Wrestlemania XXXI Review

For the first time in several years, WWE’s biggest show of the year made its claim to being the best show of the year. Over 75,000 fans in Levi’s Stadium voiced their appreciation for a show that had everything from heavily booked sentimentality to straightforward combat. In the end, it was Seth Rollins who stood tall and transitioned his “future of WWE” moniker into the present. Perhaps the most impressive part of the show was its complete lack of failure- every segment worked and several of them were far better than expected.

Seth Rollins def. Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns to Become WWE World Heavyweight Champion
Grade: A
Everyone knew that Reigns was not as popular as the WWE wanted him to be going into Wrestlemania, but the intensity of the fan displeasure was surprising. About 95% of the fans squarely booed him from the moment his music hit heading to the ring and that same proportion supported the newly re-signed Lesnar.

Lesnar immediately started his parade of suplexes and welcomed Reigns to “suplex city, bitch.” He totaled about a half dozen Germans, a couple of belly-to-belly throws, and even a vertical suplex thrown in for good measure. Reigns kicked out of a pair of F-5s early and struggled to answer Lesnar’s combination of speed and power. He finally hurled Lesnar into the ring post and busted the champion’s forehead open. He hit a pair of Superman punches and a spear to get a very near fall. Lesnar hit yet another F-5 and Lesnar somehow managed to kick out.

With both contenders brutalized and exhausted, Seth Rollins made his way to the ring and cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase. He became the first wrestler to cash in Money in the Bank at Wrestlemania and the first to do so during another match. He made it a triple threat match. Although Lesnar got him up for an F-5, Reigns hit a spear on Lesnar. Rollins followed with a Curb Stomp on Reigns and pinned him.

Reigns, for all of the boos, looked extremely tough for the amount of punishment he absorbed (and he wrestled his second consecutive great PPV match). Lesnar dominated the match and never took a pin to lose his title. Rollins carried WWE through most of 2014 and now starts 2015 as the top man in the company. Not only does he deserve it, I would go so far as to say the company will greatly benefit from his smug self-confidence and legitimate heel heat when so few can accomplish that task.

HHH def. Sting
Grade: A-
Like most fans, I had concerns about HHH and Sting before I saw them get into the ring. The incredibly fun entrances helped calm my nerves, as did Sting’s athletic conditioning. On top of that, the match was designated as a no-DQ match to give the wrestlers more options. They certainly did use the stipulation. Shortly after the bell sounded, Sting showed that he still has some gas in the tank with an athletic drop kick. When Sting gained the advantage, Billy Gunn, Road Dogg, and X-Pac came to his side. Shortly thereafter, Hollywood Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall did the same for Sting. Shawn Michaels appeared in a DX shirt and superkicked Sting for a near fall.

Sting and HHH faced off with their weapons, but Sting used his bat to smash HHH’s sledgehammer in half. At last, HHH retrieved his partial sledgehammer and used it as a weapon. He hit the Pedigree to pin Sting and get his big win. Before the match, I thought it would be strange for Sting to wrestle one big WWE match and lose. He was so good in this match that I was not worried about the loss; I was more focused on when and where he will wrestle again.

Undertaker def. Bray Wyatt
Grade: B
Although Undertaker did not return to the impossible standard he set with Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemanias XXV and XXVI, he did more than enough to remove the bad taste that his match at Wrestlemania XXX left in our mouths. With a shorter version of his classic black hair, he looked more agile and mobile throughout his match with Wyatt. The match progressed at a fairly slow pace, as one would expect from a match with two guys as big as them (the reports of a bad ankle injury for Wyatt likely had an impact here, too). Each wrestler kicked out of the other’s finisher. Wyatt crab walked toward Undertaker’s body and Undertaker sat up suddenly and startled the man who loves to play mind games. He fought his way out of another attempt at Sister Abigial’s Kiss and hit a second Tombstone to get the win. It was not a great match, but if anyone else at Undertaker’s age and experience turned in this effort, we would stand in awe at their longevity.

The Rock and Ronda Rousey Confront The Authority
HHH and Stephanie McMahon came to the ring to gloat a little after the halfway point of Wrestlemania. They were a little too proud of themselves as HHH bragged that he owns the entire WWE, its fans, and every wrestler backstage. He was suddenly cut off by a surprise entrance by The Rock. He held the fans in his hands and had no problem defying HHH’s arrogant posturing. Stephanie insulted him and slapped him in the face. Rock did not hit her back, but he found Ronda in the front row and brought her into the ring. Stephanie warned her to stay out of her ring, but Ronda laid her out and even threw HHH down with a hip toss. Stephanie did her part as a conniving heel so convincingly in this segment that I couldn’t wait to see Ronda go after her. If this confrontation leads to a huge inter-gender tag match down the road, it could be one of the most creative and effective main events in ages.

John Cena def. Rusev to become U.S Champion
Grade: B+
After Rusev and Lana came to the ring with a cavalcade of Russian tanks and soldiers, Cena followed the most cloyingly patriotic video package WWE could muster. Nonetheless, the fans booed Cena mercilessly. Cena stuck mostly to Rusev’s style of strikes and mat-based wrestling. They went back and forth, trading control of the match. Rusev eventually put Cena in the Accolade and Cena escaped by lifting Rusev up while he was in the hold. He answered with an STF of his own, but that was not enough to put Rusev away. Lana got onto the apron and Cena sidestepped Rusev so that he careened into her and knocked her to the floor. He hit an AA and pinned Rusev for his first loss in WWE. The match was distinct from many of Rusev’s one-sided victories. More imporantly, his first loss had to do something to set up what comes next. The burgeoning tension with Lana could work as a long-term story for Rusev, so he is in a good position despite the loss.

Randy Orton def. Seth Rollins
Grade: A-
Every match other than the women’s match was approximately 15 minutes long, but no match was as full of technical detail and rewatchable counter-wrestling as this one. Orton and Rollins showed throughout that they are not just great athletes, the also understand psychology in the wrestling ring. Orton had to deal with J&J Security throughout and gave both of them big RKOs through the match. He even hit Rollins with an early RKO, but did not make the cover quickly enough to get the win. Rollins recovered and fought back with a flurry of creative and fast-paced offenese. He set Orton up for the Curb Stomp, but Orton pushed him higher into the air when he jumped to set him up for a devastating RKO to get the win. Add that finish to the pantheon of incredibly cool ways Orton has delivered the RKO- maybe even at the very top of the list.

As soon as Orton won, it begged the question of whether Rollins would get his heat back with a cash-in later in the show. Indeed, Rollins left Wrestlemania as champion, albeit with a record of 1-1 on the night. Orton is in a strong position to challenge Rollins, as are Reigns and Lesnar. For a new champion to succeed, he needs rivals, and Rollins certainly has those in spades.

Daniel Bryan def. Bad News Barrett, Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper, Stardust, and R-Truth in a Ladder Match to Become Intercontinental Champion
Grade: B+
This match was the one many fans expected to be the best on the show. Instead, it opened the night and got it off to a very hot start. The wrestlers went straight into the big spots and everybody got a piece of the action. Ambrose was especially present for the crazy moves. He hit an elbow drop to a crowd of wrestlers off of a tall ladder and later took a brutal powerbomb from the ring, through a ladder braced between the apron the barricade. Other highlights of the match included a sparkly, Stardust-gimmick ladder, a nice suicide dive by Harper, and a round of Bullhammers by Barrett.

The match came down to Bryan and Ziggler, as many anticipated. With the rest of the wrestlers laid out on the floor, they traded punches, but neither would go down. They started to headbutt one another and Bryan finally sent Ziggler to the mat. He unhooked the belt and became the Intercontinental Champion while every fan chanted “Yes!” If this win starts us down a road toward a more comprehensive Bryan-Ziggler feud, it will be a treat. If it goes even further toward Bryan using the belt to headline Smackdown, it could reenergize a sometimes moribund show.

AJ Lee and Paige def. The Bella Twins
Grade: C+
For all of the talk about a more serious women’s match at Wrestlemania, this match got about 1/3 the time of every other match on the card. AJ and Paige were able to maintain their truce and get along through the match. The Bellas isolated Paige early and she struggled to get out of the match. When she finally got to AJ for the hot tag, AJ came out on fire. She locked in the Black Widow to get the submission victory.

Other Notes
-Big Show won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal by last eliminating Mizdow, who got to that point of the match by turning on Miz. The rest of the match was relatively uninspiring- Sheamus did not enter, Ryback went out relatively easily, and even Hideo Itami was eliminated almost immediately after he won an NXT tournament to enter. For what it’s worth, Big Show needs the occassional feather in his cap to stay relevant in WWE as long as the company continues to book him as a threat.

-Cesaro and Tyson Kidd stole a pin from the Usos to win their pre-show match and retain the Tag Team Titles. Along with Los Matadores and New Day, the teams entered the battle royal shortly after this match, which shows how much it meant on the card.

-The live crowd was excellent and mostly on board with the direction of the crowd. Other than the Reigns boos- which is mostly a legitimate protest of a failed storyline- the fans enthusiastically went along for the ride. It made for an exceptionally fun live experience. The only downside was the outrageously disorganized event staff in and around Levi’s Stadium. For an NFL venue in the middle of a concrete jungle, they were somehow completely unprepared for parking, traffic, or a crowd of people. It is a lesson for WWE for next year, but the show was otherwise exceptional.