Friday, June 30, 2017

Vince McMahon's Top Booking Blunders Pt. 1

Vincent K. McMahon (Vince Jr.), is the primary owner and and CEO of "World Wrestling Entertainment" (WWE), formerly known as the "World Wrestling Federation" (WWF) promotion. The son of Vincent J. McMahon (Vince Sr.), who himself owned and ran Capitol Wrestling, which later in the late 60s became the "World Wide Wrestling Federation" (WWWF), after growing up not really knowing his father well or being around the business, he finally got into it as an adult, and became an announcer for his father's company in the 1970s. By the early 80s, he was practically running the promotion as his father's health declined, and he eventually bought the company from his dad in 1983. He father would pass away in May of 1984.

I can't speak for Vince Sr., of course, but I would imagine, knowing his "old school" wrestling territory sensibilities, that he probably wasn't thrilled with what his son did after the sale. Vince Jr. went about, basically, "poaching" many of the big stars from other territories and promotions nationwide, until by late 1984 and into 1985, he had what looked to a growing national (instead of merely regional) audience, as a "superstar" roster. He also undercut the other promoters and promotions, not just by taking many of their stars, but by going against the "old ways" of territory wrestling in North America, and getting his product broadcast nationally in syndication, cutting into regional audiences. Due to this, most of the old promotions and territories, unable to really compete, eventually had to close up shop. Many within the business revilved Vince Jr. for his strong-arm tactics, but many wrestling fans, especially as that audience grew thanks to the WWF's growing exposure, hailed him as a genius.

The Event that started it all.

Regardless of his perception, Vincent K. McMahon undeniably had the pro wrestling world (or at least the United States and Canada), by the proverbial balls by 1985. He further tightened his grip, by cross-promoting with MTV, and with celebrities such as Cindy Lauper and Mr. T, in the buildup to what many hail as his greatest creation: the very first "Wrestlemania" event. He put so much money and effort into building up and promoting Wrestlemania 1, that it is very fair to think that the WWF might not have succeeded long term if the event had flopped. But, bolstered by a main event that saw fan favorite Hulk Hogan team with Mr. T to fight against the dastardly duo of "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Wrestlemania was a success in closed-circuit venues around the nation (this was before Pay Per View really took off). In the years since the first Wrestlemania, he has been hailed by many within the industry and fans alike, as a "genius" promoter and booker of matches and creator of "stars". And in all fairness, he does deserve some of the credit he gets.

But I am here today to illustrate that not all that Vince McMahon has touched was gold. In fact, I could probably write a book on the number of booking gaffes and silly, bad, or outright distasteful TV moments and wrestling angles McMahon has been responsible for over the decades. Hell, the much-lauded "Attitude Era", which I will likely write about at some future date, was absolutely rife with such examples. In fairness to "Mr. McMahon", not every bad moment and match and angle has been his idea, nor fully his fault. Yet, it is a well known fact that even though other "writers" or bookers come up with ideas, ultimately, it is Vince himself who has final approval of everything that you see on WWF/E television. And ultimately, many of the biggest (and sometimes worst) ideas that make it to TV or PPV, are in fact Vince's own brainchildren. So without further buildup, let's dig into some prime examples of what I personally consider some of Vince McMahon's Top Booking Blunders!

THE Top Villain of mid-80s wrestling.

1. The Main Event of Wrestlemania 2

In 1985, in in the buildup to Wrestlemania 1, and in the aftermath, there was honestly not a single personality more hated, nor with bigger "heat" from the fans, than "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. He was the biggest villain of the mid 1980s in the pro wrestling world. From attacking beloved pop star Cyndi Lauper, to antagonizing Mr. T, to bullying his "Piper's Pit" talk-show guests and infamously smacking Jimmy Snuka in the head with a coconut, this man was controversy personafied. He could talk fans into a frenzy, and though he was more of a "brawler" in the ring most of the time (an 80s Stone Cold, if you will), he was more than capable of taking people apart on the mat, and through various means both legitimate and nefarious, he always found a way to win.

And that is the point of this, not only chronologically the FIRST of Vince McMahon's missteps I'm going to list, but in many ways, his BIGGEST Booking Blunder. The fact is, Roddy Piper was nuclear hot in 1985, and that didn't really diminish because Hogan and Mr. T won that first Wrestlemania tag-team main event. Now obviously I've never worked in the pro wrestling business, but I've been a fan of it for a very long time, and I think I have both a firm enough grasp of wrestling, and a creative enough mind, that I can understand how something might "go over" or be popular. To my mind, the BIG money, and the OBVIOUS move, if Vince McMahon wanted to follow his first Wrestlemania event with something even bigger, was to "pin his star", if you will, to the villanous Mr. Piper.

 The Match that SHOULD have been.

It has long been stated by fans and critics, that Roddy Piper is one of the most notorious examples of a top star in the business who was never "World Champion". And that easily could have, and easily SHOULD have been rectified in 1985, by having Piper win "the strap" from Hogan sometime shortly after Wrestlemania 1. Have him do it by cheating, with "Cowboy" Bob Orton's help, or whatever else you can think of. But the hot money, I think, would have been to have the asshole Roddy Piper take the belt from everyone's "Hulkamania" Hero, and continue to find ways to keep the belt around his waist, and OFF of Hogan's, for the next full year. Add new wrinkles as the year goes along, find new, more "heelish" ways for Piper to cheat Hogan and scurry away. By the time Wrestlemania 2 is going to happen in 1986, fans are legit going to want to kill this guy (even though I'd like to point out that actually being wrestling fan reality decades ago, was really sad). They should be so furious at Piper, and so sick of their Hero being denied retribution, that the ONLY answer the WWF can provide, to ensure a FAIR and FINAL outcome, is to have a Cage Match for the title at WM2.

Now, in reality, they DID have a Cage Match at Wrestlemania 2. But for whatever ridiculous reasons, Vince Jr. decided that it was a better idea to have the hulking King Kong Bundy face Hogan in a cage as his main event. As for Piper? Well, he got caught up in a very awkward continuing feud with TV celebrity Mr. T, made more awkward by the fact that the two men very obviously disliked each other for real. They were put in a "Boxing Match" at WM2, already not a great idea, and it not only wasn't a good match, but ended anticlimactically. And frankly, while I'm sure fans were happy Hogan survived facing the "behemoth" Bundy in a cage, it did not have anywhere NEAR the same kind of marquee value or colossal impact  that Piper vs. Hogan could have had. Not only did Roddy Piper, one of wrestling's greatest stars ever, DESERVE to be a world champion, but him as a cheating, shit-talking, conniving champ who made Hogan chase after him for an entire year before finally giving fans some payoff in a Steel Cage? Yes, THAT would have been guaranteed money. In fact, it would have, to my mind, only been second in possible epicness of a Wrestlemania main event, compared to what would follow the next year: the immortal Wrestlemania III match between Hogan and Andre the Giant.

I don't know if we'll ever know exactly WHY Vince didn't see the obvious with this Piper/Hogan feud. In fact it makes it WORSE that they DID feud after WM1, just not for very long. Not only that, but while he was absolutely the most popular wrestling star of the mid-80s (or hell, all the way into the early 90s), Hulk Hogan being champion from 1984 all the way into 1987, wore thin on many fans. It would have had greater impact, I think, and more meaning to fans, if Piper had been champion for a long stretch, and THEN Hogan got his belt back, and went on dominating for awhile. Either way, I think this is easily the most obvious and most glaring Booking Blunder on McMahon's part. He could have had one of the greatest and most memorable Wrestlemania main event matches of all time, and instead, he chose a rather boring match-up that most fans probably forget these days.

The Immortal Macho Man, Randy Savage.

2. Cutting Short the Macho Man's Run

After the aforementioned Wrestlemania III match pitting Hulk Hogan against the hitherto undefeated Andre the Giant, which saw Hogan infamously body slam a man who had never been body slammed before (at least to popular knowledge), Hogan's days as World Champion were finally numbered. A newcomer to the WWF landscape in 1987, was "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase, a rich man who believed that for "the right price", he could get anyone to do almost anything. He even believed that he could buy the WWF Championship from Hulk Hogan, which Hogan declined. So instead, he formed an alliance with Andre, effectively "hiring" the giant to win the championship for him instead. This occurred on the first ever "Main Event" (later called Saturday Night's Main Event) program on television, which saw Andre finally beat Hogan for the title, only to turn around and sell it less than one minute later, to Ted Dibiase for a "large sum of money". The WWF vacated the belt, however, treating it as Andre relinquishing the title, and put it up for grabs in a title tournament that would be held all in one night, at Wrestlemania IV.

Meanwhile, "The Macho Man" Randy Savage, who had spent his first two years as a dastardly bad guy in the WWF, lost his Intercontinental Championship to Ricky Steamboat at WMIII in a match that many consider the greatest Wrestlemania match of all time. After that humbling loss, he gradually underwent a transformation, spurred on by his valet (and love) Elizabeth, until by 1988, he was a full on fan-favorite. He entered the tournament at Wrestlemania IV, and for the first time in WM history, Hulk Hogan would not be in the main event match, which instead pitted Savage against "The Million Dollar Man" himself. In what was actually a rather good match, Savage overcame all odds, and became the WWF Champion. All of that is what DID happen, but I'm now going to show what I think SHOULD have happened next.

Dibiase, caught in the grip of Macho Madness.

In what would become a recurring theme for Vince McMahon, he would build up new top stars for his company, only to basically abandon them and revert back to his older star. This happened to Macho Man, it happened to Ultimate Warrior, briefly to Bret Hart, and has even happened a lot in the modern era, with many stars being forgone for the likes of Randy Orton or John Cena. In Macho Man's case, by 1988, especially after winning the title, he was easily on equal popularity footing with WWF fans as Hogan. What actually happened, however, is that his "babyface" run with the title didn't last all that long, as over the next year, he became "paranoid" of Hogan spending too much time with his girl Miss Elizabeth, and this jealousy drove him to turn on Hogan, and even Elizabeth herself for years, effectively turning him back into a heel rather abruptly.

Now on paper, I get it, Hogan vs. Savage at Wrestlemania V WAS big money, and a pretty good match. But I just don't think it all should have went down quite like that. I think that Savage was a popular enough star, and WWF NEEDED a fresh face in the spotlight, that Vince should have chosen to keep him as a top babyface for much longer than he did. I think the main event for Wrestlemania V, should have seen Savage facing some top heel, perhaps even a rematch against the "Million Dollar Man", or perhaps fellow newcomer villain "Mr. Perfect" Kurt Hennig. Just the thought of Hennig vs. Savage sounds amazing to me, as these were two of the best actual wrestlers in the pro wrestling industry, of all time. And if you HAVE to have your man Hogan in the spotlight, hell, even another Tag Team main event for Wrestlemania V, with the "Mega-Powers" of Hogan and Savage vs. Dibiase and Mr. Perfect, that still would have been a great and memorable match.

You could eventually do the Hogan vs. Savage thing, and the Savage heel turn, if you MUST, at Summerslam 89 or something. But really, I think that Savage could have worked as a babyface in the late 80s and early 90s much longer than he did. Make no mistake, he was a fantastic heel, one of the best ever. But he was also a great, and colorful hero, whom the fans loved. To my mind, he would have been a far better choice as "the next guy" after Hogan, than Ultimate Warrior, who was pushed the following year in 1990. Hell, now that I've brought it up, I'm always going to want to see a Wrestlemania V main event with Savage vs. Perfect, especially considering Perfect was another amazing talent that never got to that World Champ level.

This has Main Event written all over it.

3. The Bewildering Choice for the Wrestlemania 8 Main Event

The WWF's top rival in the 1980s was the NWA, the National Wrestling Alliance, or what was left of it, a governing body of territories that was once part of. Their top star in the late 80s, was "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair, and many wrestling fans had dreamed of what a clash between the two great champions, Hogan and Flair, would be like. That match became possible when Flair left NWA/WCW in 1991, and joined the WWF. The world title would become vacated by Hogan, and put up for grabs in the 1992 Royal Rumble match (the only time that the Rumble was for the belt ITSELF, and not for a SHOT at the belt), and Flair went on to win that match, becoming he new World Champion. The initial plan, as stories have it, was for Flair and Hogan to fight at Wrestlemania 8, in what likely would have been a huge main event. However, because of egos, politics, or maybe even in part to the brewing (and now infamous) "steroid scandal" of the time, that match didn't occur. Instead, Randy Savage, who had shifted back from heel to babyface (with Miss Elizabeth once more), became the challenger for Flair's title.

Still one of the funniest images in wrestling history.

Now whale Flair vs. Savage probably didn't have QUITE the marquee value that Flair vs. Hogan would have, still, it was a no-brainer to be the main event of Wrestlemania 8, pitting two of wrestling's biggest stars against each other, in what had become a very personal feud. The match itself, was also rather good, and while I contend that Ric Flair is actually one of the most overrated "Legends" in wrestling history, his match with Savage was actually rather good. But, Vince McMahon, in his infinite wisdom, decided to put his "True Star", Hulk Hogan, in the main event, in a NON-title grudge match, against yet another villainous giant, Sid Justice (aka Sid Viscous, aka Sycho Sid). This made no real sense on any level, as the World Title match SHOULD have gone last, by tradition, and Hogan was a fading star at this point, about to take "time off" due to being caught up in the steroid scandal, and Sid himself would not remain with the WWF long after this match. The match itself was dull, with a badly conceived clusterfuck "disqualification" ending built around the "SURPRISE RETURN" of the Ultimate Warrior.

Rumors have it that Flair vs. Hogan didn't happen in the first place, because too much ego was involved over who was going to have to lose the match. But regardless of that, Flair vs. Savage was the match that should have main evented the show, no matter how you try to look at it. It was purely a bonehead decision on Vince's part to ever do otherwise. Savage certainly deserved another main event, and he wound up winning the belt anyway, so it would have been a nice moment to end the show with. And why bother bringing in a huge star like Flair and MAKING him World Champ, only to NOT have him in your main event? I don't rank this QUITE up there with the Piper/Wrestlemania 2 debacle, but it's pretty close.

Another One Bites the Dust.

4. Bret Hart's First World Title Run Being Cut Short

As I said, it became a recurring theme. After Wrestlemania 8, which had also seen Bret Hart start to rise as a singles star (after years as part of the successful "Hart Foundation" team with Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart), Savage and Flair would continue to feud, with Flair ultimately recapturing the WWF Championship. However, for variety of reasons, Flair's WWF tenure was didn't last much longer, and he wound up dropping the belt to the young Bret Hart in October 1992. Flair returned to World Championship Wrestling television, and Hart was chosen by Vince to be the new face of the company, in a new era he was heralding as "The New Generation". A huge part of the reason for this, was because of the previously mentioned "steroid scandal", as Vince made a concerted effort to have less stars on his shows that LOOKED like they were, to put it lightly, "big roided up bodybuilders". Bret Hart was a smaller, more natural athlete, and an incredibly technical wrestler, who had become popular with the fans, so he was a great choice to represent this "New Era" for the WWF.

Along with many "smaller" stars like Tatanka, Shawn Michaels, the 123 Kid, Owen Hart, etc., Vince also started pushing more "fat guy" wrestlers, the opposite extreme of "big men" who didn't look like roid freaks. The most prominent of these, was a Samoan wrestler with a sumo wrestler gimmick, called "Yokozuna". In reality part of the famous "Wild Samoan" wrestling family, Rodney Annoa'i was a mamoth of a man, standing at around 6'4" and weighing over 500 lbs. For such a huge man, he was still surprisingly agile in the ring, and a solid wrestler, and he dominated everyone in his path. This led to him challenging Hart for the WWF Championship at Wrestlemania 9, an outdoor event held in Las Vegas. The match itself was decent, and there was plenty of drama with fans wondering how the smaller Hart could triumph over this giant.

Sorry Bret, you got Hoganed.

However, as you can see above, Bret Hart did not get the spotlight he deserved as the "New Top Guy", in the end. Hulk Hogan, who had a tag-team match earlier in the night, was back in the WWF, and sporting a notably smaller look, as if perhaps he had been through a "Juice Squeezer", if you get my meaning. In the main event, Bret Hart got "salt" thrown in his eyes by the villainous manager Mr. Fuji, and due to this cheating, Yokozuna became the new WWF Champion. Almost immediately afterwards, the song "Real American" started blaring, and out comes Hogan, to "defend Hart's honor". In reality, Hart was being pushed to the side, while Hogan was being plugged BACK in by Vince McMahon as his top star. In a very brief match that followed, Hogan beat Yokozuna cleanly, 1 2 3, and yet another Hogan related clusterfuck of events to end a Wrestlemania, he was the new champ.

Not only did this move once AGAIN not make sense, but it wound up biting Vince in the ass, as Hogan's following reign and feud with Yokozuna, unsurprisingly, wasn't met with tons of fan enthusiasm. As great a star as Hogan had been, he'd also been on top for about a solid decade in the WWF at this point, and even with many of his most ardent fans, his act was growing stale. Yokozuna eventually won the title back at Summerslam '93, and Hogan was soon gone "for good", joining the rival WCW. Meanwhile, Bret Hart, who had been left with the scraps after being built up as a top star, was STILL popular with fans, and even in the face of Vince trying to shove the big buff Lex Luger down fans' throats as the NEW "All-American" hero, Vince finally relented and crowned Hart as the Champ and Top Guy over Yokozuna in the main event of Wrestlemania 10. 

If I were Vince, I would have stuck with my guns, and pushed "The Hitman" Hart to the moon. Have him retain the belt at WM9, he can lose it to Yoko later, only to finally gain it back at WM10, etc. But the point is, this was the third time in a row that Vince had done this, moving on to a new Top Guy, only to lose his nerve and put the spotlight back on Hogan. He did this with Macho Man, then Warrior, then Hart. With Hogan finally gone, you'd think maybe he would have stuck with Hart as the top guy long-term, but no...that's just not Vince. Instead, a whole different "Kliq" of problems arose.

One of THE top "Big Men" of the 90s.

5. Squashing Vader's Monster Push Because HBK Whined About It

Hart WOULD be the star of the WWF, for a time, but eventually Vince moved on again, to another "Big Man", as he is historically infamous for being enamored with. This time, it was the giant "Diesel", otherwise known as wrestler Kevin Nash, part of a new "Kliq" of wrestlers in the WWF that included Razor Ramon, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, 123 Kid, and "The Hearthbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels. In another rather bullshit turn of events, Vince had Bret Hart feuding with former WWF Champion from his father's era, Bob Backlund, who had returned with a "crazy heel" gimmick. He had Backlund beat Hart, which on paper is fine, because Backlund was a great wrestler, whom Hart could eventually win the belt back from. But instead, he had Diesel beat Backlund shortly thereafter, in a "historic" matter of seconds with one move, becoming the new WWF Champ. Diesel would go on to hold the title for over a year, and while he was popular with fans, he was not really a "big draw", as his year+ as champ was the lowest point, ratings and gate attendance-wise, in the WWF's modern history. Meaning, that keeping the belt on Diesel as long as he did, was yet another of Vince's Booking Blunders.

He eventually, once again, had to go back to Hart, who was popular not only in North America, but worldwide, as his top guy. And he built up a feud that culminated in one of the best Wrestlemania matches and main events of all time, an hour-long "Iron Man" match between HBK and Hart at WM12. Michaels had already challenged for the belt against Diesel at WM11, in a match overshadowed by a main event that saw the giant Bam Bam Bigelow lose to former NFL star Lawrence Taylor. He had also faced off against Bret Hart in the past for the title, including in a ladder match that preceded his famous one against Razor Ramon at WM10. But in all of those instances, he had been the cocky, chickenshit heel that he played so well, in part because in real life, at that time, Michaels was cocky, arrogant, and not terribly likable as a person. At WM12, he beat Hart for the title, in a forced "overtime" restart of the match, and finally became Champ. The problem, at least from my view, was that he did it as a "babyface". Why is that a problem?'ll see.

It's Vader Time, Bitch!

Hart took a hiatus from wrestling for many months after that WM12 match, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, he had been working for the WWF almost non-stop, 300+ days a year, since the mid-80s. For another, he was just burnt out from, quite frankly, dealing with backstage BS from the likes of Hogan, and now the likes of the Kliq, whom Vince reported deferred to (meaning he let them get their way), quite a bit. Turning HBK into a babyface didn't really work, because he had been SUCH a slimy heel for years by this point, and fit the role so well. Him suddenly being a "starry-eyed hero, who just wanted to live his boyhood dream of becoming World Champ", just didn't come off as genuine. Even after the WM12 match, as a glimpse of his real life persona, he famously told the ref to "Get Hart out my fucking ring", so he could have all the spotlight to himself. A move not only classless to the guy that just put you over and helped make you a star, but also clueless, because while fans DID cheer for Michaels, they also STILL loved "The Hitman".

So it was 1996, the "Year of Michaels". Bret was gone off of WWF TV for many months, and HBK had the spotlight all to himself to be "The Man" of the company. Except, similarly to Diesel, he was not really that much of a top draw. And part of the reason for it, was that he always won, and many fans just didn't buy his new "good guy" image. Kinda like how Randy Orton never comes off as a convincing "good guy" nowadays. Well, in the meantime, a new star had debuted in the WWF, the monster Vader, once a top star and World Champion of rival WCW. They brought him like a force of nature, the ultimate bully, "breaking" Yokozuna's leg, and attacking good and bad guy wrestlers left and right. He had no allies except for his manager Jim Cornett, and he seemed pretty unbeatable. This was the setup for Summerslam 96, which saw HBK defend his title against "The Man They Call Vader" in the main event. Now, it seems very obvious to me, looking back, the way Vader was booked from his debut all the way up to Summerslam, that Vince was behind this guy, and rumor has it that Vader was supposed to have a run as champion. And that totally makes sense, because Vader IS one of the best "big man" wrestlers of all time, coming hot on the heels of his dominating WCW run. Having him be WWF Champion, even for a short while, would have really cemented the guy as a credible monster in the WWF, who could have been a threat for years.

