Posted in: Doctor's Orders Doctor's Orders: The Road to Wrestlemania Countdown #42 - #60
By The Doc
Feb 15, 2012 - 9:45:41 PM
Well, Orton is officially out of the Chamber. I wonder if this is a work. I have zero clue what’s going down at Mania for the World title. At this point, Bryan vs. Sheamus looks more and more likely and perhaps that is the way to go. I still think Orton and Henry will sneak their way into that match if they’re healthy, but that’s a big “if” at this point. The WHC match will be no higher on the importance scale than 5th if they go through with the Show vs. Shaq ordeal, though, so it’s likely going to be treated as mid-card filler. If it is Bryan vs. Sheamus, hopefully they can rise above that previous statement. 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 (67): If you could re-order the matches at Wrestlemania X-8, particularly as it pertains to the main-event and Rock/Hogan, how would you do it? Would you do the same for Mania 25, since they are quite similar?
Setting the stage: Qualifying matches began shortly after the Elimination Chamber PPV in February. Jack Swagger, Dolph Ziggler, Evan Bourne, and Drew McIntyre all made their Mania debuts in what was the largest MITB match ever with 10 participants. Kane, Matt Hardy, MVP, Shelton Benjamin, Christian, and Kofi Kingston all made their returns to the MITB match. McIntyre had been receiving a push as “The Chosen One” on Smackdown, so he was thought to be a favorite, but the likes of Christian and Kane were also thought to be potential winners. Kofi was the last man to qualify.
The match: More than ever before, there were a lot of guys lying around on the outside. People wondered how it would be with ten men in the ring at the same time and it turned out to be interesting, but a little convoluted. Evan Bourne took the award for the match’s most exciting performer, but Kofi Kingston had the most memorable spot – he took a broken ladder and used it as a stilts to try and get to the briefcase. Each man had an impressive moment or two. The WWE decided to play up to the idea that McIntyre was the favorite when they positioned him late in the match to look as if he would win, but it was not to be. It would actually turn out to be Jack Swagger’s night, even though it took him what seemed like an eternity to unhook the briefcase (which was smartly edited out on the DVD).
The reception: As usual, MITB was praised as an exciting stuntfest, but it was put in the low 3-star range by most critics instead of pushing the four-star limit. Swagger winning was a nice surprise for me and he went on to do very well during his limited main-event run, although he continues to be cursed by the hotshot treatment that so many MITB winners receive before they’re ready. This was the low point in MITB history, in my opinion. The match was exciting, but it was the epitome of lazy booking to throw so many guys into it.
CMV1 rating - ***1/4
59. Randy Orton vs. Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio at Wrestlemania 22
Setting the stage: Injuries completely derailed the original main-event from the SD side of things in 2006. Batista was supposed to go on and defend the World title against former Evolution cohort, Randy Orton, but he got injured. Angle ended up winning the title in a battle royal. Meanwhile, Mysterio won the Royal Rumble to earn the title shot, last eliminating Orton, but would go on to lose to the Legend Killer at No Way Out with his Mania opportunity on the line. Being the equal opportunity GM that he was, Teddy Long placed Mysterio into the match to make it a triple threat. Angle was made to look unstoppable against both his challengers in the weeks leading up to Mania, making each of them tap out to the ankle lock. On a personal note, Angle is one of my all-time favorites and, this being the first Mania that I attended live, it was a real thrill for me to see him defend the World title that night.
The match: These three guys flew out of the gate and established a frenetic pace that had reviewers looking at their watches to see just how fast they were going to burn through their story. It was quite entertaining, with big spots from each coming within the first three minutes. Just when one guy seemed to gain control, the next guy would come in and steal it away. Angle eventually had each tap out, but the referee saw it neither time. There were some impressive multi-man spots that showed how good this might have been had they gotten more time to let it all play out. However, the finish came just about 9-minutes from the opening bell, with Angle ending up out of the ring and out of luck as Mysterio hit the West Coast Pop on Orton to win the title for the first time. The crowd was somewhat split against Rey during the match, but everyone paid him respect afterward.
The reception: Lack of time aside, the match was praised as being supremely exciting during its short duration. There was never a dull moment. Mysterio’s title win came under some scrutiny, with many feeling he rode Eddie Guerrero’s death five months prior to the Promised Land. It was the kind of thing that somewhat tarnished the memory of it if you allowed it to. However, Mysterio took advantage of an opportunity and made the most of it.
CMV1 rating: ***1/4
58. Triple H vs. Booker T at Wrestlemania XIX
Setting the stage: Booker T won a battle royal on Raw the night after No Way out 2003 to become the #1 contender to the World title at Mania. It was his first title shot since the 2001 Invasion storyline of which he was a central figure. He worked his way back up to the top, only to be met by the dastardly Triple H, hitting his stride at the time as the primary antagonist in the WWE. The Game was controversial during his feud with Booker, using racial undertones to give the story a heated back drop. Booker’s past experience with the law were brought to the forefront, but he was getting the upper hand quite frequently – even beating Trips in a tag team match. This was the biggest match of Booker’s career and I thought he and Trips did well to create a different type of story amidst such a stacked card around them.
The match: Having the unfortunate task of following the classic bout between HBK and Y2J was no easy feat, but Triple H (drawing on his experience the year before in trying to follow Rock-Hogan) seemed up for it. Book matched the Game’s intensity and the two filled the first 10-minutes with a lot of hard hitting, back and forth action. Triple H eventually focused on Booker’s knee, thanks to some help from Ric Flair, at ringside as Triple H’s right hand man. Booker made a valiant comeback and connected with all of his signature moves, including the seldom used Houston/Harlem Hangover. The damage done to the knee, though, proved to be too much to overcome and Trips retained the title.
The reception: The decision to have Triple H retain was criticized by many in the IWC, particularly after he took 20 seconds plus to cover Book and pin him after he connected with the Pedigree. People saw it as demeaning to Booker. However, the general reception for the match quality amongst the top critics was positive. It was certainly not on par with the other top matches, but it held its own. I would argue that Mania 19 provided the single most difficult night in Wrestlemania history for wrestlers to steal the show. So many historically major names were in headlining matches that I imagine they had to work twice as hard to achieve what they did on that night.
CMV1 rating: ***1/4
57. Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy at the 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania
Setting the stage: I almost thought Matt Hardy would have the chance to get close to the main-event with his heel work after turning on Jeff at the ’09 Royal Rumble. I thought that he did a good job of portraying the jealous, mean-spirited older brother. Frankly, it was the most believable role that he ever played. Alas, it did not amount to anything. Jeff would go back to the main-event and have a great final run in the WWE as its off-again, on-again World Champion. I liked the build-up to this match, though, as it went back into the fall of 2008 with a bunch of mysterious stuff happening to Jeff without anyone figuring out who was behind any of it. Matt eventually was revealed, but it was fun speculating – many thought it was Christian and were disappointed when it wasn’t.
The match: A couple of weeks prior to the match, the WWE decided that they’d make it an Extreme Rules match. Frankly, it was the only way that these two were ever going to have a chance to steal the show with Taker-HBK on the card. I thought it would allow them to free up their minds and get into the TLC mode of thinking, as that had helped them steal the show from considerable competition in the past. They did seem to do just that, but you could tell that they were different guys from the kids that threw caution to the wind and put their bodies at unimaginable risk ten years prior. That’s not to say that Jeff didn’t go above and beyond with his bumping, but it was a little more forced then it used to be. Matt getting the win was a bit of a surprise, especially looking back and seeing that the win led nowhere for him.
The reception: A lot of people just didn’t seem happy with how this turned out, but I thought it was a really good match considering all that they did in the amount of time that they were given. Both Hardys wanted to steal the show and they tried to bust out the old playbook. It just flat out wasn’t enough. I feel that the expectations for this match were set a tad too high by some, contributing to its rather meager reception. I believe it to be underrated, though, and think it is one of those matches that helps elevate a Mania like this above its predecessors from a decade or so prior. This is the kind of match that makes Mania more memorable in the overall context.
CMV1 rating: ***1/4
56. Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania XIX
Setting the stage: Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Wrestlemania 19 was the most star-studded Mania of all-time. Never before had so many big stars from so many different eras been featured in major matches; when a match between the biggest star in wrestling history and the most famous wrestling promoter in history takes a backseat to at least two other matches, then you know you’re dealing with a big-time Mania. It’s hard for me to believe, to this day, that this Mania was only able to garner 540,000 buys. Hogan and McMahon had quite a story leading up to this match, full of shenanigans. Vince screwed Hogan in Montreal out of a win over Rock. He also stabbed him with a sharp pen during their contract signing and busted him open. The WWE did interviews with a lot of personalities to see who people thought would win this match dubbed “20 years in the making.”
The match: There were two matches prior to this one on the card that made their case for match of the night and two matches after it that would do the same. So, Vince and Hogan had to work hard to earn their spot. Actually, there was some talk of giving this the main-event slot, but that was obviously knocked down. Vince was especially impressive throughout the duration of the match. I thought this was the best performance of his in-ring career. Neither one of these guys were capable of moving around too much, so they just beat the hell out of each other, used a couple of short cuts, and worked smart. There were two moments in particular that stood out, as it pertained to Vince. The first was the spot where he connected with a leg drop onto Hogan that sent them both through the announce table. The second was that classic, iconic moment when Vince emerges from under the ring with a lead pipe. They zoom on his face as he’s climbing back up to the apron and he’s got that maniacal look on his face. Of course, Roddy Piper also made a memorable appearance. Yet, this was McMahon’s match. Hogan did his part, too, and has to be given credit for carrying a non-wrestler to a well-received performance.
The reception: I love this match, personally. I think it not only stands the test of time, but is enhanced by the passage of time given where Hogan is right now. They’ve got this long-standing animosity despite all the success that they had together. I think it may be like that forever, as Hogan tries to keep himself relevant and prove he’s still a major player in the business, while Vince keeps leading the top ship through both calm seas and white squalls.
