WrestleMania XXVIII (“28” for you non-Romans) provided a puzzling hodge-podge of sports entertainment that ran the gamut from sublime to ridiculous to ill-advised. I’m not sure where exactly to place the aggregate, but it felt less-than-spectacular.
Relax. This won’t be a Bleacher-Report-esque list of twenty-eight items riddled with grammatical errors.
I’m not interested in doing an in-depth review of the event from start to finish. There are probably thousands of writers scattered across the internet who have that covered. More to the point, it’s very late, and I’m only interested in putting together a quick take on each match from two perspectives: Entertainment value and business sense.
Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Sheamus (World Heavyweight Championship)
Entertainment: The match was less than twenty seconds in duration, so I didn’t have enough time to be entertained or bored.
Business: Horrible. I don’t care that it was “different” or “shocking.” This is the kind of treatment that should be reserved for a lesser title, if at all. Mysterio beating JBL or Kane beating Chavo Guerrero in short order is tolerable. This isn’t. Not only was this for the World Heavyweight Championship, but, even more importantly, Daniel Bryan is a character that WWE has done a wonderful job of building over the last six months. To have him lose is perfectly fine. But to lose like this? Regrettable.
As a side-note, the WWE is making less and less effort to pretend the World Heavyweight Championship is theoretically equal to the WWE Title. This, coupled with the perpetual “Super Shows,” continues to cause me to believe the brand extension may fade away as early as this year.
Kane vs. Randy Orton
Entertainment: This was a feud that the WWE threw together after Wade Barrett’s nasty arm injury. The match turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Both guys rose to the occasion, and no match on the card was a bigger shocker to me in terms of the winner and loser. Few people will remember this match even a year or two from now because of the lack of a compelling build-up, but this exceeded expectations in terms of in-ring performance.
Business: As I said, I was surprised Orton lost, but Kane probably needed the victory more. If the WWE wanted to maintain the idea that Kane is somehow more dangerous since his masked return, this was the way to go. The good news for Kane is that a win by Sheamus may mean he could get a main-event-level feud on Smackdown at some point soon. Orton is decorated enough and over enough to jump right back into a championship feud at any time.
Cody Rhodes (c) vs. The Big Show (Intercontinental Championship)
Entertainment: This was fine. A decent big guy vs. little guy match. Short and to the point.
Business: This was probably the right outcome. The Big Show needed to shake off the stigma of being a WrestleMania “choker,” as highlighted by this feud. Meanwhile, there seems to be a camp of supporters who see Cody as a possible World Champion in the near future. He may be a good opponent for Sheamus at some point in the months to come. Having said that, I think they could have made the opposite outcome work as well. Either way, this was a relatively-well-crafted angle with an acceptable ending.
Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounos vs. Eve Torres and Beth Phoenix
Entertainment: This was an above-average Divas match, especially considering that a celebrity was involved. I think Beth is under-appreciated. As per usual for a women’s match, it was under seven minutes. However, that made it the second-longest of the four matches contested up to that point in the show. Food for thought. Also as usual, everyone looked fantastic.
Business: I thought we might see an “upset” here, with Beth and Eve winning. Both of them had been pushed hard of late (Beth as a dominant champion, Eve as a villainous hussy). Kelly had taken a backseat among the Divas. She arguably got less face time or mic time than Beth, Eve, and the Bellas over the past couple of months. However, the celebrity factor won out. Spoiler: Celebrities / non-wrestling personalities don’t generally come to WrestleMania if they’re going to lose. Mr. T, Lawrence Taylor, Floyd Mayweather, Akebono, and even Snooki all won at the Showcase of the Immortals. So, no harm done by having Menounos win with a roll-up.
The Undertaker vs. Triple H (“End of an Era” / Hell in a Cell match)
Entertainment: These guys are old pros. They understood how to tell the proverbial story in the ring (with the help of fellow veteran Shawn Michaels as guest referee and Jim Ross as play-by-play announcer). The match itself was a retelling of a story we’ve seen each of the last four years. The involvement of HBK and the setting in the Cell spiced things up enough to keep it fresh. The symbolism at the end was obvious and well-executed. As a match, it was probably the third- or fourth-best of the last four matches Undertaker has had at WrestleMania, but that is such elite company that it doesn’t speak badly about the quality at all. Good match.
Business: The right guy won, and it would have been a crime had this gone the other way. Nothing against HHH, but, if (huge “IF”) the Streak ever ends, a veteran taking his third crack at ending it shouldn’t be the one to do it. I think we’ll see the Undertaker’s WrestleMania match go in a different direction next year (assuming he decides he wants another match, which I think he will). This one was an Ode to the Attitude Era without explicitly saying as much. All the elements were there, though.
My feelings on that particular time in wrestling history don’t seem to jibe with those of most of the people my vintage, but one point upon which we can agree is that the top performers were outstanding. I think this match will get better in hindsight as a result. If it truly was “the end of an era,” people who grew up on wrestling in the mid-to-late 90’s and early 2000’s can look back at this match as the last hurrah for what they might consider to be the golden age of pro wrestling in their lifetimes.
Team Johnny vs. Team Teddy
Entertainment: The problem here is that there were just too many people involved for it to have a decent flow or focus. Some of the highspots were very good, but matches with ten or more people standing on the apron or milling around outside inevitably have a clusterf**k feel. As predictable as the finish of the match was, I still enjoyed it, especially because Miz got the pinfall.
Business: This was the “let’s get everyone a payday” match, and, as I discussed on the podcast, it’s just a shame that breakout stars like Dolph Ziggler are semi-wasted in something like this. To the WWE’s credit, at least there was a real issue with consequences in play. Team Johnny winning seemed like the obvious creative direction, as that character has made some pretty impressive strides during his time in the spotlight (although there’s still a little ways to go, especially on live shows). Teddy Long being the GM of both shows wouldn’t be an awful thing, but it wouldn’t add much, either. Finally, as I said above, I was happy to see Miz get the pinfall. That gives fans of his (including me) a glimmer of hope that the company may still have a bit of faith in him.
C. M. Punk (c) vs. Chris Jericho (WWE Championship)
Entertainment: I thought this was clearly the best match of the night. For all the praise that the Cena / Punk matches got last year, I thought this surpassed both of them in most respects. Creative spots, a good ebb-and-flow, and a nice finish that led to the inevitable outcome. I liked that Jericho played off the announced DQ stipulation early in the match, which made for some funny moments, but then got down to business as he and Punk put on a terrific show. I also thought that, unlike most of the matches Chris Jericho had toward the end of his last two tenures in WWE, Punk did an excellent job of making Jericho look formidable.
Business: Jericho is the best in the world in my book, and the mark in me would have loved to see him get the WWE Title for a month, but this was undoubtedly the right call. Jericho is probably leaving again in the foreseeable future, but I’m confident he and Punk will give us a series of classics before that time comes. I can’t wait.
Interlude: I need to talk about this briefly. After the WWE Title match, viewers saw an abrupt cut leading into an inexplicable Broadus Clay promo / dance routine. Then we got the Rock / Cena video package for the millionth time, followed by live musical performances by MGK and Flo Rida. In all, we had about a half-hour of non-wrestling between the final bell in Punk / Jericho and the opening bell of Rock / Cena. That should not happen at WrestleMania.
To be clear: I’m all for super production values, and I heaped praise upon WWE last year for their presentation of WrestleMania, particularly the main event. However, I think some of the awkward cuts, aspects of the live performances (a semi-coherent Sean “Puffy” Combs out of nowhere), and failure to clear the self-created high bar for pre-main-event entrances set last year were big negatives for this show to varying degrees.
Oh, and one last thing. Am I the only one who remembers Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist? Just curious.
The Rock vs. John Cena (“Once in a Lifetime” match)
Entertainment: A good effort by both guys, especially Cena. I got the impression Rock was blown up at one point, although (1) I certainly can’t be sure about that, and (2) it would be understandable, since he hasn’t worked a one-on-one match in seven or eight years, much less a main event at WrestleMania. It might be a slight exaggeration to say Cena carried this match . . . but perhaps not. The battle skewed a bit “punchy-kicky” for my tastes, but that wasn’t unexpected. From a purely entertainment standpoint, I thought the finish was well-crafted. I was pleasantly surprised the match was clean, although . . .
Business: . . . this was a bad decision. Other than the way Daniel Bryan was booked to lose, I think putting the Rock over was the worst call of the weekend. Again, I say this from the objective point of view. Subjectively, I would want Chris Jericho to be carrying around the WWE Title right now. But, for much the same reason that Jericho losing makes sense, so, too, would it have made sense to have Cena triumph over the Rock.
Having the guy who’s going to be there five nights a year go over at the expense of a guy who will be there 300 nights a year is bad for business. It also essentially validates the perception of the casual fans who think “wrestling was better ten years ago” or “Cena is only on top because the real wrestlers aren’t around anymore!” But there may be an even bigger problem.
The WWE and Cena seemed to make it pretty clear during the “embrace the hate” angle that Cena isn’t turning heel. Yet, rather than rising above hate paying off, exactly what Roddy Piper and Kane predicted came to pass. I’m just not sure where that leaves this character. If they want Cena to remain at an elite level for another five-to-ten years, they need to be more careful.
This isn’t about winning and losing, per se. Losing to Miz last year was a good decision. Losing to Punk was a good decision. Losing to the Rock was not. Even in Miami.
I can’t blame the Rock for this. I’m just surprised that WWE creative didn’t go the same ultimate route they did with Rock and Hulk Hogan. That angle ended up with Hogan putting over the Rock at WrestleMania and then again at a later PPV.
Our best-case scenario now is that Cena develops a new wrinkle to his character and/or the Rock becomes at least a semi-regular. Otherwise, none of this makes a lick of sense.
Overall Final Thoughts: There was some good (HHH/Undertaker, Punk/Jericho) and some pretty good (most of the undercard, especially Kane/Orton), but there was also some fairly bad (the decision to put Rock over at Cena’s expense) and some terrible (the Bryan booking, the Clay segment, the weird Deadliest Catch and Flo Rida vs. Heath Slater backstage vignettes).
If I were grading this show, I couldn’t go higher than a C+, which is low for a WrestleMania. What’s troubling is that the WWE seemed to be hitting its PPV stride in mid-to-late 2011, with an incredible Money in the Bank and good SummerSlam and Survivor Series shows. The company hasn’t touched that level of success of late.
The good news is that, like the pizza of which I consumed copious amounts last night, even when WrestleMania is “bad,” it’s still pretty tasty.
More specific to WrestleMania is the creeping trend of favoring entertainment spectacles over some of the wrestling elements. Non-wrestling personalities have always been a part of the show, but things are starting to take a decided turn. I still can’t get over the half-hour gap in the show.
I don’t need to have iron man matches or technical exhibitions at every opportunity, but there’s also a happy medium to hit. It’s bad enough that WWE PPVs now include normal commercials, but adding to that base by also incorporating a nonsensical vignette about a fishing-related reality show is frustrating.
As for the narrative and character development, the best thing and the worst thing about the WWE are, in fact, the same thing: Whatever you or I may have disliked or liked about WrestleMania may be washed away and forgotten by the cleansing power of a segment or two on tonight’s RAW. My optimism about the Miz may be dashed just as easily as my concerns over the direction of Cena’s character are assuaged.
Here’s hoping for the latter.