John Cena extended his run of overcoming obstacles by beating The Rock, HHH extended his career by beating Brock Lesnar, and the Undertaker extended his undefeated streak against CM Punk in a Wrestlemania that lacked both glaring weaknesses and standout strengths. While most of the matches were technically sound and enjoyable, there were few indelible moments to go down in history, either in the action or the booking. Altogether, the show went according to the script that most fans would have forecast, which made for too few surprises to make the show exciting.
I said last week that the presence of an obvious favorite in every major match put WWE in a bit of a corner: they would be forced to either put on a predictable show or deviate from the storyline with a swerve out of left field. They opted for the former, and the only result that went against the grain was Mark Henry’s win over Ryback, but even that appeared to be the most likely “upset” because it would extend their burgeoning feud. Instead, the most surprising results were things that didn’t happen- Randy Orton didn’t turn heel, Dolph Ziggler didn’t cash in his Money in the Bank contract, The Shield didn’t get involved in the main events ,and John Cena and The Rock didn’t abandon their mutual respect. The result was a show with plenty of decent elements but that was relatively bland on the whole for the headlining event of the year.
John Cena def. The Rock to become WWE Champion
I was not crazy about how the buildup to this match did little to expand upon the storyline from last year’s match. Nonetheless, I was optimistic that the in-ring action would be an improvement over last year’s event in which The Rock’s windedness slowed the match to a snail’s pace, at least partially because The Rock’s matches with CM Punk the last two months were much better. Instead, this match was probably the worst one on the card due to a startling lack of creativity. As repetitive as John Cena can be on Raw from week to week, he usually works out interesting pay per view matches. What we got was a match that consisted of “let’s do all the same thing we did last year, but the other guy will be ready for it.” Once they plowed through that redundancy, they interminably exchanged attempted Rock Bottoms and Attitude Adjustments for far longer than was entertaining or necessary. It was like watching little kids play a video game when they only know one move and try it over and over. Eventually, Cena caught Rock coming off the ropes with an AA that got him a three count and they posed with one another in the ring and on the ramp. I have always been a fan of The Rock, but if this means he will turn over the mantle to others who will be more consistently present and creative, I can’t say that I mind.
HHH def. Brock Lesnar
For big guys who do not work regularly, these two kept up a decent pace and put on a solid match, although it verged on the cartoonish at the end. Early on, Brock Lesnar executed a series of incredible German and belly-to-belly suplexes in and out of the ring that absolutely punished HHH. After destroying everything outside the ring, they each kicked out of the other’s finisher. Lesnar tried to make HHH tap to the Kimura Lock, but HHH escaped, targeted Lesnar, and put him in a Kimura Lock of his own. Paul Heyman tried to intervene on Lesnar’s behalf, only to be confronted by Shawn Michaels (with a busted nose from an earlier F5) and his Sweet Chin Music. Lesnar repeatedly escaped the Kimura by slamming HHH on ring steps that were in the ring, but the third time he tried to do it, HHH countered into a DDT. After a shot from a sledgehammer and a Pedigree on the steps, HHH pinned Lesnar. My only complaint about the match was that the back-and-forth submissions went on too long. The dramatic point could have been made more succinctly, and watching them lay on top of one another is not especially compelling. Still, the match was quite entertaining on the whole and probably better than I expected.
Undertaker def. CM Punk
As just about everyone expected, CM Punk and the Undertaker put on the best match of the night, right down to the pre-match theatrics in which Punk entered to a live performance of his entrance song by Living Colour and Undertaker walked through the eerie image of fans reaching to touch him through a cloud of smoke. Punk worked in the story from the feud of his lack of respect for Undertaker by slapping him twice and parroting his Old School move. They cleverly countered one another’s signature moves, highlighted by Punk delivering a spinning heel kick before Undertaker could follow up Snake Eyes with his customary big boot. Punk then hit the biggest spot of the show when he laid Undertaker out on the Spanish announce table and delivered a long distance Macho Elbow from the top rope onto an unforgiving table. It was one of the few times I sincerely wondered if a wrestling match would have to stop due to injury because it looked like Punk should have broken his leg. Nonetheless, they both worked their way back into the ring and exchanged submission attempts (which saw Undertaker do his classic sit up while in the Anaconda Vice). Punk nearly hit Undertaker with the GTS, but Undertaker avoided it and hit a Tombstone for a two count. He then tried the Last Ride and Punk used the urn to hit Undertaker in the head at the top of the move. It was the only time in the match when it looked like Punk might have a chance to win, but Undertaker kicked out. Soon after, they took turns wriggling out of finisher attempts until Undertaker planted Punk for a second Tombstone for the pin. The story the wrestlers told in the match was highly entertaining and they match they worked will go down as a memorable moment in both of their careers. Time will tell how it fits into the pantheon of Wrestlemania matches, but it was definitely the top match of this show.
Alberto Del Rio def. Jack Swagger to retain the World Heavyweight Title
From a technical standpoint, this was one of the best matches of the night. Lost in all of the negativity in the lead-up to this match is the fact that both of these guys can really wrestle. I almost wonder whether it would have been a better strategy to present Jack Swagger as a threat to Alberto Del Rio because he is simply a better wrestler and left the political bombast elsewhere. The crowd had a similar reaction, as a “We Want Ziggler” chant echoed through the middle part of the match. I enjoyed the segment where Swagger locked in his Patriot Lock, Del Rio rolled through into a Cross-Armbreaker, and Swagger chained it back into another Patriot Lock. The ending was unspectacular. Ricardo Rodriguez and Zeb Colter caused a distraction outside that drew Del Rio to Rodriguez’s aid. When they got back in the ring, Del Rio locked in the Cross-Armbreaker again and got the submission. While the result was not surprising, it makes me wonder what will happen to this persona for Swagger and whether he has any chance to get any heat.
The Shield def. Sheamus, Randy Orton, and Big Show
This show-opening match got the event off to a great start with a very fast pace. The Shield’s unity stood out from the beginning as they tagged in and out quickly to keep Big Show down. Meanwhile, the faces started stealing tags from one another very early on, which eventually led to their demise. Big Show hit a huge spear on all three members of The Shield while they tried a triple powerbomb on Sheamus. Then, Sheamus went for a tag, but Orton tagged himself in instead of Big Show, successfully fought off Ambrose and Rollins (who suffered an RKO when he came off the top rope), then got speared by Reigns, which allowed Ambrose to make the pin. After the match, Big Show went after Sheamus and Orton and knocked them both out, likely leading to a hybrid feud within that group.
Fandango def. Chris Jericho
Most of this match was up to Jericho’s impossibly high standard, but the ending did not work as well as it could have. I liked the pace, and Fandango looked good fighting back from Jericho’s early assault. It also made the match more exciting when Jericho kicked out of Fandango’s guillotine legdrop from the top rope. At the end, Jericho tweaked his knee on a missed Lionsault, then struggled to turn Fandango over for the Walls of Jericho on the bad leg. That weakness allowed Fandango to roll Jericho into a small package for a pin. The detail was so fine that it seemed like most of the 80,000 in attendance did not pick up on the tweaked knee.
Team Hell No def. Dolph Ziggler and Big E Langston to retain the Tag Team Titles
This match could have been better if it got more time, but it was fine for a lower card match as it was. Ziggler kissed AJ at the start of the match as a parody of Bryan’s loss to Sheamus last year and almost got himself beaten the same way. Eventually, Ziggler tagged in Langston for his first in-ring action and the big man looked very solid. He caught Kane trying a cross-body and hit three back breakers without letting go. It looked like the challengers might win when Ziggler hit the ZigZag on Kane, but it only got a two count. Ziggler then tried to hit Kane with his briefcase, missed, and got hit with a Chokeslam. Bryan tagged in for his flying headbutt that secured the win and gave him redemption for last year’s embarrassing loss.
Mark Henry def. Ryback
This match developed slowly while the fans chanted “Sexual Chocolate” and Ryback spent a lot of time recovering outside the ring. Nonetheless, he eventually got Henry up for Shell-Shocked, only for Henry to grab the ropes and fall on top of Ryback for a fluky pin. When Henry came back to injure Ryback more, Ryback got revenge and hit him with Shell-Shocked, securing the image of him lifting Henry for future promos. Not much happened in the match and it seemed primarily interested in setting up for another conflict down the road. That is not the usual hope for a Wrestlemania match.
The Miz def. Wade Barrett to become Intercontinental Champion
The short pre-show match featured lots of counters and a good pace. Miz locked in the Figure Four early on, but Barrett got to the ropes. Miz then kicked out of Wasteland and did a sort of drop toe-hold to lock in the Figure Four a second time, which was enough to win the match. Yet again, it is back to the drawing board for Barrett as the midcard continues its 50/50 slog.
Taken individually, the only matches on the show that were not good were Cena-Rock and Henry-Ryback. All of the rest were solid efforts, and most of them had enough time to do what they needed to do. Still, only one match stood out as particularly memorable and there were no storyline developments that will mean much down the road. All told, that makes the event pretty disappointing for Wrestlemania.