Wrestle Respawn – WrestleMania 34

The event is emanating from the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana

Calling the action are a revolving cast of Michael Cole, Jonathan Coachman, Corey Graves, Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton, Nigel McGuiness, Vic Joseph, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, Paige and Beth Phoenix

I’m going to be skipping most of the talking on the Pre-Show, in the interest of expediency

Pre-Show

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

No one gets an entrance and the match starts with everyone in the ring. As you can imagine, there’s loads of people in there so I won’t be covering every elimination, just notable ones. For instance, crowd favourite Aiden English is the first chucked out, much to the audience’s displeasure. Former tag team partners R-Truth and Goldust have a dance off and Goldy ends up throwing his friend out before dabbing. Dolph Ziggler teases being thrown out by multiple opponents but always manages to cling on.

Mojo Rawley dumps former partner Zack Ryder out and then we have an ad break. Yes, an ad break, here, during a pre-show match. All the “get the show for free” stuff is a bit of a slap in the face to long-time loyal customers I should add, but it’ll only anger up my blood so let’s move swiftly on. There’s such a mass of bodies here that I only notice the 7-foot tall Kane once the field starts to thin out slightly. We now get a tonne of quick fire eliminations, as the camera shows us that John Cena is enjoying the show from the crowd as a fan.

Once the quickfire section is over with, we’re left with Kane, Jeremy Baron Corbin, Mojo, Dolph, Titus O’Neill, Matt Hardy, Goldust and Tye Dillenger. Everyone gangs up on Kane and Corbin for a moment as they’re the two biggest men left, but neither man gets thrown out. Dolph sends Titus out but turns around into a Goldust powerslam. Goldy sets both Ziggler and Tye up for Shattered Dreams in the corner, and gets it on Tye but Dolph backdrops him out when he tries it on him.

We get a “Delete” Vs “10” chant battle between Matt and Tye, which goes Matt’s way and he chucks the “Perfect 10” out to the floor. Dolph is gone via Kane and Corbin sneaks up behind Kane to dump him as well. So this leaves us with Mojo, Corbin and Matt as our final three, which at least includes two former winners and possibly the most popular guy in the whole match respectively. Matt gets beaten down two on one, but former foe Bray Wyatt comes in for the surprising rescue, allowing Matt to rally and win the match, last dumping Corbin.

WINNER – MATT HARDY
RATING: *

Matt and Bray hug post-match. Just a bunch of blokes aimlessly wandering around for the first three quarters, but once it got down to a manageable number, it was reasonably fun.

Cruiserweight Title Tournament Final
Cedric Alexander Vs “The Pakistani Power Ranger” Mustafa Ali

Hopefully these lads are allowed to have a good match here without too many restrictions. Cedric controls early on and gets a dive to the outside. Back inside, it’s a bear hug on the mat, as that’s what we all want from the Cruiserweight division isn’t it? Ali comes back with an X-Factor for two, but ends up taking a Spanish Fly from Cedric in return. Ali won’t stay down and heads up top, but Cedric cuts him off and tries to bring him down with a suplex. Ali manages to fight him off and gets his own Spanish Fly from the very top rope for a count of two.

The Network starts sticking for me at this point, which is annoying as the pace is picking up. Ali goes up for the inverted 450 splash, but Cedric pushes him off the top to the floor as an injury tease. However, what should be the dramatic story section of the match is ruined by a Ronda Rousey inset promo video, complete with music. Are you chuffing joking WWE?!?! That’s so incredibly disrespectful to the lads in this match. Couldn’t you cut out some of JBL and Booker T’s inane waffling for this video? Especially when these two guys and this division desperately need as much credibility as possible?

Ali manages to drag himself back in, which would have been a nice bit of dramatic tension if it hadn’t been dubbed over with a video package, and snaps off a reverse rana. Inverted 450 from Ali, which is his finisher, but Cedric just manages to get his foot on the rope to stop the count at two. Ali tries it again but Cedric moves and starts smashing Ali with some big back elbow strikes. Ali refuses to stay down, so Cedric drops him with The Lumbar Check to finally put him away.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION – CEDRIC ALEXANDER
RATING: **1/2

Both men worked hard and tried to add some storyline elements at the end, but their match was sadly treated like an afterthought.

“Faboulous who? Never heard of her” Battle Royal

Paige joins in on commentary, looking like she’s just used Homer Simpson’s make-up shotgun. Why do they insist on caking her in so much slap like that? Everyone gangs up on Carmella to start and quickly dumps her. I’m sure that was worth her getting on a plane to Louisiana, well done WWE. Poor Dana Brooke is the next to get ganged up on, although I couldn’t tell you why, and then the NXT contingent of Taynara Conti, Peyton Royce, Kairi Sane and others leave everyone laying. Both of Absolution get chucked in short order, as the match is then interrupted by a toy commercial.

