The Law Reviews: Wrestlemania 23

Wrestlemania 23: All Grown Up
April 1, 2007
Ford Field
Detroit, Michigan

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20 years after the greatest of all Wrestlemanias, WWE returned to Detroit for Wrestlemania 23. We have something of another placeholder Wrestlemania, as the titans of the present day battled the legends of yesteryear. John Cena would defend the WWE Championship against Shawn Michaels, while Undertaker challenged Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship. And in the most publicized match, Bobby Lashley (representing Donald Trump) would battle Umaga (representing Vince McMahon). The man whose representative was defeated in the match would have their head shaved in front of a worldwide audience. And in the middle of it all? The special referee, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

Aretha Franklin sings “America the Beautiful,” 20 years after she did it at Wrestlemania III. The sweeping shots of Ford Field look absolutely beautiful. It’s so much better having Wrestlemania in a stadium after doing arena shows the previous three years.

We have even more announcers this year, with Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler calling the Raw matches, Michael Cole and JBL calling Smackdown, and Joey Styles and Tazz calling the ECW matches.

Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Jeff Hardy vs. Edge vs. Randy Orton vs. Finlay vs. King Booker vs. CM Punk vs. Mr. Kennedy vs. Matt Hardy

After being a Raw exclusive match in its first two years, Raw, Smackdown, and ECW are all represented this year. Even during the introductions, JBL’s commentary is amazingly better than it is today: He’s putting guys over instead of just being annoying. This year the match went to another level in terms of crazy bumps, but took a step back as an actual match. They didn’t do as good a job of telling a story or building drama, instead it was just tons of finishers and guys getting wrecked.

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Jeff Hardy hit a Leg Drop off a gigantic ladder in the ring onto Edge, who was laying on a ladder outside the ring. It’s fucking crazy and looks like it would hurt a ridiculous amount. Then lots of stuff happened and Mr. Kenny won. He was supposed to get the title from Undertaker, but a misdiagnosed injury resulted in him losing the briefcase to Edge, who cashed it in instead.

Rating: ***. I feel like this is one of the weaker entries. Still fun though.

Great Khali vs. Kane

Best thing I can say is that this is the right place in the card to put this match. Kane slammed Khali. Khali won the match. It was boring.

Rating: ¼*. Not much going on there.

United States Championship: Chris Benoit vs. MVP

This match was MVP’s coming out party. He had a great entrance with cheerleaders for this match. MVP spends the whole match exceeding expectations by countering Benoit’s signature moves, including escaping the Crossface. Benoit knows he needs to change the game to win, and ends up getting the pin after the Diving Headbutt. Nice match.

Rating: ***. Really liked this. MVP looked like a star going hold-for-hold with Benoit, but Benoit’s veteran savvy was just too much for him.

Hall of Fame was next: Dusty Rhodes, Mr. Perfect, Nick Bockwinkel, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, Mr. Fuji, and The Sheik.

World Heavyweight Championship: Batista (c) vs. Undertaker

Undertaker won the Royal Rumble in January and after playing mindgames with all three champions chose to face Batista. There were low expectations for this match going in, as Batista had generally been stinking up the ring since he came back from injury in the summer. Taker and Batista proceed to smash those expectations and steal the show with this match.

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The action starts right off the bell when Batista plants Undertaker with a big Spear to set the tone. He proceeds to go balls out trying to beat Taker, but the Dead Man just keeps coming back.

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Taker hit the Plancha with refreshingly little incident. They fight outside for a ridiculously long time without being counted out. This is the first time I remember seeing one guy roll into the ring to “break the count,” which doesn’t make much sense to me. Batista puts Taker through the announce table with a beautiful Running Powerslam. He could take the count out, but he drags Taker back into the ring to go for the pin. We don’t get enough matches that just feel like two guys are willing to kill each other to be champion. Batista escaped the Tombstone and hit a Batista Bomb with STANK on it for a great near fall. I remember being blown away by this match the first time I watched and I still am. Great pop for Taker’s first title win since 2002.

Rating: ****¼. Awesome match. I think most people (including me) thought they were going to stink it up here, and instead they stole the show. Simple story, with Batista as the monstrous champion throwing everything he had at Taker and Taker fighting through it all. I love the intensity, the Spear right off the bell, the Powerslam through the table, and that huge Batista Bomb. Batista lost, but if anything came out stronger in defeat.

