April 3, 2016
We’re in Dallas, Texas. The attendance for this show is an alleged 101,000 people, which is a quite extraordinary number. What they witnessed is perhaps the most bizarrely booked WrestleMania of all time.
The pre-show was hosted by Mauro Ranallo, Jerry Lawler andByron Saxton, which means six hours of Byron tonight. SaxtonMania! When watching NXT I’ve been putting over the tandem of Tom Philips and Corey Graves but Mauro is easily the best commentator WWE have. By a country mile. His voice is so easy to listen to, the sheer number factoids and information he fires into commentary enhances everything you watch. Then there’s Jerry Lawler telling bad jokes and constantly telling Ranallo that nothing he’s talking about matters. The King is a throwback to the territory days and I have no idea how he’s still a commentator for the biggest promotion in the world. It’s extremely odd to me.
WWE United States Championship
Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback
When they picked this as a singles match for ‘Mania I was confused but here all became clear. They had Ryback work the match as a slightly worked up heel version of his character. He played it quite well, although there’s still no sense to his gear change and personality switch. It took him from being a solid babyface midcard guy to a fairly worthless Goldberg clone. Something he’d spent years getting away from. Having realised this error WWE went with Kalisto full bore on the pre-show. He took some great bumps and is starting to look like a legitimate singles wrestler. Having Kalisto win the Del Rio feud and then upset The Ryback at WrestleMania is good for him. The downside was the ticket checking issues that WWE suffered. So when ‘Mania’s pre-show kicked off it was in front of less than half the house. Which is a bummer for Kalisto and Ryback. Everyone else got to work in front of 100,000 people, they had maybe 40,000, tops, for this match. WWE insisted at slipping adverts into the match too, which is so grindingly annoying. We’re already watching the product. Advertise in between matches, for crying out loud. They do this on NXT too and it never ceases to irritate me. Kalisto wins with a tidy exposed turnbuckle spot and the Salida del Sol. Good enough start.
Final Rating: **1/2
Brie Bella, Paige, Natalya, Alicia Fox & Eva Marie vs. Lana, Naomi, Emma, Tamina & Summer Rae
Expectations were low for this, and rightly so. The addition of Eva Marie was a bit of a joke as she’s universally hated by the audience in NXT and she’s on the babyface team here. Eva’s normal issues disappear in a multi-superstar match up. She’s able to tag in, hit a few spots and tag out. She looks good doing so because she’s got the look down and a few suplexes are easy enough. She attempts no strikes and I’m happy with her work. Considering the talent involved, Paige, Natalya, Naomi and Emma covering the workrate, it was a solid ten diva tag. The Ravishing Russian Lana came across well considering her lack of experience and nobody made any horrible glaring errors. Putting this on the pre-show allowed them ten minutes to get everything done and the pacing was solid. Whoever was the agent for this match did superb work at putting it together. Given her forthcoming retirement it was the Brie Bella show and she got in a canny counter on Naomi to finish with the Yes! Lock. Nikki Bella, in a neck brace, came down to celebrate with her sister and like Nikki, it looks like Brie got good at wrestling only to up and leave. This was way better than expected.
Final Rating: **3/4
Promo Time: Lita
This was a special moment. They sent Lita down to the ring to unveil the new WWE Women’s Championship belt. Which means that garbage butterfly shaped thing is going into the trash where it belongs. More importantly Lita said that women’s wrestlers weren’t divas, they were superstars too. This rebranding is hugely important as WWE are finally doing something meaningful with their women. Calling them “divas” was an insult and now I can say it’s an insult from bygone times. Kudos to WWE for this.
The Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz
Up to this point the show had been a surprising success but then expectations for ‘Mania last year were low and the show delivered huge. I was lulled into a false sense of security. Then this weird match popped up, with the Usos hitting a million superkicks, like they’re the Young Bucks. It felt like they flat out stole the Bucks gimmick only without being entertaining. The crowd hated the Usos and when they successfully put both Dudley Boyz through table after the match there were loud boos. If you used to play EWR (Extreme Warfare Revenge), a wrestling promoter simulator, there was a way to totally bury talent. You’d have them lose clean and then get beat down after the match. That’s what happened here. Total burial for the Dudley Boyz. Personally I can only hope this leads to a Bubba singles run as he’s been chomping at the bit for one. His run in TNA was genuinely great and got people excited until he came back to WWE and got rebranded back to Bubba 2000. This was skippable, unless you’re really into superkicks. In which case I have a tag team for you!
Final Rating: *3/4
Moving on from there we went into the actual show and by now the massive queues inside the stadium had subsided and the full crowd were in. Hosts at this point changed to Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton. I really wish they’d let Mauro call ‘Mania. I know he’s stuck away on the pointless B-ShowSmackdown but Cole grates at me.
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Sami Zayn vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz vs. Stardust vs. Sin Cara vs. Zack Ryder
I went looking at the bookies for odds prior to the show starting and saw Ryder was suddenly a huge odds-on favourite, as if some news had leaked out of backstage and those in the know were making a killing on a rank outsider. More on that bizarre story at the end of the match. The booking leading into ‘Mania has been confusing. They’ve taken the red hot Sami Zayn and just debuted him opposite Owens assuming we all know the backstory and while the hardcore fans do, and thus pop the hell out of everything Sami does in this match, the casuals don’t. They don’t know the history because nothing has ever been shown on RAW about the relationship between the two and even the NXT history from last year. So Sami’s RAWappearances have been flat. It really makes no sense. Sami is the star in this match, without a shadow of a doubt. He attempts the hardest spots including a streak to set up what should have been him winning. A ridiculous tope through a ladder followed by the through the corner tornado DDT on old rival Owens. Speaking of Owens, he took an absolutely devastating bump near the finish, the half and half suplex onto a ladder. Just a brutal, sickening bump. The core of the match was Owens vs. Zayn and it all worked.
However there were five other guys out there. There were bumps lined up for each and various spots for them to impress. Which worked to varying degrees. Stardust, wearing polka dots to honour his father Dusty Rhodes, did the spinning ladder bit with his own personalised polka dot ladder. Sin Cara toppled off the ladder before bouncing off the ropes and diving to the floor. Sin Cara did ok work in this match, although he’s now in Kalisto’s shadow. I’m pleased that despite Kalisto’s success they’re continuing to team. No need to split them up just before one guy has a title. Ziggler did ok in there. This wasn’t his match to steal and the Miz took it relatively easy, holding the match together. The finish saw Long Island Iced Z, the Broski, Zack Ryder climb the ladder and pull the belt down, thus proving the bookies correct. Honestly, I’m pleased for Zack because WWE have been booking him horribly for years but where did this come from? Logically only Owens or Zayn should have won here because that’s the money feud. How long Ryder is champion for will reflect how competent this decision was but if they were randomly picking a guy that wasn’t Owens or Zayn to win, to give them a WrestleMania moment, then Ryder was the most deserving.
Here’s a factoid for you, before Ryder’s recent RAW win over Chris Jericho, when did he last win a match on RAW,Smackdown or PPV? It was July 21 2014. He beat Fandango. So a guy who’s not won a singles match on mainstream TV in nearly two years just won the IC title. I don’t begrudge Zack his moment but why? Why was he even considered a contender? It makes no sense. They’ll probably book the win like it was a fluke and he’ll lose the belt tomorrow or next week or maybe next month. This was a nice moment but it’ll have no long term significance. Good spot fest though. Lots of interesting ideas coming into play and Zayn was the MVP.
Final Rating: ****
Chris Jericho vs. A.J. Styles
This feud has been poorly booked. It has centred around Jericho, which is not how you want to debut a hot new singles star. The booking has been so counter productive that A.J., in January the hottest thing in the company, has cooled off into the second match on this card wrestling Jericho in a fourth contest between the two already. It’s not like the first three matches were that great. This one is perhaps the most bizarre of all of their matches. Jericho gets to kick out of the Styles Clash, which is a move so devastating that it should mean absolute death. Styles hit the Bloody Sunday and the production crew missed it, instead replaying another spot. Jericho seems to have gained an overconfidence in his ability to plan matches and execute thrilling epics on PPV. This was another example of how he’s not that good at doing so anymore. In fact the longer Styles is stuck with Jericho, the less he’s worth. His value has already plummeted in just two months. The murder continues here. This should have been an absolute shoe-in for Styles to win. Nothing else makes any sense. Jericho doesn’t need a win, unless the feud continues and yet another match between the two takes place on the next PPV. If they’re not careful A.J. will be dead in the water by then, which is extraordinary failure considering the heat he had. IfVince McMahon claims to listen to the crowd then why he is not listening to the crowd? Besides, this is WrestleMania and in putting Jericho over they turn the mood in the stadium from ecstatic to wary. It was certainly a good match but the wrong guy won and this feud is a grind. It’s bizarre because when Jericho needed a big win on a big show they never gave it him and now he doesn’t need one, because he’s 45 years old, he goes over. Never underestimate this companies ability to totally misread their audience or screw over ‘outsiders’. I expect Styles will get his big ‘WrestleMania moment’ in about three years when they finally realise how talented he is. By which point it’ll be too late.
Final Rating: ***1/2
The New Day vs. The League of Nations (Sheamus, Rusev & Alberto Del Rio)
Apparently King Barrett isn’t welcome in the match, as he’s announced he’s leaving so deserves nothing from the company anymore (a contrast to Brie getting a heroes departure on the pre-show). I hope Wade saved his money and I wish him all the best. He’s been booked like dirt for years and although I’m not a big fan he deserved better. He’ll almost certainly get it wherever he goes next. As with all League of Nations matches this was a chore to sit though. Big E tried to kill himself for our amusement, hitting a murderous spear on all the Lads and landing on his head in the process. Of everything on the undercard this was an absolute no brainer. Just put the babyfaces over, same as the last match. The heels have nothing to offer and the group has no long term future. Just put your super-hot New Day trio over and let them do some kind of celebration. Instead Xavier gets hit with the illegal Bull Hammer and the Brogue Kick finishes him off.
Final Rating: *1/2
Post Match: We get into the fun part. The League grab the microphone to claim superiority over “any three men” backstage. Out comes Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley and Steve Austin. So in exchange for New Day taking a job at the biggest show of the year we get three retired guys coming out to beat down the boring heels who just beat New Day. I can see why Vince thought this was a good idea but it didn’t work for me. Shawn looks in terrific condition and I almost wish he’d go back on his retirement and wrestle some special attraction matches. The best part of this was the New Day teaching HBK, Cactus and Stonecold how to dance. Even Austin, thirsty as ever, goes along with it for a while. Again, this was a WrestleMania moment rather than a good match. A worrying theme.
Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose
Dean has gotten tremendous momentum recently and you could argue the case for the main event being a spot he should have been in this year. Roman had his chance. So they stick Dean in this match where there’s no way he can win. They could have made Ambrose here. Had him pull out all the stops and actually beat Lesnar or at least look credible in the process. Instead he gets the same treatment that everyone gets from the Beast; a tonne of suplexes. While I do love watching Brock hit people with suplexes it does nothing for Ambrose at all. At least Reigns got a lot of sympathy wrestling Lesnar at ‘Mania last year. Sympathy he won’t get tonight. I’m still confused as to why Lesnar would agree to a street fight? Surely in a straight up match Lesnar beats everyone on the card and it’s only stipulations that count against him. Not that Dean was able to utilise the stipulations and his chainsaw didn’t work. I guessFinn Balor used up all the juice on Friday! Having teased the chainsaw and not used it they broke out the barbwire bat and didn’t use it. Lesnar then won clean with the F5 onto a pile of chairs. As a match it was fun enough and I almost get why they didn’t want them to steal the show by doing crazier stuff than Shane will but the result was quite flat. The downside is enormous. This marks the third straight ‘heel’ win. I know Lesnar is technically a babyface but Ambrose is probably the most popular guy on the roster. Having him lose clean at WrestleMania doesn’t help him one bit. The same as Styles. The same as New Day. It’s almost as if they don’t want people to get over? Glass ceiling, bitches.
Final Rating: ***
WWE Women’s Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
First off, it’s great to type “Women’s Championship” and hearing Cole refer to these ladies as “superstars” is a big step in the right direction. Altering perception of women’s wrestling is a massive plus for the company and the single greatest achievement of WWE on this show. In creating female stars on a par with the male stars they can improve their cards massively with minimal effort. It helps that they’ve got these three talented women, all former NXT stars, to showcase on this card. Rather predictably they proceed to steal the show. Not like the IC Ladder match, which was always going to be spotty carnage, but in terms of actual wrestling and match structure. This is match of the night, easily. There are hints of nerves in the early going, certainly, and not everything they attempt works. Especially on the floor where a few dive spots didn’t quite click but then Charlotte hit a ridiculous moonsault onto Becky and Sasha and from there the match was golden.
The match got me thinking about the best women’s matches on WrestleMania in the past and the only one that jumps out at me is Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James at WrestleMania 22. Perhaps the short but sweet Trish vs. Jazz vs. Victoria at the excellentWrestleMania 19. That match went 7 minutes for comparison, this year the women got 16 minutes. A huge contrast and the biggest winner of WrestleMania being five hours long. Having watched these three come through NXT and having watched WWE struggle to understand the concept of talented women wrestlers, it was a huge relief to see this not only come off at the biggest show of the year but to come off so incredibly well. The only problem the match had was the bizarre booking of Charlotte to retain. Surely at ‘Mania you want your big babyface victories to mean something. Instead the hopes and dreams of both Becky and Sasha were crushed in front of 101,000 people and Ric Flair got involved in the finish. Which is perhaps the last thing everyone wanted to see. A shame as the match itself, until the left field booking, was killer and the best of the night.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Hell in a Cell
The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon
The stipulations here were that if Shane won he’d take overRAW but if Taker lost he’d never compete at WrestleMania again. The whole set up for this has been completely bizarre and confusing (two words I’ve used throughout this review). Why would you want to book two completely incompatible wrestlers into a match like this? Why would you put stipulations onto the match where the crowd will want to root for Shane, because he represents the need for change, but won’t because he’s wrestling Taker? The Hell in a Cell merely exists so Shane can fall off it. Which is a stupid idea but an even dumber idea is having them wrestle, hold for hold, for twenty-five minutes before that spot. In what world can Shane McMahon, a 46 year old non-wrestler (regardless of recent training montages), go hold for hold with the Undertaker? Even if you look at Taker as old and washed up, they had him grapple with Brock Lesnar last year in main event match ups. From that logic could Shane McMahon exchange holds with Lesnar on the mat? Of course he couldn’t. It’s absolute nonsense. The match should never have featured hold and counter hold wrestling because it makes no sense at all. Shane cannot be booked that way. I can just about understand him surviving moves and desperately kicking out of stuff but the mat wrestling in this match was just awful. And that’s twenty-five of the ridiculous thirty minute run time. The last five minutes was all about Shane falling off the Hell in a Cell, which was a startling visual and a huge WrestleMania moment. Did it magically turn this into a good wrestling match? No. Then Taker beat Shane clean anyway. Thus rendering the entire storyline pointless. Why even bring Shane back as an agent of change to put him in a position where change will never happen and job him clean? None of this makes one iota of sense. Not from the moment that Shane walked back in, to Undertaker’s lack of reluctance to simply do Vince’s bidding before they retconned a ‘last ‘Mania’ stipulation in there right through to the entire structure of the match and it’s conclusion. This entire storyline has been a farce.
Final Rating: *
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
A bunch of jobbers, as per usual, are represented plus NXT’sBaron Corbin, Kane, Big Show and surprise entrants Diamond Dallas Page, Tatanka and Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq brought out last to get the ‘big pop’ treatment, which is fine if you watch basketball or you’re really into the movie Steel but this is a pop culture reference that’s twenty years late. Plus Shaq, who’s 7’ 1” totally exposes WWE’s worked heights by towering over Show. Shaq and Show get dumped early, thus creating some actual intrigue until I started to scan around the ring for someone I actually wanted to win. Last year’s potential winner, Damien Sandow, went out second. I feel so bad for him. WWE don’t care about him in the slightest. Tyler Breeze was an afterthought. I feel even worse for him. He’s genuinely talented and is now doomed to rot on Superstars. However this is the one match where they actually made someone, they actually went and pulled the trigger on a push. It was literally the only time they did it all night. This is a show where they could have made a bunch of guys by having them impress in front of a massive crowd and the guy they actually push is Baron Corbin, which is completely bizarre to me as he’s a mediocre guy in NXT who has barely learned anything in the time he’s been there. He has improved, a lot, in the past six months but not to this level. Plus nobody in the audience care about him because they’ve been given no reason to. Obviously the match wasn’t up to much because it’s a battle royal and essentially there as a piss break for anyone that was bursting before Uncle Paul’s super long main event.
Final Rating: *
Promo Time: The Rock
Before we hit the main event The Rock comes out here to talk for a bit. Although the Rock’s recent appearances have been funny, some of the backstage stuff borderline hilarious, here it’s flat. He announces the attendance; 101,763, beating the oldWrestleMania III record. Perhaps just to shut up everyone who keeps harping on about Summerslam ’92 having a bigger crowd. Rock seems apprehensive and keeps repeating himself. For one of the most confident men on the planet it’s an odd performance. He’s interrupted by Bray Wyatt, Braun Strowman and Erick Rowan. Bray’s entrance is great but this is another man WWE have completely dropped the ball with. Since his ‘Mania match with John Cena his momentum has stuttered, stumbled and his group have been booked as losers. Rock makes fun of him, which elicits a few chuckles as he calls Rowan inbred. We get an impromptu match.
The Rock vs. Erick Rowan
Rowan is literally the biggest jobber in the company. People his size are usually treated better by Vince. Remember when they tried to turn him into a babyface with Ziggler and Ryback? Rock beats him in six seconds, which is a new record. The previous holder being Kane vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr. at WrestleMania 24. Erick Rowan, ladies and gentlemen, record breaker! The Wyatt’s continued to attack so out came John Cena for the save. Bray and his goons have been dead for months so this wasn’t a disaster for them but rather confirms WWE have no idea what to do with Bray. Segment was overlong and tiresome to boot.
Final Rating: N/R
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Triple H (c) vs. Roman Reigns
The show has been killed at this point and the crowd despise Roman so there’s no coming back. Everything since the women’s match has been awful. Triple H has a very defined, very deliberate sense of what he believes a wrestling match should be and it was fine in the territories in the 1970s but nowadays he desperately needs someone to play off. With Roman only having four spots (Superman Punch, Spear, Drive By, Samoan Drop) it creates this impossible scenario for the match. It could not live up to being in this position on the card and it was always going to be a disaster. Not only was it a bad match but it’s a really, really boring one. A twenty-seven minute grind of a contest. The highlight for me was the work of Stephanie McMahon. She did terrific work in introducing Hunter, had the best slutty costume I’ve ever seen her wear and her presence at ringside was far superior to Hunter and Roman’s presence in the ring. She played into the biggest spot in the match too, getting accidentally speared by Reigns after barging into the ring because she’s a McMahon, damn it. You put yourself in the line of fire and you have to expect to take a bullet. The crowd’s shocked reaction to the bump was the best part of the entire match by some distance. The rest of the match the crowd chanted for people they’d rather see in this spot, which included Shinsuke Nakamura and Bayley. Nice for them to get that reception but it speaks volumes about a dull main event. Hunter has this obsession with working long main events and shooting for epic but Reigns needed a quick, decisive win. Hunter getting squashed would have meant far more. Regardless of the previous 27 minutes the finish saw Roman booed out of the building and WWE’s record attendance go home unhappy.
Final Rating: *3/4
Summary: Oh good lord, where do I even start? The booking on this show was so counterproductive, so utterly helpless that it felt like Vince telling the fans “I’m always right, damn it” and booking what he thought was right. The result is a show with one feel-good moment, a totally unexpected Zack Ryder IC title win that will mean nothing in the long term, and two good matches. What did WWE achieve with this show? They killed the Shane McMahon angle. They killed the Sasha Banks angle. They continued the Roman Reigns push regardless of what the actual fans want. They killed Ambrose. They killed Styles. The nostalgia push guys didn’t make any sense. From a booking point of view this show couldn’t have been any worse. A monkey could have randomly booked finishes and come up with a better WrestleMania. Last year WrestleMania 31 was bad on paper but it delivered on the night because it was entertaining. This show was the opposite of that. Just because a few matches delivered doesn’t give WWE any right to book some of the crap that followed it. I know some people will think I’m being hypercritical but NXT on Friday was by far the better show. That brand knows how to build matches, knows how to build stars and knows how to book finishes. WWE’s main roster can’t hype matches (nothing on this show had a good build), can’t make stars even when the talent is handed to them on a platter and cannot book finishes to save their life. This show was a big chance to wow a lot of people and make worthwhile changes and the status quo was maintained throughout (women’s championship name change aside). Vince is sat in the back with earplugs in shouting “everything is fine”. He’s the captain of the Titanic who smashes into the iceberg and keeps on sailing. TV ratings pouring out of the boat from below the wrestling waterline, drifting to other entertainment mediums or seeking solace in the independent scene, which is producing an unreal amount of talent at the moment and putting on shows a lot better than this. On the bright side, this was probably a better show than CZW or Kaiju Big Battel so at least WrestleMania 32didn’t have the ignominy of being the worst show on WrestleMania weekend. That would have been odd.