First of all - yes, professional wrestling is scripted. The tables have supports removed, the ladders are pre-broken etc etc and so on. I would never go so far as to call it fake - these guys are still amazing athletes. They take some major bumps and come back for more. But that's not what this article is about - that was a disclaimer for the haters. Don't like pro wrestling? Not judging, but read no further. Also, SPOILERS AHEAD. If you are a fan and haven't watched WM yet, stop reading.
So look, I get that the WWE is out to sell subscriptions to WWE Network. I don't have a problem with it (though the CONSTANT hawking about how it's only 9.99 has gotten old)...what I DON'T like, however, is overhyping an event. "FOUR HOURS INSTEAD OF THREE!"...great theory, except of those 4 hours you had somewhere in the neighborhood of an hour eaten by some of the LONGEST ring entrances I've ever seen (seriously, Bray Wyatt is normally a little lackadaisacal...at WM he looked like he was barely moving)...and another 20 minutes eaten by a "The Rock" and Ronda Rousey bit that should have been over in 5 minutes, tops. It felt every bit like it was the filler that it was, and that definitely took away a little bit from the actual performances for me.
While we're talking entrances...
Yeah, this happened. Why was Triple H dressed like a fucked up combination of a terminator and his king outfit from yesteryear? Apart from because Arnold was just inducted into the hall of fame, and because a terminator movie is coming out (hence I'm sure the WWE got paid a pretty penny for it) I have no fucking idea. If Triple H's "king" entrance was the pinnacle of WWE entrances, this one was the butt of them. T1000s rising on pedestals for seemingly no reason...and yeah, the outfit. Once again, eating time for something that didn't really ADD anything to the event.
For all that I thought Triple H's entrance missed the boat, Rusev's was exactly what I was hoping to see from an evil heel bastard living in Russia who hates America (Even if that tank was likely US military surplus):
Onto the matches...
So Wrestlemania was an odd event for old school wrestling fans. On the one hand you had the main event, featuring a younger newcomer, and a former UFC champion. On the other hand, you have a guy who hasn't wrestled in quite some time taking on a guy who hasn't been SEEN in over a decade. You had a dead-man coming back from the grave, taking on one of the more exciting pieces of new talent that the WWE has rolled out in quite some time (and a second generation pro wrestler, I might add). So without further ado, lets hit the undercard.
Fatal Four Way for the Tag Team Championship
Maybe it's just me. I was an old school tag team fan. The Rock 'n' Roll Express were my all time favorite, along with the Road Warriors (later the Legion of Doom), Demolition, the Midnight Express and others of their ilk. Looking around the WWE right now I don't see any teams that strike me as a "classic" team in waiting. No gimmick that works and no talent that is so prevalent that it would be outrageous if it didn't go all the way as a team. This match was between "Los Matadores", (a.k.a. Primo and Epico rebranded as only moderately offensive matador character Spanish stereotypes), "The New Day" (a.k.a. Kofi Kingston and Big E Langston, rebranded as only moderately offensive southern baptist churchgoing stereotypes), The Uso's (a pair of brothers who completely play up the only moderately offensive Samoan stereotypes), and Cesaro/Tyson Kidd...who actually have no gimmick whatsoever that I can come up with. Cesaro is swiss but doesn't have much to do with it, and Kidd is an asshole...but that's about it.
So not much juice for the match itself. There were definitely some cool moments, being carried primarily by Cesaro and Big E who are, undeniably, two big, strong dudes. The superplex involving pretty much everyone in the match was cool to see. Much less cool watching a midget dressed like a bull get locked into a sharpshooter by a diva outside the ring. I just can't get behind any of these teams. Cesaro/Kidd are hardworkers and both show some flair in the ring...so I guess they're as deserving as any to win (I personally prefer the Uso's for their total reckless abandon).
Winners, and still champions: Cesaro/Kidd
Overall match rating: C+
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Battle Royals can be a little tough to get into, primarily because they start looking like this. A mass of humanity where nobody has any room to work. It's a lot of punches, and not much to see. Nobody stands out until half the field is gone, and by then any "excitement" will pretty much be reserved for the final 2-3 competitors. WWE threw fucking EVERYBODY into this thing (including a couple of NXT stars into the mix and even giving them some time to shine). For me the best moment was watching "Axelmania" rip off his shirt, and promptly get thrown over the top rope by every competitor at once.
Moderately perplexing to me was that in the weeks leading up to WM, the WWE has been setting up some conflict between Kane and The Big Show, both members of The Authority. We've been watching the build up, and while I didn't necessarily expect them to be the final two, I DID expect them to go at each other in a pretty big way. From what I could tell, that never actually happened. They just kinda both went their own way beating up people (as big guys tend to in matches like this) and did their own thing. If one good thing came out of the match, it was that the Damien Sandow/The Miz alliance seems to have FINALLY come to an end. After watching Sandow (a.k.a. Mizdow) be The Miz's stunt double for match after match, and act like a general pud (have to admit, he did a GREAT job selling a stupid plot device) I'm looking forward to seeing Sandow get back to business. It's been pretty obvious that The Miz has been well on his way to being a jobber, all be it a well publicized one (how many times can we watch Ryback destroy this guy?)...and this should pretty much finish off that process.
In the end it was Mizdow vs The Big Show, and while Mizdow gave it a good shot, the inevitability of the situation came to pass, leaving The Big Show as the winner of a Battle Royal for the first time in his career.
Winner: The Big Show
Overall Match Rating: First half, D...last 5 minutes, B+
So that was all considered "pre show", all happening between 6-7PM EST (with the event slated to start at 7). I guess with those extras I can't really complain about the length of actual content (despite my doing so above). As undercard matches they were decent. I really wish I could get myself to give a crap about any of the tag teams that are big on the scene right now, but I just can't. The closest thing I've seen to an "old school" team lately is "The Ascension" and I find their gimmick and attitude so IRRITATING that I just can't get behind them (plus that hi-low finisher move has to go).
Anyway...on we go to the real thing...this is WRESTLEMANIA!
Intercontinental Title 7-Way Ladder Match:
What do a hipster, a space-alien/multiple personality disorder dude, a wrestler, a hillbilly, a psycho, a rapper, and another wrestler all have in common? They were all going for the Intercontinental Championship in a 7 way ladder match.
For those unfamiliar, a ladder match means that the championship belt would be suspended from a hook way up high over the ring, and the first dude to climb a ladder and pull the belt down would be declared the winner and champion. Ladder matches have been a mainstay for years, usually featuring high flyers like Edge and Christian, or the Hardy Boys, or the Dudleys. Guys who made their careers climbing up to the top of things and diving off of them. What made this particular ladder match a little more lackluster is that of the dudes participating, only one would I consider a relative "high flyer" and only one would I consider an "I dive off of anything onto anyone and through anything" sort. In addition, we all knew who was going to win before the match even started, it was just a matter of how.
WWE faithful are in love with Daniel Bryan. He seems like a good guy outside the ring (his relationship with Connor the Crusher for example. If you're not familiar, get some tissues and look it up)...but inside the ring? He does some kinda cool stuff...but he's a little man in a big man's world, without going full on crazy. This is not Rey Mysterio. This is a dude who kicks a lot, doesn't use ANY power moves at all, always works a hurricarana in there, and despite being a "submission specialist" hasn't used a move other than a flying knee to win a match in months. He also looks like a goat.
