Reflections… WWE WrestleMania 26

Unified Tag Team Titles
The Miz & Big Show vs John Morrison & R-Truth

Four men. Four title belts. Four minutes. For what? The tag team titles have not gotten much love at WrestleMania in recent years. Since the initial brand extension they have been relegated to the pre-show (2003), given two inconsequential seven-minute four-way matches (2004), curtain-jerked in a token six-minute effort (2006) and then been shoved back to the pre-show for an eight-minute unification match (2009). After that unification it seemed as though the titles had gained a renewed sense of value. Chris Jericho & Edge; Chris Jericho & Big Show; Shawn Michaels & Triple H; the new breed of inter-brand champions had great star-power and helped to legitimise the championships. Big Show & The Miz were not quite at that same level but had proven to be an entertaining tandem nonetheless, with Miz in particular continuing to develop one of the most irritating heel personalities in the WWE today. Unfortunately, they had nothing to work with here. Morrison and Truth were far too random a combination for anybody to have possibly cared about this match whatsoever.

For all the praise that has been lavished on WWE for the way in which they built this card over a long period, this is one instance where some longer-term planning would have benefited all involved. Miz & Morrison had developed one of the most heated tag teams in modern times, so much so that they were chosen to host the Allied Powers DVD set. They dropped their titles to the Colons on the WrestleMania 25 pre-show and then split up two weeks later when Miz turned on Morrison. The Miz then went on to defeat Morrison at all three of their later encounters at Bragging Rights, Survivor Series and Tribute to the Troops. This could so very easily have been the culmination of a year-long feud in which Morrison finally got some revenge on Miz, after a lengthy search for a suitable tag partner to counter Big Show. Honestly, given his size, penchant for zany dancing and all things guru-riffic, Khali would have been a more appropriate partner. Hell, it would have been worth it for some whacky skits about Khali trying to match Morrison’s poetry output if nothing else. Have Khali and Show brawl up the ramp and out of harm’s way. Leave Morrison alone with Miz in the ring to get some vengeance. Simple. As it was, this was just four minutes, plus entrance time, that existed for no particular reason.

Also, it did nobody any favours to show a video package of the Fan Axxess event that had Miz being quite happy to do things for the fans and Big Show carrying about a small child with a big dopey grin on his face. Kayfabe, people. [3/10]


Randy Orton vs Cody Rhodes vs Ted Dibiase

Prior to the show there was almost as much of a lack of interest in this match as Randy displayed during Ted Dibiase Sr’s Hall of Fame induction speech:


Vintage Insolence!

The match surpassed limited expectations, however, thanks to dear ol’ Randy getting quite the babyface reaction from the stadium-sized crowd. He may not be as hot as he was in the early months of 2009 but he is getting a ‘purer’ type of good-guy heat. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not WWE will once again ruin him as a fan favourite. If the storyline career paths of Batista and John Cena are anything to go by, it is clear that WWE tends to turn entertaining heels into bland babyfaces that pander too much to the audience. To paraphrase Bill Simmons at ESPN, Orton’s entire character is built around being a talented lunatic who is but one meltdown away from murdering everybody in the arena. The appeal of the character is not hard to understand. Pro-wrestling is escapism. Most people have to tolerate a substantial amount of grief in their lives. They don’t have the freedom to do anything other than grin and bear it. If there is a smart character that cuts through the crap and lays it all to waste, they will latch onto him. That Orton looks cool doing it is but an added bonus. It is a striking difference between him and Cena’s character, which advocates working hard within the system to achieve success rather than smashing the system into pieces for being stupid, stupid, stupid. Cena is a hated babyface. Orton is a loved heel. If WWE can avoid seeking to control things too much and just allow the crowds to react to both men as they see fit, they could have one hell of a WrestleMania 27 main event that could still feel fresh despite their many previous encounters.

