Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wrestlemania for Dummies

By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

Wrestlemania, the greatest spectacle in sports entertainment, is this Sunday. For those that don't know, Wrestlemania is the flagship pay-per-view event of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), formerly the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).

This year's event, the 29th installment set to be held inside MetLife Stadium, new home of the NFL's New York Giants and Jets, seems to be the realization of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon's dream from the original Wrestlemania way back in 1985.

Meaning that Wrestlemania is now far more than a wrestling show. It is a week long festival full of celebrities and special events in a host city that has fought for the right to host McMahon's grand variety show. Make no mistake about it, this is the Super Bowl of wrestling, with all the pageantry and possibility for great moments. Careers have been defined at WWE's annual "Showcase of the Immortals."

Before we get to this year's card, let's take a look back at some of the superlatives from 'Manias past.

Best Match

There are so many great ones, and this is definitely a matter of taste. Many will point to the Macho Man vs Ricky Steamboat match at Wrestlemaia III as the best ever, but I simply see it as an early measuring stick that all other great matches must be compared to.

While recent matches between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, along with a 60-minutes Iron Man Match between Michaels and rival Bret Hart, are some of the greatest moments of The Heart Break Kid's career, my favorite is a different HBK match.

Michaels' athleticism and skill were on full display at Wrestlemania X, in the first ladder match ever on WWF/E pay-per-view. Michaels battled Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) for the undisputed Intercontinental championship. While this wasn't even the main event, it is still the one match I will YouTube when I'm bored, and it was a game-changer for a variety of reasons.

1. It legitimized the ladder/high risk match as main event material, setting the stage for later matches to come such as Hell in a Cell and TLC (Tables, ladders and chairs).

2. It made the Intercontinental Title matter (Which it most certainly no longer does) and set the table for Shawn Michaels' run as a main event star in the mid-90s.

3. Within two-and-a-half years, these two stars would form the two most popular wrestling stables of all time. Hall moved onto WCW to found the nWo with Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan, while Michaels stayed in WWF and formed D-Generation X with Triple-H.

Worst Match

Again, there are so many to choose from. While you could easily pick a match like the clearly aged Bret Hart vs Vince McMahon or Jerry Lawler vs Michael Cole, I don't think of those as "real matches." Those were just blowoffs and giving the fans what they wanted. Nobody was expecting a technical masterpiece.

So, I'm going to sort of change the question and make this the "Most Disappointing" match in Wrestlemania history. That, clearly, has to be the Wrestlemania XX showdown between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as the guest referee.

On paper, this was a dream match. Goldberg and Lesnar each debuted in the golden era of modern wrestling, with the former tearing apart WCW and the nWo en route to becoming the first undefeated champion in the history of WCW. The latter, ripped up the WWE in the early to mid 2000s, eventually becoming the youngest WWE champion ever at the age of 25, a record that still stands.

In the middle was Stone Cold, the only Superstar in WWE history that can legitimately challenge Hulk Hogan in popularity, and the ultimate bad ass. How could this go wrong?

Well, before the match it was leaked that both competitors would be leaving the WWE. Goldberg was simply retiring from wrestling, and Lesnar was pursuing his dream of playing in the NFL. This knowledge led to heckling and booing from the fans inside Madison Square Garden, and the fact that neither performer would engage the other physically for several minutes to start the match only made matters worse.

Goldberg and Lesnar seemed to almost put on a boring performance out of spite. The only time the crowd cheered was for Stone Cold, and when he delivered a stunner to both men after Goldberg's victory, the crowd "popped" for the only time in this sad affair.

Worst Angle

There are 3,000 terrible and corny angles in Wrestlemania history, but I'm going to limit this to angles that affected major story lines. The one I always think of was Sgt. Slaughter becoming an Iraqi sympathizer before his match with Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VII in Los Angeles.

The match took place with the first Gulf War as a backdrop, and the WWE took everyone's favorite American drill sergeant and turned him into an Islamic radical that referred to Hogan and "Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart as "infidels." They even photoshopped a picture of Saddam Hussein to include Slaughter, as if the brutal dictator of Iraq was having a fat old wrestler over to smoke cigars after invading Kuwait.

This also led to one of the worst matches in 'Mania history, as Hogan spouted his old "Real American" routine, and those two aging Superstars belly bumped their way to the predictable Hogan victory over the Islamic Fundamentalism.

Most Significant Match

So, I ragged on Hogan in the last one, but there is no doubt his match with Andre The Giant solidified Wrestlemania as a household term. When Hogan body slammed the aging Giant and dropped the leg on the formerly undefeated Andre, it shot Hulkamania into the stratosphere of popularity, and made 'Mania must see TV from there on out.

