3/31/08 – Wrestlemania 24 Review; Ric Flair’s Retirement
Look, I know you people (for the most part) hate reading about wrestling, but golly, Wrestlemania 23 was tonight featuring Floyd Mayweather, Raven Symone, “America’s
Sweetheart Afterthought” Kim Kardashian, and tons of hilarity in Chateu de Marshall & Henel.
Joining us this evening were Ed, Fr. Wetsel IN THE HIIIIIGHEST, Steve (co-host of 4 Color Commentary), Chris (chrusty), and Gary.
STAR SYSTEM RATINGS FOR MATCHES
* – I would’ve lived a happier life had I not seen it (eg. a Great Khali match; most things involving the “WWE Divas”)
** – Something didn’t click and/or it was completely worthless.
*** – A superb and inoffensive effort by both competitors.
**** – Quite good.
***** – As good as you can get.
The show started with cameras panning through the massive crowd at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. It was clear from some cameras and the slightly darkened skies that there had been some precipitation, but it didn’t dull the spirits of the more than 74,000 in attendance this evening. Well, that or it was all the tears shed when Deuce and/or Domino didn’t win the ECW Title Shot Battle Royal that occurred before they went live on the air.
Sha ba-da ba doo wop…ah, screw it.
Kane won it, as if any of us give a crap.
MATCH 1: JBL def. FIT FINLAY in a Belfast Brawl
These two gents are absolutely terrific at this sort of thing, even if I contend that as good of a worker as he can be, there’s no way JBL should ever have been positioned as a top heel because for the life of him he just doesn’t know where to put emphasis when talking on the mic. The “Amusing for All the Wrong Reasons” Award for the evening goes to JBL for periodically assaulting and throwing (what are supposed to be) heavy metal (but really aluminum) objects at Hornswoggle, whom was at ringside. For those who fell out of wrestling in the past year, Hornswoggle is the former “Little Bastard,” a midget wrestler who started out as Finlay’s mascot, then was revealed to be Vince McMahon’s son, then was revealed to actually be Finlay’s son whom Finlay had tricked everyone into thinking was Vince’s son in collusion with an unrevealed McMahon Family member as part of some weird revenge plot against Vince. Lost? Don’t worry, so are we, and let’s not even mention the fact that in storyline none of this was revealed to poor Hornswoggle, who became JBL’s punching bag for weeks and never batted an eye when Finlay was exposed as his biological father. Wait, I just did. Ah shit. Well, WWE’s Creative (ha!) Team did their best to ruin this match in the weeks leading up to it, but Finlay and Leyfield know what they’re doing between the bells. A little too short, though, and the wrong guy went over. Rating: **1/2
Kim Kardashian interviewed Ken Kennedy, who promised he’ll be the first man to win “Money in the Bank” two years in a row. I’ll just say this – if Kim is insistent on actually doing stuff to earn money rather than just living off the interest of her inheritance, she’d be wise to pick a profession that doesn’t require her to have any semblance of a personality.
