I’m 35 and this was my 35th WrestleMania. We’ve certainly grown up together, me and WrestleMania.
In the 80s we were both, me and WrestleMania, a little less serious, a little more cartoonish. Then as we got into our teens, me and WrestleMania both, we got a little saucier and a lot more interested in sex. In our twenties, WrestleMania and I had our best of times, our wild, let it all hang out days (and unfortunately lost some folks along the way). Now in our thirties, a little abused and hard living of our twenties, we’re both, very aware, very self-reflective.
It showed last night. With no other lens than “was that a good wrestling show?” to look through, then the take away is, hell yes, WrestleMania 35 was a good show. No doubt WWE is self-aware and reflective enough to cater to a broad spectrum of tastes, to tell stories without being overly complicated and one-dimensional, and to play to its past and its present for both sets of fans, to put the best wrestlers, not just the freakiest looking ones or the ones promoters love, in the ring.
Then again, after 35 years I’d expect that. So, it is surprising to still see a botch in a world title match (more below). I mean, how many times can you eff up on a Pay Per View and not learn from it? How can you have uncertainty in the main event 2 years in a row? How, how, how in the world after doing this umpteen hundred times, do we still get moments less than slick, less than polished? I don’t know the answer, other than this is wrestling, and it’s still a carny business at heart (gawd love it).
General reflections out of the way, here’s 5 things we learned watching Wrestlemania 35.
1. Stadium Shows Are Awesome
There’s something about a stadium that makes a good pay per view better. First, it distinguishes the product from the weekly live shows. Arenas are great, but the open air makes this feel special. The change of day light to night naturally enhances the build of the show, the main event happening after darkness falls.
Beyond that, hell, this was a good show. I mean, my gawd, it was six hours of pick your flavor. We got hardcore and falls count anywhere. We got multi-tag four ways. We got three world title switches and an intercontinental title switch. There were tables and foreign objects. There were amazing mat-based counters.
Throw in Miz’s dad putting his dukes up against Shane and I can’t imagine how you could possibly dream of any other wrestling angle to put in a show.
Plus WWE is getting so good at honoring the legends. We got cameos from Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, and what a pop for the Honky Tonk Man. My favorite part of the old timers was seeing how awesomely respectful Brian (Road Dogg Jesse) James of DX was, going to each of the Hall of Famers individually to shake their hand and show the love. What a guy. Shawn Michaels came down to call Triple H vs. Batista to lots of cheers. Too bad (but fitting) Beefcake got zero pop after everyone else got huge cheers.
The looks of the stadium were great too. I know WWE is catching some criticism today for not having enough entrance entertainment (though there was plenty). WWE has cut down on pyro and general ring entrance shows in the last couple of years, and folks are starting to grumble that it doesn’t look as big now. I don’t know if I’m in the minority, but I liked the simplicity of the look, that I could still see the football stadium features in the daylight, that the focus of the set and audience was the ring in the middle. It gave it an old school look and feel I dig.
2. That Ending Was Not Worthy Of WrestleMania
I stayed up after the show to catch the buzz. I relentlessly Googled “WrestleMania 35 botched finish” until hits started to come. And I knew they would.
To end a WrestleMania with a moment most live fans missed is a mistake. To end WrestleMania without a finisher is a mistake. To end The Grandaddy of Them All in a way that makes my wife turn to me and say, “Wait, was that it?” is a mistake.
So what happened? Rumor has it that WWE creative was legitimately up in the air on the finish up until WrestleMania week. The fans wanted Lynch over, but
Then the match happened. And it was good. Don’t get me wrong. Charlotte going into the table was awesome. Charlotte’s athleticism was awesome. The tandem Charlotte-Lynch triple power bomb of Rousey was awesome. Really, really good stuff, absolutely deserving of being the long over-due women’s wrestling main event.
USA Today and Forbes released articles before the sun was up today on the “botched” ending. Rousey hit
Several reports indicate Rousey was legitimately pissed at the finish and yelled at the referee and backstage. Maybe she didn’t know she was going to be pinned. Maybe the WWE was afraid Rousey would really shoot and refuse to be pinned. Maybe this is the MetLife Screwjob.
I don’t know though, that doesn’t seem quite right since many reports indicated Rousey was willing to lose to Charlotte or Lynch. More likely, it was supposed to be Lynch tapping out Charlotte in the end as reported, and the referee really fucked up here.
Does it really matter if the wrestler everyone wanted to win got the belt? Hell yes it does. Now Lynch’s culminating title win will always come with the caveat of, “But what the hell was up with that finish?” And even if it never becomes anything more (because it is very much still possible this was a screwjob finish to keep Rousey from shooting), that’s an asterisk that’ll last a lifetime.
3. Too Much Is Too Much
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to watch in the moment, but in the end it detracts from the legacy of the show. The Universal Title match was so far away in time from the Women’s Title Unification, and so much happens in between, it’s hard to pinpoint the feeling, the takeaway from this show. Instead, it seems like a showcase for what to tune in for week to week, rather than the week to week shows culminating at Wrestlemania.
Back when promoters had debate two and a half versus three-hour shows. What was so crucial about that half hour? If you went to three hours, it was going to take two VHS tapes to distribute it. That means double the production cost for rentals and video sales. Obviously no such worries these days. You can distribute six hours of a
So much show, so many matches—any individual moments really are overshadowed by quantity. Seth Rollins’ moment with the belt at the end of his defeat of Lesnar is completely overshadowed by the idea that the whole rest of the show is yet to come. Kofi Kingston was able to carve out some spotlight, thanks to his kids, but even that felt anticlimactic because there was still over an hour of show left.
