Kings Road Now That's What I Call Wrestling

Now That’s What I Call Wrestling #4: All Grown Up

WrestleMania has been and gone. The biggest event of the wrestling calendar has taken place and we now have to wait another year for the next one. Whilst that WrestleMania aura is still in the air, I thought I would do as I did with the Royal Rumble, and look back at last year’s WrestleMania and see how 2007’s version holds up one year later…

“I can tell you this, ‘King’: ‘The Rattlesnake’ and I celebrated until four o’ clock this morning! Austin is not in a good mood, Austin is a little gnarly to tell the truth.” (Jim Ross on his Hall Of Fame induction the night before as Special Guest Referee Steve Austin made his entrance for ‘The Battle Of The Billionaires’, WrestleMania XXIII, 01/04/07)

WrestleMania has been and gone. The biggest event of the wrestling calendar has taken place and we now have to wait another year for the next one. Whilst that WrestleMania aura is still in the air, I thought I would do as I did with the Royal Rumble, and look back at last year’s WrestleMania and see how 2007’s version holds up one year later. I reviewed the very good WrestleMania XXIII DVD and a summary of my feelings on the event can be found there, along with my thoughts on the extras. Here I will just concentrate on the pay-per-view itself going into much more detail in terms of analyzing the matches and assessing the quality of the card itself.

The Build-Up:

“This is where it all comes together” (Finlay in the opening video package of WrestleMania XXIII… I bet those of you who were regular fans of ITV’s World Of Sport never thought you’d be hearing that twenty years later, 01/04/07)The build-up for this event was very well done. Following what was a rather dull period for WWE television, most of the shows since the Royal Rumble were good ones and, combined with No Way Out generally did a good job at building towards this event. Two of the main reasons for this were the entertaining (if predictable) ‘Who will the Undertaker choose to challenge at WrestleMania?’ allowing the company more emphasis than usual on the importance of a Rumble win (for a couple of weeks anyway) and more notably the slow-burn storyline involving Shawn Michaels and John Cena which drew comparisons to Batista’s babyface turn on Triple H two years previously. Some of the promos Michaels’ delivered here rank right up there as the best of his entire career, in my opinion.

Meanwhile, the so-called ‘Battle of Billionaires’ had done an equally good job at creating some media buzz and the stipulation on that match combined with Trump’s involvement ensured the event would get more coverage after it happened. This is exactly what happened, regardless of the predictability of the result, the ‘Hair versus Hair’ stipulation generated more column inches and discussion on chat shows than any other individual match or incident since Mike Tyson back in 1998. In this case they even reached beyond the 18-35 year-old male demographic by bringing WWE into the lifestyle magazines, to the extent “Donald Trump” was the most searched name on the world wide web the week leading into WrestleMania.

Finally, having main event or upper mid-carders like former World champions Edge, Randy Orton and King Booker in 2007’s Money in the Bank meant that rather than just acting as a means to elevate ‘The Next Big Thing’ the match was given a bit of a background as well. The slow split between Rated rKo, the reunion of the Hardy Boyz in their specialty The Ladder Match, the “amelioration of Mr. Kennedy” (JBL) and the uneasy alliance between Booker and Finlay were all part of the back-story highlighted in the weeks leading into the event.

One of the big differences between WrestleMania XXIII and WrestleMania XII was that heading into its predecessor the almost universally low expectations made the event seem so much better when it turned out to be very good and matches like Mick Foley/Edge, where the build-up had been considered disappointing, and Shawn Michaels/Vince McMahon, where the build-up seemed to have gone on forever to the extent what started as a hot angle the previous Boxing Day had begun to lose momentum, far surpassed expectations producing matches that far surpassed what were generally mediocre storylines leading into them. In all honesty the only match I really cared about going in was Trish Stratus defense against Mickie James. In 2007 it looked like they had learned from the previous year and the four main matches had all been given some decent build-up.

The Spectacle:

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to WrestleMania – a world-wide extravaganza” (Jim Ross, WrestleMania XXIII, 01/04/07)Historically there is normally much more to WrestleMania than the wrestling itself and last year was no different. Held at Detroit’s Ford Field, WrestleMania XIII marked the twentieth anniversary of the single most famous event in U.S. wrestling history, WrestleMania III held at the nearby Pontiac SilverDome. The advertising for the event promised that twenty years later the same event had returned to Detroit – “All Grown Up!” Not a bad idea in itself, but unfortunately they did this through a series of promotional spots featuring kids who looked nothing like the Superstars they were portraying. In fact of all the All Grown Up skits used before and during the event only the one featuring Steve Austin was entertaining and funny in the way intended.

