WrestleMania 23: We’re back in a stadium, WWE never looked back from this point, sticking with the stadium formula right up to the present day. It’s Ford Field in Detroit this time. 20 years on from the last Mania in the area. Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler are your commentary team for Raw, Michael Cole & John Bradshaw Layfield for SmackDown, and, for the first time ever, Joey Styles & Tazz for ECW, making their Mania debut as a third brand.
The show starts off with a call back to that event, with Aretha Franklin back to perform ‘America the Beautiful’. The accompanying video package is more of the military imagery that had become the norm in this period.
WrestleMania 23: Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Mr Kennedy, CM Punk, Randy Orton, Finlay, Matt Hardy, King Booker, Jeff Hardy & Edge
Starting off with the always visually spectacular car crash that is the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. This year’s field is particularly stacked, with both star power and ladder match aficionados. This match also marks CM Punk’s WrestleMania in-ring debut, a rapid rise from being part of John Cena’s entrance entourage the previous year. Mr Kennedy is the other event debutant and gets talked up by the announcers during his entrance.
Straight away all eight men are fighting on the floor, Finlay the first to put his body on the line with a dive onto a group of his opponents. There’s some early fighting on top of the ladder between Orton and Finlay. Some comedy peppered in as Booker goes to pull a ladder out but only find a tiny stepladder, CM Punk getting it thrown right into his head seconds later. Punk bleeding from the forehead immediately. With eight men all moving in and out of the ring there’s no lull in the action at all. A brief reunion of the Hardy Boyz work to try and take Edge out but it’s Matt who gets thrown through their ladder construction.
Kennedy takes a nasty looking landing onto the edge of a ladder that takes him down for a while as the Hardyz work together to clear the ring before fighting one another when they realise that they can’t both win. All six men at the announce table are joining in on commentary, it could sound cluttered, but it works quite well. Edge gets a moment to shine, spearing everyone bar CM Punk, who follows up with a tribute to Terry Funk by wearing the ladder around his neck as a weapon.
Edge brings in the supersized ladder but gets pushed off it to the floor. There’s another Hardy Boyz reunion as Matt puts Edge on a ladder propped up on the outside and Jeff dives off the super ladder onto him. It’s a hell of a big bump for both men, breaking the ladder in half and taking both men out.
Orton gets a good run in where he hits a trio of ‘RKO’s, CM Punk again being the one to cut off such a run. Edge is taken backstage on a back board. Orton hits a super ‘RKO’ a ladder to CM Punk, when he goes to do the same to Booker T, he takes a ‘Bookend’ for his hubris. Booker’s valet Sharmell comes into the ring to take Matt Hardy out of the way, Booker being forced to climb down from the ladder to save her from Hardy. Finlay, with a horrid looking cut to the top of his head, first pushes Matt Hardy off the ladder and then dumps him onto another on the mat. Finlay’s ‘assistant’ Hornswoggle joins the match and climbs the ladder to try and claim the briefcase for Finlay. Mr Kennedy follows him up and hits Hornswoggle with a terrifying looking ‘Plunge’ off the ladder, if he’d messed that up he’d have landed right on his head.
Mr Kennedy manages to knock Punk off the ladder and claims the briefcase.
It’s probably the high point of Kennedy’s WWE career and looked like it was set to make him a bonafide main event player. Unfortunately for him an injury would derail his run with the briefcase, as he lost it to Edge just over a month later and never regained that momentum. It’s a very physical edition of the Money in the Bank match. A lot of nasty looking landings and very close falls that looked almost incredibly dangerous.
We get an extended advert for Steve Austin’s soon to be released action film vehicle ‘The Condemned’ before going to an interview with Mr. Kennedy. He’s very self-congratulatory and puts the companies’ champions on notice.
WrestleMania 23: The Great Khali vs Kane
Inter-promotional big lads action up next as the immobile Great Khali faces off with Kane. Lawler & Ross make some Andre the Giant comparisons as Khali makes his way to the ring, also pointing out how rare it is that Khali is knocked off his feet.
Khali outmuscles Kane early on as they clunkily collide with one another. It’s a rare opportunity for Kane to be both the smaller and more mobile man in a match. In a first for a WrestleMania in the 2000s Khali pulls out a trapezius hold, and some chokes, as he tries to hit all the old school big man moves. Kane goes to the tope and hits a diving clothesline, Khali stays on his feet but ends up tied in the ropes, something Andre often did. Apparently frustrated, Kane involves the metal hooked chain he used in the film ‘See No Evil’, he manages to use it to low blow Khali with the referee’s back turned. In a cool visual, Kane slams Khali, taking him off his feet for the first time, but only gets a two count. It’s an obvious throwback to Andre vs Hogan at Mania III.
A double handed chokeslam from Khali to Kane and Khali pins Kane with a single foot on the chest to win. A boring, nothing match that thankfully isn’t particularly long. The slam to Khali is the one interesting moment.
Eugene is backstage with Cryme Tyme, who are consoling him over his recently shaved head. Cryme Tyme try and cheer him up with some attractive ladies, but he’s more interested in Mae Young and the Fabulous Moolah. We then get a run of mostly goofy ‘legends’, Slick, Dusty Rhodes, Jimmy Hart and even Ricky Steamboat all appear. Ron Simmons/Faarooq gets his ‘Damn’ catchphrase in before we move on.
WrestleMania 23: Chris Benoit vs Montel Vontavious Porter
WWE United States Championship
It’s MVP’s first WrestleMania, and he faces Chris Benoit after proclaiming himself to be the true United States Championship after defeating a succession of enhancement talents portraying the apparent champions of other countries.
MVP matches up in the grappling exchanges early on, impressive given he’s against one of the best in that style. It’s a very technical contest, MVP showing a different side to his game just by holding his own. Once some separation comes in between the two, MVP hits a superplex, but Benoit reverses it for a close pinfall. MVP looks really good here, living up to his brashness with plenty of skill.
The challenger gets a long run on top, but his cockiness gets the better of him on occasion, Benoit managing to hit his signature triple German suplexes and the diving headbutt for the win and the retention. MVP may not have won the match, but it feels like a breakout performance for him. He would eventually beat Benoit for the United States Championship at Judgment Day in May. This was Benoit’s last WrestleMania before his actions in his final few days made it forever uncomfortable to watch his matches back…
Donald Trump appears backstage, complaining that he can’t get a sandwich and not reacting to the Boogeyman appearing. Boogeyman heads off to get Trump his sandwich.
After this we go to a recap and presentation of the 2007 class for the WWE Hall of Fame, headlined by Dusty Rhodes, Curt Hennig, Jerry Lawler & Jim Ross. Hennig and Rhodes’ inductions are the two most emotional, Hennig’s being posthumous and Rhodes being there with his two sons.
WrestleMania 23: Batista vs The Undertaker
World Heavyweight Championship
Undertaker won his first Royal Rumble match in January and chose to face Batista for the World Heavyweight title. What started as a respectful conflict turned more personal after Batista attacked Undertaker at No Way Out during a tag match between the four men involved in the two World Title matches for WrestleMania 23. With Undertaker’s 14-0 record at WrestleMania going up against Batista’s record of never having bene beaten for the World Heavyweight Title, there is plenty of edge to it. SmackDown general manager is out to ring announce both men to add a different touch. Taker’s entrance is once again joined by many flaming torch carrying Druids, Batista watching on stoically. The visual of a backlit silhouetted Undertaker making his way onto the stage has become part of his highlight reel for eternity.
Batista sets the tone for the match early by spearing Undertaker right at the bell. Both men are incredibly athletic for their size at this point, and they settle into a dynamic brawling pattern. Batista even goes to the rope willingly to throw a diving tackle in, Cole on commentary going mad for the moment. A lot of fast twitch explosiveness from Batista as he gets a distinct physical advantage in the early going. A striking exchange turns the match to Undertakers advantage. He hits an unusually Hogan-esque ‘Big Boot’ and ‘Leg Drop’ combo but only gets a two count. Undertaker hits ‘Old School’ but Batista manages to block a ‘Chokeslam’ attempt to briefly even things up a little.
Undertaker hits his leg drop on the apron before hitting the always ridiculous looking suicide dive to the floor. The height he gets and the distance he covers, at his size, is impressive. Batista manages to scrap his way back in by throwing Undertaker into the timekeeper’s area at ringside. He clears off a pair of the announce tables, bumping into the camera man on a couple of occasions. Just when it looks like Undertaker might reverse it, Batista hits a powerslam through a table to leave the challenger down. Back into the ring and Undertaker kicks out. Batista gets a couple of close pinfalls but lets his frustration get the better of him and mistakenly climbs into a position that allows Undertaker to hit him with ‘The Last Ride’. Batista kicks out and the two men trade some of their signature offense. A ‘Chokeslam’ from Taker and a kick out. A ‘Tombstone Piledriver’ attempt is countered into a spear and Batista hits the ‘Batista Bomb’, but Undertaker kicks out. More traded attempts before Taker hits the ‘Tombstone’ to pin and win the World Heavyweight Championship.
A very good match, physical and dynamic from the opening bell. It also marks ten years from Undertakers only previous World Title victory at WrestleMania. Undertakers reign with the title would end when Edge would use the Money in the Bank contract to defeat him just a month later, Undertaker was apparently injured which necessitated the rapid switch.
We go to Mr. McMahon backstage, who’s admiring his hair in the mirror before being interrupted by daughter Stephanie, with one of his grandchildren. It’s typical deranged McMahon stuff of the era. He rants about Donald Trump into a POV camera representing the baby.
WrestleMania 23: The ECW Originals (Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, Sabu & The Sandman) vs The New Breed (Marcus Cor Von, Matt Striker, Elijah Burke & Kevin Thorn)
ECW has finally made it to WrestleMania 23. as two different generations of wrestlers associated with those three letters. The sheer visual difference between the two sides underscores exactly what was different about WWE’s version of the famous Extreme brand. The Originals make their way to the ring through the crowd. Seeing the likes of The Sandman and Sabu on such a glitzy stage is certainly a trip.
Right away it’s a fun clash of styles if nothing else, Sabu tangling with the goofy schoolteacher Matt Striker alone is enough to raise a smirk. The Originals have the advantage until Ariel on the outside distracts Dreamer for long enough to give the New Breed somewhat of an opening. The New Breed cycle through the ring, beating up Dreamer in turn. After a long run, RVD gets tagged in, the last man to make it into the ring. Some classic RVD offense, Striker flying around to really sell it’s effectiveness. Sabu gets a dive to the outside, Dreamer hits a DDT and Sandman clotheslines Burke to the floor. A ‘Five Star Frog Splash’ from RVD to Striker and the Originals are victorious.
It’s nothing super memorable but it’s a nice moment to see the ECW Originals get a moment to shine, yeah, they beat the up-and-coming names but it’s not that egregious an example.
WrestleMania 23: Bobby Lashley (w/Donald Trump) vs Umaga (w/Mr. McMahon)
Hair vs Hair with Stone Cold Steve Austin as Guest Referee
A feud between two close friends in real life. McMahon and Trump had known each other for over two decades by this point and had worked together on occasion. Both men chose their proxies, Trump picking Lashley and McMahon going with Umaga. They’ve really ramped up the celebrity angle, the video package pre-match taking the form of a tabloid TV news package. Steve Austin has been added for some more star power, and the hair vs hair stipulation for some more stakes. The fact that Donald Trump was never going to get his head shaved does rather hurt those stakes, but at least the Barber’s chair got its own entrance. The entrances all together take a while, there are six separate ones all, including the Barber’s chair. Trump comes out to music that would later be the theme song for the Money in the Bank event.
Once the match starts it quickly settles into a power based collision. Umaga only gets out of an early pinfall when his manager Armando Estrada places his foot on the ropes, Estrada getting beaten up by Lashley for his troubles. Lashley misses a dive to the outside to put Umaga in control, Austin intervening to break up some of Umaga’s more underhanded tactics. It’s not massively interesting action, a lot of cutting to shots of McMahon and Trump to get their reactions. Umaga and Lashley are both big guys and seeing them throw the other around is fun enough. Austin almost counts both men out but gives up, realising the match needs an actual winner. Shane McMahon comes to ringside to join his father and ends up distracting Austin, who gets taken down by Umaga.
Shane, Vince and Umaga team up to attack Lashley for a while, Trump simply standing by and letting his man get beaten up. Shane then reveals he is wearing a referee’s shirt, making him clearly a legitimate referee. Just as he goes to count the victory Umaga, Austin takes him out. After being largely useless all match Trump sloppily tackles Vince to the ground, Austin hits a stunner and Lashley spears Umaga. The bell is already ringing before Austin counts the three.
Trump and Lashley win. Mr. McMahon tries to run away, ineffectively, and Lashley brings him back down to the barber’s chair in the ring. Trump and Lashley proceed to shave McMahon’s head, whilst some custom music plays in the background. The strangest part of the segment is Jim Ross claiming it’s just his bell’s palsy that makes it look like he’s smiling. The over half hour long segment ends with Austin hitting a ‘Stunner’ onto Trump, who takes it very poorly.
A lot of effort went into the end the whole thing, probably too much given that it was an obvious foregone conclusion, a big spotlight for Lashley and Umaga to be fair. McMahon would continue to feud with Lashley after this, eventually winning the ECW championship from him.
Whilst the ring is being cleaned of all the hair and shaving cream, we see some highlights of the pre-show match.
WrestleMania 23: Melina vs Ashley – Lumberjill match for the WWE Women’s Championship
A big easy way for all the women in the company to get lumped into one single match. With Melina and Ashley wrestling, the rest of the roster are around ringside, including the likes of Mickie James and Torrie Wilson. No Jerry Lawler, but JBL does his best to talk about how sexy everyone is just for a touch of that classic lecherous commentary. Melina is de facto the most experienced woman involved, Ashley not being far off her debut.
It’s sloppy, a lot of screaming and hair pulling and stuff like that. Melina gets about three rotations on a giant swing and an interesting submission locked in. Ashley doesn’t entirely lack skill, she wrestles like she’s very new, but she at least tries a varied set of moves. Melina rolls Ashley up in under 4 minutes and we move along. There’s a bit catfight thing with all the other women as Melina runs away.
After Mickie James vs Trish Stratus from the previous year, it’s a step backwards.
WrestleMania 23: John Cena vs Shawn Michaels – WWE Championship
With the Royal Rumble winner, The Undertaker, choosing the SmackDown world title to aim for, Raw held a match to crown a number one contender, which Shawn Michaels won. Michaels and Cena are actually a tag team at this point, Michaels has attacked Cena at times but they walk into this match as co-holders of the tag team titles.
The video package starts with a long period with no voiceover before building up. Michaels comes out to the D-Generation X theme, that pairing with Triple H is still technically active despite Triple H being away with injury at the time. Cena’s protracted entrance features him apparently driving into the stadium in a Ford Mustang. Given Cena would eventually appear in the franchise, Lawler making a reference to ‘Fast & Furious’ is a funny easter egg.
Michaels starts the match off with a disingenuous looking offer of a handshake before slapping Cena in the face. Some chain wrestling, Michaels using his experience to duck and dive away from Cena’s strikes as he tries to fight back. A very interesting opening sequence, an extended feeling out process as the two men try and make the match more about them and their style. Michaels goes high risk early with a moonsault onto Cena, who’s leaning on the announce table.
Firmly Michaels in control for a while, some laser focused attacks onto Cena’s knee, playing up the tactical experience advantage for Michaels. The viciousness of Michaels assault is underscored by Michaels’ trash talking and the air that he is bullying the younger man. Cena has to dig fairly deep to scrap from underneath, Michaels giving him an opening by running straight into the ring post, and immediately bleeding. They pick up the pace before Michaels misses a superkick and takes the referee down, both men end up down not long after so they can’t immediately capitalise.
Michaels takes Cena to the outside and hits a piledriver right onto the ring steps, Cena looking completely out of it, with a cut across the back of his head. The replacement referee is just too late getting to the ring and Cena kicks out. Michaels is still on top though and hits his diving elbow drop before going for ‘Sweet Chin Music’ but getting caught with a clothesline. Cena manages to fight back with some strikes and hits the first ‘FU’ of the match, takes too long to go for the pin and Michaels kicks out. More back and forth as they trade close calls, a great sequence with both men missing their biggest moves by a hair. Cena manages to lock in the ‘STFU’, Michaels taking an age to reach the ropes, but hitting ‘Sweet Chin Music’ second later with the referee overzealously distracting Cena.
Both men are down and the referee reaches a nine count before they essentially drag each other up to their feet. Cena gets the ‘STFU’ locked in again and Michaels taps out. Cena wins to retain the WWE Championship.
A very good match, reaching for epic without being forced. Yes he’s in there with Shawn Michaels, but Cena looks great, putting that idea that he can’t wrestle, or took a long time to get good, to bed. It’s a fitting main event for the biggest show of the year. The two men would go on lost to their tag team titles the following night before continuing their feud to an arguably even better non-title match in London the following month.
Overall – WrestleMania 23
There’s a lot to enjoy on this show. The opening Money in the Bank is great, there’s the first truly brilliant match of the Streak and one of John Cena’s best ever matches in the main event. There’s still plenty of bland or downright awful stuff, Melina vs Ashley but particularly Kane vs Khali are pointless and poorly done. The stadium setting does help elevate pretty much everything even just from a visual stand point and the two man announce teams are generally good, why WWE moved to busier three person teams for a long time is strange.
And the ‘Battle of the Billionaires’ is there as well.