At the time it aired WrestleMania 29 felt like an own goal for WWE. It wasn’t all bad, but it was far from great and could have very easily been a lot better with just a few changes. Some of the disappointing parts were well intentioned, but there were a lot of head schratchers given what they had to work with. This wasn’t like WrestleMania 9 where the roster was depleted from retirements and other disappearing acts, and the younger names weren’t ready for prime time, this was a series of dropped balls all around. So what exactly was going on? It was a year after a great show in WrestleMania 28, and the last of the three shows that the Rock came back to do. The main event was set in stone when that deal was first made – a rematch between Rock and John Cena – and that’s where the problems started. While the train was chugging along to set up this match, a large portion of the fanbase was still enjoying the CM Punk phenomenon and was still tired of Cena on top. As a result, the planned Punk heel turn didn’t really take like it was supposed to no matter how hard they tried. And then when the Rock came back in January to win the title from him, a lot of the stuff Punk said in his infamous pipe bomb promo started to ring true. As a result, the planned main event wasn’t as anticipated as it should have been and there were some sour grapes over Punk not getting a main event slot (more on that later).
A lot of this was the bookers fault. While anyone who’d been watching wrestling for a long time knew that Mania 28 would lead to a rematch at 29, the buildup was done in a really lousy way. In August at RAW 1000 they just announced out of the blue that the Rock would be challenging for the title at the Royal Rumble and killed any suspense as to how we would arrive at the big rematch. It was obvious Rock would win the title there and Cena would win the Rumble to finalize the Mania 29 main event. It was a slap in the face of Punk, one time where he was justified in being upset at management, not so much for making him drop the title but for publicly taking a dump on what would become an over 400 day reign, unheard of nowadays, by telegraphing when it would end and to who and therefore reducing the WWE champion to a plot device on borrowed time. That in turn took the air out of his heel turn by nakedly exposing it as a storyline necessity instead of letting it play out on TV for us.
Punk playing heel vs Cena at that point was an exercise in futility because of the attitudes of hardcore fans towards both but things were salvaged a bit thanks to Ryback, whose initial big push was going well enough that he could face a heel Punk and get cheered, and three goons from NXT who invaded at Survivor Series 2012 on Punk’s behalf and went on to start jumping and laying waste to whoever they felt like ambushing. Those three goons, as you know, were named Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns and collectively went by the Shield. The Shield was able to gin up some heel heat for Punk by helping him out so long as it wasn’t against Cena and were pretty hot themselves in their own matches. They were clearly the future of the company as everyone could see.
As for the rest of the roster, when you stepped back from how the top angle was bungled there were lots of good programs and matches in 2012 from Punk, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Randy Orton, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Kofi Kingston, even Big Show and Kane. There was also a good mix of new arrivals, younger guys, and veterans around like the Usos, Cesaro, Jack Swagger, Mark Henry, R-Truth, Titus O’Neill and Darren Young (who were teaming up as the Prime Time Players) and a whole new crop of talent being groomed down in NXT. So there were plenty of bodies to move around, plug and play with that would have made for an excellent WrestleMania show. Unfortunately that would be rendered all but moot when the full card was announced. In a fashion reminiscent of 1998 WCW the following people were inexplicably left off the show:
Cesaro (who was US Champion at the time), Kofi, Truth, The Usos, The Prime Time Players, Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Kaitlyn (The Divas Champion) and the entire Women’s division (Natalya, Askana, AJ Lee, Tamina Snuka, Layla, Alicia Fox, Cameron, Naomi and the recent returned Bella Twins). It is important to note here that there was a match scheduled featuring the Bellas teaming with Rhodes and Sandow to face Cameron and Naomi teaming with Broadus Clay and Tensai, but it was pulled from the card due to time constraints…….ugh. More on that later.
In addition, Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett and The Miz were relegated to the pre-show. So half of your champions and a ton of the roster were left off of the biggest show of the year a la Starrcade 1998. Now some of those folks were down in NXT helping with the developmental talent but that was no excuse seeing as how The Shield and Big E Langston were pulling double duty. No reason a few people couldn’t have been brought in for one day, even if it was just for a battle royal. But the decision was made to make this essentially a three match show so it was what it was for better or worse (in this case, worse). And maybe that could be excused if the matches you did have turned out great, but if they didn’t…….ok, let’s find out:
Opening Match: The Shield vs Sheamus, Randy Orton, and Big Show
This was the first WrestleMania for all the members of the Shield, and they were matched against three guys who had really years in 2012. The setup here was that Sheamus, Orton, and Show were jumped at various points by the Shield, just like pretty much all the top faces on the roster had been, so they figured why not link up to make it a fair fight on the biggest show of the year. Show had been working heel since the previous Spring so he pulled an impromptu face turn after caching the wrong end of a Shield beatdown himself. This is a woulda, coulda, shouda match. The Shield had been in a couple of absolute barnburners on pay per view and this should have followed suit. Instead we got a 10 minute match that would have been really good Smackdown main event. There was some storyline stuff with Orton and Sheamus mostly tagging each other while Show fumed on the ring apron, and after the match Show laid them both out to return to his heelish ways.. No excuse for cutting this short. This was the first ‘Mania match for the guys everyone watching knew were the future, and you give them 10 minutes instead of 15. Come on guys…..
Mark Henry vs Ryback
This was a battle of the powerhouses, two huge superstrong guys trading power moves and hard shots. It started out that way then went downhill. A few minutes in Ryback was on the apron, breathing heavy and moving like he was hurt. As a big guy myself I can tell you that means one of two things: 1) you’re actually hurt 2) you’re tired and/or out of shape. I’m going with number two here because he did get himself together and back in the ring. From there Henry dominated the action until a two or three move comeback by Ryback to lead up to what had to be a botched finish. Ryback got Henry up for his finisher, the Shellshock, but Henry grabbed the top rope to stop it. He fought to get free, fell on top of Ryback and got the pin. It looked like Ryback may have legit banged his head on the mat during that spot and just ate the three count while he recovered. After that Henry goes for the post match beat down, but Ryback got him back up in position and successfully hit his big move. Really weird ending. Ryback’s spot on the roster suggested that he should have won this match going away.
World Tag Team Title Match: Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan and Kane) vs Dolph Ziggler and Big E w/AJ Lee
Really quick match, but a pretty good one. It started with a callback to WrestleMania 28 when AJ kissed Ziggler to start the match only for Bryan to nail him and almost get an instant pin the way Sheamus did to him a year earlier after he got a kiss from AJ at the start of their match. I would be remiss if I did not mention Jerry Lawler’s awful, sexist commentary throughout the match. Be glad he was not calling the Women’s Rumble. This was Big E’s first actual WWE match, and he and Kane had a decent big man exchange after both were tagged in. In what was the opposite of the usual routine Kane played the face in peril and made the hot tag to Bryan after a few minutes of taking a beating. Bryan would get the pin with the flying headbutt on Ziggler after about six minutes. My guess here is that since Dolph would cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase the next night on RAW they wanted to save him here.
Chris Jericho vs Fandango
This was set up to be your classic veteran put over the new guy match, but the way it went down was weird. Jericho attacked Fandango from the opening bell and dominated the match. Fandango got a few counters in and did hit his finisher with a minimal amount of setup, but Jericho kicked out. From there we got a little back and forth until another botched finish for the Fandango upset victory. This got more time than the tag team title match and I don’t know why; it was a pretty good match and all and it deserved the nine minutes it got but the tag title match should have gotten at least ten itself.
World Title Match: Alberto Del Rio (c) vs Jack Swagger
The big botch here happened a few weeks prior when Swagger got popped for a DUI/possession charge. Rumor had it that he was supposed to win the title before that, but then plans were changed. I have no idea how true that is but it sounds legit. Swagger’s manager Zeb Colter got on the mic, and dropped his usual badly coded language to go full MAGA…..it was pretty brutal. This was another good but brief match (10 minutes). The two men took advantage of their amateur backgrounds to get in a lot of counters, and traded submission holds often. Del Rio would get the win here with the cross arm breaker.
CM Punk vs The Undertaker
Match of the night. Lots of great striking throughout from both men, and Punk’s mockery of Taker was a good psychological touch. For the second year in a row, creative steps were taken to hide the fact that Taker couldn’t do the aerial stuff that he used to. This was the last great Mania match for Taker; from here on out he just couldn’t hold up his end anymore against a top notch opponent. Punk did carry most of the load here but Taker kept up enough to not look bad. What was essentially his last hurrah as a top performer was a pretty great effort all around. Sadly this would be the last time we’d see Punk at a WrestleMania but better to go out this way than how Taker, and Andre the Giant before him, did.
Brock Lesnar vs Triple H
This match got crapped on a lot when it happened, and I came in to this rewatch prepared to drop some poop on it myself, but it wasn’t bad at all and was quite good in spots. The problems were: 1) it went on right after the Undertaker-CM Punk match, 2) people still weren’t sure what to make of Brock in his return to WWE, and 3) it felt like a Triple H self indulgence angle from jump, which it was of course. And all of those things hurt it in the moment but watching it now without all of that working against it, it’s a darn good no DQ fight. Could they have shaved a few of the 24 minutes off? Sure, but it didn’t feel overlong like Hunter’s matches with Roman and Seth have the past two years. All that being said, this absolutely was a HHH self congratulatory 15 minute guitar solo kind of deal, it was just executed better than the ones that would come after. But don’t let anyone lie to you that this was a bad match because it wasn’t.
Main Event: WWE Title Match – The Rock (c) vs John Cena
When I watched it live, the mood was flat to begin with because we all know how it was going to end. That took a whole lot of air out of the balloon, because the fans had yet to move from being tired of Cena to finally appreciating him a bit. The Rock didn’t do himself any favors by coming back in January looking like he’d put on way too much muscle. This was around the time he decided to give up being a thespian and go back to kicking ass and blowing up stuff real good on the big screen, so it was out with the leaner more athletic build and all in on ‘he might be juicing but I sure as hell won’t say that to his face’ look. He reportedly tore a bunch of muscles in this match and coming back extra ripped probably had something to do with it. The match itself felt like a rehash of the previous year’s outing, minus the magic and mystique that one had. Not a bad match by any stretch, but it feels like watching Savage vs Hogan at ‘Mania V in that no matter how well it was done you knew who was going to win. Point blank, people just did not buy into the redemption storyline for Cena because he had yet to look truly vulnerable yet, and that hurt the perception of everything.
Two More Things
As I mentioned before, leaving all of those people off the show was inexcusable. Having Fandango on the show instead of your US Champion was a really bad idea. Cesaro defending against Jericho would have been so much better than trying to get Fandango over, even without the botched finish. Leaving out the planned four on four mixed tag match so they could fit in all the video montages and a really bad performance by Diddy sucked, too. We can really do without the concert stuff unless it’s going to be something really awesome. Use your best people, Vince!!
As for the ‘Punk should have main evented!!!’ take…….no. Sorry guys, no. There is no way you would put Punk in the main event if you had both the Rock and John Cena in your employ. Stop thinking with your Twitter account for once. You can be mad about how he was booked in the run up, that’s fair, but he was not robbed of anything by facing the Undertaker instead of being in the last match of the show. And had he stuck around and not quit a year later maybe he would have gotten the WrestleMania main event that he both claims was the one thing he wanted to do, but didn’t matter because wrestling is a fake sport. Make up your mind sir, and maybe I’ll stop taking gratuitous shots at you on the internet.
Not as bad as show as you’ve been told. The biggest issues were the number of people left off the show and the total lack of suspense as to who was going to win almost every match. The only real surprise was Henry beating Ryback; everything else had been telegraphed. But that doesn’t mean the actual matches, taking the things into account that I’ve mentioned along the way here, were terrible. They weren’t. I wouldn’t rank it among the best Mania shows but there are many that were worse. This is more like WrestleMania V with better in ring work than WrestleMania 2 or 9, shows that make you want those hours of your life back that you can’t get. Do check it out if you’re interested.