by Frank Lucci
Welcome to Spaceman Frank’s Top 10 WrestleMania moments! Rather than just create another generic Top 10 list, I will be discussing the greatest moments from WWE’s biggest show of the year and explaining why I consider them the cream of the crop. This is based on in-ring quality, storyline quality, meta quality, as well as my own unique bias. Be prepared to read about triumph, heartbreak, and above all else, some truly unique moments in this unique form of entertainment.
The Moment: Seth Rollins Cashes in his Money in the Bank Briefcase, WrestleMania XXXI
Going into WrestleMania 31 doubt hung in the air. Roman Reigns had infamously won the Royal Rumble in such a way that even his cool cousin The Rock couldn’t shield him from the chorus of boos. At the same time WWE Champion Brock Lesnar’s contract was running down, and the WWE Universe was in full-blown panic mode. Nobody besides women, children, and Vince McMahon seemed to like Reigns, but the company felt it was forced to give The Big Dog the push due to Brock potentially leaving. Rumors swirled around the main event, and it appeared nobody knew what the hell was going to happen when the event actually took place on March 29th, 2015.
In retrospect, everything appeared much more dire than it actually ended up being. Sure the Royal Rumble match itself was a colossal failure, but Lesnar was coming off the best match of his most recent run (a triple threat between himself, John Cena, and Seth Rollins) that firmly established that, while Lesnar may not show up all that frequently, when he was wrestling it was always a spectacle and could also be legitimately stellar. Brock also helped calm the nerves of fans everywhere when he appeared on ESPN days before the event and announced he was officially retiring from the UFC (lol!) and had re-signed with the WWE. Fans could breathe, but would Vinny Mac punish the Beast for leaving him dangling? Would WWE really put the belt on the undercooked Reigns despite the amount of backlash he had received mere weeks into his main event push?
This atmosphere made ‘Mania 31 one of the most exciting versions of the event that I had the pleasure to watch live. Granted, the only ones I have seen live were 28 and then 30 on forward, but this one was the one I was the most invested in emotionally, and I was curious if WWE would be able to pull it off or if it would turn into a dumpster fire.
Thankfully the WWE pulled it off. This is easily the most re-watchable ‘Mania of the WWE Network Era, and there is very little fat to trim here. The highlight of the evening was big Brock Lesnar getting his hands on Roman Reigns.
To clarify my stance on Reigns: I’ll admit he is a good wrestler. Sometimes he can be great in the ring, but the man is a black hole of charisma and I cannot imagine buying a watch from the guy from a mall kiosk, let alone wanting to buy a PPV he’s headlining. WWE has done the man no favors in helping him get over, so while the video package played my buddies and I grabbed some beers and got ready for Reigns to Superman Punch our hopes and dreams away. Despite everything that can go wrong, WWE makes my number five WrestleMania moment here, and Lesnar vs. Reigns delivers so much on every level. From the atmosphere to the video package and entrances to the match itself and its epic ending, this is modern WWE storytelling done right.
The video package tries so hard to make Roman seem legit. Hilariously they chose to not feature any audio involving the fans, as this supposedly triumphant montage would sound quite different with two straight minutes of boos behind it. Meanwhile, Brock looks like a killer. Reigns is just trying to get you not to boo him, while Brock is here to suplex people so hard there souls leave their bodies. Of course, Paul Heyman slays Reigns with the immortal line, “When you lose, how will you handle disappointing your family?” Grab the shovel, this package just makes me love Lesnar and Heyman all the more.
Reigns enters first and the crowd is…curiously silent – almost as if WWE has gone back and turned down the crowd audio (here’s looking at you, Kevin Dunn). The Big Dog is seen shoving away fans as he enters from the crowd. We all get the infamous “We listen to our fans LOL” and “Roman is a Wank Pheasant” signs that belong in the WWE Hall of Fame. Even Reigns’ pyro is really lame as he initially gets giant roman candles going off around the stadium for him (Roman Reigns…Roman candles? I just got it!). Anyway, Brock gets the hero’s welcome from the tens of thousands of fans who traveled hundreds or thousands of miles and paid thousands of dollars to watch a man I believe can deadlift several cows beat up a guy who looks like someone who tries to flirt with your wife on your honeymoon. Lesnar’s pyro seems to blow up much of the stadium and we are off to the races.
This match really breaks out from a decent WrestleMania moment to something truly memorable. Brock dismantled everyone he came across, including Reigns predecessor John Cena. Would WWE try to play this off like Reigns is equal to Lesnar, and how much would the crowd rebel against this? Will WWE have Brock just steamroll Roman in the squash matches we’d come to expect? I waited on baited breath with my friends as we prayed to the Wrestling Gods that a miracle would happen and we would not get a stinker in the main event.
Then it happens. One minute in and Brock Lesnar hits an F-5 and you can hear the tension in the stadium and across the WWE Universe melt away. I have never seen or experienced such an electric feeling from a live WWE PPV. As much as I loved Daniel Bryan winning the title at the previous ‘Mania, we all knew it was going to happen. This was as shocking and violent as a shark attack, and in that moment my suspension of disbelief was in full force. I truly believed that Brock Lesnar was that unbeatable, and the pretender Reigns was going to be carted off the field at Levi’s Stadium and we would never have to deal with him in the main event of any PPV again (sigh…).
What really sells this opening minute is Brock’s acting. Lesnar will never be known for promos, but when he needs to he is great at conveying emotions non-verbally. He realizes that Reigns had opened up his cheekbone, so instead of getting the pin like JBL is screaming at him to do he decides to punish Roman. The Beast is bleeding, and The Beast is mad. He will use the WrestleMania Main Event to punish those who defy him and send a message that nobody on God’s Green Earth dares to try to humanize him. Reigns attempts to fire back and Brock tosses him around like a German Shepard who is tired of the new kitten clawing at it’s face.
Here we see things truly shift into Lesnar’s corner, both in ring and in the eyes of fans. While Roman was at a mild level of annoyance before, here he makes the curious decision to try and hulk up by either doing a classic “seizure of strength” gesture or laughing after being hit. Whoever told him to try and laugh off hits from a former UFC champion deserves to be fired on the spot. It makes him completely insufferable during this match and draws the bloodlust of Lesnar out even more, and the crowd, God bless them, are right there seeing red with him.
The match devolves into a brutal beating, as Lesnar hits Reigns with several legitimately brutal punches and suplexes. He utters the most famous line of his career as he indeed sends Reigns to “Suplex City, Bitch.” While many WrestleMania matches (especially main events) try to go for that methodical, epic beat fight feel, this match is all one giant beatdown cut with shots of Paul Heyman smiling like the zealot he is. Every time Reigns tries anything Brock just does it bigger, better, and more devastating than Roman could ever do. Even a slap from Lesnar looks like it registers on the Richter Scale.
At this point the crowd is riding high, and despite some small rallies from Roman is met with a resounding piece of thunder from the champ, but then, suddenly, things turn. Lesnar goes into a ring post and starts gushing blood from his fourth head wound of the match. The crowd, previously punch drunk, starts booing in earnest protest of what looks to be happening. I was apocalyptic as soon as I saw Lesnar truly bleeding, as I thought in my heart of hearts that this was when The Roman Empire was going to begin. Reigns hits his two moves of doom repeatedly as I worry commentator Michael Cole is going to need a new pair of pants. Sadly, despite Brock’s epic ass kicking, all our worst fears are coming true, and Roman truly is the future of the WWE. It does not matter how much we rally behind our Daniel Bryan’s, the most vocal of fans (and, if I give my own two cents, the most important given that they refuse to abandon WWE while demographics and sponsors come and go) must concede that Vince is going to get his way. We will have a Ken doll as champ, and if we’re lucky we get to see Brock Lesnar throw people around and see our internet darlings put on some good matches beforehand.
This dreary mindset lasted a whole three or four minutes. Heyman is pleading with Brock to stay down, or put up his hands, or do anything to prevent this doomsday scenario (I’m right there with you, Paul). Thankfully, it’s Christmas Day, and on this day our lord and savior Crossfit Jesus was born. Seth Freaking Rollin’s music hits and upon the first notes hitting my WWE Network crashes and my entire party panics like a Xenomorph just burst through the wall. Thankfully, we got it back just in time to see Rollins become the first WWE Superstar to not only cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase at WrestleMania but win the title and make this a legitimately legendary main event as well. The crowd was invested from the beginning to end, and WWE decided to be bolder than they ever have been before by having the unproven Rollins sneak into the last five minutes of the show and win it all.
We do not get the chorus of boos, we do not get the predictable outcome, we get something that actively makes fans happy and want to tune it the next night on Raw. That is sorely lacking in today’s WWE, and it just goes to show why this match is so critical and important. Looking ahead to the current ‘Mania main event of Goldberg vs. Lesnar, we potentially have three of the last four Mania’s end in the most predictable fashion. WrestleMania 30 tried to do this with the streak ending and D-Bry’s epic win, but that has been tarnished by Taker’s subpar post-event wrestling output and Bryan’s early retirement.
This now stands out much more to me as a wild and unpredictable WrestleMania main event that, more than any other modern ‘Mania, convinced people to stick around and invest in the product (and the Network). For playing into and subverting fan expectations repeatedly over the course of an exhausting twenty minutes and giving every spectrum of fans a reason to be excited and invested in the WWE going forward, WrestleMania 31’s main event of Lesnar vs. Reigns (vs. Rollins) is number five on my list.
For more of Spaceman Frank’s antics, check out Spacemanfrank.com and listen to our pro wrestling podcast, Manopera!