Sorry about the absence but real world obligations got in the way and I herniated a disk in my back again, so I’ve been on the shelf for a while.
Glad to say that I’m on the mend and that I’m back to break down the biggest show of the year, the granddaddy of them all, the ultimate thrill ride, the largest spectacle in sports and entertainment….WRESTLEMANIA!!!
After a lacklustre show last year, the card on this one and the angles going into it had me really optimistic about WrestleMania 33 and spoiler alert: it didn’t disappoint.
But I’m not going to belabour the introduction too much because at seven hours, there is a lot of content to get through and as longtime readers know, I tend to be pretty wordy when it comes to my wrestling articles.
So here we go….
Cruiserweight Championship: Austin Aries vs. Neville (c)
I know I say this every single time that I write about a cruiserweight title match, but 205 Live is by far my favourite show on the WWE Network. It’s definitely overtaken NXT in terms of the in-ring product and that character work has been outstanding.
It’s just simple, well-booked feuds backed up by insane in-ring action for an hour every Tuesday night.
The brilliance of 205 Live is really encapsulated in the build-up to this match. Neville is the self-proclaimed “King of the Cruiserweights”. He has been completely running through the Cruiserweight division since returning at “Roadblock” last December by attacking then-champion Rich Swann. He went on to defeat Swann at the Royal Rumble, Jack Gallagher at Fastlane and every other opponent that he’s encountered on 205 Live since his return.
Neville has really shone in this role. His reinvention as a heel has been brilliant with great promos and character work. His physique really sets him apart from the other Cruiserweights and sells his dominance even more to the audience and the ground based work that he’s managed to work into his repertoire since his injury has made him once of the best workers in the entire company.
It’s really gratifying to see a guy come into his own as a performer and Neville has finally arrived and his in the midst of a run that will cement him as an all-time great when all is said and done.
Like Neville, Austin Aries has managed to turn an injury into an opportunity as reinvention. “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived” was in the midst of a heel run on NXT when a broken orbital socket sidelined him.
Instead of disappearing during his injury recovery, Aries became part of the commentary team on 205 Live and added so much to the proceedings with his quips (“Here comes Tony Nese’s abs” being a favourite) and chemistry with Corey Graves and Mauro Ranallo in the booth that added another dimension to the show as Aries was able to get a lot of the performers over with his legitimacy as a current wrestler and inside knowledge of what it was like to be in the ring with most of them.
Aries was recently cleared to compete and would now be a babyface and went right at Neville dropping him with a “pipe bomb” in his first promo when it became apparent that he was returning and then going on to defeat Tony Nese, TJ Perkins, Akira Tozawa and The Brian Kendrick to become the number contender to Neville’s title.
The dynamic between Neville and Aries is different than that of Neville with the other cruiserweights. Like Neville, Aries has had a great deal of success outside of the cruiserweight division and outside of the WWE itself. “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived” also has a larger than life persona and an ability to match Neville on the mic that hasn’t been seen in the cruiserweight division yet. With most the guys just getting established, this was just the match and the feud to really cement the division and all the work that has been put into it in the eyes of the fans.
In that regard, this match delivered in every way that it needed to. Neville looked like a powerhouse busting out some really nasty looking suplexes and Aries took some insane bumps in them. Aries hit his “Discus Five Arm” (better than a forearm) but knocked Neville to the outside instead of being able to pin him.
Aries hit a top hurricanrana, his Discuss Five Arm and 450 splash but still couldn’t put the champ away. He then locked in the Last Chancery submission hold but Neville – being the heel – racked Aries’ surgically reconstructed eye socket, allowing him to break the hold and then hit Red Arrow for the win.
A nice dastardly heel finish.
This match was great and the right decision was made to have Neville retain so that the feud can continue. These two have amazing chemistry and honestly fans often chant “fight forever” when a good match is going on, but in the case of Neville and Aries, I really hope they do. Or at the very least have a nice extended program against each other.
There was a lot of complaint about this match being on the pre-show, but with the sheer volume of matches on the card this year and the historically stacked roster that the WWE has going for it this year, something had to go on the pre-show.
In a way, I’m glad these guys opened. They put on an amazing match and challenged the rest of the performers to follow them.
If you missed the pre-show, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal (Sami Zayn, Braun Strowman, Goldust, R-Truth, Curtis Axel, Dolph Ziggler, Jey Uso, Jimmy Uso, Chad Gable, Jason Jordan, Primo, Kalisto, Epico, Bo Dallas, Jinder Mahal, Rhyno, Heath Slater, Apollo Crews, Mojo Rawley, Big Show, Curt Hawkins, Tyler Breeze, Fandango, Tian Bing, Sin Cara, Aiden English, Simon Gotch, Titus O’Neil, Konnor, Viktor, Mark Henry, Luke Harper, and Killian Dain)
Before I get into this one. I can’t stress enough how disappointed I am that WWE couldn’t fit a Smackdown Tag Team Title match in the mix between American Alpha and The Usos.
The Usos have been absolutely killing it as heels and recently captured the belts. American Alpha are one of the best tag teams to come into the company in years and Jordan and Gable are both destined for super-stardom in the future. It’s a shame that what’s been a hot program on Smackdown wasn’t given a feature match on the card, but instead the tag champs and their challengers were stuck into the battle royal.
Having said that, this was a great way to get guys not involved in the show a pay day and have them appear and WrestleMania. The battle royal has been a solid value add for that reason and also it allows a wrestler to get a nice bit of legitimacy out of winning it. Cesaro was able to use the win to cement himself as an upper mid-card guy, Big Show was able to use his to add to his legacy and Baron Corbin rode his win into a big push over the past year and has become a major player on Smackdown.
Speaking of Big Show, Shaq should be absolutely ashamed of himself for not following through on the match with him after the two collided in last year’s ATGMBR. Show has himself in the best shape of his life and undoubtedly did so in preparation for what would have been a featured match on the card with a lot of media attention, only to be relegated to the battle royal due to Shaq pulling out. Show’s consolation prize is looking amazing, but he deserved one last big match before he retires next year.
Still he did enter as one of the favourites to win along with Braun Strowman.
So it was absolutely delightful when all of the battle royal participants did the smart thing and teamed up to dump both monsters out of the ring. It was smart booking as well as it kept both men strong as it took about two dozen wrestlers to get them out and it opened the door for a surprise winner.
It was great to see Tian Bing make an appearance in the battle royal as the WWE continues to court Chinese stars to make a push in that market. Bing certainly has potential and looks to be the first Chinese born wrestler to get a major role in the company.
Also it was nice to see Killian Dain of Sanity get the NXT slot this year. Dain is a true monster and looked like a decent bet to win the thing. He put on a strong showing by going to the final three and coming across as a big deal and a monster throughout the match. Dain has a unique look (mainly due to the back year) and a solid power move-set and can be a breakout star when/if Sanity gets called up to the main roster.
Of course, the big spot in the match was Rob Gronkowski getting into it with Jinder Mahal. It’s always those former 3MB guys putting over celebrities as Mahal doused Gronk with a drink, only to see the New England Patriots superstar tight end hop he rail, enter the ring and level Mahal with a Jim Duggan-style shoulder tackle. Gronk now has a clear career choice when his NFL career is over.
Special shout out to the security guard who didn’t realize it was all part of the show and tried to stop Gronk from hopping the rail. It’s still real to her.
Of course the whole thing was to set up former football star and friend of Gronk, Mojo Rawley eliminating Jinder and winning the whole thing.
Mojo gets a lot of hate in some circles and none of it is warranted. The guy is clearly working his ass off to get better the in ring. His “hyped” bro gimmick is kind of obnoxious, but also endearing in a way as Rawley is clearly having fun with it and seems like a genuinely nice guy enjoying his life and the spot that he’s put in a ton of work to get.
You know what? I’m ready for a Mojo Rawley push. Give him some nice mid-card feuds. Give him the IC title. See where it goes. He seems like a good guy and worked hard to get where he is. I have zero problem with Mojo. In fact, he’s grown on me to the point where I have to admit that I popped for his win.
And for the love of god, would someone rein in Dolph Ziggler on the amount of time you get to “skin the cat” and tease an elimination by hanging on the ropes? He did that spot to death in this one. Actually Ziggler’s obnoxious heel character would make a great foil for Mojo. Maybe we’ll get that feud on Smackdown.
Intercontinental Title: Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Baron Corbin
There was a wonderful meme going around social media that tried to explain the WrestleMania feuds to non-fans. This one was summed up as “a big man tried to kill a smaller man with a forklift, now they’re fighting over a belt”. It’s actually hilariously accurate.
