Wrestlemania, the biggest show in the wrestling calendar, is the official year end for WWE. It’s where everything comes to a head, where all the talent want to be showcased and where the biggest matches take place. To highlight this, the show opens with a brilliantly put together video package that puts across the magnitude of the event, featuring the performers talking about watching the early ‘Manias and letting us know which match was their personal highlight, before cutting to previews of the bouts on this year’s card. I actually had goosebumps during some of the historic footage.
Running Time: 362mins (6hrs 2mins – excluding extras)
- Nicole Scherzinger sings “America the Beautiful”
- Money in the Bank Ladder Match: CM Punk v Kofi Kingston v MVP v Shelton Benjamin v Mark Henry v Kane v Finlay v Christian
- 25-Diva Battle Royal to Determine the First-Ever Miss WrestleMania
- 3-on-1 Handicap Elimination Match: Chris Jericho v “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka & Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (w/ Ric Flair)
- Extreme Rules Match: Jeff Hardy v Matt Hardy
- Intercontinental Championship Match: JBL v Rey Mysterio
- Undertaker v Shawn Michaels
- Triple Threat Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: Edge v Big Show v John Cena
- Introduction of the 2009 WWE Hall of Fame Inductees
- WWE Championship Match: Triple H v Randy Orton
- WrestleMania 25 Highlights
- Lumberjack Match for the Unified Tag Team Championships: Carlito & Primo v The Miz & John Morrison
- WrestleMania Highlights for all 24 previous events (you can watch them all individually)
Disc 3 – 2009 WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
- Terry Funk & Dory Funk, Jr.
- Koko B. Ware
- The Von Erichs
- Howard Finkel
- “Cowboy” Bill Watts
- Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
- Stone Cold Steve Austin
Pussycat Doll #1 opens the event with the traditional signing of the national anthem (and does a decent job of it), before Jim Ross infects us all with his enthusiasm and introduces us to Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. The announcing duties were up in the air after Tazz decided not to renew his contract. This means that there was no-one representing the ECW brand, but the Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole more than hold the fort.
The opening bout was the annual Money in the Bank Match (which should be the opener every year). Kofi Kingston got nice pop from the crowd, CM Punk got a really loud one, but Christian got a REALLY, REALLY LOUD cheer when his music hit, clearly making him the crowd favourite to take the case when the bell rang to end the match. Kane and Mark Henry, not the most high-flying of guys, used their best assets, their strength, and managed to squeeze in some new spots into a familiar setting (including the absolutely phenomenal sight of Henry holding a closed ladder vertically and Kofi RUNNING UP IT, only for Mark Henry to let it go, CATCH KINGSTON AS HE FELL, and then hit the World’s Strongest Slam onto the steel).
Everyone got a chance to shine, with gasps from the crowd being frequent and deserved. Christian hitting the Killswitch from a ladder, Shelton powerbombing MVP OVER THE TOP ROPE TO THE FLOOR, Benjamin also doing his annual suicide spot and Christian performing a stunning balancing act all need to be seen to be believed. The fans cheered whenever MVP, Kane or Christian closed in on the case (especially at the end), but booed loudly when CM Punk became the first-ever two-time winner of MitB. At the time, I can remember people being upset and/or annoyed at the result, but, as sometimes happens, WWE seemed to know what it was doing and now, thanks to this win, Punk is one of the best characters on TV today.
The second bout of the card is the 25-Diva Battle Royal and, in the weeks leading up to the show, WWE did a great job of hyping the returning Divas… and then ruined it by not even announcing them individually, meaning you struggled to actually realise who was there and when they had been eliminated. On the live broadcast, this was preceded by Kid Rock singing a few of his tracks, with the women entering during the last song, meaning we at least got to see them individually. On the DVD, the Kid Rock performance is omitted, meaning so is the entrances. Sunny (who looked absolutely stunning) deserved much more than this, as did Jackie, Victoria, Torrie Wilson and Molly Holly. In the end, the bout was a mess and is only memorable for the finish when Santina Marella (Santino’s “sister”) dumped Melina and Beth Phoenix over the top rope. The fans did cheer, so it did something right.
