101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die ~ #55
Just a quick note before I begin. Initially I had intended to post 21 dailies between the 9th and 30th of June to catch up to where my target is, however the board reset unfortunately rendered that asunder. As a result, I shall only be posting this one column for this month. Fresh start and all that. This will then get followed up by a whopping 28 dailies in the month of July. That will then bring me back on target. Much love.
101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die
Triple H vs. John Cena
April 2nd, 2006
Chris Jericho once said a very simple but very true thing. In all of pro wrestling’s illustrious history, in all the matches in all the promotions throughout time, only twenty eight can say they closed Wrestlemania. Of those twenty eight, I’d say only about half could really call themselves above average. Of that half, only half again could rank themselves among the greatest ever.
This match is not in that group because in truth it is not one of the greatest ever. What it is though is perhaps the most fitting closing bouts in terms of matching, continuing and punctuating the tone of the entire evening. Sometimes that closing match is the only great match of the night. Sometimes that closing match is uncharacteristic of the night that led up to it. Sometimes that closing match is simply so different a beast it jars in comparison to the undercard.
This, however, was one curtain closer that fit the mould perfectly. It is incredibly entertaining. It is incredibly rewatchable. It certainly leaves an impression. So does Wrestlemania 22. On paper, it presented a rather haphazard card that did no favours to itself in trying to hide the desperate need to get a spot for the performers that were considered to matter. As a result it needed to walk the very fine line between reeking of inconsistency and punctuating itself with variety; with every match in its own sense a success, it did that just fine. In fact, personally I would rate 22 as one of the best ‘Manias of the post-XX John Cena era.
Yet again much like the event it closed, the match itself, though entertaining, is far from a technical masterpiece. Rather, its greatest success is the beauty of its simplicity made more effectual by a ceaselessly vocal Second City audience.
In the opening minutes it is JR that is perhaps most worthy of note doing his typically fantastic job of really building up the situation and the two competitors involved, lending a big match feel to the thing alongside the electric reaction from a memorable Chicago crowd. That serious side of commentary persists throughout and goes to prove just how much an announce team that takes things seriously can help.
They set the stage for their story early and in consistence with the feud leading up to this, with Trips getting one up over Cena and cutely slapping him across the back of the head. Sometimes the obvious doesn’t work and sometimes it works best and this was clearly one of those times, with JR describing it in a nutshell - Triple H continuing “to school the champion.”
What’s interesting is with the overwhelming support for Triple H and with Cena at the time being at the very pinnacle of the initial backlash against his act it becomes one of those very rare instances where Cena genuinely is the underdog, much like his recent match with The Rock, a bout that, to some degree, you can draw parallels with here. There’s no fabrication behind it or an intense company directive to promote that often jarring angle. Instead it’s genuine, naturally stemming from the vitriol emanating from the older generation of fans who already held nostalgic fondness for Triple H as well.
The pace begins fairly methodical and stays mostly that way for the duration. Unfortunately, when you take away all the mitigating factors, it is incredibly clear that for a twenty minute match the bout is remarkably thin on content and the work rate isn’t the most impressive we’ve seen from either man when you compare it to some of their later more sound matches that became equally as high profile. Yet to me this persists as one of their best. Another negative to throw at it is that Triple H’s act here shows us nothing new. In fact, it reads very much as a typical paint by numbers Triple H match, which for the main event at Wrestlemania is somewhat disappointing to see from a man famed often for his work rate. Everything from the methodical, arrogant offensive style to the use of the sledgehammer is a Cerebral Assassin cliché. And Cena’s own performance? Well if you’ve seen one….
The back and forth that lets everyone settle into the long run comes to an end when Cena gets in his first spurt of high impact offence, and as JR bemoans those who claim the man cannot wrestle, that he is simply unorthodox - a ridiculous question-dodging response that seems to be his style on his blog these days as well - Cena’s execution proves quite the opposite, most notably an incredibly clumsy and unrefined Fisherman suplex. There’s a nice sense of anything you can do, I can do better as the challenger has an answer for everything the champ throws out, performing a textbook vertical suplex in return to Cena’s Fisherman, while the champ hangs with the challenger that is talked up and shown to be the more advanced performer between the ropes.
An intriguing factor at play here, very much a sign of the times, is the announcers trying to downplay the fans giving the face reaction to Cena’s heel opponent; nothing much to say about it, apart from it being obviously indicative of the ‘E’s favourite hobby of ignoring reality and pretending it is what they want it to be. It is simply a neat thing to listen to now you look back on it in an age where these reactions are openly embraced by the company, even promoted to an extent, possibly because they have no other choice. Ironically, the more the fans tried to tell the company they didn’t think Cena was worthy of his success, the greater historical niche they carved out for him through the arising controversy, assuring the success they despised so vehemently.
Furthering the point of this whole thing really being nothing more than a Triple H cliché, the man in my mind has always had a bad habit of putting in one or two rest holds too many, dragging his big time matches out perhaps an extra three or four minutes longer than they should be. As a result, over the years I’ve come to see many of his matches against men in a lower league than him as rather over-long. It had happened the previous year in his match with Batista and I think, given how thin the work rate here is this could be put in the same category. That’s not to say it gets boring. By no means does it, but when one comes across a rest hold that adds little to nothing to the in-ring story it becomes superfluous and the whole problem with something superfluous is, shock, it isn’t needed. Thankfully the action picks up quick enough to save this thing falling into the doldrums of tedium.
The difference in styles is interesting to watch and not something we see all that often. When Trips faced other famous brawlers, notably Stone Cold, he would brawl with them. Here though, he wrestles and to see a brawler brawl while a wrestler wrestles creates a pretty cool and a fairly rare aesthetic. The fact they pull it off without making it the point as well cannot be shouted up enough. In many cases where it has happened, it’s often the whole point of the story’s match but here it’s an afterthought. A damn good afterthought.
The finish is kept refreshingly to the point and to see Triple H tap out for the second time in a Wrestlemania main event is a pretty shocking way not only to end the last match of the night, but also to end the entire night itself. The look on the faces of many older fans shown in the crowd proves that. ‘Mania 22 is, in my mind, one of the better editions since Benoit won the big one in MSG and this main event stands alongside the last matches at 28, 26 and 23.
And despite the strong performance from both men, the strong match they put on, ultimately it is only strong and nothing amazing or ground-breaking. The reason it’s on the list? One word. Chicago. It’s on here because of the crowd.
So far in this series I have hinted at a number of fan related issues and one of those that featured prominently in my review of Wrestlemania 25’s closing match was the reactions of live crowds. I am a fervent supporter of the theory that a live crowd makes or breaks an event, makes or breaks the reputation of a match in fact, and Orton/Trips from the Silver Anniversary is a perfect case in point. That match, however, is not an issue I want to get bogged down with here and one I have already dealt with previously.
There are other examples of this phenomenon scattered throughout WWE history. Hell, look at the entire Attitude Era. Those main event matches were usually always a fairly poor excuse of a wrestling match but remain perennially entertaining to this day not for their watered down content but for the intense and emotional crowd reactions that came with them. Those reactions made things matter, made things feel urgent and real and fun. Perfect case in point this time would be the fondly remembered Austin/Rock II from Wrestlemania 17. As a match, when considered objectively it does quite frankly suck. There are barely any wrestling moves in there, what moves there are were performed sloppily for the two involved and the finish sequence became inanely laboured. Yet for all that it’s awesome because the fans were red hot throughout.
