World Wrestling Entertainment’s annual sports entertainment extravaganza WrestleMania returns for the twenty-ninth time, in a very strong showing. A whopping 80,676 fans attended the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey; the second largest crowd to ever attend a wrestling event in the history of mankind, second only to 1987’s WrestleMania III crowd of 93,173.
26 years ago, those fans witnessed Hulk Hogan bodyslam Andre the Giant which blew the roof off the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan. 2013’s rendition was an entirely different spectacle, and one which has resulted in criticism as well as praise from just about everybody in the IWC (Internet Wrestling Community), whilst also sparking a debate about where WWE goes from here in the run up to its 30th anniversary in a year’s time. For those regular watchers of WWE, their opinion is very rarely unexpressed. Message boards, forums, insider sites, opinions columns and reviews have sprung riddled with opinions about WrestleMania, having exemplified the preceding calendar year’s accomplishments in one short period of time. For us in the UK, it does involve feeding ourselves a surplus of coffee and energy drinks for the 12am live showing.
WrestleMania 29 saw arguably wrestling’s biggest megastar of the 90’s, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson defend the WWE Championship against his nemesis for the past two years and WWE’s biggest draw right now, John Cena in a rematch from WrestleMania 28. Originally billed as a Once in a Lifetime match, last year Cena failed to claim the spotlight from The Rock, who after a much-hyped return to the ring, competed in his first Mania match in 8 years. This year it was a different story, as Rock, having won the WWE Championship from CM Punk in January took on the winner of the Royal Rumble (who is guaranteed the WrestleMania main event title match), who just so happened to be Cena. The rematch however, was disappointing. The pace of the match proved to be almost too fast for Rock, now a seasoned veteran whose in-ring ability has evidently dwindled. While Cena, not exactly a Bret Hart or a Kurt Angle as it pertains to his mat technician status either, has little to offer as well. It is my understanding that The Rock’s contract has expired and thus will be written off television. Coupled with the revelation of Cena’s Rumble win, and a rematch in which he lost in the first instance, led roughly 99% of WWE fans to believe that Cena would be winning anyway. This left the suspense out of the window, or never truly there, as many fans would have you realise, in a somewhat anticlimactic finish to the show. Nevertheless, Cena is champion for the 11th time, which has upset a great deal of the IWC, but perhaps it is not all doom and gloom as there looks to be more challengers on the horizon.
WrestleMania is notorious for being the home playing field for Undertaker, WWE’s greatest gimmick creation and arguably the greatest performer of all time. Prior to WrestleMania, Undertaker’s record was 20-0, having defeated the likes of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Ric Flair, Kane, Sycho Sid and Diesel over the last twenty-plus years. This year’s challenger was CM Punk, WWE’s longest reigning WWE Champion of the modern era (holding it from 20th November 2011 to January 27th 2013, losing it to The Rock) and ever-popular wrestler for his shoot (“unscripted”) promos, straight-edge lifestyle and technical ability between the ropes. The match between Punk and Undertaker was undoubtedly the best of the night, and was very unpredictable at times. The crowd were massively into the back and forth action, and both men failed to disappoint. Punk is well respected in the IWC, but Undertaker is one of the true “Attitude Era” superstars left in the fold, only competing once per year now at WrestleMania with his streak at risk. This left the fans at the MetLife Stadium very indecisive, with half the crowd cheering for Punk and the other half cheering for the Deadman. Signs that read “21-0” and “20-1” flooded the screen in the hundreds. Eventually, after a 22 minute classic, Undertaker was able to put Punk to rest with his finishing move, the Tombstone Piledriver, extending his streak to 21-0. The match was an embodying example of emotion and dedication between wrestling’s greatest superstar in history and wrestling’s shining star for the future.
The third main event surrounded two well-known names in WWE, Triple H and Brock Lesnar. While currently both men hold part-time contracts for WWE, wrestling only on a few occasions per year, the match proved interesting. Triple H on-screen is a 13-time World Champion but also due to his family ties with the McMahons (the WWE chiefs), is also the Executive Vice President of Talent and Live Events. Brock Lesnar left the WWE in 2004 to pursue a short-lived NFL career but soon turned his attention to mixed martial arts and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In a relatively short stay with the UFC, Lesnar retired from the UFC as a 1-time UFC Champion with a 5-3 win-loss record and returned to the WWE. Both men, significantly older than a lot of WWE wrestlers are not on as such a rigorous schedule and only given a few matches per year. The same applies to The Rock, Undertaker and Chris Jericho, all veterans. Lesnar and Triple H fought at SummerSlam in August of 2012 and this was another rematch, with the stipulation that if HHH lost he would be forced into retirement. Having watched wrestling for years, this retirement stipulation is very seldom true to its word, whereby if a wrestler does retire he normally comes back a short while later – so this took away some suspense from the match. Seeing as Lesnar won the first match, it seemed a perfect time to give HHH his win back at WrestleMania, giving Lesnar a loss in his first Mania match in 9 nears. Predictable outcome, but it also proved to be a big fistfight that was fun to watch, seeing as their paths never really crossed when they were both in WWE from 2002-2004, and their first encounter was dire.
Another match included the World Heavyweight Championship showdown between Mexican aristocrat Alberto Del Rio and ‘real’ American Jack Swagger. Two things stood out to me when watching this match.
Firstly, the World Heavyweight Championship on paper sounds like it should be the most valued belt, and wrestling fans would remember the belt as the old NWA/WCW Heavyweight Championship belt, a title that holds prestigious names to its record books ranging from Ric Flair to David Arquette. Not a typo. However, the belt has become a secondary title and almost meaningless to whoever holds it. Granted, it is often given to rising talent in the hopes that they can establish themselves as a champion at times, but it often coincides with two other championships (the Intercontinental Title and the United States Title), leaving very little screen time for those who hold it. Little attention is given to these wrestlers, who are ironically the most talented. The second thing is that patriotic angles are always really flops, and are often tasteless due to the creative team’s lack of direction and wrestler’s limited acting ability. Just a few “USA” chants echo throughout the arena, stemming from the post-9/11 angles that littered WWE television which elicited a new sense of love for the homeland, led almost every single non-American wrestler to be either turned heel (changed to a villainous character) or written of television completely. But we won’t go there.
This angle did spark some controversy (as expected); to the extent that Swagger’s manager (legendary Dutch Mantel, under the alias “Zeb Colter”) is portrayed as a xenophobic racist, opposing immigrants in America. What was deemed a mockery of the Tea Party movement by Fox News, triggered a response from WWE as well as Swagger and Colter defensively saying that they were incorporating real life issues to “create compelling and relevant content for their audience”. Need I say that this kind of angle should just be avoided in the first place? Nonetheless, it was a decent match between Swagger and Del Rio and hopefully the storyline is put to rest.
We also saw the makeshift tag team of Big Show, Randy Orton and Sheamus attempt to defeat three WWE rookies, with a take-no-prisoners “defenders of justice” character to their name; dubbed The Shield. While a very entertaining tag team match and good way to kick off WrestleMania 29, it failed to stand out except for setting up yet another storyline rivalry between the three losers (Show, Orton and Sheamus), whilst also giving The Shield their first win at WrestleMania as a dominant stable. Big Show, while somewhat more nimble in the ring compared to a decade ago, has very few potential rivalries to go with now – and considering he had a long feud with Irish powerhouse Sheamus for most of the winter, it leaves fans wanting something else. Orton’s involvement in the mix is tantamount to convoluting the already watered-down storyline between Show and Sheamus, with the third-generation Orton seemingly on the side of Sheamus. One can only hope that Sheamus and Orton begin a rivalry somewhere down the line.
WrestleMania would not be complete without some filler matches either. But while viewed as less important than HHH’s avoiding retirement or Cena’s 1000000th win, they do have some significance. Another WWE rookie Johnny Curtis, under the narcissistic dancer character Fandango defeated ring expert Chris Jericho in a decent bout. Fandango was not taken as seriously as WWE would have hoped upon his debut, potentially because his character fails to strike interest as a heel – whereas Jericho is well-respected and consistently gets his name bellowed at him from his fans. Fandango’s win was a way to get himself over by the WWE creative team.
WWE Tag Team Champions Kane and Daniel Bryan (known as Team Hell No) have held the belts for a few months now, without any substantial competition. Bryan has a very strong following due to his repeated chants of either “Yes!” or “No!” which fans seem to adore, whilst Kane, having recently donned a rehash of his old masked monster gimmick is still going strong. However, despite being polar opposites, they work well together as a team. Their opponents are the duo of Dolph Ziggler (deemed by an overwhelming number of wrestling fans to be a future star ready for main events) and his bodyguard Big E Langston. The match proved to be Langston’s first as a member of the main WWE roster, and looked okay at the behest of multi-year veteran Kane. What was disappointing however is that this has been viewed as a major blown opportunity, as on television, a rivalry was teased between Bryan and Kane with hints that they would finally collide at Mania. However, that was not to be. Ziggler additionally holds a contracted guaranteed title match at any time he chooses, and on screen WWE has failed to give him that opportunity. At least they did until the following night’s episode of Raw, where Ziggler cashed in on Alberto Del Rio’s weakened state and won the World Heavyweight Championship. But as mentioned before, is this really an accomplishment nowadays?
A showdown of behemoth powerhouses Mark Henry and newcomer Ryback was also in place at Mania. Ryback has been portrayed on screen as unstoppable and the second coming of someone the magnitude of Goldberg, Brock Lesnar or Batista. Whereas Mark Henry is a very slow moving worker who has never captivated me and never will especially in his aging almost-immobile state. Their showdown was nothing special, especially given that Ryback was beaten in little over 8 minutes, but as storyline retaliation for losing, he squashes Henry with a power move and walks away. It leaves many to question why it was so hard to do that in the first place, and thus Ryback has a mere fraction of momentum to what he once had. Nonetheless, it seems Ryback has turned heel and is now feuding with Cena for the WWE title, which is strange considering his lack of winning ability only 24 hours prior.
On the whole, WrestleMania gets a 6.5/10 from me. Having watched every WrestleMania since 1999 it did not stand out as the worst I’d ever seen. In fact, it surpassed the worst by a great deal. But it never stood out as a classic WrestleMania pay-per-view, despite what the record books will tell you. It set a new first-day sales record of 52,029 tickets and did a first-day revenue of $10 million. WWE clearly cannot be doing badly if the numbers are showing positive things for them, no matter what IWC fanatics will tell you.
PS. With WrestleMania’s 30th anniversary in a year, it leads many to wonder what WWE could possibly do to make that a truly memorable, special event that outshines its predecessors. Certainly keeping the quantity of part time, aging wrestlers to a minimum (with the exception of Undertaker) and spending the next year creating new, young stars who can evidently show themselves as talented athletes with charisma and ability.