WWE WrestleMania 31 is a prime example of a show delivering way, way more than the build that lead up to it.
I don’t want to say this was the worst built WrestleMania of all time, because it isn’t. There’s probably been other builds just as bad, maybe even worse. But going into the show, it was flat. Super flat, in fact. It probably goes back to the Royal Rumble this year. The prior year, people were chanting for Roman Reigns as they hoped that he would eliminate Batista and win the Royal Rumble because Daniel Bryan wasn’t there. Unfortunately for Reigns, he became the new poster child for the company in the year since that event, and people knew that. He probably wasn’t going to have the smoothest road to WrestleMania, but if they gave it their best shot, he could probably evolve into the role organically, right?
Nope. They pushed him down everyone’s throats. He cut some of the worst scripted material that’s ever made WWE airwaves, and that’s without hyperbole. Stuff like “magic beans” and “sufferin’ succotash” are now memes in pro wrestling lexicon. To many people, Roman Reigns is seen as the 2015 version of the 1995 Diesel, when they put the rocket ship on him and he won the WWE title — he’s not a great worker, but he’s tall, has a great body and most importantly the hair on the man is incredible. But he’s not believable, he didn’t get a chance to really connect with the fans and now he’s coming across like someone that’s being jammed down fan’s throats, something eerily similar to John Cena’s ascension into the main event ranks in 2005.
Before we get into Mania, let’s scoot back to the Royal Rumble. Daniel Bryan had been injured for most of 2014 after suffering a neck injury that doctors were stumped with trying to alleviate. After months of speculation, he made his return in January…and set to win the Royal Rumble, something that he wanted to do last year, but couldn’t. Fans were so happy to see him back that they instantly pushed for him to win when the time came. When he was booted rather quickly from the Rumble, people lashed out big time and completely turned on the match. When Reigns overcame the odds (sound familiar?) by booting Kane and Big Show from the Rumble, then a hidden Rusev, people were not happy. It was so eerily reminiscent of last year’s Royal Rumble it was hard not to draw the parallels. Even the Rock making the save didn’t help matters. Again, it was a case of what Vince McMahon wanted versus what the people wanted. And when Roman Reigns beat Daniel Bryan in the middle of the ring at the following month’s Fast Lane, the indifference continued.
The more and more Reigns appeared on TV to apathy and boos, the bigger reactions Brock Lesnar got whenever he made a WWE TV appearance. Lesnar destroyed Cena at SummerSlam to win the WWE title, and ran havoc with it, defeating everyone in his path leading to the big event. After all, he had a ton of momentum after beating the Undertaker at last year’s WrestleMania, and Regins challenging him for the title didn’t seem to be a tough challenge for him. A lot of the build for the match was Paul Heyman cutting promos, and he did do a great job in building the match, but at the end of the day, it just fell flat. And when Brock and Reigns played tug of war with the WWE title to close out the show, well, it put the finishing touches on a feud that just didn’t feel like a WrestleMania main event.
I should probably go over the pre-show matches since they were on the pre show.
WWE Tag Team Championship – Tyson Kidd and Cesaro (c) vs. The New Day vs. The Usos vs. Los Matadores: They built this up on Raw with everyone pinning one another in some of the most contrived, laziest booking imaginable. The match, however, was great. Lots of great back and forth sick spots. One of the Usos, the injured one, was laid out and taken to the back since, well, he’s injured. Natalya and Naomi got into it at one point, as well as El Torito. Jimmy (that’s the not injured one!) big splashed Big E, but Cesaro blind tagged himself in, threw Jimmy out of the ring and covered Big E to retain the tag team titles. ***3/4
Andre the Giant Battle Royal: Even on the pre-show, no one got entrances or ring introductions, they just all climbed into the ring and patiently waited for the bell to ring. SUPERSTARS HERE TONIGHT, FOLKS. Curtis Axel, who has actually been getting over in the last few weeks hyping up he technically never got eliminated at the Royal Rumble (someone jumped him before he could get to the ring) was the first one gone, as everyone cornered him and eliminated him. Hideo Itami, the former KENTA of NOAH fame, made his WWE debut by competing in the battle royal. He eliminated Bo Dallas, but after a struggle was eliminated by Big Show. I know people were upset at this, but there’s a reason why Adrian Neville and Finn Balor weren’t in this battle royal. I don’t think Itami is being called up anytime soon as there’s others more ready than him, so this was just something to at least get his name out there. This crowd was surprisingly very into him though, as I think this was a smart crowd who knew of NXT. Anyway, this led to Big Show facing off against Miz and Mizdow. Miz ordered Mizdow to back off, but Mizdow refused. Miz yelled at him some more, then when he had his back turned he was tossed out by Mizdow to a huge reaction. Mizdow tried to take out Big Show, and got several hope spots in, but eventually Big Show tossed him out to win the trophy. ***
Aloe Blacc sang America the Beautiful this year.
LL Cool J opens the show with a great video, with the theme being we’ve all been connected from the start of the radio to television, to the internet, and to social media. He tied this in to WrestleMania, how it has always been a source of connectivity, connecting fans from all over the world to this event. It was pretty damn great.
Intercontinental Title Ladder Match – Daniel Bryan vs. R-Truth vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Bad News Barrett vs. Luke Harper vs. Stardust vs. Dean Ambrose: This turned out to be the usual ladder affair. As expected, everyone took in some sick spots. Stardust had his own bedazzled ladder at one point but Barrett took it, broke it apart and started beating on him with the remnants. That was funny. Ambrose took the most vicious spot of the night when Harper powerbombed him onto a ladder that that bridged between the apron and the railing on the outside. It looked like he landed right on his neck initially (I don’t think that was the case) but was carted out of the match following that spot. It boiled down to Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler, who climbed to the top of the ladder and started beating each other, including headbutting each other. You know, this will get some people mad but I don’t blame WWE for putting Daniel Bryan in the IC title picture. If you’re just getting back from a neck injury and the first thing you do is repeatedly beat yourself up in the head and neck area by taking all of these bumps, well, yeah, you’re a liability to yourself. I’ll be stunned if Daniel Bryan isn’t injured again at this rate by the end of the year. He wins the headbutt war and grabs the title, winning the Intercontinental championship. Hey, if anyone can breathe life back into this walking death of a championship, it’s gotta be him…right? ***1/2
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins: This was a good, well worked match. Say what you want about Randy, yes he likes to do headlocks and work at a slow pace, but it worked out here. They both kicked out of their opponents respective finishers. J&J Security tried to interfere freely, but eventually they were taken out of the equation with RKOs. Rollins hit a curb stomp but Orton kicked out. He was going for the phoenix splash but Orton rolled out of the way, only for Rollins to land on his feet. He was going for the curb stomp again when the prone Orton launched him off and in midair RKO’d him for the win. That was a really, really fantastic finish, one of the best RKO counters I’ve seen maybe aside from the Evan Bourne shooting star press one. Very good stuff. ***3/4
Sting vs. Triple H: Sure enough, Triple H got a cool entrance, Terminator themed. A bunch of terminators appeared on the stage, with Triple H coming out from under the ring with his usual skull crown, but this time with a Terminator-esque theme to it. This was mostly a just there match, mostly solid stuff until DX’s music hit and the crowd popped. Road Dogg, Billy Gunn and X-Pac came out and got involved. Triple H was about to lay out Sting with the sledgehammer when suddenly the nWo’s music hit. Hall, Nash and Hogan came down to the ring and 17 years later, every Attitude Era’s fans dreams were met as the nWo and DX battled it out. Sting took out Hunter and put him in the Scorpion Deathlock but suddenly, Shawn Michaels came out and superkicked Sting in the face. Triple H covered, but Sting kicked out. Billy Gunn gave the sledgehammer back to Hunter but Hogan gave Sting the baseball bat. He broke the sledgehammer and made a big comeback, including hitting the Stinger splash. Triple H, however, took the sledgehammer and smacked Sting with it, pinning him. People didn’t like this, but if anything this was symbolism here as I guess it marked the official ending of the Monday Night Wars, which is what it was built up to be at the start. Fun smoke and mirrors match. ***
Triple H and Sting get up after the match, and the two shake hands, even though Triple H screwed him out of the win. But who cares, the Monday Night Wars are OFFICIALLY OVER!!! I was hoping Sting would lay out the nWo for old times’ sake, but I guess it wasn’t to be.
Daniel Bryan was interviewed. Well, kinda. He tried to be interviewed, but former IC champions from all eras came over to congratulate him, including Pat Patterson, Roddy Piper, Ric Flair and Bret Hart. Ricky Steamboat came out and said that the IC title match he had out there was just as great as his match at WrestleMania 3. Actually given the star ratings it’s close, but I still think that match was better. They started yes chants, but then Ron Simmons arrived and said “damn”.
Bella Twins vs. AJ Lee and Paige: They got some time, and this was solid stuff, but nothing memorable. AJ eventually got the win with the black widow. Not the greatest details in the world I’m giving you, but they were perfectly fine here, just nothing worth remembering. **1/4
Macho Man Randy Savage, Kevin Nash, Tatsumi Fujinami, Alundra Blayze, Larry Zbyszko, Rikishi, Conor Michalek and the Bushwhackers were all inducted into the Hall of Fame.
United States Championship – John Cena vs. Rusev (c): Rusev got a big, elaborate entrance as the Russian national anthem was played and lots of soldiers came out carrying the flag with cannons set out on the stage. Rusev arrived on a tank, which was simply incredible. Personally I thought they had a better match last month at Fast Lane, but this was good for what was needed, and it was still a very good match. Rusev tried to put Cena in the accolade, but Cena broke it and shoved him into the corner. I’m fine with beating the guy, but breaking out of his finish…eh, wasn’t needed. There was some goof in the crowd carrying a “If Cena Wins, We Riot” sign. Yeah sure, dude. Look, that was a cute sign when I saw it at One Night Stand 2006. We’re at WrestleMania 2015 and people are still doing that crap. Get over yourself. Lana hops on the apron to interfere, but Cena ducks a charging Rusev as he hits Lana, who falls to the floor. This distracts Rusev long enough to walk into an AA and he’s pinned as John Cena wins the United States title. ***1/4
Rusev was arguing with Lana after the match. That’s no good at all. Rusev is such a better act with Lana and herself as a babyface manager is going to flounder fast.
Triple H and Stephanie were in the ring and they announced the fake attendance number of 76,976. Stephanie started a promo like she was going to thank the fans, but then swerved and said it was all because of me that youre here today, we own you, we own WrestleMania, etc. This brings out The Rock, who flew all the way from New York to be here tonight. The dude is extremely committed, I gotta say. He sets up the counter argument, that WrestleMania became big thanks to the fans, and so on. Rock and Hunter banter back and forth and you know this is likely the match for next year’s WrestleMania if there is one. After making a lewd joke about Johnsons and McMahons, Stephanie slaps Rock. She asks what are you going to do about it, hit a girl?
The Rock decides to exit the ring, acts like he was about to leave, then walks over to where Ronda Rousey is sitting. Wearing a Vegeta “over 9,000” shirt, she exits the barricade and they both walk over to the ring. The crowd knew who Rousey was and ate this up big time, chanting “Rousey’s gonna kill you”. She stared down Stephanie with that look. I know that look because every time I see her walk down to the octagon with that look I’m petrified. Stephanie said look, Ronda’s my friend, we were best buddies at SummerSlam. Ronda didn’t say anything. Stephanie got mad and told her to leave. Ronda said if she wanted her out, do something about it. It ended up becoming a brawl with Rock attacking Triple H and Rousey hip tossing Triple H out of the ring. Stephanie went to slap Ronda but she grabbed her by the arm. Stephanie sold this like a million dollars. Ronda eventually shoved her down and sent the Authority reeling. Really long, but a fantastic segment.
