Sunday night brought us WrestleMania 29 from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. The highs were high, the lows were low and there was much entertainment and frivolity to be found. SB Nation's Jason Kirk, Spencer Hall and Bill Hanstock are here to break down what worked and what ... was probably better left unsaid.
Bill Hanstock: The highlight of the night was easily CM Punk vs. the Undertaker. Great stuff, thrilling from start to finish and possibly the Undertaker's shortest WrestleMania entrance ever!
Spencer Hall: Yes it's a cheap ploy by Vince McMahon to get another wrestler on Dancing with the Stars, but if you don't seal-clap at the absurdity of Fandango's tango-themed entrance and subsequent upset of Chris Jericho, you do not understand the role of terrible wrestlers in the WWE ecosystem. They are there to do something grandiose and stupid, and then pull a few upsets and then disappear into the Mists of Discarded Characters.
Bonus: the announcers hit it with a long "A," making him "Fahn-DAHN-goooh," which I will say to myself quietly while giggling for the next week.
Bill Hanstock: Ryback vs. Mark Henry was precisely as billed: two freakishly strong dudes trying to pick one another up. There was clubbering and there were slams. It was short, it was a spectacle and Mark Henry won. Because THAT'S WHAT HE DOES.
Jason Kirk: Diabolical is a stupid word. But it's what CM Punk is. And we've seen opponents like the Rock and John Cena have to match the force of Punk's presence, but we found here that the one headliner whose gimmick is pretty much that he has no personality is Punk's greatest foil.
I don't know where this ranks among Undertaker's WrestleMania matches, but I'm not expecting it to be topped next year in what could be Taker's last-ever match. It was adventurous even when it went off the rails, with a double-botch still yielding a moment that fit both characters completely. The Undertaker's ancient (in character, in wrestler years, and likely in reality) body couldn't pull off his demanding Last Ride finisher (simply standing military press a man half your age!), Punk salvaged the moment by soaring way too far, ambition couldn't crack legacy and the story was told.
Bill Hanstock: Living Colour played CM Punk out to the ring with a live version of "Cult of Personality." It was maybe the best live entrance theme at WrestleMania ever. Or maybe they threw off the curve by not being Limp Bizkit or P.O.D.
Spencer Hall: Spanish language announcers' table one, CM Punk zero. Bout time that hard luck competitor had a good night.
Bill Hanstock: Antonio Cesaro is probably one of the more entertaining wrestlers in the company and the United States Champion and he doesn't get a spot on the card? That warrants an ESPN-style "C'mon, man!"
Spencer Hall: John Cena. Just everything about this vanilla enema of a character, persona and wrestler. I would call him the Panera Bread of wrestling, but Panera bread has a purpose, and John Cena does not.
Bill Hanstock: Ryback is a terrible sport and a bad loser. He picked up poor Mark Henry and dropped him on his head after losing fair and square. What a jerk and a meanie. We don't need that element in pro wrestling, guys.
Jason Kirk: The problem with writing a new Superman story is you have to correct everything the previous guy took too far. He eventually gets boring every time his writer decides he could really use another Jesus power or two, leaving him with no believable opposition. Eventually, he's dialed back to merely a step below eternal master of everything. He has to take damage for it to matter. I say all this to say: John Cena!
We've been taught since we were kids that finishing moves really, really matter in wrestling, and that to survive one is a really, really big deal. It should almost never happen. But in seemingly every Rock (or Cena) main event for the last decade, finishing moves mean nothing. Each guy does both his most world-ending move and the other guy's counterpart over and over with no apparent effect on the energy meters, like two kids goofing on a trampoline. It's like watching two countries trade nuclear bombs with no body count. The fiction is broken, and even worse, the eyes get really bored.
The main event had no pacing, with two acts, both of them useless, slammed into each other. A bunch of shoving and snorting and then a bunch of finisher-parrying. We've seen it so often that one of the few clever spots, when Cena faked an attempted People's Elbow, was a direct reference to last year's finisher inception wormhole. WE CAN GO FINISHERIER.
And then the post-match passing of the torch from the guy who isn't really a wrestler to the guy who's already ran the show for 10 years happened. Everyone got a stomachache.
Bill Hanstock: At the end of the Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H match, we were begging for anyone -- ANYONE -- to run out and make things interesting. Some ECW-original Paul Heyman guys? X-Pac? Heck, Hornswoggle. Sadly, there was no reprieve.
Spencer Hall: Diddy's attempt to get unified hand-waving going at a wrestling stadium show was no-sold by the crowd, and this was ... actually, this belongs under good, because it was delightful. Well done, hatin'-ass Jersey crowd.
Bill Hanstock: The Rock vs. John Cena was better last year, when it was "Once in a Lifetime." They proved that twice in a lifetime is like a million times too many.
Spencer Hall: Brock Lesnar just looks winded standing there and has somehow lost any serious appeal he has as a nuclear-grade heel. He looks less evil now, and much closer to enraged and constipated, and is nowhere near as dynamic in the ring as he might have been in the past. Pairing this with the decidedly earthbound Triple H made for a match of two water buffalo scrapping after the same cantaloupe, and in translation: that's not good news for the WWE.
Bill Hanstock: We were dreading the eight-person gimmick tag team match, and then it didn't even make the card. I hope Diddy appreciates the sacrifice that the Funkadactyls made so he could have his concert.
Jason Kirk: Where the WWE goes from here is what's ugly. Not necessarily ugly in a bad way, but certainly messy and kind of painted into a corner. The only serious draws at the moment are a bunch of part-timers, Cena and Punk. Most of those part-timers are getting old, and the two young guys aren't all that young. The Undertaker's potential final match looms, and I don't see how Cena or Punk won't be given the honor of seeing him off. Cena turning heel and ending the streak or Taker winning the belt and then vacating it to a months-long free-for-all could work. Or just give us Stone Cold vs. Fandango, because dumb fun has no limit.
But next year will probably just be Undertaker beating some lump like Ryback as Cena and the Rock forge a bond of finisher-proof brotherhood, and then we'll watch the year after that, too, because predictable wrestling is still better than the greatest baseball ever.
Bill Hanstock: Hey Brock Lesnar: you already kinda look like a human wiener enough. Please don't wear a skullcap to the ring. Thanks.
Spencer Hall: Seriously John Cena is horrible. Not as horrible as Jerry Lawler's choker button tie, but still completely horrible.