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Just over a year ago, Seth Rollins walked out of Wrestlemania as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion after cashing in his Money In The Bank briefcase and pulling a fast one on Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. It was a genuinely exciting and promising moment, as it showed that perhaps WWE had in fact listened to its crowd and crafted a finish that was not only better than the possibility of Lesnar or Reigns winning, but also showed that the company was looking towards the future. Here was one of the company’s rising stars being vaulted to the top, being given a chance to prove himself. And guess what? It worked. Rollins held the company together through a lot of injuries until he succumbed to one himself.

That feeling of things being exciting, fresh, and forward-looking is all but absent from Wrestlemania 32. For months, WWE has done nothing but talk about how this is the biggest Wrestlemania ever, and based on attendance (inflated or otherwise), that’s true, but that statement cannot be applied to what actually happened in the ring. Looking at the completed card is baffling. There are strange decisions, weird pacing issues, overlong segments (you can smelllllll which one I’m talking about), and a staggering refusal to engage with the potential future of this company.

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What’s frustrating is that things start off well enough. For the second straight year Wrestlemania kicks off with a ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship, and for the second straight year it’s a great decision. It’s mostly a spot-fest, but that’s exactly what you want in your opening match. It’s a collection of memorable moments. There’s Zayn and Owens throwing the ladder down in the early going so that they can just beat the hell out of each other. There’s Stardust’s tribute to his late father in the form of a personalized ladder and special ring gear. There’s the huge Sin Cara spot, and Kevin Owens angrily yelling “go back to NXT!!” at Sami Zayn. On top of all that, there’s Zack Ryder getting the win and walking out champ. It’s a strange decision, but it’s an exciting and unpredictable one. Not only does it give a (relatively) beloved superstar a huge win, it destabilizes the rest of the night. After that match, anything feels possible.

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Or at least it does for a bit. When AJ Styles and Chris Jericho come out, things are looking up. Hell, they put on another stellar match, which is just what they do at this point. But then, Jericho gets the pin and it signals the rest of the night going off the rails. I legitimately struggle to understand why Chris Jericho, whose legacy in WWE is already cemented, is beating one of the company’s hottest new signees. Sure, Styles is getting up there in age, but he’s proven for weeks now that he can go in the ring and that he’s connecting with the crowd. So why have him take the pin on the biggest stage of the year? WWE seems to make these kinds of decisions all the time, choosing to preserve some vague sense of nostalgia and status quo rather than shake things up, even when it would be to the company’s benefit. (I hereby reserve the right to ignore this paragraph if Balor and the Bullet Club show up tomorrow night and shame AJ for being a failure in WWE.)

It’s almost appropriate that there was so much dick-centric offense in the ring tonight, because Wrestlemania 32 neutered a whole lot of talent. For instance, the Wyatts. What’s even left to say about them and where they’re positioned in WWE at this point? They’ve been jerked around for months now, getting built into a legitimate force that can’t be beat only to lose at the most important moment, in the biggest matches. Here, they’re put into the worst segment of the night. When The Rock comes out to bask in all his glory and tell the audience that they’ve broken the Wrestlemania attendance record, it seems harmless enough. Then, the Wyatts music hits and you just know something bad is coming. For awhile, it looks like the segment is going to actually be good for the Wyatts. The Rock tells Bray he’s got everything it takes to be a star, inspiring cheers and “Yes” chants from the crowd. But then the Rock goes into his usual mode and completely destroys any momentum the Wyatts may have gained in that brief, fleeting moment. First, the Rock schedules a match and beats Rowan in six seconds. Then, when he’s about to get jumped by all three members (miss you, Harper) of the Wyatt Family, John Cena comes out and helps the Rock fight them all off. How many times have we seen this? How many times have we watched as younger, promising talent is fed to part-time superstars? It happens over and over again and it’s infuriating. How can WWE expect its fanbase to care about these younger guys, to see them as legit threats and talents, when they’re constantly being destroyed by guys with decades-old catchphrases? Remember how cool it was when Bray Wyatt got in Triple H’s face and gently touched the WWE World Heavyweight Championship a few weeks ago? Remember how it felt important? Yeah, none of that matters apparently.

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“None of this matters” is kind of the theme of the night, which is baffling when you consider how much seemed to be on the line. Take the Hell In A Cell match between Shane McMahon and the Undertaker. Here’s a match that has the fate of the entire company on the line, and yet nobody, from the performers to the commentary team to the crowd, seems invested in that story. Admittedly, the match serves its ultimate purpose: getting Shane McMahon to do a crazy thing that nearly kills him—and, don’t get me wrong, it was GREAT—but what does any of it matter? Shane puts his life on the line and then Undertaker pins him and the story’s over. That’s it. The stakes that were supposed to be present were absent, and it sucked the life out of the already sloppy match.

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Now, there’s definitely some good stuff scattered throughout the show. All of the good stuff is connected too, in that the best moments build for the future. There’s the reveal of the completely gorgeous Women’s Championship, followed by the best match of the night. Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks give it everything they have, and it pays off. From Charlotte’s robe, to Sasha’s Eddie Guerrero shimmy and ring gear, to that insane top rope moonsault, the Women’s Championship match felt urgent, exciting, and relevant. Here are three performers new to the main roster stealing the show on WWE’s biggest stage, proving that the fanbase is ready for change. Look at the crowd embrace this match, or even the way they embrace Ryder’s win. It’s beautiful. It’s the type of match that has the potential to singlehandedly change the course of women’s wrestling on the main roster, if WWE is willing to learn.

Then there’s the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, which contains perhaps the best booking decision of the night. Just as it looks like Kane or Mark Henry might win the match, because they’re big, which is WWE’s favorite thing, Baron Corbin throws Kane over the top rope and gets the win. That’s huge. It immediately shows the audience that Corbin is a threat, and it shows that at any time someone from NXT could come to the main roster and make an impact. You need that kind of energy, those kind of stakes, if you’re going to move forward with two “brands.” Main roster talent should be terrified of people like Zayn, Owens, and Corbin coming to steal their spots. Corbin getting the win tonight makes an impact, but it’s all about how they follow it up.

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And that’s where we run into problems. If there’s a single takeaway from Wrestlemania 32—other than that New Day should always emerge from a box of Booty Os and that Steph is a God—it’s that WWE is struggling to make a lot of their feuds feel meaningful because they aren’t embracing their younger talent. Ever since Rollins went down it seems like the company has been flailing, trying to find something to hold on to. The problem is that they weren’t prepared for so many injuries. They hadn’t built up their midcard talent to take over, and it showed from the Royal Rumble onwards. Even when they did stumble upon someone to take over one of the top spots, they dropped the ball. For instance, Dean Ambrose loses to Brock Lesnar in a rather disappointing match, and New Day get stuck in a match that doesn’t mean a goddamn thing because the titles aren’t even on the line. This is WWE’s biggest show of the year, and two of its biggest stars (Ambrose and New Day), who have organically risen to the top by being themselves, are in matches where nothing is accomplished. Lesnar wins once again, and New Day ends up taking a back seat to the nostalgia train, as Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, and Stone Cold Steve Austin come out for a little post-match fun. Don’t get me wrong, I’m never going to argue with Austin delivering a few Stunners in Texas, but the fact that New Day had to take a back seat to the moment is indicative of the backwards-looking decisions plaguing the rest of the card.

Of course, the biggest mess in all of this is the main event. First things first: I genuinely applaud WWE for finishing the story they set out to tell. Sometimes staying the course is the best option because otherwise you make yourself vulnerable, you start to overthink creative decisions, and you end up catering to a crowd far too often. So, kudos to WWE for telling their story. Here’s the problem though: nobody cared. Sure, Roman got booed and Triple H got cheered, but even those reactions felt halfhearted. Indifference pervades the main event. What’s strange is that both Roman and Triple H didn’t seem to care. They wrestled a slow, dull match (with an admittedly fun finish) that failed to hook the audience in any way. I can’t even get worked up about it because this is the direction WWE has been headed in for weeks. More than anything, it’s just disappointing to see it all play out with such indifference.

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Ultimately though, the story of Wrestlemania 32 might be the fact that WWE made some baffling, frustrating choices that affected the pacing of the show while exposing the company’s complete disinterest in promoting its fresh talent. Corbin got his moment. Becky, Sasha, and Charlotte stole the show. Shane gave us a “HOLY SHIT” moment we’ll remember forever. Outside of that though, what’s the positive impact of Wrestlemania 32? It’s really, really hard to find one.

Stray observations

  • Results: Zack Ryder defeated Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Sin Cara, Stardust, and The Miz (Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match); Chris Jericho defeated AJ Styles; The League of Nations defeated New Day; Brock Lesnar defeated Dean Ambrose (Street Fight); Charlotte defeated Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks (Triple Threat for the Women’s Championship); The Undertaker defeated Shane McMahon; Baron Corbin won the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal; The Rock defeated Erick Rowan, I guess; Roman Reigns defeated Triple H (WWE World Heavyweight Championship).
  • I want Sasha wearing those tights in every match, and doing the Guerrero shimmy.
  • Has anyone checked on Sin Cara?
  • If you missed the pre-show because you didn’t want to watch seven hours of this, Kalisto retained, the Usos won, and Team Babyface w/ Eva Marie won too. Hurray!
  • Jericho wearing glittery “G.O.A.T.” tights was a nice touch.
  • Also: New Day’s Dragon Ball Z gear.
  • Is it just me or was the Ambrose-Lesnar match kind of underwhelming? I expected more. Also, we’re running out of time to give someone else a rub by beating the 1 in 22 and 1. Can’t believe Ambrose didn’t get the win tonight.
  • That Battle Royal was so weird. DDP? Tatanka? I did like that we got a Shaq-Big Show callback though, even if WWE, of course, did nothing with it.
  • Remember when Bray said “this is my moment” and then the Rock and Cena stole it? Good times.
  • The women’s match was the best part of the night (sorry Shane), but oh man, how about Steph? That promo/outfit was absolutely perfect. And that spear!

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