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Wrestlemania 31 Review
By this point, talking about the most recent Wrestlemania seems moot since by now it is technically old news. However, Wrestlemania is the biggest wrestling event of the year. Each Wrestlemania is forever measured against other Wrestlemanias - past and future. Wrestlemania was an interesting beast. Going into the show, the hype seemed pretty low. One third of the matches featured part-timers - including the main event. Speaking of the main event, this one was looking dark. It had a babyface fans were starting to root against, and the worst build this side of HHH vs. Jericho. Yet despite so much working against, the show worked!
The opening bout was a seven man ladder match for the Intercontinental title. The contestants were Dean Ambrose, R-Truth, Bad News Barrett, Luke Harper, Dolph Ziggler and Stardust and eventual winner Daniel Bryan. With Money in the Bank as its show and the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale on the pre-show, this seems to be the annual excuse to get as many guys on the card as possible. It's nice that guys like Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler got on the card, but the reason seems to transparent. I also feel like I might be growing numb to matches like this. I remember when multi-man ladder matches were a big deal, but with two guaranteed money in the bank matches a year, the premise feels a tad diluted. At the same time, it was an entertaining match. Matches like this are almost like watching an action movie. They're entertaining while you watch them, but you're just gonna forget about them and move on to the next one.
As for Daniel Bryan winning, my feelings are mixed. Yeah, it seems like a step backward. Putting IWC and smarks vs. marks talk aside, the man did come back from a long injury and never lost the WWE Championship so having him in disposable matches seems like a waste for someone who could be built to be a legit hero. On the other hand, a wrestler as popular as Daniel Bryan holding the Intercontinental title does remind us of the days when A-wrestlers would battle for B-titles. There was a time when guys like Sting and Ricky Steamboat fought tooth and nail over WCW's TV title. Speaking of TV Titles, Rob Van Dam made ECW's TV Title almost more important than their world title. Besides, he can still work his way back to the world title. Besides, Bryan's win did lead to an entertaining backstage segment where Bryan was hanging out with former IC champions such as Roddy Piper, Ric Flair and Bret Hart. And good gravy, Bret Hart is huge! I guess when their coworkers are The Undertaker and Paul Wight, we sometimes forget just how big some of these guys really are.
Next on the card was Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins. This is one of the matches that had some momentum going into it. What happens when two of the most talented guys lock horns in a match? They delivered! This was a great match, but there was not a lot to say about it. Well, one thing - it had a RIDICULOUS RKO when Randy Orton reversed the curb stomp into the RKO. That was just a thing of beauty, and needs to be seen to be believed. With the Curb Stomp banned, it's nice to know they worked this amazing spot at least once.
The next match was HHH vs. Sting. Even if these guys are part-timers, this match was one to get excited about. Regardless of his opponent, this was a big deal: Sting, the man Vince McMahon could never get his hands on, finally wrestling in a WWE ring. The guys behind the scenes knew this was not a match to be treated lightly, and gave it the months of build it deserved. Sting and HHH both received big entrances - with HHH entering to a Terminator-themed entrance. Seriously, if anyone deserved a Terminator-themed entrance, it's Brock Lesnar. The man even looks like a Terminator!
So Sting and HHH had a pretty good match - especially considering these two guys aren't exactly spring chickens. It featured run-ins from nWo and DX members. The two duked it out in a match that was living up to the hype... then HHH beat Sting. Sting lost. Months of build-up, years of anticipation to see one of the most popular wrestlers in the business - a legit legend - have his first match in a WWE ring. And he loses. Jim Cornette once said "Mad sells, but sad doesn't." Cornette's logic makes sense. When a heel like HHH or Seth Rollins makes the fans angry, they'll pay to see their hero finally tear the guy's head off. But if they're just disappointed, it leaves them feeling empty. That's how this match made me feel. Though listening to the commentators, it becomes a little clearer why Sting lost. JBL in particular was hypying how this match was all about WWE vs. WCW - with Sting representing the last vestige of WCW. So did you get that everybody? WWE beat WCW. I hope the commentators made that abundantly clear.
Andre the Giant Battle Royale from the pre-show
After that was the Hall of Fame celebration, a mini-concert, and the Diva's match. Being brutally honest, these are times I go to the bathroom or grab a snack. As a matter of fact, while watching this - with all three of these in a row, I remember thinking "Geez, guys, space out the bathroom break fodder!" Though to be fair, none of it was intolerable. The Divas' match was serviceable - nothing great, but nothing terrible either. Most will remember this as AJ Lee's swan song performance so it is memorable that way.
Next up, was John Cena vs. Rusev. By now it's to be expected that Cena is going to have a big Wrestlemania entrance. And going with theme of US vs. Foreign enemy, Cena's entrance is one of the most cloying video packages I've ever seen in my life. The package had both Republican and Democratic presidents so political affiliation had nothing to do with it. I also consider myself very patriotic, but I calls 'em like I sees 'em. Then again, anything would have seen inferior to Rusev's entrance. The man had a mini-Russian parade, highlighted by him entering in a tank. You read (or by now saw) correctly, Rusev entered in a tank. With the way this match was built up, one wishes James Brown were still alive to sing "Living in America" as Cena entered. I also expected Cena to say "If I can change, then you can change, everybody can change" as his victory speech.
And yeah, Cena won. Rusev and Cena had a pretty good match. However Cena winning was a mixed bag. I'm ambivalent about Cena. I kind of agree with the concusses that he has been overused and his super-Cena gimmick has gotten tiresome. But I just can't bring myself to dislike him either. I understand he's not the booker, and give credit where it's due: The man not only delivers in the ring, but pushes himself to be better.At the time, I thought Cena winning the US Championship was good news because it would add some prestige to a stagnant championship. Instead, it has given the bookers (I'm putting the blame where it belongs) reason to have Cena crush mid-carders like Stardust and Dean Ambrose. Consistently losing to Cena has killed that momentum Rusev gained by beating Cena at Fast Lane. Maybe something good will come from this, but making the US Championship important again is beginning to feel like a Pyrrhic victory.
The next match was Bray Wyatt vs. The Undertaker. Good news: This was another good match - not groundbreaking,but it was a decent brawl. Bad news: This match really demonstrates just how shortsighted ending the Undertaker's streak was in hindsight. Because as good as this match was, it was also a match without suspense. Without the streak, no man can gain anything from the win. If Bray won, what would he have gotten? He couldn't be the streak-breaker, that spots already taken. And beating the Undertaker at face value just doesn't have that much luster to it. What did the Undertaker gain by winning. Despite the way the commentators hyping it up, 22-1 just doesn't sound that impressive. A winning streak is all or nothing.
And last, we reach the main event - literally. Anybody who knows wrestling knows the main event of Wrestlemania is a pretty big deal. The grandest stage of them all has been graced by such important matches as Andre vs. Hogan, Rock vs. Austin, and Shawn Michael's swan song match. Unfortunately, the booking team has sometimes lost its way and provided underwelming fiascoes such as Undertaker vs. Sid or matches that had potential but were mired in bad booking, such as HHH vs. Jericho. Reigns vs. Lesnar was looking to fall into that category. In Reigns' defense, I think the fans were too hard on him. Even if Bryan and Ziggler would have made better Royal Rumble winners (or at the least shouldn't have been tossed aside like yesterday's newspaper), I don't think Reigns deserved to be treated the way he did. After all, he is not only a talented big man, but he WAS beloved by the fans before the Rumble.
However, the company had the chance to build Reigns up and wash away the sour taste his Rumble win left in their mouths. Unfortunately, the booking team gave fans little reason to have faith in Reigns. Instead of building up Reigns and Lesnar as two beasts ready to tear each other apart, they were depicted as playing tug of war with the world title. Reigns has slowly and deservedly been redeeming himself to the fan, but this lackluster buildup did him no favors.
The match itself was pretty good, marred only by the lukewarm fan response. But then... it happened. Seth Rollins came out and cashed in Money in the Bank. Admittedly, I saw this coming. (To be fair however, I predicted he'd do it AFTER not during the match, but I guess the bookers were smart enough not to end the biggest show of the year with a squash match.) But at the same time, it was a rare instance where I saw it coming because it was a good idea. Rollins held onto that thing for long enough that he needed a worthwhile payoff, and this delivered. This may not go down as historic as Hogan bodyslamming Andre, but it did salvage what could have been one of the more forgettable main events. Plus, Rollins is the first time a new world champion has won the title at Mania in a LONG time.
In conclusion, Wrestlemania 31 may have had a lot going against it, but it overcame the odds to be one of the best Manias in a while. Admittedly, none of the matches were five star classics, but there was not a bad match on the card, and almost all of them were good. Fans who skipped this show for whatever reason would be wise to catch up.