In the build-up to WrestleMania 32, the Flickering Myth writers look back at previous installments of the ‘Showcase of the Immortals’.
World Tag Titles Match: Lance Storm & Chief Morley vs. Kane & Rob Van Dam
WWE Cruiserweight Title Match: Matt Hardy w/Shannon Moore vs. Rey Mysterio
The Undertaker vs. A-Train & The Big Show (Handicap Match)
WWE Women’s Match: Victoria vs. Trish Stratus vs. Jazz
WWE Tag Titles Match: Team Angle vs. Los Guerreros vs. Chris Benoit & Rhyno
Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho
World Heavyweight Title Match: Booker T vs. Triple H w/Ric Flair
Vince McMahon vs. Hulk Hogan (Street Fight)
The Rock vs. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin
WWE Title Match: Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar
One thing writing and compiling this Retrospective has made me do is re-evaluate ‘The Streak’. Now, we all know the last 7 or 8 matches of the Undertakers undefeated WrestleMania run are among the best you are likely to see. It is perhaps because of this that the assumption is made that ‘The Deadman’ has always delivered the good when it comes to the ‘Show of shows’. Well, that just isn’t the case.
For those keeping count, prior to WrestleMania XIX The Undertaker was 10-0, but only a handful of those matches were worth mentioning. ‘Takers early ‘Mania matches weren’t great and, while he did have a few gems against the likes of Kane, Triple H and Ric Flair, this was another dud.
In the build up to the show, ‘Taker had taken a rookie under his wing by the name of Nathan Jones. The pair had been feuding back and forth with fellow giants, Big Show and A-Train (Matt Bloom), and so a tag team match was set up for WrestleMania. Unfortunately, a spanner was thrown into the works when, much to the disappointment of Vince McMahon, it quickly became apparent that Nathan Jones wasn’t very good at wrestling… or talking… or acting… or wrestling.
Vince and ‘Taker wisely decided that they couldn’t have this newbie stinking up the biggest show of the year, so came up with a kayfabe-injury angle which would turn the match into a handicap situation.
Sadly, the successful removal of Jones wasn’t enough to save this match. Undertaker seemed to try to inject the match with some energy (easier said than done given his considerable weight at the time), but the bout never reached a pace higher than ‘sluggish’.
Another low-point for WrestleMania XIX came in the form of a highly controversial booking decision; one that continues to outrage and divide fans to this day.
The World Heavyweight Championship feud between Triple H and Booker T was an interesting one. Triple H had atop the roster for a couple of years now, and his ruthless heel character found a great foil in Booker T, a fan-favourite who was finally looking to break into the WWE’s main event scene. It became clear early on that the pair had great chemistry, both in the ring and on the microphone: the key components of a great wrestling rivalry.
However, things took a turn for the contentious during one heated exchange on RAW. While oozing with arrogance, Triple H told his enemy that ‘Somebody like you… doesn’t get to be World Champion. People like you don’t deserve it’. Regardless of what the original intentions of those comments were, given the charterers involved it’s hard not to see the racial connotations involved. The racist undertones would continue throughout the feud, including one interaction that saw ‘The Game’ throw a dollar bill at Booker, before telling him to ‘fetch him a towel’.
Now, the racist angle isn’t ultimately the issue here. WWE is, after all, an entertainment programme with the aim of telling compelling stories through the medium of predetermined wrestling. The comments were obviously used to enhance a scripted storyline and evoke a response from the audience (which it certainly did).
The real issue here – and the one that remains hard to justify to this day – is how the storyline culminated at WrestleMania XIX. After months of build-up, it was time for Booker T to end Triple H’s ‘Reign of Terror’. He would defeat his nemesis and fight back against prejudice, while the WWE would gain a brand star to join its elite. The creative had pulled off a storyline in which everybody was a winner: Booker gained superstardom; the roster gained a new, certified main-eventer; and the audience gained a feel-good ‘Mania moment to treasure forever.
Boy, did they ever blow it.
After a gruelling but thoroughly enjoyable match, fans were left shocked and dismayed as Triple H had his hand raised as the victor. Yes, the arrogant, manipulative, RACIST heel had triumphed on the biggest stage of them all. Suddenly everyone was a loser; Booker T never regained that sort of momentum; the WWE missed the chance to usher in a new icon; and the fans were left feeling betrayed.
The decision just made zero sense, and basically meant that Hunter was getting away scot-free with his racially-charged slurs. Even Triple H’s biggest advocates would struggle to defend this booking decision, and it’s moments like this that have given him the reputation of a shovel-wielding, backstage-politician. Even the in-ring match report screams ‘Burial’: Booker hit just about every signature move in his arsenal and couldn’t get the job done; The Game hits one pedigree and picks up the three-count.
With these isolated issues aside, there is no denying that the WrestleMania XIX card was phenomenal. So good, in fact, that it is extremely difficult to single out just one or two highlights. Instead, here is a brief description of all the must-see matches at the event:
Shawn Michaels vs Chris Jericho: This was the return of ‘Mr. WrestleMania’, as Shawn Michaels made his first ‘Mania appearance in 5 years. His absence was completely unnoticeable in the ring however, as he was back at his physical best in this match. Jericho impressed also, going toe-to-toe with the man who had such an influence on his wrestling style. Were it not for the other classic matches on this card, this could well have been a show-stealing bout.
The Rock vs. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin: This was the perfect conclusion to the perfect wrestling rivalry. This may not have been the best match of the Austin/Rock WrestleMania trilogy, but it was arguably the most passionate, and garnered the most emotional and heart-felt response from the capacity crowd.
Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle: The pressure on Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle must have been enormous. Every match prior to theirs had hit it out of the park, and now they had to directly follow a thriller between two of the biggest wrestling stars of all time. They needn’t have worried though, as the two masters of amateur wrestling pulled off a classic. The Lesnar/Angle rivalry remains criminally underrated (in my eyes, it is the best feud of both men’s careers), and it was their in-ring chemistry that really propelled it. As expected from these two competitors, most of the match was a mat-based masterclass, but there were several fascinating moments were they stepped out of their comfort zones (including the spectacular, if ill-judged Shooting Star Press from Brock).
Needless to say, WrestleMania XIX is an incredible spectacle.
Sure, there are a couple of bum-notes here and there, but the vast majority of the show is a delight. The three matches I’ve already mentioned are easily 4 stars and above, and they are propped up by several other enjoyable matches. Vince McMahon versus Hulk Hogan is a violent bloodbath of a match, one that is far more entertaining than it had any right to be. Matt Hardy and Rey Mysterio had a blistering match to open the show and mark the latter’s ‘Mania debut. Even the Triple H/Booker T match was great, until the controversial finish.
It may not have the historical importance of WrestleMania III, and it might fall just short of the start-to-finish entertainment of WrestleMania X-Seven, but there can be no mistake that WrestleMania XIX is one of the all-time great ‘Mania shows.
Jackson Ball – Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn