Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ranking the WrestleMania: 19 to 10

By Kyle Ross (posted by Rick Morris)

19. WrestleMania 13 (1997) - For me this is the hardest WrestleMania to rank. It was the lowest-drawing WM on PPV, occurred at a time when the WWF was regularly getting its ass kicked by WCW on Monday Nights and had perhaps the least intriguing "main event" in WM history. The majority of the undercard is beyond hideous. But there is that Austin-Hart match, not only the best WM match ever, but the best match in company history. Consider this: before we all knew Austin would go on to become the #1 draw in company history (and this was the launching pad), this was voted 1997 Match of the Year by almost everyone that mattered in a year that also featured HBK-Taker in the 1st Hell in a Cell and Eddie-Rey at Halloween Havoc (which is considered by some to be the best WCW Match of the 90's). As for the match itself, it is flawless, pulling off an impossible double turn, where the key was that the crowd WANTED each guy to turn and it wasn't forced by the promotion. The fact that Hart was a virtual career babyface that had been with the company for over 10 years is a dynamic that can't be replicated. Neither can the incredible level Austin was working at here, as he could do no wrong. No matter what Bret may say about his feelings about going heel, his performances every week were phenomenal, both leading up and the aftermath (particularly the promo the following night). You know what's ironic? Everyone crucifies Michaels for the "losing my smile" stunt, but if not for that, we would not have gotten Austin-Hart here. Unfortunately, we did get a World Title Match of Undertaker-Sid, which is the second stinker put on by Sid Eudy in a WM closer. This was a crazy booking period for the Title, so it was nice to see Taker win and get a nice run. I must admit that the Ahmed/LOD vs. Nation of Domination street fight is not bad and Ahmed coming out with the LOD shoulder pads is a sight that would make a lesser man sh$& himself. Speaking of sh@&, how about the IC Title match of Rocky Maivia (he's a blue chipper, you know) vs. the Sultan, who was Rikishi doing an Arab gimmick co-managed by Bob Backlund and Iron Shiek. Neither guy was remotely over here and this was the start of the "Die Rocky Die" business. The Tag Title match was supposed to be a title change from Owen/Bulldog to Vader/Mankind, but Bret Hart apparantly pulled the "creative control" card so that Owen and Davey could have the belts for the Hart Foundation reformation and I have zero problem with that considering how it worked out. Also, the rest of the "tag division" was featured in the opening four-way and considering the Headbangers went over, depth was a major issue. Who thought that the New Blackjacks were a good idea? The only match I have yet to mention is Triple H-Goldust, which was simply a backdrop to get Chyna more over (and thus Helmsley too!).

18. WrestleMania 5 (1989)

17. WrestleMainia 4 (1988)

I'm going to talk about these two shows simultaneously. These are the two Trump Plaza WrestleManias and they are much maligned for the quality of the matches and the very non-wrestling crowds at the venue. Most would probably rank these two shows lower than I have them. However, for whatever reason, I have a soft spot in my heart for them and that probably has to do with how I was young and such a big mark at the time. One positive about these shows that MUST be mentioned is the almost unheard of synergy between them. When Randy Savage was standing in the ring with Hulk Hogan at the end of the 1988 show, it was known at the time that the two Mega Powers would be splitting up later in the year and wrestling in the main event of the 1989 show. Folks, you just don't get that kind of foresight anymore in this industry.

As for WrestleMania 4, I laugh at the notion that the show is "too long." Yeah, because internet wrestling fans have issues watching four hours of wrestling. Please! Now, the tournament is obviously not done in ideal fashion. But if you are expecting the 1994 Super J Cup from a Vince McMahon-booked show, well then keep waiting. It's unrealistic. Now, I will complain until my dying day that it is criminal not to have done Savage-Steamboat 2 in the second round, one year following the classic in Pontiac. Consider that when it came time for Savage-Valentine (who goes over Steamboat in Rd 1), the only two other guys left in the tournament were Million Dollar Man and One Man Gang, making the booking of Savage to the finals obvious. But that's the way they wanted it and since Steamboat was leaving, they weren't going to feature him in any way. As for the rest, Dibiase-Duggan isn't exactly reminiscent of their 1985 classic in Mid South. Muraco-Bravo has a terrible finish. Valentine-Steamboat MIGHT be the best match of the show. Savage-Reed is like every Randy Savage match between 1992-95 where he gets beat up the whole time and hits the elbow out of nowhere. Bigelow-Gang and Roberts-Rude are both disasters. At the time, I would have figured Bam Bam would make a run in this thing, but little did I know he was injured and soon to be 86'd. Why did they do a 15-minute draw with Roberts-Rude? So boring. Hogan-Andre kicks off the second round and probably peaked interest of the live crowd. This (and the whole tournament) was set up by Hogan and Andre rematching their famous WM3 showdown on NBC in February in front of a record TV crowd for wrestling. They did the famous twin Hebner finish and the post-match angle with Andre surrendering the title to Dibiase and the rest is history. As for Hogan-Andre 3, the spark is gone, the match is terrible and has a non-finish to boot. In defense of the booking, they had to do that finish to open it up for Dibiase and Savage. It's obvious that would be the Tourney Final from there and by the time they get there, everything is sort of rushed. Hogan coming out to be in Savage's corner was so obvious, but fine. This was probably the height for both Savage and Dibiase's careers. As for non-tourney matches, the less said about Warrior-Hercules the better. Had to keep Warrior out of the Tournament b/c they didn't want him to have to lose a match. Opening a major show with a battle royal full of Jobbers To The Stars is typically lazy, but the ending involving Bad News Brown and Bret Hart is semi-famous and helped turn Hart babyface. The IC Title match with Honky Tonk Man (!) and Brutus Beefcake was just an excuse to give Jimmy Hart a bad haircut. The tag title change of Demolition over Strike Force was a formality and even had the 1988 marks cheering for the heels. Strike Force NEVER would get a title reign that long today as they were transition champs from the Hart Foundation to Demolition and it was probably known months in advance Demolition was going over here. The British Bulldogs and Koko B Ware were absolutely buried in a clean loss to Bobby Heenan and the Islanders, but who cares? A tip of the cap to Bob Uecker for the best ever performance by a celebrity at a WrestleMania.

WrestleMania 5 for some reason was the start of a three-year WM trend where there were like 14 matches and almost none of them had well-built programs. The obvious exception is Savage-Hogan, which some would say is not as good a match as their initial house show run in late 1985. It's still good for a Hogan match. Too bad for Savage though, who had done the awesome heel turn two months prior on NBC, but was faced with an inevitable result. Much of the scorn for this show is directed at the Piper's Pit featuring Brother Love and Morten Downey. It is terrible. As for the matches, let's hit ‘em one by one. Hercules over King Haku in the opener was a way to put Herc over a member of the Heenan Family after being "sold" to Dibiase as a "slave" in a forgettable "angle." Rockers vs. Twin Towers was actually fun while it lasted. Today, everyone would bitch about the Rockers jobbing clean. I am more concerned with how Shawn & Marty were feuding with the Brain Busters at the time and those teams never had a PPV match. Jumping ahead, the Busters go over Strike Force in one of the better matches on the show. This was shortly after Martel's return from injury and he turned heel on Santana, which lost some of its impact due to Hogan and Savage doing the same angle two months prior. In between, you have Dibiase-Beefcake, two guys that were high on the card, but doing nothing at the time. You can smell the double countout during introductions. Bushwackers going over the Rougeaus is unforgivable. Perfect-Blazer is too short. Demolition are still champions a year later, but now are babyfaces and they go over the Powers of Pain and former manager Mr Fuji in a handicap match. Dino Bravo vs Rugged Ron Garvin just goes to show why everyone complains about Garvin being a former NWA Champ. (Probably why he jobbed so badly!) The Jake Roberts-Andre feud is one of my least favorite ever as it was impossible to have a good match with a desirable finish and John Studd as a babyface referee to reprise the old Andre feud did not help. There was actually an angle behind the Hart Foundation going over the not yet named Rhythm and Blues. Rude going over Warrior was a stunner at the time and not nearly as good as the rematch the two would have at Summer Slam that year. Hacksaw-Bad News was a double DQ waiting to happen. Only Al Snow could defend Rooster-Heenan. Hey, I remembered Terry Taylor was in the popcorn match at WrestleMania 5. He must have been over!

