Rambling Road To WrestleMania: Week 3
Top 10 Wrestlemania Matches Part 1
With the Rambling Road to Wrestlemania in full force I thought I would share with the world my Top 10 Wrestlemania matches. Now I know what you are thinking, every wrestling website worth their salt posts on of these around this time of year. That’s why I have an added twist to mine – CallingSpot’s Top 10 most anticipated Wrestlemania matches revisited. I am going to be discussing the matches that I was marking out the most for, since I started watching at Wrestlemania 14, looking at why I anticipated them so, the match themselves an revisiting them today. Some exceeded expectation, some disappointed. But first, who made the list? In part one we are going to look at numbers ten to six.
10 – Triple H vs Randy Orton at Wrestlemania 25 for the WWE Championship.
On paper this may not have seemed a dream match, but the build up to this was at times so gripping that it left you counting down the hours until the 25th anniversary of Wrestlemania. Randy Orton was as bad a bad guy as there has been in recent memory, if not ever. At this point in his career Orton had accomplished as a heel what he seemingly couldn’t as a 24 your old baby face – became a credible main even talent that was believable in the role. I truly believe that at this point in time, Randy Orton was producing the best work of his career as a psychotic heel. From his subtle, ice cold mannerisms to his full blown nasty bastard attitude, Orton was the complete package. His methodical in ring work, picking apart his opponent limb by limb, suited working as a heel more so than the babyface Randy Orton of 2012.
To put the match in some context, Randy won the 2009 Royal Rumble by eliminating Triple H, the latter of which would go on to win the WWE championship at No Way Out. Randy would then reveal that he had been holding back a deep rooted hatred for Hunter since he turned on Orton and kicked him out of Evolution years earlier as punishment for Orton winning the world heavyweight championship – a title that Triple H wanted for himself. Orton was now going to embark on a mission to “take everything” from Triple H, starting with his family and ending with the WWE championship at ‘mania. Over the weeks leading up to the match, Randy would beat down Hunter’s brother in law, Shane McMahon and his father in law Vince before the ultimate sin of putting his hands and lips on the champion’s wife, Stephanie McMahon/Helmsley/Levesque. Orton stooped so low as to RKO Stephanie and, with her husband Triple H handcuffed and helpless, kissed her lifeless body while staring him dead in the eyes. Hunter would retaliate by breaking into the Orton household to attack him (in front of his beautiful actress wife, as Randy Orton does not want to expose his real life wife to the business) and would round up the McMahon to get revenge on Orton and his Legacy followers. To say the feud was personal was an understatement. So with Randy’s character on fire and a strong, personal rivalry to boot I could not wait for the match.
So Wrestlemania 25 begins and the WWE championship is going to be defended in the main event at the top of the card. Now on any ordinary day, wrestling etiquette dictates that you don’t give the fans too much unless you are in the main event, so as to not outshine them. But this was no ordinary day, this was the 25th anniversary of Wrestlemania and Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker had decided to put on simply the greatest professional wrestling match of all time. So how do Hunter and Orton top it? Quite simply, they cannot.
Everything starts well, as Orton walks to the ring looking as psychotic as ever, looking almost as orange as the Wolverhampton wanders flag in the front row. Once the match starts though, the psychology is all wrong. Both men hit their finish within the first 90 seconds which had a devastating effect on the crowd as both get an initial pop, but when both men go for their finish at the end of the match, the crowd have already seen this so building towards doing it again is futile. Triple H, the good guy, dominates the opening 5 minutes of the match. Why would 72,000 people root for somebody and get behind them when they are quite clearly in complete control? They don’t, and by time Orton starts getting his heat the crowd are entertaining themselves, with the first 5 or 6 rows blatantly not even looking at the ring. The match from there was ok, a very hard hitting affair, playing up on the fact Triple H would lose the title is he was disqualified but he hated Orton so much that he was constantly on the brink of ‘snapping’. The match did start to bring the crowd back around but this was cut short by a flat finish. Orton had intentionally bumped the ref, RKO’d hunter then attempted to use his own sledgehammer against him but Triple H thwarted this and violently beat him down until the ref got back up. A pedigree on a now helpless Orton and an easy 3 count for Triple H to retain. At the time this match left a bad taste in my mouth but watching it back the match was solid, however poor positioning on the card meant that an emotionally drained crowd could not get behind the main event or the good guy.
9 – Money in the Bank 3 at Wrestlemania 23
So a money in the bank match had to make this list, quite simply because they were amongst the best matches on the card year after year, but why MITB 3? By this point we had seen the excellent debut of the match concept, and then an equally as good match the year after, proving the first wasn’t a fluke. Add to that a very strong line up, so strong that you think everyone in the match is in with a chance and not just making up numbers, and you are onto a match that will attract fans in droves. The concept for his match, for those that are not aware, is to have a large number of (wrestlers 6-10) wrestle a mass ladder match, each man for himself, with the item hanging above being a briefcase. This briefcase contains a contract that can be “cashed in” for a WWE or World Heavyweight Championship match at any time, in any place, for up to one year.
Now on a personal side note, I want to share my prediction going into this match, as I remember it as if it was yesterday. In the build up to WM 23 I truly believed that WWE were going to almost let Jeff Hardy win, then swerve and give the briefcase to his brother Matt. Although Jeff was unquestionably the more popular of the brothers from North Carolina, I thought they may push his less spot-heavy brother Matt as the “next big thing”. How wrong I was. Of all the competitors in the match, Matt was 1 of only 3 not to win a major championship following WM 23. Along with him were Finlay, who took a backseat a year later, and Booker T, who left for TNA but shortly hung up his boots. The rest of Matt Hardy’s opponents went on to win 29 World/WWE/TNA championships between them:
- Edge – 2x WWE 7x World Heavyweight
- Randy Orton – 6x WWE 2x World Heavyweight
- Jeff Hardy – 1x WWE 2x World Heavyweight 2x TNA
- Mr Kennedy – 2x TNA
- CM Punk – 2x WWE 3x World Heavyweight
So with all of this talent in one gimmick match, we were sure to see a classic. The match itself was a fantastic spot-fest, as you would expect. Finlay, bizarrely, hit the first big spot when he took to the top turnbuckle and dove to the outside. There were the annual “comedy” spots of the mini ladder, hornswaggle’s bump from the top of a ladder and a Wrestlemania sized spin-a-roonie. The crowd were white hot for Jeff Hardy, who JR has dubbed “one of the all time great risk takers” during his entrance – a name which he lived up to in the match when he leg dropped Edge, who was lying on a ladder out of the ring, from the top of a ladder inside the ring. It was ridiculous, and wrote both men out of the match. Jeff’s Brother Matt stood and watched the spot, and deep down must have taken some satisfaction given his history with Edge.
Mr Kennedy picked up a somewhat shock win once the carnage was over in what was, looking back, possibly the peak of his career. Mr Kennedy (now TNA’s Mr Anderson) seemed to have a very bright future in WWE at this point but has never seemed to live up to the expectation or presented himself like a true star. It’s a shame considering the promise he once showed. Watching Wrestlemania 23 back, the announce team calling the match consisting of Tazz, Michael Cole, JR, The King, Joey Styles and JBL was overload with people constantly talking over each other with no rhythm. JBL reminded me why I loved his work as Smackdown commentator, and it is a shame he didn’t continue for longer, with his classic one-liners such as “dancing with the lights on bright”. MITB 3 was as good a multi-person ladder match as you will see and most certainly worth revisiting.
8- The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin 3 at Wrestlemania 19
The reason why me, and many other fans, were so excited for this match was because deep down we knew this was going to be the final match of arguably the most profitable feud in wrestling history. So why only 8th in the list of top 10 most anticipated matches? At the time I don’t think I fully appreciated the magnitude of this match, although I was certainly looking forward to it. Steve Austin was back from “taking his ball home” and The Rock was in and out of the WWE between Hollywood movies. The story for this match was simply wrestling 101 – The Rock had never beat Austin at Wrestlemania and seen this as the final challenge before he departed.
The Rock came out to his epic music, with helicopters on the ‘tron and whispering “is cooking” looking every bit the star that he is and Stone Cold marched down to the ring with an intense look in his eyes. The match was a slow burner with a lot of the early action outside of the ring – classis Rocky/Austin fare. The climax of the match told a nice story, The Rock Stunned Austin, Austin Stunned the Rock, Austin nearly managed to block the peoples elbow but ultimately fell victim to it. From then it was just a matter of time. Austin took a rock bottom, but was able to will himself up at a 2 count. Austin almost countered the second rock bottom but Rocky managed to still hit it and with some venom, went for the pin, 1-2-Austin kicks out at 2 and 7/8s. The looks on both men’s face tell a different story, Rock can’t believe it, Austin is done. And so with the final Rock bottom on a now helpless Stone Cold, an emphatic exclamation mark is put on the end of the career of the greatest superstar to ever grace the ring. After a textbook wrestling match, and an emphatic finish The Rock leans over to talk into Stone Cold’s ear before leaving the ring for the rattle snake – a very classy move on the part of The Rock.
Both Stone Cold and The Rock reflected back on this match, during an interview for WWEs new documentary on the career of Austin, revealing that it was a hard moment for both of them. Both men became visibly emotional while revealing what Rocky had said to Austin immediately after the 3 count, “I love you and I appreciate everything you have done for me”. When you also consider the revelation that Steve recently made – that he spent the night before this match in hospital, suffering from a severe anxiety attack and dehydration – you realise just how good performance this actually was. Reflecting back, this match lived up to the expectation and, in my eyes, surpassed expectation.
7 – Tables, Ladders and Chairs 2 at Wrestlemania X-7
How could you not be excited by TLC 2? The 3 teams involved, The Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian and The Dudley Boyz (perhaps it was cool to end words with a ‘z’ in the early noughties), had been stealing the show on many PPVs in the year prior to this game, always looking to raise the bar from their previous efforts. We had been introduced to the TLC concept at the previous year’s Summerslam and on the back of that you knew that these 6 men would not disappoint. Back in 2001 the WWE tag team titles actually meant something for these 6 men. Every night they were giving it 110% to try to establish themselves as the dominant team in the WWE. What we ended up seeing was most likely the greatest TLC match there will ever be, from the 6 pioneers of the concept that now has its own PPV.
To try and write the match up would not do it justice. If you are a newer fan of WWE and have not seen the match then I urge you to check youtube or buy the DVD. Although devoid of any wrestling psychology, this is as fun a wrestling match as you will ever see. The big spots in the match are still shocking to watch 11 years later, but at the time this match was, spot-for-spot, completely innovative and had never been seen before to this level. The spear that edge gives Jeff Hardy from a huge ladder, while Jeff hangs above the ring, landing folded over on his back, is frequently still seen in the WWE product today. Add to that Bubba Ray and Matt Hardy being thrown from a ladder in the ring through 4 tables outside, Jeff Hardy’s swanton bomb from the large ladder outside the ring and Lita taking a Dudley Death Drop in her bra and you have the greatest spot-fest of all time.
6 – Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 25
Sometimes it is hell, trying to get to heaven. The Light vs The Darkness (not the band). 43 year old Shawn vs 44 year old Undertaker. Mr Wrestlemania vs The Streak. Two of the best in ring performers ever to grace this business, rekindling a rivalry from over 10 years earlier. Shawn Michaels’ chance to get revenge for being forced, by The Undertaker, to retire for four years in 1998. Going into this match my opinion was simple – this COULD be amazing but can two men in the twilight of their careers steal the show? Clearly WWE didn’t think so, as the match was placed on the card with the two title matches remaining. But could they, just could they show the same magic that they had 12 years earlier inside the first Hell in a Cell? The answer was an emphatic yes, and then some.
Quite simply this turned out to be the greatest Wrestlemania match of all time. The crowd were white hot from the start, torn between two legitimate icons of the business, on their feet for every major spot. Shawn and ‘Taker seemed to roll back the years, not letting their injuries dictate the shape of the match, but simply putting on a career defining performance. When you consider all that these two have contributed to the business, you can’t help but think that they went above and beyond to put on a spectacle on this night. The match was a back and forth contest ,with Shawn playing on his superior speed and athleticism with The Undertaker dictating a slower pace and applying hard hitting impact. There was dodged sweet chin music, reversed chokeslams, escapes from hells gate, missed moonsualts to the mat outside the ring and Undertaker’s head-first dive outside the ring – the match was carnage with both men giving everything. The desire that both men showed to win the match was unbelievable. After failing to put HBK away with a chokeslam and a last ride, Undertaker even took to the top rope, uncharacteristically, for a diving elbow. Finally Undertaker went to put Shawn Michaels away, catching him “skinning the cat” and hitting the biggest tombstone he has ever delivered, but somehow Michaels managed to get a shoulder up. The look on Undertakers face told the full story –what does he have to do to keep Mr Wrestlemania down? The crowd were in ecstasy, knowing they were witnessing something very special. As the match went back and forth, with the crowd exploding for every punch or chop, you really felt like it go either way. But finally Shawn made just one mistake, getting caught mid-air while trying a moonsault, and The Undertaker managed to hit a second tombstone to finally put Michaels to bed. JR had an out-of-body experience and I think the rest of us weren’t very far behind him. Quite simply it was the best Wrestlemania match of all time.
With that I must pause my, longer than expected, top 10 count down. Keep your eyes peeled for the top 5 coming soon on the Rambling Road to Wrestlemania. What were the Wrestlemania matches that YOU anticipated the most? Did they live up to that expectation? Drop me a line/follow me on twitter @CallingSpots and let me know.
Thanks for reading – Peace x