Wrestlemania is the grandaddy of them all. The showcase of the immortals. That one night a year when wrestling transcends itself and becomes a legitimate cultural powerhouse. Wrestlemania 32, which I will always call it, despite Vince McMahon’s odd obsession with dropping the numbers from the title in recent years, was marketed as the biggest ‘Mania of all time. In terms of attendance figures, inflated or not, it was. 101,000 people in total, though only 80,000 apparently paid, packed into the AT & T Stadium in Arlington Texas, setting an attendance record not just for the WWE and Wrestlemania, but for any Wrestling event held in North America. So, while it was the biggest of all time, was it the best?
In terms of pageantry and theater, it was, without doubt, the best Wrestlemania ever. The stage was incredible, the entrances beautifully over the top, and the sight of the incredible crowd certainly lent weight to proceedings. Annoyingly for Vinny Mac and the Big E Machine, injuries threatened to derail the event before it transpired. Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, John Cena and Randy Orton were all on the shelf, meaning the company had to really scramble to put forward a card worth watching. Whether they succeeded or not is a matter of subjective opinion, and here’s mine.
(I will be, primarily for time and fairness, not covering the pre-show. Does anybody really care? Either way, I don’t, and this is my review. So we’ll stick to the main card.)
INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEVEN MAN LADDER MATCH
Contestants – (C) Kevin Owens Vs Sami Zayn Vs Dolph Ziggler Vs The Miz
Vs Kalisto Vs Stardust Vs Zack Ryder
Winner – Zack Ryder
We kicked off ‘Mania 32 with the customary clusterfuck Wrestlemania ladder match. This year, as with the previous incarnation, the Intercontinental Championship was up for grabs. Of course, Ladder Matches at ‘Mania aren’t a new addition, particularly for the Intercontinental Championship. We all remember the timeless classic between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon at ‘Mania 10. Add to that the history of TLC and Money In The Bank matches, and, by now, it’s pretty much a tradition.
As is also tradition, the match delivered, and was a fantastic high-octane way to start the show and get the crowd pumping. Narrative coherence was left at the door, as any sense of storytelling was bypassed, and this was pure car-crash television. Bodies flew, injuries were suffered, and a good time was had my all. A particularly memorable, and brutal spot, saw Kevin Owens damn near murdered by a Sami Zayn tigerplex directly on the spine of the ladder. There’s no faking that, that was spine on spine contact, and that must have fucking hurt.
My only real gripe with the match is the choice of winner. Whilst there were seven competitors, and the winner being a shock certainly feeds into the idea that anyone could have won, sometimes the obvious story just makes more sense. The build up had been heavily focused on Owens and Zayn. The champ, and his biggest rival. It made all the sense in the world for Zayn to win, and precisely none for Ryder. Sure, it was a nice moment for him, and he probably deserves it for his dedication, but it was rendered obselete by The Miz defeating him the next night on RAW. Other than to give Ryder a heavily manufactured ‘Wrestlemania moment’, the choice of victor was ultimately pointless.
Fun match, poor booking.
Rating – 3.5/5
AJ STYLES VS CHRIS JERICHO
Winner – Chris Jericho
Every Wrestlemania, no matter how poor in general, we are guaranteed at least one ‘workers match’. This is, typically, when two of the best pure in-ring talents in the company are given a decent amount of time to ensure ‘Mania has at least one iconic in-ring contest. This was Wrestlemania 32’s workers match. Chris Jericho, one of the greatest in-ring performers (and character actors) of all time, going up against the man who most consider the best in-ring talent in the world today in A.J Styles. It was particularly exciting as most never believed they’d see Styles in a WWE ring, let alone in a high-profile match at Wrestlemania. Surely Mr.TNA would never cross over? Well, TNA’s loss was WWE’s gain, and after getting one of the biggest pops of the modern era in his Royal Rumble debut, Styles was a megastar.
The match, while possibly the best male contest on the card, still seemed to suffer from the curse hanging over the event in general. All the elements were there for a classic, but something was just off. It’s no lie to state that, as great as he is, Jericho has lost a step in the last couple of years. He is, of course, a victim of circumstance, and can’t possibly be blamed for this, but nevertheless it is a fact. Consequently, if this match had happened even four years ago, it could have been a five star classic. As it stands, it was a decent match, and for Styles at least, an impressive way to announce yourself on the biggest stage of them all.
It wasn’t as quickly paced as you’d expect from the two, and, whilst only a reasonable 17 minutes, unfortunately feels a bit longer on repeated viewings. It’s fine, nothing awful, but there are a few noticeable timing issues. Primarily, if I’m being honest, these are down to Jericho much more than Styles, but it still detracts from the match at the whole. It’s a good match that could have been a great match. The choice of winner is also baffling. it made all the sense in the world for Styles to win his Wrestlemania debut, and, to a lesser talent, this loss could have severely impacted his momentum. Luckily, he was fine, and remains one of the bigger names in the company, and is now a former WWE champion. Still, he should have won here.
Good match, but not great, and questionable booking.
Final Rating – 3.5/5
THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS VS THE NEW DAY
Winners – The League of Nations.
There is so much wrong with this match it’s almost beyond comprehension. Whilst the idea of these two teams facing eachother is sound, in theory, as The New Day were, at the time, the biggest face tag team, and League of Nations were supposed to be the biggest heels. Unfortunately, theory doesn’t always make fact, and in this instance, League of Nations were not as over as a heel team as WWE seemed to think they were. In fact, they weren’t over at all. Nobody cared. I mean it. Nobody. That seems like a hyperbolic statement, but it’s entirely factual. There didn’t elicit boos from the crowd, rather, they received a complete indifference from an audience who simply didn’t care about them.
In theory, then, we had the biggest face team vs the biggest heel team. In actuality, we got an extremely over New Day against a team nobody cared about. Then, just to put the cherry on the shit sundae, the WWE, in their infinite wisdom, decided it would not be for the Tag Team Championships. This, of course, telegraphed the ending, and it became embarrassingly transparent that League of Nations were going over. So we had a situation where the most popular team in the company were almost definitely going to lose to a team nobody cared about, and, consequently, nobody cared.
Now, the match did have one highlight. New Day’s entrance was fantastic. Seeing three grown men bust out of a giant cereal box in front of 100,000 people while dressed as DragonBall-Z characters would never get old. Shame the match was a ten minute waste of time. Fortunately, it would be saved after by a group of retired wrestlers….
Poor match. Poor booking. Poor everything.
Final Rating – 2.5
Stone Cold, Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels kick the shit out the League of Nations, interact with New Day
Then, something exciting happened. Wade Barrett got on the mic (no, not that), did his British menace thing, and then dropped the obvious cue line you’ll ever hear; ‘No three men in history can beat us.’
Cure Shawn Michaels’ theme song, and the crowd, and myself at home, losing our collective shit. Just as we’d gotten over HBK’s return, out pops old Mick Foley (To a noticeably lesser reaction.) Then, we got the biggy; Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Now, if you’ve ever watched a Wrestling show, you know what happens next. The young team who just won a big match kicked the three ageing legends about and cemented their reputation as a force to be reckoned with.
Like fuck. Stone Cold, Foley and HBK kick the shit out the League Of Nations. We get a Stunner, we get a Mandible Claw, we get a Sweet-Chin-Music. It’s all beautiful.
Then Foley and HBK dance with The New Day. Stone Cold, of course, doesn’t dance for anybody (He just sings for Vinny Mac. If that went over your head, I can only assume missed the Invasion Angle of 2001. Good for you. It was shit.) He drops a Stunner on The New Day. Good times are had by all.
One criticism of this segment I often hear is that the old guard buried the new talent. I hate to break this to these people, but The League of Nations were buried when they found them. This worked for what it was.
Rating – 4/5
BROCK LESNAR VS DEAN AMBROSE – NO HOLDS BARRED
Winner – Brock Lesnar (Obviously)
There is a rule in storytelling known as Chekov’s Gun. It is the idea that, in narrative storytelling, any elements introduced must be essential and necessary, and anything else shouldn’t be bothered with. In short, if you show a gun, you use the gun in the story. Otherwise, you’re just a teasing Timmy. I think, now, we can rename Chekov’s Gun to Ambrose’s Chainsaw, as this match was much like that stripper that really doesn’t want to touch you; a massive tease that ends in bitter disappointment.
In the build up, we were promised a war, and all-out brawl, the brawl to end all brawls. Brock was a beast that ate men for breakfast and shat out crying children. Ambrose was crazy, and he’d use anything to win. Throughout the build, we saw him collect various tools, culminating with a barb-wire baseball bat and a chainsaw. What was advertised as a relentless war turned out to be more of a minor scuffle.
It started as Brock Lesnar matches do, unless he’s being murdered by Goldberg, as he went straight on the attack and sent Ambrose to the fabled suplex city. It was like watching an angry bear throw around a small child. In fact, watching Brock Lesnar suplex a man should be considered the highest form of modern art. It’s poetry in motion.
Eventually Ambrose got some shots in, and, after a few chair shots, we finally got our weapon that wasn’t a standard chair; a fire extinguisher. Which he then sprayed in Brock’s face, which apparently is the best way to defeat a raging beast, and got a few more chair shots in. Then he pulled out the big guns, and it all went to shit.
He licked the barb-wired bat, because he’s soooo craaaaaaaazzzzzyyyyyyyyyy. And then, I believe, got a single tame shot in to Lesnar’s back before being disarmed. As for the chainsaw, he pulled it out, failed to even start it, it was kicked out of his hands, and never seen again. That was it. Both weapons, weapons the entire contest was marketed around, got about thirty seconds of screen time.
Ambrose, after deciding he wouldn’t bother retrieving the weapons he spent weeks acquiring, then gets promptly laid out with an F-5 on a chair, and Brock wins. This colossal war we were promised was over in 13 minutes.
For the first time all night, WWE finally got at least one booking decision correct. Some say Ambrose should have won here, and it’s certainly true he had momentum, but the idea that Ambrose could slay the beast who ended Undertaker’s streak is, frankly, absurd. The right man won, but the match should have been a lot better.
There was one awesome moment though. Lesnar went to German-Suplex Ambrose onto a chair, but threw him so far he missed the chair entirely, and Brock himself landed on said chair. Consequently, Brock had to sell the chair shot. It was a moment of accidental brilliance.
Rating – 3/5
WWE WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP
(C) Charlotte Vs Sasha Banks Vs Becky Lynch
Winner – Charlotte
Before this match even began it had an extra aura of legitimacy about it that had been sadly missing in women’s wrestling, especially in the Big E, in quite some time. These three females were not your atypical ‘diva’. Rather than be marketed on looks (though they are all very attractive women), they were marketed on in-ring ability.
To further add weight to the contest, former icon Lita unveiled the brand new Women’s championship on the Wrestlemania pre-show, a championship that would displace the horrifically sexist Divas Championship. Featuring three of the fabled four horsewoman that put women’s wrestling on the map in NXT, and a brand new legitimate title, this had the potential to be an incredible spectacle. It didn’t disappoint.
The three women put on what was easily the best pure wrestling contest of the entire night. There was no hair pulling, no nail-scratching; this was a great 16 minute athletic contest that, while not quite perfect, outshone everything the male competitors did that evening, and proved that female wrestling can, and should be, a huge deal.
Even the entrances were great, Sasha Bank’s in particular as she was rapped to the ring by her cousin Snoop Dogg. Due to the nature of a triple-threat, none of the three dominated the others, and instead we got an even contest worked at a lightning pace, with Charlotte eventually picking up the victory by making Lynch tap to the figure-eight, after her legendary geratric father, Ric Flair, who despite his partying ways is somehow not dead yet, held Banks in place.
It was a perhaps disappointing end to a great contest, and perhaps in hindsight Banks, with her massive surge of popularity, could have, and should have, picked up the crowd-popping win. However, this did play into a larger story (Charlotte’s unbeaten record on PPV) and was the catalyst for the fantastic feud the two ladies had later in the year. The one thing that does hold this back from being rated higher is there were a few minor botches. Nothing spectacular, but enough to rule it out as a certified classic.
Final Rating – 4/5
THE UNDERTAKER VS SHANE MCMAHON – HELL IN A CELL
Winner – The Undertaker
This was, by some distance, the most bizarre storyline going into the event, and possibly one of the most bizarre ever. For a company that once depicted an eldery women birthing a human hand, that’s saying something. Shane made his triumphant return on the February 22nd episode of Raw, interrupting Vince McMahon’s ‘Legacy of Excellence’ ceremony. He quickly informed his father that he was indeed back, and had some dirt on Vince that could cause major ramifications, and he wanted control of the company. Vince said he could have control, but on one condition: Shane had to face The Undertaker at Wrestlemania, in a Hell in A Cell match. Undertaker, for no good reason, agreed to this. Even after Vinny Mac referred to him as ‘my bitch’.
It was, to say the least, absolutely shocking. Shane McMahon, a 46 year old businessman, was going to wrestle The Undertaker, one of the greatest of all time, at Wrestlemania. It was pretty apparent to most that this was a desperate move by the company to fill the gaps left by so many injuries, so they just threw everything at the wall and hoped something would stick.
The contest itself was, for a lack of a better term, the drizzling shits. Once you got over the novelty of how entirely surreal the whole scenario was, the match quickly lost the appeal. Undertaker’s string of having the best match of year every Wrestlemania was clearly over, he’d lost a step or two, and he seemed lethargic. Shane, not a fully-trained wrestler, looked exactly that. He threw some awful MMA style punches, and the first twenty five minutes of the contest are a plodding mess. Then, this happened…
Shane McMahon, a human being and not a boneless aquatic species, launched himself off a twenty foot cell. Now, while wrestling is scripted, and most moves are very safe, this is not. It’s a minor miracle, at his age, that he didn’t seriously hurt himself. In terms of spectacle, it’s easily the moment of the evening, and something nobody will ever forget. I myself was sat at home loudly chanting ‘holy shit’.
Undertaker then picked up Shane’s splattered corpse and carried him to the ring, before dropping him with a tombstone. It was the definition of a one-spot match, a thirty minute build up to one moment of madness. In terms of booking, the right guy obviously won here. Shane going down as only the second man to beat Undertaker at Wrestlemania, putting him in a category with only Brock Lesnar, would have been insanity.
Final Rating – 3.5
ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL
Winner – Baron Corbin
Now it was time for the traditional ‘We don’t have anything better for these guys, so shove them here and make it seem important’ Battle Royal. This used to be a pre-show thing with no consequence. Now, it’s dedicated to the iconic Andre The Giant, and, arguably, still has no consequence to it. Except now it had a featured spot on the main card.
It was your typical Battle Royal. A load of large men in a tiny space shuffle around aimlessly, trying to perform something that vaguely resembles a wrestling match. Eventually, after enough people fall over the top rope, we get down to handful of contestants, and a match breaks out. Unfortunately, this year we focused on Shaq and Big Show, so nothing remotely exciting happened.
While it was kinda cool to see Shaq involved, this odd idea WWE have, where a celebrity suddenly lays people out like they’re Hulk Hogan in his prime kinda ruined it. Shaq looked strong, and even eliminated The Big Show, a former World Heavyweight Champion.
Oh, and Tatanka returned, but wasn’t mentioned for a large portion of the contest. And Baron Corbin won, which I guess is a good choice, but who really cares?
Rating – 2.5
BRAY WYATT AND ROCK SEGMENT
The Rock then proceeded to make one of the most elaborate entrances in the history of Wrestlemania, and boy was it cool as hell. He used a flamethrower to set fire to an effigy of his name, because he’s The Fucking Rock and he does what he wants.
After taking about fifteen years to make his way to the ring, he finally starts cutting a classic Rock promo, as only Rock can. You know the drill; Finally, The Millions, If Ya Smeeeeeelelelelelellellelelelll, etc etc. He’s then interrupted by my favourite wrestler, and the only person in the entire company who could hope to contest with Dwayne on the microphone, Bray Wyatt, and his Wyatt Family. He tells Rock that he ‘Plans to eviscerate you on the grandest stage of them all, maaaaaaaaan.’
After initially ripping Bray in classic Rock fashion, including mocking his Southern Accent and his use of the word eviscerate, Rock then gives Bray some genuine credit. He calls him, among other things, the most charismatic man in the company today, and an incredible talent, but, of course, reminds him he’ll lay the smackdown on his monkey ass. Bray, to his credit, keeps a straight face and shuts Rock down beautifully with the line of the evening; ‘You have no idea who you’re fooling with, friend’.
