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WrestleMania XXXII Preview

wwe-wrestlemania-32WrestleMania is once again upon us. This year the flagship show of the wrestling year is coming live from Dallas, TX in front of what could be a record-breaking crowd at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. This should be the most exciting time of the year for wrestling fans, but this year’s edition of WrestleMania has a different feel. Injuries, always a factor in sports and wrestling, have played a huge role in shaping this year’s card. None of last year’s title winners will be able to compete this year due to injury. Daniel Bryan, who last year won the Intercontinental Championship in a ladder match, was forced to retire due to injury. Other competitors who can’t compete include Seth Rollins, who won the WWE Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXXI, John Cena, Cesaro, Sting, Randy Orton, Nikki Bella, and others. This makes booking the show a real challenge, but there’s also opportunity. It’s been a pretty good year for NXT graduates, and some of them will be putting their talents on display Sunday. Still, there’s mounting criticism that this show has not been booked well and expectations are probably lower than they’ve been for a WrestleMania in a long time. I’ll get to those issues and more as I walk you through the card for WrestleMania XXXII. I’ll make a prediction on who I think will win as well as include the “opposite momentum” prediction. If you’re not familiar with the concept, opposite momentum refers to the character who looks weakest on the most recent episode of Raw (e.g. – Rock blasts Stone Cold with a chair to close-out Raw only for Austin to win on Sunday) who often ends up winning at the Pay-Per-View. Determined wrestling fans have tested the theory out and it’s usually right in about 80% of matches. As always, card subject to change.

3029093-20160307_wm32-keyart_match_kalistoryback_1920x1080--983d76314f9262b3c351e91fbcefe253Pre-Show: United States Championship Kalisto (c) vs Ryback

This year’s edition of WrestleMania has three pre-show matches scheduled. The pre-show is two hours long (ugh) and one of those hours will be shown on the USA Network and both hours will be on the WWE Network. The first match, as of this writing, pits the US Champion Kalisto against the bruising Ryback. The story-telling for this match has mostly resided on the lesser shows like Smackdown and Superstars. Kalisto, after trading wins with Alberto Del Rio, has been a mostly quiet champion. It’s hard to understand what the future for him is. How much is the WWE behind him as a champ or is he just a place-holder? Meanwhile, Ryback has made a slight heel turn and traded in his air-brushed attire for black trunks prompting chants of “Goldberg” from the audience. The lack of real story development is what probably landed the match on the pre-show. It also raises questions as to why this match isn’t the big ladder match for a minor title instead of the Intercontinental Championship match. I think a lot of behind the scenes guys have always envisioned big things for Ryback, so a win here seems likely for the big guy. Who knows if the program between the two will continue beyond WrestleMania? Match-wise, this one could surprise. Kalisto, for all of the questions around his character and story direction, is a great in-ring talent and Ryback has come into his own (when he’s not trying to wrestle like a cruiserweight). I don’t think they’ll be given enough time to be a true show-stealer, but I expect a solid bout, though the threat of a squash win is always in place in this type of match-up where one guy has such a huge size advantage.

Opposite Momentum Winner:  N/A

Prediction: Ryback

Wrestlemania-32-10Pre-Show:  Brie Bella, Paige, Natalya, Alicia Fox, and Eva Marie vs. Lana, Naomi, Tamina, Emma, and  Summer Rae in a 5 on 5 Tag Match

This is a classic “It’s WrestleMania and we need to get everyone involved” match. Basically, all of the women wrestlers on the main roster (plus two who mostly wrestle on NXT) not involved with the Divas Championship match are in this one. As a fan, these matches kind of suck because the storyline leading up to it is nonsense, or nonexistent, and the matches are usually filler. As a human being, it’s understandable why the WWE wants to get everyone involved. For a lot of wrestlers, being left off the WrestleMania card is devastating for multiple reasons. Unfortunately for Brie, this is probably her last match before she heads off into retirement (unless she decides to wrestle one more match the next night on Raw) and it’s probably going to be a lackluster one. Including Eva Marie with the babyfaces is also bizarre as everyone hates her. I don’t know if it’s bad story-telling or if if she’s supposed to be hated by her teammates. Anyways, the prevailing storyline leading up to this match is Lana vs. Brie. As such, I expect Brie to “do the honors” (the tradition in wrestling where an outgoing star puts over a rising one) and take the pin here with maybe some treachery from Eva being involved. It’s also possible Brie and Lana face-off in a one-on-one match on Raw to close things out, or she takes on Eva Marie if there’s a double-cross at WrestleMania.

Opposite Momentum: Lana, Naomi, Tamina, Emma, and Summer Rae

Prediction: Lana, Naomi, Tamina, Emma, and Summer Rae

HDGdNr4vPre-Show: The Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz

Our last pre-show match pits the babyface duo of The Usos vs. the newly anti-table Dudley Boyz. Borrowing a bit from Mick Foley’s old anti-hardcore gimmick, the Dudleys have given up on tables and turned heel determined to be perceived as something more than a mere nostalgia act. Meanwhile, The Usos are just The Usos and have been in and out of the tag team title picture for years now. Not much is expected from this match, and if it is indeed the final match of the pre-show, it could be pressed for time. If the WWE wants us to take the Dudley Boyz seriously, then they could really use a win here as they’ve mostly been glorified jobbers since they made their return. Longterm, I have no idea what the plan is for this feud, but it seems like The Usos are better equipped to handle a loss than the ECW vets.

Opposite Momentum: The Dudley Boyz (though it’s pretty flimsy)

Prediction: The Dudley Boyz

The Main Card

28aaf_wrestlemania_32_andre_battle_royalThe André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal – Various

This is the male match designed to get everyone not involved in a feud onto the card. Debuting at WrestleMania XXX, the Andre The Giant Battle Royal seemed like it was going to be a one-time thing and also a stepping stone for the victor, Cesaro. Instead, Cesaro’s post-Mania push fizzled and the giant trophy awarded to him was rendered a silly prop. The following year, The Big Show emerged victorious making it kind of a lifetime achievement award for the modern era Giant. This year, I expect the match to also be a reward for an aging wrestler looking for one last moment of glory. Aside from that, there’s not much to say about it. WWE has left the final few slots in the match a mystery, so there could be some surprises or maybe Legends cameos. Regardless, expect a pretty mundane battle royal that lasts ten minutes or so that has no longterm storyline implications.

Opposite Momentum: Not Big Show and not Kane.

Prediction: Mark Henry, who is expected to retire at some point in 2016.

20160324_WM32-keyart_MATCH_8man_1920x1080--70dc5220e7bb48fa403c6d116518156aLadder Match for the Intercontinental Championship: Kevin Owens (C) vs. Sami Zayn vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Zack Ryder vs. Stardust vs. Sin Cara vs. The Miz

This is another “get everyone involved” match, but at least the participants and the gimmick may lead to an above-average match, potentially a show-stealer. Expect these guys to go all out and try to make this a memorable match. Pretty much all of them are still looking for that “WrestleMania Moment.” While Ziggler, Miz, and Stardust have been here before, Ryder has been with the company for years but never given a chance to shine at a WrestleMania outages of the battle royal at WrestleMania XXX. For the incumbent Owens and challenger Zayn, this is their first go at WrestleMania (in Zayn’s case it’s his first PPV with the main roster), for the longtime real-life buddies this will probably be a big moment for them in front of the biggest crowd they’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that this match would be far better as just a one on one bout between Owens and Zayn, continuing their NXT feud which was cut short by Zayn’s real life injury. The US title match would be better off in this spot as the big cluster-fuck match. As it stands, four of the competitors here are extreme long shots to win and a program between Zayn and Owens seems inevitable. It’s possible WWE views that feud as one that doesn’t need a title involved, but that would be a mistake. Zayn got the best of Owens on Raw, so he’s the opposite momentum long shot. Poor planning aside, I am looking forward to this match though I also know that the current climate in WWE means this ladder match has no chance of approaching the Attitude Era ladder matches but it should still be fun. This match should tell us how behind Owens the creative staff is. Owens seems like a future main eventer, and by future I mean soon. A big win here at WrestleMania could help to solidify his standing. A loss in such a chaotic environment could also be seen as a win for him as it frees him up to chase the big one, though like I said earlier, a program with Zayn seems like the next step.

Opposite Momentum:  Kevin Owns

Prediction:  Kevin Owens

wwe-rumors-wrestlemania-32-matches-final-card-ladder-match-intercontinental-title-match-order-kickoff-main-event-styles-jericho-670x377AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho

This would normally be a classic blow-off match if not for the fact that there isn’t a classic feud-ending gimmick involved. No cage, no unique win conditions, it’s not even no DQ. This is a feud that has been going on basically all year, with the two trading victories before the newcomer Styles picked up a rubber match win. That lead to a brief pairing of the two that last just long enough for WWE to print “Y2AJ” t-shirts before Jericho turned on Styles. There’s no real opposite momentum prediction here as no one really got a leg-up on the other on Raw in a convincing fashion, but expect Styles to come out ahead as he’s the guy expected to hang around while Jericho probably goes back to podcasts and Fozzy gigs. These two guys have a chance to steal the show with a mat-classic on par with Savage/Steamboat, but absent a title, I don’t expect the two to be given enough time to deliver that good a match. Hopefully they’ve held back some spots just for this occasion to elevate this one beyond something we’d see on Raw.

Opposite Momentum: N/A

Prediction: AJ Styles with The Styles Clash

20160315_WM32-keyart_MATCH_NewDay_LON_1920x1080--716572d60de9dac6f4d7d0b626de49e9Handicap Match:  The New Day vs The League of Nations

The New Day enters this match as Tag Team Champions but the belt will not be on the line unless a change is made last minute. It’s also a 3 on 4 handicap match presently but there’s always the possibility of a surprise entrant. The League of Nations debuted earlier this year as a stable and seemed like they were primed for success as a powerful heel faction. Instead, they’ve been afterthoughts ever since Sheamus dropped the WWE Heavyweight Championship and Del Rio the US Championship. An injury to Wade Barrett has mostly kept him on the sidelines but it’s strange it’s taken them this long to get involved with the Tag Team Championship. Meanwhile, The New Day has been one of the hottest acts in the company even though they’re supposed to be bad guys. The audience has latched onto them and started cheering them and they’ve embraced those cheers and become a true baby face squad. Since the titles aren’t on the line, and the League of Nations needs a big credibility boost, I expect them to prevail. If not, they’ll be effectively buried absent a creative finish if they can’t take advantage of the numbers.

Opposite Momentum:  The New Day

Prediction:  The League of Nations

Dean-Ambrose-vs.-Brock-Lesnar-WrestleMania-32No-Holds Barred Street Fight:  Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar

While the majority of matches preceding this one have suffered from some creative missteps, Ambrose vs. Lesnar is not among them. While one could argue that one, or both, participants should be in the main event this rivalry has been rewarding and this match is perhaps the most intriguing. Lesnar has been billed as unstoppable, often only losing when a triple threat stipulation keeps him from being a part of the decision. When Ambrose has challenged him physically he’s been unsuccessful, which is why this one is being sold as an anything goes match with Ambrose loading up his “red wagon of doom” with various instruments of destruction on Raw. They’ve kept these two from getting physical leading up to the event, so no one has an edge or non-edge heading into this one. I expect a very physical confrontation, and hopefully WWE lets them get as hardcore as they want to otherwise all of the build-up will look silly. With the way Lesnar is booked, it seems unlikely that Ambrose can win here without some outside interference. The Wyatt family lurks, and they don’t have a match anywhere on the card. A Bray Wyatt vs. Lesnar feud has been teased several times so it would make sense for him to cost Lesnar a match here. Perhaps with Lesnar getting decimated so he can be off TV for awhile, per usual.

Opposite Momentum:  N/A

Prediction:  Ambrose

wrestlemania-32-the-undertaker-vs-shane-mcmahonHell in a Cell for Control of Raw:  Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker

The match that came out of no where. I was pretty excited to see Shane come back a few weeks ago, like apparently everyone else, but I was not happy to see him booked against The Undertaker. This is a spot that could be used to elevate a younger guy, especially if rumors of Undertaker’s imminent retirement were true, but instead it’s just a quick and cheap way to add some star power with a returning Shane to a card decimated by injury. Hell in a Cell is also a match I’d like to see put on hiatus for awhile. The creative aspects of the match have been exhausted and few have come close to matching the original Hell in a Cell match and its follow-up. The stipulation here is that if Shane wins he gets control of Raw, and effectively control of the whole company. If Undertaker loses then this is his last WrestleMania match. That part of the stipulation is an empty threat as if Shane gains control of the WWE there’s nothing stopping him from reinstating The Undertaker. And since he’s just doing what Vince tells him to do, Shane really has no reason to hate Undertaker. That stipulation was just a last ditch effort to add some motivation for Undertaker and it failed. As far as the ending of this one goes, it’s anybody’s guess. It seems far-fetched to expect Undertaker to lose to a non-wrestler at WrestleMania, but since his streak ended a few years ago, perhaps it’s in the cards. After all, who cares if he has one loss or two at WrestleMania? The number people cared about was zero. Undertaker could pull a fast one on Vince and allow Shane to pin him, a returning John Cena could somehow get involved, a returning Cesaro, the Wyatts, etc. And no one would be surprised if it turns out Shane and Vince are in cahoots and maybe this was a way to force Undertaker out? That wouldn’t make any sense, but that has never stopped WWE in the past. Maybe the best outcome would be Reigns getting involved on Shane’s behalf, with Shane doing the same in the main event to create a Shane-Roman alliance going forward. I do hope for a Shane victory that keeps him as a baby face because the era of the heel controller of the show has been around way too long. In the end though, I think this match is what it is, a one-off for Shane to liven things up for WrestleMania only.

Opposite Momentum: The Undertaker

Prediction: The Undertaker

20160308_WM32-keyart_MATCH_charlotteshasha_1920x1080--eb9510721be038b7c73cef69ecd758a0Divas Championship Triple Threat:  Charlotte (C) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch

I am not one for hyperbole or prone to exaggeration, so it’s saying something to call this the most important match in the history of women’s wrestling as far as the WWE is concerned. For as long as I’ve been alive, the women’s division has either been an after-thought or a way to inject some sex appeal into the show. Ever since NXT proved the women could be just as entertaining as the men, there’s been a push for the main roster to showcase the women in a legitimate way. It should come as no surprise then that all three participants are graduates of NXT. Charlotte is the heel, daughter of The Nature Boy, she’s had a nice little run with the belt. Banks is the heir apparent and one of the most over stars in the company. Like The New Day, she’s basically a heel that the crowd adores, making her a baby face. Confused? Becky Lynch is the wild card. Every bit as talented as the other two, she’s never held the NXT Women’s Championship and has been riding in the backseat while Charlotte and Banks drive the bus. If rumors are true, this will also be the last match for the Divas Championship as it will finally be tossed aside in favor of a new WWE Women’s Championship. The ending seems too obvious, but oftentimes WrestleMania is fairly obvious as WWE likes to have its fan favorites emerge victorious on the biggest show of the year. For that reason, I see a Sasha Banks victory. She will be the one to carry the Women’s Division into the future and it seems like WrestleMania XXXII is the best way to spotlight her and get the Sasha Era started (especially since the main event seems destined to disappoint). My fantasy booked hope is to have Banks win with a rematch occurring the next night on Raw in the main event to further drive home the fact that the Women’s Division is an important part of the card. In truth though, I could see any of the three women emerging victorious Sunday night.

Opposite Momentum:  Becky Lynch

Prediction:  Sasha Banks

maxresdefault-1200x675WWE World Heavyweight Championship:  Triple H (C) vs. Roman Reigns

It’s possible this match isn’t the main event as the crowd revolt against Reigns continues. Triple H is supposed to be the heel in this one, but the crowd’s disgust with Reigns being forced upon them for over a year now just seems insurmountable. Reigns is not a bad wrestler, but his character is kind of bland. I don’t detest the guy, but he’s not my pick for champ. Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to boo him, and that makes me a part of the minority, I suppose. The dilemma facing the WWE with this match is if it stays on script and has Reigns go over Triple H they risk having 100k people ending WrestleMania with a rain of boos descending on the ring. That’s fine when a designed heel prevails, but the joyous celebration in the ring would not mix well with such a scene. The alternative is to have Triple H win, but I don’t think that’s really in the company’s best interests either. Last year, with the same problem, WWE inserted Seth Rollins into the main event at the last minute to have him steal the belt from Brock Lesnar by pinning Reigns. There’s no Money in the Bank briefcase this year to save them, making the most likely outcome some kind of a crazy finish that sees other baby faces get involved to maybe give Reigns a rub. However, when WWE tried that last year with The Rock, of all people, the crowd still unleashed the boo-birds on Reigns. It would seem a heel turn for Roman Reigns would be best, but is WWE ready to give-up on Roman Reigns as the top baby face in the company not named John Cena? Probably not.

Opposite Momentum:  N/A

Prediction: Roman Reigns

 

There you have it, my picks for the entire WrestleMania XXXII card. Honestly, it doesn’t look like a great show on paper but maybe low expectations will help. The only matches I’m looking forward to are the Women’s match, the Ladder match, and Ambrose/Lesnar. The card is so loaded that there’s going to be some victims of time. I’m interested in the outcomes of the main event and the Hell in a Cell match, but I don’t think either match will be exceptional. Here’s to hoping that WrestleMania will be the start of a new era, one where creative actually listens to the audience and gives them more of the wrestlers they really want to see, and less of the ones they don’t.


Ranking the WrestleMania Main Events: The Top 3

We are now just a little over 24 hours away from WrestleMania XXX. Considering it’s the 30th edition of the WWE’s flagship show we should expect something grand and whether we get it or not will surely be debated come Monday. What has come before it has been a mix of good and bad, immortal and forgettable, but these last three main events have all been great, for one reason or another. Though as a sort-of final thought on the WrestleMania main events on the whole, I would offer that they do not represent the best of WrestleMania. In doing this feature I realized that most of the greatest matches of all time occurred during the undercard. I’m not sure what that says about the event, other than that Hulk Hogan was a pretty poor and predictable wrestler, but I suppose it doesn’t matter much in the long-run so long as the entire show is good. That said, these last three matches actually do represent the best of the card from their respective WrestleManias and the fans should have been sent home happy after witnessing these three.

wrestlemania153. The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (WrestleMania XV)

The main event for WrestleMania XV is your classic good guy battles through adversity and comes out on top at the biggest show of the year. It’s a pretty common formula for the industry and that’s because it works. WrestleMania often has the good-guy challenger come out on top in the main event with successful title defenses being pretty rare. Successful heel title defenses are even rarer. For XV, The Rock was the undisputed top heel in the business, and fresh off a long feud with Mankind, he was set to take on Austin. Austin and The Rock had previously battled over the Intercontinental title so a match between the two wasn’t foreign to wrestling fans, but by 1999 both were so huge that it felt like an all new feud. Austin was coming off of his feud with Vince McMahon which had finally resulted in an actual match between the two at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre the previous month. The feud would carry-over in the next pay-per view, Backlash, but was at long last starting to wane.

Austin and The Rock put on a great show for the fans with lots of outside the ring work and humorous character spots. This match strikes a nice balance between wrestling and entertainment. The Rock’s character was so over-the-top that his main event matches needed to have something special added to them to take advantage. Their follow-up WrestleMania match at XVII had a little more of this extra-curricular stuff, but the finish to it was too drawn out and I disliked Austin’s heel turn, which is why I rank this one ahead of it. Hopefully we one day get another match-up between two huge superstars like this in a WrestleMania main event (some would argue we did with Rock and Cena, but Cena’s love from fans is not universal like Austin and Rock’s was in 1999) because it is awesome when the crowd is this into it.

Two of the best.

Two of the best.

2. Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker (WrestleMania XXVI)

Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker stole the show at WrestleMania XXV in what many fans consider the greatest WrestleMania match of all time. WWE recognized how well-received it was so they did it again at WrestleMania XXVI only this time in the main event and with Michaels’ career on the line as the match stipulation. Other than the career vs streak booking, there were no actual titles on the line in this main event and no one cared. At this point, Undertaker’s “streak” is bigger than any belt when it comes to WrestleMania. Maybe next year I’ll rank his best WrestleMania matches and that way I can find out just when the streak became a major plot device for the WWE. It’s now the only time The Undertaker even wrestles giving WrestleMania this video game vibe where Undertaker is like the final boss of the last level.

I believe I am in the minority when I say the rematch between Michaels and Undertaker is actually my favorite of the two. They’re both excellent, but I enjoy the added drama of Michaels’s career being on the line (though I also love the moonsault-tombstone ending of the previous match) which helps add even greater weight to the whole thing. This match seemed quicker with fewer pauses for rest holds and such (aided greatly by Undertaker not botching a suicided dive to the outside of the ring). Undertaker and HBK just work exceptionally well as opponents. HBK has always been able to effectively sell his own offense despite often being much smaller than his opponents. Michaels is also the perfect size to sell Undertaker’s more high impact offense as he can carry Michaels around the ring and toss him like a rag doll, if he so pleases.

The two go all out, which is something a superstar can do if he knows it’s his last match or that it will be his only match of the year. There’s a nice diving moonsault to the outside by Michaels and plenty of stiff shots. As I mentioned earlier, the storyline ending is just icing on the cake and Michaels gets the send-off he deserves as one of the greatest of all time. This one was a strong contender for greatest WrestleMania main event of all time, but it comes up just a little bit short to the next one.

Michales and Hart would battle for over an hour to determine the WWF Champion.

Michales and Hart would battle for over an hour to determine the WWF Champion.

1. Shawn Michaels vs Brett Hart (WrestleMania XII)

The Iron Man Match. That’s all that really needs to be said to any wrestling fan and they’ll know what you’re talking about. Iron Man Matches had occurred before but most fans had never heard of it. Even today, it’s not a common match type as it requires its competitors be willing and able to wrestle for an hour. I think many guys could pull it off, but not sell it as a great match. Even two guys in excellent physical shape like Shawn Michaels and Brett Hart had to stop for rest holds and such, but the vigor at which they’re able to go at each other impresses me every time I view this match.

For those unaware, an iron match is a timed match in which the competitor who scores the most “falls” in the allotted time limit wins the match. For this contest that meant pinfalls, submissions, count outs, and disqualifications were all on the table. The beauty of this match was that there were no falls recorded during the sixty minute time limit. When it seemed like the match would end in a draw, Brett Hart was ordered back to the ring to continue into overtime where Michaels eventually won via pinfall for his first WWF Championship. The finish is great, but getting to it was better. Yes, there are the previously mentioned rest holds and slow parts, but the match really takes off during the middle stages and the two competitors somehow keep it going. There are great moments of aerial superiority from Michaels, while Hart is able to sink in a  sharpshooter at one point as well. Michaels and Hart worked so well together that it’s a shame they didn’t have more main events at WrestleMania (they were supposed to main event WrestleMania XIII, but Michaels pulled out due to injury). Their chemistry in the ring is unrivaled as they’re able to realistically sell each other’s offense and pull off what should be unrealistic counters. They have a flow like two expert dancers and their contrasting personalities help to elevate the show side of the match. The Iron Man Match is not only the greatest main event in WrestleMania history, it’s also the greatest match in WrestleMania history and it will take one-hell-of-a-match to knock it off the top of the mountain.


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.


Ranking the WrestleMania Main Events (19-12)

The year long feud between Macho Man and Hulk Hogan came to a head at WrestleMania V.

The year long feud between Macho Man and Hulk Hogan came to a head at WrestleMania V.

19. Hulk Hogan vs Macho Man Randy Savage (WrestleMania V)

The clash of the Mega Powers!  The WrestleMania V main event was another early WrestleMania main event that wasn’t much to write home about, but one thing it did have was legs.  The main event for WrestleMania V was unofficially booked at the conclusion of WrestleMania IV when Savage won the WWF Championship to close out the night with the aid of Hogan.  For the next year the two would tag team and feud with Dibiase and The Giant until conflict would surface between the two.  With both guys being pretty popular with fans, the WWF needed to turn one heel and it unsurprisingly went with Savage, who despite being the champion, was not as over with the fans as Hogan.  When the two finally collided, it was a case of excellent booking with a good pay-off, the type of thing that doesn’t really happen in today’s world of short attention span fans.   As I alluded to at the start, the match itself was rather poor.  Savage was a real in-ring talent, but there was nothing he could really do to elevate Hogan and the match ended up being a typical Hulk Hogan match.

18. Triple H vs Batista (WrestleMania XXI)

Batista was a real throw-back superstar.  The only things separating him from guys like Hogan and The Warrior were tattoos and a crew cut.  He had the look of the behemoth and the grace to match.  His matches never did much for me and this encounter with Triple H was a dud.  The two would go on to have better match-ups centered more around gimmicks (maybe someone realized a straight wrestling match just wasn’t playing to their strengths), but never any real classics.  Triple H has also been a pretty good worker and he has the reputation of being a technical wrestler.  Personally, I’ve always felt his reputation was forced.  Great technical wrestlers can elevate their opponents and find a way to have good matches, I don’t think Triple H has ever been that guy and he certainly wasn’t able to pull a good match out of Batista at WrestleMania XXI.

17. The Undertaker vs Sycho Sid (WrestleMania XIII)

This is a match that really has no business being as good as it is.  That’s not to say it’s a classic by any means, but before I sat down to re-watch it recently after all of these years I was expecting the worst.  My preliminary thoughts on this list had this match coming in at around number 27 or so, but here it is at 17.  Sid Justice, at the time going as Sycho Sid, is not much of a wrestler.  He was a big guy and could do some big moves, but when it came to selling a match he was awful and that part of his game is on display in this one.  Despite that, there were some good moments and he and Undertaker were able to tell a pretty decent story.  By contrast, Undertaker has always been a big guy who was a plus worker, a hard combination to find, and both guys aren’t so big that they can’t take each other’s big moves and make them look good.  The match does suffer from too many interruptions (I’m not sure if Sid was balking at losing clean to Undertaker or if the Brett Hart run-ins were just meant to setup a new feud), but otherwise is solid entertainment.

16. Triple H vs John Cena (WrestleMania XXII)

With these last few matches, we’ve entered into the part of the list where the matches aren’t bad matches, but they’re not exactly main event at the biggest show of the year quality matches.  This is another match that kind of surprised me when I watched it recently.  I’m not a John Cena fan.  Like Batista, he’s a throwback to the eighties.  He’s a superman like Hogan was where he’ll take a beating and then suddenly kick-out of a big move and hit his finisher for the win.  He’s an attraction as he was in his match with Big Show years earlier where he got the giant up onto his shoulders.  This match though is a pretty hard hitting affair with some good pacing (after a slow start).  It’s nothing to write home about, but the fact that it’s not one of the worst matches is an accomplishment I wasn’t sure it would have.

The Rock loomed large at WrestleMania XXVII despite not even being on the card.

The Rock loomed large at WrestleMania XXVII despite not even being on the card.

15. John Cena vs The Miz (WrestleMania XXVII)

As a match, this one is probably worse than the previous two.  I’ve already shared my thoughts on Cena, but The Miz is no better.  He’s Cena without the look.  As a heel, which he was at the time of this match, he was pretty good at getting heat.  In the ring though he’s sloppy, lacks polish, and has a pedestrian arsenal.   The build-up to this match though had almost nothing to do with The Miz, who was actually the champion heading into WrestleMania!  No, the storyline centered around John Cena and the host of WrestleMania XXVII:  The Rock.  When The Rock returned to Monday Night Raw he almost immediately began picking a fight with John Cena.  Their feud would carry over into the next year’s WrestleMania, especially after The Rock played a role in the outcome of this match between Cena and The Miz, and it’s the buzz that surrounded this match that helps elevate it.  Otherwise, this was a main event more befitting of Raw than WrestleMania.

I'm pretty sure there's a law somewhere that says I have to post this picture if I'm going to talk about WrestleMania III.

I’m pretty sure there’s a law somewhere that says I have to post this picture if I’m going to talk about WrestleMania III.

14. Hulk Hogan vs André the Giant (WrestleMania III)

In terms of build-up and anticipation, there is no equal when it comes to Hogan vs The Giant.  This is the main event that shattered the all-time attendance record and would stand for a long, long time.  The Giant was a huge attraction and was billed as being undefeated over his career.  Hogan was Hogan, the biggest current attraction in the wrestling world. André had also never wrestled for the championship, mostly because promoters didn’t need him to and allowed for them to have two big matches on a card: an André the Giant match, and a world championship match.  Of course, come 1987 André was a shell of his old self and nearing the end, and Hogan was…well, I think I’ve ripped on him enough at this point.  This match is awful.  The Giant can barely move and Hogan is forced to try to sell his limited offense.  The only part of the match worth watching is “The Slam” at the end.  That was a huge moment and the crowd reaction sells it perfectly.  If this were a list of best moments from a WrestleMania main event, that would be the easy choice for number one.  It’s a big enough moment that it elevates a garbage match up to number 14, which isn’t too bad if you ask me.  It was one Hell of a slam.

13. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XIV)

Transitioning from the original mega stars of wrestling to perhaps two of the biggest in recent memory, here we have a match that really could have been something special.  It is special, but only because it marked the first time Austin won the WWF Championship and the added Mike Tyson factor at ring-side.  Unfortunately though, this was when Michaels was in tremendous pain following a serious back injury at Royal Rumble.  The injury would force him into retirement for four years before a comeback, but during the match it’s clear that Michaels isn’t right.  Some of it is a sell-job since play-by-play man Jim Ross wasn’t hiding the fact that Michaels was hurt, but a lot of it is legit discomfort.  Because of this, the match is real slow-paced with lots of rest holds and a feeling of restraint throughout.  It’s disjointed, but the finish was strong and the crowd certainly didn’t seem to mind once Austin hit the stunner.  Still, it’s hard to watch this and not wonder what could have been.

12. John Cena vs The Rock (WrestleMania XXIX)

Cena and The Rock ended their three year long feud at the conclusion of WrestleMania XXIX.

Cena and The Rock ended their three year long feud at the conclusion of WrestleMania XXIX.

The most recent main event, and part two of the Cena/Rock feud (unless you count their confrontation at WrestleMania XXVII as part one, then it’s part three) and at this point it was starting to run out of steam.  As much as people loved The Rock, myself included, it was hard to disagree with Cena’s assertions that at least he was a full-time wrestler, unlike The Rock.  The Rock was coming off as disingenuous, but he was still making people laugh.  In the ring though, it was becoming clear that Rock wasn’t the same guy as he was years ago, which is understandable.  This version of The Rock was really bulky, and since he wasn’t a full-time wrestler, he really didn’t have the stamina to carry a one-on-one match.  The two made it work the prior year, but come WrestleMania XXIX it was clear they were out of ideas as both guys resort to hitting their signature moves over and over.  Having a wrestler kick out of another guy’s big move can be a really effective way to sell the enormity of a match, but three times?  Four times?  It just loses impact.  In defense of The Rock, he did get injured during the match which may have affected his performance.  The enormity of the feud and star power of the characters is what elevates this match to this spot, not the in-ring performance.


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!


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