Wrestlemania 31

Sunday March 29th, 2015

WWE presented their Super Bowl of professional wrestling last Sunday from Santa Clara, California. Wrestlemania 31 has come and gone and proved itself to be an enjoyable show. The show offered 7 matches (9 including the pre-show) with something for everybody.

After the Royal Rumble pay-per-view in January came some lackluster and dire episodes of Monday Night Raw to build up to the showcase of the immortals. WWE fans were subjected to Wiz Khalifa performing and plugs for chicken fries from Burger King on Raw. The main event matches were set in stone towards the end of February and after that…they spun their tires. Nothing much happened to build up hype for their biggest event of the year. Part-time main eventers were rarely seen on the road to Wrestlemania, or in case of The Undertaker, not at all until the actual event. Some of the match results were so predictable and expected that Wrestlemania almost seemed like something I could skip and not miss much of anything.

This combination of events set a sour mood prior to Wrestlemania. Many hardcore fans, like myself, had little interest in the show and were prepared to go into it with very, very low expectations.

But much like the Super Bowl, even if your team isn’t playing in it, you’re still going to watch it, right?

Wrestlemania 31 went above and beyond in exceeding any expectations I had. The WWE presented four hours of great matches, over-the-top theatrics, surprises and fun. I’ll run through the card providing some insight on the matches.

I unfortunately missed the pre-show while setting up the WWE Network at the bar where I watched Wrestlemania. I’ll go back and watch them at some point but this review will be about the main show.

Aloe Blacc opened the show by singing The National Anthem, followed by a LL Cool J-hosted video package. Unfortunately, LL Cool J did not perform the Deep Blue Sea theme song.

1.      Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Title - Daniel Bryan vs. Bad News Barrett vs. R-Truth vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Stardust

This match was built up almost comically. The second most coveted championship belt in the company was treated as a hot potato, trading hands and being stolen by another wrestler every week. The Intercontinental Title hasn’t been treated as a big deal in over a decade, and fans expected more of the same. However, fans are aware of the talent involved in this lineup and a ladder match added enough excitement to make this match interesting.

Many of these guys have sniffed the main event but never really stayed at the top. They’re a close second, but they aren’t presented on the same level as a John Cena or Randy Orton. Think of this as when Hulk Hogan was in the main event for the WWF championship, Shawn Michaels was lower on the card having the best match for the Intercontinental Title.

Ladder matches are crazy, sporadic and dangerous for those involved. A perfect match to open a show and hype up the crowd right away. These guys went out of their way to entertain the crowd, slowly damaging their bodies just for our amusement.

Dean Ambrose took this nasty powerbomb then came out and wrestled again the next night.

Daniel Bryan, after winning the main event of Wrestlemania last year, won the match tonight and made the crowd happy to open up the show.

2.      Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins

Rollins is essentially the top heel in the company. Randy Orton’s about the 3rd or 4th good guy down the chain. Rollins is still a fairly new and hungry newcomer, while Orton is the more experienced veteran.

These two were my diamond in the rough. Once again, the buildup to their match was drawn out too long and started to wear pretty thin. These two are excellent workers who know how to put on a great match and potentially steal the show. I was essentially looking forward to this more than anything else on the card. If everything else sucked, at least we’d have this, right?

They proceeded to have…a match. I thought it was pretty good but to me, it just never seemed to get up on its legs to make it a great match. There was just something missing to make it reach a next level of compelling.

But then this happened.

Seth Rollins went for his finishing move, the curb stomp, and somehow launched even further off of Randy’s head and got reversed into an RKO for the win. This is a clip that they’ll be replaying for years and made this match much more memorable for me. I might not remember anything else that happened, but this ridiculous display of athleticism is something I’ll have ingrained into my brain forever.

3.      Triple H vs. Sting

I was dreading this match. Sting had fallen into irrelevancy in other wrestling companies while Triple H barely worked a handful of matches over the last few years. I thought this was going to be slow, plodding and outright boring. I was excited to see Sting appear in the WWE last November but by the time Wrestlemania rolled around I just couldn’t bring myself to care.

Then their entrances happened.  Sting came out with an entire Japanese-style band of taiko drum players. The live crowd went nuts and I instantly turned into a 7 year old again. WCW was set to face off with the WWF! (Too bad it was about 15 years too late, but nonetheless.)

Triple H had his usual over-the-top Wrestlemania entrance multiplied by T-1000. Sponsored by the new Terminator movie, this happened before his Motorhead theme song kicked in.

Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on the screen and told us that the target was acquired. Sting was locked in the Terminator’s sights.

The theatrics was so over exaggerated it ended up being incredible. The match got going as I expected: a standard wrestling match. It went on for about five minutes before the smoke and mirrors happened.

