WWE WrestleMania 34 Review

WWE Photo

Not this year, buddy. Credit: WWE

I spend a lot of time moaning about WWE. However, when that sign goes up and we all start pointing at it, I get excited. Part of that is down to the many great shows going on around the big one, but let’s not pretend I don’t love WrestleMania. Even as it trickles into its seventh hour and pisses me off for the sixth time, there are few things I’d rather be doing. It’s ‘Mania! Let’s have fun.

Matt Hardy won the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal (Pre-Show)

WWE Photo

I did not want this. Credit: WWE

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler were on commentary and the days when that would have excited me are long gone. Sadly, they were the only treat we got as there weren’t any NXT guys or random ‘legends’ involved. Where was Tatanka?

This was properly rubbish. I know Battle Royals are crap, but even by those standards, it was terrible. The first half was a meaningless cluster of people not doing much while the ring cleared. Then the second half revolved around the likes of Mojo Rawley. I got a slight kick out of Goldust getting a bit of shine while dressed in polka dots, and that’s about as complimentary as I can be.

Just when things couldn’t get any worse, Bray Wyatt turned up. Isn’t he dead? I was so happy when I thought he was dead.

He helped Matt win. I hope someone out there gets pleasure from all this.

Verdict: One Star

Cedric Alexander defeated Mustafa Ali to win the Cruiserweight Title (Pre-Show)

Alexander secures the pinfall, finally winning the WWE Cruiserweight Championship.

Good work, boys. Credit: WWE

What a great match. After the bollocks that opened the show, it cheered me right up. Wrestling is so often overly complicated. Everyone thinks you need intricate stories with twists and turns when stuff like this proves that you really don’t. Alexander and Ali showed that two people chasing a title and pushing each other to go past their limits is just as engaging.

Therefore, it’s a shame that they cut to an advert at the worse possible moment. Ali was going for the 054 and Alexander shoved him from the top rope to the floor. It was the turning point in something that until that moment had felt like a friendly competition. They went from mutual respect to giving everything they could to go home with that belt. Sure, you had the WWE crap of ‘Heart vs Soul’, but behind that, they were telling a good story. A story that had the intricacies of its beginning interrupted with a video package we’d already seen ten times.

I don’t want WWE’s production to take away from the work of Ali and Alexander, though. Working the pre-show is a thankless task. Most of the crowd are still looking for their seats and those who are settled probably don’t watch 205 Live. That they managed to win anyone around says a lot.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Naomi won the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal (Pre-Show)

WWE Photo

Seven hours and no room for this. Credit: WWE

Becky, Bayley and Sasha got entrances, everyone else came out together. That’s an efficient way of telling the crowd that only certain people matter.

There was a group of NXT wrestlers who were given a moment to dominate. Annoyingly, they chose to celebrate having only shoved people under the bottom rope which made them look a bit silly. Although not quite as daft as Becky appeared for getting annoyed at Kavita Devi for wearing orange. It’s her colour apparently.

Bianca Belair stood out in all the right ways. She hit a 450 Splash and then whipped Becky with her hair making one hell of a crack. Sadly, that aside, the opening half fell foul to the same issues as the men’s match. There was a lot of milling around as we whittled down the numbers.

When we got to the final few, it was significantly better. For one thing, there was no Bray Wyatt, and for another, they actually had some stories. We got The Riott Squad working together to go deep into the contest, the continued build towards Bayley vs Sasha and then Naomi appearing just as Bayley thought she’d won because she’d gone under the bottom rope rather than over the top.

None of it was extraordinary, but I’m going to blame the format for that.

P.S. I’ve discovered via Twitter that Sonya Deville was wearing rainbow coloured gear. While a lot of attention has gone to Finn’s gear/entrance, this is another example of someone chipping away at WWE’s lack of exclusivity. Having a gay member of the roster with no big deal being made of it is great.

Verdict: Two And A Quarter Stars

Seth Rollins defeated Finn Balor and The Miz to win the Intercontinental Title

WWE Photo

Those abs, bloody hell. Credit: WWE

There are a lot of people better qualified than me to talk about how important Finn’s Pride inspired entrance/gear was. I’ll stick to saying that wrestling is for everyone and yet that hasn’t always been the case. People like Finn doing what they can at the highest level is a step in the right direction.

