Rousey, Lesnar, and Flair Steal the Show during WrestleMania 34
WrestleMania, especially in today’s day and age, will always be one of the most talked about and controversial sporting events of every year. However, this year, it seemed like Vince McMahon wanted to take the dial and crank it up to 11 all night long (for better and for worse). WrestleMania 34 will be remembered for the amount of risks they took throughout the night- and frankly, some worked and some didn’t. Regardless though, from the stage production to the wrestling matches and everything in between, this years Mania will be talked about for a long, long, long time.
The New Orleans faithful in attendance watched a marathon of a wrestling show that saw five title changes, a Main Event heel turn, the return of WWE’s golden goose, and most importantly the emergence of a complete and utter force in women’s wrestling- Rowdy. Ronda. Rousey. All in all, even with the low points, WrestleMania 34 was one of the best in recent history from start to finish. Continue reading below as we break down all the matches.
Wrestlemania Kickoff Show
Wrestlemania 34 opened up the Pre-Mania kickoff show with the Andre the Giant Battle Royale, the Cruiserweight Championship match between Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali, and the inaugural Wrestlemania Women’s Battle Royale. The most noteworthy thing of the Pre-Show is that it was a 2-hour event and only featured 30 minutes of wrestling. What is that, WWE? Either change the pre-show to one hour or give them the two hours it should have but make the matches much longer and much more meaningful.
Aside from that, the Men’s Battle Royale saw a “Woken” Bray Wyatt return to the ring after taking a dive into the Lake of Reincarnation. Wyatt’s return was anticipated at the event, but the capacity in which was heavily in question. Now though, it looks like Wyatt has fully joined into the Hardy’s Woken gimmick. Hardy finally eliminated the 2017 Andre the Giant Royale winner Baron Corbin with the help of Wyatt to take the trophy. The cruiserweight match was next, and as previously mentioned, this match was the victim of not having enough time. As two of the best workers in the company, Ali and Alexander have the potential to put on show-stealing classics. The match was not a bust by any means, but also could’ve been much better. Alexander took the title after hitting the Lumbar Check on Ali in a fairly exciting bout. Lastly was the Women’s Battle Royale- This match had good storyline elements to it, and I particularly enjoyed the NXT girls having their spotlight moment. The match ended with Bayley and Sasha as the last two in the ring, and Bayley quickly tossing Sasha out of the ring like a rag doll. Thinking she got the victory being the last one in the ring, Bayley’s celebration was cut short from Naomi, who slid back in the ring and tossed Bayley over the rope to get the victory. Short, sweet, advanced some story lines, and to the point. Now on to the real show.
The Miz (c) vs Finn Balor vs Seth Rollins
The first two matches of the night were arguably the two best wrestling matches of the night (not the best story though, sit tight Ronda and Steph). The opener saw The Miz defend his Intercontinental Championship against Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. “This is Awesome!” chants rained down from the 78,000+ people in attendance, and they could not have been more right. Electricity flowed from the opening bell to the pin from near falls and high spots. Seth making a callback to the powerbomb with Finn outside of the ring was a treat and got a huge pop out of me, considering that was the move he injured Finn with at Summerslam a couple of years ago. The finish of this match was red-hot; a skull crushing finale from the Miz to Rollins was followed by a Coup de Grace off the top rope from Balor to break up the pin. Rollins would then give the stomp to both Miz and Balor, picking up the Intercontinental Championship and completing his Grand Slam circuit.
Smackdown Women’s Title: Charlotte Flair (c) vs Asuka
THE STREAK… IS… OVER! No, not the Undertakers Wrestlemania streak- That ended a couple years ago. When Asuka debuted in NXT in 2015, she won her first match. Until Sunday night, she had not lost a match from that point out. But in a staple Vince McMahon move, Asuka’s streaking was ended by the Queen Charlotte Flair in a result that NO ONE saw coming. All in all, this was an incredibly welcomed surprise for a number of different reasons. In my mind, that was the greatest women’s wrestling match ever on the grandest stage, so it makes sense to have such a monumental finish. Had the streak not have been broken, fans would’ve suspected a loss at either Summer slam or next years Wrestlemania, taking a lot of the element of surprise out of it. Back to the match though- boy was this outstanding. Asuka countered a Flair moonsault into a triangle and Flair showing that Natureboy style swag and aggression at different points in the match cemented it as a show stealer. It would be a crime if I didn’t mention Flair’s Spanish Fly maneuver from the top rope, as well… talk about a breathtaking moment. This match was stellar in every way, and here’s to a rematch at Wrestlemania 35 next year.
