by Victor Parenza (@ParenzaBooks)
This year was known as the “ultimate thrill ride.” I hated that tag line from the second I heard it, but I will admit it was worth it to see the really cool set on the ramp way this year. Since WrestleMania is the only time they have new sets these days, I really appreciate it when they bust them out. (Now if only we could have done something about those ugly ass white ring ropes.)
The show itself was really good. So good in fact, I didn’t have any trouble siting through it. I may have cheated a tad, but I’ll elaborate on that later. But first we should probably address the elephant in the room. The giant Samoan elephant in the room.
Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns beat Undertaker clean in what was seemingly Taker’s last match ever. Going in to the match I had no problem with this, but with the caveat that he must turn heel. Even if he beats him clean (without the traditional heel turn shenanigans), I want arrogance and everything else that should come with the RR (I’m abbreviating “Roman Reigns from this point forward) package. This is getting a tad off-topic, but all indicators from Raw would lead us to believe that he is still “say your prayers and take your vitamins” RR, with the restraint he showed against the hostile #RawAfterMania crowd.
Obviously this is not what I hoped for. So in kayfabe sense, RR is now a more dominant “superstar” than Kane, Triple H, HBK, Punk, Orton, Diesel, Batista, and every other guy not named “Lesnar” that couldn’t take the Deadman down at Showcase of the Immortals. I’m obviously being a bit dramatic because most of the guys who faced Undertaker at Mania were past their prime, but this is how WWE will promote it to us. “HE IS THE BIG DOG! IT IS NOW HIS YARD!”
People are still bitter about the streak being broken. And rightfully so, it was something that made the most cynical of fans sit up and take notice. (Myself included.) I think it’s fair to say that a lot of the diehards turned against Lesnar because of him breaking the streak. Fast forward to today, and the only way the situation could have been worse is if it was indeed RR that broke the streak. And honestly I’m surprised he didn’t. RR has eliminated an entire Survivor Series team himself (2013), set the Royal Rumble elimination record (2014), won a Royal Rumble (2015) and won a tournament for the title at Survivor Series (2015).
Seriously has anyone had a push quite like that? Cena beat every single person countless times, and would occasionally win handicap matches, but he wasn’t winning these huge multi-man events like RR has. Cena didn’t even win a Rumble until 2008, which was already 3 years into his run.
Congratulations WWE you just made your uphill battle that much more difficult for you. I’m not a sure how a kid thinks these days, but I would think that at least a small portion of them would think, “Gee I wish RR didn’t retire the Undertaker.” I can assure you that no RR hater is thinking, “Yeah he really won me over now! I thought he blowed before this, but now I think he’s the man!” They only poured gas on the fire with this one.
Okay I’m done ranting about big picture things. As for the match I was invested. I wanted to see how it would be handled, like I mentioned earlier. Then as things wore on, it got ugly. I know haters will immediately jump all over him and say RR fucked up the tombstone, but I honestly think those botches at the end were more to blame of the Undertaker.
The match itself was not a good way to end the show. It was somewhat salvaged by the Undertaker’s retirement striptease- that’s a terrible joke I take it back. It was jarring seeing grown men cry due to the implications that their hero was walking off into the sunset. It was just a very strange way to end a show. Can we get a do-over?
Goldberg vs. Lesnar
In other news, in what should have been complete trash, Goldberg vs. Lesnar was as good as it could have possibly been. Very hard-hitting with no down time. Much like their Survivor Series bout, I give this a thumbs up. The problem is this was a title match. Why? So now we don’t get to see the title defended again until Summerslam? Just focus on the match during a re-watch, because if you think long-term it will make your brain hurt. Five years from now, in a vacuum this match will be fine, but right now it’s going to be a killer blow to Raw.
Smackdown Women’s title
The poor Smackdown women had the terrible misfortune of going on second to last on a marathon of a show. “You want them on the main show!?! YOU GOT IT!!” I can hear Vince laughing as he counts his money. I’m guessing they would have preferred the preshow. That being said, I’m emotionally invested in the Smackdown women. I enjoyed what they were given, and it was nice to see the hometown hero win it. (Is it just me or do they not do this as much anymore? Usually they lose.)
