Sunday, August 7, 2022

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WrestleMania 31 in Review: A New Day

It’s been a while, but I think we’ve earned it: a triumphant WrestleMania review. Looking back, this may be the first of its kind to be published on Diva Dirt. Seven-plus years is a long dry spell.

Last night saw the culmination of a well-booked Divas WrestleMania feud, some excellent kicking of mens’ asses on the Kickoff show and one huge showdown that will surely put Stephanie McMahon in SportCenter’s Top 10, but not in a way that she’ll enjoy.

We can’t claim “mission accomplished” on #GiveDivasAChance just yet, but tonight was a sign that our demands are being met. Our voices are being heard. Finally, a WrestleMania in which the women felt like an active part of the card, not a side show or afterthought. Bottom line: they mattered.

Let’s get right to the action with Naomi and Natalya, who made their presence felt big time in the Three-Way Tag Team Title match on the Kickoff show:

At one point in the match, the action breaks down, allowing the Divas to steal the show for a moment. Natalya locks Torito into a Sharpshooter at ringside and Naomi hits a tandem suicide dive outside the ring with husband Jimmy Uso. Naomi and Natalya then have the bust up we’ve been waiting for, Naomi ducking Nattie’s attack and taking her out with the Rear View.

It’s not a WrestleMania match, but it’s a fun little segment for Naomi and Natalya, and I hope this signals that they’ll be feuding full-on going forward. No tweener status for Natalya. Let them fight!!

Next, on the main show, we’ve got our big Divas match: frenemies AJ Lee and Paige take on Brie and Nikki Bella A lot of verbal shots have been fired, but it all comes down to walking the walk. Who’s got the better strut? Let’s watch:

After the (sadly un-specialized) entrances, Nikki and Paige start things off. Instead of a standard tie-up, though, Paige gets right to the point, tackling Nikki and punching her in the head. Nikki manages to roll on top of Paige, slamming her head to the mat before Paige takes back control, pulling Nikki to her feet by her hair.

She lands one headbutt before trying to tag in AJ, but Nikki prevents this, yanking Paige away from her corner and tossing her across the ring. She then knocks AJ off the ring apron for good measure.

With Paige isolated, Nikki hoists her up and hits her with an Alabama Slam, going for an early pin. Paige kicks out. Nikki brings Paige over to her corner, setting her up against the turnbuckle and driving a shoulder into her midsection a few times before tagging in Brie.

The Bellas demonstrate their good teamwork, Nikki driving Paige’s face into her knee and setting her up perfect for a missile dropkick from Brie. Brie goes for another Bellas pin, but Paige again kicks out.

Brie continues to isolate Paige, locking her in a surfboard-style chinlock. Meanwhile, AJ is still seeing stars on the floor outside, not having recovered from Nikki’s earlier attack. Is she playing opossum?

After delivering a satisfactory level of punishment, Brie releases the submission, causing Paige to slam herself face-first on the mat. She crawls over to the bottom rope, setting herself up for Brie’s running knee strike. Just then, AJ crawls up on the ring apron, and Brie disposes of her quickly and hits Paige with the knee.

Brie makes another pin attempt, Paige kicking out. Brie tags in Nikki, and the two hit Paige with a double suplex springboarded off the top rope. Nikki covers Paige for the pin, but Paige kicks out at two.

Paige makes a futile attempt to reach AJ, who is still loopy on the floor outside. She fights back when Nikki pulls her to her feet, reversing an Irish whip into the ropes. Nikki ducks her attack, though, and dropkicks AJ through the ropes just as she reappears on the ring apron. Down AJ goes again…

Nikki is distracted by her good timing, and Paige take advantage of this to roll her up into a pin attempt. Nikki kicks out and is quick to her feet again, taking Paige with a spinebuster. She signals that the end may be near, hoisting Paige onto her shoulder for the Rack Attack. She hits it and goes for the pin. Somehow, someway, Paige kicks out.

Neither Bella can believe it. Nikki picks up Paige an drives her into the corner, prepping for a charging attack, but is unexpectedly met with Paige’s boot. Paige kicks her straight in the face, dropping her like a ton of bricks. She then disposes of Brie and tosses Nikki out of the ring, buying her some breathing time.

Unfortunately, AJ is still indisposed, so Paige has to keep on fighting. She heads out onto the ring apron, taking both Bellas out with she dives out onto them with a somersault attack. Paige crawls back into the ring.

Now it’s AJ’s turn to have good timing, as she takes that moment to climb back onto the ring apron, ready for a tag. Paige makes it over, narrowly escaping Nikki’s grasp to make the hot tag.

And a hot tag it is! AJ comes in on fire, taking Nikki down with a Lou Thesz Press and a clothesline before hopping onto Nikki bodily, punching her in the head until Nikki is able to knock her off by driving her into the corner.

AJ is able to fight back, though, kicking Nikki in the face. She takes Nikki by the head, climbing to the second rope and hitting a modified tornado DDT move, slamming Nikki’s throat against the top rope. She climbs to the top rope and takes Nikki down with a crossbody. Nikki uses the momentum to roll on top, though, hoisting AJ up like a rag doll.

Out of nowhere comes Paige, and she dropkicks AJ’s back, sending Nikki to the mat with AJ on top. AJ goes for the pin as Brie and Paige roll to the outside of the ring. Nikki kicks out.

AJ goes to lift Nikki to her feet, but Nikki sweeps her legs out from under her, going for a pin of her own. AJ’s able to kick out and double Nikki over with a kick to the midsection, running the ropes and going for the Shining Wizard. Nikki ducks it, catching AJ on her shoulder and lifting her up high for an electric chair.

AJ’s able to daze Nikki with some punches to the head and escapes the precarious position with a big time DDT. AJ goes for the pin, but Nikki kicks out at two. AJ still smells blood in the water, immediately locking in the Black Widow. Brie sees where this is going, and stops the hold immediately. Unfortunately for her, this brings in Paige too, who kicks her straight in the face.

Brie rolls out of the ring, but has enough wits about her to trip up AJ when she next runs the ropes. This allows Nikki to surprise AJ with a forearm to the face. AJ looks to be out cold, and Nikki drags her to the middle of the ring for the pin. Paige goes to break the pin, but Brie stops her just in time. Luckily for Team Frenemy, though, AJ kicks out.

Paige takes control of the ruckus outside of the ring, tossing Brie into the steel steps, which must be mic-ed, because DAMN. Nikki’s dsitracted by this, allowing AJ to strike. She locks in the Black Widow, and Nikki has no choice but to tap. Team Frenemy prevails! She hug sweetly as the Bellas seethe.

Lana also made a triumphant return at Mania, regally leading Rusev‘s majestic entrance and unfortunately bearing witness to his defeat at the hands of John Cena:

You may have thought that was all we’d see of the women tonight. I did. Well, we were both wrong.

Later in the night, Stephanie McMahon accompanied her Sting-vanquishing husband Triple H to the ring to brag about breaking Levi’s Stadium’s attendance record and pat themselves on the back.

They’re interrupted by The Rock, who probably took the red eye to the west coast after his SNL appearance. He dresses Stephanie and Triple H down pretty effectively, but Stephanie fights back, reminding Rocky that he wouldn’t be anything without the McMahon family. He counters by reminding her that her power is a result of nepotism, referencing Vince’s fertile jackhammer. She slaps him and challenges him to hit her.

Instead, Rock takes a trip outside the ring and finds none other than Ronda Rousey at ringside! He invites her into the ring, and Steph looks a bit shaken. Rock says that he would never hit a woman, but he has a “very good friend” who would be more than happy to.

Stephanie seems confident that Ronda’s on her side, reminding Rock that Rousey supported her in her return to the ring at SummerSlam. Ronda doesn’t look so sure about the state of her friendship with Stephanie, though. Seeing this, Stephanie changes her tactic, saying she would never mess with Ronda in the world of MMA, but this is the squared circle, her ring. She tells Ronda to either enjoy WrestleMania back in her seat as a fan or get the hell out.

