Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Road to Wrestlemania Countdown for XXIX/NY/NJ. In the coming months, we're going to take an in-depth look at the three categories - financials, performances, and intangibles - necessary to determine a definitive "Best Wrestlemania," from 28 to 1. The rankings for each criterion will be released at the end of each month after all descriptions have been posted.
Doctor's Orders: The Road to Wrestlemania Rankings (Intangibles Part 1)
By The Doc
Jan 14, 2013 - 12:02:46 AM
You can go directly to today's post by clicking the appropriately titled link below. Or you can follow the Wrestlemania list (yellow indicates posted entries). I encourage you to be active with discussion, bringing up any point that you so desire. The great thing about these Countdowns has been the conversations that they've generated.
QUESTION OF THE DAY (5): Have you gotten over Daniel Bryan losing last year's World Championship match in 18 seconds enough, yet, to appreciate how awesome Wrestlemania XXVIII was?
Today’s Wrestlemania Rankings Entry
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25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania
Think of all the firsts in your life. No matter how many seconds, thirds, or five hundredths follow it, the first maintains a special place that cannot be replicated. The first Super Bowl had seven cameras to catch all the action from various perspectives. Now, there are several dozen. The NFL has changed the way that we all look at a live, one off sporting event on television. Yet, you look back at the first one and marvel at for its time. I can’t wait to see the first year of the College Football Playoffs. There’s going to be so much excitement surrounding it since it has been what many of us fans have been waiting and hoping for since as far back as I can remember. Looking at things more personally, you’ve got losing your virginity, your first kiss, your first car, your first kid, etc. Well, go back and watch the original Wrestlemania from 1985 and try to put it into perspective. Triple H did that very well in the video preceding the 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania, stating that “when you look back at the first Wrestlemania…it’d be the coolest thing ever if I could be a part of that.” There’s just something about it to this day. The pageantry and the spectacle of it. Obviously, modern Manias blow it away, but watch Starrcade ’83 and the original Mania back-to-back. You can clearly see a huge difference in the production value; one feels infinitely more important than the other.
I’m usually a supporter of the WWE taking advantage of certain media hot topics and world events, as long as they do so with an angle that isn’t in poor taste. The line for such things is becoming thinner by the year, but twenty years ago it was easier for the WWE to do something that might be regarded as pushing the envelope a little too much and get away with it minus the extreme public backlash. Having American hero, Sgt. Slaughter, come back to the WWE only to turn on his country and sympathize with Saddam Hussein was a risky move that ultimately did not pay off the way that the WWE had hoped. I think that was the night that Vince McMahon learned that a higher profile meant that such angles were no longer acceptable in an increasingly liberal society. Ten years prior, Don Kernodle turned on the USA to side with Ivan Koloff’s Russian character in the NWA and no one thought much of it. Times change and the WWE hasn’t really gone that far with an anti-American gimmick since (with the exception of Mohammed Hassan and the razor wire guys). Sadly, the Slaughter angle overshadowed, intangibly, the birth of the modern WWE main-event in Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage. The Macho King and Warrior told an elaborate story that was complete with twists and turns, romantic subplots, and over-the-top kick outs from finishing moves that are now commonplace. It remains, in my opinion, one of the ten best Wrestlemania matches of all-time and the bout that has forced every major match since to up the ante with high spots incorporated within the framework of a tall tale. I still wonder what the opinion of this event would be had Savage-Warrior been the main-event for the WWE title.
The difference between John Cena vs. The Rock and every other dream match in the history of modern professional wrestling was simple: never before had we seen one between two superstars that were each still in the physical prime of their lives, making it reasonable to have great expectations. It was like getting to see Lebron James vs. Kobe Bryant in the NBA Finals would have been two-three years ago (or even now, to an extent). Though one was a little bit older than the other, there really wasn’t that big of a difference in terms of what they could athletically bring to the table. So, in essence, Cena vs. Rock gave us the new and improved definition of a dream match. The fact that they delivered in the ring amidst all the pressure made it an epic encounter and one of the most memorable matches that I can ever recall. Going 30-minutes made their battle like Kobe-Lebron going 7-games with a buzzer-beater to cap it off. In addition to that, you also had the work of art put together by Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and the Undertaker. It really was the end of an era. I’m not sure that we’re ever going to see all three (or even two of three) of those guys featured on the same card again. They gave us a fitting finale to remember days that started in 1988/89 and provided some of the greatest work in wrestling lore. Undertaker showed that you can have a five-star match at an increasingly advanced age; Triple H should have boosted his profile with all his many detractors; and Shawn Michaels gave a new blueprint for how to be a part of the story without overshadowing anyone as a guest referee. Plus, you cannot forget about CM Punk’s first main-event against Chris Jericho (which may become more historically significant down the road).
Three venues hosting one cumulative event is a challenge. You have to give credit where its due to the WWE for pulling it off, especially considering the organizational issue that would naturally stem from not only having to sell out three different arenas, but do so in three different time zones. Many things had to go right for Mania 2 to work. They had to basically put together cards for three locations that would interesting enough to keep the live crowds in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles wanting to sit around and watch the others after or before their part started or ended. The closed-circuit television/pay-per-view side of it was a problem because the production teams, by that point renowned, could not be in three places at once; Vince McMahon could not be in three places at once. On that end, I can imagine it must have been a very stressful night for the big wigs. Luckily, the stars aligned and things fell into place. I struggle to think of the tension backstage at the three host city sites. Think of it how it might’ve been should something have gone wrong during one of the three parts. At the end of the day, there’s a reason why this has never been attempted again and won’t be attempted again. While the WWE made a logistical nightmare into a dream come true (Mania 2 was a success that helped continue to build the brand), it was a damn gutsy move; once it was over, I’ll bet that those closest to Vince sat him down and kindly expressed to him that three venues across the country was biting off a bit more than the company could chew.
The first year long storyline for a Wrestlemania main-event was not last year’s Rock vs. Cena match, but rather a bout in which the Mega Powers “exploded” 23 years prior. Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage may not have been announced a year in advance, but it was pretty obvious that the end result of the Macho Man winning the title and forming the dynamic duo with the Hulkster would be an epic clash between the two titans of the industry. There were no bigger stars in the WWE back then and it only made sense for them to eventually do battle on the grandest stage. Wherever there’s an alpha, there’s always a beta. Each generation has its eventual meeting between #1 and #2 (Bret vs. Shawn, Rock vs. Austin, Cena vs. Batista). In my opinion, none were set up as well as Savage vs. Hogan. It was an exceptionally well executed angle that progressed in a logical way from PPV to PPV to PPV before climaxing at the right time and in the best way. While the match itself was not the all-time classic that it is remembered as being, it was the culmination of a thoroughly engaging story told and ended on the note that most assumed it would. I would like to see more stories like this as Mania continues to evolve. A modern day alliance between CM Punk and John Cena could tell a similar tale, if all the pieces could be made to fit. If they ever have #1 and #2 join forces again and quietly test their popularity against each other before splitting them off into a battle for the ages, then I hope it’s done as well as Macho Madness vs. Hulkamania.
When you come up through the grade school ranks and you take all of those history classes, you inevitably will find a period that captures your attention more so than the others. For me, that was Roman history. There is not a more fascinating part of world history than the Roman Empire. It was a society that seemed far ahead of its time. So, Mania IX having a Roman theme inside Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas was actually quite cool for me. Truth be told, it may have been Wrestlemania IX that gave me my first exposure to Roman lore, setting the stage for me to become an avid fan when the classes caught up. For all that was bad about Mania IX, what was good about it was the unique atmosphere that it provided. From the togas to the camels to Finkus Maximus, I was drawn in by the visuals. The WWE took a minor risk in putting the event outdoors, but that was basically the show that set the tone for a lot of what we’ve seen in recent years with building a canopy, of sorts, over the ring to shield the performers from the elements. I was there fifteen years later when they went to a place for the second outdoor show that was well-known for its whacky weather and, despite a little bit of rain, we all survived to see an event that thrived. I’m a big believer, in business, of trying things on a smaller scale to see if it will work and then, assuming that it does, giving the green light to doing it on a larger stage. Mania IX was the precursor to moving Wrestlemania into football stadiums, giving the WWE a much broader base of venue options.
I think one of the most difficult situations that anyone has ever been put in at the top of the wrestling business was Shawn Michaels in 1996. Granted, he wanted the challenge and he wanted the spotlight, but I don’t believe that the “boyhood dream” was, in his mind, supposed to come true at the same time as all his friends leaving to go to WCW. Considering that his two best friends were two of the top five stars in the WWE, at the time, and that his opponent and rival off of which he was taking the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania XII was going to be leaving for a lengthy hiatus, HBK was put in an impossible situation of trying to draw and keep the ship afloat when three giant holes had been poked into its hull. You cannot look at wrestling in a bubble. I’ve seen arguments for how poor a draw Michaels was in 1996 compared to the best years of Bret being at the top and it’s completely unfair unless you put it into proper context. I think that when you look at the whole picture, it’s amazing that the WWE did even the numbers that they achieved that year considering all the defections and absences. So, rather than look at HBK’s crowning achievement in the business as the start of a gloomy period fueled by backstage bickering, attitude problems, and dismal financial numbers, let’s give credit where it’s due to the guy for taking over as “The Man” when everyone else bailed and patching three huge holes with an unprecedented work rate. Besides, “The boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels” remains one of the most enduring verbal captions for an image of man clutching title in modern professional wrestling history, so apparently someone whose opinion matters thinks highly of the moment.
Wrestlemania XIV was how you effectively use a celebrity to not only get extra sets of eyes on your product, but to build an audience in the process. Mike Tyson’s role was simple and wildly effective because it allowed him to interact with Stone Cold Steve Austin and Degeneration X without being relied upon to be the sole reason that people tuned in. People were paying to see Austin vs. Michaels AND how Tyson’s relationship with DX would further his rivalrous connection with the Rattlesnake. It wasn’t all about Tyson, but his presence gave the current stars a bigger stage with a larger viewership to produce something memorable enough that people would come back and say, “Wow, I think I’ll check that out tomorrow night.” Everyone back then was motivated to shine; you could see it all up and down the card from Sable to Goldust to Taka to Triple H to Owen Hart to Foley to the Outlaws to Undertaker to Kane to Austin. It was a roster motivated to maximize the gift that Tyson had given them of greater exposure and they all delivered. No one seized that moment better than Stone Cold, whose own era began that night and put the WWE back in the driver’s seat in the Monday Night War. Mania XIV was one of the most important nights in the history of the WWE, as a result. The wrestlers showed up and worked hard every night, Mania, other PPVs, Raw, and house shows, in a fight for their livelihoods. Nowadays, a celebrity shows up that might put a spotlight on the younger wrestlers and what do they do? Tweet that some non-wrestler is taking their spot. It’s an unusual time and they could all learn from the success of Mania XIV.
Edge and Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boys from Mania 2000 was important for a lot of reasons. On the surface, it was the match that launched the careers of all six to a new level and made tag team wrestling relevant again on the grand stage after a lengthy absence. Yet, consider what it did for the psyche of the mid-card, both for the generation during the time it took place and to this day. I think it reminded the guys that aren’t in the main-event what you can do for your long-term career if you make something happen at Wrestlemania with whatever opportunity you’re given. The fact that three future World Champions and a first ballot Hall of Famer came from this Triangle Ladder match and all that ensued from it should be a still relatively fresh reminder for all the guys that get down on themselves and their ability to make it to the top in this ever-evolving wrestling business landscape. I can find some inspiration in it and I’m not even in that profession. What that match basically inferred was that, though the odds may be sometimes stacked against you and while there may very well be people lined up in front of you, if you seize the moment then you can take your own life/career to whatever level you desire. You guys know by now that I like to look a little deeper into things, from time-to-time. I’ve often wondered if any of these six superstars that were involved in this match look back on it and think of it that way. Sure, this didn’t start it all for them, but it was their proving ground and their rivalry spent the next year headlining shows alongside Rock, Austin, Triple H, and Undertaker.
My personal favorite Wrestlemania was XIX. Initially, that was because of the simple fact that I thought it was the best wrestled card in the history of the event; even better than X-Seven. Across the board, the in-ring quality was so consistently great and it happened during a year that really needed a signature PPV. 2003 was a tough year for the WWE. That was the first year where you could notice that the Attitude era was long gone and there was a big shift in the direction of the product with some very low lows dating back to the necrophilia angle with Triple H and Kane in October 2002. For Mania XIX to hit a home run – one hit so high that it soared out of Safeco Field – well, it was just a night that happened at the right time. Now, you look back and see that there’s never been a greater collection of big names in the industry on the same card. The greatest in-ring performer in WWE history, Shawn Michaels; a man destined to be remembered as one of the best all-around talents by the end of his career, Chris Jericho; the 13-time World Champion and wrestling lore’s most underappreciated tip-top star, Triple H; the top three draws in the history of the business in The Rock, Steve Austin, and Hulk Hogan; the chairman and mastermind behind it all, Vince McMahon; the two greatest prodigies to ever make the transition from amateur to pro-wrestling and, also, two of the best, Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar. That’s just the top matches. There’s in the ballpark of 80 combined World Championships between the men on this card, also including Booker T, Undertaker, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, and Big Show.
The greatest intangible once had by Mania XX was its show closing moment of Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero embracing while holding their respective World Championships. Unfortunately, their deaths have tainted that memory to the point where it wasn’t even the first thing that I thought of when trying to come up with a primary intangible. What came to mind for me was the nostalgia factor for the event. The WWE did an excellent job of hooking prospective viewers with a week’s worth of television events leading up to Wrestlemania. I wish that was something that they did more often. They brought back the Hall of Fame ceremony that year, but didn’t televise it. So, can you imagine if they had? We would have had something Wrestlemania-related on TV every night, culminating in the big dance on Sunday. It would make Mania week at home as compelling as Mania week at the host site. My personal favorite of the lot was the “Mania of Wrestlemania” documentary, which I still watch every year during Mania season. They also had the “10 Greatest Matches” special hosted by Ric Flair. The fact that they started hyping some of the biggest matches on the card as far back as June of the previous year was another nice touch. Wrestlemania XX was a modern era blueprint for how to effectively plant seeds for major angles several months in advance. Subsequently, when those seeds sprouted, I was as hyped for Mania XX as any other in history. The WWE did a very good job of putting that event in proper context. It came across as more important than most Manias and, in my opinion, set the tone for what Mania quickly evolved into soon afterward.
The Chicago crowd for Wrestlemania 22 was the best that I’ve ever been a part of live and the best that I have ever witnessed on video. There have been other audiences that were fantastic and memorable, but Chi-Town takes the cake for the following reason: they (we) were ridiculously involved in more than just one signature match. John Cena vs. Triple H was the bout that everyone clearly had the strongest opinion on, but even the match for the Women’s Championship (Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James) got an incredible reaction. I’ve never been a part of anything quite like Cena vs. Triple H. From the moment I stepped foot on Chicago soil, everywhere that I went featured anti-Cena sentiments from sizeable amounts of people. In the arena that night for Mania, the explosion of negative Cena remarks reverberated across the world and turned Cena into something unique to wrestling history. People have often called Austin the anti-hero; Chicago turned Cena into the anti-villain, redefining in the sport the way that the WWE conditions their audiences toward a certain character. I would state with full confidence that the Chicago crowd was as much a part of the matches that night as the wrestlers themselves and, while you can say that about other crowds for other singular matches, I don’t think you can say that about multiple matches on the same card. For the rest of my days, whenever the Granddaddy makes it way to Chicago, I’m going to plan on being there (even if it’s at frigid Soldier Field). That’s just too awesome an experience not to want to be a part of again. I think that city has become the new measuring stick for professional wrestling towns, eclipsing even New York.
Despite the fact that the 25th Wrestlemania was actually the 24th Anniversary of it, the WWE-proclaimed 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania did an excellent job of coming across like a “silver” celebratory occasion. The highlight videos recapping the major happenings of each of the first twenty-four editions of the Granddaddy were so good that they’ve collectively made it onto my yearly viewer’s guide for Wrestlemania weekend. I find it better sets the stage for the upcoming event to remember where it came from. The WWE also did a commendable job with the card, given the very nature of what it means to get to twenty-five of anything. Some may knock the line-up, but each of the top five matches were the culmination of stories built over the course of many years. That’s the way it should have been; a silver wedding anniversary is the result of two-and-a-half decades of “build-up.” No better headlining bout could have been chosen for such an occasion than Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker. Many fans called that several years in advance. It seemed that if both were healthy, then that should have been the logical choice for one of the main-events. They delivered what is now largely considered to be the greatest match of all-time; as mentioned in last year’s Countdown, I have come to agree. Houston was a worthy host to rejoice in Wrestlemania’s history given that it had also hosted a popular pick for best Mania ever. The WWE did well with the logo for the event, the color scheme of blue and silver, and the dressing that they gave the stadium. Something about it simply felt special.
When Shawn Michaels looked the camera dead in the eye at the 2009 Slammy Awards, having accepted the 2009 MOTY trophy, and said that he knew he could beat the Undertaker and wanted another shot at the Streak, I was filled with mixed emotions. I had written a column about HBK needing to ride off into the sunset two months before that as a guest writer for the main page (actually sparking the interest in regular column writing that led me to this spot I currently occupy on LOP). In my mind’s eye, I saw HBK ending his career against Triple H, so part of me wanted my scenario to come true, while the other part was very intrigued by the thought of a Mania 25 rematch with the Deadman. As the storyline played out on television and it became apparent that HBK’s career was actually coming to an end, the emotions started to get stronger. I’ve made no secret that Michaels is my all-time favorite wrestler. I think he’s the Michael Jordan of the sport. It’s one thing to think “I want my guy to go out on top with a classic and not stick around long enough to see inferior work,” but it’s quite another to see it happen. I give credit to the WWE for putting together the perfect sendoff for HBK. After another excellent, show stopping match, the greatest of all-time was the focus even in defeat. The WWE had a long history of producing video recaps of Mania set to that year’s theme song, but they didn’t do that for Mania XXVI, instead opting to keep the camera on Michaels. As he made his long walk up the University of Phoenix Stadium ramp, tears in his eyes, I just about found myself turning on the waterworks.
The Rock’s return to the WWE in 2011 was an amazing thing for business and something that proved the Great One to be a draw on par with his historical counterparts like Hogan and Austin, to whom he’d mostly been compared as the third wheel prior to. His presence was the difference between somewhere close to 200,000 extra buyers between Mania XXVI and XXVII. Intangibly, though, The Rock’s actual role at Mania XXVII was mishandled. A “host” he was, but his appearances were booked in such a way that either did not make much sense, were not properly executed, or simply could have been done better. It was a shame. Being there live, I recall the initial promo that he did to kick off the night being entertaining; but it was not the type of thing that could possibly stand the test of time and be much more than a fast-forward interview when watching the event back in the years that followed. The restart of the main-event was puzzling. I’ve not been as critical of it as some, but there were a half-dozen ways for that to have been handled better. Some of his backstage interactions were amusing and, to be fair, I think a lot of what the WWE offered up that night was to give the people that made the PPV such a big financial success what they paid to see: a lot of The Rock. Don’t get me wrong; I still quite enjoyed the event live and still do, but when comparing it against all the other shows, Rock’s presence did some intangible damage. Triple H vs. Undertaker was not enough to overcome it. Without the restarted Cena-Miz match, maybe it wouldn’t have needed to be saved.