Monday 2 April 2012

WrestleMania XXVIII review

It’s over. WrestleMania XXVIII is now a thing of the past. Will it be remembered fondly? Was it, as Michael Cole claimed as the show went off the air, the greatest WrestleMania of all time? Read on for my take.

The show opened with Royal Rumble winner Sheamus marching to the ring to challenge for Daniel Bryan’s World Heavyweight championship. Yep, for the second year in a row the Rumble winner was in the opening contest at ‘Mania. Daniel Bryan got a surprising amount of cheers as he came out to face ‘Great White’. I’d expected him to get some but not as many as he actually received.

Fans at ringside bellowed out a chant of “Yes!” while holding up signs that said the same. That speaks to the popularity of Bryan and should tell WWE that what happened next disappointed a lot of people. The bell rang and Bryan begged off for a second to get a good luck kiss from AJ. With that done he turned around into a Brogue Kick to the face, allowing Sheamus to quickly cover him for three. Just like the that Sheamus’s WrestleMania journey was over.

Perhaps next year Daniel Bryan will get the match he deserves at WrestleMania

I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about that decision. Clearly it was done as a time saving measure so that matches higher on the card could go longer. I’m not against Bryan getting beaten so easily because the story (what there was of it) had indicated that such a thing could happen, and Bryan’s talented enough to recover from such a loss. But at the same time it was evident from the fans at ringside that there were many people watching who were excited to see Daniel Bryan finally competing on the WWE’s flagship event. If a performer has gotten over to the extent that fans are desperate to see them wrestle then WWE should oblige. That’s how they’re going to make new stars.

It didn’t help Sheamus either. That his WrestleMania journey culminated so quickly was a huge anti-climax.

Following a backstage skit in which John Laurinaitis gave a pep talk to his team of heels we were treated to Randy Orton v Kane. Chants of “Daniel Bryan” rang out in the early moments of the match. I liked that, partly because it showed WWE they’d made a mistake jobbing out their now former World champion so quickly and partly because ‘The Viper’ had been bragging in various media interviews that more people wanted to see his match with Kane than Bryan v Sheamus. He should now know better.

Orton v Kane was as pedestrian as I expected. Kane got the surprise win via a choke slam from the second rope. Presumably that means his push will continue. He is 44.

Match number three was Cody Rhodes v Big Show for the Intercontinental championship. Much was made of Show’s WrestleMania win-loss record on the show itself, as it had been in the weeks prior on RAW and SmackDown. Not only did Rhodes laugh it up at yet another video detailing Show’s history at the event but Michael Cole hammered the point home on commentary too, though he took care not to provide any statistics. Presumably such research is too much trouble for him.

The match was competent but nothing more. Cody rocked Show with a Disaster Kick and went to follow up with a second, only to get caught with ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’s’ ugly spear. Watching the official count Rhodes down for three was depressing: his title reign began last August, an impressive run by today’s standards. He should have lost the gold to an up-and-comer who could have benefitted from a victory over Rhodes as well as the increased exposure from holding the IC belt. Big Show has worked harder than he has for much of his WWE run over the last nine months, but not enough to justify curtailing the push of one of the promotion’s most promising stars.

Hopefully there are plans in place for Rhodes so that this loss doesn’t harm him and undo the work of the last year. WWE needs him to succeed right now.

Next up was the instantly forgettable skirmish of Maria Menounos and Kelly Kelly v Eve Torres and Divas champion Beth Phoenix. The ladies got somewhere between five and ten minutes and put on a competent match. Menounos, as the non-regular, was always going to earn the victory for her team because that’s how WWE almost always books matches involving outside performers. She beat ‘The Glamazon’ with a rollup.

Jim Ross was introduced to provide play-by-play for the Hell in a Cell encounter between Triple H and The Undertaker. That was the right decision. JR is capable of enhancing matches with his commentary, a trait Michael Cole seems unable to pick up.

Shawn Michaels came dancing out to the ring in a loose-fitting ref shirt. The carefree attitude he displayed during his entrance (teasing a camera man, overreacting to the crowd’s response and generally having a good time), while not out of character, jarred with his behaviour later on in the evening. Michaels should have toned it down a shade.

‘The Game’ continued his run of absurd WrestleMania entrances, this year strolling out from what appeared to be Castle Grayskull. He needs to sort out his Conan fetish. Undertaker made his usual entrance to purple lighting, lots of smoke and funereal music. No Johnny Cash this year.