United States Title: Randy Orton (c) vs Bobby Rode vs Jinder Mahal vs Rusev
Following these two matches would be nearly an impossible task for any of the Superstars in the back. So what did the WWE do? Send out one of their most over characters in all of wrestling. Randy Orton may have been the defending champion, but all eyes in NOLA were on Rusev. Amongst rumors of Rusev wanting out of his WWE contract, Rusev was added into the Fatal 4 Way United States Championship match. WWE had the chance to give the audience what it wanted and put Rusev over, however, after a Khallas to Rusev from Jinder Mahal, Mahal would pick up Smackdown Live’s midcard title. This match wont be talked about years, weeks, or even days from now- but for what it was, sandwiched in between the two best bouts of Wrestlemania, I thought it did its job well in creating a fun, action packed match. (Also, I loved the new ponytail look from Jinder. Random thought, but it looks great.)
Speaking of the best matches of Wrestlemania…
Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs Stephanie McMahon and Triple H
On February 25, 2018 (a.k.a. Rusev Day), the baddest woman on the planet made her arrival into the WWE Universe. After taking the MMA world by storm, Ronda Rousey was finally going to take her talents to the global empire that is the WWE. Her first match? A mixed tag team match against the team of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon with former Olympian and World Heavyweight Champion Kurt Angle. Talk about a star-studded lineup. The biggest takeaway here is that amidst the speculation of whether she would be good in the ring or not, Ronda Rousey was the definition of a world class superstar on the Grandest Stage of them all last night. I physically do not have enough words nor time to talk about how much I loved every part of this match. Before the match even started, Stephanie was taking cheap shots on Rousey only to have Angle continue to hold her back until the match started. This, combined with HHH and Angle starting in the ring, paved the way for one of the most anticipated moments in fighting sports history when Ronda finally was tagged in. Rousey unloaded on McMahon with a series of throws, clotheslines, and a flurry of punches. After some back and forth between the competitors, the big moments started piling up. A confrontation between HHH and Rousey led to Rousey unloading punches on Hunter in the corner and even slipped out of a HHH pedigree to throw him off her shoulders. The storyline was flawless here, with the cocky arrogant heels manipulating the match to their advantage. But in the end, Rowdy Rousey did what she does best- Make Stephanie tap out to the arm bar in a thunderous fashion.
Smackdown Tag Titles: The Usos (c) vs The Bludgeon Brothers vs The New Day
One of the matches I was most looking forward to was the Smackdown Tag Titles match in which the Usos would defend their titles against the Bludgeon Brothers and the New Day. On paper, this match features six of the best workers this company has to offer. In execution, this match was a borderline squash match in which the Bludgeon Brothers dominated their opponents to win the titles. Although the finish makes sense due to the storyline Smackdown has been telling with the Bludgeon Brothers being so dominant, this was easily one of the most disappointing matches of the whole night, if not THE most disappointing. There’s not much to say here except that this rivalry will have to continue on Smackdown and I sincerely hope we get this rematch down the road in a real competitive setting.
The Undertaker Answers John Cena’s WrestleMania Challenge
John Cena: Hustle. Loyalty. Spectating. When John Cena said on RAW that he was going to have to end up going to Wrestlemania as a spectator, he wasn’t joking. Sure enough, during the pre show and the first two matches of the night, ole Johnny boy was scarfing down some popcorn in the first row of the stands. At the end of the Charlotte/Asuka match, a camera followed a referee as he went to share some news in Cena’s ear, which in turn sent Cena sprinting out of his chair, over the barrier, up the ramp, and into backstage. Clearly, the Undertaker was in the building.
Cena followed the Bludgeon Brothers match, coming out into the ring and waiting for the classic gong to hit. After a couple of minutes, nothing happened. Soon, the lights went pitch black. Audiences froze in silence around the world. And then… ELIAS. Elias came out and dropped a promo in the Undertakers spot, generating nuclear levels of heat. But in the least surprising move ever, the Undertakers music hit. The entrance, the set up with Elias and Cena, it was all done masterfully and brilliantly… for a show. When Taker and Cena made their way into the ring for an actual fight, it was a one-sided beat down with Cena eating a Tombstone piledriver and the pin in a whopping 2 minutes and 45 seconds. Let’s hope this was setting up Cena/Taker 2 for WM 35 and wasn’t the ending of a lackluster story.
Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
Daniel Bryan being back in a ring at Wrestlemania just feels right, doesn’t it? The YES! Movement was back in action Sunday as Daniel Bryan returned to the ring after three years of not being medically cleared. But with Bryan already being back, the biggest takeaway from the match is that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn’s reign of terror on Smackdown Live is over, seeing as they have been fired.
For the match however, it was a tale of two halves. Bryan was taken out of the first half of the match after a surprise attack from KO and Zayn during their entrance, which led to an unbelievably lack luster beginning of the match. As fun as it was to see Shane O Mac fight KO and Zayn, it wasn’t near as fun with Bryan being stretchered ring side. However, eventually Bryan would make his way back into the ring, get the hot tag, and the roof erupted from the Superdome. Bryan would go on to hit some of his classic YES kicks, missile dropkicks, and of course, win the match in a red hot finish that saw Zayn tap out to the Yes lock.
