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Ranking the WrestleMania Main Events (11-4)

We’re now just one week away from WrestleMani XXX, which means I need to get this feature wrapped up!

 

 

Triple H and Jericho felt like natural rivals whenever they matched-up.

Triple H and Jericho felt like natural rivals whenever they matched-up.

11. Triple H vs Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XVIII)

WrestleMania XVIII is remembered for pretty much one match:  Hollywood Hogan vs The Rock.  It was Hogan’s first official match since re-signing with the WWF and the Montreal crowd didn’t seem to care that he was supposed to be the heel heading into it. It was a fun match, but the main event was pretty damn good too. It featured the newly crowned Undisputed Champion Chris Jericho vs Triple H, making his second appearance in a WrestleMania main event. Jericho and Triple H are a natural pairing. Both guys are good, technical wrestlers and Triple H’s more power-oriented offense complements Jericho’s up-tempo maneuvers just fine. The only thing that kind of sucks about this match is that the outcome is never really in doubt as it was pretty much a given that the WWF would put the strap on Triple H after letting Jericho have his fun for a bit. It was nice while it lasted though.

10. John Cena vs The Rock (WrestleMania XXVIII)

The first match-up between John Cena and The Rock is markedly better than the second. The year-long build-up worked well and seeing The Rock back in the ring was a novelty that hadn’t grown stale. Yes, he still wasn’t in great ring shape as the match was plagued some-what by rest holds and the like, but the two guys played off each other well and the finish was well-executed. This was one of the few matches in recent years where I had an interest in the outcome. Would the WWE let its top star get disrespected over and over by a visitor ultimately losing to said visitor in the main event of its most prestigious event? Would The Rock bother making a comeback just to lose to an opponent he seems to genuinely consider inferior to himself? The capper was the event being held in Miami, Rock’s hometown, so I was pretty sure Cena would be asked to take the loss. What I wasn’t expecting was the finish to be a clean loss, with Cena attempting to humiliate The Rock by performing the People’s Elbow only to have Rock bounce-up and nail him with the Rock Bottom for the 1-2-3.

 

Note to aspiring wrestlers:  this is not how to land a shooting-star press.

Note to aspiring wrestlers: this is not how to land a shooting-star press.

9. Kurt Angle vs Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania XIX)

This match is mostly remembered for Lesnar’s botched shooting-star press towards the end. Lesnar had created a buzz for himself long before he debuted on WWE television by performing the shooting-star press at Ohio Valley. For a man his size to be able to pull off such a crazy maneuver was unheard of. Turns out, big men aren’t meant to fly like that because when he unveiled it at WrestleMania he damn-near killed himself. It overshadows what is a great match of technical excellence. The only low-note for me is the early going where Angle and Lesnar both try to one-up each other with amateur wrestling maneuvers. I never understood why guys would choose to go in such a direction. Pro Wrestling is popular because it’s not the ground-based amateur style. We want flashy! Whenever guys with that kind of background step into a ring though it’s as if they feel they need to acknowledge where they came from. I’m very impressed by the fact that Kurt Angle has won Olympic gold in wrestling, but I don’t want to watch it.

8. Triple H vs The Rock vs Mick Foley vs The Big Show (WrestleMania XXVI)

The only four-way-dance in WrestleMania main event history! The genesis for this match was unconventional. Most had assumed that The Rock and Triple H were destined to headline WrestleMania 2000 as The Rock was the hottest thing going and Triple H was the company’s biggest heel (and Austin was still on the shelf following neck surgery). To keep Hunter’s momentum going, they had him battle Foley for two pay-per-views ultimately defeating him a retirement match at No Way Out. Vince McMahon, in a rare bit of booking with his heart, wanted Foley to realize his dream of main eventing a WrestleMania so he convinced him to come back for this one match just a month after his retirement. Foley was apprehensive, but went ahead with it as it’s just not something any pro wrestler can turn down. And since The Big Show wasn’t doing anything, they added him to the mix as well as part of this four-way feud between the McMahons. It wasn’t a classic match, and the most memorable spot is probably Foley coming up well short on a diving elbow to the announcer’s table, but it ended with Triple H vs The Rock anyways so it’s not like the fans were denied the match they were probably supposed to have. And with Triple H coming out on top it was really the first time in WrestleMania history that the event ended with a bad guy wearing the WWF Championship.

 

Undertaker earned a rare WrestleMania main event submission victory over Edge.

Undertaker earned a rare WrestleMania main event submission victory over Edge.

7. The Undertaker vs Edge (WrestleMania XXIV)

For all of the success that The Undertaker has enjoyed at WrestleMania, he really hasn’t appeared in many main events. At least he can say the ones he’s appeared in were all pretty good. This match with Edge is a pretty good representation of a good Undertaker match. Edge and Taker work really well together with Edge being one of my favorite opponents for The Undertaker for that very reason. At this point, The Streak was a plot line so there was little doubt that The Undertaker would come out on top, but despite that, the finish was still surprising and even a bit sudden with Undertaker locking in his Hell’s Gate submission maneuver for the victory allowing The Phenom to hoist a major championship at the show’s close for just the second time in his career.

6. John Cena vs Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXIII)

Shawn Michaels can wrestle a great match with seemingly anyone. Not that John Cena is an Ultimate Warrior or anything, but he’s certainly not one of my favorite workers. This match may not be a WrestleMania classic, but it’s great entertainment. It starts off kind of slow but the two eventually pick-up with the pace with a lot of back and forth momentum swings. HBK is the heel here and it’s the role I’ve always preferred for him. Once again he proves he belongs in the WrestleMania main event and it kind of makes me wish he could be included in all of them. Certainly he should have been in more during his career but at least the ones we have are preserved forever.

5. Triple H vs Shawn Michaels vs Chris Benoit (WrestleMania XX)

Oh boy, how do you rank this one? I suppose the easiest thing to do is to just judge it based on the merits of the match alone, which to probably no longtime wrestling fan’s surprise, is to say it’s fantastic. These are three of the best workers in the history of the business on the grandest stage going all out to entertain the masses. The only negative thing I can say about the match itself is that too often one guy gets taken out for too long of a time. It would be one thing if a guy was taking a piledriver to the concrete and being down for five minutes but it mostly seemed like generic maneuvers were keeping guys down just to keep the match a series of one on one confrontations. Such is the weakness of the triple threat match. Of course, judging the match in such a way ignores the elephant in the room which is that Chris Benoit is a known murderer who committed the unthinkable act of killing his own family. It’s impossible to separate the wrestler from the man when such has taken place, so I do not blame anyone if they have no interest in watching this match today. For me, it does harm the match quite a bit as the big storyline within the match is Benoit trying to win his first major championship in WWE, and at the time, the ending was immensely satisfying and one of the best examples of pure joy being on display in the ring. Sadly, the image of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit celebrating at the conclusion of the match is beyond bittersweet today.

 

One of the more memorable images from any WrestleMania conclusion.

One of the more memorable images from any WrestleMania conclusion.

4. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock (WrestleMania XVII)

WrestleMania XVII is justifiably remembered as one of the best WrestleManias of all time. It’s main event was a pretty big deal at the time too with two mega-stars in Austin and The Rock. The only other main event that even compares in terms of how popular both guys were heading into the match is Hogan vs The Giant; these two guys were just hugely over with the fans. Austin was competing for the Championship for the first time since his return from neck surgery and The Rock was not expected to just role over for the big star. With Rock becoming the top baby face in Austin’s absence, the decision to turn Stone Cold heel at the match’s conclusion was reached. Austin was the main driver behind this as he was concerned his character was growing stale. Plus he liked playing the bad guy. He also admits that if he could push the reset button on anything in his career it would be the end of this match. The two battled and had an astoundingly entertaining match with good in-ring spots as well as out of the ring spots. There was violence and comedy, and the end certainly left people talking. I too think the heel turn for Austin was a bad move. Not because he shouldn’t be a bad guy, but just the way it was done to have him suddenly align himself with Vince McMahon in such a way. It just wasn’t believable for his character. If he had used McMahon to win and then nailed Vince with a stunner or something it would have made more sense and let Austin play a tweener kind of role. Instead he became a sniveling coward which effectively killed his character.


For All Mankind: The Life and Career of Mick Foley

For All Mankind:  The Life and Career of Mick Foley (2013)

For All Mankind: The Life and Career of Mick Foley (2013)

A great source of nostalgia for me is the mid to late 90’s wrestling scene.  Any time a DVD or Blu Ray is released high-lighting the career of a popular wrestler from that era it always grabs my attention.  I’m usually able to resist and wait for the price to come down, but every now and then I feel compelled to jump in right form the start and that was the case for me with the latest Mick Foley collection titled For All Mankind:  The Life and Career of Mick Foley.

