Well here we are, a full 7.5 hours later staring down the longest WrestleMania to date and…I think we’re all a bit exhausted. As a show, Mania 35 is hard to rate because there’s just so much of it. There were definite ups (Kofi) and downs (Angle), but a large portion of the show felt somewhere in the middle because sitting through this wrestling gauntlet did make it a little difficult to maintain enthusiasm for some of the less important moments (even if they were covered in body paint and a belt hat). So with that all being said, how did the Show of Shows hold up this year?
- Coach is still hosting these things, but it’s hard to say who is more insufferable between him and Sam Roberts. I don’t listen to enough of his show to know whether or not his performance on WWE pre-shows is kayfabe, but he is a chore to listen to. Sure, Coach is a bumbling oaf, but Roberts seems to purposefully assume the wrong take on everything in order to play devil’s advocate, whether it makes sense or not. You don’t need to have a heel in every commentary team, WWE.
- While I’m complaining about the backstage personalities, who the hell thought Pat McAfee was a value add to these things? Dude’s out there in a tuxedo and shorts pitching softball nonsense to the Impractical Jokers and it’s the most transparent time suck. Maybe give your performers more promo time and leave the backstage segments to more likable folks like Charlie Caruso or Mike Rome.
- The two remaining members of The New Day cut a very impassioned speech in support of Kofi, and it’s a reminder that both of these guys can really talk. I’m not one of those people who thinks that they need to break up in order to be singles stars, but I think there is a lot of money left on the table by keeping Woods and E in the (lackluster) tag division.
- Half of the pre-show also aired on the USA network and it led to a lot of really obnoxious production decisions in the second hour, particularly in the intro to the ARMBAR, where they seriously played the Hardyz’ music for like 10 minutes as everyone just kinda dawdled in the ring looking up the ramp because Braun Strowman was getting a real entrance. While that was happening, the network audience was “treated” to aimless banter by the pre-show pane, that just added nothing to the experience. I get the aim at synergy here people, but be better.
- The first match of the pre-show was the Cruiserweight title match between Buddy Murphy and Tony Nese, and though it was a solid outing, it felt a little disappointing overall. Murphy looked like he swiped Shane Thorne’s entrance attire, for one, and the action just never got to the high-octane level we’ve seen out of either guy in the past. We watch the cruisers for fast paced, acrobatic action. When you put the two power guys on a big stage, it feels just like a regular main roster match between shorter dudes. It’s nice that we have a new champ on 205 Live, as it’s a heel-heavy roster, but I think we’ll quickly see that Murphy had more dynamic chemistry with the division than Nese will. Also, a full minute of this 9 minute match was picture in picture for a main event commercial. Stop doing that, WWE.
- The Not Moolah Battle Royal was next, and hoo-boy, this thing was a mess. From the opening bell until the final four competitors, this felt aimless and poorly booked. I mean shoot, they called out Percy Watson for commentary on this one, so they clearly weren’t bringing their A-game on the women’s BR. Someone thought it was a good idea to give Dana Brooke a Mania moment, as she dumped two thirds of the Riott Squad. Eagle-eyed fans would spot Candice LeRae and Kairi Sane in there, but even more keenly astute viewers would see that they brought Ember Moon back for the match…and gave her a jobber entrance…and had her eliminated by Lana…not great. Sarah by-god-Logan dumps Asuka and thinks she’s won it, only for Carmella to reveal she’s still in the match and eliminate the Riotter for the win. That’s the same booking Naomi got last year if you’re paying attention, though honestly, no one should be paying too close of attention to this thing. The women deserved better booking than this.
- Next up was the “announced via Twitter two days before the event” Raw Tag Team title match between the Revival and the Major Brothers. Which was a fine Raw match, but completely needless on this card. The Revival do their best to make their opponents look good, but Hawkins, in particular, just doesn’t have that next gear that makes for memorable tag performances. Eventually, Hawkins feigns an injury long enough to sucker Scott Dawson into a rollup for the win. The Edgeheads are your new Raw tag champs. I can’t help but feel we would care more if there was even an ounce of build to this. I mean I know that Hawkins was on a 269-match losing streak, but that was on Main Event and the house show circuit. Give us a reason to care, WWE.
- Finally we have The Andre the Giant Battle Royal, and though the action is a little smoother than the Not Moolah (for the most part), it also has a ton of ridiculous booking, with a lot of these guys deserving better. One guy that looked great (and not just because he was in the best shape we’ve seen dude in in quite some time) was Braun Strowman, the eventual winner of the match, who scored the most eliminations and had a fun showdown (that went nowhere) with his former Wyatt Family brother (and yet another performer returning tonight with no fanfare) Luke Harper. Harper had a great spot where he and Ali were supposed to be booted together, though Braun missed his cue the first time, so they had to reset. The stuff with Michael Che and Colin Jost was fine, but physical comedy is neither guy’s strongest suit.
- Ooh, one more thing about the ARMBAR: Andrade ended up eliminating himself by head-scissoring Apollo Crews off the ring apron in a cool spot that made him look like an idiot. Now, one could spin it positively as Andrade paying tribute tolucha legend Mil Mascaras (who famously eliminated himself from the 1997 Royal Rumble), but it’s more than a little embarrassing. Andrade could have been tossed by Strowman and still looked strong.
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Seth Rollins (Universal Championship)
We start off with Alexa Bliss (and Hulk Hogan) welcoming the crowd to the show, only for Paul Heyman to blow past both and basically say “Brock says if he’s not on last, he’s not hanging around all night,” leading to the Universal Championship match to open the show. Gotta give credit where credit’s due: that’s brilliant booking. This is a reasonably big match that people are curious about, though not entirely excited over. As such, it’s a good call to get it out of the way good and early. It’s that logic that led me to believe Brock was retaining the belt, but hoo boy, was I wrong about that.
The match itself was nothing special: Brock beat Rollins down for a while (like he does) until a ref bump allowed Seth to hit a low blow (Brock’s achilles heel) and three Stomps for the win in around five minutes. This was about as good as it needed to be, though we know these two could do better (That triple threat with Cena at the 2015 Royal Rumble was a genuine MOTY candidate). Still, the right guy won, the Universal title is back on television and Seth gets a chance to be the top guy on Raw like he should have been for the past several months. Not a great match, but one that most people will be cool with in the long run. Also shout out to Seth’s entrance video looking like a B-movie. More creative tron videos, WWE.
AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton
We saw a few of the AR graphics in the preshow (notably for Asuka), but whoever okayed the poop-colored coiled snakes for Randy needs to get fired. As for the match itself, it was actually pretty good. Both of these guys are really talented, and this feud has seemingly motivated Randy beyond his usual “dead behind the eyes/ going through the motions” state of being. That being said, I wasn’t all that into this one. It was a very WWE match, but I’m not sure that it would even main event SmackDown without a title or opportunity on the line. I hate saying that because I like both guys as performers (Legend Killer Randy Orton was the jam), but I found it tough to stay focused on this one. Styles kicks out of an RKO, hits a huge Phenomenal Forearm to the outside, then another in the ring for the clean win. Again, not a bad match by any stretch, but it just felt at odds with the more exciting, frenetic pace that the show sort of needs to keep audiences’ attention span these days.
Side note, I feel bad for the live crowd and both performers, as the production crew evidently shined a blinding light on a healthy portion of the audience during this one. Watching live, you could tell there was something the crowd was focused on besides the action, and it sucks that it was a stage direction issue. One Randal Keith Orton said it best:
Good Guy Randy.
The Usos (c) vs. The Bar vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev vs. Aleister Black and Ricochet (SmackDown Tag Team Championships)
While the previous match was well worked but not terribly fun, the SmackDown tag match rectified all that with a well-paced and exciting bout that never overstayed its welcome and played to all eight men’s strengths. Ricochet and Aleister Black’s entrances both earned pretty significant pops, so I’m glad they probably will be split into solo stars coming out of this match. I also should call out Black and Nak’s coats, as Aleister jacket appears to have transformed into a living bat, whereas Shin’s out here cosplaying as Vash the Stampede from Trigun. Suffice to say, everyone looked good in this one, in both their gear and their in-ring performance.
The pace rarely let up in this one, with even The Bar getting a huge pop for Cesaro spinning Ricochet for literally 90 seconds as Sheamus hits his Ten Beats of the Bodhran on pretty much everyone else in the match. There was a great fake out finish following a 630 from Ric that genuinely had me thinking Blackochet were leaving with the titles. Alas, the finish came after the Usos hit double superkicks and then a double splash on Shamo to retain. A fun match, through and through, though I think that having Aleister and Ric take on the Usos alone would have made for a more exciting matchup. Still, no complaints on this one — everyone did great, and it helped wake up the audience a bit.
The Miz vs. Shane McMahon (Falls Count Anywhere)
Gotta say, I didn’t have high expectations for this as an actual match, and that may have worked to its benefit, because while it wasn’t a classic by any stretch, the street fight between Shane and Miz left me fairly sports entertained. Neither guy is particularly celebrated for their workrate, and as good as he is on the mic, Miz remains the king of soft style, so it was nice to see him break out of his normal shtick and be a convincing brawler for once. It also felt like someone finally talked to Shane about how crappy his worked punches are, because some of his kidney shots looked suitably vicious for the context of a deeply personal street fight. Shoutouts also due for George Mizanin, as Mr. Hero played a fun role in the bout too.
Still, the real treat here was in the finish which, while not as crazy of some of Shane’s stunts, is a huge departure for the normally super safe Miz. Perched atop a piece of scaffolding about 15-20 feet in the air, the Miz suplexed Shane off the scaffolding and onto the “floor” below.* We’re not used to seeing Miz go high risk, so seeing him take that bump alongside spot monkey Shane was a welcome sight and really helped build the brand of the A-Lister in my estimation. Still, the nature of a suplex meant that when they landed, McMahon was splayed across Miz’s chest — a fact not lost on the ref who counted the pin and gave the win to the Best in the World. Fun stuff, and a more entertaining match than I anticipated given the skillsets and pedigrees of both men. The one downside is that I think this program will have to continue at this point, and I’d rather see Miz in a real feud — you know, with another wrestler.
*”Floor” in this case being a barely hidden crashpad.
Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection (c) vs. Nia Jax and Tamina vs. Natalya and Beth Phoenix vs. The IIconics (Women’s Tag Team Championships)
This is another match that was likely hampered by having too many people in it, but while the SmackDown tag used everyone to their utmost potential, the women’s tag felt like it shortchanged almost everyone. Sasha and Bayley do most of the heavy lifting here, as there are very few moments where one or both of them isn’t in the ring, and I’m not sure that helped things. Sure, Tamina and Beth are limited in the ring; Nia and Natty are bad and boring in the ring, respectively; and the IIconics are better characters than wrestlers; but when you put all that pressure on two people, one wonders why you bother adding all this dead weight to your championship match in the first place.
Like the Falls Count Anywhere match, this was a reasonably (sports) entertaining outing. Unlike the Miz match, however, it was rather light on highlights. The finish comes when Beth Phoenix hits a Glam Slam on Bayley from the top rope, only for the IIconics to run in and steal the pin for their first title win. While I may not have loved the match, I’m super happy for the result. Sasha and Bayley are two great individual stars, but Billie and Peyton are a real tag team, and you can tell how much this all meant to them. Better yet, watch this video from WWE.com and see just how much this means to them.
— WWE (@WWE) April 8, 2019
Adorable. Congratulations, ladies. You deserve it. I look forward to your inevitable loss to the Sky Pirates in the coming months.
Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Kofi Kingston (WWE Championship)
In ring, in storyline and every other way you can appreciate a wrestling exhibition, this was the match of the night, loaded with a ton of raw emotion, great spots, and solid athleticism from bell to bell. Furthermore, I love that the decision was clean and well fought, and there were several near falls where it looked like Bryan was going to retain the title, but Kofi just kept going and persevering and what we got was a great back and forth WWE Championship match with a feel-good ending that showcased the power of positivity, the value of hard work and the importance of a strong support structure of friends and family. I know they kind of stumbled into it, but Kofi’s story is so engrossing and universal that WWE really has to be commended for recognizing what they have here and letting a man that they never had any aspirations of making a champion naturally ascend to the top of the card like this. It’s important that we recognize that, though their rises were similar, Daniel Bryan had already been World Heavyweight Champion twice by the time he got his Mania moment. Outside of multi-man matches like the Elimination Chamber, Kofi has never had a one-on-one match for a major title. I mean, look how much it means to him:
Context aside, this was also just a really well worked match, with both guys busting out new tricks and old standbys in an effort to one up their opponent. Bryan’s submission style was well on display here, but Kofi’s resilient counters were a definite sight to behold. Rowan attempts to interfere, but is thwarted by Kofi and then given an UpUpDownDown for his troubles. At one point, Kofi reverses a spin kick into some kind of inverted suplex for a nearfall. Kofi eats the knee but manages to kick out. Kofi then Hulks up (side note: We need to find a new name for that) and absorbs several chest kicks before eventually landing one of his own in the Trouble in Paradise for a clean win in a well worked, hard fought victory.
All praise to Kofi for his performance, but you also have to tip your hat to Bryan, who made sure that both men looked like a million bucks out there. I know that it was important for the women’s match to main event (it was the right call regardless of how this sentence ends), and there were potentially some shenanigans in that bout that limited its potential, but this was the match of the night. It was a well-worked, exciting and feel-good moment that may have made for a more natural ending point for the show. Especially once Kofi brought his sons into the ring to celebrate with him. Truly an important and emotional WrestleMania moment, to be sure.
Samoa Joe (c) vs. Rey Mysterio (United States Championship)
Seemingly knowing that there was no way to follow the excellence that went on before it, the US Championship match that came next didn’t even try. Shoot, Mysterio’s entrance (complete with awesome gear inspired by Marvel’s Mysterio) went longer than the match itself. Once the bell rang, Rey got about three moves off before he appeared to tweak his ankle, allowing Joe to lock in the Coquina Clutch for the pass-out win. I get why some people may be upset with this outcome, as Rey and Joe had a ton of promise, but in the context of a 7.5 hour show, I think this was a wise move. Rey’s a legend with an injury whose legacy and mystique will not be affected by this loss, and Joe is a monster heel who should really be scoring conclusive wins like this more often. I wouldn’t have chosen it for his WrestleMania debut, but it was what it was and what it was perfect for the context. I bet these guys have a killer rematch at Money in the Bank.
Funny side note, they brought Booker out for commentary on this one, and when the match ended about 90 seconds later he said “I did all this prep work for that?!” You’re a treasure, Book. Never change.
Drew McIntyre vs. Roman Reigns
When Roman Reigns went away to battle his resurgent cancer, the general consensus among the IWC and beyond was “there’s no way people are booing this guy when he comes back.” And things had been going well so far! Roman’s return was met with rapturous applause, ditto his last tilt with The Shield at Fastlane, things seemed great. So you put him in the ring with one of the most over villains on the roster on the biggest show of the year after a cooldown match that went 90 seconds, you’re setting yourself up for success. But then you have the same match Roman’s been having for a few years. The one where he gets beat up for about eight minutes, hits a flurry of offense for two and then wins anticlimactically. That villain you put him up against? He does slow power moves but takes time to gloat after each attack, slowing the pace of the whole affair to a crawl at points. Then suddenly around the eight minute mark, the boos start to come in. Now, I know that there were several production issues that the crowd reacted to throughout the show, so maybe I’m misreading the situation, but it sure seemed like the fans were starting to turn on this match toward the end.
I hope that’s not the case, because I want Roman to succeed, but I think it is a sign that WWE need to rethink how they book Roman’s matches. It’s fortunate that the end came pretty swiftly after the boos could be heard in the audio, because I think the optics of Roman being booed out of his first Mania after beating cancer for the second time would be a bitter pill to swallow. As such, playing more naturally to his faster paced, high impact offense over the whole “Super Cena” formula they have largely stuck to in recent years, may be wise moving forward. I don’t want people back into booing Roman because “it’s cool,” as it felt needless and mean in more recent years. So while this was an unremarkable victory for the Big Dog, please let it also be a learning experience for bookers.
So a bunch of things happened between the matches that were varying degrees of successful. Calling out the Hall of Famers was fine, even if it looked like X-Pac got lost at one point. Similarly I think the Elias concert was fun for what it was. John Cena’s re-emergence as the Doctor of Thuganomics, however, I was less into. To his credit, Cena didn’t hold a lot back with his old persona, even dropping masturbation jokes into his bars, but it just felt a little sad. Like a classic rock band trying to hold on to their faded glory. It was mostly inoffensive and I know Elias’ whole gimmick is made for him to be publicly embarrassed like this, but I’m a little tired of the whole “old timer shows up to beat up an up-and-comer” skits the WWE loves to trot out at these shows. Just remind me of that when we get to the Kurt Angle matchup. Speaking of which, I’m not entirely sure what was so funny about Razor and Diesel showing up as fake doctors trying to touch the SNL guys’ prostates. Yes, that really happened.
Triple H vs. Batista
I’ve seen a lot of commenters attacking this match as an over long and dull exercise in vanity for two past-their-prime baby boomers, and while I do agree that it (and all of WrestleMania if I’m honest) could have been a little shorter, I thought the personal grudge match between Papa H and Uncle Dave was a lot of fun. And not just because Batista tripped on his way into the ring. This was a suitably physical bout between the two aging Superstars that featured a number of memorable moments, from Batista’s still impressive powerbomb to Hunter removing Dave’s nose ring with some pliers. It was full sort of a scaled back version of the Sting matchup in many ways, which is both a good thing and a bad thing depending on who’s watching this.
The one argument I’ll cede is that this lengthy ass spot would almost assuredly be better served on a match featuring younger, hungrier Superstars. I get that Batista is a star attraction, but surely putting him in there with like Drew McIntyre or Ali if he wants to stay a heel, would give those guys an opportunity to perform at the highest profile of their nascent careers. Ditto Trips. Pinning The Game still has some value, as does pinning Drax. So why waste that on each other? Regardless, I think both guys put in good work here, it was probably the right call for Papa H to take the win on this one, and now Batista has announced his official retirement on his terms. Look for him to headline the Hall of Fame class some year in the not too distant future. It wasn’t a bad performance to go out on either.
Kurt Angle vs. Baron Corbin (Kurt Angle’s farewell match)
Well this…this was certainly a thing. I know I’ve spent some time in recent portions of this write up to excoriate the company for not putting over new stars in the face of aging attractions, but this match proved that notching a victory over a big name isn’t enough to create a superstar. We have to care about the story, the character and the performance in order to build a star, and I’m not entirely sure which part wasn’t there for this match, but this wasn’t doing anything. Storyline wise, it made sense for Kurt to face Baron. Baron had forced him out of the GM role months ago, and has just been a huge dick to Angle ever since. There’s little denying, however, just how underwhelming the announcement of Corbin as Angle’s final opponent proved to be. The sad fact is that anyone more on Angle’s level physically is already retired, anyone with his name recognition already had a match, and most of the people who could carry the aging olympian to a passable match were just needed elsewhere. Not sure why Cena skipped out on the match, but here we are.
The sad truth is that Kurt was barely mobile in this match, could hardly perform to the level of excellence his name is associated with, and was in the ring with a guy who just isn’t exciting between the ropes. That he was beat somewhat easily makes kayfabe sense, but is hugely deflating for fans. Add to that the fact that he ended the night asking the fans to favor him with a “you suck” chant like it was ever meant as a compliment (a really unfortunate bit of revisionism from WWE) and you get a sad end to a great performer’s career. It’s a shame that Angle spent so many years on the shelf with injuries and drug-related issues, because when he was on, dude was amazing. His later years in TNA, brief indie run and return to WWE a few years ago, will likely not be as fondly remembered.
Bobby Lashley (c) vs. Finn Balor (Intercontinental Championship)
When we saw that Finn was going into this match as the Demon we all knew he was winning this one — and handily. We all made the same joke about “why didn’t he do it against Brock Lesnar,” but we all knew Lashley wasn’t going to be the guy to hand the Demon its first PPV loss. As such, this was always going to be an exhibition for Finn’s typically great theatricality — but if I’m honest, it was a bit of a letdown. Maybe it’s the fact that we had already sat through seven hours of wrestling. Maybe it was the fact that Finn didn’t do anything new or different for the Demon’s Mania debut. Maybe just before the main event of the show is not the time to be having boring midcarders put on competitive bouts with your supernatural babyface persona built around squashes. In any case, this segment falls into the category of being “fine but who cares?” I love Finn Balor, I think that spear through the ropes was a cool spot, I was impressed that Bobbo got up for a powerbomb…I just didn’t care about this match. Mania in general was too long, and while I love that the IC title (and Finn Balor) found a place on the card, this match would have been much better served on an episode of Raw.
Winner Take All: Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Becky Lynch (Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships)
Finally we have the first women’s main event in WrestleMania history and though I think all three women put in decent performances, I feel like the crowd and the audience at home was simply exhausted by the time this match came on. Shoot, the thing didn’t end until about 12:30 am EST, so how are people meant to keep their enthusiasm up for something when they’ve been watching it literally all day? WWE did try and revive the crowd a few different ways, but even Joan Jett sounded tired as she belted out Ronda’s theme. To the crowd’s credit, they did come alive for portions of this match, but just think of how crazy the pop for Becky’s win would have been if this thing went on at a sane hour.
The match itself was a fairly well worked bout between two of the best performers alive today and a surprisingly talented rookie. Though there were some inventive spots here and there (That diving kick to knock Rousey off the apron in particular was really cool) all anyone is really going to talk about from this match is the ending. Whether it was a botched count, poor timing from Ronda or someone missing their cue, rumors have been circling that the ending of this bout was a mistake. Not the result, mind you, as most outlets are reporting that Becky was always supposed to win, but how that was supposed to happen has become a bit murkier. Regardless of the intent, we can only judge this based on what we saw, and no one should feel cheated by this outcome. Would it have been nice if Becky had tapped out Ronda? Sure. Does it affect how I feel about this match or Becky as a now double champion? Not at all. If anything WWE’s overbooking of the build to this match has engendered an almost morbid curiosity of how they expect to move forward with Becky holding both women’s belts.
I guess that’s the trick of a Mania main event — it has to make you want to watch Raw the next night. And that’s certainly something that this match did.