Thursday, April 3, 2014

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--WrestleMania XXIV Program

With just a few days remaining as of press time until WrestleMania XXX, I thought it would be in the spirit of "getting into the Mania mood" to take a look back at one of the twenty-nine previous events.  One of the first entries here on the blog covered the collectability of WrestleMania programs.  At that time, the WrestleMania XXIV program was the "newest" available (with XXV debuting a few weeks later), and back then I did not even own it.  I never could have imagined where the copy that did end up with me would emanate from.

Of the WrestleMania's of the past decade, XXIV is my second favorite.  It was my favorite of the era until my obvious bias and undying love of WrestleMania XXIX came about.  It was outdoors, it had the dramatic lighting effect that only Mother Nature can pull off, and it had several "WrestleMania moments" that have been shown time and time again.  Most of all, it had the "WrestleMania feel," something that not every show under the banner has been able to pull off.

Near the front of the program are pages dedicated to the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2008.  WWE has taken several different directions regarding programs for WrestleMania and the Hall of Fame ceremony itself.  2008 marked the final year in which a smaller, more elegant, Hall of Fame program was produced.  In 2009, a standalone Hall of Fame program of the same size as the WrestleMania programs was available.  From 2010-on, the programs were merged into one and sold the entire weekend at Axxess, the Hall of Fame, and WrestleMania.

The particular copy shown here was acquired from the daughter and son-in-law of Gordon Solie, Pam and Robert Allyn.  The Allyn's were present at the event to honor the late "Dean of Wrestling Broadcasters" who was inducted into the Hall of Fame that year along with Eddie Graham, Jack and Jerry Brisco, Rocky Johnson, Peter Maivia, Mae Young, and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.  The Hall took on a decidedly Floridian flavor that year, especially considering the inclusion of Graham and Solie.

Like most of the WrestleMania events of the past ten years, the title matches are actually rather forgettable.  This is due to several factors, one of which is that all of the main eventers of the time had constantly battled on pay-per-view, tv, and house shows many times before they did so on the "grandest stage of them all."  Gone were the days of true dream matches like Hogan-Warrior that were built with the slightest of pre-Mania contact.  Could these days be returning?  With more weekly content than ever it will be difficult, but at least the stories are somewhat leaning in that direction.

Another reason that the Mania title matches of this era don't quite measure up is that fans simply weren't behind the main eventers of the time as they once had been.  In a fact that's been discussed to death, WrestleMania (and WWE shows in general) began to sell solely on the brand name factor alone rather than the drawing power of select stars.  Although I have speculated that we may going back in the opposite direction with stars like Daniel Bryan, The Shield, The Wyatt Family, and even the Rhodes and Uso families, the remnants of the past "era of disinterest" is still very evident with the backlash on names like Randy Orton and Batista.

WrestleMania XXIV gets past the damning title matches with a strong undercard and some very memorable special attraction matches.  From a mainstream standpoint, it didn't get any bigger than boxer Floyd "Money" Mayweather going up against The Big Show.  Show, at the time just returning to WWE, may come out on the losing end of many of his Mania matches, but his performances are second-to-none.  Carrying a non-wrestler to an entertaining and believable match can in no way be easy, but Show did it here.  Seeing as that Mayweather is still a top grossing star and did very well in his WrestleMania appearance, it would not surprise me to see the company work with him again somewhere down the pike.

Perhaps even more memorable was the match between Flair and Shawn Michaels.  Going in, most fans realized that Flair would be losing this match, which in turn would trigger his retirement.  I can tell you from watching the show live with a mixed group of casual and regular wrestling fans, it didn't matter to anyone.  Two of the all-time greats told a story that could captivate fans on any level.  Although it didn't turn out to be Flair's final match altogether, it will ultimately be his final WWE match.

Aside from a hot opener billed as a "Belfast Brawl" between Fit Finlay and JBL, a then-WrestleMania traditional Money In The Bank match was another big highlight.  Looking back it's interesting to see what happened to the seven men involved.  The winner, CM Punk, and Chris Jericho have had many WWE highlights since, but MVP, Ken Kennedy, Carlito, Shelton Benjamin, and John Morrison all but fell into the same vacuum that other WWE mid-carders of the era did.  Sure, several have gone on to careers in TNA and Japan, but there is something about the mid-carders of the post-Attitude Era that leaves a fan wondering.  Many of them had so much talent, but they just never seemed to catch on.  Whether it was a residue effect of the aforementioned problem of no one single talent really setting the company on fire at the time or their own individual career moves and choices, we'll never really know.

This WrestleMania program is unlike many of the others in that it includes a poster highlighting the Show-Mayweather match as well as the two title matches.  This "bonus" is reminiscent of an old style wrestling event poster and helps give the title matches a bit more "oomph," although it is telling that the boxer vs wrestler match overshadows everything else.  The inclusion of a poster is very hit or miss with pay-per-view programs (several in the '94-'95 era had them as does Survivor Series 2011), so it's always a nice little extra.

In the back, we get one-page WrestleMania "capsules" profiling the previous twenty-three events.  These were a staple for several years of the large Mania programs, with one added each year.  One huge mistake somehow went unnoticed for several years with the WrestleMania III page listing and showing WrestleMania 2 celebrities Rick Schroeder, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Elvira.  A small oversight to some, but after appearing a few years in a row, it started to become the first thing that I would turn to find.

Mania programs rarely disappoint, even if the corresponding show does.  With XXIV we had a winning show and a nice program to boot that, while not the rarest, isn't the easiest to find in the collection.  Of any niche wrestling collectors that I hear from the most, it's definitely WrestleMania program collectors.  After all, "The Greatest Sports Entertainment Extravaganza of All-Time" should have the greatest memorabilia of all-time.  What will the thirtieth edition bring us?  Time will tell.  "Laissez les bon temps rouler" may be this years tagline, but I think that the thousands of fans in the Superdome will more likely be chanting, "Sainte merde!"

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