Ian Hamilton has been a wrestling fan since 1992, and has watched the best of the best and the worst of the worst… and has been to two WrestleManias. Formerly host of the “Ringside” podcast, Ian has also released several books available on Kindle, iTunes and also in dead tree (paperback) formats. Twitter @theianhamilton or visit theianhamilton.com.
Over 80,000 fans descended onto New Jersey’s MetLife stadium, marking the climax of a hectic weekend of wrestling. Although WrestleMania has been an annual tradition since 1984, it’s only been in the last decade that other wrestling companies have sought to piggyback on the gathering of wrestling fans.
With WrestleMania returning to the New York market, the wrestling convention business attempted to capitalise on the invasion of fans with an event called WrestleCon, with the usual array of wrestlers and vendors available hawking their wares and signing autographs. Also part of WrestleCon was a myriad of independent events, most of which were available for those fans unable to make the trip to the Meadowlands Convention Centre in Secaucus, via the emerging internet PPV format.
I was one of those fans who didn’t make the trip to New Jersey, and having had the privilege of attending two prior WrestleManias (and also having the foresight to book Monday morning off work this year!), I decided to dip my toe into some of this weekend’s action.
Having to contend with a five hour time difference in the UK, a lot of my action was to be viewed on demand, with Evolve on Friday night at 9pm, Ring of Honor at 12.30am (early Saturday), Kaiju Big Battel at 4am on Saturday morning (which I did not watch); followed by SHIMMER on Saturday afternoon at 5pm, Dragon Gate USA at 1am (late Saturday night), then another Dragon Gate on Sunday evening at 6pm. There were other shows, like CZW who aired on iPPV also, and CHIKARA (who did not) as well as a Ring of Honor television taping, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a serious wrestling overdose before a WWE bell is even rung!
The following timings are in the order I saw the shows, not the order they took place…
My wrestling weekend started on Friday night then, with the EVOLVE show – the first effort that I’d seen from this group. For the uninformed, EVOLVE is an independent promotion that was set up in 2010 with the idea that it would be presented more like a sport, with emphasis on things like rules and wrestlers’ win-loss records. The group was set up by former Ring of Honor booker Gabe Sapolsky, among others, and recently merged with Sapolsky’s other effort, Dragon Gate USA, although the two continue to run separately branded shows.
This EVOLVE show was centred around a one night title tournament, to crown the company’s first champion. In the weeks building up to the event, brackets were unveiled, showing a less than conventional tournament, with a singles match and a four-way match being held as “qualifiers” of sorts. The show actually opened with the four-way, but despite the live show being held up for half an hour to sort out internet problems, the main bugbears of iPPVs rearered their ugly head, as most of the first hour of the show was unwatchable due to problems at the venue.
To EVOLVE’s credit, the company sorted the problem within the opening hour and arranged for make goods for everyone who’d paid to see the iPPV – effectively upgrading people or giving them a freebie.
Unfortunately by this point, the live crowd had been deflated by the delay and the opening match which took their breath away, as the four-way between Rich Swann, rumoured WWE-signees Sami Callihan and Samuray del Sol and Jigsaw (aka Rubix in TNA) blew the roof off of the convention centre. The second qualifier, between Jon Davis and AR Fox felt somewhat anticlimactic in comparison, as a simple ref bump with Davis accidentally clotheslining the referee ended the match by DQ.
Later in the tournament, the top two seeds – Ricochet and Chuck Taylor – ended up losing to the qualifiers Sami Callihan and AR Fox, setting up the finale, although by that point a stuttering internet stream had dampened my enthusiasm, although the entertaining act of the Gentlemen’s Club (accompanied by the Swamp Monster!) did manage to revive things somewhat in their loss to Johnny Gargano and former “current” WWE champion Brian Kendrick.
One wrestler I’d not seen before (but had heard plenty of) was Uhaa Nation. He made his EVOLVE return following a year out with a serious knee injury, helping Arik Cannon overcome Scott Reed. If you’ve not seen Uhaa before, the best way I can describe him is as a more athletic version of Bobby Lashley, with standing moonsaults and standing shooting star presses in his repertoire. Tailor-made for one-day making it to WWE, watch him while you can because those moves won’t make it onto Raw!
