Friday, April 12, 2024

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Main Events, Part 4 (#10-1)

Alright, now it's time for the really good shit.  The all-time great shit.  Such good shit.  

Click here for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

10. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (vs. Seth Rollins) - WrestleMania 31

Maybe the most unexpectedly great WrestleMania main event took place at the 2015 edition, as the reviled babyface Roman Reigns challenged the unstoppable Mayor of Suplex City (a phrase he coined during this match), Brock Lesnar.  Brock had decimated John Cena for the WWE Championship at the previous SummerSlam, allowing almost no offense during their 16-minute squash, and then all but disappeared with the title for most of the next six months.  At the 2015 Royal Rumble Brock, Cena and Seth Rollins had a spectacular Triple Threat match, where Brock turned back both challengers in dominant fashion.  Enter Reigns, the company's handpicked "it" guy, with whom the fans wanted nothing to do.  Reigns won the Rumble match that night to earn his WrestleMania spot, but was booed unmercifully, and this main event had all the markings of a dud; an absentee heel champion vs. an unliked babyface challenger.  But the match ended up being an exercise in brutality as these two monsters beat the piss out of each other.  Brock took a legit headbutt to the ring post which opened a huge gash on his forehead, while Reigns got suplexed into oblivion and kept getting up.  But the most memorable thing about the match was the unique finish, as Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase mid-match, curb stomping Brock, attempting a second stomp that was countered into an F5 attempt that was thwarted by a Reigns spear, and then curb stomping Reigns to win the match and the WWE Title.  The Santa Clara crowd exploded at the surprise finish and Rollins stood tall, swinging the strap over his head as Michael Cole dubbed the title change "The Heist of the Century."  Thus began Seth Rollins' excellent run as the company's top heel.

9. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania XII

The longest match in WrestleMania history, and thus far the only Iron Man match at this event, pitted the company's top two babyfaces against each other in an unprecedented athletic display.  Bret Hart was the veteran technician, while Shawn Michaels was the charismatic upstart.  Planned as the first part of a trilogy of bouts designed as a torch passing, this match played out as an old-school grappling contest for much of the first half.  Shawn stymied the champion with an expected ground game, while Bret grew increasingly frustrated and employed some heelish tactics.  The second half picked up, with much more high-risk offense, but neither man could gain a pinfall.  In the closing moments Shawn went for a dropkick but Bret countered into a Sharpshooter.  Shawn withstood the pain for nearly a full minute as the clock ran down to zero, leaving the match a time limit draw.  But WWF President Gorilla Monsoon ordered the match restarted under sudden death rules, much to Bret's chagrin.  The angry champion attacked Shawn's weakened legs, but Shawn answered with a pair of superkicks to win the title and start off his main event run.  Given its slow pace and frequent lack of crowd heat, this bout hasn't aged as well as one would think, but it does stand as a singular achievement in WWE lore - a mostly pure scientific marathon between two of the company's all-time best.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Main Events, Part 3 (#20-11)

Moving on to round 3 of our countdown, here's where we get to the pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good stuff....

Click here for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.

20. The Rock vs. Steve Austin - WrestleMania XV

The Attitude Era was in full self-indulgent, decadent swing in March of 1999, with Vince Russo overbooking the living shit out of every show.  His crash TV writing style was all over this PPV and the weekly television leading up to it (Imagine giving away a huge match like Austin vs. Big Show on free TV only a month after the latter's debut).  The Rock had been rivaling Steve Austin's popularity in the fall of 1998, and at Survivor Series the company held a tournament to crown a new WWF Champion.  Once Austin was unfairly eliminated The Rock became the fans' clear choice to win, a la Randy Savage a decade earlier.  But then came the big swerve - The Rock was in cahoots with the McMahons the whole time, and his tournament win made him their new Corporate Champion.  Austin was duly pissed and eventually targeted the young titleholder, becoming the #1 contender on a technicality (Vince won the 1999 Royal Rumble but since he forfeited his title shot, runner-up Austin would get it instead).  With that, the two biggest stars in the company faced off at 'Mania.  The match was typical Attitude Era chaos - loads of outside the ring brawling, smashed tables, run-ins from McMahons, substitute referees, etc.  As Vince Russo clusterfucks go, this was a hoot, but it doesn't exactly hold up as an in-ring classic.  Still, the crowd was electric and Austin's third WWF Title win sent them home happy.  It was the one good match on a pretty terrible WrestleMania card.

19. Randy Savage vs. Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania V

The MegaPowers EXPLODE!  One of the greatest long-term angles in WWE history culminated in this WrestleMania V main event.  Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, the two biggest wrestling babyfaces in late 1987, joined forces on Saturday Night's Main Event to form the MegaPowers, an unstoppable force for good.  Hogan helped Savage win the WWF Title at 'Mania 4, the pair teamed up at SummerSlam and Survivor Series, and all seemed well.  But Savage had slowly grown jealous over Hogan's bond with Elizabeth, and the situation came to a head at the second Main Event special in February of '89.  Savage was thrown out of the ring during the MegaPowers-Twin Towers match, accidentally knocking out Elizabeth, and Hogan left him to fend for himself while he brought her to the back for medical attention.  Savage took a beating for several minutes, realized his partner was nowhere to be found, and got duly pissed when Hogan returned.  The Macho Man walked out on Hogan and the match, and the two men got into a heated altercation in the locker room, where Savage pummeled Hogan with the WWF Title and left him laying.  The most emotionally charged WrestleMania main event in history was now on the marquee.  The match was classic Macho Man, a hotly contested, somewhat unruly main event where Savage dominated much of the action.  It was a pretty great match until the ending, when Hogan did his usual Hulk-up comeback in unintentionally comical fashion, puffing his cheeks and bulging his eyes as he no-sold everything.  Hogan kicked out of the Macho Man elbow and hit his big boot-legdrop combination to regain the WWF Title, and Savage was gradually moved down the card on his way to becoming a King.  At the time this was easily the best WrestleMania main event, and it would maintain that status for me until seven years later.  Great stuff until the usual unimaginative Hogan finish.

18. Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin - WrestleMania XIV

The Stone Cold Era began officially on March 29, 1998 (in my hometown of Boston), with a grueling WWF Title win over Shawn Michaels.  I went into this match super-hyped, as Austin and Michaels were my two favorite wrestlers at the time, and the company had brought in Mike Tyson to be the ringside enforcer and bring lots of mainstream attention to the show.  This was a dream main event for me, and while it was a damn fine match it didn't quite live up to my expectations.  The problem was Shawn's back, injured in a casket match with The Undertaker two months earlier.  Shawn began this match in expected high-energy form, but a botched whip into the turnbuckle seemed to aggravate his herniated disc, and he spent the rest of the bout barely gutting it out.  Still the agony on Shawn's face during every move added to the drama, and these two pros managed to put together a pretty great piece of gritty wrestling business.  The finish especially was perfectly executed - Shawn went for Sween Chin Music, Austin ducked and went for the Stunner, Shawn blocked it, shoved him into the ropes and went for another kick, Austin caught his foot, spun him around, kicked him in the gut and stunned him, as Tyson counted the pinfall.  The Boston crowd went apeshit as the Texas Rattlesnake held the title over his head, cementing his place as the unlikely new face of the company.  Shawn took a Tyson knockout punch to put an exclamation point on the night, and it would be his last match in over four years.  As good as this bout was, I always wonder how much better it would've been had Shawn been at 100%.

17. Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair - WrestleMania 35

The historic main event of WrestleMania 35 marked the first time a women's match would headline the show.  The white-hot Becky Lynch won the 2019 Royal Rumble to punch her ticket to 'Mania, but her animosity with RAW Women's Champion Ronda Rousey went back further than that.  Their paths were supposed to cross at the 2018 Survivor Series, but a real-life broken nose/concussion handed to Becky by Nia Jax derailed plans (and also made Becky an even bigger star), and Charlotte Flair took Becky's place.  Thus anticipation for the Becky-Ronda showdown built for months.  Sadly the company felt Charlotte should be added to make the bout a triple threat; Charlotte vs. Ronda at Survivor Series turned out to be a violent, fiery encounter where Charlotte got herself disqualified and beat the tar out of Ronda with a kendo stick.  So there were unresolved issues between Ronda and both of her challengers, but the addition of Charlotte served to muddy the waters a bit too much, particularly since she was also hastily booked to defeat Smackdown Women's Champion Asuka so as to make this main event a double championship match.  The build became very confusing as the company didn't seem to know who should be sympathetic and who should be antagonistic.  Ronda had been a fan favorite upon her WrestleMania 34 debut but by the end of the year was greeted with increasing crowd hostility, while Charlotte was viewed as being overexposed and overpushed.  But hopes were still high that these three accomplished athletes would deliver in the clutch.  And for their part, they put together a very good main event with a ton of atmosphere.  The company sadly didn't set them up to succeed however, overloading the WrestleMania card with so many matches it was after midnight by the time the main event kicked off.  An exhausted, overspent crowd couldn't be asked to respond with much enthusiasm, and the main event they legitimately wanted to see unfortunately suffered a bit as a result.  Also working against the women was the finish, which saw Becky defeat Ronda not with her Disarm-Her finisher or even a decisive impact move, but with a botched crucifix pin where Ronda's shoulder was visibly off the mat for part of the three-count.  For a groundbreaking WrestleMania main event with so much at stake, this was a mild disappointment, but it still delivered big from a mechanical and character standpoint. 

16. The Rock vs. John Cena - WrestleMania XXVIII

The Once in a Lifetime....Until Next Year dream match between John Cena and The Rock took place in Rocky's hometown of Miami, in front of a vehemently partisan crowd, and was a major financial success for the company.  The bout was set up a year earlier when The Rock returned from a seven-year absence to host WrestleMania and left that show's two main eventers laying in the ring at the end while he celebrated.  A terrible ending to WrestleMania 27, but WWE's long-term planning was to be applauded at least.  The company had an opportunity to build interest for this match at the following Survivor Series as Rock and Cena teamed up to face The Miz and R-Truth, but unfortunately that main event was a glorified 20-minute squash and the two babyfaces co-existed just fine, leading people like me to question the point of it all.  The proper build began shortly before 'Mania 28, as Cena cut one of the most impassioned promos of his career, pointing out that while he was busting his ass week after week, The Rock had abandoned the WWE fans for Hollywood, and Cena needed to win this for the full-time WWE wrestlers.  I couldn't have agreed more; this was one of the few times where I was fully in Cena's corner in terms of the story being told.  But as they were in Miami, such an outcome wasn't in the cards.  For just over thirty minutes the two megastars expertly worked the audience and put together a very good, epic sports-entertainment main event.  I thought this went overly long; surely 25 minutes would've been enough.  But this had a big-fight feel in spades, The Rock looked to be in the best shape of his life, and they told a good story.  Cena kicked out of the first Rock Bottom of the night but fell to a second, to send the pro-Rock crowd home happy.  Their rematch a year later would fall significantly short of this bout.

15. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns - WrestleMania 34

Perhaps the most underrated WrestleMania main event was this rematch from WrestleMania 31.  The year was 2018, and the Roman Reigns Top Babyface experiment was still chugging along, with no change in the results from three years earlier.  The fans still didn't like Roman in this spot, they still booed him out of the building every night, and the company still refused to turn him heel, using the dipshit excuse that "Any reaction is a good reaction."  Yeah, not when the reaction is precisely the opposite of what you intended.  Regardless, Vince once again stubbornly refused to change his plan, and booked Brock vs. Roman II as the main event of WrestleMania 34.  After a very good undercard featuring Rollins-Balor-Miz, Charlotte-Asuka, Ronda/Angle-Triple H/Steph, the return of Daniel Bryan, and AJ-Nakamura, the New Orleans crowd simply didn't want to see this match, and they let WWE know it.  Chants of "You both suck," "CM Punk," and "This is awful" rang out throughout this match, and Vince hedged his bets in the booking, changing the result the weekend of the show.  Brock shockingly retained the title, Vince holding out hope that by SummerSlam the fans would magically come around to Roman's side (The tone deafness on display was staggering).  So the company gave fans a lot of reasons to hate this match.  It was two guys everyone was thoroughly sick of, it came at the end of a five-hour show, and the finish of the match made the whole thing kinda pointless.  But really sit down and watch this match; it's a helluva fight.  These two monsters beat the absolute shit out of each other, each guy kicked out of numerous finishers, Roman took an elbow shot that split his forehead in two, and it stands as one of the most purely violent spectacles to ever headline a WrestleMania.  Was it as good as their first match?  No.  But was it light years better than the third and fourth?  Absolutely.  I don't care what anyone says, I liked this main event a lot.  As far as I'm concerned it was Roman's second-best WrestleMania main event by far up to that point.  That would change three years later...

14. Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes - WrestleMania 39, Night 2

Man, this match was on its way to a well-deserved Top 10 spot on this list.  Really, just an epic, drama-filled, twisty and turny WWE Universal Title match between two consummate pros.  The story was there, the build was there, the moment was there.  And then the last thirty seconds happened.  After an action-packed, story-driven 35 minutes that featured Solo Sikoa being ejected for interference and Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens running off the Usos, Cody hit Roman with a CrossRhodes, held on, hit another one, held on, and then Paul Heyman jumped on the apron to distract the official while the previously ejected Sikoa thumbed Cody in the throat, setting up Cody for a match-ending Spear.  Roman retained the title, again, in the exact same fashion he'd retained against Drew, Kevin, Sami, etc.  One of the least imaginative and most tone-deaf endings to a truly great match I've seen in years.  The company rectified the situation a year later, and fortunately (miraculously) Cody didn't end up losing steam in the long run, but man, what a terrible, terrible finish.  At 'Mania 39 WWE snatched a stalemate from the jaws of total victory.

13. Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes - WrestleMania 40, Night 2

Finally a year after WWE porked the ending of WrestleMania 39, plus a clusterfuck of booking changes involving Cody bequeathing his hard-earned second title shot to The Rock, changing his mind, Rock turning heel and attacking him, etc., we arrived at the big rematch.  And this time, thanks to Roman and The Rock beating Cody and Seth Rollins the night before, this match would be contested under Bloodline Rules, which just meant run-ins and weapons were legal.  For the first twenty minutes or so this was a traditional wrestling match, and a damn good one.  Then the run-ins started and got borderline silly after a while.  Jimmy, Jey, Solo, Cena, Rock, Seth, Taker.  Gettin' to be a lot.  But the crowd ate it all up and it served as a climactic build before the inevitable feelgood ending.  This match wasn't quite on the level of the previous one in terms of the work being done, but I'm ranking it ahead of Roman-Cody I because it had the right result and served as a major turning point in WWE lore.  

12. Roman Reigns vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan - WrestleMania 37, Night 2

The final match of WrestleMania 37's two-night spectacular, this Triple Threat match pitted Universal Champion Roman Reigns, finally a monster heel at long last, against returning legend Edge, ten years removed from his untimely retirement, against perennial fan favorite Daniel Bryan.  Edge had won the 2021 Royal Rumble, entering at #1 and running the table, to challenge Roman at the Show of Shows.  But there was a problem; WWE forgot long ago how to book a likable babyface, and thus painted themselves into a corner by writing Edge as kind of a jerk.  And without someone to root for, an Edge vs. Roman main event would certainly fall flat.  Enter Daniel Bryan, the one man on the roster seemingly immune to inept booking.  No matter how many times they had Bryan lose, he could still get a strong babyface reaction from the crowd.  So Bryan was added to the match after Edge screwed up the Roman-Bryan bout at Fastlane, and suddenly it became much more intriguing.  These three worked a fantastic, chaotic Triple Threat, complete with Jey Uso run-ins, bumps on the ring steps, a broken table spot, a great moment where Bryan and Edge locked in simultaneous crossfaces on Roman and traded headbutts to knock the other guy out, and a controversial but decisive finish where Roman brutalized both men with chairs and stacked them on top of each other before pinning both.  Just an excellent, memorable way to close out the 2021 edition of WrestleMania.

11. Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair - WrestleMania 37, Night 1

The historic WrestleMania 37 Night 1 main event was one of the most satisfying in recent memory.  For the first time ever two women of color main evented a WrestleMania card, delivering an athletically marvelous, emotionally resonant near-classic that created a brand new top star in the division.  Smackdown Women's Champion Sasha Banks turned in a Bret Hart-like performance as she steered the bout with a veteran's confidence and made her relatively inexperienced challenger look like a megastar.  Bianca Belair played the self-assured, prodigious, eminently likable babyface to the hilt, keeping up with Banks and displaying incredible athletic feats, not the least of which was a spot where she caught Banks on an outside-the-ring dive, rolled through, pressed her over her head, and walked up the ring steps to toss her back in.  After a clever tug of war with Bianca's hair braid that ended with Bianca using it like a whip on Sasha (complete with a sickening crack and a nine-inch welt across Sasha's ribs), the challenger landed a 450 splash and a Kiss of Death finisher to win her first WWE gold.  Off-camera Sasha smiled with satisfaction, watching her opponent bask in the glory of the moment she helped engineer.  Both women shined here; Bianca earned her spot as the new face of the division, while Sasha cemented her place as one of the best women wrestlers in WWE history.

We're almost to the cream of the crop - click HERE for the Top Ten!

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

NJPW Windy City Riot 2024 Preview & Predictions

As if there wasn't enough wrestling last weekend, we have yet ANOTHER PPV this Friday, namely NJPW's Windy City Riot!

Unlke a lot of recent NJPW shows, this one looks pretty stacked from top to bottom, thanks in large part due to some special attraction-type names on the card.  This one is a good mix of the New Japan full-timers and a handful of North American guest stars, and some of what happens here could play into the eventual lineup for Forbidden Door in June.  Let's get after it....

Minoru Suzuki vs. Ren Narita

It's the grizzled old sadist vs. the young upstart rulebreaker.  This could be good if there isn't too much House of Torture nonsense but it could also be yet another annoying clusterfuck of ref bumps and run-ins.  Either way I think Narita probably steals a win.

Pick: Narita

Hiromu Takahashi vs. Mustafa Ali

Here's a pretty exciting NJPW vs. TNA matchup, pitting the top star of the Jr. Heavyweight division facing off against TNA's current X-Division Champion.  This should be a pretty blazing contest and I'm very intrigued to see Mustafa outside of WWE (this will be my first time).  I imagine Mustafa will be protected as the current title holder, while Hiromu can withstand a loss.

Pick: Mustafa

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Main Events, Part 2 (#30-21)

Continuing with our WrestleMania main event rankings, let's get into #30-21!  

Check out Part 1, Part 3 and Part 4

30. Steve Austin vs. Kevin Owens - WrestleMania 38, Night 1

19 years after his untimely retirement at age 38, Stone Cold Steve Austin finally came home for one last hurrah, facing a man who idolized him growing up, Kevin Owens.  While the company's build to this match was pretty wretched - Owens was left to hype the match all by himself a la Shawn Michaels vs. Hulk Hogan in 2005, and no official match was announced until WrestleMania itself, during a KO Show segment - the match made for a feelgood finale in front of a nuclear hometown crowd.  At age 57, Austin was of course very limited in what he could do, but Owens worked hard to hide said limitations and the two brawled all around the stadium, up the ramp, down the ramp, and back into the ring, where they traded Stunners before Austin got the win.  This was no in-ring classic by any means, but it was an enjoyable romp and allowed one of the industry's biggest stars to have one final moment in the spotlight.

29. The Rock vs. John Cena II - WrestleMania XXIX

Hey, remember that Once in a Lifetime tagline we used when The Rock and John Cena wrestled a year ago?  Yeah, forget about that.  What a sleazy promotional tactic; Vince had to know there would be a rematch sooner rather than later.  And in spite of numerous better options for a main event, for example adding Punk to make it a Triple Threat, or even doing Punk vs. Cena (a match that took place about a month prior to this one and blew it out of the water), Vince would have his planned Rock-Cena II match.  And it was.....a match.  Their first meeting was historic and felt huge.  This one was less historic and felt less huge.  And was messy in spots.  And The Rock got injured, delaying his scheduled film shoot and basically ensuring he'd likely never wrestle again since he couldn't afford to risk another filming delay.  Way to go, Vince.  This match was fine, but nothing more.  It was the main event of one of the more boring WrestleMania cards, a show propped up only by the excellent Undertaker-CM Punk match.  In that regard, this middling, forgettable encounter was a perfect choice to headline a middling, forgettable show.

28. Yokozuna vs. Bret Hart - WrestleMania X

Yokozuna vs. Bret Hart II was historic as the first time the same match main evented two consecutive WrestleManias.  The story going into this sequel was better than its predecessor - Bret had just lost to his brother Owen in a grueling match earlier in the night, while Yokozuna narrowly escaped Lex Luger - but the action for me wasn't as crisp.  Yokozuna dominated the vast majority of the bout, his limited mobility often slowing the match to a crawl.  Guest referee Roddy Piper provided some energy and levity, but this match was all about Bret overcoming impossible odds and exhaustion to regain the title.  And regain it he did, in one of the sillier WrestleMania finishes - Yokozuna had worn Bret down to the nub and prepared to hit his patented Bonzai Drop from the second rope, but slipped for no particular reason and crashed to the canvas, allowing Bret to cover him for the pin.  Pretty lame, Milhouse.  The aftermath was a feelgood moment however, as every major babyface in the locker room swarmed the ring to congratulate Bret and hoist him into the air in celebration.  The storytelling was solid here, the action was just ok.

27. Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna - WrestleMania IX

I liked the wrestling better in this first encounter, as Bret was forced to get creative in battling a very unwieldy opponent in a clash of styles.  Bret stayed on offense for much of this bout, lending it a nice level of urgency.  His storytelling and ring generalship were so good in fact that it really looked like he might do the impossible and defeat a man over twice his size.  After felling the massive challenger with a clothesline, Bret wrapped Yokozuna's enormous legs around his own and pulled him up into a Sharpshooter, but then came Mr. Fuji on the outside with a handful of salt to Bret's eyes.  Yokozuna covered him to become the first heel to win the WWF Title at WrestleMania, and then of course the night totally went to shit, as referenced in Part 1 of this countdown.  Fuck Terry, Terry sucks.  So yeah, I wasn't about to ignore WrestleMania IX's actual main event just because of what happened immediately afterward.  This match was a solid piece of business except for the weak finish - come on, Yoko, at least finish him off with a legdrop or something.

26. Triple H vs. Randy Orton - WrestleMania 25

If ever a WrestleMania main event didn't tonally live up to the build, it's this one.  Triple H and Randy Orton had one of the most personal feuds ever to lead to a 'Mania headliner, with Orton punting both Vince and Shane McMahon, and even more dastardly, hitting Stephanie with a DDT while a handcuffed Triple H watched helplessly (Nevermind that for years the McMahons had all been presented as Grade-A assholes so it was basically impossible to sympathize with them here, but the angle was effective).  In retaliation Hunter broke into Orton's house and beat a raincheck into him, eventually tossing him out his front window onto the lawn as concerned neighbors looked on.  You'd think a feud with such rapid-fire escalation would culminate in a No Holds Barred match, a Hell in a Cell, a TLC match, hell, maybe a Chain match, why not?  Nope.  They just had a regular wrestling match to settle their differences.  A slow, methodical, Triple H-style main event wrestling match, where if Hunter got himself disqualified he'd lose the title.  Ya know, just to make sure the bout REALLY stayed orderly.  The pace and style of match didn't jibe at all with what fans wanted or expected, and trying to follow the epic, all-time classic Undertaker-Shawn Michaels masterwork two bouts earlier with a civilized Triple H-special grappling contest was an exercise in futility.  It's not that the match was bad by any means, on the contrary, it was a well-worked, fundamentally rock-solid wrestling match.  But it was 100% wrong for this particular feud.  What the company was thinking I'll never know.  But the crowd here was deader even than Hunter's WrestleMania 18 bout with Jericho.  It proved to me once and for all that Triple H doesn't make an effective babyface; his style is thoroughly steeped in deliberate, slow-paced wear-down holds that don't get the audience energized.  Couple that with Randy Orton's equally methodical cadence, and you have a recipe for sleepiness.

25. Triple H vs. Batista - WrestleMania 21

2005 was The Year of The Animal.  Big Dave Batista had emerged seemingly overnight as everyone's favorite rising star in the company.  After totally clusterfucking Randy Orton's babyface turn in 2004 by taking the smug, patronizing 24-year-old, putting the title on him, and expecting people to cheer him 24 hours later just because his asshole friends beat him up, the company took the slow-burn approach with his former teammate Batista.  Dave quietly waited in the wings as Evolution's muscle, having a mini-feud with Orton in which the fans overwhelmingly favored The Animal.  The planned WrestleMania 21 headliner of Triple vs. Orton (see WrestleMania 25 to see how well that would've gone) was scrapped, and Big Dave was on his way to the top.  Batista and John Cena were elevated simultaneously in the Royal Rumble, Dave just barely eking out a win, and after weeks of Triple H and Ric Flair urging him to challenge WWE Champion JBL, Batista turned babyface in earnest, announcing that he'd be coming after his former mentor.  The build was handled effectively, with Dave presented as a monster babyface who could believably plow through anyone he wanted.  That he'd decisively beat Triple H at the Show of Shows was one of those welcome foregone conclusions in wrestling (sometimes predictability is a good thing), and it led to big fan interest in the show.  The match itself was just okay, as Batista was still very inexperienced in a big match setting.  But it got the job done and cemented Dave as a brand new made man.  Hunter and Batista would have their feud-defining match a few months later inside a Cell, but this was an okay start.

24. Chris Jericho vs. Triple H - WrestleMania X8

This might be the one WrestleMania main event that suffered the most from a bad build.  Chris Jericho famously defeated The Rock and Steve Austin in one night to become the Undisputed Champion, which surely should've boosted his credibility big time, right?  Well, no.  Upon winning the unified titles, Jericho was booked as a joke champion, often opening RAW and Smackdown in matches against guys like Maven and Tazz, whom he struggled to defeat.  Making things worse was Triple H's Royal Rumble win establishing him as the #1 contender at WrestleMania, because Hunter was much more concerned with his estranged wife Stephanie than with the task of defeating the Undisputed Champ.  Thus Jericho was portrayed as Steph's lackey, bringing her hand cream, watching her dog, ya know, stuff a World Champion does...  Y2J was made to look like such a lowly chumpstain it totally killed any interest in this main event, and on the night of the PPV the two headlined in front of a dead crowd (It didn't help of course that The Rock and Hulk Hogan had torn the house down and the crowd was just done after that).  These two worked a good match but everything fell flat, and thus Triple H's big moment was more of a whimper than a bang.  Imagine sabotaging your own main event program just to make yourself appear out of the other guy's league....

23. Roman Reigns & The Rock vs. Cody Rhodes & Seth Rollins - WrestleMania 40, Night 1

Unique among two-night WrestleManias thus far, WM40 featured a Night 1 main event that included the two participants for Night 2's main event and directly influenced how that match would go.  After much hemming and hawing over whether it would be Royal Rumble winner Cody Rhodes or back-from-Hollywood and now TKO board member The Rock would be challenging Roman Reigns for the title.  Thankfully the fans made their voices heard and overwhelmingly favored Cody finishing his story.  But the spiteful Rock turned heel and joined The Bloodline, challenging Cody and Seth to a tag match at Night 1.  This was a pretty great twenty-minute match that unfortunately went 44 minutes.  After interminable crowd brawling and a lot of stalling, the bout finally settled into a really strong 15-minute closing stretch that saw Roman accidentally spear The Rock, Cody nearly defeat Roman again only for Rock to attack him with a weight belt, and Roman spear Cody before The Rock demanded the tag to finish him off with a Rock Bottom/People's Elbow combination.  This was a good match that would've been great at half the running time.

22. Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Mick Foley vs. The Big Show - WrestleMania 2000

WrestleMania 2000 has to be the strangest edition of all time (except for maybe the COVID one).  There wasn't a single solitary one-on-one match under standard rules (Terri vs. The Kat had an over-the-top-rope stip), and the main event was a Fatal 4-Way elimination match, just so they could shove the entire McMahon family into the proceedings.  Jesus H. Christ, if I never see any of these people on my TV again it'll be too soon.  So instead of the expected Rock vs. Triple H headliner they added The Big Show (who technically won the Royal Rumble due to The Rock's feet accidentally hitting the floor first) and then just to give Mick Foley a WrestleMania moment they unretired him to complete the square.  The match was fine, rather overlong, and in the end anticlimactic.  The Big Show got triple-teamed early and was ousted from the match in under five minutes, Mick Foley turned in a less-than-stellar performance, not having gotten back into ring shape in time, and Rocky and Hunter carried the bulk of the bout.  It seemed a foregone conclusion that The Rock would defy the odds and regain the WWF Title, but in the interest of swerving everyone, Rock's cornerman Vince screwed him, delivering two chair shots to allow Hunter to retain the belt.  The Rock flipped out after the match, hitting Stephanie with a Rock Bottom/People's Elbow combination.  A month later at Backlash The Rock would win the title back anyway, so in hindsight it seems silly not to just have him win at the biggest show of the year.  Then again Triple H's victory here was historic as the first time a heel left WrestleMania as WWF Champion.  This was a so-so main event. 

21. John Cena vs. Triple H - WrestleMania 22

Here's a match about which I had no interest going in, but it turned out a pretty interesting main event.  John Cena was riding high as WWE's poster boy, but there was one problem - the fans had turned on him big time by late 2005.  During his feuds with Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle, Cena was roundly booed while his heel opponents were treated like heroes by the WWE faithful.  Literally the only bad guy who managed to get a proper heel reaction while feuding with Cena was The Rated R Superstar Edge, who shocked everyone by cashing in the first Money in the Bank briefcase after Cena had survived an Elimination Chamber.  Nowadays everyone's accustomed to the stupid briefcase gimmick and it's been done to death, but in 2006 no one expected Edge to exploit the "anytime, anywhere" loophole, and it was a big deal.  Edge drew good ratings as the champion but since Vince had his mind made up that Cena vs. Hunter was the 'Mania main event, Mr. Copeland's first WWE Title reign only lasted a paltry three weeks.  A cleverer promoter would've saved Edge's cash-in for the end of WrestleMania, just inside the one-year deadline.  Regardless, Cena vs. Triple H, while a pretty dull match on paper, turned out to be a very well-worked match that began the process of silencing Cena's "You Can't Wrestle" critics.  Hunter obviously led the dance, but Cena kept right up with him, and the 22-minute war ended with Hunter once again tapping out to the babyface.  What really made this match interesting though was the crowd, who booed Cena umercifully and cheered the crap out of Triple H; not long after, Hunter turned babyface and reunited with Shawn Michaels as DX.  Edge really got the last laugh in this situation, as he and Mick Foley easily stole the show with their Hardcore Match; Mrs. Foley's baby boy finally got his proper WrestleMania moment.

And that concludes Part 2 of our countdown - click HERE for part 3.....

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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Main Events, Part 1 (#46-31)

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, or should I say, Top FORTY-TWO Things, here at!  I decided to put every WrestleMania main event in order from worst to best, and split it into four parts so as to make it a little more digestible for you folks.  "But Justin," you're probably saying, "How can there be a Top 46 when there have only been 45 WrestleMania main events?"  Well, I'll explain that one in a bit.

WrestleMania is of course the biggest PPV of the year, a time when athleticism and spectacle intermingle on the biggest possible scale for one night (or two nights nowadays).  The results over the last four decades have been mixed, but when WWE is on their game, they're capable of transcending the art form.  When they aren't, it ranges from uninspired to the drizzling dumpster farts.  This list has a little of everything, as the WrestleMania main event has historically been overshadowed by another match on the card more often than not (roughly two out of every three times by my calculation).  But whether or not the participants deliver in the final match of the evening, the WrestleMania main event is the ultimate goal for just about everyone who throws their hat into a WWE ring.  It's an honor bestowed only on a select few, and even fewer truly make their moment count.  Let's peruse the WWE archives and see which 'Mania main events have measured up and which ones belong on history's scrap heap.....

Click here for Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

46. Yokozuna vs. Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania IX

Alright, so I said earlier I'd explain why there are 46 entries on this list, and here's the reason.  WrestleMania IX's main event as officially announced was Bret Hart defending the WWF Championship against newly minted monster heel Yokozuna, who earned his title shot at the 1993 Royal Rumble.  That match took place as planned, but immediately afterwards Hulk Hogan showed up to protest the result (Yokozuna beat Bret after Mr. Fuji threw salt in the champ's eyes), and Yokozuna challenged him to a match on the spot.  Nevermind that it made zero sense for the brand new *heel* WWF Champion, who'd just endured a grueling nine-minute match, to challenge a fresh babyface for an impromptu title defense.  Hogan accepted with Bret's blessing (which also made no sense as Bret and Hogan had never really interacted before), dodged an errant salt throw from Fuji that landed in Yoko's eyes (Apparently salt is the deadliest weapon ever, as it was responsible for two title changes in one night), and dropped his big stupid leg to win the WWF Title only two minutes removed from the PPV's official main event finish.  A guy who wasn't even booked to headline the show walked away with the gold (an occurrence which would repeat 22 years later under much better circumstances) while the two new main event guys were made to look like chumps.  This was goddamn disgraceful and entirely counterproductive at a time when the WWF desperately needed to move on from the Hogan Era, and worse, Hogan would take the belt home for two months, reneging on his backstage promise to put Bret over at SummerSlam.  To paraphrase George Carlin, fuck Terry, Terry sucks.  This "match" is the worst main event in WrestleMania history, but I'll be goddamned if I'm not also going to acknowledge that show's true main event on this list.  Hence Bret vs. Yokozuna will appear as well, bringing the total number of entries to 46.

45. Sgt. Slaughter vs. Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania VII

Speaking of Terry and sucking, the main event of WrestleMania VII was centered around the recently returned Sgt. Slaughter, who instead of being the heroic American soldier we all knew and tolerated, announced himself as an Iraqi sympathizer, complete with a Saddam Hussein lookalike manager and a flag burning.  He defeated The Ultimate Warrior at the Royal Rumble, thus robbing fans of a Hogan-Warrior rematch which would've done ENORMOUS business, and setting up this stinker of a main event instead.  Fans were so unimpressed with this bout headlining the show in fact, WrestleMania VII had to be moved from its original 100,000-seat location at the LA Coliseum to the much smaller 16,000-seat LA Sports Arena.  The match in practice was about as good as it looked on paper, which is to say it wasn't good.  At all.  Hogan and Slaughter plodded around the ring for a pretty excruciating 21 minutes before Hogan put a merciful end to Slaughter's title reign, and this match.  Ridiculously their feud would continue until SummerSlam, a full six months after our real-life skirmish in Iraq had ended.

Oscar Film Journal: In Old Arizona (1928)

Back with another entry in the Oscar Film Journal - can't stop, won't stop.  I'm almost at the halfway mark!

Today I'll be reviewing another early talkie, the 1928 Best Picture nominee In Old Arizona, based on one of O. Henry's Cisco Kid stories.  This particular tale involves an Army Sergeant who's been assigned to capture the Cisco Kid dead or alive, after the Kid robs a stagecoach.  The Kid's girlfriend Tonia Maria, who's been seeing numerous other men behind his back, gets involved with the Sergeant, who promises her the reward money if she helps him and runs to New York with him.  And well, that's kinda the plot.

For a Western film this movie plays out much more like a domestic drama, with very few scenes befitting the Western genre.  We witness the coach robbery, and later there's a brief shootout as some local cowboys try to ambush the Kid.  But the rest of the movie consists of drawn-out dialogue scenes, none of which is particularly gripping unfortunately.  The best exchange involves a barber lamenting that the money he'd sent to his mother was stolen in the coach heist.  Unbeknownst to him his customer is the Kid himself, who pledges to tip him the money he lost, from his nearby gold claim.  

Monday, April 8, 2024

WWE WrestleMania XL Review: Cody Finishes The Story

WWE WrestleMania XL (yay for the return of enumerations) is in the books and was overall a pretty unequivocal success.  In many ways it felt like the usual bloated WWE production but they also included indications that the company is actually evolving.  The biggest story coming out of it was of course The Story, Cody Rhodes' seemingly neverending quest for the title.  And while I still feel they should've pulled the trigger on his win last year, Cody was presented as a massive star poised to lead WWE into this new era.  

Amazingly Night 2 was the better night, for the first time since WWE expanded the show.  Night 1 was a solid piece of work, with a pair of ****+ matches and a main event that, while it went about twice as long as it should have, featured memorable moments and storytelling.  Both nights could've been trimmed down time-wise but the time management wasn't as bad as it had been under Vince at least.  Night 2 especially felt pretty concise and I was pleasantly surprised there was only a 25-minute gap between the end of the semi-main and the opening bell of the main event.  That's still way too much time but we're moving in the right direction at least.  

Night 1 kicked off with Rhea Ripley vs. Becky Lynch, which was a very back-and-forth bout and got a lot of time to breathe.  This was action-packed and the two were presented as very evenly matched.  Becky worked over Ripley's arm to weaken her for the armbar submission, but Ripley's power was on full display.  They had a memorable spot where Ripley had Becky up for an electric chair but Becky held on and pulled them both over the ropes.  Ripley landed on her feet though and dropped Becky to the floor.  They traded signature moves for nearfalls and ended up fighting on the turnbuckles, where Becky went for a Manhandle Slam but Ripley countered into a Riptide into the buckle, and then hit one in the ring for the win.  Very good opener.  ****

Thursday, April 4, 2024

WWE WrestleMania XL Preview & Predictions

We've arrived at the fortieth edition of WrestleMania, because we're old.

This weekend is WrestleMania XL, and it's nice to see WWE using the roman numerals again after a decade of Vince's fear of aging tricking his brain into thinking no one would remember what number 'Mania it was.  Anyway this will be the first WrestleMania totally free of that scumbag rapist motherfucker's creative input, so maybe it will fully live up to its on-paper potential, unlike night two of last year's show.  One thing remains constant though, WWE has no room for either Ricochet or Shinsuke Nakamura on the biggest show of the year.  Why are those two guys still there again?  I guess if they were hoping for a good paycheck for doing as little as possible, well done?

But this show looks very good, for the second year in a row.  Let's hope both nights fully deliver this time.  

Night 1

Women's World Championship: Rhea Ripley vs. Becky Lynch

We're kicking things off with a big women's title match, as Becky requested, and this should be quite good.  Becky knows how to deliver in big-match situations and Rhea is one year removed from her career-defining performance against Charlotte Flair.  I think Rhea's title run will continue for the time being; she's one of the company's hottest stars so no real reason to change horses at the moment.

Pick: Rhea retains

Intercontinental Championship: Gunther vs. Sami Zayn

This one I just kinda find disappointing, even though it should be an excellent match.  Since Brock was the original opponent for Gunther until it came out that he's a disgusting creep, and Bron Breakker took his exact spot in the men's Rumble, one would've thought they'd put Bron here, have him be the one to finally unseat Gunther, and they'd have a new made man.  But Bron wasn't even figured into the hunt for some reason.  I guess he could still do that later on, I just think it should've been at 'Mania.  Anyway I don't see much point in having Sami go over here; Gunther's historic reign needs to be ended by a younger guy whose career will skyrocket in beating him.

