Mania Main Thoughts #13 – WM23 The Tag Team Champs Explode

Hello and welcome to a brand new edition of Mania Main Thoughts, one of the premiere articles here at GoodBrothersWrestling.com. If you’re new, each column we take a look at a different Wrestlemania main event, including the build leading up to it. It’s your one stop shop for a refresh on any given year’s Mania.

I don’t know what’s more hard to believe – that the first edition of Mania Main Thoughts came out two years ago, or that we’ve only done 12 of them up to now.

Hey, if you’ve missed any of the older columns, just click below.

Let’s go!

WRESTLEMANIA 23

As odd as it is to say, Shawn Michaels vs John Cena at Wrestlemania 23 just may be one of the more forgotten WM main events. And that’s for a lot of reasons, but not a lack of a great story or star power. Let’s go back to the beginning.

At the dawn of 2007, John Cena was enjoying his third reign with the WWE Championship. Cena had won his first at WM21 and established himself as WWE’s franchise player by defeating Triple H in the main event of WM22. By January ’07, Cena was in the middle of a feud with Umaga, a Samoan legacy who rode a nasty streak to briefly hold the mantle of WWE’s top heel.

As Cena dealt with Umaga, D-Generation X was enjoying a resurrection, as Triple H and Shawn Michaels found themselves on the same team for the first time since the group’s original run. DX were feuding with the heel tandem of Edge and Randy Orton, dubbed Rated RKO. Edge and Orton defended their World Tag Team Titles against DX at the 2007 New Year’s Revolution PPV. Unfortunately, the match would end in a No Contest when Triple H landed on the shelf for another torn quad.

Not only did Triple H’s injury leave the Heartbreak Kid directionless, it also interfered with WWE’s master plan for WM23. On paper, the company had been preparing for a John Cena/HHH rematch to headline the show of shows. Now they’d need to scramble for a replacement.

Shawn Michaels may have become the greatest of all time during his original run in the 90’s, but his 2000’s performances did more than cement his position – they took him to a whole new level. HBK’s Wrestlemania matches have become a thing of legend. Since his 2002 return, Shawn had taken on Chris Jericho, Triple H & Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle and, yes, Mr. McMahon – all in classic Mania matches. WWE need look no further than Mr. Wrestlemania when it came to a suitable new opponent for their Champion.

Everything started to fall into place at the Royal Rumble PPV. Shawn would find himself one of the final two men in the ring. Unfortunately, the other man was The Undertaker. After a classic Rumble back and forth, Taker was able to oust Shawn from the ring, sealing his own spot at Wrestlemania. (And also planting the seeds for a couple of the greatest matches ever down the line.)

The next night on Raw, Shawn would need a partner in a World Tag Team Title rematch against Rated RKO. Michaels would tap Cena, and the pair ended up defeating Edge and Orton for the championships. It would be Cena’s first time holding those titles and Michaels’ fourth.

Tension between the two new World Tag Team Champions would begin almost immediately. The next week on Raw, Shawn Michaels faced Orton and Edge in a Triple Threat Match, where the winner would get a WM23 shot at Cena’s WWE Title. HBK walked out the winner, which set the table for the TAG TEAM CHAMPS TO EXPLODE at WM23.

Along the way at No Way Out, Cena & Michaels took on The Undertaker and his Wrestlemania opponent Batista. The intrigue behind this match was how any of these teammates could work together with so much on the line at Mania. Would HBK turn on Cena? Actually, it turns out Batista turned on Taker before that could happen, allowing Shawn & John to get the win. Definitely a moral victory for the Raw team, but how long could this uneasy truce stand?

Cena & HBK were set for a non-title rematch with Rated RKO on a February edition of Raw when Edge and Orton decided to play their own mind games. The pair put together a video, showcasing Shawn’s long history of not working well with others. From Marty Jannetty to Triple H, HBK’s pattern of taking out his own partners became clear.

Ironically, Cena & HBK won the match when Orton turned on Edge, but the seed had been planted. Though Michaels vowed to have John’s back all the way to Wrestlemania, Cena was constantly watching over his shoulder.

On the go-home Raw before Mania, Cena & HBK faced off in a rematch with Undertaker & Batista. John Cena thought they had the match won after a double 5 Knuckle Shuffle, until Shawn superkicked the WWE Champion to oblivion. The shot had been fired – tag team champs or not, Wrestlemania was upon them.

Wrestlemania 23 was held at Ford Field in Detroit and acted as a 20th anniversary for the landmark Wrestlemania III, which was held just half an hour away at the Pontiac Silverdome.

While Hogan wasn’t back to slam Andre, WWE did make the call to Aretha Franklin, who returned to sing “America The Beautiful” to kick off the show.

The theme for WM23 was “All Grown Up”, and, I GUESS that’s also because WMIII was 20 years before? Like, were we children at WMIII and now we’re grown? I’m not sure, but the opening video was kind of neat with the little kids dressed like wrestlers. The WM23 main theme, Saliva’s “Ladies & Gentlemen”, is one of WWE’s Top 10 all-time PPV themes. Seriously, it’s made for Mania.

The WM23 undercard was interesting. There was, of course, the big Undertaker/Batista World Heavyweight Title match, which may have stolen the night despite being slotted in the middle of the show. You also had the WWE ECW reboot making its first Mania appearance. So if someone asks you if The Sandman ever had a Wrestlemania match, the answer is yes.

The big match on the undercard may not have been an undercard match at all. In fact, if you go back to the WM23 build up, or just look at the WM23 posters, you would think it was the main event. I’m talking about The Battle Of The Billionaires – Donald Trump vs. Mr. McMahon in a Hair vs. Hair Match. Of course, Trump and McMahon didn’t actually wrestle – they had their chosen fighters Bobby Lashley and Umaga do it for them. Everything on the show, everything in the press, pointed to Trump vs. McMahon as the featured match of the show. Heck, they even brought ol’ Stone Cold back to act as referee.

Maybe that’s why it’s a little hard to remember that Shawn Michaels and John Cena once headlined Wrestlemania. WWE literally buried the lead.

After Vince’s head got shaved (spoiler alert) and we got our requisite divas match (note, this was long before we #GaveDivasAChance), it was finally time for the main event.

After a terrific video package, Shawn Michaels makes his way to the ring first. Shawn is entering to the DX music, so he’s got some extra attitude. It’s interesting to note this is the pre-HD era, which means HBK was still using that ugly spray tan.

The Champ makes his way out second in one of Cena’s most memorable Mania entrances. A sweet Ford Mustang is shown tearing up the streets around Ford Field on the video monitor, leading to Cena crashing the car through a glass Wrestlemania sign and into the arena. Super fun stuff.

The match kicks off and I’m immediately struck by how great Jim Ross always was on the call. This was the year JR and The King were inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame, but they were definitely not ready to be put out to pasture. Even with his voice about to call it quits for the night, JR called the heck out of this match.

The bell rings and Shawn Michaels wants the code of honor, but Cena is like, nah brah, you kicked me 6 days ago. The match kicks off uncharacteristically brutal for an HBK match. Lots of chops, slaps and punches. Also crotch chops, since this is the Shawn Michaels DX Variant. At one point, Shawn grins and tells Cena that his chest is a little red. Cena, only a few years into his WWE run at this point, was getting a little bit of the rookie treatment from the vet HBK.

Of course, you don’t match power with John Cena. The Champ finally hits a wicked clothesline to drop Shawn. HBK comes back with a Lou Thesz Press – shades of his WM XIV opponent Stone Cold Steve Austin. Michaels tosses Cena onto the apron and hits a nice enziguiri to send him to the floor.

From the apron, Shawn lines up a BEAUTIFUL springboard moonsault, smashing Cena onto the announce table, which doesn’t give. It’s probably the highlight of the match. HBK rolls the champ back into the ring and begins a methodical and violent destruction of Cena’s knee. JR sells the psychology, saying John can’t hit the FU if he can’t stand up. HBK drives John’s knee into the post in a nasty moment.

Cena starts a comeback and eventually wins a battle of blows. Crowd is almost 100% HBK here. Boo/Yay punch trading, with John getting all the boos. Shawn eventually charges Cena in the corner, but misses and posts his own forehead. HE’S WEARING THE CRIMSON MASK!

John Cena smells blood and starts playing his greatest hits. HBK can’t see him. Cena looking for the FU, but HBK floats out. The champ tosses Shawn into the corner for his signature back bump. Another FU attempt, but HBK reverses again – SWEET CHIN MUSIC! NOPE! Cena moves and the ref eats it instead. The ref is dead on the floor. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to support families affected by superkicks.

Cena attempts yet another FU, because, hey, you can’t stop the 5 Moves Of Doom train once it’s left the station. Shawn counters into a wicked DDT that could’ve been the finish if the ref were alive.

Shawn takes it outside and starts moving the steel stairs around. HBK is heeling up! He drags Cena’s body out. PILEDRIVER ON THE STEPS!!! CENA’S DEAD! Shawn rolls the champ back in and calls for a replacement ref. A new ref is out, but by the time he makes it to the ring, Michaels can only cover for two. Way to be Johnny On The Spot.

Undeterred, it’s Shawn Michaels’ turn to play his greatest hits. Flying forearm. Kip-up. Macho Man elbow! He’s tuning up the band! NO! Cena levels Michaels with a clothesline instead, turning the challenger inside out.

Both men are near spent. We start trading blows again. Crowd is still firmly behind Michaels. Cena overpowers and yet again reaches for the FU, but Shawn is able to get out and hit a roll-up for 2. Both men back up and Shawn looks for another Lou Thesz Press BUT HE’S CAUGHT! CENA IS TOO STRONG! FU!!! 1-2-NO!

With the 5 Moves of Doom complete, Cena is baffled as to how to finish this match. Shouldn’t he be showering by now? Only one thing left to do – John hauls Michaels up to the top rope for a SUPER FU. Shawn tells death, “Not today.” He elbows the shit out of Cena’s head and pushes the champ to the mat. Flying cross body! Cena CATCHES MICHAELS mid-air and ROLLS THROUGH for the FU! Michaels floats out and looks for the superkick instead. NOPE! Cena counters into an STFU!

Shawn reverses the submission into a small package but only gets 2. HBK is up and looks for another enziguiri, but Cena reverses into the STFU again. Shawn selling like a madman, but makes it to the ropes to break the hold. WHY WON’T SHAWN STFU??!?

Ref #2 has to physically remove Cena to break the hold. Cena argues, so Shawn interrupts with SWEET CHIN MUSIC!!! THAT’S GOT TO BE IT!! HBK slow to cover. 1-2-NO!

Both competitors are bleeding and near death, they barely make it to their feet on a 9-count. Cena goes back to the FU well, but HBK says, no thanks, would you like a superkick? Cena politely declines and reverses into THE STFU! SHAWN IS IN PAIN! SHAWN IS IN PAIN! SHAWN TAPS!

An emotional Cena celebrates in the ring, dedicating the match to his dad. Shawn hits the bricks, but John chases him down for a handshake. Hey, we’re still tag team champions, right? Shawn is like, nah brah, you were about to Super FU me. Cena celebrates some more and that’s the show.

The next night on Raw, Cena & Michaels would be forced to defend their World Tag Team Titles in not one but TWO battle royals. The champs won the first match, but in the second, HBK had had enough and eliminated Cena himself, thus ending their championship reign and their tag team in general.

After an EPIC rematch on Raw, HBK would resume his beef with Randy Orton, while Cena would face a new challenger in, um yeah, The Great Khali.

Final Score: 7.5 (Recommended)

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