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Let CM Punk Fade Away, He’s Not Required

April 17, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

The contrast between the infamous 2014 Royal Rumble and present WWE programming is a stark one. On the one hand, watching a DVD of this year’s Rumble is akin to viewing the videotape in The Ring; you could actually be found dead within a week via its horrors.

On the other hand, the negative reception, the threats of show-hijacking, and the need to cater to fans on the fence about dropping $10 a month on the greatest on-demand service ever devised had an effect. WWE would do a 180 from their WrestleMania plans, and retailor it to fit the stimulus response to seeing Boo-tista standing tall.

Where do the changes leave us? Daniel Bryan is the WWE Champion. The Shield transitioned successfully into babyfaces with their soldier-of-fortune hellraiser act in tact. Cesaro has become a villain of escalating stock, thanks to a high-profile WrestleMania win, and a new-found alliance the company’s most watchable baddie, Paul Heyman. The Wyatt Family have yet to see their standing drop, as godfather Bray continues his psych war with John Cena.

Everyone considered a detriment to WWE’s youth movement, namely Triple H, Batista, and Randy Orton, has been quarantined into the Evolution group once more, where they can draw heat together, and put over the new class together. NXT just churned out the sultry anti-Diva Paige, and has the dementedly-affable Adam Rose on his way. Focus is currently being put on the Intercontinental Title, via a tournament of recognizable names for top contendership.

All seems to be going well, and all manner of things are–

Wait, hang on; the populace has a message for all of us. Let’s take a listen–

“CM PUNK! CM PUNK! CM PUNK!”

If you watched Raw on Monday, you heard a sizable chant for the long-since-departed Punk during Dolph Ziggler and Bad News Barrett’s quarterfinal-round matchup in the third hour. Although a spirited effort from both men led to the Birmingham fans buying into the near falls by the end, the fact remains: Punk chants still rang out, as they have for ten weeks.

Maybe it’s just me, but as a Punk fan, I was quite alright with Punk taking a walk. This isn’t because I hate WWE, because I don’t (in spite of my reasonable critiques). I just feel that no star is particularly capable of hurting the company by leaving.

If anything, I think Punk leaving was a massive wake-up call. Because now, the media company who lives and dies by how they’re able to portray themselves to sponsors, stockholders, and the media machine that spoon-feeds the lowest common denominator, had to answer to the fact that one of their most heavily-marketed stars hit his ejector seat button.

To me, the proliferation of ‘CM Punk’ chants in the coming weeks were less a demand that WWE bring back their hero, and more an indictment of a conglomerate that needed to take its blinders off and turn its head the full 360. The chants didn’t stop, despite the company downplaying it like a congressman would a fund-raising scandal, and when the threat of the March 3 Chicago hijacking came to be, WWE soon configured their product to match fan demands.

Well, sans having Punk in the fold, anyway.

The changes to me are quite satisfying, and it led to probably the best WrestleMania since the well-received WrestleMania 23 seven years ago. No matter how you feel about Brock Lesnar thwarting Undertaker’s streak (and I’m alright with it), it was a stellar WrestleMania, almost top to bottom.

But yet, there were the Punk chants, finding their cone to be heard of out of. In spite of the positive alterations listed, there’s still a segment of the audience spoiled enough to not be satisfied until Phil Brooks peels himself away from the comic books and Walking Dead DVDs, as well as his Chicago Blackhawks run toward a Stanley Cup title defense, shows up on Raw, and does something. Or other. Or something AND other, who knows?

Far be it from this longtime Punk supporter to say it, but it’s true: the WWE does not need CM Punk at this time.

Go back to the Attitude Era, and of course many of you would like to, since that was the holy grail of everything (or maybe it was just a time in your life where you had less responsibility, and thus it acts as a metaphorical security blanket). Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, two of the top ten WWE stars of the WrestleMania era, were gone before the company turned the tide against WCW. Hart left after Montreal; Michaels was finished after dropping the belt at WrestleMania.

And yet here’s WWE, destroying Nitro on an increasing basis behind three men that never held a World Championship until 1998: Austin, The Rock, and Mick Foley. Where were Bret and Shawn? Bret was toiling through murky WCW plot points, while Michaels was icing his back with a fishing pole in hand.

It’s the presentation, less so the names, that make a wrestling promotion fun. Would Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania title win have been as sweet had he not faced Randy Orton and Batista? The fact that he went over on two performers commonly identified as honorary ‘fortunate sons’ of the McMahon Empire, downing Batista by submission, made Bryan’s victory much, much more enjoyable.

Yes, I’d rather watch a Punk match from a ‘purist’ standpoint than I would a Batista match, but if the primary option is “Batista tries to beat Bryan, but the undersized hero kicks his head in for 20 minutes”, sign me up.

There can come great things with the current WWE direction, and WrestleMania weekend is proof positive of that. For as much as WWE takes heat for living in the past, here they are moving forward; nobody over the age of 40 won at WrestleMania for the first time in fourteen years. Meanwhile, it’s the fans, the so-called forward thinkers, clinging to a man who apparently does not want to be there.

If Punk comes back one day, great. No sense in forcing it, though. WWE’s got a good balance going, with no need to rethink the current direction one bit.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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WrestleMania XXVIII: A Portrait in Wrestling History

April 04, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

WRESTLEMANIA XXVIII
From SunLife Stadium in Miami, FL
April 1, 2012

BACKGROUND
It’s been purported that each WrestleMania event is generally planned a year in advance, and the booking is written backwards to support what they want to present on the grandest stage. While recent WrestleManias seem a bit more thrown-together at times, owing to an increasingly frenetic Vince McMahon being known to make constant changes, WrestleMania XXVIII was an event where a year-long plot was used, this time as an actual storyline.

One night after WrestleMania XXVII in Atlanta, John Cena called out The Rock. Rather than thrash the previous night’s guest host for costing him his World Title match against The Miz, a calm and happy-go-lucky Cena simply challenged Rock to a match at next year’s big event, giving both men one year to prepare for the clash of the ages.

The idea was unique for a modern time frame in which that $45 secondary PPV that you’re being offered has but two matches booked sixteen days before the event. It’s a little hard to get up for those shows (and buyrates seem to agree), but a WrestleMania where the main event is entrenched in everyone’s brains for 363 days?

Those “in-the-know” fans who balked at WWE’s most overexposed star, and most overexposed part-timer, getting a full calendar of non-stop billing would be rewarded by the successes of their heroes.

WWE was becoming a different place, as CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, who’d each passed through Philadelphia’s Murphy Rec Center on the way to the top, won the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships in 2011.

In spite of all of the social media blitzes, irksome moments from Michael Cole, and use of gimmickless FCW/NXT castoffs, it seemed WWE was crafting a WrestleMania unique among the pack. Between a year-long main event build, and two “workrate” champions, the everyday mold was finally being broken.

THE EVENT
Cena and Rock crossed paths prior to the WrestleMania main event, as Rock’s movie schedule allowed him to wrestle at Survivor Series 2011. That night at Madison Square Garden, he and Cena formed a super-team that annihilated The Miz and R-Truth. Afterward, Rock dropped Cena with a Rock Bottom as a reminder that, in four months, they’d each engage in a defining match in their careers.

After Cena was sidetracked by a hard-boiled feud with Kane through early 2012, he and Rock criss-crossed on the remaining road to WrestleMania, insulting each other in their typical juvenille fashion. Rock would host one of his trademark “Rock Concerts” laden with entendres and jibes toward the current company flagbearer, while Cena reinstituted his “Doctor of Thuganomics” persona, ripping into Rock with some lines that would make the kid-friendly sponsors cringe.

The match was even given a TV special on USA Network to promote the history of the icons, giving this match, dubbed “Once in a Lifetime”, a super fight feeling like no other in recent memory.

As if the dream match wasn’t enough to churn buyrates, the “end of an era” was also promised. The Undertaker, 19-0 at WrestleMania, wasn’t happy with how he barely eked the win out over Triple H one year earlier, and demanded a rematch with COO of the company.

Hunter initially balked, but The Dead Man persisted, eventually goading the man technically his boss into a fight. The Game agreed on one condition: that it be a Hell in a Cell match. Shawn Michaels, who’d had his career ended by Undertaker, was made guest referee as one last twist of the screw.

Sheamus was the winner of the 2012 Royal Rumble, last ousting a quizzically-acting Chris Jericho. The Celtic Warrior waited three weeks before deciding which championship to challenge for, ultimately deciding on the World Heavyweight title held by an increasingly-self-indulgent Daniel Bryan.

Bryan was an anomaly, winning the title as an underdog hero on December 18 via briefcase cash-in, but slowly took on a portrayal as an egomaniac jerk. Not only did he ignore the affection of girlfriend AJ Lee, but Bryan began to praise himself more and more for minor victories, many of them tainted. He even allowed AJ to be injured by a stampeding Big Show, all just to keep his title.

As for the WWE Championship, anti-hero CM Punk would face the winner of a ten man battle royal that took place on February 20. Jericho would win, and thus be afforded a chance to continue his vague “end of the world” crusade via the company’s top champion.

Jericho first began the mind games with Punk by claiming the “Straight Edge Superstar” had stolen his “Best in the World” moniker, which Punk gladly challenged Jericho to try and take back. With the champ not fazed, Y2J resorted to revealing the ugly family history of Punk, complete with the addictions his family members all once had. Jericho promised to lead Punk down the road of self-destruction en route to taking his title.

Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler were the evening’s commentators, joined by a now-goateed Jim Ross for the Hell in a Cell match. For the third time, Lilian Garcia performed America the Beautiful. The Hall of Fame Class of 2012 consisted of Edge, The Four Horsemen (dual induction for Ric Flair), Ron Simmons, Yokozuna, Mil Mascaras, and celebrity inductee Mike Tyson.

THE RESULTS
World Heavyweight Championship: Sheamus def. Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds to win the title
(And we stumble out of the gate. Boy the fans at SunLife dumped on them for this decision. I’ve said it in other mediums: it’s not the treatment of Bryan that made this moment suck; it was the belief by the company that Sheamus was going to look stronger as a result. The people who run WWE couldn’t find the pulse of the fans if they had a GPS)

Kane def. Randy Orton in 10:56
(I don’t know who this “Daniel Bryan” fellow is, but he sure got a lot of chants during this match. Decent contest that ended with a flying chokeslam)

WWE Intercontinental: Big Show def. Cody Rhodes in 5:18 to win the title
(The build was entertaining, with Rhodes showing film of Show’s WrestleMania embarrassments to psyche him out, but the match was all too brief. Rhodes actually reigned as champion for eight months)

Maria Menounos/Kelly Kelly def. Eve Torres/Beth Phoenix in 6:49
(All of these women are gone from WWE, which is a commentary on how women would rather do “something else” than work there. But I’d take a stinkface from Miss Menounos, at least)

Hell in a Cell/”End of an Era”: The Undertaker def. Triple H in 30:50
(Opinions of this one are a little divided. Some call this the greatest match in the history of the galaxy. Others think it was stupid to have Triple H assault Undertaker with basic moves, and have Michaels nearly “stop the match” because Taker couldn’t continue. Because Hunter’s so bad ass. Eh, 20-0 is 20-0, even if was slower and more plodding than Heaven’s Gate)

David Otunga/Mark Henry/The Miz/Dolph Ziggler/Jack Swagger/Drew McIntyre def. Kofi Kingston/Santino Marella/Great Khali/R-Truth/Zack Ryder/Booker T in 10:38
(As a result of this, John Laurinaitis won complete control of Raw and Smackdown from Teddy Long. Oh, and Zack Ryder looked like a useless tool. That’ll learn em)

WWE Championship: CM Punk def. Chris Jericho in 22:21
(A highly physical and intense battle that took some time to find second gear, I still found it to be the best match of the night. The battle at the end over the Anaconda Vise, with Punk refusing to give up on the hold, despite Jericho’s vicious struggle, was a nice touch)

“Once in a Lifetime”: The Rock def. John Cena in 33:34
(Nice throwback to the big-time WrestleMania main events of old, even if it was preceded by a six hour concert featuring Flo Rida and anorexic Shannon Moore. Cena’s undoing came as he tried a People’s Elbow, only to be Rock Bottom’d. Some said it was boring, but I actually liked it. Whether Rock has the endurance for another 30 minute match is another story)

ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
It’s hard to argue with 1.22 million buys, a WWE record, so some would say that a year-long build is the way to go. Rock would remain a part of WWE in a limited capacity, sticking around to challenge for the WWE Title at the 2013 Royal Rumble, but we’ll get to that next year.

The show began disastrously, and the fans largely didn’t come out of their anger-induced coma until the Hell in a Cell match. As many people who remember that match, and Rock and Cena’s epic showdown, equally remember how the show opened with the misstep of Sheamus and Bryan, possibly the worst WrestleMania booking since Hogan went over a tired Yokozuna at WrestleMania IX.

It wasn’t a terrible show, but it wasn’t a home run in any way except financially (undoubtedly important, despite our gripes). For the official “portrait” of the show, my pick will be a split screen. On one side is Shawn Michaels and Undertaker holding up a semi-conscious Triple H on the stage, while The Rock stands tall on the other side. WWE more than ever lives off of the past, as it can’t create an exciting present. Logically, their imagery should make you think you’re in 1998.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Paul Heyman Talks CM Punk and Chicago RAW Promo

April 02, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

CM Punk’s sabbatical remains one of the biggest mysteries of the WWE Universe. Nobody within the inner circles of that universe has spoken about Punk…until now. Leave it to Paul Heyman to cross that line and speak freely on the taboo topic.

The WWE has Heyman on the public relations scene doing a lot of media over the last week or so to promote WrestleMania 30. It’s a double edged sword for the WWE. The great is that Heyman is a promoter at heart and probably the best man available to hype the show. The risk of course is that Heyman is a straight shooter and isn’t going to take the company line in exchange for his credibility on mum topics which is why I am not surprised that he is the first to break the silence on CM Punk.

Heyman wound up as a piece in the Punk puzzle when he came out on RAW in Chicago and talked at length about Punk. The promo was brilliant, gutsy, and controversial in that some fans and media still don’t quite understand why the WWE would give time to a guy who walked out on the company. Even more controversial was what was said and what wasn’t said. Bill Donnelly of the This Infamous asked Heyman about it and offered new insight into one of the strangest moments on RAW in 2014.

The easiest interview I’ve ever done in my entire career. Because I knew the task at hand. Think about this. I didn’t say one disparaging thing about CM Punk. It’s because I have nothing disparaging to say about him. I said, “If CM Punk were in this ring tonight, he would prove to everyone that he is what he always claims to be: The best in the world.” And I believe that to be true! I said everything about CM Punk that I felt in my heart and at the end of the day, we don’t have that television show on the air to sing the praises of those who are not with us or just heap praise on people because we like them. The television show is a promotional vehicle to entice the audience to purchase the network or the individual pay-per-view. My task at hand is to elicit the response from the viewer that they find the Brock Lesnar versus Undertaker match compelling enough to purchase the pay-per-view or get involved with WWE Network to see the match. So when I went out in Chicago, I knew my responsibility was to sell you on Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker any way that I had to, which included sitting there for the first ten minutes and discussing the 800-pound elephant in the room, which is why CM Punk wasn’t appearing in his hometown.

That was an interesting answer out of Heyman, especially crediting Punk as the “best in the world”. What I found fascinating is Heyman calling it the easiest promo of his career. That is why he is one of the best ever and the only manager to adapt to four decades of changes in the industry. Think about that one for a second. What other manager who was on the national scene in 1988 has been able to adapt as successfully as Heyman? The man is truly a genius.

Even more taboo than the interview is the question about Punk’s future with the WWE. Heyman was asked about it and offered rare insight from someone on the inside.

You know, there were only three people in the room that night, and that was CM Punk, Vince McMahon and Triple H, and none of the three have talked about it. So whether CM Punk will ever or won’t ever appear in WWE again is truly only known by the three people that were in the room on that given evening. Anything else that is stated about it is merely speculation.

I was struck by his comment about Punk, Vince, and Hunter being all in a room. That is the first I have ever heard about that one. All reports indicated that Vince and Punk had a meeting. Keep in mind that Heyman is tight with Punk so this may be a scoop Heyman got directly from Punk. If that were true than this story becomes a whole lot more interesting in that you had Punk telling Vince and Hunter that he was leaving because he felt working with Triple H was something of a downgrade.

Just when you think you have heard everything about the Punk story another layer unravels. Leave it to Heyman to stir things up once again. E-C-dub!

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WrestleMania XXVI: Somehow, Some Way, I Made It

April 02, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

-We are LIVE from the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ on March 28, 2010 for WrestleMania XXVI. Well, not me. I’m inside a one story house with a decently-furnished living room in South Jersey that belongs to my brother Josh, and we’re joined by friends Dave and Rob for this historic evening. Funny that our childhood heroes are all wrestling: Undertaker for Rob, Bret Hart for Dave, Shawn Michaels for me, and Vince McMahon for Josh (don’t ask).

-It should be noted that my feelings on this show may change in six months, as I’m writing this while coming off of the fumes of adrenaline from having just watched the show live. It’s like on IMDb when the users go see a hit movie, and then all run home to vote “10″ on it immediately. So tune in this September when I re-review the show and go back on everything I said.

-Fantasia Barrino does America the Beautiful, although she’s merely billed as “Fantasia” on her title card. Good to see the rules of one-name WWE divas also apply to guest singers. You could apply this logic to any diva from American Idol: Fantasia, Kelly, Katherine, Carrie, Clay….

-Missed the opening video, because our food just arrived. Mmm, buffalo chicken wrap….

-I should note the ominous Aztec-ish tower that makes up the entrance way. Very chilling, in a sense. One year, they should have a giant wicker man at the entrance way. Then they can invite Nicholas Cage and attack him with bees. That’d just be epic.

- Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and Matt Striker helm the desk this year. Presumably, Striker’s there to explain to Lawler what the storylines on Smackdown are. Hey look, the Spanish Announce Table’s back! You know what THIS means.

-The show kicks off with ShowMiz defending the Unified Tag Team Titles against John Morrison and R-Truth. I would assume that if Truth wanted a surefire tag team partner, he would have just gone with Pacman Jones, since Jones was undefeated in TNA. Besides, WWE can overplay the kiddie element and dress Big Show as one of the ghosts from the Pacman game and….alright, I’m rambling.

-They’re really rushing through this, which is the perils of a 10 match show with lots of downtime being squeezed into four hours. On an up note, at least The Miz made it onto the actual show this year. I’d think after a year of stabbing a Kid Rock voodoo doll with pins, he’s earned this showcase.

-After hearing the story that John Morrison went into some online chat and called John Cena a boring champion, I was ready to lay some odds on who was getting pinned. Will Justin be right?

-Big Show pins Morrison with the KO punch. Hey, Justin was right! Match was rushed, not even four minutes long. I think that was the fastest opener in WM history to be honest. Eh well, at least Miz got a chance to shine. He came to play, you know. Good to Show win a match at WrestleMania, since that happens about as often as TNA making through a show without production gaffes.

-AXXESS footage. Seeing Bret Hart at the annual WWE fan fest just seems….wrong.

-Next is the triple threat between the members of Legacy, they being Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes, and Ted Dibiase. You know you’re the jobber of the group when you’re demoted from your normal theme song to a stock theme that you haven’t used in two years. Poor Cody Rhodes. His creamsicle go-go dancer look just isn’t going to cut it.

-This reads like a handicap match, as Rhodes and Dibiase are united against Orton, who, despite playing a borderline psychotic for about two years, gets the big face pop. Then again, the fans pop whenever a female heel gets beaten up, regardless of the who the attacker is. WWE: making antisocial behavior acceptable since 1958.

-Orton does his best to fend off both men, and the crowd’s getting kinda lukewarm to this. I think it’s partially because no one’s ever taken Rhodes and Dibiase seriously as heels, despite their great matches with DX last year.

-Legacy has a miscue on a high-low on Orton. Is it just me, or could Dibiase’s father have afforded to buy him some coordination and timing training? Dibiase’s about as awkward as a Fritz Von Erich Father’s Day card.

-Dibiase and Rhodes have the inevitable rift and have a fight outside the ring that vaguely resembles the slap fight that Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch had in the movie Dick. They were playing Woodward and Bernstein, which means that Orton better make like Ben Bradlee and interject himself before this thing falls apart.

-Orton spikes both of his former flunkies with the double rope hang DDT, which Cole has never seen before. Damn it, Cole, what were you doing at WrestleMania 24 during the Raw matches? Have a VINTAGE FLASHBACK and let me know.

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-Punt for Cody, and an RKO for Dibiase ends it for Orton. Decent match, but it was hard to take Rhodes and Dibiase seriously as threats. Orton’s got the face momentum now, so it’ll be interesting to see where they go with it.

-We get a backstage segment involving Santino Marella where Mean Gene Okerlund winds up in a dress. I knew Mean Gene’s Burgers was a money pit, but how low WILL Okerlund stoop to recoup his lost funds? Call the hotline to find out!

-Next up, the sixth annual Money in the Bank ladder match, with ten, count em, ten participants: Christian, Kane, Matt Hardy (back to regular pants due to his waistline expansion), Evan Bourne, Kofi Kingston (who did…..something…..with his hair), MVP, Shelton Benjamin, Drew McIntyre (thankfully without overdone entrance), Jack Swagger (only missing “Living in America” for his song), and Dolph Ziggler.

-Is there a kayfabe reason for Kane’s black eye? Or did he get accused of breaking up Randy Savage’s marriage to Miss Elizabeth?

-Match begins with a mad scramble up the ladders, looking like a TNA X Division match. Except in the X Division rendition of such a match, you’d have to hang the briefcase, pin 3 people, and then recite the alphabet backwards to win. Oh, TNA, you wacky innovators.

-Swagger, it occurs to me, looks like Charlie Haas if Haas was Corky on Life Goes On. I apologize to all mentally challenged people. I didn’t mean to compare you guys to Jack Swagger.

-Dolph messes up a Zig Zag off the ladder, and shortly after Kane powerbombs Kofi onto a leaning ladder. This is a rather ambitious MITB match, as we’re hoping to set a new standard for collective amount of nerve damage.

-In a swank spot, Swagger gets impaled under a ladder by Christian and Hardy wielding ladders, and Christian, Hardy, and Bourne try to climb, but Swagger manages to bring the tower down. Well, innovative, if nothing else.

-Kofi Kingston decides to top everyone by using a ladder that was broken in half, and tries to use it as a pair of stilts to walk toward the briefcase, but sadly it was not meant to be. Man, how high do you have to be to come up with THAT spot? Well, it IS Kofi….

-Kane and Hardy fight on the ladder, as I wonder if the hand of Lita is once again at stake between these two brooding Romeos. Christian helps Hardy take Kane out, and then Matt goes by the wayside, and Christian goes for the goods, but Swagger belts him with the briefcase, before taking forever to unhinge it and….gets the win? If you had Swagger in your pre-show prediction list, congratulations you LIAR. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes. My guess is he’s going to try to get his ECW Title back from Ezekiel Jackson in a match that would kick off just about any decent edition of Smackdown. Great spots, but lacking connection. Still, I loved it.

-I’d like to thank Drew McIntyre for his 48 seconds of participation. No wonder the office has faith in him.

-The Hall of Famers get their due: Stu Hart, Wendy Richter, Mad Dog Vachon, Antonio Inoki, Bob Uecker, Gorgeous George, and Ted Dibiase. The viewing party is convinced that Stu’s actually still alive, and just made sure that Smith Hart went to the ceremony just to get him out of the house so he can change the locks. It’s a good theory as any.

-By the way, Howard Finkel…..#26! Go Howard!

-Triple H and Sheamus is next, and Hunter’s entrance is longer than the opening match. Take that Morrison, you entrenched midcarder, you. Lawler mentions that losing at WrestleMania to Triple H has the power to change your life for the worse. Finally, Lawler and Booker T can agree on something.

-Triple H manages to slap on a figure four, and Michael Cole even talks about how Hunter learned that from Ric Flair. He can say Flair’s name?!? I think Vince is too busy warming up, so Jim Ross is on headset feeding these things to Cole and is trying to get him fired.

-Sign in the crowd: “HHH FEARS DIVORCE”. Why, wouldn’t he want custody of Lucy, the chronically crapping dog?

-Just before Triple H hits Sheamus with a face-to-knee buster, a fan screams “FACE BUSTER!”. It’s like that TV show Early Edition, except people under 35 are actually watching this match. Crowd’s really divided too, which is a bit shocking, since they haven’t booked Sheamus right. Maybe it’s all just sympathy cheers? Maybe.

-Sheamus manages to land the pump kick, but it’s not enough, as Hunter rallies with the Pedigree to win. Decent match, even if the Great Satan did win. Maybe Hunter should put his career on the line against Taker’s streak next year. Wait, no, then Taker won’t have a streak left! Think, Justin, think. Don’t make rash suggestions like that!

-I truly think Sheamus’ next step is to form a tag team with Rikishi called Potato Salad. The kids will love it!

-Slim Jim ad, which features the two kids turning into ninjas. Were they the same ninjas who kidnapped Samoa Joe on camera? Tune into Impact and find out!

-CM Punk and Rey Mysterio is next, and Punk preaches on the way to the ring. Always a good listen. Rey’s costume du jour: Avatar. But if he was truly Avatar, wouldn’t he be engaged to Tiffany and display no sense of human emotion whatsoever? I know, I’m mean.

-Rey gets caught in a tree of woe, but Punk slides in and winds up splattering his crotch against the ring post. Punk would regain the upper hand, however, and cover Rey for what should have been a three count, if not for a timing miscue. Crowd’s starting to die off a bit, which is a growing trend for these stadium events. If you’re not a real fan and you’re not into the characters, then maybe you just shouldn’t go. Hey, if I plunk down hundreds of dollars on a ticket, I’m gonna be screaming during Zack Ryder vs. Santino Marella, ok?

-Where was I? Ah yes, Punk nails Rey with a sick roundhouse kick. Always good to hear the sound of boot on vinyl mask.

-Rey manages to springboard off the ropes and land a DDT on Punk, although it was botched as Punk’s head got flattened too much. They show it on replay twice, and Lawler comments on how “beautiful” it was. Hey, if the man thinks that botches are beautiful, then certainly I’m not one to argue.

-Despite the best efforts of the Straight Edge Society, Rey gets the 619 and falling headbutt to finish Punk off. Match was abbreviated, but still really good. At least Rey doesn’t have to pledge to a straight edge lifestyle now. BRING ON THE QUAALUDES!

-Next up, Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon in a no holds barred match. I always loved that the fans who love Bret the most bring signs for him, and then spell his name “BRETT”. Way to show your devotion and appreciation, you miscreants.

-Vince brings out the Hart siblings and the Hart Dynasty as lumberjacks, since he’s paid them all off to help screw Bret over. Legendary loser Bruce even gets to be the referee. Great, expect about 15 low blows in this one. At least Bruce finally found work in WWE after, what 20 years of campaigning?

-In a twist, Bret reveals that the Harts are all on HIS side, and that Vince has been conned. Let the beatdown begin!

-So Bret proceeds to beat the crap out of Vince, and the current generation gets their shots in on the floor. David Hart Smith and Tyson Kidd land a modified doomsday device on the outside, and Kid BOUNCES Vince’s head off of the floor. Tyson Kidd, we wish you well in your future endeavors. I look forward to seeing him in TNA with his new name Holyfield Mann.

-The match is slow, but who cares? It’s Bret beating up Vince. The only way to make this more entertaining would be if the Harts pulled a Blue Blazer costume onto Vince and then threw him out of the rafters. Wait, is that wrong? Screw it, I’m enjoying myself. Perhaps too much.

-Bret gives Vince about 58 low blows and then slaps on the Sharpshooter for the win. If the match isn’t going to be any good, then it better cater to my base instincts. In this case: Bret beating Vince up. Five stars, Justin’s happy, onward we go.

-Justin “Softspeak” Roberts announces the crowd at 72,219. Nothing’s going to top the drawing power of WrestleMania III, let’s face it. Hercules and Billy Jack Haynes is just too strong from a historical standpoint, anyway.

-Edge-Jericho highlights. We even get footage of renowned sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews as he works on Edge. Do you think Dr. Andrews watches TLC and Money in the Bank and Hell in a Cell matches with glee, knowing that he’s one botched move away from some wrestler going to Birmingham and financing his next house? I’ll bet he subscribes to Botchamania on Youtube. What a sadist.

-It’s just a weird premise for this feud, basing it around Edge saying “spear” to Jericho to try and get into his head, and then getting the fans to play along. Chanting “spear” would be good right about now, since the crowd’s more reserved than my room in Hell.

-The fight spills outside and Edge slams Jericho into the table. I think our Spanish co-horts are in for a shortened evening, like always.

-Back inside, Jericho manages to apply the Walls to try and weaken Edge’s bad leg. The last time Jericho defended a World Title at WrestleMania against a muscled up blonde babyface with a bad leg with a dead crowd….well, it didn’t end well for Chris.

-After Edge won’t give in, Jericho tries a lionsault, but lands on his feet, only to eat an Edge-o-Matic for 2. Good spot.

-Jericho’s spear fails, and then Edge tries one, but flies right into a Codebreaker. Jericho goes back to the Walls, and applies a single leg version on Edge’s bad wheel. Crowd’s finally coming to life through sheer will of the performers.

-Both men fall to the outside off of an Edge clothesline and, after Edge accidentally hits the ref while on the apron, Jericho waffles him with the belt for 2. A Codebreaker, however, ends it and Jericho shockingly retains. Afterward, an irate Edge sets up Jericho on the American announce table, and then runs off the Spanish one to spear him into the timekeeper’s pit. What a sore loser. Match was really good, best of the night so far.

-You know you’re insane as a fan when you think Jack Swagger’s gonna run in right now and win the belt from Jericho. Sadly, the moment is lost.

-Highlights are shown of the pre show battle royal, which was won by…..Yoshi Tatsu? Man, Linda McMahon’s really aching for that Asian-American vote, isn’t she? The last time a Japanese born wrestler won ANYTHING at WrestleMania, Funaki had a 2 minute reign as Hardcore Champion. Sad, really.

-Time wasting ten diva tag is next, with Mickie James, Beth Phoenix, Gail Kim, Kelly Kelly, and Eve facing Michelle McCool, Layla, Alicia Fox, Maryse, and Vickie Guerrero. About time, we’d waited all night for this.

-After a sequence of nothing but finishers (some of which almost hit properly), Vickie lands a frog splash onto Kelly Kelly, who can’t even take a pin properly. Thankfully, Vickie does get the pin and becomes the third Guerrero to win at WrestleMania. Junk match, but who cares? In a moment of blind hysteria, Josh, Dave, and I ran around celebrating Vickie’s big moment. Because that’s what WrestleMania does to us civil, working-class folk.

-Still, thank you, WWE, for Mickie James in jeans. I won’t complain as much this coming year, I promise.

-Cena/Batista video. All it was missing was Batista’s immortal “HUGGING FAT GIRLS” line. Cena should have hugged Vickie Guerrero, just to drive the point home.

-Cena’s super special entrance: an Air Force crew performs an honor guard routine. The fans boo, and I think it’s funny that fans in Arizona boo military personnel in a city where Pat Tillman is such a hero. If you’re going to boo Cena, wait till he comes out. Show some class, please?

-Signs in the crowd: “NORWAY HATES CENA”. Things I know about Norway: it had the Olympics once, and it’s way the hell far away from my house. So there you go.

-Slow start to a match I was really looking forward to. Cena tries to Adjust Batista’s Attitude, but Batista spikes him with a sick DDT for 2.

-We get the boo-yay-boo-yay spot, and of course Cena’s on the losing end of it. Hey, it’s not Cena’s fault that Santino Holmes got both feet in the end zone last year. Deal with it.

-Batista spinebuster = one of the most underrated moves there is, especially when he does his sudden stand up after hitting it. Good stuff.

-Cena lands a Five Knuckle Shuffle off the top, which could be a tribute to Shawn Michaels and his flying fistdrop as a Rocker. I’d like to think so.

-Batista lands the Batista Bomb for 2, and makes the greatest face in the history of faces. Cena then lands the Attitude Adjustment for another 2 count. Another Batista Bomb fails, and Cena hooks the STF to make Big Dave tap and to give Cena his ninth World Title. Really good match, up to the standard of the Summerslam match. Cena cheeses next to a fan in the front row who’s wearing an anti-Cena shirt. Say what you will, but John Cena knows how to roll with the punches. It’s why I like him.

-Shawn-Taker video is next. I’ll bet the crowd’s fully awake now.

-Shawn makes his standard HBK entrance, and the fans are behind him almost 100% The question is, can they have enough guts to have Shawn end the streak? Either way, it’s going to be talked about for a very long time afterward, I can assure you.

-Undertaker rises up through the stage, wearing a hood like some giant, gothic version of AJ Styles. All Undertaker needs is Ric Flair to show him how to cut whacked out promos.

-Taker and Shawn have a staredown. If Taker’s going to win, he’d BETTER say “I’m sorry….I love you” before the final Tombstone. I repeat: he’d BETTER say it.

-Taker manages to land Old School early on, which plays into the usual theory of “get everything out of the way that’s minor, so that the slate is clear for the REALLY heavy stuff”. Brace yourself, folks, history’s about to be made.

-Shawn attempts a Crossface on Taker. I’d make a tasteless joke, but I’ll just say that it’s already been proven effective in the real world, so you know it’s just as deadly in the kayfabe planet as well.

-Taker gets a legdrop on the apron, prompting what I believe is Cole’s first “VINTAGE” of the night. Shawn does get a Figure Four though, paying homage to the man whose retirement apparently isn’t sacred. Just saying.

-Shawn lands the forearm and the kip up, but Taker drops him with a chokeslam for an early near fall. Shawn begins to work Taker’s leg, and even manages to snare him into an ankle lock. What, is Shawn going to do the finishers of everyone in TNA? If Shawn hits the Gringo Killer on The Dead Man, I’m a fan for life.

-Taker kicks off the ankle lock with two boots. The first kick straightened Shawn’s eyes, and the second one distorted them again. Shawn’s eyes are like a demented snow globe.

-To the outside, where Taker manages to spike Shawn with a Tombstone on the concrete. First one since I believe Jake Roberts ate one at WrestleMania 8. Trainers try to tend to Shawn, but Taker’s having none of it. He brings Shawn in for 2. Taker tries the Last Ride, but Shawn counters into an X-Factor for 2. It’s TNA Appreciation Night! Someone come up with some kooky stipulations!

-Taker applies the Hell’s Gate, and Shawn counters it into a pinning predicament for 2. Once up to their feet, Shawn pastes him with Sweet Chin Music for 2. Shawn tries for another one, but Taker turns it into a Last Ride for 2. I’m starting to sweat, and I’m not the only one in the room.

-To the outside for what could be Shawn’s last deadly spot ever. He lays Taker out on the table with Sweet Chin Music and then goes up top, coming off with a moonsault to put Taker through. SICKNESS. If Shawn’s going out, he’s doing it the only way he knows how: stealing the show.

-Back inside, Shawn gets another Sweet Chin Music, and can only get 2. Shawn tries for yet another superkick, but Taker clasps the throat and sends Shawn to Hell with a chokeslam. No pinfall attempt, as Taker scrapes HBK up and drops him with a Tombstone for 2, just like last year. Taker’s livid and frustrated and this place is unglued.

-Taker drops his straps, but stops, as he’s now hesitant to finish Shawn off, due to the respect involved. Taker implores Shawn to stay down, but Shawn mocks him with the throat cut gesture, and then hauls off and smacks Taker across the face. Taker goes into beast mode, lifting Shawn and hitting a deadly leaping Tombstone for the win and the end of Shawn’s career. After a slow getting-up period, Taker embraces Michaels and the crowd, of course, eats up this moment.

-Taker leaves so that Shawn can have his curtain call, and he does so mostly with a smile, as, unlike most, he has no baggage left. He’s the best at what he does (or did), and has a family at home waiting for him, with plenty of money in his savings. If this is the end of Shawn Michaels as an active wrestler, then it’ll be a long time before any single performer comes along that can top him in this line of work. When that happens, my grandkids may be in a nursing home.

-CYNIC SAYS: Again, I’m completing this review just hours after the show ended, so there’s nothing to look back on with stern 20/20 hindsight and definitive judgment. From a live perspective, a good time was had by my friends and I, which is positive. The two World Title matches featured great story telling, Shawn and Taker may have hit ‘five stars’ (ask me again in six months), Money in the Bank was exciting, Rey/Punk and Hunter/Sheamus were both good matches, and Bret beat the crap out of Vince. For the most part, as of the morning after, I feel like I’d gotten my money’s worth.

Again, time will tell on WrestleMania XXVI. But for right now, let’s call it a thumbs up show with a smile.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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WrestleMania XXVI: A Portrait in Wrestling History

April 02, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

WRESTLEMANIA XXVI
From University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ
March 28, 2010

BACKGROUND
One of the biggest differences between WWE and TNA is that when WWE utilizes older wrestlers, it’s to their maximum.

In the fall of 2009, TNA went ahead with a considerable end-run to bolster their roster, with the target of running a monster three-hour episode of Impact, live on Monday, January 4, up against Raw.

To sweeten the pot and lure in casual fans not familiar with TNA, the company brought in Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff to be major players, while negotiating with Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, Ric Flair, and Jeff Hardy, as well as other familiar faces.

WWE, knowing that TNA was going to bring their best laid plans to that Monday night, countered with something that would shock fans all over the world.

On January 4, 2010, for the first time in over twelve years, Bret “The Hitman” Hart would return to Monday Night Raw.

WWE Fans didn’t know what to think. Bret Hart, really? The same man who, while he’d done a few side ventures with WWE in recent years, had a rocky relationship with the company that embarrassed him on PPV with the “screwjob”? The same Bret Hart that locked horns with the company when the two sides became embroiled over who was responsible for the death of Bret’s brother, Owen?

Indeed, Hart showed up on January 4 in Dayton, OH, where he’d won the 1993 King of the Ring tournament.

To add to the surreal nature of Hart even standing in a WWE ring, he called out longtime nemesis Shawn Michaels. Hart had Michaels removed from the 2006 Hall of Fame ceremony, not wanting him there to witness his speech.

On this night, Hart and Michaels shook hands, and then embraced with a hug, dropping the jaws of fans around the world.

Only in WWE.

THE EVENT
Edge made a surprise comeback after a near six-month injury layoff, and won the 2010 Royal Rumble from the #29 spot. Edge waited to pick the champion he would face, and it paid off when he selected Chris Jericho, who won the World Heavyweight Championship three weeks later at Elimination Chamber.

Jericho and Edge had won the Unified Tag Team Titles in the summer, and then Edge bowed out with the mentioned injury. Jericho chose Big Show as his replacement, and then would off-handedly slag Edge for his shortcomings. Edge would taunt Jericho with threats of spearing him, getting the fans to yell, in Pavlovian fashion, “SPEEEEEEEEEAR”. Jericho’s improbable title win on February 21 meant he might have to eat his words at WrestleMania.

On the opposite brand, John Cena won the Raw Elimination Chamber match, winning Sheamus’ WWE Championship. Immediately after the grueling contest, Vince McMahon, who was on bad terms with Cena after he’d stood beside Bret Hart (explanation forthcoming), sent Batista to the ring for an immediate title match. Batista mauled Cena to win the belt within seconds.

Cena had a chance for a WrestleMania rematch if he could beat Batista in a non-title rematch the next night on Raw. Batista got himself disqualified intentionally, due to his hatred of Cena, his success, and what he stood for. In fact, Batista made it clear that when the two men had their skyrocketing career paths parallel each other just several years earlier, Cena got more love and Batista admitted that he was jealous.

Batista also made it clear that Cena had never, ever beaten him, and promised that WrestleMania, in front of the world, would be no different.

But back to Hart, Vince McMahon had assaulted him at the end of the January 4 Raw, continuing the bad blood that had existed since 1997. McMahon would spend over two months ripping Hart for hanging onto the past, claiming that he’d made “The Hitman”. Bret, however, would get a chance at revenge as he’d challenged Vince to a street fight.

McMahon accepted, but after Bret attacked him, Vince would renege. After Hart was then injured in a car accident backstage, McMahon would accept, thinking Bret was too hurt. However, after Vince signed the contract, Hart proved that his injuries were merely a ruse to get Vince to agree, and that the accident was all a set-up. Hart would have his chance to get 12 years worth of revenge after all.

Speaking of revenge, Shawn Michaels had some in mind as well.

Michaels lamented not ending The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak one year earlier, and became obsessed with doing so.

Shawn Michaels had cost The Undertaker the World Heavyweight Title at Elimination Chamber, doing whatever he could to get a rematch at WrestleMania, so that he could end the streak. After weeks of hounding “The Dead Man”, Michaels finally got Undertaker’s attention. However, Undertaker would only accept the match if Michaels agreed to put his career on the line.

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Michaels implied acceptance, saying “If I can’t beat you….I have no career.”

Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and Matt Striker called the action from ringside. Fantasia Barrino performed “America the Beautiful”. Entering the WWE Hall of Fame were Ted Dibiase, Antonio Inoki, Wendi Richter, Mad Dog Vachon, Gorgeous George, Stu Hart, and Bob Uecker.

THE RESULTS
Unified Tag Team Championship: The Miz/Big Show def. John Morrison/R-Truth in 3:24
(Miz and Morrison get a “make up call” from one year earlier, and get to be on the actual show. Of course, it gets 1/3 of the time as their dark match from last year. Life’s just not fair)

Triple Threat Match: Randy Orton def. Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase in 9:01
(This was decent, and did what it was supposed to do in elevate Orton, but Rhodes and DiBiase’s slap fest was so horribly goofy that it became hard to take either man seriously. Some Mania debut for both)

Money in the Bank: Jack Swagger def. Kane, MVP, Christian, Dolph Ziggler, Matt Hardy, Shelton Benjamin, Kofi Kingston, Drew McIntyre, and Evan Bourne in 13:44
(Swagger was an interesting choice for a winner. And by “interesting”, I mean “odd”. He’d become World Heavyweight Champion two nights later in one of the most forgettable reigns in recent memory)

Triple H def. Sheamus in 12:09
(Ever feel like Orton and Hunter were punished for their crappy main event from last year by being stuck in the first half of the show? Match was pretty good, actually. Sheamus deserves more love)

Rey Mysterio def. CM Punk in 6:30
(Damn good match, but way short. Mysterio had to go “straight edge” if he lost, as if that were a heelish thing to have to do. “How dare that villain infringe on Rey’s right to take HGH! That cad!”)

Lumberjack Match: Bret Hart def. Vince McMahon in 11:09
(All of the Hart siblings, as well as the Hart Dynasty, surrounded the ring for a match in which Bret slowly and meticulously stomped Vince and beat him with a chair for eleven minutes. Well, it’s fine by me. By the way, look at the match’s time. What date was Montreal again? 11/09! CREEPY!)

World Heavyweight Championship: Chris Jericho def. Edge in 15:48
(Like Jericho’s previous WrestleMania World Title match, this had no heat, seemed a bit awkward, and is not often remembered. It’s a shame, because it was a pretty good match, but Edge’s entire face schtick centered around him bellowing “SPEEEEEEEAR!!!” which does nothing for anyone)

Michelle McCool/Layla/Vickie Guerrero/Maryse/Alicia Fox def. Mickie James/Beth Phoenix/Kelly Kelly/Gail Kim/Eve Torres in 3:26
(The last major WWE appearance of Mickie “Lesbian Stalker” James. I’ll always have the memories)

WWE Heavyweight Championship: John Cena def. Batista in 13:31
(A bit abbreviated, but still a damn good outing. Cena and Batista have pretty good chemistry when they’re not bogged down by pointless stipulations, as they were in subsequent rematches. Batista’s face when Cena kicked out of the Batista Bomb is a sight to behold)

Career vs. Streak: The Undertaker def. Shawn Michaels in 23:59
(Not quite as “epic” as last year’s match, but epic nonetheless. Gah, I’m splitting hairs here. This was a great match, and a great way for Shawn Michaels to go out. I hope, unlike Flair, he stays retired and lets his tremendous legacy tell the story of how amazing a performer he was. I hope when Undertaker retires one day, he has the sense to do the same. Great ending to the show)

ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
I never would have guessed, in 2010, that we’d see Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels wrestle on the same show ever again. Hart and Michaels were, at one point, both retired simultaneously, until Michaels found the itch to wrestle again in 2002.

Hart’s match wasn’t really a match as it was a slow beating. Michaels’ match was an enthralling epic, considered the best match of 2010.

But for both men, WrestleMania XXVI was about closure.

For Hart, it was about giving the fans “one more match”, the one he’d wished for at his Hall of Fame speech in 2006. Sure, it wasn’t anything great, but it was one more Sharpshooter in front of millions of fans, as a way of putting some of his bitterness into his past.

For Shawn Michaels, it was one last great performance. The most talented wrestler the world has known stole the show once more, from peers young and old. He could now rest his battered body forever.

A photo surfaced one day after WrestleMania with both Hart and Michaels smiling, congratulating each other after the show had ended.

If you can think of a more appropriate portrait for this show, I’d like to see it.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Repost – HBK and Undertaker Steal the Show at WWE WrestleMania 25

April 01, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Whether WWE WrestleMania XXV lived up to the standards set of past WrestleMania shows is debatable. There were the usual WrestleMania celebrities. There were the usual grand entrances by WWE superstars. But overall, the show itself was a toss up among most fans. However there was no debate as to who had the best match on the show. Once again, Shawn Michaels lived up the moniker of “Mr. WrestleMania.”

Shawn Michaels and Undertaker had what will go down as a 31 minute WrestleMania classic. These two hadn’t missed a beat since their exciting series of matches over ten years ago. The match was just simply great and had 70,000 plus going nuts from entrance to finish. The old dogs showed the current class of wrestlers what stealing the show at WrestleMania is all about.

The match had a pretty quick pace throughout most of the bout. There were some throwback spots in there that old-school fans could appreciate. For one, Shawn Michaels took a WrestleMania XI-like backdrop from Undertaker. Second, the two used a spot right out of their Hell in a Cell match by getting a gimmicked cameraman involved. The spot will probably be most remembered for Undertaker landing right on his head.

That wasn’t the only glitch of the match. After kicking out of a Tombstone, Michaels reversed another attempt into a DDT. The move didn’t seem to be noticed by the live crowd. Thanks to a genius in the production truck, a replay was shown immediately thereafter of the botch. The director who called for that shot should probably be getting his resume ready today.

Both men traded and hit all of their signature spots. Michaels even pulled out some new tricks which was nice to see. In the end, Undertaker caught Michaels in the midst of a Moonsault Block. Undertaker reversed it into another Tombstone. Unlike the previous Tombstone, Michaels never kicked out of the subsequent pin. Undertaker now goes to 17-0 and the WrestleMania streak continues.

My second favorite match of the night was actually the Elimination Match between Chris Jericho vs. Jimmy Snuka, Roddy Piper, and Ricky Steamboat. Well not the match itself, but the moments between Jericho and Steamboat. Snuka and Piper really need to stay away from the ring. I loved these two guys growing up, but it is really painful to watch them in 2009. Ricky Steamboat was another story altogether.

Steamboat had not had a wrestling match in about fifteen years. As one of the greatest of all-time, I really worried that he’d embarrass himself. Steamboat did not embarrass anyone but the guys that had to follow him. Steamboat looked fantastic and held his own with Jericho. I am almost tempted to see a singles match between Steamboat and Jericho at Backlash. Jericho beat Steamboat, but Steamboat looked absolutely fantastic in my opinion.

The second most remembered WrestleMania moment will probably be the return of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Austin drove an ATV to the ring and drank a ton of beers to the crowd’s delight. I can’t imagine another WWE superstar in our lifetime reaching the kind of popularity he has. Triple H and Randy Orton followed this, which was quite a task for the main-event.

The celebrities were in attendance as usual at WrestleMania. Kid Rock performed a near 15 minute set. This brings up a story of my own from a few months back. I remember seeing a sign for Kid Rock performing in A.C. on the highway. I said to my girlfriend, “Who in their right mind is going to see Kid Rock in 2009?” To me, this just goes to show how completely out of touch with music that the WWE is. Paul Heyman has written about this in his column and this was a perfect example of this. Maybe they can book Limp Bizkit for next year at this rate?

Mickey Rourke from The Wrestler was the show-stealing celebrity. Rourke sat ringside with a few MMA fighters. Jericho challenged Rourke to get in the ring. Rourke did, and cold cocked Jericho with a punch. I wouldn’t call this pathetic, but I wouldn’t call it a great moment either. Ric Flair quickly ended this by pulling Rourke off of him. Thank God they didn’t go with the planned match.

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The rest of the show was a mixed bag. I thought the Hardy vs. Hardy match was a bit disappointing. The Extreme Rules really hampered these guys from doing what they do best. The match almost looked like a bad independent hardcore match. The storyline about Matt killing Jeff’s dog is just way too ridiculous at this point. It’s time to move on to another chapter. I also thought it was rather insulting of the announcers (I’m sure at Vince’s request) to categorize this as a more heated brother-rivalry than the Harts.

I didn’t particularly care for either of the two main-events. John Cena pinned Big Show to win the WWE world title. Triple H retained the WWE championship pinning Randy Orton. There will probably be some controversy coming out of it since he used a sledgehammer. CM Punk won Money in the Bank for the second year in a row. I could try and explain that one for the next year and probably couldn’t come up with anything. I would expect something with him and either Edge or Randy Orton in the near future.

Full Results:
WWE Champion Triple H def. Randy Orton
John Cena def. Edge & Big Show (New World Heavyweight Champion)
CM Punk wins Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Chris Jericho def. WWE Legends
Matt Hardy def. Jeff Hardy (Extreme Rules Match)
Undertaker def. Shawn Michaels
Rey Mysterio def. JBL (New Intercontinental Champion)
“Santina” Marella wins 25-Diva Battle Royal for title of “Miss WrestleMania”
WWE Tag Team Champions def. World Tag Team Champions (New Unified Tag Team Champions)

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WrestleMania XXIV: And We Never Saw Flair Again

March 31, 2014 By: Category: Boxing, Sports, WWE | Pro Wrestling

-It had been 15 years, but WWE had to get back on the horse and have an outdoor PPV again. Following the debacle that WrestleMania IX, I know that it had to be tough to repress the memories of bad matches and a horrid appeasement of Hulk Hogan’s ego. So here we are, at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL, on March 30, 2008. After years of watching TNA, I had no idea that more than 900 people were allowed to attend wrestling events in the city.

-So after JBL went back to being an active wrestler, our teams became Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler (Raw), Michael Cole and Jonathan Coachman (Smackdown), and Joey Styles and Tazz (ECW). The Smackdown team has the most legit news experience by far, yet want to be hung by their Adam’s apples for atrocities committed on headset, courtesy of the smark community. From this, I can infer that smarks hate news people.

-Kane won a 24 man battle royal before the show to earn a shot at the ECW Championship on this show. I still wish Val Venis had gone to the brand with him to form my dream team: “The Libertarian Extremists”. They could hold Tea Party protests over administrational tyranny and everything. They’d have my support.

-John Legend performs the America the Beautiful. When watching the show with my viewing party, I believe my exact reaction was “Oh, so that’s what he looks like.”

-The show opens with a “Belfast Brawl”, which I believe is actually a hardcore match, aka extreme rules match aka no holds barred match aka street fight. In other words, you can use weapons with total impunity to settle your blood feud, but just don’t aim for the head. Anyway, Finlay’s taking on JBL in this contest, which was centered around one of the most bizarre and non-sensical storylines in the annals of WWE history. I don’t even think I wish to recount it.

-Or maybe I do.

-Long story short, Vince found out that he had an illegitimate child in a case where the mother never revealed herself. The son was revealed in a convoluted game of process of elimination to be Hornswoggle. So Vince was dismayed, as you might expect, but eventually, Finlay kept coming out to save the little bugger from certain harm that Vince would create for him. Some “deal” between Finlay and Vince was tossed around, albeit vaguely. Finally, JBL somehow has this inside knowledge and he reveals that Finlay is Hornswoggle’s actual father. How he acquired such knowledge is anyone’s guess, but this led to a match between Finlay and JBL for this event.

-Yeah.

-JBL attacks early and manages to hit Finlay with a trash can that the Irishman threw into the ring. He hit em in the head, but hey, we can ignore that for the sake of a Senate run.

-After reversing a piledriver, Finlay wallops JBL with a cookie sheet. Anyone have any earthly idea how cookie sheets get under the ring in the first place? Maybe if they had those old five minute intermissions in mid show and they’d serve some Toll House cookies to the announcers, that’d be one thing. As it is, makes no sense.

-Just to exacerbate the horrible story arc, here comes Hornswoggle with a kendo stick. Sure enough, he hits JBL with it. Anyone who’s ever taken comedic pleasure in the mere sight of a midget should be hanged. Because of you, we have moments like this.

-Finlay attempts a suicide dive, but JBL smashes him with a trash can in mid air. It’s important to keep in mind that both men are north of forty years of age. Just wanted to note that.

-JBL throws a trash can hard onto a prone Hornswoggle on the floor, thus earning him the official ranking of “Jesus Christ Almighty” in my book. Thank you, John. I will never mock your man-boobs ever again.

-After whacking Finlay’s legs with the kendo stick, JBL lands the Clothesline from Hell for the win. If you take out the horrid angle and the involvement of a freaking leprechaun, then you’re left with a rather decent brawl. JBL and Finlay have known each other for years going back to their alliance in the CWA in Germany, so it makes sense that they’d have some chemistry. Good Belfast Brawl or hardcore match or street fight or whatever it was….

-Backstage, Mr. Kennedy has words with guest hostess Kim Kardashian. Ah, Kim. There’s a potential Raw host I could get behind. And I’d support her bid to host as well.

-Up next, we have the fourth annual Money in the Bank ladder match, featuring seven participants. That’s because Jeff Hardy decided to be El Violator de Wellness and get him excised from the match. So while Jeff’s at home living for the moment, we’re left with Chris Jericho, CM Punk, MVP, Mr. Kennedy, John Morrison, Shelton Benjamin, and Carlito. All in all, a pretty stellar cast.

-MVP manages to come into possession of a ladder early, and uses it to ward off the other opponents like some blinged out pong paddle. I take pride in knowing that I’m first person to ever type those four words in that order. Unfortunately for Mr. Porter, Jericho gets a bigger ladder and phallically out-duels him. So much for that.

-Jericho tries to put Kennedy in the Walls, but ends up slingshotting him onto the ladder, allowing last year’s winner to try and climb. However, Morrison and Benjamin end up joining him near the apex and it leads to a tower of doom sunset superplex spot. Not wasting time, I see.

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-Shelton tries to top his usual insanity by springboarding to an empty ladder, but slips off without anyone to counter balance it. You mean WWE can’t find ANYTHING for Shelton to do? Really?

-Punk nails Benjamin with the GTS. Well, they found something for him. Unfortunately, it’s a role as “guinea pig for other guys’ finishers”. Well, it’s something.

-Shelton gives it one last go, but is dumped off the ladder, flipping through a table bridge at ringside in a truly scary spot. How scary? Carlito couldn’t hide the look of horror on his face, even though he’s one of the guys who pushed the ladder. Amazing.

-Jericho, Carlito, and Kennedy all make a run for the contract, but MVP dumps them all. Then MVP eats a ladder to the face from Morrison.

-Jericho, Carlito, and Kennedy again find themselves up on the ladders, with Punk as well, but all of them end up crashing, leaving MVP as the last man standing. He goes to climb with no one in sight to stop him, until Matt Hardy jumps the rail and asks us to buy his brother’s DVD to help pay his legal costs. No, sorry, he takes MVP out with a Twist of Fate. My only question: why is Matt in the audience without a shirt on?

-Two ladders get wedged together and Jericho drops Carlito onto the contraption, causing it to project one ladder vertically. Morrison tries climbing this oddly-positioned ladder, but gets pushed off and crotched on the top rope. Ouch.

-Carlito and Kennedy wipe out, leaving a finale between Jericho and Punk. They meet at the top and Jericho gets the upper hand, but Punk pulls Jericho’s leg through and hangs him out, leaving CM Punk to pull down the briefcase and earn the contract. Good stunt show featuring some really innovative stuff, especially Morrison’s climb up the doubled ladder. Plus, it pushed Punk up the ladder (pun intended) to becoming a featured player, which helped lead him to where he is today. What more can you ask for?

-The Hall of Fame Class of 2008 is introduced by Howard Finkel (#24!): The Briscos, Gordon Solie, Rocky Johnson, Peter Maivia, Eddie Graham, Mae Young, and Ric Flair, who is represented by his family. Moments after this recognition took place, Reid and Ashley were arrested for beating up Megan, and Ric was disappointed in David for being David.

-Backstage, Snoop Dogg, Festus, and Santino Marella ham it up. Maybe Snoop’s part of the reason why Luke Gallows got so messed up. Punk should rail against Snoop next.

-Teddy Long and William Regal provide the intros for the next match between Batista and Umaga, which is the “Battle for Brand Supremacy”. Man, when you can’t come up with a solid angle for Batista to work within, you must not have your priorities in order.

-Yes, Regal does call Umaga “Youmanga”. That will never get old, even if the guy is dead.

-Slow paced hoss fight with no story at all, and the crowd is all over Batista for some reason. Seriously, Umaga nails him in the throat at one point and the fans all cheered.

-Boo. Yay. Boo. Yay. The punch sequence we’ve all grown to love, except Umaga’s getting the yays. It’s like Hogan vs. Rock, but without the intrigue and imagination-capturing fun.

-Umaga has the Samoan Spike blocked, and Batista goes into the final sequence, botching the Batista Bomb en route to victory. Not good at all, and uncharacteristically stale for two pretty good brawlers. Batista would recover from this and Umaga….well, unfortunately, not so much. Last Mania match for the big man, who is sorely missed.

-JR and Lawler give us the tale of the tape for the Mayweather-Show fight. They should have included Show’s WrestleMania record, just for a laugh.

-Highlights of Kane winning the battle royal, thus dampening my spirits as I was pulling for Snitsky. Truth told, I was hoping that “bad teeth” Snitsky was a ploy to bring Isaac Yankem back through Kane, and create the most epic feud in the history of civilization. Sadly, the moment was wasted.

-So here’s Armando Estrada to do ring intros for the ECW Title match, and he’s wearing arguably the greatest hat in the world. Why not just make HIM Raw GM? He’s Cuban/Palestinian Slick!

-So here’s Chavo Guerrero to defend the title….and it’s over. Yep. Not even fifteen seconds and Kane chokeslams him to Hell for the gold. I wish Kane had been in the original ECW, just so he could set people on fire with more gusto. The match didn’t suck because, well, it wasn’t a match.

-Raven Symone promotes her Make a Wish charity to grant wishes for 50 kids in 50 states. WWE was so touched by the humanity on display, that they totally forgot to send Michelle McCool and Layla out there to call her fat.

-Shawn-Flair highlights to build up this historic match, and Mike Adamle gets Ric’s final thoughts. To Hell with Adamle, we should have Peter Vescey doing interviews. He could ask “So, are you retiring at age 59 because you finally have your finances in order and aren’t evading your taxes anymore?”. It’s a burning question, I think.

-Before we go any further, I’d like to state for the record that I, in fact, don’t have the same level of invested emotion in this match as many other fans do. Those who still love Ric Flair and voted this as match of the year for 2008 over, say, Shawn’s match with Chris Jericho at No Mercy, were free to have done so. However, given that I believe that Flair is a sycophantic lush who blew all of his money and sucks up to his current employer just to keep his remaining assets safe, I could not wait to see Ric go. What follows is a really good match, but I shed no tears over Flair’s departure.

-Anywho, it’s Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels in a match where Flair has to retire if he loses. Former WWE writer Seth Mates was right: they should have done it the opposite way. Have Flair lose to undercard guys like MVP and Kennedy, etc, with the edict being that Flair can’t retire until he WINS a match. In order to go out on top, Flair has to put on the performance of his life against Shawn, whom he tells not to lay down. Flair ends up beating Shawn in a possible classic, and then rides off into the sunset. Works better, I think.

-Technical exchange to start and Flair lands a hip toss, followed by his Flair strut. Flair’s not going down easily. The Internal Revenue Service learned this.

-Hey look, a chop fest between two men that Bret Hart doesn’t like, and they’re doing his least favorite move back and forth. If Bret goes to Hell, this move will be on loop for all eternity.

-Hey look, Flair hit a top rope move. It’s a cross body on Shawn, and cross bodies are played out, but hey. Better late than never for Naitch.

-Then we get a moment that’ll make ya cringe: Shawn attempts a moonsault to the floor with Flair in his path, and Shawn kinda gets em, but also slams his ribcage on the commentary table. It looked a lot worse than it would end up being, but geez. Flair shoulda just pinned him in a shoot and said “Ha ha, Vince still has to pay me! I’m out of debt forever!”. Just because.

-The match seesaws from here, which is fine because you can’t really have a heat segment for this kind of match if Flair’s going out, and I get that. So you have a game of one-upsmanship which I’m sure Michaels and Flair are willing play, since they’re buddies and all.

-Figure Four locked on, but Shawn gets to the ropes. As much as I disliked Flair here, I was enjoying the drama.

-Pinfall reversals and Flair gets a second Figure Four. C’mon, Shawn, tap out, his finances depend on this. Crap, Shawn gets the ropes. Oh well, maybe next time.

-Shawn lands the SCM, but a slow cover gets only a 2. Shawn tries another, but Flair goes low, since it’s one of the few moves he can execute now without giving himself a hernia. I have to admit, dramatic as it is, two years removed it, it’s just looking like any other match.

-Finally, the well known ending, where Shawn gets a second SCM, but is hesitant to cover. Finally, Flair tells him to bring it, and Shawn mouths the “I’m sorry….I love you” comment, before landing the third Sweet Chin Music to win and end Flair’s career. Shawn hugs the unconscious Flair and kisses him in a nice moment, before leaving him to have his spotlight. Flair embraces his kids at ringside, whom are all crying (“Crap, Dad’s going to be home more!”) and Flair leaves to a thunderous ovation. If you love Flair, then this was your Graceland. If you’re like me and you think he’s a scumbag, then it was merely a “really good match”.

-Goodbye, Ric. It’s a shame that we’ll never see you wrestle another match, since you’re a man of your word.

-Edge assures us that tonight, the fans will leave disappointed. Shoulda waited till next year to use that line, Mr. Copeland.

-Snoop Dogg is the guest emcee for the LumberJills Playboy Challenge Gala Thingie-ma-bobber. Beth Phoenix and Melina vs. Maria and Ashley while Mickie James gets to watch from ringside again. Lucky her.

-Mmm….Maryse and Layla dancing up on each other on the way out. Victoria dancing….well, not so much.

-And here’s a highlight: the lights went out during the match. And there’s your highlight. Thanks for taking interest in the match!

-Anyway, Santino Marella interferes on behalf of the heels and Beth pins Maria with her Fisherman’s Buster. Then Snoop takes out Santino and makes out with Maria. When you have 15 women out there and you’re just happy to see Santino Marella, there’s a good chance that WWE didn’t pique your sexual interest properly. Match was lame, as you’d expect.

-Hype for the triple threat WWE Title match. The viewing party was torn: one half hated Cena, the other half hated Triple H. Regardless, we received our Randy Orton Fan Cards in the mail days before, so our allegiance was set.

-Randy Orton vs. Triple H vs. John Cena was indeed next, and Cena’s special entrance is a college marching band playing his theme. I’ll admit, this is probably my favorite of the collection. How would the marching band play a theme like Isaac Yankem’s though?

-Cena tries to end it with the FU early on Orton, but HHH goes low on him to put a stop to that. Then HHH and Orton hit a cross body version of the Doomsday Device on Cena. Well, Hunter hates doing jobs, so that WOULD make him Animal. And they’re both related to Johnny Ace, either by blood or….I’ll just stop right there.

-Orton drops Cena and HHH with a dual rope-assist DDT. I really can’t believe I wasn’t an Orton fan sooner. If you get past his real life aggressive behavior, is there any heel that’s so perfectly slimy like Randy Orton has been? Even Jericho’s too likeable as a weasel. Orton just has the right amount of gusto for his character.

-HHH begins to work Orton’s knee, because the match could use a story other than “three muscleheads beating each other up in shifts”. Good call.

-Orton manages an RKO on Hunter, which knocks him to the outside. Cena gets the STFU on Orton, but Hunter pulls the pile to the ropes. Clever spot. Basically, the match turns into HHH and Cena taking turns wearing Orton out while disrupting the other man’s attempts to win. Makes you forget that Orton has a chance.

-Cena with another STFU on Orton, and Hunter locks Cena in the Voldemort Crossface. There’s a good way to wake the crowd up, imitate a disgraced murderer. Of course, Triple H is the smartest man in the business, you know.

-Hunter avoids the FU and Pedigrees Cena, but Orton comes flying in out of nowhere to Punt Trips’ head into the third row. With Hunter incapacitated, Orton covers Cena to win and to retain the title. It was a really good match, and my friends and I actually marked out like idiots when Orton actually won. And really, isn’t that what matters?

-Hype video for Big Show vs. Floyd Mayweather. I believe the original concept for the match, before Rey Mysterio got hurt, was to have Mysterio and Oscar de la Hoya face MVP and Mayweather, which would have been far more interesting. At least, that’s what a couple of outlets revealed, so take it with a grain of salt. Poor Big Show. He’s always the consolation prize that nobody wanted.

-Mayweather’s entourage consists of about 8 large men and a promoter who looks like MVP if MVP went on the Kirstie Alley diet. Those sixty pounds that Show lost during his layoff had to go somewhere, geez.

-What follows is incredibly worked stuff, since Mayweather has to sustain as little damage as possible. Being an active boxer who draws millions of dollars on PPV, it would behoove you to work as light as you can. With the crowd kinda lukewarm on Mayweather, who doesn’t exactly have the most endearing personality, the fans seem lost.

-Show dominates for a few minutes and the entourage tries pulling Mayweather to safety. So Show lays out the crew and brings Mayweather back. Fans still have no idea who the face is here. Neither do I.

-After the crew helps Floyd avoid the chokeslam, Mayweather takes Show down with some chair shots, and then knocks him out with a pair of brass knux. Show cannot answer a ten count, so Mayweather is declared the winner. Weird spectacle of a match that wasn’t boring, but it was just badly booked. At least the Vince-Trump saga from one year earlier had a good story to it, with the characters better defined. This was just there.

-Kim Kardashian announces the attendance at 74,635. That’s also the number of things I’d love to do with her. Oh, don’t give me that look, you’re in the same boat with me.

-Undertaker-Edge highlight package. At this point, it was a bit uncomfortable watching Vickie Guerrero play a heel who was so sickeningly intimate with Edge, given that her husband, a hero to many, had just died two years before. At the same time, I feel like WWE has to go over the line when trying to get heels over, because there’s too many heels like Jericho, Punk, and others who the fans cheer and admire so much that it’s hard to get the vehement hatred that they desire. So, on the one hand, I understand using Vickie to cement Edge as a heel that you hate with all your heart. On the other hand, just….ugh.

-It’s funny how Teddy Long keeps getting reduced to minor roles, like “guy who pushes Vickie’s wheelchair”, when he’s possibly one of the top two or three most charismatic authority figures that WWE’s ever had. Between doing menial tasks, making weird deals (MVP’s contract when he debuted, for one), and relying on The Undertaker to be his main enforcer, has any authority figure been as misused as Teddy?

-I’m done being a bitterhead, I swear.

-Stand up brawl to kick things off, with Taker getting the better of it. There’s a good litmus test for main eventers. If you can’t have a decent brawl with Undertaker, then you’re probably not going to make it far in the company. Just saying.

-Taker tumbles to the outside after hitting a running knee into the corner, and the tide turns. Edge goes outside and slams Taker into the apron. Inside, Edge lands a beautiful neckbreaker, and the Dead Man falls back to the floor. Good build so far, but they have their work cut out for them after the Mayweather-Show debacle.

-Edge is knocked off the buckles, and Taker lands his super dive onto him. Finally, the fans are coming around.

-Meanwhile, Taker can’t hit the Last Ride due to back pains, and Edge takes him outside, slamming him into the rail with a back suplex. Even then, I don’t think any of us thought the streak was in jeopardy, even though Edge is that good of a heel.

-Edge works the leg to little avail, and Taker comes out of it with Snake Eyes, but runs into a dropkick on the rebound strike attempt. Taker tries a chokeslam, but Edge lands the Edgecution for 2. The two take turns countering moves, and it ends with Taker attempting Old School, only to get crotched. Edge lands a superplex for another 2 count. Good stuff.

-How often does someone outright kick out of the Last Ride? Edge just did. Then the champion counters the Tombstone attempt with the Edge-o-matic for 2. Nope. Still not buying the streak being in jeopardy.

-Taker misses a big boot attempt and takes out the ref. I’ll bet there’s going to be run-ins and/or chicanery. What do you think?

-Sure enough, Taker lands the Tombstone with no referee, and here comes Charles Robinson sprinting 165 MPH to the ring, but it’s only a 2 count. THAT was awesome.

-The Edgeheads of Curt Hawkins and Zack “WOO WOO WOO” Ryder hit the ring, but Taker takes them out easily. However, Edge manages a couple of Spears, but soon falls victim to Hell’s Gate, and submits after a struggle to give Taker his sixth World Title. Really good match, but the Smackdown matches seem to suffer compared to Raw in terms of telling the story, since Monday night is the “wrestling night”. I barely remembered the issue between the two men and I follow wrestling very closely. Even then, I still think the match was better quality than Michaels/Flair.

-Chili Peppers, Rev Theory, play us out.

-CYNIC SAYS: Kind of a weird show, but it wasn’t terrible. You had 4 matches to hang your hat on, but there was a share of crap as well. Finlay and JBL was the only “middle ground” match, so other than that, either it was really good, or it was really bad.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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WrestleMania XXIV: A Portrait in Wrestling History

March 31, 2014 By: Category: Boxing, Sports, WWE | Pro Wrestling

WRESTLEMANIA XXIV
From The Orange Bowl in Orlando, FL
March 30, 2008

BACKGROUND
WWE as we knew it changed forever in the early summer of 2007. At that time, the company received some of its most extensive media attention to date, although it was for regrettable and horrifying reasons.

The story, which bears no necessity to rehash fully, sees Chris Benoit murder his wife Nancy and seven-year-old son Daniel, before hanging himself on a warm Georgia weekend. Accusations of “roid rage” ping-ponged through media circles, while television commentators asked empty questions about a serious story.

While Benoit’s catalyst for ultimately snapping is likely an undetermined combo of diminished mental capacity (due to years of hard landings and impacts in wrestling), a failing marriage, and a disconnect from life and faith after losing several friends at young ages (particularly Eddie Guerrero), steroids became the hot topic.

After some probing into his life, and his death, Benoit was found to have been received shipments of steroids and other drugs from an online company called Signature Pharmacy. By the end of the summer of 2007, a whole host of WWE superstars would receive suspensions for having their names linked to the pharmacy, including Edge, John Morrison, Umaga, Booker T, among others. Soon-to-be World Champion Randy Orton was reportedly on the list wasn’t punished. Batista and Rey Mysterio were both also linked to the company, but were never formally accused of association.

Gradually, as the scent of Benoit dissipated from WWE’s climate, the company began to alter their avatar, painting over the low-brow, violent, overly sexual image with, well, low-brow, family friendly colors.

Blood would disappear from WWE almost entirely, as would weapon shots to the cranium. The divas began to wear more clothing, in addition.

WWE was attempting to return to “family entertainment” at a time when they needed a safe place to rebury their roots.

THE EVENT
Randy Orton had reigned as WWE Champion since October 7, 2007, after John Cena’s year long reign ended after he tore his pectoral muscle. Orton was handed the title at No Mercy, lost it immediately to Triple H, and then won it back at night’s end.

Cena, who was due to be out anywhere from six months to a year, was back in four. To the complete surprise of onlookers at Madison Square Garden, John Cena entered the 2008 Royal Rumble last and eliminated Triple H to advance to WrestleMania.

But what if he didn’t want to wait that long?

In an interesting move, Cena chose to cash in his title shot against Orton at No Way Out, six weeks before the big dance. Cena would win the match, however, he won by disqualification, meaning that Orton had outsmarted the challenger, making him blow his earned opportunity.

Triple H, meanwhile, had won a #1 contender’s Elimination Chamber match at No Way Out, getting a shot at Orton at WrestleMania. Cena managed to defeat Orton the next night on Raw in a non-title match with “The Game” as referee, to make the match a triple threat match.

The three men would then spend several weeks booking his opponents in difficult situations, as the three attempted to wear each other down before March 30.

Over on the blue brand, however, Edge was reigning supreme as World Heavyweight Champion after shacking up with Smackdown’s interim GM, Vickie Guerrero. With Vickie now in his hip pocket (among other places), Edge had also amassed a small army, consisting of Vickie’s nephew Chavo Guerrero, as well as Edge’s own wannabe doppelgangers Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder.

However, The Undertaker won Smackdown’s Elimination Chamber at No Way Out, and had revenge on his mind. Edge had cashed in a Money in the Bank privilege in May 2007 to injure Undertaker and take the World Heavyweight Title. Edge had also cost “The Dead Man” the championship at Survivor Series, so Undertaker now had a road toward revenge already paved.

Among the other marquee showdowns, Ric Flair was embroiled in an angle where he would have to retire if he lost one more match. After staving off the likes of Mr. Kennedy and MVP, Flair wanted a true test. He challenged Shawn Michaels to a match under WrestleMania’s bright lights, believing that if he couldn’t beat one of the all-time greats, then he should, indeed, walk away. After some hesitation, Michaels agreed to the match, which had both historical implications, as well as consequences.

In an attempt to add mainstream attention to an already stacked show, WWE brought in undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. to face Big Show in a no holds barred match. Mayweather had broken Show’s nose with a jab combo at No Way Out, setting the stage for their WrestleMania confrontation.

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Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler called the action for Raw, Michael Cole and Jonathan Coachman handled Smackdown, and Joey Styles and Tazz would perform duties for ECW. Socialite Kim Kardashian served as the show’s “guest hostess”, while Snoop Dogg appeared during a divas’ tag team match. Singer John Legend performed “America the Beautiful”. The WWE Hall of Fame inducted Ric Flair, Rocky Johnson, “High Chief” Peter Maivia, Mae Young, Jack and Gerald Brisco, Gordon Solie, and Eddie Graham.

THE RESULTS
Belfast Brawl: JBL def. Finlay in 8:35
(I’d share with you the saga of how Hornswoggle was Vince McMahon’s son, until JBL revealed it was a ruse and he was actually Finlay’s son and how JBL attacked Hornswoggle in a hospital and…well here, lemme bash you with this 2X4 so you’re not cross-eyed anymore)

Money in the Bank: CM Punk def. Chris Jericho, MVP, Mr. Kennedy, Shelton Benjamin, Carlito, and John Morrison in 13:55
(Somewhat disappointing given the talent level involved, but still a really good match. Shelton’s free fall through the bridged ladder prompted a legit look of horror from Carlito. Jeff Hardy was supposed to be in this match but, well, you can probably guess what happened)

Inter-Brand Challenge: Batista def. Umaga in 7:06
(What’s funnier: the fact that Batista was booed out of the stadium and botched the finish, or that these two were relegated to a forgotten “battle for brand supremacy”?)

ECW Championship: Kane def. Chavo Guerrero in 12 seconds to win the title
(E-C-DUB! E-C-DUB! No wonder Joey Styles quit commentary)

Career Threatening Match: Shawn Michaels def. Ric Flair in 20:23
(Here’s the deal: it was a pretty good match, but, in my opinion, it’s nowhere near as great as everyone makes it out to be. Overzealous fans were hailing this as a magnum opus, but Ric Flair blew more big moments than the ’86 Red Sox in this match. Flair should have stayed retired, but it was clear at points in this match that Michaels was carrying him. When Flair needs to be carried, it’s over)

Lumberjill Match: Beth Phoenix/Melina def. Maria/Ashley in 5:56
(The bad news is that Maria decided to ditch her general cute look and try for some oversexed Manga-esque appearance from here on out. The good news is Ashley wouldn’t be around much longer)

WWE Heavyweight Championship: Randy Orton def. Triple H and John Cena in 14:09
(The crowd reaction when Orton wins is a sound to behold. I had this long-standing theory that Cena’s “pec injury” in 2007 was actually a quiet suspension for a wellness violation, because in 2008, he was embarrassed so many times on pay per view, jobbing here, jobbing to JBL, jobbing to Batista, etc. It wouldn’t be until November that he would see the title again)

No Holds Barred: Floyd Mayweather def. Big Show in 11:36
(If you can figure out what this match was supposed to accomplish, you’re a better man than me. Best I can tell is that it was a way to humiliate Show again. Which I’m okay with)

World Heavyweight Championship: The Undertaker def. Edge in 23:50 to win the title
(Best match of the night, which is overshadowed by Flair’s retirement, and the fact that Smackdown seems to get little or no respect compared to the events on Raw. Compared to now, when Undertaker’s broken down, and Edge is starting to get there, this match is a near masterpiece)

ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
I’ll say one thing about WWE: they’re lucky to have the roster of competent, experienced, and instinctive wrestlers that they have, because their efforts in making a show great often bail out horrible writing and uninspired storylines.

Going into this event, you had angles involving a leprechaun offspring, a champion courting a real-life widow for title opportunities, a giant facing an unlikeable boxer with an annoying posse, and a meandering angle involving three men fighting for a world championship, in which the two babyfaces involved are stale and, at that point, largely disliked by strong portions of the audience.

But, at least, you had Michaels and Flair. Do I think the match is overrated? I do, but I do enjoy what it symbolized. The ending, in which Michaels had to search his soul before trying to finish Flair, with Flair egging him on, telling him not to let up, before Shawn’s famous “I’m sorry, I love you” declaration, followed by the kick and pin, will be burned into the annals of WrestleMania history.

If only Flair had stayed retired. A tearful “Nature Boy”, embracing his wife and kids, walking out to a thunderous ovation, was the proper ending.

If only.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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WrestleMania XXIII: A Portrait in Wrestling History

March 30, 2014 By: Category: Entertainment, WWE | Pro Wrestling

WRESTLEMANIA XXIII
From Ford Field in Detroit, MI
April 1, 2007

BACKGROUND
Being World Wrestling Entertainment has its share of diverse ways in which it can present its product. With an impressive active roster, a tremendous amount of classic legends willing to appear, expansion into wrestling-starved foreign countries, and a stranglehold on social media and merchandise licensing, even when the product falters, WWE still manages to thrive.

In 2006, WWE found itself spinning its wheels. John Cena, while a popular champion to youthful audiences, was getting choruses of boos from the more “time tested” fans who were used to wrestling being more coarse, bloody, raw (pun intended), and risqué than a near-thirty year old man in rainbow-ish t-shirts, trucker caps, and sneakers running his mouth as if he were the Disney Channel’s version of Eminem.

Since WWE was keen on keeping Cena champion long term (a strategy that has paid off if you consider merchandise sales and Cena’s cross-promotions), Vince McMahon needed something to keep the “hardcores” happy.

And the answer WAS hardcore. Well, rather, Vince’s definition of “hardcore”.

In June 2006, WWE opened a third brand, resurrecting the five-years-dead ECW, complete with Paul Heyman in charge. Joining Heyman were Joey Styles and Tazz on the stick, as well as classic stars of ECW’s past, such as Rob Van Dam and The Sandman. While the new ECW (dubbed WWECW by smart alecks) lacked the unpolished feel of the previous incarnation, ECW would serve as a nice alternative to Raw and SmackDown, creating a number of new stars in the process.

Also in the spring, WWE brought back another uncouth concept: D-Generation X. Triple H turned face for the first time in four years, reuniting with Shawn Michaels to recreate some old mayhem, albeit with less controversy.

With this mix of classic chaos and modern marketing, WWE was on the road to Detroit.

THE EVENT
For the first time since WWE allowed for two world titles to exist, the two title matches at WrestleMania would be exclusive to babyfaces only.

The Undertaker, after a decade and a half of raising Hell in WWE, finally could add a Royal Rumble victory to his resume. Being the first #30 entrant to win the January classic, Undertaker brawled with Shawn Michaels for the final eight or nine minutes, ousting his legendary counterpart by avoiding Sweet Chin Music.

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Undertaker now had his pick of opponent. Choosing between WWE Champion John Cena, World Heavyweight Champion Batista, and ECW Champion Bobby Lashley, “The Phenom” settled on Batista, who reigned supreme over Undertaker’s home show, SmackDown.

With SmackDown’s main event locked in, Cena’s opponent was determined by a triple threat match between Shawn Michaels, Edge, and Randy Orton. Michaels managed to beat the former World Tag Team Champions to earn the spot.

Making this match interesting was the fact that, long before Michaels had become Cena’s #1 contender, he and Cena had beaten Orton and Edge to become World Tag Team Champions. This marked the first time in WrestleMania history that tag titlists would fight over a singles belt.

Orton tried to stir the pot between the two men, showing a video of how Michaels had turned on every tag team partner he’d ever had, including Marty Jannetty, Diesel, and Hulk Hogan, among others.

Michaels tried to smooth things with his unlikely partner by saying that “this time is different”, but Michaels would still taunt Cena with a feint attempt at a Sweet Chin Music.

At No Way Out in February, Undertaker actually teamed with Batista to face Cena and Michaels in a non title match. The Raw brand team won, and things looked to still be copacetic between the two men.

Six days before WrestleMania, however, the two teams would have a rematch. This time, Michaels came through on Cena’s paranoia by blasting the WWE Champion with Sweet Chin Music. Michaels left Cena laying, and his partner fell victim to the loss. Michaels’ well-timed double cross fueled the fire for the main event match at WrestleMania XXIII.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to build mainstream interest in his annual money-making machine, Vince McMahon began a feud with real life media mogul Donald Trump. The two had a disagreement after Vince used an actor playing Trump (indy wrestler Ace Steel) to beat an actress playing Rosie O’Donnell on Raw. The match was so ill-received, that Trump himself taunted McMahon by saying that Vince didn’t know what the fans wanted.

The two bickered further, each picking a man to represent him at WrestleMania. Vince chose WWE Intercontinental Champion Umaga, while Trump chose ECW Champion Bobby Lashley. Stone Cold Steve Austin would be the guest referee, and the losing cornerman (Trump or McMahon) would have their head shaved bald after the match.

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler handled Raw, Michael Cole and JBL called Smackdown, and Joey Styles and Tazz covered ECW, with all six men coming together for the opening match of the night. Aretha Franklin performed “America the Beautiful” as she had twenty years earlier at WrestleMania III. The Hall of Fame inductions saw the inclusion of Ross, Lawler, Dusty Rhodes, Mr. Perfect, Mr. Fuji, The Wild Samoans, The Sheik, and Nick Bockwinkel.

THE RESULTS
Money in the Bank: Mr. Kennedy def. Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Edge, Randy Orton, King Booker, CM Punk, and Finlay in 19:05
(Highlights including Kennedy’s annoyed face at Hornswoggle when he tried to interfere, as well as Matt encouraging Jeff to do a crazy dive onto Edge through a ladder. “Do it Jeff! He stole Lita from us! Now no one’s there to make you ramen noodles!” Second best MITB match in WrestleMania history)

The Great Khali def. Kane in 5:31
(I like how Kane slamming Khali was juxtaposed with Hogan’s legendary slam of Andre from twenty years earlier in the show’s closing highlight package. As if they had the same memorable value)

WWE United States: Chris Benoit def. MVP in 9:19
(This, of course, would be the final WrestleMania for Benoit, as three months later he…..well, we all know what he did. It was a good, not great, match to go out on, and I still miss the man)

World Heavyweight Championship: The Undertaker def. Batista in 15:48 to win the title
(That’s fifteen. This match was a pleasant surprise, as Batista and Undertaker have this weird chemistry that simply cannot be explained. The two men exchange crisp power moves and ramp up the intensity with their above-average brawling. Great match, and the best feud of a dismal 2007)

Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, Sabu, and The Sandman def. Matt Striker, Marcus Cor Von, Elijah Burke, and Kevin Thorn in 6:25
(Seven men had their first WrestleMania match here. Those seven also had their last WrestleMania match. Oh, don’t act so surprised)

Battle of the Billionaires/Hair vs. Hair: Bobby Lashley def. Umaga in 13:04
(If Undertaker/Batista was a good surprise, then this was the opposite. Lashley was given a feud with McMahon and an endorsement from Austin and Trump, and still brought none of the energy or personality needed to make it to the next level. Lashley was overpushed, plain and simple)

WWE Women’s/Lumberjill Match: Melina def. Ashley in 3:13
(The bad news: this match was about 3:08 longer than Ashley is capable of working. Good news: Mickie looked great in her tight jeans at ringside. Shame she wasn’t wrestling)

WWE Heavyweight Championship: John Cena def. Shawn Michaels in 28:20
(The fact that Cena won turned a lot of fans off, but this is up there with the greatest matches in WM history. Michaels brought a more reserved, but grinding, personality to this, which included the awesome piledriver on the ring steps on Cena. Cena and Michaels worked their asses off here, and both of them deserve for this match to get a lot more credit than it does)

ITS PLACE IN HISTORY

The two World Title matches, as well as Money in the Bank, featured twelve men who worked their hardest to make WrestleMania as special as it’s meant to be. However, most of the hype going into the show revolved around Donald Trump‘s involvement, as well as his feud with McMahon, who was seriously getting out of control at this point regarding on-camera time.

When you have the three aforementioned matches on your show, you should walk away feeling great. But when you watch that Battle of the Billionaires, and you see how the fans barely reacted to Vince being shaved bald, and how they barely got behind an anemic talker like Lashley, who never looked like he wanted to be there, you feel a bit sour.

It’s like a concert. If you hype up Guns n Roses as the headliner, and you have three popular, but not yet legendary, acts (say Disturbed, Godsmack, and Saliva) performing, what if those three bands (who got less hype) rocked, and then GNR came out and absolutely sucked?

Do you hate the show because GNR sucked, or do you love it because the other bands owned it?

I guess the answer’s up to you.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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