Reviewing the Review: Wrestlemania XXXI

This is a show where most fans just didn’t want to see it. The interest wasn’t there, but it had one good thing going for it: it’s Wrestlemania. No matter what happens on the show, there’s always something worth checking out. A few days before the show, I was talking about the card on the radio and the host said that it was a good card on paper and you would be looking forward to the show if you hadn’t seen the build. That seemed more and more accurate as the show came closer. Let’s get to it.

Before we get to the card, I want to cover some of the scenery. Above all else, that stage was HUGE. It was probably an easy forty yards long, making the wrestlers look tiny by comparison. That helped give the show the huge feel it was hoping for and the whole thing looked great. I know some people have complained about the sunlight but it really didn’t bother me that much. I’ve seen shows outside where it was raining so hard that there were puddles in the ring so some sun isn’t exactly a disaster.

The opening pre-show match was its usual fun, though I liked the elimination style from last year better. Jey Uso not being able to go hurt things a bit but having one less person might have been the best thing that could have happened in this mess. Also, it’s not like he’s some polar opposite from his brother. When I’m reviewing an Uso match I just pick one of their names and alternate whenever they tag. Does it really matter either way?

The match was a huge spotfest as you would expect and eventually lost all semblance of wrestling. Normally that would sound bad but it was exactly what it should have been here. The champs stood out more than anyone else and it’s clear that no one cares about New Day and Los Matadores, but did anyone not know that coming in? The champs retains after Cesaro stole a pin, which was exactly the ending they should have gone with.

The second match was the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and Big Show won. Why you ask? Because apparently he’s never won a battle royal and we’re supposed to ignore World War 3 1996, the one he won on Smackdown in March of last year, the one he and Kofi co-won on Raw in 2011, the ECW vs. WWE Head to Head battle royal in 2006 and a battle royal he won on Nitro because this company doesn’t know how to do research, which could include things like looking online or, I don’t know, ASKING HIM IF HE’S EVER WON A BATTLE ROYAL.

Anyway, this was your old standard formula of having everyone brawl then have some people do a sequence to get eliminated. Mizdow got the big face turn against Miz, only to get thrown out by Big Show with ease. Yeah having Mizdow eliminate Big Show on his own would be a stretch, but having him win by eliminating Miz would have been a huge moment. Naturally we need Big Show to win his fourth battle royal because no one remembers the others. Oh and if you remember the story, he was the last man standing in the 2000 Royal Rumble but wasn’t declared the winner.

Aside from Big Show and Mizdow, the only story was Hideo Itami from NXT. He didn’t do much, but at least he was there and got to have a quick moment. It was probably better to have him in there instead of someone they’re ready to push like Balor. Itami is just a kicking machine at this point but he’s still decent enough for a spot like this. Not a fan of the match if you couldn’t tell by three paragraphs about a battle royal.

Aloe Blacc sang America the Beautiful. Four things: Aloe Blacc sounds like a lotion and is a far cry from Aretha Franklin or Gladys Knight. Also, why is it almost always America the Beautiful and almost never the Star Spangled Banner? Either is fine but I’ve always wondered that. Finally, I’m out of touch with modern music and I don’t seem to be missing anything.

The opening seven man ladder match was pretty much exactly what fans were expecting: a huge mess with almost no story to it and one big spot after another. It wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before and it probably would have been better to have five people instead of seven but for an opening match, this was solid. I would have put this on later and not had it so soon after the other mess of the Tag Team Title match, but there was nothing much to complain about here.

As for the people in the match, they did just about what they were supposed to do. R-Truth and Stardust were just there (though Barrett breaking Stardust’s glittery ladder was hilarious), Ziggler was the one that got close but couldn’t pull it off, Ambrose got put through a ladder for the big spot (which was actually really smart because it wrote him off the show later so he couldn’t stop the big ending), Barrett was fighting everyone, Harper was there for the power and that only leaves one guy.

Having Bryan win a title in the opening match was a good way to get the show off on the right foot. Aside from fighting for his fifth different title in five Wrestlemanias (US Title, World Heavyweight Title, Tag Team Titles, WWE World Heavyweight Title, Intercontinental Title), they had to throw the fans a bone to go from him having one of the coolest moments ever at Wrestlemania to opening the show the next year. Winning the Intercontinental Title is a step down, but at least it’s Bryan getting back into the swing of things. Good stuff here and a solid opener, though it probably could have been trimmed down.

