TheBigBoot’s Top Ten WrestleMania Opening Matches Of All Time

9. WWE US Champion MVP vs Christian vs CM Punk vs Mark Henry (w/ Tony Atlas) vs Finlay (w/ Hornswoggle) vs Shelton Benjamin vs Kane vs Kofi Kingston – Money in the Bank Ladder Match, WrestleMania 25th Anniversary

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The Hype

This WrestleMania was a strange one. Not least because of WWE’s curious decision to bill the card as WrestleMania’s 25th Anniversary. Erm, wouldn’t that be the following year’s show.

Who celebrates their wedding anniversary the day they get hitched? Who has a first birthday the same day they are born?

It makes me think someone in WWE counts from one, instead of zero.

Aside from that the main criticism with the WrestleMania 25 line-up was it felt a bit “same old, same old”.

The argument went that decade plus WWE veterans like Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, The Big Show, Edge, and even Triple H won’t be around forever and that rather than use the event as an opportunity to elevate new it was all about maintaining the status quo.

The general feeling was that Randy Orton and Jeff Hardy actively lost momentum as a result of this show. I’m not sure I fully agree but more importantly with who lost and who won was who was featured and who wasn’t.

Money in the Bank resembled that. Rising stars like Legacy, Mizorrison, Mike Knox, The Brian Kendrick, and ECW Champion Jack Swagger who had all been heavily pushed on television (to the extent they seemed a ‘lock’ for at least a Money in the Bank spot) found themselves missing the PPV itself in favour of ‘old familiars’ like Shelton Benjamin.

This was Benjamin’s third Money in the Bank opportunity at WrestleMania, and Christian, Kane, MVP and Finlay’s second.

They even had a former winner in there. This was Punk’s third consecutive Money in the Bank, having being involved in the finish two years earlier and then won the previous one. Even the underrated Mark Henry felt like an old hand having being under contract for what was approaching twelve years, despite this being his first ladder match.

In comparison to 2007’s version, where were the CM Punks of 2009? The guys who had been on the roster less than a year but could be portrayed as a potential winner.

There was some superb talent in there no doubt (Finlay, Henry and Christian were the backbone of ECW at this point) and I thought the match mostly delivered even though the event itself was considered disappointing.

The Match

Jim Ross: “Kane and Mark Henry parting the Steel Sea, if you will.”

This was the fifth Money in the Bank Ladder Match so had expectations based on the previous four to live up to. As with the original, the last man to come out was Kane. His entrance creates certain atmosphere with the red lights and ladders.

Pre-match they all stare each other down in-ring and wait for the bell at which point ladder veterans Christian and Benjamin (who along with Kane were in the first Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania 21) roll outside and head for ladders as everyone else starts brawling.

Henry takes out former Tag Champs Punk and Kingston with headbutts. Henry and Kane clear the ring and have a one-on-one – each trying eliminate their biggest threat.

Henry hits an avalanche in the corner, turns round into Benjamin and Christian who hit first him and then Kane with ladder-assisted double-clotheslines. They go for a third on Kofi but he uses his athleticism to leapfrog the ladder, dropkick it into Benjamin and Christian and then do the Boom Drop onto both men as they lay beneath it. Kane and Mark Henry are the first to attempt the climb and they do so, incredibly, on opposite sides of the same ladder (“That must be the World’s Strongest Ladder!“).

The super-heavies are beaten down the ladder by Finlay and MVP (Kane) and Punk and Kofi (Henry) and out of the ring.

This is smart strategy by the others to take out the two monsters, knowing Henry and Kane could squash them at will. With the big men out Benjamin and Punk (one ladder), and Finlay and MVP (another) all climb and start exchanging punches only for the two big men to casually stroll back in and part the ladders in the middle  sending everyone flying.

Back to the two Monsters: Kane delivers a cool uppercut and takes Henry out with TheBigBoot.

When Kane climbs it is (surprise, surprise) Henry who stops him – sending ‘The Big Red Machine’ crashing onto and over the top rope, clotheslining himself in the process. Henry goes to set up a ladder but when he sees Finlay reentering the ring he violently throws it at the Irishman instead. Potentially dangerous spot as ‘Fit’ ducks and it flies over the top rope smashing into the ever suffering Spanish Announce Table. ”Fit” follows up by hitting Henry with a dropkick (!) and showing he was willing to go all out with the spots he follows it up with a tope onto Kane and Benjamin outside the ring.

This sets up the annual ‘Cruiserweight scramble’ style spot where everyone does progressively more spectacular dives as Christian wipes out Finlay and Kane with the middle rope springboard plancha, MVP does the Ballin’ pose then takes out Finlay, Kane and Christian with a Mick Foley-style Cactus Jack Crack Smash (running somersault centon) off the ring apron, Punk and Kofi hit simultaneous Bret Hart-style topes through the ropes onto the assembled crew at ringside. Meanwhile, Benjamin climbs up for the highspot they’ve been building to: a Jeff Hardy-style somersault dive off the extra tall ladder in the aisle onto Christian, Punk, Kingston, Finlay, MVP and Kane allowing Good Ol’ JR to squeeze in his trademark “human demolition derby” line.

But wait! It’s not over yet! Henry thinks “why not?” and teases us with the prospect of ‘The World’s Strongest Plancha’. Fortunately for the health of all those involved in the match and the first few rows ringside Finlay prevents this by walloping him with a shillelagh.

The combination of violence and humour continues as this sets up  Hornswoggle’s comedy spot as the leprechaun delivers a Tadpole Splash off Mark Henry’s back as Henry lays draped across the top rope flying outside the ring and onto Benjamin, Christian, Punk, Kingston, Finlay, MVP and Kane

This allowed his ‘dad’ to set up a regular sized ladder. He is stopped short by Kofi who swings underneath the ladder into a dropkick but the World of Sport veteran counters ‘The Boom Squad General’s’ follow-up Stinger Splash by chucking Hornswoggle’s mini-ladder into his face. Punk tries to sneak attack Finlay but he shrugs it off and destroys him with Rolling Hills onto Hornswoggle’s ladder then uses said mini-ladder to nail nail both Christian and Kane. This is turning into the Finlay Show as ”’Fit”’ scales the ladder Kofi knocks him off with Thunder in Paradise.

For his next trick, the self-proclaimed ‘Human Yo-Yo’ jumped up and climbed the ladder which was in Henry’s hands before ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ could even set it up. Henry responded by shaking the ladder, catching Kingston in mid-air and giving him the World’s Strongest Slam onto the ladder as it fell draped across the ropes. That might have been the spot of the match.

Henry makes it two rungs up the ladder before MVP pokes him in the back with another ladder. Henry does a typically great job selling the kidney shots as MVP then places the ladder as a ‘bridge’ between the top rope and middle rung of an upright ladder. You can bet that will come into play later. Actually it comes into play sooner than you might think as MVP tries to Irish whip Benjamin into it only for him to duck underneath, use it as a hang-bar to deliver a swinging dropkick, float over and then springboard off the ‘bridge’ only to be caught in Porter’s powerbomb in a spot reminiscent of a more contrived version of the famous powerbomb spot in Eddy Guerrero/Rey Misterio Jr spot at Hallowe’en Havoc ’97. An “MVP! MVP!” chant breaks out as the man who claims to be ‘Half Man, Half Amazing’ tries to climb only to be stopped by Punk and Christian, the later of whom smashes him with a brutal JBL-style clothesline to the ear that Stan Hansen would be proud of.

Punk sneaks back in and comes closest so far to reaching the case but Christian joins him up there delivering the Unprettier off the ladder that was vertically balanced between an upright ladder and the top rope. This was super awkward looking (for obvious reasons) as the ‘The Straight Edge Warrior’ lands on his knees whilst Christian seems to catch the back of his head. You wonder who it hurt the most. On the floor Benjamin takes out Kane with a Dragon whip.

The only man standing, albeit still selling ear damage from the Clothesline From Hell, is ‘Mr. 305’ himself as MVP looks to have a clear path to victory. The crowd seemed to approve as he wobbly-legged climbed the ladder but spoilsport Benjamin ‘connects’ a ladder outside the ring to the ‘bridge’ inside, climbs the outside ladder, runs along the ‘bridge’, springboard jumps up to the top ladder and promptly botches a sunset flip powerbomb.

Jerry Lawler: “Did MVP go face first down every rung of that ladder?”

The crowd lets ripped with a booming “You f**ked up chant“.

Benjamin takes the bigger bump since he flips on his own whilst MVP just sort of slides down the ladder. In truth it looks equally as nasty as if he’d hit it but can’t have been pretty. Probably worse. Benjamin was presumably meant to powerbomb ‘P’ all the way over the top rope to the floor because Henry and Hall of Fame sidekick Tony Atlas just happen to be waiting there at ringside.

Well that and also because he picks up ‘The Ballin’ Superstar’ and powerbombs him onto them anyway. Maybe this will be Benji’s Big Year at last… erm, no. A punch exchange between him and Christian atop opposite sides of the main ladder ends with a teeter-totter spot that sees the ladder land against the ropes. ‘The Golden Gopher’ falls to the floor, whilst ‘Captain Charisma’ coolly sticks his foot out to steady himself and the ladder and resume his climb. The crowd were really behind Christian at this point.

Punk creeps around the outside, springboards up the other side and exchanges blows with Christian, ‘The Captain’ winning the punch-out as Punk falls back into the ‘tree of woe’ position hanging upside down with his leg trapped exactly like happened to Chris Jericho the previous year’s (superior) Money in the Bank. In that case it allowed Punk to sneakily grab the strap so this was a nice reference.

Judging by their reaction, the audience would love a repeat here as Christian gets the biggest pop of the match. Unfortunately, for ‘The Livewire’ it wasn’t to be. Kane stands on one ladder chokeslamming Christian off an adjacent ladder This looked awkward as hell as either Christian bumps too early or Kane seemingly releases his grip too early and flies into space, Christian violently throws himself to the mat with a thud.

The finish sees Punk attacks Kane with a series of kicks, unconvincingly sending ‘The Big Red Monster’ flying into space. He unhooks case to a chorus of boos. Despite the booing, the flurry of kicks at the end started well enough but picked one of the weak ones to finish with. The live audience weren’t happy about that.

TheBigBoot’s Post-Match Analysis

This was the second time Money In The Bank had kicked off WrestleMania but couldn’t compare to the previous effort.

If the last match was a bit basic, then this one had a bit too much. Not quite chaotic enough to truly resemble an ECW match and not smooth enough to compare with TLC Era WWF/E classics. Instead, this match found itself somewhere in-between.

Crucially to the structure of it all, this is an eight man match, same as WrestleMania XXIII and one more than WrestleMania XXIV (due to Jeff Hardy’s Wellness violation) which gives it a cluttered feel.

The crowd in Texas very CLEARLY wanted Christian to win and let WWE know about it. I’ve written about his comeback for this site before  and on the night it couldn’t have been more clear that he was the fans’ choice.

Fresh back to WWE he had been put on ECW which a lot of observers questioned but I felt worked out great. Found his spot as the ‘Big Fish’ in a small pond as the king of WWE’s C-Show rather than been subjected to parity booking as a generic midcarder.

In the end, WWE decided to “play it safe” and go with a repeat of last year’s result. Given how well his subsequent heel turn worked out and where Punk is now it’s hard to argue McMahon was wrong.

I liked the references to last year at the conclusion. All in all this was decent Good showings from Finlay and Christian and some cool power spots from Kane and Henry. Odd that the two biggest men in the match had the most impressive highspots.

Taken on it’s own this was an entertaining spectacle. As a wrestling match there wasn’t much of a story. There was no actual structure here and no real match long narrative, as had been the case in prior years. As a spotfest this was fun.

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