WrestleMania 34

WrestleMania 34 is in the books, and it was historical if anything else. I got the chance to go to the biggest wrestling show of the year in New Orleans this year, so this review has the perspective from both in the stadium and at home from rewatching it. The show was seven hours, but brevity isn’t something that’s come to be expected when talking about WrestleMania. We’ll recap all seven hours and 14 matches on the show as well as give our star rating for each match. Every title was on the line at this year’s WrestleMania and a few changed hands in surprising fashion.

Pre-Show:

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale

Over the years the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale has become a match used to get everyone on the main roster some camera time during WrestleMania. Because of the number of people on a pre-show match, they couldn’t make time to do any entrances. Despite the lack of build-up, Matt Hardy, Baron Corbin, and Dolph Ziggler stood out as favorites to win the Battle Royale. Those men joined Kane and Mojo Rawley in the final minutes of the match while superstars like Curt Hawkins, Titus O’Neill, and Primo Colon exited earlier.

Ziggler tried to hit the Zig Zag, but Kane flipped him out of the ring for an elimination. Baron Corbin trailed close behind him to remove the (literal) biggest threat remaining.  Rawley and Corbin teamed up on Hardy, and Bray Wyatt’s music played. Wyatt teleported into the ring as the lights turned on and tossed Rawley over to Hardy who propelled him over the top rope. Corbin took out Wyatt, but Hardy suddenly flipped him ringside when he countered a reckless charge attempt.

The production team must have messed something up because there was a pause after Corbin’s exit where no one was sure if Wyatt was legal. After watching the televised version, it still seemed hard to pick up what happened until they stood together victorious. Wyatt has joined the Hardy stable and hopes to have a much better year than this past one. This match was serviceable for a pre-show opener, and it gets close to three stars because of Wyatt’s appearance having some entertainment value.

Bray Wyatt wins the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale (2.25 Stars)

Cruiserweight Championship Match: Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali

Paul Levesque (Triple H) has done wonders with 205 Live after taking a larger role in the executive world of WWE. As I talked about in my review of NXT TakeOver, Levesque has a different style than Vince and TakeOver has become one of the most beloved pay-per-view series of this generation. The main roster has a whole different challenge because they have multiple hour shows, but 205 Live is only one hour much like NXT. With the addition of Drake Maverick as GM, 205 Live has gotten better week by week. Now that a champion has been crowned, the show can begin to develop a deeper story.

Ali and Alexander had a good, not great, match together as they worked the gimmick that they were friends. Ali hit the inverted 450 (the 054), but Alexander got his foot on the rope to break the fall. Alexander countered the 054 the second time Ali tried it and begged Ali to stay down as he hit three elbows and a Lumbar Check to pin him. The face against face matchup was a bit overplayed on this pay-per-view, but this match allowed the purple brand to get two of their biggest babyfaces over with a mainstream audience.

Cedric Alexander def. Mustafa Ali via pinfall to win the Cruiserweight Championship (3 stars)

WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royale:

The Women’s Battle Royale had entrances by Becky Lynch, Bayley, and Sasha Banks. The rest of the women on both rosters filed out along with some NXT girls including Dakota Kai, Kairi Sane, and Bianca Belair. Sane and Belair had two of the best spots in an otherwise underwhelming match, but they were during a commercial, so only the live audience got to enjoy it in real time. Taynara Conti, Kavita Devi, and Peyton Royce also joined the NXT contingency, but Billie Kay was not with Royce. They took over for the beginning of the match but were eventually all eliminated to leave Sarah Logan, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Ruby Riott in the ring.

Bayley and Banks looked past their troubles and eliminated Riott and Logan. The two embraced, but Bayley tossed her out continuing their breakup angle. Naomi snuck back in as she had gone out of the ring under the ropes. Bayley pleaded with the officials that she wasn’t legal, but Naomi hit the Rear View and tossed her out for the victory. Inside the building, we were going nuts for Bayley’s turn and Naomi’s surprise victory. The feeling I got was that we were happy the women had actual storylines at WrestleMania and that the future looks bright.

Naomi wins the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royale (2 Stars)

Main Card:

Intercontinental Championship Triple Threat Match: The Miz (C) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor

When Rollins music played first, the crowd popped because we knew this was the best match to open the show. Balor came out with a crowd of people behind him wearing pro-LGBT shirts that matched his gear. Good on him for using his platform to promote diversity and positivity.

The match started off with several quick pin attempts that played to how hot the crowd was. Balor quickly dove over the top rope and took out both Miz and Rollins who were ringside. Rollins responded with a double-Blockbuster from the middle rope on both his opponents for a near fall. The crowd stayed involved the whole time, but the match on RAW last week between Rollins and Balor was probably better.

Rollins and Balor teased the injury spot from SummerSlam 2016, but Balor got out of it with a slingblade. The Miz capitalized with a Skull Crushing Finale after Rollins hit the Falcon Arrow on Balor, but the Architect miraculously kicked out. Balor broke up another pin attempt with a Coup De Gras on Miz as he laid on top of Rollins. The fans presumed Balor had won it, but Rollins hit the curb stomp and went for the pin. A superkick to the face of Miz later and Rollins has his Grand Slam completed with IC title.

Seth Rollins def. the Miz and Finn Balor to become the Intercontinental Champion (4 Stars)

SmackDown Women’s Championship Match: Charlotte (C) vs. Asuka

In our predictions article, I said that there was no way Charlotte would win. Once again, Vince McMahon has made a fool of me and half the wrestling community by providing a finish no one expected. Charlotte won what was probably the best technical match on the show. Most of the match was elite back and forth wrestling with teased submission attempts. Everything looked very clean and no one there was sure who would win. Late in the match, Charlotte started crying. I was confused by this, but she may have just been overwhelmed by the call for her to win. Charlotte got Asuka into the Figure Eight and tapped after holding out for a while. She grabbed the mic after the match and said, “Charlotte was ready for Asuka, congratulations.”

I thought this was the best match on the show as I was literally out of my seat when Asuka tapped. Days later I’m still trying to process what I saw and what it meant and here’s what I’ve got. The Flair’s are the greatest family in the history of wrestling according to Vince. Asuka’s streak was handcuffing her, so losing was a way to open up her booking. I think the streak could’ve surpassed 1000 days and lost at the next big four pay-per-view without it getting old, but I understand the desire for a clean slate at the beginning of a new wrestling year.

Charlotte retains the SmackDown Women’s Championship against Asuka via submission (4.5 Stars)

United States Championship Fatal Four Way Match: Randy Orton (C) vs. Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev

This match felt not very entertaining. There were some sound spots, but nothing built to a climax. Rusev and Mahal found themselves alone in the ring, and the fans finally got behind their favorite Bulgarian Brute. As Rusev locked in the Accolade, Jinder rolled over to where Sunil Singh was climbing the ropes. Rusev delivered a Macha Kick to knock Singh to the ground, but that distraction allowed Mahal to set up the Khallas. With the victory by Mahal, AJ Styles remains the only person who has kicked out of the finisher since it got its name.

Mahal is getting pushed again to play to the Indian market as the WWE continues to increase their global reach. Only this time, it’s not a bad idea because Jinder is a decent mid-card heel. Greatest Royal Rumble will be held in Saudi Arabia later this month, so they could be playing up their diversity before going overseas. This match had the weakest storyline going into the show, and the match dragged because of it.

Jinder Mahal def. Rusev, Bobby Roode, and Randy Orton to become the new United States Champion (2.75 Stars)

Mixed Tag Match: Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon and Triple H

I expected this match to be a quick debut for Rousey with some small choreographed spots. She and Stephanie did so much more than they were expected to, they helped put on the most entertaining match on the show. Because of the age of both Triple H and Angle and the lack of ring experience Rousey and McMahon had, there were spots that came off sloppy. The story told, however, was exciting and well-paced.

The men started in the ring, with Stephanie lowering the ropes to force Angle out of the ring. The early moments of the match were about building suspense for Rousey’s entrance. HHH teased the spot where he hit his wife last year by accident, but they had learned to work better together. Angle got HHH out of the ring and tagged Rousey in while McMahon desperately called for her husband’s help. Rousey looked like a natural. Her punches were quick and clean, and she can work a crowd naturally. McMahon impossibly avoided the armbar submission for most of the match, which is the one criticism most people have of it.

Triple H interfered and dragged Rousey out of the ring when she told him she was “going to continue beating up [his] wife.” HHH fought off Angle and went to help his wife up, but as she rolled out of the ring, he realized Rousey had entered the ring behind him. The two confronted each other and HHH put the ref in the corner as if to say, “it doesn’t matter what you say, we’re fighting.” Rousey attacked the COO, and he sold like crazy until she hoisted him up onto her shoulders. Stephanie saved her husband and then Angle made his comeback against him. McMahon played savior again, but Angle caught her leg, and after the crowd egged him on he put her in the Ankle Lock.

Triple H came in with a pedigree to break the submission, but Rousey made yet another timely comeback to break the fall. Rousey hit a Hurricanrana on HHH and then the armbar. Stephanie got the rear-naked choke on the exposed neck of Rousey, but the former UFC champion quickly reversed it into another armbar. In a final attempt of desperation, the corporate team looked to hit a double Pedigree on the Olympic team but got countered by Kurt Angle to get the women isolated in the ring. Rousey teased the armbar and then tried to rip McMahon’s arm off until the ref separated them.

This was one of the best debuts in WWE history, and Ronda Rousey exceeded everyone’s expectation as she has done in nearly everything she’s tried in combat sports. She looks like an elite wrestler that will be the face of this era of women’s wrestling once it’s looked back on.

Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle def. Stephanie McMahon and Triple H via submission (4.25 Star)

SmackDown Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Match: The Usos (C) vs. The New Day vs. the Bludgeon Brothers

In person, this match came off like a two-minute squash. The crowd was still cooling down from the mixed tag match, and there was hardly a reaction for the finish. On television, it was more competitive with the Usos and New Day attempting to get their big moves in on the Bludgeon Brothers. Harper and Rowan continued their destructive ways by pinning Kofi Kingston with a jumping powerbomb from the second rope. The title change needed to happen, but the Bludgeon Brothers will have to have a real storyline now that they hold the belts.

The Bludgeon Brothers def. the Usos and the New Day via pinfall to become the new SmackDown Tag Team Champions (2.25 Stars)

The Undertaker Returns

When John Cena ran backstage from his seat in the crowd, we all knew the presumption was that the Undertaker was here. The commentary furthered that narrative but put a more practical spin on the fact that Cena hadn’t revealed who was actually there for a match. So when Elias came out, the fans there were much more shocked than I assume the fans at home were about the twist. After rationalizing what I saw, I figured Taker would be coming out next, but I got stuck on the fact that this was a genius way to get Elias heat.

Elias’ concert took aim at Cena and quickly they found themselves in a fight in favor of Cena. Cena hit the Five Knuckle Shuffle and AA to Elias, forcing the Drifter to crawl out of the ring and backstage as the crowd demanded Undertaker. Cena’s music played, and he walked back halfway disappointed. Halfway up the ramp his music stopped, the lights went off, and smoke filled the entryway. A spotlight in the ring showed Taker’s hat and gloves that lightning struck, and it disappeared. The gong rang, and Undertaker returned from his year-long absence to the WWE. The introduction was surreal, but it must have lasted longer than the actual match.

The match was a two-minute highlight reel that allowed Taker to get in all his signature moves. The takeaway from this is that he’s too old to be in an actual match, but he’s booked against Chris Jericho for Greatest Royal Rumble later this month. Maybe he can still have a good lengthy match, but this didn’t indicate that. Seeing him live was beyond description, but he’s earned the right hang up his boots without anything but a thank you.

Undertaker def. John Cena via pinfall (1.75 Stars)

Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owen and Sami Zayn

In addition to this being the much-anticipated return of Daniel Bryan, this match also determines whether Owens and Zayn keep their jobs on SmackDown. When Bryan entered, the crowd went ballistic, but Owens and Zayn powerbombed him into the apron to leave him injured. If the world hadn’t already waited three years for this man to wrestle again, this would’ve been ok, but because there was already so much anticipation surrounding his comeback this gimmick felt unnecessary.

The crowd died until Bryan came back, but it took most of the match and him waving off a stretcher to get there. McMahon sold the partially legitimate injury news that came out two weeks ago, and it looked like he should probably not be wrestling anymore. His Coast to Coast was classic, but much like Undertaker, this guy’s given enough of his body to earn his in-ring retirement.  Bryan’s comeback came right around the time McMahon looked ready to get pinned, but we still had to wait for the tag to happen. Seriously, people waited long enough by that point to deserve Daniel Bryan actually wrestling. Bryan’s comeback was what we expected, he went nuts and delivered all his signature moves. There’s no doubt he can become the best wrestler in WWE, and probably the world, now that he’s between the ropes again.

After Bryan hit the Yes Kicks, he got the Yes Lock on Zayn causing him to tap. Now, Owens and Zayn don’t have a job, so they’ll have to move to RAW barring any storyline developments. This match was great, but they didn’t need to tease Bryan to get him over. Five hours into a seven-hour pay-per-view has the fans tired enough that waiting hurt more than helped.

Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon def. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn via submission (3.75 Stars)

RAW Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (C) vs. Nia Jax

Leading into WrestleMania, the build-up to this match was the best of all the storylines done on weekly television. Bliss’ bully tactics were exposed, and Jax became the sympathetic babyface she always was supposed to be. Jax’s size is used as a platform to tell girls of all sizes that they are beautiful and can do anything. It’s a good message to send when you have a PG audience, but the match may have suffered because we knew who the more dominant woman was.

Bliss tried to rake the eyes and do anything she could to escape the fury of Jax, but it was a futile attempt. Both the champion and Mickie James got throttled by the Irresistible Force as she won her first women’s championship. One impressive spot was when Jax held Bliss over her head for an extended period to show off her strength before slamming her into the mat.

Nia Jax def. Alexa Bliss via pinfall to win the RAW Women’s Championship (3 Stars)

WWE Championship Match: AJ Styles (C) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

This was touted as a dream match from the minute it was booked, and it may have disappointed those who have seen the match between these two in New Japan. Questions around Shinsuke’s body breaking down have swirled as being the reason for his move to the WWE, and it could be the case as I was left expecting more from him. Styles was excellent in this match even with the knee injury a few weeks ago lingering.

There was something going on in the crowd that took attention away from the ring and getting back into the match took time. It wasn’t that they were bad, or even average, they were actually very good against each other. It was more that this match had been hyped up like a dream match so much that the fans probably weren’t going to settle for anything less than a five-star match.

Nakamura hit the Kinshasa to the back of Styles’ head after saying he’d beat him with a “knee to face” every week. Styles kicked out and the presumption was that he would take a Kinshasa to the face to fulfill the prophecy. That never happened though, as Styles hit the Styles Clash and pinned Nakamura shockingly to retain his title. After the match, Nakamura presented the title to Styles after the two embraced. As he knelt in front of Styles and handed off the belt, Nakamura struck a low blow turning heel. The beatdown he gave AJ was better than anything we saw in the match. By all indication, heel Nakamura will be much better than face Nakamura. The turn after this match earned it four stars, but I expect the next match to have enough storyline to deliver on the “dream match” distinction it’s has.

AJ Styles def. Shinsuke Nakamura via pinfall to retain the WWE Championship (4 stars)

RAW Tag Team Championship Match: Sheamus and Cesaro (C) vs. Braun Strowman and a Mystery Partner

Before the match started, Braun ended the speculation on who his partner would be. He said that it would be a member of the audience and marched around the floor looking for his new partner. He grabbed a ten-year-old boy named Nicholas who was obviously planted, but many don’t know he was referee John Cone’s son. Cone was the ref for this match, meaning he handed his son a title belt and didn’t break character.

Strowman took care of the in-ring work while the crowd begged for Nicholas. Although I thought this was a stupid gimmick used to get Braun out of the tag picture and on the WrestleMania card, I also thought this was awesome and I was screaming for Nicholas. Nicholas briefly tagged in, but after seeing Cesaro next to him, he quickly tagged back out. Strowman caught Cesaro and delivered a Running Powerslam to claim the tag team titles with a ten-year-old as a partner.

Braun Strowman and Nicholas def. the Bar via pinfall to win the RAW Tag Team Championships (.75 Stars)

Universal Championship Match: Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Roman Reigns

For over a year we knew that the plan was to coronate Roman Reigns as the company’s next big star at WrestleMania this year by defeating Brock Lesnar. The fans have relentlessly booed him wherever he’s gone, but recently they’ve cheered him in his program with Lesnar. That all changed when this match started as boos flooded the stadium so much that had to cut the crowd audio for Roman’s televised entrance.

During the match, literally, no one was paying attention. There were beach balls all over the floor sections with cops trying to stop them from distracting the audience. Every time a beach ball was confiscated there were boos and every time one got back into play there were cheers. I wasn’t able to pay attention to the actual match until the third kick out of an F-5. I was disgusted by the audience’s determination to let Vince know they didn’t care about his main event. If I pay for WrestleMania and don’t like the main event, I’m still watching it because it’s going to be good.

Reigns and Lesnar had a very good match, but it was no doubt overshadowed by how much the crowd hated it. “This is awful” chants came during a match that was not even close to being terrible. Brock Lesnar went much longer than he has in a long time, and Roman Reigns kicked out of the F-5. That hasn’t happened all year so when Lesnar kicked out of Roman’s Spear, I got concerned about what would happen next. Reigns would take five F-5s before he started bleeding. The blood was coming out so heavy it looked impossible to fake, but t also had that crimson look the blood packets have. Either way, it looked intense and was the sole time the crowd seemed engaged.

Lesnar dropped Reigns with a sixth F-5 and retained his title to the shock of everyone in the wrestling world. The finish was known only by McMahon, Lesnar, and possibly Romana Reigns. The referee found out during the match that Brock would win, making this one of the great works in the history of the WWE. After the match, Lesnar and Vince had an argument that involved slamming the title against the wall next to McMahon and Shane McMahon threatening the champion. The WWE overthought themselves into this mess when they could’ve gotten Braun over by handing him the title and letting Brock walk.

Brock Lesnar def. Roman Reigns via pinfall to retain the Universal Championship (3.5 Stars)

 

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David Rosenberg

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