by Frank Lucci
In Preparation for the inevitable crowning of Roman Reigns as Universal Champion, Spaceman Frank has taken it upon himself to go back and look at some events that happened around the same time WWE tried Brock vs. Roman first. In the third and final part of our trilogy we look back at WrestleMania 31, AKA WrestleMania Play Button AKA The Rise of the Roman Empire. Is this PPV a sign of things to come for this year’s ‘Mania, or have the WWE learned from their mistakes? Let’s look back and see if the first attempt to crown Roman Reigns (along with the other four or five hours of this show) hold up or are forever tainted by the main event controversies.
WrestleMania 31 AKA WrestleMania Play Button (because Vince declared numbers higher than 30 to be unpopular) is very much a roller coaster of emotions. One one hand, there was plenty to be excited for such as the Intercontinental Championship Ladder, Sting making his debut inside a WWE ring, and, ummm…a nice view of a sunny stadium? On the other hand many (including myself) were going into this in full on cringe mode. Roman infamously won the Royal Rumble in such a way that not even The Rock could get the man some cheers. When the most popular person on the planet (and potential future president) cannot get you over you should throw in the towel. It seemed unlikely that Brock Lesnar would be walking away champ due to his contract running out, but thankfully at the last hour he announced on ESPN that he had signed a new deal. This gave hope to the Visigoths (I’m just going to call the anti-Roman crowd different barbarian tribes that fought the Roman Empire), but was it too little, too late? I first watched this PPV in my parents basement like a true wrestling fan, with a few friends and perhaps a wee bit too much booze and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Now a little bit older, a bit wiser, a decent amount more salty, and wayyyy more sober let’s see if ‘Mania 31 can stand up on it’s own past the shocking finale.
Look, I am not going to force myself to watch 90 minutes of the Preshow Panel no matter how lovely Renee Young is. The two matches on the preshow were…fine. First we had a fatal four way with The New Day, Cesaro and Tyson Kidd (aka The Brass Ring Club), Los Matadores, and The Usos. This was a match type that would end up being much better at Summerslam later in the year, but here we see a good nucleus of the tag team divisions found on today’s roster. The New Day were just about to become beloved, Tyson and Cesaro are The Bar 0.5, and The Usos were FUN TO WATCH MAGGLE. Also the Matadores aka The Colons aka The Shining Stars are still employed, making them the real winners here. I do miss El Torito though…. Anyway Tyson Chicken and Cesaro win to retain their belts and prove to Cesaro fans that last year’s Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal win meant nothing.
Speaking of, the second and final preshow match was the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. This was pretty standard affair except for a few spots. Axelmania officially died when he was chucked out first, and retroactively I cannot believe that was a thing. Hideo Itami made his main roster debut here, which was promptly derailed after a shoulder injury, then it further fell down a cliff due to more injuries, and now finally he is stuck in the watery abyss known as 205 Live where he is not even a big deal there. Sad stuff. FInally the one bright spot was Damien Sandow breaking free of The Miz and eliminating him, leading to myself and the crowd roaring. Mizdow was legit one of my favorite things of this period of time, and I was all in on Sandow becoming a bigger deal. LOL NOPE BIG SHOW WINS YA GET IT HE WAS ANDRE’S SON IN WCW! Deflating moment that immediately sent up red flags for me when watching live. But in retrospect Big Show winning is still better than Mojito Rawley and The Leather Baron.
WrestleMania 31 opens to a beautiful sunny shot of Levi’s Stadium as some dude named Aloe Blacc sings America The Beautiful. It’s not bad, and considering many of the jokers that come to ‘Mania to perform it stands out. I wonder if WWE does America the Beautiful over the national anthem because so many of their wrestlers are from other countries they would have to go through like, two dozen anthems before the show started. Typical WrestleMania opening package featuring LL Cool J talking about human connectedness and media or something.
Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match
The show starts off hot with probably their best match of the night. The story was Bad News Barrett kept getting his title stolen by randos, so they threw them all together plus Daniel Bryan for this match. DB went from main eventing to show to opening it thanks to his debilitating injury, and his return in the Royal Rumble (and quick elimination) was the spark that started the rebellion against Reigns. So this match is essentially WWE throwing bone to his fans in hopes we forget about all that.
Daniel Bryan is out first to a pretty good pop but not as many people Yessing with him. Champ Bad News Barrett is out next, and BNB was effing money when he had his gavel and podium. Dolph Ziggler comes out…yup. Stardust is out next dressed like Mister Sinister and I have a feeling Cody will enjoy wrestling Kenny Omega this ‘Mania Weekend way more than anything else he did during previous WrestleMania weekends. MY BOY Luke Harper out next and we get the bane of my existence R-Truth. Finally we get Dean Ambrose, who is the most popular guy in the match besides Bryan.
Hot start as everyone must have collectively decided to go at 150% speed. Before a minute is out everyone does suicide dives and planchas until finally Dean climbs a ladder outside the ring and drops on everyone. Everyone gets a chance to try to gain the advantage, with the sickest moment involving MY BOY Luke Harper dropping a ladder straight into DB’s head (cringe). The competitors climb the ladders like regular people (aka at normal speeds and not like they lost feeling in their legs), which is refreshing. Stardust pulls out his bedazzled ladder, which has a name I refuse to type. It breaks immediately, which kinda sums up Stardust’s run in WWE. MY BOY Luke Harper and Ambrose get an extended sequence in the ring which is pretty fun which ends in the airplane spot that is required for ladder matches. BNB and Stardust go for a mega-suplex off the massive ladder which deservedly gets “Holy Shit” chants.
We get the sickest spot of the night when Ambrose takes a powerbomb from MY BOY Harper from the ring to the outside and through a ladder. I remember hearing on Table for 3 that Ambrose busted the back of his head open and got staples to close the wound by the ringside doctor. This hurt worse than the actual bump, and they had to be removed anyway to get new staples in once we was backstage. Damn. MY BOY Luke takes a Zig Zag off a ladder to take him out as Ziggles gets close but takes a Bull Hammer elbow. A few more elbows takes out R-Ron and Stardust but is foiled by DB from getting the belt. Running knee takes Barrett out for good and Zigglypuff and Gogoat Bryan trade headbutts on the ladder. Headbutt has a 30% chance of causing your opponent to flinch, which eventually happens to Zigglypuff. He faints and DB wins the Ladder Badge. (sorry for all the Pokemon references.)
Overall- Not fat in this match as most everyone pulls their weight. R-Duff does not do much, but everyone else gets a memorable spot to add to their sizzle reel. DB winning was the best choice of a winner considering the circumstances, but it is a bit melancholy to see him win. This was his last PPV match until his upcoming triumphant return at WrestleMania 34. Everyone else in the match has had their ups and downs, which only Ambrose truly being elevated in the years since as a key player. But overall a fun match that is very rewatchable today.
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
Here come the Black Hole of Charisma to make the pace of this WrestleMania a bit more methodical. Randle is seeking revenge on The Authority for trading him in for younger, hippie model Seth Rollins. Babyface Orton is somehow even more insufferable than Heel Randy , who attempts to curry favor with the crowd by raising the roof and giving out some half hearted “cmons!” Seth gets plenty of cheers by the live crowd, and he is with J&J security who I dearly miss.
Whole bunch of “methodical” pace to start us off as Randy counters Seth’s attempts to be exciting. Randle the Mandle delivers hanging DDT’s to the floor to J&J but eats a suicide dive for attacking the security boys. Whole bunch of nothing for several minutes as each men trades control and bland moves as I check out reviews for Dark Nights: Metal. Orton has had the same move set +/- the punt for over a decade so once you seen one Orton match you’ve seen them all. Seth tries to liven things up with his flashier moveset (including a beautiful springboard moonsault off the apron), but has to continuously match Orton’s pace. Finally we get to the only part of this match worth remembering when Orton counters the Curb Stomp into and RKO. Seth seems to fly ten feet in the air while taking the move and Randy wins the match.
