The Anderson Breakdown: Wrestlemania XXII Instant Thoughts

It’s about 11:30 on the east coast, and I just got back home after watching Wrestlemania XXII at a sports bar here in Jacksonville, Florida. I wasn’t feeling that well this weekend, so instead of adult beverages, I sipped on about ten cups of coffee throughout the show. It might have made me appear as if I was the village square, but I’m feeling incredibly good, so I guess it was a worthwhile concession.

Anyway, as usual, I’ll be reviewing the show cold. In other words, I haven’t perused around the internet yet to see what other “inside” fans thought of the show. It’s probably for the better, because as of right now, I absolutely loved Wrestlemania. I don’t really feel like reading anything that’s going to change that opinion, because I was marking out like an absolute madman for most of the night, and once this column is done, I’ll be going to sleep with that same warm Wrestlemania buzz I did 18 years ago when Hulk Hogan beat Randy Savage for the World Heavyweight Title.

I’m pretty tired, so I’m going to try to be brief, but I’m in a genuinely great mood, and I hope that’s well reflected in the following analysis.

I’ll give star ratings where applicable, but let me say one thing first: I’m of the firm belief that match quality has as much to do, if not more, with emotional response than actual technical quality. In other words, I’ll take a match that has me on the very edge of my seat the entire team, psyches me out with false finishes, and has me guessing from bell to bell over some heatless “workrate” fest any day of the week.


I arrived at the sports bar at about 6:00 with my brother. We decided to get there as early as possible. Last year, the place was at full capacity by 6:45 and they weren’t letting anyone else in, so we weren’t in the mood to chance missing the show.

As fate would have it, we’d end up missing the first half an hour of the show regardless. The place reached full capacity (easily 500+) by 6:30, but when 7:15 rolled around and the projection screens were still showing test signals, the place was reaching near-riots levels.

The poor older man in charge of the technical end of things admitted to knowing nothing about wrestling, but reassured the hundreds of pissed off fans that “Direct TV told me that the PPV actually starts at 8:00.” I haven’t ready any online news, and for all I know it could have been a nation-wide Direct TV problem, but by 7:30, I was starting to feel like I was going to half to physically defend this feeble old man.

Luckily, that wasn’t necessary, and right as the introductions to the Money in the Bank ladder match were nearing completion, Wrestlemania came on a dozen 20 foot screens simulataneously. The place went crazy, I breathed a sigh of relief, and the friendly old man was treated like a hero for the rest of the evening.

Quick match reviews:

Kane & Big Show vs. Carlito & Chris Masters:

As previously mentioned, our WM feed didn’t cut in until after this match had taken place, but if I had to miss one match on the card, I’m glad it was this one. I’m sure it went as expected, and I’m sure it provided a solid opening for Wrestlemania.

Truth be told, because I have avoided the internet like the avian SARS since getting home, I don’t even know who won this match. Just for fun though, I’m going to review it as if I actually saw it:

Gosh, WHAT A MATCH! I’m so thrilled to see Kane & The Big Show utilitzing so many lucha-inspired spots tonight. The tope con flapjack was especially effective. Carlito & Masters might have won, but in all our hearts, Kane truly prevailed.

Weak, huh?

Yeah, well so I am, and backspace isn’t an option tonight 🙂


Money in the Bank Ladder Match:

I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret that might not make the most popular internet (cough) reporter on the world wide web today:

I didn’t really care for the first Money in the Bank Ladder Match.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a decent enough match, I enjoyed Shelton’s ladder run as much as the next guy, and I was entertained from bell-to-bell, but as far as it being anything more than a ***1/2 affair, I didn’t really buy the hype. Not after the ladder matches we’d seen in the past from guys like Edge and Chris Jericho.

Well guess what?

This year’s Money in the Bank match was just a total knockout.

I really liked the unique combination of guys in the match, and each one really contributed something different and cool to this year’s Money in the Bank. Ric Flair was awesome as always, Finlay and Lashley continue to impress, Shelton rules this type of match, Matt Hardy got his big spots in, and RVD was just born for this exact kind of match.

Great match, and the right man definitely won.

If RVD cashes in his title shot at (Second) Night Stand as anticipated, it should make for a hell of a main event.

****


When I was in first grade, I was deathly afraid of dogs. Don’t ask me why, it was just one of those childhood fears. I would conquer it two or three laters when my Mom took me to the puppy store, but at the time, I nearly had a heart attack each and every time I saw a dog.

My first grade teacher Ms. Angles was taking us to the Octagon (a shitty, filthy “wildlife preserve”) in South Florida on a field trip, and because there would be dogs running around, my Mom specifically asked my teacher if she would have me ride with Ms. Mitchell, a family friend who would be sensitive to the dog issue and keep them away from me.

Anyway, when Mrs. Angles was announcing car assignments for the field trip, she saved my name for last, and then, after dramatically pausing, in front of the entire class, she said, “Ken will be riding with Mrs. Mitchell.. … .. because of a few fears.”

I was totally embarrassed at the time, and I actually called her out on it a full 15 years later at a Christmas parade in Fort Myers, but I guess that’s beside the point.

Anyway, that’s EXACTLY how Bret Hart must have felt when Howard Finkle spouted off that ridiculous, sarcastic, insensitive line about Bret Hart being “too uncomfortable to appear at Wrestlemania.”

It was totally unnecessary on Vince’s behalf to script such a line, and in my opinion, it really cheapened what was a legitimately historic partial reconciliation last night.

I’ve never been a big fan of Bret Hart’s in-ring work, and I’ve always felt as if he was a little too self-involved, but he was a true class act last night, and it was a real shame to see the WWE attempt to, even partially, bury him yet again tonight.


JBL vs. Chris Benoit

I was really excited for this match tonight, and overall, it definitely lived up to my expectations. It didn’t get as much time as I would have hoped, but going in, I knew that it wouldn’t.

I’m a huge fan of JBL, but his mockery of Eddie Guerrero gives me mixed emotions. For storyline purposes, it doesn’t really make much sense. I guess because Chris Benoit inducted Eddie Guerrero into the Hall of Fame last night, it makes partial sense, but then again, you also have to assume that anyone who watched Chris Benoit induct him last night would had to have seen JBL in near-tears over Eddie’s death as well.

Anyway, it appeared to make even the announcers uncomfortable, but hey, what do you expect out of the goose-stepping, “let’s turn the Middle East into a parking lot” cowboy hero JBL anyway?

Solid, if not particularly memorable match, with the right man going over. JBL is far too great of a heel to not hold gold.

***


Jim Ross is a true legend, and part of me thinks he’s better off being saved for big events like Saturday Night’s Main Event and major PPV’s. It makes them seem more special and historic. Ross was in total top form tonight, and in a truly classy move, publicly told Joey Style, the man who replaced him, that he “deserved to be here.”


Edge vs. Mick Foley

I have to admit, I’ve been pretty sour on Mick Foley as of late. After he showed up a few months ago, horribly out of shape, and totally squashed Carlito (who could have desperately used the rub), my stock in Foley hit near-record lows.

It didn’t help much that I thought Mick Foley’s promos leading up to this match were completely tired and horrendously uninspired.

I’ll be damned if he didn’t prove me wrong tonight.

Mick Foley was looking like the Mick Foley of 2000 tonight, and his performance against Edge was even better than his incredible performance against Randy Orton several years back.

The WWE doesn’t do many of these death match type contests anymore, and because of that, Foley/Edge felt really fresh and really intense tonight. Even though Edge looked to have lost about 50 pounds since the last time I’ve seen him, he was just incredible tonight as well.

Both guys just beat the absolute shit out of each other, with Lita taking more than her share of punishment to boot. Seeing Foley stick Mr. Socko, covered in barbed wire, in Lita’s mouth, and then witnessing the visual of Lita’s mouth beginning to trickle blood, was just totally classic.

Edge took that bump into the thumb tacks like a man, got his arm ripped to shreds by the barbed wire, and sold everything like he was going to die tomorrow.

For my money, the finish, with Edge spearing Foley through the flaming table, was one of the genuinely coolest spots in Wrestlemania history. It certainly helped that both men seemed to erupt into a giant ball of fire as they crashed through the table.

Awesome match, Foley did the right thing (a trend tonight), and if Foley continues to wrestle this well and this inspired, I’d love to see the feud continue. Furthermore, I’d kill to see one final match between Foley and HHH.

****1/4


Booker T & Sharmell vs. The Boogeyman

The backstage skit before the match was really well done, and definitely made me laughing out loud a few times. Ted Dibiase kicking away Eugene’s ball before he could “win the money,” and then giving the vintage Million Dollar Man laugh totally made my evening.

