REVIEW: WrestleMania XXXIII

Kevin Owens defeats Chris Jericho (C)

WM33_JerichoOwensAs anticipated this match fully delivered. Two former best friends able to deliver counter after counter and an awesome match overall. When the end finally came it came with a muted response as all the moments you thought would bring about the fall produced kick outs. Crowds then don’t anticipate the successful pinfall, denting their reaction. That aside it was a great match. It also made me consider that Chris Jericho really has been around for so long but still continues to have superb matches on the top show. Now time for him to enjoy his Fozzy break.

Bayley (C) defeats Nia Jaxx, Sasha Banks and Charlotte

IMG_0435Predictably Nia Jaxx did her dominating thing before being eliminated first. I like Nia but everything she does looks less skilled. I don’t want to say clumsy but less refined for sure. Charlotte on the other hand is smooth and executed everything perfectly. Even the exposed turnbuckle was utilised to perfection. Sasha was however largely memorable for having a lift to the ring, a wise move given the enormity of the ramp, but I don’t really recall anything else she did with Charlotte being the standout. The finish was solid with the marketed underdog Bayley getting her WrestleMania moment, eyes full of tears, that was a nice moment.

The Hardy Boyz defeat Anderson & Gallows (C), Sheamus & Cesaro and Enzo & Cass

IMG_0440Where to start with this one. As many probably knew the Hardys had dropped their RoH tag titles the night before, said their goodbyes and were heading back to WWE. However few expected them to show up at WrestleMania. Personally I was convinced they were going to be on RAW. So for them to show up and win tag title gold again was an incredible moment. From the deafening ovation that greeted their theme tune hitting I don’t think the crowd came down from the ceiling at any point. The match was subsequently a bit of a blur as viewers struggled to believe what they were seeing. It’s a shame for the six other individuals involved to be usurped in such a manner but they must’ve enjoyed the electricity in that moment which only a surprise entrant of that stature can deliver.

John Cena & Nikki Bella defeat The Miz and Maryse

WM33_tagSooooo predictable. Even Nikki struggled to look surprised. The reality era strikes again and Total Bellas dictates booking. If you’re into that show then you probably got a kick out of it. I’m not so I didn’t. But congratulations to the future John & Nikki Cena anyway. Also Maryse did very little in the ring, has the former champ really lost all her skills?

Seth Rollins defeats Triple H

IMG_0436In terms of story telling this was a great match. Lacking the bloody brutality the fight probably deserved it was instead all structured around a supposed knee injury. However Rollins was able to perform manoeuvres which defied a knee problem but sold it expertly. Anyway, the finish was perfectly executed with a number of smooth interchanges. Stephanie going through the table was notably quite shocking, I didn’t expect that at all, and it took her out of the picture neatly too. Then Rollins delivering a pedigree to defeat the Game provided a perfect conclusion.

Randy Orton defeats Bray Wyatt (C)

WM33_BrayOrtonI cannot for the life of me understand this booking. A victory for Bray Wyatt would’ve cemented his spot in the main event picture for the foreseeable future. We even had an impressive wielding of Bray Wyatt’s power with some impressive projections onto the ring. But no Randy Orton wins out of nowhere. What does that even accomplish? Just to emphasise that a Royal Rumble win practically guarantees you a title? No wonder the crowd reaction was pretty much total silence.

Brock Lesnar defeats Goldberg (C)

WM33_GoldbergBrockThen we were back to the utterly predictable. We all called this way back in January/February when the Kevin Owens/Goldberg match was made. The match with Lesnar at ‘Mania had already been made. It was so obvious that Goldberg would win the title only to drop it to Brock. Part of me hoped that they wouldn’t go through with it but they did. That being said I enjoyed the physicality of the encounter and was clearly better than the Survivor Series debacle. Of course it’s WrestleMania so for the first time in history, as far as I’m aware, someone kicked out of the jackhammer. Finishing moves somehow lose their devastating impact at the big show of the year. Perhaps it’s an adrenaline thing? When that happened and Goldberg went for another spear it became all the more apparent that he only had two moves in his arsenal. However why change a winning formula? Similarly Brock had the german suplex, quite a few of them and the F5 which worked for him. Anyway, title belt handed over, job done.

Naomi defeats Alexa Bliss (C), Natalya, Becky Lynch, Carmella and Mickie James

IMG_0439Continuing with the predictable, hometown girl Naomi won back the title she’d had to relinquish due to injury a few weeks ago. A single fall also stopped the match going on too long. I think 4 hours in, plus the 2 hour kickoff show on top of that, and intense Florida heat the audience was getting pretty fatigued. Only one match left though…

Roman Reigns defeats The Undertaker

WM33_UndertakerReignsThe clues were all there. It went on last. JR came out from the cold to provide commentary. Those observant will have noticed Taker’s wife in the crowd too. The ‘No Holds Barred’ stipulation opened things up even further. And yet Reigns kept hitting the awful superman punch. Five times I think it was in the end and it’s just absurd. It’s a rubbish move done far too often. It also took multiple spears to keep the Undertaker down for the pinfall. The crowd reaction was muted rather than being vociferously angry which I had anticipated it would be. The reality was there for all to see. The Undertaker looked old and spent. In the end the result was inevitable. The torch was passed on.

