"THE BOYHOOD DREAM HAS COME TRUE..." -Vince McMahon
That's right, fake fighting fanatics. For the first time in the nearly twenty years I've been a wrestling fan, I FINALLY got to experience WRESTLEMANIA live and in person! This is quite literally an actual line item on my Bucket List. I've dreamed of this chance for years. WrestleMania came to my hometown (and home of Vundablog headquarters) of Miami, FL in 2012 but it had been quite some time since I had kept up with the current state of WWE and I didn't think I would enjoy it enough to use a birthday and/or Christmas present on it.
Boy was I wrong.
Us Vundabloggers watched WrestleMania XXVIII on pay-per-view and the whole time I couldn't help thinking how much I wish I had asked for that ticket for Christmas or my birthday. The HHH/Undertaker Hell In a Cell match was EPIC. C.M. Punk v. Chris Jericho was sick. Even The Rock v. John Cena was fun for what it was, especially since it was in The Rock's hometown. I thought I had missed my chance. Then I moved to the Bay Area last August. Come to find out that WrestleMania XXXI would be at Levi's Stadium--home of the San Francisco 49ers. I wouldn't let the same thing happen again. I asked for a ticket for Christmas.
Since I got that ticket, the build to this WrestleMania has been pretty head-scratching. It really started with Roman Reigns winning the Royal Rumble. We all thought he wasn't ready, and there's certainly truth to that. Then there was the nonsensical feud between Randy Orton and Seth Rollins which featured Randy Orton rejoining The Authority for no apparent reason, only to turn on Rollins. Then there was the still more ridiculous Intercontinental Championship feud that centered around people trying to steal the belt from one another. Nothing really made sense and none of it seemed to matter. I became convinced that my childhood dream was becoming a nightmare and that I was doomed to experience one of the worst WrestleManias ever.
Boy was I wrong.
I arrived at Levi's Stadium BEFORE the 3:30 start time only to find that the opening match for the Tag Team Championships was half over. It was a fun match with some fun spots but I could barely get into it because by the time I knew what was going on, it was almost over.
2nd Annual Andre the Giant Battle Royale
BATTLE ROYALE! This was a whole lot of fun. I was hoping I would get to see more of Hideo Itami than I did but it was definitely really cool to see him face down Big Show in the middle of the ring. It was a nice nod to all the fans that came from other countries to not only have Hideo Itami win the tournament and get a spot at WrestleMania but to give him a featured spot in the match. But that obviously wasn't the highlight.
Vundablog sez: ⋆⋆⋆
Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match
Holy balls, you guys. This was fucking WILD. A great ladder match from start to finish, with guys just slamming full tilt into one another from the beginning, getting in some sweet spots, and then just straight up murdering one another at the end. I was roughly 95% sure that Dean Ambrose at least had a concussion from being powerbombed through a ladder to the floor from the ring. Also, as badly as I wanted Daniel Bryan to win, I marked out pretty damn hard when Bad News Barrett went around Bullhammering the absolute piss out of everyone. That first Bullhammer that Dolph Ziggler ate falling off the ladder was brutal. And, of course, the finish was beautiful, with Bryan and Ziggler headbutting the snot out of each other until Ziggler fell off and Bryan grabbed the title for the win! YES! YES! YES!
Vundablog sez: ⋆⋆⋆⋆
Randy Orton v. Seth Rollins
Another match with a pretty nonsensical build that turned out to be an excellent match. The story of the match was great, playing on the fact that Orton and Rollins are so much alike that half of the match is these beautiful sequences of each guy countering the other three, four, even five times before one of them finally hits a move. It was GLORIOUS. The sequence where Rollins bounces off the ropes and Orton goes through the motion of the powerslam only to have Rollins hold onto the ropes, causing Orton to miss and be on all fours for a beat, prompting Rollins to go for a curb stomp, get caught in mid-air by Orton and powerslammed was...just...magical.
WHAT EVEN WAS THAT?! I have never seen anything like that. It doesn't really come across on TV because Levi's stadium is huge and open air but the crowd had pretty much the same reaction to this that the Superdome crowd did to Cesaro lifting Big Show at WrestleMania XXX and tossing him over the top rope like a rag doll--76,976 people going "OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!" in unison. It was amazing to be part of. One of those moments in time you just remember forever and know you'll never forget what it felt like. Which is why we watch any of this garbage in the first place, right?
Anyway. HO-LY-SHIT! HO-LY-SHIT! Etc.
Vundablog sez: ⋆⋆⋆⋆1/2 (only because the story leading up to it was so dumb, otherwise it would be 4 3/4 stars,)
Sting v. Triple H
I was pretty cynical about this whole angle. It's cool and fun that Sting is in WWE, I guess. The novelty of it and the nostalgia aspect of having Sting around is enough reason to have him around but all anyone has wanted to see for, like, fifteen years is Sting v. Undertaker and now we're getting this weirdly twisted metanarrative of the Monday Night Wars as a showdown between its two ostensibly quintessential stars. It was a pretty dumb angle but now that I understand why they did it, I am SO GLAD they did.
So first and foremost, the entrances. I have to confess, I actually didn't get to see Triple H's Terminator entrance. For some reason, I assumed that since Sting got a big entrance, HHH wouldn't do one. Well, obviously that was a mistake. Anyway. Moving on.
The match starts and Sting looks pretty good. He's moving better than he has in a while, throwing dropkicks and shit. It's a very decent match between two guys who are over the hill if there ever was one. Sting slaps on the Scorpion Death Lock and you think "OK, we're starting to get into the part of the match where stuff is gonna start happening." Yes. Yes we are.
BREAK IT DOWN!
It's really sad how much the announcers talked over some of the biggest pops all evening. The crowd goes nuts for D-Generation X interfering in this match but you can't really tell. Of course, Sting is Sting, the ultimate wrestling superhero, so he dispatches all four of them and does a fairly impressive dive onto the lot of them. Eventually, however, they subdue him and Triple H is about to sledgehammer him when THE GODDAMN NEW WORLD ORDER APPEARS.
Here's the thing about wrestling: it can be so good when you really take the time and the care to take it seriously and put some real effort into it...and...it can also be so good when you say "FUCK IT, HERE'S A BUNCH OF OUTRAGEOUSLY DUMB STUFF THAT EVERYONE LOVES!" This was SO good. I expected nothing out of this match and got EVERYTHING that POSSIBLY could have been included. I got to watch the NWO brawl with DX fifteen years too late and it was AMAZING.
Vundablog sez: ⋆⋆⋆⋆1/2 (yes, really)
Awful Music and "Giving Divas a Chance"
I went to the bathroom, got some sunscreen, and got a beer during the terrible musical performance and the "Divas match." I wish I could have at least caught the match because women's wrestling deserves support but this match was totally meaningless. It wasn't even for the Divas title, it was just a contrived tag team match with poorly defined characters who have poorly defined motivations. That's not what #GiveDivasAChance means, Vince. You're doing it wrong. If you want to #GiveDivasAChance, give us meaningful stories and nuanced characters with compelling motivations and women who can wrestle their asses off and are doing so for compelling reasons. You know. Like NXT. But I digress. ShockTop is yummy and GOD BLESS Levi's Stadium for having free sunscreen at their first aid station. Truly a lifesaver.
United States Championship Match -- Rusev (c) v. John Cena
Speaking of things that are so silly that they circle back to being wonderful, THIS FEUD. This angle is straight out of 1970s/1980s wrestling, which sounds horrible except for the fact that Rusev is secretly one of the top five or ten performers on the main roster right now. So while you're mumbling "what year is it again?" to yourself, Rusev is selling on offense and telling America that if they had a soul, God would look down and spit on it. YES. THIS.
The highlight of this match was--OBVIOUSLY--the entrances. If you didn't see this shit, hold on to your butts because Rusev enters the stadium IN A MOTHERFUCKING TANK. HE HAS A RUSSIAN HONOR GUARD CARRYING THE FLAG. GUYS.
That would have been enough but then OH MY GOD JOHN CENA'S AMERICA VIDEO PACKAGE, YOU GUYS. I don't think it would have been possible for me to laugh any harder at this. I'm pretty sure there were people around me who wanted to punch me in the face at least a little bit but COME ON. This is WRESTLING. And yet, here's John Cena with this video package featuring fucking Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush talking about how America is the only place where people have freedom and honor and integrity and ingenuity and values. I mean, y'know, pretty much. I don't think I could have loved the pre-match fanfare of this any more than I did. A+
The match itself was good. A lot of good stuff going on here. The characters are clearly defined and their story is simple and logical. Rusev is so good at doing the little things that make this look like a real fight rather than a choreographed dance and for all the hate John Cena gets (mostly due to how he's booked), he knows what goes into a good wrestling match, even if he can't really do a lot of it. He tries hard and that's usually good enough. That's all I expected out of this match and I got it. Having one of your best heel performers lose by distraction at WrestleMania seems like a poor choice but it also gave Rusev a reason to split with Lana so I'm OK with it.
