Friday, March 31, 2017

The History of WrestleMania: 31-32



Levi Stadium - 3.29.15

WrestleMania 31 (or Play Button as Vince apparently wants it known) had probably the worst buildup in over a decade.  There was almost no urgency to the product leading into this show, and my expectations were as low as I can remember for a WrestleMania.  As it turned out though, this was a very solid PPV featuring several good-to-very good matches and no real stinkers.  I've read some reviews of 'Mania 31 calling it one of the best WrestleManias of all-time (Dave Meltzer initially called it one of the best shows he's ever seen but dialed back his praise on a second viewing).  Personally I find that assessment waaaaaay overboard.  I mean let's be honest, this show was nowhere near as good as 'Manias 17 or 19.  Come on.  This PPV had several good matches but no great ones, some great results and some not so great, not nearly enough wrestling for a four-hour broadcast (The seven matches totaled about 100 minutes which is downright skimpy), and the longest match was in my opinion the worst by far.

There were two preshow matches (I will never understand why WWE can't fit nine matches on a four-hour PPV when they routinely fit eight on a three-hour one), and one of them was quite entertaining.  The Fatal 4-Way tag match had highspots galore and lots of fun tandem offense that showcased three of the four teams (Sadly Jey Uso sat out the match with a legit shoulder injury).  Cesaro & Kidd won as expected, and I liked Cesaro's douchy heel move of letting Jimmy Uso hit his finisher on Big E, tossing Jimmy out of the ring and covering E himself.  Fun way to open the festivities.

The Battle Royal on the other hand I found rather pointless.  The only participant who gained anything from it was Damien Mizdow (and by proxy The Miz I guess), when he finally turned babyface and nearly eliminated Big Show to win the whole thing.  And of course the company followed up on Mizdow's crowd support with....nothing.  Overall WWE wasted several opportunities to make some underneath guys look good - The New Day all got owned by Show and looked stupid in the process, Hideo Itami from NXT was given about thirty seconds to shine before also being punked out by Show (How pissed d'ya suppose Triple H was by this?), and finally Mizdow failed to get the job done in the end.  The announcers pushed the whole "Big Show has never won a battle royal" thing, but was anyone really clamoring to finally see that happen?  This ended up being another one of those matches that didn't help anyone.

God I miss him (*sniff*)



Moving along to the main card.  The Seven-Man I-C Ladder Match opened the show as I figured it would, and it was a fun watch that didn't really feature anything we haven't seen before.  Once it was over it was forgotten, like a run-of-the-mill Adam Sandler movie (back when he was funny).  Obviously Daniel Bryan winning the one Title he'd never held was a great moment, and had he not suffered another injury shortly thereafter I've no doubt he would've revitalized the I-C Title much as Cena did with the US.  As for the multi-man Ladder Match I think it's time to retire the concept, for a while at least.  There's simply nothing more to do with these matches.  Every conceivable high spot with ladders has been done it would seem, and each of these matches now blurs into the rest.  What's most significant about this match now is that it was Daniel Bryan's final 'Mania match, and he became a Grand Slam Champion.  Sorry, gettin' dusty in here......

Next up was one of the two high points of the night - Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins.  At the time I was flabbergasted how early this was placed, but by the end it made sense.  Orton and Rollins nearly tore the house down as expected.  The bout was fast-paced and featured multiple intricately timed spots, including a breathtaking finish.  Unfortunately these two were only given 13 minutes so the match wasn't able to get out of 3-star territory.  Had it gone five minutes longer we'd probably be looking at a Match of the Year candidate.

Those five minutes could've easily been taken away from match #3.  Personally I found Triple H vs. Sting a pretty wretched affair.  They started out having an okay match and after ten minutes it disintegrated into a total Senior's Tour clusterfuck involving DX and the nWo attempting to brawl around ringside.  The live crowd went nuts for this, but I spent the next ten minutes groaning.  In the first place this match was never supposed to be about WWF vs. WCW.  Sting even said as much in his promo.  But ol' Vince couldn't help shoehorning that tired, fifteen-year-old concept into the proceeding.  Second, why on Earth would the nWo ever rush to Sting's aid?  They were mortal enemies in WCW (minus the idiotic Wolfpac angle), and two of the three members are Hunter's best friends!  Not to mention all three are obviously working for WWE now.  None of this lunacy made any sense, and when it was over we were once again left with the takeaway "WCW are poopyheads, WWE rules!"  This match felt like it was booked by a child.  I half-expected a reveal that Will Ferrell and the kid from The Lego Movie were behind it all.

This broke the Guinness record for oldest combined age in a wrestling ring



The Divas match was next, and just as I predicted it only went about six minutes.

This left two full hours for the final three bouts.  When you note that the longest of those three bouts went a shade under 17 minutes, it really speaks volumes about WWE's time management on these 'Mania shows.

John Cena vs. Rusev was a solid match but felt underwhelming compared to their FastLane encounter.  Both guys brought out some new moves which was nice, but the ending of the match felt totally anticlimactic, as Cena dispatched Rusev's year-long undefeated streak with a single AA.  The announcers also sold zero astonishment at Cena's conquering of said streak.  I think JBL made one offhand comment about Cena "defeating the undefeatable."  This should've been treated as a much bigger deal.

The next segment went on.  And on.  And on.  And onnnnn......  Now look, I enjoyed the Ronda Rousey involvement.  I like her a lot and I'd be very open to seeing her in a WWE match.  But this segment didn't need to be twenty minutes long.  It felt to me like they were trying to wait out the sunlight for Taker's entrance (I guess an outdoor stadium on the west coast isn't ideal for WrestleMania if Taker's there).  Anyway, this segment had moments that were entertaining, but I don't watch a PPV to see people talk for twenty minutes.  This slot should've gone to the Tag Title match.

It's still light out, but it's time for the Taker-Wyatt match.  This was fine too, but also pretty underwhelming.  Taker looked much healthier than at WM30 and Wyatt was solid as always.  The spiderwalk vs. situp moment was pretty cool.  But I couldn't help wondering, what's the point of it all?  How did this match help Wyatt?  His whole reason for wanting the match was to become the New Face of Fear, and he failed.  So now what?  Taker went home and Wyatt was still there.  So who benefitted from this match?  This is a question WWE needs to ask themselves much more frequently when putting together WrestleMania cards.  "Yes, this will be a big money match and yes the crowd will mark out for this, but in the end, who does it help?"  If the only perk to wrestling Taker is you'll avoid the pre-show Battle Royal, it's probably time to rethink things.  And judging by the next two months of WWE programming it's clear the company had no big plans for Wyatt past 'Mania.

This was cool but otherwise the match was forgettable

Now for the main event.  This was really something.  One of the best pure "fights" I can remember taking place in a wrestling ring.  Lesnar proved once again what a truly compelling figure he is, and Reigns earned more than a few stripes by taking one of the stiffest "pretend" beatings I've ever seen.  I liked the use of blood, which made the match immediately stand out in this PG Era.  But it was once again Seth Rollins who stole the show, literally.  I absolutely loved the mid-match cash-in.  This was the perfect way for Rollins to finally lower the boom, and Michael Cole's comment at the end summed it up perfectly: "Seth Rollins has just pulled off the heist of the century!"  For a main event match I had basically no interest in two weeks ago, this was a helluva spectacle and was executed brilliantly.

Ok this was awesome

So overall did I enjoy WrestleMania 31?  Yes.  It was an entertaining show with some good matches and a few great moments, and my outlook on the product improved drastically from the day before.  Was it one of the greatest shows of all time?  Not even close.  There was still way too much emphasis on nostalgia and way too much time devoted to non-wrestling (Seriously, how many elaborate entrances do we need?  Did WrestleMania X-Seven have any entrances like that?).  Had this show contained a Bryan vs. Ziggler show stealer like many fans wanted, that would elevate this to possibly an A-.  But 'Mania 31 didn't present a single Match of the Year candidate, and one need look no further than 'Mania 30 for a far superior edition.

Best Match: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (vs. Seth Rollins)
Worst Match: Sting vs. Triple H
What I'd Change: Bryan, Ambrose and Ziggler deserved to not be crammed into a multi-man Ladder Match.  Book Bryan vs. Ziggler so die-hard fans like me have something to care about.  Cut the nostalgia horseshit from the Sting match and give him a win in his WWE debut.  Cut the Rousey segment and save it for RAW.  Put the Tag Title match and the Battle Royal on the main show and give Mizdow the BR win.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably Rusev vs. John Cena, based on how good their FastLane match was
Most Pleasant Surprise: How good the main event was
Overall Rating: 7/10





AT&T Stadium - 4.3.16

Vince McMahon's stubborn refusal to move on from the Roman Reigns pet project continued with 'Mania 32, as Reigns would challenge WWE Champion Triple H (Yes, Hunter Hearst Helmsley was WWE Champion in 2016.  For fuck's sake.) and theoretically send everyone home jubilant.  Except that by 2016 Reigns was as unpopular as ever, and this main event took place in front of a crowd that had already sat through SIX HOURS of wrestling.  But we'll get to that.  Let's take a look at the "biggest" WrestleMania of all time.  And by "biggest" I mean "most reminiscent of being stuck in a well for several days as a senile old man bludgeons you with a loaded colostomy bag."  This show went on FOREVER.

