Vince McMahon, you have redeemed yourself. The last three months your customers have resented you, called you out of touch, pleaded for your retirement. On the only night where you could have righted all wrongs: you did. “WrestleMania 31” arrived after a string of three pay-per-view events ranging from uninteresting to infuriating. Fans have universally agreed that the buildup has been the weakest in the history of the event, and just too many pieces were mishandled for the card to succeed. I have to admit that half of my excitement for the biggest show of the year was the strong possibility that it would unfold as a revolutionary train-wreck. It could not be with more pleasure that I say I was oh so wrong.
The kick-off show, essentially the first hour of “WrestleMania” and free for everybody, began with a Tag Team Turmoil for the Tag Team Championships. Tyson Kidd and Cesaro continued their unexpected success in the division by retaining against The New Day, Los Matadores and The Usos. The match was exactly what it needed to be: chaos. Action moved at a breakneck pace with every team, along with their managers, getting a moment in the spotlight. The pyramid of doom and Natalya putting El Torito in the Sharpshooter were among the highlights.
The second annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal followed this. It started off as standard fare but remained interesting throughout. Bo Dallas returned for a hilarious non-victory lap after eliminating Zack Ryder, Hideo Itami got some much deserved fan love as the token NXT entrant and the long awaited turn of Damien Mizdow against The Miz resulted in a tremendous pop; Miz has to be credited with all the heat he was able to build. And then everything was ruined by Big Show eliminating Mizdow for the win. The choice seems baffling, unless Big Show plans to retire and this match acted as a thank you for his lengthy career. But there were so many people on the roster that could have benefitted more than him.
The actual event began with the seven man ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship. It was the only non-traditional match of the night, and served in working in all of the jaw dropping and cringe worthy spots alike. After the power bomb through the ladder I hope to see Dean Ambrose on television in the next month. Everybody had a moment to shine: Bad News Barrett with the Bullhammer series, Stardust pulling out his special glittery ladder, and Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler concluding the match with a head-butt war at the peak of a 10-foot ladder. Bryan was the right choice to win the match and will be able to do the most for the floundering secondary title.
Randy Orton and Seth Rollins followed with a fantastic singles match. Rollins has become one of the best singles wrestlers in the company since the breakup of The Shield, and Orton has shown more ring energy after his return than he has since the days of Legacy. Just when we assumed there couldn’t be any more variations on the RKO, he pulled one off of a Curb Stomp reversal that sent Rollins seven feet in the air. It’s a GIF that will be saved on my taskbar for a long time to come.
Sting’s first official match in the WWE, and one that he revealed in interviews was probably going to be his last, played out differently than anyone could have expected. Run-ins from D-Generation X and the nWo were fun moments for the live crowd, but did take away from what should have been Sting’s match. His defeat to Triple H after a sledgehammer shot was the biggest surprise of them all. But both men looked fantastic in the ring, selling each other’s slams so well, both were heavily bruised by the end. It seems baffling for Sting to lose during his only “WrestleMania” appearance, but if his in-ring work is any evidence, he has more than a few matches left in him.
Then came the all-unimportant Divas match: Paige and AJ Lee went over The Bella Twins in tag team action. While it’s sad to see the women’s match not even have a title on the line and last under seven minutes, what we saw was almost as good as the women’s matches on NXT. Brie Bella in particular showed a lot of improvement, and the tandem moves with Nikki showed how small the ability gap between them has become. Paige and AJ are still the best in the business, and had little to prove. There is word that the Diva’s division is about to undergo major changes, and this match was a positive sign of such change.
Rusev vs. John Cena for the United States Championship, promoted equally as Russia vs. ‘Murica may be a feud straight out of the ‘80s, especially with Fox Newsworthy patriotism vigneete that preceded Cena’s entrance. But it gave Rusev the opportunity to show he can go toe-to-toe with the face of the company on WWE’s grandest stage. The match was good, not different enough from their last match to be great, but Rusev entering in a tank with a parade of Russian soldiers more than made up for it. It’s strange seeing Cena, a 15-time WWE champion possess a secondary title, but like Bryan, he will be able make it more than an excuse for a midcard pay-per-view match.
At this point, there was two hours left in the show with only two remaining matches on the card. I was worried that time would be filled with a throwaway promotional segment. What happened instead was a fantastic promo from The Authority with Stephanie McMahon thanking herself for the company’s success. They were interrupted by The Rock, who added to the segment by simply being The Rock, racy humor and all. What made it extraordinary was the unexpected addition of UFC star Ronda Rousey, which the live crowd went insane for and probably made Dana White cry himself to sleep. The segment teased a future mixed tag team match with Rock and Rousey against The Authority. Even if that never comes to fruition, the segment made the most of its individual parts. For the first time in months, it got me excited about The Authority.
The much anticipated return of The Undertaker since the end of his “WrestleMania” streak against Bray Wyatt was put in jeopardy early in the day with the announcement of Wyatt suffering an ankle injury. Thankfully Wyatt came out in full force, and the Deadman appeared to to have found a mystical anti-aging solution. The match was slow paced throughout, but hit all of the necessary spots. But the showdown was less about wrestling and more about presence. The snapshot of Wyatt’s crabwalk being interrupted by Undertaker’s signature sit-up summed the whole thing up. Wyatt, having to promote the match all by himself over the last month loses nothing in defeat and Taker goes to a still incredible 22 – 1 at “WrestleMania.”
The main event, Roman Reigns vs. the defending Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, was easily the most scrutinized in “WrestleMania” history. Reigns was rushed into the role and received very little fan love, helped little by his limited moveset and average mic skills. The crowd let him know of their disdain from the second he entered. He received the most heat of the night, and everybody joined in with Paul Heyman as he introduced, the heel need I remind everyone, Brock Lesnar. The match was booked perfectly. Reigns was demolished by Lesnar for 10 straight minutes. It’s the punishment fans eagerly waited for Reigns to receive, and Lesnar had the moment of the night with shouting, “Suplex City B—–.” Seth Rollins, another heel in favor with the crowd cashed his in Money In The Bank contract at the perfect moment. Rollins more than deserves the belt, and Lesnar loses nothing as he wasn’t even pinned. The only offense Reigns earned were a few Superman Punches and two Spears, but by taking the abuse he gained more in defeat than he did by winning the Royal Rumble.
“WrestleMania 31” was everything that WWE has failed to be since “Survivor Series.” Consistent, exciting and every match on the card earned its place. The horrendous build up to the event didn’t matter in the slightest. I would struggle to narrow down the night’s most exhilarating and mark-out worthy moments to a Top 10. This was the show that the WWE needed to jumpstart itself into a new era and begin delivering a product that meets the desires of the vocal fan base. A lot of new feuds will be picking up before “Extreme Rules” and I can imagine major changes coming to television programming. “WrestleMania 31” came at a point where even the most loyal of wrestling fans were questioning the future of the industry’s flagship company. Those questions no longer remain.