By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
Vince McMahon likes to say WWE is in the business of putting smiles on people’s faces. It would have been easy to forget this watching WrestleMania in the last five years. After the transcendence of Daniel Bryan’s WWE Championship win at WrestleMania 30, WWE has closed WrestleMania with antagonist wins and mixed reactions. Main events have become a place for fans to express their displeasure with the overall direction of WWE. Even the wrestlers in those matches have been upset as they end.
At WrestleMania 35 WWE reaffirmed a commitment to happy endings.
It began with Seth Rollins, who quickly dispatched Brock Lesnar. This was nothing like what I expected the opening of WrestleMania to be. The frantic pace of Paul Heyman marching past noted racist Hulk Hogan and beginning the show, Lesnar entering, and Rollins following was excellent. In a way, this called back to the suddenness of Rollins taking the WWE Championship from Lesnar at WrestleMania 31.
Seth Rollins’ win is the first unblemished happy ending for the wrestler and the crowd in the history of the Universal Championship at WrestleMania. It also felt like the end of the Brock Lesnar part time champion era. It’s been a long couple of years with infrequent and disappointing title defenses. This was the ending many of us hoped for when Lesnar regained the title. Seth Rollins has been cemented as the centerpiece of Raw and this was a great way to do it.
Perhaps the best happy ending on this show came for Kofi Kingston. In the last month, he’s been on the truest hero’s journey of this WrestleMania season. Obstacle after obstacle stood in his way and he dispatched each one through hard work and dedication. As he was told he didn’t belong, he proved he did.
The match between Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan was an instant classic. While Bryan will always be remembered for the show-closing effort he put in at WrestleMania 30, this was his true masterpiece. He was able to turn just about every fan of WWE against him, causing them to boo the hero they cheered the return of a year ago. Daniel Bryan became the perfect antagonist as Kofi Kingston went on a journey eerily similar to Bryan’s. As the match played out, the heart rate of everyone watching rose and fell with each near fall.
Kofi Kingston’s joyous celebration would have been the unlikeliest WrestleMania moment were we all told about it in January. Now, in April, we are all celebrating Kofi’s triumph. WWE listened to the fans, didn’t hesitate to pivot away from their original plan, and created something perfect in doing so. The celebratory moment with Big E, Xavier Woods, and Kofi’s sons was the sort of moment WWE dreams of making.
Finally, the end of the show, for the first time, was in the hands of WWE’s capable and deserving women. I wasn’t sure WWE would ever have women main event WrestleMania until I saw WrestleMania 32’s Women’s Championship match. That’s when I became a believer in the inevitable.
Yes, the show was long. It was too long (more on that later). Yes, the crowd was tired. And still when the match entrances began, I had chills. After watching so many WrestleMania main event video packages featuring men, this one finally featured women. After waiting through pillow fights, nothing matches, and disappointing battle royals, this was three women at the height of their craft getting the chance to close the show.
The meaning of Charlotte Flair vs. Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch will not be fully evident for years to come. We cannot know the full impact of this match until we hear from the bad ass young women it must have inspired. We cannot know what the ripple effect of this match will be until we see the generation of women who grew up knowing they too could main event WrestleMania.
This match happening was itself a cause for joy and celebration.
It was hard fought and hard hitting. Flair, Lynch, and Rousey wrestled like they had something to prove and nothing would stop them from doing so. The athleticism of all three women was on display. Once again, with each near fall my heart was pounding. Would they do the right thing? Would WWE, who built the WrestleMania brand on giving fans the happy endings and celebrations they coveted year after year, remember who they are one more time?
The end of the match wasn’t perfect. Something went wrong. Rousey’s shoulders were up as she took her only loss in WWE thus far. It was an asterisk popping up next to the great effort everyone had put in. Yet, when the match ended, music hit, and Becky Lynch raised two WWE Women’s Championships into the air as fireworks exploded around her, all was right. WWE had done what they needed to do.
Humanity has always told the story of valiant heroes overcoming adversity to emerge victorious. Homer did so with The Iliad and The Odyssey. Religions are founded on such tales of morality and heroism. Wrestling was founded on these same principles. Whether it’s merely the idea of sending the fans home happy so they will buy another ticket or something deeper inside of all of us, wrestling is at its best when the heroes of the story finally emerge from battle wounded but victorious.
At WrestleMania 35, WWE remembered how to put smiles on people’s faces and it did so expertly.
Elsewhere on the show:
– This was a very long show. I’m not a proponent for making WrestleMania a two day long show, as one will surely be judged against the other and, in years with a weaker lineup, we’ll see massive disparities in attendance. WWE has to find a way to trim matches from these shows though. My solution is to make the mid-card matches normally slated for WrestleMania the main events of the Raw and Smackdown episodes that weekend. Raw could have been headlined by their tag title match and the Intercontinental Championship match. Smackdown would have been delightful with the Smackdown tag titles and United States Championship on the line.
I know it isn’t the same for the wrestlers involved as being on the major show, but not everyone should be on the major show. WWE’s roster is too large for that and the patience fans have for longer shows is already wearing thin.
– The spectacle of this year’s show felt a little off for me. I know WWE pulls out all the stops for WrestleMania, but the stage set this year was disappointing. I’m sure it was easy to drop a curved ultra-wide monitor in the scale model of Met-Life Stadium, but it was not as beautiful as I tend to hope for. The stadium itself is among the plainest and least interesting in the United States.
– There were 14 broadcasters on this show doing commentary and somehow it worked. Having guests come in and give the regular commentators a break helped everyone get through the very long broadcast.
– This was the first WrestleMania without The Undertaker since the year 2000 and he was not missed. Perhaps it speaks to his underwhelming performances at WWE’s blood money shows, but I didn’t feel like his absence was hanging over this show. It was refreshing to have relatively few part-time matchups on this card. Without having to find slots for Shawn Michaels, Kane, Big Show, Undertaker, Sting, or Goldberg, WWE managed to fit more full time wrestlers into meaningful slots.
– AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton was as smooth as I expected it to be. These two could feud well into the Summer and I would be fine with it. They are both absurdly talented and Styles seemed to get the best out of Orton on this night. I’m sure these two can kick into another gear or two and impress us again and again.
– The Usos getting a big win on the WrestleMania stage was fine with me, but I had hoped for Aleister Black and Ricochet to win one of the three tag title matches they’ve had this week. Getting the chance to perform and be showcased at WrestleMania was huge for the two main roster newcomers, but hopefully they’ll be slotted as winners sooner than later.
– Shane McMahon vs. The Miz was really good. We’ll always have the gif of Miz’s Dad squaring up to remember this WrestleMania classic by.
– The Women’s Tag Team Championship match was a delight. Beth Phoenix looked great in the ring and was given the chance to deal the death blow to Bayley. The Iiconics winning surprised me quite a bit. They’ve been more entertaining lately on TV, but it didn’t feel like WWE was getting behind them. I’m curious to see them cross between brands and hope we get to see them against Kairi Sane and Io Shirai soon.
– Bayley and Sasha Banks chasing the Women’s Tag Titles should be fun. I’d also consider them going to separate brands and seeing what can be done with them as singles acts. The tag team scene did revive them a bit after the rough run that saw them become a team.
– Samoa Joe vs. Rey Mysterio was likely cut short due to Mysterio’s injuries, but I didn’t mind. We needed something like that after the long and dramatic Kingston vs. Bryan match and celebration. Palate cleansers are good.
– Roman Reigns vs. Dew McIntyre surprised me for a few reasons. It was quicker than I expected. McIntyre didn’t seem like the star he should have been. The crowd didn’t take to Reigns as well as they should have. This felt more like the victim of a long show than either man’s fault. This match as the opener would have killed with a hot crowd rallying behind Roman.
– Triple H vs. Batista was the worst match on this show. It was too long, too repetitive, and disappointing. At this point someone needs to have an intervention with Triple H about his long WrestleMania matches. He’s almost 50. The time for wrestling over 20 minute matches has ended. Triple H always has one of, if not the, longest matches at WrestleMania and it’s rarely a good thing.
– The anti-piecing message of Triple H vs. Batista was also mean.
– While I pontificated above about happy endings, I was disappointed by the lack of one for Kurt Angle. Baron Corbin might gain a little bit in defeat, but it seems like he just pushed Angle out of his GM job and into retirement. Corbin will never be the mega-hot great heel WWE seems to hope he will become.
– In 2015 we all marveled at Finn Balor’s Demon entrance and discussed how cool it would be to see it at WrestleMania. In 2019 it was alright to see it there. The mystique is off The Demon character despite it being well protected. The length of the show also hurt this match.
Overall this was a solid WrestleMania. The first half of the show was excellent and the second half lagged. They may have whiffed on the ending a little bit, but it all worked. The WrestleMania moments were there. The talent showed up in a delightful way. This was a top half WrestleMania, y’all.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video content subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.