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WrestleMania 34 was certainly a marathon and not a sprint. WWE's biggest show of the year lived up the hype as far as size goes; it lasted over five hours and that isn't even counting the nearly two hour pre show. For a show so large, it had its ups and downs. There were some really good moments and some pretty bad ones; the show was so long it was impossible for it to be all good, or all bad. Some of the matches were surprisingly good, while others ended up being below expectations. The show also lacked anything that was truly outstanding, but stayed away from anything that was a total disaster.
I think the lesson learned is that the length of the show is becoming a problem. Fans, even the most hardcore supporters, cannot keep a high energy level for the entire duration of WrestleMania. The result is you have good matches that the crowd just doesn't get behind. It hurts a lot of talent who dream of their WrestleMania matches; but have to perform in front of a crowd that has sat through five hours of wrestling.
Dave Meltzer noted last year the possibility of WrestleMania being turned into a two-day event. It would break with tradition, but the show just keeps getting bigger and bigger each year and it's unfair to the talent that has their match time cut or have to work in front of dead crowds. Since WrestleMania attracts a worldwide audience and fans already travel for the entire weekend, you could easily have two nights at the Superdome and fill it up both nights.
The two night show would move TakeOver to Friday, which shouldn't be to hard. It would bump the Hall of Fame to Thursday, which might be more of a challenge since they had trouble this year selling tickets to the Friday night show; but I think that sacrifice is worth it when you consider they will do twice the audience for WrestleMania. Two nights just makes the most sense; you can have two "main events," the talent doesn't have to work in front of dead crowds, and fans on the east coast don't have to stay up past midnight on a Sunday night, let alone fans around the world who have to stay up till dawn to watch the biggest show of the year.
Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns: **¾
A pretty uninspired main event. The match was very basic with the two guys predictably just spamming their signature moves and Reigns kicking out of almost a half-dozen F5s. I thought they would come out with something stronger than this; maybe the fans wouldn't like the finish of the match but I thought they would do a lot of stunts and have a legitimate good match; but the crowd didn't care at all. They chanted for CM Punk, a beach ball, and a very loud "This is awful" chant.
The result; Lesnar retaining, comes as a surprise since WWE had been building for years to have Reigns beat Lesnar at WrestleMania. We don't know the future of Lesnar and his status in WWE, he very well may have signed a new contract or at least an extension, and now the hunt remains to see who will be the guy to dethrone him. The idea of turning Lesnar heel by teasing that he was leaving may have actually worked if he was wrestling someone other than Reigns, because there was some validity in his claims.
Does this mean that WWE has given up on making Reigns the top guy? I think that is premature. You could say two years ago when Reigns was passed over in the main event in favor of Rollins that they were giving up on making him the face of the company; but the reality was WWE didn't feel like the time was right and that they could still get him over with the audience as a super-babyface, they just needed more time. I've come to believe that WWE is never going to give up on Reigns, and that before WrestleMania they decided that Sunday wasn't the right time either; but they still believe that next year Reigns will be over the way they wanted him to be.
AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura: ***3/4
Technically the match was fine; everything was pulled off without a hitch and the match flowed nicely. I can see people viewing this match as a disappointment since it seemed like the favorite to be the best match of the weekend; but it is really hard to have a great match at WrestleMania; especailly given their spot on the card. That late into the show the crowd is tired and it is hard to have a 20 minute match unless you are doing a bunch of weapons spots and table bumps.
I hated the finish, and the heel turn. Nakamura had a phenomenal entrance and showed all of his charisma and the fans love him; so why would you turn that guy heel? I hate to say it; but I think Vince might not want a babyface Japanese star to be WWE Champion, and that like Mahal he prefers the foreign stars to be heels if they are going to be world champions. I suppose Nakamura will win the title at the next show as a heel; but a guy that gifted shouldn't be a heel if he is over, and Nakamura is over, baby.
The Undertaker vs John Cena: **
On Friday, I suggested that if they were going to have this match, it needed to be really short because The Undertaker is in his mid-50s and can't go for very long. They were hellbent on rolling him out again and I like that he just annihilated Cena as opposed to having a lengthy match where his limitations could be exposed. Credit to Cena; not a ton of guys in his position would allow themselves to be jobbed out like that on the big stage.
I've already said my share about WWE needing to develop new major stars instead of relying on guys in their 40s; they can't keep wheeling out The Undertaker every year. Last year should have been the last time The Undertaker wrestled; and I'll say the same for this year. When you can't wrestle for longer than a few minutes without being exposed, it is time to hang them up.
However, even with his limitations in the ring; he is still such an icon in the industry that he is going to be one of the most over guys on any show he was one. As ridiculous as the storyline leading to the match was; the crowd popped huge for his return and loved every second they saw The Undertaker. As a fan I don't want to see him wrestle again; but I'll never disagree with fans who want to see him one final time every year; and clearly there are a lot of them.
Stephanie McMahon and Triple H vs Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey: ***½
WWE did a phenomenal job with this match. I figured it would be a very safe match; without a lot of interaction between Rousey and Stephanie, but they did a ton. Rousey sold a lot which isn't super believable but it's pro wrestling, and she was pretty good at it considering she is a rookie. It wasn't just that she sold and Stephanie got some offense in; they did a lot of false finishes and near falls and some really good stuff. The crowd was into it from the beginning and Rousey felt like the enormous star WWE has promoted her as.
Considering it was her first official match; and she was working with an opponent who lacks experience, Rousey was really, really good in this match. There were a few awkward moments but overall she did amazingly well. The crowd getting behind her definitely helps; nobody really knew what to expect when she signed and if the crowd hated her then maybe she wouldn't have the same confidence in the ring. She has great potential and obviously WWE is going to protect her moving forward.
Triple H looks old and he was loudly calling spots in the ring, but for a guy his size and his age, he still bumps very well and he sold for Kurt a ton; and also for Rousey. I'm a little surprised they went with the man-on-women violence at points; but it helped take the emotion of the match up a bit.
Daniel Bryan's return match was just that; all anyone wanted to see was Bryan come back and kick some ass, and that is what eventually happened. I thought the stretcher job was a little weak; really the last thing fans want to see is Bryan get hurt; and having a bulk of the match just be Shane getting beat up was underwhelming, especially at that point in the card.
Owens and Zayn have been completely fantastic in their roles as heels. The best heels are the ones who think that they are actually in the right, even if they are complete psychopaths. All the stuff about it being their dream to beat up Bryan and McMahon was great. I'm sad they look like they are headed to RAW because they were the best thing on SmackDown each week.
Charlotte vs Asuka: ***
A good match that had the designated surprise finish at WrestleMania, with Charlotte not just ending Asuka's winning streak, but forcing the number one contender to submit. The match had a lot of action and some good high spots; and they went with the story of Asuka trying to work over Charlotte's arm to set her up for various submissions. My only complaint is that the match was a little short for the story they were trying to tell. It wasn't a 30 minute epic; where by the end you felt that Asuka had been exhausted to such a degree that even she had to tap out. With a shorter match that was mostly Charlotte selling, Asuka didn't feel like a superhuman opponent; she was just another woman who couldn't beat Charlotte when locked in the Figure 8.
Asuka's streak ending was a bit of a surprise, but I don't think it was the wrong decision. Asuka can still be an awesome, kick-ass star without the streak; WWE just has to avoid doing what WCW did with Goldberg; after the undefeated star loses, they revert to being just another person on the roster. I think she should get her win back at the next PPV.
Seth Rollins vs Finn Balor vs The Miz: ***¾
WWE couldn't have hoped for a better opening match. Not only was it a good, action-filled bout, but the crowd was really hot for it; particularly for Rollins who was one of the most over stars on the entire show. Not all of the finishes that happened on this show were real crowd-pleasers, but putting Rollins over in an excellent match got the show started on the right foot.
This felt like a filler match; coming on the heels of the big Asuka loss and right before the Rousey match the crowd needed a breather. Outside of Rusev's entrance, the crowd wasn't really into the match and the work was just okay. Nobody really stood out and it felt like it was just four guys trying to get their stuff in and then doing the finish. Having Mahal beat Rusev was disappointing; I don't know how you can look at those two guys subjectively and think that Mahal should be going over Rusev; especially in a crowd of 60,000 hardcore fans.
Nia Jax vs Alexa Bliss: **
The match was fine; Bliss did her best to try and get heat against a much larger opponent. This isn't their fault; but around this point the show crossed the 3:30 mark and that isn't even counting the pre-show. When the show is that long; it is hard to get really excited for anything that wasn't a main event-level match, and the crowd was obviously beginning to tire. The anti-bullying storyline is cliche; but it was time to mix up the women's title on the RAW side.
Braun Strowman and Nicholas vs The Bar: *
So Strowman's partner ended up not being Goldberg, who I thought it should be. It was instead, a child who stood on the apron as Braun beat up The Bar by himself and won the tag team titles. I thought the whole bit was cute; some people can go agro and think this devalues the tag titles, but it just puts Strowman over more as an unstoppable beast and it perked the crowd up. Anyone who thinks this was lame just wishes Braun picked them to be his partner.
The Usos vs The Bludgeon Brothers vs The New Day: **
Okay this really was a filler match. WWE had so many matches on this show that something was going to get cut and this match ended up drawing the short straw. It sucks because The Usos and The New Day have worked really hard over the last year to carry the tag team division and they deserve better at WrestleMania. I'm sure the re-match at the next PPV will go longer and be a much better match.
Tomaso Ciampa vs Johnny Gargano: ****½
A tremendous match; one of the best you will see in WWE all year. The work was great; but there was also a lot of care put into the storytelling and you got the sense that when it was over the two guys had to have been really close friends at one point due to the emotion that was put on display. The heat that Ciampa got from the crowd of hardcore fans; man, not a lot of guys can get that kind of reaction. I loved the finish; with Gargano avoiding Ciampa's last desperate attempt at trying to trick him and tapping him out with the knee brace. It was the perfect ending for those two (if that is the end).
The weird thing was that as a babyface (and a great one at that) the fans wanted to cheer for Gargano and hope he wins. Yet; if Gargano lost he would undoubtedly be headed to the main roster; and as a fan of Gargano his career is much more interesting if he lost the match and couldn't go back to NXT. That being said; Gargano will eventually head to the main roster, and as one of the best babyface prospects to come down the pike in a while; I hope he is treated well when he gets there.
Andrade Cien Almas vs Aleister Black: ****
A main-event worthy match that continued Almas' roll of quality performances on TakeOver shows. Almas was great as La Sombra in CMLL and NJPW; and after a little while in WWE he is great there as well. It just took him some time to adjust to the WWE style; but since then he has been one of the best workers in the company. I thought towards the end they were relying a little too much on Zelina Vega interfering, but that ended up playing into the finish; which was great.
During WrestleMania WWE usually has a wild, multi-man ladder match. This year that match ended up happening in NXT, and it was awesome thanks to a bunch of hungry guys looking to make their mark in WWE. Also, Ricochet was there and Ricochet is awesome. At some point it becomes really weird that so many of these guys in NXT when they are better than most of the guys on the main roster. I mean; Ricochet might be the most outstanding wrestler in the whole company and he in "developmental."
Shayna Baszler vs Ember Moon: **¾
The women were put in a tough spot because they had to follow the ladder match and there was just no way they were going to do something that spectacular. The work was fine and Baszler winning the title is the right move. Her future is interesting because she is nearly 40, and with Rousey aboard she can't really claim to be the top MMA star in WWE. Obviously they could have a big angle with each other, but other than that it is going to be hard for her to standout on the main roster the way she does in NXT.
A good match that was overshadowed by the great matches that were on the show; all the guys worked hard and there were some good spots. The real story of the match is Strong turning on Dunne and joining up with The Undisputed Era; which helps the group while Bobby Fish is on the shelf and makes sense given his Ring of Honor ties.