t you ever tell me wrestling isn’t real; this match is one of the realest things i’ve ever seen, and certainly some of the best art i’ve ever seen. A 5-star in anyone’s book.
Match 6) Team Johnny (The Miz, David Otunga, Mark Henry, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger & Drew McIntyre) def. Team Teddy (Zack Ryder, Santino Marella, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston, The Great Khali & Booker T) to Win Control of Both RAW and Smackdown
Well, after that mammoth write up for Taker-Trips, i’m going to take it easier with this match, partly because this match effectively did what it’s job was, a nice palette-cleanser following the intense Cell match, preparing us for the WWE Championship match. This was a really fun match and exactly what we needed. Dolph and Drew stood out to me, bumping around like masters and really selling the atmosphere of the match and making it exciting. After lots of trading of big moves, including a double plancha from Kofi and Ryder. Finally, Ryder was left in the ring with Ziggler. He fist pumped signalling the Broski Boot, it was his WrestleMania moment with Eve by his side. Unfortunately, this distracted Zack and he ended up taking a gorgeous Skull Crushing Finalé from The Miz to pick up the loss and hand all the power to John Laurinaitis. Obviously this was a great moment for Miz, and I see things only getting better for him (again, wait for my RAW write up), especially given the potential for Big Johnny to favour him following him taking him to victory. Meanwhile, Zack Ryder was a picture of defeat, especially when Eve kicked him in the grapefruits! Not to worry though, Ryder got his big Mania moment and will gain sympathy for how Eve has treated him (though the ‘hoeski’ chants were a little off – if you kick a man in the ballski’s, it doesn’t make you sexually promiscuous!) As for Eve, she’ll get more heat because of it, which will help her too. Everyone a winner!
Match 7) CM Punk def. Chris Jericho to Retain the WWE Championship
And so CM Punk has done it, he’s won the WWE Championship match in the main event of every one of the ‘Big 4’ PPV’s in the PPV calendar. I believe the only man to do that previously was … John Cena. Punk is certainly being positioned for that level of ‘guy’, and WrestleMania just showed again why he deserved it. There was a lot of talk of this match being akin to Savage/Steamboat, and indeed, it was. I wont actually compare the two separate matches, but they certainly had the same role at their respective WrestleManias, and they certainly were both fantastic matches. There was one problem with this match, and it was the recycled ‘if you get DQ’d, you lose your title’ stip added five seconds before. I realise it was to sell Punk’s absolute fury with Jericho and to add another layer of tension to the match, but it didn’t really pull that feeling off. The selling point of this specific match was that two of the best wrestlers ever were going to wrestle. Compared again to Savage/Steamboat, there was no DQ and you lose the Intercontinental Title to Steamboat at WrestleMania 3, and that was good because it kept the match a simple story of wrestling. Punk-Jericho could’ve done with that, and if i’m being overly-criticial, I would have liked them to have saved the entire ‘You’re a drunk’ stuff for after WrestleMania and kept this match pure, as it were. So while the first five minutes or so of this match was good, and told an interesting story about Jericho goading Punk and Punk controlling himself, it was only after that first portion that the match became great; and boy, was it great! In fact, i’ve said in the past that it doesn’t really make sense for two matches from the same show to be in Match of the Year contention, but after this event, I feel I have to ignore that this time. Yes, this will be the second match from WrestleMania 28 that will make the list of nominees for 2012 Match of the Year.
Once Punk dropped that chair, this match became 5-star worthy. Because of the sheer involvement of the moves, and the amount of time I spent writing about HHH-Taker, but mostly because in a pure wrestling match like this, writing about it doesn’t really do it justice, and so I wont be going over it hold for hold. Early on came a sickening sacrificial spot where Jericho hit the rarely seen actually-achieved suplex from the ring to the floor, the start of one of the sub-stories of the match – Jericho destroying Punk’s back throughout. We then entered an amazing section of hold and counter-hold, mostly seemingly improvised, punctuated by well-timed and dramatic near-falls. Each man also hit their most powerful moves, the GTS and the Codebreaker, but were unable to capitalise, but because of each man’s ingenuity and skill, rather than their own lack of luck or skill; after Punk hit the GTS, Jericho escaped losing because he was able to grab the rope while Punk was able to escape a pinfall after a Codebreaker because he managed to use the momentum from the move to take him out of the ring and out of harm’s way from pins. One of the greatest moments of the match came shortly after when Punk had Jericho sitting on the turnbuckle, and went for a Frankensteiner, only for Jericho to catch him, step off the ropes, and lock him in the Walls of Jericho to which Punk responded by showing a true champion’s grit and determination by slowly crawling to the safety of the ropes. Having escaped, thrown Jericho out, and hit a suicide dive, Punk then proceeded to hit a sickening version of his running knee, using it to smash Jericho’s head in to the ringpost. Indeed, for all the technical charm of this match, it was punctuated by appropriate brutality like this which made it stand out for other reasons. While earlier, both guys were allowed to