Just got done with a 12 hour day and knew there was no hope for writing a column about all the things I wanted to say about Raw, Hustle's review of it, Mania 28, and more. So, during lunch, I made a video. Unfortunately, it's more like an audio. All you're missing is me eating grapes and being animated. The thoughts are what counts. Next time, maybe there'll actually be some video if I can figure out my webcam thing.
Best in the World history: Jericho started making legitimate claims to being the best in the world around the tail end of 2008. Despite all the great work he had done earlier in his career under the “Y2J” moniker, Jericho’s best came after he did some character development that led him down a more serious path. The feud and matches with Shawn Michaels in 2008 led him back to World Championship gold and earned him universal praise. For about 18 months, everything that he touched seemingly turned to gold. Whether it was the World title, the Intercontinental title, or the Tag Team titles, Jericho’s Rumpelstiltskin act elevated every belt upon which each WWE division was built around. His promos were second to none and his matches were of rare quality. The storylines created with HBK, the Legends, Rey Mysterio, and Big Show gave us all something to look forward to each week. He rightfully earned the label of “Best in the World” at what he does.
Wrestlemania history: In his nine Wrestlemanias to date, Jericho has never really been in an inconsequential match. He wrestled his first two matches for the top secondary title in the WWE and then moved up to being the only performer to ever defend the Undisputed Championship at Wrestlemania. His best work came a year later against Shawn Michaels (a theme in his career) at Mania XIX, and it was the one time that he legitimately stole the show. He’s also had some other very good matches, including his roles in the first and fourth Money in the Bank ladder matches and his bout with Christian (involving Trish Stratus) at Mania XX. The most high profile matches, though, came in World title situations against Triple H and Edge. While neither lived up to sizeable expectations, they were both of high quality. If there was one word that could describe his overall Mania experience, it would be “overshadowed.” Even when holding a World title, his match has taken a backseat. At no point has he ever been the focal point of the card and only once has he risen above it to take home “Match of the Night” honors. Nevertheless, his Mania pedigree still remains one of the (no less than) 12th or 13th best of twenty seven years of wrestling Super Bowl history.
What’s on the line for him at Wrestlemania 28: All that he truly lacks to cement his place as one of the great Mania performers in history is another classic match. The best of the best always have more than one defining moment on the grandest stage. Eli will trump Peyton until big brother Manning wins a second Super Bowl and Jericho will take a backseat to his top tier peers until he has one more iconic match to go along with his Mania XIX performance. Let’s assume that he gets the chance to steal the show…the question is can he do it? Many things can be blamed for his other two best chances of four-star classics falling short in 2002 and 2010, respectively, but a third missed opportunity citing the same reasons might actually start being taken as excuses. Frankly, there’s no excuse for someone with Jericho’s talent level missing another chance at greatness. Based on his interviews, I think he understands that. When you take away the match quality aspect, the mere fact that Jericho is in a third headlining World title bout does solidify his Mania resume on one level. For his legacy to be solidified on all levels, though, he needs to have a great match this year. If we walk away from Mania 28 and at least say something to the effect of, “Wow. HHH vs. Taker nearly stole the show, but Rock-Cena pulled it out. We can’t forget about Y2J-Punk, either. That was outstanding, too”…then I think Jericho’s place in Mania lure will rise.
Best in the World history: Punk did not lay claim to the title of “Best Wrestler in the World” until last summer, but the groundwork was laid two summers prior that ensured that his 2011 proclamation would not fall on deaf ears. As soon as he turned heel and feuded with Jeff Hardy, culminating in the TLC match at Summerslam ’09 (a classic), Punk instantly showed that he was one of the top acts in the WWE. Two years of solid work in the mid-card followed, but the summer of 2011 changed the game. A 5-star MOTY at MITB backed up Punk’s claims to “Best in the World” status and he’s spent the past nine months further proving it. There’s not a more complete performer on the roster. He can talk and he can wrestle in combination and he can do it in a manner unique to what many WWE fans have seen before. Punk does not look the part of the best, but appearances are, in his case, deceiving. There’s not a more psychologically sound wrestler; there’s not a more engaging interview; and, perhaps more importantly, there’s not a more driven superstar on the roster. Jericho was the best in the world when he left in 2010, but he came back to find that CM Punk had definitively taken that title.