As far as the match went, it was about what I expected it to be. Technically, it was far from Dory Funk vs. Jack Brisco, but the crowd seemed to like it, and it wasn’t long enough to really expose the Boogeyman either.

Again, they’re in a pretty tough spot with the Boogeyman. He’s getting over to scary levels, and he needs to continue to win to gain credibility, but he’s just not ready to wrestle main or semi-main event level matches, in quality or in length.

And for the record, Sharmell is just such an absolutely amazing performer to watch out there. I haven’t seen her wrestle enough to know how good she is in the ring, but strictly from a character standpoint, she’s among the strongest on the entire Smackdown roster.

**


Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James

You hear time and time and time again that “women don’t draw” and that the “women’s division is a waste,” and “nobody cares about the Divas.”

Let me tell you, of every match on the card, Mickie/Trish was the one that I was looking forward to the most.

Over the last several months, Mickie James vs. Trish has been the absolute best feud in the entire company. Hands down. It really goes to show just how effective old-school, slow-burn booking can be.

Week after week, Mickie and Trish have just stolen the entire show on Mondays. Whether it’s been Mickie crying rape, or Mickie rocking the blond wig, or Trish reacting in horror as Mickie’s face gets uncomfortably close to her crotch, or Mickie’s LEGENDARY bloody kiss on Trish two weeks ago, these two have just been killer together.

And tonight, Mickie and Trish nearly stole the entire damn show yet again. Even with the unfortunate slip at the end of the match, Mickie and Trish still delivered what was undoubtably the best overall women’s match in modern WWE history.

I was just so genuinely happy to see the crowd, both in attendance in Wrestlemania and at the sports bar I was in, paying such close attention to the match and marking out so hardcore for both women. To me, it really showed that with the right booking and the right characters, women’s wrestling CAN get over and can be a moderate to major draw.

I’m thrilled that this feud is going to continue, and hopefully the WWE takes note of its success and puts a little more emphasis on storyline and build in the women’s division, and a little less emphasis on the useless T&A nonsense that’s become obselete now that everyone’s connected to the smutbox.

Personally, I’d love to see the WWE do a small-scale, all women’s federation and market it towards young girls. Kind of like an ARSION for America. Put it on Saturday mornings and have a couple of big events a year. Young girls absolutely love getting behind other young girls (as evident by the success of brands such as Sailor Moon, Powerpuff Girls in America and especially in Japan), and if marketed right, it could be the hottest thing in America among young girls.

A MASSIVE thank you to Trish and Mickie James for giving us one of the best story arcs in RAW history, and the most memorable women’s match of the post-attitude era.

You don’t need bonehead “divas” when you’ve got hard-working women like Trish and Mickie who obviously put so much care into their craft.

And, even though it’s just icing on the cake, Mickie James is seriously the prettiest girl the WWE has ever had. Even more than Trish, and that’s saying a lot.

I’m putting their star rating in context of American women’s wrestling, not in comparison to the men.

****

INCREDIBLE stuff, and massive props to the Chicago crowd for giving these two the heat they deserve.


Vince McMahon’s “prayer” seemed a bit sacreligious, but I guess if you openly admit to “not liking God,” it’s kind of a dead point anyway. Highlight for me was watching Stephanie try to keep a straight face.


The Undertaker vs. Mark Henry

I’ve been down on the Undertaker for a couple of years now, and I didn’t find his series with Randy Orton to be nearly as watchable or entertaining as most, but I must admit, his two matches with Kurt Angle totally won me over. I’ve recently become a born-again Taker fan, and because Mark Henry has also been pretty awesome as of late, I was really looking forward to this match.

In the words of Randy Jackson, to me, it was just kind of “there.”

I enjoyed it while it was going on, but I’ve already kind of forgotten in. As weird as it may sound, I’m such a Trish/Mickie mark that I think this match’s placement might have hurt it a little bit for me.

Still though, a good effort by both guys, and a solid Mania match.

**1/2


Vince McMahon vs. Shawn Michaels

This was another match that, even though I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, really kept me on the edge of my seat. Shane’s involvement was completely necessary to keep things interesting, and the in-match story of Shawn Michaels reverting back to his old, heelish attitude in order to slay Mr. McMahon once and for all totally made a Michaels fan out of me, at least for the night.

The finish of the match, with Michaels perched a literal 20 feet in the air, striking the DX pose, and dropping the elbow through the table, was a total “Wrestlemania Moment.” I loved Michaels getting right up in Vince’s face before hitting the superkick, telling him that he was going to kick his teeth down his throat.

Way better than I expected, and one of many, many great matches tonight.

****


Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle vs. Randy Orton

Although I absolutely loved this match, I couldn’t help but feel like it could have easily gone another ten minutes or so. No offense to Trish and Candace Michelle, but if Mania was running behind on time, their lingerie match should have been cut from the card on the fly, no question about it. The crowd still would have had time to recover in time for the main event.

Still though, for a ten-minute match, it was absolutely awesome. I loved the opening spot with the double german suplex, and it was definitely great to see Rey win the World Heavyweight Title.

Even cooler was seeing Rey Mysterio celebrate with Chavo and Vickie Guerrero. I still don’t know how I feel about the whole Eddie thing, but Vickie Guerrero looked genuinely touched by the moment, so it was more than ok with me.

Great match, but again, I would have loved to have seen it go another ten minutes.

***3/4


John Cena vs. HHH

Match of the Night.

Hands down.

And a TRUE Wrestlemania-caliber Main Event.

Chicago absolutely made this match, as far as I’m concerned. Even though the build was pretty bad leading up to it, they were so loud and so opinionated that they transformed what could have been a disaster along the lines of Jericho/HHH at WMX8 into a truly unforgettable Wrestlemania epic.

First off, I’ve got to mention the entrances.

Even though I was a little skeptical at first when Triple H came out wearing the bizarro Konan the Barbarian outfit, after I got past the initial shock, I thought to myself, “You know what, this is pretty f*cking awesome.”

In the same way that PRIDE has huge entrances for their biggest shows, I really dug the way the WWE did the same for Mania this year.

And on the Cena side, John Cena’s Al Capone like entrance was easily the best entrance in WWE history. Hands down. What else could possibly compare? Michaels on the zip line? MAYBE. Cena on top of the semi with DJ in tow? Close, but not quite.

It was seriously that great.

I absolutely loved it, and part of me thought the intro/entrance might have been just enough to get the crowd to show Cena a little mercy.

I was pretty wrong about that one.

I have absolutely no idea what star rating this is going to get elsewhere, but to me, this was as close to a ***** match as you’re going to find in the WWE these days. As I mentioned earlier, emotional response should factor in just as much as technical merit, and emotionally, this match was just electric.

The crowd in Chicago was going absolutely insane, the crowd in the sports bar was coming totally unglued, and there were at least five or six false finishes where half the building, myself included, thought the match was over.

Triple H played up the cheers perfectly, John Cena handled the boos like a f*cking LEGEND, and again, that Chicago crowd just gave this match the epic atmosphere so sorely missing from last year’s HHH/Batista main event.

Tripe H is just such an interesting guy. Every time you want to hate him, he goes and pulls something like this. At Wrestlemania XX, he tapped cleanly to Chris Benoit. At last year’s Wrestlemania, he put over Big DAVE for the first of three consecutive times. And this year, right when everyone’s bashing him for stealing Edge’s title shot, he goes and does EXACTLY what needs to be done for business.

He tapped CLEANLY, in the middle of the ring, to the future of the company, John Cena.

Massive amount of respect to Triple H for what he did tonight.

He could have buried John Cena, considering the crowd response, but instead, he made him look like a milion bucks.

Now all we need is that pesky double-turn, and RAW will be set in the main-event department for another five or six months.

Great, great stuff tonight from both men, and an even greater effort by the crowd.

Disagree alll you want about “spots” and “workrate” and all that other nerdy stuff, but to me, HHH/Cena was a ****3/4 Wrestlemania CLASSIC.


Closing Thoughts:

In my personal opinion, I just witnessed the best Wrestlemania since WM17. Aside from Torrie/Candace, the entire card was somewhere between good and amazing. We had the perfect mix of crazy highspots (MITB), hardcore brawling (Edge/Foley), women’s wrestling (Trish/Mickie), entertaining spotfest (Michaels/McMahon), fastpaced classics (Rey/Angle/Orton), and white-hot epics (HHH/Cena).

From top to bottom, I might even go as far as to say that this is the second best Wrestlemania I’ve ever seen.

The WWE really dropped the ball with their Mania build this year, but every performer on the card, as well as the crowd tonight in Chicago, deserve all the credit in the world for taking a Mania that could have easily been a disappointment, and vaulting it to unforgettable status.

Absolutely awesome show.

Goodnight.

– Ken

KenAnderson242@aol.com