The images we've all been waiting for, the Rock Bottom to Cena
It is difficult to sum up a WrestleMania. Each individual fan goes in with a specific vision of what they want to see and what they expect to see, and if they are not realised, it can be a dampener on the whole show. It wont please everyone, especially in the fickle internet wrestling ‘community’, but the show put out last night was, for the most part, excellent, and certainly ‘Mania worthy.
One disappointment, though, was the nixing of the US title match between Sheamus and Daniel Bryan – a match many wanted to see given the high quality of Bryan’s matches and the fact it would be his first WrestleMania. Given the relative brevity of some of the matches, the reasoning that time constraints were such that one match had to be cut makes sense, and I would rather this than Bryan and Sheamus being forced to go out with only five minutes. It’s unfortunate, but for the greater good.
Match 1: Edge w/ Christian def. Alberto Del Rio w/ Brodus Clay & Ricardo Rodriguez to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
For many it was a surprise that the first match out was the World Heavyweight Championship match. This wasn’t the insult that it perhaps used to be. In fact, its a compliment to them, showing that they have the star quality enough to garner immediate interest in the show. This match was very well paced. There was a big match feel with the timidness of the start which built and built as Del Rio worked on Edge’s injured shoulder against the ring-steps. When Del Rio worked his way in to his arm-breaker, the match started to take off. After escaping that, Edge retaliated with a somersault to Del Rio on the outside, the sort of move that he’d only save for WrestleMania at his age. The back and forth continued, with Del Rio hitting an arm-drag and an enziguiri from the top rope, and Edge hitting his signatures, The Edge-o-matic and the Edgecution for near falls. Towards the end of the match, the outside participants started getting involved. One excellent spot was when Edge tried to stop a pin by putting his foot on the rope, only for Ricardo Rodriguez to take it off and force Edge to kick out properly. As everyone outside the ring took each other out, Edge and Del Rio fought to finish the other. Edge, having escaped an arm-breaker attempt, managed to hit a Spear for the win. This was a little abrupt, and I think the match could have lasted a little longer, but especially in retrospect, this was still a good match. Many will be disappointed about the lack of a Christian heel-turn, but at the very least, it can be called a swerve that made the result more unpredictable. Also, just because Christian didn’t turn heel last night, it doesn’t mean there are no plans for that in the future. A more legitimate gripe might be at Del Rio not fulfilling his ‘destiny’ and going over when it seemed to be so clearly the next stage in his development. I don’t think this is the end of his push though. Like with Christian’s heel turn, I think its just been differed for the time being as WWE seem to feel there’s more to come from this feud.
Match 2: Cody Rhodes def. Rey Mysterio
Cody Rhodes came out next to a bit of a comparatively tepid reaction, but I liked his entrance with the freakshow news clippings. Mysterio, for his part, came out in customary pomp as Captain America. I would have liked to have seen Rhodes wrestle in his hoodie thing as it would have shown even more how he wanted his face covered. In many ways, central to this match was the synthetic extra-bodily appendages each man has been using in this feud. Early on, Rhodes was using his mask with diving headbutts before trying to rip Rey Mysterio’s knee-brace off, something he later managed. Rhodes’ dominance continued, leading to some awesome spots including a Beautiful Disaster to Mysterio as he was tangled in the ropes, and another where Rhodes went for a superplex on Mysterio, but made it a delayed superplex, holding Mysterio upright for quite some time before dropping him to the canvas. Following this, Mysterio gained the upper hand with quite a lot of offense back on Rhodes, including a great moonsault on to the standing Rhodes for a near-fall. It was around here that both the knee-brace and Rhodes mask were ripped off, in an interesting exchange of bodily enhancements, before Mysterio put Rhodes mask over his own. Forcing Rhodes to the outside, the referee was suitably distracted so that Rhodes could hit him with his own knee brace and follow up with a Cross-Rhodes for the pinfall. A very good match in storyline terms, playing off the various enhancements/weapons that have been so key to the story. It was also great to see Rhodes go over on the big stage, with more matches seemingly in the pipeline.
