Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ramblemania 32

So... here we are again.

With Wrestlemania 33 looming just around the corner, I figure the time has come to revisit this particular edition of Wrestlemania from last year. The one that broke WWE attendance records with an alleged 105,000... some have said it's closer to 97, but none the less, an impressive number. And so you'd figure with the largest Wrestlemania attendance ever, you'd expect it to be one extremely memorable card... and yet I barely remember a damn thing about the show. I remember it being really, really, REALLY long... but as far as the matches, the moments, the results? My mind's a blank. And when I go back and review the match listing for the show, it's not hard to see why this is such an unmemorable show.

Context needs to be somewhat applied here. Seth Rollins, the guy who won the WWE World title the previous year, went out with an injury. John Cena was on the inactive list around the same time and wasn't on the card. WWE's continued efforts in trying to make Roman Reigns a beloved hero and the next face of the company did no favors to anyone. And nothing on paper seemed anything close to being worthy of the Wrestlemania name.

Not that it really matters; the event sold out, a new WWE attendence record was set, and the company celebrated by holding an outright mediocre card. If anything, Wrestlemania 32 is living proof that the brand sells on name recognization alone rather than anything booked on the card itself. Your Wrestlemania main event could be a triple threat match between the Shockmaster, the Gobbledy Gooker, and the Brooklyn Brawler and it'll still sell out. Anyone telling you that the card is important is lying, because it really isn't.

But I digress. Let's get on with the show and see how much of it is worth remembering.

Zack Ryder defeated IC champion Kevin Owens and a whole bunch of other guys who don't matter in the obligatory clusterfuck ladder match to win the title. Ryder celebrates his win with his dad as Cole sums up the whole thing up as his big moment after ten years of futility... apparently forgetting that Ryder is a former US and Tag team champion, so good job on making those titles seem completely worthless. The moment is bittersweet as Ryder would lose the title the next night to that Miz fellow and his hot Quebecois wife, Maryse.

Chris Jericho defeated AJ Styles in a pretty decent match in a series of them. Jericho winning caused some heads to turn as most expected AJ to win his first Mania match and while at the time I might've questioned it, now I'm just shrugging my shoulders here. And really, despite this setback, AJ would headline a couple WWE PPVs with Roman Reigns and even get a run with the WWE World title. As for Jericho? He'd do alright for himself... he even has a list of sorts.

And then we get a backstage bit where Zack Ryder and Scott Hall take a picture. That's actually a cool little moment that is further accentuated in that WWE 24 special when they show off the picture of a young Ryder holding Razor Ramon's championship. Again, bittersweet considering how short the reign is.

The League Of Nations (comprising Rusev, Sheamus, Bad News Barrett and Alberto Del Rio) defeated The New Day in a forgettable match. Oh, boy, I forgot about the League Of Nations, a stable of evil foreigners who were united because they're foreigners. Was it any wonder why Del Rio wanted to fuck off from WWE?

It should be noted that New Day came out of a giant Booty-Os cereal box wearing Super Saiyan chest armor bits (it's a Dragon Ball Z thing) and despite my misgivings on the group at the time, people liked them and they were a hot act... and then you have them lose to the group of evil foreigners who didn't last long after this show. So the evil foreigners brag about how no three men could beat them and who should come out but Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, and Steve Austin... I was almost tempted to say "Steve Austin and two other old jabronies who don't matter," but common sense prevailed.

Anyway, the old guys make short work of the foreigner, with Foley doing the Socko thing, Shawn doing the Sweet Chin, and then Austin doing KICK! WHAM! STUNNER! to Rusev, who sold it like a boss... and let's give one to Woods because he's annoying. It's actually a fun little segment... and yet at the same time, this is where the show starts to lose me because we just had this multi-man tag match and the only ones left standing and getting all the reaction are the three old timers in a clear divide between the real superstars of the business and the guys who are just there to play wrestler.

And that, more than anything, is WWE's biggest fault; they're so inept at making memorable stars worth that the biggest stars in WWE are the old guys. Well, hell, son. If that's going to be the case, why don't you just sign up all the old codgers you could round up and book 'em in a bottle of Geritol on a Pole match. It doesn't even half to be a tall pole, either. Just within arm's reach is sufficient.

