Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The Wrestlemania Story - Part IV: Dream Matches and Dream Moments
We last left off with the end of an era, as both the McMahon-Austin feud, and the Monday Night Wars came to a close. In the months that followed Wrestlemania X-7 featured an Invasion as WCW, owned by Shane McMahon, and ECW, owned by Stephanie McMahon, united to challenge the WWF. In the end Vince's company was able to vanquish the forces at the 2001 Survivor Series. The very next night, it was revealed that in order for Shane and Stephanie to afford their purchases of WCW and ECW, they sold their stocks in WWF, which were purchased by none other than the legendary Ric Flair, who was revealed as Vince's part owner.
Another historic event occurred the next month as the WWF and WCW World Titles were unified, in a special one night only tournament featuring Steve Austin, The Rock, Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho. In an unprecedented moment in history, Chris Jericho won the tournament by defeating The Rock and Steve Austin in the same night in the same night to become the first ever Undisputed Champion. Jericho would head into Wrestlemania X-8, in Toronto, Ontario, to face Triple H, who had returned from an extended quad injury to win the Royal Rumble.
Also around this point, the villainous faction from the height of WCW, the New World Order, consisting of Kevin Nash (the former Diesel), Scott Hall (the former Razor Roman), and Hulk Hogan began their invasion of the WWF, after being brought in by Vince McMahon. These three would immediately come to conflict with the two biggest stars in the WWF, Steve Austin and The Rock.
The undercard of the evening included two short marches involving four big names in the business. Kurt Angle continued his three year, four match streak of never taking a fall at a Wrestlemania with a victory over Kane. Also, Edge, having broken away from his partner and brother Christian the previous summer, saw his first solo action as he defeated Booker T in front of his hometown crowd.
In the first of two historic "Dream Matches", WWF Owner, Ric Flair faced the legendary Undertaker, in a No Disqualification Match. The two fought long and hard, and Flair's long time ally, Arn Anderson, ran down to attack the Undertaker. While Flair gave it his all, the Tombstone Piledriver proved to be too much as The Nature Boy went down for the count. The Undertaker's Wrestlemania streak stood at 10-0 (To read Travis's thoughts on this match featuring two of his all time favourites, click here).
A year after joining sides with Vince McMahon, Steve Austin once more found himself on opposing sides with the Chairman, as he did battle with nWo member, Scott Hall at Wrestlemania. After hitting Hall with two Stunners, Austin was able to achieve victory. It did not appear to be a good night for the nWo.
While it was not the last match of the night, all of the focus for the evening was on the special dream match between The Rock and Hulk Hogan. Hogan having returned to the WWF for the first time in 9 years, returned to the one site where he had suffered the one blemish on his Wrestlemania record, the Skydome. Despite the fact that Hogan had repeatedly ambushed The Rock, and resorted to all sorts of heelish tactics throughout the match, the Toronto fans did something strange and unexpected. They cheered. No matter what happened, the 68,000 fans in attendance screamed constantly for Hogan and booed the Rock. However, the cheers could not push Hogan over the top as he fell victim to two Rock Bottoms, and a People's Elbow, as the Rock stood tall to close out the match. Afterwards, Hall and Nash came down to berate Hogan over his loss, but The Rock ran down to make the save. Hogan and The Rock did all of Hogan's classic posses together in a truly surreal moment (To read McNutt's thoughts on that match, click here).
In the Main Event of the evening Triple H continued his unrelenting quest for redemption, as he challenged Chris Jericho for the Undisputed Title. By this point, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H had divorced, and so she ended up accompanying Jericho to the ring for the title match. The two fought all over the ring, as Jericho attempted to re-injure The Game's quadriceps, however Triple H fought back, and ended up landing a Pedigree, and was able to claim the Undisputed Title to close out the show.
As had been the trademark for most of the past half-decade or so, the next year featured a great deal of change for Vince's company. For starers, they were no longer called the WWF, having lost a law suit to the World Wildlife Fund, they renamed themselves World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE for short. Second off, the dispute between Flair and Vince intensified so much that they decided to split the companies assets in two with Flair owning Raw and Vince owning Smackdown, and every wrestler being drafted to either roster. Later Vince would defeat Flair and gain full ownership of the company, but he would still keep the rosters separate, and would assign different General Managers for each brand, with Eric Bischoff in charge of Raw, and Stephanie McMahon in charge of Smackdown.
