Cashing in on the Human Connection: WrestleMania 31 Review

by BROCK KOLLER

It has been almost a week, more than enough time to collect my thoughts, build my opinions, and reflect on last Sunday’s sports entertainment extravaganza that was WrestleMania 31.  

WWE

WWE

Like many others, I could’ve written this review right after the event concluded. I could’ve raced to the keyboard and started pounding out my instant analysis with my pulse racing and my energy ablaze.  

However, I decided not to and, instead, take a few days, digest what I watched on the WWE Network and return with a calmer, more insightful approach. Well, I hope to be insightful.

As a whole, WrestleMania 31 was a memorable, exciting, and wondrous show. But what made it such a phenomenal success? That could be answered by looking at my preview article that had it being compared to WrestleMania XI , a WrestleMania that many do not consider a success of any sort.

Yes, WrestleMania 31 was so outstanding for a couple reasons. One being it surpassed the hype -  a hype that was questionable, a hype that was filled with lackluster buildup, a hype that was mediocre at best. But WrestleMania 31 could have just been a good show and it would still have surpassed the quote-unquote hype, but it wasn’t just good, it was enjoyable.

The fact that many fans – smarks and casuals alike – were not thrilled of the idea of a Roman Reigns – Brock Lesnar main event made it even better when that match turned into a showcase of both superstars’ power and tenacity. Yes, the fact that many people doubted the match made the match so much better.

I think that goes for the entire event. The fact that many people believed this to be just a pit stop on the road to WrestleMania 32 in Jerry’s World made WrestleMania 31 feel grander.

But like I said, WM31 could have been just good and because of the low expectations going in, that only would have made this a top Mania, but it wasn’t just good, it was really, really, really good.

So lack of enthusiasm going in aside, what made it that great?

Never thought I’d say this in a WrestleMania review, but LL Cool J had it right – the human connection.

In WM31’s intro, Mr. ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ gave an impassioned speech about what WrestleMania is. In that soliloquy he said what connects us all is us – or something along those lines, as at the time I was just staring at the Roku making sure the Network did not disconnect.

But his phrase of the ‘human connection’ really stuck out and turned out to be why WrestleMania 31 left fans feeling happy about watching wrestling. (Sometimes fans are left not happy, i.e. the night after at Raw.)

The human connection fans have with Daniel Bryan made a ladder match of a random assortment of kleptomaniacs, I mean wrestlers, vying for a belt meaningful. Why were R-Truth and Dean Ambrose stealing the title? Who cares. We just want Daniel Bryan to win because he deserves to win because he understands us. Human connection.

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WWE

Of course, a ladder match can’t be a ladder match without a sick bump. Thank you, Dean Ambrose.

Moving on, my pick for match of the night was all about the human connection, in that we understood the motives behind the match.  We understood why these two warriors were beating each other up. We understood revenge.

Randy Orton and Seth Rollins had what I would call ‘the prototype WrestleMania match.’ Two wrestlers.  A reason.  A ring.  

If I had my way, every match on WrestleMania would have a story behind it like this that made sense.

Yes, like the majority of matches on the card, the buildup was wonky, but with 5 plus hours a week to fill, even the most talented screenwriter would have his problems.

And this match also had the spot of the night with the Curb Stomp into the RKO. I could watch that for hours. A thing of beauty.

Now what about Sting vs. Triple H? A match that had so much interference from the 1990s, you thought perhaps the Snapple Lady would show up and hit Hunter in the head with a Kirby doll.

But it was fun. It was a fun match. A fun match is a good match to me.

We got to see Sting wrestle in the WWE for the first time ever. We got to see him perform a dropkick, Scorpion Deathlock, and Stinger Splash in a WWE ring.

We got to see the bat, the sledgehammer, and all the trimmings that go with them. We got to see DX and the NWO, two factions that revolutionized this business.

Yes, the NWO and DX’s connection with Triple H and the real life Kliq made their interference a bit confusing. Yes, the NWO's backing of Sting was also a head scratcher. But when you just believe in what you are seeing and you go along for the ride, you realize this match was as fun as WWE can get, all without being campy, corny, and juvenile.

And we got to see Shawn Michaels give Sweet Chin Music to Sting! I’ve written that line one other time in my life and that was during my days as a WWE fan fiction author.

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WWE

DX and Triple H vs. NWO and Sting brought us a WrestleMania moment because we connected to it. We understood the history behind it and the history of it.

The only thing I didn’t see coming was Sting losing in his long-long awaited WWE debut. Triple H winning did lead to The Rock, Ronda Rousey segment, but I still feel that the wrong man won this one.