The pay-per-view itself kicks off with a really good opening package with clips from past WrestleManias, the emphasis being on the fact that this is WrestleMania returning to Detroit twenty years after Hulk Hogan’s legendary bodyslam on and victory over André the Giant. I liked the way it finishes and cuts straight to the current audience with a tape recording of Vince McMahon’s voice from twenty years ago announcing Aretha Franklin as footage of the SilverDome at WrestleMania III segues into the image of the current Ford Field at WrestleMania XXIII. Repeating her role from twenty years ago, ‘The Queen of Soul’ has a Gospel choir as her backing group and there are plenty of clips from WWE’s Tribute To The Troops interspersed throughout her song.We then go straight into the (second) opening package this time centered around the All Grown Up theme. The focus is on the ‘Battle of the Billionaires’, WWE, World, U.S. and Women’s Title matches and Money In The Bank and John Cena, Edge, Bobby Lashley, Dave Batista, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Dave Finlay, Ken Kennedy, Ashley, Randy Orton, Chris Benoit, Jeff Hardy, MVP, Steve Austin, Melina, C.M. Punk and Kane all get their comments in. Interestingly amongst all the clips from past WrestleManias it shows Chris Benoit on Nitro of all places! I bet you never thought you’d see that on the opening of WWE’s biggest show of the year. In fact Chris Benoit is featured so prominently (for the last time) it makes me wonder what they will use to replace the famous image of Benoit and Guerrero hugging at the conclusion of WrestleMania XX in years to come.

Jim Ross welcomes us to the show and informs us that they outdrew SuperBowl 40 at the same arena, whilst we get a nice shot of the entire arena. Right away you were hit by the size of the venue and the fact that this is an important show. Visually the effect was stunning featuring the largest and most expensive lighting and the largest set (which actually took around three weeks to completely assemble) used for any WrestleMania yet. They went all-out to distinguish the show from every other event that year with little touches like having the ring-posts blue and (for the first time) all three ropes white. The long (187 ft) entrance ramp leading to the ring allowed some grand entrances and the whole big stadium atmosphere made the event seem like a huge deal. The question was had they set expectations they couldn’t match?

The Matches:

“Booker, to Hell with her! I’ve left plenty of women” (JBL as King Booker abandoned his climb to the ‘Money In The Bank’ briefcase to rescue his Queen, WrestleMania XXIII, 01/04/07)

Eight-Man ‘Money In The Bank’ Ladder Match: Jeff Hardy (Raw) vs. King Booker (SmackDown!) vs. Finlay (SmackDown!) vs. CM Punk (ECW) vs. Mr. Kennedy (SmackDown!) vs. Edge (Raw) vs. Randy Orton (Raw) vs. Matt Hardy (SmackDown!)

Kicking things off with the third annual ‘Money In The Bank’ Ladder Match, certainly suggested it could live up to the hype. Right away the combination of spectacle and big name wrestlers made it clear you were watching the big show. The big screen at the back worked really well especially with the Irish flag during Finlay’s entrance, and having Kennedy’s microphone drop from the huge ceiling to the entrance ramp so he could do his introduction gimmick was a neat touch. The line of ladders in the aisle worked really well. The only problem was the numbers: the eight-man format meant the ring itself looked crowded and the addition of two extra bodies to the usual six-man format resulted in a cluttered slightly rushed-feeling match which was a step below the great ladder matches of the past, albeit still one of the better undercard matches of the year. Adding to the confusion all three commentary teams handled Money In The Bank.

Although basically a spot-fest, they managed to combine comedy with violence resulting in some memorable spots like Finlay’s plancha (!!!) onto the assembled wrestlers outside the ring; Booker pulling out Hornswoggle’s mini step-ladder by mistake; Edge throwing said mini-ladder into Punk’s face and Punk subsequently bleeding; Kennedy missing a Kenton Bomb onto Matt and cracking his head on the ladder, followed by Jeff giving Kennedy a Swanton of his own; Punk aping Terry Funk at Barely Legal ’97 and taking out the opposition by Airplane Spinning a ladder; and Edge’s spear to the ladder-wielding Punk which took down three men at once.

Of course the big stunt here, and the story of the match, was Jeff Hardy’s insane suicide legdrop from the “twenty-foot” ladder onto Edge who was lying on a ladder balanced across the guard rail. The resulting image was one that will no doubt feature in WrestleMania highlight reels well into the future. ‘The Rated R Superstar’s’ selling and subsequent stretcher job made this feel important and in its immediate aftermath the live audience seemed to be questioning whether his injuries were legitimate. It certainly looked brutal enough to explain time off TV if he’d needed it. In fact it was a way of killing two birds with one stone since Edge was taken out of the match rather so he wasn’t directly involved in the finish (thus he wasn’t there at the end and could moan about not really been ‘beaten’ and claim his WrestleMania ‘undefeated streak’ was intact), and secondly it served to explain his existing injuries which had kept him out of competition in the build-up to the event (he had suffered a broken jaw during his very good ‘Money In The Bank Qualifying Match’ with Rob Van Dam in February). As well-executed as the spot was, my problem was it happened too early in the match in the midst of a strong performance from Edge.

In amongst the stunts and bumps, they also managed to tell a couple of stories here. They did a good job playing off the experience of Edge and The Hardyz, compared to Randy Orton and King Booker (both involved in their first ladder match). JBL did a great job putting over Booker’s accomplishments and status as a sure-fire future Hall Of Famer (interesting to see if he does make it, given his jump to TNA). I liked the way Matt Hardy came across as more opportunistic than usual, as he executed his plan: first to make sure his old girlfriend stealing arch-enemy Edge was taken out of the match, then he tried the Joey Mercury-spot from New Year’s Revolution and when that failed by encouraging Jeff’s big leap and later using Sharmell to draw Booker down from the ladder. That was good use of Sharmell as a distraction with Matt threatening to give her the Twist of Fate to get her husbands attention, causing Booker to abandon his climb to the briefcase… only to instantly take the Twist of Fate himself. Both Hardyz were very over here and they did their best not to make anyone look weak but the sheer numbers in the match meant there wasn’t time for anyone to truly shine in the way Chris Benoit did in the original MITB back at WrestleMania XXI.

Instead of concentrating on one story, much of the match seemed to be centered around letting everyone get in their trademark spot, then moving to the next guy. I liked the way everyone hit their finishers from the ladder and then Finlay hits the Celtic Cross on the ladder. Despite his heel status at the time, Finlay (who bled from the top of his head) seemed to play babyface here with his gutsy, blood-soaked performance. The final image at the end of him checking on the little fella showed some rarely seen compassion from the ‘Fighting Irishman’. Then there was Kennedy who looked solid throughout. The Kamikaze Crunch onto Hornswoggle was brutal and I liked the image of him and Kennedy on the ladder before it happened – maybe it was just Kennedy’s selling but by the looks of it, the leprechaun throws better punches than most of the active roster. Moments later, the finish saw Kennedy hit Punk with a ladder and then climb it himself to retrieve the coveted briefcase.

Post-Match Analysis: Hyped as the “biggest ladder match in WrestleMania history” it wasn’t the best but it was still a strong effort. This was WWE’s fourth pay-per-view of the year, and the fourth to feature a strong opening match in this case. All-in-all it was a very good match, albeit slightly below what I was hoping for. I’m not sure if I liked it more or less than this year’s ‘version’ but take it from someone who has seen a few ladder matches: this was certainly a couple of rungs (pun intended) below the first one. My problem with WrestleMania XXII’s MITB was that it was far too rushed and I was worried that having eight men would be too many and lead to a similar thing here. Thankfully, they gave it more time than last year (19:05 to XXII’s 12:21), but unfortunately the two extra men made it seem just as rushed. Hopefully they go back to six in the future because anything more just leads to overcrowding and often robs the rest of the card from what could be another good singles match. In this case an Edge/Orton singles match would have no doubt been one of the better matches on the card, but I didn’t have a problem with the way they were building the feud up slowly to this point. Putting them in MITB allowed them the opportunity to play off the tension between them (which didn’t really come into play as much as it should have) whilst saving the one-on-one match for further down the line.

Going into the show I’d predicted a Kennedy win, but when I saw this was on first I thought about someone would be using it to challenge that night and presumed Edge or Orton, since Kennedy was in the position where he needed not only the win but also a decent build-up. Edge in particular seemed like a good pick, since I wasn’t sure they’d end his WM winning streak just yet. This meant what should have been a predictable result still came across as unpredictable and the live crowds reactions reflected this. For all the criticism he gets, often deserved, at the time I thought Kennedy was the right choice to win. Edge, Orton and even Booker didn’t need to win ‘Money In The Bank’ to get title shots, since they were all in the position where they would get plenty of them again anyway and doing so wouldn’t add anything to their characters. The others had had little build-up to prepare them as World champions at that stage – and let’s face it the winner is pretty much guaranteed to become just that.

The real issue here was the slightly odd placing of Money In The Bank on the card. Starting with this kind of match because it meant the rest of the show had to follow a bout packed with stunts, bumps, blood and high-spots but also because it featured eight big names (who would otherwise have been in high-profile matches elsewhere) in one match. On the other hand it did make things seem more unpredictable, I’m sure half the live audience were now thinking that whoever won would cash in their opportunity later on the show.

Still, the best opening match of the year and one of the better openers this side of The Attitude Era. Rating: ****

Inter-Promotional Match: Kane (SmackDown!) vs. The Great Khali (Raw)

Following footage from “the largest movie premiere of the Century” WWE Films’ latest release The Condemned with comments from the fans, WWE Superstars, and star ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin we moved on to a match that had literally “No Chance In Hell” as a certain WWE Chairman would say of following the last match. This was your basic ‘Big Man’ match, which seemed to exist purely so they could recreate the legendary bodyslam spot from WrestleMania III and was (thankfully!) kept short although Khali still managed to look awkward at times. Khali kicked out after the bodyslam (take that Hogan!) and hit a Double-Chokebomb to score the win with comparative ease.

The post-match shennanigans, suggested to me they were setting up a See No Evil / hook gimmick rematch of some kind which (again thankfully!) never materialized.

Post-Match Analysis: Certainly they could have benefited from having some gimmick attached to the match, but credit where it is due: both men worked hard and what they did wasn’t as bad as I expected. That was a shame really, and those expecting the worst match in WrestleMania history, a (post-) modern-day version of Giant Gonzales versus The Undertaker from WrestleMania XI, will have been left disappointed. It turned out it wasn’t even the worst match on the card, let alone of the year.

It was most notable for the way in which the Indian giant was able to defeat ‘The Big Red Machine’, including a foot-across-the-chest pin. Watching it live I wasn’t sure quite what the bout was supposed to achieve as I don’t see Khali getting that much more over and Kane is likely to be around for a while, so it seemed strange the way he lost so convincingly. Following his surprisingly effective performance in that environment two years earlier, Kane would surely have been better off in Money In The Bank again.

