SANTA CLARA – WrestleMania XXXI exceeded all expectations.
Count Jim Ross, Diamond Dallas Page, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts among those impressed by the WWE’s Showcase of Immortals.
“I was really blown away by the whole show,” said Page. “It was pretty amazing from top to bottom, and that main event was amazing booking.”
WrestleMania contained more than its share of twists and turns, including the wrestling debut of Sting in a WWE ring, as well as run-ins from Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, and The Rock. Eternal underdog Daniel Bryan opened the card by winning the Intercontinental championship, and a new world heavyweight champion was crowned to close out the show. “Mr. Money in the Bank” Seth Rollins cashed in his championship contract and pinned Roman Reigns in an impromptu triple threat main event, allowing Brock Lesnar to lose his title without actually tapping out or losing by pinfall.
“We are only one or two creative wrinkles away from Brock Lesnar becoming the biggest babyface in WWE,” said Ross. “Lesnar will be so much more effective as the returning, conquering hero. People want to cheer him.”
WWE announced that Levi’s Stadium set a building record with 76,976 fans, good enough for fifth on the all-time list of attendance records at WrestleMania. The look of the outdoor show evolved as bright sunlight was swallowed up by the dusk. The crowd saw the Undertaker enter the ring in daylight for the first time since WrestleMania IX and witnessed his first match in nearly a year.
“It’s great to see Mark [Calaway] back in the ring,” said Roberts, who battled the Undertaker over two decades ago at WrestleMania VIII. “Last year was tough on him.”
Ross was particularly impressed with the physical condition of the 50-year-old Undertaker, who suffered a concussion in his match with Lesnar a year ago at WrestleMania XXX.
“I know the ‘Taker’s been doing a lot of MMA-style training,” said Ross. “His wife, [former WWE superstar] Michelle McCool, has been a real positive influence on Mark’s training. She is a physical fitness freak of nature and a big nutritionist, so he’s sleeping with the best trainer in the world. He looked fantastic.”
The Undertaker improved his WrestleMania record to 22-1 with the victory. His opponent, Bray Wyatt, still managed to look solid in defeat.
“The ring psychology was pretty damn good,” said Roberts, who is ready to lace up his boots for one more WrestleMania moment of his own with Wyatt. “Bray is approaching that crossover point, where the people love you because you’re a freak and are afraid not to like you. Now I’m starting to think I’ve got one match left. I’ve already talked about it and Bray has too. It would be an awesome fairy tale ending.”
Next year’s edition of WrestleMania will be held at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas. WWE hopes to pack 100,000 fans into the stadium, and hinted that UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey will be part of the extravaganza.
“Stephanie McMahon vs. Ronda Rousey would be a hit at WrestleMania 32,” said Ross, the former WWE broadcaster whose new “Ross Report” podcast hits the airwaves this Tuesday. “What will happen if Ronda Rousey steps into Stephanie McMahon’s ring? I just loved that line from Stephanie [as the two women sparred verbally in the ring].
“Ronda took down Hunter with a judo throw, but she never applied the full arm bar on Stephanie. So let’s say Ronda and Stephanie sign a contract to fight at WrestleMania, and then Stephanie explains that her husband will serve as the special guest referee. And, with her money and influence, Stephanie will stack the deck in the McMahon favor. They did some good stuff tonight, I’m already excited for next year.”
Another highlight was the match between Triple H and Sting. The match was exhilarating but the finish stunned the crowd, as the 56-year-old former WCW icon lost a match that many fans were certain he would win.
“Sting did a hell of a job,” said Page, a WCW legend in his own right who has been very successful outside the squared circle with his DDP Yoga. “Going out and doing twenty minutes at ‘Mania when you haven’t done a big show in thirteen years? He delivered, and then all the other guys got involved and you have all the bells and whistles.”
Sting and Triple H dealt with outside interference, as legendary WWE and WCW factions in the NWO and D-Generation X unexpectedly collided for the first time in history.
“DX is a spinoff of the NWO, and there were a lot of legacies on display in that presentation, including Sting,” said Ross. “I’ve known Sting for 30 years since his rookie year in the business. More than anything, he wanted that WrestleMania moment.
“I know there’s already a rash of angst and anger from fans for Sting losing, but Sting’s goal was always to wrestle the Undertaker at a WrestleMania and try to break the streak. He would have lost that match, too. But Sting and Triple H told a very good story, and Sting had a lot of moments where he was shining. I loved when he threw down that baseball bat and broke the sledgehammer. That’s the moment right there that told the story – Sting is a good guy, a hero who is going to beat you without any weapons. That story is so much more important than the win-loss record.”
Despite so much of the card depending on well-known, veteran performers, the show was stolen by the company’s future, 28-year-old Rollins. He capitalized on Reigns and Lesnar courtesy of his “Money in the Bank” contract after both men were battered and bruised, and won the WWE championship for the first time in his career.
“Rollins is very similar to Shawn Michaels,” said Page. “The size, the look, the act, the moves, and he’s not afraid to do anything. There is a great future in Rollins and he can work with anybody.”
Rollins – who skillset and mic skills make him vastly different than Lesnar and Reigns – has the wrestling universe salivating for his run as champ.
“The great thing about Rollins is he is a beatable heel who will slip and slide his way into successful title defenses,” said Ross. “That’s also how Ric Flair defended his title. And Rollins should go right into a feud with Reigns.
“The WWE has a lot of bright, young guys who just need time to gain the trust and credibility with the fan base. Roman Reigns is living proof of that. The fans decided he wasn’t ready for prime time so they made him the villain. In reality, Roman Reigns just needs more time. I like how the WWE is using its staples and the nostalgic acts to give rubs to the younger guys, and I’m very interested to see where we go from here.”
Mick Greenwood contributed to this report.