WrestleMania 34 definitely is one of those shows that can be filed under Things That Did Not Go According to Plan. It seemed like all of us were so super hyped going in, but when it was over most of us were pretty damn deflated for a lot of different reasons. So what happened? Was the show really bad, or was it just a case of the storytellers making different choices than we wanted? Too many times when we get the latter we summarily conclude the former, and in the retail business perception often trumps reality which puts entertainment companies in a bit of a bind. The easy path is often the quickest way to make the most money.
Creative people often want to do just the opposite of that for their own sense of fulfillment. Who other than George Lucas had the audacity to make Darth Vader Luke Skywalker’s father, a move that was soul crushing when you watched it but has now become one of the great plot twists in movie history? If you just do the safe feel good endings people will get bored really fast; not to mention that what people say they want and what they actually react to by spending money are often two different things. But at the same time you risk hurting people to the point that they give up on you if you hit them too hard; that’s especially true in the ‘EVERYTHING SUCKS!’ internet echo chamber we inhabit now. The slightest irritation can turn into a national outrage after a number of shares, retweets, and repetition of the same take across multiple platforms.
So with that all in mind, I sat down and rewatched most of WrestleMania 34, five months after it happened and after being charged up in the moment was no longer a thing. So in hindsight, just what the hell happened here?
First the things that appeared to please or satisfy almost everyone:
- The pre-show stuff was all fine – both Battle Royals and the Cruiserweight Title match didn’t go down in any way that left anyone wanting, at least from what I gathered. Would Mustafa Ali winning instead of Cedric Alexander been a better choice? Maybe, but in the moment Cedric winning was fine. Both Battle Royals had acceptable winners in Matt Hardy and Naomi.
- The main show opener, the Intercontinental Title Triple Threat match, was a great match and could have ended with any of the participants winning without making anyone mad. As it stands, Seth Rollins winning was a good choice.
- The mixed tag with Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey vs HHH and Stephanie McMahon was a great sports entertainment kind of match and a good straight up wrestling match to boot. A lot of people had it pegged as the best match of the night and I won’t argue there. It was lots of fun and everyone involved did a great job.
- The tag match with Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn was a good use of all four men, a good match, and a good way to reintroduce Bryan to ringwork.
- The Smackdown Tag Team Title match had to be sacrificed for time, but the Bludgeon Brothers winning was expected so no harm no foul.
And then there were the minor annoyances……
- The U.S. Title Match – Rusev winning was the popular pick and seemed like a no brainer so Jinder Mahal, loathed by many so called smart fans, winning was a going to make some people mad. Now since then the booking has gone in such a direction that Rusev may be winning it soon anyway so if you’re a fan it may have just been a matter of waiting a few months because maybe Vince wanted to see if Rusev Day was a real thing and not a passing fad.
- The RAW Tag Team Title match – The whole Nicholas thing really made some people mad, huh? I for one was fine with it. It was a dopey sports entertainment moment at a point in the show where fatigue was setting in and getting in and out quick was the best option. And the Bar clearly hasn’t been hurt long term by it so what’s the big deal?
- RAW Women’s Title Match – the lead in angle was in bad taste for a lot of people so they weren’t real excited for the payoff. Then instead of a quick obliteration Alexa Bliss puts up way more of a fight against Nia Jax than expected. Which is ironic – Alexa gets a lot of flak for not being as good of a wrestler and not doing much in her matches but when she does get a good bit of offense in there are complaints that she should have just gotten killed. Can’t have it both ways, folks.
And now for the bigger controversies….
- Smackdown Women’s Title Match – Charlotte winning clean to break Asuka’s streak did not go over well with a lot of people; if you want to find where the ‘Charlotte gets too much’ train really got going it’s right here (I did get into this some more in my Charlotte/Becky piece from a few weeks ago). I personally thought it was a great match at first viewing and that didn’t change when I watched it again. As far as who won, I look it like this: A) Streaks never end in a way that makes people happy. If it wasn’t here it would have been after Carmella cashed in the briefcase. Would you have preferred that? Doubt it. I agree with some people that Ember Moon ending it in NXT would have been fine. But once they didn’t do that then it was bound to end in some way that left some people mad. So I get it if you don’t like how the match ended, but that doesn’t mean the match was bad or that the show was bad either.
- WWE World Title Match – It seemed like hardly anyone even watched it when it happened. A lot of people were deflated when the graphic came up for it because that meant that the evil Roman Reigns would be ruining another show by main eventing (sarcasm, folks). Sorry guys, but what made you think this might go on last? There weren’t any rumors or anything. You don’t like Roman Reigns and these two guys had a great match in Japan………that’s about it, and neither one of those suffices. And then to sit on your hands and barely pay attention because you were big mad…come on, dude. Nobody lied to you about where this match was gonna be placed. You literally conjured up false hope of whole cloth and then got mad when they did exactly what they told you they were gonna do. The match itself was quite good and if you stopped pouting and paid attention you would have seen that. They didn’t get to go 35 minutes like in Japan, but what made you think that would happen here? They got 20 here and did well with it. And lastly, the ensuing rematches that came afterwards do not have anything to do with this match right here. God forbid they try to have an actual feud with some heat that goes on for a few months and not just on EPIC MATCH. Y’all pouted through what was a pretty good old school feud that ended in a great last man standing match that did go 30 minutes because Roman Reigns went on after them most of the time. Just stop and think about that for a minute. Ric Flair vs Randy Savage was a far better match at WrestleMania 8 than Hogan vs Sid, and it was for the title, but they went on earlier and Hogan went on last. Why? Because that’s how it works, ok?
And finally, the big one that pissed everybody off….The Universal Title Match!!!
First up, some of you folks need to go jump in the lake. They dropped the first hint Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar was going to be the main event a full year in advance, and did nothing to infer otherwise for a whole year. If that was a bridge too far for you, but you bought a ticket anyway and then proceeded to come locked and loaded to crap on it as soon as the bell rang then you are a spoiled crybaby punk of a fan who probably says society has gotten too soft and gives out too many participation trophies when you’re not complaining about the main event of a wrestling show, without a hint of irony. Seriously folks, please…
We’re talking about basic politeness and decency here; didn’t your parents teach you better than that? And spare me the ‘we did that to send a message about putting the same guy in the main event that we don’t want’ excuse. You guys proved at Money in the Bank that it didn’t matter where he was on the card, you were still gonna act like jackasses. Go try that nonsense at an Eagles game and see how it goes for you.
As for the match itself, if you watch it with the sound turned down it’s good. It’s big move heavy so if you knock a match for that kind of thing ok, but if you don’t then you’ll like it just fine. As a Roman Reigns fan I did not like the outcome but I’ll even admit that it was well done unlike that cage match at the Greatest Royal Rumble. Seriously, unless you just hate Roman Reigns, hate Brock Lesnar, or didn’t like who won there’s no reason to hate on this match. It was good.
There aren’t any matches I would call bad here. There’s some skippable stuff when you rewatching it now, but plenty of good and great matches. Which bring me to my main point: who won and lost the match does not determine how good the actual match was. Neither does where the match was placed on the card, or the storyline around it. Yes you may have been rooting for someone else to win. Yes you may think it should have been higher on the show. And yes you may think that one of the participants deserves to be in a bigger match, or doesn’t deserve to even be in that one. Those are all opinions, and they’re fan based emotional ones. They’re not objective at all. And that’s fine! We all have them. They’re just not facts.
Take the armchair booker hat off, too. No, everything they do does not turn out great. Some of it indeed sucks. But from where I’m sitting on balance it’s better across the board than any other era of WWF/E that I’ve watched. You get better matches on TV now than we used to get on pay per view. We don’t have TV shows overrun with jobber matches. The women’s wrestling is the best it’s ever been here. And to be honest contrary to what you may think you could not book this stuff better than they do. Don’t delude yourself with that nonsense.
Now in hindsight do I think they should have gone with some different winners and follow up angles, if for no other reason than sometimes it’s best to get the quick and easy cool points? Yes. Rusev winning the US Title could have happened and still led up to where we are now. I’d have been fine with Asuka winning here and getting cashed in on by Carmella, but I’m guessing a lot of you would not have been. And the main event as it was did not satisfy anyone with the finish. Roman fans who thought they were going to get rewarded for all the crap they see and hear about their guy were gut punched by Brock winning. The Roman haters who’d gotten themselves worked into a shoot about the participants and presumed outcome of a wrestling match were happy Roman lost and then realized that meant they were stuck with more part time Brock. And those in the middle who felt worn down by all the back and forth between the first two groups, who just wanted Roman to win to get it all over with, were left wanting as well.
Better to rip off the scab and just have Roman win here? Probably, but then you have to book the top slot on the RAW for the rest of the year totally different. So do you do the story that you wrote out already, despite a lot of people not liking how it’s going, or change it up to something a little less coherent and planned out that will push the right short term emotional buttons? That’s the neverending conundrum. We say we want planned out, coherent, long term storytelling but at the slightest hint that those stories may not go the way we want we crap all over them, which only encourages them to bail and go back to hotshot month to month booking…..which I assure you, you do not want because even when you get what you want it doesn’t last long enough to matter. So sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time, we have to ride it out and take joy in seeing our favorite people get to perform for us. That was as true during the Hulkamania era as it is now.