WrestleMania 27 marked a crossroads of sorts for the company. We were nine years into the first brand split, and there had been an exodus of some pretty big names: Shawn Michaels to retirement, Batista to MMA (and eventually Hollywood), and Chris Jericho (back to the music business). The Undertaker had been absent for months, effectively beginning his run as a part timer. Here’s where Brock Lesnar’s abrupt departure in 2004 really left a hole. Had he been there you could just have gone with him vs Cena in the main event, but that ship had sailed. Absences weren’t the only thing that hurt. Bad booking was also to blame.
The previous summer an invasion angle starring the first NXT class (who went collectively by the name the Nexus) kicked off, and was pretty hot. But Vince being Vince, they refused to give the invaders the kind of major victory (namely Nexus leader Wade Barrett winning the WWE or World Title) necessary to really get the faction over. Instead of stretching to story onto this show it was killed dead at TLC in December when John Cena beat Barrett in a chairs match and literally buried him under a pile of chairs after the match (the one time I’ll go along with a ‘Cena buries so-and-so’ quip). The Nexus would split into different groups, one still led by Barrett and another by CM Punk. But a huge opportunity had been squandered.
So yeah here we were in a tough spot. They couldn’t run Triple H or Randy Orton back out there to face Cena again, so they opted for……the Miz. Now you see Miz today and there’s a guy who could have flourished in that spot but in 2011 he was still very much the guy who no one bought as a headliner, who’d bought his way into the business by winning the Real World/Road Rules challenge on MTV. Never mind that this was a totally unfair characterization; Miz ‘bought’ his way in by using his prize money to pay for wrestling school and learning the hard way how to be a wrestler before there was any performance center or NXT to nurture people along. But perception often trumps reality so when Miz cashed in Money in the Bank and became champ it looked second rate. And then Cena getting into the main event looked liked just another coronation at what was the height of Cena-hate by a big part of the audience.
To juice things up, Vince called back the Rock to serve as host for the show, adding some much needed star power and mainstream media attention to the show. In totality this was the first part of a two year, three show commitment from the Rock that would see him come back to the ring the year after.
World Title Match: Edge (c) vs Alberto Del Rio
Del Rio was joined at ringside by Broadus Clay, while Edge was joined by longtime friend and sometime rival Christian. Kinda weird to have a major title match on first (it would get repeated the next year), but this was what would be Edge’s last match so sending him off when the audience was at the height of it’s attention span was the right call. Del Rio went after Edge’s injured arm for much of the match both to set up his Cross Arm Breaker finisher and because….duh, injury, and Edge sold it well during the periods where he was on the defensive. Edge looked like he was playing it relatively safe here, which he had to seeing as how he was a bad bump away from oblivion. Clay and Rodriguez interfere for Del Rio, as expected. The two trade submission holds late in the game, the Christian finally gets into it with Clay at ringside to even things up. Edge hits the spear one last time to retain the title. Decent match; obviously a healthy Edge could have gone longer with a pro like Del Rio but his condition at that time didn’t allow it,
Cody Rhodes vs Rey Mysterio
This was a grudge match; Rhodes was wearing the face shield at this time. Decent back and forth, but it felt early on like it could have been a really great Raw or Smackdown main event instead of a WrestleMania match. Rey was already toning down his act some; there were plenty of high flying moves but he wasn’t as fast as he used to be. Rhodes has always been an underrated talent in the ring. I don’t quite buy the whole ‘Cody is world champion material’ line of thinking, but there’s no denying he’s good. Rhodes cheats to win here; the match really picked up late.
The Corre (Wade Barrett, Ezekiel Jackson, Heath Slater, and Justin Gabriel) vs Kane, Big Show, Santino Marella, and Kofi Kingston
The Corre was made up of remnants from the Nexus. This match was really quick. A few tags, then an eight man melee, then a quick knockout of Slater by Big Show for the pin. Match went less than two minutes, and that’s stinks. No reason why these guys couldn’t have gotten ten minutes to work instead of the time some of the other matches on this show got.
