Quick, what’s the last WrestleMania to feature a true Hollywood ending?
May take a few minutes, depending on what you consider worthy of the billing. The way I define it, a ‘Hollywood ending’ is one where the hero finally achieves something leaning on ‘improbable’, or at least tears a super-villain limb from limb in glorious fashion.
[adinserter block=”1″]To my eyes, we haven’t had either of those in nine years.
Let’s go back nice and slow.
WrestleMania XXIX last year was John Cena getting “his” title back from The Rock in a match so paint-by-numbers, Hobby Lobby would sell it in the arts and crafts section. The year before, Rock triumphed over Cena in a match that was certainly epic, but there was no villain (well, ‘stipulated’ villain), and there wasn’t a real underdog in play. It was just hero vs. hero, both of whom already had access to wrestling’s penthouse suite on the top floor. It’s the same way that Mortimer and Randolph Duke didn’t have an underdog in their paltry bet.
WrestleMania XXVII saw The Miz come through victorious in the main event, and yet still played third fiddle to Cena and Rock. That could be considered a Hollywood ending the same way Yoko Ono’s singing is considered stellar: only the intentionally avant-garde, the irony-huggers, could declare it a suitable coda.
WrestleMania XXVI was more hero vs. hero, with the bittersweet conclusion of Undertaker retiring Shawn Michaels. A great main event, yes, and certainly a Hollywood ending, but we’ll change the definition to “a new hero saves the day” instead of “goodbye, old friend.”
WrestleMania XXV had Triple H beat Randy Orton to death, almost as lifeless as the crowd. A year earlier, Undertaker went over on Edge in front of a lukewarm stadium. Since both Trips and Taker have about 427 World Titles between them, these were Hollywood endings in the sense of Paul Kersey in Death Wish reigning supreme in the over-the-top fourth and fifth movies, instead of honing his vigilante nerve in the original.
WrestleMania XXIII and XII saw Cena topple Michaels and Triple H, with Cena firmly in the stage of many fans wanting him to retire via entering the seminary or something. If John Cena were Batman, the entire theater would’ve cheered when his plane blew up flying Bane and Talia’s bomb out of Gotham. Not conducive to a good ending, of course, unless you’re a fan of colorful shirts.
This brings us to the last time Batista was capable of being loved by any human being that generally avoids TMZ unless legitimate news comes over their wire, WrestleMania XXI. It was positively entertaining to see Batista beat Triple H to a bloody pulp en route to capturing the World Heavyweight Title, doubly so since Cena (pre-watered down Road Runner-in-jorts run)also won the WWE Title that night. It felt like a new era was kicking off, and mostly the fans were happy to be in on it.
To my way of thinking, only three other WrestleMania endings in the last twenty years produced this feeling: Benoit triumphing at WrestleMania XX (dubious hindsight, yeah yeah), Austin kicking off the Attitude Era at XIV by downing Michaels (though the crowd lost their mind a year later when he upended Rock, but it was Austin’s third reign), and Michaels culminating his dream in the Iron Man match at XII. In all four cases, aside from Benoit’s scrapped WCW title reign, all four men captured their first World Title in these moments.
This is where Daniel Bryan can bring the thrill back.
Yes, he’s a three time World Champion under WWE’s umbrella, but it’s not as though the internet’s bearded avatar is seen as a decorated ex-champ. His World Heavyweight Title reign ended with the WrestleMania XXVIII opening-match indignity (which I still contend hurt Sheamus far worse). Besides, the World Heavyweight Title post-2005 pretty much became the WWE European Title wrapped in golden foil. Once Hunter stopped coveting it, it lost much of its meaning.
You can forget his two WWE Title reigns, which combined lasted less than 24 hours. Hell, I’d have been happier with Bryan losing to Cena at Summerslam, if it meant he came into WrestleMania with an emptier till, so to speak. It really feels like when he wins (hope I haven’t jinxed it), he’s winning a World Title for the first time instead of the fourth (er, fifth. Sorry, Ring of Honor.)
Besides, when’s the last time a World Title challenger 1) had an uphill battle going into WrestleMania that fans were dying to see play out, 2) hadn’t been overpushed to the point of fan burnout or oversaturation, and 3) was assured that his triumph would close WrestleMania as the portrait moment?
Batista’s win at XXI almost fits that example, except his battle was hardly uphill. He’s a musclebound heavy that outsmarted Triple H a few times on the way. There’s no way in anyone’s mind he was losing.
It’d have to be Benoit’s win, as “The Crippler” had the odds of being a ‘vanilla midget’, facing a man in Triple H who rarely did the honors (see Booker T the previous year), and the insertion of Shawn Michaels via a convoluted contract signing, against him. It’s a rare time where the hero had to defy actual odds, instead of the ‘odds’ John Cena’s imbued, the equivalent of betting ‘any number’ in roulette.
WrestleMania XXIX a year ago proved that WWE would just as soon load their marquee event with established names and half-baked stories to try and ensure a huge pay-in from casual fans. What ensued was a mostly boring WrestleMania, with little in the way of badness, but nothing in the way of life. It’s like biting Styrofoam: it won’t kill you, but do you really feel like anything happened?
[adinserter block=”2″]The two-part story of Bryan felling Triple H, and then outlasting Batista and Orton in the finale to become champion, is the polar opposite, a chance to provide substance for the dollar, and a memory that won’t be forgotten a day later.
You know, like a classic Hollywood 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.
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