Also important was the arrival of "The Next Big Thing" the night after Wrestlemania X-8. Rookie sensation Brock Lesnar, a former NCAA Amateur Champion, debuted, and climbed the ranks of the company faster than anyone in recent memory, gaining victory, over victory, before winning the 2002 King of the Ring Tournament, and then eventually capturing the Undisputed Title from The Rock at Summerslam. The next day he became official property of Smackdown, and therefore the Undisputed Title became disputed, with Lesnar's, Smackdown, exclusive title being the WWE Title, and a new Raw exclusive title, the World Heavyweight Title was created, and awarded to Triple H. Also, the European, Hardcore, and Intercontinental Titles were retired, while a new Smackdown specific WWE Tag Team Title was create (the pre-existing World Tag Titles were Raw property), while the Women's Title and Cruiserweight Title remained specific property of Raw and Smackdown, respectively.
Lesnar ended up losing his WWE Title at the Survivor Series, but was able to win the 2003 Royal Rumble, to challenge the current WWE Champion, Kurt Angle. The Main Event for Wrestlemania XIX, from Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington, was a match that everyone had wanted to see since Lesnar's debut as he, a former amateur standout was set to face one of the greatest amateur wrestlers ever, an Olympic Gold Medalist at that, in a professional arena.
The evening started out simply enough with Cruiserweight Champion, Matt Hardy, defeating legendary WCW Cruiserweight Rey Mysterio, by using the ropes for leverage. The WWE Tag Titles featured the Wrestlemania returns of both Chris Benoit (who had been injured the previous year), and Eddie Guerrero (who had been fired, but the rehired), as they separately challenged for the titles in a triple threat match, Eddie teaming with his nephew Chavo to reform Los Guerreros, and Benoit who teamed with longtime friend, Rhyno. Both teams fought hard against the rookie team of Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin, known as Team Angle after their mentor, Kurt. The rookies were able to score a surprise victory. Both Benoit and Guerrero would leave Safeco Field empty handed, but that would change for them in a drastic way the following year.
The Undertaker faced yet another huge challenge this year. He was initially scheduled to team up with Nathan Jones to take on A-Train and the Big Show, however before the show, Jones was injured, and so The Undertaker was forced to go at it alone without a partner. Somehow, someway, The Undertaker was able to overcome the odds, and score a pinfall on A-Train. The Undertaker's Wrestlemania record stood at 11-0.
Earlier in the year, Shawn Michaels had shocked the world and returned from retirement to do battle with his old friend Triple H. Both former degenerates had moved on, and proved successful in their matches on this night. Shawn Michaels was able to defeat Chris Jericho, a man who had idolized Michaels growing up (To read my thoughts on this, my ultimate dream match, click here).
There had been a feud almost twenty years in the making culminate at Wrestlemania XIX, as Vince McMahon himself stepped in the ring with none other than Hulk Hogan, as they argued over who had created Wrestlemania. When it was all said and done, Hogan was standing tall.
While those two could argue over who had created the event, the two men who could lay the best claim for carrying it several years later, Steve Austin and The Rock did battle for the third time at a Wrestlemania. For the first of all three times, The Rock was able to claim victory, after three Rock Bottoms. This would prove to be Steve Austin's last professional wrestling match.
The Main Event was the great dream match taking place between two legitimate, very successful amateur wrestlers. Lesnar and Angle gave the other everything that they had, utilizing a variety of tools from their amateur background. When Lesnar had Angle down, he went for a move that would be certainly barred from the NCAA, a shooting star press. However, Lesnar over shot and landed directly on his face. Somehow, someway, he was able to recover and hit Angle with his patented F-5 to claim the victory and the title.
The next year Wrestlemania celebrated its 20th Anniversary, and once more returned to Madison Square Garden. The last time that Wrestlemania came from the Garden it played witness to two of the greatest matches ever, in Bret vs. Owen and Michaels vs. Ramon, this time they would add another legendary match to take place in those hallowed halls, and once more it would feature Shawn Michaels.
This event had so many incredibly important matches, however in the interest of time I will gloss over all but four of them now. John Cena captured his first championship at this event, after he was able to lift up the 500 pound Big Show to deliver an FU and claim the United States Championship. Two former friends, Christian and Chris Jericho collided, and in the end, Christian scored a surprise victory and Jericho's love interest Trish Stratus turned on Jericho for his opponent. The Great One himself, The Rock, made his long awaited return to the ring to team with his former tag team partner, Mick Foley, to reform the Rock 'n' Sock Connection, as they took on Evolution, consisting of the Legendary Ric Flair, and two future legends making their Wrestlemania Debut, Randy Orton and Batista, in a three on two handicap match. The numbers and youth of Evolution proved to be too much for the veterans as Randy Orton hit Mick Foley with an RKO and earned the victory for his team. Rey Mysterio's Wrestlemania record fell to 0-2 as he ended up being the last man eliminated in the Cruiserweight Invitational by champion Chavo Guerrero.
One of the most heavily hyped matches of the evening was a special inter-promotional match up between Smackdown's Brock Lesnar and Raw's Bill Goldberg, who had debuted in the company the year before after being famous in WCW's dying days. While many people became excited about this match, it was released a few days prior that neither competitor would stay with the WWE afterwards, as both had other ventures to pursue. As a result, the fans became upset at both performers and proceeded to boo, and taunt them both for the duration of the match in a really surreal moment. In the end, Bill Goldberg scored the victory, after the match special referee, Steve Austin, gave both men stunners on their way out of the company.
Another special inter-promotional match on the show featured The Undertaker returning for revenge, after literally being buried alive a few months prior, on his brother Kane. The Undertaker had not appeared on screen before this event, so in an exciting and nostalgic moment, he returned to his original Dead Man character, and defeated Kane, like he had done six years prior. The Undertaker's Wrestlemania record stood at 12-0.
In the top match on the Smackdown side of the company, newly crowned WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero, was set to defend his title against the man who had lost the main event the year before, Kurt Angle. Eddie became very popular with the fans for his infamous "Cheat to Win" mantra, as he was constantly breaking the rules in order to attain victory. During this match, Guerrero slipped his boot off, as a method of distracting Angle before rolling him up to retain the title.
On the Raw side, Triple H was set to defend the World Heavyweight Title against not one, but two men. For the first time in the event's history, Wrestlemania would feature a World Title match fought under triple threat rules, as both Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit challenged for the title. Benoit had earned this opportunity by completely defying the odds and lasting over an hour to win the Royal Rumble, after entering first.
The match is widely regarded as one of the best matches to take place in the history of wrestling, and it is not hard to see why. All three men fought hard and fast, and it appeared like it was going to end at any minute. In the ending moments, Michaels and Triple H threw Benoit through the announce table, returned to the ring and prepared to settle their rivalry on the grandest stage of them all. Just as the match appeared to end, Benoit rushed into the run and came out full of fire. He was able to throw Michaels from the ring, however, Triple H kicked Benoit and looked prepared to deliver a Pedigree for a victory. Somehow, Benoit countered the attempted Pedigree into his trademark Crippler Crossface. After several minutes locked in the hold, Triple H tapped out, delivering the victory, and title to Chris Benoit (to read McNutt's thoughts on the match, which seem surreal now considering the most recent events by Benoit, click here).
As Benoit's music blared, and confetti fell from the ceiling, Benoit's longtime friend, Eddie Guerrero came to the ring with his WWE Title, and the two men and champions, embraced in one of the most powerful moments in sports-entertainment. Both men, had worked very long and very hard, and finally right there had attained everything that they had ever dreamed of.
While I had planned on doing Wrestlemanias 21-23 today as well, this entry is far too long as is, and this seems like an excellent cut off anyway. But be sure to come back tomorrow then, as we get a three year lesson in thuganomics.
Until next time,