You can’t exactly watch wrestling and expect it to be serious. No, not even in Japan. But what we saw Sunday night, at WrestleMania 34, was enough to leave the even most seasoned Japan-loving, two-sweeting, what-chanting smarks scratching their heads. What seemed at first glance like a strong card devolved quickly into a mishmash of bizarre booking, screwed up finishes, and even some good old-fashioned passive racism.
The most galling part of Mania was just how good the show should have been. And despite a card full of missteps (which we’ll get to), there were some real bright spots.
H is For Hurricanrana
The biggest highlight was also its most surprising: a debuting “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey actually bumped, punched, and wrestled like a superstar. Breaking out body drops, punches, and even a hurricanrana, Rousey was a firecracker booked like the unstoppable monster she is. Stephanie McMahon was in her element as a conniving heel, and it’s hard to put Triple H and Kurt Angle in a ring together and not get something great. But it was the moment that Rousey stepped into the ring with Triple H, a multiple time WWE Heavyweight Champ twice her size, and even got the jump on the veteran, that the match truly became great. Even wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, known to be extremely discerning in his tastes, called it a “perfect match.”
Ice Walkers, Woken Matt, An The Awoken Walking Dead
Other highlights included: Undertaker came back and looked better than he has in years as he squashed John Cena, a big win in the Intercontinental Championship match by newly-minted Grand Slam champ Seth Rollins, and a WONDERFUL victory in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal by “Woken” Matt Hardy (thanks to an assist from his former nemesis Bray Wyatt). But Wrestlemania was a seven-hour show, and a LOT can go wrong in seven hours.
More Like Schmain Event
In the past, main events have been where the biggest moments of Wrestlemania are made. Hogan bodyslamming Andre at III, the boyhood dream at XII, or Austin’s turn at X-7. But the match Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns had on Sunday probably won’t be making any highlight reels anytime soon. Unless it’s a mix of “bloodiest matches.” Or perhaps “most finishers spammed in a minute.” Even compared to past bouts between Reigns and Brock, their match was a limited affair.
After about a million suplexes and more overhyped superman punches than a Zach Snyder movie, the match finally devolved into F-5 after F-5. An obvious attempt to book Roman as a never-give-up babyface, the crowd quickly turned. But, as the boos and “boring” chants rained down (along with Roman’s blood), somehow a dumb match got an even dumber ending. After three years of build and a near-expected end to Brock’s yearlong reign, the WWE decided to toss everything out and have the Universal champ retained. All of the building, the burying of stars like Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe, and the sheer insanity of the match; it all led to nothing. Brock is still champion, Roman seems like a stubborn idiot, and nearly every fan walked out of the Superdome pissed off.
R-K-Glow Out Of Nowhere
The women of WWE didn’t get away from the bad booking, as the writers still seem to have no idea how to write them. At the first ever Women’s Battle Royale, the women alternated between factional in-fighting and betrayals. Women rolled out without being eliminated, teams betrayed each other, and the camera had no idea what it was doing. When fan favorite Becky Lynch got tossed out, one of three women to get an entrance, the crowd started to turn.
The match seemed salvageable when it came down to former friends Sasha and Bayley as the final two, but even WWE had to mess that up. After she turned Sasha’s friendly handshake into an elimination, Bayley seemed like the winner. But then, for no reason, former champ Naomi emerged from under the ring, hit Bayley with her ass, and then tossed her out. Bayley, Sasha, and the crowd could only stare as the winner, who had seemingly sat off-screen for most of the match, danced and smiled in the middle of the ring. The problem is not Naomi, who is by all accounts an incredible athlete and amazing person, but with the choice to have her win so anticlimactically.
WWE seems to be on a quest to make “guaranteed title shots” a thing of the past. Over the course of Wrestlemania, both of WWE’s Royal Rumble winners lost clean to their opponents.
Young Upstart Charlotte Flair Gets The Rub
The crowd went wild at Wrestlemania 34 as the undefeated Asuka tapped out to SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair at the grandest stage of them all. Flair, a mere seven-time champion in the WWE at the tender age of 32, defeated the seemingly unstoppable “Empress of Tomorrow” after a well-fought match. Working over the arm of the “Queen” in order to set up her Asuka Lock, the challenger pulled off some amazing moves like a smooth as hell moonsault reversal. But the brave and selfless Asuka didn’t need the win here and ended up tapping out to her opponent after she’d locked in a weaker, one-handed version of her figure-eight leglock. After such a clean and sudden win, which does nothing to devalue a woman who hasn’t lost a match in over two years, the humbled challenger held the retaining champ’s arm up and declared that Charlotte had, in fact, been ready for Asuka. The future seems bright for Charlotte, and we can only hope that her defeat of Asuka can help finally catapult her into the upper echelons of the WWE.
Kneel Before The White Boy
As if the formerly unstoppable Japanese woman jobbing to the super blonde amazon wasn’t worrying enough, they had Shinsuke Nakamura lose clean to WWE Champion AJ Styles. And unlike Asuka v. Charlotte, the match didn’t even compensate for the end.
Considering the history these two wrestlers had with each other, nearly everyone expected this to tear the roof off. Instead, we got a slow, plodding match that made even the relatively smarky Mania crowd go quiet. After losing to a quick Styles Clash, Shinsuke stood, retrieved AJ’s championship, and then KNEELED before AJ. In one motion, Shinsuke seemed to create a perfect metaphor for what happened to the Japanese wrestlers that seemed so promising just months ago. Although the segment was saved by a Nakamura heel turn and beat down, the fact remains that WWE still couldn’t let either Japanese wrestler go over their chosen ones.
There’s barely room for all the weirdness that happened at Mania this year. So much of it was neither good nor bad, but it sure was strange.
- 27-year vet Goldust dabbed
- Miz wore whatever this is
- The New Day came out with dancing pancakes
- Nia Jax dressed like this
- Jinder Mahal won another championship
- Alexa Bliss made this face
- A ten-year-old became Raw Tag Team Champs with Braun Strowman
- “Woken” Matt Hardy had a catchphrase fight with Tye Dillinger
- And the Miz, again, came out dressed like this
All pessimism aside, WrestleMania 34 was still one of the weakest Manias in years. There just wasn’t enough going right on Sunday night to make up for what was going wrong. If there was ever a sign that maybe seven hours is too long for one event, Wrestlemania 34 might be it.
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