16. WrestleMania 25 (2009): The second time a WrestleMania was "headlined" by a babyface Triple H in a World Title Match, only for him to get outshined by another match. This time it was the classic Undertaker-HBK match (much better than Hogan-Rock), a near 5-star affair that probably ranks in my top five WrestleMania matches ever. Would anyone have guessed that 12 years after their classic Hell in the Cell Match that these two would go out and do it again? And then do it AGAIN a year later! I think that this was the peak of "the streak," which for years was a non-issue until someone woke up and was like "wow, Undertaker has never lost a WM match." For the most part, the streak has come at the expense of terrible opponents, so I had no issue with it. The only time I thought it "hurt" someone was Randy Orton in 2005, but by that point the Orton ship had kinda sailed anyways. I certainly didn't mind him going over Michaels here, particularly because it set up the rematch the following year. As for the rest of the show, blah. I actually made a bit of a mistake in my WM 18 writeup, inferring Triple H was "chasing" the title here. He was actually the defending champ vs. Randy Orton. It's sad when I had to look that up, but can run through WM 4 in my head and that show occured over 20 years ago. Anyways, the Triple H-Orton feud started hot, then got progressively less interesting as the weeks went by. I honestly have nothing of note to say about Cena vs. Edge vs. Big Show, the "other" World Title Match on this show. I don't know what to say about Rey vs. JBL either as it wasn't the most ideal way to put someone over on your way out, but he did put someone over. Jeff vs. Matt Hardy is kind of sad when you consider what they've become in TNA, but was solid, although the feud sputtered. The Chris Jericho vs. legends segment/match could have been a disaster if not for the insertion of Ricky Steamboat into the fray. Mickey Rourke's involvement came off as lame. CM Punk's second straight Midcard in the Bank win was good, but the match was short and the gimmick, while solid, was losing luster. Santina Marella is not funny.

15. WrestleMania 16 (2000): Funny how in the midst of one of the greatest periods in WWF history that year's WM turned out to be a real dud. Maybe it was because of the fact that for the first time in WM history a heel went over in the Main Event as Triple H's reign continued with the first of what would be many McMahon reunions. They probably should have just done Rock vs. Triple H here with Rock going over as evidenced by the following month's Backlash, which is a much better show than this. The four-person main event was a desperate attempt to involve all four McMahons, pretend that Big Show hadn't been a terrible investment when they signed him the year prior and a way to make Mick Foley look bad one month after he lost an outstanding retirement match. To be honest, multi-person matches were both the rule and the death of this show as there was not ONE singles men's match on the card! There was the first "Tables and Ladders" match between Edge & Christian, the Hardys and the Dudleys, which takes home match of the night honors, despite being at a noticeable level under what the three teams would do later at SummerSlam. Funny how that it was considered a stunning move to put E/C over here considering how "hot" the other two teams (particularly the Dudleys) were at the time, but a well executed heel turn worked for the best. The Radicalz did not exactly get the best booking here as Guerrero, Malenko and Saturn jobbed to Chyna and Too Cool. Sigh. The two-fall, two-title three-way between Angle, Jericho and Benoit is good, but was actually considered a disappointment at the time. Certainly a unique way to book two title changes. If you are wondering why Rikishi and Kane teamed up here to face X-Pac and Road Dog, I believe the original plan had Undertaker returning from injury and be in the Rikishi spot (who would then work w/ Too Cool). That return was held off for May's Judgement Day and wound up being awesome. Terri Runnels vs. the Kat is one of the worst "matches" in WM history which should not be a surprise. This show was during the "height" of the Hardcore Title and had a 15-minute "battle royal" with continuous falls. Hardcore Holly won and this started the 24/7 gimmick that would get run into the ground. T&A over Head Cheese was four career JTTS guys mixing it up. Bossman and Bull Buchanan over Godfather and D-lo is not exactly Bret-Owen when it comes to openers. Shame on Ice-T for participating in this!

