Pro wrestling fans are no strangers to deciding an event is going to be awful before it even happens. Case in point, last year’s Wrestlemania 31 – after a lackluster-to-outright-bad build and no confidence from the community, the event delivered. Not bad after the preceding Monday Night RAW ended with Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar tugging at the heavyweight belt like five-year-olds on a playground.
This year, WWE stumbled into a bizarro version of last year’s success – a phenomenal build that fizzled out as if CEO Vince McMahon himself spat on the fuse just before the dynamite blew. Wrestlemania 32, for all its star power, was the sum of its parts… its nonsensical, broken parts.
The opener, a ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship, blew the rest of the event out of the water, mixing seven storylines together. The most compelling was the saga of fan favorite Sami Zayn’s revenge on longtime friend-turned-enemy, current IC champion Kevin Owens. The primary subplot followed Zack Ryder, a non-threat largely in the match as a joke, setting out to prove himself. These stories intertwined in a captivating build.
What made the match itself great was its clear, literary plot structure. The climax occurred in a one-on-one Zayn vs. Owens slugfest, ending with Zayn driving Owens’ head into a downed ladder for a near-victory until Hollywood heel The Miz’s interference. Miz slimed his way to the top of the ladder until Ryder scrambled up and won.
It was a genuine surprise to start the main show, a feel-good moment, and, most of all, it made it seem like anything could happen. In addition, the match cleverly put off the inevitable Zayn vs. Owens one-on-one match another month. By all accounts – build, match and result – the IC title match stole the show for the second year in a row.
The bout between jealous heel Chris Jericho and popular newcomer AJ Styles was an impressive match with a letdown of an ending. The in-ring action told a great story of two men at the end of a match series having each other well-scouted. However, it’s a bit baffling that Jericho, in reality 46 years old with nothing more to prove, was given the win. This isn’t a case of “the bad guy won and I’m mad because he’s the bad guy.” This is a case of “the bad guy won and I’m mad because it was stupid storytelling.” What a disappointing finale to a wonderful storyline.
It’s like if “The Lion King” cut to black after Scar dumped Mufasa off the cliff.
Long live the king, I guess.
The New Day vs. League of Nations’ non-title tag match was completely forgettable. New Day’s entrance, during which they spilled out of a giant cereal box, was impressive, but the segment was a snoozefest until 90’s legends Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley and Stone Cold Steve Austin came out for a fight. One can’t help but see three retired men beating down a young heel stable as a continuation of the Styles vs. Jericho problem, but that was already evidently this Mania’s theme.
The greatest crime of the night was the Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose Street Fight. The match’s entire build centered on Ambrose being “too crazy to kill,” and the promise of a star-making hardcore match had fans going crazy themselves with excitement. Ambrose was expected to lose, but look like a million bucks doing it.
And lose he did – in 13 minutes with barely any offense. It made him look like a total geek. The best part of the match was Ambrose’s vandalized version of Lesnar’s t-shirt, and that being the highlight is exactly the problem.
The match to crown the first WWE Women’s Champion – replacing the sexist butterfly-shaped “Diva’s Championship” belt – was a fantastic symbol of good things to come for WWE’s women. The triple threat told multiple stories at once – retaining champion Charlotte relying on her father Ric Flair’s interference to win, plucky underdog Becky Lynch proving herself a legitimate contender, and arrogant Sasha Banks proving, in her first title match, that she is everything she says she is.
While Charlotte retained once again by making Lynch tap, the story and finish were well-written. Lynch was cheated again, Banks was protected in passive defeat, and Charlotte continued her heel run. Overall, another rare bright spot in the night.
The much-anticipated Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Shane McMahon for control of Monday Night RAW took another fantastic build and choked it into oblivion. It started with 15 minutes of boring punches and grappling, and even the action spilling to the outside of the cage wasn’t enough to save it. The finale – which saw McMahon falling 30 feet from the top of the cage and crashing through a table – was thrilling, but when Taker ultimately won, it brought us right back to the Styles vs. Jericho/League of Nations vs. New Day problem. Was a McMahon win predictable? Yes, but only as much as a Taker win was nonsensical.
Great match in theory, but a mess in practice.
The annual over-the-top Battle Royale was also chaotic, but to a much more satisfying end. Shaquille O’Neil came out to Kanye West’s music and biker character Baron Corbin debuted to a victory.
The Rock, in his own segment, announced the record-breaking crowd attendance, and then he and John Cena beat down a young heel group. If that sounds monotonous and useless, it’s because it was.
The main event for the evening, Roman Reigns vs. Triple H for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, was doomed from the start. The crowd resented Reigns getting opportunities more talented performers don’t, and so they booed.
At least they did, until WWE turned the crowd’s mics off.
The match was forgettable enough without being overtaken by the more compelling Crowd vs. Company narrative happening completely outside of the storyline. Blah blah, fight fight, Reigns wins.
All that can be said in general is that the final shot was a microcosm of the whole show – the opposite of the people’s chosen winner celebrating, confetti raining, the crowd trying their hardest to boo poor writing and the broadcast team having none of it.
The word synecdoche comes to mind, doesn’t it?