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Thoughts on WrestleMania XXVI

March 29th, 2010 3 comments
 

A heartbreaker: Michaels waves farewell following his loss to the Undertaker at WrestleMania.

 

ShowMiz vs. Morrison, Truth: I’m still enough of an old-school fan to be bothered that a World tag-team title match opens the card and then goes three minutes. Wow. The entrances were the highlight, but at least they kept ShowMiz rolling, if anything for the chemistry between the two.

Randy Orton vs. Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes: Orton won as expected. The confusing buildup was evident as the crowd was pretty quiet most of the way. Rhodes and Orton are apparently through, as the product of Dusty’s loins and the Million Dollar Son ended up fighting with each over who would finish Orton. These moments of dissention enabled Orton to double DDT both of his protégés into the ring (a silly spot that made Rhodes and DiBiase look helpless…but the crowd loved it) and then slip in for an RKO on DiBiase to get the win. DiBiase got a little color; it might have been accidental, as I thought blading was currently banned. Ted seemed to be more of the babyface between the two remaining Legacy members at the end, but they didn’t pull the trigger post-match so the spotlight could instead shine on Orton. Not the huge pop you’d expect for the first big match after Orton’s apparent babyface turn. (I’m still thinking this could be a swerve, with Orton shifting back heel on RAW after Rhodes and DiBiase finally split tonight.

Ladder Match: Some pretty cool spots throughout—including Ziggler’s wicked fall off the ladder onto the top rope throat-first (an extreme version of the hotshot), Kofi’s stilt-walking with a broken ladder and slow ascension toward the briefcase before McIntyre cut him off, and Drew’s bump where he crotched himself on the top rope when it appeared he had the briefcase won. There’s a spot every year that’s mistimed and a guy has to wait forever before he’s stopped from grabbing the briefcase; yesterday, it was pudgy Matt Hardy who had his fingers on the case for a while until Christian was finally able to tilt over on another ladder to cut him off. (Perhaps Hardy’s hands were covered in chocolate sauce, hindering his grip.) I was predicting Swagger as he fits the mold of the young cocky star whom would benefit most from the gimmick. (From my house in Los Angeles, I think I could hear Vince screaming at the monitor backstage as Swagger struggled to unhook his prize, but he eventually got it.) Clearly, they’ve got big plans for the kid—I thought it was a good omen that Swagger came out wearing a singlet straight out of Kurt Angle’s wardrobe. Entertaining bout that, thankfully, didn’t seem quite as dangerous as in years past.

Triple H vs. Sheamus: You can knock Trips all you want (and I do…often), but the guy knows how to put together a match. This was the best I’ve seen Sheamus look, and the fans were into this one most of the way. Thing is, people would be really talking about this match today if Sheamus had gotten the win—he’d have been a made guy. Still, Sheamus looked good in losing, so if they shoot the right angle tonight, I believe the interest would be there in continuing the issue between the two. Great false finish with Trips escaping the pin attempt following the bicycle kick. After a second kick, Trips appeared to be unconscious but surprised Sheamus with a kick to the stomach and sloppy pedigree to get the win. Really, HHH should have called an audible after the poor execution and delivered a second pedigree to put him away, but that’s nitpicking. Good bout.

Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk: Sadly, they weren’t given enough time to put together the classic they’re capable of. I understand the theory behind a Divas match to settle the crowd after Jericho/Edge before bringing them back up for Cena/Batista, but Rey and Punk would have greatly benefitted from about another six minutes. Still, we saw shades of the excellent chemistry that should make this one of the most intriguing feuds through the summer, most likely culminating with the mask vs. hair match at SummerSlam. Punk’s character is simply fantastic, and his promos are some of the best in the biz right now. Great closing sequence and finish, with Serena protecting her savior from a 619, enabling Punk to go for a GTS after Rey was distracted by Gallows. Rey reverses out, shoots Punk into Gallows, who takes a bump off the apron. As a prone Punk collapses on the ropes, Mysterio nails the 619 and springboard splash for the win. Apparently, there wasn’t even enough time for a post-match angle for Punk to get his heat back; in fact, Rey’s family was not shown on camera at all, which was surprising given the buildup, although Matt Striker did make the awkward comment of “Imagine the look on that little girl’s face.” (Would have been even worse had Lawler said it.) A little surprised that the babyface would win decisively this early in the feud; clearly they’ve got something planned for SMACKDOWN between the two to rekindle the issue.

Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon: This was sad and difficult to watch…my worst fear realized (other than a McMahon win with Dave Hebner’s help). Given Bret’s obvious limitations, they really should have booked this to be Cena w/Hart in his corner vs. Batista w/McMahon…with the Hitman getting five minutes with the chairman if the Animal lost. Then after the Cena win, Bret ends it quickly with the Sharpshooter after McMahon tries to get away. Everything about this was wrong: the Hart family heel turn and back to babyfaces in the span of three minutes (and before the swerve can be executed, Bret announces it to the crowd), no offense for McMahon (and therefore no comeback for Bret) and the brutal beating McMahon took that almost made you feel sorry for him. As it dragged on, Lawler at one point bellowed “This may go on all night!”—it sure seemed longer than the 10 minutes they got. I’m a huge Hart fan, so I hate to say it: This was an anticlimactic failure.

Edge vs. Chris Jericho: Pretty good match, with some nice mat wrestling. The announcers teased that Edge may not be 100%, setting up his loss and an eventual rematch. Nice swerve on the finish, as Jericho appeared to be a transitional champ who only got the belt so the returning hero could cap his comeback in style and get his revenge on being ousted from the tag championship team due to injury. Edge was limping toward the end, especially after a modified version of the Walls of Jericho with the champ arching back on the injured leg and heel of the challenger. Pretty good false finish with Edge kicking out after a belt shot—really looked like he would rally at that moment and take the win. But Jericho hit a second Codebreaker (and just barely…to the point that Jerry Lawler on commentary wasn’t sure if he did hit it) to finish off Edge. The crowd seemed flat at the finish, as they were clearly expecting an Edge win…with a SPEAR. Don’t have a problem at all with the finish, as Edge came off valiantly in losing, and it sets up rematches through the summer. Jericho attacked Edge after the match, but was thwarted and hit with a spear off the table and through the crowd barricade. (The initial camera angle wasn’t great; the replay truly captured what an awesome spot this was.)

Cena vs. Batista: Good match and the crowd was into it big time, giving it that classic WrestleMania feel for the championship. Cool entrance for Cena, though I’m not sure his salute to the fans and his role as a marine in the movies qualifies as a connection to the military. With this match not going on last, the finish was a toss-up (as they seem to steer clear of ending with a heel win on their biggest show), which added to the drama. Hated the finish, with Batista tapping out; I think the buy rate for the rematch would have been bigger with Cena chasing the belt and his first, elusive win over Batista. Still, a hell of a pop for Cena, who afterward mugged with fans booing him and wearing T-shirts that read “I Hate John Cena,” which was hilarious.

 Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels: I’d rate this one just as good as last year’s, with a far more memorable closing sequence and aftermath. A convincing spot early with ‘Taker coming off the top rope and appearing to land awkwardly and injure his knee. Turns out it was part of the match’s story, perhaps not only to slow down the pace of the match but also to make the fans believe Michaels was going to score the upset and end the streak. I disliked the sequence with ‘Taker nailing the tombstone on the floor—I mean, c’mon…he hit his finisher…on the “hard concrete” (as old-school announcers would say)…and HBK kicks out? Other than that, the match was laid out extremely well, with amazing false finishes, including Michaels kicking out after of the most vicious Last Ride I’ve ever seen, and ‘Taker barely getting shis shoulder up in a Sweet Chin Music-induced pin attempt following HBK’s moonsault off the top rope onto the Dead Man as he lie prone on the announcer’s desk. (The initial camera angle—which was almost a disaster as a guy stepped in front of the cameraman, who pulled the dude out of the way just before Michaels jumped—made it appear that HBK missed completely. The replay showed that while Michaels wasn’t completely on target, he did appear to land on Taker’s legs…possibly “by design” to go after the injury.) Going home, Michaels kicked out of another tombstone. Taker was prepared to finish him but hesitated “out of respect” for his foe and urged him to “stay down” as Michaels struggled scratched and clawed his way (rather homoerotically, I must say) to his feet. HBK slapped Taker defiantly, which prompted another Tombstone to end the match. After a brief celebration by Taker, he helped Michaels to his feet and left the ring so Mr. WrestleMania could savor the moment. With the crowd chanting his name and tears rolling down his cheeks, Michaels waved goodbye and began the long walk back to the dressing. He paused midway, turned to the camera and said, “I’ll drive my kids crazy in a few months.” As the broken star faded from view, Lawler said goodbye to HBK and the words “I’m gonna miss you” (sounding a little like Elvis, oddly enough). A WrestleMania moment to remember, this sure seemed like goodbye. Initially, I thought HBK would be back by SummerSlam. I’m thinking now that perhaps they’ll induct him into the Hall of Fame next year and shoot an angle to bring him back for “one more match” at WrestleMania in Atlanta so he can go out a winner on the grandest stage of them all.

Overall, I’d say it was good—not great—show.

RassleMania Challenge: Beat Scott Bowden, win Shawn Michaels 3-disc DVD set

March 26th, 2010 No comments

A special contest for my loyal KFR subscribers only: Outpick me in my RassleMania Challenge, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for the three-disc DVD set Shawn Michaels: My Journey, which features 25 HBK matches from the past, many of them classics. You must be a KFR subscriber to enter. Not a subscriber? Sign up today, you stinkin’ redneck. (Complete online form below to subscribe; it’s ABSOLUTELY FREE.) If no one outpicks me (highly unlikely, given my track record)…I win! Bring it!

Send your picks to bowden@kentuckyfriedwrestling.com (Entries must be received by Sunday, March 28, by 3 p.m. Pacific.)

Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk: WWE wisely canceled the hair vs. mask stipulation as this show is loaded, so the emphasis and effectiveness of the stip would be lost. Besides, unlike TNA, which gives you the blowoff to a feud at the beginning of a program, WWE has a better grasp of storytelling. These two are in the early stages in their feud, so best to build the animosity over the next few months, perhaps culminating with the stip at SummerSlam. I think Punk needs to win here, perhaps with the storyline that Rey was consumed with vengeance for his familia, blinded his rage, enabling Punk to steal this one . Wouldn’t it be cool if the talented young actress playing Rey’s daughter turned heel? Too bad Paul Heyman isn’t booking. Punk takes a beating in the bout, but emerges victorious in the end. Winner: Punk

Randy Orton vs. Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes: WWE TV has been clicking lately; for the most part, the buildup for WrestleMania is the best I’ve seen in years and the best overall lineup since the Attitude era….with the exception of this match. Inexplicably, Creative switched gears on DiBiase’s planned babyface turn and instead made Orton the reluctant babyface in this feud. For more than a year, fans have been dying for a reason to cheer Orton, but the execution of the split with his protégés has been so lackluster that the response has been lukewarm. In my opinion, Orton is such a wonderfully slimy heel that the issue has got be stronger than this for fans to rally around him. I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, this is a swerve, where Rhodes at some point will side with Orton, who ravages the young DiBiase, which brings his legendary father to ringside…for a punt to the head. Though with Trips supposedly going heel soon, it would make sense to keep these two on opposite sides of the fence. Orton wins here either way. Winner: Orton

Triple H vs. Sheamus: The only way this match will be memorable is if Triple H puts over his handpicked superstar, elevating him to the next level. For all his critics, Triple H is smart and calculated; he’s willing to command the spotlight all year long while “doing the right thing for business” by putting someone else over at WrestleMania. With talk of him going heel (and perhaps screwing HBK in the main event), I say he loses here and snaps, reverting back to the evil Triple H we love (well, like maybe) to hate. Winner: Sheamus.

