Wrestlemania XXIV: Farewell, Flair
March 30, 2008
Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium
What a show we have here. So many huge matches at this Wrestlemania: Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels. Undertaker vs. Edge. John Cena vs. Triple H vs. Randy Orton. Big Show vs. Floyd Mayweather. This was a practically perfect Wrestlemania, and it’s a treat to watch.
The most compelling story going into this Wrestlemania was Ric Flair fighting for his career. He returned from a sabbatical in December and made the emotional announcement that…he would NEVER retire. But then Vince McMahon interrupted and informed him that he could continue to wrestle as long as he never lost a match. And the next time he lost, his career was over.
So every match for the next several months was a career threatening match. Remarkably, Flair survived, including challenges from Triple H, MVP, and Mr. Kennedy. Intent on testing himself, Flair challenged Shawn Michaels to a Wrestlemania match. Michaels was reluctant to accept, not wanting to be the man who retired Ric Flair. Flair responded sharply with a slap to the face, showing he had no intention of losing.
Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels. Mr. Wrestling vs. Mr. Wrestlemania. That will work.
Once again, we have loads and loads of commentators: Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler from Raw, Michael Cole and Jonathan Coachman (yikes) from Smackdown, and Joey Styles and Tazz from ECW.
Street Fight: Finlay vs. JBL
Alright, let’s bring out the violence. This was after the ridiculous and terrible storyline where Hornswaggle was revealed to be Vince’s illegitimate son. Eventually, it was revealed that Hornswaggle was actually Finley’s son, and that the whole thing had been a ruse concocted by Vince’s family to teach him a lesson. I think. It wasn’t that clear at the time and the passage of time only makes it more hazy. Anyway, JBL and Vince combined to beat the shit out of Hornswaggle to set this up.
I enjoyed this match. Just a pure fight between two legit tough guys. Stiff shots abound, but nothing that seemed dangerous. Highlight was probably Finlay attempting a Suicide Dive and getting smacked with a garbage can lid. The only real complaint is that JBL won, which I guess was to set him up for a program with Cena. But why did they want JBL to feud with Cena at this point? Not really sure.
Rating: **½. Nice opening match. Great intensity from both guys.
Money in the Bank Ladder Match: CM Punk vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Chris Jericho vs. John Morrison vs. MVP vs. Carlito vs. Mr. Kennedy
This was the point where the fields for these matches were starting to get repetitive, as Punk, Benjamin, and Kennedy had all been in the previous year. And Jeff Hardy was supposed to be in there for the second year in a row, but he failed a drug test a few weeks before and got pulled.
Early in the match Morrison busts out one of the most insane spots ever with a Moonsault from the top rope to the floor while holding a ladder. Seems like that should have been the finish of this match instead of the opener. Shelton broke out some awesome spots as you would expect, walking the ropes and springboarding onto ladders. And then he died taking an insane bump off the top of a ladder in the middle of the ring down to the floor and through a ladder. There’s no way that wasn’t painful.
Jericho locked Morrison in the Walls of Jericho on the ladder, which always looks great. MVP appeared to have the match won when everyone was knocked out, but Matt Hardy showed up after being out for months with an injury caused by MVP and stopped him with a Twist of Fate off the ladder. Jericho and Punk end up duking it out on top of the ladder. Punk got the better of it and grabbed the briefcase for a big pop.
Rating: ***½. Fun, nice spots, no real story and not much flow. Kind of par for the course for these matches.
Hall of Fame segment was next. The inductees: Ric Flair, Peter Maivia, Rocky Johnson, Mae Young, Eddie Graham, and Gordon Solie.
Batista vs. Umaga
This was a special Raw vs. Smackdown challenge match. It was rather boring and featured an agonizingly long nerve hold by Umaga. The only real highlights were the crowd chanting “U-U-Umaga” and Batista slipping on the Batista Bomb (he still delivered it and it looked cool). Batista got the win.
Rating: ¾*. Pure filler.
ECW Championship: Chavo Guerrero (c) vs. Kane
The whole match, in one gif.
Rating: ¼*. Right guy went over in the right fashion.
Career Threatening Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair
They started off with some mat wrestling, but shit got real in a hurry. Michaels hit Flair with a hard slap and Flair responded with some of the nastiest chops I’ve ever seen (or heard). Flair actually hit the Cross Body from the top rope, which had to be the first time in years that had worked. Michaels threw Flair to the floor and then nearly killed himself with a missed Moonsault that hit the announce table. He had to have broken ribs on that, it was brutal. Flair immediately went to work on Shawn’s ribs. Michaels shut Flair down with Swinging Neckbreaker, then attempted a Moonsault to the floor that ended with him splatting all over the mat. Looked like Flair was supposed to catch him.
Those two screwed up Moonsaults really help this match, because they put Michaels in danger of losing due to his injury. Back in the ring, Shawn ran through some of his usual offense, culminating in a Flying Elbow. He tuned up the band, but hesitated on firing off Sweet Chin Music. That moment of hesitation was all Flair needed to lock in the Figure Four right in the center of the ring. Love that spot. Michaels manages to turn it over and Flair slips out, but they’re both limping now. Flair takes out Shawn’s leg with a Chop Block and goes for the Figure Four, but Shawn is ready with a Small Package for two. Flair ducks an Enziguri and locks on the Figure Four!
Shawn makes the ropes but is badly wounded. Flair struts, but takes too much time and gets leveled with Sweet Chin Music. Michaels gets a weak and delayed cover for a close two count. Shawn tunes up the band again, but Flair won’t get up. Shawn goes to pick Flair up and gets hit with a low blow! The crowd loves it. Shawn quickly recovers and locks on an Inverted Figure Four, which Flair escapes by getting to the ropes. Flair and Michaels go toe-to-toe in the center of the ring…until Shawn nails Flair in the face with Sweet Chin Music. Just like that, it’s all over.
Shawn hesitates, but he knows what he has to do. Flair struggles to his feet, wanting to go out like a man. “Come on” he says, begging for Shawn to deliver the killshot. “I’m sorry. I love you” mouths Shawn as he lines up his shot. One more Sweet Chin Music hits Flair hit in the jaw, and he’s down for the count. Ric Flair’s 31 year career is over.
Rating: ****½. Awesome match. Flair was 60 years old, but he brought it here. This match just makes sense. Shawn is way better than Flair, but Flair is so damn smart in the ring and was able to take advantage of Shawn’s miscues (high-risk Moonsaults, hesitation on the first Sweet Chin Music) to stay in the game. And the finish was a genuine work of art.
Flair gets a well-deserved standing ovation as he heads up the aisle for the final time. Except JK LOL he came back to wrestle in TNA a couple years after this.
Playboy Lumberjill Match: Maria and Ashley vs. Beth Phoenix and Melina
Bathroom break match. This ended up taking like 15 minutes between Snoop Dogg’s entrance, the other entrances, the match, and post-match shenanigans. This is a tag team Lumberjack Match. This is one of those unfortunate matches where you have two badass heel women being forced to sell for two girls who couldn’t lace their boots. The most interesting thing that happened here was the lights going out during the match. The heels won after Beth hit Maria with a Fisherman’s Suplex Buster.
Rating: ½*. Not good at all. Melina and Beth could have had a damn good match, but that wasn’t the kind of women’s wrestling WWE was presenting at this point.
WWE Championship: Randy Orton (c) vs. John Cena vs. Triple H
Orton won the title via forfeit from Cena in October. Cena shockingly returned at the Royal Rumble and won, giving him the right to challenge Orton for the title. He didn’t want to wait until Wrestlemania and instead faced Orton at No Way Out, which ended with Orton intentionally getting himself disqualified by slapping the referee. Triple H won an Elimination Chamber match to determine the #1 contender and we were set for triple threat here.
This is a typical, solid triple threat match. The competitors bring great intensity, fighting all over ringside. They do a good job of featuring Orton, as he spends a lot of the match beating up both of his opponents. Cena manages to lock Orton in the STFU, but Triple H grabs Orton’s hand to stop him from tapping out. Finish comes when Triple H hits a Pedigree on Cena, only for Orton to punt him in the head to break up the pin and then cover Cena to retain.
Rating: **¾. Didn’t love it. There were one or two inventive things in here, but it was mostly just the same stuff as every three way with one guy getting knocked out so that the other two could fight. Orton retaining was probably the right call as it did a lot to elevate him as champion.
Big Show vs. Floyd Mayweather
This kicked off when Big Show made a surprise return at No Way Out and attacked Rey Mysterio. Mayweather was at ringside and came to Rey’s aid. Big Show gave Mayweather a free shot, and Mayweather legitimately broke Show’s nose. So we’re set for a classic boxer vs. wrestler match, which can be won by pinfall, submission, or knockout.
Floyd is able to avoid Big Show early and score a few shots that have little effect. One of Mayweather’s guys gets on the apron to give Floyd a drink from a chalice and gets knocked the fuck out by Big Show. Show gets hold of Mayweather and nearly crushes him hand with a stomp. Mayweather manages to get up on Show’s back with a Sleeper, but gets thrown off. Show stomps on Mayweather’s hand, leading one of his guys to get on the apron and yell “he can’t be doing that!” which makes me laugh every time.
Show tortures Mayweather and the crowd loves it. The mistake they made in this feud was initially trying to have Mayweather play the babyface when he’s an outsider and legitimate dick. Show hits a big Side Slam and the crowd goes apeshit. Mayweather’s entourage pulls him out of the ring and his handler says “we out.” Show proceeds to destroy the whole entourage and drags Mayweather back to the ring. More of the entourage guys try to get involved and Show knocks them out. This allows Mayweather to get hold of a chair and hit Show, but he goozles Mayweather. Kick to the nuts from Mayweather wounds Show and Floyd follows with chair shots. He loads up his fist with a chain and levels Show, who nearly pulls himself to his feet, but can’t make it up before the ten count.
Analysis: ***¼. That was great. Show looked like such a monster here. He was like King Kong, just throwing people all around. It took a series of chair shots and loaded fist from the best boxer in the world to put him down. Fantastic match with definite shades of Rocky vs. Thunderlips from “Rocky III.”
JR says that Mayweather is now 40-0, which made me laugh. I’m sure the WBC is going to count that one in his all-time record.
World Heavyweight Championship: Edge (c) vs. Undertaker
This one started back in April of the previous year after Undertaker and Batista fought to a draw in a cage match on Smackdown. Mark Henry showed up and destroyed Undertaker, leaving him as perfect prey for Edge to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and become the new World Heavyweight Champion. There were some twists and turns from there involving Edge forfeiting the title due to an injury and winning it back when he returned, leading us to Taker getting his shot at revenge.
Iconic entrances from both guys here, as Taker has flames shooting up 100 feet in the air from boats in the lake behind the stadium while Edge has a massive fireworks show. Special entrances done right are always a welcome addition.
Undertaker controlled the early portion of the match until tweaking his back on a corner charge. Edge took over and targeted the back. Taker got Edge on the floor and scored with a beautiful Plancha. They went back to the ring, but Taker couldn’t capitalize because his back gave out as he went for the Last Ride. Edge continued the attack on Undertaker’s back both in and out of the ring. Taker kept starting his comebacks, but Edge kept shutting them down with counters. He was ready for everything Taker had.
They went to the finishing sequence when Taker accidentally hit the referee with a boot. Edge grabbed a TV camera and dropped Taker with it, but had no referee to make the count. Edge went for a Tombstone, which naturally backfired into a Tombstone from Undertaker. Again, no referee to make the count. Charles Robinson heroically sprinted down the football field-length aisle to make the count, but Edge kicked out at two. That’s one of the best constructed near falls I’ve ever seen.
Zach Ryder and Curt Hawkins (the Edgeheads?) hit the ring but were cleared out by Undertaker. That distraction allowed Edge to hit a Spear, which only got a two count. Taker struggled to his feet. Edge has Taker right in his sights, lined up the Spear…and hit it again. Taker is floored, knocked out.
Edge took a second to bask in the glory of being the man who ended Undertaker’s streak…and it cost him everything. Taker popped up and trapped Edge in a Gogoplata. Edge had nowhere to go and was forced to submit.
Rating: ****¼. Awesome match. Deliberate pace, but that was a smart move because the crowd was a little worn out and needed some time to get going again. The focus on the back made Taker vulnerable, and I loved Edge breaking out counters for everything Taker did. The finish was perfect, as Edge took Taker to the absolute limit.
The post-match celebration took an unfortunate turn, as fireworks malfunctioned and shot into the crowd. I don’t think anyone was killed, but that must have been terrifying.
Overall: Great Wrestlemania. Two entries in the Wrestlemania canon with Flair/Michaels and Undertaker/Edge. A strong group of supporting matches with the triple threat, Money in the Bank, and Mayweather/Big Show. No real complaints about this show, it’s one of the best Wrestlemanias ever. Maybe Flair vs. Michaels should have gone on last, but it sounds like Flair didn’t want to.