WrestleMania XXII: Oh Cena, You’re So Gangster

March 29, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

-Imagine my delight when I discovered that Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” was the primary theme for this show. It’s cheesy, it’s campy, it reeks of the eighties, and thus it conjures up many great memories of my youth watching wrestling. It’s the perfect little ditty to get myself into the wrestling spirit, especially an event as grand as WrestleMania.

-And so it was, the 22nd version of WrestleMania, taking place at the Allstate Arena in Chicago, IL, on April 2, 2006. For the fourth straight (and final) year, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler handled Raw and Michael Cole and Tazz did Smackdown, crossing over for one match. In two months, there’d be a third child born in the Brand family, although it’d be dead before age 4. But the kid was an outmoded concept anyway, so no need to shed tears.

-Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child sings the National Anthem. If Destiny’s Child was Legacy, she’s definitely not the Randy Orton of the trio.

-The show kicks off with the Show. Big Show, that is, as he and Kane defend their World Tag Team Titles against Carlito and Chris Masters. Laugh all you want, but three of these men were in the same World Title match just three months before at New Year’s Revolution. No, I don’t need to put the hash pipe down, this actually happened.

-Question: Why does JR always compare Big Show’s hands to skillets whenever he lands a chop? My guess is that he can hold six egg yolks and six sausage links in one of his mitts. He’s probably seen it, too.

-Since the only worker of the four I really like is Carlito, I had low expectations going in, but it’s actually a fun match. Kane lands a nice diving clothesline to the floor on Carved Apples and the crowd seems to be enjoying themselves. Really, that’s all that matters.

-Show lands a nice double suplex on the heels. I think Carlito and Masters would be great bumbling henchmen in some WWE film. They fit the bill, I think.

-Finally, after a miscue, Kane takes out Carlito with a chokeslam to retain the titles. Fun enough opener to set the pace for the card, even though it’s not a match I particularly get excited about seeing over and over. But for what it was, it was a welcome opener.

-Shawn Michaels assures us that tonight will not be a classic match when he faces Vince McMahon. So his match in 1993 with Mr. Perfect was a guaranteed five stars, but his match with Vince tonight isn’t. Using the law of opposites, that means tonight’s match will be the greatest match ever. I’m excited.

-Next is the second annual Money in the Bank ladder match, and this time it’s an interbrand affair, with Shelton Benjamin, Rob Van Dam, and Ric Flair for Raw, and Matt Hardy, Bobby Lashley, and Finlay for Smackdown. So, in other words, it’ll be 50% spotty.

-As per usual, we get the “dive parade”, which is just two dives this year: An RVD diving cross body, and a Benjamin leap off of the ladder ramp. Must have been a low budget this year for percocets.

-Hardy superplexes Flair off of the ladder and Flair suffers an “injury” to his leg, which actually looked legit this time. Although when the referee does an over exaggerated “X” signal with his arms, it kinda hurts the effect.

-Let’s face it, Lashley just wasn’t ‘ready’ yet. The tentative look on his face every time he climbs the ladder resembles a man who fears that one of the rungs has a land mine full of hydrochloric acid. Though being a burn victim would give him his first layer of character interest ever. Though the three man powerbomb spot off the ladder was nice.

-Speaking of ‘let’s face it’, this match was not in Ric Flair’s wheelhouse. He returns and the most interesting thing he can do is throw chops. A shillelagh from Finlay ends his night. Remember when Flair was an iconic main-eventer? I ask that question now.

-After RVD lands a Five Star on Finlay, he begins to climb, but Benjamin tops his own insane ingenuity by springboarding onto the opposite side of the ladder in a spot that has to be seen to be appreciated. Hardy climbs an additional ladder next to RVD and Shelton’s, but Benjamin steps over to repel him. That’s the final undoing, as RVD kicks it over to send both men crashing to the floor, and RVD snags the briefcase to earn a World Title match. Solid match with some great spots, but not quite up to last year’s standard. I was definitely pleased to see RVD win, though my Spidey sense figured he’d somehow blow it. I was half right.

-Meanwhile, Randy Orton scares Mean Gene off, and an injured Batista talks down on Orton. Remember when Batista getting a long term injury was a new concept? Was this really just four years ago?

-Howard Finkel (#22) introduces the Hall of Famers: Bret Hart (not here), Mean Gene Okerlund, Sensational Sherri, Tony Atlas, Verne Gagne, William Perry, The Blackjacks, and Eddie Guerrero, who is represented by Chavo and Vickie. Vickie actually looked elegant here, and this was well before her character run, so the fans are happy to see her. I feel worse for nobody in this business than Vickie Guerrero.

-Chris Benoit defends the United States title next against JBL, who makes his entrance until the steel ramp. At this point JBL had Jillian Hall with him, who was his “image consultant”. How far gone must you be as an image consultant that you develop a hopeless need to become a pop singer? Of course, she’s consulting a man who went from cowboy to drunken bodyguard to Wall Street guru, so anything’s possible in WWE lore.

-The most annoying part about this match is that JBL continuously has to resort to using Eddie Guerrero’s mannerisms to draw heat from the crowd. Here’s the thing: we know that it’s fake. We know JBL liked Guerrero. Guerrero’s death is a sore point for a lot of fans. What these acts say is that you can’t find a better way to draw heat for this match. It’s a testament that there wasn’t a bigger uproar about this match, which shows that a lot of people tuned out the antics. I say good.

-Decent enough match, but every time JBL gains control, he’s doing the Guerrero shimmy or trying to rip off the Three Amigos. God, enough already.

-Finally, Benoit latches on with the Crossface, but JBL rolls through and grabs the ropes for the cheap win and the US Title. Well, I guess that means that JBL’s smarter than HHH. Decent match, but enough to leave a sour taste in your match. Sadly, JBL isn’t even the most deplorable man in the match.

-Since Joey Styles did his homework and ate his vegetables, he gets to do commentary on the forthcoming hardcore match between Edge and Mick Foley. We need an arbitrator to determine once and for all the intricate differences between a hardcore match, a street fight, an extreme rules match, and a no holds barred match. You know, just to have it written down somewhere.

-The match begins with a tribute to hardcore matches circa 1999 with cookie sheets and road signs. All we’re missing are run-ins from Test and The Mean Street Posse.

-However, we up the CVQ (Creative Violence Quotient) when Edge tries to spear Foley, only to come away in serious pain, as it’s revealed that Foley has wrapped himself in barbed wire! And to think, Vince could have saved on Foley’s appearance fee and hired some moronic backyarder to do it for free.

-As Foley gets Barbie (his barbed wire bat), Lita jumps on his back, and it leads to all three individuals tumbling over the top rope. That would be a nifty Royal Rumble elimination.

-Ah, there’s a classic: Edge grabbing Foley by the hair and bouncing his skull off the entrance ramp. Oddly enough, I think it was Triple H who brought that to prominence in WWE by doing it to Mick. Yes, I’ll give Satan credit sometimes.

-Edge pours lighter fluid all over Mick Foley. I’m pretty sure that was in day six of Tony Condello’s camp. Then Foley fights back and hits a piledriver, getting two. You know what’s sad? Piledrivers are banned in WWE due to the neck injuries, and Foley does one and I’m stunned….just minutes after the man had LIGHTER FLUID doused on him. I’ve watched wrestling WAY too long.

-Edge does a number on Mick with the baseball bat, and then gets the magical bag of thumbtacks. Meanwhile, Joey Styles acts aghast, like he’s seen none of this before, and he called every Tommy Dreamer match from 1993 to 2001. Was Joey blinded by a particle beam thingie moments after he signed his WWE contract?

-Edge, in a cruel twist of irony, not unlike rain on one’s wedding day, is the one who lands on the tacks. Then Foley wraps Socko in barbed wire, because he’s completely insane, and shoves it into Edge’s mouth. Then Lita tries to interfere, so he shoves it into HER mouth. Great, now Lita’s going to have sores all around her lips. Er, new ones.

-But this just leads to the coup de gras (coup disgrace?) as the table at ringside is set on fire and Edge spears Foley off the apron, through the ropes, with both men landing in the giant fireball. Edge covers Foley for the win, because only two men could kick out of that: No one, and Stu Hart (Ehhhhya fire ain’t got ter uh nuttin on me, ya bum). Oh. My. God. That was absolutely crazy. Edge and Foley can barely move, and Edge is twitching, looking like Beavis after a stunt gone wrong. One helluva match that helped solidify Edge as a player, but that’s some cost. Foley does it again, making a new star.

-Meanwhile, Goldust takes the opportunity to freak Booker T out one last time. I don’t ask for much.

-The best way to describe the next match between The Boogeyman taking on Booker T and Sharmell is this: I would rather have sex on my back on a vibrating bed of nails than to try and comprehend the booking. Sharmell runs off, and Booker eats the Boogeyslam to give the Pit dweller the win. Yep, bed of nails, bring it on.

-And now, the greatest feud of all time, as Mickie James’ obsession with WWE Women’s Champion Trish Stratus led to a title match at WrestleMania. The feud was wrought with so many lesbianonic overtones that I’d love to show this to Linda McMahon’s male detractors. Because they’d probably end up supporting her. It’s THAT AWESOME.

-The crowd is 90% behind Mickie, who was the heel. Hey, if there’s one thing that’ll make the fans sympathize with you, it’s when Trish spurns your advances. How dare Trish, that hussy! Look, you can see her roots!

-Mickie works the knee and we get a “LET’S GO MICKIE” chant. I wholeheartedly concur.

-After Mickie dominates (and nearly drives all of Chicago to a flood-creating smarkgasm), Trish takes over and manages a headscissors. The crowd boos. How could WWE surprised? When you have a crazed lesbian in a revealing top and loose skirt, she could be fighting a 10 year old with leukemia and that kid is going to be the villain, whether his sickly bloodstream likes it or not.

-Mickie blocks the Stratusphere by dropping Trish’s injured leg across the ropes and then lets out a guttural scream to a huge pop. This is like watching a hybrid of “Carrie” and a women’s prison flick.

-Trish attempts Stratusfaction, and then, we get my favorite part in wrestling history as Mickie grabs—wait, what the Hell? Why did they edit that off the DVD? Hang on.

-(At this point in the story, Justin drove to his brother Josh’s house, since he has the original tape of the event. Justin knocked on his door at 8:45 at night, uninvited, with his foot. Josh answered and Justin, perfectionist that he is, bloodcurdlingly screamed for Josh to put in his copy so that they could watch a mere 15 second clip. Josh was unamused, but did as he was told. Finally, after rewatching the clip 57 times to make sure they understood the relevance, Justin thanked his brother and drove home.)

-So yeah, Mickie grabs Trish’s nether regions to break the hold, and then licks her fingers in a V-shape to indicate something naughty. God, these cushions are sticky….

-After a botched Stratusfaction by Mickie, she finishes off Trish with a weird looking Chick Kick to win the Women’s Title. You know the crowd wants to jump your bones when they ignore the blown spots in the ending just to cheer like crazy. Fun match, although certainly not PG. Not that I care.

-Vince McMahon, with enough spray-on tan to win the George Hamilton lookalike contest, leads the McMahons in a prayer for Shawn Michaels. There’s just something oddly amusing about Linda as a heel.

-Up next, we get a casket match where Undertaker puts his streak on the line again….my cousin, Mark Henry. Asking “Who will win at WrestleMania between Undertaker and Mark Henry?” is a lot like asking “What will happen when it rains, you get wet or a safe falls on your head?”.


-It’s your typical hossfest for Taker, who has to slow down his generally amiable style just so Henry can keep up. A lot of clotheslines and a lot of clubbing down. I never understood Henry’s appeal, other than the fact that he was a former Olympian, and can possibly generate positive press. In WWE, he’s just been a fat and lazy mook who had about 3 combined months in 14 years where he was interesting. I think it’s time to cut the cord on him.

-Usually, when you face Undertaker in a casket match, one of two things is implied: either it’s a major storyline and the casket gimmick is a way for Taker to lose with a ton of interference to keep him strong, or it means that the only way Taker’s opponent can build heat is have the casket lid opened and try to stuff Taker in. Guess which category Henry falls in?

-Punch. Kick. Headbutt. Punch. Splash. Club. Kick. Punch. Good to see Mark Henry is a proficient follower of Dance Dance Revolution: Andre the Giant edition.

-Just to add a little bit of life to the match, Undertaker hits his super dive onto Henry. If this match was a conveyer belt at a pickle factory, you saw about 200 mundane jars of pickles before getting one with a bag of really awesome fireworks in it. That’ll catch your eye everytime.

-Taker manages to get Henry up for a Tombstone, and then rolls him into the casket to end it. Wasn’t terrible, but I wouldn’t call it good either. If the streak was full of Batman villains, Mark Henry is definitely The Puzzler. I’m puzzled as to why he got a match with The Dead Man in the first place. Let’s just move on.

-Highlights of the Shawn Michaels-Vince McMahon saga. Get ready, kids. Vince is going to bleed and get beaten up for the amusement of all. Frankly, I’m excited.

-Indeed, one of the first moments out of the gate is Shawn smashing Vince with a portrait sized picture of Vince’s Muscle and Fitness cover that was at ringside for some reason. You just don’t get these moments in UFC.

-For a bonus, Shawn beats the crap out of the Spirit Squad, including a young and relatively unknown Dolph Ziggler. Shawn lays them all out, which anoints him for sainthood next to Mickie James for her performance earlier tonight.

-Vince mounts a comeback and chokes Shawn with his belt, and this leads to an attempt at Sweet Vin Music, but Shawn catches the boot and goes back to annihilating the boss. As he gets ready for Sweet Chin Music, son Shane arrives on the scene and whacks HBK with a kendo stick. Just for fun, they go to induct Shawn into the Kiss My Ass Club again, but Shawn shoves Shane’s face into his own father’s sphincter. I’m enjoying myself far too much.

-Shawn cuffs Shane to the ropes and then mocks his Shane-O-Mac dance before beating him senseless with the kendo stick. Shawn Michaels is once again my favorite wrestler ever and, if he retires after WM26, there’s still no topping his legacy. Hell, how can he even top HIMSELF?

-How about bashing Vince’s head in with a chair? Because he just did that.

-So the story is that Shawn keeps teasing a finish with the SCM, but opts not to, instead placing a trash can over Vince’s head, laying him on a table, and then climbing a 12-15 foot ladder (or 35 feet if you’re Tazz), and then dropping the big elbow off of it. At this point, Vince’s head looks like someone poured a bucket of Dutch Boy Red #4 on him. This is awesome.

-Shawn pulls Vince up and yells at him before hitting the Chin Music for the win. In terms of an actual match, it was nothing. As an absolutely comedic AND horrific beating, it was awesome. Just as awesome is Vince giving Shawn the finger from the stretcher as he’s taken away. I hereby dub this “the worst five star match ever”. Just good times.

-World Heavyweight Title recap. Rey Mysterio’s first legit chance to become a World Champion and it was marred by the ridiculous exploitation of Eddie Guerrero’s death. Sigh, let’s just get this over with.

-POD plays Mysterio out, and Rey decides to dress like a tropical hawk. Yep.

-Kurt Angle defends the World Heavyweight Title against Randy Orton and Kurt Angle. Did I mention that Rey, whom all the crowd sympathy was shuffled behind, isn’t even the hero here, as the in-the-know fans have rallied behind Angle, who ISN’T exploiting a dead guy? True stuff.

-Spoiling the ending a bit, this match was only nine minutes long. With three participants, there’s not enough time for Rey to tell his story of his quest to win one for his friend. Why not just have Orton beat Angle for the title, then do Angle-Taker II, have Rey beat Orton here, and have Mark Henry sit home and order Dominos? Who loses?

-Rey tries for a 619 on Angle, but Kurt gets the ankle lock and the crowd cheers. See what I mean?

-Angle gets Rey with the Angle Slam over the top and then locks Orton in the ankle lock. This is all well and good….if they were trying to turn Kurt into a machine again, but the POINT was Rey’s quest. Remember that?

-Orton gets Angle with the RKO, but can only get 2. Then, just to turn this into a bigger train wreck, Rey blows a 619 around the post. Way to rise to the occasion, Rey Rey.

-After Angle is arm dragged to the floor, Rey gets Orton with the 619 and Dime Drop to win his only World Title to date. If that match was any more rushed, it would have collided with Dagwood Bumstead’s mailman on the door step. Rey celebrates with Vickie and Chavo, and my lone consolation is that Mysterio got the big prize for his years of hard work. It’s a shame it was clouded by the garbage. Decent match, but yeah, rushed.

-Cena and HHH are seen warming up, and JR tries to convince us all that Cena’s going to get booed tonight because he’s controversial. Yeah, and Chicago fans cheer the Cubs because they’re convinced they’re going to win it all one day. Oh wait, they really believe that?

-Another waste of time match, as Torrie Wilson wins a Playboy Pillow Fight over Candice Michelle, wherein the loser was doomed to receive 12 catastrophic injuries over the next three years. Then for fun, Torrie rubs her dog’s butt on Candice’s face. I think Torrie has issues.

-Main event time. Hoo boy, get ready for this one.

-Triple H enters first, via through the stage, on a throne, dressed as Conan the Barbarian. Around this time period, a list of WWE wrestler salaries and perks was leaked to the net, and one of Hunter’s perks was that he got 10 free uses of the corporate jet per year. My brother and I theorize that he took ELEVEN trips, thus sending Vince over the edge and making him wear this outfit as punishment. There’s no other possible explanation.

-To top that, a video about Al Capone and various Chicago thugs plays to precede Cena’s entrance. Then out comes a thirties style car, complete with various OVW guys dressed as gangsters on it, including….CM PUNK! Wait….Punk’s fighting AGAINST prohibition? Punk, what the hell! YOU CAN BE SAVED!

-Then Cena comes out dressed in a trenchcoat and fires off a gun to the loudest booing I’ve EVER heard. Seriously, I cackle everytime I see this. Vince is the first aid room, getting stitched up with his fingers in his ears, going LA LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU.

-Remember, Cena’s controversial, and the fans don’t like controversial people. Which is why they cheered Al Capone when he showed up in the video. Good one, JR. WWE Title’s on the line, so let’s enjoy the insanity.

-HHH outwrestles Cena in the early going. Hey look, the crowd’s chanting Cena’s finisher name, only they’re not saying the initials, they’re saying….well, nevermind what they’re saying.

-Cena gets a chinlock, and then out comes the “YOU CAN’T WRESTLE” chant. I’m sure Cena’s crying himself to sleep at night over that one. Unless that big pile of money he has keeps him awake at all hours.

-The fight spills outside and Cena backdrops Hunter onto the ramp, but screw it, the wrestling is not the story here. This is one of the most fascinating crowds I’ve seen in ages. This isn’t like Hogan/Rock where Toronto was caught up in the nostalgia of Hulk’s comeback, but this is just sheep mentality of booing a guy because they don’t like how he’s booked. And yet, the Allstate Arena will still sell out for PPV’s and Raw, even with Cena there today. Funny.

-The match is good, but unspectacular for a main event. The story is that HHH planned to outwrestle the decidedly showy Cena, and that Cena had to prove capable of outwrestling the cerebral assassin. Between the elementary story and the far gone crowd, this was too weird to be the main event. But hey, at least no dead bodies were exploited.

-After a ref bump, HHH manages to introduce a sledgehammer and nails Cena in the gut, which delights the fans. Cena should’ve brought Steve Bartman out as his cornerman.

-After HHH kicks out of the FU, the challenger tries the Pedigree, and is taken down into the STFU for the shocking submission loss. As I mentioned, it was a pretty basic back and forth match, but the crowd made it seem more grand than it really was. It’s a fun atmosphere, and I love how Cena just takes it all in stride.

-Shinedown and Peter Gabriel play us out. Brent Smith couldn’t wax Peter’s jock.

-CYNIC SAYS: There’s a whole lot of good on this show. Both World Titles matches, Money in the Bank, the hardcore match, women’s title match, and Shawn vs. Vince were all quality affairs in their own right. Everything not mentioned was not mentioned for one reason or another, either because it was too bland or it just outright sucked. But hey, every WrestleMania has a blemish or three. No harm, no foul.

It’s a forgotten classic because, other than Edge vs. Foley, it didn’t have the blowaway match of the year candidate. As it stands though, it’s a great show overall. Big Time indeed.

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

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WrestleMania XXII: A Portrait in Wrestling History

March 29, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

From The All-State Arena in Chicago, IL
April 2, 2006

A scant fourteen hours before he would have won the World Heavyweight Championship from Batista at a rare Sunday SmackDown taping, Eddie Guerrero was found dead in a Minnesota hotel room at the age of 38.

Despite beating the alcoholism that plagued much of his life four years ago, Guerrero’s weakened circulatory system, a body worn down by the rigors of the ring, and a life numbed by drugs, both prescription and elicit, all came back to haunt him at a time when his diligence and courage were heralded as one of wrestling’s greatest fairy tales.

Guerrero’s death was a blow to not only his family, friends, and fans across the globe, but to WWE itself. Guerrero’s rise to the main event scene in World Wrestling Entertainment wasn’t just a reward for cleaning up his life. Statistics showed that Smackdown’s TV ratings were ballooning, heavily so in Latin markets. With Guerrero, his nephew Chavo, and the dynamic Rey Mysterio, Smackdown was able to cater to the fastest growing ethic demographic in the United States.

It was Guerrero’s natural charisma, however, coupled with his silky-smooth in-ring performances that made him a standout to fans who couldn’t, in any faith, boo his “cheat to win” heel act. Instead, the gimmick was retooled to make him into a cunning and clever hero, outwitting villains left and right to remain on top.

With Guerrero’s death, the company was losing a considerable lifeline to a market that didn’t explode until “Latino Heat” helped WWE tap into it.

However, all was not lost.

Except for WWE’s sense of decency.

For the next six months or so, Guerrero’s name was used by Rey Mysterio in infinite tribute, while Mysterio’s opponents actually defamed Guerrero’s name just to further storylines.

Sadly, the Eddie Guerrero exploitation would grow more disturbing.

With “Eddie Guerrero” becoming a buzz phrase after the man’s demise, coupled with Mysterio’s constant evocation of his name, Mysterio dedicated his performance at the 2006 Royal Rumble to his deceased friend.

Rey Mysterio would enter the match at #2 and set the longevity record, lasting over one hour to surprise #30 Randy Orton with a hurrachanrana elimination to win. Mysterio could now further his tribute to Guerrero by winning the World Heayweight Championship at WrestleMania XXII.

However, Orton goaded Mysterio into putting his contender’s spot on the line at No Way Out, getting Mysterio to agree by declaring that Eddie Guerrero was in Hell. Tasteless as it was, the match was signed, and Orton cheated to win. However, GM Teddy Long made a concession: since Orton had to use nefarious means, the match would now be a triple threat between Mysterio, Orton, and champion Kurt Angle.

Over on Raw, John Cena was WWE Champion, and not a popular one. Fans were either heavily divided on his goofy superhero schtick, or they outright booed him out of the arenas. After winning feuds with heels who were cheered over him (Angle, Chris Jericho, Edge), Cena was locked in to face Triple H, who won a tournament to earn the shot.

The Game, for reasons unclear, was allowed to declare Cena a bad champion due to a lack of wrestling ability, as well the unfavorable crowd reactions.

Oddly enough, none of this did anything to improve Cena’s cracked image.

In one of the more bizarre builds for a marquee match, Shawn Michaels had confronted Vince McMahon late in 2005, after McMahon attempted to publicly embarrass Bret Hart. Michaels, from whom Hart was estranged from after a litany of controversies, came to the ring and told Vince “move on”.

McMahon didn’t take the perceived insult lightly, and became hell-bent on ruining Michaels’ life. This included enlisting Shane McMahon to toss Michaels out of the Royal Rumble match after a distraction, and then later trying to force Michaels’ former partner Marty Jannetty to join his “Kiss My Ass” club in exchange for employment. Michaels intervened, and took a chair to the head from Shane. Then, while Shawn was out cold, Shane lifted Michaels and forced him to perform the kiss unwittingly.

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McMahon and Michaels would then sign for a street fight, McMahon’s typical style, in which Michaels promised that it wasn’t going to be one of his five-star classics.

Speaking of brawls, Edge and Mick Foley had fallen into a skirmish. After Edge won the WWE title in January by cashing in his Money in the Bank chance on a wounded John Cena, Edge lost the belt three weeks later back to the man he’d felled. Foley refereed a rematch between the two and Cena won, prompting Edge to cry foul. He agreed to lock horns with Foley in a hardcore rules match to create his own WrestleMania moment.

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler called Raw’s action, while Michael Cole and Tazz brought us Smackdown. Joey Styles filled in for Ross during the aforementioned hardcore match. Lillian Garcia sang “America the Beautiful” to kick off the show. As for the Hall of Fame, 2006 saw Bret Hart, Eddie Guerrero, Mean Gene Okerlund, Sensational Sherri, The Blackjacks, Verne Gagne, Tony Atlas, and William “Refrigerator” Perry inducted.

World Tag Team: Kane/Big Show def. Carlito/Chris Masters in 6:41
(Wasn’t expecting much out of it, but it turned out to be a decent opener, all things considered. Besides, it was Big Show’s first win in WrestleMania history. So there’s that)

Money in the Bank: Rob Van Dam def. Shelton Benjamin, Matt Hardy, Finlay, Ric Flair, and Bobby Lashley in 12:21
(Not up to the level of last year’s, but still featuring some craziness. Lashley and Flair seemed out of place, but everyone else was game. Shelton’s springboard onto one side of the ladder still amazes me to this day)

WWE United States: JBL def. Chris Benoit in 9:44 to win the title
(This would have been a fine enough match with a normal face/heel dynamic, but JBL had to mock Eddie Guerrero with his arm swivel taunt about fifteen times. Just not necessary)

Hardcore Rules: Edge def. Mick Foley in 14:37
(The earliest a “match of the night” has ever occurred at ‘Mania, I believe. Lita taking barbed wire to the mouth was crazy, but Edge spearing Mick Foley through the flaming table was beyond insane. Edge going into the flames makes me think he was telling Vince “Gimme the belt back, or I’ll kill myself on your show.” Looks to have worked)

Handicap Match: The Boogeyman def. Booker T/Sharmell in 3:52
(Much as I like both men for different reasons, the less said about this match, the better)

WWE Women’s Title: Mickie James def. Trish Stratus in 11:48 to win the title
(It’s the best women’s match in WrestleMania history, and perhaps Mickie’s finest hour as a character. Sadly, the DVD release omits Mickie’s finest moment, but it’s burned into my brain forever anyway)

Casket Match: The Undertaker def. Mark Henry at 9:26
(That’s fourteen. That’s also Mark Henry’s second WrestleMania match in ten years with the company. Makes you think forces have conspired against him. Or maybe he’s just that bad?)

Street Fight: Shawn Michaels def. Vince McMahon in 18:28
(One of Vince’s most entertaining matches ever, and it’s fun to watch Shawn beat the hell out of him for about fifteen straight minutes. The highlight was Vince McMahon being stretchered out, giving Shawn the finger while near death and bloodied on the gurney. It’s worth watching for the belly laughs)

World Heavyweight Championship: Rey Mysterio def. Kurt Angle and Randy Orton in 9:18 to win the title
(All of that forced build with Guerrero’s exploitation for a nine minute match? And it didn’t even finish the show? Chavo and Vickie Guerrero coming out to celebrate with Rey just made a decent match muddled by a bad angle worse. I was just glad that the angle was finally over….sort of)

Playboy Pillow Fight: Torrie Wilson def. Candice Michelle in 3:54
(Much like the Booker/Sharmell/Boogeyman fiasco, the less said about this, the better)

WWE Heavyweight Championship: John Cena def. Triple H in 22:02
(Forget about the match, which was decent and enhanced by a virulently anti-Cena crowd. The highlight was Triple H making his entrance dressed as a Nordic barbarian, and Cena trying to suck up to Chicago with a fleet of faux gangsters while dressed like Al Capone. One of those gangsters was CM Punk, which begs the question: why would the straight-edge Punk associate with anti-prohibitionists?)

Rey Mysterio, for his contributions to the business in terms of opening doors for smaller athletes to thrive on an international level, deserved very much to win a World Championship at an event the caliber of WrestleMania.

However, the ham-fisted, intelligence-insulting fashion in which WWE paved his road to said title will go down as perhaps the most jaw-droppingly insensitive booking that WWE has ever used to sell an event of WrestleMania’s standing.

I truly believe that, to this day, when WWE mentions Guerrero in reverent terms, or when they showcase him as part of a positive video package, it’s to deflect any negative thoughts one may have about the undignified manner in which Guerrero died, as well as to try and make fans forget about the horrible way in which WWE bungled the aftermath of his passing.

But Mysterio, Chavo, and Vickie to this day have more detractors than they’ve ever had, and much of it is kneejerk. Their direct involvement in a year (a YEAR) of exploitation is something that hasn’t washed off easily.

WrestleMania XXII was a decent show, one that is stained by feeling the need to tie in a real death to a fictional production.

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

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WrestleMania XXI: Of Thugs And Demons

March 28, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

-Thanks to a slickly produced “WrestleMania Goes Hollywood” campaign, which presented itself with faux movie trailers featuring WWE talents, this was a show that was looked forward to by many, myself included. And so on April 3, 2005, WrestleMania XXI came to us from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA.

-The commentary teams are the same for the third year in a row, although there are two inter-brand matches, with Michael Cole and Tazz of Smackdown covering one and Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler of Raw covering the other. That’s why interbrand stuff annoys me the rest of the year: it feels like it means more come WrestleMania time. And really, how many times can you hear Cole or JR say “Hey wait a minute, he’s not on this show; what is he DOING here?” without ruining the freshness of the invasion? If there’s ever a company that can botch invasions, it’s WWE.

