TheBigBoot’s Top Ten WrestleMania Opening Matches Of All Time

2.  King Booker w/ Queen Sharmell (SmackDown!) vs Jeff Hardy (Raw) vs Finlay (SmackDown!) vs CM Punk (ECW) vs. Mr. Kennedy (SmackDown!) vs Edge (Raw) vs Randy Orton (Raw) vs Matt Hardy (SmackDown!) –  Money in the Bank Ladder Match, WrestleMania XXIII

cow-wrestlemania-23-money-in-the-bank-jeff-hardy-edge

The Hype

The Money in the Bank concept had proved to be a winning one since it’s inception in 2005. Edge, winner of the original MITB at WrestleMania 21, had gone on to ‘cash-in’ on John Cena at New Year’s Revolution 2006, becoming a bona fide main eventer in the process. The following year’s sequel had been used to launch the ECW brand as the charismatic Rob Van Dam cashed in the briefcase he won at WrestleMania 22 at the second One Night Stand (that name really didn’t make sense after the first one) again at the expense of Cena.

As a result it was now seen as a big deal, the winner being pretty much guaranteed a World Title run in the near future. Having main event or upper mid-carders like former World champions Edge, Randy Orton and King Booker in 2007’s Money in the Bank meant that rather than just acting as a means to elevate ‘The Next Big Thing’ the match was given a bit of a background as well. The slow split between Rated rKo, the reunion of the Hardy Boyz in their specialty The Ladder Match, the “amelioration of Mr. Kennedy” (JBL) and the uneasy alliance between Booker and Finlay were all part of the back-story highlighted in the weeks leading into the event.

Going into the show I’d predicted the controversial Ken Kennedy would win, but when I saw this was on first I thought about someone would be using it to challenge that night and presumed Edge or Orton, since Kennedy was in the position where he needed not only the win but also a decent build-up if he was ever going to be taken seriously. Edge in particular seemed like a good pick, since I wasn’t sure they’d end his WrestleMania winning streak just yet. This meant what should have been a predictable result still came across as unpredictable and the live crowds’ reaction reflected this.

The Match

JBL (as King Booker abandoned his climb to the ‘Money In The Bank’ briefcase to rescue his Queen): “Booker, to Hell with her! I’ve left plenty of women.”

WrestleMania XXIII marked a return to the Big Stadium Setting WWE loves so much, and uses so well, after scaling down to arena shows for WrestleManias XX-22. At the time, the show was the biggest money drawing wrestling pay-per-view ever and WWE went all out with make this show look and feel important.

Kicking things off with the third annual ‘Money In The Bank’ Ladder Match, certainly suggested it could live up to the hype. Right away the combination of spectacle and big name wrestlers made it clear you were watching the big show. The line of ladders in the aisle made for an impressive visual.

This match had so much star power it felt like a big deal. Jeff Hardy was out first and wasn’t close to as over as he would be later that year (when he truly became one of the biggest stars in the company). Interestingly, this was Jeff’s first WrestleMania appearance in five years having returned the previous Summer following a disappointing stint in TNA. The big screen at the back worked really well especially with the Irish flag during Finlay’s entrance, as did having Kennedy’s microphone drop from the huge ceiling to the entrance ramp so he could do his introduction gimmick was a neat touch.

Although basically a spot-fest, they managed to combine comedy with violence resulting in some memorable spots like Finlay’s plancha (!!!) onto the assembled wrestlers outside the ring; Booker pulling out Hornswoggle’s mini step-ladder by mistake; Edge throwing said mini-ladder into Punk’s face and Punk subsequently bleeding; Kennedy missing a Kenton Bomb onto Matt and cracking his head on the ladder, followed by Jeff giving Kennedy a Swanton of his own; Punk aping Terry Funk at Barely Legal ’97 and taking out the opposition by Airplane

Spinning a ladder; and Edge’s spear to the ladder-wielding Punk which took down three men at once.

Of course the big stunt here, and the story of the match, was Jeff Hardy’s insane suicide leg drop from the “twenty foot” ladder onto Edge who was lying on a ladder balanced across the guard rail. The resulting image was one which will no doubt feature in WrestleMania highlight reels well into the future. ‘The Rated R Superstar’s’ selling and subsequent stretcher job made this feel important and in its immediate aftermath the live audience seemed to be questioning whether his injuries were legitimate. It certainly looked brutal enough to explain time off TV if he’d needed it. In fact it was a way of killing two birds with one stone since Edge was taken out of the match rather so he wasn’t directly involved in the finish (thus he wasn’t there at the end and could moan about not really been ‘beaten’ and claim his WrestleMania ‘undefeated streak’ was intact), and secondly it served to explain his existing injuries which had kept him out of competition in the build-up to the event (he had suffered a broken jaw during his very good ‘Money In The Bank Qualifying Match’ with Rob Van Dam in February). As well-executed as the spot was, my problem was it happened too early in the match in the midst of a strong performance from Edge.

What puts this so far ahead of WrestleMania 25’s version is that in amongst the stunts and bumps, they managed to tell a couple of stories here. They did a good job playing off the experience of Edge and The Hardyz, compared to Randy Orton and King Booker (both involved in their first ladder match).

JBL: “JR, that Hall of Fame that you just joined along with the King has got a spot waiting for this guy: the King Booker.”

Looking at the line-up for this year’s ceremony, he was right as well. It’s deserved, too. JBL did a great job putting over Booker’s accomplishments and status as a sure-fire future Hall Of Famer but this was Booker’s first ladder match and it shows in the psychology.

That right there is the biggest difference between this match and the multi-person ladder matches we have had since as there was a focus on establishing each of the eight men’s individual personality.

Jeff gets his big crazy highspot of the year to add to WrestleMania opening packages for eternity. Edge gets to look opportunistic. In a cool trivia note, CM Punk became the first ECW wrestler to ever appear at a WrestleMania.

I liked the way Matt Hardy came across as more opportunistic than usual, as he executed his plan: first to make sure his old girlfriend stealing arch enemy Edge was taken out of the match, then he tried the Joey Mercury-spot from New Year’s Revolution and when that failed by encouraging Jeff’s big leap and later using Sharmell to draw Booker down from the ladder. That was good use of Sharmell as a distraction with Matt threatening to give her the Twist of Fate to get her husbands attention, causing Booker to abandon his climb to the briefcase… only to instantly take the Twist of Fate himself.

In a spot that would unfortunately go on to become overexposed in subsequent Money in the Banks, everyone hit their finishers from the ladder then Finlay hits the Celtic Cross on the ladder. Despite his heel status at the time, Finlay (who bled from the top of his head) seemed to play babyface here with his gutsy, blood-soaked performance. The final image at the end of him checking on the little fella showed some rarely seen compassion from the ‘Fighting Irishman’. In general, this was a good night for him.

Then there was Kennedy who looked surprisingly solid throughout. The Lambeau Leap/Kamikaze Crunch onto Hornswoggle was brutal and I liked the image of him and Kennedy on the ladder before it happened – maybe it was just Kennedy’s selling but by the looks of it, the leprechaun throws better punches than most of the active roster. Moments later, the finish saw Kennedy hit Punk with a ladder and then climb it himself to retrieve the coveted briefcase.

TheBigBoot’s Post-Match Analysis

This was the best opening match of 2007 and one of the better openers this side of The Attitude Era. Hyped as the “biggest ladder match in WrestleMania history” it certainly wasn’t the best but it was still a strong effort.

This was WWE’s fourth pay-per-view of 2007, and the fourth to feature a strong opening match in this case. All-in-all this was a very good match, albeit slightly below what I was hoping for. I’m not sure if I liked it more or less than this year’s ‘version’ but it poses an interesting contrast to other Money in the Banks in several ways.

Was it the best? In my opinion, no. Take it from someone who has seen a few ladder matches, as far as Money in the Bank goes this was certainly a couple of rungs (pun intended) below the first one. I would put WrestleMania XIV’s the following year above it as well.

On the other hand, it was definitely far ahead of the previous year’s effort. My problem with WrestleMania 22’s MITB was that it was far too rushed and I was worried that having eight men would be too many and lead to a similar thing here. Thankfully, they gave it more time than last year (19:05 to XXII’s 12:21), but unfortunately the two extra men made it seem just as rushed.

Of course, the advantage of having those extra bodies out there was that MITB WrestleMania XXIII also had a better line-up. The talent itself was strong, and the match played to the key strengths of several participants. Both Hardyz, in particular, were masters in this environment yet did their best not to make anyone look weak but the sheer numbers in the match meant there wasn’t time for anyone to truly shine in the way Chris Benoit did in the original MITB back at WrestleMania 21.

The main problem here was the numbers: the eight man format meant the ring itself looked crowded and the addition of two extra bodies to the usual six man format resulted in a cluttered slightly rushed-feeling match which was a step below the great ladder matches of the past, albeit still one of the better undercard matches of the year. Adding to the confusion all three commentary teams handled Money In The Bank.

Instead of concentrating on one story, much of the match seemed to be centered around letting everyone get in their trademark spot, then moving to the next guy. Despite that there were still several feuds from the past (Matt/Edge; Hardyz/Edge) and present (Edge/Orton; Finlay/Booker) that were worked into the contest so it had a bit more of a ‘grudge match’ feel which is something the vast majority of multi-person highspot-orientated matches lack. In this case an Edge/Orton singles match would have no doubt been one of the better matches on the card, but I didn’t have a problem with the way they were building the feud up slowly to this point. Putting them in MITB allowed them the opportunity to play off the tension between them (which didn’t really come into play as much as it should have) whilst saving the one-on-one match for further down the line.

For all the criticism he gets, often deserved, at the time I thought Kennedy was a decent(ish) choice to win. Edge, Orton and even Booker didn’t need to win ‘Money In The Bank’ to get title shots, since they were all in the position where they would get plenty of them again anyway and doing so wouldn’t add anything to their characters. The others had had little build-up to prepare them as World champions at that stage – and let’s face it the winner is pretty much guaranteed to become just that.

Another issue was the slightly odd placing of Money In The Bank on the card. Starting with this kind of match because it meant the rest of the show had to follow a bout packed with stunts, bumps, blood and high-spots but also because it featured eight big names (who would otherwise have been in high profile matches elsewhere) in one match. On the other hand it did make things seem more unpredictable since Money in the Bank going on first was erroneously taken as a sign that it would be cashed in on the show.

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