The World Series. The Super Bowl. The Indy 500. The Stanley Cup Finals. The NBA Finals (not a very original title). The Masters.
All of the above are the yearly pinnacles of their respective sporting events. With the two events that aren't the finales to the season, they're certainly the most recognized and praised events of the year. Each of these sporting events has a long, storied past, containing some of the most famous scenes in the history of their sport. The WWE has a yearly event that is somewhat in the same vein, the pay per view event to end all pay per view events, Wrestlemania. All roads end here. Stories take place for months upon months leading up to the grand finale on the biggest stage of them all. We see glorious returns and tearful goodbyes, new stars taking their place in history, and the best of the best living up to their billing.
The 2010 Wrestlemania is the 26th to ever take place, with over 70,000 fans in attendance on a March evening in Phoenix (before the area became a political hotspot). All of the biggest names currently active are here, and are ready to take their place in history, have their "Wrestlemania moment," as the commentators like to say. With the last two events (which are both available on Blu-ray) setting a lofty, but reachable, standard, can this most recent annual gathering of ass kicking stand like Andre the Giant over its competition, or will it just be another up and comer that doesn't quite make it?
Please note, that while this review provides some recaps and descriptions, not a single match is spoiled within. While the events depicted are already a few months old (and in a few cases, redundant already), it is not our job to ruin the event for those who are curious to see what this promotion is up to in recent years.
R-Truth & Morrison vs Unified Tag Team Champions Big Show & The Miz.
The event begins with the Unified Tag Team Championship on the line, with the defending champs (who actually enter the ring together, heaven forbid) The Miz and Big Show (Paul Wight) taking on R-Truth and John Morrison. This match has about as much drama going into it as my deciding what to read during my next bathroom break. Not even the history between Miz and Morrison is played, by announcers, or by the wrestlers. We get a nicely played, cohesive effort from the champs, and a pair of flashy (athletic to the point of awe) loners. Morrison's attempt at a "Starship Pain" may be the highlight here, as a long removed would-be victim creates an amazingly athletic feat, and hard landing. Big Show shows his moves far too early on occasion, which is pretty damn sloppy. After the last Wrestlemania began with the Money in the Bank Ladder Match, this opener is a disaster.
Triple Threat Match: Ted Dibiase vs Cody Rhodes vs Randy Orton
The second bout actually has a story behind it; in fact, a rather good one, that has been playing out for the better part of a year. The pupils rebelling against the master. A solid theme in literature, and it makes for great entertainment in the ring. This match doesn't fall victim to the annoyances of most Randy Orton bouts. He doesn't take 30 minutes to get to the ring, for one, and the color team isn't tripping over itself trying to make snake analogies. This bout tells a story fitting of the time spent creating the story up to this point. We don't get a ton of the one on one, with a "spent" or "hurt" combatant biding their time, cycling through the participants, as everyone stays relatively involved, the pace stays fast, and we even see a slight bit of in-ring innovation. This is the match that should have started Wrestlemania, to get the crowd into it.
Interview segment with Vickie Guererro- Watch the head villainess entice the crowd, see the reasons why the Divas division is a joke these days, see four divas mug for the camera like fools, then watch the entertaining (sometimes) Santino Marella do a Slim "James" commercial. It's actually pretty funny, the mock commercial, that is. The rest here is beyond painful.
Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Kofi Kingston vs MVP vs Evan Bourne vs "The All American American" Jack Swagger vs "The Gold Standard" Shelton Benjamin vs Matt Hardy vs Dolph Ziggler vs Intercontinental Champion Drew McIntyre vs Kane vs "Captain Charisma" Christian
The most unusual match of this Wrestlemania has become a staple of the event in recent years, at times being the highlight, by a long shot. Forget tables, ladders, and chairs. That's so very 2000. Money in the Bank. The point of this match is not unlike a standard ladder match, with an item suspended by a cable at the center of the ring, with the only way to win being to capture it. The twist on the formula, though, is there are numerous, numerous ladders, for numerous, numerous competitors. Ten of them. In recent years, some of the nastier WWE thumps have come from this very match. This year, sadly, not so much. The match moves up the card, and has an intriguing lineup, but fails to live up to the last three iterations of the event.
With the ten men, we get a wide variety of experience, demeanor, personality, and techniques, from big bruisers, to high fliers. Looking at the card, you can easily expect an amazing dive (or fall) from Bourne, something amazingly fast from Kingston, and constant innovation from Christian, a longtime veteran of ladder matches. But this match just doesn't deliver. With ten men, plus ladders, it is nearly impossible to keep each one engaged at all times, and with bigger bumps, we can expect longer rest periods, where someone sells an attack or "injury." The problem is, for most of the match, less than 40% of the fighters are active at any time. MVP (whose persona is he that likes sports. Gee...) and Dolph Ziggler (whose persona...hell, I don't know...he's really blonde!) may as well have provided commentary, as they are outside the ring selling spots for almost the entire match length. We get a few big spills, and plenty of gambles, but no true HOLY SHIT moment, the one through which the match is remembered forever. Kingston botches a run up a ladder by falling into a rung (then trying to sell it as if he didn't, annoyingly), but makes up for it with the hilarious ladder stilt gimmick that is beyond impressive. We get a few ladder sandwiches, a few "from the top to the bottom" big falls, and a few top of the ladder signature moves, but aside from an Airbourne from Evan Bourne and Hardy's flip over a ladder into a suspended ladder, there's no real amazing moment.
And folks, let's not forget how real this kind of thing is. Yes, wrestling is a pre-determined outcome "sport," but these aren't cardboard ladders. They often support over 500 pounds worth of athletes on either side (sometimes up to 800 pounds), rocking and swaying. There is no magic cushion to prevent these men from taking real hits when they fall (and one look at Matt Hardy's back will prove this, as he does bust it up something ugly). Either McIntyre was wearing a menstrual pad, or he had a cushion for his big bump, which was a top rope crotch shot, and it showed throughout, as a big bulge that could have also been a sign of incontinence for the young up-and-comer. I wish this would have been something special, but instead, it's just an average at best gimmick match performed poorly.
If ever there were a good time to remind people to not try this at home, this would be it. Enjoy the same video you saw in the pre-menu trailers, as wrestlers remind you of the pain that this "sport" can cause. Don't try this at home, folks. In fact, while watching this program, try to put away any sharp objects, alcohol, or firearms. You can do no good with any of the above while watching Wrestlemania.
Hall of Fame Recap- Every Wrestlemania, we see a brief highlight reel of the events of the night before, the yearly WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The recipients (or their representatives, in the case of a few deaths) stand on the ramp, and that's about it.
Triple H vs Sheamus
If you've been away from the WWE for a while, let me try to gracefully recap who/what a Sheamus is. Imagine, for a second, you were watching 'Million Dollar Baby.' Remember Hillary Swank's enthusiasm, determination, and strong feminine will? Remember how Clint Eastwood gave her a nickname she never understood? Roll that up in a goofy looking, sickly pale, muscular redheaded male, and you have Sheamus, who, in his first year in the business, got a rare rookie headlining title reign. To counter his relative inexperience, throw in one of the current living legends still in his prime, The Game, Hunter Hearst Helmsley...sorry, Triple H. That guy who was a metal fanged vampire in 'Blade: Trinity.'
The match itself? At times it felt slightly in slow motion, but the "Cerebral Assassin" (that's one of Triple H's thirty seven nicknames) can manage a match with damn near anyone and make it enjoyable. This is the standard back and forth burly brawl, with big bombs thrown, lots of tactical attacks, and plenty of finishing move counters. In other words, it's entertaining, to say the least.
CM Punk vs Rey Mysterio
Alright, get this. If the masked guy loses to the hairy guy playing the role of the cult leader, he has to become one of his disciples. Zoh NoeZ!!! Yeah, those are some very high stakes. The "Straight Edge Superstar," the leader of the "Straight Edge Society" (those are his flunkies, folks), takes on the last real masked superstar, who, lest we forget, lost his mask in a previous promotion and wrestled for quite a long time after that, who flips around like a fish out of water. Instead of learning to be drug free from CM Punk, we learn to avoid becoming more inked up than the entire run of Batman comics like these two combatants.
The highlight of this match has to be the G.I. Joe parody on CM Punk's trunks (hey, that rhymed!). Well, that, and the nastiest sounding hit in the entire match, a foot meets face moment that has a deafening crack. Just like every other...no...every single Rey Mysterio match, it's the same old shit. We see one nice flipping DDT, but other than that, it's just copy paste from this repetitive warrior. It's a shame fans no longer boo this laziness and lack of imagination from one of the most agile superstars.
Bret "The Hitman" Hart vs Vince "Mr." McMahon, No Holds Barred
Yes, the owner of this moneymaker sometimes throws down in the ring. Have you seen the man? He's ripped like Carrot Top, only it fits him much more appropriately. There is a whole lot of history leading up to this match, including one of the most infamous moments in WWE history, the "Montreal Screwjob." A moment that was one of the big changes in WWE (back then, WWF) history, that was one of the big steps towards the Attitude era. Long story short, Bret signed on with the rival company, and had to drop his belt. It was done in classic villain-esque double-cross fashion, which to this day haunts the referee involved (Hart was always quite popular!).
Bret Hart has been long retired from wrestling, due to a botched kick from the talentless Bill Goldberg that gave him a serious concussion. A stroke in recent years only cemented the fact that "the Best there is, the Best there was, and the Best there ever will be" would never step back into the ring. The funny thing, though, is his strained relationship with McMahon has remedied over time, and this "grudge match" became a possibility, the night after Hart's legendary father was inducted into the promotion's Hall of Fame, after months of posturing between the two.
After tons of posturing and silly twists, we get a boring as hell match that not even the crowd could give a damn about. Too much fake drama, too much forced "story" that comes off as distracting, too long between matches from the Hitman, and too much time spent on a story that never should have happened, if this is the best payoff it could have had. Hell, I'd rather stare at Natalya Hart for twenty minutes, even if she were wearing mustard stained sweatpants and a 'Family Matters' hoodie, than watch this crud again.
World Heavyweight Champion Chris Jericho vs Edge
The winner of the 2010 Royal Rumble won a shot at a title at Wrestlemania, and Edge chose to take on his former tag team partner, who picked up a belt just in time for this grudge match. Superstar returning from injury, who may in real life steal your girlfriend versus superstar possibly returning from his latest hearing over the whole assaulting a group of fans incident. Yeah...that's something special. Jericho and Edge, despite all their glaring flaws, are a well matched pair, with complementary styles, and plenty of raw physical talent, who can both tell a story in the ring, and sell not only themselves, but their opponents. Matches with these two will never be headliner material, but if only every match were as well performed, and you'd have an amazing pay per view. Best of all, post-match, we get a detour to a magical land, so full of history and foreign languages. That's right, the Spanish Announce Table plays a part in the aftermath!
10 Diva Tag Match: Women's Champion Michelle McCool, Layla, Diva's Champion Maryse, Alicia Fox, and Vickie Guerrero vs Eve Torres, Mickie James, Kelly Kelly, Gail Kim, and "The Glamazon" Beth Phoenix
Damn near every WWE pay per view event has a Divas match or feature, and Wrestlemania is no different. Since there is so little to talk about during the match itself, other than the fact that it's an exchange of finishers with no logic whatsoever, let's just break this down real fast. 199 seconds, 10 combatants, 2 in the ring at any time. That's about 40 seconds per Diva. Amazingly, each and every combatant does something other than show up, as the tag match at the Royal Rumble was anything but, a ridiculous excuse for a match that deserved to be in the Hall of Shame. Again, the WWE mishandles their female talent with terrible storylines, matches that do nothing to show off any real in ring talent, and a blatant, hideous misuse of their best female talent on contract. Just fast forward, there are no wardrobe malfunctions.
WWE Champion Batista vs John Cena
If you want to see elaborate introductions at Wrestlemania, there are two people to check out: The Undertaker, and John Cena, and this year's extended promo is slouch compared to previous years. WWE's poster boy (with the hideous orange merchandise) takes on "The Animal," a man who could probably kill each and every reader of this review with his pinky. Considering the history between these two, including a neck injury "caused" in a match between them two years ago, this would normally be the headliner for the year's biggest pay per view.
