Retro Wrestle Respawn – WrestleMania 22

Coming just six months after the tragic death of Eddie Guerrero, WrestleMania 22 came at a time when the WWE was hardly at its strongest ebb.  This was only exacerbated by an injury to Dave Batista in the early part of 2006, meaning that the Smackdown brand would be without its #1 draw through Mania season.

Looking to try and elevate someone new up the card, a significant movement began within the writing team to push Rey Mysterio Jr into the main event slot. A real life friend of Guerrero, as well as being possibly his best ever opponent between the ropes, Rey represented a possible feel good storyline opportunity whereby Eddie’s memory could be honoured on the grandest stage of them all.

However, for reasons we’ll get into later on in the recap, there were a number of obstacles standing between Rey and the illusive brass ring. On the Raw side, John Cena was enjoying the second WWE title reign of his career after defeating Edge at the 2006 Royal Rumble. As someone who was watching the product quite intently at the time, most fans were hoping for an Edge/Cena rematch at WrestleMania. However, despite drawing great ratings for his short title reign, Edge was bumped down the card at Mania and the coveted main event slot was given to perennial big match contestant Triple H.

The question going into Mania was whether Triple H could coax a great match out of Cena or not, as Cena was under a lot of pressure from the fan base due to having a series of middling outings in the ring over the autumn and winter. Meanwhile, Edge was heavily motivated to deliver a world class performance in the undercard to prove that he belonged in the main event scene.

The event is emanating from the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois on the 2nd April 2006

Calling the action are Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler from Raw, and Michael Cole and Tazz from Smackdown

The difference between the intro video here and at WrestleMania 13 from last week is night and day. This one is all about a celebration of the past as opposed to worrying about the horror of the present. Right out of the gate this event “feels” like a WrestleMania.

Opening Match
Raw World Tag Team Titles
Champions: Kane and The Big Show Vs Carlito and “Masterpiece” Chris Masters

Kane and Big Show are the babyfaces here but Carlito gets a noticeable pop coming down to the ring and wasn’t far off a babyface turn of his own. Kane busts out a leapfrog and a dropkick on Masters in the early stages (It is WrestleMania after all) and then tags in Show, who unloads on poor Chris with some open hand chops to the chest. Carlito comes in, to chants from the crowd no less, but he fares no better than his partner. Show press slams Masters, sending him outside, and then presses Carlito over the top rope onto him. Not to be outdone, Kane leaps off the top rope onto both challengers on the outside. Kane isn’t messing around tonight brother!

Back inside, the challengers send Big Show into an unprotected turnbuckle and hit him with a double flapjack to get themselves some respite from the babyface onslaught. They decide to try and double suplex Show, but he blocks it and then hurks them both over with a suplex of his own! Kane gets the tag and runs wild with clotheslines, even going for a ten punch in the corner on Carlito. This is a prototypical opening match and I love it!

Kane gets a side slam on Carlito and then heads up top for a clothesline on Masters, but he sees him coming and counters into The Masterlock (A Full Nelson for those not au fait with WWE during this period). Show breaks that up and audibly gets booed for it. This must be the most over Chris Masters has ever been, possibly even Carlito too. Carlito gets the Back Cracker on Kane but gets grabbed around the throat by Show. Masters breaks that up by chop blocking Show’s leg, but Kane is up soon after and goes for his own goozle on Carlito. Masters tries coming off the second rope for the rescue, but Kane moves and he ends up hitting his own partner. Kane disposes of Masters and then finishes Carlito with the Choke Slam to retain the titles.

RATING: **1/2

Kane in particular was jazzed here and it made for a very spirited opener.

Carlito and Masters argue post-match, with the fans taking Carlito’s side. WWE took notice of this and turned Carlito face not soon after. It may even have been the next night on Raw actually. I remember he faced Chris Masters at the Backlash event, which was at the end of April.

Meanwhile, Jonathon Coachman is backstage with Shawn Michaels. Shawn made the mistake of telling Vince to get over the whole Bret Hart thing, which caused Vince to select Shawn for destruction. Coach asks him if he regrets it now. Shawn delivers one of the lines of the night by saying “I never regret telling the truth”. He goes on to outright say that he won’t have a 5 Star match tonight due to fighting Vince. He finishes by saying that Vince is going to his own personal hell tonight.

Match Two
Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Matt Hardy Vs Shelton Benjamin Vs Finlay Vs Rob Van Dam Vs Bobby Lashley Vs Ric Flair

Shelty is also the Intercontinental Champion here. All of the commentary teams call this one together, and amazingly it’s not the cluster mess you’d think it’d be. So yeah, this’ll be tough to do accurate play-by-play for, but I’ll do my best. Big schmoz to start, which ends up with Shelty wearing out Finlay in the ring with a ladder before diving onto everyone else on the outside. Flair comes back in and tries to climb but Matt cuts him off and then suplexes him from the top of the ladder. Flair sells this big time and has to get helped to the back by a gaggle of referees, and it looks like his night is over. He was crazy to take a bump like that at 57.

Meanwhile, RVD lays Shelty on the ladder and goes for the Rolling Thunder, but ends up getting nothing but ladder. Lashley has a go at climbing but everyone gangs up on him to stop that and then powerbombs him off the ladder. Fans are loudly behind RVD here. Finlay destroys everyone with the ladder and seems to have a clear path to victory, at which point Flair makes his gallant return by limping down to the ring. Flair lays Finlay out and then chops everything in sight back in the ring before making a climb for the briefcase, but Finlay clubs him down the shillelagh (I used to hate having to spell that back in the day, so just called it the “stick thing” to make things easy on myself)

Finlay and Shelty fight on top of the ladder but Lashley knocks them both off and then destroys Shelty with a Dominator. Lashley now gingerly climbs but RVD dropkicks him off to stop that. With Lashley down from that, Matt heads to the top of a ladder in the corner and splats him with a leg drop to take him out of the running. Matt makes a climb for the case now but Finlay stops him, so Matt brings him down with the Side Effect. RVD follows this up with a splash onto Finlay from the top of the ladder and the Irishman is soda bread.

Fans chant “EC-Dub” for that. RVD starts to climb but Shelty springboards out of nowhere to land on the other side of the ladder in an incredible spot. As RVD and Shelton trade blows on top of the ladder, Matt sets another ladder up and tries to sneak up to the briefcase. Sheltie sees this however and steps over to the other ladder to stop him. This gives RVD the chance to knock the ladder with them both on over, leaving him alone to grab the case for the victory.

RATING: ****

This was a tightly structured spot fest, with each man having his own designated moment where they were taken out. It was also pretty safe, with the most dangerous spot being taken by Flair of all people. The right guy won and everyone got a moment to shine in their own way. Thumbs up!

Josh Matthews is backstage with Mean Gene Okerlund, who had just been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Randy Orton interrupts the interview though, just to be a jerk, causing Gene to storm off. Orton says he’ll win the title tonight; however Batista walks in to interrupt his interruption and remind Orton that not only will he be back soon, but that he’ll be champion by the time WrestleMania 23 comes around. He was right as well.

Meanwhile, the 2006 Hall of Fame class come out onto the stage, sans Bret Hart who wasn’t yet comfortable appearing on WWE TV. Inductees are Mean Gene, Sensational Sherri, Tony Atlas, Verne Gagne, William Perry, The Blackjacks and Eddie Guerrero. Vickie and Chavo Guerrero accept on Eddie’s behalf and this gets a big ovation from the crowd.

Match Three
WWE United States Championship (Smackdown Brand)
Champion: Chris Benoit Vs John Bradshaw Layfield w/ Jillian Hall and her ludicrous fake boobs

Jillian was like if you created a stereotypical “WWE Diva” in a lab somewhere, but it’s almost too authentic to the point that she doesn’t quite look human anymore. JBL was a couple of months away from a long sabbatical on the commentary desk at this point, so this was one of his last hurrahs. Benoit tries to get the crossface early on but JBL manages to make the ropes. Benoit stays on top and goes for the Sharpshooter, but JBL manages to block it and lures Benoit outside for a cheap shot.

Back inside, JBL slugs away but misses a charge in the corner and goes to Suplex City by taking three German’s. Benoit heads up top for a head butt, but JBL pulls the ref in the way before jamming the top rope to crotch Benoit on the top turnbuckle. JBL brings Benoit down with a superplex and then starts going for Eddie Guerrero’s Three Amigo’s suplexes, just after Eddie’s HOF induction. Stay classy John. See, the heat isn’t even on JBL here, it’s on WWE for letting him resort to this stupid cheap heat rather than actually earning it properly. There’s a line between trying to get heat and just being sleazy.

JBL goes to a chin lock but Benoit fights out of it with a back suplex. Benoit gets his own Three Amigo’s and then heads up with a big diving head butt for two. Benoit goes for the crossface but JBL rolls through and then grabs the ropes for leverage to earn himself a cheap victory.

: **

JBL was really struggling there at the end and you can see why he took some time off not soon after this. This was, for all intents and purposes, a waste of Benoit as he was stuck with a physically broken challenger who had to resort to the cheapest of cheap heat just to get a reaction from the crowd.

Match Four
Hardcore Match
Edge w/ Lita Vs Mick Foley

So this stemmed from Foley reffing a Cena Vs Edge title match on Raw. Edge lost and blamed Foley for it, so he challenged Foley to a match at Mania and bashed him with a chair. The chair attack appears to have awoken Cactus Jack within Mick though, so Edge might have bitten off more than he can chew here. Joey Styles has dropped in for commentary, which makes sense as he oversaw many a brutal bout from the eagles nest at the ECW Arena, some which involved Foley.

Mick attacks to start with a face crusher and hoists Edge up in the tree of woe in the corner before hitting a running elbow. Edge floors his opponent with a Yakuza Kick and then wears him out with some metal cooking sheets and a road sign. Edge goes for the Spear and gets it, but comes up selling his arm. It turns out that Foley had a belt of barbed wire on under his flannel shirt, which is a pretty inventive spot and has left Edges’ shoulder bleeding. Mick removes the wire from his waist and starts slicing at Edge’s arm with it.

Foley ties Edge up in the ropes and then heads outside where he has hidden a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. He prepares to destroy Edge with it, but Lita jumps on his back to stop that. Undeterred, Foley hits Edge with a Cactus Clothesline, whilst also having Lita in his back, sending all three tumbling over the top to the outside in a great visual. Foley gets a swinging neckbreaker on the floor but Edge fights back by hip tossing Mick onto the ring steps leg first. Not content with just that, Edge also whips Foley into the steps and he goes flying over them in his usual manner, knee first of course.

Edge grabs a table and sets it up on the outside, but Foley rolls off it so Edge slams him head first onto the ramp instead for two. Foley has taken some pretty big bumps so far and we’re still in the first half of the match. Lita passes Edge a bottle of lighter fluid, as things continue to get even further out of hand. Edge douses Foley in the fluid but Mick fights back with a pulling piledriver and sets Edge up for a con-chair-to. Lita distracts Foley however and this allows Edge to catch him with a DDT for a count of two.

Edge wears Foley out with the barbed wire baseball bat and Mick starts bleeding. Edge follows with a bulldog onto the wire but this only gets a two and he starts to get frustrated. That frustration manifests itself in him heading outside the ring to find a hidden bag filled with thumbtacks. The tacks get sprinkled on the mat but, in a cruel twist, it’s Edge who ends up in them via a Foley back suplex. Edge sells this big time, with the tacks sticking into his back in a grizzly visual.

Now it’s time for Mr. Socko, but Mick decides that isn’t quite hardcore enough and wraps the sock in barbed wire first. No point going for half measures at this stage I guess. Lita runs in to rescue her man and ends up on the receiving end of the Mandible Claw, cutting her mouth in the process. Foley now returns the favour to Edge regards the barbed wire bat, digging the wire deep into Edge’s face, which busts him open.

Not content with just that, Foley grabs the lighter fluid from earlier and starts dousing the table that Edge set up previously. However, before he can execute the next part of his violent plan, Lita clocks him with the bat, leaving him slumped on the apron, and then sets the table on fire. With the table now ablaze, Edge runs at Foley and spears him off the apron through the flaming table! Not surprisingly, that’s enough to secure the win. What an amazing finishing spot that was!

: ****1/4

A super gory brawl with some great selling from both men. Edge in particular sells the ordeal brilliantly at the end; backing up the ramp a twitching wreck looking like he’s been through hell. Fans give Foley a standing ovation on the way out, and he earned that one.

Booker T and Sharmell are backstage worrying about their upcoming match with The Boogeyman. They come across Pirate Paul Burchill, Ted Dibiase and Eugene, Gene Snitsky licking Mae Young’s feet and finally Goldust dressed as Oprah Winfrey. Goldust tells Booker that he’ll have to unleash his inner freak to defeat Boogeyman. Booker isn’t convinced and storms off.

