Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ranking the WrestleManias: 9 to 3

By Kyle Ross (posted by Rick Morris)

9. WrestleMania 23 (2007): Twenty years later, they return to the Detroit area to celebrate the anniversary of WM 3. This show did monster business (record 1.2 million buys) in large part to the Donald Trump vs. Vince McMahon hair vs. hair stip involved in the Bobby Lashley vs. Umaga match. McMahon deserves credit for following through, but what's more important I think is that this match was supposed to turn Bobby Lashley into a star for years to come and that just didn't materialize as he wasn't with the company even a year later. Both of the two World Title Matches - Cena/HBK and Batista/Taker - are given time here and as a result it's the only WM in the "brand split" era where one of the World Title matches isn't really treated as inferior. Of course, there was plenty of controversy as to which match would go on last behind the scenes. The call was made for Cena/HBK (although Taker won the Rumble) and Batista and Taker were reportedly not happy. They go out and have a tremendous match, probably slightly better than Cena/HBK, which didn't have as much drama b/c who thought HBK (in reality a sub for the injured Triple H) was going over? Interestingly, there would be rematches of both title matches in the following month and in both instances the rematch was even better. Mr Kennedy won the last very good Money In The Bank match. That should have kicked off a great WWE career as they had big plans for him (main eventing WM 24), but injuries (story of his career) ruined that. Honestly, nothing else on this show mattered.

8. WrestleMania 26 (2010): The string of recent WMs continues with last year's event, which was very good. Almost nothing sucked save for Bret-Vince, which was so anticipated and after all that time just came off flat. I remember the song in the video package being very bad. I had no issue with the chair shots to Vince as that's what the payoff should have been given the history. Of course, after they tore the house down the year prior, Taker and HBK go on last here in streak vs. career and to Michaels' credit, there hasn't even been a peep about a comeback. As for the match, I'd give the previous year's a slight nod, but this was still ****1/2. Cena-Batista was a good World Title match (****) that could have meant even more had they not rushed a program between the two several years earlier at a SummerSlam. From the Smackdown side, Edge-Jericho and Rey-Punk both deserved more time, yet were still very good. Did Triple H really need to go over Sheamus, given that he was leaving? The answer is no. When the decision was made to go with Orton as a face and ditch Legacy, it was pretty much projected that kind of booking would do no favors to Rhodes and Dibiase. That turned out to be very accurate. Orton was getting the title back soon anyways. The Money In The Bank match, won by Jack Swagger of all people, was the weakest of the six ever at a WM. One year later and it’s almost comical to think that Swagger was ever a champion. The Tag Title opener was so rushed, it could have fit in at WM2.

7. WrestleMania 21 (2005) - Call me old-fashioned, but I've never really been a fan of the "two world titles" idea. I think it just devalues the concept of a World Title match and confuses John Q Walmart as to who the focal point of the promotion should be. Look at the top drawing periods in company history. There was a singular guy on top - Sammartino, Hogan, Austin, etc. That being said, I thought the one period where having two World Champs was beneficial was here as (Dave) Batista and John Cena both won their first World Titles at this show. It's pretty interesting to go back and look at this. At the time, it wasn't really known which guy was going to be the future of the company. Funny how it turned out to be Cena, but it was Batista's title win that drew the house here and was featured more prominently. I wonder if in retrospect they would still have them "switch brands" mid-year. As for the matches themselves, neither is really that good and both were considered disappointing at the time. In both cases, there were eventual rematches that were MUCH better (Cena-JBL at Judgment Day & Batista/HHH at Vengence). The Batista-Triple H storyline building up to the event was very good and was a huge save after the Orton turn was fumbled. Cena's title win over JBL didn't get nearly as much time on the show and I think everyone was just happy to see JBL finally lose the title after way too long of a reign. There are two outstanding matches on this show and they are the first HBK/Angle PPV match (****1/2) and the first Money in the Bank ladder match (****1/4). I remember being quite happy at the time that Angle went over. It's a Top 10 WM match all-time. As for Money In The Bank, it kicks off the push of heel Edge, which actually worked out better long term for the company than Angle going over HBK did. Other than Kane in MITB, it was quite the lineup w/ Benjamin, Benoit, Jericho and Christian. I thought the Guerrero-Mysterio opener was a bit disappointing as Eddie had not yet turned heel and this was another instance of a later rematch being better. Some of the brand-only PPV's really weren't that bad during this time. As I think I mentioned before, I really wouldn't have minded Orton going over Taker here, but in retrospect that probably would have been a bad idea and didn't Orton take time off following this show anyways? There were two real "dogs" on the card w/ Big Show/Akebono and Stratus/Hemme, but thankfully both were kept very short, leaving the majority of the time for six matches. This was probably the best Hall of Fame class ever as well w/ Hogan and Piper both going in the same year and both made appearances on this show; Hogan saving Eugene from Mohammed Hassan and Piper hosting a Piper's Pit with Steve Austin.

6. WrestleMania 19 (2003) - From a "wrestling" standpoint, this WM show has few peers. However, I had major issues with the booking at the time and still do today. Looking at the show "in a vaccum," I might have this lower than you think. It did see a noticeable drop in business from the other WM's of the era, so I can't be alone in thinking something just wasn't right. This is the first WM with two World Title matches. The featured one is Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle. The match itself was very good (****1/4), although I don't know if I liked the whole Lesnar losing the title and turning face thing from the fall of '02. Angle deserves MAJOR credit for going out there and doing this match as his neck was injured very badly at the time. In retrospect, coming back so soon probably led to his eventual downfall. Lesnar failing to hit that Shooting Star Press properly was a major letdown. The other title match was not as well received with Triple H spending weeks telling Booker T that "you people" aren't good enough to be a World Champ, then beating him. As far as major injuries go, Steve Austin almost didn't make this show either. I remember at the time being very happy he lost to heel Rock, but that just turned out to be a vehicle for Rock to then job to the incoming Goldberg, which I didn't think made sense at all since a WWE crowd will lean towards Rock over Goldberg. Anyways, Rock-Austin was their usual good match. The best match on the show was Jericho-HBK (****1/4) and again at the time, I really thought Jericho should have gone over. Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon is actually fine for what it was supposed to be. It's right there with Vince's other WM matches vs. Shane and vs. HBK. The undercard was very rushed to get to the five main matches. Rey Jr vs. Matt Hardy deserved way more time. No one is complaining about Undertaker winning a handicap match over Big Show and A-Train in brief fashion. This was supposed to be a tag match involving Nathan Jones, but after all those vignettes, Jones turned out to be the biggest bust this side of Outback Jack. There were triple threat matches for both the women's and Tag Titles and in both instances the champs (Stratus and Team Angle) retained. My biggest contention with this show is that there is very little excitement coming out of it. It didn't leave you looking forward to anything. The PPV's that followed mostly blew and I can't even remember most of them. That wasn't the case in 2004. The booking in 2003 was a disaster for the most part. Compare the feeling at the end of this show to the end of the following year's show (up next) and you'll see why I buck convention in rating this below the 2004 show.

5. WrestleMania 20 (2004) - OK. Let's just get this out of the way. I loved this show at the time. In retrospect, it is a tough show to "love" as the main focus is Chris Benoit, easily the biggest piece of sh%& in the history of the industry, winning his first World Title. At the time, the title win was celebrated by the Internet like none other. Benoit and Guerrero standing in the middle of a WWE ring, both as World Champions, at the end of this show, was mark city even for this guy. After watching these two grow from the midcard to the main event over the course of a decade, it was a remarkable achievement even as talented as both were in the ring. For years, whether it was in WCW or WWE, the glass ceiling kept coming into play. It was only after Rock and Austin both left that Vince decided to elevate some fresh blood. I still really like the show today and have the main event ranked as the greatest Triple Threat Match in company history and sixth best match in WM history (****3/4). This is something that only an Internet wrestling fan would say, but had Benoit not murdered his family, it probably goes down as my favorite match of the decade. It’s still top five, as fair is fair, but I liked the first Taker-HBK WM match better and the three other matches from the decade I liked better were: Austin/Triple H vs. Jericho/Benoit from RAW in 2001, the first TLC match at SummerSlam 2000 and Angle/Benoit vs. Edge/Misterio at No Mercy 2002. So, I guess that's still three Benoit matches top five, so shame on me. As for the match itself, I had an issue with HBK's involvement going in, but that went away as he put in an incredible performance here. But Benoit owned the crowd. Triple H was excellent in his role and everyone wanted to see him lose and he tapped clean. While Benoit makes you more angry than anything in retrospect, watching Eddie Guerrero beat Kurt Angle (***3/4) is just kind of sad. Eddie won the title the previous month from Brock to much fanfare, but could not deal with the pressures of being on top, which is why we ended up getting JBL so soon. The rest of this show has both good and bad, but there was a lot that seemed like a big deal. Rock N Sock vs. Evolution was great, the 2nd best match of the night, with EVERYONE playing their roles perfectly and a surprise move putting Orton over Foley clean. You wanna watch a good promo/build? Check out Orton's promo/recap of the Foley feud prior to the match. This was probably the peak of Randy Orton, culminating in the win at Backlash over Foley, which is a Top 15 match of the decade. Jericho-Christian is a very good midcard match (***1/2). In the middle of this show, you have Lesnar vs. Goldberg, one of the biggest clusterfu$%s in wrestling history. However, it is enjoyable in a perverse sense with the crowd turning on both guys en masse and cheering special ref Austin (who pretty much smiles at both guys in a real "sucks to be you" moment). Undertaker went back to "old school" at this show, which was welcomed. Another match with Kane was not. John Cena wins the US title from Big Show here in a decent enough opener. Booking two four-corner, one-fall tag title matches was the perfect illustration why they never should have split the division. Rikishi & Scotty 2 Hotty as champs was another reason. Poor Molly Holly got her head shaved here.

4. WrestleMania 14 (1998) - I imagine that having this show ranked this high will come as a surprise. I loved this show at the time and it remains a shining example of getting the most out of what you have. Was the wrestling as good here as it was at some points in the previous three WM's we've discussed? No, but the talent level was also significantly lower. I can't stress how much more talented and deeper the WCW roster was at this point. That's what makes the WWF's stunning run during this period all the more incredible. They were thought to have a weak roster in 1997 and then they GOT RID OF Bret Hart! Shawn Michaels karmically hurt his back and this was going to be his swan song for four years. But what they did have is Stone Cold Steve Austin, as over an act as there ever was in wrestling history at this point, winning his 1st World Title in the Main Event. It's the best match of the show at ****, so from a wrestling standpoint this show is definitely below the WM's I have ranked 5-7, but the booking and build here were phenomenal. The Boston crowd was arguably the hottest ever for a WM show. And after this show was over, you knew something special had just happened and couldn't wait for RAW the following night (which was great) and eventually they overtook WCW and never looked back. Again, look at the rosters of the two company's at the time. Obviously, Austin was the key for the turnaround, but the booking was so superior to that of WCW at the time. The involvement of Mike Tyson was also a key. I was there live in Cleveland when he joined DX and it was a brilliantly done angle (JR: "This wasn't exactly the SportsCenter moment I was looking for!"). The end of the main event was obvious, but it should have been. And given Michaels' jobberitis at the time, maybe the result wasn't so obvious at the time? The rest of the show featured five other well built programs. There was the first Undertaker-Kane match, which given all that build was considered somewhat disappointing at the time as a match. I remember being shocked that Kane was given his heat back (he also tombstoned Pete Rose beforehand in an awesome bit) as I assumed he'd bite the dust like every other previous Taker monster opponent. 13 years later and he's still with the company! Triple H going over Owen Hart was considered a major surprise at the time, and while Owen deserved better in the wake of Bret's departure, putting Helmsley over was absolutely the right move as he was getting moved into the leadership role of DX. He would be joined by X-Pac, who debuted with a great promo the following night, and the New Age Outlaws, who lose here to Cactus Jack and Terry Funk only to win the titles back on RAW. Remember when the NAO were considered a hot act? They sure were here. Again, the build was great with an angle on RAW having the NAO pushing the hardcore legends off the ramp in a dumpster. (This was a dumpster match). And what about the stunning improvement of Rocky Maivia from the previous year? After a career-making heel turn, he wins (is given) back the IC Title he lost to no fanfare earlier in 1997 and starts a feud with Ken Shamrock, who was getting a big push and was actually very over at the time. They did a screwjob finish where Rocky tapped to the anklelock, but the decision was reversed when Shamrock kept kicking his ass. (JR: "The Irishman has been robbed in Boston!"). The visual of Rocky raising up the title belt while being stretchered out is beyond awesome. But when it comes to stunning, nothing was more stunning on this show than the performance of the second most over act in the company at the time - Sable. She and husband Marc Mero win a mixed tag over Goldust/Luna that is better than anyone thought was humanly possible. Do yourself and watch this again, the heat is incredible. Goldust, despite getting fatter by the day, was a bump machine here. Taka-Aguila is okay, but not close to the kind of Cruiserweight matches WCW was doing at the time, which is why the division was eventually ditched after never being taken seriously in the first place. The opening battle royal, there only to put over the new look LOD, is the only misfire on this show. Again, while some of the featured acts did not last, I love shows that not only meet, but exceed their potential. When was the last time we could say that about a WWE show?

3. WrestleMania 10 (1994) - When I think of the booking of this show, one word comes to mind - "ballsy." Not before and not after has Vince McMahon booked a show successfully in such a unique and creative manner. This is generally considered to be the apex of the "down period." Here's the setup: As we told you earlier, WrestleMania 9 was the worst WM ever and saw the title get put back on Hogan, a bad decision compounded by the fact that the Hulkster then refused to put over former champion Hart at SummerSlam. In the interim, Hogan got bounced and Yokozuna was made champion, which did not exactly translate into box office success. Vince wanted a "new Hogan" and thus turned to Lex Luger of all people, who after a hot start in the top babyface role started sputtering in his chase of the World Title, which was pretty much the story of his career. They probably should have given him the title at SummerSlam '93, but the decision was made for a long chase and build to WrestleMania despite the fact that as the months passed by, people started caring less and less about Lex. A funny thing then happened as the crowds continued to support Bret and an "audible" was called for the Royal Rumble with the infamous "tie" finish so that McMahon could evaluate who was going to be his top babyface - Luger or Hart - moving forward. Rather than do what they would do today and book a triple threat match (those really didn't exist in '94), they decided to book two World Title Matches here - one with Luger challenging and one with Hart challenging. A coinflip was held to decide who faced Yokozuna first and the winner of that match would defend against the loser of the coinflip in the final match. Luger won the coin flip. To offset the disadvantage, it was decided Hart would also have to wrestle earlier in the night and it would come against younger brother Owen, who had been asking unsuccessfully for months for a match with Bret and turned heel on him in a Tag Title Match at the Rumble. Whew.

So, when Bret-Owen opened WM 10, it was generally believed that Bret would go over b/c after all, he was challenging for the World Title at the end of the night and there would be a reconciliation with Owen. Instead, what we got was a ***** classic that turned Owen Hart from a JTTS to a main event player in one 20 minute swoop. The crowd going into shock when Owen gets the (clean) pin is a great reaction and not the kind of "bad heat" you get from some shock endings today. Skipping ahead, you have Luger getting screwed by special guest ref Mr Perfect in the first title match against Yokozuna (remember WM9?). That angle didn't really lead anywhere, but it didn't matter as Lex was again branded as a loser and his main event run was done. This left the seemingly unbeatable Yoko vs. an already defeated Hart in the final match w/ Roddy Piper making a surprise return to be special ref (introduced by a hammered Burt Reynolds as "one of his all time favorites"). And thankfully, one year later, all the wrongs are righted as Hart goes over in what admittedly is not a very good match, but afterwards McMahon surprised him by emptying all the babyfaces out of the locker room to celebrate. One guy who is not celebrating is Owen, who comes out and bang - you have your main event feud for 1994.

Of course, Bret-Owen wasn't even the best match on this show as Shawn and Razor "steal the show" with the first PPV ladder match, making this the only show in history where I've given two seperate matches ***** and puts both in the top four all-time WM matches. Although Razor goes over, this was the Shawn show and he'd be main eventing WM the following year. With the careers of Bret, Owen, Shawn and Razor (four key players for the next several years) being made and Lex and Yoko getting de-pushed, does it even really matter what is on the rest of this show? You have Savage's last hurrah, winning a Texas Death Match over Crush. Thankfully, the Doink and Dink are beaten clean by Bam Bam and Luna. Also, I appreciated Men on a Mission NOT winning the Tag Titles from the vastly underrated Quebecers. Alundra Blayze brought the women's title back to this show (yawn!) and Adam Bomb vs. Earthquake was just a backdrop for the scintillating Whippleman-Finkle feud. Earthquake was actually in line for a big push, but he quit soon after.

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