By Brad Carroll and Matt Straub
The now five-hour spectacle known as WrestleMania 31 has begun from Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, starting with a tag team championship match and going all the way until a WWE heavyweight champion is crowned, whether it be Brock Lesnar defending, Roman Reigns winning, or someone else altogether coming out with the title before the show goes off the air.
Whatever happens, we will be here with instant analysis of each match, along with our five-star grade on all the action, so check back early and often. Enjoy the show and let us know your thoughts and grades in the comments section.
WWE Tag Team Championship
Tyson Kidd & Cesaro vs. Los Matadores vs. The Usos vs. The New Day
Winners: Tyson Kidd & Cesaro
Brad's Analysis: I'm just guessing here, but Tyson Kidd can thank his wife for all the attention he's getting and for being paired with Cesaro with a tag team title run. Otherwise, I don't know why he's in the picture here. Cesaro was easily the best of the not-so-impressive bunch in this tag team title match and deservedly got the pin at the end, tagging one of the Usos' boots as he delivered the big splash, making him the legal man. There was some feats of strenth that worked well, including the double superplex off the top rope, and overall it was a solid outing for a pre-show effort, even if there was just too many people involved to truly get a guage on what happened.
Matt's Analysis: First, the announcers couldn't keep the Usos straight, then they didn't know who was legal at the end of the match. This was a prime example of how structure and commentary are crucial to make a televised wrestling match work. The guys in the match all worked hard and WWE hid the Usos injury well, but the booking broke down into chaos and the announcers were as lost as I was. A solidly worked match blown by disorganization.
Brad's Star Grade: 3 out of 5 stars
Matt's Star Grade: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Winner: Big Show, eliminating Mizdow
Brad's Analysis: The first 90 percent of the Battle Royal was exactly what I thought it would be, a cluster of stupidity with no way in the world to focus on anything in particular. Then it got good. Dare I say, great. When Miz and Mizdow had their implosion in the ring, breaking up their team, with Big Show waiting across the ring, it was a perfect set up to bigger things down the road and to the moment at hand. After Mizdow tossed Miz out of the ring, I thought for sure Big Show would toss him as well and win the battle royal. But Mizdow and Big Show put on a show, for longer than I anticipated, and that was great. But then came the ending, which just doesn't make any sense. Big Show eliminated Mizdow after a solid battle, ruining the huge buildup for Mizdow and ruining the crowd's enthusiasm and therefore the show's momentum. Mizdow was my choice to win, and he came close. It just doesn't make any sense to have Big Show win something like this. My rating would have been higher with a different end result.
Matt's Analysis: So why didn't Mizdow work with the Miz to get rid of Big Show, then turn on him? It would have been a lot easier. It ended up costing him in the end. Oh wait, I'm sorry, I used logic for a second. I apologize. I'm glad the WWE took our advice and used the match to create a new feud. I knew an established name would win, however, I just picked the wrong one. It's interesting, since WCW used to try and sell Big Show as Andre's second coming. It's hard to make that style of battle royal good, but WWE got two new angles out of it, which made it worthwhile going forward.
Brad's Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Matt's Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
WWE Intercontinental champion Bad News Barrett vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Dean Ambrose vs. R-Truth vs. Stardust vs. Luke Harper vs. Dolph Ziggler
Winner: Daniel Bryan, new champion
Brad's Analysis: "Never get into a headbutting contest with a goat, because you'll lose," is what Jerry Lawler said on commentary as Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler fought at the top of the ladder, headbutting each other into oblivion. Bryan was able to outlast Ziggler and grab the IC title belt to become the new champion, much to the joy of the crowd in the stadium and around the globe, except maybe Matt, who doesn't think Bryan is a main-eventer. There was some great spots, including a superplex from the top of the ladder on Stardust and Luke Harper powerbombing Dean Ambrose from the ring and through a ladder on the floor, snapping it in half. I would have liked to seen more big-time spots with the ladders, and more time to do it, but those days are probably over. It was a great way to start the actual pay-per-view and hopefully WWE can continue the momentum.
Matt's Analysis: A few thoughts as I watch this match: First, Luke Harper desperately needs a gimmick change. He's a big guy who is athletic as all heck but it gets lost in his dirty trucker thing he has going on. Wade Barrett should be in the main title picture. He's big, has personality and can wrestle, but he gets hurt too often to be trusted. I liked when Wade broke Stardust's personal ladder and hit him with the rung, and I wonder if Dolph Ziggler practices running full speed up ladders. The match itself was strong, with the usual array of high spots. Ziggler's sleeper while they climbed the ladder was different, and the winner couldn't have been booked better. The fans get their wish, seeing Daniel Bryan wrestle, show off the things he does do well, and win. Also, he goes to a part of the card focused on wrestling and less of the personality things you need to be a real star which he lacks. He'll always be over with the hardcore fans, and I think he belongs as IC champ. Everyone won a strong, fun opener. The show is trending up.
Brad's Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Matt's Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
Winner: Randy Orton
Brad's Analysis: Randy Orton hit four RKO's in the match, two on Rollins and one each for Rollins' goons. Rollins hit a curb stomp on Orton, who kicked out on a two-count. Rollins went for a second curb stomp, but Orton shoulder lifted him into the air to deliver the fourth and most devastating RKO to beat Rollins for the three count. The match wasn't great, but solid all-around. The ending was the way all should be, one that went back and forth and could have gone either way. The match was so early on the card, you have to believe Rollins will be back at the end of the night to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase. We'll see. As for this one-on-one, Orton got over, but Rollins might have last laugh.
Matt's Analysis: Wow. I really enjoyed that match. Both guys had kickouts when I didn't think they would, and the ending was fantastic. Both guys executed the finish well, with Rollins absolutely throwing himself into that RKO. Also, another well-booked match. Orton gets momentum (and probably more obstacles from the Authority) and Rollins can come back later tonight and be a factor. If they make him a little less whiny and more of a badass heel, Rollins has a chance to be good. Orton can get stale at times, but on nights like this you remember what a good hand he is to have around. So far the card is going really well, and you can see the strength of it as each match is better than the next. Triple H and Sting are up next, and it's not even 8 p.m. on the East Coast. Ronda Rousey should be involved in WWE somehow by the way.
Brad's Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Matt's Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Sting vs. Triple H
Winner: Triple H
Brad's Analysis: Well, this one was a shocker. Triple H defeated Sting in a match I would have bet on ending differently. Both Triple H and Sting got some old-school help in the match, which was needed to give Sting a breather and to breathe life into the matchup. D-Generation X came out first to help Triple H when Sting appeared to be headed for victory. Then, with the tables turned, the nWo made an apperance, with Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott battling D-Generation X, Billy Gunn, Road Dogg and X-Pac. Why the nWo was helping Sting I'll never understand, as Triple-H, Hall, X-Pac and Shawn Michaels celebrated Nash's Hall of Fame induction just 24 hours earlier. But here we were, supposed to believe Hall and Nash wanted Sting, an old enemy, to beat Triple H, their friend. Oh well. The match itself was OK, as both Sting and Triple H were able to plod along, with Sting looking beyond old. Hearing D-X's music was goosebump worthy and so was the nWo's that followed soon after. Shawn Michaels was yet another surprise near the end of the match, delivering a superkick to the face of Sting. Triple H couldn't get the pinfall after that kick, but later did after nailing Sting with a sledgehammer in the face. It was a surprising win, but you have to believe after that display of WWE vs. WCW, there would be no way Vince McMahon would allow WCW to win. WWE won again. In reality, Triple H was so much better than anyone who came down to the ring. Michaels was close behind. It was a nod to the Monday Night Wars, just a little too late. Not sure where Sting goes from here. As far as the entrances of both Sting and Triple H, it would have worked so much better with the lights out. But that's hard to do in Santa Clara in the afternoon.
Matt's Analysis: The drummers ruining the ambiance of Sting's entrance is one of the reasons he never came to WWE before. They already messed up his character by making his once spooky entrance goofy. Triple H's wasn't great, but at least it was a Terminator tie-in. I do like the special entrances, but those two didn't work well. While I'm sure Sting is excited to be at Wrestlemania for the first time, the fan in me didn't appreciate the announcers mocking what Sting has done. He was in one of the best-promoted matches of all time, has headlined huge events and is a future Hall of Famer. Yes this is Wrestlemania, but Sting isn't exactly a nobody. Woah, Sting, in his 50s, did a decent dropkick. The "you still got it" chants are appropriate. Triple H is underrated based on his family. He's excellent at selling with facial expressions and has lost to way more wrestlers than people think. The match itself was everything I wanted to see...in 2002. It worked from a sentimental standpoint, however, which helped me block out how old everyone has gotten. Good lord, Scott Hall shouldn't be taking bumps. If you read the preview, we figured the NWO would be involved, but I didn't seek HBK getting involved. Fifteen years ago that would have been the best match ever, and it's exactly how the Invasion angle should have been booked. I'm stunned Sting came back to lose, but I think it went well, except for some logic issues. I can't get past the NWO helping Sting, who spent years trying to end their run, especially since the original point of the NWO was to bring down WCW, but it still worked somehow. The great nostalgia of a match I never dreamed we'd see made up for the logic holes, however. Once in a lifetime for sure. I'll go 5 stars, not for the work, but because it was unforgettable.
Brad's Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Matt's Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
WWE Divas champion Nikki Bella & Brie Bella vs. Paige & A.J. Lee
Winners: Paige and A.J. Lee
Brad's Analysis: The Bellas are pretty terrible wrestlers, especially Nikki, as missed spots and bad acting ruled the day. Why are they in the spotlight of WrestleMania? Oh yeah, one is dating John Cena and the other is married to Daniel Bryan. No swerves or turns, just a clean victory for Paige and A.J. Lee, the latter of which got the Black Widow finisher. At least it was short.
Matt's Analysis: I want Skylar Grey to come back out with Brock later and sing "I'm coming home." The Divas match wasn't terrible for what it was, but what it was made no sense. If you're not going to have a Divas title match, the tag match needs to set something up or matter somehow. Someone had to turn on another. Nothing of any import happened, and it was a time-filler on Raw on the Wrestlemania stage. I'm giving it one star, not out of disrespect to the ladies, but for the bookers who put them in a terrible spot.
Brad's Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Matt's Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
United States champion Rusev vs. John Cena
Winner: John Cena, new champion
Brad's Analysis: Rusev's entrance was well-done, probably the most impressive of all the entrances, while John Cena was made out to be an American hero in his, complete with an overly long intro with quotes from politicians to pump up a crowd. Newsflash, we're in America, and nobody needs to be reminded that America is good. Plus, it says a lot when the evil guy from Russia is cheered over the American hero, John Cena. But that doesn't matter to the WWE, as Cena is your new United States champion. Cena won when Rusev ran into Lana and knocked her from the ring, setting him up to be beaten. It was a lackluster match, with both big guys not doing incrediably well keeping the crowd interested. The crowd, who did cheer at points for Rusev, didn't want either man to win and that doesn't make a good feud. Cena, however, seemingly always wins, even against an undefeated monster who should have been give the rub and allowed to feud on as the champion.
Matt's Analysis: I know Brad will disagree, but I thought this was an example of the big intros working. Rusev's had all the symbolism of the big bad Russians but was also impressive (the tank was awesome) while Cena's sold the whole point of the match. It's a typical 1980s U.S. vs. the bad foreign enemy match Vince can't get enough of. It and the angle itself actually had some adult males rooting for Cena, which you could see from the crowd reactions. As for the match itself, I saw this one coming. Cena gets a belt to defend for a while, keeping him out of the title picture but strong, and he defends America's honor. Plus it was a match Rusev has an excuse to lose because he got hit by Lana, who he can now get rid of and turn face. It wasn't a good match, but it was effective for future story lines.
Brad's Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Matt's Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Triple-H, Stephanie McMahon, Rock, Rhoda Rousey promo
Brad's Analysis: This went on for so long, I don't know how anyone stayed awake at home. The Rock isn't good on the mic anymore, as when he goes off script, he can't keep up. You saw it when he took gigantic pauses during the segment, where there was just dead air, a horrible thing to have on a live event. Triple H was right on when he said he was tired of the whole thing. Everyone else was as well. As for Rousey getting her spot, who cares? WWE is big enough where they don't need celebrity contributors. When WWE was big in the Attitude Era, they got no mainstream play, and the ratings were through the roof. Rousey's appearance won't do squat for that bottom line Monday night. Certain wrestling fans want to be accepted by the mainstream, but wrestling has always been better as a cult following. This was a total and complete waste of time.
Matt's Analysis: I loved having an old-school feud with guys who still had a little bit left. Stephanie's voice has gotten more grating over the years but she's tremendous in her role as spoiled boss. Bringing in Rousey provided the kind of mainstream buzz WrestleMania often seeks. The bit could have been tightened up, as most Authority segments go on way too long, but this bit wasn't meant for the diehard fans, it was meant for the people who care about the Rock still (just like the NWO bit was), the nostalgic fans, and to get WrestleMania on ESPN all morning Monday. This bit will be on Sportscenter, which is what the WWE wants. Plus, the Rock got off some of his best one-liners in a while, one of which I won't repeat but was awesome. Plus, it's obvious Rousey will be in WWE someday, so she might as well get some practice in. By the way, if you're Stephanie and you saw her throw Triple H, wouldn't you do anything but step to her? Anyway, pure wrestling fans will hate it, but that was the most important segment of the night for WWE's popularity outside of its fan base, which are the people Wrestlemania is geared for. It also helps an injured Bray Wyatt and an old Undertaker have a shorter match, as well as cuts down a main event no one wants to see.
Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt
Brad's Analysis: After getting bored out of my mind for the whole Triple H-Rock "showdown," it was tough getting back into wrestling mode for the Undertaker and Bray Wyatt, especially with both of their entrances ruined since it was still bright out in Santa Clara. The Undertaker didn't even get a special entrance, which was strange. The match was slow, expected since Wyatt apparently injured his ankle earlier in the night, and the Undertaker is 50 years old now. Each hit their spots, and did so well. Each kicked out of the other's finisher. But the last five or so minutes was epic, starting with Wyatt sitting up backwards and looking upside down at the Taker, to which the Undertaker responded by doing his sit-up, caushing Wyatt to slowly crumble onto himself. That was awesome. Wyatt I thought at one point would beat the Undertaker, but in the end, I got what I wanted and so did the fans, as the Undertaker reversed Sister Abigail at the last moment and turned it into a tombstone piledriver for the victory. Undertaker is old, yes, but he can still put together a believable match and an awesome ending. Bray Wyatt has a bright future, if the WWE allows him too.
Matt's Analysis: First, a quick rant. The WWE Network has been shaky all night. The quality of the picture has dropped periodically all night, and the whole thing crapped out on me during the Rock-Rousey bit, which I had to watch on rewind when I got back up. My internet connection is working, so it was definitely the Network itself. But hey, it's only the biggest show of the year, who cares if you can show it, right? I have to go back and watch the entrances, which I was excited for but skipped because I wanted to stay with the match so I could get this analysis to Brad as soon as it was over. The match was fine for what it was, a reportedly injured Wyatt and a game but past his prime Undertaker. The spot where he got up right when Wyatt was doing his spider walk and made Wyatt back off was a memorable one, and the finish was good. Undertaker didn't deserve to lose two straight Wrestlemanias, but Wyatt didn't get much from the loss. It was kind of a no-win situation. The WWE is banking on Wyatt being over no matter what they do to him, but I don't know if that will last forever. He needs a big win at some point. This night, however, had to end with the Taker kneeling in front of his fireworks. Hopefully it's our last image of him. I've seen Sting in a WWE ring and in a Monday Night War match, there's no need for him to go with Taker. Time for both of them to hang 'em up and head to the Hall of Fame, not another match. As for Undertaker-Wyatt, we'll go 3 stars because Taker is always at least interesting.
Brad's Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (mainly for ending)
Matt's Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns
Winner: Seth Rollins, new champion (after cashing in Money in the Bank)
Brad's Analysis: There's pretty much three parts to the main event, so let's break them all down. 1. Brock dominates. Lesnar destroyed Reigns for about half the match, even saying "suplex city, bitch" as Reigns laid on the mat after getting tossed yet again. Lesnar suplexed Reigns 10 times I believe, with variation this time around. Lesnar was bleeding pretty much from the get-go, which added to his total intimidation. There was a point in the match where I believe Reigns hit Lesnar with an all-too-real knee to the face, and in turn I believe Lesnar nailed Reigns with a clothesline that was devastatingly painful. Lesnar hit I don't even know how many F-5's, with Reigns kicking out of them all. It wasn't even fair at this point. 2. Reigns mounts miracle comeback. Reigns certainly got his shot toward what looked like it could have been a huge upset. Reigns hit several Superman punches and a few spears as well. Reigns was building and building and the crowd was booing and booing, which has been common place since he's been put in the main event. They built up the NCAA basketball tournament-like upset feel, where the big underdog kept hitting 3's to take the lead. Lesnar still got the last word in this part, however, catching Reigns and F-5ing him again. But that's where Part 3 came into play, with Seth Rollins coming down to the ring, cashing in his Money in the Bank, and turning the match into a triple threat. It was unusual booking to set up the finish. Rollins was able to take advantage of a beaten Lesnar and an even more beaten Reigns, ultimately curb stomping Reigns and pinning him for the title. Lesnar was outside the ring when it happened. I don't believe the match could have gone any better, which is shocking considering this is the WWE. Lesnar looked like an unbeatable beast. Reigns, even though he will still get booed, got the rub from the champion he needed, as like it or not, he nearly upset Lesnar. And, finally, they were able to put the belt on a new guy, Rollins, all the while not ruining the aura of Lesnar. Now, Rollins can feud with Lesnar and Reigns, and I guess even Randy Orton. The WWE actually did something right for once, having a champion the fans can believe in and get behind, all the while not making Lesnar lose to either of them. Reigns was green coming into the match, but he did well for himself. He's still not ready, though.
Matt's Analysis: Brock Lesnar is a bleeder, always has been, but he is a beast. He plays the dominant role well, both physically and with his story telling. Too often fans, particularly younger fans, mistake good ring psychology and storytelling for "rest holds." Still, as it went on, I thought Lesnar's beating of Reigns went on too long. I get it, Reigns is tough and can kick out. By the way, they've missed a great chance to repackage Reigns as part of the Samoan dynasty they just now got around to mentioning. Reigns is getting booed, but WWE fans had better be careful. If they keep eating their young and booing the new guys (who are admittedly not ready) Vince will just go back to Cena in the main event because he knows that makes him money. (He's not giving you Bryan). Once Reigns got some offense in, the match got dramatic and pretty good. It wasn't Savage-Steamboat, but it was better than I thought it would be. Rollins came in earlier than I thought he should have, but the final flurry was really well done. Now they can go a couple of different directions going forward. It was fairly well booked, even though I thought Reigns at least deserved to have his whole match considering how WWE has screwed up his development at every turn. I'll give it four stars because of the wild ending.
Brad's Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Matt's Rating: 4 out of 5 stars