MATCH 2: CM PUNK won the Money in the Bank Ladder Match
…and gets to cash it in for any of WWE’s two World Titles at any time, anywhere he pleases. I know you all think I’m playing a prank on you, but I’m serious, they put Punk over in this match. It was the one “WHAAAAA THE EFF” moment of the evening in our living room. It was the usual fair you’d come to expect from a ladder match with seven participants (the others were Ken Kennedy, MVP, John Morrisson, Carlito, Chris Jericho, and Shelton Benjamin). Shelton was the real star of the match, which included him taking an unnecessarily sick bump to the outside towards the end that resulted in the most hilarious facial expression from Carlito – a look of surprise that screamed “did he seriously just shorten his life by twenty years for one bump” – that I’ve ever seen. Punk, who had been taken out early in the match due to a Finlay Roll from Kennedy onto one of the ladders, showed up at the end to get the belt. Also of note – MVP had it won towards the end, but Matt Hardy WILL NOT DIE and thus spoiled MVP’s chances with a Twist of Fate off the top of the ladder. This was a trainwreck, but a decent one. Rating: ***1/2
* Howard Finkel introduced the 2008 inductees into the WWE Hall of Fame. Some are surprised it took them this long to induct Gordon Solie, a man many consider to be the greatest wrestling commentator of all time and the high water mark that’s occasionally splashed upon by the likes of Jim Ross but never fully submerged. The reasoning is that you can’t have too many dead guys in one year regardless of how old they were when they expired because with wrestling being what it is, it looks awful. It seems ridiculous, but they’re right. Mae Young got the biggest pop, but only because Flair’s children were brought out in lieu of him (since he had a match on the card). Mike Graham came out to represent his late father, legendary wrestler and Florida territorial mogul Eddie Graham, and he inserted himself into Mae Young’s introduction by “goofing around” with her like they’re old pals. He came across as annoying as he comes across in every interview I’ve ever seen or heard or read him do. Also, I’ve heard tales that he takes pride in intentionally stinking up a match with a young Jushin Liger while both were in WCW, which is ridiculous because it’s Jushin freaking Liger and he’s just Mike Graham.
* Snoop Dogg showed up with Festus. Festus’s gimmick is that he’s quite literally braindead until the moment a match starts, at which point the bell rings and he becomes an absolute monster that squashes everybody. Snoop says that he and Festus have a lot of common interests. He starts to talk about serving as the honorary Master of Ceremonies for the “Bunnymania Lumberjack Match” when he’s interrupted by Santino Marella. In a funny moment, while Santino’s talking, Snoop grabs a bell, rings it, and Festus HULKS UP WITH A ROAR and gives chase to Santino. As stupid as it reads, it was brilliantly executed by all involved. Snoop was asked where he got the bell from, and up popped Mick Foley for his cameo. Izzle izzle izzle, have a nice dizzle, the sock’s wearing a gold chain and has old-school rap gear drawn on it. Basically what you’d expect from that point on.
MATCH 3: BATISTA def. UMAGA in a “Brand Supremacy” Match
Batista represented Smackdown and was introduced by Teddy Long. William Regal and his good hair that was looking fabulous three months ago until he decided to grow it out more introduced RAW’s representative, Umaga. Umaga worked his ass off in this match, and Batista didn’t do too badly either. Okay match. Rating: ***
MATCH 4: KANE def. CHAVO GUERRERO to win the ECW CHAMPIONSHIP
Kane won the shot by winning the Battle Royal that occurred before they went on the air. This literally lasted seconds, in that if you blinked (or stepped out on the porch to have a cigarette) you missed it. NO RATING. It’s unfair to rate a nine-second squash.
* Raven Symone was in the ring and talked about all the good work WWE does for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. By the way, they do great stuff for those kids – no sarcasm or jokes about that. Except for the joke made in our living room when they noted that there were folks from 50 States in the crowd whose wishes to attend Wrestlemania came true, and it was remarked that one of them was probably Vampire Enthusiast Kevin Thorne.
* Ric Flair was asked what his strategy was for tonight. “To be the man, WHOOOO” said Flair, and that was it. Some in the living room remarked that it was appropriate for it to be so short, but with it being Flair’s final match as an in-ring performer and final promo ever, I wanted something epic. Ah well.
MATCH 5: SHAWN MICHAELS def. RIC FLAIR to end his career.
They started an angle back in the Fall of 2007 where Vince McMahon told Flair that from that point forward, any match he lost would be his last and he’d have to end his career. He defied the odds by beating several upper-midcarders, including United States Champion MVP in what was probably Match of the Night at January’s Royal Rumble. The original idea was for Flair’s final run to be just that, but to also culminate instead in a title match this evening. If the idea had been executed as it was originally intended it would have been great, especially considering something as momentous as Ric freaking Flair retiring should CLOSE OUT a Wrestlemania rather than just thrown in the middle of the card. Not surprisingly, this whole idea didn’t eminate from WWE’s Creative Team, but rather from Steve Austin (true story). Of course, once it got filtered through, it was de-emphasized by the rank and file, one of whom openly stated in several meetings that he didn’t think Ric Flair knew how to cut a promo (failed sitcom writer Brian Gerwitz is the guilty party there). So that brings us to this match, which was a lot of fun. Some of it was hampered in the second act by a FUBAR’D spot where Michaels missed a moonsault to Flair on the outside and landed on the Spanish Announcers’ Table. Which was supposed to happen, except the front of the table didn’t give way like it was supposed to and Michaels got the wind knocked out of him. The end of the match came when Flair was slumped over in the corner, with Michaels “tuning up the band” (where he stomps his foot and increases the pace of the stomping while the crowd claps along in anticipation of his “superkick”) in the opposite corner. Flair got up and faced Michaels, who then stopped. Flair, the performer so great he can tell the entire story of a match with just one or two facial expressions, looked up at Michaels with a look of acceptance that this was going to be the end. He stood up gingerly, pumping his fists and urging Michaels to give him exactly what he deserved. Michaels mouthed the words “I’m sorry,” followed by “I love you” and a superkick that resulted in a three-count and the end of Flair’s career. Rating: ****
As soon as the bell rang, Michaels hugged Flair (who was still out selling the superkick) and kissed him on the forehead. He left the ring in a deliberate and defeated manner, almost as if he was the one whose career had ended. Flair slowly got up to a standing ovation, then went to ringside and hugged his children. All of them were legitimately emotional, and one of his daughters and son Reid (who I guarantee you in three years will be training in Tampa with WWE’s Developmental system) were crying legit tears.
MATCH 6: “THE GLAMAZON” BETH PHOENIX & MELINA def. ASHLEY & MARIA in the Bunnymania Lumberjack Match
All the WWE Divas were at ringside, and followed Snoop Dogg down on a pimped-out golf cart. You’ll notice I didn’t bother naming all the “Lumberjills” because that would be acknowledging that there’s some sort of difference in personality or presentation for 75% of the women under the employ of WWE, which just isn’t the case. The only thing of note in this match was that the power went out about halfway through, and the girls worked right through it like professionals. I’d always said that most of the women working in WWE might as well wrestle in the dark for all the good it does them in putting stuff together, but I didn’t mean it literally. Jerry Lawler gave Santino Marella a right hook when the latter interfered in the match. Afterwards, Santino gloated with the victorious heel team, but was given a surprisingly decent lariat by Snoop Dogg for his troubles. Then Snoop kissed Maria, and he walked off with the losing tag team. “Usually it’s the victor who gets the spoils!” screamed Jim Ross, as if the point of this match was that the winner got to get an awkward kiss from a married Snoop Dogg in front of 70,000 people who could care less. Rating: *
MATCH 7: RANDY ORTON def. JOHN CENA and HHH in a Triple Threat Match to Retain the WWE Championship
Talk about a shocking ending, since all the smart money seemed to be on either the returning Cena of McMahon-in-Law HHH walking out of Wrestlemania with the title. To come out of this event with his title reign intact, Randy Orton must have done one Hell of a turnaround in the past year as far as his attitude and overall lifestyle are concerned. Having all three men compete didn’t add anything to this match, and in all honesty, any combination of two of the three in a conventional match would have been a lot better. A little disappointing, but not bad by any means. Cena in particular really shined, despite the fact that original projections had him not coming back from his injury until well after this event. Rating: ***1/2
* They aired an extended montage breaking down the Big Show/Mayweather feud, including all the mainstream media coverage it received. When they showed a clip of discussion of the match from ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” I screamed out “MR. TONY” at Tony Kornheiser like the big dork that I am. The highlight was Big Show discussing the match at his home, wearing his reading glasses. WELLLLLLLLLL…HE’S NEARSIGHTEEEEEED [/Big Show’s new theme music if I worked for WWE]
MATCH 8: FLOYD MAYWEATHER def. THE BIG SHOW in an “Anything Goes” Match
People will think I’m being facetious or exaggerating, but trust me: I’m being sincere when I say that this was the best match on the entire show. The whole thing was laid out brilliantly, and Floyd Mayweather not only played a great heel but also took a couple bumps (quite well might I add) and didn’t once break out of character or give the impression he’d rather be somewhere else. Mayweather performed several “evasion” tactics to begin the fight, and in a hilarious moment went to his corner three minutes into the match to take a sip of water from an overly elaborate chalice and was toweled down by one of his cornermen, who in turn was laid out by Show. The rest of the match was Mayweather doing what he could to simply survive with The Big Show, which included an attempt to leave that was thwarted by Show and several of his cornermen stepping in to get destroyed by the man billed at 450 pounds. The match ended when Mayweather, after several escapes from the chokeslam with the assistance of his crew, finally grabbed hold of the chair that was brought into the ring earlier and whacked Show with it a few times. He took off one of his boxing gloves, took a chain off one of his unconscious cornermen which had brass knuckles hanging from them, slipped on the knucks, and knocked out Show with a punch that looked great. Mayweather left to the crowd desperately wanting to see him get his comeuppance, and Big Show’s expression of disbelief ended the segment. Great stuff. RATING: ****
For how the match was laid out, that surpassed Lawrence Taylor‘s match against Bam Bam Bigelow all those years ago. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Mayweather back at some point, and he was more than willing to play the chickensh*t heel who won through complete BS methods and was clearly the lesser man. And yet, people will still buy the egomaniacal persona he adopts for press conferences leading up to his boxing fights. This, folks, is professional wrestling – the world through which staged fights and storylines reveal more about a person’s real character than the front they put on that gets shown on SportsCenter and accepted by journalists who should know better as a legitimate representation of the aforementioned individual.
* Kim Kardashian was back in the ring, and wearing a lime green dress that looked like something Master Shake would vomit out of his straw. She announced the official attendance as 74,635. It’s the largest in the Citrus Bowl’s history, though it’s worth noting that’s with approximately 80% of the field containing
ground-level seating. I’d be skeptical of that figure if they hadn’t shown some pretty clear overhead shots in the early part of the show, when it was still daylight. That place was legitimately filled to the uppermost levels, and I didn’t see so much as a scattershot section throughout the entire arena.
MATCH 9: UNDERTAKER def. EDGE to win the World Heavyweight Championship
Not much to write about. We didn’t pay as much attention to this match as we did to the discussion about how much Chris hates it every time Michael Cole screams out “VINTAGE UNDERTAKER!”, to which I noted that he does it so often they might as well call the character itself “Vintage Undertaker.” Sort of like “Golden Age Undertaker” or “Booger Red Undertaker”. This led to a hilarious eight to ten minutes where we came up with a concept for a new gimmick, The Overgiver, who would basically be Bizzarro Undertaker. Instead of Casket Matches, he’d have matches where the goal was to lock the opponent into one of those incubators they put newborn babies into. Also, he’d yell out “I’M ALIVE.” One of his trademark moves would be one where he puts his opponent on the ropes, then guides them to walking on the ropes, then drags them back down to the ring and headbutts their arm. While this was going on, a match happened that Undertaker won. I was still paying enough attention to say that this certainly wasn’t anything bad, and Taker (God bless ’em) worked his eighty-year-old ass off. Rating: ***
OVERALL SUMMARY: The $54.95 price tag was a bit much, and if we weren’t splitting it six ways I’d probably be sort of disappointed with this card. As it was, I was more than pleased. There wasn’t anything approaching a MOTY candidate here, but with the exception of the Divas match there wasn’t anything awful either.
