It’s that time of the year ago, as the WWE journeys down to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, for the biggest show of them all, Wrestlemania 24, headlined by two major title matches, and the last hurrah of a true wrestling legend.
Before I go on to the main show, I must comment on the layout in the stadium. To be completely blunt, it looks bloody spectacular, reminding this writer of the time that Summerslam came to the old Wembley Stadium in London way back in 1992. But enough of that, let’s move on to the review itself.
With Kane having won the battle royal to win a shot at the ECW title, the show starts in earnest with the Belfast Brawl, with Finlay taking on John Bradshaw Layfield. Of course, Hornswoggle is along for the ride as well. This type of match is not only perfect for these two wrestlers, but a great way to open the show as well. I’ll refrain from making kitchen sink references, but I will say that these two literally knocked seven bells out of each other, and even the little fella got in on the act as well. Moment of the match has to go when Finlay went for a suicide dive as JBL was on the outside of the ring, only to be met with a trash can lid to the head. Who would have thought that the old Irishman had it in him, eh? Sadly, my fellow Brit couldn’t get the job done, even after putting the rich man through a table, with JBL getting the pin after a clothesline from hell. Good one here, and I’d really like to see these two against each other again.
Then it’s time for the Money in the Bank ladder match, featuring John Morrison, Carlito, Shelton Benjamin, C.M. Punk, Mr. Kennedy, MVP and Chris Jericho. The three previous matches of this type have proven to be show-stealers, and this one wasn’t any different. With seven great performances throughout, for me the performance of John Morrison stood out above any other. His moonsault off the top rope, while holding a ladder, onto the crowd at ringside was a thing to behold. Mention must also be made of Shelton Benjamin’s sick bump which broke a ladder at ringside. We even got a cameo appearance from Matt Hardy, who came in through the crowd and attacked MVP with a twist of fate off the top of the ladder. In the end, as the sun was setting on the stadium, C.M. Punk emerged victorious, stopping Jericho from grabbing the briefcase and tying him up on the ladder so he could get the case for himself. It’ll be very interesting to see just which champion Punk goes after next.
The battle of the powerhouses is next, and a battle for brand supremacy, with Smackdown’s Batista taking on Raw’s Umaga. This one wasn’t going to win any awards for technical excellence, but it was effective as the two big men tore into each other in an attempt to prove whose brand was better. The Samoan Bulldozer worked over the Animal’s back for a while, before Batista came back, blocked the spike attempt, took his man down with a spine buster, then finished him off with a slightly dodging looking Batista bomb. A good match, even though it probably won’t be remembered in years to come.
It’s blink or you miss it time next as battle royal winner Kane challenges Chavo Guerrero for the ECW title. While Chavo was waiting for Kane to make his entrance, the big red machine came into the ring from behind. A choke slam and a three count later, and Kane became the new ECW Champion. I’m really not sure how I should review a match that lasted a matter of seconds, so I think we’ll leave it at that.
Possibly the most anticipated match is next, as we reach the final stop on the Ric Flair retirement tour, as the Nature Boy faced “The Heartbreak Kid” himself, Shawn Michaels. Out of all the matches on this card this was the one I was looking forward to the most. Did it achieve what it set out to do? It certainly did, and then some. Michaels once again proved that he is the best wrestler currently on the WWE roster, capable of giving a top performance on the biggest stage of them all, although one couldn’t help but worry about him when he took that sick moonsault bump on the announcer’s table. Flair gave the performance of a lifetime, showing that he’s still capable of putting on a classic match. This one had everything from start to finish, and as that match went on, the emotions got stronger and stronger, and Michaels’s performance towards the end of the match, when he realised that it would take just one more move to reluctantly end Flair’s career was excellent, and his final words before delivering the last sweet chin music said it all. Three seconds later Michaels had the pin, and Flair’s career was over.
The moment after the final bell when both men broke kayfabe spoke volumes for the respect that Shawn Michaels, and the wrestling world in general, has for Ric Flair, and as he left the stadium to a standing ovation, you couldn’t help but feel as emotional as them. I’ve been following Ric Flair’s career since 1989, and it’s been a pleasure doing so, and while I know that it’s unlikely that he’ll ever read this, I just have to say thank you, Nature Boy. Thank you for the memories.
Time to put the kettle on next for the Playboy bunny mania lumber jack match or whatever the hell it’s called, featuring Ashley and Maria against Women’s Champion Beth Phoenix and Melina, who are accompanied by Santino Marella. Oh, and let’s not forget Snoop Dogg handling the ring announcing duties. The action in this one was okay, but this will probably be remembered for the power cut that took place halfway through the match, with the ring bathed in spotlights a few seconds later. But credit where credit is due, as the girls continued the match, and didn’t let the technical problems put them off their game. Maria almost got the win when she came off the top rope with a bulldog off the top rope on Phoenix, only for Santino to break up the pin. This brought Jerry Lawler out of his commentary position to slug Santino, while the now-distracted Maria was taken down by a Phoenix fisherman’s suplex for the three count and the win. Afterwards, Santino began to mock his former girl before Snoop Dogg came into the ring and clotheslined the slimy Italian, before making sure Maria was okay in his own unique way. Okay I suppose, but this will be another one that probably won’t be remembered in a few years time - or should that be a few months time.
Main event #1 follows, as John Cena and Triple H challenge Randy Orton for the WWE title in a triple threat match. A really good match this, everything a Wrestlemania main event should be. Each man did their bit to tell a great story throughout the match, and that’s what made this one so good. Numerous pin and submission attempts, with nobody giving up, made you think that this match was anyone’s for the taking, and that we could see a title change. In the end, Orton came out on top. Laying on the ring apron, his leg having been attacked by Triple H, he broke up the Game’s pin attempt with a kick to the head after he’d taken out Cena with the Pedigree, and took the pin himself. A good match here, worthy of it’s main event status, and while I was expecting a title change, I was glad that they kept the belt on Orton.
David v Goliath, or rather Floyd Mayweather v the Big Show, follows, where anything goes, and the win can come from a pin, submission or a knockout. I really didn’t hold out much hope for this one, but it was actually a lot better than I thought it would be. Credit where credit is due, Mayweather did his bit, taking his bumps as the Big Show unloaded with the heavy arsenal, at which point Mayweather’s men tried to pull him out of the match, only for the Big Show to lay most of them out and drag the boxer back to the ring, where he continued his dominating performance until Mayweather managed to get hold of a steel chair, unleashing with a torrent of shots as the giant slumped to his knees. He then grabbed a pair of brass knuckles from one of his fallen handlers and laid the Big Show out. With the fallen giant failing to beat the ten count, Mayweather won the bout by knockout. A very enjoyable contest here. I really didn’t expect Mayweather to take the punishment that he did, but he obviously took his training seriously, wanting to earn every penny of his substantial appearance fee.
Main event time #2, as Edge defends the World title against the man who has never lost at Wrestlemania, the Undertaker. With the massive crowd all but silent for the majority of this match, the two top stars of the Smackdown brand proceeded to put on a solid wrestling match, with the Undertaker injuring his back early on, and the champion working over the injury, before the dead man came back strongly, only to find several of his signature moves countered again and again. But no matter what Edge did, he just couldn’t put the challenger away, and he even resorted to clobbering him with a camera after the referee took an accidental hit. But none of this could keep the dead man down as he took Edge out with the tombstone, but with no referee, he couldn’t get the pin, not even when the replacement referee came charging down the aisle to administer the count. Then, not even the Edge-heads Hawkins and Ryder, and two spears could put the dead man away, and as the champion was about to go for the pin, the Undertaker synched in his variation of the triangle choke. With Edge unable to escape the hold, he had no choice but to tap, awarding the Undertaker the title winning victory, with the crowd finally coming to life in the final few minutes of the match. This was an excellent contest, worthy of it’s spot on the card, and although many will question the validity of putting the title on the Undertaker again, I say that the dead man deserves it, especially if he can still put on performances like this one.
In conclusion - the biggest show of the year delivered, and then some. Bunnymania aside, each match delivered what it set out to do, with some doing a little more than others. From the opening brawl between Finlay and JBL, through to the emotional end of Ric Flair’s career, to the solid main event between Edge and the Undertaker, the WWE put on a hell of a show here. But then again, it was Wrestlemania, and you can’t get much better than that, can you?