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And now, the Best and Worst of WrestleMania 32 for April 3, 2016.
Kickoff Lightning Round
The WrestleMania 32 Kickoff show was two hours long and probably the most “kickoff show” thing you’ve ever seen, so we’ll recap it Lightning Round style. This would’ve been a really great episode of Superstars.
– Kalisto vs. Ryback for the United States Championship was half over when I got to my seats. I’m one of the lucky ones, apparently, because wifi and safety issues (or something) were keeping a majority of fans from getting in. Two of the people I carpooled with and got to the building at the same time as didn’t get in until halfway through the ladder match and spent hours meandering around in a stadium basement losing their minds, so I can’t complain. Still, it would’ve been pretty funny if the U.S. Title had been defended in an empty arena match.
From what I saw, the match (like the entirety of this pre-show) was very safe, and felt like it was killing time. I read reports of everyone on the Kickoff being told to give it their all because they’re important, and how the WrestleMania Kickoff and WrestleMania Proper aren’t as divided as on other shows, but this honestly felt like I was watching matches at Axxess.
Kalisto got the win with a dropkick into an exposed turnbuckle and Salida del Sol. +1 for Kalisto not only getting to defend a secondary championship against a much larger opponent on some form of a WrestleMania card, but winning. -1 in the general area of Ryback, because Ryback.
– There wasn’t a reason for the Total Divas vs. B.A.D. & Blonde match besides getting all the women who weren’t Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch on the card, but it was pretty solid for what it was. It was markedly better than most multi-woman pile-on WrestleMania undercard affairs at the very least, and hey, we got Evil Emma on a WrestleMania card.
The highlight was the finish, which saw Brie Bella pull off a sweet-as-f*ck transition into a Yes Lock. Seriously, look at this:
That’s beautiful. I’ve admittedly never been a fan of the Bella Twins — I warmed to Nikki as the weird amalgamation of Lex Luger and Ken Griffey Jr., but I’ve never warmed to Brie — but if they’ve got to leave, this was a nice way to do it. Brie got to do something cool, Nikki showed up to help her celebrate, and the Total Divas raised Brie up on their shoulders. Well done.
– Lita unveiled the new WWE Women’s Championship, and it’s a massive, massive improvement over the Icing by Claire’s butterfly belt. It got the right reaction from the crowd, too, because I think besides the worst of us, we’re collectively ready for the change. Divas are just “Superstars” now, the championship belt in the women’s division doesn’t look embarrassing, and WWE’s showcasing it via the best and freshest performers they’ve got. Let’s keep it going.
– The Kickoff sorta farted to a halt with the Usos vs. the Dudley Boyz, which ends on a superkick (?) and culminates with the Usos putting the Dudleys through tables while the crowd boos. I haven’t watched it on the Network yet so apologies if that’s not an accurate read of what came through on TV, but the crowd sorta booed the Usos before and after the splashes and cheered the actual impact. Of course, the crowd was chanting “we want tables” about three seconds into the one match on the show guaranteed to give us tables, so maybe we didn’t know what we wanted.
And now, Wrestling Mania!
Best: Mainshow Bob
I’m not sure why Kelsey Grammer getting melodramatic about wrestling characters while Fort Minor’s 2005 sub-Linkin Park banger ‘Remember The Name’ plays over photoshopped pictures of wrestlers works, but it does, man. We take the WWE video production team for granted sometimes, but these guys are the best in the world at what they do. Do you understand the words that I am saying to you right now.
It’s fun to be in a live crowd for videos like this, just for the reactions of people to various pictures of wrestlers. Just the image of Roman Reigns made the 40-ish-thousand people in the building at the time boo instantly and in unison. And the New Day pops up on a unicorn surrounded by pink electricity or whatever and everyone goes REAAARRHHHH.
WrestleMania intros are generally the best is what I’m saying.
Best: Sami By God Zayn
All cynicism about what the match should or shouldn’t have been aside, holy sh*t, we just got to watch Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens throw hands at a WrestleMania. The crowd loved them and knew their beef, and if your heart didn’t grow three sizes listening to a WrestleMania crowd vocalize Zayn’s theme while he skanked down an enormous runway, I don’t know what to tell you.
There’s so much to love from this match, including:
– Stardust’s Dusty Rhodes tribute gear (with HARD TIMES on the back!), followed by his Dusty Rhodes tribute ladder. Black with yellow polka dots. I didn’t think a polka dotted ladder would ever get me emotional during a WrestleMania, but here we are. Fun fact: Dusty was in the first ladder match I ever saw.
– Sin Cara making a deal with the devil to not only fall off a ladder into a springboard to the outside without slipping and breaking 2-3 arms, but to dive off a ladder onto Stardust on the outside without incident. Way to go, Sin Cara!
– The Miz’s gold entrance jacket, which was a pair of shoulderpads and a tail away from being a part of New Day’s entrance.
– Sami Zayn being a star. I can’t stress this enough. Aside from the Royal Rumble, Sami’s been a little under-the-radar on the main roster. His matches have been fine, but nothing that stood out. Even his 2-out-of-3 falls match with Samoa Joe got mixed reviews. But this weekend, man … this weekend, Sami Zayn is bulletproof.
It started on Friday with the to-date WWE match of the year against Shinsuke Nakamura at NXT TakeOver: Dallas. On Sunday, he was diving through a ladder onto a pile of WWE Superstars, then cutting back to dive through the ropes and tornado DDT Kevin Owens. In front of 100,00 people. I’m not sure when NXT gave us a sense of ownership over Sami Zayn, but honestly it felt like watching your best friend succeed and live his dream.
He didn’t win, but he almost did, and that’s another story.
Best: Zack Ryder
We like to make fun of Zack Ryder. It’s easy. He looks like Hank Scorpio fell into a vat of radioactive energy drink. He blew up via a viral YouTube show, got that show appropriated by corporate, had his character turned into a cross between DJ Pauly D and Droopy and just kinda lost and lost for years. Recently he’s been the second most important guy in a tag team of really excited guys who watch each other sleep. We’d all kinda written him off.
That’s what’s beautiful about Ryder’s win at WrestleMania. It was truly, truly unexpected. Sometimes that’s the right call. Ryder as a performer and Ryder as a character are two different things, and it’s very easy to connect to Ryder as a performer. He clearly loves what he’s doing and has his entire life, and that shows. Most of the time you want to throw the character down a flight of steps, but his secondary, almost throwaway participation in the build to the match allows us to take a step back and say, “okay, I’m happy for him.” We didn’t have to spend two months listening to woo woo woo before it happened, you know?
Ryder’s adorable promo about how he took a picture with Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X and held Ramon’s Intercontinental Championship, and how now he’s gonna find Razor backstage and take a picture with Razor holding HIS Intercontinental Championship is A++.
I actually really loved the finish of the match, with it completely looking like The Miz was going to be the one to rob Sami Zayn of WrestleMania glory. This a-hole pops up acting all opportunistic, and then he takes so long to close the deal that someone else pops up behind him and shoves him into the abyss. That’s great, in-the-moment storytelling.
Best Or Worst: A Night Of The (Mostly) Unexpected
AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho was good, and I don’t want to undersell that. I liked how they played on their previous matches, allowing Styles to counter Jericho’s springboard dropkick with one of his own and having Jericho be acutely aware of how much Styles likes to springboard into things himself.
I couldn’t decide if I should Best it or Worst it, though, because it set up a very curious theme for this WrestleMania: the unexpected finish. I know that’s funny to say on a show where The Undertaker won and Roman Reigns speared Triple H 30 minutes into a 10 minute match, but stay with me.
Part of me loves it. I like being caught off guard when it comes to wrestling results, and sometimes an unexpected moment like Zack Ryder winning the Intercontinental Championship instead of Sami Zayn hits me in the right spot. It wasn’t even on my radar, so it sorta lights up my brain with possibilities for the future. Is Ryder getting an actual reign? Is someone showing up on the Raw after WrestleMania to truck him and take the championship? It’s just a whole new thing to think about.
I didn’t mind Jericho beating Styles, either, but it made me start questioning whether or not this was a purposeful motif for Mania 32. Zayn and Owens don’t win, Zack Ryder does. Styles doesn’t win, Jericho does. Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch don’t win, Charlotte retains. You know all that stuff that could’ve happened if Shane McMahon took over? We barely addressed it and it didn’t matter anyway, because he lost. Love that New Day entrance? They lost, and then some old guys showed up and beat up the guys who beat them. And then New Day got beat up, too! At some point it stopped feeling like unpredictability and a little too much like, “you like that guy? Sorry.”
I don’t want that to come across like dramatic complaining, because it isn’t. WrestleMania is about the spectacle more than the matches (or even the booking most times), and there’s still a lot of time to tell the stories of Zayn, Styles, Banks, and the rest of our favorites.
Best: Three Amazing Nerds In Dragon Ball Battle Armor Emerging From A 20-Foot Box Of Butthole-Themed Cereal
Speaking of our favorites, here’s The New Day in Saiyan armor popping out of a giant box of Booty-O’s. Xavier Woods has a tail. This is perfect. I was hoping they’d teach them how to ride horses and put wings and light-up horns on them and everything, but Dragon Ball characters living in a gigantic cereal box is the stuff of wildest dreams.
The match wasn’t as good as the entrance, but could it be? I think my least favorite part of it was the big screen at the AT&T Center, which started giving the crowd chant cues like we were at a sporting event. This match got badly-timed “New Day rocks” graphics and even an “eeeey we want some New Day.” Later in the night, Lesnar got a suplex counter and a “Woooo” graphic took up the entire screen every time Charlotte chopped someone or put on a figure four. No me gusta.
The Lads win via the Damned Numbers Game, because of course they do. Nothing happens with the Tag Team Championship, and then … other things happen.
Best: Yo, How Do We Get Shawn Michaels Back On These Cards
After the match, King Barrett says the League of Nations can beat any three-man team in WWE history, which brings out the most threatening three-man team in hypothetical WWE history: Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley and an in-gear, surprisingly amazing looking Shawn Michaels. Like, Shawn Michaels looks great. I’m a big supporter of retirement matches meaning guys stay retired, but now all I want is Shawn vs. AJ Styles, or Shawn vs. Sami Zayn, or [etc]. Also, how sad would it be if Shawn stayed retired during the entirety of Daniel Bryan’s career and then came back as soon as Bryan retired?
Anyway, Austin, Foley and Michaels show up to light up the Lads. The wrestling jerk part of my brain wants to be upset at a bunch of legends beating up guys who have to be on the show every week, and then the other, probably better parts of my brain are enjoying Rusev selling a stunner by backflipping onto his own head. Maybe it’s the right combination of legends? Maybe Hulk Hogan being banished from the garden has me feeling better about older guys popping in to do fun stuff without a lot of consequence. I don’t know. I’m shocking optimistic about the Rock stuff at the end of the report, too, so hold on to your butts for all of that.
Think of it this way: Xavier Woods got to dress up like a Dragon Ball character and take a Stone Cold Stunner in front of 100,000 people. That’s pretty damn awesome. Also, this:
… Worst?: No Holds Barred Street Fight
I had pretty low expectations for this WrestleMania, which (like last year) I think that helped. Unfortunately, the match I had the highest expectations for — Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar — really let me down.
It shouldn’t have. I mean, it’s exactly what you’d expect. Ambrose has baby soft offense and loses almost exclusively. Brock Lesnar’s been stuck spamming Germans since SummerSlam 2014 and doesn’t really lose or feel pain, unless Triple H or the Undertaker are around. So what should the match be? Ambrose getting German’d over and over until he loses.
I thought there’d be more to it. They introduced a lot of great concepts with Ambrose, like him not being afraid of Brock’s offense and his collection of legendary hardcore weapons, and then none of it paid off. Ambrose spent the entire match trying to come back from these big suplexes, when he should’ve been wrestling a smarter match. It’s a no holds barred street fight. You know Lesnar’s weaknesses are steel things and his balls. Why are you starting off by trying to fight the dude straight up? You’re gonna get thrown. Ambrose should’ve started the match with the damn chainsaw. Or, you know, at least learned how to use a chainsaw before the match started.
(I guess it’s canon that Ambrose is terrible with machines, but still.)
Where does the story go from here, you know? Brock is exactly the same as he was when he went in. He barely cares and he’s nigh unstoppable. Ambrose is the same, too … he’s a goofy loser who can’t win the big one, and can’t even execute the sassy lunatic fringe plans he introduces. The match makes sense and everything was structurally fine, I was just underwhelmed. This seemed like the chance for such a moment, and it ended up being the definition of mid-card. Disappointing.
Best: Match Of The Night
In contrast, I had pretty high expectations for the Women’s Championship triple threat, and it delivered.
First of all, infinity +1s to Sasha Banks for wearing Eddie Guerrero-themed gear while having Snoop Dogg rap about her at a WrestleMania. That’s a hell of a WrestleMania debut. Also, I love (x 100) Charlotte finally achieving her final form and wearing a Flair robe made from the remnants of her dad’s WrestleMania 24 piece. That’s the Flair WrestleMania legacy rising from the ashes. Becky had lots of steam, and that was also okay!
I was a little worried at the beginning of the match, because it looked like everyone was going too fast. They were missing some spots and everyone seemed a little frantic, but the crowd stayed with it and showed them love and it all came together. Once it started firing, it started really firing, and I think everyone came out of the match looking like a star. That’s a very important statement on a match that had MAKING HISTORY shirts for sale at the shop. It wasn’t just a slogan. They did it.
To say this was the best women’s match in the history of WrestleMania is obvious, as women’s wrestling hasn’t had a great run there. Still, this was the moment the Divas Revolution needed from the onset, and I’m glad it finally got to happen. Sasha looked like a million dollars, Becky’s passion held everything together, Charlotte got to continue looking like an entitled, underhanded champion, and we get to launch into (hopefully) a spring, summer and fall that follows it up. Like I said earlier, I’m sad that Sasha Banks didn’t get her moment here, but we have a lot of time to tell her story.
Now next year let’s do it again, but get Bayley in there and do the WrestleMania version of NXT TakeOver: Rival.
Worst, Then Best: Shane McMahon Is A Crazy Nut
I’ll be honest, the first … maybe 3/4 of this match didn’t do it for me. Older Shane McMahon matches were always sorta built around the idea that he could secretly go, but wasn’t a wrestler. He’d wrestle Test, but it was a personal issue and he was surrounded by his crummy friends. He’d wrestle Kurt Angle, but only after Angle had wrestled multiple matches on the same show. He’d wrestle his dad. Whenever they’d go beyond that, it suffered. It’s why we don’t have fond memories of the Kane matches. Why should Shane McMahon be able to hang with Kane?
That was made worse here, because Shane McMahon, who is 10 years older and hasn’t wrestled in ages, is going toe-to-toe with THE UNDERTAKER at WrestleMania. In a Hell in a Cell. THE UNDERTAKER. The guy who has only ever been beaten here by Brock f*cking Lesnar. Shane McMahon’s baby boxing him and one-legged trashcan dropkicking him and Undertaker’s selling it like he got stabbed in the back with an axe.
Of course, none of that matters. That’s why I labeled it, “worst, then best.” The entire point of this was to see Shane McMahon do something dangerous, and I think a lot of the early apathy was built around that knowledge. We knew something was going to happen, so we just sorta sat around until it did. That’s why when Shane’s sitting against the cage and looks up, 100,000 people pop. All he does is look up, but it’s the signal that oh sh*t, here’s the part we wanted to see.
Good lord, was it something to see.
In the crazy event that you’re this far into a WrestleMania recap and missed it, Shane McMahon jumped off the f*cking Hell in a Cell trying to drop an elbow on the Undertaker. That moment will live forever. That moment erases every goofy thing that came before it, like Shane kicking out of a Last Ride like it was nothing or being able to gas the Undertaker in a submission. That moment erases the build and everything. That’s the moment on the highlight reels, and in the WWE presentation reels 10 years from now, and on and on. Sometimes the moment is more important than the match, and WrestleMania is the best time for a moment.
And that’s the match. It’s all built around that one spot, and it’s worth it. I didn’t like most of the rest of it, but it barely matters. Shane O’Mac is out of his mind, his kids got to see their dad be a f*cking certifiable nut, and the Undertaker got another WrestleMania victory. I wish they hadn’t used sweeping change as motivation for Shane to win only to have him lose, but they put too many ingredients in the pot and kinda f*cked their lunch. It happens.
Shane jumped off the Hell in a Cell. The end.
Best: Baron Corbin Wins The Most Ridiculous Battle Royal
The most pleasant surprise of the night goes to BARON DAMN CORBIN, aka Baron Undertaker, for not only being a surprise entrant in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal but winning it. As one of the world’s leading Baron Corbin fanboys, I obviously lost my sh*t. I saw him hanging in there until the end, and my internal monologue was like:
1. “BARON CORBIN’S IN THE MATCH!”
2. “Hey he’s doing pretty well. I’m glad he’s got this moment.”
3. “He’s hanging in there! Whoa, final four!”
4. “Wait, is Baron Corbin going to win?”
5. “IS BARON CORBIN GOING TO WIN”
6. “OH MY GOD BARON CORBIN WON! AAAHH BARON CORBIN” etc.
I have no idea what it means, but I love that as soon as you remove Baron Corbin from those little indie jerks he hates, he becomes Andre the Giant.
Also, Shaquille O’Neal was in the match?
The crazy amount of injuries led to a seemingly lackluster field for the battle royal, and then they kept supplementing it with weirder and weirder guys. Baron Corbin was a good start, but then Diamond Dallas Page showed up? And then SHAQ showed up? About halfway through the match I noticed Tatanka in there, as I don’t think my brain would allow me to process it. It was so, so weird, and was a nice change of pace before the main event.
And by “main event” I mean “The Rock with a flamethrower.”
Best: The Rock Has A Flamethrower And Is Wearing His Gear Under His Breakaway Pants
You’d think I hated the sh*t out of this and I probably should, but what part of my Lucha Underground-loving ass would be telling the truth if I didn’t like The Rock entering with a flamethrower and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders to set a sign of his name on fire and RIP OFF TEARAWAY CLOTHING TO REVEAL HIS GEAR AT THE THREAT OF A WRESTLING MATCH? He RIPPED OFF HIS PANTS AND HAD HIS GEAR ON UNDER IT.
It also helped that he was running down the Wyatt Family, because my support of/tolerance for the Wyatt is at 0% right now. I’d get up in arms about him hurting their momentum or whatever, but why? What momentum? They’re cold garbage right now. A 6-second match with The Rock is an improvement over their previous arc, which was “doing nothing.”
BIG MATCH JOHN
And then BMJ shows up from the darkness of Temporary Injury to do some Specials and help The Rock send the Wyatts packing. 2.5 times in a lifetime!
I’m happy to have Cena back, I’m not gonna lie. I hope he’s actually back, and that this wasn’t a one-time appearance while he heals or does something else with his time. The show needs him, even if 80% of his appearances make me clench my fists at eye-level and curse him for being on the show. That’s the lonely role of John Cena.
Note: can we use this segment to push the Wyatts in a different direction, or do something finally finally for real with them? Something that matters? I don’t care if that’s putting sunglasses on Wyatt and turning him into The Miz, I just want something different. Sharp inhales and YOU’RE A LIAR have run their course. Bray is too good at what he does to be trapped under this sh*t.
Best: Stephanie McMahon Goes Full Mortal Kombat
Speaking of my Lucha-loving ass, how much do you think I loved Stephanie McMahon as Zuul standing in a Triple H-themed graveyard while the Disciples of Death carried replica titles and walked Triple H to the ring? Holy sh*t. I felt like I was on drugs when I was watching this. Wonderful, wonderful drugs.
I hope this is what The Authority will become now that the threat of Shane McMahon has passed and Survivor Series 2014 is in the distant rearview. Just a horrible dystopian skeleton graveyard where Stephanie dresses like she’s in Thunderdome and screams at you like she’s in Thunderdome.
Worst: So We’re Just Doing It Straight Then
And then, uh …
This match was 27 minutes long. The story was that Triple H wanted to beat Roman Reigns in a match but isn’t tough enough, and Roman can stop whatever H tries to throw at him. Stephanie interference? Spear! Triple H trying to use a sledgehammer? Superman punches and a spear! As a reminder, this took 27 minutes.
I don’t know, man. It’s another in a series of failed Triple H WrestleMania main events. It was way too long, and whoever decided to do a methodical, mat-based match 6 hours into a wrestling show that had already pissed off half its audience needs to rethink their strategy. It in itself wasn’t bad, but the incompatibility of what the crowd wants and what WWE wants to do has never been more obvious.
Anyway, that’s WrestleMania. I think “anyway, that’s WrestleMania” says it all. There’s more to like on the show than people who hated it will probably admit, but enough going weird or wrong to keep it from being as good as it should’ve been. Let’s hope this is the end of phase 2 of the Roman Reigns Experiment, and Monday’s post-Mania Raw takes him in literally any other direction.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Define irony : HHH puts over young talent, and the IWC is butthurt.
Rock said there would be lots of Wrestlemana babies. He knew Vince was going to f*ck us all.
Like anybody’s going to boo the guy who put together Takeover: Dallas.
This is like Rocky IV if Rocky didn’t win over the Russian crowd
Mr. Royal Rumble, JSF
It’s like 101,000 voices cried out in boos and were suddenly silenced.
Well, if anyone’s used to putting on a happy face while entertaining a letdown crowd at this place, it’s the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders
CM Punk was an agent of change. No change.
Sting was an agent of change. No change.
Shane McMahon was an agent of change. No change.
“Is that a sharpshooter” “Well the Rock certainly thinks so.”
The Mean Street Posse appear to have shrunk in the wash.
Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol
I wonder how cool the rock would seem if he’d spent his time in wwe getting put in the million dollar dream and having money stuffed in his mouth or eating a hogan leg drop every wrestlemania
Thanks for reading, everyone. See you next year. Uh, I mean, tonight.