By Will Pruett
WWE is often regressive and resistant to change. Last night at WrestleMania, we saw Undertaker defeat hope for the future of the company, The Rock deliver a verbal dismantling of a young star, and both The New Day and League of Nations get taken out by stars from 1998. WWE is obviously slow to progress. With all of this love for their own past, WWE moved one portion of their show further into the future than it has ever been: the Women’s Division.
Last night, WWE didn’t just unveil a new championship belt for women, they unveiled a new way of thinking about women. This was a truly groundbreaking moment for women in professional wrestling. Of everything on this show, the longest lasting moment and legacy will be an egalitarian presentation of Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch. It was the most important aspect of WrestleMania, the match of the night, and a breathtaking spectacle. These three women changed the game of women’s wrestling and WWE wrestling in general.
When WWE called up Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch to the main roster in July, they branded it a revolution. They tried and failed to tell stories about groups of women who didn’t get along. They broke up all but one of those factions and didn’t establish new individual characters. It was a storytelling disaster. Combined with WWE still using the outdated and regressive “Divas” branding for the division (and the “revolution”), it seemed no true change could occur. WWE was determined to present women the same way they had for years. At a certain point, I half expect another “Miss WrestleMania” Battle Royal featuring a man winning it this year.
Actual progress was made when WWE decided to build around Charlotte in the division, make her the lead antagonist, and put her in a feud with Becky Lynch. This was the first sign of what would come. This feud was personal, well motivated, and it didn’t feel beneath anyone. The build to WrestleMania was far from perfect, with Sasha’s character still ill-defined and Becky feeling tacked on in certain moments, but it was something.
Then, on Sunday night, in front of over 100,000 people, Lita unveiled the WWE Women’s Championship and referred to the women as Superstars instead of Divas. Change was in the air, but I couldn’t quite imagine would come next.
Before the Women’s Championship match, we saw a video package presenting Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky as characters, superstars, and people. It was wonderful. There were no gratuitous shots of their lady parts. We didn’t see a focus on “catty” fighting. We saw three women who want a prize and are determined to fight for it.
The entrances of Sasha Banks and Charlotte further reinforced this, as they were given two of the biggest spectacle moments of the night. Charlotte in a grand robe with pyro exploding behind her and Sasha Banks being welcomed to the stage by Snoop Dogg will not be forgotten. This isn’t to say Becky’s entrance wasn’t great, but it wasn’t quite at the level of the other two.
Much like fans in San Jose last year when the NXT Women’s Championship match was announced, fans applauded when “for the WWE’s Women’s Championship” was uttered for the first time.
Then the match began and we were treated to the longest women’s match in WrestleMania history with 16 minutes of solid-to-great action and dramatic highspots and nearfalls. The wrestling in this match was some of the best on the show and the fans greeted it with actual passion. The men sitting behind me, who were at WrestleMania but didn’t seem to watch much WWE TV (they did not know what Hell in a Cell was), started the night objectifying these women, but ended up wowed buy their athleticism and ability as the match went on. This was progress in a matter of minutes.
As Charlotte won the match in dramatic fashion (and antagonistic fashion), fans had to applaud. These women killed it. WWE added something major to this presentation by shooting off pyrotechnics for Charlotte inside and outside after she won. This was presented as a main event on the biggest show of the year.
There is still progress to be made. I would love to see a WrestleMania card with half men’s and half women’s matches. It would be an amazing thing to watch multiple women’s feuds be given the same amount of time as the men’s ones. WWE can do more and should do more. Change is slow, but this was a massive step forward. In WWE, I expect progress to take years, but in one night they progressed further than I could have expected.
This was the WrestleMania where the women stole the show. Let it soak in. Women’s wrestling stole the show at WrestleMania. In the years to come, people will watch the Women’s Championship match and wonder why people remember it as fondly as they do. They won’t remember what it was like before the women were superstars. This revolutionary moment will seem normal. This is wonderful.
This isn’t a “Divas Revolution” anymore, this is revolutionary equality.
– The live experience at WrestleMania is always a site to behold and a privilege to be a part of. I consider myself exceptionally lucky to be able to attend these shows. WWE put together one of the best production packages I’ve ever seen. Looking at the stage, the ringside area, and the entire stadium, WWE produced one of the prettiest shows I have ever seen. Sitting live in the stadium was an amazing experience.
– The overall message of this show was: the past is better than the present, the future is a little bright, and the present is unimportant. On WWE’s biggest show of the year, they decided The Rock, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, Shane McMahon, The Undertaker, Chris Jericho, and Brock Lesnar were more important than the week-to-week day-to-day stars they present. One or two of these guys being presented this way on the biggest show of all time would be fine. The totality of it said the year 1998 was more important and impressive than the year 2016.
If WWE is wondering why they didn’t have the talent ready to cover for John Cena, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, and Daniel Bryan being taken out of WrestleMania by injuries, it’s because on their major shows, they don’t emphasize the current wrestlers. They don’t build the future. They don’t use opportunities for interaction with legends from the past to make current wrestlers seem equal, they always make current wrestlers seem worse than retired guys from the 90’s.
– The determination of WWE to put Roman Reigns over in the main event of WrestleMania can not be underplayed. They did it. Roman Reigns won the WWE Championship after a long match with Triple H and fans lacked the energy to fully rebel against it. Roman was booed, but there wasn’t an all-out riot. He was greeted by apathy instead of hatred. Maybe this is the best WWE could have hoped for, but it wasn’t the best it could have been.
Triple H proved to be a less compelling opponent for Roman than Brock Lesnar was year. The match was paced slowly and seemed to plod along. People in the building began leaving about halfway through, not in a steady stream, but in a noticeable way.
Where does Roman Reigns go as he moves forward? It’s his third WWE Championship reign. If he is the lead protagonist of WWE, what antagonists stand in his way? If he is meant to be an antagonist, there is a long list of men to challenge him, but there are no indications of this. WWE is truly determined to force Reigns on people and, while I understand their desire, I don’t see it working.
– I have been a lover and defender of Shane McMahon and the entire story (or lack thereof) surrounding his return. I was exceptionally excited to see his match against The Undertaker because I expected a grand spectacle. I expected a festival of interference. I expected a fifteen minute display of bells and whistles among the greatest in wrestling history. Instead, I saw Shane trying to out MMA Undertaker in a puzzlingly long match. This was the wrong approach to take. Shane’s fighting spirit is what makes him work as a wrestler, but said fighting spirit wasn’t presented in the right context.
– At this point, the entire story around Shane McMahon is puzzling. He returned because the show sucks and he needs to fix it. WWE had a returning protagonist and voice of the fans admit, on TV, how terrible and poorly organized they are. Then, when presented with the opportunity to make the show better by having Shane win control of Raw, Shane lost. WWE told fans the show is bad and then refused to make any move towards fixing it. This is exceptionally confusing messaging. What am I supposed to be a fan of? Why can’t my heroes get the job done? Should I still spend seven to ten hours of my week watching first run WWE programming when they admit it’s intentionally terrible?
– I watched Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn wrestle with 300 other people quite a few times. I’ve talked to them. Last night, I got to see them walk out and perform in front of 100,000 people and it was remarkable. What a cool moment as a fan of these wrestlers.
– The opening Ladder Match was exactly what it was supposed to be. WWE gave fans the ladder spectacle they wanted and fans responded rather well. I would have rather seen these seven talents used in compelling stories, but it wasn’t in the cards this year.
– Zack Ryder winning the Intercontinental Championship was a fantastic and surprising moment. As Zack celebrated with his dad, my heart grew three sizes.
– A.J. Styles performing at WrestleMania just under three months after performing at the Tokyo Dome is an amazing thing. Styles and Chris Jericho had a pretty good match. I’m still not sold on this feud being the most compelling use of Styles, but this isn’t bad either. It’ll be interesting to see if this turns into a more heated rivalry, as I assume it will continue.
– The New Day entering from a giant box of Booty-O’s was just delightful. The spectacle of it was so much fun. The match with League of Nations was not anything to write home about and League of Nations winning made little sense, even with the segment to follow.
– The reaction for Steve Austin in Dallas was remarkable. I will never forget looking around all over the stadium and seeing everyone on their feet screaming. What a moment. I’m not saying all stars from the past shouldn’t be included on shows.
– Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose was one of the more disappointing matches of the evening. People are emotionally invested in the journey of Ambrose and he didn’t get to give those people anything special here. Brock seemed to be his standard destructive self. Where were the dramatic moments for Dean? Where was his fighting spirit? Why didn’t he refuse to stay down? Brock vs. Dean proved Dean wasn’t in Brock’s league.
– My goodness, the women’s match was great. It provided moments of the night without question.
– The Undertaker’s entrance on this show was one of his best ever. I had chills watching it. From up in the stands, it was just breathtaking. WWE did some amazing production work.
– Baron Corbin winning The ‘Dre was fantastic, but The ‘Dre was a puzzling match. Why was Shaq there? Why was Tatanka there? Why was Dallas Page there? The match seemed more like a weird legends battle royal at WrestleCon than a WrestleMania match. With Corbin winning, I expect him to be on the main roster from this point forward. Hopefully he is ready for this challenge. While he could use more time learning in NXT, his remarkable improvement over the past year gives me faith.
– A flamethrower, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, and The Rock… This was weird.
– I enjoyed the way The Rock praised Bray Wyatt before tearing him down, but I still don’t understand tearing Wyatt down. Bray is an act WWE could get a lot of mileage out of if they didn’t make him look like a fool so often. He has now lost WrestleMania matches to John Cena and The Undertaker and been humiliated by The Rock. This does nothing to help Wyatt. Being laughed at by an irreverent Rock doesn’t get Wyatt over. “The rub” from this is nonexistent.
– The Rock’s WrestleMania act is six years old now. He hasn’t done many interesting things outside of the feud with John Cena. I get why WWE uses him, but couldn’t he be used to help current stars instead of tearing them down?
– The return of John Cena was a neat moment despite what surrounded it.
– Triple H’s entrance featuring Stephanie McMahon as Rita Repulsa making her monster grow was not the weirdest Triple H entrance in WrestleMania history. It was kind of fun and kind of awkward. Exhaustion had set in by this point after a struggle to get into the stadium, over six hours of show, and a heel-heavy show without much hope for the future outside the women’s match.
– Crowd control at AT&T Stadium was absolutely horrible. I’ve been to a lot of stadiums and multiple WrestleMania events. This was the worst I have seen. People missed parts of the show, couldn’t find their seats, were told their lines weren’t lines (then yelled at for getting into a line), and so much more. AT&T Stadium is a beautiful facility with a terrible crowd control strategy. I know 100,000+ people are difficult to corral, but they didn’t even try.
Where does WWE go from here? Will Raw be a true rebellion against the staleness presented by WrestleMania like the Raw after WrestleMania 29 was? How will WWE react if the crowd doesn’t go along with what they want tonight? I am going to be at Raw live and will be fascinated no matter what happens.
WrestleMania was an ultimately regressive show with one moment of true progress. It’ll be remembered as the night the women stole the show and the night they became superstars.
In member’s audio last night, I gave the show a D+ grade. I would change this to a solid C in retrospect. WWE didn’t give us a terrible show, they gave us a long show and it was exhausting.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? If they aren’t super annoying thoughts (and please don’t ignore this and post super annoying thoughts), hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email me at email@example.com.
The Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Richard Holliday discussing The Dynasty faction in MLW, MJF's departure, the addition of Gino Medina, training under Paul Roma, and much more. Check out MLW Fusion Saturdays on beIN Sports and on the MLW YouTube Page...