escape the other’s finisher through ingenuity, Punk was about to be able to kick out of Kericho’s finisher, not to make Jericho look bad, but to make Punk look great, which he certainly did after springboarding towards Jericho only to be caught by a SuperCodebreaker, which Punk again kicked out of for a great near-fall. Soon after, we entered in to the final exchange of the match, and it was brilliant in terms of wrestling and storytelling. After a slightly presumptive shout of ‘Best in the World! from Punk (he don’t wear no white hat), Jericho reversed an attempted GTS into another Walls of Jericho (Liontamer version), and from here on in, the two were constantly connected in a chain of wrestling leading to the eventual finish of the match. After clawing towards the ropes and being pulled back, Punk rolled through between Jericho’s legs and traded small cradle attempts before Punk eventually managed to lock in the Anaconda Vice. Jericho rolled for another pin, but when unsuccessful, had to escape by kneeing Punk in the head – a really intuitive and good reversal to the move. Having weakened Punk, he rolled through going for the Walls of Jericho again, but Punk fought him off with kicks from his free leg before re-locking Jericho in the Vice. Jericho tried the same knees to Punk escape, but Punk was wise to it, and showing logical storytelling, shifted himself up Jericho’s body and out of reach of his knees. With Punk’s weight on him, and no way out, Jericho was forced to tap to hand Punk a famous and impressive match to be proud of (though Jericho of course should also be proud). The match started out well and grew phenomenally to the crescendo of a submission; the right way to finish a match about who the best wrestler in the world is, and you know what? Maybe Punk is exactly that.
FUNKASAURUS AND HIS MOMMA’S BRIDGE CLUB
I loved this, and am surprised to see the level of dissatisfaction with it. Funkasaurus is great, and fun, and is outrageously camp enough to warrant a place at WrestleMania. I didn’t want to see him job out Heath Slater, not at WrestleMania, I wanted Funkaspectacle, and that is what we were given. It also served it’s purpose; after an intense, 25 minute technical wrestling match, we needed another palette cleanser for the main event. This was it, and it was funny, so thanks.
Match 8) The Rock def. John Cena
Undertaker-HHH was about tension, history, and drama; Punk-Jericho was about breathtaking wrestling; and Rock-Cena was about two people from (slightly) different times who represent different things and don’t like each other. In some ways, this match wasn’t about what these guys did to each other, it was just about seeing them face off. The holds didn’t mean much. In fact, the biggest wrestling story came early on as the two locked up, finally visualising what their whole feud is, and reaching deadlock. This isn’t to play down the excitement of the match. While no Punk/Jericho, the wrestling was pretty good, and the match as a whole was great. What I mean by that is the atmosphere (embellishing the build and story of course) made this match great, and instantly iconic. Some of the ‘greatest’ matches in WWE history (Hulk/Andre, Rock/Hogan, for instance) weren’t good technical matches. This was better than those matches technically, and, I think, managed to match those two in stature. And like in a lot of these matches, it soon became something of a signature fest early on, with Rock and Cena kicking out of AAs and Rock Bottoms seemingly all over the place. As flippant as that sounds, the occasion made every single one dramatic, even if some where more believable than others. One criticism would be that both men’s submissions (the Sharpshooter and STF) were executed rather poorly, making those moments less believable. Nonetheless, as time ran, the tension was building. The finish to the match was very considered and very good. We should have known something was up when Rock climbed the turnbuckle. He leaped at Cena for a cross-body, but Cena rolled through and in a legitimately impressive feat, picked up the jacked People’s Champ and hit a big AA. A lot of people would have predicted the match over, including me, but it wasn’t. Cena got complacent, visibly so, wanting to make a statement to The Rock. This is uncharacteristic of Cena, but it fits him situationally after over a year of build between the two, and wanting to get one over on Rocky, Cena set up to finish him with his own People’s Elbow. But smirking, complacent Cena (representing what a lot of people dislike about him!) ran in to a Rock Bottom from the Rock, which, this time, saw him go down for three.
Now at the time, I had no problem with this; it was a great spectacle, and I knew it was just delaying Cena’s eventual overcoming of The Rock. I still feel that way, but i’m worried. I’m worried about how Brock Lesnar may ruin it all, but more on that in my RAW post too. If Cena does eventually overcome The Rock – which surely he must – then this match is justified as a classic to cement The Rock even further, but if he doesn’t, it shows a shocking disregard for Cena and the future of the WWE as it is pointless glorification of a man who doesn’t even work here being favoured to the guys who hold the future in their grapplin’ hands. We will see. But being confident that Cena will at least get to beat Rock clean (its only fair!), I would like to say I hope you guys enjoyed WrestleMania like I did. Of course, like any wrestling show, it wasn’t perfect, but as a spectacle, it was as sublime as we could want, and the three marquee matches were all classics while fulfilling their very unique briefs.
Plug!: Follow me @RTVWOW. I try to be entertaining and give quality commentary on wrestling, so if you like this, you’ll like that!