Foley is the wrestling superstar who was never meant to be a superstar.  Bad-bodied and lacking any sort of flash, Foley seemed destined for mid-card status.  His defining trait was a willingness to sacrifice his body for whatever promotion he happened to be working for in such a way that it made other wrestlers look good.  This lead to the occasional program with some main event types like Sting and Stone Cold Steve Austin, but the glass ceiling was always firmly kept in place.  This changed though in large part to the WWF’s Attitude Era which gave wrestlers the freedom to express themselves to the audience on a more personal level.  The rise of the internet also helped spread the tale of Foley’s hardcore exploits in smaller territories and he fast became a legend amongst the diehard crowd.  As wrestling gained in popularity, the diehard audience became the mainstream crowd and the WWF saw fit to throw Foley a bone in the form of a (brief) reign as WWF Champion.

The story of the unlikely hero rising to the top is a familiar one, but Foley’s always felt special.  A major assist for that goes to Foley’s best-selling autobiography Have A Nice Day! which he wrote without the aid of a ghost writer.  When the book hit newsstands, Foley had already risen to the top so the book can’t take credit for that, but it can take credit for making Foley something more important to me than just another wrestler.  Foley’s writing was both witty and articulate.  He has a natural sense of humor and he comes across as 100% authentic.  He’s not afraid to boast of his good qualities, but he’s also quick to point out when he stinks up a match.  I can see how his willingness to pat himself on the back could rub people the wrong way, but I never found it off-putting.  He takes his job and his legacy seriously and he has a strong opinion of how the business of wrestling should be run.  This did get him into some trouble when he spoke ill of Nature Boy Ric Flair’s booking, but it’s the kind of thing readers are looking for when they buy this type of book.

With his unkempt hair and gap-toothed smile, Mick Foley never really embodied the image of WWF Superstar.

With his unkempt hair and gap-toothed smile, Mick Foley never really embodied the image of WWF Superstar.

Foley’s reputation for being a hardcore legend naturally sparked a great deal of curiosity on the part of wrestling fans who missed out.  A lot of these matches occurred in Japan or smaller promotions in the US which were never commercially released.  Fans were forced to purchase low-quality VHS bootlegs and trade them amongst each other.  As a result, Foley’s career has lent itself well to home video.  For All Mankind is his second major collection released by WWE following the more match-oriented Mick Foley’s Greatest Hits and Misses.  That collection contained a lot of the matches fans really wanted to see.  For All Mankind chooses to focus on Foley’s life and in many ways is like a visual complement to his written autobiographies.  There are matches included as well, but they’re secondary in this case.

I own The Greatest Hits and Misses set so I was more interested in the documentary this time around.  It runs around 2 hours and covers a lot of the same ground the books do but the visuals are a great benefit as some of the wrestlers Foley talks about have been almost forgotten.  It’s certainly familiar territory but the documentary livens things up with interviews from wrestlers past and present as well as some of Foley’s friends and family.  Surprisingly, we never hear from Foley’s wife which is too bad as I would have liked to have heard what was going through her mind every time her husband agreed to partake in some crazy barbed-wire death match or whatever.  Less surprising, but equally disappointing, is the absence of the Undertaker who was a big part of Foley’s WWE career.  The Undertaker is one of the few wrestlers left who basically refuses to break character so I didn’t expect to hear from him, but it didn’t stop me from holding out hope for it.

The documentary basically covers Foley’s entire profressional career, though it does refrain from acknowledging Foley’s run with TNA which is understandable.  There’s probably close to 45 minutes of outtakes on the Blu Ray release.  Most of these include funny stories from other wrestlers such as Triple H recalling a doomed attempt at a top-rope dive from Foley while other wrestlers rib him for his cheapness.  Foley himself comes across as a charming sort and it’s fun to hear him talk about all of the things he’s done.  He’s a natural story-teller that can draw in non-wrestling fans with little effort.

The set is light on matches, but does include a few bright spots including this barbed wire match with the Sandman.

The set is light on matches, but does include a few bright spots including this barbed wire match with the Sandman.

The other large portion of the release is dedicated to actual matches from throughout Foley’s career.  The set, like most WWE sets, seeks to avoid repeating matches that appeared on other sets which is good for the wrestling diehard that buys everything, but it prevents the WWE from ever putting out a definitive collection of matches for any one wrestler.  Foley is no exception as his best matches are on the previously mentioned Mick Foley’s Greatest Hits and Misses.  There are two repeat matches from the set; Foley’s debut match as Jack Foley and his infamous Hell in a Cell bout with the Undertaker from King of the Ring ’98.  The good thing about the HIAC match being repeated is that the WWE has now finally ceased censoring out the old WWF logo from its matches which helps enhance the viewing experience.  The previous release also was only available on DVD, but seeing these matches on Blu Ray does very little to enhance the experience as so many of them are taken from old masters.  A lot of the new matches added are from Foley’s early run with WCW including one against Sting.  There’s also a few choice ECW fights with the Sandman in a barbed wire match and a humorous bout with Shane Douglas during Foley’s final days with the promotion.  Unfortunately, a lot of the other matches are pretty forgetable but one match I was happy to see included was Foley’s original farewell match at No Way Out against Triple H.  It’s not the best match they ever had with each other, but I like having it for the sake of completion.

This set works best when viewed as a complement to Foley’s previous releases, including both print and DVD.  If you’re a Foley fan who hasn’t read his books for several years this should be a fun trip down memory lane for you.  Others looking for Foley’s craziest matches will be let down by what they find here.  It’s all about expectations.  I got a lot out of this release and if it’s something you’re interested in checking out definitely opt for the Blu Ray if possible as the extra content is worth the extra five bucks.  Foley’s documentary is good!


WWE ’13 – The Attitude Era

WWE '13 (2012)

WWE ’13 (2012)

Let it be known, nostalgia sells!  Too many of us overgrown children have disposable income to throw at DVD collections and old toys and publishers are well aware of this.  Just look no further than this year’s entry in the WWE video game catalog:  WWE ’13.  Now, there’s nothing nostalgic about the title but the focus of the game’s single player mode is the now much celebrated Attitude Era of the WWE.  I’ve spoken fondly of it in the past, but that’s definitely my favorite era for the then WWF, even surpassing Hulkamania for me in terms of pure enjoyment.  Vince McMahon’s promotion was arguably never more popular or culturally significant at any other point in time, including today.  It made a lot of sense to revisit it (even if it seems strange to almost ignore the current product by doing so) and without it I’m not certain I would have purchased the game.

This review is going to mostly focus on the Attitude Era mode, but before diving into it I will provide an overview of the rest of the game.  This is the second game since THQ/Yukes dropped the Smackdown vs Raw title and refined the gameplay.  I didn’t play last year’s game, but the differences from the last Smackdown vs Raw and this one are minor.  They brought back the limb targeting system and modified the chain grapple slightly.  The changes are mostly superficial, but not to the detriment of the gameplay.  The havok engine the game makes use of was overhauled to a point as well.  The ring now reacts better to what’s going on, as do objects in the field of play.  Though overall, the visual quality looks to have taken a slight step back.  The audio is kind of all over the place in terms of levels, and the new dynamic camera system is wretched (but thankfully something you can turn off).  The create modes are unchanged.  Some moves have been returned to the game and some have disappeared.  It’s pretty disappointing that the create-a-finisher mode is still as limited as it was when it first debuted several years ago now.  There’s also a create-an-arena that is new but not very exciting.  I haven’t checked out the create-a-scenario but I suspect it hasn’t been improved upon much, if at all.  WWE Universe mode is also back for the third year in a row.  Expect more of the same.

Fans get to relive some of the biggest feuds from the Attitude Era, including Hart vs Michaels.

Fans get to relive some of the biggest feuds from the Attitude Era, including Hart vs Michaels.

The gameplay is solid enough, and it’s probably one of the better grapplers put out by Yukes, but I’m only interested in the Attitude Era.  The Attitude Era mode basically replaces the single player storylines from past games.  It’s divided into multiple parts that put the focus on a different wrestler from the era.  The scenarios are:  DX, Stone Cold, The Brothers of Destruction, The Rock, Mankind, and Wrestlemania XV.  The first scenario starts off in the summer of 1997 and the scenario ends after Wrestlemania XV.  Once complete though, some bonus challenges open up featuring wrestlers such as Edge, The Godfather, and Lita.  I was rather impressed with how many old wrestlers were included in this mode considering some of them are no longer with the company.  Expect to take on the British Bulldog, the Road Warriors, and even Vader as you progress through the scenario.  During each match, the game will also assign special objectives that unlock additional content along the way.  Most of these objectives refer back to the real match and encourage you to recreate it as best as possible.  None stand out to me as being particularly challenging so expect to unlock them all with little trouble.

Since the Attitude Era has, until now really, been something only fans recognize it makes it difficult to get a consensus on when it started and ended.  Some think it started as far back as “Austin 3:16,” while others maintain it was the infamous Montreal Screwjob.  THQ decided to go with the formation of Degeneration X when Shawn Michaels and Triple H turned their backstage “Kliq” into an actual onscreen stable.  The game also constantly references the Monday Night Wars, the ratings battle between WWF’s Raw and WCW’s Nitro, as an ongoing storyline throughout the Attitude Era.  DX ends up being pretty well represented in the game, with the only notable exclusion being Chyna (probably due to her being an adult film actress now).  Even Mike Tyson is present for Wrestlemania XIV, which makes sense given that he was inducted into the WWE’s Hall of Fame earlier this year.

The roster includes expected stars such as The Rock, as well as some of the era's lesser stars like Ken Shamrock.

The roster includes expected stars such as The Rock, as well as some of the era’s lesser stars like Ken Shamrock.

The characters THQ chose to focus on for the era were logical.  They were certainly the most recognizable  from the era.  A lot of the big matches are covered including Michaels vs Hart at Survivor Series ’97, the inaugural Hell in a Cell match, the more famous Undertaker vs Mankind Hell in a Cell match, and the mode culminates in Austin vs Rock.  The only matches I missed that weren’t included was the Monday night match between Mick Foley and Terry Funk (who’s not included in the game unless you want to pay for him as Chainsaw Charlie) which took place in between the Austin vs Dude Love Pay-Per-View bouts; and the Austin vs Undertaker Buried Alive match at Rock Bottom ’98.  In the case of the second one, Yukes probably didn’t feel like coming up with a Buried Alive match again (they did at least bring back the I Quit match for the Rock vs Mankind feud) or the WWE felt like it wasn’t appropriate for their audience.  That last excuse seems unlikely as the game doesn’t shy away much from the content of the era.  There are some annoying inconsistencies though with the liberties taken by THQ.  For instance, Billy Gun is able to use his Bad Ass gimmick but Road Dogg can’t say the word “ass” as part of his intro.  The raunch is mostly absent though beyond a few utterances of the phrase “suck it.”  Austin’s middle finder is annoyingly censored, and the audio is as well whenever a character says “WWF” (it sounds like a lot of the audio was lifted directly from broadcast tapes excepting Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler’s commentary) which is distracting, but not as distracting as if they were saying WWE instead.

Current stars, like Triple H, are also depicted as their Attitude Era selves.

Current stars, like Triple H, are also depicted as their Attitude Era selves.

The game mode makes frequent references to WCW and its Nitro program but focuses solely on Raw.  It would have been cool to bounce back and forth considering WWE owns all of the WCW stuff at this point, plus a lot of WCW’s wrestlers from that era eventually ended up in WWE.  Perhaps THQ will one day give fans a WWE vs WCW game.  It’s also a little disappointing that the scenario ends before the end of the Attitude Era.  Like the start date, the end is hard to define but most everyone would agree that Wrestlemani XV is not the endpoint.  It’s more logical end would either be the start of the Invasion storyline, the introduction of the nWo into WWE programming, or Wrestlemania XIX where Stone Cold wrestled his final match.  Perhaps THQ is saving that for future downloadable content, a sequel, or maybe it was just too burdensome to pull off.  In order to accurately depict that era wrestlers such as the Dudley Boys, Hardys, and Kurt Angle would have to be included and all are currently with TNA Impact Wrestling.  TNA has in the past allowed its wrestlers to appear on WWE programs, usually limited to Hall of Fame related stuff, so maybe those guys could appear in a WWE game, but maybe at an unattractive price for THQ.

Regardless of the mode’s shortcomings, it was by and large a fun experience for me to take a trip down memory lane with some of my favorite characters from yesterday.  The mode got a lot right, and I appreciated the subtle details such as making all of Foley’s alter-egos their own selectable character, same for making the Hunter Hearst Helmsley character different from Triple H.  There is quite a bit of content in the scenario, though probably not enough to make purchasing the game solely for the Attitude Era mode a wise one.  I think I’ll get enough mileage out of the rest of the game to make it worthwhile, but I still have yet to fully dive into the other modes.  I’m glad to see the WWE and THQ recognizing that there’s a large market for the Attitude Era and hopefully this isn’t the last we see of it.


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