Wrestlemania XIX took place just a few months after the Katie Vick angle, AKA that time I stopped watching wrestling for almost four years. As a result, I have no personal memories of the stories and matches that made up the card. Other than a few infamous matches and moments that I’ve heard about over the years, everything was new to me when I watched the show in March 2014. 2003 was a bit of an awkward time for WWE. It wasn’t really part of the Attitude Era, but the company hadn’t yet transitioned into its kid-friendly “Universe” era. A few “WCW guys” were starting to make their way in their former rival company, the top two stars of the Attitude Era were on their way out, and WWE as a whole was trying to find a balance between showcasing the old guard and building new talents.
The overall card was solid, with the only real low point being the presence of the Miller Light “Catfight Girls”. All of the matches were at least decent TV quality, with a few real standouts and a couple of matches that would have been great except for some major mistakes (one scripted, one…not so much).
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages…let’s get ready to relapse!
Match 1: Rey Misterio vs. Matt Hardy (c) for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
My first thought while watching this match was that Rey’s original WWE music is vastly superior to his later “Booyaka 619” theme. I also miss his old entrance, with him being catapulted from below the stage, but I don’t blame him for ditching that once his knees really started to go. Matt Hardy is using his “Version 1” gimmick, complete with slow-buffering effect. Shannon Moore is with him, ready to provide the obligatory outside interference.
This match is a great example of Rey back when he was still near the top of his game. I’d forgotten how jaw-dropping his workrate was when he was younger and healthy. He hits a lot of running lucha-style moves on Hardy, complete with real hurricanranas (which over the years have mostly been replaced by sentons). There’s a great diving astro scissor whip out of the corner from Rey, which I don’t think was seen much again in WWE until Alberto Del Rio started doing it. Matt Hardy is…well, Matt Hardy. Video game create-a-character basic move set stuff.
The match overall is a good curtain jerker, with Rey on top most of the time, only for Shannon Moore to interfere and kill his momentum every time it looks like Matt is going to lose. There was a big standout spot toward the end that saw Matt go for what looked like a top rope Razor’s Edge, only for Rey to counter with a hurricanrana. After hitting the 619 on Matt, Rey goes for the West Coast Pop (remember that? I miss it), only for Matt to dodge, roll Rey up, and use the rope to get the win.
Rating: 3/5 booyakas, plus one astonished realization that Matt Hardy and CM Punk are wiener cousins.
Next is a backstage segment showing the arrival of the Miller Lite Catfight Girls. The level of pandering and blatant product placement is just insulting. I’d almost rather watch a Limp Bizkit performance.
Match 2: Undertaker vs. Big Show and A-Train
Before the match, Limp Bizkit performs (GOD DAMMIT!), after being introduced as “WWE’s FAVORITE band!” It’s remarkable how little WWE’s taste in music has changed in the last decade. The song goes on entirely too long before Undertaker takes the stage. I was never a fan of the Bikertaker gimmick, to the point that I once actually e-mailed WWE telling them that I wanted the Deadman gimmick back, not “some old guy with a ponytail on a motorcycle”. On the following RAW, Undertaker showed up with a new, short haircut. So I’ll count that as a partial victory.
The match was originally booked (in kayfabe) as a tag match, but Show and A-Train jumped ‘Taker’s partner (Nathan Jones, who I literally had never heard of) in the locker room during Sunday Night Heat a couple of hours earlier. Since Nathan “I’ve never heard of me either” Jones is presumably laid out backstage, the match goes on as a handicap contest. The Streak is mentioned a few times, but at this point (10 wins) it was a way to sell a match, rather than the entire PPV. The match is booked like a present-day John Cena match, with the babyface up against seemingly impossible odds.
A-Train looks great in the ring. His moves look brutal and explosive, and he has a surprising quickness to his movements. ‘Taker hits him with a chokeslam to go for the early win, but the match continues. A-Train hits Undertaker with a fantastic looking sitout double choke bomb (called the Derailer at this point). Big Show and A-Train use great heel tag team tactics, constantly tagging each other in and creating distractions outside the ring. The best looking spot is Undertaker reversing Big Show’s chokeslam into a Fujiwara armbar. Near the end of the match, Undertaker has an opponent in each corner, running back and forth to attack them, similar to what Daniel Bryan does nowadays with dropkicks. The odds are evened up when Nathan Jones runs down to attack Big Show outside the ring. Apparently Jones just needed that extra ten minutes to recover from his attack, and would have been just fine for the match if Limp Bizkit had decided to do a few deep cuts after “Rollin’”. Undertaker, now one-on-one with A-Train, hits the Tombstone for the win. And with that, Bikertaker makes his final Wrestlemania appearance. Thank the Higher Power (spoiler: it’s Vince!).
Rating: 3/5 Matt Bloom gimmick changes.
Another backstage segment follows, again featuring the Miller Lite Catfight Girls. This time, they’re talking to Stacey Keibler and Torrie Wilson. After the segment, Jerry Lawler does his usual (at the time) shtick of pretending to be a grown man who has never seen actual boobs. You used to be married to Stacey Carter, King. We know you’ve seen boobs.
Jim Ross tells the U.S. troops in Iraq to “get it done quickly, and come home”. Oh JR, my sweet summer child…
Match 3: Trish Stratus vs. Jazz vs. Victoria (c) for the WWE Women’s Championship
Trish enters first, in what I refer to as her “middle Trish” stage. She’s becoming a solid hand in the ring, but is not quite ready for the Raw main event. Jazz enters next, and Lawler’s first comment is a cheap shot about how she looks like Mike Tyson. You know, Jerry, a few more women like Jazz and several fewer former models and the Women’s/Divas division might not have been in the toilet from 2006 to about a month ago. Victoria enters with the title around her waist. Stevie Richards is with her, and I’m not sure why. He is still going by “Steven” Richards, but is clearly not working his Right to Censor gimmick anymore.
The match, by today’s standards for women’s WWE wrestling, is fantastic. Trish seems to be showing off how well she learned how to throw a forearm, because that’s mostly what she does during the match. Victoria hits the best spot of the match, grabbing the top rope while on the apron and hitting a somersault legdrop. Trish’s highlight of the match is a beautiful victory roll, showing early signs of the huge potential she made good on in the following years. Jazz does a great job of playing the dominant heel, putting Trish in a half crab submission which transitions into a great-looking STF. Lance Storm would be proud. John Cena should take notes.
Stevie attempts a run-in with a chair, but his chair shot misses, ricochets off the top rope, and hits him in the face. He gets Stratusfaction from Trish for his trouble. Victoria sets Trish up for the Widow’s Peak, but Trish gets free and hits her with a Chick Kick for the win.
Rating: 3.5/5 forearms
Backstage, Jonathan Coachman interviews The Rock. Like most out-of-context Rock promos, I can’t tell at first if he is a heel or a babyface. Rocky complains about “The People” (ohhhh…he’s a heel) booing him, and makes multiple references to Hollywood so people know that he’s a big movie star now and doesn’t need WWE (which, it turned out, he really was and he really didn’t). The Rock says that he’s tired of getting booed, and he’s finally going to beat Stone Cold. He says that he learned in Hollywood that the first and second act don’t matter, it’s the third act that’s important. Presumably because that’s the act where The Rock sometimes shows up as a CG scorpion monster.
Match 4: Los Guerreros vs. Chris Benoit and Rhyno vs. Team Angle (c) for the WWE Tag Team Championship
I’ll start off here by addressing the elephant in the room: it’s really tough seeing Eddie or Benoit in matches, doubly so when they’re on screen together. With that being said, on to the match…
I was never a huge fan of Los Guerreros’ theme music. WWE/F has a dubious history concerning minorities, and it’s ambiguous whether the repeated line of, “We lie, we cheat, we steal!” is supposed to apply just to Eddie and Chavo, or to Latinos in general. I’d like to give WWE the benefit of the doubt, but over a decade later they have a Tongan playing a Mexican cholo, a black man playing a rapping, dancing minstrel, and two Puerto Ricans playing Mexican matadors, so WWE is not getting a lot of points for racial sensitivity. Benoit and Rhyno enter next, and without the benefit of context I have no idea why they’re teaming together. I’m assuming their tag team gimmick is that their arms look slightly too short for their bodies. Team Angle (AKA The World’s Greatest Tag Team) enters last, and damn if the last ten years haven’t hit Charlie Haas like a truck. Shelton Benjamin looks basically the same now as he did then, but Haas today looks like a baseball glove that got left out in the rain too many times.
