With Wrestlemania 31 mere days away, I am for a fourth straight year bringing the TJR Faithful another edition of my annual pre-Wrestlemania column, which I have dubbed “A Matter of Interest”. This is always one of my favourites to write, and this year, despite the fairly abysmal build, was no different. There was a lot to talk about with this year’s Wrestlemania card and build.
Inevitably everyone has matches they are looking forward to, and other matches they are not all that excited about for a variety of different reasons. Looking at a list of the matches on paper, they are great. We are almost certainly in store for a series of great, compelling and fun matches this Sunday. Seriously, if on paper last year’s card looks worse than a Mike D’Antoni defensive playbook, then this year’s card looks about as great as a Golden State Warriors game… on paper. The problem here is the stories being told. They’re not great. In fact most have been bad. For a company that prides itself on telling stories, they’ve really dropped the ball this year, and will be relying on the matches themselves to sell this card.
Today I will rank the matches on the Wrestlemania 31 card. Each match will be awarded a letter grade for the interest it garners from me and I will go on to explain why each match deserves the grade it has received. Let’s Do This!
9. WWE Tag Team Championship – Tyson Kidd & Cesaro(c) vs. Los Matadores vs. The New Day vs. The Usos
The build for this match hasn’t done much to ignite anybody’s interest. They haven’t really developed any real rivalries or character development into the last month for any of these four teams. The story behind this match is that one week, each of these teams or somebody affiliated with the team, beat another one of the teams or somebody affiliated with that team, creating a hodgepodge of viable Championship Contenders.
Of all the matches on the card, this is the most haphazardly slapped together, a blatant attempt to get as many people on the card as possible. It’s also repetitive, as last year’s Wrestlemania featured the same match with two of the same teams in it. I have no preference on who wins, nor does any outcome really put me off. It’s the cardinal sin of storytelling, I don’t care one way or the other. At least make it somewhat exciting by throwing an unexpected variable in there. Instead of the Matadores, bring in The Dudley Boyz for a month and have them feud with, and help put over these younger tag teams.
With all that said, I know that everybody involved in this match can work. The match itself shouldn’t be as disappointing as the build, but as you all know, this isn’t about the match, it’s all about story, and in that regard this match is a failure. It’s a shame, I’m holding out hope that one of these years, The Usos can be rewarded for carrying the Tag Team Division, with a match on the main card of Wrestlemania. They deserve it.
8. Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Last year I wasn’t all that interested in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and this year I’m less interested. I usually like the ideal of a Battle Royal, because when they’re held, there’s usually something on the line. A title shot, the championship, anything of note! This battle royal only exists to get as many superstars on Wrestlemania as possible. The trophy is meaningless, given that Cesaro carried it around for all of a week, and don’t get me started on how his year went after winning the “prestigious” bout. So if the trophy doesn’t really matter, and the victory doesn’t signify any kind of elevation, what in the blue hell is there for me to care about in this match.
Essentially, the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal this year is a backdrop for The Miz and Damien Mizdow. We all expect Mizdow to finally stand up for himself and toss The Miz out of the ring. It should be a great moment… but in a match that means next to nothing, can there really be great moments. The best hope this match has of capturing my interest, is a Finn Balor entry, entrance and win on the grandest stage of all. Let him come up to the main roster with the loudest, most ostentatious bang he can at the biggest showcase of the year. It won’t happen, but I can dream.
7. AJ Lee and Paige vs. The Bella Twins
I will not sugarcoat this, this story stinks. This story should have built to a 4-way for the Divas Championship. They should have had AJ return and announce a triple between Nikki, AJ and Paige. Nikki would request that Brie be in the match too, to have her back so she wouldn’t have to face the two women alone. Have the tag match that is currently slated for PPV on a Raw, and use it to raise tensions between all combatants. Have AJ remind Brie that Nikki treated her like garbage in 2014. Have Paige recall the “I wish you died in the Womb” comment. The key story is un-brainwashing Brie, making all of these women want to tear each other apart, and making it a real every woman for herself situation by Wrestlemania 31, with the Divas Championship as the prize.
Instead we are having a match with nothing on the line and two pairs of women that should ostensibly have serious unfinished business with their partners, teaming up for a meaningless bout. This match should have meaning, this match should have stakes, this match should have scores being settled left and right and a grand prize everybody is clamouring for. It currently has none of those things. Very weak, considering the characters involved and the multiple interpersonal issues between these four lethal ladies. One of the most important parts of storytelling is establishing meaningful stakes, and there might not be a match on this card that has failed to do so more than this Divas Tag Team Match.
6. Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
Where do I begin with this rivalry? Let me just begin by making it clear that this bout’s build was horrendous on several levels. They managed to take a tale as old as time, one guy trying to get revenge on another guy, and managed to make it meaningless drivel. The utter nonsense began when Randy Orton returned at Fastlane and laid waste to any member of The Authority he could get his hands, as Seth sprinted from the building in an act of self preservation. The next night Orton calls out Seth, only for Triple H to invite him back into the fold of The Authority to avoid further incident. This is where things get ridiculous.
