By Jason Powell, Prowrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
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WrestleMania 34 Hits
Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon and Triple H: The match with the most question marks turned out to be the most entertaining match of the night. Angle and Triple H did a good job with their end of the match, but the biggest surprise was how well Rousey performed during her first outing. She had the live crowd with her from the start and she did an excellent job in a high pressure situation. Stephanie McMahon may have grown up in WWE, but it’s not like she’s had a lot of matches over the years. With that in mind, she also deserves a lot of credit for her performance. I don’t know how anyone could realistically have expected this match to have been any better.
The Miz vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor for the Intercontinental Championship: A strong opening match with an outcome that surprised me. Rollins would have been my least favorite to win if I had taken a confidence picks approach to the match if only because I assumed Miz would retain and I also thought there was a slight chance The Demon persona would show up as a WrestleMania surprise. I am genuinely curious to see where all three of these men wind up if there is a Superstar Shakeup, as they all seem like strong candidates for Smackdown.
Charlotte vs. Asuka for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: A strong match while it lasted. I was hoping for a longer and more epic match between the two, especially with Asuka’s streak ending. The outcome really surprised me. It seemed like a safe bet that Asuka would win and move to Smackdown since she’s already plowed through the key wrestlers on Raw. Granted, they can address that with a Superstar Shakeup to some extent, but it felt like Charlotte could have absorbed a loss here and the eventual rematch between the two would have been more appealing as she attempted to overcome that loss while trying to end Asuka’s winning streak. It left me wondering if they opted to give Charlotte the big win here because they want to build toward Charlotte vs. Rousey sooner rather than later.
Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn: I love that the stipulation of Owens and Zayn fighting for their jobs made the outcome feel less predictable. Without that stipulation, it would have felt like a slam dunk that Bryan was going win in his first match back. I don’t know where they go from here with Owens and Zayn, but that stipulation was certainly effective. Bryan had the crowd with him every step of the way and it was a special moment to see him wrestling in a WWE ring again. Shane wrestling if his medical issues are as severe as WWE suggested is insanity. That said, the Coast to Coast never looked better with Zayn arching up into the dropkick.
The Undertaker vs. John Cena: A Hit simply because of Undertaker returning. I was not a fan of the build to this match and I question the logic of putting Cena in this position when Taker could have squashed a mouthy pest heel such as Elias instead. It’s possible this glorified squash match leads to a rematch or plays into the continuing storyline of Cena losing key matches. It’s also possible that this is the best that Taker has to offer at this point in his life. Regardless, it was still a moment to see the legendary Undertaker entrance and to see him back in the ring on the big WrestleMania stage.
Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax for the Raw Women’s Championship: A good outing and a match that was laid out nicely. It was more competitive, but this wasn’t a case of Bliss being scripted to hold her own with the powerhouse Jax. Rather, Bliss’s offense was believable in that she used eye rakes and exploited a Jax knee injury.
Randy Orton vs. Bobby Roode vs. Rusev vs. Jinder Mahal in a four-way for the U.S. Championship: Put aside the unpopular outcome and this was fine for what it was. The match was wisely kept short and had plenty of action while it lasted. Mahal becoming the foreign menace U.S. Champion did not surprise me. As weak as the world title reign was, they elevated him in the process and this felt like a logical landing spot for him.
Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Braun Strowman and Nicholas for the Raw Tag Titles: Fans who hated this will pitch a fit over this match being listed as a minor Hit. I get it. People had their hopes up for various wrestlers appearing as surprise partners for Strowman, and the idea of a 10 year-old kid being placed in this spot is too far fetched for some viewers. Ultimately, the live crowd seemed to get a big kick out of it and popped huge when Nicholas tagging into the match for a few seconds. It was silly and I worry that they are going overboard with the Strowman comedy, but there’s no denying that this went over well with a live crowd that needed a boost coming out of the WWE Championship match. I have a bigger issue with Strowman destroying the entire Raw tag team division in a matter of weeks than I do with young Nicholas.
WrestleMania 34 Misses
Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship: Vince McMahon dedicated so much time and effort to making the fans universally love Reigns. Sure, his minions will be quick tell you that the only thing that matters is that fans have a passionate reaction to Reigns, but the booking of the Reigns character shows that Vince desperately wants his true chosen one to be loved by all. It has not worked. And as much as I would like to believe that the crowd reaction to this match combined with Lesnar going over at the end means that Vince has finally thrown in the towel and perhaps even come to the realization that Reigns would make a tremendous heel, I have a bad feeling that he’s not done yet. Jake Barnett mentioned the possibility in the members’ exclusive WrestleMania 34 audio review that it’s possible they decided to drag this out until they book a rematch at the Greatest Royal Rumble. Or maybe they book a rematch at WWE Backlash. The point is that the match would occur in front of a more Reigns friendly crowd than he did at WrestleMania. Vince has been so stubborn with his commitment to Reigns as his top babyface that it’s hard to imagine him giving up now. At this point, the fans have more than spoken. Sure, Reigns gets more favorable reactions at live events than he does at television events and they could position his title win so that it occurs in a more fan friendly environment, but it’s not like the problem is going away. Reigns defenders may not understand the hate, but it doesn’t matter why it exists, what matters is that it does exist. The simple truth is that the most passionate and vocal WWE consumers won’t cheer Reigns in his current form. Why continue to fight this battle when Reigns could make a tremendous heel and perhaps somewhere down the road he could have that game changing babyface turn? I want to believe Vince has finally reached the acceptance stage, but it’s going to take more proof than last night to convince me that he has.
AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship: The most highly anticipated WrestleMania match for the diehard fans. WWE made viewers wait a long time for the showdown and rightfully hyped it as a dream match. It was a good match that needed to be great. It felt like the match was just starting to amp up toward its climax stretch when Styles scored an anticlimactic win. They never sold us on Nakamura being close to winning and thus it lacked drama. As much as the match itself was a letdown, the post match angle was simple, unexpected, and great. With one low blow, Nakamura made a surprise heel turn that will prolong this rivalry and give it a new twist. The WrestleMania crowd did not choose sides during the match and seemed to sit back and wait to be wowed. The heel turn means fans will now have a reason to pick a side and the flat crowd reaction and the slow feeling out early portion of the match should not be an issue in their future meetings.
The Usos vs. New Day vs. Bludgeon Brothers the Smackdown Tag Titles: This was a dark horse for match of the night on paper and these guys never had a chance to live up to that expectation. It was a glorified squash win for Bludgeon Brothers. It plays into the way the company has positioned Luke Harper and Erick Rowan lately and yet it was still disappointing to see on the WrestleMania show when you know these teams are capable of so much more.
Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali for the vacant WWE Cruiserweight Championship: A minor Hit for a well worked match that didn’t give the live crowd any incentive to root for one wrestler over the other. They wanted the fans to make that choice for themselves and instead the fans reacted to spots rather than picking a side, which happens far too often in WWE cruiserweight matches. I really hope the cruiserweight division is in a better place at this time next year. They absolutely must build meaningful heels in order to make that happen because it’s been proven that the over reliance on the babyface vs. babyface spot-heavy approach will only get them so far.
The WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal: More of an in the middle than a Hit or a Miss. We still didn’t get any sense of direction from Sasha Banks and Bayley, which is what the match was built around. Naomi disappearing and coming back at the end to eliminate Bayley was just kind of a “huh?” moment, but the live crowd played along and cheered this even though they actually cheered louder when Bayley eliminated Banks and thought she’d won moments earlier.
The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal: Again, more of an in the middle moment. It was a rushed low stakes battle royal, but the Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt moment got over at end the end. Are they going to form a tag team? If so, does Jeff Hardy have a singles run? Either way, it appears Wyatt is a babyface. He definitely needed a change of some kind so I am very open to this idea.
The Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Kenny Herzog discussing his journalism career, his new Outside Interference podcast, doing a feature story on CM Punk, pro wrestling in the pandemic, WWE talk on Retribution, The Hurt Business, Roman Reigns as a heel, and much more...