WWE WrestleMania XXVIII thoughts: what worked, what didn't, what's next

Dwyane 'The Rock' Johnson, left, and John Cena

Dwyane 'The Rock' Johnson, left, and John Cena face off at Wrestlemania XXVIII in Sun Life Stadium. (April 1, 2012) (Credit: AP )

WWE delivered a very good edition of WrestleMania last night that met or exceeded expectations for most of the night’s big matches, without too many dumbfounding booking decisions or comedy segments that took away from what worked on the show.

Any good fight promoter—whether in pro wrestling, boxing or mixed martial arts—will tell you that it’s all about the main event. A bad main event will way down a show that otherwise featured several good matches beneath it (WrestleMania 25). And a good main event will carry a show that was lacking in the mid-card.

Last night’s show definitely fell into the latter category, although the Rock and John Cena had plenty of help from some matches underneath that ranged from good to great. Still, if the Rock and Cena went out and delivered a clunker of a main event, WrestleMania XXVIII may have been remembered more as a thumbs-in-the-middle show instead of the solid thumbs up that it will be.

Although I was rooting for Cena to win, I was more than satisfied with the night’s biggest match, which featured The Rock pinning Cena clean with the Rock Bottom. To say the least, these two had their work cut out for them in a match that was promoted for a full year and was hyped as the biggest in WWE history. Presenting a further challenge was the fact that the Rock has been largely retired for the last decade, and was called on to deliver the best performance of his career. In some ways, he did.

To be sure, The Rock showed some rust out there, especially in the opening moments where his timing was off in some of his moves and bumps, although not so much that most fans would even notice. Late in the match, the Rock appeared pretty blown up, and was sucking air pretty heavily. But, just like some of the flaws of the classic Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair bout at WrestleMania XXIV only added to the drama of the match, the same happened here. The Rock’s difficulty at various points keeping up with Cena helped tell the story that he had been out of the ring for so long, making it big in Hollywood, but wanted this win bad enough to put it all on the line.

The two men went a half hour, and it never really dragged. Cena, who I believe remains one of the most underrated workers in wrestling history, once again delivered a tremendous effort in a clutch situation. This was not a five-star, all-time great match. But it was a very, very good one. And considering some of the challenges it faced, that’s really saying a lot.

What’s more, although I was of the mindset that putting Cena—WWE’s top star and a full-time performer—over on The Rock was the right move for business, I’m more than willing to give WWE the benefit of the doubt that they are going somewhere with this. To be sure, Cena looked damn good in defeat. And even if the only follow up is Cena coming out on Raw tomorrow, tipping his hat to The Rock and telling him that he won his respect, then that could be enough. But I suspect there could be a few more chapters of this story, perhaps involving a returning Brock Lesnar. I’m really looking forward to tonight’s Raw.

As for the night’s other big match, I’ll reiterate my glowing praise for the End of an Era match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, which I think was one of the five best WrestleMania matches in history. I very much liked their match at last year’s WrestleMania—and many people say that last night’s rematch was not quite as good. But, although the athleticism might not have held up to their match last year, last night’s rematch, in my opinion, told a better story. And that should be the ultimate goal of any wrestling match.

All wrestling fans love to play fantasy booker at one time or another. And the truth is that often they come up with better storyline ideas and match finishes than the WWE writers themselves. But I’m always comforted when the professionals prove why they know better than most fans, and put together the best match possible. Triple-H, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels did that last night.

There were a lot of questions about what, exactly, the whole “End of an Era” theme meant with this match. But, by the time Taker, Triple-H and Shawn were group hugging at the top of the ramp, it was crystal clear. These three men embody a different generation of WWE. They are the last remnants of the 1990s, early 200s era of WWE. Today, they are all nearly 50 years old and largely retired. This was their curtain call—a final, masterful performance working together on the biggest stage in their business. I’m not convinced that all of the men involved in the match—including Michaels—won’t wrestle again someday. And, if they don’t, this was a hell of a way to go out. But, it seems apparent that—after four years of Michaels, Taker and HHH stealing WrestleManias, this was closing night. And it couldn’t have gone any better.

I have to give special praise to Shawn Michaels. Even without competing in a match, he proved last night why he is “Mr. WrestleMania”—and that the qualities he brought to the table during his great career were more than just athleticism. Without even wrestling, Michaels outperformed most everybody in the business last night.

Moving down the card, I quite liked CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho. The two consummate pros put on exactly the match they needed too—good enough to feel like a co-worthy main event, exciting enough to follow Taker vs. HHH, and yet not so good that they would steal the thunder from the night’s main event. I predicted Jericho would win the title, but I was not disappointed at all with the finish. These two will continue their feud, including at Extreme Rules in Punk’s hometown of Chicago next month. And there’s a good chance that at some point during their rivalry, Jericho will win the title. But they decided to give fans a happy ending last night, and there was nothing at all wrong with that.

If I have one big criticism of the show, it would be the decision to have Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan go just 18 seconds. I have no problem with wrestling promoters using this tactic every once in a while, even in a world title match. Diesel’s 8-second title win over Bob Backlund in 1994 helped establish Kevin Nash as a dominant force. But, for a few reasons, I thought it didn’t work this time. For one, having this contest go so short effectively robbed the show of a real opening match—an important ingredient in putting together a strong WrestleMania. An exciting, athletic opener serves to get the fans on their feet and pumped up for the rest of the matches. If they were going to go this route, I at least wish they would have slotted this match later in the show. But, really, they should have just let these two guys have a match. The only reason to have Daniel Bryan on your roster is that he is a heck of a wrestler. But if, in the biggest wrestling show of the year, you’re not going to let him wrestle, then why even bother? I understand time constraints, especially on a show as big as this one. But I don’t see why they couldn’t have given these two at least 7 to 10 minutes to have a good match, and shaved some time off some of the undercard matches, such as the Divas tag team match—which felt like an Iron Man (or Woman) match by their standards—or the 12-man tag, which also dragged in spots. Another good world title match on this show could have elevated this from a good WrestleMania to a great one.

To quickly run through the rest of the night’s matches:

Kane and Orton put on an OK match that dragged quite a bit for a while, but picked up at the very end. After having a good run as Smackdown world champ in 2010, Kane seems to be really showing his age in recent months. I was shocked to see him get the clean win on Orton. Conspiracy theorists think that Orton may be in the doghouse. But I think it’s more likely that they just wanted to have an unpredictable, give a heel a win on this show, and give Kane a little momentum coming off his feud with Cena.

I didn’t care at all for Team Johnny vs. Team Teddy, both in concept and in execution. Having Laurinaitis in charge of both shows means nothing, and I just wish they’d get away from the tired heel authority figure storyline. If Teddy Long is getting legitimately phased out as a TV personality, I’ll miss him, as he’s done a solid job as Smackdown’s moral compass for the last several years. I was glad that, at the very least, The Miz got the pinfall in this match, considering his steep fall from grace after headlining last year’s Mania. Hopefully, a lot of the contestants in this match will find themselves in far more important positions come next year’s Mania, especially Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston—both of whom, I think, deserve a chance at main event runs.

The Big Show vs. Cody Rhodes was largely forgettable, and I’m not buying that Show’s win qualified as a “WrestleMania moment” for him—or that he even needed such a moment to begin with. The guy was in the centerpiece match of WrestleMania XXIV, and has been twice wrestled in world title matches at WrestleMania. Trying to portray an Intercontinental title win as a big deal is a lost cause considering the damage they’ve done to the title over the years.

The women’s accomplished its purpose just fine, which is to say that it gave Extra a highlight clip to air on TV tonight, and gave me a chance to use the bathroom.

A few other notes:

. In retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t debut Brock Lesnar last night. The show just didn’t need him, and it gives tonight’s Raw (presuming he’s shows up tonight) a big hook. I’m guessing he does something tonight to set up a match at next year’s WrestleMania, either with Rock or with Taker.

. I wish they would have given Edge a full entrance last night that included him coming out with the smoke, and sliding into the ring. I also wish he was still carrying around the Money in the Bank brief case, if only for old time’s sake.

. I expected more backstage personal appearances than just Mick Foley, but I didn’t miss them either.

. I’m glad they found a way to get Brodus Clay onto the show, considering that his act is so over on WWE TV right now. The dancing mommas may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s part of the entertainment soup that is WrestleMania.

. I thought Sun Life Stadium looked fine, but the production value was not as impressive as some WrestleManias in recent years. WWE has raised the bar so high each year that it’s tough for even them to top it.

. The announcing team did a fine job last night. I’m glad Cole largely put his heel character to rest for the night, and that JR got to call Taker vs. HHH, seeing as how he’s very much part of the “era” that they represented. Also glad Booker T stayed far away from the announce table.

. It was just bizarre that Heath Slater got as much TV time as he did at WrestleMania, and that Curt Hawkins and Tyler Rekks got to make cameos.

. A piece of advice to Jinder Mahal, Ezekiel Jackson, Alex Riley, Michael McGillicutty, Trent Baretta and anyone else who was not on this show. If you get a phone call from the (203) area code, you may want to sit down before answering it.

Tags: WrestleMania 28 , The Rock , John Cena , Undertaker , Triple H

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