The Big News: WrestleMania is finally beginning to take shape.
HHH came out to start the show. He said he’s happy because last year he had to watch WrestleMania from the sideline and this year he’ll be back main eventing. HHH vowed to win the title. That brought out Randy Orton, who said that HHH has always been jealous of him. Orton alluded to beating everyone else, which brought out John Cena.
John Cena said Orton is a liar and a loser. He added that Orton has an asterisk by his name, the only man to lose his way into a WrestleMania main event. The tone of this was way, way, way too cute. Cena was screwed out of the title and a Mania main event last night, and now he’s joking around about it. I think Cena acting cute is a part of why a portion of the fan base passionately hates him, and they could at least cut back on that when he actually ought to be angry.
Cena suggested they have a Raw rematch. Orton of course declined. William Regal came out and made a non-title match between the two. He said that if Cena won, there would be a triple threat at Mania. HHH didn’t like this, so Regal announced HHH would be the special referee.
Jeff Hardy beat Snitsky to qualify for the Money in the Bank. Jeff had a new entrance to celebrate his reentry into the midcard. He even has music that fits the theme. The first line is about seeing the writing on the wall. Snitsky worked over Jeff for about three hours. The crowd wasn’t just dead; it suffered on the way there.
Snitsky hit a yakuza kick, bear hug and elbows. Jeff came back with a whisper in the wind that basically missed. He went for the twist of fate, but Snitsky hit a big boot. Snitsky went for the pump handle slam, but Jeff escaped and hit the twist of fate and swanton for the pin. This was the worst Jeff Hardy match in ages. I have trouble remembering a Jeff Hardy match this bad.
Shawn Michaels announced that Ric Flair would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Paul Burchill then beat Super Crazy. There were chants of “Paul the Pirate,” which I suppose is better than “Sister Fucker” as far as chants likely to be directed at him in 2008. Burchill won this week with just the curb stomp, so it looks like they took Dave’s advice as far as just using that as the finisher. Burchill should wind up the curb stomp like Super Dragon to build anticipation. Backstage, Randy Orton lobbied HHH against a triple threat. HHH said he would call the match the way he sees it.
Big Show went to the ring to apologize for last night. He acted basically like a face, and asked Floyd Mayweather to come to the ring. Floyd came out with his crew to that obnoxious 50 Cent song about getting money, and received a strong heel reaction. Pretty Boy Floyd said that he loves WWE, and that he was sorry about the previous night but he’s the best fighter in the world and if someone calls him out he has to retaliate.
Show said he wasn’t calling him out, just trying to get some publicity as to their size difference. Show said all that’s in the past, and offered a handshake. Money Mayweather thought it over and shook his hand. As Floyd was leaving, Show said that he did what he was supposed to do but now he had something to get off his chest .Show said that the only way PBF could hurt him was on his knees, and even there he’s bigger than PBF. Show said he could take out Floyd in two minutes, and challenged him one-on-one. Floyd ran to the ring and accepted. Floyd teased a punch and Show flinched.
I really like the idea of bringing in Floyd Mayweather for a WWE angle. I think it’s the perfect sort of celebrity tie-in. The angle last night was great. If Floyd was supposed to pull his punches, he still should have been bonused for stiffing the man because it made the angle all the better. The key to this sort of angle is the illusion that it might break into some sort of shoot, and Floyd stiffing Show added some doubt as to how much of a work the Mania match will end up being.
With that said, WWE needs to be very careful with the booking at this point. The WWE audience doesn’t like Mayweather. It’s not like they sung “there’s only one Ricky Hatton” on a loop for 3 hours, but still there wasn’t a lot of love. With Mike Tyson, they quickly made him a heel and then turned him face at the end. It looks like they are going to try to make Mayweather a face all the way, and that could lead to some backlash undermining the angle.
I think this angle will end up increasing interest in Mania, but it’s conceivable that WWE fans turn on this angle in general because they don’t like Mayweather and resent him being portrayed as a face. That’s the worst case scenario, and WWE needs to tread very carefully if they are planning to build Mayweather as a face for six weeks. Tonight reminded me much more of West Texas Rednecks vs. No Limit Soldiers (complete with a group of faces and a lone heel ready to fight all of them) than Mike Tyson vs. Steve Austin. At the very least, Mayweather needs to dump the entourage.
Mr. Kennedy beat Val Venis to qualify for the Money in the Bank with the mic check. And that’s all I got to say about that.
The Vince McMahon vs. Hornswoggle cage match wasn’t a match but rather an angle. JBL slammed the cage door on Finlay’s face, and handcuffed Finlay to the cage. Vince and JBL then took liberties with Hornswoggle while Finlay screamed at them. Vince whipped Hornswoggle with his belt.
JBL choked him, slammed him into the cage, punted him in the head, dropped an elbow, and gave him a fall away slam into the cage. Afterwards Vince asked for medical help and apologized. I’m officially a total heel, as I cackled in laughter throughout this whole angle. The annoying leprechaun had it coming. This was a good angle.
Santino enthusiastically announced that Maria would be in Playboy and that he had the contract. He also announced Maria vs. Beth Phoenix. Santino then supposedly noticed fine print in the contract that Maria would have to beat Beth to pose in Playboy. Beth worked over Maria with a back breaker and power slam. Candice Michelle made her return and distracted Beth. Maria rolled up Beth for the pin. Santino was shocked but then feigned joy.
John Cena beat Randy Orton. This wasn’t very good. You can really see the wrestlers laying it in more with punches now that they are in HD. I point that out here, but it was evident this week in a number of matches. The match didn’t really build. Orton hit an implant DDT and power slam. He went for the RKO, but it was blocked and Cena applied the STFU. Orton got to the ropes, but Cena then hit the FU for the pin. HHH gave both men a pedigree after the match.
This show didn’t really click for me. On paper it reads strong, with angles up and down the show building Mania. I don’t know why in practice it didn’t end up being that good, but for whatever reason it didn’t.
The big problem with this year’s Mania built is that everything is just starting now. Tonight was the first tease of Michaels vs. Flair. Last night was the first tease of the Mayweather/Show match. Tonight was the first real tease of HHH vs. Orton vs. Cena. Last night was the solidification of Undertaker vs. Edge. Tonight was the first injection of JBL into a presumed Finlay/JBL program.
All of this would be so much more effective if they were pushing towards these matches previously. Every month we have WWE run a set of angles for a PPV. WrestleMania is supposed to be a culmination, and that makes it feel more important. This year the matches just feel like another pay-per-view. Luckily for WWE, the WrestleMania name is really strong. But that’s about all WWE appears to have going for it this year.
The problem couldn’t be more obvious, either. It’s long term booking, stupid. Wrestling is about build. If you don’t have a sense of where you are going, you can’t make fans want to see you get there. And that’s the whole point. Next year they need to get around to setting up WrestleMania a lot earlier.