Overall- Match will be immortalized for it’s Gif spawning ending and that is it. Rollins will have his WrestleMania moment later in the night, but this match could have been on Raw for all I care. Now both these guys will be in matches for secondary titles in WrestleMania 34. Seth has the chance to bring the house down against Finn Balor and IC Champ Miz, while if Rusev does not win the US belt from Orton I will riot.
Ronda Rousey makes her first appearance of the night in the front row. Hmmmmm… I wonder if this will come into play later tonight or in three years.
Sting vs. Triple H
Between the hype package, Sting’s Entrance, Triple H’s entrance’s intro video, and his actual entrance you have enough time to make and eat a sub. I know because I tested this. Weird disjointed mix of Sting being like “I just think Triple H is a jerk” and everyone else yelling FINAL BATTLE OF THE MONDAY NIGHT WAR! Sting’s entrance is pretty cool, but would have better if it was orchestra playing his WCW theme song like they did for the WWE 2K commercials. Triple H’s video and entrance is pretty much an ad for Terminator Genisys, which is a terrible movie I sat through because I hate myself. Also it looks 100% like Triple H has a metal pole sticking out of his ass during his entrance.
Match begins with Triple H being shocked that multiple time world champion and thirty year veteran Sting remembers basic moves. Sting gets “you still got it chants” after hitting a shoulder tackle, headlock, hip toss, and standing dropkick. I could hit those moves guys c’mon. Sting is already looking pretty disheveled after five minutes as his makeup starts coming off and his bald spot appears.
We then get the second portion of every modern Triple H match where he gets over his shock of seeing his opponent his basic maneuvers and slowly grind away at his opponent. I never really noticed his pattern until Having watched this and his ‘Mania 30 match roughly a week apart. This is about as fun as actually having the COO of WWE put you in a chinlock \. Only thing of note is Triple H’s massive bruise on his thigh and buttcheck and JBL claiming WCW was “a small pond.” What did you spike your diet Mountain Dew with John moonshine.
OLD MEN ALERT #1 as DX shows up to help their boss errrr friend. Haggard Sting gets some air on a dive to the ring apron but eats a Pedigree. It gets a two count though as OLD MEN ALERT #2 sounds as the even older NWO show up. I would have loved if X-Pac ripped his DX shirt to reveal an NWO one. A brawl between a bunch of old men occurs that ends with a bunch of gentle yet uncomfortable bumps. HBK superkicks Sting when it looks like Triple H is doomed, thus showing us he is a heel. Or he is just a toadie for Trips.
Final sequence sees bats and hammers come out as Sting smashes Triple H’s hammer and attempt a final rally before eating a sledgehammer to the face and losing. Everyone just kind of makeups after as the crowd is dead silent for the hopefully last victory of WWE over WCW.
Overall: OK nostalgia trip if you watched wrestling in the 90’s. I did not so much of the magic is lost. Sting looked fine in spots but showed his age elsewhere. Triple H stuck to his formula but it is not like either men were gonna get out of second gear. At first view it is entertaining enough but each time I watch it I grow more and more bored.
Legends spot as WWE throws as many legends as possible at Daniel Bryan to make his victory seem like a big deal despite headlining the show last year and opening it this year. We get a Bret Hart smile though which is rarer than diamonds. Afterwords a bunch of people pretend to make music. Just take a piss instead.
AJ Lee and Paige vs. The Bella Twins
The sole women’s match sees sometimes rivals, sometimes friends AJ and Paige take on The Bellas because reasons. Nikki is in the middle of her record breaking title run (to erase AJ’s record title run), which was immediately surpassed by Charlotte. Solid decision making all around. Tons of Divas era offense as someone has a “Nikki I’ll give you babies” sign. Stay classy dude. AJ spends most of the match on the outside taking a rest while Paige gets beat up. Brie yells “BRIE MODE” which is the most exciting she does in the match. Paige does a cannonball spot to the outside which is the most exciting part of the match. AJ recovers from the three forearms she took and runs wild. It is slightly sloppy as the ladies go through to motions. ALmost as if they planned out the whole thing out beforehand. Something tells me this wrestling stuff is fixed. Anyway AJ gets the tapout victory over via Black Widow.
Overall: Nothing match to get what amounts to the cream of the Diva crop before the women’s division really started taking off. Lee would be out of the company almost immediately afterwards rendering the whole thing useless besides some long forgotten Total DIvas storyline. It is curious to watch just for seeing how much better the women’s division is now but easy to skip.
Hall of Fame spot which is good for making you cry over Connor the Crusher (pours one out for the fallen homie). We then get a commercial for an old WWE video game but that does not matter cause RUSEV IN A TANK!!!! RUSEV IN A TANK!!!!! RUSEV IN A MUTHA EFFING TANK!!!! Seriously the best wrestling entrance ever. Some BS USA images appear to remind you that by booing John Cena you boo america. Really sick of this type of exploitative crap. Don’t use dead soldiers and real life tradigities to get me to care about stuff, wrestling or otherwise. If John really loved the USA maybe he would wear more patriotic colors rather than neon colors and jean shorts. Seriously lame build that belongs in 1985. At least it brought us RUSEV IN A TANK ALL HAIL GLORIOUS LEADER RUSEV.
Rusev (C) vs. John Cena (US Championship Match)
Despite the USA chants Rusev still gets more cheers than Cena. I guess the patriotic video did not work. Lana must be baking in that suit and fur getup in the middle of California. Match starts with some beef being thrown about as Cena hits a big clothesline and Rusev hits his running heel kick. Rollover overhead suplex by Rusev is equally impressive. Rusev takes a second to gloat about Russia which leads to Cena’s four moves of doom. Rusev blocks the AA and the crowd is pretty hot. I do not think RUsev was as over as Bray Wyatt was against Cena at ‘Mania 30 but this crowd is definitely louder in their anti-Cena chants. “Let’s Go Lana” chants show Rusev is far from the darling of the smarks he is now.
Both men take turns hitting some big moves, and they work really well together. RUsev is the bigger and quicker guy, but Cena started changing up his moveset at this point to be a bit more flashy. Rusev hits an Alabama Slam, err ummm Sofia Slam for a two as we get to the point that happens every time someone faces Cena where the Heel starts panicking that they have not put him down yet. Brah you have not even hit your finisher yet calm down. STF by Cena is an excuse for the boys to have an audible chat and for Lana to throw a shoe in the ring. Who throws a shoe, honestly? Cena’s shite STF does not work and neither does Rusev’s flying headbutt, but that does get slight Rusev chants. Cena blocks the Accolade and hits his springboard stunner that Rusev sells like a champ. People crapped all over this move but I always liked it. Showed Cena was at least trying to change things up in his moveset unlike some people (cough Randy cough)
Finish sees Rusev hossing Cena around before getting the Accolade in. Cena sees a bald eagle flying overhead, hulks up and breaks the hold by backing Rusev into the corner. This leads to a still shite STF. Lana tries to distract Cena but ends up being hit by a charging Rusev and knocked off the apron. Cena takes advantage of this spousal abuse with an AA for the win and championship.
Overall: Fun match. The patriotic angle made me hate the pre-match stuff besides RUSEV IN A TANK but the actual match was good. Lots of back and forth and big hoss moves. Rusev looked good in defeat and it was inevitable that Super Cena would win for America. This would lead to Cena’s US Open challenge which really helped him turn a corner with snarky bastards like me. It was all downhill for Rusev however as he would keep falling downwards until his pairing with Aiden English and Rusev Day. It would be nice if Rusev regains the belt he lost three WrestleManias ago this year especially if it means Randal takes the pin.
Recap of the preshow by the Preshow panel in case you are like and said “screw that crap this show is long enough as it is.”
