Monday, April 02, 2007

IWW reviews Wrestlemania 23

Wow. That was a very solid PPV! There weren't many surprises: what you expected to deliver, really did; what you expected to stink, did just that. I want to thank everyone who commented on the recent WMpredictions pieces! (We always love to hear from readers and we're interested in what you have to say.)

This year's Wrestlemania drew a reported 80,103 fans to Ford Field in Detroit. If that number is legitimate, that would easily be the largest pro-wrestling event ever held in North America. Toronto is in third place with 67k fans to see Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VI in 1990 and 68k fans packing the Skydome for "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan vs The Rock at Wrestlemania X8 in 2002. WWF's claim of 93,173 for WM3 at the Silverdome isn't real. The real number for Wrestlemania in 1987 was closer to 78k. WM23 isn't even the record for Vince as they drew 82,000 to Wimbley Stadium in London, England for Summerslam 1992 for Bret Hart vs Davey Boy Smith. Any way you slice it, this year's Wrestlemania is a record for North American pro-wrestling gate, North American pro-wrestling attendance and highest Wrestlemania attendance. Next year's Wrestlemania will be at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando which will probably hold somewhere between 65 and 75 thousand people. It probably won't surpass this year's attendance, but it will be another huge event with tons of people and an enormous live gate!

On the Indeed Wrestling Weekly staff, LadyA showed her dominance by predicting seven of the eight matches correctly (only faltering on the ECW tag). Everyone else predicted either four or five matches of the matches correctly. On the whole, there wasn't much in the way of unexpected events. However, in pro-wrestling, predictability can be a really great thing: fans like to be able to see where a story is going and they like to be excited about that path. In the late 90s, Vince Russo & WCW Nitro Crash TV really pushed the envelope when it came to giving surprises and SWERVING the audience. Shocking people might increase television ratings, but it rarely plays well for viewers who have paid serious money to watch Pay-Per-Views. When it comes to the really big events - it's best not to do something dangerous. (Look at WCW Starcade 1997 with Sting vs Hogan for an example of how not just giving the fans what they wanted - a clean pinfall/submission - ruined a perfect angle.)After Aretha Franklin, her choir ("CROWN IT") and the military vignettes, we had Wrestlemania PYRO~! Then it was time for the first match.

1. MONEY IN THE BANK Jeff Hardy/Booker T/Fit Finlay/CM Punk/Mr. Ken Kennedy/Matt Hardy/Randy Orton/Edge)
Going into this match, the leading contenders were Edge, Orton and Kennedy. Edge, suffering from a torn bursa sac in his jaw, hasn't been wrestling much on television lately. In the end, a massive legdrop from Jeff Hardy through a ladder (the MASSIVE HGH LADDER OF DOOM) suspended between the ring and the guardrail (or MANSHIELD as TC Watts calls it) removed Edge and Jeff Hardy from this match. Fit Finlay really stepped up his game and set the tone for the evening: large men unexpectedly doing moves off the top rope: Air Finlay! This match really had it all - Hornswaggle's mini-ladder (stiff shot to CM Punk's head from Edge), Matt Hardy taking a nasty suplex on the ladder (again from Edge), Ken Kennedy missing a senton and landing neck-first on a ladder, Jeff Hardy giving a huge senton on Kennedy, Orton hitting an RKO off the ladder on CM Punk, Ken Kennedy delivering a rolling Samoan Drop to Finlay's midget from off the ladder, Fit Finlay executing a painful looking Celtic Cross on Matt Hardy across a ladder and much more! They laid out this match very well with people pairing up to fight on the ladder (with strong strikes and quick movements, this flowed a lot better than some other ladder matches) along with giving each wrestler their moment to shine (such as Edge's 6 spears, Booker T cleaning house, Randy Orton delivering multiple RKOs). In the end, it came down to the two newest WWE superstars: CM Punk and Ken Kennedy. While both were on the ladder, CM Punk hit a Maui thay kick to knock off Ken Kennedy. Kennedy retailated by throwing a ladder at CM Punk's face and climbing to victory. As Ray Rhodes & Zip Whittle predicted, the "golden boy" of Smackdown is now the 2007 Money in the Bank champion.
WINNER: KEN KENNEDY (19 minutes 10 seconds)

(RAW) The Great Khali VS (Smackdown!) Kane
Ultimately, this felt like a strange TV match somehow transported to our Wrestlemania screen. The encounter was less than six minutes long and still exposed how dreadfully poor Khali is at selling. We did get some old-school wrestling action with a trapeze muscle hold! Kane brought in his hook/scythe and we eventually got a serious low blow (with a chain) by Kane. This lead to the big moment where Kane bodyslammed Khali. It was a nice visual. (I wonder if in twenty years, people will remember this match as fondly as Andre/Hogan. Well, with the exception being that the crowd was at least vocal during that Wrestlemania match.) However, Khali could not be put down. He hit his hanging neck tree slam (chokebomb?) and won clean. No Mark Henry run-in. No DQ for using a Chain. They continue to build Great Khali. I assume he'll be fed either to John Cena or Bobby Lashley in the next four months.
WINNER: The Great Khali (5 minutes 31 seconds)

At this point, we had classic Wrestlemania Comedy with a bevy of cameos. Cryme Tyme & Eugene (looking quite Ox Baker-like) ran into the Extreme Expose, Moolah & Mae Young, REV. SLICK~!, Dusty Rhodes, Jimmy Hart, Mean Gene, IRS, Jerry Briscoe and RICKY F'N STEAMBOAT and lastly, FAROOQ (DAMN!). They had a dance party. It was a beautiful thing. "FAROOQ... FAROOQ... FAROOQ IS ON FIRE!"

US Championship: Chris Benoit (c) vs Montel Vontavious Porter
MVP has improved a lot, especially since Kane burned his ass. He's been in the WWE for less than a year and it starting to show a lot of potential for becoming a serious wrestler. The announcers (JBL/Cole) did a good job really building up Chris Benoit in this match as an incredible technical wrestler (Bret Hart & Eddy Guerrero are the "only guys able to go toe-for-toe"). Thus, when MVP was able to hold his own with Benoit, it really meant something. This was easily MVP's best match of his career (and it's no coincidence he was in there with Benoit) and I really thought they were going to put the Florida native over the Canadian for the US Title. However, in the end Chris Benoit pinned MVP clean using the diving headbutt! Either way, it was a fun match and a lot better than I expected. Ray Rhodes was right to predict that they two would click in a great way. I'm still not sure where they're going with Benoit down the line, whether he's going to stay on Smackdown or whether he might move to RAW. I expect this feud between Chris & MVP won't be over for awhile.
WINNER: CHRIS BENOIT (9 minutes 19 seconds)

We had a segment with Boogeyman, Donald Trump and former Miss USA 2006 Tara Connor. Wacky, worm-related comedy abounds. Trump was completely nonplussed by Boogeyman. Tara ran off. Trump claimed there were "almost 100,000 people" there and he couldn't get a sandwich. All I can say is that Vince McMahon is amazing - he's such a heel that he can turn Donald Trump, hardly a likeable guy, into a babyface.

The 2007 Hall of Fame was introduced: Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, Nick Bockwinkel, Mr. Fuji, The Wild Samoans (who did an awesome crazy pose), The Sheik (represented by his wife) and Mr. Perfect (represented by his mother and his father - Larry "the Ax" Hennig). I really wish that they would broadcast the HOF ceremony on PPV for $10-$20. They could sell a decent number and lots of older fans would be interested in tuning in!


One thing you're always guaranteed at Wrestlemania is a great Undertaker Entrance. (Always gives 20-25 indy workers the chance to throw on a black robe and walk around with fire!) My wife wondered why the druids chanted in Latin, but we all know that it's because it sounds cool. Big Dave seemed very focused. Maybe he'd read the AT&T Poll results: 82% of the voters thought he was going to lose. Both men went at it hard & heavy from the start trading strikes. The fans were audibly booing Batista and cheering Undertaker. (It was clear that Cena would be in for a ride later tonight.) Undertaker really had his working boots on tonight and was willing to pretty much kill himself in order to get over the match. He took a flip bump over the stairs on the outside, executed a picture perfect, terrifying no-hands over-the-top rope PLANCHA OF DOOM to Batista on the outside, herked Batista off the turnbuckle and planted him for a Last Ride and took a powerslam through the ECW announcer table. Batista went to the top rope and surprised us with a flying shoulderblock and had a great near fall after almost paralyzing Taker with his Batista Bomb (a jack-knife powerbomb that was so brutal that I really believed Undertaker's streak was over). However, in the end, Undertaker recovered and hit his Tombstone Piledriver to a massive ovation. This was very good; a lot of people have been calling it a highlight even above the Cena/HBK match.

