Monday, 24 August 2015

WrestleMania 31

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 519 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: June 1 2015

It's that time of year again when you get to look back on the biggest show of the year with the home video release. This 3-disc set, as ever, brings together the WrestleMania event as well as this year's Hall Of Fame induction ceremony, in addition to a couple of extra features.

WM 31 was lauded at the time as being one of the best Manias ever, and an event which was far better than it had been predicted to be. Upon second viewing, however, while the event remains very entertaining, the context is lost watching it on DVD, so one would not know about the lacklustre build-up or the issues surrounding several matches, and the moments which were so surprising on the night lose their unpredictability when watching the event again because, well, you know that they're going to happen. Those gripes aside, however, WrestleMania 31 is still a thoroughly enjoyable four-hour slice of sports entertainment.

The Intercontinental Title Ladder match is better than I remembered it being, although I did say it was a really good bout at the time, and while it perhaps could have done with a truly timeless ladder "moment", the match is more than adequate as it is (or was). Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins takes on different meaning knowing what is to come later on, but it is a very enjoyable clash (this is probably the match that Orton and CM Punk tried to have at WM 27 but couldn't quite achieve), and the match-winning RKO remains an incredible sight.

Sting vs. Triple H is a truly entertaining piece of nostalgia for those who followed wrestling during The Monday Night Wars era, as members of D-Generation X and the new World order do battle (and does that feel strange to watch now in light of recent events surrounding Hulk Hogan). That being said, the result is as nonsensical in hindsight as it was on the night, since it's obvious that the outcome's sole purpose was to "prove" that WWE and its stars were superior to WCW and its headliners. The subsequent backstage promo involving Daniel Bryan and a group of legends is fun but hard to watch as it marked the final on-screen appearance of the recently-passed Rowdy Roddy Piper.

The Divas tag team match is really odd to watch knowing that AJ Lee would leave WWE just days later; that the bout is built around her getting involved and punishing the Bellas en route to a win for her and Paige is strange unless you assume that WWE didn't know that AJ was about to retire (which is plausible, to be fair, since AJ competed on Raw the following night as well). John Cena vs. Rusev is a good match, but has been trumped in recent months by the Cena-Kevin Owens series. Also, the pro-USA video from before Cena's entrance is not here, presumably due to the cost of including said footage. That being said, from a match quality standpoint, Cena has had one of his best years since becoming United States Champion again, so it's good to see where that run began at WM 31.

We then get the Triple H-Stephanie-Rock-Ronda Rousey segment. This is as entertaining as it was on the night, but it does last a very long time and, in all honesty, you could have removed about five minutes from this and it wouldn't have made a difference. Next up is The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt in Taker's comeback. It felt unnecessary at the time and with Undertaker setting his sights on Brock Lesnar for SummerSlam, it's almost as if the match never happened. On the bright side, it is an enjoyable clash and proves that Undertaker isn't quite finished yet.

And so we come to the main event: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight Title. All the talk beforehand was how this would receive horrendous crowd responses due to Brock possibly leaving WWE and Reigns being overpushed. Instead, Lesnar stayed with WWE and Reigns willingly took a brutal beating from the Beast, whilst firing back with hard blows of his own. This was a super-stiff and highly compelling match, but it will always be remembered for its ending where Seth Rollins became the first man to cash in Money In The Bank both during a match and at WrestleMania, leaving as the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion, a crown that he still holds at time of writing, nearly five months later.

So, that was the main card for WrestleMania 31. As stated, though, watching it on DVD causes it to lose its context and unpredictability, two of the elements which made the show so enjoyable at the time. Nevertheless, it remains a four-hour pro wrestling thrill ride and, whilst the lack of a true classic match means that it isn't quite a top five Mania as I had suggested a few months back, it is definitely in the top ten (incidentally, expect my rankings of Mania cards, matches etc in the run-up to WM 32 next year).

The Mania-related extras are an energetic and fun four-way tag bout and the fairly good Andre Battle Royal, both from the WM 31 Pre-Show (it's hard to believe how Damien Sandow/Mizdow has been so ignored by WWE considering his popularity here). We also get promos by Cena and Rollins hyping up their Mania matches (or scheduled bout in Seth's case). The standout DVD extra, as always, is the Hall Of Fame ceremony, which is certainly an eventful and memorable one.

We begin with Rikishi, inducted by his sons The Uso's, which is entertaining enough if you ignore the fact that Rikishi ignored Too Cool's contributions to his career, despite that run being the one which got him in the HOF. Next up is Larry Zbyszko (inducted by Bruno Sammartino); Bruno's introduction is good but he never pauses for breath, while Larry finds it hard to cope and ends up repeating himself and making strange analogies in a very long-winded speech (fortunately, this Mania weekend is held in California; had it been in the New York area, Zbyszko would have been shredded by diehard fans for this overly long and at times nonsensical output).

Alundra Blayze (put in by Natalya) has a far more entertaining speech than one would have expected beforehand, before the most emotional HOF speech perhaps ever, as Connor "The Crusher" Michalek is named as the recipient of the first Warrior Award (Warrior's widow and Daniel Bryan provide the intros). Some at the time questioned whether WWE had correctly implemented the suggestion by Warrior at the 2014 HOF; I personally think Warrior would have been satisfied that Connor was honoured in this fashion; it really is the classic situation of something being so positive despite the circumstances being so negative. An unforgettable moment and required viewing for all wrestling fans, especially those who qualm over the most minor of wrestling-related issues.

The Bushwhackers' induction by John Laurinaitis is a lot of fun, although it's sad to see Butch in such poor physical health. Ric Flair's induction of Tatsumi Fujinami is relatively short, partly because Tatsumi is relatively unknown to modern fans outside Japan and partly because the ceremony has already been running way too long at this point (nearly three hours at this point, with three inductees still to go).

Then we get the long-awaited induction of Macho Man Randy Savage, with Hulk Hogan doing the introduction and Randy's brother Lanny "The Genius" Poffo accepting it on his behalf. Some expressed disappointment at the presentation on the night and a few were infuriated that it didn't close the ceremony, but let's face it: if Savage were still alive and on hand in person, there's no question that he would have been the true headliner and delivered a speech to remember. Under the circumstances, it was probably as good as could be realistically expected.

We then get Arnold Schwarzenegger being inducted by Triple H, which for a celebrity induction is again as good as one could hope for. The final inductee is Kevin Nash (note: not Diesel), presented by Shawn Michaels. HBK is very funny here (he jokes how he doesn't want to be the guy to make the HOF go long, over 3 1/2 hours into the show), and Nash is also a source of mirth with his self-deprecating lines (when he was repackaged in WCW as Oz, he wonders aloud why he couldn't have just received a note saying "You're fired"). Despite what some may think, Nash is a more than worthy inductee, and his entertaining speech is a good end to a Hall Of Fame ceremony that covered the entire quality spectrum. Like the Mania card it would be followed by, the 2015 HOF line-up was criticised beforehand but it ended up delivering a very enjoyable show on the night. As far as WWE Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies go, this is definitely one of the better presentations from an entertainment standpoint.

So what of the WrestleMania 31 DVD set as a whole? The best way I can describe it is that, to paraphrase Sheamus, you will be entertained. Every match is at least reasonable and each HOF induction is in some way watchable, and some of the bouts are very good, whilst a number of HOF speeches will always be remembered. And, of course, we get historical moments from Sting's debut (which morphs into DX vs. nWo) to Seth Rollins being the first man to cash in MITB at a Mania to the hugely-demanded Macho Man HOF induction. The one thing lacking on the main show is that five-star, genuine match of the year contender. And as entertaining as the HOF ceremony is, it lacks the appeal of the classes headlined by Hogan, Bruno or even Ultimate Warrior (plus its four-hour running time means that you're unlikely to watch it all in one sitting). And, as I said at the start, the DVD proves that WM 31 had more power watching it on the night under the context of the time period than as a standalone event in retrospect.

But overall, this is an extremely fun and enjoyable wrestling DVD set. With a great WrestleMania and a memorable Hall Of Fame event, you can't really go wrong. It may have been slightly overrated at the time, but this year's WrestleMania weekend proves to be a series of shows that you simply must have in your collection. Not the best WM ever but it isn't too far off; buy this DVD set today.

(Incidentally, you can click here to read my original report of the WrestleMania 31 event at the time that it was held.)

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

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