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WrestleMania XXXI Recap

By Atlee Greene

The thirty-first installment of WWE’s biggest event of the year, WrestleMania, took place at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California in front of a reported capacity crowd of 76,976. There were several big storylines going into this event.

Would this be Sting’s first, and last, WWE match?

Could The Undertaker return to glory after his big loss last year?

Would the fans reject the company’s new heir apparent, Roman Reigns, on the grandest stage?

Will John Cena stop the mad Russian and bring the U.S. title back to the states?

Let’s dive in.

The two hour pre-show that aired exclusively on the WWE Network had two matches that were thrown together with little build up or fanfare.

Antonio Cesaro & Tyson Kidd retained the WWE Tag Team Titles in a Fatal Four Way Match when they defeated Los Matadores, The New Day, and The Usos.

Big Show won the 20-Man Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal after eliminating The Miz and Damian Mizdow in the closing moments of the match. While Show wasn’t the fan favorite to win, the seven foot tall, almost 500 lbs. monster is the guy who WWE has positioned the most like Andre so it came off as a sentimental moment of sorts.

The Main Card Begins!

WWE Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match: Bad News Barrett (c) vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper vs. R-Truth vs. Stardust

Intercontinental championship bouts are highly regarded among hardcore wrestling fans because they often produce the best matches that often steal the show. Some of the most memorable matches for this belt have taken place at WrestleMania, and there are seven men looking to climb the ladder, grab the belt, and claim victory.

England’s Bad News Barrett was the champion going in and had to contend with six other men which included three favorites. Dean Ambrose known as the Lunatic Fringe was the man who was initially chasing Barrett for the title and even stole the belt even though he wasn’t the champion. Daniel Bryan is the WWE’s most popular performer who gets legions of fans to fill arenas all over the world with chants of “YES, YES, YES.”

Bryan main evented and won the world heavyweight title at last year’s WrestleMania, but his reign was short lived due to a neck injury suffered in May that forced him to vacate the title and miss the rest of 2014. Many fans were upset that Bryan wasn’t competing for the world title at this year’s event, but vying for the IC title is a great consolation prize.

Dolph Ziggler has been a perennial favorite for many years now, and was considered one of the favorites even though he has never broke through to the featured attraction role. Many feel this would be a great opportunity to finally give him that big win and push him as a top act in WWE.

Luke Harper, R-Truth, and Stardust are good wrestlers who have never really caught on to a high enough degree where anyone would take them seriously as a champion. If you had to pick a dark horse out of the three, the back wood brawler Luke Harper would make the most sense.

This ladder match was an entertaining car wreck from beginning to end with table crashing and ladder bashing stunts galore. The holy #&%$ moment of the match came when Luke Harper power bombed Dean Ambrose over the top rope and through a ladder bridged between the ring apron the security rail.

Defending champion Barrett made a last ditch effort to walk away with the gold by hitting everyone with his finishing move, the Bull Hammer. Bryan is able to get back to his feet and take out Barrett with his patented running knee to the head.

Bryan climbs the ladder, but Dolph Ziggler scales up the opposite side of the ladder as both men get to the top. With the title dangling between them, the two fan favorites bludgeon each other with rapid head butts until Ziggler succumbs to the punishment as he is knocked off the top of the ladder which allows Daniel Bryan to grab the title and become the new champion.

Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins

The heel faction known as The Authority ran by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon positioned Randy Orton as the current face of WWE. Later on, they brought in the talented Seth Rollins and dubbed him as the future of the company. Rollins is also the owner of the Money in the Bank briefcase that he won in June of last year which entitles him to a WWE World Heavyweight title match, anywhere, anytime, for twelve months.

Remember that fact because it can always come into play.

Somewhere along the line, Orton became weary of Rollins, and he was right as the future would no longer wait, injuring Orton and putting him out of action for four months.

Vengeance was the story of this match up as Orton returned in February with his sights set on Rollins. Both men put on an intense back-and-forth contest. In an amazing sequence, Orton turned Rollins’ curb stomp into an RKO for the 1-2-3. This was instant replay gold as the fans went bananas for the finish.

Sting vs. Triple H

This was one of the most anticipated matches on the card as two icons from wrestling’s most popular era would clash in a match that no one believed would ever happen. When Vince McMahon bought rival wrestling promotion WCW (World Championship Wrestling) in 2001, every wrestler from that company would eventually sign with WWE. All except for the biggest star in that company’s history, Sting.

Fourteen years later, Sting finally arrives in WWE and targets Triple H, the ruthless cooperate executive and multi-time world champion. Since the match was made official, Triple H used his propaganda to portray Sting as a bitter castaway trying to defend a dead entity. Sting’s goal is to finally put Triple H in his place after watching him lie, cheat, and manipulate his way to the top for years.

Triple H has an elaborate ring entrance where he was dressed as what can only be described as a cyber-barbarian which was used to promote and show movie clips from this summer’s Terminator Genisys.

Both men hit each other with their trademark maneuvers. Sting would gain the advantage and look to secure victory until DX (Degeneration X), as in Road Dogg, Billy Gunn, and X-Pac interfered in the match. Triple H looked to have victory well in hand until the NWO (New World Order) in the form of Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall came to the ring to aid Sting.

Later on, DX co-founder and Triple H bestie Shawn Michaels would come out of nowhere and level Sting with some Sweet Chine Music, Triple H goes the cover, but Sting kicks out.

The battle ensues and reaches a boiling point when Triple H grabs his sledgehammer and Sting gets his black baseball bat, both of these are weapons that are particular to each wrestler over the years.

The finish came when Triple H caught Sting coming in for a Stinger Splash with a sledgehammer shot to the head for the victory. This was a surprising result because it seemed the better story to tell would be Sting winning his first WWE match, but it was not to be. DX helped Triple H to his feet, as did the NWO with Sting and the two icons would shake hands and bury the hatchet.

Now, wrestling purists will contest that from a continuity standpoint, NWO helping Sting makes zero sense for a variety of reasons. The main reason being that Sting feuded with them in WCW. However, this was as much about seeing a never before seen match as it was incorporating aspects from the Monday Night Wars that fans have always wanted to see. In the end, seeing DX vs. NWO worked in this instance because it was fun and rife with nostalgia.

The Bella Twins vs. A.J. Lee and Paige

Think of the movie Mean Girls, now imagine if those girl could fight, and that is what you have with Nikki and Brie Bella.

They have run roughshod over the Diva’s division for the last several months that it will take two rivals/frenemies in A.J and Pagie to put aside their differences to teach them a lesson. A lesson is what was learned as A.J. Lee applied the Black Widow submission on Diva’s champion Nikki and made her tapout to secure victory for her team.

WWE United States Championship: Rusev (c) vs. John Cena

This is Rocky IV with Ivan Drago being played by Rusev as the undefeated Russian who hates America and the fact that he is a U.S. champion is salt in the wound. Rocky Balboa is played by John Cena who will not stand by and allow Rusev to degrade the USA. There was also the subplot of Cena losing to Rusev last month, which called into question whether he is starting to get old.

There was no sign of John Cena getting old tonight as he put on a great performance and Rusev was with him every step of the way. Its kind of surreal to hear a large stadium of people cheering for the guy who craps all over America, but that is what you get when John Cena is in the mix. After several big moves, Cena hit Rusev with the Attitude Adjustment for the second time and pinned him to become the new United States Champion, and more importantly, ending Rusev’s undefeated streak.

The Rock and Ronda get Rowdy With The Authority

In what will be the ESPN Sportscenter moment of the evening, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon got more than they bargained for when they decided to belittle the audience after announcing a new attendance record for Levi Stadium. After claiming they own the fans, The Rock came to the ring and received a thunderous ovation.

The Rock and Stephanie always have hilarious back and forths with one another, and this one was no different. However, this one ended with Stephanie slapping The Rock in the face, “ordering” him to leave the ring, and taunts him with the classic “Oh, are you gonna hit a girl?”

While The Great One would never hit a lady, he found someone that would in the form of UFC’s women’s bantamweight champion Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey who was sitting in the front row as a spectator.

Ronda takes The Rock up on his invite, hops the barrier, enters the ring, and the crowd starts chanting“Ronda’s Gonna Kill You!” Stephanie displays that classic McMahon cowardice by claiming that she and Ronda are friends. When that didn’t work, she told Ronda that while she rules the Octagon, she now finds herself in the squared circle where Stephanie rules.

Ronda was about to murder Steph until Triple H stepped in to shut down the whole thing. The Rock decks Triple H and Ronda HIP TOSSES him out of the ring. Ronda grabs Stephanie, bends her arm back, and throws her out of ring. This segment ended with The Rock proclaiming that Triple H and Stephanie got owned.

This whole deal was pulled off tremendously well. Ronda is not only a great fighter but she is also turning into a fantastic entertainer. She is the biggest draw for the UFC and it’s not hard to understand why after seeing her here. The Rock is always money and this was no different, but the true ace in the hole here was Stephanie McMahon who has really turned into a hell of a performer that we all love to hate.

The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt

This feud told a story without having to say much as all. The Undertaker has been the WWE’s version of Death since 1990, however, after his legendary undefeated streak was ended by Brock Lesnar at last year’s WrestleMania, many wondered if the dead man had anything left. Bray Wyatt (think Max Cady from the film Cape Fear) called out the Undertaker believing he is no longer a threat while proclaiming himself to be the WWE’s new face of fear.

This match was good, but it didn’t live up to the WrestleMania encounters that we expect from the Undertaker. However, it didn’t need to be a show stealer. It simply need to get the point across that Undertaker still has gas left in the tank, and he does indeed as he pulled off all of his classic moves and finished off Wyatt with two Tombstone piledrivers. Wyatt made a great showing for himself, especially when reports surfaced that he severely sprained his ankle hours before the event.

The consensus among fans is that Bray Wyatt should have won.

While Wyatt is one of the most intriguing and popular wrestlers in the world today he has never had that signature win; and having his hand raised would have gone a long way in setting him up to be the new dark and mysterious character when the Undertaker retires in a couple of years.

WWE decided to travel down a different route and tell the story of the aging veteran who still has some fight in him. It’s a shame they had to sacrifice Wyatt in that role, but with only a handful of matches left for the Undertaker, it was better to have this match between two contrasting styles and characters than not at all.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns

For the last year, WWE has been trying to phase out John Cena company’s top attraction and position Roman Reigns as the new star of the show or what’s known in wrestling circles as being “the guy.” Think of those who came before John Cena such as Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock because that is the role designed for Reigns. The problem is, Reigns isn’t over with the audience.

He’s good, and getting better, but he’s not ready for prime time. The problem is WWE wanted him ready now instead of two years from now. The fans realize this and they shout boos to Reigns at every turn, rejecting him out of a sense of not paying enough dues like the other stars of the past.

There was controversy surrounding the match because Lesnar’s contract was set to expire on April 1st and all signs pointed to the fact that he was heading back to the UFC. It was a forgone conclusion that Reigns was winning the title since Lesnar was on the way out until a last minute contract offer from Vince McMahon was too good to pass up on and Lesnar resigned with the company four days before the event and brought a level of excitement to the match that wasn’t there before because now we didn’t know who was going to win.

This was an amazing match that saw Lesnar beat Reigns from pillar to post while suplexing him at every turn. This mirrored his title win at Summer Slam last year where John Cena barely got in a punch. The same fate looked to be in store for Reigns, however, not only did he take Lesnar’s brutal punishment, he even smiled at times, calling the champion’s bluff saying “Is that all you got?”

Lesnar kept coming with the beating until Reigns slammed Lesnar’s head into the steel post which caused him to bleed all over the place. Reigns hit two superman punches and Lesnar still didn’t go down. He finally knocked Lesnar down with a third superman punch followed by a spear, but Lesnar kicked out. Reigns got picked off with his second spear attempt as Lesnar drilled with a second F5.

Both men were down and out as Lesnar didn’t have the energy to cover him. Then, it happened. Seth Rollins ran down to the ring and cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase, officially making this a Triple Threat match for the title. Rollins curb stomped Lesnar and went to do it again, however, Lesnar picked him up for the F5 but was speared by Reigns. Rollins quickly got up, curb stomped Reigns and got the 1-2-3 to become the NEW WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION.

The layout of this match was brilliant because Lesnar maintains his unbeatable aura because he has never been pinned for the title and Reigns comes off as a tough son of a &^%# because even though he lost, not only did he take Lesnar’s beating, but he gave it right back to him. Rollins has been WWE’s most consistent performer and it was great to see hard work pay off as the future is now, and his name is Seth Rollins.

This show was tremendous from top to bottom, which was surprising since the buildup going in was the most lackluster, ever. This was better than last year’s Mania which was also a great show. While there wasn’t a match of the year candidate, the event opened really strong with the ladder match, and got better and better as the night progressed.

There are still some creative lulls that WWE needs to address in the long term, you wouldn’t have known that from watching this show as WrestleMania 31 delivered in spades.

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