WRESTLEMANIA 28 Preview/20 Best Matches in Wrestlemania History(WM 28 Review is now here too)

Friday, March 30, 2012

My 2012 Royal Rumble preview/review was here.  I do previews of the four quarterly major WWE PPVs, and in one form or another, have been doing this since just after WM 12.

'Cause I'm old.

Wrestlemania 28 is Sunday from Miami.

 Here's the card.

 The Rock vs. John Cena
 -The best moment of a particularly chatty Wrestlemania build was the Rock's, and perhaps fitting in a year when a silent movie won Best Picture, it was when he didn't say a word.

John Cena, unsurprisingly, had been received as the decidedly lesser of the two entertainers for the bulk of the year long build to this year's main event - until during an in ring back and forth promo he called out the Rock for having his scripted bullet points written on his wrist.

It's an interesting criticism; on its face "you have your words written for you" falls as it would be like saying "Rock wouldn't have ever won a match if not for predetermined booking".  Rock's scripted, Cena's scripted, it's scripted, that's how it works. It put me in the mind of the "Obama uses a teleprompter" argument from the right wing; these guys have speechwriters, that didn't start when the President's kid was named Malia and not Amy.

But the perception of authenticity, of being "real" is coin of the realm; you watch enough reality TV and you recognize that "you're fake" is the ultimate 21st century slur - Fake is the new F word.  And that's how Rock reacted - when Cena said Rock was reading from his wrist - Rock immediately bowed up, went chest to chest with Cena and the buzz was noticeable, "These guys are gonna go - they're really gonna go."

That should have been the go home moment.  Had that been the last moment of the last show before this match, there would have been fans willing to pay money to see them fight - and that's the very core of why the entire industry exists.

The moment worked because Rock sold it. Cena landed a blow and the Rock reacted like it had landed.

Cena would not have done the same.

The most important element of the John Cena character as sussed out over the course of the build is that he is unbothered by criticism.  Say whatever you want about him - he doesn't care, he "rises above hate".  And that's an element of today as well, the "I just brush it all off my shoulders" posture favored by hip hop culture.  It penetrated wrestling, I'd suggest, with the Clique - a loss, no matter how big, didn't really matter, an insult, no matter how true, was just chatter - in your mind's eye you can see Shawn Michaels smirk or Hall and Nash wag their fingers in that "I'm soooo scared" motion; the Clique made emotional untouchability their brand.  Weakness doesn't move merch.

But constant strength doesn't engender passion.  Does anyone really care about Triple H?  His active, full time in ring career has clearly ended.  Did anyone cry?  Hunter lost to the Undertaker at last year's Wrestlemania - and the storyline for the rematch is its the Undertaker who has something to prove.  The Hunter character is only concerned with the loss of business that might result from the loss of the Undertaker character.

And when the Rock calls Cena "Fruity Pebbles" as a shorthand for, "you're a corporately created character geared just for children" - Cena laughs it off and becomes a cereal pitchman.

And that's the most fake thing of all.

Because being bothered by being insulted, being bothered by losing titles and matches is real - if you're not, either you're fake - or the whole thing is fake.  When you no sell "Cena Sucks", when no selling Cena Sucks becomes your primary character trait - either you aren't real or the whole thing isn't real - you might as well put the finishes of the matches on everyone's wrist.  We don't want to see the teleprompter - we want to think "these guys are gonna go."

Unfortunately, that moment, the best moment of the build for Wrestlemania 28, wasn't on the go home show, it was a month ago.  And over the past month we've just had two famous guys being famous in the general vicinity of each other.  I'd encourage you to watch the hour long Rock/Cena hype show WWE put together.

It's terrible. Rock knows famous people, Cena knows famous people, they're both very busy, music plays in the background.  But there was literally not a second in the entire hour where there was a reason why they were in a fight, other than they're the two most famous guys WWE could get into a ring on April 1 2012.

I saw the show on the Style Network.  Which is where it belonged.  It's just a show, no different than any of the Rock's movies.  None of which I'll pay to see.

Someone will win Sunday.  And on Monday, no one will care.

As a booking matter, I'd put Rock over.  There are lots of reasons people dislike John Cena, but they can largely be distilled into the belief that his constant push erodes the reality of the world they've created.  If Cena wins the reaction will be "Goddamn WWE, they keep shoving Cena down our throats, there's no way he beats the Rock."

But if Cena does his very best and loses - and it matters to him - if the go to promo line that always gets under Cena's skin is "you aren't as good as the Rock" - it makes Cena more "real" - it undermines the most basic element underlying the Cena dislike, it provides an immediate entrypoint to any future Cena program, and it sets up a rematch, even if its five years from now.

