On WWE: The casual fan's guide to Wrestlemania 31

By Ryan Pike for WrestlingObserver.com

Every year around this time, fans who don’t watch every minute of every WWE program all year drift back towards wrestling as Wrestlemania looms closer. Every year around this time, hardcore fans drag their friends or significant others to watch the big event. Every year, seemingly, some level of confusion abounds, regardless of how logically-booked the WWE programs have been.

In the interest of creating some clarity, here’s a quick and dirty primer for the casual fans in your life in preparation for WrestleMania 31 this Sunday.

BROCK LESNAR vs. ROMAN REIGNS

– What: A singles bout for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

– Who: Lesnar is the reigning WWE Champion, having won the title for a fourth time by beating John Cena thoroughly at SummerSlam back in August. Lesnar may be the most impressive athlete in WWE history, being a former NCAA collegiate wrestling champion and a former UFC heavyweight champion. It’s Lesnar’s fifth WrestleMania appearance and reportedly one of the final dates on his current contract with WWE. His challenger is Reigns, who has been booked as an unstoppable powerhouse since his debut as part of the Shield two years ago. It’s Reigns’ third WrestleMania appearance and his first singles match at the event.

While Lesnar has been booked as the bad guy for most of his run, fans cheer him, possibly because he’s so dominant. While Reigns has been booked as a good guy, some fans have booed him. Expect strange crowd reactions during this match.

– Why: Lesnar is the reigning WWE Champion. Reigns won the Royal Rumble in January to become the #1 contender (and even defended his shot against Daniel Bryan at Fastlane). Much like it would be in a real sport, this match was automatic; every Royal Rumble winner since 1993 has automatically gotten a title match of some kind at WrestleMania.

– Fun Fact: – Fun Fact: Despite this being the 31st Wrestlemania, this is actually the 32nd time the WWE Championship has been competed for at the event…even though it wasn’t defended on the first one. How? It was contested twice at two back-to-back WrestleManias. At WrestleMania IX in Las Vegas, Yokozuna beat Bret Hart in a scheduled match for the title, then lost it to Hulk Hogan in an impromptu bout immediately after winning it. 

The following year, at WrestleMania X, Yokozuna also had two title matches (both scheduled beforehand this time), successfully retaining against Lex Luger (via losing by disqualification) and then losing to Bret Hart in the main event. In the event Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Sunday, it would be the third time there were two title matches on the same WrestleMania (and the first time since 1994).

STING vs. TRIPLE H

– What: A singles grudge match.

– Who: Sting was the primary good guy in WCW for many years, changing from a blonde-haired surfer dude into a black-haired trenchcoat wearing enigma as the eras in wrestling changed. When WCW folded, he “disappeared” (e.g., went to TNA Wrestling until now). Triple H is a long-time WWE star and a real-life (and storyline) husband to WWE co-owner Stephanie McMahon and now a company executive in his own right. Sting made his WWE debut at Survivor Series. It’s Sting’s first WrestleMania and Triple H’s 19th appearance at the event.

– Why: Sting’s debut was making a run-in, costing Triple H’s Authority stable their ability to make matches and run the company forever. (John Cena later unwittingly gave them that power back.) As a result of that intrusion, Triple H doesn’t like Sting. Sting has compared Triple H (and The Authority) to the groups that led to WCW’s demise. Since nothing is at stake in this match and neither man can gain or lose anything, presumably the main motivation for Triple H is revenge on Sting for the slight inconvenience of being out of power for a few weeks.

RANDY ORTON vs. SETH ROLLINS

– What: A singles grudge match.

– Who: Orton and Rollins were once teammates in the villainous Authority stable. Orton was a perennial title challenger, basically since his WWE debut over a decade ago, but couldn’t get the belt off of John Cena. Formerly part of The Shield, Rollins was positioned as a future title contender by virtue of his Money in the Bank briefcase, which grants him a title shot whenever (and wherever) he wishes. Orton’s inability to beat Cena and Rollins’ future contendership caused friction.

After butting heads a bit, Rollins attacked Orton and took him out with his Curb Stomp finisher on the ring steps back in November. Orton returned in February at Fastlane, tried to attack Rollins, then attempted to become his friend and rejoin the Authority. He later explained that he was trying to lull Rollins into a false sense of security, which is a plan predicated on Rollins being the dumbest person in human history. But it worked, so there you go. It’s Rollins’ third WrestleMania and Orton’s 12th straight. They previously faced each other in a six-man at WrestleMania 29.

– Why: After all of this wackiness, Orton challenged Rollins on the March 12 episode of Smackdown and Rollins accepted on the March 16 episode of RAW.

UNDERTAKER vs. BRAY WYATT

– What: A singles grudge match.

– Who: As stated in Max Landis’ Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling video, The Undertaker is basically a wizard. He’s been in WWE since 1991 and is always portrayed as an ass-kicker who may or may not also be a zombie. Bray Wyatt debuted a couple years back and is a creepy Southern cult leader, despite the fact that he presently has no cult followers. It’s Undertaker’s 23rd WrestleMania appearance and Wyatt’s second. Both men are known for really cool entrances, particularly at WrestleMania, a show skewed towards cool entrances.