Yet he we are.
I like Dean Ambrose and I really like Baron Corbin, but for some reason this feud has felt kind of flat outside of the excellent beginning where Corbin destroyed Ambrose after “The Lunatic Fringe” pinned him to rob him of his opportunity of the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber. Since then, it’s been kind of lost in the shuffle beyond the forklift angle as Smackdown has had a whole lot going on and Corbin seems ready to move on from Ambrose to bigger and better things.
Ambrose has really felt like he’s been stuck in neutral for a while and could really use something to freshen up his character. Maybe a heel turn?
The match itself was good, but lacked that extra gear that I was hoping to get from these guys. It started off with a nice quick pace and involved a lot of solid brawling and Ambrose still selling his ribs from getting crushed to death by a forklift, but it never really got the time it needed to hit that other gear.
The match ended with Ambrose reversing Corbin’s End of Days into his Dirty Deeds finisher to retain the title and presumably continue the feud which hopefully heats up in the coming weeks post-Mania.
I don’t know this one was solid but I just wasn’t feeling it. Corbin probably should have taken the title here and moved onto a new feud and given Ambrose the chance to get retooled as his act is starting to get stale.
AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon
So many people were so outraged that this is the spot that AJ Styles was given at WrestleMania after a year where he was absolutely the best wrestler in the company and put on some classic matches with Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, John Cena and so many others. Personally, I’d have rather seen Styles and Cena give us another five star classic than seeing the best wrestler in the world today opening the proper show against Vince’s kid.
If only Shane’s match against The Undertaker last year hadn’t popped the buy-rate so much. Now we’re probably stuck with a Shane McMahon match on the card for years to come and we’ll have every opportunity to complain when one of our favourite wrestlers is “wasted” in this role.
At the same time, maybe it shows the faith the company has in AJ that he would be given a match against the owner’s son. Maybe WWE views this as a prestigious slot and instead of being pissed at the company, we should see it as the vote of confidence in AJ Styles that it probably is.
Additionally, think back to before Styles showed up at last year’s Royal Rumble. Wouldn’t you have just been happy to have him at WrestleMania in any capacity? Maybe we’re just spoiled as fans. Not everyone can be in the big slots and not everyone can have a meaningful role. We should probably be happy that AJ Styles is in a major match with a big build in the biggest show of the year.
Even if it is against Shane O’ Mac.
This match was also advertised as a straight wrestling match. Meaning that a lot of Shane’s gimmicks and big spots would be neutralized, putting pressure on Styles to carry him to make it a great match.
Well guess what? AJ delivered. This was a great match and once again cements Styles as one of the best wrestlers on the planet and hopefully after seeing this the company gives him another year of great opponents and a big platform to showcase his skills because he earned it.
AJ Styles made Shane McMahon look like a champion. From selling his sometimes goofy looking punches to generally allowing Shane to get in a ton of offense, AJ made this match really compelling with some amazing spots.
There was Shane taking a drop into the announce table. Shane catch Styles off the ropes into a triangle choke. Shane kicking out of the Styles Clash. A ref bump that allowed Shane to hit his Van Terminator complete with the Oscar The Grouch-style garbage can and even Shane outmanoeuvring Styles at different points of the match.
Styles really gave McMahon a lot and it really elevated the quality and stakes of the match. If you really look at this match as a showcase of AJ Styles skills that he can pull a great match out of Shane McMahon without resorting to the usual spot-fests that the boss’ son usually finds himself involved in then you gain even more of an appreciation of the Phenomenal One.
In his stuntman spot of the night, Shane missed his elbow drop into the announce table, somehow recovered to DDT Styles out of Phenomenal Forearm before missing a shooting star press and eating a Phenomenal Forearm to give AJ Styles the win and another feather in his cap as he gave Shane McMahon his best match by far.
Hopefully now we can see Styles enter the title picture again on Smackdown or even move to Raw as as result of the on-screen “firing” that took place in the big angle leading up this match and mix it up with the likes of Seth Rollins and former Bullet Club good brother Finn Balor on Monday nights. Whatever is next for Styles, you can be sure that he’s earned the complete faith of the company after the miracle that was this match.
US Championship: Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho (c)
What a run it’s been for Chris Jericho. From coming back to work with AJ Styles a year ago to the best friends angle with Kevin Owens, this has been by far my favourite run of his career. For a 46 year old man to accomplish that is really something, but Chris Jericho is aging more like a fine wine than a professional wrestler, he’s only getting better with age.
