FearlessRiOT Retro Review: WWE WrestleMania 31

So this week, I talked about how WWE seemed to just stumble when it came to odd-numbered WrestleManias. The even numbered ones usually produced some good action and memorable moments, but then the odd-numbered ones just turned out rotten for he most part. So after the badness of 25, XXVII, and 29, it would be understandable to not have high hopes for 31. Well, after the world sat down to watch the show, I think we were all legitimately surprised by it. Even going in with a main event most fans defected on before it even started, the show seemed to break the curse of the odd-numbered WrestleMania. At least that’s what we thought; while the show turned out to not be a completely awful mess, the aftermath was not pretty. But I’ll get to that: let’s end my lookback of recent WrestleMania’s by looking at last year’s 31st extravaganza that due to Vince‘s fear of it sounding elderly, we’ve sarcastically referred to as WrestleMania Play-Button.

Hall of Fame
I don’t remember where in the show they stuffed the Hall of Fame segment, so I’ll just briefly mention that the ceremony itself is a must-see. Randy Savage finally went in, Alundra Blayze gave the most badass speech I’ve ever seen on one of these specials, The Bushwackers will make you laugh, and the Warrior Award presentation for Connor will make you cry. Also, who would pass up the opportunity to see Rikishi dance again or The Arnold and Kevin Nash on the mic?

Fatal 4-Way for the Tag Team ChampionshipWM31_Photo_013-3798708573
I’m gonna knock the pre-show matches out of the way quick. For the second year in a row, the Tag Team Championship made the pre-show and was fought over by four teams: Cesaro & Kidd, The New Day, Los Matadores, and The Usos. No joke, the last two teams have once again proven themselves unable to land a spot on the main show, fighting for the Tag Team Titles before the pyro hit. I kind of wish this made the main show because it was actually legitimately fun. Great action from all the teams and even their ringside +1’s Natalya, Naomi, and El Torito. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro retained their titles, but sadly, they’ll both miss WrestleMania this year due to unfortunately sustained injuries.

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle RoyalWM31_Photo_077-3009204930
I said in the last article that I feel like this match has already jumped the shark just two years into its existence. While the one from WrestleMania XXX took place on the main show and gave a WrestleMania moment to someone who desperately needed one, this one took place on the pre-show and gave a WrestleMania moment to an already established veteran who desperately needed one. OK, Big Show’s WrestleMania record is definitely worth laughing out loud at, but when  it came down between him, Damien Mizdow, and The Miz, everyone wanted Mizdow to win. The crowd erupted when he turned on The Miz, and him winning this match would have been a nice bonus. Instead, they actually booked The Big Show to win a Battle Royal for once. I guess I can’t be too mad at this since Big Show and Andre The Giant have been forever linked anyway and like I said, Big Show’s list of definitive WrestleMania moments is filled with more shame than pride. So I can let him have this one, but he was nowhere near my first choice. Also, Hideo Itami was in this match, but barely. Man, he has had terrible luck since signing with WWE.

America The BeautifulWM31_Photo_081-3718736696
You may recognize Aloe Blacc either form the song where he used an Elton John sample to brag about being “The Man” (despite never beating the man) or the song about begging for a dollar. I assume the former song upped his tax bracket just a bit and cancelling out the sentiment of the latter song, and a nice this WrestleMania paycheck couldn’t hurt too.  Last year, he joined the long line of outside musicians to give WrestleMania a slice of Americana courtesy of singing the timeless America The Beautiful. And he sung pretty well; it was a mesmerizing performance even without the planes flying above.

Intercontinental Title Ladder MatchWM31_Photo_120-1368250643
After that video package of hip-hop icon LL Cool J documenting WrestleMania history, we get the first match of the night. WrestleManias 28 through 30 was missing a little something that had been a staple of WrestleMania for the previous number of years: a ladder match. The Money in the Bank matches were exciting and when they went off on their own for a successful spinoff pay-per-view, it was hard to get used to them not happening anymore. Even before Money in the Bank existed, ladder matches were a proven source of excitement for WrestleMania, dating back even further than the legendary Dudley/Hardy/E&C battles and really having the standard set by Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. That match was for the Intercontinental Title and so was this one; after weeks of the Intercontinental picture being a mini-series of theft, an official champion would be crowned on the grand stage when Stardust, Luke Harper, Dean Ambrose, Daniel Bryan, R-Truth, Wade Barrett, and Dolph Ziggler would put their bodies on the line for it.

First of all, someone stop JBL from making pop culture references; him comparing Stardust to Katniss Everdeen just for wearing a cape that looks like nothing Katniss Everdeen ever wore should be enough to earn him a stinkface or two. Second of all, as expected, the action in this match was wild and solid. I haven’t said this in a while, but this is the way you start a WrestleMania and get people excited for three hours of action. Once you see a lunatic get slammed through a ladder, you’re expectations have to be somewhat heightened. Third of all, Daniel Bryan has the distinct honor of winning the opening contest of WrestleMania two years in a row. Like his WWE Title reign, this was cut short due to the cruel fragility of the human body, but at least his final two WrestleManias will go down as two great title victories for him.

Randy Orton vs. Seth RollinsWM31_Photo_151-1774944066_0
I don’t remember being too much into this storyline because I thought they way they did it was weird. Randy Orton is put on the shelf after a beatdown on Rollins and company, comes back for revenge, is convinced to rejoin the Authority, does so for about a couple of weeks, and then turns face on them again. I’d expect this kind of conduct out of the Big Show since he turns more than Ron Swanson trying to avoid talking to people, but here, I just didn’t get why Randy would rejoin the Authority in the first place. His face re-turn was badass though in that Randy got to stick up those two fingers to Rollins and it set up what was in my opinion Randy’s best WrestleMania match in years, maybe since XXIV. Even if you don’t remember what happened during the match, you definitely remember the hands-down greatest RKO of all-time. This is not up for debate; this is the greatest RKO of all-time. And if Randy Orton was medically cleared to compete at this year’s WrestleMania, maybe he’d try to outdo that.

Sting vs. Triple HWM31_Photo_168-993694757
Sting is going into the WWE Hall of Fame this year, but his legacy is mostly enshrined in the history of WCW and TNA. So when he finally signed a WWE contract, minds were blown and speculation began over whether or not we’d finally get that dream match between him and Undertaker. And when WrestleMania came around, they gave us…..a match. Between him and Triple H. Yeah, their claims that this was a dream match would definitely not hold up if they were strapped to Jack Burns‘ Circle of Trust exam. But it was still a big damn deal. His time in TNA proves that even in his 50s, his energy and skill set was still surprisingly effective, so I had a feeling he would do great on this match.

And after we got Sting’s chilling entrance and Triple H’s hokey movie tie-in out the way, my suspicions were correct. He was obviously not prime Sting anymore, but he could still go in the ring. He and Triple H’s performances were the awesome part; then the DX and nWo run-ins happened, and while fun (yet illogical given Sting’s history with nWo), the bout kinda started to go south after that. And things plummeted like Wile E. Coyote when Triple H won. Sting, an icon of wrestling, loses his first match in WWE at WrestleMania to a semi-retired guy by getting jacked with a sledgehammer. That damn grudge with WCW is still ruining everything. This match was so fun to watch and I’m still glad Sting got to compete at WrestleMania at least once before hanging it up, but just like at WrestleMania XIX, Triple H won a match he just should not have won. And what’s worst is that we’ll never get that Undertaker match now, especially with Sting being injured and all now.

Skylar Grey, Kid Ink, and Travis Barker Perform
How does Skylar Grey keep finding herself associated with WrestleMania? While I previously credited her incorrectly for being on a WrestleMania XXX theme song due to her very association with Eminem, she did performed on WrestleMania XXVIII and 29, and now she’s back to perform a David Guetta song on WrestleMania 31 with Travis Barker. And then after that, we have Kid Ink with what must be stated again is my favorite song he’s ever been on without someone else’s name attached to it. That said, I didn’t need him to perform it live.

