Tuesday, April 2, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 35

Another WrestleMania with too many matches that ran too long, to the point that even the historic main event everyone wanted to see kinda fell flat thanks to an exhausted crowd being asked to stay until well after midnight.

Sweet Jeezus, why does a wrestling PPV ever need to go five-and-a-half hours, plus a two-hour pre-show?  Like, ever?  Someone in WWE needs to pick Vince up by the face and shake him until he grasps this idea.  WrestleMania 35, like the previous three editions, was a good three-hour show buried inside a pulsating blob of dimpled fat lasting twice as long.  By the end of the show the white-hot women's main event everyone was frothing at the mouth to see was met with subdued indifference.  That's not good.  How does the man with four decades of experience as a promoter not see this?

The four pre-show matches were split down the middle in terms of quality.  Buddy Murphy and Tony Nese had a very good, innovative, exciting cruiserweight match, the women's battle royal was entirely forgettable and Carmella of all people won, The Revival wrenched a quite watchable RAW Tag Title match out of Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder, who became the new champs despite never winning any matches, and the men's battle royal was equally forgettable except for Braun Strowman predictably eliminating Colin Jost and Michael Che.  I'm still not sure what the point of their involvement was.

Alright, now for the main card.  After an Alexa Bliss/Hulk Hogan introduction, Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins kicked off the show (HUUUUUUUHHH???).  Brock attacked Seth before the bell, tossing him from barrier to barrier, over one of the announce tables multiple times, and generally beating the piss out of him before demanding the match be started.  Finally the bell rang, Brock suplexed Seth numerous times, went for the F5, Seth escaped and pushed Brock into the ref, knocking him out of the ring, low-blowed him, and delivered three Curb Stomps, leading to the pin at 2:30 officially.  Metlife Stadium went nuts for this finish, so this has to be considered a successful segment, but as one of the five matches I was genuinely looking forward to, this was a major letdown for me.  Apparently the decision to put this on first was made after the show started.  When the lineup of your biggest show of the year is being switched around on the fly, you just might be Eric Bischoff....  Anyway this was fine for what it was, but it was barely a proper match.  Seth's run as the conquering hero champion fell right on its face pretty quickly after this, thanks to an interminable feud with Baron Corbin (plus Seth's own social media ineptitude).  He'd lose the title back to Brock and then win it back at SummerSlam in a vastly superior match.

Next up was AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton, which while not being the blowaway most people anticipated, was nonetheless a really good 16-minute bout and for a while the best thing on the show.  They teased several times the idea that Orton could hit the RKO as a counter to one of AJ's big moves, but AJ wisely avoided it every time.  Late in the match Orton did hit a sudden RKO but AJ kicked out of the pin, the action spilled outside, at which time AJ hit the Phenomenal Forearm from the top rope to the floor, rolled Orton back in, and hit it again in the ring to win the match.  I liked this match a lot; AJ added to his streak of delivering one of the best matches on the WrestleMania card.  Sadly this streak would end one year later, ironically at the hands of The Streak guy.

This was followed by a wild 4-way Tag Title match, as The Usos defended against The Bar, Nakamura & Rusev, and Ricochet & Aleister Black.  I'd call this the surprise hit of the night, as it was barely on my radar going in, but ended up one of the best matches on the card.  Everyone looked good and got their shit in.  The biggest crowd reaction came when Cesaro put Ricochet in the giant swing while Sheamus did his signature forearm smashes on basically everyone else in the match.  Cesaro just kept swinging during this, doing upwards of a hundred reps, and the crowd kept getting louder as the spot went on.  The Usos finally retained after a double-splash on Sheamus, making them along with Samoa Joe the only champs on the entire show to retain their titles.  This was a lot of fun.

Another match I was surprised I enjoyed was The Miz vs. Shane McMahon.  This was pretty silly but both guys worked hard and did some fun spots, leading to a memorable finish.  Know who worked even harder though?  The announcers and the pre-show hosts in trying to sell that The Miz, a professional wrestler, would have an uphill battle against a 50-year-old businessman.  That shit made me laugh.  Anyway, Shane pounded Miz for a lot of the match, teased his elbow smash through the announce table spot (which was broken up by Miz's dad), and finally the action moved into the crowd.  They brawled into the international announce team area and trashed those tables, and ultimately ended up on one of the hard camera platforms.  Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale but Shane kicked out, and then Miz superplexed Shane off the platform onto an obviously padded stage.  This spot looked great on TV though.  The way they landed, Shane's arm was covering Miz, so the referee counted the pin.  This was one of those guilty pleasure junkfood matches, like Kane vs. Big Show vs. Raven at WM17.  A big, dumb brawl that left me entertained.  Unfortunately this feud continued for two more months and The Miz never got a win over his non-wrestler opponent.  Embarrassing.

The first real misstep of the show was the Women's Tag Title 4-Way, which featured pretty sloppy action and not much focus.  It just felt like everyone hitting moves for the most part.  Nattie and Beth paid tribute to the Hart Foundation by doing the Hart Attack finisher, which was a nice moment.  Then later Bayley in the Macho Man elbow followed by Banks' Guerrero frog splash.  The finish came after Beth hit a second-rope Glam Slam on Bayley, only for Peyton Royce to toss Beth out of the ring and Billie Kaye to cover Bayley.  So yeah, Sasha and Bayley's historic tag title run lasted all of five weeks and a pair of inept women got to dethrone them.  Sasha of course was so upset by this that she went home for several months.  Yet another example of completely tone-deaf booking by the master of it. 

Match of the Night honors, I'm happy to say, went to my boy D-Bryan!  Daniel Bryan and Kofi Kingston easily stole the show with an excellently worked 24-minute championship match.  The story was that Bryan kept outwrestling Kofi, while Kofi kept digging deep and making the most of his one chance.  The crowd was super hot for the second half of this, as both guys kept countering each other's big moves and Kofi kicked out after a running knee.  Kofi escaped the LeBell Lock, used Bryan's own kicks to the face where he holds the opponent's hands, and hit Trouble in Paradise for the win.  The crowd went nuts for this, and Big E and Xavier unveiled the original WWE Title belt, along with special commemorative T-shirts.  Kofi's son's celebrated with him, which was a very cute moment.  Great title change, and it was awesome to see Bryan steal the show at WrestleMania again.  Of course Kofi's title run wasn't actually used to elevate him in any permanent capacity; he'd drop the title to Brock that October, in six seconds, and go right back to midcard hell.  Two years later Big E would suffer a similar fate. 

Once again, if you shut this show off at the three-hour mark, you'd have yourself a helluva fun WrestleMania.  Unfortunately there were six more matches after this.  The rest of this show up until the main event felt so drawn out and taxing; WrestleMania should not be a chore to sit through.  How did anyone think going from 7pm till 12:30am was a good idea?

Next up was the most disappointing match of the night for me, Samoa Joe vs. Rey Mysterio.  It's pretty sad when two of my most anticipated matches total 210 seconds.  Rey obviously wasn't recovered from an ankle injury the previous week, begging the question, why not sub in Kevin Owens and have him and Joe beat the shit out of each other for six or seven minutes?  Owens by the way was nowhere to be found on this PPV, despite being the original choice to face Bryan.  Poor Kev.  Anyway, Joe and Rey got 59 seconds.  Rey hit 619, went for a move off the top rope, Joe caught him and wheelbarrowed him into position for the choke, and Rey passed out.  Good dominant win for Joe, but what a waste of a potentially great match.  Considering how overlong two of the following bouts were, this was bullshit. 

By this point the crowd was dead as Dillinger, and they never really got them back because it was so goddamn late.  Roman Reigns, making his WrestleMania return after battling leukemia, was met not with boos, but with apathy.  The audience didn't react to him much at all.  He and Drew McIntyre had a nothing ten-minute match that belonged on a house show.  I'm sure the lack of crowd heat didn't help, but it felt like neither guy wanted to work hard.  After a bunch of nondescript moves, Roman hit the Superman Punch/Spear combo for the win and had an emotional post-match moment.  

We then got the Elias segment, which was interrupted by John Cena using his Thuganomics persona, complete with battle rap shtick.  This was amusing but took place way too late in the show.

What happened next was pretty inexcusable.  Triple H and Batista had a somewhat entertaining No Holds Barred match, that went twenty-five fucking minutes.  Pardon me, but there was ZERO need at this point in his career for Triple H to STILL be getting the most time of anything on the show.  None.  Two fifty-year-olds should not ever get more time than the big championship matches.  This match was like a microcosm of the whole event - somewhere in there was something good, but it dragged on for an extra 67%.  This exact match compressed into 15 minutes would've been pretty great.  Hunter did some neat, sadistic things with pliers, like yanking out Batista's nose ring and twisting his fingers, Batista took a back body drop through a table, they each kicked out of each other's finishers, and both used sledgehammers.  Ric Flair appeared at ringside to give Hunter a sledge, with which he smashed Batista off the ring steps before giving him a second Pedigree to win.  The crowd was dead for this except during the big spots, and this match felt never-ending.  I'd have given a shortened version of this ***1/2 easily.  In its bloated 25-minute form it gets **1/2.

It was 11:30pm at this point and we still had three matches left.  Jeezus jumpin' Christ.  Fortunately the next two were short.

So Kurt Angle's in-ring career officially came to an end on this show, and he had the privilege of losing to Baron fucking Corbin. No promoter with even a modicum of common sense about wrestling would have a world-class talent like Kurt Angle end his career with a loss to Baron Corbin.  This match was actually better than I thought it would be, going six minutes and featuring some of Angle's greatest hits, including a moonsault attempt (which made me cringe coming from a 50-year-old with destroyed knees).  Angle got some nearfalls and submission attempts, but after missing the moonsault, Corbin hit End of Days to end Angle's career.  Disgraceful.  I'm not sure why Angle agreed to this.

In the death spot was Bobby Lashley vs. Finn Balor, which only went four minutes but was one of the better four-minute matches you'll see.  They swung for the fences early, Finn hit some big moves, Lashley came back and they fought outside, and finally Finn hit an impressive power bomb followed by the Coup de Grace.  They clearly could've done a lot more (maybe take five minutes away from the Old Guys Match), but for what it was I liked this, and so did the crowd somewhat.  Finn spent the rest of 2019 doing basically nothing until a move back to NXT in the fall.

After an attendance announcement and a pointless dance break from R-Truth and Carmella (but seriously, no Kevin Owens on this show?), it was finally time for the main event.

Charlotte flew in on a helicopter in a pre-taped homage to her father's Great American Bash '85 entrance.  This made me laugh because she was dropped off across the street from the stadium, which means she'd have had to walk across the street and go all the way through the massive building to get to the backstage area.  Just a funny visual when you think about it.  This match was good, but nowhere near what I thought it would be, and it suffered greatly from a brutalized crowd that clearly just wanted to go home and sleep.  Put this exact match on 90 minutes earlier (which is when the main event of this show by all rights should've happened), and it could've approached tearing the house down.  But the crowd response was very underwhelming, and the triple threat configuration actually took away from the match a bit for me.  The Ronda-Becky story was initially such a great grudge feud we could've seen something akin to Ronda-Charlotte from Survivor Series.  This match was fast-paced and they worked hard, but it felt disorganized somehow.  And that finish.  Fuckin' hell.  So this was to be Becky's huge coronation, where she walked away with both titles.  But did they have her get a decisive submission win over Ronda, or even Charlotte, or even a decisive pin after a big move?  Nope.  Ronda went for Piper's Pit, Becky countered it with a crucifix pin (during which Ronda's shoulder was clearly up for the first count), and that was it.  The match was just over.  The main event of WrestleMania, where Becky was to become this generation's Steve Austin, ended with a sloppy crucifix pin out of nowhere that was so sudden the crowd barely had time to react to it.  This has to be one of the worst decisions Vince has ever made about a main event finish.  I cannot wrap my brain around what his thought process must've been, particularly because there was no plan for Ronda to come back.  Unless this was to lead to Becky vs. Ronda one-on-one, there is no logical reason to end the match this way.  Stretching a PPV event to 330 minutes (plus a pre-show), and ending your hottest match of the year with a fluke pin not designed to lead to a rematch shows 100% detachment from your audience.  This match should've been an explosive barn-burner of a main event to elevate the company's new breakout star.  Instead it was just good.  And in this circumstance that's not good, and it's not the fault of any of the participants, who worked very hard and delivered some good action.

So yeah, WrestleMania 35 wore out its welcome after the third hour and never really got it back despite a main event everyone was excited about.  Like the last three editions, the crowd checked out after the first few hours, the need to cram every member of the roster onto the card (except Kevin Owens for some reason) superseded the need to present a great show, and the main event left everyone kinda cold even though it was finally one we wanted to see.  I miss the days when WrestleMania was a surefire candidate for PPV of the Year. 

Best Match: Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston
Worst Match: Samoa Joe vs. Rey Mysterio, for only going a minute
What I'd Change: Stop trying to include everyone on the WrestleMania card.  With a roster this big it's not possible anymore.  No PPV should ever go more than 4.5 hours unless it's WrestleKingdom 12.  Cut at least an hour out of this show and you'd have something.  I was glad to see they had a half-ramp setup for the less important ring entrances; that cut some time at least.
Most Disappointing Match: There were three to choose from, which isn't a good thing, but I gotta go with Joe vs. Rey since it was barely a match at all.
Most Pleasant Surprise: How good the Smackdown Tag match was
Overall Rating: The first three hours would get an 8.5.  The last two-and-a-half would get a 6.  On balance I'll go 7.5/10

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