Doctor's Orders: The Road to Wrestlemania Rankings (Performance Part 2)
By The Doc
Mar 20, 2013 - 7:28:04 AM
Official Rankings (Intangibles and Business)
Follow me @TheDocLOP on Twitter for wrestling/sports discussion or friend me on Facebook (TheDocLOP)
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)
I mean it when I state that Mania III stands the test of time, even if you see the performance ranking for it and think less of me. The averages are what they are and, like many of the early Manias, the data for III is skewed by there being so many shorter matches. The top three bouts would probably be good for the top 10 against the nicest thrice of the twenty-seven others, but that’s just the way it worked out. Unlike many of the early events, I don’t think that Mania III suffered from bad matches in the lower card. In fact, I quite enjoyed most every match with the exception of the horrifying King Kong Bundy and his vertically challenged friends against Hillbilly Jim and his vertically challenged friends. By no means do I mean to offend anyone, but I’ve never really cared for “midget” wrestling (especially the way it was portrayed back in the 80s). Koko B. Ware vs. Butch Reed and Nikolai Volkoff/Iron Sheik vs. The Killer Bees did not add much to the show, but they weren’t terrible. Matches such as the opener between the Can-Am Connection and the team of Bob Orton and Don Muraco, which featured a fast pace and some solid workers, and The Dream Team battling the Fabulous Rougeaus, which I found enjoyable due to the three good workers despite Brutus Beefcake, were pleasant surprises when looking back with lowered expectations. Billy Jack Haynes vs. Hercules was a solid bout worthy of a small bit of praise, as was the six-man tag pitting the Hart Foundation and Danny Davis against the British Bulldogs and Tito Santana.
Where the event shined brightest, as with most Manias, was its top billed matches on the marquee (the exception being the disappointingly short match between Harley Race and Junkyard Dog, which could have been better). Jake Roberts vs. Honky Tonk Man was an example of how concentrated booking attention on the mid-card can be so beneficial to the overall product. Despite having to follow the Intercontinental Championship match, the crowd was quite into seeing Jake find a way to get the Snake in Jimmy Hart’s presence. Both wrestlers were over, the manager was over, and Alice Cooper (the guest manager, of sorts, for Jake) was over. When the fifth babyface and heel from the top are both that over, everyone wins. One of my favorite matches from the show is the horribly underrated match between Roddy Piper and Adrian Adonis. Don’t let Adrian’s girth fool you – he could work…very well. He was a character ahead of his time and his match with Piper – billed as Roddy’s retirement bout – was a thing of 6-minute beauty. Speaking of being over, go back and listen to the pop given to Roddy – it’s as booming as any in Mania history and you can’t do any better than digitally remastered sound.
Obviously, the stars of the show were Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Ricky Steamboat. Hogan vs. Andre was on a totally different playing field than about 99% of the matches in wrestling history because of the business numbers that it brought to the table, the atmosphere that it created, and what it meant to an entire generation of wrestlers (many of which we’re seeing right now as the stars of the business). You cannot rate it traditionally. You just can’t and expect to have an intelligent discussion about it. Hogan vs. Andre was not the most aesthetically pleasing match of all-time; that’s a given. For what it was, though, it does warrant inclusion in the conversation for greatest (note – not best) match of all-time. A match that does belong in the “best of” argument is Steamboat vs. Savage, which was a true masterpiece for its time. What I love about it is that they didn’t look at 14-minutes as a bad thing. The Dragon was a guy who routinely worked for an hour in the NWA and, yet, he had no problem adapting his style to fit a shorter time frame. Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair once wrestled for 14-minutes on a PPV and seemed uninspired, perhaps in part because of the lack of time. Michaels was quoted as saying “How do you give (us) just 14-minutes?” I’ve always admired that Steamboat and Savage just went out and stole not just the show and not just the year, but arguably the entire decade…and they did it in less than a quarter hour.
Sometimes ratings just don’t reflect a fan’s true feelings for an event. That would certainly be the case for me as it pertains to Mania IV, which is one of my favorite Manias. I’m a mark for battle royals. I’d be OK if they featured one every year and called it something similar to the Money in the Bank Battle Royal. I just love them. The Mania IV opener was a battle royal that concluded with an exciting exchange between Junkyard Dog, Bret Hart, and Bad News Brown…and I dug it. There was also a solid tag team title match that saw the breakup of Strike Force, clearing the way for Demolition to begin their record setting reign. An average IC title match between Honky Tonk Man and Brutus Beefcake, a below average match involving Ultimate Warrior and Hercules, and a middle of the road six man tag pitting Bobby Heenan and the Islanders against the British Bulldogs and Koko B. Ware rounded out the non-title-tournament matches of the show.
The WWE Championship tournament was so cool to watch as a kid and I still get excited to watch it back every few years. The thing you have to understand going in, critically, is that there are not going to be a bunch of 15-minute matches when you’ve got a 14-man tournament to get through. The show was only four hours long. So, it featured plenty of short, fairly bland contests and not a single match earned above a 3-star rating (and the only one that received that distinction was the main-event of Randy Savage vs. Ted Dibiase). That automatically limits what it can achieve when doing a ranking like this one. There were several solid matches, but even then there’s just not going to be enough substance to earn a lot of stripes. You had matches like Hacksaw Jim Duggan vs. Dibiase, for instance, that was a really good opening round bout that gets overlooked by many due to Duggan’s involvement (perhaps). Along with Ricky Steamboat vs. Greg Valentine, Don Muraco vs. Dibiase, and Savage vs. Valentine, Duggan-Dibiase provided the framework for a really fun night of wrestling. Unfortunately, matches involving the One Man Gang (vs. Savage and vs. Bam Bam Bigelow), Dino Bravo (vs. Muraco), and Butch Reed (vs. Savage) failed to follow suit, leaving Mania to have to rely on a talented few and a Wrestlemania III rematch to carry the load.
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant was never aesthetically pleasing to a fan like me. Some can look at those two brutes clashing and be fascinated by the sheer size involved, but that’s just not the style that I have ever been drawn to. Nevertheless, I have always been captivated by the presence that each of them brought to the table. Hogan was so magnetic in those days, having built a larger-than-life persona. He was like a super hero. Andre was the super villain, every bit the eye-popping on-screen personality that was the Hulkster. I look back fondly on their rematch at Mania IV, as I thought that given the placement of the bout in the second round during the middle of the show, it was such a huge addition to the card. The only thing I didn’t like was that Hogan seemed legitimately happy to have had the ending turn out the way that it did; as if it were some moral victory to keep Andre from the championship even though it meant that he, too, could not compete for it.
The two best matches on the card were Jake Roberts vs. Rick Rude and the main-event. I think your mood has to be right to appreciate Rude vs. Roberts. If you watch it stone cold sober, then it’s kind of boring – almost like they decided that since they were better than most of the guys moving past the first round that they should just phone it in. However, if you’re two-three glasses of vino deep, their names alone jump out and slap the rest hold haze right off your face. Savage vs. Dibiase was the right call for the main-event and they delivered the match of the night. Macho Man was such a talent, combining the desire to be great in the ring with the raw charisma necessary to succeed at the top of the WWE. Million Dollar Man was an awesome gimmick played to a “T” by one of the most talented all-around individuals of the 80s.
The unfortunate thing about the earlier Wrestlemanias was that they all featured a great deal of short matches with very little action. Sure, there was more attention to mid-card storylines, but what kind of payoff was it to be given 3-minutes to do one move and a rest-hold? Wrestlemania V had several of those types of matches and the only thing keeping it from standing alone as the worst of all-time, in terms of performance, were the IC and World title bouts. Rick Rude worked his butt off to pull out something well above respectable against Ultimate Warrior. What I’d like to have right now is for all you fat, out of shape, internet reading sweat hogs to keep the noise down and focus as I make the claim that “Ravishing” Rick was the star of Mania V. What he did with a still very green Warrior, as mentioned during the Summerslam series last year, was nothing short of incredible. It was not the prettiest match that you’ll ever see, but it was far better than it had any right to be. Rude taught Warrior to work.
The WWE championship match between Hogan and Savage was the match of the night. People have had a tendency to overrate it, in the past; I think as fans are maturing, they’re starting to see Hogan-Savage as less of the classic that they were brought up thinking it to be and more of the typical Hogan match that it really was. If you go back and watch the match, Savage dominated for most of it before Hogan did his usual comeback and got the win. That was about it. Imagine if Rock-Cena had just been the usual Super Cena showcase and that’s basically what we got from Savage and Hogan. Granted, Macho Man did a very nice job of being in control. It’s still a gem from the 80s when you take into account the build-up and the atmosphere and the commentary.
I think the Rockers were still drunk from the previous night and, as such, could only muster a passable effort against the Twin Towers. Ted Dibiase vs. Brutus Beefcake was a solid affair, but it was one of many mid-card matches involving top talents that seemed to have something missing. Haku vs. Hercules was a case-in-point. I have always enjoyed both of them, but their opening match left something to be desired (plus it was an odd choice for opener). I liked Jake Roberts vs. Andre the Giant, though I realize it’s not for everyone. The story was amusing – this giant of a man who wasn’t scared of anything was scared of a snake. Their match was more a set-up to the next year’s Mania match between Roberts and Dibiase. The tag team title match was one of the show’s best hyped, but it was fairly basic in execution, as the dominant styles of both the Powers of Pain and Demolition did not mesh particularly well. The Brainbusters vs. Strike Force could not make the same claim, but it was more storyline-driven with Martel turning on Tito Santana, preventing us from truly seeing what the teams were capable of on the grand stage. The Hart Foundation did some nice work with Greg Valentine and Honky Tonk Man. Easily the mid-card match of the night was the, for some odd reason, never talked about contest between Owen Hart (as the Blue Blazer) and Mr. Perfect. That was 5-minutes of brilliance.
Where the card took its turn for the far worse were matches like the insufferable Bushwhackers vs. The Fabulous Rougeaus, Dino Bravo stinking out the joint (as usual) against Ronnie Garvin. Bravo was Bravo, what else can you say? There was also the dud of a match between Jim Duggan and Bad News (for everyone) Allen-Brown. The Red Rooster vs. Bobby Heenan was 20-seconds. Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Terry Taylor.
Once upon a time, there were folks that thought of this as the greatest Mania of all, but looking at the card as a whole and the increased competition over the last decade, you can obviously tell that it’s not even close. The matches that surround the two raved about bouts were either bad or slightly above average. There’s no doubt that HBK and Razor’s Ladder match was a classic and that Owen vs. Bret was one of the more technically sound matches in history, but a squash match, a questionable mixed tag, and two average (at best) main-event title bouts don’t make this any more than a two match card. Some might argue that Randy Savage vs. Crush deserves to be included as the third, but I found that match to be unusually confusing. It was entertaining and innovative, but it lacked that extra something that makes the truly good matches memorable.
Thus, the two classics that rank in the top of all-time to this day had to carry the show. Bret’s moment may have come at the end of the night in defeating Yokozuna to reclaim the title that he’d lost the year prior, but it was him giving his brother, Owen, the moment that stood the test of analytical time. Several years ago, a new style was mandated that would be less risky for the performers, stemming from a recurring theme of neck surgeries from many high profile stars including Austin, Edge, Benoit, and Angle. When that change took place, I have always pointed to Bret vs. Owen as the example used to define what that style should look like. What Bret and Owen did was focus on the story told, mixed with a combination of technical wrestling and reasonable risk. Nothing that they did was overly complicated, but they intricately weaved their tale within a simple framework. Just an unbelievable match that I still like to try and watch once a year around this time and a true masterpiece that should be studied by all the young guys trying to break into the business.
Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon was far less conventional. One could argue that it was the birth of the riskier style that took a strong hold on the business in the late 90s. With Razor and HBK throwing caution to the wind and pulling off what were, for their time, incredible spots, the door was opened for the limits to be pushed further then they had been before in the WWE. HBK was a driving force, combining superior athleticism with endurance and durability. He showed that you could go for years, bumping like a mad man without necessarily sustaining major injuries. The ladder match was not an original concept, but the performance was quite original. Upwards of seventy ladder matches have followed, spawning two PPVs on the current docket and countless classics. None of that happens without the success of the first, which not only put HBK and Razor on a unique pedestal, but also showed that – much like HBK did for years with his bumping style – ladder matches could be done effectively and as safely as possible.
I personally find the discussion of which match was better to be one of the better topics in Mania lore. I think that the original ladder match has lost some of its luster and it is difficult to view it in a 1994 vacuum when considering the sheer number of ladder matches that we see each year. It’s like finding out about an alternative to medicine, only to come home and watch 56 drug commercials. If I told you that you were stupid 56 times, you’d start to believe it; if you see 56 riskier and more aesthetically pleasing ladder matches (not that there are that many), then you’ll struggle to see the same things from the ’94 match that you saw upon first viewing. Subsequently, I give my nod to Bret vs. Owen, which is timeless.
One of the better mid-card matches, in my opinion, was the women’s title match between Alundra Blayze and Leilani Kai. Blayze had some serious skill. Other than that, the card was below average. Lex Luger and Yokozuna didn’t click nearly as well at Mania as they did at Summerslam the previous year, so their match was pretty bland. Yoko was so boring by then, offensively, because of his massive weight gain. Three trap grabs of near a minute in length in the same match? Snooze. The tag title match between Men on a Mission and the Quebecers was one of the low points in tag team history. Adam Bomb getting squashed by Earthquake was what it was. I can see having something like that happen at Mania when you want to build up a new guy, but Quake had been around for so long that it was pointless to include that. He was gone soon after.
There has been this stigma about the Mania built around the Ironman match that it was just a one match show. I’ve actually pedaled that mindset in the past (I might’ve even done it last year). Yet, when you observe that event, study its hype, and watch it all the way through as if you’re seeing it live again, you realize that it was really a two match show. Perhaps the Streak’s most underrated match was Undertaker vs. Diesel. Built up for months and pitting the other two of the WWE’s top four superstars of the time, Taker vs. Kevin Nash’s alter ego was one of the better “big man” battles in the WWE’s Wrestlemania era history. I thought it was a tremendous story told and the in-ring action was one of the first glimpses of us being able to see what Taker was capable of achieving, critically, when put into the ring with a guy that had at least been known to have one outstanding match prior to. It was one of the finer outings of Nash’s career and I particularly appreciated his ability to sell the fact that he was legitimately unafraid and unintimidated by the Deadman. He scoffed at the notion that the Taker could match up against him, ever confident in his own abilities. When Taker got up from two Jackknife Powerbombs, only then did Diesel take notice of the aura surrounding his unearthed opponent. The Streak within the Streak has given us the six best Taker matches of the 20-0 record, but I’d put his match with Diesel right there with the Triple H (17), Orton (21), Kane (14), and Flair (18) bouts.
The measuring stick for this event, two match show or not, was the Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart epic for the WWE Championship match. I did not hide my mixed feelings about the match in last year’s Countdown, noting my original affinity for it but also describing how the right mood is necessary to really get into these two wrestling for an hour when so many other, more entertaining hour long bouts exist. Stand alone, HBK vs. Bret is at best a 5-star, perfect example of how to work the WWE style into an hour; at worst it’s a 4-star match that drags for considerable periods, but still manages to hit the right notes at the right times to ensure that the moment of HBK winning the title exudes maximum awesomeness. I usually fall, at this point in my fandom, somewhere in between the two. If I’m two-three glasses of wine deep, it’s a masterpiece. If I’m stone sober or 4-5 glasses deep, I’ll fall asleep between the 15-45 minute marks and wake back up for the exhilarating final quarter and overtime. It is what it is. One of my favorite readers and I have gone back and forth about this match and he’ll continuously argue its perfection. As you saw last year, I moved it WAY down the “best of” list; once was in the top 5 and has shifted back toward #20 (definitely now after last year’s trifecta). It is destined to be one of the great debates from the New Generation period.
Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H debuting against Savio Vega and Ultimate Warrior, respectively, were two noteworthy contrasts – Austin won a competitive match that honestly should’ve been better considering what they put together at Beware of Dog two months later and Trips got squashed like a bug against a guy who washed out after being back for less than six months. Neither match contributed much to the overall profile of this event. Then, there were only two more matches – a six man tag that saved us all from having to see Yokozuna vs. Vader (and involved Owen Hart, British Bulldog, Jake Roberts, and the portrayer of Suge Knight in the made-for-TV movie about MC Hammer, the one and only Ahmed Johnson); and the Hollywood Back Lot Brawl. The most memorable thing about the Goldust vs. Roddy Piper match was Vince McMahon’s announcer voice saying “Hollywood Back Lot Brawl” a million times in the build-up. Vinnie Mac loved to sell the hell out of gimmick names and nicknames. “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel; “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels; and, my personal favorite that must have uttered 20 times for each of his matches, “The Hitman” Bret Hart.
Oh, it was the best of times; it was the worst of times. There has never been a better or more memorable build to a Wrestlemania than in 1999, when the two most entertaining characters in wrestling history were at the peak of their initial industry powers. The Rock, the WWE’s Corporate Champion with all of the catchphrases and the flashy personality and the $500 silk shirt, had ascended to the point where he legitimately could challenge Stone Cold Steve Austin, the blue collar ass kicker from Victoria, Texas, for the title of the number one guy in the entire business. Their match was a hard hitting affair full of twists and turns, not just during the match itself, but throughout the night as the question of who would be the guest referee was answered. It was supposed to be Mick Foley, who defeated Big Show by DQ in a lackluster bout earlier in the night. Foley was injured, though, so Vince McMahon stepped in to give Rock the unfair advantage. That didn’t happen either. Foley came back from the hospital in time to count Rock’s shoulders down for the three and award the WWE Championship back to the Rattlesnake.
The Corporation, having lost the richest prize, had to settle for adding Triple H to its ranks. In the underrated match between X-Pac and Shane McMahon, Trips turned on his Degeneration X stablemate and started his rise to the cream of the crop. X-Pac had one of the top performances of the evening, carrying a non-wrestler to the second best match of the night and the only other match on the card that was worth a second viewing all these years later. Mania XV fell flat in every other match. The Hell in a Cell match between Undertaker and Big Bossman was as bland as the sky is grey on a cloudy day, almost as if it was intentionally paint-by-the-numbers to ensure maximum heat for the main-event (but such things were rarely a problem back then). Triple H vs. Kane was solid, but it was one of many matches also including Road Dogg vs. Val Venis vs. Goldust vs. Ken Shamrock, and Billy Gunn vs. Al Snow vs. Hardcore Holly that could have been better.
The show felt rushed for some reason; odd only because no match exceeded 16-minutes in length. The horrid Brawl-for-All took up quite a bit of time and had a very unappealing payoff. Butterbean knocked Bart Gunn out cold in a matter of seconds. If ever there were a reason why wrestling owns the UFC and boxing, it would be in the payoff. By predetermining the winner but letting no one else know for sure until the ref’s hand slaps the mat thrice, the WWE controls that there’s at least a chance for a satisfying payoff. Sable had to be on the card because she was so popular, but as we later discovered with the likes of Trish, Lita, and others, the WWE could have found her somebody better to work with than Tori. The tag titles were defended in less than four minutes by Jeff Jarrett and the late Owen Hart, dispatching of Test and D-Lo Brown quickly and quietly.
Without The Rock vs. Steve Austin and X-Pac vs. Shane, this would be the worst Wrestlemania of all-time.
Mania XIX will always standout in my mind as a great PPV that could not have come at a better time. 2003 was a bad year in wrestling mired by a lousy Raw product and in desperate need of a bright spot. Wrestlemania that year turned out to be the saving grace. The only of the twenty-eight events to earn a 3-star or better average, Mania XIX found itself at the top of the performance rankings by a comfortable margin (3.14 to 2.92 from the closest competition).
It was kicked off by a rapid fire cruiserweight title match between Matt Hardy and Rey Mysterio that reminded me of an original ECW bout. Rather than be disappointed with their six measly minutes, they kicked it into high gear with a blistering pace full of fast and furious action. There was a never a dull moment and it set the tone for the rest of the mid-card, which equally suffered from a lack of time. The Undertaker proceeded to carry a match with Big Show and A-Train (absent the green machine otherwise known as Nathan Jones) to a satisfying performance. Quite odd, was it not, to see the Deadman in such a meaningless match? To his credit, he did a fine job in limited duty. The continued development of the women’s division, led by Trish Stratus, was on display in the third match and the three ladies involved did well to prove that they belonged on the card. Jazz and Victoria provided a good heel duo to oppose the lovely Trish and they helped ensure that her title victory came at the conclusion of a solid, title-enhancing contest. Given the previous amount of time spent boosting the WWE tag title scene on Smackdown, it was disappointing that the triple threat between Los Guerreros, Team Angle, and Chris Benoit/Rhyno was shortchanged to the tune of 9-minutes. Thus, their match was not nearly as good as it should or could have been. Boosted by another four-minutes, such as the ones given to the unofficial scrap between the Miller Lite Catfight Girls and the WWE Divas, then this could have put Mania XIX into the conversation for most balanced, well-rounded PPV of all-time. As such, I think it still edges out Summerslam 2002 for the "best," but it's not the greatest.
Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho began the night’s five-main-event portion of the card with an outstanding match that history often underrates. If one could find a criticism, it would be that it lacked that one, stand-up-out-of-your chair false finish that has been featured in many of the greatest matches of all-time. Other than that one minor gripe, the bout is utterly perfect in every aspect. Time does the match well, I’d say, for I think it has gotten better with repeated viewings over the years – a hallmark of a great story told. Triple H and Booker T did well to not fall flat in trying to follow HBK vs. Y2J. It was an unenviable task, but they had their moments where it seemed like they were going to hit a homerun. They opted for a more psychologically-driven match, focusing on an injured knee, so it failed to shift into fourth gear; the finish was a bit controversial with Trips taking 20-seconds to cover Book after the Pedigree; allowing the Trips hate to wear off helps the perception of this one.
Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon was much better than anyone could’ve hoped it would be. Hogan has gotten a bad rap as a wrestler over the years, but he came back to the WWE in the early part of last decade ready to work and have the best matches possible; something he proved numerous times in 2002 and certainly proved in carrying Vince in a Street Fight that was nothing short of entertaining. Vince stepped up as he always did in those big match situations. The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin proceeded to tear the house down with their third and final Mania installment. I would say that their bout was extremely underrated historically. I may have rated it at just four stars instead of the elusive five, but I cannot think of a match that I’ve watched back more over the years. It was a brilliant piece of work by Rock, one of his best in fact, with Austin holding up his end of the bargain despite a night before from hell.
To top it all off, Kurt Angle gutted it out despite a severely injured neck and very little use of one of his arms to have one of the most memorable main-events in Mania history with Brock Lesnar. I cringed with every bump that he took. His injuries fall right into my area of expertise and I’m amazed at what he was able to do. Brock was awesome under the circumstances. The Next Big Thing may have officially arrived the previous summer, but to do what he did in his very first Wrestlemania was incredibly impressive. The match ended up being remembered for the botched Shooting Star Press as much as anything, but it was a helluva match outside of that one spot – and, oddly, the match is probably more easily recalled because of it.
People are going to be shocked by how highly Mania 25 ranks in performance. Over the years, it has not exactly been the most fondly reviewed event. I would say that of all the Wrestlemanias since 2001, only Wrestlemania 27 catches more heat than Mania 25. Shawn Michaels vs. the Undertaker, quite frankly, saved the event and hurt the perception of the event. It is viewed by many as the greatest Wrestlemania match of all-time, a view that I have adopted in recent years after repeated viewings. The great thing about a match of that caliber is that it will forever keep Mania 25 relevant in rankings conversations, but it simultaneously skews the perception of the rest of the card. A match like Taker-HBK is so absolutely brilliant that it makes other matches on the card look far worse than they actually were by comparison. When you get a 30-minute masterpiece that starts right in the middle of the show, with all the little touches prior to the bell that were also fantastic in their presentation, the work done before and after suffers.
The match that took the most heat for failing to follow HBK-Taker was the main-event featuring Triple H and Randy Orton and I’ve never thought that was fair. I thought it was reasonable to criticize the choice of victor, but not to state that the match was of below average quality. It was the second best match of the card, even though it did fail to live up to the expectations that should naturally be placed on the show closer of a Wrestlemania. Randy Orton did a stellar job and his work alone makes it worth a second viewing. It is, however, best viewed separately from the entire event. If you want to maximize the viewing experience, you have to keep it as far away from HBK vs. Undertaker as you can. I don’t think that really holds true for the other matches. John Cena winning the World title from Edge in a bout also involving Big Show, for instance, was a quality triple threat match. Expectations were fairly low given the storyline. It is not a match that I’m itching to watch, but it makes for an entertaining half hour (entrances and video included) when I feel inclined to watch Mania 25. I think both of the title matches have aged well, so I’m hoping the all-time classic that preceded them will one day stop overshadowing the performances.
Other than HBK-Taker boosting the match averages with its 5-stars on a card featuring just eight matches, Mania 25 received a nice rub from the Money in the Bank ladder match and the Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy Extreme Rules match. MITB V was rated by some as the best of the lot, a view that I do not share but can fully understand. Kofi Kingston was awesome and it had unpredictability going for it unlike some of its predecessors. The Hardy Boys clash was not what it could have been, but was still a substantially well-booked and performed mid-card bout. As a former Version 1 mark, it was nice to see the elder Hardy get a hype video-worthy match on the grand stage. Taker-HBK earned the four-star plus status, 63% of the card reached the 3-star level or higher.
Chris Jericho carried Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka to respectable outings, yet I wonder how what would’ve happened had the WWE had enough confidence in Ricky Steamboat to let him take on Y2J all by himself. Take the Backlash match from a month later and place it on this Mania card and you might very well be looking at an event with a better overall opinion. As such, the 3-on-1 handicap match did not take away from the PPV; it just didn’t add much to it either. JBL’s retirement match, if you can call it that – it was more like a retirement speech – cannot possibly earn much of a rating, so it actually took away from the ranking. Much like Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus from last year, the production worked just fine; you just can’t give it much in the way of marks. The Divas battle royal was one of the biggest turds ever laid in a Mania ring, so enough stated about that.
Even though I ranked it in my top 15 matches of Mania lore last year, I don’t think it has honestly sunk in for me, yet, just how good the Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker rematch was at Wrestlemania 26. Part of it stems from the fact that I did not see it live. I tried – trust me – but the elements were not in my favor that night in 2010, as a band of unseasonal tornados blasted my area and knocked my power out during the solidly unspectacular Orton vs. Rhodes vs. Dibiase triple threat. All that I saw during the original PPV broadcast, in full, was the painfully short tag team title match between Show Miz and John Morri-Truth. So, I didn’t actually see Taker-HBK until the next morning. When I did see it, I was by no means underwhelmed, but the gravity of the moment took something away from the match that has not yet worn off. HBK is my favorite wrestler of all-time. To see him retire was something that I desired to see, even writing a column suggesting that it happen roughly six months prior to the match itself, but actually seeing it was difficult. There was a sense of desperation, though, by both men throughout the match that I have noticed further and further each time I’ve watched since 2010. I believe that eventually that emotion will shine through, much as the story did in 2009 in their first Mania encounter. When that happens, I have a feeling that the Mania 26 match may move up my list.
Speaking of moving up the all-time list, I continue to be more impressed upon each subsequent viewing of the Batista vs. John Cena encounter. I went into that evening hyping it as the dark horse candidate for match of the night and really built it up in my mind as must-see. I thought that they delivered an excellent match that sort of defies the way that I like to do ratings. You see, I devised my ratings system based largely on the Wade Keller scale, having seen eye-to-eye with him so frequently in my early years as a critic. In that system, a heavy premium is placed on the time given to a match. Well, I think Batista vs. John Cena was the second best match of 2010 behind only Taker vs. HBK from the same card. The fact that it was only 13-minutes in length makes it difficult for me to properly assess it with a star rating that would accurately reflect my affection for their efforts. I am working on that flaw, with bouts like Cena-Batista in mind.
The third best match of the night was Edge vs. Chris Jericho; the match that most assumed would be the likely challenger to Taker-HBK. I thought that a couple of things played into that match being only very good instead of great. The first was the obvious storyline gaffe that took Edge out of his comfort zone and force-fed the audience his “trying too hard to be a good guy” babyface character. The second was that the crowd was, accordingly, quite dead for the first half of their match. The third and final was that the Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon critical abomination right before it helped suck a lot of the life out of the crowd, so Edge and Jericho had to overcome both a lame storyline and a terrible preceding match. They did well to get the crowd behind them by the end of the match. Theirs is another that could move up in the years to come.
Triple H vs. Sheamus and the final Money in the Bank ladder match to take place at Wrestlemania also provided good additions to the card, with the former being a hard-hitting match that showed how good the Celtic Warrior could one day be and the latter being the usual stuntfest full of hungry mid-carders looking to prove something. CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio was predictably shortchanged on time, but still managed to put forth the effort expected of two talents of their caliber. Those three matches were enough to overcome the bad parts of the show, which also included the 10-woman tag match.
All in all, this was an underrated event, historically.