ShowMiz vs. Morrison, Truth: Like Jericho, Miz is ideal for the tag-champ spot, as he can appear on both RAW and SMACKDOWN, and he’s really hitting his stride as top-notch personality. (The comedy dynamic between Show and Miz works for me as well.) I can’t say the same for Morrison and Truth. (I’d rather endure a root canal–by Dr. Issac Yankem no less–than have to endure Truth’s live entrance song more than once a week.) Winners: ShowMiz

Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon: I was surprised that McMahon didn’t do more to get his heat back on Monday after Hart clocked him at the contract signing. He simply promised “a surprise.” Hmmm..if this were TNA, I’d swear an Earl Hebner appearance was in the works. Clearly, they’re teasing McMahon finding a way to screw Hart once again, but I ain’t buying it. For Bret’s sake, I so want this to be good. Winner: Bret Hart

Batista vs. John Cena: I’ll know if I’m wrong here if this bout goes on last. Batista is getting over huge as a heel personality, so I’m hoping WWE resists the desire to have another Cena title win close the show (which we’ve seen way too many times) and books the champion to retain. Cena is much better chasing the belt, and a loss would continue the storyline of his inability to beat the Animal. If they handle it correctly, Cena would benefit more by losing, building up a “final” PPV rematch between the two. Winner: Batista.

Animal instincts: Batista is coming into his own as the heel champ.

Edge vs. Chris Jericho: One major title has to change hands, and Edge winning the title would cap the story of his comeback perfectly. Imagine the huge pop (“SPEAR!”) when Jericho is speared for the three count. Winner: Edge

Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels: A brilliant job by everyone involved in the pre-match buildup. This has that classic WrestleMania main event feel from my teenage years. I think this has to go last, given how exhausted the crowd was after their last meeting; nothing could have followed it that night…especially the lackluster Trips vs. Orton match. I think Taker will lose on the grand stage before he heads back to Death Valley for the final time, but wisdom would dictate that a younger star on his way up would get the nod.  With both men taking time off after the show, there’s been speculation of an hour-long Broadway, with both men pushed to the brink and mentally and physically exhausted to explain their absence. That would be among the worst cop-out finishes in history. Taker snatches victory from the jaws of hell once more, perhaps thanks to a Triple H sledgehammer, setting up a heel HHH vs. returning HBK (“retirement” is kayfabe for four months off) at SummerSlam and the Game vs. the Deadman at next year’s Mania. Winner: Undertaker

Ladder of success: Who is the heir apparent to the championship?

TIE-BREAKER: Ladder Match: Drew McIntyre’s entry into the fray has been promoted more so than the others, but I can’t see them putting him in the money spot as the winner just yet…at least not until the guy develops a personality. Christian looks to be getting a little airtime on RAW, despite the fact that McMahon has never seen him as a main eventer. Christian winning could open a much-needed heel turn in the months ahead, perhaps ambushing his friend Edge for the World title. Personally, I would love to see Shelton Benjamin catch a break; seems like the guy shines annually in this match but never wins. Dirk Ziggler is another darkhorse after the company scaled back his push months ago. MVP was pretty hot a couple of years ago as U.S. champ, when I picked him to win…but Matt Hardy screwed him out of the briefcase near the end. MVP is another guy who could use the rub right now as Mr. Money in the Bank, a moniker that would complement his cocky athlete persona. Swagger’s got loads of potential but desperately needs an old-school manager to serve as his mouthpiece. Meanwhile, Hardy has most likely has talked his way out of a push anytime soon. Kingston is another whose push was over before it again, so this would give him a boost. Evan Bourne has been DOA, despite his amazing athleticism…he’s more likely to steal the match than snag the briefcase. Swagger fits the mold as the young cocky star on the rise, much like Kennedy and Edge in years past. I think they go with Swagger. Winner: Jack Swagger

Send your picks to bowden@kentuckyfriedwrestling.com Entries must be received by Sunday, March 28, by 3 p.m. Pacific.

Contest open to subscribers only. Join the most elite group since the Four Horsemen (the Windham version): become a KFR subscriber today. (It’s absolutely free.)

Sharp shooting: Personal attacks highlight Hart vs. McMahon buildup

March 2nd, 2010 1 comment
Grudge match: The Hitman aims to put the screws to McMahon.

Dead aim: The Hitman has Mr. McMahon in his sights.

Last night’s RAW finalized the Vince McMahon vs. Bret Hart bout at WrestleMania XXVI, with the wonderfully slimy Chairman of the Board taunting the “injured” Hitman and goading him into a bout on the biggest show of the year despite the five-time WWF champion’s “broken leg.” The company would have been far better off, at least from a believability standpoint, had Bret come out on crutches a few weeks ago claiming to have injured his leg doing squats in the gym (or whatever), rather than the contrived backstage segment in which his leg was seemingly crushed in a freak car accident. (Which was about as realistic as last night’s guests hosts, Cheech and Chong, getting high off psychedelic Lucky Charms in a scene that made “Up in Smoke” look like high-brow comedy.)

It’s unclear whether the injury angle was executed to hide Bret’s shortcomings in the ring when the bout finally comes off or if (most likely) it will be revealed to be a swerve staged to trick McMahon into a match. (I can only hope Criss Angel—next week’s guest host on RAW—doesn’t magically cure Bret’s leg in yet another hokey segment.)

Injury angle aside, both McMahon and Hart have been excellent in their roles. With the exception of a few scripted references to “the WWE Universe,” Bret reportedly has been encouraged to improvise and speak from his heart, with McMahon responding in kind.  At times, it’s come off like McMahon is unloading on his former champion with every snide knock that HBK ever uttered about Hart behind closed doors in 1997. Michaels, who by most accounts has sincerely manned up and accepted responsibility for being an asshole back in his heyday, was notorious for talking shit about Hart in the mid-’90s, even  claiming on the air that Bret was having an alleged affair with Sunny. Likewise, Hart says that he not only didn’t respect Shawn in the ‘90s but he also questioned his sexuality. This real-life personal and professional jealousy was great for business and was no different than say, Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee back in 1977, in fueling the fire for their feud. Make no mistake: The initial Lawler/Dundee feud was very personal, with each badmouthing  the other to the boys and to the fans constantly.  In fact, Jerry Jarrett says they both worked very stiff, basically beating the shit out of each other, to see who would break. But hey, back in those days, that was all viewed as “good for the business.” (OK, so nobody ever pulled the other’s hair out in the locker room, but Lawler did shave Bill and Bev’s heads in the ring.)

In return, Hart has fired back with legit gripes he had with the way his former boss treated him, in particular, all the lies and false promises as well his unceremonious departure from the Former Fed, i.e., the Montreal Screwjob. I’m really happy for Bret that his promos since his return have been solid, as he really hit his stride in 1997 before WCW cut his legs out from under him with Eric Bischoff’s and Vince Russo’s lame material.  Loved last night’s line when Bret initially answered McMahon’s challenge with, “I have a broken leg, you idiot!” (That got a pop from the crowd as well.)

Pretty damn cool shot on RAW to see Hart in a ring with the huge WrestleMania XXVI logo hanging in the background—I almost thought that day would never come.

With John Cena vs. McMahon set for next week’s RAW, I suppose there’s still a chance we’ll instead get a tag bout at WrestleMania, with Hart/Cena vs. Mr. McMahon/Batista. (Incidentally, the Animal is showing more poise and personality in his latest heel role than at any point in his career.) Some have even speculated the tag match will include the WWE title being on the line, with Hart somehow screwing Batista out of the belt and ending his WWE career in ironic fashion. Sounds ridiculous to me, but this is the WWE Universe (man, I despise that term for some reason) after all. Besides, a single bout with Cena vs. Batista is far more compelling, as that storyline is playing up their rivalry with each man winning the company’s top titles at WrestleMania 21 after getting called up to the big leagues from OVW at around the same time.

File under Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon