One of the biggest spectacles in (sports) entertainment took place this weekend in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the Showcase of Immortals, WrestleMania. This year’s event, the 35th edition, was one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory. It was chock full of historic moments, iconic images and all-around quality wrestling.
The show was long but frankly it’s understandable why. WWE always tries to get as many superstars on the card as possible so they can get the big WrestleMania payday. This year that meant four pre-show matches and 12 on the main card. The best thing you can say about a wrestling show is that it evoked an emotional reaction and that it was fun, which made this year’s WrestleMania a rousing success.
With that, let’s recap the all-day extravaganza.
Pre-show: Tony Nese def. Buddy Murphy (Cruiserweight Championship)
Pretty fun way to get things started. Quality cruiserweight exhibition, having the high-flyers show off some innovative/exciting offense early in the evening. Even got some color in our first match of the event. About as much as you could hope for from the early opener.
Pre-show: Carmella wins Women’s Battle Royal
This was a pretty run of the mill battle royal that closed with a classic ending, with Carmella emerging out of nowhere to eliminate Sarah Logan, who thought she had won. They’re still all in on making Carmella a thing, so this result was fine. Having some newer blood win probably would have added a little bit to the quality of the match which, again, was fine. I’m mostly just bummed Candice LeRae was eliminated early.
Pre-show: Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins def. The Revival (Raw Tag Team Championship)
The winners of this match were telegraphed the moment it was announced, but WrestleMania always needs some feel-good moments. Curt Hawkins had lost 269 consecutive matches, so there was a lot on the line for him and Long Island Iced Z in this one. The match was somewhat unremarkable (save for a sweet brainbuster on the floor) but the finish was special for the former Edgeheads.
Pre-show: Braun Strowman wins Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal
In over-the-top-rope matches, you have to have big guys win now and then so the “how will they eliminate this guy?” trope is somewhat believable. The match itself was pretty fun with some nice spots, and the conclusion with Strowman finishing his beef with the hosts of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” was fitting. Colin Jost and Michael Che played their roles well, so props to them for that (Jost wore an Odell Beckham Jr. Browns jersey to really heel it up).
Seth Rollins def. Brock Lesnar (WWE Universal Championship)
The main show started off with host Alexa Bliss introducing Hulk Hogan, who cut a lame promo and generally just needed to not be there. But Paul Heyman swooped in to save the day, announcing that if Brock Lesnar wasn’t going to fight in the main event then he was going to open the show (then implied he was off to Las Vegas to talk to UFC, so that was significant to some).
Lesnar pummeled Rollins thoroughly outside the ring before the match officially started, but once the bell rang Rollins mustered a little momentum and turned the tide after hitting Lesnar with a low blow. In a flash, he grounded The Beast and hit him with three consecutive stomps, pinned him and won the belt. The wrestling was forgettable, but the moment was special and every match that ends in Seth Rollins swinging the belt over his head is a good one.
AJ Styles def. Randy Orton
Hopefully, this turns into a quality feud over the next couple of months with some more exciting exchanges between two of the best to ever do it. Not that their match this weekend was bad, in fact it was solid at worst, but it was fairly unremarkable on a night filled with major moments. It was also a little surprising we only saw one RKO.
The Usos win Fatal Four-Way (SmackDown Tag Team Championship)
Four-team tag team matches can often turn into a disaster in a hurry, but the SmackDown tag title fight was an exceptionally fun match. There were a lot of fun moments, especially a 630 splash from Ricochet and a barrage of kicks from every combatant near the finish, and The Usos are certainly still deserving champions. My expectations are usually low for tag matches in general, but this was a great one.
Shane McMahon def. The Miz (Falls Count Anywhere)
I love The Miz. He’s legitimately one of my all-time favorite characters. He played the role of PO’d family man so well, and the storytelling chemistry between him and Shane McMahon was excellent. The finish was fairly unsatisfying, with Shane getting the win after landing on top of Miz following a suplex from a TV platform. Still, it was an excellent match up until the very end. Plus, it spawned a fantastic meme when Miz’s dad got in the ring.
