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Monday, April 7, 2014

MAKIN' LISTS MONDAYS - WrestleMania 30 Reactions

Last night’s WrestleMania XXX was an insane evening filled with twists and turns, some of which were well received and others that angered fans both old and new.  I ended up 4-of-8 on my predictions, though I have to say in almost all of the cases that I was happy to be wrong (with a few exceptions).  To follow-up my predictions posted last week, today’s list isn’t a countdown, but rather ten thoughts that I had after watching this year’s WrestleMania.

I was really excited to have the chance to watch the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony live this year, having only seen the truncated versions in the past.  After seeing it all, my first thought is that it was way too long.  The entire show ran almost 4 hours, which was brutal to watch.  I loved hearing some of the inductees speak, but they would have been much better off if they were given a set amount of time.  Lita, Mr. T, and the Ultimate Warrior all had interesting things to say, but they were lost in the endless rambling.  Razor Ramon had a great speech thanks to its brevity (and great sound bite), but the night belong to Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who was incredibly honest about his dark past.  It was an emotional rollercoaster that had me tearing up more than once, especially in the end when you saw the glimmer of hope at the end of his road towards personal and professional redemption.

I seriously love the Shield and was so excited to see them take on Kane and the New Age Outlaws.  I fully expected that they would win, but I expected it to start as a beatdown, with the Shield making a huge comeback leading to a wild finish.  Instead, the Shield won in less than 3 minutes.  They did some really cool stuff, including the double-suicide dive from Ambrose and Rollins, as well as the triple-double powerbomb, but the crowd didn’t have enough time to get into the match.  It was a damn shame given how much time was spent elsewhere that could have gone to this match.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I absolutely love NXT and that one of my favorite parts of the WWE “Farm League” is their women’s division.  Their group of female performers is miles ahead of anything that the main roster has to offer, which made the nightmare of a 14-woman battle royal all the harder to swallow.  I liked that every diva got a moment to shine, but this was mostly a jumbled mess.  We would have been better off with a one-on-one or even a fatal-four-way that would let the crowd get behind the match and, hopefully, bring some credibility to the Divas title.

The first three minutes or so of the Andre the Giant battle royal was a nightmare to follow, but once the first 20 or so wrestlers were eliminated, things really picked up.  Kofi’s fall onto the stairs was great, continuing his innovative run on battle royal appearances.  I thought that Alberto del Rio had the best eliminations with a flurry of crazy kicks and sneaky maneuvers.  Aside from the actual finish (more on that later), I think that my favorite part was Fandango dancing on the apron to the crowd singing his music.  This seemed completely improved and was totally awesome.  I feel like Fandango is one of the most underutilized characters on the show.  As for the finish…well you’ll need to read #3 on this list for that.

The show opened with Hulk Hogan…who was interrupted by Stone Cold Steve Austin…who was interrupted by the Rock.  It was neat to see these three fan favorites in the ring all at one time, but the segment really had no purpose other than to hype up the crowd—for an opening match that they were already hot for.  They would have been better off giving a few minutes of this segment to the Shield vs Kane/Outlaws match and then positioning this later in the card at a time when the crowd was at a lull.   Still, all three men looked to be having a good time and the crowd ate it up, so I can’t fault it too much.

I fully expected Bray Wyatt to walk through the match without much trouble, as I feel that beating John Cena is the rub that he needs to vault him into the main event scene (Daniel Bryan vs Bray Wyatt at Summerslam would be freakin’ amazing).   I did not expect him to lose at all, but the ride that Wyatt and Cena took us on was fantastic.  I loved Wyatt’s taunting, trying to get Cena to embrace his dark side, which led to a great will-he-or-won’t-he story line that finally made Cena interesting to me.  The good news is that the story was done so well that I don’t feel like Wyatt lost any credibility by losing the match.  What really blew me away about this match wasn’t Cena or Wyatt’s performances, but rather the crowd becoming part of the Wyatt Family by taunting Cena with “He’s Got the Whole World” sing-alongs that Wyatt totally played up.  

This year’s WrestleMania featured four really special entrances and of those, three work spectacularly.  The Undertaker’s “casket lined” entrance was very cool, especially when the 22nd casket popped open.  This did make his long walk to the ring drag a bit, but it did add some excitement to the match.  Triple H’s “evil emperor” entrance with the crazy throne and gold armor was incredibly cool, though I wish he would have worn it down to the ring.  The other two big entrances featured live music, but only one of them was effective.  The band Rev Theory, whom I had to actually look up because I had no idea who they were, played Randy Orton’s entrance.  Because no one knows who they are, this didn’t add much to the moment at all—it’s not like they were a marquee band.  On the flipside, Bray Wyatt had a live band that all wore creepy costumes and were accompanied by a voodoo dancer.  Nobody knows who that band is either, but the overall aesthetic matched well with the Wyatt Family’s aesthetic, making it very effective at making Wyatt’s entrance feel important.  Of all of the live musical performances I’ve seen at WrestleMania, I think this was the most well done simply because it felt like the band was part of Wyatt’s gimmick.

Cesaro had a big night at WrestleMania.  Even though the Real Americans lost in the pre-show tag title match, his face turn got a huge pop from the crowd and should lead up to a very cool program of him against Jack Swagger.  He was then a surprise entrant into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, where he had the crowd’s support the entire time. He eventually won, which is impressive enough and would have completely psyched up the crowd on its own, but he did so by scooping the Big Show up and tossing him over the top rope in incredible fashion.  This huge show of strength might have been the best single moment of the show and immediately puts Cesaro into one of the top spots on the roster.  I cannot wait to see what comes next for him.

2. UNDERTAKER (21-1)
My Facebook and Twitter feeds were completely blowing up with people who were pissed off about the Undertaker losing last night.  Honestly, I really liked it.  The Undertaker’s streak is really cool, but I don’t believe it was ever WWE’s long term plan for the character, it just happened and then eventually became part of the story.  By having Brock Lesnar break the streak, it makes him the most dangerous man in the WWE moving forward and, hopefully, convinces Lesnar to stick around by showing that the company believes in him.  If he were to be a regular performer again, everyone wins.  Plus, having Undertaker lose actually made Daniel Bryan’s title win all the more important—it put the crowd at a low point that only the Bryan win could pull them out of.  Taker took one for the team.  Finally, and this is one of the most important things to consider, Undertaker wanted to lose to Brock Lesnar back in 2010 and reports are saying that it was his idea to lose last night.  Maybe he’ll wrestle another match, making a win there all the more important.  If not, this gives him an interesting moment to go out on—turns out the Dead Man was human all along. The match wasn’t spectacular, but with word coming out now that Taker was hurt early on in the match, I’m not surprised by the number of rest holds.  Still, it wasn’t the worst WrestleMania match coming from Undertaker and the shock of the ending more than made up for the shortcomings of his physical performance.

Daniel Bryan wrestled for nearly a full hour at WrestleMania, putting on the best performance that the grandest stage of them all has ever seen from anyone that wasn’t Shawn Micheals or Bret Hart.  His two-part main event produced two instant classic matches with incredible storytelling and simply awesome physical feats.  Bryan’s connection with the fans is bizarre and unprecedented, but he earned every single inch of it in both of his matches last night. While he couldn’t have done it without great wrestlers to work with—HHH, Batista, and Orton were all in top form—Bryan’s performances carried the matches and gave the crowd the WrestleMania moment that they have demanded since SummerSlam.  Having been a huge fan of Bryan since his Ring of Honor days, I knew he had it in him, but I never thought that he would walk out of WrestleMania with perhaps the biggest ovation that anyone has received since Hogan slammed Andre.  No matter what happens from this point forward—and I don’t see Bryan’s run lasting very long, sadly—he had the biggest single night that an wrestler has ever had at WrestleMania and in a two-part finale that is instantly one of the greatest main events in WWE history.

On an unrelated note, I’m proud to announce that my long-awaited pro wrestling graphic novel THE LARGEST HEART is finally moving forward.  Artist Dean Stahl has joined me on this project and his pitch-pages look fantastic.  We hope to shop it around to publishers in early summer, looking a release date of sometime in 2015.  The comic is loosely based on the life of Andre the Giant and follows the life of fictional pro wrestler Huges “Huge Hugo” Laurent through the eyes of his estranged son Victor.  The story is powerful and personal, with the backdrop of the world of 1980s pro-wrestling.  Look for more info on this to come this year!

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