Seth Rollins, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Nikki Bella, Cesaro, Tyson Kidd. What do all of those names have in common? Well, two things.
First, each of those WWE performers walked out of the ring a year ago at Wrestlemania 31 in Santa Clara wearing WWE gold. Those six performers held the WWE's five major titles coming out of the WWE's biggest annual showcase. The Super Bowl, McMahon style.
Second, and far more disturbingly, exactly none of them were part of the card last night at Wrestlemania 32 in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium, all six of them either sidelined or, in the case of Bryan, having retired altogether because of major injuries. Indeed, if there has been a theme to this year's Wrestlemania buildup, it's been about who hasn't been available to the company, as opposed to who has been.
The show, though, must still go on, and to be truthful, the name "Wrestlemania" and the corresponding brand of the massive annual extravaganza have evolved into the driving force behind ticket sales, as opposed to any one performer. In short, this show had been sold out for months, so in terms of asses of seats, there is really nothing WWE could've trotted out there last night that would not have resulted in a fully packed stadium and giant spectacle.
In the end, as always, there were winners and losers, as Wrestlemania serves as the launching point for the next wave of story lines for a roster that remains in an odd state of flux. Let's take a look back and relive some of the magic...
4. WWE Shareholders
As I just indicated, the depleted WWE roster did not dampen the buying spirit of the company's fan base, as Wrestlemania 32 not only sold out AT&T Stadium, but set an all-time attendance record for the event with 101,763 as the announced crowd. Also, I can attest, having been in attendance in person last night, there was no shortage of WWE fans lined up ten deep for the right to pay 50 bucks for a T-shirt that cost the company about 46 cents to make. Additionally, I'm guessing the jumbo-size Hall of Fame ceremony on Saturday and Mania on Sunday (nearly six hours of matches and content on Sunday alone) drove more new subscribers to the company's exclusive, web-based network, the ultimate metric for how success is measured going forward.
With the thin WWE roster for Wrestlemania, conventional wisdom said this would be a chance for the company to push some new stars. Some of that happened — Zach Ryder won the Intercontinental title in an upset, NXT prodigy Baron Corbin won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal (over a field that included Shaquille O'Neal), and in the main event, Roman Reigns defeated Triple H for the WWE title, much to the chagrin of the audience in attendance (more on this in a moment). Still, many of the most memorable moments came in matches where older acts were pushed at the expense of younger acts (Chris Jericho over A.J. Styles, Brock Lesnar over Dean Ambrose) or segments in which Attitude Era icons were embarrassing current roster fixtures (Foley/HBK/Austin against the League of Nations, Rock/Cena against the Wyatts). Hell, the most memorable match involved a 46-year-old non-wrestler against a 51-year-old who wrestles twice a year. Which brings us to...
In any line of work, you'd like to think your boss wouldn't ask you to do anything he or she wouldn't be willing to do if put in a similar situation. Well, the McMahon family, for any warts they may have in the area of self-awareness, have never shied away from physical punishment. Last night, against the Undertaker in Hell In A Cell, Shane McMahon went next level...
I mean, wow. Hell, even Shane's sister Stephanie took a Reigns spear in the main event. You can question the McMahons for a lot of things. Commitment to the business is not one of them.
1. Political correctness
One of the better matches of the night was the three-way match between Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch for the WWE Women's Title. Of course, the match itself seemed to take a backseat to the company's announcement that came in the pregame show that the title would now be called the "Women's Title" and will no longer be known as the more (I suppose) objectifying "Divas Title," solid preparation for the Hillary-led world we are all about to be living in, I guess.
4. A.J. Styles
Introducing new characters who had success in other companies has always been hit or miss with WWE. Styles has been a guy that hardcore fans have long wanted to see in a WWE ring. However, since his debut at the Royal Rumble in January, Styles has been mired in a purgatory story line with Chris Jericho that hasn't been a great look for either guy, especially Styles, who was pinned on the biggest show of the year.
3. Erick Rowan
Not like we didn't already know this, but Rowan is clearly the fourth man in a four-man Wyatt Family pecking order. Need a reminder? Okay, how about jobbing to The Rock in about five seconds after a single Rock Bottom finisher? I thought so.
Not that it was ever based on anything other than his being a visually juiced-up freak, but there was a time in the past couple of years when the company was ready to push Ryback as a main-event-level guy. Now he's losing to a luchador (Kalisto) who is half his size in an opening bout that came from Ryback challenging him on a recent episode of Monday Night RAW. So I'm guessing now we will get yet another Ryback speech about how focused he is and he's tired of how he's being ignored and blah blah blah...
1. Roman Reigns
The one thing you can usually count on, as a fan in attendance at Wrestlemania, is that you'll be sent home happy after the main event. Well, if 100,000 people booing the new champion because they despise how the company is shoving him down their throats is what makes you happy, then you left AT&T Stadium ecstatic last night. In tonight's episode of RAW, it will be interesting to see how WWE addresses a dynamic it can no longer ignore — its fan base hates its world champion, and not the good kind of money-generating hate that helps grow a business. They are legitimately offended they're being fed Reigns as their "hero."
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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