Friday, 18 September 2015

Stick or Twist: WWE Wrestlemania 21

Here's an important show for me. By the end of 2004 I was falling out of love with wrestling. Post Backlash, so many pay per views left me either not as satisfied as I used to be or just flat out disappointed. WWE felt stale and unable to meet my expectations. 2005 had a shaky start too - poor reviews put me off buying the Royal Rumble (Divas search rejects being the focus of the WWE title match, Orton and HHH flopping again and Cena and Batista, the big hopes for the future, buggering the finish of the Rumble match). Then Wrestlemania approached: it had an absolutely mouthwatering card and the prospect of Cena and Batista as the new faces of the company became more enticing. So I gave this show a try and never looked back.

WWE Wrestlemania 21
April 3rd 2005
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Attendance: 20,193

* Lilian Garcia sings 'Murica The Beautiful instead of the usual celeb. It's not as good as when she did it acapella in 2000. It's weird seeing undead Undertaker slapping hands with troops in the clips. They've taken the "Wrestlemania goes Hollywood" motif quite seriously with RED CARPET, a Hollywood sign parody and "Now showing" screen. They even raise the curtain on the Tron.

* Lots of clips of the movie parody ads are shown. I felt sorry for Booker T - this is the only glimpse we get of him. We get the Gladiator parody with Stone Cold in full. The guy in Joaquin Phoenix's role is crap. That's it? No build for the actual card? Huh.

Match 1: WWE Tag Team Champion Eddie Guerrero vs WWE Tag Team Champion Rey Mysterio

The Mexi Powers Explode! Chavo stirred the shit pointing out Eddie hadn't beaten Rey in a while, hence this match. Sadly Rey has no superhero outfit this year, just a Mexico themed one and a dire mask he has to keep adjusting.

Eddie mat wrestles to start. Rey flips out of a fireman's carry but eats a deep armdrag. Mysterio sunset flips out of a Greco-Roman knuckle lock, but Eddie catapults him over the top. Rey dodges a baseball slide and fakes a dive. Back to the knuckle lock. Guerrero is monkey flipped over and both BRIDGE UP. Mysterio flips out of a Northern Lights Suplex and lures Eddie into a huge monkey toss! He lands on his feet from a backdrop over the top but Eddie clocks him and hits a plancha. BIG back suplex by Eddie gets 2 between restholds, including an STF and a lovely surfboard he had to break as his shoulders were down. Rey flips out of a hammerlock to armdrag Eddie outside (it looked heavily edited). Corkscrew plancha by Rey!

Seated senton back inside only for Eddie to try the Three Amigos... reverse victory roll by Rey! Gets 2! Tazz puts over Eddie's "heavy duty offence" as he gets a vicious backbreaker for 2. Three Amigos countered again with an around the world headscissors, but Eddie ducks the 619 to get a gorgeous tilt-a-whirl backbreaker for 2. AT LAST Eddie hits all Three Amigos. Froggy Splash... missed! Mahistral by Rey... countered! 1, 2, NO. Rey avoids a powerbomb... 619! West Coast Pop... blocked with a powerbomb! 1, 2... NO! Crowd chant for Eddie but out of nowhere Rey counters a tilt-a-whirl with a hurricanrana for 3!

Winner: Rey Mysterio
Verdict: 7.5/10. Neat match with good work on the back by Eddie. It just lacked the killer edge of a true rivalry, despite being pretty competitive.

* JBL and his cabinet are backstage. "Ha ha we stroll on a Sunday night MAGGLE!" They bump into Triple H and Ric Flair. Hunter says JBL calling himself a wrestling God is a joke, but JBL says he hasn't lost yet - worry about Batista, he guarantees Cena's dealt with. HHH: "Keep telling yourself you're good, and sooner or later somebody will believe you." John missed a prime opportunity to nick H's catchphrase there. They agree to wait til the night ends to see who's champ.

Match 2: Money in the Bank Ladder Match - Chris Jericho vs Chris Benoit vs Christian (w/ Tomko) vs Kane vs Edge vs Intercontinental Champion Shelton Benjamin

Ah yes, the debut of a great, long lasting concept. The winner gets a World title match any time they choose within the next year. Benoit has stitches from a match on Raw. In another ace spot based on Kane's entrance, the ladders erected on stage catch fire after his pyro!

Everyone attacks Kane on the ramp. Shelton and Benoit suplex him on the floor. Christian tries to get a ladder in the ring but Y2J whacks it into his face. He dropkicks a brawling Edge and Benoit off the apron and planchas Edge. Double jump plancha by Christian. Tope con heelo by Shelton! Finally Kane hits his flying clothesline to everyone! King: "You're right JR, this does resemble a human demolition derby." Kane clocks E & C with a ladder but Jericho dropkicks it in his face, then takes out Edge and Benjamin with it. Benoit Germans Y2J WHILE HE HOLDS THE LADDER! King: "I don't think I've ever seen a ladder and a wrestler suplexed at the same time."

Kane stops Benoit's climb but is put in the crossface! An interfering Edge does too, but Kane DRILLS Benoit in the face with a ladder and uses it like a guillotine to injure his arm. Spear by Edge to huge heat. LA: "You screwed Matt". E & C sandwich Kane between ladders but Shelton takes them out with a double clothesline. Edge ducks a Dragon Whip and it hits Cap, who's holding a ladder. JR: "Christian has eaten more ladder than the law should allow." Edge tries to spear Shelton into a ladder but gets flapjacked and Stinger Splashed into it. Nearly everyone climbs all at once. Arm breaker off the ladder to Benoit by Christian. Benjamin T-Bone Suplexes Edge off the ladder! Y2J lays out Cap on a ladder hooked into a standing ladder's rungs and climbs. Shelton RUNS UP THE SLANTED LADDER to clothesline Jericho off!!! 

Kane tries chokeslamming him outside but his foot gets caught in the ropes. Big boot by Tomko to Kane. He tries to lift Christian up the ladder but Kane shit cans him and knocks the CLB off the ladder onto Tomko outside! Kane and Y2J brawl up the ladder and both fall, Jericho sent over the top, Kane throat first to the ropes. Oh God, Benoit sets up a ladder in the corner... DIVING HEADBUTT OFF THE LADDER TO KANE! It reopened his stitches. He climbs but KANE SITS UP and climbs. Benoit headbutts the fuck out of him to knock him off. Edge hits the injured arm with a chair! Unopposed, he climbs and gets the case to win!!!

Winner: Edge
Verdict: 9/10. Holy fuck what a match. Tremendous spots, glued together with the story of Benoit's injured arm and stitches. Benjamin stole the show here with such incredible athleticism.

* Eugene's here. Being at Wrestlemania is his second favourite Mania moment ever behind the midgets attacking Bundy at WM III. He's interrupted by Davari and Muhammed Hassan. King: "The smart thing for Eugene to do would be to leave". Hassan is angry, not because he doesn't like midgets, but because he's not on the show. He gets the What treatment talking of Hollywood bigotry. Davari speaks non-English and Eugene's all "What are you saying?" Inevitably they beat Eugene up, Hassan with the Camel Clutch to FUCK HIS ASS AND MAKE HIM HUMBLE. 

The crowd clearly know what's coming but still mark THE FUCK out for new Hall of Famer HULK HOGAN coming out. JR: "Business is about to pick up." Big boot to Hassan, who gets shitcanned. Hulk talks trash forever while Davari stalks him with a chair. JR: "For the love of God c'mon!" He finally hits Hulk with the chair and it's no sold. FINGER POINT OF DOOM. Another boot and Davari's sent packing. Cue hot dogging and grand standing. JR: "Just like Hulkamania itself, this moment will live forever." ... So long as nothing exposes Hogan as a racist or anything. His wife, daughter and FORMER WCW CHAMPION David Arquette are shown at ringside.

"Yew don't like 'Murica yew cin jist gidddooooouutt!"
* Oh yes, next they hype Orton vs Taker, the first "someone tries to break the streak" feud. Orton wanted to add it to his "Legend Killer" resume. He slapped Taker and RKOed "girlfriend" Stacy Kiebler in the lead up.

Match 3: Interpromotional Match - The Undertaker (r/Smackdown) vs Randy Orton (r/Raw)

Druids with torches accompany Taker again. He "floats" to the ring on a platform hidden by smog. Tazz: "He's movin' to the ring but he's not walking." Cole calls it "Mind... games." Tazz correctly states he isn't Orton as Cole puts over how unheralded Taker's streak is and randomly includes Rob Van Dam in the list of legends Orton's taken out.

Orton sticks and moves to start, slapping Taker again. Nice leapfrog and dropkick. BAACK body drop. Leapfrog again but Randy eats a big soupbone. Cole: "Randy Orton cannot get into a slugfest with the legend." Beautiful roll up counter to a corner avalanche gets Orton 2. He tries the RKO but Taker hoists him over the top and into the announce table. Nasty. Apron legdrop by Taker! VINTAGE UNDERTAKER. Orton takes Old School completely wrong but ducks a boot in the corner and dropkicks Taker off the apron into the barricade. Clothesline back in gets 2 but Taker comes back with near falls from a running DDT and sidewalk slam.

Snake eyes by the Deadman... but Orton bounces back with a reverse elbow for 2. He clubs Taker and poses but Taker sits up. They botch a clothesline spot. Taker covers for 2, mouths "Fuck" and tells Randy the next spot. Dragon sleeper puts Orton out. His hand falls twice but he then gets a beautiful DDT counter. 1, 2, no. Randy with a chinlock, then a sleeper but Taker suplexes out. Orton gets booted when he charges to the corner but catches Taker with a sweet powerslam from a head of steam for 2. Tazz: "Randy Orton's a focused young athlete, a pure bred. He's the real deal Cole." 

Randy mounts Taker in the corner to punch and pose. Big mistake... Last Ride... countered, RKO... Orton's knocked into the ref. They botch the Last Ride but out comes Randy's Hall of Fame dad, Ace Cowboy Bob Orton WEARING HIS CAST. Cast shot to Taker! He gets the ref. 1... 2... NO! The crowd were into that. Taker sits up! Ace gets on the apron but when Randy whips Taker over he kicks Bob's head off. Goozle! Chokeslam... amazing MIDAIR RKO counter!!! 1, 2... NO. Orton calls for the Tombstone... but the Phenom flips out. Tombstone city! 1... 2... 3!

Winner: The Undertaker (13-0)
Verdict: 8/10. I'm a massive mark for this match. All the botches hurt it much more than I remembered but the fact is going into this match I had no faith in Orton mustering up anything against Taker and he came out with a really good outing. I also felt this was the start of a rejuvenation for Taker we'd not see consistently until a good couple of years later.

* King: "I may not be a leader of men but I'm certainly a follower of women." Must be Women's Title time! Christy Hemme won the Divas Search and got on the cover of Playboy. Trish took issue with the cover describing her as a champion. To even the odds Christy sought training from Lita.

Match 4: WWE Women's Championship Match - Trish Stratus (C) vs Christy Hemme (w/ Lita)

Christy's skip to the ring sure is something. Trish trolls Lita over her knee injury and has a unique outfit with a shirt collar and braces.

Trish mocks Christy, laying down for her, shoving her, sending her outside and to the steps easily. LA to Lita: "We want Matt." Trish mocks Hemme's skip and goes to finish early with the Chick Kick, but it's blocked. Lita distracts the ref and Christy kicks Trish in the groin! Christy's offence is mostly just pins - a banana split pin and sunset flip from doing the splits on the top buckle both get 2. Trish spears Hemme and pats herself on the back. Lita checks on Christy outside so Trish decks her into the barricade, but gets distracted talking smack back inside and is rolled up for 2. Christy starts kicking Trish's leg and bashing her head into the buckle. Reverse Twist of Fate! 1, 2, no. Reverse victory roll by Trish is rolled through for 2, but the Chick Kick gets 3 for Trish.

Winner: Trish Stratus (still champion)
Verdict: 3.5/10. Surprisingly serviceable thanks to Trish's antics but Christy's offence was really poor. The crowd, who'd turned on Lita already due to the Edge affair, turned on the whole match when they saw how little Christy had to offer.

* Hell yeah, HBK vs Angle us next. Apparently people irritated Kurt in 1996 talking of Shawn's wrestling clinic at Mania XII when he won an Olympic Gold Medal. This is the first time I can recall Shawn calling himself "Mr Wrestlemania".

