April 4, 2016 by Joey Keogh
If I had to choose one word to describe Wrestlemania 32 it would be “no”. A prominent sign held by a, presumably, disgruntled fan in the first few rows exclaiming same bobbed in and out of view more often as the show dragged on into its fifth hour. Aside from being an interminable length, this year’s event proved once again that nobody cares what the fans want. We can boo and complain and argue all we like but, in the end, what the WWE says, goes and if that means The Wyatts being buried by The Rock and John Cena for no real reason, or Roman Reigns walking out the world heavyweight champion, then so be it.
It wasn’t all bad, of course. The Kickoff show, although over-long at 120 minutes, featured some great commentary from Renee Young, Lita and Booker T. The three matches were garbage, throwaway and, in the case of the Total Divas segment, borderline offensive, but a couple of decent promos from heavy-hitters Kevin Owens and Paul Heyman softened the blow. The most significant moment of the pre-show came with the introduction of the brand-new women’s title, which takes the place of the despised, outdated Divas belt. Lita delivered a fine speech before revealing it, and there was a great pop from the Dallas fans (or, at least, those who had made it to their seats by that stage).
The evening was plagued by bad planning, from malfunctioning ticket machines to an ill-advised segment involving some gyrating cheerleaders. The intercontinental title ladder match kicked off the show, with all eyes on Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens from the outset. The two, naturally, stole most of the focus, with some gnarly spots including a Frog Splash by Owens from the top onto Zayn on the ladder. In an entertainingly spot-heavy match, the two NXT recruits still managed to stand out amongst the fray, proving their worth to the main roster. However, it was dark horse Zack Ryder who ended up taking the gold in perhaps the biggest shock moment of the night – so surprising, in fact, that even Ryder himself couldn’t seem to wrap his head around it as he clutched the title to his chest.
The fun continued as AJ Styles took on Chris Jericho in a short, but well-paced bout that served, once again, to highlight Styles’s strength and expansive skill-set as a wrestler. Jericho, a master of putting guys over, has been thoroughly enjoying his recent heel run and he once again turned the heat up tonight, throwing everything at the newbie in a succession of nail-biting near falls, each of which feels like it could finish the match in spectacular fashion. In the end, though, Styles just can’t seem to make it happen, as Jericho turns his attempt at a springboard diving elbow into the Codebreaker to win.
Up next, The New Day provide the coolest entrance of the entire night (sorry, Trips) as they emerge from a giant box of Booty Os, dressed as Dragonball Z characters, to a chorus of deafening cheers from the crowd. Then, in a nice touch, Barrett and Rusev kick their way through the discarded cereal as though they’re fallen leaves en route to the ring. The match itself is entertaining, if not particularly memorable. Xavier Woods, so often sidelined as the (great) comedic relief, gets a starring role tonight, taking more than his fair share of beatings from The League Of Nations. Although he and his team-mates put in a valiant effort, Sheamo wins it for his side with a Brogue Kick in an abrupt, strangely unearned ending.
Barrett then grabs a mic and starts riling up the crowd, only for Mick Foley, HBK and Stone Cold to stroll out to shut him up. After The New Day helpfully drag Barrett out, the legends each take a League member and subject him to their finishers; for Sheamo, it’s a visit from Socko, for Del Rio, the Sweet Chin Music, while Rusev eats a devastating Stunner. Barrett then re-enters the ring and suffers all three in quick succession for his trouble. The New Day attempt to celebrate afterwards, but poor Xavier suffers a Stunner for the crime of forcing Austin to dance. It’s a cheap pop bonanza, but it’s fun, and very Wrestlemania appropriate.
Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar stake their claim for match of the night as they tear shreds off each other next, in a No Holds Barred Street Fight, which sees all manner of tools being used including chairs, Kendo sticks, a fire extinguisher and a chainsaw. It’s clear from the moment Heyman interrupts Eden to intro Lesnar himself that The Beast is winning this, but that doesn’t make the fight any less fun to watch. And, to his credit, Ambrose comes out of it looking like a bit of a beast himself, valiantly taking Suplex after Suplex, blow after blow, from the unstoppable Lesnar. To put it into context, the first pin attempt doesn’t come until nearly halfway through the match.
Considering what follows, it’s an annoyingly short bout too, at just twelve minutes. There’s definitely a sense that they could’ve gone on for nearly twice as long, particularly when Ambrose turns Lesnar’s attempt at an F5 into the Dirty Deeds. When the end does come, via a German Suplex followed by an F5 into a load of chairs, it, again, feels slightly abrupt, like we were just getting started. It’s symptomatic of a Wrestlemania show that feels simultaneously overstuffed and undercooked, like we’re constantly rushing to get to the next match even though there are a multitude of ads and dull, repetitive vignettes to be shown in between.
The ladies also suffer from a lack of time, with less than twenty minutes afforded to their stunning, game-changing, world-ending championship title match. Considering the Kickoff bout had a commercial for Total Divas midway through that felt entirely justified, this triple threat starring Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair seems even more urgent, even more necessary. It’s an instantly memorable match, which sees the three women beating the absolute shit out of each other with strong, believable spots and smart in-ring psychology that sells us on how much this win would mean to each of them.
Not a moment is wasted as each woman fights to earn her place. From the Bank Statement, to the Disarmer, to an out-of-nowhere Frog Splash, it’s a match loaded with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments demanding of an instant replay that, unfortunately, isn’t always forthcoming. It feels like it could be anyone’s game too, with each competitor rising to the challenge and managing a handful of covers, each of which feels like it could win it for her. In the end, a Figure-8 and some interference from Ric Flair (he holds Banks back from breaking the hold) wins it for Charlotte, making her the first recipient of the brand-new, and already highly-coveted, women’s title. They may have been robbed of some time, but they made every goddamn second count.
Unfortunately, Wrestlemania 32 takes a, very literal, dive during the next match that it never quite recovers from, as Shane Mc Mahon takes on The Undertaker in Hell In A Cell. The match is slow, plodding and dull, the fans pretty much DOA in spite of the buzz surrounding Taker’s too-long entrance and Shane O’s return to the biggest show on earth (accompanied by his three, adorable sons). We get the spot we want – the coast-to-coast from the top of the Cell – but Taker moving out of the way just in time robs it of its impact. Considering each of The Deadman’s moves is weaker than the last, while McMahon reverses the Hell’s Gate into the Sharpshooter and sells everything 100%, Taker’s victory comes as a shock and an annoyance.
The slow pace of that match affects the show as a whole, too, particularly as the Andre The Giant Battle Royal follows, with one of the surprise entrants turning out to be Shaq of all people. It’s a clusterfuck of a match, an insultingly ill thought out parade of jobbers and decent folk such as Tyler Breeze, Darren Young and even DDP, who deserve much better. NXT entrant Baron Corbin ends up winning the bloody thing after about ten minutes of dull, pointless action, which is better than Kane or Big Show walking away with the trophy but not by much. Again, keeping with the theme of the preceding match, what does it even matter in the long run?
The Rock threatens to put us all to sleep by taking about a million years to get to the ring next, and then spending a million more selling himself and the supposed attendance record (which nobody cares about, and even less people believe) in place of any actual content. Then, to make matters worse, Bray Wyatt appears and cuts a reliably brilliant promo, only for Rocky to call him fat, before beating Erick Rowan in six seconds for no apparent reason. John Cena then makes his, er, triumphant return, furthering the point that The Wyatt Family are being buried super hard for no discernible reason in favour of he and Rocky putting themselves over yet again.
Finally, the Main Event is upon us, and in spite of the low atmosphere both in the arena and in millions of homes across the globe, a thrilling, spooky vignette and a rousing speech from warrior queen Steph gives us a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, Trips will retain tonight. Or, at the very least, there will be shenanigans. Of course, if you’re reading this, you’ll know he doesn’t, and there aren’t. Roman Reigns scores a completely unearned victory in the face of deafening boos that are stealthily silenced by turning the crowd mic way down from the moment he steps out onto the ramp. Not only is the match itself boring, uninspired and only mildly diverting thanks to Steph’s input from ringside, but the ending feels like a major ‘fuck you’ to the fans.
On a night that gave us a major, historical step forward for women’s wrestling in the WWE, perhaps this isn’t the worst thing in the world. Maybe we need to take our victories where we can get ’em. And, hell, there could be people out there who loved the ending and got exactly what they wanted out of Wrestlemania 32. But, for the majority of fans, this show felt half-baked, lazy and ultimately meaningless. Aside from some fun moments, and the introduction of the new women’s title, there was nothing memorable about it aside from how lumpy and leaden-footed it got once Taker and Shane O took to the ring. Nothing changed, nothing really mattered. Maybe the best is yet to come. Maybe this is all part of the plan.
But, as it stands now, it doesn’t seem right for them to have got it so completely wrong.