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. Today concludes the Intangible recaps. So, here are the Official Rankings
Doctor's Orders: The Road to Wrestlemania Rankings (Intangibles Part 2)
By The Doc
Jan 29, 2013 - 12:53:25 PM
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 (9): Let's play word association; what's the first thing that comes to mind when you read Wrestlemania X-Seven?
Today’s Wrestlemania Rankings Entry
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25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania
If I may be a total mark for a second…tournaments are awesome!
I find it difficult to believe that the WWE has not brought back a one-night tournament PPV. King of the Ring thrived for many years on being an event that would showcase one man going through the proverbial wars in order to come out on the other side of the draw victorious and more credible. It followed the same principles that make Wimbledon, the NCAA Men’s College Basketball tournament, and professional sports playoffs hits in the television ratings. Alas, it went away and has not yet come back in a manner nearly as important as it once was. Wrestlemania IV hosted, perhaps, the most successful professional wrestling tournament in history, with a 14-man bracket to crown the WWE Champion. It was not an event that could claim half a dozen mat classics (it couldn’t even manage one), but the win or go home mentality that has kept me engaged, yearly, with all of the aforementioned sporting counterparts has kept Mania IV near the top of my list of all-time favorite PPVs. Every so often, I go back and marvel at it to see the historically significant names and faces, attempting to put myself back in that young kid mindset of legitimately not knowing who was going to win. Considering the number of Hall of Famers involved, it was kind of like watching a draw in the NBA that included the 1986 Celtics, 1985 Lakers, 1996 Bulls, 2012 Heat, 1983 Sixers, and 2005 Spurs. I’m not sure a tournament with that kind of star power can ever be replicated.
For anyone that grew up watching Ric Flair in his prime, you were treated to the work of a brilliant wrestler. I wonder if you’ve ever considered the statement that it makes that the Nature Boy was still in the conversation about being the best wrestler in the world during a time when the company for which he performed was getting utterly destroyed by its WWE competition. More eyes were on Hogan, Savage, and Piper in one major event than would be trained on Flair in five shows. If Naitch were not around to keep the NWA/WCW alive, there may not have even been a Monday Night War to spark the Attitude era. For those reasons and more, Wrestlemania VIII featuring Flair in the semi-main-event for the WWE Championship in a classic match against the Macho Man was a historically underappreciated happening. Arguably in the final year at what could be considered his best, Flair lit up the Hoosier Dome with his aesthetically pleasing style that has inspired so many to become wrestlers in the generation that included Shawn Michaels and Triple H. It isn’t just that he had a great match that gives Mania VIII its intangible quality, but simply that he had a match before he got too old to do what prompted so many fans to keep his name relevant in the professional wrestling lexicon of iconic talents of the 80s despite WWE’s domination of the sport. Would Wrestlemania, in historical context, truly be complete without a vintage, stylin’ and proflin’ performance by arguably the greatest of all-time? Flair’s work at Mania VIII completes the Show of Show’s profile, solidifying it as an event that gives a thorough overview of wrestling lore from the mid-1980s to the present.
At the original Wrestlemania, the use of celebrities throughout the card in various roles was such a novelty and was necessary to establish the event as a brand almost in and of itself, but as the event progressed, it became vitally important that the WWE have events like Manias III-VIII that were able to create super cards that would draw big money and sell out venues on the strength of the wrestlers, themselves, and simply use the guest celebrities as a means to enhance their mainstream credibility. By 1995, though, the WWE had made a series of mistakes that had cost them dearly and were forced to go back to the formula from ten years prior to boost their profile. At Mania XI, they booked NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor into the main-event without a tag team partner; a non-wrestler solo act the likes of which we had never seen before on such a grand stage. Some might call that a good thing, but I call that an unsustainable commodity that was not used to help make a star that unique viewers might decide is worthy enough for their time once “LT” was off the screen. The WWE was well past the point where they should’ve been relying on the celebrity to carry the wrestling show. Business spiked and they got a lot of national attention, but it vanished the moment that Taylor went back to his usual life. Bam Bam Bigelow was out of the WWE by the end of the year. Diesel was gone a year later. Shawn Michaels was forced into an impossible situation. So, what did it really accomplish in the long term? Nothing. You don’t make a move like that, from a business perspective, without the future in mind. It has to be about the short and long term.
