The X-Factor: WrestleMania – It’s John Cena’s time

In a post-Attitude landscape, who really became WWE’s next marquee star? Eddie Guerrero buckled under the pressure, Brock Lesnar was popping pills and booze before he split, Chris Jericho wasn’t used right, and Goldberg was a victim of Triple H’s ego-trips.

We lived vicariously through Steve Austin and The Rock. It was fun, but we didn’t need another anti-hero. I’m not ashamed to say I’m a big fan of John Cena, as a smart fan and a mark. I wasn’t always.

New Years Revolution ‘06. By this point the mixed reactions had settled in. Cena went wire-to-wire to retain his WWE Championship, and then it happened. Edge cashed-in on the battered champ and stole the title.

So, Edge cheats on his wife with Matt Hardy’s girl no less, causes a PR nightmare, and then gets a main event push. I sided with Cena at first because I was still pissed at Edge, but despite the venom from the crowds, he grew on me. I bought my first replica title – the spinner – because of him.

The haters just couldn’t bring themselves to stop hating, so they started making things up. It’s actually kinda funny looking back, the things they said.

If I was really this black-arts manipulator, pulling all the strings, this close to WrestleMania, you think I would be standing in the ring, toe-to-toe, face-to-face with you (The Miz and Maryse)? HELL NAH! I’D BE STANDING FACE TO FACE WITH THE UNDERTAKER!

Cena made it big, whether the haters wanted it or not. A ton of good happened along the way.

WrestleMania 22

I want you, to watch this! I’m gonna knock your teeth, DOWN, YOUR, THROAT!

HBK told Vince it was time to move on. That statement was more for Bret than anyone else. 

Shawn took his sweet time setting it up. Pick a ladder genius! HBK elbows Vinnie Mac through a trash can and a table, throwing in the foreshadowing that was a DX chop. The Sweet Chin Music that followed was probably my favorite. 

The other best part was Jim Ross having the time of his life calling the match. The things he said when the Spirit Squad hit the ring? Priceless! 

Mickie James vs. Trish Stratus was a damn fine women’s match, even with that horrible botch at the end. If you’ve only watched it on Peacock, here’s what else they cut out: right after Mickie grabs Trish crotch, she forms a ‘V’ with her hand and licks it. Probably lives as a clip on YouTube. Yeah, Vinnie Mac gave her a good chewing out later.

The match of the night was Mick Foley vs. Edge. A barbed-wire bat, thumbtacks, a spear through a flaming table, and this all happened AFTER the Attitude Era.

I marked out big time when Rey Mysterio got the World title, but so did Michael Cole. Every time I watch it I still get emotional. 

WrestleMania 23

It achieved the highest ‘Mania buy rate ever. I was in the arena in Phoenix when Stone Cold Steve Austin hit the ring as the guest referee.

The rest of the card was ok. The Money in the Bank match was one of my favorites with its unique spots. Undertaker vs. Batista was a surprise hit and one of the best big-man matches ever.

This was the year he became “Big match John”.

The WWE title match had one of the best vignettes ever. Also, the both of them were tag champs heading into Detroit. 

A piledriver? I didn’t think Cena would’ve kicked out after that, but he did.

I’m not one to wish injury on people, but Triple H blowing out his right quad did Cena a favor. Triple H was gonna get his win back from ‘Mania 22. No one needed it, and putting HBK in his place paid off big time.

WrestleMania XXIV

I’m sorry. I love you.

In that moment, Shawn really was the Heartbreak Kid.

We knew what was gonna happen. No amount of time could prepare us for it. When Shawn raised his leg to “tune up the band”, he stopped. That was it. Ric Flair beckoned for it. 

There’s no shortage of emotional moments at WrestleMania: Savage and Elizabeth’s reunion; Hogan and Warrior’s hug; Rey’s World title win; Shawn’s boyhood dream coming true; and Flair’s loss. He went down fighting, living up to his rep as a dirty player to the end.

Another great MITB ladder match, and this time it was CM Punk taking the briefcase. The triple threat with John Cena, Triple H and Randy Orton was also good. Floyd Mayweather’s match with Big Show went a little better than people thought it would.

It marked the Undertaker’s 16th straight ‘Mania win and Edge’s only time headlining WrestleMania. 

WrestleMania 25

I just had an out of body experience!!!

In 2005, the Streak became a focal point for the Showcase of the Immortals, but did anyone ever expect this!?

When The Undertaker did his signature dive, I thought he broke his neck. Thankfully he had the presence of mind to tuck and roll, kind of.

It’s almost as if we watched two separate bouts back to back. The chokeslam, then Sweet Chin Music, the Last Ride, and then the Tombstone. Michaels kicked out. Priceless look on ‘Taker’s face. Another superkick, and Taker kicks out!! Then comes the moonsault. Taker catches him perfectly, then a Tombstone, and it’s 17-0!! 

Oh, there were other talking points.

We nearly got a match between Mickey Rourke and Chris Jericho. What we got in its place was more satisfying.

I couldn’t believe Ricky Steamboat still had it.

You know Triple H, you would think that after X8, you would know better. Also, his rivalry with Randy Orton was so intensely personal but the payoff wasn’t anywhere near a representation of it. No Holds Barred was the easy way, and instead Triple H could lose the WWE title by DQ. 

Yeah, he’s so good at politicking but didn’t have the presence of mind to call bullshit on his match.

Final thoughts

If we’re getting technical, I’m a smark. That means I’m a ‘smart’ fan who still marks out. Many of the smart fans deride the marks because they root for the stars they wouldn’t.

Don’t look down on the marks. We all started out that way. We’re all fans in the end.

Don’t mess with the X.