CM Punk vs Randy Orton
Orton had a (storyline) injured knee here, and Punk worked it over in various ways throughout the match. Great back and forth here, they could have easily gone another 10 minutes without losing anything (they got 14 here). Lots of counters and Orton sold the knee really well, in one instance not being able to do one of his signature moves because of the injury. Nice setup for the finish, which saw Orton hit the RKO for the win. One could make a case the Punk should have gone over here given where each guy was in their career but a few months later it wouldn’t matter as the Summer of Punk would kick off.
Jerry Lawler vs Michael Cole
I refused to watch this match. When people crap on this show as a whole, this a big reason why. There was absolutley no reason to give this almost 15 minutes, especially when the eight man tag got cut to a minute and a half and the Punk-Orton match was 14 and some change. This wasn’t a celebrity spot, other than Steve Austin serving as the guest referee, so you didn’t need to justify paying someone by giving them a lot of time. Hell, there was a celebrity laden match later on that only got five minutes so what the hell was this? Let Cole jump Lawler to get ahead early before Lawler decimates him for the win in five minutes. Or Lawler can beat the crap out of him before Cole sneaks in a win. Either way it should have been a lot shorter.
No Holds Barred: Undertaker vs Triple H
Both guys needed something to do, and they’d worked with each other enough to put on a good match in their sleep. This was the last time we’d get a full service Undertaker with the aerial stuff and all. They broke out the table spots and the steel steps to add to the mayhem. These guys beat the hell out of each other in a brutal and methodical fashion for 30 minutes in a very old school-ish way and it was good to see that this kind of thing was no longer an anomaly on big WWE shows. Lots of near falls, a few too many on finishers for my taste though; that’s my only beef with this match. This was the official beginning of part time Taker, as he would not come back for a year after this. You know when the streak ended so you know who won this, but that doesn’t mean the finish and the match weren’t great.
Mixed Tag Match: John Morrison, Trish Stratus, and Snooki vs Dolph Ziggler and Laycool (Layla and Michelle McCool)
This is usually where you get a too long part of the show in the name of justifying a celebrity appearance and yet they kept it short while Lawler and Cole got 15 minutes. Makes zero sense. By the way hats off to Snooki for pulling off a handspring elbow in the corner on McCool before getting the win. This would be the last ‘Mania for Morrison (unless he comes back one day, of course).
WWE Title Match: The Miz (c) vs John Cena
So after facing Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, and Batista in title matches the Miz was a step down in opponent quality, no matter how much he may have fought for everything he’d gotten. Miz gets a full ‘You Can Hate Me Now’ montage before his entrance to play on the real ‘he doesn’t deserve this’ sentiment that coworkers and fans had towards him. Miz has one of the underrated theme songs in the business and has a great entrance here. Cena gets his own DMX narrated montage (I’m assuming that’s a snippet from one of his old albums, no way they got him to do that in 2011. Of course all this attention spent on introductions was to not put too much focus on the match itself. Miz hadn’t quite figured out how to mesh his character with his ring work as well as he does now so he still often looked like the guy he was: someone who went to a wrestling school and learned each move one at a time, then got put into a WWE ring. That’s not to say he was bad per se but he was a little too (‘ok now it’s time to do this move’) in his delivery. All that being said the match wasn’t bad it’s just that the Miz still looked a guy who did not belong in the main event once the match started. And then there was the convoluted finish.
A double countout overruled by the Rock leads to the Rock getting involved and causing Cena to lose, then laying out the Miz……yeah, that sucked. A better finish, had I been booking would have been to do a ref bump (one did happen earlier in the match) then have the Rock take over as ref THEN do the spot where Rock nails Cena in anger.
Not as bad a show as you’ve been told. Plenty of good matches yo go around. The main issues were that the Miz wasn’t ready for the main event from a ring work standpoint and we were at peak ‘we’re tired of Cena!’ for a lot of people, which is ironic given that he got his first Wrestlemania defeat here. You set that aside and just watch the show today and you won’t see it as harshly. The finish of the main event was dumb, but it served the purpose of getting the ball rolling for the next year’s show. It is what it is. Definitely check it out on the network if you get the chance.