Last year at WrestleMania XXX, World Wrestling Entertainment began a new tradition at the showcase of the immortals, by honoring a man who has most certainly become immortal in the hearts and minds of WWE fans, Andre the Giant. They did this by creating an annual battle royal named after the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, a match that Andre dominated so often in his career that he was given the nickname “King of the Battle Royals”.
Last year’s inaugural edition saw the contest won by a popular dark horse in Cesaro, a man who until the match started was not even listed as a participant. Heading into the match, the odds on favorite to win was the Big Show, a man who’s entire career has been linked to Andre in terms of both literal size and figurative size, even being billed as Andre’s son early on in his career. Alas, it was not meant to be as the Swiss Superman was destined to win the trophy while Show had to settle for second place.
Heading into the 2nd Annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, there were lots of potential winners, but it was still hard to predict exactly who would come out on top, how they would get there, if the match would create another WrestleMania moment the way it did last year, or if anyone even cared after being moved to the pre-show. Thankfully, many of those questions were answered at during the Wrestlemania 31 Kickoff.
Like last year, the match started with a few unannounced faces added to the match, as all 8 competitors from the WWE Tag Team Chamionship Fatal Four Way Match earlier in the pre-show were added to the mix. Things started out hot, but quickly calmed down as all eyes came to rest on the leader of #AxelMania, Curtis Axel. The former Intercontinental Champion was eager to talk smack and rip off his shirt in a very familiar way, but not so eager to be picked up by the rest of the competitors, then body surfed across the ring and onto the floor for the very first elimination of the match.
Adam Rose and Fandango provided a memorable moment as both men ended up on the apron, only to kick each other off at the same time. There was an interesting call back to WrestleMania’s past as Alex Riley, the former protégé of The Miz, attempted to talk some sense into his current protégé, Damien Mizdow. It all proved to be quite fruitless however as the A-lister and his stunt double eventually teamed up to attack and eliminate the former varsity villain.
The returning Bo Dallas stole the thunder of Zack Ryder by eliminating him with a hip toss, then celebrated with a number of victory laps around the ring in what was a laugh out loud moment, enhanced by the original belief that Dallas had actually eliminated himself to do his lap. That didn’t turn out to be the case, but part of me wishes it had been. Of course, that really didn’t matter much as he returned to the ring to meet a boot from Hideo Itami who sent him careening to the floor, much to the delight of the crowd, who were very pro-Itami during the match. Hideo was actually the first of a small pile of wrestlers that included both Los Matadores and SinCara, all of whom served as a crash pad for Tyson Kidd as he was press slammed to the floor by Mark Henry, who was eliminated moments later by The Ascension.
The duo of Konnor and Viktor would not last much longer than Henry, as they were both dumped out simultaneously by Ryback, which kicked off an eliminations race between him and the Big Show. Ryback got an early lead by adding both Prime Time Players and Heath Slater to his count before Big Show got into the game by eliminating Jack Swagger and all three members of The New Day and Ryback’s frequent partner, Erik Rowan, tying everything up at five eliminations a piece. Ryback answered the challenge by tossing Goldust over the top rope, once again taking the lead.
Late in the match, Cesaro picked up Kane for a body slam, and eliminated him in the very same fashion that won him the match last year, leading many to speculate if we could once again see Cesaro slip in the back door and repeat as the winner. This lead to an interesting moment after Big Show eliminated Jimmy Uso (taking the lead with 6 eliminations), where we got a case of déjà vu as Cesaro and Big Show went toe to toe in the same manner that closed out last year’s battle royal. History would not repeat itself this time however as Big Show learned from his mistakes, reversed the body slam, and tossed out the King of Swing for an impressive 7th elimination of the match. To put a final exclamation point on his body count, Show then used Ryback’s own momentum to toss out his biggest competition, proving that the Big Guy was no match for the Big Show.
The final three came down to Big Show, The Miz, and Damien Mizdow. It was oddly reminiscent of the WrestleMania 2 Battle Royal where the final three were Andre the Giant and The Hart Foundation. The only difference being that in that match, the Hart Foundation were on the same page. Here, the Miz spent a lot of time berating his stunt double after Mizdow refused to follow him into battle against the Big Show, choosing instead to eliminate his boss to the thunderous approval of the crowd at Levi Stadium.
In the end, he may have ended up regretting that decision, because despite a very valiant effort and 70,000 fans behind him, Mizdow just wasn’t able to overcome the Big Show’s size advantage. In a last ditch effort, Mizdow latched on a front face lock and attempted to pull Big Show over the top rope in a strategy that proved successful for Chris Benoit against the World’s Largest Athlete when he won the 2004 Royal Rumble. Once again, Big Show demonstrated that he has a good memory and launched Mizdow off the apron for elimination number 9, winning the match, and in the minds of some, fulfilling his destiny.
Battle Royals are sometimes difficult to make entertaining. Given the sheer number of bodies littered around the ring, it’s easy to lose focus and miss some or all the stories being told in the ring. One thing that can be said in favor of this year’s edition of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal is the fact that the pacing was excellent. There was never too much downtime between high spots, but it didn’t rush through the match at a pace that made it impossible to digest what was happening.
Although it wasn’t true of everyone, the vast majority of the participants were given an important role or memorable moment in the match. This helped with the pacing and made the match as a whole feel more important. Last year, there were few incidents outside of the finish that people can recall. Only time will tell if the moments created here will have a longer shelf life in the minds of fans, but there was definitely a larger variety to choose from.
What made this year’s Battle Royal interesting heading into WrestleMania 31 was the potential for a number of stories to be told within the match itself. I feel as though that potential was realized during this match. We had Ryback’s quest to eliminate as many opponents as possible, Cesaro’s attempt to repeat his success from last year, the mounting tension and eventual implosion of The Miz and Damien Mizdow, and the pressure of Big Show to live up to the comparisons of Andre after losing last year. Telling these stories within the match itself made it a more compelling event.
What Didn’t Work
WrestleMania 31 was four hours long this year. This isn’t anything new as many WrestleMania’s in the past have clocked in at that length, but I still feel like it’s just too long, no matter how great the show is. Despite feeling this way, I really do wish this match had been a part of the main card. Many fans perceived it as being less important because it was a part of the pre-show, and that’s a shame because I honestly feel like it was a better match this year. If WWE wants to make this match an important part of WrestleMania each year, then they have to treat it as such. This is a minor complaint because looking at the card, I can’t justify swapping it out with any other matches that made it to the show of shows, but it is something that bothered me.
Another minor complaint I have is the choice to have the Big Show win. It isn’t because he doesn’t deserve it. The story being told of Big Show’s need to live up to Andre’s legacy and his desire to win his first Battle Royal (a fact that may have tipped off some fans about his impending victory) is a good one. The problem lies in the fact that we’ve heard this story before. The Big Show has had so many stop and go pushes that giving him a relatively new honor seems like a missed opportunity on the surface. The winner doesn’t have to go on to great heights in WWE, but it can still be seen as something important that improves your career. Ryback has managed to claw his way back into the good graces of the WWE Universe despite having his momentum all but killed. Giving him the victory would reward fans for getting behind him again. Mizdow has become a breakout star for WWE. Having him defy the odds and win this match would have been a great way to cap off his newly found independence. Fans have been burned by Big Show booking too many times to be excited about this victory. It is possible that WWE has a payoff in mind, but if last year is any indication, that may only be wishful thinking. One theory put forward by Wade Keller would see Big Show develop his own WrestleMania streak, winning the Battle Royal multiple times in a row, only to have a deserving talent beat the odds and eliminate Show to create his own legacy. That kind of forward thinking would be welcome.
Now that WrestleMania 31 is in the record books, we have some answers to the questions that plagued us at the start of this article. We know who came out on top and how they got there. Did it create another WrestleMania moment? I would lean towards no, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t create some very good moments that were quite enjoyable. Did the fact that it was moved to the pre-show make people care less about the match? Sadly, I think the answer here is yes, but that doesn’t mean WWE cared less about this match than it did last year. Overall, it was put together much better than last year’s Battle Royal. It told more stories, and hopefully served as the launching point for an even more meaningful moment down the line. Although I didn’t like how this one ended, it doesn’t change that fact that I enjoyed 99% of this match. As far I’m concerned, it’s a match that would’ve made Andre proud, and is certainly worthy of his name.