Monday, April 3, 2017
Seeing Austin Aries on WrestleMania was surreal. Putting this on the pre-show was the best move. On the main show, they might’ve been restricted to five or so minutes. Instead, they got 15:37 and made it work. I appreciated that they didn’t go for the typical spotty match and used a slower start to build to something more. Aries hitting the heat seeking missile got a pop from me. Their finishing stretch was awesome and Aries even busted out the 450 splash. Neville kicking out of it didn’t bother me since Aries hasn’t established it as a finish in WWE. The finish was great with Aries digging into Aries’ old eye injury to open the door for the Red Arrow. I see I liked this more than most but it was, to me, the first great Cruiserweight Title match since the belt returned.
No surprises in there this year. Only Big Show and Braun got entrances. The big surprise came when, after eliminating Big Show, Braun Strowman was eliminated by everyone. Most people, myself included, saw him winning. The other favorites like Luke Harper and Sami Zayn were also dumped out. It came down to NXT’s Killian Dane, Mojo Rawley and Jinder fucking Mahal. Mahal threw a drink at Mojo’s friend Rob Gronkowski in the front row. Rob hopped the guardrail and tackled Mojo for the WRESTLEMANIA MOMENT! Mojo eliminated Dane and Mahal and won at 14:07. I wasn’t as upset with the result as a lot of people. The match was standard battle royal fare.
People were not happy this was moved to the Kickoff Show. I don’t know if it played a part in how the match turned out but I could totally see that being the case. Both guys, especially Corbin, looked pissed. They worked a match with little to no heat, which was disappointing because their feud has been rather great. They did stuff but none of it really connected. Dean countered the End of Days into Dirty Deeds to pick up the win at 10:44. It felt like neither guy put their best foot forward. I hope something is being saved for a better match, preferably with a stipulation, at the next Smackdown PPV.
There’s a lot of talk about who the best wrestler in the world is. For me, there’s no question or debate. It’s AJ Styles. He proved it again on this show. AJ helped carry a non-wrestler to a great wrestling match. Not one that relied on smoke and mirrors either. The story early was that AJ was overconfident because a straight up wrestling match is his domain. Shane made him rethink things by busting out some solid grappling of his own. It never felt like Shane was better than AJ, just that AJ took him too lightly and it cost him. They advanced to strikes, where Shane seemed to get the better. We got a ref bump, but it worked here. AJ went for Shane’s coast to coast spot but Shane threw a trash can at him. He then showed that he can hit the coast to coast still. Shane, the wild man that he is, tried a goddamn shooting star press, but missed. AJ hit the Phenomenal Forearm for his first Mania win at 20:28. This was better than it had any right to be and better than both guys’ Mania matches last year. They told a great story, had lots of action and AJ bumped his ass off for Shane. My only major gripe was Shane kicking out of the Styles Clash. That should be protected. AJ Styles is the GOAT.
The order of the matches on this show was weird. Chris Jericho’s entrance was a thing of beauty. He had a giant List of Jericho, brought back the countdown and had a light up scarf. The match itself delivered. Kevin Owens talked all kinds of trash in between his offense. He’s such a great bastard. They brought out some cool spots and counters. Owens turning a rana into his own Walls of Jericho was cool but Jericho topped it by countering a cannonball into one. We got another finisher kickout when Jericho survived the Popup Powerbomb. He tried again but Jericho turned it into an awesome Codebreaker. Owens broke the pin by getting ONE FINGER on the bottom rope. JUST LIKE THE PAINTING FROM THE FESTIVAL OF FRIENDSHIP! Owens hit the apron powerbomb to win the title at 16:46. A top notch match and this Mania was off to a rocking start. I loved how they knew each other so well that they had to dig deep and pull out new things. Owens resorting to the apron bomb was awesome since he only uses it when he really needs it.
Sasha got a special entrance and was driven to the ring. She knew to avoid that ramp. Usually, I prefer an elimination stipulation since it means the winner has to truly earn it. However, I think it hurt this match. Things felt rushed at times. Nia dominated at first, so the other three teamed up and Shield powerbombed her out after about four minutes. BACK TO THE SAME THREE WOMEN RAW HAS SHOWCASED FOR MONTHS. Charlotte did her insane twisting plancha spot. Anti-climactically, Sasha was sent into the middle turnbuckle (which was supposed to be exposed judging by commentary) and eliminated. So she STILL can’t beat Charlotte on PPV. Also, why not do something with the Bayley/Sasha teases they’ve been building for weeks? Bayley and Charlotte did their standard back and forth before Bayley won with the elbow drop at 12:04. I don’t understand any of this. The match was fine enough but things didn’t make sense. Why not save Bayley’s big win for this show? Sure she showed she’s not a paper champion but that’s not enough. This could’ve been special. Also, no Sasha/Bayley stuff was lame and Bayley winning with the elbow lacked something.
Yes, before the match the New Day introduced the returning Hardy Boyz to a MONSTER pop. It was a great “holy shit” moment even though the rumors had been swirling for a while. I was never a huge Hardys fan but even I marked. I have to give props to commentary for to shoving “WRESTLEMANIA MOMENT” down our throats during this. I dug this match because it did what some matches on this show failed to. It didn’t go overly long and was jam-packed with action. Cesaro and Sheamus were the MVPs here for me. They beat the shit out of everyone and it was delightful. Enzo took a few bumps, Cass had some good moments and the Club were good heels throughout. Jeff, the madman that he is, pulled out a Swanton off a giant ladder like it was 2001 all over again. Matt retrieved the titles at 11:03 and the Hardys are champions again. Like I said, this was a blast with non-stop action, a great moment and it didn’t overstay its welcome.
Coming into this, you had to know what to expect. First, Maryse doesn’t wrestle anymore and Nikki needs time off to heal and is rumored to even possibly retire. So what we got was Miz and Cena handling the work but not trying to steal the show. Miz worked a heat on Cena and was great at talking shit to the fans and mocking Bryan. I got a chuckle out of seeing Cena give Nikki the hot tag. Nikki hit a suicide dive on Miz, who bumped wonderfully for her. The faces did stereo five knuckle shuffles and Attitude Adjustment/TKO spots to win at 9:36. This was fine for what it was, though they could’ve shaved off a few minutes from it. Then we got the moment it was all building towards, when Cena proposed to Nikki in the middle of the ring. Technically, doesn’t that validate Miz’s claims that Cena only does things for the camera?
Triple H got a weird entrance. Him as a biker with Stephanie was fine but the police escort was strange. I’ve read mixed things on this match. Some loved it and some hated it. I’m somewhere in the middle. It started hot. They hockey fought like they were Owens and Zayn, getting this off to the kind of start it needed. The crowd ate it up but I think things hit a lull in the middle. Parts of it felt like filler and you could tell they were going for this long match. I don’t see why Triple H keeps trying to work these long, methodical matches. It’s not his strong suit. He has hit at Mania before (Bryan, Taker, Benoit and HBK) but has missed a bunch too (Orton, Jericho, Sting, Brock, etc.) He worked the leg, which made sense. Seth fought through the pain because of how badly he wanted to get at Triple H but it just dragged at times. Seth’s rally was fine and the finish worked. Stephanie took a bump through a table, which was great and better than her getting speared last year. Seth did the suck it taunt to HHH and beat him with a Pedigree at 25:22. It felt every bit as long. They had good ideas but didn’t execute the way I wanted. It should’ve been more like HBK/HHH from SummerSlam 02. Play to your strengths and cut some of the tedious HHH offense.
This got lengthy build but I didn’t like all of it. I still say Randy should’ve been a real Wyatt and had the title come between them instead of being “undercover” the whole time. I wanted to like this but it was even worse than their shitty No Mercy match. I liked the mind games part where they kept projecting video of maggots, worms and roaches onto the ring. It was different and fit with the wacky feud. However, that was all there was to like. They didn’t mean much in the end anyway, since Orton won at 10:32 like it was nothing with an RKO. This felt rushed, they spammed finishers and had no cohesion. Also, why not keep the title on Bray? He had it just seven weeks and there was more to be done with him. Instead, it’s back to the status quo or yet another Randy reign and Bray looks like a joke again. Garbage.
I had no intentions of watching this match. I even left to the bathroom for a while once I heard it was on next. However, I was done and Goldberg was still making his entrance so I thought, “what the hell?” At first, I just thought the match was fine and kept to the right length, going just 4:45. Looking back though, if I take away my hatred for this angle and how much I don’t care to see either guy anymore, I must see this was expertly booked. They played to the strengths of both men. Brock took Goldberg to suplex city but Goldberg popped up and speared him twice. It played into Goldberg having Brock’s number no matter what Brock tried. Brock became one of, if not the only man to kick out of the Jackhammer before winning with the F5. It was explosive, told the right story and kept short and sweet. Kudos to them for that.
Naomi’s entrance in the big Mania stadium wasn’t quite as cool as I thought it would be. Somehow, both Mickie James and Becky Lynch dressed like Tatanka. The poor girls were given the death slot but props to them for trying hard. They had a lot of moving parts and not much time to get it all done. Each woman got a small moment to shine and I was particularly amused by the Alexa/Carmella interactions. There were a few sloppy moments but I can’t fully blame them because they were only given 5:32 to get a fair amount of shit in. Naomi won by making Alexa tap out. The crowd popped for the hometown girl though I don’t care for Naomi. I don’t think she’s championship material and is still painfully mediocre. Nice moment though. One thing I don’t like is how they made Alexa her bitch. Naomi beat her in several tags leading up to Elimination Chamber, beat her there and again here. Alexa never even got the best of her once. Anyway, this was fine energy and they worked hard.
Jim Ross joined commentary for this. They added a No Holds Barred stipulation at the last minute. Undertaker’s entrance went nearly as long as Brock/Goldberg AND he started at the middle of the ramp. At first, I thought Undertaker looked great. He dumped Reigns outside, said “It’s still my yard,” and moved well. Within minutes though, he looked sluggish. It got bad after he took a huge spear through an announce table spot. They made a mess of a Tombstone spot inside and things fell apart afterwards. I know it was the main event, but booking the Undertaker to work a 22:56 match at his age and condition was a bad move. The longer this went, the more it looked like Undertaker couldn’t handle this. Not in a “the younger guy is beating me” sort of way but in a “I should’ve retired a while back” kind of way. Not saying he should’ve, but that’s how he looked. Taker kicked out of multiple spears and refused to quite until a fourth one kept his down. They did the big passing of the torch to Roman but like his match with Triple H last year, it went too long and wasn’t good.
Though it was a shame to see Undertaker end his career in such a lame match, what came next was perfect He put his hate and coat back on and the lights went purple while his theme played. He removed his gloves, coat and hat, neatly placing them in the center of the ring. He left, kissed Michelle McCool in the front row and posed halfway up the ramp. The mechanism he used to rise in the middle of the stage lowered him under it and the lights completely went out to the sound of gongs. Hours after the show, his gloves, coat and hat remained untouched in the ring.
Overall: This is a hard WrestleMania to rank. If we’re judging it purely on the undercard, it’s an all-time great. Styles/Shane opened with the clear MOTN, while the Cruiserweight Title, United States Title and Raw Tag Team Titles were all great matches. Though I largely prefer Smackdown to Raw, it was the Raw brand who came up better. They had about equal women’s matches, but their midcard and top title matches were much better. They also had Tag Team Title match, which was a blast. The show had several memorable moments (the Hardys, Cena proposing, Taker’s last moments) too. However, seven hours is so damn long. It suffered from a similar issue to last year’s show and that’s how it ended. Last year we got the battle royal, the awful Rock segment and an overly long main event on an overly long show. Here, after the Tag Title match, the quality dipped. Seth/HHH disappointed, Bray/Orton was a stinker and Reigns/Taker was hard to watch. If the last section of the show was better, it would be in the argument for one of the better Manias ever. Instead, it was a good but not great show.