Monday, April 9, 2018
Unlike previous years, there were no NXT or surprise entrants. Also, nobody even got their own entrance. JR and Jerry Lawler called this along with Byron Saxton. It was mostly your typical battle royal. I’ll just note some highlights. Mike Kanellis returned, but got eliminated by Sin Cara. Aiden English was first out, by the way. The crowd didn’t like that. Goldust threw out R-Truth after a brief Golden Truth reunion, followed by a dab. Mojo also got rid of his former partner in Zack Ryder. They hilariously cut to John Cena, who was in the crowd as promised, excited for the match. The final five were Dolph, Kane, Corbin, Mojo, and Matt Hardy. Kane got rid of Dolph and Baron threw him out. Mojo and Baron worked together against Matt until the Wyatt signature hit. Bray returned in the ring with a smile. He helped Matt but took the End of Days. Matt threw out Baron and the bell rang at 16:36 with Bray in the ring because he was never in the match. It was a battle royal and nothing special, but had some fun moments. I appreciate how the finish furthered an angle, so this wasn’t just guys thrown into a battle royal for no reason.
Post-match, Bray and Matt hugged and posed together.
This tournament has been incredible. Ali had special Mania gear, with a light up helmet/mask. He looked like a cross between Daft Punk/Sub-Zero/Seth Rollins. They played up their friendship, leading to a respectful and evenly matched encounter. There was a bit of one upping each other, like Cedric hitting a standing Spanish fly and Mustafa answering with one off the top. Cena loved that spot. Ali took a wild bump outside, but countered the Lumbar Check into a sweet reverse rana. He hit the 054 but Cedric got his foot on the bottom rope. Ali missed a second one. They yelled at each other, “YOU DON’T HAVE THE HEART/SOUL” which is perfect as they’re called the heart and soul of 205 Live. Cedric did what he needed to and won with the Lumbar Check in 12:19. He immediately hugged Ali after. This was really good, but they beat us over the head a bit with the emotion. It picked up late for a great finish that fit the characters.
Beth Phoenix and Paige were guest commentators for this. Becky got her own entrance, then a bunch of people came out together (including Peyton Royce, Bianca Belair, Dakota Kai, Taynara Conti, and Kairi Sane). Bayley and Sasha got their own entrances too. Carmella talked smack with her briefcase, got jumped, and eliminated quickly. They also jumped Dana, which was rude. Then, the NXT girls went after the main roster folks and cleaned house (though not really any eliminations). Bianca busted out a damn 450 splash. Dakota got eliminated by Sasha, which tore me apart like it was The Room. It came down to the Riott Squad, Bayley, Sasha, and Natalya. Sasha and Bayley worked together to get rid of Nattie, Ruby, and Liv. Bayley got rid of Logan, leaving it to Sasha and Bayley. Bayley easily dispatched of Sasha and thought she won. BUT WAIT! Naomi had never been eliminated. She got rid of Bayley and that was it at 9:51. That was kind of a mess. The finish was poorly handled, seemingly rushing the Sasha/Bayley faceoff and then having a face sneak in to steal it. Still, I found enjoyment in the stuff with the NXT girls.
It’s my most anticipated match of the show. Seth had some cool looking blue contacts in and was basically dressed as the Night King from Game of Thrones. It was a play on A Song of Ice and Fire. Miz had really cool graphics and sent the Miztourage to the back. Finn came out with a group of fans wearing his gay pride shirt and he had rainbows on his gear. Cool. This was spectacular and just as good as their great match on Raw last year. There was non-stop action and some quality call backs to their history. Seth going for the guardrail bomb on Finn was great. The height Seth got on his frog splash to break up a Figure Four was stellar. I also loved Finn continuing to have Seth’s superplex combo scouted. There was an avalanche Skull Crushing Finale followed by a Coup de Grace. In the end, when Finn seemed to have it won, Seth used a Curb Stomp on both to take Finn out. Another one on Miz ended this in 15:27. Third best Mania opener ever behind Bret/Owen and HHH/Bryan. Excellent, high octane stuff.
Charlotte got a huge entrance, playing off HHH’s at WrestleMania 30. Asuka didn’t have/need a special entrance because she’s that much of a star herself. They worked this like it was a big deal and that’s how it came across. There were big spots like a suplex off the apron, and some great exchanges. Asuka catching Charlotte’s moonsault into a submission was very cool. I’ll cut to the finish, because it’s what everyone will take about. Charlotte put on the Figure Eight and actually sold the arm while doing it, which she never does. Asuka tapped at 13:05, ending her undefeated streak. The match was very good, though I would’ve liked a bit more work on Asuka’s leg and some build to that finish. It felt like a very anti-climactic finish to something that should’ve been special. As for the result, I disagree 100%. Asuka got all this build, just to lose in her first major title/Mania match. She needed to win and lose the streak down the line. Instead, Charlotte gets another accolade to add to the “GEATEST WOMEN’S WRESTLER EVER” resume the WWE is desperately pushing.
Following this, Asuka put Charlotte over as being ready for her. An official ran to the crowd and told John Cena something, which caused him to sprint to the back.
Nobody got a special entrance here. However, Aiden shaved his head after being eliminated in the battle royal. He sand Rusev to the ring. This was what you expect from a multi-man match involving these guys. They kept it short, only going 8:14, so it didn’t overstay its welcome. Rusev stood way out as the star of this match. Everything he did looked great and got a fantastic reaction from the crowd. What the other guys did never clicked as well. Orton went into his usual RKO barrage, even catching Aiden with one. Sunil interrupted the Accolade, depriving us of our Rusev Day moment. That led to Jinder winning with the Khallas. Jinder is fine for the midcard world, but this feels like another missed opportunity for Rusev. As for the match itself, it was fine. They didn’t go long and filled it with some solid action.
HHH and Stephanie rehashed their entrance from last year. Ronda came out with a kilt in honor of Roddy Piper. Stephanie was great at drawing heat, shoving Ronda and then pulling her down by her hair from behind before it started. Steph also got in cheap shots on Kurt, while they continually built to Ronda’s eventual tag. There was a fine callback to last year when HHH nearly accidentally knocked Stephanie off the apron. Steph also pulled Ronda off the apron to cut off the tag. When Ronda finally got it, the place erupted. She pulled Steph in hard, clotheslined the hell out of her and hit a big back suplex. She also lit Stephanie up with punches in the corner. Stephanie used a counter to take a bit of control, forcing Ronda to sell, which she did alright with. Ronda hit a snap Samoan drop that would’ve won it, but HHH pulled the referee out. HHH aggressively pulled Ronda out of the ring, so Kurt battled him on the table, but HHH threw him onto one. With Kurt out, Ronda was alone in the ring with HHH and she squared up. She kicked his ass for a bit and took a rough bump into the post. There were great moments late with Kurt nearly putting Steph in the Ankle Lock and Ronda putting HHH in an armbar. The heels survived a double submission spot, but Ronda countered a Steph Pedigree into an armbar to win in 20:37. This was way better than it had any right to be. Kurt and HHH brought it, with this being HHH’s best Mania match since the last time he was in New Orleans. Stephanie used her knowledge of wrestling to outsmart Ronda early and build to the hot tag. Then, it went balls to the wall. Great stuff.
The New Day had midgets throwing pancakes, dressed as pancakes for their entrance. Woods had his afro out and got beat up by the Bludgeon Brothers in the opening minutes, taking a powerbomb into the post. This was fast paced from the start and barely featured tags. It was pretty wild. Harper and Rowan were portrayed as monsters. Despite the frantic pace, the fans were quite dead for this. Harper and Rowan used an assisted super bomb on Kofi to win the titles in 5:54. It was good, but felt rushed as they seemed to try and cram stuff into the short time.
John Cena came out, ready for The Undertaker. However, when the lights went out, we got Elias. It was awesome. He sang for a bit until Cena sent him packing. Finally, as Cena went to leave, the lights went out. Undertaker’s gear was in the ring like last year. Lightning hit it and it disappeared. Then, the man came around.
The spectacle was crazy. Then, Undertaker got going. He looked a million times better than the last two Manias combined. Hell, going back to his match with Punk. He moved quickly and was crazy agile. Cena got scared of his sit up spot, which was cool. Then, Undertaker squashed him with a Tombstone in 2:46. Amazingly done. Cena bit off more than he could chew and got what was coming to him. I’m intrigued by what this means for Taker. I thought this was well done.
It happened. Daniel Bryan wrestled again. It almost didn’t though, as Owens and Zayn jumped them before the bell and hit Bryan with an apron powerbomb. Shane still decided to ring the bell and go it alone. He started hot, but the numbers were obviously too much for him. Shane rallied to hit Coast to Coast which featured a rough back bump. Bryan saved him from a pin to return, shocking Zayn. Bryan finally got the hot tag and the fans erupted. Bryan looked like he had learned nothing. He took back bumps, including the always scary one off the missile dropkick. Bryan survived the Helluva Kick and the Popup Powerbomb, as well. He hit Sami with the Busaiku Knee and made him tap to the Yes Lock at 15:23. This was very well done. They made you wait for Bryan to get in and once he did, it was all him. Sami and KO played their roles perfectly. I’m guessing Sami and KO show up on Raw since they’re gone from Smackdown.
Before the match, Nia attacked Mickie and beat her up around the ring. She planted her with a Samoan Drop on the outside. Once this started, Nia dominated Alexa. Even when the champ tried running off with her title, Nia ran her over. Alexa used a cheap shot the eyes to take over for a bit and work the leg. Alexa did hit a nice Twisted Bliss to the outside. Other than that, her being in control got boring and this went on for too long. Nia eventually made a comeback and won with an avalanche Samoan Drop in 8:59. The idea behind it was okay, but Alexa should’ve been run over. Her offense didn’t click and this felt long.
Nakamura’s entrance was insane and needs to be seen. AJ won their first set of exchanges with a knee to the face, which was perfect because Nakamura has threatened him with that for weeks. This was laid out like an NJPW main event. It got a slow burn, ,but unfortunately, the crowd didn’t seem to want to sit around and wait for it. They sat on their hands early on. AJ worked on Nakamura’s leg to set up the Calf Crusher and eliminate the Kinshasa, while Nakamura did the same to the arm for his armbar and to take away the Phenomenal Forearm. They kept building and building to something special and it never got there. It reminded me of Cena/Reigns last year, only better. When AJ eventually avoided the Kinshasa and turned it into the Styles Clash, that was all at 20:20. This was a strong match that was wisely built. It just never got to the next gear it needed to. When NJPW builds a match like this, it sets up a hot finishing stretch, which this didn’t have. I enjoyed the psychology aspects, I just wanted more. Still, easily the best WWE Title match on Mania since 2015.
The real story came after the match. Nakamura knelt down and handed AJ the WWE Title. Then, he hit him with a low blow! Nakamura continued to attack Styles, effectively turning heel. This might be what he needs to finally get out of the funk he’s been in since the Sami Zayn match. The post-match makes it feel like they might’ve held something back in this match, but I’ll believe in Shinsuke when he shows me something again.
The Bar had a weird Mardi Gras float style entrance. Braun scared them all away and then sent the float off the stage. Braun decided that his partner would be someone from the crowd. He walked through it a bit to look for one. He picked a small child, even with the NTX roster and guys like Hiroshi Tanahashi and Minoru Suzuki in the crowd. Braun got in a bit of trouble and Nicholas reached out for the tag to a HUGE pop. He was shaking on the apron. He tagged right back out and Braun beat Cesaro to win the titles in 3:58. Um. Okay.
I’m honestly not sure what to make of this match. They came out firing and Brock began throwing suplexes, making you hope it would live up to the high level of the Mania 31 match. Instead, it never got going. Brock dominated and Roman made the expected comeback. They threw in the obligatory table spot and Brock took back over. The fans hated everything and took a shit on the match. Brock beat everyone over the past year with one F5, all clearly leading up to Roman being the one to kick out. He did. And nobody cared. It happened again, and again, and again. Even an F5 through a table and another in the ring wasn’t enough. Roman kicked out of an OVERKILL level five F5s. He got busted open for a great visual and made another comeback. Brock survived, hit another F5 and retained in 15:51. What? Why? Brock’s shitty one year reign saw Braun and Joe sacrificed to him so it could lead us here. This was supposed to be Roman winning and giving us a real champion who is there all the time. Instead, Roman has a bad Mania main event for the third straight year (I still think he’s great) and looks like the biggest choke artist ever. What was the point of the past year? If Roman is the guy, then pull the trigger. This is as dumb as the WK main event result. I don’t get it. The match sucked and the booking was even worse.
Overall: This was on pace to be one of the best WrestleManias of all-time. The battle royals were fine and about as good as expected. The Cruiserweight Title match didn’t steal the show the way I hoped, but was still a very good match. Seth/Finn/Miz did steal the show and was an excellent main card opener. Charlotte/Asuka was great, though the booking decision was TERRIBLE. The Smackdown Tag Titles and US Title were fine. The Undertaker squash was excellent. Ronda’s debut went perfectly and way better than expected. I loved it. Daniel Bryan’s return was a lot of fun. It was here that the show began to die. Alexa/Nia was poorly handled, while AJ/Nakamura disappointed, despite being a good match. Braun and a kid? What? Why? And that main event was hot garbage and ultimately made no sense. It didn’t help that other than Braun, the fans were dead for those last set of matches.