Match Five
Handicap Match
Booker T and Sharmell Vs The Boogeyman

I can’t even remember why this match was happening. I recall Boogey kidnapped Sharmell at some point and Booker had to walk over a river of worms to rescue her. Boogeyman is introduced as being from “The Bottomless Pit”, or “Chepstow” as it is also known. Boogeyman is absolutely bobbins as a wrestler, although he certainly committed to this zany gimmick as far as his attire and mannerisms.

Booker jumps Boogey from behind to start and hits him with a thrust kick for two. Boogey can’t really sell properly, but it’s better than making him wrestle I guess. Booker gets the Bookend but Boogeyman kicks out at two and quickly shrugs it off before grabbing a handful of worms from his pocket. Sharmell tries to rescue her husband by attacking Boogey with his own staff, but he catches her in the act and then kisses her whilst having a mouthful of worms in our gross out spot of the evening. Sharmell not surprisingly flees to the back after this to, no doubt eat a tube of toothpaste, and Boogey finishes off Booker in the ring with the Gas Mask.


What a waste of time.

Match Six
WWE Women’s Championship (Raw Brand)
Champion: Trish Stratus Vs Mickie James

So this is the payoff to a long storyline where Mickie was a big Trish fan, only for her to go ultra psycho and attack her to set this up. Interestingly the crowd are behind Mickie and not Trish here, despite Mickie being a dangerous psychotic nutter. Weird as that seems on the surface, it’s not especially difficult to see why they’d side with the fan over the wrestler. Yeah sure, Mickie was overly clingy and needy in regards to Trish, but she was also loyal to a fault and actually saved Trish’s title a bunch of times for her, only to then be rejected by her hero. Considering WrestleMania is usually the show that the most hardcore of fans attend, I can totally get them sympathising with the spurned super fan here. It’s kind of one of the earliest instances of WWE not really getting their core audience actually.

Mickie plays crazy very well, making the most of her big chance and holding nothing back. Trish slugs away with forearms to start and adds a few chops as well. The fight spills outside and Trish tries to give Mickie a Chick Kick, but Mickie ducks and she ends up hitting the ring post instead. Mickie targets the leg back inside as the fans get behind her. Mickie goes to a single leg crab, but Trish won’t tap, so Mickie keeps attacking the leg, including resting it on the second rope and stomping it.

Trish comes back with some clotheslines and a spine buster for two. Fans are openly booing Trish’s offence and cheered when Mickie kicked out. Trish tries the headstand rana in the corner but Mickie blocks it and then drops the injured leg across the top rope to a gigantic pop from the crowd. JR is genuinely worried about these crowd reactions on commentary now, not having a clue why fans are booing this insane woman over babyface Trish.

Trish gets a small package back inside for two and then counters a Mickie rana into a Liger Bomb for another two. Trish goes for the Stratusfaction Bulldog, but Mickie grabs her in the, err (sorry if you’re reading this mum) vagina to block it before making a very lewd gesture that the WWE Network cuts out in its version. Mickie takes a big forearm but kicks Trish’s leg out from under her leg whilst on the floor and goes for her own bulldog, which she sadly botches. Again, the Network version cuts that out. Mickie improvises though and hits Trish with the Mick Kick to pick up the win and the title.

RATING: ***1/4

Shame they botched the finish but the match had some stiff strikes and amazing heat so it gets the seal of approval from me.

Backstage, Vince McMahon and the entire McMahon clan are preparing for Vince’s big match with Shawn Michaels. Vince decides to lead the family in a family prayer, the highlights of which include the line “God, I don’t like you and you don’t like me” as well as Shane and Stephanie sharing a bemused look when Vince declares that he has a “Herculean physique”. I had no idea Hercules had access to that much tanning bed money.

Match Seven
Casket Match
Mark Henry Vs The Undertaker

This was one of Undertaker’s weaker WrestleMania feuds, as Henry was about five years away from actually being either over or any good. Druids bring the casket down to the ring before the match. The video package shows that Henry cost Undertaker the World Title to set this up. Undertaker responded by injuring Henry’s then manager Daivari. Henry did have cool music at this point, I’ll give him that.

Henry jumps Taker to start and slowly works him over with strikes. Taker comes back with some clotheslines but Henry no sells them and then clobbers Taker with one of his own. Henry works Taker over, with The Deadman making the odd quick comeback before getting cut off again. It’s eerily similar to the match with Sid from last week actually.

Taker takes Henry to the Old School, but he still won’t go down and cuts him off again, actually getting a “Henry Sucks” chant in the process. Both men brawl into the casket and Taker is able to drive Henry back into the ring, but Henry counters a clothesline with The World’s Strongest Slam. Henry puts Taker in the casket but he recovers and fights back, although Henry still won’t sell.

Henry stupidly goes for a ten punch in the corner and Taker brings him out of the corner with a Last Ride powerbomb in a spot that even Stevie Wonder could see coming. Don’t ever ten punch The Undertaker, it’s like powerbombing Kidman, it doesn’t work! Taker chucks Henry outside and then follows with a big dive over the top to the outside. Back inside, Taker drops Henry with a Tombstone Piledriver and then rolls him into the casket to win.


Really slow in places but the crowd stayed with them and Undertaker hit some impressive stuff. Pretty much a throwaway match in the grand scheme of things though, as Henry wasn’t much of a threat to the streak and the crowd knew it.

Match Eight
No Holds Barred
Vince McMahon Vs Shawn Michaels

The irony of Michaels being, in essence, a Bret Hart surrogate on the same weekend Bret goes into the Hall of Fame is pretty brazen even for WWE. I’d have to question booking so many gimmick matches and brawls on one show, but then again I guess that’s why WWE never return my calls. Vince looks ludicrous for a 60 year old, sporting a physique that wouldn’t come close to passing a wellness test, but he’s the boss and thus it’s not an issue.

Vince has an easel set up at ringside that contains a framed picture of his Muscle and Fitness magazine cover. Shawn attacks Vince right away and clobbers him around ringside as the fans chant that they want Bret. Sorry folks, you’ll have to wait another four years I’m afraid. Back inside, Shawn smashes the framed magazine cover over Vince’s head because…

Thanks, Cenk.

JR is loudly cheerleading on commentary for Shawn here. This is the cue for the Spirit Squad to run down for a 5 on 1 attack, but Shawn manages to fight them off with their own big megaphone. However, the distraction caused by the Squad is enough for Vince to cut Shawn off with a clothesline. Vince chokes away on Shawn and whips him with his belt, but his age combined with his ridiculously overly muscular physique makes it hard for him to do anything. Case in point, he tries to hit Michaels with his own version of Sweet Chin Music, but barely gets his foot anywhere near Shawn’s head unassisted.

Shawn catches the foot and gets a running forearm before wearing Vince out with his own belt. Body slam and top rope elbow drop mean that it’s TIME TO TUNE UP THE BAND, but now Shane McMahon runs down with a Singapore cane to stop that. Shane destroys Shawn with the cane and produces some handcuffs as things threaten to get a little kinky. As I type that, Vince starts pulling down his trousers with the goal being for Shane to insert Shawn’s poor face into Vince’s McCrack. However, the cruel hand of fate (And Freud) intervenes and it ends up being Shane who takes a journey to Bottomville.

Shawn cuffs Shane to the ropes outside the ring and batters him with the cane to take him out of proceedings. JR can’t help himself mentioning the woodshed here, because alluding to beating kids is apparently WrestleMania appropriate commentary. Vince takes a horrifically stiff chairshot straight to the head and starts bleeding. Shawn preps for the Sweet Chin Music, but changes his mind as he thinks Vince hasn’t been sufficiently tortured yet.

Thus, Shawn destroys Vince with an assortment of weapons before setting up a ladder. However, Shawn still isn’t happy and goes out to get a bigger ladder, as well as laying Vince on a table. Still not satisfied, Shawn puts a trash can over Vince’s head and then comes off the ladder with a big elbow drop, not before doing some crotch chops first. With Vince now royally annihilated, Shawn finally kicks him in the face as an exclamation mark and picks up the win.

RATING: **1/2

Probably went on a bit too long at the end there, but credit to Vince for “getting his” when the time called for it. Stephanie could learn a thing or two from the old man. Vince gets stretchered out afterwards but still finds the energy to flip the crowd the bird in an iconic WrestleMania Moment™.

Match Nine
World Heavyweight Championship (Smackdown Brand)
Champion: Kurt Angle Vs Randy Orton Vs Rey Mysterio Jr

So as mentioned earlier in the recap, the logical finish here would be Rey winning the title in honour of his deceased friend, but things with WWE are rarely simple. Things started well enough with Rey winning the Royal Rumble, coming at #2 in fact, but not a second had passed from his hand being raised in victory before Vince McMahon was already trying to undo it. Basically, Vince thought Rey was too small to be champion and no matter how much the majority of the writing team pushed for Rey to win at Mania, Vince was defiant that “He will NEVER be my champion!!!”