CMV1 rating: ***1/4
55. Alberto Del Rio vs. Edge at Wrestlemania XXVII
Setting the stage: Alberto Del Rio won the 2011 Royal Rumble and proceeded to set his sights on the World title, held by Edge. The Rated R Superstar had become Smackdown’s top babyface, continuing a multi-year streak of being the face of that brand. Del Rio and Edge embarked on a heated road to Wrestlemania, with Christian returning at Elimination Chamber in February to ensure that ADR did not injure Edge for any lengthy period, as the Mexican Aristocrat had done to Christian some months earlier. Alberto, with the help of Brodus Clay and Ricardo Rodriguez, managed to fend off the majority of Edge and Christian’s attempts to gain the upper hand, as neither E nor C was really able to firmly establish momentum for the good guys. Alberto got the best of Edge on a few occasions, including setting the stage for a tap out win at Mania by injuring Edge’s arm.
The match: It was the first World title match to ever be the opening match at Mania, but they still did a nice job even early on re-affirming why this was one of the heavily hyped main-events. Christian and Brodus were at ringside and their roles would increase as we got near the climax of the match. They took turns gaining the advantage on the other to help with the numbers game for each title match participant. Del Rio, meanwhile, focused on Edge’s arm to set the stage for his Cross Armbreaker finishing submission. Edge worked over Del Rio’s legs to use his move formerly known as the Edgeucator. Eventually, they locked each other in the submission holds, but each was able to power out. The finish came when Edge escaped the Armbreaker and caught Alberto by surprise with the Spear shortly thereafter. It was the only time that Edge emerged victorious in a World title match in four tries.
The reception: The bout was well received by critics as a solid opening match-up that was worthy of its billing. It has since become even more historically significant because it turned out to be Edge’s final match in his career. He did himself proud and Del Rio responded well, too. Edge retired after having completed his fourth straight Wrestlemania championship match. Time will tell where Del Rio’s title match ranks historically. Edge was one of my all-time favorite wrestlers and I’m happy to have been there live to see his final bout.
CMV1 rating - ***1/4
54. Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. The Million Dollar Man at Wrestlemania VI
Setting the stage: During the climax of Jake’s match with Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania V, Ted Dibiase came to the ring and tried to steal the bag containing Damien the snake. Roberts gave chase and the feud between he and the Million Dollar Man began. Interestingly enough, the feud was supposed to take place years earlier, but it never happened. Then, it almost didn’t happen this time because Roberts was legitimately injured and needed to have surgery. So, shortly after Wrestlemania, Dibiase and his bodyguard, Virgil, attacked Roberts to explain his TV absence for the next several months. Upon his return in late 1989, Roberts made life hell for Dibiase and actually stole his “Million Dollar” Championship belt, placing it in the safety of the bag where Damien lay dormant. Dibiase nor Virgil had the guts to stick their hand in the bag and retrieve the belt. This was a hot storyline back then, as Dibiase was still a red hot heel act and Roberts was the third babyface from the top on the hierarchy behind Hogan and Warrior.
The match: There is a reason that this match basically got second billing behind the Title for Title bout and that reason was that Dibiase and Roberts were consummate professionals and two of the best of that era. In roughly twelve minutes, the Snake and the Million Dollar Man told the story of two guys who’d been after each other for a year or more. Jake was one of the best ever at in-ring psychology and he used his cunning to attempt to drop Dibiase with the DDT early and often. The usual back and forth to be expected of a high profile match followed, but it was done so effortlessly that they made what they were doing look easy and routine. During the climax of the match, they battled to the outside. It was Dibiase that got the best of Roberts on that front, allowing the Million Dollar Man to escape back into the ring just before the ten count rendering Jake beaten by count out.
The reception: This is one of many of the forgotten matches of that era. Not many secondary bouts got that much time to steal the show from Hogan. While I’ve never met anyone who disliked or did not enjoy the Roberts-Dibiase match, the general consensus is that it could be better. No question, had it gotten more time it would have, but it still stands the test of time as a really strong performance on an overall weak Wrestlemania PPV. You won’t see many more matches from the first fifteen years of Mania, especially from the first ten, on the Countdown from here out.
CMV1 rating - ***1/4
53. Randy Orton vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania 21
Setting the stage: I will always believe that Orton needed this match to be good to avoid the downward spiral after his massively failed babyface turn in 2004. So much momentum had built for Orton as a heel and so much effort had been put into making him a star that it seemed like the turn of doom could have destroyed Orton’s career. Along came this match with Taker at Mania 21, though, and rescued the Legend Killer. Thank goodness. Orton was a natural heel back then and it helped give Taker a worthy opponent for Mania. This was the first storyline that focused on ending the Streak, and it seemed like Orton might truly be the one to do so. Nobody could’ve used the win more at the point they faced Taker then Orton (other than Kane 7 years prior). The feud might not have been viewed as that good, but there were several strong storylines all a bit different from this one that allowed the Orton-Taker match to receive much better than adequate (and unique) hype.
The match: Orton lost a lot of confidence, if you ask me, while feuding with Triple H. For the most part, Orton could always be counted upon to hold up his end of the bargain against a top level opponent en route to a great match. He would have the occasional botch, but he mostly was smooth during and after his feud with HBK in ’03. Against Taker, there were several clunky moments that you can’t help but blame on the younger star coming off a dud feud that should’ve been a defining moment of his career for a different reason. Orton shined, though, as a heel throughout this match. Taker showed a fire that hadn’t been seen in a few years, but has consistently shown through since ’05’s Mania. Perhaps the greatest thing about this match is that you thought Orton might actually win. The Streak wasn’t nearly as big then as it is now, but this was the match that got you thinking more about it and they did a great job of portraying Orton as the guy that could give Taker that elusive “L.” The spot where Orton turned the chokeslam into the RKO for a near fall was awesome, as was the inclusion of Bob Orton’s cast into the story. Taker winning wasn’t surprising, but Orton looked strong enough in loss to get his career back on track.
The reception: Historical context has come to mean more and more to me when evaluating Mania matches and I like to point out things like Orton vs. Taker being the first match “for the Streak.” I think this is universally accepted as a damn good match for both guys that helped them build something better. I have never seen it ranked below 3-stars and have never heard anything truly awful about it. There have been some complaints about the miscues, but they worked around those so easily that it didn’t matter in the end.
CMV1 rating: ***1/4
52. The Rock and Sock Connection vs. Evolution at Wrestlemania XX
Setting the stage: I was thinking recently about how good The Rock was at Wrestlemania. I write often about how there are some guys that just seemed to “get it” when it came to Wrestlemania to the fullest extent. There are guys that understand and get pumped about Mania, but then there are the guys that go out and do the best stuff of their careers at Mania. Rock really got it. Just showing up for two weeks, Rock completely overshadowed Mick Foley, electrifying as only the Rock can. He stepped up to the plate and was a driving force behind this match helping to elevate Mania 20’s overall profile. From the purely mark perspective, it was great getting to see Rock do something at Mania 20. The Orton vs. Foley feud was actually an excellent, long-term story that made Orton a star, but it was overshadowed a bit when Rock showed up.
The match: I, to this day, think that a Mania XX that featured the same match from Backlash between Foley and Orton from a month later in place of this handicap match would’ve made Mania XX arguably the best Mania ever (had everything else stayed the same). Had that been the case, Mania XX would’ve had three matches right near the top of the all-time list. No Mania can currently say that. Two is the cap, thus far. Nevertheless, this was a wildly fun match that they did give us. Rock and Sock were both fun to see back in the ring and I was impressed with Batista for the first time, as he started showing that the Mania juices got him flowing a little bit more than with the average superstar. Seeing Flair and Rock hook it up on the grand stage was cool, especially when Flair tried to do the People’s Elbow. The ending of the match finally returned the focus back to where it had needed to be: on Orton vs. Foley. Orton finished off Foley with an RKO out of nowhere to win the match. It was a big moment for Orton.
The reception: Much like Mania XX itself, I thought this match was underrated. I consider it one of the hidden gems of that show. Across the top 4 rated matches, Mania XX ranks right up there with the best of all-time. Again, I ask you to imagine what it could’ve looked like with Angle vs. Guerrero, HBK vs. Trips vs. Benoit, and Orton vs. Foley from Backlash all on the same Mania card. That would be tough to top, match-quality wise. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the handicap match.
CMV1 rating: ***1/4
51. Money in the Bank 5 at the 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania
Setting the stage: Qualifying matches took place right after the No Way Out PPV in February. Kofi Kingston made his Mania debut, while Christian made his return to Mania (first appearance since the original MITB 4 years earlier). Kane, Shelton Benjamin, and Finlay all renewed their MITB dreams from previous years, while Mark Henry and MVP lost their MITB virginity. CM Punk, meanwhile, tried to become the first repeat winner in MITB history. This was considered to be one of the first MITB matches without a prohibitive pre-match favorite, but IWC pundits openly seemed to be rooting for Christian. I remember holding out hope that maybe the WWE would give Shelton the nod, but that was very wishful thinking on my part. I was always blinded by fandom for Shelton. He was the type that I’d see a push developing for even when it wasn’t conceivably in the cards.
The match: Benjamin and Christian were expected to go out and show off their veteran status in ladder matches, but it turned out to be Kofi Kingston that took a lot of the attention. He was highly innovative in his offense in this environment, exhibiting rare athleticism. Shelton did make a run at stealing the show with a dive off a 20-foot ladder onto his opponents, but Kofi outshined him when he ran up a ladder held by Mark Henry (who turned out to be a fairly welcome addition to the match instead of the complete waste of space that many projected him to be). Christian and MVP had nice showings for themselves, as well, but it turned out to be CM Punk that got the win again. His win was very surprising, from where I sat. However, it was a do-over opportunity for him and, the second go-round, he turned it into the best run of his career up to that point.
The reception: The 5th annual MITB match received a mixed reaction. Some called it the best installment of the series, praising it as a 4-star plus affair. Others (like myself) thought it was a good match, but not at the level of the 1st and 4th editions, respectively. Kofi’s performance was praised, though, and he went on to receive a nice push as a result.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
50. Shawn Michaels vs. Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 22
Setting the stage: This was the first time that I was going to get to see Michaels wrestle live and it was going to be my first Wrestlemania live, so it was not all that exciting to me that my first HBK match at my first Mania was going to be against the non-wrestling, 60 + year old McMahon. Nevertheless, they built a very good story heading to Mania that certainly made you want to see Vince get his ass handed to him. Michaels went as far as to acknowledge the thoughts of a lot of the diehard fans with his pre-match interview, citing his 5-star classic matches with the likes Angle, Benoit, and Triple H but suggesting that this was not going to be that kind of match; this was more of a storytelling challenge and one that he planned on excelling at.
The match: It was a match that let us see Vince do a serious blade job, get his ass seriously kissed by his son, and then get the hell beat out of him by HBK. It turned into a showcase of HBK trying to find the best way to stick it to Vince. In other words, it was quite compelling to watch. The crowd bought into it thanks to some great pre-match hype and some fantastic performing from the Heartbreak Kid. Michaels was seemingly in transition at this point, as he was starting to get older and wiser in realizing that his body couldn’t handle some of the crazy bumps he’d done earlier in his career on a consistent basis anymore without serious repercussions. So, he was starting to challenge himself to tell a better story in the ring. Michael Jordan realized he wasn’t as dominant an athlete anymore, so he perfected the sweetest fall-away jump shot in basketball history – a lethal move that kept him as the best in the game for far longer than he would have been otherwise. HBK became a master storyteller and it allowed him to do some of the best work of his career all the way until the end of it.
The reception: Believe it or not, this was actually the 2006 Dave Meltzer Match of the Year. I wouldn’t go that far, but it was certainly one of the best performances of the year by HBK. McMahon has always been willing to put his body on the line when he’s in the ring, as he understands it’s the only way that anyone could ever buy into him being in the ring with these guys. He’s so over as a heel that people want to see him get killed out there, figuratively. I was very pleasantly surprised by the effort on that night.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
49. Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania X-Seven
Setting the stage: The Olympic Hero really started to come into his own in 2001. He had some great matches at the start of the year, as you could tell that he was starting to start developing into a great in-ring performer. Putting him against Benoit at Mania 17 was a great touch. The feuds that Angle had with Taker, Triple H, and Rock were perfect because they built a foundation for Angle as to how to work with superior entertainers in the ring, but it was the feud with Benoit after the fact that taught Angle how to define your own main-event style using his amateur attributes and learn how to really control the tempo instead of follow the lead. This was a very good example of two guys making the most of an opportunity, as Benoit was looking to move up the card and the series of matches that these two had in the spring of ’01 were really a catapult to the top for him before he got injured and was out for a year.
The match: Context is key here, in my opinion. Angle vs. Benoit is one of the best in-ring rivalries in the history of the WWE. When they met in ’01, they started having their first series of great matches, but the matches that they had in 2002-2003 were on a whole different level. Thus, it is difficult to view the Mania 17 match without thinking of the Unforgiven ’02 match or the Royal Rumble ’03 match, when Angle was on the roll of his life and elevated himself up to “this guy is one of the best I’ve ever seen” status. Nevertheless, you cannot take away from Angle and Benoit did accomplish at Mania. The Attitude was an era of a lot of outside the ring brawling and the top four other matches beside this one featured that Attitude-era style. Angle vs. Benoit was different. It was a wrestling match surrounded by sports entertainment matches, which helped it stand out and grow such an appreciation from fans and peers alike.
The reception: When the WWE did their “10 Greatest Matches in Mania history” special prior to Mania XX, the WWE wrestlers ranked Angle vs. Benoit in their top ten. I thought that was madness, personally, but there’s no denying that it’s good. I think that, athletically, we were just scratching the surface of what Angle was capable of and he still didn’t look quite as natural in the ring as of April 2001 as he would a year later. Overrated, historically, but still a really good match.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
48. The Rock vs. Triple H vs. Mick Foley vs. Big Show at Wrestlemania 2000
Setting the stage: I actually was not watching wrestling at this point in time. Steve Austin had turned me off and girls were taking priority in my teenage mind. The Rock was my favorite wrestler, but I was out of touch with the product by the time Mania 2000 went down. However, when I got back into wrestling in 2001, I quickly sought out what I’d missed during my hiatus and could not wait to see this match. Back then, I had the internet, but did not use it for wrestling purposes. Thus, I did not know the result of this match. I bought the DVD and proceeded to embark on a 3-hour wrestling journey that was largely disappointing (with a few exceptions). When it came to the main-event, I became engrossed in the build-up thanks to the pre-match hype video. I was not a smark, yet, so the McMahon in every corner served to make the match more interesting to me. I figured that, with all four of them involved, it would only make the result more unpredictable. Going into it, I was hoping that The Rock would emerge victorious and give Triple H his comeuppance. I had also hoped that it would come down to old rivals in Rock and Foley.
The match: I was shocked when Show got eliminated in the first few minutes. I get chills just thinking about my first viewing of this match, even though it was not live and took place over 18 months after the event. When Show went down, I thought my dream scenario of Rock and Foley closing it out might actually come true. It was not meant to be, but looking back I thought that they did a great job of teasing that outcome and of making sure that Foley got plenty of time to showcase his skills one last time before bowing out 20-minutes in. That left nearly 20 more minutes for Rock and Triple H to duke it out. Of course, the Attitude era style never much suited me, but the drama that they built during the climax of the match was top notch. Triple H ultimately winning the match after all the shenanigans from the McMahons was par for the course in that era, in hindsight, but I thoroughly enjoyed the match. However, I think it may have been epic had it just been Rock vs. Triple H.
The reception: I have always thought that this was a mixed bag of a match. As a mark and a pure fan of wrestling, I loved this match until Triple H stole the win. I thought Rock should have won the match! As a critic, I found the inclusion of Show being there for 4-minutes and Foley coming out of retirement to be a part of this to be unnecessary. The crazy nature of the Attitude era, what with the over booking and what not, already gave the match enough working against its rating. Rock and Trips alone could have overcome that like Austin and Rock did a year later. 25-30 minutes of them wrestling one-on-one would’ve given each another classic Mania performance to their credit. As it stands, this was a really strong match, but it fell short of Mania main-event expectations. Also, it does not stand the test of time. I’ve tried to watch this twice over the last couple of years and found myself surfing the net or lost in thought about 5-minutes into the Rock vs. Triple H part of the match.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
47. Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel at Wrestlemania XI
Setting the stage: The WWE was going through some major changes in 1995. They knew what they had in Bret Hart, but they decided to go in a direction that might spark some bigger business and put the WWE title on Diesel. To work with him at Wrestlemania, they had Shawn Michaels – he of ladder match fame – win the Royal Rumble from the first entry position. Michaels and Diesel had the luxury of working a storyline based around their former partnership and friendship that had begun with Diesel as HBK’s bodyguard the previous year. Also during this time, Sweet Chin Music was born as HBK’s primary finishing move (a dangerous one at that) and Sycho Sid was put into Shawn’s corner to make him look like more of a threat. To add that celebrity touch and big fight feel, Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson were slated to accompany them to the ring. While this was secondary to the story involving Lawrence Taylor, it was still the main-event of the evening to many fans. I feel it gets lost in the shuffle since it did not close the show, so let’s bring it back to the forefront for a day.
The match: Michaels worked very hard to keep the pace of the match quick and aesthetically pleasing right from the start. He bumped all over the place for the bigger Diesel, but eventually gained control of the match. In case there were some folks that were tuning in to see Lawrence Taylor wrestle in the main-event, Michaels made sure to show off his considerable aerial arsenal, wowing the live crowd and PPV audience in the process. He eventually connected with his superkick finisher, but Diesel kicked out at a one-count. The crowd did not react well; something alluded to by Michaels in his book. He mentioned that both he and Nash were very against that spot, but that Vince had insisted on the one count. Diesel made his comeback and won the match with the Jackknife Powerbomb shortly thereafter.
The reception: While it was not a home run, the match was well received by critics. It has often been said that it should have been the main-event, as Michaels worked very hard to carry Kevin Nash to a good match. They went on to have better matches, but it was a good showcase for the both of them to catapult their careers to the next level. I have frequently stated that HBK is one of the best bump takers in history. From ’94-’97, he took bumping for your opponent to a new level and no one has ever, in a standard wrestling match, done it better than he did during that stretch – not Perfect nor Flair nor Foley.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
46. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania XV
Setting the stage: I don’t think I need to tell you that this is the first of three appearances for Rock vs. Austin in the top 50 countdown, but I will anyway. This is the far less heralded of the three contests, but I do believe that it has all of the intangibles that still make it a fascinating watch to this day (especially when done in consecutive viewings with the matches that follow it two and four years later, respectively). Rock was coming into his first WM main-event fresh off a very strong series of matches with Mick Foley and some of the best character work as a heel that any wrestling fan has ever seen. Austin was white hot and perhaps never got more popular than he did heading into this Mania. He was forced to overcome virtually the entire Corporation en route to earning a title match at Mania and then every obstacle was thrown in his way to make sure he didn’t regain the title. Some of the best moments in Raw history came during this feud. The beer bath from the beer truck by Stone Cold is one of those amazing moments in TV history that I just feel privileged to have seen live.
The match: If you liked the Attitude era style of brawling all over the arena and spending only about half of the match time in the ring, then this will be a bout that you’ll enjoy. It wasn’t picture perfect and you could tell that the Rock and Austin had not yet clicked in the ring as they would down the road, but this was still well executed and extremely exciting. The WWE did a little bit of overbooking with the concentration on the referees (Vince was trying to ensure he’d keep Austin from the title by having the ref in his back pocket – a tactic that did not work), but it fit well within the story and ensured that the audience would not only see Austin win back the title from the evil, Corporate Champion, but that they also would see Austin do it right in front of McMahon and then get to whip his ass afterward.
The reception: I have always thought that this match received quite a mixed reaction. I have never personally liked the style of this match, but when you put it into context of the era that it took place, then it’s easy to look past and find the great parts. I like to look at this as chapter 1 of the greatest Mania rivalry of all-time. In that respect, it’s a lot of fun to watch them duke it out when Rock was young and still gaining experience in the midst of the most profitable time in wrestling history. Everything Austin did garnered a massive reaction and Rock was catching up to him, making this a thrill ride.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
45. Kane vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania XIV
Setting the stage: Taker was engaged in a memorable storyline with Shawn Michaels in the fall of 1997 that found the two of them clashing in a unique new gimmick match called Hell in a Cell. For much of the summer of 1997, Taker’s former manager, Paul Bearer, was hyping the return of Taker’s thought to be dead brother, Kane. During the Cell match, Kane made his debut and gave Taker a Tombstone piledriver, allowing Michaels to get the win. Kane would challenge Taker to a match, but the Deadman refused. Eventually, Kane seemingly joined forces with Taker and a truce was made, but at the Royal Rumble in 1998 Kane turned on Taker again and helped Michaels win a Casket Match that cost Taker the WWF title. Kane then set the casket on fire with Taker inside it. Taker would respond with some classic theatrics, finally accepting Kane’s challenge for a match at Wrestlemania. Kane countered with his own theatrics, matching Taker’s mystique like no one ever had before. The general feeling heading into the match was that Kane was just as much if not more invincible than the Deadman, giving Kane the advantage. Without question, this was one of those era specific feuds that brings back a lot of good memories, as over the top as they may be.
The match: Taker tried to get the upper hand early on, but both the announcers and the worldwide viewing audience was stunned at how easily Kane took control. Kane dominated the majority of the match, showing off much of the same impressive athleticism (for a man of his size) that made his brother a legend. He used the chokeslam…he dove off the top rope and connected with a flying clothesline…and he even sat right up whenever Taker connected with offensive maneuvers. The spot of the match took place during one of several failed comebacks by the Deadman. He tried his signature dive to the outside, but Kane sidestepped him and threw him through the announce table. Kane would later reverse a Tombstone attempt into a piledriver of his own, but Taker kicked out. It would take three Tombstones to get Kane to lay down for the three count, but Taker did eventually get the win.
The reception: I personally believe this to be one of the best big man matches of all-time, with Kane telling the story of the younger brother who could do everything that his big brother could do, only better. Taker took everything that Kane could dish and eventually bested him, but only after a war the likes of which we’d never seen waged against the Deadman. Some critics said it was slow and dull, but many also called it one of the most memorable matches in Wrestlemania history. Thus, it’s safe to say that it garnered a mixed reception. To a newer fan, going back and watching this would probably be somewhat dull. Yet, if you watched the Taker’s entire career up to that point, I think it was easier to get invested in the story. Taker barely getting in any offense was strange. We’d seen it before, to a degree, but Kane totally dominated him. The kick outs of all of those Tombstones may not stand the test of time for some, but those were BIG false finishes back then. Nobody kicked out of the Tombstone…much less three of them. It made Taker desperate, which was a good change of pace.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
44. John Cena vs. Edge vs. Big Show at the 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania
Setting the stage: Here’s the deal – Cena got the chance to wrestle Hulk Hogan at Mania 25 and jumped on it. Edge and Show were going to be wrestling for the World title, as a result. Then, Hogan got hurt, had surgery, and the match with Cena didn’t get to happen. Thus, they called an audible and inserted Cena back into the title picture. It came across, accordingly, as a clusterfuck of a storyline that seemed thrown together and uninspired. However, you had three motivated guys that, come match time, you knew would deliver. Show was coming off a career resurrecting performance the year before against Floyd Mayweather. Edge was coming off his first Mania main-event and was never the type to shy away from trying to steal the show. Cena, perhaps more than any top star ever, understands what it means to wrestle at Mania and was trying for his first unequivocal, undisputed classic Mania match.
The match: Sort of like the year before but with two different former rivals, Cena worked really well and really hard. Edge stepped it up, as usual, and Show followed their leads and bumped as hard as he could. You could tell that Show wanted to make the most of his opportunity. Cena and Edge would, of course, go back to the Mania main-events in each of the Manias that followed the 2009 version, but Show’s chances for something like this were few and far between and this could have been his last. Some of the three man spots were really nicely done. Of course, the finish provided Cena with a signature moment that will be looked back on in replays and “Wrestlemania Recalls” for years to come when he hoisted Show and Edge on his back for consecutive Attitude Adjustments. This wasn’t given the time to be great, much like it’s Mania 24 predecessor, but didn’t need to be great to make a fine addition to the card. The presentation was there, the hard work was there, and the satisfying ending was there. This match is underrated.
The reception: Everyone knows that Mania 25 was the Taker and HBK show. It will always be remembered for that match the same way Savage vs. Warrior will be remembered at Mania 7 or Rock vs. Hogan will be remembered at Mania X-8. Anything else on the card will effectively be either forgotten or underrated from now until the people watching open their eyes a little wider and see how good the quality was on the rest of the card. When people do that, then and only then will they be able to truly appreciate a match like Cena-Edge-Show. Keep in mind that they had to directly follow what is arguably the greatest match of all-time and they managed to squeak the remaining life out of the Houston crowd and deliver a very good performance.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
43. Ric Flair vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania X-8
Setting the stage: The Nature Boy came back to the WWE in late 2001 as the co-owner of the company. As the co-owner, he felt it was his duty to uphold a certain level of sportsmanship. So, when Undertaker retrieved a lead pipe to help himself in a match against The Rock, Flair came to the ring and prevented Taker from using it, distracting the Deadman to the point of an eventual loss. Taker did not take kindly to having his business interfered with, so he challenged Flair to a match at Wrestlemania. Initially, Flair refused, but Taker did his best to persuade the Naitch to change his mind. Sound familiar? The Deadman took out Flair’s best friend, Arn Anderson, and when that didn’t work, he made a trip to where Flair’s son, David, was training and beat the holy hell out of him. That was the last straw for Flair and he accepted the challenge. As we would later find out, Flair was struggling with his confidence and was very nervous about this match because he felt he didn’t have what it took to perform at a high level anymore. History will show that even a Flair lacking in confidence can nearly steal the show…
The match: In what was, perhaps, an underrated touch, Flair came out brawling and built up to the use of his signature knife edge chops. By the time he unleashed the chops, the crowd responded with arguably the loudest “WOO” ever heard in North America (Mania X-8 crowd members reading this – THANK YOU for being the best of all-time). The Deadman would eventually gain total control and dominate much of the match, busting Flair open in the process so that the Nature Boy could crimson stain his signature blond mane. The two worked an intense match-up that made sure to allow Flair some of his signature offense at just the right times to keep the drama as high as possible. Taker could not put Flair away, opening up the chance for Arn Anderson to give his buddy the assist with a spinebuster. Unfortunately for Flair, neither Anderson nor the use of a lead pipe nor the Figure Four leg lock could end the Taker’s budding Wrestlemania Streak. The Deadman got the win with the Tombstone.
The reception: While there is no question that Rock vs. Hogan was the show stealing performance of a lifetime a few matches after this one, there is also no question that Taker and Flair nearly stole the show and would have if not for that classic match. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Flair stepped it up and allowed Taker to carry him to a memorable contest that no one, especially those watching live that night, will ever forget. It is one of the Deadman’s most underrated performances in his career, by my estimation. Quite frankly, I think it was clearly one of his best. Considering what he had to do, I find this bout to be second only to the first match with HBK in iconic Mania match lure for the Deadman, purely based on his efforts.
CMV1 rating: ***1/2
42. Triple H vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania X-8
Setting the stage: Triple H made an amazing comeback on January 7, 2002 on an edition of Raw from Madison Square Garden. Having been out with an injury for eight months, Triple H came back ready to embrace the fans he so often shunned during his time as a main-event player prior to. His intentions were clear upon returning that he was going to win the Royal Rumble and go on to take the Undisputed WWF Championship from its current holder. He did win the Rumble and the holder turned out to be Chris Jericho (the undisputed title’s first holder). It was supposed to be the renewal of a rivalry that had produced some memorable moments back in 2000, but instead the storyline was centered on Triple H and his storyline/soon to be real life wife Stephanie McMahon, marking the fourth straight year where a McMahon was involved in the Mania main-event feud. The story was largely regarded as ridiculous, with Stephanie faking a pregnancy to get Trips to renew their wedding vows. When he found out she was lying, he turned on her. Meanwhile, Jericho took a backseat, but eventually teamed with Stephanie, much to Triple H’s dismay. In theory, it should’ve worked really well. Unfortunately, the heat garnered from seeing Jericho team with the woman he’d been feuding with off and on for years just did not meet expectations. Y2J targeted Triple H’s surgically repaired quadriceps muscle, rendering it hanging by a thread right before March 17th’s mega-event in the Sky Dome, in an attempt to build some extra heat. It didn’t work…
The match: Jim Ross heavily hyped the Game’s injury, as the challenger was played to the ring by Drowning Pool’s version of his theme song. Chris Jericho came out with Stephanie in tow. As the match got underway, the clear cut strategy for Jericho/McMahon was to focus on the quad. Triple H proved resilient, as he fought off Jericho’s attacks and took full control. The crowd was buzzing, but they were not overly vocal, still burned out perhaps from the epic clash between Hulk Hogan and The Rock. At one point, a Hogan chant actually broke out, but so too did a chant for Y2J. The referee continually admonished Stephanie for her involvement, which was frequent. Nonetheless, they had a nice back and forth contest going until one very noticeable botched spot had to be redone on the fly. They recovered nicely with a spot where Jericho back dropped Triple H through the Spanish announce table. Trips went on to kick out of the Lionsault, escape the Walls of Jericho, and kick out of a loud chair shot to the face. It was his night – one of the few in his career where the crowd was pleased with him leaving as the victorious hero. He gave Stephanie a Pedigree and later one to Jericho to win the championship. A combination of two things hurt this match, from a crowd involvement standpoint. The first was that they were burned out. The second was that Trips, as much as he wants to be, is not on the level of Rock, Hogan, Austin, or Cena in his ability to keep a crowd interested as a babyface character.
The reception: There was no denying that the main-event at Mania X-8 was good, but the question has always been how good. Most have suggested that this match was below the caliber of their matches from the year 2000, but I have always thought that, sans for the missed spot, this was a really good match that suffered from having to follow Rock vs. Hogan. That’s really the bottom line. They worked an aggressive match with a fast pace that never once dragged or became boring. The crowd could’ve helped more, but the fact of the matter was that Hogan-Rock was their main course and Jericho-Trips was nothing more than a dessert. I feel this match gets unfairly criticized for that reason and hold it in higher regard than most. The general consensus, though, will always be that they should not have been in the main-event that night.