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Wrestlemania Countdown: 22

The SmarK Rant for WWE Wrestlemania 22

- I've tried to start this one a couple of times, so we'll see what happens this time around. I think this show, however, encapsulates what my fandom has turned into, as it was the first Wrestlemania where I missed the show and didn't really panic about it. Whereas VII was a bummer because the sport was in a slump and no one was showing it closed-circuit in Edmonton (and we didn't have pay-per-view in Canada yet!), this one was just a show that didn't appeal to me and didn't seem to have any matches on it that were worth taking the day off work and paying the $20 to catch it at the movie theater. I'm fickle that way.  (This was the start of a giant downturn in my wrestling fandom, when I stopped recapping RAW altogether because I was just so bored of John Cena and D-X and needed a long break.) 

- Live from Chicago, IL

- Your hosts are JR, King, Tazz & Cole.

- Opening match, RAW World tag titles: Kane & Big Show v. Carlito & Chris Masters.

Masters overpowers Kane to start, but gets dropkicked as a result. JR notes it's like getting hit in the head with a bowling ball and Show's hands are like skillets. Oh, great, now he's doing the metaphors too. Show beats on Masters and slams him, but Masters brings Carlito in, in an act of futility. Crowd is actually behind Carlito, however, as Show press-slams both heels and clears the ring by tossing them both. Kane follows with a flying clothesline to the floor, obviously having eaten his Wheaties that morning. However, fate proves fickle, as the heels flapjack Show after a trip to an exposed turnbuckle, and then he quickly tags Kane back in again. Sideslam for Carlito and he goes up, but lands in a Masterlock. Show breaks that up and gets Snake Eyes on Masters, while Carlito gets the backcracker on Kane and everything breaks down. The heels stall while Kane sits up, allowing him to make the comeback and try a chokeslam. Masters attempts to save by coming off the top, but hits Carlito by mistake, and the chokeslam finishes Carlito. (Kane & Show d. Carlito & Masters, chokeslam -- pin, 6:38, *1/2) Short and fairly inoffensive.  (Ugh, new format rants, HATE THEM.  I feel bad for Chris Masters because he’s actually pretty good now, but WWE totally gave up on him after the steroid thing and he never got another shot.) 

- Money In The Back: Rob Van Dam v. Shelton Benjamin v. Ric Flair v. Matt Hardy v. Finlay v. Lashley.

Big brawl to start and Lashley pounds everyone down, then hits Finlay with a corner clothesline. Press-slam for Flair, but Benjamin gives him the bad-ass high kick to take him out. Won't the black-on-black violence ever stop? (There’s lots more of it these days, actually.  Otunga, Zeke, Kofi, Truth…pretty good time to be a person of color in WWE apparently.)  Matt goes for the ladder, but RVD splats him with a dive, which wasn't a smart move for either guy. Shelton gets another ladder and beats on Finlay with it, then lays it on the top rope and runs up it for a spectacular dive onto everyone else. That leaves Finlay alone, until Flair clobbers him and makes the first climb for the contract. Hardy follows him up there and brings him down with a superplex from the ladder, prompting the referees to make the fake "X" sign and signal his exit from the match. They're the only ones falling for his melodramatic selling these days, then. Back to the ring as Rob misses Rolling Thunder and lands on a ladder, allowing Lashley to slow-climb the ladder. Shelton follows him up and tries the old powerbomb off the ladder, but Lashley is too strong, so Matt and Finlay assist in completing the move. Neat. Matt takes over on Finlay and charges at a ladder in the corner, but gets it thrown in his face. Uh oh, Finlay's got a weapon and he's pissed. He cleans house as Flair hobbles back out again and takes out Finlay, then climbs. Shelton and Matt bring him down, but succumb to the chops and Flair goes up again. Finlay decks him with the, (I used to hate recapping Finlay matches because I could never spell that damn thing.)  and then Lashley takes him out and clears the ring. He slow climbs again, but RVD brings him down with a Van Daminator off the top, out of nowhere. Matt adds a yodelling legdrop off the ladder, which really just looks silly after the other highspots, and it's his turn to climb. Finlay stops him, so Matt brings him down with a Side Effect. RVD comes out of the corner with a frog splash off the ladder onto Finlay, but it was kind of weak, more like a **1/2 frog splash. He climbs, but Shelton literally comes out of nowhere and lands on the top of the ladder like Spider-Man. This guy is a freak. (We really should have gotten a John Morrison v. Shelton Benjamin BATTLE OF THE PARKOUR feud.)  Matt follows him up, but not as dramatically, and they knock each other off, leaving RVD to claim the briefcase. (RVD wins Money In the Bank, 12:22, ***1/2) The quality of the highspots was down a bit from last year, and it was more of a traditional "set up the crazy spot and hit it, move onto the next" type of thing instead of the more thoughtful "This didn't work, so we'll use the results to launch a new sequence" stuff of last year's match. Still, it was fun and hard-hitting, so huzzah.  (And RVD became the only guy to cash in the briefcase in advance of the match, even if his title reign didn’t work out so well.) 

- Hall of Fame = fast forward.

- US title: Chris Benoit v. JBL.

Slugfest in the corner to start and JBL grabs a headlock, but Benoit quickly turns it into a crossface attempt, albeit unsuccessfully. JBL takes him down out of the ropes, but Benoit pounds him on the mat and starts throwing chops. Sharpshooter attempt, but JBL kicks out of it and pokes him in the eyes on the floor. They slug it out back in the ring, but JBL throws a big boot and takes over in the corner. Benoit quickly fires off the rolling germans, which is way too early for the move, and goes up, which is WAAAAY too early for that. And indeed, JBL uses the ref to crotch Benoit and follows him up. Back down with a superplex, which gets two for JBL. He follows with Eddie's rolling suplexes, just because he's such a classy guy, and Benoit fights out of it before running into a boot. That gets two for JBL. We hit the chinlock, as this match has never gotten off the launchpad, and Benoit suplexes out of it. He follows with his own version of Eddie's rolling suplexes, although he does more of a kip-up than a roll between each one. Back up to the top again, and this time the diving headbutt hits. That gets two. Blind charge misses, as does the Clothesline from New York, and Benoit tries another crossface. JBL fights it, rolls over, and gets the pin and title. (JBL d. Benoit, rollup -- pin, 9:44, **) Really weak match, which is normal for JBL at Wrestlemania. The finish had no build, either, as they didn't have the time needed to make people care about what they were trying for.  (JBL as US champion is where they should have gone in the first place rather than making him World champion right away.  I don’t even remember who he ended up losing that thing to, nor do I care.) 

- Hardcore match: Mick Foley v. Edge.

So now we've got Joey Styles on commentary. Edge tries attacking with a baseball bat to start, but gets hung in the corner by Mick and elbowed. Joey's analysis of Mick's flannel seems a bit forced, but I guess he's the expert. Lita retrieves the usual plunder -- cookie sheets and road signs -- allowing Edge to take over for the moment. Who seriously uses cookie sheets in a fight? (Cookie Monster.)  Anyway, the spear looks to end it early, but Mick reveals that he was wearing barbed wire under his flannel. Edge just got PUNK'D! The blood starts flowing as Mick rips him up with it and retrieves the real deal -- the barbed wire baseball bat. Now that's what I'm talking about. Lita tries to slow him up, so Mick clotheslines Edge out with Lita on his back, and gets two. Neckbreaker on the floor gets two. Mick takes a run at him on the stairs, but Edge hiptosses him into the stairs instead. That wasn't quite enough for him, so Edge whips him into them and Mick takes his usual crazy bump off it. Mick rolls back in, so Edge baseball slides him out again and then finds a table under the ring. Mick uses a cunning counter -- rolling off the table, what a concept -- so Edge slams him on the ramp for two. Back into the ring, and Edge finds his inner New Jack by dousing Foley with lighter fluid. Now there's a spot you don't see every day. (Can you imagine ever seeing this on a WWE show today?  It’s like 6 years ago is a lifetime away.)  Mick comes back with a piledriver and grabs a chair, but goes after Lita and Edge DDTs him for two. Edge now uses the barbed wire bat for nefarious purposes, and it's Foley's turn to bleed. Bulldog on the bat gets two. And now more secrets are revealed, as Edge shows off his weapons cache under the stairs and dumps some thumbtacks into the ring. And irony proves to be ironic again, as Mick suplexes him onto them instead. And now it's Mr. Socko, with barbed wire to boot, and that's one effective finisher. Everyone bleeds and Foley pounds on Edge with the bat in various unsavory ways. Now see, this is the difference between just doing a bunch of crazy highspots and actually taking the time to make each disgusting move mean something. Mick goes all Homer Simpson with the lighter fluid on the table, and yes, we have fire. Edge spears him through the flaming table, and yes, that is enough to end it. (Edge d. Foley, spear through a flaming table -- pin, 14:36, ****1/4) Tremendous fun, as Foley somehow found new ways to recycle the same old hardcore spots into something new and different each time.  (Although really, Foley puts everyone over, so it’s hardly an effective rub to beat him anymore.) 

- Meanwhile, Booker and Mrs. T run into a series of freaks. I wouldn't really call Paul Burchill a freak, though -- he's just a big Johnny Depp fan. It's not like Jean-Pierre LaFitte where we're supposed to think he's REALLY a pirate and just happens to be a wrestler in his spare time. I consider that a more insulting idea than some nutcase who dresses like a pirate.

- The Boogeyman v. Booker & Mrs. T.

I don't see how they can bash Warrior for being from "Parts unknown" and then introduce someone from "The Bottomless Pit" with a straight face. Booker lets Sharmell start, and then attacks Boogey from behind and sidekicks him for two. He chokes away and the Bookend gets two. Really ugly sequence as Boogey makes the comeback and forearms him down, as they manage to blow everything. Nobody likes Boogeyman and everybody hates him, so he stops to eat some worms, then chases off Sharmell with a wormy kiss. Tree slam finishes Booker. Oh, this was not good, no it wasn't. (Boogeyman d. Booker T, chokeslam -- pin, 3:53, DUD) The result is perplexing because the Boogeyman character is the kind of over-the-top stupid thing like the Bushwackers where the guy's gonna get over or not based on the dumb skits and theatrics, regardless of the won-loss record. Trying to give him a serious push would be like trying to make Eugene into a top contender, and we all know how big the backlash for that was.  (To this day I don’t get this one.  What a bizarre waste of a Wrestlemania payday.) 

- WWE Women's title: Trish Stratus v. Mickie James.

Mickie slaps her around to start, drawing Trish's ire, and Trish gets a Thesz Press and pounds away in the corner. Mickie tries a spinkick, but Trish drops her into the splits (now there's a counter you don't see in men's matches) and they brawl outside. Mickie wraps the leg around the post after Trish misses a high kick, and takes over back in the ring via a low dropkick. She goes to work on the leg and the crowd inexplicably starts cheering for Mickie James outright. Geez, the heat spot wasn't THAT great. Half-crab and she releases for two. Back to the leg with a really nasty jumping stomp to the back of the knee in the corner, and she leg-bars Trish for two. The crowd is still with Mickie for no reason I can imagine. Trish comes back with a swinging headscissors, drawing boos. Why is this crowd turning on Trish? She's hot, she's awesome in the ring, what more do you want? (It’s Chicago.  They cheer for the Blackhawks, so obviously they have no taste.)  Trish makes the comeback with a spinebuster for two, but a blind charge hits Mickie's boot. Trish follows with the handstand rana, but Mickie blocks it and drops her on her head. A very sexy rollup gets two. (You’ll never see that rollup on WWE DVD again.)  Trish cradles for two. Mickie tries a rana of her own, but Trish powerbombs her for two. Good selling of the leg from Trish, two. Matrix dodge doesn't work due to the leg, and Mickie gropes her to block the bulldog. (I think they cut that one out too.)  That's pretty awesome. Mickie tries her own version, but Trish's knee buckles, and Mickie finishes her with the chick kick to end Trish's insanely long title reign. (Mickie James d. Trish Stratus, high kick -- pin, 8:49, ***) This was going well before the horrifyingly botched finish.

- Casket match: Undertaker v. Mark Henry.

Speaking of horrifying and insane, witness the push of Mark Henry. (Who ever thought I’d become a Mark Henry apologist?)  Henry attacks to start and no-sells the Undertaker's attempts to clothesline him, then pounds him down. They brawl out of the ring and UT eats stairs, and back in they go. Slugfest and Taker tries the ropewalk, but Henry blocks it and continues his one-dimensional offense. Punch punch, kick kick, punch punch, kick kick. First attempt to put Taker into the casket goes nowhere. Crowd chants "Henry sucks", and I can't disagree. Mark misses a charge and lands in the casket, and they slug it out in there, and head back into the ring. This is making Boogeyman v. Booker T look like it's not going to be a candidate for worst match of the night. Henry catches UT with a powerslam and puts him in the casket again, but again that goes nowhere as Taker makes another thrilling return to the ring. Finally, a high spot, as Henry pounds away in the corner and Taker powerbombs him out of there. Taker tosses him and follows with the running dive, over the casket and onto Henry. Well, that at least saves it from worst match honors. Thank god, tombstone and we're done with the boredom. (Underaker d. Mark Henry, tombstone -- casket, 9:26, *)

- Shawn Michaels v. Vince McMahon.

Vince's strut is in fine form tonight. They brawl on the floor right away, thus interrupting Vince's hilarious posing and preening. Shawn chokes him out on the announce table and hits him with what appears to be a bottle of water. Well, that would hurt, I guess. Back in, Shawn grabs Vince's framed magazine cover and breaks it over his head (Ooh, tearing paper), which draws the Spirit Squad out for the gang-beating. They stop for a cheer and send Kenny to the top, but he misses the legdrop. If I could remember one of the lines from "Bring It On" that my wife and her friends chant at each other incessantly to annoy me, I'd add it here. But I can't, so your loss. Shawn sends Kenny over the top in melodramatic fashion (Oh my god,, too easy) onto the rest of the Squad to get rid of them, and Vince goes on the attack. He chokes Shawn down with his belt and runs around the ring setting up the Vince-kick. It's too bad Vince didn't become a worker earlier in life because he's insanely entertaining when he needs to be. Shawn catches it and slugs away, then uses Vince's own belt on him. To the top and the flying elbow allows JR to work his "deep into the black, black heart" stuff in. And then our next mystery guest is Shane McMahon and his kendo stick. And luckily, he also has a pair of handcuffs in his pants. Vince readies himself for an ass-kissing, but Shawn sends Shane into the line of fire instead, and then gets rid of him, handcuffing him to the ropes. Shawn doing the Shane Dance is great, as is Shane getting beaten like a little bitch with the cane. Back in, and Vince eats chair, but had already bladed before the chairshot, thus reducing the magic a little back. IT'S STILL REAL TO ME, DAMMIT! You knew I was gonna work it in SOMEWHERE. Shawn starts tuning up the band, but then changes his mind and gets a ladder instead. How much stuff is UNDER that ring? I swear, they need a new branch of physics to explain how everything can fit under there. It's like when Optimus Prime transforms and the trailer disappears into hyperspace or something. (OK, 2012 Scott recycled a joke in the Wrestlemania 21 repost from 2006 Scott, so sue me.)  Shawn goes for the kick again, but then changes his mind again and retrieves some garbage cans and a table. Vince gets beat down with THOSE, and Shawn puts him on the table, retrieves an even bigger ladder, and puts a trashcan on Vince's head for good measure. Elbowdrop off the ladder, onto the garbage-can-covered Vince, through the table, and a crotchchop for good measure to set up the fatal superkick, and Vince isn't kicking out of that. (Shawn Michaels d. Vince McMahon, elbowdrop, garbage can, table, ladder, belt, crotchchop, superkick -- pin, 18:24, **3/4) I know this will sound unlike me to say, but I think the brutal and inhumane beating of Vince McMahon until he was a quivering mass of jelly was a bit excessive and went on for too long. There wasn't really any body or flow to the match, it was just a series of run-ins and then Shawn pounding on Vince until he was near death. It was, however, safely into the sub-genre of "entertaining crap", which I can deal with if doled out in small, once-yearly doses. Vince flipping the bird from the stretcher nearly adds another * to the rating, however.  (Once again, when the chips are down, Vince goes out and takes his beating like a man.  Sadly, this all led to the D-X reunion and the Spirit Squad feud and the most boring 9-hour DVD I’ve ever reviewed, so the downside far eclipses the joy of Vince getting slaughtered.) 

- Smackdown World title: Kurt Angle v. Rey Mysterio v. Randy Orton.

Orton attacks Angle with the belt to start, and blocks a flying Rey with a dropkick for two. Angle sneaks in with a german suplex on Orton, and then we get a three-man german suplex, with Rey flying into the corner. Angle gets two on Orton from that. Orton comes back with the neckbreaker on Angle for two. Angle with the belly to belly and they head up, but Rey stops Angle, only to get launched in the air by Angle, into a rana on Orton from the top. Nice. Angle gets two on Orton from that. Rey is on the floor and Angle suplexes Orton in for two. Angle tries an anklelock, but Rey breaks it up, so Angle forearms him down for two. Angle sunset flip is rolled through into a low kick by Rey, which gets two. Rey takes Angle down with the headscissors, but the 619 is caught by Angle, and the anklelock follows. Rey quickly taps out, but Orton is distracting the ref. Another anklelock, and Orton saves. Angle suplexes both guys and Angle Slams Rey to the floor to get rid of him. Angle is wrestling like he's playing No Mercy or something. Anklelock for Orton, and now Orton gets to tap while Rey distracts the ref. Angle gets the heel hook on Orton, but Rey breaks it up with the legdrop. That gets two. The crowd is now booing Rey. I don't get this. (You can only hear “Chelsea Dagger” so many times before your brain cells start to rot, it’s the only rational explanation for this crowd.)  Angle sends Rey into the post and out of the ring, leaving him alone with Orton, and the Angle Slam is reversed to the RKO as a result. That gets two. In all fairness, the match is only 6 minutes old thus far, but having Angle kick out of the RKO is a bad idea. Orton goes up, and Angle follows with the Pop-Up Superplex. Rey tries the ringpost 619, but screws it up and springboards in for two instead. Orton gets rid of Angle and hits a neckbreaker out of a body vice, and that gets two. I guess that counts as the heat segment for the match. Angle Slam on Orton gets two. Another one for Rey, but he reverses to an armdrag to get rid of Kurt, and 619s Orton. West Coast Pop finishes to give Rey the title. (Rey Mysterio d. Randy Orton & Kurt Angle, rana -- pin, 9:17, ***) Uh, that was it? Spot-spot-spot and Rey gets his finisher out of nowhere to win the belt? There was no heat segment on Rey to make fans get behind his comeback, no comeback at all in fact, and nothing but 10 minutes of random finishers. It was from a strictly technical standpoint and fairly exciting, but what a horribly disappointing payoff for Rey's chase of the title.  (Rey’s title reign wasn’t much better.) 

- Candice Michelle v. Torrie Wilson.

This is a Playboy pillowfight thing to cool down the crowd before the main event. It's weird hearing JR talk about the gate as a statistic that fans would care about. Torrie wins, the girls are in their underwear, next match. (Torrie d. Candice, rollup -- pin, 3:54, DUD) Way too long.  (What a fucking awful Wrestlemania this was.) 

- RAW World title: John Cena v. HHH.

HHH's ring garb leaves me with only one thing to say: .... Man, there's just so many jokes to make here. It's hard to look badass when your wife dresses you like you just failed an audition for Conan: The Musical. However, he can take solace in knowing that even having a dead animal around his waist and wearing a tiara can't compete with John Cena as a Depression-era gangster with a group of tommy gun-toting miscreants as his seconds.  (CM Punk!) And suitably, the crowd still boos the crap out of him. Is he going to be merchandising foam tommy guns for the kids to take to school with them next, I wonder? Thankfully, they have updated the graphic for the belt, and it now has a RAW plate on it. I'll give one thing to Cena -- his matches draw unreal heat whether people are cheering or booing him. They trade hammerlocks to start and HHH takes him down. HHH outwrestles him with another hammerlock and sends him into the corner. The classy crowd starts a "Fuck you Cena" chant. Well, they're not afraid of expressing their opinion. Cena and HHH do a normal sequence where Cena misses a charge and they trade moves, made bizarre by listening to the crowd go "Boo! Yay! Boo! Yay!" in perfect time with each move. (That has since become something of a cliché.)  Cena gets tossed, but heads back in and slugs away in the corner to deafening boos, and a backdrop gets two. Fisherman's suplex gets two. We hit the chinlock, giving the fans time to think up new chants to insult Cena, and they slug it out in the corner. HHH gets tossed off a corner whip, but comes back and tries a piledriver on the ramp, which Cena reverses out of. Into the ring and the crowd starts a REALLY loud "Let's go Cena / Fuck You Cena" chant as HHH takes over and chokes him down. (Even the fans’ hatred of Cena turned PG when “Cena Sucks” became the more accepted putdown.)  Cena gets sent into the stairs on the floor, and I'm kind of surprised they haven't just gone with it and switched roles by now. Back in, HHH gets two. Kneedrop gets two. Facebuster and a nice lariat follow for two. Neckbreaker gets two. Another one gets two, and HHH goes to a neck vice as JR runs through the laundry list of nicknames that HHH has given himself. Sleeper and Cena fights up, drawing the crowd's ire. Clothesline puts HHH down, and they do a slugfest again made bizarre by the "Yay! Boo! Yay! Boo!" from the crowd. Powerslam from Cena wins the battle, and he follows with a backdrop suplex. He goes for the five-knuckle shuffle, but HHH counters with a spinebuster for two. I think the Cena thing is really interesting because the fans who boo him are trying to be all hip and edgy, but really all they're doing is reverting to the very markish state that they're trying to escape. To boo the guy you hate and cheer his opponent is as basic a reaction as there is in wrestling, regardless of who is being booed. (Still true today.)  Cena gets the shuffle and follows with the STFU, but HHH makes the ropes. FU is escaped by HHH and the ref is bumped and kicked in the junk for good measure. HHH stops to do his own crotch-chop and retrieves his trusty sledgehammer. Cena fights back, but gets sledged. That only gets two, because only a Pedigree can end a HHH match if he's winning. Pedigree is reversed by Cena into the FU, for two. Cena goes up, and that can't be a good idea, and totally whiffs on a high cross. KICK WHAM PEDIGREE is reversed to the STFU, and HHH shocks the hell out of me and taps. (Cena d. HHH, STFU -- submission, 22:02, ****) As noted many times by me, HHH can certainly still bring the goods with the right opponent and motivation on his part.  (Pretty sure I overrated this one.) 

The Pulse:

I'd say there was more good than bad here, although nothing I'd consider a blowaway Wrestlemania-moment type match outside of maybe Edge-Foley. Time issues and too many matches trodding the same territory hurt it quite a bit, but for the most part it was a better show than I anticipated, and that's good enough for a thumbs up from me.  (Not anymore.  I don’t remember a fucking thing about this show and all of the crap would put this one solidly in the lower tier of WMs.)