As a match - eh.  They're sports entertainers. Cena's in ring work is consistently overrated, and the Rock, even at his best, was more entertainer than wrestler.  They'll get plenty of time and the crowd will be smoking hot, it'll be worth watching once but probably not more than that.(3 1/2 stars; it was fine, although too long as Rock got a little blown up.  Rock went over clean with Cena, in storyline, making a mistake, getting overly confident and costing himself a win.  That's an interesting book)

 The Undertaker vs. HHH in Hell in A Cell with Shawn Michaels as special referee
 - The Dead Guy will win.

This has been a pretty boring build, boring enough that they couldn't even come up with a segment for the go home show.  A year ago, Undertaker kept his streak by beating Hunter in a match similar to his beating Shawn the two years previous.  They were all really good, really overrated matches.  A generation ago, Meltzer gave negative 5 stars to the Hogan/Andre match, because there was a recognition that famous guys staring at each other wasn't the same as workrate.  The last 3 Undertaker matches weren't Hogan/Andre (for both good and ill) but they weren't Misawa v. Kawada either.  I've forgotten which one it was, I think the first 'Taker/Shawn, Meltzer went 4 3/4 or 5 stars and really dismissively spoke about any rating that dropped below, say 4 1/2.  Then Misawa died.  Meltzer spoke about rewatching some of those mid 90s All Japan matches and said that if Shawn/Taker was 5 stars then some of those Misawa matches must be 6.

I'd assume this will be more of the same, both guys are a year further away from youth but neither has been troubled by doing any wrestling recently.  The Cell gimmick is smart to protect their limitations, but hasn't really been part of the build.

Neither has anything else.  The core of a good idea for a build is here - Shawn was always better than Hunter, the Undertaker retired Shawn, therefore, Hunter beating Shawn would give his career a "I'm not just a Hall of Famer because of my wife, honest" coda.  

The problem is nothing's been done to make us believe any of that.  That's an angle built on the fragility of Hunter's ego, and Hunter's not fragile, he's the Game.  That's an angle built on the idea that Shawn's ego is so outsized that he would rather his best friend lost a match than be perceived as having eclipsed him. And late career Shawn is no longer the Showstopper, he's Saint HBK. That's an angle built on a crack in the Hunter/Shawn friendship, and they'll be inducting Mike Tyson into the WWE Hall of Fame Saturday night.  That's an angle that required some real depth of character analysis given the historical importance of all three guys, some pretaped interview segments where each guy sat down one on with with JR and were treated like veteran athletes; and it just felt like no one wanted to work that hard to build up this match.  Rock/Cena was on top - and they kind of mailed this program in.  (3 3/4 stars; this is the 4th straight year of this 30 minute Undertaker match that relies much more on drama than athleticism; I think each one has gotten a little bit worse than the one before; I liked the violence, but there was a real lack of mobility - and the storyline was a few notches overwrought; they started pressing the "Shawn should stop the match" button about ten minutes too early. I think I liked the story told conceptually more than in practice - I'm unsure the actual match they gave us quite reached the match they were telling us it was in the story of the match. I'm in the minority, but this wasn't the best match on the show. Watching it a third time, I'm willing to go 4 stars.  ) 

WWE Champion CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho

 - When last we left the lineal WWF Champion was CM Punk and it still is.  That's a good thing; you want the title in as few hands as possible, so it can be the focus of a program.

And that's what it looked like this program was going to focus on - Punk's the champ and says he's the best wrestler in the world.  Jericho's a former champ and says he's better.  The two main event matches couldn't focus a build on in ring work, but this match clearly could be about the title belt - and the build to it could have featured each man wrestling good, television matches where they beat top guys and looked like good wrestlers doing it.  Cena/Rock is the star match, Taker/HHH is the veteran match - and the title matches can be about wrestling.

Until they decided that wasn't enough to build a match on, so they stopped talking about the title, stopped talking about wrestling, and focused on Jericho quasi shooting on Punk's family.  Punk's dad's a recovering alcoholic, his sister a recovering drug addict - Punk's mom (quelle horreur!) was pregnant before she got married.  

And that Punk sold - Cena doesn't care when you say he's a corporate product epitomizing everything that's wrong with the WWF, that the inability of adult men to believe that he could beat anyone up is one of the stark contrasts between WWF and the product they actually do purchase, UFC.  But Punk is driven to rage by the thought that his mom got knocked up before marriage.  

I hated this program.  Not every match can be set up in the ring - but this one, this one could have cleanly been about who the better wrestler is, who deserves to be WWF Champion more, this match could have focused on the history, the lineage of the WWF title, the history of WWF title matches at Wrestlemania - you could have sold this match to fans who care about wrestling matches - here's Punk who was the WWE's best wrestler in terms of match quality in 2011 - and the reason Jericho came back to the company was to beat him at Wrestlemania in a great wrestling match and take his World Title.  So easy to do and instead it became about Jericho wanting to see Punk drink.  I hated, hated, hated this program.

I assume this will be the best match of the night.  I'll say Jericho goes over. (3 3/4 - this was the best match on the show; I loved the back half of this match and am superclose to four stars; the crowd didn't love the first half of the match, which is not something I get overly worked up by...I may revisit this ranking, but right now, I'm good here, and I liked it more than the other match. I revisited.  4 stars.)

Undertaker obviously goes over.  I assume Cena goes over.   (

Smackdown Champion Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus
- When last we left, Bryan (the best wrestler in the hemisphere) was the champ.  He still is.  This is a very good thing.

The best thing that ever happened to Danielson was the move to Smackdown; injuries to Orton and Henry opened the door a little bit wider to accommodate the push of his heel character (which is now a little less chickenshit heel and more focused on his bullying his prop girlfriend). He's escaped the "well, maybe he can work some independent matches for the internet nerds, but he sure has no charisma" coffin that the company looked to bury him in and become the lead promo guy on Friday nights.  Right now, there's really not a babyface in the company, including Cena, who they couldn't slide Danielson into a program with.  

That hasn't translated into great wrestling matches yet, although Danielson has had a handful of good TV matches in this run, but a move up the card means more match time - and more match time will mean better matches - and if you can both get over with promos and ring work that makes your opponent look good, there's an increasing chance to have a WWE career that looks more like Punk's than like Low Ki's.  

Which, if Bryan Danielson is your favorite ever North American wrestler who didn't kill his wife and child, is a good thing.

This is a pretty simple program, which is perfectly fine - Danielson's the undeserving champ, Sheamus the fighting heel who has been trying to get his hands on him.  I'm hoping it gets 15 minutes, I'll settle for 12, if it's 8, I riot.  Sure, I'll be watching it on my computer probably Tuesday morning, but I'll riot nonetheless.  I assume Sheamus takes.  

(Dear Jim, Fuck you. Love, Vince)

Intercontinental champion Cody Rhodes vs. Big Show
-Cody Rhodes has been IC Champ since August, that's the longest run in like 7 years.  He's done a good promo job and done a good promo job in this program with the Show, which focuses on how Show's had some crappy Wrestlemania matches.  That's a little kind of Rhodes, as Show's had crappy matches in tons of other shows too.  There's zero chance this is a good match, so I'm not interested.  A switch seems unlikely, but maybe a rage related DQ screwjob type of thing. (They switched - just gave the big guy the belt in a nothing match).  

 Randy Orton vs. Kane
-It's a lost half year for Orton, who presumably is still the company's second biggest full time act.   He did a rare for the WWF clean sheet program loss to a heel, Mark Henry, who was below him on the roster.  But then Henry got hurt - so Orton didn't get revenge.  Orton had a largely 50/50 program with another heel below him on the roster, Wade Barrett, but then Barrett got hurt - so Orton couldn't get the definitive blow off win. More importantly, Orton's had a series of concussions, and we live in a post "hey 8 year olds, go do a thousand soccer headers and then take some laps" world (speaking from experience).  Randy Orton's ringwork could generously be called safe in the best of conditions, so there's
some reason for pessimism about his future.  This is just filler - Orton goes over in a bad match. (Kane went over in a bad match)

Team Johnny:  David Otunga & Dolph Ziggler & Jack Swagger & Mark Henry & Miz & Drew McIntyre vs. Team Teddy:     Santino Marella & Great Khali & Zack Ryder & Kofi Kingston & R Truth & Booker T
-Speaking of filler...

So, RAW has a heel general manager, Smackdown a babyface general manager - after Mania one of them will be running both shows.  The RAW team is better; I'm going to say the Smackdown team goes over.  This is a workrate downgrade from the Money in the Bank match that its replacing. Otunga sucks, Ziggler's a future Mania headliner, Swagger's stalled and could go either way, Henry got over with people who aren't me last year, his next good match will be his first, McIntrye's not bad, I have always assumed he'd carve out a career; I forgot Miz, and I'm not the only one - he was in last year's main event and since has slipped further and further down the card; Santino's charms are lost on me; Khali's one of the worst wrestlers who ever lived; Ryder had some youtube related buzz in 2011 that has probably passed, Kofi's good in a limiting gimmick, Killings is just a guy, and Booker's an announcer filling a babyface spot they couldn't put Rey in because he's not ready to go yet. (Not really any reason to have had this match)

 A Women's Match With Maria Menounos

And that's all I got for that one. 

And now that's all I have about that one.  

The biggest stars not on the card are Christian (apparently injury related) and Del Rio (apparently not). Some good main roster workers not on the card are Kidd/Tatsu and the now injured Bourne. Speculation is perhaps Brodus Clay (don't care) is added for a squash and the tag title (Colons, maybe vs. Usos) might be a dark match.  (A perfectly reasonable 7 minute dark match, with a Kidd/Gabriel tag team added to the mix)

The top four matches should all be good - nothing else on the show is likely to reach that level.  How long they give the two title matches is probably the difference between a really good Mania and a reasonable show.  Having both Punk and Danielson in matches that presumably will be given a decent amount of time is a significant upgrade from recent Manias, so it's a show that I'm looking forward to watching.  (It's a good thing I watched the show the following day, because then I could just laugh at what they did to Danielson, because I recognize that Vince couldn't possibly care less about my end of his customer base.  I always hope they'll give me good matches to justify the amount of energy I put into thinking about the product, but I've been here for a long time, I get Vince's deal.)  

It's possible that one of those matches will make this list...(I really did like the last half of Jericho/Punk, but right now it doesn't make the list.)

The Best 20 Matches in Wrestlemania History are here; before WM30 my aim is to rewatch each match in Mania history and give them new grades.  

1. Razor Ramon d. HBK (10)

2. Owen Hart d. Bret Hart (10)

-I have these as the only five star matches in WM history; one could order them in either way.

3.Bret Hart d. Steve Austin (13)

4.Ricky Steamboat d. Randy Savage (3) (You remember Wrestlemania 3, brother - Andre the Giant had been dead for a week and a half and rigor mortis had driven up his body weight to eleven hundred pounds; as I stood in the ring I didn't know if he was going to do business or not; but when I lifted his corpse high over my head and heard those 2.6 million Hulkamaniacs in the Silverdome cheering me on, brother, I felt his life essence flow into my vital organs; and it was at that moment that I invented the NWO.  I went to the back and called Ted Turner, who was running old tapes of Ric Flair wrestling a pig in the Omni...)

5.HBK d. Bret Hart  (12)

6. Chris Benoit d. HBK d. HHH (20)

7. Kurt Angle d. Shawn Michaels (21)

-I've got all of these matches at either 4 3/4 or 4 1/2, the distance among them is slight enough that I wouldn't object to really any ordering.  

8. Edge/Christian d. Hardys d. Dudleys (16)

9. Edge/Christian d. Hardys d. Dudleys (17)

10.Randy Savage d. Ric Flair (8)

11.Undertaker d. Shawn Michaels (25)

-These are the 4 1/4 matches, there's more distance between the prior group and this group than between this group and the rest of the top 20, which consists of nothing but 4 star matches.  So, you could order this group in any way that suits you - and really could intermix this group with the balance of the remainder of this list in any way and not draw too much objection from me.  

12. Brock Lesnar d. Kurt Angle (19)

13. Undertaker d. Shawn Michaels (26)

14. Money in the Bank (Edge) (21)

15. Steve Austin d. Rock (15)

16. Kurt Angle d. Chris Benoit (17)

17. Eddy Guerrero d. Kurt Angle (20)

18. Bret Hart d. Roddy Piper (8)

19. Shawn Michaels d. Chris Jericho (19)

20. Undertaker v. HHH (27)


Blog said...

How in the world could you talk about the build of Daniel Bryan since the Royal Rumble and not give any more than a parenthetical reference to AJ? She has been phenomenal in her role as the modern-day Elizabeth (a shame she isn't his real-life girlfriend, as maybe some of Danielson's wrestling ability might rub off on her...then again, it hasn't done that Bella chick much good) and has taken the D-Bry act to a whole new level, to the point where I think there's actually a chance that they might keep the belt on him post-Wrestlemania. Personally, I think they should keep both the belt on him and the AJ/Bryan angle going until at least WM29.

Other than that, great commentary, especially the Rock/Cena stuff. I didn't agree with many other parts of it, but it was all very well written.

John DeWolfe said...

I have to agree 100% with the previous comment... D-Bry and his ongoing descent into Macho Madness is the best thing they've done with the Smackdown title ever, and his treating AJ like crap is a huge part of why it's working. I'd hold off until he had at least a one year reign under his belt before anyone took it from him.

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