If there's one thing you can't criticize with WWE, it's their production values, especially around WrestleMania. Since the move back to stadium shows in 2007, the spectacle of the event has gotten better every year, and the absolute MVP of the production is the prematch vignettes that recap the stories leading up to the top matches on the card. These glorified music videos highlight the intensity, the action and the drama that percolates in the weeks leading up to the fight on the grandest stage.
Without further ado, here are -- in this writer's opinion -- the top five best pre-match videos:
5. HBK v RIC FLAIR -- WRESTLEMANIA XXIV
When the time came for Ric Flair to retire (eh hem), Vince and co. went all out. A pre-WrestleMania induction into the HOF, a post-WrestleMania Raw paying tribute to the man, and of course the WrestleMania match. Shawn Michaels was the perfect man for this job. Triple H may have had more kayfabe connection to him, but he couldn't have sold the drama surrounding this match like HBK. Watch the video, not 5 seconds after calling Flair Old Yeller, you see him on the top of the ramp looking conflicted. This video works in two ways, the first half which highlights what made Flair so special, and the second half sets up the drama of the WM24 retirement. As with Michaels at WM26, we know it's coming, and the video doesn't try to convince you otherwise, it just tugs at the heart and sets up the drama. It's paint by numbers, but it was done so well.
4. HBK v UNDERTAKER -- WRESTLEMANIA 26
There really should have been no doubt who the winner would be, but credit to both men for making us believe a couple of times mid-match that HBK might actually do it. This video, however, pulled no punches. It was basically a subdued, poetic, even pro-actively remorseful look at what led both men to this match, with the emphasis rightly on Shawn Michaels. It's not so much a music video (with loud guitar riffs, and singers screaming over shots of brawling superstars) as it is a short art film. It's a look at obsession, desperation, and the desire for vindication in the face of what everyone knew would be an insurmountable challenge.
3. THE ROCK v STEVE AUSTIN -- WRESTLEMANIA XIX
I know many people prefer this video to the WM17 video, and I totally get that. It's the perfect theme song to the wrap up of the best on-and-off feud of the Attitude Era. This was probably the Rock at his most entertaining, and that's saying something considering his great run in 2000. His heel character just ooozed charisma; more that I thought was possible. JR's voiceover sells it like no other voice of the WWE could. I'm not crazy about the constant screaming of "I'm a crack addict" (even if the crack is "rock star status) but the rest of the lyrics just perfectly compliment the action. The clips of Austin and Rock jarring with one another really hit home just how special these two guys were even in their respective twilights. This was the last hurrah for both of these men as full-timers, and they really showed the next generation what made the Attitude Era special. Two guys allowed the freedom to develop their characters over a period of years, working on the stick often without the safety net of a script, until they both were so in control of who they were as performers that even their final match (one who was never incredible in the ring, and the other broken down physically) was one for the ages. At least that's what you'd think watching the hype video (which is its job).
2.THE ROCK v JOHN CENA -- WRESTLEMANIA XXVIII
You can say what you want about the quality of the match, or the dueling monologues and unfunny barbs leading up to the show, that's not what this is about. This is about whether or not a little 3 minute video can get you jacked to watch these two guys go at it. On those grounds, this video is incredible. The commentary by the great superstars of the past and present really put the match over, the song "We are young" is just the perfect WrestleMania song. No the video doesn't build up the "fight" of the match, because this wasn't your typical WrestleMania blood feud. This was an icon vs icon match, and this video captures that "dream match" quality perfectly.
1. THE ROCK v STEVE AUSTIN -- WRESTLEMANIA X-SEVEN
It figures that the best pre-match video ever produced would be the hardest to find online. YouTube had a few knockoff versions, but not the original, and it was the original that was the best. Featuring JR at his voice-over finest, great moments of Rock and Austin basically putting the WWF Championship over as the most important thing since oxygen (oh for the days), and say what you will about Limp Bizkit , but they knew how to provide the perfect theme song for the perfect main event of the perfect WrestleMania. Maybe I'm being overly nostalgic, since WM17 was the second 'Mania I saw live, and it was right at the tail end of my high school years (always an era ripe for nostalgia) but I still get goosebumps watching this. It takes me back to simpler times, of being young again, and just sitting around watching two titans slug it out. THAT'S what WrestleMania is all about.
Those are my fave five. What are yours?