WRESTLEMANIA Part 3

WRESTLEMANIA XX

Madison Square Garden, New York, March 14, 2004

It always seemed to me that the perfect place to have the 20th WrestleMania was in New York City at Madison Square Garden, where it all started. For a broadcaster and lifelong wrestling fan, being a part of this event at ringside was a bucket-lister.

The event seems like yesterday, but so much has changed in all our lives since that day in the World’s Most Famous Arena. As is always the case, some fans embraced the inner story of WM XX, while others seemingly gain pleasure in critiquing many aspects of the event.

The closing visual of WM XX, where champions Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit embraced with confetti raining down will remain with me forever. It culminated a career-long journey for the two talented in-ring performers, who would both leave us too young and with their deaths mired in varying degrees of controversy.

Eddie Guerrero successfully defended the WWE title at WM XX against the amazing Kurt Angle in a match highlighted by Eddie’s “Lie, Cheat and Steal” TV persona.

HHH, who has had immense success and memorable moments in the Garden, entered MSG as the world champion to face both Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit in a Triple Threat Match for the championship. I don’t think many fans thought that Edmonton native Benoit would win the co-main event and show-closer, much less by making HHH submit … but Benoit did before a sell-out crowd of 18,000-plus.

Acrobatic moves had the crod on edge
Photo courtesy of WWEBoth main events were classic wrestling matches with their own unique presentations and capped a night that was memorable on many fronts.

By Guerrero and Benoit holding the WWE’s two primary titles, it gave the look at the top of the cards a freshness and featured two sub six-foot talents who could have a great match with anyone on the roster. It also served as a reminder that if someone is truly talented enough, no matter their size, and if they connect with the audience, great things can happen. (See, Daniel Bryan)

Tragically, Eddie passed away of heart issues approximately a year after WM XX, a loss from which Chris never fully recovered as the two were like brothers.

Two years after Eddie’s shocking death, Benoit would go on a rampage, killing his family and committing suicide.

In what at one time would have been considered a dream match, Brock Lesnar squared off against Goldberg with Stone Cold Steve Austin as the special referee. Because it became common knowledge to the majority of the fans – or so it felt like sitting at ringside commentating on the bout – that both men were leaving WWE right after their last booking, which was at WM XX, the fans did not pretend to like anything about the match.

Austin got a positive reaction by delivering a “Stunner” to both wrestlers after the final bell, which could come none too soon. Under different circumstances, this could have been a historic bout between two of the business’ great athletes and personalities.

Instead, it was a train wreck.

Other memorable moments included:

John Cena making his WrestleMania debut by winning the United States title after lifting the near 500-pound Big Show onto his shoulders to deliver the FU. It was an amazing feat of raw strength for the former college football center from Springfield College. Great days lay ahead for Cena, including becoming the face of WWE.

The Rock returned at WM XX to reunite the Rock ‘n Sock Connection with Mick Foley in a uniquely booked two vs. three tag match against “Evolution,” consisting of Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Batista.

“My career is filled with several WM disappointments, but the largest was WrestleMania XX, my first match back after four years in retirement,” Foley said recently. “It was a good match … maybe even very good, but it was also the first time I accepted that ‘good enough was good enough’ – and that’s not the type of philosophy that gets you into the WWE Hall of Fame.” There were two Fatal Four-Way tag-team bouts on the whopping 12- match card that proved one too many.

Torrie Wilson, baseball star Alex Rodriguez’s lady friend at the time, and Sable, now Mrs. Brock Lesnar, were fresh off a big-selling Playboy Magazine cover, teamed to defeat George Clooney’s ex and now newly married Stacy Keibler and Jackie Gayda, married to former WWE tag-team star Charlie Haas, in Jerry “The King” Lawler’s favorite WM XX performance, a Playboy Evening Gown match.

Two future WWE Hall of Fame divas, Victoria and Molly Holly, met in a match where Molly’s hair was on the line vs. Victoria’s women’s title. Molly lost her hair in this one, much to the crowd’s delight. These ladies adapted like true pros to their time being shortened for their match and made the best out of a challenging situation.

The Undertaker renewed his rivalry with his “brother” Kane and remained undefeated, thus extending “The Streak” to 12-0.

This was the second time that two English speaking announcing teams, Michael Cole & Taz repping SmackDown and King and myself repping Raw, were utilized and the concept worked, giving the broadcast a different texture and sound over the four-hour show. Hearing the same voices for a talk-heavy, four-hour program can be challenging no matter who the voices are.

For some strange reason, WM XX will always stand out to me as being one of the most memorable WWE events that I ever broadcast. Someday I may be able to wrap my head around just exactly why I think that but until then I will continue to enjoy the memories of Madison Square Garden and the confetti falling from the ceiling of the World’s Most Famous Arena as we left the air.

Next stop … WrestleMania XXI goes Hollywood.

 

WRESTLEMANIA XXI

Staples Center, Los Angeles, April 3, 2005

This WM proved to be transitional in regards to new talent taking their place at the top of the card (and going away from Roman numerals). Some non-main events were as impressive as the advertised top attractions as WrestleMania Goes Hollywood.

This was another WrestleMania that featured the brand split, meaning it featured superstars from both Raw and SmackDown. Batista challenging, and winning, the World title from HHH headlined the Raw portion of the pay-per-view, while John Cena won his first WWE title by defeating JBL, John Bradshaw Layfield.

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Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
Both Batista and Cena were elevated at WM XXI, much like Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit were at WM XX in Madison Square Garden. Both Guerrero and Benoit would be a part of WM XXI, but not in the starring roles in which they were cast the year before.

Eddie vs. Rey Mysterio opened the show with a bang and set a crisp tone for the night. This would be Eddie’s last WrestleMania, as he suffered an untimely death six months later of heart failure. WM XXI, which sold out in one minute, hosted the first Money in the Bank Ladder Match, which was a concept created by Chris Jericho. This match featured an all-star six-pack of talents, including Jericho, Benoit, Edge, Kane, Christian, and Shelton Benjamin. Benjamin was freakishly athletic and stood out in this match won by Edge.

Batista put on a powerful perfomance.

 

The Undertaker extended his WrestleMania undefeated streak with an exciting victory over Randy Orton in one of the better-built story lines surrounding the Streak in several WrestleMania events. Taker went to 13-0.

Hulk Hogan made a cameo, saving Eugene from the Muhammad Hassan and Daivari combo. Hogan, Piper and The Iron Sheik were in the 2005 WWE Hall of Fame class and were inducted the night before WM XXI.

The highlight of the night was an amazing one-on-one match featuring Raw’s Shawn Michaels vs. SmackDown’s Kurt Angle that saw the Olympian submit HBK in the pair’s first meeting. It was one of the best WM bouts that I can recall seeing. This is another classic that has to be seen in its entirety to be believed.

Nothing the rest of the evening truly trumped the Shawn-Kurt bout.

The first Piper’s Pit since WM V featured the returning Steve Austin as Roddy Piper’s guest, but the two WWE HOFers were interrupted by Carlito, whose father Carlos Colon goes into the HOF on WM XXX weekend. As one might imagine, Carlito paid for his lack of respect as the old “Apple for the Teacher” gimmick failed.

The sumo match between former sumo champion Akebono and The Big Show had to be the most unique attire ever at any WrestleMania. Akebono won the abbreviated contest in 63 seconds, which likely isn’t on Show’s bucket list of WM memories.

This event is also remembered for the highly creative promos that aired in support of WM XXI that featured parody movie trailers starring WWE superstars. Some of my favorites included Eugene portraying “Forrest Gump,” Stacy Keibler in the Sharon Stone role in “Basic Instinct,” and Christy Hemme and Angle reprising the famous “orgasm scene” from “When Harry Met Sally.”

Ironically, the WM XXI warm-up match, prior to going on the air, was a 30-man Battle Royal won by Booker T., which is a precursor to this year’s Andre the Giant Memorial,30-man Battle Royal. Could Booker leave the broadcast booth to win another 30-Man Battle Royal at a WrestleMania? The next year WM XXII would return to Chicago for the first time since WM XIII as the John Cena era in WWE continued to build a strong foundation.

 

WRESTLEMANIA XXII

Allstate Arena, Chicago, April 2, 2006

This event, which sold out in less than two minutes, had a legit, “Big Time” feel to it thanks, in part, to the theme music by Peter Gabriel and an overall strong in-ring lineup featuring the Raw and SmackDown Superstars performing in front of one of the most amazing audiences any performer could desire.

Another Money in the Bank Ladder Match was on the card, featuring the star of the previous year’s MITB Ladder Match, Shelton Benjamin, along with Matt Hardy, Fit Finlay, Ric Flair, Bobby Lashley and Rob Van Dam.

Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
“The MITB matches I consider ‘my match.’ Benjamin said. “Despite never winning one, my goal every time was to be remembered just as much if not more than the winner.”

RVD won an excellent and dangerous outing, but Benjamin once again stole the show. Because this match featured both Raw and SmackDown talent, both English speaking announcing teams, Michael Cole/Taz and Jerry Lawler/JR called it, which was actually fun.

“Fans often wonder how hard the mat is that we fall on,” RVD told me. “To explain that the canvas lies over a thin layer of foam, with plywood and steel directly beneath that, takes some description. However, everyone understands the risks involved in using a hard ladder or wooden table for a weapon.

“When flesh makes impact with such objects, it is likely that some damage occurs. At the same time, these extra obstacles open the imagination up to be very creative with utilizing them. With the same three ropes and four sides of the ring consistent in every match, it’s nice to get the chance to think outside the box and deliver with extreme results.”

JBL upset Chris Benoit to win the United States title in typical TV wrestling villain fashion by utilizing the ropes to help gain the three count. The match had a challenging time following the six-man thrill show that preceded it.

Edge engaged Mick Foley in a career-shortening Hardcore Rules match that took its toll on both men, who are each now retired due to in-ring injuries over their careers.

Naive fans who think that these Hardcore matches aren’t debilitating need to re-evaluate their opinions. 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Lita was also involved in this slobber knocker that saw the use of a barbed-wire baseball bat, steel chairs, testicular fortitude and abuse, lighter fluid and a burning table. Oh, my!

One of the highlights, for me, regarding this match was that WWE used my suggestion to have Joey Styles broadcast this ECW-like Hardcore Rules match instead of yours truly. Joey deserved the opportunity and did a great job.

This was one of the best matches of the year and to watch the method to the bizarre storytelling madness is a Hardcore classic that will likely never be attempted again in WWE, which is for the best.

Mickie James defeated Trish for the WWE women’s title in somewhat of a strange match as it had more than a hint of a lesbian overtone to the storyline.

“Is there such a thing as the perfect loss?” Trish told me. “If there is, it would be that one. The anticipation of the crowd, how they were invested in the match because they had been along for the ride for the past six months is exactly how you want to go into — and out of — a WrestleMania match.

“The Trish/Mickie storyline culminated to that WrestleMania finish and that finish is what allowed us to spin it into another five months of rivalry — almost a year of story! A finger-lickin’ good loss.”

The Undertaker went 14-0 at WrestleMania with his Casket Match victory over Mark Henry, who had arguably his best match at a WrestleMania event. This was around the time that “The Streak” really started to become a major focal point with WWE fans. Who was going to try Taker on for size at WM 23, because “The Streak” couldn’t go on forever, right? Hmm.

One of the all-time, most underrated WM bouts ever followed Taker’s win, and that was the No-Holds Barred Match featuring Mr. McMahon vs. Shawn Michaels.

This was one of my favorite bouts to broadcast and if you listen to this match again I think that you will concur that I was all in and “emotionally invested.”

Mr. McMahon is a classic villain as his TV persona is organically natural to dislike, and HBK has never been outperformed at any WrestleMania. Neither man disappointed, and this match was so physical and far exceeded expectations.

The SmackDown Main Event was a Triple Threat match for the world title featuring champion Kurt Angle vs. Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio, who became the world champ at WM XXII.

This match went only nine minutes, which was a shame as it cut short a great scene. Rey was coming off a Royal Rumble victory that he had dedicated to the late Eddie Guerrero. Rey then celebrated his WM XXII victory with Eddie’s widow, Vickie Guerrero, and nephew, Chavo Guerrero. This match/scene was cut short due to a lack of time.

Nonetheless, the three men in the match should be applauded as they thought they would have more time for their performance but made the most out of the audible that was called. One can only wonder how great this match would have been if it had been afforded more time to tell a more-compelling story.

The show-closer was John Cena defending the WWE title vs. HHH, a Raw attraction. This match was loaded with drama and the red-hot, live audience did its part as well. The in-ring psychology utilized was textbook excellent. When Cena made HHH tap, it shocked virtually everyone in the arena, including the broadcast team.

The entrances for the last match were unique productions as HHH got a Conan the Barbarian entrance while Cena entered with an Al Capone-type presentation with suited “gangsters.” One of the gangsters was CM Punk, long before his WWE debut. The live audience loved the HHH entrance and “The Game” during the match, but not so much for the polarizing Cena who, as usual, battled through it.

This would be the last WrestleMania to be held in an arena. The next year WWE would return to the Detroit area for the first time since the iconic WM III and outdraw the Super Bowl in attendance that year at Ford Field.

 

WRESTLEMANIA XXIII

Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan, April 1, 2007

This edition was one of my all-time favorite events – it was the weekend that I was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Plus, the live event itself was a strong show thanks, in large part, to the “Battle of the Billionaires.”

Over 80,000 fans turned out, which eclipsed the announced attendance of the Super Bowl held earlier that year in the same facility. Many were there to see if it would be Mr. McMahon or Donald Trump losing his hair.

It was a magnificent opportunity to break out the personas of Bobby Lashley, represented by Trump, and Umaga, represented by McMahon, in the hair vs. hair match, officiated by Stone Cold Steve Austin. Unfortunately, even though the match and the pay-per-view itself were hits, the wrestlers never made it to the Promised Land in the world of sports entertainment for different reasons.

 

No wrestling villain could have played their role better than Mr. McMahon did, and his facial expressions while sitting, doomed, in a barber’s chair about to have his head shaved are classic images that will live on the WWE Network forever.

The WWE title bout featured John Cena being challenged by Shawn Michaels, which closed the show and saw Cena win by submission to further cement John as the top hand in WWE. HBK once again demonstrated why no one in WrestleMania history has out-performed him on the grandest stage.

The SmackDown main event, expertly broadcast by Michael Cole and JBL, saw the Undertaker’s Streak vs. the World Title held by Batista. Great stipulation … easy story to understand … Batista posed a legit threat to Taker and the match was stellar.

The annual Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania was as star-studded as any in recent memory, and it included CM Punk, Edge, Booker T., Mr. Kennedy, Randy Orton, Finlay, plus Matt and Jeff Hardy. This match went on first and launched WM XXIII into another level of expectations. Kennedy won the thrill show but unfortunately never was able to capitalize on his WM XXIII success in WWE.

Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
It was personally gratifying as an old-school wrestling guy to see several former ECW talents get on the show as Tommy Dreamer, Sandman, RVD and Sabu were winners in an eight-man tag.

This show with Mr. WrestleMania Shawn Michaels morphing into Rembrandt on a wrestling canvas was the perfect way to end a WWE Hall of Fame weekend, which included my long-time broadcast partner, Jerry Lawler, inducting yours truly. I realized that I was blessed to be able to make the journey from a small eastern Oklahoma farm, survive the wrestling territory days, and go all the way to the WWE Hall of Fame and broadcasting before over 80,000 fans and a worldwide audience on pay-per-view.

What could top this experience?

 

WRESTLEMANIA XXIV

Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida, March 30, 2008
This sparked multiple memories for many fans, not the least of which include Ric Flair’s “retirement,” errant pyro, Floyd Mayweather in action in a WWE ring, and the Undertaker going to 16-0 in an outstanding show-closer vs. Edge.

WM was held outdoors for only the second time – WM IX being the first – in the weathered Citrus Bowl in Orlando before 74,635, who bought a whopping $5.8 million in tickets for the co-branded event. WWE spent thousands of dollars to “dress up” the Citrus Bowl for the global pay-per-view that produced over one million buys. The aged stadium never looked so good.

Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
The Edge vs. Undertaker match was a fitting close to a strong event as both the Deadman and the future WWE Hall of Famer Edge had one of the best matches of either’s career and they did it on the biggest stage imaginable. Many fans still can’t fully understand the pressure on the individuals who have the responsibility to close a major show like WrestleMania and do it in a big way.

There are no stunt men, no re-takes or make-goods … it’s “One Take Jake.” And on this night, it was on a 20-foot square open-air stage. This match was broadcast by the SmackDown duo of Michael Cole and The Coach while The King and I watched from ringside. It was the best seat in the house for one hell of a contest packed with drama and athleticism.

Shawn Michaels had the honor of having Ric Flair’s last match and “Naitch” couldn’t have had a better opponent for this special occasion. HBK again proved why he is “Mr. WrestleMania,” with an amazing performance vs. the veteran, multi-time WWE Hall of Famer. The capacity crowd paid its respects to Flair, who HBK turned the ring over to after winning, as the throng gave Ric a well-deserved, standing ovation, which brought the iconic Flair to tears.

“Watching Shawn and Flair was beautiful,” wrestler Dolph Ziggler said. “I can’t describe in words that can explain the love I have for these two and their love for the business, but I’ll try.

“Even the night before at the Hall of Fame, when Flair yelled ‘I will never retire!’ was amazing. When Shawn beat Flair and he had to retire, it was the only time I’ve ever had tears in my eyes as a fan and superstar. When it’s that emotional, you know what this means to the performers and superstars.”

On a personal level, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to broadcast Flair’s last match with my long-time partner Lawler, as this would be the last WrestleMania that the two of us would team for its entirety.
I do remember, and this is classic Lawler, when Kim Kardashian was in the ring in her role of “hostess” and the King swore that the young lady was wearing a prosthetic buttocks device. I can’t verify the validity of that observation but my partner sure thought so that night.

If I did not know better, I’d have thought the King might have visited Snoop Dogg’s trailer before the show located in the makeshift tent city with that declaration.

