Tuesday, March 31, 2015
WrestleMania 31 Review, or Why Seth Rollins Is the Cat's Pajamas
Alright folks, another WrestleMania is in the past, fighting for its spot in the historical pantheon. How did it live up to the hype? How does WWE's landscape look in its wake? Let's pick it apart and see where we stand. I'll also talk about last night's RAW which, like all post-Mania episodes, was nearly as noteworthy as the PPV itself.
Now I've read some reviews of 'Mania 31 calling it one of the best WrestleManias of all-time. Dave Meltzer in fact called it one of the best shows he's ever seen. 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 pretty skimpy), and the longest match was in my opinion the worst by far.
There were two preshow matches this year (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. Otherwise though, 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.
Moving along to the main card. The 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. Obviously I'm glad Daniel Bryan won, and I truly hope WWE gives him the opportunity to revitalize the I-C Title. He should keep it for at least a year, maybe even break the longevity record. 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 concievable high spot with ladders has been done it would seem, and each of these matches now blurs into the rest.
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 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. The nostalgia trip needs to end.
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). And am I the only one who has ZERO interest in seeing Rock vs. Triple H for the thousandth time? The feud between these guys peaked FIFTEEN years ago. Fifteen. Why in God's name would I want to see them wrestle again now? The whole point of bringing back past stars is to face today's top guys in dream match situations. What is the point of rehashing old rivalries a decade-plus later, when there's no chance of them topping the work they did at age thirty? This would be the equivalent of booking Hogan vs. Piper at WrestleMania 2000. How absurd would that have been? Anyway, this segment had moments that were entertaining, but I don't watch a PPV to see people talk for twenty minutes. This slot could'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 last year 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 does 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's still here. 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 last night's RAW, it's clear the company had no plans for Wyatt past Sunday.
Side note: When was the last time Taker put someone away on the first Tombstone? That move has basically been killed dead by Taker's incessant WrestleMania appearances. It was a HUGE deal in 2009 when Shawn Michaels kicked out of it, but now if a guy doesn't kick out on the first one he's not worthy of even being there. Taker's inadvertently damaged his own finishing move.
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.
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 is much better now than it was a few days ago. Was it one of the greatest shows of all time? Not even close. I give WM31 a B or so. There's 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?). I think this show will really be judged by how it was followed up. If WWE continues rehabbing the secondary belts and makes Rollins the awesome heel Champion he can be, we'll be able to call this show an unquestionable creative success. If things return to the way they were a month ago, we'll call it an anomaly.
Last night's RAW was pretty amazing. The Lesnar stuff was pure awesome, both Bryan and Cena's matches were about as good as anything at 'Mania, the tag team stuff was a lot of fun (Love those Lucha Dragons!), Neville's debut was cool (Don't eff that one up), and Rollins had more great chickenshit heel moments (Man that guy's great). The only thing last night was missing was a big show-closing moment. The six-man main event just ended. There needed to be a challenge issued by Orton or Reigns, or a surprise return or something.
Going forward I think Bryan and Cena should defend their respective Titles just about every week against solid challengers in good matches. That's the kind of thing that writes itself. They'll quickly build equity in those Titles and they can save their big defenses against hated rivals on PPV.
Seth Rollins on the other hand should almost never wrestle on free television. He should take the attitude of "Why would I fight in a meaningless RAW tag team match and risk getting hurt?" Rollins should act like he thinks he's as big a star as Brock Lesnar. "Brock only wrestles on PPV. I'm the WWE Champion, so that's what I'm gonna do too." If anyone asks him what makes him so damn special, he only need hold up the Title belt. Rollins should be the biggest absolute fucking PRICK this industry has ever seen, and it should be damn near impossible for a babyface to ever get his hands on Rollins outside of a PPV match. Every time Orton or Reigns or whoever tries to mix it up with Rollins during a non-wrestling segment, he should escape and let his henchmen take the lumps. Every. Single. Time. And as I said before, Rollins needs to keep that belt for at least a year. He can lose by DQ or cheat to win every Title defense, but he shouldn't lose it until at least 'Mania 32. And don't even think about booking him in non-Title matches. Those should be beneath him.
Finally, what to do with Roman Reigns? I know the plan is a Rollins-Reigns Title feud, but I really think Reigns needs an uppercard feud with a different heel first. Reigns needs to play off someone like Rusev who is not at all a cool heel. Reigns also needs to figure out who his character is. Why should the fans want him to win? Why should we be emotionally invested in his success? I don't have that answer, but he needs to figure it out pretty fast.
That'll do it for me. Thanks for reading!