Wrestlemania weekend isn’t just Wrestlemania weekend anymore. It’s the actual close of WWE’s fiscal year. It’s what they gear all of their marketing towards. And because of all the time and money spent towards the event, it usually succeeds and is the one time of the year where most WWE fans buy a wrestling PPV and sit with their friends and watch. It’s pretty much how it was designed originally by Vince McMahon. It is now the Super Bowl of wrestling.
But where as the final game in football is the only thing important going on (unless you count all the parties), Wrestlemania weekend now includes something that is almost more interesting than the wrestling show itself. For the the last three years, WWE has added a Hall of Fame ceremony as an extra event. They televised an hour of it on television and streamed it on the internet, but they add the entire DVD ceremony on the DVD as added incentive to buy the release.
Wrestlemania 22 was the first time in Wrestlemania history that the Hall of Fame ceremony (or any extracurricular activity) actually overshadowed the wrestling card. There were two reasons for that. First, the booking, build-up and match making for the card was pretty atrocious. Thankfully the guys put on awesome performances and the card ending up being pretty good. But the other reason is because of Bret Hart and the late Eddie Guerrero.
Vince McMahon did his damnedest to make Bret Hart a part of the Hall of Fame ceremony, much to the chagrin of wrestling fans alike. Bret Hart was never supposed to be apart of any WWE event after Vince screwed him in Montreal, and also after his brother Owen died in the ring after an irresponsible mishap. But after the recent completion of his DVD set, you figured Bret would come around. He also made it quite clear that he was only going to be a part of the Hall of Fame ceremony and would have nothing to do with the Wrestlemania wrestling card itself. And he was true to his claim.
The late Eddie Guerrero’s death was still surreal some 8 months later. Chavo Guerrero said it best during his speech in inducting his Uncle Eddie when he said that never in a million years would he have thought he’d be inducting Eddie into the Hall in 2006. He knew it would happen eventually, but not so soon, and not because of something like Eddie’s death. Because Bret made it quite clear that he wasn’t going to be a part of the wrestling shenanigans, and also because obviously Eddie physically (though they sure as heck made sure his name was brought up on the show) wouldn’t be able to be there, the Hall of Fame ceremony was actually more so the must see event than the actual wrestling event the next day.
It was really a fantastic Hall of Fame ceremony. I know people will ask how you can have a Hall of Fame for a predetermined sport. It’s kind of like how you can have an awards show and party for people who act. The Hall Of Fame event itself was hosted by Jerry “The King” Lawler. He introduced all the inductors and did a fairly seamless job. Nearly every induction was memorable. The Blackjacks were inducted by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and thankfully, the worst was first. Blackjack Mulligan seemed to be in better spirits as the word was that he wasn’t doing well. But Blackjack Lanza was peeved at someone as he was cracking jokes on Bobby Heenan and just telling jokes in general that were not getting over with a crowd that wanted to applaud everything. Heenan was great as always.
John Cena inducted William “Refrigerator” Perry into the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame. The Fridge was in a battle royal at Wrestlemania 2 won by Andre The Giant in the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. And Chicago was the host city for this Wrestlemania as well. Chicago hated John Cena. But he was great with his introduction of Perry as he did the old NFL films deal with the dramatic announcing and colorful wording of Perry’s career. Perry didn’t take up much time and left it for the wrestlers.
Greg Gagne was great (and who knew he had such charisma as you couldn’t tell by necessarily watching him wrestle) and he introduced his dad, the legendary Verne Gagne. The younger Gagne even said that he never lost to Ric Flair and did Flair’s strut. Verne was in a joking mood as well, cracking the crowd up by making jokes about Vince McMahon.
SD “Special Delivery” Jones introduced Tony Atlas and he probably took his job most seriously. He talked about taking Atlas all over the world and finding all the power lifting gyms in the different countries and having Atlas lift with them showing “Olympic” caliber athletes that wrestlers were top notch athletes as well. Atlas himself gave a very inspirational speech about how he grew up poor and never forgot where he came from and that helped him get back on his feet after squandering all his money.
Sherri Martel was the most happy to be there. She ran through story after story, nearly getting Ric Flair in trouble with his fiance (who then became his wife though they are now divorced) who was sitting with him up front. She also had a few things to say about Eric Bischoff without knowing he was in the building. But she did a great job winging it after that. She definitely seemed to appreciate the honor most.
Hulk Hogan introduced Mean Gene Okerlund and rubbed his fingers together to insinuate that it would take a lot of money to get him back into the ring with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Okerlund had a funny line at the end of his speech that had to do with him being buried backside up when he passed. I think you could tell where he was going with that one. It was for his critics and where they can kiss.
Finally, the two people who were the biggest names to get inducted into the Hall of Fame were next. Chris Benoit, Chavo Guerrero, and Rey Mysterio Jr. told stories about the late Eddie Guerrero. Chavo said that Eddie taught him the most about the business, even more than his own father, Chavo Sr. (who he called Classic) taught him. He told the audience how Eddie taught him that it was ok for a man to let out his feelings and be emotional. And he thanked everyone for cheering for Eddie. Benoit and Mysterio both talked about how great of a friend Eddie was to them and Benoit even went as far to call him his road wife since he and Guerrero spent so much time on the road together. They introduced Vickie Guerrero who came out with her two daughters to accept Eddie’s Hall of Fame plaque. In this instance, wrestling was all of a sudden very real.
The last induction was for that of Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Stone Cold Steve Austin was there to induct Bret. Austin came out and said that he was looking for something in his bag in the back when he found a can of whoop a** with Hulk Hogan’s name on it. That had the crowd roaring. Austin talked about Bret and how he never missed a date (though he was always late) and that he and Bret had the single greatest match of Austin’s career (Wrestlemania 13). Bret came out and the fans were in awe. They hadn’t seen him in a very long time and he actually looked his age. Bret is a stroke survivor from years of concussions, and he very much looked human on this day. But he also had his keen wit, stoic demeanor, and seemed like he hadn’t lost a step. He weaved in stories about Owen Hart, his father Stu, and one about his tag team partner Jim “The Anvil” Neidhardt. That story had to do with the time he clotheslined Vince McMahon out of his boots. But you have to listen to that one. I can’t spoil it here. Overall, the fans seemed to come to see Bret one last time. He was definitely the best there is, was, and ever will be again on this night.
The show itself was better than advertised. The booking for the show was severely lacking and this was maybe the worst build for Wrestlemania since Wrestlemania 2000, but at least in 2000 they were in a world where they simply couldn’t do any wrong. This year, most figured we were in for a long night, but thanks to the performers, it was actually an above average Wrestlemania. If Wrestlemania X-7 and XIX were simply great, this was pretty good.
There were two must see matches in my opinion. The first was Mick Foley vs. Edge in a Hardcore Match. It would be Foley’s first Wrestlemania match in two years and a match that would allow him to shine. The second was the Triple Threat Match in which Rey Mysterio would face Kurt Angle and Randy Orton for Kurt’s World Title. The other two matches that had big pushes behind them were John Cena’s WWE Title defense against Triple H and Vince McMahon’s brawl with Shawn Michaels. Notice that three of the four big matches were from the Raw brand. And that would be the story on this night. The Raw matches were seen as very important compared to those on the Smackdown brand.
A few things became clear after the night was over. First and foremost, John Cena is the biggest star in WWE. You might argue Triple H, and on any given night, he may get a better overall reaction than Cena, but in no way does he sell more tickets, sell more PPV buys, or sell more merchandise than Cena does. And throughout the build up to this match, it was pretty much figured that Triple H would win the match and get the WWE Title. Right up until John Cena made HHH tap in his horrible STFU, I still thought HHH was taking the strap back. But give WWE credit (and HHH and Vince who probably had the most decision making power in this instance) for keeping Cena on top because he was the fresher superstar. Love him or hate him, John Cena was the right person to win the match on that night.
Rey Mysterio won the Royal Rumble that January. He was the second man in the ring and lasted the entire match, winning it after tossing out Triple H and Randy Orton. This meant that he’d get his shot at the World Title. However, they never meant to put Rey in the spot. After Eddie Guerrero died, Rey was pushed as Eddie. Because he was popular with the Hispanic crowd and because everyone knew he was Eddie’s friend, he was pushed as Eddie Guerrero. He just wasn’t supposed to be pushed all the way to the top. But the crowd wanted it.
At No Way Out, Randy Orton beat Mysterio to take his spot in the main event against Kurt Angle, thus leaving Mysterio out of the title match he had earned. But it was ultimately decided that Mysterio should be in the match and it was changed to a Triple Threat match for Wrestlemania. But remember, Rey was never supposed be pushed to the top. Rey continued to lose on television all the way until Wrestlemania and it looked like there was no way he was going to win the championship. Low and behold, in a match that was given less than 10 minutes, Rey won the belt. The match was good, but not the classic it was supposed to be because of the lack of time it was given, and even with Vickie Guerrero’s presence at the show, Rey’s victory almost seemed anticlimactic. He was pushed on television so weakly that you never expected him to win and when he did, it was flat.
Shawn Michaels had his work cut out for him when his program with Vince McMahon was created in late 2005. Written around Bret Hart and Montreal (what else is new?), Shawn was basically telling Vince to get over it. Vince doesn’t get over things like this and the war was on. After working with Hulk Hogan in the summer and doing the work of 10 men, Shawn Michaels was given another huge task. How does one make Vince McMahon, a huge man with little athletic ability and more muscle than anything else, look good? Well, there are a few men who can do this in the world. And Shawn Michaels is definitely one of them. HBK was the aggressor for nearly the entire match and hit a splash off the top rope onto McMahon who was inside of a garbage can. HBK got the win, and actually made it a fairly entertaining match.
There was one more match that was outside of those top 4 matches that was entertaining and that was the “Money In The Bank” Ladder match where 3 men from Smackdown and 3 men from Raw faced off. The premise was that there was a briefcase hanging from a cable and in order to get the briefcase, you had to scale a ladder to reach it. Of the six men, only Rob Van Dam, Ric Flair, and Bobby Lashley really had a chance to win the match. The winner would go on to receive a title match and those three men were really the only ones who could be programmed in the title mix. Fit Finlay, Matt Hardy, and Shelton Benjamin were there to make the match exciting, and though it wasn’t as hot as the previous year, it was still a really good match. It was a spot fest and Shelton Benjamin showed off his athletic ability once again. It was also fun watching Fit Finlay and the Nature Boy go toe to toe for a bit. In the end, RVD won the match and would soon receive his title shot.
The rest of the card was solid fun, except for the Boogey Man beating Booker T which was nauseating, but that was expected. Also, Torrie Wilson and Candice Michelle in their Playboy Pillow Fight should’ve been taken off the card. It wasn’t necessary and the WWE Triple Threat match for the title should’ve been given the time instead.
The Undertaker beat Mark Henry predictably to continue his undefeated Wrestlemania streak. The match was just there, but the Undertaker is a good draw and he gave the fans what they wanted. JBL beat Chris Benoit for the US Title in a match that was good, but could’ve been better had it also have been given more time. The tag title match that opened the show saw Kane and Big Show beat an uninspired Chris Masters and Carlito. It was a bad way to open the show, but this match had to go somewhere. And maybe the most surprising match as far as quality (until the messed up finish) was Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James. Interestingly enough, the fans were very much into the heel James and the back and forth had great psychology. But James screwed up the finish on the live broadcast and it took away from how hard they worked. However, on the DVD, they edited out the screwed up finish, which probably didn’t need to be done. But they still worked very hard.
Rey Mysterio def. Kurt Angle and Randy Orton (new World Heavyweight Champion)
WWE Champion John Cena def. Triple H
Shawn Michaels def. Mr. McMahon (No Holds Barred Match)
Edge def. Mick Foley (Hardcore Match)
RVD wins Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Undertaker def. Mark Henry (Casket Match)
JBL def. Chris Benoit (new United States Champion)
World Tag Team Champions Kane & Big Show def. Chris Masters & Carlito
Mickie James def. Trish Stratus (new Women’s Champion)
Boogeyman def. Booker T & Sharmell
Torrie Wilson def. Candice Michelle (Playboy Pillow Fight)