Monday, April 6, 2009

WrestleMania 25 Reviewed

For the second year in a row, Jen and I ordered WWE WrestleMania on pay-per-view and held a WrestleMania party. This makes the third WrestleMania I've seen live, and the second one I've bought and paid for and seen start to finish. (In 2006, I saw the second half of WrestleMania 22 at Jen's brother's place. We didn't see 23 live.) While it wasn't the best 'Mania I've seen (I still favor 22), it had some moves which still blow my mind as I think about them. Jeff Hardy, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Shelton Benjamin, Kofi Kingston, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, and others all brought their best game to Houston, TX this past Sunday and put on a hell of a show.

The first match was probably my favorite match; it's an annual match that started at WrestleMania 21 called the "Money in the Bank ladder match". In a traditional ladder match, an object is suspended about 20-30 feet over the center of the ring, and the only way to win is to climb a ladder and retrieve it. Anything else goes. As such these are historically title matches, with the object being the belt itself. In this case it's a suitcase which contains a contract which guarantees its owner the right to create a championship match with any champion at any point in the next 12 months. The champ can be knocked out, or injured, it doesn't matter, the challenge is automatically legal. Every cashing in of the contract has resulted in the title changing hands. Edge was the very first winner, and smartly cashed his in when his longtime rival, John Cena, had just been beaten bloody, but had still - barely - won his match. Edge easily scored a victory and left as the new champ.

Money in the Bank V featured Kane, Mark Henry, CM Punk (last years' winner), MVP, Shelton Benjamin, Finlay, Kofi Kingston, and Christian. The two superheavyweights were targeted from the start and were largely a non-issue in the match. We saw two men fighting at the top of one ladder, four men fighting on the tops of two ladders, and something I've never seen in a ladder match. With the main ladder erected in the middle of the ring, another was carefully wedged between two steps and the ropes of the ring. A third ladder was then erected outside the ramp, going down to the floor. We saw someone go up the traditional way and someone - Kofi perhaps, maybe MVP or Shelton - go up the unconventional way, from the outside. Up a leaning ladder, across the "bridge", and then the rest of the way up the main ladder. Speaking of the "bridge", you know someone had to take a fall on it. That someone was Finlay. That Irish bastard can take a beating. Didn't seem to phase him. At one point one of the big guys (I'm thinking Kane) carried a tall ladder into the ring, closed but upright, and one of the lighter guys (most likely Kofi) ran up the closed ladder and almost got the briefcase! And speaking of Kofi, Kane and someone else (Henry?) were trying to clothesline Kofi with the ladder. He jumped over it twice, and then dropkicked it, knocking them both over. You get the best aerodynamics in pro wrestling out of ladder matches, and when it comes to ladder matches, MVP, Shelton Benjamin, and Kofi Kingston are all a lot of fun to watch. I was pulling for Kofi, but CM Punk took the victory for the second year in a row, becoming the first person to win Money in the Bank twice. (Edge had it twice as well, but the second time, he won it from Ken Kennedy, who actually won it at WrestleMania 23.) Jen's brother, who looks at pro wrestling from a technical point of view (he's managed an independent, amateur wrestling circuit), said that there were a lot of mistakes in this match, and I understood a couple of them, disagreed with one, but in any case I maintain it was still a fun match to watch.

Immediately following CM Punk's victory at Money in the Bank, the man himself, Kid Rock, came out and belted out a half-dozen of his biggest hits in a medley, starting with Bawitdaba, going into Cowboy, All Summer Long, and others, and finishing with So Hott, while 25 divas ran out to the ring. They weren't identified, but this was the 25-Diva over-the-top battle royal for the title of "Miss WrestleMania". Perhaps halfway through the match, if one didn't notice that divas weren't being named and divas who were pushed out of the ring but not over the top ropes were eliminated anyway, one certainly noticed that one diva looked out of place, avoiding conflict. This "diva" was really Santino Marella in drag - no joke - and when it came down to him, his girlfriend Beth Phoenix, and Melina, he eliminated both of them to win. When accused of being a man, he swore he was Santino's twin sister, Santina, and was crowned Miss WrestleMania with no further investigation into his identity. Cute, but what a waste of time for WrestleMania. Also, as this was the only event to feature women, it was a missed opportunity to show off the WWE's female talent. Though the departures of Trish Stratus, Lita, and others have dminished "female talent" overall in the WWE, it's still present and shouldn't have been made a mockery of.

Then there was the "Chris Jericho match". No other good way to say it. Handicap elimination match; Jericho had three opponents, and he had to beat each of them in succession to win; for their side to be victorious, any one of them only needed to beat Jericho once. Since the movie "The Wrestler", Jericho has made it his crusade to expose wrestling legends who used their past fame to profit from their career long past their prime. Ric Flair, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, and "Supafly" Jimmy Snuka all took offense to this, and the latter three challenged Jericho to this match, with Flair in their corner. Jericho first beat Piper, and then Snuka, each victory sadder than the one before. Only Steamboat offered a real challenge, but after a good match, Jericho finally got him. Flair tried to intervene but was punished as well. With no legends left to bury, Jericho extended his challenge to "The Wrestler" lead Mickey Rourke, who was in attendance. After much coaxing, Rourke got into the ring, and following some dancing, KO'd Jericho with a couple good lefts - turns out Rourke knows a thing or two about boxing.

Next, and the last of the non-title matches, was the Brother vs. Brother match, contested under Extreme Rules - in other words, a hardcore match. Matt and Jeff Hardy worked as a tag team, real-life brothers from just outside Raleigh, NC, but went their separate ways in the early part of this decade. Both returned to the WWE in the past few years but were kept separate, and when younger brother Jeff won the WWE championship after a campaign lasting nearly half a year, Matt was jealous, and turned on Jeff; first secretly, and then openly, in the form of a steel chair to the face. Jeff was reluctant to fight his brother until Matt revealed that he had set the fire destroying Jeff's artwork and killing his dog. Then it was on. We saw a great match with two of the most talented young(er) performers in the WWE who also happen to be brothers, but it was also predictable for a lot of it, and while the stunts were cool, the payoff wasn't quite what it should have been and we were left with a mediocre match that could have been a little better.

The first championship match of the night introduced JBL, the oilman from Wall Street who used to be known as Bradshaw, defending his Intercontinental championship from Rey Mysterio. Now, Rey Mysterio is almost never seen without a mask, though unmasked pics do exist online, and his masks vary by color, but never really by style, always adhering to a particular design he's used for years. There's no better way to say it; he pretty much came out as Heath Ledger's Joker character last night. It was great. He had a hell of an intro, came to the ring, where he was bullied by JBL. The referee requires the combatants to start a good distance apart, and as soon as he could get JBL to back away, the bell rang, at which point Mysterio took JBL completely by surprise and had him pinned in 21 seconds (announced) for the victory. As Mysterio left with IC gold, JBL didn't know what had hit him. After looking around the crowd aimlessly for a minute, JBL announced that he was quitting, and stormed out of the arena. Of course, a pro wrestler doesn't announce that he's quitting. Bobby Lashley, perfect example, quit after WWE released a black woman (aka she was fired). Lashley thought it was discriminatory so he left on principle. He was cleverly phased out and not heard from since. When someone announces they're quitting like that, either they're going on vacation, going to shoot a movie, or changing roles. Jen's brother, our resident expert on pro wrestling, both believes and hopes that JBL will return to being Bradshaw. "JBL, but not a wuss"? Sounds good to me.

Following JBL's embarrassment was the annual Undertaker match. The Undertaker has won every WrestleMania match he's competed in, and for a few now, he's been maintaining a streak, which was 16-0 when the match started. 2009 was the first year that people actually competed for the opportunity to face Undertaker, as opposed to just putting Undertaker up against whoever he was feuding with at the time (which at this point was really nobody since his feud with Big Show was resolved). Shawn Michaels and JBL (then not yet Intercontinental champion) had a match to determine who'd face Taker. Then, Smackdown's Vladimir Kozlov announced his interest, so he challenged Michaels for the right, and lost, leaving Michaels to contend with the Dead Man. Undertaker pulled out all of his tricks, but Michaels stayed one step ahead of him leading into WrestleMania. At nearly 31 minutes, this was the longest match of the night, and one of the best. The Undertaker threw a chokeslam or two, a Last Ride, a Devil's Gate submission hold, and two Tombstone piledrivers at Michaels, and Michaels superkicked Undertaker at least twice. Finally, Undertaker barely beat Michaels, boasting a new 17-0 streak.

And then we came back to championships. Big Show vs. Edge vs. John Cena for the WHC. John Cena lost his title to Edge at No Way Out when Edge, having lost his own title in his Elimination Chamber match, inserted himself in Cena's to win. Big Show was the number-one contender; however, John Cena blackmailed Edge's on-screen wife and general manager to let him into the match, on the understanding that he wouldn't air certain video footage of her cheating on Edge with the Big Show. After getting into the match, Cena released the video anyway to stir up tension between Show and Edge, which Vickie countered by saying that she would stay with the winner of the match and leave the other (unless, of course, Cena won; nobody planned for that outcome). Show and Edge were introduced as usual, but Cena's original music hit, and 200+ John Cena lookalikes ran down the ramp, lining both sides. They all then proceeded to do Cena's "you can't see me" salute as the real Cena charged down the ramp to his modern theme. It wasn't as cool as 2 years ago, where he drove that new Mustang into the arena (reminiscent of JBL with the limo, or more accurately Stone Cold Steve Austin with the truck), but it was entertaining as hell. After Cena's brilliant entrance however, the match quickly became average, with the highlight seeing Show tangled up in the ropes and Cena and Edge squaring off for the thousandth time (but, to be fair, they work well together so it was good). Rather predictably, Cena took the victory here by pinning Show and bringing the World Heavyweight Championship back to Monday Night RAW.

The last match, the so-called main event, featured Randy Orton challenging Triple H for the WWE Championship. The roots of this match go way back nearly 5 years to 2004 where, at the age of 24, Randy Orton won the World Heavyweight Championship (becoming the youngest performer to do so to date), and Orton's mentor Triple H sacked him in jealous rage. Orton won at the 2009 Royal Rumble, the victory from which guaranteed him a title match at WrestleMania with a champ of his choosing. Following a verbal assault on Stephanie McMahon, Vince McMahon intended to fire Orton on the spot, but Orton knocked him out with a boot to the head. Shortly after, Vince's son and Stephanie's brother Shane sought retribution for his father and was similarly knocked out. Stephanie ran to his rescue and found herself on the wrong end of Orton's signature move, the RKO. Following this, Triple H acknowledged publicly what we've all known for years: that, in real life, Triple H is Stephanie McMahon's husband, making him Vince McMahon's son-in-law. His relationship with the McMahon empire has up until recently been secret, and separate from the product as sold to the fans for various reasons; however, it's in the open and part of the storyline now. In any case, a series of escalations led to this match, but when it finally happened, it was mostly boring. With a strict disqualification policy in place, neither of Orton's lackeys Cody Rhodes or Ted DiBiase Jr. were on hand to help him cheat; nor were Vince or Shane present to give Triple H the upper hand. And the fans got left with a dreadfully average match.

Last year, WrestleMania was awesome. This year, something was off. Two of the three main events were mostly boring. The two best matches were Undertaker/HBK and Money in the Bank, and the latter was cooler in concept, but in execution, botch after failed botch. It wasn't a bad show, but could have been so much more. For the 25th anniversary of WrestleMania (actually the 24th, but WWE insists otherwise) they could have done better. Vince McMahon needed an active part, at the very least. A lot of talent was shelved for this event. And it doesn't compare to WrestleMania 22, so far, my favorite.

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