A great Hollywood movie has an interesting beginning, a thrilling middle and a satisfying conclusion. The WWE’s adventure in Hollywood got the first two parts right Sunday night with a Gone With the Wind performance at WrestleMania 21 but unfortunately bombed like Ishtar in the third act.
The changing of the guard that many people expected came with a whimper instead of a bang. In a total reversal from last year’s show — where a largely mundane card was saved by the emotional title victories of Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero — this year’s elevation of rising stars John Cena and Dave Batista had no such drama. Unable to live up to the high standards set by the Undertaker-Randy Orton and Shawn Michaels-Kurt Angle bouts, the “main events” offered the worst kind of anticlimax and would have been right at home buried in the middle of the card.
Cena prevailed over John Bradshaw Layfield in a match that could have easily been on free TV. The WWE Champ beat on Cena for the first seven minutes of the match, almost finishing him off with a superplex. After kicking out of the pin, Cena caught JBL flying off the top turnbuckle and scoop slammed him. The challenger broke out the five-knuckle shuffle, and then whipped JBL into the corner. The champ exploded back with the Clothesline from Hell, but Cena ducked it and countered with the F-U. Cena covered for the pin and his first WWE Championship title.
Batista’s long-awaited showdown with former mentor Triple H was longer but not necessarily better. Motorhead was on hand to perform a live rendition of The Game’s entrance music, though it was the challenger who seized control in the early going. A high knee sent Batista out to the floor around the four minute mark, where the steel steps and Ric Flair both did some damage.
Unable to get a three count with a spinebuster or a neckbreaker, the world champ went for a Pedigree that was reversed into a back body drop. A second Pedigree attempt on the steps outside the ring also got countered, this time with a catapult that sent Triple H flying into the ringpost and busted him open in the process. Bloodied but not beaten, The Game tried to use a steel chair but was halted by the referee.
Flair brought the world title belt into the fray but got planted by a Batista spinebuster, leaving Triple H to hit the belt shot himself. Neither that or a low blow were enough to stop Batista, who hoisted the champ on his back and fell straight back to neutralize yet another Pedigree. Big Dave gave the thumbs down sign and hit the Batista Bomb to make good on his vow to take home the world heavyweight title.
Like every good movie, WWE did provide a surprise twist. Unfortunately, like most movies, the surprise was ruined before the product hit the screen. On most Internet sites, it was no secret that Hulk Hogan was going to face Muhammad Hassan, and he did — just not in a sanctioned match. Hassan interrupted a very joyful (and nearly fully recovered, we hope) Eugene, as he reminisced about Wrestlemanias past. After berating Eugene with his prejudiced rhetoric, Hassan assaulted the wrestling savant, slapping on the camel clutch. Seconds later, Real American blasted over the speakers, and Hogan made his entrance in all his yellow and red glory. The Hulkster tossed Hassan from the ring and even shook off a chair shot from Daivari. Hogan then posed for the crowd in what we can only hope is his swan song. He’s a Hall of Famer now and all.
The next WWE Pay-Per-View is Backlash on May 1.
A new WM 21 trailer spoof aired with Steve Austin as Russell Crowe’s character in Gladiator. Good stuff.
– Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio
WWE picks a great match the kick off the show. Early on Mysterio takes to the air, hitting a corkscrew plancha over the top rope. Rey Rey then follows up with a springboard seated senton. Eddie gets in his shots too. Latino Heat nails the Three Amigos, but is unable to connect with the frog splash. After a drop toehold, Mysterio finally connects with the 619, but has the West Coast Pop countered into a pin. Rey kicks out, and picks up the win after turning a hurricanrana into a pin. After the match, the tag team partners shake hands in the ring.
Winner … Rey Mysterio at 12 minutes and 39 seconds
Match Rating: 7.5/10
Backstage, the two champs run into each other and exchange words. Too bad they’re both going to lose. Elsewhere, we learn that the WWE has brought in some actual Hollywood stars in the form of Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider. No word on whether or not they were paid to be there.
– Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Christian w/ Tyson Tomko, Shelton Benjamin, Edge, and Kane – Six-man Money in the Bank Ladder Match
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a match like this, and the high spots are almost too many to name. Jericho, Christian, Benjamin and Kane all fly out to the floor to take out multiple opponents. At one point, three ladders are set up simultaneously and everyone except Kane (the victim of a Christian and Edge ladder sandwich) is fighting at the top. Benjamin almost steals the show by t-boning Edge off one ladder and using another like a ramp to run up and drop Jericho with a clothesline. Benoit, who looks like he may have injured his left arm, launches a diving headbutt from the top of a ladder. He also uses repeated headbutts to knock Kane to the ground, but is dropped in turn by a chair shot from Edge. The bitter Canadian grabs the briefcase to win a world title shot any time during the next year. I have to catch my breath now.
Winner … Edge at 15 minutes and 12 seconds
Match Rating: 8/10
– Randy Orton vs. The Undertaker
The Phenom makes his usual grand entrance, complete with torch-bearing druids. He strikes first with a legdrop on the apron and the Old School rope walk, but Orton fights back by dropkicking the Dead Man off the apron. Both men attempt their finishers but neither is successful, and referee Earl Hebner takes a bump in the process. Just before the 12-minute mark, Cowboy Bob Orton — who must be the world’s slowest healer — gets in a cast shot and drags Hebner over only to see ‘Taker kick out. Bob takes a big boot to the face, so he probably doesn’t see his son hit an incredible counter to the Last Ride with an RKO. That still won’t keep Undertaker down, so Randy tries a page from his foe’s book and goes for a Tombstone. Appropriately, Undertaker reverses the move into his own Tombstone and runs his Mania streak to 13-0. Even more impressively, he helps young Orton put on the best match I’ve seen him in so far.
Winner… Undertaker at 14 minutes and 13 seconds
Match Rating: 8/10
– Christy Hemme(challenger) vs. Trish Stratus(champion) – Women’s Title Match
File this one under “waste of time.” The best thing about this match is the skimpy ring attire. Hemme shows she’s learned a little something with an arsenal of kicks, and Lita tries to lend a hand. But let’s face it, Hemme is not a wrestler and Stratus deserves a better opponent for the biggest show of the year. A Chick Kick sends Christy packing, but it won’t help me forget all the botched spots.
Winner… Trish Stratus at 4 minutes and 41 seconds
Match Rating: 1/10
– Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels
The crowd seems to be split about 50-50 for this one despite Angle’s current heel character. The expected mat wrestling gradually gives way to a more pro wrestling style, and the pace really picks up after Michaels misses his big elbow but recovers in time to counter an Angle Slam with an arm drag. Just past the 15-minute mark, Angle tries to suplex HBK off the apron through a table, but soon finds himself on the table thanks to a low mule kick. Michaels hits a springboard cross body that doesn’t break the table but does bust up Angle’s mouth. Shawn keeps things rolling with a flurry of offense, but Sweet Chin Music is countered with an Ankle Lock. HBK escapes twice, the second time reversing it into a pin attempt of his own. An Angle Slam only gets a two count, so Kurt goes up top for a move he hasn’t attempted for a while, the moonsault. Michaels rolls away but isn’t as lucky when Angle meets him up top and hits a top rope Angle Slam. Kurt yells at his foe in frustration when he kicks out again, leaving an opening for Sweet Chin Music. Angle manages to kick out at the very last second and hops up to put the Ankle Lock on one more time. HBK does everything humanly possible to escape the hold, coming an inch away from the ropes several times. But Angle finally manages to sit down on the hold, and after several excruciating moments Michaels is forced to tap out. This is a match of the year candidate if I’ve ever seen one.
Winner… Kurt Angle at 27 minutes and 11 seconds
Match Rating: 9/10
Hot Rod thanks everyone for the Hall of Fame honor, then gets down to business. Slipping up with a “WWF” reference and some other choice words, Piper calls out Stone Cold. Piper sizes Austin up and slaps him. Stone Cold fires back with a slap of his own. Piper tells Austin that he has respect for him, but disagrees with one thing. Hot Rod was ticking off Vince McMahon a when Austin was just a little redneck. Carlito Caribbean Cool interrupts Austin’s reply. CCC says neither man is cool, and asks both men to talk a walk. The fans want to see him. Piper swipes Carlito’s apple and spits back at him. CCC fires back at Piper, but Austin intervenes and proceeds to stomp a mud hole in Carlito. After a thumb to the eye from Piper, Carlito gets his first Stone Cold Stunner. Austin calls for the beer man, and both he and Piper share a drink in the ring before Austin hits Piper with a Stone Cold Stunner.
– Akebono vs. Big Show — Sumo Match
In what looked like a working-shoot, Akebono knocked Big Show from the ring to win the bout. WWE management probably told the Grand Sumo Champion to make Big Show look good before knocking him out. On the other hand, Akebono has never faced an opponent of Show’s size, so he may have had some legitimate trouble. Big Show did manage to pick Akebono up off his feet, but then the sumo champ knocked Show from the ring with a swipe to the head.
Winner … Akebono at 1 minute and 2 seconds
Match Rating: 5/10
It is announced that WrestleMania XXII will be in Chicago. This should make it cheaper for SLAM! Wrestling to fly us out there to cover it next year. Hint, hint.
– John Cena (challenger) vs. John Bradshaw Layfield (champion) – WWE Championship Match
Winner … and new WWE Champion … John Cena at 9 minutes and 47 seconds
Match Rating: 5/10
The new members of the Hall of Fame are trotted out by the WWE Divas. It’s cool to see all of them together, but … um, can we please get the Divas back out on stage? They’re a lot easier on the eyes.
– Batista (challenger) vs. Triple H (champion) … World Heavyweight Championship Match
Winner… and new World Heavyweight Champion … Batista at 21 minutes and 33 seconds
Match Rating: 6/10
Total Event Time: 3 hours and 50 minutes
Event Rating: 7/10