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 29, which brings us nicely to the next installment which saw Daniel Bryan stand atop the WWE world as their Heavyweight Champion after improbably defeating Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista all in the same magical night.
WrestleMania 30 also saw The Undertaker’s fabled Streak come to a dramatic and shocking end at the hands of Brock Lesnar. John Cena did his latest burial job on Bray Wyatt. More to follow at WrestleMania 36, one has to believe. Elsewhere on the card, The Shield were wasted in a throwaway six-man tag opposite Attitude Era relics Kane and The New Age Outlaws. Cesaro seemingly had his breakout moment by winning the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. And the women were thrown into a multi-person bout because this was still pre Charlotte Flair era in WWE.
When Brock Lesnar issued an open challenge to anyone brave enough to fight him on The Grandest Stage Of Them All, everyone knew it would be The Undertaker who answered the call. However, it was still an incredible moment to see the two longtime rivals lock eyes once again on an historic episode of Monday Night Raw. This was also the first time Lesnar had come across The Deadman version of Undertaker. I don’t know if that’s relevant or not, it just seemed intriguing to me. Undertaker instantly sent a message of intent to The Beast by Chokeslammimg him through a table. Thus, the WrestleMania 30 program was set.
As decent as the build was, and how high expectations were for the match based on their previous encounters, the hype just wasn’t there. Maybe because everyone thought the result was a foregone conclusion. There was no way The Streak would end. That would live on forever. Undertaker would be defending that Streak for decades to come. Oh, how wrong we were.
What a difference a year makes. No truer words have been spoken for Daniel Bryan. The man went from midcard obscurity to the WWE World Heavyweight Champion in the space of 12 months. Things really picked up for Bryan when John Cena hand-picked him to defend the WWE Championship against at SummerSlam 2013. This was done due to the sheer volume of reactions Bryan was getting in every city. He was genuinely the most over superstar they had on the roster. Vince McMahon had no choice but to push him. Push him he did, albeit temporarily.
Bryan went over Cena in a stirring SummerSlam main event with Triple H acting as the guest referee to make sure no shenanigans took place, as McMahon was hell-bent on ensuring Bryan did not become the face of WWE. However, Triple H was in on the plan because of course, he was. He delivered a Pedigree to Bryan moments before Randy Orton cashed in Money In The Bank to become the new WWE Champion, crushing Bryan’s dream in the process. With that one result, The Authority was born and the Raw ratings went down the toilet.
Months of over the top booking and shoddy decision making kept Bryan away from the WWE Title seemingly for good as he wasn’t even entered into the 2014 Royal Rumble Match, much to the anger of fans all over the world. It didn’t help matters that Batista, who had returned to WWE weeks earlier, won the bout. It was such a disastrous miscalculation on WWE’s part, so much so that they changed their entire WrestleMania plans on the road to the big event and in later years made out it was all part of the story. Yeah, we believe you.
Bryan and his famous “Yes! Movement” took over Raw to force Triple H to face him at WrestleMania with the caveat being that if Bryan won he would be inserted into the championship match between Orton and Batista. Yes, they really thought Orton vs. Batista was a worthy WrestleMania headliner in the year 2014. So, two big WrestleMania bouts were booked in one incredible segment, but this wasn’t the plan all along as I mentioned previously. Bryan was set to clash with Sheamus at the big dance, and Triple H was going to take on a certain CM Punk, before The Straight Edge Superstar walked out on the company the night after the Royal Rumble.
If Punk had stayed, then we wouldn’t have got the fairytale story of Daniel Bryan. So, we have to thank Punk for quitting. A lot has been said about his walkout, and for me, you never quit. You do your job, then you leave when your contract is up. You don’t walk out because you’re upset about something. If he had a problem he should’ve dealt with it. How he reacted was petulant and childish. Plus, he wasn’t all that spectacular anyway, especially considering today’s standard of talent. AJ Styles would eat him alive, for instance.
John Cena’s latest WrestleMania assignment was to try and make a star of Bray Wyatt, who was currently undefeated at the time. That didn’t happen, of course. Cena made a mockery of The Eater Of Worlds, and the whole angle was a farce. Wyatt wanted Cena to embrace the hate or something like that, and Cena refused. That was it. That was your WrestleMania story. Wrestling will never be mistaken for Shakespeare, but they could at least try.