When the end came it was emotional. It was nothing short of devastating really. Quite rightly ‘Taker had his moment. For possibly the first time ever he seemed to break character as the enormity of saying goodbye washed over him, looking visibly choked up. Perhaps he should’ve gone out with a flawless undefeated streak at the biggest show at the year. But wrestling tradition is that you retire on a loss, you do the favour. The legacy of the Undertaker will live on for a long, long time. Personally I’m looking forward to an epic interview series on the WWE Network where his epic career is dissected and we finally get to hear from him properly about some of his greatest moments and matches.

RAW

imagePredictability returned on Monday night RAW with Kurt Angie becoming General Manager, as expected, and Finn Bálor returned from injury, as expected. The highlight however was the opening segment with the raucous crowd chanting ‘Undertaker’ for an extended period. Then Roman Reigns came out. Credit to him for simply standing there whilst the Universe vented their rage. “F*ck you Roman!” was a particular highlight. The “Roman sucks” chants also returned as the fans shared their opinions with Vince McMahon. Not that that will change things. When Reigns did speak, he nailed it. However the hangover from events at WrestleMania the night before seemed to drain the audience’s energy. The Undertaker’s retirement had had an instant impact.

SmackDown Live

imageNot to be outdone the blue brand also held their own post-Mania show in Orlando. The show started strong and continued throughout. SmackDownLive has consistently been delivering good television. Each segment is meaningful with no need to pad out a third hour. The highlights were undoubtedly the debuts. Tye Dillinger’s was great but Shinsuke Nakamura brought genuine spine tingling chills. There’s just something about that violin music! Styles v Nakamura is a thrilling prospect but will probably get messed up by the impending superstar shakeup. We will have to wait and see…

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WWE Brand Split

imageWatching World Wresting Entertainment (WWE) can often lead to a sense of deja-vu. In many respects another brand extension is a good idea. The idea was first introduced in 2002 when the roster was bolstered by acquisitions from WCW and ECW. It successfully served as a way of better utilising the significant talent pool available but, as is frequently the case with the WWE, the execution has been less than perfect.

The influx of talent from NXT has certainly strengthened WWE with fresh and exciting  match ups with individuals such as Kevin Owens, Rusev, Neville, Charlotte and Becky Lynch mixing effortlessly onto the network shows and Pay-per-Views (PPVs). Even more NXT Stars have been brought through post-Wrestlemania with Apollo Crews and Enzo and Cass, for example. In that respect the timing was positive but in the context of the wider picture it could have been better.

imageThe main event of Battleground showcased a triple threat match with the three former members of the Shield battling for the WWE Championship. This was a match worthy of Summerslam but was instead delivered a month early. Circumstances dictated a messy buildup to the contest with Roman Reigns’ 30 day suspension and Seth Rollins’ position as a heel. The audience wanted to cheer for Rollins on his return but he immediately discarded his supporters. Equally the WWE universe has been desperate to boo Roman Reigns for, well, ever since it became obvious he was going to win the title at Wrestlemania. His suspension at least gave them a reason to boo. He violated the wellness policy and yet returned to a main event PPV slot.

imageThe importance of the match at Battleground was also diluted with it being clear that the winner would take the title to the show they had been drafted to. This telegraphed the fact that one of the programmes would be inventing a new title for their top guy. As a result of the WWE World Title becoming the sole property of Smackdown Live last night’s episode of Monday Night RAW introduced the concept of the WWE Universal Championship. In a typical example of oneupsmanship the best in WWE and the best in the world can now be declared the best in the entire universe. Kudos for attempting to create something original but it just sounds ridiculous.

On the plus side, the two combatants competing for the WWE Universal Championship at Summerslam will be Seth Rollins and Finn Bálor. The latters immediate elevation to such a prestigious spot demonstrates the new direction, inticing fans that the proclaimed new era is not just a neat tagline.

Speaking of Summerslam the writers now face the challenge of promoting the Brock Lesnar v Randy Orton match with both participants on different shows each week.

imageRAW did make a bold statement with acquiring the WWE Women’s Champion and in possibly the match of the night Sasha Banks took the gold. The new era had its first new champion. However, despite a new roster two superstar spots were inhabited by nobodies for squash matches to introduce Nia Jax and Braun Strowman. A classic case of one step forward, two back. It will be interesting to see how Smackdown Live responds given a solid episode from RAW, Brock Lesnar making an appearance next week and the cruiserweight also coming to Monday nights.

Looking forward there are still unanswered questions. Regarding PPVs, will there be RAW or Smackdown Live only monthly events as has been the case previously. What about inactive alumni, where might they turn up? Will Smackdown Live create a tag team title division? Has Heath Slater finally been fired? There will also no doubt come a time when the two major titles are unified once again and no doubt Michael Cole will declare the victor as the first ever undisputed champion, forgetting the two previous occasions that such a match has been presented. For now however, it is an exciting time for WWE watchers.