Last night was WWE's WrestleMania 29, the company's annual biggest card of the year. It may be the culmination of a story begun at WrestleMania 27, when The Rock cost John Cena a win against then-champion The Miz (just in case you were wondering...no relation). At last year's WrestleMania, Rock defeated Cena. This year, Rock was WWE champion, having defeated CM Punk (ending a more than year-long reign), and the rematch was set when Cena won the Royal Rumble, guaranteeing him a title match opportunity at WrestleMania.
Some have called this sequence of events overly predictable. To me, it calls to mind another classic WrestleMania series, begun in the card's infancy. At WrestleMania III, Hulk Hogan faced Andre the Giant in a match still talked about to this day. Hogan won the match (it could hardly go any other way), but Andre was a beloved icon in his own right, and so the feud didn't end there. Eventually it ended in the WWE title being vacated. At WrestleMania IV, Randy Savage won a tournament to fill the vacancy. His big ally was none other than Hogan. Of course, this meant (because it was far more common in those days for feuds to last a long time or take a long time to develop from an obvious setup) that Savage would defend his title against Hogan at WrestleMania V. This happened, and of course Hogan won the match, thus closing a loop. (Of course, the loop might be said to have remained open at WrestleMania VI, when Hogan lost the title to The Ultimate Warrior, who lost it to Sgt. Slaughter, who lost it to Hogan at WrestleMania VII, where Warrior and Savage had a match of their own. Another loop involved Hogan at WrestleMania IX, when Bret Hart lost the WWE title to Yokozuna, who quickly lost the title to Hogan, who lost it back to Yokozuna, who had a non-Hogan-related rematch against Hart at WrestleMania X, which Hart won.)
Anyway, a lot of wrestling fans rag on John Cena. They do it like they feel they're supposed to. Cena is the Hulk Hogan of his day. He's not Hulk Hogan in any other way than being the reliable face of the company. He's been in the world champion scene since 2005. There was a string of WrestleManias where he was in the main event by default, but had been out of that picture for several years when this feud with The Rock finally happened (both WWE and Cena had been trying to make it happen for years). Last year Cena headlined just about every Pay Per View (PPV) even though he was not champion.
For Cena to have won last night might be seen as predictable. It doesn't mean that he'll be champion for many more PPVs, though. Sometimes Cena's a champion like that. Not so much in recent years, though. This is not to say that the title is about to hot potato (like the WCW championship did for the last several years of its existence) after such a long period where one person controlled it. It's worth noting that you shouldn't expect Punk to regain the title anytime soon. His long term as champion took a toll on his body, and he was to conserve himself for weeks leading up to last night's match against The Undertaker. Some fans expected Dolph Ziggler to cash in his Money in the Bank contract guaranteeing him a title opportunity immediately after Cena's win (including me), but instead there seemed to be a moment at the end of the match where Rock and Cena acknowledged that this particular loop was finally closed.
Ziggler, meanwhile, may just as well cash in tonight.
Punk's match with Undertaker is a little odd. For the previous four WrestleManias, Undertaker engaged only two foes, Shawn Michaels and Triple H. They were four of the most climactic matches Undertaker has ever had, even though he's got the WrestleMania undefeated streak that now sits at 21-0. Few of the matches in that streak have actually counted for something. Often they've been an acknowledgement of where his opponent is in their career. Punk's is the first one in a while like that. He's solidified his place as an icon. Undertaker wrestles once a year these days. If he's in a match at all, it's more than ever about keeping that streak alive, because each of them could be his last. This year it seemed like that could be the case more than ever. Punk had a match with Cena on Raw a month or so back that was widely praised, and seemed to be his audition for the Undertaker match. Punk wrestled Rock at two consecutive PPVs at the start of the year, but those ended up being more about getting to WrestleMania for Rock than Punk's incredible reign and his current status in the company. Undertaker won't wrestle just anyone at WrestleMania these days. No more King Kong Bundy. No more A-Train (currently known as Tensei or Sweet T or something; anyway Undertaker faced him and the Big Show in a handicap match at WrestleMania XIX).
I didn't get to see WrestleMania 29 live last night. I rarely get to see them live. I saw last year's PPV, and that was a highlight of 2012 for me. I'll have to wait until the DVD. (Yes, I still do DVD. Everyone ought to know at this point that Blu-ray was sabotaged by the recession. It's no longer a thing. It's just a glorified alternative. At a period when the real alternative is online streaming and cheap rentals from boxes and Internet subscriptions.) That will be in about a month.
I've been a fan of Punk since I first saw him on WWE's ECW in 2006. He was a star in ROH previous to that, but I've rarely been in a position where I can appreciate ROH. Ring of Honor is the wrestling fan's wrestling promotion. It's not really about the entertainment factor. It's about the wrestling. Although at the moment it's still trying to recover from losing its latest batch of bright prospects to the likes of WWE and TNA (Total Nonstop Action).
Triple H won his match against Brock Lesnar, the so-called Next Big Thing circa 2002-2003 who started a limited comeback last year after proving himself as a monster in MMA as well as professional wrestling. I expected Triple H to lose that match. It only made sense. The script said that if he lost he'd have to retire. Ric Flair lost his WrestleMania retirement match. Shawn Michaels lost his WrestleMania retirement match. Then again, last year's WrestleMania not only billed Rock-Cena as "once in a lifetime" but Triple H-Undertaker as "end of an era." Both Undertaker and Triple H competed at WrestleMania this year, just liked Rock wrestled Cena again. Perhaps we're headed to Triple H's retirement match at WrestleMania 30 next year. Against perhaps Shawn Michaels?
Well, that would be awesome, anyway.
Debuting wrestler Fandango defeated Chris Jericho in a fairly lengthy match. Some observers expected that if any match ran long, this one would. It did. This year's WrestleMania was about starting a new page, changing the script. The stable of upstarts known as The Shield also won. Mark Henry defeated Ryback. If Ryback had won, it's feasible that he would have been foisted back to the championship scene. His loss made things once more unpredictable. Henry's win, meanwhile, was an acknowledgement of the fact that 2011 was a breakthrough year in a career that had a thousand starts and stops since WWE took him in 1996 from a successful Olympic weightlifting career. (Kurt Angle was another 1996 Olympic story. It continues in TNA.)
When Ziggler and Big E Langston failed to defeat Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan and Kane) for the tag team championship, it was another indication that the future was wide open. It was fine just to have the tag team titles on the line at WrestleMania. It was also fine just to have Daniel Bryan actually compete at WrestleMania (last year his match ended in seconds). It was also an indication that maybe Ziggler had other things to accomplish last night. Yet that remains in the air.
Finally there was the world championship match, pitting the defender Alberto Del Rio against Jack Swagger, who has recently adopted a super right wing persona. (He was previously billed as the "All-American American," so it kind of figures.) Del Rio is champion in part to bolster the Spanish-speaking market's interest. He's also the Mexican Ric Flair. (It figures that with Flair back with WWE, there's plenty of love for his type of wrestling. The Miz defeated Wade Barrett for the Intercontinental championship in a pre-show match with Flair's patented figure-four leglock, a move he's adopted since accepting the "Nature Boy" as his mentor. I will also use this opportunity to plug Barrett's appearance in Colin Farrell's Dead Man Down. I once again assert that this is a movie worth your attention.)
So that's what happened last night. The fun thing is that the action as always continues tonight!