The Attitude era is such a fondly remembered period in wrestling lore. It would only be fitting for it have ended on a high note as it did at Wrestlemania X-Seven. I’ve studied the sport for a long time, now, and the moment that the Stone Cold Steve Austin turned heel and joined forces with the Corporate emperor, Vince McMahon, it effectively closed the door on wrestling’s most financially profitable time. The door had been significantly cracked when WWE bought WCW, but it got slammed shut by Austin and Vince joining forces. Mania X-Seven was the final showcase for all that had made the Austin-started, Rock-assisted era great. It was like Van Gogh painting one final masterpiece before his death. Personally, I was thrilled that it was hosted by a venue suited for something epic. The Astrodome was the right choice and Rock vs. Austin was the perfect match. The Hulkamania era had Hogan vs. Andre in the Silverdome; the Attitude era had Rock vs. Austin in the Astrodome. Plus, if you watch the style of wrestling from that event, it was so specific to the time and the best representation of how to properly execute that style. So, it was in almost every way a reflection of 1998-2001. The Vince-Shane fight, the Triple H-Taker brawl, the TLC II stuntfest, the addition of the technical marvel in Angle vs. Benoit, a strong cast of mid-carders, and a main-event that will be forever remembered as much for its brutal physical taxation on its participants as for the plethora of near falls and infamous finish. If you don’t have nine hours to watch all the content on the Attitude era DVD, just take four hours and watch Mania X-Seven.
It may have been the third installment of the Granddaddy, but it was the first Wrestlemania that felt like it had accomplished the Super Bowl mentality that had been intended when the concept was born a few years prior. With the largest crowd and the biggest match, Mania III offered the world a spectacle the likes of which it had never seen before. Some of the best cards in wrestling lore have been held in basketball arenas, but you cannot replicate the atmosphere of packing 50,000-93,000 people in a football or baseball stadium. They ran sold out shows in Madison Square Garden all year long; they could have done the same in the Trump Plaza, the Rosemont Horizon, and the LA Sports Arena in a heartbeat. The Pontiac Silverdome was the first use of an out-of-the-ordinary venue for Mania. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant or the show stealing Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage match would honestly not have been as heralded if they had been showcased in front of an audience of 20,000 instead of the record setting 93,173. Part of what set the stage for those matches was, in addition to the Mean Gene interviews that were a unique quality of the first several Manias, the sheer sight of watching them either walk or be carted down that enormous ramp and the camera shot of the Silverdome packed to the rafters. In essence, Mania III was the first true Wrestlemania – it felt like the Showcase of the Immortals, the Show of Shows, and Super Bowl of Professional Wrestling that the WWE wanted it to be. Subsequently, it became the blueprint for the modern Mania and, as the event has grown to being the worldwide phenomenon and city-enhancing financial boon, it has been wise to follow its model when putting together a card.
If you ever read comic books, then you know what it was like to dream about the greatest heroes of Marvel or DC lore squaring off against each other. Batman vs. Superman is the obvious and most famous of them all and was the basis for my John Cena vs. CM Punk stories from last year. At Wrestlemania VI, the WWE gave us something like that for the first time in the modern era of wrestling that covers the last thirty years. Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior was like seeing the Incredible Hulk take on Thing from the Fantastic Four. Both seemed like unstoppable forces climbing into the ring to do battle while a split crowd roared half in favor of one and half of the other like Notre Dame and Alabama fans did two weeks ago in the Orange Bowl. It was a truly amazing thing to see, famously prompting a young and impressionable Edge to make his dreams come true and become a professional wrestler. Though twenty three years now separate us from Hogan vs. Warrior, it still influences the wrestling world. As the precursor to Bret vs. Shawn, Rock vs. Austin, Cena vs. HBK, and Batista vs. Undertaker, it has made a lasting impression as the first babyface match on the grand stage. Just the entrances alone are worth watching every year. That’s one of my favorite things about a babyface match – when the wrestlers do their entrances and the crowd comes to life in the unique manner that only they can in the presence of a properly hyped clash between the forces of good. The WWE can make comics come to life, but not even comic book characters have classic entrance themes that send chills up and down your spine.
One of the most fascinating rivalries in the history of professional wrestling was Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart. There are so many layers when dissecting the details of a feud that started on camera in tag team wrestling in the late 80s, evolved into a bitter backstage drama, and ultimately ended on both accounts with a memorable public embrace that buried their sizeable hatchet in 2010. From the business side of things, there wasn’t much of a direct impact from HBK vs. Bret. They are largely regarded, in fact, as two of the weaker drawing top stars of the last thirty years. Yet, the bigger picture shows that it was their personal history that made possible many of the hallmark moments that launched the Attitude era (Vince McMahon’s character, Steve Austin’s babyface turn, Degeneration X). Through my own personal studies of psychology and pro-wrestling, I have traced where things really went south back to the night of Wrestlemania X. It was supposed to be Bret’s night. He had one of the best Mania matches ever with his brother and then he won the WWE Championship in the main-event and was hoisted onto the shoulders of the babyface locker room members, signifying that he was “The Man.” Shawn Michaels swooped in, though, and had the match that people still talk about to this day, overshadowing Bret’s moment in the process. History remembers Mania X for the ladder match first; Bret second. That was the night that Shawn grew his ego to its legendary status, wrestling with a chip on his shoulder from a suspension he’d felt he hadn’t earned. The dichotomy of the Hart-Michaels relationship was never the same after that night.
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart was many things to many people. What it was to the performance factor for Wrestlemania 13 was tremendous; we’ll get into that in March. What it was for the fan base was arguably the greatest story ever told in a wrestling ring. What it was for the WWE was the next phase in the evolution of the product. I don’t give it a ton of credit for being the night that launched the WWE into the Attitude era; because that’s just not true, in my opinion. I will, however, heap it with praise for being the one match that has kept Mania 13 relevant all of these years. Due to that match, you cannot completely ignore 1997’s Show of Shows. Many fans would rather forget and the WWE might rather forget (because of the record low buyrate) that it happened, but Austin vs. Bret will not allow it. It was too brilliant a story. Much as it would be if the Godfather or Gladiator would have come out during years where there was such poor overall quality in the movie business, the Submission match made that Mania special despite of all the other drivel that occurred on the same card. All the while, it was a mixed bag of emotions. It signaled the rise to prominence of Stone Cold, but it was the end of Bret Hart as we knew him. Some of us grew up idolizing Bret like so many kids idolize Cena today; I did as a youngster. It was sad to see Bret take that turn for the worse – so sad, for me, that it took me a long time to get over Austin’s persona being the catalyst for it.
Sadly, the Wrestlemania that might have had the most memorable build-up in history also was one of the biggest critical letdowns. The 15th version stunk, plain and simply. With a brilliant hype machine behind it during the most famous era of all-time, there was no excuse for Wrestlemania XV not to be in the conversation for “the greatest.” Looking at the success of Mania X-Seven two years later, that should’ve been Mania XV. 1999 was when the Attitude era was peaking and wrestling, as a whole, was never more popular. It should have had a showcase event to reflect it, but Mania XV dropped the ball and fell flat. Part of the problem is that the era-specific television was so compelling, you went into the biggest show of the year with expectations through the roof. I would say that, most of the time, the WWE comes through in the clutch when they need to, but there was so much focus back then on having huge ratings that it made it less important, apparently, to deliver the goods to the paying customers. Rock and Austin delivered in the main-event, as did X-Pac and Shane McMahon (and, to an extent, Triple H with his nightlong saga of eventually turning heel), but the rest of the card featured dud after dud after dud. I get a little headache just thinking about it to this day. You know, when I came back from my wrestling hiatus in 2001 and really started ratcheting up my enthusiasm for the sport again in 2002/2003, I actually forgot that I’d watched Mania XV? It was such a disappointment that I suppressed it into my subconscious. When I went back and watched as many Manias as I could get my hands on leading up to Mania XIX, I watched Mania XV and the memories returned. Bad memories.
Over the years, far too much emphasis has been placed on what Mania X-8 could have been instead of what it actually was, with perhaps people wanting it to have been the culmination of a properly handled Invasion storyline. Shall we, instead, concentrate on what that event did give us? The Rock vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan was, up until recently, the ultimate definition of a dream match. Given the circumstances with WCW and WWE being at each other’s throats during the Monday Night War, it seemed highly unlikely that we’d ever get to see those responsible for nearly putting the WWE out of business in the 90s ever step foot in a Vince McMahon ring again. So, when the New World Order and, namely, Hogan – the driving forces behind WCW’s 84 week ratings winning streak – came back in 2002, it was legitimately something that, to that point, you could have only dreamed of. There was no question whatsoever that Rock was the guy to take on Hogan that year. He had surpassed Austin, by then, as the face of the WWE, whether it was him physically being there or out in Hollywood building his (and expanding the WWE’s) entertainment profile. Austin-Hogan would have created an egomaniacal nightmare. Rock-Hogan was something that both parties were itching to do. You can tell when two guys are completely locked into the story that they want to tell and all of those people in the Sky Dome could tell when Rock and Hogan made their electric entrances that something special was going to happen. Subsequently, everyone there, the two men performing, and all the people watching at home went on a fantastic thrill ride together. What I wonder is what Ric Flair and Undertaker could have produced if Naitch had been all-in, mentally, a few matches earlier.
In 2004, Wrestlemania was billed as “Where it began…again.” It was a nice tagline for the 20th edition of the event, but I thought it became a better way to describe the 21st version a year later. Consider, for a moment, all of the top talent that basically spearheaded the last five-seven years of the WWE product. John Cena, the Golden Boy, has been the face of the company since 2005. He won his first WWE Championship at Wrestlemania 21 on the same night that Batista won his first World Heavyweight Championship. Batista would go on to a very successful main-event career that lasted for five years and included two other main-events at Wrestlemania. We all know what Cena has accomplished. You also had Edge winning the inaugural Money in the Bank contract and Randy Orton being the main cog that got the storyline “Streak” wheel turning. Those two would go on to rotate the top heel spot in the company for about six years, combining for seven World title matches at Wrestlemanias. Rey Mysterio got his first major singles victory at Mania 21, as well, putting him in position to become one of the biggest merchandise selling headliners in the WWE for years to come. All of their current or future Hall of Fame careers were taken to the next level on that night and we’ll soon be in for a similar event that takes a handful of stars on the cusp of greatness and gives them a boost. At Mania 21, a new era in the WWE was started and a gradual shift away from the likes of Triple H and Kurt Angle as the day-to-day, month-to-month main-event go-to guys began. Historically, that helps it stand out.
There is a difference between becoming a champion in the WWE and truly arriving in the WWE. Superstars win World Championships and then fade into memory, but there is a moment in the career of the truly elite where you can tell that they aren’t going anywhere. You could almost call it their validation. That’s when the game changes and you realize that you’re dealing with someone that could end up in the “greatest” conversation. At Wrestlemania 21, John Cena and Batista won their first of many World Championships, but that didn’t necessarily mean that they were in the main-event to stay. All that we knew is that the WWE had decided to give them the ball and see if they could run with it. Two years later, they were the defending champions against two of the legendary figures in the business. With the way that they were presented and the strength of their respective performances, it was the night where you knew that they were top guys for the rest of their lives. 80,000 people packed a football stadium and $50 million of local economic revenue was collected based on the strength of two World Champions ascending to the upper echelon in the history of their sport. I’d compare it to Kobe Bryant winning his second title without Shaq by beating the Boston Celtics; Eli Manning defeating Tom Brady again to win another Super Bowl; Spain winning their third straight major International competition with their Euro 2012 trophy. In this current craze of looking so deeply into sports and attempting to rank the players and performers, it’s no longer about just making it to the top. To join the “best of the best,” you have to have moments like Batista and Cena had at Wrestlemania 23.
In 1993, Wrestlemania took an important step, even though the WWE higher ups may not have known it, yet. With the first outdoor Show of Shows, a legacy was established that proved the event could be taken outside the confines of an arena or stadium. Fifteen years later, Wrestlemania XXIV took the leap. Held in Orlando, Florida, the WWE’s biggest spectacle was rained on for the first part of the show, which ultimately led to fireworks slipping on their wet cable attachments and injuring fans in the Citrus Bowl. The important thing, though, was that, once the burns healed, the memory of that Wrestlemania remained. What an incredible night it was to be a professional wrestling fan attending a live night of sports entertainment. I happened to be there as the climate changed from beautifully sunny to “suck ass” rainy (as my dad described it) to breezy and cool. When you consider the number of outdoor stadiums scattered about the country for both college and professional football, the WWE seriously broadened its horizons that night. Since 2008, three of six Manias have been held outside. This year, the WWE is going to make their most risky move, yet. I don’t think that they make that move without Mania 24’s success. The Orlando Mania proved that the outdoor event could be done in grand, smashing fashion. The massive (and impressive) miniature dome over the ring, the giant video screens, and the elaborate set, combined with all the pyrotechnics (that you can only do in the open air) and the uplifting look that they gave to the dilapidated old venue made Mania XXIV a trendsetter.