Wrestling Review: WWE WrestleMania 25

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Sunday April 5 2009 marked the 25th annual WrestleMania (promoted by WWE as being the 25th anniversary of WrestleMania, which is slightly different). That night, we got to see an absolute classic between two of the all-time greats, but the rest of the show wasn’t greeted fondly on the night. How does WrestleMania 25 fare, ten years on?

WWE & World Tag Team Championship Unification Lumberjack Match
Carlito & Primo (WWE C) vs. John Morrison & The Miz (World C)

Before the WWE Network, there would be one match prior to the PPV beginning that would be aired on WWE.com. In this case, it was not only a match that had been advertised for the supershow, but it was a pretty historic one as the then-Raw and SmackDown doubles straps would be unified. What’s more, one of the participants (Miz) would main event Mania just two years later. This is a really fun match, and the pre-show slot certainly didn’t prevent these four from putting on a great bout. Carlito and Primo ultimately picked up the win to become double champions, but they would split just three months later, and given that this match wasn’t even acknowledged on the show proper, it felt (and still feels) like a missed opportunity. Incidentally, one of the lumberjacks was ECW Champion Jack Swagger, which should emphasise how low of a priority the ECW brand and its title were by this point.

Nicole Scherzinger handled America The Beautiful here, following an official introduction by Howard Finkel, who was amongst the Hall Of Fame inductees that year. The opening video package focused on what each then-current performer’s favourite Mania moment ever was, followed by their intentions that night in Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Money In The Bank Ladder Match
Kane vs. CM Punk vs. Christian vs. Finlay vs. Mark Henry vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. MVP vs. Kofi Kingston

The fifth annual MITB Ladder match opened the card, and as usual, it was an exciting stunt brawl. It’s true to say that the concept had likely peaked by this point, but that doesn’t mean that the match itself couldn’t deliver one great spot after another. Of note here, Benjamin executed a barmy senton off the top of a huge ladder in the aisleway. This was also where Kofi Kingston began to really capture the imagination of fans, not least when he climbed up a ladder while Mark Henry held it in his (super-strong) hands, which is quite the feat. Even Hornswoggle had a moment when Finlay helped him jump off Henry’s back onto the opposition. There were some noticeably blown spots unfortunately, but otherwise this is quite the opener, except for maybe the outcome.

Given the outpouring of support for CM Punk in the years to come, you may be surprised to learn that his babyface triumph, and second straight MITB victory, was greeted with boos. That’s because fans really wanted the recently-returned Christian to seize the briefcase and finally win a World Title in WWE. That would come for Captain Charisma, but not via Money In The Bank. Punk would go on to cash in successfully and turn heel, leading to his fondly-remembered Straight-Edge villain persona. So, while the result was a head-scratcher on the night, Punk’s win ultimately proved to be the correct decision.

What remains a source of confusion, though, was Kid Rock having a mini-concert lasting covering five tracks and lasting over ten minutes. This was before Mania was a five-hour event, so almost 5% of the night was used up for an unannounced gig by someone whose songs did have a wrestling connection, but that still didn’t justify the amount of air time he got here. What’s more, the participants in the subsequent match had to make their entrances as one group during the final song So Hott, and best of all, WWE edited the whole thing out of the DVD release, making it entirely pointless.

25-Diva Battle Royal To Crown Miss WrestleMania

What a different ten years makes. This Sunday, a women’s match will main event Mania, but in 2009, every female on the roster (along with several names from the past) were thrown into a Battle Royal which was almost as quick and far less entertaining than the Gimmick Battle Royal Of WM X-Seven. Many weren’t identified by name until they were eliminated, and some weren’t acknowledged by announcers Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole. In addition, the winner ended up being Santino Marella in drag, as his ‘twin sister’ Santina Marella. To be fair, fans did react to the outcome, and Marella’s post-match dance was so ridiculous that you couldn’t help but laugh. Still, the real joke was on WWE’s women’s division, who it could be argued reached rock bottom on this night.

3-on-1 Elimination Handicap Match
Chris Jericho vs. Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka & Ricky Steamboat

Context is definitely required here. Chris Jericho was set to battle actor Mickey Rourke, star of the recently-released movie The Wrestler, but Rourke’s advisors, erm, advised him not to do it. So, the storyline was changed for Jericho to run down legends facing a similar post-career crisis to Rourke’s character Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson. These consisted of Piper, Snuka, Steamboat and also Ric Flair, though his career had been ended by Shawn Michaels the year prior. A Ric return was teased, but instead the (anticlimatic) pay-off would be a three-on-one match. Each of the babyface legends got their signature spots in early on, but both Jimmy and Roddy were clearly struggling, so it’s no surprise that Chris dispatched of them fairly quickly via the Walls Of Jericho and an enzuiguri respectively.

The final portion, pitting Y2J against The Dragon, was outstanding, considering that Ricky was 56 and hadn’t wrestled since 1994. Indeed, this portion of the bout was a sign that a straight singles bout should have taken place instead. Though Steamboat came close to a shock win, Chris defeated his childhood hero with a Codebreaker. Afterwards, Ric Flair (who manages the legends) ran in for a brawl that led to him also taking a Codebreaker, and then Jericho challenged Rourke (who was at ringside) to come in the ring and fight him. Rourke, the former amateur boxer, finally got in the ring and, after circling Chris, ended up punching him to the canvas. The last part of this segment took longer than it needed to, and though Chris vs. Ricky was very good (and led to a proper rematch at Backlash three weeks later), the presentation still felt second-rate overall. We should be thankful that Jericho advocated for Steamboat to be involved, since Greg Valentine was originally set to compete as the partner of Piper and Snuka.

Extreme Rules Match
Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy

This had the longest build of any Mania match, with Jeff being sabotaged by a mystery assailant going back to Survivor Series. Christian was the original choice for the role, but Matt Hardy ended up with the spot, and he cost Jeff the WWE Title against Edge at Royal Rumble. Matt, now a dastardly heel, even hinted at having been the one to burn down Jeff’s home in 2008, which led to the death of his pet dog Jack. Hence the grounds for a very personal battle of the Hardy brothers.

This is actually an underrated brawl, but because these two have set the bar so high with their TLC and Ladder matches, even a perfectly adequate weapons fight will seem less than stellar in comparison. Nevertheless, this Extreme Rules scrap had its moments, such as Jeff splashing Matt through a stacked table sandwich, and an attempted Frogger off one ladder over a taller ladder onto Matt, who moved out of the way, causing Jeff to land hard on his tailbone. A chair-assisted Twist Of Fate earned Matt the pinfall in a fight that, while slightly rushed, should be remembered better than it is.

Intercontinental Championship Match
John Bradshaw Layfield (C) vs. Rey Mysterio

At this time, WWE had a tendency to make at least one Mania match super-short. That applied to JBL vs. Rey: Layfield cut a bragging promo beforehand and jumped Rey early, but Mysterio (dressed similar to The Joker, played recently by the late Heath Ledger, with Jim Ross bizarrely making an apparent quip at the latter’s expense by saying that “Rey’s career is alive and well”) rebounded once the bell had rung, hitting JBL with a 619 and a splash to win the gold in 21 seconds. Post-match, JBL shouted “I quit!”, and asked from a very brief Royal Rumble cameo in 2014, he never wrestled again. So far, the show had seemed very underwhelming, especially compared to recent Mania cards. Thankfully, we were about to be treated to solid gold.

The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels

At the time of WM 25, Undertaker’s fabled winning run – The Streak – at WrestleMania stood at 16-0. Michaels seemed as strong a candidate as any to beat Taker, especially since he had never lost a singles match on a big stage to The Dead Man. In the build-up, Shawn found a way to avoid almost all of his opponent’s mind-games and gave the impression that he had Taker’s number, so to speak. In terms of their entrances for the match, Shawn entered from a descending platform in all white and to heavenly music, while Taker rose up from the apparent depths of hell in darkness.

The first 10-15 minutes alone are very well-executed with super-smooth action, hard-hitting strikes (such as Taker’s big boot to the face), dramatic submission attempts, call-backs to previous angles (such as Shawn feigning an injury as he had done the previous year against Batista, though this only lasted seconds) and a super-enthused crowd to boot. After Taker swatted away an attempted moonsault by Shawn to the floor (which in itself raised eyebrows), The Phenom almost broke his neck when he landed slightly short on his tope over the ropes, though Michaels shoving a cameraman into the way hardly helped his cause. Taker’s head bounced off the floor, leaving a circular dent on the ring mats. Somehow, after a three-minute pause, Taker was able to continue, breaking the referee’s count at nine to the visual distress (but internal relief) of Michaels.

Almost immediately, the pace increased, as Taker executed an almighty chokeslam on Shawn. A huge top rope elbow by Shawn couldn’t get the job done, nor could a massive Last Ride powerbomb by Taker. The Dead Man even attempted a top rope elbow of his own to no joy, before Sweet Chin Music put Taker down for two once more. Taker caught Shawn skinning the cat off the ropes and Tombstoned him; had the bout ended there, it still would have been the front-runner for Match Of The Year. Instead, Shawn stunned everybody by kicking out, leaving Taker with a memorable expression of exasperation as JR noted that “This classic is continuing!” A second superkick came agonisingly close to ending The Streak, and as fans chanted “This is awesome!”, Michaels tried his luck with a top rope moonsault, only to be intercepted with a second Tombstone for the win. JR shouted “17-0! Seventeen and zero!”

This match, which lasted just over 30 minutes, is remembered as one of the very best bouts not just in WrestleMania history, but also WWE history, and it’s impossible to disagree with those assessments. With the exception of Taker’s near-paralysis, everything is executed to perfection, as fans are taken on a rollercoaster ride for the ages. Everybody knew it would be good, many believed that we’d get a classic, but these two legends somehow exceeded sky-high expectations. It’s the gold standard of modern Mania matches, a bar that has yet to be met by anybody else since then. If you’ve somehow never seen this match, I urge you to stop what you’re doing and watch it immediately.

World Heavyweight Championship Triple Threat Match
Edge (C) vs. John Cena vs. Big Show

So, Edge had entered No Way Out as WWE Champion, lost the title in an Elimination Chamber match, but entered another such bout to end the night as World Heavyweight Champion, taking the title that had belonged to John Cena. Edge and Vickie Guerrero had attempted to prevent Cena getting a rematch with the assistance of Big Show, who they randomly named as Edge’s contender here. But Cena knew a secret about Vickie: she and Show were having an affair behind Edge’s back! To avoid disruption, Cena was inserted into the match at Mania, but he revealed the secret anyway. Got all that?

Cena’s entrance was memorable, with dozens of cosplayers doing his “You can’t see me!” hand gesture as John ran down the massive ramp. The match itself is less so aside from one major spot at the finish: after a bout which would be considered pretty good for a B-show, but which seemed inadequate for a top title match at Mania, Cena overcame the various finishing moves by both men and interference from the ineffectual Chavo Guerrero, not to mention Vickie at ringside and other shenanigans (such as Edge driving Show through a barricade), by somehow hoisting both Edge and the 500-pound Show onto his shoulders, gently tossing Edge off and then hitting Show with an Attitude Adjustment to regain the gold.

Next, we had a segment honouring that year’s Hall Of Fame class. This included the aforementioned Fink and Steamboat plus Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr., The Von Erich, Bill Watts, Koko B. Ware, and the star inductee, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin would have got a warm welcome anyway, but in his home state of Texas, he got an almighty pop, the biggest of the night. After the inductees were announced, Stone Cold came back out wearing an Austin 3:16 shirt and had an extended beer-bash to the delight of the fans. The announcers emphasised that the Austin Era ended here, though he would resurface on WWE television again down the years. One can only wonder what would have happened if Austin had wrestled here, which had been rumoured throughout 2008.

WWE Championship Match
Triple H (C) vs. Randy Orton

The main event of WM 25 was set up very well, perhaps with too much going on: Orton punted Vince McMahon, then later punted Shane and even RKO’d Stephanie. This angered HHH, who finally revealed on television that he and Steph were married for real (how this conflicted with their previous storyline marriage was never explained). From there, the two men were at total odds, from Randy handcuffing HHH to the ropes while he DDT’d and even kissed Stephanie, to The Game seemingly invading Randy’s house to destroy him and send him flying through his own front window. Orton and his Legacy teammates Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase brawled with HHH, Vince and Shane to finish the pre-Mania episode of Raw, which raised hopes that this would be a great main event. But it wasn’t.

Orton’s music starting while Lilian Garcia was still announcing the major stipulation (namely, that Triple H would lose the title if he was disqualified, which we’ll come back to) was a sign of things to come. Trip’s entrance went better, as he sent a sledgehammer through a glass mirrored wall. And the match started strong, with Orton almost winning off an early RKO and HHH hitting an early Pedigree. From there, though, we had a slow-paced match that was more technically-focused than brawling-themed, though we did see Orton backdrop HHH from one announcer’s table onto another. Orton wanted HHH to get himself disqualified so he would win the title, but The Game wouldn’t stoop so low. Orton sent HHH crashing into referee Scott Armstrong and hit an RKO, but when he brought a sledgehammer into the ring, HHH punted him and then hit him with the hammer while the ref was still down. A series of punches to a downed Orton on the canvas led to the match-winning Pedigree, and that was it.

The action being slow was a big issue, especially coming after the excitement of Taker vs. Shawn. The stipulation of babyface HHH losing the title if he got DQ’d hurt the bout greatly, since they couldn’t have the violent brawl that this feud demanded, and because this was the first Mania of the modern PG era, elements such as blood loss were also out of the question. What’s more, the finish was flat, and a total let-down for a Mania ending (though it was still better than how WM 27 ended). The rumoured proposal for interference by Legacy, the McMahons and Batista (who returned from injury the next night on Raw) would have made for a much more exciting finale; what we got was not very good at all.

But all of this might not have mattered had the fans been enthused. Instead, the crowd were extremely quiet for most of the bout (and not for the first or last time in relation to a Triple H match at Mania), and seemed to be watching out of necessity more than anything. On the bright side, they weren’t the smarky audience that would toss around beachballs or chant for wrestlers not involved in the match, so it remains watchable, but it undoubtedly dampened a main event that was already going to struggle due to the aforementioned factors. HHH has revealed how he told Randy on the night that they had no chance of following Taker-Shawn, but even when you consider that aspect, this headline attraction should have been far better than it was. As it turned out, a milestone Mania ended with one of the poorest show-closing matches in the history of the event.

On the whole, then, WrestleMania 25 is an eclectic mix of the extremely good and extremely bad. Undertaker-Shawn is almost flawless, but the main event simply did not work, the women’s Battle Royal was heavily criticised at the time (never mind through modern eyes), and another match lasted mere seconds. What’s more, Money In The Bank had a questionable outcome on the night (though this stands up better in hindsight), Ricky Steamboat saved the handicap match from being a bust, the World Title match is okay but by no means great, and while the Extreme Rules scrap should get more love, this isn’t a classic either. You could take the opposite approach and note how there are strong performances in MITB, Matt vs. Jeff and from Jericho and Steamboat, as well as listing Austin’s beer celebration as a cool moment. Overall, though, it’s not enough to disguise that WrestleMania 25 didn’t live up to the occasion, and that feeling remains when reliving it a decade later. Nevertheless, for its various faults, it does play host to one of the best bouts ever in Undertaker vs. Shawn, making this the epitome of a one-match show.

Overall Rating: 7/10 – Respectable