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Doctor's Orders: The Road To Wrestlemania Countdown #11-#25
By The Doc
Mar 22, 2012 - 8:44:15 PM
I think it’s interesting that the WWE is considering announcing a year in advance the main-event of Mania 29, as they did with Mania 28. I think it’s a great idea. I have personally enjoyed the anticipation that’s built since the announcement last April of Rock vs. Cena. Each time I thought of wrestling since that day, Rock-Cena has come to mind. People have said that the build this year has been lackluster. What show they’re watching, I’m unsure, but I’ve loved this. I took the critic hat off three months ago and have been watching purely as a fan and it has been quite a nice change of pace. I would love to see Cena vs. Taker next year. That’s what I’d announce a year in advance, if I had the book. 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.
QUESTION OF THE DAY (93): Personally, I think HBK is on a different planet with his Wrestlemania resume than everyone else, but that Taker has made a push to catch him in recent years. Of all the guys on the roster right now, who do you think could one day be in the same conversation with those two?
25. Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VI
24. Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania XX
23. Batista vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania 23
22. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 23
21. Triple H vs. John Cena at Wrestlemania 22
20. Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XXIV
19. Edge and Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz at Wrestlemania-Seven
18. Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart at Wrestlemania XII
17. Edge vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXIV
16. Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania XIX
15. Ric Flair vs. Macho Man Randy Savage at Wrestlemania VIII
14. Triple H vs. Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XX
13. Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXVI
12. Triple H vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXVII
11. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania XIX
Setting the stage: For a long time, this was amongst my favorite matches in WWE history. As time went on, Mania became a bigger and bigger deal and wrestlers began to outperform many of their predecessors. However, Hogan vs. Warrior in the Ultimate Challenge remains one of my favorite matches of all-time. Perhaps my favorite person to hear talk about this match is Edge. He does a great job of putting it into perspective. How he feels about it – he was, of course, live in the crowd – let’s you know that this was such an influential match that it helped create an 11-time World Championship winning, 4-time Mania main-eventing superstar. It is historically significant for other reasons, as well. For instance, it is largely considered to be the first babyface vs. babyface match of this magnitude in the Mania era. It gave many of us fans our first taste of what a match pitting two heroes against each other could create, in terms of atmosphere. There’s just something thrilling about it, when it happens the right way. Hogan vs. Warrior was handled the right way. It built-up slowly, with little teasers here and there. It also felt like a changing of the guard and, in many ways, it was supposed to be a shift from Hulkamania to the age of the Warrior. To this day, when I watch this match, I’m in awe of the atmosphere created for this bout.
The match: I could sit back and watch the entrances any day of the week and still get goosebumps. When the Warrior and Hogan were played to the ring by their iconic theme songs and the camera panned around the 67,000 strong crowd at the Sky Dome, it painted a back drop both visually and audibly that stands the test of time as one of the most electric atmospheres that we’ve ever seen at a Wrestlemania. I was a little Warrior back then, anxious to see the older hero fall prey to the dawn of a new era. I give a lot of credit to Hulk Hogan for carrying the load and giving Warrior the best match of his career up to that point (by a landslide). There were certainly a combination of other factors that made this great, but I think it starts with Hogan. He was never really considered a great in-ring performer so much as a charismatic and dynamic one, so this is a real notch in the belt of his overall legacy, in my opinion. I think you have to give a ton of credit to the crowd, too. Much like the match 12 years later in the Sky Dome, the crowd elevated the performance. Also, you can’t shy away from giving the Warrior his due. It takes two to tango. Finally, my hat is off to the agent that helped set up this match. Looking back, I really cannot imagine how this could have been any better. Warrior dodging the leg drop is one of the classic moments of my early wrestling fandom and a moment that I won’t ever forget. I actually watched this on tape when I had the flu in the 3rd grade. My mom just kept bringing me wrestling tapes from Blockbuster and I started perking up with each passing event, highlighted by the Warrior-Hogan classic.
The reception: While many might suggest that this has not stood the test of time, it has always received praise for its original presentation. Pretty much universally memorable to all fans that have watched it, especially those that were fans during that era and saw the rise of Hulkamania and the initial push of the Warrior in the 80s. To me, it stands the test of time. You just have to put yourself back in the mindset of that time period. To this day, I have both Warrior and Hogan’s theme on my iPod and I play them back-to-back (Warrior, the challenger, first and then Hogan, the champion, next) and, each time, it brings me back to Mania 6.
CMV1 rating: ****
Setting the stage: Being a smart mark in the early 2000s was almost like joining a club and slowly having to learn the little nuances of how the club operated. When I “joined” in 2002, I had been watching wrestling for years and had always gravitated toward very “IWC” like things, as I would come to find out. I preferred wrestlers with a better work rate, although I had great appreciation for the Hogans, Nashs, and Warriors of history. Angle was, as of the summer of ’02, quickly becoming my favorite wrestler to watch of that generation. Of all the main-event level guys, he was having the best matches with the most consistency. However, when I entered into the “who’s the best in the business right now” discussions and supported Angle, I was met with a lot of resistance by the guys that supported Guerrero and Chris Benoit. To these people, Guerrero and Benoit were easily the two best in the world and Angle was merely a good wrestler that got better opportunities. I wouldn’t buy that, as I was just used to seeing those two wrestle mid-card matches (I wasn’t a fan of WCW when those two were there). By late 2003, though, I had been fully ingratiated into the IWC way of thinking and looking at things. I had grown a tremendous amount of respect for Eddie and absolutely considered him to be one of the best and he backed that up with his main-event run in 2004. When it became apparent that two of the best three wrestlers in the WWE at that time were going to be wrestling for the WWE Championship at Mania 20, I was just like every other card-carrying member of the IWC…I was ecstatic!
The match: As you’ll read in a few days when we talk about the other of the co-main-event at Mania 20, I had always considered Angle vs. Guerrero a virtual shoe-in for match of the night that year; I didn’t give much credit to the other three Hall of Famers for some odd reason. I had 5-star dreams of Angle-Eddie. The crowd might have, too, so the early sequence of grappling holds really didn’t do this match any favors. The MSG faithful just didn’t seem to respond well to the slower pace and it took them awhile before they were wrestled out of their slumber. Angle and Guerrero, though, worked their tails off. Despite a second straight year of a nagging neck injury that would require immediate attention after Mania, Angle shrugged it off and performed with his usual precision and excellence. Eddie did well, but I think he was taken aback by the crowd – which, when up and running, were probably 60-40 pro-Angle. He had a history of not responding well to the crowd not acting the way they were supposed to. Nevertheless, Eddie stepped up his game and worked with Kurt to the tune of a great story that picked up nicely and finished with a flurry of false finishes. None of them were the types to bring you out of your seat, but it was still an expertly contested chess match. There was something missing, though, that kept it from ascending the ladder to ultimate greatness. Perhaps it was the crowd? That’s open for discussion, but this is what I would call a great match that just didn’t quite live up to the (probably unrealistic) expectations.
The reception: The general consensus over the years has seemed to be that Angle vs. Guerrero suffered from a crowd that had both burned itself out on booing Lesnar and Goldberg out of the building two matches earlier and that had not taken well to the early exchanges in the WWE title match. Kurt and Eddie woke the crowd up and got them back into the rest of the evening, but it took them 6-10 minutes of very little heat from the audience to bring them back to life. I, personally, thought the match told an excellent story. The high spots that came after the technically-based portion were tremendous. All in all, still a great performance…
CMV1 rating: ****
Setting the stage: Undertaker won the 2007 Royal Rumble to earn a title shot against the champion of his choosing and he chose Batista, the reigning World Champion. Batista had been on a role since returning from the injury that kept him from repeating in the main-event at Wrestlemanias 22. Since becoming a top guy, Batista had essentially mowed through all of the competition put before him to become one of the biggest stars of his era. Thus, he was thought to be a legit threat to the Streak, which had been advertised to go against his Title. Streak vs. Title was the selling point for the match, but Batista was more than a little motivated to go against the Deadman and steal the show. The on-screen story was that of Batista not being intimidated by the things that usually intimidated Taker’s opponents. Batista played some mind games against Taker and did his best to show that he wasn’t going to be scared away from the challenge. The behind the scenes story, though, was that he was a little upset when he and Taker weren’t given the main-event / final match at Mania that year. It added further fuel to both men’s desire to have the match of the night. It was a very important night for them both. Taker hadn’t competed for the title at Mania, despite being undefeated there, since ten years prior. Batista still lacked that defining match on one of the big WWE PPVs. Quite honestly, while excited about the match on paper, my expectations for match quality were pretty average.
The match: It had a big fight feel and it was treated like the main-event with lengthy entrances for both men. The bout, to my surprise, was actually very good right from the start, as they went back and forth and unleashed their entire arsenals, even expanding from the norm to deliver some moves you don’t normally see. Batista seemingly took control for good with a powerslam through one of the announce tables, but Taker would come roaring back as the two settled into a lengthy stretch of false finishes following their finishing moves. There were times that you honestly got the sense that the Streak might end, which added some serious drama to the near falls and created for a frenzied atmosphere at Ford Field. There was one particular moment where Taker kicked out of the Batista Bomb where Bats had this utterly shocked look on his face. It was one of the best moments of his career, to me. At just past the 15-minute mark, Taker countered a Batista powerslam attempt and pushed him into the corner turnbuckle. The Deadman caught him wandering back to the center of the ring with the Tombstone. A three count later and Taker had just won the World title at Wrestlemania for the first time in a decade. Batista, in a losing effort, had the most impressive performance of his career.
The reception: People were overwhelmingly positive about this match throughout 2007, with many claiming it to be the Match of the Year. It was certainly a surprisingly great match, which I personally believe to be one of the most pleasant surprises in the history of the WWE. You could’ve predicted that it would be good, but it was highly unlikely that you’d have predicted it to be THAT good. I haven’t seen many reviewers that didn’t rate it at the four-star level. As previously stated, it was an important match for both. Taker used it to start a string of classic Mania matches that put him amongst the best in the history of Mania not just for his Streak but for his in-ring work. Batista used it to learn how to work a big main-event match and steal the show. He went on to have numerous 4-star level matches with Taker in ’07, eclipsing the total he’d amassed in his career in a matter of several months. I’ll always fondly remember Batista, in large part thanks to Mania 23. This match created a very interesting argument for match of the night.
CMV1 rating: ****
Setting the stage: I was wondering recently, “What was the most anticipated match for me of the last several years, excluding the upcoming Rock vs. Cena match?” There were a few candidates, but when it boiled right down to it, HBK vs. Cena fro WM23 was my answer. I was reviewing PPVs for LOP at the time, so I was about to do my first and only live Mania report for what ended up being over thirty five thousand readers in one night. Without a doubt, it was my favorite moment as a reviewer for this site. Part of the excitement for me began at the Royal Rumble, when it began to become apparent that HBK would be taking Triple H’s spot in the WWE Championship match (after Hunter got injured in early January). Cena vs. HBK was a dream match of mine that I had wanted to see ever since Cena started coming up through the ranks as a future main-event player. The prospect of seeing my all-time favorite in another WM main-event certainly didn’t hurt the anticipation, but it was mainly the match quality that had me intrigued. Cena rounded the corner and started to become a great worker during the time that I was doing LOP PPV reviews. Beginning with his late summer work against Edge in ’06 and continuing through the excellent match he had with Umaga at the Rumble in ’07, Cena had become a real gamer in the ring. HBK being the ultimate big match performer, I could’ve cut my anticipation with a knife on the day of Mania 23.
The match: To this day, HBK vs. Cena at Mania has arguably the greatest pre-match hype video of all-time. It perfectly sets the stage for a title match. 28-minutes was how long these two were given to work that night. For HBK, this was no big deal. For Cena, it was entering uncharted territory. He had worked matches close to that length with Last Man Standing or TLC gimmicks attached to help kill some of the dead time, but never before had he been asked to go for so long in a standard match. HBK was the perfect guy to guide him through it, but Cena was going to have to bring it to ensure that this turned out to be as good as it possibly could be. It was an old school kind of match, fondly reminding me of the 90s style main-events featuring HBK and Bret Hart. In many ways, it was a game of cat and mouse between the cunning veteran and the over-anxious young champion. They did that quite frequently when Cena faced a more established wrestler, but they really played it up early and often during this bout. It reminded me of the previous year’s bout between Cena and Trips. There was one stretch of the match where HBK worked over Cena’s knee that dragged a tad and at one point it seemed like HBK was noticeably frustrated with Cena. It is well-documented that HBK expects your best out there and wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion out loud if he doesn’t think you’re giving it. Other than that one stretch, though, the match built to a great finish. HBK pulled out a rare pile driver and Cena sold it accordingly before making his comeback and ultimately finding a way to make Michaels tap out to retain the WWE title for the second straight Mania.
The reception: Their rematch on Raw a few weeks later has always been more universally praised, but I have always maintained that the Mania match was only just a notch below it. Cena was impressive; HBK was, too. Yet, I do think that this was a bit of a missed opportunity – especially for the golden boy. He currently lacks that all-time classic match and this should’ve been it. It should have been his Rock-Hogan or Austin-Hart or Savage-Steamboat. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for Cena’s first can’t-miss, watch a thousand times before you die Wrestlemania classic. Perhaps he can get it with Rock (and, again, he should). Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite matches and I will always remember it fondly; just not in the same breath as some of the matches still to come.
CMV1 rating: ****
Setting the stage: I’m not sure that I realized just how big a star John Cena was going to become until he got drafted to Raw in the 2005 Draft Lottery. At that very moment, I saw Cena as the foil to the heel Triple H that the WWE had been looking for. Trips was the dominant force on Raw from the time that the WWE split their roster in two and they seemingly searched for three years to find a guy that could be the top babyface to his top heel character. They thought that they had it with Randy Orton, but that didn’t work out. Cena came about organically, much like Austin and Rock had before him. Once on the A-show, he became the face of the new direction for the company. In doing so, though, a big portion of the male audience started to turn on him. His once edgy character was replaced with a Hogan-esque, white meat babyface persona that the adults didn’t care for. In matches against Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle, the crowds were split down the middle, by and large. Triple H maintained his character and was eventually put in position to end Cena’s run of dominance. When I arrived in Chicago for my first Wrestlemania weekend, I was immediately struck with the reality that Cena was going to get booed out of the building. Everywhere that I went, I heard “Cena Sucks” chants. It wasn’t so much that the crowd was for Triple H; they were just against Cena.
The match: Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Triple H and Cena had it easy at Mania 22. They didn’t have to do much to garner a reaction. After an over-the-top and somewhat cheesy pair of introductions, Cena got booed like I’ve never heard a superstar get booed. The live crowd drowned out my thoughts and left me in awe. Unlike with previous crowds, I’d say the split was probably 75-25 against Cena. The wrestling was basic, but it was brilliant in its simplicity. A simple punch has not meant so much to a match in decades. It allowed them to effortlessly blend their top moves into the match and build an incredible amount of drama toward the climax. The crowd just ate Cena alive throughout, chanting things at him virtually the entire 22-minutes of the match. Triple H egged them on and decided to throw out the idea of trying to be the heel. On commentary, J.R. would refer to the crowd as being full of traditional wrestling fans. In essence, this was not the birth of the split Cena crowds, but it was definitely the escalation of it to its current levels. My hat was off to Cena for not giving up as many of his peers have done in the past. A lot of wrestlers have let that effect them, but Cena took it in stride (as he does to this day) and raised his game to match Triple H. It turned out to be an awesome night for both and an amazing experience for all of us that were there live. Cena won and the crowd couldn’t believe it! I fell in love with Chicago wrestling crowds that night and it was privilege to be one of them at Mania 22.
The reception: I think my favorite thing about this match was that people legitimately seemed shocked that Cena won. The crowd erupted as if the Bulls had just lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals during Jordan’s heyday. To this day, I think this is the most underrated match in Wrestlemania history because when you have conversations about the best matches of all-time, this one never comes into the conversation. The wrestling was not top notch because Cena was not a top notch wrestler, yet, but that crowd elevated this match in a similar fashion to how Rock-Hogan was elevated by the audience at Sky Dome. Perhaps it was being there live that made the experience so special, but I guarantee you that nobody that sat in attendance will ever forget this. (Doc’s note – I wrote this review several months ago and I honestly may have talked myself into ranking this a lot higher in the future).
CMV1 rating - ****
Setting the stage: The Nature Boy had one of the greatest careers in the history of wrestling and a dream run at the end of his career with the WWE, which allowed Ric Flair as a man pushing sixty years old to go out and wrestle like he loved to do. All good things, though, must come to an end. Thanks to an idea by Stone Cold Steve Austin, Flair made a return from injury in late 2007 only to be greeted by Vince McMahon, who told him in no uncertain terms that the next match he lost would be his last. Flair embarked on a four month farewell tour, of sorts, going up against many of the top names in the business and defeating them all (including the WWE Champion, Randy Orton, shortly before Wrestlemania). What made it all even sweeter was that Flair was to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the night before Wrestlemania. Yet, in true Flair style, he wanted to go out with one last great match. He, thus, chose the best wrestler in Wrestlemania history, Shawn Michaels, to be his opponent. Michaels was reluctant, at first, but he eventually came around to the idea and promised he’d give Flair everything he had. In true HBK style, though, he told Flair the week before Mania that he was going to take the Naitch out behind the woodshed and put him out of his misery like Old Yeller.