There was a really terrible backstage segment where Vince yelled at Stephanie for bringing her daughter. Then they showed a shot from the baby’s POV of Vince doing demented baby talk. And then he made a joke about the baby “taking a Trump.” Clearly something Vince came up with.

Eight Man Tag: ECW Originals (Rob Van Dam, Sandman, Sabu, and Tommy Dreamer) vs. The New Breed (Matt Striker, Kevin Thorn, Elijah Burke, and Marcus Cor Von)

The Originals enter through the crowd to a pretty good response. There was a much better No DQ rematch on the ECW show after this, but they didn’t have time to do that here and didn’t want to overshadow the rest of the show. Pretty basic match where everybody tags in and does a quick showcase segment. The Originals got the win after Van Dam hit Striker with the Five Star Frog Splash.

Rating: *½. Nothing special. Kind of cool to see Tommy Dreamer, Sandman, and Sabu at a Wrestlemania.

Battle of the Billionaires: Bobby Lashley vs. Umaga

This is a rare example of recent WWE celebrity involvement done right and helped get a lot of publicity for this show. The feud began over Vince claiming Trump had stolen his “You’re Fired” catchphrase from Vince. Which was true.

Lashley was the ECW Champion and Umaga the Intercontinental Champion, but neither title is on the line here. Austin got by far the largest pop of anyone involved. Lashley was still a work in progress at this point, but he didn’t screw up anything big. This wasn’t very interesting when it was just Umaga and Lashley working in the ring, but it got fun when Vince, Shane, Estrada, and Trump got involved. Lashley took a sick bump through the ropes and to the floor. There were a few good bumps, including Lashley throwing Umaga off the top rope.

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Lashley fought off interference from the McMahons, Trump beat up Vince, and Lashley pinned Umaga. The aftermath went on forever and ever, but was super entertaining. Vince McMahon has the best facial expressions of anyone ever in the wrestling business, so watching his agony at having his head shaved was a real treat.

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Unfortunately, that beautiful head of hair has never grown back quite the same way. And Steve Austin hit the Stunner on Donald Trump, which is a victory for people everywhere.

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Rating: ***. Definitely not a great wrestling match, but A+ entertainment. Chaotic and overbooked, but in a good way. Umaga and Lashley weren’t going to have a good match, but add the McMahons, Trump, Steve Austin, and Vince having his head shaved to the mix and they pulled it off nicely.

WWE Championship: John Cena (c) vs. Shawn Michaels

This was probably going to be a second John Cena/Triple H match, but Triple H tore his quad in January. Thus, Michaels was subbed in. They did a good job of building this match with Shawn getting close to Cena to learn his game from the inside before inevitably turning on him. Shawn and Cena are still the tag team champions here despite Shawn having dropped Cena with Sweet Chin Music on Raw before this.

Cena had another eye-rolling entrance here, as a ridiculously long pre-tape of a stunt driver driving a Mustang through the streets of Detroit played before Cena drove the same Mustang through a glass wall and into the arena. Cut the video and this would have been fine, but the idea that Cena was actually racing through the streets two minutes before his match was dumb.

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The match here is quite good, undermined by Cena’s selling. Michaels does a tremendous job of working over Cena’s knee for the first ten minutes of the match. He just destroys the knee with every hold and knee-targeting move imaginable. And then…Cena just stops selling the knee. And Michaels isn’t blameless, because Cena’s injured knee proceeds to play no role in the rest of the match. It’s like the knee segment never happened.

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Shawn throws everything he has at Cena, including his always welcome Piledriver on the steps. But the veteran just can’t keep the young lion down. Cena’s the man, and he’s not going to be denied his victory. Michaels is forced to submit to the STFU as Cena wins the main event for the second year in a row.

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Rating: ***½. I can’t go higher just because Cena stopped selling his knee. They had a much better match on Raw in the UK a few weeks after this. If you’re going to work the knee for ten minutes, it has to play some role in the match. Couldn’t Cena have gone for the AA and had his knee give out?

Overall: This is a very good Wrestlemania. I love the variety of this card, as the only thing missing was a classic two on two tag match. Batista/Undertaker is a genuine classic, Cena/Michaels was good, Lashley/Umaga was a fun chaotic storyline match, Money in the Bank had some good spots. I believe this show did the second most buys ever, behind Wrestlemania 28. This show belongs in the upper echelon of Wrestlemanias.

Grade: B+

 

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