I thoroughly enjoyed Raw for a third straight week. I like the focus on the Mania build-up. Jericho vs. Punk will be hard pressed to appear as relevant as some of the other huge matches being teased (or already booked). I liked that initial interaction. Combine that with the Taker-Trips continuation and I got what I wanted out of last night’s show. There was very little fluff, which is one of my favorite things about the Wrestlemania season. Far too often during the build to the B-PPVs, the writers get complacent and put out way too much fluff. BTW, to continue these discussions on other social media outlets, please follow me on Twitter @TheDocLOP or hit me up on Facebook (Doc Lop)
Doctor's Orders: The Road to Wrestlemania Countdown #61-#90
By The Doc
Feb 7, 2012 - 9:24:10 PM
QUESTION OF THE DAY (57): Is there any chance that a match other than Rock vs. Cena will be the one you’ll most look forward to at Mania 28?
90. The New Age Outlaws vs. Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie at Wrestlemania XIV
89. Shawn Michaels vs. Tito Santana at Wrestlemania VIII
88. Ravishing Rick Rude vs. Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania V
87. Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna at Wrestlemania IX
86. Scott Hall vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania X-8
85. Chris Benoit vs. John Bradshaw Layfield at Wrestlemania 22
84. Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 2000
83. Rob Van Dam vs. William Regal at Wrestlemania X-8
82. Triple H vs. Owen Hart at Wrestlemania XIV
81. Kane vs. Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania X-8
80. The Battle of the Billionaires at Wrestlemania 23
79. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff at Wrestlemania
78. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio at Wrestlemania 21
77. Mickie James vs. Trish Stratus at Wrestlemania 22
76. Randy Savage vs. Ted Dibiase at Wrestlemania IV
75. Cody Rhodes vs. Rey Mysterio at Wrestlemania XXVII
74. Adorable Adrian Adonis vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania III
73. Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter at Wrestlemania VII
72. Shawn Michaels vs. Tatanka at Wrestlemania IX
71. Chris Benoit vs. MVP at Wrestlemania 23
70. The Rockers vs. The Barbarian and Haku at Wrestlemania VII
69. X-Pac vs. Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania XV
68. Batista vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 21
67. Big Show vs. Floyd Mayweather at Wrestlemania XXIV
66. The Miz vs. John Cena at Wrestlemania XXVII
65. Undertaker vs. Diesel at Wrestlemania XII
64. Vince McMahon vs. Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania X-Seven
63. The Dream Team vs. The British Bulldogs at Wrestlemania 2
62. Money in the Bank 2 at Wrestlemania 22
61. Triple H vs. Sheamus at Wrestlemania XXVI
Setting the stage: In January of 1998, Mick Foley (as Cactus) and Terry Funk (as Chainsaw) had a match where Foley did an elbow drop off the Raw set and onto Funk, who was laying inside a dumpster. Billy Gunn and Road Dogg came out and threw the dumpster – still containing both men – off the Raw entrance stage. So, in the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania XIV, it was determined that the New Age Outlaws would put their tag titles on the line against Cactus and Chainsaw in a Dumpster match. Mr. Ass and the Dogg fly under the radar on the all-time list of tag teams. What a great duo they were during the Attitude era. Not everything during that time was as good as people say it was, but the Outlaws certainly were.
The match: It started off and finished as a wild brawl. Foley did a rolling plancha that caught nothing but dumpster early on, allowing the Outlaws to take control. They nearly had the match won when they back dropped Funk into the dumpster, but Foley fought back. Cactus eventually got a ladder out from under the ring and tried to give Dogg an elbow drop off the top of it, but Gunn prevented it. Mr. Ass and Cactus Jack fought on the top rungs of the ladder until Chainsaw took a cookie sheet shot that stumbled him back into the ladder, tipping it over and sending Cactus and Gunn into the dumpster in the spot of the match. The finish took place backstage, where Chainsaw and Cactus combined to put the Outlaws on a palate and drive it with the help of a forklift into a dumpster. Foley and Funk won the tag titles.
The reception: The match received mixed reviews, but some notable dirt sheet writers called it a successful stuntfest worthy of a 3-star rating. I personally wouldn’t go that far, but I did think it was a very nice brawl that certainly didn’t take anything away from the event as a whole. It was a nice showcase of what all four could do in this kind of environment. Foley and Gunn going from ladder to dumpsters was a Wrestlemania moment.
CMV1 rating: **1/2
Setting the stage: Shawn Michaels turned on his long-time partner, Marty Jannetty, in December of 1991, throwing him face-first threw the glass of the Barber Shop TV interview set. It officially turned Michaels into a singles competitor and a heel. Sensational Sherri Martel became infatuated with him and he became her “Sexy Boy” – which of course became Shawn’s theme song with her singing the original version. Michaels also adopted the nickname, the Heartbreak Kid, during this time. At the 1992 Royal Rumble, HBK and “El Matador” Tito Santana eliminated each other, setting up a match between the two at Wrestlemania VIII. This is the kind of match that I think Wrestlemania needs to elevate newer talents. Money in the Bank has made the WWE lazy in booking their mid-card for such a big PPV. If they insist on bringing it back, then they have to compliment it with an 8-10 minute match in the mid-card. Cody Rhodes vs. Goldust fits the bill.
The match: Michaels showed off some Ric Flair tendencies throughout the match, showcasing his skills as a heel to help get the crowd against him. He did a nice job, as did Tito in getting himself over as the clear cut fan favorite. HBK looked great in selling Tito’s offense, while he managed a steady stream of cocky mannerisms that helped build what was essentially a match with no feud into something worth watching. The two worked a fluid match that saw the momentum swing back and forth until Michaels hit what became his super kick for a near fall. HBK went out to the apron and Tito tried to suplex him back into the ring, but Michaels countered and fell on top of Tito for the pin. If you watch Dolph Ziggler from late 2009, tell me you don’t see HBK from 1992.
The reception: It certainly was not the greatest work of either man’s career, but it was solid action that got the crowd interested and helped Michaels gain some experience in front of a large audience on PPV. This was actually HBK’s first PPV match as a singles competitor, so it was a milestone for him. He did well as a heel character and Tito was as solid as ever.
Setting the Stage: At the first ever Royal Rumble PPV, the Intercontinental Champion Warrior faced off against Rick Rude in a “Super Pose down,” the winner of which was to be determined by a fan vote. Of course, Warrior – who became the second most over babyface on the roster after Randy Savage turned heel – easily won. Rude didn’t take it too well, though, and attacked Warrior afterward. In what was the second biggest match at Wrestlemania V and second on the marquee behind the Mega Powers Exploding, Warrior and Rude clashed over the IC title. Pinch me if the IC title ever grabs second billing at a Wrestlemania again…I’ll think that I’m dreaming….
The match: Expectations were low given Warrior’s involvement. In fact, Warrior had made a habit out of simply beating up an opponent for a few minutes and going home with the title in tow. However, Rude surprised by getting quite a bit of offense in and making Warrior look quite good in the process. The ever present antics of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan were certainly on display, as well. While the match was not very long, the two wrestlers traded momentum back and forth. There were some sloppy moments here and there, but for the most part it flowed well. Rude eventually went for the Rude Awakening, only for Warrior to power out of it and hit a diving shoulder tackle. The Ravishing One got out of the ring. Warrior caught up to him and tried to suplex him back into the ring, but Heenan grabbed hold of his foot, causing Rude to come crashing down on top of him for the pin and the win. Rude won the IC title, but went on to drop it back to Warrior in a very good match at Summerslam.
The reception: It has never been nor will it ever be mistaken for a great match, but Rude was able to carry Warrior to a good first bout in what became a surprisingly good series of matches between 1989 and 1990. It has become a big part of Rude’s legacy to have carried Warrior the way he did. Only Macho Man and Hogan can claim to have had better matches with him. You might say that Rude taught Warrior how to work.
CMV1 rating: **1/2
Setting the stage: I’m not sure where to begin with this one. I guess the fact that Bret was main-eventing his first Mania is a good starting point, but you all know that. I suppose I’d rather look at this match a little bit more personally. A lot of you may have come up as wrestling fans during the Attitude era or beyond, so I ask you to recall when Guerrero, Benoit, Orton, Cena, Edge, Christian, Jeff Hardy, or CM Punk reached the pinnacle of their career in the main-event. I ask you to recall what that felt like for you, especially for those of you that were fairly young when those events happened (as in pre-20s). One of the great things about the early-to-mid 90s for me was that two stars that I had grown up watching in tag teams during the late 80s became the top guys in the WWE. The first of those was Bret Hart. I was so excited to see the Hitman try to retain the gold and had no idea how he would go about doing it. There really isn’t a similar experience that I can describe during my wrestling fandom. That was once in a lifetime given my age and the circumstances at the time.
The match: Caesar’s Palace was such a unique environment for Mania. To see a main-event take place in broad day light with the sun shining overhead was something we saw just that once in Mania history. It provided a backdrop to the match that made it seem to my young mind that Heaven was shining down on the forces of good and that the Hitman would find a way to overcome the odds. Yokozuna, though, dominated the match as most expected that he would. He was such a force. For anyone to have a chance at beating him, you had to get him off of his feet. How would Bret do that? No one knew. The excitement grew when Yoko became wobbly from multiple shots. It was like watching a huge tree start to bend from strong wind gusts. I became wide eyed, as I imagined what it would be like for the sumo to fall down. Bret finally knocked him down! Amazing! When he followed up by improbably locking on the Sharpshooter, I nearly came unglued. That dastardly Mr. Fuji, though, throwing salt in the eyes of my hero!? Blasphemy! Yoko took advantage, winning the match and the title and robbing me and Bret of our Wrestlemania moments…
The reception: The post-match nonsense with Hogan usually overshadows the Hart-Yoko match, which was actually quite good. Yoko did not appear to work overly hard, although he was in about the best shape of his career. Bret carried the match. According to Bret’s book, Yokozuna went to the finish long before he was supposed to and prevented Bret from having his comeback. I’m not sure if that’s really the case. Bret didn’t get much offense in, though.
CMV1 rating: **3/4
Setting the Stage: Stone Cold was the first target of the newly reformed N.W.O. in February 2002. Vince McMahon brought Hall, Nash, and Hogan back to inject the WWE with a “lethal dose of poison” in hopes of killing his own creation that he felt had gone to shit (Doc’s rare swearing moment on LOP). On their first night back, the N.W.O. cost Austin the WWE title and spray painted his back. Austin fought back by kidnapping Hall and making him his personal target. The match was set as one of the three headlining feuds of Wrestlemania behind the Rock-Hogan and Jericho-Triple H matches. At the time, it seemed like a winner on paper. I’m not sure Austin was really into this, though. The thing about Austin was, despite his brilliance from ’98-’01, the entire persona of Stone Cold was as stale as that loaf of bread that gets hidden behind the cereal boxes. When they turned him face in late 2001, his act was tired and he looked lost.
The match: Hall being back at Wrestlemania was a sight to see for fans of the early Monday Night Wars. Nash came with him to the ring to stir up trouble and he did just that. Big Sexy got involved early and often, but was never sent to the back. The combination of Nash’s antics and Hall’s savvy allowed the former Bad Guy to take control. Austin would eventually fight back despite Nash’s exploits and take him out of the equation, leaving Hall alone to fend for himself. Hall mounted a significant amount of offense throughout, but Austin made his comeback and connected with not one, but two Stone Cold Stunners in a row to get the three count. To this day, the N.W.O. entrance at Mania X-8 sends me into hyper mark-out mode. In all honestly, the New World Order’s return was handled quite well. Angles fueled by nostalgia have a short shelf life. The N.W.O. was really only at full strength for 6 weeks. Perfect.
The reception: Because it went just 10-minutes, the match never really had a chance to be a show stealer; thus, many called it a disappointment given the potential that these two had to have a really good match. History looks back on it as an unmotivated Austin feeling as if he should’ve been higher up the card and the match going right along with that attitude. It was solid, yet unspectacular…worth a watch, but nothing special or memorable.
CMV1 rating: **3/4
Setting the stage: Legitimately, JBL vs. Benoit was one of the matches that I most looked forward to at Mania 22 behind only the two title matches and Edge vs. Foley. I went to that Mania with PEN15 and, as we ran down the card one last time while standing in line, it was apparent that the WWE had made the right call in going with the two former Mania headliners as the combatants in the US title match. Any time that a mid-card title gets a fair amount of hype leading into a major PPV, I get my hopes up that we might see a match worthy of making the WWE realize that the mid-card titles could and should be treated better. That’s becoming an age old argument, but it’s true. Benoit was a great US Champion because it kept him relevant. JBL was actually about to retire for the first time just a couple of months after this match, but I’m not sure he realized that just yet. Both had been in main-events in previous years, so it turned out to be a high profile match for the US title.
The match: JBL’s entrance was cool. The stage lifted up for his longhorn limousine. They did a good job of making this feel like a bigger match on the card, which is one of my favorite things about Mania 22. With a few exceptions, most of the card was treated like a big deal. For once, it was not just the main-events that came across like something special for the year’s biggest PPV. The match itself was about ten-minutes in length and featured quite a bit of good action. They each hit all of their major spots. One of the themes of the night was paying tribute to Eddie Guerrero, which both Benoit and JBL did during this match. Benoit used the rolling vertical suplexes, while JBL did the Latino Heat shimmy. JBL won the US title with a roll-up.
The reception: I liked it. It wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping it would be, as I felt it never really got out of second gear. Nevertheless, it was a good match. I thought it lacked one big near fall to really push it over the top to the 3-star mark, but some have rated it a touch better than I. I’ll say this, though: it was exactly what it needed to be.
CMV1 rating: **3/4
Setting the Stage: Kurt Angle was amidst his rookie year in the WWF when he debuted at Wrestlemania and, during his short run, he had already captured both the Intercontinental and the European Championships. Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit were also in their rookie years. Jericho had been the man that dropped the IC title to Angle, so he naturally wanted to regain his belt, while Benoit was disgusted at the way that Angle was parading himself as the “Euro-continental Champion.” At the time, they were all considered three young and talented future superstars, so expectations for their two-fall triple threat match (one for each belt) were high. In typical fashion, they each took turns gaining the upper hand in the weeks leading up to the event, but Angle’s association with former WWF Champion Bob Backlund seemed to give him the edge.
The match: While the entrances yielded strong reactions for all three (especially Jericho), the crowd sat on their hands for the majority of the match, but much of that can be attributed to the predictably flat Anaheim crowd. No offense to people from Anaheim, but the two Wrestlemanias that they hosted had two of the worst crowds in modern wrestling history, especially for a show the caliber of a Mania. The guys tried hard, but you could tell that the triple threat format was still in its infancy, especially when working a more athletic contest. At various points in the match, it appeared that they were going to try and steal the show, but such hopes got continually wiped away with clunky work by both the competitors, announcers, and the referee. Benoit won the IC title and Jericho won the European title, with Angle not being involved in either fall.
The reception: The combination of a few awkward sequences and a quiet crowd turned out to be a recipe for disappointment for these three. Notable IWC pundits suggested that they were too busy trying not to trip over each other to have a standout match. I would agree. For you newer fans, you cannot let the names of the wrestlers fool you. Jericho was still more miss than hit at this stage of his career, Angle was a prodigy but didn’t show it until later in 2000, and Benoit…well, you can’t really fault Benoit, here. He, perhaps better than any star from a different promotion in history, made the transition to the WWE seamlessly.
CMV1 rating: **3/4
Setting the stage: When we discussed the Regal match from the previous year, I mentioned that the finish to that match was so clearly screwed up that it killed the rating. It wasn’t a bad match, but the finish was just not up to par. A year later, Regal had a chance to redeem himself against RVD. Van Dam is a big game performer, in my opinion. He doesn’t get enough credit, in that regard. We haven’t gotten many chances to discuss Van Dam, since he only had two chances to showcase his talents at Wrestlemania. RVD, being a veteran of ECW, knew going in how to make the most of only a little bit of time. In front of 68,000 people, RVD had his work cut out for him. Luckily, Regal is a gamer, in his own right. This match was for Regal’s IC title and was the opening match that year. It was a good call to give them that spot. They set a good tone for the rest of the card.
The match: They didn’t waste any time in getting the action going. Regal was quite impressive, using some of the better moves in his Greco-Roman repertoire. RVD was the perfect opponent for him, since he had a willingness to take difficult bumps. There was one sequence that has always stood out to me during this match where Regal did a half nelson throw that sent RVD crashing high and tight onto the back of his upper back / neck. The Regal-Y2J match from Mania 17 came across as clunky and awkward in spots, while this bout between RVD and Regal came across as a bit more fluid. And the finish? Nicely handled. RVD won the IC title with the Five Star Frog Splash. I think the difference between the Regal matches from ’01 to ’02 was RVD’s bumping. Van Dam will one day have serious health issues from the routine bumps that he took in a way that made them look like he was going to be carted out on a stretcher.
The reception: I thought this was one of the most underrated matches on one of the most underrated Wrestlemanias of all-time. Van Dam and Regal made good opponents, as they worked well off each other’s unique styles and it produced an impressive performance.
CMV1 rating: **3/4
Setting the Stage: The TV build-up centered on Owen Hart’s injured ankle and Triple H and Chyna going after it to ensure that the DX member and European Champion, Helmsley, had the clear cut advantage heading into Wrestlemania. However, it was the off-camera build-up that historically makes this match so interesting. Owen was the lone Hart Foundation member left standing after the infamous Montreal incident, so he naturally became a target for Degeneration X. Triple H and Shawn Michaels referred to Owen as the “nugget,” implying that he was the last piece of crap left from the Hart family. Call it what you will, but it made for a heated European title match at Mania XIV. The European title could’ve stuck around if it had meant as much as it did at Mania XIV and XV, respectively.
The match: Mania XIV had started out OK, but these two guys really picked up the intensity and got the show rolling (positioned at match #3). Chyna was handcuffed to Sgt. Slaughter, the acting WWF Commissioner, to ensure that order would be kept. Owen gained the early momentum, but Triple H came right back and connected with much of his signature offense before working over Hart’s injured ankle. Unfortunately for Helmsley, it did not get him the win. Owen came roaring back with some nice moves and eventually got Triple H locked in the Sharpshooter, but Chyna helped him grab the ropes to break the hold. She then threw powder in Slaughter’s eyes, allowing her to give Owen a low blow and Triple H to hit the Pedigree for the win.
The reception: Although the live crowd wasn’t overly into it until the near falls at the end, the general feeling was that these two met or exceeded the expectations for their match. Triple H stepped up his game and Owen was his usual solid working self. No one called this match a barn burner or anything – and rightfully so – but it was a very solid match in the mid-card of this event that set an early tone for the top guys to build on. I’ve always really enjoyed this match, especially when viewed with the proper historical contexts taken into account.
CMV1 rating - **3/4
Setting the Stage: Angle was in contention for the WWF Championship right up until the 3 weeks prior to Mania. That’s when Kane got involved in Angle’s business. Angle became the first guy to make Kane tap out on TV, blaming the Big Red Machine for his not being able to compete for the Undisputed Championship. The Olympic Hero was rounding into form and beginning one of the best years of his entire career. In late ’01, I really thought that Angle would become the 1st Undisputed Champ and headline Mania for the first time at X-8. When it did not happen, it became the second year in a row that Angle was taken out of the title picture at the February PPV or immediately after. Angle was the odd man out at Manias 17 and 18.
The match: Before the start of the match, Angle cut a promo about the Canadian gold medalists whining to get their medals. Kane interrupted it and came down to start what turned out to be one of the most underrated matches in Mania history. They went back and forth for about 10-minutes. Kane nearly got the win with the chokeslam, but Angle got hold of the ropes. Angle hit the Olympic Slam for a close near fall and then put the ankle lock on for the near tap out. Kane fought back and went to the top rope, but Angle ran up the ropes and tossed him back to the mat. Kurt was unable to capitalize. Kane went for the chokeslam, but Angle countered into a pin attempt for the win. Kurt’s abilities against bigger wrestlers are underrated in the all-time sense. The likes of HBK and Bret typically get more IWC press for it, but Angle could damn sure get it done against guys double his size.
The reception: Some prominent critics called this a 3-star match that really showed how far Kurt Angle had come in his short career. I thought the finish was badly botched, with the cameras having to pan from one to the other to try and hide the mess. One dirt sheet writer said they improvised nicely, but I didn’t see it that way. A bad finish can seriously decrease the rating of a match. I didn’t dock the rating too much (just by a quarter star).