Vince McMahon met with Stephanie McMahon to do a "WACKY VINCE PROMO". This one included BABY CAM and ended with the line, "She took a trump" when VKM smelled poop. It was silly but Vince can pull off a lot of stuff that would kill a mere mortal. I really was expecting Vince to get peed on in this segment.

(Elijah Burke/Matt Striker/Kevin Thorn/Marcus Cor Von) vs (Sandman/RVD/Dreamer/Sabu)

Ric Flair works the undercard with Carlito (against Shane Helms & Chavo Guerrero Jr.) so we can have Tommy Dreamer on Wrestlemania. At last. Anyways, at least everyone worked quickly and the audience seemed into it. The ECW Originals came in through the crowd while the New Breed made their entrance normally (with Burke looking a bit like Dee Jay from Street Fighter II). ECW fill-all, Scott Armstrong, was your referee! Sabu started the match and connected with his wacky springboard office. He tagged out to Sandman who actually executed a HYUGE legdrop across the ropes. Dreamer & Sandman did some goofy gobstopper elbows and eventually the ALPHA MALE got in the ring. Apparently, RVD was the only wrestler of this bunch who had ever been at Wrestlemania before. (Dreamer wasn’t in any hardcore battles?) The vampire came in to deliver some GOTHIC rear-chinlocks. Matt Striker knows how to take a great monkey flip! At one point, Sabu shot over the ropes and tried to kill Monty Brown. He was promptly dropped right on his head. Ouch. Anyhow, in the end ROB VAN DAM got the win with a big frogsplash. A bit of a surprising result; perhaps RVD isn’t leaving the company after all! The New Breed can’t beat the original ECW Geeks. It was a nice feel-good moment just like DJ Terry predicted.

Everyone got their own entrance in this match – even the barbershop platform. (No doubt it was powered by Wrestlemania 3 ring cart technology!) Vince came in with his super powerwalk. Umaga and Armando Estrada (remember him?) showed up. He still has the IC Title, by the way! Donald Trump (show with Miss Teen USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe all in the crowd) saunters in with money dropping from the ceiling. Bobby Lashley, ECW World Championship and Army Sergeant, makes his way to the ring. Stone Cold Steve Austin arrives, ready to raise hell. They ate up a significant amount of time with just getting everyone down to the ring. Eventually, the match started at Umaga & Lashley traded some flying shoulderblocks (again, as the memo encouraged all the 300-pounders). Both Umaga and Lashley also did death-defying flip bumps from the ring on to the floor which could not have felt good at all. Austin made his presence known when he hooked Umaga’s eye (just like he said he would) when Jamal wouldn’t break. So, Shane McMahon showed up and distracted Steve Austin so Umaga could hit him with the Samoan Spike. Then, in the evening low point, Bobby Lashley had to sell Shane’s comical strikes (instead, of just EATING HIM) so Shane McMahon could do his “coast-to-coast” dropkick into a trash can. (This move, a take-off of RVD’s Van Terminator, was shown in the Wrestlemania clips at the start of the show. Foreshadowing!) With Austin still out, Shane tears off his shirt to reveal he’s now a referee. Umaga does a HUGE splash and nearly flattens Bobby. He pins Lashley and it’s 1…2… AUSTIN PULLS OUT SHANE. At this moment, Trump turns to the camera and nonchalantly says, “What’s going on here.” Hilarity. Then, in a surprising spot Trump runs over and clothesline McMahon and starts delivering wacky worked punches. Umaga misses a Samoan Spike on Austin, gets a stunner, Lashley spears him and 1-2-3 it’s over! Shane McMahon receives a patented Austin combo as Vince tries to sneak away. Lashley retrieves him, throws him over his shoulder and ties him to the Sweeney Todd Barber Chair (as my wife coined it). Surprisingly, Donald Trump actually participates in the shaving of Vincent Kennedy McMahon. They even break out the cream and blades to really turn McMahon bald. VKM does his hilarious facials and tries to push himself over in the chair. Out of nowhere, Steve Austin suddenly stunners Donald Trump. What can you say about a match like this? Part debacle, part spectacle, absurd and fun. Hopefully, all the added press around this match added a hundred thousand buys. Will Vince be on RAW tonight with a wig?
WINNER: BOBBY LASHLEY (so Vince McMahon got his head shaved)

We get some footage from the Lumberjack Tag Team Match with Flair/Carlito vs Helms/Chavo that was held on the preshow to give all the guys some kind of payday. Here they were mostly trying to stall so they could clean up the ring.

Mickie James, Torrie Wilson, Candice Michelle, Maria, Kelly Kelly, Brooke Adams, Krystal, Victoria, Jillian Hall, Michelle McCool and the reappearing TRINITY came down followed by Playboy cover girl Ashely and Melina (without Johnny Nitro). They two didn’t have long to wrestle and didn’t ONCE leave the ring. They started with the obligatory hair-related offense and moved into the now-obligatory Stacy Kiebler leg chokes. Melina busted out a giant swing which was fun and Ashley did the headsissors & monkey flips proving any dope is capable. She missed an awful elbow drop. In the end, Melina won with a simple bridge. All the girls than got into a big fight. JBL ranted about “LUMBERJILL PANDEMONIUM.” I can’t fault the whole setup too much; they were in there for a simple purpose – to play a buffer between big matches. I’m glad they’re keeping on the title on Melina since Ashley is pretty hopeless as an actual wrestler.
WINNER: MELINA (3 minutes 14 seconds)


59% of the AT&T voters had Cena retaining. 41% chose HBK. Obviously, the outcome for this match wasn't as crystal clear as UT/Batista. JR kept claiming that Shawn hasn't held this title for nine years. What about his Elimination Chamber win?, I thought. Ray Rhodes set me straight: technically, that was for the World Heavyweight Championship which used to be on RAW until Batista & Cena swapped places. Cena's entrance this year lacked gangsters. Instead, it was a Ford Mustang shooting through the streets of Detroit ala Fast and the Furious. HBK was really heeling it up as a cocky bastard. Still, the crowd popped huge for Cena's arrival, booed his wrestling and cheered him whenever he seemed to be close to hitting his finisher(s): FU & STFU. We'd had very little blood (Fit got busted open during the opening match) so that was an element in this match. Shawn always steps it up when it comes to the big matches. Tonight he hit some nice enerzgis, an ASAI MOONSAULT and a very nice piledriver on Cena on top of the steps. The match had a number of great sequences highlighted by Cena trying to hit the FU and HBK countering with things such as a DDT and a sunset flip. Eventually, Cena switches gears and starts going for his submission hold but HBK is able to secure an inside cradle for a near fall. With both men bloody, Cena eventually secures an STFU but HBK manages to crawl to the ropes. Referee Jack Doan (the second ref in the match after the first one ate a Superkick from Shawn) rips Cena off Shawn and while he's admonishing him, HBK nails a sweet chin music on Cena. However, Cena does kickout and after a double down, Cena manages to secure the STFU for the victory. Ray Rhodes pointed out that's 3 of the last 4 Wrestlemanias where the main event had ended in a tap-out.
WINNER: JOHN CENA (28 minutes 21 seconds)

All in all? It was a great event. Both big title matches really delivered and the Battle of the Billionaires was everything is promised to be. The Money in the Bank match helped cemented rising star status for Ken Kennedy and the ECW tag match had a wonderful feel-good finish. MVP/Benoit had a surprising and exciting match with the Canadian Crippler coming out on top and both Great Khali & Melina helped balance all the face wins with some heel flavor. This will be a great event on DVD.


Zip Whittle - Cena/HBK : The Asai Moonsault was terrific. The story was basic and riveting. Even after 3.5 hours of wrestling, this match seemed fresh and exciting.

Ray Rhodes - Batista/UT: These big men really stepped it up and Undertaker proved why he's such a legend. He hasn't looked this good in ages!

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