-Lillian Garcia performs America the Beautiful before the action starts, and beautiful it is. The song was pretty fetching as well. The set for the event may be the best WrestleMania set-up ever, with a giant marquee next to the titan tron to advertise the match that’s next, and a red carpet leading to the ring. It’s like a Hollywood premiere, without the Rivers women asking dumb questions. Though Melissa asking Giant Gonzalez “WHO YA WEAR-ING?” would be a highlight to say the least.

-The final movie trailer airs to open the show, with Steve Austin playing Gladiator. They couldn’t get Bischoff to play Commodus?

-Quick shout out to reader Cole Yeager, who I neglected to mention in my WrestleMania XX rant, even though he appeared on camera and I promised him a mention. So Cole, here ya go brother. Thanks for the support.

-Also of note, before the show, Booker T won a 28 man battle royal as consolation for not giving him an actual PPV match. I’m sure whoever explained to him that he’d been bumped for semi-known sumo wrestler had their work cut out for him.

-Up first, Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero square off, even though they’re the reigning WWE Tag Team Champions. That’s promising. “We have no teams on the horizon worth facing you, so you’ll just face each other”. That’s only slightly more promising than World Tag Team Champions William Regal and Tajiri being relegated to the pre-show battle royal. This is the kind of stuff that drives a man like Jim Cornette nuts. That, and things that are trendy.

-The two begin, as one would suspect, with their usual cirque de soilei routine, which the highlight of it is Rey landing a sunset flip out of a mercy lock, and Eddie rolling through to do a slingshot which sends Rey to the outside. This leads to a cat and mouse chase where Rey tries to lure Eddie into a 619, but Guerrero avoids it. About what you’d expect from these two.

-The match keeps progressing swimmingly, but on at least two occasions, the momentum is halted when Rey’s mask, which is slitted apart in the back for style reasons, keeps coming loose, prompting him to re-adjust it and slightly break character. After Guerrero spent their entire Halloween Havoc match trying to rip it off, it’s weird to see him slow down to let Rey fix it. Weird indeed.

-Guerrero slows it down with an STF and a hammerlock, and was probably telling Rey “If you can’t keep your mask on straight, you’ll never be a World Champion like me!” and Rey’s probably all “Don’t worry, I’ll be a World Champion BECAUSE of you”. I’m sure Guerrero didn’t think twice about that, and it’s probably for the best. By the way, the joke was not meant to mock death, but rather exploitation, which deserves mockery. Especially in this case.

-After countering the three amigos with a rana, Rey tries the 619, but Guerrero counters with a tilt a whirl backbreaker. I think that was Eddie’s best move, personally.

-Rey manages to hit the 619 for real, but the Dime Drop goes badly as Eddie lands a powerbomb for 2. Rey finally comes back and gets a twirling rana and double leg hook for the win. Awkward moments aside, this was a tremendous way to open the show, especially in front of a crowd that’s generally known for being quiet. The two shake hands afterward, but they’d eventually feud through the summer. Guerrero, of course, passed away just seven months later, and is definitely missed by all. As it is, it’s a damn good final WrestleMania match for him.

-Meanwhile, HHH and Ric Flair confront JBL and his Cabinet of Orlando Jordan and The Bashams. If Evolution was the Lakers (wrought with egos, despite their star power) then the Cabinet would have to be the 1991 UNLV team that won the National Title, except they’re no pros. Sure, JBL may be Larry Johnson, but OJ and the Bashams are definitely Anderson Hunt, Stacey Augmon, and George Ackles. For the six of you who get that joke, you’re welcome.

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-Next up, the first ever Money in the Bank match, which was a Raw affair. As opposed to a raw affair, which is what Edge and Lita were having. Speaking of Edge, it’s him, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Christian, Kane, and IC Champion Shelton Benjamin vying for the Marsellus Wallace briefcase. I always thought it was funny, since in canon, Jericho’s the one who pitched the match concept to GM Eric Bischoff, and Bischoff approved. So that’s the first idea of Jericho’s that Bischoff went with since….well, ever.

-The workrate five try to fight Kane in the aisleway during his entrance, but all get beaten down briskly. This is the kind of stuff that drives a man like Wade Keller nuts.

-After a plancha parade, Kane is the first one to gain access to a ladder and he bashes on-comers, but Jericho lands a missle dropkick to take him down.

-Benoit’s the first climb attempter, but Kane clasps him for a chokeslam attempt, which is countered into a Crossface. Edge saves for some reason, so he gets a Crossface. Well, that’s Benoit’s MO; as he’s not going to stop until everybody stops moving. Ahem.

-Now for the first, and last, bit of MITB psychology, as Kane smashes Benoit’s arm inside a ladder, an injury that Benoit would sell until the end of the match. It’s those little things that add to the whole.

-Edge and Christian get Kane with a con-ladder-to. FIVE SECOND POSE TIME! Or not. Curses!

-Benjamin entrenches himself as a name value wrestler by hitting the T-Bone onto Edge off of the ladder. And everybody wonders why every three months, Edge suffers an injury that sidelines him through the forthcoming midterms.

-Shelton tops himself by running up a sloped ladder and leaping off to clothesline a climbing Jericho. Truly breathtaking, but you’ll notice Christian holding the ladder steady so that Benjamin didn’t slip. That’s not a criticism, that’s WWE making sure that the spot doesn’t fail by using subtle help techniques. That’s why Botchamania’s littered with complicated moves from TNA and ROH. Sure, WWE has their share, but at least they think outside the box and make things as fail-safe as possible. I like that.

-Tomko tries to aid Christian by doing the electric chair walk up the ladder, but Kane puts a stop to that. With that, Tomko gets more WrestleMania screen time than most. This is the kind of stuff that drives a man like Lance Storm nuts.

-It comes down to Benoit climbing after taking Kane out with a diving headbutt, but Edge runs in and bashes The Crippler’s arm with a chair, allowing himself to make the unimpeded climb up to claim the briefcase. I should also note that Edge’s heel heat was unlike any he’d had before, due to the Lita affair. Great match, and it proved that you can do a stuntshow without tables and chairs (well, except for the final spot). Edge, of course, would cash in his shot nine months later against John Cena to ingrain himself as a main eventer. Edge may even be the most complete wrestler ever, next to Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, and Chris Jericho, in terms of having no flaws as a performer. Of course, that’s subjective.

-To waste a little time, Eugene comes out to just ramble, but is interrupted by Muhammad Hassan and Daivari. Apparently, the mentally handicapped are frowned upon by wannabe foreigners, because they attack Eugene, and then lock him in a hold that reminds you to visit for the lastest in sports, wrestling, and even American Idol!

-Then, just to pop the crowd, “Real American” hits to bring out the Hulkster, as the crowd goes NUCLEAR. Bad word choice, given the gimmicks on display, I know. Hogan clears the ring of the faux-reigners, and then poses alone. He’s not gonna help Eugene up and pose with him? Apparently, the mentally handicapped are frowned upon by real Americans, brother.

-Highlight package for Undertaker-Orton. It was only in the weeks before the event did Orton officially turn heel. Up until then, he was a plucky jock babyface who got to kiss Stacy Keibler regularly. In order to effectively turn someone heel, we’d have to want to boo him. Well, mission accomplished.

-Undertaker makes his entrance on a magical skateboard, which I hereby declare to be way cooler than his various motorcycles. Remember, kids: motorcycles are for people who never learned how to pedal.

-Orton tries to outwrestle Taker in the early going, and I’m amazed by Orton’s growth as a performer. He could never make it as a babyface, so they turned him heel. Once heel, the fans hated for reasons other than his character (his real life bad attitude, the fact that he was pushed too hard, etc), but they kept pushing him. Sure enough, he finally got over by….beating faces like John Cena and Triple H, who are also ones who don’t get the crowd reactions needed to match their giant pushes. So thus they turn Orton face by having him destroy Legacy and, thus, he becomes the babyface they wanted all along. See? The fans ARE breakable.

-Taker catches Orton with Old School in the early going. When someone hits one of their big moves early, it means one of two things: either there’s big stuff planned for later and they’re just getting this out of the way, or that the person who hit it doesn’t own a watch. There’s no middle ground.

-Every time Undertaker hits Snake Eyes while wearing a singlet and leather pants, why do I think of Kevin Nash at a doomer’s rave?

-Orton hammers with ten punches in the corner, but stops on nine to pose, and finds himself in a Last Ride attempt, because Orton, you know, had never seen Taker wrestle before. He drops out of the Ride and tries the RKO, but Taker shoves him off into the ref. Ruh-roh!

-The lack of a referee means Cowboy Bob Orton can run in and hit Taker with his old and possibly disgusting cast. Randy makes the cover and only gets two (Bob: “WHAT THE F—”). Taker lays out Bob again and tries a chokeslam on Randy, who counters with the RKO! We all figured that Orton had the streak ended, but Taker managed to kick out.

-Finally Orton tries a Tombstone, but Taker reverses into his own (really spiking Randy’s head) for the win to move to 13-0. Really good match…..when’s the last time WrestleMania opened with three good to great matches? This has to be some sort of record.

-Trish-Christy highlights. And the streak ends at 3.

-Trish Stratus is here to defend the WWE Women’s Title against Christy Hemme, who is seconded by an injured (and Pariahed) Lita. Let’s just say the match is four minutes of Christy doing the most basic of moves, only to have Trish repeatedly mock her, basically carry her, and then easily pin her with the Chick Kick. And to think, Christy carried that pillow fight with Carmella.

-WWE knew by year’s end that Christy was mostly useless and released her. Christy also is going on four years employment in TNA. There’s a lesson in there, and it’s that performers who aren’t ready shouldn’t be out there wrestling. This is the kind of stuff that drives a woman like Lacey Von Erich nuts.

-Highlights of Kurt Angle/Shawn Michaels air. Which was cooler: The Rockers reuniting for one night, complete with old music, or Angle and Sherri doing their version of Michaels’ theme for Kurt? I’m going with Kurt’s, because Shawn wore his HBK attire for the Rocker reunion and ruined the whole effect. Way to ruin the whole effect, Shawn!

-You’d be tempted to just slap a ***** rating on there automatically, but let’s watch it since, you know, it’s excellent. The now standard one-upsmanship wrestling sequence opens it. Anyone else a sucker for t he arm scissors-turned Backlund lift-turned reversal into a pin sequence that Michaels and Angle just executed? Or do you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about?

-After clotheslining Angle to the floor, Shawn begins to clean off a table. Why? I love it when a wrestler is about to use a commentary desk as a weapon and he meticulously removes the monitors because “Gosh, they may hurt someone!”. Of all people, it was Kevin Nash who simply powerbombed Shawn onto one and the monitors landed on Shawn’s torso, and it looked PAINFUL. And awesome too. When Nash is the height of manliness, there’s a problem.

-After Shawn breaks the count, Angle hammers away to come back, and then winds up slamming Michaels into the post with the Angle Slam. Well, if you’re going to injure another man, at least be creative doing it, I guess.

-Angle continues to punish with wear down submissions and belly to bellies inside. But what about the table? Man, you can’t just tease us like that!

-Crap, Angle’s doing the sodomizer suplex on the apron again. I’m done with the Patterson jokes for these rants, just let me be.

-Michaels ends up kicking Angle off and into the Smackdown table, just so Shawn can do a sweet reverse crossbody onto Angle, and the table doesn’t break. Um. Ouch.

-Shawn’s Sweet Chin Music attempt is caught in an ankle lock, but after much squirming, he gets to the ropes. Angle tries for his Slam, but Shawn sunsets his way out of it. Shawn tries the SCM again, but spins free of an ankle lock attempt, only to be hit by an Angle Slam for 2. Angle then gets desperate and tries a moonsault, but there’s no water in the pool. Shawn heads up top himself, but Angle springs to life and gets a running leaping Angle Slam for 2! I’m out of breath now. I need a nap badly.

-During this sequence, Angle pulled his singlet straps back up just so he could pull them down again, which is remarkably awesome for reasons that I cannot humanly describe.

-So, yeah, Angle’s pissed that Shawn won’t stay down, and then he screams in his face while picking him up (“WHERE IS HE?!!?!?!?”, oh wait), but Shawn catches the SCM out of nowhere. Shawn gets the arm across for 2, but Angle gets the shoulder up at the last second. A disoriented Shawn gets up, but Angle takes him down with yet another ankle lock and, this time, as Angle sinks it in, Shawn taps out after a struggle to give Angle the win. Wow. Just an incredible match all around from two of the best pros ever, and it led to bigger things for both. Namely, Shawn playing Beefcake 2.0 to Hulk Hogan’s return, and Angle threatening to engage in barnyard copulation with Sharmell. Well, they can’t ALL be great ideas.

-For the faux trailers, the award for “Best Punch Line” went to Christian’s “I Love You” in the Basic Instinct trailer. Not only was that trailer fun because of Stacy in the Sharon Stone role, but for Chris Jericho as Michael Douglas’ character, looking oddly like him. Which Douglas movie would you like to see Jericho try: Falling Down or Wall Street? I think either would rule.

-To waste some time, we get a Piper’s Pit segment where Rowdy Roddy Piper and Stone Cold Steve Austin have a verbal discourse, but Carlito interrupts and gets beaten up. Then Austin beats up Piper. I guess it was alright, but Piper was less angry and incoherent than usual, so I can’t really go the full gore on it.

-Best Trailer goes to the Taxi Driver takeoff, which included Snitsky. Well, I can see why it won.

-Sumo match. Big Show. Akebono. THONGS. GOOD GOD!

-Akebono wins, due to the little known clause that states in part: “Big Show must always lose at WrestleMania”. Fortunately, Vince was too busy preparing for his match the following year and Show was able to sneak in a victory. Good on you, Paul. Two big men in thongs was still a poor use of WrestleMania time. This is the kind of stuff that drives a man like Pat Patterson nuts. In an elated way. Yeah yeah, had to get one more in….

-JBL-Cena video package. Once upon a time, we were all rooting for John Cena to win his first world title. I can’t BELIEVE that this was 2005.

-JBL gets a lavish entrance, complete with police motorcade for his limousine, and money depicting his face falling from the ceiling. So in other words, Pacman Jones ripped off JBL. Now we know.

-Quick tangent: I honestly find JBL to be one of the most refreshing and interesting champions in recent memory, despite what the ratings and buyrates say. I was tired of main events where the heels were so cool that you couldn’t help but cheer them. The whole thing felt like a Bond movie, where the hero and the villain are both so innately talented and charismatic that you cheer both. The world needed a heel was cowardly, unlikeable, boisterous, and someone who the marks would loathe. Enter JBL, who did his job to a tee. He never would have become champion if the smarks and CNBC hadn’t freaked out over the Munich incident. If you show any heel wrestler utter disdain, even if it’s real, then he’ll get a push. If you cheer a heel, he’s turned face. If you don’t wanna see the likes of JBL as champion, then ignore him, don’t get mad. Simple as that.

