Monday, April 8, 2013

WWE WrestleMania 29

This was an interesting year, it could perhaps even be described as experimental. The set was absolutely beautiful, MetLife Stadium looked packed to the gills, but WWE didn't treat it like an over-the-top spectacle, it was very much all business last night. Aside from a very brief an inoffensive performance from Puff Daddy P. Diddy Diddy Sean "Diddy" Combs, WWE played it straight, which I don't recall ever happening at WrestleMania. There were no guest ring announcers, no backstage skits, no "DAMN!" moment, no racist Mamasaurus time-killer, John Cena didn't even do a special entrance, this was a wrestling show. That doesn't automatically mean it was good though.

The Shield vs. Randy Orton, Sheamus & Big Show was a great choice for the opener and the first time since 26 the show didn't open with the World Heavyweight Title match. I'm still not sure what the point of The Shield is since they've split off from CM Punk (what "injustice" are they currently fighting?), but getting a win like this at WrestleMania is really big for these guys. It didn't even matter that the match was essentially the same one we've seen them in every time they've wrestled, it was still a defining moment, they won at WrestleMania. I'm not sure where this leaves Orton and Sheamus, two guys in desperate need of something, anything to stay relevant, but at least Big Show got to reaffirm the fact that he's a bad guy and shouldn't have bothered wasting his time fighting this battle.
Predictions: 1 for 1

Mark Henry vs. Ryback wasn't the match I was hoping these two would have, but there was some fun to be had, like Henry crushing Ryback after a failed Shell Shock and pulling out the biggest surprise win of the night. Naturally, Ryback got his revenge after the match and hit the Shell Shock no problem, but the record book will forever say Henry: 1, Ryback: 0. That plays to Henry's character well too, he's tough, he's dangerous, but he also doesn't really care about proving anything when he doesn't have to. Not the slobberknocker I was expecting, but could've been worse.
Predictions: 1 for 2

Hell No vs. Dolph Ziggler & Big E Langston was just fantastic, best Tag Title match at WrestleMania since "TLC" became a thing. At WrestleMania, there are matches and there are MATCHES; this was one of the better matches in recent WrestleMania history, a true undercard classic in an era where anything below the top 4 matches on the show is usually forgettable. And it wasn't all thanks to Bryan and Ziggler; Langston looked like a beast in there and ol' Kane showed why he can still a reliable hand after all these years. The crowd was super into it (okay, that was mainly thanks to Bryan and Ziggler), the action was fast-paced and most importantly, it was just a really fun match. This could've easily been a throwaway match on Raw, but just a little buildup and a grand stage made for something surprisingly special. You need to see this one, not a second of the 7 minutes is wasted here.
Predictions: 2 for 3

Fandango vs. Chris Jericho, on the other hand, was underwhelming. I had high hopes for this one, thought it was one of the best-built matches on the card with its simple story and colorful characters, but it just didn't do it for me. Fandango didn't play up the gimmick enough, but also didn't look serious enough to be a formidable opponent for Jericho at WrestleMania and if you can't have a good match with Chris Jericho at WrestleMania, it sure as hell isn't Jericho's fault.

I didn't mind the surprise ending, didn't mind that Fandango won, but he just didn't look like he belonged in there. All the hype, all the delays, and this is what Fandango brought to the WrestleMania stage? It wasn't like he was Kizarny or anything, but to get to have your much-hyped debut at WrestleMania and to turn in this performance against one of the greatest in-ring performers of all-time? Meh.

To be fair, a lot of folks seemed to really dig it, so maybe I'm the crazy one, but it just didn't do it for me at all. And it was probably the match I was most excited for behind Punk/Taker.
Predictions: 2 for 4

Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger was a clinic though. I knew these two would gel, so I'm not surprised it was a really good match, but I have to admit I was bummed that Ziggler didn't cash-in. Was the perfect opportunity to do it, he could be the first guy to do it at Mania, this match was short enough that Del Rio could've put up a believable fight and it would've been a really cool moment. Sadly, it was not to be, but luckily Del Rio and Swagger made up for it that was helped by the side-characters at ringside. I don't think the Zeb Colter shtick has much life in it after this story, but it was fun while it lasted and very well may have saved Swagger's career... or sank it, not sure yet.
Predictions: 3 for 5

CM Punk vs. The Undertaker... wow. Okay, before we get into the match, can we just admire this for a second?

image: WWE.com

That is why I watch wrestling.

I'm occasionally asked who is my favorite wrestler and I don't have a single answer. Depending on when you ask me, I may be feeling nostalgic for Hulk Hogan, who is the reason I got into wrestling. Maybe I'll say Shawn Michaels, whose matches have always been among my favorites of the last 20+ years. Maybe Stone Cold, who had a brief, but unmatched run at the top of WWE during the most fun era to watch (at least at the time). Maybe Chris Jericho, who is just wonderful.