14. WrestleMania 7 (1991): Probably because of the rather tasteless exploitation of the Iraq War, which Vince McMahon shamelessly then used as the reason why the company needed to move the event to the LA Sports Arena from the much larger (and outdoor) Coliseum (hint: the reason was sluggish ticket sales), this was a WrestleMania that did not get favorable reviews at the time. But I think it actually wound up being a better show than its three predecessors. Sure, anyone could guess the result of the main event of Hogan-Slaughter. They even went to so far as to push Slaughter would intentionally get DQ'd to build doubt, but the two went out and actually had a decent match. And the switch to a smaller venue actually worked out because this was as hot an early 90's WWF crowd as you'll ever find. The real 'crown jewel' of this show is the 'career-ending' match between Ultimate Warrior & Randy Savage, which if you're keeping score at home is the first time they've reneged on that stipulation. How they got this performance out of Warrior is remarkable. Whoever came up with the idea of him NOT running to the ring (and thus ensuring he'd be blown up five minutes into the match) deserves kudos. It also gave the match a 'special' feeling. Again, Savage has to be considered the original Mr. WrestleMania. I give the match ****1/2 and when you add in the hokey, yet great post-match angle involving Elizabeth that turned Savage face again, that rating actually feels a bit low. This had incredible heat and it goes to show that wrestling crowds actually used to buy the retirement stip. There are two good tag matches on this show with Rockers over Haku/Barbarian and Nasties over Hart Foundation for the titles. The whole tag division was pretty interesting at this point. The Harts had won the titles at SummerSlam the year prior from Demolition and I don't think it was planned for them to do a long title reign. In fact, we had the "phantom" switch involving them and the Rockers (who were the best team in the company at the time). I believe the Rockers were going to then lose to Power & Glory, who were then going to do a job to the LOD (maybe here?), who had just come over from WCW. Well, the "phantom" title switch was negated and in the interim, Vince also stole the Nasties from WCW (after they had a great match with the Steiners at Halloween Havoc). I guess because he had to justify getting the Nasties, Vince put the titles on them here and had them job to the LOD at SummerSlam. LOD had to settle for squashing P&G in under a minute here as Roma was injured. There is plenty of other filler on this show: Texas Tornado vs. Dino Bravo in a match between two guys that would be dead within two years. Bulldog vs. Warlord was actually an okay power vs. power match. The blindfold match between Roberts and Martel is obviously silly and is probably one of the worst WM matches ever, but is somewhat saved by some INCREDIBLE commentary from Bobby Heenan ("I think Martel should be able to take the hood off, close his eyes and work on the honor system!"). I love the Undertaker squashing an over-the-hill Jimmy Snuka. Maybe he can remember someday what its like for a veteran to put over a hot new act. If you're wondering what the point of Demolition vs. Tenryu and Kitao was, the WWF was partnering with Tenryu's new SWS promotion in Japan, so this is one of those political deals. A lot of people expected Bossman to go over Mr Perfect here for the IC Title, but it’s better that he won by DQ and Bret Hart got to become the next champ instead. I'm not sure who decided Greg Valentine as a babyface was a good idea. He gets squashed by Earthquake. Virgil-Dibiase was a memorable feud, but this match is nowhere near as good as the SummerSlam one. Tito Santana's WM losing streak hits six with a loss to the Mountie.

13. WrestleMania 12 (1996): The very definition of a one-match show. And while the booking of Hart-Michaels was probably not as good as it could have been due to the ill feelings between the two, it is still the two best workers of the decade wrestling for over an hour in a ****1/2 affair. I think it has gone from overrated to underrated in the world of the IWC. Still, not having a single fall in the hour was pretty dumb. I mean what's the point of having an Iron Man match then? What they should have done (in retrospect) is not do an Iron Man Match, but just have a "regular" match go 60 minutes, then they could have done the same finish and the match probably would have had more heat. Funny that the WWE thinks they have to announce a match will be 60 minutes ahead of time, so that the audience won't get "bored." Instead, what happens is the crowd gets bored for the first 40 minutes, then wakes up at the end. Nothing was terrible on this show. They brought back the Ultimate Warrior, who absolutely squashed Triple H in under two minutes, but that run didn't last long. Some will insist that Warrior, not the Iron Man Match, actually drew the house as people were seen leaving their seats at the start of Hart-Michaels. Undertaker-Diesel was thought to be the end of Nash as it was known by many he was bolting for WCW soon after, but surprisingly Vince put Nash in a world title program with HBK right after this. It led to the best match of Nash's career at "Good Friends, Better Enemies," and they actually were doing better ratings than WCW for that month. Roddy Piper vs. Goldust is not for everyone. The OJ material was really bad. Of course, it has long been rumored that Vince wanted OJ to wrestle (!) here against Goldust. Now that would have been awesome. They also asked future WCW main-eventer Dennis Rodman to do the spot, but I think Bischoff threw a ton of money at him to come to Turner. I could be wrong with my timeline there. Steve Austin makes his WM debut with a win over Savio Vega. Yes, because Steve Austin needs a mouthpiece. He took off soon after. The opener was a six-man between Ahmed/Jake Roberts/Yokozuna vs. Camp Cornette (Vader/Owen/Bulldog). Not terrible.

