Monday, 30 March 2015

WWE WrestleMania 31 Review

This article is part of #ATPW24, in aid of MIND Charity. You can help support the cause by going to www.justgiving.co.uk/acrossthepondwrestling

So, it's the biggest show of the year, and all the eyes were on Levi's Stadium. WrestleMania was upon us, but could the thirty-first edition of WWE's sport entertainment spectacular live up to it's hype? Let's find out!


No Disqualification Match
Triple H vs. Sting




If there was ever a match that screamed "sports entertainment" then it was this match. From start to finish, this was a true spectacle. The entrances were quite frankly ridiculous. I have no idea why Sting had some Japanese style drumming group with face paint on play him to the ring, but I couldn't take my eyes of the screen. Triple H's was even more silly. Seriously? Triple H loves the pomp and circumstance of WrestleMania, doesn't he? Some Terminator craziness and rising from the floor and Arnie introducing him and all over kinds of bonkers stuff, that happened because it simply happened. Deal with it.

The match was exactly what it needed it to be, and exactly what I had called for in Saturday's Preview article. As soon as that first blast of D-Generation X's music hit, with Sting about to place Triple H in the scorpion death lock, it was time to have some serious fun. Run-ins the like we haven't seen since WCW was in it's prime. Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, representing the nWo, evened the side for Sting, before Shawn Michaels produced one of the strongest false finishes of the show. Appearing out of nowhere, Michaels nailed Sting with a sweet chin music, breaking Sting's scorpion death lock, and allowing Triple H to get a very near fall indeed. By this point, I was a big, blathering ball of bouncy beans.

Outside of all the silliness, both men did string together some solid action. Most of this came in the early portion of the match, with Trips working hard to allow Sting to look his best on the big stage. That isn't to say that Sting wasn't putting a shift in himself, his selling especially was effective when on the end of a beating from The King of Kings. It's a shame we never got to see these two battle it out in their primes, as just the snippet we saw here was enough to convince that they could have put on something very special indeed.

The finish suited the match and prior storyline perfectly, with both men being handed their trusty weapons of choice. Sting might have won that battle, but it was Triple H who ended the war, using his broken sledgehammer to twat Sting in the head, whilst the Vigilante attempt a second stinger splash. Triple H winning might not have been everyone's choice, but hey, this is WWE, of course WWE was going to win. Did you not see The Invasion storyline?  A handshake between the two, with their separate groups looking on, seemed like a fitting way to close the book on an exciting Era in wrestling history. The war is dead. Let's look forward...to the...Future?


Singles Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Brock Lesnar (C) with Paul Heyman vs. Roman Reigns




Wait...that isn't Brock Lesnar...that isn't Roman Reigns. Nope, that's Seth Rollins. What a superb moment that was. Rollins not even waiting until Reigns and Lesnar had finished their match, with both men down after psychical war of a match, the rascal bastard cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase and after a flurry of offense involving all three men hit a final Curb Stomp to Roman Reigns and collected the richest prize in Sport entertainment for the very first time. A WrestleMania moment that didn't need Michael Cole to tell us it was a WrestleMania moment, to in fact be a WrestleMania Moment, it just was a WrestleMania Moment.

Obviously the bulk of the match was contested between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. An quite honestly it was magnificent. Anyone who questioned what these two could produce should feel rather silly. The story was simple, but well told, Lesnar through bombs at Reigns, and Reigns asked for more. Reigns kept chipping away The Beast with everything he had, but couldn't get him down for three. If it had ended with Lesnar making the cover from the F5 that would lead Rollins to make his entrance, I'd have had no complaints at all. Reigns would have been elevated by the loss and indeed, he still is elevated just by going toe to toe with Lesnar.


The biggest question heading into this match was whether Reigns was "ready" for such a stage. Even with a crowd who had already decided that the answer was no, the answer was an emphatic yes. Reigns selling isn't something I've noticed before, but when given the opportunity to go for it, Reigns delivered a nuanced performance. He psychically looked like he had had enough, but his facials were urging Lesnar to continue. This was showcased for me, when Lesnar removed his glove and proceeded to slap Reigns multiple times and Reigns just took it, wanting more. Not something that I had been expecting to see out of Roman at all, but something that should prove to all those who questioned his in ring credentials that this lad more than deserves to be in the WWE main event scene.

With that said, WWE knew that having Reigns win the title would be met with a negative reaction from that crowd no matter what, which would seem to be the most obvious reason for having Seth Rollins head down to the ring and capture the title for himself. Reigns was allowed to show that he can indeed perform at the level asked, and hopefully changed a few minds in the process without having to suffer from having his moment shat on by a disrespectful crowd. Rollins is another who has proven he's ready for the title, with his performance in the Triple Threat bout at the Royal Rumble, and with ready made opponents in Roman Reigns and Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar, Rollins is a great position to prove he is indeed...the Future.




Singles Match for the United States Championship
John Cena vs. Rusev (C) with Lana




Did you hear? Rusev is Russian. Well he isn't he's Bulgarian, but we'll quickly skim over that. WWE hammered the point home, as Rusev arrived to State Anthem of the Russian Federation, surrounded by Russian looking soliders with cannons, on a motherfucking tank, waving a big bastard flag around, whilst Lana strolled to the ring like the saucy minx that she is, holding the United States Championship. But who could save us from the evil Russian? Only America's own, John Cena. Before Cena headed to the ring every American who has ever lived wished him luck in a snazzy video package. 

All joking aside, this was another good match between Cena and Rusev, that bought their feud to a satisfying climax. Whether it was quite as good as the match they had a Fastlane last month, I'm not quite sure, it'll take a re-watch of both before I make my mind up on the one. Similar to Fastlane, there was a lot focused around the STF and the Accolade, with both Cena and Rusev looking in the move before the end of the match, after a number of attempts. Having the majority of Rusev's offence focus on Cena's back (Alabama Slam, Fallaway Slam etc.) worked well towards this means.  

The biggest problem this match had was the crowd, who just weren't buying what Cena was selling. Maybe having a much more diverse crowd meant that the USA thing just wasn't going to work here? I don't think there was a single "USA" chant throughout the entire match, in fact. It was a shame, as it certainly detracted from the action, rather than adding to it. Rusev and Lana have done some good heel work (although admittedly mainly focused on America) on TV and deserved to get loud jeers for their efforts. Cena worked hard throughout the match, and did a bloody springboard stunner! When has he ever done that? When?

Cena, of course, picked up the victory here and became a three-time United States Champion after nailing Rusev with an Attitude Adjustment. Notably, this was the only AA that Cena delivered all match long, it was refreshing to see a finisher end things first time and not kicking out gives Rusev room for manoevre as he continues to move up the WWE pecking order. I'm not sure if we need another Cena and Rusev match, as the story seems to complete itself in this match, but where both men can go from here is, rather nicely, somewhat open.


Singles Match
The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt





I'm pretty sure Undertaker knows something we mere mortal don't. How can one man look so bloody old one year and so full of life the next? He's the bloody Undertaker that's how. He does what he wants and he gives no fucks. If he wants to look like a creepy old man, looking to nick your last Starbust (or opal fruits) one year and an ass kicking, American Badass the next, he bloody well will and won't question him. You know why? Because he's the FUCKING UNDERTAKER, y'here? 

Bray Wyatt might also be a creepy bastard, but make no mistake about it he worked his ass off for Taker for the entirety of the match. Wyatt was game for The Deadman's greatest hits, Old School, the leg drop on the apron, Hell's Gate, Chokeslam, Tombstone Piledriver were all there, allowing Taker to remove some of the stink from last years bout with Brock Lesnar. Wyatt's characteristation however may have been the strongest part of the match, as he really went all out. His reaction to Taker sitting up whilst Wyatt was doing the spider walk was superb, completely believable for the character, yet a slight shift in what we've seen before from The Eater of Worlds.

It would be difficult to argue that this match would be up there in either man's best efforts, lacking any real changes in pace and dynamic that would have been needed to shift it into the next gear, I was still completely into what was going on and not once did I question when the match was going to end. Some genuinely cool moments like Taker breaking out of Sister Abigail to hit a Chokeslam, were more than enough to satisfy my appetite, especially considering the bouts placing on the card, between Cena vs. Rusev and the main event.

Of course, Wyatt gets a lot out of simply being in the ring with an Undertaker who didn't look like he was about to die, and kicking out of the Tombstone Piledriver especially is something that should allow him to propel forward over the next few months and move into new, interesting feuds. It seems like Undertaker will be back next year, featuring heavily in the promo for Mania 32 in Texas, for what will almost certainly be his last WrestleMania and where better to end in front of his hometown? 


The Authority meet The Rock & Ronda Rousey





A talking segment on a PPV, you say? Hmmmm.... This was quite frankly magnificent television. Stephanie McMahon is an absolute gem, an absolute gem. She makes it so easier to hate her, and Triple H isn't half bad at it either. Them running down the crowd was a work of art, building up seamlessly into The Rock's music blasting out and things getting real. Everyone loves The Rock, he's in films. He's a master of the microphone also and between him, Steph and Trips they had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands. I can only imagine what fun this was for all three individuals!

Of course, the big talking point was the involvement of UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey, who The Rock called in to combat Stephanie's womanly wiles. The tension built nicely to everyone having a bit of a scrap and Rocky and Ronda standing tall. Maybe a little dragged out in places, but that's a small dig, at what was captivating viewing. A story was told and the antagonists got effed up, what more do you want, eh?

Seven Way Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship
Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper vs. Stardust vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Bad News Barrett (C) vs. Daniel Bryan





Michael Cole made a point that WrestleMania was starting the same way it ended last year, with Daniel Bryan hoisting a title above his head, and whilst this bout didn't have the same feel as Bryan's epic three way bout with Batista and Randy Orton, it was certainly entertaining in it's own right. Plenty of the big spots that you'd expect from a Ladder match involving seven different competitors, particular highlights for me including Dean Ambrose getting powerbombed through a ladder that bridged the apron and ringside barricade by Luke Harper, a superplex from the top of a ladder from Bad News Barrett to Stardust and Dolph Ziggler hitting a Zig Zag off a ladder on Luke Harper.

The closing stages focusing on fan favourites Bryan and Ziggler were very satisfying to watch. Ziggler and Bryan going at it high above the ring, delivering vicious headbutt to each other, with everyone else down, was a moment that both men deserved for different reasons, but deserved non-the-less. Bryan grabbing the title provided a feel good moment to start off the show, for a crowd who were throughout. There's a chance to elevate the Intercontinental Championship with a competitive Bryan and Ziggler feud seemingly in the near future, with this bout laying a solid foundation. Bryan was allowed another special moment later on in the show, being joined by Bret Hart, Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, Pat Patterson and Ron Simmons for a Legends Yes-a-thon.


Singles Match
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins with J&J Security




Going into the show, this match was the one I was most excited about seeing. That's mainly because it featured two guys who almost always deliver and that's exactly what they did here. A technically sound and well paced match up, Orton and Rollins have a clear chemistry in the ring and they bounced off each other well. A number of pacy reversals, like Orton turning Rollins' sunset flip attempt in to a back body drop off the top. Of course, the biggest reversal came at the finish of the match, when Orton spectacularly turned a curb stomp into an RKO to pick up the victory. It was a jump out of your seat moment, the kind that WrestleMania was made for.

I think the bout could have benefited from a few extra minutes to fully develop the story, which seemed to be Orton being just a step ahead of Rollins. If this was allowed just a little bit more time, that thread would have been given the chance to become just a little clearer to the audience at home. Of course, Orton going over here and looking great in the process, gives Rollins a ready made challenger heading out of WrestleMania and gives him another hurdle still to jump before proving that he is the indeed "The Future", which would seem to be a story that WWE is going to run with over the next few months. 



Tag Team Match
The Bella Twins vs. AJ Lee & Paige





It would be easy to focus on one slip up towards the end of this match, where AJ Lee couldn't quite manage to turn an electric chair position into a black widow on Brie Bella. But I'm not going to. All four women looked good for the short amount of time they were and actually wrestling a match, that told a story, albeit a fairly simply one, and included a handful of near falls. Even Brie Bella managed to sell the arm as she walked out of the stadium (look above!). If the crowd could have embodied the "Give Divas a Chance" thing that's been going around recently and got behind the ladies in the ring, I'd have been a happy chappy indeed. Maybe next time? 

The Rest





As is traditional all of the Hall of Famers inducted the night before were bought out in front of the crowd with Rikishi, Alundra Blayze, Larry Zbyszko, Tatsumi Fujinami, Kevin Nash, The Bushwackers and Arnold Schwarzenegger getting to bask in the glory, whilst Randy Savage and Conner the Crusher were remembered. A short musical interval was included with Skylar Grey performing "Rise", whilst Kid Ink turned up to do "Money and the Power", it gave me a decent opportunity to grab a beverage and only last five minutes, so no real complaints, fair play to the guys. There was time for the Kick-Off panel of Renee Young, Booker T, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton to have some japes as they introduced highlights of Big Show winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle and Tyson Kidd and Cesaro retaining the Tag Team Championships from the earlier on in the day. 
An impressive intro involved LL Cool J and focusing on the development of technology and the theme of togetherness was a novel way to start the show, although I'd love to know why LL Cool J was chosen for the part. America the Beautiful made it's return to this years Mania, with soul singer Aloe Blacc doing the honours. Many things were advertised throughout, a tonne of new WWE Network content the upcoming Podcast is Jericho with John Cena on the WWE Network, WrestleMania 32, Terminator Genisys, WWE 2K15, Tapout which is apparently coming in 2016, Mountain Dew and next months Extreme Rules PPV.


Finally...


Personally, I had a whale of a time watching Mania this year. There's still plenty of things that need sorting in the day to day TV world of WWE, but as a four hour slice of sport entertainment, I was just that...entertained. Not a bad match on the show, the main event has to take Match of the Night for me. 

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