You know, it’s kind of hard to treat these matches like they matter when you’ve interrupted every single one of them with an advert or inset promo WWE. Kind of makes them all feel like they don’t matter in the slightest, and what’s the point in telling your audience that any section of your show isn’t important? Bianca Belaire whips people with her hair but then gets dumped out by Becky Lynch, who is then thrown out herself off camera. Way to treat one of your most popular acts there WWE, thumbs up!

The Riott Squad now start running, err, riot and dumping quite a few people out. Eventually it comes down to them, Sasha Banks and Bayley. BaySha team up to dump the heels and then face off. Sasha extends her hand to her friend, but Bayley just throws out her out instead to a big pop. However, it turns out that Naomi hasn’t yet been eliminated, and she duly throws out Bayley to win.

WINNER – NAOMI
RATING: DUD

So we don’t even get a resolution to the BaySha Saga either as neither of them officially turned. I guess that’ll happen on Raw? (I’m writing this Monday afternoon). Match was junk and a waste of some talented workers.

Main Show

Joining me with his thoughts on the main card is my fellow GR colleague Alec Hawley. Say hello Alec! (Err, hello…)

He’ll be giving his thoughts in bold, because he’s a bold man with bold tastes. Or something like that.

Opening Match
Raw Intercontinental Championship
Champion: The Miz Vs Seth Rollins Vs Finn Balor

Seth either has blue contacts in for his entrance or a very serious case of glaucoma. Miz sends The Miztourage to the back and wants to do this on his own, whilst Finn Balor brings out the New Orleans LGBT community with him in a nice touch. Everyone goes for schoolboy roll ups to start and it ends up with Balor diving outside onto everyone. Back inside, Rollins gets a double blockbuster on both men but Miz cuts him off with a knee to the gut.

Miz works both of his opponents over, as the announcers say he is 22 days away from Pedro Morales’ record as IC Champion. Miz gets a snap DDT for two on Rollins and continues to dominate by putting Balor in the figure four leg lock. However, Rollins comes off the top with a frog splash onto Miz whilst he has the hold applied. The fight spills outside and Rollins teases powerbombing Balor into the barricade, but Balor thankfully slips out and gets a Slingblade on the floor instead.

Back inside, Balor gets the 1916 on Rollins for two. Miz comes back in and goes to superplex Balor, but ends up eating a buckle bomb from Rollins to stop that. Rollins superplexes Balor off the top but, when he tries the Falcon Arrow, Balor counters to a small package for two. Miz comes back with The Skull-Crushing Finale on Rollins for two, but Balor counters the same move to a cradle for a two of his own.

Balor goes up for the Coup De Grace but Miz jams the ropes and crotches him. Miz’s mid-section is noticeably bruised, but he heads up top to do battle with Balor. Rollins climbs up to fight with them but gets brought down with, what I think was supposed to be, the SCF by Miz. Balor is still up there though and comes down with the Coup De Grace on Miz, but Rollins comes back with Curb Stomps on both men and then pins Miz for the title.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION – SETH ROLLINS
MIKE’S RATING: ***
ALEC’S RATING: ***

An enjoyable opener as all three men were up for it and worked very hard. Rollins is now a Grand Slam winner in the WWE.

This felt like a textbook example of a three star match. All three guys brought their working boots, the crowd was into it and it was a fun way to open the show. I think Seth’s entrance had something to do with Game of Thrones based on what the commentators were saying, while Balor’s was a rare example of WWE managing to try and do some good (20% of the profits from his rainbow shirt go to GLAAD) without cocking it up or boasting about how virtuous they are.

However, putting these guys in this position feels like a textbook example of WWE having their priorities wrong. Balor and Rollins in particular feel better than the IC title. They should be the future of the company as both are great workers, charismatic talkers and two of the most popular guys in WWE. The optimist in me hopes that putting the IC title on a genuinely great wrestler means it will now be respected and given more prominence, but I’ve been watching WWE way too long to really believe that.

Match Two
Smackdown Women’s Championship
Champion: Charlotte Flair Vs Asuka

Pretty early on the card for this isn’t it? Charlotte gets the big entrance, complete with Roman centurions and her dad’s mix of Also Sprach Zarathustra, before her usual music kicks in. It’s a great entrance and makes her look like an absolute superstar. I must say I’m disappointed in the size of Asuka’s train (I was hoping for something ludicrous) but her bedazzled mask is a nice touch. There’s some lovely chain wrestling to start, as both women fluidly counter each other’s holds. Charlotte delivers some chops and even does the Flair Flip in the corner, but ends up getting knocked off the apron into the barricade.

Charlotte comes back in selling her shoulder and Asuka gleefully targets it. Charlotte fights back and drops some knees to Asuka’s back and neck. Charlotte heads up for a moonsault but gets caught in a triangle on the way down in an awesome spot. Charlotte manages to force her way out of the triangle and goes to a Boston Crab but Asuka is equally able to get out of that. The camera keeps panning to Cena during every match, even during the business end of a big bout like this. OKAY WWE, WE GET IT, JOHN CENA IS RINGSIDE, MESSAGE RECEIVED! CAN WE ACTUALLY WATCH SOME BLOODY WRESTLING NOW?!?!

The fight spills onto the apron and Asuka suplexes Flair off the apron to the mats below with an unpleasant thud. Back in Charlotte defiantly keeps fighting, so Asuka unleashes with strikes and a missile dropkick for two. Asuka now just grabs Charlotte’s arms and just stomps her mercilessly. Damn, that girl is scary yo! Flair still won’t die however and brings Asuka down from the top with a big Spanish Fly for two.

Charlotte goes for Natural Selection but Asuka counters it into an abdominal stretch style submission hold. Charlotte is able to roll out of this and delivers some chops. Asuka goes for the Asuka Lock, but Charlotte does the Bret Hart counter to turn it into a pin for two. Asuka unleashes the Joshi Screech, but walks into a spear and Charlotte locks in the Figure Eight leg lock for the submission win.

WINNER – CHARLOTTE FLAIR
MIKE’S RATING: ***
ALEC’S RATING: ****

And with that Asuka’s long winning streak is over. I personally would have had Asuka win here and then have Charlotte chase till Summer Slam, but I can’t complain about the match itself. Another well worked match and Charlotte is as good a pick as any to end the streak. Charlotte and Asuka hug post-match and Asuka puts Charlotte over on the microphone.

I really enjoyed this match and it was probably the best worked match on the entire card. Both girls know each other well from their time in NXT and it showed. There was a beautiful fluidity to their chain wrestling and they came up with some innovative counters to trademark moves. There was some nice storytelling in terms of targeting body parts, pretty much everything looked great and the selling was on point and got you invested in the match.

All that said, I hate Charlotte winning, not because I hate Charlotte but because I don’t think ending the streak really elevates her. Charlotte is a one of the best women in WWE but Asuka feels like something special, she connects in a way that hardly anyone on the roster does. Keeping the streak going could have led to some really exciting possibilities and it just ending like this felt a bit sad.

Meanwhile, a referee runs down and into the crowd to tell Cena something. Upon hearing this, Cena rises from his seat and sprints to the back. What could he have been told?

Match Three
Smackdown United States Championship
Champion: Randy Orton Vs Bobby Roode Vs Rusev w/ Aiden English Vs Jinder Mahal w/ Sunhil Singh

If Rusev doesn’t win this they’re nuts! Orton meanders down to the ring not looking especially thrilled about all this. Rusev clears the ring to start but Jinder hinders his suicide dive attempt. Undeterred, Rusev fights him off and then cannonballs off the apron onto both him and Orton outside the ring. Roode catches Rusev with a blockbuster back in for two. Orton comes in and both powerslams and superplexes Roode in that order, but the other two stop the pin attempt.

Jinder tries to make friends with Rusev, but Rusev ain’t having none of it and stomps a mud hole in him before getting a back suplex for two. The fight spills outside and Orton gives Rusev a back suplex onto the barricade, but then walks into a Jinder big boot. Roode and Jinder do an exchange inside, which ends with Roode getting a spinebuster for two. An angry Orton comes back in and cleans house, smashing Rusev with the apron DDT and its RKOs for everyone!!!

Roode puts a stop to that with an Implant DDT, but Orton is out at two. Rusev now rallies and stands tall to a big pop from the crowd. It looks like Jinder is going to feel the brunt of the Accolade, but Singh causes a distraction and Jinder hits Rusev with the cobra clutch slam for the win.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION – JINDER MAHAL
MIKE’S RATING: **1/2
ALEC’S RATING: **3/4

Oh well, I guess they’re nuts. Always bet on WWE to troll their fan base, as they put the worst guy over by having him beat the clear crowd favourite. If they don’t do something with Rusev soon the fans will give up on him, we’ve seen it happen so many times now.

This match felt like a slightly less good version of the opener, there was a bit less heat but still tons of action, most of which was pretty good. It did feel a bit like a match you could see any week on Smackdown though and it’s hard to recall any particular spot. Jinder winning is baffling and infuriating in equal measure. He was by far the worst person in the match and they way they’re playing hot potato with the US title is eroding its credibility.

The really infuriating thing in both this and the Asuka loss was the commentators going on about how unexpected and shocking the outcomes were like it was a good thing. Surprise obviously has its place in booking wrestling but WWE has this love for “shocking” results that make little sense and just piss of their fanbase.

Meanwhile, the Fashion Police do a funny Snickers advert with Mick Foley

Match Four
Triple H and Stephanie McMahon Vs Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey

Triple H indulges his bike fetish again by coming down to the ring with a convoy. How long before he’s bringing Road Wild back? It’s always funny when non-fans see Kurt Angle’s entrance because they find it baffling that “You Suck” is actually a term of endearment. Ronda has a kilt on during her entrance as a nice tribute to Roddy Piper.

