WRESTLEMANIA 34: Ronda Rousey in Match of the Night, Nakamura shocker, Brock retains in brutal contest
The WWE gave us its 34th WrestleMania this past Sunday, from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. The event featured 14 (yes, fourteen!) matches in total, spread out over 7 (yes, seven!!), including a 2-hour kick-off show.
WrestleMania has been called a lot of names over the years, the “show of shows”, the “granddaddy of them all”, the “showcase of the immortals” and without further ado, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of it, starting with the kick-off show.
One of the biggest talking points from the kick-off show was the fact that John Cena had taken his seat among the crowd as a ‘fan’, as he promised, awaiting a response from the Undertaker.
WWE’s kick-off show which was broadcast Live on YouTube.
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
The action started with the now-annual, Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, with plenty of under and mid-card talent vying for a WrestleMania moment.
As you would expect with battle royals, the action was frenetic, chaotic, hard to follow and it wasn’t helped by extremely poor editing by the production team resulting in the fans watching at home missing a few eliminations. No earth-shattering moments here, one highlight though was Mojo Rawley sending former partner Zack Ryder flying out of the ring and out of the match. Goldust dabbing was another highlight.
Mojo Rawley eliminating Zack Ryder
The match came down to two former winners of the match, Baron Corbin and Mojo Rawley, and ‘Woken’ Matt Hardy. Hardy looked to be outnumbered but suddenly the lights went out and appearing out of thin air was his old foe, Bray Wyatt. Wyatt helped Hardy eliminate Corbin and Rawley. Post-match, Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy then hugged it out and seem to have formed an alliance.
Winner: Matt Hardy.
Decent way of starting the action. A good moment at the end. This could be the fresh start Bray Wyatt needs. 2 ½*s/5
Cruiserweight Championship (vacant) -- Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali:
Next was a great high-flying, fast-paced match, just the way the Cruiserweight division should be showcased. Both men deserved to be here and the story going in was two good friends fighting it out to see who the better man was. Mustafa Ali, of Pakistan-origin, came out to a particularly eye-catching entrance was, with an incredible ring attire, light coming out of the palm of his hand and an LED-mask on, looking like a cross between Iron Man and Sub-Zero.
One of the spots of the night was a beautiful-looking Spanish Fly by Ali to Alexander from the top rope. However, there was a big negative from a production point of view as the WWE chose to run a video package for Ronda Rousey’s match later on during the Cruiserweight title match. What a way to damage the legitimacy of a division you have been attempting to build up for months now.
Spanish Fly move by Mustafa Ali
On this night, Cedric Alexander was victorious and immediately after the pin, Cedric hugged his good friend on the mat in a moment reminiscent of Shawn Michaels hugging Ric Flair at WrestleMania 24, moments after ending his career.
Winner: Cedric Alexander, new Cruiserweight Champion. 3 ½*s/5
WrestleMania Women's Battle Royal:
Unlike the men’s battle royal, this one featured a host of NXT call-ups as talents such as Australian Peyton Royce, New Zealand’s Dakota Kai and India’s Kavita Devi just to name a few.
The match started and immediately the despised Ms.Money-in-the-Bank, Carmella, was thrown out by everyone else. There was a moment when the entire NXT contingent squared off against their main roster counterparts and the crowd erupted with ‘N-X-T’ chants. Again, the production team was really having a bad day here with fans at home missing the elimination of fan-favourite, Kairi Sane, due to bad camera work.
NXT superstars taking over the Women’s Battle Royal
The final two (apparently) were Raw’s best friends turn bitter enemies, Sasha Banks and Bayley. Sasha extended a hand in an attempt to reconcile. Bayley accepted the hand before promptly flinging the former 4-time Women’s champion out of the ring. It looked like Bayley had won the match but Smackdown Live’s Naomi was standing behind her as she celebrated in the ring as the commentators gave the explanation that Naomi had never been eliminated and went under the bottom rope – another moment that we had missed thanks to the production team. Naomi hit her finisher, the Rear View, and threw Bayley out to have her second WrestleMania moment in successive years after winning the Smackdown Women’s title in her hometown of Orlando last year.