The Divas match and John Cena vs. Rusev, I’ll lump together. Two good matches. But none were match of the night nominees. The Divas match did its job of displaying their skills, but was still only 6 minutes. And Cena vs. Rusev was a rematch from the month before. I can’t get passed that. WrestleMania should not have rematches unless absolutely necessary. The rematch factor took me out of this one.  

The Authority segment with the Rock and Rousey was a mainstream, SportsCenter, surprise moment.

The Rock has now been a part of the last 5 WrestleManias, which shows that he hasn’t forgotten his roots, not by a longshot. As for my roots? It doesn’t matter what my roots are. (Had to do it.)

Some may say this segment went on a tad too long, but the Rock (and for that matter Stephanie McMahon) knows how to interact with the crowd. Plus, the shock of seeing a UFC star not named Brock Lesnar in a WWE ring made this is a sight to see.

While awesome, it was definitely a different feeling than if it was a one on one match between Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan, as we saw the next night on Raw. This was a talking match as opposed to a wrestling match. Nothing wrong with that.  And it did have big name stars, but this is the only place on the card where that ‘WrestleMania 31 is just a pit stop on the road to WrestleMania 32’ argument could be made.  Should this have happened on Raw instead of Mania? It’s a tossup.

We could’ve had the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal stay on the actual card if this segment was scratched, but what would have connected more with the crowd? I think, while this talking match was longer than some other matches at Mania, it did an admirable job of keeping the audience’s attention.

The best part of the Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt match was seeing the Undertaker being the Undertaker.

Last year, the Undertaker who showed up at WrestleMania 30 was anything but the Phenom. He looked frail and depleted. This year, whether it was the hair or the hat, the Undertaker looked like himself again. He resembled a combination of his heel biker version from WrestleMania X8 and his gothic return look from WrestleMania XX. But he also brought with him all his signature moves for his 23rd WrestleMania match.

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WWE

As for Bray, reports indicated he was injured prior to this match. If all those rumors are true, he deserves a standing ovation for his performance.  He and his creepy scarecrows.

Let’s take a moment to discuss those WrestleMania entrances – Triple H was the Terminator, Sting had drums, Rusev was in a tank, Cena became Ronald Reagan, and Wyatt had the scarecrows. (The Undertaker, well, had his patented entrance, but that happens WrestleMania or not.) Were these entrances affective?

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WWE

I didn’t really understand Sting’s association to the drums. Triple H likes skeletons and the Terminator is all about skeleton looking robots so that made sense. Rusev’s Cold War-esque entrance was fitting and Cena was Mr. USA this month so his use of a patriotic video suited him. The only thing that hurt Wyatt’s entrance was that Mania was on the west coast and it was still light outside. The scarecrows would have looked a lot creepier stumbling in the spotlights under the dark skies.

I for one like the big entrances at Mania. Now, we shouldn’t overuse them. I think 3 matches is the limit. But whether you found Triple H’s entrance ‘Shockmaster’ level bad or not, at least he tried and this was the night to try.

Now back to that main event. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar was not a wrestling classic in the vein of Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage or Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin, but for the type of guys that they are, they brought it. A little blood didn’t hurt their cause either. It added to the human connection. It added to the fight. This match was for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on the biggest stage of them all – that’s worth bleeding for.

WWE

WWE

They told the story the only way they could. Lesnar needed to pummel Reigns, but Reigns needed to take it. Reigns needed to take a trip to Suplex City and smile. Reigns needed to show he can absorb the punishment and still have fight in him. This match was Roman Reigns’ plea to the WWE Universe – ‘Respect me and I will not let you down.’

Reigns didn’t win. Lesnar didn’t win. But it still made sense. And the audience was still able to connect because we had Seth Rollins. We understood Rollins and his role.

We’ve been watching his path to the championship for almost a year. I’ve said it numerous times on social media, in Lesnar’s absence, Rollins was the de facto champion.

Not only did Rollins bring that connection with him when he ran down the aisle to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase, but he also brought with him the element of surprise.  Surprise is one of the greatest gifts WWE can give to their viewers. There is so much obviousness, as well as spoilers, in wrestling these days, the art of the surprise is hard to master. But when WWE does, oh when it does, it makes grown men turn into little boys screaming with delight that they did not see that one coming.

Seth Rollins walking out champion was a remarkable way to end a remarkable show.  

For an event that had many worried along the way, it left the world standing on its feet.

A forgettable, at sometimes unpleasant twisty road led to a memorable and quite entertaining twisty WrestleMania.

And the fact that there were so many ways to connect to the superstars on the card made this event a surprising success.

LL Cool J was right all along.