The View From Down Here – Wrestlemanias Past

Wrestlemanias Past – Thoughts And Opinions

Hey! I got an email last week. After abusing me for having an opinion not shared by many others, saying that my writing style is puerile, and commenting that I should have a Twitter feed or else I’ll be considered a dinosaur, this person asked, “I gess (sic) your (sic)going bash the WWE and then come out and be a suporter (sic) of TNA.” Clearly because I don’t like the Undertaker much I therefore must hate the WWE and because I think Beer Money are one of the best tag teams going and AJ Styles is misused I must love TNA.
            Here’s the deal. I like wrestling. My favourite match of 2008 was a match from my local indy promotion Riot City Wrestling. Better, to my mind, than anything WWE or TNA put out. My favourite match of 2009 was a TNA match. My favourite match of 2010 was a WWE match. I just like wrestling. But, having said that, after Victory Road I’m really torn about TNA. The main event was a debacle, sure (and it looked like Sting really held Hardy down to pin him, that Hardy was trying to kick out but just couldn’t… was it a shoot of sorts?) but the rest of the card (with the exception of Beer Money v Ink Inc and Matt Hardy v Styles) sucked.
            What I might do after Wrestlemania has been and gone is rank the matches from the year to date at the end of my columns. This could well give people plenty to argue about and abuse me about. I’ll only rank PPV matches. So far, by the way, my favourite PPV match of the year was one of the Elimination Chamber matches.
            Anyway, thanks for the feedback, but I’d like people to remember – this is an opinion column. These are my opinions as some one who has been watching wrestling for more than 30 years from the arse end of the world. If you don’t agree, say why. That’s cool. I’m old enough to deal with it.

Onto the Column proper!

Wrestlemania is fast approaching. I wanted to stay away from it as everyone else will be writing about it, analysing everything in minute detail and just generally making us think it is the only thing ever to happen in wrestling. But then I realised if I wrote about something else no one would bother reading. I suppose it’s sort of expected that if you write about wrestling then at this time of the year then Wrestlemania is supposed to come up.

But first I’ll say what I’m looking forward to most this weekend is Riot City Wrestling with their huge 6-man tag team elimination bout main event. While Wrestlemania means more, I’ll be at the RCW show and the atmosphere of being there is just something you can’t replicate on TV.

Okay, Wrestlemania. Look, everyone and their dog are going to analyse this upcoming show ad nauseam. Some will be great, some okay, many will be freakin’ awful (though, thankfully, not on the Pulse!), but I thought I’d look back in time and give some Wrestlemania opinions. Okay? Cool.

I saw the first 5 Wrestlemanias on television, uncut, broadcast around a fortnight after they aired in the USA. I saw the next 6 (up to and including 11) on video tape around a month and a half after they aired in the US. I then watched numbers 17 through to 24 via PPV, catching up on 12 through 16 when the Anthology series came out, and watching 25 and 26 in the week after they happened. So yes, I have seen them all, and, yes, I did watch that first one for the first time at an age where I can actually remember it.

So here is a list of matches and shows in various categories as I view them. Yes, this is a list column. And, yes, it is Wrestlemania-based. Apologies in advance:

Match that I can still watch again and again:
Wrestlemania 7 – Randy Savage v Ultimate Warrior
            There is just something about this match, the way it was structured, the way it played to both men’s strengths, the way they played their parts. Warrior was methodical in destroying Savage, but every time he got over confident Savage made him pay for it. And the post-match happenings with Elizabeth were done so amazingly well. Everything about this match made sense. Warrior’s best match by far. I can still sit there and watch it, either the clipped Coliseum video version or the full Anthology version and get engrossed. I have used it when I have taken writing workshops, I have used it to help write at least two short stories. My favourite Wrestlemania match and one I can keep on watching.

Match that really disappointed me:
Wrestlemania 2 – Paul Orndorff v Don Muraco
            The build up to this was who could get their pile driver on the other. Back story: We watched Wrestlemania 2 at a mate’s house, around 10 of us, and this was one match we talked about. The move looked deadly and both these men were impressive physical specimens, especially Orndorff, all chiseled physique and squared jaw. There was a back drop, an armbar, some hitting, they fell out of the ring and were counted out. We were stunned. Where was the pile driver? Where was the blow off? What in the hell was happening? And, even more, it opened the show, making it seem so second rate to us at the time. It therefore set us in a mood for the show which saw us enjoy the tag title match and that was it, crapping on the rest of it, especially the main event with Hogan and Bundy. On recent viewing, there was a pretty cool Funks tag match in there and I didn’t mind the battle royal though it was short. But, yeah, this match still felt like it should have been so much more.

Match that should have been bigger:
Wrestlemania 26 – CM Punk v Rey Mysterio
            These two had a feud that was set for a monumental run. Masks, society, hair, grudges, creepy singing, everything you need for a great feud. And then… they were given 8 minutes on the biggest stage of them all. Sure, those eight minutes were great, but it felt like a Cliff’s Notesversion of what their match should have been like, which was 15 minutes of a Randy Savage/Ricky Steamboat like intensity with the same sort of intense back story. But it wasn’t. And this is not the fault of the wrestlers – the two of them gave it their all – but the insane booking of the show.

Guilty pleasure match:
Honourable mention Wrestlemania 1
            Watching the very first of these has become something of a perverse pleasure, especially with the Anthology uncut version of it. Sure, many of the matches are bad or, more specifically, of their time, but there is just something about it that makes it rather endearing, especially to some like me who watched it when it first reared its ugly head.
Tie here:
Wrestlemania 6 – Hulk Hogan v Ultimate Warrior
            I dislike Hulk Hogan. People talk about Flair and Hart doing the same match over and over, but they at least could wrestle. Hogan did the same match and his move-set appeared, shall we say, limited. But here, against the Ultimate Warrior (who I quite liked, don’t know why), he pulled out all stops and carried a clearly blown up Warrior through one great match. No idea who was going to win when I first saw it (we had rumours in Australia it was a DCOR ending before the video became available; the wrestling mags were up to 3 months behind by the time they reached us – thank God for the Internet!) and while it’s certainly no best of 3 falls Steamboat/Flair, I like it.
Wrestlemania 20 – Evolution v The Rock’n’Sock Connection
            From the Rock’s amazingly over-the-top promo before the match to all five men working their arses off to make it work, this was one of the reasons why Wrestlemania 20 is so high on my list of favourites. One of Flair’s last really good matches (he would have others against HHH and Michaels and, bizarrely, I liked the one against Foley in TNA), one of the first matches with Batista I liked, and I think the last time I saw a faction/stable actually make a true impact in WWE before the original Nexus came out of NXT. And the hot crowd made it feel that much better.

Match that made me say, “Holy Sh*t!” a lot:
Honourable Mention Wrestlemania 17 – TLC2
            Tag match insanity with even the outside help for each team taking stupid bumps. It certainly did make me go, “Holy sh*t!” a lot, but unfortunately a lot of that was because I thought they had legit hurt themselves. I also felt that some of the set ups and bumps were obvious. Still, good match and even today it makes me wince at times.
Tie in this one as well:
Wrestlemania 10 – Shawn Michaels v Razor Ramon
            The match that set the template for insane ladder bumps. I know it was not the first ladder match; I know it wasn’t even WWF’s first ladder match – but it was the first one I ever saw and it made me cringe as I watched it. The bumps looked hard and painful and this seemed to take wrestling out of that ‘choreographed and controlled violence’ into a frenzy of ‘Christ, that must have really hurt’. It was the first time I saw a wrestling match where everything they did looked like it legitimately hurt the other guy. To me, it was a big deal, as a twenty-something year old, to see what they were doing to one another and living. Not so much now, but back then – holy sh*t!
Wrestlemania 21 – Money In The Bank
            The first one, and, wow!, it was impressive. They set up for future spots without you realising future spots were being set up. The pace did not let up. It was given time to happen. Everyone put in maximum effort. The winner could literally have been any of the competitors. Benoit sold the arm throughout like an absolute champ, making it look like he had legit hurt himself. In my opinion, it has never been matched for sheer “holy sh*t”ness, in a good way.

Favourite main event:
Honourable mention Wrestlemania 17 – The Rock v Steve Austin
            These two guys just had insane chemistry together, and worked off one another as well as Flair/Steamboat and Perfect/Hart. A really good, strong match, tailing off a good, strong Wrestlemania (see below!). It was engrossing, but the winner seemed to be never in doubt, especially from the build up, even if the heel turn seemed almost forced. But that does not stop it from being just superb.
Wrestlemania 20 – Shawn Michaels v Chris Benoit v HHH
            This is my favourite. Part of it is the fact that any of the three could have won , and the lead up was focused on particularly Michaels and HHH with Benoit almost being used as he was in WCW – put him into a match to add the work rate. But Michaels was already in it so that meant this idea was almost odd. Some of the moves were amazing, especially the saves, and while it did do the old 3-way trick of having a series of 1-on-1 matches, the three way stuff was also very well done. And the ending was a feel-good moment that has only been ruined by subsequent events. I watched it again recently, and found that I can now separate Benoit the performer from Benoit the killer. It helps that it was a few years ago and that I live on the other side of the world where it was only really reported on the Internet. Sometimes it pays to be isolated from reality.
            And apologies to everyone offended by this choice. But this is my list.

Worst match:
Oh, man, have there been some stinkers! Now, I’m not going to criticise here because a match was dull, had no flow, was a battle royal (or else the Divas battle royal from Wrestlemania 25 would have been a clear favourite), involved a non-wrestler (including women hired for looks as opposed to ability, so the Wrestlemania 16 catfight is also not considered) or involved two old guys fighting (sorry Hart v McMahon, Wrestlemania 26). No, this is for that match that did nothing for any wrestler ever.
            I could have put Big Bossman v Undertaker Hell in a Cell (Wrestlemania 15) here, and believe me, it was close. The Adrian Adonis v Uncle Elmer classic (Wrestlemania 2) is a definite starter. Roddy Piper v Goldust in their backlot brawl (Wrestlemania12) was awful, though I understand that it was thrown together a little because of other issues. Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts v Rick Martel blindfold match (Wrestlemania 7) has gone down as notoriously bad, but the crowd loved it. No, here’s my worst:
Wrestlemania 9 – The Undertaker v Giant Gonzales
            First – who thought that outfit Gonzales wore was a good idea? Who? And where can I get the drugs they’re on? Well, this is the match, complete and uncut: Forearm (no sell), forearm (blocked), punch (sort of sold), punch, punch, punch, throat grab, return throat grab to corner, return throat grab to 2nd rope, testicle shot, double fist (miss), punch, arm wringer, climb to top rope, rope walk, jump to hit, punch, punch, punch, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick out of corner, clothesline, forearm, hip toss or beal thing out of corner, standing chin lock choke hold thing, down to one knee (after 40 seconds), up to two feet (chin lock still in place), down to one knee (after another 20 seconds), down to sitting, reach for urn, climb to 2 feet, elbow, elbow, elbow, run off ropes, get thrown out of ring, climb out of ring, forearm, chop, head to steps, throw to steps, back into ring, head butt, sit up, head butt, sit up, forearm, punch, forearm, punch, kick, punch, kick, forearm, punch, punch, punch, punch, punch (blocked), forearm, punch, punch (sort of selling), punch (to one knee), choke manager, etherise manager, etherise opponent, get disqualified, winner Undertaker. And that’s actually more exciting than sitting through this… this thing.

Match that was better than it had any right to be:
Wrestlemania 11 – Bam Bam Bigelow v Lawrence Taylor
            I get why they made it the main event, with the media exposure and all that, but this was really an untried quantity in Bigelow against a non-wrestler in Taylor. Yet, by keeping it simple and by allowing Taylor to continually go back to what worked for him (great, stiff looking forearms) this match was actually one of the best celebrity matches ever (maybe the one with Steve McMichael and Kevin Greene v Ric Flair and Arn Anderson at GAB96 was the only one better) and it actually had a good, big time feel. So sue me, I enjoyed it. And although I do feel the wrong guy went over as it did make wrestling look subservient to football, it was the face winning.