Drink it in, maaaaaaaaaan.
Seriously how great has this run been? The list. “It”. Stupid idiot. The gift of Jericho never stops giving and as he gets ready to head out on the road with Fozzy again, it’s hard not to reflect on how great his current run has been and how true one of his many saying is: Chris Jericho really is the best in the world at what he does.
The angle with Kevin Owens carried us through the usually rough stretch from SummerSlam to Survivor Series and those two were sometimes the only thing that kept me tuned into Raw week after week, because they were that entertaining together. The pairing really added so much to each of their characters and added so much to Owens’ Universal Championship reign.
Kevin Owens was always destined to be a top guy, but working with Chris Jericho is going to make sure that he stays there and we were treated to an angle that was the most entertaining aspect of WWE programming for almost an entire year.
The only negative I can say about the “best friends” and Owens subsequent turning on Jericho at the Festival of Friendship is that we never found out what Triple H said to Owens that lead to him to turn on his best friend. That’s way too big a plot thread to leave dangling out there. Especially as it’s something that can be picked up when Jericho returns from his tour.
This match was as good as you would expect it to be when two excellent workers match up. It told a great story about how well these two know each other and were able to negate much of each others’ offense as a result. This included Owens escaping two Lionsaults, Jericho getting the knees up on Owens’ frog splash and a swanton bomb, Jericho kicking out of the pop up powerbomb and reversing a second one into the code breaker with Owens getting his finger on the ropes to break up the pin.
So much great psychology in this one as both were masters of it. From Owens and Jericho continually and loudly trading taunts to so many great reversal spots and near falls at important times. This match was a treat to watch and more than delivered on the already high expectations heading into the show.
The finish came with Owens doing what he does best: being a merciless bastard. He finally gave into his frustrations and powerbombed Jericho off the ring apron in still one of the most devastating looking spots in all of professional wrestling before pinning Jericho to win the title.
Hopefully they can pick this one back up when the Fozzy tour is over because I definitely want more matches between these two and there is still a major piece of their program missing with the Triple H reveal.
Great match between two of the best in the game.
Raw Women’s Championship Fatal Fourway Elimination Match: Nia Jax vs. Charlotte Flair vs Sasha Banks vs. Bayley (c)
Well this is the entire Raw women’s division in one match. At least as far as the booking goes. We have seen different of combinations of these four over and over again since the brand split last July and it’s another go round with all of them for WrestleMania.
I can’t complain too much though because the result has been some really great matches. Sasha, Charlotte and Bayley are fantastic workers and Nia is really coming along as well. Hopefully there are plans to add another woman or two to the mix on Raw just to get some fresh match-ups and feuds especially since it’s pretty clear that Sasha Banks is going to turn on Bayley and that will be the top feud heading into the summer.
Charlotte and Nia can really use some fresh opponents beyond just wrestling each other as I’m not sure we’re going to see a Charlotte heel turn just yet especially with Dana Brooke still out there with nothing to do and having just turned on Flair.
This match was a lot of fun and actually was another in a series of great matches involving these women. I love logic and internal consistency in wrestling matches and Charlotte, Sasha and Bayley teaming up to triple suplex and then triple powerbomb Nia Jax to eliminate her was great and helped Nia keep her heat as a monster heel in the process. That’s just good booking.
I really thought we were getting the Sasha heel turn after that but I guess we’re going to have to wait until Raw after The Boss was eliminated by Charlotte Flair following an exposed turnbuckle spot. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how well that would have come across live as the padding hadn’t come all the way off, but Sasha remains one of the best sellers in the company and did a great job of selling that finish.
This left us with Charlotte and Bayley again. They exchanged some nice spots before it was Charlotte’s turn to run into the exposed turnbuckle and get pinned by Bayley following a Randy Savage-style flying elbow.
Charlotte stays strong because she has a legitimate gripe that Bayley didn’t beat her cleanly due to the exposed turnbuckle and Bayley gets a big WrestleMania moment.
I liked the booking here but I am so ready for heel Sasha against Bayley as that was really one of the best feuds in NXT history and I am excited to see it play out again on the main roster. Hopefully complete with the Iron Man match and Sasha making Izzy cry.