Paige & AJ vs. The Bella TwinsWM31_Photo_226-3131622015
What can I say about this match that I already haven’t? I stand by my statement that this should have been a Fatal 4-Way for the Divas Championship; I also stand by my statement that WWE using the “real woman” argument to be the basis for this thing was infuriating. I stand by my statement that this was more of a regular RAW match than a fit for WrestleMania. I stand by my statement that Paige should have won the match for her team instead of AJ. Hell, I actually preferred the six-woman tag team match from the next night on RAW over this. But I’ve already pointed out that this match isn’t godawful in my opinion. It was a huge heaping helping of disappointing, but when you have things as insulting as what the Divas had to put up with between WrestleManias 25 through 27, “just OK” seems exceptional in comparison. Plus, it marks AJ’s final WrestleMania and Paige got to debut on the grand stage in front of her mother Sweet Saraya, so there were two things memorable about it. Maybe Paige and Brie can put on a good match with eight other Divas this year while Nikki cheers on from the back while on the injured list…this is getting disturbing now, isn’t it?

John Cena vs. RusevWM31_Photo_287-926947939
You know, it’s kind of miraculous that this WrestleMania still got cool points despite it being the second WrestleMania in a row where John Cena squashed another former NXT star with potential. Maybe calling it a squash isn’t fair since this match was highly competitive, but the bottom line is that this was the beginning and the end for the era of a Dominant Monster Rusev. The story, however, is as sensible as it is cliche. John Cena would have none of Rusev and Lana’s disrespect of the red, white, and blue, and looked to be Captain America once again to save WWE from their outdated agenda.

I think the reason most people remember this match isn’t even necessarily for the fact that John Cena won. I think everyone’s favorite part of this match was the fact that Rusev rode out in a tank like a boss! Yes, while Lana strutted out with soldiers behind her and the U.S. Title resting beautiful on the shoulder of her crisp white suit, Rusev pulled up in the stadium in a damn tank. I almost expected to see “YVAN EHT NIOJ” flash on the bottom of the screen. Sorry to say that this moment will probably be Rusev’s peak for the foreseeable future. Again, in a decent match that saw the debut of the admirably attempted but hilariously awkward Cena Springboard Stunner, Rusev would lose his title, and eventually temporarily lose his girl on TV. Meanwhile, Cena would just end up missing out on this WrestleMania due to – you guessed it – an injury. Could be worse for Bray though; at least he’s actually gonna be on WrestleMania this year, unlike a certain hillbilly cult leader.

The Rock & Ronda Rousey Confront The Authority 57_WM31_03292015cm_5456-1445501301--ce06fbb5642668dd4c6433eb3921f9d0
I was going to replace Rousey’s name with “a surprise guest” in that subheading, but it’s kind of pointless. You all knew who it was; her trying to snap Stephanie‘s arm in half is the cover image for this review, after all. So when they announced the Authority to the ring and Stephanie immediately started gloating, I thought we were in for the biggest waste of time. I get enough of this on RAW. Then The Rock‘s music hit, and when The Rock’s music hits, you just simply sit down and listen to what he has to say. Admittedly, he didn’t have much to say; like the last time he was on WWE television, he and Triple H basically plugged that match that might not happen. Then Stephanie slaps him and tells him to leave. That’s when Dwayne heads to ringside and pulls out his secret weapon in the form of his Furious 7 co-star and the former most feared woman on the planet.

First of all, points to Ronda for getting Vegeta some WrestleMania screen time. You wanna know what was really over 9000? The wattage of excitement we all felt when she stepped between the ropes. I’m not even a UFC fan and I was hyped for it. It was so surreal in a good way. I was ready for Ronda to put Stephanie in a cross-armbreaker, or at the very least whatever the hell this is. When the action did break out, we didn’t get that. But what we did get was Rousey tossing Triple H like a sack of potatoes and making Stephanie beg for mercy with a tame-looking, but probably painful armlock. One of the best WrestleMania appearances by an outside celebrity in recent memory, and even though we’re not getting Rousey vs. McMahon at WrestleMania this year and Holly Holm put a dent in Rousey’s stock, this moment will rightfully have a place in the lineage of unforgettable WrestleMania moments.

Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt64_WM31_03292015jg_3577-1278086210--c2e906887c4c9fd95ffee69bcaf75962
For the second year in a row, Bray Wyatt faces an already established guy at WrestleMania, and for a second year in a row, he comes up short. So after trying to steal John Cena’s legacy at WrestleMania XXX, Bray Wyatt wanted to kick Undertaker while he was still down after last year’s historic injustice. The segment where he called out Undertaker and got an answer was entertaining in my opinion, but fans complained that the buildup was weak overall because Undertaker didn’t appear in person for any of it. And yeah, I see where they’re coming from.

But the complaints did not let up when the match was over; I’ve heard this match get trashed quite a bit this past year. And once again, I feel like I’m in the minority because I really didn’t think this match was that terrible, a viewpoint I rarely have for Bray Wyatt matches these days. His entrance was cooler than Undertaker’s here because of both the scarecrows and the fact that Undertaker had to emerge in the daytime for this. Also cool was the moment where Bray Wyatt did the crab walk, only for Undertaker to sit up with a look on his face like he caught Wyatt trying to snoop through his fridge at 1AM. Undertaker won, which sadly doesn’t wipe his lose from the previous year out of history, but this match was actually better than I was expecting.

Brock Lesnar vs. Roman ReignsWM31_Photo_404-1646116195
WWE had he fanbase shook in late-2014. Roman Reigns, a guy many saw as a certified badass in The Shield, was being rebranded as a hybrid of Thor‘s power and presence, The Rock’s heritage and sense of humor, and John Cena’s general corniness. The fans didn’t like this. Most of them still don’t. I admit, I was a Roman Reigns critic back then; how could I possibly get into a guy who does storytime like this? Adam Cole would be ashamed. Really, his promos were cringeworthy. However, as far as actual ring skills go, he’s not terrible and continues to get better. But did he have what it takes to beat Captain Streakbreaker? Most fans certainly hoped not, but all we could do was watch.

And we did watch as Brock Lesnar damn near murdered Roman Reigns to the delight of the mostly anti-Roman crowd. The former Shield powerhouse was brutalized with move after move; and Brock was clearly having the time of his life. So much so that he effortlessly got a new catchphrase out of a random ad-lib. Roman got some good shots in too, busting Brock open and almost winning the title. But then….it happened.

Seth Rollins Cashes In73_WM31_Photo_429-762260052--4a30a63380a61e225ee308e6faf265cb
What took so long for a Money in the Bank briefcase holder to do this? The main event of WrestleMania seems like the best time to cash in; even more so than when the champion is at critical damage on a random episode of Smackdown. Doing that certainly didn’t do Jack Swagger many favors. So Mr. Architect Seth Rollins did it right, letting these two behemoths destroy each other then making the run in and snatching that title away with the quickness. He held the title for months until he suffered an unfortunate injury that like so many other wrestlers on  this card will keep him off the show this year. Truth be told, I really miss the guy on television. Hopefully when he’s back, he won’t have missed a beat and he’s still every bit the the clever and entertaining man he was when he shocked the world and won the title.

I think it’s safe to say that this show finally broke WWE’s odd-number streak. After three-straight odd-numbered WrestleManias that were just the worst, we finally got one that I would rank among one of the best. Pretty much the only disappointment was Triple H beating Sting and the fact that the show might have been secretly cursed with so many how many people who competed on it having to miss this year’s show due to injury. But before all of that happened, this was sucha  good show that even the pointless musical performances couldn’t ruin it. WrestleMania 31 was awesome, and I’m glad that I can end this exhausting-yet-reflective lookback of recent WrestleManias on a positive note. Let’s all hope WrestleMania 32, despite it’s critically massacred buildup, surprises us all and ends up being just as good. Don’t let us down, WWE; don’t let us down.


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