The match: The atmosphere for the match was, quite frankly, unparalleled. I was live in attendance that night and from the moment we got to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, fans were “Wooing” like you would not believe. Michaels and Flair seemed intent on having a great match and stealing the show right from the onset, trading blows and a great many knife edge chops to keep the crowd “Wooing” our heads off. HBK upped the ante when he tried to do a springboard moonsault to the outside, but Flair moved out of the way to send Michaels crashing hard into the announce table. Most of us thought that he broke his ribs because of the velocity with which he hit the corner of the table. Flair took control and used much of his signature arsenal before HBK took the skies again with a moonsault off the top turnbuckle to the outside that caught Flair just enough to save face, but not enough to absorb another heavy blow. Back in the ring, Flair locked on the Figure Four on two separate occasions that nearly made HBK tap. Each time, HBK’s resiliency showed through. Out of nowhere, Michaels clocked Flair with Sweet Chin Music, but Flair kicked out of the pin attempt. Michaels would then lock on his reverse Figure Four and nearly made Flair tap out. Flair lived up to his old nickname, “The Dirtiest Player in the Game,” from there, using a low blow and a roll-up with a hand full of tights for two close near falls. Then, in perhaps one of the most memorable moments in wrestling history (and certainly for me), Michaels ended it with a super kick just after noticeably uttering the words, “I’m sorry; I love you.”
The reception: Flair ended his WWE career with a bang, allowing Michaels to carry him to one of the better matches of his WWE tenure. HBK did an amazing job bumping for Flair, going above and beyond what most people expected. Flair was praised, but Michaels was heralded for his performance, which some rated as high as 5-stars and the general consensus of which was a four-star, classic display. I, personally, believe it to be one of the most amazing match experiences that I’ve ever had and it stands the test of time. Even at 60, Flair was able to do a lot of the little things that the more athletic guys just don’t seem to grasp. And there will never be enough kind words to say about what Michaels accomplished that night…
CMV1 rating: ****
Setting the stage: This is forever and always going to be an era that I hated to miss live. I stopped watching after Summerslam ’99, just in time for the Edge/Christian-Hardy Boys ladder match to take place two months later. The history from that point will be discussed when we cover the Mania 2000 triangle ladder match later, suffice to say that the Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match is a very important piece of history for the WWE and that the tag team rivalry between the Hardys, Dudleys, and E&C is one of the best (if not THE best) of all-time. I have always enjoyed watching this as the third match of the series that also included the aforementioned Mania 16 bout and the first official TLC at Summerslam 2000. I find it interested to see how rivals try and top their previous efforts, especially in this case in which there were 6 wrestlers. It’s difficult to top the original, but watching guys try to figure it out is one of the best things about watching the in-ring performance. Looking back on it, it’s almost comical that I wondered how they intended to come up with enough interesting new ladder spots to justify doing another TLC. This was just the next in only a handful of tag team ladder matches, to that point. Nowadays, we discuss how they’re going to come up with new spots after there have been dozens of multi-man ladder matches.
The match: As the desire to out-do themselves increased, so too did the level of difficulty in the stunts. Some of the things that they pulled off in this match went off without a hitch, but there was one spot in particular that spectacularly failed. Jeff Hardy, as I later read in the Hardy Boys’s book, came up with the idea of walking a series of ladders like a tight rope en route to grasping onto the ring holding the tag title belts. If he had pulled that off, this might’ve gone down in history as the greatest ladder match of all-time. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to make it across the ladders. He did, however, get back in position soon after to take one of the most replayed bumps of not his – but Edge’s – career. Edge was waiting a top another ladder to give Jeff one of the best spears in wrestling history as the youngest Hardy was dangling in the air only to have Edge’s shoulder bury into his breadbasket to knock him into the air and hard to the mat. Jeff also did his classic Swanton Bomb off the ladder and through a table spot. To keep things interesting, each team had their third wheel enter the fray, creating for a couple more death-defying stunts. Rhyno made his presence felt, as did Lita and Spike Dudley. The Man Beast proved to be X-factor, as he made liberal use of his Gore and helped Edge and Christian reach the belts to win the match.
The reception: Some of the most prominent writers in the wrestling media have rated this higher than any of the other TLC matches. Perhaps it’s because of the humongous crowd compared to the arena-held predecessors. Myself, I think it’s the third best. I rank the first two TLC matches behind the unofficial first TLC match. Nevertheless, it just misses being in my top 20 matches in Wrestlemania history because of just how insane these six (actually eight plus one woman) were to put their bodies on the line like this. I have the utmost respect for them as a wrestling fan and I think they need to be getting the best of the best in preventative healthcare from now until their dying days to avoid them joining the list of prematurely deceased wrestlers. Chemical trauma (steroids, pain killers, etc.) can certainly ravage the body as seen with so many of the late 80s era wrestlers, but physical trauma can be just as bad or worse. Nobody put their bodies on the line during the most physically demanding time in WWE history like these six men and Mick Foley.
CMV1 rating: ****1/4
Setting the stage: Shawn Michaels was very passionate about becoming the top guy in the WWF during the mid-90’s and as he became a more tenured superstar, he surrounded himself with the kinds of guys that could help him find a cozy spot with the company all the while using his vastly superior in-ring skills to propel himself to championship status and money. Bret Hart was veteran presence in the locker room and not the type to take kindly to HBK’s questionable backstage doings. Hart had been given the ball and asked to carry the WWF as its champion during some dark days when business was tanking out of control amidst rumors of scandal and steroids. He developed a reputation during those days as an honorable champion and a very hard worker; not to mention the best in-ring technician in the business. Mostly, the two had coexisted just fine, but HBK was being given Bret’s spot and the Hitman did not feel as if Michaels was deserving of it.
Their on-screen storyline was very simple: these are the two best wrestlers in the world today, so we’re going to put them in a new kind of match that will test their limits. The Ironman match was a unique concept for a WWF fan, which had been conditioned to appreciate shorter main-event level matches filled with non-stop high spots and a quicker moving story. Wrestling for an hour was certainly not a problem for HBK and Hart, so it turned out to be one of the most highly anticipated matches in the history of the WWF. Fans that appreciated wrestling ability were itching to see how these two guys would work together on the grand stage.
The match: Right from the get go, it was built as a spectacle match for Shawn Michaels to get over huge and become the next guy to carry the WWF. HBK famously descended from the rafters on a bungee cord. When the match started, the men cut a deliberate pace. Many would call it too deliberate, but it was the dominant theme of the majority of the match. HBK and Hart worked flawlessly, but the crowd sat on their hands for the most part. There were occasional flurries of high spots to wake up the audience, but it was as if this match were taking place in a different era or over in Japan. Quiet fans politely applauded a technical masterpiece, but the lack of what they were accustomed to seeing kept them from getting very invested in it emotionally. To the surprise of many, there was not a single fall during the hour long match. It ended tied at zero and was forced to go to overtime. Michaels won with Sweet Chin Music to capture his first WWF Championship just a few minutes into the OT period. The once notorious Michaels attitude reared its head immediately following when he told the referee to get Hart out of the ring and give him his moment in the sun alone. The boyhood dream came true…
The reception: There might not be a more polarizing match in the history of Wrestlemania. For much of the first 20 years of the event, people often called it the greatest match of all-time, but even the most knowledgeable of wrestling media members called it too slow and plodding for that era’s fan. It was named the #1 match in Mania history by the wrestlers prior to Wrestlemania XX in 2004, but since then it seems like the luster has worn off that match. Today, when you look at lists of the top 20 matches at Mania you will see the Ironman Match left off as many times as you’ll see it in the top 5. I think it was a great performance by both men, but I’ve always prided guys like them on being able to do in 30-minutes what it took Ric Flair to do in an hour. The 60-minute match was just out of their element. The booking didn’t do it any favors. Quite frankly, if you want to see an hour-long match, there are better Ironman matches…or you can just watch Flair vs. Windham or Flair vs. Steamboat.
CMV1 rating - ****1/4
Setting the stage: As of Mania 24, I was pretty much at the height of my fandom for Edge. I had been rooting for the guy to succeed as a main-event player for several years, by that point, and I was very excited to see him get the chance to be in the main-event at Wrestlemania. When Edge got hot in 2002, he was showing flashes of singles excellence. He had already shown an ability and desire to steal the show at Wrestlemania; even if it was as part of tag team ladder matches where he was sharing the spotlight. He was one of the more memorable personas of those matches, so he – along with Jeff Hardy – stood out amongst the rest. He showed against Mick Foley that he could just as easily have a potentially show-stealing match on his own. They gave his match w/ Taker plenty of long-term hype and build, which was pretty standard stuff for the most part, but it worked to get this match over enough to go on last that year. One of my favorite moments about the build-up was actually the interview that Edge did backstage at Mania 24. He told the story of how he was a teenager at Mania 6 in Toronto watching his hero lose the title and how he subsequently lost his innocence. In that interview alone, he did enough to make his match must-see, as he would try to recreate his youth by causing the current hero, Taker, to lose his Streak and his chance at the World Heavyweight Championship. To some guys, you just know that being in the main-event at Mania means everything. Edge was the kind of guy that has never made any secret of his quest to be a go-to guy at Mania; it was nice to see him get there.
The match: The atmosphere for this bout was so cool and unlike any other that I’ve honestly been a part of. It was pitch dark and Edge’s pyro lit up the sky and Taker came out with his dazzling outdoor entrance and it just kind of gave you goosebumps. My dad went with me to this Mania in Orlando and he states that one of his most memorable moments was Taker’s entrance with the “GONG.” It was just a very unique experience. The match itself was really well paced and told a thorough story that detailed the history of their feud dating back to Survivor Series ’07, when Edge used a TV camera to screw Taker out of the World title. I thought that there was a good use of interference from the Edge Heads; they were bit parts in the scene, but it was effective. I liked that it didn’t at all make Edge look weak. In fact, Edge was booked like a dominant force that could hang with Taker to the bitter end. In fact, there were a couple of times that you legitimately had to wonder for a second if Edge might be the guy to end the Streak. When he kicked out of the Tombstone, which is still such a rare thing that it’s eye-popping when it happens, I yelled out in victory toward all the little kids sitting around me. As they chanted, “Sixteen and OH,” I fired back with “Fifteen and ONE!” It was fun. Hell’s Gate was still coming along as a primary finisher for Taker, so you had to wonder if the match was really about to end when Edge got stuck in its grasps. Taker winning was the right call and it only served as the first chapter in a great series of matches between the two over the next several months. Re-watching this match in recent months, I’m struck by the sheer number of counters that they pulled off. They did numerous reversals of each other’s top moves. I thought this match over the top as a legitimate classic.
The reception: Just about every reviewer worth his salt gave this match a very favorable rating. There were some that questioned the slower early minutes, but that’s how most of the 20+ minute matches are in the modern era. I thought Edge was awesome. He earned his next three Mania main-event matches on this one. Taker was in match 2 of his awesome streak of 4-star or better matches that is still on-going. As a big fan of Edge and what he brought to the table as a performer, I personally think this match ranks right up there in his top 5 of all-time based on what it meant for his career. Having been on last at one Mania put the stamp on his legacy as an all-time great.
CMV1 rating: ****1/4
Setting the stage: It’s unfortunate, to me, that Angle is toiling away in TNA. I can appreciate what he is trying to do, but it would have been so nice to sit here and still be writing columns about his in-ring brilliance. During my first year in college, I became a huge fan of the Olympic Hero. You always know when a wrestler has gotten his hooks into your psyche when you start quoting them in your “party vernacular.” As a freshman, I wore a fake gold medal to a fraternity party and introduced myself as an “Olympic Gold Medalist” to the unsuspecting females; a night that, to this day, a good buddy of mine still laughs about. Oh, it’s true. Sadly, it’s damn true. I don’t think anyone has ever had a string of classic matches with a variety of opponents in the way that Angle did during 2002-2003. That run was just unbelievable and I’d put it against the same span of time for any wrestler from any era. Frankly, I felt that Angle vs. Lesnar was a dream match as it approached in 2003. I didn’t ever look at Brock as anything but a stud in between the ropes, so I was expecting MOTY quality from the WWE Championship match in Seattle. I was really rooting for those guys to steal the show, but when news broke of Angle’s recurring neck problem, my expectations were changed. I now just wanted to see Angle make it out of this match alive and the hope for a classic was put on the backburner a bit.
The match: When Angle and Lesnar locked horns, I was sucked in. Seattle is an underrated Mania crowd. They had a lot of huge stuff to cheer and they still managed to muster up some energy for the main-event. Michael Cole could barely talk, he was so exhausted. An emotional roller coaster to end the night was just what this event needed to be considered arguably the greatest Mania in history. With every hip toss; with every shoulder tackle; with every suplex; with every high risk maneuver; and with every finishing move, I waited to see if Angle would get back up. One shoulder tackle in particular smacked so loud that it reverberated from Seattle to North Carolina like a cold front moving at light speed. You could see the look on the ref’s face, as he checked to see if Angle was OK; to see if he could continue the classic match that he was in the midst of performing. Luckily, Angle endured and kept going. For over 21-minutes, he kept going. He and Lesnar built to an exciting conclusion after having each kicked out of the other’s finishing move. And this is where the story changes to Brock. I had always heard that he was capable of doing a Shooting Star Press from friends in the IWC. I downloaded a video of him doing it in developmental. I had, thus, wondered if he had any inkling to steal the show at Wrestlemania by performing it in the main-event. Bottom line: he hits that move and Angle-Lesnar is without a doubt the greatest main-event in the history of Wrestlemania. Hands down. However, he tried and missed and nearly killed himself in the process. How quickly the concern shifted from Angle’s neck to Lesnar’s. They recovered well and it turned out to be one of the most memorable moments in Mania history.
The reception: This is one of my favorite matches in Wrestlemania lore. I think the intangibles involving Kurt’s neck and Brock’s botched gainer add something extra to the table that most matches do not have. However, the botch did come during what was supposed to be the finish to the match. The improvisation was well handled, but it prevented it from being a truly epic, top 10 caliber match and dropped down here to lowly 16th :-). I give all the credit in the world to Angle for being able to work a match this good in the condition that he was in. He broke down, physically, after the match, ravaged from the effects that come from wrestling with a severe neck injury. Interestingly, my specialty in the healing arts became the neuroanatomy of the cervical spine.
CMV1 rating: ****1/4
Setting the stage: I wish I had been a little bit older when Flair made the move to the WWE in late 1991. Even as a kid, I was thrilled to see him, as I grew up watching him in the Carolinas during his height as the NWA Champion. Yet, when I think of how monumental that could have been to see the top drawing star of the second biggest promotion jumping ship as an adult that would’ve had a greater appreciation for it? That’s just quite a thought. The Nature Boy had incredible chemistry with the two guys that the WWE put with him to boost his profile. Naitch, Mr. Perfect, and Bobby Heenan would’ve been a blast to hang out with. Macho had pretty much already established himself as Wrestlemanias top in-ring performer. So, while it would have been a thrill to see Hogan vs. Flair in that era’s ultimate dream match, it was a nice consolation prize to see Savage step into the ring with arguably the greatest wrestler of all-time. They built a helluva feud in the few short weeks that they had to build this (due to a change of plans that sent the card into a re-written tailspin). Flair claimed to have bedded Liz before Savage married her and to have taken nude photos of her. Savage was hell bent on avenging his lady’s name and Flair was hell bent on putting Savage out of his misery so that he could show the world the huge centerfold spread of Miss Elizabeth. That would’ve been “all…the way live!” Woooo!
The match: In a contest that was about as good as you could imagine between two guys of this caliber, Flair and Savage tore the house down and gave us a classic for the ages. Some have called this match Savage’s best Mania encounter. While I don’t agree with that, I do think it was a fantastic piece of work that should have been the main-event at Wrestlemania 8. It had everything you could want from a closing match at Mania. The crowd was electric and I find it sometimes difficult to put down on paper the energy that the Indiana Hoosier Dome crowd exhibited when Savage’s music hit. That was one of the loudest pops I’ve ever heard at Mania. They literally just came unglued. The back and forth action was fit for the MOTY candidate that this was, with Flair and Savage trading momentum several times to keep us guessing as to the eventual winner. Say what you will about Flair’s style, but I’ve always found it to be the perfect display of sports entertainment. He could grapple, but he also bumped in a way that let you know that you were seeing something more than just a fight. The blade job that he did was not as clean as Bret’s from earlier that night, but to see blood in Flair’s blonde hair was always a sight to see. There were a couple of great near falls during the climax of this match that really brought it to that next level (just past the Hart-Piper match) and the finish that saw Savage win the title after a roll-up was as exciting as could be.
The reception: As you’re about to notice, Savage is going to wind up with a highly impressive three matches in the top 15 in Mania history. His work rate from 1987 to 1992 was unbelievable. Only Shawn Michaels tops Savage in Mania greatness, so I look forward to the day that we get to see Savage inducted into his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. I hate that he passed without us ever getting to say a proper goodbye. He is one of the best of all-time. Of course, we know about Flair. We can only imagine what kind of Mania resume he could have built with more time in his prime as a member of the WWE roster. It’s fun to daydream, isn’t it? I can certainly appreciate what he did give us, though, as his one Mania match during his prime years was one of the top 15.
CMV1 rating: ****1/4
Setting the stage: I’m not sure why, but I never expected this match to be anywhere near as good as it turned out to be. When I first saw the build-up, I was intrigued, but not nearly as intrigued as I was for Angle vs. Guerrero. I figured Angle and Eddie were a shoe-in for match of the night. I guess HBK had not quite yet done enough to reestablish himself in my mind as the greatest of all-time that could always be counted on for classics. Or perhaps it was the bias against Triple H for burying all the talent in the locker room – you know, that false belief that most of us gained if we joined the IWC between 2002-2005. Somehow, that made him a lesser in-ring performer (granted, he was coming off a horrible year of working with a lot of horrible wrestlers in 2003). Chris Benoit was the guy you were rooting for to achieve that ultimate success and grab the brass ring and it was awesome to see one of the IWC heroes be given the chance to shine by winning the Rumble from the #1 spot. However, the recipe of these three guys just didn’t seem to gel with me, in terms of being super pumped to see how good this could be. Maybe it had something to do with triple threats always being kind of ho-hum up until this one redefined what they should look like. No matter what it was, I didn’t have super high expectations for this match.
The match: I thought that these three had to work hard enough to create a big match feel, for even though it was the main-event at Mania XX, there had been a lot of other matches that seemed to match or exceed it in hype. I thought it took one HBK moonsault off the top rope to the outside to make it feel momentous in a hurry. What followed was the greatest triple threat and best Mania main-event, in terms of pure work rate, that I’ve seen. They changed the game and ushered in an era of top quality triple threat matches. HBK took another big step toward his Mr. Wrestlemania moniker, Triple H finally had that awesome Wrestlemania match that he needed to complete his resume, and Benoit won the big one and celebrated with Eddie in one of the greatest “moments” in Mania history, at the time. There was so much action and so many layers to this match. The HBK-HHH saga and the two ridiculous blade jobs that they did stick out in my mind as incidents that added depth to this bout and gave it an added intangible to make up for Benoit’s lack of star power. I loved how the Garden crowd got behind Benoit, though, and showed him the love and respect that we all should of a top flight worker that finally gets the chance to be a top guy. I’m not sure I can adequately put into words how I felt about the finish to this match, at the time that it took place. When Benoit flipped HBK out of the ring and then locked Triple H in the Crossface, my mind began to race. I wondered if Trips would give up the opportunity to end the 20th Mania as champion – again believing all the bad stuff about the Game. I never thought he’d allow Benoit to beat him : ) – when Trips countered and tried to roll out of the hold, only for Benoit to hold on tight and keep Trips trapped, I nearly jumped out of my seat. Trips did a great job of selling and then finally tapping to give Benoit that awesome and definitive moment in his career that made him not only a legend, but a former WWE World Champion.
The reception: At the time, I rated this is a five-star classic that would be remembered forever as one of the top 2 Mania matches of all-time. It held my top spot for awhile. I absolutely loved this match! I’d have argued with you until we were both blue in the face that this was one of those matches that would go down in history with the ladder match and Rock-Hogan as iconic matches of their respective eras…until the whole thing with Benoit hit the fan in 2007. Now, I have always been able to separate what happened with Benoit and the career that he had prior to it. I think he’s one of the best ever and I’m sticking to that. Unfortunately, the picture painted for us about Benoit now is so negative that it’s hard to escape it. Like it or not, the Benoit moment just isn’t quite as epic anymore; and since that’s not as epic, neither is this match quite as awesome.
CMV1 rating: ****1/2
Setting the stage: When the rumors of another HBK vs. Taker match at Wrestlemania first started hitting the internet, I was skeptical. I had honestly thought that HBK would close out his career at Mania 26, but I assumed he’d do it against Triple H. As we inched closer and closer to Mania, though, it started to become more obvious. HBK challenged Taker to a rematch before the New Year. Taker denied him. HBK tried to win the Rumble to challenge him, but he couldn’t get it done. Michaels was telling the story of a man that had one thing left to do in his storied career and that was beat Taker at Mania; he was telling it brilliantly. He finally cost Taker the World title at the Elimination Chamber, prompting one of those memorable TV segments that always happen during Wrestlemania season when the wrestlers are oozing excitement about their biggest show of the year. Taker told Michaels he had to put his career on the line to get another shot at the Streak. “If I can’t beat you; I have no career. You’re on.” Rematch set to follow one of the greatest matches of all-time from the previous year. The marks could get excited and the smarks could question whether it was possible to outdo the previous match; to top the original. I was one of the few that said that they could do it, citing Flair-Steamboat as a classic example.
The match: The only sad part about that awesome TV moment was that it immediately threw in your face that HBK’s career was about to end and that this would be our last chance to see Mr. Wrestlemania do his thing. This was the guy that had helped make me a diehard fan. If it were not for HBK’s matches in the mid-90s, I may have never come back to wrestling and stayed such a big fan for so many years – I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing a column series about Wrestlemania matches if it weren’t for matches like this and the five other bouts he has in the top 15. HBK is not the reason that I became a fan, but he is the reason that I became a fan for life. I’ve never seen anyone better. The night he retired was a bittersweet moment for a fan. He certainly delivered, perhaps not topping the Mania 25 match but certainly having a match for the ages that no one will forget. The story was different this go-round, with the use of finishers galore putting over the desperation to win, but slightly decreasing my enjoyment of the match. However, I can see how someone would rank this ahead of the original simply because of a different preference in style. That closing moment when HBK is crying on the stage to raucous applause and there not being a post-event video highlight; instead, a sort of moment of silence…all of that is just classic.
The reception: I thought this match had everything that an HBK final curtain call should. He showed off his athleticism, performing a move that I’m not sure anyone else in the WWE can do exception for maybe Mysterio (maybe) – that being the moonsault from the turnbuckle to the announce table. He also did another excellent job of actually making people believe he had a chance. Perhaps that is the enduring legacy of HBK – he was so good that you could overcome his considerable size differential against guys like Taker and buy him as a threat to actually win the match. The bout also had stamina and fluidity of the other classic HBK bouts. He was still just young enough to be able to do most of what he’d always been able to do. He worked and bumped his ass off and did it for 25-minutes in the longest and best match of the evening and the year. It was awesome. Plus, it had the storytelling acumen that all of his best matches since his return from injury had featured. That moment where he claws up Taker’s chest with every last ounce of his strength and then slaps the Deadman right across the face – that’s memorable.
CMV1 rating: ****1/2
Setting the stage: The hard sell for Mania got kick started when the WWE began airing mysterious videos hyping “2-21-11.” Speculation went wild as to who would be showing up on that date and it turned out to be the Undertaker. Yet, as soon as the Deadman made his entrance on Raw that night, Triple H made his long-awaited return and spoiled Undertaker’s. In one of those rare moments in wrestling when no talking is needed to tell a story, Triple H and Undertaker simply stared a hole through each other and let the crowd talk for them. They each gazed at the Wrestlemania marquee before Taker gave a throat-slashing gesture and Trips countered with a crotch chop. The stage was set: Taker vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 27. They relied on their reputations to build the feud from there, with videos frequently airing to hype both of their Wrestlemania careers. Triple H frequently stated that he thought that the Undertaker’s Streak was the last thing that the Deadman was living for and that when the Streak died, the Taker’s career would die. The Game vowed to end the Streak or die trying. Also aired were videos from Shawn Michaels talking about both his relationship with Trips and why he thought he could end the Streak and of HBK speaking about his own unsuccessful quest to end the Streak.
The match: Before the match began, Triple H came out to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (followed by his usual theme). It perfectly set the stage for the war that began once the bell rang. This wasn’t your typical wrestling match. It was a No Holds Barred match. They used the gimmick to their advantage and beat the hell out of each other for the first ten minutes. Triple H gave Taker a spinebuster through the announce table. Taker back dropped Trips off the announce table. Once they returned to the ring, they started with a flurry of finishing moves that culminated with Trips kicking out of the Tombstone and Taker kicking out of the Pedigree. Triple H took over from that point, connecting with the Pedigree again and using multiple chair shots to try and put the Deadman away. Yet, it was the moment when Taker goozled the Game – and when Trips subsequently looked down at him and shook his head “No” - that the match was defined as a classic. Nothing that the Deadman could do from that point forward seemed to be able to stop the Game. Triple H even went so far as to give Taker the Tombstone…but it was not enough. Nothing was enough to save the Game from eventual defeat. Try as he might, Triple H just could not put the Deadman down to end the Streak. Taker would take advantage of a rare lapse in aggressiveness and lock Triple H in the Hell’s Gate submission. Trips struggled like crazy, but tapped out. Taker had to be carted off from the ringside area. 19-0.
The reception: While not heralded as being on the level of HBK-Taker 1, many rated it on par with HBK vs. Taker II, for obviously different reasons. The storytelling was praised, as Taker and Triple H overcame their physical shortcomings to put on a marvelous performance that was generally well-received by the majority of the top critics in the “wrestling media.” Taker completed a streak of five straight Wrestlemanias where he arguably if not definitely stole the show. Triple H gave one of the best performances of his career and finally had that defining, one-on-one singles match that had eluded him for so long despite so many years as a top guy. If HBK vs. Taker is the modern masterpiece in storytelling, then HHH vs. Taker is an example of how to use that brand of storytelling to overcome age and injury. For those of you wondering why I ranked this ahead of HBK-Taker II, it simply comes down to the commentary. I saw the match live, in-person, but subsequent viewings put distance between it and HBK-Taker II based on Jim Ross. The bouts were similar in style, but Ross is so vastly superior to Michael Cole that it makes a difference.
CMV1 rating - ****1/2
Setting the stage: In December 2002, Jericho confronted Michaels and called him the Has-Been Kid, prompting HBK to super kick Y2J right in the jaw. Then, leading into the Royal Rumble in 2003, Jericho made it known that he intended to win the Rumble from the #1 spot, only to be disappointed when he learned that HBK had already secured the first entry. Jericho got number 2, but had his tag team partner, Christian, pretend to be him so that he could jump Michaels from behind and quickly eliminate him from the Rumble match. Y2J’s antics only escalated when he Michaels jumped him later on in the match and helped get him eliminated. In the weeks after, Jericho targeted Stacy Keibler, hitting her in the face with a chair and locking her in the Walls of Jericho. Michaels rescued her during the latter incident, but ate a chair in the face for his troubles. The story then shifted to Jericho having once been HBK’s biggest fan and having patterned his early career after his. Jericho wanted to prove that he was now better than Michaels and was intent on ending HBK’s career in the process. Quietly, fans wondered whether or not HBK would be able to hold up his end of the bargain in a non-gimmicked match, since he had not had a standard feature length wrestling match since 1998.
The match: Michaels quickly answered any questions about his fitness level and health when he engaged in a fast paced game of one-ups-manship with Jericho to start the match. In what can best be described as a game of chess between two master players, Jericho and Michaels went back and forth for nearly 23-minutes. There were times during the match where each showed off their wrestling acumen, while there were others where they each put their athleticism on display. Then, they proved why they were two of the best in the history of Wrestlemania with the steady build to the climax and finish of their match. Jericho was cocky at times, even going so far as to use Sweet Chin Music on Shawn and mock his signature poses. Michaels did a great job of playing the veteran babyface, outsmarting Jericho on a few occasions and finding ways to counter a lot of Jericho’s established offensive repertoire. The key to the match’s success was that they never really let on to who was going to walk away with the win. After Jericho and Michaels had exhausted nearly every move in their playbooks, HBK scored with his super kick but couldn’t earn the pinfall. Thus, when Jericho locked on the Walls for a second time in the match, a lot of people thought it was over and done with. Those people were proven wrong when HBK escaped again. Who would emerge victorious? After being flipped up and onto the top turnbuckle before back flipping back to a standing base, Jericho jabbed his forearm into HBK’s surgically repaired lower back and tried for a back drop, but HBK countered and scored the pin with a unique legs over the shoulders pinning combination.
The reception: It was a match heralded as a highly successful return for HBK and a great showcase of what Jericho brings to the table, but it was often left out of the conversation for being one of the best Wrestlemania matches of all-time. You’ll frequently find it amongst people’s top 20, but rarely will it be in consideration for the top 5. I truly wonder why. This match ages like a fine wine and gets better with each viewing, in my opinion; you’ll be hard pressed to ever find a better blend of excitement, pacing, psychology, and finish. HBK was still at an age where he could do most of the things that he was capable of doing earlier in his career in terms of his athleticism. I think that is an underrated part of what makes this match great…and I’m not sure Jericho has ever been better than he was playing the angry young star trying to show the old lion that his skills had become superior in an Obi-Wan vs. Anakin Skywalker clash.
CMV1 rating - ****1/2