Seth Rollins

Back in 2004, the tagline for WrestleMania 20 was “Where It All Begins… Again,” since like the first WrestleMania, it took place in Madison Square Garden. But as far as strolls down memory lane went then, the biggest stretch one can make is the inclusion of The Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection (The Rock and Mick Foley) on the card. At that point, The Undertaker was “only” 12-0 in his WrestleMania streak. According to Wikipedia, “Stevie Richards” apparently beat both Shawn Michaels and Triple H for the World Heavyweight Title, only a couple of matches after his best friend Eddie Guerrero defeated Kurt Angle for the WWE Title. Brock Lesnar was also on that card, but in 2004, he was conquered by Goldberg as they were booed out of the building mid-way through the 12-match show.

Despite the fact that WrestleMania 20 was given the tagline “Where It All Begins… Again,” WrestleMania 31 is a show that—for better or worse—chooses to follow those words to the letter in terms of repeating the same mistakes WWE does on a regular basis. When it’s in a match with the future versus the past or present, it’s a no-brainer who will win (with the exception being the main event). When it’s the past versus the past, it turns into an episode of a lesser show, in general.

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This year’s WrestleMania literally ends with “The Self-Proclaimed Future Of The WWE” amazingly winning the WWE World Heavyweight title, but such a moment doesn’t erase the rest of the show before it. That’s not how any of this works. The lows and the highs at the end don’t dictate how good or bad the rest of the card and show were.

WrestleMania 31 is a series of moments—a lot of them very good, some of them bad—but it’s not necessarily a or the complete package. Clearing the low bar set for it with this year’s build-up doesn’t make it the best WrestleMania ever. It’s not the “worst WrestleMania ever” like some expected (15 had Brawl For All), but it’s too unfocused and indicative of a lack of a solid plan for the future to be “great.” Sure, some people will love WrestleMania 31, and some people will hate it. Put less patronizingly, WrestleMania 31 is one that will hit you just right or just wrong depending on for what reason you’re watching it. It’s the ultimate example of there being everything for somebody but nothing for everybody.

It would be too easy to just talk about all of the cool moments of the show (of which there are many). Perhaps there is a think-piece on Triple H’s fantastically gratuitous Terminator entrance on the way. Plus, being there live must have amplified the show ten-fold. On the second hour of the pre-show, in between the aggressive Santa Ana winds and Booker T reiterating that all women do in fact hate each other (with Renee Young’s confirmation), the Fatal Four-Way for the Tag Team belts was a fun match full of super kicks and “high octane” wrestling. It’s a great match, but putting aside the fact that it’s not on the main card, the match itself is basically the exact opposite of what WrestleMania 31’s major problem is: because it was a series of fun moments made even better by it being a bunch of young, talented individuals laying it all out in the ring. Assuming you believe the rumor that the reason the WrestleMania logo features a “play” symbol instead of Roman numerals is because of Vince’s worry that the latter makes it come across as old, it makes even less sense when you think about how this show isn’t actually worried about youth or building new stars.

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A moment like Randy Orton transform Seth Rollins’ Curb Stomp into an RKO is the coolest thing in the world, but (watching this live and not knowing that Seth Rollins will get back his win in the biggest way) it’s also a match that comes fresh off the heels of Big Show being the Authority member to win earlier in the night, taking out one of the most over guys in the company (Mizdow) and depriving a team that already looks like a joke (New Day) of having one moment of being characters for which the audience can should root. (I’ve made my opinion clear on the New Day gimmick, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t rooting for them to eliminate Show.)

The initial sounds of DX and nWo’s music are great, but once they show up, you have to remember that these are old men who look and move like old men. Just like Undertaker, who doesn’t even show up with an over-the-top entrance that makes up for the fact that there’s really nothing left for him to do. And The Rock will probably never look old, but that doesn’t make the RAW segment that found its way into WrestleMania any less of a reminder that WWE can’t let the past go (sorry, Rousey). Plus, much like no one was clamoring for a Triple H versus Sting match, no one needs to see Triple H versus The Rock again, especially when, for just $9.99, they can watch better versions of it, without having to make the Divas match six minutes long.

The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal itself is a fun romp, like most battle royals, and it is nowhere near as catastrophic as the Royal Rumble. But in this instance, instead of being runner-up, Big Show is the winner. After last year’s incorrect optimism-based assumption that this trophy would lead to better things for a young Superstar looking to make a name for himself in the form of Cesaro, this year goes in the exact opposite direction. The argument that all anyone is going to remember is the Miz/Mizdow of it all (if anything) is flawed on numerous levels. First of all, that’s the WWE’s argument when it comes to re-writing history (even if it’s as small as whether or not Cena can lift Big Show), a lack of want or expectation for the audience to remember things. Second of all, Big Show’s biggest spots in this match come in the form of destroying the “future.” Hideo Itami. New Day. Cesaro. Mizdow. Third of all, the commentary touts this as being the last notch he had to get in his belt, but the only way that works is if he announces a retirement soon. He has nothing else to do, which is the root of a lot of the problems with the WWE’s old guard refusing to (to take an old WWE catchphrase) “get the F out.”

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In Sting versus Triple H, which should be a solid match on its own—with magical bats and sledgehammers—the story becomes less about a man who thinks he’s the face of an era versus the man who is the face of an era and devolves into nostalgia-baiting nonsense. My mom would probably love it. The initial pop of nWo and DX music doesn’t change the fact that it’s 50-year-old men clubbing around the ring and reigniting a “feud” that ended when WCW shut its doors. Not to mention the fact that there is absolutely no logical sense for the nWo to help Sting. People may care to see these guys back on the screen, but they do not care about a story about WCW’s vengeance.

Sting loses anyway, effectively not getting WCW vengeance and after all these years of saying he didn’t want to go to WWE and tarnish his legacy.

The worst part of watching the run-ins from these men in Sting versus Triple H isn’t even a very WCW booking situation—it’s very much TNA Wrestling circa 2010-2013. Look up “Main Event Mafia” and “Immortal” in relation to TNA. What do you see? It this match, only without a requisite “What’s Paul Levesque doing in the iMPACT Zone?” joke (until just now). For a company that touts itself as the big leagues, in this instance, WWE has no problem repeating the same mistakes as the promotion it refuses to acknowledge and one it supposedly destroyed. It honestly borders on parody, which is this last thing this match should have done.

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Honestly, a lot of WrestleMania 31 has to do with reconciling the fact that, even with the show’s technically proficient matches, WWE continues not to plan for the future. Watching the show without that thought at all, this is a fantastic pay-per-view. A fantastic WrestleMania, even. But reality sometimes sets in with regards to WWE and professional wrestling. As much as we’re told these Superstars are immortals, they’re not. They’re not exactly Randy The Ram either, but they’re not what they were in their prime. If you tell a former wrestling fan that people like Triple H/Sting/Kane/Big Show/Undertaker/DX/nWo are wrestling, either on a weekly basis or just on WrestleMania, their immediate reactions are not that of “that’s cool.” Instead they’re incredulous reactions of “Still?” because these are old men who haven’t moved on at this point. It doesn’t matter even if it actually is still cool—case in point, Goldust—because that doesn’t trump the fact that they are of a bygone era.

Long story short, the Attitude Era is dead. Triple H had an “end of an era” match with The Undertaker years ago. WCW is dead. People—especially WWE—should get over it, especially if it all being brought up is going to lead to revisionist history and 50-year-old men knocking each other down. The irony is, one thing WWE constantly mocks (the dead) WCW for is investing in old men and leaving all the money that can be gained from the younger, hungrier workers on the table. Jokes about grabbing the “brass ring” aside, it’s absolutely fascinating that WWE is repeating other companies’ history and, for the time being, getting away with it.

On the flip side, all of the current champions are more than worthy of holding the titles that have been bestowed upon them. It’s easier to look at only that and see this WrestleMania as a success for WWE now and the future.

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In fact, now “the future” is here with Seth Rollins’ Money In The Bank cash-in, turned Triple Threat match win. Prior to Rollins’ win, Brock Lesnar versus Roman Reigns is hard fought match, with Brock hitting Roman with every thing he’s got in his arsenal, over and over and over again. He takes the guy to “Suplex City, bitch.” It’s different from Roman versus Daniel Bryan, because Roman isn’t being looked upon to give as good as he gets to prove a point. The point is proven the more he gets his ass kicked. But even with as good as the match is on its own, Brock winning would have fallen into the same aforementioned trap as most of WrestleMania in a way, and Roman winning a match that he spent 85 percent (at least) getting worked on would neither help him nor promise a future of good championship-level matches. Saying Roman’s “not ready” isn’t necessarily an insult—it’s simply looking at the bigger picture. So Seth Rollins doing what was presumably a “RAW after WrestleMania” move and cashing in during the match was the game-changer the match and WrestleMania 31 needed. There is an excitement for what will happen moving forward, not a trepidation. That’s what wrestling should make you feel. That’s how WrestleMania should make you feel. An excitement not just for what’s going on now but what will happen later.

Thinking of what will happen later, take, for example, the new United States champion, John Cena. The thing about Cena winning the belt from Rusev isn’t as simple as “Cena Wins. Again.” It’s honestly a terrific match, and if Cena wants to keep that back springboard stunner in his arsenal, he really should. The problem going into the match was always that Rusev winning would essentially “make” him. It would set him for life in this business, however long that is. No one is going to care if he gets back a win against Cena at Extreme Rules. It’s the problem that often comes up with Cena losses often, in that they only happen when no one cares. No one cared about Fastlane. It was a dumb pay-per-view with a non-cohesive narrative (Road To WrestleMania doesn’t explain why your show is car-themed, WWE) and a lame theme song. People care about WrestleMania. That’s why as cool as it is for “fan favorites” to win for feel-good moments, once they do, then what? Who’s going to stop Cena from essentially keeping a mid-card title hostage? Who’s going to become a star off of everyone’s dads getting into a slap fight? What is the point of maintaining a non-existent streak for a man who most likely won’t be here tomorrow, at the expense of a man who could very realistically and believably carry the torch?

(Please don’t get me wrong, but with all this talk of using guys like Bryan and Cena to elevate the mid-card titles, no one is really pointing out that WWE should have done better to elevate Barrett and (to a much lesser extent) Rusev in the first place. The Intercontinental title still won’t mean a damn if Daniel Bryan is booked the way Bad News Barrett has always been booked with the championship. None of these titles mean anything if the work behind them meaning anything isn’t there on everyone’s parts.)

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Honestly, no one should feel like WrestleMania 31 isn’t worth enjoying. No one should feel like I personally didn’t enjoy WrestleMania. There is obviously the previously detailed big problem with the show, but outside of that glaring predicament, there is so much to enjoy. Triple H, Rusev, and Bray Wyatt’s entrances are the epitome of cool, and every match on the card has something to remember. At its best, WrestleMania 31 is a reminder of the unbridled fun a passionate wrestling fan (and even an outside) can have watching “the SuperBowl of wrestling.” All of these matches are worth watching and giving a second or third look. But the question remains, will anything change come next WrestleMania? Or the WrestleMania after that? Or will there continue to be a “building the future” problem? The main event says things will change for the better, but again, that’s not the narrative for the rest of the show before it. “Dwelling” on the big problem will hopefully lead to fixing it sooner, rather than later. If not, as least we can all say we saw Triple H’s Terminator entrance as it happened. You win some, you lose some.

Stray observations:

  • I feel like nothing I say will make this come across as anything other than negative about this show, but please try to think about the pay-per-view in the sense of the greater creative landscape of WWE. When all is said and done, this is “just wrestling,” but if I looked at it like that, I wouldn’t be doing these reviews.
  • Was your first time watching wrestling because you were dragged to a WrestleMania party? Feel free to ask questions in the comments.
  • Lana: “I will never show compassion again.” Then she walked to the ring with the fur and the belt. Then there was a tank. Then I defected to Russia.
  • Common professionalism dictates that the commentary team know which one’s Jey Uso and which one’s Jimmy Uso, right? Other than in the sense of “the non-hurt one”—which would be Jimmy. That’s not even a matter of being able to tell which twin is a twin but a matter of doing your job.
  • Who wants to start the conversation about the WWE Network’s upcoming “adult” entertainment, which includes the return of giving the Divas Search a chance?
  • Here is my definitive ranking of WrestleMania entrances: Triple H, Rusev, Bray Wyatt, Sting (which was weirdly offensive, right?), everyone else, John Cena, Kid Ink
  • Words honestly cannot describe how ecstatic I was for the end of the main event. Seth Rollins is one of those many indy guys I followed pre-WWE, and suddenly my mind rushed to memories of Age Of The Fall and Doing It For Her/Kiss2Kill, his tag team names when he (as Tyler Black) was partnering with Jimmy Jacobs back in the day. I obsessively read all of his AOTF blog entries, did the AIM chat thing, watched every episode of Wrestling Society X. I watched him in IWA-MS, AAW, in FCW, in NXT. His win made me feel, which is really the greatest takeaway I think you should get from WrestleMania.

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