Yet what now for the rest of Legacy? Cody Rhodes ought to be kept off TV for a while in order to sell the effects of the punt, which the director somehow managed to miss on the live broadcast. He is a decent talker and is quite literally a babyface but is thoroughly generic in the ring. Ted Dibiase, on the other hand, is a fine worker with a bland personality. In theory, one of them should be moved to Smackdown and given a solid midcard singles push in order to ascertain how much potential they do have. The other will be left behind on Raw, stuck in the quagmire of undercard talent that barely gets any TV time. Both men have brothers that could lead to new potential tag teams – the veteran utility player Goldust for Rhodes, the rookies Brett and Mike for Dibiase. Would a dysfunctional Rhodes family reunion do anything for Cody? Would some kind of Million Dollar Brothers faction help Ted? Time will tell. At least they ain’t Manu… [5/10]


Money in the Bank
Christian, MVP, Kane, Dolph Ziggler, Matt Hardy, Jack Swagger, Shelton Benjamin, Drew McIntyre, Evan Bourne, Kofi Kingston

Common sense indicated that McIntyre wound wind up winning the briefcase this year. He had the ‘Chosen One’ gimmick, he received multiple qualification opportunities, he has Vince McMahon and Triple H on his side and his fellow transatlantic newbie Sheamus had already been hotshotted to the world title. The way the match was laid out also indicated that he would be successful, just like Edge back in 2005. Have the heel do nothing while the babyfaces kill themselves trying to win, then get him to sneak back in at the finish to sneakily steal the victory with the sneaky power of sneakiness. Instead he just turned up looking like an overgrown Funaki and, well, did nothing. There was some tremendous heat when it seemed as though he may have had the match won with nobody else within visible distance to stop him – far more than the bemused pop that Swagger got, for sure. They may want to stop the Matt Striker talking about McIntyre trying to ‘backdoor’ his way into things. That’s how rumours get started.


Drew McIntyre – enjoys walking, tilting and all manner of fun

And let’s look at Swagger’s career over the past year or so. He won the ECW title in January 2009 but saw his undefeated streak end the following month in a non-title match against Finlay. He was relegated to pre-show lumberjack status at WrestleMania 25 after his No Way Out bout against Finlay received horrible backstage reviews. He dropped the ECW title to Christian at Backlash, failed to regain it on multiple occasions and then wound up being drafted to Raw in June. On his debut he expressed rightful appreciation for Randy Orton, which teased an onscreen alliance of sorts with Legacy. This was dropped around about the same time MVP saw his main event push vanish. Swagger and MVP wound up feuding with one another, giving some decent promos but getting very little in-ring time. Swagger continually failed to win the United States title. He got to have a couple of very good TV matches against Cena and Triple H but wound up stuck in a feud with Santino Marella, which he lost. Then, all of a sudden, he won Money in the Bank and then the World Heavyweight Title over on Smackdown. Internet forums at first seemed certain this had to have been an early April Fool’s joke of some sorts, which says everything that needs to be said about this turn of events. Just imagine if they had done the exact same thing with The Miz…


The boy done good, although unhooking bras evidently might be an issue…

The match itself was fine and dandy, although 10 men were far too many for the type of match that was on offer. When there are so many participants it really has to be a non-stop car-wreck of epic bumping proportions. WWE toned down the major bumps, however, which is in and of itself a good thing, as another sloppy performance by Kofi proved. They managed to work in some innovative spots, such as Kofi’s stilts and Swagger’s ladder skewering, yet these meant far less than they could have done because it was virtually impossible to tell any sort of coherent story with so many people involved. There were some brief moments, like Kane and Dolph Ziggler resurrecting their ‘special dislike’ for one another, yet they were few and far between. [5/10]


Triple H vs Sheamus

Striker continued his inane stream-of-consciousness ramblings before the match by talking about how Sheamus was continuing the Celtic traditions of Finlay and William Regal. I’ll leave it for another time to point out the profound cultural differences between men from Dublin, Belfast and Blackpool.

This match was akin to Batista/Umaga in 2008; a hard-hitting, perfunctory and irrelevant midcard effort between a main-event guy and a less established heel ‘monster’. It was nowhere near as sloppy as that match, although I am sure that Triple H was stifling a yawn after the pinfall. I for one sure found it tiring trying to figure out what the point of this was. Hunter told Sheamus that if he cannot beat him at WrestleMania then his career was useless, despite having already won the WWE Championship. Hunter got the better of him on the go-home episode of Raw. Hunter kicked out of his finisher and then no-sold his other big move. Hunter hit him with his finisher and pinned him clean. And then the next night on Raw they go right back to Sheamus attacking Hunter… only Hunter then turns up at the end of the show looking none the worse for wear. What do you think, Randy?


Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

Exactly. [4/10]


C.M. Punk vs Rey Mysterio

To quote Dave Meltzer, ”He was wearing a ponytail on his mask with Mysterio with an Avatar costume.” I have no idea what that means but I know my initial reaction to Mysterio’s costume was ‘Max Moon’. Then again, I believe I may be the only person in the world to have not seen Avatar and have no interest in doing so. Call me a cheapskate but if it isn’t Iron Man 2 then I have no intention of paying money to subject myself to an overpriced ‘cinematic experience’.


Cool enough even for Tony Stark, let alone Konnan…

Anyway, this match typified what WrestleMania has turned into. Elaborate costumes and ring entrances, neither of which really worked in Mysterio’s case, with nowhere near as much attention granted to the in-ring product. These two got 6 minutes. Mysterio and Luke Gallows got 9 minutes and 11 minutes in their two Smackdown matches in the past month. Mysterio and Punk on the February 12 episode got 15 minutes. It would seem rather backwards to have two such capable, compatible wrestlers have an acceptable yet unremarkable and brief match on the biggest PPV event of the year, while their free match on TV gets more than twice as much time. This is what happens at WrestleMania, though. The stadium setting and multiple lengthy video packages means that a huge chunk of the four-hour running time is given over to non-wrestling material. It can make for an exciting viewing experience while watching live but it does curb any potential replay value, which cannot be good for DVD sales. Oh, and they also need to whack on America the Beautiful at the start of the show… despite nearly 50% of the PPV buys coming from outside the USA nowadays… hmm… [5/10]


Street Fight
Bret Hart vs Vince McMahon

Oh, boy.

First, the involvement of the Hart family came out of nowhere. It is far too presumptuous to assume that the majority of the audience has read Bret’s book (although they should) or paid any attention to the real life soap-opera that is the Harts over the past decade. Outside of Vince calling them ‘dysfunctional derelicts’ a couple of weeks ago there was no mention of their various feuds made on TV whatsoever. The audience had no knowledge of them, no reason to care about them and no clue as to who these people even were. If the plan was to have the family get involved in the blow-off match then they should have been introduced on Raw during the build. At the very least the Hart Dynasty should have interacted with Bret and Vince more as the storyline progressed.

Second, the idea of ‘swerving the swerve’ before the match even began was fine. The problem was that they then dragged things out for far too long. If Vince had set himself up for a fall then he should have fallen, not been dangled over the edge and beaten for 11 minutes before falling. As noted in the Roundtable, all people wanted to see was Bret putting the Sharpshooter on Vince. There was no need to construct an entire match around that one moment. This should have been Bret punching Vince out and then making him tap out to the move. Nothing more, nothing less.

Third, was the entire point of Bret’s return not to give him a proper on-screen send-off? If that was indeed the goal it made no sense whatsoever to waste so much time on the beating rather than just ending the ‘match’ in a minute or two. That would have given Bret ample time to say goodbye to the crowd and celebrate with his family, rather than them cutting away so soon after the finish to make the WrestleMania 27 announcement. It would have been a fitting ‘WrestleMania Moment’ to have him cut his farewell promo then and there, complete with a shout-out to Shawn Michaels, rather than saving it for Raw the next night. Speaking of Michaels, it was interesting that the shot of Survivor Series 1997 they used in the pre-match video package included footage of Michaels looking pissed off about the screwjob despite being complicit in it.

Fourth, Bruce Hart is still an idiot.

Fifth, none of this ought to detract from the monumental recovery that Bret has made over the past few years. We have all heard many stories about wrestling tragedies. Bret could so very easily have become another tragic figure through his concussion, stroke and family issues. Many of the negative developments in his life were outside of his own control, which could have bred resentment and depression. Instead it seems that he has gotten himself into a good condition – both mentally and physically. Never mind all of the epic wrestling matches over the years. It is the fact that he found the strength to go out there in front of millions of people all around the world, when at one point doctors thought he would never recover his ability to speak or walk, which has made him into a heroic figure. That is genuine inspiration.


Highspot

The match, however, was dull. It took some special sort of effort to insert boredom into Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels both having their final matches on the same night in 2010. Some people understood the physical limitations of Bret and Vince and did not want to see anything approaching a proper match. Other people were under the impression that this would be akin to the Vince/Shawn brawl in 2006. This match aimed at something in the middle of both expectations and so underwhelmed everybody. [N/A]


World Heavyweight Title
Chris Jericho vs Edge

As annoying as it always is to have the challenger come out after the champion, Edge sure did get himself a visually stunning entrance…


They couldn’t fit ‘Sexton Hardcastle’ onto the sign…

Of course, that was offset by Jericho’s superb, Neil Patrick Harris-style attempt at a sneer, sneer, sneer…


Legen… dary

This was the second-longest match of the night at 16 minutes but could certainly have stood to go for about another five. The finish was too abrupt and they should have done more to play on Edge’s injured heel. The ankle lock would have been far better utilised here than in the main event, for instance. It was the type of match that really played to the video game strength of WWE match booking these days, at least in terms of crowd reaction. Nothing here seemed to hold the fans’ interest unless it was a designated ‘big move’ like the Walls of Jericho or Edge’s DDT. It was still a fine effort, yet it did not seem to have as much vitality to it as people expected.

In retrospect, it also made little sense to do the post-match high spot that left the champion lying unconscious if Swagger was not going to cash in his title shot then and there, as he had suggested he might do on last week’s Raw. By the way, Edge has now been involved in all the Money in the Bank title changes:

2005 – Edge wins the briefcase and then the WWE Championship at New Year’s Revolution 2006.

2006 – Edge wins the WWE Championship from Money in the Bank winner Rob Van Dam in July, one month after RVD won the title by cashing in his title shot. And how did RVD win the title? With an assist from Edge, who speared then-champion Cena.

2007 – Edge wins the briefcase from Money in the Bank winner Ken Kennedy in May, then cashes it in later that week to win the World Heavyweight Title.

2008 – Edge loses the World Heavyweight Title to Money in the Bank winner C.M. Punk in June.

2009 – Edge loses the World Heavyweight Title to Jeff Hardy at Extreme Rules, who then drops it to Money in the Bank winner C.M. Punk.

2010 – Edge attacks Chris Jericho, World Heavyweight Champion, allowing Money in the Bank winner Jack Swagger to cash in his title shot and win the belt.

The ultimate irony, of course, being that Jericho is the one credited with having invented the concept in the first place. [6/10]


Vickie Guerrero, Michelle McCool, Maryse, Layla & Michelle McCool vs Beth Phoenix, Mickie James, Gail Kim, Kelly Kelly & Eve Torres

The match was atrocious, as expected. At just three minutes, however, it was enough to let me check my email if nothing else. There was a nice bit at the start when all the babyface women charged the ring and all of the heels bailed except Vickie, who was left to perish by her cowardly compadres. It seems cruel to be critical about it considering Vickie was bold enough to even go up to the top rope, let alone attempt a ‘bullfrog splash’. Okay, so she somehow screwed up the pinfall. Who cares? She clearly had a great time both playing her brilliant character and paying tribute to her late husband. Don’t forget, Eddie Guerrero is buried in Phoenix and his grave was visited by a lot of wrestlers and fans over the course of the WrestleMania festivities. Vickie has taken a lot of abuse for the benefit of the product. She deserved to have herself a moment. [N/A]


Hey, she does it better than Rey…


WWE Championship
Batista vs John Cena

Another title match and another indication of how important ring entrances have become to the superstar aura of major WWE events. Batista, who again came out first despite being champion, walked alone in his spotlight not giving one iota of a shit about the other 70,000 or so people in the building. Cena got another token armed forces reference but then sprinted down the long ramp into the ring, eager to get on with the fight, followed all the way by a brilliant camera shot. Both entrances conveyed the characters in a more effective manner than the majority of their scripted promos have managed. I’m sure the random BATISTA LIKES FISHSTICKS sign helped too.


Star Power

The director also deserves credit for the way he edited the match. By cutting to certain angles at the correct moment they concealed the preparation for certain counters like Batista’s spinebuster, and Jericho’s Codebreaker in the other match, rather than telegraphing what was about to happen. It generated a lot more impact. It might have been an idea for Batista to not bother using his spear considering how much that was built into the Edge/Jericho program, although perhaps Edge should not use the move at all given how lacklustre his version of it appears. There was one curious moment of silence after Michael Cole talked about how the WWE Championship had not changed hands for five years at WrestleMania. Perhaps there was some frantic backstage fact-checking to see if that was indeed the case. Perhaps people were just angry at him telegraphing the title change, albeit in a less obvious manner than in 1999. In any case, the announcing in general was more of a hindrance than a boon to the overall quality of the show. More on that in the main event. The match had some nice spots, most notably a sick-looking DDT on Cena that ought to have fed into concern about Batista breaking his neck again. Instead he wound up going to the top rope and hitting a Super Five Knuckle Shuffle anyway, before he went up top again to recreate the SummerSlam 2008 finish. Ah, well. [6/10]


One of these men is not as cool as he would like to think he is…


The Streak vs The Career
The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels

Well, this is it. The theme of this entire show was in essence being able to let go of the past, albeit without looking forward into the future. Shawn Michaels was able to let his career go. The Undertaker is all but certain to follow suit sooner rather than later. Bret Hart got his WrestleMania swansong. Vince McMahon got his comeuppance for the Montreal Screwjob. Batista and Cena, the two icons of the most recent ‘era’, clashed for the title. From a broader perspective, WWE has also moved on from things like DX, ECW, Shane McMahon, Linda McMahon and Jim Ross in recent times. Come what may, there can be no doubt that the times are indeed changing.

Not all of these changes need be seen as detrimental but the lack of Jim Ross sure did hurt this match. I hate, hate, hate the Cole, Lawler and Striker triumvirate. Striker is supposed to be the smart one but comes across as a dumb-ass who invents sheer gibberish without thinking it through first. Lawler is supposed to be the funny one but instead seems content to throw in a bunch of mundane comments with but a modicum of interest. Cole manages to combine both negative traits and portrays himself as an uninterested idiot. He alternates between sounding bored and sounding fake. He has been doing this since 1998. Most of the wrestlers are lucky to stay employed for one year if they fail to show improvement. One of his most irritating tendencies is that he simply does not know what is too much. His repeated, high-pitched screeching about how this each near-fall at the end of this match was a blatant giveaway that the match was in fact not about to end. This does not help the audience whatsoever. His blathering on and on and on after the match had me yelling “Shut up!” at the TV rather than just soaking it all in. Is it any wonder that there is an online petition to have Cole fired?

As far as the quality of the match itself is concerned, there is no point in comparing it to last year’s epic. It is like trying to pick a favourite movie out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy; no matter what the stated preference might be, all of them are required viewing to gain full appreciation for the entire story. In fact, this is a story that has been gestating for quite some time. Shawn first met Taker in 1997 at the peak of his drugged-up frenzy, when his egotistical feud with Bret Hart cost Taker the title. Taker beat the piss out of Shawn, including an encounter in the first-ever Hell in the Cell, before sending him into premature retirement after an epic beating during a Casket Match in January 1998. Shawn found God and returned in 2002. By 2007 he had failed to recapture the title from Cena and been punted away by Orton, yet returned after Cena got injured and Orton nabbed the title. This was the most notable instance of WWE calling Shawn and convincing him to return from his leave. He retired Ric Flair with Flair’s blessing, yet this drew the ire of Batista and Jericho. The rivalry with Jericho spun out of control and saw his wife get punched in the face. His family was embroiled in more events when it became clear that Shawn was facing financial ruin and had to take a temp job with JBL. Taker appeared to him and reminded him that it can be hell trying to get into heaven. Shawn stepped back from the brink and made one epic bid for glory by trying to end Taker’s streak, yet failed. He took another sabbatical to gather his thoughts but was persuaded to return to his wrestling career by Triple H, who wanted them to resurrect DX and run roughshod over WWE again. Hunter was nostalgic for their nostalgia-driven run in 2006 yet for Shawn this was no longer enough. It did not work as it had done in the past because his wrestling career was already completed. He tried again to add the one thing that was missing from it, being the one person to end the streak, yet failed again. It was over. Much as Flair had willed on the inevitable climax in 2008, so too did Shawn remain defiant till the end. He opened and closed this rematch with a throat-slitting gesture and threw in a solid bitchslap to Taker for good measure. As with his entire career, it was either Shawn’s way or nothing.

That was a curious blend of storyline and reality but never mind. Whoever came up with that finishing spot is ingenious. It was not all Shawn, of course. Taker deserves massive kudos for his performance in this match. By all accounts the man can barely move backstage, hence it made perfect sense to incorporate that limited mobility into the match by selling a nasty landing off the rope-walk punch. That he also sold it by trying to no-sell it made it even more effective. We’ll leave his curious MMA hoodie outfit out of it. This was yet another stunning, defiant performance by the greatest professional WWE has ever been graced with. Just don’t piss him off with a bitchslap!


Is this his sex face?

The match stole the show, of course, with spots like a Hell’s Gate reversal, plus a huge moonsault onto Taker’s injured knees by Shawn that played off of the WrestleMania 25 finish. It is frankly impossible to imagine any two individuals being able to make as strong a personal connection to the audience as these two have done over the years. Of the two sole remaining competitors from the first-ever episode of Raw in January 1993, one has now retired and the other is on his last legs. It remains to be seen if Shawn stays retired. The audience has been conditioned to not believe that retirement stipulations stick (witness the Raw audience yelling ‘woo!’ when Shawn discussed this in his farewell address). If we are being unselfish, however, we should hope that it lasts. Shawn has familial, spiritual, financial and relatively physical contentment. He does not need to jeopardise any of it by returning to the crazy machine. People should respect and support this decision. Shawn was a tag wrestler when tag teams meant something and bigger men held the top spots. He became a singles star when smaller guys were given the chance to take centre stage. He left as an influx of fresh, younger talent took over and fast-tracked the business to major profits. He returned after that peak but had a veritable wad of established, talented wrestlers to work with. He hung on to the stage where the WWE became fixated on the idea of legacies, veterans and history. Now is the most opportune moment he will ever have to step away for good… at least until the inevitable WWE Movies biopic. Shawn Michaels has indeed left the building. [9/10]



Who’s next?

And so it ends. It appears that Extreme Rules will see many of the now-customary WrestleMania rematches, including Cena/Batista, Hunter/Sheamus and Punk/Mysterio. Chances are that, much like last year’s Backlash, they will be able to focus more on the in-ring product than the overall production and so present more quality matches. Yet as much as things may carry over into the next month, it is difficult to gauge how they will be next year. It is interesting to note that the midcard guys who, for various reasons, have the best chance of establishing themselves are all heels – Sheamus, McIntyre, Miz and Swagger. This past year saw abortive, stop-start attempts at pushing babyface characters like Kofi, Dibiase, Morrison and MVP. A better blend may have yielded a greater chance at success but the most important thing is to have patience with their new projects. Protect them by playing to their strengths and concealing their weaknesses. Do not take their positive attributes for granted and nitpick their faults until they become epic signs of failure. And when it comes to next year’s WrestleMania it might be an idea to think about re-scheduling the card so we can get more than one match worth re-watching. [6/10]

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