This led to an impromptu match between The Rock and Erick Rowans. Six seconds later, Rock is victorious, setting a new Wrestlemania record. Which is actually kind of cool, because nobody honestly expected a Rock match going into the contest and, while not great, six seconds is better than zero.
The Wyatts then look set to tear Rock apart, before John Cena makes his unexpected return, to the biggest pop of his entire career, and helps Rock clean house.
This, for me, was a fantastic segment. Seeing The Rock never gets old, and, considering his injury, this was the best possible use for Bray Wyatt. Some say Wyatt was buried, but that’s nonsense. Those compliments from The Rock were very deliberate, and the very fact Wyatt was allowed to go stick-to-stick with one of the greatest says a lot about the stock they have invested in him. The only person buried here was Erick Rowan, and, if we’re being honest, he hasn’t exactly got a lot of potential.
Also, Cena returned, which was good to see. People may complain about the guy, but, he’s noticeable when absent.
Rating – 4/5
WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
(C) Triple H Vs Roman Reigns
Winner – Roman Reigns.
Wrestlemania 31 was supposed to be Roman Reigns’ grand coronation as the new face of the company. They’d spent the entirety of 2014 building it, but, when Daniel Bryan returned in January, everything went tits up. When Reigns won the Rumble at Bryan’s expense, and punched his ticket to Wrestlemania, he became the most hated man in the company. Suddenly this image of the noble warrior defeating the beast Brock Lesnar was compromised, and the fans bayed for Reigns’ blood, and cheered the nefarious Lesnar like he was Bryan himself. In the end, they had the veto the idea and use Seth Rollins’ Money In The Bank as a get out of jail card, and he absconded with the title and saved Wrestlemania.
So, a year later, the WWE had clearly learned absolutely nothing, and decided, as stubborn as ever, to try again. It flopped, majorly. Especially when they booked Reigns as the conquering hero, once again, by making him defend his title in the Royal Rumble match, peddling the ‘One Vs All’ narrative. Predictably, to everyone but the WWE, the fans hated Reigns more for this, and when Triple H, former public enemy number one, dumped him out of the Rumble, the fans cheered their asses off. When the fans are cheering a Triple H championship win in 2016 you know something’s gone horribly wrong.
What we got was a match nobody cared about. Everyone and their Gran knew Reigns was going to be crowned, and precisely nobody wanted to see it. In fact, at the start of the match, fans could be seen clearly leaving in alarmingly large droves. The message was clear – We don’t want this. The WWE then decided to make this match nobody wants half an hour, forcing us, the poor fans, into a fourth hour of Wrestlemania, which is torture on a biblical scale.
I’ve tried to watch this match twice, and both times I failed. One the night, I was barely awake, trying desperately not to fall asleep. The other night, I tried again, and I just can’t sit through the whole thing. It’s boring, it’s plodding, it’s heatless because nobody cares, and the eventual victory leaves you with no emotional response other than ‘Man, Reigns is a dick.’
It’s the worst Wrestlemania main event in at least five years, and guaranteed to frequent many ‘Worst main-events in Wrestlemania History’ list. Did the right man win? Probably, but he shouldn’t have been in the match in the first place.
Rating – 2.5
Wrestlemania 32 was an odd show, unfortunately hampered by injuries which left it in somewhat of a no-win position. Desperate attempts were pulled to make up for a lack of star power, but it just resulted in an over-stuffed show that, while it looked fantastic, wasn’t that entertaining to sit through.
The Main Event, which is supposed to be the biggest match of the wrestling year, was a dumpster fire, and the other largely promoted contest, Shane Vs Undertaker, wasn’t much better, relying on one insane spot to get over. The wrong people were booked to win, frequently, and the whole show was a bit of a mess.
Luckily, Styles Vs Jericho and the Women’s Championship match were both good contests that, to some extent, saved the show from an in-ring standpoint, even if the booking problems haunted that one too.
It wasn’t the worst of Wrestlemanias, it wasn’t the best of Wrestlemanias; it was just a Wrestlemania.
Final Rating – 3/5