The road to WrestleMania is often regarded as the most exciting three month period in the WWE season.
It’s where all the big returns, dream matches and thrilling storylines take place. Basically, the only three months of the year the writers actually do what they’re paid to do.
Leading up to this year’s extravaganza, I’m going to analyse every road to WrestleMania from the last decade starting with the 2010 edition, leading to the 26th staging of the showcase of the immortals. Yes, the one where Bret Hart beat up Vince McMahon for 13 minutes.
The event also saw Batista and John Cena clash for the WWE Championship, Edge return from an Achilles injury to take on Chris Jericho for the World Title, and Shawn Michaels put his career on the line against The Undertaker. So let’s get to it…
We will start with Edge returning to win the Royal Rumble match, considering he’s in the headlines currently for almost doing the exact same thing last month. Prior to tearing his Achilles, Edge was working a partnership angle with Chris Jericho, who had become the top heel in the business by this point. Edge eliminated Jericho from the Rumble before throwing John Cena out to claim the prize.
Edge kept his cards close to his chest until after the following pay per view, the Elimination Chamber. That is where Chris Jericho survived five other superstars to take home the World Heavyweight Championship. The following night on Raw, Edge made his choice by spearing Jericho. That one move became the crux of the storyline which got old real quick. It was so bad that fans actually turned on Edge, and by the time WrestleMania rolled around his new babyface act was colder than Antarctica.
The Edge-Jericho angle ran parallel with the epic WrestleMania rematch between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. Michaels desperately wanted one more chance to end the Streak, but The Deadman was not interested considering he was the World Champion at the start of the year. At the Royal Rumble, Undertaker retained the gold against Rey Mysterio in a thrilling little contest, while HBK battled valiantly in an attempt to win the Rumble Match only to come agonisingly close before being thrown out by Batista.
Michaels again pleaded with Undertaker to accept his challenge but got a big fat no in response. This left Shawn with little choice than to make Undertaker accept his challenge. His plan transpired inside the Elimination Chamber structure where Undertaker put the gold on the line against five of SmackDown’s top stars. It came down to The Phenom and Chris Jericho. This is when Michaels made his presence felt, emerging from under one of the steel grids to strike an unsuspecting Undertaker with some Sweet Chin Music. A stunned Jericho wasted no time in covering Taker for the win as Shawn stood over the fallen Deadman looking remorseless.
Losing the World Championship wasn’t the worst thing that happened to The Undertaker that night, however. The pyrotechnics malfunctioned causing flames to engulf The Phenom, giving him second-degree burns. Most would’ve been in a heap crying, but Undertaker wrestled for 32 minutes.
The next night on Raw, Undertaker finally accepted Shawn’s challenge on one condition – Michaels had to put his career on the line. Shawn accepted on the basis that, “If I can’t beat you at WrestleMania, I have no career”. With that, the epic match was set.
The two biggest names to come since the Attitude Era were undoubtedly Batista and John Cena. No question about it. They were The Rock and Stone Cold of that era, minus all the ratings of course. Batista was a badass heel here, and played it perfectly to Cena’s super good guy persona. He did everything to be hated from bullying Rey Mysterio, beating up Bret Hart and neutralising John Cena.
Batista captured the WWE Championship from Cena moments after Cena had won the title himself in the gruelling Elimination Chamber structure. This was done as a favour to Batista by McMahon for helping him deal with The Hitman. Cena and Batista had only fought once before at Summerslam in 2008 where Batista not only won but broke Cena’s neck. This was the first big match John was going into where many believed he would not win. More fool them.
The match everyone was talking about heading into WrestleMania was the bout billed 13 years in the making between Bret Hart and Vince McMahon. Hart returned to WWE on the first episode of Raw in 2010 for the first time since the infamous Montreal Screwjob. He got a massive ovation and even hugged with Michaels. Then came the moment to confront McMahon, who feigned happiness to see Hart before kicking him in the gut.
The whole story got convoluted from there, with Hart faking a broken leg to get McMahon to sign a contract to a No Holds Barred match at WrestleMania where if he tried to back out would be sued for everything he had. McMahon had been duped, but the fans were about to suffer the most by being forced to watch the drivel.
Elsewhere on the card, CM Punk was in the midst of his brilliant Straight Edge Society phase and was set to clash with Rey Mysterio. Punk put in a tremendous performance at the Royal Rumble as well as the Elimination Chamber, but still, Vince McMahon didn’t seem keen to go all-in on the Best in the World. Punk had a chip on his shoulder and wanted to steal the show on the biggest event possible. He had the ideal opponent to do so with, and the story was decent too.
