Wrestlemania XXXI was the least anticipated supercard wrestling event in recent memory. People paid to report on professional wrestling sounded nearly defeated talking about the show. Fans were lackadaisical at best. After the go home show on last week's Raw, I told myself it was time to take a hiatus from something I've followed along with for 16 years... after watching the Grand Daddy of 'Em All of course. But over the week, my excitement started to build.
Brock Lesnar, the reigning WWE world heavyweight champion, former UFC fighter and all around freak athlete, announced he re-signed with WWE after rumored intense contract negotions. Saturday night's Hall of Fame saw a share of laughs and tears between the inductions of the surprisingly entertaining Bushwackers, Macho Man Randy Savage and Connor "The Crusher" Michalek, an eight year old fan who passed away after fighting pediatric brain cancer. That Hall of Fame show reminded me that wrestling is important, damn it, and even though it's not good a lot of the time, even flat out bad on occasion, when it is good it is great. So I went into Sunday's show excited.
And they didn't disappoint.
An Intercontinental Championship ladder match ended with its best participant Daniel Bryan winning the championship and, with luck, beginning a march to restore prestige to one of the best belts in professional wrestling.
A clash between two athletes, Seth Rollins, WWE's go-to bad guy for the last year, the other now nearly beloved by most and known as Da Gawd ended with a move that made my jaw drop.
A match that seemed bizarre in its build as a "dream match" between Triple H and 56 year old Sting proved that Sting could still go when it mattered. WWE pulled out everything possible from its bag of tricks with interference from HHH's D-Generation X cohorts and Hall of Famers Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to help the match. The one head scratcher was the big bad Triple H taking the win in Sting's first WWE match in his 30 year career. Sting had been the lone hold out of heroes from one of professional wrestling's boom eras. It only proved that when you make a deal with a devil, no matter how good, the devil still wins.
The women's tag match which showcased a division that has suffered greatly on the main WWE shows while consistently being a highlight in the developmental program showed promise for the year to come.
The US Championship match between WWE institution John Cena and Rusev, the Russian Federation's hero, won me over as soon as Rusev entered on a tank while a Russian army marched and the Russian national anthem blared throughout Levi Stadium. Cena winning only builds hope that WWE will work to build the reputation of a championship that's been little more than a joke for years.
Stephanie McMahon proved that she's one of the best performers in today's sideshow by talking shit to The Rock and UFC champion Ronda Rousey only to flee. If this isn't followed up on, WWE is losing guaranteed money.
The showdown between the WWE's "faces of fear" in Max Cady - stumbles through Carcosa cult leader Bray Wyatt and universally known dead man The Undertaker may have been the low point of the show. But considering how the previous Wrestlemania saw the Undertaker both defeated in ring and seemingly knocked out of the game, the 50 year old showed there was still a bit of life in him.
But all of the defeated outlook on the event rested on the seemingly inevitable coronation of Roman Reigns in the main event. Reigns had been rejected during the three month build. While some felt he didn't deserve it, I was more angry with those behind the curtain who seemed bullheaded enough to shove a hero down the crowd's throat that they had vocally and repeatedly let known they didn't want. Would a show that had been thus far enjoyable turn sour with the expected groan of the night?
The moment he started his entrance through the crowd, Reigns was rejected. The champion Brock Lesnar entered to cheers which seemed nearly impossible the year before after defeating the previously mentioned Undertaker. He was a monster and a bully who was in the game for the money. Yet here he was making a hero's entrance. He quickly went to work destroying the challenger with the crowd calling out the number of suplexes he threw. Here was a legitimate athlete in a fictional world; an asskicker who wasn't above taking a lick while dishing them out. Once Reigns made a couple desperate maneuvers and busted open the beast, my stomach started to sink. Hitting his trademark moves only made the feeling worse. But Lesnar took the beating and kicked out.
Then arguably the best possible outcome was set in motion. WWE's go-to heel Seth Rollins came out with his guaranteed championship match contract and cashed it in. He pinned Reigns in the middle of the ring. The man who had suffered loss earlier in the night stood tall and laughed as the event went off the air.
WWE laid open the next year with Lesnar looking to gain back the championship he never lost, Reigns hunting his former friend for robbing him of the title, Randy Orton looking to continue his feud with Rollins and Daniel Bryan and John Cena rebuilding the prestige of championships that had seemed lost.
Just when I think I'm out...they pull me back in.