All things considered, I'd much rather see that match than the match we just got. Is it any wonder how I haven't been able to retain anything from this show first time watching?

Brock Lesnar defeated Dean Ambrose in a boring street fight. How do yo make a street fight boring? By featuring Brock Lesnar doing nothing but spam suplexes like a Street Fighter II player spams fireballs. Completely one-sided, offset by more stupid shit happening to Ambrose (the chainsaw doesn't work, tosses a bunch of chairs at Lesnar and none of them hit, misses with the barbed-wire baseball bat, etc.) Months later, Dean Ambrose would go on the Stone Cold Podcast and call Brock Lesnar lazy, which apparently got WWE officials upset because Ambrose was telling the truth.

It's almost ironic that the one guy that people claim is the only legitimate thing going on in WWE because he's the only one people claim to be "for realz, yo" is probably the one thing that comes off as the most artificial and fake... and this was a feeling I had long before the failed drug tests and Steroid City came into play. Brock is a guy who had a run of success in UFC and that's nothing to sneeze at, especially when you factor in the diverticulitis that he was suffering from at the time. His 2012-2013 run, even with the two pointless falls he took to John Cena and HHH at the time, was probably the one time he came close to not only feeling like a legitimate and real threat, but also the one period where he was churning out his best work.

Man, that seems like an eternity ago... probably because it was. I kinda wish we had that Brock Lesnar who at least pretended to give a fuck. Now a Brock Lesnar match is less an attraction and more an extended piss break.

We get a clip from the pre-show where Lita introduces the new Women's Championship title, which is essentially a copy of the WWE title, but with a white strap and red plate. I like the approach they took with this; essentially copying-and-pasting the belt design of the men's belt to put this title on the same proverbial pedestal. While I would prefer a more original design, I can somewhat understand their approach and their intent here. Then again, you can't do much worse than the existing Divas title.

Divas champion Charlotte defeated Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch to win the new Women's title and bury the fucking worthless butterfly belt. One year later, this is still a pretty damn good match; not quite on par with their NXT efforts which were really good, but nonetheless a good way of reinventing the Women's division on the main roster. Becky took the fall here, tapping out to Charlotte's figure four while Sasha was held back by Old Man Ric and while people were complaining that Sasha should've won this one (she had Snoop Dogg with her, for pete's sake), I was (and am) fine with this finish.

From my vantage point, if Sasha Banks were to win the title, it should be in a singles match with no third leg to detract from the moment. There have been significant title wins during three-ways and four-ways, but I always felt that first title win should be in a singles match because it would've meant more. Eventually, Sasha would win the title down the road a couple times on various episodes of RAW... and Charlotte would win the title back each time, but I've said my piece on that piece of business multiple times and so I won't revisit here. Bottom line; a good showcase of women's wrestling at a Wrestlemania and a match that's far from the designated piss break as past Divas matches were.

The Undertaker defeated Shane McMahon in a Hell in A Cell match that went too fucking long and was more sad to watch than it was enjoyable. As cool as it was seeing Shane-O-Mac back in action, there is no way in hell you were going to have me believe that he was a threat to Taker, no matter how old the guy is now. The fact that this match lasted a near half-hour is ridiculous and completely destroys whatever suspension of disbelief was holding this together. And I think what hurt this most was the fact that it was a straightforward match with the obligatory Shane bump (off the top of the Cell, of course, and of course it looked brutal) and that Coast-To-Coast... which was the only good thing about that match.

See, I was thinking this would be the perfect opportunity for a total schmoz; bring back the Mean Street Posse, get some hired help, anything to make this match seem believable because the believability factor was already being stretched real thin. This was an easy win for Taker and even a short match with lots of crazy shenanigans going on would be better than the match we got. In fact, an overbooked short match with a crash TV mentality would be the most believable scenario to come out of this.

But instead, we got this horrible match. A match where an Undertaker chokeslam couldn't finish off Shane McMahon in a single swoop, a match where SHANE MCMAHON was able to escape Undertaker's MMA submission thing and turn it into a Sharpshooter, a match where the longer it went, the more tired both guys looked... and not the good kind of tired. This needed to be a little more outlandish than it was. The lack of build up to this match certainly didn't help, but... fuck me, this was a chore to watch.

The real stupid thing about this whole thing was that it meant nothing, because the stipulation was that if Shane won the match, he got to run RAW. Shane didn't win, but ended up running RAW for a couple months before the brand split came into affect and he went on to Smackdown. So why have the... never mind.

Baron Corbin wins the Andre The Giant memorial battle royal featuring a bunch of guys nobody cares about. Well, there's that bit where Big Show and Shaq face off to tease a match that will never happen and there was a negative reaction when DDP and Tatanka (yes, that Tatanka) were eliminated... but other than that, Baron Corbin wins the match and nothing else really matters. And a year later, he's challenging for the IC title against Dean Ambrose. Good for him; hope he does well.

The next segment is a waste of time. We have Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders do a little thing, then the Rock shows up with a flamethrower, walks up to the ring, cuts a promo, gets cut off by the Wyatt family, Bray and Rock exchange jabs (with Rock giving Bray props). And then we had a seven-second match where Rock rock-bottoms Erick Rowan and then John Cena shows up and he and Rock fight off the Wyatts and then Rock welcomes Cena back and by the time that whole mess was over, the show clocked a little over four hours. Like I said, a complete waste of fucking time.

Then there's a promo video recapping the whole Roman Reigns/HHH feud building up and it's hard for me to care because the whole Authority thing has been done to death over and over again. The last time they had a story like this was with Daniel Bryan and that worked because people cared about Daniel Bryan and there was an emotional investment. So that feud was a little more natural. This thing with Roman Reigns feels like they were trying to recreate that because if it works with an "average joe" like Bryan, it'll work with a "star" like Reigns... but what's missing is that emotional connection. I cared about Bryan and his struggle; I had no reason to care about Roman Reigns, especially when he's given mediocre material like "Tater Tots" and "Sufferin' Succotash."

Even John Cena and his pre-school poop jokes were more hardcore than this tripe... and that is a considerable stretch, bro.

And then they have a bunch of guys in masks show up and then Stephanie McMahon shows up, at which point I muted the television to spare myself from the impending ear rape. I've resisted the urge to turn the show off, but instead I went for a piss break while Stephanie showed off what I assume was more horrible bad acting and then by the time I got back, HHH was coming out with some costume of some kind that I've completely blanked out on. Each year, I am amazed by how much more elaborate these HHH entrances are. And each year, I wonder how much smaller the guy's penis has gotten because there has to be a corrolation of some kind.

Roman Reigns defeated WWE World champion McSon-In-Law to win the title to the surprise of absolutely nobody. The end result was never in doubt, it was going to happen whether people liked it or not, and there was no Seth Rollins to cash in and save the main event... especially when it needed the most saving.

The problem isn't with Roman winning the title. Let's dispel any preconceptions you might be having here; I had no problem with Roman winning the title here. I had no problem with Roman winning the title a couple months ago (the second time around when he beat Sheamus in a really decent match on RAW and actually showed some promise before creative fucked it up again). For the shit the guy gets, he has potential, he has the skill set, and if you let him show his personality a bit and let loose, he could be a jam up guy.

The problem isn't with the end result of the match. The problem is the match itself and the story it told... which is often NOT the story it needed to tell if you were going to elevate someone who's going to be the NEW FACE OF THE COMPANY.

The often-mocked quotable is "We gotta make Roman look strong." And sometimes, it's the simplest approach that works best. When Hulk Hogan beat the Iron Sheik for his first WWF title in 1984 to kick off the whole Hulkamania thing, it was a relatively short match that featured Hogan powering out of Sheik's erect Camel Clutch and finishing the dude off with a legdrop for a win. When Steve Austin and Bret Hart had that submission match at Wrestlemania 13, it was a street fight that ended with one of the most iconic crimson masks in the business, but most importantly defined Austin's character that resonated with the audience. It's that one moment that sticks with a guy and defines him and gets people to care about him in a way that they'd want to follow the guy and cheer him on as he takes all comers.

Roman Reigns never got that moment.

The match he had with Brock Lesnar was boring, tedious, sleep-inducing, and introduced the world to Suplex City, killing any kind of badassery and realism that Brock might've possessed. (I'm sorry, but Suplex Fucking City? What are you, fucking three? What are you gonna do next, DD-Fucking-Tee Town? Neckbreaker Fucking Nation? Fuck you.) If you wanted a good Wrestlemania moment that made Roman into that conquering hero, it would've been short, sweet, and ended with Roman annihilating Brock Lesnar for the title. Kinda like that Survivor Series match with Goldberg that lasted less than a couple minutes.

And honestly, that should've been the case here as well. Roman needed a good, strong win... and that probably meant a short match that had Roman dominate McSon-In-Law and ending his reign in quick fashion. It's the kind of finish that would established Roman's dominance and maybe even give his character some direction. You can have the longer match later on a B-show PPV, but at a Wrestlemania, you need a good showing, a good match, and a good story worthy of the name. And that's not we got here.

What we got here was another Wrestlemania main event that ended up being dull because it features HHH trying to pull off a big time Wrestlemania main event and failing miserably. This is, unfortunately, a recurring trend with a lot of the McSon-In-Law's Wrestlemania main events which needed to go one way, but instead goes his way; a slow, plodding, almost pedestrian match that fails to excite and fails to put Roman over in any significant way. It confounds me that the guy is able to have top-tier matches when lower on the Wrestlemania card (see his Mania 30 match with Daniel Bryan and his various Undertaker matches from 17, 27, and 28 - the last two hindered by mostly bad acting) and yet on the main event, he's trying to be Ric Flair wrestling Roman Reign's Steamboat when in reality, HHH is the broom that Ric Flair wrestles to a two-star match (not a three-star match, though; that's an entirely different broom.)

Also, Ric Flair has never main evented a Wrestlemania... ever. And no, the middle of the card title match with Randy Savage at Mania 8 does not count.

I honestly don't recall my initial reaction to Wrestlemania 32 after having watched it live. I remember it being overly long, but not much more than that. I suppose that considering I don't remember anything about this Wrestlemania, it must mean the show wasn't really worth a damn... and yet I remember Wrestlemania 27 being an absolute dumpster fire whose sole purpose was to hype up a match for the following year's iteration. Funny how I can recall Miz as WWE Champion main eventing a Wrestlemania (and winning!) yet I blank out on this one.

A year has come and gone... and Wrestlemania 32 comes across as an outright struggle to get through. While there are some bright spots on the show - the Women's title match and the AJ/Jericho match - they are but small specs on an otherwise massive void of boredom. Watching the New Day/Foreigners match was a waste of time due to their playing second fiddle to the old timers, enduring the Shane/Undertaker trainwreck, and questioning the intelligence of those praising Brock Lesnar for his silly Suplex City gimmick... a gimmick that was booed off the stage a decade or so earlier - and wondering how long the madness will go on when the Rock/Wyatt/Cena bit took place and dragged for far too long.

And then there was the main event; the match where Roman Reigns would emerge the conquering hero and dethrone HHH for his third WWE World championship and claim his place as the new face of WWE in a moment worthy of Wrestlemania... only for the whole thing to fail miserably. The match lacked energy, lacked focus, and most importantly, lacked the emotional investment required in giving people a reason to care. The extended run time of almost five hours for the main show itself (not including the pre-show which also runs at a whopping two hours) does more to harm the show than to make it special... and the fact that they're aiming for this year's show to run just as long means nothing was learned from this colossal misfire.

Most people have written off Wrestlemania 32 as one of the worst (if not THE worst) Wrestlemanias of all time. I'm not quite sure if I'm willing to go that far; there have been Manias far worse than this and I can still remember THOSE shows long after having watched them live. On the other hand, though, just the fact that I could recall nothing about the show a year after the fact as well as the struggle I had just to sit through the whole show might be a strong case in favor of that claim. It's one thing to produce a forgettable wrestling event... but a forgettable Wrestlemania?

That's the killer.

Some time later, I saw the WWE 24 special on Wrestlemania 32; the event, the Hall of Fame, the NXT show, and some of the behind the scenes stuff. Though it was only an hour, I found that to be a much more enjoyable show than the five hour endurance match that WWE subjected on the world. Even sadder is the fact that in that short span, there was more emotional investment and much better story telling than the show it was covering.

This year's Wrestlemania is rumored to be even longer than the last and I'm wondering if there is really enough interest in the show for people to stick around that long. It doesn't help that outside of... well, I should hold off on that last bit. Don't want to show my hand too much...

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