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WrestleMania 32 Thoughts: 3800 Words of Futile Whining Lie Ahead

April 5, 2016 | Posted by Jack Stevenson
Roman Reigns WrestleMania 32
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WrestleMania 32 Thoughts: 3800 Words of Futile Whining Lie Ahead  

Small warning! Usually I try to remain spoiler free in my reviews because I always think it’s annoying when you want to know whether a show you’re contemplating watching is any good but any analysis of it on the internet comes packaged with the match results, but it’s nigh on impossible to have a proper discussion of ‘Mania this year without divulging a lot of what happened. So, if you want to watch the show blind, here is my official recommendation- obviously watch it because it’s Wrestlemania, the most culturally significant wrestling show in the Western world, but don’t expect to actually enjoy much of it. Ominous!

Wrestlemania 32 made me sad. Did it do that to anyone else? Or am I just sulking because most of the people I wanted to win didn’t? I suppose maybe I am a little bit, but the fact remains that despite historically featuring Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant and Randy Savage reuniting with Miss Elizabeth and emotional WWE Championship wins for Savage and Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin and Daniel Bryan, Wrestlemania 32 delivered barely any feel good moments this year. In fact, after the enjoyable and heart-warming upset in the Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match, Wrestlemania then delivered seven consecutive heel victories, an astonishing sequence. I think it’s understandable that I feel a bit gloomy.

Admittedly, that statistic does depend on you ignoring the six second match/angle between the Rock vs. Erick Rowan, and assumes that you followed the live crowd rather than the wishes of the WWE in whom you wanted to win the main event, and that you were also pulling for Shane McMahon over the Undertaker. But I think all of those are reasonable stipulations, and if you follow them, then yep, seven consecutive heel victories. What a delightful record for the event that we all spend all year looking forward to! Let’s follow the show’s lead and get the unblemished positive out the way early- the Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match that opened the show was a very, very good outing, with an electric pace, tons of exciting spots, and a real feel good factor all the way through, even when many of the wrestlers were doing terrifyingly violent things to their bodies. Kevin Owens’ made a Wrestlemania debut that obviously meant the absolute world to him, and as it happened, Sami Zayn was also making his ‘Mania bow. The sight of the two of them battling over a ladder in a middle of a ring they had all to themselves was a genuine thrill to anyone who has closely followed their careers. Meanwhile, Stardust unveiled Starbird Mk. II, a black and yellow polka-dotted ladder in the fashion of his father, missing Wrestlemania for the first time. It got a huge response for the crowd, and Stardust was briefly visibly moved. Sin Cara, who has very much been in the shadow of his tag partner recently and not undeservedly so, pulled out one of the best performances of his WWE career, taking two jaw-dropping plummets off ladders to the floor, adjusting in mid air to turn his fall into a swanton bomb that wiped out most of the field, or a crossbody that crushed Stardust through another Ladder. And, in the end, after an enjoyable frantic finishing sequence in which one wrestler would ascend a ladder, grab the title, get knocked to the floor by another wrestler at the last possible second, lather, rinse, repeat, Zack Ryder of all people found himself all alone high above the ring, and successfully unhooked the Intercontinental Championship to complete one of the most remarkable upsets in WWE history! Ryder’s painful, four year long fall from grace has been one of the most quietly depressing stories in the whole of wrestling, an example of a man who dared to try and make something of himself and was mercilessly mocked and punished for it. He has been treated so very poorly by WWE that even a momentous title win at Wrestlemania, which he celebrated with his overjoyed father in the middle of the ring, and with one of his boyhood heroes Razor Ramon backstage, still doesn’t quite feel like recompense for all that has happened to him. But it’s a start.

From there, the show’s slow descent into utter misery began, but for a while it was difficult to notice it was happening. Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles was basically the same as all their other singles matches, which have been good but not great, but for the second match of the evening it was a more than adequate offering. The New Day and the League of Nations rattled through a solid six man tag, the highlight of which came of course before the match had even begun. Sadly, the rumours that Kofi, Xavier and Big E would fly around the stadium on unicorns by way of an entrance did not come true; instead, they burst out of a giant box of Booty-Os, spilling oversized bits of cereal everywhere in the process. It was gleefully daft, and as was astutely observed on Twitter the cereal box had all this really funny in jokes printed on the side, so all in all it actually ended up being one of the highlights of the night. There was a post match angle built around fairly annoying nostalgia, as Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley and Steve Austin combined to clean out the League of Nations, then dance with the New Day for a bit until Stone Cold delivered the Stunner to Woods. These sort of segments work much better when the returning legends are people we don’t see regularly, but even someone who has only started watching wrestling in the last two or three years will be acquainted with Michaels, Foley and Austin, and so it was a bit tedious if anything to see them trundled out to get one over on seven members of the active roster. Still, it had good intentions, and I could clearly see why people would enjoy it. So far, a decent undercard, although it was a tiny bit strange that Jericho and the League of Nations had been the winners of their matches when their fan favourite opponents clearly have the brighter futures.

