Despite the lack of build-up and expectation, the 31st annual WrestleMania proved to be a resounding success.
Hosted by Levi’s Stadium in California, in front of 77,000 people, WrestleMania 31 showed why wrestling fans should keep faith in the company. There had been much scepticism beforehand over the event. Roman Reigns winning the Royal Rumble proved unpopular and the absence of part-time superstars scheduled to compete hindered the hype somewhat. From what I read, many people didn’t expect much from this year’s Show of Shows.
However, as soon as WrestleMania went off the air, many people were describing it as one of the best WrestleMania’s of all time. That’s a strong statement to make when you’re comparing it to WrestleMania X7, X9 and even last year’s extravaganza. But even if it wasn’t the best, the pros certainly outweighed the cons.
HOW DID IT ALL GO DOWN?
The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was relegated to the pre-show because of time constraints, joining the Four Way Tag match for the Tag Team Championships. Both matches, though clustered, were pleasant additions to the Kick-off Show. Tyson Kidd and Cesaro regained the championships in the first match, whilst Big Show eliminated the crowd favourite Damien Mizdow in the Battle Royal. It was a nice moment for Big Show, but the true highlight was Mizdow eliminating The Miz, who had tormented and abused Mizdow for months.
The main show opened with the Intercontinental Championship ladder match, which many expected to be the show stealer. There were plenty of crazy and dangerous spots, notably when Luke Harper drove Dean Ambrose from the ring and through a ladder. The ending which saw Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan exchange a plethora of head butts on top of the ladder was certainly unique, and it was Bryan that kept balance and grabbed the belt, winning the championship for the first time. A very strong opener.
The bad blood feud between Randy Orton and Seth Rollins carried on into their matchup. On any other show they would have been given more time to shine, but they still managed to put on a solid match. The final RKO Orton executed to win the match was a thing of beauty, giving the match the climax it deserved.
WCW legend Sting finally made his highly anticipated debut against the ‘The Game’ Triple H in arguably the most entertaining match of the night. Following two unforgettable entrances, especially Triple H’s cheesy immensely cool Terminator plug, it wasn’t long into the bout we witnessed the interference of DX and the NWO, providing every true wrestling fan with a much welcomed insertion of nostalgia. In the end it was The Game that prevailed, using his broken sledgehammer against his opponent. Disappointing as it was for Sting not to win his first match in WWE, it was still a clash to remember.
AJ Lee and Paige defeated The Bella Twins in a short tag team match that highlighted the WWE’s apprehension to give the Divas the spotlight. United States Championship Rusev versus John Cena was next, a rematch from the previous month’s PPV Fastlane which Rusev won. This time, however, it was Cena who came out on top, becoming the first superstar to pin the Bulgarian Brute, thus becoming the new US champion. They delivered a fine match with fine storytelling, and Rusev managed to look strong in defeat.
There was a break from the action when Triple H and his wife Stephanie McMahon of the Authority came to the ring and began talking down to everyone with their heel personas. They were interrupted by The Rock, who arrived to a roaring reaction. After getting slapped by Stephanie he left the ring and walked over to the barrier where UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey stood, and brought her into the ring. The crowd ate the whole exchange up, which saw Rousey attack both Authority members, leaving her and The Rock alone in the ring. Although the promo went on for some time, time that could have been spent on longer matches, this was one of those rare cases where it didn’t really matter. Because in the years to come, people will still be talking about this moment.
Bray Wyatt came out for his match with Undertaker surrounded by zombie scarecrows for his match against The Undertaker. Though the entrances were great, the opened daylight didn’t allow them to create their desired effect. Nevertheless, The Undertaker looked far healthier than last year and their match surpassed all expectations. It was an excellent back and forth encounter that made Wyatt look like the Dead Man’s equal, and the moment where Wyatt performed his trademark spider walk only for The Undertaker to reply by sitting up effortlessly, a trademark of his own, sent the crowd wild. The Undertaker came back from last year’s defeat by extending his WrestleMania record to 22-1, but despite recent rumours to retire, he still has what it takes to put on a great match.
The main event started later than anticipated and it didn’t seem like there would be sufficient time to deliver a classic. But from the get-go Brock Lesnar dominated Roman Reigns in typical Lesnar fashion, creating a superb matchup filled with blood, F5s and suplexes. As Reigns kept smiling throughout and kicked out of every pin thrown at him, it was becoming more likely he would predictably come back from the beat down and win the whole thing. Although he did manage a flurry of offence at one point the moment came that everybody wanted to happen but we didn’t think it actually would. But no, Seth Rollins came running to the ring during the match and cashed in his Money in the Bank contract, before curb stomping his way to victory. With the unpopularity idea of Reign’s being champion and Lesnar’s part time status making the world title rarely defended, this was the best possible outcome. I am sure if Reigns won or Lesnar retained, fewer people would be calling this the greatest WrestleMania of all time.
All in all I don’t think WWE could have booked it much better. There will be those who view Triple H and John Cena’s victories as burials, but the quality of the matches overshadowed that. There were no technical masterpieces like Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III, but there wasn’t a single bad match on the card either. It will certainly go down as one of the better Wrestlemania’s, and I believe if WWE could keep up the quality, then people would become far more invested in the product.