Always searching for a catchy theme, the WWE decided on “All Grown Up” as the hook for WrestleMania 23. With Detroit’s Ford Field packed full of fans, at the very least the federation pulled in a fully grown take at the gate.
The announced attendance of 80,103 awaited a trio of main events that saw the two top titles up for grabs between fan favorites, as well as the so-called Battle of the Billionaires. The feud between Vince McMahon and Donald Trump — which actually captured some pretty decent attention from the mainstream media — came to its conclusion with a showdown between their hand-picked proxies, Bobby Lashley and Umaga.
The first of the big matches came about halfway though the card as the Undertaker put his 14-0 WrestleMania record up against World Heavyweight Champion Batista. The champ waited patiently through the Dead Man’s elaborate entrance and went right after him when the bell rang. Out on the floor, he threw the challenger hard into the steel steps and went up top to connect with a flying shoulderblock.
Undertaker found his bearings and used snake eyes to set up his Old School rope walk. He tried for a chokeslam but saw Batista power out, so he switched gears and hit a jumping clothesline. The Phenom showed he could still get up by jumping over the ropes and diving to the floor.
An enraged Batista rallied on the outside and cleared off two of the announce tables. He used a powerslam to drive Undertaker through one of the tables, but it wasn’t enough to get the pin when the action returned to the ring. After a belly-to-belly suplex, Undertaker scored with the Last Ride and a chokeslam, but Batista managed to kick out at two.
A spear led to a Batista Bomb, and the Undertaker thrilled the fans and stunned the announcers by kicking out. Batista looked for another Batista Bomb, but a series of reversals left him in the clutches of the Dead Man. Undertaker found the mark with a Tombstone and made the cover to win the World Heavyweight Championship.
In the second main event of the night, the first thing to the ring was the actual barber chair. It wheeled itself to ringside. Vince was booed by various Miss USA contestants, while Trump walked out under a rain of cold hard cash. Of course the last entrant, Stone Cold Steve Austin, received one of the biggest pops of the night, and he wasn’t even wrestling.
Umaga and Lashley faced off with punches, with Umaga forced back into the corner. Austin stuck his nose in early, admonishing Lashley for not breaking it up. Armando Estrada also got involved early, placing Umaga’s foot on the ropes to break a count. Lashley pulled Estrada into the ring and power slammed him. Lashley then chucked Estrada to the floor and low bridged a charging Umaga.
The Samoan Bulldozer recovered quickly, tossing Lashley out of the ring through the ropes. Austin slapped Umaga to break a choke on the ropes, and the two stared each other down before Umaga resumed the choke. This time Austin physically pulled Umaga off by his hair.
Umaga continued the assault with a butt splash off the middle rope, then followed with a Samoan drop. Lashley tried for a body slam but wasn’t able to hold the big man, and Umaga felled Lashley with a cross body.
Lashley turned the momentum by tossing Umaga off the top rope. Lashley followed with a clothesline that hurt both men. Austin started to count but stopped at nine. Shane McMahon made his way to ringside as Umaga continued to choke Lashley. Austin grabbed Umaga by the face to remove him from the corner and got a Samoan Spike for his trouble. Shane-O-Mac set up a trash can on Lashley and hit the coast-to-coast dropkick. Then Shane took off his dress shirt to reveal a referee shirt.
Umaga dove off the top rope to hit a big splash. Shane made the count but couldn’t get the three as Austin pulled Shane from the ring. Umaga cut the rally short, nailing Austin again. Trump finally got involved, jumping Vince on the outside. Umaga tried to spike Austin for a third time, but the Rattlesnake ducked and countered with a Stunner. Lashley took advantage with a spear and covered for the win.
After the match, Stone Cold stopped Vince from running, but Shane tried to make the save. Austin hit a Thesz press and finished Shane off with a Stunner. Vince crawled from ringside, but was caught by Lashley, who carried the Chairman back to the ring. Vince, while chewing out Lashley, backed into Austin, who predictably hit Vince with a Stunner.
