I have a few passions that I don’t really get to talk about much because other folks on the podcast don’t share those interests. I’m an avid watcher of Critical Role. I’m a big fan of the fighting game community, specifically Street Fighter and Marvel. And because I got into it when I was younger, I still follow wrestling.
Last night was Wrestlemania, the biggest event of the year. I didn’t get to watch the preshow because we had volleyball matches earlier in the evening, but I saw everything else and by god I’m going to talk about it. Let’s go match by match:
- AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon: This was a hell of an opener. We knew going in that Styles was capable of making just about anyone look good, but Shane deserves plenty of credit for his own contributions, including a shooting star press that a 47-year-old businessman probably has no business trying. The key here was that McMahon showcased some in-ring technicality (submissions, reversals, etc.) to go along with his usual death-defying stunts. It’s still a bit disappointing that Styles wasn’t in a more high-profile spot because he might be the best wrestler in the world right now, but an opening match against a McMahon isn’t exactly chopped liver either.
- Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho: These two have been one of the few highlights on Monday Night Raw since the brand split, so their bout for the US title was sure to have some extra feeling behind it. Jericho’s ability to reinvent himself yet again has been nothing short of astonishing, eschewing all of his earlier catchphrases and getting new ones to be just as popular (the list, stupid idiot, “it”). The match itself was…decent. Jericho isn’t at the point in his career where he’s going to put on five-star matches, but he and KO still worked a solid outing.
- Raw Women’s Fatal 4-Way: Another match squarely in the decent to good range. Charlotte, Sasha and Bayley working together to eliminate Nia Jax with a triple powerbomb and then all of them pinning her simultaneously was a smart spot to keep Nia looking strong. Sasha going out next also made sense, although I think it must have been damn near impossible for almost everyone in that huge stadium to tell that she hit an exposed turnbuckle before the finish. Bayley beating Charlotte for the title is the right decision given the circumstances, although it was the wrong decision to put the belt on her and break Charlotte’s PPV streak before Wrestlemania. (Oh, and Charlotte’s corkscrew moonsault to the outside was fucking sick.)
- Rag Tag Team Title Ladder Match: I started to put the pieces together on this before it happened: a ladder match stipulation, rumors swirling, certain free agents available? But still, the Hardys returning for the first time in eight years was an awesome moment and even in an outdoor stadium, you could hear the thunderous response they got from the crowd. Matt’s still got the streak of white in his hair and he made the delete motion a few times (and mentioned it in a post-show promo), so I think it’s safe to assume we’re going to get some version of the Broken universe here? The match itself was good, with plenty of the high spots you’d expect from a ladder match at Wrestlemania, including Jeff killing himself with a Swanton Bomb off a 20-foot ladder and a couple of slick team-ups between Cesaro and Sheamus. Some may not like the Hardy Boyz winning in their first match back, but Raw’s tag division has been languishing and this instantly creates some fresh, interesting matchups.
- Mixed Tag Team Match: This was the first disappointment of the night — I had high hopes that Cena and Miz were going to do something huge here, and instead the match was…fine, I guess? Miz carried the first few minutes and the crowd ate it up, then Cena hit a couple moves, he and Nikki Bella hit dual finishers and it was over in about nine minutes. Maryse did virtually nothing in the match outside of a couple bumps. It wasn’t terrible, but after the tremendous build and promos of the last few weeks, it felt like a letdown. That said, Cena’s marriage proposal after the match was a touching moment, and it’s nice that the crowd didn’t boo him during it.
- Seth Rollins vs. Triple H: I like the story they told here, with The Game predictably targeting Rollins’ bum knee and the Architect deciding the hell with my knee, I’m still going for all of my huge, high-octane offense even though it puts me at risk. The match dragged just a tiiiiiiny bit at spots (HHH matches will do that sometimes because of his focus on ring psychology, though it’s not necessarily a bad thing). We even got to see Stephanie McMahon get put through a table, although there’s a whole argument to be made that she still gets to dump on the roster 364 days of the year without any comeuppance. Honestly, my biggest takeaway was that it was nice just to see Rollins healthy enough to compete in the first place.
- Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton: So the mixed tag match was a bit of a bummer, but this is where one of the best Wrestlemanias ever took a bit of a turn. The Wyatt/Orton feud was a slow burn on Smackdown, with months of positioning and broken alliances that were cleverly done. Here, we got great entrances from both (Wyatt’s is especially awesome) and apparently Bray has some kind of devil magic now because he was projecting images of maggots and worms onto the mat while Randy writhed in agony? The problem here was the finish: a patented RKO out of nowhere that the crowd honestly didn’t think was the end. That delayed reaction was a bit painful to watch. (You can also argue that Bray needed this win more to establish himself as a true terror now that he liked Sister Abigail’s ashes or something, but…oh well. The good news is he has his own Wrestlemania streak going — he’s 0-and-3!)
- Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar: It was surprising to see this not be the main event, but it’s the right call (more on that later). You can certainly make the case that these two titans facing off for the title NOT being the main event shows just how little anyone expected from their match, but it was as good as it could have been — although it didn’t make the five-minute mark. Still, that 4:45 was basically the two of them turned up to 11: in the first 45 seconds, Lesnar hit three german suplexes and Goldberg answered with a trio of spears. Since these two were never going to put on a 20-minute technical masterpiece, making the affair quick and brutal was the right call. Now there’s just that pesky little issue of “who the hell can legitimately beat Lesnar and why is the only answer Roman Reigns, damn it?”
- Smackdown Women’s Title Match: This was put in that dreaded cooldown position on the card, and I think the women did the best they could with the time they had. Seven minutes for six competitors isn’t great, but to be honest, the build to this match wasn’t phenomenal either.
- Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns: Ah, the saddest moment of the night. Not the result — that was fine. I’m not a Reigns fan by any means, but he carried Taker in this match, especially after the first six or seven minutes. No, the sad part was watching Undertaker struggle to get through the fight and then retire afterward. To be clear, everything looked pretty good until the spear through the announce table spot; not too long after that there was a botched Tombstone counter and the rest was a bit sloppy. My biggest issue with this is that I just don’t think it does Reigns any favors. He’s already booed by a significant portion of the fans, and none of them are going to be excited that he’s the one who finished Taker’s career (in Roman’s third straight WM main event, no less). It would also have meant more if they hadn’t wasted the Phenom’s unbeaten Wrestlemania streak on Lesnar a few years ago. Still, Undertaker was the consummate company man and went out with a loss just like tradition suggests, and this absolutely had to be the main event — giving him time to leave his gear in the ring and letting the crowd chant for him needed to go on last. If it hadn’t, any matches that followed would have absolutely died.
Wrestlemania typically isn’t for the more hardcore fans like me. It’s a spectacle with celebrities and tons of fireworks and musical performances, and the match quality usually takes a back seat. This had just about the right blend of everything for devoted and casual fans alike, and while I could argue with a couple of decisions and finishes, the show — top to bottom — was the best it’s been in quite some time.