The thoughts on WrestleMania 29 will follow shortly, but there are a few topics worth addressing first:
1) Curtis Axel
Mr. Perfect's son Joe Hennig made his debut all over again on Raw tonight. Joe was previously featured in CM Punk's New Nexus circa 2011 as Michael McGillicutty, the name he went under when he competed on NXT (WWE's current breeding ground). This is pretty big. Much like Dean Ambrose as part of The Shield, this is someone the fans have been wanting to see get the call-up for a while. He's the guy who trained with The Rock in his most recent run with the company. The new name might take some getting used to, but it's a legacy combination just like The Rock's originally was ("Rocky Maivia" coming from Dwayne Johnson's father Rocky and grandfather Peter Maivia). Mr. Perfect's real name was Curt Hennig, while Joe's grandfather was known as Larry "The Ax" Hennig. "Curtis Axel" could eventually be boiled down to just Ax or something. "Ax" was also one half of the '80s tag team Demolition (no, not Larry Hennig), but I'm sure fans would be willing for someone with, ah, more talent to share it, much like "The Rock" was previously a nickname for Don Muraco. Joe received a strong push out of the gate tonight as the newest member of the Paul Heyman family (which also includes CM Punk and Brock Lesnar). You might remember Heyman from ECW, the "land of extreme." Joe battled Triple H, the semi-retired legend who lost to Lesnar last night at Extreme Rules in a steel cage match, in the main event. Not too bad! Although of course now fans will be asking all the more loudly to see Richie Steambeat receive similar honors. This particular prospect is the son of Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. If you have to ask who he is, then there's no hope for you.
2) Austin Aries
TNA was on the receiving end of yet another embarrassing episode a few weeks ago when Austin Aries showed a considerable lack of maturity when announcer Christy Hemme misstated his entrance. Hemme is a legitimate wrestling goddess, winning the original WWE Divas Search, but has nicely transitioned into a role more traditionally associated with men (unless you're Lilian Garcia). Aries is one of those ROH alumni renowned for his wrestling prowess. Last year he was given a run as TNA champion, a move that elevated him to the main event, which lately has meant a lot of tag team matches for some of the best wrestlers in the promotion (that's where Bobby Roode, Aries' predecessor as champion and in fact his tag team partner, currently sits, as well as Christopher Daniels, the hottest heel in the company not to be featured in the Aces & Eights faction). Aries decided it was appropriate to block Hemme into the corner and then climb to the second rope (so, let's be clear, his crotch was in her face) while she made the correction. That's just not something you do. TNA as a company has been doing commendable business. I said "yet another embarrassing episode" at the start of this item because in the spring of 2011, Jeff Hardy showed up to the main event of a TNA intoxicated and unable to compete. He subsequently cleaned up his act, thank goodness, and is once again a member in good standing of the wrestling community, but I'm sure there are still fans who will only associate both Hardy and TNA with such bad publicity. Aries has offered an apology, and Hemme accepted, but how could he have possibly thought that was a good idea in the first place?
On to WrestleMania 29!
Sheamus, Randy Orton, & Big Show vs. The Shield
The three names on the left side of this match are all perennial members of the WWE-doesn't-know-what-to-do-with-them-at-WrestleMania club. To be fair, Orton has had a good amount of success,but Big Show's woes are so well-known that they were the whole subject of his match against Cody Rhodes last year. Sheamus has twice had matches against Daniel Bryan sabotaged on the card, and his debut at WrestleMania against Triple H is one of those matches I still keep trying to redeem in my own thoughts. Still, Sheamus had the best showing in this match. As talented as the members of The Shield are, they were mostly playing off the big names. Not a bad match, but curiously devoid of any real momentum, possibly because they had to figure out how to help The Shield win again (they're currently undefeated and last night captured a bunch of championships, led as always by Ambrose).
Ryback vs. Mark Henry
It wasn't until I remembered that a lot of this WrestleMania could very easily be defined by the Hall of Fame induction of WWE legend Bruno Sammartino that the significance of this match clicked. It was all strongman style. That was Sammartino's gimmick, and who better to sell it at WrestleMania than the new Goldberg and the World's Strongest Man?
Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane) vs. Dolph Ziggler & Big E Langston
Langston was another obvious attempt at taking a chip off the old Sammartino. The commentary kept making references at how powerful he is. Ziggler is the new Mr. Perfect, though a version that can win a world championship in WWE (which he did the night after WrestleMania, though he recently suffered a legitimate concussion and so couldn't make his scheduled title defense last night). He wasn't given much to do in this match, however, which has been typical of his WrestleMania appearances. That's always puzzled me. Maybe next year?
Chris Jericho vs. Fandango
I will probably have to watch this match again, but most of it just seemed like it was the consummate professional Jericho at the top of his game, and Fandango merely keeping up. Jericho is one of those wrestlers who can have a good match with anyone, which was all the more necessary in this one because it was Fandango's first actual match in WWE. Their feud continued last night, and it seems to be continuing still. It doesn't hurt that Fandango's sometimes dance partner Summer Rae is turning into an attraction all her own. Previous Divas like AJ Lee (a breakout sensation last year), Sunny, and Sable have always made the most of it. Hopefully Summer can do the same. In the meantime, this match was fun in the same way Jericho's match against Steamboat, Jimmy Snuka, and Roddy Piper was a few years ago. Jericho can have a good match against anyone and even if he's the only one worth watching (and that's not necessarily the case in either of these matches), by god you'll still enjoy yourself.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger
A contender for best match of the night. These two had surprisingly good chemistry together. It's entirely possible that they are in fact each other's ideal opponents in the ring. Del Rio has been looking for exactly that since he arrived in late 2010. It was assumed that his match was fellow Mexican superstar Rey Mysterio, but it's Swagger. The company has been trying to make Swagger a star for years, but with his lisp it's hard to take him seriously when he speaks (I don't personally fixate on that, but I know other fans do). That's why he has a mouthpiece in Zeb Coulter. All he has to do is get it done in the ring. It's always good to have two submission specialists unleashed on each other.
Undertaker vs. CM Punk
For a good portion of Undertaker's famed WrestleMania winning streak (after this match now 21-0), he wasn't know for having the best matches on the card. But that has become the norm in recent years. This match was no exception. Punk had been on a hotstreak since the summer of 2011, and aside the injuries that are currently keeping him out of the ring he's shown no signs of slowing down. He's an inspired performer. Every threat to the streak makes big promises about ending it, but few have done it with as much flair as Punk. The death of William Moody, who portrayed Undertaker's long-term manager Paul Bearer, earlier this year provided particularly fruitful material. Where such an angle could easily have been in poor taste, in this instance it was the ultimate tribute. A lot of Undertaker's early WWE matches revolve around his mysterious urn, held like a totem by Bearer at ringside. Punk and Heyman centered a lot of the drama around the urn once again. Probably more rewarding than both recent Triple H matches, and even the ones against "Mr. WrestleMania" Shawn Michaels, whom I contend will be facing Triple H at next year's landmark WrestleMania XXX. It's no coincidence that WWE has been ramping up Shawn's appearances recently. He's been retired since 2010. It's time for one last moment of glory, ending his good buddy Triple H's career once and for all.
Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H
Like The Rock, Lesnar made an unexpected comeback, competing on cards sprinkled throughout the year. His last match before last year's Extreme Rules was at WrestleMania XX against Goldberg. Though he's a wicked heel now, circa 2002-2003 he was the Next Big Thing, the long-awaited second coming of the legitimate WWE big man, Hulk Hogan style, this time one who could pull off a competitive match (the problem was always finding competition). Lesnar had a successful stint in UFC, which has informed his current smashmouth style (and the corporate logo-infused attire he uses to wrestle). Now he's a monster that looks all the more impossible to defeat. This match with Triple H was a more contemporary version of the Sammartino style. Notably the commentary never once mentioned the strongman vibe, even though these are two wrestlers who epitomize it.
The Rock vs. John Cena
A reprise of last year's "Once in a Lifetime" main event was a clear echo of that match, much like Star Trek Into Darkness is of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. And it's a better match precisely for it. If Cena has any real weakness in the ring, it's that he doesn't often seem to realize that a big match should be treated that way. He's had plenty of big matches, but a lot of those big matches (especially the ones against Rob Van Dam and CM Punk) he lost. He lost last year's big match against The Rock, too, and that fact made this one more compelling than its predecessor could have hoped to be. The Rock always benefited from contemporary stars rising to similar levels of success as himself. Cena has often lacked that, or WWE in its incarnations at the time did everything possible to split its attention, keeping Batista and Randy Orton away from him for too long. Instead his early WrestleMania opponents were Triple H and Shawn Michaels, stars of previous generations. Cena in fact had a contemporary with whom he meshed really well, Edge, but their only WrestleMania encounter was a three-way match that also included Big Show (for some reason), and wasn't even the main event of the card. So it's no surprise that he needed some extra help to get it done with Rock. And get it done they did this time.
All in all a pretty good WrestleMania.
I'll round today out with an acknowledgement of my ongoing obsession over a different subject entirely, actor Colin Farrell, who was on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon tonight. He was pretty awesome, promoting the animated flick Epic by...talking about his line dancing past. Makes perfect sense!