Liam Hoofe reviews WrestleMania 34…
WWE delivered their 34th annual WrestleMania event last night. With 14 matches to cram in, and plenty of potential show stealers on the card, could the show live up to its hype? Let’s break down the show match by match, and find out.
Kick Off: ‘Woken’ Matt Hardy Wins The Andre The Giant Battle Royal Memorial
Well, this happened. Bray coming at the end was a nice surprise, but other than that, I’ve really got nothing to say about this.
Rating: * 1/2
Kick Off: Cedric Alexander Wins the Cruiserweight Championship
Alexander and Ali have both been great on 205 Live this past month, and it was nice to see both men get a reasonable amount of time here. The crowd was fairly dead for this, but the two men put on a solid show. It was an insult on behalf of the WWE to slap a promo for the Rousey match in the middle of the match here, these two deserve better. The in-ring action was solid, and the two men told a nice story in the ring. The ending, in particular, was a great moment, and it was a nice way of closing out the tournament, with Alexander not wanting to put away Ali, as he valiantly battled up from several strikes. Alexander winning was the right call. Ali is a star on the rise, and his time will come.
Rating: *** 1/4
Kick-Off: Naomi Wins The Women’s WrestleMania Battle Royal
Marginally better than the men’s match. This match felt like it had more of a story, and I enjoyed the NXT/WWE divide. The factions coming into play was nice, though, neither Absolution or The Riott Squad have much momentum at the moment. The ending between Sasha and Bayley continued their feud, though, I’m not sure why we needed Naomi running it to win it. If anything, it was odd booking – surely that spot should have been saved for a heel? Hiding on the outside was an oddly heelish move from a babyface. Wouldn’t be too fussed if neither of these matches returned next year.
Seth Rollins Defeated The Miz and Finn Balor
This was a great choice for a hot opener, and the three men’s entrances were fitting for the occasion. The three men set an excellent pace for the night, utilising the triple threat format well. There were plenty of great spots here, and the fact that all three men could have won made the near-falls exciting. I liked Seth trying to hit the running powerbomb on Balor as a piece of storytelling, and the finishing spot was well executed. Rollins winning was a surprise choice, but I’m down with it – the title is in safe hands. I imagine The Miz will take some time off to spend time with his newborn. Balor will likely move to Smackdown after Mania, as he needs a fresh start. An extended feud with Rollins is an option though. This was a solid opening match.
Rating: *** 1/2
Charlotte Flair defeated Asuka
Wow. I genuinely jumped out of my chair when Asuka tapped out here. While the decision will no doubt be controversial, for me, it felt like a real moment and if anyone was going to break the streak, Charlotte would have been my choice. I worried that the company was going to hand the streak to Rousey, so I’m happy that they did this. Ending aside, these two women put on one hell of a match. Their exchanges were excellent from the off, and I loved the story of Asuka working down Charlotte’s arm. Their in-ring psychology was excellent, and the match was expertly paced. Charlotte’s Spanish Fly put some of the Cruiserweights to shame, and her spear would have had Goldberg bowing down to the queen. Two for two so far, keep this up and we’re on for a great night.
Jinder Mahal won? Really? This match was nothing more than okay. I didn’t expect much from the match and it didn’t do a lot to get me excited. Rusev kept the crowd involved here and Roode, sadly, felt like he was there as window dressing. He needs to turn heel, his character is so much better suited to that. Orton hit a few token RKOs and didn’t really do much else. Jinder winning by pinning Rusev got him a lot of heat but I’m not a fan of the decision. I also find it crazy that the Kahlass is one of the most protected finishers in the WWE right now. Jinder is fairly dull between the ropes, so I’m really not that optimistic about his title reign.
Rating: ** 1/4
Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle Defeated Triple H and Stephanie McMahon
Well, this match was so much better than anybody expected. Kurt Angle looked slow in the early goings, but the match went mad got crazy once Rousey got involved in proceedings. Rousey looked excellent in the ring and Stephanie did a great job of making her look strong. Rousey also showed, when Stephanie took control, that she was more than capable of selling well and making others look good too.
The story-telling here was spot on as well. The inter-gender action in this match provided it with some of its strongest matches, and I genuinely believed at one point that Rousey was going to make Triple H tap-out at one point. The crowd was lapping it up as well, and Rousey excelled when they got behind her. Rousey felt like a legitimate big deal here and I’m really looking forward to seeing her in the ring again.
Rating: *** 3/4
The Bludgeon Brothers Defeated The New Day and The Usos
Well, this was a tad disappointing. The Usos and The New Day have been two of the best teams in the WWE in recent years, and this was basically a glorified squash match. From a story-telling perspective, this made sense, as The Bludgeons have been dominant for the last few months, but it didn’t make for interesting viewing. The Bludgeons dominated from the off, and they never looked like losing from the opening bell. I’m not really sure where they go from here with this. I really like Harper and Rowan, and I’m fine with them winning, I just wish they’d booked the match so the other two teams didn’t look so weak- who is there left for them to face now? Authors of Pain, anybody?
Rating: ** 1/4
The Undertaker Defeated John Cena
So, there’s quite a bit to unpack here. Cena came down to the ring because he thought Taker was coming out. The lights went out, and out popped Elias to some mega heat. Elias nailed his role here, and the crowd lapped it up. Cena left the ring and Elias sung a song, inciting Cena to get in the ring and beat him down.
Cena left the ring, only for the lights to go out again, and Taker’s clothing to appear in the ring. Cena sold this all terrifically, and his acting was spot on throughout. The gong then hits, and Taker made his way to the ring.
The crowd was super hyped for this, and Cena continued to look terrified as the match began. The whole thing lasted a matter of minutes, with Taker surprisingly squashing Cena. This was an interesting decision, and it will likely lead to something bigger in the next 12 months. I think they may recycle the HBK storyline, with Cena becoming obsessed with the idea of facing Taker at next year’s Mania, leading to him putting his career on the line. Taker looked in much better shape this year, but this was more of a greatest hits tour than an actual match.
The whole segment was great, and everyone played their parts well, especially Cena, but it was a nothing match that will likely play into a much bigger angle.
Rating: ** 1/4
Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon Defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
First things first, it’s great to see Bryan back in the ring. Wasn’t a fan of the cheesy entrance video thing though, and I found the booking at the start a little odd. Shane McMahon wrestling on his own was tough to watch, and his punches are the worst thing in the WWE right now. Things picked up a lot when Bryan made his return though, and he looks like he hasn’t been out of the ring at all. Sami and Kevin’s character work here was spot on, and surprisingly, there were no shenanigans involved in the bout.
Bryan picked up the win, which means Zayn and Owens move on now. They will likely be off TV for the next week or so until they end up inevitably being drafted to Raw. It will be interesting to see where they go with Bryan next, but his performance in New Orleans was promising.
Rating: *** 1/2
Nia Jax Defeated Alexa Bliss
This match went much longer than I expected it to. While it wasn’t exactly an even encounter, Alexa got in much more than I expected her to, and it felt like a fitting end to this storyline. Jax’s victory was heartfelt, and while the in-ring work wasn’t excellent, it told a good story, and Nia winning, especially after the abuse she has received, was a nice way to round the feud off.
Rating: ** 3/4
AJ Styles Defeated Shinsuke Nakamura
After what felt like an eternity getting here – WWE’s ‘dream match’ felt like it could never live up to its hype, and sadly, it didn’t. Shinsky Naks’ entrance was excellent, but it was clear from the moment AJ come out that the crowd was exhausted. The two men worked a solid match, but the pacing of it felt strange. They tried to work an NJPW style match, but the match wasn’t long enough to gain the full momentum for its finish. Instead, what we got, was a 15-minute slow build, and a rushed 5-minute finish. The two men still put on a great show, it just felt as though it could have been better, and the dead crowd didn’t particularly help.
Shinsuke’s heel turn after the match sets up plenty of potential developments for him in the future. It may not be a popular opinion, but Shinsuke has not achieved what we all expected from him on the main roster. He hasn’t delivered a stand-out match as of yet, and a change of pace may help him finally do that. AJ as champion going forward feels like the right idea.
Rating: *** 3/4
Braun Strowman and Nicholas Defeated The Bar
I’m sorry, I’m spitting my dummy out of the pram on this one. Braun’s partner was a child from the crowd? Seriously!? After all of that? The match was a farce, and this whole thing just made The Bar and Braun look silly. I know there will be people who think this is a good idea, but last month fans were thinking Braun would be in the main event of WrestleMania, and now he is holding the tag titles with a child.
Brock Lesnar Defeated Roman Reigns
Well, things started off well here, at least. The crowd seemed like they were willing to give this a chance to start with, and the opening stages were okay. Then Lesnar started hitting F5s galore, and the whole thing changed. Lesnar brutalised Reigns and the match basically just become Reigns kicking out of finishers. The fans quickly turned on the two men in the ring, and Lesnar began to get frustrated as he couldn’t keep Reigns down. In a surprising moment, Lesnar bust Reigns wide open, which could have potentially been a last minute decision, with the crowd shitting all over the bout.
Reigns rallied back, but surprisingly, it was Lesnar who picked up the win after five F5s. What does this mean? The company seemed more concerned with surprising us here. Lesnar is not likely to stick around for longer, and now the company have no-one left to challenge him. This match felt like an odd way to close the show, and the booking seemed designed to shock us more than anything else. A common theme through the night.
Rating: ** 1/2
Verdict: While there were plenty of surprises at last night’s Mania, the show, on the whole, was nothing special. The opening hour was great – especially the Asuka/Charlotte match, but the rest of the night never really lived up to its hype. The show felt more concerned with making moments than putting on quality matches, and the run-time was really felt last night.
Show Grade: C