I quite liked the little talent segment. I though William Regal did a good job of rapping in-character while Zack Ryder got a huge pop simply for singing ‘Friday’ on screen – Vince must surely have heard that! It’s time for Zack to make TV.
Match 3: Big Show, Kane, Santino Marella & Kofi Kingston def. The Corre
This was by far the worst match on the card. It was a five minute match which seemed almost completely pointless. It broke down very quickly in to a finish-fest which saw the faces go over, and seemingly without any good reason, while the growing Corre was stopped in their tracks. Even if Vlad was injured, I don’t see why he couldn’t have worked this match. Kofi Kingston being subbed in for Kozlov seemed completely needless. I would rather the extra five minutes or so be added on to the main event than watch this waste of time.
Match 4: Randy Orton def. CM Punk
For me, this was one of the most highly anticipated matches on the card, and could certainly main-event any WrestleMania in itself. As you would expect from two essentially evil characters, the in-ring psychology in this match was perfectly pitched and very intense. Punk started off with the obvious step of targeting Orton’s injured knee right from the get-go. Orton, however, managed to avoid these early attacks well, absolutely pounding on Punk including some signature European Uppercuts while it was all Punk could do to get away. Outside the ring, Punk avoided being Irish whipped in to the steps and managed to kick them instead in to an oncoming Orton. This slowed down The Viper for obvious reasons, and so began the cat-and-mouse psychology which Punk is the perfect person to play. After working on the knee for some time and in various ways, Punk tied Orton up in the tree of woe, standing on Orton’s knee and looking exceedingly pleased with the pain he was inflicting. Even further, he managed to get the ring post figure-four leg lock on Orton in a way which seemed absolutely excruciating. At this point, Orton seemed almost defenseless against the maniacal Punk, being as he was barely able to stand, but he manged to muster some adrenaline-fueled offense with some clotheslines, his Angle slam and his scoop slam. Punk, however, maneged to recover, and again get the better of Orton with some strong style kicks. As the match started to reach its climax, Orton again got an adrenaline rush and managed to hit his Hangman DDT on Punk, seemingly setting up for the next in the series of Nexus punts. However, like on RAW the past week, Orton’s knee buckled under him, and he collapsed to the canvas. At this point, the complacent Punk returned, seemingly knowing that he was surely to go on and win. Orton truly seemed like a wounded animal, swiping defensively at Punk, attempting an RKO which Punk simply swept aside. However, this complacence, or this ‘faith’ was, as Orton promised, Punk’s downfall, and attempting a springboard-clothesline, Orton managed to muster the energy for a super RKO and the victory. A great match between these two, deserving of more of a programme, though I’m not quite sure how that could be justified storyline-wise.
