Wrestlemania XXVIII: Once in a Lifetime
April 1, 2012
Sun Life Stadium
Every wrestler walks in the footsteps of giants. They should all recognize that the only reason they can earn a living in the ring is because of the men who came before them. Being a third generation wrestler, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would know that better than anyone. When he became a wrestler, he took the name “Rocky Maivia” as a tribute to his father, Rocky Johnson, and his grandfather “High Chief” Peter Maivia. And the name Rocky Maivia eventually fell by the wayside and The Rock surpassed his legendary family members.
The Rock conquered wrestling and moved on from it, but he never forgot it. He owed a debt not just to his father and grandfather, but all the other legends who came before him. So when he returned to WWE in 2011 to host Wrestlemania, he chose to test himself against the top man in wrestling: John Cena. Just as Hulk Hogan tested himself against The Rock at Wrestlemania 18, Rock wanted to see if he still had it.
He and Cena quickly developed a heated rivalry. They just had fundamentally different views of the business: Rock was birthed in the Attitude Era, where wrestling was the wild west, every man for himself, anything goes. Cena came up at a different time, a more family-friendly era that he embodied. Rock got involved in Cena’s main event against The Miz at Wrestlemania 27, costing Cena the match with a Rock Bottom. So Cena demanded Rock step up to the plate and get back in the ring. Rock agreed, on the condition that the match take place in his hometown of Miami at Wrestlemania 28.
But there was perhaps an even bigger match on the undercard. At Wrestlemania 27, Triple H came closer to ending Undertaker’s streak than any man before him. He beat Taker with a ferocity that was barely human. And just when it looked like he had Undertaker beat, Taker summoned his last bit of energy to trap Triple H in the Hell’s Gate submission and win the match.
Taker won, but he hardly looked like the winner. While Triple H walked out of the arena on his feet, Undertaker collapsed at ringside and had to be taken out on a stretcher and rushed to the hospital. For nearly a year, Undertaker wasn’t seen on WWE television. It looked as if he had walked away.
But just like Shawn Michaels was driven to return to try to break Undertaker’s streak, Undertaker was obsessed with finding redemption. His victory over Triple H meant nothing due to the humiliation of being carried out of the arena. He returned to challenge Triple H for another Wrestlemania match, giving Triple H another chance at immortality.
But Triple H was in a different position by this time. He was now the Chief Operating Officer of WWE. He was responsible for the company’s future, and ending Undertaker’s career wouldn’t be best for business.
But Taker knew who he was dealing with, and played the biggest card in the deck: He said Triple H wouldn’t accept his challenge because he knew in his heart that if Shawn Michaels couldn’t end The Streak, there was no way Triple H could.
That was all it took. Triple H accepted Undertaker’s challenge, and then raised him: the Wrestlemania match would be a Hell in a Cell Match.
And with all that said, we can start the show.
Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler are our hosts tonight.
World Heavyweight Championship: Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Sheamus
Bryan cashed in Money in the Bank on Big Show to win the title back at TLC, and then slowly turned into a shithead heel who retained his title in sneaky ways, they celebrated in obnoxious fashion by chanting “YES!” You may have heard him do that since then.
This is the first time that it really seemed like Daniel Bryan was going to be big, as the “Yes!” chants are surprisingly loud. This match is infamous, as Bryan kisses AJ after the bell rings, then turns around into a Brogue Kick to get pinned by Sheamus in just 17 seconds.
Somehow, getting squashed here was the catalyst to Daniel Bryan’s main event run. Wrestling is strange sometimes.
Kane vs. Randy Orton
Unmasked Kane lost a Street Fight to Orton the previous summer, then shook his hand and disappeared. When he came back, he was wearing his mask again. After losing a feud to John Cena, he started targeting Orton.
This match is pretty slow. That’s not surprising, because Kane is plodding and Orton is methodical. The crowd is mostly silent. I did like the finish, as Kane reversed a Super RKO attempt into a Chokeslam from the top rope. Kane winning here was an odd choice.
Rating: *½. Meh.
Intercontinental Championship: Cody Rhodes (c) vs. Big Show
Cody spent the previous month mocking Big Show for his many Wrestlemania failures. Prior to this, Big Show’s only Wrestlemania victories were in tag matches, and I believe his record was something like 2-7.
Here, Show makes quick work of Cody as he nails him with the WMD less than five minutes in. With the win, Big Show became a Grand Slam Champion (WWE, World Heavyweight, IC, United States, and Tag Team Champion).
Rating: *. Wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen.
Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounos vs. Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres
This match is a debacle typical of how WWE treated women’s wrestling. Even if things aren’t perfect today, they’ve come a long way.
The only real highlight is when Maria and Kelly perform a Double Stink Face on Eve. Not the actual move, but the fact that Maria was wearing white pants and a lot of Eve’s makeup smeared off onto the pants. So it looked like she shit herself.
Rating: ¼*. Yikes.
Hell in a Cell Match: Undertaker vs. Triple H
Shawn Michaels is in as guest referee. He’s conflicted over whether he wants revenge on Undertaker for retiring him or whether he wants Triple H to break the streak and succeed where Shawn failed. The Cell actually got its own entrance here, as “The Memory Remains” by Metallica plays while it lowers. And for once, a Metallica song isn’t edited out. Jim Ross joined the commentary team for this match, which is always welcome.
Taker dominates the early portion of the match, using his superior striking ability to wear Triple H down. Triple H finally cuts Taker off with a DDT, then goes for a Pedigree on the ring steps. Taker counters with a Back Drop, staving off a sure defeat. Triple H comes back with a devastating Spinebuster onto the steps, but Taker catches in him Hell’s Gate. In a stunning display of strength, HHH lifts Taker off the steps while in the choke and slams him!
Triple H gets a chair and tunes Taker up with it. He dishes out a solid 15 shots with it. It’s uncomfortable to watch. Shawn tells his friend to pin Undertaker and end, but instead he gets the chair again and delivers a few more shots. Shawn tells Taker he’s going to stop the fight, which Taker demands he not. Taker rises and gets put back down with another chair shot. Taker still won’t quit, so Triple H pulls out his sledgehammer. A vile shot to the jaw floors Taker, but he somehow kicks out at two. Now Triple H brings the hammer all the way over his head, but Shawn intervenes to stop it before he kills Taker.
Shawn seriously considers stopping the match. Taker, desperate to avoid that, locks him in the Hell’s Gate. HHH breaks it up with the sledgehammer, but can’t get the pin because Shawn is out of it. Taker stops another sledgehammer shot and locks HHH in Hell’s Gate! Triple H gets hold of the sledgehammer, loses it, gets it back, and loses it again. HHH passes out, but Shawn is still down. Taker voluntarily breaks as another referee enters the cage.
Chokeslam from Undertaker only gets two. Taker proceeds to Chokeslam Charles Robinson, the replacement referee. Triple H slips out of a Tombstone attempt and Taker runs into Sweet Chin Music from Shawn! Triple H follows with a Pedigree! Somehow, Taker kicks out. Triple H gets the sledgehammer, but Taker sits up! Taker goes to work on Triple H, ending in a Tombstone! Triple H kicks out. Shawn is literally crying in the corner at this point.
A slugfest ends in a Pedigree, but Taker kicks out again. Triple H crawls and gropes for his sledgehammer, but Taker cuts him off. He delivers a series of hard shots with the chair, but still can’t get a pin. Shawn begs them both to stop. Taker tells Triple H to stay down. Triple H gets hold of the sledgehammer, but he has nothing left. Can barely even stand. Taker gets the hammer away from him and blasts him in the face. A Tombstone later and this war mercifully ends with Undertaker as the victor.
Rating: ****¾. Unbelievable match. Sure, it was choppy. They laid around a lot. And it was a finisher kickout-fest. But the story was probably the best I’ve ever seen in a wrestling match, the tension was unrivaled, and it grips me all the way through every time I watch it.
Both men struggle to their feet. Eventually, Shawn helps them both walk out. Rivals united in respect. They’ve battled for the last time.
Team Johnny (David Otunga, Mark Henry, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, The Miz, and Drew McIntyre) vs. Team Teddy (Santino Marella, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston, Zack Ryder, The Great Khali, and Booker T)
So this is actually a huge match in terms of its implications, as the winner gets to take over both Raw and Smackdown. But it gets dumped in the filler segment of the show. This would have been a much better place for the women’s match. We have tons of managers here: Johnny Ace, Teddy Long, Vickie Guerrero, Brie Bella, Nikki Bella, Hornswaggle, and Aksana. So all told, there are 19 people involved in this match.
They do a good job tagging everyone in and letting them get some spotlight, which is a feat of planning. Eventually, the match breaks down and everyone starts fighting, including the managers. Santino tags in and hits The Cobra on Miz, but Ziggler makes the save. Dolph takes an insane bump on a Monkey Flip from Ryder, but gets distracted by Eve and hit with the Skull Crushing Finale by Miz. Team Johnny gets the win.
Rating: *½. That was actually a pretty fun match, although it was a little slower than I expected.
Johnny Ace runs into CM Punk backstage. He tells Punk that if he gets disqualified in his title defense he’ll lose the WWE Championship.
WWE Championship: CM Punk (c) vs. Chris Jericho
Jericho returned before the Royal Rumble and refused to speak for several weeks, messing with the crowd. Eventually, he revealed he was back because he had taken offense to CM Punk calling himself “the best in the world.” And then things took a very personal turn when Jericho started digging up sordid details on Punk’s past, revealing that Punk’s father was an alcoholic, his brother was in prison, and his sister was a drug addict. All that aside, tonight they fight to claim the mantle of best wrestler in the world.
Jericho spends the early part of the match trying to bait Punk into getting himself disqualified. The lack of crowd response to Punk’s temptation makes me wonder if they knew about the stipulation. Jericho takes over the match and wears Punk down. At this point, I start to feel like they chose the wrong story. The crowd just isn’t invested in what they’re doing and it seems like they should have chosen a faster paced, more technical “top this” style of match.
They do a nice segment where Jericho counters a Bulldog, goes for the Lionsault, catches Punk’s knees, and goes for the Walls of Jericho but gets blocked. Punk comes off the top for the Flying Elbow, but gets caught with a Codebreaker. Punk saves his title by rolling to the floor. Jericho drags Punk into the ring and gets caught with the GTS. Punk takes a long time to make the cover and Jericho gets a foot on the rope. Notably, at this point they’ve totally dropped the DQ story from the match.
Jericho scores with the Lionsault for two. Pace is really picking up now. Jericho takes too long on the top rope and gets hit with a Frankensteiner…except Jericho catches Punk and locks on the Walls of Jericho! Great counter. Punk makes the ropes to get out. Punk manages to Back Drop Jericho over the top and then follows with a Suicide Dive. Punk throws Jericho back into the ring and goes for a Springboard Clothesline, but Jericho hits the Codebreaker! Right out of the air. Only gets two. Jericho escapes a GTS attempt and goes to the top, but gets cut off. Punk takes him off the top and goes for the GTS, but Jericho catches his leg and locks on the LIONTAMER! Best counter in a match full of them. He quickly transitions to the Walls of Jericho. Punk rolls into a Small Package, then transitions to the Anaconda Vice.
Jericho delivers some nasty knees to break out. Jericho goes for The Walls, but Punk slides into the Anaconda Vice again. Jericho taps!
Rating: ***. First half was pretty dull, second half was great. Definitely looked like they realized what they were doing wasn’t working and transitioned into the type of match the fans were looking for. Some incredible counters in that match. Especially impressive if they called it on the fly.
Brodus Clay comes out and dances. Probably didn’t need to happen.
Hall of Fame segment is next. The inductees: Edge, Ron Simmons, Yokozuna, Mil Mascaras, and The Four Horsemen.
We are “treated” to some long musical performances from Machine Gun Kelly on behalf of John Cena and Flo Rida on behalf of Rock. These take forever and don’t contribute much of anything to show. Although MGK got some pretty good heat for the mini promo he cut.
The Rock vs. John Cena
The crowd is absolutely buzzing at the start of this match. It’s remarkable that the weakness of the build didn’t kill the heat, but I guess some matches are a big deal no matter how poorly promoted. The crowd erupts for the bell.
Rock starts with the advantage, showing he hasn’t lost a step in the ring. Cena gets control and works on Rock’s ribs. The pace is deliberate, as it’s clear Rock doesn’t really have the lungs for a 30 minute match. In this sense, the rib focus is smart because it makes Rock’s heavy breathing look like a symptom of that. And Cena does great work here, and he straight heels it up. Totally reminiscent of his match with Rob Van Dam from One Night Stand.
Rock makes a comeback and sets up for the People’s Elbow, but Cena picks his ankle and nearly locks in the STF. Cena hits the Five Knuckle Shuffle. Rock slips out of the AA and they do a double Clothesline. Cena gets an AA when they come back up and gets a two count. Rock comes back with a Rock Bottom (out of nowhere!) for a two count of his own. Cena quickly regains the advantage. Rock turns it around and locks on a Sharpshooter, which Cena escapes by getting to the ropes. Cena breaks out a Sunset Flip for perhaps the only time in his career and locks on the STF. Rock makes the ropes.
A series of finisher attempts ends with a Spinebuster and People’s Elbow from Rock. Cena retakes the advantage and keeps almost winning. Cena goes for a Superplex, but Rock fights him off. Rock comes off the top with a Flying Body Press…but Cena, in a truly insane feat of strength, catches a 260 pound man, rolls through, picks him up, throws him onto his shoulders, and hits the AA. Cena can’t believe it when Rock gets a shoulder up before three.
Cena doesn’t know what to do, but he’s feeling cocky. He’s not just going to beat Rock, he’s going to humiliate him. So he mockingly sets up for the People’s Elbow…and gets caught with a Rock Bottom and pinned.
Rating: ***1/2. That was a good match, probably about as good as it could have been given Rock’s physical condition and ring rust. And it was a smart decision to have Rock win in his hometown. Plus it set up some interesting possible character developments with Cena. Which WWE subsequently squandered.
The stadium shakes. The show ends with Cena sitting in the aisle in disbelief watching Rock celebrate.
A strange show. The first hour was basically a dumpster fire. The last three hours featured four matches, all of which were good. Taker/HHH was a classic, the title match was pretty good, the main event was good. If they hadn’t butchered the first hour so badly, this probably would have gone down as a great Wrestlemania.