WrestleMania XXXI? WrestleMania 31? WrestleMania Play Button? What kind of vapid shit will Vince and Dunn's vanity come up with next for branding? (Don't tempt them, Justin).
-Live from Santa Clara, former home of a lot of 49ers this offseason.
-On the call: Cole, JBL, Lawler, and some unopened Mountain Dew
Bad News Barrett vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper vs. R-Truth vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Stardust (WWE Intercontinental Championship/Ladder Match)
Given the build-up, I wouldn't have been terribly surprised if an inanimate ladder had won. This match did a fine job of filling the void left when Money in the Bank got a spin-off pay-per-view, as there's no dead weight therein - even once-forgotten Truth took some admirable risks for his age. Stardust's glitter-encrusted ladder was only good for the cold-steel sound Barrett made when he bashed Cody with one of the dislodged rungs. I think what I liked most about the match, aside from the glitter-ladder, was the lack of bullshit. For weeks, the participants have had to play dumb with the belt-theft angle, but here, they could just cut loose and do what works best for them, whether it's Bryan kicking in tune with the crowd, Ziggler scurrying up the ladder in a flash, or Harper and Ambrose beating the snot out of each other (especially Ambrose's sick powerbomb bump through the bridged ladder). It's up there with the best Money in the Bank matches ever, and Bryan winning does give the belt the shot in the arm it needs. I'll say that the final headbutt sequence between he and Ziggler is ironic, given that venue was the one-year home of Chris Borland. I'm sure WWE will forget that the belt is supposed to 'mean something' once more, but for tonight, let's enjoy the effort.
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
I had this tabbed as my sleeper match of the night, since Rollins + copious amounts of time = excellence. Orton's always been game to keep up with an opponent willing to splatter themselves for the sake of entertainment, and Rollins at this point is WWE's best performer. Orton's at his best when he's blindly vigilant and angry, so him callously DDTing Mercury and Noble off the apron rang more effective than him doing it on two random dudes, say, in a Rumble match. Funny how we joke about Orton's bland personality, yet what's he most effective at? Being the ice-cold Terminator-like cyborg that dismantles whoever steps in front of him. That's where the "RKO OUTTA NOWHERE" meme hits the mark. Speaking of which, I thought for sure that Orton was hitting it on Rollins during his Phoenix splash attempt, and was temporarily disappointed when it didn't come to pass. Doing it off of a curb stomp attempt more than made up for my sadness. This is one of those rare times where the smark veil comes off and I'm happy that Orton went over on Rollins, because it lived up to my hopes. Great stuff.
-Ronda Rousey appears at ringside. The biggest draw in the building is sitting behind a barricade.
Sting vs. Triple H
Sting's KISS-meets-Blue Man Group entrance was odd enough, but Rise of the Torn Quadriceps trumps it for absurdity. COME WITH ME IF YOU WANT TO JOB. You know it was going to be a match with screwy bells and whistles, though Sting looked better than he did in his final TNA years physically. DX and the nWo getting involved boosted a fairly pedestrian match, as all of the old guys took bumps. Billy Gunn flying in to splatter Nash was great, but I cringed when Road Dogg backdropped Hall on the floor (doesn't Hall have a pacemaker? Legitimately?). Hunter wins, because of course he does, and they do the respect deal for some reason. Not much as a match in general, but the old-timers running in made it memorable. If you're gonna overbook a match, don't hold back.
-Bushwhacker Maria interviews Daniel Bryan, who is congratulated by a plethora of former IC Champs. Ric Flair's so elated, he chops Steamboat (presumably for saying the ladder match was as good as he vs. Savage). Bret Hart doing the YESes with Bryan makes me think that'd be a good web series: Bret Hart Awkwardly Doing Other Wrestler's Taunts. He's got the Bushwhacker Bounce and the Yes points down. I demand a Big Wiggle. Oh, and Ron Simmons provides the final word.
-The singing people kill time. I was hoping for JBL to say, "Why would you spend $60 on this when you can spend just $10 and actually see Cesaro work two matches?!"
