From The Orange Bowl in Orlando, FL
March 30, 2008
WWE as we knew it changed forever in the early summer of 2007. At that time, the company received some of its most extensive media attention to date, although it was for regrettable and horrifying reasons.
The story, which bears no necessity to rehash fully, sees Chris Benoit murder his wife Nancy and seven-year-old son Daniel, before hanging himself on a warm Georgia weekend. Accusations of “roid rage” ping-ponged through media circles, while television commentators asked empty questions about a serious story.
While Benoit’s catalyst for ultimately snapping is likely an undetermined combo of diminished mental capacity (due to years of hard landings and impacts in wrestling), a failing marriage, and a disconnect from life and faith after losing several friends at young ages (particularly Eddie Guerrero), steroids became the hot topic.
Gradually, as the scent of Benoit dissipated from WWE’s climate, the company began to alter their avatar, painting over the low-brow, violent, overly sexual image with, well, low-brow, family friendly colors.
Blood would disappear from WWE almost entirely, as would weapon shots to the cranium. The divas began to wear more clothing, in addition.
WWE was attempting to return to “family entertainment” at a time when they needed a safe place to rebury their roots.
Randy Orton had reigned as WWE Champion since October 7, 2007, after John Cena’s year long reign ended after he tore his pectoral muscle. Orton was handed the title at No Mercy, lost it immediately to Triple H, and then won it back at night’s end.
Cena, who was due to be out anywhere from six months to a year, was back in four. To the complete surprise of onlookers at Madison Square Garden, John Cena entered the 2008 Royal Rumble last and eliminated Triple H to advance to WrestleMania.
But what if he didn’t want to wait that long?
In an interesting move, Cena chose to cash in his title shot against Orton at No Way Out, six weeks before the big dance. Cena would win the match, however, he won by disqualification, meaning that Orton had outsmarted the challenger, making him blow his earned opportunity.
Triple H, meanwhile, had won a #1 contender’s Elimination Chamber match at No Way Out, getting a shot at Orton at WrestleMania. Cena managed to defeat Orton the next night on Raw in a non-title match with “The Game” as referee, to make the match a triple threat match.
The three men would then spend several weeks booking his opponents in difficult situations, as the three attempted to wear each other down before March 30.
Over on the blue brand, however, Edge was reigning supreme as World Heavyweight Champion after shacking up with Smackdown’s interim GM, Vickie Guerrero. With Vickie now in his hip pocket (among other places), Edge had also amassed a small army, consisting of Vickie’s nephew Chavo Guerrero, as well as Edge’s own wannabe doppelgangers Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder.
However, The Undertaker won Smackdown’s Elimination Chamber at No Way Out, and had revenge on his mind. Edge had cashed in a Money in the Bank privilege in May 2007 to injure Undertaker and take the World Heavyweight Title. Edge had also cost “The Dead Man” the championship at Survivor Series, so Undertaker now had a road toward revenge already paved.
Among the other marquee showdowns, Ric Flair was embroiled in an angle where he would have to retire if he lost one more match. After staving off the likes of Mr. Kennedy and MVP, Flair wanted a true test. He challenged Shawn Michaels to a match under WrestleMania’s bright lights, believing that if he couldn’t beat one of the all-time greats, then he should, indeed, walk away. After some hesitation, Michaels agreed to the match, which had both historical implications, as well as consequences.
In an attempt to add mainstream attention to an already stacked show, WWE brought in undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. to face Big Show in a no holds barred match. Mayweather had broken Show’s nose with a jab combo at No Way Out, setting the stage for their WrestleMania confrontation.
Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler called the action for Raw, Michael Cole and Jonathan Coachman handled Smackdown, and Joey Styles and Tazz would perform duties for ECW. Socialite Kim Kardashian served as the show’s “guest hostess”, while Snoop Dogg appeared during a divas’ tag team match. Singer John Legend performed “America the Beautiful”. The WWE Hall of Fame inducted Ric Flair, Rocky Johnson, “High Chief” Peter Maivia, Mae Young, Jack and Gerald Brisco, Gordon Solie, and Eddie Graham.
Belfast Brawl: JBL def. Finlay in 8:35
(I’d share with you the saga of how Hornswoggle was Vince McMahon’s son, until JBL revealed it was a ruse and he was actually Finlay’s son and how JBL attacked Hornswoggle in a hospital and…well here, lemme bash you with this 2X4 so you’re not cross-eyed anymore)
Money in the Bank: CM Punk def. Chris Jericho, MVP, Mr. Kennedy, Shelton Benjamin, Carlito, and John Morrison in 13:55
(Somewhat disappointing given the talent level involved, but still a really good match. Shelton’s free fall through the bridged ladder prompted a legit look of horror from Carlito. Jeff Hardy was supposed to be in this match but, well, you can probably guess what happened)
Inter-Brand Challenge: Batista def. Umaga in 7:06
(What’s funnier: the fact that Batista was booed out of the stadium and botched the finish, or that these two were relegated to a forgotten “battle for brand supremacy”?)
ECW Championship: Kane def. Chavo Guerrero in 12 seconds to win the title
(E-C-DUB! E-C-DUB! No wonder Joey Styles quit commentary)
Career Threatening Match: Shawn Michaels def. Ric Flair in 20:23
(Here’s the deal: it was a pretty good match, but, in my opinion, it’s nowhere near as great as everyone makes it out to be. Overzealous fans were hailing this as a magnum opus, but Ric Flair blew more big moments than the ’86 Red Sox in this match. Flair should have stayed retired, but it was clear at points in this match that Michaels was carrying him. When Flair needs to be carried, it’s over)
Lumberjill Match: Beth Phoenix/Melina def. Maria/Ashley in 5:56
(The bad news is that Maria decided to ditch her general cute look and try for some oversexed Manga-esque appearance from here on out. The good news is Ashley wouldn’t be around much longer)
WWE Heavyweight Championship: Randy Orton def. Triple H and John Cena in 14:09
(The crowd reaction when Orton wins is a sound to behold. I had this long-standing theory that Cena’s “pec injury” in 2007 was actually a quiet suspension for a wellness violation, because in 2008, he was embarrassed so many times on pay per view, jobbing here, jobbing to JBL, jobbing to Batista, etc. It wouldn’t be until November that he would see the title again)
No Holds Barred: Floyd Mayweather def. Big Show in 11:36
(If you can figure out what this match was supposed to accomplish, you’re a better man than me. Best I can tell is that it was a way to humiliate Show again. Which I’m okay with)
World Heavyweight Championship: The Undertaker def. Edge in 23:50 to win the title
(Best match of the night, which is overshadowed by Flair’s retirement, and the fact that Smackdown seems to get little or no respect compared to the events on Raw. Compared to now, when Undertaker’s broken down, and Edge is starting to get there, this match is a near masterpiece)
ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
I’ll say one thing about WWE: they’re lucky to have the roster of competent, experienced, and instinctive wrestlers that they have, because their efforts in making a show great often bail out horrible writing and uninspired storylines.
But, at least, you had Michaels and Flair. Do I think the match is overrated? I do, but I do enjoy what it symbolized. The ending, in which Michaels had to search his soul before trying to finish Flair, with Flair egging him on, telling him not to let up, before Shawn’s famous “I’m sorry, I love you” declaration, followed by the kick and pin, will be burned into the annals of WrestleMania history.
If only Flair had stayed retired. A tearful “Nature Boy”, embracing his wife and kids, walking out to a thunderous ovation, was the proper ending.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.