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WrestleMania 32 main event ranked among the worst

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A few years ago I painstakingly and meticulously compiled a series of articles chronicling (and ranking from worst to best) every "WrestleMania" main event in history. Another "WrestleMania" is in the books and though it feels like a lifetime ago, what with a busy "Raw" these past several weeks, the time has come to add another chapter to that series. What is the story of "WrestleMania 32's" main event and where does it rank among the others in the show's history?

WWE.com

THE WRONG STORY

(The one where Vince pushed back)

The date was June 2, 2014.

It was a RAW like any other. The Shield (Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns) were mired in a heated feud with Evolution (Triple H, Randy Orton, Batista). Months earlier, the sensational trio of relative rookies teased breaking up. Their disagreements and bickering had cost them matches against CM Punk (TLC '13) and the Wyatt Family (Elimination Chamber '14). Just when they seemed ready to implode a la the Beatles' Get Back session, they pulled it together a la the Beatles' Abbey Road session. Challenged by Kane and the New Age Outlaws at WrestleMania 30, The Shield absolutely dominated their opponents, crushing three icons of the Attitude Era in less than three minutes.

The next night, they ended the post-WrestleMania Raw by coming to the aid of Daniel Bryan (who had been outnumbered 3-to-1 by Evolution). This launched them formally into a feud with Triple H's squad and the two teams met on back to back PPV events.

Shield won both encounters.

It seems obvious in hindsight, but at the time it was a shocking turn of events. Granted, The Shield, when on the same page, were unstoppable and seemed unbeatable. Still, this was Triple H. And at Extreme Rules, after a thrilling 20 minute, 6-man tag match, it was the team of youngsters that handed the vets their lunch. Then, a month later, in an elimination tag match, they did it again. And not only did they win, they dominated. Each member of Evolution was eliminated by a different member of Shield, with none of The Shield eating a pin. They stood tall, winning the match three to nothing.

Really, that was the beauty of the booking.

You know what happened next.

On the next night's Raw, Batista walked out on Evolution, just as Triple H was promising a plan B to destroy The Shield. At the end of the night, he revealed his plan-B.

The beauty of the booking is that the full effect of Seth's turn would not have been felt had the Shield not won so convincingly against Evolution. Imagine how crappy it would have been if Triple H and his lackies won even ONE match against the Shield. They would have proven that they could hang with them. They would have proven that, on a good night when the cards are just right, they can beat them. Seth's turn would have lost all its spark.

The turn worked entirely because it didn't need to happen. It wasn't like Seth saw the writing on the wall and jumped off a sinking ship. He was the architect of the winning side. He jumped ship only out of selfish greed and naked ambition. At the same time, it made Triple H even more of a heel. Let's be honest: for most of his career, Triple H was not a guy who laid down for many. He preferred to be a "dominant" heel, even when a story would have been better served with him as more of a cowardly, cheating type. This was definitely the latter: He lost (twice) and, with it proven that he could not beat The Shield fairly, he chose to cheat.

It was brilliant.

So what happened next? Well it just so happened that WWE Champion Daniel Bryan became seriously injured and was forced to vacate his championship...

...leaving an opening for the top spot in the land. The next champion would be decided at the next PPV, Money in the Bank. With the Shield now ended, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose began a blood feud that would see them both competing in the MITB ladder match at the PPV. That leaves one other ex-Shield member. He was given a spot in the WWE Championship ladder match.

Roman Reigns was adored in those days.

He was the beautiful warrior prince. He was the hot tag who stood on the apron looking scary until the time came to bring him in to clean house in the ring, slide out and hit an apron dropkick for a massive pop...then tag out and look beautiful till the bell rang.

As a result of fans' massive rejection of Batista at the 2014 Royal Rumble, the fans temporarily went all-in on Roman Reigns (who was the final obstacle to Batista's Rumble victory). No one in their right mind thought Roman would win, but in the moment everyone was so mad that Batista was getting a spot that seemed destined for Daniel Bryan that they just collectively threw their weight behind the rookie. Had Doink the Clown been the last obstacle, he would have gotten the cheers too.

