Perhaps the biggest WrestleMania of the modern era took place in 2012. On the night of Sunday April 1 of that year, we had the culmination of a year-long journey to get us to the biggest match of the decade, The Rock vs. John Cena. In addition, we had the promise of another huge match as The Undertaker defended his vaunted Streak against Triple H inside Hell In A Cell (with Shawn Michaels as special guest referee), along with two other major title matches and some appealing undercard content. With all that on offer, WM 28 looked set to leave a lasting impression for many years to come, and so it proved as we now explain in our retro review.
WWE Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Match
Primo & Epico (C) vs. The Usos vs. Tyson Kidd & Justin Gabriel
This was the final time that WWE officially held a non-televised bout prior to the PPV itself beginning (though it was on WWE.com and YouTube), as the Kick-Off Show would be introduced from Extreme Rules 2012 onwards (which eventually became a fixture of the WWE Network’s coverage of supershows once it launched in 2014; ironically, the Network was originally supposed to launch the day after this very card). This was okay but nothing more, though it did serve its purpose of warming up the crowd in the Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida. Epico ensured a successful title defence for him and his cousin with a Backstabber on Jey Uso. Jimmy and Jey were still struggling to find their groove at this point, but once they did, they became arguably the best WWE tag team of this generation.
Lilian Garcia sang America The Beautiful, complete with a fly-pass over the open air stadium. The anticipation in the air was palpable as this PPV began, since fans had been waiting so long to see two of the biggest Mania matches ever.
World Heavyweight Championship Match
Daniel Bryan (C) vs. Sheamus
Yes, it’s that show. Bryan had won Money In The Bank the previous July as a babyface and vowed to wait until Mania to cash it in, but instead he used its prize on Big Show to win the WHC at TLC to slowly turn heel, which included the introduction of his “Yes!” chant. However, this was the first occasion where the fans themselves chanted it, and in great numbers. Sheamus, a Royal Rumble winner earning his big title opportunity in the opening match, was a babyface, but didn’t get the warmest of welcomes as he came out. The bell rang, Bryan received a good luck kiss from his on-screen girlfriend AJ Lee, only to taste a Brogue Kick and lose the gold in eighteen seconds. One year after their United States Championship Match was bumped to the dark match slot and ended in a big schmozz, they once again had a Mania match which had fans disappointed.
Indeed, the audience weren’t amused, partly because a World Title match was so short and because Bryan, one of the top indy darlings so to speak, had lost so quickly. Talk of him being buried and humiliated was a hot topic. But ironically, albeit likely by accident, this actually helped Daniel greatly because it rallied fans behind him in ever-increasing numbers, ultimately resulting in him having a major main event run. AJ too benefitted, because the fall-out led to her becoming a star in her own right. If anything, it was actually Sheamus that was most harmed, because fans became reluctant to back the Celtic Warrior due to the manner in which his title victory was booked, meaning that his extended title reign was considered a disappointment.
Backstage, John Laurinaitis tried to rally the troops ahead of a big 12-man tag team match later on for dual General Manager control on both Raw and SmackDown.
Randy Orton vs. Kane
When people look back on this Mania, this is one of the matches that is most ignored, and yet it’s actually pretty good. The backstory was that Kane had gone off television after a match with Orton, but had almost gone soft (well as soft as Kane could be, anyway). When he returned (initially targeting John Cena), he was back in the mask and back in the role of a dominant monster heel. He soon focused on Randy, and so their Mania match was set.
Fans were slow to become invested, likely due to their frustration at how the opening contest had gone down, but they soon managed to provide a reaction to Randy (still one of the company’s top babyfaces) and Kane (who had renewed mileage and had yet to be considered a nostalgia act), both of whom were definitely grafting here. The finish saw Kane drill Randy with a second rope Chokeslam for the surprisingly clean heel victory. Orton would exact revenge in subsequent rematches, though this represented a pretty significant win for The Big Red Machine, and in the underrated bout of the card no less.
Intercontinental Championship Match
Cody Rhodes (C) vs. Big Show
The story here concerned Cody mocking Show for embarrassing himself on the WrestleMania stage, essentially saying that he’d never enjoyed a Mania moment where he had shone, so to speak. Unfortunately, this match was poor, as they couldn’t overcome the challenges that their significant size difference created. It may have worked if Show had been the bullying heel and Rhodes had been an underdog babyface, but with the roles reversed and with the fans seemingly unsure how to react at times, it made for an awkward contest. Speaking of which, Show’s attempted spear on a mid-air Cody looked ugly, before a WMD punch earned an emotional Show the win and the IC Title. A nice moment for the giant, but far from a vintage Mania match.
Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos vs. Beth Phoenix & Eve Torres
This was an attempt to incorporate celebrity involvement into the show, with E! presenter Maria teaming alongside the poster girl of the 2012 Divas era, Kelly Kelly, against the reigning Divas Champion and Eve, who had recently turned heel (keep that in mind). In fairness, this could have been worse (Maria’s offence was believable), but it also wasn’t the sort of match that would have fans chanting “Women’s Wrestling!” either. The finish came when Maria rolled up Beth (the champ, remember) for the three-count. Yep, the Women’s Evolution hadn’t kicked into gear yet by this point, and really the show hadn’t either, though the latter was about to change.
Hell In A Cell Match – Shawn Michaels Is Special Guest Referee
The Undertaker vs. Triple H
So, at Mania XXVII, Taker had gone 19-0 against Trips in a No Holds Barred match, but in the process, he had taken such a beating that he had to be carted out of the arena, with HHH subsequently saying that he lost the battle but won the war, and that if/when UT returned, The Game would be waiting for him. Taker finally resurfaced in January and challenged Tripper for a Mania rematch, but the COO refused, saying that he would have to destroy Taker completely to beat him. After The Phenom delivered some insults (namely, “Shawn was always better than you!”), HHH accepted, on condition that it was Hell In A Cell. Somewhere thereafter, Michaels was named as referee, and the implication was that HHH may or may not have been able to end The Streak, but if Shawn did happen to favour his buddy, DX together possibly could.
Jim Ross was on commentary for this alongside Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole, who thankfully abandoned his heel persona for the night (with the exception of the upcoming 12-man tag), now sporting a beard. Taker had also changed up his look, replacing his long hair with an evil mohawk (the story was that UT had taken to shaving his head out of frustration over the events of WM 27). The fact that HIAC being lowered received its own theme song (The Memory Remains by Metallica) was both cool and hilarious. Taker dominated much of the early going, which made sense considering that the match essentially happened because he wanted revenge from the previous year, but the tide turned when HHH reversed a Hell’s Gate with a spinebuster onto steel stairs.
From there, HHH once again pounded Undertaker with steel chairshots, so much so that Michaels felt the need to step in, but while HHH told him that he’d end it if Shawn wouldn’t, Taker angrily told HBK “do not stop it!” Michaels looked to be in quite the dilemma, but Taker stopped it by trapping Shawn in the Hell’s Gate, which HHH broke up with a sledgehammer shot. Nevertheless, Taker was back in command, until a Sweet Chin Music/Pedigree combo led to a red-hot near-fall. As Shawn looked crestfallen, Taker drilled HHH with a Tombstone, but this didn’t earn him the victory. Another Pedigree by The Game was his last serious chance to end The Streak, but Taker again survived. By now, HHH was beaten up, so much so that his sledgehammer was his only hope, but Taker stood on the weapon and shoved Hunter into the corner. A crotch chop by HHH earned him a sledgehammer shot to the jaw, and another Tombstone brought the match to a climax.
This was a sensational brawl, and arguably the best WWE match since the Taker-Shawn battles at previous Manias (one which may not have been topped since in terms of drama and emotion). Taker had gone 20-0 by once again putting on a hell of a performance, as did his opponent and even Shawn, who was fantastic in playing his role as official to perfection in telling the story. Post-match, Taker and Shawn helped HHH up, and all three embraced at the top of the aisle to a standing ovation, bringing to a close a four-year WrestleMania story concerning UT’s undefeated record on the grand stage, hence the tagline “End Of An Era”.
As a buffer, we had the Hall Of Fame bow next. The inductees were Mil Mascaras, Yokozuna, Ron Simmons, Mike Tyson, The Four Horsemen (with Ric Flair becoming the first two-time inductee, and with Naitch on loan from TNA for the weekend) and Edge, who had retired due to injury after Mania the prior year.
12-Man Tag Team Match
Team Johnny vs. Team Teddy
It would take a thousand words to explain everything and everybody involved, so I’ll briefly note that this match was to decide whether heel Raw GM John Laurinaitis or SD GM Teddy Long would have control over both shows. It had no real chance of following the Hell In A Cell bout, but it was still a good effort and watchable enough. The ending saw The Miz hit Zack Ryder with a Skull-Crushing Finale (giving total authority to Big Johnny), following a distraction from Eve Torres, and she booted Ryder in the balls afterwards. Remember when I said earlier that Eve was a heel? Well, her on-screen romance with Zack had led to him calling her a “Hoe-ski”, yet somehow they remained an item until this betrayal here. The upshot here was, Ryder looked like an idiot, and his organic push essentially ended as a result.
WWE Championship Match
CM Punk (C) vs. Chris Jericho
Beforehand, Laurinaitis informed Punk that he would lose the title if he were disqualified (since that worked so well at WM 25). This was important because Jericho had insulted Punk’s family on a deeply personal level in the prior weeks, so this ensured that we’d get a proper wrestling match, according to Johnny. Still, Jericho (the heel) antagonised Punk (the face) in the first few minutes, essentially begging him to get DQ’d so that he would win the title, and hurling further insults at him. Still, Punk did manage to hold it together enough that we did indeed get a wrestling match.
And it was a pretty good one at that. The slow start and occasional sloppiness meant that this wasn’t quite the all-time classic that people had hoped for, but it was still a strong effort by both, and a bout worthy of the Grandest Stage Of Them All. Chris’ mid-air Codebreaker and Walls Of Jericho submission manoeuvre were his best chances of snatching the gold by merit, but CM avoided his biggest moves and, after attempting the hold more than once, he locked in the Anaconda Vice to claim victory by submission. Punk would later complain about never getting to main event Mania, and his babyface character was never hotter than at this stage dating back to the previous summer, so this would be the perfect opportunity for him to have headlined Mania. Unfortunately for him, his rise to peak popularity occurred at a time when fans were about to be treated to the biggest match in many years.
But not before Brodus Clay came out, during his Funkasaurus phase, and tried to call his “momma”. This led to an extended dance routine, which was either light entertainment or a complete waste of time depending on your opinion.
The Rock vs. John Cena
And so we come to the big one. Rock had returned to WWE in February 2011 and, as well as hosting WrestleMania XXVII, he initiated an on-screen spat with John Cena based on insults traded in real life. Rock ultimately cost Cena the WWE Title in that Mania main event, and the next night, they officially agreed to a match here at WM XXVIII, a full year later. Rock went back to Hollywood while Cena and WWE continuously reminded us of the match on television, with Rock dropping in to actually team with John at Survivor Series. The preceding six weeks saw the build-up resume proper, and a mix of fantastic promos based on true feelings and highly entertaining angles, along with their collective star power and the typically exceptional hype packages by the company, all made you feel that you were about to see something truly massive go down.
Both men had musical acts singing on their behalf as they came to the ring: Cena had Machine Gun Kelly, while Rock had (probable future celebrity inductee into the Hall Of Fame) Flo Rida. Especially given the Miami location, it should not be a surprise that Rock received by far the biggest cheers, while Cena received plenty of boos (though he definitely had fans in attendance). The pre-match staredown was perfect, allowing the atmosphere to reach a fever pitch; finally, after all the waiting, it was time for the match to go down.
The early going was deliberately slow, allowing fans to settle in and absorb the significance of the moment, and with both men pulling out some unexpected moves to the shock of their opponent. Each attempted their finishing moves on multiple times and nearly achieved victory, with Rock hitting a Rock Bottom and Cena nailing an Attitude Adjustment. Cena survived a Sharpshooter, while Rock managed to eventually escape the STF. A People’s Elbow was also unsuccessful for Rock, while a second AA (after he intercepted a Rock crossbody with a roll-through) couldn’t claim the win for John either. With Rock felled, though, overconfidence set in for Cena, who mocked Rock by attempting a People’s Elbow of his own, only to run right into a second Rock Bottom, earning the hometown legend the victory to a huge pop. To end the show, Rock celebrated as the fireworks went off, while Cena sat on the ramp, devastated that his long journey towards a presumed win over Rock had ultimately failed.
The match itself lived up to the hype. Some disagree with this, believing that it was actually a let-down, but let’s face it, the target audience were Rock fans, Cena fans, and casual WWE fans as a whole. If you wanted a technical clinic, you had that in Punk vs. Jericho (well, nearly), and if you wanted a violent brawl, you had that in Taker vs. HHH. This was all about the spectacle, the moment so to speak, and creating something that would be truly historic for the company and the fans. This is exactly what we got, and amongst those who were most excited about seeing this particular match, very few were disappointed. Cena would go on to claim retribution in a rematch the following year, though not before being F5’d by the returning Brock Lesnar in another legendary moment the next night on Raw.
At the time, WrestleMania XXVIII seemed like a huge success for WWE, and the card has definitely stood the test of time. If anything, its legacy is greater now, because its one big flaw – Sheamus vs. Bryan – indirectly led to Daniel becoming a massive star, so it served a great purpose in that regard. The top three matches all delivered in their own way, and we had some good action further down the card too. It wasn’t a perfect show by any means, but it was undoubtedly a great event, and a definite top-ten WrestleMania card.
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding