FearlessRiOT Retro Review: WWE WrestleMania 23

So Donald Trump is running for President of the United States of America. Maybe we as a nation should enforce stricter guidelines for who is allowed to run for leader of the free world so that we can prevent egomaniacs outside of politics from running for such a high ranking level of political office. Maybe one of those guidelines should be “Learn to take a proper Stone Cold Stunner”. Yes, at WrestleMania 23, the Donald took the second worst stunner in wrestling history, only behind Linda McMahon’s epic fail two years earlier. I guess it is asking too much for non-wrestlers to learn how to take a Stunner. But while surely that one small fail from a packed four hours could not possibly dampen the entire show down to a watery atrocity, could it? Well, for me, 2007 is one of those years I’m super nostalgic for; I was still a fresh face in high school, I had just gotten my own bedroom in a brand new apartment, one of my favorite pop songs and videos ever came out and I officially printed out my Paramore and Taylor Swift stan cards, both of which I still currently have. Also, one of my relatives ordered WrestleMania 23 live on pay-per-view and I got to watch it and after the show ended, I considered it an entertaining success. But now it’s time to look back and see whether or not the recent firestorm of Hell Trump is responsible for can allow me to look back on this show with disdain. Let’s have a look at WrestleMania 23.

America The Beautiful

Yeah, I’m officially covering these now; as I said in the last article, it’s pretty much a WrestleMania tradition and only the best (or most popular) of vocalists are ever asked to do it. And on this particular evening, instead of going with a younger talent of the time like Carrie Underwood or Fantasia or the aforementioned Taylor Swift, they went with a bona-fied legend in Aretha Franklin. Aretha had performed this song at WrestleMania before, two decades earlier at the iconic WrestleMania III, so it felt special to being her back for another go round on the 20-year anniversary of that performance.

Money in the Bank Ladder MatchWM23_04012007rf_1357

The show kicked off in grand fashion with the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. This one had an all-star lineup featuring the elite of the then-midcard: (King) Booker T, Randy Orton, Edge, both Hardy Brothers, the loudmouth who always got injured, and Finlay. Also, ECW was a brand at the time, so they had to shove one of their guys in there, and of course, they couldn’t go wrong with the highly popular CM Punk, who quickly became one of my personal favorites due to his unique persona and in-ring style (I hadn’t been exposed to his glorious mic skills at that point yet). As you would expect, this match was a lot of fun and was a better way to kick off the night than the tag team match from the previous year; for the longest time, this was my personal favorite Money in the Bank Ladder Match. There was a point in the match where Booker T started handing out spinebusters like they were free samples at Sam’s Club before doing the WrestleMania spin-a-roonie. Edge and Orton would do the same thing with their respective finishers, minus the spin-a-roonie of course. Even a mini-ladder was used, which was very amusing.

Going into this match, I had all the reason in the world to believe Edge would come out victorious; he was undefeated at WrestleMania at the time, had finally reached the level of main eventer the previous year, and set the standard for Money in the Bank cash-ins. But the Hardyz made sure that didn’t happen when Jeff sent Edge crashing through a ladder halfway in. This allowed injury-prone loudmouth Mr. Kennedy (Kennedy) to become Mr. Money in the Bank (Bank), only for him to later lose the briefcase to Edge on an episode of RAW for being so injury-prone. So yeah, aside from the winner, I really loved this match. Could have used Shelton Benjamin in some places, but overall enjoyable.

Kane vs. The Great KhaliWM23_04012007jg_0594_VTX

Most WrestleManias seem to have at least one match on it that has no business taking place on a card this super. For 23, it was Kane vs. The Great Khali. Despite him being such a marquee name since his debut, Kane is always in WrestleMania matches that seem like WWE just threw him in there to get him on the show and this might be the most definitive example that I can think of. Khali debuted the previous year in a feud with Undertaker, and even then, his limitations were evident. How could a hoss battle between Kane and a stilted version of Groot possible work? Well, if you’ve seen the match, you’ll notice two moments in particular of note: Kane body slamming Khali in a callback to Hogan and Andre a decade earlier and the appearance of one of Jacob Goodnight‘s See No Evil murder weapon. Because why not get Kane’s movie character over too? Once that thing comes out, it’s like Abyss‘ weapon Janice: you know no one will actually be hit with it (OK, except maybe the owner of the weapon). So no one got hit with the hook part, but Khali did choke Kane out with it after getting the victory. Yeah, aside from the homages to Hogan, Andre, and Goodnight, this match is a whole lot of nothing; not the last time I’ll say that for a Kane match during this series, by the way.

Chris Benoit vs. MVP

This was the final WrestleMania for Chris Benoit; you all know what happened to him. I don’t think I need to get into the tragedy here, especially since I already went in-depth about it during his WrestleMania XX main event. So instead, let’s talk about MVP, the man in the silly Power Rangers-looking onesie who at the time signed a supposedly fat contract with Smackdown. The thing about getting paid so much is that it’s unfair if you’re contributing so little, and MVP became a big contribution to Smackdown immediately. Of course you remember his very dangerous Inferno Match against Kane. And after that, it was time to put his technical skills to the test with the Rabid Wolverine. On a technicality level, MVP was definitely more of a threat than JBL; in this match, he was able to stand toe-to-toe with Benoit for the most past. He was no match, however, for a flurry of Germans and diving headbutt. Yeah, Benoit actually pinned MVP from a diving headbutt rather than making him submit form a Crossface. I guess WWE figured “Hey, we already made him lose by setting him on fire, so we can’t make him voluntarily concede too! Not this soon!” MVP eventually did win the U.S. Title from Benoit, but this night was just not his.

Undertaker vs. BatistaWM23_04012007jg_0895_VTX

I don’t think I’ve given a single superheavyweight vs. superheavyweight match I’ve reviewed in this series an overly positive review. Does this mean I’m just against guys in the 290-pound range facing each other? No, I’m not. They can be good. Very rarely do I ever think they’re outstanding. Well, I’m happy to say that this is one of those rare moments. OK, so referring to Undertaker and Batista as superheavyweight may be stretching it; it’s not like it was Mark Henry vs. Big Show or anything. But these were two admittedly big guys and it was the first-ever meeting between them. It would mark either the end of Batista’s reign as World Champion or the end of Undertaker’s ever-growing streak. And Undertaker went in with a ton of momentum, especially given that he and Shawn Michaels had an epic blowout to close the 2007 Royal Rumble Match.

This match was intense from the get-go; Batista said that he refused to be intimidated and he let it be known right out the gate by taking Undertaker right to the ground. He was ready to fight, and so was the Deadman. The two men took the fight in and out of the ring, using their environment to their advantage. Batista even put Undertaker through an announce table in the process, but the Deadman wouldn’t stay down. Not even the dreaded Batista Bomb would keep the Phenom down. Just like the others, it was ultimately the Tombstone that would spell the end for Batista. Watching this match back, I can say this with the utmost confidence: this is my favorite match on the whole show. It’s also probably my favorite match in Batista’s career; certainly not the case for the Undertaker as he had had better matches, but as far as Batista matches go, this is the highlight as far as I’m concerned. If it were up to me, this would have been the main event, which it should have been given that Undertaker won the Rumble. Yeah, this was around the time I started to notice the who “Rumble winner main events WrestleMania” thing was a lie that WWE only followed occasionally. But getting back to the positive, even though this is still my favorite of their matches, Batista and Undertaker had a very compelling rivalry that year; if you have the Network, fire it up and see what I mean.

ECW Originals vs. The New BreedWM23_04012007jg_1077

I didn’t completely hate WWE’s revival of ECW; I actually found myself enjoying some of the matches and angles provided by the brand. But I, like everyone else, did have a little problem with them referring to it as ‘ECW’. It wasn’t ECW; if anything, it was just an NXT prequel, especially when wrestlers like Ricky Ortiz, Yoshi Tatsu, and future Hall of Famer Braden Walker showed up. I think that was the biggest problem with it; while it worked as a small third brand at least in my opinion, calling it ‘ECW’ was just plain false advertising. But at least in the beginning, they at least tried to maintain the illusion that it was a genuine ECW revival. You know, before they just threw up their hands and made it basically Smackdown’s one-hour understudy. Even though they tried to establish new stars, they still had a few Originals on-board, so ECW would be represented that year by a match pitting men who became household names via ECW (RVD, Sandman, Sabu, Tommy Dreamer) against The New Breed. And boy, how extreme was was The New Breed, huh? We have former school teacher Matt Striker, religious-guy-turned-vampire Kevin Thorne, future Pope Elijah Burke, and Monty-Brown-in-a-past-life Marcus Cor Von. What a team; too bad for them, they were no match for some aging legends. The Originals picked up the win, extending RVD’s impressive WrestleMania undefeated streak. And you know what? I don’t know if anyone wanted The New Breed to win anyway. Sure, there days, we all have this thing about “putting over young talent”, but let’s be honest: would anyone really accept the stars who are iconic to the ECW brand losing to these guys in the biggest pay-per-view of the year in the name of ECW? Of course not!

Battle of the BillionairesWM23_04012007cm_1026_vtrix
Now, it’s time to address the billion-dollar elephant in the room, perhaps the most remembered match of the entire show. Whether or not that’s good or bad depends on your viewpoint. Because on one hand, who doesn’t love seeing Vince McMahon humiliate himself for the sake of entertaining us? But on the other hand, is it really worth it when it also results in Donald Trump being victorious? OK, so this was before I realized just how evil Trump could be; this was back when he was just a egomaniacal businessman and reality TV star, not an egotistical presidential candidate spouting racist rhetoric and actually gaining support from it. But that doesn’t make this any easier to relive.

So yeah, the two billionaires decided to choose representatives to guard their infamous hairpieces; the late Umaga would fight for McMahon while Lashley would fight for Trump, in the only match in WrestleMania history that saw a barbershop get its own ring entrance. Oh, and Stone Cole Steve Austin, who laid down the Stone Cold Truth on the then-Apprentice host, was there to once again be the best part of the entire thing. Also, earlier in the night, they did a couple of admittedly kind of funny backstage skits showing Trump being not at all afraid of the Boogeyman and Vince McMahon referring the poop his granddaughter took as a “Trump”, which is a joke I wish would spread around social media like wildfire these days. But what about the match itself? It was OK; certainly not the best of the evening. Shane McMahon hit Coast-to-Coast, Austin got involved after Umaga provoked him, and even the Donald tackled Vince to the ground. And it all lead to a result that today, I kinda wish would get reversed: Vince getting his head shaved. Yeah, looking back, I think I’d have preferred Trump getting humiliated on PPV rather than Vince, with his hair never ever growing back. I mean, true, he did take that awful Stunner, but I don’t know; somehow, that’s just not enough. Vince sure sold his new ‘do it like a million bucks, though, because that’s what Vince does. Let’s just hope Trump, who got booed at the Hall of Fame, need I remind you, never pops up on WWE television again; if he does, a certain pop singer has the best solution to handling it.

Melina vs. AshleyWM23_04012007cm_1452_VTX
Time for this year’s installment of “Playboy Covergirl Gets WrestleMania Match”, and apparently, WWE just got it in their minds that everyone would be fine with the formula of Diva Search Winner + Playboy Cover = Women’s Title Match at WrestleMania. So like Christy Hemme two years before her, Ashley Massaro received a Women’s Title match on the show after shooting what I personally consider the sexiest Divas Playboy cover of them all. Melina wasn’t as impressed; she felt like Ashley had no standards or morals for appearing in the magazine. I think that was more of the driving force for the feud than the actual title was. Oh, and because we were at the point where WWE wanted every Diva they had to be on the show, they peppered the entire rest of the Divas roster around the ring as Lumberjills. Oh, joy, because Lumberjill Matches are always so fun and not at all predictable and pointless, aren’t they? I mean, Eve vs. Beth at Survivor Series 2011 was good, but it sure as hell didn’t need the Lumberjill stip. Well, I left this one off my favorite women’s matches at WrestleMania list, and for good reason. Melina is still one of my favorite recent Divas and I consider Ashley one of the biggest crushes of my teenhood due to here punk rock look and personality, but I don’t know how I could have realistically expected a showstopper out of this. When Ashley’s very limited abilities are painfully apparent, you’re waiting for the Lumberjill stipulation to have an effect that never happens, and the fact that the match didn’t even get four minutes of time, it’s no wonder this match turned out to be as underwhelming as it did. And yes, the obligatory Lumberjill Catfight happened post-match because around this time, WWE thought Diva Pandemonium was all they needed to do with the Divas. There’s a reason people refer to this time as the Diva Dark Ages.

John Cena vs. Shawn MichaelsWM_04012007dog_2727
I’m curious what WWE’s original plans were for the newly reformed DX going into WrestleMania 23; thanks to Triple H blowing out his quads (something he seemed to do more than the frequently-mocked-for-it Kevin Nash), he was forced to the sidelines and The Heartbreak Kid ended up with the shot at John Cena’s WWE Championship. But this kind of works out better for Cena; he already beat Triple H at WrestleMania 22 the year before; why not follow that up by beating his best friend the following year. And how about adding an extra ingredient to the match by making Cena and Michaels the World Tag Team Champions going in, making it the second time in two years that Tag Team Title holders faced off at WrestleMania? It’s also the first of many time Cena was tag team partners with whoever he was feuding with at the time; seriously, why did that keep happening?

Well, if I had to pick between the two matches, I’d probably rather sit through this one. For one, John Cena had a kick-ass intro, driving into the arena, playing off the fact that the show was taking place in the Motor City. The only way to make the entrance more Detroit is by having Eminem or the White Stripes perform his entrance theme…I assume; I’ve never been to Detroit, so I’m going off hearsay. The point is that Shawn, ever the showstopper, got a good match out of Cena, and this wasn’t just a one-sided match that Cena would come back from and win. Cena actually wore Michaels down to the point that Michaels used the steps as a weapon while the ref was down. Both men ended up busted open and Michaels ended up tapping out. They’d have a rematch weeks later on RAW that lasted over an hour; that’s as much an exercise in the audiences’ patience as it is the performers’ endurance. That was a good match too, but don’t expect me to sit through the whole thing; I barely did then. Their WrestleMania main event, though, delivered as Cena took one more step toward immortality.

I still find myself very much enjoying the bulk of WrestleMania 23, even despite the presence of a certain…..well, I think I’ll let rapper Mac Miller take this one. But with such good matches as Undertaker vs. Batista, Michaels vs. Cena, and the Money in the Bank match, this event actually had matches that are worth your time. The fact that the stage design for this event was just breathtaking also helps. So if you want to watch this event on the WWE Network, it’s not a bad idea; but if you’re like me and don’t want Trump polluting your screen, you can just skip the Battle of the Billionaires part. But, you know, Trump was just one celebrity; just wait until you see the abundance of celebrities WWE went through the Rolodex for the following year.

Coming tomorrow: WrestleMania XXIV.

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