So the latest WrestleMania, WWE’s biggest show of the year and ‘showcase of the immortals’ is in the history books and brought a different, more positive, feel to those of the last few years while actually providing a real landmark in the history of, not just the company, but pro-wrestling itself in many ways, as the show was headlined by arguably the biggest women’s wrestling match in history
But there was a lot more than just that, with a grand total of sixteen matches over around eight hours (including the kick off show).
Once again the kick off show stretched to two hours on free TV and streaming to hype the main part of the programme with four matches included amongst the discussions.
WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Buddy Murphy (c) vs Tony Neese
Slightly disappointingly always relegated to the warm up slots, the WWE Cruiserweight division features some great performers capable of putting on great matches and Murphy and Neese came out the blocks strong, looking to do that here.
Fairly inevitably it was a bit rushed contest but the pair did a great job of not just getting a lot of great looking moves in but also bringing in a story based around their past partnership.
While Murphy has become something of a Golden Lovers tribute machine, he hit various knee strikes akin to Omega’s V-Trigger and even Ibushi’s Kamigoye, he does it very well and has his own personality besides while Neese is spectacular if a little less charismatic.
It looked like Neese might have the title won as he hit a Fosbury Flop dive the floor followed by a 450 splash in the ring but to no avail.
Murphy followed this up connecting with his Murphy’s Law spinning slam but too close to the ropes leading to Neese hitting a German suplex into the corner and his running knee in the corner to claim his first championship in front of his (almost) hometown crowd in a solid match to start warming up the audience.
Women’s Battle Royal
Following only Naomi and Asuka getting their own entrances the match got under way in chaotic fashion thanks to recent NXT call up Nikki Cross before the first highlight sequence came from Ember Moon hitting a range of Eclipse flying stunners and looking she could be a contender later on, only to eliminated by Lana in a rather disappointing moment.
Similar sequences came from Asuka and The Riott Squad before we ended up with Sarah Logan, Asuka and Sonya Deville as, apparently, the final three.
Logan particularly impressed throughout fighting in style similar to her new husband Raymond Rowe of NXT Tag Team Champions War Raiders, while it was great seeing Sonya highlighted, even if slightly less than the others.
The conclusion came as it looked like Logan had claimed victory but Carmella who had been hiding outside the ring returned to eliminate her.
This was a disappointing end to another ok match, again nothing too special but a good warm up and it left me wanting to see much more from Logan who showed she could become a star down the line.
Raw Tag Team Championship
The Revival (c) vs Zack Ryder & Curt Hawkins
It may only be in the kick off show but it was great to see The Top Guys, aka The Revival, on the big stage, and to be honest the team formerly known as the Edgeheads too.
The match itself was a pretty standard affair with the addition of Hawkins’ ridiculous losing streak and the phenomenal tag work of The Revival which is always good to see.
While it looked likes things were going to go the champs way after an extended beat down on Ryder and a nasty brainbuster on the floor to Hawkins it was he of the epic losing streak that rolled up Scott Dawson for the surprise win and to claim the tag team championships for the hometown team in the first real feel good moment of many to come.
Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal
With the ring so full of wrestlers it was hard to get too much of a story from the bulk of the match but a few highlights stood out, particularly when Braun Strowman and Luke Harper faced off and the resulting elimination which saw Mustafa Ali caught spectacularly in the crossfire.
Amongst the rest of the tight action from the group of luchadores and Andrade had some great moments as did Heavy Machinery.
The match also featured a pair of Saturday Night Live hosts and, while I wasn’t particularly a fan of their interjections, they were mercifully brief and as Strowman eliminated them to win, the match went to probably the right man, though I can’t help but wonder why he always gets lumbered with comedy stuff on the biggest show of the year…
As is tradition the show opened with a rendition of America The Beautiful complete with typically ‘patriotic’ video and this year a military helicopter fly past before we got one of the better opening video packages of recent times that literally put the spotlight on the wrestlers which to my mind was a positive sign for what was to come.
Before we got to the first match the host for the night, Alexa Bliss, welcomed us to the show and did some posing with Hulk Hogan (despite everything it’s hard not to react to the Hulkster appearing at Wrestlemania) before Paul Heyman marched to the ring to kick things off with arguably one of the biggest matches of the night…
WWE Universal Championship
‘The Beast’ Brock Lesnar (c) w/ Paul Heyman vs ‘The Beast Slayer’ Seth Rollins
After a brilliant intro from Heyman that set the tone for Lesnar’s arrogant champion persona fantastically the fight was on and Lesnar didn’t wait for the bell to begin his assault outside the ring.
Weathering the storm the match eventually began with a beat up Rollins being customarily tossed around the ring by the bigger champion but a low blow while the referee was distracted saw Rollins able to hit a trio of Curbstomps to claim an unexpectedly quick victory.
Whether by accident or design the bout rounded off what felt like a four-year story that began when Rollins cashed in his Money In The Bank back at Wrestlemania 31 and, though short, the match was an exciting affair that highlighted the skills of both men culminating in a positive start to the show with Rollins swinging the big red belt on the stage.
AJ Styles vs Randy Orton
While not really having anything specific riding on it, this match came with the great idea of a ‘journeyman’ wrestler who’s fought for many promotions all over the world in Styles, colliding with a total WWE product in Orton.
Orton played his classic heel roll throughout, and did so expertly, while Styles unleashed his range of spectacular offence with both men looking like they could get the victory.
In the end it was Styles who survived an RKO and countered another to hit his Phenomenal Forearm for a win that, when I think about it, given WWE’s predilection of politics around stars who made their name outside the company, was rather surprising and another feel good moment.
After the match Lacey Evans made one of her brief appearances that I still can’t quite work out what it’s leading to and you could tell the crowd though the same…
Smackdown Tag Team Championship
The Usos (c) vs The Bar vs Aleister Black & Ricochet vs Shinsuke Nakamura & Rusev w/Lana
Being a fatal four way tag team match, something of a Wrestlemania standard these days, there are a lot of moving parts and story often gives way to a spectacular spotfest and really, this was no different.
Before the match began though it was good to see newcomers from NXT Black and Ricochet get their full entrances as they made history by becoming the first team to challenge for all three Tag Team championships on the North American side of WWE in the same week following Monday Night Raw against The Revival and NXT Takeover against War Raiders.
Highlights of the match came as Ricochet hit a spectacular round the world head scissor on Cesaro before being locked in an epic Giant Swing.
He also survived a multi-man spot in the corner and hit his 630 splash only for the pin to be broken up.
Really it was the new team who were the stars but as the match neared its end everyone hit their finishing moves culminating in a double flying splash from The Usos to Sheamus that allowed the champions to retain in fine if fairly standard match.
Before the next match we got the recap of the Hall of Fame ceremony the previous night that stands up as one of the better ones of recent years with particular note going to Bret Hart and the Hart Foundation (especially given the interruption to his speech), Harlem Heat and DX as well as Sue Aitchison who won the Warrior Award and seems to be the first recipient to actually match the original proposition for the Ultimate Warrior.
Falls Count Anywhere
Shane McMahon vs The Miz
With a big story leading into it that began at one of WWE’s controversial shows in Saudi Arabia last year and continued through a tag team title run for the pair early this year there was a sense that this would be highlight part of the show.
In some ways it didn’t disappointed as McMahon and Miz brawled all over the arena after Miz’s father got involved.
Both men taking a few nasty bumps and of course it wasn’t a technical masterclass but as they destroyed the international commentators area we got to see a more intense side of Miz than usual which was a nice change of pace.
The match concluded with the pair plummeting from a camera scaffold and Shane getting the de facto win but it really was more about the stunt than anything else and so was fine distraction, though it’s unlikely to go down as a classic.
WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship
Bayley & Sasha Banks (c) vs The IIconics vs Nia Jaxx & Tamina vs Natalia Neidhart & Beth Phoenix
With the first champions (at least since the previous version of the championship in the late 80s) only decided in the last few months this was the first significant defence for Sasha and Bayley and it began in chaotic fashion.
Soon Jax and Tamina were temporarily eliminated and things settled down so we got to see some great double team work from the champions as they fought off their opposition valiantly.
The end came as the returning Phoenix survived an elbow drop and frog splash combination and hit her Glam Slam from the second rope on Bayley only for The IIconics to steal the win and the championship.
While the match wasn’t as smooth as maybe it could have been, it was fine with the former champions and Neidhart & Phoenix providing the highlights.
‘The New’ Daniel Bryan (c) w/Erick Rowan vs Kofi Kingston w/Big E and Xavier Woods
The build to this match has been about as organic as it can get in pro-wrestling as it began when Mustafa Ali was injured a few months ago and Kofi Kingston was put into a match in his place.
With 11 years in WWE under his belt and no major singles title matches in that time, despite being consistently generally popular, the seed of an idea was planted with fans and WWE seemed to run with it.
Even better the story echoed that of the now heel champion Daniel Bryan when he had his major push leading up to Wrestlemania 30.
With the crowd totally onside with Kofi throughout, the match grew to become one of the best of the night as Bryan survived an initial flurry to settle it into his more grappling pace and style.
After some attempted interference the other members of The New Day dealt with Rowan on the outside of the ring while Kofi looked to hit his Trouble In Paradise spinning kick but instead took a running knee from Bryan for a two count.
Bryan followed this up with some vicious stomps and his LeBell Lock submission but Kofi managed to escape and returned the favour of the stomps before hitting his finishing kick for the win.
While this was a huge moment for Kingston there was an undeniable sense that it was more than that as he became the first ever black athlete to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship (others have won other major titles but not the WWE branded one).
Not just that but it provided the kind of moment of real emotion that only wrestling can and made Kingston’s team’s catchphrase feel all the more apt… ‘It’s a new day, yes it is!’
After the extreme catharsis of the WWE Championship match there was a need for a break so we got a backstage skit from the Saturday Night Live guys along with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash – it wasn’t very funny but it was a good moment of respite.
WWE United States Championship
Samoa Joe (c) vs Rey Mysterio
It was clear as he made his entrance, dressed I think as Mysterio from Spider-Man, that Rey’s ankle injury picked up earlier in the week was still bothering him.
As the bell then rang and he hit a flurry of offence, including an early 619 kick I was surprised, however following this Samoa Joe countered a dive from the top rope to lock in his Coquina Clutch sleeper to get the quick win.
While short due to Mysterio’s injury, the quick win made Joe look like the beast he can be (despite Booker T slightly undermining this on commentary) and provided another nice break from the preceding high drama.
Roman Reigns vs Drew McIntyre
Having dispatched both Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins of The Shield since his return to the main roster Drew McIntyre arrived at Wrestlemania, complete with pipe band to pipe him to the ring, with the intention of completing the set and beating Roman Reigns.
Reigns meanwhile was making his return to the big stage having been forced to take time out to battle leukaemia, but as he made his way to the ring and fireworks went off around the stadium, I was struck by the fact that, while his reception was far from the negative one of Manias past, it was also far from a rapturous homecoming.
The match itself started fairly strong with McIntyre getting the upper hand early in the clash of the chosen ones but, following a slap, Reigns unleashed a salvo of offence ending with his superman punch and spear to get the win.
This left the whole thing feeling a bit unfinished, as if they’d missed the final chapter of the story somehow.
Given Reigns health issues I wouldn’t be surprised if it was down to that but it left things feeling a little flat, particularly given the ambivalent reception to ‘The Big Dog’.
Next up it was time for Elias’ musical performance (I’m not sure when he stopped wrestling on bigger shows but it’s better than Pitbull or FloRida so I won’t complain too much) and in an extra special moment he did a tune where he played piano and drums on-screen and guitar live in the ring.
This was all very fun but of course he was interrupted, in this case with a vintage style news reel of New York baseball legend Babe Ruth followed by the arrival of John Cena in his old heel gimmick as ‘Doctor of Thuganomics’.
Brilliantly he seemed to slip back into the old character perfectly and proved that the way to get Cena totally over is to put him back into his old school heel persona as he rounded off the segment by hitting the F-U (aka Attitude Adjustment) to the signing grappler.
No Holds Barred
Triple H vs Batista
After some spectacular entrances that played on Batista’s Hollywood star status (not counting his trip on entering the ring) and brought a Mad Max vibe to Triple H’s usual big noisy vehicles and Motörhead motif, things got off to a strong start as they soon fought to the floor and things got vicious as The Game found a toolbox.
Taking some notes from Pete Dunne and adding his own twist Triple H assaulted the fingers of Batista with a wrench before pulling out The Animal’s nose ring with a pair of pliers.
Batista regained the upper hand using the steel stairs but his attempt at a powerbomb through the table was thwarted and he ended up going through instead.
Back in the ring both men hit their signatures to no avail and all came to a head when Ric Flair appeared at ringside and gave a sledgehammer to Triple H who used it to hit a modified Superman Punch before a second Pedigree for the win.
While not the best match it did its job and was enjoyable enough with some, great brawling and inventive WWE level brutality, though if this was Batista’s last hurrah in WWE it didn’t have the feeling and impact one might expect, but at this stage in the show that could be down to audience fatigue.
Kurt Angle vs Baron Corbin
The lead up to this, billed as Angle’s last match, has been a strange one thanks largely to the choice of opponent, the much derided Baron Corbin and the crowd seemed at best resigned to him being in the match as he made his way to the ring.
The contest itself was relatively short and straightforward with Angle hitting all the moves you’d expect while Corbin did a good job of playing the hateable heel, particularly playing up the assumption John Cena would somehow take his place at the last-minute, and I think with the right booking he could be a decent bad guy character.
In the end Angle went for his moonsault but Corbin avoided and delivered his End Of Days flatliner to get the unexpected win.
Given the ambivalence to Corbin and sense of fatigue setting in the crowd reaction was muted at best, leaving Angle’s last match feeling somewhat flat, but it was clear he saved it a little by thanking the crowd and encouraging the trademark ‘You suck’ chants as he made his exit.
WWE Intercontinental Championship
‘The Almighty’ Bobby Lashley (c) w/Lio Rush vs ‘The Demon’ Finn Balor
This was another match that suffered slightly from fatigue as the event headed past the six-hour mark, in fact when it was introduced I realised I’d totally forgotten about it.
Lashley, while looking impressive, comes across as boring to me and Balor’s Demon feels somewhat compromised by its use not really making logical sense – though he does still look the part and it makes for a great entrance.
The match itself was again reasonably short with an initial flurry from Balor followed by Lashley returning similar and hitting a nasty looking spear through the ring ropes to the floor.
The end came rather abruptly as Finn hit an admittedly impressive powerbomb before his Coupe De Grace flying double stomp to win the Intercontinental title once again.
Hopefully this will mark the end of this feud which feels like it’s gone round one time too many already and will allow Balor to move on to the bigger and better things that seemed to be coming his way when he first moved up from NXT.
Before the main event host Alexa Bliss returned to the stage to announce the attendance of 82,265 (according to WWE at least) before a rather pointless ‘dance break’ from R-Truth and Carmella that at this point in the show I really could have done without.
Raw & Smackdown Women’s Championships
Winner Takes All
‘The Baddest Woman On The Planet’ Ronda Rousey (c) vs ‘The Queen’ Charlotte Flair vs ‘The Man’ Becky Lynch
As we saw Charlotte Flair arrive by helicopter, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts played Ronda Rousey to the ring and Becky Lynch had a fairly standard entrance but with a big crowd reaction, for the first time in Wrestlemania history a women’s match was the main event of the show.
Whether this is purely because of the mainstream attention brought to WWE by Rousey or a genuine progressive statement from the company is debatable but either way it was probably the most consistently built and anticipated match on the card and, as such, the crowd woke up for it admirably.
The three women cautiously advanced building anticipation further before Rousey gained the early advantage with her ‘shoot style’ attacks on her opponents before all three went to the floor and Charlotte gained the upper hand.
All three had their moments but it was largely a contest based around their respective submission holds as each fought to apply theirs and, if I’m honest it was Flair who was, across the match the best performer.
Mid-match Lynch and Flair hit a nice multiple tandem powerbomb spot on Rousey to escape her armbar and it was great to see Flair use Bret Hart’s ringpost figure four.
The end of the match came with Charlotte outside the ring and Lynch countering Rousey’s Piper’s Pit spinning Samoan drop into a crucifix pin for arguably the biggest, most cathartic feel good moment of the night as the months of development of her ‘The Man’ persona paid off, not to mention her longer story from growing up in Ireland, through independent promotions to NXT and WWE.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning the controversy over whether Rousey’s shoulders were actually down for the three but, whether intentional or not, it could easily fuel the next chapter in this story.
For now though, in my mind, it’s time to celebrate both Lynch’s well deserved win and the best Wrestlemania in some time, that provided the resolution and catharsis the last few editions of the event seemed to lose in trying to be too clever and second guess the crowd.