AJ Lee/Paige vs. The Bella Twins
Kind of an odd match with AJ playing dead most of the way and Paige having to overcome the odds, which only makes Nikki beat her harder since her man copyrighted that. The wrestling was fine here, with even Brie, considered the lesser of the Bellas, holding up her end and not looking out of place. AJ gets the submission on Nikki with the Black Widow, so I assume if the Bellas are on their way out soon, AJ's probably getting the gold. Maybe even on the hangover Raw Monday. Solid work.
-Hall of Fame recognition, which the Bushwhackers steal once more. I hope Butch gets inducted every year for the rest of his life. And hey, Finkel appears before the crowd 31 out of 31 years. Way to go, Fink.
Rusev vs. John Cena (United States Championship)
Rusev enters in a real tank, which makes him wrestling's Michael Dukakis. What would Putin think? At least it's manlier than the DX jeep that single-handedly ended Monday Nitro's reign of terror. Cena gets a 'Murica video with every 80s President on, sans Clinton. Maybe Clinton cheated on Hillary with Kendra Lust, who knows? The match wasn't quite as tense as the Fast Lane bout, but held its own with some strong counters and the usual top-flight Cena performance. Rusev's feats of strength bade well on the big stage, and he's becoming a more complete performer every time he has a marquee match. Rusev got the banana peel ending by bumping Lana before Cena AA'ed him, which is fine. At least it wasn't an out-and-out squash job, and I sense a rematch for Extreme Rules. Maybe Rusev can distract Cena with a creepy kid that wants to annex another countries.
-WrestleMania 32 in Dallas. Catch it! And if you're Dez Bryant, make sure you actually DO catch it.
-Way too long segment with The Authority announcing the attendance and taking credit for everything until The Rock saunters out to banter with them. The whole thing is only paid off when Ronda Rousey enters and punks out both Triple H and Stephanie. The segment was the anti-WrestleMania X7: it was questionable all the way though, but the *ending* was divine.
The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt
We're around the 10 PM hour, and I'm thinking things need to hurry up badly. Wyatt gets a creepy scarecrow entrance, while Taker enters, looking pretty damn healthy, all things considered. I wondered if Ambrose tried to give him a TV to use, and Taker's like nah, and Ambrose is like, "You sure? I stole it from the Salvation Army." They need to let me write backstage segments. Or not. Match was pretty simple, with both men running through their signatures and finishers with residual stalling in between. Expectations were low, but since the match exceeded them, huzzah. The visual of Wyatt going into the crab walk and Taker sitting up for the face to face doesn't quite top the Anaconda sit-up with Punk, but it's damn close. Taker wins, which does Wyatt no favors, and I've no clue where he goes from here, but the match served its purpose. Just happy Taker looks healthy.
Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (WWE World Heavyweight Championship)
I thought I was prepared for anything here, but I wasn't. I knew Reigns was going to take a hellacious beating to try and win over respect for himself, and Lesnar certainly helped him achieve that end of things. Credit where its due, Reigns can take a pounding, and as is the case with Lesnar's best work, it looked real (probably because Brock doesn't pull punches). Lesnar juicing (I'm almost certain he bladed) against the post heightened the drama, which makes cutting blood down to almost nothing mean something when somebody actually does get color. Reigns Superman punch sequence and the million F5s sucked me into the story, because I literally had no idea how it was ending, especially with the clock rapidly approaching 11 PM. Rollins' cash-in may as well have been pop of the night, because now I *really* had no clue how it was ending. The fact that Rollins won after the curb stomp on Reigns opens so many possibilities: Orton has a claim (he beat Rollins), Reigns has a claim (can Rollins beat him at 100%?), and Lesnar has a claim (rematch clause, and well, because he's fucking Brock and he gets what he wants). The brutal nature of the match elevated this into a great showing, but the storytelling down the stretch and the introduction of Rollins into the final stages made it damn near perfect. Maybe I'll regret this rating in a week, but for now, I'll stand by it.
OVERALL: If the middle had been a bit faster paced, it cracks the pantheon for certain, because the effort was there. It's the first Mania I've seen that didn't have a single bad match. Kinda wish the Tag Team Title match was on the main show, but I'll take what I can get. The title matches and Orton/Rollins all met or exceeded expectations, and the finish was fucking killer.
Thumbs WAY up.