Wrestlemania 22: Big Time
April 2, 2006
At the last Wrestlemania, it was still a question whether John Cena or Batista would be the face of WWE’s new era. By this year, the question had unequivocally been answered: John Cena was the man. But a big portion of the WWE fanbase didn’t agree, and they were vocal about their disagreement. WWE tried ignoring it at first, but by the time Wrestlemania rolled around they were embracing it, as cool heel Triple H was going to be backed by a smart Chicago crowd against Cena.
We can cover the rest as we go, so let’s roll:
The theme song was “Big Time” by Peter Gabriel. Which definitely feels like something that happened because Vince heard it on the radio on his way into work and no one could talk him out of it.
Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, Michael Cole, and Tazz are our hosts for the evening. As in previous years, they’ll switch off who calls which match by brand.
World Tag Team Championship: Kane and Big Show (c) vs. Carlito and Chris Masters
Not much of note here. Borderline squash as Kane and Big Show got the win in six minutes. Crowd was pretty into Kane and Show. And yes, it’s insane that almost a decade after this Kane and Show are still teaming up and in featured roles.
And is it even more insane that I wrote that last year and it still applies?
Rating: *. Basically a long squash, but still worked as an opener.
Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Rob Van Dam vs. Ric Flair vs. Matt Hardy vs. Bobby Lashley vs. Finlay vs. Shelton Benjamin
Shelton pulls off another insane spot where he runs up a ladder (leaning on the top rope) and does a front flip onto everyone in the match.
Flair took a Superplex off a ladder, which is about as hardcore as it gets. This was pretty good, but not as good as the previous year. I loved that Finlay just beat up everyone in the match.
Lashley was ridiculously awkward. Just botched everything he got near. They had the wrong camera angle when Shelton did his Spider-Man springboard, so it didn’t look nearly as cool as it should have. RVD won, and as we all know went on to beat John Cena for the WWE Championship at One Night Stand.
Rating: ***1/2. Very good match, not quite as good as the previous year.
Hall of Fame Class was next: Bret Hart, Eddie Guerrero, Verne Gagne, The Blackjacks, Sherri Martel, Gene Okerlund, Tony Atlas, and William “The Refrigerator” Perry. It was too bad Bret didn’t come out for this, it would have been a special moment. The ovation for Vickie and Chavo on behalf of Eddie was nice.
United States Championship: Chris Benoit (c) vs. JBL
This was a good addition to the card. Really physical match, they just beat the crap out of each other. JBL reversed Benoit’s Crippler Crossface into a pin to win the match and the title. Love seeing tough guys beat the hell out of each other. Felt like something from the mid-card of a 1980s NWA show. And that’s a high compliment coming from me.
Rating: **¾. Fun stuff here.
Crazy stat Cole dropped during this match: Only five men in history have won a Wrestlemania match by submission. Benoit is one. Bret Hart is another. Kurt Angle beat Shawn Michaels with the Ankle Lock the year before this. I believe Piper beat Adrian Adonis with the Sleeper at Wrestlemania 3. I can think of a few guys who won by submission after this (Undertaker, Daniel Bryan), but not before.
Hardcore Match: Edge vs. Mick Foley
They threw this feud together after Foley was the special referee for Edge’s rematch against John Cena on Raw. Joey Styles joined the commentary team for this match, which I liked. I’ve always loved Edge hitting the Spear on Foley, writhing in pain on the ground, and then Foley opening his shirt to reveal he had barbed wire wrapped around his body.
They bring the violence in this one with a lot of things that aren’t allowed anymore: chair shots to the head, blood, and fire.
Classic finish with Edge Spearing Foley between the ropes and through the flaming table on the floor.
Rating: ****. Love this match. Edge came out of this looking like an absolute star. Beat the toughest man on the planet in his own match.
Booker T vs. Boogeyman
It didn’t last long, which was for the best. Boogeyman barely knew how to wrestle, but his character was tremendous. And Booker’s facial expressions were great.
Rating: ½*. Didn’t hate it. I like having a comedy match on the card to break things up.
Women’s Championship: Trish Stratus (c) vs. Mickie James
This is probably the best women’s program WWE has ever produced. Infamously, the Chicago crowd cheered Mickie through the match even though she was the psycho stalker. I loved the physicality of this match. Both women had a lot of power behind their strikes. It felt like a grudge match rather than a wrestling exhibition. There were some nice bumps, including a Running Powerbomb from Trish.
Tragically, the Network shows the edited version of the match when they cut to the crowd after Mickie licks her fingers (after grabbing Trish’s crotch to get out of a Bulldog). I’ve heard Vince McMahon lost his mind after that happened. Mickie got the win with the Chick Kick after psyching Trish out.
Rating: ***. One of the best women’s matches WWE had ever presented to this point. A storyline that engaged people, two characters that were interesting, a match that was treated seriously and given plenty of time. Proof that women’s wrestling done right can engage fans.
Casket Match: Undertaker vs. Mark Henry
It’s weird to see Henry come out to something other than “Somebody’s Gonna Get It.” Apparently Vince seriously considered having Henry break Taker’s streak here, which would have been a terrible move. I love Mark, but he wouldn’t have been the right guy at this point.
This match would have been better without the Casket stipulation. It’s just tough to make that kind of match work when so much of it is struggling over closing a lid. This was actually a pretty good match. I remember people burying it at the time, but this was back when everyone still thought Mark Henry sucked. Taker nearly killed himself on the Plancha, then hit the Tombstone and locked Henry in the casket for the win in ten minutes.
Rating: **. Did the best they could, but the Casket stipulation really held it back.
Street Fight: Shawn Michaels vs. Vince McMahon
Crowd started the “We Want Bret” chant almost right away. Shawn smashes a giant blowup of the “Muscle and Fitness” magazine with Vince on the cover on Vince’s head.
At this point the Spirit Squad interfere and all five of them get their collective ass kicked by Shawn. And then they just leave, which didn’t make any sense. Vince took over and dished out some pretty good heat. What he lacked in technical ability he made up for in showmanship and intensity. Shane McMahon showed up, always a welcome addition. They attempted the “Kiss My Ass” spot, which ended with Shane having his face shoved up Vince’s ass. Shane took a nice bump over the top rope to the floor.
Shawn cuffed Shane to the top rope, which was a smart way of removing him from the match. Shawn leveled Vince with a despicable chair shot to the head. Totally unprotected. A surprisingly tame Vince bladejob followed. Nothing like the Survivor Series one where he looked like he was going to bleed to death. The match ended with a fittingly insane spot: Shawn covers Vince’s head with a trash can, climbs a ladder, decides it isn’t tall enough, then goes and gets a gigantic ladder and hits a Flying Elbow through a table. Vince dies and Shawn wins.
Rating: ***¼. An absurd but amazingly fun match. Unfortunately this feud continued for most of the rest of the year.
Classic post match image as a bloody Vince gives Shawn the finger while he’s carried away on a stretcher.
World Heavyweight Championship: Kurt Angle (c) vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Randy Orton
Rey won the Royal Rumble, setting a new record for longest time in the match. Orton baited him into putting his Wrestlemania title shot on the line by invoking Eddie Guerrero, saying Eddie was “in Hell.” Orton won the match at No Way Out via chicanery and Teddy Long took pity on Rey, giving him a spot in the title match even though he was a pathetic loser coasting on his dead friend’s reputation. So you can understand why most of the Chicago fans cheered the bad ass Wrestling Machine instead.
This match was put together poorly, with Angle doing awesome stuff the whole way as the crowd got more and more into him. It totally failed to put Rey over the way it should have. And it was really short, coming in under ten minutes. Rey was off his game the whole way, including a botched 619 that really turned the crowd against him. Sad that this was the start of Rey’s only real world title reign.
Rating: **. Just didn’t click. A few fun spots, but they should have been putting Rey over instead of making everybody wish Angle kept the title.
Playboy Pillow Fight: Candice Michelle vs. Torrie Wilson
It’s embarrassing that this was presented by a national wrestling company.
WWE Championship: John Cena (c) vs. Triple H
Cena was drafted to Raw after winning the WWE Title from JBL at the previous Wrestlemania. He defeated all challengers, including surviving an Elimination Chamber match before being pinned by Edge, who became the first man to cash in the Money in the Bank contract. Cena was without the title for only a few weeks, winning it back from Edge at the Royal Rumble. Triple H won a tournament to earn this title shot, defeating Rob Van Dam and Big Show in the finals.
The match began with two ridiculous entrances: Triple H emerging from the floor on a throne with fur and a crown on in an homage to “Conan the Barbarian.” And then Cena managed to do something even stupider, coming out on the back of an old car in a black trench coat with a plastic Tommy Gun in a douche-chill inducing attempt at being Al Capone. I did like the ring introductions, which were done boxing-style in the ring and featured more embellishment than usual. I think this was the first time they had done boxing-style introductions. Gave the match a big fight atmosphere.
Once we got through that, they had a decent match. The Chicago crowd mostly backed Triple H, who made a show of out-wrestling Cena all over the ring. Probably the wrong thing to do when you’re a heel trying to put over the new top babyface. Triple H took some big bumps: Flair Flip out to the floor and into the railing, then a Back Drop onto the metal ramp. This match was a throwback in terms of style, and I mostly enjoyed it. They took their time and worked the crowd. And in the end, the right guy got the win as Cena forced Triple H to submit to the STFU.
Rating: ***. I probably liked this more than most people, but I really appreciated the style here. Deliberate pacing, holds, heat. It really felt like an NWA Championship match from the 1980s, and that’s a style that I’m a big fan of.
Overall: Pretty good show overall. No classic matches, but almost everything was at least solid. Not a huge Wrestlemania, but a decent addition to the franchise.