This was a superb opener (if you ignore the pre-show). It was all action from start to finish with three wrestlers working their arses off. There were hints of a story as Miz attempted to sneak out with his title by working over the legs of both men. However, they quickly ditched that and got down to hitting lots of cool moves. I like cool moves.

Special mention has to go to Seth who held the whole thing together. I often forget how good he is because he’s lost in the WWE shuffle. This served as an excellent reminder as he showed off his mastery of the little things. There was more than one sequence that required him to be in the right spot at the exact right moment, and he was never anything below perfect in his execution. Not to take away from Miz and Balor who both impressed too, but this was the Seth show.

Verdict: Four Stars

Charlotte defeated Asuka to retain the SmackDown Women’s Title

The Empress of Tomorrow nearly makes the SmackDown Women's Champion tap out.

She’s my champion. Credit: WWE

They are going all out on the entrances tonight aren’t they? I assume Charlotte’s was a deliberate inversion of the Triple H one that she was involved in? That’s the kind of detail which rewards long-term fans.

I think it’s safe to say that these two went out there with the ambition of stealing the show. We got Asuka the killer, with a heavy focus on strikes and submissions. Unfortunately, she was up against big match Flair who was not going to budge an inch. From a top rope Spanish Fly to staying in the Figure Eight with only one working arm, it was a warrior’s performance from the Queen.

And, I have to be honest, that pissed me off. Charlotte is great, but Asuka is so charismatic and her unbeatable aura played an essential part in that. While she can get that back, having her lose and then pay respect to Charlotte is a big blow to her image as a destroyer. She should have responded to defeat by kicking her in the head.

As usual, booking decisions don’t actually change the work of the wrestler and both women excelled. There can’t be many WrestleManias that have opened this hotly.

Verdict: Four Stars

I will point out that having Cena sprint to the back while Asuka and Charlotte were savouring the fan reaction was bullshit. It’s bad enough cutting to him while they’re killing themselves in the ring don’t switch the attention to him in the aftermath too.

Jinder Mahal defeated Rusev, Randy Orton and Bobby Roode to win the US Title

WWE Photo

He’s won another one. Credit: WWE

The only person in this match who was over was the one who WWE has been actively not pushing. Then the man who won is quite possibly the worst bell to bell performer in the company. After a lovely start, this was a reminder that WWE is still WWE.

In saying all that, I expected this to be a hell of a lot worse than it was. The advantage of having four men in there was that there was no chance to sit in a rest hold for five minutes. It was forced into being a sprint by a lack of time.

Plus, we got a bit of Rusev. Whether he is BBQing in his speedo or starting a public holiday, he makes it all work. Sure, I wish he was still riding to the ring in a tank and killing people, but that’s gone, and at least he got a spot on the ‘Mania card.

After a fantastic start, this was a drop-off. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, though, so that’s good.

Verdict: Three Stars

Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle defeated Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

Rousey sports ring gear inspired by WWE Hall of Famer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.

Piper tributes make me happy. Credit: WWE

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but that was great.

There was still a barrel-load of problems with it, central to which is Angle and HHH being unable to go at this level anymore. Every moment looks like it causes Kurt pain and Hunter has someone managed to find a speed slower than plodding. Then you had super fighter Stephanie McMahon blocking a Rousey armbar and almost choking her out which is a special kind of hubris even for the McMahons. Finally, Rousey herself needs to slow everything down half a step because her enthusiasm caused a couple of sloppy moments.

However, WWE needs to be careful not to dampen that passion too much, because she brought a hell of a lot of fire to that ring. While I know people don’t like the person (and 100% understand why) it’s hard to deny the effort she’s putting in as her passion for wrestling shines through. Combine that with some perfect match construction and you have a winning formula. They knew what people wanted – Rousey getting a hold of Hunter and Steph – so they held off on it. Teasing the fans and dragging it away whenever they got too close. Then, when it was delivered, the place came unglued.

I honestly expected this to be a disaster and if a few spots had gone slightly differently, it would have quickly become one. Thankfully, Ronda Rousey went out there and, to put it simply, delivered. If this is her after a few months training, there is every chance she could go on to be great.

Verdict: Four Stars

The Bludgeon Brothers (Eric Rowan and Luke Harper) defeated The New Day (Big E and Kofi Kingston) and The Usos (Jimmy and Jey Uso) to win the SmackDown Tag Team Titles

The Bludgeon Brothers came to New Orleans to bring the pain.