CMV1 rating: **3/4
Setting the Stage: I think it is safe to say that Vince McMahon’s relationship with Donald Trump has paid off over the years. Back in the 80s, it allowed Vince to have Wrestlemanias IV and V at a popular venue owned and operated by a tycoon always in the public eye. Fast forward twenty years and it was Trump’s involvement with Mania 23 that allowed the annual spectacle (held in Detroit) to become the highest grossing Wrestlemania of all-time. Trump burst back into national consciousness when he got into it with Rosie O’Donnell in the media. Vince saw an opportunity and took advantage, jumping at the chance to have his own, worked squabble with Trump. “The Battle of the Billionaires” was arguably the most hyped match at Mania that year. ECW Champion and rising star, Bobby Lashley, was set to represent Trump, while the Samoan Bulldozer and IC Champion, Umaga (RIP), represented McMahon. Umaga was coming off a surprisingly successful title feud with John Cena. All things considered, I’m not sure that this could’ve been handled much better.
The match: I was reviewing for LOP at the time and this was a match that I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to, but was quietly confident would be good enough to warrant all the hype given to it. It was a smart choice to make Austin the special guest referee to ensure it would get over. You have to be careful with the booking of a match of this sort and, as usual, they did a nice job with it. The involvement of Shane McMahon was nicely handled, as he performed his coast-to-coast move to add a little spice to the presentation. Umaga and Lashley were really just bit players, but they were given a chance to be in a big-time match with a lot of exposure. Sadly, neither of them made the most of it. Trump tackling and beating on Vince was a memorable moment, as was the post-match events with Vince getting his head shaved bald and King mentioning that we were seeing “one bald billionaire!”
The reception: There’s only been one match involving Vince McMahon in Mania history that hasn’t managed, by hook or by crook, to be a solid addition to the card (Vince-Bret). The bookers just have a knack for putting him in the exact situation that will keep him from looking bad. There were a lot of pieces to this puzzle – almost like the MITB ladder matches – but they managed to pull it off.
CMV1 rating: **3/4
Setting the stage: How cool was the first Mania main-event? Rhetorical question. It was awesome. Thunderlips teaming up with Clubber Lang. Hogan and Mr. T joining forces to battle the evil trio of Piper, Orndorff, and Orton. Arguably the most important match in the history of professional wrestling. Without it, there may not have been any of the other classic Mania moments, at least not in the context of them taking place on such a big stage. I think you have to give a ton of credit to Hogan and McMahon. It was Vince’s brainchild, but it was Hogan’s relationship with T that ultimately allowed it to pan out. T was a bit of a flake, so there was some legit concern that he might not even show up for the event. Can you imagine if he no-showed Mania? What would that have done to the overall perception? How would the media have looked at the event, as a whole? They wouldn’t have been writing Sports Illustrated articles about wrestling, that’s for sure. They likely would have crucified the sport before it even had a chance to build all of its momentum. Thank God that it all worked out or I may not be a fan today.
The match: As much credit as you have to give Hogan for ensuring that all the pieces fell into place outside of the ring, I think you have to give equal credit to Piper for making sure that the pieces fell into place inside of the ring. Hogan could coach and try to make sure that T did what he needed to do, but it was up to Piper – and Orndorff – to make sure that T looked good. They had to carefully handle this non-wrestler in the most important match that pro-wrestling had ever had and also sell for him, all the while building toward the tag to Hogan that would ultimately give the heels their comeuppance and send the world home happy. I consider that no easy task, but the booking was great. Cowboy Bob hitting his cast spot; Jimmy Snuka flying in to take Orton out of the equation; Hogan hulking his way to victory for the good guys…it was all a recipe for success.
The reception: Here I sit writing reviews of every match in Mania history for a website that might not even exist if it were not for the popularity that Mania helped bring to pro-wrestling. I speak often with my patients about cause and effect to ensure that they understand the difference between finding the root of a problem and treating the result of it. We’ve talked about some classic moments already and we’ve barely scratched the surface. None of them take place without the success of this match.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the stage: I think it would be safe to say that Eddie Guerrero was fundamentally wired to be the set-up guy for a main-event talent, rather than the main-event talent himself. He tried to play that role and the fans loved him. People might forget that Eddie was one of the most over superstars in the WWE from 2003-2005, garnering the most consistently loud reaction of the night around the country. Few could compete with him in that category back then, but his run as the champion (in ’04) featured a lot of decline in the ratings and attendance. You’re the top guy with the belt, then you take the blame. It’s just that simple (in the WWE’s mind, anyway). So, Guerrero went back down to the mid-card after he lost the title and when 2005 rolled around, he started to work a losing streak storyline with Rey Mysterio. This was at a point where the WWE seemed to be starting to realize that Mysterio could be more than a mid-carder based on merchandise sales and popularity, in general. Guerrero was tasked for testing him…
The match: Damn. You really have to wonder how good this match could have been had Mysterio not made the foolish decision to try a more gimmicky mask (in terms of how it fit and was fastened), for you could noticeably tell that Rey was fooling with the mask almost the entire match and that it took some of the zip off of everything that they were trying to do. He even admitted as much in his most recent DVD, flat out saying that the match would’ve been better had he not been distracted by the mask. Alas, the distraction was there. At the end of the day, this was still a friekin’ Mysterio vs. Guerrero match, so it’s not like it was bad or anything. They pulled off some nice sequences and did a nice job building the early stages of their lengthy plotline.
The reception: You didn’t have to be a match rating guru to understand what kind of impact that mask issue had on this contest. My very casual fan friend who watched this Mania with me pointed out about two-minutes in that Rey “can’t keep his mask on” (will always remember that). You look back at it and just say, “Well, that was that.” What else can you do? You wish it could’ve been a potential show stealer, as it certainly had the potential to be, but wrestling – like life – isn’t perfect.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the stage: Some matches you just had to have been there live to fully appreciate and I think Mickie vs. Trish was certainly one of them. James burst onto the scene as Trish’s biggest fan and helped her embark on a storyline with several twists and turns that ultimately led to Mickie turning into this awesome psychopath stalker character. It was kind of eerie how well she played that character, but also quite impressive at the same time. If you ever wonder why women’s wrestling rarely gets over outside of the “boobies” pop, consider that it’s because the characters that they play are not very often engaging enough to get invested in. Mickie was engaging. She popped off the screen. Trish was one of the most well-rounded stars – not just females, but stars, period – of the time period between 2004-2006, so this was just a perfect recipe for the best WWE women’s match of all-time.
The match: I said this match needed to be seen live; the reason for that is the crowd reaction that this match garnered. I’ve been a wrestling fan for a long time and I know a pop that’s based on how hot your naked bare breasts are versus a sustained reaction that comes from a place of respect and appreciation for the story being told in the ring. Mickie and Trish got the best reaction of any women’s match of the last 25 years that night in Chicago. The crowd absolutely loved Mickie and gave her rousing applause for her recent performances. They didn’t so much turn on Trish – how could you? She built and carried the division. - Rather, they just wanted Mickie to know that her efforts hadn’t gone unnoticed. That’s one of the great things about Chicago. They say MSG is the barometer. Well, Chicago must be the thermometer. If a character is hot enough to be elevated to the next level, then they’ll find out about it no later than Chicago.
The reception: I had just one problem with this match – they botched the finish. After all that fantastic work throughout the duration of this classic women’s match, they had to go and mess up the last sequence. They did a nice job of recovering, they edited the screw-up from the DVD, and the crowd was so into it that it ultimately seemed not to matter at the time…but I don’t forget those little things. They did have to basically re-do, on the fly and live, the finish to the match. Other than that, though, it was the greatest spectacle in women’s division history. All modern divas should use this as their blueprint.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the stage: The WWE spent the majority of a four hour PPV building up to this final battle in the awesome WWE Championship Tournament at Wrestlemania IV. Savage had to endure three other matches in order to get to this one, while Dibiase only had to wrestle two. They were the stars of the tournament, consistently having the best matches throughout. It was all quite exciting. I’ve always remembered something that I’ve both read in a biography and also seen in a Mania intro that sticks out at me about this match. You know how you’ve got all these wrestlers that talk of Ric Flair this or HBK that or Bret Hart this or Steve Austin that? Jeff Hardy cites the Mania IV title tourney and this final match that saw Savage win the gold as the moment that made him want to be a wrestler. I’ve always thought that, when putting this match into historical context, said factoid was a nice little intangible. Anyhow, this was made all the more unpredictable by Hogan and Andre coming out to ensure that the other didn’t get involved.
The match: Having Hogan and Andre out there was kind of a double-edged sword because it elevated the overall profile of the match, while also taking away from the wrestlers competing for the title. Savage and Dibiase, if it were not for their superior skills as pro-wrestlers, might have been completely blanketed by the large shadows cast from outside the ring. They worked diligently to keep the focus on themselves and it worked pretty well. The Million Dollar Man did his best to heel his way to victory, while Savage rode the tide of the fans, Hogan, and Elizabeth to ultimate glory and one of the defining moments of his career. Of course, this also kick started the Mega Powers feud that would culminate in the main-event the following year at the very same venue in Atlantic City.
The reception: Frankly, Savage vs. Dibiase wasn’t long enough or good enough to warrant huge praise, but it was the finishing touch on a great evening that was one of my personal favorite Manias of all-time. It was a showcase for the two of these men and it helped each of them rise the ranks to consistently major player for several years to follow – especially in Savage’s case, but to a lesser extent Dibiase’s.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the stage: By now, I believe Mysterio knows his role in the WWE. He’s one of the biggest surprises that they’ve ever had as a bankable, money making superstar, but he’s too small to ever receive a sustained push at the top of the card; so, they’ll throw him a bone every so often, but he’ll mainly be used as a way to groom future main-event talent. In 2011, he was apparently asked who he’d like to help elevate and he chose Cody Rhodes. Rhodes was kind of lost in the shuffle for most of 2010, as he tried to create a new character based on a WWE website poll that showed him to be the WWE Divas’s choice of “hottest superstar.” This was also during a time where he was trying to break away from the role he played in Randy Orton’s Legacy faction. It ended up working, as the storyline set-up with Mysterio drew off that arrogant, vain, “Dashing” character and made him dark and sadistic once he “lost his looks.” It was very Harvey “Two Face” of him, if you follow the Batman saga.
The match: The superhero costume of choice for Mysterio was Captain America, setting up an impromptu DC comics vs. Marvel comics battle. Rhodes was one of the underrated stars of the Mania build-up in 2011, having an unleashed a sinisterly charismatic new wrinkle to his persona that was easy to appreciate if you’ve ever been a comic book fan. They say that Cody found much of his motivation to play that current character from the comics and you can certainly see that in just about every character trait that he displayed. I think the feud with Rey built Cody into a star for the future. The match itself was an impressive exhibition for Rhodes. It was a classic, “Mysterio plays the face-in-peril” kind of a story, but it was very well handled by both men en route to one of those matches that may end up being looked back upon as the start of a huge career for Rhodes.
The reception: Rhodes vs. Rey garnered a mixed reaction from the critics. Some rated it as low as below two-stars, which I thought was ludicrous. Myself and others have rated it at the 3-star level. I thought it was quite good and the most underrated match on the card at Mania 27.
CMV1 rating: ***
Speaking of underrated…
Setting the stage: The late 80s brought unprecedented attention to modern professional wrestling. One of its biggest stars was Roddy Piper, who attempted to cash in on the increased exposure by becoming an actor in Hollywood. We all know how that turned out, but let us turn out attention to the “Retirement” match that Piper had prior to leaving for his ill-fated second career. Adrian Adonis had never before been in such a high profile angle. Although he’d been a major player before, Mania raised the stakes and brought “high profile” to a new level. Adonis made the most of the chance. He took over Piper’s Pit and turned it into the “Flower Shop.” He was ahead of his time – he was Goldust long before Dustin Runnels donned a gold costume and created a ton of controversy. I wasn’t old enough to appreciate the cultural impact that Adonis was having, but his flamboyant exploits took place about ten years prior to Goldust. I would imagine tolerance of someone like Adonis was even lower in the 80s. Piper came back to the WWE and tried to regain control of the talk show game, but it led to him getting the crap beat out of him and his face colored with lipstick.
The match: One of the most enduring qualities of Roddy Piper was his ability to connect with the audience, no matter the role he was playing. In front of the largest crowd in Mania history, Piper was crazy over as a babyface the same way he’d been crazy over as a heel two years prior. When he came out for his match, 93,000 plus people came out of their seats and popped like it was the Andre-Hogan main-event. This was billed not only as Piper’s retirement bout, but also as a hair vs. hair match. It only lasted seven-minutes, but they worked their tails off in that seven-minutes. It was a back and forth affair with several changes in momentum. In the climax of the match, Adonis locked on the sleeper hold, but released it thinking that he had won. Unfortunately for him, that was not the case. Piper recovered and used his own version of the sleeper to knock out Adonis and win the match. Brutus Beefcake helped Piper cut off Adrian’s hair after the match.
The reception: The crowd was awesome and really helped elevate this match. Adonis and Piper brought a lot to the table, here. This was one of the better matches of each of their careers. Had it been the final match of Piper’s career, then it would have been a fitting end. He came back and had the best match of his WWE career a few Manias later, but the bout with Adonis will go down as a great piece of work.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the Stage: Behind the scenes, Hogan wanted Slaughter to come back and work against him at Wrestlemania in 1991. On the screen, Slaughter returned not to rekindle his All-American image, but to turn against his country and sympathize with Saddam Hussein’s struggle against the United States. It was one of the most controversial angles that the WWE has ever done and it was never more apparent that the WWE considered any press to be good press. Slaughter won the title at the Rumble and was pitted against the “Real American” Hogan. Looking back on it, the feud was quite heated and it was a unique way of taking advantage of current events to help draw another strong buyrate for a Wrestlemania. It helped buy Hulkamania another year of relevance before taking a very notable downturn soon after.
The match: During Slaughter’s absence from the WWE, he’d definitely lost a step. Hogan had never been a ring general, either, so the match was fairly slow and plodding from the output. The fantastic LA Sports Arena crowd, though, helped boost the excitement and the drama of the match considerably. They got behind Hogan and were naturally against Slaughter, so for that particular crowd the story worked just fine. Slaughter and his fellow Iraqi sympathizers tried under handed tactics to get the win and retain to the title, but the power of Hulkamania had just enough left in the tank to overcome the odds and bring the WWE Championship back to America.
The reception: Warrior vs. Savage earlier in the night had unquestionably stolen the show and probably should’ve been the main-event match for the title, so when Hogan and Slaughter went out and told their story it was bound to not be as well received. I would say that it was not a bad match by any means and that it accomplished exactly what it intended to accomplish and not a bit more. That being said, I thought the overall presentation met expectations. Hogan and Slaughter delivered a good main-event. Other historians and critics may not be so kind, but this is my list : )
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the stage: I played soccer for a long time. I was always the type that was tentative when initially put into different situations. For instance, when I started playing for a new team, it would take me a few games to get into the swing of things to where I felt comfortable playing my game at the next level. Once I did, though, I could flip that switch and just kick it into high gear. When my confidence was high, I felt untouchable. Well, I look at HBK’s match with Tatanka at Mania IX as that moment where he just knew that he was as good as any wrestler alive and that if turned up the intensity, then nobody could touch him in that ring. He and Tatanka really didn’t even have much of a story to work with, but Michaels looked bound and determined to prove that he should’ve had a major storyline written for him.
The match: There’s only been a few opening matches in Mania history that have been given close to twenty-minutes. In fact, I can think of only three – this one, Bret vs. Owen the next year, and MITB 3. Doing so gives the wrestlers a unique opportunity because they get to set the tone for the night but also get enough time to where they could legitimately steal the show. That just doesn’t happen often. HBK and Tatanka worked for well over 15-minutes, allowing them to create a story since they didn’t really have one going in. Because of that, this IC title match was the match of the night at Mania IX, despite the DQ finish.
The reception: I’m not a fan of the non-finish at Mania, but this one made some sense since there wasn’t much story behind it. Tatanka was riding an undefeated streak and HBK was the IC champion, so neither one could really afford to lose.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the stage: There were a lot of injured talents when this event took place and it made for there being fewer matches on the card and an increased opportunity for a young guy like MVP to step up and make the most of his chance. He was in there with Chris Benoit, one of the greatest wrestlers that has ever lived, and he had plenty of practice in working with Benoit at house shows. In fact, it was their house show reviews that drew my interest to this match more than the limited storyline that they were given. In early ’07, house show reports were saying that Benoit and MVP were routinely having the match of the night. At that point, we knew that MVP had some skill, but his feud with Kane in late ’06 was not a good indicator of his in-ring skill so much as his verbal abilities and character development. So, this was a unique opportunity, with him wrestling in front of 80,000 people, for MVP to show us what he was made of.
The match: One of the most surprising aspects of this near 10-minute match was that MVP could match Benoit in terms of the wrestling holds he was using. He showed himself to be quite capable inside the squared circle and established himself as a star on the rise with this match. Benoit, I think, probably reveled at the chance to have these one-on-one matches at Mania in his last two years before the tragedy, as I imagine he looked at them as his chance to stay relevant. It would have been very beneficial to his legacy to have had so many consecutive top notch matches at Mania. Looking back on this match, I think it gets lost in the shuffle amongst the Mania matches of the last 5-8 years. It really was a helluva match that I, myself, underrated when it first took place. Time has been kind to this bout.
The reception: The only thing that people could find to complain about with this was the lack of time given to it, but I thought they did a great job of making the most of the time given to them and putting together a match that felt longer than it was because of all that they were able to fit in. I sort of look at MVP as one of the biggest missed opportunities of the last ten years. He had a bankable character that I’d always wanted to see the WWE utilize and he played it really well as both a babyface and heel whenever afforded the opportunity to show it, but he never got a chance at the main-event. I think he would’ve thrived as a World Champion on Smackdown.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the stage: Mania 7 is, in my opinion, an underrated show. It is not often discussed amongst the best of the first 10 Manias, but I think it ought to be. If you look at the top four or five matches on the card and don’t weigh it down too heavily based on some of the weaker matches, then this show compares well with a lot of the early Manias. It sort of reminds me of Mania 25. Warrior-Savage was the HBK-Taker of Mania 7, the tag title match and this match take the place of the gimmick matches, and the main-event is solid, but unheralded. One of the interesting underlying historical themes of this event was Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels having their best Mania matches to date to begin a long history of trying to one-up each other.
The match: If you grew up as a fan during the Attitude era, then the Rockers to me are what the Hardys were to you. The Rockers went out and showed off athleticism and high risk that had not been seen with such precision in the WWE before and they could do things as a team that no one else could do. That’s what makes them one of the best tag teams of theirs or any other era. Barbarian and Haku were a good team of solid performers for them to bump around for. When the big men lost control and the Rockers took flight for their vast array of aerial assaults, it looked better because of the talents of two of Heenan’s Family members.
The reception: I have seen this match rated as high as 3.5 stars and, while I don’t concur with that rating, I do think it’s one of the more underrated matches of the first ten years of Manias. It was every bit as good as the Mania 2 match, in my opinion, but just didn’t have the prestige or the atmosphere to reach the level of Bulldogs vs. Dream Team. By the way, the unspoken battle of one-ups-man-ship between HBK and Bret, it was Michaels that scored the first blow to take a 1-0 lead.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the Stage: Shane McMahon came into his father’s Corporation in the late 1998, pushed as a young punk born with a silver spoon in his mouth. X-Pac and the rest of Degeneration X had already reached their peak and showing signs of a break-up with Chyna’s defection over to the Corporation. She cost Pac the European Championship. X-Pac tried to get it back, but Shane brought in some of his childhood friends, The Mean Street Posse (from Greenwich) to help keep the gold around his waist. At Wrestlemania, Chyna seemingly rejoined DX, helping Triple H against Kane earlier in the night. This was the most high profile match of Pac’s career. “Shane, get ready for some pain.”
The match: In what was a rapid fire, fast paced affair, Pac played the role of aggressive hero to a T and Shane played the cowardly, yet full of hubris champion heel. There was a ton of interference during the match to hide Shane’s weaknesses and deficiencies as a performer, so it worked very well in the heated theme of the match. Test was at ringside with Shane and made his presence felt often, as did the Posse (who were at ringside in the front row). As the match approached its climax, Triple H and Chyna came out to seemingly fend off the Corporate interference, but after X-Pac connected with the X-Factor and looked to have the match won, Chyna got the referee’s attention and distracted him. Triple H snuck into the ring and gave Pac the Pedigree before pulling Shane on top of him. Shane retained, as Triple H turned out to be the one who joined the Corporation (not Chyna rejoining DX).
The reception: The crowd reaction and the fast pace kept this much more entertaining than many thought going in. It ended up exceeding expectations and earning three-star or better marks from a lot of the top critics. X-Pac was a heck of a worker when he was healthy; this was proof positive. Mania 15 was such a tale of two men heading in opposite career directions with Pac and Trips. Pac was quite over and, as evidenced by this match’s placement and hype, he was one of the top competitors in the WWE. That night in Philly, Trips took a huge leap forward and Pac a big step back.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the stage: I’ll never forget it. While watching Survivor Series 2004, I spotted a fan in the first few rows with a sign that read, “HA! Batista Can’t Get over!” That has always stuck with me as one of those defining little things of the last decade of WWE wrestling. Why? Because it was within a month from that event that Batista got over HUGE. Everything that the Orton vs. Triple H feud was supposed to be was what we saw from the Batista-Triple H feud. Quietly, Batista started to show signs of turning on his mentor and, after all those years of setting up Trips as the ultimate bad guy, just the hint of the Animal turning around and biting the hand that had fed it was enough to make Batista into a mega-star that would help the WWE finally get away from the Attitude era after three unsuccessful years of trying. The rise of Batista was one of the best handled storylines of the previous decade, with Big Dave playing his role quite well. He went from afterthought to Royal Rumble winner to main-event at Mania to World Champion in a mere four months. It was brilliant.
The match: The biggest question mark for Batista going into Mania wasn’t whether or not he was over enough to win the title, but whether or not he could perform at a main-event level with the lights shining on him at their brightest. He had never truly had a major, headlining feud prior to this one, so a lot of the question marks that had lingered over him since his 2002 debut still remained heading into Mania 21. Triple H, even at the top of his game, was expected to struggle to put together a match worthy of the final bout on the card at the Show of Shows. Sure enough, Triple H did struggle to a certain degree. He worked his style of match and justly expected Dave to follow his lead. Unfortunately, Batista wasn’t quite ready for the 21-minute methodical match that has always been Triple H’s go-to brand of wrestling. He didn’t have the skill or the stamina, so he spent the majority of the match selling for Trips. The finish was nice, but the crowd was lackluster and wasn’t nearly as into it as the storyline would’ve suggested they’d be.
The reception: This bout has always received a fairly lukewarm reception from critics. Some have said it was barely main-event worthy (and they’ve said that in a manner that suggested praise), while others have claimed it to be one of the worst main-events in Mania history. I think it was a good match. Batista tried, Triple H carried it, and they managed to have a solid outing that accomplished the goal of making Trips look strong while putting Dave over strong and making him champion. Unfortunately, Batista just wasn’t ready for this style of match, yet. Quite frankly, I look at this as one of Triple H’s best performances, though, because it shouldn’t have been this good given Batista’s ’05 limitations.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the stage: In one fell swoop, the WWE went from having a card that might struggle to sell to the masses for Mania 24 to a card that suddenly had a key, non-wrestling draw enter the picture to take on a guy that wrestling fans had not seen in quite awhile. At No Way Out 2008, Big Show made a surprise return and tried to bully Rey Mysterio. Sitting at ringside was boxing’s mega-draw, Floyd “Money” Mayweather. After some taunting, Mayweather jumped the guardrail and confronted Show. The World’s Largest Athlete laughed it off and got down on his knees to mock Floyd’s slight stature. One quick punching combination later and Big Show had a broken nose. Floyd fled the ring in a hurry and Big Show chased after him with surprising speed in one of those classic moments that people will always remember about the build-up to Mania that year. It made the news circuits and started the Mania hype machine headed in the right direction.
The match: I was in attendance that night in the Citrus Bowl and the presentation for this match was just excellent. The TV hype had been pretty damn good in its own right, but the night of was just outstanding professional wrestling promotion. The whole concept of “The Biggest vs. The Best” was so nicely done that it helped Mania 24 draw over a million buys – an always uber-impressive feat, if you ask me. I was expecting the match, itself, to be a train wreck of epic proportions that Show would struggle to overcome, but fortunately the match was very well put together. Show displayed the type of in-ring prowess that backed up the excellent compliment given to him by Ric Flair during the Nature Boy’s Hall of Fame speech the night before, where he stated that Show was one of the best big men of all-time. He took control of the match and guided it to being one of the nicest surprises in Wrestlemania history. Floyd got the best of him, as expected, but Show used that match as a launching pad to one of the best years of his career, professionally.
The reception: Not all celebrity matches are handled nearly as well as this one. Show vs. Floyd was a lot of fun, simply put. They worked their butts off and entertained in such a way that I think it instilled confidence in the Big Show (and the WWE confidence in the Big Show) that allowed him to get back to the main-event at Mania the following year. It was probably the best performance of Show’s career and I have remained impressed by Floyd’s entertainment qualities and his professionalism for how serious he was about this project and how hard he worked to ensure that it was both a critical and financial success.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the stage: I felt like I was the only one that actually liked how the Miz was pushed during his first run in the main-event scene a year ago. He was the chicken shit heel character that I grew up with in the late 80s, who could talk his way into hyping a match despite not being capable of winning by any other means but cheating. I thought that Miz did a tremendous job of making sure he didn’t get lost in the shuffle during the whole Rock-Cena storyline. It was purely on the shoulders of the Miz that the main-event at Mania 27 wasn’t a complete afterthought, as Cena spent the majority of his time sidetracked with the Great One.
The match: Miz and Cena worked a compelling match with some great drama toward the end of it. People say that the crowd was dead. Perhaps it was the cocktails I’d consumed, but my section was into it. I thought the hype video for Miz before this match featuring “Hate Me Now” was one of the best promo pieces ever done prior to a Mania match. It made him look like a star and you could tell, at that point, that Miz was going to be around for a long time at or near the main-event level. As for the ending, I never have nor will I ever understand why a wrestling promotion would book a DQ or CO finish in the modern era when the fans aren’t conditioned for it. This was especially troubling for this match because they built up nicely to the finish. It was an excuse for Rock to come out one more time, but it could’ve happened a different and better way. Rock costing Cena the match was a nice pay off, but imagine that same pay off without the double count out.
The reception: I don’t think you’ll find many reviewers out there that were as kind to this match as I have been. I thought they did a really nice job up until the initial finish. I thought it was heading toward the middle of the range 3.5 star level that would’ve been more than passable as a main-event at Mania considering Miz was in his first (see other first time Mania MEs from Cena, Batista, Rock, etc. – not many are classics). Unfortunately, the count out finish hurt the rating and the overall perception of the match. I only docked it a ½ star, as I didn’t think the overall presentation was less than the 3-star level. I imagine I’ll take some heat for it.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the Stage: Diesel had become a huge star by the winter of 1996, having main-evented the previous year’s Wrestlemania during a yearlong title reign. Undertaker was one of the top three guys in the WWF. The two giants started on a collision course when Diesel cost Taker the WWF Championship at the Royal Rumble. Taker would counter in kind, costing Diesel the WWF title at the In Your House PPV in February, quite famously entering through the mat from underneath the ring and pulling Diesel “down to hell” during a cage match. It was considered a huge confrontation between two of the WWF’s top big men of that era and the only other reason (for me) to watch that year’s event outside of the Ironman match. I thought Nash, especially, did a good job portraying a tweener character during that time.
The match: It started out as a back and forth affair, with neither man really conceding to the other. Each hit a few of their signature, yet basic offensive moves before Diesel took control. Taker would gain momentum and back and forth they continued to go for several minutes. Diesel remained confident despite Taker classically no selling some of his bigger moves. In a memorable spot, they each hit each other simultaneously with big boots (a spot I had not yet seen to that point). Big Daddy Cool would go onto hit the Jackknife powerbomb and taunt the crowd and Taker as if he’d won the match. He hit another one, but still wouldn’t go for the cover. The cockiness didn’t pay off, as Taker eventually hit the Tombstone for the win to move to 5-0 at Mania.
The reception: This is sort of a forgotten gem, in my book. It is one of the better big man matches in WM history, and it was particularly memorable for that era. The critics were generally positive about the match, praising the men for the story they told. The rating has always been inconsistent, though.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the Stage: The McMahon family saga had been going on for the better part of two years by the time Mania 17 rolled around in 2001. There had been twists and turns along the way, but none greater than when Shane showed up on the final episode of WCW Monday Nitro to announce that he – not his father – had been the one to purchase WCW. It turned into the ill-fated Invasion storyline, but it was also the crescendo of a heated feud between father and son that saw Shane constantly trying to put his dad in his place after an extra-marital affair had put the matriarch, Linda, in a stroke-like trance. A Street Fight was the choice of gimmick for their Mania bout, with Mick Foley signed as the special guest referee.
The match: Shane has always been the type that was willing to put his body on the line to make for a great performance and he did so on multiple occasions throughout this match. Vince did not control for very much of the match, instead playing punching bag for his son. Where Vince did seemingly have control was in the psychological department, as he had Trish Stratus wheel Linda down to the ringside area in a wheelchair. Linda sat stoic and expressionless while Vince tried to outduel his son. Stephanie eventually made her presence felt and had a pull apart brawl with Trish. Meanwhile, Shane had done a death-defying leap off the top rope to try and elbow drop Vince through the announce table. Vince got control of the match and looked to finish Shane off with a vicious shot to the head via the use of a trash can and had even dragged Linda into the ring and propped her up on a chair to witness it. However, Linda surprised everyone and stood up while Vince’s back was turned. Just as the patriarch of the McMahon family was about to blast his son, Shane suggested that he ought to look behind him. Linda kicked him right in the testicles, allowing Shane to seize control of the trash can and eventually drill Vince with the Coast to Coast.
The reception: It was a wildly entertaining match that far exceeded the expectations. They used every trick in the book, but it went to show that a match scripted in the right way could overcome the shortcomings of the competitors to produce something memorable. All parties involved were deservedly praised for their work.
CMV1 rating - ***
Setting the Stage: After the Dream Team of Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine were put together in 1985, they were immediately ushered to the top of the tag division. Once they defeated the US Express to win the gold, they found their greatest challenge would be the Bulldogs. Davey Boy and Dynamite Kid frequently suffered close defeats by nefarious means at the hands of the champion Team, often thanks to Johnny Valiant. Ozzy Osbourne was put in the corner of the Bulldogs to even the odds at Wrestlemania. Other than the TLC era and when Hogan dropped down to team with Brutus at Mania IX, there may never have been a more prominent position for the tag team titles than at Wrestlemania 2. The heel champs were over and the babyface challengers were quite over.
The match: The Bulldogs were one of the greatest tag teams of that golden era of tag team wrestling in the 80’s, but Valentine and Beefcake were no slouches and matched their challengers move for move during the back and forth match that highlighted the Chicago portion of the three venue Mania in 1986. Just when it seemed that the Bulldogs would once again succumb to the trickery of the devilish Team and their cunning manager, Ozzy intervened and the Bulldogs managed to get the victory and the tag belts. Mania 2 was an interesting concept and I think you can see why they’ve never attempted that again for any other event. As such a youngster at the time of this event, I have a hard time putting the matches into the proper context (in terms of their importance in the WWE’s eyes).
The reception: It wouldn’t be until the following year that we’d really understand fully what it meant to steal the show at Wrestlemania, but these four guys did their best to plant the seeds, as they had what has usually been regarded as the best match that year. It wasn’t good enough to completely steal the thunder from the headlining acts, but getting the distinction of having the best match at the biggest show of the year is nonetheless noteworthy. Some old school fans might say that I underrated this. As a historian, I have a hard time elevating this to the near 4-star level of the NWA tag matches of the same era.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the Stage: The first MITB ladder match was exclusive to the Raw brand, but the second became the first one to feature stars from all WWE brands. Three came from Raw, including the recently returned from injury Rob Van Dam, the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, and the Intercontinental Champion Shelton Benjamin (the star of the first MITB match). Smackdown brought the other three to the match in the form of newcomer Bobby Lashley, ladder match legend Matt Hardy, and Irishman that loves to fight, Finlay. There were qualifying matches for the first time also, with Lashley the last to qualify. Going into the match, RVD was the heavy favorite, but Flair was thought to be getting a potential last shot at the main-event in 2006, so his name was thrown out as well.
The match: It would have seemed obvious that Hardy, RVD, and Benjamin would be the stars of the match, but it was actually the old man Flair that took it to the extreme in the early going. Well, it wasn’t that extreme, but for a near 60 year old man to take a superplex off the top of a ladder was certainly a sight to see. Poor guy seemed to come away with a knee injury and was helped to the back, but he ended up coming back later on to create some added drama. Hardy never really was a factor, Lashley provided a few power spots, and Finlay began a role as the guy that was the glue that held the match together between the big spots. Shelton and RVD were the ones providing those spots, as predicted. Benjamin did a spot where he ran up a ladder that was propped up against the ropes and then did a swan dive off of it into a crowd of wrestlers on the floor. RVD hit the Frog Splash from the top of a ladder and eventually shrugged off Hardy and Benjamin to win the briefcase (and eventually go onto cash it in to win the WWE title).
The reception: The general thoughts about the 2nd MITB match were that it was good, but not given enough time to equal the first. It certainly added to the card and was sufficiently entertaining, but it is arguably the weakest MITB match of all-time.
CMV1 rating: ***
Setting the Stage: Sheamus came to Raw in late 2009 and made a big splash when he won the WWE title from John Cena at the inaugural TLC PPV. He went on to defeat Randy Orton, as well, before defending the title in the Elimination Chamber and being ousted by Triple H. The Celtic Warrior took it personally and attacked Triple H on Raw soon after. Triple H set the stage well for the ensuing match by reminding Sheamus that he was once a young upstart that had challenged one of the top guys (Ultimate Warrior)…and he’d gotten crushed. He told Sheamus that he’d only get one shot at being immortal, and Sheamus was prepared to seize the day. This was a good use of Sheamus and it will serve him well to have been in this position when he goes after a World title in 7 ½ weeks.
The match: Triple H had been in the title match so often that it looked weird seeing him go on shortly after the start of the second hour, but he performed with an energy that made you realize that he was taking this match seriously. Sheamus worked really hard to put his skills on display in front of such a giant crowd. He and Trips traded the bulk of their offensive repertoires before Sheamus scored with the Brogue kick for the best near fall of the night. They took turns trading counters to each other’s finishers before Trips finally caught Sheamus out of nowhere with the Pedigree for the win. The announcers put over that Sheamus was the real deal despite his loss. Anti-Trips supporters used the victory as their latest excuse to hate on the Game.
The reception: Most critics praised Trips and Sheamus for having a good feature match in the early part of the show to set the tone for the other top matches later on. They basically stated that they wanted to have a good match despite only having 11-minutes to work with and went out, got the crowd involved, and left people with a damn fine performance.
CMV1 rating: ***1/4