This Sunday, Wrestlemania 22 takes place in Chicago. And for over 25 superstars, it’s a chance to make the impact of a lifetime on the grandest stage of them all. It’s a chance for the underdogs to overcome the biggest obstacles of their lives. It’s a chance for the mid-card performers to become main-event players. It’s a chance for the good to become great, the great to become excellent, and the excellent to become legends. It’s the biggest night of the year for professional wrestlers. It’s their Super Bowl. Their World Series. Their Stanley Cup Championship. Their time to shine.
In one of the most developed matches of the year, Vince McMahon is set to step into the ring for a one-on-one encounter with the Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels. HBK proved to the entire world that the Showstopper still had it. That was four years ago, at WWE Summerslam. Since then, he’s won the World Heavyweight Championship, defeated the greats like Triple H, Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho. At Summerslam 2005, he went head-to-head with The Immortal Hulk Hogan. HBK has little else to prove to the wrestling world.
On the flip side, Vince McMahon has quite a bit on his plate for Wrestlemania 22. Last year, Vince suffered an injury that put him in a wheelchair for several months. What many would have figured was the end of any wrestling career for Vince ended up being a mere obstacle in Vince’s path. After a multi-year hiatus from wrestling, Vince returned to the ring for a brief (I stress brief) match with John Cena this past Monday on RAW. At WM22, the spotlight will be on the chairman to hold up against HBK. While no one is expecting another HBK vs. Kurt Angle, Vince no doubt expects to impress the masses by wrestling Shawn Michaels on the grandest stage of them all at the age of 60.
Last year, the Money-in-the-Bank ladder match boosted the career of Edge when he ascended the rungs of the ladder to his future. As he grabbed the briefcase (containing a contract to wrestle once for the WWE Title within one year after that match), he knew that he had more power than any other superstar. This year, six more men have the opportunity for a shot at greatness. For RVD, Shelton Benjamin, Lashley, and Matt Hardy, it’s a chance for their first major title reign in the WWE. For Fit Finlay, it’s a chance to prove that at his age, he can still grapple with the best of them. And for the Nature Boy Ric Flair, it’s a chance to grab his 17th World Title reign in his career. But, when it all comes down to it, it’s only the chance to win the title. The briefcase can only carry you so far.
For the Womens Division, Wrestlemania is a chance to prove that the Divas are not dead. In fact, the Divas are alive and well on WWE RAW. For the Playboy Centerfolds, it’s their opportunity to show off their assets in a Pillow Fight. While the real wrestling fans are eager to see real wrestling, many of the male (and female) audience members will be eagerly awaiting Candice Michelle and Torrie Wilson in their special Wrestlemania ring attire (or lack thereof).
On the opposite end of the Diva spectrum, Trish Stratus and Mickie James will meet in the ring for the first time as enemies, in what I personally consider to be one of the strongest and well-developed Diva feuds in a long, long time. The heel turn by Mickie has been brewing for weeks, and finally happened at Saturday Night Main Event on March 18th. Since then, Mickie has kidnapped Ashley Massaro and threatened to destroy Trish Stratus at Wrestlemania. In a time where Divas are all breasts and no talent, it’s especially great to see two talented female wrestlers fighting at Wrestlemania 22 in a long-running feud. It’s time for Trish and Mickie to prove that they’re more than what meets the eye.
For Mick Foley, this is his biggest opportunity to create “that one defining Wrestlemania moment” that he has never done before. Foley is known best for his dive off the Hell in a Cell in 1998. He’s known for barbed wire, for thumbtacks, for brief runs as WWE Champion. He’s the former Commissioner. He’s the Hardcore Legend. And to some, Foley is God. But, Foley doesn’t have that Wrestlemania moment that so many others have in their career. Tonight, Foley will enter into a Hardcore match with Edge, who is currently starting his own Wrestlemania winning streak. Whether Foley wins or Foley loses, it’s almost a guarantee that Mick Foley will attempt to create one moment that will be remembered for years to come. Whether or not he succeeds is up to Mick.
Finally, for five men, it’s time to represent the best in the business in the two main-event title matches tonight. On the Smackdown side, Kurt Angle defends the World Heavyweight title against the top up-and-coming babyface and the top up-and-coming heel on the show: Rey Mysterio and Randy Orton, respectively. Angle doesn’t need to prove anything. Kurt Angle is one of the best in the business, and has a number of incredible Wrestlemania matches under his belt, against Chris Benoit, Brock Lesnar, Eddie Guerrero, and Shawn Michaels. This is Kurt Angle’s third main-event Smackdown match at Wrestlemania.
Randy Orton’s rise to success began in 2004 when he defeated Chris Benoit for the World Heavyweight title at Summerslam. Was it too soon? Perhaps. One month later, Triple H defeated Orton at Unforgiven, and Orton’s climb to the top has been a long, long road. It included a memorable feud with The Undertaker, with matches at Wrestlemania, Summerslam, and Armageddon in 2005. Meanwhile, Rey Mysterio’s push to the top can be, in large part, thanks to the tragic death of Eddie Guerrero. Rey has began a legacy to win the biggest title of them all in memory of his best friend, Eddie Guerrero. His critics have voiced their concern in Rey Mysterio main-event Wrestlemania, and Rey has a huge night ahead of him to prove his critics wrong. Mysterio lacks the height and build of many WWE superstars, but Mysterio hopes to give the fans the match of his career, and maybe, just maybe he’ll walk out of Wrestlemania the World Heavyweight Champion.
When mentioning Wrestlemania, you may think of Hulk Hogan. You may think of Stone Cold Steve Austin. You may think of The Rock. But one name that is damn near synonymous with Wrestlemania is Triple H. He’s defended the WWE title. He’s won the WWE title. He’s done it all at Wrestlemania. For the past three years, Triple H has defended the title against great opponents. More often than not, Triple H lost the title at Wrestlemania. This year, for the first time since 2002, he walks into Chicago as the challenger to the champion, John Cena. In a position that Hunter could never have anticipated being in, Triple H seems to be the fan favorite of the match over the babyface Cena. Anything can and will happen tonight, and it’s quite possible that a loud “Tri-ple H!” chant will break out after a chorus of boos for John Cena. Actually, that’s almost a guarantee.
Where Hunter has very little to worry about at Wrestlemania, John Cena has the world on his shoulders. The confidence and support of the fans has reached an all-time low for Cena, and he has more than enough to worry about at Wrestlemania. The guarantee of the fan’s disapproval awaits the Champ, and he knows it. What exactly can Cena do tonight? Nothing. I don’t think any miracle will occur at Wrestlemania 22 that will change the minds of the fans and give Cena the support that he needs at this time. He’s been the WWE champion since this time last year (with the exception of three weeks where Edge was champion in January), and there’s a strong possibility that the only way Cena will get those huge pops he craves is if he sacrifices his title reign. Then again, the possibilities are endless for John Cena. His career is only just beginning. He has years of Wrestlemanias ahead of him. But this may end up being remembered as his biggest night in ten years, or twenty years, or even thirty years. Or, if fate has its way, it may be remembered as the night Cena lost the support and respect from the fans for good.
It’s that one defining moment that professional wrestlers strive for at Wrestlemania. That match that was remembered for decades. That single greatest accomplishment that lasts a lifetime. For 21 years, Wrestlemania has created legends. It’s that one special event where anything can happen, and nothing is guaranteed. One thing is certain, though: tonight is the opportunity for the good to become great, the great to become excellent, and the excellent to become legends.
This… is Wrestlemania.