Match 5: Michael Cole w/ Jack Swagger def. Jerry “The King” Lawler via DQ
This match was never going to pretty, and indeed, it wasn’t, but it was more entertaining that the simple brutal justice of Hart-McMahon from last year. As I expected, Cole came out in an amateur-inspired Vickie Guerrero-esque comedy outfit. Another cool and funny angle came when Swagger was doing his trademark push-ups on the ramp when Stone Cold’s music hit, leading to the camera panning in on Swagger’s shocked face before Austin charged Swagger on his 4×4, forcing him to dive from the ramp. There was something about that, in it’s craziness, that was quintessentially WrestleMania. I was glad that they reverted to King’s old music, and he came out in a rather spectacular outfit which was more than fitting for Lawler’s big moment under the lights of WrestleMania. This was indeed a comedy match-up at the start, especially when King was banging Cole’s head against the Colemine. As the match went on, King obviously had the early advantage, pounding cathartically on Cole. There had to be a means of prolonging this match, however, and Jack Swagger provided them, attacking King from behind as he was escorting Cole to the ring, before synching in the ankle lock. Cole’s working on the leg was, let’s face it, pretty pitiful, and it did ruin any perception that Cole might be able to conceivably work over Lawler, even with the help of Swagger. Most notably, when working on Lawler’s ankle in the ropes, he was noticeably holding himself off Lawler’s ankle with the ropes. Later, Cole would go for Swagger’s version of the Vader Bomb, purposefully making it look like a struggle for him to do so, and eventually only doing it from the bottom rope. After performing the ultimate insult to King by pulling down one strap, Cole went for the Ankle lock himself, but was not able, obviously, to make Lawler quit. Recovering, Lawler trapped Cole, beating him and stomping a mudhole. At this point, Swagger threw in the towel, but Austin would not allow that. Confronting him, all Swagger got was a Stunner to a huge pop. Nice rub for Swagger in all this. Cole starts to plead with Austin like the slimy heel he is, before turning angry at Austin for not showing any sympathy. Austin pushes Cole in to some huge right hands from Lawler and in to a huge dropkick before going for the pin, only to drag Cole’s carcass up, wanting to apply even more punishment in the form of the Ankle Lock. Although Cole was tapping like a girl, Austin pretended not to see, only acknowledging it when Cole said that he quit. This would seem all well and good, and there was the usual beer-bath in the ring, even involving Booker T, who quickly received a stunner for his trouble; but then the anonymous GM chimed in, saying that Austin’s involvement in the match earned King a DQ and Cole the victory. This was met with great indignation from everyone in attendance (i’m not sure whether you could call it ‘heat’), and pure fury from King, who decided to shoot the messenger, Josh Matthews, who was thrown in to the ring for another stunner. This seemed totally unfair, but there was at least one reason for it. Mainly, it meant that J.R., who joined the announce team along with Booker, could call the rest of the PPV with his old partner, King, alone, but secondly, it could be material for the continuation of this feud, which now seems inevitable. I find it difficult to believe that Cole going over Lawler will be the end of the feud, and indeed, Matthews showed a degree of sympathy for Cole during the match. Perhaps this unjust attack, as well as Matthew’s wrestling training could lead to a Lawler & Austin vs Cole & Matthews match down the line?
Match 6: The Undertaker def. Triple H to Extend The Streak to 19-0
What an announce team in place for this match. What an excellent job J.R. did on commentary along with his old partner, Jerry Lawler. The two competitors gave us a great match, but those two, and J.R. especially, made it even better. I’m almost worried about trying to review this match. I think, like all of the greatest matches, it was a spectacle, and so needs to be witnessed. What I will do then, is go over the major talking points, and then post a video of the match in the MOTY section, so you can see for yourself. Right from the get go, this was an aggressive match, involving two veterans leaving it all in (and out) of the ring to chase their respective interlinked goals. Within minutes, Triple H had been thrown over the top rope, and the two men had gone careening through the Cole Mine, leaving it jagged, poised, and an almost living example of the carnage of the match. Later, Triple H teased a pedigree through the announce table, only for a back body drop reversal right to the floor with a sickening thud. Seeing the downed HHH, Taker then climbed back in to the ring, and hit his no hands plancha spot which he saves for WrestleMania on The Game, who only just catches him sufficiently to save the Deadman from landing directly on his neck. Trying to capitalise on this, Taker looked to hit a Tombstone on HHH on the ring steps. After Hunter escaped that, Taker charged him, only to be met with a spinebuster right through the Spanish announce table. This was all within the space of the first half of the match, and already, the two were tearing their bodies apart. Lots of back and forth after this with Chokeslams, spinebusters, and more near-falls. There was also what has become the familiar exchange of usually match-winning finishers for near-falls which not only create great drama, but amp up the pressure each time one is hit, making every pin attempt more credible as a match winner, as a streak ender, only to be continually reprieved briefly from our anguish. This is never more so than in a streak match where now 19 years of history rides on every count on the mat. There was one point where Undertaker kicked out of three almost consecutive Pedigrees, obviously with less vigour and more shock each time. It is at this point that the end seems imminent for either competitor, and it is also at this point where the history of similar matches from the past started to manifest. HHH was in the definite ascendancy at this point, and started shouting to Taker to ‘stay down’ very much like Taker did to Shawn Michaels last year, while Taker struggled to keep his hands up like Ric Flair did when HBK retired him. All of these visual cues pointed to it being The Undertaker’s ‘time’, which was no doubt a big part in my belief that The Streak was indeed about to end. Frustrated after Taker’s refusal to die, HHH took to a steel chair,hitting him eight times with it like he was flogging a dead horse, before going on to hit him with a rare and sickening unprotected head shot with the chair. At this point, the Undertaker’s power certainly wasn’t bodily – it was all spiritual, psychological, the aspects of his character which gives him a constant edge, and then came the most heart-wrenching near fall. Again, struggling to stand, Undertaker received his own tombstone, and at that point, I was convinced The Streak was dead, but no, not yet – Taker again, somehow, kicked out. At this point, HHH looked actually scared, backing off from the body of Taker. After regaining himself, he went to get his iconic sledgehammer, but even given that short time to recover, Undertaker managed to clutch HHH in the Hell’s Gate, and The Game had nowhere to go. No one has survived that move for more than a few seconds before, but HHH seemed to survive for several minutes before, with nowhere to go and his hammer out of reach, finally, reluctantly, powerlessly, being forced to give up. In many ways it was the perfect end. Two huge iconic powers colliding, and after almost canceling each other out, one slowly expiring out of necessity. It was Undertaker who looked to have the worst of it though, and indeed, his body did go through some horrible punishment. Now i’m sure, with some assistance, Taker may hve been able to walk out, but his lifeless body seemed to have more truth to it than some would think possible. He truly gave us everything he had. This led to one final moment which I found really touching. After the match, HHH wasn’t bitter in any way, but resigned. Being helped from the ring, Undertaker collapsed to the ground, and HHH reacted with an instinctive, concerned motion towards him, eventhough 1o minutes earlier, he was delivering a flurry of chair shots to the man. That shows more respect that even a handshake or anything like that could. Taker eventually left on a gurney, without even his trademark raised fist. More than anything, this leads me to believe that his twentieth WrestleMania match will be his last. The image of the lifeless Deadman shows that between the bells at the big event, he is the best there is (at least in kayfabe terms), but after all these years his body is relenting. All this, to me, points to WrestleMania XXVIII being a release of some sort for The Undertaker. As ever though, we’ll have to wait and see. Some seem disappointed that Shawn Michaels didn’t cost HHH the match, but I think that would have sullied what we saw. For one thing, HHH tapping out in the context of that match is nothing to be ashamed of, while HBK costing The Game his chance of breaking The Streak would run the risk of being treated as a heel turn, surely something undesirable just after The Showstopper had entered the Hall of Fame.
Match 7: Snooki, Trish Stratus & John Morrison def. Michelle McCool, Layla & Dolph Ziggler
There was an awful lot of indignation when people saw that ‘Snookimania’ would be higher up the card than Taker-HHH, and I understand that, but it must be remembered that, as I said earlier, the card structure isn’t as simple as the higher the match, the more imortant it is. This was a good decision because it broke from the trauma of the previous match, gave the main event something much easier to follow, and gave future stars John Morrison and Dolph Ziggler, high spots on the card. This was a short match, and certainly nothing ‘special’, but it was fun, and provided us with the most interesting match-up between the teams, Trish vs Michelle (very much the Rock-Cena of the divas division). Those two were great for the short time they had together, culminating in that brave spot from the turnbuckle to the floor. Its a shame Morrison and Dolph couldn’t have any one-on-one time in the ring, but there was at least a cool spot where Morrison hit Starship Pain from the turnbuckle to Ziggler on the floor. Snooki, of course, went on to get the pin. From here, I don’t see much of a feud continuing. Maybe Morrison and Ziggler will continue for a while. As for LayCool, the hiatus of their split seemed to have ended even before the match started, with Michelle shoving Layla aside so she could face Stratus, and later, accidentally booting Layla in the head. I look forward to that.
MAIN EVENT: The Miz def. John Cena to Retain the WWE Championship
This one kicked off with WWE flexing their production muscles with an awesome video recounting the rise of The Miz, all while the Miz of today watches on as if he never doubted it would happen. Excellent stuff to build for this match. I also liked the inflatable ‘Awesome!’ which he burst through on his way out and the pyro he received. As for Cena, he got a similar video, but one that just made me feel how well trodden his story now is, and stale in comparison to someone like the Miz. His entrance was roundly booed as he was introduced by a full choir and red while and blue titantron, along with new red merch. This is usually a bad sign for those wanting a heel turn, but I got the feeling that more was going on here. WWE were almost knowingly trying too hard to ‘shove him down our throats’ here, and the fans reacted with a chorus of boos. It is worth noting here from the outset that this match was solid, but not 5 star. The two guys were very aggressive at times, but there were no big spots or anything like that. It is also worth noting that the crowd was more than fairly pro-Miz. I’m going to talk about the possibility of a Cena heel-turn later, but it should be said now that if he is not turning heel, the WWE seriously need to listen to their Universe and make plans to turn him pronto. At WrestleMania, it rarely only takes one finisher to put down an opponent, and this was no different. After some palaver, Alex Riley managed to strike Cena’s head into the exposed turnbuckle which was followed by a Skull-Crushing Finalé. Now it will surprise no one that Cena kicked out of Miz’s finisher, but what will surprise many was Miz’s kicking out of the biggest Attitude Adjustment i’ve ever seen! Right then and there, if he hadn’t already arrived, The Miz arrived. Following this, the two men brawl in to the crowd, with Cena crashing Miz over a couple of barricades while the referee counted eventually to 10 and labelled it a draw. The crowd hated it, and there was no way that was going to be the finish. Cue The Rock. Restarting the match, Rocky made it no-DQ, and as the match spilled back in to the ring, Cena turned around and ate a Rock Bottom, the image the world has been dying to see, and which allowed The Miz to pick up the win and retain his title. There’s a lot to be said about this, but it should be said first that it was crucial that Rock also attack Miz, which is exactly what he did, performing the People’s Elbow on him one last time. This was crucial because it shows that the Rock is essentially a benevolent figure. Cena wasn’t attacked by a heel, be was attacked by a face, which makes all the difference, and everyone cheered as it happened. After that, The Rock soaked in the crowd’s approval as the show faded to black. This was a decent match as I said, but I think it was more angle-driven than anything else. It had it’s drama of course, and if given extra time before the re-start, and one or two one-off WrestleMania moves, it would have made it excellent. It leaves questions and plants seeds. Could Cena turn heel? The stars have seemed alligned in the past and it hasn’t happened. This time, however, I think it really could happen. For the sake of argument, here’s how: On RAW, Cena comes out to call out The Rock and goes over what happened at Wrestlemania. He would say something like “I bust my ass 7 days a week, and then this movie star comes in having been away for 7 years and thinks he can cost me the title? And what is more, you, the WWE Universe, cheered. The fans, who have always had my back, turned on me. If that shows me one thing, it shows me that I don’t need the fans …” Instant heel turn. Lets hope so, eh?
It is important, however, not to pin our enjoyment of something like whether John Cena turned heel or not. We have to concentrate on what we saw and how it made us feel. For me, the Corre match and the Snooki match aside, all the others were of at least good quality, and in the case of Punk-Orton and Taker-HHH, they were five star. A little too much brevity in some of the matches, but nothing predictable. The spectacle was exhinited, stars were made, and this was a WrestleMania fit for consideration among some of the best.