WWE WrestleMania 32 Trip Diary

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There’s nothing quite like going to a WWE show. Even if it’s just a random episode of Smackdown, with half the arena tarped off and a pointless tag match main event, it’s still special to see. You watch it on TV so much you get used to certain things. You get used to the rapid-fire camera cuts. You get used to the sounds of the ref telling guys to get out of the corner. You get used to the commentary explaining (and sometimes over-explaining) everything you see. When you watch it live it’s like wonderful silent theater. Other than the thud of feet and backs hitting the canvass of the ring, there’s almost nothing else to be heard (except for the crowd, of course). These guys aren’t wrestlers; they’re mimes. And they’re deceptively good at miming too.

Going to WrestleMania is, in many ways, the same as going to a random Smackdown. You still can’t hear anything. You still are watching from one “camera angle” (the view from your seats). You’re left to pay attention and figure out the story of the match on your own. It’s all the same between the ropes, whether you’re surrounded by 8,000 other fans or 101,000.

But of course there isn’t anything like going to WrestleMania. Because WrestleMania is about more than what happens between the ropes and between the bells. WrestleMania is not NXT Takeover. That’s a “wrestling” show. That’s a show built around a handful of matches and the feuds that prompted them. WrestleMania has feuds and it has matches, but it also has pyro, lights, legends making appearances, big and theatrical entrances. It’s a spectacle. So it’s not fair to compare WrestleMania to NXT Takeover. It’s apples and oranges. One’s a “pro wrestling” show, the other is “sports entertainment.”

That said, this “sports entertainment” show had “wrestling” matches on it, so what about them? Did they compare to the sights and sounds and spectacle of the “entertainment” portion of the night?

Let’s start with AT&T Stadium. JerryWorld. The most exquisite football palace on planet earth. At about 3:30 my wife dropped off me and Jack about a block away from the stadium and even that far away from the site there were scores of fans hanging out, tailgating in the parking lot, sitting around telling stories and laughing, watching the WWE Network from the back of their trucks. It was surreal and a much different experience than the one we had last year at Levi’s Stadium. Last year we arrived via shuttle, hopped out and got in line to have our tickets scanned. It was very efficient.

This was not efficient.

There were lines everywhere but no one knew what they were in line for. Were they in line to enter a gate, get scanned and enter the stadium? They didn’t know. They were just in line because the person in front of them was in line. Essentially it was 100,000 people clustered into various “masses of humanity” at various points around the stadium. One such line snaked away from the stadium and out of sight. Jack and I walked around to one side of the stadium, formed in one of the lines and slowly began crawling closer to the building. Because we were moving I felt confident we were in a line, but as we drew closer to the building I realized we were in for a disappointment. In front of us was a crowd-control fence, about three feet high, with thousands of people in line on the other side. They were moving from right to left toward the ticket scanners and our line was forming a T into a fence leading to nowhere. If we wanted to get in, we had to find the back of the line…which was the previously mentioned line that snaked out of sight.

Here I made a brilliant diagram…

att-stadium-map-crowd

As you can see, I made an executive decision: We jumped the fence.

With so many people distracted by the giant stadium next to them, fumbling for their tickets in their pockets or talking with the people around them, no one noticed as me and Jack (and a few other brave souls) jumped the fence and essentially cut in front of 70-80,000 people.

I regret nothing.

wm32-mm-4

Happy to be in our seats at about 4:30pm we watched as the place slowly started to fill. As the preshow began the ringside area was mostly filled up and the stadium seats were getting there too. By the time the main show kicked off, it looked like a capacity crowd was already in their seats and ready to go (as opposed to last year which wasn’t at peak capacity until an hour or so into the show).

wrestlemania-32-crowd-set-stadium

The spectacle of WrestleMania skewers your perception of the event, compared to watching it on TV. Last year the Triple H vs Sting match was a high-point of the evening for everyone in the stadium. I was shocked when I got back to my hotel to read how everyone watching at home hated it. So I knew going in that I would probably end up enjoying the show more in person than I would when I rewatched it at home. But that didn’t make the thrills any less wonderful.

