Wrestlemania is only days away and for the fifth time, I present to the TJR Faithful, A Matter Of Interest for Wrestlemania 32! As always I had a blast writing this one. I feel like this year’s build was at the very least a tad better than last year’s atrocious build. With that being said, it hasn’t been great.
This piece is all about anticipation. I’m not previewing who wins or loses, or really speculation about how good the match will be. This match is a pre-review. A pre-cap. I am grading everything that has led up to the bouts we will watch on Sunday. If this exercise has taught me anything over the last couple years, it’s that the premium on stellar storytelling come Wrestlemania season is all but a memory. The event is too big to fail now, and that seems to have given the WWE license to phone it in rather than try to live up to the lofty expectations the WWE’s Showcase Of The Immortals should garner.
Anyway, let’s get into ranking and grading these matches and the interest that they garner from me. As always I will explain why each match deserves the grade I have given it. Let’s Rock and/or Roll!
11. Kickoff Match: Third Annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Curtis Axel, Heath Slater, Adam Rose, Bo Dallas, Kane, Big Show, Mark Henry, Tyler Breeze and others TBA
Only 3 years after the inception of the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and Wrestlemania 32’s edition of the now-annual bout looks to be the absolute worst to date. The match has seen a steady decline each year it’s been on the card, but the crop of names advertised so far for the match are without a doubt the weakest field the match has seen.
The less said about this match the better. One can only hope that there’s at least an interesting surprise to come in this match this year. Maybe an NXT star’s involvement? Hell even a nostalgia parade might make this match bearable. Is there any question that a match built on the weekly interactions between Kane, Big Show and The Social Outcasts earns a failing grade? This match and its build are a fail by any metric.
10. Kickoff Match: Natalya, Paige, Alicia Fox, Brie Bella and Eva Marie vs. Lana, Tamina Snuka, Naomi, Emma and Summer Rae
This year’s Wrestlemania, more blatantly than in years past, feels like the WWE trying to cram as many marshmallows as possible into their mouth. Several of the matches feel overstuffed, and much like my colourful metaphor’s marshmallows, offer absolutely nothing in the way of nutritional value.
Weren’t Lana and Summer Rae feuding less that a year ago? Weren’t Paige and Alicia Fox/Brie Bella members of opposite warring factions? This match is a literal F**K YOU to any semblance of storyline/character continuity and attention to detail; two things that I happen to hold in very high regard.
Furthermore there was no entertainment value to be found during the build to this match, and it has done nothing to build any of these women’s characters, or future storylines. To paraphrase the an iconic line from Billy Madison, we are all dumber for having actually laid eyes upon this dumpster fire of a “story” (though calling it a story is an insult to the idea of what stories are).
9. United States Title: Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback
That 10 Divas Tag is likely the harshest I will be. You might think I’m full of it because I’m giving the United States Championship D+ grade, but grading on a curve for the awfulness that is the previous match whose build I reviewed, I think I’m being pretty darn generous.
Now I want to be in on this match because I do like Kalisto. This match also features the classic storytelling trope of the little guy trying to overcome the odds that come with going to battle with the big guy. It just so happens that the “Big Guy” in question, is the most boring professional wrestler employed by the WWE outside of Sheamus (and Sheamus is awful). Seriously, Ryback is literally the most derivative piece of hot garbage in the company. For a long time he looked like Goldberg, dressed like RVD, and chanted nonsensical phrases to pander to the absolute lowest common denominator. He’s somehow become worse. At least then he was colourful and intense. Now he’s just a boring derivative mass of muscle that I wouldn’t pay to see if my life were on the line.
What is the issue between these guys anyway? Seriously I don’t remember. I know they’ve interacted some in the last few weeks, but seconds into Ryback’s longwinded, monotonous explanation I drifted off. It’s a simple story, but it feels like the WWE needed to try to convoluted it with stuff about Ryback giving Kalisto career advice or something like that? I give this build a D+, and most of that is because Ryback’s been an absolute zero in the storytelling department for the last year. I definitely would have scored this bout higher had it been the multi-man ladder match. Ryback’s awfulness could have been hidden amongst the melee.
8. Handicap Match: League Of Nations vs. New Day
As anybody who has read my pieces knows, I absolutely love New Day. I own all their shirts, I’ve bought their theme on iTunes, and I’ve been known to twerk whenever I’ve been in an arena they are gracing with their presence. If I was grading this match based on their absolute mastery of the spoken word and outright glorious ability to make even the dullest show a little better, this match would be getting an A+. Unfortunately this match features The League Of Nations.
Pop Quiz: What exactly is the League Of Nations deal? Like why are they a team? How would one define their relationships with one another? Have they even been cool for a second during their run as a faction? The fact is that this match is incredibly unnecessary. Not only have The New Day beaten The League at nearly every turn since Roadblock… I don’t think The League have spoken a single word on television since Sheamus lost the WWE title and the group was relegated to becoming the hapless band of losers they are right now. So what what exactly about this match am I supposed to be interested in from their perspective?
I like that New Day have kept their mean-spirited and nefarious demeanour despite turning babyface in recent weeks, and any interest I have in this match is due to the collective talents of Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, and Big E. I’m looking forward to their entrance, I’m looking forward to their Wrestlemania promo, and I’m looking forward to the possibility of this match being the final resting place of The League Of Nations. That rounds out to a C grade.
7. Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Title: Kevin Owens (c) vs. The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Sami Zayn vs. Stardust vs. Zack Ryder vs. Sin Cara
Let me start by saying that the WWE essentially buried half the workers participating in this bout the night that they announced it. Instead of allowing Sin Cara, Stardust and Zack Ryder to put on a kick-ass match and showing us Kevin Owens looking worried about the names he’d chosen for his Number 1 Contender’s triple threat, the commentary team spent the majority of their match undermining the performers before they literally became background dancers as the real stars (Zayn, Ziggler, Miz) all confronted Owens at the announce desk.
How much better would it have been to have Owens pick these guys because he thought they were jokes, only for them to outperform his expectations and strike fear into him? How much better would it have been for the misfit 3 (Ryder, Sin Cara, Stardust) to explain why winning the title at Wrestlemania would be important to them specifically? How much would it have been better to tell the competitor’s stories?
Honestly, I’m of the mindset that this match should have been a 1 on 1 grudge match for the Intercontinental Championship between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. That pair has the most heat and the potential to steal the show. The others should have been in a multi-man match with Ryback and Kalisto for the United States Championship. I also know that this match was greatly effected by the multiple injuries this year, but like last year’s multi-man ladder match, they left a lot of good storytelling opportunities on the table regardless, not the least of which is allowing each of these guys to explain why this opportunity is important to them in their own words.
6. Kickoff Match: The Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz
This match had one of the better builds for a match at this year’s Wrestlemania. They did a great job with the initial Dudley Boyz turn, and since the turn Bubba has been unleashed. He’s been awesome on the mic, and his trash talk during matches has been special. D-Von hasn’t been left behind either. He’s been as good in this heel role, and these guys have been great.
I get that this is a simple grudge match but I wish that they’d have ratcheted up the stakes here after the Dudleyz turn. The Usos have done their best to match intensity with Bubba and D-Von, and they’ve been good, but at the end of the day, despite their roles being clearly defined, I just wish that there was a little more. They’ve essentially been coasting along since the turn without raising the stakes at any point.
I kind of wish that they had made a multi-man match for the tag titles. TLC featuring The Dudley Boyz, The Usos (New Hardyz) and New Day (New E&C). That scenario would be dripping with narrative potential.
5. WWE World Heavyweight Title: Triple H (c) vs. Roman Reigns
Where to begin here. Listen, I’ll say upfront that I actually like Roman Reigns as a worker. I also think Triple H still looks like he has plenty in the tank, if his matches against Ambrose and Ziggler are any indication of what we may be seeing on Sunday. That said, this entire thing has been bungled storytelling.
