The Big Easy Autopsy: Dissecting WrestleMania 34 by Mike Holland

Give WrestleMania 34 credit for one thing. They got me to feel some sense of kinship with Roman Reigns. It wasn’t the intended bond, of course, but as yet another in a series of seemingly endless video packages reminded me of the vast amount of time I had just spent watching WWE’s product came to its conclusion, there was Vince McMahon’s handpicked champion, staggering and lost, wandering around the ringside area and briefly communicating with family as he figured out just what the hell happened to him. I can relate, Roman. I didn’t get opened up the hard way by Brock Lesnar or win tag team titles with Braun Strowman, but I learned a very valuable lesson. There IS such a thing as too much wrestling for one night. Especially when a decent portion of it is, frankly, not very good or well thought-out. This opinion hardly matters to the powers that be in Connecticut, of course. They’ll want you to know you can get all thirty-five hours of next year’s WrestleMania for FREE, even as you pay for the right to watch the incessant cash grab ads. But take it from me, asking your average wrestling fan to sacrifice attention span and suspend disbelief for that amount of time when the writing team can’t look ten minutes ahead is a big ask. And utilizing large portions of your most important event of the year for what amounts to an internet trolling job is not only an unfortunate business decision for someone who’s supposedly very skilled at it, but a mind-bogglingly silly choice to make when attempting to both retain existing eyeballs and land more.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As is my tradition, what follows is a highly opinionate rundown of everything that went on last night at WWE’s big dance. There are a thousand ways to do something like this, and my method is to bring you each match that happened, run over what we expected and what was delivered, and let you know whether it was the good, the bad, or the brutal. If you watched some or all of the event, you can let me know if you agree or disagree with my take. If you didn’t, well, don’t worry…my brain took the pain in order to get you the Cliff’s Notes. Call it the WrestleMania post mortem. I always identify with the wisecracking medical examiner on those police procedural shows anyway. (Quick note on the timing of the column: I like to wait until the evening after, as it were, to compile the beginning of those new story strands and give some benefit of the doubt. Even with a quarter of a day for your event, it’s tough to judge decisions in the heat of the moment without a bit of perspective.) I hope you enjoy. Let’s rock.

The Match:Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

What We Knew: Not a heck of a lot, as WWE chose to reveal a sparse amount of competitors from the mid to lower tiers of both rosters early on, then a couple more almost right before the event began. One thing that is without question is that a big deal would be made about the future of the man who claims the Andre trophy, even though possession of it has guaranteed previous winners nothing much besides a couple imposing photo ops and the stark reminder that wrestling looked a whole lot cooler when Andre was around scaring the crap out of us and using his hand to chop a grown man into a ring stain. Rumors abounded as to which returning faces would be seen and who might be getting called up from NXT to participate. Multiple previous winners were in the match, including Baron Corbin and last year’s winner, Mojo Rawley. You see what it did for him. Andre’s given up and is drinking several six packs at this point.

What Went Down: Battle royals are fun as a spectacle, and in that sense of the event it was a rousing success. Seeing a bunch of guys in colorful costumes find creative ways to avoid accidentally eliminating each other until the appropriate juncture has a sort of odd cachet, like parlor games when inebriated. The benefit of being considered one of the best announcing tandems in company history, like Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, is that you get to call matches like these instead of those involving little things like championships or people that don’t job every week. (Actually, that might be giving Lawler too much credit…he probably preferred calling this.) It also proved a great opportunity to remind yourself that Dolph Ziggler went through that whole odd MIA angle so that he could return to do…well, not much actually. The ending saw Bray Wyatt surface from the Lake of Magical Incarnation Animation (or whatever it’s called) to assist his former foe Matt “Woken” Hardy to the victory and the statue by magically appearing after a brief power outage and hiding all of Rawley’s 5-Hour Energy. The sponsors were upset but the oddballs won the day. And that’s okay, because I’m pretty sure this happened at lunch time on December 4th, 2003.

The Verdict: There was no real story for the bulk of this match, and it existed to bring back Wyatt and have him form an “unlikely” bond with Matt. The behind-the-scenes buzz was that the reasoning for having Hardy toss Bray into the drink was to leave him off TV for a bit and help out his off-the-rails character with a repackaging. What sort of creative genius did that consist of? Well, Bray came back and pretty much is exactly the same wacko character but now helps Matt Hardy win. That is one hell of a repackaging. Makes my regifting of that Chia Pet look much better since I put a bow on it. I do think Bray’s character (unfortunately) fits right in with whatever the heck Hardy is doing these days, and they were successful as a tag team Monday night, but I can’t in good conscience support this. For those feeling like this is another shot in the arm for an angle started in TNA, remember to read the paragraph above this one for a spoiler alert on this. BAD

The Match: Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali to crown the Cruiserweight Champion

What We Knew: The cruiserweights have unfortunately generally found themselves in this spot year after year, as we are told how unique and exciting their style is while they are rewarded with a meaty position on the card while people are still turning the lights on in the arena and going through security. This year’s offering brought with it an even taller order, as it was for the vacant title once held by division darling and savior of entertainment through hoarse and obnoxious yelling, Enzo Amore. I don’t miss much but I do miss wondering what dress-up trunk he would fall into each week while playing in grandma’s attic. It was also face versus face, which WWE in particular has significant problems executing on a regular basis since nobody did anything really mean to someone else on social media to start a blood feud.

What Went Down: Alexander and Ali definitely pulled out all the stops in a highly entertaining affair, with each delivering a Spanish Fly (more to come later!) and dusting off some old favorites along the way. I particularly liked the build of the match, as the two started off slow and respectful and quickly watched it give way to frustration and risk taking. This thing hit hard and took no prisoners, giving us plenty of drama after an all-over start to the show. Cedric Alexander ended up surviving an 054 scare from Ali thanks to some timely foot-on-the-bottom-rope action and used his Lumbar Check to claim the gold.

The Verdict: At what point do the cruiserweights get this kind of push on the main card? It’s not the best match I’ve seen featuring either man, but it told a story and was especially effective given that both guys are faces and that truly makes the story harder. Did we even see Alexander with his new title on Raw Monday? Maybe I missed it. Pro tip: Give people that aren’t already watching a REASON to watch 205 Live (like, I don’t know, matches like this compared to some of the dreck we’re forced to endure?!?) and maybe they will. GOOD

The Match: Women’s Battle Royal

What We Knew: First off, anything involving WWE’s women’s division is historic, dammit, and you’d better recognize it if you don’t want to feel like an insensitive party pooper. It doesn’t matter if it’s happened before elsewhere, or here several years ago, or the night before. It must be historic because WWE’s announcers keep telling us it is, and they are directly talking to Chairman Vince. Well, okay, more like listening while he hollers through their headsets, but that’s close enough. The really strange trophy is at stake along with bragging rights, but once again we wouldn’t know the remainder of the entrants until they showed up. One could reasonably assume a development between Sasha Banks and Bayley, as both were announced for the match.

What Went Down: The aforementioned angle definitely helped in a way the men’s match lacked, but not until the very end. This match was puzzling for many reasons: the immediate elimination of Carmella, pushed heavily all the way up to WM; the talent from NXT barely introduced before being summarily dumped; and the decision to use time during this match to take commercial breaks. Really. Nothing says history like getting put on hold while we find out about the latest action figures. Beth Phoenix and Paige got to bear witness to the historic 50th time Sasha and Bayley have almost gotten into an argument already. This time, Bayley played the “smart” heel and used a handshake to dump Banks. The joke was on her, however, because Naomi hadn’t actually been eliminated and won. That’s because cheaters never win! Especially when the cheater is Bayley, who at this point has set a record for having pushes immediately squashed. Historic!

The Verdict: I have no issue whatsoever about Naomi winning, as she’s paid her dues in the division and is pretty over with a good amount of the fans. Unfortunately the lead-up to that was a whole lot of very little going on, from the complete sidelining of Absolution to the overwrought ending. I’m all for Bayley finally waking up and turning heel, but she still hasn’t really, and WWE has once again painted themselves into a corner with this. They can’t go full heel due to the hugging character and merchandising opportunities, but they can’t keep presenting her as an emotional patsy. Therefore we’re stuck in limbo, replicated again to utter frustration on Raw, where Bayley innocently but naively keeps screwing up until Sasha can’t take anymore and does what anyone in her situation would do. Evil Boss time would be a relief. BAD

The Match: Triple Threat for the Intercontinental Title

What We Knew: In short, that this was one of the few matches on this supersized card pretty much guaranteed to deliver. The potent combination of Miz as chickenshit champion and the dueling potential of Seth Rollins and Finn Balor with their dedicated and vocal fanbases threatened to tear the house down before things would even get going. WWE played it smartly leading up to Sunday, having frequent Miz TV segments and giving the general sense that anyone of these guys could get the win, which is what you want for a match of this kind especially. Complicating matters further for those making predictions? Rumors that Miz would be rewarded for some time off due to his recent baby with Maryse, and the various machinations of who would be moving (or not) once the rosters get overhauled next week.

What Went Down: I’m not sure what WWE’s fetish was for playing against type, especially when they are the ones who created said type, but they were at it again here with Miz sending his cronies (and best chances to win) to the back before things even got going. Rollins wore blue contact lenses because the Architect apparently builds Sunglass Huts. The match itself was predictably strong, with the friendship/rivalry between Rollins and Balor on full display and both guys dipping heavily into their respective arsenals. As for Miz, he had his time to shine and didn’t come off as overly heelish for most of this, an interesting choice that revealed a potential option which was quickly redacted on Monday when he reunited with his Miztourage just to eat another Curb Stomp. They teased Balor winning with the Coup De Grace before Rollins stomped his way to the I-C Title.

The Verdict: Inconsistencies aside, the good thing about this match was any of the three could have walked away with the belt and it would have made the same difference. All three have done nothing but deliver when given the opportunity, and one of this trio needs to go to the blue brand because it’s an embarrassment of riches. The real gripe is naturally the continued underperformance of Finn Balor, good for catchy music and a great message of inclusion but not so much for notches in the win column. That continues a trend where “small” performers with charisma and wrestling chops have to toil away for their opportunities. Notice a similarity? YES! GOOD

The Match: Charlotte vs. Asuka for the Raw Women’s Title

What We Knew: Asuka doesn’t lose in WWE. Ever. Expected to be a very solid match given the work rate of Charlotte, who like her or not has become WWE’s best female performer, this also boasted the opportunity for one of WWE’s prized imports to claim gold on the major roster and duplicate her success with NXT. This is especially important when you consider Asuka only dropped that title due to injury. In essence, this was a nearly 300-match streak on the line against a champion that very, very rarely loses on PPV events. Something has to give, clearly. Asuka won the Royal Rumble and the Mixed Match Challenge to keep things going heading into this encounter. It was widely presumed that, should Asuka win the belt, she’d hang onto it until someone named Ronda Rousey came calling.

What Went Down: Put briefly, this was the best match of the night by a long shot and quite possibly the finest women’s wrestling match I’ve ever seen at a WrestleMania. The story was an easy one to tell, but these two ladies did it magically, culminating in a series of close call submissions to set up the rather shocking ending. Of particular note was Charlotte attempting (and nailing) a wicked-looking Spanish Fly from the top. Gutsy and thrilling. Plenty has been written and blabbed about a revolution, but this was slapping us with it in the face and making us come back for more. The end was a bit of a shocker as Charlotte survived a submission attempt, only to false start on a figure four finish before doubling it the second time for the win. Post match featured an admission by Asuka that Charlotte was ready for her and a hug.

The Verdict: Just wonderful. Critics will say the Asuka undefeated run was wasted by not putting the belt on her before her loss, but we’re not talking Goldberg here. Asuka has more depth as a performer and this loss got her noticed in a way that maybe even winning wouldn’t have. Charlotte’s efforts in this match show how much value she has to this company. It’s perhaps understandable that folks might think her last name has a lot to do with her success, but I’m just calling her Charlotte from now on. She’s earned it. It may have been slightly questionable to have Asuka go all fan girl after the loss, but I can’t blame her because the match was rock solid. Did we need to cut away to John Cena? Different story. Anytime you want to practice what you preach, WWE, I’ll be waiting. GOOD

The Match: Fatal Four Way for the United States Title

What We Knew: WWE loves some multi-person matches, don’t they? Champion Randy Orton was due for a date with former champion Booby Roode, but both Jinder Mahal and Rusev ended up getting into the mix and thus saved themselves from being eliminated by Hardy hours earlier. The result to this would be anyone’s guess, as Orton’s been in traction since his title win and the rest of this group seems to shuttle from midcard feud to midcard feud without any type of pomp or fanfare. The groundswell of support behind “Rusev Day” (and the stellar vocal stylings of Aiden English) seemed to lend credence to the idea that he was added as a concession.

