Our quick takeaways and suppositions as to why things happened the way they did at Wrestlemania in the Superdome Sunday.
[Updated] Quick reactions to last night’s Wrestlemania:
- I assume Braun Strowman winning the tag team belts with a kid from the crowd means Raw GM will have to declare the titles vacant and hold a tag team tournament to compete for them. This could give cannon fodder like The Revival a chance to restart, as well as a place to call up NXT’s Authors of Pain and The War Machine, though the latter now suffers from the dreadful name, War Raiders—almost as bad as Absolution.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints that Strowman took Nicholas, a boy in the crowd, as his tag team partner, but if he would have brought out Big Show or Samoa Joe or a star backstage as his partner, how would they have ever lost the tag team belt? Strowman defeated six men by himself to win the chance to face The Bar at Wrestlemania, so a quality partner would only made the team even more impossible to beat at a time when the tag team scene is as bad as it’s been on Raw. Nobody wants to see Strowman have to spend time battling those ham & eggers, so after he won what was essentially a two-on-one against quality opponents, it’s time to get those belts off of him and move him back to singles competition.
- When I interviewed Charlotte Flair, she talked about trying to steal Wrestlemania with Asuka, and they would have succeeded if not for Ronda and Kurt and Steph and Triple H. She sold the damaged arm beautifully, and her finishing move didn’t rely on that injury magically healing. Beating Asuka also made sense on a few levels: 1) Since Asuka is on Raw, what would have happened to the Smackdown Live Women’s title if she would have won? 2) Asuka’s streak was always going to become an albatross at some point. Better she lose it now in a meaningful match and move on new reasons to believe in her than to keep alive her tie to NXT and a streak that would eventually limit the kind of stories that could be told with her.
- I can’t imagine anyone expected the Rousey/Angle/McMahon/Triple H to be one of the highlights if not the highlight of Wrestlemania, but the match easily exceeded expectations. Credit obviously goes to Ronda Rousey for being more able than most people expected, but it also goes to, I assume, Triple H, Angle, and whoever worked out the mechanics of the match. No one was required to do more than they could, and the only things that didn’t ring true were the neophyte wrestler Stephanie McMahon’s ability to block Rousey’s armbar time after time. Otherwise, McMahon got to be a good heel and cheat, while Triple H and Angle created contexts in which Rousey could shine.
Rousey needs to work house shows and get a lot of in-ring work in to get better, but she gave fans and doubters alike a reason to think that she is money well-spent—something that hasn’t been obvious yet on television.
- I was so happy when Shinsuke Nakamura turned heel on A.J. Styles. Their match was a good, well-paced one, but its deliberately paced escalation wasn’t what a crowd that had been in the Superdome for five or six hours needed. They needed a four-alarm fire—something Styles and Nakamura have in them. A heel Nakamura means that he and Styles can feud for the next few months and raise the ceiling each time along the way. That promises some pretty cool matches, and I hope a heel Nakamura can show more of the creative offense he demonstrated in New Japan.
- I assume that Jinder Mahal got a title because without one, no one cares about him.
- I really don’t see what comes next for Roman Reigns. I can’t imagine that he’s done with Brock Lesnar, but that match buried him. He was unable to mount any meaningful offense against Lesnar, so it’s hard to see him as Lesnar’s peer. I give WWE credit for having Lesnar wrestle in character to the degree that he did. My neighbor in the press box described Lesnar’s offense as lazy since he only used two moves—the German suplecs and the F-5—and repeated them with little imagination. That built heat on him, so I liked that.
Since this story was published, the WWE announced that Brock Lesnar has re-signed with the WWE, he won't be leaving to go to UFC, and and he and Reigns will meet in a steel cage match at the Greatest Royal Rumble April 27 in Saudi Arabia. Clearly, Lesnar and Reigns aren't done, but it will be interesting to see how this development changes Reigns' narrative in this program. He was positioned as the WWE lifer against the mercenary who was going to follow the paper to the UFC, but that angle no longer makes sense.
- The biggest question to come out of the night was why John Cena and The Undertaker needed to be a squash match. All the preliminaries—Cena’s ring entrance, the fake-out with Elias, Cena crushing Elias, and The Undertaker’s actual entrance—likely took 20-25 minutes, but Cena’s match with The Undertaker took fewer than four minutes. I assumed Cena would job to him because The Undertaker wouldn’t come out of retirement to lose again, and because Cena spent much of 2017 putting other talent over. In this case, he even quivered in fear in the corner of the ring when facing The Undertaker.
Nobody expected the match to be long or classic, but I suspect most of us figured on a good, 10-minute, Raw-calibre match. Since The Undertaker missed the boot to the jaw that Cena sold anyway, I’m glad he’s retiring instead of hanging around to show us how far his skills can deteriorate, but I didn’t need to see that.
- I don’t hate The Bludgeon Brothers, who are often funny in their too much-ness, but I was sorry to see them ground The Usos on their first appearance on the Wrestlemania main show, and The New Day, who ruined breakfast for me by coming to the ring accompanied by stacks of dancing pancakes. Vince McMahon loves big, powerful men, so it’s no surprise that they’re getting a push, but I have the same concern about them that I do about Strowman. Where do they go from here? If they can demolish two other teams and five other men, what opponents can realistically challenge them?
- Finally, I can’t argue with the way the Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon match played out. I was sure that McMahon was going to turn on Bryan, but instead we got another involving match with Bryan sidelined for much of the time after taking a power bomb on the ring apron, leaving Shane McMahon and his hernia to face Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. That meant he took a lot of time getting pummeled, and in a quintessentially Shane move, he was injured but had Zayn helpless in the corner. With dozens of ways to attack Zayn that wouldn’t hurt himself, Shane climbed the ropes in one corner and leaped the width of the ring to kick Zayn in the head, wrecking himself in the process.
… and since Bryan and McMahon won, what becomes of Owens and Zayn?
- … and I guess the Lake of Reincarnation doesn’t work in WWE the way it did in Impact. Or maybe it reincarnated Bray Wyatt not back to an earlier gimmick but to a less boring version of himself. It was great to see him join Woken Matt Hardy’s Woken Universe and help Hardy win the battle royal.
Finally, Saturday night’s "NXT Takeover: New Orleans" show wasn’t the spectacle of Wrestlemania, but its five matches were as involving if not more so than most of the Wrestlemania card. Then again, it was in the smaller Smoothie King Center. Wrestlemania was a really good show, but I suspect most of those matches would have had more impact in a smaller space.
Still, Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa told a story that got all but the most arch fan to fall in behind the face Gargano and hate on Ciampa. They made good use of the “unsanctioned” stipulation without getting into boring shit like guys throwing soft punches while staggering through the building. All the moves paid off as storytelling and spectacle, as was the case when Aleister Black won the NXT Championship from Andrade “Cien” Almas. Almas’ “business associate” Zelina Vega was constantly in the match, hectoring Almas on or, when the referee was distracted, getting in the ring to fight Black herself. Her interference backfired when she dove off the top rope at Black, who ducked leaving Almas, behind him, to catch her. While he had his hands full, Black hit Almas with the Black Mass to win the belt.
… and the six-man ladder match was as insane a ladder match as I’ve seen. So many bodies, so many ladders, so many broken ladders, and my hero, Lars Sullivan. I didn’t need Adam Cole to win, but NXT did for its tag team storylines, and at the end of that match, I’d have only been sad if Killian Dain had won.
From NXT, I got out to the Lakefront Arena and Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor XII in time for the Cody vs. Kenny Omega match. WWE and NXT know how to bring the spectacle, but there was a lot to be said for the rowdy, roadhouse vibe of the Lakefront Arena, where Ring of Honor didn’t have a video wall or overhead video screens. Fans saw what they saw in the ring, and when ROH wanted production values, they TP’ed the ring. Perhaps because there’s no overhead screen, they didn’t cheer heels for good work and hewed closer to conventional face/heel love and hostility than their counterparts at WWE shows.
Cody Rhodes and Omega are two of the biggest stars in indie wrestling right now, and the match had a big match vibe. The only disappointment was the match used the same gimmick twice. At one point, Omega tried to superkick Cody, but he ducked, letting his wife Brandi take the boot and fall through a table at ringside. At the end of the match, the Young Bucks also tried to superkick Cody, who again ducked and let them hit and KO Omega. It was a good heel finish and left room for that program to evolve, but I was thinking when the Young Bucks landed the second kick that such a thing would never happen at NXT.
Updated 5:20 p.m.The news of Brock Lesnar's re-signing and Greatest Royal Rumble match were added after the story was published.