Well, WrestleMania 30 has come and gone and as I sit here writing this I have to say, I was definitely satisfied. In fact, I thought the show was great. Earlier in the weekend I said that I hadn't been this excited for a WrestleMania in probably 10 years. Turns out that's fitting because also haven't been this pleased with the results. Until this weekend, it's been 10 years since I've truly enjoyed being a wrestling fan. Sure there were bright spots between then and now, but for the most part I've found the WWE to be stale, boring and disappointing since WrestleMania 20 closed with two of my favorite wrestlers celebrating in the ring, both world champions, both having reached the pinnacle of their sport.
WrestleMania 20 was at Madison Square Garden. I was there, and getting to see Chris Benoit (one of the aforementioned favorite wrestlers, before he turned into a monster) beat HHH clean in the main event to become the World Champion will always be one of my fondest memories as a wrestling fan. In fact, until last night, that was probably my LAST fond memory as a wrestling fan*. It makes sense then that the end result of WrestleMania ten years later has a lot of similarities. Daniel Bryan went over not only HHH, but also Randy Orton and Batista later in the night to finally, conclusively, become WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
*Ok, maybe the two ECW One Night Stand pay per-views briefly interrupted the ten year streak of indifferent disappointment, but considering how WWE's version of ECW turned out, I still maintain that WrestleMania 20 was my last fond memory.
WWE did a great job this year of capturing the excitement and importance that's supposed to surround a WrestleMania weekend. Personally, I had the WWE Network going Friday through Sunday, watching some old favorites along with some of the countdown shows. The Hall of Fame on Saturday night was particularly awesome. Aside from paying tribute to the honorees themselves, it felt like a celebration of professional wrestling in general. Seeing everyone who was in attendance when the camera panned the audience, I just think its awesome that the WWE brings together so many of the legends and other past stars and basically says we remember, honor and appreciate your contributions to this business. What can I say, I'm a sucker for tradition.
I think its funny that my level of excitement was what it was this weekend, because the build up to this year's show wasn't the greatest. First off, the planned main event wasn't what we got, and I'm still not sure if its fair to praise the WWE for listening to the fans and making the obvious and necessary changes concerning Daniel Bryan's involvement, or if its more accurate to just call them out of touch for planning on running Batista v. Orton on top in the first place. I'll go with praise, because the storyline we got is exactly what they should have been building to all along, and I'll ignore the fact that it took live crowd after live crowd practically hijacking the show to get us there. They did the right thing in the end, and that's what matters. The other build up, Brock v. Undertaker was equally lackluster. A large part of that is how Brock's been booked since his return, because if he really was the unstoppable monster they wanted him to be going into this, the match vs. Undertaker builds itself. But, Brock came in tainted by big losses to Cena and HHH last year, damaging his credibility as a destructive force of nature. Combine that with the fact that Taker got the majority of the offense in the weeks leading up to Mania, and Brock acting all scared of Taker's spooky theatrics, and you get a match that had a really weird build up (especially when you consider that the overwhelming majority of fans went in assuming that Taker's undefeated streak made the outcome a foregone conclusion - more on that later). In any event, despite the poor booking leading into this weekend, by Sunday afternoon I was absolutely amped for WrestleMania 30, so enough about the preliminaries, lets talk about the show itself.
Tag Team Title Fatal Four-Way Match: The Usos (champs) v. Los Matadores v. The Real Americans v. Ryback & Curtis Axel. Ok, so this was on the pre-show and not the Mania card itself, but the impression I got from this match was these guys went out there determined to prove they're better than a pre-show spot. And this match kicked ass as a result. It was fast paced, with lots of high spots and it did a great job setting the table for the rest of the night. The Usos retained their belts and the end saw the break up of the Real Americans, which by all indications is going to result in a much deserved (and much anticipated by me) push for Cesaro. The WWE has a long way to go rehabilitate the tag division, and get tag team wrestling back to being an entertaining and important part of the product, but that's a problem for tomorrow. For now, this match delivered in spades.
The show itself opened huge. Getting Hulk Hogan to be host thirty years after he made history at the first WrestleMania was absolutely awesome. I hated Hogan in the late 90's. My pro WWF bias and hearing all the stories of his backstage politics, burying guys and stuff made him impossible to like for late teens/early 20's Joey. But I'll be damned, nostalgia is a powerful animal because Real American hits, and the Hulkster comes out in the red & yellow and I'm a 9 year old Hulk Hogan mark again (except for when he was fighting Macho Man; I hated him then too). Then they doubled down. The glass broke, and out comes Stone Cold! If I was excited with Hogan, I was in full mark mode now. The two biggest names in the history of pro wrestling in the same ring, at the same time? I got chills. I admit it, when Austin first got in the ring and went nose to nose with Hogan, despite it being years too late; despite the fact that both guys physical conditions would mean it would be horrible, I found myself wishing for the match. Then the two icons were interrupted again, by a third icon! The Rock is here! And he came determined to show everyone why he's the best professional wrestler to ever pick up a microphone. Then they all drank beer together. Just a fantastic way to start the show. I could say more good about it, but I'd be gushing at this point.
Winner Gets Inserted Into Main Event: HHH v. Daniel Bryan. If the pre-show set the table, this match served up some fine appetizers for the main course to come. HHH comes out dressed like an armored Skeletor, and Stephanie's wearing a slutty tuxedo. No complaints here. Now, if you're so cynical that you went into this not KNOWING Daniel Bryan wasn't going over here, I don't know what to tell you because personally, I was certain HHH was going to do the right thing. And he did, and the 26 minutes it took to get there were just awesome. These two had an absolutely phenomenal match, and the fact that it was only setting the stage for things to come later made it even better. Oh and Steph's heel work during the match was just excellent too. Bryan pins HHH clean as a sheet, validating himself against the authority and completing his first step toward the gold. Just excellent.
The Shield v. New Age Outlaws & Kane: I have to admit this was the only match that I expected a little more from, just given the talent level of the Shield (and my desire to see the three of them in longer matches against better opponents), but I also can't really complain about this. From a storyline point of view it made perfect sense, The Shield asserted their dominance over Kane and the Outlaws, as they should have). I'm really glad they held off on breaking these guys up because Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns have a ton of mileage left in them as a team. Also, I look at WrestleMania as the ending of wrestling's "season" (even though the new season starts the next day) and I like that the last years worth of themes and storylines got a nice wrap up; the Authority got their comeuppance tonight, and tomorrow on Raw new directions can be explored (at least in theory, tonight will tell).
Meanwhile, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Sgt. Slaughter have an action figure battle, refereed by Dangerous Danny Davis (awesome! where's he been?), but Ted Dibiase buys the playset out from under them. Fun little nostalgia segment.
Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal: Anything that has Cesaro come out looking strong is absolutely fine by me. So, an hour after breaking up his team with Jack Swagger, Cesaro wins the battle royal and his singles push begins, and we didn't even have to wait for Raw. Yup, I'm on board with that, no question. Also, Kofi Kingston finding yet another amazing way to keep his feet from hitting the floor adds another WrestleMania moment to a show that already has two or three of them and we're only three matches in.
John Cena v. Bray Wyatt: The only match where I thought they got the outcome wrong because Cena should have lost. Unlike most everything else on this show, the build up in the last few weeks was actually good, and the match told an interesting story with Bray getting into Cena's head. The match itself was good, but not great and certainly not up to what either of these guys are capable of. Something tells me this feud isn't over though.
Brock Lesnar v. The Undertaker. Ok, this match. The match that has a lot of people waah wahing and boo hooing and swearing to never watch wrestling again and all sorts of other dramatics (the look on that fat black dude's face was absolutely priceless, by the way). Honestly although I was genuinely surprised, I had no problem with it. First of all, lets be real, the streak doesn't end unless the Undertaker says it does. This wasn't something management forced on him or some cockamamie idea "creative" came up with. The streak ended because Taker wanted it to. And, he lost TO the opponent he wanted to. Otherwise last night doesn't happen the way it did, period. For that reason alone I can't get upset about it (even if the last few weeks of Stone Cold's and Jim Ross's podcasts FINALLY convinced me the streak should never be ended, but c'est la vie). There's a tremendous upside here that everyone is ignoring. Ending the streak undoes all the damage to Brock that I was talking about earlier. Brock is that unstoppable force again, and whoever his next opponent ends up being is going to look that much better when they beat him (visions of Brock vs. Bryan are dancing in my head). Plus, anything that keeps Paul Heyman on my TV weekly is a good thing. Look, I get it. No true wrestling fan wants to see a revered and respected legend like the Undertaker put over a part timer whose lack of love for the business is well documented, but its not the travesty people are making it out to be either. That may have been Taker's last match. From the looks of things, he's slowed down a lot even since last years match with Punk (although I read some news today that he got hurt early on, so that likely affected things). For an old school guy like Taker, what better way to go out than to put someone over who in turn is going to make someone who IS the future of the company look good? That's how I'm choosing to look at it anyway, and you should too; nerd rage is so unbecoming (except when I do it - then its funny).
Diva's Invitational: Too many women to name individually v. AJ Lee (champ). AJ won and I'm glad, both because she's hot and she can actually wrestle, unlike more than a few participants in this match. My one complaint here is that AJ has been booked as a cowardly heel despite also being the most over diva they have, so putting her in a match vs. 14 opponents with crazy odds stacked against her, and then having her win makes absolutely zero sense. But whatever, I like the outcome.
Meanwhile, Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff confront Hulk Hogan. Mr. T has Hulk's back and its the original WrestleMania main event, thirty years later (which, considering the attrition rate on 80's pro wrestlers is a feat in and of itself). Hostilities are avoided as Piper and Orndorff reluctantly agree to bury the hatchet and the four shake hands. Another cool little nostalgia segment before the main event.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Randy Orton (champ) v. Batista v. Daniel Bryan. Bryan won. Again, DANIEL BRYAN WON. I never had a doubt that this is where they were going once they course-corrected sometime after the Rumble, but I know people more cynical than I (there are such a thing?) did. Our guy won, people. His year of struggles against terrible booking and attempted burial were vindicated, and he proved on the biggest stage there is that he could hang with the so called A+ players. He beat all of Evolution in the same night, cleanly and decisively! I don't understand how anyone can complain after seeing the outcome of this show. Nobody who followed him all the way back to Ring of Honor EVER saw this coming, yet there he is, top of the heap in the WWE. How can you not feel good about WrestleMania 30 when it ended like this?
So there you go. In my estimation, they gave us a show that was excellent both from an in-ring, work rate perspective, and from a storyline standpoint. I feel so good after that show that they've actually tricked me into being (cautiously) optimistic for things to come. Bryan's on top. Cesaro is set up for big things. The Shield are still going strong, and the WWE as a whole seems like it just might be coming around to a place where they're listening to the fans again. Obviously, time will tell, but right now, for this moment I'm once again happy to be a wrestling fan.