The IIconics win Fatal Four-Way (Women’s Tag Team Championship)
This was an unexpected yet relatively pleasant surprise. Three of the four teams were realistic, with Boss ‘N Hug as the favorites and the team of Beth Phoenix with Natalya also seeming plausible (mostly due to the The Hart Foundation’s induction into the WWE Hall of Fame the night before). We had a double sharpshooter and a Glam Slam from the top rope, both of which got me hyped, but in the end an opportunistic pin earned the victory for The IIconics. Not quite as fun as the other fatal four-way tag match of the night but entertaining nonetheless.
Kofi Kingston def. Daniel Bryan (WWE Championship)
When pro wrestling gets something right it really is incredible. The storyline buildup for this match was excellent, with Kofi, who’s been widely beloved for a long time, garnering all the excitement and sympathy while Bryan played the villain fantastically. It was a well-paced match with a bevy of edge-of-your-seat moments, and despite the logical ending you were left thinking every big move by Bryan (notably the running knee) that the dream was dead for Kofimania.
Then he won. Eleven years and he finally reached the top. The first-ever black grand slam champion in WWE history. All that work, all that time and he finally did it. The celebration was beautiful, with his partners in the New Day getting visibly emotional, the return of the regular WWE Championship belt and an appearance by his kids. A beautiful, historic moment that encapsulated everything great about professional wrestling.
Samoa Joe def. Rey Mysterio (United States Championship)
Not much to say about this one, Joe won in a squash in his first WrestleMania match. Rey injured his ankle and wasn’t going to be able to last long anyway, so for them to get a 619 out of him and have look like a monster in the end was the best-case scenario, given the other factors at play.
Roman Reigns def. Drew McIntyre
More than anything it was just great to see Roman Reigns back in action this weekend. In his first appearance since announcing that he had leukemia (and subsequently announcing that he’s in remission), Roman looked good. There’s probably more coming in the near future for these two, because they can both do better, but any reaction other than being thankful Reigns is healthy is, frankly, inappropriate.
John Cena returns as the Doctor of Thuganomics
In probably the wildest moment of the night, John Cena emerged with a character we haven’t seen in 15 years to confront Elias. Serious, John Cena with a full head of hair dissing Elias at WrestleMania in 2019. An absolute scene. The gimmick would be absolutely trash if brought back full time, but for a one-off it was a remarkable moment. He even called his finisher the FU again! The mad lad really did it.
Triple H def. Batista (No Holds Barred)
This was a surprisingly long match, especially given how much action there was right at the jump. That action included Triple H clamping Batista’s fingers in a wrench and then “ripping out” his nose ring with pliers. Graphic. There was a back body drop on a table that didn’t break, a few steps spots and a classic dirty move by Ric Flair to help Triple H win. It was a bit long but a good story for both. The match stipulation was that Triple H would retire from in-ring competition should he lose; instead, Batista announced his retirement afterward.
Baron Corbin def. Kurt Angle (Angle’s last match)
Kurt Angle is one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, and for him to get to a point where he could compete at one last WrestleMania and then do a job for a young superstar is remarkable given where his life was not that long ago. It’s been awesome seeing him back on WWE programming and, while he went old school and went out on his back in his final match, we still got to see one last Angle Slam and ankle lock from Angle. Plus, one last “you suck” chant to wrap up a great career.
Finn Balor def. Bobby Lashley (Intercontinental Championship)
Positives: Finn’s demon entrance/persona is still pretty coll when used in small doses. Negatives: Bobby Lashley. He’s fine, but I’ve been a hater for many years and that wasn’t stopping last night. Finn’s final combination was a powerbomb and then the Coup de Grace, which was an exciting finish. It wasn’t a bad match, just forgettable given the rest of the night’s action (and also because Lashley was involved).
Becky Lynch def. Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair (Winner-take-all women’s championships)
Where do you start with this? The first-ever women’s main event at WrestleMania. The hottest name in the business (Becky Lynch) versus the baddest woman on the planet (Ronda Rousey) versus the most successful woman since her call up (Charlotte Flair). It was a physical, violent, exciting matchup, with Rousey seemingly getting the worst of it all (blood and bruising all over). She looked tremendous though, as did Lynch, the obvious pick to win it all. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t still doubt throughout the match, which is what keeps you engrossed. The ending was suspect, with Lynch getting a controversial pinfall on Rousey, which you have to assume will lead to a rematch soon. Regardless, it was a great way to showcase three of the best in the business for the whole world to see.
Also, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts performed “Bad Reputation” live for Rousey’s entrance, which absolutely ruled.