<i>Welcome to my WrestleMania blog series, Mania Masters! Each article will focus on an individual who has competed in ten-plus WrestleMania matches, focusing on the good, the bad, the weird, and the somewhat forgotten.</i>
WrestleMania Debut: WrestleMania 16 (2000)
Total Matches: 12
Wins: 4 (Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit at WM 16 (1st match); William Regal at WM 17; Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka & Ricky Steamboat at WM 25; Edge at WM 26)
Losses: 8 (Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit at WM 16 (2nd match); Triple H at WM 18; Shawn Michaels at WM 19; Christian at WM 20; Money in the Bank at WM 21; Money in the Bank at WM 24; CM Punk at WM 28; Fandango at WM 29)
<b>Wins: 4</b> // <i>Losses: 8</i>
<i>Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit (1st fall) at WM 16</i> // <b>Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit (2nd fall) at WM 16</b> // <b>William Regal at WM 17</b> // <i>Triple H at WM 18</i> // <i>Shawn Michaels at WM 19</i> // <i>Christian at WM 20</i> // <i>Money in the Bank at WM 21</i> // <i>Money in the Bank at WM 24</i> // <b>Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat at WM 25</b> // <b>Edge at WM 26</b> // <i>CM Punk at WM 28</i> // <i>Fandango at WM 29</i>
<b>The Big One:</b> Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 19.
Sometimes, you see a match at WrestleMania that comes at the exact right time. A perfect crossing of paths. This was the case at WrestleMania 19. The story wrote itself – Shawn Michaels, who was seemingly done with wrestling following a terrible back injury 5 years prior, had returned. Stood in his way was Chris Jericho, a childhood Michaels fans who was now being compared to HBK. A clash was natural, but questions remained. Namely - could Mr. WrestleMania Shawn Michaels bring back a bit of the old magic on his return to the grand stage?
Of course he could, he's Shawn Michaels.
The match is damn near perfect. There have been better matches, more brutal matches, and more personal matches both before and since, but in terms of executing a story, this is a master-class. It was the classic "Master vs. Apprentice", combined seamlessly with "Who is the better man?". There are counters, near falls, and fast action galore, including one of the best Sweet Chin Music's you'll ever see.
My only problem with it is a matter of personal taste. The finish sees Michaels roll up Jericho, which is something of a tradition in WrestleMania technical matches (see: Savage/Steamboat, Bret/Owen). I like big matches to end with big finishes, but it's merely a minor critique at the end of the day. It's a match so good, Jericho has gone on record to say it is his personal favourite match. Considering the sheer number of classics he's been in, that is really saying something.
<b>The Bad One:</b> Fandango at WrestleMania 29
This is an example of a problem a few people in this series will have. Some guys are incapable of having "bad" match. To his unending credit, Jericho delivers 95% of the time he is in the ring, so picking a "bad" match from his 12 Mania bouts is hard. I ultimately plugged for this one as it is the most disposable of all of his appearances.
There are several negative factors in play here. Fandango was "flavour of the month" at the time, apparently because he made Vince McMahon laugh (a poisoned chalice if ever there was one). This was actually touted as his in-ring "debut", a fact trumpeted by the announcers several times, who had all come down with a bad case of "kayfabe amnesia", completely blocking out any reference to Fandango's previous life as Johnny Curtis. He and Jericho had butted heads because Jericho refused to say Fandango's name properly. Needless to say, this wasn't a masterful build.
The match isn't bad out of context, but it ultimately missed the supposed goal of getting Fandango over. Jericho dominated, kicked out of Fandango's top rope leg drop finisher, and only lost because sudden on-set knee pain (not built to during the match) left him susceptible to a roll-up pin. And soon after this feud finished, Fandango was back near the bottom of the card. The idea, in principle, is sound - using a part time Jericho to give rub to up and coming stars. But they missed the boat here, both in terms of execution and choice of opponent (Curtis is a capable wrestler, but a character like Fandango was never going to make it to the top).
