The road to WrestleMania is often regarded as the most exciting three month period in the WWE season.
It’s where all the big returns, dream matches and thrilling storylines take place. Basically, the only three months of the year the writers actually do what they’re paid to do (allegedly).
Last week, I brought you the lowdown on WrestleMania 32, which brings us nicely to the next installment which saw The Undertaker have his “last ride” opposite the ever-popular Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar re-gain the Universal Championship by defeating Goldberg in an entertaining bout that laid to rest the nightmares of their MSG debacle, and Chris Jericho put on a match so bad that Vince McMahon gleefully waved him goodbye to AEW.
WrestleMania 33 was billed as The Ultimate Thrill Ride, and for the most part it was exactly that. But like every rollercoaster, it had its fair share of ups and downs. All the stars that were forced to sit out last year’s event were back, minus Daniel Bryan, who would have to wait another 12 months to be medically cleared just so he could team with Superman himself, Shane McMahon.
Roman Reigns didn’t get the cheers WWE desired for him in his main event coronation last year. Their answer? To make him retire The Undertaker. What’s worse is that their rivalry was centred around two big dogs claiming ownership of their yard. No four legged friends were involved however, not even some Hounds of Justice. Anyway, the feud began at the Royal Rumble where Reigns eliminated a gassed Undertaker from the match and got the dreaded “I’m coming for you” stare from The Deadman, which used to a look more intimidating when he could actually wrestle without endangering himself or others.
From there, Roman Reigns challenged Undertaker to a bout at WrestleMania to find out exactly whose yard it truly is. Had these guys never heard of property ownership? The challenge was accepted courtesy of the good old fashioned point to the WrestleMania sign followed by a Chokeslam from The Phenom.
Undertaker went into this one needing hip surgery, meaning he couldn’t work out and struggled to lift anything heavy. The ideal condition for a WrestleMania main event, apparently. This should not have been anywhere near the main event, and if it needed to be on the card at all it should have also involved Kane and Dean Ambrose to make it a tag team affair and release the load on Undertaker. They didn’t do that obviously, and the match was painful to watch, but no one got dropped on their head or knocked themselves out headbutting a door. So, there is that.
Shane McMahon’s annual WrestleMania contest this time saw him clash with AJ Styles. It came about due to Styles believing Shane was abusing his power as GM of Smackdown, and he wanted an end to it. A McMahon abusing their power? Never. Styles wasn’t taking any messing and even threw Shane headfirst through a car window to make his point. He could’ve just pointed to the WrestleMania sign while Shane was huffing and puffing his way through a 20-minute opening promo, but this seemed more effective.
Was this a waste of AJ Styles’ talents? I don’t think so. Of course, he could’ve had a better match with an actual wrestler who doesn’t turn purple two minutes into the bout but, for what it was, it delivered. Shane can be fun when he’s in the ring with a world-class athlete in the prime of his career, it’s when he’s pitted against ageing veterans he struggles.
After their spectacular performance last year, the women were forced to take a back seat to the men at WrestleMania 33. Both Raw and Smackdown Women’s Championships were defended in multi woman bouts, meaning WWE didn’t have a clue what to do with any of them. Not the best way to utilise your most popular and talented performers on the biggest show of the year, to say the least.
One of the most anticipated main events on the show was the Universal Championship match between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar. The story was (almost) perfect which is no surprise considering it was reportedly penned by Paul Heyman. Goldberg returned in time for Survivor Series after 12 years away from the ring to slay The Beast in less than two minutes in one of the most shocking and dramatic finishes in WWE history.
Both Goldberg and a shell-shocked Lesnar would enter the Royal Rumble Match, where Goldberg again made short work of The Beast, dumping him out of the ring with ease. It seemed Goldberg had Brock’s number. But this is when the story took a sudden turn for the worse. WWE had Goldberg squash Kevin Owens to become the Universal Championship in order for his WrestleMania showdown with Lesnar to mean something. It already meant something. Now, all they had done is piss off a large section of fans who soured on Goldberg, and made the WrestleMania encounter a foregone conclusion because we all knew Goldberg wasn’t staying past the big show.
The Universal Championship should’ve been kept around the waist of Kevin Owens so his incredible story with Chris Jericho could’ve had the finish it so richly deserved. They were the most entertaining thing about Raw in 2016, carrying the flagship show for much of the year. Their friendship gave us so many great memories to cherish forever such as Jericho’s List, the return of Gillberg and of course, The Festival Of Friendship. It was all geared up for WrestleMania for the two former friends to clash for the richest prize in Sports Entertainment, but Vince McMahon had other ideas.
Jericho has gone on record since to talk of his sadness at the match being stripped of its importance, and then being put on second at WrestleMania in a throwaway spot. It didn’t help matters that the bout absolutely sucked, but who can blame either man if they lost a little motivation after the way they were treated?
So, let’s get to the event itself. It opened with Shane McMahon going one on one with AJ Styles. Thankfully, Shane didn’t try to kill himself this year by leaping off some insane structure, but he still put in an incredible effort. They delivered a stunt show that was filled with more fun than a trip to the seaside. It had several reckless moments, which is par for the course of a Shane McMahon match especially at WrestleMania. Fans in attendance didn’t appreciate Shane kicking out of a Styles Clash, but this is The Boy Wonder who took The Undertaker to his limit inside Hell In A Cell, don’t forget. Styles won with the Phenomenal Forearm to no one’s surprise. If Styles could get something that good out of Shane, then there’s hope for his showdown with Undertaker yet.
The Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens bout was everything the Shane and Styles one wasn’t. It was slow, dull and repetitive. We expected a classic but got a match that would’ve been better suited for TV than the biggest show of the year. Owens winning to become US Champion was also the wrong call in my book, as the story called for the wronged Y2J to gain a measure of revenge.
Bayley retained her Raw Women’s Championship by defeating Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair and Nia Jax in a Four-Way Elimination Match. Everyone wanted it to come down to Banks and Bayley, so when The Boss was eliminated, the fans lost interest. To be fair, the match before that moment wasn’t anything to write home about anyway.
The Hardys returned to WWE in an incredible moment to win the Raw Tag Team Championship in a Four-Way Ladder Match against The Bar, The OC and Big Cass & Enzo. The moment of Hardys returning certainly was the peak here. The bout that followed was dire. It was sloppy and over in a blink of an eye.
John Cena & Nikki Bella defeated The Miz & Maryse in a rather entertaining contest before Cena proposed to Nikki after the bout. How did that moment turn out for the happy couple? I think it’s now a meme mocking the pair. It was funny to see Super Cena so low down a WrestleMania card though, but to his credit he didn’t phone in his performance. In fact, it was better than the last time Miz and Cena shared a ring together which just so happened to be the main event of WrestleMania 27.
Seth Rollins beat Triple H in a gruelling Unsanctioned Street Fight. I forgot to talk about this one in the build-up. I blame Vince McMahon for putting on too many damn matches. The story was great, as are most Triple H rivalries, but this time the match actually delivered too. Triple H certainly has more in-ring chemistry with Rollins than he does Roman Reigns. The pacing could’ve been a little faster, but other than that, this was excellent. Rollins fighting on one leg for most of the bout worked brilliantly, and Triple H was at his ruthless best. Stephanie McMahon taking a bump through a table was also great to see. Both men also had the best entrances of the entire night too. No surprises there.
Randy Orton beat Bray Wyatt to capture the WWE Championship in one of the most bizarre matches in WrestleMania history. I’m not a sci-fi fan, but even if I was, I think I’d still have been cringing at the nonsense in this one. I mean, projected bugs on the ring mat? What was that even about? It didn’t even work as Orton shook off the mind games and hit an RKO for the underwhelming win. The Viper would lose the title a month later to Jinder Mahal of all people. The WWE Championship took a battering in 2017.
Brock Lesnar finally got his win back over Goldberg to become the new Universal Champion in the best match of the night, which only went five minutes and goes to prove less is often more in the world of professional wrestling. There was a lot of action and drama packed into those five minutes, which makes you wonder why the women complained for so many years when given the same time frame. If Goldberg can make something work in that time, then I’m sure Trish Stratus and Lita could’ve. This was the smashmouth contest it needed to be, and it worked tremendously.
Naomi won the Smackdown Women’s Championship in a rushed six pack Challenge which will sadly also befall Bayley this year too. This felt like a Divas era bout for that reason. Her title win meant nothing due to the brevity of proceedings and too many superstars involved.
The main event saw Roman Reigns topple The Undertaker in a No Holds Barred contest. It certainly had the big fight feel, but Undertaker’s body just wasn’t up to the task. At various points, Undertaker failed to lift Reigns up for certain spots, making the whole thing rather embarrassing to watch. The Deadman looked particularly mad at himself too. Reigns didn’t turn heel as many expected, and he just defeated Undertaker cleanly with a brutal looking Spear. The Phenom leaving his hat and gloves in the ring afterwards seemed to signal the end of his career, but then the Saudi Arabia money came calling.
Overall, WrestleMania 33 was exactly how it was billed. It was a rollercoaster ride filled with many ups and downs. Goldberg and Lesnar were spectacular, as were Triple H and Rollins. A special mention also goes to the efforts of Shane McMahon. Jericho and Owens were criminally disappointing, as were both women’s matches. Undertaker tried his best in the main event, but father time sadly won out.
Come back to TWM next time where I will be looking back at the road to WrestleMania 34 which saw Undertaker squash John Cena, Ronda Rousey make her WWE in-line debut, Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns attempt and fail to replicate their WM 31 classic, and Charlotte Flair end the undefeated streak of Asuka.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!