The SmarK Rant for WWE Wrestlemania 23 (The show that held the all-time PPV record for wrestling until Cena v. Rock shattered it!)
– Live from Detroit, MI.
– Your hosts are Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler & Michael Cole & JBL & Joey Styles & Tazz
Money In the Bank: Jeff Hardy v. King Booker v. Finlay v. CM Punk v. Mr. Kennedy v. Matt Hardy v. Randy Orton v. Edge
The brawl begins immediately, of course, and Finlay hits everyone with a dive to the floor. First climb attempt from Edge is stopped by Matt. Then Finlay and Orton attack each other on the ladder. Jeff and Kennedy pair off next, while Booker finds the Little Bastard’s stepladder under the ring and stops to cut a promo about it. Edge tries to suplex Punk onto a ladder while Booker hits everyone with spinebusters and chooses to Spinarooni instead of doing anything. The Hardyz reward that with a ladder to the face. Well, he had that coming. They try to disfigure Edge with ladders, and sadly I miss a couple of minutes while the pizza arrives. Back with Edge spearing everyone, but Punk is the smart one and moves, and Edge meets the post. Punk follows with the old Terry Funk spot, spinning the ladder on his shoulders and taking people out until Edge spears him to break it up. And works well, because Punk takes out two guys on the way down with the ladder. Edge, our Alpha Dog for the match, brings the biggest ladder into the ring and makes a go of it, but his hetero life partner Randy Orton pushes him off. Jeff takes him out and with Edge on the ladder outside…he climbs up the giant ladder and splashes him THROUGH the ladder, breaking it (and Edge) in half. Holy CRAP. I think I just pooped.
Edge gets stretchered out, which is always a good sign for this sort of match, and Orton uses the moment to RKO the competition. Punk prevents him from getting to the top and sets up his own ladder, which I guess has sentimental value or something, and we get the climbing race. This leads to Orton bringing him down with an RKO, and that leaves Booker standing, and climbing. Orton tries the same thing with him, but takes a Bookend for his troubles. Booker climbs, but Matt uses some well-timed emotional blackmail by threatening Sharmell. Hey, that’s a pretty good strategy. Twist of Fate takes Booker out and Matt climbs, but Finlay pushes him over and Matt takes a pretty sick flat back bump off the ladder. Finlay follows with an Emerald Frozen on the ladder and it’s his turn to climb, but the Little Bastard volunteers instead. That’s just too silly for Mr. Kennedy to deal with, so we get some midget abuse. Finlay uses the sacrifice of his faithful midget to lay Kennedy out with the ladder and climbs again, but now Punk returns and dropkicks him off it again. Up the ladder, but Kennedy follows him up, and then when that fails, spears him in the jaw with a ladder and climbs up himself and wins it at 19:10. Lacking the big spot to finish, but a typically good trainwreck match to start off the night. And I pity whoever has to follow. **** (This was a run of WM shows with completely interchangeable MITB matches that all blended together for me. Of course, Kennedy’s briefcase ended up a major disaster.)
The Great Khali v. Kane
Geez, I should have waited to get the pizza. At least there’s no worries about following the opener here. Khali overpowers Kane to start and puts him on the floor, and gets a clothesline back in the ring. JR drops the first bowling shoe reference as Khali runs through the clubbing forearms, stomping and choking, but Kane slugs back. Flying clothesline is no-sold by Khali, but Kane gets him tied in the ropes, then grabs…his giant meathook? Who booked this crap? Khali slugs him down, but Kane goes low with his chain and slams him for two. The announcers sell the slam like it’s a shooting star press or something, but the tree slam ends it for Khali at 5:29, thank god. At least it was quick. 1/2* (This of course was, in its original form, Big Show v. Hulk Hogan before it changed a bunch of times.)
– Meanwhile, Cryme Tyme tries to cheer up Eugene with a dance contest, but he’d rather dance with Mae & Moolah. This leads to all sorts of silly run-ins, from Slick and Dusty and IRS and Jimmy Hart and Ricky Steamboat. The payoff is of course Ron Simmons coming in and going “Damn”. Slick managing Cryme Tyme would fit really well, actually.
US title match: Chris Benoit v. MVP
MVP grabs a headlock to start and gets taken down as a result, then gets in Benoit’s face and gets taken down again. Benoit tries for a crossface, but MVP makes the ropes. Benoit takes him down again, but MVP counters with a fireman’s carry, and they’re in the ropes again. MVP tries slugging on Benoit, but gets put in the corner in superplex position as a result. MVP counters and puts him on the mat, and starts going to work on the arm for a two count. Some shots to the arm set up a spinkick, but Benoit ducks it and follows with the rolling germans. He goes up too soon, however, and gets brought down by MVP with a superplex. Benoit uses the Dynamite Kid reversal to a small package for two, however. MVP goes back to the arm, running him into the post into a rollup for two. Backdrop suplex gets two. JBL’s over the top praise of MVP’s plan here is a little much. Benoit fights up again, but walks into a big boot. Benoit tries another crossface, but MVP hits him in the arm to break and gets a hammerlock slam. Elbowdrop gets two. MVP manages to counter the rolling germans once, but another go is successful. Diving headbutt finishes clean at 9:16. That’s pretty suprising, not only because everyone seemed to think that MVP was winning the belt (except me) but also because Benoit usually wins by submission. I guess it fits in that MVP had the crossface countered all match. MVP wasn’t ready to hang with Benoit in this kind of setting, but it was OK. **1/2 (Benoit’s last Wrestlemania appearance.)
– Meanwhile, Donald Trump meets the Boogeyman. Hilarity ensues.
– Hall of Fame time, as we get the video from last night and Finkel brings out the inductees who are still alive. God, poor Fuji looks like he’s not long for the world. No wonder they put him in this year. (Well, he did make it a few more years, but not many.)
Smackdown World title: Batista v. Undertaker
Ouch, moving it this far down the card? Undertaker has the whole druid thing going tonight, so you know he means business. Batista spears him right at the bell and they trade shots in the corner, but Batista clotheslines him and dumps him, as the crowd is already turning on him. Brawl on the floor and Taker takes a ride into the stairs. Back in, Batista comes in via the top rope (!) with a flying shoulderblock for two, but walks into the big boot and does the All Japan sell by hitting Undertaker with a lariat before going down. He keeps coming with a slam, but they slug it out and the crowd does the bizarre “Boo/Yay” thing as Undertaker comes back with a corner clothesline. Snake Eyes and big boot set up the legdrop, brother, and that gets two. Old school ropewalk sets up the chokeslam, but Batista powers out of it. Taker hits him with the flying clothesline for two, and Batista bails. Nice to hear the crowd really getting into it after a slow start for them.
UT takes over and gets the legdrop on the apron and busts out the tope con hilo, but Batista whips him into the timekeeper’s table and pounds on him. The crowd doesn’t like that. They prep the table, and Batista powerslams him through it. Back in, that gets two. Batista pounds on him in frustrated manner and gets two off that. Batista fights out of the powerbomb attempt and throws elbows in the corner, but Batista takes him down with a belly to belly for two. He slugs away in the corner, but Undertaker counters with the Last Ride for two. Obviously he hasn’t watched Wrestlemania X-7. Batista comes back with the spinebuster, but Taker sits up and chokeslams him. That only gets two as the crowd is getting REALLY tense. Tombstone, but Batista counters with a spear and the demon bomb for two. Another one is reversed, and the tombstone ends his title reign at 15:46. They’ll have the title on Kennedy soon enough, I think. I don’t know that this could have closed the show, but it was about 100 times better than I was expecting, as Batista actually looked motivated for once and they worked a really good power match together. Probably Undertaker’s best match since the Kurt Angle one last year. ***1/2 (I’m sure that was low. It’s since been widely accepted as a **** classic.)
– Meanwhile, Stephanie brings the demon spawn baby to visit Grandpa Vince, which gives us the creepy baby cam.
Sandman, Rob Van Dam, Sabu & Tommy Dreamer v. Elijah Burke, Matt Striker, Kevin Thorne & Marcus Cor Von.
Sabu hits Striker with springboard kicks to start for two, and Sandman comes in with the guillotine legdrop for two. Burke gets double-teamed by Dreamer and Sandman, but a cheapshot from the apron and Dreamer is YOUR face in peril. Cor Von gets a butterfly suplex and Burke follows with the high knee in the corner for two. Thorne comes in with a chinlock, and a spinebuster gets two. Cor Von suplexes him for two and also goes to the chinlock. Dreamer comes back with an inverted DDT and it’s hot tag RVD. High kick for Striker and missile dropkick for Striker, and they start doing highspots, with everyone ending up on the floor. RVD hits Striker with the frog splash to finish at 6:25. Just a match, when really it should have been a big crazy brawl. ** (Dude, Matt Striker gets a Wrestlemania payoff here, and JOHN CENA is worried about having “no clear path” to get to the show now that it’s 10 times longer?)
Battle of the Billionaires: Lashley v. Umaga
Entrances alone burn 20 minutes, which shows why it’s a four hour show, I guess. (Could be worse…) Slugfest to start and Lashley gets a corner clothesline, but Austin yanks him off. Umaga tries a corner splash, but misses and Lashley gets two. Estrada gets involved and Lashley destroys him, then ducks a charging Umaga and puts him on the floor as a result. Back in, Lashley charges and it’s his turn to splat on the floor. Back in, a splash gets two and he chokes away, but Austin breaks that up. That’s some really shoddy refereeing. Umaga buttdrops him on the ropes and follows with a samoan drop. Lashley tries to come back with a slam, but Umaga falls on top for two. This one is seriously dragging thus far. Umaga goes up and gets slammed off, and it’s a double count. Austin refuses to finish counting, and now Shane McMahon joins us to hopefully come in and work the match for these guys so it’ll break **. Umaga chokes away again and Austin pulls him off again, so Umaga takes him out with a samoan spike. He had it coming. Now the overbooking begins, as Shane comes in and teams up on Lashley, as Umaga gets the running butt splash and Shane follows with the Shane Terminator. And thankfully, he’s wearing his ref shirt under his suit, just in case this situation occurred. Umaga gets the flying splash for two, but Austin recovers and saves, only to get laid out by Umaga again. Trump finally SNAPS and unleashes his wrath on Vince, and it’s KICK WHAM STUNNER for Umaga, and the spear finishes at 13:05. This didn’t really have the spirit of joyful anarchy that most of Vince’s garbage matches usually have, as much of the match was Umaga and Lashley having a shitty match before the requisite run-ins and silliness began. Major disappointment. *1/2 And we learn that it was Vince’s real hair all along, as they shave him bald. Well, at least it wasn’t one of those wussy haircuts you usually get, where they snip a little hair and do the rest later. The crowd still isn’t buying into Lashley. (And they never really got a chance to, either.)
– I guess we’ve burned through too fast, because they stop to show highlights of the DARK MATCH (what is this, UFC?) before moving onto this epic…
Women’s title match: Melina v. Ashley
Melina bails quickly and gets tossed in by the lumberjacks, but comes back with the choke in the corner. Why oh why must they debut their talentless divas at Wrestlemania? More choking from Ashley, and Melina chokes her in response. Really, they need to sign all the losers from Flavor of Love, because THEN you’d get some entertaining catfights rather than this crap. Surfboard from Melina, who can at least kind of work a match. The crowd is dead silent for this trainwreck, as Ashley misses an elbow on par with that of Jerry Sags. Ashley rolls her up for two, but Melina reverses for the pin to mercifully end it. This gets nothing and likes it. DUD
RAW World title: John Cena v. Shawn Michaels
Despite an entrance where Cena (supposedly) drives a car into the arena and through the WM logo, the crowd STILL boos the guy. And Shawn Michaels is ORANGE, that’s just begging for someone to mock him, and yet even though they’re given a softball like that, the crowd still chooses to boo Cena instead. Slugfest to start is won by Michaels and appendixed with a crotch crop, and Shawn is the clear babyface. Cena tries a suplex, but Shawn dodges, ducks, dips, dives and dodges and slugs him back down. Shawn starts on the arm and takes him down with a headlock and controls on the mat, but Cena comes back with a clothesline. Shawn gets all pissed, however, and takes him down with a Thesz Press, then necksnaps him on the top. They head to the floor and Shawn gets an enzuigiri by the tables, and follows with a moonsault press. Back in, Shawn acknowledges the ref’s warning by using a forearm instead of a fist in the corner, and then blocks a kick by hammering his knee, and now Shawn has a target. Nice spot as Shawn wraps Cena’s knee around the post, but does it to the OUTSIDE of the knee to really punish it. Back in, he drops some knees on Cena’s knee and evades Cena’s strikes, giving him some de-motivational speech in the corner. Cena’s selling here is great, by the way. Shawn keeps throwing chops and Cena replies, which gives us the “Yay / Boo” thing again. Shawn wisely keeps on the knee as JR notes that a one-legged man can’t be WWE champion. Hey, what about Zach Gowen? That’s a clear discrimination case!
Shawn charges in and hits the post, drawing blood, and Cena pounces on the cut because he’s a cheap bastard. Shoulderblocks from Cena and the backdrop suplex set up the Five Knuckle Shuffle, but Shawn escapes a potential FU. The ref is superkicked out of the ring, and another FU attempt is countered into a DDT with no ref. Now Shawn means business and he pulls the stairs apart and gets a particularly vicious piledriver on them. Cena is bleeding from the top of his head in a nice touch. They send in another ref, and that gets two. Yes, not even splitting Cena’s skull open can beat him. Shawn gets the forearm and kips up, trying to play cocky heel but getting cheered. Flying elbow and it appears to be superkick time, but Cena blocks it with a lariat. They slug it out and Cena tries the FU, but Shawn reverses to a rollup for two. Shawn tries a leapfrog, however, and Cena is able to reverse that into the FU successfully. That gets two. They head up and Cena wants one from the top, but Shawn elbows out of it and comes down with a high cross, which Cena rolls through into another FU. Shawn escapes and it’s an awesome sequence with them fighting for the STFU until Shawn rolls him up for two. Shawn misses the enzuigiri and Cena gets the STFU, but Shawn is too close to the ropes. Cena stops to argue with the ref and gets superkicked, but that only gets two. Both guys are out, but they will themselves up and Cena goes for another FU, and another STFU, and this time Shawn has nowhere to go and taps at 28:21. Shit, the one time I was cheering for Shawn Michaels and they wasted it. Cena’s best match ever, without a doubt, and probably the Match of the Year. ****3/4 It delivered everything it promised and then some. (Definitely overrated it, as their RAW rematch exceeded it and was a legit MOTY, but damn if Shawn wasn’t trying to do everything humanly possible to get Cena over here, and I think this was the match that finally, FINALLY, turned the corner on my relationship with Shawn’s work in this comeback and made me a fan without the cynicism I had been feeling about the whole thing previously.)
As I noted before the show, if the Money in the Bank and main event delivered, then the show could be considered worth the money, and not only did they deliver, but Batista v. Undertaker was a serious contender for match of the night as well, which makes this an easy thumbs up. For sure check out Cena v. HBK, however, because it was probably Shawn’s last shot in the Wrestlemania main event and he brought the goods. (Well, Shawn would get another couple of shots at that main event slot, at the very least…)