Monday, March 30, 2015

Suplex City Is Burning: WrestleMania 31 Review

All hail your new overlord
Photo Credit:
This review is in the TH style, and yes, you're gonna want to get your free month of WWE Network on April 1 so you can see this goddamn glorious event for free in its entirety.

  • Tyson Kidd and Cesaro retained the WWE Tag Team Championships in a four-way match against the Usos, Los Matadores, and New Day. Jimmy Uso hit the superfly splash on Big E, but Cesaro blind-tagged in before the splash and pinned E for the win.
  • Big Show won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale by lastly eliminating Damien Sandow.
  • Daniel Bryan won the Intercontinental Championship ladder match after headbutting Dolph Ziggler off the ladder.
  • Randy Orton countered a curb stomp into a RKO for the win against Seth Rollins.
  • After run-ins from the nWo and dX, Triple H defeated Sting with a sledgehammer shot to the head.
  • AJ Lee and Paige defeated the Bella Twins when Lee tapped out Nikki with the Black Widow.
  • John Cena wrested the United States Championship from Rusev after the former Champion knocked Lana off the apron and walked right into an Attitude Adjustment.
  • Triple H and Stephanie McMahon were chased off from the ring by The Rock and Ronda Rousey after the former made bold claims that they "owned" all the wrestlers and fans.
  • Undertaker defeated Bray Wyatt with a tombstone piledriver.
  • The Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns WWE World Championship main event was turned into a triple threat match near the very end when Rollins cashed in his briefcase during a moment of mutual vulnerability. He captured the belt when Reigns speared Lesnar out of the ring and Rollins hit Reigns with the curb stomp to get the pin.