Instead, Shawn Michaels, as he had built a reputation for doing, complained to Vince that he didn't want to work with Vader, because Vader was very "stiff" in the ring (meaning that while he didn't literally beat you up in a match, it was pretty close), and he didn't want to put Vader over. So, just like that, Vince capitulated to his new "Top Guy", and Vader was beaten at Summerslam, and wasn't given a serious push for the entire duration of his tenure in the WWF (which lasted well into 1998). To me, Vince should have seen that there was bigger money, and bigger fan interest to be had, if you just let Vader run wild over the roster for awhile, by himself, an unbeatable monster. Make him your champion, and have HBK, or a returning Hart, or hell, even my guy The Undertaker, be the one to finally end his reign of terror. Making Vader champion and having the heroes try to stop him, to my mind, would have had a lot more value in it, than pushing Michaels to beat big guy after big guy after big guy, which is what basically happened. Even when he eventually lost the belt to Sycho Sid, it was due to Sid cheating, essentially. Plus, it's just shitty the way that Vince treated Vader during most of his WWF run, all stemming from the fact that HBK whined about having to work with him.


And that's all for Part 1, folks! Stay Tuned for Part 2! 


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Godzilla Chronicles: Mothra vs. Godzilla

After the initial mega-success of the original Gojira film in 1954, as this series has already shown, Toho immediately jumped into production of a sequel to capitalize on that success, even using a different director. The resulting film, which came out under a year later, Godzilla Raids Again, is a solid film, and notable because it featured the first time Godzilla (or any Toho monster) would fight another kaiju, but it also came off, ultimately, as rushed, smaller-scale, and smaller budget, than the original classic that terrified and mesmerized audiences. As such, the film didn't have nearly as great of success at the box office, causing Toho to functionally shelve Godzilla for the next near-decade.

Daikaiju Baran.

In the meantime, for the duration of the 50s, Toho continued to dabble and experiment in the science fiction and monster movie genres, most such attempts being directed by Ishiro Honda, such as 1956's Rodan, 1957's alien invasion flick The Mysterians, and as seen above, the 1958 monster film, which would later be bastardized and released in the states as Varan the Unbelievable. Unlike Rodan, and a certain other kaiju who received their own solo film during this time period, poor Varan would not be heavily featured in future Toho monster movies, only having a (very) brief cameo appearance a decade later. The decade would end with a semi-sequel to The Mysterians, featuring the same "Earth Defense Force", called" Battle in Outer Space.

The only Toho monster to almost rival Godzilla. Almost.

Come 1961, Ishiro Honda directed what would be a surprisingly popular film, featuring a giant moth trying to retrieve a pair of immortal fairies who were stolen by greedy humans. That film, of course, was Mothra, and it was enough of a hit, to merit them resurrecting the idea later on. After the smash success of the first true "Kaiju Battle" film, 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla (King Kong got people more excited than poor Anguiras), Toho decided to pull the trigger on just such a resurrection.

The Egg of the Gods.

Now in Japan, a big part of the reason for Mothra's success, was the popularity with fans of all ages, of the two immortal fairy girls.  who dwell on her island and act as intermediaries, communicating with the "god" Mothra for the humans, and vice versa. The "Shobijin" (small beauties, as dubbed by one of the humans that initially encountered them), were played by real-life twin singers Emi and Yumi Ito. Their "Mothra Song" became something of a hit, and it was with this in mind that the set-up for a showdown between Toho's two most popular monsters formulated.

The basic set-up to 1964's Mothra vs. Godzilla, is very similar to the original Mothra film. In the original Mothra film, which features the mysterious "Infant Island" being irradiated by nuclear testing of the fictional nation Rolisica, and the expedition of said island leading to the discovery (and kidnapping by nefarious persons) of the twin fairies. In this movie, a great storm causes an enormous egg to be washed away from Infant Island, to the shores of Japan. The people who find the egg, naturally decide to try and make a profit off of the unusual spectacle, claiming ownership over it and planning to go so far as to build a theme-park of sorts around it. In the original Mothra, the fairies kidnapping prompts a larval Mothra to hatch on the island and go looking for them, eventually cocooning and later hatching as the adult form of Mothra. This time, it is the fairies who come to Japan on their own, trying to plead with the humans to help them recover the egg, because if these new larva hatch, they will likely cause great destruction, just milling around searching for food.

The Ultimate Showdown?

The way in which the two are most similar, of course, is that greedy humans want to try and capture/own the fairies, and use them as a spectacle to make money. In both cases, good humans who aren't scumbags, try to help free the fairies, before shit gets too ugly with their guardian, Mothra. The twist in this second film, of course, is that there also happens to be a Godzilla lurking around somewhere. I mean he basically has to be in the film, he's in the title!

The other main sub-plot early on, besides the arrival of the giant egg, is the unusual presence of radiation on the shores of Japan, after the great storm. Trying to tie these early films together is a bit of work, because they ARE tied together, and all technically happen in the same universe, but the continuity isn't always as iron-clad as, say, the 80s/90s Heisei era films. Basically, at the end of Raids Again, Godzilla is buried under tons of ice on a glacier. Then in Kong, he reawakens and breaks out of the glacier. At the END of Kong, both monsters tumble into the sea, and while Kong resurfaces and swims back to his island, Godzilla is presumably still under the ocean, taking a nap or something.  Where it gets tricky, is how he first appears in THIS film.


It needs to be said, that the reason Godzilla first appears the way he does in this movie, very likely boils down to the fact that somebody just thought it would look really fuckin' cool. And admittedly, it does. It just doesn't make all the much sense, for many reasons. So, reaching a bit, I'll just say that since the last movie probably left the Big G napping somewhere on the ocean floor or something, this big huge mega-storm must've, in the process of washing up tons of sand and other ocean shit, also magically deposited Godzilla on the Japanese shore. Underneath a ton of sand/ that nobody notices an enormous monster sleeping, like, right there. As I said, admittedly, the entrance IS pretty cool looking, as the main reporter characters are investigating shit, all the sudden the ground begins to churn and shake, and the next thing you know, BAM, Godzilla just up and rises out of the very EARTH itself, like "Surprise, bitches!"

The first thing of note about this, other than the sheer silliness/awesomeness of Godzilla nonsensically rising out of the ground, is that this movie established the start of an undated, cooler look for the G-man. While in his first three films, he had a much more dragon/reptilian look, with eyes on the sides of his head, a longer lizard-like snout, etc., this new look saw him begin to appear a bit more humanoid, with eyes set in the front of his face, and a somewhat shorter snout that looked a bit more canine rather than reptilian in appearance. The various suits, in Godzilla fandom, have been given different names to differentiate them, and this suit specifically, is known as the "MosuGoji" suit, because it first appeared in a Mothra (Mosura) film. This is not my VERY favorite Godzilla look (that would be the very next suit, used in 1965/66), but it set a precedent for the overall look (outside of a certain "Son of" aberration), for my preferred OVERALL Godzilla look, which he had throughout the 1960s.

Not cool, bro.

So, with Godzilla showing up, shit breaks down, and he sets about trampling some more of Japan. I first saw this film myself, as part of TNT's MonsterVision in the early 90s. And one thing I will say, while it is not one of my TOP favorite Godzilla films, is that Godzilla in the early going, is absolutely established, perhaps moreso than in any other Showa film outside of the original, as being a totally unstoppable badass. That is, at least, against human weapons. Artillery shells, missiles, you name it, he shrugs everything Japan tries to throw at him, completely off, and I think they tried to establish that tone with the "ground rise" entrance. Even as a kid, as silly as the idea is when you think about it too much, I probably was shocked that he just came up out of the ground, like "You can't fuckin' defeat ME!"

As far as the rest of the story goes, with Godzilla unstoppable and on a rampage, the main human protagonists decide to travel to Infant Island to ask the fairies who had visited them earlier, for the help of Mothra. Initially skeptical, saying Godzilla was Japan's problem, they were finally able to convince the fairies to convince Mothra to battle Godzilla. Though they also left the warning: Mothra is growing weak from natural causes, and doesn't have long left to live. Mothra swoops in to save the day nonetheless, and discovers Godzilla about to smash her egg, making it obvious she should have come in the first place. Mothra does her damnedest to beat up Godzilla, but there is a huge difference between a godlike moth guardian, and a walking engine of destruction. In the end, Godzilla is too much for Mothra to handle, and in a desperate last ditch effort, she unleashes her "poison dust" from her wings, an attack that drains what little is left of her life force.

Like a Phoenix?

In the end, Mothra distracted Godzilla long enough to give her children a fighting chance. Yes, children. In a twist, instead of merely one larva hatching from the egg, this time there are twins. Most likely because even the producers realized that if a fully grown Mothra can't beat Godzilla, how is ONE larva going to do so? Regardless of logistics, the twin larvae hatch, and follow a suddenly disinterested Godzilla to Iwa Island, where he randomly decided to mosey off to, threatening, of all things, some innocent school children (that bastard).

How humiliating.

Now to me, as a kid first seeing this film, AND as an adult, I simply do not like the film's conclusion much. Granted, it would be sad if Godzilla toasted the larvae and proceeded to wreck shit unchecked. But as even as a kid, the final battle came off as equal parts ridiculous, and cheap bullshit. Not that I HATE this film at all, mind you. It's fine, enjoyable, and not lacking in positives aspects. But in short, the JUST hatched Mothra larvae, hunt down and confront Godzilla, attacking him with the same "silk" thread substance they would normally use to make their cocoons for metamorphosis. Somehow, the thread is strong enough, that it basically straight-jackets Godzilla, and he falls, ingloriously, back into the ocean, beaten like a total chump by a couple of baby bugs.

If you thought kid-me was incensed at his "losing" to a goofy looking King Kong, you can bet your ass I was pissed that he "lost" to baby Mothras, in THAT kind of fashion. Granted, in neither fight does he truly LOSE, as in getting totally beaten down. Both fights end with him just plunging back into the ocean, not to be seen again (til the next movie), so if anything, they are stalemates, and in this case, I think it's obvious the bugs get damn lucky, catching him by surprise with something no one would have really expected. Just the same, child me felt cheated somehow, that my monstrous "hero" was getting shortchanged like that.

Taking out his rage on the screenwriters.

