Monday 8 April 2013

WrestleMania XXIX review

The most remarkable thing about WrestleMania XXIX was that there were absolutely no backstage segments. When you write that about a WWE show you know that on some level it’s failed. The absence of skits should not be the most noteworthy thing about a show, particularly WrestleMania. It’s not that this ‘Mania was a bad one, it’s that it was a predictable one. A handful of minor surprises aside, one of which was the lack of an unadvertised but expected match, the latest instalment in the gargantuan WrestleMania franchise was a pedestrian one.

This isn’t to knock it. As I say, it wasn’t a bad show and predictability issues aside it was mostly good stuff. There were better wrestling matches at shows promoted by other companies over the weekend, but that’s always true. As a complete package no other promotion in town (and there were a lot in town over the weekend) could hold a candle to WWE. This show avoided becoming one of the worst WrestleManias ever and failed to make itself stand out as one of the best. That’s about what I, and most other people, expected.

I was unable to watch the pre-show due to a failed internet connection. Reading about what happened I didn’t miss much, although I’m told Jim Ross and Dusty Rhodes were on commentary. I imagine that was good value. The only match on offer was Miz’s victory over Wade Barrett for the Intercontinental championship. It’s been compared to their match on RAW (also won by ‘The Awesome One’). Nothing about that description makes me sorry I missed the title change.

The rest of the pre-show? Video packages. WWE didn’t want that crowd peaking early.

The show proper kicked off with the six man tag team match pitting Randy Orton, Sheamus and Big Show against Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. It wasn’t what I’d expected to open the show but it proved a good choice. Fans popped huge for The Shield (probably because they believed in them) and remained lively throughout the encounter.

The action mostly stayed in the ring. This was presumably to allow the big boys to make more impact with their ringside antics later. There were surprisingly few finishers wheeled out in this one. I don’t recall either ‘Great White’ or ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ hitting the Brogue Kick or the choke slam, for example.

Orton tried to make up for it. He did his rope drape DDT and caught Seth Rollins with an impressive mid-air RKO, much as he did with CM Punk two years ago. This was after he’d tagged himself in on Sheamus, leaving Big Show miffed on the apron. Seconds after hitting the RKO Orton was speared and pinned by Roman Reigns as Big Show just stood there. The Shield boys picked up a successful WrestleMania debut.

After the match ‘The Giant’ and ‘The Viper’ argued. The idea is either that Orton’s a glory hog and his selfishness cost the team a win or that Big Show isn’t a team player. Neither option wows me. Shaymo glomped his way into the ring but got caught with a dodgy looking WMD from Show. Orton got lamped too. Show than wandered backstage. Probably in the direction of catering.

Match number two was Ryback v Mark Henry. It was one of the results I was most certain about. Of course it was going to end with ‘Big Hungry’ effortlessly hoisting Henry up for his Shellshock finisher. It was going to be a magical WrestleMania Moment™ that we would all marvel at for months and look back on fondly in years to come. It was going to be the moment Ryback’s push got back on track. It was going to be the moment it became clear Ryback will win a world championship this year but soon this year. It was going to be the moment where Ryback transcended humanity and became a god.

Unfortunately nobody told WWE’s booking team any of this and so the match ended with Ryback picking ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ up for the Shellshock only for Henners to grab the ropes, causing Ryback to fall down and get squashed. Henry then pinned Ryback in genuinely the most shocking result of the night.

Yep, Mark Henry won quite literally via squash.

We still got to see the Shellshock on Henry because Ryback jumped him after the match. That the move occurred outside of a match makes its status as a legitimate WrestleMania Moment™ questionable. It certainly put a stop to Ryback attaining godhood.

Basically what we learnt from Ryback v Mark Henry is that Henry is a deceptively crafty veteran who WWE have decided to keep strong at the expense of their hottest non-main event act. Oh, and that Ryback’s a sore loser who jumps people after they’ve pinned him clean.

We could very well be on the cusp of another strong push for Mark Henry. Don’t be surprised to see him challenging for either of the company’s two world titles in the next few months. A body slam challenge rematch with Ryback at Extreme Rules seems like a strong possibility too.
"I lost on pay-per-view again?"
That match was followed by the tag team championship contest, Ziggy and Big E (pronounced here Biggy) challenging Daniel Bryan and Kane. They didn’t get very long, which was about what I’d expected. They also crammed a whole bunch of stuff into what time they did receive. Which was also about what I expected.

In an amusing nod to last year’s WrestleMania Ziggler started off the match by getting a kiss from AJ Lee. You know, because that’s what Bryan did last year before he got pinned immediately after a Brogue Kick in a match that lasted eighteen seconds. Bryan rolled up ‘The Show Off’ for a near fall that the crowd were amazingly hot for. Ziggler just managed to kick out.

