wrestling / Columns

Csonka Reviews The Mania Main Events (17-20)

March 29, 2016 | Posted by Larry Csonka
Brock Lesnar Kurt Angle WrestleMania 19

WELCOME: Welcome back to day FIVE of my countdown to WrestleMania series. You can read the first FOUR parts here (part one), here (part two), here (part three) and here (part four). From the last Mania until now we’ve had a lot of changes in the world of wrestling. The biggest and most shocking being that the WWF had won the war, and not only was WCW dead, but the WWF owned what was left of their competition. The world of wrestling would never be the same following the death of WCW, but I am sure that the slow burn, well thought out invasion angle that will last upwards of 18-months will be worth it… The deal here is simple, I will be looking at every WrestleMania main event. I will look at them in small batches, discuss some history, how my opinions may have changed over the years, rate them, and at the end of each column update the overall rankings of Mania main event matches. For the purposes of this column, the main event is the LAST MATCH on the show. I will not get caught up in what some perceive as the main event, or co-main event bullshit; the last match on the show is the focus. I plan to make it a bit more conversational, maybe even for it to have a storyteller’s tone to it. We’ve seen these matches, we’re read blow by blow recaps and other forms of analysis; I hope to do a little something different. Sound good to you? Cool, let’s get to work.

WRESTLEMANIA 17-20

WrestleMania 17 – Champion The Rock vs. Steve Austin [****¼]: WrestleMania 17 was a huge event going n with Austin vs. Rock II, WCW is dead so Shane and Vince were feuding. TLC II, the forgotten HHH vs. Taker match, Angle vs. -redacted-; and it would go on to become one of if not the best mania event of all time. The path to the rematch felt a bit haphazard at the time to me, and still feels that way today. The rematch didn’t have along burn by any means (other than it being in the back of our minds). Steve Austin wins the Royal Rumble to earn his title shot, while The Rock defeated Kurt Angle to become the world champion; boom, Mania rematch. During the build to this they got overly cute and Vince tried to add Debra (Austin’s real life wife at the time) to the fold as Rock’s manager. The gimmick would be the Rock didn’t give a shit about her and that he wouldn’t be responsible. This was one of those things that they felt would add drama, it wasn’t a horrible plot device but no one gave a fuck about her because Rock and Austin didn’t need it. They wanted Rock, Austin, beer, banter and brawling over the title, and that is what we eventually got and that is what worked…

“I need to beat you Rock. I need more than anything you could ever imagine.”

This was part two of their three part WrestleMania series. They say that sequels don’t usually live up to the original, but there are exceptions. The Godfather Part II, Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo and of course this WrestleMania match, Austin vs. Rock II. The video package for this match was tremendous as the song “My Way” worked perfectly for this feud and is the only contribution to society that Limp Bizkit has ever made. If you watched this video and didn’t get into this match then you have no soul. Playing off of the brawls leading into the match we had move thievery here, but I also dug how they worked famous spots from previous matches. WrestleMania 13: Austin rolls him in and flips him off before attempting the Stunner but Rock gets a sharpshooter. Lots of blood to take you back to that imagery but he make the ropes. Survivor Series 96/WrestleMania 8: Rock walks up the ropes in the corner and rolls back over onto Austin for the near fall. It was done very well, it fit and on top of that the match just had that big time feel; it was a great match. And then this is also the match where Austin turns heel, something he wanted to do, but something that never really worked. He joins with McMahon; the crowd loved Austin so they don’t want to boo so it comes off as anticlimactic. Austin’s victory at WrestleMania 17 is one that many consider h end of the Austin Era, and in many ways the attitude era. WCW was dead, but from this is where we start to get the decline in several areas; ratings, popularity and such are a few examples. Also, Austin is done as the big dog here. The turn doesn’t work, the Invasion stuff comes off oddly at times, and overall this is an epilogue or postscript for Austin’s career. The loss to Triple H at No Way out is part of this, as the turn shows that Austin (who previously wouldn’t sell out) felt that he was getting passed by and had to finally make the deal with the devil. “I need to beat you Rock. I need more than anything you could ever imagine.” But the fans just didn’t want it, they didn’t want to see the hero become the villain in this case, if anything they wanted to see him go down in flames like the gunslinger of old.

WrestleMania 18 – Champion Chris Jericho vs. Triple H [***]: Between WrestleMania 17 and 18 the invasion starts and ends, Ric Flair returns as “the consortium” that bought Shane and Stephanie’s WWF stock and because McMahon’s partner and the n.W.o was actually a thing in the WWF. So when he finally arrived at WrestleMania 18, this comes off as a weird fucking card. Edge feuding with Booker T over a shampoo commercial, Kurt Angle vs. Kane, Steve Austin vs. Scott Hall, The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan, Undertaker vs. Ric Flair and the main event of Triple H vs. Chris Jericho. Triple H had been out of action after blowing up his quad, and made the big return just in time for the Royal Rumble, which he won to get the shot at WrestleMania. Chris Jericho was your reigning Undisputed Champion (I am not sure if you’re aware, but he defeated Steve Austin and The Rock in the same night) but as we headed into Mania, Jericho was booked as a complete joke. Jericho played second fiddle to Triple H and Steph (and their DOG) during the build, and it did nothing to make you want to see this match. The other thing here was everyone knew Triple H was winning to complete his return journey, which isn’t a bad thing, but you have to be able to build a match and deliver so that we THINK the other guy can win, and that just never happened. The build was just a giant flashing sign that said, “JERICHO IS A JOKE, A PLACEHOLDER, JOBBING LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER AT MANIA!” On top of all of this stuff we’ve already discussed, they have to follow Hogan vs. Rock. This was one of the rare times Mania could have been headlined by a non-title match and I think everyone would have been fine with it, but instead we got the Hs and Jericho. They have a perfectly fine match, it’s not bad in any way, but just has no juice and feels completely secondary to the Hogan vs. Rock match that we got to see. The other thing was that Jericho and the Hs had good matches, but never did a lot of great stuff together. That always bothered me because I like both guys, both of them are talented, but for whatever reason the chemistry was just not there. The show came at a time where things were very different for me, I had a daughter in November of 2001 and was finally becoming a fully responsible adult. My mother overcame her fear of flying to come to North Carolina to visit us and to spend a week with her third granddaughter. When she was at the airport, she bought me a copy of the deluxe Mania 18 WWE Magazine. Mom was always supportive of my wrestling obsession, even letting me stay up to watch SNME when I was a youngster. As I flipped through the magazine. I noticed that they had photos of guys not even on the main roster yet. One of those young men was Brock Lesnar. I had remembered Meltzer discussing him at the time as a huge prospect and freak athlete. As we watched raw the next night, I was relaying this information to my mother as I thanked her for the magazine and then, as if I had summoned him, Lesnar debuted on Raw and went on a rampage during a hardcore geek match. It’s funny the things you remember…

WrestleMania 19 – Champion Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar [****]: As we move along in the history of “The Fed,” we have some new things going on; they got “The F out” and became WWE, and we were in the “brand extension” era. Because when you bought out the competition, you try to make your own. The WrestleMania 19 main event is a fascinating match simply for the fact that it features two WWE homegrown and created stars (although their freak athletic abilities and way they “got” wrestling so quickly helped a little). You look through the years, and the guys involved all had something coming in, WWE took Brock from the NCAA and Angle post Olympics and made these guys. The fact that they both main evented a Mania is pretty awesome when you think about it. The path to get here was rough, due to the fact that Angle was having severe neck issues and would be taking time off. There was even a point where they were going to take the title off of Angle on Smackdown and having Lesnar face someone else, Stevie Richards Chris Benoit I believe were the rumors but I can’t recall exactly. I personally enjoy the match, and feel that it is a very good, but not all time classic match. In my experience, there are people that consider this one of the best Mania matches of all time, and there is nothing wrong with that. To me, it lacks that hook, that emotional element to pull you in and really make you care. Complain all you want about a guy like Hogan and “his work rate,” but the dude was a hell of a worker in regards to making people care, look at Hogan vs. Savage; that’s some amazing shit and a culmination of a well done, yearlong angle. This match was very good, in that I liked Angle controlling and trying to break Lesnar down to retain his title. But in the end, the monster would be too much and Lesnar would recover, overcome and walk out of the biggest show of the year as the man. The finishing stretch is where the match loses steam, Brock spikes himself when trying the shooting star press we’d all heard about, leading to Angle having to cover and get them to the finish. That to me was always the amazing part, because anyone that read the sheets and such knew about Angle’s neck issues and the fear that this could be his last match, yet it was he who was ok enough to carry the monster to the finish. Lesnar’s win over Rock was his “he’s a big deal” moment obviously, but this Mania victory was to fully crown Lesnar as “the next big thing”. By this time next year, “the next big thing” would be on his way out of the company. I love the Brock we have now and I loved his run in the UFC, but one has to think about how great he could have been if he wanted to stay and had been dedicated.

WrestleMania 20 – Champion Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit [*****]: As wrestling fans we all look for different things, some love the work, some love the story. When you get the best of both worlds in one match, that is magic, and that is why I love pro wrestling. You had the tyrant, Triple H heading in as champion and everyone wanted to see Benoit take him out after his Rumble victory. But Shawn Michaels had issues with the Hs that he needed to deal with, felt that Benoit needed to stay on Smackdown and challenge for that title and then superkicked Benoit and signed the contract himself. They of course had a match to determine the real top contender, shenanigans happened and we got the first triple threat main event in Mania history. As I said, I felt that this match had the best of both worlds; it was a great wrestling match that pulled you in action wise from the bell, but also was a great story. All three men were on their game here, with some great teases that both HHH and HBK could and would win. I remember at the time just thinking, “they are going to fuck us, aren’t they?” I kept thinking that if Benoit were to win, that he would do so the next month and not at the big event. Thankfully, the fans got what they wanted. They got a great wrestling match, they got a great story and then they got their guy, a new guy, on top. It was everything I want and expect a top tier Mania main event match to be, and is an example of a truly great triple threat match. And the scary thing is that they basically did it again the next month. Unfortunately, due to the horrible actions of Chris Benoit, what is regarded as one of Mania’s very best matches and a magical moment to close the show rarely gets discussed with any kind of joy. The close to the show is what fans had been asking for, for so long, they wanted their guys to succeed. They had watched Benoit and Guerrero do well in Mexico and Japan and to a degree in WCW; but they wanted them to be stars in the WWE. WrestleMania 20 closed with Benoit and Guerrero as the top champions, celebrating like kings. At the time it was such a moment, but now watching the ending of the show (match and moment) feels like you have to display it like a set of redacted military files. I hate that because while it is understandable, Eddie gets robbed of a moment and HBK and HHH get robbed of the praise for their work in the match, it rarely gets discussed these days, and it’s a shame. It’s not easy to write about to be truthful, I know some that won’t write about it, but when chronicling the history of the event, I refuse to ignore it.

Conclusion: In my opinion, the main events between WrestleMania 17 and 20 are the best stretch of matches with ease. When you have three four star (or above) matches and the worst of the four is the three star Triple H vs. Jericho match, you’re in the money. Tomorrow we look at WrestleManias 21 through 24, as we get to see the rise of Edge, Batista and John Cena to the WrestleMania main event scene.

The Rankings So Far

* WrestleMania 9: Hulk Hogan vs. Yokozuna [The Dirt Fucking Worst]

* WrestleMania 13: Psycho Sid vs. The Undertaker [½*]

* WrestleMania 8: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice [*]
* WrestleMania 3: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant [*]

* WrestleMania 10: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna []

* WrestleMania 2: Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy [**]

* WrestleMania 7: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter [**½]
* WrestleMania 4: Ted Dibiase vs. Randy Savage [**½]

* WrestleMania: Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff [**¾]
* WrestleMania 11: Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow [**¾]

* WrestleMania 16: Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Mick Foley vs. Big Show [***]
* WrestleMania 18: Triple H vs. Chris Jericho [***]

* WrestleMania 14: Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin [***½]

* WrestleMania 19: Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar [****]
* WrestleMania 15: The Rock vs. Steve Austin [****]

* WrestleMania 12: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels [****¼]
* WrestleMania 6: Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior [****¼]
* WrestleMania 17: Steve Austin vs. The Rock [****¼]

* WrestleMania 5: Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage [****½]

* WrestleMania 20: Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit [*****]