Vundablog sez: ⋆⋆⋆3/4 (probably only would have been 3 without those entrances)
The Rock confronts Triple H and Stephanie McMahon
First of all, it was super rad that Triple H got HUGE NXT chants before this segment started. Those chants continued on into the post-WrestleMania Raw so hopefully the top brass at WWE is paying attention. Steph was in rare form in this segment but man, oh, maaan did the crowd fucking light up when The Rock's music hit. Again, you can't really hear how gargantuan this pop was on TV but the place went positively apeshit and was shaking with "RO-CKY RO-CKY" chants for a good ten minutes.
Call me a mark but I ate this shit up. I've never seen The Rock in person so it was a huge thrill to finally see a guy I watched when I was 14. And when he brought out Ronda Rousey...man...what a WrestleMania moment. I know that phrase is overused and I'm not the biggest fan of Washed Up Old Guy Theater but fuck it, this was just too cool.
The Undertaker v. Bray Wyatt
Well, first of all, HOLY SHIT I GOT TO SEE THE UNDERTAKER'S ENTRANCE AT SUNSET. So that was pretty great. Also, Bray Wyatt's creepy scarecrow entrance was terrific. The match itself was decent enough. It was brilliant psychologically but a little on the slow side. Still, the story these guys can tell without very much movement is impressive. The moment where Bray does the spider thing only to have Undertaker do his sitting up thing was definitely a great moment. I just expected a little more out of Bray. But working with Undertaker these days has to be a pretty limited enterprise, so I'll take what I can get.
Vundablog sez: ⋆⋆⋆1/2
WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Brock Lesnar (c) v. Roman Reigns
Keep in mind: by this time I was incredibly satisfied by this WrestleMania. I had expected very little and gotten SO MUCH and I was so happy that I was willing to accept what I expected this match to be: a solid match between one of the best performers in the company and an exciting, good-looking, young upstart with limited ring ability.
Then the bell rang and these two guys went after each other like rabid fucking dogs. What a perfect beginning to this match. Everyone is expecting the most boring, formulaic, John Cena match you can imagine so right off the bat you hit them with something they NEVER see: two guys straight up going at it full tilt. Roman bloodies Brock's face but Brock hits him with an F-5 and suddenly the rout is on.
Roman throws every ounce of energy he's got at Brock but Brock is just too overpowering. He pummels Roman and suplexes him over and over. But something else is happening. Roman won't stay down. Brock F-5s him a second time. Roman won't stay down. Brock F-5s him a THIRD TIME. Not even the UNDERTAKER kicked out of three F-5s. Roman won't stay down. Not only that, but he's starting to laugh at Brock's onslaught. His confidence grows the more punishment he takes because he knows he can take whatever Brock can dish out--even if he can't dish out enough to take down the monster.
Then, something happens. Roman throws Brock into the ring post and Brock gets busted wide open. Blood is pouring down Lesnar's face at a rate rarely seen in the PG Era. And it is very clearly happening on purpose because it is treated both by the announcers and by the wrestlers as the single unambiguous turning point of the match. Roman sees Brock's bloodied face and, for the first time, he truly believes he can actually beat Brock Lesnar. And so he throws every ounce of what he's got left at Brock Lesnar. He throws a Superman Punch but Brock merely stumbles around the ring in a daze (masterfully, I might add). He throws another Superman Punch but he still won't go down. A third Superman Punch and the Beast is down. A Spear. Another Spear. 1...2...kick out. Roman goes for a third spear, gets picked up and dropped into a fourth F-5. Both men are at critical damage. Whoever covers the other first could very well be the winner. What's more, the story they're telling in the ring is MASTERFUL. So much so that I, one of Roman's harshest critics and someone who very much hoped Lesnar would just destroy him, was all in on Roman Reigns actually winning this match clean. I could hardly believe it myself. And then...
It took me a few seconds to actually believe that Seth Rollins was really cashing in but as soon as I saw him actually start sprinting to the ring, I knew what was going to happen, just like most of us who understand how these things work did. Once again, you can't really tell on TV but the place went berzerk when Rollins's music hit. I personally ABSOLUTELY LOST EVERY LAST BIT OF MY MIND. The fact that I was completely sold on Reigns winning the match before Rollins showed up made this ending that much better because there was actually a part of me that hated it but also loved that I hated it. Plus the other part of me that knows Seth Rollins actually is the future of the WWE and deserves this so much more than Reigns. It was just...perfect. The cherry on top was that masterful final sequence with Rollins getting caught in an F-5 out of the Curb Stomp, only to have Reigns spear Lesnar and then fall into position for the Curb Stomp, giving Rollins the victory. Just flawless work on everyone's part. What an amazing WrestleMania. Truly, without hyperbole, one of the greatest of all time. And I was there.
Vundablog sez: ⋆⋆⋆⋆3/4
|Right there next to the timestamp, holding the YES sign. See?|