Less than a Week Away, and WrestleMania feels like In Your House 29
Harsh title, I know. It's more for effect than truth. While I will gladly join the ranks of those underwhelmed by this year's top PPV offering from WWE, it's still a decent card. It's just not strong enough to warrant being called Wrestlemania.
Maybe we have become spoiled. Maybe the expectations have been raised so much over the last 12 Wrestlemania events, that something like what we are set to see this Sunday pales in comparison. Many columnists have reviewed every Wrestlemania ad nauseum every year during the Road to Wrestlemania, but the truth is that no matter what the delivery of announced matches maybe, there's only been a few types of Wrestlemania events. I think Mania 29 is introducing a new Wrestlemania format. To fully comprehend what I'm trying to say, let's first examine the frameworks we have been watching for the last 28 years.
Arena Event Style 1 (original)
The first Wrestlemania implement this standard set up that was followed for several years. The main event was a true main event of its time, with an undercard of less than a handful of attraction matches, and then filler. While the 1985 Mania is very disappointing to today's standards, the blue print was a set up to what SummerSlam became in 1988: Tag main event, 2-4 attraction matches, and then filler. The difference is that SummerSlam 88 is an improvement in every aspect, be it quality of matches, to drawing power of the card itself. But Mania was the first of its kind, and was developed as an individual event. Vince McMahon would allow the idea to evolve in many ways over the years.
In 1986, nothing changed too much, yet it still ended up setting the standards for years to come. The main event was changed to a title match, and every year since, a WWE Title match has been at or near the top of the card. With that simple evolution, Wrestlemania found the archetype it would follow for years to come. There were still a couple of attraction matches, cleverly booked as main events at the separate arenas. But had this 1986 card taken place all in one arena, it wouldn't have changed, as we saw from the next installment.
Now, Wrestlemania 3 may have been in a stadium, but it followed the exact same structure as the previous events. Sure, the main event was a monster match that has never been duplicated until Hogan came back in 2002, but we still saw a standard card. The filler matches with there, some higher profile attraction matches were peppered throughout the night, and then the Hogan vs Andre super fight.
The first Mania at Trump Plaza was in a very different style, but it was meant to be a single exception, not a step in a new direction. The tournament has never returned to Wrestlemania, so while IV is still one of my all time favorite memories, it's barely worth covering when it comes to discussing the progression of the Wrestlemania cards.
The 5th Mania returned to a similar style as 2-3, and it stayed this way for years.
Arena Event Style 2
Much like how the original Wrestlemania is a bore to get through, while still being a major step in the evolution in WWF, Wrestlemania X has the same issues. The match quality was increased significantly, but it was still a large change from what we witnessed for over a decade, and the growing pains are evident. Other than the Earthquake vs Adam Bomb squash, and the scrapped 10-man match, this event featured nothing but solidly developed matches. Almost every match could have been a main event in some format of 1994 WWF programming, even the Women's title match. Not every match clicked, but Vince delivered a card that was well booked from top to bottom, with solid angles between Bam Bam and Doink, to the WWF Title situation with Yoko/Lex/Bret. Take out the individuals, and the elements of Wrestlemania changed in 1994, as they took a step in the right direction to remove the filler matches. This was of course an aftershock of having weekly Monday Night Raw events which featured the squashes and fodder contests, but it helped the “Granddaddy of them All” become a new beast after 9 years of similar cards.
Now, I'm not sure what Vince was thinking after the 10th Mania, because there were some major let down events for the next few years, mostly due to stupid reasons. Maybe being Canadian and not a football fan at all is jading my perception, but I have no idea why LT main evented the next Wrestlemania, and not the WWF Title bout between HBK and Diesel. The format was basically the same, but with a sporting special attraction main event. Perhaps Vince was trying to get the same effect that Mr. T earned a decade earlier. But that was a different era, and obviously had different results. While Wrestlemania XI is not the flop the event 2 years earlier has turned out to be, it's still commonly ranked among the bottom of the barrel, and I think it's due to the lack of attention given to the true stars. Other than the hot opening match, every contest on the card was in some way PPV worthy in terms of angles and importance. Even the opening match was important as Vince was obviously hoping to work the Allied Powers into a new stratosphere of tag teams, similar to what we see today with JeriShow and Team Hell No: 2 singles guys put into a team that is above the standard tag teams in the division. Too bad the team, nor the event, went as well as planned.
Bret vs Shawn highlighted Mania XII in another step towards a new era of wrestling, as Vince obviously wanted to catapult the New Generation as more exciting in the ring than previous WWF stars. Given an hour to work, this specific Iron Man match is easily one of the most complex matches in wrestling history. While it isn't a bad match, every Iron Man match after this one seemed to improve upon the original concept, as the boring parts were often much more fewer and far between. This might be labeled a wrestling clinic, but even to fans who appreciate workrate above the E in WWE, this match does not hold up. And therefore, neither does the event. The return of the Ultimate Warrior was huge, and the Hollywood backlot brawl was a major event (and originated the Mania “spot match”), but most of the card ends up feeling like filler which feels like a step behind in terms of progress. In fact, it barely stays in Category 2, but it has a higher ratio of attractions to filler, so it stays in this one.
Mania 13 was a tragedy. As shitty as it is over time, the true issue is what took place in the month before the event for it to fall apart like it did. In retrospect, WWE did a damn good job putting together what they did with what was left when HBK dropped out of the event. It's not a perfect event, but because WWF stuck with the successful but slowly evolving nature of the prime event, Wrestlemania 13 doesn't fail nearly as much as we tend to believe. The Intercontonental title match is the only true dud of the show, while the HHH vs Goldust match was built from a decent feud that didn't require a title or stipulation to make an impact, especially with the emerging talent in Chyna. Elite event? Far from it, but using solid upper midcard attraction bouts, and patching up the Shawn Michaels hole with an Undertaker push for the title, Mania 13 battles for relevancy due to how long it takes for the event to feel like Wrestlemania (the Submission match). And because it was such a peak of a match, the impressive Chicago Street Fight ends up being forgotten, even though it raised the bar for the “spot match” of each Wrestlemania to come.
WrestleMania goes X-rated in the 14th edition, and continues to push forward in terms of delivering a solid formula. They involved a celebrity in a way that utilized their wrestling talent instead of hindering them, solid drawing matches that didn't require too much extravagance like Undertaker vs Kane and Intercontinental title bouts, another spot match for the tag titles, and a decent undercard that delivered average to better than average in ring action. While not the perfect Wrestlemania, you can see that effort was put in to construct a flow to the show that fared better than most of the previous Manias. The lack of attention to the Light Heavyweight and European titles hurt those matches from making a big impact on the card, and the mixed tag match was essentially a tit show, but this Mania worked harder to deliver everything that makes it feel like a truly legendary annual event.
And then they took a step backwards. Sure, buyrates were slightly higher for XV, and ratings were reaching new heights, but this one is a disappointing mess. Seemingly falling back into the same trends of Arena Event Style 1, with lots of filler, short match times, and barely any matches that are memorable. The main reason it still revolves around the structure the recent Style 2 cards is how most of the filler matches at least had decent background and feuds. Barring the tag title match, every match had a storyline to help create some sort of anticipation. Too bad the popular Attitude Era resulted in many dreadful PPV events, Mania being no exception.
Finally, the last of the truly horrible events took place in 2000. Forget how there wasn't a single singles match involving men, Wrestlemania 2000 falls victim to the same bullshit that sunk the PPV event quality of almost the entire Attitude Era. Much like early Wrestlemanias, they tried jamming too much onto the card. WWE still attempts this today, but thankfully they've found more intelligent methods to accomplish this. Barring the Triangle Ladder Match for the Tag Titles, the 2 fall Triple Threat midcard title match, and the main event, there isn't much to fondly reflect upon. It would be easy to list what was wrong with the event, but the more important aspect is how WWF learned from this abortion of a show, and changed gears completely going forward, leaving the arenas behind.
Stadium Event Style 1
WrestleMania X-7 is often called the best Wrestlemania of all time. As any “best-of” discussion, it is debatable, but what isn't up for discussion is how the show ended up being the blueprint for every Wrestlemania to some. While not yet adopting the Dream Match formula that would become an on-and-off again feature going forward, WWF structured the card from top to bottom better than it ever has before, and has struggled to match it ever since. It was the first 4 hour event, and while Vince failed several times before to re-invent the wheel whenever Mania would take a new form, X-7 exceeded astoundingly. From the top, they rode the Chris Jericho momentum to kick things off well. The 6-man tag was a bit of a drop, as was the European Title match and the Women's Title bout, but they were all sandwiched in between solid matches. At no point was there a 2-match lull in action. After something WWF had the foresight to understand might not click 100%, they followed up with something that improved the reaction. The spot match was still included, and in fact expanded upon when there were technically 3 of them (Hardcore Title, McMahon match, and TLC). It was all highlighted by a strong main event featuring the top 2 guys in the company, while the #2 main event were numbers 3-4 guys. And instead of it feeling thrown together, everything flowed into a naturally developed event.
The x-7 model worked so well that the next year in Toronto was almost a carbon copy, even copying the X-8 title. The IC title was also the opening match, with Regal losing 2 years in a row for the championship. The problem is that the copy job wasn't nearly as strong. None of the feuds had the same intensity as the previous event, and the lack of importance for matches that should have stood out deterred the card from surpassing 2001. One bonus is that 2002 marked when WWF made an on screen effort to showcase the Undertaker's streak, which often added another main event match to the card, without any major storylines required. Meanwhile, Stone Cold vs NWO should have been a big deal, but wasn't. Rock vs Hogan was poorly written out, when it needed only the simplest of build up. HHH vs Jericho was predictable in the outcome, and was nowhere near as hot as the Hogan return. It felt like WWF booked the whole thing off the names involved, without any real effort. The outcome shows.
Again, things changed when it came to Seattle's WMXIX. Another contender for best of all time, the card built up into something exceptional. A hot opener over the Cruiserweight Title established only upward momentum for the rest of the night. Undertaker won his handicap match in a short but exciting bout, and the Women's title was contested in an above average Diva's match. And those are the worst moments of the night. Using the classic talent like Hulk and Vince, to a solid World Title match, and phenomenal outings for Jericho/HBK and Angle/Lesnar, the entire show is a shining example of what a Wrestlemania should be.
Back to Arena Event Style 1
So why did they return to MSG for Mania XX? No one knows. It's weird how WWE tends to go to a format that they've moved beyond too often when they are looking to move forward. Take the Wrestlemania 2000 talk, and repeat it here. Insert a couple of exceptions in the World/WWE title matches, but it's basically the same. Shame.
Back to Arena Event Style 2
While better than the previous year, I still scratch my head over why Mania 21 was still in an arena. It was decently booked, which you can tell when the 3rd match of the night was Undertaker defending the streak vs Randy Orton. The invention of the Money In The Bank ladder match also helped fill up the card with a spot match that also utilized major stars. Had this been in a domed stadium, I think this Mania would be praised much more often, but it was a hard position for everyone to work in, being as the night was a major shake up for the main event picture at the time.
Wrestlemania 22 followed a very similar pattern. While John Cena vs HHH was a much bigger match than either main events at Mania 21, it is essentially the only improvement over the previous year. Much like Mania X-8 was a little too similar to X-7 to be as impressive, 22 only appears to be a step above because the main event was stronger than the previous year. This isn't to say the entire card was weak, but comparisons aren't favorable when looking at the MITB match, Undertaker's streak match, World Title Match, or the Shawn Michaels match. Barring the Edge vs Foley Hardcore bout, nothing besides the main event really takes any major step forward. This isn't just execution in the ring, as the angles weren't as exciting either. Of course, my point is that WWE found the right formula the year before, and instead of re-working everything to follow suit, they became lazy and just inserted names into a program. Thankfully, several matches are memorable even while handicapped by lack of planning.
Stadium Event Style 1
As we start down the most recent Wrestlemanias, you can tell that they finally stuck with the Stadium style for a long time. Starting with 23, WWE started mixing everything together into a single evening extravaganza. You have the MITB spot match to kick things off hot, strong main events for both world titles where the performance matches the atmosphere (a rare thing when you look back in history), a heated celebrity tie-in with Trump in the Hair vs Hair match, and then some filler that peppered the event more than soured it.
This continued the next year, with the added drama of the Ric Flair career threatening match. The celebrity tie-in was still the main focus of the advertisements, but the wrestlers took center stage the night of the show. It looks like the perfect balance continues again, though Triple Threat Matches for WWE/World Titles are rarely memorable (see every single one of them except Mania 20).
Stadium Event Style 2 (rushed)
The 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania (as it was called) was a let down, but not in development. Barring another lame Triple Threat match to obviously include big names into top spots without any real rhyme or reason, the card is near perfect in presentation. The matches never reached the expectations from the terrific build up, but it doesn't mean the night wasn't tremendously put together in terms of style and blueprint. A 20 second IC title match used for a cheap pop, and a lame Divas Battle Royale are the only matches that felt out of place, and every Wrestlemania needs a bit of a breather, which they provided. Had the main event not been a disappointment, Mania 25 would be more than just middle of the pack. The problem wasn't just the main event, but that the men in the main events were identical to the year before (HBK, Edge, Show, Cena, HHH, Orton, Undertaker).
Arizona's Mania 26 was very similar. They put all their eggs in one basket with the rematch for the streak, which paid off in the end as it was still the best match of the night (even while not being as good as the year before, nor being as good as WWE likes us to believe). The rest of the card was well developed, but essentially weak or rushed. While following a similar archetype as previous Stadium events, I think they attempted to fit too much into the show in general, and it didn't allot enough time for some hot matches to excel.
As if WWE didn't pay attention to what went wrong the last 2 years, not only did Wrestlemania XXVII have too many rushed matches, but they added a Guest Host in the Rock who took up more time than needed. The result was a long streak match, rushed World and WWE title matches along with, and a dumb announcer match. Had they kept the Money in the Bank match, things could have been different.
Stadium Event Style 1
We're back to what worked in Wrestlemania XXVIII, with what feels like a terrific balance. It was by no means perfect, with an 18 second World Title match, and a shorter IC Title match than Divas/celebrity tag match, but overall the flow of the show worked. Maybe too much time was given the the Undertaker and HHH again, and same for the main event. But where else would you have put those extra minutes? The World Title was purposely short, and not by time constraints, so that wouldn't have happened. Maybe the IC title match could have had more, but it wouldn't have made the show any better. Perhaps the 12-man tag, but that match wasn't hot enough to deserve the 10 minutes it got. All in all, this seemed to be a solid return to the right structure.
Stadium Event Style ?
So, how does this have any significance on Wrestlemania 29? Easy. Even without the 6-8 man ladder match for the briefcase, WWE have done a decent job fitting everyone deserving of a spot on the card. I still question adding Fandango and Big E. Langston, while excluding Kofi Kingston and Antonio Cesaro, and leaving Barrett vs Miz for the Pre-Show, but overall WWE seems to have booked a full card that includes everyone, while allowing enough time to those that need it. I don't expect any match to last over 30 minutes, even the main event, so that will allow the top 4-5 billed matches to go 15-25 minutes without stretching out too long. I sense a short World Title match, and the Ryback vs Mark Henry match to be kept simple to help sell the next PPV with rematches.
But, this event style is different than we've seen. It's too bad the matches aren't captivating enough for me to care. It's been almost the entire 3 weeks I'm allowed between columns, and I struggled to find something Wrestlemania related to discuss without repeating my distaste for this Sunday's event. Will I watch live? I don't even know any more. I haven't watched all of Raw yet, nor last week's Smackdown. This might be the the least excited I've ever been for a Wrestlemania. It feels very lazy, so my attitude feels appropriately apathetic. Had WWE looked towards the Manias that worked, we might not be in this mess.
And on that note, Peace out
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