Editorial Columns

Looking At The Road To WrestleMania 35

James Klonowski looks at the road to WrestleMania 35

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. 

Here at TWM, I’m going to analyse every road to WrestleMania from the last decade. 

Yesterday, I brought you the lowdown on WrestleMania 34, which brings us nicely to the next instalment which saw the women headline the biggest show of the year for the first time in history, John Cena return to his Thuganomics roots, Roman Reigns return from a life-threatening illness, and Brock Lesnar defend the Universal Championship against Seth Rollins. 

WrestleMania 35 will go down as the longest in history, if nothing else. Including the pre show, the event lasted a whopping 7 and a half hours. I don’t even think Live Aid went that long. It’s absolutely ludicrous to make fans sit in a stadium for that length of time. It was gone midnight locally before the show ended, meaning parents with young kids had to trek through the treacherous late night New Jersey/New York streets to get home safely.

There’s simply too much content at WrestleMania these days. We need to go back to the traditional four hour PPV format, and have matches that actually mean something, not just a way to get random wrestlers on the show. I mean, does anyone really pine to see Apollo Crews in a battle royal?

One month after Roman Reigns finally conquered Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship rather belatedly at SummerSlam, tragedy struck for The Big Dog as he was forced to relinquish the gold when he revealed a case of leukaemia had come back. It was heartbreaking to see. This wasn’t a character, this was a real life human being dealing with serious issues. Thankfully, the fans in attendance realised this and didn’t start chanting “what?!” after every sentence. Reigns wouldn’t return until early 2019.

Upon returning to Monday Night Raw, Reigns got one of the loudest, sustained pops in recent memory. The fans were genuinely happy to see him back in a WWE ring looking fit and healthy. The Big Dog announced he was in remission to a thunderous reaction. Arguably, the most feel good moment in WWE history. I’d have had him come back as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble Match, win it and slay The Beast at WrestleMania to take back the Championship he never lost, but that’s just me. Imagine the reaction Roman would’ve got had he returned unannounced at the Rumble. It would’ve been epic. 

Without that rather incredible story arc, Reigns had no real reason to be back in the fold, much less on the WrestleMania card. He would’ve been better suited being in Seth Rollins’ corner for his title opportunity opposite The Beast. Alas, Vince McMahon had other ideas. Drew McIntyre was summoned to make a mockery of Roman’s heroic return, ridicule his family and call him a loser. No one puts smiles on faces like WWE, huh? McIntyre destroyed everyone in his path leading up to the big show, so there were no surprises as to who would come out on top in New York.

The Universal Championship was defended by Brock Lesnar once again at WrestleMania, and his opponent this time would be Seth Rollins, who had won an anticlimactic Royal Rumble Match. Fun little fact – Lesnar has faced all three members of The Shield at WrestleMania and beaten them all except for The King Slayer. Anyway, Rollins was portrayed as the ultimate underdog opposite Lesnar, despite defeating Triple H with one leg just two years earlier. But we aren’t supposed to remember things in WWE. If we were allowed to, things would be so much better. Just look at the excellent work between Edge and Randy Orton for proof of that.

The Undertaker incredibly sat out this WrestleMania, despite apparently pitching an array of proposals to Vince McMahon including a rematch with John Cena. There wasn’t room on the card for the greatest performer in the history of WrestleMania, but there was room for Shane McMahon. Go figure. Shane had become a dastardly heel in the months since last year’s WM, but it had all come too late for anyone to care. Shane had the dreaded X-Pac heat as opposed to the love to hate reaction most top heels get.

Shane opened the year by winning the Smackdown Tag Team Championship with The Miz, who had been begging Shane to side with him for weeks for reasons never truly explained other than Miz’s father wouldn’t be proud of him unless he won gold with a McMahon. This is the same Miz who has headlined WrestleMania, been WWE Champion and won just about every title available to him. 

The heel turn arrived when they lost their Championships to The Usos, and Shane snapped. He even assaulted Miz’s dad. Well, assaulted might be too strong a term. He actually touched his face and squeezed his cheeks. PG era and all. This would lead to Miz challenging Shane to a Falls Count Anywhere Match on the Grandest Stage as an excuse for Shane to jump from some crazy height. He would not disappoint….

What a difference a year makes. Last year, Daniel Bryan returned from a near career ending neck injury to, albeit not a lot of fanfare, and was now WWE Champion and a vilified heel for simply telling fans to take care of the planet. Greta Thunberg knows how he feels there. Bryan was exceptional in this role, and deserved to hold the title a lot longer than he did, but then KofiMania arrived on the scene and everything changed.

Kofi Kingston had been in WWE for over 11 years and had never got an opportunity at the WWE Championship. He wasn’t supposed to get this one either, but fate intervened. Ali, who was originally scheduled to compete in the Elimination Chamber Match, was ruled out due to injury, meaning Kofi took his place. In the bout, Kingstom captured the imagination of all who were watching with a mesmerising performance. He ultimately came up short, but the story had been told – Kingston was the next WWE Champion. Minus a slightly racist angle involving Vince McMahon, this was the perfect underdog story which saw Kofi conquer every obstacle put in front of him to get a shot at Bryan on the biggest show of the year.

AJ Styles was still a babyface, but his act was wearing a little thin. Thankfully he would turn heel later in the year and return to his more natural, entertaining self. But first, he would play the good guy against Randy Orton. I think even Baron Corbin would be the good guy against The Viper at this stage. 

Their story revolved around Orton not respecting Styles because he came from the indies, and AJ likewise due to all the opportunities that were handed to Randy simply due to his last name. It was decent stuff, but we all knew the match itself would be a disappointment because it would feature chin locks, rest holds and mundane stomps. 

History would be made at WrestleMania 35 as the women would headline for the first time ever. Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair would clash in a Triple Threat Winner Take All Match for both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Championships. It had all the ingredients to be one of the greatest main events of all time, but timing, a convoluted storyline, and a botched finish meant it was just average at best.

Becky Lynch had become the most popular performer on the entire roster in the space of 12 months, while Ronda Rousey had fast become the most dominant and feared athlete not named Brock Lesnar. Charlotte Flair was simply Charlotte Flair. 

At Survivor Series, Lynch was set to face Rousey, but an errant punch from Nia Jax left Becky medically uncleared, so Flair took her place. The match was extremely physical, but it was missing something. It was missing the presence of The Man.

Lynch won the Royal Rumble to set up a WrestleMania showdown with Ronda Rousey. That should’ve been the main event right there. There was no need to involve Flair whatsoever, but WWE had other ideas. The story ended up so confusing with Lynch suffering a kayfabe knee injury, suspension and everything in between. The real issue was between Lynch and Rousey. That was the match the fans wanted to see. The only reason Charlotte was inserted is because her last name is Flair and you can’t have a “history making moment” without her.

Kurt Angle had his farewell match at WrestleMania, but it wasn’t against a Triple H, Undertaker or John Cena. No, it was to be against Baron bloody Corbin. Granted, the two had been feuding for much of the year over ownership of Raw but no one wanted to see them clash, especially in Kurt’s last WWE match. They wanted him to have a really special send-off against one of his greatest ever rivals, but it didn’t materialise. In the build-up, Angle did take on Samoa Joe, Rey Mysterio, AJ Styles and others in short TV bouts but it was shallow at best. He deserved that one last marquee bout to end his career on the high note it deserved.

The most well built match on the entire card came in the form of Batista’s return to WWE to challenge Triple H and end his career once and for all. Batista had wanted a WrestleMania showdown with The Game for many years, but for whatever reason it never happened. Finally, the stars aligned and it was set. 

The first tease came on Smackdown 1000, where Evolution reunited. The party atmosphere soured somewhat when Batista said, “Triple H has done it all in this business…. except beat me.” The tease worked perfectly, as the fans came unglued for a potential clash between the long time rivals.

Things were forgotten about until February 2019 when Triple H organised a special birthday bash for Ric Flair on Raw. This was crashed by Batista, who battered The Nature Boy in a backstage attack before yelling into the camera if he had gotten Triple H’s attention now. Turns out, he had. 

The Game was pissed and wanted The Animal’s blood. Batista wanted things on his terms. A one on one match at WrestleMania with Triple H’s career on the line. The King Of Kings accepted with one caveat, it would be contested under No Holds Barred rules. It was meant to be inside Hell In A Cell, but Vince McMahon apparently vetoed that for whatever reason.

