From The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA
April 3, 2011
WrestleManias these days are more like the Super Bowl than ever before. In the NFL’s biggest annual game, while the outcome determines a champion, thus making the game the most relevant part of the weekend, the lure and aura of the halftime show, commercials, and interminable pre-game shows loaded with puff pieces draw in the casual viewer.
With WWE’s ratings and buyrates waning incrementally from the Attitude Era’s ending, Vince McMahon has discovered other ways to appeal to the casual viewer, especially come “WrestleMania season.”
In the last year and a half or so, World Wrestling Entertainment has dove into the deep end of social networking. You can’t sit through more than five minutes of Monday Night Raw anymore without Michael Cole prattling on in his cacophonic shriek about “hashtags” and “trending” and whatnot. Wrestlers tweeting threats to each other on off-days, usually in character, have begun to replace traditional story elements of tag team miscues and title shot demands as a means of fueling feuds and grudges.
With Twitter and Facebook as prime means of communication, it’s no doubt that WWE would exploit any chance to reach potential viewers.
Of course, WWE also continues the time-honored tradition of immersing past stars into the present story world. In recent years, we’ve seen Chris Jericho run afoul of Hall of Famers like Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat on the Road to WrestleMania. One year later, Vince McMahon and Bret Hart modified their years of bad blood into a three month story arc that culminated in one of WrestleMania’s most unlikely matches.
With a Georgia Dome to fill, and fans to get talking, WWE brought somebody in off the bench to help ensure the likelihood of both. It had been nearly seven years since he was last seen….
But finally……he came back.
On February 14, 2011, a day devoted to love, wrestling fans jilted by the loss of WWE’s classic spontaneity and assertiveness were greeted to the sports entertainment equivalent of John Cusack standing below their bedroom window with a boombox.
For weeks, Rock and Cena exchanged jibes back and forth so often, you’d think they were facing off at WrestleMania. Instead, Cena (who won #1 contendership at Elimination Chamber) would be challenging The Miz for the WWE Championship. Miz became a secondary figure to Rock and Cena’s trash talk, even while Michael Cole was championing Miz as “the most must-see WWE Champion in history.”
Ahh, Michael Cole’s heel turn. That ties into WrestleMania as well, as Cole, now pro-heel to the hilt, kept getting under the skin of Jerry Lawler, his longtime partner. When Lawler attempted to become WWE Champion in his only-ever shot, and felt short vs. The Miz, Cole rubbed it in to Lawler in antagonistic fashion. Emotions spilled over when Cole let slip that Lawler’s now-dead mother watched her son lose, and “The King” finally put his hands on his partner.
Soon enough, a match would be signed, with Jack Swagger as Cole’s trainer, and Stone Cold Steve Austin (what did I say about classic acts?) as the guest referee.
We haven’t even mentioned the Royal Rumble winner yet. Alberto Del Rio won the only 40-Man Rumble in history, and selected Edge, the World Heavyweight Champion, as the hilltopper he wished to knock off the summit. This feud had the added advantage of involving Christian, whom Del Rio put out of action in the fall of 2010. The reunited brothers (not friends, screw you WWE) banded together against Del Rio, his servant Ricardo Rodriguez, and protégé Brodus Clay.
To add more star power, The Undertaker’s streak of eighteen WrestleMania wins would be put on the line. Rumors swirled about who would try to end the mark. First, former UFC Champion Brock Lesnar was considered, but a deal never occurred. Then Sting was to jump from TNA, but re-signed with the company in the eleventh hour. Finally, Triple H stepped in, and engaged in weeks of tremendous dueling promo monologues with The Dead Man. The one from March 28 involving Shawn Michaels was some of WWE’s best TV to date.
CM Punk would face Randy Orton in a war over some of Orton’s past acts of aggression. And speaking of aggression, Orton would take out each of Punk’s Nexus flunkies on the road to their showdown.
Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and Josh Mathews provided commentary, with Jim Ross and Booker T joining in later. Keri Hilson performed America the Beautiful. The Hall of Famers included Shawn Michaels, The Road Warriors, Paul Ellering, Sunny, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Abdullah the Butcher, Bob Armstrong, and Drew Carey.
World Heavyweight Championship: Edge def. Alberto Del Rio in 11:10
(Not only did the Royal Rumble winner open the show, but he also lost, looking like quite the “chumpstain” in the process. This would be Edge’s final match before retiring due to spinal injuries, but at least it was a really good opener. But still, why did it have to open?)
Cody Rhodes def. Rey Mysterio in 12:00
(This was quite an important match, as not only was it really good, but it showed that Rhodes can shine in a role outside of being Randy Orton’s lackey, or Ted Dibiase’s co-conspirator. If you wonder why Rhodes is trusted with a serious push, look here)
Kane/Big Show/Kofi Kingston/Santino Marella def. The Corre in 1:35
(As of this match, Santino Marella is 2-0 at WrestleMania, and Big Show is 3-8. Let that sink in)
Randy Orton def. CM Punk in 14:48
(If the crowd wasn’t so restless by this point, and if the night didn’t have a sour tone overall, this would be remembered as something more. Damn good match, but greater things lie ahead for both. Especially Punk about three months later….)
Michael Cole by Jerry Lawler by DQ in 13:42
(Why yes, this got more time than the first two matches. Coupled with The Rock wasting fifteen minutes at the start of the show with a cheerleading session, and you see why Sheamus and Daniel Bryan’s US Title match was bumped. The only good this match provided was getting Jim Ross to do commentary for the rest of the evening. Watching Cole on extended offense is like watching a midget do a caber toss)
No Holds Barred: The Undertaker def. Triple H in 29:26
(Not the five star classic some were hailing it as, but still a match of the year contender, surpassed by Christian/Del Rio a month later, and then Cena/Punk at MITB and Summerslam. Just a wild brawl with an insanely intense last few minutes. Undertaker springing back from the dregs of death to make Triple H tap out was heart-stopping excitement, and it pretty much saved the show. 19-0)
John Morrison/Trish Stratus/Snooki def. Dolph Ziggler/Michelle McCool/Layla in 4:00
(I’ll say it: Snooki + WWE’s make-up team = mildly attractive. She filled out those shorts nicely, even if I find her repulsive otherwise. Morrison snubbed Trish for much of the post-match, out of protest for Melina not getting to be on the show, and would fall out of favor with WWE entirely, leaving by year’s end. Actually, factoring in Layla’s near year-long injury, and Dolph is the only one still there)
WWE Heavyweight Championship: The Miz def. John Cena in 16:10
(If there’s one thing Miz doesn’t know how to do, it’s put on an epic match. Pedestrian, Raw-like, and building to nothing exciting, the match ended in a double countout before Rock restarted it, just so he could screw Cena with a Rock Bottom. Then Miz, after winning, got one too, and Rock celebrated to end the show. Really, that was the ending. The Seinfeld finale was better conceived)
ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
Rock and Cena would immediately begin to hype their one on one match for a year later, but the fans were still coming to grips with the show that they’d just been fed. Bryan/Sheamus bumped? Edge opening? Rock rambling in horrible segments? Cole wrestling for fifteen minutes? Snoop Dogg hosting a sing-off? No title changes? SNOOKI?!?!
Four of the matches (Edge/Alberto, Rey/Cody, Punk/Orton, Taker/HHH) were all WrestleMania worthy, and keep this from being a complete clunker. That said, there were so many head-scratching decisions involved with WrestleMania XXVII, you’d think Vince McMahon was bound and gagged backstage while Vince Russo and Herb Abrams ran amok with the booking sheet.
Rock standing tall to close the show is the official portrait, and that pretty much sums up the show’s downfall.
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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