I watched Wrestlemania 35 as it should be watched: in a bar full of wrestling fans, comedians, exhausted indie wrestlers, and curious friends. How many drinks did I have? I don’t know. How many lovely people did I meet? Too many to count. How many times did I cry? Once. How many chair shots did I take? Two.
I thought the show was great, partially because I just didn’t watch all of it. I mean, it was seven hours long! That’s not something that is meant to be watched intently from start to finish. Comparing my experience this year to my prior experiences watching Wrestlemania, the more I think forcing yourself to sit through the whole thing with equal concentration is like punishing a child by making them smoke a whole pack of cigarettes.
That said, after the four non WWE wrestling shows I attended this week, the 7 hour Wrestlemania watch party I helped host, the chair shots on a sidewalk in Bushwick, and the drinks I went to get with new friends, I settled into the bed of my Air BnB to watch what I’d missed. It was almost 5 am. So let’s talk about Wrestlemania 35.
Short King Championship
Buddy Murphy defending the Cruiserweight Championship against Tony Nese was one of the matches I had to go back and rewatch, not because I didn’t watch it, but because I was explaining what was going on to some friends and wanted to make sure it was as good as I remembered it. It really was solid. While I like Buddy Murphy and Tony Nese, I wouldn’t call myself an enthusiastic fan of either, but they really put together something special here. Nese really won me over, and while I still don’t find Buddy Murphy to be the most charismatic in-ring performer, he did a very good job last night. After a few really nice false finishes, Tony Nese won with a running knee.
Patriarchy is over, now fight for this big honkin uterus on the preshow
Aside from some great new gear and Kairi Sane’s beautiful elbow drop, I found the Women’s Battle Royal to be pretty disappointing. I had really hoped to see something fun with Nikki Cross, especially as they’d featured her so prominently on Smackdown, but she was eliminated relatively early, as was Candice LeRae, who deserves so much more than what she’s getting. I felt like there wasn’t enough Liv Morgan either, which is odd to me because she seems like such an obvious choice of someone to feature. My fantasy of Mia Yim appearing was far fetched, but no Bianca Belair? No Io Shirai? Sarah Logan eliminated Asuka and Sonya Deville before Carmella appeared from where she had been hiding and eliminated Sarah Logan. So congratulations to Carmella on grabbing the brass uterus.
Top Guys vs Long Island Guys
I had originally had very high hopes for The Revival’s Wrestlemania match. Since the brand split is rumored to be ending, I thought it would be great to see them face the Usos in a winner takes all situation like they’re doing with the women’s titles. I still want to see that match with that stipulation because like… can you imagine how good that would be? Still, the more I watched The Revival boys try to keep reunited best bros Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins from getting their titles, the more I was into the matchup. They really put on a good show, elevating the action enough from the standard Revival Raw match (that I am on record as loving) to really make it feel big enough for the space. As much as I wanted the Revival to retain for my own benefit (since they’re a big highlight for me on any show they’re on), I couldn’t help but pull for Curt Hawkins to finally end his 269 (2nice) match losing streak, which he did, pinning Scott Dawson with a quick roll up.
Hopefully the last of Colin Jost and Michael Che
I guess they just don’t want to have anything too cool in these opening battle royals. Again, the main focus here was Colin Jost and Michael Che, who spent much of the match hiding before reappearing at the end. Che self eliminated and Jost was thrown quite responsibly onto a large group of wrestlers to safely cushion his fall to the ground. Strowman won. This was pretty bad to watch, but was it any worse than Gronk attacking Jinder Mahal?
Just a big orange racist for no reason
The main Wrestlemania show opened with Alexa Bliss, Wrestlemania host, bringing out notorious racist, union-busting, never-actually-good-at-wrestling, giant nightmare Hulk Hogan. This was one point where being in a bar full of people really helped. Seeing complaints on Twitter is one thing, but nothing beats the catharsis of booing or a loud “fuck Hulk Hogan” chant.
“Hey boss, can I duck out a little early today?”
One of my favorite surprises on a show full of surprises was that the Universal Championship match was the first on the main card. The idea of Brock Lesnar looking at how long the show was going to be and making sure he got to leave as quickly as he could is legitimately hilarious. I was disappointed that Seth Rollins opted not to do a cosplay thing this year, but his Beastslayer titantron video was very funny. The match itself was mostly fun: not the best I’ve seen from either of them or the worst I’ve seen from either of them. It was engaging, not too long, and I genuinely was not expecting babyface Rollins to win via low blow when the ref wasn’t looking. The delight at Lesnar’s obvious request to not have to stay for Wrestlemania was better than the actual show they put on.
Smackdown Live wasn’t built in a day
Randy Orton vs AJ Styles for the right to say whose house Smackdown is or who built the house or whatever was a perfectly serviceable match between two perfectly competent wrestlers that should have been on Smackdown. It had no place on this card other than to make sure Randy Orton and AJ Styles don’t sign with another company. As good as the promos going into it were, there was still really no story and absolutely no stakes. Compare this to the other four non-title matches on the show: The Miz getting revenge on Shane McMahon for choking his dad, Kurt Angle’s final WWE match, Roman Reigns returning after beating leukemia, and Dave Batista wanting to retire Triple H because he’s a crazy old movie star man. This is a seven hour show, who has time for these two arguing over nothing? Not me. AJ Styles won. Yay?
Sometimes all you need is a just a big bunch of guys
Four tag teams is a lot of tag teams, especially when it’s a rematch from literally this past Tuesday night. But you know what? The Usos defending the Smackdown Tag Team Championship against The Bar, Shinsuke Nakamura & Rusev, and NXT’s latest graduates Ricochet & Aleister Black was exactly what Wrestlemania needed to really get it going. This was the match that everyone at the bar perked up for. It was just fun and exciting; even Shinsuke Nakamura kinda showed up! My biggest highlight was, of course, Cesaro swinging Ricochet for what felt like a full minute while Sheamus repeatedly beat Aleister Black in the chest with such perfect rhythm that they looked like figures in a very elaborate wrestling-themed cuckoo clock. The Usos were fabulous (they are always fabulous) and I was very happy to see them pick up the win.
It’s dads all the way down
Yes, I am disappointed that Miz’s dad didn’t fight Vince McMahon and all four of them didn’t jump off the top of MetLife Stadium together. However, that was never going to happen, and Miz’s dad getting into the ring and putting up his fists leading to the Miz suplexing Shane McMahon off of tall scaffolding was pretty close to what I’d asked for, at least spiritually. It was dumb and spectacular and melodramatic. I loved it. EDIT: I originally had the finish wrong because after that bump I went to the bathroom and when I came back out everyone said Miz had won. The actual ending of Shane McMahon accidentally covering Miz and winning is very funny, but it sounds like not everyone was still tuned in for that.
Harold, they’re gal pals
This really was the best stretch of the show. As huge as it is that the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Championships are the final match and true main event, nothing is going to be as fun to watch in the moment as a really solid series of matches a few hours into the main show. This fatal fourway for the Women’s Tag Team Championship absolutely kept the momentum going from the previous two matches, but also brought focus back into the ring and onto some concrete stakes. Nia and Tamina, the team I was least excited for, got some cool stuff in and did what they needed to do. Plus they looked great. I don’t really have any jokes here because I’m so excited about how good this was. And then, right when Natalya and Beth Phoenix were about to predictably win the match, the IIconics just slid in and beat them. While I would love to see Sasha Banks win a Wrestlemania match someday, I can’t be mad at the decision to put these belts on two of my favorite heels in the company.
Kofimania happened and it was beautiful
Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan pulled off the most beautifully wrestled match of the night, with the most cohesive story, the clearest buildup, and the most satisfying finish. There’s not much more to say. I cried when Kofi won, which was a given, but I wasn’t the only one in the bar crying. There are a lot of things to say about the significance of the company’s third black wrestler to hold a top championship, or what it means to have an African born man whose first gimmick was just “smiling Jamaican guy” win this championship, at Wrestlemania no less. And it’s all being said better than I could ever say it by people who are not the white, US-born writer of this recap.
So, about that match of the night prediction I made,
The entrances for Samoa Joe and Rey Mysterio’s United States Championship match were longer than the match itself. Joe got his big beefy strong guy arms around Rey and put him right to sleep. Some people were mad about this, and I certainly would have rather it had AJ Styles and Randy Orton’s length and spot on the card, but I don’t know. It was surprising and kind of funny? Anything that had the spot after Kofi beat Bryan would have had to be a squash like this or else raise the pretty much inevitable risk burning the audience out too early. It also was a nice marker that hey, this show is about to get real fuckin’ weird.
A Tale of Two Cenas
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, something something something, France. Listen, there were five or six Eliases that they made into a whole band to back up Elias in his performance. It ruled. And then who interrupted him for a berating and a beat down but John Cena. No, not weird haircut, learning Mandarin in his spare time, midlife crisis Pixies piano covers John Cena, but the Doctor of Thuganomics himself, midlife crisis white rapper John Cena. (Am I saying that Doctor of Thuganomics John Cena sacrificed himself to Wrestlemania to save real John Cena? No, because I don’t actually remember what happens in Tale of Two Cities. Sorry.) If this Cena is back, then that is buckwild.