Nice to hear Ken Shamrock getting a shout out as an example of a UFC fighter coming to WWE and being successful. Stephanie antagonises Ronda to start and also bullies the referee. Angle and Triple H start, with Angle getting the best of it, but Stephanie draws Ronda over allowing HHH to dump Angle outside and throw him into the steps.

HHH pounds away back inside, with Stephanie getting a cheap shot whenever the occasion allows. It’s actually quite sad watching both Angle and Triple H going at something like quarter speed when they were both such dynamic performers back in the day. I really wish neither of them would wrestle anymore to be honest.

Angle tries to make the tag but Stephanie yanks Ronda off the apron to stop that. Angle manages to send Triple H outside however and now Ronda is back on the apron and ready for the tag! Ronda destroys Stephanie with strikes and throws as the fans lose their minds. There’s even an audible “break her arm” chant at one point.

Ronda tries to oblige by going for an arm bar, but Stephanie actually fights out of it because…

Thanks Cenk.

Now judo gold medallist and former UFC Champion Ronda Rousey gets to sell for business executive Stephanie McMahon. Yes, this is a thing that actually happens. They sat in a room and thought this was a good idea. Ronda finally goozles Stephanie to put an end to the insanity and gets a Samoan drop, but Triple H pulls the ref out to break the count.

Angle gets thrown over the announce table, leaving Ronda on her own, but she doesn’t back down and demands Triple H get in and fight her. Triple H actually sells more for Ronda than Stephanie did and gets hurked up for a Samoan drop, but Stephanie puts a stop to that. Stephanie runs away from an enraged Ronda but manages to throw her into the ring post outside to get some respite.

Angle is now back in and unleashes on Triple H with German Suplexes and goes to the ankle lock, but Triple H counters. Triple H goes for the Pedigree but Angle counters with a toss into the turnbuckle and an Angle Slam for two. Stephanie comes in to chew Angle out and actually tries to kick him, but Angle catches the leg and tries to put her in the ankle lock.

Triple H puts a stop to that though and gets the Pedigree, but Ronda is back in to break the count at two. Triple H tries to Pedigree her, but she counters to an arm bar and Triple H teases tapping but Stephanie breaks it up and slaps a sleeper on Ronda. Ronda counters the sleeper with an armbar and Angle gets the ankle lock on Triple H, but HHH is able to counter that, sending Angle crashing into Rousey.

The McMahons now go for stereo Pedigrees, but the babyfaces counter and Ronda gets the arm bar on Stephanie. With no one to save her, Stephanie is forced to tap out and does so relatively quickly once the hold is fully locked in. Stephanie sells the arm big at least, which might suggest she’ll be off TV for a while selling an injury. Hey, I’ll always take less Stephanie if it’s offered!

WINNERS – KURT ANGLE AND RONDA ROUSEY
MIKE’S RATING: **
ALEC’S RATING: ****

I’m seeing this getting ratings of + in some parts, but I personally think that’s way too high. It was an enjoyable spectacle, but Ronda sold WAY too much for Stephanie and I found the slow motion wrestling from the lads to be really depressing. They’re both clearly hurting and really don’t need to be in the ring anymore. I’m sure they’re happy to still get in there, but they were both such great workers in their primes and it’s upsetting to see them still getting in the ring long past the glory days.

They should both be able to retire with some dignity. It’s why part of me is glad Shawn Michaels hung up the boots when he could still work at an elite level. Still, the match was a good bit of smoke and mirrors on the whole and Ronda looks like the real deal. I just hope they don’t try and contrive a way for her to have to sell for Stephanie again at Summer Slam in a singles match.

This was a genuine contender for best match of the night. Obviously, the wrestling was generally not at the standard of Asuka and Charlotte but the crowd was really hot and that made it feel like a big mania match with big stars, big reactions and big moments. Of course, HHH and Angle can’t move like they did when they were 20, but I thought both actually looked pretty good and worked very hard considering their bodies.

Stephanie doing a heat segment on Ronda looked a bit ridiculous but what really annoyed me was Stephanie blocking Ronda’s armbar and the commentators noting that she’d been doing some jujitsu training. Yes, because that’s clearly all it takes effectively counter a gold medal grappler, a few weeks rolling around on a mat. Mostly though, the match accomplished its main goal, Ronda looked fantastic, striking, selling, slamming and even pulling off a rana into an armbar on HHH, and I’m really excited to see where her WWE career goes from here. In short, this match was almost exactly what it needed to be and felt like a big deal in a way that so much of the card just didn’t.

Match Five
Smackdown Tag Team Championships
Champions: The Usos Vs The New Day w/ awful CGI pancakes Vs The Bludgeon Brothers

Man, the CGI stuff for people’s entrances’ has been really awful. We’re talking low budget 90’s FMV stuff. The New Day actually have an army of little people dressed as pancakes, which Xavier Woods summons by playing the Dragonzord theme on his trombone. Okay, that was great.

BB’s destroy everyone to start, powerbombing Woods into the ring post outside. The Uso’s double team Harper back inside and get the top rope splash for two. A double suicide dive by The Uso’s is caught by Rowan but they manage to suplex him on the floor.

Everyone goes after Harper back inside, but he shrugs them off and Rowan eventually comes back in to help him. Everyone gets decimated, leaving just Kofi Kingston, and the BB’s drop him with a super bomb to pick up the fall and the titles.

WINNERS AND NEW CHAMPIONS – THE BLUDGEON BROTHERS
MIKE’S RATING: *1/2
ALEC’S RATING: **

This was a short, but fun, match. I like big monster tag teams, so the BB’s are definitely my jam.

This was too short to rate highly but a lot of fun while it lasted. There’s something enjoyably ludicrous about the Bludgeon Brothers and they work well together, so I’m happy they’re the champs. Everyone else in the match looked good too and it was a decent advert for the SD tag division.

John Cena comes out to the ring in his wrestling gear, as it looks like we might be getting a match from him after all. However, a referee runs down to the ring and seems to inform him of the contrary. A dejected Cena starts to leave but then the lights go out! However, it’s actually Elias and not The Undertaker in a great fake out.

Elias strums the first few chords of “House of the Rising Sun” but sadly doesn’t give us a full rendition. Cena decides to go back into the crowd, but Elias pokes the bear once too often so Cena ends up laying him out with the F-U. Cena prepares to leave again, but suddenly Undertaker’s hat and gloves appear in the ring and then a bolt of lightning hits, causing them to disappear. A familiar tune plays and it looks like Cena does indeed have a match this year!

Match Six
John Cena Vs The Undertaker

Taker hammers away to start and goes Old School. Cena counters a chokeslam with a back suplex, but Taker sits up and gets the move on a second attempt. Tombstone Piledriver ends things straight after.

WINNER – THE UNDERTAKER
MIKE’S RATING: No Rating
ALEC’S RATING: -*

That’s too short to rate in all honesty. What was the point of any of this? If Undertaker is too beaten up to do a match then, here’s a wacky idea, DON’T MAKE HIM DO A MATCH!

Oh god, this bulls***. All that pre-amble, the months and months of the whole Cena not being at Mania storyline, the endless shots of him in the crowd and it all led to this, a match that literally went less than three minutes. Oh, and before we even got to the match, we had to have Cena treating Elias as a complete non entity.

Taker obviously got a great reaction coming out but if he can’t do a a proper match, then just don’t bother. This just made Cena look awful and the whole segment felt like it took forever. Oh, and once again, the commentators really didn’t help, falling over themselves to say how great Taker looks and how well he moves while he basically wrestled in slow motion.

Meanwhile, we get the 2018 Hall of Fame rollcall with Jeff Jarrett, Mark Henry, Hillbilly Jim, Ivory, Jarrius Robertson, The Dudley Boyz and Goldberg all coming out to soak in some much deserved applause.

Match Seven
Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens Vs Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon
If Zayn and Owens win they get rehired to Smackdown

Zayn and Owens attack the faces from behind to start and powerbomb Bryan onto the apron. This leaves Shane at a one on two disadvantage whilst medical personnel attend to Bryan. Shane jabs away with his awful punches, and even manages to DDT Zayn, but eventually he falls prey to the numbers game and gets cut off.

Owens and Zayn target the mid-section, as Shane is already looking blown up. He manfully struggles on though, so credit to him. I know if I had just suffered from a potentially life-threatening intestinal disease the last thing I’d want to do is wrestle a match two weeks later. Shane fights back and manages to get Zayn with the coast-to-coast dropkick, but looks like he hurts himself in the process.

Owens breaks up the ensuing pin attempt and gets a big frog splash, but Bryan makes the save. Shane tries to make the tag but Zayn stops him and goes to a sleeper. Shane, beet red and looking like he needs some time in an iron lung, manages to get a back suplex and finally makes the big tag to Bryan.

Bryan calmly steps inside and then comes to life, pummelling the heels from pillar to post. Dropkicks abound in the corner for each heel, and then Bryan brings Zayn down from the top with a super rana. However, Owens grabs Bryan’s leg allowing Zayn to blast him with the Helluva Kick for two. Owens comes in and gets the pop-up powerbomb on Bryan for another two.

Shane low bridges Owens out and then gets a diving clothesline off the apron onto him to take both men out of proceedings. Zayn makes the mistake of talking trash to Bryan whilst beating on him and Bryan starts hulking up! Yes Kicks, a running knee and finally the Yes Lock end things and Bryan is victorious in his return to the ring.

WINNERS – DANIEL BRYAN AND SHANE MCMAHON
MIKE’S RATING: ***
ALEC’S RATING: ***1/4

Bryan winning was the right result. Forcing Shane to carry things was problematic for two reasons. Firstly, he’s just coming off a hernia and a major illness, so asking him to get beaten up for that amount of time was always going to be a struggle. Secondly, fans wanted to see Bryan and the attack at the start took them out of the match. Thankfully, once Bryan got in the ring the match perked up and Bryan gave the fans everything they wanted on route to the clean win. For that reason, the match was a success.

This was a weird one. Bryan coming out genuinely gave me goosebumps and then most of the match was Shane fighting Owens and Zayn on his own. He tried his best but was clearly not at his best and his offense continues to primarily consist of some of the worst punches in wrestling. Needless to say, things improved immeasurably once Bryan got in and it was amazing to see that dynamic force of nature in the wrestling ring once more. I now really can’t wait for his first big singles match, hopefully there’s something decent planned for Backlash.

Match Eight
Raw Women’s Championship
Champion: Alexa Bliss w/ Mickie James Vs Nia Jaxx

Common sense dictates that you have Nia squash Alexa in short order here, but Alexa is always booked strong so I doubt we’ll get that. Nia destroys Mickie before the match even starts, as Alexa cowers in the ring. She tries to run away but Nia grabs her and chucks her around the ring. Alexa botches a military press slam by landing on her feet instead of flat and rolls outside.

Alexa tries running again, but Nia stops her once again, so Alexa goes to the eyes to buy herself some respite. Alexa goes after the legs, but it doesn’t get her very far. Nia goes for a shoulder charge in the corner but Alexa moves and she hits the post. Alexa heads up and actually dives onto Nia on the outside.

Nia manages to make it back in and Alexa taunts her before dropping her with a DDT for two. A frustrated Alexa makes the mistake of slapping Nia, and that goes about as well for her as you’d expect. Alexa goes for a rana but Nia holds on and slams Alexa into the turnbuckle.

Alexa goes to the eyes again to block the Samoan drop, but Nia holds on and comes back with the Alabama Slam. Nia hurks Alexa up for the Samoan drop again and Alexa makes one last desperate attempt to fight her off to no avail. Just to make sure she gets her monies worth, Nia heads up to the second rope and brings Alexa down with a SUPER Samoan drop to pick up the win.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION – NIA JAXX
MIKE’S RATING: *1/2
ALEC’S RATING: **

This went too long really, as they didn’t want to squash Bliss and thus that meant Nia had to sell. To me, Bliss could have survived a quick job as she’s a heel and already basically bullet proof, but hey-ho. Brock getting smashed by Goldberg didn’t hurt him that much and led to good repeat business. I personally think Nia won’t have that belt for long, but they booked themselves into a corner here and couldn’t put the body shaming heel over after all the build-up.

I really like Alexa and so was actually glad she didn’t get squashed. This was decent as it went and really illustrated how much Nia has improved, putting her in this sort of spot would have seemed crazy a year ago. Personally, I don’t think Nia selling a bit for Alexa hurt her much and he still got to look very dominant at the end. Really though, Alexa made the match work, she’s got some of the best facials in the company and plays the bitch heel to perfection.

Match Nine
Smackdown World Championship
Champion: AJ Styles Vs Shinsuka Nakamura

Nakamura gets a live band playing him down to the ring, complete with electric guitar, and comes across like a rock star. This show has seen some solid action in the first half but really needs a true classic match to push it over the line as a great WrestleMania. Maybe this could be the match to achieve that? Nakamura is his usual self in the opening stages but AJ cannot sanction his buffoonery and slaps him.

This causes Nakamura to deliver some strikes but AJ catches him with a backbreaker. AJ works the back and neck area, in an effort to wear Nakamura down. An AJ dropkick sends Shinsuke outside, but when AJ follows he ends up getting kicked whilst on the apron. Back in, Nakamura drops AJ with a kick from the middle rope and gets fired up. Nakamura hits AJ with a knee in the corner, and that gets him two.

AJ comes back with a face first slam and then busts out a Sliding D of all things for a two count. AJ goes for the flying forearm but Nakamura catches him with a fireman’s carry into a Michinoku Driver for two. AJ catches a Nakamura kick and then delivers one of his own to Nakamura’s knee. We see this pay dividends when Nakamura’s leg goes out on a suplex attempt, allowing AJ to lock in the Calf Crusher.

Nakamura can’t make the ropes so he instead counters into a triangle choke. When life gives you lemons eh? AJ powers out of the triangle and gets what I can only describe as a modified version of the Emerald Fusion for the double down. AJ tries for the Styles Clash but his back goes out on him. However, he is able to successfully follow up with the Phenomenal Forearm but Nakamura is out at two. Despite the match building nicely to bigger moves, the crowd has yet to get fully enthused.