General Observations:
  • Byron Saxton kicked off the pre-show by saying "Call me Sally." Yeah, I don't think he's even ready for that stage yet.
  • The first WrestleMania moment of the evening had to be J and J Security meeting up with their forefathers, Gerry Brisco and Pat Patterson backstage. I'm hoping somewhere down the line they can have a comedy match together, if the latter two are up for it.
  • Booker T previewing AJ Lee and Paige against the Bella Twins by repeating his heinous "Women naturally hate each other" line was disappointing but not surprising, but Renee Young agreeing with him? C'mon man. C'MON.
  • The intros to the Tag Title match were funny and sad at the same time, because even the birds stopped chirping when New Day came out. That gimmick is so dead in the water, which makes me happy because maybe it'll send a message to Vince McMahon that his fans are a bit more cultured than to fall for blatantly racially stereotypical gimmicks.
  • Cesaro tossing Jey Uso into the barricade early was a great way to cover for his injury, and Jimmy working a faux-handicap match gimmick wasn't the worst thing in the world, especially when he went all SUPERKICK PARTY like a one-man Young Buck or paid tribute to his dad by ramming his ass in everyone else's face.
  • ROH, WWN Live, and Hoodslam in aggregate produced a slate of over a dozen shows over the weekend as ancillary dates to Mania weekend, and WWE openly trolled them all by having a double tower of doom superplex spot on the fucking pre-show. Well-played, WWE road agents. Well-played.
  • Curtis Axel getting mobbed deep by everyone in the Andre the Giant Battle Royale was the best possible way for his Rumble stuff to get paid off.
  • Alex Riley doesn't have a whole lot of use outside of getting murked by Kevin Owens, but seeing him tangle with The Miz and Damien Sandow was a layer of continuity that WWE seems to tread upon every once in awhile.
  • Ryback eliminating both Darren Young and Heath Slater in short order made me think that a Nexus reunion probably wasn't in the cards. It's fun to dream, however.
  • WWE has been huffing straight garbage most of the year, but the absolute worst thing to happen has to be Big Show as the Battle Royale All-Star of 2015. It was irritating in the Royal Rumble, but the way he just dumped awesome dudes like Hideo Itami, Ryback, and even Kofi Kingston without a second thought was straight garbage. I get it. WWE is probably feeling bad it didn't make use of Show's largeness his entire career. But he's in the twilight. Give that shine to someone, and don't make the dude from your awesome developmental program zero fanfare and a shitty elimination.
  • The Miz/Sandow explosion, however, came off just as well as I remember the Ted DiBiase/Virgil breakup. For whatever reason, I wasn't as mad at Show eliminating Sandow to win as much as I thought Sandow came off looking like a golden god.
  • I was surprised Tyson Kidd didn't reappear behind Aloe Blacc during his rendition of "America the Beautiful" and put on his Beats headphones...
  • LL Cool J's "hosting" duties didn't even involve him being at the fucking stadium. Then again, I wasn't really clamoring for him to be there anyway.
  • I didn't expect the Intercontinental Championship match participants to get big entrances, but Stardust coming out dressed like Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon showed at least one of the competitors had a flair for the moment. Fuck, R-Truth didn't even rap his theme song.
  • Stardust's BEDAZZLED LADDER was a flawless representation of his character, which is why Wade Barrett immediately breaking a rung off it before it was used was a bit depressing. However, the silver lining immediately became evident when Barrett started beating the shit out of people with said rung. I'm not a hard carbon-based lifeform to please.
  • Dean Ambrose going through that ladder via the Luke Harper powerbomb brought back some painful memories of Sin Cara (Original Flavor) getting broken in half by Sheamus at Money in the Bank 2011. One would think WWE would scale back those kinds of bumps, but then again, maybe Ambrose taking that had implications for later, assuming WWE has not forgotten about his promise to keep Seth Rollins from cashing in. (Note, WWE has probably forgotten about Ambrose's promise to keep Rollins from cashing in.)
  • Daniel Bryan winning the match by headbutting Dolph Ziggler off the ladder proved once again that both men really know how to draw new blood from the same stone. I never expected those two to get in a headbutt war, but it looked stiff and wonderful.
  • I understand the use of situational no-selling to drive a point home, but Randy Orton nonchalantly walking towards Rollins and lariating him after he got buckle-bombed early on the match felt egregious even by ridiculous "everyone gets all Mojo Rawley'd up for WrestleMania" standards.
  • Both Orton and Rollins seemed uncharacteristically off in this match until the very end with the finish, especially on Rollins' Asai moonsault to the outside where he caught more of the announce table than Orton.
  • I'm gonna get it out of the way now. I absolutely HATED how nearly every match had finisher kickouts. I know Mania's supposed to have a heightened atmosphere, but by my count, four of the seven main-show matches had finisher kickouts, five if you count John Cena breaking out of the Accolade. I want WWE to take some cues from the indies, just not that specific cue.
  • However, the counter of the curb stomp into the RKO was visually stunning and the best trick RKO counter since Orton and Evan Bourne synced up to turn the latter's shooting star press into OUT OF NOWHERE. It was without a doubt the best finish of the night.
  • Sting/Triple H brought out the first two grandiose entrances of the night. Sting's intro being preceded by Asian rhythmic drummers was bad-ass if somewhat ill-fitting for his character. However, the Triple H entrance, oh man. I admit the T-800s flanking him were awesome, but the graphics on the Tron and Arnold Schwarzenegger's pre-taped promo all made the entrance feel as cheesy and hokey as 1997 WCW. Maybe that was the point since the entire match was a homage to WCW's shittiest aspects. To illustrate, here are SUB-BULLETS:
    • The no-disqualification stipulation was announced so quickly that I didn't even notice until Degeneration-X came out.
    • Sting's backup was the fucking New World Order, and not even the Wolfpac subset that he was foolishly a part of. HULK HOGAN came out as backup despite never fighting on the same side as Sting ever in WCW.
    • Sting broke Triple H's sledgehammer in half, and Trips STILL used it to win the match.
    • After the match ended, THEY SHOOK HANDS.
  • Other than all that, I had no problems with the Triple H/Sting match.
  • One other thing to note from the nWo/dX shenanigans was that Hogan actually BUMPED to the floor on the outside taking a punch from X-Pac and didn't shatter into a billion little pieces. Countdown to the newz sites reporting he wants one more match in three... two... one...
  • The Ron Simmons Annual DAMN Segment actually came off as really sweet and endearing for Bryan as all the old Intercontinental Champions who made it to Mania paraded back to put him over. Of course, the only way to rehab said belt is for Bryan to be protected as Champion and be allowed to put on awesome long matches, but having all those legends give him dap is not a bad start.
  • I may be in the minority, but I didn't mind the Skylar Gray/Kid Ink musical interlude, although I would have put it between the Undertaker match and the main event. The Gray song, which was featured prominently as Mania's theme, actually was pretty catchy. A veritable earworm, if you wiiiiill.
  • The Bella Twins kept knocking Lee off the apron during the first part of the match, which made me wonder if the Lee/Paige team was working some kind of Hollywood Knives tribute gimmick for the match. Then again, Lee did end up being more of use in the match than Bradley Axel Dawson ever did...
  • Lee was clearly the weakest link in the match, but of all the spots, her tornado stun gun was the coolest-looking outside Nikki's Kawada Tribute Forearm.
  • Rusev's entrance was by far the coolest WrestleMania entrance since at least John Cena's gangster parade in Chicago. Having Lana lead in the Russian troops carrying the flag to the Soviet national anthem would have been enough, but Rusev entering in a tank should pretty much cement him as a full-on icon at this point.
  • Meanwhile, Cena pandered to 'MURCA using a bunch of Presidential quotes which to be frank, wasn't even in the top three of WWE using jingoism to appeal to the classic heroic mystique.
  • I don't know if this was Rusev's best match in a WWE ring (although it probably was), but he certainly made a concerted effort to make it feel like the biggest, pulling out big moves he never had before, going the extra mile with gesticulating and shit-talking. He belonged on the main stage and should be a mainstay for years to come.
  • Rusev waved the Russian flag after getting an early advantage, which would have been awesome enough until the crowd actually ERUPTED in cheers for him when he did it. Oh Cena, what hast thou wrought?
  • Even better was when Rusev got in Cena's face and shouted "YOU CAN'T SEE ME, JOHN CENA." At that point in the match, I wanted to fly on a plane all the way to San Jose and hug his borscht-smelling ass in gratitude for being so goddamn awesome.
  • The only explanation for the springboard hop-back stunner Cena pulled off was that he secretly watches old ROH tapes with his future brother-in-law Bryan. Orton may be the WWE wrestler who most frequently adds these new, indie-riffic moves to his arsenal, but Cena does every once in awhile and it's even more surreal because he always seems to execute them on his own like Pablo Picasso would paint a still life.
  • I get the feeling WWE is going to be breaking up Rusev and Lana in the aftermath of how she figured into costing him the match, but would that ever be a goddamn asinine decision.
  • I honestly had no idea where the Authority/Rock segment was going until the crowd started chanting "Ronda Rousey! Ronda Rousey!" I fully admit to not being on board with her for various reasons (not the least of which are her ugly opinions on social issues like transsexuals), and even now, I still don't give her a pass for said ugliness. However, she commanded the ring, giving truth to her "Any ring I step in is my ring" statement. I'm psyched to see her perform now, which wasn't something I would have said ten minutes before she popped in the ring.
  • That being said, at least Rocky kept the stupid gendered insults to a bare minimum, which sadly for him is like two per ten minutes of promo time.
  • I never thought I'd live to see the day when Undertaker's Mania entrance was completely outshone by his opponent, but Bray Wyatt's animated scarecrow walkers were legitimately creepy and way more visually stunning than Undertaker's, uh, fog machine?
  • A "You still got it!" chant for Sting earlier in the night was annoying but kind of appropriate given that most fans in the audience may have seen minuscule footage of him in TNA if any at all. But for the Undertaker? Get all the way the fuck outta here with that shit.
  • For having been reported as suffering a severely sprained ankle earlier in the day, Wyatt moved around the ring pretty well. I didn't enjoy the match as much as some, but knowing what was reported, it was still an admirable effort.
  • The match, however, had a similar feeling to the Taker/Trips match from WrestleMania XXVII, when they would hit each other with a big spot and then lay around for a minute or two afterwards like they had just been through a war. If you don't earn the layabout spot, don't take it.
  • But the visual with Wyatt arching up into his inverted crab walk being countered by Taker's zombie sit-up may have made the whole match worth it. I agree with ya boy @FanSince09 that Wyatt taking the L here after carrying the entire feud for two months was weak as shit, but I still think he came off looking like a star.
  • Roman Reigns' police escort for his entrance had me struggling to hide the sniggling under my breath because it really is not his fault that everyone fucking hates his guts. WWE botched him so bad in the lead up to the match.
  • Brock Lesnar's "squash you until it's excessive" match formula got a bit old back at SummerSlam, even though I know it's good booking. However, three things made his beatdown of Reigns more impressive. First, not going for the cover after the first F5 gave a lot of weight behind Paul Heyman's "prison beating" comments beforehand. Second, Reigns smiling while he was getting his ass whipped legitimized his unbelievable comeback after the second and third F5s. It was tremendous foreshadowing. Third, Reigns getting his shit in at the end felt a lot more forceful and hopeful than anything Cena did at SummerSlam. Lesnar is a known quantity, but he's not one that necessarily "carries" a match. He does what he does, and how the opponent reacts to it is how good the match will be, and Reigns, up to the climactic swerve point, showed that he had the wherewithal to take Lesnar's barrage and turn it into a worthwhile story.
  • That all being said, Lesnar was on some next level shit, especially on the first hope spot where Reigns caught him with a knee on the apron. After shrugging it off, the lariat he nailed Reigns with was more brutal-looking than most of the big spots in the opening ladder match.
  • "WELCOME TO SUPLEX CITY, BITCH." I want those words carved on my tombstone. Seriously, that was some Mark Henry-level in-ring shit-talking, and it may have been my favorite moment of the night, by far.
  • WWE will never retire the Money in the Bank briefcase, but I would  not blame the company if it did after the way Rollins cashed it in. It was the last possible shock cash-in, a Mania main event cash-in WHILE the match was in progress. I didn't think WWE had the cajones to pull that move off, but it came off like a million bucks.

Match of the Night: Rusev (c) vs. John Cena, WWE United States Championship Match - John Cena, the ace performer of WWE, has had quite a few stellar pay-per-view main event performances, and yet at WrestleMania, he tends to come up short. Sometimes, it's match layout that does him in like at WrestleMania XXV. Sometimes, he has to lug dead weight around the ring like both bouts against The Rock. But for whatever reason, he seems to underwhelm at the biggest show of the year. But the ingredients were in place this year for him to steal a show that usually is handed to him on a silver platter. Rusev was the hungry young lion who'd been putting in great HOSS-style performances that mesh well with Cena's oeuvre. They knocked it out of the park.

Rusev had received platforms on somewhat large stages before, but a marquee WrestleMania match seemed like the challenge that a NXT product on the last leg of his rookie year on the main roster wouldn't necessarily be a lock to not wilt, but he not only didn't falter, he rose to the occasion. He was always in place, quick to his exchanges, and stiff with his strikes. His shit-talking game rose to new heights, shouting "YOU CAN'T SEE ME, JOHN CENA," before kneeing him in the gut and slamming his spine out of his back. If one was to look for the shaken rookie in this match, that theoretical person would not be able to find him.

And it was this opponent in whom Cena found the best opponent. He was able to work as an underdog, even with the announcers muted. His feats of strength looked gargantuan, especially breaking out of the Accolade. And he even went to the random indie move well to bust out a shocking yet well-done springboard Ace crusher. If one can put aside the false cacophony around Cena and live with the LOLCENAWINZ booking, then that person might be able to find from a pure standpoint how awesome a spectacle and how well-wrestled a match he turned in at WrestleMania. It depends on how I'd feel after re-watching his matches at Mania 23 against Shawn Michaels or 26 against Batista, but this could very well be his best Mania match ever.

Overall Thoughts: WrestleMania 31 was the weirdest installment I have ever remembered watching. On one hand, the only "new blood" guy who won his match against an established wrestler wasn't even booked to be in the match until about 7/8 of the way through it. On the other hand, the decision I was most mad at happened on the pre-show. Bray Wyatt allegedly fucked up his ankle and yet came out and performed admirably under duress between two of the most surreal title matches in Mania history. Triple H set out to "bury" WCW by competing in a match that followed every stereotypical trope that put WCW in the ground in one contest, from the introduction all the way to the postmatch handshake. The biggest woman athlete in the world made a debut wearing a DragonBallZ shirt. Most importantly, or weirdly, WWE put on one of its most competent, solid Manias. It wasn't a spectacular effort like X-7 or even last year. But in a history of flagship events that have floundered more often than not, a show like this most recent one deserves note.

The main event was the capstone, and in an odd sort of tachyonic time-reverse manner, the show trickled backwards. Viewed out of order, the spamming of the old guard winning makes some kind of sense if the endgame was going to put a largely unproven entity on top of the company. If Lesnar retained, then sure, the crowd didn't need the safety and security of Undertaker winning or Vince McMahon didn't need his own security blankets of John Cena and Randy Orton taking home wins. IF Reigns was going to be winning, then something else would have had to have happened short of a miracle about face by the crowd on him (which some people swear happened anyway) to alleviate throwing fuel on that garbage fire.

But Seth Rollins ending the show on a gamble needed some kind of security beforehand. The cash-in DURING the match had to be the gutsiest booking call in recent memory, and having him succeed at the expense of the special attraction monster the company just re-signed and the guy McMahon wanted to ram down everyone's throat needed a special kind of gusto, bravery that may not have been seen since McMahon turned Steve Austin heel at the end of X-7. One could argue that the Rollins win had a higher degree of safety to it because Money in the Bank cash-ins are titillating, Rollins was over as a face in front of the "smark"-heavy Mania crowd, and because Rollins was already a heel anyway in alignment and to everyone else. The Attitude Era wasn't built on his back. He didn't have fans to let down, because the ones who already liked him were rooting for him to cash it the fuck in anyway.

Still, the decision took some bit of fortitude, the kind of fortitude that WWE seems to lack nowadays. Honestly, I will believe a turned corner when I see it, but on the converse, WWE has never been a company built on consistently strong booking from top to bottom. Its backbone was cults of personality doing outrageous things with little regard to whether they made sense or not. WWE has the mix in its primordial ooze right now. Rollins, Lesnar, Cena, Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, maybe Roman Reigns, definitely Bray Wyatt, and possibly Ronda Rousey (?!?!) could turn out to have the kind of effect that could turn this event into a watershed into the next boom period. OR maybe the company could fuck it all up again in the next month. I have no idea.

But standing on its own, WrestleMania 31 was a rarity, and the fact that it came a year after perhaps its strongest effort ever is a downright miracle at this point. WWE often gets its flagship show wrong that when it's done right, it can take the fans aback. The fact that it was booked like a five-year old throwing shit against the wall going into it made the show all the more surprising. But at least it was a pleasant surprise.