Mike Reviews Every WrestleMania Opening Match (21 to 25)

Happy Wednesday Everyone!

We’re back with more Opening Matches from WrestleMania, and today we’re covering WrestleMania 21 to WrestleMania 25. There are some decent matches on the docket here, so hopefully we’ll have some fun, especially as we’re now in the MITB Era of the event.

WrestleMania 21

Opening Match
Smackdown Tag Champ Eddy Guerrero Vs Smackdown Tag Champ Rey Mysterio Jr

Eddy and Rey were the Tag Champs at the time and decided to open up WrestleMania with a match against one another in the interest of friendly competition. It was all building to an eventual Eddy Heel turn as Eddy was getting considerably more frustrated that he couldn’t defeat Rey. Rey has a special attire as per usual when it came to him at Mania, but sadly the mask isn’t very secure and it means Rey has to spend most of the match adjusting it so it doesn’t fall off.

I always feel like these two guys put themselves under too much pressure when they wrestled one another because they were always trying to match their classic bout from Halloween Havoc 97, and I think Eddy even said as much back in the day. It was pretty much impossible for them not to have at least a decent match thanks to their great chemistry and wrestling ability, but Eddy especially was a perfectionist who could always find fault in his own work no matter how great it was.

They have a very good match here, with some nice stuff on the mat mixed in with some trademark high-flying from both men. After some back and forth early sections we move onto Eddy controlling things for a bit, with the match having some decent heat from the crowd who are into both wrestlers and are enjoying the good wrestling they’re watching. Rey sells Eddy’s offence well and Eddy executes everything nicely, including the old Rito Romero Especial surfboard hold.

There is the odd moment where their timing isn’t quite right, but they are usually able to cover for it and they don’t lose the crowd. Rey’s constant fidgeting with his mask gets very distracting at points though, as I bet he spends the majority of the match regretting his choice of attire. Rey eventually manages to snap off an arm drag to send Eddy to the floor, where Rey follows up with a dive to send us into the closing stretch.

The match really picks up in the closing sections, with both men getting some nice looking big moves and some tightly executed near falls that the crowd bite on. The only downside is that it feels like they have lots more in them but they have to take it home before they can get there due to time constraints. Eddy goes for a tilt-a-whirl back breaker but Rey is able to counter it into a pinning predicament, which is enough to hold Eddy down for three.

WINNER: REY MYSTERIO JR
RATING: ***1/4

This was a darn enjoyable bit of professional wrestling and a solid way to start out the show. The odd timing issue and the fact they took it home before it ever had a chance to kick into a higher gear brought the rating down a bit for me, but this was still a fun match and they would go on to have some more good matches together as the year wore on, especially when Eddy went Heel and started suplexing Rey on chairs and ring steps. Sadly the feud started getting silly after a certain point with Dom Mysterio getting involved, but the match quality was always generally good at least.

WrestleMania 22

Opening Match
Raw Tag Team Titles
Champs: Big Show and Kane Vs Carlito and Chris Masters

Kane and Big Show are the babyfaces here but Carlito gets a noticeable pop coming down to the ring and wasn’t far off a babyface turn of his own. Kane busts out a leapfrog and a dropkick on Masters in the early stages (It is WrestleMania after all) and then tags in Big Show, who unloads on poor Chris with some open hand chops to the chest. Carlito comes in, to chants from the crowd no less, but he fares no better than his partner. Big Show press slams Masters, sending him outside, and then presses Carlito over the top rope onto him. Not to be outdone, Kane leaps off the top rope onto both challengers on the outside. Kane isn’t messing around tonight brother!

Back inside, the challengers send Big Show into an unprotected turnbuckle and hit him with a double flapjack to get themselves some respite from the babyface onslaught. They decide to try and double suplex Big Show, but he blocks it and then heaves them both over with a suplex of his own! Kane gets the tag and runs wild with clotheslines, even going for a ten punch in the corner on Carlito. This is a prototypical opening match and I love it!

Kane gets a side slam on Carlito and then heads up top for a clothesline on Masters, but he sees him coming and counters into The Masterlock (A Full Nelson for those not au fait with WWE during this period). Show breaks that up and gets audibly booed for it. This must be the most over Chris Masters has ever been, possibly even Carlito too. Carlito gets the Back Cracker on Kane but gets grabbed around the throat by Big Show. Masters breaks that up by chop blocking Show’s leg, but Kane is up soon after and goes for his own goozle on Carlito. Masters tries coming off the second rope for the rescue, but Kane moves and he ends up hitting his own partner. Kane disposes of Masters and then finishes Carlito with the Choke Slam to retain the titles.

WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: KANE & BIG SHOW
RATING: **1/2

Kane in particular was jazzed here and it made for a very spirited opener. Carlito would eventually turn on Masters to go babyface but they never really did much with him in that role despite him being pretty over and he was back as a Heel when the spring of 2007 rolled around in a feud with Ric Flair. Masters never really got out of the mid-card during his time in WWE, although he did save someone from a burning building in real life at one stage in an impressive display of bravery. Kane and Big Show would also soon split as a team, leading to them having one of the strangest technical wrestling battles of all-time on an episode of Raw.

WrestleMania 23

Opening Match
Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Edge Vs Randy Orton Vs King Booker Vs Matt Hardy Vs Jeff Hardy Vs Mr. Kennedy (…….Kennedy) Vs CM Punk Vs Fit Finlay

Punk is the lone ECW representative in this one, and I was kind of surprised he got the gig at all back in the day as it always felt like WWE wasn’t fully comfortable pushing him despite his strong crowd reactions. Matt and Jeff are both babyfaces here but they’ll be prepared to fight one another to get themselves the briefcase, something shared by Edge and Orton, who are a Heel tag team and former Raw Tag Champs.

It takes all of a few seconds for us to get our first big spot of the match, with Finlay of all people diving off the top rope onto everyone whilst they brawl outside. Booker of course gets a comedy spot in by getting a small stepladder out from under the ring and doing a double take about it. Edge ends up flinging that ladder at Punk and Punk decides he’s going to get some colour seeing as it’s his first WrestleMania and there was no guarantee he’d get to be in another at this point.

The Hardyz had recently broken Joey Matthews’ face on a ladder seesaw spot, so they tease doing it to Edge here, which makes sense due to how much Matt hates Edge, but it gets broken up and Matt ends up getting suplexed onto the ladder in question. Kennedy ends up catching the back of his neck on a ladder at one stage after missing a Kenton Bomb, in one of those spots where he was lucky he didn’t do more damage to himself than he ended up doing.

The Hardyz do indeed start fighting with one another at one stage, with them both getting shoved off a ladder by Finlay. Everyone gets a chance to run wild at points, with Booker doing Spine Busters and Edge getting to do Spears. Punk even busts out the old Terry Funk whirlybird ladder spot at one stage, only for Edge to Spear him whilst the ladder is over his neck, taking out Finlay and Orton in the process.

Edge ends up getting taken out of the match when Jeff leg drops him through a ladder, which I think was the first time we got a ladder getting broken like a table in that fashion in a big match. The crowd of course loves that and pops big for the wild spot. Matt of course egged Jeff on to do that due to how much he hates Edge, and it looks like Jeff got taken out as a result. It did look pretty brutal actually, but both men lived to tell the tale.

Orton uses the break to hit everyone with RKO’s, with a lot of them coming OUTTA NOWHERE, before trying to climb up and get the case.  Punk tries to stop him and ends up getting RKO’ed off the ladder to seemingly take Punk out of the running. Queen Sharmell ends up getting involved to help her husband, but Matt takes her hostage so that Booker has to climb down and fight him, leading to Matt taking him out with a Twist of Fate and climbing, only for Finlay to knock the ladder over and then give Matt an Air Raid Crash onto the ladder itself.

Finlay has somehow started bleeding in this one as well, although he seems amused by it more than anything else. I’m guessing it was hard way due to it being on the top of his head. Hornswoggle now appears to try and help Finlay win, but that leads to Kennedy breaking it up and giving Hornswoggle the Green Bay Plunge off the ladder to the floor. That looked like it was no fun for poor Hornswoggle to take.

Finlay takes out Kennedy with a ladder though and then starts climbing again, only for Punk to cut him off at the last. Punk has been really good as the underdog pick here, and it’s led to the crowd getting behind him. Tonight isn’t going to be his night though, as Kennedy cuts him off with a ladder and melodramatically claims the case for himself.

WINNER: MR. KENNEDY
RATING: ****

This was the usual display of crazy spots along with some good storytelling, with Punk in particular having a great run in the match. They timed all of the victory teases well and there was always something going on but never too much as to make it hard to follow. Kennedy wouldn’t end up keeping the case as Edge would win it from him when it looked like Kennedy was going to have a long injury layoff, only for Kennedy to come back much quicker than expected meaning he needn’t have lost the case to begin with. That’s just his WWE run in a nutshell isn’t it?

WrestleMania XXIV

Opening Match
Belfast Brawl
JBL Vs Fit Finlay w/ Hornswoggle

This was a payoff to a rubbish storyline where Hornswoggle had been revealed as Vince McMahon’s illegitimate son, leading to Vince essentially trying to bump Hornswoggle off by putting him in matches with The Great Khali as well as in the Royal Rumble match. Finlay had kept coming to Hornswoggles aid, and it was eventually revealed that the reason why was because Hornswoggle wasn’t actually Vince’s son but Finlay’s. JBL gave Hornswoggle a big beating inside a steel cage and that led to Finlay looking for revenge in this contest.

Despite this all being set up perfectly for Finlay and Hornswoggle to get their revenge after JBL’s brutal attack, JBL was getting a Raw Title match at the next pay per view so there’s no way he’s looking at the lights in this one, meaning we get a flat end to the story where the villain gets to win in the opening match of the biggest show of the year. Hornswoggle took one heck of kicking from JBL in that beat down segment I must say.

JBL takes most of the match too, as he clobbers Finlay with plunder and then flings a metal bin at poor Hornswoggle at one stage. This was such an oddly booked feud, with JBL getting the big Heel heat spot and then not really getting much in the way of comeuppance either. Would it have killed them to let Finlay take the majority of the match to really dish out some punishment before JBL eventually prevailed so he could still be strong for his Title match but Finlay wouldn’t look like such a chump?

The crowd are into the big weapon shots at least and there are some impressive spots, such as Finlay going for a TOPE SUICIDA but finding only a metal bin lid waiting for him. Finlay responds by flinging JBL through a table in the corner for two in order to get a measure of revenge, but JBL stops a steel steps shot with a Singapore Cane and adds a Clothesline From New York for the three count.

WINNER: JBL
RATING: **1/4

Decent enough weapons filled brawl but the booking left a sour taste, as Hornswoggle is left crying after his dad failed to get revenge for him at the biggest event of the year after JBL got to essentially win clean. Finlay would end up in ECW eventually whilst JBL would remain in the Main Event scene taking on the likes of Triple H, John Cena, CM Punk and Shawn Michaels.

WrestleMania 25

Opening Match
Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Christian Vs Kane Vs Mark Henry Vs CM Punk Vs Kofi Kingston Vs Fit Finlay Vs MVP Vs Shelton Benjamin

Christian was very much my pick coming into this one. Christian had actually randomly returned as a babyface on ECW as opposed to showing up on Smackdown as backup for Edge in his feud with The Hardyz because they thought that would be too predictable. It was predictable because it made sense of course, but that had never stopped WWE before. So instead Christian was just on ECW for a year and they threw away what could have been a hot feud. Still, Christian had his fair share of good matches whilst on ECW at least, so that was a bonus.

MVP had been doing a losing streak gimmick, and it had actually succeeded in getting him kind of over as a sympathetic figure. Punk had won the previous year’s MITB match, which had led to a pretty meh run with the World Title. For whatever reason the more smarky WrestleMania crowd turns on him a bit and actively boos him at points. I remember thinking that was super weird at the time but WWE was clearly listening and then turned him Heel later in the year to great success.

Kane and Henry in a match like this is pretty bizarre, but you do need a big bloke to catch people sometimes, so they fill that quota. Kofi does very well in the match, with his offence looking good and him getting in a great tease in going for the case at one stage where Henry holds the ladder vertically and Kofi scurries up it to almost steal a win. We of course get some dives at one stage, with Shelton getting the final say with a big dive off the ladder onto everyone else in the aisle way. I’m not sure if anyone actually did much of a job catching him there.

Henry actually teases a dive at one stage and the crowd actively boos when Finlay prevents it. I’m with them; I would have liked to see that, if only to see if Henry could manage to execute it successfully without causing a fatality. In general the match is structure really well, with it carefully broken up into different segments so that everyone has a chance to come in and work a sequence of some kind. Having so many people in the match means the action is always moving and guys can pop up at any point after selling a bit when the fans are least expecting it.

The teases are done well and Shelton of course gets to show off his impressive athletic ability at points. Sadly there are a couple of notable botches, such as Christian going for the Tomikaze off the ladder on Punk at one point and them not quite getting it, and Shelton going for a sunset flip powerbomb on MVP off the ladder at one stage but losing him and them having to scramble to rescue the spot in a sloppy manner. Aside from those moments though, most of the spots are executed properly and the crowd is into the action.

The fans clearly want Christian to win, so when Punk prevents him it makes him the most hated guy in the stadium at one stage. Kane eventually gets involved as well, which leads to Christian taking a Choke Slam off the ladder to take him out of the running. Punk manages to fight off Kane when he tries to give him the Choke Slam treatment though and Punk goes on to grab the case to win back to back Mania MITB matches.

WINNER: CM PUNK
RATING: ***3/4

Some notable botches drag it down a bit, but aside from that it was the usual high tempo spot-fest you would expect one of these matches to be, with Kofi being the stand out guy in my opinion. Punk would cash the case in on Jeff Hardy and would eventually go Heel, eventually going the whole hog on an episode of Smackdown and eventually running Jeff out of WWE for a bit. Once his reign ended to Undertaker, Punk would then start up the Straight Edge Society faction.

Well we mostly had decent to good matches this week so I’m happy. I’m excited for one of the matches next week as well, so I hope you’ll join me when we cover XXVI to XXX!