By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WrestleMania 38 Night One Hits
Becky Lynch vs. Bianca Belair for the Raw Women’s Championship: My choice for best match of the night. The show kicked into another gear with this match and it set the pace for the remainder of the show. There were a couple of clunky moments, but this was a good, dramatic match with strong work from both wrestlers. Lynch has taken her game to a new level since she returned at SummerSlam. I still feel that returning as a babyface would have been more lucrative for her and the company, but she embraced the heel persona and is doing terrific work. While Lynch came off like the ring general, Belair more than held up her end of the match. The moment never seems too big for Belair despite the fact that she’s only been on the main roster for two years as of this week. Both of these wrestlers are truly special talents and I hope this will be a long term rivalry that they continue to revisit at the right times in the coming years.
Cody Rhodes vs. Seth Rollins: A true WrestleMania moment. Much like CM Punk’s return in AEW, everyone knew it was coming and yet it was still gratifying to see it actually happen. It was cool to see Rhodes bring his “American Nightmare” persona to WWE. I’ve never been crazy about Cody’s entrance theme and yet it was a pleasant surprise to hear it. The actual match was very good and was at the same level as the Lynch vs. Belair match. I can’t argue with anyone who preferred this match despite the fact that I liked the Raw Women’s Championship match slightly more. No matter how you lean, it was obviously a hell of a night for the husband and wife team of Rollins and Lynch despite the fact that they both took losses. As fun as the match was, I am actually looking forward to Cody’s first promo just as much. There’s no telling how Cody’s return run in WWE will go, but he’s off to a great start and it promises to be a fun and interesting ride.
Steve Austin vs. Kevin Owens in a No Holds Barred match: I give WWE officials a lot of credit. Had you told me that Austin was going to have an actual match, I would have thought it was a mistake to not advertise it in advance. But they absolutely made the right call by listing this as a talkshow segment and then having the impromptu style match. The fans went in expecting to see Austin hit a few Stunners and drink a lot of beer. They didn’t spend weeks setting their expectations for an Austin match too high, and so when they actually got it they were thrilled to see it and it felt like he and the company overdelivered. Austin looked pretty damn good for a 57 year-old guy who hasn’t had an actual match in 19 years. He was clearly in great cardio shape, as he seemed to get better as the brawl went on. Major props to Owens. He was responsible for the vast majority of the build and gave us a couple of great closing weeks with the Austin entrance spoof and the heat seeking go-home promo. Owens has had skeptics wherever he’s gone and yet he’s always overachieved and won over the masses. This was a huge moment for him and he’s more than earned it.
Charlotte Flair vs. Ronda Rousey for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: This seems to be the most polarizing match of the night. I really enjoyed it. It was physical and downright gritty at times and they created really good drama around potential pins and submissions. I understand the frustration over a ref bump finish at WrestleMania, but I actually like the idea of stretching out the feud and creating the need for a rematch. The live crowd didn’t rally behind Rousey as much as they did the other babyfaces on this show, so it’s not like the masses were pining to see her win this championship. Rather, it felt like a foregone conclusion that she would win, so the outcome really surprised me. The fans didn’t turn on Rousey and working with Flair was helpful in that regard. Whenever this feud concludes, Rousey would be better off leaning into her natural heel charisma. She’s made it clear that she is bitter with fans for turning on her before. Why not embrace that with a heel turn?
Rey Mysterio and Dominik Mysterio vs. The Miz and Logan Paul: A fun match with a somewhat surprising outcome. Sure, the celebrities tend to be booked to win their WWE matches, but everything about the build was set up for Paul to take the double 619, so it seemed like that would lead to the Mysterios going over. We got that spot, but then Miz recklessly tossed Dom onto Rey to break up the pin. The match wasn’t set up for Paul to wow anyone like Bad Bunny did last year, but he did a really good job with what was asked of him. It looks like Paul will be back for more after Miz took him out with the surprising post match Skull Crushing Finale. The only problem with Miz turning on Paul is that it seems to miscast one of the nuclear heat generating Paul brothers in a babyface role.
Drew McIntyre vs. Happy Corbin: McIntyre definitely deserved a bigger WrestleMania moment. There’s nothing wrong with having a WrestleMania match with Baron Corbin, but there is a is something wrong with having a WrestleMania match with Happy Corbin. The Happy and Madcap gimmicks are atrocious. Fortunately, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel now that Corbin is showing signs of frustration with Madcap, meaning that at least one of these guys should be moving away from this nonsense. Despite the gimmick issues, they worked a quality match and McIntyre going over strong was the right call. Hopefully McIntyre is in a much better place and isn’t carrying around a campy giant sword at WrestleMania 39.
Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Rick Boogs for the Smackdown Tag Titles: More of an in the middle than a Hit or a Miss. The match was fine while it lasted and seemed to be heating up when Boogs suffered the unfortunate injury. He had a worked knee injury previously and for a moment I thought this may have been a planned spot, but then it became obvious that the others were discussing plans for a new finish. All things considered, they handled it well. Here’s wishing Boogs the best in his recovery. By the way, why did they carry him to the back rather than place him on a stretcher? Perhaps there’s a good explanation. If so, it would be nice if they had the broadcast team share it.
WrestleMania 38 Night One Misses
None: WrestleMania Night One was a great show. The commercial and video package count was too much. Gable Steveson’s shirt was just plain strange. Brantley Gilbert’s performance of “America the Beautiful” was the worst that I can recall hearing at a WrestleMania event. Those ads and videos were definitely annoying (though selfishly made this an easier show to cover), but the other stuff was petty and none of it was enough to bring this show down a notch. Night One looked better on paper, but there’s plenty to like about the Night Two lineup and hopefully it can deliver at the same high level. To close on a good old fashioned negative note, the Kickoff Show was a two-hour waste of time and I’m cringing at the thought of sitting through round two today. What’s even more frustrating about a two-hour pre-show without any matches is that they actually cut Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods vs. Sheamus and Ridge Holland from the main card due to timing issues.