Wrestlemania 31 Review: Sting vs Triple H

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During the Monday Night War, professional wrestling fans were obsessed with the possibility of potential dream matches between the stars of World Championship Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation.  We would make up our own Super Bowls of wrestling, pitting the best of each company against one another.  In 2001, Vince McMahon purchased WCW, ending the Monday Night War, but opening up the possibility that with both rosters being owned by one company, those dream matches could become reality.

Sadly for us, we would never get our true Super Bowl of wrestling, mainly due to the fact that although Vince McMahon had purchased WCW, he also needed to buy the contracts of each wrestler that worked for WCW.  He did end up picking up quite a few, but there were some notable names missing from Vince McMahon’s WCW.  Eventually, every top WCW star came to the company, except for one man who could easily be considered the crown jewel of WCW.  A man called Sting.

Fans waited 14 years while we heard rumours of WCW’s franchise player possibly coming to World Wrestling Entertainment.  Last summer, we didn’t need to wait any longer as Sting signed a contract and the rumours began to spread about the Icon facing another top star of the Monday Night War – WWE Chief Operating Officer, Triple H.  At Fastlane those rumours were confirmed and we knew it would come to pass that at WrestleMania 31 we would get Sting vs Triple H for the first time ever.  Although for some the buildup to the match left something to be desired, did the match itself live up to the hype?

The Match

Sting vs Triple H began with the kind of spectacle that has become synonymous with both competitors and WrestleMania itself.  Sting was played to the ring by a Taiko drum band, while Triple H continued to borrow from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s filmography, trading in his traditional Conan theme for one inspired by the Terminator franchise.

The action early on was kept simple and traditional.  Shoulder tackles, hip tosses, and drop kicks were the order of the day, and neither man truly gained an upper hand or dominated early on. They kept things fairly even until Sting managed to lock in his signature submission, the Scorpion Death Lock.  From there, things took an interesting turn.

With their former leader in trouble, Billy Gunn, Road Dogg, and X-Pac, the collective members of D Generation X, came to the ring not only to distract Sting, but lend a helping hand to the WWE COO.  That allowed Triple H to use his signature move, the Pedigree, which might have signalled the end of the match, had it not been for the New World Order of “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash coming out to even the odds and give their former WCW brother a chance to get back in the match.  We thought that was the end of the guest appearances until another DX member in Shawn Michaels played a little Sweet Chin Music on the Icon Sting.  It wasn’t enough however, as Sting kicked out and the match continued.

Of course, when in war, artillery plays a huge role, and it was no different in this match.  Both Triple H and Sting use a signature weapon.  Triple H wields a sledgehammer, while Sting’s weapon of choice is a black baseball bat.  Anyone believing that neither prop would come into play was being naïve, but not everyone would guess that it would be those same props that delivered the final, crushing blow of the match, with Sting going head to head with Triple H’s hammer and losing, knocking him silly and allowing the King of Kings to pick up the pin fall victory.

After the match, Triple H celebrated his victory with DX while Sting licked his wounds surrounded by his former enemies in the nWo.  The two factions stared each other down, ready for another round, when the Cerebral Assassin stepped forward against the wishes of his DX contemporaries and offered an olive branch to Sting in the form of a handshake.  Although reluctant at first, Sting eventually reciprocated the act of sportsmanship, finally ending the Monday Night War with a peace treaty.

What Worked

Despite not having high hopes for this match and being unimpressed with the road leading up to this dream match, the end result was an overall positive one.  It all started with the spectacular entrances of both men.  Purists likely found the theatrics of both men quite hokey, and even fans who tend to lean towards sports entertainment must admit that there were some silly aspects; namely Triple H’s pre entrance video, which included a half-hearted appearance from the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a cheesy visor viewer that ironically enough would not have seemed out of place in the dying days of WCW. Those complaints are minor however, because by the time Triple H rose from the stage adorned in his own Terminator exoskeleton, surrounded by T-800s, the only thing I could think about was how bad ass and surreal a moment it was.  It was also oddly appropriate given the story behind the match.  Since the Monday Night War ended, Triple H has taken out every former WCW main eventer, almost like a Terminator.  The collection of robotic skulls he carried with him to the ring might as well have been the heads of Scott Steiner, Goldberg, and Ric Flair.  While Sting’s entrance was certainly more subdued than the King of King’s, it wasn’t any less symbolic.  Sting’s Taiko drum band was adorned in the face paint of WCW’s franchise player, giving the entire thing a kabuki like feel.  An appropriate parallel considering not only the theatrics of WrestleMania, but Sting himself.

One of the things Triple H and Sting did right was keep things simple in the ring.  Both men showed their age here but by slowing the pace down and working a more traditional match style, it not only hid those obstacles, but it was a bit more reminiscent of matches from the Monday Night War.  Triple H and Sting were smart enough to know how far their star power could take them in terms of forgiveness from the crowd.  Although fans of technical wrestling won’t look back on this one fondly, psychologists and storytellers will appreciate it more.

Of course, when you have real concerns about stinking out WrestleMania, you use every trick in the book to keep fans excited, and in the case of Sting vs Triple H, the biggest trick they had up their sleeve was the nostalgia card.  With so much ballyhoo surrounding the Monday Night War and it’s connection to this match, it was brilliant booking to have both DX and the nWo as part of the match, not only to pop the crowd, but to cut down on the amount of actual work that Triple H and Sting had to do in the ring.

In terms of booking, I also think it was the right call to put over Triple H.  We don’t know where Sting will go from here in WWE, but judging by the events that occurred later in the evening involving the Rock, Stephanie McMahon, and UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, Rhonda Rousey, there are some potentially big plans for Triple H next year, and keeping him strong here was the right move if that does indeed turn out to be the case.

What Didn’t Work

In my preview for this match, I predicted that WWE would use a number of Monday Night War alumni to enhance the match.  There certainly was no lack of either at Levi Stadium.  Given that Triple H was the leader of DX during that time period, his former cronies were expected.  The team that wasn’t expected was the nWo.  Although a huge part of WCW during the Monday Night War, the nWo was always seen as a group out to destroy WCW, not soldiers in the war against the WWF.  Adding to the bizarre nature of the choice was the fact that while fighting off the nWo, WCW’s secret weapon was Sting, a man who hated everything Hogan, Hall, and Nash collectively stood for.  Some of WCW’s biggest supporters were in the building.  Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Diamond Dallas Page, and Booker T just to name a few.  Although many of these names stood across the ring from Sting at one point, they have also stood side by side him as well.  That being said, I understand the choice to use the nWo, as no group is more synonymous with WCW than them.  During the Monday Night War, DX vs the nWo was the faction war everyone wanted to see, and even if I thought there were better choices, the thrill was enough for me to suspend my disbelief. So consider this only a minor nitpick.

The post-match handshake on the other hand, is something I have a major problem with.  It was a moment that defied all logic, and completely destroyed the illusion everyone just spent 20 minutes creating.  Keep in mind that in promos leading up to the match, while Triple H tried to make it all about the Monday Night War, Sting went on record as saying he was there to put Triple H for his immoral acts as the Authority.  By shaking hands with Triple H at the end of the match, both Sting and Triple H were admitting that any conflict they had with one another heading into WrestleMania was fake, and although the fans realize that pro wrestling is a show, they want to believe.  They want to be fooled and get lost in the moment.  We know the Dark Knight is fiction, but Christopher Nolan doesn’t add a scene where Heath Ledger and Christian Bale shake hands over a con well done.  The only possible reason I can think of for WWE pulling this stunt is a call back to the curtain call, where the clique broke kayfabe at Madison Square Garden.  If that was the misguided reason for doing this, then it was an incredible reach that I guarantee was lost on just about everyone.  The biggest problem this match had heading into WrestleMania was giving fans a reason to care.  They managed to overcome that seemingly impossible hurdle through a little smoke and mirrors, then threw it all away with a jarring dose of reality.

Overall Thoughts

Sting vs Triple H had so much working against it heading into WrestleMania 31, that it was going to be an uphill battle.  With plenty of great athletes and compelling stories being told throughout the show, WWE realized the best strategy for this match was to keep the action in the ring realistic, and the action outside of it over the top.  It’s actually a little ironic that Triple H embraced a Terminator theme for his entrance, as much of this match felt like a plot from the Terminator franchise.  Two warriors going back in time. One a destroyer, the other a protector.  If I was to compare this match to one of the Terminator films, it would likely be Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.  T3 wasn’t a classic like the first two films in the series, but it was memorable for its nostalgia and pure spectacle, and sometimes that’s all you really want and need as either a film goer or as a WWE fan.