The opening moments were white hot. Fans bellowed “Yes!” as Bryan battered Ziggler with stiff kicks. He nailed ‘The Heel’ was a dive to the outside too. It was the chance to back one of the most talented and respected wrestlers in the world that fans had been robbed of last year. They seized on it this time and made every second count.

Langston was put over as a beast, overpowering Kane and tossing Daniel Bryan about like a proverbial ragdoll. Neither that nor Ziggler’s athleticism were enough though. Team Hell No retained their belts in a short but incredibly satisfying bout. I think this is probably the best Kane match at the event since he wrestled Kurt Angle at WrestleMania X8 (that was eleven years ago).

Fandango’s debut was up next. His ring entrance was second only to that of Undertaker. Not even John Cena got a special entrance this year, and he makes a habit of it. I’d expected Fandango to get a quick pin on ‘Y2J’. That didn’t happen. They instead had a very good ten minute match that showed Fandango can wrestle as well as dance.
In twenty years this entrance routine will be as meaningful as Undertaker's
Fans were into the bout, supporting Jericho and reacting well to the ballroom dancer’s heelish attitude. The finishing sequence was good: Fandango reversing the Walls of Jericho into a pinning predicament that got him a three count. It was the best debut realistically possible for him. I hope WWE doesn’t waste it and keeps using him well. He could mean something if they don’t mess up.

Up next was a P Diddy concert. It was as nauseating as you’d expect.

Jack Swagger, the number one contender to the World Heavyweight championship, did not receive a televised entrance. That indicated that he wasn’t going to be winning, and he didn’t. The crowd responded well to Alberto Del Rio’s entrance, including being very into Ricardo Rodriguez, but switched off once the match started. I can understand why: the match wasn’t bad but it wouldn’t have looked out of place on RAW. Perhaps we just have to accept that racism isn’t the heat getter it used to be.

There was no cash-in from Dolph Ziggler. I think everyone watching the show had expected that. It seemed like the logical thing to do to. It would have given Ziggler a WrestleMania Moment™ and set him up for a massive push. Maybe instead of having him be the first guy to cash in the briefcase at ‘Mania they’re going to have him be the first man to let it expire.

CM Punk was played to the ring by Living Colour, the guys who own the rights to his non-WWE produced entrance music. They were greeted more warmly than P Diddy had been earlier in the show. I was hoping they’d stick around to play Undertaker to the ring. It wasn’t to be.

‘The Dead Man’ stalked out to his regular funereal music. There was a nice effect as he emerged through the smoke: people, I assume we were supposed to think they were dead or ghosts or something, clawing at his robe from the ground. It was suitably eerie. Also pleasing to see was that some fans still hold their lighters in the air when ‘Taker enters the arena. That’s got to be one of the oldest traditions in the company.

Sadly Undertaker avoided a replay of last year’s fantastic hoodbotch spot. I would have marked out for that.

The first move of the match was a slap to the face of the Undertaker from Punk. He followed up with some elbows and a second slap. ‘Taker grabbed him by the throat but Punk retaliated with a kick to the head before getting dropped with a boot to the face.

They went outside, brawling over to the Spanish announce table. Undertaker slammed Punk into a turnbuckle and then draped him on the apron to hit his old leg drop spot. Fans belted the pair with duelling chants. The atmosphere was great just minutes in.

Back in the ring ‘Taker took control, wringing Punk’s arm and kicking him in the chest to go for Old School, his rope walk elbow drop spot. ‘The Voice of the Voiceless’ countered by pulling ‘The Phenom’ down into the ring and then hit the move himself, following up with a Russian leg sweep for a two count.

Punk applied a submission hold to the arm for a brief rest. That didn’t last long: ‘Taker powered out and whipped his foe across the ring. Punk baseball slid kicked Undertaker on the outside and followed up with an axe handle smash off the top rope. Back in the ring he went for another pinfall. Once again he only got two. If The Streak ever ends it’ll take more than a double axe smash to get the job done.

Punk wrung ‘Taker’s shoulder and barged it a few times (another old Undertaker move) before ‘The Last Outlaw’ retaliated with a punch. Punk ducked a second punch and hit a swinging neck breaker which earned him another two count.

Undertaker hit a suplex and charged Punk in the corner. He got a boot to the face for his trouble. ‘The Second City Saint’ went for Old School again but Undertaker tripped him, causing a painful rope straddle. Punk took a tumble to the outside, setting Undertaker up for his top rope dive to the floor. Heyman put a stop to that by leaping (I say leaping, I mean climbing quickly) on to the apron. As Undertaker had him by the throat Punk snuck in with a springboard clothesline for a two count.

Punk hit his high knee and then clotheslined ‘Taker down, following up with the Macho Elbow. That got a two count. Cole reacted like the elbow was going to win the match for Punk. The audience knew better.

Punk signalled for GTS and pulled ‘Taker up. ‘The Dead Man’ slipped out and caught the 434 day WWE champion with a choke slam for a two. Lawler told us he thought that was going to win the match for the Undertaker.Yes. Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler expected us to believe he thought Punk was going to go down to a choke slam, at WrestleMania, when we hadn’t even seen a Tombstone.

The two returned to their feet and exchanged punches. ‘Taker nailed Punk with a corner clothesline followed by Snake Eyes. He tried the big boot that usually follows but Punk got him with a leaping heel kick. Punk clotheslined Undertaker to the outside and then headed over to continue clearing the Spanish announce table. ‘Taker stopped him and went for a Last Ride through the table. Punk slipped out and dropped Undertaker backwards on to the table with a kick to the head. He then clambered up to the turnbuckle to hit a Macho Elbow.

The table no-sold it. That ruined what Cole had described as Punk’s WrestleMania Moment. Punk rolled back into the ring at around four count from the referee. Undertaker just made it back at nine. Puunk crawled over to attempt a cover but Undertaker pulled him in for his Hell’s Gate submission. Punk reversed into a pin attempt, forcing Taker to break the hold. It was then time for the Anaconda Vice.

Undertaker’s shoulders went down for a two count before he did his old sitting straight back up spot, with Punk still applying the hold. ‘The Second City Saint’ sold that moment beautifully. They went back to their feet. ‘Taker went for a choke slam. Punk slipped out and hit a GTS but Undertaker managed to stay up by bouncing off the ropes, coming back to scoop Punk up for a Tombstone piledriver.

Punk kicked out.

The two traded blows on their knees, gradually standing back up. The crowd cheered and booed with each punch, favouring Undertaker. That surprised me. I didn’t expect CM Punk to get that heavily booed in this one because he’s so over. ‘Big Evil’ went for a choke slam again, but Punk flailed about, escaping and dropping referee Mike Chidoa into the bargain. He dropped ‘Taker with a spinning back kick and then scored with another high knee.

‘Taker surprised him with a Last Ride attempt, only for Heyman to pass the urn to his charge as he was carried into the centre of the ring. Punk walloped ‘Taker with the prop and then mimicked his traditional post-Tombstone pin. Chioda made it back up to count a two in what was a the most convincing false finish of the bout.

Punk signalled for a Tombstone and went for a GTS. I’ve no idea what the fake call was about. Probably more cheap heat attempts. ‘Taker fought out of the GTS and went for a Tombstone. CM countered that with another GTS attempt, which Undertaker fought out of. He hit Punk with the second Tombstone piledriver of the match, finally pinning him after twenty minutes of solid action.

It was the match of the night.

Following his victory Undertaker was described as the most incredible performer in the history of WrestleMania by over-excitable hyperbole merchant Michael Cole. He’s very good but I’m not sure he beats Shawn Michaels. Unless of course Cole’s talking in kayfabe terms regarding wins at the event.
Undertaker then did his kneeling pose to the urn, looking a little teary as he did so. It was, I presume, a tribute to Paul Bearer. He then walked up a smoky aisle with his beloved golden prop, stopping only to do the arm raising pose he first introduced when he was a biker over a decade ago. It’s moments like that that remind you what a confusing gimmick the Undertaker actually is.

The eight person tag match pitting the Rhodes Scholars and the Bellas against Tons of Funk and the Funkadactyls should have gone on after that. Undertaker v Punk had been so good that nothing was going to adequately follow it. Sticking those eight out there would have cooled things down and encouraged the crowd to be more excitable for the two remaining main event matches.

They ended up being cut from the show, most likely because of time constraints. Hey, Fandango’s dancers had to be shown and there was no way the company could have cut back on video packages for Cena and Rock. The eight person match was the obvious thing to lose.

Triple H and Brock Lesnar went out there and lamped one another in twenty-four minutes of near silence. It wasn’t a wrestling match, it was a worked fight. As worked fights go it wasn’t bad. Sadly, as mentioned above, the crowd was still coming down off the excitement of The Streak’s continuation. They just weren’t terribly interested in this.

Neither was I, ultimately. The entrances provided more entertainment. Brock Lesnar looked like the most dangerous and threatening man on the planet as he walked to the ring while the Castle Grayskull prop was dusted off and wheeled out for ‘The Game’. Speaking of H3’s entrance: he had a mysterious luminous liquid on his stomach. That’s where fancy entrance lighting doesn’t do you any favours. My guess as to the origin of this was that Steph has a special way of wishing Hunter good luck before his matches.
A teary-eyed Castle Grayskull watches Triple H's WrestleMania entrance
There was plenty of ringside brawling and rest holds disguised as MMA chokes and arm submissions in this one. The kimura lock may be a legitimately dangerous hold but in the worked environment of pro wrestling it comes across as a way to give competitors a breather. Because it is.

The predictable spots were wheeled out. Heyman interfered and ate Sweet Chin Music from Michaels. Triple H brought out his trusty (rubber) sledgehammer. Triple H survived an F5. Lesnar survived a Pedigree (and also botched it). Michaels took an F5. Lesnar brought some steel steps into the ring, for vicious shenanigan purposes. ‘The King of Kings’ locked ‘The Pain’ in his own signature hold, the aforementioned kimura lock, and the former UFC champ refused to tap. It’s worth noting that he called for help from Heyman though.

In the end ‘The Cerebral Assassin’ won after doing his big yell (the one that never really caught on as a finisher taunt), lamped Brockster with his sledge, and then hit a Pedigree on the steel steps. The two matches a year career will continue. It lasted roughly the same time as CM Punk and Undertaker’s match did but had a far slower pace and was nowhere near as enjoyable.

The Hall of Famers were introduced to the stage. Far too much camera time was dedicated to Mick Foley and nowhere near enough was given to Trish Stratus. Booker T seemed to enjoy himself, laughing and pointing into the crowd. Most of the others seemed to be taking it a little too seriously. Trump looked like he didn’t really know what to do. Bob Backlund squatted and roared. Bruno Sammartino got the biggest reaction by far, and deserved it. He looks very spry for a man in the latter half of his seventies.

After that it was time for the main event. Twice in a lifetime. Unless they do a deciding match at some point, in which case it will be thrice in a lifetime. It doesn’t seem too likely at time of writing but don’t rule it out.

This match can’t be described as a disappointment because that would imply I had in some way expected it to be good. It was what I expected: slightly better than their exchange at last year’s WrestleMania XXVIII but not as good as Rock’s matches from when he wrestled full time. It was an average Cena match. Is there any other kind?

The bulk of the match was rest holds and Cena stalling at ringside. Cena can last for a long time, I’ll say that for him. ‘The Great One’ cannot, not with his bloated Hollywood physique (which is not dissimilar to that of a Level Two Super Saiyan). In between these rests the two exchanged punches and the occasional kick. You can tell Rock rose to prominence during the Attitude Era.

Cole was hideous on commentary, mentioning several times that Rock and Cena knew each other well. They may have been feuding for two years but this was only their second match. So, y’know, Cole needs to chill out on the dramatics.

Rock hit multiple Rock Bottoms. Cena hit even more AAs. Rock used the Sharpshooter. Cena used the STF. Rock powered out of that at one point but on a show that had seen The Ryback Shellshock Mark Henry Rock’s feat of strength was never going to impress anyone. Rock hit a spinebuster and (eventually) a People’s Elbow. Cena used the Rock Bottom.

In probably the cleverest spot of the match Cena went for a People’s Elbow but hooked himself on ropes, making it clear he was suckering Rock in, a call back to Cena apparently costing himself the match last years by becoming overconfident and taunting ‘The Great One’. It was, in essence, an endless exchange of signature moves, but done without the thought, passion and linking narratives of Punk v Undertaker. 

Mercifully, after a mere twenty-four minutes, it was over. Cena won clean after ducking out of a Rock Bottom attempt and hitting the fourth or fifth (or maybe sixth or seventh) AA of the bout.

Yep, this again
Following the competitors had a chat and then shook hands. This got heavy boos but there were some positive claps and cheers mixed in there too. Cena then left the ring and ‘The Brahma Bull’s’ music came on. Rock kissed some ringsiders, ruffled the hair of the Cena fan and then met Cena at the top of the aisle. They saluted each other as if they’re in the ruddy military (they’re not) and then Cena raised his foe’s hand, with Rock awkwardly accepting and pointing at Cena. Rock left Cena to it after a while, letting the show go off the air with Cena bellowing that the champ is here.

It was WrestleMania by numbers. Big matches were given their predictable results, leaving the cobbled together undercard to deliver surprises. Triple H, Undertaker and John Cena had to win the top three matches, which is why we were treated to the surprised result of Mark Henry pinning Ryback.

To a lesser extent it’s why we didn’t see a Ziggler cash-in: that was deemed too obvious to be used as a surprise for the event. It doesn’t matter that it would have been an amazing moment and the right thing for Ziggler’s career, WWE doesn’t like it when we guess what they’re up to.

It wasn’t a bad show. It was just predictable. That and the undernourished lower card matches is what will stop it being considered a top ‘Mania.

Will we see Rock v Cena III? Like I said above it doesn’t seem likely at time of writing but it wouldn’t surprise me. If it does happen I think it should be at Extreme Rules next month. Get a decent buy rate for a B PPV and do something fresh for WrestleMania XXX, that’s what I say. Rock versus either Undertaker or Brock Lesnar could be good. There’s an entire year to build him up after his loss. Let’s just hope his loss doesn’t cause his personal life to spiral out of control as it did to Cena last year.

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