|Talk some sense into him, Shane.|
Sunday night saw the WWE put on their grandest show of them all- Wrestlemania. I may sound like Stefon from Saturday Night Live- but it had everything.
Ladders. Tables. New championship belts. Legends. Moments that left you speechless. Great wrestling. Poor wrestling.
And off-screen behind the scenes, there was an older gentleman pulling the strings behind a curtain a la The Wizard of Oz, paying no attention to those who voice their displeasure. It may be called Wrestlemania, but I refer to it as WrestleMcMahonia since it all boils down to what Vince McMahon- and only McMahon- wants.
Heck, even ESPN acknowledged the faux sport with all-day coverage courtesy of former WWE personality Jonathan Coachman on site, and his Sportscenter peers back in Bristol. The show was hyped up to be the biggest of the year, even with the rash of injuries that had severely depleted the card and forced WWE in to certain booking decisions. On a night where even the most sour of wrestling fans could find something to cheer for, the end left the majority of the WWE Universe with a bad taste in their mouths.
Ever since the 2015 Royal Rumble in Philadelphia, a good amount of fans have showed their disdain for current champion Roman Reigns. WWE even sent out long-time fan favorite Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to give Reigns the rub. As this photo shows, it had little to no effect. And if The Rock can't sway a crowd to like you, who or what will?
Despite the fervent negative reactions to the company pushing the young star to the moon, Vince McMahon continued on his desired course. Instead of adjusting on the fly like a year earlier with Daniel Bryan as champion, McMahon refused to listen to the internet wrestling community. (If you don't know who comprises that section of the wrestling world, here's a hint: you, me and anyone else discussing or reading about wrestling online.) The IWC used to have a stigma of being made up of solely those of the 18-40 male demographic- but with the dawn of Twitter and the 24/7 coverage of wrestling, the IWC has grown exponentially from casual fan to the most expert of wrestling analysts.
WWE did manage to surprise fans at Wrestlemania 31 when Seth Rollins cashed his Money in the Bank briefcase to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The parting shot of Rollins raising the WWE title over his head as fireworks went off left fans wondering what was next. To say Sunday's final result was rather underwhelming would be an understatement.
With long-time company flagbearer John Cena at thirty-eight years old, Vince McMahon is in dire need of a replacement.
Reigns is looked at as Cena's successor. While in 2014 fans were digging this possibility, McMahon's forcing of Reigns on the audience has left them -at best- indifferent to the former Shield member. For the better part of 2015 and all of 2016, Reigns has been met with incredible levels of rejection not only from the IWC, but also live crowds. The go-home show (final show before a special event) to 'Mania 32 in Brooklyn was significantly telling. Instead of being on full display for the fans, Reigns was kept mostly backstage in segments. His opening monologue was kept short and sweet to soften the blow of the arena's dislike. He was even attacked by the Dudley Boyz and HHH. The final segment which was a brawl between the two was no different, despite an impressive outside dive by Reigns onto a mass of wrestlers.
All week, I wondered how the WWE could make this main event interesting. It was too late to insert Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar into it. And they even tried making it a "No Holds Barred" match mid-week to garner more interest. They had only one logical decision in my mind: make Reigns a bad guy, and channel the negative reactions he elicits into something positive. Like "goody two shoes" Rocky Maiva in 1996, turn a new leaf and see what happens. Ironically enough, use the former Rocky Maiva as the vehicle for this turn. Simply have him show support like he had at the 2015 Rumble, then Reigns lays him out.
Did WWE take this course of action similar to Steve Austin's turn at Wrestlemania 17?
Nope. Instead of giving fans something intriguing to discuss for tomorrow's RAW, the company forged ahead with their plan as Reigns playing the top babyface. To make matters even worse, the championship bout went on last. HHH and Reigns delivered a main event worthy of a RAW or even a lesser event- but for the "show of shows"? Not even close. The crowd sat on their hands for the entirety of it, only getting up briefly for Reigns' accidental spear of Stephanie. The reactions were Goldberg/Brock Lesnar Wrestlemania 20 bad. Instead of leaving fans wondering what could happen tomorrow on RAW, all we were left with was "see Roman and Charlotte Flair on the 'Good Morning Show' tomorrow."
On a night where WWE proved it could surprise us (Ryder winning the Intercontinental title/HBK, Foley, Austin, Rock and Cena returning/ Corbin winning the Battle Royal), it chose the status quo for most of the card- most noticably its two highest-billed match-ups.
The second match of the night saw AJ Styles face Chris Jericho for the fourth time. With Styles' impressive crowd reactions and rumors of Jericho riding off into the sunset again, Styles was a lock to win- right? Wrong. Jericho came out the victor in decisive fashion.
The WWE even began anew with the Divas division, christening them with the fresh Women's Championship. It was decided by Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch. I pegged Banks to lead the new charge. Wrong again. Charlotte came out the victor.
The Rock returned, interrupted by the Wyatt Family. The Wyatts would finally look like a threat and move up the ladder for once. Wrong. The Rock ran them down and beat Erick Rowan in an impromptu in six seconds.
Shane McMahon's shocking return to television a few weeks ago had fans at a fever pitch with the brand new possibility of something fresh- anything but the same Authority storyline beaten to death since 2013. He came back in impressive fashion with claims he held dirt on his old man and demanded control of RAW. With his son having leverage over him, Vince did what anyone in an inferior position would do: schedule a match between his blackmailer and one of his longest-tenured employees (The Undertaker). Shane (the one in a position of power in this scenario) was to defeat The Undertaker if he wanted control of RAW. If Undertaker had lost, he would have to retire. Before we go any farther, let us count the holes in this storyline.
- What exactly did Shane have on Vince?
- Why only RAW and not the entire WWE?
- Why would Shane agree to this almost certain loss if he had leverage?
- Why would face Undertaker do heel Vince's bidding? Wouldn't this make Undertaker a heel by association?
- Why did Undertaker let Vince call him a b*tch with no rebuttal?
- If the Authority were to be ousted, why was HHH never involved in any of these segments to show concern for his faux job?
I can't answer those specific plot holes, but to answer the entire scenario: because Wrestlemania. With a depleted roster and a need for a quick fix, Vince decided to add this surreal match-up to a card that lacked mainstream appeal. SHANE MCMAHON. THE UNDERTAKER. HELL IN A CELL. THE FUTURE OF
THE WWE RAW. THE FUTURE OF UNDERTAKER.
"Screw logic, I want viewership," Vince must have thought.
The lack of depth in writing was masked by a stipulation on the grandest stage, with all sorts of spots (most of which Shane came out on wrong side of). Yes, we'll remember Shane's legitimate 20-foot dive through the announce table for years to come, but does it matter in the grand scheme of things? McMahon with all his heart and courage came out the loser, and the Authority still controls RAW. Reigns is still the good-guy champion.
Wrestlemania 32 had the chance to be something special. It vies for mainstream appeal and publicity, so it can't be everything to everyone. But if it's intention is to kick off the new "season" for WWE, it failed miserably. For all the talk of NXT and envisioning a bold new world, nothing will change if Vince McMahon continues to hold on to the past with nostalgia at every turn. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, Vince McMahon is certifiably insane.
Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.