Coming into Sunday night, we knew 32 things about the WWE’s signature showcase. One fact that remained elusive was whether Rusev would have to overcome an oversize box of Booty-O’s on his way to the ring.
Just kidding. We all knew that would happen.
As it turned out, this year’s Super Bowl of Sports Entertainment was full of surprises, from an unlikely Intercontinental inheritor to a trio of legends making comedic fodder out of a stable not named Social Outcasts. And I sure didn’t see Shaquille O’Neal entering the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, either (but I totally called Tatanka). About the only thing that seemed certain was the outcome of the WWE World Heavyweight title match. And even that, well – more on that in a second.
So without any further incessant buffering, here are the five key things (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the WrestleMania 32.
5. Zack Attack
Publicly, I was skeptical about Zack Ryder’s (or Stardust’s, or Sin Cara’s, or Sami Zayn’s, or Dolph Ziggler’s, or the Miz’s) chances of snatching Kevin Owens’ IC belt in the opening ladder match. Privately, the underdog-advocate, naïve wrestling fan in me was pining for him to win. For that matter, so was my cynical outer critic. It’d been a while since WWE pulled the trigger on a jabroni upset at this scale, and this was the perfect opportunity. The buildup to these seven men colliding was, as myself and others bemoaned, bizarre. And while we all anticipated some hot spots and killer carnage, few observers honestly though an unconventional outcome was in the works. It would be equally shocking if Owens didn’t reclaim his title by the end of Raw. Then again, riding Zack vs. Kevin through Payback while the latter and Zayn beef up their story isn’t a bad option either. Regardless, hoorah for Ryder, who hasn’t exactly suffered “over a decade of futility” as Michael Cole insisted, but has had finally been rewarded after a rough few years.
4. New! Day!…Lost?
Riddle me this: On a weekend when the Fabulous Freebirds are inducted into the Hall of Fame, how was it that the New Day – who boast of invoking Michael Hayes and Co.’s three-man tag ethos as a cornerstone of their faction’s philosophy – weren’t defending their titles in a special “Freebird Rule” stipulation against League of Nations? And will every ensuing sentence in this tangent culminate in a rhyme? You’ll have to wait and see, but what will be will be. Point is, did anyone really have the foggiest idea of whether New Day’s titles were at stake heading into the match? And once that was cleared up and League of Nations persevered, did any of us feel like it computed that Sheamus and his crew came away without gold? Then again, all everybody is going to remember from that 15 minutes is Rusev and Xavier Woods spring-boarding off Steve Austin’s shoulder, so it’s all good.
3. Daughter of the Revolution
Someone may have dropped the ball on a Freebird Rule title stipulation between New Day and League of Nations, but no way they were going to minimize the symbolism of 16-time Heavyweight jefe Ric Flair looking on while his baby girl Charlotte triumphed as WWE’s new Women’s Champion. The McMahons love a legacy, especially when its latest iteration is talented and fierce enough to embody its mythos. And it would have arguably been the night’s most stunning development if Charlotte went down in defeat at her first WrestleMania. Split hairs aside, she, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch put on a hell of a show (despite the commentating team’s distracting, relentlessly patronizing tone about them personifying a new legitimacy among female grapplers). Plus, the stage was set for Sasha and Charlotte to go womano-a-womano with the condition – if I may play fantasy booker for a moment – that meddlesome Ric be permanently exiled from his baby girl’s side if she can’t conquer the insurgent Banks. Sasha would get her well-timed run at the top, with Charlotte finally breaking free of her surname’s shadow. However it plays out, that belt’s gonna sell a truckload of replicas to awestruck little girls, which is most of what matters.
2. Let’s Hear It for ‘Taker and Shane
There was no particular sense behind the Phenom and Shane-O Mac squaring off in Hell in a Cell. Hell, the cage itself was virtually inconsequential until Boy Wonder’s suicide dive off the roof, to the extent that half the match took place outside of the quarantined fence. And the in-ring action should have come with a warning about suspending your disbelief to the point of expulsion. But dammit if they didn’t hit the little beats that make for good drama. In their own unique ways, each of these guys know what the business of sports entertainment is all about, and each did their part to do something special and help salvage a card handicapped by widespread roster injury. Let’s just hope the Dead Man left a little something over for Vince tonight on Raw.
1. Game Over
I’ll be succinct: No problem with Roman Reigns’ win. No problem with when and how he won it, or the inevitability that he’d regain the World Heavyweight Championship. For that matter, no problem with him more-or-less gesturing to the haters in the crowd that they can suck it. As with ‘Taker vs. Shane, there’s no doubt more to come in this storyline once Raw kicks off. But even more so than that bout, Reigns vs. Triple H had a real rhythm to it, particularly turning a thrilling corner when Roman kicked out of the Pedigree and all bets suddenly seemed off. Stephanie was maybe a tad too omnipresent, and the lack of post-conclusion drama was mildly disappointing (ditto several other instances in the night), but the main event typified what helped this ‘Mania exceed expectations: good ol’ fashioned newfangled wrestling.
Below the Belt:
- Guess we have to…brace ourselves for Nikki Bella’s return?
- I sure hope the money’s been worth it for the Dudleys.
- Poor Ryback.
- Oh, hey there, Funaki.
- I’ve seen dawdling ladder climbs, but Zayn’s slo-mo ascent was absurd.
- The “boots of Chris” should be Jericho’s new finisher.
- Sucks for A.J. Styles, but let’s chalk this up as WWE’s make-good to Y2J for Fandango.
- Bill Simmons is really livin’ the life these days.
- Strangely, I’m not sure red is Sheamus’ color.
- Why yes, we did run a story about me drinking those Broken Skulls with Stone Cold.
- Kudos to HBK for some serious conditioning. And Mick Foley for lack thereof.
- Holy shit was that Lesnar/Ambrose match a dud.
- Hope Snoop used a pre-paid envelope to mail in that rap.
- Oh, and we totes broke that he’d come out with Sasha.
- To paraphrase a Cobra Kai mantra: Hook the leg, ‘Taker!
- Never thought I’d hear the words, “The panel crashed into the German announce table.”
- We get it, Maria Menounos: you have ringside seats.
- Is Corey Graves really the “savior of misbehavior”?
- Poor Damien Sandow.
- After the Ryder win, you kinda saw the Corbin victory coming.
- Thought for sure Rock would announce tonight’s lotto numbers after declaring the attendance record.
- Of all the contrived business in that Rock segment, the Wyatts’ woes and John Cena the consummate worker merit genuine discussion.
- Do Triple H and Stephanie own us, or does Ford – per the banner behind Mrs. The Game during her over-the-top intro – own them?
- All in all, that was fun.
- Move of the Night: Shane’s ill-advised elbow was a great stunt, but Charlotte’s moonsault on Sasha and Becky at ringside was athletically awesome.
- Line of the Night: Who’s better than Heyman? Taunting Dean Ambrose by asking, “That hurt, right?” after the eighth German was vintage villainous managing. (Honorable mention to whatever fan shouted “eleventeen” during the ref’s championship-match count.
- Noticeable in His Absence: Vince McMahon