Wrestling has told stories for ages — it isn’t a new concept. One of the best builds in WrestleMania history, Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan, told a story. It was about a friend who wanted more, so he reached to new depths in order to get what he wanted, a WWE title shot. That’s it; there’s not more to it. It was so simple and so easy and realistic people bought it, and many people will argue with the number but to this day, it was one of the biggest shows in WWE history, over a storyline that didn’t need to have much thought put into it.
Up and down this card, there’s a bunch of dumb STORIES. STORIES (all capital letters for me) mean that you have to do this and this and this and this so that by the time you get to the actual match, it’s like…who cares? Matt and Jeff Hardy couldn’t have a simple story about Matt being jealous of Jeff. He had to set him on fire with his pyro, kill his dog, burn down his house, beat him up backstage, cut promos with dramatic music just to put over the fact that he was jealous of his brother. They made it so over complicated that it was super funny at times.
Don’t even get me started on the Orton/Hunter feud. Orton, instead of just being an ass kicker who destroyed the McMahon family so that he could get into Hunter’s mind, instead had to tell a STORY. Stephanie McMahon was brought back to acknowledge that she and Hunter, in real life, were still married. Or something. They didn’t explain this very well. Orton punted Vince McMahon. But he couldn’t be fired, you see, because he had IED, which meant he had a short fuse or something, and thus couldn’t be fired. So he proceeded to be mean and beat up all of the McMahons for several months, including Stephanie which made Hunter shake with anger, which was kind of funny looking at. The big finale was Triple H coming to Randy Orton’s house and beating him up all over the place in one of the hokiest angles in recent memory. When Austin did it at Pillman’s house, at least it felt kinda real. This felt so staged and dumbed it boggled my mind at the time. It still does now!
So no wonder the most interesting part of tonight’s card is Undertaker and Shawn Michaels going at it. After a confrontation at the Rumble, Shawn simply wanted to face the Undertaker. There’s no underlying STORY about Undertaker hating religion or Shawn wanting to baptize Undertaker or any stupid nonsense. They just wanted to see who was better at the biggest stage of the game. It’s so easy to do the simplest of stories sometime in professional wrestling, it’s truly amazing that it’s becoming a lost art. Hell, have you seen this year’s WrestleMania card? My point proven.
Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls sang America the Beautiful this year. Another great performance!
Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Want to know the entrants? I’m sure you do! CM Punk, Mark Henry, MVP, Finlay (along with his awesome old school ring coat), Shelton Benjamin, Kofi Kingston (from Jamaica), Christian, and Kane are vying for the briefcase this year. Everyone ganged up on Kane and Big Show to start things off. They came back, however, and proceeded to shove everyone off. Everyone winds up on the outside where Shelton climbs a huge ladder and does his big spot of the year, a massive senton to the outside that looked super scary. MARK HENRY actually attempted to climb to the top rope but Finlay hits him with the shilalie. Hornswoggle brings out a stepladder and everyone uses it to pummel each other. Mark Henry adjusts the ladder, collapsing it when suddenly Kofi Kingston climbs up the ladder regardless, only for Henry to grab him and give him the worlds strongest slam on the ladder. Looks way more cooler than I’m describing it. MVP climbs as Punk does as well. Christian takes down MVP and tries to take down Punk and eventually does with an unprettier off a resting ladder on the ring ropes. Shelton grabs MVP and powerbombs him off the ring and to the floor, another scary spot. Christian shoves Shelton off and starts to climb but Punk is back as they exchange punches on top of the ladder. Like the previous year, this time it’s Punk who gets his leg stuck in the ladder as Christian tries to catch the briefcase. Kane takes him out, but gets pummeled with kicks as Punk grabs the briefcase and wins. Another fun car crash of a match. ****
WrestleMania Fan Axxess is shown. I hear this is usually pretty bad, but hey they make it look fun, so good for them!
Kid Rock performed. Fast forwarded like nobody’s business. What got me really upset about this was not Kid Rock performing, because I know why they do it even if it gets zero reaction from the crowd. What got me pissed at the time was that they spent all this time hyping up this Diva’s Battle Royal that would feature divas from the past, and that was genuinely intriguing. So they bring them all out during his performance without naming any of them; the only way you can tell who was there was by who the announcers brought up. I guess I should retroactively put up #givedivasachance here.
