Give WWE credit. Even if you read the Greek God of Wrestling’s outstanding WrestleMania 31 preview, there were still enough unique twists and turns to keep you entertained.
Degeneration X. The NWO. The Rock. Ronda Rousey. The way in which Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank title opportunity. All were surprises which enhanced WrestleMania 31.
Some have proclaimed WrestleMania 31 as among the best WrestleManias in history. Achilles Heel isn’t so sure. Top 10? Maybe. But not top five.
What prevents WrestleMania 31 from being a top five show is there wasn’t one match that rose to true greatness. I don’t know if any match from WrestleMania 31 will break into Eric Fisher’s top 32 WrestleMania matches of all-time next year. By contrast, three matches from WrestleMania XXX – sometimes WWE uses Roman numerals; sometimes it doesn’t – made Fisher’s list this year.
Although there wasn’t an individual match that rose to historic levels of greatness, WrestleMania 31 was thoroughly entertaining because everything worked. Everything. There wasn’t one dud segment. There wasn’t one mediocre match.
Let’s take a look back at WrestleMania 31. We’re going to examine the matches in sequence because it’s important to follow the ebb and flow of the event.
TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH
This match ended the way Achilles Heel hoped it would, with Cesaro and Tyson Kidd retaining the tag team championship. The other alternative was to have the Usos win before a hometown crowd. That possibility became unlikely when Cesaro basically eliminated Jey Uso from the match in the first two minutes by throwing him into barrier by the broadcast table. Apparently, Jey Uso’s injured shoulder had not healed sufficiently for him to compete. Still, Jimmy Uso made a terrific showing, even convincing fans he might win this match going solo. Jimmy and Naomi even did a double dive to the outside. Speaking of Divas, Natalya put El Torito in a sharpshooter outside the ring. This preshow match was a lot of fun, setting the tone for the entire show.
ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL
This was a very well-planned battle royal. It started with Curtis Axel tearing off his shirt in celebration of AxelMania. Most of the other participants teamed up to throw Axel out first. One disappointing aspect of the battle royal was that NXT’s Hideo Itami getting only a brief moment to shine before being eliminated by Big Show. Itami was far from the only competitor to be thrown out by Big Show, who was a one-man gang (but not the One Man Gang). After The New Day tried to dispose of Big Show, he responded by eliminating Big E, Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston (the tag teams involved in the opening match were also in the battle royal).
Cesaro, the winner of the inaugural Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, picked up Kane for a body slam and threw him over the top rope. He showed off his strength by using the same maneuver on Big Show, which is how he won last year’s battle royal, but Big Show reversed the move, picked up Cesaro and threw him out. Big Show then threw out Ryback, Achilles Heel’s pick to win the battle royal. That left Big Show, The Miz and Damien Mizdow in the ring. The Miz orders Mizdow to attack Big Show. When Mizdow, who had worked with Miz throughout the match, refuses to follow orders, Miz berates him. Mizdow finally turns on Miz, throwing him out. Mizdow makes a good effort against Big Show, but the giant eventually throws him out to win the battle royal. This was a well-told story, with JBL pointing out how many times Big Show has come close to winning WWE battle royals and Ryal Rumbles without ever winning one. Fans got the impression that the victory was important to Big Show.
LADDER MATCH FOR INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP
With the two preshow matches over, the main show started with a ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship. As you might expect in a ladder match featuring several crazy wrestlers, this match contained the usual insanity of ladder matches. Highlights included defending champion Wade Barrett suplexing Stardust off an extremely tall ladder, Stardust delivering a drop kick to the ladder to knock off Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler, and a sick-looking spot in which Luke Harper powerbombed Ambrose onto a ladder set up as a bridge between the ring and a barrier outside the ring. Harper was tremendous. He climbed a ladder while Ziggler was on his back applying a sleeper hold. He also put a ladder on his head and shoulders and proceeded to do airplane spins, knocking over competitors with the ladder. In the end, Daniel Bryan and Ziggler battled at the top of the ladder, with Bryan winning a battle of headbutts to win the Intercontinental Championship. In a nice bit of symmetry, WrestleMania 31 started the way WresleMania XXX ended, with Bryan winning a championship and the crowd chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
RANDY ORTON vs. SETH ROLLINS
This was a terrific match with an exceptional ending. The back-and-forth match built to a sequence with Rollins kicking out after an RKO and Orton kicking out after a curb stomp. Orton then suckers Rollins in for a curb stomp. When Rollins stomps down, Orton, who was bent over, stands up, propelling Rollins into the air. Orton then catches Rollins on the way down with a perfectly executed RKO for the win. Even the well-written description of the Greek God of Wrestling doesn’t do Orton’s finishing maneuver justice. You need to see it to believe it. This match also leaves a feeling that Orton and Rollins can take their matches up another level if given 25-30 minutes instead of 15. We should see that when Orton challenges for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
STING vs. TRIPLE H
This is the match that seemed to draw the widest range of opinions. Some just seemed upset that Triple H won. Others thought the elaborate entrances, including a Terminator-themed entrance for Triple H that included voiceovers from Hall of Fame inductee Arnold Schwarzenegger was ridiculous. Achilles Heel liked it, if only because Schwarzenegger’s presence made sense, but the entrances were too long. I would have preferred more minutes be devoted to wrestling. We couldn’t have expected much more in the ring than we received from Sting, who was making his WWE in-ring debut on the grandest stage, but it was unfair to expect a wrestling classic. That’s why the surprise run-ins from Degeneration X and the NWO were welcome additions to this match. For those who say Achilles Heel is being hypocritical because he frequently chides TNA for its multiple run-ins, there is a major difference. First, run-ins were necessary to give Sting a break during the match. Second, this was the only match with outside interference. TNA often has multiple run-ins during several matches on the same card, taking away from the impact of each interference. Does it make sense for the NOW, featuring two of Triple H’s good friends (Kevin Nash and Scott Hall), make sense from a continuity standpoint? Probably not, even though they all were part of WCW’s glory days. But the live crowd popped big for Degeneration X and WCW, so it added to the match rather than detract from it.
NIKKI and BRIE BELLA vs. PAIGE and A.J. LEE
This was a solid match. The Bellas kept knocking A.J. off the apron, which prevented Paige from making the tag. This teased a split between Paige and A.J., but they stuck together and defeated the Bellas, with A.J. forcing Divas champion Nikki to tap out to the Black Widow submission. This match was just about the perfect length for the story that was being told.
JOHN CENA vs. RUSEV
This was a good match, but it wasn’t special. Cena pinned Rusev, winning the United States Championship after a sequence that included Rusev running into Lana and knocking her off the ring apron. There was a tease of a split between Rusev and Lana after the match. Cena elevates the U.S. Championship in the same way that Bryan elevates the Intercontinental Championship.
THE ROCK and RONDA ROUSEY vs. TRIPLE H and STEPHANIE McMAHON
This wasn’t a match, but the segment was so long that it can’t be ignored. The surprise appearance of The Rock popped the crowd, but the even more surprising presence of Rousey, who was invited to the ring by The Rock, was an incredible moment. Rousey hip-tossed Triple H and put Stephanie in a painful hold on her right arm before The Authority turned tail and walked up the ramp in defeat. WWE also hit a mini-home run with a short segment featuring former Intercontinental champions Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Pat Patterson, Roddy Piper and Bret Hart congratulating Bryan for winning the Intercontinental Championship.
UNDERTAKER vs. BRAY WYATT
Having WrestleMania take place mostly during daylight removed some of the mystique from Undertaker’s and Wyatt’s entrances. This match started slowly, but Undertaker and Wyatt sucked the crowd in by the end of the match. The visual highlight was Wyatt doing his exorcist-like crab walk toward a prone Undertaker until Undertaker sat up and gave him a piercing stare, causing Wyatt to collapse in semi-fear. Undertaker winning was the right outcome.
BROCK LESNAR vs. ROMAN REIGNS
As The Greek God of Wrestling suggested, most of this match consisted of Lesnar beating down Reigns, only to have Reigns keep coming back for more. My suggestion that this would be an extremely physical match turned out to be an understatement. Reigns more than held up his end of the bargain in this match. His facial expressions, including wry smiles after taking suplex after suplex, helped tell the story. Eventually, Reigns made a big comeback after smashing Lesnar into the ring post, drawing blood. With both men down, however, Seth Rollins came to the ring to cash in his Money in the Bank opportunity. Rollins cashing in his Money in the Bank opportunity wasn’t a surprise. Achilles Heel told you that would happen. What was surprising was that Rollins didn’t wait for the match to end, turning the main event into a triple threat match instead of waiting for Lesnar or Reigns to win. Rollins’ plans seemed foiled when Lesnar picked him up for an F-5, but Reigns speared Lesnar. Rollins then curb stomped Reigns to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship – without Lesnar getting pinned.
Rollins winning the title in unique fashion at the end of an intense and physical match was the perfect ending for an extremely entertaining WrestleMania.
A SLOGAN IS BORN: Shame on WWE if it hasn’t already started producing “Suplex City” shirts. During the main event of WrestleMania, Brock Lesnar was overheard barking at Roman Reigns “Suplex City, bitch” before delivering another series of suplexes. The raucous crowd at RAW the next night was chanting “Suplex City.”
LESNAR SUSPENDED: Anyone who doubts whether Brock Lesnar is worth the three-year extension he just signed with WWE needs to watch WrestleMania 31’s main event and Lesnar’s appearance the next night on RAW. His intensity is off the charts.
Maybe the reduced number of appearances is the right way to handle Lesnar. It allows his matches and appearances to seem special. After his suspension for his assault on RAW, including an F-5 on Michael Cole, Lesnar was suspended by Stephanie McMahon. That will only further whet fans’ appetite for the return of Lesnar.
LINING UP CHALLENGERS: Seth Rollins has several natural challengers for his WWE World Heavyweight Championship. After beating Rollins at WrestleMania, Randy Orton should be among the first in line for a title shot. Roman Reigns, Rollins’ former Shield teammate, is another natural challenger. And when Lesnar returns, he’ll obviously be in the championship picture.
INDEPENDENT THINKING: Achilles Heel did not see every independent show during the week of WrestleMania 31, but he saw enough to reinforce his opinion that WWE made a mistake by releasing Drew Galloway (formerly Drew McIntyre). Galloway united the EVOLVE and Open the Freedom Gate titles – it never made sense to me why these two related organizations had separate titles – by defeating Johnny Gargano. More importantly, Galloway has been successful with every organization in which he’s appeared, including TNA, since his WWE release. WWE should find a way to bring him back.
TANAHASHI COMING TO PHILLY: Ring of Honor announced that Hiroshi Tanahashi will be part of its May events in Philadelphia and Toronto. War of the Worlds ’15 on Wed., May 13 at 2300 Arena is sold out, but tickets remain for War of the Worlds ’15 on Tues., May 12 at 2300 Arena. If you haven’t seen Tanahashi before, you’re in for a treat if you see him in Philly.
CHIKARA IN BRITAIN: CHIKARA kicks off its four-shows-in-four-days tour of the United Kingdom on Friday with “For British Eyes Only.” The tour wraps up Monday in London, with Icarus defending the Grand Championship against Hallowicked.
NETWORK NUMBERS RISE: WWE reveals that WWE Network has 1.3 million subscribers.
MISTAKEN IMPRESSION: I’ve been told that Eric Fisher intimated that Achilles Heel backed out of a commitment to appear on PhillyPhanatics.com’s Blog Talk Radio show Sunday prior to WrestleMania 31. I assure you that The Greek God of Wrestling honors all commitments. Fisher heard what he wanted to hear when we discussed the possibility of me appearing on the show.
HALL OF A NIGHT: WWE’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony continues to be one of Achilles Heel’s favorite nights of the year. I could write an entire column just on the Hall of Fame.
Among the highlights this year was the normally loquacious Larry Zbyszko being completely overwhelmed by his induction. Zbyszko lost his train of thought and repeated himself several times, but it made his speech even more meaningful and endearing. Another highlight was Alundra Blayze/Madusa introducing her husband, whom she hadn’t seen for more than a year. He was given special permission to leave his military enlistment to watch his wife be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Another emotional highlight was the late Connor “The Crusher” Michalek receiving the inaugural Warrior Award. Speeches by Dana Warrior (the Ultimate Warrior’s wife), Daniel Bryan and Steve Michalek, Connor’s father, struck the perfect emotional tone.
How could anyone follow the emotional outpouring for a Michalek, who made an amazing impact during his too-short 8 years of life? By going completely in the opposite direction. The zany humor of The Bushwackers was the perfect way to follow the emotional presentation of The Warrior Award.
Luke and Butch had the crowd laughing with stories like the one about how Butch was made that he and Luke were paid the same amount for a Royal Rumble in which Luke was thrown out in seconds and Butch was in the ring for 25 minutes. The Bushwhackers even got Bret Hart to let his guard down and do the Bushwhacker strut.