Raw Women’s title
The Raw women also had a nice match. It sort of reminded me of the triple threat tag match at NXT the night before with the smaller competitors teaming up against the Goliaths. Naturally it wasn’t even close to being as good, but for a guy that is bored to tears with the Raw women’s division, they did well. I’m really surprised Bayley retained. I would have bet money that Charlotte would have won. Part of me also hoped Asuka came down and beat up the winner, but I guess we’ll have to wait a smidge longer.
Wyatt vs. Orton
Earlier I mentioned that I “cheated” when it came to watching this show. I always start the shows roughly an hour after they begin. This way I can fast forward through some of the crap. The only downside is that if the show is really crappy, I end up fasting forwarding to real time. That wasn’t the case here, but I did use it to skip most of Wyatt vs. Orton.
I hate this feud. Plain and simple. Last fall when Orton joined the Wyatt’s I thought to myself, Boy I hope this isn’t leading to Orton turning on him then having a WrestleMania match between the two. So not only did that happen, it was the FUCKING Smackdown title match. Seriously what the hell?!? Add on to the fact that they had the ridiculous Cena transitional “record tying” title win padding, you get the one thing wrong with Smackdown. (Which is a backhanded compliment in a way.)
Bray had a terrible 2015 and especially one in 2016. I, in no way, believed him as a competent title contender let alone a champion. You want this match so bad? Fine, but it doesn’t need to be a title match. That match was 10 minutes and like I said I skipped most of it. I’m guessing I didn’t miss much. I did see the Willy Wonka on the boat scene, with the maggots taunt that Bray did. I guess it would have been cool if it helped him win, but no, Randy still won. It’s 2004 all over again. You don’t believe me? See: Lesnar, Brock vs. Goldberg, Bill.
Rollins vs. Triple H
Another match that I did quite a bit of skipping was Orton vs. Triple H. It was the longest match of the night naturally because it was indeed a HHH match. I loved Rollins ring gear, but hated his entrance. It would have been sweet (or “lit” as the kids say) if the “fire stream” made explosions come out of the ring posts a ’la Kane, but it was not to be. HHH’s WrestleMania entrances feel masturbatory at this point. Seriously take a year off from it.
The ending of the match did pick up nicely, and Stephanie going through the table was oddly therapeutic. (D-VON GET THE TABLES!) HHH did the j-o-b which definitely was the correct thing to do but you always have that feeling of dread during HHH matches. (The worst two instances were WM 20 and 30.)
Ambrose vs. Corbin
Is anyone else like me and not give a single crap about Dean Ambrose anymore? Shockingly I feel Corbin is starting to come into his own, which is something I never thought I would write. No one seemed interested in this match, especially the two guys involved. I’m sure they weren’t real thrilled with being bumped to the pre-show, but come on. I still think Corbin will have the IC strap sooner rather than later, which at this point is the better option of the two.
Andre Battle Royal
WrestleMania battle royals are never anything too spectacular. This year brought it to a whole new level of nothing special. For starters the Usos should have had a match against American Alpha. I don’t think anyone would question that, even considering the length of the show. It was a blatant lack of respect for Smackdown, which in all reality has always been the case. Plus it made too much sense not to do it. Alpha was owed a rematch from just losing their belts, and what better place to do it? Well apparently it wasn’t WrestleMania.
The rest of the battle royal was just weird. The lackluster elimination of Big Show, who had been hyped for some time now, was quite perplexing. BRAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUNNNN was eliminated rather early, again that was strange. And the final two? Jinder Mahal and Mojo Rawley?!?! What alternate universe are we living in? Has either man ever had a one on one PPV match that wasn’t on the preshow? Ever?!? Now they are the final two in this supposed “prestigious” battle royal on the biggest show of the year? I don’t get it. I’ll get back to those two dumb fucks momentarily.
Taking out the two behemoths the only realistic winners could have been: Zayn, Ziggler, Harper, Henry, or maybe Dain, but that wouldn’t have made a whole lot of sense considering they are keeping him in NXT. Had they did the same with him as they did Corbin the previous year, I could see that being a possibility. The remaining combatants were tag teams, bottom of the barrel guys, and bottom of the barrel tag teams. Which is pretty sad considering there were 33 guys entered.
Sami Zayn was the biggest star in the match, and logically would have been a fine choice. Ziggler needed this badly because his career has been on life support ever since his feud with Miz ended. I also love American Alpha, so if either one of them would have won it would have been fine by me. Personally though, I feel Luke Harper would have benefited greatly from this, considering he had been floating near the main events the last month or so. This could maybe have gotten him over the hump. Were any of these guys even in the final two? Noooooooooooooooooo!
So we’re back to Mojo and Mahal. The stuff with Gronk was too drawn out and quite frankly awkward. I didn’t enjoy it at all. Is Gronk’s willingness to be involved the only reason Mojo won? I would hope so, but it’s still not a good reason at all. It would be one thing if this did something good for him, but we all know they’ll make a big deal out of this for 2 weeks, but then it’s back to jerking the curtain for ole Mojo.
The Cenas vs. the Mizs
Think fast! What was the best built program of this whole WrestleMania? This one? You’re kidding? No I’m not actually. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I loved the build to this. I looked forward to the fake Bella show parodies (just for the record, Maryse makes a hotter Nikki than Nikki does). I loved it when Cena kicked it into “Serious Cena” mode and ripped the Mizs a new asshole. I would have preferred it to be just Miz vs. Cena, but they made it work despite the limitations of the girls’ promo and wrestling abilities. Miz however keeps knocking it out of the park, and I would be totally fine with him taking the belt off Randy, much like he did back in 2010. Can we get the Miz girl back?
The match was too much cat fighting for my taste, but nothing too ridiculous or offensive. This match would be the first time a significant portion of the audience was pro-Miz in many, many years. But, then came the post-match. Ugh, did it make you believe in Miz and Maryse’s claims that much more after seeing this long, drawn out, sappy shit? I’m not a fan of the big public proposals in the first place, and I just may be a giant heartless jerk, so this didn’t sit well with me. Oh well at least we had the buildup.
Owens vs. Jericho
As you definitely have noticed by now, I’m not doing these matches in order. The reasons are simple. I tried to get the utter crap out of the way first, and end on a good note. And besides, you’ve probably read a bunch of these reviews already, and this will break up the monotony of seeing essentially the same thing every time. Or so I keep telling myself.
I don’t remember a lot about this match. I do remember getting a kick out of Jericho’s light up scarf. That made me chuckle. I also hope that Owens keeps making a “KO Mania” shirt every year parodying the accompanying Mania logo. Those are sweet.
Owens won, but it’s always been a pet peeve of mine when a former world champion goes and immediately wins a secondary title. It seems ass-backward to me. But for the purposes of prolonging this story, I’m fine with it.
Styles vs. McMahon
This match seemed like such a waste when it was announced. How can you possibly use AJ like this? Well they did. I did find it intriguing when they said it would be a “wrestling match” and not a stunt show. Ok cool. Maybe now we can get something new out of Shane that doesn’t involve potential paralysis, were my thoughts initially. Well of course there was a ref bump and things took a turn for the crazy, but all and all this was a really entertaining match. Which is why it is one of the ones I’ve saved towards the end. I find it somewhat strange this went on first. That spot is usually a lock for whatever ladder match they have planned, but I’ve also come to the conclusion I really enjoy the look of the show when it’s still daylight. This fact didn’t dawn on me until WM 31, and last year was a dome, so it was visually pleasing to see it again this year, and an added bonus to this match going on early.
Styles looked amazing as usual. He’s truly in rarified air when it comes to the in-ring performance aspect. Daniel Bryan had so many great matches, but I don’t think even he was this consistent without at least one stinker in the bunch every now and again. Styles also had a face turn on Smackdown, which was a long time coming. If you look at the crowd, you see as many “Phenomenal” t-shirts as you do anyone else. I don’t think he should have turned heel in the first place, but I’m getting off topic with that subject. Kudos to Styles for making me enjoy a Shane match, which is something I don’t think I’ve done since ’01.
Neville vs. Aries
I was a bit peeved when I saw the word “preshow” on the graphic of this match. I was more nervous when I saw that they were the opening match on the preshow. Please just give them time to work, was what I kept thinking. After 15 minutes my every wish for this match came true. They rocked the house, in what was my personal favorite bout of the night.
I expected Neville to win, but totally bought in on the Aries’ 450 near fall. I’m sure it was quite validating for Aries to hear a stadium full of people chant his name, instead of just the normal few thousand (or hundred). Like I mentioned in the last match, this obviously had the benefit of being a match in the daylight, combined with the shiny new silver and gold ring gear for Aries and Neville respectively. It made the match feel important, along with being visually pleasing. (Is that comment making things weird?)
I’ve always liked Neville, but I never felt emotionally invested in him. Since his heel turn, he has been one of my favorite guys in WWE. Aries has always been the man in my eyes, and this stretch he’s had with 205 live has given the whole show so much more authenticity. Both guys have no holes in their games. They are believable in their roles and can get on the microphone and drive that point home. I would dare say that none of the other cruiserweights, with the exception of Kendrick, are able to do that.
The Club vs. Enzo and Cass vs. Sheamus and Cesaro vs. the Hardyz
The previous match may have been my favorite, but my favorite moment was of course the Hardyz making their triumphant return. I had written off any chance of the Hardy brothers ever coming back to WWE despite what all the internet rumors may have been indicating. I mean Jeff in particular had been gone for nearly 8 years. I saw they showed up in ROH and I incorrectly assumed they had signed a deal with them. So I in no way, shape, or form expected them to be at WrestleMania, especially since I knew they had performed at ROH that weekend.
When the New Day came out, it made sense in my mind, that they would use their “hosting powers” and insert themselves in the match. I thought that was probably for the best. The more people that are in the match, the less each person has to do individually, theoretically making it safer for all involved. Plus, Kofi usually does some cool stuff with the ladder.
When that music hit, my jaw dropped. I truly couldn’t believe it. I may or may not have jumped up and did the Jeff Hardy dance. They looked great and their smiles appeared genuine. I was 14 when the Hardyz were at their peak popularity. So for me, this is kind of like how Toronto treated Hogan at WrestleMania 18. That may seem ridiculous, but at the turn of the century the Hardyz were my guys. This was a truly feel-good moment that has been lacking the last couple of Wrestlemanias.
All seemed right with the world when that crazy Jeff Hardy scaled the ladder to deliver a Swanton through two guys on a ladder. Don’t get me wrong, I thought he was crazy for doing it. His landing in particular looked downright nasty, but he was all in good spirits in his post-match interview, even joking how he is still doing ladder matches in 2017? Even if this match was average, which it wasn’t, the energy from the Hardyz would have made it level-up pretty substantially. I loved it.
So was all the stuff I ranted and raved about in the first few paragraphs offset by the ones in the last few paragraphs? Yes indeed it was. This was the best Mania since 30 for me. Much like last year, the first half is way better than the second half, but this year’s first half is much better than last year’s. Brock and Goldberg overachieving also really helped, and naturally the Hardyz captivating return exponentially raises the show’s average.
When I really stopped and thought about it, at least half of the WrestleMania’s don’t have an enjoyable main event. Unfortunately a great main event carries more weight than any other match obviously, and had this had at least an average one, we could be talking about an all-time show. No it didn’t have any “Savage vs. Steamboats,” but I’ll take a card of a bunch of really good matches any time I can get it.
I also need to point out that I don’t watch the talking portions of the preshow. I just skipped to the matches. Seriously do this. I don’t care how cute you think Rene Young is. You don’t need to be beaten over the head with the same clichés you’ve heard on Raw the past few weeks claiming this or that. Start the show late, don’t look at your phone in case someone is trying to spoil it for you, and just watch the actual wrestling matches. If you watch the whole damn two hour preshow, you’re all worn out by the time the actual show starts. That’s my words of wisdom. Here’s to WrestleMania 34!