Monday, April 4, 2022

WWE WrestleMania 38, Night 1: Becky & Bianca Steal the Show

Man, it's almost hard to believe the same company put on these two WrestleMania shows.  The first night was a pretty good, approaching very good, WrestleMania card, with three matches reaching or approaching four-star territory by my count, and a feelgood main event.  Night 2 had a somewhat promising first half and then kinda drove off a cliff and never got back on track.  The two worst matches of the weekend were on Night 2, and a comedy match featuring the guy from Jackass more or less stole the night.  That's not good at all.  I will say the crowd was nuclear for both shows, so at least there's that.  I haven't seen a WWE crowd this hot in a long time.

For the Night 2 review click HERE

Both nights had time management issues, because it's WWE and they don't know or don't care about fitting everything in properly.  The New Day-Sheamus/Holland match got moved from Night 1 to Night 2 and ended up going 100 seconds anyway.  Given the four-hour running time of each show there was of course no reason Balor vs. Priest and the Intercontinental three-way couldn't have been included.  It makes me laugh when WWE fans refer to AEW as minor league; not once has AEW ever had to bump a match off a major show completely because they ran out of time, while WWE's done it countless times over the years.

Night 1 started with the Smackdown Tag Team Titles, a match that had promise but was unfortunately derailed by an injury when Rick Boogs attempted the John Cena double fireman's carry spot and his knee buckled.  Apparently he suffered both a torn quad and a torn ACL, poor soul.  That left Shinsuke Nakamura to hastily finish the match against the Usos, and he ultimately fell victim to their version of the 3-D.  This only went 7 of the planned 14 and thus fell very short of expectations.  *3/4

The second match wasn't a whole lot better, nor could it be given Drew's opponent.  Baron Corbin had a typical Baron Corbin match, while Drew did his best to elevate it, hitting a Kenny Omega dive to the outside at one point.  Corbin hit End of Days and Drew kicked out, made a comeback, hit the Future Shock DDT, and finished him with a Claymore.  Post-match, Madcap Moss got in Drew's face, but Drew took his sword and actually cut two of the ropes (which was for some reason accompanied by an exploding sound - were there pyros inside the ropes?).  We got numerous endless video packages while they changed out the ropes.  This match was just there.  **
Things picked up finally in the third match, as Rey and Dominik Mysterio took on The Miz and Logan Paul.  This wasn't a classic but it was the first bout that felt like it belonged here.  Logan Paul looked great and sold himself perfectly as an asshole heel, Rey did a fine job directing traffic, and Dominik did his best to stand out, hitting some good lucha-style offense.  The finish was your typical out-of-nowhere WWE finish; Rey and Dominik hit a double 619 on Logan, and both guys hit the frog splash on him in succession, but Miz slammed Dominik onto Rey to break up the pin, then hit Rey with the Skull Crushing Finale to win the match.  Kind of a dumb way to end the match, but this was well-worked.  Miz then turned on Logan Paul after the match for no real reason.  I assume WWE wants Logan to be a babyface, but the fans hate him, so what's the point?  ***1/4

The first great match of the night was next, as Becky Lynch defended the RAW Women's Title against Bianca Belair, in the long-awaited rematch from SummerSlam.  This was an excellent bout that teased the same finish as their first one.  Becky went for the Manhandle Slam, Bianca countered and went for the KOD, Becky countered and hit the MH slam and went for the quick pin, but Bianca kicked out at the last second.  They had numerous exchanges with nearfalls and counters, somewhat reminiscent of Savage-Steamboat.  At one point both women were on the turnbuckles, Belair lifted Becky on her shoulders and dropped her gut-first on the buckles, then followed up with a great-looking 450 splash off the middle(!) rope.  Lynch made a comeback and went for a Molly Go-Round but accidentally kicked Belair in the face, which looked brutal.  The action spilled to the outside, where Bianca hit the KOD on the floor, but Becky recovered and hit a MH slam on the ring steps, leading to a near-countout.  Becky went for a MH slam off the second rope but Bianca backflipped off and hit a KOD in the ring to win the match and the title.  Best match on either show.  ****1/4

