Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rasslin' Ramblings: WWE WrestleMania XXV

So any wrestling fan worth his/her salt knows WrestleMania is supposed to be our Super Bowl/World Series/Christmas/Channukah/etc. all rolled into one, and no doubt it's always an exciting time to be a devotee of WWE. I've certainly got plenty of great Wrestlemania memories, from attending XIV live in Boston and seeing Steve Austin win his first World title, to freaking out with my high school buddies when Triple H won the main event of 2000, to watching Brock Lesnar land on his head in the main event of XIX. No doubt, it's a special time of year.

And credit where credit is due, WWE has become so good at making WrestleMania feel special particularly in the last decade or so to the point where it doesn't really matter who's on the card, you know it's still gonna seem epic in some way.

That said, as an armchair quarterback, I gotta say I see this year's show as more of a showcase of missed opportunities than a "Showcase of the Immortals" (and "The 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania," besides taking forever to type, also sounds ridiculous, so I'm sticking with WrestleMania XXV, with roman numerals as it should be).

Way back in September of 2008, as soon as Chris Jericho won the World title, I told anybody who would listen that there was money in him hanging onto the belt by hook or by crook for the next six months and then having a Title vs Career match against Shawn Michaels to headline 'Mania that would have been the perfect blowoff for both the hottest feud of the past 12 months and the monster storyline that began at last year's 'Mania when Michaels retired Ric Flair.

I also agreed with the throngs of folks who said if they would leave the WWE title on Edge and let Jeff Hardy chase him into Houston, they would have a shot at one of those true "WrestleMania" moments they're always going on about.

Instead, Jericho lost the title to Batista after two months, then got it back, then lost it to John Cena, who lost it to Edge last month. Jeff Hardy beat Edge at Armageddon in December, lost the belt back to him a month later, then he coughed it up to Triple H a month after that. Two perfectly good main events squandered because WWE doesn't have the patience to slowly build to WrestleMania like it did a decade ago.

That's to say nothing of guys like Evan Bourne and R-Truth being left out of what could have been the best Money in the Bank ever or the clusterfuck Jericho's war with the WWE Legends has become.

There is something to be said for the fact that I truly don't know who will win either main event (it's especially hard to predict because logic dictates there should be a split in winners between Raw and Smackdown as well as between faces and heels and new champs and retainees, but no combo presented makes too much sense), but there's also something to be said for the days when we would wait half a year for Shawn Michaels or Steve Austin to win the title and then they would do it at WrestleMania. A large part of me misses those days.

Anyhow, on with my picks for the big one...

25-Diva Battle Royal
The hook for me with this one was seeing which Divas from the past showed up to participate, but I guess they've gone ahead and revealed all the "surprise" entrants already, and it's Sunny, Torrie Wilson, Molly Holly, Victoria, Miss Jackie and Nidia, which I believe leaves one spot open. Logic would seem to dictate that #25 would be one of three people: Trish Stratus (the most popular Diva of all-time), Mae Young (the usual go-to punchline for these situations) or Santino Marella (because that's how the storyline has been building). Of course in a perfect world, the answer and winner would be Trish, because honestly, that's what the fans want to see. More likely, it's going to be choice B or choice C, or even choice B with choice C somehow entering as #26. If Trish isn't going to be there, it would be neat to see somebody like Victoria, who recently retired after an unfairly undistinguished seven-year tenure with the company, get the win, but I gotta be cynical here.
Winner: Mae Young

John Bradshaw Layfield (c) vs Rey Mysterio for the Intercontinental Championship
For weeks, JBL has been proclaiming that he'd do "something historic" at WrestleMania, and most of us have taken that to mean he'll be retiring as a result of his ongoing back issues. The only real question was whether or not he'd "make history" by being the first man to end his career as reigning IC champ or if he'd try to do that and be thwarted by Mysterio. I'd say Mysterio's non-title win on Raw this past week kinda telegraphed that it's gonna be the former. I feel bad for Rey, as he's making his return to 'Mania after two years on the shelf and has really been delivering over the last few months, but once again, as with Kane and as with Mike Knox, gets saddled with an opponent whose style does not mesh with his in the least and who won't make him look good. These two know each other well in there, but JBL is so deteriorated at this point that the chances for a good match is slim. Rey really belonged in Money in the Bank, but maybe WWE is hedging their bets on keeping him uninjured, and I can't really blame them for that. Hopefully they put this match first and then JBL can retire only to take Tazz' spot on the Smackdown announce team, as he and Jim Ross calling the action the rest of the night would be gold. I'll also be looking forward to seeing what super hero Rey will be dressed as.
Winner: John Bradshaw Layfield

