In the build-up to WrestleMania 32, the Flickering Myth writers look back at previous installments of the ‘Show case of the Immortals’…
Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero
Edge vs. Chris Benoit vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Kane vs. Chris Jericho vs. Christian (Money in the Bank Ladder Match)
Randy Orton vs. Undertaker
WWE Women’s Title Match: Trish Stratus vs. Christy Hemme w/Lita
Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels
Akebono vs. The Big Show (Sumo Match)
WWE Title Match: John Cena vs. JBL
World Heavyweight Title Match: Triple H vs. Batista
The lowest point of the WrestleMania 21 card is also the most bizarre: the sumo match between Big Show and Akebono.
Despite being a (literally) huge deal in his native Japan, Akebono has got be the most obscure ‘celebrity’ to make a WrestleMania appearance. Having the sumo champion on the card was an obvious ploy to attract pay-per-view buys from the extremely lucrative Japanese market.
There was very little set-up for this match, as you’d imagine given Akebono’s lack of availability when it came to hyping the bout. Instead, the WWE just a few weeks of Big Show coming out to the ring, cutting a promo on the Japanese star, and then displaying his strength by tipping over a Jeep… or something.
During his early years in the WWE, Big Show was seen as a genuine threat in the ring, a no-nonsense giant with a legitimate shot at any title he wanted. Over the years though, his credibility and relevance have dwindled to the point that fans no longer take him seriously. Booking decisions like this have done the ‘World’s Largest Athlete’ no favours in that department.
WrestleMania 21 has no less that two matches that could easily be called ‘Mania classics.
First of all, we were treated to the inaugural ‘Money in the Bank’ Ladder match. In this innovative bout, 6 competitors would fight it out in a multi-man ladder match, with the ultimate goal of retrieving the briefcase suspended high above the ring. The winner of the match would be entitled to a World Title match in the next 12 months.
In this first edition of the match, the WWE brought together the perfect mix of talent. There were the technically-sound workhorses in Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho; the charismatic and death-defying Christian and Edge; the ‘fish-out-of-water’ big-man in Kane; and finally, the match’s real star, the ultra-athletic Shelton Benjamin. The bout reinvigorated the ladder match, mixing great in-ring story-telling with some truly memorable high-spots (Benjamin ‘running’ up a ladder into a flying clothesline is a particular favourite).
As well as being a fantastic match, the ‘Money in the Bank’ match was just a terrific concept. It was a fresh idea that would allow a bunch of talented mid-carders to display themselves on the big stage, while the briefcase generated a wrestling MacGuffin with a real incentive. It’s no wonder the match type is still an annual feature to this day (albeit, no longer at WrestleMania).
If you’re an old-fashioned kind of professional wrestling fan, who prefers the classic ‘one face versus one heel’ dynamic as opposed to multi-man mayhem, then WrestleMania had a classic match for you too.
On paper, Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle always looked like something special. Michaels had well and truly earned his ‘Mr. WrestleMania’ nickname, stealing the show at the previous two events (this marked a hat-trick!), while Kurt Angle had grown into one of the company’s premier talents in recent years. Such was the expectations for this match that many fans were sceptical as to whether both men could deliver on the prevailing hype.
Well they needn’t have worried.
Angle and Michaels went for a full thirty minutes in the ring, and it was gripping from the start to finish. The Olympic Gold-Medallist and the Heartbreak Kind had the Los Angeles crowd in the palm of their hands, reeling them in with some glorious chain-wrestling before blowing them away with some explosive high-spots.
This one really ranks up there with the best all-round matches to take place at a WrestleMania event.
During my Retrospective review of WrestleMania XIX, I described it as a show of two halves. The same can definitely be said about WrestleMania 21, but in a reversed sense as the first half of this show is infinitely better than the second.
If you were to switch off immediately after the Michaels/Angle match, you would have a fantastic, little Mini-Mania. Unfortunately, the event seems to lose its way a bit after that show-stealer. It’s not that the main events are particularly bad, their just a little on the formulaic and drab side.
That aside, it is a little surprising to look back and realise just how historically significant this WrestleMania was. On a night where John Cena, Batista and Randy Orton were truly elevated to the main event scene, many fans may have questioned if they had the longevity to stay there. In hindsight, we of course know that they did, as all three men would dominate the top of the card over the next decade.
Ultimately, there’s still enough here to make this a decent WrestleMania, but there’s always the overhanging sense that it could have been so much more.