That being said, the match order here was wonky. Now, if the need to put Orton over was essential, I understand. You can’t have Wrestlemania ending with a heel winning; they’ve done that before and it’s been disastrous. However, Edge and Undertaker are legitimate main-eventers, but they’re competing on a show that’s not being watched, and if it is being watched, barely paid attention to. The story of the night, or what should have been the story of the night, was Ric Flair’s final match. Sure, he would have lost, but he’d be losing to perennial super babyface Shawn Michaels. Additionally, they could’ve had that great moment where everybody ended the show by giving Flair a standing ovation, and all the boys in the back could have come out to give Flair the proper send-off that he deserved. Instead, we got the same stale image of The Undertaker on one knee, holding the title up to the Heavens and goofily rolling his eyes to the back of his head while bathed in suuuuuper spoooooky purple lighting.
Instead, Ric Flair goes out in the middle of the show, and enough time is allowed for it to sink in where we realize how ridiculous his post-wrestling plans are.
For those who don’t know, Flair has launched his own financial service: Ric Flair Finance. Yes, the man who blew all his money in the 80s and squandered a fortune that had the potential to be larger than Hulk Hogan’s. So much so, in fact, that he had to wrestle until he was almost 60 years old just to make ends meet. And he wants to give YOU financial advice.
Potential Investor: “Hey Ric, I’ve got $150,000 to invest. What do you suggest? Should I avoid the housing market, and with the financial banking crisis, what stocks should I avoid?”
Ric Flair of RicFlairFinance.com: “First, buy a limousine to take you everywhere…in style! Then, purchase a private jet for your prematurely balding buddy and personal enforcer. Then go to your favorite bar six nights a week and buy everybody in there jello and kamikaze shots. WHOOOOOOOOOOO”
Goodbye, Ric. For all the poor choices you made with money, you were without hyperbole the greatest performer the professional wrestling industry has ever known.
Not only will nobody ever attain his status in the industry, they won’t even approach it despite what they may tell themselves. Some are using the cliche “end of an era” to describe his retirement, but as tired as it is it’s apt. With the exception of six months to a year here and there, there hasn’t been a single moment in my life as a wrestling fan that hasn’t included professional wrestler Ric Flair in it. Even during those brief hiatuses, the majority of talk amongst fans pertained to when Flair was coming back and/or where he would end up. It’s also worth noting that during two of those three time periods, the live crowds would pay hard-earned money to chant “WE WANT FLAIR” halfway through the show.
Forget Hulk Hogan, forget Vince’s aggressive expansion that killed the territories in the 1980s, and forget “Rock and Wrestling.” What truly marched the professional wrestling industry into the modern age was the Nature Boy. What Michael Jordan was for professional basketball in the United States, Ric Flair was for professional wrestling…and then some. WCW would have folded eighteen years sooner than it did without him, and it’s a shame that the Eric Bischoffs of the world will never acknowledge that cold, hard fact. He was the last holdout of an older time that wasn’t so distant that it couldn’t be remembered – a time when a guy needed to have charisma and a deep-rooted (almost psychic) connection with a live crowd in order to be a success. He attained enough of that old-school mentality and brought with it an exciting new vision of what was to come. Unfortunately, while he shaped the professional wrestling industry, as it grew and expanded he became the exception rather than the rule.
Simply put, professional wrestlers these days are glorified gym rats. Some of them profess to have a great knowledge of the professional wrestling industry and consider themselves a humongous success and boon to their line of work. There may be some truth in that, but without the physiques, they’re exposed. For instead of the ring generals they consider themselves to be, they’re at best middling workers who have an idea of what the crowd wants to see the big muscle-bound guy do, but will never have the talent to take a totally disinterested crowd and make them care by knowing the EXACT moment to place a heavy kick or a chop. So few can even understand that, let alone execute it, and unfortunately we’re quickly approaching an age where more of the emphasis is on what a guy does in the ring rather then where, when, and why. And those latter three outweigh the “what” more than Big Daddy V outweighs a malnourished child.
Take care, Ric Flair. The fans, and the business, will never be the same without you.
But yeah, getting back to my earlier rant, Wrestlemania really should’ve ended on a touching and glorious moment. Something like…um…