This past Sunday, we saw a surprisingly well received “Wrestlemania XXXI.” It was no secret that the show wasn’t exactly thrilling audiences during its buildup, but the show completely exceeded expectations and has been receiving a lot of very positive reviews, including my own. For the first time in a long time, we’ve had back to back solid Wrestlemanias. So, what better to do than compare them using completely arbitrary standards to find out which was better?
Now, I don’t think it’s fair to go match by match for a straight up and down comparison. Both shows are so different that it’s really hard to compare matches on their own. Therefore, let’s look at some of the more important parts of the shows and see how they stack up against each other.
First up, let’s looked at the featured performers. Right out of the gate, the shows are already completely different. This year, the main event saw Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Title, but that wasn’t the biggest match on the card by a wide margin. Yeah it was the biggest match, but the rest of the top level matches were just a few steps behind. Look at Sting vs. Triple H, Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt and even John Cena vs. Rusev. All three of those were treated as major featured matches and not too far behind the main event.
Now compare that to last year, where it was ALL about Daniel Bryan. Lesnar vs. Undertaker was the third biggest match on the card but there was a firm distance between that and the two Bryan matches. “Wrestlemania XXX” had a clear theme: seeing Daniel Bryan finally overcome the odds and becoming WWE World Heavyweight Champion once and for all. On the other hand, “Wrestlemania XXXI” was a much more balanced card with a series of matches getting much more even focuses.
One thing that both shows did have was a big talking segment which ate up about 20 minutes apiece. Last year we had the three biggest stars of the modern era in the ring at the same time for a celebration of history of Wrestlemania as the show hit a major milestone. Hulk Hogan was the only one advertised while Steve Austin and the Rock came out as major surprises. The three talked, Rock rhymed, catchphrases were thrown out and beers were consumed. It really didn’t mean much, but the sight of those three in the ring together is nothing short of incredible.
On the other hand, we had Rock coming out to confront Triple H and Stephanie McMahon before being joined by one of the biggest stars in the sports world at the moment, UFC fighting Ronda Rousey. This combined the major celebrity involvement this year and was likely setting up either a mixed tag or Rock vs. Triple H with Rousey and McMahon at “Wrestlemania XXXII.”
This is a good example of how things are different between the years. In the older show, the big talking segment was really just about having a great moment. The following year was more about setting up something for the future, meaning it served a bigger purpose. The problem though is it took a good deal longer than it should have and dragged the show down a bit. I liked the three legends better, but it really just came and went. Yes there are memories, but the Rousey segment could draw some serious money someday.
Now let’s look at something a bit broader and compare the wrestling as a whole. One of the key differences between the years was the average match length. Both shows had a seven match main card, but “Wrestlemania XXX” had several more long matches, with four of them breaking 22 minutes in length but two that didn’t break seven minutes. On the other hand, “Wrestlemania XXXI’s” shortest match was just under seven minutes with the rest breaking 13 minutes but nothing going over 19.
Again, this shows the difference between the two cards. “Wrestlemania XXX” was made to feel much grander in scale with the big, long matches that were allowed to tell longer stories. That’s not to say that “Wrestlemania XXXI” had a bad structure though, as the matches were all allowed to go somewhere, but none of them were really able to stand out above the rest. This goes with the theme of not really having one major story, but it hardly makes for a bad show.
Both shows also had a “first time ever” moment, but this is far from a fair comparison. “Wrestlemania XXXI” saw the first ever Money in the Bank cash-in with Seth Rollins adding himself to the main event to walk out WWE World Heavyweight Champion. On the other hand, “Wrestlemania XXX” had Lesnar hitting a third F5 on the Undertaker to pin him for the first time ever at Wrestlemania, ending his 23 year long Wrestlemania undefeated streak.
Like I said, this really, really isn’t a fair comparison to make. At the end of the day, Rollins cashing in was a surprise, but it’s probably something that’s going to happen again. The Undertaker losing sent grown men into tears and had people running from the arena in shock. That sign of 21-1 stunned the entire Superdome and the show never was back where it was before. It was something no one had ever seen before and would never be touched again.
Now we need to change gears for a bit as it sounds like “Wrestlemania XXX” is running away with the competition here. While “Wrestlemania XXX” has won most of the close battles between the two, “Wrestlemania XXXI” has a strong advantage in one area: overall match quality. While the matches last year were longer, I’d definitely take this year’s over them for better quality. Let’s look at some individual matches for an example.
When you look at the main events of both shows, the planned triple threat in 2014 really isn’t a great match. It’s certainly entertaining and full of drama, but the match itself is really just average until the ending. Reigns vs. Lesnar was a back and forth war with both guys hitting big spots and Lesnar looking like a monster. Bryan’s title win was more emotional, but that doesn’t change the majority of the match being just ok.
Sticking with Lesnar, his match with the Undertaker was again just about the drama instead of the quality. Undertaker had a severe concussion during the Lesnar match and looked completely overwhelmed. Compare that to a slow paced but totally fine match against Bray Wyatt and it’s really no contest from a quality perspective.
Finally you have the Divas matches, which were almost the same length (six seconds apart actually) where again there is almost no contest. The Vickie Guerrero Divas Invitational was a huge mess where you could barely keep track of what was going on. The tag match with the Bellas facing AJ Lee and Paige wasn’t exactly a classic, but it was still a better worked match due to having less insanity and a far better structure.
Overall, we keep coming back to one idea: “Wrestlemania XXX” was about emotion and “Wrestlemania XXXI” was about action. This is where you taste can vary. The wrestling was better in 2015 but it didn’t have that big match or story that stood head and shoulders above the rest. For me, “Wrestlemania XXX” is a more enjoyable show but “Wrestlemania XXXI” is a higher quality top to bottom. Neither is a wrong choice of course, though “Wrestlemania XXXI” had just slightly better wrestling. If you prefer emotion like I do, go with “Wrestlemania XXX” but check out this year’s show as well.
In other words, both shows were great and you should see them both more than once.
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