For one night at WrestleMania 31, all was right with the world and wrestling was cool again.
We had The Rock talking trash to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon just like the good old Attitude Era days, backed up by the female Mike Tyson, UFC's Ronda Rousey, roughing up the villainous authority figures.
We got glimpses of what could have been, as Triple H vs. Sting morphed into a gloriously ridiculous Monday Night War inspired D-Generation X vs. nWo scrap. It never gets old seeing the WWF kicking WCW's ass!
Similar to how Vince McMahon always wins in his own fantasies, the patriotic American vanquished the Russian monster as usual. John Cena had to win this morality play on the grandest stage of them all.
The Undertaker laid to rest yet another misplaced soul in decisive fashion. Randy Orton RKO'd Seth Rollins for an easy three count. The Big Show was ironically booked like he was the second coming of Andre The Giant in the latter's Memorial Battle Royal, effortlessly tossing out the likes of Damien Mizdow and NXT's Hideo Itami to lift the trophy. Starting to notice a worrying pattern here?
Even in the main event, we had Brock Lesnar mauling Roman Reigns like this was the Octagon and Triple H Jr. paying homage to The Ultimate Opportunist Edge too by returning to cash in his Money In The Bank briefcase once both men had taken the beating of their lives and sneaking off with the title by pinning the younger challenger.
This booking might have been perfect if we were still in the pay-per-view era where you could make $60 million in one night with the right mainstream attraction for next year's WrestleMania, but today we're in the WWE Network era where you need to keep the casual fans subscribing for several months to the channel to get the same economic benefit. It got you hyped for a match (Rock & Rousey vs. Triple H & Stephanie) that won't happen for another twelve months and put over strongest performers that are well established, many of whom work very infrequently, whilst not doing as much as they could to create new stars and capitalise on fresh acts with momentum, who will be the ones expected to carry the house shows and Network specials for the rest of the year. This was only great long term booking if you believe in the theory that "a rising tide lifts all boats" and having more eyeballs on the product will turn everyone into bigger stars, regardless of how they are positioned or treated.
I don't blame WWE for shooting the angle, as Stephanie McMahon is the perfect heel foil for Ronda to humiliate and adding them to the Rock/Hunter mix makes this more than just a tired retread of an old feud where both men are in the exact same roles that they were in 15 years earlier. But unlike WWE's biggest and most successful celebrity angles of the past, no rising star gets any benefit from this. The only people here getting the rub are the ruling family. It will certainly draw them ratings and money, so it's not a completely vanity driven decision, but it does little for WWE's future.
The fear is that to build The Authority leaders into even stronger heels for their celebrity opponents they run even more roughshod over their babyface foes in the meantime and take up even more of the spotlight, keeping the rest of their roster pegged firmly into place. When they lose it will be satisfying for sure, but it will just be another memorable WrestleMania moment to shelve into their tape archives once it's over and do little by itself to keep people tuning in.
Another worry is that next year's WrestleMania will not just feature one nostalgia match, but a whole card full of them, as WWE doesn't have enough confidence in their current crop of stars to fill up a 100,000 seat stadium by themselves. Indeed, Dave Meltzer noted in last week's Wrestling Observer Newsletter that:
"Because they are going to need a gigantic show to fill the stadium and set what will become both the real and mythical record, the idea is that anyone who is a legend who can perform still (besides [Ric] Flair, who they'll never book because of the retirement stip) will probably be asked."
Other than the chosen few like Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, who shouldn't get lost in the shuffle, it looks like the best most other young WWE wrestlers can hope for, once again, is a spot in the jobber battle royal, a curtain jerking four team tag match or a lazily booked multi-man ladder match. Far from an environment that you can make a name for yourself or grab the brass ring in, that's for sure.