– Why: Wyatt openly challenged Undertaker, who hasn’t appeared on WWE television since his WrestleMania undefeated streak was broken last year. Wyatt has claimed that he is the “New Face of Fear” and has proclaimed that the Undertaker’s era is over. Since he hasn’t appeared, we have to guess at Undertaker’s motivation, but presumably he doesn’t feel like his time is over.

RUSEV vs. JOHN CENA

– What: A singles match for the WWE United States Championship.

– Who: Cena is the poster child of WWE, basically what Sting was to the WCW of yesteryear. He wins a lot. He’s a multi-time World Champion. He’s depicted as the best wrestler and toughest guy in the company that isn’t named Brock Lesnar. Rusev is a big, tough Russian patriot. He also wins a lot, and to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t lost clean since his debut at the Royal Rumble last year. It’s Rusev’s WrestleMania debut and Cena’s 12th consecutive Mania appearance.

– Why: Cena took offense to Rusev’s comments about America and challenged him for the U.S. Title last month at Fastlane. With some help from his manager, Lana, Rusev won. Cena demanded a rematch. After some shenanigans, cajoling, and Cena threatening to injure Rusev, Lana accepted the challenge for a rematch. Strangely, she’s been absent without storyline explanation since accepting the challenge (she’s filming a movie).

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INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE LADDER MATCH

– What: A ladder match for the WWE Intercontentinal Title where the first man to climb a ladder and retrieve the belt wins it.

– Who: There are seven men in this match: the champion and six challengers. Wade “Bad News” Barrett is the champion. The challengers are Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper, Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, Stardust and R-Truth. It’s Barrett’s second Mania, Ambrose’s third Mania, Harper’s first, Ziggler’s sixth Mania, Bryan’s fourth Mania, Stardust’s fifth Mania and R-Truth’s fourth Mania. For whatever it’s worth, Ambrose, Ziggler, Bryan and Truth are babyfaces while Barrett, Harper and Stardust are heels. Granted, those things won’t really matter because the match will be chaotic.

– Why: This will get messy. The night after the Royal Rumble, Ambrose hitchhiked to WWE headquarters in a snowstorm and became impressed with the nice framed photos of former champions displayed in the building. Thus, he targeted Barrett’s Intercontinental Title, having failed to earn a WWE title shot at the Rumble. However, because being I-C champion seemingly makes a person permanently unable to win matches, everyone and their dog has pinned Barrett since late January. WWE.com announced the match on February 26 and the aforementioned competitors have since been added, despite Ambrose being the only person to explicitly challenge the champion.
 

ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL

– What: An over-the-top-rope battle royal with an unspecified number of entrants for the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal Trophy. (Last year’s match had 31 entrants.)

– Who: As of this writing (before RAW), the following 17 wrestlers are announced for the match: The Miz, Curtis Axel, the Ryback, Fandango, Adam Rose, Zack Ryder, Jack Swagger, Titus O’Neil, Darren Young, The Big Show, Kane, Erick Rowan, Damien Mizdow, Sin Cara, Goldust, Heath Slater and Mark Henry. There will also be an entrant from NXT (the developmental show) based on a tournament they’re having at the WWE Axxess fan fest. Presumably more wrestlers will be added.

Of this list of humanity, only about half have received much television time lately. I’d wager that either Miz, Mizdow, Show, Kane or Henry win. The match is every man for themselves (nominally), so babyface or heel alignments don’t mean much, except for tag team partners betraying each other (which traditionally happens). Miz and Mizdow have been breaking up for months, but still haven’t outright turned on each other, while Kane and Show have been teasing a breakup lately.

– Why: Last year, WrestleMania host Hulk Hogan declared that this match would happen in honour of the late Andre the Giant, who was really good at battle royals by virtue of being an immovable object. Apparently (a) Hogan has booking power beyond the traditional heel authority figures and (b) this match is happening every year because of the power of Hulkamania. The optimistic side of me likes them having a traditional match with something at stake every year. In this match, it’s a trophy that was smashed by Jack Swagger the next night and rebuilt in the interim, and the pragmatic side of me thinks it’s smart to have a match where the company can put all the mid-carders that it has no plans for.
 

AJ LEE & PAIGE vs. THE BELLA TWINS

– What: A tag team grudge match.

– Who: The Bella Twins are sisters Nikki and Brie who alternate between being best friends and hating each other. They were both babyfaces, then Nikki became evil, now Brie’s also evil for no particular reason. Nikki is presently the WWE Divas Champion. Lee and Paige are both babyfaces now, despite being (a) heels and (b) mortal enemies in the past. They don’t particularly like each other, but apparently they both dislike the Bellas more. It’s Paige’s Mania debut, AJ’s second Mania, and the Bellas’ third.

– Why: This match was announced on March 9, a week after Lee returned from injury and saved Paige from a post-match beatdown from the Bellas. Paige had beaten Nikki by disqualification in a title match after Brie interfered to prevent Nikki from losing the title.

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