This year, however, it didn’t make the disappointments any more palatable.

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So how do you summarize WrestleMania 32? A lot of people are saying it’s the worst of the modern era, but I don’t think it’s as bad as 27 or as boring as 29. It wasn’t WrestleMania 30, which was a nearly flawless production from start to finish. It wasn’t WrestleMania 31, which defied its low expectations to be a great show. If anything this WrestleMania met its low expectations. It didn’t underperform them, but it didn’t exceed them either.

The opening ladder match was a great start to the show. Every superstar was given a moment to look like a star and Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens really made the most of their moments. The finish, with Zack Ryder winning the strap, had become a “worst-kept secret” as the weekend went on, so it wasn’t a total surprise when he won, but it still brought a big pop from the crowd.

AJ Styles vs Chris Jericho was a match that many—including myself—had hoped would steal the show. Instead it just a very good match with a very bad finish. More on that later.

New Day did not put their titles on the line because, as Dave Meltzer reported last week, WWE had big plans for New Day and it wouldn’t have worked with them defending the titles. As it turns out, that plan involved losing to League of Nations (but of course, remaining champs). The match itself was disappointing for how ordinary it was, but it was the post match shenanigans that everyone will remember.

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It was actually my first time seeing Austin live. He wasn’t at Raw1000 and he wasn’t at Mania last year. So it was a real treat seeing a stunner in person. Of course they danced with New Day, giving them a huge rub, and then Austin gave Woods a stunner, giving him the greatest moment of his life. You may have thought it was boring at home, but in person it was wonderful.

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Probably the most disappointing “match” of the evening was Lesnar vs Ambrose, because it was one of only a few matches I had high expectations for. I wrote in the SO OF COURSE preview that the match needed to break away from Lesnar’s traditional “suplex, suplex, sell, suplex, F5, win” match. It needed to embrace its “street fight” stipulation and go balls to the wall. It didn’t. It followed the formula and in the end did nothing for either Lesnar or Ambrose.

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The women’s match was another one that I had high hopes for, and thankfully this one did its job. All three women put on an excellent match, maybe the match of the night or tied with the ladder match at worst. The problem, as with the Styles loss and the New Day loss, was the finish. More on that in a bit.

No one quite knew what to expect with the Hell in a Cell match. In fact, no one even knew if it would close the show or not. All kinds of theories and speculations were tossed around in the weeks leading up to the match and around the stadium on Sunday. The one thing everyone agreed was that something would happen, and that it wouldn’t just end with a tombstone and a simple 1-2-3.

Welp…at least the intro was cool, even if it lacked some of the more theatrical stuff done in past Manias.

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The highlight of the match was of course the Foley spot. I didn’t actually record the moment, because I told myself I wasn’t going to go to WrestleMania just to watch the show on my phone. But I did record the climbing and a replay. Being there live was surreal.

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You can hear Jack yelling “he’s going to kill himself” which was a sentiment shared by everyone.

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But that spot came very late in a very long match, and most of the rest of it was…not much. And in the end, Taker picked up Shane hit him with a tombstone and pinned him 1-2-3. That was it. More on the finish in a bit.

The Andre Battle Royal was a surprise in that it was kind of a mini-Royal Rumble with surprise appearances, some legends and an NXT debut. Seeing DDP was a treat, seeing Shaq was weird but fun and giving Baron Corbin the win was a great way to introduce him to the main roster. No complaints about the match, and it was cool that this was the buffer match before the main event and not—as in years past—the women’s match. Times are changing.

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Your mileage may vary on how you receive the Rock’s sporadic appearances but there’s no denying that he’s still on fire with the live crowd. Everyone knew he would be there and that he had “something” planned, but no one knew what. Having it be an interaction with Bray Wyatt was a great moment and seeing the Rock come ready for a “match” was a special treat. Oh and my John Cena loving son got to see his hero.

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Can’t complain about that.

But I can complain about the main event. It was slow, plodding, boring, predictable and disappointing. After almost seven hours the crowd was more worn down than angry (maybe that was the plan) but still Roman got a huge negative reaction, and nothing Triple H or Stephanie (who gave an amazing “so dumb it’s good” intro of her husband) did could change that. Of course it ended in the predictable way and with Raw the next night in hindsight, it’s clear Vince was going to just take his lumps with the crowd and start off the next chapter of Reigns’ push in a new direction.

~~~

So what was WrestleMania 32? It was a show with good matches that had some good spots and bad finishes. It was also a show with bad matches that had good spots and bad finishes. So basically: It had a few good spots and a lot of bad finishes.

But for many of them you can rationalize and understand the thought process. It’s clear they booked this show with Raw the next night in mind.

The Zack Ryder/Miz finale to the ladder match set up the title change on Raw. Also Owens and Zayn look set to feud away from the title. So that explains that finish. You can see their thought process.

AJ vs Jericho can also be explained. AJ was going to get his big moment the next night on Raw, winning the number-one-contendership. So they let Jericho beat him on Sunday so AJ could get his come back the next night. They couldn’t have AJ beat Jericho twice in a row, that would hurt Jericho as he went into his next feud. Again, you can see the thought process.

With New Day, it was clear they wanted to bring the legends out to take out the League of Nations so they booked the LON to win their match, to give them heat going into the beatdown. Once more, there’s a “logical” explanation for what they did.

Looking back, it seems crazy to think that they would let Shane beat Undertaker at Undertaker’s signature show, in Undertaker’s signature match, with Undertaker’s career on the line. So they tried to have their cake and eat it too; they gave Shane Raw on Monday, giving Undertaker the win on Sunday. This booking was all about weaseling out of the corner they had backed themselves into.

And of course, with Roman Reigns, it’s obvious they wanted to just get Mania over with, take their booing in stride and go for the reset on Raw the next night.

So again, with every controversial finish, you can at least find the thought process behind their decisions. That said, they should have zoomed out and looked at a card that was loaded with heels winning match after match and realized they needed to rethink their plans. They basically sacrificed their biggest show of the year in order to race to the reset button on Raw the next night. That seems unwise and the low rating for the Raw-after-Mania this year bears that out.

But if there was any one match that was most hurt by the finish it was the Women’s Title match. Unlike with the others there is no logical reason for Charlotte to retain. Her story was done. This was supposed to be the night she finally got her comeuppance. WrestleMania is supposed to be the show every year where the villain finally gets what’s coming to them and loses to the hero. With Roman guaranteed to get booed at his own coronation, it should have been this match where that moment happened. Instead, for reasons I can only assume were politically-driven, Flair retained the title and the other two women ended up losing. That was a travesty and it really hurt things the next night on Raw when the crowd hijacked Charlotte’s celebration with chants for Bayley. Bad bad booking all the way around, but especially in that match.

After it was over, disappointment reigned. Me and Jack decided to get a taxi back to our hotel instead of calling on Lauren to come pick us up. Once again there was a line of maybe 300 people looking for a taxi. It snaked around metal barriers as security at the front of the line directed people into (slowly) approaching taxis. The line moved every thirty minutes…about three feet. It was cold, Jack was tired and shivering. At the rate things were going we wouldn’t have gotten back to the hotel until 1am or later. So I made another decision. We jumped the fence again, left the line but stood next to the front and waited for a taxi. Then, when the security lady was distracted we simply strolled behind her and took one.

I regret nothing.

7/10. There were moments I’ll never forget, and the “entertainment” part of the night was worth the headache. The “sports” part of it, however, was tainted by a series of bad decisions, pointless decisions, and a very disappointing main event.

One more night left…

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