Match 5: Interpromotional Match - Shawn Michaels (r/Raw) vs Kurt Angle (r/Smackdown)

What is it with Mania crowds not giving Shawn much love in the mid 00s? He didn't get a very big pop. King on Kurt: "First and only Olympic Gold Medallist in WWE history." JR: "... Fans still think he sucks." JR calls this the mat wrestler vs the catch-as-catch-can stylist.

Shawn slaps Kurt and gets taken down and waistlocked everywhere. Oh fuck off with the "You screwed Bret" chants LA, you're not in Canada! One bug bear I have: HBK gets Angle in a headlock FOREVER. It makes no sense, Kurt should school him here. Ever after a suplex Shawn doesn't break. Twice he hangs on from whip attempts. Kurt has to force a break in the corner. After a beautiful go behind he's headlocked AGAIN. This time he elbows out only to be hiptossed and put in a short armed scissors. Angle tries rolling HBK up, but has no luck until he deadlifts him. A sunset flip and backslide both get 2 for HBK then ARGH he gets the headlock AGAIN! And Kurt has to break in the corner AGAIN!

Get comfy Kurt, you'll be there a while
Angle doesn't mess about and gets the anklelock! Shawn rolls out and clotheslines himself and Kurt over the top in a nasty spill. HBK sets up an announce table but Kurt BATTERS him with uppercuts, going to suplex him through the table. Shawn blocks, only to be ANGLE SLAMMED INTO THE POST! Kurt targets the back, getting 2 from a suplex back inside. He facewashes Shawn while hooking a bodyscissors. Duelling "Let's go Michaels/Let's go Angle" chants as Michaels escapes, but he's turned upside down in the corner and suffers a great pair of belly to bellys for 2. HBK slaps Kurt again so he gets clocked with a clothesline for 2. Angle takes him up top. Superplex blocked... but Shawn misses the elbow!

The straps are down! Angle slam... beautiful armdrag counter! HUGE backdrop over the top by Shawn, followed by a crossbody to the outside. He crawls to the apron and Kurt tries to German him off it! HBK gets the ref's attention and mule kick's Kurt's nuts! How heelish. He kicks Angle onto the table... SPRINGBOARD SPLASH ONTO KURT ON THE TABLE!

It didn't break!!! King says it's been re-enforced with steel. The count is on. Both crawl in at 9. Kurt's bleeding at the mouth. Flying forearm by Shawn! Nip up. Inverted atomic drop. Top rope elbow! He tunes up the band... but the superkick is blocked! Anklelock!! Even when Shawn rolls through Angle hangs on. It takes AGES but Michaels gets the rope. Angle slam... no, sunset flip... rolled through to another anklelock! Victory roll counter - 1, 2... no. Clothesline ducked... superkick blocked... Angle slam! 1, 2... NO.

Kurt pulls his straps up just to pull them back down. Rare moonsault attempt... misses! Shawn struggles to go up top. Angle runs the ropes and SUPER ANGLE SLAMS SHAWN!! 1... 2... NO! Holy shit that got a great reaction. Angle hauls HBK up and screams in his face demanding he taps out. Sweet Chin Music! Michaels crawls over. 1... 2... no.  HBK struggles up... anklelock out of nowhere!!! JR: "He'll snap it like a twig!" Kurt keeps it on no matter what, rolling through with Shawn, pulling him to the centre. Leg grapevine! It takes FOREVER but EVENTUALLY SHAWN TAPS!

Winner: Kurt Angle
Verdict: 9.5/10. Phenomenal match. My misgivings over the overly long headlock and Shawn lasting so long in the anklelock only stop this being a perfect match, they don't stop it being a classic match. The highest drama singles match I can remember since Austin vs Rock at X7. 

* Apparently they had awards for the film parody trailers. The Basic Instinct one won best female and punchline.

Piper's Pit with special guest Stone Cold Steve Austin

Piper was inducted into the Hall of Fame last night, hence this. JR: "They broke the mould when they made that man." He says thank you for the HoF then asks: Who's the greatest rebel in WWE history? Austin? "Bullshit". He calls out Austin. In a cool effect the picture breaks like glass. Big reaction for Steve. Piper welcomes him with a slap so Austin thanks him with one too. Roddy: "I kinda like ya." Apparently he hasn't met Austin til now. The fans give him the What treatment but he plays up to it well talking of Austin and Vince. "Try to keep up with me". Piper has an AWESOME line: "I was here when Wrestlemania didn't have a number. I was pissin' Vince McMahon off when the red on the back of your neck was diaper rash, buddy."

Austin runs down Roddy's outfit: "Your little red dress [WHAT?], little furry gimmicks [WHAT?], little messed up boots [WHAT?], your little goatee [WHAT?] looks like a cat run off." Oh boy, Carlito interrupts, because arguing and slapping each other like little girls isn't cool. Piper: "You look like alfalfa". Carlito tells them to leave. Roddy snatches his apple out of mid-air, bites loads off and spits it on him. Carlito starts beating him up. Austin's amused initially, before deciding to stomp a mudhole and walk it dry. THUMB TO THE EYE BY PIPER! STUNNER! Piper and Austin toast. JR: "Austin likes a cold beer every now and then." STUNNER TO PIPER! Oh man there's a perfect shot of Austin toasting the crowd where beer sloshes on the camera.

* The Taxi Driver parody was voted the best. Big Show, Batista and Snitsky had the funniest bits but dear God did we need that glimpse of Michael Cole's chest?!

Match 6: Sumo Match - Akebono vs Big Show

I'm guessing the announcement of this match got a bad reaction because they cut to Tony Chimel explaining the rules suddenly. Push your opponent out of the circle or knock him off his feet to win. They show some happy Japanese people in the crowd when Akebono comes out. He's Hawaiian, the first foreign born Grand Champion in Sumo history. It still feels weird Show went from a WWE Title match last month to this.

Cole is pretty good explaining the opening traditions. I'm sure everyone was DYING to see Show in his Sumo gear. Eventually the ref gets them to start, both men with a big flurry using traditional two handed techniques. They reach the circle's edge but Show stands his ground well. He charges at Akebono but winds up more stunned than him. So Show does his ARGH chokeslam taunt to Hulk up and goes back to it, at one point lifting Akebono CLEAN OFF his feet, but Akebono quickly shuts him down, pushing him straight down and all the way out of the ring to win.

Winner: Akebono
Verdict: N/A. Well that definitely happened. I can't think of them ever doing an attraction seemingly just to appeal to overseas viewers before this. Moving on...

* JBL vs Cena is hyped next. JBL essentially made it a class war and screwed Cena out of his US Title, destroying the custom spinner version. Cena FUed Teddy Long in frustration so they did the whole "no touching" deal.

Match 7: WWE Championship Match - John Bradshaw Layfield (C) vs Jonn Cena

Bradshaw's entrance was peak JBL here: his limo had a police escort and $100 bills with his face on fall from the roof. They find an Asian lass in the crowd who picks one up and goes "JBLLL!" when she sees what it is. Cole lists the opponents and gimmick matches JBL has survived. I think this is the debut of Cena's "My Time Is Now" theme. That and everyone grabbing the JBL money means he gets a pretty subdued reaction which is weird to hear.

Headlock by JBL to start. Leapfrog(!) and shoulderblock by Cena, who runs into a boot and is stiffed with rights and clubs. A pair of neckbreakers by JBL gets 2. He catapults Cena's throat into the ropes. Cena brawls back but suffers a spinebuster and straitjacket neckbreaker for near falls. Again Cena's cut off by a thumb to the eye and hard clotheslines, and has to get his foot on the ropes from the cover. He's caught in a sleeper but eventually suplexes out. Stereo clotheslines put both men down.

Cena brawls but gets pulled outside and neckbreakered on the floor. Superplex by JBL gets a near fall. The comeback's finally on when JBL goes up top and Cena counters with a powerslam. Clotheslines, backdrop, shoulderblocks and calling JBL a sunovabitch follows. Dodgy jumping hip toss followed by the protobomb actually gets some boos. U can't C me! Five knuckle shuffle. He calls for the FU but runs into a boot. Clothesline from Hell... ducked... FU! 1, 2, 3!

Winner: John Cena (new champion, first reign)
Verdict: 3/10. What a terrible way to start the Cena era. Dull, dull beat down by Bradshaw followed by Cena just hitting every move he could think of in two minutes at the end to win. One of the most cliché Cena formula matches I've ever seen. It totally does the significance of this moment (JBL finally being dethroned, Cena arriving as "the guy, brother") a massive disservice.

* Recap of the Hall of Fame ceremony. Jimmy Hart saying "The Megaphone!" was neat, but pales in comparison to The Iron Sheik recounting NOBODY BEAT BOB BACKLUND... MADISON SQUARE GARDEN... AAAH PUT HIM IN DAA CAMEL CLUTCH! Tazz calls him the original Human Suplex Machine. The inductees are paraded for the live crowd and all get their own entrance themes for once. Orton still sells interfering in his son's match. Ace.

* It's World Title time! The slow build to Batista leaving Evolution was tremendous. He won the Rumble and Flair and Trips tried manipulating him into challenging JBL but he was having NONE of it in a brilliant contract signing segment that spawned the famous "Thumbs up? Thumbs down!". Dave even broke the sledgehammer over his knee. This whole build did a brilliant job of getting Batista over as a babyface that doesn't stand any nonsense.

Main Event: World Heavyweight Championship Match - Triple H (C) (w/ Ric Flair) vs Batista

Oh boy, Motörhead play Triple H to the ring. Lemmy gives no fucks about the lyrics. WHOPPER mutton chops on Hunter's face. Batista's machine gun war dance isn't as good without pyro but he still got a great reaction. King: "Triple H obviously taught Batista everything he knows. But he didn't teach Batista everything Triple H knows."

Big stare down to start draws Batista chants. Dave looks smug and Trips looks unnerved. First lock up is a stalemate, but Batista powers out of the next and knocks H down hard escaping a headlock. It takes an extra run up but Hunter knocks Dave down. Pedigree... Dave shoves him off into a Gorilla Press Slam. Dave: "C'mon!" BAACK body drop. H comes back with a high knee to send Batista out. Flair distracts him so Trips sneaks behind to send him to the steps. Batista struggle back in the ring and H levels him with a second rope elbow. He chokes Dave then distracts the ref so Naitch can too.

H works the back. Suplex coming up... woah, and a beauty! He follows with a backbreaker and draws the ref away again for more Flair choking. Batista fights back but gets hit with a MASSIVE spinebuster for 2 (three times). Neckbreaker by HHH who asks Dave "Ya OK champ?" Batista backdrops out of the Pedigree but falls to a facebreaker for 2. For some reason Trips goes up top, and just leaps into a clothesline. Sidewalk slam gets 2 by Dave. He runs into a boot charging to the corner, but hangs on from the whip to send Hunter over the top. H fights back and sends him to the steps. Pedigree on the steps... countered to a catapult into the post! Hunter blades!

Dave goes for the kill, whacking Trips into the steps. The crowd count along as he clubs the wound, then kicks his face off and gets hard corner clotheslines. Front powerslam! 1, 2, no. Naitch tries a cheapshot and pays for it. H was going to hit Batista with a chair outside but in a dramatic/hilarious spot the ref LEAPS FROM THE APRON to disarm him and sells like death! Flair tries a belt shot back in ring and gets spinebustered! As the ref gets him out, Trips hits Dave with the belt! BOO! 1, 2... NO. The ref's out from the kick out. Spinebuster by Batista! Batista Bomb... low blow by H! Pedigree... Dave powers out of Hunter's grip and hits him with White Noise! Shake the ropes! Thumbs up? Thumbs down! Batista Bomb! 1... 2... 3!!! JR: "The BEAST has been unleashed."

Winner: Batista (new champion, first reign)
Verdict: 7/10. Much better than I remember. The pace was a bit deliberate and Dave could have shown a bit more urgency capitalising on Trips being busted open, but it wasn't a chore to watch and proved to be a simple story told well that got Batista over wonders.

Final Thoughts: My intro probably gave it away but I bloody love this show. It really did restore my faith in wrestling. Two sheer classics in the debut Money in the Bank and the HBK-Angle dream match, two thoroughly rewarding outings from Eddie and Rey and Orton and Taker, some good fun with Austin in Piper's Pit and two fresher characters getting established as the men to lead the company into the future - Batista overcoming Triple H's months of manipulation in a solid outing and Cena finally ending JBL's unpopular run (which was much more satisfying than the actual match which was poorly booked). 
TL,DR: A brilliant undercard supporting two younger guys arriving as players, one of my favourite Wrestlemanias. Please watch.

Final Verdict: STICK
"Ooh, ten years of no selling, here I come!"