Wrestlemania always elicits excitement among fans and the wrestlers. Over the years, the event has grown exponentially, to the point where the show now takes place at football stadiums that can accommodate as many as 80,000 people. In fact, the last ‘Mania held at a regular sized arena was the 21st edition, at the Staples Center, in Los Angeles. The night began with a match between friends. And, what a battle it was!
Eddie Guerrero faced off against his WWE tag team championship partner, Rey Mysterio. This was a spectacular match, with lots of high-flying, technical wrestling, and reversals from both men. The end of the match came when Rey hit a hurricanrana flip on Eddie for the final pin, to the delight of the crowd. Eddie was upset with the end result, because his reasoning for wanting this match was to prove he could beat Rey. Despite his disappointment, he shook hands with Mysterio, and the two friends continued their reign as tag team champions. What a great match this was, and it was good to see their friendship continue afterwards.
Wrestlemania 21 also saw the first ever “Money in the Bank” ladder match. To be victorious, a wrestler must climb a ladder and retrieve a briefcase, which holds a contract for a WWE title match at any point during the year. The participants included Shelton Benjamin, Chris Jericho, Edge, Chris Benoit, Christian and Kane. One of the great highlights of the match occurred when Kane was lying on the mat. Benoit climbed to the top of a ladder, and performed a diving headbutt on his foe. The fans gasped at this feat. That move could have caused some serious injuries.
Later, Benoit ascended the ladder, but so did Kane. When they met at the top, Chris headbutted his adversary, causing him to fall. Just when it seemed like Benoit was going to grab the briefcase, Edge re-entered the match with a steel chair, and attacked Benoit’s arm. Edge then climbed to the top of the ladder, unhooked the briefcase to win the match. All eight men put their bodies on the line, but sadly, there was only one winner. The fans were not happy with the result, but they were thrilled with what they witnessed.
One of the top matches on the card featured Shawn Michaels against Kurt Angle. This match saw some ring psychology, and lots of counterholds. Late in the match, Angle tried an ‘Angle Slam,’ but Shawn reversed it into a roll-up. Angle, however, reversed it into his ‘Ankle Lock’ submission, but Shawn escaped that and tried his ‘superkick’, but Angle caught his opponent’s foot, and connected with the Angle Slam. A two count was all that the referee managed, and fans sensed Angle’s frustration. Angle then applied his ‘Ankle Lock’ later to try and end the match. Shawn displayed his toughness, and tried not to tap out. But, eventually he had no choice but to submit. Kurt Angle emerged victorious from this hard-fought match. The fans enjoyed every minute of what they saw. I think this match equaled the skill and quality of the Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage match from Wrestlemania 3. High quality wrestling, with outstanding moves.
Wrestlemania 22 saw some scintillating moments. Fans in attendance and those watching at home witnessed a Hardcore Match between Edge and Mick Foley. In my opinion, this opitimized what a Hardcore Match should be, as both wrestlers took full advantage of the stipulation.
Weapons like baseball bats, road signs, a table and barbed wire baseball bats were all used. The end came when Foley doused a table, which was placed on the arena floor, with lighter fluid. The intention was to light the table on fire. However, before he could do that, Lita (Edge’s storyline girlfriend at the time,) attacked Foley with the barbed wire baseball bat. With Mick down, she lit the table. Foley attempted to re-enter the ring, but got as far as the apron. Edge then speared his opponent through the flaming table to win the match. What an ending! Both men put their bodies through a lot. They displayed a lot of passion and the fans enjoyed every minute of this battle. It was high drama!
The main event was for the World Heavyweight Title as Randy Orton battled Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio. The end came once Rey saw Orton draped over the ropes. He took the opportunity to perform his 6-1-9 move, and then performed a splash off the top rope to get the pin. As a result, Rey Mysterio became the new Champion, much to the delight of the crowd. This was a great, fast-paced match, and Rey winning provided a ‘feel good’ moment, as he saluted his late friend, Eddie Guerrero, who passed away a few months before the event. It also showed that regardless of your size, if you persevere, you will achieve your dreams.
Ford Field, in Detroit, Michigan, hosted Wrestlemania 23. There were great matches, and memories were made. The main event was for the WWE Championship, as John Cena fought Shawn Michaels. The challenger dominated most of the match. This match was full of swift action and tremendous counter moves. Shawn tried his superkick to end the bout, but Cena kicked out at two. The champion then attempted to finish the match by performing the FU (later re-named the Attitude Adjustment,) but the challenger countered. Cena then countered that, took Shawn down, and applied the STF submission. Michaels tried to hang on for as long as he could. But, eventually, he tapped out, allowing John Cena to retain the title. This was a tremendous match, as both men performed admirably, and should be proud of their efforts. Shawn was disappointed with the outcome, but the next year, he would match up against a legend.
The beautiful, warm setting of the Florida Citrus Bowl, in Orlando was the site of Wrestlemania 24. Among the many big matches, was a ‘career-threatening match’ where Ric Flair put his career at stake against Shawn Michaels. This one was filled with emotion – you could sense it in the crowd. Flair performed very well in this match. He did all his regular moves – the kneedrop, the hard chops, and multiple attempts at his famous figure-four leglock.
The ending was one of the most dramatic in the history of pro wrestling. Shawn nailed Flair with his superkick, but was hesitant to make the cover – he knew what would happen if he did. With Flair down, Shawn stood in a corner. He waited for his opponent to rise and mouthed ‘I’m sorry, I love you,’ before superkicking Flair again. This time, Shawn went for the pin, and got the victory. Ric Flair’s in-ring career was over. This was a heart-wrenching match. For fans, it was tough seeing one of the all-time greats end his career, and for Shawn, it had to be difficult to be the one to end his hero’s career. The fans gave Flair a well-deserved standing ovation, as tears streamed down his cheeks. Even Shawn displayed some emotion. Both men should be applauded for putting on a solid match, it is just sad that someone had to lose. As much I understood the reason to put Shawn over in this match, it would have been fantastic for Flair to end his career on a high, with a win.
Handicap matches occur often in the WWE. Some are great, some just fall flat. The one at Wrestlemania 25 was entertaining. Chris Jericho wrestled three legends: Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat in an elimination match. Once Piper and Snuka were eliminated, Jericho and Steamboat put on a classic.
This was Steamboat’s first time in the ring in 14 years, and it did not look like he missed a beat. Jericho and Steamboat thrilled the audience, trading chops and other wrestling holds. Ricky performed some dropkicks and flips as well, wowing the crowd. To end the match, Jericho attempted a suplex, but Ricky flipped over. Chris, however, thought quickly, and applied his ‘codebreaker’ for the win. Jericho won the match, but the bigger story for me, was how crisp Steamboat looked in the ring after being away for so long. I am sure, if he is willing, he can still put on a great match with someone on today’s roster.
Wrestlemania 26 was staged at the University of Phoenix Stadium, in Glendale, Arizona. Around 75,000 people witnessed many memorable moments, like the final match in the legendary career of Shawn Michaels, in a loss to the Undertaker. Another of the exciting matches featured two Canadians.
Edge challenged Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship. After several submission and pin attempts from both men, a clothesline sent the wrestlers to the arena floor. Jericho grabbed the championship, and the referee got hit by accident. As he was recovering, Jericho nailed Edge with the belt, but only got a two count. Edge then sauntered to his feet, where Chris applied the ‘codebreaker’ for the pin, and retained his title. These two wrestlers performed tremendously. Sure, it ended with Jericho winning underhandedly, but that does not take away from the display of action shown by two proud Canadians.
The Georgia Dome, in Atlanta, Georgia was the setting for Wrestlemania 27, and what a night it was. One of the tremendous matches on the show was C.M. Punk battling Randy Orton. Fans were into this one from the beginning. They were split at different portions chanting ‘RKO and GTS’ (the finishing moves of both men, respectively.)
During the match, Punk worked on Orton’s knee. As the battle progressed, Orton found some inner strength, and tried to kick Punk hard in the head, but his knee gave way. Punk grinned, as he realized that Orton was struggling. Punk was able to slide to the ring apron to avoid an RKO by Orton. As Punk tried to jump back into the ring, he was met suddenly with an RKO for the finish. This was a beautifully crafted and well executed match. Both wrestlers used some ring psychology, and got into each other’s head. The fans enjoyed this battle, and in the end, I don’t think they would have cared who won, as both men told a great story and performed valiantly.
The WWE returned to Florida for Wrestlemania 28. The extravaganza that year was held at Sun Life Stadium in Miami. The Rock defeated John Cena and Sheamus defeated Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds. But, one of the other great showdowns was for the WWE Championship as the champion C.M. Punk took on Chris Jericho.
There were many holds and counterholds in this one, and the crowd enjoyed every second of this match. Punk tried for the victory with his ‘Anaconda Vice’ submission. Jericho, however, rolled that into a pin attempt, but Punk rolled back into the ‘Vice’ submission. After some kicks to the head, Jericho tried his ‘Walls of Jericho’ submission, but Punk countered once again into the ‘Anaconda Vice.’ But, this time, the champion applied the move better, and increased the pressure on Jericho. With that, the challenger had no choice but to tap out. C.M. Punk retained the championship, surviving a hard-fought contest. The crowd was divided between both wrestlers, but they appreciated what they witnessed, and they loved all the counterholds from both these stellar wrestlers.
Metlife Stadium, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, was the site of Wrestlemania 29. Personally, I was hoping to see some snow, just to see how the wrestlers would deal with it. The main events saw The Rock against John Cena again, and the Undertaker extend his Wrestlemania undefeated streak to 21-0 with a victory over C.M. Punk. How does the Undertaker continue to come out on top? That is a fantastic winning streak, and I hope that when he decides to call it a career, he can do it with the Wrestlemania undefeated streak intact. But, one of the early matches on the card saw the debut of a new star.
Chris Jericho battled Fandango (Johnny Curtis.) Jericho started the match aggressively, by chopping his opponent hard in the chest. He performed a cross-body, a ‘codebreaker’, and the Walls of Jericho at different points in the match. But, the young wrestler just would not surrender. Fandango tried his top-rope legdrop, but the veteran, Jericho moved. Chris then hit his Lionsault flip, but fell awkwardly on his knee. With relentless perseverance, he continued the match, and wanted to finish it with the Walls of Jericho, but Fandango turned it into a small package for the upset win. The 80,000 plus fans at the Stadium were completely stunned with this outcome, and so was I. I did not expect Jericho to lose a match like that. How could it have occurred? What was the reason behind that win? But, a win over a veteran like Chris, helped make Fandango become more recognized. He became a bigger star for a while, because of the win.
Wrestlemania has always been the premiere event on the WWE calendar. Memorable matches and unforgettable moments occur. Stars are made at this event, and even those who have been with the company for a while, look forward to competing at this annual spectacular. This year’s event will take place at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. I am sure there will be a few surprises, and the fans will voice their opinions, especially if they see something they do not approve of. One thing is guaranteed – fans will be in for a superb evening.
I would like to thank all of you for joining me on this journey, and re-living some memories of past Wrestlemania’s. Enjoy Wrestlemania 30 – a special milestone, and hopefully fans will be in store for a special night.