One of the more eagerly awaited contests was the Handicap Match pitting Jericho against the WWE Legends. The promos between Jericho and his opponents (Piper and Steamboat’s were amazing to see) are up there with the greatest verbal exchanges you will ever bear witness to. The match had no chance to live up to it, Piper and Snuka should be nowhere near a ring in 2009, but the last fall, pitting Jericho v Steamboat, is astounding. The Canadian must’ve been in Heaven as he wrestled his real-life hero at the biggest show in wrestling.
The most amazing thing about the washole match was the performance of Ricky Steamboat. “The Dragon” was in better condition than some of the younger talents, wrestled like he hadn’t missed a day (in reality, this was his first match in close to FIFTEEN YEARS) and the fans responded accordingly. I truly felt honoured to have seen Steamboat wrestle (having missed his career) and think that everyone must have been awestruck when watching him work. The fans in the arena were on their feet for the near-falls, but the after-match shenanigans fell flat.
Shifting gears, we go from old-school legends to a pair of new-school legends in Matt and Jeff Hardy. The shock heel-turn at the Rumble led to a singles feud between the brothers. The Hardys had a brief rivalry years ago, but both men are higher up the card and better performers, so expectations were greater for this one. Before the match, WWE once again show why they have the greatest production staff in the world with a fantastic video package that covers the entire Hardy time-line, from the days when they were kids to aftermath of the chairshot at the Royal Rumble. It really shows how close these two really were and also how much it meant to Jeff when he won the WWE Championship at Armageddon. You get a sense of why this feud matters and go into the match excited at what we are going to see – job done.
The two brothers (and let’s not forget, these are two real-life siblings smacking the crap out of each other with bins, chairs, etc) go at it with a fury. From hitting Poetry in Motion against the guardrail to Matt countering a Whisper in the Wind with a chair to the back of the legs, the hits are violent and hard. The crowd are really into it, cheering, “ooohing”, hollering, booing and popping from beginning to end. The spots are inventive and the finish is damn impressive. Both men deserve a lot of credit for making a match they have been in countless times unrepetitive; the part with Matt BETWEEN two tables (and with a chair on his chest) and Jeff splashing him through it is unreal.
Not to turn this into a WWE v TNA argument, but, with all of the matches so far, the fans in the arena and those of us watching on TV get a chance to soak in what we’ve just seen. Instead of cutting to the back straight away, something TNA are guilty of time after time after time, the results of the matches and what it means in the bigger picture are given time. It’s a small aspect of the show, but it means a great deal and, in turn, makes what has just happened come across as a big deal. That is one of the main things WWE does better than almost any other televised wrestling organisation.
Getting back to WrestleMania, the Intercontinental Championship gets defended at the big dance for the first time in SEVEN YEARS as the titleholder, JBL, defends the belt against perennial nemesis, Rey “The Joker” Mysterio. In what would turn out to be the Texan’s last match, Rey would win the title in TWENTY-ONE SECONDS. The condition of Bradshaw’s body meant he couldn’t go any longer and he put the new champion over hugely, just like he did when he first retired and went into commentary.
From the shortest match of the night to the longest. It’s hard to think of a more eagerly anticipated bout in the last ten years. Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had a great feud in 1997-1998, but hadn’t really crossed paths since then. The did close out the 2007 Royal Rumble (with the best “last two” segment in the history of the entire event), but that’s really been the extent of them going against each other in the last eleven years. Both men have a legacy at WrestleMania; Undertaker with his undefeated streak and Michaels with his “Mr. WrestleMania” show-stealing bouts. Putting them together was one of the last dream matches left in the company and the build for it increased the anticipation to heights rarely reached. The pre-match video package is up there with the greatest video packages WWE have ever produced. When the company is on fire like this, there is nothing better.
