Wednesday, March 30, 2016

WWE Wrestlemania 31

Just a heads up this is going to be a doozy of an entry, so make sure to have ample time on your hands before starting up on this entry. With that out of the way, welcome to my annual Wrestlemania tradition of reviewing the prior year’s event just days before the newest Wrestlemania transpires. We are a few days away from Wrestlemania 32, which will involve a two hour NXT Takeover live special, a Hall of Fame that will likely go four hours like last year, a three hour Wrestlemania kickoff/pre-show that will have four matches, and will be topped off with the four hour plus overrun edition that will be WM32. The hype and build has been all over the place and I got a feeling this will be a letdown of a Wrestlemania this year, but I am still oh so looking forward to the biggest 13 hours of content WWE will deliver this weekend.

With that little bit of super-fan hype out of my system, let us revisit WM31 from last year. The BluRay features the entire main WM31 card, both kickoff show matches, and the hall of fame ceremony. I will make a feeble attempt not to spend too much time on the hall of fame. Here goes. The HoF starts with the Usos inducting Rikishi. Did you like this duo the first time you saw them when Rikishi accepted for Yokozuna three years prior? Thankfully both the Usos and Rikishi are both natural talkers and both gave great speeches and the trio appropriately gave one last Rikishi dance party to close out their induction.

Larry Zybysko was up next. Bruno Sammartino gave a fitting induction speech where he recited their entire history together and how he brought Larry up as his apprentice and their legendary feud together. I am continually amazed at how great Bruno looks for his age. I always heard how Larry was renowned as one of the best talkers in the business and from witnessing a few classic promos online and memories of his commentary on Nitro I was really looking forward to his speech. Unfortunately, I think Larry thought he could just wing a natural acceptance speech with no notes and he just got caught up in the moment and kept repeating the same story over and over. Seriously, take a shot every time you hear Larry say ‘hedges’ in his acceptance speech, and I bet you will be gone by the time he walks off stage.

Madusa/Alundra Blayze was up next. I will give props to Natalya for giving an induction speech full of gratitude for Madusa being courageous in her jump to WCW instead of bashing her for trashing the WWE Women’s title on Nitro. I presumed the WWE would be nudging Madusa to be super gracious and apologetic for her past actions in her speech, and was surprised when we got a 180 and she held nothing back and declared she had no regrets and I was fully behind her when she essentially exclaimed, “deal with it, now I’m outta her because I got monster trucks to drive!” Easily Madusa had the best speech of the entire ceremony.

Next up was WWE patting themselves on the back with the first ever Warrior award. In Warrior’s hall of fame speech he asked to have an award for the hard workers behind-the-scenes that go unrecognized and name it after a deserving behind-the-scenes worker in the 80s. WWE perceived that to name it the Warrior award and to make it all about philanthropy as they gave it to Conor the Crusher, the unfortunate child who had brain cancer that inspired the WWE roster at WM31. Do not get me wrong, the speeches given by Dana Warrior, Daniel Bryan and Conor’s dad were all very heartwarming and it is definitely a feel good moment I am all for, but rename it something else as this is not the award that Warrior originally envisioned.

I never thought the Bushwhackers would wind up in the hall of fame, but my childhood favorite tag team is now enshrined. John Lauranitis gave a nice induction speech on how the Bushwhackers mentored him in New Zealand and the Bushwhackers had some real fun stories the audience ate up such as a certain Royal Rumble payday. Japanese legend Tatsumi Fujanami was inducted next by Ric Flair. Due to Fujanami’s very limited English, his speech went understandably short, but Flair gave him a fitting induction filling us all in about his success in Japan. Triple H inducted this year’s celebrity inductee, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Knowing that Hunter is a weightlifting guru, he was the right guy to induct Arnold and he went on to enlighten about all his various charity programs and how Arnold laid a beating on him on a vintage episode of Smackdown. Arnold gave a very genuine speech on how he loved wrestling and how it influenced him in his career.

Onto the two main event inductions! The Hulkster was still a few months away from being blacklisted from the company, and he inducted the Macho Man. Savage’s brother Lanny accepted the award, and he bestowed us with many classic Randy tales and filled us in on how he found solace in helping special Olympic contestants and in his second marriage in his final years. Shawn Michaels inducted Kevin Nash to finish off the evening and he informed us on how he brought Big Kev to the WWE where he found big success for the first time. Nash gave a very humbled speech, and rightly patted himself on the back for doing business first and paving the way for guaranteed contracts for other superstars in the future.

It was another entertaining hall of fame, and I love it almost as much as I do Wrestlemania. As I stated in the intro, the BluRay has both kickoff/pre-show matches as bonus features. The fatal four way WWE Tag Title match started it off and featured the Usos, Los Matadores, New Day and champs, Tyson Kidd & Cesaro. This was when New Day was the unlikeable, please ‘cheer and clap for us’ babyfaces before they hit their stride as the New Day we know and love today. This match actually got some decent time and was filled with all kinds of inventive tag team spots in a bout that saw Kidd & Cesaro successfully retain their titles. The second ever, Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was next and it was surprisingly well booked. There was never a dull moment in the match as no more than 20 to 30 seconds went by between a meaningful moment/elimination happened and it was filled with lots of impactful eliminations. This match saw the long overdue breakup of Miz and Damian Sandow that saw Sandow eliminate Miz to face off against Big Show in the end, but it was to no avail and props to Big Show for winning his first, yes first ever battle royal.

Now onto the proper WM32 feature. It started off with a super slick opening video package narrated by LL Cool J. The first match was a seven man ladder match for the Intercontinental Title between Bad News Barrett, Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper, Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth and Stardust. Like many past ladder matches at Wrestlemania there were countless highspots to keep track of, with Harper powerbombing Bryan through a ladder being the most jaw-dropping for me. It bordered on a RoH level of a forgettable spotfest, but it also made sense because of the number of superstars involved gave everyone time to sell these devastating-looking moves. In what would be one of his last matches, Daniel Bryan won the IC title after an ill-advised headbutt war with Dolph Ziggler that he got the best of. Next up we saw Seth Rollins and Randy Orton settle their feud that was several months in the making. This match made me forget how short J&J security was, and made me miss Seth’s old curb stomp finisher that got banned shortly after this match. Orton wound up victorious after a sweet looking curb stomp-reversal into an RKO-FROM OUTTA NOWEHERE!

Following this was Sting’s debut WWE match against Triple H. Let me tell you something, if you love over-the-top Wrestlemania entrances you will not be disappointed as both Sting and Triple H pull out all the stops. I was hoping this match would deliver after some promising opening sequences, but Sting’s cardio is not what it used to be and he was visibly gassed after five minutes. WWE compensated for this a few minutes later by pulling out the bag of tricks and having the DX and the nWo run-in to assist both guys and the crowd absolutely ate it up. I vividly recall originally watching this live thinking who would make sense to run-in and assist Sting to fight off DX. For a minute I thought it had to be his WCW buddy Goldberg, and I was poised to see Goldberg spear the shit out of everyone, but instead scratched my head to see the nWo, who Sting prominently opposed in his WCW days, oh-so-slowly take their time walking down the entrance ramp to save Sting. Regardless, it was still a fun spectacle to indulge, even after Shawn Michaels ran in and superkicked Sting to give Triple H the victory. I am expecting another bag of tricks match this Sunday for the Shane/Undertaker Hell in a Cell bout.

Do you want to see a live Kid Ink performance? I did not a fan so I skipped it this time around, but did not skip the annual Wrestlemania legends comedy sketch that ended with yet another memorable one-liner. Our requisite Divas match of the night saw Paige & AJ Lee team up to face the Bellas. This bout will go down as AJ’s last match, as CM Punk’s spouse surprisingly stuck around on the roster for a little over a year after Punk walked out on the WWE for one more Mania payoff just a couple days after this match. Surprisingly, AJ & Paige won after AJ made Nikki tap out to her Black Widow submission.

John Cena faced Rusev for the US Title next. Remember when Rusev was the unstoppable Russian? WWE gave him the deluxe Russian villain treatment with a unbelievably bonkers Russian Hero entrance that somehow eclipses the Rocky IV Drago entrance. The comparison is stunning! How about that tank!! Cena use to be notorious for his elaborate Wrestlemania entrances, but stunned me with nothing special for him this year. The match was pretty good, but a notch or two away from being truly great. Cena naturally walked away victorious and went on to have the best half year of matches in his entire career with his US Title Invitational series of matches. Rusev and Lana were on the cusp of becoming main event tier players going into WM31 and instead wound up going on a career downward spiral in the following months of awful booking and storylines where today both are now barely clinging on to lower-card, bit player roles.

Steph and Hunter came out to talk themselves up to the crowd, but The Rock would have none of it and berated them both to the crowd’s approval. Steph talked down Rock, so the Rock got a pre-defeated, Ronda Rousey from ringside to stand up to Steph’s loudmouth. Lots of great lines from Rock in this segment that greatly benefitted from Rock & Rousey’s star power. Undertaker redeemed his only Wrestlemania loss last year with a victory against Bray Wyatt in the proceeding match. It was good to see ‘Taker in far better health than the previous year, and this match was a far better encounter than his clunker against Brock. However it was still a notch under his Wrestlemania classics against HBK, Triple H, Batista and Edge.

The main event saw Brock defend his world title against Roman Reigns. My initial viewing thoughts going into this were WWE was going to go with Reigns walking out of this as champion, and just being pissed off the entire match waiting for Reigns’ eventual comeback. Knowing how things played out on this second viewing, the match was exponentially more enjoyable and is just a couple slivers under Brock’s excellent bout where he dominated Cena at Summerslam 2014. Reliving this was a treat as a vast majority of the crowd was feeling the same way as I was and dumped all over Reigns whenever he had his brief flurries of offense. Brock was believably intense and pissed off throughout, and it was a joy watching him beat down Roman’s face whenever he smirked at him throughout this contest. Also witnessing Brock’s organic debut of the line ‘Suplex City’ was a special moment right up there with Austin busting out his first ‘3:16’ line in 1996. I did not see Seth cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase in the middle of this match as a possibility, but the way it played it out resulted in myself and the WM31 crowd going home happy!

Looking back I was expecting WM31 to disappoint, but instead got a show that delivered on nearly all fronts. Both kick-off show matches did not hold anything back and proved they belong on the main card unlike most past preliminary Wrestlemania matches. Undertaker redeemed himself and proved he can still go in the ring. We got our usual entertaining spotfest ladder match. Most importantly, I thought Sting/HHH, Rusev/Cena and Brock/Roman were both going to be underwhelming and disappointing matches but my hat is off to WWE for finding creative ways to salvage all three matches and make them all legitimately enjoyable in their own right. It all combined for a far better Wrestlemania than it had any right to be. Hopefully, WWE will strike lightning in a bottle twice because I am just not all that stoked for WM32 this Sunday. If WWE could prove me wrong like that again this Sunday I will be a happy fan because Wrestlemania 31 served as a prime example where the company came together and everyone stepped up to deliver a show that overcame all expectations.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
ECW Unreleased: Vol 1
ECW Unreleased: Vol 2
ECW Unrealeased: Vol 3
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
RoH Supercard of Honor VIII
RoH Supercard of Honor IX
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015

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