WrestleWatch: Wrestlemania 35
Guess who's back. Back again. Mick is back, tell a friend.
It's been a minute! Work, life and personal dramas have gotten in the way of my favourite hobby- writing about pro wrestling. I've mostly kept up to date the past couple of weeks- albeit in smaller blocks as opposed to an all-out binge. And honestly, that approach probably helped when tackling the biggest event of the year on the wrestling calendar, Wrestlemania 35. It was historic- Mania is always is, and this was a loaded card, but the reason this show was so historic- it was the first time women main evented Wrestlemania, with crossover star, former UFC champion Ronda Rousey defending her Raw Women's Championship against Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair.
For those that don't keep up with weekly WWE programming, here's a brief rundown on how these matches came together:
- Ronda Rousey had her first wrestling match last year at Wrestlemania 34, a mixed tag team match where she teamed with Kurt Angle to face part-time wrestlers and WWE executives Triple H & Stephanie McMahon. Her performance received critical acclaim, with many saying she stole the show. Not bad for your first match.
With Rousey's rapid level of improvement, she quickly won the Raw Women's Championship, defeating Alexa Bliss in mere minutes at Summerslam. On that same show, Becky Lynch turned heel on Charlotte Flair in the Smackdown Women's Championship match.
But a funny thing happened. Fans refused to boo Becky, seeing her issues with Charlotte as legitimate. Charlotte did use the Flair name to her advantage. She was handed opportunities a lot more than arguably more skilled and deserving women. WWE tried to push ahead with their narrative that Becky was a bad guy and Charlotte was the hero- but eventually they had to relent to the more organic fan reaction and Becky became "The Man"- something of an anti-hero with a heightened level of confidence.
This wave of momentum lead Becky to win the 2019 Women's Royal Rumble, setting her up for a match with Ronda Rousey, a match that was supposed to happen at Survivor Series- but Becky was legitimately injured by Nia Jax and Charlotte took her place. Strange how things work out. WWE ran with the idea of Charlotte being handed things, and Vince McMahon inserted Charlotte into the Mania main event "lol because reasons". Away we go.
On the men's side of things, Seth Rollins won the 2019 Men's Royal Rumble, and elected to challenge Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar. A much more straight-forward build- Rollins took shots at Lesnar's schedule and passion for WWE, and pointed out that Brock has had trouble with smaller opponents- citing his PPV matches with Bryan, Balor and CM Punk. Lesnar would laugh this off and F5 Seth a bunch of times. Game on.
Speaking of "game"... Triple H's Wrestlemania match was set when Ric Flair's 70th birthday celebrations happened on Raw. Ric never made it to the ring. Cameras caught a bloody and beaten Flair being dragged out of his locker room. His assailant? Former Evolution teammate and current Hollywood star, Dave Batista. Batista did it to get HHH's attention and a match with him at WM35- it was made official.
And finally- of the marquee matches- the WWE Championship match. Daniel Bryan was enjoying a run as a villainous eco-friendly champ- because there's nothing more awful than caring about the planet. A new challenger emerged out of the blue in February. We were headed towards an Elimination Chamber match for the championship at the Chamber PPV, and on the Smackdown before the PPV, one of the competitors, Mustafa Ali, was struck with an injury. This opened the door for someone else on the roster, and that person was New Day member and 11 year veteran, Kofi Kingston. Kofi won the hearts of the fans on Smackdown by performing over an hour in the Gauntlet Match and being the final challenger left in the Chamber, coming oh so close. After overcoming some Vince-imposed hurdles, Kingston got himself a one-on-one WWE Championship match with Daniel Bryan. We were on the road to... Kofi-mania!
There were other matches on the card, 16 matches altogether in fact, but I'll be damned if I'm breaking every last one down here. I just wanted to set a general stage for the show. If you're that keen to know everything, there's Google/Wikipedia. Also, in reviewing the show, I'm giving quick results, my thoughts and a star rating as a general guide of how watchable it is. Not doing play by play here.