Hammer bros reporting to do some hammering. Credit: WWE

I see what they were doing here. They wanted to give everyone a cooling down period following the excitement of what had come before. Could they not have used something else to do it? The New Day vs The Usos is one of those pairings that equals greatness. Even the flashes we got here were exciting with The Bludgeon Brothers adding something different to the dynamic.

Sadly, they just weren’t given enough time. The Hammer Bros are having the rocket strapped to them and they made quick work of WWE’s best teams. It was a glorified squash.

Oh, also, that New Day entrance? Bit problematic, lads.

Verdict: Three Stars

Elias’s brief concert was proof that WWE trusts him. They sent him out there with a live mic and he killed it. That’s no small task.

In fact, I enjoyed the whole build-up to Undertaker’s return. The lightning looked awful and it was a bit hokey, but I can deal with that. Hokey isn’t always bad.

Undertaker defeated John Cena

WWE Photo

That should be it, pal. Credit: WWE

Despite that, I still expected this to be a disaster. Undertaker was past it three years ago never mind now. However, we got a slimmed down ‘Taker who was ready to go. Even if he hadn’t been, it didn’t matter, because the bastard only went and squashed John Cena.

I have no idea what this means. Is it Undertaker’s retirement? Is it a comeback? I really hope it’s the former. Last year’s match was a bit of a disaster. It didn’t go to plan with Undertaker left looking like an old man. Here, he looked like the legend he is. He came out, got business done and went home. Now go rest big man, you deserve it.

Verdict: Undertaker!

Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

WWE Photo

The moment before the heads started getting kicked. Credit: WWE

If Daniel Bryan walking down to the ring in his gear doesn’t get you excited, then you probably shouldn’t bother with wrestling. Your brain isn’t wired right.

And in what is becoming tonight’s recurring theme, WWE kept us waiting for what we wanted. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn attacked before the bell with Owens delivered a powerbomb on the apron to the returned legend.

That left Shane to take a beating from Kevin and Sami which was pretty shit. If I never watch Shane throw a punch again it will be too soon. He did hit a Coast To Coast, but I don’t want to see him do that stuff anymore. He’s a dad who has recently been seriously ill and taking those risks isn’t worth it.

It was all building to that moment, though. The moment where Shane’s palm finally connected with the hand of Daniel Bryan and the world became a better place again. When Bryan calmly stepped through those ropes the feeling of excitement stretched all the way to a flat in Edinburgh. He was home.

And he looks like he hasn’t been away. While I know Bryan is one of the greatest of all time, three years is three years. If you spend that time away from doing anything you will struggle when you return. Something that requires the timing and athleticism of wrestling? He should have been all over the place. At the very least there should have been signs of nerves. There was none of that. He’s still Daniel Bryan.

It wasn’t perfect. I don’t know where Sami and Kevin go from here and their heel pairing has essentially been neutered. I also hate how they couldn’t resist giving Shane his heroic moments. The McMahon wasn’t allowed to be overshadowed. However, to complain about that is churlish. This match saw a man go back to the dream that he thought he’d lost. That didn’t require storytelling or fancy moves, it was real life, and it was beautiful.

Verdict: Four Stars For Bryan, Two Stars For Shane

Nia Jax defeated Alexa Bliss to win the Raw Women’s Title

Nia Jax vanquishes her former best friend and claims the Raw Women's Championship on The Grandest Stage of Them All!

A well-deserved moment. Credit: WWE

This was what it needed to be. Nia Jax went out and conquered her bully by being the better wrestler. If they had gone in any other direction, it would have been problematic even by WWE’s standards.

However, sometimes the best story does not make the best match. Yes, everything that happened here was logical. From Jax quickly destroying Mickie James to Bliss trying to sneak her way to victory by attacking Nia’s eye. It was the right thing to do. It just wasn’t that exciting.

It’s a problem with WrestleMania being the blow-off show for so many storylines. Sometimes it leads to a dead-end of booking where all you can do is follow the steps laid in front of you. It was a bit of an uneventful end to Bliss’s fantastic title reign but at least Jax is finally established in the spot that she deserves.

Verdict: Three Stars

AJ Styles defeated Shinsuke Nakamura to retain the WWE Championship

WWE Photo

It’s funny how exciting a picture can make something look. Credit: WWE

There were a lot of surprises on this show. WWE’s creative were apparently drunk and just decided to throw darts at a wall. Yet, not one of those decisions was as shocking as AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura going out and having an average match.