The big question was would these two veterans, both north of 40yrs old, be able to live up to the hype and the expectation? The answer to that question is no, they didn’t live up to the hype and expectation, they far, far, far surpassed the hype and expectation and gave us, quite possibly, the greatest thirty minutes in WrestleMania history, with some even saying it’s the greatest overall match of all time. Both men, to use the words of Jim Ross, gave us of their bodies and their souls, leaving nothing behind and going the extra mile to keep us on our toes. The near-falls were tremendous, the high-spots were awe-inspiring, the commentators were on the money, the crowd were brilliant and the finish left both men’s legacies intact. Undertaker remained undefeated and Shawn Michaels continued to steal the show. This match is reason enough to buy the DVD… and any future DVD release it appears on. Even the entrances are amazing to watch. From the opening video package to the after-match “soaking in”, this is so far and above anything else produced this year.
Nothing and no-one could follow Michaels v Undertaker, but it was left to John Cena, Big Show and Edge to at least give it a try. It was a decent match, but the crowd were so spent after the previous forty-odd minutes, it’s no surprise they were comparatively flat for this three-way. There are some nice moments, particularly Cena holding both Edge and Big Show on his shoulders at the same time, but poor placement on the card makes this seem like a WrestleMania afterthought as the first disc comes to a close.
The card continues on disc two with the WWE Championship Match between Triple H and Randy Orton. The build for this was immense. The angles featuring Orton killing the McMahons, DDTing Stephanie and then kissing her while Triple H was cuffed to the ropes, threatening to cancel WrestleMania and various other acts of heinous violence were astoundingly good, so surely the match would follow suit? Before we would find out, the Hall of Fame inductees are wheeled out and Justin Roberts name-checks each one as the cheesy HoF music plays in the background… but one new member appears to leave early.
The entire arena, not to mention the viewing audience, let loose their inner mark when Austin reappeared on an ATV and had one last beer bash. At WrestleMania XIX, Stone Cold had his last official match and you could see it in his eyes that “this was it”. Inside the ring at this year’s event, he officially said goodbye for good. The biggest star this industry will ever see got to thank everyone and then rode off into the sunset. No-one deserves it more and I’m thankful I lived through the Austin Era.
With one era coming to a final end, another continues with Orton trying to build his legacy as a top line wrestler. The match against Triple H is a let-down in comparison to how great the build was, even trying to pop the crowd by hitting both the RKO and the Pedigree within the first two minutes fails to rile the desired reaction from the crowd. Triple H hitting the Punt and Orton’s selling are the lone highlights in a disappointing main event.
To end the show (and the second disc), the WWE production team again show their worth by giving us a great highlight package of the event, even more amazing considering how little time they had to put it together. All of the matches and event seemed important and the scope of WrestleMania and what it means to the wrestling calendar was self-evident.
The third and final disc is the Hall of Fame Ceremony itself. Some people question whether so-and-so should be inducted, usually based on the fact he or she didn’t sell-out MSG night after night after night, but I (and others) look at it from the point-of-view that it’s not just the headliners who made wrestling what it is, the lower- and mid-card talent also did their parts, so guys like Koko B. Ware earned their spot through hard work, time served and dedication to the business. Not all the “first draft” inductees can go in at once, so the lower-card guys are there to be lower-card inductees and make the main-event inductee seem more important.
As the ceremony begins, we get to have a look at some of the earlier inductees, including Gorilla Monsoon, Andre, Snuka, Bobby Heenan, “Superstar” Billy Graham (a vastly underrated entertainer), Bret Hart and Freddie Blassie, before going over those being honoured this year. Todd Grisham is our host (later replaced by Jerry Lawler for the last two segments) and he starts the night by asking all the current WWE stars to stand up and show themselves. First out are The Funks, Dory (a stunning wrestler in his prime) and Terry, the craziest sumbitch in wrestling history. Inducted by “Da Dweem” Dusty Rhodes (who is brought out by a stunning-looking Kelly Kelly), who should be allowed to talk on every TV show there is, the two brothers have us laughing at their stories and being emotional as they reminisce about their history. Terry Funk is the only guy working today where you wonder if he really is acting or is just that crazy… and long may he continue to do so, until he goes “to Heaven in a wrestling ring”.
Other inductees include Koko B. Ware (inducted by Honky Tonk Man), the Von Erichs (by the always great Michael Hayes), Howard Finkel (by Gene Okerlund ), Bill Watts (by Jim Ross) and Ricky Steamboat (by Ric Flair). All of them are entertaining to listen to and have great stories, but they are merely the appetiser for the main course, the induction of Stone Cold Steve Austin, conducted by his greatest nemesis, Vince McMahon.
Some say that the WWE is the house that Hogan built, and that is a hard statement to argue, but the WWE is the house that Steve Austin renovated and added three more floors to. His contribution to the company, to wrestling in general, cannot be understated. Ever since THAT interview in ECW, where he declared that Steve Austin was going to be the biggest star in wrestling history, it was set in stone, no pun intended. Wrestling was never hotter than when Stone Cold was hot. Sure, he had to have people to work with, but Austin wasn’t just a wrestler, Austin wasn’t just a superstar, Austin was a legitimate phenomenon and I feel privileged to have been there for the entire run. Like looking back at WrestleMania III, you can’t grasp how big a deal the Austin Era, the Attitude Era, was at the time.
Steve Austin gives a humble, entertaining and emotional speech before symbolically passing the torch to John Cena. Whether the people “honour” that passing is another story, but the torch was passed nonetheless and now it’s up to Cena to carry the company in the same way Austin did all those years ago.
A fitting end to the biggest weekend in the wrestling calendar.
Disc 2 has a myriad of extras, the first of which is the match for the Unified Tag Team Championships. This bout was meant to be on the actual card, but ended up being dropped for a rather shitty and over-long Kid Rock “concert”… a concert that isn’t even on the DVD. The build for this was really good and both teams put forth awesome matches on TV in the weeks preceding the event. Once again, the match is an enjoyable effort and should have led to greater things. Unfortunately, with WWE’s total disregard for tag-team wrestling (even when it looks like, finally, things are picking up), neither of these teams are together any more.
The remainder of the disc is highlights of every WrestleMania to have taken place. Each event gets around two minutes and is a nice little history lesson
This year’s WrestleMania, in hindsight, was a better event than I remember at the time. There were disappointments; the tag title match being bumped, the Divas not getting introduced as they deserved to be and Triple H v Orton, but the rest of the matches were good-to-great-to-unbelievable.
The Money in the Bank was as exciting as ever, the Battle Royal was decent enough and it was nice to see some old faces (if you could make them out), the Legends v Jericho bout was better than anyone would have thought once it came down to Steamboat/Jericho, Matt v Jeff had stunning moments and a strong finish, JBL v Rey gave us a memorable WrestleMania moment and the World Title Three-Way was a little better than it should have been.
Of course, the main reason to own this is the astounding match between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. Easily the greatest match of “The Streak” (which had great bouts featuring Kane, Triple H, Diesel, Edge, Batista and Ric Flair), this was a joy to watch, a delight to experience and a perfect illustration as to why I’m a fan of professional wrestling. This match alone is worth the price of the DVD set and the fact both men have been out of action since that night tells you all you need to know about the toll it took on their bodies. Just like WrestleMania X8, Triple H headlined when he shouldn’t have and, just like WrestleMania X8, his match paid the price for it.
The extras are decent enough and the Hall of Fame ceremony is fantastic. People question the worth of the WWE Hall of Fame, but that’s missing the point. Once a year, in the biggest weekend in wrestling, we get to see and hear from old-timers, some of them we’d missed the first time around. Where else would you get to hear from Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, Michael Hayes, Honky Tonk Man, Koko B. Ware, “Mean” Gene, Jim Ross, Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Vince McMahon and Steve Austin all in the same night (and all out of character)? I love the HoF and look forward to it every year, so long may it continue.
Overall, this is a great collection. WrestleMania XXV isn’t up there with the greatest of the events, but it’s a better night than I first remembered. Most of the matches are enjoyable and Undertaker v Michaels is a bout that words, regardless of how hyperbolic they may be, cannot do justice. The extras are worth watching and the Hall of Fame is a great trip down memory lane.
Oh, and I look forward to the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania when it rolls around next year.
Points: 9/10 (two of those points belong to the MOTN)