The Road to WrestleMania is underway, and whether you’re a casual fan or a devoted hardcore follower, chances are you’re prepared for WWE’s hugest extravaganza. I wanted to review this show after it took place last year, but I’m glad I waited a year just to see what the general consensus on it was. Simply put, it was not pretty. And I thought WrestleMania XXVII got a bad rap. People thrashed this show into the ground; it’s got to be one of the most critically-panned WrestleMania’s in recent canon. It won the Gooker Award over at WrestleCrap. Brian Zane of Wrestling With Wregret named it WWE’s worst moment of 2016. I think it’s safe to say that the frustration some people felt with this show is on par with the disdain I have for 25, XXVII, and 29. I do understand what made people loathe this show so much and I’ll get those criticisms soon. But does that mean it was all bad? Was there some positives to be had in this seven (yes, SEVEN) hour show? Well, I’ve waited about a year to finally let it all marinate and form my concrete opinion on the show for this edition of a Retro Review. (Yes, I know one year doesn’t qualify as “retro”, but the title isn’t meant to be super literal here.) And given how much WWE jammed into this show, I say let’s dive right in. Do I think this show is worth all the vitriol? Let’s find out.
I don’t know if you know this about Vince McMahon, but he has a strange bias and fascination with more muscled-up performers. The struggle is real for smaller guys because Vince has never really been the biggest fan of them. Even with the current run of the Cruiserweight Division, you know Vince is still thinking “Why am I letting these second-rate acrobats take time from my ripped-up adonises?” [The] Ryback seemed to strangely have that same discrimination, making it clear that he felt he was superior to U.S. Champion Kalisto was simply because Kalisto is small. Turn out that just because Kalisto is at eye-level with Maya Hart doesn’t mean he’s to be taken lightly because he defeated Ryback in the first match of the night. I can’t say I was all the hyped for this match, but it wasn’t all that terrible though. Not really something I’d revisit, however. And I’m glad Kalisto won; not just because Ryback was midway through setting his bridge with WWE on fire at this point, but also because for a hot minute there, Kalisto looked to be the next big thing. If only he’d kept his mouth shut.
For all the criticism this show has recieved, one thing you can’t slag this show for is its treatment of the women. And that is refreshing, because women do not have a consistently proud history at WrestleMania. I’m gonna get into some of their worst offenses a little later, but trust me when I say that WWE’s treatment of women on the biggest show of the year has had just as many (if not more) misses than hits. This match could have easily been one of them. A 10-Woman Tag Team Match? Didn’t work out so well when they did it at WrestleMania XXVI. Oh, and it’s affiliated with Total Divas? Oh, that repelled even more hardcore fans away from it. Oh, and Eva Marie is in it? Oh, this match is totally gonna suck. But then it didn’t. In a match that saw Lana wrestle for the first (and so far on TV, only) time in a team effort with Naomi, Emma, Tamina, and Summer Rae against Paige, Natalya, Alicia Fox, Eva Marie, and the about-to-retire Brie Bella, we were actually treated to a match that got a decent amount of time, had some pretty good in-ring action, and probably should’ve been on the main show. If I had to rank every match on this night, this was probably my third favorite of the night and the women embracing Brie as she was set to ride off into Maternity Land was super touching.
How much of a letdown was the Dudley Boys return? The 2015-2016 run of wrestling’s most decorated tag team, though it started out as one of the coolest moments of 2015, likely won’t go down as one of the great wrestling comebacks. They didn’t win any gold in that time and were the textbook example of a credible team using their star power to put others over by losing to them. Plus, did we really need ANOTHER ECW reunion? Didn’t those jump the shark after TNA tried one? Losing to The Usos was absolutely a no-brainer seeing as they were WWE’s most spotlighted tag team for some time. Despite this, their streak of NEVER (and I mean NEVER) landing on the main WrestleMania card continues, as they took on the Dudley Boys in probably the weakest match on the pre-show, an absolutely unspectacular affair that was only even the least bit memorable because they Dudleys were put through tables post-match. Of all the matches the entire evening, this is probably the one where you didn’t miss anything if you didn’t watch it.
So, funny story; during the Super Bowl, me and one of my Twitter mutuals, @CescaCena, were joking about which music artists we’d likely never see appear on the WrestleMania stage. One of the names we mentioned was Fifth Harmony. It just seemed unlikely the then-fivesome would ever pop up on a pro wrestling broadcast for any reason. So imagine my surprise when I saw THIS tweet. Yup, if was confirmed that Camila, Lauren, Ally, Dinah, and Normani would in fact be skipping the iHeartRadio Awards to head to Dallas and perform “America The Beautiful” on the WrestleMania stage. What can I say? I can’t predict the future. Some non-Harmonizers might not believe it since they’re a manufactured pop group from a reality show, but the 5H girls can really sing, and I really did enjoy their performance here because their harmonizing was pretty solid. For the most part, anyway. Until the end when they all started doing their own things, but it was pretty decent overall. It wasn’t perfect and it’s not as great as their performance from Billboard’s Women in Music show last year, which may be their best harmonizing performance to date, but still passable. I don’t know if we’ll see them back, given how much Lauren absolutely despises Vinnie Mac’s billionaire bud (justifiably, might I add), but I’d love if they did it again, even if they are currently Cabello-less.
You can basically skip to the next match, because I’m about to tell you something you probably already know: the Ladder Match was great. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a bad WrestleMania Ladder Match. You have to either be extremely committed to failure or creatively bankrupt to mess up a WrestleMania Ladder Match. Even the ones I didn’t enjoy THAT much were still pretty good for what they were. From Michaels/Ramon all the way down to this one, WrestleMania Ladder Matches are always highlights on the show. Unfortunately, while this match was great, the build-up certainly wasn’t. Kevin Owens had Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, and The Miz chasing after him and his title, but instead of having just having those four, WWE decided to add in Stardust, Zack Ryder, and most baffling of all, Señor Fallido Himself Sin Cara to the mix. And all on sure short notice too. Outside of the animosity between Zayn and Owens, there wasn’t much to suck people into the match aside from the selling point of ladders. Luckily, the action in the match totally made up for it. The Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn war saw them almost kill each other multiple times with ladders, and Kevin Owens even got a funny ad-lib in with “Go back to NXT!” Owens also disrespected Stardust’s Dusty Rhodes Memorial Polka-Dot Ladder before Stardust (in his final WrestleMania before going to take the Indys by storm) was eventually taken out by Sin Cara the same way Jeff Hardy took out Edge at WrestleMania 23. This opened the opportunity for The Miz to snatch the title, but his smugness was his downfall and led to Zack Ryder getting a totally out-of-nowhere win. I’m not a Zack Ryder fan; I think April 1, 2012 should have remained his expiration date. But if you are a fan of his, it must’ve been nice to see him finally get that WrestleMania moment…24 hours before Maryse‘s pimp hand and The Miz‘s opportunism took it away from him.
In 2009, AJ Styles defeated The Icon Sting for the TNA World Championship at Bound for Glory, the biggest event on the Impact Wrestling calendar. In 2016, they found themselves sitting in the same boat in a completely different company. That boat is the S.S. We’re World-Class Athletes, But WWE Made Us Lose Out WrestleMania Debut. Styles’ Royal Rumble debut was one of the greatest moments of the year and his following series of matches with Chris Jericho were amazing. So amazing that Jericho grew to resent them and AJ, leading to the premature breakup of Y2AJ and the seeds for which this match blossomed. And while it wasn’t a Match of the Year candidate, it was actually a pretty fine match WrestleMania debut for the young 39-year old from Gainesville, Georgia. The man who wowed fans for years in the Impact Zone as part of both the X-Division and heavywieght division whipped out all kinds of cool moves, like a wicked looking arm drag, a sequene of rope hops that lead to a dropkick sending Jericho to the floor, a top-rope gourdbuster, and obviously the Styles Clash, which landed the biggest pop AJ got in the match. And that’s a big deal since this crowd didn’t seem that into Styles at first, mainly getting around to making noise for him later on. In fact, Jericho got quite a few cheers himself. In the end, Y2J would pin the Phenomenal One for reasons unknown, and AJ would go on to be a flash-in-the-pan and return to Japan months later to have showcases with Kenny Omega. OK, obviously, the didn’t happen. He lost this match, but it’s amazing what an eventual World Title win can redeem.
The League of Nations vs. The New Day
So the League of Nations was the new Corre, but way more talented. And with a more over version of Wade Barrett. Their name comes from the fact that they all rep a different nation outside of the United States. Insert your own Trump Administration reference here . Anyway, it turns out that together, they’re about as effective as the putties from Power Rangers. Not that they were setting the world on fire apart either, but together, the only spark being lit was to torch their momentum down to a crisp. The opposite was the case for the New Day; together, Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods were one of the most over acts on the roster. They may be getting stale now, but for a while, these now-glorified food salesmen (imagine telling the late-00s Jafaican version of Kofi that’ll be his role in about a decade) were undeniably beloved, and at this WrestleMania, they were settled with facing The League of Nations in (non-title) action.
So far, I’ve given this show positives for a great Ladder Match, the debut of a lowkey G.O.A.T., and some fine celebrity involvement. Well, time for some more praise on the spectacle front because this show was filled with spectacular entrances. The New Day’s entrance was genius; the three emerged from a giant box of Booty-Os cereal dressed like Dragon Ball Z characters. How could you not applaud that? It’s stuff like that is why I live for the spectacle aspect of WrestleMania. Sadly, the action between the bells was the least interesting thing about this. Just your typical multi-man RAW tag team match, with a single highlight (Big E’s spear through the ropes, taking out Barrett, Rusev, & Sheamus) and for some reason, The League of Nations won. But just as Rusev, Barrett, Del Rio, and Sheamus think they’re gonna run their mouths, out comes three mega-Hall of Famers to put them in check. Sure, most people consider anytime legends get one up on younger talent a negative, but seeing Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, and Mick Foley put a whoppin’ on a stable as lame (not the members, just the group in general) as The League of Nations actually got me hyped. Us getting to see Steve Austin dance (before stunning Xavier Woods) was even more fun to see. And it’s a good thing The League broke up shortly after this and all of them went on to bigger and better things…..well, two of them did. The other two just left. Can’t win ’em all.
If I can be honest, signs were there that this match might not live up to the hype. Perhaps the most obvious sign was the fact that WrestleMania is just not a very good event for either Brock Lesnar or Dean Ambrose. Ambrose has been in four WrestleMania’s to date, and though he won his first two with The Shield, the only two he’s done as a solo wrestler haven’t ended very well for him. And Brock Lesnar just has a perfect track record of lackluster material in his WrestleMania folder. His match against Kurt Angle at XIX was great, but mostly overshadowed by his brain taking a whopping off the Shooting Star Press. From then on, just disappointment all around: the XX match was abysmal, the 29 match didn’t excite very much, the XXX match was boring AND heartbreaking, and the 31 match was saved by a wild Seth Rollins appearing.
However, I still had hope this match would be good, because the concept was not bad. A crazy little guy who doesn’t know when to quit stepping up to the biggest, meanest dog in the yard? Not a bad concept, they just needed to execute it right. And the buildup…tried. It looked like Scrappy Doo trying to pick fights with The Incredible Hulk, showing the amount of bravery (and lack of mental stability) Ambrose possesses. Terry Funk and Mick Foley gave Ambrose weapons to use against the Beast, even though we already knew he wasn’t gonna use that chainsaw. All of this combined could have allowed Ambrose to tap back into Jon Moxley and put his CZW experience to the test on the grand stage. So honestly, this match did have potential.