Match 1: WWE Cruiserweight Championship- Tony Nese def. Buddy Murphy at 10:40 to win the title.
This was an excellent choice to start the show. Both men have tremendous impactful, athletic and diverse movesets, and they set a fast, intense pace to energise the crowd. I wasn't a fan of Nese winning the championship though. It was technically a hometown win for Nese, being a New Yorker, but he didn't get a pop like that. Couple of reasons- one, a very small percentage of a Wrestlemania crowd is actually going to be from the host city (Naomi had a similar problem at WM33 a couple of years ago) and two, Nese has all the charisma of dry paint. Tremendous athlete- his 450 Splash and Fosbury Flop are a couple of breathtaking moves- but he couldn't be more bland personality-wise. Conversely, Buddy Murphy was once seen as bland himself- former NXT Tag Champ with Wesley Blake and seemed potentially on the chopping block, but he reinvented himself physically and mentally, having incredible matches over the past year and unlocking a swagger, new intensity and confidence from the Melbourne native. I would have kept the belt on Murphy a while longer until a really over babyface can come along and dethrone him. Ah well. Hope Murphy bounces back. With the Superstar Shake-Up looming, perhaps he's main roster bound. That'd be the only thing that would make me happy with this move in retrospect. (***1/2)
Match 2: Carmella won the Wrestlemania Women's Battle Royal at 10:30
Pretty standard pre-show fare. I'd question Carmella's win too if it wasn't for the fact that last year's winner was Naomi, and this accolade did NOTHING for her career. So Mella getting the W might please some of the Jersey natives- and Corey Graves. On the action, Ember Moon got a bit of shine, nailing her Eclipse (top rope Stunner) in amongst the chaos. Kairi Sane from NXT also hit her InSane Elbow. Besides that, it was a bit of meh. Sad to see Asuka as such a non-factor- she lost her Smackdown Women's Championship to Charlotte a week before Mania. Thought she might have at least got a few eliminations or big spots to look strong, but it was not to be. (*1/2)
Match 3: Raw Tag Team Championship: Curt Hawkins & Zach Ryder def. The Revival to win the titles at 13:20
This was a hometown win I can get more behind. Hawkins & Ryder are both FTA, and the crowd really liked them. With this, Hawkins breaks his 269 match losing streak and gets a Wrestlemania Moment with his buddy Ryder, with whom he was tag champs TEN YEARS AGO. Wow. The action was good, and it was a rare treat to see perennial jobber Hawkins in a long-form match- something I haven't seen since 2008 probably. As for The Revival, I like them and I do wish their reign was a little better/longer, but I'm looking forward to more matches between these two teams going forward, and the creative ways the underdogs may keep the belts- there was a nice taste of that on the Raw After Mania. (**1/2)
Match 4: Braun Strowman wins the Andre The Giant Battle Royal at 10:20
This was actually a pretty good battle royal. The involvement of SNL hosts Che and Jost was kept to a minimum, and Braun continued his dominance of battle royals, following up on his Greatest Royal Rumble win last year. While I wish the Hardyz were doing something way more meaningful at Wrestlemania, they added a nice dose of excitement to this match with their fast paced tag team offence, as did the Lucha House Party and Heavy Machinery. And The Ascension weren't too painful, I guess. (**)
Alexa Bliss kicked things off as the host of Wrestlemania. She looked amazing- I can't give Graves too much grief over the way he verbally jizzes over Alexa... they call her a Goddess and she lives up to the billing! Bliss says she can make things happen with the snap of her fingers. and to prove it, with a click comes the entrance of Hulk Hogan. Ugh. Let's be clear, my hatred of Hogan has nothing to do with his racism scandal. And let's be even more clear, that solidifies his status as a shit person, but my strong, strong dislike of him is mostly as a performer. I'm a child of the Attitude Era. I grew up on Austin and The Rock. My first exposure to him was his 2002 return where he moved at half the speed of everyone else, but everyone went wild for him and his red and yellow patriotic superhero nonsense. So cheesy. So this opening segment of Mania really, really wasn't for me. Thankfully, it was kept short- kind of unusual for a Hulk Hogan appearance.
Match 1: Universal Championship- Seth Rollins def. Brock Lesnar at 2:30 to win the title
Damn, this was the opposite of the Cruiserweight match that kicked off the, err, Kick-Off Show. Great result, disappointing action. This seemed like more of an angle than a match, first with Heyman proclaiming that Brock didn't want to wait til later to have his match if he wasn't the main event- I mean, credit for that, that's definitely true to Lesnar's character- and then the really formula way Lesnar threw him around ringside before the match officially started. Rollins going low to get the early advantage isn't a great babyface move, but at least it gave Lesnar an out for losing so quickly. I just really wanted to see a proper long form Rollins vs. Lesnar match. They worked together awesomely at the Rumble a few years ago with Cena in the mix for my favourite triple threat match. The last time they were scheduled for a one-on-one match, Battleground 2015, that gave way to an angle as well- an Undertaker return. But hey, at least we now have a full time champion in Seth Rollins, who absolutely deserves that marquee position with his work these past few years. And as for Brock, the last time he had this much of a non-performance at Wrestlemania, it was because he was scheduled for a UFC fight a few months later. Stay tuned... (*)
Match 2: AJ Styles def. Randy Orton at 16:20
This strongly reminded me of Jericho vs. Owens at WM33- good for second match on the card, but not really the best of what I imagine these two are capable of. The crowd seemed distracted during the match- it was revealed that there was a production fuck-up with a light shining in the face of one side of the stadium all match. Orton addressed this through his social media- apologising on behalf of WWE and saying "you missed a great fucking match". Eh, I wouldn't go that far, Randy, they missed a good fucking match- a nice story was told with AJ outsmarting Orton based on past encounters and coming up with counters to the Viper's offence. For the star rating... it wasn't bad, it wasn't amazing... (***)
Match 3: Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The Usos def. Ricochet & Aleister Black, Rusev & Shinsuke Nakamura, and The Bar in 10:10 to retain the titles
This was a really nice dose of high energy action. The previous AJ vs. Orton match not reaching the gear I expected probably made this Fatal 4 Way match shine brighter by comparison. Unlike last year, where The Usos made their Mania main card debut, where they were really rushed for time, they had a few more minutes to work with and everyone got their shine in. The NXT newcomers, Ricochet & Black, did some dazzling acrobatics. The Bar got to clubber people and show great feats of strength. And The Usos got to display their chemistry and fluidity working as a team. Actually, Rusev and Nakamura didn't get a whole lot of spotlight. But it was still a very fun match! (**3/4)
Match 4: Falls Count Anywhere- Shane McMahon def. The Miz at 15:30
Full disclosure, I wasn't looking forward to this match going in. I was thinking "Yeah, Shane usually goes alright, but does he really need to be on every big card?" It was probably one of my favourite matches on the card by the end of it. I used to love Shane O Mac in the Attitude Era, with his propensity to damn near kill himself doing wild stunts. This match was very Attitude Era esque- especially one really nasty bump where Shane fell and literally bounced off a golf cart onto the concrete floor. And while the big suplex off the high platform had a very safe looking crash pad, it was still a lot of fun. As for the result- if Shane is going to stick around in his late 40s and have matches, he probably should win some every once in a while. And Miz can take losses and bounce back in one promo. Final thought on this- Shane performs on these cards like he needs to prove he deserves to be there, so kudos for that. (***1/4)
Match 5: WWE Women's Tag Team Championship: The IIconics def. Bayley & Sasha, Beth & Natalya, and Nia & Tamina in 10:45 to win the titles
