Wrestlemania 34 Review: Blood, Sweat and Tears — and More Blood

A night after a phenomenal NXT Takeover (seriously, go watch Gargano/Ciampa and the six-man ladder match if you haven’t already), Wrestlemania 34 was faced with its usual task of trying to provide something for everyone. That’s a tough sell, especially on a show that stretches past seven hours when you include the preshow festivities. But by and large, Wrestlemania delivered this year — with one notable exception, the main event.

Like last year, let’s review the show by going match by match and looking at what worked and what didn’t:

  • Preshow: Even as big wrestling fans, there’s only so much energy in the tank. I can’t imagine how the live crowd gets through the entire event while sneaking in bathroom breaks and time for refreshments in the middle of this marathon. So we skimmed through the three matches that were banished to the kickoff position. That included both battle royales, which were decent but had their moments, and a cruiserweight title bout that was a great showcase for both performers. Cedric Alexander’s journey from Cruiserweight Classic surprise to champ is certainly an interesting story. Will the 205 Live crew find enough people who care?
  • Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor vs. The Miz (c) — Intercontinental Championship: Some people may have preferred to see Styles/Nakamura or Daniel Bryan’s return in the opening spot, but I thought this was the perfect choice — three great workers who could set the tone early. The spectacle was solid from the beginning, with exciting entrances and strong bell-to-bell action. Rollins winning seemingly validates the faith the company has had in him in the last few months, including that ridiculous hour-plus showing in the gauntlet match on Raw a few weeks back. His win means all three members of the Shield are now Grand Slam winners. 8.5/10
  • Charlotte (c) vs. Asuka — Smackdown Women’s Championship: Charlotte’s entrance was ridiculously over the top, but in a good way. It set the stage for perhaps the best match of the night as both competitors served up fun counters and brutal looking spots. Charlotte retaining is a bit controversial in the sense that she has been pushed to the moon for about two years now, but personally, I was happy that Asuka lost — at this point, her unbeaten streak was hurting her way more than it was helping. Coming up short against someone of Charlotte’s caliber shouldn’t hurt her one bit. 9.5/10
  • Jinder Mahal vs. Randy Orton (c) vs. Bobby Roode vs. Rusev — U.S. Championship: Sigh. I don’t even dislike Jinder as much as most. Considering his career trajectory, good for him for managing to have a relevant spot. I’m just not sure I understand why WWE is so hesitant to give titles to wrestlers with overwhelming momentum. Rusev Day is hugely over with the fans, but not only did he lose here, he ate the pin! We fast-forwarded through more than half of this match, and given the end result, I don’t regret that decision at all. 4/10
  • Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon and Triple H: Now this was surprising. Maybe it’s all a matter of expectations (more on that later), but this might have been my favorite match on the card. Rousey was outstanding in her debut match, showing some nice chain offense and selling well in stretches. The fact that WWE was willing to pull the trigger on some intergender spots bodes well for the future, and Rousey raining strikes on Triple H was one of the moments of the night. It’ll be interesting to see what Rousey does next, and how she responds to longer feuds with more talented wrestlers and more mic time. But for one night, everybody here looked great. 9/10
  • The Bludgeon Brothers vs. The New Day vs. The Usos (c) — Smackdown Tag Titles: I’m a huge Luke Harper fan, but this fell a bit flat for me. It might be the right decision to save a 30-minute spectacle for these teams for a show with less going on. And hell, it’s nice that the New Day and Usos got to have a match on the card for once. But only giving these three teams five minutes just didn’t feel satisfying. Hopefully there’s more to come. 5.5/10
  • The Undertaker vs. John Cena: You know, I liked this. I really did. I certainly get some of the criticism about how this would have been so much bigger 5-10 years ago, but for 2018? After weeks of Cena basically being an asshole to a retired wrestler? A squash was the right call, and it let Undertaker look great again after three lackluster Wrestlemania performances. Cena sitting out in the crowd for the first two hours of the show was a nice touch, and having the lights drop in the arena only to have Elias steal the thunder was an excellent choice. 8/10
  • Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn: I’m tempted to give this 12/10 just because Daniel Bryan was wrestling again. Hell, I’m such a big Bryan fan that we talked about it on the podcast a couple weeks back, and we never talk about wrestling there. But the crowd was intensely behind Bryan in his return, and the two cowardly heels pummeling him before the match was the perfect setup for a nuclear hot tag around the halfway point. Bryan flashed some of his old favorites (the kicks, the Yes Lock, the running knee) and some new, safer variations (a baseball slide instead of a suicide dive, a jumping knee off the apron instead of a cannonball). Best of all, they played it straight with no Shane heel turn or any weirdness — and Bryan was positioned to look real strong, kicking out of both Owens’ and Zayn’s finishers. 8.5/10
  • Nia Jax vs. Alexa Bliss (c) — Raw Women’s Championship: This was just about perfect for what it was — a redemption story for Nia Jax after weeks of being run down by the champ. It was never going to be an in-ring masterpiece, but Jax looked great murdering Mickie James in the beginning, and her avalanche samoan drop to finish it was brutal. Even as an Alexa Bliss fan, her title reign had gone on far too long, so it’s nice for the women’s division to get a breath of fresh air. 6.5/10
  • AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura — WWE Championship: Remember what I was saying about expectations? I think they hurt two of the best workers on the roster, who put on a good but not great match on the biggest show of them all. This was not going to live up to their Wrestle Kingdom match a few years back, but I thought they were going to take a more fast-paced approach; instead, it was perhaps the most methodical match on the card. It wasn’t terrible by any means — Nakamura got to flash a bit more strong style than he has so far in WWE, and Styles looks good no matter what. The finish was an awesome sequence and Nakamura’s turn after the bell got the crowd’s attention. But I think people (myself included) were looking for an all-time classic here, and got something that was only decent instead. 7/10
  • Braun Strowman and Nicholas (???) vs. The Bar (c) — Raw Tag Titles: Your opinions on this match probably depend on how seriously you take the record books and the entire tag division. Those who think that Cesaro and Sheamus were buried here after being the only credible threat for months certainly aren’t misguided, but…come on. This was a surprise burst of fun before the main event and fits with what Strowman has been doing for months. The dude is so powerful that he pulled a kid out of the audience and won the tag titles by himself — although Nicholas did get into the match for about two seconds. In retrospect, this made more sense than a pairing with Elias or a return like Rey Mysterio, because Strowman didn’t need the help anyway. This was dumb, but in all the right ways. 8/10
  • Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns — Universal Championship: Hoo boy. I could write a thousand words about this match alone, but we’re already headed toward 1500+, so let’s be brief. We knew this match was coming for the last year or so. Most fans already don’t like Reigns, but unlike three years ago when Rollins interrupted their main event match, the crowd has turned a bit on Lesnar as well. (Keep in mind that Brock has been in exactly five matches in a year, a total of 61 minutes, while getting worse in the ring in that span.) At this point, most people wanted Reigns to get this over with just so that the belt would be a focal point of regular programs again. Instead, we got this…a jumbled mess of a match where Reigns kicked out of FIVE F5’s (including one through the announce table) and Lesnar busted open Roman’s forehead with stiff elbows. The two combined to do exactly three moves that weren’t a Superman Punch, spear, suplex or F5. Instead of a fast-paced, physical match, we got a plodding squash. I’m not even a huge Reigns hater — he’s solid in the ring and has a good look, and at this point has put in the work to be a deserving champion. But this match did him exactly zero favors, because his detractors will point to how many finishers he outlasted and he STILL didn’t get the win. I don’t know what this means and hopefully tonight’s Smarkamania episode of Raw will have answers, but this was legitimately baffling, and in all the WRONG ways. 3/10

So there you have it — a great card from start to finish, and perhaps one of the best Wrestlemanias of the last few years. As we talked about in last year’s review, the Granddaddy of Them All is often more about spectacle and pizzazz than in-ring product, but this year they managed to combine both in ways that worked. Despite a main event that somehow fell short of low expectations, there was a lot to like this year. Overall, I’d give Wrestlemania 34 a 7.5/10.

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