Oh right, Roman Reigns and Drew McIntyre
Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns had a match. Dean Ambrose did not do a run-in. It was an okay Raw match but not something that you put hours into a PPV. Roman Reigns won.
Two old men had the longest match of the show and it would have ruled if it hadn’t been almost 25 full minutes
There were some great things in Batista and Triple H’s match, if you like nonsense, which I do. (I hope you like nonsense too if you’re watching WWE.) Triple H had a wild entrance with a fake Darby Allin driving him in, there was an incomprehensible thing with a wrench and some fingers, and Batista’s nose ring got pulled out. Ric Flair showed up! A third even older man!!! If it had been one third as long, it would have been a bizarre little treat. But 25 minutes? No. Triple H won.
I can’t believe it was really just Baron Corbin
Baron Corbin retired Kurt Angle last night. I hope this gets fixed on Raw or Smackdown this week. It just feels wrong. If Samoa Joe/Rey Mysterio was going to be a squash, then why not keep the US title off the card and have Joe retire Angle?
Is Finn Balor’s Demon powered by Big Dick Energy?
Finn Balor coming out as the Demon to challenge Bobby Lashley was very cool, as was Bobby Lashley’s scary, creepy, but also fashion-forward contact lens look. People complain sometimes about the logic of the Demon and when Finn chooses to be the Demon and doesn’t, which is boring to me. Why is the Undertaker dead but not dead but also the American Badass but then dead again? Is he magic or what? Who cares? This isn’t DC comics continuity. It’s wrestling. Irish whips don’t make sense. Grow up and deal with it. I prefer the Demon to be for special occasions because then the Demon is cool and fancy and special. The match itself was alright. There were some cool spots, and it felt like a huge deal when Balor was able to powerbomb Lashley. I’m happy he won clean, but it’s not something I’ll be going back and watching again for fun.
The first women’s main event in Wrestlemania history, no pressure, right?
Becky Lynch having to do an angle with Ronda Rousey from the lead up to Survivor Series until Wrestlemania that would be the basis for the first ever women’s main event of a Wrestlemania felt like an incredibly cruel lab partner assignment. Or the set up for a buddy cop movie. There are a lot of things I could compare it to, but it’s an unenviable task.
The longer the angle stretched, the more they added to it. In spite of Ronda Rousey’s fantastic progress in-ring, her character work was sorely lacking. They needed to introduce a second heel. Through a combination of talent, convenience, and nepotism, Charlotte Flair got that spot. Adding Charlotte meant adding Charlotte and Becky’s history together.
While that helped the overall chemistry, it didn’t help Ronda, so they added a worked shoot element where Ronda talked about how fake wrestling is. Then, less than two weeks from ‘Mania, for what could be one of many reasons, Charlotte won the Smackdown Women’s Championship, adding a second title to the picture. That raised the stakes and I’m sure served some other future purposes as well, but it also added another ball to juggle.
What started as a simple story about one woman who had to struggle to get good enough to do what she loves and one woman who everything came easy for became a combination of three or four different stories about three women, all kind of cobbled together over a five month period.
The structure and language of singles wrestling favors one on one matchups. Especially when it comes to a culmination of a long term storyline and having the underdog babyface overcome her foe, it’s just an easier story to tell when it’s one side versus a second side.
I have added these five paragraphs of context and disclaimers so that I can now say that this match was pretty good. In small bursts, it was very good. It should have been the longest match on the show. Maybe more time would have helped it feel more satisfying, I’m not sure. The point of those five paragraphs of context and disclaimers was to say that this match was too clogged with storylines and bogged down by the pressure of having to more or less end sexism to be the cleanly perfect ending that the story we started with deserved.
I’ve seen people complain that Becky pinning Ronda with a quick roll up felt like a rushed ending. I think it would have been fine if they’d established Becky as sneaky and smart, rather than reckless and passionate. I loved watching this match. I wasn’t too tired to get invested, even though I had been helping host a watch party for over six hours! I sat at the edge of the stage muttering under my breath and clenching my fists with more energy than I’d had for any other match that night.
For a match stuffed to the gills with conflicting context before the bell even rang, it was fine. I’m left to wonder what it could’ve been without the impossible expectations attached to it and hope for the opportunity to find out.