What does WrestleMania even mean anymore?
In days of yore, WrestleMania was the culmination of the biggest storylines of the year. Much of the year built to the biggest show of the year, and wrestling fans knew going in that there would be a satisfying conclusion to the story, or at least a significant chapter told. WrestleMania was important because it mattered to the narrative. It was like a season finale in a TV show. Things would resolve, and while there may be cliffhangers, you were secure in knowing there was a plan going forward.
This is no longer the case.
WrestleMania now exists in a self-fulfilling circle. It no longer creates stories, it creates “moments”. These moments are then used to promote the next Mania. A wrestler’s story no longer matters, nor does his character. These things are sacrificed to the WrestleMania gods so the WWE has highlights to put on next years promotional packages.
It’s almost not even fair to rate WrestleMania. How do you compare a show like that to a show like NXT: Takeover? Professional wrestling is a storytelling vehicle, and one masterfully uses the conventions of its genre, and the other borders on incomprehensible. One is Frankenstein, the other is Ulysses. You can’t really compare the two, so how can we rate them on the same scale?
How do you rate a story that blatantly defies basic storytelling principles? As a wrestling show, it was fine. There wasn’t a bad match in the bunch, though several were disappointing. Yet the show wasn’t very good, less then the sum of its parts.
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. I predicted a surprise winner for the IC Ladder match, but I definitely didn’t see Zach Ryder winning. If anyone deserved a “WrestleMania moment,” it’s Ryder. I was happy for him, and thought the match itself was pretty good. I was also happy to see Baron Corbin win the battle royal. Corbin is the best homegrown guy in NXT at the moment, and him getting a win at Mania was one of the few times they used the show to push someone with a future in the company.
The real stars of show were the women though. For the first time I can remember at a major show, the women of the WWE felt important. The unveiling of the new belt and the abolishment of the term Diva was good, but the ladies backed it up by having the best match of the night. A lot of women wrestlers will say they want to main event WrestleMania someday, and I’ve always considered that a pipedream. Now I’m not so sure. The ladies didn’t just have the best match, they had the best story going into the match. They had the best ring entrances. They had the best crowd reactions. It is totally feasible to me that a match like this would be the main event of the biggest show of the year.
So now we look at the rest of the show. First, it was waaaay too long. Almost 6 hours if you watched the three matches on the preshow. That’s ridiculous. But that’s not the only reason the show felt so tiring.
Brock Lesnar. The Undertaker. Shawn Michaels. Mick Foley. Steve Austin. Chris Jericho. The Rock. All these guys are part time or retired. They all stood tall at the end of their match/segment over younger, full-time wrestlers. Except the Undertaker. No, he stood tall over the guy advertised as the best hope for the future of the company.
The entire story behind the Hell in a Cell match, at least as far as I could tell, was that Shane was going to make the WWE better. That new guys weren’t given a chance in favor of corporate-pushed goons. And Shane, if he won, was going to fix that. He was going to listen to the audience, and make the show actually watchable. So of course he lost. And of course the Rock humiliated the Wyatt Family. And of course the most popular act in the company lost their match then played second fiddle to a trio of retired wrestlers. And of course the most organically over face lost in a non-competitive match.
Then there’s Roman. I have nothing else to say about Roman. The “WWE Universe” has declared that Roman is not the guy, but the WWE is full steam ahead making Roman as Cena 2.0. Whatever.
Ultimately, none of this matters. WWE network subscriptions were at almost 1.5 paid for Mania. WrestleMania sold a legit 95,000+ tickets. WWE will no doubt make record profits this quarter and this year. And WrestleMania will remain important only because we are told it’s important.