Was so happy to see my Aussie girls get the victory! They got pushed into this spot outta nowhere really, picking up a non-title win over The Boss N' Hug Connection just before Mania... but they've been pushing for a women's tag division for YEARS, way before Bayley & Sasha, who decided to give this tag thing a go a few months back. The PWA alumni represent! And they looked good throughout the match, as did the returning Beth Phoenix. Rumours circulating that Bayley & Sasha were very unhappy with this decision, but it was a good match and nice moment for the childhood friends Peyton & Billie. (**1/2)
Match 6: WWE Championship: Kofi Kingston def. Daniel Bryan at 23:45 to win the title
This was great! MOTN in my book. As I kind of detailed above, WWE kind of fell into this by accident when Ali got injured. New Day have always sold great merch, now they've got Kofi there putting in main level performances. Make money, ride this wave, and it's a great moment of posiitivity and culture representation. Kofi is the first black WWE Champion since The Rock. Booker T didn't get there, Mark Henry didn't get there, there's been others I would have liked to get it like Shelton Benjamin and MVP... but it was an awesome moment for Kofi and The New Day. Thrilling match, with an invested crowd and dramatic near falls... and Bryan selling Trouble In Paradise like a million bucks... it was gold. Big E and Xavier were ready post-match, binning Bryan's custom eco-friendly hemp WWE Championship belt and bringing back in the old one, and already having new champ merch made. A bit like DX, the blatant shilling just works for the New Day. I don't know how long this will last, but I'm going to enjoy the ride. (****)
Match 7: United States Championship: Samoa Joe def. Rey Mysterio in 1:00 to retain the title.
Rey injured his ankle a few days earlier on Raw, WWE opted to go ahead with the advertised match. Not much more WWE could do, not much more for me to say. Samoa Joe gets to look super dominant in what was his Wrestlemania debut, if you can believe that. Rey doesn't lose anything really due to the injury, and the show moves along at a better pace thanks to the brevity of this match. Hope they run it back when Rey's healthy. (*)
Match 8: Roman Reigns def. Drew McIntyre at 10:10
I wasn't really feeling this match. Picture the most basic version of Reigns vs. McIntyre in a 10 minute match and you'll probably come up with what happened here. It was fine as a return to singles action for Roman. Drive by, Superman Punch, Spear. Roman gets his shit in and wins, and Drew was just a body to take the fall, no significant spots or chance given for him to win. Of note, Reigns received a bit of the mixed/negative reaction he got prior to his leukemia diagnosis. Part of that could be the smarky nature of the Mania crowd, but also, if Reigns' matches continue to be booked in this basic and predictable manner, it's setting Roman up to fail no matter what crowd he's in front of. The audience gave respect to Joe Anoai when he got sick and when he came back. It doesn't mean they have to like the performer Roman Reigns, especially a condensed version of him. (**)
Elias came out to do his concert as Wrestlemania's musical guest. They used a cool bit of trick photography (videography?) to show Elias on the big screen playing drums, guitar and piano at the same time. As Elias geared up to sing along live in the ring, he was interrupted by some old familiar music...
"WORD LIFE, THIS IS BASIC THUGANOMICS!" We go in a time machine to 2003, as John Cena comes out in full throwback rapper attire, and proceeds to lay a rhyme down dissing Elias, making jokes about Elias being a shih tzu ('cause it sounds like he's saying shit) and that Elias' face looks like Cena's nuts (with a bag of actual nuts as a visual aid). For one night only, the AA becomes the FU, and Cena drops Elias with it. As someone who was obsessed with Eminem and 8 Mile in 2003- and by extension, Cena's Thuganomics gimmick, I LOVED THIS. Best moment of Mania for me.
Match 9: No Holds Barred: Triple H def. Batista at 24:45
This was another match I wasn't looking forward to coming in. With Batista being 50 years old, 5 years removed from his last match where his age definitely showed, and Hunter about to turn 50, coming off a pec tear and not having a great run of matches in recent memory. And while it wasn't perfect- and absolutely ran too long, clocking in as the longest match on the whole Mania card- it ended up pretty good. Both guys worked hard and used all the bells and whistles to make it entertaining. Triple H got pretty damn sadistic for the babyface in the storyline, clipping out Batista's nose ring with a pair of bolt cutters at one stage. They did a few big spots involving the announce table- which took a while to break. And finally, HHH got his win back 14 years later after they first feuded. This was a Mania worthy match, and while the stipulation going in was that HHH's career was on the line, Batista took to social media following this match to announce his own retirement. Hell of a swan song, Dave. (***)
Match 10: Baron Corbin def. Kurt Angle at 6:05
There were no shenanigans, no Cena or Undertaker to replace Corbin, just a straight A to B match. Angle adhered to wrestling tradition and went out on his back, putting over the younger Corbin. Given the physical state of Angle, I'm not sure we would have gotten one last classic match out of him even if he had the dream opponent that so many people wanted for him. So Corbin gets a big accolade in his career, officially retiring Kurt Angle. The match itself was nothing we haven't seen before in this last run of Kurt Angle, with the exception of an attempted moonsault leading to the End Of Days finish. It looked really ugly. Father Time did a serious number on Kurt Angle (as well as all the injuries, of course). Seeing HHH and Batista, who are the same age, manage something decent in the prior match really highlights the unfortunate decline of Angle. But still, he's one of the all time greats and gave us so much in his awesome career. He definitely doesn't suck. (*1/2) Bumping him up half a star for the moonsault attempt. It was ballsy even though it wasn't pretty.
(LOL "Leshley". Best pic I could find, sorry.)
Match 11: Intercontinental Championship: "The Demon" Finn Balor def. Bobby Lashley at 4:05 to win the title
Quick and simple, it reintroduced The Demon to the WWE audience. Balor looks like so much more of a star in the paint. It's a shame that they never really clarified why Balor doesn't always wrestle as the Demon, there's sometimes some vague comments about Balor "going to a dark place", but given that he always destroys opponents in that guise, it makes sense to go to it more often. Although it was nice to see Balor throw in a powerbomb and the commentary attributing that to being the Demon. A little more work on fleshing out that character would be cool. Anyway, big win for Balor, a milestone moment in his decorated career. I hope he holds the IC belt for a while now, rather than playing hot potato with Lashley. (*1/2)
Match 12: Winner Take All: Raw & Smackdown Women's Championship: Becky Lynch def. Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair to win the titles
I didn't really like this match, seemed very messy and botch-filled before the finish, but it might need a rewatch, maybe my brain's just wired to be mad at it because they fucked the finish of the fucking Wrestlemania main event. They definitely worked hard, but I could hear a fair amount of spot calling, and a lot of hesitation on Rousey's part at different times. Heard many things regarding the botched finish, not entirely sure what to believe, but if a roll-up was the actual intended finish of the match, that's really shit. Benoit vs. HHH vs. HBK didn't end like that. Bryan vs. Orton vs. Batista didn't end like that. In other words, it's a lame finish and they wouldn't do it to the guys, so why do it to the girls? Anyway, I did appreciate what they were attempting to pull off even if it didn't come off great, so pending further review... (**1/2)
Wrestlemania 35 was a slog to get through, and I watched it in three separate sittings. While I individually marked some matches down for not being long enough or epic enough, some of that would have been by design by WWE, I feel. They're conscious of time being a factor, it seems. I feel like a better way to do that would to have a maximum of 12 matches on the card INCLUDING the Kick-Off. If wrestlers miss out, too bad, better luck next year. I like that they stuck to the fan friendly finishes of Seth, Kofi and Becky winning. I feel like Mania's one place where faces should win more than heels, most of the time anyway. There was some good action like AJ vs. Orton and HHH vs. Batista, and great action like Bryan vs. Kofi... and the fucking Doctor of Thuganomics back in the house, which should get a 5 star rating on its own. Overall, the show was a mixed bag but delivered where it counted for the most part. Score: 7/10
Until next time, take care,