Orton decides to rejoin The Authority and spends the next two weeks haphazardly earning their trust. By earning their trust, I mean mostly screwing with Seth at inopportune moments, attacking other members of the collective, and acting like a lunatic (back off Randy, that’s Dean’s gimmick). In these two weeks, Seth is fooled, mostly because Randy helped him once in a match against Roman Reigns. Seth proceeds to walk gleefully into his own demise, despite Randy spelling out his plot to Seth and all his cohorts in The Authority (not to mention everybody in the WWE Universe) seeing the “betrayal” coming miles away. Now tell me, after watching Randy basically kill Seth for ten minutes on a Monday Night Raw, why exactly would I be excited to see him wrestle Seth at Wrestlemania? He already got his revenge!
As if it couldn’t get dumber, Seth further demonstrates his own idiocy by planning a ruse, one that involves making Randy think that The Authority has abandoned Rollins, only for him to yell “PSYCH!” before bringing the entire Authority out to surround Randy. This moment might have been effective had Randy not already explained that he knew The Authority would back up Rollins and that he was prepared to suffer a beat down if it meant he could fight Rollins at Wrestlemania. It was truly emblematic of the entire build for this match. In an attempt to be cute and unpredictable, they ultimately failed and made what should have been a match where I’m excited to see Randy finally get his hands on Seth Rollins, into a crazy dude fighting a moron with nothing at stake, seeing as revenge has already been had. Bravo WWE!
5. Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match – Bad News Barrett(c) vs. R-Truth vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper vs. Stardust vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Daniel Bryan
The build to this match has been a very mixed bag for me, which is to be expected with a match with this many moving parts. I hated Intercontinental Title hot potato. I hated the fact that they seemed like foolish cartoon characters for much of this build (Looney Tunes to be exact). I hated that the champion was made to look like a snivelling loser all the time. I hated that Daniel Bryan was called a turd. I hated that Dean Ambrose danced on Raw with R-Truth. Now that I think about it, the bag wasn’t much of a mix, it was mostly crap.
The one narrative positive leading up to this Ladder Match (which should be great), is that the title seems important by virtue of the fact that multiple people want it. That’s a very good thing. I wish that they had done more interview segments, or video packages, outlining the championship’s lineage and why each guy wants to be Intercontinental Champion. Bryan got to cut a promo about why he wanted to be in the match, but for the most part, nobody else really explained why it’s important. It would have been nice to have that.
4. WWE World Heavyweight Championship – Brock Lesnar(c) vs. Roman Reigns
This is the main event of the Showcase of the Immortals, and while I am interested, it has nothing to do with what they’ve shown us on TV. The story for this match is garbage. There have been no on-screen storyline developments for this match since the moment Roman Reigns defeated Daniel Bryan at Fastlane. Sure Roman has done a couple of cool moves, was a cog in the Randy Orton/Seth Rollins rivalry, and cut a couple promos, but there hasn’t been anything resembling a story between these two competitors.
Thank the lord for Paul Heyman. His wizardry on the microphone has singlehandedly gotten us through the month long wait till Wrestlemania 31. If it wasn’t for him, there would have been nothing to make this bout feel even moderately exciting. The build for this match has essentially been everybody but Brock putting over Roman Reigns, and Roman Reigns acting like everyone’s against him. Roman Reigns whining and bitching, saying “I Can, I Will” like a petulant child, begging for approval, while everyone around him (but the fans and Lesnar) continually say “Roman, you’re great. You can literally do anything!” It was exhaustingly dull to watch this same stuff happen again and again and again, every week.
Which brings me to the burning question I had coming out of Monday’s Raw… who won the tug of war? Seriously! How did they end that segment for the people in the building without making one of the two guys look weak? Honestly, I’m wondering how Brock didn’t drop Roman the minute he grabbed the belt, because everything we’ve been lead to believe about the guy, he wouldn’t have put up with that shit for a second. The whole story is contrived, grasping at straws, and quite frankly, has been awful.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The Roman Reigns character isn’t ready for this moment. He hasn’t really fought against anything in his career. He’s face little to no adversity on his ascent to the top of the WWE, and has yet to discover who he really is. He’s like the Bruce Wayne character on Gotham; we know what he’ll become, but right now he’s just kind of a twerp who hasn’t yet grown or discovered who he really is. Roman still clings to The Shield, which has been dead for nearly a year. He hasn’t become his own man, he hasn’t forged a new path for himself, he simply hasn’t evolved past his original incarnation. That’s the journey he needs to go on as a character before anybody familiar with storytelling will buy him as a true champion and hero. Right now he’s just an inexperienced pup, barking like he’s a big dog, having never truly seen hardships.
The only interests I have in this match are how the crowd will react to Roman and Brock, and what will the finish be. The latter is only interesting because of the news that Lesnar has re-signed. There is a multitude of ways that things can go now, and each has different implications on the stories going forward. That is what I’m interested in; what’s going to happen next.
3. United States Championship – John Cena vs. Rusev(c)
I feel like I should be way more interested in this match than I currently am. I mean, for the most part, I’ve liked the build. Cena was actually really cool at some points (when he wasn’t being completely over the top calling the contact a declaration of independence), especially the beat down he laid on Rusev to goad Lana into giving him the match in the first place. That was quite frankly the coolest John Cena had looked in a long time on TV.
Terrible contract segment aside (where did they find Rusev’s Lawyer?), I was still pretty fine with the build. Cena pulled off some pretty great aggression despite being a bit of a dick (I mean, I’m cool with beating up an evil person until his girlfriend cries, begs you to stop, and meets your demands because the person is victim is evil… but admittedly the hero in the situation isn’t much better right?). Rusev has been great as the evil foreigner who disparages the country whose title he holds. What’s missing for me?
I think what’s capped my interest at a meagre level is the inevitability of the entire thing. It’s been very paint by numbers, which is fine because they’ve done it well. Unfortunately that can only garner so much true interest. I knew where this feud was heading right after The Royal Rumble. Hell I knew before then exactly what I was in store for, and I got everything I was expecting to see. Cena brawls with Rusev a few times, Cena loses to Rusev, they brawl some more, and will face off again, setting up Cena’s redemption. Nothing more, nothing less than what was expected. There was no curveball, no twist, no outrageously funny or amazing moment. It was exactly what it was expected to be.
2. The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt
Now this is one of the few intriguing matches on the card. There’s a story here that is fairly interesting. You have The Undertaker, watcher of The Yard, who one year ago was gravely wounded, and left for dead. You have Bray Wyatt, who wants to assume control of The Yard, to become the new face of fear, but first he must vanquish The Undertaker.
It’s great because it establishes the kind of man that Bray Wyatt is, wanting to assume control of The Yard and fear itself, by defeating The Undertaker when he’s at his weakest. He’s goaded and prodded the Dead Man hoping for him to confront him in a weakened state, so that he can rid the WWE of him, and assume his role as the reaper. It’s a truly interesting piece of storytelling, that would have been oh so much better if it wasn’t all represented as parlour tricks.
When you peel back the layers, there are great themes here. The young lion trying to take out the old and wounded leader, to usurp the leadership role. It’s a classic bit of storytelling that I quite admire; and while I get that part of the intrigue for this match is seeing what state the old lion is in after the brutal beating he took, it’s hard to get excited about a match that literally featured weeks of one man monologuing.
I wish they had thought of more creative ways to build to the eventual match. Have Bray visually renounce all earthly possessions he holds dear to truly demonstrate his willingness to assume the role of the reaper. Stuff like his backwoods cabin, his rocking chair, or his own followers. Anything but the damn Urn (how did Bray obtain it exactly?) would have been a great way to get us to the final destination. All that being said, at least this match has a story to tell. It’s more than I can say about quite a few matches on this card.
1. Sting vs. Triple H
I have a bone to pick with the build for this match. Not that it hasn’t been good at times, but that to me it feels incomplete. It feels like they walked right up to the line that they needed to say to make this feud totally sing, but decided they didn’t want to take that extra step. As it stands, Sting is a Vigilante, here to take Triple H down because of his various wrong doings, one of which is aiding in the death of WCW. They are so close to gold here it’s maddening that they didn’t just go the one step further, to make this something truly important. The whole match is built on over a decade’s worth of animosity, and while that’s fine, the match could be about way more.
This build would have been better had almost everything gone virtually the same way: Triple H losing his power, regaining it, calling Sting out, spreading propaganda about Sting being an invader, a crusader for a dead cause, an enemy to the WWE. Sting would then speak and bring up the similarities between Triple H’s Authority, and the regime that ended up being the death of WCW. The only difference I’d make, is that Sting’s mission is stopping Triple H from killing the WWE, the way the people in charge killed WCW.
Sting would say that he’s not invading for vengeance, he’s not invading because of a vendetta, but that he’s invading because he seen the path that the WWE is currently on before, and wants to save the industry, the fans, and most importantly all the kids in the back who have bright futures, from the tyranny of Triple H. “You’ve say I’m trying to destroy the WWE Triple H… I’m trying to save it! From YOU!”
The main issue for me, is that they’ve made him an outsider, just fighting for his own selfish reasons. He doesn’t feel like he’s there for good enough reasons. If you totally commit to making him a crusader on behalf of the little guy, fighting against an evil, power hungry dictator who goes through a lot of trouble to smear his name and his crusade, now you have me enthralled. Right now, I’m merely mildly amused by their rivalry.
OVERALL WRESTLEMANIA 31 BUILD GRADE: D+
OVERALL WRESTLEMANIA 31 CARD GRADE: B-
There you have it, but as always I want to know what you think! Which match are you most interested in? How bad has this build been for you guys? Are there too many multi-man matches? Which match will be the best? What are you most looking forward to coming out of Wrestlemania 31?
Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying enjoy Wrestlemania 31!