Movies, Video Games, Theatre…and now wrestling. Or could it fall into the category of Theatre? Either way, here’s my spoiler free review of both the Wrestlemania Pre-Show and the main show itself:
1. Neville vs Austin Aries for the WWE Cruiserweight Title:
This was a good match – I would have preferred it on the main card, but chances are, not enough people are watching 205 Live, and I can understand that…but you should, because it’s starting to get better. They put on a 19 minute match that would have made an excellent TV Main Event, and Austin Aries even pulls out an old favourite from his past repertoire. ***3/4
2. The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal
This was the first chaotic match of the night and is effectively the equivalent of the opening match Battle Royal that New Japan has at Wrestling Kingdom on January 4th, only here there’s a big gold trophy that resembles Fezzik from The Princess Bride at the end. The match had many wrestlers worthy of their own matches on the card, including the Smackdown Tag Team Champions the Usos, American Alpha, Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn and Luke Harper. It also features the Wrestlemania debut of the Northern Irish Wrestler Killian Dain, who is currently being built as a monster heel in NXT as part of the stable Sanity, as well as the Wrestlemania debut of the 22 year old Rookie from China, Tian Bing. The winner made me go “huh? Really?” But in general, it exists to get folk on the show and give them a bonus in their pay-checks. *
3. Dean Ambrose vs Baron Corbin for the WWE Intercontinental Championship
Once again this felt like an okay TV Match between the 2, with some good moves executed by both men. Little stood out, but hey, the IC Belt was defended at Wrestlemania. **1/4
Now onto the Main Show:
The New Day are hosting. Last year they came out dressed as Dragonball Z Characters and this year their theme was Final Fantasy (Because they’re nerds and this show is sponsored by Final Fantasy 14) – they did a good job in getting he crowd wakened up again.
4. AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon
What an excellent way to open the show! And what a great way to show off what Shane has learned from 1 of the newest hobbies; MMA. This match comes across as AJ Styles showing us why he should have been much further up the card and in the WWE Title match between Orton and Wyatt. After his lack of direction in his final years in TNA Wrestling and his renaissance in New Japan Pro Wrestling followed by his WWE Debut last year (1 of the best 1st years WWE has had since Kurt Angle), it’s safe to say that Styles has a lot that he still wants to prove, and why not prove it by putting on the match of the night against the son of your boss, who is 46 years old and still a bit mental. The match was just over 20 minutes, but it deserved each 1. The spots were excellent, and included some very pleasant surprises. Thoroughly enjoyed it. ****1/4
5. Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho for the WWE United States Championship
This is 1 of those matches that doesn’t stand quite as well without its story beforehand. Throughout 2016 and up to this point, Chris Jericho (who, like Shane McMahon, is also 46) has had an excellent year which includes some good 4-star matches to his already legendary name. Throughout this time he wrestled more often as part of a tag team. His partner? The then WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens. Kevin Owens is 32, and when he was growing up, 1 of his favourite wrestlers was Chris Jericho. Their duo was easily the most entertaining part of RAW for most of the year. During which, Jericho captured the US Championship from Roman Reigns with the help of Owens in a Handicap match. Then Jericho goes too far with the absolutely fabulous segment known as “The Festival Of Friendship”, where Jericho expresses to Owens his undying bromance with his favourite guy in the whole world…Only for Owens to turn on him like a fan who sees his Hero become something he hates (Think “The Incredibles”). Later on, Jericho interferes with Owens’ match against Goldberg at WWE Fastlane, leading to Owens losing his title in 22 seconds and pressing on to this match. It was a classic Hero vs Fan story on paper, and while it was a good match in itself, it was like watching a good main event on RAW. ***1/2
6. Bayley vs Charlotte vs Nia Jax vs Sasha Banks for the WWE Raw Women’s Title
This match was under Elimination rules and ended up being well told. You don’t have to guess who the faces and heels are in this match, and in terms of eliminations, much of the booking made a lot of sense. It also has some pretty pleasant surprises. Though it was just under 13 minutes long, the match felt short, which is what happens when you remember them wrestling for 20 to 30 minutes on NXT back in 2015. I enjoyed it, but I felt it could have lasted 5 more minutes to make it that extra bit special. ***3/4
7. Big Cass and Enzo Amore vs Cesaro and Sheamus vs The Club vs ??? in a Fatal Four Way Ladder Match for the WWE RAW Tag Team Title
New Day came out after everybody entered the ring to announce that this match went from a 3-way tag to a 4 way at the last minute – and oh how excellent that was! A particular team of legend returned, and the crowd went absolutely nuts! The match itself was excellent fun, but also about 5-10 minutes too short. It was an action movie of a match with few pauses and something going on all the time. The secret team haven’t missed a beat, and the new chants they created on the Indies rang throughout the arena. Really enjoyed this, and definitely woke me up after the last 2 matches didn’t rank with AJ/Shane. ****
8. John Cena and Nikki Bella vs The Miz and Maryse in a mixed tag match.
The only people who would get anything out of this match are people who watch Total Divas. However it wasn’t a bad match for what it is. The Miz was actually very over with the crowd – but within the context that John Cena is used to having “Cena Sucks” chants, while The Miz has actually gotten really, really good over the last year. You would think he finally hit his prime at 36, that’s how much of a smack it was. Kind of surreal. It was all very usual, and the post-match was a very sweet moment. *1/2
9. Seth Rollins vs Triple H w/Stephanie McMahon in a Non-Sanctioned Match
At Summerslam 2002, Triple H wrestled this style of match against a then uncertain-if-he-wants-to-return-to-wrestling Shawn Michaels in what was a show stealing match that amazed fans who saw it either live or the next day. However, the circumstances between this match and that 1 are quite different. While Michaels was contemplating on returning after being out with a back injury from 4 years prior – Seth Rollins was only just about cleared to wrestle this match after an in-ring accident with the then-debuting Samoa Joe accidentally aggravated the very knee that not only put him out of action for 6 months, but also stripped him of the WWE Title, his match at Wrestlemania 32, and put him out for 2 months this year. Desperate to make it happen, they turned this into a Non-Sanctioned match, and since it was a grunge match involving the Boss of NXT vs the 1st NXT Champion (who he built up to be a star and eventual WWE Champion), it seemingly wrote itself. It was very story-driven with Rollins relegating his most dangerous moves to spots and even selling the knee during pivotal moments. While the match went on for 25 minutes (Which, to be fair, could have been shorter and given to the 2 matches before this), it was still well done despite Rollins actually being in questionable condition. Triple H was in excellent shape for 47 – like a bald, big-bearded version of his 2002 self and slowly turning into the Heihachi Mishima of WWE…or Kratos today. It’s clear that at 100%, Rollins would have hit this match out of the park and put on at least 4.25 stars- but he did well despite his setbacks. ***3/4
10. Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt for the WWE Title
10. It’s hard to believe that once again the WWE Title isn’t the last match on the card – but when you consider who’s in the match, you can almost understand. After 3 years of waiting, Bray Wyatt finally won his first WWE Championship back in February when he defeated 5 other wrestlers in the Elimination Chamber match, including AJ Styles, John Cena and Dean Ambrose. At the Royal Rumble, Randy Orton defeated 29 other wrestlers to become the number 1 contender for any world title when he eliminated Roman Reigns last. They had a story of “will he or won’t he” since Orton was part of the Wyatt Family when they were both scheduled to face other at this event. But eventually they did when Orton burned down the house of Wyatt’s unseen mentor Sister Abigail. The match was… good…boring, but good, if not a bit short (10 minutes). There was some gimmick-nonsense involving huge, blown-up videos of maggots, worms and cockroaches appearing on the ring’s mat in order to “psychologically disturb Orton because Bray’s a psycho” – but other than that quite typical, but also quite anti-climatic. ***
11. Brock Lesnar (w/ Paul Heyman) vs Bill Goldberg for the WWE Universal Title
People were actually scared of this match, or at least they weren’t necessarily looking forward to it…because this is their third match…and anybody who witnessed the other 2 can tell you a lot about what was going through their heads before either man stepped into the ring. Their 1st match was at Wrestlemania 20 in 2004 – both men were leaving the company, the crowd didn’t get into the match, and it ended up being a 14 minute pile of dull, and more dull. It was by far the most disappointing match, possibly in Wrestlemania history. Fast forward to today, and Paul Heyman actually told a fantastic story about this feud. That Goldberg is the heroic Knight, and Brock Lesnar is the beast he had to slay. After the Knight beat the monster, he rode off into the sunset. But the beast didn’t…instead the beast went to UFC and became an even more dangerous wrestler than ever before. The Knight then returned after 12 years away, and showed the Beast that he “still had it in him”, by beating the Beast just over 1 minute. Now it’s the third match. This…is the best possible Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg match. By far! It lasted less than 5 minutes…and that’s exactly what it it needed to be. The 50 year old Goldberg doesn’t do military slams anymore – it’s all about the spear and the Jackhammer. Brock Lesnar is almost entirely about 2 things – german suplexes and F-5s…and that’s all they did…and it worked! It was the best match they could have ever had against each other – no real rest holds, just 2 guys trying to get the pin early. It was the match they should have had 13 years ago, but that’s okay. They did it. It’s settled. We can now say they had a decent match. Not quite Shibata vs Ishii. But still good. ***
12. The WWE Smackdown Women’s Title Six Pack Challenge, featuring Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, Carmella, Mickie James, Naomi and Natalya
This was the second chaotic match on the card, and despite to its position, it doesn’t mean it’s as highly ranked as the 2 world titles – instead it’s a bathroom break before the main event. There was little to no structure in this match when compared to the RAW Women’s title earlier on, and the only memorable thing about it was probably the winner. DUD
13. Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker.
This didn’t feel like it lasted 23 minutes…or at least I don’t think so, as I was running on yoghurt, bread, cheese and lots of water (forgot to buy energy drinks before the show and kettles are noisy at 5AM in a full house) – but anyway, here we are again, the 3rd Wrestlemania in a row were Roman Reigns is in the main event. First he challenged for the WWE title, then he challenged for the WWE title again, and now he’s going after the unofficial wrestlemania title – which is to say that you had a match against The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Undertaker looked almost like his old self again with his hair all long and everything dyed black for the evening. While he’s in vastly better shape compared to 3 years ago, it’s clear that age and injuries caught up on him long ago and it’s all borrowed time from here. Either way, he managed to have quite a good match against Roman Reigns. It was nowhere near the calibre of his matches against Triple H, Shawn Michaels or CM Punk – but it was still a fair match, despite its predictability. The crowd was incredibly hostile towards Roman, and there was even a sign that said “Roman Reigns Is A Holocaust Denier”…I’m guessing some of us are trying to top the Wank-Pheasant sign this year. The post-match was also incredibly memorable. If you’re not sure about the match, at least watch what happened afterwards. ***
In conclusion it was a good show. The best matches were very good but not absolute classics. A majority of them were above average and on par with good TV matches. Some of them really brought my overall score down, whether it’s because they’re too short or boring or pointless or predictable in a bad taste sort of way. The surprise entrants for the RAW Tag titles was the best part, Shane vs AJ was the best match, and compared to other Wrestlemanias, to say the least there have been much, much worse…more matches than a factory-full here.