Ronda takes the mic, telling Stephanie that any ring she steps into is hers. She challenges Stephanie to make her leave the ring. Stephanie gets even angrier and again tells Ronda to leave the ring. Rock senses that this is coming to a boiling point and warns Stephanie that if things go much further, Ronda is going to reach down her throat, pull her insides out and “jump rope with your fallopian tubes.”

Stephanie doesn’t seem too worried about the fate of her reproductive organs, but Triple H steps up, effectively telling Rock to stuff a sock in it. Rock says he’s done talking, dropping the mic and attacking Triple H. They fight, sending Triple H stumbling toward Ronda, who takes him down with an arm drag.

Stephanie defends her husband’s honor, daring to come face to face with Rousey. She yells at her and goes for her patented slap, but Ronda blocks it, capture Stephanie’s arm. Stephanie’s seen enough Rousey fights to know what this means, and fights to get her arm free. Soon, Ronda frees Stephanie, tossing her towards the exit.

Rousey and Rock stand triumphant (and very foreshadow-y) in the ring as Mr. and Mrs. Stephanie McMahon leave. Rock has the last word, naming his and Ronda’s can-of-whoop-ass-opening the greatest WrestleMania moment of the night.

Thoughts: As someone who’s only seen one UFC fight (Ronda’s last 5 second title defense), I’m hyped by the Stephanie/Rousey encounter. I’m sensing some sort of WrestleMania 32 match between the two. It wouldn’t be a straight match, of course – unless Stephanie wants to die – but it would make for an exciting story that would soak up a lot of media attention and give us some epic Stephanie moments. That’s all assuming that that wouldn’t be the sole women’s match, obviously.

I’m even hyped by the idea of Rock and Triple H going head-to-head at the next WrestleMania, as someone who started watching just as those two were feuding. Hell, maybe this takes the form of a tag match – Rock and Rousey vs. Triple H and Stephanie? I’m all for it. It keeps the celebrities and part-timers out of the main event slot, which in itself will make fans happy.

The Divas tag match felt short on the first go-round, but watching it back, I didn’t feel all that shortchanged with the 6:40 we were given. The ending may be seen as anticlimactic, but I highly doubt this was the end of the story.

The Divas packed A LOT into their time slot and planted a lot of seeds for the story going forward. Everyone had their moments to look strong, Nikki especially. She’s really come into her own as a heel, and I buy her as Diva powerhouse, which really tells you what carefully honing a specific move set will do for you. She deserves every bit of the Divas Title reign she’s had so far, and I don’t think for one moment that tapping to AJ here cheapens her reign or makes her look weak.

I really enjoyed the tag team psychology here, with Paige and Brie working overtime to influence the match as much as they could when the others were in the ring. It made the end of the match feel incredibly tense, like it could end at any time.

The Bellas may have lost, but I don’t think they’re going to suffer for it. The one who looked weakest here is Paige – who kicked out of Nikki’s finishing move, by the way – but I doubt that will hurt her standing much either. She’s the rookie, so to speak, and can afford to take a beating.

It may even play into a three-way feud, with Paige accusing AJ of milking the Bella’s attacks in order to stay outside the ring while Paige was getting her ass kicked, waiting until the perfect moment to “steal the glory” and get the win for their team. On the surface, it actually looks like something heel AJ would do, but I doubt they’d turn her again so so. Rather, it could be used to validate Paige’s claims and give her a solid reason for turning against AJ.

All in all, I think this was a HUGE step up from the shit sandwich the Divas has been offered at WrestleMania in recent years. No, it wasn’t a long match, but it told a story, had tons of action, and kept the crowd engaged. No matter how you look at it, it’s a long way from clusterfuck Battle Royals, clusterfuck “Invitationals”, celebrity-infiltrated tag teams and Lumberjill matches. This – an action-packed, well-wrestled WrestleMania match with an exciting build-up – is a huge step towards a bigger, brighter future for the Divas.

Hopefully, some day very soon, those lackluster WrestleMania moments will be nothing but distant memories.

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