Things slow down a bit with the first singles match of the night as Randy Orton beat Seth Rollins. This was kind of a surprising result for me but it also telegraphed what was going to happen later in the night, ala Edge back in 2006. The RKO at the end with Seth being launched through the air was good, though I’ll still take Evan Bourne’s Shooting Star into an RKO for the best ever. Either way, Orton can nail that thing from almost anywhere and it never stops looking great.

However, this opens up some problems: we’ve seen these guys fight a few times now and we’re supposed to pay to see them fight at Extreme Rules and potentially at a third show in May? The booking may be logical on paper, but I’m not sure it’s going to get people to watch week after week. It was a good match, but I really liked what Wade Keller said about Orton on Austin’s podcast this week: he’s so naturally talented and has been around so long that the expectations on him are very high. When he has a good match, it’s almost considered a disappointment because he can be so naturally good when he’s on his game.

Now we get to the match which is probably going to get the most controversy all night. This is where the great entrances began. First we had Sting coming out to a Japanese drum band, which was cool but kind of bizarre at the same time. I have no idea what kind of connection it’s supposed to be, but I guess WWE just wanted Sting to have his own entrance that was unique for their show. The problem with this was Sting is always a high energy guy and the slow drum stuff didn’t quite fit the top level show in the world.

Then HHH came out with an army of robots, in Terminator gear with Arnold Schwarzenegger himself doing a video introduction. It was at this point that you knew HHH was going to be the big star here and that this was really just a story with Sting involved instead of a story about Sting. The question here was what could Sting do after a few years off and all that time in TNA.

Amazingly enough he looked pretty solid. This was an old school style match with both guys working each other over and HHH working over the back to slow Sting down. This was a very nice change of pace after Orton and Rollins having the fast paced main event style and all the insanity that took place in the first three matches. It’s the style they should have gone with and it worked fine.

Then seven people interfered, completely ignored wrestling history, made old people look old, having Kevin Nash do what I think was the funniest bit of the night, and then ending it with a hammer to the face. In case you didn’t watch the show and are just reading this (for some strange reason), it was the Monday Night Wars all over again with DX running in first (with Sting DIVING OFF THE TOP ONTO ALL THREE OF THEM. Not bad at 56 years old) and then the NWO slowly hobbling in to counter them, all capped off by Shawn superkicking Sting.

Where do I even begin? Aside from the logical Shawn interference, this was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve seen in years. First and foremost, Sting spent nearly two years fighting the NWO (or at least the Black and White) but now he’s going to fight with them for the Monday Night Wars? A battle where his partners are the biggest WWF guy ever to that point and two guys who were the definition of hired mercenaries in the war and are fighting against one of their best friends? That’s the best they’ve got?

It also caused us to see the New Age Outlaws and X-Pac on the same level as Hall, Nash and Hogan. Under no circumstances at any time in the history of professional wrestling does that hold up. Despite the fact that Billy Gunn is less than five years younger than Sting (no real connection to this, just find it kind of mind blowing), there is no way that these six guys are on the same level, even with Nash going down and holding his quad in a funny bit.

After all the insanity and ignoring continuity for the sake of the Monday Night Wars revival, Sting kicked out of the superkick (and out of the Pedigree earlier) and broke the sledgehammer, only to have the third Stinger Splash collide with the sledgehammer to give HHH the pin.

This is one of those moments where you sit at the screen, shake your head just a bit, then either sigh heavily or break a small appliance while screaming loudly. The fact that they brought Sting in and had him lose in his first match came off as one of the biggest wastes of time I’ve seen in years. It felt like they were closing the door on Sting, which is fine in theory, but they couldn’t close it on a victory? It was such a mess that it wouldn’t have been remotely clean so HHH doesn’t lose face and the fans get to cheer.

Instead, it was one last (and by last I mean not last whatsoever) thumb of the large nose at WCW, which was entirely what this feud was based on, even after Sting said how ridiculous that would be. They even had the factions come out for the match, despite WCW going out of business FOURTEEN YEARS AGO. Is WWE really that insecure about a show on the air less than six years total that they have to dig it up and bury it one more time nearly fifteen years later? Apparently so, because that’s exactly what they did.

Oh but we’re not done. After the match, we got the big respect handshake. As I said in the original review: YOU HIT HIM IN THE FACE WITH A HAMMER AFTER COMING OUT WITH AN ARMY OF ROBOTS! NO HE DOES NOT WANT TO SHAKE YOUR HAND! This was supposed to be HHH saying he respected Sting after the battle. Keep this one in mind because we’ll be coming back to it later.

I know I complained about it a lot, but this was one of the big song and dance numbers that you can only get at Wrestlemania and I had a blast watching it. The run-ins were incredibly fun (illogical but fun) and Sting looked like he did back in the best of his TNA years, which was a pretty good time for him. I was impressed with what he did on a wrestling front and the match was more entertaining than it had any right to be. No it didn’t make sense and was a huge mess, but what else were you going to do with this match, especially with that ending?

Daniel Bryan celebrated with a bunch of former Intercontinental Champions for the Ron Simmons cameo. Jericho would have been a good addition here but what we got was fine.

Then we had a concert as all the NWO and DX guys try to figure out whose walker is whose. I still don’t like these things as they waste so much time to give us songs we’ve heard a million times coming into the show, but hey, at least WWE can say this is an ENTERTAINMENT show instead of silly old wrestling. You know, because a seven minute concert totally changes the opinion of the show right?

The not so serious portion of the show continued with the Divas tag match between AJ Lee/Paige and the Bella Twins in what wound up being AJ’s final match in WWE (for now). This match reenforced my issue with the Bellas all along: they’re just not very good. Yeah they’re watchable in the ring and have gotten WAY better in the last six to eight months, but there’s a very thick line between good and watchable. They’re combining to be the top of the division and that’s just not going to cut it for a long term run at the top. AJ made Nikki tap in a short match after spending a lot of time on the floor.

I tried to like this match and it was better than most Raw matches you would see, but it didn’t work as the big Wrestlemania match for them. The Bellas are good at getting heel heat and playing the stuck up better than you villains, but they simply cannot back it up in the ring. It’s like they’re following a tightly written script for the match and would be lost if anything went against that plan. That’s a sign of a sub-par worker and the Bellas fill that role like Nikki fills out those shorts.

In theory this was to set up AJ vs. Nikki for the title, but why couldn’t that be taking place at Wrestlemania? I complained about this leading up to the show and it still didn’t make sense here. Having this just be a tag match after a couple of title matches were used to set it up was totally backwards thinking and never held up. The wrestling was ok, but the Bellas are just killing this division every day they have the title. It’s like the life is being drained out of the division, much like HHH’s World Title reign in 2003: the matches aren’t bad but you roll your eyes when the title is retained and beg for ANYONE to give you a break.

The Hall of Fame did their thing. This was what it was and I always like seeing them out there and hearing the Fink’s voice. It felt faster this year, but there’s nothing wrong with taking five minutes out of a four hour card to let these people salute the crowd on the grand stage one more time.

Now we get to one of the bigger matches as Rusev defended the US Title against John Cena. In what might have been the entrance of the night, Rusev came out in a tank. I mean a full sized let’s go blow a hole in a building tank with Lana surrounded by Russian soldiers carrying the belt. I know Cena’s entrances are well known at Wrestlemania, but he’s going to have his hands full topping this.

Cena had a big speech with videos from American Presidents and shots of the military as we heard about how great this country is. Then Cena just walked to the ring as usual for a pretty anticlimactic ending. It was cool, but it needed something more than just Cena coming down the long aisle. I mean…..RUSEV WAS IN A TANK! Side note: the next night on Raw and then on Smackdown, the announcers started using The Russian Tank as a nickname for Rusev. I dig it.

The match….not so much. It was still good and an entertaining match with Cena finally breaking the Accolade and pinning Rusev to win the title, but it was just kind of there. I still liked it and Cena brought the goods (including a springboard Stunner, which should be someone’s finisher again minus the springboard) as he always does. This isn’t a loss where Rusev is never going to recover as every monster built up like him has to lose eventually.

It’s good and Rusev has already won his big match over Cena, but the ending hurt things. The story for this match had been built around submissions but Cena just sidestepped Rusev so he could hit Lana and nailed the AA for the pin. I mean….that’s it? It’s a good match and the ending had to be Cena winning (though imagine the promos Rusev could cut if he escaped with the belt), but the ending was a bit flat for me. At least this way they avoid the ultra repetitive YOU TAPPED OUT chants.

Now we get to the long time filler as the show had two matches to fill in about 80 minutes at this point. HHH and Stephanie came out to brag about owning the company, roughly an hour after HHH was all humble and shook Sting’s hand, making that whole thing even more stupid. I’m still kind of annoyed at that six days after the show.

Anyway, they talked about how they own the people and everyone here and you knew this was going to bring out the Rock. He did his long entrance and catchphrases, only to have Stephanie do her usual schtick as she ripped him apart and made him look like any given guy on the roster. She went one step too far though and slapped Rock in the face, so Rock bailed to the floor…..and walked over to Ronda Rousey.

Now THIS was a worthy use of a celebrity as Rousey is one of the biggest stars in sports right now (and ignore the fact that I have a thing for her) and fits this story perfectly. As you would expect, Stephanie ran her mouth and got her arm cranked. By cranked I mean slightly tugged on instead of being put in a full on armbar, but I’m assuming Ronda is only allowed to get so physical outside of UFC. That’s fine. Disappointing, but fine.

My guess is this sets up HHH vs. Rock with the girls as seconds, because even though Stephanie is a great talker, I don’t think anyone is going to buy her lasting more than five seconds against Rousey. Real trained fighters can barely break fifteen seconds against Rousey but we’re supposed to buy Stephanie as having the slightest bit of a chance against her? Because it’s in a wrestling ring? I’m not buying that, and this is assuming Rousey would ever be allowed to work a match in the first place. Rock vs. HHH is an established feud and seeing them go at it one more time would be fun.

It mostly worked, except for one problem: IT TOOK NEARLY HALF AN HOUR. This was one of the longest talking segments I’ve seen in a long time and a lot of it is due to Stephanie and Rock taking forever to get to the point. Now once Ronda was introduced it was fine as everyone was begging for her to, as Rock put it, reach down Stephanie’s throat and play jump rope with her Fallopian tubes”, but sweet goodness they could have cut five to ten minutes of this and done the exact same thing. But then we wouldn’t have been able to hear about Stephanie being Andre’s friend again, because…..why do we need to hear that anyway?

The segment ran long enough that we didn’t have time to recap Bray Wyatt and Undertaker starting small fires to set up their match. The interesting thing here was Bray wrenching his ankle very badly before the show and barely being able to walk. However, he gutted it out and managed to hold up his half of the match. That brought us to the big question: how was Undertaker going to do?

Actually quite well, as it really seems the concussion played a huge role in how bad the match against Lesnar was last year. Undertaker wasn’t at the HBK level, but he was more than fine for a match like this. He’s also grown some hair back to make him look like Biker Taker, which isn’t my favorite look but is miles better than the bald version, which just makes him look old. I don’t really need to see Undertaker again, but it was good to see that he still had something in the tank after last year’s mess.

I have to give a quick bit of praise to Bray’s entrance, which saw a bunch of scarecrows come to life as he walked past them, turning them into his henchmen. It makes no sense but looked awesome, which brings me to something I’ve been meaning to talk about recently. A criticism I’ve been hearing lately is that Bray’s promos don’t make a ton of sense. I want to tilt my head at these people and ask them what is wrong with their heads.

Look at Bray Wyatt. He’s a backwoods cult leader who worships a spirit named Sister Abigail, who told him that he would save the world one day. Why in the name of all that is good and holy would you expect him to give a logical promo? The whole point of the character is that he sounds bizarre and only makes sense to those people crazy enough to follow him.

Undertaker talked about spirits, Ultimate Warrior talked about loading spaceships with rocket fuel and Hulk Hogan talked about dog paddling Donald Trump to safety when an earthquake caused New Jersey to fall into the ocean. Bray Wyatt’s promos are closer to Nick Bockwinkel’s than the work of a lot of people praised for their speaking abilities, but people complain that he doesn’t make sense.

Of course they don’t make sense and he’d be failing if they did. He looks and sounds mysterious and you’re supposed to wonder what he means. It makes just enough sense for you to follow it, but the details aren’t all there and that’s why they work. Yeah he gets repetitive at times, but criticizing him for not making sense is an unfair complaint.

All of that brings us to the big main event, which doesn’t have as much to talk about. It was basically Lesnar vs. Cena all over again with Lesnar destroying the challenger and shrugging off his best shots until he made a mistake and let Reigns stay in it, only to have Rollins cash in Money in the Bank and pin Reigns to win the title.

The match itself was fun, but they were running the risk of making Lesnar repetitive. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still entertaining to see him be all freaky strong (even though he has some thin legs, at least compared to how huge his upper body is), but they can only do this for so long before it loses some of its impact. I liked that they had Reigns making a comeback near the end and you weren’t quite sure if he could pull it off, but if they had him survive and win, I would have been scared to show up at Raw the next night. The booing would have been too much for that hair to handle.

Another point here is the blood, which did a lot of good for the match. It’s something you don’t need to see that often, but it’s good in spots like this one. Quick note here: there’s a video going around that allegedly shows the referee passing the blade to Reigns. That’s actually the referee checking on Reigns, who squeezes his hand to show he’s fine. It’s an old technique and not passing a blade.

Rollins cashing in was a good way to end things, but unfortunately it’s going to lead to some repetitive title matches for the next few months, unless they go with some triple threats. Rollins deserves the title though and that’s the important thing to get done. I certainly like the cash in and it kept them from having to pick from a short list of bad possible endings. It’s a great ending to a great show.

Yes this was a great show and I had an awesome time with the whole thing. I don’t know how well it holds up over time with the lack of a bad build and low expectations in the future, but as it stood it was an outstanding show without a really bad match on the card. There are some issues (Sting losing, time getting crunched because of the talking segment going long) but overall, this blew away my expectations and I had a lot of fun watching it. How long has it been since we had two great Wrestlemanias in a row? Seven years or so? However long it’s been, the answer is too long so it was great seeing another classic.

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  1. The Great Country of Nigeria says:

    I liked the wrestling (which is odd considering I usually don’t) but the booking for this show was atrocious. Big show, Orton, undertaker, and HHH shouldn’t have won, period. There was nothing to be gained from any of these people going over, in fact the opposite would’ve been much more beneficial. Big show put me in a bad mood to start the show, and everything to do with HHH brought it to the point where I was only watching to see if they were really going to have Reigns beat Brock. That’s not what you want to do to a viewer and it’s one of the reasons why I stopped watching to only download a PPV if it’s well reviewed, or it’s RR/WM.

  2. Aeon Mathix says:

    I feel like you are short changing Lesnar vs Reigns. Those two legit beat the holy shit out of each other with some of the most legit shots ive seen in years. It was great

    klunderbunker Reply:

    I really liked the match. I’m just getting worried that Lesnar’s style would get repetitive.

  3. dookie blaster 3000 says:

    im glad im not the only one still annoyed at triple h v sting and stephanie being the strongest force in the universe

  4. Acuzzam says:

    I don’t agree with everything, but what you said about Wyatt’s promos was spot on.

  5. Marky-Marc says:

    I’ve read that Vince actually enjoys ‘America the Beautiful’ over the national anthem. It’s ridiculous but that’s the reason we get that song every year.

    klunderbunker Reply:

    I wouldn’t call it ridiculous. Either is fine.

    james gracie Reply:

    Yeah he said it himself on the True Story of Wrestlemania DVD a few years ago

  6. kdrkdr19 says:

    Lmao What do you mean he sounds like a lotion? I thought the guy could sing. Anyway great show.

    klunderbunker Reply:

    The first thing I thought of was a lotion with aloe vera in it.

    Jerichoholic94 Reply:

    I thought of the Aloe drink in the green bottle lmao. My girlfriend knew who he was. Apparently his best known song is “highly annoying” and I was “lucky I’ve never heard it before”

  7. Jay H (the real one) says:

    I think one of the best parts about this Show is that everyone was saying how bad Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns was going to be. Even going so far as to compare to Brock & Goldberg at WM 20. Take out the build to it and what we got was exactly what it needed to be and that was a straight up fight. Lesnar throwing everything he could at Roman and Reigns smiling,taking it,and coming back.

    Would you agree with that KB?

    It should be interesting to see how well this Mania will hold up as the years pass but I had a blast with it.

    klunderbunker Reply:

    Yeah it was pretty awesome, but I would have liked ROman to have a flurry early and shake Lesnar more.