Lashley and Austin strapped Vince into the chair. Lashley, Austin and Trump grabbed clippers and took turns trimming before covering Vince’s head in shaving cream. Austin enjoyed a beer as Trump and Lashley finished the job with razors. A humiliated Vince slowly walked to the back while being taunted by the Detroit crowd. The Rattlesnake wasn’t done, though, stunning Donald Trump before leaving.
In the final match of the night, Shawn Michaels faced off with his tag team partner, John Cena, for the WWE Title. HBK made his normal entrance, while the champ arrived in style. Cena drove a Ford Mustang into Ford Field, driving through a plate glass Wrestlemania 23 sign. Still, the entrance was tame compared with last year’s nonsense.
HBK sat up on the turnbuckle before the match, trying to get in the champ’s head. HBK slapped the champ, sending Cena into the corner. Michaels ducked a series of punches and countered with a flurry of his own.
HBK slapped on a headlock and took the champ to the floor. Cena broke free, shooting HBK off the ropes. Michaels ducked the first two clothesline attempts but couldn’t avoid the third. HBK responded with a Thesz press. The champ tried to toss Michaels over the top rope, but Shawn landed on the apron. HBK hung Cena on the ropes, then took him to the floor. With Cena still staggering, HBK hit a springboard moonsault, slamming Cena into the table.
Back in the ring, HBK continued his dominance, with Cena selling a knee injury. HBK focused on the knee, whipping it into the ring post and dropping onto it from the ropes. With Cena in the corner, HBK chopped away at the champ. Cena finally fought his way out of the corner, still selling the knee injury. HBK recovered to drive a shoulder into Cena as the two continued to fight in the corner.
Cena finally fought off HBK, and then dodged a shoulder charge. Michaels crashed and burned into the ring post, busting his head open. Cena hit a series of mounted punches and a shoulder block. Cena pulled off the Five-Knuckle Shuffle and tried for an F-U. HBK floated over, but was whipped into the corner.
Cena ducked Sweet Chin Music which caught the ref instead. Cena set up another F-U, but HBK countered with a DDT. HBK slid out of the ring to grab a set of ring steps. After dragging Cena to the outside, HBK hit a massive piledriver on the ring steps. Another ref hit the ring, but it was too late, as Cena was able to kick out.
After the pin attempt, HBK responded with a flying forearm and followed with a flying elbow off the top turnbuckle. HBK warmed up the band, but was cut off by a flying clothesline from Cena. Both men rose to their feet and exchanged punches. Cena got HBK up for another F-U, which Michaels countered into a pin. Cena kicked out, and was able to set up another F-U — this time successfully. Cena wasn’t able to get an immediate cover, and HBK kicked out at two.
The champ set the challenger on the top turnbuckle, but HBK fought out of another F-U. Cena was pushed to the floor, and HBK hit a cross body. Cena rolled through it and picked up HBK. Michaels broke free of the F-U, followed by Cena ducking Sweet Chin Music and HBK blocking an STF-U attempt. Cena finally slapped on the STF-U, but HBK was able to get to the ropes. The champ was admonished for not breaking the hold soon enough, and HBK caught Cena with Sweet Chin Music. Michaels took too much time to make a cover, and Cena kicked out at two.
Both men slowly rose, and once again HBK escaped an F-U. He also evaded an STF-U but the champ locked it in on his second try. Stuck in the center of the ring, Michaels struggled briefly to escape the hold, but he was forced to tap and concede the match to the champ.
After the match, HBK walked away from his tag team partner. Cena unsuccessfully tried to shake hands, but he still offered Michaels a salute as WrestleMania 23 came to a close.
The next WWE pay-per-view is Backlash on April 29th.
If you’ve been with us for the past few years, you know the drill by now. Nick’s comments will be in plain type with Dale’s remarks in italics.
Fittingly for a WrestleMania held in Motown, Aretha Franklin is introduced to sing America the Beautiful. She takes up a little more space than I remember, but she can still sing.
Money in the Bank Ladder Match — King Booker, Finlay, CM Punk, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Randy Orton, Edge and Mr. Kennedy
No curtain jerker tonight! Finlay, yes Finlay, launches into the first crazy move of the night when he jumps from the top turnbuckle to the floor and sends nearly everyone tumbling. Edge brings the first ladder into the ring, and almost everyone ends up on it before Kennedy knocks it over to thwart Jeff Hardy. Booker goes for a ladder and is dismayed to find the mini stepladder from Smackdown, though it still makes a handy weapon. Entering the ring, Booker dishes out spinebusters for everyone and does his patented Spinaroonie. The Hardy brothers break up his fun and work effectively as a team. Then it’s Edge’s turn to Spear everyone in sight, ending only when C.M. Punk leapfrogs a Spear in the corner. Punk uses a ladder like a propeller until Edge finally gets him with a Spear that finds three targets. Edge sets up the extra large ladder and begins his climb only to be knocked all the way to the floor by former tag team partner Orton. The first true “oh crap!” moment of the night occurs when Matt sets Edge up on a ladder balancing between the apron and the guardrail, and Jeff jumps off the tallest ladder with a legdrop, breaking the ladder in the process. Edge is carted off on a stretcher but the match continues. Booker has to make a decision between saving Sharmell and grabbing the briefcase, and he picks his wife only to receive a Twist of Fate from Matt. Little Hornswoggle shows up to help his pal Finlay, but he’s too small to reach the briefcase even from the top of the ladder. He gets into an altercation with Kennedy and ends up on the receiving end of a rolling front Samoan drop off the ladder. Poor little guy! Things build to a conclusion as Punk and Kennedy fight atop a ladder. Punk gets the upper hand when he knocks Kennedy to the canvas; Kennedy uses another ladder to retaliate. As Punk lays at the bottom of the ladder trying desperately to recover in time, Kennedy climbs to the top and grabs the case to win the match.
Winner — Mr. Kennedy at 24 minutes and 10 seconds.
Match Rating: 9/10
Steve Austin’s new movie gets its debut showing at an event the WWE calls the largest movie premiere ever. Hopefully they didn’t charge people to get in. Back in the present at Ford Field, Todd Grisham interviews the Money in the Bank winner, who wants to congratulate himself. Kennedy tells all the guys who wear titles that they better grow eyes in the back of their heads.
The Great Khali vs. Kane
(Kane is really upset because he just the rental numbers back from See No Evil!) Kane and Khali lock up and Khali sends the Big Red Machine to the mat. Kane charges and is sent to the mat by a clothesline. Khali locks in a nerve hold, then follows with a clubbing blow over the back. Kane turns the tables in the corner, hitting a clothesline and a flying clothesline that only staggers the giant. Khali falls back into the ropes and gets tied up. Kane grabs his hook and chain from under the mat, but Khali cuts him off before he can use it. (Does the movie studio know that Kane has taken that prop off the set?) Kane slams Khali but only gets a two count. Kane grabs Khali by the throat and Khali counters by grabbing Kane. Both men break free. Khali grabs Kane with both hands and chokeslams him to the floor. Khali pins Kane by standing on him with one foot.
Winner — The Great Khali at 5 minutes and 30 seconds
Match Rating: 0.5/10
After the match, Khali chokes Kane with the chain.
I kind of wish he’d come choke me out on my couch so I could forget I just saw that match. Anyhow, Cryme Tyme try to cheer up a depressed Eugene by giving him a chance to dance with Extreme Expose. Oh, and Mae Young and Moolah. Just when things seem like they might be winding down Reverend Slick gets them started back up. And soon we’ve got a full fledged dance party on our hands, with Dusty Rhodes, Sgt. Slaughter, Jimmy Hart, I.R.S., Gene Okerlund, Ricky Steamboat and more. Ron Simmons can only shake his head and mutter his simple catchphrase: Damn!
M.V.P. (challenger) vs. Chris Benoit (champion) — United States Title Match
Surprisingly, it’s MVP who gets the best of some early mat wrestling. He also scores the first near fall, but Benoit ducks a high kick and connects with a three-pack of rolling German suplexes. Both men go up top and M.V.P. delivers a superplex, but Benoit rolls through and almost gets three. The challenger gains the upper hand once again, and the champ can’t get the Crippler Crossface applied even when he gets an opening. M.V.P. uses a body slam to set up his “Ballin'” elbowdrop, but he misses a kick in the corner and Benoit hits more rolling Germans. He makes it eight total and goes up top for his diving headbutt, which proves to be enough to retain his title.
Winner … and still U.S. Champion — Chris Benoit at 9 minutes 15 seconds
Match Rating: 6.5/10
Donald Trump is on the phone when the Boogey Man interrupts him. He asks the Boogey Man for a sandwich. Trump offers worms in exchange for a sandwich.
What a shrewd businessman! But you know it’s times like this that make The Donald wonder if he really knows what he’s gotten himself into. A video package takes us back to Saturday night for highlights of the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony. And the whole Class of 2007 (not the Class of 2000 like Michael Cole calls them) gets to come out on stage so the fans can pay their respects.
Batista (champion) vs. The Undertaker (challenger) — World Heavyweight Title Match
Winner — and new World Heavyweight champion — The Undertaker at 15 minutes and 51 seconds
Match Rating: 7.5/10
Vince is already pimping out his granddaughter on TV as Steph drops by with the little one. Vince talks with the little one, telling Steph to shut it. The Chairman of the Board smells something a little off and tells his daughter the kid just “took a Trump.”
ECW Originals (Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, RVD, and Sabu) vs. The New Breed (Kevin Thorn, Elijah Burke, Matt Striker, and Marcus Cor Von)
Sabu is actually on target tonight, hitting a few quick moves on Striker and tagging Sandman for a springboard legdrop and a near fall. Burke and Cor Von get to work a little bit as Dreamer takes a beating from the New Breed. Sabu saves him from a couple of pinning predicaments and he’s finally able to make the hot tag to Van Dam. Rob’s offense includes a huge monkey flip on Striker and Rolling Thunder; Sabu hits a somersault plancha to the floor and Dreamer executes a DDT on Striker. With almost everyone on the outside, RVD leaps for a Five Star Frog Splash and pins Striker. Even though they aren’t in the best situation right now, it is nice to see the Originals with their hands raised in victory at the end.
Winners… ECW Originals (Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, RVD, and Sabu) at 7 minutes and 27 seconds.
Match Rating: 6.5/10
Bobby Lashley representing Donald Trump vs. Umaga representing Vince McMahon — Battle of the Billionaires Hair vs. Hair Match
Winner…Bobby Lashley at 13 minutes.
Match Rating: 8/10
Ashley (challenger) vs. Melina (champion) — WWE Women’s Title match — Lumber-Jill Match
(If all the women are at ringside where’s the Miz? And if you have a problem with that Miz, do something about it!) Ashley takes Melina down by the hair, and the champ tries to scurry from the ring. The lumberjills do their job, and toss Melina back in. Melina pulls out a big spin. Melina wins with a bridge.
When the WWE advertised WrestleMania as the “birthplace of immortals” a few years ago, I’m pretty sure they weren’t talking about this.
Winner — and still WWE Women’s champion — Melina at 3 minutes and 40 seconds
Match Rating: 2/10
After the match all the divas hit the ring, and it’s every women for herself.
Sorry ladies. We appreciate the enthusiasm but that’s not raising the match rating at all!
John Cena (champion) vs. Shawn Michaels (challenger) — WWE Title Match
Winner — and still WWE Champion — John Cena at 29 minutes and 27 seconds
Match Rating: 9/10
Total Event Time: 3 hours and 40 minutes
Event Rating: 8/10