First, the easy stuff.
All the matches were fine. The Men’s Battle Royal was fun and the Women’s Battle Royal was ok, even though the stigma of the whole SmackDown side getting the shaft a few weeks ago is still there. The Raw Tag Team match was a good match, albeit a bit pain by numbers. The Cruiserweight Title Match was really good; Tony Nese has been quietly very good on 205 Live from day one so it’s nice to see him get a run with the title here.
- Samoa Joe beating Rey Mysterio so quickly was a bit surprising, but made since given Rey’s injury and the need to move on in the show. It makes Joe look like more of a monster heel so it that’s good.
- The Intercontinental was a good little sprint of a match. 4:05 and they both got enough offense in to make things interesting. This match is proof that everything doesn’t have to go 30 minutes to be good.
- Baron Corbin and Kurt Angle was about what I expected. Corbin is a good mid level heel and helped Kurt with the bumps enough to make him look credible in his last match. You can argue that Kurt should have won, but the tradition is that you go out with an L, not a W so as far as I’m concerned that was fine. Match was the right length for Kurt too, just over six minutes (6:05).
- Randy Orton and AJ Styles had a good match, but it was hindered by going when it did right after the Universal Title Match. The lighting issue around the ring was no help either in that a lot of people were blinded them and couldn’t see the ring. But what we got was good from both guys.
- Shane McMahon and The Miz put on a true 100 percent Sports Entertainment match in all it’s glory. Miz’s Dad squaring up with Shane is an image that’s going to live on in Social Media eternity, and the finish was a nice twist on the ‘Shane jumping/falling off of something’ spot we were expecting.
Now on to the stuff that deserves a little more attention….
Universal Title Match – Brock Lesnar (c) vs Seth Rollins
The official time was 2:30, but that didn’t include the few minutes Brock was beating up on Seth outside the ring. If there’s one word I’d use to describe this match it would be surprising. From the length to when it happened on the card to the finish itself nothing went as I figured it would. Most of the people I talked to beforehand figured that if one of the heels was going to win it was going to be Brock, and when his music hit to lead off the main show then I figured it was to get it out of the way so we could get on to the happy stuff. Boy was I wrong. And while the quickness of Seth’s victory seemed puzzling at first it makes sense to me now because one of the things that made me figure Brock was winning was that I couldn’t sketch out any kind of longer match where he didn’t. So yeah going with the quick finish was the right move here.
Smackdown Tag Team Title Match – The Usos (c) vs Ricochet/Alaister Black vs Rusev/Shinsuke Nakamura vs The Bar
Good match here, a few really cool spots throughout, but a few things really stick out for me. The first was Ricochet’s face when he came out on the stage to walk to the ring. That awe of his first WrestleMania experience was a real ‘Mom, I made it!’ moment and is an example of what all of the men and women on this show are striving for from the moment they get started in the business. It takes so much just to get there that seeing somebody just be excited about it like that adds to the magic of it all. The other thing is that the Usos after all these years finally got a match on the main show that wasn’t a five minute squash like last year.
That’s something that they have been striving for in all their years with the company and it was great to see them get that, and a victory.
Women’s Tag Team Title Match: Sasha Banks/Bayley vs Natalya/Beth Phoenix vs The Iconics vs Nia Jax/Tamina
It was good to see Beth Phoenix back and to see Tamina get a match that meant something after all the years she’s been there. Everyone put in some good work here and made for a good, entertaining match. I wasn’t shocked by the Iconics winning even though I didn’t call it, and as we’ve seen in the days since their victory has been cause for quite a lot of noise here on the old internet. But regardless of where you fall on that issue I think it’s fine to be happy for the Iconics here.
They debuted on the main roster last year and their act was flopping pretty hard but both they and the creative stuck with it until it got some traction and now here we are. Everything doesn’t work right away and knowing when to stick it out instead of pulling the plug is an important thing. I’m hoping they get a decent run as shortcut taking heel champs because that’s something we could really use more of.
WWE Championship Match: Daniel Bryan (c) vs Kofi Kingston
This was the most anxious I’ve been about a wrestling match in a long time. I was worried to death that we might get a ‘the journey was the real prize’ kind of deal here since Daniel Bryan has been doing such a great job at playing heel. But by God, they paid it off with the happy ending we were all hoping for. I’ve watched this match, and the celebration afterwards several times already and it still hits me right in the feels every time.
Kofi winning is special for me not just because he’s black like me. No, it’s not just that a black man is WWE Champion again. Kofi is unique in that he’s not an overwhelming force of nature like the Rock, somebody who no matter much you may want to you ultimately could not deny. Kofi doesn’t just jump out and get your attention just from his mere presence. No, to see how good he is and what he’s capable of required investment. From his boss, from the writing team, and from us as fans. You had to pay attention to get it. Yes he was well liked and admired by co-workers but that’s not enough. Yes there have been some fans clamoring for him to get at least some title shots after all his time there, but that’s not enough. For a lot of people he was just a good wrestler who was part of a really popular group but no one to get behind as a World Title contender. And it at least appeared that his bosses saw him as a good hand but somebody who did not warrant a high level of support from management and was in a good enough spot that he could be left alone to continue on as he had been.
So when the referee counted three that Sunday, I didn’t just celebrate the victory I celebrated the entire process. The decision to go with the angle. The attention to detail all the way through. The callbacks to the Randy Orton feud from 10 years ago and Bryan’s ‘B+ player’ label from his own World Title journey. The great supporting performances from Big E, Xavier Woods, and Vince himself. The perfect foil in Bryan with the perfect henchman in Rowan. The little things from the mutual respect moment between the Usos and Woods/Big E during the tag team gauntlet match. The way that they took what could have easily veered off into cheap tropes or bitten on the very visible racial subtext given wrestling’s history and kept it on the rails. And finally, the way they did not take a cheap early landing by ending it sooner, be it via Vince screwing Kofi to further get his own character over or doing a hotshot title switch and moving on. They started the thing, gave it all the attention and care that it needed, and stayed committed to get it over the finish line. And they did that for Kofi Kingston. Not John Cena or AJ Styles or Seth Rollins or Charlotte Flair or Becky Lynch, but Kofi Kingston.
Now I’m not saying Kofi is bad if that’s how it sounds. No, Kofi has been very good for a long time and he’s been great in 2019. But he’s not the Rock. He doesn’t come off like someone you could just plug and play as World Champion like his teammate Big E. He doesn’t have legions of smart wrestling fans telling you how great of a wrestler is like Jonathan Gresham. No, he’s a guy that you have to ask about to find out how good he is. He’s a guy that you have to do some homework to learn about. And as a black man who’s been in the workforce for 20 years, he’s someone I can identify with. In the ongoing push for more opportunities and more equality, people like him are important. Because real equality is not when people of color or women who are obvious superstars get a few big chances on account of being so good, it’s when the regular women or people of color can get the same things as regular white guys. What am I getting at here? Well…….
MTV didn’t play music videos by black artists until Michael Jackson and Prince got too big to ignore. But even then, they didn’t play much by anyone else for a while. The black one hit wonders, the black artists who went gold but not platinum, the ones who never sold a lot but had solid careers…..for years they got no play while their white equivalents did. So while it is progress that the best get a seat at the table that’s still not real equal opportunity. When I have to be better than everyone just to get invited that’s not true equality. And in the wrestling business if you have to be the Rock to win the WWE title then that’s not true equality either. So yes, Kofi Kingston after eleven years as a good guy to have around but not one who made you think you had to do big things with getting this match with this storyline behind it is something to celebrate. While there is still a lot of work to be done this is something for all of us, not just black people, to be happy about.
Oh, but what about the match? Best of the show, easily. Great storytelling, shenanigans were kept to a minimum (Rowan interfering was teased but didn’t happen outside of Xavier and Big E taking him out), Superman Moments were kept to a minimum (only one finisher kickout and one fired up no sell), no gratuitous high spots, a perfect build to all the dramatic moments, went long enough to feel like a big deal (23:45) but no so long that it felt like a forced epic, this was the closest thing to what I’d call a perfect pro wrestling match. A long-ish match that can draw you in and keep you in without resorting to a bunch of gimmicks is an ideal that isn’t achieved very often now. Highspots are fun and all but the more you do them the less they matter. What does make them a nice diversion is when you have two guys go in there and put on a clinic like Bryan and Kofi – not by doing crazy stuff but by working in a dramatic fashion and getting people’s attention to what’s going on and not just waiting for the finish. Match of the Year so far for me.
Roman Reigns vs Drew McIntyre
I thought this was a good first solo outing for Reigns since coming back from his fight with leukemia. He’s had better matches yes, but I don’t think this was anything to crap on. I along with all the other Reigns fans were just happy to see him back in action at WrestleMania and I’m expecting that over the next few months things will be more about getting him back up to speed than any serious programs.
As the creeping feeling amongst Roman haters that they’d really like to get back to booing him again….what the hell are you waiting for? Go on and do it. You guys are like the man who put $20 in the collection plate at church when he meant to only put in a dollar; God knows your intentions. If you want to boo him, then boo him. If you feel crappy about booing him because of what he’s been dealing with but you still really want to deep down inside…..God knows your intentions. And if you wanted to boo but you were worried about looking like a tool……you probably already look like one anyway so who are you fooling here?
Triple H vs Batista
Me and a lot of the people I talked to on Twitter were super worried that this match was going to be a plodding, overlong Triple H special. But you know what, it wasn’t so bad. It did go the longest of any match on the show (24:45) but after having watched it twice the only real issue I had was that both guys were moving around slowly most of the time and Batista was blown up just a few minutes in. But the No Holds Barred rules allowed for a lot of brutal spots that didn’t leave us with two guys trying hard to work an epic wrestling match in the ring for 24 minutes. As it went it was a nice send off for Batista, who announced his retirement via social media the next day. And by all means the man deserves major props for taking all the bumps that he did given his position in Hollywood now (he even said his agents were freaking out over what he was doing in there). He could have gone in there and mailed it in for 10 minutes then said goodbye but he worked his ass off. Kudos and happy retirement Big Dave.
Main Event: Ronda Rousey (c) vs Charlotte Flair (c) vs Becky Lynch
All three were under tremendous pressure to deliver here, and I think they did. I’ve heard some people say it was disappointing or even bad, but I don’t think so. Go watch Sid vs Taker from Mania 13 or Sid vs Hogan at Mania 8 then come tell me that this was bad. I would have liked to see Ronda and Becky bust out something outside their usual stuff (like Charlotte did with the ringpost figure four), and with the no DQ I figured we’d get some action with chairs or the kendo stick. But all in all I thought the match was good, even though I wish they’d have gone a few more minutes before the finish. It came very abruptly to me and it felt almost like they had to call it early. The ‘botch’ part of it was clearly to protect Ronda for a future match down the road. Sorry guys, they were not going to have Ronda tap out or get beaten definitively. Just wasn’t going to happen. Oh, and for all the bro dudes out there looking at this as proof that the womenz don’t need to be all over the wrasslin shows…..get bent already. Just shut up.
So they did it, HappyMania was achieved! No swerve endings just for the sake of fooling us this time around, no picking winners who may have made sense on paper but would end up pissing people off. No sad ending for the Undertaker and no scene of whining crybabies mad because Roman was in the main event (Just wait until next year, losers!). They played it straight and gave everyone a happy ending, and not the kind that might get you in legal trouble.
Now did last year have more of what I would call great matches? Yes. But this year somewhat laid waste to the idea that great matches more than great moments or great feelings. More people would rather see a good match that feeds their emotions right than a great match that does not. Luckily Kofi and Daniel Bryan gave us the best of both worlds. Another notable thing, and this is piggybacking off the Royal Rumble, was that the ‘old guys’ played a much smaller role this year. No Taker match or appearance and John Cena didn’t have a match either. Outside of Triple H vs Batista and Angle’s farewell it was current people, which is a good sign for the future. All in all I’d call this one a great show this year.