So, let’s get to the event itself. It opened with the beautiful Alexa Bliss welcoming us to the event as the host of WrestleMania. She was excellent as usual on the mic, and remains criminally underrated to this day. She wanted to make a WrestleMania Moment, and did so by summoning Hulk Hogan with a click of her fingers. It was a nice little nostalgic moment and The Hulkster did actually get cheered, unlike at the Hall of Fame ceremony. 

Paul Heyman crashed the party, pissed off that his client Brock Lesnar would not be headlining WrestleMania, and insisted they weren’t hanging around all night and would defend the Universal Championship right now. A fun and unpredictable way to start WrestleMania, I loved it. The fans were hot for it and the match was action-packed, brutal and pretty quick. Seth Rollins overcoming The Beast rather easily was a surprise though, especially considering how dominant WWE had built Lesnar up.

The Phenomenal AJ Styles made Randy Orton eat his words by defeating him on the Grandest Stage in a tepid affair. These two just didn’t click. It was slow and methodical throughout, like every Orton contest. There were a few bright spots in the bout, but nothing to truly save it from the filler that it was.

Shane McMahon bafflingly pinned The Miz in their bonkers Falls Count Anywhere clash after falling on top of The A Lister following an insane Superplex off the gigantic staging area. It was an incredible sight to see and both deserve the credit for having the guts to do such a move, especially The Miz who doesn’t make a habit of going to the top rope, let alone scaling 50 foot high structures. 

The Usos knocked off The Bar, Aleister Black & Ricochet and Rusev & Shinsuke Nakamura in a lively Four Way to remain Smackdown Tag Team Champions. The Iiconics surprisingly won the Women’s Tag Team Titles by beating Sasha Banks & Bayley, Nia Jax & Tamina and Beth Phoenix & Natayla in a Four Way. It was odd of WWE to put these matches back to back.

In the feel good moment of the night, Kofi Kingston achieved the dream of a lifetime by becoming WWE Champion when he stopped Daniel Bryan in his tracks. This bout had gotten rave reviews and while good, it wasn’t great in my book. It could’ve been really special, but it came off as just a routine win for Kofi. 

Samoa Joe flattened Rey Mysterio in seconds to remain United States Champion. Rumour has it, Rey suffered a knee injury in the lead-up and was unable to go for any sort of duration, so an audible was called. Thankfully, because WrestleMania was already running way too long.

Roman Reigns triumphed over Drew McIntyre in his first singles match back since overcoming leukaemia. Unfortunately the bout lacked any real drama or excitement. It just existed. Both men can do better, and hopefully they get the chance to rectify this somewhere down the road.

The Dr. Of Thuganomics John Cena returned to put Elias in his place with a risque rap followed by an FU. This was a great moment and a reminder that Cena can still be cool when not pandering to five year olds.

In the most hard hitting contest of the night, and my personal favourite, Triple H finally vanquished Batista in a No Holds Barred epic with a timely assist from Ric Flair. The two brutalised each other involving some pretty unique spots including The Game using a pair of pliers to pull out Batista’s nose ring. Shawn Michaels on guest commentary helped put over the animosity between both men too. This was The Animal’s swansong and he got the storybook ending his legendary career deserved.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said of Kurt Angle, who lost to Baron Corbin in less than six minutes, and left WrestleMania with the entire stadium chanting “You Suck!”. The Demon Finn Balor blasted through Bobby Lashley to capture the Intercontinental Championship in a scrappy contest. Did this really need to take place at WrestleMania?

And finally, in the main event Becky Lynch pinned Ronda Rousey to become the new Raw and Smackdown Women’s Champion in a Triple Threat Match that also involved Charlotte Flair. This bout came on so late in the night that the fans were jaded and didn’t react to anything. The women tried their best, but it just wasn’t happening. It didn’t help matters that the referee botched the finish when he counted to three despite Ronda clearly kicking out at two. Not exactly sure what happened but it somewhat ruined the moment for The Man.

Overall, WrestleMania 35 was just too long. Shave off the two tag team bouts, the US and IC Championship defenses, and you’d have gotten a much easier watch. It would’ve taken an hour off the event, at least. Seeing Cena return to his Thuganomics ways was fun to see, but it didn’t take away from the disappointment of not having an appearance from The Undertaker. Miz not beating Shane was a ludicrous booking decision.

The WWE Championship win for Kofi Kingston was an incredible moment, but the match could have been so much better. As could have the main event, but again they were hampered by a lot of things out of their control.

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You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3Thanks for reading!

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