Regardless of the outcome, the bodyslam spot should have been a much bigger deal, mirroring Hogan/Andre from twenty years ago. I’m not even saying it should have been the finish, as many argued in the days following the event, just that it could (and should) have been built up more both before and during the match. Rating: * (for effort!)

Backstage: The skit involving Cryme Tyme, Eugene, Extreme Expose, The Fabulous Moolah (in her final WrestleMania appearance), Mae Young, Rev. Slick, Dusty Rhodes, Sgt. Slaughter, IRS, Jimmy Hart, Gerry Brisco, Pat Patterson and Ricky Steamboat made me laugh. It was great to see Slick back on TV, although I never expected Steamboat to do that.

United States Championship Match: Chris Benoit (Champion) vs. Montel Vontavious Porter

The match between United States Champion Chris Benoit and challenger Montel Vontavious Porter surpassed expectations on two levels: firstly it was such a good match, and secondly MVP showed us so much in terms of technical wrestling.

Before WrestleMania XIII I liked MVP’s character a lot. The guy is just so over the top with the big entrances (bouncy castles, fireworks, and here he took it a step further with cheerleaders), the Power Ranger-style costume matched with the gold chain and sunglasses, and I think he manages to pull off the “overpaid sports star” bit rather well. That said he was still pretty much untested as far as in-ring stuff went.

MVP’s entrance combined with some good commentary meant that for a match that had received very little build-up it really made it feel ‘big time’ on the night. There was some solid mat-wrestling, the story being that MVP wanted, not only to win the United States title from ‘The Crippler’, but to outwrestle him for it. “How many guys have you seen against Chris Benoit, except maybe Eddie Guerrero and Bret Hart, that have been able to go hold for hold with Chris Benoit?” mused JBL. The match was worked in a way that kept you guessing whether a title change was eminent as MVP worked on the shoulder to take away the Crossface, whilst Benoit fought back proving he was a crafty veteran with a few more tricks up his sleeve, showing he could improvise, paying tribute to his idol The Dynamite Kid and winning with the Diving Headbutt.

Post-Match Analysis: This was easily one of the best mid-card matches of the year. Now granted I’ve seen Chris Benoit get the best out of David Flair, Ice Train, Orlando Jordan and Ron Studd but the match with MVP was something different altogether. For a match that had “average” written all over it going into the show, they ended up almost stealing it. If only it had been a few minutes longer!

Although a little on the short side, they were given under ten minutes (9:19 to be exact) it’s difficult to ask for more as they combined top class wrestling with old-school psychology. They built towards a surprise ending. I was expecting Porter to go over, but since this marked the start of a proper feud between the two and their subsequent matches were of the same quality I don’t think anyone was complaining. I don’t mind the fact Benoit won with the Headbutt either: I don’t think it made MVP look ‘weak’ and it fit the story of the match. If anything it reminded me of WCW where even after he’d adopted the Crossface, Benoit would still often win with Air Canada. Benoit’s never really been a ‘one-finisher’ guy either, over the last twelve years he’s used the Dragon Suplex/Diving Headbutt, Crossface/Diving Headbutt and Crossface/Sharpshooter simultaneously. Rating: ***½

Public Announcement: We see footage from the previous night’s Hall Of Fame induction ceremony and Michael Cole actually calls it the “Class Of 2000” when introducing the segment! That colossal blooper aside this was my favourite ‘Class’ to be inducted to date. For the record the Hall Of Fame Class Of 2007 consisted of Nick Bockwinkel, The Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika), The Sheik (represented by his widow Joyce Farhat), Mr. Fuji, Jim Ross, Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler,‘Mr. Perfect’ Curt Hennig (represented by his widow Leonice and father Larry ‘The Ax’ Hennig) and Dusty Rhodes. After the Hall of Famers have come out to wave to the crowd, we get the billed attendance of 80,103 (apparently the real figure was 74,687… impressive enough in its own right).

World Heavyweight Championship Match: Dave Batista (Champion) vs. The Undertaker

So much for the Royal Rumble winner “headlining WrestleMania”. Whilst I know that hasn’t always been the case, given the emphasis on the Rumble last year and the memorable final image of that pay-per-view I thought this would close the show.

Despite its position on the card they still made it feel like an important, historic match. The pre-match preview package was very effective at highlighting both men’s motivation headed into the match: reigning Champion Batista had never lost the World title in the ring, whilst The Undertaker had never lost at WrestleMania establishing an incredible 14-0 record. Could he make Batista ‘No.15’? Or would ‘The Animal’ be the man to end this unparalleled winning streak? We were also reminded that going into this match Batista had guaranteed victory… who is he, Vince McMahon? Before the match the deal with sponsors AT & T Mobilewas was put to good use, we learn that a whopping 82% of the AT &T Poll thought Undertaker would win the World title match. In many ways sticking this in the middle of the card gave away the result. Not that I expected Batista to go over, but there was at least a little bit of doubt (which lets face it is more than most of Undi’s WrestleMania matches have) and if that was going to happen I’m sure it would’ve gone on last. There was some question how he would win said match however. The fact this was going on this early in the show made the possibility of some kind of screwy finish such as a count-out or disqualification appear more likely, since they would surely never risk that in the final match of the night. Having SmackDown! GM Teddy Long do the introductions added to the ‘Big Match’ feel as did the entrances. The special effects The Undertaker’s entrance were as good as ever, complete with Druids, a wall of flames, fireworks and that slow walk down a big aisle.

