Wrestlemania 30 was the perfect manifestation of where professional wrestling stands in 2014. Period. It began with a star-studed opening promo featuring past legends The Rock, Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin. It shockingly and suddenly paid off a story line two decades in the making. And it crowned a new babyface ambassador with 80,000 fans chanting his catchphrase. By the end of the night, the preeminent promotion in sports entertainment had woven the fabric of where talent and the culture sit today with strands from the past to give a tapestry of that will move the industry forward.
The Undertaker has been defeated at Wrestlemania. And by the erstwhile part timer Brock Lesnar For one score and one year, The Deadman has shown up to the Showcase of the Immortals and walked away victorious. Over time, The Streak became known as a signature feature of the annual event on par with defending a major title. Simply squaring off against The Undertaker (and losing) was considered an honor that only Superstars of a stature such as Shawn Michaels or CM Punk might be worthy to handle.
When Wrestlemania season came around, obsessed fans had taken to reverentially speculating which top of the card Superstar might take up the honor this year. And if it might be the right combination of talent, popularity and presumably youth to mark the challenger as a worthy recipient of the story line glory associated with the being the one to end it.
In retrospect, the weight of that distinction is what helped end the thing as such a thud. Professional wrestling is about storytelling. Many of wrestling’s stories are well-worn tropes that are outfitted for their time but grounded in the same rituals going back to the industry’s early Vaudeville days. But all good stories include some level of uncertainty, be it intrigue or mystery or the threat of a last second swerve.
It was the once-in-a-generation opportunity to swerve that the current WWE creative team saw with Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker. The internet connected WWE fan base had moved to such a codified state of groupthink on The Streak only ever being broken by a young performer that the idea of a part timer like Brock Lesnar winning was considered an impossible option. History (and WWE revenue numbers) will tell if it was the right call. But the GIFs of shocked fans from the arena and the trending #ThankyouTaker hashtags indicate that they grabbed their fans attention.
(GIF via SBNation)
And what did they do with this attention? They used it to launch indie darling Daniel Bryan as their new champion and face of the company with a mix of very traditional and new era storytelling methods. For months, they’ve been slowly burning the story of Bryan chasing the championship belt only to be denied at every turn by the dastardly actions of on-screen figurehead of Triple H and The Authority. And they extended the story beyond the murky fourth wall when Bryan was dropped from the championship story line earlier this year, leading the online wrestling community to fear that he was buried behind the scenes as well.
By the time Bryan entered Wrestlemania, he had a head of steam behind him and a clear gauntlet in front of him. They began the night’s action by having him beat his direct adversary Triple H, but take a beating that left him weakened for his earned entry into the championship main event. And, even in that main event, the story threw angle after angle his way. Two opponents teaming up, the return of Triple H to interfere from outside, a crooked replacement referee, and a team of paramedics sent to carry him out on a stretcher after enduring the spot of the night through the Spanish Announcer’s table.
The culmination of this story with it’s many twists and turns — both kayfabe and potentially real? 75,000 people in the confetti covered Superdome chanting Yes!Yes!Yes! as their bearded champion raised two belts with the signature in the background. The WWE is banking on selling plenty of T-shirts and DVDs around that visage.
The night’s festivities began with a schlocky, charming 20 minute opening segment where the promotion’s three most popular historic Superstars led the crowd through self-congratultory chants and cheers and rounds of Stevie-weisers. With all of the red carpet laid out for him, it is clear the promotion is aiming for Bryan to join that inner circle one day himself.