The 32nd annual WrestleMania took place on Sunday, April 3rd, 2016. The biggest show of the year for World Wrestling Entertainment, it is known as the “Super Bowl of Wrestling” and the “Showcase of the Immortals,” a stacked card full of athleticism, entertainment, and spectacle. So how was it, then?
Okay, maybe that’s not quite a fair assessment. During the show, I was pretty hyped, and in that sense, the show did it’s job. I’m still feeling something of a “WrestleMania buzz” now, some four days later. All the same, with that cool-down period, I’ve had time to think and reflect on the show of shows and how it failed to deliver.
Here’s the thing: among the other things I mentioned already, WrestleMania has long been a place where feuds were to be settled, where old stories end so new ones can begin. Or at least, it was. Now it’s just another cog in the ever-turning wheel, a bigger show than what WWE normally puts on, but not one of much more consequence. With that in mind, I chose to still my tongue about how things went on that night and see how the aftermath played out before writing this. And with Smackdown now having aired in the U.S. (we typically get it here a day earlier, save for when it’s live like last week), I’m ready to talk WrestleMania… and beyond.
One thing to establish first and foremost: I have no complaints about the matches themselves, for the most part. Instead, it’s how the storylines ended up playing out that I have a beef with, and which have turned me kind of sour to the whole thing. Not counting the pre-show, which ran while people were still filing into the building, only one face (i.e. “good guy”) won the entire night… well, sort of. We’ll get into that.
The aforementioned pre-show was pretty good, with Kalisto successfully defending the United States title against Ryback and a match I didn’t get to view much of seeing the Usos triumph over the Dudley Boyz. The highlight for me, however, was actually the match between “Team Total Divas” Brie Bella, Natalya, Paige, Alicia Fox, and — Heaven help us — Eva Marie facing off against “Team B.A.D. and Blonde,” consisting of Lana, Naomi, Tamina, Emma, and “I can’t believe she plays a heel (bad guy) when I see her out of character” Summer Rae.
The match was much better than I expected, showing that it’s not just the new blood in the Divas Division upping their game for the show. Team Total Divas came out on top with Brie forcing Naomi to tap out to the submission move adopted from her retired husband, Daniel Bryan, the Yes Lock. With Brie now out of the picture, seeing her come out victorious and greeted by her injured sister, Nikki, as the rest hoisted her high atop their shoulders, it seemed a fitting possible close for her in-ring career (should it come to that).
It also seemed to be a good end for the whole “Divas” division, as WWE would also announce during the pre-show that they are dropping that nomenclature, with the women now being referred to as “Superstars” like their male brethren and debuting a new Women’s Championship title belt that mirrors the one held by the men.
Following the two-hour pre-show, WrestleMania proper began in earnest with no big fancy opening numbers (save for a rendition of “America the Beautiful” by Fifth Harmony) and got right into introducing the participants for the seven-man Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Title. In a twist that no one saw coming (though some, such as myself, were always hopeful of), Zack Ryder defeated champion Kevin Owens along with Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn, Sin Cara, Stardust, and The Miz to claim the coveted belt.
This was the one face victory I spoke of on the main card, and it was glorious. Really, Zack Ryder deserved this. I’ve never argued that, with his current gimmick, that he would ever be the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, but he’s deserved better than he’s gotten over the years. He’s a solid performer for the midcard, yet usually only appears on WWE’s C-list show Superstars or to very occasionally job out to “bigger names” on Raw or Smackdown. Otherwise, he’s been tagging with Mojo Rawley down in WWE’s developmental promotion, NXT, as The Hype Bros.
Ryder has been with the company since 2007 and made the mistake of getting himself over with the crowd without WWE’s help, establishing a fan base on YouTube and Twitter, effectively showing the company how to use those platforms effectively and being buried as thanks for his efforts. It looked like his career was finally being unearthed, but many of us were fearful that Ryder’s tenure as Intercontinental Champion would be a short one. As it turns out, we were right to be wary.
The following night on Raw, WWE took the one single happy ending they produced during the entire five-hour show (the crowd’s deafening chant to Ryder that “you deserve it” speaking volumes) and proceeded to throw it right against the wall to slide down into a trash can as he lost the title to The Miz.
I’ll admit: I tried to retain optimism. After all, I do like The Miz, and the way the match on Raw ended left some interesting opportunities as both Zack’s father and Miz’s wife, returning former Diva’s Champion Maryse, both got involved in the outcome. A feud between Miz and Ryder that involves their families? That could be interesting and fun, especially with as much personality as the four of them combined bring to the table. Maybe they could trade the belt back and forth a few times over the course of a feud, as Ryder soon enacted his rematch clause for Smackdown.
It remains to be seen where things go from here, of course, but knowing WWE, I’m not very hopeful. At least Zack got his WrestleMania moment, but I’m just hoping that they don’t shuffle him back into obscurity once again.
The next match saw Chris Jericho beat AJ Styles, and despite that, it seems their feud continues, even while the latter is now the number one contender for the WWE Heavyweight Championship following Raw.
The League of Nations (Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, and Rusev, with King Barrett) then defeated The New Day (Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods, who appeared from a giant box of their Booty O’s cereal in full Saiyan battle armor — tail included for one of them) in a non-title Tag Team match. I was okay with this, since it allowed the League the opportunity to brag about how “no three men” could ever beat them, only for their challenge to be met by Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who provided the League with their comeuppance and a nice feel-good moment as they celebrated with the New Day (who would retain their titles on Raw).
Advocate Paul Heyman’s client, Brock Lesnar defeated Dean Ambrose in a match that just ran way too short and felt like it ended abruptly. Word is that Dean wanted things to get more brutal, but WWE nixed it, leaving us with something of a “well, that happened” match.
A match to christen the new WWE Women’s Champion was contested between Charlotte (with her dad, Ric Flair, in her corner), Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks, who dressed in honor of the late Eddie Guerrero and was accompanied to ringside by her cousin, Snoop Dogg, who sang her entrance on the way. Charlotte, who went into the match as Diva’s Champion, would win with an assist from her father. Arguments have gone back and forth between “that’s what managers do” to “a man shouldn’t have been pivotal in crowning the Women’s Champion of a new era,” but it was rather disappointing either way as it seemed like Sasha Banks should have had that match in the bag. Some wonder why Snoop didn’t provide counter-interference to balance out Ric as he kept her from breaking up the deciding submission.
The next night on Raw saw the proper induction of Charlotte as the holder of the new belt, but her hubris led all the other competitors who had gathered in the ring to turn their backs and walk out on her… except Natalya, who declared that the younger Flair needed a “lesson in humility.” Not that I don’t think Charlotte vs. Natalya will be good, but we’ve been there. Not only that, but we were there just recently with WWE’s Roadblock event just a few weeks ago, where Charlotte was the victor — and they even acknowledge this on the air, which might be the only part of that card that remains relevant or referred to today. Many chanting in the crowd, as well as myself, were hoping for former NXT Women’s Champion and fellow “Four Horsewomen” member Bayley to pull a Galvatron and dare to disrupt Charlotte’s coronation, but alas, it was not to be.
Next came the Hell in a Cell match between Undertaker and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon’s son Shane McMahon. Shane had returned on Raw after a six-year absence, noting that the company was not doing well under the regime of The Authority (sister Stephanie McMahon and her husband, Triple H) and wanted to take control of Raw (as “he who controls Raw controls WWE,” essentially) to ensure that the legacy began by his grandfather would still be around for his own children later. Shane was willing to pull his weight with some unknown item in a lockbox that gave him leverage over Vince from some unknown deal that took place prior to Shane’s departure. Vince said Shane could run Raw provided he won one match — this one, which would also see Undertaker lose his career if he failed to beat Shane.
Cutting to the chase, Shane lost. We were given hope for a breath of fresh air, a change in the status quo, and interesting new story possibilities with Shane taking control of the company. We got a great spot as Shane jumped off the cell down 20 feet onto a table that had only seconds before had the Undertaker atop it, and that was pretty much it. Woo-hoo.
The next night, Vince declared his victory and that he had obtained the lockbox that morning, so no one could hold anything over him again — thus rendering the entire plotline as pointless as GTV, the Anonymous Raw General Manager, or any other example of bad, incomplete storytelling WWE has been content to dish out over the years. When WWE tells a good story, they can do it really well, but this ranks among the absolute worst with its utter pointlessness.
Oh, and then Shane came out to say good-bye and thank you to the fans, leading Vince to declare “no one upstages him” and putting him in charge of Raw for the night. So I don’t even know. It’s like WWE is telling some sort of anti-story with this one. Nice to have Shane back, at least.
Anyway, back to WrestleMania. The show used to be three hours, but in more recent years, they bumped it up to four. By the time Shane and Undertaker’s match had ended, four hours had passed — plus the two-hour pre-show. So for those who went all-in (such as myself), we were now in our seventh hour of WrestleMania, and grand as it may have been, it was also becoming tiresome by this point.
The André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal saw an intriguing special entry as none other than Shaq entered the competition. Though he had a good tussle with Kane and The Big Show (who he managed to dwarf in height if not weight), he was eventually tossed out and NXT star Baron Corbin won. Good for him.
The Rock came out to steal Rodimus Prime’s gun, be The Rock and announce the attendance numbers, only to be confronted by The Wyatt Family. WWE’s terrible booking of the Wyatts has seen them go from appearing menacing to damn near toothless (actually, Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon feels like a much bigger threat than these supernatural backwoodsmen), and The Rock’s dressing down of them only made them seem more so. Then The Rock called for a match, pulling off his tearaway attire to reveal his wrestling garb — but since his movie star insurance wouldn’t clear him to wrestle, he laid out Erick Rowan with one move in six seconds.
Then the other Wyatts made an attempt to ambush The Rock, but John Cena made his triumphant return from injury to help his longtime friend in a moment you’ll see only Once in a Lifetime. The Rock ended the segment by telling Cena “welcome back.”
John Cena has not been seen on WWE television since. Granted, it’s only been a week, but “welcome back” — as well as the lead-up to that — seems kind of premature.
Oh, and I guess you can say this was a second face win on the main card — if you a) consider The Rock a face, and b) want to actually call that a match. Most people would just call it fluff, though.
Finally, Stephanie McMahon led off one hell of an entrance for her husband and WWE World Heavyweight Champion Triple H as he went to the ring to defend his title against the challenger, Roman Reigns. WWE — the real-life company, not the evil fascist regime portrayed on-screen — want Roman to be The Guy just so damn bad, but most fans aren’t having it. Word is that WWE turned down the crowd mics during the main event, yet the boos for Roman were still deafening.
It was a pretty good match, considering, but the underlying sentiment combined with the extremely long duration of the event didn’t do it any favors. WWE had their way, though, and Roman Reigns — technically a face on some level — finally got his big WrestleMania win and has become champion. The way the fans reacted, though, was anything but a hero’s welcome, which is why I consider Zack Ryder’s victory the only face win on the whole card.
Then, for whatever reason, the following nights on Raw and Smackdown has seen a definite shift in attitude with Roman. People have long felt that a heel turn (a la his cousin, The Rock, when he started out in WWE so long ago) would do wonders for the character, and I think we might be seeing a little bit of that? If that’s the case, even if he’s walking the line in between, one has to wonder why WWE didn’t do this before the biggest show of the year, so that maybe more people might be cheering him.
So with that, WrestleMania was a fun ride, but not one I’m all too eager to revisit any time soon. While the wrestling itself was great, the results for most of the matches and further outcome just lack satisfaction. All in all, looking back at WrestleMania makes me think of it as just another night — business as usual, but with a bit more spectacle. On to the next night.
Why would I keep watching, then? Well, the main thing keeping me glued now that Ryder has lost the title and that feud seems like it might be dead is that they’ve called up a whole bunch of guys from NXT this week: Apollo Crews, The Vaudevillains, and especially Enzo and Cass have me wanting to see what comes next.
So it goes, and in the words of Simon Furman, “it never ends.”
WrestleMania image credit: WWE.com
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.