Monday, March 25, 2024

Ramblemania Rewind 31 - WWE Wrestlemania Play Button (2015)

Date: March 29th, 2015
Venue: Levi's Stadium - Santa Clara, California
Attendance: 67,000

Wrestlemania 30 was supposed to be headlined by a one-on-one match featuring reigning WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton defending his title against the returning Dave Batista... and then the fans revolted and the show ended with fan favorite Daniel Bryan Danielson inserted into the match and winning the title to send the crowd home happy... which they needed to do because they just ended the Undertaker streak that people were invested in... and the guy who ended up breaking the streak was the guy who probably needed it the least.

Wrestlemania 31, on the other hand, was headlined by a one-on-one match featuring reigning and defending WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar defending his title against WWE's next chosen one, Roman Reigns. And this match was supposed to be the coronation of Reigns as the top star in the company, much in the same vein as Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, and more recently, John Cena... except fans didn't care for Reigns and actually resented WWE for pushing this guy down people's throats. The show ended in a direction that wasn't entirely expected... but was a pleasant surprise nonetheless.

So here we are... another outdoor setting and smack in the middle of daylight, which makes for an awesome visual in general, but not necessarily the best entrances.

We begin with some guy singing America The Beautiful, an annual Wrestlemania tradition.

The opening montage is LL Cool J guiding us through bits and bobs of memorable moments in Wrestlemania history, which is contrary to what I believed initially, which was going to be an LL Cool J music video. It's not a bad little bit, although points must be docked for pulling out the extremely false "Once In A Lifetime" tagline... unless he wanted to forget that Wrestlemania 29 exists, in which I don't blame him one bit.

Daniel Bryan Danielson defeated Intercontinental champion Bad News Barrett, Dolph Ziggler, Luke Harper, Dean Ambrose, and whoever else I'm forgetting in a ladder match to win the title. He would vacate the title due to concussion-related issues that would force his first retirement. Well, that sucked. The match itself was every multi-man ladder match you've seen since the dawn of time, with fun spots here and there. And then there was the final segment involving Bryan and Ziggler headbutting each other ad nauseum (that's ten concussions between them) before one big headbutt knocks Ziggler off his perch.

There's a WWE-produced commercial for Tapout, the workout brand for douchebags... hey, did you know that WWE once had a stake in Tapout and that's why we got commercials for the workout brand for douchebags? Fun little factoid here.

Randy Orton defeated Seth Rollins with a rather sweet-looking RKO on Rollins as he was going for a Curbstomp. Out of all the creative RKO OUTTA NOWHERE spots, that one still happens to be my favorite of the bunch. Honestly, this was a pretty good match. Seth was still a slick and impressive talent and Randy seemed motivated enough to hold up his end. I might actually like this match more than I did the first time around and I don't say that a whole lot these days.

We get the HHH/Sting promo package that established the narrative that Sting had been silent since 2001 and is now making his return to avenge WCW or... some stupid shit like that. Yes, we're not going to mention TNA because that would ruin the story, but also... WCW has been dead for over a decade and the fact that THIS is the best that they could come up with for Sting in his first WWE match shows a considerable lack of... 

So we've got this match happening in broad daylight. Cool. Sting has some Japanese drummer playing his drums to feature Sting coming out of the shadows in a bright red coat. Meanwhile, HHH has an army of animatronic Terminators and a cameo from Arnold before he comes out in one of the shittiest outfits I've seen since the last time he wore a ridiculous outfit. Honestly, I think HHH and Steph get a kick out of doing the costume work for Mania, because Mania is an excuse to look as ridiculous as possible and no one would bat an eye because it's Wrestlemania and you can get away with that sort of goofiness.

So yes, in his one and only Wrestlemania match, Sting loses to HHH after run-ins from the nWo and the DX and all of this results in a sledgehammer shot to the head. And then they shake hands to bury whatever one-sided hatchet there was to bury. I know that I railed on this match quite a bit back in the day and let's be perfectly honest. This match is not very good. This was not HHH at his prime, but rather HHH in his twilight years as a wrestler; he wasn't going to pull out classics out of his ass unless he had a really talented partner that he could work off of. Sting, on the other hand, was willing to do what he could to make this work. One only needs to see any of his AEW matches as an example of that. And had this match took place five... maybe ten years earlier... we'd be telling a different story here. But this match had no chance of being good; hence all the run-ins and overbooking to make this seem more out of control than it really is.

People had fun with this match and you know what? More power to them; I have my share of bad matches that I can get a kick out of. And even I will admit that in hindsight, viewed as more of a spectacle than a match, I got a chuckle or two out of it. But this is the debut match of the man called STING. For many WWE fans who had never heard of WCW or even TNA for that matter, this was their first time witnessing the man, the myth, the legend... and THIS is the match they got. And it's not particularly good. And to anyone watching this and saying that they should have booked Sting vs. Taker instead, did you even watch the previous year's match that Taker had with Brock? That was a trainwreck. And it wasn't going to get any better. If you really want that match nowadays, stick with one of the WWE video games. You'd be better off.

And then, of course,  Sting would have the match with Seth a few months later, where he'd suffer an injury due to a buckle bomb that'd put him on the shelf for a good six years until he made his return in AEW, where he'd have some great matches and come off better than he ever did in his short WWE stay. Meanwhile, HHH would have a couple more matches, including a horrible tag-match between HHH/Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker/Kane where the best worker in the match was the guy who hadn't wrestled a match since 2010. For anyone still crying over the fact that we never got a Undertaker vs. Sting match, you should be thankful that we dodged that particular bullet. Just stick with the video game.

There's a commercial for a bunch of WWE Network shows that were set to debut and almost all of them didn't last long; a cartoon called Camp WWE, a show called Swerved which is more of a prank show, a clip show hosted by the late Jerry Springer (yes, that Jerry Springer), and of course, another Divas Search ended up not happening. For the record, the last Diva Search took place in 2013 and was won by Eva Marie.

"And then this is followed by a concert that nobody cares about and then we have a backstage bit where newly crowned IC champ Daniel Byran Danielson is being congratulated by various former IC champions; Pat Patterson, Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat, Ric Flair (yes, Ric Flair is a former IC champion - in 2005-06 no less!), and Bret Hart. All break into a YES chant that is DAMN!'ed by Ron Simmons. I think this whole timing watching, I'm waiting for Simmons to show up to do this thing, but otherwise, it was a nice little bit."

AJ Lee and Paige defeated the Bella Twins in a match that was not very good... there's a reason why these Diva matches were deemed the designated piss break match. And this was months before the current crop of women were set to make the move from NXT to the main roster. We were still firmly intrenched in the Total Divas era of the Divas division, where the women were given trash storylines and the matches often reflected that. And if you don't know what Total Divas is, then congratulations. That's another bullet you dodged. Also, if I'm not mistaken, this may or may not have been AJ Lee's last match in WWE. On the bright side, I'm a lot less harsh on the Bella Twins these days than I used to be since I'm not calling them "the Balloon Twins" like I did in the original Ramblemania.

Rusev comes out in a tank, complete with Russian marching band. Cena gets historical stock footage featuring only Republican presidents (Regan and Dubya, specifically)... and the crowd boos the shit out of Cena. I guess this is a Democratic crowd? Or maybe they're rooting for Mother Russia, I don't know...

Anyway, John Cena defeated United States champion Rusev to win the title. I recall not caring for this match back in the day, but honestly, this is a pretty decent match between two power guys. The chants for Lana and Rocky IV were pretty funny... and then Lana tossed a shoe into the ring that ended up never getting used for some reason. Apparently, they had matches that were better than this, but since it's been ages since I've seen those matches, I'll go ahead and say that they had a nice, entertaining match. And for what it's worth, Rusev in a tank at Wrestlemania is pretty much the peak of his WWE run. Meanwhile, John Cena wouldn't bring back the US spinner belt (thank fuck for that), but he'd have weekly open invitational US title matches against a bunch of guys. And that's probably the best thing to say about Cena's run in 2015.

Next we have the annual segment with Hunter and Steph declaring that Mania's fake attendance recording before heeling it up, which brings out Dwayne and even cold Ronda Rousey jumped in for some reason. A couple years later, Ronda would join the WWE as a regular Superstar and her run there would be... interesting for some, underwhelming for others, to say the least. Anyway, this segment was a complete waste of time and as much as I rag on Stephanie for being a horrendous actor... well, sadly, time hasn't improved much in that department.

The Undertaker defeated Bray Wyatt in a thing that happened... and I know I'm going to piss off a few folks by saying this, considering the passing of Bray Wyatt last year, but there was no way in hell that Bray would've been the ideal person to end the streak. Not a fucking chance. I didn't think Brock was the right guy, either, but at least Brock got a bit of momentum afterwards. Bray would've just floundered as he did normally - doing the spooky shit that people liked, all the lore building and all that jazz, but when it came to the actual wrestling bits, that's when the whole aura of Bray Wyatt fell apart. Undertaker maintained an aura in spite of all the silliness that they put him through; Bray never once had that and for all of his creativity - and make no mistake, Bray was a really creative guy whose idea probably would've worked best in another format that wasn't wrestling - Bray lost that aura once he was in matches. People thought he'd be the next Undertaker, but the dude was barely the next Boogeyman.

What began as Roman Reigns challenging WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar in a one-on-one contest that followed the typical Brock 2014+ template (Brock does a billion suplexes, eventually slips up, giving the babyface a brief comeback before we go back to the billion suplexes again) eventually became a three-way that saw Mr. Money In The Bank Seth Rollins cash in his briefcase to join the match and eventually pin Roman to win the title. I still maintain that this was a good finish and really, the only finish that would've made people happy. For context, Roman Reigns was groomed to be the next big top dog babyface hero, except fans wanted nothing to do with him due to the perception that he was being shoved down their throats by WWE creative - and they were right. So this began a saga spanning years of WWE trying everything under the sun to try and get Roman over a big time beloved babyface. None of it worked. When Brock was suplexing Roman all over the place, people were cheering. When Brock spouted "Suplex City, Bitch" as a taunt to elicit heat, it got over with the crowd and it became a T-Shirt. When Roman made his comeback, the crowd booed. And while things looked as though this was going to be the coronation of Roman Reigns, having him win the title to a chorus of loud, vindicative boos was not the image anyone wanted to close Wrestlemania on... although to be fair, they'd get over that particular vice in a couple years, but we're jumping ahead.

Seth cashing in and winning the title was the best outcome for this match. And it got Seth a nice little World title run that ended prematurely due to injury, but it spared anyone the experience of enduing a World title run with the most despised man in the promotion holding the belt while WWE booked him as a babyface.

Wrestlemania 31 turned out to be a better show than I originally thought. Some of the good stuff was good, the bad stuff was bad, and the tiresome bits were even more tiresome. It's not what I would call a top tier Wrestlemania, but it certainly has its moments and was a fun revisit overall... which is more than what I can say for the following year's iteration.

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