By Jason Powell
WrestleMania 33 Hits
Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns: WrestleMania existed before Undertaker and it will survive without him, but it will never be the same. The last decade of Undertaker’s WrestleMania run carried the majority of those shows by providing so many dramatic and emotional moments. This match was no exception. I don’t care that Taker and Reigns failed to execute the Tombstone reversal or that this wasn’t a technical masterpiece. The storytelling was top notch and the emotion was certainly there. It would have been better if the microphones had picked up the verbal exchanges between Taker and Reigns, but viewers could still follow the story even if they couldn’t make out that dialogue. The old gunfighter fought until he just couldn’t fight anymore. We’ve seen Undertaker on the receiving end of some beatings in recent years and with one exception, he came back strong and managed to defeat his opponent. So even though it looked bleak for Taker as the match progressed, there was still that hope until the closing moments that his character would somehow muster up the strength to chokeslam Reigns and turn the tide. Yet when he failed to do so, the three count felt right. Jim Ross calling the match was a feel good moment in and of itself on multiple levels. The post match scene was excellent. Reigns didn’t celebrate his win in an over the top manner. Sure, he had the big pyro display, but the story I took from his facial expressions is that his character did what to be done by putting the Taker character down. Taker’s exit scene of leaving his gloves, jacket, and hat in the ring was perfect. Watching him lowered in to the entrance ramp to close the show was a cool finish image. As much as I would have pushed for advertising Taker’s final match as the Last Ride and having it sell WrestleMania all on its own, this was very well done.
Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship: A well executed heavyweight fight. Lesnar controlled the bulk of the offense, yet there were just enough believable big offensive bursts from Goldberg that succeeded in terms of teasing the possibility that he might topple Lesnar again. Goldberg was also protected to some extent by essentially taking himself out when he crashed into the corner after Lesnar leapfrogged his spear attempt. WWE did a tremendous job with Goldberg’s return. The Goldberg nostalgia kick peaked before WrestleMania and this didn’t feel nearly as big as their Survivor Series encounter, but they still told a good story and WWE got more out of the Goldberg character than anyone expected them to, especially given the way they blew it with him the first time around.
AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon: A fun main card opening match that exceeded expectations. While there were boo birds, there were also fans who bought into Shane playing the role of pro wrestler again. And for the fans who did not buy into Shane or just simply liked Styles more, the threat of Shane actually beating Styles made for some dramatic near falls. My anticipation for Taker vs. Shane last year was much higher than it was for Styles vs. Shane, yet I enjoyed this match so much more. It was nice to see Shane didn’t feel the need to top his leap off the Hell in a Cell structure.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. Matt and Jeff Hardy vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Sheamus and Cesaro in a four-way ladder match for the Raw Tag Titles: WrestleMania delivered some major moments. The John Cena and Nikki Bella engagement produced mainstream pop culture website publicity. Rob Grownkowski’s appearance scored attention from the sports media. Undertaker’s retirement is a legit news story due to him being one of the most well known wrestlers in the world. Meanwhile, the return of Matt and Jeff Hardy was the big treat for the pro wrestling fans. You had to know that they would be arriving in WWE soon if you watched their great ladder match on the highly recommended ROH SuperCard of Honor event (check out the replay on the FITE TV app), but there was no guarantee it would happen at the actual WrestleMania show. It was one of the bigger moments of the night, which says a lot considering everything else we saw. The actual match wasn’t nearly as strong as their ROH ladder match against the Young Bucks from the night before, but it was still entertaining and the thrill of the Hardys returning and capturing the tag titles carried this.
John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse: As much as I enjoyed the build, this wasn’t a match that I looked forward to going into the show. And it really wasn’t much of a match, but Miz playing with the crowd was entertaining, and obviously the post match proposal by Cena was the key. Cena’s words felt genuine and heartfelt, which is a big improvement over the way we saw him awkwardly interact with Nikki on the Total Bellas show that Miz and Maryse spoofed so perfectly. The crowd was mostly good about the segment in that even the boo birds seemed to be doing so with a smile on their face rather than with true disdain. And the loud screams from some of the women were ear piercing proof that this connected with a certain audience in a big way.
Neville vs. Austin Aries for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship: A great show opener. The match looked good on paper and yet it still managed to exceed my expectations. The German suplex that Aries took was horrific, but otherwise the match was suspenseful and very well worked. Neville going over was ideal in that it gives fans a chance to invest in an Aries chase rather than him simply capturing the title from the top heel after just one month in the division.
Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens for the U.S. Championship: Another well worked match that told a good story. They had a tough match to follow and yet the live crowd was with them. Owens going over was logical given that Jericho is expected to take some time away to tour with Fozzy. It will be fun to see how much different Owens’s U.S. Title run is compared to his Universal Title run now that he’s going for heat rather than comedy. As much as I enjoyed the match as it was happening, it did feel like an afterthought by the time the show was over. Perhaps some of that is due to how early the match went on, but I didn’t expect to feel that way about it going into the show. Still, a fun payoff to the long build.
Seth Rollins vs. Triple H in an unsanctioned match: This was the first time that the live crowd seemed to be fatigued. The slow start with Hunter targeting the knee was logical, yet it just went on longer than it needed to. This was one of three matches to top 20 minutes and, quite interestingly, two of those matches involved McMahon family members. This match was very similar to the one that Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura had at NXT Takeover right down to the targeting of the babyface’s knee. The big table spot by Stephanie popped the crowd and the finish with Rollins going over was satisfying. Here’s hoping that Hunter turns babyface by this time next year. Undertaker is gone. There’s no telling whether Goldberg will be back. The fans want to cheer Triple H as the returning legend anyway. I’d like to see him lose control of the monster he created, leading to a Samoa Joe vs. Triple H match at some point.
Andre the Giant Battle Royal: A minor Hit. WWE got what they wanted out of the match by having NFL star Rob Grownkowski get involved. It scored a lot of mainstream attention and gave Mojo Rawley a win he would not have had otherwise. It was a logical move for WWE to take advantage of Mojo having a famous friend. The problem is that most fans don’t have a real connection with Mojo, so it didn’t feel like a real moment when he eliminated longtime enhancement wrestlers Jinder Mahal to win the annual “get everyone on the show” match.
WrestleMania 33 Misses
WrestleMania Length: For the second straight year, WWE proved that you can get too much of a good thing. The length of this show was absurd. I realize they want to get everyone on the show, but it’s time for the company to start making some tough decisions for the good of the WrestleMania brand and show quality. They made those tough calls for many years and they need to start making them again. Yes, there are wrestling fans who can’t get enough and wish that WrestleMania had been a 14-hour even. Those fans and, more importantly, the company need to think about the casual fans that this show attracts and counts on. The last thing that WWE officials should want is for viewers to feel that watching WrestleMania is a chore. Whatever happened to the idea of leaving the fans wanting more?
Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton for the WWE Championship: WWE wants to WrestleMania to offer something for everyone. They took that to a new extreme by catering to fans of maggots and other insects. Seriously, what the hell was that and who in their audience do they think this appeals to? The supposed Wyatt mind games/projection gimmickry was ridiculously campy. The fans who chanted “that was stupid” took the words right out of my mouth. Orton winning the match sets up Smackdown with a champion whose past title reigns ran out of steam quickly. You know what you’re getting with Orton whereas at least Wyatt felt new and his title reign had the potential to be something different.
Dean Ambrose vs. Baron Corbin for the Intercontinental Championship: A disappointing match. I expected a better brawl from Ambrose and Corbin. Very little about the match clicked and they are capable of better. Ambrose got the win for what was supposed to be a happy WrestleMania moment, but I wonder if the plan going into the match was for Corbin to beat him in a rematch to win the title as soon as Tuesday night.
Bayley vs. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax in a four-way elimination match for the Raw Women’s Championship: WWE dedicated the first 30 minutes of the go-home edition of Raw to set up a four-way elimination match that went just shy of 13 minutes. As much as I complain about the time of the show, this is one match that needed more time. Or maybe it’s just that WWE never provided a strong reason to root for anyone in particular. The most compelling story going into the match was Charlotte accusing Sasha Banks of manipulating Bayley, yet that wasn’t a real story once the bell rang. The women worked hard and I enjoyed the early story of how Jax was eliminated first and yet still protected. I also enjoyed the beautiful corkscrew moonsault that Charlotte performed. There just wasn’t anything to really latch onto from a storyline standpoint and that’s largely due to past creative mistakes made with Bayley winning the title prematurely and Charlotte’s pay-per-view winning streak ending for no good reason.
Alexa Bliss vs. Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James vs. Carmella vs. Natalya vs. Naomi for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: The match felt rushed. It’s not like I was complaining about a short match by the time this went on, but they did so much so quickly and yet so little of it felt significant once it was over. Naomi getting the win in her hometown was a nice enough story. Here’s hoping we can get back to more meaningful singles programs now that the need to get everyone on the show is behind us.
The Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Mike McMahon of PWTorch.com discussing his background and podcast work, plus a long chat regarding Impact Wrestling coming out of Slammiversary, including a breakdown of the notable additions to the roster, and more...