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SMARK COUNTRY: Did WWE Make WrestleMania XXXI Look Strong?

The quality of WWE programming these past few months (excluding NXT) has been paltry to say the least and at times flat out unbearable. The weekly programming slipping up from time to time is to be expected. Any wrestling promotion creating programming multiple times per week can never bat 1.000. But the pay-per-views are where they need to step it up. Unfortunately, the past four or five pay-per-views have been barely passable. Has World Wrestling Entertainment learned from their recent mistakes?

Pre-show matches.

THE USOS vs. CESARO & TYSON KIDD vs. LOS MATADORES vs. THE NEW DAY (Tag Team Championship): It was a given that, with the teams involved, that there were going to be several high spots. The dives to the outside of the ring, as well as the six person Suplex, were quite phenomenal. Though all eight participants put on a good show, I do feel that we’ve seen many of these specific high spots by these specific athletes before. Methinks that the Tag Team division is in need of some fresh blood. As it is now, Tyson Kidd and Cesaro are not looking as dominant as their team win-loss record shows them to be. Hopefully, upper management can light a fire under Booking/Creative to get this stale tag division energized again. WINNER: CESARO & TYSON KIDD

THIRTY MAN OVER THE TOP ROPE ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYALE: I was taken aback as it’s been a long time since so many spots were used to make so many superstars look good in one of these type of matches. From Bo Dallas eliminating Zack Ryder right when Zack was about to deliver a Broski Boot, to the Ascension working together to eliminate the world’s strongest man, Mark Henry, even guys like Titus O’Neil, Ryback, Hideo Itami and Alex Riley got brief moments to shine. But extra props must go out to the veteran Big Show. Yes, he looked dominant. Yes, he did eventually win the match, but he single handedly put over Itami, Damien Mizdow and numerous mid-carders, yet still came out as the last man standing. WINNER: BIG SHOW

DANIEL BRYAN vs. STARDUST vs. DOLPH ZIGGLER vs. LUKE HARPER vs. R-TRUTH vs. DEAN AMBROSE vs. WADE BARRETT (Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match): I had to question the actual show opener being this match. Conventional wisdom states that if you open with a match this big, loaded with this much talent, then the rest of your show is downhill from here. But I don’t care if I’m right, because this was easily one of the best Intercontinental Championship matches in a long while. Barrett was extremely calculating, staying out of the way, then striking when the time was right, a smart move for someone with the odds stacked against him like this. Luke Harper not only used his size and strength to dominate the match, but even showed off some high-risk moves with his suicide dive out of the ring. For someone in the business for as long as R-Truth, his agility is still awe-inspiring. Dean Ambrose came off the top rope with so many high flying moves, it seemed he was hell bent on taking himself out with his opponent. But the power bomb he took from Harper out of the ring and through a ladder kept him down for quite a while. Stardust’s antics proved more hilarious than ever as he pulled out his own bejeweled ladder from under the ring. Ziggler had to fight to steal the show this time as everyone took it to the next level. But it was the former world champion, Daniel Bryan, who managed to fight off all of these larger opponents to climb the ladder to victory. WINNER: DANIEL BRYAN

SETH ROLLINS (w J&J Security) vs. RANDY ORTON: There’s been quite the build up to this match and boy, did these two superstars deliver. While Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble got involved early on, Randy Orton dealt out a vicious DDT to them, off the ring apron. Rollins does not cease to amaze in big match settings and he proved why he’s the future of this company. That attempted Curb Stomp, where he leapt nearly seven feet in the air, but fell prey to Orton’s RKO was one of the better counters I’ve seen in a while. Orton does have a habit of wrestling just hard enough to get by, but this match brought out the best in him and I hope THIS is the Orton we get in many more matches to come. WINNER: ORTON

STING vs. TRIPLE H: This match was, without a doubt, for all of the fans of the Monday Night War of the 1990s. These men are not full time performers, so it was understandable that they both were winded early. But the slow pacing and ring psychology provided something quite unique to this pay-per-view. A Pedigree was unable to keep Sting down. A Scorpion Death Lock was not able to make HHH tap out. A few minutes in, Hunter’s former running buddies, Degeneration-X got involved, to no one’s surprise. What was the true shocker, was shortly after that, when the nWo made their way to the ring to even the odds. However, the numbers fell back into Triple H’s favor when his buddy Shawn Michaels came down to the ring and delivered a super kick to Sting. The combatants gave it their all, but in the end, the Authority proved that their power cannot be thwarted. WINNER: TRIPLE H.

PAIGE & AJ LEE vs. THE BELLAS: It is a sordid state of affairs in the Women’s division when the Diva’s championship isn’t defended at Wrestlemania. The Bellas did a serviceable job, but given that they’ve been employed by World Wrestling Entertainment for the better part of a decade and that this was the biggest pay-per-view of the year, serviceable just doesn’t cut it. AJ and Paige did their best to make this match something special, but the number of botched spots that occurred was beyond even these women’s ability to cover them up. Workers the caliber of Paige and AJ Lee should have competition that can complement their skills. All in all, this match would have been fine on Raw or SmackDown, but not on the grandest stage of them all. WINNER: PAIGE & AJ LEE

JOHN CENA vs. RUSEV (United States Championship): If there were any out there doubting that this feud was set up as a Cold War throwback in the vein of Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago, the ring entrance with the Russian national anthem where Rusev came down to the ring in a tank should have been sufficient proof. WWE creative actually did a decent job with the build up to this match. From the early minutes of the match, Rusev seemed to dominate, employing several different wrestling styles. Cena was able to stay in it via high risk moves like the top rope Leg Drop and Tornado DDT. But as usual, in the later minutes of the match, Cena kicked it into overdrive and was able to finally beat the previously undefeated hero of the Russian people. WINNER: JOHN CENA

BRAY WYATT vs. UNDERTAKER: What was most notable about this match is that it wasn’t given the 2-3 month build up that the Undertaker Wrestlemania matches are normally given. But those few weeks that were given to the build up to this match were used wisely as Bray poked the bear, bringing the Undertaker back after his year-long exile. And what a difference a year makes. Undertaker looks like he’s found the fountain of youth. His offense was as crisp as it was 10-15 years ago and made me completely forget his WM match from last year. Wyatt turned the tables a few minutes in and landed some quite vicious blows, especially the one where he smashed Taker’s head into the turnbuckle post. It appeared as if, after delivering a Chokeslam, then a Tombstone Piledriver, that Undertaker had the victory. But Bray Wyatt kicking out of the pinfall was a shocker. Then Wyatt delivered his finishing move, Sister Abigail, but Undertaker kicked out. The greatest moment of ring psychology of this era occurred near the final few minutes. Bray Wyatt did his eerie backwards crab walk, only for Undertaker to sit up, not unlike Jason Voorhees. Bray’s momentary fear allowed Undertaker to nail a second Tombstone Piledriver and update his Wrestlemania record (22-1). WINNER: UNDERTAKER

ROMAN REIGNS vs. BROCK LESNAR: WWE has seemed bound and determined to do everything in their power to make Roman Reigns look strong. Well, the first five minutes of this match did the exact opposite. Lesnar opened the match with a flurry of offense and a series of German Suplexes that would fell a lesser man. Brock dominated the majority of the match with technical prowess and brute strength. But Roman Reigns smiled and asked for more. Brock wasn’t prepared for an opponent that reveled in punishment like this. Reigns eventually mounted a comeback and after shoving Lesnar into the turnbuckle post (causing a huge cut in Lesnar’s head), he delivered multiple Superman Punches and two Spears to Brock. Both men were bloodied and beaten, so it was the perfect opportunity for Seth Rollins to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and turn it into a Triple Threat match. Rollins Curb Stomped Lesnar, but as he went for a second one, Lesnar caught him in mid-air, and prepared to deliver an F-5. But Reigns speared Lesnar, freeing up Rollins to deliver a Curb Stomp and win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. WINNER: SETH ROLLINS

There were several entertaining vignettes as well, with the Hall of Fame Inductees making an appearance, the Rock confronting the Authority and Stephanie McMahon’s face off with MMA fighter Ronda Rousey all providing quite a bit of laughter. Decent to amazing matches and solid wrap ups or escalations of several storylines made this show far more entertaining than what I expected it to be. In all, WrestleMania XXXI wasn’t what I’d call amazing, something that the biggest show of the year should be. Thing is, with the quite poor quality of their last few pay-per-views, this show was a good baby step in the right direction.

What do you feel were the pros and cons of WrestleMania XXXI?


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