The closer we get to April 1, the more excited I’m getting about the Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus match. I have this internal excitement meter at this time of year where I slowly start building anticipation for the top secondary matches. Right now, that’s what is happening with Sheamus and Daniel Bryan. The Celtic Warrior is one of my two favorites of this new generation of stars. I really am pumped to see him get this opportunity and hope he makes the most of it. I thought he did very good work with Triple H at his first Mania. I’ve been impressed with Bryan since his match with Miz at 2010’s Night of Champions. I want to see some more mic work from them on Friday. BTW, to continue these discussions on other social media outlets, please follow me on Twitter @TheDocLOP or hit me up on Facebook (Doc Lop). I’m happy to follow you, but I’d request that you ask me to do that.
Doctor's Orders: The Road To Wrestlemania Countdown #26-#41
By The Doc
Mar 7, 2012 - 8:46:58 PM
QUESTION OF THE DAY (80): On the current Wrestlemania card, what match are you most looking forward to?
41. Chris Jericho vs. Christian at Wrestlemania XX
40. Edge vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania XXVI
39. Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage at Wrestlemania V
38. CM Punk vs. Randy Orton at Wrestlemania XXVII
37. Shawn Michaels vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania XIV
36. John Cena vs. Randy Orton vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania XXIV
35. Money in the Bank 3 at Wrestlemania 23
34. Triple H vs. Randy Orton at the 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania
33. Money in the Bank IV at Wrestlemania XXIV
32. Triple H vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania X-Seven
31. John Cena vs. Batista at Wrestlemania XXVI
30. Bret Hart vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania VIII
29. Edge vs. Mick Foley at Wrestlemania 22
28. Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania III
27. The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania XIX
26. The Money in the Bank Ladder Match at Wrestlemania 21
Setting the stage: In late 2003, Christian and Chris Jericho were in the latter stages of their days as a tag team and set out upon a quest to bed WWE Divas, Trish Stratus and Lita. They bet one Canadian dollar that Jericho could nail Trish before Christian nailed Lita (or vice versa). It all got turned around, though, when Jericho actually fell in love with Trish. The girls found out about the bet and even had a PPV match with Jericho and Christian, but Jericho tried very hard to get Trish to understand that he made a mistake and that he wanted to be with her. Christian found this annoying and did his best to play both sides in order to keep his best friend away from Trish. Jericho and Stratus eventually became close again and a renewed romance seemed imminent, but Christian plotted against them. Christian eventually had a match with Trish and destroyed her with Jericho’s own Liontamer. Y2J would take issue with his best friend and seek revenge, setting up this match at the 20th Mania.
The match: Their intensity level far exceeded their placement as the third match on the card, which was a welcome sight. Jericho controlled much of the early going, showing off some moves that we had not seen since his long forgotten days as a babyface. Christian would eventually battle back and make this is an evenly matched affair. The crowd was very much behind Y2J and, thus, very into the story that he was telling with Christian. The wrestlers fed off that energy and proceeded to perform a lengthy series of high spots, with each working in their best moves. As they transitioned into the climax of the match, they unleashed a nice series of false finishes before trading submission holds. After a double arm suplex off the top rope, Stratus ran to ringside and made her presence felt. Christian forcefully grabbed her and threw her to the ground. When Jericho came to her aid, she “mistakenly” elbowed him in the face, allowing Christian to sneak up behind him and grab a handful of trunks for the pin and the win. Afterward, Trish turned on Jericho and aligned with Christian and became one of the best female heel characters in the last 25 years.
The reception: From my point of view, you won’t find a better mid-card match at any Wrestlemania. They added quite a bit to that card with the caliber of performance that they produced. Most people enjoyed the match and rated it around the 3-star level or slightly above, praising the intensity and the post-match heel turn from Stratus. I thought it was the 2004 mid-card Match of the Year, so I rated it a little bit higher than most. I believe this to be an often forgotten gem and should be looked at as somewhat of a blueprint for how to have a match that stands out amidst a super card. The current stars could learn from Jericho and Christian in that regard, for they didn’t need a ton of TV time to get over their simple story and they didn’t need 20-minutes to execute the payoff in the ring.
CMV1 rating - ***1/2
Setting the stage: Throughout the tail end of 2009, I stated that Edge would make it back from his Achilles injury and return to win the Royal Rumble in 2010. Part of this was because I understood his injury and knew of the latest and greatest rehab techniques. Part of it was also that I knew Edge had the desire to be in the main-event at Wrestlemania again. Another part of it was that I’m a big fan of Edge and wanted to see him and Jericho hook it up on the big stage. Despite many rumors to the contrary, I remained quietly confident, as I sat down to watch the ’10 Rumble, that Edge would emerge victorious. He did just that. Jericho responded by winning the World title the next month. I could not have been happier, as I’m such a mark for Edge and such a fan of Jericho. Admittedly, this came about during a very stressful time in my life and Mania 26 was an outlet for me. I would walk around my place and, when I’d pass a mirror, I’d do the Edge pyro pose to fire myself up (never lose the childlike attitude). The build-up to the match was not what I’d hoped, as they chose a hokey route to getting Edge over as a babyface, but that did not curb my enthusiasm for their match.
The match: I sometimes think that Jericho has really bad luck. For some odd reason, his two main-event matches at Mania have suffered from dead crowds. At Mania X-8, it was due to Rock and Hogan stealing the show and a poor build-up to his match. At Mania 26, it was due to Bret Hart and Vince laying a big turd in the middle of the ring and killing the crowd and a poor build-up to his match. Edge and Jericho did their best to re-awaken the Phoenix audience, but it took several minutes of crisp and exciting action to get them worked out of their slumber. I thought the two put on a dazzling performance that lived up to my expectations for the most part. Their counters were crisp, their moves were well executed, their level of effort was high, and the story that they were telling was going off without a hitch. The only problem was that crowd. The near falls toward the end of the match were very good. Really the only gripe that I had was the somewhat anti-climactic finish that saw Jericho use the belt for a nice false finish, but then nonchalantly hit the Code Breaker for the win to retain the WHC.
The reception: I’ve seen this match be given as many as four stars and as little as below three stars. I personally felt that it was the second best match on the card, at first. I ranked it only behind HBK-Taker upon initially viewing this event, but subsequent views have seen me really favor the WWE title match over this one, in large part because of the crowd. I think the crowd is an important element, as is the build-up for a match. Although Jericho and Edge worked a good match, it lacked both the pre-match story and the crowd reaction to become great.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
Setting the stage: For those of you that are newer fans not yet schooled in the old ways of wrestling build-up, before there were a dozen or more PPVs each year, allow me to point you in the direction of Hogan vs. Savage. Long before there was a yearlong set-up for Rock vs. Cena, there was the excellence that was the Mega Powers Exploding. The only underlying difference is that Rock-Cena got announced a year in advance. Savage vs. Hogan was a foregone conclusion right when Savage won the title at Mania IV and had Hogan in his corner. It was a slow, steady hype that heated up at Summerslam, started to simmer at Survivor Series, and began to boil by the time Mania season rolled around. For that era, it was the masterpiece in putting together a long-term storyline and executing it flawlessly. This was the last great story of Hulkamania and Hogan’s last great classic feud of him as the definitive hero battling the evil villains. The dynamic was different a year later and it was watered down by the time they returned to the traditional Hulkamania formula in 1991.
The match: For those of you that now dislike Cena, then you’d probably hate Hogan from the 80’s. In many ways, he was as formulaic by the modern standard as you could possibly be. Unlike Cena, Hogan was really not that good of a wrestler. He knew what he was doing, though, and he was a performer that rallied a fan base like perhaps no other superstar ever. He didn’t know how to work in his “five moves of doom” quite as well as Cena (wink). Savage, though, you’d love. He would’ve been the Shawn Michaels of his day if the internet had existed. This was the classic Hogan match, just with a phenomenal grip on everyone watching’s emotions and a fantastic dance partner in the Macho Man. They went back and forth early, Savage dominated for a lengthy stretch, and Hogan made the fairly quick comeback for the victory and the title.
The reception: Even though the match is basic, you cannot deny the intangibles when rating this match. Some, I feel, have rated it entirely too low over the years because of the simplistic nature of the in-ring story. The out of the ring story was so excellent that the crowd was so into it that it really didn’t need to be much more than it was. I’ll admit that it wasn’t perfect and it should not be mistaken as one of the greatest matches – in that respect, it did fail to live up to the considerable storyline hype – but it was still a good match that told the story it needed to in order to make the payoff worth all the time. Savage was so good at working as the heel. Hogan was excellent at playing the super hero babyface. So, the two did click and put on a helluva show. This match, like a few others coming up on the Countdown, goes to show that historically ranking matches isn’t just about the Xs and Os.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
Setting the stage: All the way back in 2008, CM Punk was the World Champion heading into a PPV defense against 4 other guys in a Scramble match. Randy Orton, recovering from injury at the time, had a confrontation with Punk in his hometown of St. Louis on Raw, so he took it upon himself to sick his budding Legacy-mates on Punk and then punt him in the skull; thus, costing him the World title. Fast forward to 2011’s Royal Rumble, where Orton was trying to regain the WWE Championship from The Miz. When it looked as if Orton might win back the title he’d lost two months prior, Punk decided to get payback, sicking his New Nexus on Orton before giving him the Go to Sleep; thus, costing him the WWE title. Three years of animosity was the recipe for this storyline. Punk and his Nexus tried their best to make Orton’s life miserable, but the Viper took out every member but Punk. The Straight Edge Savior countered by using a tire iron to Orton’s knee right in front of Randy’s “wife.” Without a doubt, this was the match I was looking forward to most at last year’s Mania outside of Trips vs. Taker.
The match: It was clear from the get-go that Punk intended to go after the injured knee and use it to his advantage, as best as he could. He used a series of unique maneuvers to do just that, including kicking the ring steps into Orton’s bad leg and putting Randy in the Tree of Woe with the bum knee bearing all the weight. Orton was resilient, though, and played the part of a man possessed with the idea of evening the score with the villainous foe. Punk worked over the knee well enough, though, that he was able to maintain momentum. He connected with all of his signature moves, but could not put Orton away…not even with the Anaconda Vice. His attempt at the GTS was unsuccessful, with Orton countering. Randy eventually got the chance to punt Punk, but his bad knee wouldn’t allow it. Punk took his time and measured the fallen Viper, but Orton struck with an RKO attempt; Punk countered…and smiled brightly at his own escapability. He went for a springboard clothesline, but Orton hopped up and scored with the RKO for the win. It was an awesome ending to a damn good match.
The reception: The story in the ring was well told, with the fans and the critics responding generally positive fashion to the match. It was described by one major wrestling media member as being “very good.” I would agree with that. The psychology was superb, as you could expect from the two best at the psychological aspect of the wrestling performance in the game today. They weren’t really given the time to steal the show, per say, but their near 15-minutes was definitely the second best match on the card in 2011. I believe this will be one of those matches that will difficult to knock from its top 40 perch and may, in time, move up a bit. It reminded me of the old school matches from the 80s that were not booked with quite so many false finishes of the variety to which we’ve become accustomed (lots of finishers and such). I rather liked that aspect of it. It didn’t feel epic, though. It felt like the fourth biggest match on the card, even in subsequent viewings. One little thing that I loved about this, though, was that I was actually at the Raw where this story began. I lived in STL at the time and went to that pre-Unforgiven Raw. I was also at Wrestlemania 27 to see the storyline reach its climax.
