Before there was a performance center, Wrestlemania 24 was hosted in Orlando, FL at the Citrus Bowl, as over 70,000 fans witnessed the final bout of the career of the legendary Ric Flair. The show would return to the city less than a decade later for WM 33 and then use the previously mentioned Performance Center to tape this year’s WM amid the corona virus pandemic that prevented the city of Tampa from being the site of WM 36. That along with Eddie Graham’s Championship Wrestling from Florida organization, the sunshine state has ties to and an extensive history of sports entertainment. The card opened with JBL vs. Finlay in a Belfast Brawl, which was essentially a weapons match. JBL dropped weight and looked to be in better shape here than he had been at previous WM events just a few years earlier. The match was physical and entertaining as the gritty Texan and the tough Irishman exchanged stiff shots. The bout itself, specifically re-watching it as a stand alone viewing experience was very entertaining. On the flip side, the goofy angle that accompanied it probably did a lot to hinder the view point prior to the opening bell. The storyline that saw Vince McMahon supposedly have an illegitimate son was rumored to involve Ken Kennedy at some point until it was switched to Hornswoggle. The potential drama of another McMahon heir fighting for a piece of the billion dollar pie provided some intrigue to see how it would unfold, but the switch to Hornswoggle led to attempted comedy segments that didn’t get over until it was more or less an abandon angle. Hornswoggle got over because he was an underdog that brought a fun aspect to matches because the audience didn’t know when he would pop out from the ring, but the McMahon-Hornswoggle segments looked too silly to get legitimate heat. The random and unexplained switch of Finlay as Hornswoggle’s dad was also eventually dropped. You can stretch the limits of logic within the frame work of sports entertainment, but this jumped the shark. That being said, the Belfast brawl was a solid match that saw JBL get the win. A side note, Finlay is one of the most underrated works in the history of the sports and all things consider, he probably should’ve gotten a short time run in this period of time.
Kim Kardashian was backstage as the host and looked like she had no idea what was going on or the fact that she was hosting a wrestling event. Perhaps she and Sable could be booked for a segment at WM 37 to determine who is the most unqualified to be booked on a professional wrestling event.
The Money in The Bank match was the fun spot fest that it had been the two previous years and once again, there were too many highlights to discuss. Morrison did a moonsault to the outside with a ladder and there was a tower of doom spot from the top of the ladder as well. CM Punk won the briefcase and did a cash-in a few months later to win the title from Edge.When discussing this particular MITB, it must be noted that while Punk was World Heavyweight champion from the cash-in, that specific reign amounted to very little because even as the champion, Punk still worked the mid-card. He had the belt, but management didn’t truly let him run with it, very similar to his later main event push in 2011. Although, it must be said that the underwhelming title run as a result of this MITB victory is probably what got Punk to a place where he had the motivation and the material to drop the pipe bomb promo a few years later.
Batista vs. Umaga was fine for what it was, but it was basically an average bout that went roughly six minutes. Batista won, but this is a mostly forgettable contest. Umaga was a really good worker that utlimately got saddled with a cartoonish gimmick that hindered more than helped his progress. A big time monster that didn’t say much would’ve allowed him more flexibility from a booking stand point that to be cast as a savage. All things considered, Umaga had a really good series of matches with a variety of opponents during this era. Sadly, he failed a drug test the following year and was released in mid-2009 before he passed away a few months later.
Kane vs. Chavo was only a ten second match for the ECW championship. Kane’s quick win was done for shock value, but the ECW title and brand as a whole meant nothing by 2008 so the audience didn’t react much and it wasn’t really a way to push Kane because the title wasn’t established as anything important.
Ric Flair’s retirement bout was one of the main selling points of this event and it’s one of the most emotional moments in professional wrestling history. The result wasn’t in doubt so it was very difficult for them to create a believable false finish during the bout, but the fact that it was Flair’s final performance in a WWE was enough to bring an important atmosphere to this match. At 58, Ric Flair was still entertaining, but you could see that his age was finally starting to catch up with him as he became a step slower in the ring throughout the previous year. That’s not a jab at The Nature Boy, but rather that nobody can continue a full-time schedule when they are near 60, not even the iron man of Jim Crockett’s NWA. Truth be told, Shawn Michaels carried the majority of this contest, crashing into the announce table after an attempted Asai moonsault and essentially working in certain spots for Flair to get the advantage with offense that didn’t actually require him to do too much. That’s not a knock on the match either, Flair was so over that night that he didn’t have to have a fast-paced exchange to get the crowd to rally around him, the chops and the figure four had the audience following everything. One of the absolutely most emotional moment was just before the final super kick for the pin fall, Flair got to his feet with his fist up and tears in his eyes, ready for the final sequence of his WWE career. Michaels hit another super kick and you can see Flair crying as the three count was made by the referee. Michaels and Flair shared and embrace on the canvas before HBK exits, giving the ring to the legend. One of the many reasons that this entire scenario is so emotional is because you can see how passionate Flair is about the sport and how much he cares about his work as a professional wrestler. This bout and the retirement ceremony the next night on Raw were the perfect storybook ending for such an accomplished legend, and that should’ve been the conclusion of his in-ring career. Sadly, Flair’s lavish lifestyle and unwise financial decisions led to him working for TNA, where he bladed on television at 60 years old because he needed the money, despite being one of the highest paid wrestlers of his era. It’s very difficult not to feel bad for him, but at the end of the day, Ric Flair is responsible for his own decisions. It was very troubling to hear the story that while he worked for TNA there was a night at the bar after the show that Flair basically run up a bar tab that he didn’t have the money to pay, which is very unwise, considering the reason he worked there in the first place was because he needed the cash. It was very disheartening to see one of the pillars of pro wrestling such a shell of himself during those TNA days. Plus, he had the terrible health scare a few years ago that put his life in jeopardy. Thankfully, it appears that in the time since that hospital stay that Ric Flair has found some level of peace in his life and looks to be doing much better today. Plus, he’s enjoying a level of success as somewhat of a pop icon as the elder statesman of pro wrestling that has a legacy for his style and trademark interviews.
In many ways, the Flair retirement segment drained much of the energy from the show and the arrangement could be made that it wasn’t picked back up until the conclusion of the event. There was a divas tag match with Maria and Ashley to capitalize on Maria’s recent playboy appearance against Melina and Beth Phoenix. Snoop Dogg was at ringside, but this match more or less got lost in the shuffle of the event. Melina and Beth Phoenix won, but this wasn’t anything spectacular.
Randy Orton beat John Cena and Triple H to retain the WWE championship and it was fine, but nothing really stood out as memorable. Triple threat matches can be difficult to book and this contest didn’t really build any momentum. Maybe it would’ve been a better match if it was a traditional title match because in this scenario it seems like their shoehorned an extra competitor into the contest just to try to get more star power on the card.
Floyd Mayweather vs. The Big Show was probably better than it had any right to be. They used a lot of bells and whistles, but it was a logical bout that didn’t look too silly or scripted. Floyd, despite being a less than stellar person, is a tremendous athlete and that ability translated well here. In some ways, everyone involved won on some level here because Floyd’s involvement gave the WWE something to promote to the main stream press to get more publicity for the event, and it gave Floyd something to do while making a few million dollars in between boxing stints. Floyd used brass knuckles to get the victory.
After a lengthy and emotional show, The Undertaker and Edge delivered a quality WM main event. The only downside is that at this point, most people didn’t think the streak was going to be broken so the crowd doesn’t buy into a few of the attempted false finishes. The Undertaker won the championship with a submission. Something to note from this match and this general time frame is that so often earlier in the streak, The Undertaker was booked with sideshow opponents to give those events some sizzle, but his quality WM matches when he had better opponents shouldn’t be overlooked. Later on, the streak stole the show several years and it became one of the most anticipated matches of the event.
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Until next week
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