The Floyd Mayweather vs. Big Show attraction was highly entertaining – largely because of the build-up, which, unfortunately, saw “Money” break Show’s nose on a live Raw broadcast a few weeks earlier. I’ve never seen Show as legitimately PO’d or move as quickly as he did the night his beak was busted by the greatest active boxer alive today.

HHH helped train Floyd for Show and has said on numerous occasions that Mayweather is a “natural” as it relates to timing and “getting it.” I found “Money” to be one of the most genuine and nicest celebrities that WWE has utilized at any WrestleMania. Without question, the Big Show-Floyd Mayweather attraction overachieved and was one of the highlights of the entire presentation.

The Raw main event was a Triple Threat bout for the WWE title held by Randy Orton, who escaped with his championship by defeating HHH and John Cena. I’m not the biggest fan of these types of WrestleMania main events, but this one made sense and it was well-executed. Plus, it proved to be a great lead-in to the more deliberately paced Show vs. Mayweather attraction.

Considering that I’ve known Taker for over 25 years and that I signed Edge in 1997, I couldn’t have been prouder of the two men and how they handled their business closing the show. It was a memorable night to say the least, but Taker and Edge made me forget what I had seen earlier in the evening. This is another match that should go in the must-see department for any true fan or individual who longs to be a pro wrestler.

Indeed, WrestleMania XXIV was a huge success, but it would seemingly pale in comparison to what awaited the WWE Universe the next year when XXV would be Texas-sized.

 

WRESTLEMANIA XXV

Reliant Stadium, Houston, April 5, 2009

The WWE returned to Houston for the first WrestleMania since the memorable WM XXVII, which garnered close to a $7 million live gate with over 72,000 fans from all 50 states and 24 countries watching live in H-Town.

This was a unique broadcast for yours truly, as Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler and I manned a three-man announcer table for this one, which featured the historic Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels contest that was hauntingly amazing.

“Simply doesn’t get any better,” Shelton Benjamin recalled. “On that night, I honestly don’t know who could follow that or whose genius idea it was to try.”

Even though the Undertaker vs. Michaels match would go on sixth on an eight-bout card, nothing could have been booked to follow the performance between two of WWE’s all-time great in-ring performers. Taker’s streak was on the line and it took place in both performers’ home state. The end result of this textbook-perfect bout was that Taker was 17-0 at WrestleMania events.

The fan-favorite match, featuring two non-villains, was a work of art and a match, like fine wine, that will be savored for years to come.

“Watching (the first) Shawn versus Taker match was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in person,” Ziggler said. “The years of story, the psychology, the spectacle. It was a work of art.”

The main events that followed this all-time classic were excellent bouts, but they were put in a position to follow history which isn’t doable.

John Cena’s freakish strength was on full display as he stacked both Big Show and Edge on his shoulders while delivering a Texas- sized Attitude Adjustment. It was one of the more memorable feats of strength that I’ve ever seen in a wrestling ring. Cena won his second world heavyweight title in this three-way bout.

The show-closer, faced with the challenge of following everything on the packed card, saw HHH retain the WWE title over Randy Orton. The talents gave maximum effort, but, again, following the streak match, featuring Michaels and the Deadman, was impossible.

Other highlights included:

Rey Mysterio defeating JBL in 21 seconds to win the Intercontinental title.

Brother vs. Brother when Matt Hardy defeated his younger brother Jeff Hardy.

Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
CM Punk won his second Money in the Bank Ladder Match that had eight participants, including Shelton Benjamin and Kofi Kingston, who both had jaw-dropping moments in the ultimate thrill show. The MITB Ladder match wisely kicked off WM XXV and got the event off to a great start by engaging the live audience early.

In a uniquely booked bout, Chris Jericho defeated three legends and WWE HOFers, Ricky Steamboat, who was excellent here by the way, Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka in a three-on-one handicap match. This attraction would see the post-match involvement of actor Mickey Rourke of “The Wrestler” fame. The match was more compelling than was Rourke’s involvement. One of Rourke’s legit bodyguards was MMA legend Frank Shamrock.

WM XXV provided a lifetime of memories as my broadcast career began to wind down with WWE, by not only having the privilege to get the assignment to broadcast the event with old friends Lawler and Cole, but also by being at ringside to broadcast the first Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels WrestleMania bout.

Plus, I got to have my last WrestleMania pay-per-view beer with my old friend Stone Cold Steve Austin. I kept the Coors Light can.

The next year for WM XXVI, the WWE would take their biggest event of the year to the desert and attempt to catch lightning in a bottle one more time.

 

WRESTLEMANIA XXVI

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona, March 28, 2010

A year earlier, WWE saw that the Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels one-on-one match could not be followed … by anyone dead – no pun intended – or alive. So WWE decided to close WM XXVI with the second HBK vs. Deadman bout that stipulated if Shawn did not end “The Streak,” then the Show Stopper would retire.

This match was bittersweet for me for a couple of reasons. I had been broadcasting in the Mid South territory when Shawn Michaels broke into the wrestling business under the Mid South Wrestling banner of WWE HOFer Cowboy Bill Watts, who was inducted into the WWE HOF the year before in Houston. I wanted to be a part of Shawn’s last match.

Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
Even though my nemesis Bell’s palsy had got me for the third time, I still felt like I was able to take a chair alongside Lawler and Cole and assist in broadcasting. However, cooler heads prevailed and Matt Striker worked with King and Cole. I was removed from the broadcast and watched the show from the friends and family suite at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

I should have known this might not have been my weekend in this particular stadium as my Oklahoma Sooners had lost twice there in Fiesta Bowls, once against Boise State in the game that seemingly never goes away, and also against West Virginia. OU finally broke the Fiesta Bowl jinx a few seasons later against UConn in a game that saw me win an apple pie from fellow commentator Joey Styles.

WM XXVI was a 10-match event on pay-per-view, but if quizzed, I’d assume that most fans will likely remember it primarily for the main event that saw Undertaker retire HBK and run “The Streak” to 18-0.

The two Texans had another masterpiece proving that sound storytelling, adequate pacing, execution, fighting for something tangible, and match integrity still works today.

“The greatest WrestleMania match that I’ve ever seen, yet was not a part of, was ‘Streak vs. Career,’ Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels from WM XXVI,” Matt Hardy said. “Two of the absolute best ever, in a match that was not only unbelievably great, but carried an extraordinary stipulation.

“It led to HBK retiring, which was a huge deal to the wrestling industry. Undertaker and HBK, the two greatest performers in the history of WrestleMania, topped their phenomenal match from the year before. Incredible storytelling, incredible athleticism, incredible drama … this match had it all.

The highlight of the weekend for me came after the event, across the street in the parking lot of the WWE team hotel. All the crew buses and a handful of talent’s tour buses were parked in such a way as to make a common area complete with a bonfire and food … and perhaps a few beverages – OK, ample beverages, including some of the homemade variety … think apple cobbler moonshine. This special arrangement was for Taker and HBK to be able to spend some quality time with their friends to commemorate two great WrestleMania main events plus the end of Shawn’s vaunted wrestling career.

We were up laughing and telling stories until sunrise. Those few hours created a memory that will last forever for me. Come to think of it, it might have been better than being actually called upon to broadcast the main event.

I honestly think that it was.

Other memories of WM XXVI include:

The long-awaited “match” between Mr. McMahon and Bret Hart that turned into a Hart Family “reunion” on Mr. McMahon.

An outstanding, six-minute CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio match that had too little time but still delivered.

Chris Jericho retaining the world title against fellow Canadian Edge. Really nice match between quality talents.

Former Oklahoma Sooner Jack Swagger won the Money in the Bank Ladder Match.

For WM XXVII, the WWE would travel to Hotlanta and the Georgia Dome for the return of “The Great One.”

 

WRESTLEMANIA XXVII

Georgia Dome, Atlanta, April 3, 2011

This proved to be one of the most intriguing Manias the WWE ever produced. The card certainly was dotted with some outstanding contests but also some strangely unique ones as well, notwithstanding the “host” role filled by The Rock.

Many fans were seemingly confused as to what exactly a “host” does at a WrestleMania, but I’d still bet the fans were excited to see The Rock back in a WWE environment in any capacity. Perhaps we can now define “host” as a storyline alert. “Host” also equaled massive revenue as over one million fans bought WM XVII on pay-per-view and the live gate was $6.6 million.

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Triple H hacks The Undertaker with a chairshot during the brutal battle.
Over 71,000 fans descended on the former headquarters of Ted Turner’s WCW. (Useless trivia fact: I, along with Bill Rosinski and Jeff Van Note, broadcasted the first event in the Georgia Dome when it opened in 1992. It was an Atlanta Falcons exhibition preseason game, if you’re keeping score.)

WM XXVII had a little something for everyone. As mentioned, the return of The Rock, who made his intentions known the next night on Raw that he wanted to challenge John Cena for WM XXVIII, seemed to steal the proverbial thunder from all the other attractions.

The Undertaker took on HHH in what I felt like was a hell of a match, as it took everyone on an emotional and in-ring psychological roller coaster for approximately 30 draining minutes. This was one of my all-time favorite matches to broadcast.

Randy Orton vs. CM Punk is a match that often goes overlooked, but it was an excellent outing.

Another sleeper match on this event was Rey Mysterio vs. Cody Rhodes.

Yours truly joined Booker T to broadcast the Michael Cole vs. Jerry Lawler bout. Lawler fans had been long awaiting for The King to have his “WrestleMania Moment.” That was not to be, as Cole won by a reversed decision disqualification thanks to the anonymous Raw General Manager. One of the most ironic things about this attraction is that Stone Cold Steve Austin was the referee and celebrated Lawler’s original win with a beer with Jerry. Not sure that the King swallowed a drop of it however as The King’s never drank alcohol and has declared on numerous occasions that “lips that touch alcohol will never touch mine.”

Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
King rejoined me at ringside and the two of us finished WM XXVII while Cole “celebrated” his 1-0 record at WrestleMania.

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, of Jersey Shore fame, earned WWE a great deal of media exposure on the likes of TMZ, etc., as she and Trish Stratus teamed with John Morrison to face LayCool, Michelle McCool and Layla, and Dolph Ziggler.

“I would say my most disappointing moment was not competing in a match even though I was Divas Champion at WrestleMania XXVII,” Eve Torres said. “Although, I did get to be a part of a fun backstage segment with Stone Cold, the Rock, and Mae Young … not too shabby!” The show-closer was Miz successfully defending the WWE title vs. John Cena in a match that saw “host” The Rock interfere to aid Miz in defeating the heavily favored Cena.

The next night on Monday Night Raw it was made official that at WM XXVIII it would be The Rock vs. John Cena in the main event in the “Great One’s” home town of Miami.

South Beach … here we come!

 

WRESTLEMANIA XXVIII

Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, April 1, 2012

The main event storyline that unfolded in Miami was put in play the night after WM XXVII in Atlanta on Raw 12 months earlier.

John Cena faced The Rock in the main event of WM XXVIII, “Once in a Lifetime.” This was one of the more anticipated WrestleMania main events in recent memory. Because of the 12-month creative arc that embraced it and the level of talent in the bout, it was a promoter’s dream in many ways. The concept was a hit, and the event sold a record 1.2 million pay per views and the live gate totaled $8.9 million, another, all-time WWE record.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL – APRIL 1: Dwayne ”The Rock” Johnson and John Cena in action during WrestleMania XXVIII at Sun Life Stadium on April 1, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery

 

A point has been made regarding older talents coming back to WWE during WrestleMania season after being away for extended length of time, such as Rock did in the majority of 2012. This is done for two obvious reasons, to increase revenues and to expose incumbent performers in a positive way with the returning legend.

This scenario challenges the creative process, but no one can argue with the financial victory that Rock vs. Cena earned.

Yep, this was the WrestleMania that featured Daniel Bryan losing the world title in a tidy 18 seconds at the hands of Sheamus … and fans still talk about this one.

Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
CM Punk defeated Chris Jericho to retain the WWE title in an excellently crafted and performed contest that preceded the show-closing Cena vs. Rock.

One can easily assume, without going too far out on a limb, that Punk and Jericho wanted to make sure that Cena and Rock had to follow something strong and briskly paced.

On the women’s side, Kelly Kelly teamed up with TV host Maria Menounos to defeat Eve Torres and Beth Phoenix in a tag team match.
“My favorite match that I participated in was WrestleMania XXVIII, where Beth Phoenix and I teamed up to face Kelly Kelly and Extra’s Maria Menounos,” Eve Torres said. “Not only was I partnered with one of my best friends and mentors in the business, but it was the first time during a match I was able to soak it all in, and fully appreciate the magnitude of being able to do what you love to do in front of 70,000 screaming fans.”

For yours truly, this was the last WrestleMania that I broadcast as I helped on the “End of an Era” match between HHH vs. The Undertaker, who was 19-0 going into WM XXVIII, where HHH’s long-time friend Shawn Michaels was the special referee.

Remember, it was Taker who “retired” HBK the year before in Phoenix at WM XXVII.

Hmm. Drama. 19-0. 19-1? 20-0?

So as in any great story, the plot thickened … all three men in the match had masterful nights that demonstrated that physicality, logical pacing, and a reality-based storyline still sells as well today as it did generations ago.

Taker ended the night 20-0 and questions continue to arise on how much longer the veteran gladiator can physically continue at a WrestleMania level. Every year presents a new set of challenges for the future WWE Hall of Famer who has never lost a bout at a WrestleMania event and has cemented himself as the greatest enduring star in WWE history.

“The Streak” should have its own t-shirts and Twitter handle.

If my last WrestleMania match happens to be the HHH-Taker Hell in a Cell match at WM XXVIII, I will be a lucky and blessed man. I left the field at Sun Life Stadium that night much happier than I was a few years earlier when my Oklahoma Sooners lost to The Rock’s Miami Hurricanes, 21-20, in the same place.

For the next year’s WrestleMania, WWE would take a calculated weather risk and compete with Mother Nature by remaining outdoors at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey … in the shadow of New York City. In early April.

 

WRESTLEMANIA XXIX

MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J., April 7, 2013
Would Mother Nature drop an elbow on a Sunday evening in New Jersey in early April? WM XXIX was held outdoors at the football home of the New York Jets and New York Giants, the weather was naturally a concern.

There was a slight “near fall” early in the evening as light rain found its way to the stadium, but that soon went away and the fans in attendance, totaling just over 80,000, got the desired break in the weather for which they had hoped.

The Undertaker extended his seemingly untouchable WrestleMania winning streak to 21-0 with a victory over CM Punk in what many feel was the match of the night.

Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
Several things to consider in this one – “The Streak” grows in stature by the year; Paul Heyman is a wrestling genius and was invaluable to the success of this presentation; Punk, in a losing effort, further established how big a star that he had become in WWE, while Taker and his adversaries in this bout proved that a wrestling match centered around a personal issue still sells.

Punk’s skill set matched up ideally with the veteran Undertaker, and the two told a compelling story that allowed the audience to “get lost” in the performance.

“With all due respect to the championships and the men and women who hold them, the matches, and the personal issues to be settled by the participants in those matches, are best,” Heyman said. “The Streak has taken on a life of its own and it more directly tied to the history of the event, and the future of the event, than any other match on this show.”

HHH vs. Brock Lesnar was another old-school match as well, but it was seasoned with a No-Holds Barred Stipulation and had Mr. WrestleMania Shawn Michaels in HHH’s corner while the pride of Scarsdale, New York (Heyman) pulled double main event duty as he was in Lesnar’s corner. If HHH had lost, he would have had to retire. (Trust me, retirement is overrated.)

“As a manager, last year’s Mania was very emotional for me because the road back was long and eventful,” Heyman said. “And to work two of the three main events, with two of my best friends in the world (Brock Lesnar and CM Punk) seemed like the best case scenario reward from the Gods for whatever I may have done in a previous life to deserve such an honor.”

For the second year in a row, The Rock and John Cena closed the biggest show of the year. This time, however, The Rock entered as the WWE champion but exited Jersey after passing the WWE title back to Cena.

My contribution to WM XXIX was appearing on the pre- and post-game shows with my fellow 2007 WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes, Kofi Kingston, and Scott Stanford. We did the shows outdoors surrounded by fans ala the XFL. I found out about this assignment on the bus ride Saturday night from Jersey City, where we were all staying, to Madison Square Garden for the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

As the late, great “Captain Redneck” Dick Murdoch used to say, “Don’t worry about the mules, just load the wagon.” Old wrestling announcers always pack an extra suit.

As the former head of Talent Relations for WWE, the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony was extraordinarily special for me. Inductees like Mick Foley, Trish Stratus and Booker T. all worked on my watch and I was extremely proud of their lifetime achievement.

Plus, Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund finally came home where they belonged and they did it in “the Garden.”

WM XXIX will also be remembered as the pay-per-view where The Shield debuted and won a six-man tag match against Randy Orton, Sheamus and the Big Show in the opening bout on the chilly evening.

One of my favorite parts of the evening, speaking as an old-school wrestling fan, was the in-ring, physical sequences of Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler, who were on opposing tag teams. Go back on the WWE Network and take a peak. Hopefully it will be a sign of things to come between the two.

“Last year I had a tag match against Daniel Bryan and Kane and did a ‘call back’ to the 18-second match DB had with Sheamus,” Ziggler said. “And 80,000 jumped out of their seats thinking I was knocked out after getting a kiss from A.J. (Lee) and kicked right as the match started. They thought it was the finish. I loved it.”

WWE holds its biggest event of the year in its own backyard in front of 80,000-plus prior to MetLife Stadium hosting the Super Bowl. WM XXIX generated over $100 million in revenue for the New Jersey/New York area. For WWE and its multi-generations old legacy that started in the Northeast, it was a true “Coming Home” (thanks, Diddy) experience.

But as WWE Chairman Vince McMahon is known to say, “But that was last year … how are we going to make this year’s WrestleMania bigger and better?”

We’ll know soon enough.

You can follow Jim Ross on Twitter @JRsBBQ, listen to him on the Ross Report Podcast, and see him live at RINGSIDE: An Evening with Jim Ross. JR’s products are also available online at wweshop.com, americansoda.co.uk and beyondtheropes.co.uk