Raw Women’s Title: Alexa Bliss (c) vs Nia Jax
This may have been the worst booked match of the evening, but not because of the result. The storyline going into the Bliss/Jax match had a very “Mean Girls” feel to it, which in my mind is a perfectly fine story to tell especially when all the nay-sayers love to point out how wrestling is “fake”. Regardless though, this match should’ve been an absolute beat down from Jax to Bliss. The overall size difference is enough to make that believable off the bat, but then when you tie in how Bliss had been making fun of Jax’s weight and size, this should’ve been a mauling from Jax. During the match, Jax opened by tossing Mickie James around the outside of the ring like she was eating her for breakfast. When Jax made it back in the ring, she turned her attention towards the Champion and started working in her offense. A Twisted Bliss from Alexa seemed to be the start of a change in momentum towards the Champion, but Jax would hit the impressive Samoan Drop for the victory.
Another odd booking part about this match is why Jax was balling crying after the match. Maybe it was a Shawn Michaels boyhood dream moment outside of kayfabe, but Jax would’ve been booked much better as a determined competitor out for revenge. A close friend of mine made a brilliant comment following the match in regards to Jax: “They went for the heartwarming redemption, when they should have gone for justice served cold.”
WWE Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles
In 2014, New Japan Pro Wrestling had their version of WrestleMania in which they had Shinsuke Nakamura defend (and retain) his championship title against AJ Styles in one of the greatest matches of this generation. WWE fans were hoping for the dream rematch between these two, and while it wasn’t the 5* match they put on a few years ago, this match was executed beautifully.
The match saw two friends who respect each other greatly go out there and preform a match that felt very different from everything else we had seen tonight, which is expected knowing the talent these guys posses. A slower, more methodical match between Nakamura and Styles allowed a much more flowing storyline and created some very high dramatic moments. Speaking of the storyline, there was a clear picture being painted of Styles taking out Nakamura’s knee to prevent his finisher, and vice versa as Nakamura targeted Styles back to try to weaken the Styles Clash. This match did a phenomenal job of allowing these guys to go out and tell the story they wanted to tell, which is something that I felt the show desperately needed as not many of its matches told great intriguing in ring stories.
Styles would retain, but the big fireworks came post match. In what looked like a sign of respect as Nakamura handed Styles title over to him on a knee, Nakamura went for the low blow strike to the groin followed by a series of cheap kicks and stomps to the champion. Just when it looked like they completely bombed on Nakamuras character, they throw in the heel turn, and I’m all in on it.
Raw Tag Titles: The Bar (c) vs Braun Strowman and Nicholas
There is so much to say about this entire segment that I don’t even know where to begin. Speculation has been running rampant for weeks as to who will be Braun’s tag team partner. And on Sunday, we figured out exactly who it was… a ten-year-old kid named Nicholas.
There’s two ways to look at this match: If you look at this as a comedy segment and a big production, it exceeded expectations and was totally awesome and fun. From the Bar coming out on the floats, to Braun scaring off the Mardi Gras people, and to Braun searching the crowd with a microphone looking for a partner, this was a ton of fun. But the fact of the matter is that this is a championship match, in the second to last match of Wrestlemania, with one of the most over guys in the company right now. This match was a victim to wrong time, wrong place. The match itself was boring, uneventful, and left the RAW tag team division buried six feet deep right now. Again, I love the idea of what they did and I think it was a great way to build a dominant storyline for Braun, but this could’ve been achieved in so much of a better fashion had Braun and the Bar had a real wrestling match.
WWE Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Roman Reigns
In what was built as arguably the most predictable outcome of a main event in WWE history, Vince still had one last trick up his sleeve for Wrestlemania. For a year, all the talk has been about Brock Lesnar leaving for the UFC and how the WWE was so determined to push Reigns that it was almost inevitable that Reigns would take over the title and bring it back to RAW on a full time basis.
The result was everything EXCEPT that. The match itself was decent at best- it felt like we were in the third act of a movie the second the bell hit. Which normally should be fine storyline was, but it felt rushed when Reigns first offensive moves were a series of Superman punches. Regardless, this was a heavyweight slugfest between two forces of nature. The match saw countless Superman punches, spears, F-5’s, and German suplexes as both men were hell-bent on hitting as many finishing moves as they could.
In what sounds like a fun match though, fans in the stadium were not having it. “This is Awful” chants started to storm down from the rafters and beach balls were flying all over the place. Not a good look for your main event, either. Towards the end of the match, Lesnar would open up Reigns face with a brutal elbow, covering him in a crimson mask a la Triple H in his 2006 Championship match with Cena and Edge. A terrifying Reigns, covered in blood, would make one last comeback attempt as he hit some late spears, but at the end of the day, a fifth F-5 sealed the deal for Lesnar in one of the most shocking matches in Wrestlemania history.
For more insight and analysis on Wrestlemania, listen to Ric Butler and Jon Reed on The Top Turnbuckle podcast as we break down all the matches in the show: