Wrestlemania 31 is history and while it didn’t have the same feel good ending as Wrestlemania 30, this year’s event presents a ton of a potential story lines that if handled correctly could keep the WWE rolling to Wrestlemania 32.
Live from Levi’s Stadium, home of my beloved San Francisco 49ers, it’s time for Wrestlemania Play Button. The set, while not overly flashy, looks cool with a wide ramp. Hopefully some of the entrances will make full use of it.
First up is the Intercontinental Title Ladder Match. Always good to kick off the show with the trainwreck segments.
Daniel Bryan vs Dolph Ziggler vs Luke Harper vs Dean Ambrose vs Bad News Barrett (champion) vs R-Truth vs Stardust.
Bryan goes from ending Wrestlemania 30 as the undisputed world champion after defeating the three members of Evolution in one night to opening the show. Sigh. Ziggler is rocking a braided faux hawk, a good look for him, but the trick will be finding a way to keep it together as his match progresses. Stardust, an avid comic book reader, comes out in an X-Men villain Mr. Sinister cloak. JBL keeps referring to it as an outfit from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, which is annoying as he thinks he’s making a hip reference, but is all wrong.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact year the Wrestlemania ladder match stopped being special, but there’s not much here to get excited about. They all follow the same poor logic of wrestlers racing to climb the ladder as if their opponents won’t notice or get to them fast enough. And the clearing of the ring so wrestler A can knock out wrestler B and make a dramatic climb only for wrestler C to stop them has grown stale. Ambrose provides much of the signature moments as he scales a ladder on the outside to do a diving elbow onto the opponents on the floor. Later, he takes a Harper powerbomb off a ladder in the middle of the ring
Stardust gets a cheer with his blinged-out custom ladder, which Barrett immediately breaks it and uses a rung as a weapon. So not even the custom ladder can get over. Stardust takes a superplex from the top of the ladder in another crazy spot. Ziggler and Bryan are left alone atop a ladder and Bryan lands a series of headbutts to knock Ziggler off the ladder giving him enough time to unstrap the title and become the new Intercontinental champion.
Winner: Daniel Bryan. This match needed more wow moments. Not necessarily crazy kill wrestler moments, but something we haven’t seen before. In other words, it desperately needed Kofi Kingston to join in on the fun.
Seth Rollins vs Randy Orton
The crack video production team sets this feud up like it’s a battle of Triple H’s chosen ones. Orton in 2003 and Rollins in 2014. That’s a better angle than the Orton infiltrates the Authority to play mind games with Rollins we got instead. Orton comes out wearing elbowpads, which seems odd, and some red tights to remind us he’s the face in this feud. It’s hard to buy Cole saying Rollins is the future of the WWE when he’s relegated to second match on the night.
As expected, this is a technically sound match that really gets going after both men trade the advantage. Rollins kicks out of the RKO and Orton returns the favor by kicking out of the curb stomp, an annoying theme that would continue throughout the show. Finishers are starting to lose their impact when in video game fashion, the wrestlers have to hit them 3-4 times before they can get the win. In the finish of the night, Rollins goes for a super curb stomp only for Orton to launch him further in the air and hit an RKO for the win. That finish had a success rate of about 2% so the perfect execution was impressive.
Winner: Randy Orton. Wasn’t a big fan of this (at first) as I agreed with ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin’s podcast asking how the fans would buy Rollins could cash in and be able to beat either Brock Lesnar or Roman Reigns if he can’t get past Orton?
Triple H vs Sting
While hair thinning, pale and looking every day of his 56 years, it’s still amazing to see Sting at Wrestlemania. He gets an odd special entrance with an Asian band, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. It’s Sting at Wrestlemania. He’s rocking the red trench coat and some red in his face paint. Triple H gets the special gratuitous entrance gratuitous entrance with a Terminator unveiling complete with a video cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. Robocop/Sting vs Triple H/Terminator for Wrestlemania 32? Book it!
No need for intros as we go right into the match. The fans break out into a loud ‘you’ve still got it’ chant. It seemed like the acoustics were bad at the stadium as you could barely hear them, but apparently the first two matches didn’t have them especially excited. Triple H dominates much of the match, which is fine in this case since Sting is likely rusty. Sting hits his trademark moves and misses the ringside elbow.
After a solid bit of back and forth, Sting locks in the Scorpion deathlock but DX comes down! Run-ins are typically lame, but it works here to help cover up Sting’s limitations. After fighting off Road Dogg, Billy Gunn and X-Pac, Sting counters a Pedigree and sends Triple H over the top rope before hitting all of DX with a dive from the top rope(!) Triple H regains the advantage and hits the Pedigree. Sting kicks out and as Triple H prepares his next attack, the n.W.o (Hollywood Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash) comes out. Choose your side X-Pac/Syxx! It’s strange watching the nWo come to Sting’s aid in any circumstance, but it’s too fun to question. Sit back and enjoy your legitimate Wrestlemania Moment (TM) kids.
As the battle of the 90s’ biggest factions gets underway, Shawn Michaels (!) runs in and hits Sting with a superkick. Sting kicks out and DX hands Triple H a sledgehammer. Hall gives Sting a bat and after a brief weapon standoff, Sting’s bat breaks the sledgehammer. Sting lands one Stinger Splash, but Triple H grabs the shattered sledgehammer and hits Sting as he tries a second Stinger Splash. That’s enough for the win.
Winner: Triple H. Really didn’t like who went over here. After all the WCW bashing to have Triple H win makes Sting look like he’s not in Triple H’s league and in the long run, who benefits more from the win here? Of course, this is the same guy who booked himself to beat Brock Lesnar too… As the factions help their respective man up, Triple H offers his hand to Sting and the two respect the code. Odd ending especially since Triple H is the promotion’s biggest heel.
Maria Menounos interviews Bryan about his win, but gets interrupted by Pat Patterson who congratulates him and shakes his hand. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper offers his compliments as does Ricky Steamboat, who laughably says the ladder match was as good as his Wrestlemania 3 match with Randy Savage. Uh, not quite Dragon.
Ric Flair comes out to wooo and chop Steamboat for good measure. Bret Hart leads a “Yes” chat and Rob Simmons utters damn. This was one of the better legend roll calls we’ve seen lately and a nice non-offensive way to honor the Wrestlemania trailblazers. We get a mini concert from Skylar Grey, Travis Barker and Kid Ink. The songs are fine, but there weren’t any, I don’t know…wrestlers that wouldn’t benefit from that Wrestlemania spotlight more?
Paige and AJ Lee vs Nikki and Brie Bella
Sign of the Night Runner Up – ‘Nikki I’ll give you babies,’ referring to Nikki’s boyfriend, John Cena, not exactly being on board with her desire to have children. This match actually gets a second to tell a decent story. The Bellas keep knocking AJ off the ring apron to prevent her from tagging Paige, who finally turns the tables on the Bellas allowing AJ to put Nikki in the Black Widow for the submission victory.
Winner: AJ and Paige. Booking 101 dictates that AJ now gets a crack at Nikki’s title. Perfectly acceptable Divas match here.
Hall of Fame video and recipient acknowledgements. With Razor Ramon last year and Nash this year does X-Pac get in next year to keep the Kliq Hall of Fame streak going?
US Title: John Cena vs Rusev
Rusev has an awesome Russian hero entrance complete with tanks, ‘Russian army’ and Lana’s short skirt as he arrives on a tank. The only way this would have been better would be if Nikolai Volkoff was here to sing the National Anthem. Cena has a USA video featuring Ronald Regan and George W. Bush. Who wins the propaganda battle? Wait, that was it for Cena? Was Carl Weathers too busy to come out dancing to ‘Living in America?’
Rusev even manages to work Eden into the match, demanding she introduce him first. That’s such a small detail, but it makes him look like such a bully and such effective heel work. It cuts off any Rusev chants and he has properly done his job to be the guy most fans want to see lose. The Anti-Cena contingent would be happy with a draw.
There’s nothing wrong with this match technically, but like their Fastlane matchup, it’s flat. The fans aren’t buying any of the near falls including a kick out of the AA and just aren’t getting pulled in. Cena busts out a springboard stunner and Rusev hits a diving headbutt from the top rope. Lana climbs up on the apron to distract Cena, but he ducks and Rusev knocks her over. Somehow, running into her is enough for Cena’s AA to get the pinfall, ending Rusev’s undefeated streak and take the US title. Rusev blames Lana for loss and walks off. A heel til the end, but hopefully this isn’t the end of the Rusev/Lana partnership.
Winner: John Cena. Not sure how this helps Cena and what the plans going forward are, but Rusev has finally been beaten, so there’s that…
Back to the Wrestlemania Roundtable. We’re shown clips of the tag team title four way won by the tag champs, Cesaro and Tyson Kidd. Then we get clips of the Andre the Giant Battle Royal, which Big Show wins. Nice to give the young guy an opportunity to shine…
The Authority announce new attendance record of 76,976. Keep in mind that Levi’s Stadium isn’t even a year old. At 2012, the Sun Life Stadium crowd for Wrestlemania 28 brought in 78,363 fans and Wrestlemania 29 saw 80,676 come to MetLife Stadium but it’s all in how you spin it.
Steph talks about Wrestlemania owing everything to them. Glad we put those matches to the pre-show so we could work in that precious Authority gloat time. The Rock comes out to kill some time and let the sun go down.
This promotion refuses to get it. No one will ever care about the Mizdows, New Days, Wade Barretts, etc. if they are always made to look like second class jobbers to the real (part-time) stars who’ll be gone by next week. This would have been a perfect slot for the tag team title match or even an NXT showcase match. Steph slaps Rock and instead of his normal response of giving her a Rock Bottom, he brings in his Furious 7 co-star Ronda Rousey. Back in the days, Wrestlemania Moments happened naturally, now they’re so forced and worthless. Rock slugs Triple H and Ronda gives him a judo toss before grabbing Steph’s arm.
Unfortunately, the segment didn’t go long enough as the sun is still up as it’s time for Bray Wyatt vs. The Undertaker. Why not do a video package to stall longer?
Without the cell phones lighting the stadium, Wyatt’s entrance is lacking something and he resorts to ‘reanimating’ scarecrows. How that ties into the buzzards goes unanswered. Undertaker doesn’t have a fancy robe this time and is back to his 2010 trenchcoat and hat look. At least he’s grown his hair out. With the lure of The Streak gone, the match is just kinda there although the announcers hype it like the second coming of The Streak.
The best moment of the match comes when Bray does his Spider Walk as Undertaker sits up. Taker counters Sister Abigail into Tombstone for the win. See you next Christmas, Santa.
Winner: The Undertaker. Bray needed this win as last year he lost to Cena and now he’s looking like a rambling loon who can’t get the job done against the stars. He’s going to need immediate career resuscitation starting tomorrow night on RAW.
Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns
The fans are solidly on Team Lesnar. Sign of the Night: ‘It Never Reigns in Northern California.’ Lesnar dominates the match tossing Reigns around like he’s Brady Boone. Reigns gets in a few lucky shots that legitimately gets Lesnar bleeding from the side of his face and chin, but it just makes Brock look more like the live action Conan the Barbarian of wrestling he already was as he continues the onslaught.
Reigns eats several F5s, but kicks out of two only to get pummeled again. Reigns has had so little offense he’s like the modern Mikey Whipwreck. On the outside, Brock misses a charge and hits the ringpost enough to start bleeding. Even this isn’t enough to give Reigns a real advantage as the Superman punch only staggers Brock.
A spear can’t get the win either and just as Brock counters with another F5, Rollins’ music hits. Time to cash in!
Now the match is a triple threat and if you can’t predict this ending you haven’t been watching long enough. Lesnar catches Rollins for an F5, but Reigns spears him.
That gives Rollins enough of an opening to hit the curb stomp (the same one that couldn’t pin Orton earlier) to win the title and move the belt off the part-time Lesnar without ruining his credibility.
Winner: Rollins. I didn’t like Rollins losing to Orton earlier in the show, but it was absolutely the right move considering the ending. Now Orton can demand a title shot after beating the champ, but so too can Bryan, who beat Rollins to get the No. 1 contender match at Fastlane.
Reigns can seek payback for Rollins ruining his moment and Lesnar can call in his rematch. Not to mention Ambrose still has a score to settle with his former SHIELD-mate. Rollins is easily the best option for the belt and with The Authority backing him, they could reasonably keep the belt on him until Wrestlemania 32 when perhaps a NXT star has emerged as the company’s hottest act?
Photo credit: WWE.com