By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Co-Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
Hey y’all! In lieu of my standard Pause format (an essay followed by way too many bullet points), I wanted to bring you something quick, fun, and overdone on the internet: A List! Here are the MVPs of WrestleMania 38:
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin: Aside from commentators, this was the only man to appear on both nights and he was the absolute star of each. On night one, Austin’s mere presence justified the main event slot for a talking segment with Kevin Owens. This talking segment would become the main event of the show and a highlight of my wrestling fandom.
Austin looked better physically than he has in years and, while he is a touch slower, seemed to have the same aura about him as he did in 1998. It took a few moments for Austin to physically snap into form on Saturday, but once he did, the brawl with Owens was a blast.
On Sunday, seeing Steve Austin respond again to an abuse of power from Vince McMahon was like reuniting with an old friend. The joy in Austin’s eyes and McMahon innovated a new way to ruin the Stone Cold Stunner was unmatched. This was a gem of a weekend from Stone Cold and I’m a very lucky wrestling fan to get to see it.
Bianca Belair: All she does is deliver epic matches at WrestleMania. Last year, Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks gave us a top five WrestleMania main event of all time. This year, Belair combined with Becky Lynch to deliver the match of the weekend. More than just praising her performance, I want to praise Belair’s growth year-over-year. Last year she looked like she was maturing into the WrestleMania moment as it happened to her. Belair’s eyes were wide, but she eventually focused in on her goal. This year, Belair knew she was the moment and performed like a major star.
Her entrance, featuring Texas Southern University’s marching band, was an all-time great WrestleMania entrance. Her match with Lynch was inspiring and never felt overly long. Bianca Belair didn’t just prove she belongs on the WrestleMania stage, she is one of the wrestlers who elevates the WrestleMania stage.
Kevin Owens: As great as Steve Austin was, his opponent had to be as good. Kevin Owens was able to do the heavy lifting going into WrestleMania and even talk Austin into a match as the show was going on. Owens was an awesome foe for Austin, feeding into everything Austin did to him and making Austin shine in front of Dallas. Owens is such a talented performer and has been for over a decade. Having watched him in small rooms, watching him on the absolute biggest stage with the biggest star gave me some feelings.
Kevin Owens main evented WrestleMania with Steve Austin. No one can take that away from him.
Sami Zayn: As great as Owens was on night one, Sami Zayn had to do something similar, but much more complicated on night two. Zayn was tasked with feeding into elaborate set piece after elaborate set piece in the middle of a live Jackass exhibition. Zayn did this like a total professional, taking care of his opponents and giving the audience a great time. I did not think my favorite match of night two would be Zayn vs. Knoxville, but coming out of the show I was enthusiastically celebrating this one.
Cody Rhodes: When we look back on WrestleMania 38, it’s possible that Cody Rhodes’ return to WWE will be the most important moment of the night. Rhodes didn’t just come back to WWE, he was allowed to bring the full American Nightmare experience with him. From the Cody-vator to the theme song to the Homelander jacket, this was Maximum Cody. If WWE gets this right in the coming months and years, we’ll look at WrestleMania 38 as the beginning of a great run of WrestleMania moments for Rhodes.
This performance also serves as a proof of concept for WWE. They can (and should) bring fully developed stars in from AEW when they can and let them be themselves. It will be super popular with fans and inject star power in WWE when they need it.
Becky Lynch: Much like Sasha Banks last year, Becky Lynch walked into WrestleMania looking to make a star and she accomplished her goal. Becky’s match with Bianca had the big match feel from the moment the bell rang and it never let up. While Bianca’s performance as the babyface in peril was awesome, Becky’s performance as her rapidly unraveling antagonist was equally so. This was two women at the absolute top of their game giving us a classic.
I doubted Becky when she returned and turned heel. I doubted the decision to wait this long for the real Becky Lynch and Bianca Belair rematch after SummerSlam. I doubted a lot about Becky over the past few months, but she has proven me wrong. She killed it here and delivered an all-time great WrestleMania performance.
Paul Heyman: Seeing a main event of WrestleMania based on who Paul Heyman loves more made me feel a little bit like I was watching a Tommy Dreamer match. Despite this, Heyman was great in his role as the key piece of the main event. I was disappointed in Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns and find myself wondering if one or both of them were hurt during the match. Heyman, however, was focused entirely on delivering a great performance on the major stage. Good for Paul.
Seth Rollins: Going into WrestleMania, Rollins was given an impossible task: build up a match against no one with a series of losses and fill a lot of TV time doing it. Rollins delivered the best performance he possibly could in those tough circumstances and, when it was most important, delivered a great professional wrestling match in the end.
Cody Rhodes may be upset about Rollins and others from NXT calling themselves “Dusty’s kids” but he should be thankful for the performance Rollins gave him to launch him into a new level of star power in WWE.
WWE Production: This show looked amazing. This was an all-time great WrestleMania set. Each entrance looked glorious (aside from the awful AR graphics WWE continues to insist on), and even the little touches were not neglected. I loved the hanging stars around the stadium. I loved so much of what WWE did to make this show look and feel like WrestleMania.
What I did not love, was the pace of the show being absolutely wrecked by Peacock ad insertion. While I pay for premium Peacock, I still had to sit through pointless replays that ruin the flow of the show from match to match. WrestleMania moved as a glacial pace because we needed ten minutes of video packages, ads, and more video package between each item.
WWE’s production people are very smart. They made a beautiful WrestleMania. Maybe they should get to work on fixing the rhythm of WWE’s premium live events.
Michael Cole: For two nights of WrestleMania, the voice of WWE delivered a professional and delightful product. Cole is commentating with a passion and drive it’s impossible not to notice and after almost 30 years on the job, it is amazing to hear him delivering these great calls. Michael Cole was a total highlight of WrestleMania for me.
Pat McAfee: I know McAfee is polarizing, but as someone who dips into WWE for very occasional TV shows and every premium live event, I really love what he does. McAfee brings passion and intensity to each match he calls. He is always engaged and never phoning it in. He shouts more than I’d like, but he also engages with wrestling on a delightfully pure level.
McAfee also more than delivered in the ring against Austin Theory and made himself a bigger star in the process. WWE should be happy knowing they can break McAfee away from the commentary desk a couple of times per year and put him in a major match. He will more than deliver on his end.
Finally, McAfee replicated the all-time greatest Stunner sell ever by becoming a beer fountain (thank you Shane McMahon) upon hitting the ground. He may have even made a great sell better by mainlining a Broken Skull Lager once he was on the floor.
Vince McMahon: This man should not be moving in front of crowds. This man’s face is borderline incapable of forming expressions anymore. This is not someone who should have a match, yet Vince McMahon taking history’s worst Stone Cold Stunner in front of a massive crowd is a memory I’ll never forget.
Johnny Knoxville and the Jackass friends: I didn’t know what a Johnny Knoxville WrestleMania match would look like, but I knew it would be silly. Knoxville is a great performer and, along with Wee Man and the others, really lit up in front of the Texas crowd. This was a very dumb and very good match.
And there it is! The MVP’s of the most stupendous two night WrestleMania in all of history. Sure, I could have written more about how bad Edge vs. AJ Styles was, the absolutely weird finishes in both Charlotte Flair vs. Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns, and how Dominik Mysterio and Omos are equally devoid of charisma, but why? You watched the shows and you know what was bad.
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 email@example.com.