Pick: Gunther retains

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 39

Welp, WWE did it again.  And by that I mean two things.  The first "it" is, they presented one of the best WrestleMania shows of all time on Night 1, a lean seven-match lineup capped off by two stellar title bouts.  The second "it" is, they snatched a stupid and unnecessary defeat from the jaws of total victory by porking the ending of Night 2.  And then at the post-show press conference they tried to rationalize it with a bunch of word salad.

It's really a shame WWE can't be counted on to just deliver a layup, like ever.  They were handed an all-time great main event story that by all rights should've culminated in a triumphant title win for the returning hero.  Ya know, like they did in 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2014, and 2019?  There's a reason this story gets told a lot - it works.  Basically every single time.  Wrestling has always been about telling logical and usually predictable stories that build to a satisfying payoff.  Know what doesn't work?  Having the hero come up short and look like a cuckhold on the biggest stage of them all.  Who wants to cheer for a guy who can't deliver in the clutch?  Cody Rhodes had a chance to become the next John Cena and instead he left SoFi Stadium looking like the next Lex Luger.  

Triple H proceeded to twist himself into logic pretzels at the media scrum, saying stuff like "This is just a chapter, there's more to the story."  Where?  What more?  Since when is WrestleMania "just a chapter," WrestleMania is supposed to be the climax.  "RAW the next night continues the story."  You don't expect us to believe you consider having Cody show up on RAW cutting a tearful, mopey "I failed" promo more compelling than his showing up with the belts on his shoulders, giving an impassioned victory speech before a new challenger emerges. This was just another case of them punting the ball until they came up with something else.  WWE had a golden opportunity to have a new made man, and they once again ignored it, in the most unimaginative way possible.

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.  

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.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 36

WrestleMania in the time of COVID..... 

The one WrestleMania to take place in front of zero fans, in the Performance Center, Number 36 was definitely a mixed results-type show.  The lack of live crowd certainly hurt the overall vibe but everyone worked hard to negate the effects of the room silence; one side effect that was often entertaining was being able to hear the wrestlers trash-talk during each match.  My biggest complaint is that on both nights the final two matches were either underwhelming or just plain stupid.  Why Vince thinks a top championship match going under five minutes is acceptable at WrestleMania, I'm sure I don't know.  

After a pretty entertaining 4-minute pre-show match pitting Cesaro against Drew Gulak, the proper show began with the Women's Tag Titles.  Asuka & Kairi Sane faced Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross, in a pretty well-worked match that just went too long.  In front of a crowd this 15-minute match might not have worn out its welcome, but here it ended up dragging a bit by the end.  Asuka came off great in this empty-arena environment though, taunting her opponents for much of the bout.  The Kabuki Warriors dominated much of the bout, but in the end the babyfaces hit a Cross neckbreaker/Twisted Bliss combination on Kairi to regain the belts.  This was a fun opener that just went about three minutes too long.

The match I was least looking forward to was next, as Elias faced everyone's favorite reason to change the channel, Baron Corbin.  After an angle on Smackdown where Corbin knocked Elias off the camera perch to the concrete floor, they teased Elias not being able to wrestle.  But of course Elias came out, not selling anything, bashed Corbin with his guitar, and the match was underway.  This ended up an okay 9-minute TV match but nothing more.  Corbin dominated a lot of the action but after a rope-assisted pin attempt that failed, Corbin got rolled up by Elias (with a handful of tights) for the three.  

The most baffling match placement of either night was next as Becky Lynch defended against Shayna Baszler.  How this went on third and only got eight-and-a-half minutes is beyond me.  This was pretty much all action as they traded strikes and submission attempts back and forth.  Becky at one point hit a uranagi on the apron which looked great.  The match ended when Becky went for Disarm-her but Shayna reversed into the choke.  Becky refused to submit and did the Bret Hart-Steve Austin spot where she rolled backward to pin Shayna and retain.  A year into Becky's title reign this was the wrong move, Shayna should've won here.  What's worse is that Becky announced one month later that she was pregnant and would be relinquishing the title anyway.  So having her go over in this match was pointless.  One of a few booking decisions that didn't make sense to me, but a solid if underwhelming match. 

NJPW Sakura Genesis 2024 Preview & Predictions

It's a BUSY wrestling weekend, with two nights of WrestleMania, a Ring of Honor Supercard PPV, and of course NJPW's (mostly) annual Sakura Genesis!

This show on paper looks pretty solid, especially considering how depleted the top of the roster is without Okada, Ospreay and White.  Unfortunately one has to take a few of these good-on-paper matches with a big grain of salt thanks to the company's insistence on pushing the rancid House of Torture stable and their overbooked Attitude Era-esque bullshit.  Are the NJPW faithful really into this stable?  Judging from NJPW's numbers these days it sure doesn't seem like it.  So why is House of Torture still a thing?  Jesus this company needs an overhaul.

Anyway, here are the six matches that matter (I shan't bother predicting the three throwaway opening tag bouts)....

IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship: Drilla Moloney and Clark Connors vs. Intergalactic Jet Setters vs. Catch 2/2

This looks like a lot of fun; all three teams can go and have delivered fine Jr. Tag action in the past.  The Bullet Club tandem and Catch 2/2 have traded these belts a couple times already so I don't see Catch 2/2 regaining them just yet.  Jet Setters briefly held them last year so it's possible they get another run.  But I'll go with the champs to retain for now.

Pick: BC War Dogs retain

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.