I know that many of you are thinking, “How could the storyline be bungled? Triple H screwed him out of the WWE Title, and now he wants revenge and his championship back. The story isn’t bad, the fans just haven’t taken to it!” The fans haven’t taken to this story, because they bungled it. Starting all the way back at Survivor Series when he beat Ambrose in an uneventful tournament that when announced had had infinite possibilities. Roman winning was the only thing less obvious than Sheamus cashing in after. Through my eyes, we’re already off to a bad start. You took something that could have been interesting and exciting (talking about the tournament after Seth’s injury), and boiled it down to the most obvious and boring conclusion.
Then you think Roman feuding with Sheamus would raise his likability. I get the idea. Seamus is universally reviled, and presenting Roman as his alternative should make Roman seem more appealing. Here’s the thing, Sheamus is an anchor. He only serves to drag the person he’s engaged in a feud with down. So Roman eventually gets pissed, beats down Triple H, wins the title a second time on Raw, and overcomes Mr. McMahon. With these cool moments under his belt, you’d think he’d have turned the corner, but as the New Day often say “Oh No”.
During his title defence in the Royal Rumble, he gets beaten down and leaves the Rumble for nearly 30 minutes, later returning refreshed and taking out guys who had been in there for much longer than him. Again, I see why they think that having leave for medical attention might garner sympathy, but for many, it looks like Roman got a halftime that nobody else in the Rumble got. To make matter worse, Triple H returned like a conquering hero and ended up winning the belt. Everything about the presentation of The Rumble made Hunter look like the bad ass hero, and Roman look like a bit of a weasel.
Fast forward to Fastlane, where the focus in the Triple Threat Number One Contender Match is Ambrose vs. Brock. They made Roman a supporting character in the match that was set to crown him the number one contender. They also don’t really explain why The Authority are giving him the opportunity despite all the trouble they’ve gone through get the belt off Roman. So Roman wins the shot, gets beat up by Triple H and is off TV for weeks while his buddy Dean Ambrose, who actually connects with the audience, fills his place for a bit and demonstrates that he’s not only tougher and can take a beating and keep competing, but that he’s also by far more popular.
It’s as if they’ve been making a concerted effort to make Roman look like a loser. To highlight his worst qualities. To inundate us with better possibilities. If the goal has been to try to get Roman over, which it seems to have been, it has been a miserable failure. That said, there are interesting outcomes here. If this has all been orchestrated to turn Roman heel at Mania, with Triple H playing the role of Palpatine AKA Darth Sidious, luring Roman to the Dark Side all along, I would revise this grade.
4. Divas Title: Charlotte (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
I’ve given this match this grade because I have very little to complain about here. The WWE has done a fine job in the last few months of building up all three of these women and making the title the centrepiece of the rivalry. Highlighting that they’ve trained together and came up to the main roster together has been a nice touch, showing us that these women know each other very well.
While there hasn’t be an single moment from this build up that made me say “Holy Cow!”, the steady build toward these three competing at Wrestlemania 32 was just fine. They also get points for not telegraphing the finish. Any of these three winning this match is good for the division. Either Charlotte wins and stays on top as a heel champion for a while longer, Becky wins in the ultimate underdog triumph, or you crown “The Boss” Sasha Banks on a huge stage.
There really isn’t a bad outcome here. They haven’t painted themselves into a corner narratively and everyone’s stakes are clear. This match is the finest example of simple storytelling on this card. It’s simplicity is why it doesn’t get an outstanding grade, but I do admire it.
3. Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles
This match is a lot like the Divas Championship Triple Threat in that it is simple. These guys flat out don’t like each other. They went from being friendly competitors, to teammates, to true rivals. Chris Jericho has descended into a state of manic jealousy that somebody is coming in and stealing his thunder. You can see his desperation and desire to hold on to his glory days in every action he takes.
AJ hasn’t been quite on par with Jericho when it comes to trading insults, but he’s been fine and is giving this feud everything he can give. He’s shown us at the very least that he wants revenge on Jericho for turning on him after they lost their Tag Team Championship match to New Day. While it definitely makes AJ look dumb as bricks for not seeing the turn coming like everyone watching did, the match and the subsequent beat down really sold the angle, and they’ve essentially been riding high since then.
This match gets points for stuff like the Y2AJ shirts to throw people off the scent of the impending implosion for their friendly relationship, and Jericho’s picture perfect portrayal of an older man who’s mortality is staring him right in the face, in the form of a younger more athletic version of himself.
2. No Holds Barred Street Fight: Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar
I really wanted to be able to give this a higher grade, but their segment on Raw this week actually bumped it down a few pegs. For the most part the build to this No Holds Barred Street Fight has been strong. With Brock essentially laying waste to Ambrose any time they get physical, but Ambrose always getting back up. It’s been that story ever since the build to Fastlane, which featured some truly great Ambrose and Brock interactions.
I’ve loved the idea of Ambrose getting weapons from Foley and Funk to use in the street fight, but I really wish they would have been able to bring all of that full circle at some point during the go home Raw. Having Ambrose come out and just put all his weapons in a wagon was truly one of the lamest things I have ever seen on TV. You’ve already had these ECW legends give Ambrose their weapons of choice, and you have the man who was at the helm of ECW advocating for Brock Lesnar.
Why not have Paul Heyman sing Ambrose’s praises as it pertains to being extreme. That he would have been perfect in ECW. That if ECW had survived, he would have handpicked Dean Ambrose as the embodiment of everything that those three letters stand for. Unfortunately for Dean and all the both ECW Legends and Die Hards, Brock Lesnar would have come along and made them all obsolete. Have him run down ECW in comparison to Brock Lesnar, only for Ambrose to interrupt with his wagon. Have Ambrose come down to ringside where Foley, standing in the crowd places his barbed wire bat in the wagon. Funk places the chainsaw. Sandman places a kendo stick. RVD and Tommy Dreamer place some chairs, etc. Make it a real moment where ECW endorses Dean Ambrose heading into the street fight.
Alas, this wasn’t done. In fact what they did was really the least creative thing one possibly could have done, thus why despite a lot of great visuals and fun moments, I can’t bring myself to grade the buildup to this match higher than a B+. It never got to that exceptional place.
1. Hell In a Cell: Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker
The go home edition of Monday Night Raw had the exact opposite effect on Shane vs. Taker than it did on Ambrose vs. Lesnar for me. While the go home Raw knocked down the No Holds Barred Street Fight down a few pegs, it really earned this Hell In A Cell match some points.
Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. I still don’t like that The Undertaker has been down for this match from jump street. This would have been so much more compelling if Undertaker had said no initially, only for Vince to force his hand. As it stands, there still isn’t much of a reason why Undertaker has to have this match. Sure his ability to compete at Wrestlemania is now at stake, but truthfully, as a demonic agent of death from hell, why does he actually care about having a job? Seriously though, I really wish they had at least had him initially refuse only to be forced to be an instrument of Vince McMahon.
With that being said, there is a lot at stake here. The prodigal son returns to an uproarious reaction, points out on TV what many fans have been feeling about the product as of late, and Shane announces that he wants control of Monday Night Raw. Vince retorts that he has to go through hell to get it. It’s actually a really interesting story. The shape Shane is in adds another layers of interest to this bout, as he looks to be in the best physical condition of his career. Finally this Monday’s Leap of Faith Elbow seems to be a taste of what we’ll get at Wrestlemania in Dallas. Shane in one show detailed his plans, explained his motivation and demonstrated his skills. That’s how you build interest for a match.
The final piece of the puzzle of this match that has me intrigued is seeing how the crowd will react. There are essentially no great outcomes for the fans here. Either way they lose something, so it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to the match and the inevitable shenanigans. All in all, this is certainly the most interesting match on the card and had the best build up.
OVERALL WRESTLEMANIA 32 BUILD GRADE: C (Last Year’s Grade: D+)
OVERALL WRESTLEMANIA 32 CARD GRADE: B- (Last Year’s Grade: B-)
There you have it, but as always I want to know what you think! Which rivalry has piqued your interest? Has the build been better than last year’s for you guys? Which match will be the best on the show? What would have you most excited coming out of Wrestlemania?
Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying be safe, and enjoy NXT TakeOver Dallas! Oh and Wrestlemania 32, I guess.