I tapped out after the tag team match between the Young Bucks (formerly TNA’s Generation Me) and the Super Smash Brothers, but was able to watch the finals on demand the next day, as AR Fox overcame Sami Callihan to become the first EVOLVE champion as the show ended with barely an hour to go before Ring of Honor opened their “Supercard of Honor 7” event back in New York City.
The Hammerstein Ballrom has been more famous among wrestling fans for ECW in their dying days… and also the start of WWE’s revival of Extreme. In more recent times, Ring of Honor have used the Manhattan Centre as their New York base. Friday night’s Supercard of Honor was their latest foray into iPPV, a medium which the company has had extremely mixed results in.
On WrestleMania weekend last year, ROH’s iPPVs were a mitigated disaster, with internet connections and local weather combining to ruin both night’s shows, and force the company to leave their iPPV providers (GoFightLive) and create an in-house solution with extremely mixed results that have severely tarnished the reputation of internet pay-per-view as a whole.
As a live experience, ROH’s iPPV apparently cut out in the vital moments of the main event, killing all of the suspense as Jay Briscoe survived an onslaught from SCUM to unseat Kevin Steen as the ROH World Champion. Watching the show on demand the following day revealed the same problem, as the show rolled along well until the end of the main event, where the picture quality dropped, then the image froze until the end of show celebrations.
Elsewhere in the “Supercard of Honor”, Michael Elgin and former TNA X-Division champion Jay Lethal battled it out in a stellar number one contender’s match, whilst Matt Hardy continued his rehabilitation in wrestling with a loss in the three way for the company’s television title, as a low blow and small package allowed Adam Cole score the elimination before he eventually fell to defending champion Matt Taven. Speaking of Taven, his act as part of the “House of Truth” with Truth Martini was bordering on the X-rated, as was former WWE Playboy model Maria, whose partnership with the returning Mike Bennett was laiden with chemistry. Sadly, if either of those two get picked up by WWE, I cannot see their entire entourage making the trip to Titan Tours with them.
At 5pm UK time, the SHIMMER women athletes promotion held a matinee show at WrestleCon, broadcast worldwide on iPPV. Although they had some issues, the show was at least watchable. If your only exposure of women wrestling was from WWE and TNA, then this was a world away – women who can wrestle, and aren’t hired primarily on their appearances. Compared to promotions like ROH and EVOLVE, Shimmer’s matches were a lot more basic, and dare I say, old-school. Matches ending after a finisher or a big move, as opposed to a WrestleMania finish in every match. The fact that the main event cage match, which could only have been won by pinfall or submission, ended with Cheerleader Melissa (formerly Raisha Saeed and Alissa Flash in TNA) winning the title from Saraya Knight following a top rope huracanrana on the Brit, says it all. No overdone false finishes, just a match building up to a big spot which ended the match. Refreshing.
My plan was to catch up with Saturday night’s DG:USA show before following up with the company’s live matinee. Sadly, the video on demand of the show didn’t get posted until after Sunday’s event, so I was left to watch “Mercury Rising” out of order.
By this point I must admit that I was starting to get distracted as the build-up to WrestleMania continued. An opening match featuring former TNA man Tony Nese was perfectly acceptable – the polar opposite of the second match of the night, as “The Scene” exploded, with Scott Reed beating Caleb Konley in a match that made zero sense unless you’d seen Saturday’s show. Which I hadn’t.
A tag team victory for the Super Smash Brothers and Brian Kendrick’s win over Chuck Taylor then led us into a weird elimination style gauntlet match with ladders. Billed as the “ladders are legal fray”, this was a seven person match which had staggered entries, and the introduction of ladders once everyone had joined the match. If you wanted to be critical of the Young Bucks, you could say that their main move here was the superkick, although it was clear that this match was clearly designed to put over Uhaa Nation, as he ended up eliminating both of the Bucks to claim victory.
The show was rounded off with two matches – first a Dragon Gate six man tag. Those of you with a decent memory may recall these matches stealing the show for Ring of Honor over WrestleMania weekends past. In fact, it was the success of these matches that led to the creation of DG:USA after Gabe Sapolsky’s departure from Ring of Honor. However, those matches were pretty much transplanting a Dragon Gate feud and putting them on a ROH card. Nowadays, the Dragon Gate six man tags are three Dragon Gate guys vs three DG:USA guys, which really takes the lustre of fof the match. The main event of Akira Tozawa vs Shingo was skipped by yours truly: another one to stick on the “watch later” list.
And then… we make it to WrestleMania. This was the first year that WWE ran a pre-game and post-game show, and it felt like a nice addition to the WrestleMania experience, with Jim Ross (in the role of legendary commentary), Dusty Rhodes (legendary wrestler) and Kofi Kingston (best spoken guy who couldn’t get on the card). If this gets copied into all other PPVs, though, it will quickly lose it’s shine. The pre-show match between Wade Barrett and The Miz only went four minutes, which was sadly a precursor for things to come as too many matches went way too short.
We all know the story of recent WrestleManias – a pedestrian first half of the show, with the main event matches knocking the ball out of the park. This year, it didn’t quite work out like that.
The opening match of the Shield vs Big Show, Randy Orton and Sheamus may have ended in a win for the invading forces, but at the end of they played second fiddle to Big Show’s umpteenth turn, as his spell as a babyface of convenience came to an end. Ryback vs Mark Henry was what we all expected, save for the finish, as WWE opted to extend Ryback’s pay-per-view losing streak in favour of having him perform the Shellshock after the match instead.
Daniel Bryan finally got his WrestleMania moment after last year’s 18 second loss and the prior year’s dumping to the pre-show, as he and Kane retained the tag team titles over the debuting Big E Langston and Dolph “I never win” Ziggler. The placement of this match only added fuel to the fire for those hoping that Dolph would finally exchange his flattened blue briefcase for the World Heavyweight title, but it was not to be on this night.
Jack Swagger’s curious jobber entrance at WrestleMania of all places may have been sending a message after the challenger’s recent DUI went unpunished (or perhaps they just didn’t want to show him driving). The match was pretty good, although the crowd didn’t seem to react to this, or most things on the match. Alberto del Rio retained the title with the cross armbreaker, and as the picture faded to black, it became clear that we’d be seeing no cash in tonight.
The Undertaker extended his streak with his annual blowaway match, with CM Punk being the victim this year. I’m fine with the Undertaker wrestling once a year if it means we’ve got someone capable of saving WrestleManias, but it’s clear that the Dead Man is in the twilight of his in-ring years, so we’d best make the most of the spectacle that surrounds him.
At this point, we sure could have used a Divas match, a concert or even the mixed tag team match to bring the crowd down. We got none of those, with P Diddy having gone out earlier, so we went straight to Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H… and man, that killed the crowd. WWE always used to put divas matches in the fake “semi main event” spot for a reason… because if you didn’t, you got this! If you added crowd noise, this probably would have been a good match, but as the crowd didn’t care, it came across really badly on TV. Somehow, Brock Lesnar is bulletproof as he takes yet another loss but still remains a scary guy, but something needs to be done if they plan to use him to headline WrestleMania against the Rock next year.
Finally, WrestleMania rounded up with once, sorry, twice in a lifetime, as John Cena claimed redemption against the Rock. I knew that before the bell even rang, as all of the promos were about Cena getting his win back. On paper, the match was about the same level as last year’s, just minus the rabid Miami crowd, which left this main event feeling as flat as a pancake.
All in all, if you take WrestleMania on a match by match basis, it was a pretty good show. However, the poor running order left the fans with a bad taste in their mouth, and the feeling you have at the end of the night is always the feeling you remember in years to come. That being said, after watching an ungodly amount of wrestling for someone not called Dave Meltzer, and all in a short space of time, I was left feeling burnt out and glad that I’d paid the extra for the on-demand options.
Looking back on WrestleMania weekend, my favourite show in terms of wrestling would have to be the SHIMMER Women’s Athlete show from Saturday, followed by ROH’s Supercard of Honor. Both of those shows, on demand, would cost you $30, vs the $70 that WrestleMania cost you. In hindsight, with only the Punk vs Undertaker match being a must-see, you could probably wait for the DVD and save a few bucks, but hingsight is always 20-20.
So, next year, WrestleCon and WrestleMania head to New Orleans and doubtless we’ll be doing all of this again. Despite the problems with internet PPVs, regardless of whether I’m live in New Orleans or sat on my couch at home, I’ll be doing this again next April, albeit a lot more selectively.