#59: The Wrestlemania XXX Review
The opening video package aping a New Orleans street carnival with intercut footage of the great historical moments of Wrestlemanias past was a wonderful way to get the audience at home hyped. Some had feared back in January that not much was being made of the thirty show landmark, but in recent weeks the nostalgia and use of past stars has been pitch perfect, and that reinforced the effect. WWE were well aware of how to make their milestone special and had been all along.
Back at Wrestlemania XXVII, the use of The Rock as special host backfired badly when his rambling opening promo placed ego before the need of the card, but last night, Hulk Hogan’s speech was spot on, even with the slight senior moment when he twice referred to the Silverdome rather than the Superdome! And what to make of the feeling we all experienced when that glass broke and Stone Cold Steve Austin came down to the ring, followed by his fellow Attitude alumnus The Rock? The three top drawing stars of all time in the squared circle at the same time, putting over one another and the event itself. That is how you use top guys of the past, ladies and gentlemen. By the way, I noted on Twitter that if Rocky had been in the kind of shape he showed up in last night a year earlier, he and Cena would likely have had a lot better match. The Brahma Bull was looking leaner and less weighed down by massive amounts of muscle. He looked to be looking a heck of a lot of fun too, as they all did during the Austin led beer toast that closed the segment out.
Daniel Bryan def. Triple H (with Stephanie McMahon) in 25:56 and advanced to the main event
The video package that kicked this match off made it a classic before the entrances had been made and the bell had been rung. The use of the indy footage, the reflection on Bryan’s NXT partnership with The Miz in NXT and his growing success through the years despite those early jibes about a “lack of charisma”, the six month storyline from Summerslam to last night…it was just beautifully put together, and if I can be smug for a moment, everything I said the story was all along, both in written form and on TRSOTP. I think the Bryan/Trips montage might have instantly become my second favourite of all time after Rock/Austin II at Wrestlemania X7.
We then went into Triple H being ring announced by Steph in what looked like an outfit from ‘Cabaret’, with The Game reaching back into his Conan The Barbarian dressing up box to appear upon a throne in gold armour and red cloak surrounded by slave wenches. If that’s not an apt metaphor I’ve never seen one! In all seriousness, despite an air of high camp, it worked well in setting up Helmsley’s egotism as a character, while the green lighting and water spitting apron spot is something everyone can get onboard with when it comes to heel Trips. We then got our first sight of 70,000 fans YES chanting in unison, proving what a good decision it was to put this match on as the curtain jerker. An already hyped crowd began to seriously mark out.
In psychological terms, Bryan’s taped shoulder was a visual reminder of Triple H’s brutal attack on him three weeks ago, and knowing what we do about the ring game of the Cerebral Assassin, an obvious weak point to be exploited by the C.O.O. The offering of the handshake was a classic touch on Helmsley’s part, and I loved the homage to Bryan’s last two ‘Mania matches with the long two count off the quick roll up. The early exchanges showed D-Bry’s speed and technical acumen, with The Game taking a breather in a nod to his long experience in the squared circle. There was something almost Steamboat/Savage about the headlock takeovers and chain wrestling which followed, and Steph’s cheerleading at ringside was yet another reminder of how on-point she has been in character terms over the past few months.
It didn’t take long of course for Trips to go after the injured arm, but the Beard’s high flying abilities evened things out again, with a tornado DDT off the apron and a kind of Swanton bomb off the top turnbuckle to the outside, as Stephanie yelled at him for being “B+”. After crotching the Leader of the Yes Movement on the top rope, the flavour of the match’s storytelling went to the Attitude Era, with The Game starting to work in the way he did in his 2000 prime, targeting the arm on the announce desk and applying submissions, with small flurries of Bryan offense cut off smartly by Helmsley (I particularly enjoyed the Luke Harper-esque leaping forearm to cut off the suicide dive). Wrestlemanias past were then referenced, with Trips going for both the Crossface Chickenwing so central to Backlund and Hart at Wrestlemania XI and for the Crippler Crossface used by Benoit on The Game himself. I loved the storytelling of Triple H wanting to tap out the submission specialist.
Of course, Daniel Bryan is a pocket rocket and not so easy to keep down, and his high octane style always threatened to burst out of the control Triple H was trying to establish, as with the running forearm smash and German suplex combination that showcased the smaller man’s incredible timing. The Game showed moments later, however, that he can also throw a mean suplex, with Bryan landing on the bad arm. The back and forth became breathtaking as the match sped along- a blocked superplex into a powerbomb off the top, two corner drop kicks with the third cut off by a huge clothesline- meaning that both men took time to sell their injuries, until Bryan’s missed headbutt led inevitably to yet another crossface from The Cerebral Assassin, which was rolled through in a spot immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever seen Wrestlemania XX, but Goat Face managed to reverse into the Yes Lock in an absolutely thrilling moment which the veteran sold superbly.
The pace picked up yet again moments later with a twin suicide dives, both of which the Attitude Era star bumped like 1996 Shawn Michaels for! The running knee countered with a spinebuster and followed with The Pedigree gave the crowd their first opportunity to come completely unglued, and these two masters of their craft went on to give them several more, with a small package almost getting Bryan a sneaky three count followed by some breathtaking reversals of The Pedigree and a bridging suplex until the final separation created the opportunity to hit the knee for the win. What a brutal, brilliant battle, destined to age very well. For anyone still doubting that WWE are behind Bryan, he beat The Game 100% clean in the Wrestlemania curtain jerker in a match where his offense was sold throughout as deadly. The post-match beat down only added to the intrigue of the winner’s story heading into the rest of the evening. What a start to the night!
MAV’s RATING ****¾
The Shield def. Kane and The New Age Outlaws in 2:57
My thinking going into this one was that The Authority team would get a cheap victory to give the heel side of the ledger a fillip, but I clearly underestimated WWE’s desire to push a babyface incarnation of The Hounds of Justice. Not that I’m complaining, given that the three members of The Shield are my favourite three wrestlers in the world right now! I loved the way the music of the Hounds interrupted the Outlaws’ familiar DX routine and the way that for a second successive year, Ambrose, Reigns and Rollins entered through the stadium crowd, but this time wearing hound masks. That was cool as fuck.
As the bell rang, Ambrose went thrillingly crazy on Kane before Reigns went into beast mode, slaying Billy, Road Dogg and Kane with superman punches, apron dropkicks and Samoan drops. Seth Rollins went flying, The Lunatic Fringe did his best Stone Cold impression with a Thesz Press and then the two indy darlings went for a double suicide dive while Reigns speared the bejesus out of first Kane, and then Gunn and Road Dogg. The coup de grace was a stunning looking triple powerbomb on both of the New Age Outlaws. It might have been a squash but it was the most thrilling squash you could hope to see. I am certainly excited to see where this badass face version of the group is going.
Some have said that the match was probably cut short due to the opening promo going longer than anticipated; that may well be the case, but in this instance, I think a squash actually served the Hounds better than a competitive ten minute match like they had last year.
MAV’S RATING **½
Cesaro won the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal in 12:47
First of all, shame on anybody who complained about this being booked on the card in the lead up to the event. Not only was it a great deal of fun, it got guys a payday without having to resort to meaningless multi man tags, and it featured loads of cool spots as the wrestlers were whittled down to the elite guys at the end. In the early going, Henry eliminating the entirety of 3MB was an excellent moment, but I was surprised to see him eliminated by The Big Show so soon after. Speaking of the modern day Giant, he was wearing his Andre-style one strap singlet, which was a nice nod to the deceased Frenchman. During the battle royal, we learnt that Miz will not be continuing his streak and has a really bad haircut at the moment; that Brodus Clay, Justin Gabriel, Tyson Kidd and Yoshi Tatsu are still alive; and that Fandango is still kind of over. I wonder if being involved in Triple H’s fourth wall bothering promo last week might result in him getting a bit of a midcard push? I was expecting Big E to go a lot further than he did, but Sheamus and Show predictably did well. The big Irishman proved himself yet again to be a clutch player, available to do whatever WWE want him to. Meanwhile, elite workers Ziggler and Del Rio bumped around pleasingly and put together some fun exchanges. A shout out also to Kofi Kingston, who gets absolutely nothing from WWE booking but still manages to make himself indispensable. That was a cool spot he managed to pull off.
But really, this one ended up being all about Cesaro, whose status as the most over man in the building not named Daniel Bryan was clearly cemented in the course of the match. The huge uppercuts on ADR and Mysterio, the giant swing on Kofi and finally the Hogan tribute bodyslam of Show over the top rope. That man’s strength is absolutely inhuman and his organic face turn seemed to be cemented by his handshake with the World’s Largest Athlete afterwards. It very much appears as if Swiss Death will be due a rather large push in the near future. Personally, I’d like to see him take on the likes of Orton, Del Rio and Sheamus in high profile upper midcard bouts until he’s ready for a title tilt. Certainly, a Money in the Bank win in July must be an increasing likelihood for him at this stage. A really fun bout, just as I thought it would be, and a lovely moment as the up and coming star got to lift the enormous trophy high in the air in front of a packed Superdome.
MAV’S RATING ***
John Cena def. Bray Wyatt (with Luke Harper and Erick Rowan) in 23:00
Yet another unbelievably good video production from the boys in the editing truck got everyone hyped for what was, in many ways, the most difficult match on the card to predict. The use of the Eminem tune, the look back at everything Cena had achieved and everything Wyatt was looking to destroy, it was a truly compelling watch and one which made Bray look like a legitimate star (shades of the ‘Hate Me Now’ compilation that briefly did the same for The Miz). The intrigue was added to even further by the tribal fire dancers and by Mark Crozer and his band playing The Wyatt Family to the ring. That’s how you use live music at Wrestlemania! It was a haunting, spectral moment and it was wonderful. How good were the creepy Venetian bird masks the band were wearing, too? Must get myself one of those. The entire presentation of the match made an absolute mockery of the complaints some had had that Wyatt was not big enough for Cena back in January when the pairing was first rumoured. Bray is a star now, make no mistake about it. In contrast, after all the grandiloquent entrances of the past- gangster cars, military drill squads, legions of drummers, Machine Gun Kelly- John Cena entered in the most no frills way possibly, to his music, wearing his cap and t-shirt. I loved that. It meant that the Franchise Player meant business in the ring.
The opening, with Rowan and Harper standing in front of their false prophet, was a clear indicator of what Cena would have to go through. The ability of the kayfabe backwoods hick to wrestle entirely in character was demonstrated forcibly by the Jesus pose and the cries of “finish me John”, and Cena could only respond with chain wrestling and not the kind of real violence he would need to finish such a dire threat. I was reminded of the Kane storyline where he wanted Mr Never Give Up to “embrace the hate” but executed in a far more subtle and alluring manner. Much as with Bret Hart in early 1997, you could see Cena’s world crashing down in front of his face. He is no longer the hero the world want and this is something Daniel Bryan and now Bray Wyatt have made clear to him. The heavy hitting start to the bout, with the son of IRS punishing Cena with heavy blows until the multi-time WWE champ finally struck down “with great vengeance” as Jules Winnfield said in ‘Pulp Fiction’. The acting from Cena was top notch as you could see internal conflict etched upon his face, while Bray never let up with the verbals or his unique brand of offense. It took me a while to be a believer in Bray Wyatt as an in-ring performer, but goodness gracious, he has won me over after his work in 2014, and I feel he may now be heading to that Mick Foley in 1996 place I always thought he should be going. The moment he met the “you can’t see me” with the spider walk was just genius. I literally laughed with joy on the night and did the same re-watching it as I type.
Kudos should also go to Harper and Rowan, who played their roles as brainwashed goons to absolute perfection. Luke Harper, in particular, makes me mark out just by looking at him, and Rowan’s distraction on the night allowed Wyatt to hit a gnarly chokeslam. The storytelling was out of this world, as Cena continually went back to his tried and trusted formula- what you might call “Cena 101”- only for it to continually fail to get the job done. The crowd singing ‘He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands’ was a magical moment and one which surely added insult to injury to the Franchise Player character. There were some real Wrestlemania moments in this one, with John indulging his inner Shawn Michaels by taking out Rowan and Harper with an enormous crossbody off the top to the outside and then getting vicious by throwing Wyatt into the ring post. Then came the “inner monster” crisis again, with him unable to use the steel steps on his opponent. Wyatt’s first kick out of the AA is one of the better timed finisher kick outs in recent ‘Mania history, and the way it was followed by Harper punching Cena right in the mouth was textbook match construction.
Wyatt seemed to get stronger and stronger in the ring as the bout wore on, showing enviable conditioning for such a naturally big man, and he seems to have found a way to hit Sister Abigail from absolutely anywhere; the running version here caused another thrilling near fall. The chair being passed to Cena was yet another masterful psychological touch, one which seemed to bring us nearer than ever before to a John Cena heel turn, but he instead nailed Rowan with it and powered out of Sister Abigail to hit the AA for the win. On the night, I very much felt that it was a great match with the wrong result, but in the clear light of day, I have changed my mind somewhat. The old Paul Heyman adage “one man goes over, the other gets over” certainly applied here, and what happens tonight on Raw will certainly stir the intrigue pot yet further. The celebrations with family members and friends at ringside certainly seemed forced and stilted and it would appear that Bray, in kayfabe, did indeed achieve all he wished to in unsettling Cena’s sense of self.
MAV’S RATING **** ½
The highlights from the Hall of Fame ceremony were again very well put together. DDP’s speech on Jake was superb, and as he is one of my all-time favourite performers and partially responsible for my twenty four year love affair with the sport, it was touching to see him honoured in that way. I also loved Scott Hall posing with the rest of the Kliq after his induction. Really great stuff. WWE understand how to tap into nostalgia by now and it really does bring a tear to the eye sometimes. On a more lighthearted note, how alike are Paul Bearer’s sons to him in appearance? Goodness.
Backstage, Bryan is “examined by trainers” and sells the arm like a champ, wincing as he gets checked over.
Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) def. The Undertaker in 25:25
I’ll presage this particular match review by stating for the thousandth time in my time writing here at Lords of Pain that I have never been the biggest fan of the “Streak Within A Streak”. While I liked the Batista bout and loved the old school magic of the Edge and Punk contests, the pomp and bluster of the Michaels and Triple H matches largely left me cold. The Heyman narrated video package did, however, do a nice job of both selling ‘Taker’s achievement and talking up Lesnar’s chances of victory. Even so, I and everybody else on the internet saw this as a foregone conclusion in the Deadman’s favour. How wrong can you be?
Lesnar’s sheer size and brutish appearance always make for an impressive sight, and the addition of the beanie, much as at last year’s iteration of the Showcase of the Immortals, gave off that legitimate big fight feeling. Meanwhile, The Phenom’s usual druid filled entrance was presaged with another excellent video intercut with classic commentary from McMahon, JR and Cole which gave the history another airing. The firing of the coffins was a suitably spectacular touch, but ‘Taker’s outfit was a bit rum. Kind of rhinestone cowboy meets YMCA.
The match got underway with strikes and a predictably stiff feel. The huge belly to belly and clothesline over the top were particularly fun to watch, but then the pace slowed down somewhat to something more methodical. Now, as this one was going down live, I saw a lot of people on Twitter commenting on it being dull for long passages. You know, I wouldn’t go that far, which is funny seeing as I am usually the one nitpicking ‘Taker matches, but I actually found the psychology of the contest to be pretty sound, all in all. The wily veteran wrestled a smart course, not trying to hang with the younger, stronger, quicker man but instead waiting for him to make mistakes and punish them. I also realised, once the Streak was ended, that the way the bout was put together was to ensure maximum surprise when the titanic sequence of victories was finally broken. You think about all the times when you were made to believe, in the moment, that Edge, or Michaels, or Helmsley, or Punk were on the verge of ending it, and in this one, there was no such heart in mouth moment. So when the third F5 went down and the referee shockingly counted three, the shock was heart stopping. Twitter went into a state of agitated confusion, enhanced by the way Lesnar’s music didn’t play immediately after the three was counted. The audience in New Orleans was utterly silent. People in the building legitimately crying. And no-one quite knew what to think.
Ultimately, I think the most sensible comments I’ve seen on the matter came from the CF’s very own Hall of Famer Uncle Joe who pointed out firstly that it must have been 'Taker's decision and secondly that he had, in the past, tried to give The Streak to Kane and Edge. No-one will know exactly why The Streak has finally come to an end. It could be that he wanted to go out at the landmark thirtieth edition of the Showcase of the Immortals. Maybe Lesnar has signed up for more dates in his next contract and will be put into the main event scene off the back of this achievement. Perhaps it was Undertaker’s respect for the Beast’s MMA background that made him think he was the ideal man to end it. Whatever the whys and wherefores are- and I do rather wish they’d booked someone who could really do with the feather in the cap to do it if I’m honest- you do have to respect The Phenom’s decision, because it was likely his and his alone. If it was going to end at all, I did always think that it would be somehow more dramatic than it was, but then, who knew how surreal it would feel until it actually happened? WWE were in utterly unknown territory, the country of the blind, and we’ll have to see what comes of it. As ‘Plan pointed out on Twitter, we have no guarantee that The Undertaker is completely done with wrestling; in some ways, a match with Sting, for example, would be more interesting without the air of inevitability that The Streak has brought to every match The Deadman has wrestled since Wrestlemania XXI.
In any case… #ThankYouTaker
MAV’s RATING ***¼
AJ Lee won The Vickie Guerrero Diva’s Invitational in 6:48 to retain the Divas Title
I’ve had a lot of fun on The Right Side Of The Pond describing this match as the first ever “Fatal Fourteenway” in WWE history. The idea of fourteen divas fighting at the same time was not a pretty one, and though the booking made storyline sense in a way as a means for Vickie to punish AJ Lee, the actuality of it was always likely to look ugly. There were some truly horrible spots early on and a lot of lying around, as well as a Bellas stare down that wanted to think it was Warrior vs. Hogan at the Royal Rumble 1990 but was actually nothing of the sort.
However, I did enjoy the finish, with AJ slapping on the Black Widow to that worthless ingrate Naomi until she tapped out. I do adore the little sprite from Union City, New Jersey and I hope that the next few months bring her some better challengers. Summer and Emma would be a nice start. Sack all the rest.
MAV’S RATING ¾*
Backstage, Mean Gene re-unites the main event of Wrestlemania I in a bizarre, yet fun segment. Paul Orndorff’s moustache might be the best thing I’ve ever seen growing on someone’s face.
At ringside Sammartino, Race, Backlund, Rhodes and Hart get put over by Justin Roberts. Nice touch.
Daniel Bryan def. Batista and Randy Orton in 23:23 to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
When I heard that familiar stream of feedback, I thought for one wonderful moment that Randall Keith Orton had reverted to ‘Burn In My Light’ for his Wrestlemania entrance, but instead, Rev Theory played ‘Voices’, which is in fairness a damned fine tune too, as he walked to the ring with the titles he unified at TLC. Batista, meanwhile, definitely needs to spend a bit more money on ring gear. He just looked…odd. The saggy grey trunks with the green ankle boots, I mean, what? The guy is finally in something approaching ring shape and starting to nail his douche bag heel character, so now all he needs is a makeover. Not the street clothes everyone rips him for, his ring gear is my problem! I think the tight clothes, flat caps and old man sunglasses suit the persona he’s portraying. Bryan then came out and showed how to sell an injury, favouring the arm and doing the YES chant with one arm only.
I was so pumped for the triple threat by the time it actually started, and my excitement reached fever pitch as D-Bry went straight after Big Dave, until Orton managed to wrench the arm. The match then settled into the usual triple threat pattern of outside brawling and quick switches of advantage, and a lot of fun it was too. Batista and Orton faced off one on one while Bryan was down on the outside, with The Animal initially using the barriers and the announce desk to take it to The Viper, but a backdrop on the steel steps saw Randall gain the upper hand, at which point he began to methodically take the bigger man apart limb by limb, until suddenly Daniel Bryan exploded back into the contest with a double dropkick off the top. With all three men again engaged in the fray, the pace picked up, and Bryan pummelled both his opponents with corner drop kicks, but it was the story of the match that the Aberdeen native’s injury stopped his offense dead in its tracks when exploited by Batista and Orton, and it was again the case here as he was thrown to the outside.
However, the unbreakable spirit of the Yes Man came to the fore again and again, and he managed to take the two heels by surprise to clear Batista out of the way and lock Randy in his signature submission, but Triple H and Stephanie’s interference replaced the hapless ref with Scott Armstrong, and a Batista Bomb almost ended things for Bryan. Every time you thought D-Bry was down though, he found an answer, taking out Armstrong, then Steph with a suicide dive and then finally Triple H with his own sledgehammer- and what a moment that was! With The Authority dealt with conclusively, Bryan is then assaulted by Batista and Orton together, who decided to take him out once and for all, just as Michaels and Helmsley tried with Benoit at Wrestlemania XX. After steps shots, they cleared the announce table and set the Flying Goat up for a frankly bonkers spot where a Batista Bomb was met by an RKO through the table. That was the legitimate “holy shit!” moment every Wrestlemania main event needs, and it looked brutal, particularly as Randall’s back landed on a TV monitor. You have to admire The Viper’s professionalism in managing to finish the match so well even though he must have been in agony.
In a homage to Summerslam 2000, the “doctors and EMTs” came down to take Daniel Bryan away on a stretcher while Batista tried to capitalise on Orton’s now fragile state. The Leader of the Yes Movement’s sell job was so good, in fact, that the crowd genuinely seemed to believe at first that he was being escorted out of the bout for real. Meanwhile, Orton hit the apron drape DDT onto the floor and JBL made an excellent call when he described it as a war of attrition. The pop when D-Bry climbed off the stretcher was intense, and RKO’s heel work as he basked in heat over Bryan’s broken body was a great touch, made even better by his desperate selling as he suddenly got caught in the Yes Lock. Batista broke it up, of course, but then he too got caught in the submission specialist’s grasp. After the big man made the ropes, he shrugged off an RKO, but then got caught in one after Orton avoided his spear. The near fall was convincingly rendered, and it looked like Orton could pick his next spot, but Bryan exploded into the knee, and as Batista tried to steal the pinfall, and then put the Batista Bomb on The Viper, Bryan hit the knee again, this time on The Animal, and then followed up with the Yes Lock, at which point he tapped out.
Just as I and my UK brethren had said all along, this firework and ticker tape ending to Wrestlemania XXX was always going to be the best thing for the super-over Daniel Bryan. The bearded wonder benefited so much more from being screwed all through the autumn months and kept away from the title, because when he won last night on the grandest stage of them all it really meant something, whereas a run with the belt through September and October would have done nothing for him really, it would’ve been small time. What we got was a magic moment, a celebration of everything wrestling is, and a fantastic justification of the WWE product, which has been superb week after week since Summerslam. For Daniel Bryan, the boyhood dream came true and he managed to eclipse Bret Hart’s double duty from Wrestlemania X in the process. I can’t wait to see what is next in store for the new champion.
MAV’S RATING ****
Wrestlemania XXX delivered and then some, justifying the decision to have a limited number of matches on the card by giving the feature bouts the minutes they needed to tell exceptional wrestling stories. The entire night felt like a huge deal, with the company tapping into their rich history in just the right way. Up and coming performers like The Shield, The Wyatt Family and Cesaro all got a platform to perform, and Daniel Bryan was crowned as “the man” in the most thrilling way possible. Any fears some may have had about screwy booking or Triple H’s ego running rampant were immediately put to rest in the opener and not one thing on the whole card disappointed. The end of The Streak was a surreal moment, but a brave piece of booking and one which will be talked about for years and years to come, for an absolute certainty. Ultimately, what WWE delivered last night was a how to do Wrestlemania manual for themselves to peruse in future years to see what works. Book matches that matter with stories that the fans care about. Have a running plot line through the entire evening. Don’t over use part time performers, and if you are going to use them, make it mean something. Give young talent a chance.
I have already seen my friends on this side of the pond announce this edition their favourite ever Wrestlemania. I’m not sure I can quite go that far yet. There are emotional and nostalgic bonds with XVII and XIX for me that will not soon be broken. What I certainly can say is that this is certainly a top three iteration of the Showcase of the Immortals and one which may move further up my personal list once time has elapsed and we have some more context. Of course, part of the intrigue is what will transpire on Raw this evening, and the excitement of seeing a show to match last year’s post-Mania Raw from the Izod Center has me at fever pitch. I think I’ll end my review of Wrestlemania by thanking WWE for a wonderful evening. I hope they manage to keep this run of form up, because if they do, Wrestlemania XXXI is going to be very special indeed.
MAV’S OVERALL RATING FOR WRESTLEMANIA XXX: ****¼