WrestleMania 31 Postscript

The WWE gave us a nod to its past and a glimpse of its future with a solidly packed five hour long extravaganza last Sunday, WrestleMania 31.  It was a show full of pageantry, drama, and excitement and can’t believe that just two weeks before the show I wasn’t necessarily thrilled with how the card was shaping up.

I watched the show the way it should be done, with a room full of WWE fans in my apartment.  I spent all day cooking up a feast for everyone and had the WWE Network on all day.  We did what wrestling fans love to do, talk about wrestling with each other all day!  There weren’t too many Roman Reigns fans in attendance.

I took a ribbing from my friends as the show progressed and my picks that I blogged prior to the show didn’t exactly pan out the way I had predicted.  I was accused of being biased and told that maybe I should blog about gardening instead.  Well, I got some things right:

  • Cesaro and Tyson Kidd retained the WWE Tag Team titles. OK, who cares?
  • The Divas match sucked.
  • Triple H defeated Sting.

If I was going to get one pick right, I’m glad that it was Triple H.  I hated the whole Sting storyline and have very little regard for him as a wrestler, especially at age 56.  The fans were convinced that there was no way Sting was going to come to the WWE for one match just to lose it.  Well, that’s exactly what happened and I couldn’t be happier that match will define Sting’s WWE legacy.  It made no sense at all that they would have Triple H lose to a one-and-done relic like sting given the long term plans they have for him as the head villain in the WWE.  I have to hand it to myself on this one, I saw it coming a mile away!

Throw in the pre-show and WrestleMania was five hours long.  There’s a lot to say about the show, about both the matches that were announced, and the things we didn’t see coming at all.

The intensity of the wrestlers entrances was somewhat dampened by the daylight on the West Coast at the time.  It was particularly noticeable for Triple H, Bray Wyatt, and The Undertaker.  The production value they put in to some of the more elaborate ones more than made up for the lack of darkness.  The Triple H entrance was a classic, and even Sting’s intro was fun to watch.

The André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was more entertaining than I thought it would be, it worked well as part of the pre-show.  There were a few interesting spots with Curtis Axel and The MIz and Mizdow.  They even teased a repeat of last year’s finish with Cesaro tossing The Big Show over the top, but it wasn’t to be as The Show broke free and eliminated Cesaro and then the rest of his opponents to win the trophy.

I wouldn’t say that any one particular match is going to be remembered as a classic, but there were many surprise moments, and as a whole the show took an unexpected direction.  From a technical standpoint, probably the best match was Seth Rollins vs Randy Orton, particularly the crazy reversal of the curb stomp into an RKO for the finish.  But I felt like that underachieved a bit and could have been better had it gone longer.

The nod to the past was mainly apparent in the Triple H vs Sting match.  We were treated to a spontaneous re-creation of the Monday Night Wars as represented by members of The nWo and Degeneration-X who made run-ins during the match.  This was likely done to help cover the fact that Sting is too old and withered to carry a one-on-one match at WrestleMania.

Both the nod to the past and the glimpse of the future were evident in the surprise long-running segment that pitted Stephanie McMahon and Triple H against The Rock and Ronda Rousey of UFC fame.  This segment wasn’t even rumored to take place before the show.  There were rumblings that The Rock was going to join the show but nobody predicted that Ronda Rousey would end up in a WWE ring as part of the show. This segment was very likely a commercial for a huge event involving The Rock and Ronda Rousey as special participants, perhaps even at WrestleMania 32 next year in Dallas when the WWE will need a special attraction in order to break their WrestleMania III attendance record of 93,173.

The Undertaker looked good in his return, sporting a leaner physique than we’ve seen in previous years.  The lack of an undefeated streak to defend certainly gave his match against Bray Wyatt much less of a dramatic feel than a typical Undertaker ‘Mania clash, but it was good to see The Deadman erase any doubt that he could still compete at the highest level even on the week of his 50th birthday.

The main event championship match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns took an unexpected twist. Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract during the list minute of the match, turning it into a triple-threat contest and ultimately stealing the title in a feel-good moment to end the night.

This match was shorter than most WrestleMania events, likely victim to the time crunch caused by the Rousey segment.  Brock Lesnar cemented his status as the most popular superstar on the active roster today, and Roman Reigns didn’t do much to disprove his detractors that he was good enough to perform in a WrestleMania main event.  I was surprised that Seth Rollins stole a victory by cashing in the MITB contract, it is unusual for a WrestleMania event take a twist like that, most of the time it is just focused on the announced participants of the match.  Either way, you had to be happy for Seth Rollins as he got his hands on his first WWE championship in his third WrestleMania match.

Wins and losses in professional wrestling are obviously meaningless, but there are winners and losers in another sense.  People can come out of WrestleMania riding a wave of momentum headed into the next round of pay-per-views, or they can watch their current push go down the drain and head into mid-card purgatory for the foreseeable future.  Let’s take a look at the losers and winners.

The Losers

Daniel Bryan

How is Daniel Bryan a loser coming off of a win in the opening match to capture The Intercontinental Championship?  Simple, put it in the context of his career.  Last year, the fans propelled him to an improbable WWE Championship main-event win at WrestleMania XXX.  This year, he has been demoted to the mid-card and with the IC title around his waist, he is not going to be in the mix with Seth Rollins for the WWE Championship anytime soon.  Quite a fall from grace in just one year.

Sting

His WrestleMania legacy will consist of one match in that he looked old, slow, and incapable of holding together a one-on-one match without a major run-in from over a half-dozen others.  Farewell Sting, you won’t be missed.

Rusev

This guy rode a monster push in his rookie year that carried him to a high-profile match against John Cena at WrestleMania and it was predicated on his undefeated streak.  Now that streak is gone and expect him to slide back down the card.  His entrance was one of the best I’ve ever seen at WrestleMania, though.  Where did they get an actual tank from?

Roman Reigns

Just as every expected, the crowd was not on his side during his match.  He exhibited the same predictable offensive move set that he does in all of his matches and really failed to get over as the babyface savior that the WWE wanted him to become.  This will probably be the last pay-per-view main event for him in a while, perhaps ever.  I predict that if he’s not re-packaged, he will be gone in a year or two.

The Tag Team Division

There is not much excitement in this division right now.  The New Day gimmick couldn’t get over with a catapult, one of The Uso’s are hurt, Los Matadores never really had any momentum, and Cesaro and Kidd are a couple of retreads that are still searching for something that will make them stars.  This match wasn’t any better than anything we’d see on Raw or Smackdown.  This division is going to need an overhaul if anybody is ever going to care about it.

John Cena

There was a theory that if Brock Lesnar retained the championship that John Cena was going to be given the WWE US Championship at WrestleMania so that he could be the “main event guy” for house shows and pay-per-views that Lesnar did not perform on.  Only one of the two happened, so much for that theory.  This is the beginning of the winding down of John Cena’s career, don’t expect to see him in the main event picture as often as he used to.

Dean Ambrose

The high-profile program he worked while Roman Reigns was on the shelf really elevated his status in the minds of the fans. It looks like he is now on his way to being the first member of The Shield to be forgotten.  He’ll need to turn it around soon or he will turn into a full-time jobber.

Bray Wyatt

Wins and losses don’t always matter in the WWE, but the guy is off to a 0-2 start at WrestleMania.  He’s going to have to win some high profile matches or a title if fans are going to take him seriously.

Roman Reigns

This was his shot to win a main event at WrestleMania and he did not get over.  Towards the end of the match when he began to gain the upper hand on Brock Lesnar, the crowd could not have been more vocal in their disapproval.  They went so far as to cheer the heel Seth Rollins when he beat Reigns just because it meant that Reigns would not win the title.

The Roman Reigns experiment at the top of the card was a failure.  He did not get over as the babyface savior and he will need to be repackaged if he is ever going to win over the crowd.  Perhaps they should send him back to NXT for a few years to work things out.

The Divas

For yet another WrestleMania, The Divas match proved to be a waste of time, a kind of “working intermission” that gave the fans a chance to take a break without halting the show completely.  This situation is not going to change any time soon, The Divas will never work a meaningful WrestleMania match.

The Winners

The Big Show

It was good to see The Big Show finally win a WrestleMania match, his record is less than stellar.  The tired old bit of “let’s all gang up on the big guy” didn’t pan out and for once Show didn’t live up to his reputation as a jobber.  He should get some mileage out of this win.

Triple H

The Game still has it, he worked his way through that match with a nasty looking injury on his left leg.  Following that, it looks like he inserted himself into a potential return of The Rock and some sort of confrontation with Ronda Rousey.  Triple H will endure as one of the most important characters on the roster.

Shawn Michaels

Even if only for a brief moment, it was great to see the retired Mr. WrestleMania steal the spotlight and work the crowd like only he can.  It only lasted a few seconds but his superkick to Sting followed by an unapologetic stare down with the crowd was classic heel work at its best.  He’s still got it.

The Undertaker

The Deadman silenced his doubters and made his successful return to WrestleMania with a resounding win against Bray Wyatt.  There were rumors that ‘Taker was old and out of shape, but he came out looking much better than he did last year, appearing to have trimmed down, and with an actual real haircut again.  Look to see him again at WrestleMania 32 in Dallas and it wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see him on TV again until that day.

Brock Lesnar

Lesnar came into and left WrestleMania 31 as the hottest talent on the roster.  He had the crowd in his pocket and delivered a masterful performance in the ring last Sunday. Lesnar plays his part better than anybody else does in the WWE these days.  He is a must-see attraction, and with his part-time contract in hand, plan on seeing him show up for only the biggest events going forward for quite some time.

Paul Heyman

The best talker in the business can hang on for as long as he wants as Brock Lesnar’s advocate, or he can split off from Brock and partner with one or many of his opponents going forward.  Either way, the fans are going to eat up everything he says and give him one of the largest ovations of the night every time he speaks.  This was the third WrestleMania in a row that Heyman played a large part in, and expect that trend to continue for the former ECW mastermind.

WWE Developmental Promotion NXT

Most fans who complain that NXT talents aren’t given good enough pushes when brought to the main roster don’t understand the big picture.  Watch the progression of NXT call-ups Bray Wyatt, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Luke Harper, and Rusev and where they are today.  Each of them spent considerable time in NXT and were brought to the WWE main roster with a plan and a commitment, and thus far every one of them has turned into a star and participated in a high-profile match at WrestleMania 31.  There are a few misses along the way (Xavier Woods and Tyson Kidd for example) but expect the investment in NXT to pay off as a pipeline for new talents for years to come.  If you haven’t watched the show on the WWE Network, check out some guys like Kevin Owens and Finn Baylor.

Ronda Rousey

Nobody saw this angle coming, who would have predicted that Ronda Rousey would appear in a WWE ring at WrestleMania?  Ronda is a cross-industry superstar in several facets of sports and entertainment, building off her brand as the Most Dangerous Woman in the World.  Her bread-and-butter will continue to be her participation in the UFC Women’s division (note, that they don’t use the word “diva” in UFC!) but it seems like this angle is going to continue in the WWE and that we haven’t seen the last of Rowdy Ronda.  This could very well have been a preview for WrestleMania 32.

Seth Rollins

The man of the hour at WrestleMania was Seth Rollins.  Although many speculated that he could cash in the Money in the Bank contract during or after the main event, it seemed unlikely to me that the WWE would throw in a swerve like that and would stick to the one-on-one matchup of Reigns and Lesnar.  Well, that theory was incorrect and Rollins’ run-in with the MITB contract in the last minute of the match created an indelible WrestleMania moment as he stole the WWE Championship.  Rollins came up to the WWE main roster with a chip on his shoulder after having spent 2½ years in NXT developmental.  When he was given the chance, he ran with the opportunity he was given and eventually outshined his former Shield teammates and is now the top heel on the roster.

What’s next?

The Monday Night Raw following WrestleMania has given us a look at how the next few pay-per-views, and possibly even WrestleMania 32 are going to shape up.

The vicious beatings that Brock Lesnar delivered to the announce team and a camera man on Raw are going to be remembered for quite some time.  His subsequent “suspension” was a way of keeping him off of TV for some time until he makes his return to take a run at the title, I’m guessing at SummerSlam.

It was good to see Sheamus return with a new look and a new attitude on Raw.  He immediately inserted himself into a feud with either Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, or both.  I would expect this angle to turn into a highly entertaining set of matches in the coming month or two.

We got another call up from NXT when Neville made his debut on the main roster. Save for one match on Raw last year, we have only seen him on NXT.  I’m not sure what is with this last-name-only movement the WWE has instituted on new talents, but I would expect them to be very high on his abilities and he should work a high-profile program soon.

Seth Rollins has two potential opponents for his title in Randy Orton and Roman Reigns.  It seems likely that one of those two is going to get a shot at the title at the next pay-per-view, Extreme Rules.  In my opinion, the WWE is at its best when the champion is a heel and the babyface roster is chasing the title.

Not much was mentioned about it on Raw, but planning for WrestleMania 32 is already well underway.  There is a lot that can happen between now and then, especially among the 11 pay-per-views that will take place over the next year.  Expect evolving storylines that reach their crescendo at ‘Mania 32 involving The Undertaker, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, John Cena, Brock Lesnar and Triple H for sure, and possibly also involving The Rock, and Ronda Rousey.

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