Living Up To The Hype: The Ultimate Report Card For Wrestlemania 31
On Sunday night, WWE threw its version of the Super Bowl. Wrestlemania took place at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California to a sold-out crowd that saw tremendous action over a whopping six hours.
So, how did the Showcase of the Immortals stack up to its predecessors? Let's review the card:
Fatal Four-Way For The WWE Tag Team Championships
Eight men in the ring, with two divas and a little man in a bull costume outside? Sounds like the recipe for some sort of chaos.
The champs, Cesaro and Tyson Kidd, entered against New Day, Los Matadores and The Usos to kick things off.
Every team gave a good account for themselves, but the match focused on the budding rivalry between the reigning and previous champs, The Usos. There were some excellent spots by everyone and the champs prevailed.
Kidd and Cesaro could be the second coming of the British Bulldogs.
Second Annual Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale
The battle royale for lower-card guys has become a tradition for Wrestlemania. It's a great chance for those guys who don't see a lot of TV time to get a spotlight and work the biggest event of the year.
This year saw 31 men battle for bragging rights and a big trophy on the 28th anniversary of the namesake's famous match against Hulk Hogan at the Pontiac Silverdome that made Wrestlemania into a phenomenon.
It was cool to see NXT performers mix it up with the veterans. Damien Mizdow finally blew his top and separated from his obnoxious and degrading boss, The Miz (can't wait to see this rivalry play out).
Mizdow almost pulled the huge upset, but The Big Show wouldn't be denied. The World's Largest Athlete took the crown Sunday, proving it's really hard to beat a giant.
Ladder Match For The Intercontinental Championship
For me, the best part of the Wrestlemania build-up was the antics between IC title holder Wade Barrett and the men vying for his belt.
The title was passed around, first stolen by R-Truth, then handed to Dean Ambrose, Stardust, Luke Harper, Dolph Ziggler and even Daniel Bryan.
These Superstars kicked off the main show with an element that set Mania apart from all other shows: the ladder match. Action was fast and spots were breathtaking.
How these guys come up with new ways to dazzle fans and risk their lives with new stunts every year befuddles me. For all the aerial tactics and high-risk maneuvers, the battle came down to a throwback exchange of headbutts between Bryan and Ziggler.
In the end, the man whose amazing triumphs highlighted last year's show opened 2015 with his first IC title victory. Moving forward, every Mania should have a multi-participant ladder match.
Seth Rollins Vs. Randy Orton
Rollins took on veteran Orton in a grueling match of will and wit. Orton has quietly earned an excellent reputation at Mania, especially when dealing with younger stars who betrayed him.
Rollins brought the fight with some strong moves, but the Viper was ready at every bend in the road. Rollins' lackeys, J&J Security, got involved, but they met an inglorious fate, on the business end of a RKO each.
The match was fun to watch as each man kicked out of the other's finisher. The pace wasn't great but the finish was amazing.
Seth Rollins lept for his curb-stomp finisher only to fall victim to a massive RKO that secured Orton the victory.
Seriously, if Rollins were any higher when he ate that move, he would've violated the WWE's Wellness Policy.
Triple H Vs. Sting
The WWE Network spent months airing episodes of "The Monday Night War," which is a breakdown of the battles between WWE's "Monday Night Raw" and WCW's "Monday Nitro," airing against each other from 1995 to 2001.
(Anyone who suggests wrestling is a niche market should look up the numbers. The shows were consistently the two highest-rated cable shows week after week for years on end, doing even bigger numbers than "South Park").
Throughout the show, the one face we never saw talk about his days in the battles was Steve Borden, or The Man They Call Sting.
A NWA/WCW mainstay from the 80s, Sting would never sign with WWE once WCW bought it.
Sunday night, we saw the remedy to a long-standing grievance. Sting stepped through the ropes of a WWE ring and faced HHH; the WCW mid-carder-turned-WWE-icon turned COO/heir to the company through marriage.
Fun fact: Sting can still wrestle and work with the best. Wrestlemania has always been The Showcase of the Immortals as Sting's old nemeses from the WCW days, the NWO, came out to back him against HHH's running buddies in DX.
It was sad to think we'll never know if Sting could've summoned his old tag-team partner, Warrior, who died last year, just as HHH would bring HBK to the ring to superkick the Stinger.
It's also sad to think of all those guys ringside, the only ones who didn't appear in TNA Wrestling (the newer, crappier version of WCW without the deep pockets or television exposure of Turner Networks) were HHH and HBK.
The crowd was thrilled to see the two old stars turn back time with the help of their friends. However, in the end, we realized one unconvertible truth: HHH runs the show because he won the war.
Grade: B- (I hated the ending.)
Divas Tag-Team Match: Paige & AJ Vs. The Bellas
The Divas division hasn't gotten enough airtime for most fans' liking.
Yes, the show, "Total Divas," is a success for E! Network, part of the NBC Universal outfit that airs WWE programming, but that's a reality show that more so focuses on life outside the ring.
Nikki and her twin sister, Brie, teamed up against AJ Lee and Paige Sunday night, and we were treated to excellent competition, including Nikki powering out of AJ's formidable Black Widow submission hold.
AJ and Paige won the match, but all four did a great job. It'd be nice to see similar matches on a more consistent basis.
US Title: Rusev (C) Vs. John Cena
John Cena defeated The Big Show at WM20 for the US Title in his Mania debut. Eleven years later, he entered against another force of nature: the undefeated Bulgarian strongman.
It's a fun storyline with Rusev's hot mouthpiece, Lana, playing the US-bashing Russian manager and Cena defending the USA.
The entrances were fitting for Mania, as Rusev came to the ring in a tank following a military parade fit for Red Square.
A great patriotic video preceded Cena, full of sound soundbytes from presidents and pictures of America pride. What happens: Cena STILL gets booed and told he sucks.
The issue is John Cena doesn't suck. He lifts insane amounts; he has 15 world title reigns. He went in with the new champion and took some licks, but got through.
Rusev is a phenomenal athlete and very nimble for his size.
That didn't impress The Face That Runs the Place. Cena powered out of the nearly-unbreakable Accolade submission hold, where all of Rusev's 270-pounds-plus sat on the small of his back.
Cena ended the match as he has so many times before: pick up the guy, put him on shoulders, toss off shoulders, pin. John Cena won for Mom, apple pie, the troops, truth, justice and 'MURICA!
Bray Wyatt Vs. The Undertaker
Last year, the world stopped when Brock Lesnar ended the Undertaker's historic undefeated streak at Mania with a dominating victory.
Since then, no one saw the Dead Man until Bray Wyatt decided it'd be fun to awaken the Phenom and challenge his legacy. Wyatt is a great talker, but not as strong a wrestler.
Fans were more concerned whether Taker could come back and look fit despite his advanced age and years of punishing matches.
Despite taking place in the sunlight, no one shines at Mania like the Undertaker. He turned back the clock and delivered a captivating, if shorter, performance.
The death-defying elements were all but gone, but the psychology was on display. Wyatt stepped his game up, as well, but became the 22nd victim to the venerable Undertaker at the show he loves.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Brock Lesnar (C) Vs. Roman Reigns
This match looked doomed when Reigns won the Royal Rumble.
While talented, he's not established enough to pose a significant threat to a dominant champ like Brock Lesnar, who appeared to be leaving WWE before he signed a new deal last week.
While Lesnar is a great performer and worthy champion, he wrestles so infrequently that his title reign makes his belt all but worthless.
The fans had to decide between cheering for the bad guy who doesn't care enough to show up every week for their money or the young guy who couldn't quite connect with them.
How does WWE solve this? Do what makes Wrestlemania special: make history. After Lesnar beat the tar out of Reigns for most of the match, including 11 suplexes and three F-5s to a former All-ACC defensive lineman, Reigns kept getting up and asking for more.
Reigns finally executed some offense and even busted open the champ with a whip into the ringpost. Amid the intense action, history pulled up a chair.
Seth Rollins became the first man to cash in the Money in The Bank contract that guarantees him a title match DURING an actual title match.
The three-way dance didn't last long, as Rollins gained a pinfall and won the WWE World Heavyweight Title. Fans were stunned, surprised and, for once, satisfied with the result.
The crown prince became the king on the Grandest Stage.
Going to see Wrestlemania live was one of the best experiences of my life. I went in 2010 and saw HBK bid the Universe farewell in his retirement match to The Undertaker. To fill a massive stadium and put on such a show is a daunting task.
The outdoor venues make it even tougher. However, the presentation was top-notch; the stadium looked great; the gate was a record $12.6 million, and the broadcast on the WWE Network was a lot of fun.
They lucked out with the weather, as the afternoon sun in California provided a marvelous backdrop that gets missed in arenas and domes.
Ronda Rousey's appearance drew major headlines and could bring her into WWE competition. The best part was seeing so many people I follow on Twitter and other social media enjoying the show and commenting along with me.
For all the grief wrestling fans get throughout the year, Wrestlemania is our day in the sun — our big convention to have fun. The WWE didn't disappoint and gave us a day to remember.
Thanks to all the wrestlers, stars, staff and folks who put together such a fine show.