I don't know why everyone is so enamored with him. He's got charisma, but not much beyond that in my opinion. If I didn't know what I know, I would have labeled this guy as a mid-carder. Not quite a jobber, but not a championship level competitor either. That being neither here nor there, the WWE faithful have made it ABUNDANTLY clear that this is the guy that they want. Booing Roman Reigns, primarily because he's NOT Daniel Bryan, and more or less demanding that Bryan be thrust back into the title spotlight (as they are quick to point out, he had to give up his WWE title due to injury - he never "lost" the belt). So there was really never any question who was winning this match, and as such a lot of the "excitement" was out of it. When each guy took a turn running up the ladder, you KNEW they weren't getting the belt...and even as Bad News Barrett knocked EVERYONE down with his elbow (interesting fact: elbow pads cease to have padding when they're inside out), it was only a matter of time.
Best moment of the match? Dean Ambrose being power bombed out of the ring and through a ladder. I don't think Dean will ever be a championship contender. I don't think he has the physique or talent for it. He's more or less an "Every Man"...but he has shown an absolute willingness to do ANYTHING, and as such he's always fun to watch.
Winner: Daniel Bryan
Overall match rating: C+ (based on utter predictability)
AJ Lee/Paige vs the Bella Twins:
Let me say this outright - I've not had interest in divas. At all. They're generally buried in mid-card hell, their plotlines are more soap oprah like than I care for, and for the most part it's more about what they're wearing than what they're doing. In fact, the last female wrestler I can remember actively cheering for was probably Wendy Richter taking on Lelani Kai at Wrestlemania 1.
This match felt different. While Nikki and Brie Bella (or as my wife refers to them, "those painted whores" lol) are definitely girly girls, they also bring an unexpected amount of power to the table...and they play the heel surprisingly well. The divas division has needed a seriously bitchy heel...and between the model-esque attitude, and the braggy "you all suck" interview style, the Bella twins fill that hole nicely. Oh also, Paige is awesome: she uses a lot of really neat movies and is completely psychotic, which I dig.
So the lead-up to this match was all about discord between Paige and AJ...and much of the match involved AJ being outside the ring, getting knocked to the floor, getting up, and getting knocked out again. Which was okay with me because it really let Paige steal the show. She and the Bellas carried the match, with Paige even kicking out of Nikki's patented "Rack Attack" (and no, I don't think it's a coincidence that her finisher is named that, and she's the twin with the larger top half). Match wrapped up with AJ Lee slapping one of the Bella's into her "Black Widow" submission hold - match over. An entertaining and well performed, if not overwhelming match - the divas definitely held their own on what WWE considers it's "Grandest stage".
Winner: AJ Lee and Paige
Overall match rating: B
Seth Rollins vs Randy Orton
Seth Rollins is a dick (his character, obviously). His smirk makes me want to punch him through the tv. His cocky attitude makes me want to throw shit at him, and every time J and J security come to help him, I just want to see somebody come tearing out of the locker room and beat them all down with a goddamn sledgehammer.
He's also possibly the biggest talent in the WWE right now. He's athletic, he's strong, he's fast, he's a bit of a flyer in his own right, he's not afraid to go crashing through stuff, and a few small gaffs aside (threatening to break Edge's neck seemed a little over the top) his character work has been that of a FANTASTIC heel. I hate him. My son hates him. EVERYBODY hates him. If I ever saw him on the street I would shake his hand and tell him he deserves a goddamn Oscar if he's anything less than the pompous ass-clown he is when in character.
Randy Orton is a guy it's easy to hate too. He's vicious. He's brutal. He isn't particularly loyal to anybody at all. He's a bad, bad man with a lot of power at his disposal...and until the authority dumped him, he was also a heel. His return from "injury" (in this case, not an actual injury but a break to film a movie I believe) however saw him go pseudo babyface. Not because of any change on his part...but solely because Seth Rollins was the man he was pointed AGAINST (Rollins, for those who don't know, caused the "injury" by curb-stomping Orton through a table and then on some steel steps). That is all it takes these days, and Orton became even more of a favorite than he was before as a heel.
Rollins did his share of flying, and Orton managed to work in a couple of RKOs, as well as a nasty looking double DDT on the J and J security guys to the floor outside the ring (which left them out of commission for the rest of the day).
Best moment, by FAR...Rollins goes for his curb-stomp...and Orton simply stands up, propelling Rollins into the air instead of pushing his face to the mat...and then catches him with an RKO, picking up the pinfall victory. Check it (apologies for low quality, not my vid):
These guys are both great assets to WWE. Their character work is very good (excellent in Rollins' case), and both are exciting, creative, and fun to watch. I would watch this match over and over if a rivalry came out of it.
Winner: Randy Orton
Overall match rating: A
US Title Match: Rusev vs John Cena
Alright, so for a start, I am not a big John Cena fan. I find his all-good-guy-all-the-time character to be like something out of the 80s...and where it worked for Hulk Hogan back then, I'm not sure that he's the kind of babyface we really want today. Where the Rusev setup helped me to get past that is that it's made Cena's character far more brutal and vicious than he's been in the past. He's been fighting with a chip on his shoulder (despite still doing the whole "Never give up etc). Add to that the fact that Rusev's character is about as hateful as one could be: praising Vladimir Putin and knocking the United States at every possibly opportunity. Rusev is easy to hate. He's also easy to want to see as much of as possible because he's CLEARLY a skilled performer.
Also...he's worth seeing whenever possible because he comes with Lana...and Lana has some freakin incredible legs that are worth seeing (sorry for letting that come out...but she's THERE to be looked at, so don't skewer me too much please):
Putting all of that aside, Rusev was also carrying his undefeated record in singles competition into Wrestlemania. In over a year not one person had managed to pin him or make him submit. In fact the only match he was involved with but did not win was the Royal Rumble.
It's worth mention that he might have been on the way to losing his last match with Cena, if not for a distracted ref and a low blow.
Rusev, without a doubt, wins the prize for best entrance of the day. Over the top? Check. Appropriate and relevant to his character? Absolutely. This guy, and the creative team behind him, have nailed this character. The level of hatred poured on him by the fans rivals that of such classic heels as The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, back when the USA vs Russia thing was FAR more pronounced (if there was an international video game, for example, you could always count on being the US and having to defeat the vile, evil Soviet Union in the final scene). He's a lot of fun to watch, and the fact that he's clearly had training in various martial arts is a big plus. If his character weren't so hateful, I'll be a full on Rusev fan for sure (and yes, I let the character work influence me. Put on or not, it's how I get "into" it).
Early predictions were all that Cena would win...and, of course, he did...and in doing so managed to escape from Rusev's "Accolade" finisher, lock the big man in his OWN submission hold for a bit, dodge a Rusev run at him by the ropes causing Rusev to hit Lana instead, and after having Rusev escape it multiple times, FINALLY hit Rusev with his "AA" finisher and hold him down for the pin (incidentally, does anyone NOT escape from the goddamn AA???).
This was a great match all around. Rusev's character continues to be hateful (he walked out of the ring SCREAMING at Lana for getting in his way, and not offering help as she limped back to the locker room), and Cena gets to be back in the spotlight. Means we're not done hearing "Let's go Cena" vs "Cena Sucks" chants, and that's okay by the WWE because at least people are into it, one way or another. Really solid match work all around by both guys.
Winner: John Cena
Overall match rating: B+
The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Not going to lie, I did not want this match to happen. I was a huge Undertaker fan back in the day, but after cheering for him for 20+ years, I was okay with him disappearing into the ether and showing up again a few years from now to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. I didn't want to see him looking vulnerable or weak...if he was going to be wrestling I wanted the unbeatable "phenom" of old.
On the other side, you had Bray Wyatt, the son of Mike Rotunda (some may remember him as I.R.S., an ill conceived "accountant" character...worth mention that Bo Dallas is another of his kids), and an up and coming talent in his own right. He claims himself to be the "new face of fear", and it's not hard to see why. He's a big man, he's brutal, he's flexible, and he's downright fucking creepy at times. The crowd has taken to him as a heel as well...and I was very glad when they separated him from the "Wyatt Family" who only held him back from shining on his own. Don't often see a 300 pound dude who can do stuff like this?
For a start, this match featured the longest goddamn ring entrances I have ever seen in 30 years of watching this stuff. The long runway accompanied with a trudging pace made the pre-match crap take FOREVER.
So how did The Dead Man look after a year of not being seen? Honestly I didn't think he looked so great to me - I was concerned about him being able to get through the match - he looked tired only a couple of minutes in and while it's hard to tell how much is real and how much is character, I certainly believed it...but at first glance he looked pretty much the same as he had the last couple of years. In short, he wasn't the "invincible" Undertaker that we'd all been used to seeing prior to his loss to Lesnar. Instead he looked like a still skilled, but fatigued, version of his former self. I admit, part of that is that I'm still looking for the grey gloved long haired version of Taker from so many years ago.
The match itself was actually a surprisingly solid one. We all knew Taker was going to win, but it was handled gingerly to keep Wyatt from taking too much of a hit. Both guys took a lot of abuse...Taker kicking out from a Sister Abigail, and reversing another into a chokeslam...and Wyatt kicking out of a tombstone AND escaping a Hell's Gate, before eating a second tombstone and being kept down for the pin (and no, I don't like the head flip during the pin without the crazy hair).
One has to wonder if this is an actual return for Taker or if it was a one shot deal. The rumor is that Taker is set to start a rivalry now with Lesnar to get revenge for breaking the streak. I hope it's not true honestly. Lesnar is, at this point, more than anyone would believe Taker could handle...I'd rather remember Undertaker for who he was than watch him drag out the end of his career...and honestly, he beat him, but now it's time to let Wyatt take over the role of crazy/supernatural/psychotic dude.
Winner: The Undertaker
Overall match rating: B
Sting vs HHH
This match should never have happened. I hated the setup, I hated the premise, I hated the execution. I hated literally every single part of Sting's magical entrance to the land of WWE, and can only hope that this was a wrap-up (since Sting will have met his contractual obligations when he appears on Raw tonight, we can only hope).
Let me say this right away. Triple H looked SHOCKINGLY good. He's not quite as defined as he once was, but for a dude who's been out of the ring for quite some time he still looks amazing. Sting, on the other hand...well...Sting looked old. Once his hair got mussed and you could see just how bald he was, you couldn't UN-see that piece of this. Also...worst ring entrances ever, ESPECIALLY by Triple H.
So you've got two old guys competing...and the WWE in their infinite wisdom, threw MORE old guys into the mix by having both D/X and the nWo come down to ringside...D/X on Triple H's side, the nWo on Sting's...which is an odd choice considering the history Sting had with them...but alright, they're all remnants of WCW so they're sticking together. Whatever. Of the 6 guys that came down only Kevin Nash looked like he could still do some damage. HBK delivered some sweet chin music to Sting, which I guess was sorta cool, before HHH finished him off by nailing him with the head of a sledgehammer (which Sting had, incredibly, snapped in half by hitting it with his baseball bat...handed to him by a very old looking Scott Hall). I'm as into seeing the old guys as anyone...but having the Ascension destroy the New Age Outlaws at Royal Rumble didn't do much for either team...and watching old guys beat up on old guys AGAIN really didn't do much for me either.
I think this was a match you either loved or hated. If you were a hardcore WCW guy you probably enjoyed it more than I did (I was firmly in the WWE camp once the NWA went away)...the last time I really LIKED Sting was when he was still wearing multi-colored getups and hadn't turned into "The Crow" yet. Overall the match just wasn't one that I had any juice for...and the match itself really didn't encourage me to get into it. I preferred to remember Sting the way he was...and as long as this was his only match, I'm hoping that the older memories will overtake seeing his damn bald spot.
Oh...did I mention that after using a sledgehammer to beat him, Triple H shook Sting's hand? That's right...after months of "I HATE YOU" "NO I HATE YOU", they fucking shook hands and that's the end of it? No. Just no. Especially not initiated by "the bad guy". The Iron Sheik would not have shook Hulk Hogan's hand. When Sting was solidly AGAINST nWo (before the whole nWo wolfpac faction split off thing) NOBODY from nWo would have shaken his damn hand. I don't know if that was an effort to turn Triple H slightly less heel or what...but if it was, it didn't work.
I'll just pile on the bit with "The Rock" in this section...in the aftermath of this match, Stefanie McMahon and Triple H come out and talk about how good they feel coming off the win, and how they own the crowd etc etc and so on. Out comes The Rock to a HUGE ovation - literally 3 minutes where he'd hold the mic to his mouth, and then take it away while people were cheering. When he FINALLY starts talking it's to say he's an "East Bay" boy and that the authority doesn't own him. Stef slaps him and tells him to get out of her ring...saying "What are you gonna do about it?" (because, you know, good guy rock won't hit a woman...oops, guess he forgot what bad guy rock did before he said "I won't hit a woman"...skip to 38 seconds)
Anyway...Rock goes into the crowd and comes back with Ronda Rousey (wearing a Dragonball Z shirt mind you)...and the rest, as they say, is history. Mind you the below 7+ minute video is only about half of the bit, which felt for all the world like the filler it was. I could give the bit itself a higher grade, if it had been half the damn length:
Winner: Triple H
Overall Match Rating: D+
Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns
It's not a secret that the WWE fans have not taken to Roman Reigns. They wanted Daniel Bryan to be where he is now. They don't like Reigns, for whatever reason. His mic work is getting better (but still sucks) and he's actually pretty good in the ring. They're expanding his move repertoire and they're really doing a pretty good job of turning him into a headliner. His "I can do it" kind of comes across as John Cena light, which may be why the crowds haven't taken to him the way the WWE wanted them to. Why WWE is so enamored with him? No idea...maybe because he's related to the Rock and they're hoping to catch lightning in a bottle multiple times...who the hell knows?
Anyway...knowing what we know about how the crowd feels about Reigns, I was pretty sure he wasn't winning this match. Lesnar just signed a new contract but, after months of "part timing" WWE, I really didn't think he was going to end the night as champion either. I'm not Zoltar, but like so many, I predicted that Seth Rollins would cash in "Money in the Bank" (FINALLY) and walk away as the champ.
What I didn't predict was the level of sheer ass-kicking that Reigns was going to take to get to that point. He started the match fast, going right after Lesnar...until about 25 seconds in when he got hit with Lesnar's normal variety of suplexes and an F5 (Lesnar's face got cut somewhere in there). The entire match was very much a replay of the Lesnar vs Cena match up: lots of suplexes, and then more suplexes (Lesnar even said "Welcome to Suplex City, bitch").
Reigns mounted something of a comeback by slamming Lesnar's head into the ring post, starting a pretty substantial flow of blood down his face. Both guys were pretty badly beaten down at this point...when the Rollins music played, and here comes Mr. Money in the Bank. He pushes RR out of the ring, and nails Lesnar with a curb stomp. Goes for a second CS and Lesnar catches him, prepping for an F5. Reigns comes back into the ring and nails Lesnar with a spear before Lesnar can finish the F5
Rollins hits Reigns with a curb stomp and we have a new champion.
Winner: Seth Rollins
Overall Match Rating: B+ (based almost ENTIRELY on my opinion of Seth Rollins)
Overall Wrestlemania was okay. It was certainly better than an event like Fastlane (which most have said was no better than your average Monday Night Raw) and it did wrap up some long running plots that were in SERIOUS need of wrap up (looking at YOU Miz). A couple of titles changed hands, possibly just to transitional champs, but nice to see them get moved around a bit. I suppose more will be known about where things are going after tonight, but I'm hopeful that Sting will call it a day, Undertaker will call it a career, and Lesnar will throw somebody through a table.