Monday, April 1, 2019

The History of WrestleMania: XXVIII-XXX

These three 'Manias could be considered the Daniel Bryan Saga.....

SunLife Stadium - 4/1/12

And here's Part 2 of WWE's slap in the face to Daniel Bryan and Sheamus fans of all ages....

'Mania 28 was a good show.  I daresay it was a very good show.  And it was also one of the more disappointing 'Manias because it could and should have been a truly great show.  It was one match away from achieving greatness.  One match away from four of the eight matches on the card being heralded as classics.  I'll give you three guesses which match I'm referring to.  Go on, think about it, I can wait.....

Imagine my relief when the opening bell rang and the ring announcer declared, "The opening contest is for the World Heavyweight Championship."  Fantastic!  Daniel Bryan and Sheamus got screwed last year, but WWE is making amends by giving them a second chance to fight at WrestleMania, and for the World Title no less!  This is gonna be a great match and I don't even care that it's on first!  My excitement would last eighteen seconds.  One Brogue Kick later, I found myself in the exact same state of unbridled rage as I had a year earlier.  So Sheamus and Daniel Bryan were cheated out of a WrestleMania moment not once, but TWICE.  I just wish I could've been in on the creative meeting where the "18 seconds" decision was made.  I just want to hear the logic that was used to rationalize this booking.  Here's how I would carefully expose this idea for the purely nonsensical stupidity it was:

1. Whether you realize it or not, both Sheamus and Daniel Bryan are very over with a good portion of the audience and those people are really looking forward to this match, especially since they didn't get it last year.  Making this a one-move match will really piss those people off and you'll already have lost them for the rest of the show (which is how I reacted - I seriously didn't care about the rest of the show until Match #7).

2. How do you expect Sheamus to get over as a top-flight babyface when he just won the World Title by essentially sucker-punching his heel opponent?  In what universe is that a good way for a babyface to get over?

3. How much does it cheapen the second most important Title in the company to have it change hands in an 18-second opening contest?

4. Why would you ever charge your audience $70 a pop for an event and then intentionally not deliver on one of the top four advertised matches?  What did you think was going to happen?

Stupidest decision ever made by human beings.

Anyway you all know the rest, the fans were highly pissed and all but ruined the second match, Randy Orton vs. Kane (which was actually a pretty good contest) by chanting "Daniel Bryan" for the next 20 minutes.  Thus began the trend of live crowds hijacking WWE shows in support of Mr. Bryan.  Obviously in hindsight this little 18-second incident helped catapult Bryan to where he is today, but so would an amazing 15-minute war where Sheamus just barely eked out a win (which would've gotten Sheamus over as well).

Bad decision #2 was next, as Intercontinental Champion Cody Rhodes, who was in the middle of a great run and hoped to break the Honky Tonk Man's 15-month record, lost to The Big Show in a five-minute throwaway bout (Rhodes would win the title back four weeks later, making this title change pointless).

Bad decision #3 followed as celebrity guest (God I'm tired of those) Maria Menounos teamed with Kelly Kelly to face Divas Champion Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres.  After an okay four-minute women's match, Beth got pinned by Maria.  I'd like to repeat that: the physically gifted and imposing Divas Champion, accomplished pro wrestler Beth Phoenix got pinned by Access Hollywood co-host Maria Menounos.  See what I mean about celebrity guests making the business look stupid?

The show finally took an upward turn after this, as The Undertaker and Triple H put on an epic, drama-filled Hell in a Cell match, with Shawn Michaels as the guest referee.  The buildup to this match was very well done, with Shawn repeatedly trying to talk Hunter out of facing Taker again and Hunter insisting Shawn call the match down the middle.  The match itself was a notch above their 'Mania 27 bout and all three men turned in excellent dramatic performances.  I will say however that the Cell didn't come into play very much, and while I did enjoy this match, calling it the 2012 Match of the Year as so many have done is actually comical.  It wasn't even the best match on the card.

In the sixth slot was the annual "we need to get all these guys on the card somehow" match, pitting six good guys of Teddy Long's choosing vs. six heels of John Laurinaitis's choosing, for control of both brands.  Kinda pointless, but it was a decent little match.

Best Match of the Night honors went to the WWE Title match - CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho.  This was one helluva contest, with some nice drama at the beginning (Punk would lose the Title if he got DQ'd, so Jericho repeatedly taunted him about his family issues to try and provoke a DQ), escalating into spectacular counter-wrestling and multiple finishers into reversals into finishers.  Really great match that to this day doesn't get enough credit.

Dude, I don't care what anyone says, this was the best match at 'Mania 28.

And in the main event was the match set up by the previous year's WrestleMania, The Rock vs. John Cena.  It was fine for what it was, a WWE-style money main event match.  I think this match got too much credit as it's basically a 3-star affair with some very sloppy-looking submission holds from both guys, and it went about eight minutes too long.  There was no reason for this match to be 32 minutes.  But it was a solid 'Mania main event so I won't critique it too harshly (the rematch is a different story).  I will say given the story leading up to the match (Cena needing to beat Rock to prove that Dwayne was wrong to walk away for years and think he can just come waltz in and be the top guy again), Cena absolutely should've won here.  This was one of the few times I've ever rooted for John Cena.

To recap, WrestleMania XXVIII could've gone down as an all-time Top 5 'Mania card, had WWE not decided to get cute with the Sheamus-Bryan debacle.  There were three very good uppercard bouts and a couple of good midcard ones, with the bad matches kept very short.  But the opening 18-second swerve put a damper on the first hour-plus of the event and completely broke up the flow.  Sheamus-Bryan should've been a great opening match that set the bar for the whole night, but they weren't given the opportunity, for the second year in a row.

Best Match: CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho.  Yes it was, go watch it again.
Worst Match: Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus - One of the stupidest things WWE has ever done.  EVER.
What I'd Change: Isn't it obvious?  Give Sheamus-Bryan a solid 15 minutes to wow the audience, cut Taker-HHH down by five minutes, and cut Rock-Cena down by about eight.
Most Disappointing Match: Do you really need to ask?
Most Pleasant Surprise: That I didn't immediately throw all my guests out of my house after the first match.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10

MetLife Stadium - 4/7/13

'Mania 29 will go down as one of the least exciting PPVs ever.  It wasn't good enough or bad enough to be very memorable.  It's a completely middle-of-the-road WrestleMania that didn't really advance any storylines or elevate anyone.  The three main event matches featured four part-timers and only two current stars.  Two of the three main events were unnecessary rematches of recent bouts that weren't good enough to warrant a second go-around.  It didn't feel like the company took any risks whatsoever with this event, and the result and quality of nearly every match was terribly predictable.

First the pluses: to be fair a few of the undercard matches were fun.  The opening six-man between The Shield and Randy Orton/Sheamus/Big Show accomplished perfectly what any good opening match should.  It was high energy, showcased some young, exciting talent, and got the crowd hyped.

The Tag Team Title match of Team Hell No vs. Dolph Ziggler and Big E. Langston was also solid, though too short to be significant.  But at least Daniel Bryan finally got a real match at WrestleMania, and even got the win.

Chris Jericho and Fandango had an unexpectedly good match that seemed to start Fandango's WWE career off with a bang.  Of course the company didn't really follow up on it and so Jericho put him over for nothing.

The Undertaker and CM Punk predictably stole the show with a dramatic and memorable 3.5-star bout that showed Punk able to hold his own against The Phenom.  For the first time in many years it seemed The Streak might actually be in jeopardy.

Wow, this wallpaper's BOSS.

The final plus of this show was that there was no pointless Divas match.  Now I am all for women's wrestling if it's presented well.  Unfortunately at this point WWE almost never presented the Divas in an interesting or purposeful way, and every Divas match just ended up eating 10 minutes of valuable PPV time.

The Indifferent: Alberto Del Rio, fresh off an ill-advised face turn (seriously, who thought this was a good idea?), faced Tea Party-inspired Jack Swagger for the World Title.  The match was ok but immediately forgettable, and I don't think anyone gave Swagger much of a chance to win the belt.

Now, the minuses, and they're big ones: Ryback faced Mark Henry in a second-match snorefest.  What could've been a good Battle of the Bulls never got out of first gear and inexplicably ended with Henry going over clean.  At this point Ryback desperately needed a PPV win, coming off four consecutive big-match losses.  Henry would be sidelined with an injury right after this and Ryback would be positioned as Cena's #1 contender, so having Henry win was totally counterproductive.

The two most egregious offenses on this show were sadly the two top-billed matches.  Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H was a longer, more boring version of their Summerslam 2012 disappointment.  I'm still baffled that WWE booked TWO rematches between these two.  Lesnar's post-UFC record would sink to 1-2 after this match, making him one of the worst-used big ticket stars in the company's history as of that moment (Seriously, they paid him $5mil that year to go 1 for 3???).

The other main event was also a rematch I didn't want, as John Cena challenged The Rock for the WWE Title.  Unlike their first encounter this match had no novelty and little dramatic intrigue.  And somehow The Rock seemed rustier this time despite this being his third PPV match in as many months.  After 24 unremarkable minutes and a pointlessly long sequence of finisher reversals, Cena finally did what he should've done a year earlier and defeated The Rock.

God, even THEY look bored....

WrestleMania XXIX just felt very much phoned in.  The company put together an overly safe, predictable card that featured way too many past stars and almost no opportunity for current full-timers to move up.  Think about it, the next night Rock and Taker were both gone again, Triple H and Lesnar would have one more match before disappearing themselves, and Punk would take two months off.  When five of your top six WrestleMania stars are gone within a month, you haven't properly built up your current roster.  And WWE wondered why they couldn't sustain PPV buys after 'Mania.

Best Match: Undertaker vs. CM Punk
Worst Match: Ryback vs. Mark Henry
What I'd Change: Punk should've been added to the Rock-Cena match.  He had just finished a long, masterful WWE Title run and deserved a 'Mania main event.  Taker should've fought Lesnar, and Hunter should've sat this one out.
Most Disappointing Match: The Rock vs. John Cena - While I had no interest in seeing this again, I at least thought they'd earn their main event slot.  That didn't happen.
Most Pleasant Surprise: WWE cutting the scheduled Mixed 8-person tag match
Overall Rating: 6/10

Superdome - 4/6/14

2014's installment was probably the only time I can remember where the fans wielded so much power that WWE was forced to overhaul the lineup of their biggest show of the year.  The originally planned headliner was Randy Orton vs. Batista for the WWE Title.  I'm not sure how anyone in the company thought that was a fitting main event for WrestleMania, but the fans reacted to this development with unbridled hostility.  Add to that the departure of CM Punk (slated to face Triple H) and the surge of fan support for Daniel Bryan, and Vince eventually changed everything around, making Bryan's journey to the Championship the main story thread of the night.

First up, the pre-show Fatal 4-Way Tag match was a fun, action-packed bout and would've been a welcome hot opener on any card.  It really should've been exactly that on the actual PPV.  Nice to see The Usos retain, and even nicer to see Cesaro turn on Jack Swagger and begin his rise to singles stardom.  More on that later.

The PPV itself opened with the obligatory Hulk Hogan host segment, but Steve Austin and The Rock made surprise appearances, and seeing all three in the ring together was certainly historic.  Unfortunately the segment lasted twenty-five minutes.  Twenty-Five.  Look, I get that this was a really special moment, having these three in the ring at the same time, but this is WrestleMania.  This night should by and large be about the actual wrestling and the promos should be kept to a minimum.  A promo is meant to sell a match or an event.  We've already purchased the event, so what are you selling us at this point?

Anyway getting past that, the opening match (which incidentally didn't begin until 38 minutes in!) was the much-anticipated Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H main event qualifier.  And as expected it was an epic duel.  Both guys played their roles to perfection and told a helluva Face-In-Peril story for 26 minutes.  As predicted, Bryan won the match clean to propel himself into the WWE Title match, but Hunter attacked him after the bell in the hopes of rendering him too injured to compete later on.  Made perfect sense and beautifully enhanced the drama of Bryan's quest.

The Shield bout was rather a disappointment as I had hoped for a solid eight minutes.  But Ambrose, Rollins & Reigns made the most of their allotted three minutes and emerged once again as a dominant faction about to have much bigger fish to fry.

Third up was the second biggest shocker of the night, as the Battle Royal was tremendously entertaining and blew away any previous 'Mania Battle Royals.  The scenario I was most hoping for, Cesaro being a surprise entrant and winning the whole thing, was exactly what happened.  Cesaro turned in a star-making performance with a stunning power display as he bodyslammed the 450-pound Big Show over the top rope.  Spot of the night however goes to Kofi Kingston with his vault over the turnbuckles while keeping his feet on the ring steps.  Amazing.  Sadly Cesaro's apparently babyface push never came to fruition and we're all still waiting for WWE to do something meaningful with him.

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt was a match that while not the most exciting, told a terrific story of temptation and good triumphing over evil (for the time being at least).  I probably would've given Wyatt the win here to set up their remaining matches.

Wait........wait, he LOST??  What.  The hell??

The most disappointing match was The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar.  For the first time in eight years, an Undertaker WrestleMania match was not one of the best matches of the night.  I wasn't expecting anything spectactular here but for me this failed to crawl out of two-star territory until the ending (Taker suffered a concussion early on, which put a damper on what probably would've been a three-star affair).  And in the shocker of the night, Brock Lesnar pinned The Undertaker, at WrestleMania.  After over two decades, The Streak was dead.  The nine of us viewing this event at my house watched in utter disbelief as the "21-1" graphic flashed across the screen (two of my friends actually had a 10-1 odds bet over this match, and the guy who put up the ten bucks was none too pleased).  Lesnar would of course go on to destroy John Cena for the Title at SummerSlam and then disappear from TV a month later.  WWE has followed up this enormous 'Mania moment quite poorly, but at the time the possibilities seemed endless.

The Divas match took the buffer spot on the card (a phenomenon I still don't fully understand - IMO a supercard should build to a peak, not have a lull before the main event), and was actually pretty decent for what it was.  AJ Lee retained as I hoped she would.

Finally the main event arrived.  Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan for the WWE World Title.  We had to expect that Triple H would get involved, which he did; Bryan would suffer an "injury" putting his status in doubt, which he did; and he would eventually overcome it all to complete his journey to the top of the WWE.  Which he did!  First, the match was pretty great; full of violent action, against-the-odds drama, and edge-of-your-seat nearfalls.  But what a moment immediately afterwards!  The visual of Daniel Bryan fallen to his knees, both belts draped over his shoulders, was one of the most satisfying images I've witnessed in my 28+ years as a wrestling fan.  It was the perfect culmination of the 8-month journey Bryan and his massive fanbase endured since Summerslam 2013, and seemed to be the official start of The Daniel Bryan Era.  Unfortunately Bryan's Title run was derailed by a neck injury that forced him out of action for nine months, putting a big PAUSE on his push.  He'd return briefly in 2015 before a concussion seemingly cut his great career short at the age of 34.  But wait, the story isn't over.....

Look at him.  Just look.

Despite the monumentally disappointing aftermath, WrestleMania XXX was an amazing event, featuring two of the best matches of 2014, plus a few other historic and unforgettable moments.  While the wrestling itself wasn't perfect, the booking was spot-fucking-on.  'Mania 30 will always be one of my favorites, as it was the night Daniel Bryan got to be The Face of WWE.

Best Match: Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan over the main event by the slimmest of margins
Worst Match: Divas Title Match - this was still watchable though
What I'd Change: Cut the Hogan segment down to ten minutes and give that extra time to The Shield match.
Most Disappointing Match: Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar
Most Pleasant Surprise: The Battle Royal - I had very low expectations for this but it was tremendously entertaining
Overall Rating: 9/10

 Part 9
Part 11

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