Doctor's Orders: The Road to Wrestlemania Rankings (Performance Part 3)
By The Doc
Mar 31, 2013 - 10:31:36 AM
Updated Official Rankings (Including Performance)
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25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania
(Doc’s Note – Performance rankings were based solely on the star rating average of the matches at each Wrestlemania. Unofficial matches were not taken into account, counted instead as segments and scored with the intangible rankings)
When it was all said and done and the ratings from my countdown last year were averaged, I was fully expecting that the original Mania would come in dead last. I was wrong. It did come pretty close, though. King Kong Bundy vs. SD Jones was the 5th worst match in Wrestlemania history, in my opinion, and with only nine matches on the card and nothing better than Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff to help enhance the average, I thought the squash match would skew the data. As it would turn out, Ricky Steamboat vs. the artist eventually known as Doink the Clown (Matt Borne) and the tag title victory for Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff over the U.S. Express (Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda) were solid mid-card matches, while the women’s championship match that may have actually been responsible for Mania being possible (due to the connection between Wendi Richter’s manager, Cyndi Lauper, and the other manager at ringside, Captain Lou Albano) exceeded expectations and turned out to be one of the most entertaining bouts of the night. Those three bouts assisted the main-event in keeping the original from the bottom of the rankings.
I’ve always thought that, perhaps, it would have been better to do with Mr. T what the women’s division did with Lauper. One thing that Hogan and Piper do not have on their substantial fiscal trophy case from their feud is a truly epic match. If you look at their big confrontations, they all were fairly short main-events that were typical of that era. I think the original Mania could have used a knockdown, drag out brawl that concluded the Piper-Hogan feud in dramatic fashion. It might have meant Piper doing the one thing that he managed to avoid in his career – taking a loss to Hulk – but it also would have done some good for the long-term critical perception of this event.
Matches like Tito Santana vs. the Executioner (portrayed by “Playboy” Buddy Rose) and JYD vs. Greg Valentine for the IC title should have been better additions, but they did not play out well (or, at least, have not stood the test of time). When combined with Brutus Beefcake vs. David Sammartino and what was more of a spectacle than a match between Andre the Giant and Big John Studd (thus making it difficult to rate), the Mania that started it all just is not much of a viewing experience all these years later. Maybe once every ten years, when the perfect mood strikes, I can sit down and take a gander at this.
When there are six matches on a wrestling card that last a total of roughly 16-minutes, the majority of which were squash matches and the rest barely competitive, the other matches on the card are going to have to step up in a big way to overcome them, critically. Bouts such as Texas Tornado defeating Dino Bravo, Earthquake rumbling over Greg Valentine, Undertaker starting his Streak against Jimmy Snuka, the Orient(ish) Express vs. Demolition, Legion of Doom destroying Power and Glory, and the Mountie making quick work of Tito Santana may have done well to give statement wins to the victors, but one can easily find the flaws in having so many of those types of bouts on the same event. The Rockers, the Barbarian, and Haku had to set the tone for the rest of the roster with their opening tag match that worked like a charm in getting one of the rare hot (modern) Los Angeles crowds warmed up. The underrated abilities of both heels combined with the fast-paced offense of Michaels and Jannetty provided a recipe for one of the better opening contests in Mania history.
After Kerry Von Erich’s squash, the British Bulldog and the Warlord had a match that is not given its proper due. History has unfairly painted Bulldog as a simpleton that could not work, but that’s not true, as evidenced by matches like this one. As much as a fan as I am of the Hitman, Bret Hart has often been the one pedaling that reputation of Davey Boy. Yet, he followed Bulldog’s singles match with a tag team title loss by the Hart Foundation to the Nasty Boys that was no better despite better hype and more time provided. Both matches, by the way, were quite good and nice additions to the card. The brilliance of Jake Roberts’ psychological understanding of a wrestling match may have never been put on display as well as it was during the Blindfold match with Rick Martel, giving Mania 7 another solid contest that, much like Bulldog-Warlord, does not always get looked upon as favorably as I believe that it should. I think it takes the proper perspective to kindly rate the Blindfold match, as it was all about the story. Given the plot, it made a lot of sense and the two made it work admirably. Other mid-card matches such as Virgil vs. Ted Dibiase and Mr. Perfect vs. Big Bossman were OK, but their best respective work together came at other shows; Virgil and Dibiase nailed it at Summerslam later in ’91 and Perfect and Bossman had an excellent match within the same physical year. Neither match got the time needed to pull off what they were capable of at Mania.
Sgt. Slaughter’s work as the turncoat was worthy of applause in the main-event feud with Hulk Hogan over the WWE title. I look at their match as similar to Batista vs. Triple H from 14 years later in that the first few viewings don’t do it justice. Was it a main-event of Wrestlemania caliber match? Absolutely not. Yet, it was a good match that told a solid story. More is expected of those that go on last and rightly so, thus placing Hogan-Slaughter amongst the worst of the show closers, but the effort was there and the payoff was what it needed to be. The crowd certainly helped to make the match better and, again, I give credit to the Los Angeles fans that night for their unusual enthusiasm.
The match of the night that saved this event was the Ultimate Warrior vs. Macho King Randy Savage. The Career match was easily one of the best matches in Wrestlemania history. As good as it was, I still don’t think some people get the excellence that we saw that night. As I've stated before, it was the birth of the modern WWE main-event. The heavy basis on character development throughout a match, the use of finishing moves to create a series of incredibly dramatic moments, and the big babyface comeback that occurs when all hope legitimately seemed lost for his cause; can you think of a match in the WWE from that early time period of the Mania era that more closely resembles that which we’ve seen from the best PPV matches of the last decade plus? Most remember this match for Warrior kicking out of 5 Savage flying elbow drops, but it was so much more than that. It was the storytelling that most surprised me when I went back and watched this for the first time in a long time roughly five years ago. Each viewing since has added an extra wrinkle to the little things that they accomplished. Sometimes, a simple wide-eyed glare at the right time can take a match to the next level. It was not just Savage paying attention to detail – Warrior was, too. Somehow, Savage and Warrior built up to something that Warrior could fully buy into, embrace, and perform accordingly. When it was all said and done and Warrior had emerged victorious, the post-match angle with Miss Elizabeth saving Savage and reuniting the WWE’s all-time greatest couple was the icing on a most gorgeous cake. It wasn’t enough to keep Mania VII out of the 20s in performance ranking, but it continues to be enough to get me watching this PPV on DVD every year or two.
Is there any disputing, at this point, that while Shawn Michaels may have eventually earned the right to call himself, “Mr. Wrestlemania,” Randy “Macho Man” Savage was the original, unspoken bearer of that torch?
From 1987 to 1992, nobody could touch Savage on the grand stage. It was not even close, in terms of performance. Hulk Hogan may have been the face of Wrestlemania, as he was again given the show-closing match at Mania VIII despite Savage’s feud and match being arguably better suited, but Savage was the guy that embodied what that Super Bowl-like stage was all about. He had shown it initially at Mania III when he and Ricky Steamboat had invented the modern day art of stealing the show, had worked his tail off to succeed as the championship winner at Mania IV, had built up to and executed a match for the ages at Mania V, had taken show stealing to a new level by carrying Ultimate Warrior to one of Mania’s greatest matches at Mania VII, and then, at Mania VIII, he and Ric Flair had a fantastic WWE Championship match. The thing about Savage’s bouts that impress me most is that I can sit here and tell the newer fans to go watch them, if they’ve never seen them before, and have full confidence that they’re going to enjoy every second of them. Why? Because Macho Man’s matches were ahead of their time and, subsequently, stand the test of time. We’re over twenty years removed from the classic with Flair – I watched it on my birthday earlier in the year – and it still invokes comparable emotions to the original viewing.
Flair did an excellent job during his early WWE tenure, with the “Real World’s Champion” moniker being a great creative call and the combination of Naitch, Mr. Perfect, and Bobby Heenan being another stroke of genius. It was a testament to Flair’s work as a heel (and Jake “The Snake’s” before him) that Savage was as over as a babyface during the early months of 1992 as he had ever been. I am fascinated upon every viewing when his music hits at Mania VIII and the Hoosier Dome roof seems like it’s about to pop off as the noise is so loud.
Unfortunately, the only other match worthy of consistent look was the Intercontinental Championship match between Roddy Piper and Bret Hart. It was Piper’s only title in his career and, if you read Bret’s book, it seemed that the only reason that he won it was so that he could then drop it to the Hitman at Wrestlemania. If that was the case, then kudos to Roddy for so willingly and purposefully boosting Bret’s career because that match took Hart to the next level. A victory over a legend in a big match situation did wonders for the Hitman. Although it was a match that is now on the outside looking in on the top 30 in Mania history, it remains one of the best mid-card matches ever produced and one of the more impressive stories told when taken into context. Keep in mind that they had no real feud to speak of before stepping up to Mean Gene’s interview area and creating a beef just minutes before the bell rang. The use of blood in their match was picture perfect in terms of both execution and what it meant to the story. A job well done – they nearly stole the show (some might argue that they did).
Shawn Michaels Wrestlemania singles debut against Tito Santana and Jake Roberts becoming the second victim to the budding Streak were the only other matches that I’ve watched separate from a complete viewing of the event. HBK and Tito had a good match to open the show and the Snake’s psychology was at its best against the Deadman, despite the match itself not being anything more than extended squash. An 8-man tag involving the Nasty Boyz, Repo Man, the Mountie, Big Bossman, Virgil, Jim Duggan, and Sgt. Slaughter was little more than an excuse to get some guys on the card and it was effective enough in giving them something to do; Tatanka continued his undefeated streak against Rick Martel in short match; Owen Hart got his second Mania match under his belt against Skinner in a very short, uninspiring bout; and the legacy of big fat guys being paraded as professional athletes continued to move toward extinction when Earthquake and Typhoon failed to win the tag titles from Money, Inc.
Where the show suffered most was the main-event; just an abomination of a wrestling match with a horrifying finish that probably still gives whoever booked it nightmares. Certain things were supposed to happen that didn’t, cues were missed, and it was unimaginative. It was a shame that Hogan’s last two Manias before he returned in 2002 were so terrible. He was better than that.
Being the first outdoor Wrestlemania, the ninth edition certainly had some creativity going for it. Unfortunately, the creativity ended there. It was a Mania filled with DQ-endings, bad and poorly booked matches, and one of the most ill-advised endings in the history of wrestling. Only two matches could generally be thought of as “good,” that being the Intercontinental Championship bout between Shawn Michaels and Tatanka (which opened the show on a good note) and the (first) WWE Championship match between Bret Hart and Yokozuna (which would have closed the show on a good note). Average to slightly above average matches such as the Steiner Brothers vs. the Headshrinkers, Money, Inc.’s tag title defense against Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake and Mr. Perfect’s last Wrestlemania match, which saw him take on Lex Luger, simply should have been better and joined the first two matches mentioned to boost this event’s profile. Yet, it was a night where Murphy’s Law was well at work in the wrestling world.
Significantly-hyped matches such as Doink the Clown vs. Crush and Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzalez were about as bad as they could have been. The latter often receives marks for being the worst Wrestlemania match of all-time. Taker was given a lot of crap to mold into masterpieces back then, but rarely was he able to do so. It made him better in the long run, but in the short-term there were some absolutely brutal, eye sore matches. Mania IX was one of the first Manias to limit the number of matches on the card, perhaps due to a roster beginning to run low on talent. While fewer bouts, in the past, have had a tendency to skew Manias that weren’t very good to being higher ranked than they might deserve, this was certainly not one of those cases. Taker vs. Gonzalez was so bad, Doink vs. Crush so lame, and Bob Backlund vs. Razor Ramon such a basic television squash match that there was no hope for this PPV.
Much of the blame for the abysmal quality, though, justifiably goes to Hulk Hogan. After Yoko won the title from Bret, the decision was inexplicably made to allow Hogan to come down and win the belt from the new champion in what can, in name only, be called a “match.” A night full of lousy finishes ended with a short little farce of a performance that put the gold back around the Hulkster’s waist. As much flack as Taker-Gonzalez has taken over the years, there’s no question in my mind of which was the worst of the two matches: Hogan vs. Yoko wins by a landslide. I'll reiterate - that had to be the best most ill-advised decision in Wrestlemania history.
Not another word deserves to be written about it…
Mania XIV was once one of my top ranked editions, based on performance, but I am a firm believer that most of the modern Manias have done quite well to ensure that the quality of the in-ring work was higher than it was in the past. Thus, XIV has fallen a bit. Nevertheless, it still is tied for a spot in the top ten, standing the test of time despite fifteen years since it took place in 1998.
Where it takes a hit amongst the elite is that it did not feature a four-star match, or at least not one that was commonly regarded as one by the majority of the fan base. HBK vs. Austin could have been one of the best main-events of all-time had the stars aligned, meaning HBK healthy with his attitude in the right place, but that did not happen. What they did produce was memorable, igniting the Austin era and the WWE turning the tide in the Monday Night War. HBK was gutsy as hell in wrestling that match in his condition – one of the gutsiest things I’ve seen in the sport in 25 + years as a fan. I think it’s fascinating to sit back and watch that match all these years later and just look at the signs in the crowd. You’ll see double middle fingers and curse words and Cartman 3:16. It was just a wild time to follow wrestling.
Kane vs. Undertaker, to me, was excellent and one of the top big man matches in Mania history (the best if you limit the definition of a big man match to two guys facing each other that are in the 7-foot, 300 pound range). Not everyone would agree with that, which also hurts the overall performance perception of this Mania, but I think that the domination displayed by Kane made the match so vastly different than what we were used to seeing from Taker matches that it worked out so well. We’d seen him get roughed up before, but not in such a way that his every move was anticipated and either countered or accepted without sell. Also, there was a lot of pre-match hype surrounding it and Kane did well to live up to so many months of building expectations.
Other matches on the card that added quite a bit to the event were the tag title match between the vastly underappreciated New Age Outlaws and the team of Chainsaw Charlie and Cactus Jack, as well as the European Championship bout. It took me several years to fully appreciate it, but I think I’ve reached the point where I can see the great moments that comprised a 3-star plus match amidst an unusual gimmick. Triple H vs. Owen Hart was about what you’d expect in the amount of time given to it considering Owen’s talent level and Triple H’s youthful exuberance. The soon-to-be leader of the DX army grew a lot in 1997 and it showed in matches like this one in 1998. Sable and Marc Mero vs. Luna and Goldust was another solid match in the mid-card – one that often gets overlooked. Sable, in picking her spots, was actually quite good in her role. You also had the Light Heavyweight title match between Taka Michinoku and Aguila to add a little bit of zest as the second match.
The only disappointments, for me, were the Rock vs. Ken Shamrock (only because it was short and could have been better if given the chance to be – to be fair, though, it was a nice storyline enhancing contest) and the opening battle royal involving all the tag teams. I am such a mark for battle royals, but that one featured too much at one time and not enough development for the guys that ultimately lasted until the end (though I did appreciate the sentiment of having the “new” Midnight Express take on Cornette’s old rivals, the Road Warriors, in the final moments).
If ever there was a mixed bag of a Wrestlemania where, ultimately, the good outweighed the bad, it was Wrestlemania XX. It was a night that was billed as being “where it all begins…again,” but it was really more a night where the WWE tried to do too much. The only five hour Mania in history, XX attempted to get most of the roster on the show for the historic occasion. Personally, I am a proponent that an event like Mania is for the best of the best only. Rather than trying to get everyone a piece of the pie, it should reflect that it is the one event of the year where the cream of the crop rises to the top and everyone that misses out, subsequently, knows where they stand and how much extra work needs be put in to succeed.
There were two women’s matches at this Mania, which is something that has never made sense to me given the questionable drawing power of the divas in the WWE (in terms of what they mean to PPV buys). Molly Holly vs. Victoria for the women’s title was the bout least likely to draw, as the T&A era for the ladies was still in full effect, making the Playboy Evening Gown match between Sable/Torrie Wilson and Miss Jackie/Stacy Kiebler more viable. The matches should have been combined somehow. There were also two tag title matches that adopted the fatal four way gimmick and featured a lot of guys that barely got any TV time. The Dudleys, RVD/Booker T, Haas/Benjamin, and the Basham Brothers would have made for a satisfactory outing for one tag title, but since there were two poorly handled tag divisions at that point, the splitting of those crews into two matches, also involving La Resistance, Cade/Jindrak, Too Cool 2K4, and the APA basically ensured two tag bouts that added nothing to the experience of watching Mania. The Cruiserweight Open, with the above four matches condensed to two, might have gotten more time to be worth it, but as it occurred, it was just a rapid fire waste of time. Entertaining it was, but sufficient it was not. Rey Mysterio and Chavo Guerrero, who had one of the best WWE CW matches in history the previous month, certainly deserved better. The talents like Tajiri, Akio, Kidman, Ultimo Dragon, Jamie Noble, Nunzio, Funaki, and Shannon Moore were literally given just seconds to get their stuff over.
Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar was one of seven heavily hyped matches. Critically, it was a disaster of epic proportions. The crowd, having learned of each of their imminent departures, turned on both of them almost immediately and never let up. It was one of the most surreal moments in the history of Mania, which also made the match utterly fascinating and difficult to rate when all things are taken into consideration. John Cena vs. Big Show got the kind of crowd reaction that likely made Cena the go-to guy for the future, as his warm welcome in NYC’s MSG certainly aided and abetted the upward arc that he’s been on ever since. His US title victory came in a decent match that has gotten mixed reviews over the years. Undertaker vs. Kane was also a disappointment, but it served its purpose. Up until Taker’s “Deadman” entrance was played every week on Smackdown for a year, his return at Mania rarely failed to give me tingles up and down my spine. Chris Jericho vs. Christian was the mid-card MOTY and would’ve stolen the show on some cards. The Trish turn was entertaining, which came after a thrilling 14-minute match that set the tone for the rest of the evening. The Rock and Sock Connection reuniting to face Evolution’s Randy Orton, Batista, and Ric Flair now reads like a who’s who of wrestling lore with what the two youngsters went on to accomplish. The match itself took awhile to warm up to, for me, but I’ve given it high marks. Simply put, I’ve always wished that Orton vs. Foley from Backlash had been put in the handicap match’s place.
Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle was a match that I expected would easily make my Mania top 10. With such big expectations, I was a little frazzled by what they produced. Looking back, it was a great match, but when you’re thinking epic and what you get is just great…it’s kind of a bummer. I would’ve expected a stronger reaction from the audience; I think that hurt the match a little bit, as they weren’t there to fill the dead space during the early chain wrestling sequences. What ended up being match of the night (and MOTY) was Chris Benoit winning the World title from Triple H in a triple threat also involving Shawn Michaels. HBK was not really back to being the full-fledged Showstopper, yet. I think that’s probably why this match somehow managed to fly under my radar to a degree. You had three of the best of all-time, in-ring-wise, so there shouldn’t have been much doubt that it would be phenomenal. All three performed brilliantly and the combination of the blood (which adds a dramatic dimension to a match if used in the right way), the passion of the fans wanting to see Benoit get his moment, the intensity and drive that Benoit, himself, showed in attempting to achieve that moment, and the hard work put in by both HBK and Trips (one of the Game’s best Mania performances) to help ensure maximum effectiveness of Benoit’s victory…all of it led to something special.
That show closing Guerrero and Benoit celebration was supposed to live on as one of Mania’s finest moments…
Wrestlemania 21 was underrated. Its semi-main-event was a dud – no questioning that. JBL vs. John Cena eventually had a 4-star match, but they couldn’t do it on the grand stage where it would be remembered most fondly. Instead, they had the stereotypical Super Cena match. Time must have been a concern and I’m sure they were far more disappointed than we were. They had the potential to have one of the better matches on the card. Batista vs. Triple H was a good story told, but not overly exciting. I have warmed to their performance over the years, but I initially thought it was a clunker. I still don’t believe that Batista was quite yet ready to have a 20-minute, Triple H-style match and that Trips should have adapted better given the talent that he was working with, but apparently The Game believed more in his protégé’s prospective skills than the evidence of two-three years of bad Batista matches. I put it in the 3-star range, now that my tastes have evolved a bit. On that night, though, the majority seemed to peg the main-events as the weak part of the show, whereas the rest of the night had been, by and large, on-par with just about any Wrestlemania before it.
Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle might be my favorite match of all-time. That 5-star classic is what skews Mania 21’s star rating data toward it being in the discussion for the best in the performance category. I’ll tell you this – it’s going to rank a lot higher than you thought. A 5-star match will do that for a show. I’ve maintained in years past that the Angle-HBK match put my favorite wrestler of all-time against my favorite wrestler of that generation, went into it thinking of two-three spots that would be the ultimate for me, and then saw everything that I dreamed it could be actually happen on PPV. I no longer think it’s the best match of all-time, a view that Bobby Heenan and I shared for several years, but I still would rather watch it over any other match in history.
The first Money in the Bank ladder match called into question how six singles stars would interact. I never quite understood that, given that six-eight stars had done it in TLC matches. I digress – you also had Edge, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, and Christian in there. How could it have been anything but great when you added arguably a top five big man in history and one of the best athletes in WWE lore in Shelton Benjamin? It was an outstanding piece of work from all involved, especially Benjamin and Benoit. Shelton got all the praise and Edge earned all the accolades from winning and being the face of the concept, but the glue for the match was Benoit. If you took out persona non grata’s performance, then it would not have been nearly as good.
Randy Orton vs. Undertaker was a really good match, too. Orton had such a good chance of winning, in my mind, that some of the mistimed sequences did not matter much to me when rating it. The atmosphere and the drama was far greater than the stigma that comes with a few near-botches. I thought the Streak was over when Cowboy Bob clocked the Deadman with his cast; I thought it was over when Orton countered the chokeslam into the RKO. Both of those spots were awesome. Orton has come a long way since then. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio should have been mentioned in the same breath as some of the best mid-card matches in Mania history, but Rey’s mask pretty much doomed any chance of that. I watched one of his recent WWE documentaries and he talked about the mask mishap, regretting the decision to use something that didn’t fully cover his head, forcing him to constantly adjust it. It was a shame, but it was still very good.
The Big Show in a sumo match did not make for satisfactory viewing, but Trish Stratus was excellent in her role as the heel women’s champ against Christy Hemme (w/ Lita). The rest of the card was rounded out by segments that I did not choose to grade, though both the Hogan and Austin bits were worth the time spent on them and gave this event an extra Wrestlemania feel.
Personally, I think that Wrestlemania XXIV was easily one of the top four Wrestlemanias of all-time. I was privileged to be in attendance that night and it was so good that I no longer feel the need to be overly critical about any future Wrestlemanias that I attend. I got my golden goose in 2008 and that’s good enough for me. Any other Manias that I see live which turn out to be in the “greatest” discussion will simply be a bonus.
Its inclusion (in "best of" arguments) has been based on performance in all of my past discussions on the matter. It was one of the many recent Wrestlemanias to feature five matches that reached the 3-star level or higher, but was one of only four to have three matches reach at least the 4-star level. Money in the Bank IV, in my opinion, is the greatest of all the MITB ladder matches; it started Mania 24’s 4-star party. I don’t see the ladder match as being a main-event gimmick, though it did become one for a long-time thanks to Edge being a headliner. I’ve always seen it as more of a launching pad from the mid-to-upper mid-card, so I think MITB is at its finest when you put a bunch of young, hungry talents in there itching to make an impact. I thought the group at Mania 24 was just right. You had the veteran, Jericho, in there to help guide the Morrison, Carlito, Shelton, and Punk types.
I’m not sure what more I can write about Ric Flair’s retirement match against Shawn Michaels. That was a masterpiece if you take it into context. I’ve never rated it at 5-stars because I honestly think that Edge vs. Undertaker was a better match and I wouldn’t give that above 4.5. Yet, if the definition of a 5-star match is a piece of work that couldn’t have been any better, then you have to consider HBK-Flair a bout worthy of the claim to being wrestling’s version of perfect. The emotion behind it, both from the wrestlers and the crowd, was off the charts. In my wildest dreams, I don’t think I would have been able to imagine how good that turned out to be. Flair had been just kind of moseying along having respectable matches and HBK vs. John Cena from Mania 23 gave me the impression that HBK’s days as the Showstopper might be over. I was, therefore, expecting something exciting and fitting for a Flair sendoff, but I was not expecting to be blown away. I fully expected that Taker vs. Edge would adequately follow it if not completely overshadow it, from a quality standpoint, but I’m not sure that people have given the main-event enough credit. Maybe it was because Flair’s final match was so good or perhaps it’s a bias against one of them or quite possibly it’s due to Taker having had so many great matches in recent Manias that, by comparison, they just don’t see the Edge match holding up. I don’t get it, personally. It was one of the top 20 matches in Mania history, easily; a classic for all-time that will, mark my words, get better with age. They told as complete a story as has any other Mania main-event in history.
Another underrated match saw Randy Orton retain the WWE title against John Cena and Triple H. In an era where triple threats became so commonplace, those three went out and tore down the usual perception of a 3-way being nothing more than two glorified singles matches, one being paused so that the other could continue and vice versa. They worked spot after spot with all three guys involved, did so creatively in ways that we had not seen before, and provided an atmosphere that made it feel like the actual last match on the card (as it could’ve been). One day, we’ll look back on this as a match involving three of the top 25 stars in the Wrestlemania era. And don’t forget about Big Show. As much as I’ve hated on the guy over the last several months, I am – at heart – a Big Show fan because of his match with Floyd Mayweather. Based largely on Show’s merits, those two had the best match involving a celebrity that I’ve seen in my 25+ years as a fan.
I thought Finlay vs. JBL was a damn good opener for this card, as well. They utilized a style that works well in small doses after being acclimated to it for so many years during the ‘tude era. Batista vs. Umaga was nothing to write home about, but I didn’t think it was bad outside of the ending. The Divas gave us what we expected from them, at that time, given the talents involved. Kane vs. Chavo gave the Big Red Machine a rare “moment” involving actual wrestlers, so as short as it was, the match was still worth noting.
Just two years removed from the Atlanta Mania, I imagine that the event will be remembered primarily for the Undertaker vs. Triple H match. Having seen it live and numerous times since, I think that it was one of the top 15 matches in Wrestlemania history. While not the model 4-5 star classic, what with the use of finishers and high spots galore that some would call shortcuts, it told an amazing story of Triple H’s quest to accomplish one more major feat in his career and of the Undertaker’s desperate attempt to hold onto his undefeated Streak. There were moments in that match that will live on for decades, such as the image of the Deadman grabbing Trips by the throat, only for The Game to defiantly shrug off what had been the beginning of the end for so many other of Taker’s opponents over the years and shake his head “No.” Perhaps the most iconic will be of Triple H connecting with the Tombstone piledriver and placing the Deadman into his own signature cross-armed pinning position (complete with the tongue out). He had some of us believing that he could really end the Streak. I’ve been to three Wrestlemanias and that was the best match that I’ve seen, in person.
Edge’s successful World title defense against Alberto Del Rio was not supposed to be all that memorable, but its historical context got a major boost when the Rated R Superstar retired a week later from complications of his old neck injuries coming back to the forefront. It was a good match that opened the wrestling portion of the show on a high note and set the tone for the rest of the card, but it’s made all the more important considering that it was the Hall of Famer’s final match. I miss Edge. I miss Shawn Michaels. Two of my all-time favorites retired at back-to-back Wrestlemanias and I’m glad I was in attendance for at least one of them; that’s a hallmark for me in my fandom. Many would claim that Miz’s successful WWE Championship defense against John Cena was a huge bust and far from the quality of Del Rio vs. Edge, but I would disagree. It wasn’t a great match, but it was a good one full of false finishes. It suffered from a restart so that Rock could explain his involvement and one pretty clear botch, but I thought it made up for it with a dramatic series of near falls.
The second best match of the evening was Randy Orton vs. CM Punk. I went into Mania weekend highly anticipating their match and they did not disappoint. Talk about storytelling with Taker vs. Trips, Punk and Orton told a tremendous tale in their own right. I was thrilled when Punk cost Orton the WWE title at the Royal Rumble, as I’d wanted to see them wrestle in a big match scenario for quite awhile. Both excel in the realm of psychological warfare and they utilized it quite well in their encounter. I think that’s a match destined to be in the discussion for most underrated match. When they do a dotcom feature (or whatever is around by then) for Mania 50 about the most underrated matches, I will write in a vote for Punk vs. Orton. Another high quality and somewhat underrated clash was between Rey Mysterio and Cody Rhodes. That was the match and feud that turned me into a big Cody fan. They added a nice three-star bout to a solid show that catches too much flack in my opinion.
The rest of the card was pretty bad. A 90-second 8-man tag match was not exactly what I had hoped would replace Money in the Bank. Kane, Big Show, Santino, Kofi, Wade Barrett, Justin Gabriel, Heath Slater, and Ezekiel Jackson mostly deserved better. Trish Stratus teaming with Snooki and John Morrison to defeat Lay Cool and Dolph Ziggler angers me a bit. I liked Jo Mo in an RVD kind of way (and I’m a big fan of Van Dam) and this seemed to be his downfall with all the Trish rumors. Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole was one of the worst matches of all-time; no further discussion required.
Top heavy would be an excellent way to describe the overall workrate performed at Wrestlemania 28 in Miami last year. The three matches that dominated the last three hours of the show were so good that they’re all destined to find comfortable homes in the top 10 and 30 matches in Mania history. There will even be an argument to be made that one of them belongs in the conversation for the #1 spot. Frankly, there has never been another Wrestlemania that featured, by my estimation, three matches of that high a quality on the same card; such is why it wound up ranked so highly, here.
The first hour of the show was mostly forgettable to hardcore fans and critics; we’ll have to see if that negativity will stand the test of time. Perception, at this point, has been doomed by the opening match – if you can call it that – between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus. In such a high profile situation, an 18-second bout was probably not the best choice and has the potential to loom large with certain parts of the WWE viewership for quite awhile, but hopefully it will fade into obscurity where it belongs (in terms of quality). The Divas match was what it was, considering that was the one source of completely non-wrestling celebrity involvement for a second straight year. Cody Rhodes and Big Show provided a decent attempt at the second Intercontinental title defense at Mania in ten years. Without question, though, hour one of Mania 28 had little to do with this event being positioned so highly on performance. Combined with the average effort from the battle for general manager supremacy in the third hour, most of the 1st hour had to be overcome by the rest of the show. The only exception was a good match between Randy Orton and Kane that got overshadowed by the disappointment in Bryan-Sheamus.
When you have three matches that average over a **** ½ rating (on a 5-star scale), then that’s going to allow an event to shine historically in spite of its fairly weak mid-card. Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk was hyped as the best pure wrestling match on the card going into the event and they delivered with a match that I think is destined to age well. While not quite on the level of HBK vs. Y2J from nine years prior, Punk vs. Y2J featured some of the same qualities. When Punk reaches the point where he’s commonly regarded as an all-time great, this match will turn into a clash of Hall of Famers and will be remembered as such. Little things of that variety shape perspectives. I wouldn’t be shocked to see that bout end up in some people’s top 15-20 someday. Let’s assume it does.
The Rock vs. John Cena, in my opinion, lived up to considerable expectations. I do not think it unreasonable to place it just outside the top 5 of all-time, when taking into account all that one must to shape the rating of a match. Time will tell, but it is a match that also possesses potential upward mobility. One year of (off & on) build-up created a pressure packed situation that I certainly don’t envy. I do, however, applaud their ability to accomplish what they did under those circumstances. If you think about that, for a moment, it is astounding. Though, it may be difficult for Rock-Cena to overcome even a match that happened two hours earlier. Undertaker vs. Triple H from Mania 27 was polarizing, but there’s not been much in the way of criticism toward their Hell in a Cell rematch. It was rightly heralded as an excellent, 5-star caliber story and has the makings of the type of the match that some fans, depending on their affinity for the stars involved, could place atop their all-time lists. Personally, I believe it has the intangibles to go toe-to-toe with the Rock-Austin, Taker-HBK, Bret-Austin, and HBK-Angle caliber work from years past.
The bottom line on Mania 28 is that it’s top three matches, assuming that they stand the test of time, will forever maintain the event’s place as one of the top 5, in terms of performance. To the WWE’s credit, the times given to those bouts were 22-minutes, 30-minutes, and 33-minutes, respectively. If you put six future Hall of Famers in positions to succeed, then they’re going to shine and the fans will all benefit from it.