Monday, April 4, 2016

WrestleMania 32, or How Long Can We Make This Show?

Well WrestleMania 32 is now in the books.  The very, very, very long books.  Jeezus Christ, what were they thinking stretching that PPV to FIVE hours??  Plus two hours of pre-show?  Absolute insanity.  But was the show any good?  Yes.  And no.  Let's cut open this bloated WrestleMania corpse and see what's inside.

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 I don't much like Ryder winning (Are we back to the I-C Title being a jobber belt?), I liked this match a lot; much more than last year's.

Sami Zayn was on FIRE

Next up was AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho, part 4.  This got 17 minutes and was easily the best these two have produced so far.  But Jericho still came off a little sluggish at times, and it's really time for Styles to work with a younger, quicker opponent.  Comparing this to AJ's routine five-star matches in NJPW illustrates pretty clearly that Jericho's lost a step over the past five years.  Still this was a damn fine undercard match, and despite more 50-50 booking it was a strong Match of the Night contender.

Looks like they'll get one more chance to really make this feud work

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 hasn't been 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 that of today?  Vince really hates those damn millennials I guess.  Makes sense, after all "they're not at all trepidatious."

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.  Not sure where either of them goes from here, but this was one of the better matches of the night.

Lesnar suplexes himself onto a pile of chairs

Possibly the show stealer 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, which will replace the idiotic bedazzled butterfly belt that was the Divas Championship.  After a disastrously executed "Divas Revolution," it seems WWE is finally serious about women's wrestling again.  Charlotte strangely retained the Title, but this match was full of innovation and fast-paced offense.  Damn good stuff.

Now that's a good-lookin' belt

After the first five 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 flew off the rails and never fully got back on.

The next match was the one I was dreading, Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker.  My feed during this match was frought with issues, which certainly didn't help my enjoyment of it.  That aside, I still have a slew of problems with Shane vs. Taker.  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.  That's fuckin' mental.  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?  Would Kevin Owens for example be allowed to take a risk anywhere near that big?  It just sends a mixed message when Friday's NXT main event was stopped several times to control Samoa Joe's bleeding, and 48 hours later Shane is taking a 25-foot fall off the Cell.  Does this strike no one else as pretty hypocritical?  So 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?

There's Vince's son, reaching for that brass ring

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 match stunk.  Easily the worst Andre battle royal thus far.  But on the bright side, Corbin won the whole thing.  So maybe he'll get some sort of push out of this.  Still he's not the first guy I'd choose to call up from NXT.

By 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 match, but 250 minutes into a PPV the live crowd didn't care except to boo Roman, and this thoroughly reminded me of Hunter vs. Orton from 2009.  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 likes.  Is WWE really this stubborn?

Aquaman beating up Jesus

So in the end, WrestleMania 32 went from an A- first half to a D+ second half.  On balance I'd give it roughly a B- overall.  WrestleMania is becoming such a drag to sit through, and that's the opposite of how an audience is supposed to feel by the end.  It's clear Vince is just putting these shows on for himself to enjoy and cares very little about what the audience likes.  Compare this distended whale of a PPV to the streamlined, high energy TakeOver show on Friday (or even the four-hour WrestleKingdom 10, which flew by).  It's not even close.  The NXT show was a masterpiece (full review coming soon) with nary a bad match and an amazing final trilogy of classics.  'Mania started out very strong and was then artificially inflated so it could be "The Biggest WrestleMania."  Not to mention the two longest matches by far involved Vince's stupid family.  This reminded me of 'Mania 22 a decade ago, where the World Title match was cut to nine minutes to make room for Vince-Shawn (a 19-minute squash), and Hunter vs. Cena (complete with ten-plus minutes of entrances).  I just don't understand how a person's ego can be so out of control as to make destructively poor business decisions like this.

So will WWE finally listen to what the fans have been saying for the last eighteen months and just turn Roman heel already?  He'd clearly have a better roster of guys to work with.  The babyface side is loads stronger than the heel side right now.  But then how would Vince, Hunter & Steph make it all about them?  

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