But ya know what, after last night, I finally have an answer: The Undertaker is my favorite wrestler. Period. His mere presence does more for me as a viewer than most matches, his matches have transcended the idea of good and bad, it's now just a matter of how legendary they will be and The Streak is the coolest accolade in wrestling history. I'll do you one better: if The Undertaker isn't your favorite wrestler, you're wrong!

Taker and Punk absolutely killed it last night. And I'll tell you what, for a "broken down old man," Taker looked like he was ready to start doing this every week again. Obviously that's not going to happen, nor should it, but Taker hasn't looked like this in years. Is that credit to Punk or the once-a-year schedule? Or is Taker just that badass? Whatever the reason, the only bad thing about Taker at this point is there's no way to make anything in wrestling seem as special or even remotely as important. It's not his fault, he's not intentionally overshadowing anyone, but Taker is a god and it's tough to be a mortal when he descends (well, ascends in his case) to our realm.

The sit-up in the Anaconda Vice... THE SIT-UP IN THE ANACONDA VICE! I CAN'T EVEN!

It's why it boggles my mind that WWE bothers with anything following The Undertaker at WrestleMania. I thought they learned their lesson with "the title has to go on last!" when Rock and Hogan stole the show at WM18, then they put Orton and HHH on after HBK and Taker at WM25. They learned their lesson at Mania 26, but forgot it again this year. WWE: stop putting matches on after The Undertaker, there's nothing the crowd will care about more, I guarantee it. It was one thing when he was wrestling Mark Henry at Mania 22 or Kane for the third time at 20, but if he's getting in there with a Shawn Michaels, Triple H or CM Punk, there's very little that can follow that.

And this match was impossible to follow, Punk and Taker unsurprisingly stole the show and more than made up for their forgettable encounters years ago when Taker was hurt and Punk was very, very new to the main event scene. Punk was no slouch either, managing to look like a believable threat to The Phenom without veering into the over-the-top territory of the last two years. Everything about this match was excellent and if you missed it, you need to see it right now.

The. Goddamn. Undertaker.

Predictions: 4 for 6

Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar, as mentioned, had a tough act to follow, but they got off to an excellent start... unfortunately they came to a screeching halt about five minutes in. Shades of their disappointing SummerSlam encounter were all over the place, luckily they managed to bounce back with an absolutely brutal finish, but it wasn't enough to call this one great. Good? Sure, which I worry is all we're gonna get from HHH these days.

Jason Mann brought up the excellent point that maybe the crowd just wasn't that into it because they're just not that into Triple H? HHH is the Bob Dylan of wrestling: he's been around forever, we all agree he's a legend, everyone says they like him, but play his record at a party and the crowd starts to thin a bit. "Oh yeah, I know I'm supposed to like this and all, but can't we just listen to Foghat?" It's not a knock on Triple H, I don't care that he won, it's not like Brock Lesnar needs help keeping his "heat," but the well has perhaps run dry. He had a great run, I'm fine with him wrestling here and there, but his days of being "the man" are long gone, if they were ever really here. There's absolutely no shame in a Triple H wrestling career, even 10% of a Triple H career, but he'll never be The Rolling Stones.
Predictions: 5 for 7

I'm not really sure what to make of The Rock vs. John Cena. It certainly wasn't as bad as pockets of the internet are making it out to be, but it wasn't good either. This match disappointed me last year and I expected them to crank it up this year, they didn't, so it failed to deliver, but let's not act like it was the wrestling equivalent of a late-term abortion.

I was not a fan of the crowd chanting "BORING!" early on. Sure, they were working chinlocks and headlocks, but I feel like that kind of impatience sets an ugly standard for the slow-burn wrestling match. Unfortunately, they never really picked up the pace until it was too late, they never really fought and then a clunky finisher exchange at the end just felt awkward, rather than epic.

There was fun to be had, the callback to last year with Rock getting an AA after trying the Five-Knuckle Shuffle was cute, Cena luring in with what cost him the match last year was cuter, but it never really had that "oh wow!" moment. Even after the match, the "passing the torch" moment didn't really have that special vibe, and not just because Cena's already been on top of WWE for eight years. Hogan had been champion for several years straight and was undoubtedly the biggest thing in when Andre "passed the torch," but it still felt like an exclamation point on Hulkamania, this felt like a question mark for the Cenation... what's next? More importantly, what's left?
Predictions: 6 for 8

You could tell Vince wanted to let the guys on the card sell WrestleMania this year, rather than celebrities and spectacle. Sure, The Rock is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, but he wasn't presented as a special attraction this year, he was just a part of the show. Brock Lesnar is one of the biggest athletes in the world, but he wasn't presented as "UFC Champion Brock Lesnar" like he was at Extreme Rules, he was just "Brock Lesnar: Jimmy John's enthusiast." This method of presentation perhaps didn't work as well as it could have - presenting a straight wrestling show for a die-hard wrestling crowd seemed like a good idea - but it wasn't a bad show. It was a weird one during a weird moment in the WWE canon, and much like Cena's 13th WWE/World Title reign, it left me asking "what's next?" And perhaps more concerning, "what's left?"

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