The three pre-show matches all roughly amounted to filler.  Kalisto vs. Ryback was the best of them and really should've been included on the PPV (instead of the stupid battle royal).  Kalisto looked good and had surprisingly okay chemistry with Ryberg.  The 10-Diva match was actually watchable and just about everyone got some time to do stuff.  The Usos-Dudleyz bout was your basic free TV match.  Meh.

The real show kicked off with the 7-man Ladder Match, as I suspected it would.  I wasn't much looking forward to this, but I'll be damned if they didn't knock it outta the park with this one.  Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn carried the majority of the workload, and based on their innate chemistry it understandably gave this spotfest a big boost.  Sin Cara, Zack Ryder and Dolph Ziggler all got a big spot or two as well.  The crazy moments in this match were much more memorable than in last year's Ladder Match, and while Ryder winning this just to drop the Title to Miz 24 hours later (They seriously couldn't have given it to Sami and had his feud with Owens be for the belt??), I liked this match a lot; much more than the previous year's Ladder Match.

Zayn is a madman

Next up was AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho, part 4.  This got 17 minutes and was easily the best these two produced, but also had a nonsensical ending, as Jericho beat AJ to tie their series 2-2.  The next night AJ would win a great Fatal 4-Way and become the new #1 Contender.  So why'd he lose this match??  Still this was a damn fine undercard bout and a strong Match of the Night contender.

One of the best dropkicks in the biz

The New Day vs. League of Nations was oddly changed to a regular six-man, as Wade Barrett acted as the manager.  This was slightly above RAW quality, with everyone very motivated to make their mark.  It's a real shame the League of Nations were never booked as an actual threat, or this match would've been elevated by a good story.  LON took the expected win to keep the feud going, but were then made to look like total punks at the hands of Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, and Mick Foley.  I will never, for the life of me, understand the mentality behind bringing back guys from 20 years ago to beat up the current stars.  Why would you ever call attention to your past product being superior to the current one?

Placed shockingly early on the card, Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose failed to reach four-star territory but was still a very enjoyable, intense brawl.  Ambrose took insane sums of punishment like a champ, as expected, and kept getting back up.  Eventually Lesnar hit two big moves on a pile of chairs and that was it for Dean.  Evidently Ambrose was very unhappy with this match and it's not hard to see why.  While I liked this okay, I was hoping for something more akin to Lesnar vs. Punk.  But apparently those in charge just wanted more Suplex City nonsense.  This was a one-and-done match; Lesnar disappeared again until just before Summerslam, while Ambrose floundered for a few months before winning Money in the Bank and the WWE Title the same night.

Dean was basically dead this entire match.

Stealing this show was the incredible showing by Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, who were give sixteen minutes and used them pretty brilliantly.  Prior to the match Lita presented the brand new WWE Women's Title, replacing the idiotic bedazzled butterfly belt that was the Divas Championship.  It took the better part of a year, but the disastrously executed "Divas Revolution" finally bore fruit here.  Charlotte strangely retained the Title, but this match was full of innovation and fast-paced offense.  A women's match topping everything else at a WrestleMania made for quite an historic occasion.

This match was boss.  No pun intended.

After the first five PPV matches I thought to myself, "Damn, this is a pretty killer show so far."  Up to this point 'Mania 32 far outclassed 31.  Sadly, much like WrestleManias 8 and 21, after the first five bouts WrestleMania 32 went violently off the rails and never got back on.

The next match was the one I was dreading, Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker.  Where to start with this train wreck?  First, it was thirty minutes long.  Thirty. Goddamn. Minutes.  Shane McMahon, a 46-year-old businessman, lasted a full half-hour against the nigh-invincible Dead Man.  Second, Shane was presented as on par with said Deceased Person.  This match was a back-and-forth affair in which Shane (again, a BUSINESSMAN) nearly became the "2" in "22-2" on several occasions.  Third, after all the buildup and promise of changing RAW and "saving WWE for future generations of McMahons," Shane lost.  That was it.  He lost.  Don't misunderstand me, in no way was I advocating allowing Shane McMahon to pin Taker at WrestleMania, but if you're going to throw together this nonsensical match it would seem like the only logical outcome would be for Shane to win and thus assume control of the company.  Otherwise, what was the point of all this?  Just so Shane could dive off the top of the Cell?  And that brings me to....Fourth, I think it's kinda shitty that Vince's kid, who isn't on the road 300 days a year and will be able to recover from mega-dangerous high spots like this, gets to upstage the actual wrestlers on the biggest stage of the year simply because he can.  How are the full-timers supposed to live up to stunts like this, particularly in an era when the company is meant to be very protective of wrestler safety?  And fifth, Shane was given control of RAW the next night ANYWAY.  Vince just came out and gave him temporary control of the show.  And a few months later Shane became Commissioner of Smackdown.  And the whole blackmail angle was never mentioned again.  So not only did this match stink and go on ten minutes longer than it needed to (at least), but there was no reason for it at all.  After that drawn-out affair was over, Shane was stretchered out, bringing the total time of this segment to roughly 45 minutes.  Hmm, a McMahon got the longest segment of the night.  I wonder who got the second longest.  Another McMahon maybe?

