Monday, April 1, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 33

Another year, another interminable WrestleMania with way too many nostalgia acts....

Camping World Stadium - 4/2/17

Amazingly in 2017 WWE put on an even LONGER show than WM32 - the Kickoff started at 5pm Eastern and the main PPV ended at 12:13am.  Jeezus H. Christ guys.  I believe the phrase "too much of a good thing" was invented specifically for modern WWE PPVs.  Anyway, 'Mania 33 had a surprising amount of good stuff, considering how unenthusiastic I was going in.  Where 'Mania 32 was about half-good, 'Mania 33 upped that to about two-thirds, and even the bad stuff was pretty inoffensive.  Sadly most of the weak matches happened in the final third of the show.  Cut an hour out of the main PPV and you'd have something approaching an A- grade.  But let's take the deep dive.

First the pre-show stuff.  The Cruiserweights kicked things off with a quite nice bout that got a shocking 16 minutes.  Neville and Austin Aries worked pretty hard to deliver something memorable and for the most part succeeded.  WWE took a commercial break in the middle, which needs to fucking stop.  There is zero excuse for this.  It's your own network and you have the option to present matches uninterrupted.  Anyway, we got some pretty intense action culminating in Aries hitting a 450 splash, followed by the Last Chancery.  Neville appeared on the verge of tapping out but gouged Aries' injured eye to escape and hit the Red Arrow to retain.  Solid stuff.

The Andre Battle Royal was next, and as usual it was silly at best.  Big Show and Braun Strowman were eliminated mindbogglingly early, at which point I assumed Sami Zayn would probably get a nice little win here.  But when they showed Rob Gronkowski in the front row prior to the bell I should've smelled a rat.  Sure enough, Gronk got into an altercation with Jinder Mahal which led to him getting in the ring and shoulderblocking Mahal, allowing Mojo Rawley to recover from an earlier attack and win the whole thing.  This was purely to get a bit of mainstream media coverage and Mojo Rawley didn't benefit from this win whatsoever.  Once again the Andre Battle Royal serves very little purpose.

The third pre-show match, and the most infuriating, was Dean Ambrose vs. Baron Corbin for the I-C belt.  Why this particular belt has been so devalued is beyond me.  Ambrose and Corbin did nothing in this match to earn a main PPV slot, but it struck me as a chicken-and-egg scenario.  Did they phone it in because they were on the pre-show, or were they on the pre-show because the company knew they'd phone it in?  This was an entirely forgettable bout which got ten minutes and ended with Ambrose reversing End of Days into Dirty Deeds to retain.

The PPV proper kicked off with AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon in a pretty shockingly good match.  I was torn on this because Shane was booked to be a step ahead of AJ for most of the bout, but I'll be damned if it wasn't entertaining.  Many of the spots were way over-the-top, including Shane countering AJ's 450 splash into a triangle choke, Shane missing a Shooting Star Press, AJ trying the Van Terminator but running into a trash can, and Shane doing his own Van Terminator.  AJ finally took the win after hitting the Phenomenal Forearm, capping off what turned out to be the best match of the night.  Nothing even approaching AJ's bouts with Cena, but this was a lot of fun.  AJ turned babyface after this and feuded with Kevin Owens for the US Title for a while before regaining the WWE Title late in the year.

Next up was the JeriKO match, which rivaled AJ-Shane.  The two former besties started out furiously by punching each other simultaneously before settling into a cleverly worked bout.  Lots of great reversals and counters in this one, including Jericho countering a Pop-up Powerbomb into a Codebreaker.  Owens escaped the resulting pin attempt by getting his index finger on the bottom rope - great stuff!  The match eventually spilled to the floor, where Owens powerbombed Jericho on the ring apron, rolled him in, and pinned him to capture the US Title.  Pretty great little match, and the show was now two-for-two.  Jericho won the title back a month later only for Owens to regain it the next night, which was pointless.  But this match was quite good and by all rights should've been for the Universal Championship.  

The hits continued with the Fatal 4-Way Women's Title match, which was a bit rushed and thus nowhere near the show stealer from last year.  Nia Jax looked good here, dominating Charlotte, Sasha and Bayley before the three of them teamed up to get her eliminated (It took all three to eventually pin her, so she was able to save face).  Sasha and Charlotte had some good exchanges including a brutal-looking Sasha somersault plancha to the outside, and a breathtaking Charlotte corkscrew plancha.  Sasha was abruptly pinned after being shoved into an exposed turnbuckle, and Charlotte and Bayley resumed their ongoing feud.  Bayley was hung in the Tree of Woe but suplexed Charlotte off the top rope before landing a Macho Man elbow for the win.  The eliminations here were definitely too quick, but the match was perfectly solid.

WWE made it four good bouts in a row with the Ladder Match, which was changed at the last minute from a 3-way to a 4-way.  Matt and Jeff Hardy made their surprise return here, sadly minus the Broken Hardys gimmick (which would be brought back in late 2017 after some legal wrangling), and the four teams put together a fairly short but very fun schmozz of a Ladder Match.  We got some fairly innovative ladder spots and of course the Jeff Hardy swanton off the 15-footer, before Matt grabbed the belts to a huge pop.  Nowhere near the TLC matches of old, but a fun match and a memorable return.

The first miss of the main show was Cena/Nikki vs. Miz/Maryse.  As predicted the mixed tag match was just sorta there and served as a major waste of one of the company's best workers along with one of its hottest heel acts.  This was your basic free TV fluff and Cena and Nikki got the double pin with their respective finishers.  The post-match was the real story here, as Cena finally proposed to Nikki, providing a second bit of mainstream media fodder.  Whatever.

Things got back on track, really for the final time, with Seth Rollins vs. Triple H in a long, psychology-heavy Street Fight.  Both guys looked good here, and Seth almost certainly took too many chances for a guy who barely made the show due to a knee injury (and had a 102-degree fever to boot).  But his energetic offense provided the excitement and movement, while Hunter played the bully, constantly targeting the knee.  After 25 minutes (probably five too many), Seth shoved Hunter into Stephanie, knocking her off the ring apron through a table, and hit the Pedigree for the win.  This probably should've been the main event, as it felt much more worthy of that slot than anything that came after it.  But a few minor complaints aside this was a good big match and a strong, decisive win for Seth, who was finally beginning to turn the corner as a babyface.

If you turn off the show at this point you've got a pretty damn good PPV.  Six matches, five of which are good-to-excellent.  Nothing in the all-time great matches discussion, but a slew of enjoyable stuff.  Sadly WrestleMania 33 didn't deliver much in the final third and the three most important matches all felt underwhelming.

Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton for the WWE Title resembled a Smackdown main event, except with goofy projections of maggots and bugs on the canvas.  This was almost certainly the worst feud of 2017, mishandled all the way through, and the match histrionics followed suit.  The action itself was fine, but Orton and Wyatt simply couldn't bring out the best in each other, and there's little excuse for a WWE Title match only going ten minutes.  Orton won with a surprise RKO to capture yet another WWE Title.  Inoffensive (except for the bugs), but not at all worthy of a WrestleMania WWE Title match.  Their blowoff "match" a month later, in the House of Horrors, was one of the stupidest things I've ever seen on a wrestling show.  Orton would continue to have one of his worst in-ring years ever, after feuding with Jinder Mahal of all people for three months.

The other big Title match got a great response but lasted less than half as long, as Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar delivered their best-ever encounter, by default.  This was a four-move match, two from each guy - they just kept doing the same moves over and over.  Goldberg hit roughly six spears, including one through the ring barricade, followed by the jackhammer, which Lesnar kicked out of.  Lesnar hit ten German suplexes and the F5 to perform another Championship disappearing act.  The crowd was way into this and actually booed the crap out of Goldberg, which was tremendously satisfying.  Again, this was the best these two could deliver in 2017, but it was barely a match.  With that, the two top Title matches at WrestleMania 33 totaled just over fifteen minutes.  What universe is this?

The death spot went to the Smackdown Women's Title 6-pack, which really should've stayed on the pre-show.  This was quick and energetic, and was over in less than six minutes.  Naomi predictably regained the belt by tapping out Alexa Bliss.  On to the main event.

Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns will be remembered for its aftermath and not much else.  Taker looked old, tired, and in pain, as though the act of walking upright was incredibly taxing.  Watching this match actually made me feel bad for him, and I can't imagine any non-WWE-affiliated doctor would've cleared him to wrestle on this night.  Reigns did what he could to make Taker look like the Deadman of old, while Taker did what little he was capable of.  There were at least two big botches, one where Reigns attempted to reverse a Tombstone only to drop Taker, and another near the end where Reigns charged for a spear but Taker clearly wasn't ready and Reigns just punched him instead.  The spear needs to go away as a finisher.  It's simply not a believable way to win a match, particularly one like this where Taker getting pinned is supposed to be a huge deal.  Lesnar took like six spears earlier and didn't lose.  Taker took three here and did.  At least have Reigns do the spear off the top rope or something to make it look more impactful.  Anyway, Reigns won as predicted and Taker had a long, wordless retirement moment, putting his hat and coat on only to take them off and leave them in the ring along with his MMA gloves.  It was a mildly bittersweet moment for the fallen icon, but would've been better served by a stronger match.  This was yet another in the growing list of flat WrestleMania main events, and of the three 'Mania headliners featuring Reigns thus far, the most memorable thing about any of them was Seth Rollins winning the belt.  Taker would of course make a 'Mania return a year later, cheapening once again the idea of retirement.  Ugh....

WrestleMania has become a PPV that can't deliver in the closing stretch, routinely offering a good first half or so, and falling flat in the second.  WWE really needs to rethink their presentation; there's zero need for a PPV event to go five hours plus a pre-show.  Either cut down the number of matches or present them closer together so the audience isn't exhausted by the end.  At 8:30pm I was flabbergasted we'd only seen three of the ten main card bouts.

That said, this show had a lot of good things about it and was easily an improvement over 'Mania 32. Also very encouraging was Taker, Triple H, Shane and Goldberg all losing clean.  For once the full-time guys in those matches (plus Lesnar) were put over going into post-Mania season.  It seemed we were finally coming out of the WWE Nostalgia tunnel....

Best Match: AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon
Worst Match: Cena & Nikki vs. Miz & Maryse
What I'd Change: Seth-HHH and Taker-Reigns could've each been five minutes shorter, Orton-Wyatt should've been longer with less silliness, the IC and Cruiserweight matches deserved to be on the main card, the SD Women's match didn't, and the show should've been an hour shorter.  Cut the Pitbull performance too for Chrissake - is ANYONE watching a wrestling PPV for this?
Most Disappointing Match: Probably Taker vs. Reigns
Most Pleasant Surprise: AJ vs. Shane
Overall Rating: 7.5/10

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