For me, the show then peaked with the next two matches. I’ve not seen Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar’s Street Fight get much praise, but I thought it was great. It wasn’t quite as good as I hoped it would be because it was cut off just as they seemed to be getting to the fireworks factory, but the journey there was really good fun in its own right. Lesnar’s barrage of suplexes seemed more interesting with the threat of weapon based violence looming on the horizon, and Ambrose gave the best singles performance of his WWE career, selling the beating perfectly while still finding the wherewithal to taunt Lesnar and dare him on. He ended up resembling the crazed, reckless, heroic bad-ass he’s always wanted to be. The moment where he discovered the barbed wire baseball bat under the ring and started to kiss it was genuinely a bit unsettling, and it would have been terrific it it had let to him actually using it, but that was always going to be a long shot. Even though much of the match’s promise was stifled, and the actual weapons use was limited to some chairs and a fire extinguisher, I thought Dean and Brock worked valiantly with the limitations imposed on them and put together a match that was very, very good while it lasted. Maybe there will be a rematch in the next couple of months that is allowed to go ever so slightly further?

Next up was the Triple Threat match for the redeveloped Women’s Championship, pitting three of the Four Horsewomen against one another. Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch have to an extent all flattered to deceive since first appearing on the main roster, and seem to have struggled to cope with the demands of wrestling two or three televised matches a week with no time to rehearse. You obviously are going to get more time to think through a Wrestlemania match though, and the Divas’ Revolutionaries took it, stringing together a fantastic, intricate Triple Threat with such barely constrained passion and joy for getting to appear at a Wrestlemania it made your heart sing. The entrances were great as well, with Charlotte wearing a robe made with pieces of Ric Flair’s from Wrestlemania 24, and Becky, uh, wearing a hat. But Sasha Banks stole the whole darn show by sporting ring gear inspired by her hero Eddie Guerrero (what awesome taste Sasha has) and having her cousin Snoop Dogg rap her down to ringside! She was massively over with the crowd and it seemed destined to be her day in the sun, so of course Charlotte picked up the victory for reasons I don’t think will ever make any sense. Still, even the fourth heel victory in a row didn’t detract too much from what was a great match, and a heartening marker of the progress women’s wrestling in WWE has made- five years ago, if the best match at a Wrestlemania had been the Women’s Championship match, you’d naturally assume that it was the worst Wrestlemania of all time.

Let’s take stock of where we are. There are two matches left to come, and so far it’s been a decent Wrestlemania- a surprisingly heel heavy Wrestlemania, for sure, but with plenty of good wrestling, and we’re coming off the back of a major triumph with the Women’s Triple Threat. Even if you were resigned to Reigns beating Triple H for the WWE Championship (hopelessly optimistic as ever, I was tweeting during the match itself that HHH had to win it), The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon promised spectacular stunts, stunning surprises, and perhaps a proper Wrestlemania moment as Shane O-Mac celebrated grasping full control of WWE from Vince McMahon for the first time. We got… well, we got one of those things. First of all, I want to point out that I thought this match was a commendable effort from two ageing part timers, who reached deep into their lockers and pulled out an intense and dramatic Hell in a Cell; not the greatest example of the stipulation ever, but certainly far from the worst. The pace was understandably slow but they constructed some exciting spots, including some steel steps related nastiness and a graceful Coast to Coast from Shane. This was all building to one of the most demented and reckless spots in the history of professional wrestling, as Shane draped the Undertaker on the announce table, climbed to the top of the Cell (this iteration of the structure being even taller than the one Mick Foley fell from in 1998) and flung himself from it, dropping and dropping seemingly endlessly before obliterating the announce table, which no longer had the Deadman on it. It was a staggering reassertion of Shane’s love for and commitment to professional wrestling and the fellow deserves all the respect in the world for having the guts to pull it off, but despite being objectively more dramatic than Foley’s fall 18 years ago, it will never be remembered with the same heady mix of fondness, horror and awe. It will become a convincing addition to the list of moments future generations will reel off to convince people what a lunatic Shane was, alongside the Steve Blackman match from Summerslam 2000 and the King of the Ring sugar glass omnishambles against Kurt Angle, but it won’t be anything in its own right. I don’t even know why. Technically, it should. But it won’t, will it? Does anyone disagree?

Anyway, Shane McMahon quite understandably couldn’t pick himself up after that and fell victim to the Tombstone Piledriver. God knows where the power struggle storyline goes from here. Shane’s defeat seemed awfully final, the guy said he’d beat the Undertaker to get control of Monday Night Raw, and he didn’t, and so that’s that. I can’t see any way of weaselling around it without making Shane look, well, weaselly. Yet at the same time, if this is all there is to the angle (bearing in mind I’m not 100% sure when this is being published and at time of writing Monday Night Raw hasn’t happened yet), then it’s a real anti climax, and makes Shane’s return look nothing more than a desperate play to pad out a Wrestlemania that had been decimated by injuries. It’s a bit depressing when a storyline you’d got invested in turns out to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors, a facsimile of a meaningful angle to cover for a creative team that can’t think of any actual meaningful angles. If there’s some kind of gigantic, delightful development to come on Raw tonight, maybe I’ll look back on this entire Wrestlemania more favourably, but as it stands, this was another dispiriting heel victory when the fan favourite winning would not only have been more satisfying in a narrative sense, but also more interesting in terms of storyline going forward. It was in the aftermath of this match, when I was digesting the fifth straight heel victory of the evening and realising that there was only Roman Reigns vs. Triple H left to go, that I actively started to feel a bit sad. This was what the most hotly anticipated night of the year was coming to. I thought for a bit about what star rating I might give Undertaker-Shane. Initially, I was thinking four stars or over, for the crazy fall and the melodrama and the heart and effort, but then that would make it officially one of my favourite matches of the year, and it definitely didn’t feel very much like that.

While I was doing my self indulgent pondering, the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal started to happen. Battle Royals, as we all know, are usually just time fillers, and shit ones at that, but there were enough legitimately surprising, weird participants to provide some entertainment value here. Diamond Dallas Page turned up, as did Shaquille O’Neal. No one even noticed Tatanka was inexplicably in there until about half way through. In the end, the winner turned out to be another unannounced participant, NXT’s Baron Corbin, and in fairness if my ‘seven straight heel victories’ thesis depends on us considering Reigns a heel because of the way the crowd reacted to him, Corbin should technically be considered a fan favourite, as the Dallas crowd seemed pleasantly surprised by his win. Still, that would kind of spoil the little narrative I’m using to tie this review together, so LA LA LA LA NOTHING TO SEE HERE.

At this point it was approaching 4am UK time and I just wanted to be proved gloriously right in my belief that Triple H was going to retain the WWE Championship and then get to bed, but instead we had a bit of enforced fun with the Rock. I generally don’t enjoy the Rock and didn’t want to see him belittle the Wyatt Family by calling them all inbred sheepfuckers or whatever while the crowd tried their hardest to pretend this was quite funny, but I went for a wee and the promo was still happening when I came back, and what else can you do at 4am after being blitzed by four straight hours of iffy professional wrestling than to sit zombified in your seat and accept whatever is happening in front of you? Things degenerated to the point where The Rock challenged one of the Wyatts to a match, and Erick Rowan was selected as the sacrifice, pinned in six seconds. This was a bizarre twist- no one was convinced that what they had just seen was an actual match, so why go through the pretence of claiming it was one? It just disrupted the flow of the segment in a way having him just informally deliver a Rock Bottom wouldn’t have done, and made WWE seem like they were desperate to say that they had the Rock wrestle for them, even though it was impossible for them to do so. Embarrassment at the hands of the Great One led Bray, Braun and Erick to launch a 3 on 1 beatdown in an attempt to save face, but John Cena made a surprise return to make the save, which I actually quite liked. I would have enjoyed it more if it had been earlier in the show, but Cena is at his most likeable in the surprise return format and it was nice to see him and the Rock cleaning house together. It was a redeemable end to a tiresome segment.

Main event time! I was quietly optimistic about this, and not just because I had a sneaking suspicion that Triple H could yet win the whole thing. I had been very pessimistic in the run-up to Reigns vs. Lesnar last time round and was delighted when that turned out to be one of the best matches all year and an all time great Wrestlemania main event. I figured Triple H had the experience and, at the age of 46, the humility to recognise that Brock had already given him the right template- go for 15 minutes, smash the bejesus out of one another, bleed a bit, don’t worry too much about selling, just make it all action and utterly relentless. We didn’t get that. What we got instead was the third colossal Wrestlemania main event failure of Triple H’s career. The guy just doesn’t learn from his mistakes. Much like at Wrestlemanias 18 and 25 he headlined the show when his match wasn’t the most anticipated one advertised, he wrestled it as a slow, faux 80s NWA pace that never convinced, and it just dragged on and on past the point where anyone cared. It’s a curious dichotomy that even as I watched him bomb hard, I was still rooting for Hunter to pick up the win- I would argue that I’m the biggest supporter of Roman Reigns as a wrestler on the 411 staff, I voted for him as Wrestler of the Year for 2015, but his inexorable rise to the top has been so grimly predictable that I just couldn’t feel any enthusiasm for him winning, even if it put us all out of the misery of this utter disaster of Triple H’s egomaniacal excesses. But it just wasn’t to be, even as the crowd booed and booed every second of Reigns’ offense, even as he was allowed to spear Stephanie McMahon in a moderately uncomfortable spot and still couldn’t win the crowd over for more than ten seconds. Reigns cracked Triple H with a brace of Superman Punches, crunched him with a Spear, and lo and behold, he’s the WWE Champion.

I’m sure it will only get better from here. Reigns is, as I’ve said, a legitimately talented and accomplished wrestler, and as we all get used to the idea that he’s the guy now, the man who will be king for the next ten years of our wrestling fandom, his presence in main events will become more and more tolerable. We’ll be able to enjoy his matches for the great, sweeping brawls that they so often are, as Reigns picks up his fourth world championship, and his fifth, his sixth, his seventh. I’m already quite looking forward to him meeting John Cena, whenever it happens, they’ll probably take us aback with what a good outing they can have together. But… gosh darn it, we all tried so damn hard. We tried so hard to let WWE know that while we’re fine with being given clues as to which wrestlers to cheer for and which ones to boo, we don’t ever want to be told which ones we consider our heroes, our idols. Wrestlers become special when they forge a genuine connection with us, and it so nearly happened with Reigns- remember the 2014 Royal Rumble when Pittsburgh dramatically sided with him over Batista, not just because the latter wasn’t appealing at the time, but because Reigns was one third of a wildly popular faction and people really did like him and wanted to see him succeed? What happened then was WWE saw that and licked their lips and rubbed their hands and saw this as all the validation that was needed to make Reigns the undisputed megastar of the next decade, and at that point it no longer became an organic process, It became a battle. And it’s a battle that nobody has won, because Reigns is WWE Champion, so we’ve lost, but he gets booed everywhere he goes, so WWE lose. His merchandise sales are good, I suppose, presumably spurred on by the more casual fans that ensure he gets warm reactions at house shows and the like, but then, casual fans will cheer for anyone you tell them to, within reason. There is no reason Dean Ambrose, flawed as he is, could not be a unifying, universally well respected champion to take WWE forward, but it’s Reigns, it’s Reigns and there’s nothing we can do anymore except keep booing and hope that eventually it just wears the company down, although that looks unlikely now. It’s a deeply depressing situation, and it was a deeply depressing Wrestlemania.

And it wasn’t even a bad show, when you boil it down. There was a great match for the Women’s Championship, a handful of really good ones across the card, and the only one that actively didn’t work at all was the main event, which seriously rambled on for half a fucking hour, so you can probably just turn the show off before it even begins. In spite of this, I honestly can’t say I’m glad I spent four hours and forty five minutes of my life on this show. Nothing about it made me happy, nothing about it made me feel excited for the year ahead.

The final score: review Average
The 411
It's the sort of show that hammers home both that WWE isn't really for me anymore, but also I will never, ever stop watching it and so essentially it can do whatever it likes. Bah. I'm in a bad mood. I'm going for a walk. STAR RATINGS

Kalisto vs. Ryback- ** ¾

The Total Divas vs. B.A.D & Blonde- ** ¼

The Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz- **

The Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match- *** ½

Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles- *** ¼

The New Day vs. The League of Nations- ** ¾

Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar- *** ¾

Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch- ****

The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon- *** ½

The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal- **

The Rock vs. Erick Rowan- N/R

Roman Reigns vs. Triple H- *


article topics :

WrestleMania 32, WWE, Jack Stevenson