Ivan's Blog

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Monday, April 04, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- WrestleMania 21 has come and gone, and here is my full review of the event.

WWE WrestleMania 21 Review
Score (out of 10): 9.0
Best Match: Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels
Worst Match: The Big Show vs. Akebono

WrestleMania was a great event overall with a few big disappointments but also two matches that were absolute classics.

Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio had a very good match that could have been a great match if it had more time to develop, instead of only having 12 minutes to work with. The 12 minutes of the match that did take place were very good and had the crowd popping for everything, with the only minor distraction being Mysterio constantly having to re-adjust his mask as it constantly came loose. For these two guys to be given 12 minutes on a four-hour PPV, especially in the Los Angeles market where they are even more over with the audience than they are in the rest of the country, is nothing less than a proverbial middle finger to both guys from WWE management.

The six-man ladder match was a strong Match of the Year candidate with plenty of incredible bumps and "holy s--t" moments. Not much in the way of psychology, but it was a sensational stunt-fest that offered a different take on the ladder match with six different guys all fending for themselves. In particular, Shelton Benjamin's plancha over the top rope, Chris Benoit's headbutt from the top of the ladder, and Benjamin's running clothesline up the "ladder rampway" were all incredible moves that took a ton of guts and athleticism. Benoit's selling of his arm injury at the end of the match was so intense and believable that it left me wondering if he really did hurt his arm.

The segment with Hulk Hogan, Mohammad Hassan, and Khosrow Daivari accomplished its purpose, although it occurred to me when Hogan threw Hassan & Daivari out of the ring instead of giving them the leg-drop that he physically can't do the leg-drop right now. On the other hand, the Piper's Pit segment with Roddy Piper and Steve Austin was brilliantly executed. You knew it was going to be something special when Piper started the segment by saying, "Welcome to Piper's Pit!" and giving Austin a stiff slap to the face, and then Austin responded by saying, "Thanks for having me, you son of a bitch!" before delivering his own stiff slap. Piper may have stolen the show verbally with various things like interacting with the "What?"-chanting crowd and delivering the line, "I was pissing Vince McMahon off when the red on the back of your neck was diaper rash." The involvement of Carlito Cool was also very well done and served to elevate Carlito while giving Austin and Piper someone they could both beat up.

The Randy Orton-Undertaker match was better than most Undertaker matches, but that's like saying horse manure smells better than chicken droppings. Orton did a lot more than I thought he could do physically with his torn rotator cuff, but the near-falls weren't convincing because it was very clear who was going to win the match. It's not just that you're not going to see Undertaker jobbing to Orton at WrestleMania; you're not going to see him jobbing to Orton, period. Seriously, the last time Undertaker did a clean job was in October 2002 against Brock Lesnar.

It's amazing to see how much more over the characters were in the women's title match at WrestleMania compared to past years, and you can give most of that credit to the constantly improving Trish Stratus. Looking as good as she does, Trish could have easily rested on her laurels, still have gotten by just fine, and still have been a huge star, but instead she has dedicated the last several years of her life to improving her craft in a way that no other female in WWE has--- first in terms of being a good in-ring worker and then in terms of being a dynamic personality with great interviews. I laughed out loud when the announcers talked about Lita training Christy Hemme and someone who was watching the event with me (who doesn't follow wrestling closely but does know what Lita did to Matt Hardy in real life) said, "The only thing Christy is going to learn from Lita is how to be a whore and how to get injured constantly."

Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle delivered an absolute classic of a match that was a lot better than the excellent ladder match earlier on the show. The difference between the two matches is that this one had top-notch wrestling psychology. There was great psychology early in the match with Michaels getting the better of Angle at his own game with some strong mat-work, in a similar way to the first half of the WrestleMania 12 Iron Man Match where the story was that Michaels was getting the better of Bret Hart at Hart's own specialty of technical wrestling. The psychology of the match changed completely after Michaels' back-first bump into the ring post, and built up with exciting highspots and convincing near-falls later in the match. The atmosphere of the match was further enhanced by the dueling "Let's go Angle, Let's go Michaels" chants from the crowd. I really don't think Kurt Angle should be taking stomach-first moonsault bumps with the condition of his neck and spine, but I also know after all this time that nobody is going to stop him (whether it's his wife and kids or Vince McMahon). I went into the match thinking that Michaels was going to win, and I left the match feeling glad that Angle won because while Michaels really has been "Mr. WrestleMania" over the years, Kurt Angle has never really had a high-profile WrestleMania victory on this level and might not be around as an in-ring wrestler for future WrestleMania's.

The Big Show vs. Akebono match was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen on a pro wrestling PPV, and that's really saying something. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall in the creative meeting where jobber-to-the-stars John Laurenitis pitched the idea that having a worked sumo match at WrestleMania would make for a nice addition to the card--- and then somehow the idea was accepted. You've got to feel bad for Big Show, who in six weeks went from being in the main event of a pay-per-view to wearing a sumo outfit and jobbing to an obese man that nobody in the building cared about.

With only the two world title matches left, it was clear that they were running a little bit behind on time. As Wade Keller wrote on the Torch web site, "Nobody is telling Triple H he has to shave even a minute off of his alloted match," so instead we had Triple H vs. Batista last 22 minutes and JBL vs. John Cena last a ridiuclously short eleven minutes. The Smackdown title match got no reaction specifically because of decisions like this. No one in the crowd thought for a minute that the Smackdown title was worth a damn, because they have been conditioned to believe that over the past couple of years, and so they were just waiting for the "real main event" to start. Having the biggest Smackdown match of the year only last eleven minutes just reinforced the image of Smackdown as the "B-brand" and also made JBL and Cena look like a joke. The match itself was nothing special, either, as they clearly tried to cram all of their previously planned spots into eleven minutes.

When the "real main event" did start with Triple H vs. Batista, the crowd was very hot for the opening, but then surprinsingly a large percentage of them seemed to go to sleep (and some could even be seen leaving early). You can't tell me it was just a cold crowd that wasn't into the action on this night, because the crowd was going absolutely nuts for the ladder match and Angle vs. Michaels. This match dragged on way too long, and the finishing sequence was damaged quite a bit by the fact that you could clearly hear Triple H call out, "Spinebuster" to Batista if you were listening. The match exposed two things that most people already knew: A) Triple H does not carry anyone to a great match, he only has great matches when he's in there with superior workers, and B) Batista is far from the worst worker in the world, but he's still limited in what he can do. Of course, if you've followed wrestling closely enough over the past five years, you know that's precisely the point. When Batista has a "surprisingly disappointing" title reign due to the sudden revelation that he's limited in the ring, the same thing is going to happen as when Randy Orton had a "surprisingly disappointing" title reign due to his sudden babyface turn--- the belt will go back to You Know Who before too long.

Looking at this card from a historical standpoint, the ladder match was an excellent match that will probably blur together with the other great ladder matches in recent years, Angle vs. Michaels was a classic that people will be talking about for years to come, and I think more notably than anything else, the crowd crapped all over the two big babyface title wins. When you think of WrestleMania history and main event babyfaces winning the world title for the first time, you think of memorable moments like Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 12 or Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14. Hell, just last year the crowd for WrestleMania 20 was almost riotous for much of the match and went absolutely ape s--t when Chris Benoit finally won the title. This year, John Cena and Batista both got their first world titles, and the crowd reaction during and after the title changes were more or less, "Ehh." No matter how successful or unsuccessful Cena and Batista are in the future, that's something they are never going to be able to get back. This was a great self-contained show, but we're not going to have "the beginning of a new era" as long as the same people remain in charge.