Conversely we then have matches that should by all rights, when again viewed objectively, get nothing but praise. Those matches will often get derided as being among the worst though simply because the crowd at the time simply wasn’t interested. Check out the Fatal 4 Way main event at Armageddon 2004; a match that provided a nice rounded end to the year as JBL was pitched against all three of his previous challengers in a pretty creative and fairly character driven match that provided a lot of fun…but died miserably because the crowd didn’t seem to want to be there. And from personal experience, look at the first encounter between ‘Taker and Jericho from Smackdown in the UK in 2009. Despite my section of the crowd chanting throughout, the rest of the arena was too exhausted to care by that time. The result was an anti-climactic atmosphere and the match coming off horribly on television.
What we have in this particular match today then between The Game and The Champ is an endearing exhibit to the importance of a crowd. I think part of the reason it fits the tone of the rest of the night certainly comes down to a live audience that makes its presence known from the opening tag match to the closing moments of the show, a trait, no doubt, Chicago is renowned for and one that makes me excited for any event to emanate from that state. On this particular night, that audience made a lasting impression and that means Wrestlemania 22 is one of the more enduring editions of the Grand Daddy which has and I do not doubt will continue to age very well, with a main event attached to the end of it that should be regarded in exactly the same way.
Had the crowd been dead for this bout, it would’ve come off as poorly conceived and lazily put together. In fact, you could be forgiven, if that had been the case, for thinking it had been thrown together in the final minutes before the show went live. At times, frankly, it’s entirely void of imagination. But it doesn’t matter because despite all of that I could sit down and watch it over and over again and I am sure when I am 50 and looking back on this series I will feel exactly the same way then as I do now.
So in truth the reason why match number fifty five makes it on the list and the reason why John Cena vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 22 happens to be something you must see before you die is simple; it proves that crowds make matches because on that night, that crowd made that match that damn good.
Man of 1,000 Columns
Aaaaah- back to a board that's working correctly and a series that's been absent too long. This is an interesting match, because it's between two people who are widely criticized on the internet for one reason or another. But, it really shows how good both are at their craft when you have a match like this. I'm looking forward to seeing this series continue in the daily variety. Great to have it back!
Woo, Woo, Woo.
What's better than having the forums back? Reading the return of this awesome series on the very first day!
To this day, I regret not watching Wrestlemania 22 live, as it turned out to be one of the better Manias of the past decade. Watching this particular match on YouTube is not the same as watching it without knowing what happened ahead of time, as I would have gone crazy had I known what Chicago would bring to the show. Man, I love that city.
Definitely a "must-see match". I agree 1000%.
Chicago was great at this entire 'Mania. If I recall, they were also cheering Mickie, and at times, booing Mysterio. 22 is one of my favorite WrestleManias ever. A really nice piece, 'Plan.
By the way, that Armageddon '04 match? A really good one, but it the whole PPV was basically a one-match show. The crowd was probably just sapped by main event time after dealing with all of the other crap. You're exactly right though, the quiet crowd takes a lot away from the match.
Time To Toss The Dice
Also interesting that HHH turned face soon after this, meaning the end of his Cerebral Assassin heel days. I hate HHH as a face. This is one of his last major outings as a heel, and for that, this match is certainly historically significant. Great job as ever, I'll look forward to the remaining matches in the countdown!
There needs to be an amendment to the MP rules to allow temp writers. This is a series that for all intents and purposes should be there, and would bring repeat visitors.
There's only one thing I might have liked to hear more about, and that was the interesting way that Triple H amended his game during parts of the match to play to the crowd. At least that's the way I always saw it, but I'll admit I was in the throes of HHHatred at the time so perhaps it wasn't as overt as I thought.
But damn, I love Chicago. If every crowd was as hot as they, wrestling wouldn't be in any trouble at all.
TripelR ~ Yeah, sorry for the absence. Balancing life and all that, then US vs. UK, then CSI, then maybe a CSI, then a reset; things go difficult to judge! I can understand it showing how good Trips is at his craft but I'm not so convinced in the case of John Cena. Regardless of thoughts on his ability now, back then I think he still showed signs of needing some guidance. Not to knock the effort though because it certainly takes two to tango and showing he could keep up with Trips was probably something of a watershed moment in his career I guess. Thanks for the read and feed!
Super Chrisss ~ Reading this on day one is better than having the entire forum back? Woah.... Careful with the hyperbole my friend, it might inflate my ego too much! Haha. I hadn't even considered what it would've been like to see this one live. I had dropped off at the time and had been out of wrestling for well over a year. I'm sure it would have been a memorable night. Interestingly enough, when I first bought the DVD back in 2008, I had no real idea of the card, or the results so I guess it was a bit like watching it live in that sense. Certainly I very much enjoy the whole thing and like you said, what a memorable affair to end the night on. Cheers for the read and feed.
Skulduggery ~ Ok, granted the rest of the Armageddon '04 sucked. Can't deny that. Still not very fair on that quite good main event though in my mind. 'Mania 22 certainly ranks toward the top of my own personal favourites list too. Glad you enjoyed the column and thanks for the read and feed!
maverick ~ Jesus, I hadn't even thought of this as one of his last heel matches. Has it really been that long since he turned babyface? That's a pretty impressive record for a man I had chalked down as a career heel to be quite frank. I wonder if it was only by facing Cena that Trips' face turn was facilitated in the first place? Interesting point to ponder. Gutted I missed being able to discuss that in the column proper. Damn it. Nevertheless, thanks for the read and that great point!
TeamFarrell ~ I'm flattered by the sentiment but even if there was the option I doubt I'd take it. I had my stint on the MP in '09 and that one year was more than enough for me. I appreciate the compliment though so thank you. It's just I'm a CF writer now till I die!
Wrestle Freak ~ What's with the name change and why is Mazza involved? I'm so confused! That's a fair point though and I could have explore that idea a little more but I think the reason it was probably so innocently glossed over is that I'm not so sure, bar one example in the middle of the match where he blatantly plays up to them, that he altered anything about his intended performance. No matter what he did the crowd were going to cheer him so it would take a convincing argument for me to believe he actually decided to switch things up there and then. Quite frankly, as seasoned and experienced as he is, I'm not sure he's quite good enough to make an entire new match dynamic up on the spot. And if every crowd was as hot as Chicago I dare say more people would still be following this wonderful industry. Shame really. Thanks for the read and the feedback as always.
Eh, that jerk has been campaigning for me to take on a new nom de plume for ages. With the reset in, I thought I'd take another stab at it. If it doesn't take I expect I'll change back. As for the match, I think Triple H may have improvised a bit but you're probably right that there wasn't any substantial liberties taken on his part.
Sad to wait so long for more of these, but 28 days straight will be heaven. Cheers for the return to glory, eh?
Ok, first off, you need something less marky than mizfan, Wrestle Freak either makes you sound even more marky or a bit of a sadomasicist homo (not sure there is a big difference between the two).
Anyway, on to feedback. I hated WrestleMania 22 from a mark's perspective. Absolutely nobody I wanted to win actually did and to see Trips tap to a guy that had no business having a submission finisher was the cherry on the cake.
Interesting we both come back and start off on the new board with back to back main events (my Ultimate April PPV final match is the triple threat with Edge from Backlash). It's interesting that I made some very similar observations from that match (albeit in a briefer form), with the summing up that it was simple and template following yet followed very well and effectively and noting that the character's of both men (and Edge too to a degree) added a level of intrigue to it all (ie Cena starting to get heat and people finally looking to cheer Trips again).
As for Mania, I agree, a good deal was the crowd and you are right that 22 is a very well built PPV. Whilst the mark in me hated it, it is definitely one of the better double X manias. Crowds without a doubt can make or break an event. It has happened time and time again over the years. I think you missed a trick by not doing this back to back with 25 to maybe strengthen your point.
Anyway, good stuff as ever. Also, just my two cents on the situation, I don't think you should target a finish to this series. People love these but I think doing them daily is going to see a lot get lost, especially if you do it for a month, mainly because they are not really "daily-sized" columns. At the end of the day, you have until we die to get the series done so don't rush.