AJ goes for a 450 splash but Nakamura counters by getting his knees up and counters with a cradle for a near fall. Both men now trade forearm strikes and AJ gets the Pele kick, but Nakamura stays on his feet and KNEE meets FACE for two. Nakamura gets frustrated and knees away at AJ on the mat before getting the reverse exploder suplex. Nakamura goes for another running knee, but AJ is able to counter this one into the Styles Clash and that’s enough to keep Nakamura down for three.

WINNER – AJ STYLES
MIKE’S RATING: ***1/2
ALEC’S RATING: ***1/2

That finish felt quite abrupt to me actually, as it felt like there were still 5-10 minutes to come. This was a very good match between two highly skilled wrestlers. Sadly the crowd is starting to get burnt out and it showed in this match, as they weren’t reacting despite the action being decent. The early stages felt like they were building things gradually to a big finishing sequence, but sadly that sequence never came.

It’s a reflection of just how good AJ and Nakamura are that this felt like a massive disappointment. It was a million miles from being bad but also a pretty long way for being great and it also really didn’t get the crowd reactions it deserved (note to WWE, these shows are too f***ing long, especially as everyone wrestles the same style).

Both guys worked well but it felt only a little above what they’d for a TV match or a random PPV, not the dream match that’s been hyped for months. There were a few great moves, and I loved the finish, but it just felt like they could have done so much more.

Normally, I’d be pissed by AJ winning as it felt like Shin’s time but the Nakamura heel turn (see below) seems to indicate the start of a program between these two. The heel chasing the face feels like odd booking but at least they should get the chance to put on the classic match that they’re capable of. It won’t be at Mania though and that makes me a bit sad.

Afterwards AJ and Nakamura look to mirror the Charlotte/Asuka match by showing respect for one another, but Nakamura throws a curve ball by hitting AJ low and beating him down. Looks like Nakamura is now a heel, which is at least an interesting direction to take the character.

Match Ten
Raw Tag Team Championships
Champions: The Bar Vs Braun Strowman and the mystery partner of DOOM

I’m starting to think Godot will get here before the end of this show does. The Bar gets a Mardi Gras parade as part of their entrance which is cool, but at this stage in the night I’m kind of sick of special entrances. Just get em in the bloody ring as quick as possible so we can end this show and I can go to bed! The parade runs from Braun in a cute spot and he ends up shoving the float off the stage. Oy, someone worked hard on that parade float you monster!

So, after weeks of build, Braun announces that he’s going to pick someone out of the crowd as his partner. Oh man, of all the crazy ideas Braun has had this one ranks somewhere in the middle. So Braun goes out into the crowd, totally walking past poor No Way Jose, and ends up selecting a random child called Nicholas to be his partner. Rumours abound that young Nicholas is the son of one of the WWE referees.

Surely this isn’t legal? For a start, don’t you need to be at least 18 to obtain a wrestling license in the state of Louisiana? How on Earth can WWE sanction a title match involving a child? I mean, I know we saw a match earlier which featured a supposed undead zombie magically transport clothing from a wrestling ring to the backstage area, but come on! Even that’s more believable than the utter nonsense that is this match.

So Braun pounds away on The Bar but they manage to cut him off briefly and hit him with a double suplex. Braun fights back and actually tags the kid in at one point, but thankfully/sadly (delete where appropriate depending on your own moral compass) the kid quickly tags out again before getting splatted. And here was me thinking he’d take a giant swing from Cesaro. Braun eventually hits Cesaro with the Running Powerslam and a ten year old boy wins a title. If you listen carefully, you can just about hear Jim Cornette’s head exploding all the way from Louisville.

WINNERS AND NEW CHAMPIONS – BRAUN STROWMAN AND NICHOLAS (I can’t believe I just typed that)
MIKE’S RATING: DUD
ALEC’S RATING: **

Surprisingly the crowd seemed to quite like this, but this is the sort of stuff that embarrasses the hell out of me when non-fans find out I like wrestling.

Yes, this was complete nonsense but it was good fun and got a good reaction. Bit of waste of Cesaro and Sheamus but just a way to get Braun on the show and further put him over as a big scary nightmare. It will be interesting to see if they’ve got something more creative than Braun and Nicholas simply giving up the titles. (EDIT, they didn’t)

Main Event
Raw World Championship
Champion: Bork Laser w/ Paul E Dangerously Vs Roland Reigns

Oh thank heavens; this means the show might actually end soon. So the crowd doesn’t give two currants in a bun shop about this one and decide to entertain themselves by playing with beach balls and just generally being anti-social. Reigns sprints straight out of the block with Superman punches but Lesnar catches him on the outside with an overhead belly to belly suplex. Brock delivers some more, with Roman barely getting all the way over with some of them and clearly banging his head on the floor.

Back inside, we get some more suplexes but Brock soon tires of that and decides to try and put Reigns through a table outside. Reigns is able to slip out of an F5 attempt and then spears Brock over the table. Back in, Roman delivers two more spears but only gets a two count. The fans are too busy playing cribbage to notice however. Brock gets his knee up to block another spear and then gets the F5 for two.

There was practically no reaction to that kick out. Considering they spent a whole year making sure no one kicked out of the F5, so that when Roman did it would mean something, the lack of reaction is actually kind of terrifying. Like, if it was back in the day when they weren’t surviving on TV rights money, this is the sort of reaction that would suggest the incoming death of the entire promotion. You know, back when they actually had to present a product that people wanted to spend money on in order to remain financially solvent?

Brock smashes Reigns with two more F5s, with Reigns kicking out each time. The fans are too busy enjoying a particularly tasty watercress sandwich to notice however. Brock takes Reigns outside and F5’s him through a commentary table, to still nary a peep from the crowd. A fifth F5 in the ring still fails to end the match, as I start begging Heyman to turn on Brock just to wake the crowd up if nothing else.

Brock takes his gloves off and starts hammering away on Reigns, busting him open in the process. The fans are too busy wondering if Oasis will ever tour again to notice however. Brock tries for a sixth F5 to kill poor Roman off for good, but Reigns gets out and then smashes Brock with two spears for a near fall. Roman, wearing the famed crimson mask, fires up and goes for one more spear, but Brock catches him with a sixth F5 and that ends things.

WINNER – BROCK LESNAR
MIKE’S RATING: *
ALEC’S RATING: -*

What a weird match that was. They did everything they could to get Roman over and yet still had him lose at the end. I just don’t get what they want with Roman, I honestly don’t. If you want him to be the top guy then at least book him as the top guy. Cena beat everyone constantly for years and hardly ever failed in the big match until he was already “made” as a top guy.

I just can’t wrap my head around what this company wants. Pretty much every other company in wrestling today picks someone and says “Yup, you’re our guy, go win loads of matches”. New Japan did it with Tanahashi and is now doing it with Okada. ROH has been doing it with Dalton Castle. WWE is the only company that “pushes” its top stars by having them job constantly in the big matches when the chips are down.

It’s a baffling way to run a wrestling company, especially when you consider the biggest stars in WWE history have been protected in a way that Roman never has. Would Hogan, Bruno, Austin or Cena have failed like this in the same scenario? They all might have lost now and then, but in the big title match when the stakes were highest they almost always won, because that’s how you MAKE A STAR!!!

If Roman is your guy WWE then make him your guy. If fans boo then just keep having him win. And if you’re not prepared to do that then please either turn him heel or run with someone else. It’s just getting depressing now and I feel for the guy because I genuinely think he’s a good wrestler. It’s already an uphill climb for the poor sod and stuff like this only makes it harder for him.

The crowd ruined this match but it’s not like it was anything special to begin with, just lots of typical Brock stuff (suplexes and F5s ad nauseum) with a slightly more violent edge than usual. I think everyone assumed Roman would kick out of everything and the win, and instead he kicked out of everything and then lost.

The blood was a sight to behold though, Roman wearing a proper crimson mask that you hardly ever see in a WWE ring nowadays after Brock busted him open hard way with a a few nasty elbows. If that was his plan to get the crowd to care about the match though, it didn’t work, the boos still rung out and you could even hear a “this is awful” chant.

Overall, this felt like WWE’s fanbase sending a message to the company. As long as the money keeps rolling in though, it’s unlikely they’ll listen. Instead, this was presented as yet more adversity for Roman to fight through, and we still have a part-time champ.

Final Thoughts

Mike – This was an odd show. The match quality in general was good, but some of the booking was head scratching and the crowd was basically done after Bryan’s comeback. Hot take I know, but seven hours is too long for a wrestling show. If they’d cut out the filler and presented a strong four hour show then this could have potentially be an all-time Mania. As it is, it’s pretty much in the middle for me. Not as bad as IX or XI, but not challenging the upper tier either. A middling Mania overall.

Alec – Mania lives and dies on the quality of its main events and this one fared poorly in this regard. Roman and Brock was pretty much a disaster and AJ and Nakamura was weighed down by expectation and a tired crowd. A strong undercard was highlighted by a great Charlotte vs Asuka match and the HHH/Stephanie vs Angle/Rousey showdown.

The Rousey match honestly felt like a main event that just happened to be the fourth match on the card and had what was probably the hottest crowd of the entire night (I wouldn’t put it past HHH to have requested to go on early, he’s been at enough Manias to know what happens to the crowd late on).

The Taker stuff was beyond stupid and some bad booking meant that overall, the show felt like a disappointment despite most of the matches actually being pretty good. As is so often the case, Mania showed that WWE has a great roster of talented guys but still can’t quite figure out what to do with them.

And that’s WrestleMania 34 everyone!

Thanks for reading

Written by
British, Evertonian, grapple fan and passionate about them there Video Games. Bit of a golden oldy these days weighing in at a pert 30 years of age. I'll be providing reviews, retro features, the odd rant and the occasional article on Pro Wrestling. I also like a nice pint of Porter now and then