Degeneration X’s music hit and out came X-pac, Billy Gunn and The Road Dogg. Just like in the Terminator movies, a time portal opened and we were sent back to the 1990s.  The bad guys got the upper hand for a while until suddenly the NWO’s theme hit. Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall came sauntering down to the ring like your uncle’s friends coming to help him out in a bar fight. They joined up with Sting and helped him even the score in this elderly turf war. It kept getting more ridiculous as gray haired Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan took bumps outside of the ring, sledgehammers and baseball bats came out, Shawn Michaels made an appearance and helped Triple H get the win.

This may have been the most entertaining match on the show for me. It was an enjoyable nostalgia trip and had the perfect amount of smoke and mirrors to help hide what Triple H and Sting one on one would have been.

After the chaos of that match we were treated to a musical performance from Skylar Gray (who?), Kid Ink (who?) and “legendary drummer” Travis Barker. Good of a time as any to take a break.

4.  AJ Lee and Paige vs. The Bella Twins

The WWE is in a transitional period at the moment. They’re putting more focus on their women’s section (the divas) and allowing them more time on their shows in hopes of them being taken more seriously by the fans. I’m all for this. They have plenty of talented women on their roster, and even a few who are better than some of the guys. Pro wrestling is about as overtly masculine as it gets and often times divas matches are treated as the bathroom break by the fans and the company. The WWE is on the right track by taking notice of the #GiveDivasAChance trend that’s blown up over the last couple months.

After all of that, this match got about 10 minutes. The competitors were given a shot and they worked well with what they were given. I could tell the girls really wanted to shine and show that they deserve to not be taken lightly. ‘Lo and behold, the match was pretty good for being booked as a tag match with no stakes. At least it wasn’t a pillow fight or a mud wrestling match. Hopefully someday the girls can get their own overblown Wrestlemania entrances.

5. United States Championship Match – John Cena vs. Rusev

Since we had the Terminator earlier, up next was Rocky IV. Apollo Creed vs the evil Soviet Ivan Drago. Rusev is the undefeated Russian brute who spits on the American flag and is in storyline endorsed by Vladimir Putin. John Cena is a rapping marine who shakes hands with Mitt Romney and kisses babies. A true comic book come to life.

Rusev came out first on a tank accompanied by Russian soldiers.

You read that right.

John Cena’s entrance opened with a shot of a bald eagle and clips of Ronald Reagan, soldiers coming home, the moon landing and baseball. I drank a Budweiser and enjoyed this for every ironic ‘Merican way possible.

Another Orton/Rollins style match I thought could have stolen the show but unfortunately,never reached that level. Their ring work was solid and perfectly average. There weren’t any major, GIF-able spots to go down in history. What was important here is John Cena winning the United States championship.

The US title is the lowest of importance on the totem pole. The WWE generally puts it on very low-card characters and it is often forgotten about. John Cena and Daniel Bryan coming out of the show with the two midcard belts helps elevate both titles and adds prestige and importance. Two former main eventers reigning as these champions make it so the fans can have a reason to care about these props again. 

Bonus Features

Stephanie McMahon came out to gloat about them breaking the arena’s attendance record, somewhere around 77,000 people. Triple H came out to gloat about his win over Sting. They dug in as their heel personas The Authority and claimed they own the ring and the fans and they control everything blah blah blah. The crowd was audibly getting sick of it and finally, The Rock’s music hit and they went bananas. Last time we saw The Rock, he was getting booed out of Pittsburgh.  Dwayne came down to the ring and smack talked with Stephanie and Triple H. The Rock had previously hosted SNL the night before and flew cross country overnight just to be at Wrestlemania. Stephanie kicked him out of “their” ring (you see, he is the people’s champion) and The Rock begrudgingly obliged. Stephanie claimed that he was leaving with his tail between his legs and that he wouldn’t hit a woman.

Until he went ringside and found UFC women’s champion and Fast 7 co-star Ronda Rousey, wearing a Dragonball Z shirt, of course.

Rocky brought Ronda back in the ring and they laid the smackdown on Triple H and Steph. This was a highly entertaining segment that could potentially be setting up something for a future Wrestlemania or Summerslam. The only downside to this segment is that they stalled between their lines for a little too long to wait for crowd reactions. Also, I’m assuming they wanted to kill some time to allow the sun to set some more for the next match. 

6. The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt

The Undertaker hasn’t been seen since his 21-year winning streak ended at Wrestlemania last year by Brock Lesnar. Bray Wyatt was forced to build this match all by himself. I like Bray’s character a lot and think he could have a lot of potential in the future. But, trying to feud two characters with just one side present turned out to be very difficult for both the fans and WWE. The Undertaker never appeared on Raw and never spoke a single word to hype this match. There weren’t really any stakes at hand, since The Undertaker had already lost his winning streak last year. So essentially, you have Bray Wyatt as a spooky, supernatural cult leader wanting to fight the legacy of The Undertaker for…reasons.

I’m glad this match happened though because seeing The Undertaker is always a luxury. The Undertaker is at the top of the chain when it comes to veterans in this business and working with a young guy like Bray is a good way to give his character a boost.

A few things dragged this match down. Bray suffered a sprained ankle earlier in the day and couldn’t really perform at the level he normally can. He’s a linebacker-sized guy who’s incredibly agile and I thought he’d be a good contrast to the plodding and methodical style The Undertaker employs. Bray’s injury dampened that and thus the match suffered for it. Taker’s getting up there in age as well and starting to slow down his in ring work even more. Last year The Undertaker suffered a concussion during his match with Lesnar and had to be carried through the motions of the match. I think he wanted to come back this year and prove he can still go on his own, to eventually build to his epic retirement match in the next year or two.

7. WWE Championship Match – Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns

This match was entirely predictable up to a few days before this show. Brock Lesnar had been champion since Summerslam last year and his WWE contract was coming to a close the Monday following Wrestlemania. Obviously Brock would have to drop the title before leaving the company, and Reigns is the heir apparent to John Cena as the company’s golden child.

A few things happened. Roman Reigns was booked to win the Royal Rumble match to get his opportunity at this show. The fans have mostly revolted since then since his rise into the main event has been very transparent and it’s been obvious how the backstage higher ups have chosen him. A lot of fans saw the writing on the wall and didn’t want to accept the inevitability of Reigns defeating Brock Lesnar clean in the middle of the ring. WWE didn’t want to see their future poster boy get booed and heckled by thousands of people.

Then, a few days before Wrestlemania, Brock Lesnar went on Sportscenter and announced that he is staying with the WWE and had signed a new contract for a couple more years. I think it’s obvious that WWE wanted Brock to announce this publicly in order to draw up some more interest in the main event match. Would the negative response to Reigns cause them to change course and possibly keep the title on Lesnar? There was only one way to find out.

I came into this match with morbid curiosity. The finish of the match was enough to pique my interests. Either Reigns wins as the new conquering hero and the crowd’s reaction would be hostile  enough to be entertaining, or they keep it on Brock Lesnar to ensure there weren’t riots in Santa Clara from crazy hardcore wrestling fans.

Brock Lesnar is something else. I think he’s on a higher level than everybody working in the WWE right now, he has this aura that not many others bring to the table. The Rock is up there too, but he’s not around as much. Brock is WWE’s final boss. He’s mostly been a heel after breaking the Undertaker’s streak and dominating John Cena, but since the beginning of this year the WWE have started to present him as a shades-of-grey “tweener.” He’s neither really a good nor bad guy, similar to how Stone Cold Steve Austin was back in his heyday. Some fans still hate him but the vast majority in this audience saw him as a larger than life superstar. Just being in the ring with him makes pretty much anything seem more electric. He could wrestle a broom and so long as Paul Heyman hyped it up it could feel huge. I think he’s my favorite wrestler going right now.

They proceeded to have a hell of a match. They punched each other for real, Brock threw Roman all over the place and Brock got busted open. One of Reigns’ biggest criticisms from the hardcore fans is that he’s “green” and bad in the ring. I think he’s gotten a lot better as a singles competitor and he held his own against a beast like Lesnar. At one point, after about 8 suplexes to Roman Reigns, Brock got up and declared “SUPLEX CITY, BITCH.” Unintentionally hilarious and off-the-cuff. They could print t-shirts with that on them and make millions.

They did callbacks to other matches and had plenty of nearfalls that had me on the edge of my seat. Either guy seemed like they could win at any moment, when all of a sudden, someone did.

Out of nowhere, Seth Rollins’ music hit and he came sprinting down the ramp, cashed in his money in the bank title shot (he had won this last summer) and turned Reigns’ and Brock’s match into a triple threat match (apparently you can do that by WWE rules). Rollins curbstomped both men and effectively stole the win from Brock Lesnar by pinning Roman Reigns. Peak wrestling booking right here.

Rollins took his new championship title and took off before the other two men recovered from their fight. Vegeta took off with the Dragonballs after Goku and Broly beat the crap out of each other.

The show went off the air with fireworks celebrating our new WWE champion.  Everybody wins here. The WWE can still work on building up Roman Reigns by using Seth Rollins as a detour. The Wrestlemania crowd went home happy since Reigns didn’t win. They got the title off of Brock Lesnar without pinning him. The championship is back on a full time performer and can be defended regularly now. This was a great finish to a great match, and to a great show.

I went in to Wrestlemania 31 expecting a pile of dirt and ended up with gold. Maybe it’s because I went in with low expectations, but this show delivered more than I ever could have imagined. Every match has something worth going back and watching, some absurd entrances and theatrics took place and a couple of monumental Wrestlemania moments happened.  Overall I give Wrestlemania 31 a solid 8/10 and I’m hoping the rumors come true of a Minneapolis Wrestlemania in 2017.

by Nathan Dimit