This is a great match, and it really should have been longer, and been the headliner, the final match for Wrestlemania XXVI. Cena and Batista are a great match, due to both of their sheer strength, and what they can do with counter moves that roll into each other. Of course, my favorite part has to be Cena mugging the camera in front of a group of front row audience members wearing "We Hate Cena" shirts, but fans of the face of the WWE will enjoy this bout, very much.
Career vs Streak: The Undertaker vs Shawn Micheals
After pimping out the new Shawn Michaels DVD (in stores now, by the way, in case you were interested), we get to the main event. A main event with no title on the line. Instead, the men have a different stipulation. If Mark Calloway...err...Undertaker wins, Shawn Michaels retires. If Michaels wins...the undefeated streak of the "Dead Man" at Wrestlemania is over! That's kind of like betting your brand new car against a Superman action figure, totally lame bet. Who cares if someone has a winning streak in a pre-determined sport? That's about as artificial as the breasts on most of the Divas.
The bout itself? Well, it's a lengthy battle, folks, between two of the most veteran performers in the company, a rematch of their match at the previous Wrestlemania. The bar is raised, and the effort and story is also upped. We get all the signatures and trademarks of each legendary fighter, in a bout that goes back and forth with nearly every minute. There are a few beautiful set ups, as well. In the end, this is a fine finale to any event, though it only gets top billing due to emotional issues. A great job in storytelling by the two athletes.
To recap, we have ten matches on the card, with a few great matches, and a few pitiful excuses for Wrestlemania "moments." All of the current greats are on display, and there are no boring squash matches, as each competitor gives their all, with some very entertaining results. This may be the weakest Wrestlemania in the last five or so years, but it still bests most WWE pay per views, because, let's face it, the best is always saved for Wrestlemania.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Wrestlemania XXVI' is currently a Best Buy store exclusive title, just as the 'Royal Rumble 2010' release was, and the compilation disc of the best 2009 pay per view matches will be. It is available in stores, and online, so it's fairly easy to acquire, unlike some other store exclusives.
WWE presents their yearly extravaganza on three BD50 Dual Layer Discs, each reportedly Region A locked. Each has pre-menu trailers, a few skippable, some not (particularly the legalese warnings to not attempt to recreate what one sees in these events). The Wrestlemania content is held solely on the first disc in this release, including the dark match. Each of the respective discs contain content specific to the theme of the disc. This set is housed in a standard thickness case, with no fancy packaging, and the way the Hall of Fame disc holder is made, it allows for the disc to go ajar easily.
The 'Royal Rumble 2010' disc impressed me, very much, considering the past efforts on WWE releases. It was a huge leap forward, one that made me anxious as all get out for this release.
Damn anticipation and raised expectations. The AVC MPEG-4 encode, at 1080i in the 1.78:1 ratio, mirrors the specifications of the high def broadcast. It also fails on many, many levels, proving, amongst other things, that the nearly four hour show should have been spread across multiple discs.
Video qualities are consistent, to say the least. But not the good kind of consistent. The event opens with the sight of three planes flying over the University of Phoenix Stadium, a shot riddled with a massive artifacting glitch that stands out horrifically, lasting a few seconds, even longer than previous massive artifact glitches. This could be inherent in the material (the camera used), but regardless, it's just flat nasty. Fans with televisions that can burn will need to take note that the WWEHD logo is present in the same spot the entire runtime of the program, while the WWE logo is almost present the entire time, disappearing only for title cards (which fade out in a dissolving fashion that is quite impressive, visually). A word of note, though: the WWE logo has artifacting problems around it, drawing the eye negatively.
Reds replicate quite poorly, while macroblocking, banding, and other forms of artifacts are present throughout the show, in beyond obvious fashions. Skin tones, solid colors in tights, and outlines of characters are breeding grounds for problems, while audiences also display a problem due to the amount of content rammed and crammed onto a single disc. Moments meant to look superb, like the slow motion segment of Morrison's introduction, leave one jaded, as the clean distinction in fireworks is overshadowed by the sheer amount of macroblocking in the same shot. Ring introductions are the most problematic area for macroblocks, as they seem to come out in full force in these sequences. Skin tones exhibit yellows and oranges far more often than they are accurate. Delineation is solid, particularly in the black on black on black displayed in the commentary crew's outfits.
