Wrestlemania XXX Review: Daniel Bryan Rises as Undertaker Falls

Wrestlemania XXX was an exciting and exhausting event full of very good wrestling and unexpected storyline developments. Daniel Bryan finally ascended over The Authority to unequivocally capture the WWE World Heavyweight Title, but he will share the headlines with Brock Lesnar, who shockingly snapped Undertaker’s 21-0 Wrestlemania streak and seemingly sent The Phenom into retirement. Elsewhere on the card, Cesaro won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal after he turned on Zeb Colter and Jack Swagger, and John Cena overcame Bray Wyatt’s mind games to win a match that saw Wyatt take a step forward in his career. Along with The Shield- whose match got squeezed into a squash win after a long opening segment-, Bryan, Lesnar, Cesaro, and Cena appear to be the WWE’s meal tickets after the biggest show of the year. Given their performances at Wrestlemania, WWE is in good hands.

Brock Lesnar def. Undertaker

Grade: C

In the future, we will not remember the wrestling in this match so much as we will remember the principle that it was Undertaker’s farewell from the ring after one of the greatest careers in wrestling history. Perhaps it was meaningful that Undertaker did not keep up the same intense pace and drama from his previous several Wrestlemania matches, but if Undertaker wrestled poorly, it was only by his own high standards. He kicked out of an early F5 from Lesnar that didn’t even get a reaction from the crowd given the likely direction of the match. He went for Old School and got caught on Lesnar’s shoulders for a second F5 that got more of a reaction. Meanwhile, he locked in Hell’s Gate on Lesnar twice, only for Lesnar to lift him and counter with a powerbomb each time. They also exchanged Kimura locks that never seemed quite likely to end the match, but which I felt built the tension to what seemed to be an inevitable win for Undertaker. Instead, Lesnar struggled to his feet and caught him with a third F5. He covered Undertaker and got the three count to a completely stunned crowd. The silence among more than 70,000 fans demonstrated the gravity of the moment as Paul Heyman congratulated Lesnar before his music played. Left alone in the ring, Undertaker slowly made his way back up the ramp and ominously failed to look back at the ring as he got to the entrance.

While I felt sick to my stomach when the referee’s hand hit the mat for the three count, I have enough respect for Undertaker that I will not begrudge him any closing chapter to his career he wants. Maybe Undertaker felt that he can no longer, going on 50 years old, wrestle at the level that made him a legend- CM Punk carried the physicality in their match last year and the match with HHH at Wrestlemania XXVIII relied mostly on weapons and high spots. Maybe he wants to spend more time at home with his wife and two year-old child. Maybe he saw fellow MMA-enthusiast Lesnar as the appropriate heir to his invincible tough guy throne (and for his part, I sincerely hope that Lesnar capitalizes on the win with something approximating a full-time schedule. He has more heat than any heel today and can have quite a run with it if he is committed). Whatever the case, it is a certainty that Undertaker not only approved the result, but came up with it on his own and handpicked Lesnar as the one to beat his 21-0 streak. Altogether, the finish was utterly shocking, but part of me respects that the most old school wrestler left felt it necessary to “go out on his back.”

Daniel Bryan def. HHH

Grade: A

The first match of the show was undoubtedly my favorite. While I understand that it made sense to give Bryan as much time as possible to recover before he had to wrestle again, it was very hard for the other matches to follow the show Bryan and HHH put on. Even HHH’s entrance, cribbed from the mythology of Game of Thrones, was a crazy spectacle. After the bell sounded, HHH eviscerated Bryan in the early going. He worked on Bryan’s taped shoulder and took him outside the ring to continue the beating. He dug a series of moves out of storage that have not been seen in WWE for years, including a Dragon Screw Leg Whip and a double under-hook version of a German suplex. Despite HHH’s dominance, Bryan fought out of two Pedigrees, including one on the announce table. When Bryan finally built some momentum with a series of kicks to HHH’s head, he set up for a running knee, but HHH caught him and countered with a spinebuster. He followed it with a Pedigree and Bryan somehow kicked out at two. After a quick exchange, HHH went for another Pedigree, Bryan avoided it, and came off the ropes for the running knee to pin HHH after about 25 minutes. Bryan beat HHH cleanly and earned his way into the WWE World Heavyweight Title match with no doubts. Even so, HHH came back with shot’s to Bryan’s injured shoulder and a chair shot to the shoulder to make Bryan’s path as difficult as possible.

Daniel Bryan def. Randy Orton and Batista to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion

 

Grade: B+

The night’s only title change was the only one that really mattered anyway. Bryan came to the ring with his shoulder even more heavily taped than it was in his first match and it was clear that Orton and Batista would have to carry their weight to keep the match interesting. Sure enough, the squared off in the early going and Bryan flew in every now and then with a dropkick or a forearm to punctuate the action. When Bryan established the advantage, HHH and Stephanie McMahon appeared through the crowd with disgraced referee Scott Armstrong (whose fast count got Bryan’s last WWE Title win overturned). HHH pulled original referee Mike Chioda out of the ring and Batista hit Bryan with a Batista Bomb. Armstrong went for the count, but Bryan kicked out at two. HHH picked up a sledgehammer to go after Bryan and Bryan took it from him and nailed him with it, then sent him back to the locker room with back-to-back suicide dives. With Bryan exhausted, Batista and Orton teamed up to clear off two announce tables. Batista lifted Bryan for a Batista Bomb and Orton finished it with an RKO for a combination move that shattered the Spanish announce table. It looked rough for Bryan and possibly even worse for Orton, who landed squarely on a misplaced monitor. EMTs started to stretcher Bryan up the ramp, but he refused treatment and limped back to the ring. It looked as if Orton might win the match with an RKO on Batista, but he kicked out. Batista recovered enough for a Batista Bomb on Orton and Bryan recovered to break up the pin. He locked the Yes Lock on Batista with Orton still out and forced him to tap out to win the match. Bryan celebrated with every fan in the Superdome with confetti streaming down from the ceiling. After an eight-month buildup, it was a tremendous way to finally give Bryan the victory he deserved.

Hulk Hogan Hosted Wrestlemania, Joined by Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock

Hogan came to the ring to welcome the New Orleans fans to Wrestlemania at the start of the show. As he ran through his catchphrases, the glass shattered and Austin joined him in the ring. They went back and forth with statements of admiration for one another, and suddenly The Rock’s music hit and he joined them, as well. The three biggest stars in WWE history smiled at one another and celebrated with an Austin beer bath to work the crowd into a frenzy before there had been a single match from the official Wrestlemania card. There was no need for physicality from any of these three, and I am glad they all got together to mark the historical achievement of a 30th Wrestlemania.

John Cena def. Bray Wyatt

Grade: B-

I wrote in our Wrestlemania preview that Cena sometimes makes matches too confusing when he is the veteran in charge of telling the story in a singles match. This match was a good example, as he tried to make the good/evil duality between him and Wyatt into an overly literal theme of the match. Wyatt repeatedly tried to encourage Cena to break rules and get himself disqualified and Cena had to resist the temptation to lash out at his nemesis. Other than that clumsy narrative element, they wrestled fairly well. Cena kicked out of Sister Abigail, Wyatt kicked out after an AA, and Wyatt startled Cena as he elevated into a crab walk when Cena tried to go for the Five Knuckle Shuffle. Luke Harper and Erick Rowan never attacked Cena, but they lingered around ringside and distracted him often enough to give Wyatt an advantage. In the end, Cena countered an attempt at another Sister Abigail into a second AA to win the match. I believe that Wyatt had more to gain from a win than Cena stood to lose from a loss in this match, so I was disappointed by the outcome. I will admit that Wyatt looked very good in defeat and I would not be surprised if he got the upper-hand on Cena at next month’s Extreme Rules. Although the impact will not be as large, he did a good job in his first chance on WWE’s biggest stage.

Cesaro Won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Grade: B

After Cesaro severed himself from the Real Americans at the end of the Wrestlemania Preshow, he entered the ATGMBR as a fan favorite. The lesser participants in the match were eliminated early, leaving the likes of Big Show, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Cody Rhodes, Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler, and Fandango left with Cesaro as time went on. Kingston delivered the highlight of the match when he was throw clear over the turnbuckle and landed on the floor, but managed to keep his feet on the ring steps to avoid elimination. The match came down to Big Show, in an Andre the Giant singlet, and Cesaro. Big Show proved too powerful for Cesaro to clothesline over the top rope, so he lifted Big Show up and bodyslammed him to the floor. It was not a cheap, aided bodyslam, either, as Cesaro held the giant up in the air for several seconds as he hoisted him over the rope. Even in the first Wrestlemania in 14 years to feature no winners over the age of 40, the 33 year-old Cesaro was the rising star who gained the most. After a red-hot build to the Elimination Chamber, Cesaro now has his greatest individual achievement in WWE and looks poised to become a main event star with the fans fully behind him.

AJ Lee Retained the Divas Title

Grade: B

Vickie Guerrero stood on a podium at ringside to watch the match she booked to get the Divas Title away from AJ. The match went on after the Undertaker match, so everyone was emotionally exhausted, but the match was surprisingly well wrestled for a 14-woman, one-fall match. Natalya looked good early and tried to lock in a triple Sharpshooter. The Bellas simultaneously hit suicide dives to most of the other participants. They got back in the ring and wrestled each other and Nikki hit her Torture Rack Backbreaker on Brie for a two count. With the ring cleared out, AJ and Naomi faced off and AJ locked Naomi in the Black Widow. While it did not look like Naomi tapped out on her own, AJ grabbed Naomi’s wrist to force her hand to tap on the mat to get the win. Given the circumstances, it was a surprisingly fun match.

The Shield def. Kane and the New Age Outlaws

Grade: D+

Due to no fault of their own, The Shield worked one of the least interesting matches over the last few years at Wrestlemania. After the Hogan-Austin-Rock intro and the Bryan-HHH match, it was clear that someone decided they needed to make up some time and The Shield were the sacrificial lambs. They entered so quickly that they cut off the Outlaws’ entrance speech, then proceeded to dominate for a three minute squash. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose did a dual suicide dive to the Outlaws. Roman Reigns speared Kane. The three teamed up for a three-on-two powerbomb to both Outlaws for a pin in a match that ended in under three minutes. It was not the breakout performance that many expected for Reigns, but you can hardly blame any members of The Shield. Despite the missed opportunity, The Shield are still immensely popular and will presumably find a way to succeed elsewhere.

Preshow: The Usos def. The Real Americans, Rybaxel, and Los Matadores to Retain the Tag Team Titles

Grade: B

The preshow match got the crowd fired up, but with the atmosphere in the Superdome, it did not take much. Jack Swagger’s Patriot Lock first eliminated Los Matadores via submission. Cesaro took out Ryback with the Neutralizer to get the match down to its final two teams. The Usos isolated Cesaro and hit him with double superkicks and a double Superfly splash with one Uso coming from either corner for the pin. After the loss, Swagger lashed out at Cesaro. Cesaro did not tolerate it and instead of a handshake to make up with Swagger, he delivered the Cesaro Swing to effectively break up the team and turn face. It was a good outcome all around as the Usos came off as strong champions and Cesaro got to keep moving forward as he grows into a star.