I have let a few days pass and recovered the hours of sleep lost on Sunday night/Monday morning. I’ve also been able to revisit certain moments, particularly the Main Event and trust me the bulk of this review will focus on that final match. After a few days of consideration my initial reaction to the show has remained largely unchanged. So, let’s dive right into it.
Duration of the Show
Let’s get this out of the way early. A 7 hour show is absurd. The main card went over 5 hours and with a 2 hour pre-show it was simply too long. As someone watching in the UK this meant staying up past 5AM. Unsurprisingly I dozed off on a few occasions. But as a live experience I’d be surprised if audience fatigue was not a factor as the show took a definite nosedive.
Matt Hardy wins the Andre the Giant Battle Royal
Kicking off the action were all the male superstars otherwise not appearing on WrestleMania. Dolph Ziggler tried to showoff, skinning the cat over and over again but let’s not forget that he’s no longer a gimmick. The match itself was pretty boring, as Battle Royals can be, and then the conclusion was confusing to say the least. Matt Hardy won but the appearance of Bray Wyatt muddied the waters. Given all the entrants filling the ring I wasn’t 100% that Bray hadn’t been in the match. Wyatt’s emergence from the ‘lake of reincarnation’ clearly only saw him reacquire his lead apron. Odd finish but decent result. Shame it doesn’t matter in the long-term as the oversized trophy has been rendered meaningless in recent years.
The addition of Jim ‘JR’ Ross and Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler for this match was an odd choice with Byron Saxton effectively being the lead commentator. It smacked of a meaningless gesture to two Hall of Famers but it was nice to see and hear them once again.
Cedric Alexander defeated Mustafa Ali to win the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Whilst a perfectly competent match, with some entertaining sequences and high spots, I wasn’t gripped. The cheesy dialogue between the two combatants concerning heart and soul was tedious to say the least.
Naomi wins the Women’s Battle Royal
This match wasn’t too bad with a small showcase for some NXT competitors, Billie Kay was oddly absent but Peyton Royce stood out. But once again the conclusion of this match was confused with fans initially think that Bayley had won only for Naomi to re-emerge and snatch victory. As predicted it continued the bubbling storyline between Bayley and Sasha Banks which will hopefully be built for a SummerSlam main event spot. As an aside, the look on Paige’s face when she tried to suggest that she might make the Women’s Battle Royal was heartbreaking as you could tell that she didn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth. She formally retired from in-ring competition the following night.
Three matches in and the preshow didn’t catch fire but that would all change when the main card began.
Seth Rollins defeated The Miz (c) and Finn Balor to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship
As a match to kick off the show who better to deliver than these three top performers. The fast pace and impressive action was the perfect start with Rollins capturing the gold to become a Grand Slam champion. The Miz seems to be moving towards a face turn, sending the Miztourage back to the locker room, and so three baby faces in the same match didn’t really work. But the action was smooth and entertaining, it just wasn’t a match viewers could emotionally invest in because any outcome and victor would’ve been enjoyed and accepted.
Charlotte Flair (c) defeated Asuka to retain the SmackDownLive Women’s Championship
Probably the match of the night. Personally I thought Asuka tapped out to the Figure 8 Lock a bit too quickly. She could’ve held on a little longer given she had been undefeated up until that point. Some of the moves were as spectacular as Charlotte’s entrance with the moonsault counter and Spanish fly standing out in particular. The emotional conclusion was also a nice touch and it seemed appropriate that Charlotte Flair, undoubtedly the best female in the company, was the individual to break Asuka’s streak and cementing her legacy. Asuka herself now needs to go on another run of victories but this loss certainly won’t hurt her. What will is the fact that she’s now no longer able to use the armbar submission, presumably neither is Becky Lynch, because of Ronda Rousey’s addition to the roster.
Jinder Mahal defeated Rusev, Bobby Roode and Randy Orton (c) to win the WWE United States Championship
A Jinder victory was unexpected. His unsuccessful WWE title run would’ve been more suited to the US title but it’s a bit late to try it now. Rusev is over with the audience. The ‘Rusev Day’ chants are everywhere but seeing Jinder pin Rusev was effectively a middle finger to the audience. How dare the WWE Universe support someone the company didn’t intend them too! So Jinder is the champion and I fear more distasteful promos on the blue brand.
Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle defeated Triple H and Stephanie McMahon
Talk about the shock of the night! I, like most, feared that this would be a car wreck of a match. With the exception of Stephanie gently placing Kurt’s head into the steel steps in a manner akin to the way she probably rests her children down on a pillow, and Kurt struggling to extend his legs to back body drop Triple H over the rope, the match was largely excellent. Although Steph being able to block a former UFC champion’s armbar was straining the believable, it did make the moment when she inevitably locked it in electric. There was also a great tease that she might force Triple H to tap to the submission. Overall the match was simply great fun and proved to be a highlight of the whole show.
The Bludgeon Brothers defeated The Usos (c) and The New Day to win the SmackDownLive Tag Team Championships
This is possibly where the show began the decline. A short match that needed a stipulation that could’ve elevated it to the heights of the highlight reel mainstay that was the TLC II match at WrestlemaniaX7. Instead it was a short match that successfully sent the SmackDownLive tag team division in a new direction. Expect the Usos or New Day to move to RAW in the upcoming superstar shakeup.
The Undertaker defeated John Cena
So after all the build up fans were treated to a sub 3 minute squash match. Firstly, Cena appeared in the crowd on the Kickoff show. Unfortunately, this meant that the action was regularly interrupted to cut to Cena watching on. Cue an overreaction the moment he realised that he was now on camera. When a referee ran down to ringside after the Charlotte/Asuka match to tell Cena that catering had been stocked up backstage, it triggered his sprinting up the ramp that became a meme creators dream. When Cena came down to the ring and the lights went out, the whole of the Superdome leapt from their seats. Then Elias came down. “Were you expecting someone else?”
That moment was sublime. Unfortunately, Elias’ continued elevation in the thoughts of the WWE Universe was undone by a typical Cena burial. As Cena made his way back up the ramp once again the lights went out again. A spotlight revealed Undertaker’s hat and coat in the ring where it had been left the year before. With a flash of lightning the items disappeared. Then Undertaker emerged. All of this was brilliantly delivered. But then the match began.
Whilst Undertaker looked in great shape, moving smoother than he’d managed in recent outings. The match was completely one sided. All it accomplished is the possibility that The Undertaker could return at any point. After an emotional departure from the ring at WrestleMania XXXIII he deserves to be allowed to retire with dignity. Instead I fear we may continue to get unsatisfactory contests on the biggest show of the year for the foreseeable future. Will we get shorter and shorter matches until ‘Taker’s body finally declares that enough is enough? I hope not. But on this occasion, given the lengthy buildup and teasing, the final match was largely unsatisfying.
Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
Viewers watching on the WWE Network can identify the precise moment that the crowd in the Superdome was lost. Seeing Daniel Bryan return to the ring after his retirement was supposed to be a highlight of the show. The ‘Yes’ chants were delivered with rabid passion that was extinguished by the sneak attack from KO and Sami followed by the powerbomb onto the ring apron. The subsequent stretcher spot was designed to prey on people’s worries about Bryan’s physical condition and ultimately see a triumphant hot tag to win the match. In the meantime Shane McMahon had to defy his own poor physical condition after Diverticulitis to get him some laughable punches and his coast to coast drop kick. Even then the momentum in the arena had been lost and the show could not recapture it. Taking Bryan out early poured cold water on the audience’s excitement levels and WrestleMania failed to recover.
Nia Jaxx defeated Alexa Bliss (c) to win the RAW Women’s Championship
This was a peculiar story. Whilst positive that the bullied overcame the bully it did help that the former was an immovable object. The way Nia took out Mickie James was impressive, leaving Alexa alone to attempt to retain her title was part of the story. There were nice moments but it couldn’t match the technical heights achieved by Charlotte and Asuka. The match fell a little flat and this trend would only continue.
AJ Styles (c) defeated Shinsuke Nakamura to retain the WWE Championship
Despite the expectations that this match would be an absolute classic these two failed to gel together. I admit that this contest was the first occasion that I drifted off during but awoke before the end. On rewatching it almost felt that Nakamura in particular was holding back. I don’t think this was deliberate but reflective of the fact that both competitors were baby faces. Nakamura’s heel turn at the end of the match sets up some further matches between the two where hopefully the dynamic of a classic heel v face contest will make up for this initial outing that was a little disappointing.
Braun Strowman and Nicholas of the WWE Universe defeated The Bar to win the RAW Tag Team Championships
Now this was crazy. There was plenty of speculation about who could possibly be Braun Strowman’s partner for this match with several options. Instead of a returning or debuting superstar Braun wandered round and picked someone from the crowd. As it turned out, it was the son of the referee that was in the ring.
I think that it is a fair enough idea and does create the feeling that anything could happen if you attend a live WWE event. The issue I have is that this was for a major championship. Having two individuals of the talents of Cesaro and Sheamus squashed by a single competitor is bad enough. Yes Braun is a monster among men. But single-handed he has managed to destroy the entire RAW tag team division, including the champions. With Authors of Pain debuting from NXT on RAW the following day, they could’ve immediately been positioned as a dominating team by overcoming Braun. Instead the Tag Titles have been ridiculed. Being won by a 10 year old child is one thing but for them to then be simply handed back because of a scheduling conflict with the fourth grade, although amusing, weakens their value. Win them in the ring and lose them in the ring as Macho Man once said. On the night the moment worked but going forward it was never going to.
Brock Lesnar (c) defeated Roman Reigns to retain the Universal Championship
Buckle up. Here we go. The Main Event.
Firstly, the crowd were determined to defecate all over this match. They were determined to tell WWE, and Vince in particular, that they rejected both of these guys. Beachballs were flying. “This is awful” chants rang out. The crowd were not engaged in the match whatsoever. The final outcome surprised everyone because we all expected Roman Reigns to be victorious and Brock to return to UFC. I hold my hands up that I completely got it wrong and perhaps we were being played all along. Whilst I am not a huge fan of the prospect of Reigns with the belt, it was preferable to a part-timer who takes the biggest championship in the company off the show for the majority of the time. But the match itself highlighted why Brock is no longer a performer who people actually want to see in a squared circle.
The lack of variety in Brock’s move-set killed the match for me and Roman’s was no better. It was German suplex after German suplex. Then F5 after F5. When Brock tried something different, namely an overhead belly-to-belly suplex onto an announce table, it was so poorly executed that Roman nearly knocked himself out. Reigns in turn had spears and superman punches but very little else. There was no variety. However the biggest issue is the kick outs from finishers, which frankly is killing the business. Anyone who has followed the story of Brock’s title reign expected Roman to kick out of an F5, the move which has downed Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman, the guy who has destroyed the entire RAW tag team division single handed. Only one of those moves was needed to defeat those two behemoths. But Roman is not a normal superstar.
Things got ludicrous after the third kick out. Then Roman gets put through the table and it’s still not enough. When a superstar hits their finisher that should be it. The best sequences in wrestling should be those where the combatants are trying to avoid each other’s finishing manoeuvre. Yes there’s a place for kicking out of a finisher to accentuate drama. But when it is done five times it is insulting the intelligence of the audience and exposing the business as choreographed. I understand trying to portray Roman as a tough guy but a total of SIX F5 finishers being needed to defeat him was absurdity of the highest order. No wonder fans in attendance rejected the match.
Adding to the surprises, Roman got colour. This was seemingly hard-way from a stiff Brock elbow to the head. But there was something odd about it. Perhaps Roman had taken an aspirin before the match, as used to be practice in the old days. Despite this, Reigns still could not overcome the odds and got pinned. Would it have been better for the match to have been called off at this point? The Main Event of WrestleMania stopped due to blood loss would have delivered scorching heel heat on Brock and set up the now scheduled rematch in Saudi Arabia. Instead the conclusion was probably the flattest end to a Wrestlemania of all time.