In the ring the two stared one another down before ‘The Phenom’ slid his hood back to reveal his new shaved look. Back in the production truck Kevin Dunn cued up a thunder roll for that moment as Triple H looked shocked and the audience gave a raucous cheer. That ‘Taker’s new haircut got one of the largest reactions of the evening is yet another sign that WWE need to start creating some fresh stars.

For the second year in a row Triple H and The Undertaker had the best match at WrestleMania

The two men battled for around the half hour mark and constructed another compelling match. They started by brawling around ringside before heading back into the ring and involving steps and chairs. ‘The Game’ smashed ‘Taker with dozen of chair shots, bellowing for him to stay down and at Michaels to end the match. ‘HBK’ pleaded with ‘The Dead Man’ to let him do so. Undertaker simply replied “Do not end it.”

‘The Cerebral Assassin’ upped his game (no pun intended) by introducing his trusty sledgehammer. Undertaker still refused to stay down. The story was that Michaels was concerned that the two combatants would destroy one another in their quest for victory and wanted to stop the match to end the suffering. Looking down at The Undertaker as he lay on the mat Michaels came close to ending the match in favour of Triple H a few times. ‘Taker, realising what Michaels was considering, trapped him in the Hell’s Gate submission and choked him out. Triple H broke that up, only to end up in the hold himself. He struggled for the sledgehammer but couldn’t manage to use it, a nice call-back to the finish of last year’s match between the two.

The match continued with both men dragging themselves up to their feet. Referee Charles Robinson dashed out to officiate and got a choke slam for his troubles. Michaels recovered and gave ‘The Dead Man’ Sweet Chin Music for attacking him. ‘The King of Kings’ followed up immediately with a Pedigree for a tremendous near fall.

From there ‘Taker gradually gained the upper hand, eventually finding himself stood above Triple H holding a chair. Helmsley went for his sledgehammer but was stopped by The Undertaker’s boot. It was then ‘Taker’s turn to blast HHH with a series of chair shots. Triple H managed to pull himself up for one last defiant DX crotch chop at The Undertaker before being scooped up for the match winning Tombstone. The count was made fair and square by Michaels.

The Streak hit 20-0.

The lengthy post match sequence was self-indulgent, as was the bout’s running time. All three men spent several minutes selling the battle that had just taken place before ‘Taker and Michaels pulled the bedraggled ‘Game’ up off the canvas and walked him to the back, stopping to embrace at the top of the ramp. It was a nice touch and the right thing to do, but five minutes could have been taken off the combined time of the match and post-match sequence and allocated to Bryan v Sheamus without any bother.

WWE smartly slowed the pace after that bout, introducing the 2012 Hall of Fame class. It was great to see Edge again. He’s one of my favourite wrestlers ever and absolutely deserves the HOF accolade. It was interesting to see Ric Flair, a TNA employee, present too. If that doesn’t indicate that he’ll be returning to WWE as soon as he’s contractually capable of doing so I don’t know what does. He’s tarnished his legacy by working for TNA (as has Hulk Hogan). I think he probably realises that and wants to go back to WWE to end his career right (again).

A comedy segment involving Heath Slater and Flo Rida preceded the Team Johnny v Team Teddy twelve man match. Team Johnny won. They were always going to. The basic story of the match was that Miz was the MVP of his team, scoring the winning pinfall after Zack Ryder had been distracted by Eve Torres (who had accompanied him to ringside) and racking up another ‘Mania win for himself. That will allow Miz to brag about how he should have been on Team Johnny all along and that were it not for him the team may have lost. It may trigger a Miz v Punk feud too.

As the heels celebrated their comedy match victory in the aisle Eve clambered back into the ring to comfort Zack Ryder. But it was a setup all along! She kicked ‘Long Island Iced Z’ right between the legs then exited the ring. Was she a mole for Laurinaitis? We’ll find out for sure on RAW tonight. If she wasn’t she’ll do her gold digger routine and try to get in with the new GM of both shows. That she is one of the most heavily pushed talents in WWE right now is more than a little worrying.

In the ring Booker T managed to get in a ridiculous line even though he wasn’t on commentary. “How could she do that to Zack?” he queried. That he wasn’t on commentary yet was still spouting his usual nonsense is what makes it so amusing to me.

Chris Jericho and CM Punk found themselves wrestling in silence for a considerable portion of their WWE championship bout. That must have knocked the wind out of their sails a bit: both men genuinely believe they are two of the best wrestlers in the world. That they didn’t receive booming reactions from the opening bell has to have humbled them. Perhaps Punk has now realised he isn’t “the man” as he claimed to be a few weeks ago on RAW.

Thankfully the crowd did perk up once the big moves started coming. Punk’s Macho Elbow got a decent response, as did Jericho’s numerous appliances of the Walls of Jericho. Fans began cheering ‘Y2J’ and booing Punk as the match drew to a close. Presumably they were hoping to be present for the excitement of a title change. They wouldn’t be. Punk reversed the umpteenth Walls of Jericho into the Anaconda Vice and, after slipping in and out of it a couple of times, Jericho was forced to tap out.

The fans gave Punk the desired reaction when it mattered. That bodes well for his continued top line face run.

A brief Brodus Clay segment was included. I’m sure many were rolling their eyes at that because ‘The Funkasaurus’ is already beginning to grate on some people but I thought it was great. Clay showcased some crisp mic skills and managed to hold the interest of a large audience who were clearly restless and hungry for the main event. That he staved off boos is a great example of why I think Clay is so good.

That left just John Cena v The Rock. Both men had singers perform before their entrances. For Cena it was Machine Gun Kelly (who looked like he needed a wash and a couple of good meals inside him) while The Rock was played in by Flo Rida. Neither performance added anything to the show in my opinion. I know WrestleMania has a history of celebrity involvement but we didn’t need a combined ten minutes of singing did we? It was yet more time that could have been shaved off in favour of giving Sheamus and Daniel Bryan a competitive match.

When he finally appeared Cena was sporting a new green T-shirt. That’s an unfortunate colour considering his reputation as a wrestler. Rock got a huge pop. Rightfully so. He’s a genuine Hollywood star who doesn’t need to be associated with wrestling anymore but still is. WWE should be thankful for that. What would they have presented at this year’s event had Rock not wrestled? Besides Undertaker v Triple H there were no epic collisions on the card.

That said I still think The Rock’s lost his touch a shade.

When it finally got started Cena v Rock was good, but nothing more. There were simply too many rest holds and the average pace was too slow. When it got going it was great, but a lie down was never more than a minute or so away. The bout should have been laid out to start with the two furiously exchanging punches, then slowing down to build slowly back up to a stuffed near fall sequence. Only then should Cena (as the heel of the match) have applied a lengthy rest hold to give both men a breather.

What we got instead wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t especially great either.

The result was a surprise. Cena kicked out of a Rock Bottom and ‘The Great One’ kicked out of an AA. Rock then connected with a People’s Elbow. Cena kicked out of that too. After a few more minutes Cena found himself stood over a prone Rock and decided to try for a People’s Elbow (CeNation Elbow?) of his own.

That would cost him.

As he came off the ropes Cena found himself face-to-face with ‘The Brahma Bull’, who caught him neatly with the match winning Rock Bottom. In typical Cena fashion he botched the timing as he went up for the move.

Rock's time in Hollywood hasn't taught him how to apply the Sharpshooter correctly

WrestleMania XXVIII went off the air with The Rock posing in the ring and Cena looking dejected in the aisle. Personally I think that was the wrong decision. It may lead to a rematch or a heel turn or something else, but it doesn’t matter. Cena, as the promotion’s top star and the regular performer, should have gone over in the first encounter between the two men. Neither man needed the win but Cena could have done with the rub.

In between the ropes WrestleMania was a mixed bag. Triple H v Undertaker was great from bell to bell while Punk v Jericho and Rock v Cena were good when they got going. As a spectacle WrestleMania ticked all the boxes, as it always does. For a sports entertainment event WrestleMania did everything it needed to on the night, but nothing for the future. WWE needs to prepare some fresh stars in time for next year’s event. I wrote the same thing last year too.


  1. I got so bored of the Cena v Rock match. I think you've been generous saying it was good to be honest. Likewise with the Punk v Jericho match. Both were fairly mundane which the latter definitely shouldn't have been.

    My only hope is in the next year Rhodes and Ziggler are given the chance to shine like they do week in week out. Some of the stuff Ziggler did in another awful match from Sunday night was spectacular but went under the radar because of the type of match it was.

    1. I agree WWE need to get to work elevating guys and next year's WrestleMania makes an excellent target date. That said the return of Lesnar and Rock's statement that he wants to regain the WWE title, along with Undertaker's Streak and the rise of Punk and Bryan to the top, should mean there are lots of options for next year's big show without placing too much pressure on younger guys.