25 Diva Battle Royal: They started before the bell even rang to introduce them. Layla was thrown out right before Justin Roberts even said anything. They manage to mention that Sunny was there, and I saw Molly Holly in a corner somewhere. Jackie Gayda was brought up as well but I never saw her. And I think Big Show’s Friend Joy Giovanni was here as well, but she wasn’t even brought up once. Another completely annoying thing was that it was obvious that Santino in drag was in here. It was never explained why, and the commentators did not bring it up once even though he was clearly on camera during the later stages of the match, and it was so obvious that they were told not to bring it up. And once they did, they pretended like they had no idea who it was. He dumped Beth Phoenix and someone else over to win, I think Mickie James. So yes, to conclude this was all for a Santino comedy segment and gimmick that dragged on for months with no end. Santina then danced after, leaving Kevin Dunn and Vince McMahon in pieces. I don’t even know why I’m mad about this match so much; most Diva matches on WrestleMania are like this. But the way it was presented here was just new levels of awful. An insult to my intelligence and time. -**
Chris Jericho vs. Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka: Originally, they wanted Mickey Rourke (who starred in The Wrestler the prior year) to face Jericho, but considering he was getting Oscar buzz at the time, he decided against that and instead opted to appear in the crowd. The replacement was this match, with Ric Flair in their corner. Each person had to be eliminated, so Piper starts off for his team by charging at Jericho. He comes in like nobody’s business, including a clothesline to the floor that looked ugly. But hey, he was fired up. Snuka came in and did mostly nothing. Then something amazing happened. Ricky Steamboat was tagged in and actually looked mobile by doing a chop off the top rope and sinking in his infamous arm drags, which woke up the crowd. Snuka is tagged in and is quickly taken out with the walls of Jericho. Piper comes in and sinks in the sleeper but Jericho runs into the ropes and hits an enziguri to eliminate him. Steamboat flies in with the crossbody for the nearfall. Jericho throws him out, but Steamboat skins the cat (albeit barely) then flies off with a crossbody to the floor. Jericho comes back with a bulldog but misses the lionsault. Jericho gets the walls but Steamboat reverses into a cradle for a nearfall. Steamboat slides from behind Jericho but gets caught with the codebreaker which ends the match. Steamboat’s performance was the true story of this match, something that even years later was still genuinely amazing to witness. ***
Flair comes in after the match and beats up Jericho, but he comes back and eliminates him to the floor as he cuts a promo saying that he’s eliminated all the hall of fame washouts forever, and calls in Mickey Rourke. He eventually does, and after some stalling punches Jericho out. Flair comes in and he and Rourke celebrate.
Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy: Eh. This wasn’t terrible, but it was a bunch of spots and weapon shots. Unless you’re Owen and Bret, brother versus brother matches never work that well for some reason. A lot of back and forth. Hey, an unprotected steel chair shot too. I guess they didn’t understand that whole concussion thing yet. Jeff sets up two tables and comes off with a huge splash to the floor. Hardy tries to cover him, but it’s only a nearfall. He sets up two ladders and goes for the legdrop off it but Matt dodges at the last moment as Jeff crashes butt first on the mat. I guess that’ll shorten him a few inches. Matt puts Jeff’s head inside a chair then hits a twist of fate for the pinfall. **3/4
Randy Orton was backstage getting ready. They put the camera on his face for a really long time, a weird WWE trait they can’t help but do these days.
Intercontinental Championship – JBL (c) vs. Rey Mysterio: JBL cut a promo before the match saying how he’d know he would come back to Texas as a champion. Texas has no champions, after all, and it has no men. Today he will give them the most dominant victory in WrestleMania history. Rey Mysterio then came out looking like the Joker. Lawler questioned if this was a tribute to Heath Ledger. JR replied that Mysterio’s career was alive and well. GEEZ. JBL jumped Mysterio before the bell rang, and when the ref separates them and the match started, Mysterio comes back with an enziguri, the 619, and a springboard splash for the win. NR
After the match, JBL sat in the ring looking sad. He gets the mic and says something to say. After lots of stalling, he announces that he quits, then leaves. I wish he’d come back so I wouldn’t have to hear him commentate.