CMV1 rating - ***1/2
Setting the stage: Shawn Michaels and Degeneration X was one of the preeminent things that helped the WWF make a comeback against WCW in the Monday Night Wars. Yet, he and it took a backseat to the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin, the ultimate anti-hero. Austin and Michaels were the perfect foils were one another going into Mania in ’98. HBK was the cocky, brash, degenerate heel champion and Austin was the bad ass that so many every men could relate to. Mike Tyson came in as the special ring enforcer and Austin immediately took issue with him, adding another layer of intrigue to the fold and one of the great celebrity roles in wrestling history. HBK added yet another layer, for his back was so badly injured that he was scheduled for career ending surgery as soon as the match was over and done with. Tyson joined DX in the lead in to Mania, giving the impression that the odds were impossibly stacked against the Rattlesnake.
The match: A reader and frequent wrestling pen pal and I had a long conversation last summer about Michaels being the Michael Jordan of pro-wrestling. The Mania XIV main-event was HBK’s equivalent to Jordan’s “Flu game” in the 1997 NBA Finals, where he overcame something that would have caused most to sit out and had one of the great performances of his career. Michaels looked pretty good in the early going, bumping around as if nothing was really wrong with his back. Behind the scenes, he had been rehabbing it for a couple of months in preparation and it showed. DX members Chyna and Triple H were tossed from ringside a few minutes in, allowing the match to be purely one-on-one. They went back and worth until Austin tossed Michaels end over end into the turnbuckle. The usual classic HBK spot did not work out, as HBK’s body wouldn’t cooperate. The move ended up sending HBK’s injured back into spasm and forced him to scratch and claw his way through the remainder of the match. In hindsight, he should have avoided that move. Michaels would hit most of his signature spots, but Austin made his comeback and went for the Stunner. HBK countered, but Austin countered the counter and hit the Stunner for the win to become WWF Champion (the three count was done by Tyson). Iron Mike punched out HBK after the match.
The reception: HBK was heralded for his toughness and, to this day, his performance is considered to be one of the gutsiest of all-time. Having had a similar injury, I can vouch for just how damn difficult it is to work through something like that. I cannot believe he was able to even do what he did. The critics will claim that it was not anywhere as good as it could have been had Michaels been healthy – and I would definitely agree with that – but you cannot take anything away from either man.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
Setting the stage: It was a series of fortunate events that made this match happen, as is. When Triple H came back from injury in 2007, I think most people assumed that Mania 24 would be when he’d get his rematch against Cena that he missed due to the second quad tear (for Mania 23). Then, Cena went down with an injury in the heart of his feud with Randy Orton in the fall. At the time, Cena’s injury was expected to keep him out past Mania, so everyone changed their tune and assumed that we’d finally get that Orton vs. Triple H main-event that we’d been expecting years earlier, just with the right guy playing the villain and babyface, respectively. Low and behold, Cena comes back months earlier and wins the Rumble in one of the most shocking moments I can recall as a WWE fan in recent memory. Suddenly, Cena vs. Orton could be back in play since Orton was still champ or they could do Cena vs. Trips and just get the title off Orton. It was kind of a wild ride before they finally decided on a 3-way. The build-up for the 3-way was kind of lackluster, but the pre-match video perfectly put all the pieces together with all the injuries and past subplots. If you watch that awesome video, that’s what you’ll remember of that feud anyway.
The match: I was surprised that this match didn’t get the main-event slot that year. I think most assumed that it was a shoe-in to close the PPV, but that’s not what happened. Instead, the three of them came out motivated to prove that they should’ve been the last match. Working a fast-paced, but smartly executed bout full of psychology often lacking in a triple threat, the three top Raw stars pushed the envelope with their conditioning and pulled off several nice sequences in rapid succession. The tower of doom spot that they performed was unique and high risk with Orton giving Cena a cross body off of Triple H’s shoulders. I think that they did a very good job of keeping us guessing as to who would emerge victorious, as the general consensus had Cena or Trips winning the title. I was rooting for Orton, personally, as I was proud to see him start to consistently show the goods that he’d given us glimpses of when he was coming up in ’03 and ’04. I loved the finish that saw Orton punt his way to stealing the victory. Most people in my section of the Citrus Bowl were stunned.
The reception: Because the card at Mania 24 was quite stacked, I think this is one of those bouts that unfairly got lost in the shuffle and could’ve easily been a 4-star affair with a few extra minutes thrown its way. The overall presentation with the pre-match hype video and the two big babyface entrances made this feel like the main-event, so I say mission accomplished overall. The combination of their hard work in the ring, the crowd, the pre-match events, and the drama of not knowing who would win made this is an underrated gem that I think will be remembered fondly years down the road.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
Setting the stage: Back in 2007, this match took on more significance than, perhaps, it had before. Mania cards of the modern era typically have between four and five big, headlining matches. For instance, the previous year at Mania 22, the two title matches, Edge-Foley, and HBK-Vince. The year after, at Mania 24, there was Show-Floyd, the two title matches, and Flair vs. HBK. At Mania 23, Money in the Bank had to step into that fourth headlining match role. The two title matches and the Battle of the Billionaires took up the brunt of the headliners in a year where injuries hit the WWE hard, leaving Edge, Orton, Booker, and the Hardys to use their name values to boost this match to being higher in profile than in previous years. It has taken on further historical significance from having been a headlining bout at the highest grossing Wrestlemania event of all-time.
