WrestleWatch- WrestleMania 38 (Night 1)
By Mick Robson
Everything's bigger in Texas, right? So it makes sense that we get the biggest Mania yet for WrestleMania 38. Biggest not necessarily meaning the best, most star-studded, stacked card, but just from the pure scope of it. This is the 3rd two night WrestleMania that WWE have put on. The first had zero attendance due to COVID. The second had limited attendance at Raymond James Stadium thanks to COVID. Now, we're getting to the other side of this damn pandemic, and AT&T Stadium is fully open for business for this year's WrestleMania!
There's always a certain magic in the air for Mania. And while my WWE fandom has dipped in spots, and while my interest in this overall card isn't at the peak, there's still something that has me giddy like an 8 year old kid again.
That being, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Austin was called out by Kevin Owens, to be a guest on the KO Show. Now, Austin has done wrestling talk shows before, and he's even done them at WrestleMania- long time fans may remember Piper's Pit at WrestleMania 21. But something about this seemed different. Stone Cold accepted the invitation by cutting a promo very much in the vein of the old Texas Rattlesnake, and promised to open up a can of whoop-ass. That can is the main event of WrestleMania Saturday.
Over on WrestleMania Sunday, we have what WWE is billing as the Biggest WrestleMania Match Ever, in a classic case of over-promotion. But it still should be great. WWE Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Universal Champion Roman Reigns. They've faced off several times in the past, including twice at Mania, but the dynamics feel different this year, as it's babyface Cowboy Brock vs. heel end boss, the Tribal Chief, Roman Reigns.
As an overall card, I'm probably digging Night 2 over Night 1. Sunday (or Monday morning in Australia) features Edge vs. AJ Styles, Pat McAfee vs. Austin Theory (look at McAfee's NXT run to see why that's a highlight) and a Anything Goes showdown between Sami Zayn and Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame in addition to the Lesnar/Reigns showdown.
Let's do this!
The pre-show featured nothing but waffle from talking heads for 2 hours. Jake Paul showed up to talk trash, following in the footsteps of big brother Logan, who is on this card. What did we do to deserve the Paul brothers in pro wrestling?
Match 1: Smackdown Tag Team Championship- The Usos (c) def. Shinsuke Nakamura & Rick Boogs (at 6:55)
Thoughts: Nakamura & Boogs looked cool in their orange attire as they participated in a little product placement during their entrance, and the action started fast and snappy as most Usos matches do. Unfortunately, Boogs got injured in attempting a feat of strength spot lifting both Usos. He dropped clutching his leg and tagged Shinsuke. Shin kicked out of the Uso splash, but fell victim to the 1D moments later. Feel like this was cut short and possibly even changed finish due to Boogs injury, which was revealed later in the show to be a quad tear. Wishing Boogs all the best in his recovery, and not the best way to start Mania, but it was circumstances outside anyone's control. (**)
Match 2: Drew McIntyre def. Happy Corbin (w/ Madcap Moss) (at 8:35)
Thoughts: Good battle and this was the spirited affair it needed to be after Corbin raised the stakes on Smackdown and made a joke about McIntyre's deceased mother. Great fire from Drew, who busted out a flip dive to take both Corbin and Moss out at one point. Corbin still looked strong, hitting all his signature stuff- but McIntyre became the first person ever to kick out of the End of Days! Bit of a Mania moment there, and right after Drew hit the Future Shock, followed by the Claymore for the decisive win. Probably above expectations for some people (***1/4)
Post-match, McIntyre threatened Moss with his sword (no, not that one) but chopped the ring ropes in half instead! Somewhere between cheesy and cool, but I did get a kick out of it.
Match 3: The Miz & Logan Paul def. Rey & Dominik Mysterio (at 11:15)
Thoughts: Let's get it out of the way- Logan is no Bad Bunny. Seemed a bit stiff and awkward on his moves, although is clearly athletic. Where his value came in is that he's a natural heel, and his expressions and reactions to the crowd were great, particularly revelling in the boos when he stole Eddie Guerrero's moveset. I'm not a Dominik fan either, but he seemed emotional alongside his dad at Mania and had one of the better performances I've seen from him. The result was a surprise, and the post-match turn of Miz on Logan even more so. Both are impossible to like, so... just... why? (**3/4)
Match 4: Raw Women's Championship- Bianca Belair def. Becky Lynch (c) (at 19:10)
Thoughts: This was my MOTN. Fun callbacks to Summerslam in the opening moments that made sense, then they got into a back and forth battle. Becky brought the aggression to complement Bianca's athleticism, and both ladies were in sync throughout. Some big bumps, including Bianca taking the Manhandle Slam on the steps, but she managed to push through and hit the KOD to get the 1-2-3, and the EST is the new champ! Felt big-time, no pun intended, from the entrances to the finishing sequence. They should be very proud of that one! (****1/4)
Match 5: Cody Rhodes def. Seth Rollins (at 21:40)
Thoughts: The rumours were true! Cody Rhodes is back in WWE, and what a Mania Moment (TM) his entrance was! He's completely retained his AEW presentation, from the music to the logos, to being called the American Nightmare. It was a little shaky early on, with a couple of botched/messy spots, and a crowd that wasn't quite into it after the "OMG it's Cody" pop, but Rollins and Cody worked hard and got in a groove down the stretch to produce a Mania-worthy match. Cody gets the W after three Cross Rhodes and a Bionic Elbow for good measure. Great stuff in the end. (****)
The HOF inductees get their moment on the Mania stage. Undertaker gets the full entrance and a massive ovation. His HOF speech from the previous night is one of the best ever to be sure. A true legend.
Match 6: Smackdown Women's Championship- Charlotte Flair (c) def. Ronda Rousey (at 18:30)
Thoughts: Didn't love this one. Rousey's lost a lot of the intensity she had in her first run- could be a bit of rust, but she was such a natural the first time around, and now she seems slower and almost going through the motions. It was evident in her return at the Rumble, but hasn't really improved in the time since. It wasn't outwardly bad, and Charlotte was good enough to hold it together, but the chemistry they had at Survivor Series 2018 was largely absent here. Flair gets the surprising victory after a ref bump gives Rousey the out. Ronda made Charlotte tap to the armbar while the ref was out, and a big boot allows the Queen to retain. (***1/4)
The scheduled New Day vs. Sheamus & Ridge Holland match gets cut for time. The upside of a 2 night Mania means they can likely be fit in tomorrow. A lot of time was spent on video packages for Night 2 matches, which I'm not sure was necessary- if you're watching Mania, you're most likely aware it's a 2 night show and plan to watch tomorrow.
It's time for the KO Show! Kevin Owens comes out with some very simple show props set up in the ring, and runs down Texas for a couple of minutes before Austin's music interrupts. The crowd goes BANANA, and Stone Cold walks out in an Austin 3:16 shirt, jean shorts, wrists taped, knee braces and boots on. He's here for a fight. He goes backstage for a moment and comes back out in his ATV. Ooh, this is gonna be good!
Owens gets Austin to calm down for a moment and sit in a chair. Austin calls Owens an asshole, and after some brief back-and-forth, KO confesses that he tricked Austin. He actually wanted Austin to come to Mania for a match. A No Holds Barred Match. Austin considers it, and after a couple of hearty "Hell Yeah"s from the crowd, it's on! Austin's first match in 19 years!
Match 7: No Holds Barred- Stone Cold Steve Austin def. Kevin Owens (at 13:55)
Thoughts: Austin wrestled in a t-shirt, and was a bit slower on the mudhole stomps than he used to be, but I was still smiling ear-to-ear throughout. Owens bumped like a mad man, but Austin's first major bump was a suplex on concrete! They brawled through the crowd for a bit and up the ramp, ala the Attitude Era style, with Austin talking trash and drinking many beers throughout. KO got a bit of offense in and hit the Stunner for a near fall, but this was only ever going to end one way- Austin hits the OG Stunner for the win! Awesome. Not a classic by any means, but still plenty of action to set it apart from Austin's WWE appearances over the past 19 years. (***1/2)
Post-match, Austin gives Owens another Stunner, drinks some more beer, and then invites Byron Saxton in the ring. The fool gets in and eats a Stunner too (fair play, he takes an amazing bump for it). We sign off Night 1 with Austin celebrating.
This was a very fun show. Not perfect, but most definitely fun. The "moments" seemed to supercede the action, with Cody's entrance being a far bigger deal than most of the actual match, and the mere fact that Austin participated in a match and got properly physical being far more important than the actual match quality. Of the actual match quality though, Becky & Bianca knocked it out of the park, Rollins & Cody found their groove, and Austin gets a bit of closure- as he said, his first ever match was in Dallas, Texas, and he can end it there as well. Highly enjoyable.
Overall Score: 8/10
We'll update with coverage of Night 2 tomorrow. Until next time, take care.