Sunday Sermon: Did WrestleMania 31 Exceed Expectations?

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Craig Wilson, Russ Morgan, Brian Damage, Chris Flackett & Jamie Lithgow

Intro.

Craig: I think one thing that was certainly clear from our preview piece last weekend was that we all had mighty low expectations going into Wrestlemania. Undoubtedly the mediocre, at best, build-up did nothing to alleviate fears that Wrestlemania 31 would be a dud.

But boy were we in for a surprise. It turned out Wrestlemania 31 was a pretty solid PPV. Was it perfect? No. But did it work? Absolutely it did.

Fun IC title match to kick of the show, Seth Rollins vs Randy Orton was a solid affair, Sting vs Triple H was OTT but you can get away with it at Wrestlemania and the nostalgia aspect helped it a great deal, the divas tag was what it was, John Cena vs Rusev was very good although they should have had a better entrance for Cena, Taker looked a lot healthier than a year ago and Reigns and Brock had a very solid match and that’s before you factor in Rollins’ cash-in.

For me it was a big success. As I wrote on Tuesday, it gives me renewed confidence for the various title pictures as well. The IC scene is bustling, the tag division looks fairly strong and there are numerous options for who gets the first crack at Seth Rollins for the title.

All in all, and it’s not often we can say this, there’s plenty of reason for optimism going forward. Or is it miss-placed optimism?

Russ: Having watched the card from the pre-show to the end (OK I did skip the DIVAS match), I can say that my faith has been partially restored in WWE. It was a great PPV from start to finish. Not a show for the purist by any means, none of the matches were a technical masterclass, but I will let that go as the matches were of good quality regardless.

Bryan and Cena winning the IC and US Belts respectively left me a little confused. OK it is great for the titles to be put on big names, but I’m not overly sure what WWE’s direction is going forward. Does this mean Bryan and Cena are relegated to mid-card status for the foreseeable future? Or are they trying to raise the respectability of the titles to something like they were in the 80’s and 90’s? We shall see.

Whilst it was nice to see the Rock, man that segment went on way too long. There were too many drawn out pauses and no wonder Triple H said he was getting a little tired, I think he was speaking for most of us. The end of it was pretty nice though.

I agree with Craig, Taker looked a million times better than last year. He is rolling towards retirement and he should be kept as speciality act if you will. Sting v Triple H was as I expected in the ring, the DX v nWo was a nice touch, but once again the old WCW guy was defeated. Is that it for Sting?? I think it probably is. Orton v Rollins was solid and the best match for me. Reigns got what he deserved from Lesnar, which was a brutal beat-down. Lesnar is the beast and it took swerve for him to lose the title.

Brian: Wrestlemania 31 exceeded all my expectations and then some. Is it the greatest Wrestlemania of all time? Probably not, but it was certainly the best one I’ve seen in the last few years. That is saying something considering the weak build up to many of the matches on the card. Even the mini concert with Skylar Grey and Kid Ink made sense because it gave the audience both at the stadium and at home time to recoup. It was just a fun show from top to bottom.

Chris: I might be in the minority here, and its possible my expectations were too high, even with the poor build up, but I didn’t think the show was that great.

True, it was good, and I don’t feel like I wasted my time watching it, but I dont know, I just expected…more somehow.

To put this into context, the last Wreatlemania I watched before last year’s installment was Wrestlemania 17, which was a cracker if I remember rightly. And last year saw Bryanmania at its peak. So you can forgive me for maybe expecting too much.

I did think they got the IC title match right. The right man won, and everyone got their monent to do something a little special. Plus THAT powerbomb on Ambrose – wow.

The Taker and Wyatt was good, but it was just that. It didn’t seem to get iut of second gear. The Undertaker looked knackered very early, and I don’t think Wyatt gained what he should have from either the match or the result.

Rollins and Orton was also good, but again it didn’t feel like it picked up until half way through. Not the classic a new champion needs to establish himself with. Still, that RKO at the end had me jumping out of my seat. Awesome.

Speaking of champions, the one match I was really dreading became one of my favourites of the night. Lesnar made Reigns look more like a star with one match than WWE has in a few months. The way Reigns kept persevering and still sold the beating he was taking (Cena take note) made more sense than the superman act I was expecting. The MITB cash in actually took away from the match for me because I actually got into the story being told in the ring.

Rollins as champion may seem exciting in the short term (fresh blood!) but I think he’s going to have a lot to prove to be credible in the long run.

Jamie: I agree with pretty much everything everyone has said so far, even Chris who wasn’t as impressed as others. I was pleasantly very surprised by this show, easily the best Wrestlemania in recent memory. There’s no doubt that the build for this ‘Mania was probably the worst I’ve ever seen. Creative usually run out of gas and just want to get to the matches a couple of weeks out from Wrestlemania, but this year they appeared to gas around mid-February. That said, I can almost forgive them for such a shitty build as the end product was well worth it. I mean they could have introduced DX and the nWo to the Sting/Triple H feud weeks ago, but that would have taken that element of surprise out of their match. Ronda Rousey’s name was mentioned just once – a throw away remark by Paul Heyman – so she was a surprise too. I will happily admit to marking out like a little kid during this segment… even though it did drag to begin with.

I do get what Chris is saying though. Last year was Daniel Bryan’s night, but this year did not have one stand-out moment or match. Every match was very good – apart from the Divas, which only had time to be good – but there was no clear best match of the night. That’s what Wrestlemania 17 still has over this, and every other ‘Mania. That said, I’ve got this as my new second favourite Wrestlemania. Hell, I even liked the musical performances and silly entrances!

Here’s a question, did Roman Reigns exceed expectations? As I write this I haven’t seen Raw, so don’t know if he (kayfabe) redeemed himself for being the fall guy. What I will say is that, in keeping with everything else on the show, he was a pleasant surprise. Lesnar was very clearly calling the spots, but he still played his part. Well done that man. He reminded me of Mankind, just laughing off pain and punishment.

Brian: There were things I didn’t like on the show like Daniel Bryan winning the IC title and John Cena winning the US title. I get why they did that…but both men look odd with these secondary straps. Sting losing I saw happening…but what did that really accomplish in the end? The Undertaker is just about done in my opinion. The last two mania matches were slow and rather unremarkable. The WWE didn’t even give him an elaborate entrance…which in my book deserves every time he enters a ring. He’s that special.

Craig: I think the relatively poor entrance for The Undertaker had a lot to do with the weather at the venue rather than anything else. Such a sunny climate was always going to diminish his entrance, and Bray Wyatt’s.

It’s clear there’s a mix of opinion on how good the show was. Guess maybe I wrote my review still buzzing from Mania and without, perhaps sitting down and thinking more logically about the show and what the results mean longer term.

Brian raises an interesting point regarding Bryan as IC Champ and Cena as US Champ. Ultimately, it would have made more sense to have the belts on these two guys last year when the company had a World Champion that worked the limited schedule that Brock did. Now with a champion that will be appearing weekly and on the house show circuit, it doesn’t seem quite as necessary. That said, as I wrote on Tuesday, I certainly have a lot more interest in the respective title divisions owing to the feuds established at Mania and the ones hinted at on Raw.

I’m still wondering exactly what happened in creative re the main event. When did the company decide to not run with Reigns, if indeed they weren’t bluffing us the whole time. Was it during his appearances on Raw where they apparently had to turn down the boos or was it at the Hall of Fame where boos rang out every time he was shown on screen or mentioned?

Like Chris, I enjoyed the main event despite dreading it ahead of the show. The two men worked well together in the ring and were telling a pretty good story.

Chris: I think if WWE had followed through and given Reigns the title on the night, even though it would still be too soon, I would have given it credit after that match. I don’t think the crowd would have, though. Reigns could have given a performance of mid eighties Flair proportions and that audience still would have torn him to pieces.

One thing I do wonder about; how are we meant to believe in Rollins as world champion when he couldn’t even beat Orton on the night? I get the sneaky, opportunistic thing, and it did allow for unpredictabilty when he won the title, but unless Rollins starts beating some big names, cleanly and convincingly, then it will all have been for nothing. I’m not a complete cynic and actually really enjoy Seth’s ring work, but I’m not convinced he feels like a champion. Still, there’s plenty of time for WWE to work on this.

On another note, Raw did a lot of good in promoting new talent and left me feeling cautiously optimistic, if not about the main event scene then at least the under and mid cards.

But Sting… a patronising loss at Wrestlemania (it was clear Vince was still trying to belittle WCW – 14 years after he won the war…) and relegated to a post Raw segment with Bo bloody Dallas? What did he do to piss people off in the back to deserve this?

Craig: To answer your question about Sting, presumably by not signing earlier with the WWE when they could have gotten more use out of him.

Jamie: Sting being jobbed out is my only gripe about Wrestlemania. Realistically, yeah, a man of Sting’s age should be losing to the younger – or, less old – Triple H. On the night the result made sense. I just don’t get what WWE stand to gain from signing Sting only to have him lose his first – and possibly only – WWE match. A pointless exercise and he is now devalued going forward. It was an entertaining match though.

What was everyone’s thoughts on Undertaker cleanly defeating Bray Wyatt? I hope that this was only chapter one, because if not Wyatt looks like a complete loser. While not spectacular, their match was entertaining enough to warrant a possible rematch. My fingers are crossed for Wyatt issuing a challenge next year, and retiring The Dead Man in Texas at Wrestlemania 32.

Craig: In order for that to take place Bray Wyatt needs to start winning some matches and big matches. They can follow a similar pattern to the back to back Taker vs HBK matches with Bray Wyatt becoming more and more obsessed with getting another match with The Undertaker. It’s perhaps more difficult with Undertaker rarely on TV and having no obvious associates like Paul Bearer etc but it’s an obvious way to book Wyatt in the coming weeks and months. But it will have to be coupled with Wyatt winning and looking credible.

Jamie: It doesn’t require too much imagination to envisage these big victories for Wyatt, and an increasing obsession with beating Taker. I really hope this is the long term plan. On the surface it was slightly nonsensical for Undertaker to beat Bray Wyatt. Yeah, a loss would have hurt Taker, but does that matter if he’s not going to be on TV? One step back to result in several steps forward, that’s what I’m telling myself about Wyatt’s future coming out of ‘Mania.

Russ: Sting will always be the one that got away. Even 10 years ago, Sting would have been in the top tier and could you imagine some of the story-lines??? Vince has always had it in for talent he hasn’t created, but there was such a buzz around Sting, you would have thought it would have been nice for him to win. Alas, Vince and Triple H get a clean victory over the last remnant of WCW. Who would have thought it…

As for Undertaker, yes I don’t think the outdoors and sunny conditions helped his entrance, but it could have been a little better improvised. Wyatt did impress me and I hope this gives him a lift despite the loss.

I’m wondering what this new contract extention for Brock Lesnar even means now he isn’t champ…

Brian: Brock Lesnar is another guy that doesn’t need a title to be “over.” He is such a strong character, that everything he does makes you question if it is scripted or is he just going nuts. That is something that has been lacking from pro wrestling in a long, long time. No doubt Brock will be a babyface upon his return and that leads me to believe Roman Reigns will be a “Paul Heyman Guy.”

As for Bray Wyatt, a win at Wrestlemania would have been great….but I knew Vince wasn’t going to have Taker lose two ‘Mania matches in a row. Bray is another one of those characters that can be used in so many ways because of his ability as a big man and his exceptional mic skills.

Back to the topic of this Wrestlemania…..if it wasn’t the best ‘Mania show in recent memory…then what was? To me, this Wrestlemania…while probably not the all time greatest…certainly is way up at the top.

Jamie: Absolutely. The bar has been set pretty damn high by Wrestlemania 17 that an almighty effort will be required to topple it. To me the mark of a good Wrestlemania – and PPV in general – is wanting to watch it again. I’ve not had the inclination to re-watch a Wrestlemania in years. I have given The Undertaker’s matches a second look on occasion, but I’ve not re-watched a show from start to finish since around Wrestlemania 20. However, this year’s ‘Mania entertained me so much first time around that I’m going to set aside some time to give it a second look before the end of the week.

Craig: Like Jamie, I’m keen to watch it again. Not many Manias I’m inclined to watch again any time soon other than the aforementioned 17 and, my personal favourite, Wrestlemania X.

Are we suggesting it’s the best Wrestlemania, top to bottom, since Wrestlemania 17? That’s quite the claim if we are…

Chris: Would you include the pre-game matches in that assessment as well? There’s a risk they’ll be forgotten about and, although neither match was a classic, I still think that’s a shame. And I’m still calling for justice for Cesaro. A criminally underated gentleman.

One moment that really sent a shiver down my spine: Bray Wyatt pausing mid-spider walk when Taker sat up. Now that was a Wrestlemania moment!

Craig: I absolutely agree, that was an amazing moment.

In terms of the pre-show, I thought it was OK – as good as the kick-off section ever is. Wrestlemania’s suffered from fact that both matches were designed to get everyone on the card meaning very few had much of a chance to showcase their ability. I do like the general build-up to the show though and the involvement of Renee Young who, as I’ve said before, brings a different dimension to the build-up.

You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here

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