Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 37

WrestleMania 37 marked a return of live crowds to WWE events, after a year of Thunderdome shows.  And it was a pretty enjoyable two-night PPV with a pair of main events that actually delivered.

Night 1 opened, after a 30-minute rain delay (kinda shocking that this is the first time this has ever happened for an outdoor WrestleMania), with the WWE Title match.  Bobby Lashley and Drew McIntyre were given 18 minutes and made the most of it, with a hard-hitting hoss battle.  Drew got all of his big moves in and went for the Claymore but MVP pulled Lashley out of the ring to save him.  Drew dove over the ropes onto both guys, broke out a kimura lock (homage to Brock Lesnar?), and eventually set up for the Claymore again, but MVP yelled from ringside to Bobby, which distracted Drew long enough for Bobby to duck the kick and apply the Hurt Lock.  Drew fought it for a while and tried to fall back on top of him for a pin, but Lashley rolled through and held on, pulling Drew to the mat and wrapping his leg over.  The ref checked on Drew and called the match for Lashley due to a pass-out.  This seemed like the wrong finish for the first match in a year in front of fans - if Lashley was to retain they should've put this match somewhere else on the card.  Just a really odd, decisive finish for the heel champion, almost like The Rock losing to Triple H at WrestleMania 2000.  Plus it made Miz's brief title run utterly pointless.  But anyway the match was very good.  Drew was booked so weakly for the rest of this feud that he fell down the card and as of this point still hasn't regained the title he was screwed out of.

Match #2 was not so good, and it was the Tag Team Turmoil match.  I was fully expecting the surprise return of Becky Lynch with Charlotte Flair as her partner, but that didn't happen so we were stuck with the five announced teams.  Carmella and Billie Kaye beat Naomi and Lana with an assisted rollup, then tried the same tactic on the Riott Squad but the ref broke it up.  Ruby Riott pinned Billie Kay after a senton.  The Riott Squad also beat Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke after a rollup.  Then Tamina and Natalya won the whole match after Tamina hit a Superfly splash off the top rope.  Not much to this.
Things picked up big in the third match (which really should've been the opener given how hot the crowd was for it), Seth Rollins vs. Cesaro.  This was Cesaro's first and only singles match at WrestleMania for the ten years he was employed by WWE.  Just a disgraceful misuse of such a stellar talent.  These guys got about eleven minutes and packed everything they could into them.  The first several minutes were all about Cesaro trying to get Rollins in the giant swing, but Rollins kept avoiding it.  Finally Cesaro swung him about nine times but couldn't hold on for more.  Rollins came back with a corkscrew frog splash which the announcers said was the most spectacular thing they'd ever seen (Uhh, Phoenix Splash anyone?).  They traded finishers, Cesaro's neutralizer and Seth's pedigree, but neither man could get the pin.  Seth went for the curb stomp but Cesaro countered with an uppercut and followed with a fantastic-looking no-arm Airplane Spin.  Finally Cesaro got him in the giant swing for roughly 20 rotations, followed by another neutralizer for the pin.  The crowd went ballistic and this led to one minor push for Cesaro culminating in a PPV title match against Roman Reigns.  After that he more or less vanished from TV and ran out his contract.  Pearls before swing.  Anyway, this was a super fun match and the second-best thing on this particular night.

The RAW Tag Titles were up next as AJ Styles and Omos challenged The New Day, in a match where the babyface-heel psychology was precisely reversed.  But it worked here for what they wanted to accomplish.  The New Day dominated AJ for 90% of the match, AJ kept trying to escape and tag his gigantic partner but Kofi and Xavier kept cutting him off.  Finally after about seven minutes he made the tag and Omos destroyed both New Day guys, tossing them around like nothing and giving both a backbreaker.  AJ hit Woods with a Phenomenal Forearm off Omos's shoulders (a spectacular visual), and Omos hit a tree slam on Kofi, and put his foot on Kofi's chest for the pin.  New champs.  This wasn't amazing or anything but it was what it needed to be.  AJ and Omos held the belts for a while but didn't really feud when they split up, which was odd.  

The next two matches were ones I was dreading, but both actually delivered, starting with Braun Strowman vs. Shane McMahon in a steel cage.  To give Shane some credibility, Elias and Jaxson Ryker attacked Braun as he was entering the cage, going after his knee with chairs.  Once the match started Shane targeted the injured leg and went for a quick escape win, but Braun stopped him.  Shane used one of the platform pieces from the top of the cage as a weapon, hit Braun with the coast-to-coast dropkick, and bashed him in the head with a toolbox.  Shane climbed out and stuck his hand through the cage on his way down, but Braun grabbed it, ripped part of the cage open, and pulled Shane back in.  They ended up atop the cage, and I expected Braun to powerslam him from there, but alas I suppose there's no safe way to do that.  Instead Braun just tossed Shane off the top and into the ring, a pretty crazy spot as well.  Braun hit a powerslam and pinned Shane to win.  This was alright.  Braun would be inexplicably released from the company months later.

The most pleasant surprise of the night was Bad Bunny and Damian Priest vs. The Miz and John Morrison.  This match was so much better than it had any right to be.  Priest had a bad back and thus couldn't work most of the match, but Bunny had done his homework and looked fantastic.  I generally hate celebrity in-ring appearances but this kid earned his spot here.  He did a lot of big moves before the heels took over to build toward the hot tag to Priest.  Damian took both heels out with an outside dive, after which Bunny killed Morrison with a Canadian Destroyer on the floor.  The babyfaces did a Doomsday Device-type finisher except instead of a clothesline Bunny hit Miz with a cross body for the pin.  The crowd loved this.  Third or fourth-best match of the night.

The main event spot, most deservedly, went to Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair.  The announcers called attention to the fact that it was two women of color headlining WrestleMania for the first time, and both women were visibly emotional at the start.  These two worked their asses off to deliver a main event-worthy match.  Sasha repeatedly used Bianca's hair braid against her, whipping her around with it and at one point using it to assist a Bank Statement.  Maybe the most memorable spot was Banks hitting her with a suicide dive, but Bianca caught her, rolled through and stood up, pressing Sasha over her head, and walking up the ring steps before tossing her back in.  Another really impressive moment was Bianca hitting a standing shooting star press (I think she's the first woman I've ever seen do that), and then going for a 450 splash but landing on Sasha's knees.  The finish came after both women tried to use Bianca's hair for leverage.  Bianca yanked her hair free and whipped Sasha across the ribs, an incredibly loud WHACK sound that left a sick-looking welt, and then hit the Kiss of Death finisher for the win and the title.  This match delivered big and felt like a huge moment.  Easily the match of the night and it should've been the start to a year-long title run for Bianca, but of course they took the belt off her at SummerSlam in a 26-second squash.  WWE could fuck up first-grade match.

So yeah, after a WrestleMania 36 that unfortunately suffered due to the pandemic but was also pretty atrociously booked, Night 1 of WrestleMania 37 felt like a breath of fresh air.  At a concise three hours and change, it was easy to sit through and for the first time in a very long while a WWE PPV left me wanting to see more.  It was bookended by two well-worked title matches, the latter of which was a pretty great main event, plus there was some fun stuff in the middle and only one match was bad.  For WWE circa 2021 that's a major win.  

Best Match: Sasha vs. Bianca
Worst Match: Tag Team Turmoil
What I'd Change: I mean, I'd have added Becky and Charlotte to that turmoil match to make it good and memorable, and to set up a big match on Night 2.  I'd also probably book Drew to win back the title or move that match away from the opening slot.
Most Disappointing Match: Since I was expecting a Becky appearance, the Tag Turmoil match.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Bad Bunny
Overall Rating: 8/10

WrestleMania 37, Night 2 was a pretty good show overall, by my estimation a small step down from Night 1, but with plenty to enjoy, including another stellar main event.  I will say it was refreshing to have two WrestleMania shows where the main event outshined everything else - that doesn't happen often.  Maybe the weirdest thing about Night 2 was the fact that of the seven matches, six were won by heels.  What a downer.

WWE got the worst crap out of the way early, with Randy Orton vs. The Fiend as the opening match.  There was a bunch of stupid visual effects-related stuff leading to Bray Wyatt's entrance, including his morphing from the burnt Friday the 13th Part 6 version of The Fiend back to the regular one.  He emerged from a giant jack-in-the-box and hit Orton with a diving clothesline, and we were off (complete with the headache-inducing red lighting that by all rights should've long ago lost someone their job).  These two did a competently worked five-minute match that ended with Wyatt about to hit Sister Abigail on Orton, only to be distracted by Alexa Bliss leaking black ooze all over her face.  Orton took advantage to hit Wyatt with the RKO for the pin, the lights went out, and when they came back up everyone was gone.  Ummm, what?  So Orton burned this guy alive, he disappeared for three months, returned at Fastlane to set up his great revenge at WrestleMania, and lost in five minutes?  Bray Wyatt went home after this, citing mental health issues (in reality he was still struggling with the loss of his friend Brodie Lee), and by the fall he'd be released from the company altogether, thus mercifully ending this awful gimmick.  The Fiend shit was early-90s WWF terrible, one of the most creative ideas WWE screwed up beyond all recognition.  WWE could fuck up a bag of Oreos.

The second-worst match of the night was next as Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax defended against Tag Team Turmoil winners Natalya and Tamina, but while clunky and sloppy in spots, this was decent.  Shayna and Nattie worked well together, Nia and Tamina did big power moves on each other.  Shayna at one point hit a knee lift that apparently caused Nattie to bite right through her lip - sweet jeezus that had to hurt.  The finish came at 14 minutes when Nattie locked Nia in a sharpshooter, unaware that Nia had blind-tagged Shayna in.  Shayna came up from behind and locked in the kirafuda clutch, causing Nattie to pass out.  This was pretty good but insanely got more time than anything except the main event.  That's fucking mental. 

Finally things picked up with Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn.  These two, no strangers to each other or great matches, packed 15 minutes of material into a nine-minute sprint, hitting every big move they could think of, including loads of suplexes, a Zayn brainbuster on the apron, an Owens frog splash, a Zayn Michinoku driver, culminating in Zayn missing a Helluva Kick and running into a pair of superkicks followed by the Stunner to give Owens the win.  This deserved five more minutes (which could easily have been taken from the tag match), but this was one of the best nine-minute matches you'll ever see.  Logan Paul, in Zayn's corner, congratulated Owens on his win, drawing Zayn's ire.  Paul shoved Zayn to the mat and raised Owens' hand.  Owens thanked Paul by stunning him, much to the overwhelming delight of the crowd.  A good old-fashioned Stone Cold moment to follow up a damn good little match. 

Another really good but fairly short match followed as Matt Riddle defended the US Title against Sheamus.  This absolutely had the wrong result, but these two beat the shit out of each other and it was delightful.  The big spots included Riddle hitting a belly-to-belly superplex where he basically rode Sheamus's body all the way down, a jackhammer (Goldberg must hate that Riddle does it better than him now), Sheamus countering a lariat with a jumping knee, followed by an Alabama slam, and Sheamus going for White Noise off the top rope, only to slip to the mat.  To his credit though, he held onto the move and simply delivered it on the ground.  But what a shame; that move would've been a huge moment.  After hitting White Noise, Sheamus did a King Kong knee drop for a nearfall.  Riddle made a brief comeback and went for an Asai moonsault, but Sheamus countered by Brogue Kicking him midair right in the mouth (which split Riddle's lip open), to win the match and the US Title.  Riddle would of course go on to pair with Randy Orton for a successful tag title run, but the fact that Vince still doesn't see how badass a wrestler he is outside of comedy is insane.

Maybe the match that got the most criminally shortchanged was Big E vs. Apollo Crews.  After all the buildup surrounding the Nigerian Drum Fight (which incidentally didn't involve any drums being used as weapons aside from a gong), these two got a whopping seven minutes.  Anyway, both guys worked hard here, whacking each other with kendo sticks at the outset.  Big E speared Apollo out of the ring, Apollo tried to crush Big E with the ring steps, Big E hit a uranagi from the apron to the steps, Crews splashed himself through a table, and Big E hit the Big Ending, but before he could make the cover, Apollo's new heater showed up, the near-seven-foot Dabba-Kato, who chokeslammed Big E allowing Apollo to get the win and the title.  Give this five more minutes and it could've felt pretty special.  As it was, they did everything they could with what little time they got. 

The semi-main slot (One nice thing about these shows was the lack of a "death spot match") went to Asuka vs. Rhea Ripley, and while not the instant classic I was hoping for, these two worked hard and had a pretty good match.  Rhea controlled much of the first half, grounding Asuka but sometimes falling into submission traps and powering out.  The second half picked up, with Ripley wheelbarrowing Asuka face-first into the apron and Asuka later hitting a DDT off the apron to the floor.  Asuka tried several submission attempts but Ripley kept breaking free.  Ripley eventually countered a kick attempt with the Riptide for the three-count, earning a well-deserved, one-year-overdue win at WrestleMania.  Of course WWE screwed Ripley out of a lengthy title run as well, having her lose to Charlotte (a-fucking-gain) only a few months later before moving her to the tag team division.  WWE could fuck up velcro shoes.

The Triple Threat main event was, upon the first viewing, my favorite match of either night.  On a second viewing I gave the edge to Sasha-Bianca.  Regardless it was great to see two consecutive WWE main events land.  Roman Reigns, Edge and Daniel Bryan worked their asses off and put together a near-classic.  Jey Uso tried to interfere early on, superkicking both Bryan and Edge, but Edge dispatched him with an Implant DDT on the ring stairs, and he was taken away by the medical personnel.  From there the action was fast and furious, with the three guys taking turns pairing off with each other.  Bryan snared both opponents in the Yes Lock but each time it was broken up by the other opponent.  Reigns powerbombed Bryan onto Edge and then took him outside and powerbombed him through the announce table (shades of the WM20 and WM30 main events).  Edge speared Reigns off the ring steps, threw him into the ring, and locked in a crossface, assisted with a piece of a chair Roman had broken.  Suddenly Bryan dove in to stop Roman from tapping, and applied the Yes Lock to Reigns' other side.  Bryan and Edge argued, each trying to get the other to break the hold, and eventually took turns headbutting each other.  This was my favorite moment in the match.  Edge countered Bryan's running knee with a spear, then speared Roman, but Bryan pulled the referee out.  Edge gave Bryan a conchairto, knocking him out, and went to do the same to Roman, but Jey Uso reappeared.  Edge took out Uso but ran into a Roman spear, followed by a conchairto of his own.  Roman dragged Edge on top of Bryan and pinned them both to retain the belt.  Roman would steamroll every subsequent opponent in 2021, while Daniel Bryan let his contract run out and moved on to greener pastures in AEW.  Regardless, a helluva main event, and either the best or second-best match of the entire WrestleMania. 

So yeah, Night 1 was overall the better night, but Night 2 had some pretty swell stuff too, even if the booking didn't make a whole lot of sense.  Six out of seven matches going to the heels, including all five title matches?  Kinda depressing, even if the show was good.

Best Match: Reigns vs. Edge vs. Bryan
Worst Match: Orton vs. The Fiend
What I'd Change: Give Owens-Zayn more time, give Big E-Crews more time, give the tag match less time, give Orton-Fiend a reason to even exist, and give Riddle a real run as US Champion.
Most Disappointing Match: I guess I was mildly underwhelmed by Asuka vs. Ripley but it was still good.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Riddle vs. Sheamus
Overall Rating: 7.5/10

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