That fan support lost a little steam as soon as The Shield dissolved, however.

It was clear, from almost the moment the faction split that Reigns was being groomed to be the next top guy. That might even be a mischaracterization: Reigns wasn't even being groomed: He was being pushed immediately as the next top guy. He lost the WWE Championship ladder match (because, if you will recall, the winner of the title was scheduled to have a date of death with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam) but defeated Randy Orton in the semi-main event of the big Summer show. That would actually be his last singles PPV match until the following February.

In the meantime he would be injured and taken off TV right when he needed all the experience he could get (by this point the plans were already set for him to win the title from Lesnar at WrestleMania 32). A disastrous interview in December...

...did not deter plans, though it did consolidate in many fans' minds that he was either not the guy or at least not ready to be. And in an example of either bizarre coincidence or pure karma for Vince's hubris, Roman found himself in the shoes of Batista at the 2015 Royal Rumble. Destined to win the match, the fans nonetheless booed him mercilessly and cheered wildly for the runner up who had no chance of winning (Rusev). But win he did and he went on to face Lesnar in a raucous WrestleMania 31 main event.

But then, the clouds parted: At almost exactly the last minute Vince decided to shake things up and ended the big show with Seth Rollins cashing in and winning the title. It made for one of the most memorable finishes in WrestleMania history, alleviated (temporarily) the angst that fans were feeling toward Roman winning and set a course that promised (promised!) a change from the status quo.

Most fans knew it was only a matter of time before Roman found his way back to the top (once Vince gets an idea it's hard to shake it) and sure enough, within two months he was already competing for the championship once more. Still though, he spent most of 2015 away from the title picture, feuding with Bray Wyatt throughout the summer and fall. But Vince will not be denied. The plan for Survivor Series 2015 was to be Roman Reigns vs Seth Rollins with Reigns finally winning the title.

Instead Rollins got injured and once again a shakeup was needed. Roman still ended up winning the belt in a tournament (defeating fan favorite Dean Ambrose, raising the question of why they thought beating Dean was a good idea to help get Roman over as a babyface...), but once again Vince called on his Money in the Bank holder to provide a swerve. The problem was, this time the MITB guy was Sheamus, who, to that point, had been as hot as a winter on Pluto. Sheamus cashed in and won the title, holding it for a thrilling 22 days, before dropping it back to Roman on the night after the December PPV.

Along the way, Roman entered a feud with Triple H and the Authority, setting the stage for our WrestleMania 32 main event.

wwe-wrestlemania-32-poster

The gist of the feud is basically the same template that was used with Daniel Bryan in 2013/2014. But where the Bryan story felt organic and fan-driven, this felt orchestrated and...not "pushed" so much as "shoved." Where the Bryan story was natural (with the little guy vs. big guy dynamic, and the shoot underdog vs. shoot powers-that-be angle), the Reigns version of the story was artificial. It failed to connect with fans for the same reason all the different "Cena vs. The Guy in Charge" stories failed: When the good guy overcomes the odds too easily it takes the drama away. There was nothing to root for. There wasn't an underdog to get behind. Instead it was a guy who looks like a Dothraki Khal being booked like he's, well, Daniel Bryan. It didn't work, and since Bryan was still so fresh in our memories, it probably biased fans even more against Reigns.

Come the Royal Rumble 2016, fans almost entirely* (there's always going to be a segment of half-interested moms and their kids who follow kayfabe like Gospel) turned against Reigns. Part of that was strictly on the basis of his inexperience. Part of that was a belief that he was not as worthy to be the next long-term champ as so many other amazing talents on the roster (Ambrose, Cesaro, and Kevin Owens to name a few). And part of it was a combination of those, mixed with the idea that Vince was stubbornly pushing a guy the fans didn't want in that spot, and the natural desire to rebel against his authority in response (which makes the fans the real underdog, getting screwed over time and again by the boss). Regardless, Vince gets what Vince wants. Maybe not instantly, but always eventually.

The Authority forced him to put his title on the line in the Royal Rumble match, and fans yawned, realizing that there were only two possible outcomes: Either Roman would overcome the odds in January and retain the title, or Triple H would win the match and Roman would overcome the odds in April and take the title. Either instantly or eventually, Roman was winning the title. Spoiler: Triple H won the match and the title, kicking off the "Road to WrestleMania" that had everyone saying "meh."

Which takes us to WrestleMania 32.

I suppose it should be mentioned that in the interim between the Rumble and WrestleMania we got two additional matches of relevance to this article. First, at the Fastlane show, Roman Reigns pinned Dean Ambrose to win the right to challenge for the WWE Championship. This makes two Fastlane shows in a row where Roman pinned a beloved babyface on his way to challenging for the title (in 2015 he beat Daniel Bryan). On both occasions he was being presented as the next top babyface, which again raises the question of "Why are they having the guy they want to get over as a babyface beat another, more popular babyface?"

To make things even more bizarre, after winning, Roman dropped off the planet and the WWE title picture switched to Dean Ambrose. The guy who just lost his right to challenge for the title, was now challenging for the title at Roadblock. It made no sense in kayfabe and it made no sense as a booking strategy. If they're trying to get Roman over, replacing him with Ambrose as a tease (spoiler: he loses) before returning to Reigns is a horrible idea. And it was. Roman returned after Roadblock to resume his feud with Triple H. Fans, fresh off of being teased with the prospect of the more popular Ambrose winning, treated Roman's quest to win the belt with a mixture of indifference in mark cities and unbridled anger in smark cities.

In the shows leading up to, and including, WrestleMania, the crowd reactions were so negative that the audio was regularly turned down, in an effort to minimize how much Roman was getting booed.

Going into the match there was a feeling of resignation among the fans. There was no MITB holder, no logical swerve that could save the day. The only hope people had rested in the rumor that the match might be placed mid-card (with the Hell in a Cell match to close the show). "If that happens" fans whispered in line at WrestleMania "then I bet Triple H retains and drops it to someone else and Roman turns heel..." But when Undertaker vs.  Shane McMahon happened earlier in the show, everyone knew what was coming later.

The match itself did no one any favors. Everyone came out looking bad. Triple H, who had been in the midst of a career renaissance (starting with his Daniel Bryan match at WrestleMania 30, followed by his two Shield vs. Evolution matches, and his great match with Ambrose a month prior) led Roman through a plodding 27-minute match that easily felt like double that. It didn't help that it was the show-closer on a show that stretched close to seven hours for those in the arena. The fans were hot at first, booing everything Roman did and tossing rebellious cheers Triple H's way. But halfway through the match, with nothing to hold onto between the ropes, the fans took to chanting for Sasha Banks, Enzo Amore, Shinsuke Nakamura and others. By the seventeen minute mark, a wave was rippling through the stadium. The wave. In the main event of the biggest WrestleMania ever, in a match meant to anoint the next top guy for a decade.

Not good.

The ending was a sweet and merciful thing. Like death at age 95. Roman won, as expected, and even though things took a turn for the better as early as 24 hours later, at the time and as a conclusion to this chapter of his story, things could not have gone worse.

So where does this main event fall in comparison to the thirty-one that preceded it?

26th.

Keep in mind that I am not factoring in any of the events that took place starting on Raw the next night: Roman's quasi tweener-turn, his feud with AJ Styles and having his "John Cena 2.0" happy good guy shtick stripped away in favor of a "tough guy that beats people up and wins matches, too bad" persona. All of that has been wonderful and Raw has been on a roll it's not seen in years. None of that matters here, though. This is all about the story of this main event.

And the story that Vince wanted to tell crashed into the brick wall of fan expectation and desire. Vince wanted to tell the story of a scrappy, young challenger, rising from the ashes of his former dominant team to become the single biggest and most dominant force in WWE. The fans said "nah, we want someone else, thanks." Thus the story we ended up getting was the story of a rejected hero. Someone who has tremendous gifts and a real upside in the pro wrestling world, but seemed to be pushed too much too soon when better options were available. No story attached to him worked, no angle they took or approach they tried resonated with a fanbase determined to rebel against the wishes of The Man.

And while there is great potential in the story of a rejected hero, you have to actually be willing to tell that story. Instead, Vince pressed on with his story, and the clash between fanbase and promoter resulted, not in entertainment, but in a fiasco of a main event.

It's no Bam Bam vs LT. At least this one wasn't a shameless selling out of the product in a desperate attempt to find mainstream relevance.

It's no Hart vs Yokozuna I. At least this one didn't end with Triple H retaining, only to have Cena come down and win the title in thirty seconds....actually if that had happened, we'd all hail it the greatest twist ending ever. Admit it.

It's no Hogan vs Slaughter. At least this one isn't marred by a horribly distasteful and nationally embarrassing backdrop to the whole affair.

It's no Undertaker vs Sid. At least no one pooped their pants halfway through it.

It's no John Cena vs Miz. At least we got a clean finish and both challenger and champion were treated with respect.

It's no Hogan vs Sid. At least this one kept the "fiasco" part of it confined to the stands, and not the ending of the match.

But it's basically on par with Triple H vs. Randy Orton. It has a lot of the same ingredients: Triple H, for one. The match sucked, for another. It was plodding and boring and no one really cared. It lands one notch below the WrestleMania 25 main event for one reason: The WrestleMania 25 story was hot as fire. The payoff might have been a let down, and the players might not have been who most wanted to main event the that particular show, but the story they went with and how they told it was exceptional. WrestleMania 32 didn't have that. It had a limp, weaksauce, predictable story that climaxed with a boring match.

So there you have it. I place this match at number 26 out of 32. Where do you place it? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think.

See you next time and catch you in the comment sections!

Oh and follow me on twitter: @bigpaleblog. (I write ten articles a month for cultofwhatever.com, covering comic books, TV, movies, wrestling, video games and more!)

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The completed list, now updated to include the above match:

Ranking Mania main events #1: Steve Austin vs. The Rock II
Ranking Mania main events #2: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker
Ranking Mania main events #3: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
Ranking Mania main events #4: Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista
Ranking Mania main events #5: Hulk Hogan vs. Macho Man Randy Savage
Ranking Mania main events #6: Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H
Ranking Mania main events #7: Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior
Ranking Mania main events #8: Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns
Ranking Mania main events #9: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle
Ranking Mania main events #10: Triple H vs. John Cena
Ranking Mania main events #11: Steve Austin vs. The Rock
Ranking Mania main events #12: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart
Ranking Mania main events #13: John Cena vs. The Rock
Ranking Mania main events #14: Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena
Ranking Mania main events #15: Undertaker vs. Edge
Ranking Mania main events #16: Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels
Ranking Mania main events #17: Batista vs. Triple H
Ranking Mania main events #18: Mick Foley vs. The Rock vs. Triple H vs. Big Show
Ranking Mania main events #19: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna II
Ranking Mania main events #20: John Cena vs. The Rock II
Ranking Mania main events #21: Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase
Ranking Mania main events #22: Hogan & Mr. T vs. Piper & Orndorff
Ranking Mania main events #23: Triple H vs. Chris Jericho
Ranking Mania main events #24: Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy
Ranking Mania main events #25: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
Ranking Mania main events #26: Triple H vs. Roman Reigns
Ranking Mania main events #27: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice
Ranking Mania main events #28: John Cena vs. The Miz
Ranking Mania main events #29: Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid
Ranking Mania main events #30: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
Ranking Mania main events #31: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna
Ranking Mania main events #32: Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow

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