WrestleMania 33 is in the books, as are the now-customary “after-Mania” shows from Raw and SmackDown. As always, it was the busiest, most newsworthy several days on WWE’s calendar. Roster changes were made, legends were celebrated, NXT put on what is arguably their second biggest show of the year and, of course, WrestleMania was the talk of the town all over Orlando and around the world.
So how was it? Let’s grade the week’s festivities.
HALL OF FAME
This year’s class was notable for how uneventful it was. There was no “I can’t believe Madusa got in!” discussion, or a “Why is Vader inducting Stan Henson instead of getting inducted by Mick Foley!” moment. There was no “will he go in as Kevin Nash or as Diesel” debate or a “will Ultimate Warrior go off on a live-mic tirade” pre-show controversy. It was a good class, with little to get worked up over. Beth Phoenix is a good enough woman to get in this year. Teddy Long certainly has a big enough history to earn his place. Rick Rude is the obligatory “long time coming, too bad he’s gone” entrant. And, surprisingly, there was no big celebrity this year. It was really a two-man event and the two book-ended the show. DDP was gracious and humble, just like the man himself. Kurt Angle was funny and braggadocios, just like the man himself. Nobody droned on and on, no one was disrespected by the crowd. All in all it was an uneventful show, honoring a group of all-around worthy-to-be-honored legends, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Next year let’s get Vader in, hopefully while there’s still time. He’d be a nice DDP to Kurt Angle’s Undertaker.
If you missed Takeover: Orlando and you just want to watch the highlights, here’s what you should see: (1) watch everyone’s entrances as no atmosphere is better than a Takeover during a hot entrance, (2) watch the tag title match in its entirety and (3) watch the finish to the women’s match. Particularly great entrances belonged to Aleister Black (who looks like a star in the making), Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura. The best match, bar none, was the tag title match and even though the crowd really wanted to see a title change, there’s still a lot of money to be made with the Authors of Pain being unstoppable. The other much-hyped match was the women’s title competition and, once again, the crowd was itching for a title change and didn’t get it. It’s clear, however, that Asuka’s heel turn is now in full swing and it will mean more for her to lose (very likely to Ember Moon in a Takeover rematch) as a full-fledged baddie than as a tweener. The main-event was a standard Bobby Roode match; what can you say? He’s got a great look, entrance, gimmick and promo skills. He’s competent in the ring but can’t work a match with the kind of excitement you get from Owens, Zayn, Nakamura, etc. Which is why he’ll be a main-eventer almost as soon as he’s called up.
Last year’s Takeover easily stole the weekend, outclassing the much longer and more frustratingly-booked Mania 32. It saw the debut of Shinsuke Nakamura and the farewell of Sami Zayn. This year didn’t have quite as much drama and the brand seems to be in a much longer “rebuilding phase” than most thought they’d be. You almost feel spoiled to criticize the “sameness” of an NXT Takeover these days. It’s easy to take for granted how great it is to have a smart wrestling show with great matches under the WWE umbrella. The main-roster shows usually make us choose one or the other. Takeover wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but the ordinary these days is basically “the best thing going” so who am I to complain? Sure the main event feud lacked sizzle and the match was a little too paint-by-numbers. Yeah none of the titles changed hands and nothing remarkable happened to shake up the feeling that the show is kind of spinning its wheels (unless you think the return of Drew McIntyre is going to be amazing), but nothing on the show was bad, and even the finishes I didn’t like were at least logical. This is WWE. I appreciate when they give me “logical.”
Mania weekend is basically NXT’s SummerSlam. Their WrestleMania will come in August.
Match by match breakdown:
Neville vs Aries – really good. The right man won but Aries did great on the big stage.
Battle Royal – really bad. No stories or drama or very much fun. Giving the win to Mojo on the hope that they would get a little sportscenter buzz from Gronk’s participation tells you all you need to know about today’s WWE. Nothing is sacred. Nothing matters except selling out for temporary mainstream publicity.
Ambrose vs Corbin – average. Predictable and kind of boring in spots. Ambrose deserved better than the preshow. Their SmackDown followup was much better.
AJ vs Shane – great. Shane deserves a lot of credit but AJ deserved a better, faster opponent. Still, wrestling a McMahon is a big deal behind the scenes so it’s all good. This was easily the match of the night.
Jericho vs KO – great. Good psychology, good pacing, great spots and moments (especially KO’s one finger on the rope). Owens is one of the last natural heels that fans (smark and mark alike) will boo. That’s a rare breed these days (even Miz is getting big cheers) so hopefully they’ll remember what they have in him this spring and summer. Special props to Owens’ “WrestleMania 2” inspired shirt. I hope he updates it every year.
Raw Women’s four way – great. Bayley has been so poorly used on Raw, but it was impossible not to feel happy for her when she walked down the ramp and got the champions fireworks. Sasha had a fittingly “boss” entrance. All the fireworks were great, actually, although (hilariously) Nia Jax didn’t get anything. This match really didn’t have much momentum going into the show, but WWE’s amazing vignette and production values made it feel like a huge deal. The actual match was laid out like three distinct fights. It started out like a really good Raw match and then, after Nia was out, it became a condensed NXT Horsewomen throwback match. Once Sasha was gone, it turned into a Charlotte/Bayley PPV rematch. Overall it was really well laid out and had a good finish. Happy happy for Bayley.
Hall of Fame announcements – The only thing worth mentioning is the fact that the Fink was not out there to introduce the Hall of Famers. Not hearing his voice at least once seemed wrong for WrestleMania.
Raw tag ladder match – a lot of fun. It was car crash chaos. Obviously the Hardys saved the match before it started. I wonder what Vince thought hearing all those people chanting for “brother Nero.” Crowd was hot for everything except the heel team, so that’s okay. The finish was insane except it’s “Jeff Hardy and a 20ft ladder” so it’s actually completely normal.
Mix Tag/Cena’ proposal – fun. This was the match where the wind was swirling the most around the ring. It really made for some great optics. The match was nothing special but this was never about the actual ring-work. This was a storyline but the crowd was super hot for it so it was a lot of fun. It’s amazing how much offense Cena took from Miz; naturally that pointed to a Cena win. The wrong team won but since the match didn’t matter, it’s not a big deal. Everyone saw the proposal coming but everyone reacted perfectly (even the short-lived “NO NO NO” chant when he got down on one knee couldn’t have been better-scripted). If they don’t do the wedding at SummerSlam it’ll be a crying shame…just make sure not to invite
Jake the Snake Bray Wyatt.
Triple H vs Seth Rollins. Really good. Triple H’s entrance was a big step down from years past, coming out on his tricycle dressed like a Mad Max extra and looking like a jacked up version of Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina. Seth’s entrance was also weird, with him coming out with the Olympic torch dressed like Goldust. As for the match, it was better than last year’s Triple H match, but not as good as the Bryan match from WM30. It was probably ten minutes too long, but the crowd was in it and popped hard for the finish. Corey Graves was excellent on commentary all night long, but especially here. Credit to Triple H: Beat by a one-legged man with his own finishing move.
Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt – not good. I don’t know what happened here unless the match was cut down in time late in the day. It was only ten minutes long when it really needed twice that. The ending felt very rushed. It reminded me of the Cena vs JBL match at Mania 21 (which was cut for time and suffered similarly). The gimmick with the gifs of doom on the ring canvas was cool enough but the match was too slow and the crowd was spent after so many hours. The rushed finish left people more confused than anything.
Bray Wyatt is 0-3 at WrestleMania but his matches are (1) vs. John Cena, (2) vs. Undertaker, and (3) the WWE title match. I don’t know what to feel about that.
Goldberg vs Lesner – fun. They wisely didn’t try to have a match, they just spammed special moves. Heyman screaming “Brock he’s in position!” right as Goldberg was readying a spear might be the best line of his ringside career. Brock’s subsequent leapfrog over him from basically a kneeling position was superhuman. Honestly this was probably the second most fun match of the night (after AJ/Shane). It didn’t overstay its welcome, the crowd was hot and the action was intense. I don’t know why WWE insists on “long, plodding, thirty-minute matches” when “fast, fun, fifteen-minute fights” is always easier on the crowd. Of course this one only went five minutes but all things considered it was perfectly booked.
