Being a wrestling fan – and a WWE fan in particular – isn’t always easy. I’m 30 years old now (my body creaks when I walk up the stairs), of moderate intelligence, and cynical and world-weary enough to know that, by any sensible metric, professional wrestling is something I should have left behind years ago, along with Superman pyjamas, Saturday morning cartoons, non-ironic usage of the word “poop”, and earnest aspirations to one day become an astronaut.
It’s easy to dismiss professional wrestling as television for idiots, an absurd pretend sport for children and the mentally enfeebled. And it’s hard to argue that it’s not those things, but it’s much more besides. It’s a surrealist soap opera played out before a live audience by super-athlete cartoon characters who just so happen to also be real people, who really do hurt themselves each time they get thrown out of the ring, or fall off a ladder, or have a television set explode in their face.
At its best, professional wrestling is a celebration of athleticism and strength and agility and drama and suspense and real-time storytelling; it’s unpredictable, it’s emotional, and it’s very, very silly. Most importantly, it’s fun. At it’s worst, it’s just silly. Very silly. It’s often a fine line to tread, and it’s never more important for WWE to find themselves on the right side of that line, than at WrestleMania. WrestleMania is the biggest professional wrestling event of the year. It’s like The Super Bowl or The Oscars or The World Naked Bike Ride. It’s also like the Christmas trading period for seasonal retailers; a bad one can impact the coming months – and even the coming year – so it’s especially important to get things right.
So without any further inane waffling, here’s what they did get right, as well as what they got wrong (and what they got very wrong)…
The Main Event – The most important match on the show was also the best, which is pretty important. Brock Lesnar can do no wrong right now. The man is super-human, a legitimately scary, freak of nature for whom physical and athletic limitations seemingly don’t apply. Watching him stalk Roman Reigns as if the latter were defenceless prey, toying with him before throwing him around the ring like a big cat juggling the carcass of a gazelle with its mighty paws, possibly already looking forward to post-match celebrations which may or may not have included throwing sofas at people and eating someone’s children, was positively joyous.
And while I (much like the vast majority of WWE’s fanbase) would much rather have seen Daniel Bryan in the main event of this year’s WrestleMania, Reigns more than held up his end of the bargain, absorbing a convincing and thoroughly entertaining ass-kicking before rallying back to create some truly dramatic near falls in the final stretch of the match, contributing to an insane, big fight atmosphere from within the stadium, with the crowd unsure of who would win and becoming increasingly concerned that the conqueror Brock Lesnar might be conquered by the guy who in another life, might have been a Mills & Boon cover model.
They needn’t have worried though, as Seth Rollins’ surprise Money In The Bank cash-in and subsequent championship victory ensured a happy ending for the majority of those in attendance and watching at home. It was an inspired close to the show that kept Brock from having to suffer the indignity of being pinned by a mere mortal, and kept Roman strong even in defeat (gotta keep Roman strong…). Rollins as champion is fresh and exciting, and with three natural challengers (Brock, Roman, and Randy Orton, who beat Rollins cleanly earlier in the evening) coming out of this show alone, the top of the card is set for at least the next six months.
Over The Top Entrances – Rusev driving down to the ring in a tank while the Russian national anthem played… An assortment of jittery, nightmarish scarecrows tracing Bray Wyatt’s steps to the ring… HHH’s Terminator Genisys-themed entrance… Jebus, that Terminator entrance… Objectively terrible and unintentionally hilarious, that might have been my favourite ever WrestleMania entrance. From the ridiculous Terminator-inspired warrior mask, to the awkward, static Terminators that rose out of the ground and… did nothing, to Ahnold’s forced involvement, and the weird robot arms sprouting out of HHH’s shoulders, all in broad daylight, there was nothing about it I didn’t perversely enjoy on one level or another.
The Ladder Match – While he probably should have been in the main event helping to create an all-time classic with Brock Lesnar, Daniel Bryan’s win in the Intercontinental Title Ladder Match wasn’t a bad consolation prize, especially if they now allow him to restore some of the lustre to the belt that years of listless feuds, meaningless title changes, and less-than-stellar champions have all but stripped from the once prestigious championship.
The match itself – which featured five other Superstars who probably deserved higher profile matches going in to the show, as well as R-Truth – was as chaotic and dangerous and exciting as one would have hoped given the talent (and the ladders) involved. Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler’s head-butt battle atop one ladder, and Dean Ambrose being power-bombed from inside the ring straight through another on the floor were notable highlights.
The Rock and Rousey Connection – I smelt what they were cooking and it was not unpleasant.
Dat RKO – That Curb Stomp being countered into the RKO was a thing of unnatural beauty and deserves to be in every WrestleMania highlight package from now until the time when WrestleMania is no longer a thing. The Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins match that led to it was pretty great too.
Same Old Undertaker – Maybe it’s unfair to be disappointed by something that was never promised, but after weeks of WWE commentators and presenters openly asking “which Undertaker would turn up at WrestleMania” having been gone from WWE for an entire year, I was expecting to see (and looking forward to seeing) old Undertaker riding to the ring on a motorcycle as a crappy Limp Bizkit song played. Just like old times.
Instead, we got the same “Dead Man” character we’ve had for the past 11 years now. To his credit, Undertaker looked to be in much better shape than he did for his first and only WrestleMania loss to Brock Lesnar last year; and while it wasn’t as memorable as many of his previous WrestleMania outings, the Undertaker’s win against Bray Wyatt (his 22nd win at the event) was perfectly decent.
#GiveDivasAChance (but not at the expense of Kid Ink and Skylar Grey) – With the recent groundswell of support for women’s wrestling within WWE spearheaded by social media, it was perhaps not unreasonable to expect the only WrestleMania match to highlight the women – AJ Lee and Paige vs. The Bella Twins – to be given more than 6 minutes. And perhaps it would have been, were it not for ill-conceived time-wasters like the Kid Ink/Skylar Grey mini-concert (for which Travis Barker sat in on drums, for reasons that elude me).
Jingoism – There’s a fine line between crafting a glorious homage to Rocky IV (which the feud between American hero John Cena and Russian immigrant Rusev had been pretty successful in doing at various points during the build-up to their WrestleMania match), and just being a bit racist. There’s also the risk of taking things past the realms of “patriotism” and wading knee-deep in to something that looks and smells embarrassingly like jingoism. The tone-deaf video package that preceded John Cena’s WrestleMania entrance – presumably designed to celebrate America’s history by inexplicably (and perhaps unintentionally) shining positive light on Ronald Reagan, the country’s historical race problems, and George W. Bush – was perhaps a better idea in theory than in practice.
LOLHHHWINS – I can’t help but feel bad for poor old Sting. After waiting so long to step in to a WWE ring, the WCW icon’s (one and only?) WrestleMania match is not his reported dream match with The Undertaker (the match that wrestling fans have been clamouring for since 2010) but a match that nobody asked for against HHH in which he summarily loses and is then forced to shake the hand of the man who just cheated to beat him because… reasons.
It’s a shame, because up until HHH getting the pinfall, the match was a lot of fun, punctuated by the kind of giddy surrealism and unexpected twists and turns that WWE are capable of throwing at their audience when motivated. HHH’s old stable-mates DX (Shawn Michaels, X-Pac, the New Age Outlaws) and Sting’s old rivals the nWo (Hogan, Nash, Hall) interfering and gingerly getting in to it at ringside whilst being careful not to shatter a hip or tear a quad was kind of glorious. It’s just a shame it was all a backdrop for HHH putting himself over yet another in a long list of wrestlers forced to lose to “The Game” even though the story being told called for the opposite.
We’ll always have HHH’s Terminator entrance though…
– The lack of a number/roman numeral being assigned to this year’s WrestleMania bothered me more than it probably should have. WrestleMania (Play Button) makes infinitely less sense than WrestleMania XXXI.
– The West Coast sunlight and open-roof stadium made for a unique setting and atmosphere, but did so at the expense of the extravagant light shows that usually permeate WrestleMania.
– Big Show winning the pre-show Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at the expense of Mizdow, Cesaro, Hideo Itami, et al. was kind of absurd.
– The three old men behind the announce table seem to get worse by the week. If they could be replaced, that would be fantastic.
– The tag team Fatal Four-Way on the pre-show was very good and really deserved to be on the main show.
– Despite being a four hour show, there were only seven matches on the card, none of which was given more than 18 minutes.
– “ROMAN IS A WANK PHEASANT”!
– All in all, this was a really good show, with no objectively bad matches, a few great ones, a surprise ending, and HHH’s Terminator entrance.