by ALEX

“The Ultimate Thrill Ride” – sometimes WWE just knows how to choose the wrong tagline for a show.  Wrestlemania 33 at times felt more like a slog through the Everglades in the middle of August than a ride on a roller coaster at Six Flags in April.  For me as a fan, this year’s Wrestlemania was a very disheartening experience.  While the show had all of the typical trappings of what makes Mania great – live musical performances, a host, (surprise) return – the show, especially because of the “main event”, ultimately fell flat for me. Rather than write a full review – saving that for this week’s pod, especially with the post-Mania Raw and Smackdown events – it may be best to cover this event from a standpoint of winners and losers.

Winners

Neville and Austin Aries

These guys put on a hell of a pre-show opener.  Though they did not get the benefit of playing to a packed house, they still put on an amazing match that sets up a continuation of the feud because of how Neville won.  The eye gouge was a perfect bit of storytelling based on Aries’ most recent injury.  All in all this match was great and only suffered due to card placement.

Here’s a taste:

Winners

Mojo Rawley, WWE

WWE wins a lot over the course of the night so get used to it.  They win in this instance because of the potential publicity both real and imagined, both long term and short of having Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski associated with its product.  Mojo wins by sheer virtue of having the relationship with Gronk.  I’m sure WWE is salivating at the thought of getting Gronk in as a special attraction once his NFL career is done.  This probably isn’t the last we have seen of him.

Losers

Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin, Fans, Prestige of the Intercontinental championship

I hate to dump on this match.  But no one cared. The crowd was clearly ready for the start of the main show at this point. Dean and Baron’s chemistry is suspect, and this story, with no nuance or subtlety, has done nothing to improve the stature of either guy. Let’s not talk about the decline of the IC title since The Miz lost it.  Dean has done little with it and it has done little for him.  Nothing to see here really.  Let’s just move on.

Winners

AJ Styles, Shane McMahon (and his legacy), Fans

AJ really had people questioning whether or not Shane was capable of having a standard wrestling match. Shane, long the lover of spot-fests, still found a way to get his stuff in – elbow off the top rope through the announce table, coast to coast – but before that he wrestled a hell of a match.  Kudos to Shane for that failed shooting star press. He once again proved that he is willing to do just about anything in service of a good moment and a great match. Also, AJ Styles is the best professional wrestler on the planet.  Don’t bother disagreeing, your opinion doesn’t matter. Having shown himself capable of making anyone (aka James Ellsworth) look good, he made a masterpiece with Shane that served well as the hot opening match that Wrestlemania, in particular, needs and has been historically known for.  Here’s hoping next year AJ finds himself in the main event because his 2016 and his 2017 thus far has shown he more than deserves it.  We the fans win simply because, what a freaking match.

Winners/Losers

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho

I wanted to like this match more than I inevitably did.  The right guy won (which is extremely important given the outcome of later matches) and did so in convincing enough fashion.  But the match itself seemed to plod along a bit too much.  I would have appreciated a KO squash of Jericho far more than this.  This is also now two years in a row where Jericho underwhelmed in a relatively spotlighted Mania match.  Maybe his time is truly, finally, winding down.  He has been good to and for WWE over the years, but maybe it is time to let Jericho fade into the sunset a bit more permanently or have him wrestle less frequently a la The Undertaker.

Losers

Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha and Nia Jax

Look, this match was alright for what it was. But WWE completely botched the best part of this story by running all of the important moments at its last ppv, Fastlane.  Had Bayley’s win last night been her first title win – had it been Charlotte’s first singles ppv loss – then it would have had a greater overall impact.  The potential story here was wasted and it pains me not really be able to say more about this match. But WWE needs to realize that the seemingly inevitable Sasha heel turn would also have had far more meaning if it came the night after Bayley won her first title and ended Charlotte’s streak than it will now.

WINNERS

Hardy Boyz, Fans, Raw tag division, Smackdown tag division

I won’t even do a disservice to this match, the return or anything else regarding this segment other than to say go and watch that intro by The New Day and listen to the reaction.  Maybe some fans weren’t sure if they wanted Matt and Jeff back, but we surely got it and it was beautiful.  By process of elimination, this now also means that Smackdown’s tag division will be boosted by the addition of one or two of NXT’s top tag teams in short order.  In this instance, everybody wins.

But wait, there’s more…

Winners
John Cena, Nikki Bella, weddings, WWE weddings, Total Bellas wedding season etc., The Miz

I love that they let Miz beat the hell out of John Cena for much of the match.  I’m so glad they didn’t punk out Miz.  My preference would have been a Miz win, but I am hoping that this is eased by a Miz title run.  (Especially if it is via cash in of a Money in the Bank contract and leads to Miz vs AJ down the road)  Rumors had been swirling about the proposal, so not too much of a surprise here. The one slight here is that it seemed that the match was more in service of the proposal moment, but overall this hit all the right notes and they at least let Miz get some shine before taking the L.

Winners/Losers

Seth Rollins, Triple H, Fans

The right guy won.  I don’t think there was ever a way that Seth was losing this match, but ultimately it is important that the right guy won.  At this stage, it seems like WWE may be partially pulling the Commissioners of each brand back.  With Shane having put himself through just short of hell and Stephanie selling the hell out of that table spot, it seems like we may be seeing less of both going forward. Seth looked great selling every move that even remotely involved his knee hitting the ground.  Triple H did a great job of selling his “cerebral assassin” gimmick and targeting the knee all through the match.  Although the Pedigree Reversal Spectacular didn’t quite get over as much as WWE probably thought it would, the match was a good one that hopefully brings a conclusion to this feud.

Losers

Fans, Ric Flair’s championship record, Bray Wyatt

Save the video work on the ramp and in the ring, this was a surprisingly dead and uninspiring match.  To me, the wrong guy won.  But as discussed amongst the group of guys I watched Mania with, it seems like WWE may be planning for one more Randy vs Cena feud to see who breaks Flair’s record and who retires with the most championship reigns.  I had not considered that coming in, but with Randy at 13 and Cena at sixteen, all Randy has to do is hot potato the title back and forth for a feud or two before getting us into the setup for the battle for number 17 with Cena. At this moment, I hate everything about this idea and everyone who even breathed it last night.  Alas, I think the Bray title run may very well end up being purely transitional and he gets pulled away into another direction in the aftermath of Mania. It sucks to see Bray once again back in the stop and start mode.  He deserved to win last night in order to continue with the rebuilding of who he is and his image, but, that seems to be out the window.

Winners

Brock Lesnar, Goldberg

To quote Andrew (No not Bain, or TriniAndrew): “This match is like two guys playing street fighter and both of them only know how to do hadouken.”  I enjoyed what they did with this match.  They teased a Brock squash, a Goldberg bounce back squash, and a potentially 15 minute match within the 5 or so minutes this match lasted. This is what I expected – two big guys going for their big spots immediately and someone eventually getting the upper hand.  Not the biggest fan of Brock holding the title as a part-timer again, but I am willing to ride it out to a potential Brock-KO feud or a Brock-KO-Finn triple threat at some point. It succeeded just in the mere fact that the fans didn’t crap all over it like their last Mania match, so definitely a win for The Beast and the Goldberg.

Losers and (maybe) Winners

The Smackdown Women’s Division

This match had the unfortunate placement of being between a short Universal championship match and the main event no one wanted.  I commend all of the superstars involved in this match for doing the best they could with what they were given.  This was not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but the big spots here and there worked and Naomi’s new submission looks convincing – which is necessary for a submission finisher.  Hopefully we get a long run for Naomi with a couple of good feuds along the way.  Either that or a destruction by Asuka and a full reset of the division on SDL.

Losers

Fans, Roman Reigns, Undertaker

Cynical review of this match coming…   So The Undertaker sucked.   I have mentioned this before and I will say it again, his Wrestlemania matches have declined since he lost the streak to Brock Lesnar.  He just can’t go in the ring anymore.  Damn you WWE for scripting this match the way you did.  Damn you for exposing Taker’s deficiencies rather than hiding them.  Damn you for giving Reigns a win he did not need, but logically he had to take.  I wish that this match was better.  I wish that they had let Roman just absolutely destroy Undertaker in service of a more defined heel turn and character revamping for Roman going forward. Unfortunately, what they gave us was the worst possible version of this feud and match. Damn you, WWE.

Winners

Wrestlemania moments

Less cynical thoughts… We just saw what is all but assumed to be Undertaker’s last match.  For all the flaws of this feud, it’s build and this match, the moment of watching Mark Calloway remove his gloves, duster and signature hat and leaving them in the ring was touching.  Undertaker gets credit for being old school and a wrestler’s wrestler.  He went out with a loss, on his back in service of putting a young guy over.  In this moment I won’t dissect whether or not it should have been Roman (surprise, it shouldn’t have been).  However, Undertaker is the last of a certain generation of wrestler. He is probably the only guy who has fought Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena, CM Punk, Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns. He deserves any accolade that WWE bestows upon him and definitely deserved his moment last night. Though he may have deserved better in his final match, you cannot deny his impact on the business, his legacy and the many moments he has given us over the years.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Wrestlemania was a microcosm of the WWE over the last few months.  The highs were particularly high and the lows were devastatingly low. Maybe it’s melodramatic to say that, but given the amount of talent on the roster and the level of dominance WWE has, they should be able to push the boundaries more and shake up the status quo more.  Too often they decide to stick to a plan, even when it’s clearly not working.  Unfortunately for WWE and Roman Reigns, it appears that this will continue to be his challenge moving forward.  For the fans, we just have to hold out hope that the annual post-Wrestlemania reset that should begin tonight and tomorrow pulls us back into new stories, more surprises and the hope of better things to come.

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