411’s Instant Analysis 04.06.14: WWE WrestleMania XXX
Posted by Scott Slimmer on 04.07.2014
We celebrate WrestleMania XXX with the biggest Instant Access of all time. 411 veterans Scott Slimmer, Chris Lansdell, Jeremy Thomas, Jeff Small, Steve Cook, John Meehan, Ari Berenstein, and Tony Acero reunite to break down the biggest show of the year.
Hey kids, I'm Scott, and this is 411's Instant Access: WWE WrestleMania XXX. Instant Access is the companion piece to 411 Live Pay-Per-View Coverage and features immediate reaction to wrestling pay-per-views. The focus in Instant Access is on first thoughts and initial reactions instead of play-by-play with the goal of providing you with instant access to onetwothreefourfivesixsevenEIGHT writers' thoughts on the show. For a show as big as WrestleMania XXX, I knew that I had to assemble a team unlike anything we've ever had in Instant Access. So I reached out to an absolute all-star team of 411 legends, and here's the team that came together:
• Scott Slimmer, author of 411's WWE PPV Report. After 7 years and 90 PPVs, this will be Slimmer's final Instant Access. I certainly never intended my last night on IA to be the night that the Streak ended, but I suppose somehow that seems fitting. Tonight, Slimmer is enjoying an Oreo Blizzard.
• Chris Lansdell, 411 legend and former author of The Gaming 5 & 1.
• Jeremy Thomas, 411 legend who's climbed the ladder and now outranks pretty much everyone else on the site. He's kind of a big deal around here.
• Jeff Small, the second best Heat Reporter in 411 history. Small is LIVE in the Superdome and will be providing us with the live perspective. (Editor's Note: Well, that was the plan. And then Small passed out at some point during the show and woke up to find that he'd missed some stuff. Like, a lot of stuff. Traumatic, emotionally scarring stuff.)
• Steve Cook, 411 legend and author of Tremendous Tirades: Monday Night Raw.
• John Meehan, 411 legend and former author of The MeeThinks Friday FreeThinks.
• Ari Berenstein, 411 legend and author of Column of Honor. He's currently writing A Little Column of Honor over at pwponderings.com and has the Podcast of Honor show talking Ring of Honor also on that website.
• Tony Acero, author of 411's WWE Raw Report and The Wrestling 5 & 1. Starting next month, Acero will be taking over the reins of Instant Access. I guess you can say he's the Lesnar to my Taker. Not that I'm at all like Taker. Seriously. This is really more like that time Lesnar damn near killed Bob Holly.
Okay kids, enough with the explanations. Let's get to the wrestling. One more time.
Fatal 4-Way Kick-Off Show Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship The Usos (Champions) vs. Los Matadores w/ El Torito vs. The Real Americans w/ Zeb Colter vs. Ryback & Curtis Axel
Match Result: Jimmy Uso defeats Antonio Cesaro after a double team top rope splash. Match Length: 16:13 Match Analysis: Slimmer: The Usos looked good and got a high profile win under their (championship) belts, but the real story here was the breakup of the Real Americans. I thought the next chapter of that story would be written tomorrow night on Raw, but it looks like it was just the first part of Antonia Cesaro's WrestleMania story. I'm glad the Usos are getting a title run, but I question how many viable challengers WWE really has at the moment. With the Real Americans out of the picture, I would guess that the Usos next feud will be with Ryback & Curtis Axel. Lansdell: The entire opener went pretty much perfectly from beginning to almost the end. Torito got a crowd-popping spot before Los Matadores took the first pin. Rybaxel did their stock some good before being eliminated, and even Axel looked good here. Shame about the abomination of a mashup theme though. My issue was with the finish, which seemed like the mirror image of what should have happened. Swagger should have taken the pin due to a Cesaro mix-up, leading to the turn. As it is Colter looks like the poor innocent bystander right now, and he needs to stay heel to be by Swagger's side. Having said that, Cesaro is over enough that he can eat this pin without losing heat, and Swagger might not have been able to handle another loss. I would really like to have seen the tension be teased tonight, possibly with Cesaro cleaning Colter's clock. Then TOMORROW night on Raw, Colter reveals a new member of the Real Americans who has information on Cesaro's immigration status, thus cementing the turn. The match was still very good and did the required work of revving up the crowd, and the turn was still well done even if I think it had potential to have been done better. Hopefully this is just the start of the promotion of the tag team division, because these teams showed they can work well together tonight. Thomas: That was a perfectly solid show opener that gave all the teams time to shine. The action was good, nothing was badly botched (which is appreciated when you have a fast-paced multi-person tag match), the Usos looked good in their successful title defense and the post-match continued Cesaro's babyface turn. That's all you can ask for in a match like this and it delivered nicely. Cook: The object of the preshow match is to get people into the show, and this one seemed to accomplish that purpose. Fun dive sequence early on culminating with an El Torito dive. The Cesaro Section is pretty massive. Cesaro gets the pin on Ryback, ensuring that the best two teams will decide the winner. The fans are loving this match. In fact, I'd go as far to say that it's the best preshow match of all time, topping the awesome Shield/Usos match from some PPV last year. Swagger got scratched pretty hard on his arm by somebody or something. Cesaro gets finished by a Uso double team from the top rope. Swagger momentarily snaps & puts Cesaro in the Patriot Lock afterwards. Colter tells them to shake hands, but Cesaro turns it into a swing! Cesaro does the WE THE PEOPLE and leaves to their music! Not a surprising result, as there's no reason to take the belts off the Usos now. Especially in a preshow match, and especially with the Real Americans breaking up soon, if they haven't already. Great match to get the crowd ready for WrestleMania Meehan: For starters, you've got to hand it to the WWE tech crew. The sound was wonky right up till 6:30 pm, and they managed to fix the problem right in the nick of time (because let's be honest here: crap sound for the first Network PPV would be all anyone would be talking about if it had continued into the main broadcast). Likewise, smart decision by the booking team to transition things to an elimination bout to give everything enough room to breathe in order to win the crowd's attention. As for the match itself? All eight guys were given enough time to get their spots in, and the end result was a fast-paced, fun vibe to get the crowd excited for the night ahead -- kinda' felt like an old cruiserweight shmozz from the heyday of Nitro. Special kudos to the New Orleans crowd for keeping the energy high and treating Ryback like he wasn't a complete afterthought. Fans were hot for the eliminations, and the right two teams were left to square off in the end. The finish was a great, WrestleMania-worthy moment (even if I wasn't totally sold on Cesaro taking the pinfall), and the post-match angle went a long way towards setting everything right with the world. Color me optimistic for tonight's show! Berenstein: First of all let me send my thank yous to Scott Slimmer for letting me in on tonight's Instant Access festivities and getting in these responses under the wire. I was very happy to see this match get an appropriate amount of time (twenty minutes) even though it was shuttled to the pre-show, and even more pleased because of the changed stipulation from one-fall to elimination necessitates more time for each fall to have an impact. The twenty minutes gave every member of every team a chance to shine in the spotlight and that led to a good match overall. Nothing too different from what you'd expect from these guys, but almost everything well executed aside from Torito's extra spring in his step before flying through the air on his dive and The Usos getting a little overexcited at the end of the match. Speaking of Torito, I'm sorely disappointed that WWE wasted yet another (and seemingly the final) chance for Cesaro to Big Swing the bull. What is it going to take for them to do that? Real Americans were VERY over with the fans, mostly for Cesaro though and everyone liked seeing him do his trademark moves. When the Americans took the first two eliminations I had a hunch that The Usos would retain and there would be a post-match tiff between Swagger and Cesaro. Sure enough, that's what happened, and the big swing received a big ovation. Just wait for the day he busts out the UFO guys. Acero: The Usos and The Real Americans took the stigma of "pre-show," and shook it off with a great match. I'd give props to Ryback and Axel, but they brought nothing to the table. The Matadores tried to have some cool spots but they came off as too choreographed and I didn't buy it as important or necessary…nor did the crowd. What they did buy was Cesaro. They booed The Usos once or twice, even. Once it got to Swagger/Cesaro and The Usos, it was non-stop action and a hell of a lot of fun. Of course, the end result with The Usos winning was just a bit towards second fiddle because the aftermath of the match saw Cesaro's star rising! An airplane spin later, and Cesaro is a face? Maybe. Foley predicted the RAW after Mania would see Cesaro's rise to the top, and maybe he isn't too far off. Match Rating: Slimmer: **¾ Lansdell: *** Thomas: **¾ Cook: *** Meehan: *** (call it 2.5* with an extra 1/2* boost for the post-match developments) Berenstein: *** Acero: **½ Average Match Rating: **¾
Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H
Match Result: Daniel Bryan defeats Triple H with the running knee. Match Length: 25:59 Match Analysis: Slimmer: This was the best technical wrestling match of the night, and I hope it reminded everyone that Triple H is a criminally underrated technical wrestler. There was a nice mix of striking and submission work, and the match was compelling without being over the top or unnecessarily dramatic. Bryan was definitely the right decision to pick up the win, because honestly, the crowd would have rioted if Bryan had lost in the opener. Lansdell: Wow. What a match. Hard to picture anything topping that even with three hours to go. Both men brought their working boots, and if nothing else the match reminded me that HHH is incredible in the ring. Everything he does tells a story, every move and every nuance. He even busted out a tiger FREAKING suplex here in order to put more emphasis on the shoulder angle. Bryan we know is excellent, but his psychology in this one was better than I've seen it for a while. From using one arm for the Yes chants to using his other shoulder for the topes out of the ring, Bryan sold the shoulder like a star. They could have gone a lot of ways with the finish, I think the one they chose was just fine. As it stands (and this was written right after the match) I expect HHH to insert himself in the match, saying Bryan is too hurt, then Bryan comes out anyway. I'm glad the finish was clean and that the match was early enough to give DBryan time to recover in story. The match was exciting and clean and told a great story, but we all knew who would win. I kind of wanted an 18-second win for DBryan with HHH kissing Steph before the match, but with that not happening and no CM Punk run-in I'm fine with how it went down. Thomas: Smart booking here, you wanna give Bryan all the time he needs to recover before the main event. Hunter's Skull Mask was awesome and his Valkyries were damn fine, proving that subtlety isn't always what's best for business. Obviously they couldn't go absolutely 110% all-out in order to protect the winner for the main event but they still delivered a fantastic match with a lot of great spots and some serious chemistry in the ring. The shoulder gave them an easy way to tell a story and they did it effectively and the quick succession of jumps through the ropes, the knee counter to the diving headbutt, the punch as Bryan came through the ropes were all simple but very effective moments. The finish was amazingly well-booked and the post-match attack was good too, in order to stack the odds against Bryan even more. Basically, I don't know else what you could possibly want out of this match...especially when you consider Bryan had another match to go. Cook: What is going on with Stephanie's attire tonight? Not that I'm complaining, it just seems random. A lot of people were down on this match going in, but I'm of the opinion that Daniel Bryan is currently the best wrestler in the business & Triple H is a great big match wrestler. I love the Crossface Chicken Wing just as much as I hate the Crossface. Crap, now the comment section will only talk about how great the Crossface is. Oh well. Triple H also used a Tiger Suplex. Craziness. This was pretty outstanding. Bryan kicks out of 1 Pedigree, and after some HHH offense, Bryan counters & hits the Busaiku Knee for the three count! Was it just me or did HHH's