Big Ol’ Ronda Segment
Since this takes up a good 20 minutes it gets a headline. Steph is here to have a good wank session about how great the WWE is. Triple H gets to be here trophy husband despite being responsible for most of the positive changes in WWE the past few years. I really do think these segments are a big turn on for the power couple. Nobody is allowed to take up more time and have a better wank session on screen than Dwayne Johnson though so he appears and takes his sweet ass time getting to the ring. For real it takes about five minutes for him to get to the ring and start talking. Rocky here is completely bald and lacks a beard, making him look like a confused baby turtle. Typical Rock speech full of Rockyisms about the fans, his greatness, and genitalia. Eventually Rocky goes to Slapfest County as Steph taunts him after wacking him good. Admittedly that is pretty heelish and amazing. Crowd catches on quick with “Ronda” chants before The Rock moves a muscle. Shayna Blazer makes a quick cameo as Dwayne walks by and he picks lucky fan/future Hall of Famer out of the crowd to fight his battles for him. We pretty much see the same Ronda segments on Raw we have seen for the past several weeks, swapping out one bald man (The Rock) with another (Kurt Angle). Only difference is Ronda only says two lines and thus is 1000% better. “I’ve had it with this whole frickin thing” says Triple H, echoing my thoughts on the 2017 Ronda angle. The good guy and gal beat up The Authority as everyone cheers.
Overall: Is this better than putting on another match? Maybe. WrestleMania needs segments on this to act as a palate cleanser, especially in the era of 7 hour PPVs. WWE essentially copied much of this for their build to ‘Mania 34, only with charismatic Rocky over dead on the inside Kurt Angle. It’s fine for what it is, but has lost some polish now that it is something we see on the reg.
Bray Wyatt vs. The Undertaker
They start hyping this with Ronda and The Rock still in the ring. Taker hype package with Johnny Cash backing it, which is pretty rad. We Undertaker’s lost from last year’s WrestleMania which transitions to Bray doing Bray things. I thought Bray might have a shot of winning so they could pass the torch. LOL NOPE. To make matters worse Bray hurt his foot on the weekend of the event and was limited a bit with what he could do. Recipe for a disappointment.
What does not disappoint is Wyatt’s entrance which sees him animating scarecrows as he passes them. Would look cooler in the dark, but it is still a cool entrance. I think he should have kept the scarecrow look too as his current look of white dude dreads and white pants are super generic. Undertaker is out next with tons of fog, tombstones, and purple light. LOts of people complained about the entrance because it was still light out, but I think the purple tinge and shadows do the job well. Taker has also abandoned the amish punk look of last year for a goatee and shorter hair. He looks way better than last year, which admittedly is a low bar to hurdle.
Opening of the match sees Undertaker hitting a bunch of big moves to assure fans that this time Takie Baby can still go. Commentary acts like Wyatt does not have a chance and, well, he doesn’t. Match is so exciting my mind wanders and I wonder why Undertaker has not had his tattoos touched up. They are really faded and it is distracting. Eventually Wyatt begins to rally but it is so lame the only way I can describe it is he hits the old man a bunch. Bray hurts his foot again diving into the steel stairs that looks like it maybe got within a few inches of Undertaker’s head. Match is already winding down as we get a Hell’s Gate and Uranage/Senton combo. Yay?
As we get to the finish Bray does his spooky man spine bend in the corner, which earns him a chokeslam. Tombstone gets a two count, which I guess is as close as to putting over Bray as Undertaker will get. Desperation Sister Abigail does not get the win and we get the spider walk/sit up gif that people will remember this match for. Both men slug it out with strikes with Bray getting the advantage until Undertaker decides he is ready for his hotel bed and hits a second Tombstone to win. Big blasts of pyro go off as we fade to the main event hype.
Overall: Nice to see Undertaker look mobile and healthy. That is about all the positive I have for this match. Bray did not look like much of a threat throughout and was here to put the old man over. Not a horrible match though and way better of a watch than the ‘Mania 30 match for both these guys. Short and to the point, but definitely in the middle of the pack when it comes to Undertaker WrestleMania matches. If you really love either man i say rewatch it otherwise skip.
Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Roman Reigns (WWE World Heavyweight Championship)
Crack one open folks. It’s that time. Hype package tries desperately to make Roman look cool or at least likeable and fails. Brock meanwhile looks cool as a GD cucumber talking about how he likes to hurt people. Funny how much WWE has recycled from this first go around from the “right guy in the right place at the wrong time” line to the whole part timer/full time divide.
Roman out first to the mild “oooooooo” of an audio tampered crowd as security guards literally have to shove people out of the way from giving him the business. “Roman is a Wank Pheasant” sign out which always draws a smile from my bitter and salty soul. Reigns also has some lame ass pyro that looks like a bunch of roman candles…..oooooooh now I get it. Brock gets a massive cheer and blows up the stadium with his pyro. Almost as if he is a way bigger deal than Reigns. Heyman gets a big cheer for his intro speech as well and off we go.
Gotta say, the opening minute of this made me crackle. They start hot with Reigns trying to get the jump on Lesnar only to get suplexed like a ragdoll and eat an F-5. Brock is bleeding from the cheek which makes him even more terrifying. Nobody makes him bleed his own blood. NOBODY. Louder than ever boos for Reign’s attempt at a comeback and big cheers for bodying Roman during a clothesline and suplexing him for a third time. At this point the crowd has caught on that this is not the Roman crowning we all thought and perhaps with his new contract WWE would just allow Brock to steamroll their golden boy.
SUPLEX CITY BITCH is born as Heyman smiles knowing his client just came up with his new catchphrase. Heyman is preening like a peacock which is always enjoyable to watch. He just loves his client so much. Reigns smiles and laughs after his fifth trip to Suplex City, which is incredibly stupid and I still get mad watching him smirk while getting the crap kicked out of him. I could keep counting all the suplexes and Reign’s attempt to come back, but really the next five minutes is Brock beating Roman like he ate the last McRib.
After Reigns kicks out of a second F-5 Lesnar literally takes the gloves off and slaps the piss out of Reigns. Not gonna lie, I just love watching the man suffer. If they had Reigns take the Curt Hawkins spot he would 100% be in my boys stable. Third F-5 does not do it and the crowd starts to boo and get worried. Brock then goes into a ringpost and starts bleeding immediately as the crowd further get on edge. Parade of Superman punches get even more hate followed by a pair of spears. Lesnar ain’t having none of that though and kicks out as Paul clutches his heart with worry. Massive fourth F-5 stops the rally cold and then….
IS THAT CROSSFIT JESUS’ MUSIC?????!!!!!
Seth is out here to save the day!!!!! True story when I watched this live my livestream cut out and we went into panic mode as we heard Seth’s music but could not see what happened. Crowd goes nuts as Seth kicks Roman out of the ring and curbstomps Brock. Brock catches him for an F-5 but Roman spears Brock as Seth goes flying. Rollins recovers and hits a curbstomp to ROman to win the belt as the stadium erupts in cheers and pyro. Final image is Rollins swinging the belt over his head like a dead cat as massive amounts of fireworks launch from everywhere. Such a smart choice for WWE to give the belt to a workhorse like Seth who, while his run had plenty of downer moments started out in the most epic fashion ever.
Overall: If you like watching Roman Reigns get beat up this is an easy rewatch. If not well you have the next several WrestleMania main events to watch. Brock looked like a killer and Seth like a savvy villain who was one step ahead of everyone. The match is fairly short and does not have many bad moments, and lead to some really great stuff. Now without a cash in nor a new contract for Brock now we shall see the crappy original version of this match WWE wanted to put on here for ‘Mania 34.
Final Thoughts: Much like WrestleMania 30 the bookends of this show are the best. The ladder match is head and shoulders above anything else and featured plenty of fan favorites working frantically for your approval. The main event was also fun and very much memorable. Other than that much of the rest of the card is forgettable. Many of them featured newer guys like Rusev, Wyatt, and Sting in prominent roles only to lose. It is hard to get through this PPV knowing many of the deserving wrestlers lose out and floundered soon afterwards. If not for the cash in this would have been a forgettable Mania. A solid hour of good wrestling with three other hours that feel like a decent episode of Raw.