Going into ‘Mania this was the lock. It was the one for fans like me where two guys were going to be sent to the ring with the job of stealing the show. Except that didn’t happen. They went down and went through the motions, never stepping up a gear or finding a fraction of the spark that their incredible Tokyo Dome encounter had. It was baffling.

And sure, you can point to the Nakamura heel turn. It appears WWE has more planned for these two and perhaps they wanted to hold back. But this is WrestleMania, it’s not meant to be the place where people hold back. Could Nak not have turned heel a month ago? Could he not have come into this show as the vicious killer trying to decapitate AJ and steal his belt?

I don’t know, I was so sure that this was going to be great. I was so sure that Shinsuke Nakamura in WWE was going to be great. Do you know that there is a large group of fans out there who think he is an average wrestler? WWE has somehow managed to take something that should have been a sure hit and water it down to the point where no-one cares. While there is a lot of whining in this review, this is the only thing that genuinely bummed me out. A three-star AJ vs Nakamura match? Whoever thought we’d see that?

Verdict: Three Stars

Braun Strowman and Nicholas defeated The Bar (Cesaro and Sheamus) to win the Raw Tag Team Titles

Strowman finds Nicholas, who accepts the offer to be The Monster Among Men's partner!

Meet Nicholas. Credit: WWE

If you’re wondering who Nicholas is, it’s because he was a ‘random’ fan that Braun pulled out of the crowd. He must have been about ten years old and looked baffled by the entire situation.

Poor Sheamus. Poor Cesaro. I understand that being multi-time champions and appearing on TV every week for the biggest company in the world can’t be an awful life. However, they could do better. Imagine the matches they would have put on if they’d spent this weekend going toe to toe with wrestlers like Ishii and Sekimoto? Ugh, it would have been beautiful.

Instead, they’re losing to Braun Strowman and Nicholas. It was a fun moment for the live crowd and assuming the kid isn’t some local actor who doesn’t give a damn about wrestling it will have been awesome for him too. It’s just not very me.

Verdict: NA

Brock Lesnar defeated Roman Reigns to retain the Universal Title

WWE Photo

You’re drunk and we’re going home. Credit: WWE

Wait, what? Four years. Four years of build and then on the very last day, you pull the plug? When it’s finally time for Roman Reigns to conquer he just… doesn’t? What the hell?

I don’t know what to say about this. The match was quite fun. It was your standard Brock brawl which I always enjoy. The accidental blood certainly added to it and would have been a fantastic visual if it had led to Roman winning the belt.

Except, he didn’t win the belt. He lost and I’m still not sure why. Where do they go from here?

At the end of Wrestle Kingdom, I was in shock when Naito was beaten clean by Okada. However, I put faith in Gedo having a long-term plan and I think that faith is being rewarded. They continue to sell-out shows and it’s clear they want Okada to beat the title defence record. I have no doubt that Naito’s time will come and it might even be next year at the Dome.

I bring this up because I should probably give WWE the same benefit of the doubt. I should wait this out and see where they go. The problem is, when was the last time WWE showed a flair for long-term booking? It was booking Roman Reigns to finally beat Brock Lesnar and he didn’t fucking beat Brock Lesnar!

If you’re focusing on the wrestling, this was fine. There have been worse WrestleMania main events. When you try to focus on all the other stuff, it gives me a headache, so fuck knows what that means.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Overall Show

Bryan is victorious once again in New Orleans.

Welcome home. Credit: WWE

Em, I don’t know if that was a good show. Scrolling back up I kind of have to concede that it was. In fact, there was a moment where I wondered whether it was going to be the greatest WrestleMania of all time. The Cruiserweight Title match was good, followed by a hot opening as the first two title shots delivered. Elsewhere, Daniel Bryan returned and I cried, while Ronda Rousey proved that she might actually be quite good at this wrestling malarky. I even enjoyed Undertaker turning up to squash John Cena.

So, why do I feel disappointed? Like I’ve been let down somehow. Honestly, it’s because the last few matches just weren’t that great. Even the one that I was sure would be a classic fizzled out. If you could turn this card on its head and open with the disappointment and end with the fire I reckon I’d be giddy about it all, it’s just hard to look and smile when the most recent thing you’ve been served has bummed you out.

I think the conclusion, therefore, is that we had about three-quarters of the best WrestleMania of all time. Then, we had a bunch of stuff that either made me sad, baffled me or just wasn’t that good. God WWE, you never make things easy do you?

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