shoulder come up way too close to that 3 count? Will this come up later? Steph slaps Bryan a couple of times & Triple H attacks Bryan's injured shoulder with a chair! I know that'll come up later! Meehan: First up, I love it how Triple H went full-out double-entrance to hammer home the larger-than-life aura of a traditional WWE superstar. Cut to Daniel Bryan, who literally just shuffles out to the ring wearing a doofy old t-shirt to cover a bandaged shoulder. Anyhow, to the match itself -- some masterful psychology from all parties involved here. Bryan stayed plucky and resilient, Steph was unrelenting, and Triple H was methodical at every stage of the game. The story of the match put full attention on the underdog angle, and they smartly worked Bryan's shoulder at every turn. The suplex to the apron, the Crossface, and the post-match assault... all brilliant and exacting, which puts all sorts of heat on The Authority while calling D Bry's health into question with a classic babyface injury angle as he braces himself for the main event. Berenstein: The high-water marks of any Wrestlemania match are both the drama involved in the story-telling and the actual wrestling action. This match had both of those in spades. This was smart psychology-with Triple H attacking the shoulder and Daniel Bryan fighting back and showing he could match Triple H in the physical exchanges. it was also great action, with Daniel Bryan's trademark kicks and flying moves, spiced up with some different and special moves. The suplex exchanges were fun-how about that Dragon release suplex by Triple H, huh? Daniel Bryan smartly escaping the Pedigree attempts also stand out. Ultimately, this was part one of WWE making "the right decisions", which meant Daniel Bryan going over Triple H and celebrating with the fans. Cutting off the celebration with the post-match attack was smart and necessary, establishing the hinge drama for the main event and making sure the fans didn't totally blow their energy on celebrating at that moment. Acero: This was everything I expected it to be, and then some! Triple H spent a majority of the match working the hell out of the arm, and he did it sooo convincingly. Too many times, we see repetitive moves when working a limb, but it is Triple H we're working with here, and he did just what I wanted; dissected. I think we forgot just how good he could be with the right people due to his last few matches that were snoozefests. I particularly enjoy the feel of this match being different. Not that Daniel is a one-trick pony, but he has fallen into the tap that most WWE Superstars fall into (Cena isn't the only one with Five Moves of Doom). This match, however, felt the right kind of different. Bryan, of course, was amazing, but if there is anyone here that deserves some applause, it's Stephanie. The girl was ON tonight. From quoting Principal Vernon, to spreading her arms out in joy when Triple H nearly took off Bryans head! She did great! Back to the match, it was the right kind of vicious, and Triple H beat Bryan down. The underdog story here was beautiful. The end result was one that we predicted; a hell of an ass kicking to leave the main event in doubt, which will only (hopefully) add to the impact of the win. Match Rating: Slimmer: ****¼ Lansdell: ****¼ Thomas: ****½ Cook: **** Meehan: **** Berenstein: **** Acero: **** Average Match Rating: ****¼
Six-Man Tag Team Match The Shield vs. Kane & The New Age Outlaws
Match Result: Seth Rollins defeats Billy Gunn after a double triple team powerbomb. Match Length: 2:49 Match Analysis: Slimmer: I know the Shield are stars on the rise with bright futures ahead of them, but somehow I can't help feeling bad for them tonight. They had a Match of the Year candidate last month at Elimination Chamber, but tonight all they got was a three minute squash match. I'm certainly glad they got the win, but it's too bad that a team as flat out amazing as they are didn't get the chance to prove it on the grandest stage of them all. But they'll have other great matches, and my guess is that they're not done giving us MOTY contenders this year. Lansdell: This was a wrestling match that happened. The right result, the right way for the match to proceed, great visuals, the Shield guys all did their signature stuff...just exactly what we all expected. And that's fine. Thomas: Well, that was quick. It got the Shield a big WrestleMania win, but it was ultimately too short to have any quality for it. I'm totally fine with these kinds of quick matches; they're necessary for pacing reasons. It just means that we had a quick match with one good moment (the finish) and that's it; we move on and never think of it much again. Cook: Not a whole lot to this one, and there probably shouldn't have been. Kane & the New Age Outlaws are not the kind of team that should threaten the Shield, and at the same time it gives the Shield even more credibility to squash these staples of the Attitude Era. The Triple Powerbomb on both Outlaws was pretty tight, and the Shield lives to fight another day. Nothing wrong with that. Meehan: Ever been on one of those roller coasters that starts by launching you from zero to sixty at the opening ascent? Yup, that's pretty much what this match felt like. Waaaaaay too fast right out of the gate to mean anything, and they never really managed to hit the cruise control long enough to give the match anything resembling a story. Points to The Shield for the impressive visual to bring things to a close, but this one was a blur from the word "go." Berenstein: Decidedly NOT the kind of Shield six-man tag match fans have become accustomed to on other Pay Per Views and WWE television, but it shouldn't have been and didn't need to be that way. Thank goodness for that. Yeah, so they were short-changed for time, but I'll trade that Mania time for not breaking up and more time overall together as a unit. Plus, on the face of it, there was just no way the New Age Outlaws could compete with the young lions and any advantage from Kane would have short-lived. This was a vicious and one-sided rout by Rollins, Ambrose and especially Reigns. Essentially this was as much a squash as a six-man tag could be given the number of players involved in such a match. Thank goodness for that. We did NOT need to see Billy Gunn or Road Dogg on continued offense on any member of The Shield. So everyone on The Shield was able to show off their personality and what they contribute to make their unit dominant. Superman punches, flip dives, spears and the "double-triple" powerbomb, thank you and please drive through. Acero: Well soooomebody went a little over in the opener, didn't they!? In all actuality, I'm not upset. This was the best five minutes of what the match possibly could have been, assuming that they had something planned before. Regardless, this was the awesomeness that is The Shield. They kicked all kinds of ass, had a double dropkick and a double powerbomb, and a DOUBLE spear! I think if this were any other team or teams, we'd be upset, but given the amount of complaints that I saw online regarding the New Age Outlaws and their presence in the match, they should all be happy. Match Rating: Slimmer: *¾ Lansdell: ** Thomas: *½ Cook: * Meehan: *½ Berenstein: ** Acero: ** Average Match Rating: *¾
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Match Result: Antonio Cesaro wins the match, last eliminating the Big Show. Match Length: 13:22 Match Analysis: Slimmer: This was a match with 30 men in it, and 29 of them got tossed out of the ring. Luckily, the one guy that didn't get tossed made this a memorable match. Cesaro turned face and won a high profile match at WrestleMania, so it looks like WWE is finally ready to move him up to the next level. I wouldn't be surprised if we see Cesaro get at least one title shot in 2014. I'm not saying he'll win, but I think this is the year where he starts flirting with the main event. Lansdell: Horrible to start with, and when people like Big E went out pretty early I was worried they would give this one to Big Show for no good reason other than he's, well, a giant. But I'll be buggered backwards if that finish wasn't amazing. Hell, the last 8 people or so really put on a show. Ziggler got fired up before being kicked into oblivion and making me laugh. Poor guy just can't buy a break. Kofi was...well, Kofi. I really hope this means he gets himself another push, I always thought he was kept too far down the card. Sheamus and Del Rio eliminating each other was a cool spot that was well-executred, although it sadly means we'll probably have to endure that feud between two people with no direction. And of course that slam from Cesaro...well, my Twitter feed was nothing but "Holy shit" and the like right after it. It was an awesome feat of strength and a great WrestleMania moment for Cesaro, who is doubtless bound for the top. It's a tough one to rate since nothing really happened for most of the match, but the ending made it worthwhile. Thomas: Yep, that was a battle royal. It had some really fun moments in it, like Kofi's pinpoint accuracy and of course that awesome moment at the end where Cesaro slammed Show over the ropes, but all in all it was a moment to get a lot of people paydays and put Cesaro over with a big WrestleMania moment. I wasn't in love with this one but it was a perfectly acceptable match. Cook: This is a battle royal. Jerry Lawler commenting that 3MB was touring China with the Wok Band was the highlight. Miz got eliminated by the Cobra. His career has been better. Cody eliminates Goldust! I'm sure this won't come up again. Final 4 end up being ADR, Sheamus, Big Show & Cesaro. I hate none of these people, but Cesaro's the one that could be made by this match. And he is...HE FUCKING SLAMS BIG SHOW OUT OF THE RING. Holy Toledo. Big Show shakes his hand afterwards, he has to show some respect to the Swiss Superman! That man will be a major star...it's just a matter of time. Most of that was filler, but Cesaro slamming Big Show over the top is a WrestleMania Moment. Meehan: It's kind of hard to make a battle royal stand out. The first ten minutes of the bout were pretty much par for the course for your average multi-man schmozz (big men dominate, jobbers take the early falls, Kofi Kingston scores style points without winning), but to borrow a phrase that all the kewl kids are saying these days: "dat finish doe!!!!" Talk about a star-making moment. Cesaro's bodyslam of the Big Show may not quite live up to Hogan/Andre standards -- but as far as modern feats of strength go? It's a pretty great way to strap a rocket to a guy's back and watch his single's career take flight. Good for him, and it's cool to see the giant engraving plaque that's waiting to be filled on the front of the Andre trophy, which seems to indicate that this battle royal will end up being WWE's equivalent of the Stanley Cup going forward. Berenstein: This was a tale of two halves. The first part of the Battle Royal was an absolute cluster and quite awful. When almost everyone in my group, including me, is trying to figure out which wrestlers are which, that's a problem. I was not happy that no one aside from Big Show and Sheamus received entrances or were introduced. Too many new outfits and hairstyle changes as well. Things improved completely once the match dropped to about nine people involved. That meant more room to move around the ring, more high spots and close calls from the likes of Ziggler, Del Rio, Sheamus and the others. Kofi got snake-bitten with his close call spot, as he was clearly supposed to stick the landing. However, fortune was on his side and his feet still kept to the steps and not on the ground. kudos to all for going with it and not making his re-entrance seem awkward. Cesaro involved in the match until finding him in that field of nine, and even more pleasantly surprised to see him pushed so hard and to the win. His slamming the Big Show over the top was a nice capper to the win and I'm glad to see that good things are happening for him. First half was a DUD, second half was ***, so let's split the difference and add a little for Cesaro getting the big spotlight. Acero: Match was pretty much crap until Fandango danced a bit. Fandango's face after the beatdown? PERFECT. We did some more thinning out until Show gives Rey the mercy call – which I assumed was going to come back to bite him near the end…but it didn't. Then….THEN!!! KOFI!! GEEZ!! He got his bad ass non-elimination in. I was disappointed with Ziggler's elimination, and so was the crowd, but the man they were truly behind was Cesaro, and boy did he not disappoint. Hogan needs to take notes, because Cesaro not only LIFTED BIG SHOW, but TOSSED him over the top rope!! (With a little help, of course), but still a fucking hell of a sight. I mean guys…it was The Big Show… Match Rating: Slimmer: ** Lansdell: **¼ Thomas: **¼ Cook: ** Meehan: **½ Berenstein: ** Acero: ** Average Match Rating: **¼
John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt w/ Luke Harper and Erick Rowan
Match Result: John Cena defeats Bray Wyatt with the Attitude Adjustment. Match Length: 22:36 Match Analysis: Slimmer: Bray Wyatt is simply fascinating, and during this match the thought that I kept having over and over again is that I'm sad we'll never get to see a Bray Wyatt / Mankind feud. That would be incredible. And terrifying. Given the result of the next match, I completely understand why Cena had to remain virtuous and pick up the win. Cena turning to the Dark Side followed immediately by the end of the Streak would have been enough to scar everyone in attendance for life. Besides, Bray Wyatt doesn't necessarily need wins to advance his career; he just needs to keep giving us performances that work on a completely different level than anyone else in the company. Lansdell: You don't have to win a match to go over. A couple of times in the past couple of months Cena has put his opponent over huge while still winning the match, and it happened again here. Bray Wyatt showed he is every bit the star we all thought he would be, managing to both put on a good match in wrestling terms and tell a great psychological story. Cena once again proved that he deserves to be where he is, playing his part to perfection and showing temptation to succumb to Wyatt's taunting. Cena didn't show the wider variety of offence he has done in previous big outings, but this wasn't a match that really called for that. They set up a story that required Cena to be paranoid, skittish and even scared of Wyatt, and that's what we got. Watching Cena go after Harper and Rowan added another layer to the match. Strangely I would almost have preferred to see this match last month with Bray going over, before Cena got the win back tonight by overcoming the demons that the Wyatts were cultivating in him. Maybe we'll see Wyatt get a win in a rematch next month, and a continued build to next year when he can fight Taker at Mania. Yeah. Let that one sink in. How awesome would THAT build be? Thomas: A "will John Cena turn heel" storyline is like an Undertaker WrestleMania match (irony alert). We know the result is never in doubt, so it's the story that matters. In this case it was a well-booked story in the match that had a lot of great moments. I don't think this was the best match they could have had from a workrate perspective, but it was well-told. I do think the end booking was a little weak; as soon as the chair was pushed over I think we knew how that would turn out. But they tried hard and kept the drama going so that gets it a solid rating. Cook: It's so strange that John Cena isn't main eventing. But they're using him to make a guy they hope can be a top heel in the future, so it makes sense. These Wyatt fellas get creepier every time we see them, & Bray does a better job of enhancing his persona every time we see him. It's pretty awesome to watch people grow. Bray has been absolutely fantastic in this match. He's coming into his own as a big match performer. We saw it at Royal Rumble & we're seeing it now, and the fans are totally buying in. Cena wins so he can keep his legacy intact. This isn't a surprise. But I have a feeling this thing is far from over. Meehan: If you're a fan of storytelling over substance, than this one was for you. Sports Entertainment at its finest -- right down to the post-match embrace between our beloved champion and one of the youngest members of his true-believing fanbase. Hard to hate on a match that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, which was to put our true-blue hero to the test against a villain who is more concerned with chaos than victory. As for the finish? Some people will inevitably complain, but the way I see it, it's kind of like walking into The Dark Knight and getting bent out of shape when Batman refuses to stoop to The Joker's level. Was I pulling for Bray Wyatt throughout? No question. But the story they were telling was that Cena had to suppress the monster within in order to defeat the monster without. That's a gutsy and relatively compelling narrative to accomplish within the confines of a wrestling ring, and both guys brought their "A" game to do so, which made for one heck of a contest. Berenstein: A surprise finish...or not so much a surprise given it was "John Cena overcomes the odds...AGAIN". Really, how could we have expected anything different? Instant reaction to the result was that Wyatt did need this win and the loss is a short-term set-back to his push and the goal of creating a monster heel (although, I guess the next match took care of that part). Give Cena a ton of credit though-his body language and expressions told the story very strongly of frustration and being tempted into cheating to win. Of course, Cena doesn't give into temptation and wins out in the end. There was some good physical moments in-between some lulls in the action, but to be honest this one didn't do it for me. Acero: Son of a bitch, this was awesome! Cesaro wasn't the only one they were looking to make a star, it appears, because this match did so much for Bray Wyatt. It's so interesting to see what happens when you have a compelling story that ADDS to a match. The crowd interaction, the ref telling Cena "that's not who you are," the fucking crowd SINGING!!!! THE CROWD SANG, GUYS!! Watching Cena "struggle" with his internal monster, and doing the whole Superhero vs Villain dynamic was one of the bigger reasons this match was as good as it was. This takes nothing away from the actual wrestling, as both men looked great and Cena showed he was just as capable as selling as he is at not selling. Cena's struggle, sure, came off hokey at times but that's just cuz he's John Cena. His flying off the top rope onto The Family looked great; his pacing of the match was awesome, and it seems he really tried to make Wyatt look as creepy and awesome as we all want him to be. I don't think the end was ever in question, but the idea that Cena came close to breaking could spell a slight alteration in his persona….at least, I thought that until he went to hug the kid ringside. Still, great showing by Bray, and good job by Cena. Match Rating: Slimmer: ***¼ Lansdell: ***½ Thomas: ***½ Cook: ***½ Meehan: ***¾ Berenstein: **¾ Acero: ***¾ Average Match Rating: ***½
The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar w/ Paul Heyman
Match Result: Brock Lesnar defeats the Undertaker with the F5. Match Length: 25:20 Match Analysis: Slimmer: There's no way I can even begin to discuss my feeling about this match in just one paragraph. This will be the most talked about match of the night, and we'll be reading news articles for weeks about who knew what and when certain decisions were made. I think the unease felt by so many has to do not with the end of the Streak, but that we we're emotionally prepared for the end of the Streak. The build to Flair vs. Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV prepared us to say goodbye to Flair. The build to Michaels vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI prepared us to say goodbye to Michaels. Absolutely nothing about the build to this match prepared us to say goodbye to the Streak, and by extension, the Undertaker. There's a lot to think about, and a lot to be said. Many think this was Taker's last match, and they very well may be right. But what of those rumors that Taker was scheduled to face Sting at WrestleMania XXXI? Sting should never have been allowed to break the Streak, but if there's a light at the end of this tunnel, it's that Taker vs. Sting might be even more interesting now that the Streak is over. Taker's Streak is over, and he has nothing left to lose. Sting abandoned his entire legacy to take his shot at the legend. Two creatures of the darkness with absolutely nothing left but one more match. Done properly, there's an amazing story to be told there. Lansdell: Bowling show ugly. The problems here were legion: Lesnar's at his best when the fans feel sorry for his opponent, and nobody believed Lesnar could do it. The build to the match did nothing to suggest that Lesnar was any kind of threat, psychologically or otherwise. I'd go so far as to say it was lackluster. Taker is really showing his age, botching a couple of his signature spots and looking every minute of his age. The match plodded, it was uncomfortable to watch and even to listen to, and Lesnar wasn't able to do what Punk, HHH, HBK and Edge have been able to do in the past few years and really pull a great match out of the aging phenom. Taker looked older than Flair, skinnier than his wife and slower than Khali. Everything just plodded towards the inevitable Taker victory. Then they pulled the single biggest shocker I have seen in 30 years of watching professional wrestling. Everyone, EVERY SINGLE PERSON, looked completely flabbergasted as the three count came down, and I was not alone in expecting Hogan to come out and overturn the decision given the kickout so close to the three. Every crowd shot showed mouths agape, jaws dropped. Did they really just end the streak to give a part-timer a big win? A part-timer who walked out on the company before? A part-timer who has lost as much as he's won since coming back? This is how you book the greatest story in the last 22 years of WrestleMania? Yup. It's EXACTLY how you should have booked it. Taker is done. He looked awful. If Lesnar is going to stick around and do four shows next year, he needed a huge win to make him a legit threat again. Taker beating him while looking that awful would have buried any legitimacy Lesnar had left, and would have reduced the streak to a cheap marketing gimmick that should have ended long before it did. Could they have chosen a better opponent? Maybe, but Lesnar doing it means we get to hear Heyman crowing AND we get Lesnar as a serious threat to anyone and everyone going forward. It took guts to do it and whether it was always the plan or was an audible (either from Vince or from Taker himself), it could prove to be the most important result of the night. Match still sucked though. Thomas: I'm pretty speechless on this one. No one saw this end result coming, clearly. I'm not going to factor the result into the rating, but I will say that I'm depressed that it had to happen in such a bad match. There was absolutely zero chemistry in this match whatsoever and Taker looked bad the whole match. He probably shouldn't have come back for this, but he did. I'm actually glad that the Streak is over in some ways, but that doesn't make the match a good one at all. There wasn't even much of a story to it; it was disjointed and sloppy throughout. They even had to repeat a few spots to pad the length out. Sorry guys, this didn't even begin to do it for me. Cook: I am one of those guys that believes that the Undertaker should never lose at WrestleMania. It's like Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak, or Ted Williams batting over .400. It's a record that seems impossible to reach, and it should be. Unfortunately, this match seemed doomed before it started. The build did nothing to make us believe that Brock could end the streak, and the early going of this match was the slowest action of the evening by far. They finally got the crowd into things by kicking out of finishers. The sad thing here is Brock hit a 2nd F-5 and I had no doubt Undertaker would kick out. That's not good. There's no reason for Brock to kick out of a Tombstone other than we're just trading finishers here. Oh. Wait. Brock won. Everybody, myself included, is in complete shock. And it's not the good shock either, it's the "Huh" shock. Not a good match, not a good result. Undertaker's streak was a big part of the WrestleMania mystique, and for them to piss it away so they could make money off of Vegas is highly questionable. The streak had to end at some point. But this was not the time for it. Meehan: Wow. The historical significance of this match will ultimately be the thing that leaves the worst taste in people's mouths in the long run. But maybe that's a good thing, as the in-ring quality of this year's Undertaker WrestleMania match just didn't feel like the way I'd like to remember the dying embers of what is surely the most impressive winning streak in sports entertainment history. Fact is, Brock/Taker elicited that same unique sense of sadness and disappointment that's usually reserved for visiting an aging relative at a retirement home. Seriously, it was like they were wrestling underwater -- not exactly the stuff of legend. Don't get me wrong, I respect the hell out of The Undertaker, and I never wanted to see The Streak come to an end -- but if the best he could muster after a 365-day layoff is a sleepy submission fest and a slow-motion brawl? Never thought I'd say it, but perhaps it was the right move to put The Streak out to pasture and have the Dead Man go out facing the lights. Berenstein: Of course, ultimately this match will be remembered for the utter shock of The Streak coming to an end, cementing it in Wrestlemania history. I mean this was a total "WOAH, did that just happen?" moment-from the fans in attendance to the people in the party I attended and the folks I was texting with right after the match ended. The crowd reaction shots stemming from Brock F5ing Taker and pinning him clean as a sheet are going to be legendary-the stuff of infinitely replayed.gif shots. The match itself? Not all that great in the ring. Taker showed his age and was considerably slower than even his match against Punk last year. Lesnar didn't have a lot of offense. Taker's Hell's Gate submission looked sloppy and incredible, as in, not credible. Lesnar's offense was better executed, including the powerbomb break-outs of the submissions. Give the WWE credit for having the balls to go through with it. Give Taker credit for being willing to end his claim to fame and giving the shine to the guy no one expected to win. 21-1? We saw it happen at Wrestlemania XXX. Acero: had an entire paragraph written before the end of this match hit. I was ready to say how the slow plodding and somewhat boring way the match went with the obvious nature of the competitors. Then the end came and….just speechless. I can't say how wrong of a decision this is, because at the end of the day, it was most likely The Undertaker's decision. Still, I don't see ANY upside to this. I never thought the day would come when the Streak would end. I said it more than once, in columns, on radio shows, with friends, that it was such a concrete legacy that there was never anyone that would be able to benefit from it moreso than the loss of it would affect things. Here we are, 2014…and I can only assume that we saw The Undertaker in his last match at Wrestlemania… Match Rating: Slimmer: **½ Lansdell: *½ Thomas: ** Cook: ** Meehan: *** (two stars for the match, one star for the jaw-dropping outcome) Berenstein: **¾ Acero: ** Average Match Rating: **¼
Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational
Match Result: AJ Lee defeats Naomi with the Black Widow. Match Length: 7:05 Match Analysis: Slimmer: This was a sloppy mess. Just like you knew it was going to be. Seriously, WWE needs to decide if they want women to wrestle or models to star in reality shows. Either choice is perfectly acceptable, but they shouldn't act like they can have both. Lansdell: Holy shit Taker lost. Thomas: Yep, that was a short, sloppy and ugly Diva's match. That's honestly all I have to say about that one. I don't want to waste too many words on it, though I'm glad AJ went over. Cook: I gotta give these girls credit. This crowd was even more conditioned to not give a fuck than usual, but they still went balls to the wall. AJ won because I guess they want CM Punk to come back at some point. This reign has gone on about 5 more months than it should have. Whatever. Meehan: This was very, very not good. Next. Berenstein: Vickie Guerrero's maniacal laughter and excuse me will always be close to my heart, but this was worse than the first-half of the Andre Battle Royal, worse than Hulk Hogan (). Thank goodness no one got hurt, thank you Jesus and Mr. T's mother that Aksana didn't take anyone's eye balls out or kill anyone on this night. Just a total buffer match that WWE set out to purposefully give the crowd a transition to the main event after the shock of The Undertaker losing. I felt sorry for all of the women involved in that regard...but I'm sure WWE and E! will frame this on Total Divas as a total victory for the women because last year they were cut and this year-hey!-they're the semi main-event of the show! Yeah...no. Basically this was everyone get to the floor as quick as possible, give Emma and Summer Rae thirty seconds to show-off and then everyone hit their big one move and go home. AJ Lee retaining is a somewhat surprise except it seemed WWE was on a roll of doing the unexpected at this point of the show. Acero: There were small little spots of hope, and the Bellas diving onto the Divas was well done. Other than that, the only thing that matters is that AJ Lee won. Match Rating: Slimmer: ¾* Lansdell: * Thomas: ¾* Cook: ** Meehan: ¾* Berenstein: DUD Acero: ***** Average Match Rating: *½
Triple Threat Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship Randy Orton (Champion) vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan
Match Result: Daniel Bryan defeats Batista with the Yes Lock. Match Length: 23:18 Match Analysis: Slimmer: This match was overbooked on purpose, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'll be a diehard ECW fan until the day I die, and I so I absolutely admit that overbooking can be used to tell an amazing story if done properly. Given that the went the overbooked interference / crooked referee / stretcher route, I actually think they should have gone farther. Kane and the New Age Outlaws could have surrounded the ring only to be thwarted by the Shield (think Corporation and DX when Foley won the title). And speaking of that match, do you remember the pop when Austin returned to help Foley win the belt? Just imagine if Punk had made the save and helped Bryan finally climb the mountain. The roof seriously might have come off the place – and that's a really big roof. Anyway, the whole point of this match was to give Bryan his moment, and that's definitely what was accomplished. The shock of the Undertaker's loss definitely dampened the mood, but it was a special moment nonetheless. Lansdell: Daniel Bryan did the impossible: he resurrected a crowd that was still reeling from Undertaker's loss. I won't fall into the trap many of my esteemed colleagues likely will, overrating the match based on the result, but it was a good one. I have a hard time enjoying anything Batista does, and he was too prominent here for me to enjoy the match as much as I wanted to. The table spot was incredibly cool but not enough, on its own, to bring the match up to the level of the opener in my mind. What will be interesting is where we go from here. Orton was protected for some reason with Batista eating the fall, but you have to believe ol' peanut head is getting another shot. Why would you agree to come back and win the Rumble just to tap out at Mania? Bryan needs to hold that belt for a good while, probably at least until SummerSlam, to keep the fans happy. The visual was a great end to Mania though, and after the enormous shock of seeing Cena win, errr I mean Taker lose, the rest of the predictable finishes make a lot more sense. Thomas: This wasn't the best match on the card in terms of in-ring work. But it had the best story. They seriously stacked the deck unbelievably against Daniel Bryan and the way that it played out throughout the match was fantastic. This was exactly what needed to happen. There were some bad-ass spots and the ring psychology was good; the way the Authority was dealt with worked and Bryan came out of it looking like a true star. There were some things that bugged me; the way that the announcers verbally kind of buried Orton in the beginning by calling him an afterthought in the build (seriously guys, you don't have to point it out) and not all the spots were as good as they could have been. But it was the feel-good moment and Bryan came out with a legitimate winner who didn't need any run-ins or the like to pull it off. Works for me. Cook: This thing only works if Bryan wins. So of course Triple H & Stephanie did the run-in, with the crooked referee Scott Armstrong to make their pinfall, and it didn't work. This whole night for me came down to Daniel Bryan beating Triple H & winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship...and by Gawd he did it. I've followed him since the Ring of Honor days, and have lived & died with him for the past couple of years now, and he's reached the top of the wrestling universe. He's come a long way from main eventing the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, and I feel so proud every time I see him kicking ass & taking names. If you were going to end Undertaker's streak tonight, you had to send them home happy. And I think they did. Meehan: After the finish to The Undertaker match, it seemed like it might take a minor miracle in order to redeem the crowd's faith in humanity and the WWE booking committee. Thankfully, this match had everything a wrestling fan could ask for. Inventive spots? Check. Teased screwjobs? Yup. Babyfaces in medical peril? You know it. False finishes? By the boatload. Even the outside interference was kept to a logical minimum as every bit of ringside distraction felt more like an overdue comeuppance than an overbooked schmozz. And that finish -- though I'll probably catch some heat for this -- was arguably the best ending to a WrestleMania main event since a certain forgotten champion scored a clean tapout victory in Madison Square Garden some ten years ago. If professional wrestling is about emotional catharsis and long-form storytelling (in spite of its many missteps and detours along the way), then WrestleMania 30 will go down in the record books as the crowning achievement in the year-long chronicle of Daniel Bryan's rise to the top. A perfect end to a story that had the fans hanging on their every move. Berenstein: Ari Berenstein: This entire event and how it would be viewed in both the short-term and the long-term always revolved around what WWE had decided to do with Daniel Bryan. If they pulled the trigger on him, then I think most people would have viewed and will view this night as a success, no matter what the thoughts or star-ratings were for any individual match. If Bryan lost here, well, things could have gone ugly in New Orleans. Of course, WWE did the smart thing, the right thing, and gave the fans (or at least the majority of them) what they wanted to see – Daniel Bryan winning the title. Batista looked very sloppy early on, and gave me pause to think of just how bad this could have been if it was just a one-on-one bout. The crowd was shockingly quiet when Bryan wasn't in the ring. Batista seemed to get on track as the match went on, which was a good thing. Poor Randy, not only did he take third wheel in this match, but he took an awful bump onto the monitor square on his back during the Batista-Bomb / RKO (really a neckbreaker but we'll pretend) through the table. The shoulder storyline played out to the end and so did Triple H and Stephanie with their expected resurfacing, but they all got theirs, so no problems from me. Orton knocked to the floor and Batista tapping out was the surprise to me, since it seemed the logical finish was for Orton to take the pin and Batista to complain about being jobbed out of a one-on-one match and not even being involved in the decision. Daniel Bryan did what he does best here-rally the crowd with his offense, pull out the come-from-behind victory. The closing moments were a celebration of his story and his success and even though JBL and Michael Cole ran the gamut of cliched platitudes fans have heard before, that couldn't take away the magic of seeing one of the very best "professional wrestlers" win and celebrate, center stage in New Orleans, Louisiana on the thirtieth Wrestlemania. Acero: By the time we got here, I was deflated. AJ's win helped, but I think I needed Bryan to win. With that not necessarily in question to begin with, they did a hell of a lot to make you believe that it wasn't going to happen. Some emotional rollercoasting was all up in this bitch, seriously. Neither Orton nor Batista slouched in the least. They were integral parts of this main event and played their parts to perfection, particularly Orton who landed directly on a monitor, BACK FIRST. Brutal. I won't go so far as to say that the WWE has been right during all this, but Mania, and the entire booking of Daniel Bryan was more than right. Triple H sold like a motherfucker for this guy in the opening match. Batista and Orton sold for him also. Batista tapped. Bryan is our new Champion. I'm sad about Taker, but this was a great ending to a great Wrestlemania. Match Rating: Slimmer: **** Lansdell: *** Thomas: ****½ Cook: **** Meehan: **** Berenstein: ***½ Acero: **** Average Match Rating: ***¾
Match of the Night: Slimmer: Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H (****¼) Lansdell: Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H (****¼) Thomas: Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan (****½) Cook: Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan (****) Meehan: Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan (****) Berenstein: Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H (****) Acero: Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan (****)
Trash of the Night: Slimmer: The Shield vs. Kane & The New Age Outlaws *¾) Lansdell: Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational (*) Thomas: The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar (**) Cook: The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar (**) Meehan: Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational (¾*) Berenstein: Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational (DUD) Acero: The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar (**)
Verdict: Slimmer: ***¼ Lansdell: ***¼ Thomas: ***¾ Cook: ***½ Meehan: BUY (the WWE Network. More than worth it for the price) Berenstein: *** Acero: ****½ Average Verdict: ***½
And I guess that's it. I can't tell you how much it meant to me to have Chris, Jeremy, Cook, Meehan, Ari, and Tony on board for my last IA. I could have done this column for another decade and never put together a panel that amazing again. Thanks, guys. I know that the column is in good hands with Tony.
Oh, and someone needs to call a cab for Small. Dude's still pretty messed up.