From the start, Batista was portrayed as the man who could actually beat The Undertaker.

Things started fast as Batista took it right to ‘The Dead Man’ with a spear at the very second of the opening bell and from then on it was a non-stop back-and-forth roller-coaster packed with intense brawling and big moves and complimented by a white hot crowd (listen to those “Let’s Go ‘Taker!” chants). In the days that followed many internet fans were quick to praise the way they were able to portray their “hatred” for each other, and whilst there may have been some of that going on the main thing I interpreted here was that they both desperately wanted to win. It made both the World title and WrestleMania seem important because they were willing to do things they don’t normally do for the sake of the belt and being ‘part of history’. In terms of their characters, The Undertaker needed to win and keep his undefeated streak, but just as much Batista needed to prove he was here to stay by beating ‘The Dead Man’ and ending the streak.

It was like he was out to show ‘Taker he really wasn’t intimidated by him with the way he went right after him from the start. This time the ‘The Animal’ really was “unleashed” and he did the best good job conveying his intensity I’ve seen from him yet. The running powerslam through the ECW table (how ironic is that?) and the impact of the spear stand out. Meanwhile that was the most motivated I’ve seen ‘Taker since his title matches vs. Angle a year ago. Say what you will about him, but when he’s on form (as he was here) Undertaker’s one of the best big men around and I’d go so far as to say one of the better performers in WWE. The speed at which he was moving when he hit the Snake Eyes-Big Boot combo was impressive as was the height he got on that trademark WrestleMania-plancha. As the match progressed it actually had me on the edge of my seat as they built up to the climax.

Undertaker kicked out of the Batista Bomb and delivered a Tombstone to score the win. The subsequent image of The Undertaker holding the World title, exactly ten years after he last won it at a WrestleMania, his streak still in tact was the highlight of this year’s card…

Post-Match Analysis: Despite being stuck in the middle of the card and the fact it was only given just over fifteen minutes Batista’s attempt to defend his World Championship against The Undertaker’s 14-0 WrestleMania winning streak was not only the best match in that streak but the best ‘Power versus Power’ match in WWF/E history.

For the second match in a row we were treated to a case of surpassed expectations. A match many were expecting to resemble Undertaker’s last title win over Sid ten years prior at WrestleMania XIII turned out to be the polar opposite. Other than the fact it involved two big men and ‘Taker was the challenger, this was nothing like it. This was all-action: the very definition of “workrate” as both men took some big bumps both inside and outside the ring that had the “eighty thousand” (cough, cough!) on their feet throughout. It was almost as if the two Big Men were moving in fast-forward with the speed at which they hit their trademark moves. I found it similar to the NWA Tag Team Championship match from Clash Of The Champions I where you had heavyweights you don’t normally associate with being that fast, hitting one move after another with no pause in between. If the previous match almost stole the show, then this one goes right ahead and does it. The ‘Match Of The Night’ for me, and a possible ‘Match Of The Year Contender’ this was just a straight-ahead, high-powered brawl between two big men who were willing to go all out to get the win. In the end the right man won, and after watching this it really brought home the fact that if The Undertaker ever is to lose at WrestleMania it would set whoever beats him up for life in terms of giving their character a career’s worth of bragging rights.

No question in my mind: this should have closed the show, because nothing that came afterwards could hope to follow it. Rating: ****¼

Backstage: If that match was the highlight of the show, then the ‘babycam’ segment involving Vince, Steph and Aurora Rose (Stephanie and Triple H’s daughter/Vince granddaughter) was the lowlight.

Eight-Man Tag: ECW Originals (Rob Van Dam, Sabu, The Sandman and Tommy Dreamer) vs. The New Breed (Elijah Burke, Matt Striker, Marquis Cor Von and Kevin Thorn) w/ Ariel

Whoever went next was going to be in a tough spot following that match. Out of the four undercard matches (Benoit/MVP, Ashley/Melina, Kane/Khali) this was the one with the best storyline behind it, dating back to when Mr. McMahon showed up on the January 30th episode of ECW On Sci-Fi, told the audience “I had the chance to meet some of those ECW Originals tonight and quite frankly I think they suck! Matter of fact: anything about the Original ECW sucks!”, claimed “I’m going to turn ECW into something meaningful” and hand-picked Elijah Burke as “the Future of ECW” leading to Burke taking a beating from The Originals. The following week Burke became the leader of the group known as ‘The New Breed’ (not Chris Champion and Sean Royal for you old school fans… although with Big Dust booking E-C-Dub you never know!) setting up a feud between the two factions. In the weeks leading up to the pay-per-view some of the TV matches involving both sides were decent enough so I was expecting the pay-off at the PPV to be a decent little match. Considering the time it was given, it was – nothing more and nothing less. The one thing lacking here was that for what’s supposed to be an important feud over the “Future of ECW” it didn’t have that much intensity. Still it was nice to see Sabu et al finally make it to WrestleMania, even if Sabu did take an unnecessary crazy neck bump on the concrete. In a slightly surprising turn of event ‘The Originals’ were awarded the win, after Van Dam blasted Striker with the Five Star Frog Splash.

Post-Match Analysis: Given more time to excel, the two factions would go on to have a cracking match under ‘Extreme Rules’ on the following Tuesday’s episode of ECW On Sci-Fi. Here it was treated as ‘filler’ material, but they used the six minutes they were given and managed to have a short but entertaining enough match which served to remind me of what a cool faction The New Breed were, how much potential this feud had and how WWE managed to waste it. Still seeing ‘The Originals’ make their entrance through the crowd was a ‘WrestleMania Moment’ I never thought I’d see. As Tazz put it, “This isn’t Barely Legal 1997, Joey. This is over eighty thousand people – WrestleMania!” Rating: **¼

The Battle Of The Billionaires – Hair vs. Hair Match: Bobby Lashley (ECW Champion) w/ Donald Trump vs. Umaga (Intercontinental Champion) w/ Mr. McMahon – Special Guest Referee: ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin

From ECW to a match involving the ECW Champion – a title that was, not unlike the Intercontinental Title, treated as almost irrelevant here. As was the actual wrestling itself, which was (unsurprisingly) overshadowed by the collection of offbeat shenanigans and extracurricular activities involving Vince McMahon, Donald Trump, Shane McMahon and Special Guest Referee Steve Austin. Perhaps that’s just as well in terms of actual in-ring stuff Lashley versus Umaga wasn’t the suplex-filled ‘Power versus Power’, slobberknocker of a match I was hoping for, but I guess with Undertaker winning the World Title in one of those it wasn’t going to happen twice on the same show. You’d imagine if it had of just been these two in a regular match that’s what you’d have got. Then again, a match between these two without McMahon and Trump’s involvement would have never been this high up the card. Instead, this was pure Sports EntertainmentTM but, thanks largely to McMahon and Austin’s ability it worked. The emphasis was clearly on the two corner men as the preview package hyped it as “Ego versus ego, hair versus hair” and the build-up to the event saw the likes of Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks Owner), Tony Hawk (the skateboarder), Ricki Lake (the tabloid talk show host), Richard Karn (Al from Home Improvement /the host of Family Feud), Will Sasso (MADtv), Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation), William Shatner (Star Trek), John Travolta, Cena’s old buddy Kevin Federline… and some guy called The Rock chip in to offer to their opinions. McMahon had a prediction of his own and promised Trump “I’m going to give you a patterned Billionaire Bitch Slap!” We see that Miss Teen USA 2006, Miss Universe 2000 and the current Miss USA are there to support ‘The Donald’. Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns is also in the audience… again. Other than ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons he must have been at more WWE events than any other celebrity in recent years.

In one of the funnier moments of the show even the barber’s chair has its own entrance and theme tune! Speaking of theme tunes, Trump’s is a WWE-style remix of For The Love Of Money by the O’Jays (theme from The Apprentice) edited so it just replays “MONEY! Money, money, money, money” over and over again complete with cash-register sound-effects. At the WrestleMania XXIII Press Conference held at Trump Tower, Trump had shown his inability to portray a babyface when he boasted about being “taller”, “better looking”, “richer” (well okay, that ones definitely true) and “stronger” (erm…) than McMahon. Unfortunately, Trump hadn’t improved between then and the big event. He walks to the ring with the controversial Miss USA 2006, Tara Conner, on one arm and promptly sticks two fingers up at the camera. We’re supposed to like this guy? And want to see him keep his hair?!?! On the other side of the coin is Vince McMahon (billed by JR as “One of the most successful businessmen in the history of the United States”) who got in the best line at said Conference when he adlibbed “Must be a Donald Trump mic” after a microphone didn’t work and how good are McMahon’s facial expressions? I don’t just mean in the post-match angle but during his entrance and the match itself Vinnie Mac carried the segment, emphasizing the importance of the stipulations as the match went along.

After all that it was time for ‘The Battle of the Billionaires’. As much as the wrestling may have been in the background that’s not to say it was bad. Umaga again showed off his ability to make his opponents look and whilst the bout itself didn’t allow Lashley to show off his power as much as it could have they still put on a really solid, back-and-forth heel vs. babyface match where, much like the previous year’s match between McMahon and Shawn Michaels, they told a story as they went along using whatever short-cuts available to tell it. The stare-down between Austin and Umaga was epic. People have been speculating for years whether Austin will ever come back for one last match. Well, if he ever did then Umaga would make a great choice for an opponent. Everyone knew as soon as Shane McMahon came out he’d find a way to get in the Van Terminator spot and sure enough he did. As good as it looked it was still strange to see him get in the biggest move of the match rather than Umaga or Lashley. Trump’s stiff clothesline to Vince and Austin’s Stunners on Shane O’ Mac and Umaga were both well received. Lashley capitalized on the one to ‘The Samoan Bulldozer’ by following up with a spear for the win.

The match did live up to the stipulations and the long post-match angle saw some nice use of Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson’s Bald Headed Blues and turned out to be one of the best-received parts of the show. After Lashley, Trump and ‘Stone Cold’ got finished shaving McMahon, Donald Trump surpassed Linda McMahon with the worst ever selling of the Stone Cold Stunner.

Post-Match Analysis: Good match. The ending might have been the single most predictable result of all time, but the important thing was keeping people entertained by the story as they went along and throwing in a couple of surprises. I think they managed it quite well. If you didn’t watch the event live and wanted to avoid the result, it was difficult because said post-match footage was broadcast across the mainstream media over the next few weeks.

More importantly, the extra-curricular activities around the ring and the long post-match angle turned out to be an entertaining slice of Sports Entertainment that provided the event with the classic ‘WrestleMania Moment’ it needed. Rating: ***

WWE Women’s Championship LumberJill Match: Melina (Champion) vs. Ashley
Lumberjills: Victoria (Raw), Layla (ECW), Jillian Hall (SmackDown!), Candice Michelle (Raw), Kelly Kelly (ECW), Torrie Wilson (SmackDown!), Maria (Raw), Trinity (ECW), Kristal Marshall (SmackDown!), Mickie James (Raw), Brooke Adams (ECW) and Michelle McCool (SmackDown!)

Before this match we get a recap from the ‘Tag Team Lumberjack Match’ between Raw’s Ric Flair and Carlito and SmackDown!’s Chavo Guerrero and Gregory Helms. After the match I was left wishing that match had been here instead of the Women’s Title Match. One of the worst WrestleMania matches in recent years, the ‘LumberJill’ gimmick was simply an excuse to get all the Divas onto WrestleMania. I’m not begrudging them a pay-check but this was a waste of time. They were indistinguishable as they all came out to Torrie Wilson’s theme tune. And how the mighty have fallen – one year after the match of her career Mickie James found herself standing clapping at ringside. As with Khali/Kane things were (thankfully again!) kept short so as to not take away from the rest of the show but there was no hiding that this was still an awkward match with a couple of botched moves. Following an awkward start, Melina took control and delivered a Giant Swing and locked on a modified bow-and-arrow. Ashley made her comeback with a botched head-scissors, some weak forearms and a monkey-flip but missed Star Struck (elbow drop from the second rope) allowing the champion to get a near-fall. Seconds later Melina used a bridging pin to successfully defend her title in three minutes, thirteen seconds. After the match all the ‘Lumberjills’ got into a catfight with the babyfaces sending the heels packing as JBL delivered his “LumberJill pandemonium!” one-liner.

Post-Match Analysis: This is one of those matches where I have more to say about what didn’t happen than what did. From a business standpoint, I understand they wanted to promote Ashley’s Playboy shoot but I thought there were more effective ways of doing so. They would have been better off sticking her in a six-person tag with London and Kendrick against Melina and someone (MNM would’ve been perfect but with Mercury’s release they could have found a replacement?). Personally, I’d have gone for Ashley and LonDrick vs. Melina, Johnny Nitro and Kenny Dykstra. Alternatively, they could have just done Ashley and someone versus Melina and Nitro in your standard Mixed Tag.

Or they could have had the ten Diva tag they had on the previous week’s SmackDown! That match worked much better than this one, despite it been short, and if they’d done it here instead it would have still had all the Divas on the PPV without being stuck at ringside as ‘LumberJills’. What they did do – a straight-up singles match – was by far the worst option. To be fair, they tried hard to make it work and I’ve seen plenty of Divas matches that were worse but for a WrestleMania title bout it was atrocious.
Rating: Rating: ¼*

WWE Championship Match: John Cena (Champion) vs. Shawn Michaels

Unlike many of Cena’s pay-per-view title match this was one where a title change seemed possible. As JR reminded us before the match, Cena had held the WWE title for “twenty out of the last twenty-four months”, whilst Michaels was on his biggest roll in ages and hadn’t held any version of the World title since 2002. The WWE title had changed hands fifteen times at WrestleMania to this point which combined with the amount of time Cena had held the belt made a title change seem extremely likely. Following his buddy Triple H’s latest quadriceps tear at New Year’s Revolution, Michaels started wrestling like a man possessed. ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ looked as motivated as he ever had, doing the work of two men and stepping into the Main Event spot, originally intended for ‘The Game’ (Michaels is billed as “DX’s Shawn Michaels”). This change of plan meant WWE’s Creative Team was forced to come up with a different storyline to set up the match (if Triple H had been active an issue between himself and Cena already existed due to his loss in the Main Event of the previous year’s show). As I mentioned in the introduction, the build-up was well executed and it is worth remembering the opponents here were still World Tag Team Champions at this point – an angle that led to all kinds of interesting scenarios as they worked together to defend the belts, whilst making it clear the real goal of both was Cena’s WWE title as they kept us guessing when ‘HBK’ would double-cross his opponent with a Superkick. ‘When’ turned out to be the March 26th edition of Raw six days before WrestleMania during a rematch from the Main Event of No Way Out against The Undertaker and Batista. As with the World Championship Match and ‘Battle Of The Billionaires’, everything was done to give WWE Title match bout an ‘epic feel’. The preview package setting up the final match of the evening was unusual at the time (although has been used for big matches since), with a guitar solo in the background as we saw highlights from both men’s careers with emphasis on their past appearances at WrestleMania. Michaels’ uncharacteristically serious facial expression reminded us that this was an important match and provided the necessary contrast to Cena’s The Fast and The Furious-style entrance (beside a stunt driver) in a Shelby GT-H Mustang.

Did the match itself live up to the hype? My answer would be: not quite, but they tried. This was one of those matches that whilst very good didn’t really ‘do’ a lot for me. I was really looking forward to this one but after Cena’s ‘Match Of The Year Contender’ with Umaga at the Royal Rumble, along with Michaels performances in the build-up to the event I was hoping for something really special.

Starting cautiously, a lot of the earlier work didn’t seem to get over with the crowd as well as you would expect and Cena’s alleged non-selling of the leg-work was a much debated issue over the following weeks with reports that HBK was none-to-happy over it.

Moving away from the mat-wrestling, they were able to salvage the match with an all-action brawl inside and outside the ring complete with blood, ref bumps and what turned out to be the ‘Move Of The Night’ with HBK’s Asai Moonsault. The ten-plus minute closing stretch was impressive with Michaels taking advantage of his accidental Superkick to the referee to hit a piledriver on the steel steps. I thought that was a nice little reminder of Michaels’ matches with Bret and Undertaker back in the Nineties. Some of the counters they used to each others moves were timed perfectly, the false finishes here were pretty convincing and I liked the idea of Cena going for a ‘Super FU’ (FU from the top rope). After all the abuse they’d given each other, the end came as a bit of an anti-climax when Michaels tapped out to the STFU meaning Cena had defeated both members of Degeneration X with the same move in the Main Events of consecutive WrestleManias. Odds are that is something no one else will ever do again.

Post-Match Analysis: The match itself, was a good one, perhaps even very good and certainly helped by the fact it felt like a WrestleMania match. The drawback of having such good build-up was that it set expectations, possibly too high. The bout was technically superior to the previous year’s between Cena and Triple H, whilst lacking in some of the drama that match possessed. At WrestleMania XXII the crowd reaction made the match in much the same way they did at One Night Stand 2006, because they both played off it perfectly. Here the moves might have been better but they didn’t seem to play-off the crowd quite as well. At twenty-eight minutes in length, if anything the match might have been ever-so-slightly overambitious in terms of the wrestling side of things (see Cena’s selling of his leg) rather than the basic match that worked so well the previous year. The first half meant this was probably the most disappointing of WWE’s “great matches” of 2007 but fortunately, things picked up as the match progressed into an entertaining story with all the finishers, finisher-reversals and near-falls we have come to expect from a WWE Main Event on the largest stage of all. It ended the show on a high note, but it still didn’t come close to the World Title match earlier in the evening. Rating: ****

Post-Show Analysis:

“God help us all and God help SmackDown!” (JBL as new World Champion The Undertaker performed his trademark pose on one knee, WrestleMania XXIII, 01/04/07)

I wouldn’t hesitate to call this a very good show. Some of it could have been better, but overall I enjoyed it. It was a success in terms of spectacle, wrestling and drawing money.

I liked the way the show was set up and presented – I thought it had that ‘WrestleMania Feel’ at least visually with the way they made things look different with the white ropes and big entrance. After WrestleManias XX-XXII being held in ‘smaller’ arenas, it was nice to see them return to a big stadium setting. Unfortunately, as good as the massive crowd looked, at times the actual size of the arena led to a lack of noise. Then again for matches like Undertaker/Batista and the closing moments of ‘The Battle Of The Billionaires’ the audience was on fire so maybe the crowd just needed something big to happen for them to react. Production-wise I was impressed with the videos, particularly the ones before the World and WWE title matches. I thought they did a good job highlighting the strengths of making all four men going into the ‘biggest show of the year’ and in the case of Michaels/Cena this was one of the contributory factors that even made me wonder if they were about to put the belt on HBK for a second. From the backstage skit with the legends to McMahon’s facial expressions this was also a fun show.

From a wrestling point of view there have been better shows, but five matches (out of eight) delivered. Sure there wasn’t the all-time classic in the style of Savage/Warrior, Michaels/Razor, Austin/Hart or Austin/Rock but the most important thing for me here is that all the main matches were at least good, with Batista/Undertaker standing out as a potential ‘Match Of The Year Contender’. As it turned out this would be the first in a string of quality pay-per-view main events between the two in what has turned into the most consistent long-term top-line feud in the WWF/WWE since Undertaker’s rivalry with Shawn Michaels way back in 1997-1998, producing matches of four-star and upwards on a consistent basis.

Financially the show was considered a huge success. Drawing $5.38 million in ticket sales alone (making it the highest-grossing one-day live gate in WWE history) and a massive pay-per-view buyrate 2.97, WrestleMania XIII became the highest-grossing pay-per-view in WWE history. In total it is estimated the event added around twenty-five million dollars to the local economy thanks to WrestleMania attendees flying in from twenty-four countries.

In its simplest form: this show ‘worked’ for me, because it kept me entertained. Now That’s What I Call Wrestling.

Carl ‘TheBigBoot’ Robinson