Wednesday, 8 April 2009

WWE Wrestlemania 25 on Sky Box Office - TV Review

Twenty years ago, a 17 year old wrestling fan, having first viewed the World Wrestling Federation two years before with a certain disdain, decided to give their product another go. The first show he really paid attention to was held at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and was shown on a two month delay on Sky Channel here in Britain. That show was Wrestlemania V, and that wrestling fan was yours truly. Now, twenty years on, the biggest show in the history of professional wrestling is still going strong, with World Wrestling Entertainment presenting Wrestlemania 25, shown live here in Britain on Sky Box Office, with Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole handling commentary duties.

Money in the Bank kicks off the show, with C.M. Punk, Mark Henry (accompanied by Tony Atlas), U.S. Champion MVP, Finlay (accompanied by Hornswoggle), Shelton Benjamin, Kofi Kingston, Christian and Kane. This was a great way to start the show. Tons of big spots involving high flying and collision with ladders coupled with outstanding performances from all eight men involved (even Mark Henry) made for a thrilling contest. Normally in these things there’s always one man who stands out as the best man in the match, but that wasn’t the case with this one, because they all stood out, and for the second year in a row, C.M. Punk capped off a tremendous match, using a series of high right kicks to knock Kane off the ladder so he could grab the case and a guaranteed title match within the next year. For the second year in row, Punk put in a great performance, and this self-confessed Punk fan is more than pleased. Before I move on, can someone tell me exactly what Tony Atlas does?

After Kid Rock gives us a medley of his greatest songs, (sadly, no American Bad Ass though), it’s on to the Divas battle royal. A total waste of time in my opinion. For weeks we kept getting told that former Divas would be returning, for one night only, to take part in this thing, and there were only six returnees. None of them were even introduced to the crowd. In fact, none of the participants got an introduction, and what made this thing even worse was that the winner was Santino Marella, in a dress, claiming to be his long-lost twin sister Santina.

Normal service is resumed with Chris Jericho taking on a trio of legends in the form of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, accompanied by “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. To win this one, Jericho would have to pin all three legends. Oh, and let’s not forget the star of “The Wrestler”, Mickey Rourke, sitting at ringside. Was that MMA legend Frank Shamrock sitting with him? Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Now, to paraphrase Jim Ross, the offence of Piper and Snuka was bowling shoe ugly, but that all changed when Steamboat got into the ring. The guy looked in great shape, and wrestled just as well, pulling off the kind of moves we used to see in his heyday.

Snuka was the first man eliminated, tapping out as Jericho applied the Walls of Jericho. Jericho then managed to get out of Piper’s sleeper hold so he could take him out with an enziguri, which led to the best part of the match. The back and forth action between Jericho and Steamboat was a joy to behold. He may not have been as fast as he used to be, but Steamboat was more than a match for Jericho. There were false finishes aplenty as Steamboat nearly got the win countless times, until Jericho eventually took the legend out with a code breaker. But that wasn’t the end of things. After drawling Flair into the ring and taking care off the Nature Boy, Jericho baited Mickey Rourke, who, despite his reservations, stepped into the ring to face off against his most vocal critic. What followed was a little disappointing to be honest, as Rourke showed off his boxing skills and took down Jericho with a right to the body and a left hook to the head. Well, if you take out the bit with Rourke, you’ve got a hell of a match here, and I know that this probably won’t happen, but I’d love to see a singles match between Steamboat and Jericho.

Big grudge match time, the battle of the brothers, with Matt and Jeff Hardy going at it in an extreme rules match. Boy, was this a good match. These two really tore into each other, making you think that their grudge was in fact real. We saw chairs, tables, ladders and more as they both took it to the extreme. There were so many great moments in this match, but the best has to be Jeff’s swan dive off the top rope, sandwiching Matt through two tables at ringside, with his leg drop attempt from the top of a massive ladder, crashing and burning in the middle of the ring, coming a close second. That was the beginning of the end for Jeff, as Matt put his head in a steel chair and took him out with the Twist of Fate. A three count later, and big brother had the victory, ending what was a truly great match.

The first title match of the evening followed, with Rey Mysterio, with a mask modelled on Heath Ledger’s Joker, challenging JBL for the Intercontinental title. This one didn’t last long. After taking Mysterio down with a big boot before the bell, the referee kept him back so he couldn’t cause any more damage and so he could officially start the match. When the bell rang, Mysterio went to work quickly, connecting with the 619, and then getting the pin after a top rope splash. Mysterio was now Intercontinental Champion, and it didn’t sit too well with the now-former champion, who grabbed a microphone, and after a few stutters, promptly quit. So, as he revealed later in his blog, this is JBL’s match, and as a fan of his ever since he made his WWE debut over a decade ago, and as a fan through his various gimmick changes, thanks, John, for all the enjoyment you gave this wrestling fan during your career. It was a pleasure watching you.

Then it’s time for what could be the show stealer, the battle of the Wrestlemania icons between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker. This was the one match on the card that I was really looking forward to. This match delivered, and then some. Two of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the business put on a display that will undoubtedly win numerous match of the year awards. It had everything, drama, extraordinarily athletic moves, tremendous ring psychology, a referee bump, a camera man taken out by a diving dead man, and two men laying it all on the line on the biggest stage of them all. After some dramatic false finishes, in which both men kicked out of the other’s big finisher, the Dead Man countered HBK’s top rope moonsault attempt to finally take him out with another tombstone, getting the three count, and extending his winning streak. I’m lost for words on this one folks, I really am. This might possibly go down as the greatest match in Wrestlemania history.

Main event time #1, with Edge defending the World title against both John Cena and the Big Show in a triple threat match. If anything, this match suffered because of it’s placement on the card. Technically it was well executed, with some very good action throughout, and three good performances from all concerned, as well as those at ringside, with Chavo Guerrero getting the FU (or whatever the hell it’s called now) from Cena after attempting to interfere, and his Auntie Vickie getting accidentally speared by Edge. In the end, Cena FU’ed the Big Show, then FU’ed Edge onto Show, before pinning the big man to regain the World title. A good match, but perhaps in the wrong place.

After an appearance from the Hall of Fame Class of 2009, in which “Stone Cold” Steve Austin made what could be his final appearance in a WWE ring, it’s on to main event #2, the biggest grudge match on the show, with Randy Orton challenging Triple H for the WWE title. After nearly four hours of great action (well, excluding the Divas battle royal), the match between two men who absolutely despised each other seemed to be something of an anti-climax. As with the World title match, it was technically sound, and well executed, but like the World title match, it may have suffered because of the Michaels/Undertaker classic, and also because we got the RKO and the Pedigree within the first few minutes. The rules stating that the title could change on a count out or disqualification didn’t help much either. When you have a match between two guys who are meant to really hate each other, a no disqualification rule might have been better. By the time the referee got clobbered and Triple H clobbered Orton with his trusty sledgehammer, it had gone on at least five minutes too long. Eventually the Game took Orton down with the Pedigree, retaining his title a three count later. A good enough match, but a little too long, and it probably won’t go down as one of the best main events in Wrestlemania history.

In conclusion - Wrestlemania 25 was a sound way of celebrating a milestone. Even though the Divas battle royal was a complete joke and the WWE title match was way too long, elsewhere the show delivered, with Michaels/Undertaker becoming an instant classic. However, I’m left to wonder why this particular match wasn’t put on last, because it inadvertently harmed the two main events, and by the time Triple H pinned Orton to finish the show, the excitement levels were way down. But in all the show was enjoyable, and now that Wrestlemania has reached number 25, I’m left to wonder if I’ll still be doing this by the time Wrestlemania 50 comes around!

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