All in all, as a final verdict, I would say that Mothra vs. Godzilla is a MOSTLY good film, that starts strong, but ends weakly. It is not AS entertaining, to me, as King Kong vs. Godzilla was, although that film is largely entertaining on how silly it can be. This is definitely an attempt to reassert Godzilla as a nearly unstoppable force, and it succeeds at that, yet that last act just feels anti-climactic. Which is odd, because this is, for most fans, widely considered to be one of the top best Godzilla films. I would say, that for a film called "Mothra vs. Godzilla", they should have done something to make Mothra herself more worthy to fight Godzilla. Granted, she's a giant moth, but much later down the line, they would establish that she has some kind of "antenna beam" or whatever, other offensive powers, and they could have easily done something along those lines to make her more formidable.

Even if the end goal was to have an emotional moment where Mothra gives her live protecting her egg, they could still do that, but the climactic act of the film, should have been the battle between MOTHRA and Godzilla, perhaps ending with the larva managing to escape back to Infant Island, with maybe Mothra's "last ditch" poison dust managing to knock Godzilla out long-term, sending him plunging back into the ocean, instead. That, I think, would have been a more powerful and more satisfying ending. With her last act, Mothra manages to "beat" Godzilla, at least long enough to save her babies. I still would have been pissed as a kid that Godzilla loses, but it would be a better ending. Newborn larvae wrapping him in a cocoon WORKS...but it's so damn silly. While I know we're talking about made up rubber monsters here, listen, goddammit, all I'm saying is REALISTICALLY, Godzilla should have charred baby moths in a matter of moments. Just saying.

It's Clobberin' Time!

On a last, odd, minor note, as the poster above illustrates, the American release of this film, while not greatly altered like some other early Toho films were, tried to rebrand and promote the film in a very weird way. They basically tried to make what was in the egg a huge mystery, so that moviegoers coming to see the film would wonder "Who is Godzilla going to fight?" That poster art is pretty bad ass, but the title is otherwise silly and pointless. It boardered on false advertising, as it seems as if some massive, terrifying beast is going to fight Godzilla, and instead, it turns out to just be Mothra (if they had even seen that first Mothra film and knew who that was).

Overall, it's a pretty good movie, though with a weaker final act, as stated. I would still recommend it, though I would not put it in my own personal Top 5 Godzilla movies. Top 10? Sure. But I would recommend several other Showa era classics over this, even though it's certainly still worth seeing.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Forgotten Gems: Arkista's Ring

Such a great cover.

As recounted in the past, I was a poor kid, and thus late bloomer when it came to getting new video games. I didn't get my NES console until late 1990, as an early bday present. My first ever game, was of course the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cart, which I played the ever-living shit out of. Super Mario Bros. 1 was absolutely the game that really made me become obsessed with gaming. But when I got (among other games) Super Mario Bros. 3 later that Christmas, it immediately supplanted SMB1 as my "gaming crush", and has remained my favorite game of all time ever since (even if it IS hard as hell).

But in BETWEEN what I'm going to say was probably September 1990, and Christmas 1990, my grandmother actually did pick up one or two other games in between, I would imagine because she didn't just want to be watching me play Mario 1 all the time. I'm not really sure which came first, but one of those games, was a pretty obscure, Nintendo-published light gun game called To The Earth, a space themed shooter that was, honestly, hard as hell. I actually did beat that game eventually, though I likely did so by "cheating" and keeping the gun right up close to the screen. But the OTHER early NES game I got before Xmas, was this little gem pictured above, titled Arkista's Ring.

Meet the game's Hero.

I'm sure most people unfamiliar with the game, just by looking at the box art, would probably automatically assume that the hero is the titular "Arkista", but much like the silly confusion with the hero of another game being named "Zelda", that is not the case. As seen above, the heroine is an Elf named Christine, with alluring green hair and eyes (kind of like the X-Men's Polaris). Her primary weapon is a bow and arrow, making her something of an expert archer. As the game's limited (booklet) story goes, an evil bastard by the name of "The Shogun", has stolen the priceless mystic artifact known as Arkista's Ring, from the LAND of Arkista, a land of Elves. This basically throws the land into chaos and despair, and the council or whoever, doesn't really know what the hell to do. Cue Christine, apparently the only brave Elf in the kingdom, who barges in and says "Listen up Fuckers! I'll go and recover the Ring!". Or at least I imagine that's what she says. And thus your adventure begins.

Very arcade-y indeed.

This game was released in 1990 by a little company called American Sammy, a Japanese company who largely dealt in pachinko machines and other arcade properties, but which also published the occasional game, especially for NES. They are most well known these days for having merged with Sega, to become "Sega-Sammy", but I digress. The unique thing to note about Arkista's Ring, is that unlike some of Sammy's other NES sleeper hits, such as Silk Worm, Vice: Project Doom, Twin Cobra, Ninja Crusaders, and Amagon, it would appear that Arkista is the only game that Sammy not only published, but also actually developed themselves.

As for the game, the basic set-up, as you can see, is that of a top-down type of affair. In fact, the most natural assumption I'm sure most people would make on seeing the game, would be that it's a "Zelda Clone". But in actuality, the similarity between the two, outside of that "top-down" style, is fairly null. Unlike Zelda, which is a rather open adventure game, focused on exploration and taking on dungeons, Arkista is in all actuality a bit more like the arcade classic Gauntlet, in that the stages are fairly limited, and you go from single stage to single stage, gathering "treasures" and clearing each area of enemies before reaching a "goal" and moving on.

Welcome to the Underground.

As you can see above, over the course of the game, you eventually gain "armor pieces" which essentially act as extra hearts/hits. You also gain more "item boxes", so your available inventory expands. The different amount of items you can get is fairly limited, mainly to potions, fire rods that allow you to shoot huge fireballs that can go through walls, and various kinds of "enemy specific" items, for undead, ninjas, etc. The game is basically split up into two types of levels, "overworld" levels that include towns, forests, etc., and "underground" levels, that are typically crypts or catacombs of some sort or another.

Most of the game's 30+ levels, are "beat all the enemies, get the key, go to the goal", though some have their own twists. There are, however, two or three "boss" type stages, one of which sees you fighting a fireball-throwing vampire in an underground crypt, another is basically a chimera of some sort, and another sees you fighting giants. Before you reach the end, there is also a rather murderous (as in almost unfair) "Ninja Hell" type of stage, where every type of ninja in the game comes at you in waves, and you basically have little prayer of beating that stage WITHOUT a ton of those red "Ninja Bombs" you see above, which only temporarily put them to sleep (for just a few seconds), allowing you to hill a few at a time while they're out. Because otherwise, there are ninjas that jump over walls, ninjas that get right up to you and hit you over and over, with there being little you can do about it, etc.

The Shogun.

By comparison, the "BIG Bad", the Shogun, while hard, if you know his pattern, is considerably easier to take on than his ninja horde. The Shogun himself is rather fast, basically runs all over a huge open room, and blasts projectiles all over, kind of like Bowser going to town with those hammers in late SMB1 fights. The trick, for anyone wondering, to beating him, is to kind of stay perpendicular to him, or even diagonal, and wait to hit him as your paths cross from a distance. It really is kind of a must to get to him with at least one fire rod left, because it would be SUPER rough with your regular arrows. After you beat him, the last "level" is you walking out of his dungeon, getting to a bridge, and the screen shaking as you watch it crumble to the ground, in classic game villain style.

At THAT point, you give yourself a high-five, because surely you've just beaten the game, right? Well, no, no you haven't. As was often the case in older 80s style arcade type games, such as Super Mario Bros. and Ghosts n Goblins, the game just kind of "restarts" after you beat Shogun, back at Stage 1. In fact, if you go back and look at the box art, it claims the game has 125 stages, which certainly seems like a lot for an NES game, right? Well, the TRICK is, that the game asks you to beat all of the levels not TWICE, not THREE times, but FOUR times over, to get the "true ending". Kind of fucked, admittedly, although unlike other games that pull that shit on you, Arkista treats it somewhat like a "New Game +", in the sense that you get to keep whatever extra hits, lives, and items you've aquired, including the titular "Arkista's Ring", which I think gives you points every step you take. You get other useful times, such as the last piece of armor that slowly refills your hits if you walk around, and a mirror that helps deflect at least some projectile damage you take. So Sammy weren't TOTALLY sadistic with their "beat the game four times" setup. Though naturally, the game DOES get harder each time through.

.....You're Welcome?

Now here's the rub. I want you to know that I do love this game, it's a fun, simple little arcade style classic, and in fact I listed it, partly to my own surprise, in my personal Top 15 NES Games.It really is an enjoyable, even slightly addicting experience. While I usually avoid major spoilers, wanting people to check things out for themselves, and see endings for themselves, I feel this this is an integral enough childhood memory, and an important enough bit of gaming advice, that just this once I'd make an exception. See, I BEAT the game four times through, just once, as a kid. It was not easy, even with those cool new items, especially that third time through. But I did it. And I don't mind telling you, as a 9 or so year old little kid, I was rather goddamn proud of my epic feat.

BUT, I also don't mind telling you that what I got for my troubles, even at that young age, left me feeling rather deflated, not to mention cheated. What you see above, is the "Ending" screen. Yes, screen. I expected, at the very least, a SINGLE picture and some text. SOMETHING to show Christine triumphant, to act as a reward for you, the player, showing the diligence to sit there and beat the game four times in a row in ONE sitting. But no, they literally just give you that single screen of text, and then the Character Info screen. If you press start, I'm fairly certain it then just takes you back to the title screen. And to me, even as a little kid who had far higher tolerance for that kind of shit than I do now, I was really let down. STILL a damn fun game. But man, talk about one of the shittiest video game "endings" of all time. Just so you're warned, if you EVER feel like challenging yourself to play Arkista's Ring four times through, it IS a fun challenge, and hard, but this is all you'll get. I'm just telling you, to save you the same disappointment I had. Now you know.

Something more akin to this, even, would have been better.

So there you have it. As far as I can clearly recall, the first NES games that I got back in 1990, were:

1. Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt
2. To The Earth
3. Arkista's Ring
4. Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout / Dr. Mario / Super Mario Bros. 3 (All on Christmas)

From there, from 1991 on, it's a bit of a blur, as there were multiple instances of stores closing down and selling off their stock, where I got various games, as well as at least one more birthday where I got several also. But this one still stands out as one of my favorites, shitty ending aside, because I did genuinely have a lot of fun playing it, and trying to get better at it.

As an odd little aside before I go, speaking of The Legend of Zelda, early in my game renting career, as we would frequent the local All the Best Video store, during one of my early excursions, I picked up that shiny golden box for Zelda, and was checking it out. At the time, I think my grandmother was, in her own fashion, tired of watching me play Mario and Arkista a lot, and thus when she looked at the back of the box, she commented that it "Looked a lot like Arkista", and that I should rent a game that's different from that OR Mario. She said that, even though after she bought "me" Dr. Mario for Xmas, I had to literally sit and watch her play THAT for hours on end. And for some reason that I cannot rightly say, being disuaded from that ONE time that I was, for sure, going to rent the first Zelda game, I never bothered to rent it at all. At some point over the next few years, I DID get to try it and Zelda II, I'm not sure in which order, either at Harold's house, or he and his brother brought it over to mine, or who knows what. But I never rented one of the greatest games ever made, because my grandmother had basically slapped it down the first time, as being too Arkista-like to her eye. So my first actual Zelda game that I really played, and certainly the first I owned, was the one that is still to this day my favorite, "Link's Awakening" on Game Boy.

If you've never played Arkista's Ring, give it a whirl, because it really is a wonderful little "Forgotten Gem". Just be aware that if you want the "True Ending", what you're going to get out of it is an experience, and one crappy screen as a reward. Otherwise, have it at it!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Wrestlemania Memories

As discussed in one of my first ever articles, back in 2012, I got into pro wrestling because of my friend Brandon, around 1996. Growing up, I had not been allowed to watch it, and like many things I wasn't allowed to take part in, I told myself that it was probably stupid, that I wasn't missing out. But the truth is, if I HAD been allowed to watch as a kid, I very likely would have been a fan. But I don't think I REALLY would have been a fan, until around late 1991, when a certain black-clad wrestler came along who was quite different from everyone else of the era. That, of course, being The Undertaker. Yes, he was a monster bad guy when he first showed up, and so that would have been going against him, but I'm not sure even kid me could have booed this supernatural "Dead Man", this reaper of wayward souls who talked and acted and fought like no one else.

I would have totally dug this guy, and popped big when he turned "good".

Of course, what got me hooked in 1996, WAS the Undertaker, more in the height of his supernatural theatrics and superpowerful character, and he very quickly became my favorite wrestler of all time. In fact, I became a big fan of wrestling in general, and even just as far as the world of the WWF/E went, I garnered many favorite wrestlers over time. But while I had seen Monday Night Raw here and there with Brandon, what really sold me on The Undertaker, and wrestling, I think, was when I watched my first Wrestlemania with him, which was Wrestlemania 12. Now, I don't remember whether he and his dad ordered the PPV live, or if they waited and rented the show on VHS when it released later, but I suppose it hardly matters. What matters is that there were two specific matches that stood out to me, that sold me on who would become my first two favorite wrestlers, and who would honestly wind up remaining my top two favorites of all time: Undertaker and Bret Hart.

As it turns out, I'll be getting into those matches in this very article, but first, I want to share a couple of, as the article is titled "Wrestlemania Memories", that stand out to me. Not necessarily entire matches, but rather, moments or images that stick with you over time. I think the one that sticks the most, is probably the coolest wrestler entrance I've ever seen, and that was The Undertaker's during Wrestlemania 14 in 1998. Granted, Taker has had MANY of the coolest entrances in wrestling history. But to me, this one still takes the cake, as he came out to his awesome music, a line of robed "Druids" holding fiery torches on either side, "The Lord of Darkness" marching slowly to the ring in a bad-ass medieval warrior-looking battle robe. Just really, really powerful stuff, unlike anything I think anyone had really done in pro wrestling at the time. It was just a moment that made you go "THIS dude is for real!"

THIS dude, is for real.

Another moment that stands out, is from years later, at Wrestlemania 18 in 2002. I wouldn't call it one of the greatest MATCHES of all time, because it really wasn't. But one of the most unique MOMENTS of all time, was when "Icon Faced Icon", the star of the Golden Era fought the star of the Attitude Era, when "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan faced The Rock. Now, it bears saying that I am not a huge Hogan fan, though I certainly don't hate him (as a wrestler, it's not worth going into Hogan the person). And I was also never a HUGE fan of The Rock. He could certainly be entertaining at times, and he put on good matches, but much like Stone Cold Steve Austin (*GASP*, I know), his antics wore thin on me pretty easily. BUT, having said that, this was an iconic moment. For one thing, it was the first time that I had actually gotten to see Hogan in a WWF ring, live. I had previously seen him as the "Hollywood" character in WCW on TV in the late 90s, but I didn't watch much, and it wasn't much to be impressed by.

The other element of the equation, was that the massive Toronto crowd, even though he was a dastardly NWO (New World Order, old WCW heel group) bad guy, who had tried to hit the Rock's ambulance with a truck (long story), that crowd absolutely REFUSED to boo the man. They were happy to see him back in a WWF ring, at Wrestlemania, that even though Rocky was the good guy, they wouldn't stop cheering. And thus, being wrestlers of an era before every single move was scripted, where they knew how to play to the crowd, Rock and Hogan did what they should have done: they flipped the script and played into what the audience wanted. Hogan started doing his old "Real American" schtick, and Rock for his part started acting mighty heel-like, very unimpressed with the crowd's reverence of his underhanded foe. In the end, Rock still got the win that WWF had obviously planned him to get from the start, that "passing of the Torch" moment, but Hogan really won the night. Especially after his NWO pals ran down and turned on him for getting cheered and showing good sportsmanship, and Rock had to save him. It was a "face turn" all in one match!

Far from the best match of the night, but it stole the show.

 Another major moment that has stood out to me, as a moment when someone really "made it", and was acknowledged as such, as in the main event of Wrestlemania 10, in 1994. Bret "The Hitman" Hart, who had actually BEEN the WWF World Heavyweight Champion the year prior (beating Ric Flair for the belt no less), and had main-evented Wrestlemania 9 against the monster sumo Yokozuna. He lost that match, and the belt, because of cheating tactics, and then was overshadowed when Hulk Hogan came out to challenge Yoko for the belt right after, winning it in short order, no less. So while he had been champ, and main-evented "the Big One", he was still not THE man, being shown up by what at that point was a part-timer (reminiscent of how the WWE does business today, actually). BUT, one year later, Bret had a chance at redemption. Both he and the "Patriotic" Lex Luger had won the Royal Rumble, so they both got a shot at the championship, Lex midway through the card, and Bret facing whoever won that match in the main event.

Lex sadly (for him) failed to best the giant, but that meant that Bret got his proper chance at revenge, and went on to face the man in a rare Wrestlemania Rematch, in the main event no less. It's bears saying that while Yokozuna was, even at this time, over 500 pounds, before he got even heavier and let himself go in 1995 and beyond, Yoko for such a huge man, could really wrestle. He was impressive in the ring, and athletic, for such a heavy guy, a one of a kind wrestler really, and when he had an excellent opponent like Hart, he could put on quite a match. I wouldn't say it stands out as a "barn burner", but he and Bret had a very solid match, which ended with Bret winning his belt back, and the other big "Baby Faces" (good guys) of the locker-room came pouring out to congratulate him, with Lex and Razor Ramon (two guys who wanted his belt) even hoisting him up on their shoulders. It was just an iconic moment, officially recognizing that Bret Hart was now THE guy, not Hogan or anyone else, going forward. And it's worth pointing out, that it WAS Bret Hart who basically carried the company on his back as THE guy, from about 1993-1997, a rough period for the WWF post-steroid-scandal. And that's great, because Hart is legitimately one of the greatest actual in-ring wrestlers of all time. For my money, that makes him the best top guy to carry the WWF/E, in history.

The Excellence of Execution.

One last major "moment" I'll share before moving on to actual matches, is another Taker related one, but to me it was significant. As described in that old Undertaker article, around late 1999, Taker took a long hiatus to recover from injuries, and when they finally teased his return, it seemed as if he would perhaps still be some version of the "Dead Man" character, little reason to believe otherwise, because they played vignettes of creepy little girls singing a creepy nursery rhyme about a "great evil coming back from the dead", etc. But when he finally DID return, it was atop a motorcycle, dressed like a biker (which he is in real life), to Kid Rock music of all things. He was now "The American Bad Ass", and while he still bore the Undertaker name, had long hair, and still used some of his old signature moves, he was certainly a different, more mortal, more "normal" character. I still remained his fan, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed in the change. Then, to make matters worse, in early 2002, he "turned heel" once more, and cut his hair clean off, having short hair for the first time ever as the Undertaker. Now he was just a mean biker with a crew cut, and that sucked. As a fan, it felt like your puppy had just gotten run over, at least a bit.

Now I STILL remained his fan, through all that shit. But then in late 2003, he got "buried alive" by his "brother" Kane, and was once again gone off of TV for several months. Leading up to Wrestlemania 20 in 2004, the big anniversary show, they started running all of these cool, creepy "The Ring" style videos, with static, and the lights going out, etc., always when Kane was out wrestling. And then, a casket appeared in the ring during one of these times, and Kane opened it, an a golden urn was inside! That was significant, but I still dared not to hope, as they had teased and let me down twice in the past with this kind of stuff. But then, come WM20, he had a match schedules with Kane, and no one quite knew what he was going to look like, or what was going to happen. And then lo and behold, his old manager (who had once turned on him, the bastard), Paul Bearer appeared, and you knew what was up. Then the almighty "GONG!" rang out, the thunder and lightning effects rolled over the entire arena, and then some "Druids" came out with torches, and I was getting seriously excited. Then it happened, Taker himself appeared, and while he still didn't have LONG hair, and he was still more or less dressed the way he had been as the "American Bad Ass", he was also definitely the "Dead Man" again, and it was glorious. Again, hardly a match of the night candidate between him and Kane, but that wasn't the point of it. The point was that he was BACK as some version of his REAL, much cooler character, and as a fan, I could hardly have been happier with that.

Not nearly AS cool, but still amazing at the time.

So anyway, without more fanfare and adieu, let's get down to the meat and potatoes of this article, which is matches. Now, this is not going to be some attempt at an arbitrary "Greatest Matches of All Time as Decided by General Consensus" type of deal. This is going to be MY personal list, of matches I remember liking or being impressed by. I actually went back over the cards of EVERY Wrestlemania that has happened, to freshen my memory, so I was able to look back and go "Oh yeah, THAT match!", etc. It is ALSO worth pointing out, in the interest of fairness to modern WWE fans, that I myself stopped really being a fan, and stopped really watching for good, around 2012 or so. I would still catch a snip here or there, but the last truly exciting thing that happened, to me, was CM Punk's antics and title reign in 2011. Over the years, I have just fallen out of love with the show. Not WRESTLING, just the WWE. There are still some very good wrestlers on their roster, but most of the characters I loved are gone (or should be), and the show in general just got very "blah" for my taste. When I realized that watching Raw was not only kinda boring, but also kind of depressing for me, that's when I realized I should just stop. And that was several years ago.

BUT, personal digressions aside, I, for better and for worse, watched EVERY WM show except WM32, which happened last year. And yes, that includes me having sat through the abomination of Brock Lesnar being the one to BEAT the Undertaker's undefeated streak at WM, which not only never should have happened, but it also drove the final nail in my WWE coffin, honestly. That hurt to see, and totally stole whatever enjoyment I might have gotten from Bryan Danielson ("Daniel Bryan") winning the World Title in the main event afterwards. BUT, having seen every WM save one, which I'm not sure every wrestling fan can say, I now present to you the matches that stand out to ME, as some of the greatest Wrestlemania Matches of all time:

Still Epic

Match: Undertaker vs. Kane
Event: Wrestlemania 14
Year: 1998

I'll start with one of my top favorites, as this is going in no strict numbered order, and that's the very FIRST Taker vs. Kane match in 1998. For months, Paul Bearer (that bastard) had been tormenting our anti-hero Undertaker, with allegations of "him knowing what you did", and "He's still alive", "He's coming back" type shit. Taker was even the World Champ in the summer of 1997, which was huge to me (and was the first time he'd BEEN champ since 1991, for a week). He had won the title in his FIRST main event of Wrestlemania, against Sycho Sid, and as a fan I was on cloud nine cause MY dude was the top guy. But then fuckin' Paul Bearer kept his shit up, and eventually, that asshole Shawn Michaels cost Taker his title in a match against the honorable heel Bret Hart. So getting revenge against Michaels, Taker fought him in the first ever Hell in a Cell match, and wouldn't ya know it, right when he's gonna win, this big red Monster shows up, called Kane. And he's Undertaker's young brother, who was burned in a fire Taker allegedly started when they were boys.

Convoluted storyline, but gripping to a 15/16 year old. So long story short, Kane kept attacking people, and interfering in Taker's matches, demanding that he fight him. But Undertaker, still a good guy, refused to fight his own brother. That is, until he had a Casket Match against that asshole Shawn Michaels, to get HIS championship back, and Kane came out to interfere once more, putting him in the casket, and then SETTING IT ON FIRE! That was the final straw. Taker used his dark magic (yes, dark magic) to escape, and shit was ON after that. If Kane wanted a fight, he was gonna get one. And man, what a fight it was. Now, Kane is a decent "Big Man" wrestler, but he absolutely doesn't hold a candle to the sheer athleticism or wrestling ability of Undertaker. That being said, these two put on a hell of a match, probably THE best match between two "giant (well over 6'5") wrestlers I've ever seen. At one point, Taker even grabbed Kane, and gave him what was basically a spinning SIDE KICK to the face. Not perfect Bruce Lee form, of course, but it showed just how awesome Taker was in his prime. It took him an unprecedented THREE Tombstone Piledrivers (it usually only ever took one to put anyone away), but Taker finally beat Kane, though the war was far from over.

Hey Yo!
Match: Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels
Event: Wrestlemania 10
Year: 1994

Now this was, naturally, one of many I didn't see until long after it had happened, as I made it a point to eventually go back and watch all the older WM events I'd missed (I actually own the first 21 of them on DVD now), and as far as early Wrestlemanias went, WMX, the FIRST big anniversary show, live from Madison Square Garden, was pretty damn good. Several really good matches on the card, even though, sadly the ONE thing the show was missing, was an UNDERTAKER match, who was out with his first major injury at the time. But of all the matches on the card, the one that really stole the show, was what was billed as "The First Ever Ladder Match" in the WWF.

They actually have tried to build it up as the first ever Ladder Match EVER, but that isn't even true of the WWF. I do believe Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels had a ladder match at some point over the Intercontinental title, thought it was a much shittier ladder, and the match not nearly as played up. Hell, for that matter, Bret Hart even had a ladder match back in his father's "Stampede Wrestling" promotion in Canada, before he came to the WWF in the mid-80s. BUT, this match COULD lay claim to being the BEST ladder match to occur until about the year 2000, for certain. The setup was that Razor Ramon was the legit IC champ, while HBK also claimed to still be the IC champ after some nonsense, so to solve matters, they were gonna hang BOTH belts above the ring, and you were gonna have to crawl up a LADDER without the other guy kicking your ass first, to GET 'em. I'm happy to say that Razor won the match, which is probably his biggest moment as a WWF star. It also happened to be a hell of a match, and not just because of the ladder.

The Arrival of Macho Madness.

Match: "Macho Man" Randy Savage vs. "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase
Event: Wrestlemania 4
Year: 1988

Now, Randy Savage had come on the scene in the WWF back in the mid-80s, but he spent his first while in the company as a dastardly heel, and a mid-carder under the shadow of the likes of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Roddy Piper, etc. But his match against a certain Dragon the year before, really turned heads, and stole the show, he subsequently went through a "face turn" and became a new hero for the people. This turn to a major opportunity for him, to be the company's next "Top Guy", next to Hogan, who had been champion for literally several years at that point.

The backstory for Wrestlemania 4, was that (thanks to some cheating of course), Hulk Hogan had FINALLY lost the belt to his WMIII opponent, Andre the Giant (yes Andre became champ), but as soon as the Giant won the belt, he turned around and "sold" it to the big new heel in the company, "The Million Dollar Man", the guy who thought money could buy anything. Well, the WWF disagreed, and so the title was vacated. A new champion was to be decided in the first ever One Night Tournament, meaning that MOST of the WM4 card was going to be the tournament itself, and the main event would see a new champion crowned. So, what makes this unique, even though most of the other matches were whatever, is that this marked the first and ONLY time for almost the first TEN Wrestlemania events, when the main event did NOT feature Hulk Hogan in some way. Instead, it came down to Ted Dibiase, and everyone's new hero, Randy Savage. And while there was some attempts at chicanery by Dibiase, it was otherwise a good match between two great wrestlers, and it ended with "Macho" being recognized as the new face of the company. Sadly, it would not last forever, as while he DID hold the tile for an entire year, he also became the victim of a very dumb storyline involving his girl, Miss Elizabeth, and wound up fighting his former "friend" Hogan for the belt at Wrestlemania V, and he would persist as a bad guy for some time after. A major mistake on WWF's part, I think, but I digress.

Leg Drop From Hell.

Match: Undertaker vs. Randy Orton
Event: Wrestlemania 21
Year: 2005

Jumping around a bit, this is a more recent Taker match that really stands out, because it was full of a lot of good moments, move-reversals, chain-wrestling, etc. The (at the time) young punk wrestler Randy Orton, who was legit only 24 or 25 at the time, was right in the midst of his "Legend Killer" run, where he was trying to make a name for himself at the expense of every veteran wrestler he could find. And at the top of that list? Who else, but the Undertaker. Now, I would never call myself an Orton FAN, even though I will recognize that he is a very good wrestler (certainly better than Cena or Batista, his mid-2000s contemporaries). But this WAS a good storyline, and a good set-up.

Taker was, at this point, 12-0, undefeated, and it really would have been a massive boon to the rising star Orton to beat him. In fact, I was legit afraid that he WAS going to be the one to end the streak, because it seemed like the perfect booking in many ways. I was, however, thankfully wrong, as Taker showed that punk a thing or three, and in the end, the Dead Man put him away just like everyone else. In hindsight, I would have absolutely HATED Orton beating Taker, being the one to end the streak...but it would have made a lot more sense, and been INFINITELY preferable to a guy who had  NO business beating him like Lesnar so many years later. Regardless, it was a great match, wrestling-wise, as they pulled out some stuff I hadn't seen before, or perhaps sense.

Triple Threat.

Match: Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle
Event: Wrestlemania 16
Year: 2000

Now, THIS particular Wrestlemania stands out, because it was the first WM event that I actually got to order and watch LIVE, as it was happening (for sure). I was hanging out with a group of friends, and we ordered this as a big shin-dig. This event actually let me down in two very key ways, the first of which, naturally, being that Taker had been gone for several months, and I was legitimately hopeful that he would at least make a cameo APPEARANCE during the show. He did not. I was majorly bummed about that. The second having to do with the main event, which was a rare Four Way match, seeing Big Show vs. Mankind vs. The Rock vs. HHH. The only reason I was really invested in the main event, is because I was a Mankind fan, and he had always dreamed of being in the main event of a Wrestlemania, and I as a fan really bought into that emotionally, and wanted to him to GET there. He almost didn't, at least we were meant to think so, as he lost a "title vs. career" type match against HHH before this. I was actually depressed, thinking he was retired for good and that his body was breaking down and he just couldn't go anymore, and he'd never reach his dream. Well, as storylines would have it, he DID get a chance anyway, and WAS in the Main Event of a Wrestlemania! Except that really, it was match #106 between The Rock and HHH, and Show and Mankind happened to be there. Meaning that they both got eliminated in fairly quick fashion, and most of the match was between those two guys. So my hopes of Mick having one last big moment, winning the belt at "The Biggest Show of Them All", were also dashed.

The rest of the card was alright, though unusually (certainly be today's standards), there were a TON of tag team matches, or other multi-man matches. There was actually barely any one-on-one matches on the card at all. And this match I've chose was no exception. I could have chosen the Angle vs. Benoit match from the following year at WM17, but I chose this for two reasons. One, it's just about as good, wrestling-wise. And two, it was unique because coming into the match, Kurt Angle, the Olympic Gold Medalist, was BOTH the Intercontinental and European Champion. Chris Jericho had come to the WWF as "The Y2J Problem" in late 1999, and Benoit and his other WCW compatriots (Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn) had come into the WWF in early 2000 as the "Radicalz". Regardless of how Benoit's life tragically ended, he is without a doubt one of THE best wrestlers in the history of the business, and I would be remiss to NOT include one of his WM matches, as they were almost all good, largely because of him. Kurt Angle is ALSO one of the best wrestlers of all time, and Jericho, for his part, certainly earlier in his career, also could lay some claim to being in that upper echelon. At the end of a great match, ALMOST the best match on the card, poor Angle had lost BOTH belts, one to each guy, and at the time I was totally happy with that, as Angle played his "annoying heel" character to the hilt.

THE iconic 80s tag team feud.

Match: The British Bulldogs & Tito Santana vs. The Hart Foundation & Danny Davis
Event: Wrestlemania 3
Year: 1987

Honestly, this match SHOULD have just been a straight up tag-team match between THE two best tag teams in the WWF in the 1980s: The Hart Foundation of Bret Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, and The British Bulldogs Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid. They feuded a fair bit in the WWF, all coming in from Canadian Stampede Wrestling, Hart's family promotion. Both teams were red hot, and all four wrestlers were very good. The Hart Foundation had a mixture of Hart's technical prowess and Neidhart's raw power, while the Bulldogs had Dyamite Kid's smashmouth flying style, and Davey Boy's combination of strength and athleticism. A classic 2-on-2 bout between these guys at Wrestlemania III, would have been a great match.

But the WWF decided to make it a six-man match, or as it's called in Lucha Libre, a "Trios" match. On the side of the angels, the Bulldogs chose the Mexican superstar Tito Santana, himself a long-time WWF star. And as for those dastardly Harts? Well, they chose "former referee" Danny Davis, who was actually a trained wrestler, who acted as a "heel ref" for a bit, helping the bad guys win before taking up wrestling himself. No offense to Danny, but I think there was any number of better, more notable wrestlers WWF could have chosen to pair with the phenomenal Hart Foundation instead. But regardless, mainly on the strength of JUST how good both tag teams were in their prime, this match still wound up pretty remarkable, and while it wasn't THE show-stealer of the night, it was a very close second.

The Rise of Punk.

Match: Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Event: Wrestlemania 24
Year: 2008

I, of course, HAD to pick at least one Money in the Bank Ladder match for this list. Since 2005, at Wrestlemania 21 where it was first introduced, the MitB matches were a highlight, in latter years THE highlight, of the show. And in those latter years, before they took it off of Wrestlemania (where it had been an exclusive specialty), and instead made it it's own pointless PPV, even though the cards themselves generally got worse and worse, you could always count on the MitB match to be ONE thing truly worth watching. Plus it was always exciting to see who won. I could have easily chosen the first MitB match from 2005, which featured Edge, Christian, Chris Jericho, Kane, Chris Benoit, and Shelton Benjamin. Edge wound up winning the match, and it was an exciting novelty of it's time. The next year's match wasn't AS, but another favorite of mine, Rob Van Dam, won the briefcase then. Oh right, I forgot to mention that the winner of these matches, gets a "contract" that guarantees them a shot at the World Championship (either one, at the time), at any time of their choosing for a year.

I chose this particular match, both because of it's participants, but also its outcome. The participants were CM Punk, Shelton Benjamin, MVP, Carlito, John Morrison, Mr. Kennedy, and Chris Jericho. A pretty solid lineup if I do say so myself. It's always better to pick more athletic/acrobatic type wrestlers, who can really take advantage of this type of match, and perform ridiculous moves off of and using ladders that they probably shouldn't be doing. The match itself was a highlight reel of ridiculousness, including Jericho strapping someone (I forget who) into his "Walls of Jericho" move (kinda), upside down on top of a ladder. The match ended with CM Punk grabbing the briefcase, which surprisingly heralded a guy who WWE didn't seem to WANT to push to the top, as having finally "arrived". He would go on to use it to briefly become World Champ, though non-surprisingly they didn't treat it like a very big deal, and he would actually go on to win a second STRAIGHT MitB match in 2009, this time using it to much bigger effect, turning heel and using it to cash in on fan-favorite Jeff Hardy instead, which eventually kicked off his "Straight Edge Society" run, and even later helped lead to his 2011 resurgence.

You Can't Kill, What Doesn't Die.

Match: Undertaker vs. Diesel
Event: Wrestlemania 12
Year: 1996

So, rewinding a bit to the beginning of this article, THE match that really sold me on the Undertaker, was this match. Diesel, aka Kevin Nash, was soon to be on his way out from the company (unbeknownst to fans), along with fan-favorite Razor Ramon. But at this time, he was a big bad again, and he had been trying to stomp out the Undertaker for gettin' in his business. Kevin Nash, in his prime as Diesel, before all of his knee injuries, was for his size, a pretty decent wrestler. He didn't have a ton of moves, but he was fairly smooth in the ring, and did what he DID do, pretty well. He vs. Taker wasn't on par with Taker vs. Kane at WM14, wrestling-wise, but it was an exciting match which told a good story, and to ME, it totally sold me on the Undertaker mythos and character.

Part of the match's set-up and story, was kind of a subtext question as to whether or not Taker was losing his "powers", and whether or not he had it in him to beat this monster Diesel, who was on a roll (again, he had been a baby-face champion for over a year in 94/95). And throughout the match, Diesel did put a pretty good whuppin' on Taker, something most fans were not used to seeing. Keep in mind that this was the same guy whom it took Yokozuna AND a bunch of wrestlers he paid off, to gang up on Taker and put him in a Casket. This was a guy that most people couldn't beat without somehow cheating. And Diesel was doing so, all by himself. At least that's how it seemed. He even gave Taker his signature move, the Jackknife Powerbomb, but over and over again, he would go to pin and beat Taker, and Taker would sit up and grab his throat defiantly. And every single time Taker got back up, 14 year old me popped bigger and bigger. I started to believe that maybe this guy was magic AFTER all. Yes, I knew wrestling was "fake", but I had this glorious ability in in my teens, BEFORE worthless backstage "news" and knowledge of behind the scenes stuff, to suspend disbelief JUST enough, to think that when someone hit Taker with a chair, and he just shrugged it off and kicked there ass, that goddamit, maybe it WAS because he was a supernatural reaper of some sort!

Taker ultimately won, of course, but it was the fact that he took a massive beating but would NOT stay down, that is what sold me on him, and ultimately sold me on wrestling.

Macho vs. Dragon

Match: "Macho Man" Randy Savage vs. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat
Event: Wrestlemania 3
Year: 1987

This is the match that many wrestling fans point to and say "THIS is the best Wrestlemania match of all time", and it certainly deserves credit as such. It is not MY personal pick, but it is absolutely up there. Macho Man and Ricky Steamboat were both definitely very "cut" dudes, very muscular, well built, etc. But they were also actual athletes, and for their era, "small" wrestlers, compared to all of the giants and body-builders like Hogan. Savage was also notorious for liking to be meticulous in his matches, calling the shots and planning out a grand design for how it should all go. This was an era when the WWE didn't decide how a match would go, they just told you who was supposed to win (oops, behind the curtain talk), and the wrestlers themselves went out and decided how that battle was going to go.  How to GET to the per-determined finish was (usually) totally up to them. Which is what made it an ART. Often times, perhaps even in this match, wrestlers would change up how what they were doing inside the ring, based on how the crowd was reacting. They would play TO the audience, and OFF of the audience. True performance art.

And this was no exception. Savage and Steamboat put on an absolute classic, battling over the Intercontinental title, and Steamboat beat Savage for the belt, but the match was a major boost for both men. For Savage, as previously illustrated, it helped him eventually get over and become a top good guy, and for Steamboat, it was his major time in the limelight in WWF. Sadly, it was also short-lived. Steamboat is a guy who at one point in his career was NWA (WWF's top competitor) World Champion, he was no slouch. He fought and beat the likes of "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. But in WWF, this would be the height of his run, and it was in large part perhaps his fault. He chose to take time off of wrestling not too long into his IC Champ run, and he never really regained his thunder. I kind of doubt that Vince would have ever pushed him to be World Champion, but he certainly should have been a bigger star, for longer, in the WWF than he was.

Two of the all-time greats.

Match: Bret "The Hitman" Hart vs. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper
Event: Wrestlemania 8
Year: 1992

In another major Intercontinental Title match, by the early 90s, Bret Hart had broken away from the Tag Team ranks to become one of the rising young singles stars. He even beat the likes of "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig, himself an amazing and painfully underutilized star. On the other side of the match, was Roddy Piper, one of the biggest stars in wrestling history, and arguably THE best "talker" in wrestling history. This is a man who was THE biggest bad guy in the business back in 1985/86, and in all blunt honesty, one of Vince McMahon's dumbest moves, was NOT striking while the iron was hot, and giving Roddy a World Championship run. He not only deserved it, given his workrate and how reviled a heel he was, but Vince was also ignoring some conventional pro wrestling wisdom. That being, that it is often much more exciting for fans, to have a real son-of-a-bitch bad guy win the championship, and then having the shining hero chase after him for the belt. In a reality where Vince really WAS the genius people paint him as, what he would have done after the first Wrestlemania, whose main event was a tag-team match, but honestly, it was a showdown between Hogan and Piper with some friends involved, was he would have shortly afterwards, had Piper WIN the belt from Hogan. If he had to cheat to do it, and cheat to KEEP it, whatever. But a hated Piper as champion leading into Wrestlemania 2, with Hogan FINALLY getting his belt back at the end, would have been a much bigger deal, and a much better sell than "The Champion Who Never Loses" Hogan facing....King Kong Bundy in a steel cage. No offense to Bundy, but Piper was a MUCH bigger star.

So, the point in all that was, Piper never really "got his dues", you could well argue. And while it certainly wasn't equivalent exchange, Piper DID finally get an all-too-brief moment in the sun at IC Champ at least, heading into Wrestlemania 8. Hart had been IC Champ prior, but in some silly turn-around, got beaten "while sick" or some BS, by a bad guy called "The Mountie". Piper in turn beat the Mountie, which would set up a battle between Canadians, as Hart wanted his title back. Piper has all too often been remembered for his gift of gab, and for often employing less-than-honorable tactics to win, even as a good guy (which he was at this time). But one thing Piper SHOULD also be remembered for, was that he was, underneath all that, also a damn good wrestler. It's just that Vince rarely gave him an opportunity to show it, either cheating to win, or brawling with huge body builders. But against arguable THE greatest technical wrestler of the modern era in Hart, Piper had his chance to show his stuff, and he did. They put on one hell of a match, and while it ended with Hart getting his title back, Piper also gained more "legitimacy" as a wrestler in many fans eyes. In fact, this match was also notable, because in his own words, this was the first time in years that Piper had legitimately been pinned for a three count to lose. He put Hart over big, which helped lead him to becoming "The Man" in the coming years.

Make him tap!

Match: Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels
Event: Wrestlemania 21
Year: 2005

It should be noted that I am NOT a Shawn Michaels fan. He was a great in-ring performer, even a good wrestler for his part, and deserves credit where credit is due. But not only did I not like his character (c'mon Vince, how did you con people into cheering for what was basically a male stripper?), but I also didn't like all I heard about HBK as a person. Especially in the 90s, the truth is HBK was a real piece of shit. He was self-absorbed, a primadonna, hard to work with, cut off wrestlers' pushes if he didn't want to put them over (Just ask Vader or Sid). Granted, he "grew up" during his time away from wrestling after a major back injury. He "found Jesus" and became a better person, or so the story goes. And you know what, maybe he did. But I still have never really liked him. That said, he IS a great performer, and has been part of some genuinely great matches, this being one of them.

In the prior two years, he had come back after years away, and had a great WM19 match against Chris Jericho. He would then wind up magically main-eventing along with HHH and Chris Benoit at WM20 (which, thankfully, Benoit won, as he deserved). So come WM21, Kurt Angle wanted a shot at the guy WWE kept calling "Mr. Wrestlemania", as if he was the best performer "On the Biggest Stage of Them All", ever. Kurt was (storyline) sick of hearing it, and wanted to set the record straight. I'm not a HUGE Angle fan either, I never HATED the guy, but he was also not one of "My Guys". That said, I've almost always enjoyed watching him wrestle, as he is one hell of a technical wrestler, and even though he stole the Ankle Lock finisher from Ken Shamrock (one of "My Guys"), and went on to most do it wrong for years afterward (standing instead of kneeling into it), he is one of the greatest of all time. Well, this wound up being one hell of a match, and as you can see in the picture above, he actually DID slap that Ankle-Lock on right, and HBK eventually had to tap. A fact I will fully admit to enjoying.

The End of Taker's Greatness...

Match: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
Event: Wrestlemania 26
Year: 2010

 Taker and HBK first faced off in a Wrestlemania match, a quite good one in fact, the previous year at WM25 (which by the way was a pretty awful WM). Well, in a trend WWE would repeat for the next few years, they had Wrestlemania rematches going on, and this was one of 'em. The first time around, Michaels got on my nerves in the build-up, because he tried dressing like Taker a bit, and passing himself off as "The Light" to Taker's "Darkness". Which is ironic, because in reality, certainly in the past, Michaels was one of the worst guys in the business, meanwhile Taker was one of the most honorable, least selfish, and most respected (all as seen by his fellow wrestlers).

Semantics and personal feelings aside, Taker and HBK could put on a show. And since HBK failed to break Taker's streak the previous year, this time he upped the stakes: if he lost this time, he would retire. I must admit, the thought of HBK finally retiring sounded nice to me, even IF he put on good matches, plus I absolutely didn't want my boy Taker to lose, certainly not to him. That said, I was once again legit afraid that Taker WOULD lose, because I didn't honestly think HBK was going to retire just yet. But, after another great match that perhaps topped their last, I was wrong. Taker won, and HBK did legitimately hang 'em up. He has not, to my knowledge, wrestled a match since. To his credit, he treated it like a legitimate retirement, and has honored Taker being the man to end his career.

Brother vs. Brother

Match: Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart
Event: Wrestlemania 10
Year: 1994

One of the greatest stories of triumph and tragedy in all of pro wrestling, was Owen Hart. Bret's little brother, in fact the youngest of 12 (yes 12) Hart children, Owen was a guy who was always overlooked, but his ability MADE people notice him. Now, granted, ALL of the Hart brothers were wrestlers. But none of them reached the level of success, certainly not in the WWF, that Bret did. Owen is the only one who came anywhere close. Owen was, legitimately, in many ways just about as good an all-around technical wrestler as Bret was, and in addition to that, Owen was also a bit smaller and more athletic, so he could pull off high-flying moves that Bret either couldn't, or just didn't bother trying.

Bret had a very established, more mat-based style, where he would break an opponent down, and then typically got for a submission hold. He was known as a consummate submission wrestler. Owen, on the other hand, was more of  a "Jack of All Trades" style of guy, performing a lot of high flying early in his WWF career as "The Blue Blazer" and then as part of the tag-team "High Energy" with Koko B. Ware. By this point, in 1994, Owen had turned heel, tired of always being in his brother's shadow. Bret had, at this point, been a Tag-Team Champion, Intercontinental Champion, and World Champion, on TOP of winning not one, but two of the earliest King of the Ring tournaments. Owen, by comparison, had as yet not had any such success. So he decided to blame his brother (in storyline), and felt if he could beat Bret, he would prove that HE was the real star of the family. So, on the same night that Bret would go on to recapture the gold from Yokozuna in the main event, he wrestled Owen in what is honestly one of the best Wrestlemania matches of all time. This match would have been the "Show Stealer", if not for the flashiness of the IC Title Ladder Match. Bret got the spotlight at the end of the night, but Owen got his spotlight too, beating his brother, which would lead to him feuding with his brother over the World Title for a bit, before going on to Tag-Team and eventually IC Title success of his own, long-deserved.

Pausing for a Five Second Pose

Match: Triple Threat Ladder Match
Event: Wrestlemania 16
Year: 2000

 I could have easily picked the following years "Tables, Ladders and Chairs" match at WM17, which also threw in the extra wrinkle of involvement from Spike Dudley, Lita and Rhino, a really crazy match that upped the ante in many ways. But to me, this first "Triangle Ladder Match" or whatever they tried calling it back then, stands out way more. For one thing, no one had really seen anything like it beforehand. E&C and The Hardy Boys HAD already had a truly outstanding Tag-Team ladder match in their feud in 1999, but this took everything to a whole other level. This was the Hardy Boys, the Dudley Boys, and Edge and Christian, and it was nuts. 

The other reason it stands out more to me, aside from the fact that this was the first Wrestlemania I got to see live, was the fact that it was the first time my boys Edge and Christian, one of my favorite tag teams of all time, won the Tag Team Championship, as pictured above. They would go on to wrestle in many more ladder matches of various varieties, both together and separately, and the bumps they took in these matches certainly shortened their careers, which is a fact, both as a person and a fan, that I don't like. I felt similarly to the shit Mick Foley put his body through to "entertain" folks. At the time, his Hell in a Cell match with Undertaker was mind-blowing...but it was also kind of sickening, and he never should have done things like that, actually hurting himself, just to get some cheers. Moral standing clarified, this match was amazing for it's time, and Edge and Christian really cemented themselves as THE top tag team at the time. Besides, they totally reeked of awesomeness.

Two Favorites Face Off.

Match: Undertaker vs. Edge
Event: Wrestlemania 24
Year: 2008

This match was a surprise in several ways. For one, I was surprised they would give the go-ahead to Taker to fight Edge for the belt, instead of some less meaningful match. But I certainly didn't expect them to allow this match to be the main event (last match of the night). In an era when it was nothing but Cena and Orton and HHH, this was both surprising and refreshing. It also helped that it was pretty much my top two favorite WWE wrestlers at the time. Granted, I did NOT love all the dumb storyline shit that they had Edge doing as part of his "Rated R Superstar" heel gimmick (the Lita BS, teaming up with Orton, the Vickie Guerrero BS, etc.), in fact I hated most of it. But I still loved and supported him as one of "My Guys", similar to how I had endured Taker being a biker for years.

But this was really it. I felt like, in a way, no matter who won, I won as a fan. On the one hand, I didn't want Taker to lose his streak. But on the other hand, Edge was the younger star, and a top heel, and and of my favorite guys, so it would have made sense and bothered me far less, to give him that feather in his cap, of being the guy to end the streak. Thankfully, in the end, The Streak stayed alive (in fact perhaps it should have ended shortly afterwards, with Taker retiring undefeated at WM), and Taker not only got to main event (at that point) only his SECOND Wrestlemania, but he also won his at the time 5th World Title (he would ultimately have 7 total). It wasn't the best match I've ever seen, nor even the best Taker match I've ever seen. But it was damn good, and exciting for me as a fan, as it's very rare to have BOTH guys in a big match like that be "Your Guys".

Perhaps the most heated rivalry in WWF history.

Match: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels in a 1-hour "Iron Man" Match
Event: Wrestlemania 12
Year: 1996

Now, this isn't my personal top favorite match of all time. I'd have to really think about it to tell you which of those listed before this IS. However, it IS one of my favorites of all time, because Bret Hart truly shined, in HIS style of match. It also happens to be MY personal pick (over Savage vs. Steamboat) for "Best Match in Wrestlemania History, Period". Why? Because, as Kurt Angle so eloquently put it, "While I was winning an Olympic Gold Medal back in 1996 with a broken fricken' neck, all I kept hearing people talking about, was how a couple of guys in the WWF put on an hour-long wrestling clinic, and it made me sick!". Or something like that. It's true though, these guys put on one hell of a show. Not only was this the FIRST "Iron Man" match ever, but to this day, it's also the ONLY one to be at a Wrestlemania event, let alone to be the MAIN event of a Wrestlemania. I guess they figure people will only sit through one such hour-plus match at a WM event. Perhaps they're right, who knows?

The concept of the Iron Man Match, was that whoever scored the most pinfalls or submissions within the hour time limit, would be the declared the winner. Going into the match, Bret Hart was the World Champ, and while he had challenged for it, including against Diesel at WM11, HBK had yet to ever reach that mountaintop. In fact they played it up as "Achieving His Boyhood Dream", etc etc. There are two things wrong with this match, the first being how it was promoted. WWF basically built it up as the HBK show, with Hart as the challenger waiting to get beaten. And the second thing wrong with it, is how HBK acted after the match, telling the ref, and I quote, to "Get him out of my fuckin' ring". That was 90s HBK for you, getting put over by the top star, yet ungrateful to the end.

But the match ITSELF is an absolute classic. As Kurt Angle said, it IS a pro wrestling clinic, with plenty of chain and technical wrestling wizardry, but also high spots and excitement. The thing that really stands out, is that in a match where the point was the score as MANY pinfalls or submissions as possible in an hour, at the end of the hour, NEITHER man had scored a single one. And they didn't even do it as they would now, with a parade of false finishes and near falls. They actually managed to tell a story, with THIS kind of time limit, on a PPV, without relying on that too much. So at the end of the match, Bret Hart is proclaimed the victory (which honestly would have been just fine, and the match itself and the draw still made HBK look very strong), and he began to walk to the back. But then they decided that no, it's not gonna end like that, and the match will continue, in "overtime". So Hart came back to the ring, and wouldn't you know it, HBK nailed him, 1, 2, 3, and the "Boyhood Dream" is real. I will make no pretensions to liking the OUTCOME of this match. I also make no effort to hide the fact that I earnestly HATE 90s Shawn Michaels. But, that speaks volumes to the fact that I still choose this as my "Best WM Match Ever" pick, because the MATCH itself, the wrestling and storytelling on display, were masterful in a way that I feel at least equals, if not surpasses Savage vs. Steamboat. HBK absolutely didn't deserve, based on his shitty attitude of the era, to win that match. But, regardless, the two men, who genuinely disliked each other by this point in REAL life, put on a masterpiece, that stands the test of time.


So there you have it. I was going to make this article shorter than it is, but there are some matches I just felt like I couldn't leave out, I guess. Wrestlemania used to feel, to me and my friends, like a "Wrestling Fans' Holiday", what with the Hall of Fame inductions on Saturday (which I always looked forward every year to seeing who was going in next), and then the event itself on Sunday. But I'll be honest, Wrestlemania stopped feeling that way around WM 22 or so. WM24 had bright spots in the MitB and Main Event matches. And there certainly have been some GOOD matches in the years since. But, in my humble opinion as a long-time wrestling fan, and someone who barely missed Raw or Smackdown for YEARS if I could help it, Wrestlemania as an event, used to feel special. It used to feel like THE big event of the year, that you looked forward to every year. But over the last several years, it has, to me, come to feel more and more like an overly long episode of Monday Night Raw. And it shouldn't feel like that. But to me at least, the "magic" is gone.

I still love pro wrestling, and still get my fix in promotions like Chikara or Lucha Underground, or the random Youtube match. But to ME at least, WWE's heyday is long behind them. But, bitter old man thoughts aside, there ARE many great Wrestlemania matches and moments that they have given us over the years, along with many stinkers. I am grateful for the good memories, and I cherish those times when my friends and I would get hyped for another Wrestlemania. In fact, one of my major wrestling-fan regrets, is that for years, we said "One of these days, we're going to go to a Wrestlemania live". And we never did, at least, not when it would have still mattered. We almost went to Wrestlemania 23 in Detroit, in fact, but it fell through. That wasn't a great card, to be honest, but I still could have seen Taker beat Batista and win a World Championship live. That would have been something.

For all of you fellow Wrestling fans out there, I salute you, regardless of what promotions you like. It's a great exhibition sport, and a great storytelling art (when done right). And it's worth celebrating.
Cheers, and happy Wrestlemania Weekend.