By this point it was just after 10pm, and it seemed like there was no way they could fit the Andre battle royal and the main event.  But they went right ahead with the 20-man clusterfuck, which involved a buncha jobbers and old guys, plus Shaquille O'Neal (who wasn't advertised, thus defeating the purpose of a celebrity guest), and NXT's Baron Corbin.  This was easily the worst Andre battle royal thus far.

Now they were desperately short on time and would clearly be running well past 11pm Eastern, and we still had the promised Rock segment, wherein he played with a flamethrower for ten minutes, cut a promo announcing the record-breaking attendance figure (101,000 according to WWE, just under 94,000 according to the venue), and got into a verbal battle with The Wyatts, who had crashed his party.  After an interminable promo segment, Rock then announced he was wrestling one of them, and proceeded to pin Erick Rowan in six seconds.  Then the Wyatts surrounded him only for John Cena to come to the rescue.  This segment went so overlong and was so beyond pointless I can't even fathom it.  What did Bray Wyatt gain from being bested in a 3-on-2 scenario?  Why did WWE feel the need to extend an already bloated show by an hour?  What made them think the live crowd would have any energy left for the main event after all this?  This by the way was the second segment on the show devoted to the concept of "Wasn't the Attitude Era way better than this shit we're feeding you today?"

Finally after a goddamn eternity it was time for the main event, which I wasn't invested in anyway.  Triple H and Roman Reigns actually put on a solid 18-minute match, but a) it went 27 minutes and b) it happened 250 minutes into a PPV and the live crowd didn't care except to boo Roman.  When it comes down to it, Hunter really just shouldn't headline a WrestleMania PPV unless his opponent has the popularity of a Daniel Bryan.  His style is simply too methodical and slow to engage a live crowd worn down from four-plus hours of this shit.  So Roman eventually won the match and the WWE Title, much to the chagrin of basically everyone in the building.  No heel turn, no run-ins, no swerves.  Just an anticlimactic finish from a babyface no one liked.  Reigns would slowly morph into a pseudo-heel over the spring and summer before reverting back to a hated babyface by Summerslam.

Triple H vs. Double R was Quadruple L(ame)

So in the end, WrestleMania 32 went from an A- first half to a D+ second half.  I was kinder to this show than most I think as the undercard had three pretty excellent matches and two decent ones.  But seriously, after the women's match there's no reason to watch another two-and-a-half hours of this show.  This began a trend throughout 2016 of overlong PPVs that were exhausting to sit through, confirming once and for all that Vince McMahon is the enemy of fun.

Best Match: Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
Worst Match: Andre Battle Royal
What I'd Change: Give Taker a real opponent, shove the Battle Royal on the pre-show, put the Kalisto match on the PPV, cut the main event down to a fast-paced 17 minutes, and cut an entire hour off this distended whale of a PPV.
Most Disappointing Match: Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose
Most Pleasant Surprise: The Ladder Match
Overall Rating: 7/10



And there's your Enuffa.com History of WrestleMania.  Hope you enjoyed this exhaustive lesson in sports-entertainment lore.  Comment below with your thoughts....

But first, here's a look at my Top Ten all-time WrestleManias, and my Top 20 WrestleMania matches...


Top Ten WrestleManias

10. WrestleMania XXVI
9. WrestleMania 23
8. WrestleMania XIV
7. WrestleMania 21
6. WrestleMania III
5. WrestleMania XXX
4. WrestleMania X
3. WrestleMania XX
2. WrestleMania X-Seven
1. WrestleMania XIX


Top 20 WrestleMania Matches
(BTW, notice that Shawn Michaels is in a whopping NINE of the twenty)

20. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair - WM24
19. Triangle Ladder Match - WM16
18. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels - WM23
17. Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan - WM30
16. Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle - WM20
15. Roddy Piper vs. Bret Hart - WM8
14. TLC II - WM17
13. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho - WM28
12. The Rock vs. Steve Austin - WM17
11. Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels - WM25
10. Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat - WM3
9. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin - WM13
8. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels - WM10
7. Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels - WM26
6. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho - WM19
5. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels - WM12
4. Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels - WM21
3. Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar - WM19
2. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart - WM10
1. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit - WM20


Thanks for reading!  Enjoy WrestleMania on Sunday!

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