WrestleMania 23, despite being one of the most famous ones ever, is actually one of the most underrated WrestleMania shows of all time. Of course, the biggest box office draw of the event was the Battle of the Billionaires, where Donald Trump, represented by Bobby Lashley, went head-to-head against Vince McMahon, who was represented by Umaga.
For years, WWE had (and still does) tried desperately to enter the mainstream again. In the Attitude Era and the Golden Era, wrestling had reached an incredible mainstream level, and though revenues grew by the year, the popularity of wrestling had somewhat dampened down by 2007.
It was also a very interesting period of time, because WWE was on the cusp of the PG Era. However, McMahon had two great marquee matches for WrestleMania, but still wanted something to make the event feel much grander. Something that would push its boundaries and crossover the mainstream.
So he turned to his long-time friend and later-on, President of the United States – Donald Trump. McMahon and Trump had a long-lasting relationship, with WWF even hosting WrestleMania events in the Trump Plaza. For example, in the WrestleMania 7 main event where Hulk Hogan took on Sgt. Slaughter, Trump was seen ringside.
However, this was different, and McMahon decided to work an angle with Donald Trump, where he feuded against his billionaire friend. Ironically, in hindsight, McMahon was the heel while Trump was actually a very over babyface. Vince McMahon also used the match as a tool to elevate Bobby Lashley, who he had big plans for (and it would have come to fruition had it not been for unfortunate timing and circumstances).
Either way, it was by far the match that drew in the most amount of interest. To top it all off, t was announced as the special guest referee. His promo where he interrupts and lays the verbal smackdown on both McMahon and Trump is one of the most underrated moments in RAW history. Austin looked like a beast when he showed no fear to either billionaire, and he was the perfect special guest referee.
It helped that there were only eight matches on the main card. In an age where each WrestleMania keeps expanding in length and every superstar gets on the card, ‘Mania 23’s lesser number of matches certainly helped maintain a certain quality. Either way, apart from the big box-office match, the other two marquee matches were the World title bouts.
The first one saw Royal Rumble winner The Undertaker take on World Heavyweight Champion Batista. The duo were reportedly furious at the fact that they didn’t main event the show. That still didn’t stop them from putting on an absolute clinic, and they would prove to have incredible chemistry together. Batista, despite being a babyface, found himself getting heavily booed, and he wasn’t ale to end the strea, as The Undertaker continued his mythical WrestleMania run, also picking up the World Heavyweight Championship in the progress.
It was great because it was a straightforward face vs face feud. The two couldn’t stand each other, and their rivalry would continue after WrestleMania, until The Undertaker got injured and dropped his title to Edge.
As for the actual main event, it was John Cena taking on Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship. Cena was in his second consecutive WrestleMania main event, and for the third year in a row, he was in a WWE Championship match. By this point, he was already well established as the face of the franchise, and he took on The HeartBreak Kid, who was also the Royal Rumble runner up.
Similarly, it was a face vs face match, and the two could not stand each other. Cena would make an iconic entrance, as he drove through glass in a car to make his way out. In what turned out to be a blockbuster main event, Cena would beat Michaels to retain the title. Fans weren’t particularly happy that Michaels didn’t win, but they couldn’t deny Cena after that incredible performance.
Overall, the PPV was a smashing success, as it would be the highest-purchased PPV in WWE history up to that point, with an estimated 1.2 miillion buys. On top of that, it filled an 80,000 seater stadium in Detroit, and is till date, the fourth-most attended WrestleMania of all time.
There’s no doubt that the mainstream attention was on the Battle of the Billionaires and Vince McMahon getting his head shaved by Bobby Lashley, Steve Austin and Donald Trump, but WWE managed to blend it in with a great card and two marquee world title matches that delivered in a big way.
It’s still surprising that WrestleMania 23 isn’t as highly regarded as many events, because it certainly set the standard high. After the 80,000 crowd, WWE would never go back to small venues for the show of shows.