Sport

WrestleMania XXX.

...This needs no caption.
…This needs no caption.

There are some people who still denigrate wrestling fans because their ‘sport’, as these people say, is ‘fake’. One has to stop and consider what people mean when they say this. If they mean what we are watching is somehow not happening but is instead an illusion, then we can probably conclude that they would not only be wrong, but slightly crazy. Of course we know that they (more than likely) do not mean this. They mean to say, rather, what we all in fact know: matches are scripted to a predetermined outcome for storytelling purposes. What they perceive to be the embarrassment of ‘fake fighting’ is actually the very reason millions of people worldwide tune in to watch a show like WrestleMania 30.

It is precisely because of this open secret that people can feel betrayed and shocked that a 49 year old semi-retired professional wrestler known as The Undertaker can lose to a younger, stronger and all-round fitter performer at the top of his game. And the reason they cheer for Daniel Bryan despite knowing that he’s only in the main event because they demanded that he be put there as their chosen champion.

WrestleMania 30, held at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans in front of 75,000 people, is as good an example as any that mainstream wrestling knows its place in modern society and relishes in it.

WWE knew going in that this event could be hampered by accusations of predictability, and they handled it simply yet brilliantly with one three-second count. Giving the fans what they wanted with one hand and teaching them on the other that you can’t have everything your own way, they said ‘fine – here’s your champion’ in awarding Bryan his moment of glory while also pulling a stunt that seemingly no-one saw coming.

They ended The Undertaker’s undefeated 21-0 winning streak at this event, with little hint of a warning that it was coming. Predictable? Please; if you had guessed which match WWE scriptwriters would choose for an unpredictable finish, you would hardly have chosen this one. The rug was pulled from under our feet and WWE deserve great credit for it.

Brock Lesnar was the unexpected victor over a man ten years past his prime; this really wouldn't be a shock in any other business.
Brock Lesnar was the unexpected victor over a man ten years past his prime; this really wouldn’t be a shock in any other business.

Ironically as an actual match the bout between Brock Lesnar and Undertaker is one of the poorest of the night. Were it not for its result, no-one would remember this one. Taker struggles to keep up with the already slow pace, and even the commentators acknowledge, along with the rest of the arena, that his career must be coming to an end. The match has little noteworthy action, and were it not for the charismatic Paul Heyman (Lesnar’s agent and personality behind the muscle) being a constant presence at ringside, it would have had no psychology either.

It is when looking at the match this way that the question of whether Brock Lesnar was the right man to end the streak becomes largely irrelevant. Clearly he was the only man to end it, because Undertaker can hardly take much more yearly self-punishment. Lesnar was in the right place at the right time; had it been the John Cena, Roman Reigns or even Daniel Bryan of 2014, it would not have had the same impact as a major heel whom no-one really felt deserved the honour. Also bear in mind that this decision was, in all likelihood, firmly in the hands of Taker himself.

However, putting too much focus on this single match is largely unfair and unjust when compared to some other gems to be found within WrestleMania 30’s 4 hour running time. The opening contest between Daniel Bryan and Triple H is one of the best you will have seen in a long time. I have even heard it said in the past week that this may be one of the greatest matches ever. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it certainly tells the underdog story well, and is a fantastic advert for everything good about modern wrestling; psychology, melodrama and the occasional bit of mat grappling.

Elsewhere, popular stable The Shield won a quick six-man tag team match against the New Age Outlaws and Kane, in what was a clear last minute storyline change heading into WrestleMania. WWE had been teasing a break-up between the three members of The Shield right up until a few weeks before this event, leading some to think they were heading for a triple threat collision.

Instead the team were pushed into a feud with the nearest heels WWE could find – a change that happened to coincide with the change of WrestleMania’s main event into a triple threat match between Bryan, Orton and Batista. Perhaps management wanted to keep things fresh on the card after being forced into a main event that the fans demanded. They did the best they could to salvage the situation, and one can hardly have any complaints over this match considering their opponents. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins each look like possible future stars in their own right.

Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins make up The Shield.
Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins make up The Shield.

Best moment of the night arguably belonged to Swiss wrestler – and clear future star – Antonio Cesaro, who picked up Big Show to dump him over the top rope in the 30-man Andre the Giant memorial battle royal, in a scripted recreation of Hogan’s famous ‘Andre body slam’ at WrestleMania 3. Similar to the Lesnar-Taker match, this battle royal is all about its climactic winning moment rather than the forgettable bout itself. It is, after all, a battle royal that starts with thirty men in one ring – most of whom you can’t distinguish from one another at first. Initially it feels a little pointless, but the creative use of Kofi Kingston and a genuine surprise winner may just fool you into thinking those forever-lost fifteen minutes were worth it.

This was not the first and only reference to WrestleMania 3 in the course of the night. Hulk Hogan, a more appropriate host for this event than The Rock was for WrestleMania 27, kicked off the night in the ring cutting a presumably sentimental promo filled with catchphrases and thanksgiving. I say presumably because he was soon joined by fellow former stars Stone Cold Steve Austin and, indeed, The Rock. The three of them then proceed to cut a sentimental promo filled with catchphrases, thanksgiving, and telling each other how great they are.

Admittedly, the best thing about this sequence was the mistake Hogan makes during his initial speech – calling the Superdome the Silverdome, which was the venue for WrestleMania 3. It’s a mistake that Stone Cold and Rock play on when they come out, which reminds you of why these guys were so successful in their time; their ability to improvise with developments not in the script and share the joke with the fans. It is this charisma, more than technical abilities or a sculpted physique, that you need to truly make a mark in sports entertainment.

Of the current generation of stars with this extra quality, John Cena first comes to mind (to be honest, there are few others that do). Of course he is not the most popular with fans, but he knows it and plays off of it, and remains one of the genuine good guys despite it. There is little doubt, for me, that Cena’s match with Bray Wyatt simply stole the show at WrestleMania 30.

It’s not that this match was the greatest ever. There was not an overabundance of technical ability on show. But as a spectacle, you could hardly ask for more. From the moment that Bray Wyatt appears on the big screen to announce “New Orleans… We’re here” before a live band performs his entrance theme; the fans buy into this one and are involved throughout the entire match. At one point the camera shows a wide shot of the ring, and you can see the fans swaying around the arena in support of the Wyatt Family and their cultish persona.

The Wyatt Family had the fans fired up for this match.
The Wyatt Family had the fans fired up for this match.

Another spot sees Cena gaining the upper hand, going for his trademark ‘five-knuckle shuffle’, and as he comes off the ropes, Wyatt rises up from the mat in his signature ‘crab walk’ to freak out Cena and provoke another reaction from the fans. I won’t deny it, I love this guy’s creepy gimmick – one of the faces he pulls during the match is like something you’re more likely to see in a Japanese horror movie. A typical, slightly disappointing end to the match is forgivable in the face of the nice story it tells, and most importantly, the chemistry that Cena and Wyatt create with the fans in the arena.

Which leaves one more match I haven’t yet commented on: the main event. The build-up to this match is almost as interesting as the bout itself, due mainly to the fact that it’s one of the few examples where WWE have had to change their original plans at short notice because of fan backlash.

Originally Batista, returning to the company after almost four years, had won the Royal Rumble match in January only a week after arriving, with an ego to match his achievement. Fans didn’t like it; at that event, and indeed in the following weeks, they wanted and expected Daniel Bryan to be the star.

WWE management must have soon realised that having a riot break out in the main event of WrestleMania would not be very good for business, and so they moulded Daniel Bryan into the storyline. To be fair WWE couldn’t have handled the situation, and Bryan’s run to the championship, much better than they did, with the backdrop of the most stubborn wrestling fans in many years.

So the main event was a memorable triple threat match involving Batista, Bryan and the champion, Randy Orton. One magnificent spot of the match sees Batista and Orton team up to put Bryan through the announcer’s table using their combined finishing moves, a Batista Bomb combined with an RKO. Bryan has to be taken out of the match on a stretcher but, playing the typical underdog role, finds a new lease of life and fights back in the match. Triple H comes out to ringside because all of the odds need to be stacked against Bryan in this storyline, who doesn’t have anyone coming out to back him up. Eventually, he manages to get a clean win regardless, making the big bad arrogant Batista submit to his signature ‘Yes’ lock. The fans celebrate and leave happy after experiencing Undertaker’s traumatic (but let’s be honest: very realistic) defeat to Lesnar.

This main event, along with a couple of other matches on the card, was the best WWE has produced in a decade. That may seem high praise, or maybe it’s a damning indictment on how bad the company has been in recent years, but without doubt it owes some of this praise to the fans. I have mentioned them a few times here for good reason; at WrestleMania 30 they were as loud, passionate and involved as you remember them during that near-mythical ‘Attitude Era’ we all like to talk about so much. But hey, it’s still all ‘fake’, right? Well, if this is what fake gives us, wrestling fans probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

9 / 10.

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