The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
Pretty much the exact same deal as the year prior as I watched the “25th anniversary of WrestleMania” (which I believe is numerically inaccurate) as the next year’s was gearing up. 2009 wasn’t quite the year 2008 was in WWE, but there were still quite a few things I wanted to see on this show.
CM Punk won a second straight Money in the Bank match, Santino Marella in drag won a Divas battle royal, and Rey Mysterio dressed as the Joker beat JBL for the Intercontinental title in 21 seconds. Matt Hardy beat his brother Jeff in an Extreme Rules match that wasn’t bad, but people never seem to like watching the Hardys feud (my dream booking here was a four-way match between these two, Edge and newly-returned-to-WWE Christian for one of the main titles, which would have felt like a cool showcase of homegrown stars for a milestone Mania). The double main event was a bit of a mess as John Cena defeated World champion Edge and Big Show in a triple threat that lacked steam while Triple H retained the WWE title against Randy Orton in what felt like a tame blow off to a hot feud. In another match that at first felt like a missed opportunity had Chris Jericho in a handicap elimination gauntlet with Hall of Famers Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat—it was supposed to be Jericho against actor Mickey Rourke, but it fell apart—but Steamboat showing up with his work boots after over 15 years away from the ring salvaged the moment.
Still, it felt like another anniversary WrestleMania that didn’t meet the mark—until Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker took the stage.
It had been over a decade since the Undertaker nearly inadvertently ended Shawn Michaels’ career in the last of a trilogy of fantastic matches, and aside from a few classic interactions in Royal Rumble matches, they had been separated ever since. Here, HBK got back to his roots as the impish underdog, looking to cement his legacy by knocking off the unstoppable monster and pulling out every mind game in the book to do it. Both men used all their finishers and busted out moves they hadn’t used in years, but nothing seemed to get the job done until Undertaker hit a brutal looking jumping tombstone piledriver to finish it. It was two guys synonymous with WWE providing a story that truly marked a landmark chapter in WrestleMania lore.
The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
I did not have to wait a year for this one as my pal Craig Tello from WWE gifted me the DVD during San Diego Comic Con a mere four months after the show. It was a good thing too as I was really psyched for this one.
Some people say WrestleMania XXVI collapses under the weight of its own hype—it was really well hyped—but I think it’s a really good card with nothing clocking in as a clunker and even the lesser stuff having a certain charm. There’s a quickie opener Tag title match that showcases the champs, ShoMiz, then a triple threat between the members of Legacy that turned out to be a nice chance for Randy Orton to get back on top and Cody Rhodes as well as Ted DiBiase Jr. to strut their stuff. Jack Swagger came out of nowhere to win a massive 10-man Money in the Bank and Triple H overcame Sheamus in a hard-hitter. Rey Mysterio and CM Punk had a snug six-minute back-and-forth that set the table for even better things to come. Bret Hart made his return to WWE a dozen years after being screwed, getting vengeance on Mr. McMahon by hammering with chair shots for over 10 minutes, but that was a moment more than a match. Chris Jericho and Edge had a technical clinic for the World title and John Cena regained the WWE title from the awesome heel Batista with a 10-Diva tag match sandwiched in between.
Finally, fittingly in the main event spot, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker faced off in a rematch from one year prior, this time with HBK’s career on the line. At the time the show took place, Megan and I were in Aruba on our honeymoon; we were supposed to get back Saturday morning and I was considering ordering WrestleMania, but a series of delays to our flight led to us spending until early Monday morning in the airport, and as a result I was frantically checking my laptop whenever I can, hoping that my favorite wrestler had not been forced into retirement. Alas, after a build even more awesome than the previous year—Shawn begs Taker to give him a rematch, Taker refuses, Shawn barely fails to win the Royal Rumble and thus costs Taker his World title at Elimination Chamber to goad him into it—HBK delivered one last classic before hanging up his boots. Providing a perfect parallel to two years prior, as Ric Flair stood defiant in the face of a superkick, Michaels delivered a final crotch chop before receiving a tombstone and getting counted down, a poetic end to a storybook career.
Rey Mysterio vs. Cody Rhodes
A year later, back to the waiting game, as I saw this show via OnDemand shortly after I moved into my current place in Edison, New Jersey; I believe this was also the first WrestleMania where the Marvel-WWE relationship was really in full force thanks to the efforts of Craig as well as Joe Villa, so I got to interview The Miz during the lead-up and post it on Marvel.com.
The big news for this show was The Rock coming back from movie stardom to serve as host, antagonizing his longtime critic John Cena and costing him the WWE title against Miz in the main event. Elsewhere on the card, Edge retained the World title against Alberto Del Rio in what would prove to be his final match before a forced retirement due to a neck injury, Randy Orton beat CM Punk a confrontation between two guys on their way back to the top, and Michael Cole bested Jerry Lawler by DQ in a weird situation where the bad guy won despite having the deck stacked against him with Steve Austin as guest referee. Undertaker followed up on his classics with Michaels by beating Triple H in a half hour-long No Holds Barred match, and all of people Snooki from Jersey Shore proved a capable celebrity guest competitor, teaming with John Morrison and Trish Stratus for a win over Dolph Ziggler Michelle McCool and Layla.
My personal favorite from this show came from Rey Mysterio—done up Captain America style—and Cody Rhodes, one veteran and one star on the rise on a mission to make their mark. This was the rare modern day mid card feud that had an awesome prolonged build, as Rey injured Cody by driving his knee into his face months earlier, leading to “The Dashing One” covering his coveted good looks with a mask and creating a deranged Phantom of the Opera type character who was essentially the dark mirror of his rival. Cody was on the roll of his career here character-wise, and Rey helped give him the showcase match at a marquee venue he needed to vault him to the next level, even putting the kid over clean.
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho for the WWE title
And that brings us to just about the present, as one year ago WrestleMania came to Miami, though I would once again see it a little down the line, thanks again to the kindness of my friends at WWE and their generous distribution of DVDs to my person.
Again, The Rock grabbed the headlines, taking on John Cena in a big time money main event that felt every bit as grand as a huge WrestleMania match should. The same can be said for Undertaker once again fending off Triple H, this time inside Hell in a Cell with Shawn Michaels as guest referee in what was billed as the “end of an era” and concluded with all three men embracing for an iconic scene. Also, Daniel Bryan lost the World title to Sheamus in 18 seconds, Big Show won his first ever Intercontinental title over Cody Rhodes, and John Laurinaitis became general manager of Raw and Smackdown via his team winning a 12-man tag.
One of the most highly anticipated bouts and the one I most enjoyed was CM Punk putting his WWE title on the line against a returning Chris Jericho. Two of the most intense, dedicated and athletic guys around ignited a feud based on classic stuff: the championship and wanting to be the best in the world. They worked a hybrid of brawling, high flying and submission style to present more or less everything you could look for in a wrestling match. Punk pulled out a hard fought victory with his Anaconda Vise, and provided a tough act for the remaining competitors to follow.