John Morrison & The Miz (c) vs The Colons (c) in a Lumberjack Match to unify the World Tag Team Championship and WWE Tag Team Championship
This has been the sleeper storyline of the last few months on WWE programming, as Miz & Morrison are able to make anything entertaining with thier mic skills, all four guys can go in the ring and even the involvement of the Bella Twins has been done perfectly. This should be another great match between two teams very familiar with one another, and while the Lumberjack stip is a bit useless and distracting, as I've read elsewhere, at least it assures that there will be a title unification. For those who say getting rid of one set of tag belts is a death knell for tag team wrestling, I'd disagree, as this is the first meaningful tag team title matc at WrestleMania in years and there aren't exactly a wealth of teams rushing to challenge for either set of belts; combine it all into one division and you've got a shot. Miz & Morrison are on a ridiculous hot streak and should be anointed the best team in WWE.
Winners: John Morrison & The Miz

Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Yeah, like I said, I'm a bit bummed we're not seeing R-Truth, The Brian Kendrick, Rey Mysterio, Chavo Guerrero or particularly Evan Bourne in this match. And yeah, having Mark Henry in there seems like a waste (Kane I'll buy because he did a great job in the original MitB and Finlay has two of these matches under his belt). However, I gotta say, a column I read John Meehan on 411 earlier this week made a really smart point about how having a couple bigger guys in there to provide "safety nets" is actually a pretty smart move to protect the high flyers. I still think it will be a good match, even if it's not the best MitB ever. You've got Christian making his 'Mania return in a match he's a pro at, you've got Shelton Benjamin in the match he's best at, you've got CM Punk and MVP both in there to add some experience, and you've got Kofi Kingston no doubt itching to make an impression. For the winner, most people have been split between Shelton and MVP, but I've gotta go with Christian. With the Jack Swagger feud having fizzled, I think Christian's days on ECW are (rightly) numbered and he'll likely be moved to Raw or Smackdown in the upcoming draft. He's the perfect guy to have the briefcase as it fits his gimmick and both his in-ring work and crowd reception since returning have shown he's ready for the top of the card.
Winner: Christian

Chris Jericho vs Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat & Jimmy Snuka in a Handicap Elimination Match
Yeah, this one went wrong in so many ways. Obviously it was originally supposed to be Jericho against Mickey Rourke, but Rourke spouting off too early ruined the chances of that and possibly of him winning the Oscar (which I doubt, but I'm still pissed about). WWE went pretty nuts going into crisis control and here's what we ended up with. It's too bad, because it could have been salvaged a few times along the way. I don't know what Piper's physical condition is like, but his verbal showdown with Jericho was money and had me sold that they could do a one-on-one feud with Ric Flair in Piper's corner and have been fine. Likewise, the in-ring return of one of the best ever in Steamboat with his greatest rival, Flair, in his corner against a dude who idolized him in Jericho would have made for a great story, and I have no doubt Steamboat wouldn't be risking his legacy with this match if he weren't ready to go, so it likely would have been solid. However, mash it all together, throw in Jimmy Snuka who looks and moves terrible at his age, toss Flair and ringside and Rourke in the front row, and you've got way too much going on for this to be anything more than a messy spectacle. It's a shame because there's at least three components of this match (Jericho-Rourke, Jericho-Piper and Jericho-Steamboat) that would have been great on their own, but WWE's need to hedge its bets seems like it will result in disaster. Presumably Jericho will take out Snuka and either Piper or Steamboat and then the last man standing will win with help from Flair and Rourke.
Winners: Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat & Jimmy Snuka

Jeff Hardy vs Matt Hardy in an Extreme Rules Match
I give the Hardys a lot of credit for not getting frustrated by the last few months and working their asses off to make this match feel like it really matters. Jeff could have thrown in the towel after his lame one-month WWE title reign and being booted from a main event spot the fans clearly want him to have, but he didn't, and he's been keeping his work in the ring and behavior outside it top notch. As for Matt, he has improved his talking skills by leaps and bounds and proven one of the best heels in the business right now, carrying much of the load of building the emotion here; considering he was a mid-card face at best only a few months ago, that's impressive. These two have had clunkers in their one-on-one matches in the past, but they're both established singles guys now and I don't think there's much doubt they've dreamed of squaring off at WrestleMania since they were kids. The Hardys are going to leave it all in the ring on Sunday and hopefully neither will get hurt. I do believe Jeff goes over here as my gut sees this being one of those feuds that gets prolonged by the heel's frustration in his inability to score a win, but I would not be shocked to see it go the other way either.
Winner: Jeff Hardy

Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker
As I may or may not have mentioned here before, Shawn Michaels is my favorite wrestler of all-time, and I had high hopes that he might end up in a situation challenging for the World title at this show, either via his feud with Jericho or in a triple threat with JBL and John Cena, but I'm ok with where he ended up. The Michaels-Undertaker segments on WWE television over the last month have been phenomenal and 'Taker has never looked so vulnerable going into 'Mania. Both guys have performed admirably thus far and there's a good chance this will be the match of the night. And yes, of course Undertaker is going to win. 'Nuff Said.
Winner: The Undertaker

Edge (c) vs John Cena vs The Big Show for the World Championship in a Triple Threat Match
Yeah, this doesn't feel like a WrestleMania main event, let alone a main event at the vaunted 25th Anniversary. I think there could have been something mined out of a straight Edge-Cena one-on-one match even though we've seen it a million times both because there is history there and because both guys are dynamite storytellers. But the minute they involved Vickie Guerrero and the soap opera crap, I tuned out. Once Big Show got involved, it was too late. And once the focus shifted from the title to Edge vs Big Show for the love of Vickie and Cena just happens to be there, I gave up. Seriously, the title is an afterthough in this match, a supposed co-main event of WrestleMania. At this point, I think it's possible the year-and-a-half-plus Edge/Vickie storyline has done more harm than good to Edge as a character. He's quite possibly the best pure heel in WWE, but he's essentially a comedy character. Most of us figured he'd be with Vickie for a few months and then drop her to garner even more heel heat, but then something weird happened: Vickie got really really good at drawing that same heat. There's no way you could turn Edge against Vickie now without him being the one who gets cheered, and we've seen in the past that he's just not as good when he's a face. I thought they had the perfect solution last summer when they split them with the Alicia Fox storyline, but that was all overturned without any seeming logic. Anyways, tangent aside, I don't see this being a good match. Triple Threat matches historically aren't that good unless you've got the perfect combo, and these guys ain't it. Big Show is a triple threat formula killer because he's too huge to be realistically taken out for too long, and Cena has never been good in this format. I would predict Edge finds a way to retain as the stips cater to his character and I feel like there's a good shot Cena will be shipped to Smackdown in the draft to continue his pursuit of the gold, but I also think this title needs to change hands, so...
Winner (and new champion): The Big Show

Triple H (c) vs Randy Orton
The main event that actually feels like a main event. Demonstrating what I said in the last paragraph, HHH and Orton have feuded and wrestled time and time again, but they're good enough and have enough history that this feud has still felt top notch and among the most emotionally intense in recent memory in its best moments. The not-so-good moments have been when Triple H has come off looking like too much of a badass, which, unfortunately, have been a bit too numerous. This feud really could have been taken to even the next level with more stuff like Orton DDTing Stephanie while HHH is handcuffed and helpless and less HHH destroying Orton's house without consequence. More than probably any other main event in the past few years, this one has felt like an old school WrestleMania feud where the bad guy has the upper hand for months and we can't wait to see the good guy get his revenge. Unfortunately, the good guy has already gotten his revenge on numerous occasions, so it's a bit anticlimatic. HHH has already gotten the best of Orton plus he already has the belt, so where's the suspense? This is where there not being a dominant heel champion going into 'Mania (Edge has only had the belt a month) hurts things because you can't get that big payoff. To boot, Orton has been made to look weak too many times. That promo Orton gave on Monday summing up the total history between him and HHH and then ending with the attack on Steph was dynamite, because it set up him being one step ahead, but then HHH coming out with Vince & Shane to beat down Legacy put things back a step. From a storyline standpoint, it would certainly be more interesting to see Orton get the belt here and HHH get drafted to Raw to try and get it back (I think he's headed back there regardless), but I doubt we'll get that.
Winner: Triple H


hemanth said...

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Ben Morse said...

An impressive 2 for 9! Go me!