Some cameras are utterly flat, in definition and color, and cuts to these (probably leftover) devices are obvious. Detail is fairly strong, all things considered, with trunks displaying clarity in design, including the sparkling elements, freckles and moles stand out, though hair often is a blur. Sweat stands out, highlighting contours. Grain is not an issue, so neither is digital manipulation. Edges are clean from edge enhancement, even if they're not clean from artifacting. Aliasing is a big problem, in vibrating ring ropes (or ring ropes in zoom out shots), and in the zebra stripes of the ref outfits. There is nice distinction in skin tones, particularly when Triple H looks leathery like Hulk Hogan, and his opponent Sheamus looks pale like my ass. The bumps in the metal steps leading to the ring moire on occasion. Black levels are appropriate, though crushing occurs a bit in the Undertaker's excessively dyed mane.
Simply put, this event had potential, but by cramming four hours worth of content, plus a bonus match, all onto a single disc, the end result is frustrating, particularly due to the fact that there's four hours worth of it.
Like each and every WWE release before, 'Wrestlemania XXVI' replicates the television broadcast in not having a lossless option. Instead, we get the two standard options of English Dolby Digital 5.1, or for those more interested in the "excitable" Spanish announce team, a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Again, like the other WWE discs, it sounds fairly awful.
The color team of Lawler, Cole, and Striker are constantly drowned out by theme music, pyrotechnics, louder ring bumps, and the audience roars. Hilariously, even ring announcers are constantly muffled and muted. Numerous sentences are heard incomplete, and while humorous in ineptitude, it's frustrating to try to keep track of. But dialogue reproduction isn't the only problem on this release. Fireworks sound blended together, instead of distinct, and all come from the front channels. Rears get little more than audience ambience, and can disappear at times. Impacts don't have any bass presence, and numerous intro songs don't either, but as the show progresses, the bass does too, though it never gets all that strong. There is a light distinction between channels for theme songs, with even a hint of rear activity. There are a few spots of localization in the fireworks showing at the two hour mark, but that seems to be the highlight of this track. Dynamic range? It's more than a joke. R-Truth's rapping intro sounds utterly terrible for more reasons than the fact that it's a semi-live rap intro. The backing track overpowers the stuttered, stunted, and seemingly lost live elements. It's just shameful. This track is beyond troubled, more than aggravating, and certainly the low point of this release.
The rest of the content in this section is found on disc two.
Every Saturday before Wrestlemania is the WWE's night to honor its past as well as its present. The annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony combines the generations of wrestling lore, often regardless of promotion, to celebrate, remember, honor, and inform.
I'm an old school WWE (F) fan. I grew up watching Andre the Giant, the Macho Man, Jake the Snake, Hulk Hogan, and all the other assorted superstars. I never was a WCW fan. The Four Horsemen couldn't have interested me any less. The spectacle that is Wrestlemania is a yearly tradition in this household, whether it's purchased via pay per view, or on home video. 'Wrestlemania XXVI' isn't the best Wrestlemania in history. In fact, it's quite forgettable. I doubt many people will argue with me there. The 2010 Hall of Fame class isn't full of true legends, and the two bonus episodes of WWE programming aren't riveting blockbuster material, either. But that doesn't mean that this is a crummy release by any means. It remains, though, for wrestling fans only. Wrestling fans who will be upset that the previous release was miles ahead of this higher profile one. Anyone not open to this sport is likely to be confused or amused, rather than entertained.
In closing, I'd like to take the time to address a concern of mine that I've been holding in for nearly ten years. I'm still waiting for the WWE to truly acknowledge the late, great Owen Hart on home video. We have a Bret Hart DVD set (which is loaded to the brim with features and matches). We have his father's Hall of Fame induction on this release, but where is the tribute show (Raw is Owen) that aired the evening after Owen's death at Over the Edge in 1999? I understand the lawsuit surrounding the accident, and the way the video of the accident has been either shelved in the deepest safe or destroyed, but with all the superstar home video features, it's time to give some respect where respect is due. It's not like he went all Chris Benoit. He died for his sport. Honor the man who drew great applause with even just a name drop in the Hall of Fame ceremony.