Wrestlemania Challenge Day 31

We begin the home stretch of the Wrestlemania Challenge series as the brand traveled to California to host another outdoor stadium event. Overall, this show is considered very solid, but I wasn’t necessarily as enthusiastic about it, especially after re-watching it for this article. Obviously, we will discuss the details here, but I think from a general perspective, the broadcast delivered on the in-ring action, but missed the mark just as much, if not more so in terms of the booking. More than anything, this show was the official start of the Roman Reigns marathon push, as he started a recurring role in the main event, despite being completely rejected by the audience. More on that later. A side note, I have to say that this was also the start of the marathon era of WM shows that we currently have from the product, and it’s just as exhausting watching this shows again to review. Keep in mind, I stay a few days ahead so that I can write a fresh review and then watch the next show while being able to post these regularly throughout the pandemic. When these events get to 5-6 hours, it become more like a chore to watch them than something fans would want to watch again for pure entertainment. I’ve discussed it often in recent years about how such an extended show can affect the viewing experience, but beyond that it also hinders the viewing to watch these events again.

The show opened with a ladder match for the IC championship and it delivered the entertaining spot that are usually booked for a ladder match at WM. Daniel Bryan won, which was great, but this was basically a consolation prize since he wasn’t in the main event. As a reminder, Bryan had to relinquish the WWE championship because of an injury shortly after he won the title the previous year so many fans wanted to see him reclaim the belt this year, but management had other plans. We all know how the crowd in Pittsburgh famously let the office know they weren’t happy with the decision to keep Bryan out of the Royal Rumble match in 2014, but the argument could be made that WWE brass made an even bigger mistake the following year when they had him in the match, but eliminated half way through the Rumble. His appearance got the fans’ hopes up and his elimination was a total disappointment so they would’ve been better off not to book him in the match at all if he wasn’t going to win it. This was one of the critical mistakes they made that did Roman Reigns no favors from the start of his mega push. Very similar to how Batista was seen as the guy that took Bryan’s spot in 2014, Roman was cast in that light the next year.

Randy Orton beat Seth Rollins in a really solid match after he countered the curb spot into a tremendous RKO. As I’ve discussed throughout this series, there appear to be times that Orton looks to be unmotivated and mailed-in his performance, but that wasn’t what we saw him. Orton put in the work and delivered a quality bout. Rollins’ defeat was only used to set up for a bigger surprise when he would cash-in during the main event so it was a wise booking decision, even if the formula has been used before.

When Sting showed up at Survivor Series in 2014, it was a legitimate surprise and I thought we’d never see him in a WWE ring, mostly because there had been rumors of a possible arrival for over a decade, including the hype video that surfaced on Raw that eventually revealed the return of The Undertaker, but nothing panned out. Plus, Sting was one of the highest-paid guys on the WCW roster and made top money in TNA so he didn’t have to look for another paycheck. He was on the record about why he didn’t sign a WWE deal previously, because of the way former WCW talent was booked under the McMahon banner so all things considered, especially with his age at the time, Sting finally debuting in the WWE looked to be a long shot at best. His arrival was absolutely tremendous and the atmosphere when he stepped into the ring was electric. Unfortunately, when he stepped into a WWE ring again, this time for an actual match, the reality of the 56-year-old star wrestling again was apparent when the bell rang. The effort was there, but Sting showed his age, which isn’t meant as a jab at him, but just a realistic observation of the situation. I understand why they added the smoke and mirrors with the run-ins and included some weapons because it could camouflage some of Sting’s limitations at that point, but it became too convoluted and the bout should’ve probably been shorter because it began to drag after the ten-minute mark. It’s ironic that Sting’s original resistance to a WWE contract was how former WCW talent was booked, but in his first match in the company, he was booked to lose against Triple H. It’s important to note that when an older legend returns to the ring, the last thing the audience wants to see is a reminder that they are past their prime. Maybe allowing for a short match that gave Sting a chance to showcase some of his signature spots would’ve been a better way to present him in his WWE debut then him getting pinned by a member of the McMahon family. That being said, is anyone really surprised that Triple H beat him?

AJ and Paige beat The Bellas, but it was only five minutes and more of a Raw match than a WM contest. This was another example of the divas being used to pace the card. Thankfully, they would get more of a chance in the years that followed.

John Cena beat Rusev for the US title. The most memorable aspect here was Rusev’s entrance on the tank. The match itself was fine, but the booking was very similar to the previous year when Cena pinned Wyatt and there was essentially no benefit to anyone involved. As I’ve said before, Cena could lose every match for the rest of his career and he will still be just as over as he is now because he’s that over with the audience. Maybe defeating Cena on the big stage would’ve done more to establish Rusev at the time, but that wasn’t the direction of the angle. Furthermore, the argument could be made that management missed the boat on him multiple times, including in the months before his release.

The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt match was lackluster and The Undertaker showed his age here. I’ve said it before throughout this series, but once the streak was broken, The Undertaker’s matches at WM just haven’t had the same atmosphere. The angle made sense because the Bray Wyatt persona worked well with The Undertaker and the promo work ahead of it was solid, but there was a decline with the bell-to-bell action. The Undertaker won, but the bloom was off the rose so to speak because it didn’t have that big time environment that is usually associated with The Undertaker at Wrestlemania.

The main event was a physical and entertaining bout. Brock’s sporadic remark about suplex city paved the way for t-shirts, chants, and promo references. The Seth Rollins cash-in was his WM moment, but the argument could be made that a combination of whiny scripted promos from the writing team and the continued push of Roman Reigns has more or less kept Rollins at the same level he was here. This goes back to the discussion point that very few on the WWE roster are a draw and move the needle, while most are used as interchangeable parts. For example, Seth wrestled Brock in the opening match at WM a few years after this, but would it really have made a difference in the number of tickets sold or the number of WWE Network subscriptions if Finn Balor was booked against Lesnar instead of Rollins? As mentioned earlier, management didn’t do Reigns any favors with the promos that were scripted for him or how he was presented to the audience. His forced push was too obvious and it became more about the office trying to tell the people who they should cheer than the task of Reigns getting over with the crowd. The bottom line is, the Roman Reigns mega push was ultimately the result of the lack of competition in the industry because the corporate agenda, not fan demand determined the direction of the product.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta