For fans of professional wrestling, WrestleMania is what the Super Bowl is to football fans, or what the World Series is to baseball fans. When I was a kid, my Dad bought tickets to a closed circuit viewing of the first WrestleMania, which was at a high school gym. Mr. T was a huge star on television and in movies, and decided to wrestle with Hulk Hogan. Celebrities like Muhammad Ali and Cyndi Lauper also appeared, giving the event a Hollywood luster. I have since lost most of my loyalty and interest in professional wrestling, but WrestleMania has not lost its must-see status for many.
In part, this has been due to increased participation by entertainment figures, but the highlight of all WrestleManias may well have been the third. Held at the Pontiac Silverdome and filled to capacity with more than 90,000 in attendance, the event featured a thrilling athletic match with Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, and the main event showcased Hogan and Andre the Giant (The Princess Bride). Since then, the card switched from closed circuit to pay-per-view options, and most of the subsequent WrestleManias have been held in football stadiums with more than 50,000 in the stands. In Houston's Reliant Stadium, more than 70,000 came to watch the World Wrestling Entertainment event in its 25th installment.
Although World Wrestling Entertainment breaks down into two smaller brands (its RAW roster wrestles on Monday nights on the USA Network, while the Smackdown roster displays its talents on the CW) they come together for this one big night. The matches on the card, held on April 5 2009, are as follows:
CM Punk vs. Kofi Kingston vs. MVP vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Kane vs. Mark Henry vs. Finlay vs. Christian (Money in the Bank Ladder Match)
25 Diva Battle Royale (For Miss WrestleMania crown)
Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka vs. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat vs. Chris Jericho (Handicap Elimination Match)
Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy (Extreme Rules Match)
JBL vs. Rey Mysterio (Intercontinental Championship Match)
Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
Edge vs. John Cena vs. Big Show (Triple Threat Match for World Heavyweight Championship)
Introduction of 2009 WWE Hall of Fame Inductees
HHH vs. Randy Orton (WWE Championship Match)
Because this pay-per-view event is the marquee occasion where the boys in the back can get together, the wrestlers know how important it is to turn in a good performance. And regardless of what match they are in, they work hard, even if it's just for kicks in the occasional novelty match. WrestleManias have had its fair share of those through the years (some involving football players for Pete's sake), and to a degree, number 25 is no different; here, Oscar-nominated actor Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) makes an appearance. Despite the celebrities, there is still enough headline talent paired together that produce magnificent matches.
To the credit of the WWE production staff, they included with the matches a video preview of the events that led to the wrestlers in the ring against one another. For instance, Matt and Jeff Hardy are brothers and were a successful tag team, but their brotherly relationship was fractured due to jealously among the brothers, which leads to this match. The preview also showed Michaels, a frequent main event draw at WrestleManias, challenging the Undertaker's unbeaten record of 16 straight WrestleMania matches. Many of the matches are exciting and even worthwhile for some peripheral fans of wrestling.
Aside from two discs of action, the WWE included coverage of their Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, held the night before the card. This year's inductees were mostly from Texas (The Von Erich family, the Funk Brothers (Dory Jr. and Terry) and Stone Cold Steve Austin were among the Texans in this year's class, while "Cowboy" Bill Watts spent most of his time in the Oklahoma and Louisiana territories), though Steamboat was a welcome addition to the Hall. I particularly enjoy these ceremonies, because while the speeches sound at times like they might have been written by the WWE writers, the emotions are heartfelt and often moving.
By packing a couple hours worth of matches over two discs (the induction ceremony is on a third and is more than two hours on its own), the WWE does an excellent job of showing those who are unable to make it to the greatest night in sports entertainment just how fun it is. Even as someone who doesn't watch professional wrestling much anymore, I have a slight urge to go to a show live one day. Hope the wife won't kill me if I say that out loud.
Both the matches and induction ceremony are in full frame video, which is a disappointment considering that the WWE production values are quite good, being shot in high definition and all. The picture appears quite natural without artifacts or edge enhancement, but considering it's barely two months old, it would have been nice to have some widescreen love thrown its way.
The actual matches are in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, which is effective working with the video montages and pyrotechnics that engage all six speakers. Rear-channel sound is distinct from the front channels, and subwoofers even engage. The commentary volume tends to be a little inconsistent during the matches, but it's a forgivable sin. The third disc (with the Induction Ceremony) is in two-channel stereo.
An additional match with Carlito and Primo vs. The Miz and John Morrison for the Unified Tag Team match is here, though it's a little underwhelming, but that's followed up with a video montage of highlights from the previous 24 WrestleManias, which is a better compilation that's worth checking out.
All in all, WrestleMania 25 is a nice look at WWE activities in Houston which also pays tribute to wrestling's past while celebrating its present and future. It would have been nice to see some more bells and whistles thrown in, but it's a bargain for the price and a fairly packed multi-disc presentation.