Mania Main Thoughts #2 – WM25th HHH vs RKO In A Fit Of Rage

So here we go with another Wrestlemania main event review.  If you read yesterday’s review of Wrestlemania 2000’s main event, then you may be surprised at today’s match’s simlarities, especially since they were nine years apart.

First off, I have to talk about my big beef with this Wrestlemania.  The first Wrestlemania was held in 1985.  This Wrestlemania was held in 2009.  It was not Wrestlemania’s “25th Anniversary”, which is how WWE branded it. It was the 25th annual Wrestlemania. I’m OK with the way WWE has flipped between Roman numerals and numbers over the years (though that X-Seven year kind of makes my brain itch). I’m even OK with the 16th Mania being labeled “Wrestlemania 2000”. But as far as I can tell, the official title of this one is “The 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania”, and that really sucks when you’re trying to abbreviate these. I’ve already written the word Wrestlemania more times in this paragraph than I’m comfortable with – I’m going to go rest my fingers.

With that off my chest, let’s get into the background on this one.  I can remember watching the Royal Rumble in 2009, just hoping that anybody, ANYBODY, but Randy Orton would win.  Why?  Because the Triple H/Randy Orton feud was so played at this point, I can’t think of anyone who was itching for another round. Guess who won?

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At this point in WWE history, Triple H had been the established guy for quite a while, which is the easiest way to build disdain with modern wrestling fans. Orton wasn’t new to the scene, either. He won his first World Title in 2004 and went on to win it two more times.  And guess who he lost the title to in all three of those reigns? Triple H.

In fact, this wasn’t even Randy Orton’s first big Wrestlemania title match. He’d defended the WWE title just one year earlier in a WMXXIV Triple Threat match against John Cena and, wait for it…TRIPLE FREAKING H.  This matchup was so stale it makes…I don’t know, some bread analogy.

So WWE was already fighting from behind when it came to drumming up interest for yet another meeting between HHH and Orton, which is not where you want to be when you’re talking about the WRESTLEMANIA MAIN EVENT.

You can’t say they didn’t try, though.  In the build leading up to WM25th, Orton proclaimed he’d hated HHH ever since he was kicked out of Evolution (in 2004) and vowed to take out Hunter and his entire family.  If you’re new, that family all had the last name McMahon. That’s right – another Wrestlemania main event with major McMahon implications.

Unlike WM2000 and Hunter’s storyline wedding to Stephanie McMahon, HHH was legitimately in the McMahon family by WM25th, having married Stephanie (in real life) back in 2003. Also unlike at WM2000, the McMahon’s were semi-loved by the WWE audience in 2009.  Mr. McMahon only made sporadic appearances on WWE TV at that point, usually to make virtuous boss-like decisions to put things right.  Stephanie and Shane showed up even less.

To make his point, Randy Orton punted his way through both Vince and Shane on WWE TV. If you don’t remember Orton’s “punt” move, it’s when he’d lean into the corner while an opponent was prone on the mat, then run and kick their head like a punt kicker.

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Calm down, Will Smith. They banned that move later.

With Vince and Shane concussed (and Linda McMahon getting ready to run for US Senate), that only led Hunter’s wife to take out.  So, Orton handcuffed HHH to the ring ropes one night on Raw and gave Steph a DDT and a kiss.  Boom, that’ll sell it, right?

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But wait, they had to add more.  Since HHH was so incensed and wanted to destroy Orton for his dastardly deeds, Orton convinced the GM to add the match stipulation that, if Triple H were to be disqualified or counted out, Orton would win the title.  The idea being that Hunter would start wailing on Orton with a sledgehammer and the ref would then hand Randy the WWE Title.

Now, historically, that type of stipulation is reserved for a heel champion who is constantly using shortcuts to end a match and keep the title. To have that “no championship advantage” stip added in a match with a face champion was interesting, to say the most.  But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Back to the show itself. WM25th was important, not just for being a tentpole anniversary, but also for containing the first Mania meeting between two legends – The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.

Taker vs. Shawn is THE reason to see WM25th. It rivals (and I think surpasses) Savage/Steamboat as the greatest Wrestlemania match of all time.  And it went on third to last. You can’t really blame WWE for the match order, though.  They had two World Title matches on after, and how were they to know that the aging Taker and Shawn were going to tear down the Astrodome?

In this case, you just can’t place the blame on WWE.  It was going to be impossible for anybody to follow that match. And HHH/Orton at least had the buffer of the World Heavyweight Title Triple Threat Match, which went on directly after the UT/HBK classic. All Triple H and Orton had to do was rely on their veteran skills and carefully built storyline to put together a compelling match.

Well, that didn’t happen.

I remember this match being a total snorefest when I watched it live, and rewatching it hasn’t done much to change my mind. You could argue me that it contained some great ring psychology, which I’ll agree with on paper, but the execution drained all of the excitement.

The underwhelming started even before the match, as Triple H, who had had some pretty killer entrances in the years prior (gangsters, Motorhead), fell flat with a weird special entrance where he threw a sledgehammer through a big mirror.

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I’m pretty sure glass breaking is Stone Cold’s gimmick, Hunter.

The match kicked off with both guys hitting their finishers within the first two minutes.  Surprise RKO followed by a surprise pedigree.  The crowd popped for sure, but if you’re a student of the modern WWE style, you’ll know that every movement performed after a finisher has to be done slowly and with copious selling.  In this case, the match plodded along for about 20 more minutes.

Triple H worked the match stipulation early on, backing Orton into the corner and ropes with punches and teasing refusing the ref’s 5-count and getting himself disqualified just to wail on Orton some more.  Of course, since I’m not monumentally stupid, I kind of figured the Wrestlemania main event wouldn’t end in a disqualification for closed fist punches.  That’s just not a way to add drama in 2000’s WWE.

From the video, the crowd was fairly dead throughout this match. I can only name a couple of times when the fans seemed semi-conscious. One was when Orton put HHH through an announce table, which led to Randy working the possibility of a count-out title win. This was the only innovative part of this match that I liked, since it was the only time I’d seen someone work the “no championship advantage” stip in such a fashion.

HHH did NOT get counted out, though.  After several more slow moving back and forths, Randy intentionally threw HHH into the ref, knocking him unconscious.  I don’t know if you knew this, but refs are like Jenga towers when you’re 10 minutes into playing the game. You gotta be careful around them. I have to hand it to the ref though, he’s selling it like he got shot with a canon.

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Unfortunately, the ref bump backfired on Orton and allowed HHH to hit him with his signature weapon – the sledgehammer.  This was pretty much the moment that the entire match built up to (I mean, even Triple H’s entrance was built around a sledgehammer), and the intrigue of the match for discerning fans was how they’d have HHH get the sledgehammer spot in within the confines of the match rules.

Unfortunately again, the match’s climactic moment barely drew more than a gasp from the fans, who had suffered through a slow motion main event for 20 minutes after the show had peaked in the third hour with a modern classic.

HHH proceeded to get his revenge on Orton, including using his own punt move on him, before the referee recovered and counted the 3-count.  The show closes with the triumphant Triple H  holding the championship high – the third time this happened in the span of 10 years.

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The 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania (ugh) showed that even two great wrestlers – and HHH and Orton are two names who have dominated their era – can have a flat match when the fan interest isn’t there.  If I were booking, maybe I would’ve made this match a No DQ Match – still building to the big sledgehammer spot, but letting the two guys really take out some violent aggression on each other.

Or actually, if I were booker, I wouldn’t have booked HHH/Orton Chapter 5,000 for my biggest show of the year, after having them face off in a high profile but forgettable match the year before.

The funny thing is that WWE actually had Orton and HHH heavily involved in the main event of the next big “number” mania – Wrestlemania XXX, with MUCH different results. But we’ll get to that one later.  They also wouldn’t learn to stay away from the “no championship advantage” stip with a face champion, as they’d trot it back out just four years later to handicap the CM Punk/Chris Jericho WWE Title match.  Which we’ll also get to later.

I hope you enjoyed this review.  Next, we’ve got a highly controversial match from the early 90’s featuring a mistimed run-in, the end of a legendary run and Harvey Wippleman.

Final Score: 3.0 (Avoid)

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