Rey Mysterio brought his daughter to Smackdown to celebrate her birthday, which Punk interrupted by singing Happy Birthday to her in a really creepy manner. This set the ball in motion for the WrestleMania showdown between two of the best workers in the business.
A surprising role for Triple H at that year’s WrestleMania saw him take on relative newcomer Sheamus in the mid card. The Game was rather directionless at the start of 2010, losing the Tag Team Championship with Shawn Michaels before failing to capture the WWE Title inside the Elimination Chamber structure. There didn’t seem to be an obvious WrestleMania opponent for The King of Kings until Sheamus attacked him, blaming Triple H for defeating him and ending his undefeated streak.
Many feared going into this one that Triple H would bury Sheamus flat. Some would argue he did just that, but he didn’t. The build was solid between the traditional old lion and young lion. Not much thought was put into it, but it didn’t need it. The match wrote itself and people wanted to see it.
This was the WrestleMania that also saw the implosion of Legacy which featured Randy Orton, Ted DiBiase Jr, and a very young Cody Rhodes. I wonder what that guy is doing these days… The three worked very well together as a unit but the wheels were coming off at the turn of the year, especially when Rhodes & DiBiase inadvertently cost Orton the WWE Championship at the Rumble event. Things escalated further at the Elimination Chamber PPV when DiBiase eliminated The Viper.
Orton turned ice-cold, and targeted the pair with unmerciful attacks. Strangely, Randy was portrayed as the babyface here when it was obviously time to have Rhodes & DiBiase breakout as the next big faces in WWE.
So we arrive at WrestleMania 26 where the show opened with Big Show & The Miz defeating John Morrison & R Truth to hold onto the Tag Team Championship. Odd choice of opener which should’ve appeared on the pre-show. Next up, Randy Orton made short work of his former Legacy partners in a dull Triple Threat encounter. This one just didn’t connect with the live crowd until Randy hit the RKO in the home stretch.
Jack Swagger won what was quite possibly the worst Money In The Bank Ladder match in history. WWE went all-in on him though, letting him capture the World Heavyweight Championship just a few days later on Smackdown. Not sure what McMahon regrets more: the Jack Swagger experiment or the XFL. Next, Triple H attempted to make a star of Sheamus and did just that in my book with a hard-hitting affair that had the crowd on the edge of their seats throughout. Obviously Triple H went over but Sheamus came out stronger because of it.
CM Punk and Rey Mysterio desperately wanted to steal the show but were given a tough hand by only being dealt 10 minutes of ring time. They tried, but it never got past good. Mysterio won, which was a mistake in hindsight. Next up was the big one between Bret Hart and Vince McMahon. Prior to the bout, McMahon revealed he had paid off Hart’s entire family in order to screw him one more time. Bret got the last laugh by saying the Hart family is stronger than ever and they had united at WrestleMania. What followed was a painful beating for McMahon where he endured 1e chair shots to the back before it was mercifully over when the Sharpshooter was applied and Vince tapped out. This was dire.
Up first of the three main events was Edge looking to dethrone Chris Jericho of the World Heavyweight Championship. They both tried as hard as they could to win the crowd over, but they just weren’t interested. The fans hated the angle and didn’t buy Edge as a babyface. The long rest periods didn’t help matters either. Jericho winning cleanly was a big mistake, however. The most exciting moment took place after the final bell when Edge snapped and speared Jericho through an announce table at ringside, but by that point, the fans had completely stopped caring.
Team Vickie Guerrero won a meaningless 10 Diva Tag Match before Batista and John Cena hit the ring (WWE really cared about their women’s division in 2010). Many expected a classic from the two biggest stars in the company, but what they got instead was a decent encounter. Their Summerslam effort was much better, which is a shame considering this was WrestleMania. Cena tapped out Batista to win back the WWE Championship. Batista quit WWE for real just two months later.
Finally, the time had come to see Shawn Michaels put his career on the line against The Streak of The Undertaker. It was No Holds Barred too. They had a lot to live up to from the previous year, and while they just failed to do so, this was still a classic in every sense of the word. The two put absolutely everything into it, but we had seen so many false finishes the year before that they just didn’t have the same reaction. Replacing Jim Ross on commentary with Matt Striker did not help the excitement levels either.
After almost 30 minutes of pulsating action, Undertaker felt pity on Shawn, before Michaels rallied back with a slap across the face. The Phenom responded with a thunderous Tombstone Piledriver for the win to end Shawn’s career. The two tearfully embraced afterwards before Michaels waved goodbye to the WWE Universe… until Saudi Arabia money came calling nine years later.
Overall, the road to WrestleMania 26 and the event itself had its ups and downs. It featured a lot of exciting angles and bouts along with some bad ones. It also featured the most anticipated main event in the show’s history as well as the in ring return of Bret Hart.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!