The second-best match was next as Seth Rollins came out for his planned match with a surprise opponent.  As predicted, said opponent turned out to be Cody Rhodes, complete with his AEW music and ring attire (though he handed his weightlifting belt to a fan at ringside; I guess WWE didn't like him wearing it?).  These two had a helluva contest, Seth was on his game while Cody showed a little bit of ring rust (for example he did a very messy moonsault off the top rope).  Side note: the announcers need to stop referring to Seth as "Seth Freakin' Rollins" all the time.  If you were to make a drinking game out of this you'd be on the floor by the end of the match.  It was like when Kane was "The Demon Kane."  Stop branding every goddamn thing.  Anyway, Cody came off like a major star here, which has to be satisfying for the former Stardust; WWE is so bad at creating stars that the only way to get to the next level is to leave and come back.  They started out methodically but things escalated after Cody suplexed Rollins over the ropes and Rollins held on, leading to both men crashing to the floor.  Rhodes later went for a crossbody but Seth countered with a dropkick, and the story became Cody's injured ribs.  Seth put him in a bearhug which seemed odd for him.  They went to the outside again and Rollins did a bucklebomb into the dasherboards.  Cody avoided a curb stomp and hit CrossRhodes for a nearfall.  Rollins broke up a moonsault attempt with a reverse superplex.  Cody came back and hit his springboard cutter, but Rollins hit a Pedigree for a nearfall.  Cody made a comeback again and hit a CrossRhodes, followed by another.  He picked up Seth and hit Dusty's flip-flop-fly elbows, then hit one more CrossRhodes for the win.  Two excellent matches in a row, a peak neither night reached again.  ****1/4

The show was on a roll by this point, as Charlotte Flair faced Ronda Rousey in a very good match marred by a terrible finish.  This didn't have the intensity of their 2018 match but they worked hard within Ronda's wheelhouse of submissions and grappling.  There were a few miscues like Charlotte going for a top rope moonsault, seeing Ronda was moving, landing on her feet and doing a standing moonsault that Ronda wasn't quite in position for.  Rousey went for her armbar numerous times but Charlotte kept escaping or countering, while Charlotte attempted the Figure Four several times without success.  Finally Flair locked in the Figure Eight, and Ronda became the first to escape it, by rolling onto her stomach.  They ended up in the ropes and fell to the outside, where Charlotte suplexed Ronda into the dasherboards, leading to another near countout.  Back in the ring, Ronda hit Piper's Pit and went for the pin, referee Charles Robinson counted to three but waved it off when he realized Charlotte's foot was on the rope.  Ronda protested the aborted three-count, Charlotte hit Natural Selection for a nearfall, then went for another Figure Four.  Ronda kicked her off and she accidentally speared Robinson.  Ronda locked in the armbar and Charlotte immediately tapped but there was no ref.  Ronda went to wake up Robinson and Charlotte kicked her in the face for the pin.  This ending was stupid and made Ronda look dumb.  If you have her in the armbar, just keep her there until Robinson wakes up.  You'll incapacitate her arm and worst-case you'll have a huge advantage after that.  Why does WWE insist on making babyfaces look stupid?  This match was good overall though.  ***3/4

The main event of the show was an announced KO Show segment featuring Steve Austin that turned into an impromptu match, begging the question, why didn't they just announce the match ahead of time?  I will say, it's a good thing this turned into an actual match because as a talk show segment there wasn't much to it at all.  For one of the best current talkers and one of the best all-time talkers this just felt like a Stone Cold Greatest Hits promo.  Fortunately Owens challenged Austin to a No Holds Barred match and shit got real.  At 57 years old Austin was very limited in what he could do, but these two had a fun brawl and the crowd ate up every moment of it.  Austin chugged beers throughout the match, which helped plug his new Broken Skull American Lager.  They fought into the crowd, where Austin took a suplex on the concrete, but came back and drove Owens up the ramp on his ATV, where he suplexed Owens on the stage.  They brawled back into the ring where Owens hit a Stunner for a nearfall.  Owens grabbed a chair and swung it, but Austin moved and the chair bounced off the ropes and hit Owens in the face.  Austin took advantage with a Stunner to win the match.  Post-match Austin celebrated with beers, stunned Owens again, and then stunned Byron Saxton.  A very basic fight but it was enjoyable and everyone had fun.  As a piece of nostalgia it would've had much more impact if WWE didn't do this kind of thing ALL THE TIME.  But it was nice to see Steve Austin get a planned final match considering his 2003 retirement wasn't his choice.  I'll give this a gentlemen's ***.

So WrestleMania 38 Night 1 was a success.  Two ****+ matches, numerous big moments, a red-hot crowd, and a main event that sent everyone home happy.  Can't complain too much about any of that, although this four-hour show could've easily been cut down to three without all the fucking video packages.

Best Match: Becky Lynch vs. Bianca Belair
Worst Match: The Usos vs. Nakamura & Boogs
What I'd Change: Cut an hour of filler to make this a lean three-hour show, and come up with a better finish for Charlotte-Ronda
Most Disappointing Match: Probably Charlotte vs. Ronda, considering how good their previous match was
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess the Logan Paul match
Overall Rating: 7.5/10

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