Match that my friends still talk about:
By this I mean the match my friends always mention whenever we bring up the topic of Wrestlemania in conversation. That’s all.
Honourable mention Wrestlemania 13 – Steve Austin v Bret Hart
            Those that watched wrestling during this era talk about this match for two reasons: the image of Austin fighting the pain while bleeding nicely, and the double turn the match managed. They generally also liked Shamrock in the ref role, and mostly they liked the match itself. But so many of us watched only WCW at this point in time that many of us (me included) only came to see it much later on and out of context, which I think lessens the impact it had on us. Sorry.
Wrestlemania 3 – Randy Savage v Ricky Steamboat
            Look, I think everything that can be said about this match has been said about this match. It was great, it had an awesome back story, it had genuine heat, and it was just a classic, probably the best ever Wrestlemania match. But what gets me about it is that my friends from the time when we watched it still talk about it some 20+ years later! Those who still watch wrestling (granted, not many) still say it is the best Wrestlemania match they have seen. It’s a good match, but I have a feeling this is a case where familiarity, while not breeding contempt, has certainly bred a sort of casual attitude towards this match in me. Sorry. It’s good, great even. Probably the very best. And I love it. It’s just not my favourite. But it does get talked about. Still.

Least favourite Wrestlemania:
Honourable mention: Wrestlemania 9
            This gets a lot of hate, and rightfully so, from the less than stellar main event, to the Undertaker/Gonzales match, to the 2 Doinks, to the final champion standing in the ring with his black eye. But I kind of enjoyed the Shawn Michaels v Tatanka match (hated the ending) and thought the Steiners v Headshrinkers tag match was watchable, along with Mr Perfect v Lex Luger. Dull and uninspired I think would be the best adjectives for this one. No, here’s my least favourite:
Wrestlemania 15
            Hardcore title – Billy Gunn v Hardcore Holly v Al Snow crap. Tag title – Owen Hart & Jeff Jarrett v D-Lo Brown & Test crap. Brawl for All – Butterball v Bart Gunncrap but strangely hilarious. The Big Show v Mankind crap (but Big Show falling on Foley must have hurt A LOT). Intercontinental title – Road Dogg v Ken Shamrock v Goldust v Val Venis which was supposed to have Billy Gunn in it but they put Road Dogg in instead and it was still crap, but confusing crap. HHH v Kane crap. Women’s title – Sable v. Tori worse than crap. European title – Shane McMahon v X-Pac mediocre. Hell in the Cell – Big Bossman v Undertaker worse than the worse pile of crap ever (bar one), made even worse than that by hanging Bossman afterwards. World title – The Rock v Steve Austin quite good, but not great (not like at 17 or 19). One mediocre match, one good match, two matches worse than crap, the rest just plain crap. My least favourite Wrestlemania.

Favourite Wrestlemania:
This is a toss up for me between Wrestlemanias 10, 17 and 20. And I am firmly of the opinion that one great match does not a great Wrestlemania make. So allow me to indulge a little:
            Wrestlemania 20had 4 good or great matches (Sock’n’Rock v Evolution, Christian v Jericho, Guerrero v Angle, 3-way main event), 3 okay matches (Cena v Big Show, Victoria v Molly, Lesnar v Goldberg… yes, I thought the match wasn’t as horrific as most make out) and a bunch of dreck, including one total worthless match (women’s tag).
            Wrestlemania 10 had 2 great matches (Michaels v Ramon, Hart v Hart), one good match (Savage v Crush), a heap of meh and two bad matches (Blaze v Kei and Adam Bomb v Earthquake, but it was quick).
            Wrestlemania 17 had 3 great matches (Angle v Benoit, TLC2, Rock v Austin), 4 good matches (Jericho v Regal, RTC v APA/Taz, McMahon v McMahon, HHH v Undertaker), 1 meh match (Test v Guerrero), 1 crap (Hardcore) and two total dreck (Ivory v Chyna, Gimmick Battle Royale… but that was fun in a perverse type of way).
            So, all up, I’m plugging for Wrestlemania 17 as my favourite.

So, what do you think? Thoughts, comments, abuse, as always, leave below. Oh, and enjoy Wrestlemania! Or Riot City Wrestling! Either way…

And some of my favourite columns from last week: Mike Gojira had a good ‘un as usual; Blair A. Douglasis always a good read, and puts his mind on the line for the rest of us; and Jonah Kue has an awesome argument to make. And finally, Penny Sautreau-Fife has the word on concussions; this is essential reading. Go ahead – click, read. Reading is a good thing.

And that’s the view.

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