-So Cena gets mostly dominated, and already us fans have figured out the story in our heads. JBL dominates, Cena struggles to come back, finally turns the tide, finishers are exchanged, Cena wards off interference from the Cabinet, lands one final FU, and wins the title to overcome the odds that he’s so known for overcoming.

-JBL lands a couple of swinging neckbreakers without any heat. Pace should be quickening any minute now.

-Cena tries to turn the tide, but eats a spinebuster and another neckbreaker. Yep, any minute now.

-JBL with a sleeper. I guess….this….is the heat segment? Yep, we’re getting closer! I can almost see Orlando Jordan, Doug Basham, and Danny Basham getting cued to run interference when Cena’s in control. Just a matter of waiting. Any minute now.

-JBL lands another neckbreaker on the floor. Ooh, we must be extending things to give Cena a more triumphant and emphatic comeback. Any minute now.

-Big Cena comeback sequence! Fisherman’s suplex! Shoulderblocks! Spin-out powerbomb! Five Knuckle Shuffle! Get ready, here comes the flurry of interference!

-JBL misses the Clothesline from Hell, Cena with the FU! Here comes the kicko—err, Cena wins? Really? Well then, how about that. Match was merely okay, but is that the best way to begin Cena’s first reign as champion? I remember the viewing party was stunned that it was over so fast, given that JBL’s character was a sniveling coward and he got 75% of the offense. But hey, I liked Cena a lot at this point and I was happy to see him as champion. So great.

-Howard Finkel (#21!) introduces Mean Gene, who introduces the 2005 HOF Class. Each inductee is escorted by a diva that befits his personality: Nikolai Volkoff (w/ Michelle McCool, who is just as boring), Iron Sheik (w/ Candice Michelle, who is just as crippled), Paul Orndorff (w/ Miss Jackie, who squints a lot), Bob Orton (w/ Maria, who was also fired from WWE for stupid reasons), Jimmy Hart (w/ the underrated Joy Giovanni, who is the same height), Roddy Piper (w/ Torrie Wilson, who flounded in WCW), and Hulk Hogan (w/ Stacy Keibler, who can’t act either). All things considered, maybe my favorite HOF class.

-HHH-Batista recap. It was a rare time when someone was allowed to outsmart HHH at every turn. No wonder the fans fell in love with Batista.

-Motorhead plays HHH out, and the rendition is better than the WMX7 version, especially when Hunter rises like Gangrel through the stage. Good stuff. This is, of course, for the World Heavyweight Title, and it’s Batista’s chance to win his first major singles belt.

-Good power stuff early on, with each man countering each other at every turn. If I live to be 100, I’ll never get tired of seeing Triple H get press slammed.

-Much like the last match, this one was affected by weird booking. If Batista is your monster babyface of the future, it’d make sense to have him be a little more dominant. Here’s Trips slowing things down with an extended heat segment, which I usually have no problem with, but Batista’s supposed to be this savage monster who cannot be quelled. Granted, HHH was a “mentor” for Big Dave and should be able to outsmart him in some ways, but the booking for the match saw Batista outsmarting HIM. Odd.

-After a good 8-10 minutes of HHH dominating, Batista backdrops himself out of a Pedigree attempt. Thank God. This was turning into the slowest emasculation since the life of Ottis Toole.

-Finally, the match spills to the floor to give it a chance to get exciting. And it does, when Batista slingshots Hunter into the post, busting him open. And it’s a gusher, too.

-Batista pounds away at the open wound in a fashion that would make ECW fans happier than happy. He’s like Axl Rotten, but with six abs instead of one.

-Just because he’s out there, Ric Flair is contractually obligated to get beaten up. So he attacks Batista and gets slammed hard on the concrete. Attaboy Naitch.

-Back inside, after a ref bump, Flair tries again to interfere, but eats a spinebuster. Batista eats the belt (not literally, but that would be awesome), but kicks out on 2. After a spinebuster, Hunter low blows out of the Batista Bomb. He tries the Pedigree, but Big Dave blocks the jump, breaks the hands apart, and then drops Hunter with a modified Emerald Fusion. Great sequence.

-After the thumbs down, Batista slams HHH down with the Batista Bomb for his first career World Title. Weird match that was boring in parts, but felt epic in others. The need for Batista to have to fight from underneath didn’t seem to fit things, especially when he proved to be smarter than Hunter in the weeks and months leading to the event. Maybe the match just felt blasé because of the great action earlier in the night, but it was still a satisfying conclusion.

-Highlight package to end things. Were royalties for “Bigtime” by Soundtrack of Our Lives that high that we get a generic song?

-CYNIC SAYS: It’s a very agreeable show, in that the matches were satisfying and there was a minimum of no names. I like it when you get mostly cream-of-the-crop performers on the biggest show of the year. Can’t really complain about that.

But in the end, the right people won, and the booking was about 90% solid. What more can you ask for?

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

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WrestleMania XXI: A Portrait in Wrestling History

March 28, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

From The Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA
April 3, 2005

Since the day that Vince McMahon gained majority interest of the World Wrestling Federation from his aging, ailing father Vincent J., the younger Vince had grandiose dreams for the wrestling enterprise.

But wrestling is, of course, a bad word to McMahon. “Wrestling” conjures up scorn and mockery from the mainstream media, which is the very group that McMahon wants to charm most. While Vince has taken many a potshot at the mainstream, even on his own WWE programs, it’s done with a “sour grapes” bent.

McMahon has wished for years that his televised events would get the same respect that American Idol, Monday Night Football, Survivor, Seinfeld, CSI, and other wildly popular contemporary shows receive. Other than a war with WCW in the latter half of the 1990’s, he’s never seen other wrestling ventures as direct competition, since other wrestling promotions cater almost solely to ‘wrestling’ fans.

Vince McMahon, as we all have come to accept, caters to the median.

So for WrestleMania XXI, set in the same city as Rodeo Drive and Television City, McMahon unveiled one of his most clever advertising schemes, which fits right in line with how he perceives his work of blood, sweat, and tears.

For weeks building to the April 3 gala, professional looking vignettes were aired, featuring WWE superstars parodying popular movies, from Triple H playing William Wallace in Braveheart, to Undertaker recreating Inspector Callahan for his take on Dirty Harry, fans enjoyed WWE’s attempt to prove that they’re just as “Hollywood” as the giant letters that adorn that California mountainside.

As “WrestleMania Goes Hollywood”, WWE would go fresh. It was here that McMahon decided to pay off his “new class” of star by featuring several in-house developmental talents in major roles. For better or worse, these men would lead WWE into its future.

For the first time since becoming a major player in the late 1990’s, Triple H would be thoroughly outsmarted by the opposition.

Beginning in late 2004, Triple H began to show signs of a rift with Evolution’s muscled enforcer, Batista. Though Batista usually did as he was told, clearing paths for his boss to escape with the World Heavyweight Championship, “The Animal” began to speak out in bold, subtle tones against some of Triple H’s demands. Though the group’s veteran adviser, Ric Flair, would often smooth over the trouble spots, it was clear that Batista was tired of taking orders.

Batista and Flair both competed in the 2005 Royal Rumble, with the idea being that, as long as one of them won and Triple H remained champion (he retained over former protégé Randy Orton earlier in the night), the main event of WrestleMania would center around Evolution. Batista would win, tossing out John Cena in a controversial finish.

However, Triple H tried to steer Batista into going to SmackDown to challenge champion JBL, giving him the idea that Evolution could hold two World titles. After weeks of hemming and hawing, Batista appeared to agree with Helmsley’s plan, only to reveal that he saw through the façade, believing that Triple H was simply afraid of him. Batista attacked the champion and Flair, severed his ties with them, and officially signed to face his former jefe at WrestleMania.

Speaking of JBL and John Cena, they would represent the SmackDown main event for the WWE Championship. JBL had become the unlikely champion in June 2004, transforming from beer-swilling, card-playing Texan to something more like his real-life alter ego, a stock market savant who handled his money as well as he did smaller opponents. JBL survived title defense after title defense, mocking the middle class all the while. Among the former Bradshaw’s wins were a bullrope match with Eddie Guerrero to win the belt, a “Last Ride” match with Undertaker, and a barbed wire steel cage match with Big Show.

Cena became #1 contender by winning a tournament final over Kurt Angle at No Way Out. JBL and Cena were a match made in heaven, as JBL’s upper-class snobbery meshed with Cena’s streetwise blue collar attitude.

In other big matches, Kurt Angle would meet Shawn Michaels for the first time ever at WrestleMania XXI. Angle became convinced that he could do anything that Shawn could do, and tried to replicate his entire career in just one month, hoping to culminate the story with a win over Michaels. The saga included winning a classic match with Michaels’ former partner Marty Jannetty on Smackdown.

In addition, Randy Orton, in an attempt to further his “Legend Killer” persona, challenged The Undertaker at WrestleMania, figuring that if he could end the streak, his moniker would be worth its presumed weight.

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Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, along with Michael Cole and Tazz, provided the commentary yet again. The WWE Hall of Fame inductions saw Hulk Hogan as the headlining figure, going in along with six of his classic nemeses: Rowdy Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, Cowboy Bob Orton, Jimmy Hart, Iron Sheik, and Nikolai Volkoff. Hogan would save Eugene from an attack by Muhammad Hassan and Daivari, while Piper hosted a raucous Piper’s Pit with Stone Cold Steve Austin and Carlito.

Rey Mysterio def. Eddie Guerrero in 12:39
(What should have been an excellent match was somewhat marred by Mysterio wearing a mask that was looser than a Louisiana ring rat. Mysterio kept stopping to readjust, ruining much of the timing. It should be noted that these two were WWE Tag Team Champions at the time)

Money in the Bank: Edge def. Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Kane, Christian, and Shelton Benjamin in 15:17
(The first, and possibly best, of these types of matches saw Shelton try to steal the show with a hands-free run up a sloped ladder, and Edge royally piss the fans off by winning. This is when he stole Lita from Matt Hardy in real life, and the fans rallied behind Hardy. Sounds funny now, I know. Amazing match)

The Undertaker def. Randy Orton in 14:14
(One of the last times I truly felt Undertaker’s streak was in jeopardy was when Orton landed an RKO out of a Tombstone attempt for two. The other highlight was Bob Orton running in with his old cast and whacking Taker with it. Pretty good match, actually. That’s thirteen)

WWE Women’s: Trish Stratus def. Christy Hemme in 4:11
(If Hemme was any more useless, she’d be WWE stock in 2025. Stratus pretty much openly mocked her during the match, which I’m sure was half-shoot)

Kurt Angle def. Shawn Michaels in 27:25
(Just a great match from perhaps the two best overall wrestlers of the last twenty years. I was as shocked as anyone when Shawn Michaels tapped out cleanly to the ankle lock, and I’m sad that the two more times that these men faced off would be the end of their series. There should have been WAY more)

Sumo Match: Akebono def. Big Show in 1:02
(Two fat guys in thongs, all to get WWE free press in Japan. Don’t inquire further)

WWE Heavyweight Championship: John Cena def. JBL in 11:26 to win the title
(Pretty weird match, as the ending came out of nowhere, and there was none of JBL’s usual chicanery. Fans barely reacted for the new WWE champion, in Cena’s first reign. These two had a MUCH greater match at Judgment Day two months later, so check that out)

WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Batista def. Triple H in 21:34 to win the title
(Fans give this match a bad rap, but I quite enjoyed it. Basically, Batista managed to bust Triple H open, and then he began taking out all of his aggression from years of being a lackey out by mauling the champ into oblivion. At least the fans marked out for the finish this time)

If you exclude Rey Mysterio’s World Title win at WrestleMania XXII one year after this event, then Cena and Batista are the last two men to win their first career World Titles at WrestleMania. Since then, WWE has largely relied on the same people in the same clutch situations, as opposed to taking a risk at the big annual spectacular.

In fact, let’s go one step further. Excepting Mysterio again, every World Title participant at WrestleMania after this (22 through 26) have either been previous-champions, or have already been in World Title matches at WrestleMania previously. That doesn’t show a lot of creativity, nor does it show any iota of faith in rising stars. WrestleMania XXVII will feature Alberto Del Rio, which is definitely a noble risk.

But for this event, WrestleMania XXI, John Cena and Batista were given transplants of faith by the office, and both men would remain as featured players for years; Cena to this day, and Batista up until he left WWE in the spring of 2010.

The enduring image of WrestleMania XXI is the torch passings, to a former Evolution bodyguard and a wannabe freestyle rapper, both of whom became made men on this night.

Justin Henry is a freelance writer who splits time between this site,, and He can be found via his wrestling Twitter at

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WrestleMania XX: Hey, Who Ripped Out The Ending?

March 27, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

-80% done. Abso-sanely incredible. Now I know how my boss Eric Gargiulo felt when he came over to Ellis Island ninety-three years ago with nothing but three dollars in his pocket and the dreams of calling matches involving fluorescent lighting tubes. Like my good friend Eric, I can see the Island. I’m not quite there, but I’m close.

-And it’s apropos that I bring up a New York landmark, as the huddled masses of the WWE roster rolled into Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 14, 2004, which was the earliest WrestleMania to date. With 12 matches stretched over a five hour (yes, you read it right) time slot, there’s little doubt that Vince McMahon wanted this event to be completely and utterly memorable. Would it live up to the high expectations?

-Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are providing commentary for Raw again, with Michael Cole and Tazz doing Smackdown. When there’s an inter-brand match, one team is chosen arbitrarily. In a sport where every match has a number one contendership on the line, they just hand over duties to one side without reason? Sounds fishy, and I have no idea why.

-Harlem Boys Choir kick things off and no worries, I already made my Pat Patterson joke in the last rant. I’m good for a few shows.

-The show kicks off with Big Show defending the US Title against…..John Cena. Yep, Cena opens a PPV, it happened. Cena was still a coarse rhyme-smith at this stage, wearing throwback jerseys to the ring (in this case, Patrick Ewing, though Cena has far more World Titles). Here’s an interesting theorem for you to digest: when a wrestler wears clothing that depicts a real life aspect of pop culture (Headbangers with Marilyn Manson, New Age Outlaws with South Park, John Cena with sports throwbacks), they become a cult favorite. When they eschew the attire in order to wear WWE-licensed shirts with their own logo and pictures and such, then they stop being cool. Reason one why everyone over age 20 turned on Cena.

-Show was bordering on useless at this point. Moreso than usual. Alright, it’s indistinguishable, you got me.

-Show dominates with his hoss-fense, and the crowd chants “Let’s Go Cena”. In New York City? If you played this tape at an ROH convention or at some smark rally in some loser’s basement, they’ll probably claim you doctored the tape.

-Cena manages to land an FU, but Show kicks out. Cena teases the Ultimate Warrior “my hands are telling me that my destiny is to lose” deal, but then realizes that he’s not going to job to frigging BIG SHOW. So he belts the monster with his faux “Word Life” knux and lands a second FU to win his first piece of WWE gold. Not a good match, but it got the crowd going. Nothing wrong with being the rah-rah guy on a five hour show. If this were curling, Cena would have pushed the stone.