The match is conducted under Triple Threat rules, where there are always two legal men and anybody can tag anybody else. I’ve never been really clear on the psychology behind tagging one’s own team out of the match, because it takes away that team’s chance to win unless someone else tags them back in. I get that it’s supposed to be a desperation move, but that’s what the Hot Tag spot is for. Just tag your own partner, mang (racial sensitivity!). Speaking of Hot Tags, Chavo gets one toward the end of the match. I’m going to repeat that, because it bears repeating: Chavo Guerrero got a Hot Tag. That’s something you won’t ever see post-2006.
There are a lot of good spots in this match, as should be expected given who’s in it. Benoit hits a great flapjack-into-crossface on Eddie, and Team Angle hits a beautiful double dropkick. The go-home spot is Rhyno goring Chavo, only to be pulled out of the ring by Eddie, leaving Shelton free to score the pinfall. Team Angle retain in a well-wrestled, but unremarkable, match.
Rating: 3.5/5 conflicted feelings
Match 5: Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels
The video package before the match does a great job of showcasing the feud. As good as Jericho is as a babyface, he’s one of the all-time great heels in the business. Jericho enters first, sporting some snazzy blue and yellow ring gear. Shawn Michaels enters next, sporting a haircut he must’ve copied from school pictures of a 7th grade girl going through her “awkward” phase. He’s got confetti cannons spaced out along the entrance ramp, and fires bits of paper into the crowd. A couple of the cannons don’t fire, and Shawn plays it off like the pro he is.
This match is a wrestling fan’s dream. There’s a ton of great “scientific” wrestling, along with some masterful storytelling. An undercurrent of animosity runs through the match, and Jericho adds another layer to the story by working HBK’s surgically repaired back. The match’s greatest strength is the subversion of expectations, putting new twists on classic wrestling tropes and spots. This is set up early, with Jericho stopping in the middle of running the ropes, and slapping Michaels in the face. A bulldog attempt by Jericho later in the match is countered by HBK, and he hurls Jericho balls-first into the ringpost. The one spot that plays out traditionally is Michaels putting Jericho in the Figure Four, followed by Jericho doing the obligatory “flip over” counter. The match spills outside the ring, where Jericho puts HBK in the Walls of Jericho, holding it so long that both men almost get counted out. They both make it back to the ring before the ten-count, and the match continues.
Jericho mocks Michaels throughout the match, at one point hitting HBK’s signature kip-up and pose. Halfway through the match, Jericho grabs the corner ropes and starts stomping, telegraphing Sweet Chin Music. After a little “Jericho shuffle”, Y2J catches the audience off guard by successfully kicking Michaels square in the jaw (that spot seemed like it was begging for a counter, but once again things played out unexpectedly). From this point on, the crowd hangs on every move. The match ends after Jericho ducks HBK’s own Sweet Chin Music attempt and tries to put him in the Walls again, only for Michaels to counter that into a rollup and score the three-count. After the match, Jericho holds out his arms for a hug in a gesture of respect. HBK accepts, and the two men embrace. The crowd cheers…and then Jericho kicks Shawn in the balls. Backstage, Roddy Piper (oops, spoiler!) gives a begrudging slow clap. I assume.
Rating: ALL OF MY YES. This match was two masters of the craft putting on a clinic.
Limp Bizkit performs again, and no one will ever convince me that this song is a different song from what they played earlier.
After that nonsense is the catfight, which amounts to yet more nonsense. Jonathan Coachman is there with a microphone, because there is no God. The Miller Light Catfight Girls start out on a bed, crawling toward each other as if they’re going to make out. Stacey and Torrie come out and add themselves to the “match”. All of the female-types end up in their bras, and Coach gets pinned by Stacey while Torrie counts the three. I don’t know what just happened, but the whole debacle still made more sense than most of what WWE does these days.
Match 6: Booker T vs. Triple H (c) for the World Heavyweight Championship
The video package for this match includes Trips’ now-infamous line about how people like Booker T don’t get to be champion. This is a case where HHH will claim he was trying to get heel heat, but WWE’s history with black performers lends some unfortunate implications to the whole angle. The only way to justify this kind of build would be if Booker wins the match and the title.
Triple H enters first, which I strongly disagree with. Heel or babyface, the champ should always enter second, and it’s a big pet peeve of mine when the second entrance goes to the babyface challenger. It really exposes the business and makes it look less like a sporting event and more like a scripted TV show. My suspension of disbelief only stretches so far. Ric Flair is with HHH, mostly to continue Hunter’s long tradition of attaching himself to people more talented and/or powerful than himself. Booker looks very serious during his entrance, either because he’s in character as the resolute underdog or because Vince told him right before the match that people like him don’t get to be champion.
It’s been a while since I’ve watched any of Booker’s older matches, and I had forgotten how much I liked his style. He hits lots of great looking kicks, and shows off some surprising agility for a guy his size. Triple H jumps off the top rope at one point, only for Booker to hit him with a super kick in midair. Booker eventually ends up outside the ring, and Flair hits him with a kneebreaker onto the ring steps while Hunter distracts the referee. Speaking of the ref, it’s noteworthy that he takes a bump backwards into the turnbuckle and doesn’t sell it for a ridiculous amount of time. Normally, a small bump like that would incapacitate a referee for anywhere from five to twenty minutes (see: HHH vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania X-Seven).
After Flair attacks Booker, Triple H continues to work the injured knee. Jim Ross calls HHH “the cerebral assassin”, but to me he looks more like “the patellar assassin”. I don’t think JR knows where the cerebrum is. Hunter tries to hit a kneebreaker of his own in the ring, but Booker reverses it into a sunset flip. Soon after, Booker hits the scissor kick, and the crowd goes crazy. I bet they sure would like to see Booker win the match and walk out as champ, so he can rise up as a new main event star. Trips kicks out, because of course he does. Booker hits the Houston Hangover, an amazing somersault leg drop that I’ve seen in WWE video games but had never seen Booker actually attempt. Both guys sell the intensity of the match, acting like they’re ready to collapse at any moment. Hunter hits a desperation Pedigree, falls down, and drapes an arm over Booker to score the pin. Zero new stars made.
Rating: 2.5/5 buryin’ shovels. Booker going over would’ve raised it to at least a 3.5.
Match 7: Vince McMahon vs. Hulk Hogan in a Street Fight
My expectations for this match are not high, since one of the competitors is an old man not really known for his wrestling abilities, and the other is Vince McMahon. I’m watching this on the WWE Network, so “Voodoo Chile” is overdubbed with generic rock music during Hogan’s entrance. I’m a bit surprised that Hogan doesn’t bury anyone on the way to the ring, just to remind HHH who the master is. Vince is in better shape than Hogan, despite being the younger, non-wrestler of the pair. The match opens up with a prolonged version of the infamous “Ultimate Warrior blowjob” spot, this time with Hogan on the receiving (or is it giving?) end. Both guys eventually end up outside the ring, and Hogan hits one of the Spanish announcers in the face with a chair because America (okay, he was trying to hit Vince and missed, but still). Vince incapacitates Hogan on the Spanish announce table, climbs a ladder, and hits a bowling-shoe-ugly leg drop that ends up looking more like a senton splash.
After some exchanging of chair shots, both guys end up back in the ring. A man in a long, hooded coat runs into the ring, and reveals himself to be Roddy Piper (remember that spoiler from earlier?). He’s got a lead pipe in his hand, and acts like he’s going to hit Vince. Piper being Piper, though, turns and hits Hogan in the head instead before dropping the pipe and leaving the ring. Vince goes to pin Hogan, and Hogan kicks out because the laws of physics no longer apply (God help you). Vince picks up the pipe and brains Hogan himself. Vince goes for a pin, and Hogan kicks out again, powered by his instinctual inability to put over a younger guy.
Vince punches Hogan in the face, Hogan no-sells, and begins hulking up. My eyes roll so hard they almost fall out of my head. Hogan gives Vince the big boot and hits three consecutive leg drops before pinning him for the win. Typical Hogan finish.
Rating: 2/5 Santas with Muscles.
Match 8: The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin
This was Rock and Austin’s third and final Wrestlemania match, and unbeknownst to the audience it was also Stone Cold’s retirement match. Rock and Austin start brawling outside the ring almost immediately after the bell rings. The Rock sends Austin into the ring steps, and Austin fires back with a series of punches. Stone Cold has a way of making even the most basic moves and strikes look great. The Rock works on Austin’s famously bad knees during the match, and Stone Cold is just trying to beat the holy hell out of The Rock.
The action moves back into the ring for a bit, and Rock slaps on his weird, loosey-goosey Sharpshooter. I assume he learned it from the same guy who later taught the STF to John Cena. Rock grabs Austin’s vest and puts it on, getting in a bit of mid-match acting practice (too late, unfortunately, to save The Scorpion King). Things really start to pick up when Stone Cold hits a Rock Bottom on The Rock. Rock kicks out, and retaliates with a Stunner to Stone Cold. Austin kicks out and hits Rock with a Stunner of his own. Rock kicks out. This match is all about drama and intensity, and it’s not a technical clinic by any stretch of the imagination. It works because of how committed Rock and Austin are to telling a story in the ring. I don’t know that there are two stars in WWE today who could pull off this kind of match.
The Rock slams Austin to the mat, and sets up the People’s Elbow. Austin moves, but Rock knocks him down again and successfully hits the Elbow. Stone Cold kicks out of a pin, and gets a Rock Bottom for his trouble. Austin kicks out, and Rock sets him up for a second Rock Bottom. Austin reverses, but ends up taking a Rock Bottom anyway. Austin kicks out one last time before a third Rock Bottom puts him down for the three-count. After Rock celebrates and leaves the ring, Stone Cold’s music hits and he walks out standing tall, giving the fans a double-bird salute.
Rating: 4/5 finisher no-sells
Match 9: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle (c) for the WWE Championship
The champ (Angle) enters first AGAIN in this match, probably just to piss me off. Brock enters to a big pop from the crowd, which is weird to me because I only ever remember seeing him as a heel in both his original and current WWE runs. Angle is playing the heel champ, and is defending his title under the stipulation that he will lose the belt if he is counted out or disqualified. The match opens with an impressive sequence of chain wrestling. It’s already a very different match from Stone Cold vs. The Rock, with Angle and Lesnar both showing off their amateur wrestling skills and overall technical abilities. There is a long rest hold about a third of the way into the match, during which Angle is probably whispering, “hey Brock, you know what would be really cool? If you did a Shooting Star Press.”
After the rest hold, Angle works on Brock’s ribs, which are heavily taped due to attacks from Angle during the program leading up to the match. Lesnar impressively gorilla presses Angle, and it looks like Angle is providing little, if any, assistance (not because he’s sandbagging Brock, but because Brock is scary, scary strong). Angle’s best spot of the match comes when Brock tries to hit an F-5, and Angle reverses it into a facelook, which transitions into an ankle lock, which then transitions into a half-crab submission. Towards the end of the match, Brock grounds Angle, and proceeds to climb the ropes. The distance from Brock to Angle is more than half the ring, and anyone who has seen this match is already wincing at this point. Brock jumps off the ropes, and hits a gruesome Shooting Star Neckbreaker on himself. Angle was too far away, so instead of splashing on top of him, Brock jammed his head and neck into Angle’s torso, damn near killing himself. Angle manages to talk a dazed Lesnar through a quick finish, with Angle taking an F-5 and doing the honors for the new champ.
Rating: 3.5/5 Maffews
Wrestlemania XIX was a solid show from top to bottom, with no bad matches to be found (the catfight does NOT count as a match). Rock vs. Austin and Michaels vs. Jericho are classics, and Angle vs. Lesnar would have been phenomenal without the Shooting Star botch and rushed finish. I definitely recommend the show to anyone looking for a dose of nostalgia, or just a satisfying Wrestlemania card.
Match of the Night: Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho
Best Booking: Stone Cold losing to The Rock, making the traditional veteran’s exit
Worst Booking: Triple H going over Booker T, putting his own ego before the company.
Wrestling is a helluva drug. See you for the next fix.