The match: I was reviewing PPVs for LOP at the time, so it was quite a thrill for me to do a live, on-going review of a Wrestlemania. I was glued to my screen with my fingers glued to my keyboard and this was a wise choice for opener. I thought this felt like a bigger Money in the Bank than any before it or since. Maybe it was because Edge had spent all of the previous year in the title picture or that Orton was already such a big name or maybe it was just because this was the first MITB match that happened inside a stadium with 80,000 people cheering it on. It was also the longest to date of the 6 Mania MITB matches, clocking in at about 20-minutes in length. There were a lot of good spots, with the one memorable one of Jeff breaking a ladder for the first time in the manner that he did. Orton’s flurry of RKOs, including the one off the ladder is also a memorable couple of moments.
The reception: When I initially saw this, I rated it at four-stars. I don’t think history has been kind to it. MITB has happened so infrequently that you can’t help but adjust your ratings after seeing other MITB matches. I thought this was the 3rd best MITB match at Mania. Historically, taking all of them into account, this was probably the biggest MITB; it’s middle of the road in terms of quality, though. Matches that have certain intangibles will always rank above those with weaker intangibles. I think this match has some great intangibles, but it also suffers from the fact that Kennedy won it and then became very insignificant.
CMV1 rating: ***3/4
Setting the stage: I had something else written for this match, originally. It just didn’t cut it given how vehemently against many of you that I will be in arguing for this match’s placement on this list. We all know the history between the two. This main-event was several years in the making. Orton turned too soon in 2004 in one of the most ill-fated face turns in modern history. They forced the issue then and the feud fell flat on its face. It took Orton years to recover, but by Mania 24, he was back in business as a major player and champion poised to face HHH one-on-one on the grand stage. John Cena’s healing power prevented that from happening until Mania 25. Make no mistake about it, Orton’s work as a character in early ’09 was fantastic. It didn’t matter that Triple H has never played the role of the badass babyface well (he’s just not suited for it). Orton was so good that it did not matter. Anticipation for the Mania showdown was, rightly, high…and it was thanks to Randy Orton. Mania 25, though, was overtaken by a brilliant encounter by Taker and HBK. Trips and Orton went out two matches later and worked their asses off, only for the majority of the wrestling world to not appreciate it.
The match: After a supremely engaging build-up that saw Orton attack Triple H’s family, DDT his wife and kiss her, only for Trips to respond with a sledgehammer and an in-home attack, there was not a conceivable way to make this match more personal. They threw everything that they had at each other and, in a near 25-minute war, they showed everyone why they were chosen for the main-event. Unfortunately, nobody noticed. The fans in attendance had little left to give them. Personally, I think Triple H’s weaknesses as a babyface were exposed again (as they were at Mania X-8). He has a great connection with the crowds, but as a babyface he just can’t hang with his peers. The critics were very hard on the structure of the match. The RKO and Pedigree in the opening moments were viewed as blasphemous, but I found them to be the perfect way to put over how much they wanted to hurt each other. Notice how they didn’t go for the cover? If you’re in a fight with your worst enemy, do you wait to take your best shot and start dominating? You can dissect him if he’s out of it and inflict more punishment, right? Nobody seemed to see it that way. They beat the hell out of each other, building to a climax when Orton took a page out of Triple H’s book and went for the sledgehammer. Trips thwarted his former protégé, though, and took a page out of Orton’s playbook with the Punt. With little left in their tanks, Trips mustered up enough strength to connect with the Pedigree again and retain the WWE title. People called it anti-climactic. What better way could it have ended, given the chosen victor?
The reception: I, for one, was supremely disappointed in how harsh the critics were toward this match. Dave Meltzer, for instance, didn’t even give it 3-stars. I thought it was ludicrous for people to be that down on their effort. By and large, Orton and Trips had a very good match. The crowd was out of it. True. That happens. You dock the match a quarter-to-half a star. You don’t ignore that two awesome wrestlers went out there and had a really good match. One thing I will say is that I disagreed with the winner. Orton should have won that match. People said Orton had to lose. Why? It was a match five-years in the making that featured Triple H winning every singles match in the series. He needed to win at Mania, too? Big picture, people. That night should’ve been Orton’s moment. He was in position to be put over in such a way that would make him a money player for years to come. We are currently seeing the backlash, with him not drawing on Smackdown. No one has ever put the guy over when it mattered most. Imagine how big those Cena-Orton matches could’ve been in ’09 had Randy won at Mania after all that he’d done early that year. My honest opinion on this match? One of the most underrated and unjustly criticized matches that I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve watched it a dozen times. It was one of the best performances of Orton’s career.
CMV1 rating: ***3/4
Setting the stage: Installment number four in the MITB series saw the return to the match of the man who came up with it, Chris Jericho. He was inserted as the glue to hold together the rag tag group of hungry young wrestlers also featured. The original favorite going in was Jeff Hardy. In fact, given that he was involved in the main-event scene a month prior to the event, it was figured by most that he was the shoe-in. Unfortunately, Jeff was a moron and had a wellness policy violation that got him suspended for Mania. So, amongst the favorites were the MITB 3 winner Mr. Kennedy, MVP, and Jericho. Kennedy did not get to follow through with his Mania 23 win, in large part due to injury and foolishness. Jericho had just come back from a lengthy hiatus and could surely have used the briefcase to get him back to the main-event. Yours truly put his money on MVP, who had a lengthy and successful mid-card feud with Matt Hardy going that showed off his versatility. Carlito, John Morrison, and Shelton Benjamin were inserted into the fray and given the chance to show off. The internet favorite was CM Punk, the 7th and final participant. While many did not give him much of a chance, his supporters were steadfast in their belief that he had a shot.
The match: Kennedy and MVP as the pre-match favorites seemed reinforced by Kennedy’s pre-match interview and MVP’s elaborate entrance. As the match got underway, though, the idea of favorites and a winner was thrown out in favor of a group of seven hungry stars trying to steal the show. Morrison thrilled the crowd with a moonsault off the top rope with a ladder in his hands to the outside! Shelton went through a ladder set-up on the ring and the ringside barrier! There was the usual set of impressive finishing move combinations off the tops of ladders, but this match was more inventive and akin to the first MITB in its creativity. The spot of the match may have been when upwards of four different wrestlers springboarded from the top rope onto ladders set-up in the center of the ring to kick start the climax of the match. Matt Hardy kept MVP from fulfilling his status as a favorite, running in from the crowd and hitting him with a Twist of Fate from off the ladder. Kennedy was soon taken out of the equation, as well, leaving Jericho and Punk to battle it out for the briefcase. It looked as though Jericho had it won, but Punk got him hung up in the ladder. Thus, the Straight Edge Superstar retrieved the briefcase and shocked the world.
The reception: MITB IV scored a major hit in the ratings, hitting the four-star mark across the board with most of the critics. There were numerous reports of this being considered on-par with the original MITB ladder match. What we saw was a veteran helping to direct a cast of hungry new faces anxious to make names for themselves. The ladder spots were innovative with a high level of difficulty that made the fact that they were able to pull nearly all of them off much more impressive. I would tend to concur with those that rated it near the first one. I think it is easily the second best MITB ladder match. I left it out of the top 30, which features a few matches that fell short of my 4-star rating, because it was deserving of its rating while not as historically significant, at this point.
CMV1 rating: ****
Setting the stage: Triple H was at the peak of his original heel run (prior to the first quad injury) when Mania 17 rolled around. Well on his way to becoming the dominant antagonist of his era, the Game could have easily been in the main-event against The Rock or Austin. It kind of makes you wonder what might’ve been for him had he gotten that chance. Many will justifiably argue that Trips has the main-events, but not the classics at Mania. Would that be true if he’d faced Rock or Austin in the Astrodome? That’s certainly something to think about. Anyhow, he was on such a roll from the year 2000 until this time that when you heard he was going to be going up against the Deadman, you certainly could feel the hype. Taker wasn’t the kind of performer back then that regularly had great matches, so you knew he could be hit or miss, but Trips was so good that you could only assume the best and figure them to factor prominently on the anticipation scale for the awesome 2001 Mania card. I would not have called it a dream match, but it was close. It was one of those Batista vs. Taker type of matches where the Deadman was facing a well-established new star that still had a bright future ahead of him. Who’d have thought it would merely be the first chapter in a historic three match series?
The match: In many ways, this was a match typical of the Attitude era. They essentially had the match outside the ring, as an early ref bump cleared the way for a de facto street fight that saw Taker eventually chokeslam Trips off a platform in the camera area out in the audience. It was a sight to see two guys fight in such a large crowd, as it was something that had not really been done in a sea of 68,000 people. The visual of the two fighting in that mass was a nice added touch. Back in the ring, they did excel. The final minutes of this match were full of great drama, as you legitimately were unsure of who would come away with the victory. I thoroughly enjoyed the climax, with Trips using the sledgehammer and Taker connecting with the Last Ride from the corner. Great ending to the match that has been copied numerous times throughout the years…
The reception: The bout received almost universal praise as a very strong headlining match, but has often been lost in the shuffle thanks to the overall strength of that card. Two matches, at least, were better in overall execution, according to the majority of reviewers and analysts. This match does have its fans, though, and when considering how big their names are in Mania history, it is somewhat surprising that the match does not get more pub. I will say that I don’t think it’s for everyone. Again, that Attitude era style was not pure, by any means. However, I think this stands the test of time as a gritty brawl with a great finish. I’ve never thought it to be quite at the four-star level, but it certainly skirts the edge of that argument. A little bit too Attitude-style for my taste up until the closing minutes (which I’d put up against the closing minutes of any match in Mania history).
CMV1 rating: ***3/4
Setting the stage: Back in the summer of 2008, John Cena and Batista were top faces on Raw, gracing the same brand for the first time in years. On separate brands, they’d been the two new dominant forces in the WWE, winning title after title and having parallel rises to the top. They joined forces to become tag team champions while on Raw, but they also started showing some animosity toward each other. Certainly, there’d always been an inkling between the two that they wanted to go toe-to-toe to find out who was best. Summerslam in Indianapolis would be the site of round 1. In the match, the two traded momentum and near falls to the point that critics were hailing the match a hit. Batista ended up winning the match and making a statement by actually breaking Cena’s neck (well, not really; it was actually a disc herniation) with a move gone slightly wrong. Cena would come back quick, but by the time he returned Batista was on his way out with an injury of his own that would cause him to miss Mania 25. Batista would make his return and slowly work his way back into title contention on Smackdown, turning on one of his best friends, Rey Mysterio, in the process. He failed to capture the World title on SD, but when he did Mr. McMahon a favor and took out Bret Hart, Batista was awarded a shot at the WWE title just moments after Cena captured it in the Elimination Chamber. Batista won the WWE championship and Cena naturally wanted his return match, which was booked for Wrestlemania. The epic clash on the grandest stage between two of the biggest stars since the Attitude era was set. They traded verbal jabs, with Batista doing the best character work of his entire career in a very good build-up.
The match: Cena’s use of the Air Force Color Guard to set the stage for his entrance set the tone that Cena was deadly serious about regaining his gold. Batista, though, was the one that gained the upper hand. He did everything in his power to subdue the almost destiny-like feel of Cena regaining the title. Cena went to great lengths to prove to Batista that he was the better man, breaking out a Five Knuckle Shuffle from the top rope. When Batista countered the Attitude Adjustment into a Batista Bomb in impressive fashion, it appeared to be over. Yet, Cena kicked out and eventually connected with the Attitude Adjustment, and when that didn’t work he was able to lock on the STF. Neither move was enough to put down the Animal, who battled right back by catching Cena with a powerbomb as he was diving from the top rope. He tried to follow up with another Batista Bomb for good measure, but Cena countered into the STF and surprisingly made the Animal tap out, earning Cena the title.