The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt: Even though a few months ago Undertaker looked to be 200 years old, he came out and looked like late 2001 Undertaker who powerbombed RVD off a stage to win the Hardcore title. It’s weird. They had a solid match, not all that great but it was better than the Brock Lesnar match last year. Just not by a wide margin. Things just looked off at times, I don’t know if that’s Bray or if it’s just Undertaker. They kicked out of both of their finishers. One of the coolest spots of the night was when Wyatt did his crab walk spot but Undertaker did his old raise up from the dead routine, and Wyatt freaked out. Wyatt went for the Sister Abigail again but Undertaker counters with the tombstone for the victory. Just 22 more wins to go before he reaches the new streak! **3/4
WWE World Heavyweight Championship – Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns: Astonishingly enough, people booed for Roman Reigns and cheered for Brock Lesnar. Within the first 30 seconds of the match Lesnar was bloodied up. They just beat the shit out of each other for 20 minutes and it was one of the most amazing spectacles you’ll ever see. Lesnar just destroyed him forever and ever with suplex after suplex and just felt like an incredible display of dominance. At one point, he uttered “SUPLEX CITY, BITCH” as he grabbed him and suplexed him over and over. Incredible. There’s just no one like Brock Lesnar right now in WWE or anywhere for that matter. Reigns kicked out of two F5s as Lesnar took him and threw him out onto the floor. He tried to whip him to the corner but Reigns countered and posted him, causing Lesnar to bleed hardway. Reigns gave him three superman punches and a spear but Lesnar still kicked out. Reigns went for another but Lesnar grabbed him on his shoulders and hit another F5. Both men fell to the floor as suddenly Seth Rollins’ music hits. He comes down to the ring and gives the briefcase to the referee, making this a triple threat match. He went to give Lesnar the curb stomp, but Lesnar countered into the F5 position. Reigns come out of nowhere, however, and spears Lesnar. Rollins, however, comes back with the curb stomp and pins Reigns to win the WWE championship. People will argue if the finish was a good one, but I think it was. It was the best choice to go with because Lesnar isn’t sticking around for Extreme Rules (I don’t think so, at least), the WWE title needs to be back in the picture and Reigns as champion isn’t cutting it right now. About as perfect of a match and finish you’re going to get in this situation, and one of the most intense and great matches you’ll see this year. ****3/4
Final Thoughts: This was a really great show. Everything from top to bottom was great, save for maybe Undertaker and Wyatt and the divas but that was still some solid stuff. WWE isn’t the most creatively apt product right now, but they still know how to make a big show feel special. And they accomplished that here.
WWE doesn’t feel hot right now. But many years it hasn’t felt hot leading to the big show, and the weekend is always hot no matter what. The one show that always makes professional wrestling seem relevant and hip again is WrestleMania. That’s what I’ve learned the most in doing these series of articles over the last few months. I started doing them because I quit my previous position of writing the Monday Night Raw reports. I grew to hate that show. And I grew to hate it more with each passing week onto WrestleMania. The build to this show made me lose great interest in WWE as a weekly product, but after watching it I feel like it’s hot again. How could that be?
Because, well, everything happens at WrestleMania. It’s the only relevant show of the year. It’s the show Vince McMahon envisioned as he took over his father’s company in 1982– he never wanted to be just in professional wrestling. His goal was to never be a wrestling promoter. He wanted to promote an entertainment extravaganza that would transcend anything this business had ever seen. That was the idea with the initial WrestleMania, a one night event that combined popular culture with pro wrestling. WrestleMania is now a week long event, something that cities now bid for in hopes of attracting consumers to their state. It’s something that wrestling promotions all around the United States try to captialize on. Everyone from all eras of wrestling are heard about again in some form or fashion during WrestleMania weekend. Even if WWE continues on their path of self destruction creatively, it will be super hard to destroy the momentum the industry gains the week that the event is held.
There have been so many great matches. My favorite still stands as Bret Hart vs Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13. It’s not just a great match physicality wise, it’s the kind of story I like that doesn’t need a STORY; they just let them have a match and it was incredible. My favorite overall event is WrestleMania 17, a showcase of everything that made the Attitude Era great and capped off a historic moment in pro wrestling where two promotions fought with every fiber in their being to dominate one another, with one ultimately winning. There have been terrible matches, and even terrible main events that made shows come off as flat. Not every WrestleMania was the greatest of all time. But these were still all events that we talk about today. Even if Miz and John Cena ended WrestleMania with one of the lamest finishes ever, at least we’re still talking about it five years later.
It’s kind of amazing that the intro to this WrestleMania talked about bringing everyone together. I think that’s what this show is really all about in the end. Even if you follow only lucha, watch only wrestling from Japan or even if you’re a fan who has stopped watching for years, you can’t help but read about what happened at WrestleMania. Everything happens here. Stars are created. People lose, people win, celebrities appear and legends of the past are celebrated. No other event can, or ever will do that. There will be better shows with better cards. But there will never be anything as relevant or hot as WrestleMania. When Vince McMahon passes away (and yes, he will, as we all will) his legacy will not necessarily be the WWE. It’ll be WrestleMania, one of the biggest entertainment events of the year. It’s the show that killed professional wrestling, but gave birth to sports entertainment, a medium that he innovated, and we’re all into, whether we like it or not.
Oh, and by the way, I vote the Rougeaus/Bushwackers match as the worst Mania match of all time. I’m still having nightmares from the Bushwackers bumping.