There was a lot of potential here with a lot of new feuds that could have been built. Although it is not surprising that the match centred on the Bayley-Sasha storyline, Bayley could really have done with the win. Naomi didn’t need it, especially after last year’s triumph, while Bayley has been floundering in mediocrity ever since her ill-advised first title run with the Raw Women’s title. 1½*/5
Intercontinental Championship -- The Miz (c) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor:
Rollins came out first with striking ring attire and blue contact lenses, looking like a white walker from Game of Thrones. Miz was next, alongside the Miztourage, but there was some character development for the A-Lister here as he promptly told Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel to go to the back and this was a battle he had to fight on his own. Balor came out last and, surprisingly, not in his ‘demon’ attire. However, Finn came out with a pro-LGBT message with the words ‘Finn For Everyone’ tagged along his entrance.
The match was as you’d expect from these three workhorses, fast-paced, a lot of action and high spots galore. The action left you breathless at times and was an excellent exhibition of when three performers bring out the best in one another.
The match ended with Balor hitting his patented ‘Coupe de Grace’ on the Miz before Seth came in and hit the ‘blackout’ stomp, first on Finn then the champion to win the title and become a Grand-Slam champion in the WWE.
Winner: Seth Rollins, new Intercontinental Champion.
Seth Rollins post-match interview
The match delivered in the ring, setting the benchmark and telling everyone who was to follow exactly what they were up against. I expected to see the Miz retain with his current ‘dedicating it to his newly-born daughter’ story going on and especially when he told the Miztourage to go to the back before the match. However, it wasn’t overly disappointing to see Seth complete his championship set as well. 4*/5
SmackDown Women's Championship -- Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Asuka:
The champ came out first with her legendary father’s old music serenading her before it mixed with her own theme. Then it was the turn of the Empress of Tomorrow as the Japanese star made her way out with equal mystique. Asuka’s unbeaten streak versus the Queen’s title.
Asuka targeted the champion’s shoulder while the Queen moved in on the challenger’s legs, eyeing up her Figure-Eight finisher later on. There was an insane spot where Asuka countered a moonsault by Charlotte into a modified Triangle Choke but the champion managed to escape.
Asuka and Charlotte fight
The finish came with Charlotte countering another submission before hitting a jaw-dropping spear before locking on the Figure-Eight. Many in the arena did not expect to see a tap-out here but that’s exactly what happened. Expressions of shock could be seen on the faces of most fans as a second famed streak ended in New Orleans in four years. Charlotte, making Asuka submit to the Figure-Eight.
Winner: Charlotte Flair, still champion.
This was a great back-and-forth match with tremendous moves by both women, who were portrayed as equals. Post-match angle must be taken into account as Asuka got on the mic and, with her limited English, declared that tonight “Charlotte was ready for Asuka” before saying congratulations. The two women then hugged it out in an incredibly emotional show of respect. No, no, I’m not crying, there’s something in my eye. 4¼*/5.
P.S. As Charlotte was making her way to the back and Asuka took in the adulation of the crowd in the ring, a referee came running out from the back towards John Cena, to inform him that the Undertaker had just arrived at the Superdome. Cena got up and run to the back as if he had forgotten he had an exam the next morning.
United States Championship -- Randy Orton (c) vs. Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev:
The lacklustre build to this match made it take a backseat in terms of importance for many fans, including me. The fan-favourite Rusev would have been the wise choice to walk out with the belt, completing a redemption story for him, four years after he lost the same championship to John Cena in the same arena.
Randy Orton RKO-spree
In the end, it was 2017’s longest-reigning WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal, who, after a distraction by his mentee Sunil Singh, hit Rusev (what did you say the fans want?) with the Kalaas to get the win at WrestleMania.
Winner: Jinder Mahal, new United States champion.
Not even 13-time world champion, Randy Orton, could garner sufficient interest into this match. The match itself wasn’t bad but it just didn’t have the fans going for it unless whenever Rusev was involved. Hopefully, the US title is what Jinder needs to solidify himself as a solid mid-card ‘heel’. 1½*/5.
Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon & Triple H:
I never thought these words would be coming out of my mouth but Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley was involved in the best match on a WrestleMania.
This match had a decent build and it told the perfect story throughout the match. The cheap shots at Ronda before the match started, the constant underhanded tactics to prevent Ronda from getting the tag, everything just built up the anticipation to when Ronda would get her hands on Stephanie.
Triple H had his now customary over the top entrance at WrestleMania alongside his wife. Kurt Angle came out to a chorus of ‘you suck’ chants which came out of love and from the bottom of every fan’s heart who was there at the Superdome. Non-wrestling fans will never understand why fans would chant ‘you suck’ at someone they absolutely adore. Anyway, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey came out to a decent ovation from the fans, clad in gear which was in tribute to the late “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Ronda takes it to Stephanie McMahon
From the moment Kurt finally managed to get the tag to Ronda, the New Orleans crowd exploded as Rousey flung Stephanie into the ring from the ring apron before teasing locking on an armbar. She goes for it but Stephanie manages to block it. This part was a bit too much, a non-wrestler like Stephanie McMahon should not be able to block a submission attempt by one of the baddest women on the planet and former UFC champion.
Triple H manages to get his wife out of that situation before finding himself face-to-face with Ronda. The crowd pops and Rousey unloads with a combination of strikes, fists and elbows, making the ‘Game’ cower in the corner. She then lefts Triple H up on her shoulder before Stephanie saves her husband and delivers a huge slap across Ronda’s face before, wisely, running out of the ring.
Ronda runs after her but Steph manages to bounce Ronda off the post.
In the ring, Kurt and Hunter’s interaction was standard with both men exchanging big moves and Angle eventually hitting the Angle Slam for a two-count. Kurt got ready for the Ankle Lock but Steph gets involved before Kurt grabs hold her. The crowd urges Angle to put Stephanie in the Ankle Lock but Trips is there to make the save. He hits angle with the Pedigree but Ronda comes in to break it up.
Kurt and Ronda then turn the tables and the match sees a tremendous false-finish with both Triple H and Stephanie caught in Ankle Locks and Armbars respectively. Triple H manages to do enough, throwing Angle at his partner to save his wife as well. Absolutely riveting stuff.
Kurt throws Hunter out of the ring and Ronda grabs Stephanie’s arm again. This time there is no escape as Steph immediately taps out, selling the Armbar superbly.
Winners: Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey
Where to begin, this match exceeded expectations in every way imaginable. Ronda Rousey exceeded everyone’s expectations in her first-ever match in the WWE. She did not look green, she gelled well with Kurt Angle and Stephanie played the perfect foil for her stardom. The story-telling in this match was what pro-wrestling is all about. 4½*/5
SmackDown Tag Team Championship -- The Usos (c) vs. The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers:
This was relatively short but very well-executed by everyone involved. The Usos, in their first-ever WrestleMania match on the main show in nine years, had an impressive showing alongside the New Day.
However, this match was all about the rise and rise of the Bludgeon Brothers. Harper and Rowan have looked rejuvenated ever since being repackaged got the win that they needed. Plus, it was hard to connect with the crowd after the emotional roller-coaster they had just been through in the previous match but these three teams really did well.
Winners: the Bludgeon Brothers (Harper and Rowan), new Smackdown Live tag-team champions
Smackdown’s tag-division looks to be in safe hands. A solid 3½*/5
After this match, John Cena’s music rang out and the leader of the Cenation made his way out to the ring. However, he is interrupted by Elias who, after a decent pop from the crowd, decides this is a good time to sing a song. Cena is in no mood and dishes out an AA and that was all she wrote for Elias.
Cena makes his way back up the ramp before, suddenly, his music stops and darkness descends upon the Superdome.
The famous GONG of the Undertaker rings out.
Light returns but only focused on the Undertaker’s ring attire lying in the middle of the ring. Suddenly, a flash of lightening hits the deadman’s gear and the lights go out once again. It returns to the ring attire not being in the ring anymore.
Cena makes his way back to the ring as the Undertaker’s music plays out and out comes the deadman to a huge pop from the Superdome.
Undertaker makes his way to the ring
The Undertaker vs. John Cena:
This was, wow. The match lasted less than three minutes and it was all one-way traffic. The Undertaker looked to be in the best shape has been in years.
The Phenom took it to Cena early on, rolling back the years. Snake Eyes, then the Big Boot – which was sold terribly by the 16-time world champion, John Cena – before going for a Chokeslam, countered by Cena into a side slam. Cena goes for his signature 5-knuckle-shuffle but the Undertaker sits up and Cena sells this brilliantly by falling to the mat with a look of sheer fear on his face. Taker gets up and delivers a thunderous Chokeslam to Cena. The straps came down and the Undertaker signalled that the end was near for Cena. Tombstone Piledriver. One. Two. Three. Rest In Peace, John Cena.
Winner: The Undertaker
Looking back, you can see why the WWE did not advertise this match in advance. The fans would have been extremely disappointed if they paid money to see Undertaker vs Cena to only get a 3-minute squash match but, for what it was, it was a great exhibition of the Undertaker’s legacy and what he is all about. Major props to John Cena for doing the job the way that he did. No rating can do justice to the story this match told.
Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn:
This was Daniel Bryan’s first match back in three years but he was taken out early on by a Power-Bomb on the apron by KO before the match even officially began.
Owens and Zayn, the two vile and ruthless heels, were at their best, picking apart Shane McMahon.
Daniel Bryan unleashes on Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens
However, Shane, like the best wrestler in the world that he is (read: sarcasm), manages to fend off two young talents, making the tag to Bryan as the crowd serenaded him with “YES!” chants. The leader of the Yes-movement rides the wave of momentum, eventually hitting Zayn with his Flying Knee before locking on the Yes Lock to force the submission.
Winners: Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon, Owens and Zayn stay fired from Smackdown
One of my personal favourite moments from the match was Kevin Owens goading Shane "Money money money's not gonna save you now", that was absolutely hilarious. Kevin and Sami are absolutely gold on the mic and in the ring. Expect to see them on Raw on Monday. 3*/5
Raw Women's Championship -- Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Nia Jax:
Alexa comes out with Mickie James by her side but Nia soon takes care of that, attacking Mickie before the match even begins, making her a non-factor. Alexa is shocked by the new developments.
Funny moment as Nia scares Alexa
The crowd pops during a funny moment early on when Nia screams out of anger in the face of Alexa and she screams out of fear in return.
Alexa targets Jax’s knee throughout the match to some success, keeping her down to her size. Nia eventually makes her comeback before picking Bliss up on the top turnbuckle and delivering a huge Samoan Drop for the win.
Winner: Nia Jax, new Raw Women’s Champion
This was a good, solid match with Alexa more than holding her own, exceeding expectations. Alexa’s expressions and selling are her strongest suit but many expected this to be a squash match but this was one of Alexa’s better matches and possibly Nia’s best since moving up to the main roster. That finish was also worthy of the WrestleMania stage. Alexa has now lost the Smackdown and Raw Women’s titles on two consecutive WrestleManias. 3½*/5
WWE Championship -- AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura:
Nakamura makes a grand entrance and the crowd drinks it all in. Everyone has been waiting for this moment ever since WWE signed Nakamura in early 2016. The two men start off by one-upping each other before the match slows down considerably.
This was not the match most people expected. It suffered under the tremendous weight of expectations. Make no mistake, this was a good match but it never really hit the heights we know both men to be capable of.
Nakamura and AJ go back and forth
Nakamura goes towards his finisher towards the end of the match but Styles pulls out a terrific counter, reversing it into the Styles Clash for the victory.
Winner: AJ Styles, and still the WWE Champion.
The King of Strong Style had been threatening his ‘knee to face’ Kinshasa finisher ever since he won the Royal Rumble and but here, he couldn’t land it even once. Styles gets a decent pop after the match even though most people expected Nakamura to come out the victor, myself included.
Shinsuke grabs the WWE title belt from the referee, gets on one knee and hands the championship to AJ in a massive show of res-wait, WHAT, NO! Nakamura gives Styles a low blow as the collective jaws of 70,000+ people drop to the floor. Shinsuke Nakamura turns heel! He then proceeds to give the stiffest-looking kicks to AJ, straight to his face, knocking him out of the ring before finally delivering a Kinshasa on the outside, albeit too little too late.
Keeping the post-match heel turn in mind, this was a solid match but without the twist at the end, it would not have been 4*/5.
Raw Tag Team Championship -- The Bar (c) vs. Braun Strowman & “Mystery Partner”:
In the ‘cool-down’ spot between the two big title matches, Sheamus and Cesar, “the Bar”, defended their Raw tag-team titles agains Braun Strowman and a partner of Strowman’s choosing and what a partner he chose indeed!
Strowman gets on the mic and bellows "(my partner is) not one person in the back, in the locker room. It's one of you, or one of you, or one of you! WHO WANTS TO BE MY WRESTLEMANIA TAG TEAM PARTNER?" The crowd are all into it as Strowman makes his way out into the crowd, looking for a tag-team partner. He reaches to the back of the stands and finds a 10-year old boy with long hair.
Strowman goes searching for a partner
Braun brings the kid to the ring with him and asks him his name. “Nicholas,” the kid says. The crowd cheer. This was adorable but seemed too far-fetched to be true.
Braun makes the kid stand on the apron and takes care of business. Sheamus and Cesaro are getting destroyed and Nicholas offers his hand to Strowman and Strowman tags him in! Cesaro is unsure what to do but thankfully, Strowman tags himself back in and continues the destruction. Braun catches Cesaro and turns an offence into his Powerslam for the win. Braun Strowman and a 10-year old kid called “Nicholas” are your new Raw tag-team Champions!
Winners: Braun Strowman and Nicholas, new Raw tag-team Champions
This was something unique and all credit to WWE for trying it. But the Raw tag-team division has been in bad shape as it is so to have the champions defeated by one huge man and one tiny little kid seemed like a farce. However, how many of us have dreamed as kids of winning a WWE championship at WrestleMania? Exactly. This kid lived out a dream of so many and full marks to WWE for doing something out of the box. Many expected Elias, Samoa Joe among others to be Strowman’s partner.
Strowman and Nicholas’ first photo-shoot as tag-team champions.
This was all about the story, and less about the match. 2½*/5
Universal Championship -- Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns:
The main event that no one wanted to see, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns. Reigns is out first to a typical Reigns reaction. Brock is out next and it’s not much better. This could be Goldberg vs Lesnar at WM20 all over again.
Lesnar puts on a Suplexing clinic early on, with belly-to-belly and germans galore, both in the ring and outside. Reigns manages to Spear Brock over the top of the announce table. Roman gets him in the ring before delivering another Spear for a two-count.
Brock is incensed and counters another Spear by kneeing Roman right in the face. Brock hits an F5 early but Roman, predictably, kicks out. Brock picks him up again and hits the F5 again but Roman kicks out this time as well! Brock hits a THIRD F5, this is how many it took to end the Undertaker’s streak right here in this arena four years ago but Roman kicks out again! Brock just looked confused now and is screaming out in frustration. It should be added that the crowd is completely dead. There are “boring”, “CM Punk”, “this is awful” and “we want Nicholas” chants just to name a few.
Lesnar now throws Reigns to the outside before delivering a thunderous, fourth F5, this time on top of the announce table. The Beast throws Roman back in the ring and delivers a fifth F5 but Roman kicks out again.
Lesnar is frustrated and takes off his gloves, does a full mount on top of Roman and starts elbowing him in the forehead. You could hear his elbow connecting with Roman’s skull. The challenger is busted wide open, there is blood everywhere.
Lesnar, with Reigns’ blood all over himself as well, picks him up for another F5 but Reigns somehow wriggles out and delivers two spears, but it’s only a two-count! Roman goes for another spear but Brock counters and picks him up for the sixth F5 of the night and, finally, thankfully, this one is over.
Winner: Brock Lesnar, and still WWE Universal Champion
It took twice as many F5s to put down Roman Reigns than it did to the Undertaker at WrestleMania30. Let that sink in. Brock’s retention was a surprise since many believed him to be UFC-bound but apparently he has indeed signed a new contract, the length of which is still unknown. This was another chapter in WWE’s attempted coronation of Roman Reigns while Brock’s matches are growing repetitive and stale day-by-day. 3½*/5
This was WrestleMania 34, it had its ups it had its downs. My favourite moment was Shinsuke Nakamura’s heel turn along with seeing Stephanie McMahon get her come-uppance. However, for every Undertaker Tombstone Piledriving John Cena moment, there was a Jinder Mahal victory at WrestleMania too.
This will not be remembered as one of the best WrestleManias of all time, not even close. The ending, with Roman simply making his way to the back, was uninspiring just like his main event clash with Brock. The WWE desperately needs some fresh impetus into their storylines with focus on the young, full-time talent.