The road to WrestleMania is often regarded as the most exciting three month period in the WWE season.
It’s where all the big returns, dream matches and thrilling storylines take place. Basically, the only three months of the year the writers actually do what they’re paid to do.
Here at TWM, I’m going to analyse every road to WrestleMania from the last decade.
Last week, I brought you the lowdown on WrestleMania 30, which brings us nicely to the next instalment which saw Seth Rollins perform the “heist of the century” in the show’s closer, Sting finally competing in a WWE ring, and the return of The Undertaker.
WrestleMania 31 also saw John Cena wrestle the then-unbeaten Bulgarian Brute Rusev for the United States Championship (no prizes for guessing what happened there), Randy Orton attempt to exact revenge on former Authority ally Seth Rollins, and The Rock have a heated a promo with Triple H, which also saw the WWE debut of Ronda Rousey. Not sure it needed to take up 30 minutes of air time, but it was still a great moment.
When Daniel Bryan returned in time for the Royal Rumble Match after months on the sidelines which saw him forced to relinquish the World Heavyweight Championship, everyone thought he was a cert to win the whole thing and heroically dethrone the tyrannical Beast at WrestleMania. Everyone, that is, except for Vince McMahon. He thought that was a ridiculous idea, and instead opted for Roman Reigns.
Now, I’m a huge fan of Reigns and believe he has the total package and is the most complete performer out of all three Shield members when you size up look, physique, charisma, promos (when not asked to repeat recycled John Cena lines) and in-ring ability. He has it all. But having him win the Rumble instead of Bryan was just killing the guy before he had a real chance to headline. Pushes need to be more organic. Anyone would’ve been booed out of the building at the Rumble for not being Daniel Bryan, but Reigns was forced to take the brunt of it.
The whole Rumble Match itself was symbolically booked, and not even the surprise appearance of The Rock could quell the unrest that evening. WWE reacted by having Bryan face Reigns at the following month’s Fastlane PPV in a Number One Contender’s bout. Roman obviously went over, which just added fuel to the fire of fans already pissed off at WWE.
Vince McMahon was adamant about going ahead with Roman as his guy and making him Champion on the grandest stage possible. As for the actual build up between Lesnar and Reigns? It was basically non-existent due, in large part, to Brock’s ongoing contract dispute which even saw him walk out on an advertised Raw appearance. Eventually, Lesnar re-signed in time for WrestleMania, and for a lot more money with a lot fewer dates. Where can I get his agent?
John Cena was in a weird phase of his career at the start of 2015. He was no longer considered the face of the company, with that accolade now belonging to Roman Reigns. You couldn’t exactly call Cena a mid-carder, but he certainly wasn’t spending much time in the main event scene. His first feud of the year saw him represent Old Glory in a tired “us against them” foreign rivalry opposite the undefeated and, at that point, unstoppable United States Champion Rusev.
Their first encounter took place at Fastlane, and thanks to some shady interference from Lana, Rusev actually won the bout via submission – albeit Cena passed out instead of tapping out. Never Give Up, remember. Cena responded by literally bullying Rusev until Lana relented and gave John his rematch for WrestleMania. What a stand up guy. I don’t think anyone was clamouring to see this one as we had already seen it once, and it was pretty awful, and we also know how John Cena rematches tend to go. If ever a gimmick stipulation was needed, this was it.
WCW icon Sting finally made his WWE bow at the 2014 Survivor Series, denying The Authority and dropping Triple H in a truly stunning moment. The Vigilante had come to WWE for one thing and one thing only – to stop Triple H in his tracks and put an end to The Authority once and for all. Or so we were told. By the time WrestleMania rolled around, the entire angle was forgotten about and we were instead “treated” to one more chapter of the Monday Night Wars.
Sting being in a WWE ring was surreal, especially seeing him kick off Monday Night Raw. What wasn’t surreal, or at all surprising, was watching him get emasculated by Stephanie McMahon. She just can’t help herself. Sting should’ve been portrayed as a legend on the same level as The Undertaker, not another washed-up WCW reject, which is exactly how he was treated.
When The Undertaker shockingly lost the Streak to Brock Lesnar, no one thought we would ever see The Phenom again. He looked old, broken down and washed up in defeat to The Beast. Fast forward a year, and Bray Wyatt was calling The Deadman out. Begging him to fight him at WrestleMania so he could put him out of his misery once and for all. Credit to Bray for making the angle interesting, as he had to do all the heavy lifting because Undertaker didn’t make a single appearance until the big show itself.
Wyatt had recovered somewhat from that crushing series of defeats to John Cena the previous year, but he still needed that one big win to cement himself as a headline act. Many believed this is what Undertaker was coming back for, to pass the torch and head off into the sunset. Little did we know that he was coming back to reclaim his yard.
One of the best feuds heading into WrestleMania was the one between Randy Orton and Seth Rollins. The Architect was The Authority’s new golden boy, and took it upon himself to take The Viper out of action in late 2014 when Randy began refusing to do certain duties. Orton made his return in February, but rather than instantly go for Rollins, he surprisingly reunited with The Authority to get inside the head of Rollins. You know what they say about keeping your enemies close.
Orton toyed with Rollins for weeks before finally snapping and showing his true colours with one of the most vicious beatdowns in Raw history. Orton wanted to punt Rollins into oblivion at WrestleMania, while Seth wanted to show the world that the future is now and The Viper had lost his bite.
So, let’s get to the event itself. It opened with Daniel Bryan defeating Wade Barrett (remember him?), Dean Ambrose (wonder what he’s up to now), Dolph Ziggler, Luke Harper, R-Truth and Stardust in a wildly entertaining Ladder Match to capture the Intercontinental Championship. The commentary team attempted to claim this was as big as Bryan’s accomplishments at the previous year’s WrestleMania when in reality it was like a football team going from winning the quadruple one season to the Community Shield the next.
Randy Orton exacted revenge on Seth Rollins by pinning him following a seismic encounter that ended with arguably the most spectacular RKO of all time. These two kept things brief, but delivered a stirring effort that both should be proud of. However, it was also mostly remembered by fans for spotting Orton returning to his Legend Killer look of wearing elbow pads. Whatever rocks your boat, I guess.
Next, and, surprisingly early on the card was the highly anticipated encounter between Triple H and Sting. The entrances were stunning, as per the norm for WrestleMania. Seeing Sting look out at the sheer enormity of the event was a sight to behold. The match itself was better than it had any right to be. The No Holds Barred stipulation helped matters, but not sure the run ins of DX and the NWO did. They got huge pops on the night, and it was certainly a cool moment, but it didn’t fit with the story at all. It just became another vehicle for WWE to further cement their dominance over WCW. Triple H defeated Sting with a sledgehammer shot to the skull before hugging The Icon after the bout. Absolute madness, especially considering Triple H reverted back to his heelish ways not even an hour later.
AJ Lee and Paige knocked off The Bella Twins in a decent tag team effort. The Women’s Revolution had still to take place, but these four women did their best in an unenviable position on the card. I think they could’ve done with a heel turn from AJ or Paige here to make things more memorable.
John Cena made light work of Rusev to capture the United States Championship. The match was full and overly long. It also lacked that WrestleMania feeling of quality. Cena’s time in the spotlight was definitely dimming, and this was five years ago. It’s quite jarring to see him return now in a marquee WrestleMania bout.
In a great WrestleMania moment, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon’s egotistical bragging was interrupted by The Rock, who was at his electrifying best here. When things threatened to turn physical, he sought help in the form of UFC legend Ronda Rousey, who was coincidentally sitting at ringside. While Rock laid the Smackdown on long time rival Triple H, Rousey threw Stephanie around the ring like a rag doll, much to the delight of the WWE Universe. This was done to set up a Tag Team bout between the four at a future WrestleMania, but Rock couldn’t get time off filming, so Kurt Angle eventually took his place.
In the semi main, Undertaker returned from the ashes looking better than ever to vanquish Bray Wyatt. The Phenom was in tremendous shape, and even sported short hair for the first time since his Big Evil days. He genuinely looked like he had one or even two great runs left in him. The match itself was good enough, and Taker put over Wyatt in his own way before burying him with the Tombstone Piledriver. Rest in peace the career of Bray Wyatt. Don’t worry, it would be resurrected in 2019, before Goldberg came along and ended him once and for all.
The main event saw Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns beat the holy hell out of each other in a gruelling, sadistically enjoyable war. No one thought they’d enjoy it when it was booked, myself included, but they tore one another apart. However, there was no winner as Seth Rollins stunningly inserted himself into the bout to make it a Three Way, cashing in his MITB briefcase and pinning Roman Reigns to become the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion in what was perhaps the most shocking moment in WrestleMania history.
Overall, WrestleMania 31 had a truly miserable build, but the event itself was the most entertaining since WrestleMania 17. It had everything from great action, title changes and returning legends to a classic main event, shocking twists and memorable moments. It will go down as my personal favourite WrestleMania of all time, and most likely in everyone’s top 10. A solid effort from all involved.
Come back to TWM next week where I will be looking back at the road to WrestleMania 32 which saw an injury plague strike on WWE resulting in Shane McMahon returning to almost commit suicide by jumping off the 30ft Hell In A Cell.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!