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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A WrestleMania worth skipping in person?

If you had tickets to game 7 of the World Series, you might secretly root against your team winning it all in game 6. For similar reasons, I was half-hoping that this year’s WrestleMania would be a disappointing one – seeing as how it’s the first one in a long time that I haven’t attended.

At the end of the night, part of me was certainly sad that I wasn’t able to be in the building for the historic Undertaker – Shawn Michaels bout, and for the general pageantry that comes with the biggest wrestling show of the year. But I took some comfort in knowing that I had attended some better WrestleManias in recent years, and saw the better of the two ‘Taker-Michaels Mania matches in person.

By setting the bar so high at last year’s WrestleMania, the Undertaker and Michaels had a nearly impossible mission going into this year’s installment – delivering the greatest match in WrestleMania history. They fell just a tad short, but it would be foolish to describe what will likely be the best match I’ll see all year as “disappointing.” While the match may have lacked a little bit of the athleticism of their 2009 outing, it largely made up for it with the drama of watching the great Shawn Michaels wrestling what may have been his last match (although, I highly doubt that.)

However, I don’t think it would be inaccurate to describe all of WrestleMania XXVI as slightly disappointing. While the stellar performances of the two nearly-50-year old wrestlers in the main event may have sent fans home happy, the reality is that much of the other three-and-a-half hours of the show fell a bit flat.

Nowhere was that more the case than in the 13-years-in the making street fight between Vince McMahon and Bret Hart. When the match began, like most fans, I thought to myself, “I never thought I’d see the day.” By the end of the match, I was wishing I hadn’t.

WWE is usually great at pulling out all the smoke and mirrors to make even the most bizarre WrestleMania pairings quite entertaining. That was the case with McMahon vs. Hulk Hogan, Floyd Mayweather vs. the Big Show, and Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow. And while there were a lot of ingredients added to distract from the fact that a 63-year-old wrestling promoter was taking on a man who hadn’t wrestled in nearly a decade and is still battling the effects of a stroke – in the end they weren’t enough. This match was boring and uninspired.

It’s a shame that the lasting final image of Bret Hart at WrestleMania will no longer be his win against Steve Austin in a classic submission match at WrestleMania 13, but rather an out-of-shape “Hitman” taking a seat in the middle of the ring to catch his breath mid-match.

It’s a sad state of affairs when “The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be” is nearly outworked by Vickie Guerrero.

There were other disappointments throughout the night. With wrestlers each year trying to one-up the stunts from the previous year, the Money in the Bank ladder match has stopped looking at all like a fight and instead devolved into a total circus sideshow act – complete with a man walking on stilts. Triple-H vs. Sheamus was too long. Rey Mysterio vs. C.M. Punk was too short. The ten woman tag team match was – well – it was on the show.

On the upside, John Cena defeated Batista in a match that very much felt like a WrestleMania-worthy main event. Chris Jericho and Edge, too, delivered an exciting world title match, although it may have lacked the star power and placement on the show to really make it stand out as something special.

All in all, I’m not entirely kicking myself for skipping the trip to Phoenix this year. But if its turns out truly to have been Shawn Michaels final WrestleMania, I’ll certainly be second-guessing my decision for years to come.

-Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

Monday, March 29, 2010

Michaels' Streak More Impressive Than 'Taker's

We will of course go through the formality of asking you to vote for Match of the Year as 2010 draws to a close, but, truly, we don't need to. It's going to be Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker for the second straight year. I know there are nine months remaining in 2010, and I'm sure there will be some superb matches in WWE, TNA, Ring of Honor, and even in the indies over that time; you can choose among them for second, third, and fourth place. Michaels-Undertaker was a five-star dramatic classic that, because of the retirement stip, exceeded the original.

Congratulations to The Undertaker for extending his WrestleMania streak to 18-0. Impressive as that is, let's not get carried away. This is pro wrestling after all, so while it's nice that Undertaker was deemed worthy of WM victories 18 times, it could not have happened without some divine intervention from the top of the Tower.

Michaels' streak of seven straight Matches of the Year (including, if you will, 2010) is almost entirely of his own doing. Sure, you have to give credit to his dance partners, Underaker, Ric Flair, John Cena, Vince McMahon, Kurt Angle, Triple-H, and Chris Benoit, but the common denominator is glaringly obvious. Aside from Flair and Benoit, none of these men has been in a Match of the Year with another opponent.

There are fans of Ric Flair and Bruno Sammartino and even The Undertaker who might not like to read this, but Shawn Michaels--win-loss record aside--is the greatest wrestler of all-time.

