Wrestlemania XXV: The 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania
April 5, 2009
By Wrestlemania 25 Undertaker’s streak had reached legendary status. Sixteen times men had risen against Undertaker at Wrestlemania, and sixteen times they had fallen. Three times Undertaker had captured world championships at Wrestlemania. The list of men he had defeated was a guide to the greatest stars of the eras he had bridged: “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, King Kong Bundy, Diesel, Sid, Kane, Big Boss Man, Triple H, Ric Flair, Big Show, Randy Orton, Mark Henry, Batista, and Edge.
But now Undertaker would face his greatest challenge of all: the most legendary performer in the history of Wrestlemania, the man known as “Mr. Wrestlemania,” Shawn Michaels. Michaels had built earned the name with a series of great matches at Wrestlemania. Now he would look to cement his place in history by being the man to end the Undertaker’s legendary streak. This would be Undertaker and Shawn’s first one-on-one match since Royal Rumble 1998, and it’s an understatement to say it was highly anticipated.
Oh, and Triple H would face Randy Orton for the WWE Championship. But there’s no way they’d be stupid enough to put that on after Taker/Michaels.
We’re back to one commentary team this year, as Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, and Michael Cole will call the action. Strange team with two play-by-play guys, but they were transitioning to Cole as the voice of the company.
Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Christian vs. CM Punk vs. Kofi Kingston vs. MVP vs. Mark Henry vs. Finlay vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Kane
I think I got all the participants, but it wouldn’t shock me if I forgot someone. As always, this is a perfect match to start the show. The biggest novelty to this one is having a guy the size of Mark Henry in there. This seemed to be the point where they had started to run out of new stuff to do, as they repeat a lot of spots from previous matches. It’s still plenty of fun, but not much new ground is broken. Then Shelton Benjamin jumps off the tallest ladder I’ve ever seen onto five guys. They tease a Mark Henry dive from the top rope, but thankfully that doesn’t come to fruition as Finlay cuts him off. Hornswaggle does the dive instead, to a pretty good pop.
With all that, I think my favorite part of the match was Mark Henry catching Kofi out of the air and hitting the World’s Strongest Slam onto a ladder. Mark Henry is the man. In case you forgot, CM Punk was the winner for the second year in a row.
Rating: ***¾. Enjoyed that more than the previous couple.
Kid Rock comes out to sing before the Diva’s Battle Royal. And he sings forever. After an hour or so the girls start coming out for their match.
Miss Wrestlemania Battle Royal
Our participants: Alicia Fox, Brie Bella, Eve Torres, Gail Kim, Jackie Gayda, Jillian Hall, Joy, Katie Lea, Kelly Kelly, Layla, Maria, Maryse, Michelle McCool, Mickie James, Molly Holly, Natalya, Nikki Bella, Rosa Mendes, Sunny, Tiffany, Torrie Wilson, and Victoria
This was a fun idea that didn’t come together. I would have liked to see more throwback divas. And having Santino be the winner was silly.
Chris Jericho vs. Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka, and Ricky Steamboat
This was the peak of Chris Jericho’s career, as he was insanely over as a heel during and after his feud with Shawn Michaels. Unfortunately, he lost the World Heavyweight Championship to John Cena at Survivor Series, which halted a lot of his momentum. He entered a feud with Mickey Rourke over the movie “The Wrestler,” seemingly with the intention of them having a Wrestlemania match. That never materialized, so they audibled to it being a feud with Jericho disrespecting wrestling legends. The hope among fans was that Steve Austin would be the man to defend the honor of wrestling legends, but that didn’t happen. Instead we get Jericho vs. three old guys.
This match actually turns out to be brilliant. Jericho’s first opponent is Jimmy Snuka, who literally appears to be a decomposing corpse. He represents exactly what Jericho said “legends” were: washed up has-beens who need to go away. Then Piper gets in, and shows some fire, even busting out a Dropkick. But Jericho vanquishes him too. Then Ricky Steamboat gets in the ring for the first time in 15 years.
And it’s like he never left. Steamboat is in tremendous shape and puts most of the roster to shame with his wrestling ability. His Plancha to the floor was a true Wrestlemania moment. And while Jericho comes out on top, Steamboat proved that legends aren’t all washed up pieces of garbage. Tremendous match, and I’m glad the Steamboat/Jericho program continued for another month after this.
Rating: **¾. Ricky Steamboat is the man.
Then there was a long and awkward segment with Jericho and Rourke that ended with Rourke knocking Jericho out.
Extreme Rules: Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy
For a few months in the run-up to this show, Jeff Hardy was the hottest man in wrestling. He was just on fire, feuding with Edge and Triple H and chasing the WWE Championship. He even went crazy, painted his face, and beat Undertaker in a No DQ match on Smackdown. This culminated with winning the WWE Championship at Armageddon in a fantastic moment. It looked like Jeff was primed for the run of his career.
And then WWE pulled the plug. It’s not a mystery why: Jeff Hardy is an unreliable drug addict, something he proved any number of times during his career. Matt turned on Jeff and cost him the WWE Championship against Edge at Royal Rumble, and now we have this match.
Matt came out in new attire, dumping the cargo pants in favor of tights and boots that look like the stuff Edge would wear. And he wore a long black jacket. Also like what Edge would wear. Feels like he was trying to be the man that stole his woman.
They go right off the opening bell, which is always nice for hate feuds. And from there they fight. No wrestling, lots of fighting. Weapons, high-flying moves, tremendous intensity. I remember not thinking much of this match at the time, but I really enjoyed it on re-watch. Jeff did something I’d never seen before, as he set Matt up on a table, then put another table on top of it and hit a Splash through both of them. I was worried part of the table would stab Matt in the stomach, but there was a chair on him to protect him from that.
Jeff tries to kill Matt by doing something insane, and it proves to be his undoing. How else could this match end? Jeff sets up two ladders, a tall one and a giant one. He goes for his signature Leg Drop off the ladders, but Matt moves out of the way. No idea how Jeff didn’t destroy his spine doing that. Matt traps Jeff’s head in a chair and nails the Twist of Fate for the win.
Rating: ***½. That was so much better than I remembered it being.
Intercontinental Championship: JBL (c) vs. Rey Mysterio
Rey comes out in another of his insane Wrestlemania attires, this time a tribute to Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight.” In a bizarre exchange on commentary, JR says in response to Rey attire that “his career is alive and well.” Came off as an odd shot at the fact that Heath Ledger was dead.
This was JBL’s final match, and like a true piece of shit heel he gets utterly humiliated. Rey beats him in 21 seconds, which I think is even faster than Warrior beat Honky Tonk Man. Absolutely loved this.
Rating: ½*. I kind of loved this.
Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
The anticipation for this match was massive. Since they battled at the end of the 2007 Royal Rumble everyone was waiting for Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania. And when they announced Wrestlemania 25 would be in Houston, it seemed like destiny. Two Texas legends battle it out at Wrestlemania in the Lone Star State? Perfection.
Shawn’s entrance is awesome, as he comes out of a cloud of smoke in an all-white outfit. He literally descends from heaven. And then Undertaker ascends through flames, from the depths of hell. It’s not subtle at all, but wrestling storytelling isn’t really meant to be subtle.
The crowd pops for the bell. That’s when you know a match is a big deal. Shawn is just a step quicker than Undertaker early in this match. He dodges every attack, sticking and moving and drilling Taker with chops. As JR points out, that’s not going to knock Taker out, but it will annoy him and throw him off his game. When Taker finally catches up to Shawn, he smashes him with his superior power. Taker is one of the best ever at dishing out punishment, and Shawn is the gold standard for bumping, so that’s a good combination.
Shawn goes to work on Taker’s legs, bringing the big man down to Shawn’s level. Michaels locks on a Crossface, and I think the “Benoit” chants are edited out. I was always confused by Shawn and HHH using that move in these years. The exchange where Taker sits up when Michaels goes to the top, catches Shawn for a Chokeslam, Shawn slips out and winds up for Sweet Chin Music, Taker drops to the mat to avoid it, Shawn goes for the Figure Four, and Taker locks on Hell’s Gate is one of the best I’ve ever seen in any match. It all flowed perfectly, but didn’t look contrived at all.
Shawn goes for broke with a Moonsault to the floor and nearly kills himself when he hits the floor. Didn’t seem like that went as planned. And then to try to one-up him, Taker shorts his Plancha and hits his head on the floor. A planted cameraman is supposed to catch Taker, but it doesn’t happen. That was Deuce, AKA Sim Snuka. Perhaps not coincidentally, he was never seen on WWE television again.
The match comes to a halt for a few minutes here, presumably because Taker was legitimately messed up (nice way of saying concussed). The ten second count here was one of the tensest moments of Taker’s streak. Michaels lines up Sweet Chin Music, but Taker dodges and hits the Chokeslam! Alright, we’re back in business. Another great series of reversals ends with Sweet Chin Music! Somehow that only gets two. Shawn kips up, but Taker is ready for him and scores with the Last Ride (after a few more reversals). Another close kick out. The crowd was really buying into these near falls because every sequence was so intricate it looked like a plausible finish.
Taker comes off the top with an Elbow Drop attempt that misses. Desperation move, although it seems like he should have tried the Tombstone first. Taker tries to toss Shawn over the top, Shawn skins the cat, Taker grabs him for the Tombstone. And Shawn kicks out! No one on the planet didn’t think that wasn’t the finish. I was running around the room when that happened. Taker’s shocked facial expression is so great here.
Taker drops the straps, so business is about to pick up. He goes for another Tombstone…but Shawn counters into a DDT! Shawn crawls to the corner and climbs the turnbuckle. Flying Elbow! Shawn tunes up the band…and levels Taker with Sweet Chin Music! Ballgame! 1………………..2……………….Taker gets a shoulder up.
Taker gets the better of a punch exchange with a Big Boot. He goes for another Tombstone, but Shawn escapes. Shawn to the corner, catches Taker with a boot. Shawn goes to the top and comes off with a Moonsault…but Taker catches him with a Tombstone! That finally gets the three count and this classic is over.
Rating: *****. My praise almost seems superfluous, because everyone knows this match is amazing. It’s one of the most universally acclaimed matches in wrestling history. Not much left to add other than I think it’s the best match in the history of Wrestlemania and one of the best ever in wrestling.
World Heavyweight Championship: Edge (c) vs. Big Show vs. John Cena
Tough spot on the card for these guys. The set-up to this match was convoluted, involving Edge losing the WWE Championship and winning the World Heavyweight Championship in the same night at No Way Out. Big Show is in the match as a thank you for losing to Floyd Mayweather the year before.
For once, Cena gets a Wrestlemania entrance that isn’t lame. The army of Cenas was absolutely awesome.
The crowd is definitely a little flat. These three try their best to get them going, and partially succeed. But there just wasn’t any heat behind this match. Other than Cena getting both Big Show and Edge up on his shoulders for the AA, this is pretty much filler. Cena won, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Rating: **¼. Didn’t really come together.
Hall of Fame segment is next. The class: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, “Cowboy” Bill Watts, Howard Finkel, and Koko B. Ware. Austin comes out in a tuxedo and waves to the fans. Then he goes backstage, gets his ATV, rides it to the ring, and drinks beer for awhile. Good moment, but this probably should have gone after the Undertaker/Michaels match.
WWE Championship: Triple H (c) vs. Randy Orton
Randy Orton has lived his entire career in Triple H’s shadow. Triple H made him a star as part of Evolution, but when Orton flew too close to the sun by winning the World Heavyweight Championship, HHH cast him out, then immediately defeated him for the title. After a few years of stops and starts, Orton arrived as a star on the Raw before the Royal Rumble when he slapped Vince McMahon across the face and knocked him out with a punt to the head.
From there, Orton was on fire. He won the Royal Rumble, last eliminating Triple H. He beat Shane McMahon at No Way Out in a Street Fight. And then his crusade against the McMahon family reached a critical level when he hit Stephanie with an RKO on Raw. Her real-life (but previously unacknowledged in kayfabe) husband Triple H ran to the ring to attend to her. And it was then that Orton’s plan became clear. He had been baiting Triple H this whole time. He would have his revenge at Wrestlemania, when he took The Game’s title.
They shot some crazy angles in the lead up to this, including Orton handcuffing Triple H to the ring so that he had to watch Orton DDT and kiss Stephanie. So these two should be primed to beat the shit out of each other. No holds barred, anything goes. Hide the women and children, because shit is about to get real in Houston. Except it’s not. Because it’s just a regular match. And to boot, if Triple H gets disqualified or counted out he loses the WWE Championship. So…that’s weird.
This match opens in a strange way, as Orton hits an RKO almost immediately. And then he goes for the Punt, Triple H dodges, and scores with a Pedigree. And from there everything is a bit lethargic. I’ve never seen a match start with both guys hitting their finishers, and there’s probably a reason for that. From there, they brawl. It’s not bad, but the crowd is dead for it. At one point they start to get going…but I’m pretty sure there was a fight in the crowd or something, because they were all looking away from the ring.
This match is pretty dull, and lacking in intensity. That’s especially problematic when it’s such a heated rivalry. And when they were going on last after one of the greatest matches ever.
Anyway, Triple H pinned Orton after a Punt, a sledgehammer shot, and a Pedigree, retaining the WWE Championship. And probably ending any chance that Randy Orton was ever going to be a big money draw for WWE.
Rating: **. Big disappointment after the build.
This is a good show. The disappointment is that it could have been a great show if they had tweaked the booking. Make Orton/HHH a Street Fight, put Undertaker/Michaels on last, do Cena vs. Edge one-on-one and this probably would have been an all-time great Wrestlemania. Instead, it’s a tale of what could have been.