Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ranking the WrestleManias: 2 and 1

By Kyle Ross (posted by Rick Morris)

I couldn't imagine anyone having their top 2 not be the 2 in question, so I'll rank them first, then explain..........

2. WrestleMania 17 (2001)

1. WrestleMania 3 (1987)

Surprise. Surprise. These are clearly the two best WM's representing the two "boom" eras of the company. I assume that most will have my ordered reversed, but "most" would be wrong. Here's why...

WrestleMania 17 ends with the terrible decision of turning Steve Austin heel. This essentially led to the end of this "boom" period as ratings dropped significantly in the month that followed. They were given a tremendous "mulligan" with the Invasion angle, but instead they continued with Austin as a heel siding w/ WCW/ECW and that was that. WrestleMania 3 is a "celebration" of its era with the "right" ending. They did not turn Hulk Hogan heel, have him side with Bobby Heenan and reveal it was all a ruse to fool Andre the Giant. That would have been the equivalent.

As for the wrestling on both shows, WM 17 is clearly superior. However, it should be pointed out that of the two shows, WM 3 has the best overall match with Savage-Steamboat clocking in at ***** as the 2nd best WM match in history and best WWF Match of the 1980s. Dave Meltzer is much better at doing these things than I am, but him giving that match "only" ****1/2 is beyond ridiculous.

WrestleMania 17 features an incredible three matches at ****1/4 or higher and five at ***1/2 or higher. That doesn't happen very often, if ever, on a non-Japanese show. The best match is TLC 2 (****3/4), which I rank just slightly below the first one from SummerSlam the year prior. It is a Top 7 WM match all-time. They build off the incredible bumps set forth in the original (with the highlight being Edge's spear of Hardy), but the only minor quibble is that the crowd is basically waiting for the massive bumps as opposed to the SS version when they all were coming as surprises. Rock-Austin (****1/4) has lost some of its luster through the years, again due to an absolutely terrible ending, about which everyone (even Austin) now agrees. Had they done ANY other ending (and I don't have that answer), this would have been a near ***** affair as it was - dare I say - All Japan-ish with all the kicking out of big moves. The third-best match is clearly Angle going over Benoit and these two obviously had even better matches as time went on. At the time, this was considered one of Angle's best matches ever. Now, it's not even top ten. Vince-Shane is about as good as it gets when you have two non-wrestlers. They wrapped up a bunch of storylines here & I have to say that Linda McMahon getting out her chair to kick Vince in the balls was a great call by someone. Triple H & Undertaker likewise benefited from being allowed to do the kind of wild brawl that midcarders aren't allowed to do. Just to illustrate how "the streak" was viewed back then, Taker was reportedly booked to lose here, but Triple H got punished for HBK showing up wasted to a RAW. At least that's what they tell me. As for the rest of the show, there is actually quite a bit of the same filler that a show like WM 20 gets knocked for. The legends battle royal features some excellent commentary from Okerlund and Heenan (Okerlund: "The Repo Man got my mother-in-law about six years ago.” Heenan: “Everyone got your mother-in-law six years ago!"), but is a real atrocity when you get past the nostalgia factor as most of those guys sucked when they were in their "primes." I don't even want to discuss Chyna-Ivory. In all seriousness, considering the shape the economy is in now, you should never "root" for someone to lose their job, but I was doing backflips when Joanie Laurer got her pink slip. Jericho deserved better than curtain-jerking, didn't he? Same thing as RVD the following year as Y2J beat Regal in an IC Title Match. Speaking of underappreciated, Stevie Richards and Right To Censor's run comes to an end with a squash at the hands of Tazz and the APA. Good promo from Bradshaw beforehand and, hey, the Orange guy wins a WM match! The hardcore match featuring Raven, Big Show and Kane was a bit silly, but a proper use of all three guys. Eddie Guerrero was floundering when he beat Test for the European Title. One thing I really love about this show is that it’s the only WM with Paul Heyman on color and he does his usual fabulous job of annoying the sh#% out of JR. Overall, this was the best WWE show of the decade, without question, and better than any show in the 90's, but it is not the greatest PPV or even WM of all-time with the ending being the sole reason. And yes, an ending alone can taint a show.

WrestleMania 3 is the most famous show in wrestling history and features the most famous match in wrestling history, Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. As you recall, I have been very critical of the "match" itself and was surprised that the Belfi crew at The Sports Talk Network was so surprised at that. I actually like the match more than probably most on the net. The build is obviously incredible and was responsible for drawing the house, which is an inflated number, but at 80,000 is still a phenomenal achievement. The epic staredown at the beginning is as dramatic as it gets in this business, as is the bodyslam to end the match, but in between, c'mon it's very fair to be critical. Of course, this show also not only features the most famous match ever, but the "best" match of the era w/ Savage vs. Steamboat culminating a brilliantly-done feud that represents the height of the IC Title. Both guys would later admit to wanting to "steal the show" from Hogan/Andre and they did just that, putting forth a kind of match that just isn't done anymore. Because of its length (under 15:00), I think that if you weren't around then, you might not have this in as high a regard as I do. But this was so different than what's considered "great wrestling" today as it is non-stop action from the bell and not overbooked in the least. Some (on you-know-what message board - the one where the people lost their minds about five years ago) criticized this as not being "violent enough" for a blowoff match. Given the era and given that Steamboat had been DQ'd in numerous matches on the house show circuit with Savage leading up to this and this was billed as his final shot, "those people" clearly do not know what they are talking about. And for God’s sake, Steamboat picks him up and starts choking him one minute into the damn match! So there. I also love how ref Dave Hebner gets gassed from counting all the near falls. I think the point when you realize that something special is happening here is when Jesse Ventura (never a shill) turns to Gorilla and says "This is one of the greatest matches I've ever seen." The reaction from the crowd when Steamboat is announced as the new champ is chilling. Fun fact: the original angle that set this up, when Savage "crushed" Steamboat's larynyx resulted in my dad having to break the news to a stunned six-year old Kyle Ross that wrestling was indeed "fake."

As for the rest of this show, there are at least five other matches that resulted from famous and well remembered angles. Billy Jack Haynes vs. Hercules is a solid power match with cool psychology as both guys were using the full nelson as a finisher. Of course, a double countout finish isn't desirable, but if you liked this, they actually did a Chain Match later that can be found on one of the "Most Unusual Matches" Coliseum Tapes. Good luck finding that now. YouTube it? JYD-Harley Race was the promotion's final attempt to pair Junkfood Dog (who was fat as fu#% here) with an aging bump machine (see also Funk, Terry and Adonis, Adrian) in a futile attempt to keep him relevant. Thankfully Race goes over clean, but of course JYD gets his heat back in a match where the loser had to bow to the winner. Is there a more historically underrated feud than Piper-Adonis? Do a YouTube search for "Pipers Pit vs. Flower Shop" and watch Adonis go from mid-card joke to main event threat. Speaking of "jokes," this was billed as Piper's farewell match. Crowd was wild for this though and it was used as a vehicle for the Beefcake face turn after a confusing finish in the previous match w/Rougeaus (miscast as faces) vs. Dream Team. Since it was never adequately explained, the backstory had Adonis "accidentally" cutting off some of Brutus' hair in a six-man tag prior to this. So, he becomes “the Barber” helping Piper shave Adonis bald (this was a hair vs. hair match). Screw business numbers, I'll take this over Lashley and Trump vs. Umaga and Vince any day of the week and twice on Sundays. I was also always a sucker for evil referee Danny Davis, who makes his wrestling debut here alongside new Tag Champs The Hart Foundation vs. the Bulldogs and Tito. As a ref, Davis had screwed the Bulldogs out of the belts vs. the Harts (Dynamite was legit hurt going in) and in an amazing bit of continuity, someone looked it up and saw he was the ref when Savage cheated to beat Tito for the IC belt the year prior (no storyline in place then). For the first of two straight years, the Bulldogs are jobbed in a six-man with Davis getting a cheap pinfall. Kinda weird considering Davis never did anything as a wrestler and with no tag titles on the line, the faces easily could have gone over here. Everyone recalls the famous Jake the Snake-Honky Tonk Man angle from the Snake Pit where HTM bashed a guitar over Jake's head (turned him face) after HTM had just turned heel himself following a disastrous initial face run. HTM went over in a shocker here and I'm not sure if it was actually known he would be the next IC champ at this point. Bees-Sheik/Volkoff is the popcorn match, more funny if anything else due to Sheik's relations with B. Brian Blair and Hacksaw Duggan “outside the ring.” Koko B. Ware-Butch Reed continues the tradition that all black wrestlers must either team up or feud. King Kong Bundy squashing a midget is fun. The opener of Can Am Connection vs. Orton/Muraco is good.

So there you have it, hope you enjoyed.

No comments: