From MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ
April 7, 2013
With 1.22M buys being tallied for WrestleMania XXVIII the previous year, little spurring was needed to steer Vince McMahon’s money-snatching fist straight through the glass pane of the event’s tagline. The epic clash between John Cena and The Rock had been dubbed ‘Once in a Lifetime’, but the capitalist nose of the WWE Chairman would sniff out a way to render that moot.
Those with even adequate pattern recognition knew where this was going. Earlier in the night, The Rock had announced his intentions of challenging the WWE Champion at the Royal Rumble, six months away, while not wrestling anyone else beforehand. In the interim, Punk took the plunge into one of the oddest character shifts known to fan.
Punk, once a plain-spoken firebrand that stood up for himself, was now a sniveling coward hiding behind Paul Heyman, and was being called out as said coward by Cena on a weekly basis. Punk was even accused of stealing the flying elbow smash from deceased Macho Man Randy Savage (*cough* done in tribute) to solidify his turn.
Truth is, a number of fans still cheered Punk all the way to the Rumble, where he was downed by The Rock in a pretty good match to switch the title. Meanwhile, Cena won the night’s Rumble match, last tossing Ryback.
You knew Cena wasn’t picking Alberto Del Rio as his Mania foe; ‘Twice in a Lifetime’ await. Could the magic be duplicated in North Jersey?
The actual build toward the Cena-Rock rematch maintained a paucity of tension compared to the previous year, as the two crossed paths exactly twice on the road to the encounter. The first showdown occurred March 4 at Old School Raw, when the two had words, and Cena blamed his entire downhill 2012 on losing to Rock. Their other occupation of the same space happened three weeks later, when Raw ended with a town-hall debate between the two, who took questions from various WWE Hall of Famers. That absurdity ended with a Rock Bottom on Cena.
Other than that, there was little of note between the two in the build to ‘the biggest rematch of all time’, aside from Cena retaining his title shot by beating CM Punk on February 25. In one of the greatest matches in the history of Monday Night Raw, Cena AA’ed Punk to close a 25-minute epic in Dallas, ending their two-year feud once and for all.
Speaking of Punk, he found his way into WrestleMania by winning a fatal four-way at that Old School Raw to earn a match against The Undertaker. Less than 24 hours later, Undertaker’s legendary manager, Paul Bearer, passed away from respiratory complications at age 58.
Bearer’s death was shoehorned into the virtually non-existent storyline, as Punk stole Bearer’s trademark urn from a somber memorial held on March 11. For the next several weeks, Punk taunted The Dead Man with the token, disrespectfully playing catch with it, and then striking Undertaker with it the week before WrestleMania, dumping the ashes all over him. That segment was most notable for Punk’s advocate, Paul Heyman, dressing as Bearer in guffawingly over-the-top fashion.
Punk wasn’t Heyman’s only charge with a WrestleMania appointment. After Brock Lesnar was about to assault Vince McMahon for the second time in 2013, Triple H made the save. Lesnar had snapped Triple H’s arm in a victory at the previous SummerSlam, and, naturally, the feud had to continue.
In the skirmish, liquid was spilled. Brock ended up busted open after hitting the ringpost, and Helmsley, perhaps after an impact to the abdomen, literally peed his pants. Triple H eventually gained the rematch he sought, but only after Heyman added a provision: The Game would have to retire if he lost, presumably going back to his miserable life of running a corporation for millions of dollars a year.
Rounding out the main tier, and this only because a World Title was involved, sudden-blue collar hero Alberto Del Rio would defend his World Heavyweight Title against the winner of the Elimination Chamber match, Jack Swagger.
Swagger abandoned his no-frills amateur wrestling persona, and took on Zeb Coulter as a manager. Coulter, a Vietnam vet who platooned with Swagger’s father (in story), railed against what he perceived to be America’s willing blindness toward illegal immigration, and he and Swagger became Tea Party caricatures in a war with Del Rio, who now embodied Latin spirit instead of bragging about how many landscapers he employs.
Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and JBL performed commentary duties. Diddy performed a song medley, while Living Colour performed “Cult of Personality” live for Punk. Governor Chris Christie also made an appearance for a charity photo-op with Stephanie McMahon. The Hall of Fame class included Bruno Sammartino, Mick Foley, Bob Backlund, Trish Stratus, Booker T, and frequent WrestleMania celebrity Donald Trump.
The Shield def. Big Show, Randy Orton, and Sheamus in 10:35
(The relentless push for three all-business newcomers continued, going cleanly over three established World Champions who couldn’t ably be company flagbearer)
Mark Henry def. Ryback in 8:02
(Just a bad match redeemed only by a shock ending, Henry winning cleanly. Ryback would then get World Title shots at the next two PPVs. Yep)
WWE Tag Team: Team Hell No def. Dolph Ziggler/Big E Langston in 6:16
(Cute moment as Daniel Bryan nearly pinned Ziggler the same way Sheamus pinned Bryan quickly the year before. 24 hours later, Ziggler was World Heavyweight Champion. Yep)
Fandango def. Chris Jericho in 9:17
(Jericho’s the only Attitude Era part-timer that returns with the intent of making new stars. Fandango’s win, plus the Cha-cha’ing crowd the next night, held short-lived promise)
World Heavyweight Championship: Alberto Del Rio def. Jack Swagger in 10:28
(No wonder they unified the titles at the end of the year. Scores of fans actually left to get snacks or take a whiz during this one, virtually killing the ‘heroic’ Del Rio run for good)
The Undertaker def. CM Punk in 23:07
(Finally, the show begins to feel like an actual WrestleMania. Punk was having a grand old time ripping off Undertaker’s spots in mock fashion (Old School, the throat slit). Absolute highlight was Punk slapping on the Anaconda Vise, and Taker doing his patented sit-up and glare, much to Punk’s horror. Taker regained the urn after extending the streak to 21 wins)
Triple H def. Brock Lesnar in 23:58
(Just terminally boring in about every way. A part-timer like Lesnar needs someone mobile and agile to go 20 minutes with, and Hunter ain’t it. Shawn Michaels had to be interjected in spots to take bumps while his friend sucked wind. You know, just like the previous year)
WWE Championship: John Cena def. The Rock in 24:32 to win the title
(Not as bad as many outlets make it out to be, but really did feel like a paint-by-numbers re-enactment of the previous encounter, save for Cena stopping himself before repeating his fatal mistake of running into the Rock Bottom. Not great, but a respectable closer)
ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
WrestleMania XXIX, more than any other WrestleMania, felt like a cynical cash-grab of half-baked build-ups, with the idea being that four hours of two WrestleMania logos humping would still make tens of millions of dollars.
More and more, the company diverts from the genetic make-up of a fun wrestling show, hoping the lure of big names from yesterday will give them the buyrate they need to brag over. In truth, about 200,000 less households purchased this show compared to XXVIII. There’s no measurement to tell whether that number jives with the anemic build to the show or not.
As for a ‘portrait’, just go with Rock endorsing Cena at the end of the main event. It’s one of few things a viewer would actually remember.
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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