ARLINGTON, TX – The past, present, and future were all part of WrestleMania 32.
Nearly all of wrestling’s icons were present, including a returning John Cena, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Sting, and Mick Foley. WrestleMania was universally applauded as creative, compelling, and won over the majority of cynics after a subpar build-up.
Then Roman Reigns went over cleanly in the main event.
The boos cascaded from the rafters to ringside as WWE crowned its new champion and desired choice for face of the company.
“I give the show a B-minus,” said legendary broadcaster and WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross. “The buildup was somewhat tepid since they were scrambling around with so many injuries, and there wasn’t much buzz going into WrestleMania, so I thought the show overachieved.”
The show started hot with the seven-man ladder match for the Intercontinental title. Zack Ryder was rewarded for being a team player, keeping a positive attitude to his demotion from the main roster to NXT. Chris Jericho also shocked the record-breaking AT&T Stadium crowd of 101,763 with a pinfall victory over AJ Styles. In what can only be referred as the “Sting treatment,” Styles was unable to wear off the stain of working for TNA in time for his match at WrestleMania.
“Many people thought the wrong guy won in Chris Jericho,” said Ross. “But if all the variables of who’s going over are somewhat even, then loyalty is a consideration. Chris Jericho is an incredible talent and has done an awful lot for the company, and loyalty should be valued beyond just a pay day.”
Ross also noted that many of the WrestleMania storylines, including the feud between Jericho and Styles, are far from over.
“This series isn’t over, and AJ Styles will prevail,” said Ross. “Now if there is no follow-up, then you can scratch your head at the decision.
“I could book the opposite finish of every match at WrestleMania because there are a lot of ways to do something right. That’s the beauty of this business, so the key to it all is how the WWE follows up.”
WWE will proudly champion the fact that WrestleMania grossed $17.3 million, but for many fans – Ross included – the highlight was seeing old friends in “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, and Mick Foley dispose of the League of Nations after their upset victory over the New Day.
“I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but I forgot about the New Day loss very quickly,” said Ross. “The post-match was the highlight, and I enjoyed seeing three of my favorite people return in an unadvertised manner. Austin called me earlier in the day from the stadium just to shoot the breeze. Seeing his stunner, Michaels’ Sweet Chin Music, and Foley’s mandible claw brought back great memories for long-term fans. I only wish the League of Nations cheated more to beat the New Day, so they had a controversial win and more reason for those three legends to come to the ring.”
Brock Lesnar defeated Dean Ambrose in a no holds barred Street Fight in just under thirteen minutes. Despite a solid match, expectations were raised to the point where people hoped to see a career-defining match for Ambrose.
“When you advertise a street fight, people expect blood,” explained Ross. “It is hard to have a bloodless street fight that creates angst and drama. I am not advocating that blood should return, but you put yourself in a corner when you book a match like this without including blood.
“But it took thirteen suplexes and an F5 on a stack of steel chairs for Brock Lesnar to beat Dean Ambrose. When you put it in that context, Ambrose didn’t fair so badly.”
Even away from the WWE broadcast booth, the 64-year-old Ross remains on top of his game. His Ross Report podcast drops every Tuesday at 9pm ET, his voice his heard every Friday night in primetime on AXS TV’s New Japan Pro Wrestling, and he just signed a deal with CBS Sports to announce boxing. His weekend in Dallas was busy, as he hosted his one-man show at the Dallas House of Blues and even sat ringside for NXT Takeover: Dallas on Friday.
“I can make an argument that the best two matches I saw all weekend were the two women’s matches,” said Ross. “There were no better two damn matches than Asuka and Bayley at NXT and then Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch in the triple threat match at WrestleMania. They were well laid-out, well executed, and the stories made sense.”
Ross famously called the Undertaker-Mick Foley Hell in a Cell match in 1998, and noticed some similarities between the legendary Foley fall and Shane McMahon plunging nearly thirty feet off the top of the cage to his demise.
“The reason the Undertaker moved was to lessen the collateral damage by fifty percent,” noted Ross. “When Foley landed, he didn’t land on a body, either. That way you can adjust your body and shock-absorb that fall as best you can.
The Undertaker delivered his best match at WrestleMania since three years prior against CM Punk, and this thirty-minute affair delivered. Ross never doubted the ability of the 51-year-old Undertaker or 46-year-old McMahon.
“Shane and the Undertaker both overachieved,” Ross. “They both have a very good skill set, and they’re both smart enough not to venture too far from it.”
After teasing the Big Show and Kane as the favorites to win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, Baron Corbin delivered a breath of fresh with his surprise upset in a match that included Diamond Dallas Page, Tatanka, and Shaquille O’Neal. The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders then led Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to the ring for his verbal spar – and quick bout – with the Wyatt Family. John Cena also returned in protected spots to help even the playing field, and the segment was significantly tighter than the forty-minute disaster with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon from a year prior.
After nearly six hours, WrestleMania 32 finally concluded with the main event between Triple H and Roman Reigns. The weary crowd did not applaud the decision to have Reigns win his third WWE championship.
“The WWE kept believing their machine could make Roman Reigns a fan favorite by WrestleMania, and it didn’t happen,” said Ross. “That’s a matter of how he was booked. WWE has cast Reigns as a hero, but viewers do not accept him in that role.
“People gravitate to attitude. Austin’s attitude still holds up. Reigns became that defiant, anti-establishment guy, so people naturally compare him to the last anti-establishment guy, and that is Stone Cold. Those are awfully big shoes to fill.”
WWE’s roster was not at full strength, dealing with a handful of injuries to major stars, and Ross believes the original plan for the main event was for Seth Rollins to defend the title against Reigns.
“Rollins would have done the honors for Reigns,” said Ross. “And it’s a shame he’s hurt, because Seth would have been hotter than a pistol if he were healthy. He was really evolving into a great heel.”
Despite the cold finish, Ross believes the WWE has the product in a phenomenal position for success, beginning tonight on Raw.
“Reigns was a victim of timing and booking, but WWE really has the table set for a special heel turn. Unless WWE is hell bent on casting him as a hero, Reigns is posed for a big turn, possibly as soon as tonight. He would make a great heel champion.
“Unless he’s deaf, Reigns is aware that the fans do not respect him. So there is a very real and organic story to tell with WWE pulling the trigger on a heel turn. If the dots don’t connect on Raw, then that’s the fault of creative in WWE for lacking continuity. But from the perspective of a former booker, they’ve got Reigns in the perfect spot to pull the trigger and turn him into a red hot heel.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.