The Shield were still the hottest act in the company, but the cracks were starting to appear at the turn of the year with all three questioning the other. It looked for all the world that Dean Ambrose would turn on his brothers, thus setting up a mouth watering Triple Threat encounter at WrestleMania. We didn’t get that. Instead, we got Kane, Billy Gunn and Road Dogg trying to pose a serious threat to the most destructive and dominant faction in WWE history. This was WWE clutching at straws in a huge way. I still stand by my take on what should’ve been The Shield’s WrestleMania match. They should’ve faced and defeated The Undertaker, ending the Streak. Undertaker would’ve had an out with it being 3 on 1, the fans would’ve taken the bout serious considering the odds Undertaker was facing, and it would’ve instantly made main event stars out of three names. It was the no brainer.
So, let’s get to the event itself. It opened with Triple H taking on Daniel Bryan in what was arguably the greatest opening WrestleMania bout of all time. These two had tremendous chemistry, the crowd were electric and the story was perfect. When those three elements come together, professional wrestling is untouchable. Obviously Bryan came out on top to advance to the main event, but Triple H had to get his heat back afterwards by smashing a steel chair across the already injured shoulder of Bryan. It worked though as it added even more sympathy and gravitas to the Daniel Bryan story.
The Shield tore through Kane and The New Age Outlaws in under 3 minutes. To see a trio of full time talent completely bury three of the Attitude Era’s biggest stars on WWE’s grandest stage was a sight to see. Vince McMahon would revert back to old ways two years later when the League of Nations were fed to Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels, albeit in a cool moment. But back to The Shield, and one can help thinking what a complete waste of their talents and popularity this was. Even Roman Reigns was over.
Next up was the inaugural (and best) Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal which was won by Cesaro after The Swiss Superman slammed The Big Show over the top rope. Very entertaining and watchable stuff. Just a shame they dropped the ball with Cesaro so quickly. He was ready to be a top babyface, but they aligned him with Paul Heyman the following night on Raw, which even Heyman admits was a dire mistake.
John Cena oversold everything for Bray Wyatt in almost farcical fashion. He refused to embrace the hate and still defeated Wyatt with a single AA, ending his unbeaten run and career as a serious headliner. Big Match John never fails to bring that shovel for the burial job.
In the night’s most shocking result, Brock Lesnar did the unthinkable by defeating The Undertaker and conquering The Streak, becoming the one in 21-1. It may even be the most shocking result in sports-entertainment history. It silenced the live crowd, and I’m sure it had the same effect on everyone watching around the world. No one thought Vince McMahon would be insane enough to end the Streak, but end the Streak he did. I wonder if he regrets it. The match itself was a major disappointment as Undertaker suffered a concussion midway through the bout and was unable to so much else from there on in. They would rectify this with a couple of stunning efforts the following year.
AJ Lee beat every available woman on the roster to retain the Divas Championship in a Vickie Guerrero Invitational. It was as bad as it sounds. Thankfully the women’s division in WWE was about to get real good with the inclusion of Paige.
Finally, in the main event Daniel Bryan achieved his lifelong dream when he made Batista tap out to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion in a classic Triple Threat Match that also featured Randy Orton. This one had everything. Near falls, drama, excitement, Authority shenanigans, lots of action, and a happy ending. What more could you ask for from a WrestleMania main event? It’s just a shame McMahon has forgotten what made WrestleMania so popular in the first place.
Overall, WrestleMania 30 will go down in the annals of time as the most historic night in WWE history. Everyone will remember where they were the night The Streak ended. Daniel Bryan finally becoming the face of WWE was also a cathartic moment well worth rewatching. His opener with Triple H is the highlight of the night, though. The rest of the card is decent, to be polite.
Come back to TWM next week where I will be looking back at the road to WrestleMania 31 (my personal favourite WrestleMania of all time) which saw Undertaker return, Triple H clash with Sting, and Seth Rollins perform the heist of the century.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!