SmackDown women’s title match – nothing special. Fast and forgettable. A slightly big deal was made when the match was moved to the main roster but, in hindsight, it probably should have stayed on the preshow. It might have been given more time and more time might have been given to Orton vs Wyatt as a result. It was nice to see Naomi get a hometown reaction and her entrance worked well on the biggest stage.
Undertaker vs Roman – poor. JR on commentary was a sweet gesture but the match was so slow and meandering there was no opportunity for him to give us his patented enthusiasm. The whole affair was very subdued, no matter which wrestler had the advantage. Even when there was a moment that should have been exciting (like the tombstone kickout late in the match) the commentary’s enthusiasm felt manufactured, not genuine. Other than booing Roman’s offense and a brief “Undertaker” chant near the end, the crowd was mostly dead. Part of that was boredom with Roman’s matches (beyond simply booing the way he’s booked), mixed with the finish everyone saw coming but no one wanted to see, added to the fact that the crowd had been there for seven hours. It was all too much. A good match can save a tired crowd, but a bad match in front of a tired crowd is murder.
As for the finish, I don’t disagree with Taker losing. It was time to hang it up. I just don’t have any faith in Reigns as “the” top guy. Can he be “a” top guy? No question, even as a babyface. But as the heir to Cena, he lacks way too much in the charisma department, and in the ability to tell a story in the ring that connects with the audience (which Cena always had, even when he was green as grass). Honestly, Roman losing would have done more to endear him to fans. Cena has only started winning over a big segment of the crowd now that he’s out of the spotlight and losing a little more often. Shoving the wins down our throats just backfires every time.
It was the right finish with the wrong winner.
Overall WrestleMania was a much better show than it had any right to be. But I don’t think it’ll have replay value of others like 17, 19 or 30.
Mostly good matches and, surprisingly, mostly good finishes, but the bad main event will put a damper on how most feel about the show, in the future, I think.
THE AFTER-MANIA SHOWS
The post-Mania festivities was split this year for the first time in several years, and really this is the first time since “the post-Mania show” has been a thing that both Raw and SmackDown have been on anything close to equal footing. Put together there were enough surprises and fun for the hardcore crowd to add up to a great post-Mania event. Split up, however, each show felt like it was lacking one or two big surprises.
R.A.W. (Raw After WrestleMania) got the debut of The Revival, the return of Vince McMahon, the return of Evil Emma, and the return of Finn Balor. It also saw the big Hardy Boys comeback match, Kurt Angle’s installment as GM, a fun Brock Lesnar/Braun Strowman stare-down and, of course, the most viscous crowd reaction to a WWE superstar since John Cena walked into the Hammerstein Ballroom. There was a lot to enjoy but, again, since half of the fun was saved for SmackDown, the night felt like a step down from past post-Mania shows.
S.A.W. got the debut of Tye Dillinger (previously the Tommy Dreamer of NXT; the loyal crowd favorite who never won and who most thought would never leave) and Shinsuke Nakamura, as well the return of Erick Rowan. A great street fight between Amborse and Corbin was well-received by the crowd, as was the tease of Nakamura vs Miz. SmackDown had fewer big moments but it also had one less hour to worry about. As a result, the whole show seemed to fly by. Even Raw—which had a lot more going on—always felt like it was driving in a lower gear, pacing itself for the three hour long haul. Over all the two shows added up to a good “season premiere.”
Another WrestleMania is behind us and unlike last year it’s safe to say if you paid the thousands of dollars to attend—from Axxess to Smackdown—you probably walked away satisfied. Now it’s up to WWE to keep the momentum going into the Spring and Summer months. Whether they do or don’t will depend on if they learned from WrestleMania week what the fans want and what they don’t.
SO OF COURSE…