<b>The Strange One:</b> Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania 25
The story behind this match is just as intriguing as the match itself. At the time (2009 to be exact), the Darren Aronofski film <i>The Wrestler</i> was a big deal. Released in December 2008, it was hotly tipped to do well in the 09 award season, chiefly because of lead actor Mickey Rourke's performance. WWE had initially distanced itself from the film, fearful of a negative backlash a film portraying the harsh nature of the business would bring. But when it got hot, WWE reverted to type – they wanted some of that sweet, sweet mainstream attention.
Talks were held with the hope of bringing Rourke in to wrestle a match at WM 25. Rourke had taken wrestling lessons for the role, and it was envisioned he would step in with a ring general like Jericho who could guide him. However, Rourke's agents became worried about their own negative whiplash, fretting about how the stunt might effect voters during the awards season. Rourke pulled out, but still agreed to appear at the show, sitting in the crowd. In his stead, three legends were signed up to take on Jericho.
Two of them were only semi retired. Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka had cropped up on pretty much every "legends" themed Raw for years. They were not in good shape, and were eliminated pretty quickly. Ultimately, they were footnotes. As was Ric Flair, who stood in the corner of the legends one year after retiring himself.
No, the story here is Ricky Steamboat. Retiring in 1994 through injury, he hadn't taken a bump since. He had virtually disappeared from wrestling before being announced as part of the Class of 2009 for the WWE Hall of Fame. He got roped in here when Jericho attacked him during the announcement on Raw. People were excited to see him back, but surely even he couldn't pull something out the bag after 15 years out?
Of course he could, he's Ricky Steamboat.
Remember – form is temporary, class is forever. By some miracle, Steamboat rolled back the clocks, and looked like he hadn't missed a beat. A diving crossbody! Skinning the cat! A DIVE OVER THE ROPES! It was Hogan vs. Rock all over again for 5 glorious minutes. Jericho has achieved a lot of unexpected things in his career, but wrestling his hero on the big stage in a match that surprisingly didn't suck must rank highly.
By the way, after the match, Rourke got in the ring, and he and Jericho engaged in an awkward scuffle. I for one want to thank his agents for making sure we never saw the full match. We may have dodged a bullet.
<b>The Hidden Gem:</b> Christian at WrestleMania 20
Boy did I go back and forth on this one. On one side of the coin, Jericho vs. Christian, an old fashioned personal brawl between two former tag partners. On the other side, there was the Triple Threat Euro-Continental match at WM 16 between Jericho, Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle. Both great choice, but the factor that decided it was the crowd. They aren't nuclear for Jericho/Christian, but they are responsive. On the other hand, the crowd at WM 16 is DEAD, despite the great action in the ring.
This is also more of a hidden gem, as you take for granted that a match between three of the most premier technicians in wrestling history will be good. This match, on the other hand, features the criminally underrated Christian at his sleazy peak. The story going in was Jericho and Christian decided to place a 1 dollar (Canadian) bet on who could woo fellow Canadian Trish Stratus. The friendly wager turned bitter as it appeared Jericho was in pole position to win. Christian took exception, and it led to this match.
While not a match for the ages, it's a slick and smooth technical affair that wrestling purists will enjoy. Even the somewhat cheap finish works. Stratus runs to the ring, but is thrown to the corner by Christian. Jericho checks on her, but gets mistakenly hit by an elbow. Christian slides in and get the roll up pin (that's three matches in this entry with a finish I dislike!). This was all smoke and mirrors however, as after the bell, Stratus turned heel by slapping Jericho and making out with Christian on the ramp, a genuinely unexpected twist.
The only part to detest is the constant mention of Christian's nickname at the time, the "CLB", a.k.a "Creepy Little Bastard". Because "creepy pervert" always works out. Just ask Johnny Curtis. . . oh wait, he never existed. I must have imagined him. My apologies.
If Michaels is "Mr. WrestleMania", I think it's fair to say Jericho is "Mr. Consistency". I stated that picking a bad match is hard because none of Y2J's 12 matches are terrible. To the same token, it could be argued he has only had one classic on the grand stage. His matches with Punk and Edge are great, but wouldn't go down as classics in my book. That being said, it's a great testament to the man that he has yet to turn in a bad performance, whereas people further down this series have yet to produce even an "above average" match during longer runs. Let's just hope his parting legacy isn't putting over the no-hope dancing guy.
And no more damn roll-ups, OK?!?!