They had to have a dark segment to mollify the crowd.
That’s all I could think about as I walked up the steps at AT&T Stadium after the conclusion of WrestleMania, the biggest night of the sports entertainment year. The show that, for the most part, WWE manages to get right. Last night, they had to resort to playing to the crowd after the broadcast ended, just so the boos and “bullshit” chants would stop. After the cameras turned off in Dallas, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon (the heels in all this, remember?) hugged in the ring, raised each other’s hands and posed for the crowd while the Game’s music blared. The crowd cheered, even though H had just lost the World Heavyweight Championship to Roman Reigns and Steph, dressed like a dominatrix ringmaster, had earlier dismissed the masses as unfit to lick her husband’s boots.
That was the ending to the biggest – and longest – WrestleMania in history. Taking it in from AT&T Stadium, the home of the Cowboys, was a unique experience. While the crowd probably wasn’t the 101,763 that the Rock would later announce, it was huge, a sea of humanity that filled the cavernous stadium. In fact, the crowds were too much for the stadium workers at first, and getting into WrestleMania was a nightmare for many fans. However, once everyone eventually found their seats, they witnessed a roller-coaster ride that brought the WWE Universe from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Before looking at the bad, it’s worth pointing out that there was also a lot of good.
The legends. What can I say about the legends? It would’ve been enough to see Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin take out the League of Nations (and Xavier Woods). The pop those three received would’ve been the biggest of the night in most circumstances. This wasn’t any night though, or any regular WrestleMania. The Rock’s annual appearance certainly excited the crowd, but it wasn’t his entrance (replete with a flamethrower and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders) that had them going. Instead, the crowd gradually became unhinged as the Wyatt Family came out to confront the Rock, and then the man normally known as Dwayne Johnson announced that he would wrestle a match for the first time since WrestleMania 29. Granted, that match was only 6 seconds long (another record set!), but it was a match nonetheless. And even when Cena came out, the “John Cena Sucks” sing-song seemed to be a little bit more lighthearted than usual, since he was coming to the aid of the Great One.
It was a big night for the Divas – or should I say women – on the roster. The Bellas got their farewell moment, with Brie winning her five-on-five match with the Yes! Lock and the injured Nikki coming out to celebrate in her neck brace. Before that, Lita got in the ring and, to the delight of the crowd, announced that the Divas title would be retired, and in its place, a new Women’s title would be used. Then, there was the Women’s Championship match. Forget the in-ring action – which was great – the entrances alone made it feel like one of the biggest bouts of the night, and the crowd buzzed from moment one. As a fanbase, we were surprised, and even a little bit disappointed, when Charlotte won, but everything the women did felt important. As opposed to previous events, where people planned their bathroom breaks around the women, this was a pleasant surprise.
The night was made up of moments. Talking to people after the show, it wasn’t the matches they focused on. They remembered Zack Ryder winning the Intercontinental title. They remembered Shane McMahon coming off the top of the cell. Austin’s music hitting. Rock pulling off his sweats to reveal his gear. Sasha Banks getting the live performance of her theme, courtesy of her cousin, Snoop Dogg. NXT bully Baron Corbin’s surprising win in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Shaq’s entry into said Battle Royal. Even Triple H’s elaborate entrance. Quite frankly, the show had more big moments than most ‘Manias.
But with the good came the bad, and there was plenty of the latter to go around. Last year felt like WWE’s attempt to cater to the disgruntled fans. Seth Rollins cashed in, Daniel Bryan won the IC title, AJ Lee and Paige’s victory – they all felt like moves directed at the fanbase that increasingly makes up the WrestleMania crowd. This year felt like a six-hour attempt to piss off that same demo. Sami Zayn lost. Dean Ambrose lost. Shane McMahon lost. The New Day lost. A.J. Styles lost. Sasha Banks lost. Triple H lost. Individually, each of those results were defensible, but all of them together started to make the overlong show feel oppressive.
And speaking of that – six hours of wrestling was too much. I get that it’s WrestleMania. I get that it’s supposed to be a big show, but six hours was overkill. Even though the pacing was done fairly well, there’s no way that the crowd could be anything but exhausted and antsy at the end of the night. Going 50 minutes over the expected run time tends to have that effect. I’m not totally sure what the solution is if they’re intent on getting every single person on the roster into a match, but there has to be one.
Which led to the ending. Roman Reigns won clean. He didn’t turn heel. The crowd, when it wasn’t booing or simply chanting “boring”, was fairly quiet, exhausted by six hours of sheer spectacle. While Triple H tried to appease them at the very end, it wasn’t enough. Fair or not, a big show is always judged by its final moment, and in this case, WWE failed in most of the crowd’s view. Many fans complained on the way out, and some even committed mild vandalism while shouting curses about Roman Reigns and/or Vince McMahon. It was a stubborn conclusion at best, tone-deaf at worst, and after two years of dream endings at WrestleMania, fans definitely felt betrayed.
The ending can’t take away from the moments that made WrestleMania 32 feel so big. But, it certainly put a damper on things, and for many, it overshadowed the whole night. And after six star-packed hours, that’s one heck of a shadow to cast.