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Monday, April 6, 2009

WrestleMania 25: One shining moment

One of great traditions of my high school days was gathering up my buddies once a month and watching the latest WWE pay-per-view. Of course, back then it was the WWF, but that's another story for another day.

Anyway, there were a few things you could count on with every show:

- My buddy J-Dub would confidently predict that Shawn Michaels, despite a crippling back injury, was going to come back one day, wrestle again and reform D-X with Triple H. We laughed this off every month, although Michaels actually did come back in 2002, and he reformed D-X a couple years after that. Who are we to doubt J-Dub?

- My dad would fall asleep in his recliner by about 9, snoozing off and on through the rest of the show.

- I would make a comment that is echoed almost verbatim by the commentators five seconds later, prompting looks from around the room and suggestions that I watch this stuff a little too much.

- My neighbor would tell the story of a gory cage match he saw in the 1970s involving Abdullah the Butcher. This would become known as "the bloodiest match of all time."

None of us watches wrestling as religiously as we did at the WWE's peak in the late 90s, but hey, it's WrestleMania we're talking about here. So one more time on Sunday night, we got most of the band back together, this time for a gathering at J-Dub's house.

With that in mind, here are my notes from the show. This is longer than a typical post on this blog, so clear your afternoon schedule, make some popcorn and get comfortable.

- We are live at Reliant Stadium in Houston. A wide shot of the arena shows a full house, and the scene is magnificent. I wish I could have WWE's set designers lay out a few rooms in my next house. ... Our hosts for the evening are good ol' JR, Jerry "The King" Lawler and Michael Cole. Uh oh. Three-man booths are never a good idea, and when two of the guys are doing play-by-play, it's even worse. Put it this way: The play-by-play man is the narrator for the show. How many good movies can you name with two narrators?

- Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls starts the evening with a rendition of "America the Beautiful." It's become tradition to open WM with this song, which I've never understood. Why not the national anthem? Anyway, Scherzinger could be singing a Michael Stanley song and I don't think anybody at our party would be complaining.

- Opening match is "Money in the Bank." As I predicted in my column Friday, Shelton Benjamin again tries to steal the show, this time by taking a dive from atop a 15-foot ladder and wiping out everybody on the floor. ... Kofi Kingston deserves mention here for being the point man on a number of insane spots. ... Christian pulls off a deft maneuver, forcing the ladder he and Benjamin are standing on to tip over, dumping Benjamin out of the ring - only Christian stays on by landing feet-first on the ring ropes and springing back up! That should've been the finish, but, alas, CM Punk knocks off Christian. ... Punk fights off a late charge by Kane to grab the briefcase and the win for a second straight year. ... Punk is normally a solid fan favorite, but this crowd was a Christian coalition, so their reaction for the victory was a bit subdued.

- And now, Kid Rock comes out. Wearing glasses that I think Ben Stein wore in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," Kid chews up almost 20 minutes with five songs. ... It's worth noting at this point that the tag-team match involving local guy The Miz was bumped from the broadcast for this. ... Kid Rock is still singing. There's still nobody who cares. ... Finally, during his last song, a parade of 25 female wrestlers come down the aisle for the "Miss WrestleMania Diva Battle Royal." ... There were a bunch of past favorites mixed in here, but it is pretty much impossible to spot them with all the bodies in the ring. ... Finish comes when the effeminate Santino Marella (dressed in drag) tosses two wrestlers - one of which is his jacked-up girlfriend. Enjoy sleeping on the couch tonight, bud. ... My buddy Rolo sums it up perfectly: "I think this is why I stopped watching wrestling."

- Jericho vs. the old-timers is next. My dad on 64-year-old Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka: "This guy looks like he belongs in a wax museum." ... Jericho dispatches Roddy Piper and Snuka with ease, leaving Ricky Steamboat all by himself. Steamboat breaks out a couple vintage deep arm drags and actually looks pretty respectable in the ring, but Jericho takes over. ... Not much happening in the ring as I'm 99 percent sure the guy sitting across the ring in the third row wearing the LeBron throwback is none other than "The Fantasy Consultant" Nathan Zegura, whom you might recognize from Tony Rizzo's "Really Big Show" on WKNR or Channel 19's Browns pregame show. ... Jericho wins (much to the delight of Zegura), then beats up Ric Flair for good measure. Finally, he calls out Mickey Rourke at ringside. After an eternity, Rourke finally comes in the ring and decks Jericho with a couple punches. This took forever to unfold.

It's worth noting here that the stretch starting with Kid Rock taking the stage through the end of the Jericho-Rourke segment took an hour, and it was one of the worst hours of a WrestleMania I can ever remember. And I've seen 20 of these things in their entirety.

- Jeff and Matt Hardy get things back on track with a wild brother-vs.-brother "extreme rules" match. ... I see something in this match that I don't think I can ever remember happening before: Matt Hardy, who had been cut open by a broken picture frame early in the match, is slumped outside the ring. The referee comes over with a towel and wipes the blood off his face. Now, I'm not one for unnecessary graphic violence, but there's a reason they call rivalries like this a "blood feud." Since when do referees work as cut men too? ... Anyway, the finish comes when, like an idiot, Jeff tries standing on one ladder and leapfrogging another to give a legdrop to his brother... only Matt rolls out of the way, causing Jeff to splat on his rear end after a 10-foot drop. OUCH. Matt wraps Jeff's head with a chair and hits his "Twist of Fate" neckbreaker to win. Good match.

- Native Texan John "Bradshaw" Layfield comes out running down his home state before the Intercontinental championship match. His opponent, Rey Mysterio, is known for breaking out ring attire that pays homage to comic book characters. This year's choice is the Joker. Paraphrased exchange between announcers - King: "Rey with a tribute to Heath Ledger's Joker character." JR: "Well, Rey's career is alive and well, King." I'll take comments in poor taste for $200, Alex. ... JBL gets a cheap shot before the bell, but Rey recovers and wins in 21 seconds. JBL is so distraught over losing his title that he quits. Don't let door hit you in the ...

- And now the money match of the night: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels. Taker's entrance at WrestleMania is always a highlight of the night. Only this year, he doesn't have druids lining the aisle. Guess this recession even affects the undead. ... Undertaker gives everybody at our party a scare as he does a swan dive out of the ring toward Michaels, but Michaels pulls a camera man into harm's way to protect himself. Undertaker barely makes contact with the camera man, absorbing most of the impact with his head. That's just sick. Seriously, that could've broken his neck. I couldn't even watch any of the four or five replays without cringing. ... With a flurry of each guy hitting their signature finishing moves, we have absolutely no idea who will win or how the match could even end. ... Undertaker finally finishes it with his second tombstone piledriver. It was about 30 minutes long, and none of us wanted it to end. One of the best WM matches I can ever remember.

- Triple threat for the world heavyweight title is next. ... And now I know why Taker had no druids: They all left him to become John Cena lookalikes for Cena's entrance in the next match. ... Highlight of the match is Cena lifting both Edge and Big Show (combined weight: about 700 pounds) onto his shoulders. Cena is a freak. He slams both to win the title and celebrates by going into the crowd to hang out with NASCAR driver Carl Edwards at ringside. (Edwards must not have taken his foot off the gas after finishing 10th in a race in Fort Worth, Texas, earlier in the day).

- "Stone Cold" Steve Austin headlines the gathering of newly inducted WWE Hall of Famers on stage. Austin disappears for a second before returning on an ATV with a cooler of beer. He soaks the ring downing one Coors Light ("I headline your Hall of Fame segment and you give me a LIGHT beer?") after another to the delight of the crowd. I'm wondering how they're going to mop up the puddles in the ring with one more match to go.

- We learn from ring announcer Lilian Garcia (who is wearing a dress that has a number of viewers in our party mesmerized) that the attendance for tonight's sold-out show is 72,744 (and looking around the arena, that number looks legit). This seems like a good point to mention that thanks to WWE's requirement that you have a domed football stadium, you can pretty much guarantee WrestleMania is never coming to Cleveland (or anywhere in Ohio, for that matter). And whether you're a wrestling fan or not, that's a bummer. According to an article in the Houston Business Journal, WM was expected to generate $51 million for the city of Houston this year. That's the kind of revenue Cleveland could sorely use.

- We see Triple H walking through the hallway backstage, where he is met by Vince and Shane McMahon. The McMahons give him the "you know what you need to do" nod. Triple H returns it with a "yup" nod. ... This was only the second backstage segment all night (the other was Randy Orton and his lackeys nodding at each other in the locker room). So in a four-hour show, we get two backstage segments, zero dialogue and lots of head nodding. OK then.

- As Orton hits the ring for the main event, I check my watch and see we're already past 10:30. These things normally wrap up at 10:45, and we still need to get the five-minute highlight video at the end of the show (think "WWE meets NCAA tournament's 'One Shining Moment' "). ... After 10 minutes of plodding action playing to virtual silence from a tepid crowd, Orton decides to crank up the intensity with ... a headlock. That is SO not what this match needed, and apparently a number of the people in the crowd agree, as I notice streams of folks heading for the exits. That's NOT a good sign. ... Triple H finally wins by hitting Orton with a sledgehammer while the referee is knocked out, followed by his signature move, the pedigree. ... I have no idea what they were going for with this match, but they totally swung and missed. Crowd was completely apathetic, and the match had no flow at all. In terms of executing moves, it wasn't terrible (although H completely whiffed on a running kick to Orton's head), but it was easily the most boring WrestleMania event that I can ever remember.

- After a rushed version of the highlight package, we're out at 11:00 on the nose.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Undertaker-Michaels was awesome, and the Money in the Bank, Hardy brothers and triple threat matches were fun. But whoever mapped this show out misfired badly. Wasting more than 20 minutes on Kid Rock threw everything out of whack, and the pacing was just all wrong the rest of the night. Some stuff felt rushed, other segments dragged on forever. No shocking character turns, no prematch trash-talking interviews, no running backstage bits, only one comedy bit (Santino winning), and it completely flopped. And while I'm normally the biggest advocate of clean, decisive finishes you'll ever find, this whole show was built on soap opera-esque stories. Yet, outside of Taker-Michaels, every match felt like it existed in a vacuum, completely detached from any buildup coming in. Biggest shocker of the night: My dad stayed awake for the whole show. Nice anecdote to wrap up a blog with ... and a biting indictment of WrestleMania 25.

- Tom Valentino |


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