12. Wrestlemania 22 (2006): If I recall, we didn't give this show a favorable review on SNS at the time. Also if I recall, I was hammered by the post-show. The show really still doesn't stand out as a great WrestleMania though and overall 2006 was a terrible year for WWE. Triple H vs. Cena is funny if you read the Internet, but your supposed #1 babyface getting booed out of the building in the main event of the biggest show of the year against a career heel is not good. That said, the (ahem) "traditional" wrestling crowd in Chicago made this entertaining. Of course, most people remember this show for Rey Misterio winning his only World Title in the wake of Eddie Guerrero's death. At the time, the company was ripped for doing this. Some time has passed and I'm actually going to defend the company here. This is a rant I went on to FDH’s Rick Morris recently. Remember that Monday Night Football game where Brett Favre played right after his father died? And how John Madden spent the WHOLE time reminding us Favre's dad had just died and how the subsequent performance was so awesome? No one got on the NFL for this. These kind of similar stories are always played up in sports. Was some of the stuff after Guerrero's death in poor taste, particularly some scripted comments for Orton? Yes. But Rey Misterio winning the World Title in the wake of his friends death as a dedication is absolutely fine. Would Rey have ever won a World Title had Eddie not died? Probably not, but I thought that some of the "elite Wrestling media" took themselves way too seriously during this period in an effort to get on a convenient "soapbox." Now the booking of Rey as champ was a different issue. As for the rest of this show....Edge/Foley and Vince/Shawn were two great brawls (the former being a **** affair) and its overall highlights. The Money In The Bank match, won by RVD, was not as good as the previous year's, but was still celebrated b/c everyone knew RVD would be getting the title down the road at the 2nd One Night Stand PPV. Didn't turn out so well though after all that waiting. There are two terrible matches on this show w/ Boogeyman vs. Booker/Sharmell and Undertaker/Henry. There are two women's matches, one watchable and one bad. Mickie James really had those "traditional" fans on her side, didn't she? Remember when title matches used to be a big deal? Masters/Carlito vs. Show/Kane and Benoit/JBL were not examples of those.

11. WrestleMania 24 (2008): An outdoor show headlined by Ric Flair and Floyd Mayweather at the Citrus Bowl. They had been doing the angle with Flair leading up to this where if he lost any match, he had to retire. So for the biggest show of the year, he hand-picked the man who idolized him growing up, Shawn Michaels, to be the opponent. Shawn of course goes over in dramatic fashion (I'm sorry, I love you), but overall the match was only good, not great. Wade Keller giving it five stars was just dumb. The true highlight came the following night on RAW when the locker room said goodbye to Flair. And it’s not the WWE's fault that Flair somewhat tainted this by going to work for TNA. The other draw was a 'match' between boxer Floyd Mayweather and the returning Big Show. Of course, when they feature a big celebrity angle on a WrestleMania, as we've learned through these rankings, it typically means the overall storylines of the company are rather weak. With Mayweather, they did an angle at No Way Out where he punched a returning Show, who was attacking Rey Jr and made legit contact with said punch. At the time, Mayweather was supposed to be the face and Show the heel. From there, the dynamic would get all screwed up as Mayweather is a natural heel who the wrestling fans didn't like anyways. So they switched roles leading up to the event, but the problem there is that Mayweather was obviously gonna go over and that makes Show look bad, but really by that point Big Show had been poorly booked for years anyways. In retrospect, I'm not sure if Mayweather was worth what they were paying him. Incredibly, the World Title Matches were probably the third and fourth most-anticipated from the top. Edge-Undertaker does go on last and is very good (****1/4). It was Edge's first pinfall loss at a WrestleMania and was a match between the two guys who were unbeaten at WM, which was something fans had wanted for two years. Meanwhile, Orton-Cena-Triple H was underwhelming and treated as an afterthought. CM Punk wins the first of two Money In The Banks, leading to his first World Title win later than year. JBL-Finlay was the blowoff of a terrible feud, suprisingly won by the heel. Finlay as a face just doesn't really work. I can't remember the storyline surrouding Batista vs. Umaga, which speaks volumes. Kane squashes Chavo Guerrero for the ECW Title, which is cruel.

10. WrestleMania 8 (1992): This show is of course famous for the match that didn't happen (Hogan vs. Flair) despite the fact that it seemed like a formality to headline as soon as Flair came to Titan in September and then won the Rumble (and the title) in an incredible performance in January. But it really never clicked at the house shows and probably peaked too far in advance to be pulled off properly here. Plus, Hogan decided to "take some time off" after this show, so it’s not like they could put the World Title on him. And by 'take some time off' I mean "run for his life from steroid accusations." So, the end result was a double main event featuring a Flair vs. Savage title match and Hogan vs. Sid in a farewell match. This show was viewed quite favorably at the time and starts hot. The newly turned heel Shawn Michaels gets his first big singles win over El Matador, whose WM losing streak hits seven. By the way, Monsoon and Heenan were incredible on the mic all night. LOD does an interview reintroducing Paul Ellering, but that goes nowhere, unless you count a ventriloquist act (Rocco) as 'somewhere.' Undertaker buries Jake Roberts on the way out the door, no selling three DDT's. Again, please remember this on your way out, Mr Calloway. Then comes an outstanding face vs. face IC Title match between champ Piper and challenger and former champ Bret Hart (****). Hart goes over in a very rare clean pinfall loss for Piper that featured some rare blood. This was a cool setup. Hart was a solid IC Champ when some contract negotiations went bad and they took the belt off him on a house show, having him lose to the Mountie of all people (it was played up that Hart had the flu). Obviously, having the Mountie as a major singles champ isn't a good idea, so Piper, who had never held a singles title, beats him at the Rumble. The Hart contract situation works its way out, so they did the obvious champ vs. former champ thing. As for the blood, Hart lied to Vince afterwards saying it was hardway so to avoid problems with the office. Ric Flair should have done the same thing, but he was under the impression that blading was cool and got chewed out after his match with Savage. He references this in a tremendous interview in early 2002 after his return. After a meaningless eight-man between Slaughter/Duggan/Virgil/Bossman vs Mountie/Repo/Nasty Boys that featured some alleged "comedy" from the late Ray Combs, we get that Flair-Savage match, which is the forgotten classic from the era. This was just excellent and I give it ****3/4 as Savage's string of incredible WM performances continued. This had a ton of heat due to an angle they did after they booked the match as Flair started claiming he used to bang Elizabeth. Mr Perfect, in Flair's corner, gave a tremendous performance by just cheating at will and I like the finish with Savage cheating to win the title after fending off all the interference. Good postmatch brawl as well followed up by some great promos from each. Must be watched again to be enjoyed. From there, the show goes downhill with Martel-Tatanka, Money Inc-Natural Disasters and Owen-Skinner. Then comes Hogan vs. Sid, which was set up by a Sid heel turn on a Saturday Night's Main Event, which led to Hogan "asking" out of the title match to face Sid and setting up the double main event scenario. The match is absolutely terrible, easily one of the worst WM closers ever, and makes you wonder why this show is so fondly remembered until the Ultimate Warrior makes a shocking return to save Hogan from Sid and Papa Shango. The ending is botched, in case you care, with Shango missing his cue and not running in time to break up a Hogan pinfall, so Sid has to kick out of the leg drop. Considering both Hogan and Sid leave after the show, this led nowhere good, but Warrior's return was a huge surprise at the time and was thought to be a highlight of the show. I can hear Dave Meltzer now counting off the buys the company "cost" itself by not announcing Warrior beforehand!

No comments: