The Common Denominator – WrestleMania(s) Revisited (Daniel Bryan, Sheamus, The Rock, John Cena, CM Punk, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Demolition)

Okay, so as I sit down to write this Wrestlemania XXVIII has been in the books for about 15 minutes. Honestly, I had planned to write a column this week about how there has been in recent years a greater willingness for the WWE to give the “little guys” more of a chance to shine in the WWE. It was going to begin with the shift from Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior-type guys as champions to smaller but more technically sound guys like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. I was going to mention Eddie and Rey and even Benoit and eventually move on up to today’s scene in the WWE…

But then Wrestlemania XXVIII started…

And before I could even get comfortable in my chair, months of character development and effort by Daniel Bryan were thrown out the window put the World Heavyweight Championship on Sheamus in an 18-second throwaway squash that does nothing for anyone.

To me, this was a slap in the face to Bryan, who in his first real “Wrestlemania Moment,” walked into a brogue kick and dropped the world title on the biggest stage of them all without landing a single offensive move. And honestly, I wasn’t even really able to get into the Orton-Kane match because I was still trying to make sense of the opening match (by the way, the fact that it was the opening match was another slight in my opinion to both Bryan and Sheamus…I mean, win the Royal Rumble and jerk the curtain?).

Where does this lead us? My only hope is that Bryan moves into a program with CM Punk. We’ve seen what these guys can do in the ring together, but I’m afraid Bryan is now going to be shuffled down the card. Of course, it is just a few minutes after the end of the pay-per-view, so I suppose anything could happen, so I guess we’ll see.
However, since everyone else who does this sort of thing will probably be doing likewise, I’d like to offer just a quick knee-jerk reaction review of the show in the immediate aftermath, along with some speculation on my part…

I’ve already weighed in on Bryan/Sheamus, but for just a few other notes on that, I’d expect Sheamus to get it on with Mark Henry again (sigh), but I don’t see a lenghthy program there. Bryan might get a re-match, but I don’t expect much on that front. I guess unless there are some quick roster shake-ups or the brand extension just sort of goes away, my best hopes lie in a Sheamus/Christian feud and/or Sheamus/Cody Rhodes perhaps. I guess Sheamus vs. pretty much anyone on Team Johnny would do in the short term. Ziggler? Is he still considered a main event guy after being beaten 11 times in one match against Punk?

Which leads to Cody/Show, which was a pretty good match, and while I would have liked to see Cody be kept strong and with the I-C title, I was glad to see show add the final belt he needed to become a Grand Slam Champion (or whatever it’s called). Also, there really wasn’t any way to pay off the whole embarrassing vignette angle other than a Show win. As I mentioned above, I’m hoping the plan is to go ahead and elevate Cody to the next level as a reward for dropping the belt.
Orton/Kane was actually one of the most unexpected finishes I’ve seen in a long time. I would never have expected the Golden Boy to lose clean, even to the Big Red Monster. Maybe this feud will be estended, since they certainly don’t seem to have any plans for Orton brewing. Although, now that I think about it, how often have Sheamus and Kane hooked up? Hmm…

The Divas match was what it was. I generally hate all celebrity matches, dating back to when one of my personal faves, Bam Bam Bigelow, had to lay down for Lawrence Taylor (sigh). And no Kharma in sight…eh, I don’t really care one way or the other. I’m sure they’re trying to figure out how to get the belt on new super-bitch “hoski” Eve.

So, the Team Johnny/Team Teddy match was fine for what it was, ostensibly to get a bunch of folks on the card (16 counting the ancillary participants), so yay. I called the finish exactly as it went down, so yay again. Now, we get twice the John Laurinitis, so…yay? I think I’ve had enough “evil boss” storylines to last me a while, so I hope this doesn’t become one of those deals that starts to dominate the booking. Miz should get some mileage out of scoring the pin, though. Maybe he’ll get first shot at Sheamus or next shot a Punk?

As much as I could totally take-or-leave both HHH and Undertaker, all four of the boys (ages 4 to 16) were completely marking out for this match, thus sucking me into it. Also, I totally bought into the superkick-into-a-pedigree as the finish, and Hunter’s eye looked terrible. I was thinking this story might have some legs to it, but now I’m thinking all three guys are done for a good long while, and I honestly can’t see ‘Taker coming back for a try at 21-0 unless it’s some super-deluxe dream match. We’re talking Sting or maybe Brock here.

Punk/Jericho was nothing short of exactly what it needed to be – a great wrestling match. The last minute DQ stip was, I think, unnecessary, but since it didn’t really figure into the finish, oh well. I never really thought Punk was in real jeopardy at any point in the match, though, although Jericho going to the original Liontamer version of the Walls was a nice touch. I don’t know where Jericho goes from here, unless maybe he goes after Sheamus. They were the last two in the Rumble and put on a nice capper to that match. Punk? He’ll probably go back to being “Stone Cold” to Big Johnny’s “Vince,” so look for that. Again, I’d enjoy an extended Punk/Bryan program, maybe with a ladder match or something for SummerSlam?

Now here’s the biggest head-scratcher for me? I just do not get putting Rock over Cena? Again, it’s just a little while after the show ended, so maybe Raw will give us a great set-up for something that makes that decision to job out your number one guy and face of the company to the guy who is just stopping by between film roles make sense, but I don’t have any ideas. It really just seems to me that Cena could have gotten the clean-but-hard-fought win and then received a handshake from the Rock that might have re-established Cena as a more universally-accepted face. Again, I guess plans will begin to unfold tomorrow night.

Oh, and just to mention them – does this mean they are going to do something with Heath Slater? I know he got punked by Flo Rida, but he was on my TV during Wresltemania, so that’s good for him, right? You know, they could totally give him a James Storm-like makeover. And the Brodus Clay bit was harmless fun, and my kids love the Funkasaurus, so good for him. And apparently all of the WWE’s tag teams (both of them) and a thrown together team had a dark match in which Primo & Epico retained. Congratulations.

So, having said all that, as I was clicking the three or four buttons I had to maneuver my way through to order ‘Mania this afternoon, I began to think about the first time I ordered a pay-per-view. Well, actually I then began to think about the first time I wanted to order a pay-per-view.

I really, really, really wanted to order Wrestlemania III. This was at the peak of my transition from “knowing it’s probably fake, but still thinking it might be real” to “knowing it’s fake, but enjoying it anyway for what it was, so screw all you haters.” I was 13, and it was not only Hogan/Andre for the WWF title (I was rooting for Andre), but the blow-off for Savage/Steamboat (big Dragon mark, I) and some other big matches, like Piper/Adonis and the Bulldogs finally getting to turn Danny Davis into meat pudding, so I wanted this badly.

Unfortunately, I was barely able to even explain to my parents what pay-per-view much less get them to go through what was at the time a very tedious process of acquiring the equipment to watch such a thing. And, of course, there was the cost. I don’t remember for sure, but I think it was going to be like $40 bucks, and if so it might as well have been $4,000, ‘cause my parents weren’t going to cough up that kind of money for (in their minds) the same wrestling I watched to much of anyway for free.

So, ‘Mania III came and went. I eventually got to watch it a few months later on home video, so anyways. I went through similar hopes and disappointment for Wrestlemania IV. They did let me call the WWF Hotline and get the results that night, and the nex morning, I got to see Randy Savage pin Ted DiBiase to win the WWF title on CNN Headline News (of all places), so that wasn’t too bad.

And then came Wrestlemania V – The Megapowers Collide. This time, things were a little different. I was now 15, and I had my own money saved up. The process wasn’t as complicated anymore either. Well, it was still complicated, but I was old enough and smart enough to only need a couple of rides to Cablevision to take care of everything myself.

Using a flyer that someone had stuck under my mother’s windshield wiper, I called the cable company and got all the details. For $50, all I had to do was get one of my parents to drive me to the cable offices (just a 10 minute drive) and pick up a little black box. I then had to hook said box up to my television on the day of the show and have it back to them within 48 hours of the end of the show, lest I incur an additional charge of some sort. So, that’s what I did, and on April 2, 1989, 23 years ago to the day as I write this (after midnight), I watched my very first pay-per-view wrestling show.

Now, some of this I remember vividly, and some of this I’m relying on Wikipedia for, but it was quite the experience. First of all, there were FOURTEEN freakin’ matches on the card. Granted one of them was a less-than-a-minute Red Rooster/Bobby Heenan match, but still…this year’s show had eight matches and one of them (sigh) was less than a minute as well.

The opening match was Hercules Hernandez vs. King Haku. I never liked either guy, and I remember nothing of this match. In the next match, the Rockers were basically fed to the Twin Towers. I do remember this match, but in my head this was the Natural Disasters, though…weird. Shawn Michaels got squashed (literally) by Akeem for the finish. I hated Akeem as much as I liked the One Man Gang. Don’t worry, though, I think things workes out for Shawn in the end.

Brutus Beefcake and Ted DiBiase fought to a double-countout. I guess they were protecting both guys. I really wanted Brutus to get a run with the I-C title, but things never worked out for him. I honestly don’t remember this match at all.

The Bushwhackers beat the Fabulous Rougeaus in the next match. Again, I hated the Bushwhackers, loved the Sheepherders. Rougeaus? I hated them in every incarnation either of these guys existed in, and I probably went to the bathroom during this match.

Mr. Perfect beat the Blue Blazer in the next match. I had no idea who Owen Hart was at the time, but I liked both guys and I do remember this match, with the Blazer just basically being outsmarted by Hennig.
Oh boy, the next match was one I was super stoked for…Demolition (pre-sucky Crush) vs. the Powers of Pain and Mr. Fuji (for some reason) for the WWF tag-team belts. Fuji had turned on the Demos not too long before this, officially turning them face (although they had been getting cheers for a while by then). I definitely remember this. As far as I knew this was as close as I was ever going to get to Demolition vs. the Road Warriors.

Next, Dino Bravo best Ronnie Garvin in a 3 minute match. Okay. If you say so, Wikipedia.

Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard defeated Tito Santana & Rick Martel in what I remember as a great match. That’s a lot of talent in the ring there. Wikipedia says the match went 9:36. In my head, it went longer than that. The Horsemen were great heels and fun to hate (in a good way). This was also the beginning of “The Model” Rick Martel and his heel persona.

Jake Roberts vs. Andre the Giant was a match I had really wanted to see. I loved Jake the Snake as a face and a heel, and I wanted to see him get a win over the giant to send him into the WWF title scene. The match ended up being crap, with Andre getting disqualified for hitting the referee or something. I didn’t know at the time just how bad off Andre was.

So the Hart Foundation beat Honkytonk Man & Greg Valentine in the next match. I can kind-of remember this situation and all, but the match itself…I got nothing. Just a shame to see the once highly-touted Valentine in this ridiculous gimmick, and Honky should have just left after dropping the I-C title to the Warrior.

Speaking of which, I was super-pissed when Rick Rude (with an assist from Heenen) won the I-C belt from the Ultimate Warrior. I was always a Warrior fan, and he got the belt back anyway and then went on to win the WWF title from Hogan at the next Wrestlemania, so I have no complaints (except again having to see Warrior screwed out of the WWF title at the Rumble as part of the crappy Sgt. Slaughter storyline).

Hacksaw Duggan and the under-appreciated Bad News Brown had a brief brawl after that apparently. I still think the WWF underutilized Duggan. He actually could go in the ring, and in the UWF/Mid-South area, he was not nearly the goofball he became in the WWF.

Then it was time for the Main Event. Savage, the WWF champ and bad guy gone good gone bad vs. Hulk Hogan. I always rooted against Hogan. I don’t know why, and I really thought Savage would retain here. How was I to know that Savage would not only never, ever get a pinfall win over Hogan, but also Hogan still be beating Savage for world titles 10 years later in WCW…TWICE. On April 20, 1998, Hogan defeated Savage to end Savage’s one-day WCW title reign after Savage beat Sting the night before. Then, on July 12, 1999 Hogan beat Savage again, ending another one-day championship reign for Savage after he beat Kevin Nash for the belt the night before…sigh. No wonder Savage hated Hogan.

I wouldn’t order another Wrestlemania until Wrestlemania XIV, when Stone Cold captured the WWF title and sent Shawn Michaels into temporary retirement. You, know comparing WM V with WM XXVIII, I’m not sure which formula works better. That is, more matches with shorter times, or fewer, longer matches. I will say this: I really seem to remember every match having weeks, perhaps even months of storyline build-up, something the WWE often gets accused of neglecting these days in the era of monthly pay-per-views, but I would have to say they did a pretty good job this year. Obviously Rock/Cena was a year in the making. The HHH/’Taker match had its roots in last year’s show as well. Bryan/Sheamus and Punk/Jericho began building steam back in January. Cody/Show has several weeks of build and a good hook to it. The Teddy/Johnny match was the natural progression of an angle that had it roots going back to last Summer. Okay, so the angle on Randy/Kane was pretty weak, and the Diva’s match was almost literally thrown together like the other day, but that’s not to bad.

I just hope they’re already planning something for the weeks ahead.
Also, we did, of course eventually get that Road Warriors vs. Demolition feud. Here’s a match from 1990. Unfortunately, by this time Ax was being transitioned out in favor of Crush, but I sill like the whole idea of the big powerful and somewhat scary tag teams that were scattered about the wrestling scene in the late 1980s.

Just a good solid old-school brawl. Anyway, thanks for reading.

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