Raw Tag Team Championship Ladder match: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Enzo and Cass vs……………..
The New Day came out and announced the match had been changed to a Fatal Fourway and I assumed that they were going to insert themselves into it.
How wrong I was. Some very familiar sounding music hit and the fourth team was revealed to be…..
THE HARDY BOYZ
This was definitely a major mark out moment in WrestleMania history. Word had gotten out that the Hardys were on their way back. But after completely killing themselves in a ladder match with The Young Bucks at Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor, I thought we might get them at Raw, not the next night in yet another ladder match.
Matt and Jeff are completely insane. Seriously. Go watch that match. They left it all on the line and then went back less than 24 hours later to do another one. The Hardys absolutely love wrestling that much is clear.
What isn’t so clear is what role they are going to play in WWE. Is the Broken Brilliance of Matt Hardy and the Seven Deities going to make its debut on Monday Night Raw? Will Senior Benjamin, King Maxel and Vanguard 1 be showing up? WWE lawyers can easily outwit whatever local yokels the Owl has working for them, but will the WWE use the Broken gimmick?
I really hope they at least incorporate some of it. Matt Hardy has really developed into one of the most unique and important creative voices in all of wrestling and it would be a shame if WWE didn’t take advantage of that in some capacity.
For now though, all that mattered was the in ring product. The Hardys are back with the same reckless abandon and zero concern for their well being as ever before and it made this match an instant classic.
All four teams came across really well. This is the first time in the WWE that the good brothers, Gallows and Anderson, were really treated like stars. Sheamus and Cesaro are finally working in tandem as evidenced by their matching outfits during their entrance and the increasing focus on double team spots from them. Enzo and Cass are…well….still Enzo and Cass but remain one of the most over acts in the company.
The action came fast and insane. Sheamus and Cesaro doing a team up Swiss-1-9. Cass piggy backing Enzo up the ladder. Sheamus Brogue Kicking Jeff Hardy into everyone. Matt hitting everyone with a ladder. Matt and Jeff getting crushed between two ladders by Cass and Gallows. Cass throwing Enzo at Gallows and Anderson.
So many great spots and moments in this one that it’s well worth a rematch.
The finish came with Matt hitting the Twist of Fate on Karl Anderson off the top of a ladder followed by Jeff putting Sheamus and Cesaro through two ladders with a swanton off a giant ladder before Matt climbed up and retrieved the tag team titles.
I can’t wait for Raw. I can’t wait to see what happens next and what Hardys we’ve gotten back once Matt gets in front of a live mic.
Expect many DELETE chants.
John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse
I can’t say enough good things about The Miz. He might be the best pure heel in the business today. There is nobody better at playing a complete shitheel. Miz has been absolutely on fire over this past year. His mic work has been off the scale especially when engaging in worked shoots against Daniel Bryan and John Cena on Talking Smack.
The Miz earned this high profile spot in a match that’s been largely fuelled by the WWE’s E Network reality programs and John Cena’s appearances on the Today Show.
Miz also has crossover appeal, albeit in a different way. He’s often the guy that the WWE sends to various events to represent the company because he is so good with the media and is a charismatic and savvy guy capable of making the company look every bit as good as John Cena does in his public appearances.
It’s kind of ironic that these two are facing off in a mid-card match, six years after headlining WrestleMania against each other. This version of The Miz absolutely deserves to be WWE champ and if that match were happening this year, it would have way more heat on it than just being the backdrop for the beginning of The Rock vs. John Cena program.
The Miz has come into his own and he is killing every week on Smackdown as the best pure heel in the business.
The return of Maryse has added so much to the character over the past year and helped really bring this feud to fruition. During their skits mocking John Cena and Nikki Bella, Maryse has done as great a job of mocking Nikki as The Miz did John Cena as the two play into story-lines and situations stemming out of the WWE’s “reality” programming to blur the lines between the wrestling story-lines and “real life” with the result being that I’m way more invested in a mixed tag than I ever thought I would be.
Sadly The Miz had to play second fiddle to something again in a match with John Cena. The first time it was The Rock, this time it was Cena and Nikki Bella’s engagement as the match clearly only served as the backdrop for what came after it.
For his part, The Miz did great. Playing the heel for all it was worth when he controlled the match and doing everything he could to mock Cena.
But it didn’t last long.
Cena and Bella hit Miz and Maryse with stereo Attitude Adjustments leading to a double pin which lead to the real story-line of the evening: John Cena pulling an engagement ring out of his cargo shorts and proposing to Nikki Bella.
The surest sign of all that Cena’s time as a full time performer has ended. He’s off to Hollywood to film some movies and we’ll see him from time to time, but this really felt like a big ending for John Cena – the biggest star in WWE for almost fifteen years.
I have written about my admiration for John Cena and all he has accomplished as the longest running top draw in WWE history and I will miss him. Having said that, The Miz deserved better.
As a match, this was secondary to what happened after, which is too bad because it was built up so well. The Miz and Maryse deserve credit for how much heat they were able to bring on the match before it all became the backdrop for John Cena’s engagement to Nikki Bella.
Hopefully, The Miz is rewarded for his role in all of this with a title program. He really deserves another run at the top and he once again showed everyone how selfless he is and how much he is every bit the company man that John Cena is.
Unsanctioned Match: Triple H vs. Seth Rollins
The universe really seemed dead set against this match ever happening. First Rollins injures his knee in the build-up to it after being attacked by Triple H’s hired gun, Samoa Joe. Then Rollins reveals over the weekend that he’s sick with pneumonia and suffering from a fever of 103 degrees.
Yet he still made it. Rollins deserves all credit for gutting it out.
Triple H deserves all credit too for looking like he’s in the best shape of his entire life. Those midnight workouts that he and Stephanie are doing are really paying off in major ways for The Game because I don’t remember him having abs like that at any point in his career.
Not sure what that biker entrance with the motorcycle cops was all about, but it wasn’t out of place hearing all of those sirens during a Motorhead song as I’m quite certain that Lemmy caused a few incidents in his day that required calls to the police. But after The Terminator, Conan, and all the other over the top entrances of recent years, this one felt a bit underwhelming. Maybe do a Predator one next year, Hunter.
The match started really hot. As hot as the temperature Seth was running at the time, as he went right for HHH and you could feel the heat of the feud that’s been building since Triple H screwed Rollins out of the Universal title last August. Taking things to the floor where Rollins dumped Triple H over the barricade, hit a off it, a couple suicide dives, and some high impact offense before Hunter managed to reverse out a Pedigree and DDT Rollins to shift the momentum.
From there the pace ground to a halt. Going very slow and old school as Hunter worked Rollins’ injured knee. Over and over and over again. I like psychology a lot, but I don’t think anyone loves working a knee as much as Triple H. Except for maybe Lance Storm who said it was his favourite match of the night. I did enjoy it more than most, but I can see why a lot of fans conditioned to the faster paced, spot heavy modern classics would not enjoy the middle segment of the match and its old school psychology as much.
But you do have to appreciate Rollins taking the time to sell his knee after every major move. I bet that brought a smile to even Bret Hart’s face.
Things picked up again for a hot ending though with Rollins using an enziguri to get escape Triple H’s lethal sledgehammer, the two trading Pedigree attempts, Rollins hitting a Phoenix splash for a near fall, Hunter getting superkicked into Stephanie which resulted in a table bump for her before Rollins finally hit the Pedigree and put Triple H away.
This essentially two really, really good, hot sequences sandwiched between a long slow sequence of Triple H working Rollins’ knee.
I liked it more than most but it’s hard not to wonder what it would have been if Rollins had been 100% going into it.
Interesting fact: with the loss Triple H now has the record for most losses at WrestleMania with twelve. Not bad for a guy who supposedly buried everyone all the time.
I’m interested to see where they go from here with Rollins. With rumours of Roman Reigns moving to Smackdown, Seth could be in line to the new face of Raw, so I’m really intrigued to see who he gets for his next program.
WWE Championship: Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Randy Orton
One of my favourite wrestling writers, David Shoemaker AKA “The Masked Man” once wrote that we were in the WWE’s reality era and have been since CM Punk cut his famous “pipe bomb” promo that lead to the “Summer of Punk” angle that sought to blur the lines between reality and the in-ring product with Punk’s real life contract situation being made into a story-line
Since then most WWE angles have had some element of reality to them. Even on this show: Triple H thinking Seth Rollins is too injury prone to be “the man”, Roman Reigns wanting to assert himself over the aging Undertaker to cement his legacy, The Miz and Maryse’s professional jealousy of John Cena and Nikki Bella and wrestlers just wanting to win championships to further their careers all have their basis in real world motivations to a point.
I have no idea what Shoemaker would have of Bray Wyatt or the current feud between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt. “Mystical swamp man” has no basis in reality. But this angle has played up the supernatural elements of Bray Wyatt’s character more than any other, going to extreme lengths to establish the otherworldly nature of Bray Wyatt.
Having Randy Orton infiltrate the Wyatt Family and then betray Bray by burning down his compound and robbing him of the mystical power that he receives from his deceased Sister Abigail (buried under the house, of course) and then Bray responded by baptizing himself in Sister Abigail’s ashes is not anything close to reality based.
But it’s been fun as hell and probably the most compelling story-line Randy Orton has been involved with since The Authority angle with Daniel Bryan. It’s also the most motivated he’s been in the ring since then. The Viper has been experiencing a professional renaissance as of late and it’s been great to see him so dialed in.
Bray Wyatt has risen to the occasion as well. Seriously, how great is it to finally see him with a major WWE Championship? He’s earned with his character work as well as his excellent ring work as of late. He’s put on some great matches with Luke Harper, AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose John Cena and most of the top stars on Smackdown since the brand split and deserves full marks for carrying this compelling story-line between him and Orton with his solid mic work.
This was easily one of the matches I was most intrigued by going into WrestleMania.
But it didn’t work. Sometimes things just fall flat and concepts can’t be executed as well as they were conceived.
That was the case here.
I kind of get what they were going for with the projections of maggots and other creepy crawlers on to the ring, but it brought everything to a stand still as Orton collected himself from these disturbing images and the match ground to a halt.
No pace was established and everything felt disjointed before Orton put Wyatt away with an RKO. Even that result felt wrong as Bray clearly should have triumphed with his mind games.
This was a bump in the road of what has been an excellent program so far. Hopefully it’s not over as both men deserve better than that. A nice long gimmick match at the next Smackdown only PPV should get things right back on track for Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton. Wyatt should also probably get the belt back by some underhanded means to keep this thing going.
My biggest fear is that really was the blow off to this feud and I genuinely hope that isn’t the case on Tuesday as this story really deserves a way better ending than the one we got.
WWE Universal Championship: Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar
There will forever be a debate as to whether or not this program warranted the Universal Championship. I said it in my Fastlane review but Kevin Owens run with the belt deserved a much better ending than the one it got.
But what’s done is done.
WrestleMania is as much for the casual wrestling fans as it is for the hardcore ones. Goldberg’s name still carries a lot of cache with it to casual fans. As does Brock Lesnar’s. Having a belt involved makes that title seem like a bigger deal to casual fans.
It’s not right but that’s how it is.
This match was excellently booked though.
Every single criticism of Goldberg was silenced pretty conclusively. He can’t take a bump? Well friend he took ten German suplexes and speared Brock through the railing. He ate the F5 and took the pin.
It was a short match but a conclusive win for Brock Lesnar who also got to be the first man ever to kick out of the Jackhammer.
So what now?
Does the Universal Championship go into the deep freeze for a year until Brock drops it to Roman Reigns next WrestleMania?
Who does Brock work programs with between now and then? How often? Or does he drop the belt and just work the Roman match without it?
It’s going to be an interesting year for sure.
Smackdown Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Naomi vs. Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James vs. Carmella vs. Natalya
This is supposed to be the era of the women’s revolution. We’re finally supposed to be in an era where WWE takes women’s wrestling seriously.
The Smackdown women’s division has been one of the best booked and most fun parts of all of WWE programming. Unlike Raw which has largely been built around Charlotte Flair always getting her belt back and the same women feuding for months, Smackdown has been really interesting. Alexa Bliss has been the MVP of WWE’s women’s wrestling as an excellent heel champion that can still be over while being vulnerable and not having to go over every opponent all the time.
So what does this division get? Initially relegated to the pre-show, but then after a social media campaign where it is promptly inserted into the PPV “death slot” and given only five minutes.
That’s literally less than one minute per woman in the match.
Minimal time for one woman to hit their spots and do their character work. Let alone six.
That is complete garbage and shows that the more things change in the WWE, the more they stay the same. Did Triple H really need 25 minutes of working Seth Rollins leg or could some of that time went here where it was needed?
I feel really badly for all six of these competitors. It’s not fair that they weren’t given the opportunity to properly showcase their skills on the biggest showcase of the year.
I mean I’m happy for Naomi who actually got to win back the title she relinquished due to injury but deserved a far better platform to do so than the one she was given at WrestleMania. She got sold short. So did Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, Mickie James, Natalya and Carmella.
Until shit like this stops happening the WWE can’t be taken so seriously when they claim to value their female performers as much as the male ones.
Women’s matches accounted for about 18 minutes on a seven hour show.
That’s no kind of revolution.
Props to all six competitors for getting as much as they could into a five minute match. But it never should have went down that way.
Also I noticed a lot of reaction online to Mickie James headdress. The WWE isn’t Coachella and many longtime fans will remember that Mickie James has a legitimate indigenous background. In terms of cultural appropriation, I was shocked at how little attention Becky Lynch’s questionable look was given.
Here’s hoping that this injustice carried out on the Smackdown women’s division is righted on Tuesday and that Alexa Bliss is given a nice long rematch against Naomi.
No Holds Barred: Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker
Well this is it. Time for WWE to literally cause every Roman-hating internet mark to lose their minds.
I wrote pretty extensively about why this whole Roman hating phenomenon is just ridiculous given his excellent body of work which you can check out HERE. But that fact that it’s gotten to the point where people who claim to love and understand the wrestling business were clamouring for a broken down 52 year old Undertaker to go over a 31 year old man who is going to be the face of the company for a decade to come is ludicrous.
Roman moves more merch than anyone. His body of work is also unparalleled for a big man. As someone on reddit recently pointed out, Roman Reigns has more 4+ star matches than Bret Hart. Granted, monthly PPVs weren’t common for most of Bret’s prime, but still that’s a revealing stat about how blind people are in there resentment of Roman Reigns.
Roman can work.
The Undertaker sadly can’t anymore. If this is his last match, which the ending of him leaving his hat, gloves and coat in the ring, kissing his wife and disappearing into a cloud of smoke after passing the torch to the next generation, indicate that it is, it’s probably coming three years too late.
Taker should have packed it in after Brock ended the streak. But he didn’t. Now WWE has a chance to further cement the guy they want for the future and they took it.
Anyone hating on that outcome is not rational.
The match itself was about as good as you can expect given the state of The Undertaker. A lot of power moves and stalling as Taker recovered. A couple of sad spots where Taker just sandbagged Roman because he was too gassed to move anymore.
All in all though, the spectacle of what was clearly The Undertaker’s last match overrode any deficiencies the match itself had. Particularly given the decision to bring Jim Ross back to call the action which lead to the gravity and importance of the match and it was easy to put The Undertaker’s diminished state out of mind due to Ross’ storytelling.
Taker still took a ridiculous amount of punishment. A spear through a table. Multiple chair shots. Multiple Superman punches. Multiple spears. Before finally succumbing to Roman after 20+ minutes of action.
For Reigns’ part, he got to come out looking ridiculously strong surviving a Tombstone, a Last Ride and the Hell’s Gate submission to finally be the man to retire The Undertaker.
This was absolutely the right decision. It’s sad that Taker had to get to this point of physical deterioration to finally shut it down and in a way it reminded me of the bad shape Andre The Giant, Hulk Hogan and many others were in before he finally shut it down.
Suddenly John Cena’s decision to go to Hollywood looks very wise.
Still the Taker’s body of work is incredible. He is one of the greatest ever and one of the few workers who actually kept improving well into his 40s. Adding more striking and submission moves as he aged and becoming a much better worker in the process. That’s an incredible accomplishment.
Taker’s body of work speaks for itself. He’s undoubtedly the best big man of all time in the wrestling business and now he’s passed the torch.
It’s Roman’s yard now.
Taker’s limitations prevented this from being the epic match that it could have been, but it was still pretty solid and the historical importance of it makes it well worth checking out. It was a fitting end to a man who always prided himself on honouring the traditions of the wrestling business.
It put some nice historical significance on what was one of the best WrestleMania’s in recent memory. After a bit of a letdown last year, it was great to see WWE rebound with a great show worthy of the WrestleMania tradition. The Hardy’s return and the last stand of The Undertaker are undoubtedly the biggest stories coming out of the show but if you didn’t see it, there is so much worth your time to check out.
Yes seven hours is a ridiculous length for a wrestling show, but it didn’t that long and the fact that I am this excited for Raw tonight tells me that it delivered on every front.