By Rich Twilling
First and foremost, I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing of The Ultimate Warrior, which broke shortly after the completion of the editorial. His induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, and seeing him with his wife and two daughters, was a welcome sight. My deepest condolences go out to his family.
Early Saturday morning, I read a weather report saying there were snow flurries in hell. After WrestleMania XXX came to a close, it was a full-blown blizzard.
Seeing the three biggest mainstream stars in the history of the company (more on this soon) in the ring at the same time at WrestleMania was certainly a segment for the ages. However, combining this scene with the ending of the Undertaker's undefeated streak at Mania, and you have the aforementioned ski conditions in hell.
The dust from WrestleMania has settled, as has what has become the most talked-about Raw of the year, the following night, so let's take a look at the biggest show of the year, match by match. I will also reveal the MVP(s) of the night, and what to look for, expect, and hope for going forward.
The Usos retain the WWE Tag Team Championship: This match was pushed back to the preshow, which was not a big deal to this writer, until I watched the match. Outside of WrestleManias 16 and 17, this was the best tag title match in WrestleMania history.
Personally, my favorite tag team championship match took place at WrestleMania VI, with Demolition defeating the Colossal Connection, and if you remember that match, you will remember the crowd reaction after the title change. It was unreal. The Usos brought their A game, and although the tag team division has been enjoying a resurgence over the past couple of years, the main storyline here was the ongoing tension between Cesaro and Jack Swagger. Of course, Cesaro was not finished yet for the evening, and the match itself exceeded expectations.
Going Forward: The tag team division will continue to be what it is. It is never going to be what it was in the mid-to-late 80s. However, there have been some longer reigns dating back to last year with <b>Team Hell No</b> and <b>The Shield</b>, so the division is doing just fine.
Opening Segment of WrestleMania with Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and The Rock: One pet peeve of mine over the years at certain WrestleMania events is that it sometimes comes across as just another show. This segment felt like one of those "once in a lifetime" moments, which is exactly what WrestleMania should be. This was fantastic.
Going into this event, nothing on the show felt like a "mid-card" match to me. The Divas' Championship match was as close to "filler" as the show got, and they rushed through the six-man tag, but everything felt important going in. That being said, the show peaked in the first hour, but what a great first hour it was. Having Hogan, Austin, and Rock in the ring together was something to appeal to most every fan. For me, it was just awesome, and I simply sat back and enjoyed it. In the movie "Rocky V," which was the weakest of the series, there is a scene where Rocky flashes back to a conversation he had with his manager, Mickey. It was the best scene in the entire series. This was not the best WrestleMania, but this was one of the best moments in the history of the event. Some would say it ran a little long, but they could have gone as long as they wanted.
JBL said something about "wrestling's Mount Rushmore," and if there was one, it would be difficult to leave any of these three off. These are the three biggest mainstream stars in the history of the business. In the "best ever" category, many would argue for Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, and/or the Undertaker, but these three are in their own class.
I thought Michaels would have been a great addition to this segment, and some wrestling friends of mine were about 50/50 on that. It was WrestleMania XXX, and Michaels is "Mr. WrestleMania," so it would have worked for me. Even without him, this was one of my favorite Mania moments (not match, just moment) of all time, up there with Randy Savage at Mania 4, Savage and Elizabeth at Mania 7, and Taker, Michaels, and Triple H at Mania 28. My good friend, Shawn Valentino, was texting with me throughout the show, and he summed up the moment in one word. "Speechless."
Daniel Bryan defeated Triple H: The result here was never in question, but of course, that could have been said regarding another match on this show. Things started on a great note with Hunter's entrance. Again, some may have found it corny; but at WrestleMania, we should be seeing things we do not normally see. It set the tone.
This was the in-ring highlight of the show for me. Triple H works a heel style better than anyone I have ever seen. Ric Flair is right there at the top of that list, but he was always comedic in a way, while Hunter is just ruthless and unrelenting. The way he worked on Bryan's shoulder, utilizing moves he rarely, if ever, uses, was classic storytelling. The only thing missing was Gorilla Monsoon or Jim Ross pointing this out.
As good as both competitors were in this match, <b>Stephanie McMahon</b> added so much to the match from the outside. It was like she watched tapes of managers past and came up with a style all her own. The way she mocked Bryan while cheering on Triple H was the icing on a very good cake. It was a great, physical match.
The Shield defeated The New Age Outlaws and Kane: The Shield, as a unit, are one of the best things WWE has produced over the past two years. I expected them to win, as did most everyone else, but I expected a better match, or at least a longer one.
This was actually an opportunity for WWE to make a bad booking decision, and they did not do that, so that was good. Individually, it was the "Roman Reigns Show," and both Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were very good as well. This was a case of the best thing being the expected thing, and it worked.
-The Outlaws had not teamed together at WrestleMania since WrestleMania 14.
-The Road Dogg and Kane were on opposite sides of a tag team match at WrestleMania 16.
-The Shield are the first trio to have six-man tag team matches at back-to-back WrestleManias.
Going Forward: I hope WWE keeps The Shield together, because I do not think every single team or group needs to feud when breaking up. Reigns is going to be a top guy, probably sooner rather than later, but why not have them "break up" amicably, and team up every so often when they need a good Raw main event? That being said, and after what we saw on Raw, it looks like the babyface turn will be a short-lived one for Ambrose and Rollins (I'm guessing they will turn on Reigns once they pull the trigger), while Reigns becomes a top babyface.
It's always good to see legends at WrestleMania, even if they are playing with action figures. Dangerous Danny Davis looked nearly the same as he did at Mania 3. I wonder if he gave Scott Armstrong any tips on how to be a crooked referee.
Cesaro won the Andre the Giant battle royal: I thought Big Show winning this thing was way too predictable, so going in, I was leaning toward Big E, The Miz, or Dolph Ziggler. I would not have been surprised to see Hogan in it, but that was a long shot.
Once I saw Cesaro, who was not scheduled for the match, he was my pick to win it. The match itself was forgettable, but the moment at the end will be used in a lot of footage going forward. Cesaro slamming Show was reminiscent of Hogan slamming Andre at Mania 3, and thus, the proper homage to Andre was paid.
One more note, the gimmick of Kofi Kingston's feet not touching the floor was cool at first, but him sitting on the floor with his feet on the steps was a little much. What's next? He is stretchered out of the Rumble and returns later, without his feet hitting the ground, and reenters the match? Just my two cents.
Going Forward: This could have been a fun piece of business that really did not result in anyone being pushed. Instead, it became a (probable) turning point in the career of Cesaro. Back when I was doing this full-time, the building of new stars (or lack thereof) was a huge topic of conversation and contention. Well, now we have a new crop, and Cesaro is at or near the top of that list. The crowd loves this guy, to the point even where I am convinced he could win the title from Daniel Bryan and not have the crowd crap all over it.
John Cena defeated Bray Wyatt: Bray Wyatt is my favorite person to watch in WWE right now (slightly ahead of Dean Ambrose). To me, he should be the next big main event guy (even before Reigns and Cesaro). His character reminds a lot of people of the Undertaker, but his mannerisms and ring psychology remind me more of Jake Roberts, Roddy Piper or no one at all, as he is one of a kind.
I could be wrong, but Cena winning here was probably universally shunned. Of course, I was hoping for a win for Wyatt, but I thought he looked like a mega-star, even in losing the match. Cena also worked an effective, tentative babyface style in the match. We got much less "Super Cena" and more "Deer in Headlights" Cena.
After the Wyatt Family looked strong in their victory on Raw, I am convinced that Bray will continue to work with Cena, and will defeat him on PPV. Personally, given how WWE got it right with the Wyatts and the Shield, I was hoping to see that match at Mania (the same one we got at Elimination Chamber), but make no mistake about it, Bray Wyatt is also a main-event guy in waiting. It's a good thing the champion is still carrying around two belts, because with the emergence of new, main-event, talent, they may need to separate them again.
Scott Hall was my favorite guy to watch back in 1998. He epitomizes cool, and seeing him inducted into the Hall of Fame was fantastic. He, along with Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, and Ted DiBiase would have been WWE Champion if they were active in this era.
Brock Lesnar defeated The Undertaker: It was 23 years in the making, but this was the most shocking moment in WWE history. I'm sure my thoughts on this are similar to those of many. Why Lesnar? Why not Wyatt or Reigns? Why give up the one sacred thing they had left? Why give up the streak in an average match?
While these questions are valid ones, I think maybe this could have been Taker's last match. Taker is an old-school guy, so maybe he wanted to do business "the right way" on the way out. Perhaps Taker will come back next year and avenge the loss. Nonetheless, there are very few genuinely shocking moments in wrestling anymore, and this will forever top the list.
My live report from the show told me the crowd was less shocked and more pissed, but quiet pissed. Lesnar did not "need" the win by any means, which made it that much more surprising. The crowd was dead, as were the announcers, throughout the match. Paul Heyman was brilliant. I recall thinking his work (screams, facial expressions) during the match would have been noticed and appreciated by Jim Ross. He was the highlight of the match (outside of the finish, of course).
Going Forward: The top of the card is packed, and Lesnar seems to be right there in the mix. To me, if they wanted to go in the direction of "face challenger chases unbeatable heel champion," Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan could be a memorable feud. Cesaro is there too, as a Heyman guy, so the lines of face and heel are so blurred, it is like a baby ripping into a birthday cake on a first birthday.
If we see Taker in the ring again, my guess would be a rematch next year, or a match with John Cena. I had previously said that the only way to tease a Taker loss at Mania was to have him face Cena in an "I Quit" match. I told a few people that I would bet "on the lives of my unborn children" that the streak would never end. I guess The Twilling won't be starting a family anytime soon.
A.J. Lee retained the Divas' Championship: Not much to say here. The roster can all claim to have had a Mania match now, but in matches like these, the champion usually retains.
Paige ended A.J. Lee's title reign on Raw in a match that did not showcase her skill. For anyone that follows NXT, you know Paige has a very bright in-ring future. This could be a very good feud for the championship over the next couple of months. Also, and I know it is her role, but it has to be awkward for Tamina Snuka to just stand there and listen to A.J. verbally abuse the entire roster, when she is part of said roster. If Tamina was more over, that would have been the money title change. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to Paige's reign, although it is too bad Emma is nothing but a comedic character right now.
Daniel Bryan defeated Batista and Randy Orton to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Again, this was the predictable finish, but the end of the show with Bryan, the belts, and the entire crowd chanting, was still great to watch. The match itself was very busy, with the participants, the Authority, the referee, etc. At times, it felt like a TNA PPV main event, but it ended just fine with Bryan forcing Batista to tap out.
As I mentioned earlier, WWE could have gone with a swerve here in an attempt to "not be too predictable." The best finish was the obvious one, and it worked. Bryan had the decked stacked against him while challenging for the belt, and after what we saw on Raw, that will continue now that he is the champion. The book ends of the show were great, and overall, this show fell somewhere in the middle.
Valentino and I were there in Los Angeles when Bryan won the title from John Cena, and he was ridiculously over with the crowd. We both loved the finish to that show; however, but wondered if WWE was waiting too long to pull the trigger on Bryan. Well, we can see that since then, Bryan's popularity has only grown. He has staying power, so let's see how long he stays on top.
Going Forward: Some sort of eight-man tag or elimination match with Bryan and The Shield vs. Triple H, Batista, Randy Orton, and Kane seems to be on the horizon. Orton was not actually defeated for the title, but I'd be surprised to see that on PPV again.
As for Bryan's first feud as champion, there are several options. Bray Wyatt and Cesaro are choices for the near future. Triple H, Orton, and/or Batista are the most logical (but not most popular) immediate choices. Roman Reigns is going to be a huge babyface star, so he may have to wait for a heel champion, i.e. Brock Lesnar. The options are seemingly endless.
WrestleMania MVP: There are plenty of runner-ups here, including Daniel Bryan, Paul Heyman, Stephanie McMahon, Triple H, and The Shield. Heyman and Stephanie added so much to their respective matches. Bryan worked his ass off twice. Hunter was good both in and out of the ring. The Shield delivered and solidified themselves as top guys. My vote, however, goes to Bray Wyatt.
One could argue that Cena stepped down to the midcard to work with Wyatt, but I whole-heartedly disagree. I say Wyatt stepped up and worked a main-event level match, and more than lived up to the challenge. His entrance, his look, his mannerisms, his physical style in the ring, and his psychology are all on-par with that of a main event guy, and he is ready right now. Even in a loss, he still came out looking like an absolute star.
Overall Show: The opening segment was epic. I actually feel better about the show now than I did when I saw it, although it is still "middle of the road" compared to other Manias. It is not down there with Mania 2, 9, and 11, but it is not at the level of 3, 17, or 19. While this show was not the in-ring masterpiece other shows were, it did a nice job developing and/or furthering the pushes of certain people. It also provided a few true "WrestleMania moments" that fans will never forget.
Thank you for reading. Looking forward to where they go from here, and drop me a line if you are going to SummerSlam!