Sunday, April 3, 2011

Five Count: Favorite Mania Feuds

Everyone loves lists! Right now, you can check out the Top 27 Matches in WrestleMania History (Part 1 & Part 2) and if you listen to the new episode of Kick-Out!! Radio, you'll get my top five favorite WrestleManias in history. If you're looking to get pumped up before Mania, listen to that show, it's probably the first and only time you'll hear me do a solo show that's almost an hour long. That's right, Iron Man Radio!

Anyhoo, how about one more list? I've been meaning to post this one all week and keep forgetting, it's my five favorite feuds heading into WrestleMania! Just to be clear, these are not necessarily the best matches, they're the best feuds. And just to keep it interesting, I'll be limiting it to one match per Superstar.

5. Batista vs. Triple H - WrestleMania 21
Jason Mann and I talked about this match on his series counting down the final matches of every WrestleMania and while the match doesn't quite hold up six years later, the build was perfect.

Triple H's reign of terror was winding down, he tapped out in the main event of the previous WrestleMania, but he wasn't willing to give up. He still had Evolution to get him out of a jam, but Randy Orton got cocky and had the audacity to win the World Championship for himself. Evolution turned on Orton and Triple H regained his title, but Dave Batista saw the writing on the wall, he knew that if he ever wanted to be top dog, Triple H would do the same thing to him. What made this feud so great was the fact that Triple H and Ric Flair thought Batista was their caged animal. They could keep him under control and he was too stupid to figure out he could break out on his own, but when Batista won the Royal Rumble, they got nervous. They did everything they could to send Batista to Smackdown, but The Animal turned on his mentors in one the coolest face turns in recent history, treating Flair and HHH just like they treated Orton.

4. Jake Roberts vs. Rick Martel - WrestleMania 7
Yes, the Blindfold Match at WrestleMania was silly and not remembered fondly, but the journey to it was the kind of great storytelling you just don't see in WWE's midcard anymore. Perhaps that's why I'm enjoying Cody Rhodes vs. Rey Mysterio so much because it's quite similar to this feud, which was one of my favorites when I was a kid.

Rick Martel sprayed cologne in Jake The Snake's eye, he was blinded (even had a creepy contact lens for awhile), Martel's team destroyed Roberts' at Survivor Series and Jake finally got his revenge at WrestleMania. Bad guy wrongs good guy, kicks good guy while he's down, good guy wins in the end; it's simple, effective and we don't get to see it a lot anymore since everything is so fast paced. Jake's promo work throughout the feud lifted it to a place that made it a deserving addition to this list.

3. Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker - WrestleMania 26
It's tough to pick the best feud Shawn Michaels has ever had going into WrestleMania, I can't think of a bad build for any of his WM matches from 10 on, they've almost all been great. I'm going to give the nod to his final feud though, where he put his career on the line against The Undertaker. Something about a desperate, obsessed Shawn Michaels always appealed to me, even when you knew he wasn't destitute, he made you believe it when he feuded with JBL. Even though he's not crazy desperate to end the Undertaker's Streak, he made you believe it.

The story here could've told itself with WWE's amazing video packages, especially the one with Placebo's version of "Running Up That Hill," but Shawn really pushed it over the top and Undertaker's initial refusal just made you sympathize with Shawn even more. From his heartbreaking loss at the Royal Rumble to him costing Taker the World Title at Elimination Chamber, WWE had me salivating for this rematch when I initially thought there was no point to do it. Luckily, this match delivered both in the hype and in the ring.

2. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock - WrestleMania 17
Speaking of desperation, no one did desperate better than Stone Cold Steve Austin heading into WrestleMania 17. Austin's character was getting stale and was certainly overexposed, but heading into this match, WWE did something almost unthinkable at the time, they made Austin look vulnerable. Throughout his WWE run, Austin always looked tough and even when the bad guy got the best of him, he came right back for more. Against his greatest rival, Vince McMahon, Austin was always one step ahead, he never looked bad.

But after coming back from neck surgery, the Rattlesnake just wasn't the same. Even though he won the 2001 Royal Rumble, he didn't just want to win the WWE Title at WrestleMania, he had to win the WWE Title at WrestleMania. I'll never forget Austin and Rock doing a studio interview together and Austin delivered the line, "I need this Rock." It was a real head-turning moment, because Austin was weakened and it felt like he didn't think he could win and that just wasn't Stone Cold. Of course, this culminated with his shocking heel turn, selling his soul to Vince McMahon, which I still say would've worked had they kept up the paranoid, desperate Stone Cold character instead of the comic relief character we got during the Invasion.

1. Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair - WrestleMania 8
"Elizabeth was MINE before she was yours!" Famous words from the Dirtiest Player in the Game, Ric Flair, as he tried to get into the Macho Man's head going into their WWE title match at WrestleMania 8. Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth had gotten married at the previous year's SummerSlam (which was the main event of that PPV, by the way), and a few months later, Ric Flair insisted that Miss Elizabeth was his woman before she met Randy, he even went so far as to used doctored photographs of the two together that would appear in WWE Magazine.

It was the perfect story that everyone could relate to. Who hasn't had some asshole trash talk your girlfriend or wife? Conflicts over women is probably the number one reason men fight each other, going all the way back to caveman days. Even the women in the audience had something to get into, because who hasn't been in poor Elizabeth's position, some guy telling anyone who will listen that you're basically a slut? The crowd at the Hoosier Dome EXPLODED when Savage won the title because it was such a cathartic moment, we got to live through Randy Savage as he shut up every arrogant d-bag that we had to deal with in high school. It might be the best story WWE's ever told besides Austin vs. McMahon.

This was a tough list to narrow down to just five. I had a really hard time leaving off Hogan vs. Andre, the visual of Andre tearing off Hogan's shirt and crucifix, leaving him bleeding from the chest should get it a spot on the list alone, right? What about the Battle of the Billionaires? You can call it a silly story, but it did give WWE the most successful WrestleMania in history. What about Hogan vs. Savage at WrestleMania 5? A full year of work went into that feud and the payoff was perfect. Or Bret and Owen at WrestleMania 10? Let me know your list in the comments section and tell me what else I missed!

WWE - The Ultimate Ric Flair CollectionWWE: Macho Madness - The Randy Savage Ultimate CollectionWWE Legends: Jake "The Snake" Roberts - Pick Your Poison

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