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Wrestlemania 31 (Play Button) live review

1. Ladder Match – Intercontinental Title: Dolph Ziggler vs. R-Truth vs. Stardust vs. Wade Barrett vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Luke Harper vs. Dean Ambrose
Nice touch putting Pat Patterson out there to raise the belt. Akin to old-timers who certify title matches in Japan. Very sportslike, totally opposite of their EnterTainia direction.

This was just as expected, a wild match with a ton of highspots, many of them very dangerous. There were an early flurry of dives to get everyone selling on the outside so two or three could take turns in the ring.

Stardust brought out his own personal ladder with stars on it. Barrett immediately broke off one of the rungs and beat Stardust down with it. Later Barrett give Stardust a massive superplex from a 20 ft ladder.

Ambrose took a powerbomb to the outside onto a bridged ladder from Harper.

Match ended with Bryan and Ziggler battling atop the ladder. They engaged in a CTE war of headbutts, which Bryan got the best of and took the belt.

Well-executed spotfest. Like most multi-man spotfests, this will probably be quickly forgotten but hopefully this leads to the repair of the Intercontinental Title with Bryan booked strong as champion. But WWE’s track record gives us very good reason to be cynical. ***1/4

2. Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton
This match will probably be best remembered for it’s amazing finish. After each kicked out of each other’s finishers, Rollins went for the curb stomp again. As Rollins jumped off Orton’s back, Orton stood up and catch Rollins with the RKO on the way down.

The early segments of this match were relatively basic with J&J Security interfering only to get a double DDT on the outside with their feet on the apron. They came back in later to take RKOs before the final two false finishes. ***1/2

As usual for Wrestlemania, video packages are airing before each match hyping it up. I would love to hear these defense of this policy when they have so little air time that they had to push two matches off onto the pre-show to fit 8 matches on a 5-hour show.

3. Sting vs. Triple H
Triple H put this together like a Flair vs. Sting match. Hiptoss, dropkick, retreat to corner. Sting no-sell spot. Suplex from apron. This was a Ric Flair 1980s match with Triple H trademark moves plugged in.

Triple H did DX crotch chops early, which was explained as Bill Gunn, Road Dogg and X-Pac ran out just as Sting got the Scorpion deathlock on. No Chyna though.

DX interefered and Triple H hit the pedigree for the first big nearfall. This brought out  Nash, Hogan and Scott representing nWo. This made for an awesome moment, if 15 years late, as JBL and Lawler admit on commentary. And I guess we’re not supposed to question why the nWo would help their long-time rival Sting.

And the dinosaurs bumped! Shockingly Nash, Hall and Hogan all took bumps as they brawled with DX.

Sting got the deathlock back on, but Shawn Michaels ran in wearing a DX shirt to hit the superkick. You’d think they were building toward Michaels vs. Sting next year, but Sting kicked out of that too. Triple H eventually got the sledgehammer on his own to go over. Because this is WWE dammit!

A very fun match with many twists and turns that was put together like something you’d put together on a wrestling simulator in the late 90s. ****1/4

Daniel Bryan did an interview with Maria Menounos about winning the IC title. Every legend on hand who was a former IC champion did run-ins on the interview including Pat Patterson, Piper, Steamboat, Flair, Bret Hart. Ron Simmons of course closed it with his line. Steamboat in a very scripted comment told Bryan that the ladder match was as good as his WrestleMania III classic with Randy Savage. Scripted, carny lines like that are another reason why WWE has no credibility when they try to sell things.

4. Nikki & Brie Bella vs. Page & AJ Lee
Pretty standard. Not short, not very long. Good effort, though sloppy in part. Paige took the heat while AJ simultaneous took bumps outside until a hot tag. AJ Lee go the finish on Nikki with the black widow. You’d think that’d lead to a title match, which may or may not have recently occurred on Raw. If they’re repairing the IC and US titles, hopefully they repair the Divas title also. **

5. US Title: Rusev vs. John Cena
The entrances and pre-match atmosphere was one of the best ever. Lana proudly led out marching Russian soldiers bearing the Russian flag. Rusev then emerged riding atop a tank. Extremely fitting to his aura. Cena’s entrance was precediing by a super American video package featuring lots of clips of American troops and US presidents making heartfelt patriotic statements. I think the jingoism is silly but everything about the entrances succeeded at psyching me up for the match.

The match didn’t quite live up to the entrances, but it was still good. The atmosphere would have been even more electric if this was their first meeting and they hadn’t already had the match at Fast Lane.

Rusev threw great Rusev punches. Each hit moves they’ve never done before. Rusev hit a diving headbutt. Cena came up with a backwards second rope (think Asai) springboard stunner.

Lana randomly threw one of her shoes into the ring. Unclear if that was supposed to be part of a spot and had to be skipped because maybe her throw was off target. But it would still be fine as Lana trying to anything to help Rusev.

Cena broke out of the Accolade. Lana hopped up on the apron, but Rusev collided with her. Cena hit the AA for the finish.

Rusev was furious with Lana afterward and stormed off as referees helped her up. I really hope they don’t break them up out of convenience with Lana off to shoot a movie. There’s way more money if them together than apart. ***1/2

Rock shows up, Ronda Rousey gets in the ring
Triple H and Stephanie came to the ring to announce the (probably enhanced) attendance number: 76,976. Triple H played heel even though he shook hands with Sting at the end of their match. They were interrupted by the surprise appearance of The Rock.

Rock did his schtick and told off Steph and Hunter. Steph then got in Rock’s face and tried to emasculate him like she has others on TV recently. Steph challenged Rock to hit a woman. Rock backed off and left the ring then noticed Ronda Rousey in the front row.

OMG RONDA ROUSEY GOT IN THE WWE RING.

My reactions alerted my dogs that something very unusual was happening. Ronda and Steph exchanged barbs and this was pretty amazing, although drawn out. Finally Rock bumped Triple H. Triple H fed into a judo throw from Ronda. Dana White crapped his pants somewhere. Ronda then hooked Steph’s arm for a while, never leaving their feet. Eventually Steph powdered. Rock told the Authority that they just got owned.

Who knows what this leads to. Rock vs. Triple H, maybe. Ronda doing a WWE match seems very unlikely at this point. This does make me think that when Ronda’s MMA career is over there is a strong likelihood she will go to WWE.

6. Bray Wyatt vs. Undertaker
The entrances were over fine. Undertaker looked better than last year, which is a fact that JBL and Lawler openly described.

Pretty basic match early. Taker shined on Wyatt. Wyatt worked heat on Taker. The crowd died down at this point and seemed to be on the verge of turning on the match.

Crowd came back as Taker hit a chokeslam counter to the Sister Abigail. Taker hit the tombstone, Wyatt kicked out, I guess because it’s Wrestlemania. Seems Taker feeds for his classic false finish sell from the Michaels match at Mania 25 every Mania as his opponent inevitably kicks out of the tombstone. Seems formulaic like a John Cena comeback.

Wyatt hit the Sister Abigail out of Taker’s attempt at a second tombstone. Of course Taker kicked out.

Cool spot for the highlight reel though when Wyatt did the crab walk and Taker responded by sitting up.

Taker hit a second tombstone for the finish. Not a good match. Taker looked older and less mobile as the match went on. Looking like Vince made the right call last year. This was sad at times, but the crowd did rally at key spots. *3/4

7. WWE World Heavyweight Title: Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar
This started off explosively in MMA style going right to an F5 like the Summerslam match with Cena. But no pin attempt. The inflation on finishers is really going up at Wrestlemania here. Brock got cut below the eye from that exchange.

Roman rallied with kicks on the apron, but Brock dominated him with a hard clothesline, serving Roman with a nasty apron bump.

Brock proceeded to punish Reigns with all kinds of suplexes. He shouts “Welcome to suplex city, bitch!”

They thought it was a good idea throughout this match to have Roman smile while he sells, a la Cena laughing off title losses.

Brock gave a negative number of fucks and continued to obliterate Roman with his usual realistic offense.

During this match #SuplexCity trended #1 worldwide.

Brock literally took his MMA gloves off to continue giving Reigns the beating that perhaps die-hards wanted to see him receive. Reigns rallied no comeback. Reigns kicked out of a 2nd F5; the third F5 of the match.

They got outside and Lesnar took a post that cut him. This looked like a gig which is supposed to be banned in WWE for the last several years. Guessing Vince would make an exception to spend on pet Reigns.

Reigns finally mounted offense with the superman punch. Lesnar didn’t even take his first bump from this but did stagger and sold amazingly. Reigns hit a second and then a third superman punch, followed by a spear. All this still did keep Lesnar down. A second spear for a huge false finish as Lesnar kicked out.

As Reigns went for yet another superman punch, Lesnar counted by catching him for an F5 and hitting it. As they doubled down Seth Rollins ran out with the Money in the Bank briefcase. He cashed in and this was announced as a three-way.

Seth pushed Roman out the ring even though Lesnar dominated the whole match and had hit the last move.

Rollins hit one curb stomp on Lesnar, went for another but Lesnar caught him in an F5. Reigns hit the spear on Lesnar before the F5 was executed. Seth then hit the curb stomp on Reigns and pinned him to win the title.

I was totally caught up in the final moments of this match. Before that watching Lesnar dominate is unlike watching any other wrestler in the history of pro wrestling. He brings an aura and credibility that is totally unmatched and completely believable. He’s special because of his rare appearances in an overexposed era, but hit performances as well and extremely fitting and compelling.

The booking call was at least reasonable. Putting Reigns over before a Wrestlemania crowd that hates him would have been foolish. Now there’s money to chase after in heel Rollins as champion. ****3/4

Final thoughts
This was a really good show. The first WWE PPV since maybe Summerslam that was good and didn’t leave many fans good reason to be pissed off, which is low praise. But most matches on the card out-performed the poor builds that almsot all of them had. Obviously, WWE is made up of many great performers and bad creative leadership that was moderated on this occasion.

The psychology of Vince McMahon

Wreddit asked its followers today what it would take for you to completely tune out of WWE programming.
The question though misses out on the fact that for some, WWE programming is just one device in the larger story.
Why hardcore fans don’t tune out isn’t because they’re so addicted to WWE programming that they can’t be turned off. It’s not because, as Vince McMahon said in WWE’s Q4 2014 conference call, that “Santa Claus didn’t come” and we’re all regardless “going to be glued to the television next week”.
Rather, I think that those who follow the business behind-the-scenes are engrossed in a story as complex and riveting as a classic novel.

Continue reading The psychology of Vince McMahon