The reception: There were a wide range of match ratings and grades given to this match, but whether it was a 3.5 star match or a 4 ¼ star match, the general feeling was that it was quite a good match that exceeded expectations and put its name in the hat for match of the night should HBK and Taker falter for any reason. HBK’s final match did not fail, but that did not take anything away from the quality of Cena and Batista’s performances. They gave us a match that, when people look back at Mania 26, they’ll think about in a good light. I personally thought it was good enough to warrant a spot in the top 30, and maybe one day it’ll sneak in there if time is kind to it. I thought it was too good not to make it as close as possible, especially given the place that I think the two will ultimately hold in Wrestlemania lure once their careers are over and people have had time to reflect. I applaud the effort that they made and felt it was one of the best matches of the year for 2010.
CMV1 rating - ***3/4
Setting the stage: Bret Hart became the Intercontinental Champion for the first time at Summerslam in 1991, defeating Mr. Perfect. At the time, it seemed like a huge endorsement for Bret, especially since his win came in the all important Madison Square Garden. Yet, the decision was made to take the IC title off of Hart and put it on the Mountie. The Hitman was disheartened until he found out that Roddy Piper – a real life friend of Hart’s – would be winning the title just so that he could drop it back to Hart at Wrestlemania VIII. Piper was one of the biggest stars of the original boom period in the WWE, famously being one of the few top heels to have gotten the upper hand on Hulk Hogan. So, Piper provided a certain amount of credibility, the likes of which would rub off on Bret if handled correctly when he beat him. There was not much on-screen attention paid to this match during the lead-in shows, but 60,000 plus people certainly paid attention as soon as the two hit the screen for their pre-match interview segment backstage. Piper talked about how he had watched Bret grow up from a little kid into the man that stood before him and spoke of how much he respected and loved Bret’s parents. He made the mistake, though, of pinching Bret’s cheek in what the Hitman took as a sign of disrespect. The tension in the air instantly grew, so when the two came out to the ring for their match, there was a palpable animosity between them.
The match: It was like looking at two people that had always been cordial with one another, but whom had just managed to randomly rub each other the wrong way when their emotions were ripe for confrontation. Piper looked very angry, while Hart looked very focused. Unbeknownst to the guys in the main-events later in the evening, both Piper and Hart went in with the mindset of stealing the show and making sure everyone left the building talking about their match. It was a back and forth affair with Piper showing off an offensive repertoire that he rarely had gotten to show during his time as a dastardly heel. Hart kept the pace pretty quick, so Piper was forced to respond in kind…and he did well. As the match switched from a wrestling exhibition to more of a brawl, Piper caught the Hitman with a quick jab to the eye. Bret got busted open in the process and began bleeding heavily (in a very well hidden blade job). Piper took control from there and made sure to take advantage of the situation. However, he could not put Hart away. The Hitman’s resilience was on display and Piper’s frustration eventually opened the door for Hart to come roaring back with a raucous crowd hanging on their every move. Piper valiantly battled back, himself, but his frustrations boiled over and he grabbed the ring bell for assistance. He decided against using it and locked Hart in the Sleeper Hold, but Bret got his feet on the top rope and he propelled the two of them backward into a position that saw Piper’s shoulders pinned to the mat. 1…2…3 and that was all she wrote. Hart won the title, Piper showed respect and handed him the belt, and the crowd went wild for having witnessed a great performance.
The reception: The Hitman used the momentum he gained from this match to eventually main-event Summerslam as the IC champion and soon after become the WWE Champion. It was, therefore, a pivotal match for Bret Hart. It was also the best Mania match of Piper’s career. Standing the test of time, Piper vs. Hart is highly regarded amongst most long-time WWE fans. In Wrestlemania lure, it is often featured on the top 20 lists, but sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. I thought it was a great match and every bit as good as its match of the night competition, just in a different way. It told a very good story, especially since it pretty much all stemmed from that pre-match segment. They did well to quickly build anticipation for it and then follow through with a match that fit what they’d just set up.
CMV1 rating - ***3/4
Setting the stage: At the start of 2006, Edge shocked the world when he cashed in the very first Money in the Bank contract to become the WWE Champion. He would lose the belt 3 weeks later and lose his rematch on Raw, which was guest refereed by Mick Foley. Edge, in a blind rage, blamed the loss on Foley and eventually goaded him into not a wrestling match, but a Hardcore match. Their history went further back. Foley was winding down a great career when Edge was first coming up through the ranks. They were both authors that had penned their own autobiographies and Foley had actually written the foreword for Edge’s book. So, with Foley looking to make a comeback and work another match, Edge became the perfect opponent. Edge did his very best to, with the help of Lita, gain the psychological advantage over Foley leading to their match at Mania. He suggested that Foley had never had that career defining performance at Wrestlemania (he was right). Edge bragged that he already had his, but would gladly give Foley one in defeat. In doing these things, a part of Foley’s personality that had been lying dormant was awakened and the man that Edge described as a Muppet/puppet returned to his Hardcore roots. Without question, this was the match that I most looked forward to at Mania 22. I’ve long been a huge Edge fan; he’s one of my all-time favorites. It was a pleasure to watch his star rise higher and higher.
The match: Edge dominated the early part of the match and connected with a Spear. Unfortunately for Edge, Foley had wrapped his mid-section in barbed wire, so Edge’s shoulder got caught up in the wire and tore it open. That was a rare use of psychology in a match of this type. Foley cut the wire from his body and proceeded to take control. The usual hardcore weapons were employed until Edge countered Foley’s offense and threw him into the ring steps. Edge controlled from there and eventually got a table set up next to the ring. Foley, in due course, made his comeback and used his signature moves to lead up to the unveiling of the famous Mr. Socko. He wrapped Socko in barbed wire and went after Edge, but Lita got involved. Foley used the wire wrapped sock on her instead, cutting her mouth open. It got pretty hardcore at times, with Edge being back dropped onto a bed of thumb tacks and the trading of shots from the barbed wire wrapped bat otherwise known as “Barbie.” Lita got some measure of revenge for the sharp Socko incident when she clobbered Foley in the private area with Barbie. She proceeded to douse the table lying at ringside with lighter fluid and then light it on fire. Foley was on the apron closest to that table at the time, so when Edge got his wits about him and recognized Mick’s position, the Rated R Superstar took off toward him. Edge Speared Foley between the ropes, off the apron, and through the flaming table! He easily won from there. Although at the time I didn’t want the match to end, it really was the perfect ending to the match and one of the most memorable climactic moments of any Mania match in history.
The reception: The match was hailed as a potential show stealer amidst strong competition on that night. It was definitely a well-respected performance that many said was the great match that Foley had been waiting for in his Mania career. Edge did a great job and became a mainstay in Mania main-events for several years soon after. The enduring image of Edge Spearing Foley through a flaming table is one of those iconic moments that gets immortalized through videos to this day and will continue to do so for years to come. It was the kind of performance that helped solidify Foley’s legacy while creating one for Edge in the singles ranks without ladders and several others to help him, thus proving Edge capable of being a show stealer on his own. You’ll frequently find this rated in the low four-star level or high three-star level and you’ll see it sporadically pop up in the conversation for top 20 matches in Mania history.
CMV1 rating - ***3/4
Setting the stage: While there’s no questioning that Steamboat vs. Savage stole the show in front of the largest crowd in North American wrestling history, there is also no questioning the fact that most people in that building came to see and got one hell of a show from Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. Far too often amongst my target reading audience, the main-event at the Pontiac Silverdome gets overshadowed. I do not believe that to be entirely fair. Sure, the IC title match was a workrate classic for all times. The WWE title match, though, was a Rock-Hogan or Cena-Rock for its generation. It was this unbelievable clash of two titans that no one ever thought that they would see go toe-to-toe inside the squared circle. Andre quietly headlined alongside Hogan for years in the early-to-mid 80s. The Giant was a huge star and one of the most recognizable figures in wrestling worldwide. He was a babyface character for nearly 15 years, so when he turned heel and aligned against Hogan, it was a momentous occasion. That moment where Andre showed up on Piper’s Pit and ripped Hogan’s shirt (and ripped off his cross), bloodying him in the process, was the “How about main-eventing one more Wrestlemania…with the Rock” of its time. It was a match that could not have been any bigger and could not have featured any two bigger stars. Plus, to a huge fan base largely comprised of kids, it seemed unfathomable that Andre could lose, but at the same time improbable that the heroic Hogan wouldn’t win.
The match: The scene from high up in the rafters of the building looking down upon the Silverdome is just unreal. I’ve never seen that many people packed into one place. I’ve seen the views from every other major indoor sporting event in the United States – well, pretty much every outdoor venue, too – and I’ve never seen anything like what I saw with that shot of the Silverdome. Incredible! If I ever cease to get goosebumps when Hogan approaches Andre, his body shivering presumably from the adrenaline coursing through his veins like never before or since, and Gorilla Monsoon utters that classic line, “The irresistible force meeting the immovable object,” then I will know that my passion for wrestling has left me. The commentary perfectly sets the tone. Monsoon and Jesse Ventura were so great together. I have often wondered what the atmosphere might be like if the audio technology at the time were able to pick up on the crowd reaction a little more. Can you imagine 2012 audio systems being used back in ’87? I don’t think we can truly appreciate just how loud it must have been in that place. Only the people live in attendance can really vouch for it, I suppose. Even still, it seemed that the place was going crazy during that match. Andre battled as hard as he could given the condition of his body at the time, but I think it was the atmosphere that carried the match – a lot like Rock-Hogan 15 years later. This was a match devoid of many highlights, but the overall presentation was just so amazing that it seamlessly carried from Monsoon’s classic quote to Hogan slamming the Giant and hitting the leg drop for the win.
The reception: Andre vs. Hogan is not even listed as a three-star match by some of the top reviewers in the business, but I’ve never really understood how that could be. I’ve seen some matches that these very same reviewers have called excellent because of the atmosphere and crowd response. Personally, I think Andre vs. Hogan is an amazing piece of work. The actual athleticism on display was nothing special on Andre’s part because he wasn’t capable, but Hogan’s strength in slamming Andre is still talked about to this day. I don’t think we can have a Top 30 and ever fail to include this. It’s just too iconic and I’ve adjusted my star rating for it over the years to take into account all the intangibles that make it great.
CMV1 rating: ***3/4
Setting the stage: When Steve Austin left the WWE in the summer of 2002, Rock returned shortly after from making a movie to help do some damage control and ensure that the ratings didn’t fall too far. In doing so, Rock cut a promo that included a zinger thrown Austin’s way. “Austin can take his ball and go home…if you don’t want to be here then you get the ‘F’ out.” So, when Austin and Rock returned on the same night at No Way Out in 2003 (Rock had taken a hiatus to make another movie), you got the feeling that might eventually be addressed. It took all of two weeks. Rock called out Austin and challenged him to one last match at Wrestlemania to write the final chapter on the greatest rivalry in the history of the WWE. The story was built around Rock’s Hollywood heel character wanting to finally get that elusive Wrestlemania victory over Austin, calling it the one thing that he’d never done in his career. There was some truthful lining in the Rock’s promos as you got the feeling that Rock was keenly aware of the fact that despite his movie success, it slightly annoyed him that Austin would likely always be viewed above him in the wrestling business. This feud was all about Rock and much less about Austin. Rock carried it with the new spin on his character, while Austin did his usual schtick and received his usual reaction. The highlight of the build-up was Rock doing a “rock” concert where he sang some original songs and displayed his newest skill of playing the guitar.
On Wrestlemania weekend, a major happening took place behind the scenes. Austin took a dangerous combination of coffee and energy drinks that over stimulated his system and sent his body spiraling out of control. His heart rate reached alarming highs and put not only his match but his life in danger.
The match: The information about Austin’s hospital stay was kept under wraps pretty well and most people didn’t find out about the incident until a documentary about Mania XIX was released a year later. Austin certainly didn’t show much to suggest that he wasn’t 100% healthy. Rock did a great job in masking whatever was going on with Stone Cold with a lot of antics that took the attention away from Austin and put it on him. He put on Austin’s ring jacket and made a big deal out of taking a water break…little things like that shifted the focus. Their match featured the usual brawls around the ringside area, but as they went into the series of near falls in the last few minutes, the match became really exciting and the crowd got really into it. They used each other finishers for near falls and then connected with their own finishers for several more false finishes. It was quite entertaining. The winner was in question throughout the climax and it kept you guessing. When Austin kicked out of a second Rock Bottom, the crowd came unglued and I came out of my chair. It looked like Austin might pull it out one more time despite Rock being younger, stronger, and faster. Rock picked up Austin for one final Rock Bottom and made sure to put everything he had left into it…the move took out everything that Austin had left, leaving him open to the pinfall. After the match, Rock pushed the referee aside and had a short conversation with Austin while he tried to recover from the effects. We’d later find out that Rock told Austin he loved him and thanked him for the match. It was Austin’s final match.
The reception: Rock and Austin had an epic final battle, especially when you considered that it was Austin’s last match and that there was apparently something seriously wrong with Austin less than 24 hours prior. Stone Cold did an admirable job of gutting his way through the match and it was a fitting end to his career, but Rock fittingly got most of the praise for carrying it. It was honestly one of the best performances of Rock’s career given the circumstances.
CMV1 rating: ****
Setting the stage: As Wrestlemania approached in 2005, Chris Jericho was feuding with no one in particular. Neither were Chris Benoit, Edge, Christian, Kane, and Shelton Benjamin. So, one week on Raw, Jericho came out and said he had an idea that he would be revealing the following week involving 6 men and one giant steel ladder. It had been 4 years since the last ladder match at Mania, so people were buzzing. When we found out that it would be a 6-man ladder match for a World title opportunity, everyone went crazy. Yet, there were many questions; namely how in the world the WWE was going to go about booking a 6-man, every man for himself ladder match without guys getting lost in the shuffle. The 6 men pretty much just jockeyed for position, having singles matches and tag matches on Raw against each other. Nothing particularly memorable happened between the participants on the Road to Wrestlemania, but two important things need be pointed out: #1 was that Edge was gaining more heat than ever, but it wasn’t for a storyline that was actually happening on the air. Rather, it was for his involvement in the real life love triangle also involving the soon-to-be fired Matt Hardy and Hardy’s long-time girlfriend, Lita. Edge and Lita were having an affair, Matt found out about it, and whined all over the internet. The IWC soon caught wind and started spreading the news, so that next thing we knew, every crowd in America was chanting “You Screwed Matt” at Edge. #2 was that Chris Benoit suffered a nasty cut above his eye on the Raw before Mania.
The match: The crowd was buzzing when the 6-men made their entrances. Kane’s pyro made the ladders set up on the Mania stage appear to be on fire. It became the focal point of the other five competitors to take out Kane, the biggest man in the match. Their efforts proved unsuccessful and they all settled into a surprisingly psychological series of spots. Jericho attempted to take out both Benoit and Edge. Christian then tried to take out all three of them. Shelton proceeded to do a dive over the top rope that seemingly took out all four of them. Then, Kane shocked the crowd by diving onto all five of them, plus Tyson Tomko. Our first glance at what MITB could be came when three ladders were set up in the ring and four of the six ascended and battled for possession of the briefcase. Christian took out Benoit with an armbreaker off the ladder. Shelton dropped Edge with his T-Bone suplex off the ladder. It would be Benjamin that would go on to have the most memorable spot, as he climbed a diagonally placed ladder set-up against a vertical standing ladder and clotheslined Chris Jericho off the top of it. Benjamin was never more popular than he was at that moment. Benoit nearly stole his thunder minutes later when he performed a diving headbutt off the top of a ladder onto Kane. He re-opened the wound he suffered on Raw and was bleeding profusely, adding some intensity to the match. It would be Benoit, Kane, and Edge that would factor into the finish. Benoit managed to knock Kane off the other side of a ladder and seemingly set himself up to win, but Edge swooped in and blasted Benoit’s injured arm with a steel chair. Edge would go on to win the match, kick starting his main-event career.
The reception: The majority of the critics praised the match for being a unique and innovative ladder match. While it was naturally spotty in nature, it was actually quite psychological in many ways, earning it even more praise. You will typically find it, therefore, amongst the top 20 lists that scatter the internet. I personally believe it to be the fourth best ladder match in the history of Wrestlemania, but it has obviously become a phenomenon all its own, earning its own PPV in addition to being featured on every Wrestlemania from 2005-2010. It is also famous for pushing Edge’s career to the next level.
CMV1 rating - ****