Triple H, October 2011:

“When I grew up, I hated Hogan. I thought he was terrible and didn’t like to watch him. I was like Punk in a way. I liked the Steamboats and Flairs and the ones that could go. Would I be right in saying that Hogan was the wrong guy to go with, and they should’ve changed directions and gone with Steamboat because he was the better wrestler? Ludicrous.” - Triple H. October, 2011.

Road to Wrestlemania XXIII - Part 4

Monday, February 18, 2008

Part 3 is here.

Road to Wrestlemania XXIII – Part 4

Final look at Wrestlemanias past before we gear up and throw down at Wrestlemania XXIII in Detroit.

XVI saw JR and Lawler as a Mania team for the first time and a return to Anaheim, only 4 years after XII. Hunter extended his unbeaten Mania streak to 5 when he and Waltman won the Opening Tag over the Hollys. Perry Saturn made his Mania debut going over Al Snow, and his stablemate and fellow invader Dean Malenko went over Taka. The Rock got the win over former tag partner DLo, and Kurt Angle made his in ring Mania debut, defeating Taz, also working his first Mania.

Not bad. And All of that before we started wrestling for belts. XVI brought it, kids.

The tag title match was the first ever TLC match, with the Hardys winning their second straps over Edge and Christian and the Dudley Boys.

7 years later, Matt will meet Edge in the Cell in the Main Event at WM XXIII.

The Intercontinental Championship saw the Mania debut of Chris Jericho, the IC Champ – losing to his old NWA rival, Eddy Guerrero, making his Mania debut, as the workrate just kept topping itself in each match.

And then the main event – Cactus Jack’s second straight main event, he dropped the WWF Championship to Crippler Chris Benoit – the Alliance of Benoit, Eddy, Perry, and Dean going 4-0 at Wrestlemania – the iconic image is of the 4 of them ripping up a Wrestlemania sign, destroying it in the middle of the ring and hitting the buckles as the show closed – the invaders, the Alliance, straight out of the NWA and into the top of the WWF at Wrestlemania XVI – arguably the greatest Wrestlemania ever.

6 years ago was the big show in Houston, Wrestlemania XVII, JR and Cornette together again, this time with Bobby Heenan thrown in for good measure. XVI saw the original formation of Dead Men Walking, Undertaker/PAUL/Kane, formed during the Opening tag match where Vince met Skip McMahon. The Rock won the Legends Match, once again keeping the ‘Taker from that 5th legends win – and then he was stomped out by DMW, until saved by a returning Cactus Jack – the Rock and Foley starting their comedy run. Hunter went to 6-0 in his Mania career – winning another cage match, this time over Waltman, as Hunter was turning face in this stretch. Jericho and Eddy met again, a Wrestlemania rematch a year later – this time it was the Lionheart, not only going over but gaining a kiss from his valet/girlfriend/hottest woman ever to appear in a wrestling arena, Stacy Keibler.

The tag titles also were contested in a rematch – Hardys/Dudleys/Edge and Christian – except with the tag champs thrown in: Raven and Taz. This time it was the Dudleys, now babyfaces, going over – they and their manager, Stevie Richards, celebrating in mid ring – Matt and Edge, brawling on the outside at match’s close, one notes, at XVII – the year before, at XVI – Matt and Edge in the TLC for the tag straps – the year before, Matt winning the tag straps and having his friend Edge turn on him.. 3 straight Manias – Matt v. Edge – and here we are again, Wrestlemania XXIII – Matt v. Edge: Hell in a Cell.

The IC was a wild, all over the stadium Falls Count Anywhere brawl, with Austin going over Regal – and the main event, the unbeaten Olympic gold medalist, pure whitemeat babyface Kurt Angle defeated the infidel, the Wolverine, the Crippler Chris Benoit to capture the WWF Title in an all time match – Kurt Angle lifted high in the air by the entire WWF locker room to celebrate taking the WWF title from the outsider Benoit.

In 2002 we saw Wrestlemania XVIII, Mania returning to Toronto after 12 years – JR calling his 8th Wrestlemania, this time alongside Paul Heyman.

This was the Legends Come Home Mania: The Opening Tag was star studded – Edge and Christian, as half of the Clique, defeating Hunter (his first loss, but as he’ll note, he didn’t take the fall) and a returning Razor Ramon, with Diesel in their corner. Shawn Michaels, gone four years, made his return in a blackout for a face save for Hunter – the original Clique, Michaels, Razor, and Diesel reunited, cycling through their finishers and leaving E and C laid out.

The Legends Match saw the Undertaker looking for his 5th win against the returning Hulk Hogan looking for his 5th win against the Nature Boy Ric Flair – in a Legends Match overflowing with starpower. It was Flair, with his newest protégée, Leviathan, in his corner, going over for his first Legends Win. At XXIII Flair’s in an even more high profile match, against Fit Finlay for the vacant NWA Championship. A loss may well mean retirement for the Nature Boy.

Making his Mania debut – the man who 5 years later is the IC Champion – Sugar Shane Helms, back at XVIII he went over Al Snow. Also making his Mania debut – Booker T – back in 2002 he beat Diamond Dallas Page, in Page’s last WWF match – and in 2007 Book will wrestle The Executioner Lashley for the vacant WWF Championship – one of those men to become the first ever African-American WWF Champion.

The Rock got another Mania win, this one over Steve Regal.

The tags were now the Unified Tag Titles, the ECW/NWA/WWF belts all joined together for the first time at Mania – and XVIII had a TLC match with usual suspects the Hardys and Dudleys (except with Spike replacing DVon) both losing to the Canadian team of Jericho and Lance Storm.

The IC was now joined with the US Title from the NWA and the ECW TV title to become the Worldwide titles – and Rob Van Dam, making his Mania debut, going over Steve Austin.

The main event fit the Legends Come Home theme perfectly – get it, perfectly? – Curt Hennig, who main evented as the WWF Champion in VI (in Toronto) and VII returned to the WWF and gamely took on the undefeated Double Champion (as the ECW Title had joined the WWF Title) Kurt Angle. Kurt kept, the image of Mr Perfect tapping out in the ankle lock, Kurt Angle maintaining the WWF title, enduring throughout the years.

4 years ago it was 2003 and Seattle for Wrestlemania XIX. JR working his 9th Mania, this time alongside Taz. This was the first Mania under the stewardship of the TitanTrust: Arn Anderson, Dean Malenko, and Fit Finlay – and they opened the show in the ring. 4 years later – all 3 men are back with the NWA, Dean is Fit’s manager, and Fit is facing Ric Flair, Arn’s best friend, for the vacant title at XXIII.

The Opening Tag was also a Legends Match – Hogan and the Undertaker meeting in a tag match – it was the Dead Man getting the fall on the Hulkster and becoming the first man ever to win 5 Legends Matches. The singles Legends Match was Austin v. Rock – the Rock getting the clean Rock Bottom fall for the win to send Austin into retirement.

Matt Hardy, who is just weeks away from meeting Edge in the main event in XXIII – was starting a singles program with RVD at XIX – Matt managed by Eric Bischoff against Van Dam managed by Paul E – the two men driven to higher and higher daredevil feats, as puppets, really, of their managers, whose hatred for each other drove the feud. Matt beat Van Dam at XIX – 4 years later, Matt’s in the Main Event – 4 years later, we’ll soon find out what high, high profile match RVD will take place in at XXIII.

Chris Jericho and Lance Storm had a Loser Leaves Town at XIX – Jericho battering his former tag partner in the feud over Stacy. Eddy Guerrero, now a member of the Four Horsemen, met Chris Benoit, now a babyface, in a singles match – Eddy went over. Eddy’s chairshot of Benoit while Flair and Leviathan held him up one of the enduring images of XIX. The tag titles saw the Mania debut of Haas and Benjamin – then called Team Lesnar – now called Strong Style and managed by Arn. They came into Mania with the straps – but dropped to the Clique – Michaels, in his first Mania match since losing to Owen at XIV, and Hunter winning the straps with Diesel in their corner.

The IC saw Rey Mysterio make his Mania debut – keeping hit title over Chavo, despite Horseman interference. And the main event of XIX, Kurt Angle remained undefeated, going over his former protégée turned rival Brock Lesnar in a replica of the match they actually did at XIX, right down to Brock’s botched Shooting Star Press – except it was Angle getting the fall. Angle with his broken neck cradling his 3 belts (the title was now undisputed, the NWA belt added to the ECW and WWF belts – those belts exploded apart 4 years later after CM Punk threw down the WWF and NWA straps at Survivor Series ’06) as he’s carried out of the ring the enduring image of XIX.

If XVI wasn’t the best ever Mania….then it was Wrestlemania XX from Madison Square Garden, Where It All Began Again.

JR celebrated his 10th Mania, second straight with Taz sitting next to him. And the first match they called was the Legends Match Opening Tag – The Rock and Cactus Jack, teaming together to defeat Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg – Steve Austin serving as the referee as the ring filled up with egos. Rock got his 3rd Legends Win here, the Rock and Sock Connection sending Goldberg and Lesnar out of the WWF. After feuding for a full year, RVD and Matt buried their program in a Tables Match – RVD going over, Matt, who teetered on a heel turn throughout the program, getting some face reaction when he put Bischoff through a table postmatch, ending Eric’s WWF run. The second ever Hell in a Cell match (first one was Cactus beating Shamrock) occurred 3 years ago at XX – Jericho and Christian’s feud had been nearly as long as Hardy’s with RVD – Jericho went over here and turned, with Trish leaving Christian, as she had been with E and C since that original turn in ’99 to align with Jericho. Christian took the Foley bump here, obviously one of the classic Mania images.

In a workrate matchup that adds tremendous value to XX – Mysterio defeated Tajiri and Ultimo Dragon, both making their Mania debuts, in a 3 way.

Then came the formation of the New Clique and the beginning of Edge’s current push. In a Falls Count Anywhere, Shawn handed Hunter his first ever singles loss at Wrestlemania – Hunter and Shawn had been tag champs a year earlier, but Hunter’s jealousy over newcomer Michaels trainees London and Kendrick manifested in his breaking Kendrick’s arm with his sledgehammer. He appeared to be about to do the same thing here – London attempted to save – but Hunter fought him off – that led to the return of Edge, gone a year and a half since the TLC blowoff that saw 5 of the 6 men, E/C, the Duds, and Jeff – everyone but Matt – stretchered from the building – but Edge was then kicked away by Jericho, jumpstarting their feud – and leading to the dramatic emergence of Christian, almost crawling his way from the back – dramatically leading the babyface comeback – all four men holding up the Clique sign – Michaels, London, Edge, and Christian forming what, to date, was the final configuration of the Clique.

For the second straight Mania, Haas and Benjamin came in as champs but left without their belts – this time dropping to Flair and Leviathan. And 10 years after the original ladder match – the IC was against contested in a ladder match – this one between Eddy and Chavo Guerrero – it’s a best 2 of 3 belt ladder match – Eddy, now a babyface, fighting off the Horsemen to take the straps from his nephew.

Kurt Angle had never been pinned as he walked into the ring the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World – it was Kurt’s 4th straight Mania main event, his first as a heel – and in a rematch from XVII, he dropped the strap to Chris Benoit, the Crippler regaining the WWF Championship for the first time in 3 years.

The close of XX is the same as the close of real XX, and the greatest scene in wrestling history – Eddy and Benoit, babyfaces, longtime friends, with title belts in their hands, standing together as the confetti falls and the Madison Square Garden crowd roars.

2 years ago – Wrestlemania XXI from Los Angeles – Paul E returned to the announce here, joining Taz and JR. Bradshaw, as GHB, made his Mania debut at XXI, tagging with Morley to go over Tajiri and Jimmy Yang. 2 years later, Bradshaw and JR will be on the announce together, calling the Flair/Fit NWA Title match at XXIII. The Legends Match was a 3 way, Mysterio going over the Taker and PAUL – postmatch saw a Hulk Hogan heel turn, as he put the boots to the Dead Man. Shawn Michaels won again at Mania – he beat Chris Jericho, who was full on now into his debauched Lizard King persona, bearded, fat, whiskey bottle in hand along side strung out coke whore emaciated Trish Stratus – an inadvertent superkick ended Trish’s run here – HBK going over in this one.

XXI was the first Mania where Ricky Steamboat returned as GM – The Dragon, of course, was in the main event of the first 4 Wrestlemanias – and he decreed that, for the first time ever – Rey Mysterio would wrestle twice at Mania – he did, not only winning that Legends Match, but avenging a Royal Rumble defeat by beating Paul London.

Over the year following XX – Team Angle (Kurt, Regal, Haas, Benjamin) had been in a year long feud with the Clique – and they matched up here, with Angle going over Christian. The tag titles were decided in a 3 way – Helms and Rhyno, as the Spreekillers, came in with the straps and put them on the line against Haas and Benjamin, now Mania staples as tag champs – and the upstart team of Orton and Cena. In one of the bigger upsets in Mania history – it was Orton and Cena who took those straps – that led to the immediate Code Red on Haas, Angle ordering that Benjamin take him out, which sent Haas out of the WWF, broke up Team Angle, and resulted in Benjamin being held under Angle’s thumb.

With Team Angle in tatters, it was no surprise that Regal, the enforcer of the group, had to go it alone in his IC attempt against Edge – the Cliquester kept, Edge walking out of Mania with the title. 2 years later…well, you know who Edge faces.

The main event was an iron man match – Chris Benoit in his 4th Mania main event defending the title against Eddy Guerrero, with Dean Malenko as the guest referee and Steamboat, Austin, and Flair as the guest judges.

Eddy was in the only Mania main event he’d ever get – and he won his second WWF Title, beating Benoit in their second ever Mania matchup – Eddy, Benoit, with Dean in the middle, holding up both men’s arms after a 60+ minute match, running just longer than Shawn/Bret, making it the longest match in the history of WWF PPV – the iconic image (buy the poster) in Eddy’s last ever Mania.

Last year – one year ago – as our recap concludes, was Wrestlemania XXII – Taz called his 4th Mania, now with a new partner, the new voice of the World Wrestling Federation, Joey Styles. Mania returned to Chicago for the 3rd time for XXII – and in Chicago, hometown boy CM Punk, working dark because he refused to be on WWF TV, cut a promo to open the show. The Legends Match was to establish the Hardcore Legend – Cactus Jack, now a heel, returned here to win his 2nd Legends Match, going over RVD when he DDT’d Van Dam through a flaming table, the postmatch saw the WWF debut of Sabu, wielding a glass light tube.

One year ago was the end, to this date, of the WWF career of Kurt Angle – he came in as the whitemeat Olympic hero – but a year ago in Chicago, the crazed, jacked up, maniacal Angle lost clean and in the middle to Shelton Benjamin. Benjamin then reunited with his former partner Charlie Haas – who hopped from the crowd to kick the heck out of Angle – an asskicking that was then joined in by virtually the entire WWF locker room – Angle getting buried under an onslaught from the boys – until he was saved in a housecleaning spot by Michaels and Benoit.

A bittersweet image to be sure, Angle and Benoit, carrying Angle from the ring – until he breaks free – staggering under his own power – to flip the arena off and disappear from the WWF.

Edge beat Shawn Michaels at XXII.

The Clique busted up in the summer of ’05 after it was found out that Edge slept with Matt’s girlfriend Lita and then lied about it, his stablemates vouched for him – Shawn and Christian saying they trusted Edge and stood with him as the rest of the locker room shunned him. But at Summer Slam ’05, when Edge went over Matt in the Unsanctioned match as Lita turned heel, revealing the relationship with Edge – it was clear that Edge had swerved his stable.

That led to the bustup of the Clique, Christian losing the Loser Leaves Town match to his brother, and started the feud between Edge and Michaels that resulted in their matchup. Edge went over – and then Matt Hardy beat Ric Flair.

Flair now was heel commissioner – he and Hunter seizing power in the WWF – Flair had been keeping Hardy from returning to full contracted status in the WWF – but when Matt went over here, that allowed Steamboat to make the match that is only weeks away.

One year ago – Edge and Matt stood in the ring, Steamboat in between them – Steamboat with the contract that made the main event for XXIII – at the time, a year away – it was still XXII – it was still halfway through XXII – but Steamboat made the main event for XXIII – Edge and Matt signed on the dotted line, Matt promising not to touch Edge for a year – he has kept that promise – a promise Edge had reciprocated – up until the Royal Rumble 07 – when Edge speared Matt to prevent him from beating CM Punk for the ECW title – Edge has lost his WWF tournament matchup to Booker – and consumed with jealousy – unwilling to see Matt Hardy succeed where he had failed – even if it mean that he would be giving up the chance at wrestling for the ECW belt at Mania – Edge attacked Matt.

And now – the feud that started at Wrestlemania XV – the feud that started when Edge joined the Clique, turning on Matt in 1999 – culminates 8 years later at Wrestlemania XXIII – Edge. Matt. Hell. Cell.

The tag champs coming into Mania were Bradshaw and Booker – but they lost a 3 way a year ago against the LWO (at that time made up of Crazy and Psychosys, with Carlito as their second – a year later made up of Carlito and Chavo, with Crazy as the second) and Dead Men Walking – Kane and PAUL with the Taker on the outside – it was the giant team – now babyfaces – DMW coming out of Mania with the tag straps.

For the first time, we had an unannounced title match at Mania a year ago – Fit Finlay came into Mania as the Worldwide Champ, and survived an all out war over Steve Regal to keep those belts – but then HHH, using the power he had as part of the 51% Solution – demanded a title shot – he got it – and went over Finlay, Triple H walking out of Wrestlemania the IC Champion a year ago.

Rey Mysterio wrestled in his first ever Mania main event in 2002 – keeping the WWF Championship in a babyface matchup against Benoit. It was Benoit’s 5th Mania Main Event, passing both Angle and Steamboat, placing him only behind Bret Hart. It was also the last match of his career – the show ended with Lashley sending Benoit through a table with a Dominator – Flair/Arn/Hunter/Lashley, the 51% Solution, triumphant in the ring as Benoit and Rey each lie broken while Shawn Michaels tried to tend to them. We would never see Benoit again.

22 years of Wrestlemania.

Wrestlemania XXIII is coming soon.  The road continues.

Road to Wrestlemania XXIII - Part 3

Part 2 is here.

Road to Wrestlemania XXIII – Part 3

Wrestlemania 1995 version stayed in Northeast, this time coming from Hartford. A 3 man announce team, JR returning for his 2nd Mania, along with Cornette doing his 2nd, and once again, as each of the first 11 Manias, Gorilla Monsoon.

Undertaker took his second Legends Match win at XI, going over Lawrence Taylor. Diesel made his in-ring Mania debut as did Jeff Jarrett, both men getting wins. Former tag champs Bigelow and Luger exploded with a Loser Leaves Town that ended Luger’s WWF tenure. The tag champs headed into Mania were Backlund and Davey Boy, a babyface team – The British Empire – and they dropped to Billy and Bart Gunn, making their Mania debuts. Tammy Sytch turned heel in her Mania debut, joining the Clique in aiding Razor, once again, a heel, in his IC victory over Owen. And Shawn Michaels, as a babyface, wrestled in his first Mania main event at XI, losing his attempt at the WWF title to Bret Hart, still a heel. This was Bret’s 4th consecutive Mania main event, and 5th in 11 years. The enduring images are the shots of the competing locker rooms – the heel Clique rooting for their boy Shawn and the babyface Harts rooting for Bret – even though internally both groups were feuding with their representative in the title match. We remember the intensity of Diesel, Waltman, and Razor all cheering for Shawn – Davey Boy, Owen for Bret – and then each side remembering that they were estranged from the guy for whom they were cheering. Harts v. Clique in the main event of Wrestlemania XI.

Anaheim for XII in 1996 – another 3 man booth, with Vince making his only appearance ever on the announce for Mania, joining Cornette, working his 3rd Mania – and for the 12th straight year, Gorilla Monsoon. The Legends Match was a parking lot brawl between former tag champs Jake and Piper – with the Snake coming through to take his only Legends Win. XII saw the Clique cut in half, HHH made his debut and beat Diesel, sending Big Daddy Cool and the Bad Guy (and Tammy) out of the WWF while Hunter and the Kid celebrated. The Harts also fractured, with Owen going over Davey Boy at XII, albeit with both men remaining babyfaces, double dropkicking an entering Bret over the top after the match.

The tag champs were Austin and Dustin, who arrived from the NWA with stereo stunners, they kept here over Chris Candido and Savio Vega, both making their only Mania appearances. The IC Champ coming into Mania also made his WM debut at XII – Big Van Vader – with Curt Hennig as his manager; Vader kept over the Undertaker. The Main Event at XII was the first time the Counterfactual Main Event replicated the real world WWF main event, Bret Hart losing the WWF title to Shawn Michaels in the Iron Man match. It’s as you remember it, Bret storming up the aisle as a teary Michaels cradled the belt on the canvas.

Wrestlemania returned to Chicago, 11 years after II, for XIII. Our first Mania without Gorilla – JR and Cornette on the announce. Undertaker took his 3rd Legends Match, going over Ahmed Johnson and Ron Simmons in a handicap match that saw Rock/DLo/Mark Henry then take out Simmons and Johnson in a coup to grab power of the Nation of Domination. We had a rare cage match at XIII, Hunter going over Dustin, in the Goldust gimmick. The Rock, now the leader of the NOD, got a win over 2 Cold Scorpio, both men making their Mania debuts. One of the best tag title matches in Wrestlemania history occurred at XIII, Owen and Davey Boy keeping their straps over Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon. Cactus Jack made his Mania debut in Chicago at XIII, keeping his IC over Vader in a match with MMA superstar Ken Shamrock as guest referee.

Bret’s final Wrestlemania, his 7th main event in the first13 years of Mania history, saw him lose his WWF title to Steve Austin. The enduring images are Owen brawling with Brian Pillman on the outside, and Austin hitting his Stunner on Bret to get the fall, grabbing the WWF title and shooting middle fingers to everyone in the building.

The first Wrestlemania in Boston was XIV, it was JR and Cornette, now the established announce team, each man calling his 5th Mania. Steve Regal appeared in a WWF arena for the first time, cutting a promo to begin the show. The opening tag featured four teams for the first time ever, the Rock n Roll Express included in a match that saw Scorpio and DL go over. The Undertaker tied Andre and Hogan with his 4th legends win, defeating Kane. Taka Michinoku went over Mr. Aguila in an exciting, spirited midcard matchup, that was immediately followed by HHH, keeping his unbeaten Mania streak, defeating the Rock with the aid of the returning Sean Waltman. And the Clique returned for the tag title match, the New Age Outlaws took the straps from Cactus Jack and Terry Funk, Hunter/Waltman/Billy and the Dogg doing many crotch chops atop the buckles.

The IC Match saw the UFC Octagon, or some facsimile thereof, appear at Mania, the IC Champ Ken Shamrock met Stone Cold Steve Austin with former undisputed boxing Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson as the guest referee, in a cross-sport angle designed to draw in some mainstream eyes. Tyson and Shamrock shoving, getting in some shots on each other, having to be separated at match’s end is one of the enduring images of XIV. And the main event is, for the third time, Harts v. Clique – Owen and Shawn in the second Mania main each for them, Owen taps Michaels in the sharpshooter – the framed shot is Owen applauding for Michaels as he is helped out of the ring by the rest of the Clique.

To close down part 3 of our Road to XXIII – Wrestlemania XV, Mania makes its debut in Philadelphia. In an unfortunate happenstance, Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and Michael Hayes are your announce team. This was error all the way around.

XV was advertised as the Hardcore Mania – and it began with Skip McMahon grabbing the reigns of power in the company, and Vince taking his first ever bump, a lights out table bump to open the show.

Hunter remained unbeaten at Mania, he and Waltman winning an Opening Tag cage match over their former stablemates the New Age Outlaws. Undertaker failed in his attempt at a 5th Legends Match win when he and Ken Shamrock had an Octagon no contest when a debuting PAUL~ ripped into the Octagon to destroy both men as his manager, the weasely Skip McMahon, celebrated.

The Southern Men, Dustin Rhodes and Jeff Jarrett both won their singles matches, winning the right to burn the American flag – but they were stopped by Kurt Angle, a visiting celebrity sitting at ringside.

Wrestlemania XV also saw the beginning of a feud which will culminate, 8 years later, in Detroit at XXIII.

The Nation of Domination, Rock and DL, came into Mania as tag champs – but lost those straps to young Matt and Jeff Hardy, who had spent a couple of years as the Ring Boys for the Clique (while Edge and Christian were ring boys for the Harts) the four young men grew into fan favorites, eventually the “let them play” chants began to take over arenas as finally the four men were placed into televised matches. It was an enormous feel good moment as the Hardys, with the company since they were teenagers, won the tag straps here. Trish Stratus, who worked as a secretary for the office and was now dating Jeff, celebrated with them – as did Edge and Christian, these five young people excitedly reveling in the Hardys capturing the tag straps.

But on the night when the Outlaws were booted out of the Clique – interrupting that celebration were Hunter and Waltman – and in the betrayal that severed the Hardys from E and C – that severed Matt from Edge – Edge and Christian, along with Trish, joined the Clique – joining Hunter and Waltman in a monster beatdown of the new tag champs – the New Clique announcing its presence with authority.

8 years later – Matt Hardy will meet Edge in the Cell, in the main event of WM XXIII.

The IC featured a cult hero from ECW, Al Snow, making his Mania debut – the veteran Snow long slogging his way through the wrestling landscape, never able to catch a break – but he did in 1999 – Snow, with the Philly fans all waving the Styrofoam heads, shocking the world by defeating Steve Austin for the IC title. The Wrestlemania ring filled with styrofoam heads in another of the many iconic images from XV.

The main event is Owen Hart, in his 3rd Mania main event, losing a WWF title match to Cactus Jack. It’s Owen Hart’s last match – he and Foley shake hands – Owen waves to the crowd from the aisle – Cactus and Austin brawl in the middle of the ring – as Hardcore Mania ends.

And that ends part 3.

One more part of our look at Mania’s first 22 years – and then, in March, the build for Wrestlemania XXIII.

Road to Wrestlemania XXIII - Part 2

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Part one is here.

Road to Wrestlemania XXIII – Part 2

Wrestlemania VI, the last of the Manias called by the announce team of Gorilla and Jesse, was the first Mania to emanate from outside the US – in Toronto.

In addition to the announce remaining constant, wrestling in each of the first six Manias – Hulk Hogan. He won his second straight Legends Match, the first cage match in Mania history, beating the heel turned Dusty Rhodes. Also in each of those first 6 Manias – Tito Santana, and he went over his former tag partner Rick Maetel at VI.

The tag champs going into VI were veteran heels – Jake Roberts and Roddy Piper – but they dropped here, to the makeshift team of Rick Rude and Marty Jannetty, Marty’s 3rd tag title reign. The IC Champ was the Canadian hero, Bret Hart – in his second run with the IC belt – keeping over the now heel Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels. After Bret’s win, the punky Michaels stole the Canadian flag – but was stopped from leaving with it by the returning Anvil, gone for a year and a half, and long since heel turned in two different feuds against Bret. But the Anvil scores with the Canadian fans, taking back the flag, dragging Michaels into the ring where he eats the Hart Attack from Bret and Neidhart.

The Main Event featured Randy Savage for the second straight year (after four years of Steamboat in the main event – 3 of those years being Steamboat v. Dynamite matches). The Macho Man failing in his attempt to regain the WWF Championship from Mr. Perfect – the iconic image here being Hennig tossing the WWF title belt over his shoulder to Heenan, as they walked back up the aisle following the clean win over Savage.

A year later – Wrestlemania VII from Los Angeles.

Gorilla continued here, this time with Piper as his color commentator. There were two Legends Matches at Wrestlemania VII, Hogan got his 3rd straight legends win, this time in an opening tag, teaming with Snuka (in his very first WM match) to go over Warrior and Sarge (in his first Mania match). Jake Roberts made a big to get a legends win against a newcomer who at the time had an undefeated streak.

Jake got squashed, the Undertaker getting his first Legends Win in his first Mania.

Davey Boy returned to the Wrestlemania after a 3 year absence, beating Rick Martel; Tito Santana had never been absent from a Wrestlemania, like Hogan, appearing in all 7 – he lost to Jacques Rougeau. Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels, former tag champs now sworn enemies, met in a singles match – with Jannetty getting the fall.

The tag champs – Hawk and Anvil, the Road Warriors, they made their Mania debuts and kept over Demolition. The IC Champ – still Bret Hart, defeating Genichiro Tenryu – and for the second straight year, the main event for Wrestlemania was Curt Hennig v. Randy Savage – it’s Title v. Retirement – and Savage still can’t win the strap.

Miss Elizabeth, estranged from Savage and out of the storyline since being injured by Hennig over a year previous, returns postmatch, entering the ring – and she and Randy leave together in the iconic Wrestlemania VII image – Randy, of course, is not quite done with the Wrestlemania, but this is it for Liz.

In 1992 it was Wrestlemania VIII from the Hoosierdome in Indianapolis. Gorilla, this time with Bobby by his side, worked his 8th Wrestlemania – and so did Hulk Hogan, he beat Jake Roberts in the Legends Match, his 4th straight win, tying Andre’s record. Making only his second Wrestlemania appearance was Owen Hart, he beat Shawn Michaels at the Clique v. Harts feud began to take shape. Te tag champs were DiBiase and Rotundo, Money Inc – and they remained the tag champs – defeating Tito (8 straight Manias!) and Martel, the reunited Strike Force. Santana first won the tag belts at Mania – and now it was Wrestlemania VIII and he was once again wrestling for those straps.

Despite losing the retirement match the year before, it wouldn’t be Wrestlemania without Randy Savage – he took the IC here, from Roddy Piper, in a streetfight that saw Savage using a fork, which was emblematic of Randy in this era and would become known as the WWF fork, popping up in occasional shows. And the main event featured the Wrestlemania debut of Ric Flair, the WWF Champion, with former Champ Mr. Perfect, who had been in the main event the previous two Manias, as his second – facing Bret Hart, who was in the main event 3 years previous, losing his attempt at winning the title that year…but coming through at Wrestlemania VIII – the Hit Man Bret Hart becoming WWF Champion and the first Triple Crown winner (tags, IC, Heavy) in modern WWF history (Pedro Morales was previous). The iconic image is the entire Hart Family – Davey Boy, Owen, Anvil, Stu and Helen – all the brothers and sisters and everyone we could get from Stampede – the full on Calgary portrait – flooding the ring in a show of Hart Family unity – as the Hart Foundation, as Bret Hart, wins the WWF Title at Wrestlemania VIII.

Wrestlemania IX means Vegas, baby. Toga-less, thank god.

Gorilla’s still there, all 9 Manias for Gorilla – but just for continuity, as JR takes over the lead position. It is the first ever on camera Mania for Vince McMahon – who announces that Mania will return to MSG for X.

Bob Backlund makes his first Mania appearance, winning the Legends Match against Hogan, whose streak stops at 4, and whose Mania streak stops at 9. Tito Santana also puts in his time in Vegas, losing to the debuting Luger – 9 Manias for Tito as well – hopefully, Tito, Gorilla, and Hogan took a picture together at some point that night.

The Steiners made their Mania debut at IX, they came in with the straps – they left with the straps, keeping over DiBiase/Rotundo. Returning to Mania action at IX, Mr Perfect Curt Hennig, the man who main evented at 6 and 7. This time he challenged Shawn Michaels for the IC title – and lost.

The main event – once again, it was the Hit Man, Bret keeping the title he won the year before, defeating Razor Ramon with a small package. As was the case at V, Mania ended with a full scale brawl in 1993, this time with the heels – Shawn, Razor, and a debuting Diesel, stomping out babyfaces Bret, Owen, and Savage. The enduring image is of the Clique – standing together for the first time, not just in a Mania ring – but in any ring – staking their claim to the WWF throne.

We conclude Part 2 on our Road to Wrestlemania XXIII (the build for that to come in March) with X from MSG – Gorilla Monsoon celebrates ten years on the announce for Wrestlemania, receiving a plaque at a ceremony before the show went live to PPV. Gorilla and Jim Cornette, working his first Mania, were the announce for X.

The Legends Match winner at X was Savage, going over Crush in the Texas Death Match, Randy making not just his last Mania appearance, but to this date, wrestling his last WWF match ever. Savage main evented WM 5-7. The tag champs entering ten were the second generation of the Rougeau Brothers, with the future Raven, Scott Levy, in their corner – they lost those straps at X to the makeshift team of Luger and Bigelow.

The theme for X was Brother against Brother – the advertisements for the show referring to X as having a “Double Main Event” – the first half of the main event – the IC title switching hands in the Ladder Match, with babyface Razor having split from the heel Clique, Michaels, Diesel, Waltman – and at X, he climbed the ladder and took the strap from HBK.

Owen Hart took the WWF Title from his brother Bret at X. It was Bret’s 4th main event out of the first ten, Owen was the babyface, Bret the heel – Bret’s two year title reign coming to an end. It is probably the most enduring image, the most iconic image, of the first ten years of Wrestlemanias – Owen Hart, lifted high in the air by Curt Hennig and Randy Savage in the middle of the ring, an incredible confluence of Wrestlemania past, a clear changing of the guard, Owen Hart high in the air, Hennig and Savage, both former WWF Champs, both on their way out the door, and Bret the Hit Man Hart standing alone in the aisle, his bitterness providing a frame for the moment.

2 legs down in our Road to Wrestlemania XXIII.

In March, we set it up – the main event, Hell in a Cell, only the 3rd Cell match in WWF history – Matt Hardy v. Edge.
3 World Title belts, the World title no longer undisputed, will be claimed at XXIII.
The WWF and NWA belts contested by the winners of their respective tournaments – on the WWF side, The Executioner Bobby Lashley, an undefeated monster of a wrecking machine, taking on the veteran Booker T – one of those men to become the first African-American World Champion…ever. And on the NWA side, multitime World Champion Ric Flair, in what, speculation is, may be his last ever match if he loses, taking on Fit Finlay.
And who will CM Punk take on for his ECW belt? Who? Who?
Sandman and Dreamer will defend their tags…Shane Helms defends his IC.

That’s 6 matches right there – 3 to go, the Legends Match, the Opening Tag, and, in what might be the start of a new Mania tradition, the Contract Match.

All coming soon – Wrestlemania XXIII!  The road continues.

The Road to Wrestlemania XXIII - Part One

Friday, February 15, 2008

Rumble is here.

The Road to Wrestlemania XXIII – Part One

The Road to XXIII begins with a recap – 22 years of Wrestlemania in 4 bite sized parts – how did we get from 1985 to 2007? If you haven’t been following along, devoting your life to my little cause, here’s the recap.

It began before it began, the dark match at Wrestlemania featured two men who would play as pivotal a role in the first 22 years of Wrestlemania as as any other, the Dynamite Kid, Tommy Billington, taking on Bret Hart.

The actual opener was a little less workrate friendly, King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd squashing Wendy Richter and Lelani Kai, with Cindy Lauper in their corner.

Andre the Giant won the first ever Legend’s Match, destroying David Sammartino. Paul Orndorff, with aid from Roddy Piper, screwjobbed his way to a pinfall on Hulk Hogan; the tag titles switched hands, the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff dropping to Tito Santana and Brutus Beefcake. The IC Title match was a bloodbath, a dog collar match where the champ, Greg Valentine, lost his belt to Roddy Piper.

In the main event – Ricky Steamboat, who had just defeated Hogan for the belt on MTV weeks before, retained, keeping over Barry Windham. Steamboat stood with Muhammad Ali in the ring as the show ended – the enduring image of Wrestlemania, immortalized in a black and white photograph still used in the open of Monday Night RAW – Ali holding Steamboat’s arm aloft in triumph in the ring at Madison Square Garden, the Greatest of All Time giving his seal of approval to the WWF and its standardbearer, Ricky Steamboat.

Probably you should get an autographed print for your home or office.

Jesse and Gorilla returned a year later, this time from Chicago for Wrestlemania II – also returning, Andre the Giant, who won his second Legends Match, this time over WWF Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino. Andre and Bruno shoot hands following the match in a nice moment bridging WWF generations. Hulk Hogan rematched with Paul Orndorff at II, Orndorff had a heel turned Mr. T in his corner for support – but Hogan was able to overcome the odds and avenge his defeat from a year previous. Making his Wrestlemania debut – Jake the Snake Roberts, who quickly dispatched of the former IC Champion Valentine. An exciting match with some historical value was Terry Funk going over his brother Dory.

The tag titles switched hands at II, the heel Hart Foundation – Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith, with Neidhart as the 3rd member – took from Tito and Beefcake. Also switching hands, the IC, heel Randy Savage, doing his act with Liz, went over Piper, who had turned face; and in the main event it was the Dynamite Kid, the leader of the Hart Foundation, taking the WWF Championship from Steamboat. The Stampede group – Bret, Davey, Anvil, Dynamite – the Hart Foundation – establishing their dominance at Wrestlemania II – all four men hitting the buckles at night’s end – Wrestlemania II a triumph of the Calgary heels – a triumph of Stampede Wrestling.

In front of 90,000+ in the Silverdome, Wrestlemania III returned in 1987. The opening tag was a rematch from II, the Bees going over Herc and Muraco. Andre the Giant went 3 for 3 in Legends Matches, defeating multitime NWA Champ Harley Race. Rick Martel made his WM debut, going over Valentine; Tito and Beefcake, former champions, had busted in half, with Brutus turning heel – Tito beats him at III. Piper’s full time WWF run ended here as the people finally got the long awaited Hogan/Piper Wrestlemania match, the Hulkster getting the duke.

Bret/Davey/Neidhart turned face during the tag run – splitting from the Champ Dynamite – and began a feud with even more Canadians, the Rougeau Brothers. The Harts kept at III, sending the fans home happy. Another reason for their happiness, Savage, who also turned face over the course of the year, keeping his IC over Jake Roberts.

And to complete the babyface trifecta – Ricky Steamboat regained the WWF Championship, defeating Dynamite in the main event – this time it was the four babyfaces – Steamboat, Savage, Bret, and Davey Boy hitting the four buckles while the 90,000 fans roared and the indefatigable Billington, his body ravaged, broken. Battered – stood in the aisle and cursed a storm – standing defiantly against the tidal roar of the fans.

The Calgary group got larger when Wrestlemania returned in 1988, Wrestlemania IV from Atlantic City, Owen Hart defeating Bad News Allen in the dark match.

Demolition made its Mania debut in the opening tag, going over the Bees; two men who had appeared at all four Wrestlemanias, Andre and Hogan, met in a colossal Legends Match, Andre going over and rolling his Mania mark to 4-0. Davey Boy and Bam Bam Bigelow both getting monster pushes, collided hard at IV, with the Bulldog going over. Another huge singles program saw Rick Rude with Bobby Heenan, matching their prodigious heel talents together, to beat the now babyface Jake the Snake.

The tag team champions were the Rougeaus, along with their manager Neidhart, who had turned his back on the Foundation, keeping their belts over Strike Force, Martel and Santana. The IC match was big on big, a babyface matchup where Randy Savage, two full years as the Intercontinental Champion, finally lost his belt, to the former tag champ Bret Hart. Bret and Savage shook hands after the match – Savage giving his stamp of approval to Bret, then exiting the ring to allow the Hit Man to accept the crowd reaction by himself.

And in the main event – the two dominant figures of these first four years of Wrestlemania, Ricky Steamboat and Dynamite Kid, met in a Loser Leaves Town Match.

The loser was the WWF Champion Steamboat (and current commissioner of the WWF, 19 years later) and he left town. The enduring image is of Steamboat offering his hand to Dynamite postmatch, their 3 year feud over, and Dynamite, after a pause – the fans encouraging him to shake his longtime adversary’s hand – Dynamite spitting at Steamboat – cursing at him to “Get the hell out of my ring!!”

Dynamite, all fury, defiantly holding his WWF Championship aloft, as Steamboat shakes his head…less in anger than in sadness at Billington’s monomania, Dynamite screaming at Steamboat even as Steamboat walks back up the aisle, the enduring image of Wrestlemania IV.

Finally – the end of the first part of our Road to Wrestlemania XXIII the end of the 1980s Manias– Wrestlemania V, one year later, once again in Atlantic City.

Hulk Hogan appeared at the first five Manias, he won his first Legends Match at V, going over the Ultimate Warrior, crazed, radical right wing xenophobe. Owen Hart made his Mania debut at V, losing to the now heel Rick Martel, who, as the Male Model, came with a significant entourage as part of his gimmick. The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase made his Mania debut at V, stuffing a hundred dollar bill in Jake’s mouth after going over him.

The belts belonged to the Heenan Family; this was the first Wrestlemania for the tag champs, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, the Brainbusters – and they won a bloody, full on Somers/Rose type brawl, with their principle opposition during their WWF run, the Rockers, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, who also were making their Mania debuts. Curt Hennig, Mr. Mothertrucking Perfect Himself – made his Mania debut, losing his IC belt to his stablemate in the Heenan Family, his longtime friend from Robinsdale High in Minnesota, Rick Rude. It was heel/heel, a Wrestlemania classic match – both men cheating, scrapping, wrestling, finally full on brawling – with Rude taking Hennig’s belt – the enduring image of Heenan celebrating with Rude and Arn in the ring – while Tully consoled Hennig on the outside, the fracturing of the Family evident.

The main event was a rematch of the IC title switch the year before, now the World Champion, Randy Savage – getting retribution against his friend and fellow babyface Bret Hart – keeping his WWF Title in the culmination of a terrific top of the card.

In a mirror image of the year before – this time it was Bret’s turn to give the magnanimous postmatch loser’s handshake to Savage – then exit the ring to allow the Macho Man to stand alone as the King of the world of professional wrestling –

But Savage did not have the luxury of enjoying the moment – for the first time, Wrestlemania ended with a full scale brawl – the Heenan Family, Arn/Tully/Rude/Hennig – all bloodied, even at each others hands, made their way to the ring, surrounded Savage, who stood alone, and kicked the hell out of him.

Savage took a good beating – until Shawn and Marty, themselves, terribly beaten from their loss earlier in the evening, made their way down the aisle to help fight off the heels –

Still outnumbered – Miss Elizabeth ran up the ramp to get reinforcements -- in the person of the Hit Man – together, Bret/Savage/Shawn/Marty were able to run off the heels – the four babyfaces, exhausted and bloody – hitting the four buckles for the face pop as the show ended, all four men shaking hands and hugging as Mania faded to black, an image that would be played and replayed years later, a bloody, exhausted Shawn Michaels leaning his full weight on the Hit Man, as the babyfaces stood in solidarity.

That’s part one.

We’ll recap the rest of the 22 year history of Wrestlemania.

And then the road will continue as we set up Wrestlemania XXIII – who will win the match over a year in the making – Edge v. Matt, Hell in a Cell? Who will take the vacant WWF and NWA championship belts as the tournaments to crown those new champions culminate at Wrestlemania. Who will CM Punk, the ECW Champion defend his title belt against? What about the IC Champ – Sugar Shane Helms and the new tag champs Sandman and Tommy Dreamer? Whom will they defend their respective belts against? What about the Legends Match, the Opening Tag, and all the other Wrestlemania staples? 9 big, big matches to set up – Wrestlemania returns to the Motor City of Detroit for XXIII!  The road continues.

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