What Went Down: Effective and largely underwhelming, perhaps partially due to what preceded it. Jinder predictably tried to mend fences and team up with fellow heel Rusev, but the Bulgarian Brute was having none of it. All four men had their time in the sun, but matches like this are tough to follow and plan out and that’s one of many reasons why WWE needs to back off this genre for a hot minute. It briefly looked like Orton would pull it out after a series of RKOs (including one to English, naturally), and then Roode after a Glorious DDT to the Viper. Things looked great for crowd favorite Rusev, but a distraction by Mahal’s second Sunil Singh allowed the much-maligned Jinder to land another title run.

The Verdict: This is a blueprint for a tone-deaf organization. I’m not suggesting that you have to give in to every fan request, but what would it have cost to put the gold on Rusev and send the crowd home happy? If they’re loudly supporting a heel, take the hit and make the call. Instead Roode’s WrestleMania moment goes up in smoke and we get another opportunity to watch Mahal wear gold. Nothing against Jinder, but he’s no better than the first time around. The fascination with making him champion astonishes me. No issue with Orton dropping the belt as it’s been largely uninspiring. This part of Smackdown is a mess right now. Shakeup time, please. BAD

The Match: Stephanie McMahon & Triple H vs. Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle

What We Knew: WrestleMania is perhaps synonymous for special feature matches, and to say this one fits that bill is putting it mildly. WWE fans would get their first real look at the development of former UFC standout Rousey, and hopefully even more progress on the emotional character-building side as early returns were one-dimensional at best. Joining her due to the unavailability of The Rock (WM is always a little less fun when he’s not around) would be Raw GM Kurt Angle, at odds with his commissioner due to her being an Evil McMahon and him just finding that out. Did he not watch any of the Mick Foley episodes? Naturally, Triple H could take the opportunity to squeeze himself into another coveted spot on the biggest show of the year. Just lucky, I guess.

What Went Down: WWE had to play their cards right to nail this, and they largely did. The main goal here had to be to make Rousey look very good, and that was accomplished tenfold. Rousey’s demeanor was much better here, and her offense looked believable and pretty darn good despite a couple of understandable missteps along the way. In addition to the physical story, the tale itself was better than usual. Stephanie spent the bulk of the match avoiding any contact with Rousey, which made the moment when she could no longer avoid confrontation that much sweeter for the audience. Stephanie gets some real credit here from me; while I freely admit she suffers from the same delusions of grandeur that plague her family tree, she steps up to the plate when called upon. Her ability to believably duck and dodge (and counter!) some of Ronda’s offense while never dropping the crafty heel playbook was a thing of beauty. A McMahon in the ring hasn’t impressed me this much since Vinnie Mac pulled out all the stops against Steve Austin. She may have gotten a little too much offense in a match designed to make Rousey look unstoppable, but them’s the perks.

On the other side of the coin, much of the heavy lifting was predictably left to Triple H and Kurt Angle, with mixed results. I am excited to see Angle wrestle again, but his contribution for a good deal of this was unfortunately a snore. Things ramped up at the end, and Ronda was given the opportunity to tee off on Trips a bit, but the full-scale Angle reactivation might need to wait a while. Or forever. The match also was guilty of dragging too long. Some of that was a given since the story needed to be told, but a few too many cutesy back-and-forths for my liking made the seams underneath start to show. Following a dastardly attempt by Trips to Pedigree Rousey (countered into a decent hurricanrana for bonus points!), the climax saw Rousey and Angle avoid double Pedigrees and Stephanie finally tap out to the fearsome armbar, built super solidly throughout the match and therefore highly effectively.

The Verdict: WWE got this right, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the match. Rousey came off looking like a real star, and that has to be one of the number one goals for the company in 2018 if they are to continue to grow. She brings excitement and eyeballs, and wrestling needs that right now. More of this and she’ll be just fine. She will still need protection as she gets closer to the bigger matches against folks that actually wrestle more than once a year, but let’s tell it like it is: she’s a solid athlete and she did well. The rest of this situation is less clear, with Rousey once again applying the hold to Stephanie to open Monday’s Raw and Angle walking around like it’s business as usual. GOOD

The Match:Triple Threat for Smackdown Tag Team Titles

What We Knew: It’s nearly impossible for defending champions The Usos and perennial challengers The New Day to put on a bad match. The X-factor here was the inclusion of the Bludgeon Brothers, the repackaged version for the umpteenth time of the criminally underused Luke Harper and partner Erick Rowan, who dress slightly better and now carry foam hammers. How else does one expect to bludgeon? The Bludgeons were built up through a series of vignettes and squash matches before getting into the swing of things against some tougher competition. See what I did there? Oh, and there will be pancakes.

What Went Down: If only the match was as entertaining as the entrances. New Day came down in some sort of IHOP fever dream on acid that involved people wearing pancake suits. Whoever writes this stuff should get cracking on the next Ultimate Deletion segment. Usos looked strong early, but the Bludgeons took over with high octane offense and won what amounted to a slightly more competitive squash against both teams. The ending saw the former compound members take out Kofi Kingston with a double powerbomb and claim gold.

The Verdict: What a night for the Wyatts, especially considering none of them are Wyatts anymore and Strowman hadn’t even wrestled yet. Why they didn’t get this kind of booking then is an even bigger mystery than the Lake of Reincarnation. This match had issues from the jump as it followed the huge emotions of the mixed tag prior, so I don’t know that it could have worked out even in the best case. While I understand the need to present the Bludgeon Brothers as legitimate badasses, they’ve been around long enough and worked with these teams long enough that it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I would have much preferred this opportunity to go to the Authors of Pain, introduced to the main roster along with a plethora of other talent on Raw Monday right before the talent swap. Because that’s a good time for it. BAD

The Match:The Undertaker vs. John Cena

What We Knew: We knew without knowing that we’d have a match, as Cena has spent the last month or so (it really feels like ages) crapping all over Undertaker’s legacy and calling him a coward for not responding to his challenge so that he can have another WrestleMania moment after failing to get in the old-fashioned way. Or joining the battle royal. Or whatever. Honestly, this is a ridiculously stupid storyline. Cena is the biggest fan favorite in the company and you have him railing down Taker like a heel because he didn’t get his participation trophy. It was widely expected that Taker would make his “surprise” appearance to confront Cena in some way, due to his workout videos being shared by Mrs. Deadman and the fact that he pretty much always quits wrestling and comes back to remind us why he should have quit wrestling.

What Went Down: Painfully bad television. Cena went to the event “as a fan,” albeit a fan with very special privileges like officials coming out to whisper things to him so he could run down the ramp looking like he’d suffered a gastric attack. In reality, this was the worst side of Cena, as we constantly cut to exaggerated reaction shots of him hamming it up after every match to that point. Once that was addressed, it turned out to be Elias answering the challenge. Well, kind of. He did his usual singing routine and then Cena came down and obliterated him because he’s a face, remember? So he doesn’t like insults and singing and all the stuff he built his character on in the first place. It seemed like all was well until Undertaker’s clothes mysteriously appeared in the ring, followed by the man himself wearing his clothes appearing in the ring. Things got even stranger when Cena, who had called Undertaker out forever and a day, seemed horrified by the idea that he was there. Taker took a trip down memory lane by breaking out all the “Vintage!” offense on a stunned JC, who rebounded for a total of one move before he fell over in fright while running the ropes to attempt a Five Knuckle Shuffle. Seriously.

Undertaker squashed Cena with just one Tombstone, which is pretty epic when you think about it considering most of his opponents lately have kicked out of the first one at least. I’m not sure if this was a mea culpa from WWE for the way they’ve needlessly run roughshod over the formerly sacrosanct streak, an opportunity to see that Taker isn’t as bad as he seemed to be when he left his wardrobe laying in the ring, or a dedicated hate-watch for anti-Cena loyalists. Whatever it was, it was half as cute as it wanted to be and twice as bad.

The Verdict: Craptastic. I’ll admit that having Cena and Undertaker come to blows was at one time very exciting to me as a fan of WWE, but those days have come and gone and that was painfully evident here. I’ll pass on the obvious critique that Elias has been reduced to comedy and squashes, because it’s gone that way for some time now. Let’s just look at the fact that we’re wasting time and footage on once-a-year talent that doesn’t have the ability to come close to doing what they once did. My objective here is not to vomit all over Undertaker. He’s a rare talent and has earned the right to perform as he sees fit. But returns are diminishing, and this was the weakest build ever for something that wasn’t even worth that. All this because Cena wants to go make movies? I’ll do WWE a favor and pretend this didn’t happen. BRUTAL

The Match:Shane McMahon & Daniel Bryan vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn

What We Knew: Another match featuring a decent, if spotty, storyline overwhelmed completely by the fact that Daniel Bryan was suiting up to wrestle again. I have no idea if WWE saw this match happening and at what exact point they did, but the timing couldn’t have been better. Owens and Zayn parlayed a polarizing but fantastic Zayn heel turn into a protracted power struggle with Commissioner Shane McMahon and GM Bryan, to the point of putting them at odds against each other in an angle that somehow stayed afloat despite buoyancy and logic issues alike. Bryan’s medical clearance allowed that to be resolved nicely, as the evil duo laid out both power figures en route to this match where they had to win to get their jobs back. WrestleMania wouldn’t be ‘Mania without matches with odd stipulations that don’t really matter. I love this stuff. Incidentally, don’t we usually support people who rail against unfair manipulation by the powers that be? Oh, okay. Rounding out the intrigue was Shane McMahon’s status following a very recent (and very real) battle with diverticulitis that threatened his presence in the match.

What Went Down: This is WWE, so the best solution is to take what you should do and put it into the nearest blender for your smoothie. KO and Zayn beat down Bryan during the ring entrances (apparently you’d never expect such shenanigans from people whose last name is shenanigans) and powerbombed him onto the apron and into the hands of medical professionals. Welcome back! That naturally left Shane to heroically challenge both men, and despite looking winded after landing his FIRST flurry of punches, nothing’s tougher than a McMahon. It’s very evident why Shane left his career in legitimate business behind, as he’s being given a yearly chance to parade around against guys he has no business being in a ring with and somehow look okay. It’s Daniel Bryan’s return but it’s Shane’s story. We once again got the “unbelievable” Coast-to-Coast (not quite unbelievable when it happens literally every time) and eventually DB got back into the ring to break up the pin, dish out his signature offense for a minute or three, and keep the evil duo unemployed.

The Verdict: They’ve had years to figure it out and they still don’t know how to book Bryan. Owens and Zayn came off looking like losers trying to overcome a part-time wrestler who looked equally parts winded and red-faced, and that’s the biggest shame. Bryan did indeed get his victory moment, which was both nice and deserved, but hopefully he’ll have plenty more opportunities to remind us how fantastic a worker he is before he hangs them up. The insistence of the McMahons to insert themselves into this stuff at the expense of well-established excellent wrestlers who have worked the world over BEFORE WWE is, perhaps, their greatest crime. And that includes ICOPRO, people. The talent level involved and Bryan’s basking in the victory saved this, but it was not the right approach at all. BAD

The Match:Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax for the Raw Women’s Championship

What We Knew: One of the few matches with the appropriate level of build, Bliss and fellow Mean Girl Mickie James were due to get their comeuppance from the target of their attacks, Bliss’s former running buddy Nia Jax. This was odd on several levels, from Jax losing a bunch of times but still getting this opportunity to James willingly participating in an angle that makes no sense given her own well-publicized angle foisted upon her during her first run. Still, it did make for potent television, so you could do worse.

What Went Down: Once again caught in a tough spot after a buzzy previous match, the crowd was fading fast and this came off fairly flat after a hot open. Jax went beast mode and decimated James before things got underway, obliterating her with a ragdoll toss into the barricade. Those expecting a squash didn’t really get it, as Bliss managed to get some offense in over the course of about ten minutes but largely resorted to eye rakes and avoidance. One area where she did excel was mannerisms, as she went over the top in a fantastic way when it became clear it would be Nia’s night. The ending of the match was by far the best part of it, as Jax convincingly dethroned the champ following a flying Samoan Drop.

The Verdict: Passable. Jax is a good choice for a run, and it was time for Bliss to drop the gold after a lengthy and largely solid run as heel champion. Unfortunately their styles didn’t mesh very well together, and there was far too much down time following the frenzied action of the four-man tag. Jax probably should have just run through Bliss in very short order after the opening salvo. It made far more sense for the story. Jax is a talented hand and I’m interested to see what happens next with her, but the longer the match goes the more it tends not to favor her working style. Raw saw Jax team with Ember Moon to defeat Bliss and James again. BAD

The Match:AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship

What We Knew: For most of us, this was an easy prediction for match of the night and a rematch for two of the best workers in WWE from their time in Japan. Billed as a dream match, the build up to this was challenging with both men playing a face role with massive crowd support. There can be no denying the outpouring of excitement that came when Nakamura won the Royal Rumble and named his opponent immediately, but the two simply teased an uneasy alliance and camaraderie in the weeks leading up to their duel. Styles dealt with an apparent knee injury several weeks ago which put a slight question mark on whether he would retain.

What Went Down: This was at the same time a very solid match between two professionals and a far cry from their work outside of the confines of Titan Tower. I’ve seen both of these men work better, including against each other, but personally think quite a bit of the issue here was ennui from the crowd. Hot crowds make or break what goes on in the ring, and there just wasn’t enough energy in the building to take this up another notch. WWE has struggled to figure out what to make of or do with Nakamura aside from lavish ring entrances, and that’s their issue to resolve because he’s got the goods. Shinsuke is not blameless, though, and needed to do more here for me in a rare opportunity to show how good he is in comparison with the rest of the roster. Styles did the same thing to great success. The match had the high spots we’ve come to know and love, and the ending was money: Nakamura attempted a Kinshasa, but AJ reversed it into the winning Styles Clash. Move of the night hands down. Following the match, Nakamura knelt and presented AJ with the belt. As the announcers gushed about the respect, Nakamura stunned the crowd by low blowing Styles and kicking him out of the ring. A Kinshasa outside followed.

The Verdict: I’d be hard-pressed to be overly critical about a match featuring wrestlers of this caliber, but it was lacking a little something as mentioned above. WWE hasn’t solved the mystery of Nakamura, so naturally the only option left is the predictable evil foreigner heel turn. While I don’t like that we’ve been forced into that particular region yet again, on the bright side at least he can perhaps tap into something to get the brass behind him in a way he’s been utterly unable to do despite the support as of yet. It also perhaps indicates that Styles might not be leaving Smackdown after all. If this is meant to be a series of matches, I’m all for it. GOOD

The Match:The Bar vs. Braun Strowman and ? for Raw Tag Team Titles

What We Knew: Strowman’s been the most entertaining thing on Monday nights for a while know, but presented the WWE with a real challenge as there wasn’t an obvious place for him on this card. That uncertainty of what to do and how straight to play it resolved itself with Strowman winning a battle royal to challenge the reigning champions at Mania. The catch? He had to find a partner. Considering that Braun does things like tip over trucks and ambulances weekly, it goes without saying that it was widely expected he could overcome both Sheamus and Cesaro with little difficulty. Speculation abounded as to the partner, with everyone from Bray Wyatt to Rey Mysterio to Alberto Del Rio being listed as possibilities (okay, maybe not that last one, but close enough.)

What Went Down: Sheamus and Cesaro came out on a Mardi Gras float because someone had to, and then Strowman came out and tipped it over while the announcing team laughed like paid hyenas because, yeah. Strowman announced that his partner wasn’t going to be anyone in the locker room and promptly prowled the audience looking for a volunteer partner. He eventually settled on a “random” kid in the crowd (later revealed to be an official’s son to the relief of child services everywhere) and brought him down to the ring. Strowman actually tagged the kid in for a second before ending things promptly and claiming the belts. The best part? Where Cesaro was grabbing in the direction of the child to try to land some offense. The worst part? All of what I just said before that.

The Verdict: This was inane. I’m sure I’ll be accused of being a curmudgeon for frowning upon a WrestleMania moment, but screw that. This just makes the titles and champions look lame. I get that WWE didn’t know what to do, but if they wanted to have some fraudulent partner demonstrate how superhuman Strowman is, they could have just gone with a camera man or James Ellsworth or Byron Saxton or someone even tangentially connected with the weekly product. The fact that the announcers were told to discuss at length how stupid this was is not an example of meta writing. This was all some silly ruse for Strowman as they had to relinquish the belts on Monday. Braun the giant comic is coming to a town near you. He’s not finished with you, but I was certainly finished with this show. BRUTAL

The Match: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for WWE Universal Title

What We Knew: That Reigns was going to win, according to basically everything since the decision was made many moons ago to sidetrack Reigns temporarily and allow Seth Rollins to act as heel proxy champ for The Authority. Since that point, Roman has been booked to win and win big, rolling over everything in his path in a quest to be the one to unseat Lesnar. It was widely reported that Reigns would overcome Lesnar’s fearsome F-5 (perhaps more than once) en route to winning the chance to represent the company. Adding a bit more spin to this closing match were the tidbits that Roman once again had to deal with rather questionable performance enhancement suggestions and that Lesnar was meeting with UFC honcho Dana White (actually in attendance, to support Rousey) and had already ironed out a deal to return to that organization, perhaps imminently. As with most things involving Lesnar, it was hard to separate the noise from the truth.

What Went Down: In what may have been one of the worst-received main events in WM history, the New Orleans crowd did not like what they were seeing and made it very clear. Lesnar’s work has gotten worse the longer he’s been back, and this was a prime example with the standard stiff shots and some sloppy stuff on the floor. Brock definitely took the fight to Reigns early, as expected, but Roman kicked out of FIVE different F-5 attempts over the course of the match. This included three in a row and one on the announce table. The crowd had completely turned by this point, chanting their distaste over what they saw coming from a mile away. Brock busted open Roman (apparently with an elbow) causing so much blood that both men ended up partially covered by it, which admittedly created some cool visuals but looked sloppy. Reigns hit two spears straight but only earned a near fall. His third attempt was converted into F-5 #6 and that sealed the deal in a shocking win.

The Verdict: Difficult to say what led to this, but I’ll chalk it up to Vince trolling the fans and it was rather effective. Unfortunately for him and his desire to laugh at people writing about his craft and filling his coffers, lost in that “gotcha!” was the ridiculous fact that Reigns kicked out of Brock’s finisher almost as many times as WrestleMania had hours. It’s difficult to track, but this whole run has been one lackluster main event after another, with streaks being broken and quick matches being had to the temporary advantage of one just to be turned on its head. I can only assume that the plan is to make Reigns look even better by navigating this setback (a plan they used in almost exactly the same way with Daniel Bryan), but unlike Bryan Reigns is not over with the majority of fans. Any credit for the surprise ending, and there is some because it was a shocker, is reduced by the ridiculous way they achieved it. More Lesnar/Reigns? Say it ain’t so. BRUTAL

In Closing

WrestleMania has become a jack of all trades and master of none, and that’s by design. Cards like this feature something for everyone, and it goes without saying that what appeals to some will not appeal to others. All of that said, there’s no excuse for asking fans to invest in something this long and leaving them largely unsatisfied. WWE exited this event more or less the way they came in, with solid performers pushed to the edges in favor of celebrities and promoter spawn, and workers like Nakamura, Asuka and even Reigns being swerved away from their outcomes at the last second for whatever reason. One of those makes sense. Two or three feels like you’re reaching. Sometimes too many false finishes make you think you’re starting over. Amazingly, the first half of this card was much better than the second half. Unfortunately, much of the biggest stuff came in hour two and resulted in a good deal of the same confusing jumble the WWE has been guilty of since last year at this time. This group of creative has reached its saturation point.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know @DharmanRockwell or via email at coffeyfan@hotmail.com or comment below!

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