Wrestlemania history: He has slowly risen the ranks during his five year Wrestlemania career. Beginning with the third Money in the Bank ladder match, Punk began a run of doing something noticeable every year despite his place on the card. He was involved in the final sequence at Mania 23’s MITB and then followed by winning the next two of them to become the only back-to-back MITB winner. He used the contracts to not only elevate himself, but also to solidify his status as a top tier performer. The last two years have seen him take the next step, feuding with two of the top stars in the WWE. His Straight Edge Society made him one to watch at Wrestlemania XXVI and his match with Rey Mysterio that night, while short, was quite entertaining. He’s become quite adept at creating personal rivalries outside of the main-event, as further evidenced by his storyline with Randy Orton that led to their very good match at Wrestlemania XXVII. Last year, Punk was in the third biggest match on the card. He’ll be in a similar position this year, but he’s taken another step toward the top of the ladder since the WWE Championship will be on the line.
What’s on the line for him at Wrestlemania 28: Perhaps more than anyone, Punk needs to have a defining moment at Wrestlemania this year. He is smart enough to understand what Rock vs. Cena will afford him and other newer stars and I would highly doubt that he lacks the business knowledge to grasp that this will be a big opportunity for him. With hundreds of thousands of extra eyes on Mania, Punk will be the WWE Champ and he has the chance to showcase why he is the best in the world right now. A persistent rumor has circulated for months that Steve Austin would like to return for one more match and that, maybe, his ideal opponent would be Punk. If Punk is to realize that dream, he will need to ensure that people don’t forget about his performance this year. He needs to make sure that the unique viewers walk away from Mania 28 with CM Punk as one of their conversations pieces. There is a fine line between Punk receiving the honor or Austin’s last match and the WWE searching near (Taker, Cena) and far (Brock Lesnar) for someone that better fits the bill. If Punk can manage to steal the show at Mania 28 and create some momentum that carries over past the biggest show of the year, then perhaps the WWE will see fit to give Punk that opportunity. A match on the level of his bout with Orton last year is a bare minimum, but even that probably wouldn’t cut it. He needs to steal someone else’s thunder. He needs to turn some heads. He needs to step up to the plate and announce to the millions of viewers around the world, “My name is CM Punk and I AM THE BEST IN THE WORLD!”
You Don't Smell What The Rock is Cookin'?
I’ve been quite surprised by the amount of heat that Rock has been catching not just from online reports (as I don’t put an awful lot of stock in much of that stuff anymore), but from the fans that I’ve been interacting with over the last week since Cena’s excellent Raw promo. The article that I wrote a few days ago telling the boys to stop complaining and learn from The Rock was actually written a week prior and included none of the stuff about the online reports that popped up this week. It was originally just a look at who the next Mania show stealers might be. I thought the stuff about Rock gave it an extra bit of current relevance. I’m glad I changed up the theme a bit, for it gave me a chance to get some feedback from some of the guys that I would call “anti-Rock” (for some I’d use that term more loosely than for others).
The Rock has continued to be in the headlines this week. Past stars are weighing in. I don’t think there are enough on either side to consider one the majority, yet. I think it may end up giving the Wrestlemania match between Rock and Cena that much more zest, but that’s a topic for another day. I would like to specifically address the detractors. I used the word “haters” before. It was, perhaps justly, called into question. Yet, I did some digging in the Urban dictionary and found that the definition of the term is “a person that simply cannot be happy for another person's success. So rather than be happy they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person.” I think pretty well fits general sentiment of the online reports of backstage disgruntling. However, I’m not sure it accurately fits some of the readers that I’ve been in discussion with over the last few days. There are some that legitimately don’t seem to get The Rock. Others just don’t like him. A few have some odd (to me) gripes that sting of the negativity that runs rampant in our galaxy of the WWE Universe.
Let’s get one thing very straight for the record. The Rock did not say that he was never leaving again. He said he was never going away. Some took that the wrong way. They took it to mean that he was going to be around quite frequently, maybe? I certainly did not take it that way. If you rewind the clock to 2004 when he came back to Raw during the summer and did a segment during the original Diva Search…that was the last time that I can remember him on WWE TV (live) until last year. Frankly, I have a pretty firm understanding of why he left. If you want to make it in a different profession, then you have to distance yourself from the stereotype of the one you came from. I’ve gone through that. I get that. I just watched The Rock’s DVD documentary and he definitively stated that as the reason why he didn’t come back for so long. Frankly, I guess I hold everyone’s own ability to think for themselves in a little higher regard than most. I wouldn’t have thought he would have needed to say that. Wasn’t it obvious? I also would not think that he’d need to clarify his statement from last year or go into specific detail during his February 14, 2011 promo. “I am never going away…and by that I mean that I’m not going to disappear for years on end again. I’m back to be a part of the WWE whenever the time is right and whenever I can be. That doesn’t mean that I’m going back on the road or that I’m not making movies anymore or that I’ll be back to put over you Joe Shit the Rag Man so that you don’t throw a hissy fit.”
I think you have to remember that Rock has done it all in the business already. He chased and achieved every imaginable dream he could in wrestling and then moved on. Hard to blame him. Wrestling life can’t be easy. He isn’t one of the boys anymore. He could be if he wanted to be, I guess, but he’s not really. I do not agree with the people saying that he should sit back there and make himself available to all of the young guys. I’m not sure I agree with any of the detractors, at this point. I’ve just not seen what you’re seeing. You say he hasn’t put anyone over. You don’t think this feud is putting John Cena over or that it ultimately will? Cena is in the biggest match of his career and will make a ton of money. This storyline and subsequent match (or series of matches) will kick start the golden period of Cena’s career, during which time he’s likely be in matches that will unequivocally give him the opportunity to solidify and then boost his credentials for being one of the greatest of all-time. That isn’t just going to help Cena…it’s going to help every single guy in the WWE. Cena is the face of the company and the stronger he looks than the stronger that the brand looks when Rock is not there. The more money that Cena can draw, then the more money that the brand will draw, opening up chances for others to shine alongside him or perhaps even surpass him some day.
As a long time fan of The Rock, it is troubling to me that I’ve got some readers that don’t even seem to grasp his professional wrestling business impact. Someone told me that he didn’t do anything to help business. 200-300 THOUSAND extra buys for Wrestlemania 27 didn’t help business? His presence was the major difference between a Mania 26 that featured HBK, Y2J, Batista, Bret Hart, and Vince McMahon in top matches and a Mania 27 that replaced those guys with newcomers (to top bouts) Miz, Del Rio, Punk, Cody Rhodes, and Michael Cole. Mania 26 drew less than 890,000 buys. Mania 27 topped 1 million for the first time since 2008. The Rock – and particularly his interaction with Cena – is the most logical reason for the 30% business increase that carried the WWE through the final three quarters of 2011.
In terms of what he did while he was in the business full-time? The Rock is arguably one of the top 5 superstars of all-time ACROSS THE BOARD. Not just as a draw, but as an in-ring performer, as a champion, and as a talker. All of those aspects combined make him one of THE definitive best in history. The Attitude era was NOT the Austin era. People who tell you younger fans that fib do not have enough perspective of what was happening back then. His personality, particularly for fans like me, vaulted him ahead of Austin in the pecking order. It was Rock who kept me tuned in during the Attitude era despite outside interests pulling me in other directions. I watched Raw to see what the Rock was going to do. While Austin was kicking McMahon in the nuts, I was singing along with The Great One. No disrespect currently intended for Austin, as I’ve gained tremendous respect for everything he’s done since I entered adulthood, but some people act like the Attitude era belonged to Steve Austin. It did not. It was shared with The Rock. During the time that Austin was injured in ’99 through most of 2000, ratings peaked. During the Triple H vs. Rock feud in 2000, the ratings actually went up. Not just held steady, but went up. The best buyrate of the Attitude era was for Mania 2000 (the one that didn’t feature Austin). The Rock was every bit the star that was Austin.
During Rock’s peak years from ’99 to ’03, his performance level was second to none. It would be difficult to intelligently argue against Rock being the greatest, most gifted, and most charismatic stick man in the history of wrestling. The only guy I can think of that is close was Ric Flair, but even Flair didn’t have the range. Rock took what Flair did to the next level. As far as his wrestling ability was concerned, Rock’s style was very exciting. He was a perfect blend of size and athleticism. Rock’s matches with Austin, Foley, Triple H, Jericho, Angle, Taker, and Hogan are some of my all-time favorite matches. You should go back and take a gander at those (that statement is meant for fans and current wrestlers alike), if you’re on the fence.
I suppose that I never expected to a feel a need to defend The Rock or to point out what he brought in the past and currently brings to the table. Frankly, I think that there are plenty of things that the critics can latch onto, but The Rock should not be one of them. Sit back and enjoy what he does bring to the table while it lasts because this whole experience is being presented to us as something special...and it is. It really is…
Tale of the Tape: Triple H vs. Undertaker (Hell in a Cell)
Well, I’m actually ahead of schedule on the Road to Mania Countdown. I will pick back up with that on Wednesday of next week and take us straight through to Wrestlemania Eve. In the meantime, I am about as excited for this year’s Mania as I’ve been for any other. When you compare the top matches to past cards, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Mania from 1-27 that stacks up on paper to Mania 28. It has a little something for everyone. New stars are being established in top matches with championship gold on the line, as Sheamus, Daniel Bryan, and CM Punk will headline for the first time and hopefully all shine. I still expect the celebrity match to occur between Big Show and Shaq. O’Neal admitted on Mike and Mike (on ESPN radio) that he’d be wrestling. The feud with Cody seems to be little more than a segue into that story, what with Cody bringing up Show’s failures against Akebono (and I suspect, in the coming weeks, he’ll bring up the Mayweather match, too). Then, there’s Taker vs. Triple H inside Hell in a Cell. That will appeal to a great many fans, particularly the ones that – like me – enjoyed the War of Wars from last year. Of course, Rock and Cena have much on the line in their match, including a (hopefully) record number of buyers for the event on PPV. This year and next are going to be a lot of fun at this time of year.
Since my efforts will be dedicated to wrapping up the Countdown for the month of March, I thought I’d take a look at the card in a different style, putting my own spin on the classic “Tale of the Tape.”
Undertaker vs. Triple H in a Hell in a Cell Match
Hell in a Cell history: Taker was in the original and it was the best match of his career up to that point. He and HBK tore the roof off the Kiel Center. He went on to arguably the most memorable Cell match against Foley, in which he tossed Mankind not only off the top and through the announce table but also through the top and onto the mat below. Additionally, his Cell matches with Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, and Batista were noteworthy for their high quality. He also holds the victory in the only Mania HIAC to date, against Big Bossman at Mania 15.
Wrestlemania history: 19-0 speaks for itself, but Taker is a revisionist historian of his own career at Mania. He, for the most part, quietly amassed the first twelve of those Streak victories. Among those dozen, only matches with Kane, Triple H, and Ric Flair were regarded as memorable and he had just one show-closing match to his credit. Since, he has been on a tear. While I’m unsure what fire was lit under his rear end these last seven years, I am sure that Taker has rocketed himself to the top of an impressive heap of superstars with his consistent excellence. In particular, the last five years have given Taker a trophy case of critically acclaimed classics, two World Championships, two main-events, and credit for being one half of arguably the greatest match of all-time.
What’s on the line for him at Wrestlemania 28: Taker still has much to prove. Not everyone agrees with critics like myself that believe that last year’s match was an all-time classic and he could stand to knock one out of everyone’s park inside the Cell. He needs to back up his once-per-year appearances with excellence between the ropes or risk being ridiculed by the very fan base that has made him a brand. It would be a crying shame for Taker to start getting jeered this close to his retirement. Haters aside, Taker is building a legacy that puts him in rarified air in the clouds of wrestling’s Mt. Olympus. Soon enough, his career will be over. Only Shawn Michaels stands in his way of the Wrestlemania Pantheon. Six years ago, he was a questionable choice for the top 10. Now, he’s got his sights set on Mr. Mania. Six straight, largely regarded to be 4-star or better matches? Not even the Heartbreak Kid has ever done that.
Hell in a Cell history: Trips did not grace the Cell with his presence until Mick Foley’s first retirement match in 2000, yet he made his considerable presence felt with an all-time great Cell match. He and Taker shared the Cell with four others later that year. Trips would begin to establish a Cell legacy nearing the Deadman’s with his work in 2002 against Chris Jericho. In the years that followed, it was not his performance level that necessarily exceeded Taker’s, but it was his win/loss record. Taker may have Trips definitively beat in Mania victories, but the Game’s HIAC record stands at an impressive 6-2 (Taker’s is an average 5-5).
Wrestlemania history: The Game is one of the top superstars of all-time at Mania. His eight championship matches place him ahead of both John Cena and Hulk Hogan for most title bouts at Mania and ranks second behind Hogan in terms of going on last. His Mania opponent list is a virtual “Who’s who” in modern Show of Shows lure and is, perhaps, historically only overshadowed by Undertaker’s list of Granddaddy rivals. His most impressive wins came in defeating Rock, Foley, and Big Show to retain the WWE title at Mania 2000 and beating Randy Orton to retain when the Viper was on the roll of his career at the 25th Anniversary. He is most famous for his losses, though, as he put over Cena and Batista to solidify them as the top stars in the company and passed the torch for them to bear.
What’s on the line for him at Wrestlemania 28: Despite an incredible Wrestlemania resume on paper, Trips has not always delivered the great quality expected of him. His matches with Chris Jericho, Booker T, Batista, and Orton were largely thought to have failed in meeting expectations. Two of the Game’s three best matches at Mania have come against the Deadman. So, the thing at stake for Trips this year is the same as it was last year. To be considered as the greatest of all-time, he will have to have an outstanding match inside the Cell. He had a great performance last year, to some, but to others he fell flat, yet again. A universally accepted classic is needed to solidify his place in the best-of conversation, for no matter how great the Mania XX main-event may have been, it has been tarnished and he needs a replacement memory.