So after the Hall of Fame on Friday, NXT TakeOver on Saturday and countless other smaller independent wrestling shows we come to the big show of the biggest weekend of the professional wrestling calendar, WrestleMania.
For the 34th time the top ‘superstars’ of WWE took to the ring in possibly the grandest show yet in front of a supposed 78,000 members of the so-called ‘WWE Universe’ in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, previously home to WrestleMania 30, for a total seven of hours of ‘sports entertainment’.
Before the main show got underway there was, of course, the matter of the two-hour ‘Kickoff’ show that featured the three warm up contests of the show.
Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Despite having Jim Ross and Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler on commentary it was hard to avoid that the majority of this match felt like something of a flat mess.
With no entrances and a lack of bigger name stars aside I guess it made it harder to spot an obvious winner but it also made it hard to invest, something that’s often an issue with battle royals anyway.
There were a few highlight moments with Dolph Ziggler constantly in the verge of elimination and Goldust bringing back the Shattered Dreams on an unfortunate Tye Dillinger (and nicely referencing his brother Cody’s spot at the previous night’s Ring of Honor show).
Once it got down to the final few things got rather more interesting g and the end came with the reappearance of Bray Wyatt who aided his past rival Woken Matt Hardy in getting the victory and seemingly kicking off the next stage f the pairs ongoing, surreal, saga.
WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Mustafa Ali vs Cedric Alexander
After Enzo Amore dropped the Cruiserweight Championship (and lost his job) a couple of months ago the 205 Live brand has been revamped somewhat with a tournament to crown a new champion culminating here.
While the tournament has had some very interesting moments I’ll admit the face vs face final doesn’t hugely appeal on paper in terms of story but going in I was expecting an exciting and fast paced affair and that’s how things started after both men got relatively special entrances for the Kickoff show.
Unfortunately, as a whole, the match felt a little off pace with a few too many rest moments in the middle porting slowing it down a little too much, I did wonder if Alexander tweaked his leg or back delivering a spectacular tope con hilo as it was after that things slowed down.
It did have its good moments though, particularly a Spanish Fly from Alexander to Ali and then a later top rope version of the move from Ali to Alexander and I was greatly impressed by Ali’s charisma now he’s been given a little more to do.
The end came after Alexander survived and then avoided Ali’s 054 reverse 450 splash and hit his Lumbar Check back breaker, but I couldn’t help that while this match was good, it really should have been spectacular.
Women’s Battle Royal
With Beth and Paige on commentary and Lillian Garcia doing the introductions it seemed everyone was going all out to make this special despite the slightly tarnished launch it had seeing its name changed from the Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal to the more simple Women’s Battle Royal.
Unlike the men, a few of the ladies got their own entrances but, like the men’s match and all battle royals, there were moments where it all got a bit hard to follow.
That said a few nice moments stood out as the NXT women’s crew teamed up against the ‘main roster’ performers and as the Riott Squad teamed up to eliminate many of the others.
The end came as Bayley apparently turned on Sasha Banks continuing their long building feud only to be surprised by Naomi who all thought had been eliminated earlier giving the former Smackdown Women’s Champion the win.
The ending wasn’t very well executed leaving things on a slightly flat and confusing point but otherwise, for a battle royal, it worked ok and seemed to get the crowd warmed up as the main show drew near.
With a video package highlighting the show’s ‘global celebration’ theme the main show of WrestleMania got under way in the Superdome fitted up to give a sense of a massive big top and some of the biggest, brightest staging ever seen at ‘The Showcase of the Immortals’.
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Triple Threat Match
The Miz (c) vs Seth Rollins vs Finn Balor
With Seth dressed as a White Walker from Game of Thrones and The Miz in a fancy new coat and sending his ‘Miztourage’ to the back it was still Balor who provided an early highlight of the special entrances for me as he came out bedecked in a rainbow highlighted, pride, version of his usual ring gear and jacket accompanied by LGBTQ representatives of New Orleans – I could say a lot more about that but here isn’t really the place as I’ll ramble on enough as it is, but it remains great to see WWE trying to at least appear more inclusive.
The match as a whole was a great example of the three-way dance style with all three men involved a lot of the time rather than the more standard one on one with the other lurking outside.
Each man looked like they could get the win on numerous occasions with The Miz hitting a few Skull Crushing Finales and locking the Figure Four onto Finn after a nasty looking dragon screw leg whip using the top rope and Finn in return connecting with both his Coupe De Grace double stomp and 1916 elevated reverse DDT.
It was Rollins who came out on top with his revived Curb Stomp to both Balor and Miz to earn the grand slam of winning all the major championships available to him but every man looked great in a match that was one of the highlights of the night.
WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship
Charlotte Flair (c) vs Asuka
In one of the most highly anticipated women’s matches in history champion Charlotte Flair squared off against first Women’s Royal Rumble winner, and owner of 914 day winning streak, Asuka.
After an impressive entrance for ‘Queen’ Charlotte, including a nice use of Ric Flair’s original entrance music, the stage set and both women gave it their all.
The main story focussed on Asuka attacking with strikes to weaken Flair’s arm and Flair in return using more power moves. Asuka’s strong style strikes and submissions looked set to win out at various points, including countering a moonsault into a triangle choke and going for her trademark Asuka Lock cross face chicken wing.
Charlotte in turn replied with a top rope Spanish Fly and a brutal looking spear before locking in the Figure Eight leg lock to serve Asuka her first defeat since joining WWE and NXT in what was another strong contender for not just match of the night but one of the best Women’s matches ever staged by WWE.
After the match the two shared a respectful moment and I now just hope there is a plan for Asuka now her streak, which had comprised much of her gimmick, is broken.
In an interesting aside as the pair were celebrating/commiserating, a referee headed into the crowd to speak to John Cena who was sat in the front row and he rushed to the back stage area – thankfully this didn’t feel like it stole anything from the lady’s moment.
WWE United States Championship
Fatal Four Way
Randy Orton (c) vs Jinder Mahal (with Sunil Singh) vs Bobby Roode vs Rusev (with Aiden English)
After two standout matches this one, despite featuring some solid performers and, in Rusev, one who is very hot with the crowd right now, felt somewhat run of the mill.
Rusev got the lion’s share of the good moments, including a cannonball of the apron and looking like he might get the win on several occasions as 70,000 or so people chanted ‘Rusev Day’ for him, even as Randy Orton tried to get them on his side for a run of RKOs.
The end came with Singh getting involved and distracting Rusev giving Mahal the chance to hit his Khallas cobra clutch slam to become new US Champion to a very quiet reaction.
Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle vs Stephanie McMahon & Triple H
Going in it was clear this was going to be more an attraction than a straight match given the fact the two men are at best part-time wrestlers, one of the women is not even really a part-time wrestler and Rousey, while a famed MMA competitor was having her first pro-wrestling match.
In this context the match did what it needed to do giving Rousey a strong debut, though other competitors than McMahon could have made her look better, and it’s still hard watching Angle wrestle given how great he once was.
The action was chaotic throughout but told a good story culminating in Rousey apparently breaking the arm of McMahon with her trademark armbar submission hold, but I can’t help but think I want to see Rousey in a ‘proper’ pro-wrestling encounter with someone like Asuka or Charlotte rather than a gimmicky ‘event’ like this.
WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship
Triple Threat Match
The Usos (c) vs The New Day vs The Bludgeon Brothers
After surreal entrance featuring dwarves dressed as pancakes (is that Ok in 2018?) from the New Day things got more serious as the new, more serious, Usos and hard-hitting (sort of) new team The Bludgeon Brothers arrived and yet more chaos ensued.
The big men duo of Harper and Rowan dominated throughout despite flurries of resistance in a disappointingly short match, but one that highlighted the newer teams strengths as they took the championships from the Usos with a top rope powerbomb.
After earlier shenanigans it was at this point that John Cena made his way tot ring and the lights went out…
Rather than the Undertaker through the familiar strains of Elias’ guitar rang through the arena and we were treated to one of the most all out entertaining moments of the night as the relatively new heel worked the crowd brilliantly whipping them up even more than his initial trolling appearance did before Cena took exception and hit his ‘five moves of doom’.
As Cena started to leave the lights went out once more and this time that familiar ‘bong’ rang out and ‘The Deadman’ appeared for the first time in a year (sort of) setting up the much predicted match of…
Undertaker vs John Cena
As anyone would expect this didn’t last long and essentially just saw ‘Taker hit his greatest hits ending with the Tombstone to beat Cena. While it was short it was nice to see Undertaker but I do wish they’d decide if he’s actually retired or not and Cena was great at playing up the Deadman’s ‘scary’ spots.
This was followed by the recap of the Hall of Fame (curiously without Kid Rock) and this year it was a strong field highlighted by Goldberg who gave a genuinely touching speech on Friday night but for me the highlights were Mark Henry and, of course, the most decorated tag team in history, The Dudley Boys who even gave Spike a mention (but what about all the others?).
Kevin Owns & Sami Zayn vs Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan
While the match and the story were very interesting its hard to avoid the fact this was all overshadowed by the return to the ring of Daniel Bryan.
Having been out for two years due to concussion issues the news of his clearance to compete was a genuine shock in a business with few of those these days and seeing him making his way to the ring in the same stadium where he won the world title back at WrestleMania 30 was a genuinely unreal moment and I’m not ashamed to say that, for the third time, Daniel Bryan made me cry while watching a show based around men in small pants pretending to fight each other.
Once that was out-of-the-way though the match told a great story with Owens and Zayn being exemplary dastardly heels and seemingly injuring Bryan early on before doing their best to destroy the already injured Shane McMahon – including the great taunt from Owens of ‘does your tummy hurt’ aimed at the man recently returned from an umbilical hernia injury.
Once Bryan got back into the ring though it really was all about him as he fought valiantly and survived Zayn’s Helluva Kick and Owens’ pop up powerbomb to connect with his running knee on Zayn and lock in the Yes Lock for the feel good win.
While the match was good fun and told a great story, and of course seeing Bryan back is always going to be good, I am left wondering where the wider story goes now Zayn and Owens are seemingly out of a job.
I’ll mention it here as it’s a good a place as any as, between matches, we again got to see the preview for the new film about Paige’s life as a wrestler, Fighting With My Family. Having seen the clip several times across the weekend, along with a painfully forced introduction from Paige herself, I have to say I’m not looking forward to what looks like a deeply unfunny American TV style comedy… The Rock was pretty amusing in it though…
WWE Raw Women’s Championship
Alexa Bliss (c) (with Mickie James) vs Nia Jax
While the build to this match has been somewhat uncomfortable given WWE’s reputation for backstage bullying and body shaming, which is exactly what this was saying was bad, I was still hoping it could deliver a good match in the ring, and, with Jax on fine ‘monster’ form and Bliss being her usual excellently charismatic self, it did.
Jax disposed of Mickie James early on making it one on one and for the most part dominated, though Bliss got in enough return moments to keep it interesting highlighted by a Twisted Bliss splash from the top rope to the floor.
The end came with an avalanche Samoan Drop giving us a new champion and showing off Jax in the way she really should have from the start as a dominating, powerful, presence at the top of the women’s division.
Just a shame about the awkwardly handled story (even if its actual message was a positive one).
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
AJ Styles (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura
Two and bit years ago these two men clashed for the first time over the IWGP Intercontinental Championship in the main event of NJPW’s WrestleKingdom in the Tokyo Dome.
Now, through slightly different routes, both men have reached the upper echelons of WWE and, in what was dubbed a dream match, squared off for what could be argued is now the American company’s equivalent of the belt they fought for in Japan.
Unsurprisingly Nakamura had a spectacular entrance with live guitar (from Alice Cooper’s guitarist), violins and drums playing him to the ring as he indulged even more than ever in his Michael Jackson like gestures.
AJ on the other hand was more straightforward but, once the bell rang that didn’t matter as both men fought just as hard and stiff as one would expect from The King of Strong Style and one of his most famous rivals.
It was always going to be hard for the match to live up to expectations and I’m still not sure if it did, but I did enjoy it greatly as they went back and forth in a story based around a knee injury to Nakamura and Styles’ ongoing bad back.
Of all the nicely put together sequences one that stood out was where Nakamura countered the Calf Crusher into a triangle choke that AJ revered in turn with a kind of brainbuster driver.
Both men hit versions of their finishers for near falls and did a very nice strike battle spot before Stlyes countered the Kinshasa knee strike into his Styles Clash to retain the championship.
After the match it looked like we were getting a repeat of the Asuka/Charlotte respectful moment from earlier in the night until Nakamura hit Style with low blow, a multitude of kicks and stomps and a stiff Kinshasa on the arena floor all of which looks set to mean we will be seeing these two face off again in more heated fashion.
WWE Raw Tag Team Championship
The Bar (c) vs Braun Strowman & ‘Mystery Partner’
As The Bar made their way to the ring on a Mardi Gras float it was nice to hear Corey Graves point out it wasn’t actually Mardi Gras but Rex Manning Day, before Strowman made his entrance and destroyed the float in his ongoing feud with seemingly any form of motorised transportation.
In the ring Braun was set to announce his partner before selecting a young boy, apparently named Nicholas, from the audience to be his partner and stand in his corner.
From there Strowman proceeded to destroy the tag team champions, though they offered a bit of come back including a Doug Williams like flying knee drop from Sheamus and a senton from Sheamus’ shoulders from Cesaro, before tagging in Nicholas briefly but ultimately hitting his running power slam for the win.
There’s a lot that could be discussed about what the means for the legitimacy of the Raw tag team division if one man can beat the champions but, taking it at face value, it was a great upbeat moment on the show between the two more serious main event matches that had a real ‘dream come true’ flavour it.
WWE Universal Championship
Brock Lesnar (c) (with Paul Heyman) vs Roman Reigns
While the immediate build to this match has been somewhat predictable, and it seemed that the result here would be too, you could argue that this felt like the culmination of a story that began four years ago when Lesnar defeated The Undertaker in the same arena at WrestleMania 30.
The match itself though was exactly what one would expect with Brock the dominator, throwing Reigns around with a multitude of suplexes only for the Samoan ‘big dog’ to come back with Superman Punches and spears.
Unfortunately, while this was ok to watch at home, nearly 7 hours in the stadium crowd seemed less than interested with chants of ‘boring’, ‘CM Punk’, ‘same old shit’ and more, giving it something of the feel of Lesnar’s match with Goldberg at WrestleMania 20.
Despite table spots and a series of F5 slams Reigns kept kicking out and Lesnar did the same after a run of spears before busting open Roman in brutal looking fashion similar to what he did Randy Orton at SummerSlam a few years ago.
From there Roman looked set to rebound but ultimately succumbed to ‘The Beast’ in what I would describe as something of a surprise ending, given rumour circulating about Lesnar’s future, but still feeling somewhat flat and its hard not to think some kind of politics may have been involved – but of course we’ll see what happens next and with a very big show coming up in a few weeks in Saudi Arabia I suspect we’ll see something big happen there.
As a whole WrestleMania 34 didn’t quite live up to expectations for me but had a good selection of very good stuff including the Intercontinental Championship Match, Asuka vs Flair, and parts of Nakamura vs Styles. But, its hard to avoid the fact that, despite being seven hours long, there were still parts that felt unnecessarily rushed and the climax of it all fell flat for, arguably, the third year in a row.
As I said before though, as this is an ongoing story, lets see what happens next…