A Gentleman’s Guide to WrestleMania 31Posted: March 28, 2015
Derek: We’re coming to you live for a special Saturday edition of Wrasslin’ Wednesday! Superkick Saturday? The Sports Monocle Saturday Slam? We didn’t really think of a name.
But we did think that, since our post-NFL coverage has been almost exclusively Wrasslin’, we should do a Gentleman’s Guide to the Super Bowl of wrestling, much like we did the actual Super Bowl. Hopefully this one won’t make me want to chug every poisonous chemical in my apartment.
Normally, our Wrasslin’ coverage is written with the common Wrasslin’ fan in mind. This guide is for the Wrasslin’ version of people who only watch college basketball when the tournament starts. So those of you who tell me you totally used to read this website during the NFL season but don’t anymore, 1) you’re not very nice, and 2) this one’s for you.
Will: What he said. WrestleMania is the single biggest day on the professional wrestling calendar, the event in which WWE pulls out all the stops. Wrestling has even gotten some attention from the mainstream sports world lately, most notably ESPN.
Brock Lesnar announced that he was re-signing with WWE on SportsCenter, while Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman were interviewed by SportsNation’s Michelle Beadle. Grantland’s David Shoemaker, a/k/a the Masked Man, covered all the angles in written and podcast form with his companion Peter Rosenberg.
But your Mania coverage is not complete without Sports Monocle’s take on it. Without further ado, here’s a primer for each match on WrestleMania’s main card.
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins (Singles match)
Derek: At SummerSlam 2013, Daniel Bryan defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship. Despite fears that special referee Triple H would cause some shenanigans, he called a fair match and Bryan won clean. However, as Bryan was celebrating in the ring, Randy Orton emerged with the Money in the Bank briefcase he won the month before. Triple H then delivered a Pedigree to Daniel Bryan, accepted Orton’s contract, and counted to three, ending Bryan’s title reign after only a few moments. This was the birth of the heel faction The Authority, which counted Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Orton, and Kane among their number. Triple H proclaimed Orton “The Face of the WWE” and The Shield began working for The Authority the next night on Raw.
Ah yes, The Shield! The group consisted of Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. The Shield acted as mercenaries for The Authority, feuding with the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, until the night after the 2014 Royal Rumble. The Wyatt Family interfered with The Shield’s match vs. Daniel Bryan, John Cena, and Sheamus which, had The Shield won, would have gained each man entry in an Elimination Chamber match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Because The Wyatt Family attacked The Shield’s opponents, The Shield lost via disqualification. The Shield became good guys and distanced themselves from The Authority. Triple H began orchestrating and participating in attacks on The Shield with his Evolution buddies, Orton and Batista. The Shield faced Evolution at both Extreme Rules 2014 and Payback 2014. The Shield won both matches.
The night after Payback, Rollins famously turned on his Shield brethren by attacking them with a chair and aligning himself with The Authority.
Orton and Rollins, now both with The Authority, began passively feuding with one another. Orton disliked Rollins’ smug, cocky attitude that came with being dubbed “Future of the WWE” by Triple H and Stephanie. Triple H tried to mend fences between the two, but was unsuccessful. On the November 3rd edition of Raw, Rollins gave Orton a Curb Stomp on the ring stairs and Orton was taken out on a stretcher. We didn’t talk about it because that was the same episode when Vince came back.
Orton finally returned last month at Fastlane, understandably out to get Rollins for putting him out of action for so long. The two have gone at it since then, and will SETTLE THE SCORE tomorrow.
Oh, and remember that Money in the Bank contract Orton used on Daniel Bryan a month after he won it? Rollins won the very same contract in July 2014, but still hasn’t cashed it in.
Derek: Randy Orton is like everyone’s favorite Spider Man villain: Venom.
First, one of Randy Orton’s nicknames is The Viper. Second, Randy Orton is not a good guy. He’s done some pretty atrocious stuff during his WWE run. Venom has also done some horrible stuff, but he has his limits. He and Spidey even team up sometimes if the bad guy is bad enough.
So while Orton is the “good” guy in this feud, it really doesn’t have a good guy. There’s a bad guy and a worse guy.
Will: Seth Rollins is the worse guy, a bit like Eric, the antagonist from Billy Madison.
He’s obnoxious, he’s entitled, and he thinks that he deserves to have the future of the company handed to him. He doesn’t have a Sandler-esque foil, but that doesn’t stop him from whining and moaning and generally being a little bitch. He always has lackeys ready to do his bidding for him, and everyone is rooting for him to get his comeuppance.
He’s terribly unlikable, which makes him a terribly great heel.
Derek: This has the potential to be an incredible match. Orton is a seasoned vet and Rollins has been incredible in the ring. People are still talking about how good he was at Royal Rumble. I think Rollins wins, though some Authority shenanigans could be involved.
Will: Unlike some other matches on the card (Cena-Rusev, Sting-Triple H, Wyatt-Undertaker), the action will almost certainly supersede the storyline in this match. Rollins can do it all, and Orton is no stranger to big spots. It would be little surprise if these two stole the show.
Rusev (c) vs. John Cena (Singles match for the United States Championship)
Derek: Rusev debuted at the 2014 Royal Rumble. He is a Russian nationalist and has been slamming the US of A at every conceivable opportunity. Though many have tried, including R-Truth, Jack Swagger, Big E, Mark Henry, and Big Show, no one has ever pinned Rusev or made him submit. His only losses have come via disqualification or count-out. He is also the holder of the United States Championship, which our government has done nothing about.
Enter John Cena, the most popular wrestler of the last decade. Cena tried to put Rusev down last month at Fastlane, but failed. Now, Cena is primed for revenge, and the hopes and dreams of every American are riding on his success.
Derek: Two Marvel Comics references in a row? Is that allowed?
John Cena is Captain America. He must defend our way of life from the evil Russian regime. He’s a star-spangled man with a plan.
Will: Rusev is Ivan Drago.
He’s a monster athlete, he’s Russian (sort of; he’s actually Bulgarian), and he’s out to prove that his nation is superior to America. He is viewed with equal parts awe and fear, having dispatched numerous foes with great prejudice. He hasn’t actually killed anyone yet, however, so points off for that.
Derek: Rusev’s winning streak comes to an end. Cena beats him with a baseball bat, then makes him submit after submerging his head in a kiddie pool filled with apple pie.
Will: Cena may also force Rusev to write a five-paragraph essay extolling the tenets of capitalism and another explaining why the United States military is the best in the world.
The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt (Singles match)
Derek: Not much to say here. The Undertaker is one of the most iconic wrestlers of all time. He was 21-0 at WrestleMania until Brock Lesnar defeated him last year in New Orleans.
Bray Wyatt is a cult leader, challenging the Undertaker to become “The New Face of Fear.”
This is the Undertaker’s first match since WrestleMania 30. It may also be his last match, though many believe that will be next year in his home state of Texas.
Derek: The Undertaker is Clint Eastwood.
He’s old school and past his prime, but you wouldn’t tell him that to his face. While his best days may be behind him, everything he’s apart of seems bigger simply because he’s part of it.
Will: Bray Wyatt is a less murderous Charles Manson
He came on the scene as the leader of the Wyatt Family, a backwoods cult that aimed to re-shape the wrestling world. Wyatt is defined by bizarre vignettes that talk about nothing while talking about everything. He’s weird and a little scary, yet wildly magnetic.
Derek: If Taker doesn’t win, I think there will be some kind of weird disqualification involved. I really doubt Bray will win clean. Surely they won’t have Taker lose two in a row after winning 21 in a row. I think Undertaker will face Sting (or both Sting and Bray Wyatt) at WrestleMania 32, and I doubt they’ll have him go into that match on a losing streak after so many years of dominance.
Will: More at stake than the actual match is the nebulous title of most feared personality in WWE, so a sloppy finish would be little surprise. Expect some neat spots in which Wyatt freaks out Taker with his creepy spider walk and Taker returning the favor with his ominous sit-up.
AJ Lee and Paige vs. The Bella Twins (Tag team match)
Derek: Paige made her debut the night after WrestleMania 30, challenging (and defeating) AJ Lee for the Divas Championship. The two became enemies, then friends, then enemies, then friends, and now possibly enemies again. They refer to each other as “frienemies,” which is fairly accurate.
The Bella Twins feuded against each other for the latter part of 2014, but reunited for some reason. The story is too boring and stupid to recount. The two appear to be back on the same page now, hurling stereotypical high school cheerleader insults at the other Divas in the division.
Nikki Bella defeated AJ for the Divas Championship back at Survivor Series. That match lasted 35 seconds, because Brie Bella kissed AJ, distracting her long enough for Nikki to land a Rack Attack on AJ and pin her for the victory. AJ got a rematch at TLC, which she lost due to some more heel tactics from the Bellas. Brie managed to interfere with AJ’s pin attempt, earning her an ejection from the referee. However, as the referee was distracted by Brie, Nikki produced an unknown substance in an aerosol can and sprayed AJ’s eyes with it. After being blinded, AJ was not able to channel her inner Frank Dux and fell victim to the Rack Attack once more.
AJ disappeared until a couple of weeks ago, when she returned to rescue Paige from a double Bella assault. The two have struggled to get along, and their “team” may implode before the end of WrestleMania, if it hasn’t already.
Derek: Paige and AJ are Marcelline and Princess Bubblegum.
The two are friendly rivals (possibly ex-lovers?!) and one of them has really white skin. One minute they’re fighting, and the next they’re sharing a tender moment. Either way, it’s guaranteed to be short-lived.
Side note: while locating that GIF, I learned there is an alarming amount of fan fiction and art featuring two cartoon characters from a kids show dating. Maybe this is something else they have in common with Paige and AJ, but I don’t care to find out.
Will: Nikki is Regina George from Mean Girls, and Brie is one of her plastic hangers-on.
They’re arrogant, they’re obnoxious, and they delight in little more than embarrassing those who they deem uncool or unpretty. They’re morally reprehensible in most every way possible. Like Seth Rollins, this makes them marvelous heels.
Derek: Paige and AJ are the most popular Divas, and the Bellas run of success has to come to an end sometime. Mania is usually an event for the good guys, so I give a slight edge to Paige and AJ. I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn on each other and send the feud in another direction, though.
Will: I really don’t know which way they’re going to take this one. I would not be the least bit shocked by some ‘accidental’ friendly fire that leads to one or both of these teams breaking up, though I’m hoping for a clean match that sees the babyfaces come out on top.
Bad News Barrett (c) vs. R-Truth vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Stardust (Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship)
Derek: As you might imagine, a background involving seven wrestlers would be pretty lengthy. I’ll just include a short blurb about each guy so this doesn’t take five hours.
Daniel Bryan had a chance to main event WrestleMania, but lost to Roman Reigns. He decided to chase the Intercontinental Championship instead. The IC belt is the only WWE title he has never held.
Bad News Barrett is the champion. People have been stealing his belt relentlessly ever since he returned from injury and defeated Dolph Ziggler for it.
Ziggler has had two reigns as IC Champion in the last six months. He and Luke Harper had a feud for the belt, and the two had a great ladder match at TLC.
Dean Ambrose is a former member of The Shield and should be involved with Seth Rollins somehow, but whatever. He was feuding with Bad News Barrett before Fastlane and made an unsuccessful attempt for the IC title.
R-Truth has been sneakily stealing the belt over the last few weeks, and has been surprisingly funny. He has done nothing of note over the last year except for his stints as fodder for Rusev and an early entrant in the Royal Rumble.
Stardust got shoehorned into the match after WWE decided not to give him a Mania match with his real-life half brother, Goldust. He’s a little crazy.
Sheamus could also enter this match, but that is unclear at the moment.
Derek: Daniel Bryan is Underdog.
Bad News Barrett is an English soccer hooligan.
Luke Harper is a former cult member who probably plays banjo.
Will: Dean Ambrose is Gary Busey: Unhinged, possibly unwell, and absolutely a fan favorite.
Dolph Ziggler is The Professor from the And1 Mixtape Tour: a beloved show-off who has to overcome his relatively slight physique.
Stardust is, well, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust: Costumed, weird, talented, and wildly intriguing.
Derek: Daniel Bryan is the most popular guy in WWE. He takes the title as “Yes!” chants contribute to an earthquake. People learn what it’s like to see fans cheering in the 49ers’ stadium. Zing!
Will: Yes, yes, yes, anything other than a Bryan victory would be a shocker.
Sting vs. Triple H (Singles match)
Derek: One could make the argument that this feud has been brewing for nearly 20 years, when the Monday Night Wars were in full swing. More recently, the feud started back at Survivor Series, when Sting put a stop to Triple H’s interference in the main event.
Sting was a loyal member of WCW. While most of the WCW stars eventually joined or re-joined WWE after Vince bought them out, Sting never did. He wrestled in TNA from 2003 to 2014, and was considered the best wrestler to never perform in WWE. Tomorrow will be his first (and possibly only) WWE match.
Triple H has employed a bit of revisionist history, claiming that he was the reason WWE outperformed and eventually overtook WCW. While Triple H undoubtedly helped, most would agree he took a backseat to the likes of Stone Cold, The Rock, The Undertaker, and Mick Foley. Many of Triple H’s greatest moments came after the Monday Night Wars had concluded.
Still, here we are. Triple H is the COO of WWE. Sting, dubbed “The Vigilante,” wants to put an end to his abuse of power. Triple H wants to prove he still has it. He participated in three matches in 2014 and was on the losing end in all three. He was last seen losing to The Shield at Payback 2014.
Derek: Sting is Nolan Ryan.
Sure, they both have popularity, Hall of Fame credentials, and the ability to kick Robin Ventura’s ass, but it’s their longevity that really made the connection for me.
It blows my mind that Nolan Ryan pitched in the Major Leagues from 1966 to 1993, just like it blows my mind that Sting has been wrestling since 1985. Sting is 56 years old! And he’s going to be in a match at WrestleMania! Fifty-six!
Will: Triple H is Liam Neeson from any movie of the past 10 years or so.
He thought he was done with the rumble-tumble action and that he could finally settle into a quiet home life. He gets goaded out of retirement by an enemy from his old life, and now he has to prove that he still has the goods to get the job done. His tactics may be underhanded, but the man has a proven track record and will go to whatever lengths necessary to get the job done.
Derek: Sting wins. I don’t think he would agree to this match if he was going to be booked to lose. I’m equally interested to see if Sting plans to stick around for WrestleMania 32 for a dream match with The Undertaker.
Will: Agreed that the Stinger is the likely victor. There could be some foul play involved one way or another, but I would be surprised if this match did not end with Sting beating Trips no matter what. Don’t be shocked if Triple H’s sledgehammer or Sting’s baseball bat get involved.
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns (Singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship)
Derek: Brock Lesnar returned to WWE just before Royal Rumble 2014 and has pretty much been unstoppable since. He put an end to The Undertaker’s fabled streak at WrestleMania 30, then put a legendary whipping on John Cena back at SummerSlam for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He has had only two title defenses since then, but retained the belt each time.
Roman Reigns’ time in The Shield is documented above. While Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins had the feud of the year in 2014, Reigns had lesser feuds with Randy Orton and Big Show. He had emergency hernia surgery before Night of Champions and lost even more momentum. He somehow won the Slammy for Superstar of the Year and won the Royal Rumble amidst a shower of boos.
Reigns is the “good guy” here, but people don’t like him. His matches aren’t particularly entertaining and he can be downright brutal on the microphone. He looks the part, though, and Vince is in love with him. He is in this match as a result of his Rumble win, and has spent the last two months futilely telling anyone within earshot he belongs there.
Derek: Roman Reigns is a Segway.
Remember how everyone thought Segways were going to change everything? Steve Jobs told Time it was “as big a deal as the PC.” Now, you probably don’t know anyone who has a Segway. If you do, they are probably ceaselessly mocked. Just like Roman Reigns.
Will: Brock Lesnar is a pre-Buster Douglas Mike Tyson: A frighteningly unstoppable force.
He doesn’t talk much, but he doesn’t need to as he has a world-class hype man to do it for him. A physical marvel like him hasn’t been seen in years, and that alone makes him worth the price of admission. There’s always a chance that he’ll brutally dispatch his opponent in mere seconds, and a greater chance that he’ll look happy doing it.
Derek: Brock wins. Fans would probably riot if Reigns won, and I don’t think WWE would want that at Mania. If Brock doesn’t leave with the title, Seth Rollins will via cash-in. However, Brock vs Rock is already rumored for WrestleMania 32, and I think the seeds for that will be planted here.
Will: Lesnar re-signing significantly boosts his chances of winning. It’s conceivable that his keeping the belt was part of his re-signing agreement, which provides WWE a nice excuse to slow down the Reigns train and give their would-be chosen one some more grooming.
It’s going to be a phenomenal night. The match will be outdoors, and beautiful weather is forecast. Every match has a compelling backstory, significant in-ring talent, or both. If you’re going to watch wrestling just once a year, this is the night. Here’s hoping for a brilliant show that leaves us in awe like the aliens from Toy Story.