Hey, look at that! I’m talking about wrestling again!
Yeah, I don’t talk about wrestling much on this site, so who knows if I’m alienating those who do read my writings. But it’s hard to be a wrestling fan and not write about Wrestlemania. Maybe I’ll even start writing more on the intriguing world that is pro-wrestling.
Wrestlemania, the biggest event on WWE’s (and indeed, all of pro-wrestling’s) calendar has come and gone. Overall, the event could be argued as one of the best Wrestlemanias ever in terms of consistency (there was no truly awful match). But it did have it’s share of questionable booking decisions. I’m going to try and give a run down of every match, but because it was an exhausting seven hours long, I’m going to try to keep each match description/my opinions brief.
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal: Like any battle royal that isn’t the annual Royal Rumble, this was just a chaotic mess until it got down to the last few men standing. It came down to Woken Matt Hardy, and former ATGMBR (my God, that acronym) winners Baron Corbin and Mojo Rowley. Woken Matt Hardy thankfully won after former rival Bray Wyatt returned to help his former foe, signaling a new alliance. Hopefully WWE has learned their lesson and will use this win as a means for Hardy to go on to better things, but history has shows this annual battle royal has meant very little so far (the fact that former winners were in the match is telling enough that it hasn’t exactly catapulted their careers).
Cruiserweight Championship Match – Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali: This was actually a pretty good match in its own right, but maybe not as good as some of the tournament matches that got both men to this point. Cedric Alexander won the match, with the feud likely to continue to help further revitalize the cruiserweight division.
The “First Ever” Wrestlemania Women’s Battle Royal: Another messy battle royal, that was made all the messier by some bad camera editing. The only real storyline here was Bayley and Sasha Bank’s friendship turned rivalry (which should have been its own match on the card). And in the end Bayley eliminated Sasha Banks after being stabbed in the back by her former friend too often… Only for Naomi to end up back in the ring, having never actually being eliminated (something which the aforementioned camerawork failed to catch) and eliminate Bayley to win the whole thing… Okay.
Intercontinental Title Match – The Miz (C) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor: This was a terrific match, with all three men putting on a great effort. Although it’s kind of hard to see the Miz as a villain now that he keeps bragging up being a new father (how can I boo a man who’s proud of his new baby?). Seth Rollins won by pinning the Miz, thus making him a Grand Slam Champion like the rest of the former Shield members.
Smackdown Women’s Championship Match – Charlotte Flair (C) vs. Asuka: More to say here than most of the other matches. In terms of in-ring action, it was arguably the best match on the show, and the first truly classic women’s match at Wrestlemania. The downside is that Asuka lost…by submission.
Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with Charlotte Flair being the one to end Asuka’s two-plus years undefeated streak, and it does make some sense to end it at Wrestlemania. But it just seems a little too soon after Asuka moved up to the main roster from NXT. And having her tap out at her first loss. I don’t know. It just seemed to happen for the sake of the shock, like they were trying to replicate the moment the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak ended in the same building four years ago. Everyone was expecting a big money match against Ronda Rousey down the line, but now with Asuka’s streak over, there’s less mystique to that match. And surely I’m not the only one who thinks Asuka should have won one of the Women’s titles on the main roster while the streak was still intact. Also, having Asuka win the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble match only to lose at Wrestlemania seems like a strange move. Great match, but I don’t know where we go from here.
United States Championship Match – Randy Orton (C) vs. Rusev vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Bobby Roode: Here was the downer of the night. I mean, the actual in-ring work was good for how short the match was, but this ended up being another one of WWE’s egomaniacal punishments to one of their wrestlers for getting popular on their own, without the company’s backup. Rusev, whose “Rusev Day” gimmick (in which he declares every day as being a holiday celebrating himself, and has his lackey, Aiden English, literally sing his praises), has made him one of the most popular wrestlers going. Fans chant “Rusev Day” whenever they want to see the ‘Bulgarian Brute,’ or when they make it known that what they’re currently seeing is boring (including Mania’s main event, more on that in a moment), and would rather be entertained by Rusev’s shenanigans.
So what happens? Jinder Mahal, arguably the most disliked WWE wrestler not named Roman Reigns right now wins the match by pinning Rusev. An okay match while it lasted, but it did seem to be another one of WWE’s petty middle fingers to the fans. It’s no surprise that the crowd soured to a lot of the subsequent events of the show.
Inter-gender Tag Team Match – Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon: Although this was maybe not the most technically solid match on the card in terms of in-ring work, it may have been the most entertaining. Of course Ronda Rousey’s team won on her wrestling debut, as she made Stephanie McMahon tap out, thus finally, FINALLY giving Stephanie McMahon some comeuppance after years of putting herself over the actual wrestlers. But the match did a good job at thinking Stephanie and Triple H might win, even if that would have been the most bone-headed thing ever (though it wouldn’t be the first time such a thing happened. Just a few short years ago Triple H defeated the legendary Sting in the latter’s first match in the company). Maybe not a classic match in technical terms, but it will definitely be remembered for how entertaining it was, and that Ronda Rousey performed just fine in a wrestling ring.
Smackdown Tag Team Championship Match – The Usos (C) vs. The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers: This was a case of “nothing special, but exactly what it should have been.” After Luke Harper and Erick Rowan floundered on the roster with no direction once the Wyatt Family split up, they needed a fresh start. So when they were repackaged as “The Bludgeon Brothers” (who have the gimmick of carrying around giant mallets…which is both the stupidest and greatest gimmick ever), they got just that. The match was more or less just the Bludgeon Brothers destroying everyone, and winning the titles with ease. I still kind of wish they had made this a gimmick match of some kind (TLC or such), but at least it felt like a way to solidify Harper and Rowan, as well as make up for their mistreatment over the past few Manias.
The Undertaker vs. John Cena: Okay, so as a match, this wasn’t much. But as a “Wrestlemania moment,” it should stand alongside the best of them. Undertaker more or less retired last year after a disappointing Mania main event with Roman Reigns. The story for weeks was John Cena trying to goad the Undertaker out of retirement for a match against him at Wrestlemania, but never receiving a response. Cena said if he couldn’t get the match, he’d just watch Wrestlemania as a fan (yeah, because WWE wouldn’t have a match for John Cena of all people on their biggest show). But during the show up to this point, there were teases of Undertaker being ready to face John Cena. And, after a brilliant fake-out from Elias, the Undertaker finally returned (after his usual, over-the-top shenanigans, of course). And so the match was set.
The match was really just a squash match that saw Undertaker hit all his signature moves before beating Cena in under three minutes. Obviously not a great match, but a memorable moment. It is a shame WWE waited way too long to do this match though. A few years ago when Undertaker was in better shape and ‘the Streak’ was still a thing, and John Cena was still in ‘Super Cena’ mode, this could have been a show-stealing main event. Hell, even now it was considered one of the last remaining dream matches. Instead WWE waited too long, and instead we got a nice return for Undertaker that made him look strong (his few minutes performing here made up for the Roman Reigns debacle last year).
Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn: Daniel Bryan being medically cleared to wrestle again after being forced into retirement over two years ago is the best wrestling event of any kind to happen this year. There’s nothing else that could happen this year that would top it. And of course, Bryan hasn’t lost a step, putting on a show-stealing performance in an otherwise “pretty good” match.
Of course Daniel Bryan’s team won. Bryan is not only the best wrestler in WWE’s employment, he’s also probably the most popular they’ve had since Steve Austin. Of course he won. The match was strong due to Bryan, Owens and Zayn, with the only downside being Shane McMahon’s role in the match.
Now, if you’re going to have a McMahon in the match, you want it to be Shane, given his willingness to put on crazy stunts at his own risk. But the fact remains that he’s a non-wrestler who only gets into the ring on occasion. It’s hard to buy him being on equal footing as people like Zayn and Owens, who are among the more credible wrestlers of today.
RAW Women’s Championship Match – Alexa Bliss (C) vs. Nia Jax: Nia Jax won the title, because, honestly, she had to. WWE building a story around Alexa Bliss taunting Jax over her weight would make an Alexa Bliss victory feel flat-out mean-spirited (but this is WWE we’re talking about, so that wasn’t exactly off the cards). The match was decent, but told a solid story.
WWE Championship Match – AJ Styles (C) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: Oh boy, I’m conflicted. The match itself was very good in a lot of ways, but this should have been better than “very good,” it should have been a classic. Both Styles and Nakamura are among the best wrestlers in the world, and the hype around the match was always going to be hard to live up to. But the match, while strong, could have been, and should have been, so much more. AJ Styles won the match to retain the title, afterwards Shinsuke Nakamura went full heel and attacked Styles. So at least this feud might continue and give both men another chance to shine.
Also, having both Royal Rumble winners (Asuka and Nakamura) lose at Mania seems…odd.
RAW Tag Team Championship Match – The Bar (Sheamus and Cesaro) (C) vs. Braun Strowman and a mystery partner: After much speculation of who Braun Strowman’s mystery partner could have been, it ended up being… A ten-year old kid from the audience named Nicholas (apparently the son of a WWE referee). Braun Strowman just put the kid on the apron, and proceeded to demolish the Bar on his own. Nicholas was tagged in for a brief moment (getting the only cheer louder than Daniel Bryan the whole night), but tagged Strowman back in, who got the pin on Cesaro. So Braun Strowman and a ten-year old kid won the tag team titles.
Some online have greatly disliked the stunt, but I actually really enjoyed it. I can understand people claiming RAW’s tag team title scene needs to be built up, and this may go against that. But we’re talking about Braun Strowman here. Over the past year he’s become WWE’s most must-see asset, providing one memorable moment after another. After Braun Strowman won the right to face the Bar at Wrestlemania by winning a tag team battle royal by himself, many fans were disappointed when they announced that Strowman needed a partner at the event, because Braun Strowman winning the tag team titles by himself is the most ‘Braun Strowman’ thing they could have done at this point. By making his tag team partner a ten-year old kid, it was really the only thing that could ‘out-Braun Strowman’ that scenario. This way, Braun won the titles essentially on his own, while also giving a kid a moment he’ll always remember. So, y’know, why complain?
Main Event: Universal Title Match – Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Roman Reigns: I said that Rusev being pinned was the biggest downer of the night. But this might have been the only thing that could out-suck it.
This was a lose-lose situation for WWE. On one hand, we have Roman Reigns, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon’s pet project who fans have grown to revile due to his corporate favoritism. And on the other hand, we have Brock Lesnar, a part-time worker who fans once loved, but have grown tired of with his part time schedule, year-plus title reign, and overall repetitive matches.
It really didn’t matter how good this match could have been, the crowd was always going to crap all over it. And crap they did, chanting everything from “this is awful” to, you guessed it, “Rusev Day.”
The match itself was…okay. They tried to make Roman sympathetic (again) by having him get utterly destroyed for most of the match, and getting busted open by Lesnar and bleeding all over the place. But of course it didn’t work. Reigns may actually be a good wrestler, but his forced push over the course of the last four years have made it so nothing will make him the beloved babyface the company wants him to be.
Shockingly, Brock Lesnar actually won, but he had to hit Roman with six F-5 finishers to do it (for the record, Brock had to hit Undertaker with three F-5s to end “The Streak.” And of course, trying to make Roman look twice as tough as the Undertaker is going to do the exact opposite of get him cheers). I honestly don’t know where WWE goes from here with the Universal title scenario. And as long as it still involves Lesnar and/or Reigns, I, like many, won’t care.
Well, there you go. As stated, I felt this could be argued as one of the better Wrestlemanias in the context that there was no truly awful match, and there weren’t any sidetracking concerts by musicians or anything. The in-ring work was solid, and everything that was entertaining, was so by quite some margin. But there were other elements that just didn’t click. Ending Asuka’s streak in such anti-climactic fashion (even if the match was really good), having Rusev take the pin in the US title match (and by Jinder Mahal, of all people), Styles and Nakamura underwhelming, and the ‘unable to care’ main event prevented the show from living up to its true potential. Sure, wrestling still has to tell stories, and they can’t all be crowd pleasers, but it seems like some of the “twists” that occurred only happened for the sake of them happening, with no context of the larger picture. And some of the decisions seemed to exist just to sour fans (which makes little sense in most mediums, and absolute zero sense in pro-wrestling).
A good show, maybe even a great one in terms of that aforementioned consistency. But like Styles and Nakamura, it just didn’t quite hit the mark.
Maybe they can make up for it by giving Nicholas the Universal title…on Rusev Day.