With these doubts deep in his mind, Vince decided that Rey would lose the #1 contendership to Randy Orton at the No Way Out pay per view. Randy goaded Rey into putting his shot on the line by saying that Eddie Guerrero was burning in hell. So not only had Rey lost the title shot but he’d also failed to defend his friend’s honour and ended up looking like an absolute chump as consequence. Things were worsened by how Rey got his spot back in the title match.

Rather than defeating Orton in a rematch to earn his place, Smackdown General Manager Teddy Long just decided to make the match a triple threat because he felt so gosh darn sorry for Rey. So not only had Rey lost his title shot in the ring but he was only added back in due to an act of charity from an authority figure and not for anything of his own doing.

Such a convoluted path led us to WrestleMania, with Rey now a charity case thoroughly undeserving of his shot but in the match regardless. It didn’t help that Angle had decimated both Rey and Orton the week before the show with his ankle lock hold. Going in to Mania weekend the writing team was still pushing for Rey to win, with Vince holding firm that he wouldn’t and a few rebel members of the team pushing for Orton to win, including dearly departed Dusty Rhodes who famously referred to him as “the greatest heel in captivity!” Interestingly, not a single member of the writing team wanted Angle to win.

P.O.D sings Rey down to the ring in an effort to give him some semblance of star aura after the horrific booking of the past couple of months. Orton looks practically chunky compared to his much leaner physique of today. Orton hits Angle with the title belt before the bell even rings and catches Rey with a dropkick for two. An angry Angle comes back in and German suplexes both men at the same time in an incredible spot. Rey fights back against Angle, to noticeable boos from the crowd, but snaps off a leap frog rana on Orton to a big pop.

Fans are behind Angle and not Rey here, probably because Rey was booked as an utter punch bag leading up to this show whilst Angle was booked as a near invincible wrestling machine. Rey goes for the 619 on Angle, but Angle catches the legs and goes to the ankle lock. Rey actually taps out but Orton has the ref distracted so the match continues. An enraged Angle summarily destroys both men and throws Rey outside before locking in the ankle lock on Orton. Orton taps out just like Rey, but Rey returns the favour and distracts the ref meaning that the match doesn’t end.

This match has just been Angle destroying everyone, which I can only assume was to assuage his ego because he wasn’t winning. Angle disposes of Rey and goes back to the ankle lock on Orton, scissoring the legs to hold him place, but Rey comes out of nowhere with a springboard leg drop to break it up. Orton snaps off a desperation R-K-O on Angle, but he kicks out at two and a half in a tight near fall. Orton goes up top but Angle runs up and suplexes him off, only to turn around into a springboard seated senton from Rey for two.

Orton lays out Rey with a neck breaker but Angle rushes in to hit him with the Angle Slam for two. Angle goes for the same move on Rey, but he arm drags out of it to counter, sending Angle to the floor. With just Orton and Rey left inside, Rey delivers the 619 and a springboard rana to pick up the win and title.

RATING: ***1/4

This match was incredibly short and really didn’t feel like a Mania main event as consequence. This was an insult to the Smackdown brand and angered a lot of people at the time. All three truly deserved better here, but they pulled off probably the best match they could under the time constraints. Rey at least gets his WrestleMania Moment™ and celebrates the win with Vickie and Chavo to a positive crowd reaction. It’s a shame WWE did such a terrible job building this match up, because the eventual pay off of Rey winning was at least nice to see.

We cut to a split screen of John Cena and Triple H warming up for the match tonight. JR tries to explain to casual viewers why the fans are likely to boo Cena in the match tonight. This was back where Cena getting booed despite being the top babyface was still kind of a novelty. JR summarises that the crowd will be made up mostly of traditional wrestling fans, and that they will prefer Triple H.

“Match” Ten
Playboy Pillow Fight
Candice Michelle Vs Torrie Wilson

This is just the T&A buffer between the two title matches. I’m not going to recap it. All I’ll say is that I’m glad WWE has moved on enough in regards to its women’s division to not book this sort of rubbish anymore. They’ve not moved on sufficiently to not take a whopping pay off from Saudi Arabia to book a show without any women on it of course, but that’s by the by. Torrie wins, for those who care.

Main Event
WWE Championship (Raw Brand)
Champion: John Cena Vs Triple H

Both men get extravagant entrances, with HHH coming out on a throne dressed as a barbarian king whilst Cena comes out dressed as a gangster and shoots a gun into the air. CM Punk gets a blink and you’ll miss it cameo as tommy gun wielding heavy during Cena’s entrance. I must admit, it’s hard to buy a man as muscular as John Cena as an underdog. Look at Johnny Gargano, THAT’S what an underdog looks like. Cena is probably 250 pounds plus of pure muscle here, if not more. Cena was hardly a rookie by this point either and already had wins over Benoit, Angle and Undertaker under his belt during his days on Smackdown.

Cena getting such a lavish entrance kind of goes against his anti-establishment blue collar character as well. Yeah, Austin walked through a wall of glass a couple of times, but that’s not really comparable to coming out fully costumed with paid actors playing gangsters. The crowd is vociferously behind Triple H here, and to be fair he wasn’t far away from an official babyface turn in the summer. Triple H easily out wrestles Cena to start, as the fans chant obscenities at the champion to the point I think I’ve tuned into an ECW show by mistake. Not even Roman Reigns has instilled that level of hatred in a crowd.

Triple H throws Cena outside and plays to the crowd, so Cena comes back in and starts throwing punches before getting a Moss Covered Three Handled Family Gradunza for two. Cena keeps bringing the fists and sends Triple H to the outside with a big whip into the corner. Triple H fights back outside and actually goes for The Pedigree on the entrance ramp, but Cena back drops out of it. The fight goes back inside and Triple H catches Cena with a high knee to take over and then whips Cena into the steps outside for good measure.

Cena tries to fight back but a knee smash and lariat put a quick stop to that. Pair of neck breakers set up a neck vice, which Cena is able to fight out of but he then runs straight into a sleeper hold instead. Cena keeps coming and manages to hit Triple H with a big lariat of his own for a double down. Both get up and start trading punches, with the crowd shouting “BOO!” for Cena and “YAY!” for Triple H, which I think is one of the first instances of that happening.

Cena snaps off a powerslam and then gets the Protoplex, but Triple H counters the 5 Knuckle Shuffle with a spinebuster for two. Cena manages to get the shuffle on his second attempt and then locks in the STFU, but Triple H is able to make the ropes to save himself. Cena goes for the F-U but Triple H slips out and then sandwiches the ref between Cena and the turnbuckle, before hitting both men with a low blow. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

Triple H gives a prostrate Cena a crotch chop to a big pop from the crowd and then heads outside to grab his trusty sledgehammer. The old ones are still the best eh? Cena tries to fight back but runs into a shot from the hammer for a near fall from the recovering referee. Triple H goes for The Pedigree but Cena counters to the F-U for a big near fall, as the crowd is now losing their minds. Not sure what to do next, Cena heads up top for a cross body. Lawler rightly chastises him for stepping out of his wheelhouse in a great bit of commentary, and indeed Cena misses. Triple H looks to finish things with The Pedigree but Cena manages to get a last gasp counter to the STFU and, after a manly struggle, Triple H is forced to tap out.

RATING: ****

This was one of the earliest appearances of “Big Match John”, as Cena upped his game and carried his end of a good main event outing.

Final Thoughts

Back in 2006 I liked the show well enough but thought it was a middling Mania. With some perspective, I think it’s actually better than that and probably deserves to be considered higher up the league table. The two filler matches are rotten but any show with three matches **** or higher is certainly deserving of praise.

Twelve years removed from the bitterness of the Smackdown lads getting shafted for time, I can appreciate the triple threat match more for just being a decent watch and the women’s title match has always been a favourite of mine. Back before Stephanie McMahon invented women’s wrestling, this was as good as the women were allowed to be in WWE at the time.

Take out the offensive Boogeyman and Pillow Fight “matches” and give the time to the Smackdown triple threat, then you could potentially boost this Mania up to being an all-timer. As it is, it’s a very strong show and also an easy watch despite being four hours long. I certainly enjoyed going back to watch it after all these years.

Next week I’ll be finishing off my month’s sojourn into Wrestle Land by doing a write up for this year’s WrestleMania event. Depending on how quickly I can put everything together, it might get posted on the Wednesday as opposed to the usual Tuesday. I will do my best for you all, and here’s hoping this year’s Mania delivers on the hype!

Thanks for reading

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