Other than their regular championship matches, Wrestlemania XXIV had two hooks.
At No Way Out, The Big Show reintroduced himself after being away for over a year. He pulled off his coat to show off his new, svelte (for Show) figure. After threatening to beat up Rey Mysterio, boxer Floyd Mayweather, who was ringside, jumped in the ring and threw some legit punches that broke The Big Show’s nose. This would lead to a match between the two at the big show. Not many people knew that what WWE wanted was Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya in an opposing tag match at Mania XXIV, but De La Hoya wasn’t interested.
The second hook was a storyline involving Ric Flair’s retirement. Vince McMahon came out and said that the next time Ric Flair lost a singles match, he’d have to retire. Flair faced Mr. Kennedy, MVP, and others leading up to Mania, and at Mania, his opponent would be Shawn Michaels. The storyline was originally pitched by Stone Cold Steve Austin, and in his version (as I’ve heard), Flair was to keep winning matches and challenge for a title at Wrestlemania. It didn’t get that far, but Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair at Wrestlemania was definitely a strong match and by the end of the run, they had built enough interest after it being sort of lukewarm.
At the Royal Rumble, John Cena returned to WWE and what a surprise it was. All of the information had said that he wasn’t going to return until after Wrestlemania from his neck injury. But he must be a quick healer. Cena showed up at the Rumble and won the match, winning a Mania title shot in the process. Cena came back on Monday to say why he came back so quickly. He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to wrestle for the championship at Wrestlemania. And then for some reason, he challenged champion Randy Orton for the championship at No Way Out, pretty much making his reason for coming back so early nonsense. Triple H won the Elimination Chamber match at No Way Out to become the number one contender. Cena got added to the match and it was now a triple threat match.
Undertaker would win the second Elimination Chamber match at No Way Out and would become the number one contender to Edge’s title and they would do battle at Wrestlemania. It would even be the match that closed the show.
There was also a really good Money In The Bank match on the show, and the early predictions had Jeff Hardy winning the match and then challenging for the championship at SummerSlam. Mr. Hardy failed a medicine test and was taken out of the match and suspended. The 8-man match was changed to a 7-man match, and was actually a really terrific stunt fest. John Morrison in particular stood out because of his great athleticism and Shelton Benjamin also took some crazy bumps. Matt Hardy interfered and took out MVP and CM Punk went on to win the match, earning him a future title shot at whichever champion he wanted.
JBL vs. Fit Finlay opened the show and it wasn’t much of a match. There was really no fit for the match, unless they wanted to put it on after one of the hotter matches. JBL isn’t a good worker and just being in the match was going to bring it down a level. Finlay couldn’t do much with him and JBL would get the victory.
Batista beat Umaga in the main interpromotional battle, but the match was also disappointing. Just one year prior, Batista had the match of his life with the Undertaker, while Umaga was in one of the biggest money matches in history with Bobby Lashley (though the main reason was because of Donald Trump). You could tell that both guys weren’t too happy being relegated to a non-main event match, and their effort showed. Batista walked away with the victory.
The triple threat match for Randy Orton’s title was a really solid match that was paced well. It lacked super heat and also didn’t get a whole lot of time which hurt it. All three guys worked really hard to put on a good match and though they didn’t steal the show, I originally liked the match the best when I first saw the show. I probably liked the Undertaker vs. Edge more later on second viewing, but it’s still close. Orton would pin Cena after stealing Triple H’s pin to win the match.
Floyd “Money” Mayweather and the Big Show showed that you don’t have to work a great style to tell a great story. Their match didn’t have any real wrestling, but the psychology was really strong. Floyd was the little man, using his quickness to stick and move. Show used his power to throw Mayweather around like a rag doll. Surprisingly, Mayweather was solid and his athleticism showed throughout. He would beat Show after knocking him out with brass knuckles, and Show couldn’t answer the ten count.
The Undertaker and Edge closed the show with a really dramatic match. Part of the problem when I watched it the first time is that I was fatigued from watching the first three hours and change of the show. Knowing this was the last match, I was a little bored from the psychology and wanted them to get to the great spots that I knew were coming. The last few minutes of this match were spectacular. They reversed each other’s moves and when Edge was about to hit a last spear to win the match, Undertaker caught him in his gogoplata to win the match.
Before I talk about Flair vs. Michaels, I want to make mention that to me, the match was a bit of a disappointment. I knew that they would both try their hardest to give everyone the perfect match they were hoping, but at this point in his career, Ric Flair couldn’t do that match. The work was solid though. You could see that Flair was a bit frustrated because he wasn’t able to stay with Michaels at times, but still, he put on a good Ric Flair performance. Because it was for his career, the story was that Flair was giving his most valiant effort, and if his best wasn’t good enough, it just wasn’t good enough anymore. Michaels hit his patented sweet chin music and Flair struggled to his feet. Michaels was saddened that he had to beat one of his idols and mouthed the words, “I’m sorry, I love you,” before nailing Flair with another superkick to win the match. It was the perfect ending to a good, though not great match. And even though it wasn’t the best match on the card, it is the one memory of the night that holds strong.
I have to mention the previous night’s Hall of Fame ceremony because it also involved Flair and helped with the romanticism of his entire storyline. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame, even though he was an active wrestler, at least for one night. He told some great stories and it was really his final stage. The Rock was also there in what could be one of his final wrestling performances, inducting both his father Rocky Johnson and his grandfather Peter Maiva.
On the night following Wrestlemania, they sent off Ric Flair in style with wrestlers coming out and telling him how great he was. It was one of the few moments in wrestling history that seemed absolutely perfect.
Triple Threat Match: Randy Orton def. John Cena and Triple H (Orton retains WWE Title)
The Undertaker def. World Heavyweight Champion Edge (New Champion)
Floyd “Money” Mayweather def. Big Show (Knockout)
Shawn Michaels def. Ric Flair (Career Threatening Match)
Kane wins 24-Man Battle Royal to face ECW Champion
JBL def. Finlay in a Belfast Brawl
CM Punk wins the Money in the Bank Ladder Match
SmackDown vs. Raw: Batista def. Umaga
Kane def. ECW Champion Chavo Guerrero (New Champion)
Beth Phoenix & Melina def. Ashley & Maria in the BunnyMania Lumberjack Match