A note about WrestleMania 26: Taken as a whole, this was not a great show. Some early Internet chatter have even mentioned this as the worst WrestleMania of all-time. Had it not been for the aforementioned grand finale, I might give the notion some serious thought. Granted, my $59.95 will be reimbursed by my employer (I could not make the trip for personal reasons), but when I turned off my TV set, I was content. For those of you who have bought boxing pay-per-views, you never expect much from the undercard, but you're angry if the main event is not worthy of the purchase price. This one was.

I anxiously await your take on WrestleMania 26.

Stu Saks/Publisher

Monday, March 22, 2010

The War That Wasn't

The new "Monday Night Wars" should no longer be referred to as a "war" at all. At least until TNA Impact demonstrates that it can at least maintain the 1.2-ish ratings it drew pre-January 4. Nobody, including the brain trust at TNA, could have possibly believed TNA would have scored anything even remotely close to Raw's numbers. I certainly didn't, yet I believed going head to head with WWE on Monday NIghts was the right move for wrestling, which was in desperate need of a shake-up.

I thought that just being in the same timeslot as Raw would goose Impact's rating just a bit. Instead the ratings went in the other direction, failing to crack the 1.0 mark. So much for a rising tide lifting all ships. What these embarrassing ratings now do is put even more strain on Hogan and company to put on a show that doesn't reek of 1987.

The one thing TNA has going for it is the the unpredictability factor, but whatever the creative minds come up with, Impact needs to be based on in-ring action, not who's kidnapping whom in the parking lot. Not who's super cool ring with give him "Mega-hulkster" powers, or who's trying to break into the building. The show needs to be grounded in Style's acrobatic brilliance, Angle's matt mastery, and Morgan's aggressiveness. There is no promo Hogan or Flair or Bischoff can give us that will make new fans switch away from Raw. I also thought the presence of another show on Monday night would inspire Vince McMahon to once again pull out all the stops, but since this "war" is scarcely competitive, it's clear he sees no need to bother, and quite honestly, neither do I. Yes, it's early and TNA would be hasty to turn tail and slink back to Thursday night, but do me a favor, please, wake me up when the war starts.
--Frank Krewda

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Step in the right direction

Not that it will manifest itself in the Nielsen ratings, but I believe TNA put on the more interesting program last night. Notice I didn't say "superior" or "better." "Interesting" is the word that best describes my opinion after sitting down, thumbs at the ready, to watch the shows.

First, and most likely out of force of habit, I tuned into Raw
at 9:00, when I was presented with yet another conversation between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. I'm into the storyline and can't wait to see their rematch at WrestleMania 26, but how much is left for either man to say? It's Michaels' career vs. 'Taker's streak. I know.

After 30 seconds into that segment, I remembered TNA. Over on Impact, we had Hogan "brothering" his ass off in the ring. Been there, done that, for close to three decades now. But wondering how Abyss and Styles would factor into the resolution of this feud, I decided to stick around. Glad I did because Sting came back and wigged out. Now, most of us in the office knew Sting would be back last night, but we didn't expect him to bash Hogan and Abyss with his baseball bat. Likewise, we expected Rob Van Dam to show up. But we had no idea he would squash Sting within seconds or that Sting would treat him like a human pinata. (BTW, did anybody else notice how small TNA security came up last night-holding Hogan and Van Dam when Sting was the one swinging a baseball bat the whole time?)

And there were other surprises. The Jeff Hardy main event run-in wasn't one of them, nor was the return of Shannon Moore, nor even The Beautiful People Knockouts tag team title win . But the three-way X division title match involving Frankie Kazarian, Daniels, and Doug Williams was an excellent match and Eric Bischoff's X division "pep talk" added some juice. The impromptu match/brawl between Syxx-Pac and and Eric Young was as spirited as anything on either show.

Meanwhile on Raw, we had a six-Diva tag match, Randy Orton fighting with Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr. and Triple-H throwing yet another temper tantrum, this time in the direction of Sheamus. Really, was there anything on Raw that we haven't seen over and over again at this point?

Bottom line: TNA has something going for it right now that WWE doesn't, and that's unpredictability. I'm as jaded as they come and I found myself compelled to stay with Impact despite the show being built around Hulk Hogan and his woes. My only real complaint about Impact was the main event. With men like Styles, Angle, and now RVD, on the roster, you simply can't give Flair and Hogan 20-plus minutes at that point in the show. But for 100 minutes last night, not knowing what to expect made Impact the more interesting ... oh, hell, I'll say it ... better show.
Frank Krewda