So what if every time Hogan talks about the match Andre gets heavier (He has said Andre was 500, then 600, then nearly 700 pounds as the years have gone on), it's still the most important match in wrestling history.

Most Iconic Image

In a match that solidified Bret Hart as a heel to American wrestling fans, and pulled off the rare feat of making a Superstar more popular in a loss, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin lost a submission match to the Hitman at Wrestlemania 13 with UFC star Ken Shamrock serving as guest referee.

In a great twist, Bret Hart locked Austin in his signature "Sharpshooter" submission hold, but The Rattlesnake never submitted. Shamrock had to stop the match when a bloodied Austin passed out from the excruciating pain. After the match, Hart beat on Austin's now unconscious body, securing "heat" from American fans that were beginning to love Austin's "take no crap from nobody" mantra, but the real takeaway from this match is the bloody Austin screaming in the Sharpshooter.

Best Rivalry

Few rivalries get two showdowns, let alone three at the biggest show of the year, but that is just what Stone Cold and the Rock got at Wrestlemanias 15, 17 and 19. Austin, as the biggest star of the "Attitude Era," put The Rock in his place in the first two matches, but when The Rock returned from Hollywood in 2003, he got his vengeance.

The first two matches, both won by Austin, were No Disqualification matches for the WWF Championship, but the third matchup was simply for The Rock's pride. The year before, The Rock had defeated Hollywood Hogan at Wrestlemania and secured his first two starring roles in The Scorpion King and The Rundown.

After Austin was honored as "Superstar of the Decade," The Rock, now a heel for putting the movie business ahead of his wrestling career, challenged him to a match. The Rock claimed he had done it all in the Wrestling business, except "whoop that bald candy-ass at Wrestlemania." The two put on a classic bout, with the heel Rock winning after three consecutive Rock Bottoms.

Mr. Wrestlemania

It would be easy to say The Undertaker, who owns a 20-0 record at the event, but Taker has some incredibly boring wins, like his victories over Giant Gonzalez and The Big Boss Man.

So, the man that calls himself Mr. Wrestlemania, Shawn Michaels, gets the title from me as well. Between his classic ladder match with Razor Ramon, his multiple run-ins with The Undertaker, a fantastic bout with Stone Cold and rivalry with Bret Hart, there isn't much The Heart Break Kid hasn't done on the biggest stage.
Going back to The Undetaker for a moment. While Taker's streak is certainly impressive, I think I would still put him behind stars like Hogan and The Rock if you're ranking Wrestlemania's biggest stars. Hogan's main events against Andre, Macho Man and The Ultimate Warrior all speak for themselves, but consider the fact that The Rock has defeated the biggest icon in wrestling (Hogan), the biggest star of the "Attitude Era" (Austin) and the biggest star of the current era (Cena) all in Wrestlemania main events.
Tough for Taker to top either one of those guys for second place. 
Wrestlemania 29

This year's show will feature a rematch main event, pitting WWE Champion and SuiteSports Grand Man Crush Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson against John Cena. The Rock defeated Cena at last year's 'Mania in his hometown of Miami, Florida, winning a match that pitted fans from wrestling's uber-popular "Attitude Era" of the 90's and early 2000's against the younger fans of today's "PG" programming.

Also on the card is a showdown between WWE legend The Undertaker and the company's brightest young star, CM Punk. The Undertaker will put his Wrestlemania undefeated streak, which now stands at 20-0, against Punk. The young Superstar angered the Undertaker by stealing the sacred Urn said to hold the remains of the Undertaker's parents who died in a fire. Of course, this all took place during a memorial ceremony for The Undertaker's old manager Paul Bearer (Bill Moody), who actually died early last month.

You know, normal wrestling stuff.

Filling out the main event card is the recently returned Brock Lesnar, who will hope to enhance his 'Mania legacy against Triple-H. This showdown between two of the most intense Superstars in the company's history will be a No Holds Barred Match, and is sure to feature a sledgehammer or two.

The wild card match will certainly be Chris Jericho vs Fandango. In one of the weirdest gimmicks in recent memory, Fandango is a "Dancing With the Stars" type of character, and Jericho has angered him by pronouncing his name incorrectly. While it is all pretty lame, Jericho is a great performer that is in fantastic shape, and this Fandango guy appears to have the high-flying abilities to make for an interesting match.

The rest of the card doesn't particularly interest me, but hey, some of the best matches often come from the Wrestlemania undercard. Enjoy the show everyone.