It did not live up to it. While this isn’t my least favorite match on the show, it was the biggest letdown. The teased weapons? A ploy. Brock Lesnar? Unmotivated. Dean Ambrose? Barely given a chance to look like a threat. There was just so much at play that ruined this match, that I believe when my Network stream cut out during the live airing of this match, I should’ve seen it as a warning. There were a few spots that weren’t that bad; Ambrose retained his charm and the spots where he tried to use the kendo stick, only for bully-mode Lesnar to step on it and end up being whacked in the Jimmy John’s by Dean Ambrose were good spots. However, they just could not cancel out how disappointingly tame it was for a hardcore match or the fact that the only move Lesnar seems to know how to do now outside of the F-5 are German Suplexes. Seriously, 87 German Suplexes does not a good match make.
I can’t provide many comments on Stan Hansen as he was before my time and I’ve never been exposed to his work. Numerous people found it suspect they got New Day – a stable of three black men – to induct the Freebirds – a team featuring the very problematic Michael Hayes and who has famously used the Confederate Flag before – into the Hall, but the reason that they influenced the Freebird rule isn’t a bad one. The race thing is still a mighty big elephant in the room though. Big Boss Man may have had crap angle after crap angle, but who am I to argue with his placement in the Hall, especially given his family’s awesome speech the night before. The Godfather also gave a funny speech that made him seem like an absolutely fun guy. Joan Lunden…was there, as WWE continues to see the Warrior Award differently from how Ultimate Warrior did. But my three favorite inductees: Jacqueline, Snoop Dogg, and Sting. Jackie is one of those women from the Trish/Lita Era who often get overlooked for not being Trish or Lita, but was one tough cookie. Even though Snoop’s only been on WWE TV a handful of times (more than fellow Celebrity Wing HOFers Drew Carrey and William Perry combined), I can overlook that fact simply because of how awesome and respectful his speech was. And Sting…..his career (you can include TNA if you want) speaks for itself. It was sad to hear he was retiring, but it felt so good to see him enter the Hall of Fame.
How about a round of applause? A standing ovation? They put on quite a show and it really had us going. This Rihanna reference is completely warranted. Last year, I made a list of the best women’s matches in WrestleMania history. Trust me, the bottom of the barrel now has heaps of scrapings on it because as mentioned earlier, WrestleMania has not been too kind to the women over the years. This is the same show that saw a man, a non-playable character, and a 4’10” reality TV star win the only women’s match on the card three years straight. Never forget that the champion of the Division didn’t even get to wrestle on WrestleMania’s Crap (27) and Equally-Crap (29). Safe to say that a change was needed. Enter Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch, three women who (along with Bayley) were treated like certified stars in NXT, given well-done angles in which to put on well-performed matches with. Their time in NXT changed the game, so even though most people weren’t too keen on the build-up, we would expect nothing short of a great match from the three in Dallas that night.
And we got not only a great match, but the best match of the entire night, and easily the best women’s match in WrestleMania history. There was so much to love about this match. The video package for the match contained the song “Confident” by one of my favorite singers, Demi Lovato, and it was a perfect track to establish the shifting attitude of the women’s division. Maybe Demi herself will get in on the action one day with those moves she’s learning. Speaking of music, Hall of Famer Snoop Dogg got in on the show and rapped his cousin Sasha Banks, decked out in gear paying tribute to her idol Eddie Guerrero, down to the ring and making for one iconic entrance. This match was also the one that would set the tone for the no-longer-Divas Division going forward as it was contested for the new Women’s Championship that Lita introduced on the kickoff. And of course the action itself was nothing short of amazing. I’d say my only nitpick was Charlotte winning, because I really had my heart set in Becky finally winning a title and a Sasha win would have sent many home happy. But seeing how far Charlotte has come since this, it was definitely not a terrible call. Everything about this was the highlight of the show. The women officially won the night. But one McMahon would challenge that victory.
I feel like I’m gonna be more lenient on this match than most people are. And yes, it’s kind of because I’m a huge fan of both men in it. Undertaker is a legend, the longest tenured guys on the current roster and likely the most respected. Shane McMahon himself has also notched so much respect that when he made his surprise return in early 2016, he received the pop of the lifetime. The Cool McMahon was back, and was free to stay as long as he could face and conquer Vince’s challenge for him.
That challenge is the reason I often see people criticizing this match and angle. Fans – especially on the internet – had a hard time buying into Undertaker being willing to do Vince’s dirty work and that damn lockbox – no, not this kind – was also on everyone’s minds. Shane’s punches were also criticized, but that’s understandable. I’m pretty sure Sumiko here packs a harder punch than he does. And while I can admit all of those were legit, justifiable gripes, I was still hyped as hell for this epic confrontation. Did it deliver?
Yes and no. Again, I’m likely more lenient on this match than many, but once again, most of the complaints do hold weight. Shane is 44, ring-rusted, and was more of a special attraction wrestler than a legit grappler. Even in Undertaker’s aged state, people had a hard time getting engaged in the first half of the match, the portion inside the ring, which had some OK spots, but was overall very slow. Then they went outside the cell and things went nuts. I actually enjoyed the brawling parts, and based on her SUPER loud cheering for Shane, so was Maria Menounos. The astonishing dive off the cell from Shane was THE moment that justified the whole match. He missed, went though the table, and was pinned by the former Booger Red, but that dive is now probably a permanent part of WrestleMania highlight packages. So the match overall was kind of average, and was ultimately meaningless since Shane still got to run RAW despite losing the match anyway, but it’s something I’m not forgetting and I know y’all won’t either.
After the Great Shane O’Mac Dallas Dive of 2016, I doubt anyone could find it in themselves to be that invested in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. The people who benefited the most from this was the women because it meant WWE finally respected them enough to not award them the PPV death slot like they did two WrestleMania’s and numerous PPVs prior. Not helping the case for this match is the fact that the previous year, this match was relegated to the pre-show. At this point, we were so late in the show, I thought they cancelled it at the last minute. Alas, it went on as announced, and with so few participants confirmed beforehand, we literally had no idea what to expect.
And what we got was…..not great. However, for the most nothing match on the entire main show, the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal actually has a few talking points. For example, they bought back a few past stars, like Tatanka and Diamond Dallas Page. Sadly for the former, he didn’t get his own entrance and was just treated like a regular person aside from one or two commentary mentions. One person who did get their own entrance was surprise celebrity entrant Shaquille O’Neal, who hit the ring to the sound of “Panda” by Desiigner, a couple of weeks before the song topped the Billboard Hot 100, to confront The Big Show. The stare down didn’t elicit that much of a crowd response and the audience pretty much tapped out after the giants eliminated the still-popular-at-the-time Damien Sandow. The match went downhill from there, being not particularly noteworthy until NXT callup Baron Corbin was the last man standing.
The Rock’s Cameo + Match Against Erick Rowan
What can he say except “you’re welcome”? Honestly, The Rock doesn’t need to keep showing up in WWE, being the biggest box office attraction in the world and all, but I love that he chooses to do so anyway. This time, he came armed with a flamethrower (which was badass and I will hear no arguments to the contrary), ready to announce the record-breaking attendance for the evening. Little did Rocky know, he’d be interrupted by Bray Wyatt and some of his family. And let’s be honest: this was not a good time to be The Wyatt Family; they went into WrestleMania looking so weak that if they ended up in an impromptu tag team match with Fifth Harmony, my money would be on the visiting pop singers with no wrestling training to win, and not just because celebrities never lose on WrestleMania. At this point, Bray was taking more L’s than Meek Mill and couldn’t get a win if he purchased one. And while his luck has changed going into WrestleMania 33, the trend continued for 32. He and The Rock exchanged banter, which was entertaining enough, before The Rock, who was secretly in his ring gear the whole time, ended up winning an impromptu six-second squash match against the weakest Wyatt, Erick Rowan. Could’ve been worse; Big Boss Man somehow lost to The Rock in less time. Post-match, The Wyatts went on the attack, but then out came Rocky’s former foe John Cena, unscheduled for a match due to injury, but healthy enough for a cameo. The two took out The Wyatts together before celebrating with the Dallas crowd and walking off as best buds. It was nice that the Cena/Rock angle came full circle and that the Wyatts actually got on the show. But yeah, the Wyatts walked in losers and left the same way, hence why this segment, while entertaining, understandably got criticism.
