WrestleMania 30 stands as one of the signature nights in WWE history. In one night — April 6, 2014 — more than a year of fans clamoring for the rise of Daniel Bryan came to fruition, and Brock Lesnar did something that few believed was ever going to happen on WWE’s biggest stage.
Ahead of Sunday night’s re-airing of this classic WWE show (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET), here’s a refresher to get you in the right frame of mind to enjoy the show to its fullest.
Brock Lesnar takes on the WrestleMania streak of The Undertaker
Heading into WrestleMania 30, The Undertaker had won 21 straight matches at WrestleMania. Starting with WrestleMania 7 in 1991, and missing just two years through 2013, Undertaker had won three world title matches, ended the career of Shawn Michaels inside of Hell in a Cell, and taken on a spectrum of WWE stars that stretched from Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka to CM Punk.
“The Streak,” as it came to be known, started to be promoted as such in 2005, when Randy Orton — then touting himself as “the legend killer” — sought to knock The Undertaker off his mantle. Spoiler alert: He failed. Year by year, as more and more WWE standouts stepped up to the plate and were ultimately cast aside, there were fans in two distinctly different camps: those who thought The Undertaker would never lose his streak, and those that felt Undertaker would build up to one final big match, give the honor to one standout rising star and then walk off into the sunset.
After spending four years battling Michaels and Triple H, each in back-to-back years, there were those who wondered if CM Punk, fresh off a history-making 434-day run as WWE champion, would be the one to finally beat The Undertaker when they faced off at WrestleMania 29. But he, too, fell, stretching Undertaker’s streak to 21-0.
Enter Lesnar who, after eight years away trying to break into the NFL and then winning the UFC heavyweight championship, re-entered the WWE picture in 2012 by attacking John Cena.
Leading into his match with The Undertaker in New Orleans, Lesnar wrestled a grand total of six matches between April 2012 and January 2014, dropping two of them (including a WrestleMania 29 match against Triple H). Would a part-timer, even one with bona fides as strong as Lesnar’s, really stand a chance?
Daniel Bryan’s “Yes!” movement takes over WWE
To understand the meaning of what Bryan experienced at WrestleMania 30, you have to go all the way back to the beginning. Bryan spent the first few years of his career trying to find his place within the WWE ecosystem. He was technically fired on his first night on the main roster, as he took his role as part of the Nexus invasion of Monday Night Raw overboard by choking ring announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie. Even upon his triumphant return as part of the WWE team taking on the seven-man Nexus squad at SummerSlam 2010, WWE was never quite able to lock into what their vision of Daniel Bryan should be.
Bryan got the best of his “mentor,” The Miz, and won the United States championship shortly thereafter, but he’d still largely meander for a while. After winning the Money in the Bank ladder match in July 2011, Bryan was on a mostly forgettable path until he opportunistically cashed in his title shot and defeated The Big Show to become World Heavyweight Champion. It was during this stretch that Bryan transformed himself into a cowardly opportunist and started to pick up momentum. His patented “Yes!” chants that would become iconic worldwide started during this era, although that and his “No!” protestations were often used to antagonize the audience.
Bryan held onto the belt until WrestleMania 28, when Sheamus beat him in a matter of 18 seconds — flipping the script on Bryan once again and making him the plucky underdog who was perceived as overlooked by the WWE brass.
He challenged CM Punk for his world title through most of that summer unsuccessfully, and then stumbled into another unlikely boost in forming the strangely matched but wildly successful pairing with Kane called “Team Hell No”. They won tag-team titles, starred in a series of bizarre but entertaining vignettes, and had a series of memorable tangles with the newly debuted Shield (and more on them in a bit).
The fans had gotten fully behind Bryan by the time he lined up opposite John Cena for a WWE championship match at SummerSlam 2013, and when he shocked the world by defeating Cena to win the title outright, the celebration was tremendous. But as confetti fell, Triple H — the referee for the match — executed his master plan and blindsided Bryan with a pedigree, allowing Randy Orton to snatch the title away, establishing “The Authority” in the process.
The lines between reality and script began to blur, as fan support only grew for Bryan as Triple H and Stephanie McMahon continuously labeled Bryan a “B+ player”.
There were several unsuccessful title challenges along the way from there, but by the time Royal Rumble 2014 rolled around, fans were behind Bryan to an extent that only a handful of stars of the modern era of WWE have enjoyed.
Bryan had appeared to be on the road to indoctrination and induction into the Wyatt Family, until in a moment of clarity he struck back at Bray Wyatt and unleashed one of his most iconic “Yes!” chant moments of all from atop a steel cage.
Even when he lost to Wyatt on the undercard, fans eagerly anticipated Bryan entering the 30-man Royal Rumble match and punching his ticket to WrestleMania. They were so severely disappointed by his absence that when ever-popular star Rey Mysterio was revealed as the final entrant in the match they showered him with boos — a sentiment that continued when Batista ultimately won the WrestleMania title shot.
Bryan qualified for the Elimination Chamber match and made it down to the end with Orton, but interference from The Wyatt Family and former ally Kane was too much to overcome. Then Bryan brought fans into the ring to “occupy” Monday Night Raw and forced the issue, making an ultimatum for WrestleMania: If he could beat Triple H in the opening match on the card, he could make the main event a triple threat against Orton and Batista.
Other matches to keep an eye on
Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena
Bryan wasn’t the main target for the Wyatt Family inside of the Elimination Chamber — it was Cena. After establishing his powerful trio of swamp-based goliaths, Wyatt had steadily built himself into a true main event player. As a trio, the Wyatt Family had already engaged The Shield in a memorable battle, and then Wyatt stepped up his own credits with his victory over Bryan.
This was Wyatt’s first WrestleMania match, and it doesn’t get much bigger than stepping into the ring with one of WWE’s icons on the biggest stage WWE has to offer. And as it turns out, it appears Cena and Wyatt are bound for a rematch at WrestleMania 36 in a few weeks — albeit with Wyatt finding a significantly different form.
The Shield vs. Kane and the New Age Outlaws
It wasn’t their most memorable or lengthy stretch together in the ring, but Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose tangled with three future Hall of Famers on the WrestleMania 30 card.
It would ultimately be their last WrestleMania together. By the time WrestleMania 31 rolled around, Rollins was cashing in Money in the Bank on Reigns and Lesnar in one of the most shocking WrestleMania moments of all time.
The spectacle of the inaugural Andre Battle Royal
Before WWE started making trophies for every battle royal and “special match” under the sun, the inaugural Andre the Giant Battle Royal was promoted as a very big deal. Unlike some of the later versions, it wasn’t featured on the kickoff show, and the mighty Andre the Giant trophy was an impressive sight indeed.
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