By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles: An excellent match that was given plenty of time to develop. Styles delivered his best WWE in-ring performance to date and gave us another taste of how good a full program with Owens could be. The finish was basically a repeat of their Smackdown match with Chris Jericho’s distraction leading to Owens getting the win. It makes Styles look silly to fall for it twice, but I didn’t let that ruin an otherwise extremely entertaining match.
Shane McMahon and Undertaker video packages: WWE made it clear that Shane vs. Taker is the true main event of WrestleMania regardless of which match actually closes the show. I’m typically a big believer in making the World Title match the true main event, but the Shane vs. Taker attraction certainly feels bigger Triple H vs. Roman Reigns. I love the way they had the legends talk about the match. I’ve noted many times in the past that this is a strategy that should be used for the World Title matches as it was in the early WrestleMania years because it makes it seem like something that everyone is invested in.
Roman Reigns and Stephanie McMahon: WWE had some head scratching creative moments on Raw and I didn’t come out of the show looking forward to WrestleMania more than I was going in, but they were on their game when they laid out the Reigns and Stephanie exchange. They were wise to keep this segment short, and even wiser to have Reigns play off of Stephanie, who is the least likely of all the WWE heels to be cheered. Sure, the live crowd booed Reigns, but they also stopped to listen to what he had to say. They rejected Reigns, but not to the extent that WWE officials had to fear they would. Of course, this doesn’t mean the live crowd at WrestleMania or the next night on Raw are suddenly going to accept him, but at least they survived Philadelphia. Next up? Raw in Brooklyn. Gulp.
Terry Funk and Dean Ambrose: A Hit on multiple levels. First off, it’s always a treat to see a living legend and Funk certainly fits that description. This was also a Hit for all the wrong reasons thanks to the way the extras were directed. First, they had to pretend like they weren’t bothered by two boisterous men having a conversation in front of a television camera, and the way they were asked to show fear when Ambrose fired up the chainsaw was hysterical. Granted, I’ve never been at a bar when a random patron has fired up a chainsaw, but I feel very confident that I would run out of the bar rather than sit there with my hands up by my face the way the extras did. This was Wrestle Crap comedy gold. None of this made me anxious to see Ambrose face Brock Lesnar, but it made me laugh and that counts for something.
Chris Jericho vs. Fandango: How sad is it that Johnny Curtis is still stuck playing the dead end Fandango character? Anyway, I cringed when the match was announced because it was channel changing material. However, Jericho kept it fun with his insistence that Fandango never beat him and by taunting him by saying that he’s a stupid man. The Styles distraction was logical, though it was bad to have Styles fall for it twice and lose, while distracted Jericho kicked out and then went on to win his match. Unfortunately, Styles died out on the mic. He clearly wanted the live crowd to chant his name, but the Philly fans weren’t playing along. Sadly, Styles went from the highlight of his WWE run in the match with Owens to new low with the post match promo.
Charlotte vs. Natalya: A minor Hit for the women making the most of the limited time they had to work with. However, the squabbling between Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch on commentary is a huge Miss. I want to like both characters, but their bickering comes off as catty and immature to the point that it’s hard to like either one of them. Perhaps this is what they want from the Sasha character, but Lynch was really shining as a babyface prior to her last title match with Charlotte. These days she’s being asked to stand around while Charlotte mocks her and Sasha, and then trade insults with Sasha when Charlotte isn’t in the picture. Fortunately, the WrestleMania crowd is going to love both challengers because most of those fans will be familiar with their NXT work.
WWE Raw Misses
Vince McMahon announces the Undertaker stipulation: Vince has had some good moments and some bad moments since his character returned to television. This was the lowest of lows for the character’s most recent run. Vince took a really strange approach to announcing the stipulation that Undertaker will have worked his final WrestleMania match if he loses to Shane. On paper, the announcement lived up to hype that WWE gave it throughout the show, but Vince’s delivery was so poor that it didn’t even seem to register with the live crowd. Worse yet, Vince actually said with a straight face that Shane McMahon may be Taker’s most formidable WrestleMania opponent. Yes, they need to make this match feel larger than life, but that’s counterproductive in that it takes viewers out of the moment because of how utterly ridiculous it is to claim that Shane more formidable than each of Taker’s past opponents, which include Brock Lesnar, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and Randy Orton.
Dean Ambrose vs. Braun Strowman: I get the idea of having Ambrose face the big powerhouse with the idea that he’s preparing himself for Brock Lesnar. However, it’s asking a lot of a crowd to sit through a marathon show only to see Braun Strowman in the main event. The fans took the words right out of my mouth when they chanted “this is boring” as Ambrose sold for the Wyatt Family monster. By the way, how corny was the Wyatt Family promo? There was a time when fans would have been hanging on their every word while wondering what they meant and where things could be going. Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned to assume that their talk about the apocalypse and being reborn is just mumbo jumbo. There’s so much potential for greatness with this act, but they are just spinning their wheels creatively.
WrestleMania ladder match setup: Sure, I loved the game that Kevin Owens played by getting Stephanie to approve a Triple Threat match only to pick three inferior wrestlers to work the match rather than the three real challengers. However, the end result of adding those inferior challengers to the match was horrible. I’m happy for Sin Cara, Stardust, and Zack Ryder that they get to do more than work the WrestleMania battle royal, but surely WWE could have found some time over the last few months on these three hour marathons to build them up as credible challengers, not just guys who Stephanie’s character added to the match on a whim.
New Day and League of Nations: A rough night for New Day. The flashcard bit was lame the first time they did it and I was expecting a better payoff when they went back to it a second time. Instead, they just repeated the same weak line about LON being trash. The saddest part about the segment was that their comments about Alberto Del Rio rang so true.
Big Show and Kane: Poor Big Show. He had to go out there and say that he believes he’s the best giant, then say that Andre the Giant is actually the greatest giant. As if that wasn’t awkward enough, then he had to look like a huge dope by hugging Kane and then going to the ropes so that Kane could predictably chokeslam him.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features referee Rob Page discussing the difficulty of reffing tag matches in the modern era, making three counts if a wrestler's shoulders are down even if it wasn't the planned finish, the growth of F1rst Wrestling, and more...