Sunday evening, the WWE rolled into Arlington, Texas and AT & T Stadium and put on their version of the Super Bowl – WrestleMania 32. This is the weekend that the world of professional wrestling revolves around as it only only includes what has become a day long event (more on that later) but also a NXT show on Friday night and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday night. 2016 inductees included Sting, The Godfather, Big Boss Man, Jacqueline, Stan Hansen and The Fabulous Freebirds.
To say the build toward this year’s WrestleMania was lackluster would be an understatement of epic proportions. There were matches on the card that didn’t make sense, matches that no one wanted to see, matched that seemed thrown together at the last minute and matches that seemed promising that were moved to the pre-show essentially making them throwaways. In fact it was such a poor build that I told several folks that on paper heading in, it may have been the worst Mania in history.
Now to be fair, WWE did the best they could with what they had. They’ve been hit with an injury bug worse than anything I can remember in three decades of watching wrestling. So many big name stars were out of commission: John Cena, Sting, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Daniel Bryan, Nikki Bella, Tyson Kidd, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, etc. But it was WrestleMania right? The WWE always pulls out all the stops and puts on a great show right?
Pip and I continued our WrestleMania tradition and took a crack at the Beeramid for the 10th time (full coverage of that at a later date). Mark ran his streak to six in a row as well! Regardless of what we thought of the show I can tell you we had an outstanding time watching it.
If you look around the web you’ll find very little praise of this show. I’ve taken a couple of days to let my thoughts sink in (and to watch the post-Mania RAW). With that out of the way, let’s get into it. (All photos courtesy WWE.com)
Kalisto Defeated Ryback To Retain The US Championship
I was really disappointed to see that this was on the pre-show. I’m a big fan of Kalisto and even though I couldn’t care less about Ryback I was still excited to see the kind of match they’d put on. I’ll admit that I was sort of half watching this while eating dinner but what I did see I was very impressed with. This was standard David vs. Goliath stuff here with Kalisto eventually getting the victory. You’ve got to feel bad for these guys as they unofficially kicked off the show in front of a crowd that either didn’t care or wasn’t even in the building yet. I am happy with the decision to keep the title on Kalisto.
Team Total Divas Defeated Team B.A.D. & Blonde – 10-Diva Tag Team Match
The fact that the WWE decided to cut to a commercial in the middle of this 11 minute match tells you just how important they thought it was. Team Total Divas (Brie Bella, Paige, Natalya, Alicia Fox and Eva Marie) defeated Team B.A.D. & Blonde (Lana, Naomi, Tamina, Emma and Summer Rae) when Brie made Naomi tap out using her husband Daniel Bryan’s finisher. Nikki came down after the match to celebrate with the Divas. Pretty standard stuff here when you’ve got SO many people trying to share the ring. Brie Bella has been talking retirement and this was clearly her send off.
The Usos Defeated The Dudley Boyz
The third match of the pre-show included another commercial. For a bout that lasted just over five minutes that’s sort of mind boggling. I’m not really a fan of either team here and the main show was about to start so this is another one that I was sort of half watching. That said, if you’ve been listening to the narrative that was being told you simply KNEW that tables were going to come into play and the teams didn’t disappoint. Ever since the Dudleys have been done with The New Day they’ve been painfully boring to watch. Wonder if they’re second guessing their decision to come back to the WWE full time?
Zack Ryder Wins The Ladder Match For The Intercontinental Championship
Two hours into our WrestleMania extravaganza and it’s officially time for the show to start. WWE went with a super strange yet refreshing pick here and had Zack Ryder defeat defending champion Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn, Sin Cara, Stardust and The Miz. I was thinking that Kevin Owens would retain here really pushing him to the moon but the way they went was good too. Owens and Zayn rekindled their rivalry in a manner that sets things up nicely for the future. Everyone worked really hard here and put on a simply outstanding match. Just like last year, the competitors in the opening IC Title Ladder Match set the bar high for the rest of the night. We found out Monday on RAW that Rider only held his belt for one night but it was the feel good moment of Mania.
Chris Jericho Defeated AJ Styles
This one was a head scratcher but that’s not to say it wasn’t a good match. In fact, it was a great match. I just don’t quite understand why they’d put Jericho over here. Great back and forth contest here that lasted over 17 minutes. Part of the luster of this match was lost due to the fact that we’ve seen this match several times already. I thought for sure that they’d use this to give AJ his WrestleMania Moment and propel him to great things. The fact that he won the Number One Contenders match the next night on RAW makes up for the booking here a little bit but on Sunday evening we were left with sort of a “Huh?” feeling. I do have to say that Jericho is doing some great heel work these days. Folks hate him. And that’s just what he wants.
The League of Nations Defeated The New Day – Six-man Tag Team Match
Next up we get a match where the tag team champions are on the show and not even defending their titles. The League of Nations (Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio and Rusev with King Barrett) used their numbers advantage to get the win in what was honestly a pretty boring match. LON celebrated in the ring with Barrett getting on the mic and saying that no three wrestlers in history could match them (or something to that effect). Anyone who’s watched wrestling for more than five minutes knew something was coming and boy oh boy did the WWE not let us down. Out trots Texas native Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley and the Texas Rattlesnake himself Stone Cold Steve Austin. What followed was Superkicks, Socko and Stunners galore complete with New Day dancing, more Stunners and lots and lots of beer (which Stone Cold has apparently been partaking in quite a bit). This was all about the post-match showdown and I marked out big time. WWE gets a bad wrap for rolling out their old stars and taking time from the new guys but when it’s done correctly the way it was here I eat it up.
Brock Lesnar Defeated Dean Ambrose – No Holds Barred Street Fight
If you’re Brock Lesnar, you’ve got the greatest job in the world. You’re a professional wrestler who doesn’t have to talk, works about a quarter (if that) of the time and does about three moves. Oh… and you’re awesome. I was really bummed that Ambrose didn’t go over here as he’s my current favorite on the roster but I can understand why he didn’t. He was made to look like a legit threat to Lesnar and that may be enough to propel him to the next level. I will say that while this was super violent I do think I was expecting a bit more. We got kendo sticks and chairs but for a “No Holds Barred Street Fight” this one seemed tame if that makes any sense. They kept the action in the ring or right at ringside the entire time and didn’t get bloody at all. Ambrose couldn’t get his chainsaw started, but let’s be honest… what the hell was he going to do with it anyhow? This also seemed like it ended early at just over 13 minutes. Maybe Ambrose got hurt? In retrospect it CERTAINLY wasn’t a lack of time which is what I thought at the time. This was a nice way to end the Ambrose – Lesnar rivalry. I’m guessing Brock goes away for a couple of months and I’m hoping we see Dean get pushed to the moon… he sure deserves it.
Charlotte Defeated Becky Lynch & Sasha Banks To Win The Women’s Championship
During the pre-show, Lita announced WWE was replacing the Divas title with the WWE Women’s Championship. The belt looks very similar to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt which I personally think is a great thing. Anyhow, with that out of the way let’s get to the match… and what a match it was. In fact, it was the match of the night even though I didn’t care for the outcome. Before we even get to the ring we have Sasha accompanied to the ring by her cousin and 2016 WWE HOF Inductee Snoop Dogg (meh) rapping all the way. Charlotte was wearing a robe made from one of Ric’s that he wore for his retirement match at WrestleMania XXIV. There were a couple of missed spots here but this… was… amazing. We got a ton of near falls and all three ladies brought their A game. This was hyped as the best women’s match in WrestleMania history and it lived up to that hype completely. Some great camera work here added to the excitement that saw all three women really take some chances and get out of their comfort zone. My heart was pulling for Becky and my head told me I should have picked Sasha. They were both wrong and Charlotte holds onto the belt setting her up to a be a monster heel down the road. She’s quietly amassing quite a title reign over two thirds of the way to Nikki Bella’s longest reign ever if they choose to go that route.
The Undertaker Defeated Shane McMahon – Hell In A Cell
The Undertaker and WrestleMania. WrestleMania and The Undertaker. Two things that go hand in hand. The build to this one was just sort of strange to me. Sure… seeing Shane McMahon show up on RAW was one of the best moments of the year but after the surprise wore off it was… weird. In addition to being a Hell in a Cell match we had the added stipulations that if Shane won, he would have gained control of Raw and Undertaker would have been barred from competing at WrestleMania again. In my overbooking mind, I fully believed that Taker would beat the shit out of Shane and then decide to lay down for him to stick it to Vince. That didn’t happen. What we got was a grinder of match that lasted over a half hour from bell to bell and will be remembered for one single spot: Shane McMahon’s elbow drop through the table from the top of the cage. Holy… shit. I don’t care how “fake” you think wrestling is. I don’t care how “padded” you think that table was. Dude jumped off a three story cage through a table. Mad props to all the performers, and ESPECIALLY Shane for putting their bodies on the line for our entertainment. There was definitely some other stuff here that worked (Shane’s kids joining his intro, Shane hitting a Van Terminator across the ring, Taker choke slamming Shane onto the ring steps in the ring, etc.) but I don’t thing anyone really thought Undertaker was going to lose this match. This was a spectacle that will be remembered for one spot. And that spot will live on in WrestleMania lore for generations to come.
Baron Corbin Won The André The Giant Memorial 20-man Battle Royal
At this point we started looking at the clock. I thought the show was scheduled from 7 till 11. With the WWE Network in play I spose time really doesn’t matter but I thought they’d try to keep it close to 11. I even questioned whether they’d scrap the Battle Royal all together. Boy was I wrong. The inclusion of Shaq was a nice touch and didn’t have the shoehorned feel that many celebrity WrestleMania appearances do. As with most Battle Royals, much of the action was sort of a mess, feeling a tad rushed. With so much going on at the same time it’s no wonder that several eliminations take place off camera or while the focus is on other things. That’s part of the reason why the Royal Rumble format works so well. It’s got the Battle Royal feel to it but the numbers are held down based on the rule of the event. Giving a NXT guy the win is a nice and surprising touch proving that even under ten minutes the Battle Royal is not only a way to get a bunch of guys a WrestleMania pay day, but also a great way to showcase new stars.
The Rock Defeated Erick Rowan
We knew The Rock was going to be here. We just didn’t know what he’d be doing or how he was going to be involved. At this point I was pretty convinced he was going to somehow get involved in the title match, possibly getting speared as part of a Roman Reigns heel turn. Once again, boy was I wrong. This was a great way to showcase The Rock. After his entrance (WrestleMania… the FLAME THROWER!!! The kids love this one) Rock was interrupted by The Wyatt Family. After some typical back and forth between Rock & Bray we got an impromptu match between Rowan and Rock which lasted all of six seconds. I haven’t seen if this was an official match yet but if it is deemed so (there WAS a referee) then this is officially the quickest match in Mania history. After the “match” the Wyatts surround The Rock and we get a surprise return of John Cena to save the day. Rock & Cena stand tall after sending the Wyatts packing. Are we setting up a Rock – Wyatt program for SummerSlam? Who knows. Just like the Michael / Foley / Austin spot earlier this was a great way to showcase returning talent. It’s a bummer that it takes place at the expense of up and comers on the roster, but hey… it’s WrestleMania exposure.
Roman Reigns Defeated Triple H For The WWE World Heavyweight Championship
At this point we’re well past 11:00 PM and it’s clear we’re going till nearly midnight. The fact that the crowd sat through nearly seven hours of wrestling by the time this one ended makes it hard to blame them for being pissed off and sort of restless. Stephanie comes out first doing her best to remind us that HHH is in fact the heel here. It really didn’t matter. Reigns got booed relentlessly when he arrived.
That said, this was in my book a nearly 30 minute match that really delivered. Both Roman and Hunter went all in and brought the best out of one another. We got teased with some true violence and saw a couple of outstanding high spots including Stephanie taking a Reigns spear like a CHAMP (mad props to her). In the end, WWE went with what some would call the least creative and least surprise ending imaginable with a clean Reigns win. Is this a sign that Vince is just being stubborn and continuing to push Reigns down our throat as the top babyface or is it the start of an amazing heel run for Roman?
Time will tell but I for one am happy to see HHH out of the top spot and to see Reigns get a decisive victory here. There are a SLEW of potential opponents for Reigns whether they keep him a face or turn him into a red hot heel. The WWE has been hit with the injury bug but guys like Cena, Rollins, Cesaro will return sooner than later and get in line with the likes of Styles, Owens and Ambrose to go after Roman’s title. And don’t forget a little guy named Brock Lesnar. He’ll most likely take his standard six month hiatus but when he comes back you know he’ll be thrust back into the title picture. With Reigns holding the title, the top of the card looks promising for quite some time to come.
I’ve got to say, I just don’t get all the hate I’m reading for this show. It was a solid show from top to bottom and with the exception of some questionable booking decisions it was really enjoyable. People seem to forget that WrestleMania really isn’t for the hard core wrestling fans out there. It’s for the casual fans. It’s for the fans that have been away ever sine last year’s Mania or for much longer than that. Looked at through this lens I have a hard time hating on this show. Everyone on the card worked hard, we got some surprises and some throwback to give us just enough nostalgia without being too over the top.
Based on my feelings leading up to the show I have to to say that I was pleasantly surprised with the final presentation. This certainly wasn’t the best WrestleMania in history but it wasn’t close to the worst and it’s way better than many fans are giving it credit for. You know… those bitter wrestling fans that never have a good word to say about the WWE but continue to watch? The guys that say that NXT and NJPW is “real” wrestling and WWE is terrible. Yeah, those guys. When you realize just how much of the roster was on the shelf it elevates the show even further. In closing I’ve got say that coming out of the show I’m more excited than I’ve been in quite some time. And that’s the mark of a good Mania.
Did you watch WrestleMania 32? Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought!