WrestleMania. The Grandaddy of ‘em all. It is the flagship event of the biggest and most visible wrestling company in the western hemisphere; the event the whole year of the company is built around; where it all begins again, ending rivalries and creating new and exciting opportunities for future storylines. That’s what they’ve spent the last thirty-two years trying to make us believe, at least. This year’s Mania, not so much.
The pre-show kicked off with Kalisto successfully defending his US title against Ryback to a stadium full of empty seats. The organisation of the event to have allowed cameras to roll on a match playing to a half-empty stadium. This visual does not give WrestleMania the sense of grandiosity it deserves, even if it is an hour before the event starts proper. The chaos in the lobbies meant that many fans missed the opening of the main show as well. Still though, largest ever attendance and all that.
What happened to the United States Title being a symbol of excellence in the company? Do they not consider excellence worth celebrating? The lack of build-up and story to the match would seem that they only care about the title when it adorned the waist of John Cena. Last year when he fought for it, it was a pseudo main event. This year it opens the pre-show. The fight itself was fine, although nothing special, as it was void of all the spectacle that Mania demands of its matches, but they can’t all be show-stealers.
The ten-Diva (with any luck, that term will be nixed along with that gaudy belt) tag-team match was next and it was everything you’d expect a tag match with all the lower-card Divas in it to be. It was way too many people with way too much going on (Brie’s last match and Lana’s debut?) and at eleven and a half minutes that’s barely a minute per performer.
Certain bright spots include Emma getting the most time out of anyone on Team B.A.D./Blonde, Brie going out on a win, and Eva Marie owning her role as most-hated wrestler. In all though, I suspect this match was the women’s version of the Memorial Battle Royal. An excuse to get all the disgruntled female employees on the card at WrestleMania, and a supposed thank you for all their hard work over the last year.
The next match is The Usos vs The Dudley Boys. It was good, but it wasn’t WrestleMania. This will be an ongoing theme throughout the night.
The traditional culling of mid-card talent that is the (now annual?) IC Ladder Match kicked off WrestleMania 32 proper. Dissatisfied with destroying the bodies of Bad News Barrett, Luke Harper and very possibly finishing off Daniel Bryan’s career as they did last year, WWE turn their sights on a new batch of their best and brightest in-ring performers because while they had a decent amount of injuries in 2015 they know they can go bigger in 2016.
Seven competitors. Seven. That means there are too many people to have good match, so what we get is a spot fest, and everyone has a spot. A dangerous spot. Each man competing with each other to see who will be remembered at the end of the night, who will have that coveted WrestleMania moment. Each one is a chance for something to go terribly wrong with those twelve-to-fourteen-foot ladders. Look at how dangerously close Kevin Owens came to breaking his neck after getting suplexed by Sami Zayn. Speaking of Zayn, listen to him scream in pain when Owens lands a Frog Splash on him, or – even more worryingly – see Stardust not say a word after being hit with a dive on a ladder by Sin Cara from ten feet up.
I understand that everyone wants to get on the biggest show of the year, and as seven people can’t tell a coherent story they have to create a spectacle. And for what it’s worth, every spot was superbly hit and each of the wrestlers were on point. But it was all a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. There was no one spot that was clearly above the others, no move everyone will be talking about in the morning (at least not in this match).
To chance all their wrestler’s health for some “Holy Shit” chants is a lot of risk for some very insubstantial reward. Especially when the winner, Zack Ryder, has had no push, no momentum and 24-hours later gets used as a prop in someone else’s story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see Ryder have this moment after being used as a punching bag for so long. But as of this article going up, his reign lasted 24-hours and the new champion is The Miz. Way to respect the title guys.
Styles and Jericho are after, somehow managing to escape that barbaric slaughter (although one year Styles’ time will come). A straight, no-frills match with quality storytelling and immaculate in-ring work. The simplicity makes it, for me, the best one-on-one fight of the night. And it still doesn’t come close to Styles/Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Also, I heavily question the decision to have Jericho win. Hardcore fans cheer for Styles but it seems the casuals – who know nothing of New Japan, TNA or ROH – still need some convincing. They need to know why Styles has been thrust into the WrestleMania picture after only so long in the company, and if he jobs to the legendary and much-loved Jericho, fans will wonder why they should be excited for the new guy when the old and more established star is portrayed as better.
Also, considering how the next night’s Raw went down, his status as No. 1 contender is under severe scrutiny. Sure he beat Jericho in the chaos of a four-way, but if he doesn’t beat him at WrestleMania in a more legitimate one-on-one match, should he really be next in line for a shot at the title?
On to The League of Nations vs The New Day. The New Day are the best personality-driven faction the WWE has seen in years. Probably the best since DX. Their entrance, chock full of nerdy in-jokes, was by far and away the best entrance of the night. No unicorns, but the Bootyos box was hilarious. The League of Nations on the other hand aren’t. Rusev and Barrett are trying their hardest to make it work, like they always do. Alberto is off to one side trying to remind people he had a singles career once, and Shamus… urgh, how did this guy end up with four world titles?
The difference between the two factions is that New Day are perfectly in tune with one another, wearing the same costumes and using the same lines, and the League are four singles wrestlers who have been mashed together because they aren’t American. They are made up of the most underrated talent on the card (but not Shamus, never Shamus), that creative don’t know what to do with.
Also, are The New Day faces or what? Both sides seem to be heels, so what is the point in pitting them against one another? It’s like WWE know they both need Mania spots and just quickly mashed them together. Anyway, none of this matters because this match isn’t about any of the participants. It was about the surprise afterwards.
After winning the match, the League doom themselves by saying that there are no three men who could possibly defeat the four LON members. Que HBK, Mick Foley and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The legends descended to the ring to lay out the League using all their greatest hits. Sweet Chin Music, Mr. Socko and Stunners all round, followed by Stone Cold’s own brand of bitter, the Broken Skull IPA, images of which WWE were quick to censor.
Not to be a spoilsport, but this segment smacked of desperation. Looking everywhere for a surprise they didn’t have, WWE threw these three legends together in what seemed like a panicked move, a rehash of WM XXX’s triple-headed cameo of Rock, Austin, Hogan. There was just no rhyme or reason to it. And Xavior getting stunned just solidifies New Day’s image as heels, despite immense popularity and merch sales.
Brock vs Ambrose. Here it is. My most anticipated match of the night. The moment where all the booking points to Dean Ambrose getting the biggest win of his career over his toughest opponent yet. They said he was crazy to take on the Beast Incarnate, they said he would get demolished. And he did. Huh. Some story. If WWE were in charge of the Bible, they would have had David job to Goliath.
If Ambrose doesn’t win this fight, then what was the point? Squash matches happen in seconds. Rivalries lasting weeks should have the underdog come out on top, otherwise the feud feels like it has no meaning. Ambrose took so long to get any offence in it felt like a rollover. It was like one of the first-hour matches in the one of the first WrestleManias. The kind you skip on the Network to get straight to Roddy Piper. They’ve taken one of the biggest emerging talents in the company and buried him.
This match showed none of the promise of the promotion. Weren’t WWE supposed to be going in a more edgy direction after Roman bled on Raw that one time? Did they lose their nerve? Did the sponsors threaten to pull their funding? No one bled. Only the same old weapons were used. The chainsaw and the barbed wire baseball bat only made appearances, neither actually did anything. Ambrose couldn’t even get the chainsaw going. And when Lesnar pounced on him while he was trying to work it, he looked a fool.
There have been too many moments in recent memory when Ambrose looked undignified; less like a hardcore wrestler and more like a slapstick comedian, such as Chaplin or worse, Frank Spencer. If they go any lower he’ll start looking like Carrot Top. From the moment the monitor blew up in his face at TLC 2014 his career has been littered with moments like it. Probably his punishment for consistently being cheered louder than Roman Reigns.
Oh, and just to put an unpopular opinion out there. Brock Lesnar is fast becoming the most boring performer in WWE. Currently he only utilises half the amount of moves Roman Reigns does. The success of Suplex City has ruined him.
The triple threat match for the newly revealed Women’s Championship (unveiled by Amy Dumas in a segment on the pre-show which should have been on the main show, in my opinion). Remember earlier when I said Styles/Jericho was the best match, but I kept using qualifiers like ‘male’ and ‘one-on-one’? Well this is why. The sole women’s match on the main card is the match of the night. And they worked like hell to make sure it was.
There were a couple of sloppy moments, or at least that’s what my notes say, I just remember that amazing Moonsault Charlotte landed on the outside. Becky and Sasha are as over as hell, but Charlotte winning feels right. She earned this moment and Becky and Shasha will earn theirs too. The stock of all three women has risen, even Becky who tapped out. We are richer having seen this match.
Undertaker vs Shane McMahon in the match that should bring together all of the answers that this story has promised. Yet all it has left me with are infinitely more questions. The chief among them being “what was the point?” Like the Lesnar/Ambrose bout, nothing changes. Taker wins, Vince still has Raw and Shane goes back to making millions on ‘on demand’ networks in Asia. Nothing has progressed and we are still at the same point we’ve been at for the last six weeks.
So is Taker’s last opponent Shane McMahon? If you can, take another look at his expression post-match. He’s tired. He shakes his head. He has an uncertain look in his eye. He’s done. He leaves his gloves (read: his legacy) in the Cell. If reports are to be believed he has told people backstage that this would be his last match. How depressing would that be? Imagine being at a pub quiz in ten years’ time and the question of who was the Undertaker’s last WrestleMania opponent came up. When Shanes name is announced people would spit their drinks. Even if they didn’t have drinks they’d order some to spit them out in surprise and disgust. Worse than that, it makes the stipulation worthless. If he loses he’ll never wrestle at Mania again. But now that he’s won he still might not. I get the feeling that one day this will all be swept under the rug.
Shane is a great performer, no doubt. But he is not a wrestler. He proved as much in that cell. His attempts at real moves were awful. He proved all he can do is take swings and dive off of tall things. Taker’s swan song should be so much more than that. His entrance didn’t even feel special. Why did they even risk it? Was it Shane’s birthday present? He should have the kind of send-off Ric Flair got in ’08, with an opponent who can make magic with him. Only Taker wouldn’t ruin it by wrestling again.
I’ve heard so many people bend over backwards trying to give this a good review. I’ve seen an entire panel of people say that this match gave you everything you wanted, but none of them could think of a thing apart from Shane’s big cage dive. It was slow, sluggish, and how do you give a fifty year old man and a non-wrestler thirty minutes in a Cell? Has Vince got away with calling Taker his bitch? Where the hell was Vince during this match anyway? Did he believe his time was better spent shouting profanities at the announce team? And what was Shane doing bringing his kids along? Come on kids, come watch daddy get systematically disassembled by a man twice his size in an unforgiving steel cage. A shiny penny to the man who has footage of those kids’ faces when pops was diving 20ft down onto a Takerless announce table.
Moving on, we have a match that WWE no longer knows what to do with. The match that lets every wrestler on the roster without a clear direction be on the card. The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale. Last year it was pre-show. This year it the second to last match. It seems to have swapped places with the US Title. The winner is Baron Corbin, the most unpopular NXT wrestler to get the call up to the main roster. But he’s over 6ft and has lots of muscles. WWE booking at its most stubborn. It was the third surprise of the night and none of them were good. BTW check out this video of Tyler Breeze’s walk down the ramp and reassess who you think had the coolest entrance.
The Rock makes his much promoted entrance by lighting his name up with a flame thrower. Why couldn’t one of the full timers do that? His announcement of the attendance record was interrupted by the Wyatts, being shown the same respect they’ve been shown for the last two years, since Cena beat the lot of them on his own. I’m getting sick of them being the ones to make one dude look like a badass by beating three or four men at one time. Cena showed up, didn’t say a word and looked incredibly uncomfortable. He should be on a hospital bed recuperating.
At this point I’m fading. I was fading watching it and now I’m fading writing it. We’ve had over six hours of wrestling at this point, pre-show and all. By the end it will be as long as a full work day. That is way too much wrestling. It speaks to the ego of the company that they think they can keep you enthralled for that long. That they can present to you a match that their fan base has told them time and time again they do not want to see after six solid hours and you would still cheer for it. The crowd makes them pay for it. You can see the fans leaving early to beat the traffic. They cheer HHH and boo Roman all the way through.
Nothing about this match is memorable except the crazy entrance that looks like some cheap ass Conan/Beyond Thunderdome shit. No heel turn. Stubbornly marching on with that farce. Far too much time paid to Roman’s genitals as HHH seems bosses with touching them. But it wasn’t bad per say, just not memorable.
And that is the long and the short of it. I can’t call this a bad event. There were no bad matches. I was entertained throughout. Even the low points like Shaquille O’Neill entering the Battle Royale (how did I miss that out?) were fleeting enough to not matter all that much. But none of it was Mania. That word is supposed to mean something.
WrestleMania is the be all and end all of WWE PPVs. Like I said before, it should be the beginning and ending of everything. This time, it felt like a holdover event like Battleground or Night of Champions. A stop gap to the next night’s Raw. Hell, for the WWE faithful, many of the results they wanted to see were on the Monday after Mania, not on the Mania itself. There were no revelations. The status quo was kept up. Lesnar is a monster. Vince owns Raw. Even the best match – the Women’s triple threat – didn’t see a change hands.
The final special entrance of the night, Triple H’s, felt appropriate for chilling reasons. This show was overlong, occasionally boring, each match ended in the most mundane of ways, no one we like got pushed, and yet it broke the attendance record. This is WWE saying, we own you. We create a crap product and you tune in to complain about it. It’s n addiction now. One you can’t break away from. And it’s true.
I watched Raw last night because of tradition. That’s terrifying. To know that no matter how bad or stagnant the shows become, I will watch out of habit. That must give WWE an enormous sense of power. Is this why they’ve gone with Reigns? Because fans complaining about Cena brought them so much income, they need someone crap at the top to keep us interested? That scares me to know what a consumerist puppet I’ve become. Oh well. See you at Payback.