WWE would do well to take a lesson from 1997 WCW. Remember how a whole Monday Night Nitro was defined by a single, climactic, Sting appearance from the rafters? And it was enough to get you to tune in next week for one more moment like that. In an era of instant access and instant gratification, WWE creative would do well to hold back. Tease us. Leave us wanting more. Several of these matches could have been delayed until the next big show, with simple teases and promos on WrestleMania night.
Same is true with the announcers. WrestleMania II is universally panned for its venue and announcer switches. It creates an inconsistent feeling. It creates a sense that what is unfolding is a special put on, rather than part of a longstanding institution. It feels like a network special, Circus of the Stars, rather than an entity to itself. Beyond that, announcers never get into a groove, get into the moment, they are so busy introducing each other and giving exposition on the newest announce entrant’s relationship to the match. Most will be pressed to even recall every announcer that put on a headset at WrestleMania 35, let alone find a memorable call. Not once did one of the temporal broadcasters come unglued, add to the match by creating the emotion and narrative for us. I can’t wait for Good ‘Ol JR at AEW and a “Make yourself famous kid!” call again.
I understand the idea of putting everything out there as a showcase, especially for fans who might not watch week to week, but in the end it feels like a giant buffet. The food was good, but I really couldn’t taste everything fully and my stuffed belly at the end make me feel more sick than satisfied.
4. Roman Reigns Is Still Boring
I don’t want to bash Roman Reigns, I really don’t, but I just cannot get behind this guy. Last night was a prime example. Everything that was worthy of a highlight in this feud was because of Drew McIntyre.
Roman has a good look, the Shield is a cool concept. Everything else about Roman is just so…blah. His finisher is a “Superman” punch. He jumps…and punches you. Ironic that Hulk Hogan kicked off the show, given Roman put on the least theatrical Hulk-up I’ve ever seen. When it is up to the cameraman to catch the Hulk-up, in this case Reigns just deliberately grinding his jaw after McIntyre knocked the crap of him, the wrestler isn’t working the crowd well. And if you can’t blow us away with your in-ring action, you better be able to play to the crowd well.
I know his battle with cancer is a big deal. But honestly, it feels like that’s the only reason this guy has heat. I really wonder how much anyone would have cared about this match without it being a return for Roman.
Look back a year ago and another WrestleMania botched finish. Reigns was supposed to go over Lesnar at WrestleMania 34, but with fans still not cheering Reigns a week before the match or during the show, Vince changed the outcome midmatch and Lesnar won (apparently Lesnar was more pissed that Reigns). The Roman Empire just can’t get heat. This fan reaction is largely built on his leaving on top (a position he was forcefully shoehorned into), and now being (thankfully) in remission. I wonder how long any momentum really lasts though.
5. WWE F
inally Has A Black Champion
Not a fan of split titles, not a fan of the World Titles being defended so early in the show. It devalues being champion. But, big but, I’ll get pumped up for Daniel Bryan match any day. Against Kofi Kingston to boot? Hell yes!
I don’t want to spend this talking about Daniel Bryan. It’s been done. And of course, nothing will top five years ago. That was Yesslemania, that was Daniel Bryan’s all-time contribution to the business. But I have to say how awesome it was when he got up out of the corner and pointed skyward and everyone chanted…”No!” Dude is over as a heel. It’s clear he’s going to be the man no matter what. You’re watching one of
But last night was Kofi Kingston’s moment. I know the Rock is half black. I know Ron Simmons and Booker T held the big gold belt in WCW. But here’s the thing: Ron and Booker both got the belt at WCW’s lowest points, in 1992 when WCW almost went under, and in 2000, a year before WCW did go under. And any time the heritage of the Rock is discussed, his Samoan heritage and Anoa’i connections are the emphasis.
Besides, like it or not, WWE is the WWE, not WCW, not ECW. It’s the juggernaut, and, long after a Puerto Rican champion (Pedro Morales), a Japanese champion (Antonio Inoki), an Iranian champion (the Iron Sheik), and a couple of Samoan champions (Yokozuna and The Rock), the WWE finally, finally has a black champion.
Kofi Kingston deserves it too. He is now a Triple-Crown and Grand-Slam title winner. He’s done it the organic way. He wasn’t forced on us. He built a reputation as being good, and since his WWE/ECW debut in December 2007, he has worked his way up the card. Sometimes in the last couple of decades it really seems like we’ve been given two different prototypes. There are the wrestlers who come in and will be long time and perennial mid carders with some championship success (Sheamus, the Miz), and there are the ones brought in and groomed to be champion. Occasionally, the mid-carders get over enough to get the push (see Daniel Bryan). And I gotta say, I love it when this happens. There’s no drama in a guy brought in to be great being great. See Diesel, see Psycho Sid, see Big Show/the Giant. They can make an impact, but they aren’t the ones we champion down the line, hold in our hearts. That happens when Shawn Michaels makes a ten year rise from tag team champion to world champion, when Triple H moves from jobbing to Alex Wright at WCW’s Starrcade to owning the WWE. Those are the stories that feel epic. Add Kofi to the list.