-Backstage, we find three men. One of them is the Raw GM, and the other two are his two toadies. Nowadays, respectively, they are TNA’s on-air authority, an ESPNews employee, and an upper carder on Smackdown. So Jonathan Coachman’s better off than Eric Bischoff and John Morrison? I need to go soak my brain in some lemon juice.

-Meanwhile, Randy Orton has a monologue on the staircase where he kicked Mick Foley around on nine months prior, while flanked by Batista and Ric Flair. Man, if you asked me in 2004, I would have said Flair was way cooler than the other two OVW slimes. Now? He’s a distant third.

-Next we have an excuse to give eight men a payday: Rob Van Dam and Booker T will defend Raw’s Tag Team Titles against The Dudley Boyz, La Resistance (consisting of Maritimer Rene Dupree and American Rob Conway), and The Utah Jazz (Lance Cade and Mark Jindrak). If Cade and Jindrak were any whiter, Sheamus could get a gig at the Apollo just by standing next to them. “Vat eez the deal with midcarders getting titles too early? I mean, ree-lee?”.

-When you’re in a match with eight men that’s being rushed, get your moves in now. Bubba with the Dusty Rhodes elbow. Booker with the side kick. RVD with the spin kick. Dudleyz land 3D. Cade gets the….umm….did Cade even have a move? There’s nothing besides the paint-by-numbers heavyweight offense that they taught him in OVW? God, what does WWE see in him?

-To speed things along, Van Dam flattens Conway with the Five Star to keep the titles with RVD and Book. Why did Conway have to job? He actually had a personality and ability. Well, I guess they had to keep Jindrak strong for his career apex of playing Kurt Angle’s personal Stormtrooper. Match was decent.

-Backstage, Bobby Heenan and Gene Okerlund are found necking with Mae Young and Fabulous Moolah. Jonathan Coachman is horrified. He’s horrified because he forgot to ask Heenan “What am I doing wrong as a heel commentator?”. It’s just as well, since Heenan would have either said “everything” or “who the hell are you, Pez Whatley’s kid?”

-Video package to hype the Chris Jericho-Christian-Trish Stratus love triangle. Sadly, no clip of Christian telling Jericho “This is not the OC!”. If it was, Trish would need to stop eating altogether. Well, someone’s gotta play the Mischa Barton role.

-Finally acting in character for a change, Jericho just tackles Christian and hammers away. I dunno, Jericho sweating over a woman and losing his mind over her just doesn’t feel right. How can you explain this side of Jericho and his current outlook? Did Trish’s rejection turn him into a robot with abject disillusionment with the world? Makes sense to me.

-Jericho alternates between out wrestling Christian and beating the crap out of him, and Christian turns the tide with a thumb to the eye. As dumb as this storyline was in terms of two thirty year old, known-to-be-married men fighting over a starlet co-worker, at least the match is good. Kinda hard to fault these two.

-After spending a good chunk of the match reversing, countering, and answering back with moves, Christian locks Jericho in the Texas cloverleaf. Or is it the Ontario Maple leaf? That’s what RVD’s missing: the San Bernardino Hemp leaf! He can have that one for free.

-A superplex spot is blown when Christian slips, but they make up for it and do it anyway. You know, if Kevin Nash did that, two things: one is he’d be crucified for blowing the spot and, two, we’d be in disbelief that he broke his usual arsenal for one match. Let’s just move on.

-Jericho gets the Walls, but Christian nabs the ropes to escape. Trish comes bouncing out (literally) and Christian brings her in the hard way. An inadvertent elbow knocks Jericho into a Christian roll-up, giving Edge’s little brother the win. Afterward, Trish turns on Jericho with a hard smack, and Christian hits the Unprettier to give birth to “Trishtian”. Cheer up, Jericho. If you had won Trish’s heart, how would you have explained it to Jessica? Damn good match.

-The Rock gives a whacked out promo backstage to set up the greatest handicap match of all time: Rock and Mick Foley against Ric Flair, Randy Orton, and Batista. We used to argue whether Batista or Orton was the most useless guy in the match. We ain’t too bright, is we?

-Rock stealing the Flair strut = awesome.

-Match starts with a flurry, with Rock taking Flair down on the floor with a backdrop and Foley coming off with the big elbow. Crowd is in a frenzy early.

-Foley gets Orton in the ring to continue their issue, and Orton bails like a coward. Foley hammers him into the table and brings him back in for more punishment. Here’s the good thing about Mick: he sells for anyone and will put any kid over, with no politics. Except for burying Test in his book, which I still think is funny.

-Speaking of putting people over, here’s Rock to sell for Batista and Orton. I wish I had known this was his final match. I woulda painted my eyebrow on and worn my elbow pad and….well, not really, you see, I was umm….back to the match at hand here.

-Foley plays face in peril while Batista and Orton water their own learning trees with this opportunity. Within weeks, Batista and Orton would be having great tag team matches with the likes of Benoit, Edge, Benjamin, Michaels, and others. You’re seeing it now in WWE with guys like Rhodes, Dibiase, Ziggler, Kingston, and Miz all getting better through osmosis with the older names. Hey, TNA: if you use the older guys to bring the young kids up, you can weed out the has-beens and live on the kids’ newfound reputations. That’s why Batista and Orton crush Flair and Foley in the ratings. MAKE A NOTE OF THIS!

-Rock gets the hot tag and cleans house on everyone. Batista halts the rush with a spinebuster and Flair tries the Senior’s Elbow, but Rock puts an end to it. After cleaning house again, Rock lands his own People’s Elbow on Flair. Great fun.

-Orton gets tagged in and runs right into Rock Bottom. In all the confusion, Batista drops The Great One with the Batista Bomb. After Rock barely kicks out, he tags in Foley, who cleans house himself. However, after he prepares Mr. Socko, he walks into the RKO to give Orton the biggest pinfall win of his career to that point. Whew, insanely fun match with a murderer’s row of main eventers and champions. Rock consoles Mick afterward, and Mick consoles him for having to have such a crappy goatee in that equally crappy Be Cool flick. Thanks for the aweome career, Rock. Have fun with that Disney money.

-Hall of Fame recap is next, a year that saw Bobby Heenan, Tito Santana, Big John Studd, Harley Race, Pete Rose, Don Muraco, Greg Valentine, Junkyard Dog, Superstar Billy Graham, Sgt. Slaughter, and Jesse Ventura all get inducted. Say what you will about Pete Rose, but he took a stinkface from Rikishi. That alone warrants induction, I think.

-Next up, Sable and Torrie Wilson face Stacy Keibler and Miss Jackie in an evening gown match. All the participants remove their gowns to start, but Miss Jackie is stand-offish. So she can make out with some loser on Tough Enough in a hot tub, but this is too much? Interesting.

-Cole on commentary says Tazz stabbed him with his pencil, and Tazz assures him that it wasn’t his pencil. Well then.

-Torrie pins Jackie and spanks her during the roll-up. I’d have included more content, but I write enough erotic letters to Hustler each week, and this would only detract from my usual quality. So rent the DVD, pervos.

-Meanwhile, Eddie Guerrero tries to motivate Chris Benoit by using reverse psychology. Show of hands?
Who else thought of a REALLY snappy punchline to that, but felt sick for even thinking it? I did, too.

-For more filler featuring some lesser-seen talents, we move onto the Cruiserweight open, which is a ten man gauntlet with the Cruiserweight Title on the line. The order of elimination goes like so:

-Shannon Moore jobs to Ultimo Dragon, who slipped during his entrance. Being the first one gone in this match must make you feel like Marsellus Wallace when he got picked by Zed during eeny meeny miney mo. Even the odds hate you.

-Jamie Noble comes in and dominates….some midcarders. He makes Dragon tap, and then pins Funaki in negative nanoseconds, then beats his forgotten cousin Nunzio by count out. It’s this spark and sass that made Noble a dominant ROH Champion for about seven hours.

-Then Billy Kidman hits the ring and dispatches Noble. Then Kidman jobs to Rey Mysterio, who’s dressed as The Flash. Kidman’s The Flash also, except his last name is “in the Pan”.

-Akio is unable to participate due to being blinded by Tajiri, and Rey pins Tajiri to bring it down to him and champion Chavo Guerrero. After some chicanery involving Chavo’s dad, Chavo “FREAKING AWESOME” Classic, Chavito retains the gold. Man, I miss Chavo Classic. He did a good job hosting Raw recently with Tommy Chong, however.

-Brock Lesnar-Bill Goldberg video to hype their epic match. Hey kids, when I say “epic”, you say…..yep, that’s right!

-Stone Cold Steve Austin and his over sized four wheeler of fun are the guest enforcers. He gets the biggest cheer of the three people involved in this match. Of course, that’s like saying that Capt. Sully Sullenberger won a popularity contest over Herpes and The Syph. Are you really surprised?

-Now, I could thoroughly recap this match, or I can tell you a joke I made up. You like jokes, right? Of course you do.

-Two muscle heads walk into a bar. They each order a bottle of “Over-With-The-Crowd Lager”. The bartender informs them that he can’t serve them this beverage because they don’t plan to come back to said bar, and it’s only for long-term commitment patrons. So the two muscle heads say “Fine, we’ll just occupy space for 15 minutes and do nothing!”. So the muscle heads proceed to do just that until the 20,000 patrons of the bar scream obscenities at them, which doesn’t faze them. Finally, a bald man runs in and beats up both guys himself. The other patrons roared mightily. Then the bald guy beat up a woman at random and the patrons still cheered. One patron sat stunned and muttered “Why would they cheer a wife beater over two men who don’t wish to be regular patrons anymore?”. And then Justin said “You must not be a wrestling fan!”.

-Bad as the joke was, it was still better than the match. Goldberg wins with a Jackhammer and Austin beats both guys up. I’d add more, but the match already damaged my brain. Let’s not let it hurt my fingers too.

-Vince is here to thank the fans. For sitting through that last match? Yeah, you better thank them.

-I have about 1600 words left before I get to my personal space limit, so rather than waste time with the next pointless match, let’s get it over with: Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty retain the WWE Tag Team Titles over the APA, The Bashams, and The World’s Greatest Tag Team. Real quick, a note to Rikishi: when you’re going to give a man a stinkface and you have to arch your stomach out before doing it, because you’ve gotten so fat that to merely stand in front of him would mean that your ass would already be in his face, then it’s time to lose weight. Nothing match.

-Next up, Jesse Ventura comes out to ask Donald Trump to help him with his 2008 Presidential campaign. Well, Jesse almost got as many votes as Dennis Kucinich, so he’s clearly on the right track.

-Following that spirited jaunt, we come to a Title vs. Hair match, as Victoria defends her WWE Women’s Title against Molly Holly, who’s putting her hair on the line. Do you think George Steele and A-Train could done a back hair vs. back hair match on PPV and drawn? Me either.

-The match is technically fine, but it’s a five hour show and everyone’s just waiting for the main events, because they want to see Guerrero put Angle down, Undertaker come back, and Benoit do what he does best and that’s not disappoint. Wait….

-Victoria wins it with a backslide, and Molly tries to be a truant, but she eventually gets strapped into the chair, and Victoria shaves away with a satisfied and exhausted grin. I found this hot, I don’t know about any of you. Feel free to dislike me for it.

-Guerrero-Angle recap video to hype the WWE Title match. The only thing that could have made Eddie’s celebration at No Way Out better was if his brother Hector was in the crowd dressed as the Gobbeldy Gooker. You know that would have ruled more than anything else.

-Crowd finally comes to life during a chain wrestling sequence, as MSG has always appreciated good technical wrestling. They even do the ROH/TNA chant of “LET’S GO ANGLE/ANGLE SUCKS”, which I find amusing. It’s like an act of rebellion from the smarks: “We cheer the heel AND the face! What are YOU gonna do about it?”. And the booker says “I dunno, get laid after the show?”. The smarks then narrow their eyes and say “….you win this time.”

-After Angle counters the Three Amigos (Two Amigos in current WWE acknowledgment canon) with a German, he gets the uber-creepy German attempt on the apron that looks like something out of day three of Pat Patterson’s fundamen—alright, there’s the requisite Patterson joke. Happy now?

-After Guerrero wipes out on a plancha, Angle brings him back in for a pain session to slow things down. Good, frenetic match so far, as neither man could really have a bad match. Crowd’s warming to Eddie, who really defied the odds to become a main eventer. Hey Vince, when Guerrero does it, it’s defying the odds. When Cena does it, it’s a marketing machine clearly standing behind him. I like Cena, but let’s be realistic here.

-A fast paced sequence ends with Angle trying for the Angle Slam, but Guerrero coming out of it with an armdrag. I’m enjoying myself.

-Another Three Amigos attempt is countered on numero tres into an Ankle Lock. Guerrero fights, not wanting to give up and the fans are really awake now, identifying with the champion’s struggle. Guerrero finally kicks him away.

-After falling victim to Angle’s super belly to belly throw, Angle latches on a second ankle lock, but Guerrero cradles him for two. After countering an Angle Slam into a DDT, Guerrero lands the Frog Splash, but Angle gets the shoulder up for two. Crazy great stuff, and the fans are behind Guerrero 100%.

-As Guerrero is in disbelief, Angle tries for a third ankle lock, but Guerrero kicks him off to the floor. Guerrero unties the boot on the injured ankle, and Angle goes back in for it. With the lock applied again, Guerrero kicks off and Angle’s left holding the boot. A surprised Angle is then cradled to give Guerrero the win to retain. Great, great match. My brother had no idea why Guerrero untied his boot (to slip out of the ankle lock easier) and Michael Cole explained it perfectly. So, yeah, Cole is smarter than my brother. I don’t think Josh ever recovered.

-Undertaker-Kane highlight package. You know how it goes: boy kills brother under a ton of dirt….and that’s about all.

-Kane comes out first with a nice entrance bit where the NYC set behind him “catches fire”. The lights then go out and we hear the voice of Paul Bearer, as he leads the Druids to the ring, which leads to classic Undertaker’s entrance. Undertaker was basically still Bikertaker, except with a new hat and his old mannerisms. But still, the MSG fans are thrilled, as was my viewing party. Nothing like the Dead Man gimmick to speak to your inner child.

-What follows is the typical Taker-Kane match, with Undertaker re-establishing all of his old tricks that made him The Dead Man in the first place. I was happy because I was so tired of that annoying Southern drawl that made Taker look like an out-of-shape hybrid of Mark McGwire and Sam Elliott. He should be a zombie forever, even when he’s 70, and will then be 42-0 at WrestleMania. Fine by me.

-Undertaker sits up from a Kane choke slam, and then reciprocates it. He then follows with the Tombstone for the relatively quick win. Not a good match, but it was a fun moment to enhance the show’s appeal. You just need these moments sometimes.

-And now, the match I’d waited years for. I wasn’t alone. And now, what was once a proud cult who relished this match, it’s become a dwindling minority. Triple H defends the World Heavyweight Title against Shawn Michaels and, yes, Chris Benoit. Let’s see if my feelings change watching it.

-Hey Hunter, nice white boots. Nobody can pull of the “He-Man goes Go-Go Dancing” look like you.

-Benoit and Shawn attack Hunter from the outset, but take time to beat each other down as well. Benoit tries a Crossface, but Shawn blocks. Benoit could have won right there in under a minute, and I would have been fine with it.

-This entire opening sequence is so well choreographed, as they take turns doing one on one bits, and nobody “plays dead” for so long that it seems contrived. A testament to all three men’s abilities.

-Shawn takes down both Benoit and HHH on the floor, and then heads up top to land a moonsault onto both men. Shawn was 38 here and still doing dives like that? Hey, if he’s not going to win the match, he’s going to steal the show for himself. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

-Triple H spends the next portion of the match in control, dominating both men until Benoit comes to life and drills him with a clothesline. He gets the rolling Germans, but tries for the diving headbutt and Shawn crotches him up top. Shawn tries SCM on Hunter, but eats a DDT. I think my stomach lining was like Swiss cheese at this point.

-HHH tries the Pedigree on Benoit, but Chris counters with the Crossface, which Shawn stops. Crowd doesn’t like that. Is it blasphemous to boo Shawn?

-Rolling Germans and diving headbutt for Shawn, but Benoit gets knocked outside. Shawn hits the SCM on Hunter, but Benoit pulls the champ to ringside to keep the match alive. I couldn’t take much more of this.

-Shawn opens up a MASSIVE cut after being sling shotted into the post. If Shawn’s wrists ever bleed simultaneously, he’ll have won me over. No more Jesus jokes then.

-The big turning point comes on the floor when Shawn and Hunter team up to double suplex Benoit through a commentary table. The idea was that this was to have finished Benoit as Shawn and HHH settled their feud.

-Back inside, Shawn does manage to bust Hunter open, but HHH lands the Pedigree out of thin air. My heart was sinking until Benoit slid in and broke the pin up. Whew.

-Benoit manages to counter the Pedigree into the Sharpshooter, and the place comes unglued. Hunter almost taps, but Shawn lands Sweet Chin Music at the last moment. He can only get 2, however. A second attempt sees Benoit backdrop a horribly bloodied Shawn all the way into the aisle. YAY!

-But Hunter lurked behind Benoit, and my heart fully sank. He tried the Pedigree, but Benoit snatched the Crossface to a huge pop. With no one to save HHH, he futily tried to roll Benoit over, but The Crippler held on. Finally, Hunter tapped to finally give Benoit a World Title and cause a smarkgasm the likes of which have never been seen. Guerrero comes out to celebrate and both men tearfully parade in confetti as JR gives a great sendoff. A tremendous match, circumstances aside, and still an all time favorite of mine.

-Drowning Pool’s “Step Up” plays off the show with highlights. Underrated Mania theme.

-CYNIC SAYS: Five hours flies by when you take two days to do the show in parts. I know I glossed over a lot of stuff, but that’s because they stretched things out to get about 50 people involved in matches. Four of them are great (both World Title matches, Rock and Sock vs. Evolution, Christian/Jericho) and there was enough fun moments otherwise (Taker’s return, Cena’s win, lingerie, the Hall of Famers, Lesnar/Goldberg’s crapfest) to make the entire show worthwhile.

If you can get past the controversy behind the main event, then this is a damn fine anthology that defined this era of WWE. I highly recommend watching all five hours, even the slow parts.

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

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WrestleMania XX: A Portrait in Wrestling History

March 27, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

From Madison Square Garden in New York, NY
March 14, 2004

Poor WWE. Despite being the most lucrative, proliferative, and memory-composing wrestling entity to ever be seen, it feels like that they sometimes can’t win.

On the one hand, fans criticize World Wrestling Entertainment for clinging to the past like rats to the hull of a sinking ship. In recent years, the likes of Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin have been “brought off the bench” to star in an occasional segment wherein they usually wind up destroying somebody who could use a victory to solidify himself.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, WWE also takes it in the shorts when things change TOO much. The company’s innovative experiments of the past decade, such as the brand extension, guest hosts on Raw, the Diva Search, having two world titles, and other concepts were met with flat-footed resistance.

So to score this, hardened WWE fans don’t like it when Vince McMahon relies on the same old tricks and characters be the support pillars of his programming, but the same fans also detest it when McMahon tries to reinvent the wheel with his own magnanimous spin.

See what I mean by “poor WWE”?

WrestleMania XX’s tagline was to be “Where it All Begins Again”. The slogan seemed somewhat vague as it wasn’t explained what “it” was. Would WWE begin relying on the past again? Would the company begin to churn out foreign concepts to a rigidly inflexible audience again?

Or would the company rekindle fan interest, both general and ardent, with a show that would set new standards in quality and story-telling?

Going into the event, WrestleMania XX put together a blend of developmental stars on the rise, cherished veterans in prominent roles, and beloved underdogs who were on the verge of greatness.

What would ‘begin’ at MSG on that night?

In a twist served to reward longtime fans for their dedicated fandom, Chris Benoit was the winner of the 2004 Royal Rumble. In story canon, Benoit believed he couldn’t get a fair break from biased Smackdown general manager Paul Heyman, which caused Benoit to leave the brand, jumping ship to Raw.

Chris Benoit’s title shot remained intact, and thus he would challenge World Heavyweight Champion Triple H at the big dance. Shawn Michaels, then Helmsley’s nemesis, had lobbied for a rematch after he and the champion fought to a double knockout in a last man standing match at the Royal Rumble.

At the would-be contract signing for the World Heavyweight Title match, a frenetically desperate Michaels pleaded with Benoit to give him the match with Triple H, as if his very life depended on settling this score. Benoit flatly turned Michaels down, since he fought for one hour to win the Royal Rumble. Michaels responded by blasting Benoit with Sweet Chin Music, and added his name to the contract before Benoit could sign. GM Eric Bischoff’s solution was to make the match a triple threat between Helmsley, Michaels, and Benoit.

On the Smackdown side, Eddie Guerrero provided wrestling with one of its truest comeback stories when he put behind his alcoholic past in February 2004, felling Brock Lesnar to become WWE Champion. Guerrero would then be challenged by #1 contender Kurt Angle, whose attitude soured on the bitterness of Guerrero reigning, due to his past troubles with substance abuse.

Angle, with the blessing of GM Paul Heyman, proceeded to rail against Guerrero’s demons, while proclaiming himself to be a better role model, and, thus, better champion. Angle even taped his fists and beat a defensless Guerrero bloody, all while Guerrero was handcuffed (Guerrero was to have faced Heyman, agreeing to handcuff himself as a handicap, making Angle’s attack easier).

While Benoit and Guerrero were being groomed for their unlikely ascents, a squad of Attitude-era heroes and villains would make up the remainder of the upper card.

The Undertaker was taken out at Survivor Series by Kane, buried alive under a mountain of gravel. As Kane cackled loud and often about driving his brother away for good, hints of The Undertaker’s presence between to surface. From Undertaker’s classic “gong” blaring through the arena, to Kane being fronted by a casket and an urn, it was clear that the Undertaker was due back, and no longer as his highway-carousing biker self.

Stone Cold Steve Austin would appear at WrestleMania XX to moderate a match between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar, while The Rock and Mick Foley ended their exiles to face Randy Orton, Batista, and Ric Flair of Evolution, after Orton and Foley had been a “legend killing” war. Chris Jericho would also settle a score with longtime cohort Christian, who had chastised Y2J for trying to romance Trish Stratus.

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Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler would call the Raw action, while Michael Cole and Tazz covered SmackDown for this five hour event. The WWE brought back its WWE Hall of Fame for the weekend, inducting legends like Bobby Heenan, Jesse Ventura, Big John Studd, Junkyard Dog, Tito Santana, Greg Valentine, Harley Race, Sgt. Slaughter, Superstar Billy Graham, Don Muraco, and celebrity Pete Rose. The Harlem Boys Choir kicked off the show with “America the Beautiful”.

WWE United States: John Cena def. Big Show in 9:14 to win the title
(Once upon a time, John Cena was opening shows and warming up the crowd. Highlight was him mimicking Ultimate Warrior’s “questioning God” routine when he couldn’t put Show away)

World Tag Team: Rob Van Dam/Booker T def. The Dudley Boyz, La Resistance, and Garrison Cade/Mark Jindrak in 7:51
(Ahh, the classic “get everybody involved” match. Surprised nobody thought to name Van Dam and Booker “Tokin’ Black Guy”. Too offensive?)

Christian def. Chris Jericho in 14:52
(Christian’s prize for winning was to spend several months paired with a now-heel Trish Stratus, while Jericho’s reward was getting to feud with the both of them. I like all three, and this match was rather excellent, if underappreciated)

Randy Orton/Batista/Ric Flair def. The Rock/Mick Foley in 17:03
(An insanely fun match with Rock, Flair, and Foley running through their body of tricks, including Rock and Flair just going back and forth with humorous antics. The match served its purpose though, with Orton going over strong by RKOing Foley. Just fun)

Evening Gown Match: Sable/Torrie Wilson def. Stacy Keibler/Miss Jackie in 2:33
(Were you aware that Sable is undefeated at WrestleMania? She’s 3-0, which makes her the female Undertaker. Come to think of it, she is bony and corpse-like….)

WWE Cruiserweight: Chavo Guerrero won a Cruiserweight Open over Rey Mysterio, Tajiri, Akio, Billy Kidman, Jamie Noble, Nunzio, Funaki, Ultimo Dragon, and Shannon Moore in 10:28
(Eight falls (Akio was never actually eliminated) in just ten minutes, and the WWE couldn’t figure out why fans didn’t take the cruiserweights seriously. At least it was fast paced)

Goldberg def. Brock Lesnar in 13:42
(And here it is: the greatest “bad match” in WrestleMania history. I can’t even do it justice. Just watch it sometime. Trust me)

WWE Tag Team: Rikishi/Scotty 2 Hotty def. APA, Basham Brothers, and The World’s Greatest Tag Team in 6:01
(See the earlier tag team title match for perspective. Highlight: Rikishi’s ass being so fat that he has to suck his gut out before giving Charlie Haas the stinkface. Time to lay off the butter sticks)

WWE Women’s vs. Hair: Victoria def. Molly Holly in 4:53
(And thus Molly Holly was shaved, giving us her best V for Vendetta tribute. I actually liked shorned Molly. Made me want to take her to a tanz-metal club)

WWE Heavyweight Championship: Eddie Guerrero def. Kurt Angle in 21:36
(Great, great back and forth match between two of the finest athletes in wrestling history. Eddie Guerrero was in his element as the clever babyface who finds ways to win that are outside the box. In this case, Guerrero untied his boot so to render Angle’s ankle lock useless, with an easy escape. How can anyone hate this match?)

The Undertaker def. Kane in 7:45
(Undertaker indeed returned to his “Dead Man” roots here, complete with Druids, Paul Bearer, and classic symphonic score for his music. A chill-inducing scene, even if the match wasn’t really any good)

World Heavyweight Championship: Chris Benoit def. Triple H and Shawn Michaels in 25:10 to win the title
(And there you have it: the last time a wrestling moment actually made me misty-eyed. Benoit making Triple H tap out to the Crossface was a dream come true, as was Benoit’s tearful celebration with Guerrero, as the ultimate “we made it” moment. Sadly, real life events have diminished this moment some, but I’ll never forget what it meant to have witnessed it live)

A somewhat morbid joke sees wrestling fans talking about Undertaker and Kane as if it were the main event of WrestleMania XX. This is, of course, because of WWE’s policy of outright ignoring Chris Benoit in the wake of the double murder-suicide that claimed him and his family.

Is it unfair? Well, some fans still can’t bring themselves to like Chris Benoit for his past contributions due to the actions in the last two days of his life. Perhaps it’s best that WWE keep their safe distance from the “Canadian Crippler”.

But for those of us who watched WrestleMania XX, repeat viewings are unnecessary. If you watched Benoit ascend wrestling’s peak on that night, and share his accomplishment with the also-deceased Guerrero, with sweat and tears mixing on their faces, then you don’t need to see it again.

In my mind’s eye, as is the case with many other fans, having seen it live is a privilege. It’s one of the last few times that a moment in WWE required no caption, no more words to be said.

Parts of WrestleMania XX may be long since buried. But what happened that night is so special, our memories will keep it alive.

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

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Wrestling’s Greatest Disappointments: WWE WrestleMania XIX

March 26, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Once again, I am starting a new series of columns. This time, each column will focus on an event, wrestler or angle that should have been all-around more successful than it was, but for whatever reason, didn’t live up to expectations. For my first installment, I will look at one of my favorite PPVs, an event I happened to be at in the front row, and at the same time, a let down to many, that being the 19th installment of WrestleMania.

Now, after reading that first paragraph, you might be wondering how it could be such a letdown if it’s one of my favorite events? You raise a good question, one that I can and will explain over this column.

WrestleMania XIX, which took place in Seattle, WA on March 30th, 2003, and in all honesty, had the makings of one of the best ‘Mania events in history. The building was a legitimate sell-out and broke the attendance record for Safeco Field as nearly 55,000 fans packed the place to see what was, from top-to-bottom, a very loaded event. There was a little bit of something for everyone: a good (albeit short) Cruiserweight title match, matches featuring legends, a main event between two of the best technical wrestlers in the world, an awesome Women’s title match, the continued streak of the Undertaker, etc. In a rare occasion, an event that looked great on paper turned out to be great when put into practice.

When I say this card was loaded, I don’t mean strictly from an in-ring standpoint, although that was definitely present. The card was loaded in all the ways a wrestling fan could want. It featured plenty of star power and drama, in addition to the aforementioned in-ring product. Not only that, but you got two arguable dream matches. The first, Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels, was easily a show stealer, and a match that both combatants have cited is one of their all-time favorites. The second, while not as great from an in-ring standpoint, was still a marquee match that many paid to see as Hulk Hogan took on Mr. McMahon in a street fight “20 years in the making”. Despite the combined age of the two men being over 100, they beat each other in a wild, bloody brawl that not only satiated those wanting blood, but was something special for the old school fans as well as those who prefer the legends. We even got a run-in from “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, a man who had not been with the company in nearly a decade.

We also got an added bonus, as this wound up being the very final match of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Austin took on the Rock in what was their third ‘Mania match, with the story that Rock had never beaten Austin in ‘Mania matches in the past. Rock finally got the duke in this third encounter. Although it was not nearly as good as their two previous bouts, considering that Austin went into the match after spending the previous day in the ER, it was much more than you could ever ask for from wrestling highest box office draw of all-time.

Overall, the event is considered by many to be one of the very best ‘Mania installments from a pure in-ring standpoint, and that’s a fair assessment. Aside from Undertaker beating Big Show and A-Train in a lame handicap match (his partner, Nathan Jones, was taken out earlier in the night by the FBI. Jones, BTW, I will most definitely get to in an future column) and a sadly lopsided affair between Triple H and Booker that was the culmination of a very racist angle, the show had some of the best wrestling WWE had put on in years.

After all this, you’re probably still wondering how or why the show is considered to be a big disappointment. Well, unfortunately, despite all of the critical acclaim and great action from start-to-finish (save for a couple hiccups, as well as a pillow fight I will never mention again), when the final rating came in, it didn’t bode well for future ‘Mania installments like this. After all was said and done, WrestleMania XIX drew only a 1.40, or roughly 560,000 buys, making it the fifth lowest buyrate in ‘Mania history and the lowest of this century thus far.

Obviously, it’s debatable that WrestleMania XIX was a sign of things to come, but at the same time, it’s telling when can see that the overall match quality at ‘Mania installments has been lessened in favor of celebrity tie-ins, pointless backstage segments or filler matches that are seemingly thrown together and lack fan interest. Obviously, WrestleMania has still produced some great matches since that year, so before you lynch me for trashing every event since then, I’m not saying the event always sucked; this is merely my viewpoint, and a trend I’ve noticed since then.

WrestleMania XIX should have been a huge success. For those fans who understandably complain about match length/quality on today’s PPVs, this event should have been a dream card. Instead, it got a very low buyrate, possibly giving the WWE the idea that maybe we as fans really don’t want good, long matches at the biggest show of the year. Whether that is true or not, WWE seems to feel that way, and for every year that the show gets longer, we seem to get shorter, lesser quality matches simply there to stuff the card.

Fortunately, this year’s installment is shaping up to break that chain with 2 great title matches, the first ‘Mania Hell in a Cell in 13 years and a dream match between John Cena and the Rock. Hopefully, fans respond the right way, and open their wallets for what could be one of the better ‘Manias in recent years.

Time will tell, though. Time will tell.

Dustin Nichols is a freelance writer, and you can keep track of all of his work on his Facebook page, which can be found at Oh, and if you like bodybuilding, check out his mom’s official site by clicking the banner below:

WrestleMania XIX: End Of The (Bottom) Line

March 26, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

-What I wouldn’t give to relive the WWE WrestleMania 19  era. I was 19 years old and making insane money delivering pizza for just 25 hours a week. Seriously, the tips I made were great, given I live in the midst of middle class suburbia. I had few bills, not a care in the world, free from the restraints of school, yada yada. The only thing missing was a quality WWE product. At this point, you had a better chance of getting chlamydia from Paula Deen than getting three straight good weeks of Monday Night Raw.

-Speaking  of the promotion, it was March 30, 2003, and we go way out to the land of Wozniak, Seattle, WA, in the confines of Safeco Field. This is the first time that we have two commentary teams covering WrestleMania, with Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler handling Raw duties, and Michael Cole and Tazz overseeing the Smackdown side of things. Would you believe that in 2002 and 2003, the voters for the annual RSPW Awards declared Cole to be a better play by play man than JR? I swear this happened. Of course, JR was a bitter shell at this point, taking pot shots at heels he didn’t care about, and was generally miserable after the talent relations job he held was usurpsed by Johnny Ace. If you wanna see how bad JR could get, just wait until later in this show.

-Ashanti performs America the Beautiful, and we never heard from her again. Also, on the pre-show, Rob Van Dam and Kane failed to win the World Tag Team Titles from Chief Morley and some guy whose name escapes me. If he was important, I’m sure I’d remember it.

-Quick note: for this show, my brother Josh invited over some kid he worked with who may or may not have been homeless. It bears no relevance otherwise, but it’s my rant, so there you go.

-By the way, I can stop typing WWF now. This should get the pandas off my lawn.

-To kick things off, Matt Hardy Version 1.0 defends the WWE Cruiserweight Title against Rey Mysterio. Mysterio’s superhero motif du jour: Daredevil. How it reminds me of 2003. How it reminds of Ben Affleck. How it reminds me of Gigli. Damn it, Rey.

-Mysterio lands a nice twisting plancha to take out both Matt and Shannon Moore. Always good to see the Filthy Animals and 3 Count go at it. It’s like the Hatfields and McCoys for the twelve people that watched WCW at the end.

-Moore’s sycophantic interference was hilarious. Hell, Matt’s entire V1 shtick was amazing before he became a deranged self parody and gained 50 pounds after Lita cheated on him. Hey, Matt: you had six or seven years to put a ring on her finger. You didn’t do it.  Besides, given that her sexual history could fill the book of Genesis, consider yourself a survivor.

-It’s funny: at this point, I really liked both performers. Though when one becomes a deluded emo crybaby, and the other endlessly promotes his dead friend for sympathy, that tends to come to a screeching halt.

-Rey hits the 619 and tries to drop the dime, but misses. A victory roll attempt by the challenger leads to a Matt drop down and rope pull for the cheap win. Way too short, but fun while it lasted. The two would have a much better match two months later on Smackdown where Rey finally got the belt. Anyone else miss Smackdown in the era when the great workers got time to work, and the whacky characters got equal time to balance the card? I know I do.

-And now for a handicap match, since those never get old. Undertaker puts his streak on the line against Big Show and A-Train, or as I call them: “Fat Albert”. This was supposed to be a tag team match with Taker teaming with Australian muscleman Nathan Jones, but Jones was unable to wrestle. Actually, that WAS the reason he was pulled: because he couldn’t wrestle. The man had the coordination skills of Stephen Hawking doing a downhill slalom.

-Limp Bizkit performs “Rollin” to bring Taker out. Taker even hugs Fred Durst. When would THAT ever happen if neither man was famous? Can you imagine Johnny Cash posing for a picture with the Icy Hot Stuntaz?

-Here’s food for thought: given all of the start-stop pushes that Show and Train have had over the years, especially in this time period, wouldn’t we be more apt to take them seriously if they dominated Taker? I mean, two big men beating up Undertaker doesn’t hurt anyone, and all three men get some measure of cred from it. So, of course, Taker dominates from the outset. So much for taking their pushes seriously.

-Taker with a fujiwara armbar for Show and another armbar for Train. This is like a production of Hamlet being performed by the special needs class. Show and Train are just stumbling around for Taker, who had lost his mystique by reverting to his biker gimmick. So it’s no fun for anyone.

-After ten minutes of boring tripe, Nathan Jones hits the ring and knocks Show out with a spinning heel kick in the aisle. Then he gets Train with a running foot inside the ring, which sets up the Dead Man’s Tombstone, pushing the streak to 11-0. Bad match, but thankfully the worst we’ll see tonight. You know, if WWE was so serious about getting Show or Train to main event status, why not have one of them pin Taker and wreck the streak? They’d be a heel for life, and always have something to hang their hat on. Alas.

-Stacy Keibler, Torrie Wilson, and the Miller Lite catfight girls have a pow-wow. If you can name both of those latter ladies without consulting Wikipedia, then you’re probably not welcome near school bus stops.

-Up next, the WWE Women’s Title is up for grabs, as Victoria defends the gold against Trish Stratus and Jazz. This match is an upgrade over last year in terms of placement, workmanship (Trish was much improved), and participants. I’ll take Victoria over Lita any day. Man I miss that TATU music and crazy titan tron. Hey Vince, Victoria’s now 39 years old and is still one of the hottest women in wrestling. I don’t care about Kelly Kelly, give me crazy Victoria please. Oh, wait, TNA has her. Well, that’s one area that the Orlandophiles win at.

-I miss Jazz too. She was like Stone Cold. Except black. And female. Ok, so she was the female Bad News Brown. She just wails away on everyone in sight, which is more fun than “faces don’t attack other faces”. I remember when Victoria turned face over a year after this and she saved Stacy from elimination during the Taboo Tuesday battle royal. Disgusting.

-Jazz putting Trish into an STF = hot. I need to stop watching prison movies.

-Trish cradles Victoria and pulls down the back of her tights, exposing her crack to the world. Let’s hear it for DVD freeze frame! Speaking of pervy, I think we can all agree that the only reason Jazz ever did that double chicken wing move to Trish was to make her chest stick out and the fans could pop. Classy.

-With Jazz out on the floor, Trish avoids interference from Steven Richards (Victoria’s henchman/boyfriend/pet) and knocks out Victoria with the Chick Kick to win the title. Good, compressed match that livened things up after the hossfest bored everyone. It takes a lot to cheer people from Seattle up, so good on the ladies. Though if Seattle was rooting for Victoria, we’d have to hear years and years of complaining about the officiating. Damn Seahawks fans.

-Rock is backstage with Coachman, and Mr. Dwayne Johnson is so disillusioned with the fans these days that he can’t even properly abuse Coach like he used to. Way to drain the life from my hero, guys. But he WILL beat Stone Cold tonight. We’re all rooting for ya, Rock! Especially Debra.

-And now WWE will let some of the tag teams get air time, as The World’s Greatest Tag Team defends the WWE Tag Team Titles against Los Guerreros and Murder Horn (Chris Benoit and Rhyno). If TNA sticks six men with talent all in the same match, they get lambasted for squandering good wrestlers. Just saying.

-Benoit blisters Eddie with chops. In 2003, they met in a meaningless undercard showcase. In 2004, they ended the show with a surreal celebration. In 2008, neither of them was there because they were both dead. Sigh.

-The main issue I have with this match is that….there IS no issue. Haas and Benjamin were largely goons for Kurt Angle who became tag champs due to crowd heat osmosis, and they have no real character qualities except for “We do Kurt Angle’s bidding”. The Guerreros are known for being chronic cheaters with a penchant for partying, but you don’t see that. Benoit and Rhyno are intense competitors and it makes sense for them to stick to the wrestling, but what was their beef with TWGTT, other than Benoit hating Haas and Benjamin through Angle? Sometimes, you need to expand the story a bit.

-That’s not to say that the wrestling sucks, because it’s solid, but look who’s involved.

-A fast tag frenzy near the end and Rhyno gores Chavo, but Eddie pulls Rhyno to the floor and Shelton steals the pin on Chavo to retain the gold. Match was good, but largely forgotten in the backdrop of the marquee matches that were ahead. It didn’t give Haas and Benjamin much traction, but at least it was fun to watch.

-The four aforementioned useless hot women argue over who made WrestleMania: Vince McMahon or Hulk Hogan. My answer: Howard Finkel. Did I mention that the Fink is here tonight? #19!

-Video package for the Shawn-Michaels-Chris Jericho feud. You know, the first one. This was Shawn’s in-ring WrestleMania return and, although I was a huge childhood fan, I was pulling for Jericho here. Shawn had a total of 4 or 5 matches since his return seven months before, and I felt that for Jericho to lose would be a BS political move. In other words, I was a smark, but I was also a mark.

-On the way to the ring, Shawn fires off some confetti guns for some reason. A number of them don’t work, and won’t shoot at all. Kevin Nash used to have that problem, but they began making pills for that.

-Extended stalemate sequence opens the match, and after thinking Shawn wouldn’t be able to keep up, I was surprised that he did. Remember, seven years ago, we thought Shawn was only capable of like one match every two months and, even then, it wasn’t always guaranteed to be a classic. This is where Jesus walks in and kicks me in the balls for being Agnostic. Thank you, Jeeze.

-Shawn slaps on a figure four and begins to work Jericho’s leg. I remember once watching Raw with my friend Dave (fan of Bret Hart, hater of Shawn) when Michaels was facing Trevor Murdoch. Shawn grabbed the legs to apply his modified figure four and Dave thought he was attempting the Sharpshooter. Dave began to swear at the TV and then stopped when he realized that he wasn’t mocking Bret. It’s these little things that make us fans.

-The fight spills outside, and Jericho snares Michaels in the Walls of Jericho in the aisleway. Jericho releases after a certain amount of punishment, and then runs back in to break the count. Jericho continues to assault the back, break the count, and repeat. Jericho’s such a tremendous jerk of a heel. He’s like Tully Blanchard, except he doesn’t hide behind religion to cover his past.

-After Jericho hits the Shawn forearm inside, he kips up and does the slant-leg pose to mock HBK, but then Michaels kips up behind him. It’s these little things that keep TNA from becoming a true break-out promotion: you need moments that make the fans smile without resorting to inside jokes or overkill. Shawn’s such an established character, that the fans get it when Jericho rips off part of his shtick, and then they love it when Shawn makes them cheer with the counter-act.

-Jericho continues the acidic ‘tribute’ by landing Shawn’s elbow smash, stomping the foot to tune up Fozzy, and then hits Sweet, eh? Chin Music for 2. Good psychological stuff.

-Shawn mounts the comeback and tries for his SCM, but Jericho ducks the leg and gets the Walls. After Shawn fights it for an eternity, he finally makes the ropes. After Jericho nearly comes to tears in protest, he walks right into Shawn’s Chin Music, but the slow cover can only get 2. Great match.

-Finally, after Jericho jars the spine with a forearm, he tries a back suplex, which Shawn turns into a backroll press for the win. Afterward, Jericho tries to man up and embrace Shawn with a hug, but changes his mind and kicks Shawn low. It’s ok, Chris, you still have your rocker hair until you get with the times and cut it in 2006. Tremendous match with a real big time feel.

-Sylvain Grenier, then an evil referee, goes into Vince’s locker room. He must be mistaken. Pat Patterson’s green room is a few doors—oh, don’t give me that look. I haven’t made a Patterson joke in at LEAST three or four rants!

-Miller Lite Catfight crap. Coach loses his pants. Limp Bizkit performs “Crack Addict”. I’m intoxicated by Turkey Hill iced tea. So all is good.

-Triple H and Booker T for the World Heavyweight Title is next. The storyline here is that Triple H made a few racially charged remarks to the Bookerman, which you’d think would lead to Book shutting him up and winning the title. You’d think that, wouldn’t you, Senor Ignorencia?

-You know, this match kind of annoys me, since it was Hunter slowing things down to a crawl, just to do some make-believe Ric Flair heel champion routine, and it stunted Booker’s momentum as a performer. Let’s just say Hunter works the knee, Booker fails to make enough of a comeback, and Hunter sends him spiraling back to the midcard with the Pedigree. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to two more interesting points.

-First, Jerry Lawler spent the match hamming up Triple H’s rhetoric about Booker being a lifelong criminal. It’s one thing to make a joke or two, as the heel announcer, but it’s another to keep on keeping on, which is what Lawler did. Jim Ross gets so sick and tired of Lawler’s spiel that he openly responds with hostile verbiage, and Lawler actually seems taken aback. It’s way more interesting than the match. What I also love is at Bad Blood a few months later when Lawler tries to bury Booker again with the prison jokes, and JR makes a comment along the lines of “You know, I wonder how different things would be if some OTHER people had been convicted of certain crimes”. And Lawler NEVER made fun of Booker’s criminal record again. Great stuff.

-The other thing: I will defend Hunter winning here. As much as I loved Booker, imagine this: if Hunter never drops the belt to Goldberg in September, then he holds the belt for over a year, right? Sure, it infuriates us, but, as the smarks are huge Benoit fans, what would it mean to us if Chris Benoit took out Triple H to win the title after Hunter spent 15 months as champion? It’d mean a LOT. I can defend Hunter as a heel dominating, because it means just that much more when he loses. Ask Batista.

-Moving on to something else that’s criminal. Criminally fun, that is. Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon will do battle in a street fight that was twenty years in the making. That’s AMAZING. I never knew Vince was clamoring for this fight when Hulk was champion and Vince was skinny, Reagan-esque commentator. And I thought I knew everything.

-Typical geriatric Vince brawling, complete with funny faces and comical selling. I never get enough of watching Vince wrestle. He could have a match with a dead ferret and I’d be entertained.

-Vince realizes his dream of dominating a test of strength. Hulk realizes his dream of bashing Vince with a chair and busting him open. So everyone’s happy.

-Just to show that he’s more hardcore than the useless wusses that he employs, Vince dives off the ladder with a legdrop through Hogan and the Smackdown commentary table. Then to top THAT, after rolling Hogan in, Vince pulls a lead pipe from under the ring and slowly raises his face over the apron with a crazed expression that I still laugh at to this day. Dixie, you’re no Vince. There I said it.

-After both men are down, Rowdy Roddy Piper hits the ring and is apparently doing the Adrian Adonis tribute diet. He spits on both men, but then hits Hogan with a pipe before dropping a couple F-bombs on camera. Just when you think you have all the answers, Roddy forgets the questions and then relapses.

-Long story short: Sylvain Grenier tries to do some shady run-in refereeing, gets taken out, and Hulk drops three legs on Vince for the win. It’s longer than I made it seem, but it’s fun the entire way. Seriously, just watch it. You won’t regret it.

-And now, for something bittersweet. The Rock takes on Stone Cold Steve Austin in….well, if you don’t know, I’ll get to it at the end of the match.

-Rock was full blown Hollywood villain, and Austin is still Stone Cold, albeit with a neck worn down to nothing, and a lack of the same crowd energy that made him Stone Cold in the first place. I’m going to get very sad watching this.

-Tribute is paid to their X7 match as Austin attacks with a flurry and the fight spills outside. Austin is just hammering Rock all over ringside. This is like Rick Fox getting those garbage points in game five of the 2004 NBA finals, in case it was the end for him.

-Rock shifts the tide by working the knee, and the crowd seems reluctant to boo him. Hey, he was such a fun character with this pro-Hollywood slant. My biggest regret is not seeing it last longer. But hey, the movies were calling his name.

-Just for a goof, Rock puts on Austin’s leather vest and continues the fight, and the slugfest continues. Then Austin runs through the classics. There’s the Thesz press. There’s the middle finger elbow. There’s the mudhole stomping. HE’S WALKING IT DRY! That’s it Steve, round the bases one last time. Crap, I think I’m actually getting misty.

-Then we get another staple of their classics: the dueling finishers. Rock gets a stunner. Austin gets Rock Bottom. Neither one finishes the other. Good stuff.

-Then comes the heart-wrenching finish: Rock lands a spinebuster and People’s Elbow for 2. Then Rock lands one Rock Bottom. Austin kicks out on 2. Rock attempts a second one, but Austin desperately tries to elbow his way free. Rock hangs on and spikes him for a second one. Austin writhes on the mat in a fashion that is truly harrowing, but he kicks out on 2. For the third attempt, Austin doesn’t even fight it, and he eats a final Rock Bottom to give The Rock his much-deserved clean win over Stone Cold.

-Afterward, Rock breaks character and sits next to Austin, telling him he loves him as Austin lays hurt on the mat. Only four moments in wrestling get me choked up: Savage and Liz reuniting, Shawn winning his first World Title, Benoit making HHH tap, and this: The Rock throwing his character aside to make sure his real life friend was ok and to express his support. After Rock celebrates with his family at ringside, he leaves so that Austin can do the final walkaway, as his in ring career ended after one hell of a fourteen year journey. There will never be another Stone Cold Steve Austin. Much like Shawn and Taker should have ended XXV, THIS should have ended XIX. Austin and Rock, the two men who carried the Attitude era, in their final chapter. I love it.

-Still one match to go, and it’s going to take a lot to top this. Don’t worry, what’s on tap has a chance.

-If you thought Austin’s neck was bad, Kurt Angle’s was just as horrid, as he prepared to defend the WWE Championship against Brock Lesnar. Angle was in dire need of surgery on his spine, but chose to go through with this match. This wouldn’t be the last time we worried about Angle’s health or sanity.

-The two men begin with a feeling out process, as both men are among the most accomplished amateur wrestlers-turned-pro in the world. At first, I thought that it would just remain at this pace due to Angle’s bad neck, but hey, I was wrong again. Did I mention I was fairly dumb at 19? I’d just met Eric Gargiulo months before this show and I think I was I was still in a mental haze. It’s like a fifteen year old girl meeting Miley Cyrus. Eric’s just that special.

-Angle lands a German suplex and Lesnar soon nails him with a clothesline. If this was Kurt’s last match for a while, he was damn sure going to kill himself doing it.

-Angle then sends Lesnar hard into the buckles with a German suplex. Here Brock, share some of my pain, you musclehead.

-Angle wears Lesnar down further, taking the time to get his bearings, which is the smart thing to do. Then he hits an overhead belly to belly on a 300 pound man, then does four rolling Germans on Lesnar just for fun. When Kurt Angle lives to be 400 years old and is a cyborg, no one better be surprised, you hear me? NO ONE.

-Here’s a good sequence for you: Angle tries for the Angle Slam, Lesnar counters with an F5 attempt, which Angle rolls into the ankle lock. After Lesnar gets free, Angle gets the release throwing German suplex for 2. Jaw. Dropped.

-Through the remainder of the match, Lesnar manages to drop Angle with a pair of F5s and Angle really should be dead by now. I mean, come on, he was facing surgery that was due to keep him out for a YEAR and he’s going full gore with the future UFC Champion. Angle is crazy, ya’ll.

-Speaking of crazy, here comes some Mania lore: Lesnar tries for a shooting star press, but lands on his head and nearly breaks his neck in the process. After improvising a pin for 2, Angle tries for an Angle Slam, but Brock finishes with the F5 for his second WWE Title. They do the respect hug afterward. Tremendous match that made me cringe every time Angle did something the least bit physical. With Austin retiring due to his spinal damage, I certainly didn’t want to see Kurt end up a crippled vegetable. I loved the match, but it’s like a car wreck: hard to watch, but hard to turn away.

-Limp Bizkit plays us out. Speaking of played out, Limp Bizkit, folks!

-CYNIC SAYS: At the time, I wasn’t sure what to think. WWE was in a major rut creatively, and couldn’t please anyone. Yet time has been kind to this show, as everything seemed to set up a future development. Hunter stayed strong to make his losses mean more. Shawn stayed strong to begin his full time comeback. Lesnar went over to become the future (sort of). And Austin went out with a great final performance.

WrestleMania XIX is a blossoming flower in a turd garden that is 2003 WWE. But you won’t regret having sat through all four hours of this tremendous show.

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

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WrestleMania XIX: A Portrait in Wrestling History

March 26, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

From Safeco Field in Seattle, WA
March 30, 2003

The waves of time were eroding WWE’s familiar image away, aggressively eating away the dunes of chic and hip. Beneath the devoured sands were levels of desperation that, now unearthed, would only serve to further deface a once-effulgent company.

After WWE split into two brands, Raw and Smackdown, in the spring of 2002, fans used to edgy television were now being force-fed the notion that Hulk Hogan was still hip in the 21st century, and that the Stamford-approved version of the New World Order was as potent as it was when Kevin Nash and company ran roughshod over Atlanta six years prior.

With WWE fans, having been conditioned to accept a younger, fast-paced centrum from WWE’s brain trust, were suddenly staring down a slower, intelligence-insulting WWE that also featured, among other things, a watered-down, unhappy Steve Austin (soon to walk out, and then be accused of spousal abuse), a slower Triple H, a midcard with little chance of advancement, and the addition of a largely-unasked-for Eric Bischoff.

With ratings declining in the summer months, WWE put its Undisputed World Championship around the waist of new sensation Brock Lesnar, a frightening grappler with amateur credentials and no professional ceiling.

Despite the infusion of other new talents (John Cena, Randy Orton, and Batista), WWE sunk to unseen depths, trying to lure in audiences with gay weddings, lesbian decadence, and the act of necrophilia.

By the time WrestleMania season rolled around, WWE was far removed from its trendy nucleus of just two years prior.

The biggest show of the year would feature, in major roles, Kurt Angle (in dire need of neck surgery), Stone Cold Steve Austin (on his last legs as an active wrestler), The Rock (returning to Hollywood), and Brock Lesnar (main eventing at his first ‘Mania).

Could WWE pull this off?

The actual main event of the show was Kurt Angle defending the WWE Championship against Brock Lesnar. Angle had used Lesnar to help him regain the strap at Armageddon in December from Big Show, and then reneged on giving him a promised shot.

Brock Lesnar would then enter the 2003 Royal Rumble and toss out the Undertaker for the win. For the next two months, Angle’s new lackeys, WWE Tag Team Champions Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin, as well as Lesnar’s ex-agent Paul Heyman, would serve as roadblocks and spike strips to try and slow down the monster Lesnar as he fought to regain the title he felt he never lost.

In the other main championship match, Triple H would be defending the World Heavyweight Championship on Raw against Booker T. Booker had won a battle royal one month prior to earn the shot, last ousting The Rock.

However, the angle took a rather controversial turn when Triple H accused Booker of being “too much of an entertainer” to be champion, and that Booker’s “kind” weren’t good enough to hold top honors. As a matter of fact, “The Game” asked Booker to “dance” for him. All of these remarks had faint racial implications, and cast a cloud of unnecessary shock to the storyline.

Triple H also brought to light Booker T’s criminal past, including his arrest and incarceration for robbing a Wendy’s in the 1980′s. Booker was given very little heroic momentum in what was a peculiar build-up.

Speaking of peculiar, Hulk Hogan returned to WWE in January, after a five month hiatus, and immediately entered into a feud with Vince McMahon.

McMahon claimed that bad blood had been brewing between the two men for years (even referencing his own 1994 steroid trial, in which Hogan had testified against him), and the two agreed to face off at WrestleMania XIX, in a match hailed as “twenty years in the making”. The bizarre feud would even net the participants as the lone faces on the event’s DVD packaging, in a somewhat common case of McMahon’s ego superseding the needs of his company.

Stone Cold Steve Austin had returned to WWE in February, and was immediately pitted against old friend/rival The Rock. Rock had fully embraced Hollywood conceit, and was rubbing his new lifestyle into the faces of the fans who built him up, and then began booing him. Austin’s involvement seemed to be minor, as real life neck injuries were hindering one of the greatest stars in WWE history.

In a match designed to capture the imaginations of fans who love being dazzled, Shawn Michaels would compete at his first WrestleMania in five years to face Chris Jericho. Jericho had claimed to have idolized Michaels, and was now ready to surpass a man whose standard Jericho now felt he was above. Y2J would go as far as to admit Michaels’ influence on his career, and indicated that evolution would take place on wrestling’s grandest stage.

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler would call the Raw brand matches, while Michael Cole and Tazz covered the ones from Smackdown. Ashanti performed “America the Beautiful”, Limp Bizkit performed a pair of songs (including “Rollin” for the Undertaker’s entrance), and Miller Lite models Kitana Baker and Tanya Ballinger recreated their famed catfight commercial on the entrance set.

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WWE Cruiserweight: Matt Hardy Version 1.0 def. Rey Mysterio in 5:39
(Abbreviated for some reason, but still a really good match. Rey Mysterio dressed as Daredevil for this event, but wasn’t so blind that he couldn’t see that Jennifer Garner is a really lousy actress)

Handicap Match: The Undertaker def. Big Show/A-Train in 9:45
(This was to be a tag team match with Australian weirdo Nathan Jones as Taker’s partner, but Jones was scrapped for his poor abilities. Why did this get almost ten minutes? Oh, that’s eleven for Taker)

WWE Women’s: Trish Stratus def. Victoria and Jazz in 7:17 to win the title
(Dignified women’s wrestling at its finest. Dignified, that is, except for Trish pulling Victoria’s tights down on a roll-up to show off some crack. Er, not that I’m complaining)

WWE Tag Team: Charlie Haas/Shelton Benjamin def. Chris Benoit/Rhino and Los Guerreros in 8:46
(Anytime you have a three way match on pay per view that isn’t a marquee match, what you’re saying is “we can’t think of any storylines for these guys”. This is one of those times, sadly)

Shawn Michaels def. Chris Jericho in 22:33
(One of my personal favorite matches, and it was portrayed just the way I thought it would be: two men of great stature trying to one up each other, ending on an out-of-nowhere pinfall. Jericho’s post match fake embrace into a low kick on Michaels ranks as a forgotten, yet classic, moment)

World Heavyweight Championship: Triple H def. Booker T in 18:50
(Matches like this are the reason Triple H got a bad rap for years: slow and made the hero look weak. The only highlight was Jerry Lawler making crime jokes about Booker, and JR getting legit pissed. Funny stuff)

Street Fight: Hulk Hogan def. Vince McMahon in 20:48
(You know, a typical Vince match: table spot, Rowdy Roddy Piper run-in (waddle-in?), Vince jumping off of a ladder, and the true highlight: McMahon, covered in blood, slowly raising his face over the side of the apron with a sadistic grin. Gets funnier with every viewing)

The Rock def. Stone Cold Steve Austin in 17:53
(Rock finally gets a clean win over Austin, and it comes as the last truly great match either man would have. In fact, it was Austin’s last match ever, and wrestling hasn’t been the same without him. Rock’s pause before the final Rock Bottom, with Austin showing no resistance, seemed appropriate: Austin was no longer willing to fight, after 14 years of kicking ass. I still get chills watching Rock push Earl Hebner away so that he can break character and check on Austin’s condition afterward. I love this match)

WWE Heavyweight Championship: Brock Lesnar def. Kurt Angle in 21:04 to win the title
(I don’t know what was more amazing: the fact that Angle pretty much had a wrecked spine and still carried this to the subjective “four star” territory, or that Brock Lesnar landed on his head during that shooting star press and somehow lived. I literally have no idea who’s the tougher man. Great match)


WrestleMania XIX was a mirage in the desert that was WWE in 2003. The drastic changes in Vince McMahon’s cash cow going into 2003 were rather alarming. Once a self-assured, well-booked company was now a mostly depressing product, centered around developmental stars that made no head way (Three Minute Warning, Chris Nowinski, and Batista (yet, anyway), as well as stars that the fans loved, but got no love from WWE (Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Dudley Boyz, etc).

While WrestleMania was one of only two exceptionally good pay per views in 2003 (the other being Vengeance in July), the show simply felt out of place, not quite fitting of the “grandest show of the year” title that is bestowed on it.

The last four matches filled out the marquee. Two of them featured wrestlers who were hospitalized the night before the show (Angle and Austin), one with tasteless racial overtones (HHH-Booker), and one between two men in their middle age, fighting for fictitiously-contrived reasons, trying to sell the show on little-known “real life” drama, as opposed to a compelling angle.

The in-ring action was more than enough to save WrestleMania XIX, dragging the horrid build out of the self-made muck.
To do that, he brought in the original three members of the New World Order: Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hollywood Hulk Hogan.

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

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