Despite claims that the WWE padded out its attendance figures from 67,000 to 76,000 fans, the eagerly anticipated 31st annual WrestleMania was generally well received by the majority in attendance, as well as those watching at home.
The event took place at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, San Francisco, making it only the sixth open-air WrestleMania event in WWE history. The card featured, amongst other matches, a seven-man ladder match for the companys Intercontinental Championship, a dream match of sorts between WWE veteran Triple H and former WCW mainstay Sting and a main event of Brock Lesnar Vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
The main card kicked off in spectacular fashion, with fan-favourite Daniel Bryan picking up the gold from defending champion Bad News Barrett. Bryan headlined last years 30th anniversary event, but was sidelined by a serious neck injury not long afterwards. His victory at WrestleMania XXXI marked a triumphant return to Championship form for the man known as much for his skilful wrestling as he is for his popular “YES! YES! YES!” chants.
Not long afterward, Bryan was congratulated backstage by a plethora of wrestling legends (and former Intercontinental Champions) including Ricky The Dragon Steamboat, Bret Hitman Hart, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Nature Boy Ric Flair and Pat Patterson, the first ever Intercontinental Champion.
Fans were also treated to a heated grudge match between Seth Rollins and former WWE Champion Randy Orton. The match was tightly contested, with Rollins security men causing regular distractions to Orton from the outside. At the climax of the fight, Orton managed perform his signature move, the RKO, almost from midair, as Rollins attempted his Curb Stomp finisher. Visually, this made for an incredible finish, as The Viper picked up the win.
The matchup between Triple H and Sting was billed as a dream match of sorts, and Sting was presented to fans as being the last survivor of the fabled Monday Night Wars – a period of time in wrestlings recent history marked by a ratings war between the then-WWF and its nearest rival WCW. This was rather odd, as Sting had in fact been competing for the TNA promotion for many years after the fall of WCW.
Triple Hs Terminator-themed entrance (complete with virtual ring announcement by Arnold Schwarzenegger) was an impressive sight to behold, but, despite this, the match didnt really find its footing until near the end. However, instead of a satisfactory conclusion to a one-on-one match, the WWE staged a microcosmic version of the ratings war by having its D-Generation X stable reunite in support of Triple H as WCWs New World Order group came to the aid of Sting.
Although well received by Attitude Era fans, this probably proved confusing for some of the younger audience members. At the finale of the match, HHH defeated Sting in fairly predictable fashion, but the pair shook hands when all was said and done, indicating that any animosity between WWE and WCW was finally over (of course, the company purchased WCW in 2001, so the point was actually moot before it was made).
Elsewhere on the card, WWE Divas A.J Lee (who retired from active competition shortly after the event) and Paige saw off The Bella Twins in an enjoyable matchup, whilst John Cena won the United States Championship from the (at the time) undefeated Rusev. In the storyline leading up to the event, Rusev and his manager, The Ravishing Russian Lana had been denigrating the United States in an angle not a million miles removed from the plot of Rocky IV, so it was up to John Cena to put them in their place – which he did.
Next up was the long-awaited return of The Undertaker to face the villainous cult leader Bray Wyatt. Fans were teased regarding Takers return, as announcers speculated that he might not actually show up at all.
Up until last year, The Undertaker had remained undefeated at any WrestleMania event, and, in fact had held a 21-0 win/loss record, known to WWE fans as The Streak. However, The Streak had ended at WrestleMania XXX, arguably the biggest shock in WWE history – and The Deadman hadnt been seen since. Many fans had speculated that he had actually retired.
Eventually, after much taunting from Wyatt, a loud bell rang and Undertakers entrance music began to play. The match was a far better showing from Undertaker than the previous year (probably because he was concussed for most of his WMXXX matchup), with both men working the crowd into a frenzy before Undertaker picked up a clean and decisive win (as it should be). Bray Wyatt was working hurt throughout the match, but both Bray and his opponent covered for it extremely well.
The main event was a match between WWE Champion Brock Lesnar and 2015 Royal Rumble winner Roman Reigns. Reigns, formerly a member of fan favourite stable The Shield, is the son of Wild Samoan Sika and is therefore a cousin to WWE legends The Rock, Yokozuna and Rikishi and a relative of multi-time WWE Tag Team Champions The Usos. WWE management was obviously very hot on Reigns being their next big star, but the fans had other ideas.
Unanimously booed after his Royal Rumble victory in January, Roman Reigns has been declared by wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer as the least popular wrestler ever to headline a WrestleMania main event. Perceptions of Reigns stem from his being unready and/or too inexperienced for a top spot within the company, to his simply not being a main event calibre-wrestler. In either instance, Reigns (booked to be the good guy or babyface in the match) was unpopular in the main event and actually had to be led to the ring by security guards.
Lesnar, usually a heel (industry term for a bad guy), found himself in an awkward position of garnering some cheers from the crowd – and, perhaps as a result, his offence eclipsed Reigns by a significant margin. The former UFC Champ, himself a target of much fan-criticism due to his status as a part-time WWE employee, threw Roman Reigns about like a veritable rag doll. Reigns signature moves (the spear and the Superman Punch respectively) were apparently ineffective against Lesnar, who simply kicked out of each and every pin attempt.
The feel of the main event struggled from the lack of the clear-cut good guy/bad guy dynamic so prominent in pro wrestling, but WWE creative had obviously anticipated this, so a genuine surprise was still waiting around the corner…
Seth Rollins, Reigns former tag team partner, emerged from the back brandishing his Money in the Bank briefcase – a storyline-item that grants the bearer a title match at any place or time of his choosing – and cashed in his contract, leaving WrestleMania XXXI as the new WWE Champion.
Rollins has long been regarded as one of the industrys brightest stars. From his days in independent promotions like ROH to his time in WWEs developmental series NXT, the man formerly known as Tyler Black has been a consistently impressive performer and had been nominated by many as a future World Champion.
Apparently, WrestleMania XXXI was his moment to shine – and he did, garnering more heat (industry term for fan reaction to a villain) than either Lesnar or Reigns had managed during the entire match. This set up an interesting story that could play out over the next few months, with Seth ducking and dodging challengers Lesnar and Reigns in his quest to keep the title.
Overall, WrestleMania XXXI received generally positive reviews from fans and critics alike, being named as one of the greatest Manias ever by more than one critic. From this fans perspective, however, it lacked the polish and power of WrestleMania XXX, being dragged down by an ambivalent main event reliant on shock tactics rather than wrestling. Having said that, this years WrestleMania was still a very well packaged and enjoyable Pay-Per-View event.