And now let’s end this review with hands down my least favorite moment of the whole show: the main event. Not exactly a good sign when the thing that’s meant to be the crown jewel of the show ends up sucking this hard. And no, it’s not all Roman Reigns‘ fault. I cannot stress this enough that Roman Reigns is actually a good wrestler, whether fans want to admit it or not. But over the years, the reputation of Roman Reigns has become so sour that not even Shield-Nostalgia baiting can bring fans around to him. And most of the blame is definitely on WWE’s shoulders for trying to push him too fast in a role that just doesn’t fit him that well. The fact that Triple H, as a villain, actually got cheered for busting up Roman was not a good omen. I’m sure most of it is just bandwagon hate, but at the end of the day, it’s still hate and it’s not likely to let up anytime soon.
The hate for Roman was so strong that fans probably wouldn’t have minded if this was one time Triple H pulled out his shovel that he’s ruined many a career with and dug a grave for Samoan Thor to wallow in. That did not happen, obviously. As everyone expected, Roman Wins, LOL. Again, I have to give credit to the spectacle aspect of this match; like Demi Lovato‘s “Confident” did for the women’s video package, “Hail to the King” from Avenged Sevenfold worked wonders for the video package to this match. And the entrances to this match were awesome. Stephanie‘s role in Hunter’s entrance is the coolest on-air thing she’s done in years and Roman punching the stage with a graphic of rocks crumbling and setting off fireworks was a brilliant stroke of creativity. Too bad the same can’t be said for the boring match they had. What is it with Triple H and overly-long, underwhelming WrestleMania main events (XX and 22 notwithstanding)? Maybe he’s to blame here, not Roman. Aside from the spear through the barricade and Stephanie getting speared, this match did nothing for me and kind of ended WrestleMania on a bum note.
All in all, WrestleMania 32 to me is the literal definition of “Well, that could’ve been better”. As mentioned earlier, the bad far outweigh the good for most people. And I totally understand. This show did hit the right notes for me personally on some levels; the setting was breathtaking, with the huge arena and minimal, yet eye-popping stage design coming off as an amazing view. The entrances from New Day, The Rock, Sasha Banks, Triple H, and even Roman Reigns were memorably spectacular. I also like the celebrity involvement; them getting celebrities I actually care about like Snoop Dogg, Fifth Harmony, and Shaq to participate instead of headaches like Flo Rida earns it a few cool points from me personally. Actually, speaking of Flo Rida, even “My House” wasn’t that bad a theme song choice; it’s actually one of the notoriously bad pop-rapper’s more tolerable singles.
While I personally appreciate all of that, however, the thing that drags down WrestleMania 32 is that it’s WRESTLEMania, and from a wrestling standpoint, a lot of stuff just fell flat. Despite the groundbreaking efforts put forth by the women in their two matches, the valiant efforts of the Ladder Match participants, the bravery of Shane O’Mac, and even the work of Chris Jericho and AJ Styles in their battle, whatever praise I can give to those matches gets shot right in the foot by a lazy Brock Lesnar ruining the street fight, a slow pace damaging the Shane/Undertaker encounter, New Day and the League of Nations’ match seeming totally out of place, the other two pre-show matches being filler basically, and the Battle Royal amounting to a whole lot of nothing outside of Shaq’s cameo, though I give them props for giving that win to a young star who could use the rub. Also, SEVEN. HOURS. That’s an exhaustingly LONG time to demand people’s attention, Vince! Overall, I don’t hate WrestleMania 32, certainly not more than I hate 27 and 29. I’d probably just place this oversized sports-entertainment program more in the “average” realm, and hopefully 33 is able to top it in a couple of weeks.
(All Photos Courtesy of WWE.com)