The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels: Shawn came out from the top of the entrance wearing a white robe and hat. Undertaker came out from underneath the stage. Symbolism here. This is a match people have always remembered, and it will probably always be seen as one of the best WrestleMania matches of all time. I have to agree. I don’t even know what it is that makes this match so great. I think at this point in time, both guys knew how to work and tell a story in the ring, and this match (along with the match the following year) exemplified that. The fact that the crowd was into this from bell to bell helped a lot as well. A really awesome back and forth spectacle. They exchanged finishers and submissions from the get go. Undertaker catches Shawn in the gogoplata (that they finally gave a name to after a year, the Hell’s Gate) but he escapes to the outside. Undertaker eventually goes for the big giant tope, but the cameraman who was supposed to grab him (Sim Snuka) proceeded not to, and Undertaker nearly landed right on his head. Life, a split millisecond away from completely breaking his neck. A super scary ass spot. Undertaker barely manages to get in and does. Shawn tries the superkick but Undertaker immediately chokeslams him for a nearfall. A Last Ride doesn’t take care of him either. Undertaker hits a big elbow from the top rope, channeling his days as Mean Mark Callous in WCW. Undertaker follows with the tombstone but SHAWN KICKS OUT. Of the tombstone. At WrestleMania. That’s a new one! Undertaker goes for the tombstone again but somehow Shawn counters that into a DDT. Shawn’s second superkick doesn’t secure the victory. Huge chop and punch battle ensues. Shawn goes for a moonsault, but Undertaker grabs him and tombstones him for the victory. Just an awesome, incredible match held in front of the right crowd and setting. ****3/4
World Heavyweight Championship – Edge (c) vs. John Cena vs. Big Show: Cena’s big entrance this year was that a bunch of people came out in Cena attire and did his “you can’t see me” gesture as he made his way to the ring. I dunno, I guess they thought it was clever. I forget why these guys feuded. As it turns out, it was all over Vickie Guerrero. Hmm, that’s weird. ANYWAY, they had the typical triple threat match. Chavo wheeled out Vickie and looked concerned since in storyline she loved both Edge and Big Show. They get big show tied up on the ropes as Vickie tries to get on the apron. Cena just manages to avoid her but Edge runs up to him and accidently spears Vickie. And by spear I mean kind of touched her as she fell off the apron. Big Show comes back and does his giant shtick. Edge and Big Show manage to get to the outside and Edge launches off with a big splash that sends him into the barricade. Edge tries for the spear, but Cena locks in the STF. Edge nearly gets to the ropes, but Cena drags him away. Big Show comes back but Edge and Cena team together to rid him. Edge lays out Cena as Big Show comes back and Edge puts him in a sleeper, but Cena comes back with the AA on Big Show, then another on Edge that sends him out of the ring as Cena covers Big Show to win the title. To tell you how memorable this title run was, I completely forgot it existed until I saw it again just now. But hey, still a pretty good match full of action. ***1/2
Hall of Fame time! The Funks, Koko B. Ware, the Von Erichs, Bill Watts, Howard Finkel, Ricky Steamboat and Steve Austin were all inducted this year. Everyone comes out in front of the crowd, and Austin comes out in an AV and celebrates in the ring.
WWE Championship – Triple H (c) vs. Randy Orton: This feels weird being a main event. Not only because nothing could really top HBK/Undertaker but a face champion facing a heel challenger is weird in the modern days. Always feels like it’s the face chasing the title, not the heel. Stipulations are that if Triple H is DQ’d he loses the title. They do a cute spot to establish this as Triple H pelted Orton in the corner with punches and the referee kept telling him “I’LL DISQUALIFY YOU”. Orton hits an RKO immediately. He misses the punt kick, however, and Triple H turns it into a pedigree. They have a back and forth match from here, it was fine. Triple H got thrown into the barricade and made it to the ring at 9. Orton got the heat on him for a while but Triple H cut him off and goes for something on the top rope, but Orton replies by bashing his head into the turnbuckle. Triple H gets a foot up when Orton jumps off. They both try their finishers but nothing works. Orton tries for the punt kick but Triple H opts to grab his leg and tumbles him out of the ring. Triple H grabs a tv monitor but the referee yells at him not to do it or it’s a DQ. Triple H instead opts to put him on the table (I guess table spots aren’t DQs…but that brings up the question, well, why arent they?) Triple H tries the pedigree, but Orton counters it into a back body drop as Triple H falls onto another table that, well, proceeds not to break. Oops. He follows that with the draping DDT to the floor. Ref bump. Orton hits the RKO and proceeds to bring out the sledgehammer. As Orton gets into the ring, Triple H comes out of nowhere with the punt kick to Orton’s head. Triple H gets the sledgehammer and blasts Orton with it. Triple H then punches Orton forever, then pedigrees him to win the match. It was fine, but the main event presence wasn’t there, the finish felt pretty flat and the crowd was just kind of there. **1/2
Triple H celebrates with the pyro, fireworks going off as the show concludes.
Final Thoughts: You know what match I thought was the best one here. A match like that can’t make this a bad show, plus the Money in the Bank match was great too. But everything else was solid, or didn’t deliver, or sucked. I don’t really HATE this show, but there were aspects of it that I absolutely hated that will creep into WWE programing, including future WrestleManias, as we get nearer and nearer to the present.