Monday, April 7, 2014

In Like a Lion: WrestleMania XXX Review

He did it... TWICE!
Photo Credit: WWE.com
In the TH style:

Highlights:
  • In the pre-show Tag Title match, the Usos last eliminated the Real Americans with Superfly Splashes in stereo on Antonio Cesaro.
  • After the match, Jack Swagger turned on Cesaro by putting him in the Patriot Lock. Cesaro replied with a Giant Swing.
  • Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and The Rock opened WrestleMania in the same ring with a joint promo.
  • Daniel Bryan defeated Triple H with the Knee-Plus to earn a spot in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match. After the match, Trips laid out Bryan.
  • In what was almost a glorified squash match, The Shield defeated Kane and the New Age Outlaws with a triple powerbomb on Billy Gunn.
  • Cesaro last eliminated The Big Show to win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale.
  • John Cena reversed Sister Abigail's Kiss into an Attitude Adjustment to defeat Bray Wyatt.
  • Brock Lesnar's third F5 shockingly ended The Streak, as Undertaker's WrestleMania record now sits at 21-1.
  • AJ Lee retained the Divas Championship over the field as she made Naomi tap out to the Black Widow.
  • In a backstage segment where Hulk Hogan demanded Paul Orndorff and Roddy Piper bury the hatchet from the first WrestleMania, Piper and Mr. T squashed their longstanding beef and embraced.
  • Despite run-ins from Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Scott Armstrong and an attempted stretcher job after a Batista-Bomb-into-a-neckbreaker table bump, Bryan tapped Batista out with the YES! Lock to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

General Observations:
  • They gave the Andre Trophy the Stanley Cup, armored-car treatment. I was surprised at how small it was.
  • Pre-show match started out with Zeb Colter leading a "We the People!" chant, while Antonio Cesaro came to the ring in one of the shiniest jackets I've ever seen. His jacket was so shiny, the audio issues with the stream immediately got fixed.
  • El Torito dressed in a red unitard, meaning he was an energy drink for the evening.
  • Sign of the Night: Dude on the right side of the crowd facing the hard camera with a "REST HOLD" sign. He would've gotten a LOT of play on that placard during a Randy Orton circa '07 match.
  • Seeing Cesaro effortlessly give Ryback the Neutralizer was the most impressive feat of strength of the night until, well, let's just say Cesaro would come back out again for even more hossery.
  • I was actually a little surprised that Swagger went full nuclear on Cesaro after the match. I was even more surprised to see Colter play peacemaker instead of siding with one of them, but I guess WWE has to leave SOMETHING for RAW the next night.
  • Hulk Hogan opened the show and immediately proceeded to call the venue "The Silverdome." Both Steve Austin and The Rock would come out and rib him over his flub.
  • No, seriously though, how surreal but awesome was it to see the three most iconic figures of the WrestleMania era in the same ring? If only John Cena had made his way out there and made it Mount Rushmore would it have been topped.
  • Stephanie McMahon opened the show proper in what I can only describe as "business casual" meets "Larry Flynt." She introduced Triple H, who came out on a throne in his gold Skeletor mask in a red cape, flanked by wenches in masks. I'm pretty sure I saw Sasha Banks behind one of those masks. Hey, anything to get the NXT Divas a Mania payday, I suppose.
  • Daniel Bryan's ring boots had fur on them. I wonder if he was taking gear tips from John Morrison...
  • Bryan upped his apron move game with a tornado DDT leaping off the ring to the floor. Tell me that dude didn't have a sense for the moment. For his part, Trips escalated the violence on his part without needing a bunch of weapons. HE broke out an apron back suplex and then a TIGER suplex at another point.
  • McMahon's managerial game was on point here. She did about everything she could have to enhance the match without actually getting physical in any aspect. Her best line was yelling "YOU MESS WITH THE BULL, YOU GET THE HORNS" like she just thought the line up at Bryan. Disingenuous mom-Steph is the best Steph.
  • Bryan kipping up after his missile dropkick was maybe the best thing he did all match, proving sometimes, the moves are the least important thing that go down in a given contest.
  • I was afraid after the match that Bryan would hit McMahon for some kind of cheap sexist pop (even if she did "deserve" it by slapping him), but the waylay by Trips after the match made it better. Still, I kinda wish WWE would start giving the women managers the same kind of agency and gravitas it let someone like Sensational Sherri have back in the day before giving the men a good reason to wail on them, y'know?
  • I popped when The Shield cut off the Outlaws' entrance hard.
  • I knew the trios match wouldn't get a lot of time, but I never once thought it would have been a glorified squash. The Shield got put over super hard here, which of course wasn't a bad thing at all.
  • I will say that triple powerbombing both Outlaws at the same time? BOSS VISUAL.
  • I was surprised to see the final three spots in the Andre Battle Royale filled out by guys like David Otunga and Yoshi Tatsu and not Alexander Rusev or Rob van Dam, but in the grand scheme of things, the Cesaro appearance was good enough for me.
  • Cody Rhodes and Kofi Kingston both skinned the cat at the same time and jousted kicks with each other while doing it, a cool visual.
  • Fandango and Xavier Woods were on the apron at one point, and I swear I saw Fandango hump Woods' face.
  • The Rhodes Boys had great synergy in eliminating Damien Sandow. Goldust was on the apron, and Rhodes tossed Sandow over the top while Goldust held the rope down. Of course, both Rhodeses would be eliminated unceremoniously by Alberto del Rio later on.
  • The battle royale turned out to be the Cesaro-and-Kofi show. Cesaro hit up some mad acts of hossery, including some big uppercuts at key times, but his biggest feat before the finish happened when he tossed Kingston over his head, OVER the ringpost and to the floor... or so it seemed. Kingston's feet landed on the ring steps, so he wasn't technically eliminated. He got back into the ring and cleared house. I wouldn't be surprised if Kingston had a job for life just to avoid elimination in the craziest ways possible. I just wish the company would do something with him.
  • Cesaro and Show were the only two left, and Cesaro eliminated him in the hossiest way possible - by scooping him up in a nearly effortless slam and dumping him over the top rope. I swear, everyone in America who watched that suddenly got the urge to take their lover, it was so impressive.
  • The Wyatt Family's entrance was out of control with the voodoo dancer and the live band playing his theme on the way in. Since the non-singers in the band were wearing plague masks, I secretly wondered if Jimmy Jacobs was going to appear and help Wyatt win...
  • I found it interesting that the second half of the normal "LET'S GO CENA!"/"CENA SUCKS!" dueling chant was replaced with "LET'S GO WYATT!" instead. The biggest sign that WWE is moving away from a totally Cena-centric power structure at the top to more of an ensemble cast might be the change of every match being a referendum on Cena to more of a "pick a side that isn't just the absence of the other wrestler."
  • I would have liked Wyatt letting Cena get a free shot at him better if Cena acted like he was going to lose it and do unspeakably uncharacteristic acts of violence on a date before WrestleMania.
  • Wyatt leading the crowd in singing "He's got the whole world in his hands" was one of the most impressive feats of bandleading ever.
  • Even though I feel like this match was the payoff for a better build that didn't happen, I'm alright with Cena winning and the story possibly continuing along this arc. WWE is in a spot where it can experiment with the Cena character more than it could have before Bryan emerged as a viable 1a. Whether it will or not is a different story though.
  • JOHNNY FABULOUS SIGHTING!
  • I dug the shots of the coffins with all the Streak victims on them with Undertaker's entrance.
  • I wish I could say nice things about the Lesnar/Taker match, but it was dreadfully boring. I'm beginning to wonder if the Lesnar in the Triple H trilogy was closer to his real ability than the one against Cena or CM Punk, but then again, maybe Undertaker just didn't have it in him tonight either.
  • Won't lie, I almost shit a brick when Lesnar actually got the three count on Taker. The Streak is over. Long live The Streak.
  • Nothing will top this guy's reaction to it though.
  • Everyone but AJ Lee got the "jobber" entrance for the Divas Invitational. Not coincidentally, everyone in that match kinda deserved the jobber entrance except for AJ Lee.
  • Lee and Tamina Snuka starting out with their backs to each other against the throng of angry challengers was a great way to start.
  • I actually thought that the match was an entertaining car wreck. When you get 14 wrestlers in a match, regardless of gender, sometimes, it's just going to devolve into a bunch of spots. Best way to go would be to make them fun spots, and I think all the women in the match at least tried to keep the highspots coming like beers at a kegger.
  • Regardless, Lee winning was the right call, and her application of the Black Widow was WrestleMania worthy.
  • Paul Orndorff's moustache right there became a contender for best in WWE with Zeb Colter. What is it with these old guys growing awesome soup-strainers?
  • Even in his old aged, innocuous guest host capacity, Hogan could still come off as a bit imperious and demanding for a hero, couldn't he? I don't think he was in a position to demand anyone bury any hatchet, but then again, I guess I wasn't in the ring and don't understand...
  • I would give the Roddy Piper and Mr. T embrace a 0.7 on the Hart/Michaels reconciliation scale, if only because knowledge of their real life beef may have been a bit too inside baseball.
  • Randy Orton got his band to play him in too? Man, the Mania music budget must have been robust this year.
  • Batista had a stretch on the outside where he looked awkward as shit driving Orton into the apron, and then gingerly rocked him into the barricade. It was the least stiff main event thing I've seen in a long time.
  • SCOTT ARMSTRONG IS BACK AND HE'S THE NEW NICK PATRICK! Except Bryan took him out with a kick to the head, because triple threat matches come with the deus ex machina built right in!
  • I know it won't be the end of the feud, but Bryan wiping out the ENTIRE Authority with his plancha felt like the exclamation point on his victory, even before he won the titles.
  • I cringed more for Orton taking the bump on the barricade than I did for Bryan going through the tables as a prone victim. Holy shit, I got real concerned for Orton for a hot second.
  • I didn't mind that Bryan got the win on Batista instead of Orton. The three did a brilliant job of creating such a chaotic environment that Bryan felt like he beat both guys down.
  • WrestleMania ended how it should have: with 80,000 people doing the YES! chant. Sometimes, simple is best.

Match of the Night: Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H - Six matches later on the card, Daniel Bryan would have his honest-to-God WrestleMania moment, but to open the show, he got to wrestle the first of what should be many WrestleMania classics. The fact that he went out and made it rain with Triple H of all people - the same Triple H whose last five Mania matches in my view were mediocre at best - solidifies him as a wrestling god. Unquestionably, it belongs in the same breath as Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart as the best WrestleMania opener ever, and the pass of time may put it in such rarefied air as one of the greatest WWE matches, regardless of event, ever.

The shithead Triple H hater in me would love to come out and say that Bryan "carried" him, and while I think Bryan is the kind of wrestler that could coax a great match out of the Game better than Brock Lesnar, the Undertaker, pre-Best Big Man in WWE Sheamus, or Randy Orton could, he held up his end of the bargain. He built himself up before the show as the epitome of the A-plus player, but one who would not be fucked with. So he went out and threw everything he had at Bryan and then some.

I saw moves out of Triple H that I never thought he would pull out, like a fucking tiger suplex. I remember when [REDACTED] giving him one in a match was a big deal. My marvel at that move wasn't so much like a "workrate fan" demanding a diverse moveset inasmuch as it signaled escalation. His word, his bravado even, demanded that he had to put Bryan away, so he had to keep damaging him, just like the way he worked over Bryan's arm earlier in the match and kept going back to the crossface and the chicken wing.

And to her credit, Stephanie McMahon did pretty much everything a good heel manager should do short of interfering. She was shrill, she barked encouragement at Trips, and tried to verbally intimidate Bryan during the course of the match too. She added about as much to the match as she could have without laying a finger on Bryan at all.

But yeah, this match is where Daniel Bryan showed off the ultimate in underdog moxie and babyface fire. He bumped hard both on offense and defense; one should note that he went from the goddamn top rope to the floor near the barricade, which is a gnarly bump for anyone to take. His counters were on point; his second Pedigree counter, the one where he back-body-dropped while his arms were still chicken-winged, was as godly a maneuver as you're gonna see anywhere. And he had impeccable timing on where to place his comebacks. His Knee-Plus landed right in Trips' mush may have been the most impactfully-timed one he's done yet. I won't talk about how Bryan made himself in this match, because he's been solid gold in WWE since the end of RAW two years ago. However, this match is a huge reason why he can now take his place among the immortals, and he got help from one of the most notoriously selfish wrestlers in WWE history to get there. Greatness comes on that mark.

Overall Thoughts: The Pay-Per-View Era in WWE ended as well as it could have. The WWE Network Era picked up right where Elimination Chamber left off and dropped perhaps the best WrestleMania in the event's 30 year history. I may be basking in the heat of the moment, but this show may only have X-7 to beat out. Top to bottom, every match or segment had something I could hang my hat upon. Even the Undertaker/Brock Lesnar match, which was ghastly and plodding, had the shock moment of Taker losing The Streak, fans reacting as if a family member had died, and then the overwhelming feeling of gratitude towards a wrestler who probably just worked his final match sweeping across a world of fans, not just an arena or a country.

But as one run seemingly ended, another hit a short-term resolution and a long-term climax. Daniel fucking Bryan, for whatever reason, completed an epic eight-month arc and simultaneously cemented himself among the immortals. His ending was one that wasn't guaranteed from the moment he was screwed out of the Championship at SummerSlam if one were to believe everything he or she might read in a newsletter or on bandwidth. However, his was the most appropriate and the one that was most destined to happen. Forget SummerSlam or Hell in a Cell. Bryan's destiny to headline and ultimately gain eternal glory at WrestleMania was written on the first episode of NXT, when he laid out his dreams. No matter how craggy the path or crooked the pavement, Bryan got there as he was foretold to have arrived.

Catharsis is a funny thing sometimes. You can keep sending an audience down detours and through roadblocks, but if you don't pay the moment off at the right time, those consumers may just bail on the journey. I was prepared for Bryan's delayed payoff to take him through to WrestleMania, but I will admit that even I started to have doubts when Shawn Michaels put his boot in Bryan's face at the end of Hell in a Cell. I don't want to give WWE too much credit here, because I don't know its inner workings and whether the braintrust came to this decision before SummerSlam or after CM Punk walked out. No matter what, the important thing is that everything worked out, whether on purpose or out of necessity.

But this 30th edition of Mania served as the ideal for so many other components, both old and young. Whether Antonio Cesaro throwing out Big Show to win the Andre the Giant Battle Royale (and a trophy that Jack Swagger no doubt is going to destroy on RAW tomorrow/tonight) or Mr. T and Rowdy Roddy Piper publicly embracing after a long and bitter cold war, events happened on this show that meant something, that felt befitting of the "last event" on the WWE calendar for the year. WWE has had the "night after" Mania as its own personal New Year's Day down pat for awhile, but Manias often have felt anticlimactic.

But with the three biggest stars in company history kicking off the show, every match having some kind of greater meaning, and so many stories being paid off with some kind of intermediate or final resolution, WrestleMania XXX actually felt, to me at least, the way an idealized Mania should. Ask me in a couple of years how I feel about this show, but in an instant feedback-sort of way, I can't think of any show that was definitely better. It certainly was the best show of the last five or six years by far, and it certainly befit the landmark anniversary that it happened to coincide upon.

3 comments:

  1. I have to admit, the meat of the Taker/Lesnar match sucked the life out of the event but the ending was well booked. I loved the long pause from the three count to Lesnar's music. Even the stage hands were shocked and didn't understand what just happened.

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  2. Okay I really loved the Battle Royal more than I should have. You forgot to mention that effing 3MB got a couple of eliminations, Alberto Del Rio cleanin house, and of course the brief return of Fandango-ing.

    Top 5 Wrestlemania for me. Maybe even top 3

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