April 2, 2006

Present day WWE usually isn’t my cup of tea, for many good reasons. But if I’m going to put fourth the effort of reviewing Japanese indy feds such as Kings Road and MUGA World, then I owe the same sort of effort to the biggest U.S. wrestling show of the year.

Mick Foley . . . completely steals the show, outworking both Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair.

Mickie James . . . shows the world how awesome the WWE Women’s Division can actually be.

Rey Mysterio . . . is made to look like a total chump in the biggest win of his career.


Aside from the fact that this goes longer than three minutes, there’s not anything here that sets this apart from a RAW match. Both of the challengers, but Carlito much better than Masters, bump and sell well for Big Show and Kane, but that’s all they really get to do. Masters sneaks in the Masterlock and Carlito hits the Back Cracker, but at no point did either of those two moments give the impression that the tide was turned and they really only served as stall tactics. The only other things that the challengers have to show are a chop block from Carlito, and an ugly double flapjack on Show. The rest of the match is spent with Kane and Show smacking and throwing them around. Masters accidentally hitting Carlito before Kane planted Carlito with the chokeslam hardly plays a pivotal role in their loss.


This many talented athletes in one match allows for several eye-popping spots, and there are some fun bits from the two old timers, and in a match that doesn’t allow for any real structure or storytelling, that’s really as far as praise can stretch. Flair seemingly being eliminated after Hardy’s superplex is the most standout moment in the match, his return itself isn’t a bad thing, but it happened too quickly, and it really served to cheapen the great job the announcers were doing in putting over how hurt Flair was. It’s nice that everyone gets put over in form or another, Flair and Finlay for both being tough old bastards, Lashely’s power is put over with the ways he throws everyone around, and that it takes three people to take him off the ladder. Benjamin provides the best looking spots that make use of the ladder. Hardy manages to temporarily take Flair out the picture, and also takes out Finlay. And RVD winds up winning. It’d have been nice to see some sort of running theme, a la Benoit’s arm in the MITB match from the previous year’s show, but this is enjoyable enough for what it is.


This is easily the most physical match up to this point. The early portions are highlighted by Benoit showing the intensity that made him famous, especially when he’s pelting away on JBL with chops, punches, and headbutts. And to his credit, JBL gives as good as he takes, he’s really good at selling the shots that Benoit levels him with. For all the flak he takes as a worker, JBL is very watchable here, the only weak part of the match was JBL’s nerve hold/chinlock combo. His blocks to both the crossface and sharpshooter look good, and distasteful or not, his mocking of Eddie really gets the crowd riled up. JBL was also good with the cheating bits he threw in to stop Benoit’s momentum. The lariat to crossface spot was actually the same thing that allowed Benoit to eliminate him from the 2004 Royal Rumble, and JBL’s roll-up counter to the crossface shows that he’s not totally inept when it comes to actual wrestling. It’d be easy to just give Benoit the credit for this being as fun as it is, but JBL more than pulls his weight.


I like to think of this match as a sort of wrestling Hallmark Card. Two wrestlers who have a very publicized friendship, lay everything on the line, and really hold nothing back, simply to steal the show at the biggest show of the year. The issue isn’t a title or a stupid premise like a shampoo commercial. Edge blames Foley for losing his rematch with John Cena (Mick was the referee), and Foley wants to teach Edge a lesson about respect, not unlike what he did to Randy Orton. What really makes this match though isn’t a particular spot or moment in the match. It’s the fact that both Edge and Foley are completely giving to each other, and always put 100% into everything they do. Take for instance the spot where Foley whips Edge across his back with the barbed wire. It’s brutality speaks for itself, and the fans love seeing Edge get what he’s got coming to him. But it’s the facial expression of Foley and the selling of Edge that really puts it over the top. It’s those sort of things that make everything they do come across so well.

It also helps that both Edge and Foley are willing to do almost anything. The bumps that Foley takes into the steps are hard to watch, knowing how bad shape his knees are in. Even though it’s not the first time we’ve seen it, Edge taking a thumbtack bump shirtless speaks volumes about his dedication. Even Lita takes a painful looking (although probably relatively safe) bump, when Mick does the Cactus Clothesline with Lita on his back. The chair shots from Edge are vicious, and Foley’s shots with the barbed wire bat, (especially with Edge’s midsection fully exposed) are equally brutal. The first big moment, when Edge spears Foley when he’s got the wire wrapped around his waist, is brilliantly pulled off by both of them, Edge selling his arm, and Foley slowly revealing the way he’d outsmarted the hotshot with the big mouth. And the end is just as great, Edge could have easily just knocked Foley off the apron with a lariat or shoulderblock, but he puts everything on the line to ensure that Foley gets sent through that flaming table so that he can win. It’s easy to just see the bumps they both take and call this a great match as almost a knee-jerk reaction, but as impressive as the bumps are, it’s the thought and effort put into them by both Edge and Foley, that go just as far to make this a great match. ****


Normally I’d complain that this only goes four minutes, but given Booker’s lack of motivation, and Boogeyman’s lack of talent, it’s just as well. The number of things they do that aren’t punches and kicks can be counted on one hand. The things that Boogeyman does other than mess around with worms, and strut can be counted on one finger. Booker kills the Bookend dead, by using for no real reason, and Sharmell was useless other than acting scared and being grossed out by the worms. You’d think that a match built on the basis of Booker constantly feigning injuries in order to not wrestle Boogeyman would actually get a decent amount of time, and that someone constantly being dodged would have more to do other than no-sell, eat worms, and his finisher. But I digress.


As fun a match as this is, the editing on the DVD take away a bit of the impact. Not the removal of Mickie’s hand gesture after her Stratusfaction counter, but the removal of Mickie’s botched Stratusfaction, which was a great showcase in how well Mickie had worn down Trish’s knee. While this match is quite enjoyable, it’s also a sad indictment of the WWE Women’s division. Only a few scant times, has the WWE Women’s Division contained a match that was good from a wrestling standpoint, and also had the fans generally interested and had them really caring about the outcome.

Even though the match is mostly carried by Mickie hacking away at Trish’s knee, Trish manages to get in a few good shots of her own. Her counter to Mickie’s spin kick is certainly original and it’d have been nice to see Trish pull a Tajiri or KENTA and attempt to send Mickie’s head home with one of the fans when she had Mickie in that very compromising position. Trish’s undoing is largely her own fault, as it was way too early to even try something like the chick kick, and as soon as she kicked the post, Mickie had the title as good as won. Mickie is awesome in the ways she goes after Trish’s knee, and it’s a shame that JR and Lawler could only make jokes about crazy people in the crowd, to explain why some of them were cheering on Mickie. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that they were cheering Mickie because of the great work she was doing in the ring. For the most part, Trish is fine in selling her knee, her inability to fully do the May-Trish is a really smart move, and her delay after countering Mickie’s rana with the powerbomb is a nice touch. Trish’s reaction to Mickie’s counter of the Stratusfaction is awesome. The ending with Mickie pinning Trish after a roundhouse kick comes off bad, and again, the WWE editing out the part where Mickie tried the Stratusfaction and Trish’s leg buckled from underneath her doesn’t help, all it does is leave a bad taste to arguably the best Women’s Title match in the last couple of years. And now that Trish is gone and WWE hires women based mostly on looks than wrestling talent, it’s possible that it may be the best one for quite some time. ***1/4


Much like the MITB match, this is flawed by the fact that it’s not designed to allow for any real structure or storytelling. This does have a few things that are able to somewhat salvage it. Henry may not be much of a worker, but he’s got some nice intensity at times. His control segment isn’t much to write home about from an offensive point of view, but the intensity he shows keeps it from being a total loss. The only really silly part of the match was Henry’s attempt to charge at UT, which wound up with both of them in the casket, you could see it coming from a mile away. UT also manages to bring a few nice spots. The powerbomb out of the corner was another telegraphed one, but the tope, especially the fact that he cleared the casket, was very nice. And the Tombstone looked especially good, even more so considering how ugly the powerbomb looked. This isn’t anything to rush out and see, but considering the participants, this could have been eons worse.


Compared to this, Edge vs. Foley looks even better. The fact that it’s carried largely by run-ins and prop shots isn’t surprising, what is surprising is that it’s a fairly lazy effort from both of them, and despite the fact that Shawn and Vince are both probably in much better shape than Foley, he was able to work circles around them. Aside from punches, Shawn and Vince each use one move without the aid of some sort of weapon. Vince hits a lariat when Shawn finishes dispatching the Spirit Squad. And Shawn uses the superkick that finishes off Vince. The only offense that Vince uses is punches, the lariat, and lighting up Shawn with a leather strap. Vince spends the rest of the time strutting, exposing his ass, and playing dead. All Shawn does is return the favor with the strap, assorted prop shots, a bunch of playing to the crowd in the form of the DX chops, and the superkick. It’s nice that Shawn wanted to build up to the big elbow through the table, really wanting to give the fans (and Vince) something to remember. But the idea of having the win in the palm of your hand and letting it go is so that it bites you in the ass. All Shawn’s delays did was give him the chance to bring out some new weapons to hit Vince with.

Granted, Edge/Foley was also very liberal with the weapons, but it was also mostly an even match, whereas this is essentially a squash for Shawn. The only times Shawn is in any real trouble is when The Spirit Squad runs in, and when Shane McMahon runs in. And Shawn is able to dispatch both of them rather quickly. Shawn does do one smart thing though. Vince had been laying on the table for a few minutes, so before Shawn gets ready to climb the ladder to put Vince through the table, Shawn gives Vince a few more shots, to make sure he doesn’t move out of the way. Aside from that though, this is little more than a mindless squash match, where weapons are brought out simply because they don’t have anything else to do. Those kinds of matches do have their place in wrestling, but in a high-profile feud on the biggest show of the year isn’t one of those places.

KURT ANGLE © vs. RANDY ORTON vs. REY MYSTERIO (World Heavyweight Title)

Only in the WWE could the biggest chance to really give the fans something special to remember, go so wrong at every turn. The booking leading up to this is bad enough, but the match itself does little to remedy it, outside of the actual result. The match has nothing to set it aside from any other standard match of this type, there’s no notable story of any kind being told, and it’s just a big spotfest that happens to have a good result. Rey takes almost all of the major bumps, the only exception being Angle’s pop-up belly to belly. That itself isn’t bad, but because everything is so rushed, he gets no chance to put anything over to any great degree. Rey’s win also is tainted a bit because he’d tapped out when Kurt had the ankle lock applied, only for the ref to be distracted by Orton. Rey also blows his 619 spot twice, the first one is very early in the match, when Angle has to actually crawl to the ropes to get in position. The second one is much later, when Rey tries to do it around the post, and falls off. Neither Rey nor Orton does anything special in the offense department, I’m not a fan of the whole Eddie exploitation, but if he was winning it for Eddie, why not use some of Eddie’s famous moves? There’s zero build to the finish, and it’s just a matter of Rey hitting Orton with the West Coast Pop, with Angle being nanoseconds too late in breaking it up. It’s great to see a smaller wrestler being given the big push, and Rey does have the talent to warrant that push. But a match like this isn’t fitting of such a monumental happening.


Mickie vs. Trish, this is not. It’s not a total loss, as Torrie does actually do a couple of actual wrestling moves, a vertical suplex and a back body drop, plus the roll-up she uses to pin Candice. Otherwise this is the usual hair-pulling, and clothes-ripping match that the divas always have. The oddest thing is that it’s supposed to be a pillow fight, but neither of them even uses a pillow, Bill Watts would not be happy about that.

JOHN CENA © vs. TRIPLE H (WWE Heavyweight Title)

The crowd’s mixed reactions to Cena, and some of their chants made this rather fun, and both HHH and Cena deserves credit for the last five minutes, where they were able to make it a total mystery as to which of them was leaving with the title. That said, the match still has several big flaws in it. Most notably is that Cena doesn’t do anything outside of punching particularly well. He doesn’t exactly bring tons of offense to the match anyway, but the stuff he does generally looks awful. The first actual wrestling move he does is an alleged fisherman suplex, but it looks more like a regular vertical suplex. His Blue Thunder driver, looks more like a backdrop, and the FU and STFU always looks bad, and here isn’t any exception. To his credit, Cena does try to make the STFU look like he’s really putting on pressure, but it’s only him that’s doing it, it still looks like the recipient of the hold is getting a rest. Cena on defense isn’t much better. He’s not very good about selling anything long term.

HHH is better than Cena here, but he had his issues as well. It’s fun to watch him make Cena look inept on the mat in the first couple of exchanges, but aside from a brief point in time when he strung several moves together than wore down Cena’s neck, and then put on a neck vice, there really wasn’t anything as far as story or focus goes. And upon wearing down Cena’s neck, HHH’s next move is the sleeper. HHH does do a nice job of bumping and selling for Cena. His sell job on the suplex on the ramp was spot on. His selling is a problem later on, because he’s got to sell like he’s nearly out of energy, and when you compare what all he’d done to Cena with what Cena had done to him, he should be well ahead of Cena as far as fatigue goes. Of course being a major WWE match, the wrestling is just filler until it’s time for the ref bump, run in, and weapon use. That’s where the crowd reaction makes this fun. It’s downright odd to see the top heel getting cheered for hitting Cena and the ref below the belt, and then digging out the sledgehammer. The last five or so minutes of this are really a treat to watch though, because with the rabid crowd, finishing moves, near falls, and finishing move counters, unless one has read the spoilers or seen the match before, it’s impossible to tell who’s going to win, which is something all too rare nowadays. I’m not sure what the bigger shock is. The fact that HHH tapped out and lost his third straight main event, or that Cena did it with something as ugly as the STFU.

Conclusion: WrestleMania is always worth a look for the spectacle of it all. This has the bonus of a couple of really good matches, and having it’s share of enjoyable stuff.