Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 38

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 hadn't seen a WWE crowd this hot in a long time.

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 Finn Balor vs. Damian Priest and the Intercontinental three-way from that week's Smackdown 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 on the fly 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.  

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, other than Paul really wanted to try his hand at being a babyface.  It ultimately didn't work (aside from a really good Miz-Paul match at SummerSlam), and he turned heel again by the following January.

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, and the second-consecutive WrestleMania show-stealer for Bianca Belair.

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. 

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.  Ronda would win the title a month later instead.

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.  

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

Night 2, for the third consecutive year, was easily the weaker of the two WrestleMania shows; even the presence of another super-energized crowd (likely comprised of mostly the same people as Night 1) couldn't cover for a mediocre-at-best slate of matches.

Things started out with promise (after a seemingly interminable Triple H appearance that ended with him leaving his boots in the ring to officially retire), with the RAW Tag Title match.  RK-Bro, Street Profits and Alpha Academy delivered a very enjoyable spotfest with nonstop action, some great big-move moments, and a finish that brought the crowd to its feet.  Why WWE changed the rules for three-way tags to have three legal men at all times, I'm sure I don't know, but it didn't hurt the flow here.  There were some big dives to the outside from Chad Gable and Angelo Dawkins early on, and Riddle played the babyface in peril once again but made the hot tag to Randy Orton.  RK-Bro cleaned house and set up stereo draping DDTs, but their dual RKO attempt was broken up and Street Profits hit Gable with a Doomsday Blockbuster for a nearfall.  The finish came when Montez Ford's top rope dive was countered into a Riddle RKO and Gable's was countered with an Orton RKO for the win.  Post-match Street Profits offered to share a drink with RK-Bro and Gable Steveson (seated at ringside) but Chad Gable interrupted.  Steveson gave him an overhead suplex for his trouble.  This was a very good opener.  

Not so good (at all) was the next match, as Bobby Lashley had to try and carry the near-immobile Omos to a passable match.  They got six minutes, most of it unwieldy and not very exciting.  Lashley did what he could, including a hard-earned vertical suplex which served as the bout's high point.  A bad-looking back spear and a proper front spear later, and Lashley was the winner.  This would be the first of three matches on this card to end with a spear.  But tell me how overused the superkick is again? 

Alright, the third bout was one of those matches I was dreading, certain it was going to be super embarrassing and stupid, and yet it was maybe the most purely fun thing on the show.  Sami Zayn and Johnny Knoxville had one of the better dumb comedy matches you're ever likely to see.  This was pure crap and it's stuff like this that makes the average person roll their eyes when you mention the phrase "pro wrestling," but it was a big, stupid guilty pleasure.  They started out with standard garbage-match antics - trash cans, crutches, cooking sheets, a stop sign, etc.  After Sami suplexed Knoxville through a table, Party Boy showed up to interfere and stripped down to his thong.  Then Wee Man appeared and bodyslammed Sami, which was impressive.  Knoxville triggered a pyro as Sami climbed to the top rope, causing him to crotch himself on the top turnbuckle, then rolled a bowling ball into his groin.  Then came the mechanical ball-kicking machine, then Sami walked into the giant hand (which somehow appeared out of nowhere).  Knoxville put Sami through a table covered with mousetraps before putting him in a giant mousetrap (that didn't work quite right).  Knoxville covered him for the win and the Jackass crew celebrated.  This was unfathomably stupid but sadly one of the most successful things on the show.  Would I have rather seen Sami vs. Ricochet for the Intercontinental Title?  100%.  Also how tone-deaf is Vince McMahon for booking Sami Zayn to lose to the guy from Jackass, when less than a year later WWE's audience would be clamoring for Zayn to beat Roman Reigns?  "Creative genius" my fuckin' ass.

The 4-way Women's Tag match was next, and while no better than your average free TV 4-way, everyone here worked hard.  It was another nonstop multi-team schmozz and everyone got a little time in the spotlight.  Ripley and Liv hit a tandem Riptide move on Naomi for a nearfall, Sasha hit Carmella with a frog splash and locked in the Bank Statement, then she and Naomi hit a Glam Slam/Codebreaker combo to win the titles.  Fun little match, if ultimately kind of forgettable.  

The most disappointing thing on either night was Edge vs. AJ Styles.  These two set out to have an all-time classic, and unfortunately though it was well-worked, it never really got close to that level.  The chemistry and urgency just weren't there, and the rather lame finish didn't help matters. Both guys threw in most of their stuff and there were some nice exchanges, but it felt like there wasn't any connective tissue to this.  After trading finishers and nearfalls, AJ went for the Phenomenal Forearm but was distracted momentarily by Damian Priest, who randomly showed up at ringside.  The hesitation caused him to leap directly into a midair spear by Edge (second spear finish of the night) for the win.  Another babyface made to look dumb.  It says a lot about this show that despite being the most disappointing match, this was still the best one.  Edge would form the Judgement Day stable and be kicked out a month later (all because Edge balked at some stupid supernatural idea of Vince's).

The New Day-Sheamus/Ridge match bumped from Night 1 was placed here, and got a whopping minute-forty seconds.  Literally nothing to this.  Sheamus hit Woods with a Brogue Kick, Holland hit his finish and got the pin.  Pointless. 

Another match involving a non-wrestler was next as Austin Theory (with Vince McMahon in his corner) faced the mega-popular Pat McAfee.  The crowd really elevated this far above where it deserved to be, as this was an extremely basic match.  McAfee was dressed in his jeans and unflattering tank top, and didn't even bother to remove the gold chain around his neck - very odd.  One amusing moment occurred on the outside where McAfee was beating up Theory and grabbed a commentator's headset to do commentary on his own match.  McAfee missed a swanton but launched himself onto the top rope to meet Theory and give him a superplex, which was impressive.  McAfee countered Theory's finisher with a schoolboy for the quick pin and the crowd went nuts.  This was fine. 

Then the worst thing on either show happened.  McAfee called out Vince (and the announcers acted like Pat should be scared of a 76-year-old - fuck outta here with this), and somehow an impromptu match was started.  Theory attacked McAfee before the bell and the latter then had to sell the worst-looking clotheslines anyone has ever thrown.  You'd think with 50 or so years in the business Vince would've learned by now how to make any offense look credible.  Every time McAfee would make a comeback, Theory would interfere and the referee would be too chickenshit to call for a disqualification.  Vince then punted a football into McAfee's ribs and pinned him.  Yes, that's right, the mega-over 34-year-old ex-football player had to sell the feeble offense of a barely-upright septugenarian and then get pinned by him.  And of course this was all just a setup to bring out Steve Austin for one more Austin-McMahon moment, which led to Vince fucking up taking a kick to the gut and the subsequent Stunner.  They couldn't have just had Vince and Theory attack McAfee after the first match to bring out Austin for the save?  This was actually offensively bad.  Probably the worst WrestleMania match of all time.  

And that brought us to the main event.  The match this company thought we were all stupid enough to believe was The Biggest WrestleMania Match of All Time.  This went 12 minutes, featured a total of six moves between the two, and fell far short of the two previous Brock-Roman 'Mania outings.  Yes, even the one from four years earlier where they got booed out of the building (which I consider quite underrated).  And it's a shame, because this crowd was WHITE-HOT for this match.  But once again no creativity was employed in putting this thing together. It went down exactly as you'd expect, there was no story or psychology, and it was simply a series of big signature moves - a "hoss fight" equivalent of a spotfest.  Brock picked up Roman and did a bunch of shoulderblocks in the corner, then hit three overhead suplexes.  Paul Heyman distracted Brock by feigning regret for dumping him, long enough for Roman to spear Brock through the barricade (Ya know, this spot isn't special or gasp-inducing if you do it literally EVERY BROCK MATCH).  Back in the ring Roman speared Brock for a nearfall, hit two Superman punches, missed a third, and Brock hit five German suplexes.  Brock went for an F5 but Reigns escaped and hit another Superman punch.  Roman went for a spear and Brock countered into an F5 for a nearfall.  Roman escaped another F5 attempt, speared Brock into the ref, hit a low blow, and hit Brock with the title belt.  Reigns oddly did a back spear just like Lashley's and it also looked bad.  Brock countered another spear with a kimura.  Roman made the ropes, Brock went for an F5, Roman escaped and hit another spear for the pin.  Yes, three of this show's nine matches ended with the same overused move.  

So to recap, Brock hit three overhead suplexes, five Germans, one kimura, one F5.  Roman hit three Superman punches, a low blow, a belt shot, and five spears.  This was maybe the most lazily booked Brock-Roman match to date.  It's between this and their six-minute SummerSlam 2018 match.  Either way, this sucked.  Brock Lesnar is capable of truly great matches.  Roman Reigns is capable of near-great matches.  Imagine taking a once-in-a-generation talent like Brock and actually making him boring.  Imagine putting this much company muscle behind Roman and not asking in return that he do something to change up his limited moveset or do something, ANYTHING surprising.  This is what it would be like if Goldberg wrestled himself in the biggest main event of the year.  Or if a ten-year-old booked a main event wrestling match - "Hey ya know what would be cool?  If Brock and Roman did nothing but their two big moves over and over!"  I seriously don't wanna hear anyone laud WWE's "storytelling," because this match was devoid of it.  It was at this point I decided I don't need to ever see Brock Lesnar wrestle again.

So yeah, WM38 Night 2 was pretty shabby indeed.  The best match on the show was a significant letdown, the garbage comedy match nearly stole the show, the penultimate match was one of the worst things they've ever done, and the main event was lazy, repetitive drivel.  The most successful match, meaning the one that best achieved its purpose, was the opening tag.  

Best Match: AJ vs. Edge by default
Worst Match: Vince vs. McAfee - That old fuck should be embarrassed by his performance and McAfee should be embarrassed for participating in it.
What I'd Change: Book the main event to actually be a WrestleMania main event instead of a pre-loaded finishers videogame match, give AJ and Edge some caffeine so their match has some energy, add Finn vs. Priest to the show, and keep Vince away from a fucking wrestling ring. 
Most Disappointing Match: AJ vs. Edge
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Sami vs. Knoxville was actually enjoyable crap instead of cringeworthy crap
Overall Rating: 4.5/10

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