Did WrestleMania 35 mark a turning point for WWE?

WrestleMania 35 was, by all accounts a show far too long with far too much happening. It had three times the matches of Takeover: New York but failed to generate a quarter of the positive buzz coming out of it. That’s not to say it was a bad show. On the contrary, it was the best since WrestleMania 31 and, in my estimation, a top ten all-time WrestleMania event. But it was long. Very long. Like, “this show started in the afternoon and is ending tomorrow morning” long. Like “you could have flown from New York to Los Angeles, rented a taxi, checked into your hotel, taken a shower, logged-in to the WWE Network, and not have missed the main-event” long.

Long though it was (and it was), the event was especially notable for its match finishes. Of the sixteen matches on the show, only three ended with a winner the fans were not happy about.

The WWE product has changed over the past several years, due in large part to fans growing more cynical and jaded toward that product. A trust is lacking between booker and fan. Whereas in the old days, fans would buy tickets to see the good guys and wouldn’t threaten to boycott if the good guy lost, today fans will loudly protest when the finish they want is replaced with the finish the storyteller chose. In the old days, fans would be angry to see the villain win but would gladly pay for another ticket next month in the hopes that the hero would get his revenge. That sort of suspension of disbelief was hanging by a thread throughout the Attitude Era and the Ruthless Aggression Era that followed but the thread was cut by CM Punk in 2012 and any hopes of mending it were killed by Daniel Bryan in 2013.

In those back to back years, we had a frustrated darling of the hardcore fans using his microphone to stir up his supporters against the moronic booking of the man in charge. A year later we had another darling of the hardcore fans get the shaft and dropped down the card in favor of old guard talent like Batista and Randy Orton. In response, fans, now trained by CM Punk to revolt, did just that, forcing WWE to change their WrestleMania 30 plans to give Daniel Bryan the moment the “WWE Universe” demanded.

There was no putting the genie back into the bottle after that.

What followed was the four year Roman Reigns project where the fans vocally and persistently resisted the plans to put the solo-Shield-man at the top of the card. Vince bowed to pressure at WrestleMania 31, giving the strap to Seth Rollins, but he doubled-down at WrestleMania 32 and 33, putting Roman again and again in the main-event, first over Triple H and then over the Undertaker. Vince’s insistence on being the storyteller was butting against the fans’ insistence on…being the storyteller. The roles had blurred between audience and booker and the on-screen product was suffering for it.

Things came to a climax at WrestleMania 34, where Vince booked Brock Lesnar to go over Roman Reigns during the one and only main-event of this period where fans were mostly fine to see him win the belt (more out of exhaustion from Brock’s reign). On the best opportunity to give Roman the belt and put the past few years of start-and-stop booking to rest, Vince whiffed. The ending soured what had been, up until the final hour, one of the greatest WrestleManias of all time. One year later fans had little expectation that the overall direction of the company would improve.

Instead, Vince gave us a show that was the most “this one’s for you” event he’s maybe ever done.

We can focus on the three big winners—Seth Rollins, Kofi Kingston, and Becky Lynch—but instead, consider the fact that they all won. Almost every publication and predictor was in agreement that one of the three would lose because the idea that Vince would give the fans a trifecta of happiness was unimaginable. Instead, WrestleMania’s seven (eight? forever?) hour show opened with Seth skunking Brock, middled with Kofi capturing the title from Daniel Bryan, and ended with Becky raising both women’s titles over her head.

It didn’t stop there: All night long fans were given the unthinkable…Vince gave the fans what they wanted.

As said, WWE audiences are not what they once were. They no longer blindly cheer the babyfaces and boo the heels (thank CM Punk for leading that movement). They don’t just sit back and allow booking they dislike to go unchallenged (thank Daniel Bryan for that). Now, WWE fans cheer who they want to be pushed and boo who they don’t. Sometime’s there’s overlap—Kofi and Becky were cheered right in line with the storytelling, although back in September, WWE tried to make Becky a heel and the fans refused it—and sometimes there’s no overlap, as Samoa Joe and The IIconics were greeted with cheers as they heelishly won their matches.

Only three matches ended with a heel winning that the fans didn’t want to see win or with a babyface winning the fans didn’t want to see win: Tony Nese won the Cruiserweight Title in the very first match on the preshow, Shane McMahon defeated the Miz, and Baron Corbin put down Kurt Angle.

In the first case, fans were mostly indifferent. In the second, the fans didn’t mind because the finish put both men over and Shane’s win was agreed by both booker and fans to be a technicality (a rare moment of storyteller and audience agreeing in WWE). And though fans were most vehemently against Baron Corbin, the anger was mostly focused on his being Angle’s last opponent; most smart fans understood that you’re supposed to lose your last match (as was the case with Triple H vs Batista).

It made for a surreal night to see so many performers (heel or face) that the fans wanted to see have their hand raised experience just that. As a result, it was the most feel-good show WWE has given fans…ever? Maybe since WrestleMania 19. It’s been a looong while.

It raises the question: Has WWE decided to actually listen to what the fans want and then plan their stories around that, or was this WrestleMania just a big asterisk in the continued feud between Vince McMahon’s constantly-changing whims and the equally as fickle fan-obsessed flavors of the month? We’ll see. Until then WrestleMania 35 will go down, not only as the longest show in wrestling history, but also as the show where maybe—just maybe—Vince heard us and decided to think twice about his own hair-brained ideas.

Time will tell.

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