Wrestlemania Challenge Day 18

The first Wrestlemania of the post-Attitude era took the brand to Toronto, where nearly 68,000 fans packed the Sky Dome for an electric atmosphere. The card opened with a brief, but solid Rob Van Dam vs. William Regal match. It was a physical contest that saw RVD hit the five star frog splash to get the win and claim the IC championship. Another short match that only went roughly five minutes was Diamond Dallas Page vs. Christian. The match was fine for what it was, but when a bout has the length of a Raw match on an event like WM, there’s not much to say about it. However, I wanted to take this chance to discuss Dallas Page’s original stint in the organization. DDP was infamously brought in as the “stalker” in an angle with The Undertaker and it was doomed from the start. Most importantly, nothing about a seedy voyeur fit anything from DDP’s character so there was literally nothing to build upon in terms of a storyline. In my opinion, much like the majority of the WCW talent that was moved over to the WWF at the time, the bitterness of the previous five years of the Monday Night war wasn’t going to let management put over DDP, especially during a feud with an iconic WWF performer like The Undertaker. Considering his age and the amount of talent that had to be shoehorned onto one roster at the time, perhaps there wouldn’t have been a long term spot for him under the WWF banner, but management could’ve undoubtedly done more with one of WCW’s biggest stars, specifically when the invasion angle flopped because lack of star power. While Dallas Page had better appearances since then, including his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame a few years ago, it would’ve been very interesting to see him get a chance to work with some of the top WWF talent in 2001 without the lame stalker gimmick.

There was a Hardcore title match that ended with Spike Dudley as the champion, but it was only two minutes so there isn’t much to discuss for it.

Kurt Angle vs. Kane was a really good match and it was the first bout on the card that had the chance to really pick up on the action from a bell-to-bell prospective. Angle won, but similar to last year, Kane’s performance here spoke volumes about the value he brought to the company. As mentioned yesterday, Kane was a big fish in an even bigger pond during some of his early years using that persona. For some reason, that perception might’ve followed him beyond that because it would be even a few more years until he started working the main event scene regularly. Unfortunately, it’s well-documented that ratings began to slip around this time frame because the sports entertainment bubble had burst and the botched invasion angle, along with Austin’s infamous heel turn at the time, saw many casual fans that followed during the Attitude era simply move on to other entertainment options. The result of that was Raw became the main priority of the company, while Smackdown was on the brink of cancellation from UPN. As we know, Paul Heyman’s “Smackdown Six” rescued the blue brand because he took a group of solid in-ring workers and boosted their profile to make them bigger stars in the process. Management wanted to keep the flagship show stable so Raw had most of the competitors that were already established to give the brand more star power. Kane was a major star so he was on Raw, but that indirectly kept him at a specific level on the card because Triple H more or less monopolized the top spot on Raw at the time. Proof that Kane was a main event talent was that he did win the world heavyweight title a few times in the years that followed.

The Undertaker vs. Ric Flair was an entertaining match,if for no other reason than it was good to see the spark of the Nature Boy again. Flair has talked about it himself on many occasions, the way he was booked in WCW was a major shot at his confidence and there was a point in time that he assumed he was done in the ring. This bout with The Undertaker seemed to be a way for Flair to recapture who he was as a performer and it led to another five years of entertaining Flair matches before he began to lose a step or two before he finished his WWE career. in 2008. Obviously, The Undertaker won to keep the streak intact and it’s interesting to note that this was actually the first Wrestlemania where his status of ten WM wins was one of the selling points of the match and not just a side note during the contest.

Edge vs. Booker T was fine and on paper, it sounds like it should’ve been a higher profile match, but as we’ve seen more often with the marathon WMs in recent years, with nearly a dozen matches on the card, this bout more or less got lost in the shuffle, especially because it was only five minutes. Speaking of matches that sounded better on paper, considering their careers, you’d expect Stone Cold and Scott Hall to deliver on this stage, but that just wasn’t the case. Scott Hall arrived with the NWO invasion the month prior, but it was clear from almost the start that this wasn’t the same Hall that helped fuel the Monday night wars a few years earlier. Hall was released less than three months later because of the substances problems that he has thankfully seemed to recover from in the past few years. Stone Cold got the win, but this match is forgettable and not exactly the best booking for Stone Cold on the biggest event of the year. That being said, as I mentioned during the WM 10 article, when Scott Hall was on, he was as good as anyone in the business.

The four-way tag team match was decent, but nothing spectacular. To be fair, most matches like that are usually more of a way to get more wrestlers on the show than anything else. Billy and Chuck won, but the bigger takeaway from this is that it was more or less the conclusion of the tag team surge that the promotion had during that era. Matt Hardy eventually turned heel, E&C had already split, and a disastrous booking decision later drafted Bubba and D-Von to different brands.

As much as I’m not a fan of Hulk Hogan the wrestler or Terry Bolea the person, this match against The Rock at WM 18 is one of my favorite matches because the crowd was so energetic, they wanted to see Hulk return to the WWF in all of his prior glory. This was before the concept of a Hulk nostalgia run was overused and became more of an egomaniac pushing for another run than anything else. The performance was brilliant, specifically because both performers went with it and Hogan was organically turned baby face, which is why it worked. The actual in-ring action was rather minimal, but everything they did was impactful. The crowd followed everything and these two got the most that they could from each spot as the drama unfolded. The Rock won the match, but Hulk got over for a fresh run nearly a decade after he jumped ship to WCW. Unfortunately, it was just over a year before Hulk’s ego caused him to have a dispute with the direction of his character and he abruptly left the organization. Even more unfortunate is that after the terrible comments he made on a hidden camera from the Gawker debacle, Terry Bolea tarnished much of the legacy of Hulk Hogan.

The women’s title triple threat match was okay, but it was only a few minutes and basically just a way to pace the card before the main event. Jazz retained the championship.

The main event from an in-ring and storyline stand point was fine, but the build up and follow through is debatable. Nearly a year before this bout, Triple H tore his quad during a match on Raw and somehow finished the match. The comeback story and specifically the video packages for it were really tremendous. It even made sense for Triple H to win the match and the championship, something that can’t necessarily be said for every WM that he worked. All that said, the way that this feud was presented and how Chris Jericho’s title run was booked was basically the opposite of how to make a heel champion. By 2002, The Rock was on his way Hollywood, and Stone Cold was on borrowed time as an active wrestler because of the neck injury. The botched Invasion angle caused a dip in ratings and quite simply, management had to start to restock the main event scene. Sure, Jericho pinned The Rock and Stone Cold in the same night to win the Undisputed belt, but where did he really go after that? The title feud was based more on Triple H’s chase for the championship and his angle with Stephanie McMahon than anything that emphasized Jericho as champion. The lack of any focus on Jericho as a main event talent led to his stock declining considerable during the year that followed, especially because he spent the majority of 2003 in the mid-card. However, as far as WM moments, the Triple H win was a good conclusion for the show.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta