wrestling / Columns

411 Fact or Fiction Wrestling: Was WrestleMania 31 a Classic?

April 2, 2015 | Posted by Larry Csonka

Welcome back to the latest edition of 411 Fact or Fiction, Wrestling Edition! Stuff happened, people loved/hated it and let everyone else know. I pick through the interesting/not so interesting tidbits and then make 411 staff members discuss them for your pleasure. Battling this week are Mike Chin and Mike Hammerlock!

  • Questions were sent out Monday.
  • Participants were told to expect wrestling-related content, as well as possible statements on quantum physics, homemade pharmaceuticals, the Turtle Total Trip Theorem and hydroponics.

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    1. The ending to WrestleMania 31 was the best way to book the finish.

    Mike Chin: FACT – I wasn’t pleasantly surprised by how well this main event went–plenty of shades of Lesnar-Cena from SummerSlam 2014 in Lesnar’s early dominance, with more pronounced hope spots for Reigns in the late stages of the match. Just the same, I found myself wondering if there were any truly satisfying conclusion that could occur. With each F5 Lesnar hit, I had the sinking feeling that his victory would feel deflating to end such a good WrestleMania. Just the same, the idea of Reigns pinning him clean didn’t ring true. Rollins cashing in offered a beautiful “Plan C,” and the sheer excitement of a Money in the Bank cash in was more than thrilling enough to compensate for not having a traditional happy ending with a face going over.

    Mike Hammerlock: FACT – The booking was so good that a stadium of 77,000 went bonkers for it. Literally, monster pop for the booking. That was a smark WrestleMania crowd and when Rollins stepped out for his cash-in it was a “Hell, yeah!” moment. Rollins had by far the best story in the WWE this year. There’s a reason he waltzed away with the 411Mania Wrestler of the Year voting. He shines every time he’s given a chance. He’s been a central figure in most of the company’s big moments since the last WrestleMania. This was Seth Rollins’ year. Also, the company had the challenge of living up to the spectacular conclusion of WrestleMania XXX. Brock Lesnar, awesome as he is, doesn’t deliver that kind of moment. Roman Reigns would have delivered the polar opposite of the WM30 YES! moment. We had never seen a Mania cash-in and it was begging to be done, especially since Rollins carried the briefcase about as well as anyone in the Money in the Bank history. Lesnar, being a part-timer, really didn’t give him many chances to cash in. Rollins almost snaked the title at Night of Champions and then almost won it clean without the briefcase at the Royal Rumble. Fans went nuts for both those close calls, so a Mania cash-in was sure to draw an epic pop. People love MITB cash-ins. On top of that, the rest of the match delivered what we wanted. Brock Lesnar in domination mode is a sight to behold. More than getting the victory over Roman Reigns, people wanted to see Lesnar deliver the ass kicking he promised. Well, Suplex City, bitch. He tossed Reigns around like he was Kota Ibushi against Yoshihiko. Lesnar bleeding for the cause (hard way or blade job) was icing on the cake. As for Reigns, fans hate him right now. It’s not a mixed reaction. He’s as loathed as anyone on the roster. Seeing him take a beating warmed hearts. His brief flurry threw everyone into a panic. Ultimately he served the purpose of spearing Brock out of the ring so that Rollins could then pin him. Eat it chosen one. It all worked. Lesnar dominated, Reigns threw the crowd a scare and Rollins delivered the historic moment. It will be interesting to find out when they made the decision to bypass Reigns and go straight to Rollins.

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    2. The WWE will book the secondary titles strongly as long as they are on Daniel Bryan and John Cena; but once they lose those titles, the booking will return to poor form.

    Mike Chin: FACT – In the long run, this is almost certainly true, though I do look forward to the short-term of secondary champs who are very truly over having good to great matches with a range of contenders. I hope I’m wrong and that whoever succeeds Bryan and Cena as IC and US champs are all the better for the newly legitimized credibility of these titles, but WWE hasn’t proved itself particularly deft in the long-term booking of these championships in quite some time.

    Mike Hammerlock: FACT – Cena and Bryan holding the secondary titles idea is going to scour the roster. First off, the WWE had done a solid job of redeeming both titles in 2014. Dolph Ziggler had a string of quality matches as he yo-yoed the Intercontinental Championship back and forth with other wrestlers. Dolph and Cesaro stole Hell in a Cell. Dolph and Luke Harper stole TLC. That restored some luster to the IC title. Add in his star turn at Survivor Series and we had a strong IC champ. Then Bad News Barrett got the belt and suddenly couldn’t beat a box of salamanders. Sheamus did right by U.S. Championship after taking it off Dean Ambrose, then Rusev kicked it up another level, hoisting the belt that represents the country he hates. That shit worked. John Cena will be booked like Superman because he’s John Cena, but don’t expect that to rub off on the belt. The story will be Cena getting booed thanks to his while acting like Joe America. This will not stop his eroding crowd support. Congratulations WWE, you found a way to make Americans boo their own flag. Daniel Bryan has universal popularity going for him, but he creates largely the same problem as Cena. Woe unto everyone behind them on the roster. It robs the WWE of both of its builder belts. As long as Cena and Bryan hold the secondary straps no one breaks out of the mid-card. Already Dean Ambrose has tried his luck and been exposed as unworthy. By the time Cena and Bryan are done chewing through the mid-card, it’s going to be a short list of wrestlers with enough viability to merit a strong run with a secondary belt. Honestly, the sooner Cena/Bryan drop the straps, the better. Maybe they do a SummerSlam title unification angle with those two, but if it runs longer than that it’s going to desolate the roster.

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    3. After their performances at WrestleMania 31, you have no desire to see Sting or The Undertaker wrestle ever again.

    Mike Chin: FICTION – While I’ll accept the argument that neither Sting nor Undertaker should be wrestling ten-minute-plus matches without the protection of a lot of sports entertainment shenanigans, I will also maintain that each of these guys projects an aura and has a mass appeal that few stars past or present can compete with. As one of the 76,000-plus at Levi’s Stadium, I can speak first hand to the amount of electricity each of their entrances garnered at ‘Mania. Putting the two of them in a tag team scenario probably makes more sense than having them go one-on-one for the foreseeable future. Just the same, I won’t deny that I’d like to see each of them again–particularly in the projected super-sized WrestleMania in Dallas.

    Mike Hammerlock: FICTION – I don’t think WrestleMania changed anything in terms of those two. They were old and past their primes before the event and they’re still old and past their primes after it. What do you expect from guys in their 50s? We saw Sting put on mediocre-to-bad matches for years in TNA. Undertaker’s been going downhill for a while. His HHH matches at Manias 27 annd 28 were slower paced and a bit plunder reliant. That helped hide that the phenom no longer was quite so phenomenal. On either side of those two matches, Taker was tussling with Shawn Michaels and CM Punk, two of the best workers ever. I think the evidence is in that Undertaker works best now as a base against a hyperactive smaller guy. If you want a ****+ match out of him, a Daniel Bryan or Dolph Ziggler or Seth Rollins would be your best bets. Yet, getting back to the meat of the question, Sting and Undertaker are nostalgia acts these days. They’re a draw for the increasingly older WWE fanbase that remembers when those two were the icons of their respective companies. That has its place in the business. If they face off at WM32, fans will get geeked about it, though it probably won’t be much to watch in the ring. I’d go other directions with each of them. I say Undertaker vs. Cena is a bigger match. As for Sting, I’d be more interested in a WCW dust off match between him and Goldberg, though good luck getting Goldberg to agree to do the job. The wrestling probably would be terrible, but it would it hit the right notes storywise. Who really is the last man standing from WCW?


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    4. Monday’s Raw was the most enjoyable Raw they have put on in along time.

    Mike Hammerlock: FACT – I think they should be far more daring with that nuclear-hot Raw after WrestleMania crowd, but it was refreshing to see some actual wrestling matches and Brock Lesnar going full public menace. Raw has been terrible for months, so this was a low bar to clear. Smackdown has had its problems too, but regular injections of vitamin AmDrag has put some life into that show. The real question is was this a case of making sure to feed the animals or will we see a better TV product in the coming months? I suspect it’s the former. They know they’ve got to deliver lots of professional wrestling for that crowd. So I’m not expecting it to be more than a happy aberration. A big reason why is because they could have gone way bigger with that show. Sheamus had a bit of generic return. I’m hoping he and Barrett are on course to form the world’s nastiest tag team, but there wasn’t a lot of purpose behind his return on Monday beyond establishing him as a heel. Meanwhile a Roman Reigns turn is screaming to be done. That would have set the building on fire. I’d have much rather seen him be the one to come down and pummel Bryan and Ziggler after their match, because if the crowd wants to bury him then he’s going to crush our favorites. Maybe have him pummel Cena and Ambrose too, touching off an Ambrose feud. The main event would have popped so much bigger if Orton had come to the ring with Ryback and then Adrian Neville joined them. Crowd goes wild for that. Ultimately the show didn’t set up anything terribly dramatic to carry us through the next couple of months, which leaves me enjoying what it was but yearning for more.

    Mike Chin: FACT – WWE continued the tradition of very good Raws in the immediate aftermath of WrestleManias, capitalizing on the momentum of a shockingly good show and a white hot crowd by turning in a Raw that delivered in terms of quality matches (Ambrose-Cena, Bryan-Ziggler) and well-handled debuts and returns (The Lucha Dragons, Aaron Neville, Sheamus). Moreover, Lesnar exploding on non-wrestlers lent the show the feeling of something genuinely special and different, besides offering a very reasonable justification to suspend him and explain why a guy this pissed off go home and hang out for the next few months while he works his limited dates. I would have liked to see a bit more of a focused build toward where storylines are headed next, but that’s a minor quibble for an episode worlds ahead of what WWE has been putting out over the last few months.

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    5. Sting’s WWE run has been a horribly booked mess.

    Mike Hammerlock: FICTION – I actually think HHH-Sting made a ton of sense. Wrestling Logic 101 demanded a Sting loss. He stepped into the WWE unprovoked and picked a fight with Trips. At every turn in the build to the match, Sting got the best of Hunter. In fact, Hunter never once got his mitts on Sting. Forget the names involved for a minute, but unless the guy getting his nose consistently shoved in crap is complete fodder he’s probably going to reverse the momentum when the actual match goes down. We’ve seen this a zillion times. No matter how much you may loathe HHH, you have to admit him coming up with a game plan to rob Sting of a supposed sure thing victory fits the “Cerebral Assassin” persona to a tee. On top of that, the match played to what this beef always was about: WWE vs. WCW. Sting’s supposed motivation for picking this fight? Pure malarkey. Nothing but empty words disguising the real reason for this fight. As soon as DX hit, it all made sense. Add in the nWo (huge props to Kevin Nash for selling a quad tear during the melee, he actually may be a genius) and then Shawn Michaels (who got a bigger pop than Hogan because it was that kind of crowd) and you’ve got the WWE vs. WCW Giant Monsters All-Out Attack we crave. This is North vs. South, Hatfields vs. McCoys, Mongols vs. Wall. It requires no explanation. We get it. All they had to do was deliver it. And, yeah, WWE won on Sunday. Why? Because WWE won in 2001. Victors, spoils. Sting coming to WWE in some half-cocked WCW revenge fantasy story? Yawn. Instead we’ve now got Sting as exactly what he is, a stranger in a strange land, an industry icon who needs to carve out a place for himself in the WWE. Can the old dog learn a new trick? That’s fertile storytelling ground. The E has a way of losing the plot, but for the first time since he showed up in WWE I’m genuinely interested to see what Sting does next. Could be anything.

    Mike Chin: FICTION – Sting’s WWE run hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire but in the year 2015, when Steve Borden is fifty-six years old, did you really expect it to? I felt the way in which Sting debuted at Survivor Series was excellent–high profile, impactful, and setting a clear and logical direction for him. While I may have let him cut a promo sooner, his work in the interceding months between November and ‘Mania was perfectly reasonable.

    And then there’s the ‘Mania match. Yes, I expected and wanted Sting to go over, but the man got his moment to shine in front of 76,000 and WWE shrewdly used his match as a canvas to live out a microcosm of a fantasy DX-NWO showdown rather than risking the prospect of two older men stinking out the joint. Moreover, while WWE didn’t go for the more obvious fairy tale ending, it did protect Triple H to go on his presumptive program with The Rock, and the sports entertainment-heavy booking means Sting should be just fine as an attraction for two or three more major matches, which is about all I imagine he has left in the tank as a WWE performer.

    And, while having Sting drop Bo Dallas on Raw was silly, it did establish that WWE is still going to treat him like a top player well above the doldrums of the main roster (and we can talk about the mess of Bo Dallas’s booking another time…).

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    6. WrestleMania 31 is one of the five best WrestleMania events of all time.

    Mike Hammerlock: FICTION – I’d rank it #9. I’m a bit reluctant to stack this Mania up against the other 30 this soon after the event. There’s a few stages of Wrestling Event Syndrome to work though: immediate after buzz, post-hype malaise, actual historical importance. I’ll slot it in at #9 at the moment since it was free of garbage matches. Arguably we got the best pre-show ever. The tag match was a blast and Big Show did what a giant technically should be able to do. Do those contests count as part of the show. Historically we ignore the pre-show, but this one demands recognition. The IC ladder match, Rollins-Orton and the main event were very good. The divas match was watchable. To borrow Scott Slimmer’s line, I thought the “epic overbooking” worked in HHH vs. Sting. Cena-Rusev was a respectable wrestling match though the foregone conclusion made it a little tepid. Undertaker-Wyatt never kicked into high gear, but it had its moments. Loved Rusev’s tank entrance and Triple H’s Terminator entrance. Reigns’ fireworks-accented machine gun spin was pretty cool too, especially because it evoked Batista (whose shoes Reigns stepped into as the main eventer no one wanted there). I wish the Rock and Rousey segment had gone half as long, but it generated media buzz, which is something WrestleMania should be aiming to do. Wish they had let Rousey talk, because she’s one of the more quotable athletes in the world of pro sports. Give me a year and I might move this one up the list. I’m hoping it doesn’t become the night Bray Wyatt and Rusev had their careers permanently hobbled. Likewise, I’m hoping it touches off a memorable title run for Seth Rollins and a radical change of direction for Roman Reigns. Where this leads matters. It’s why WrestleMania 20 went from best Mania ever on the night it happened to a borderline top 5 today. Last year’s Mania suffered after the fact because Daniel Bryan got injured and Cesaro went nowhere, and because the pay-per-views and TV product went into the toilet as the year wore on. WM31 will seem a lot more important if the general quality of the WWE rises to a higher level. It could become the night when things started to get better.

    Mike Chin: FICTION – This is very, very tough, because my initial instinct is to say fact. It’s clearly behind WrestleManias 17 and 19, but I think 31 holds up well with any other ‘Mania on the list. Just the same, without a little more historical context, more breathing room to soak it all in, and single legitimately great signature match to hang my hat on, I’m not yet ready to call this one top five. Top ten without question, top seven for sure, and this time next year, I may be ready to make the leap and place it in a three-to-five spot, but not yet.