Which WrestleMania opening matches kicked things off right? What were the ‘curtain jerkers’ that had fans at the show dancing in the aisles and fans at home jumping up and down on the settee shouting for more? TheBigBoot has all the answers.
WrestleMania XXVIII’s opening contest was nothing if not memorable.
Kicking off with a bang, for the second consecutive year the show began with the World Title Match.
Defending Champion Daniel Bryan “Yes! Yes! Yessed!” his way to the ring, accompanied by girlfriend AJ Lee. His opponent, a formidable challenger in Royal Rumble winner Sheamus.
The bell rang. Nineteen seconds, a pre-match kiss from AJ to Bryan and a boot to the face from Sheamus and we had a new World Champion.
Those nineteen seconds proved to be some of the most important of the year.
Onscreen, it led to a year’s worth of storylines with a frustrated Bryan becoming increasingly agitated by the “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chants that greeted his every arrival, before finally snapping after AJ left him at the altar during the RAW 1000 special last July. His anger management sessions with Doctor Shelby and formation of his current Tag Team Championship Team Hell No with Kane were all fallouts from the mental breakdown that started as a result of those opening seconds at last year’s WrestleMania.
Equally memorable was fan reaction across the internet, ranging from laughter at the internet darling heel getting his comeuppance, to outright hatred directed towards WWE management for booking such a short loss for their hero in what on paper, should surely have been one of the best matches of the night (subsequent matches between the two certainly backed that theory up).
Waste of good talent or quality booking? Whatever your opinion it got people talking.
For the past few years I have reviewed the WWF Title Matches at WrestleManias VI, VII and VIII. Historically, WrestleMania has been the show which featured the biggest match of the year, often for the big belt.
From Hulk Hogan bodyslamming and defeating André the Giant at WrestleMania III, The MegaPowers ‘Exploding’ at V, and the title-for-title ‘Ultimate Challenge’ of WrestleMania VI they have become events of mythical proportions.
‘Means Much More Than This’.
The message written on the backside of Ultimate Warrior’s trunks for his ‘Career Ending’ Match with ‘Macho King’ Randy Savage was a truthful one.
The match that goes on last isn’t everything. It’s what happens before that can make or break a WrestleMania. From The Ultimate Warrior defeating Randy Savage in that ‘Career Ending Match’ (WrestleMania VII) to Steve Austin passing out in a pool of his own blood to Bret Hart’s Sharpshooter in their Submission Match (WrestleMania 13) to Bobby Lashley beating Umaga costing Vince McMahon a haircut by pinning Umaga in the ‘Battle of the Billionaires’ (WrestleMania XXIII) WWE’s biggest show has hosted some of the most hyped and memorable matches in history.
Then there is The Undertaker and ‘The Streak’. From WrestleManias XXIII to XXVIII it has become another ‘Main Event’ in it’s own right. People will buy the show just to see Taker’s annual WrestleMania appearance (and inevitable win). As such it is always the second most hyped match on the card, regardless of who or what is involved with the WWE Title. The only possible exception to the rule being WrestleMania XXIV where ‘The Dead Man’ had to take a backseat, not only to Floyd Mayweather and the year-long build for the Raw Triple Threat Match (in which Triple H would refer to himself, John Cena and Randy Orton as the “three biggest stars in this business” and all three would call it “the real main event of WrestleMania” in promos) but also Ric Flair’s ‘retirement’. Even then it was Undertaker’s match with Edge that was chosen to close the show.
One match that has an important role to play in particular is the opener. If you are going to have a big show then the best way to attract the fans at home or in the arena/stadium is start it off with a bang.
Once upon a time opening matches tended to feature preliminary/local wrestlers, serving the purpose whilst the punters arrived, took their seats, visited the concession stand, went to the toilets and bought whatever merchandise was available at the time. To this day, Boxing cards are still booked that way.
PPV (and later the Monday Night Wars) changed all that. Post-National Expansion WWF/E’s policy has been to book cards like a wrestling match. Fast-paced start, cool things down, showcase (often, but not always what is expected to be the best ‘wrestling’ match on the card, e.g. Savage/Steamboat – WrestleMania III; Perfect/Hart – SummerSlam ’91) in the middle, cool things back down again, then build to a strong finish. That’s the idea at least. In practice, some cards get the balance better than others.
From 1993 onwards, the US Big Two (WWF and WCW) switched away from the traditional idea of a “curtain jerker” opener between lower-card acts who could have a good match in favour of giving away with name stars in it. As a result the first match at WrestleMania has normally the third or fourth most hyped feud in the company at the time (XI, 13, XIV, 22 and XXVI being notable exceptions) in an attempt to start the show as strongly as possible.
There exists a concept of ‘Stealing the Show’ which states undercard matches shouldn’t overshadow the Main Event, but like everything else, there are exceptions to the rule and in the pay-per-view era one of them is the opening match. Since the late Eighties and, particularly, early Nineties the first twenty minutes of a PPV have often seen the highlight and sometimes the only bit worth watching.
It is a role with a lot of responsibility – you can’t ‘hide away’ like you can in the middle of the card. Everyone remembers a bad start (or a bad finish). If WrestleMania starts on a flat note it is something that will be remembered for the rest of your career. A lot of fans only order one pay-per-view a year and they’ll naturally remember the start because it’s the first wrasslin they’ve seen in ages.
For the purposes of this article I’m looking at how well matches worked in the opening spot (for example, I thought John Cena vs The Big Show at WrestleMania XX was good but worked like a Single Brand PPV Main Event). Each match on a card is worked a certain way.
Let the countdown begin…