MAGIC, MEMORIES, AND MANIA: Live at WrestleMania 34:  One Half of a Great Show, match by match, with star ratings for too long of a show

By Shawn Valentino, PWTorch Specialist


WrestleMania 34 stage in New Orleans (photo credit Shawn Valentino © PWTorch)

WrestleMania weekend has come and gone, and I am still recovering from the festivities in New Orleans. I had the ultimate fan experience over the weekend having stayed at the Wrestlecon hotel and attending the WWE WrestleMania annual after-party. There are so many wrestling related activities going on that you almost forget that we are there for WWE’s biggest show of the year.

This was my 16th WrestleMania I have attended live, and the experience never gets old, although I felt like I was aging sitting through that seemingly endless show. The first half of the show was one of the better ninety minutes that WWE has showcased in a long time. If this was an In Your House PPV, then it may have been a very good two-hour show. Unfortunately the last two hours felt like we were watching a marathon in slow-motion.

This WrestleMania and the reaction to the main event should make Vince McMahon realize that he needs to scale down the spectacle to a more reasonable length of four hours at the absolute maximum. I missed the pre-show, and I felt like I was there for days. Here is my live experience review from the Superdome.

Opening Video Package

I attended the show with OJ Entertainment in town from the UK, who gained international fame for sneaking into the celebrity section for the Mayweather vs. McGregor match. We skipped the pre-show thankfully, but we rushed to the stadium to get there in time for the opening video package, which is usually one of the best parts of the show. This may have been the worst opening featurette in company history.

The Miz vs. Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins: Intercontinental Championship

First of all, the set was spectacular with the entrance screen in the shape of a Mardi Gras mask and featuring personalized entrance videos. The show started off with a fast paced athletic encounter that immediately got the crowd into the show. Unlike most people, I’m actually a fan of Triple Threat Matches because they are usually done well. The opener featured great athleticism and drama with the satisfying finish of Rollins winning the championship. The crowd was solidly into the action from beginning to end, the opposite reaction the other Shield member on the show received.

Match Rating: ***

Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka: Smackdown Woman’s Championship

I have not been a fan of the Women’s Revolution because the storytelling has been convoluted and inconsistent, and the characters have been miscast and horribly presented, which can also be said of the men. Despite this, this match captivated me from beginning to end. One of my favorite moments of the night was Charlotte playing off her Mania debut in New Orleans in 2014 when she came out as part of Triple H’s majestic entrance. This was a similar gladiator themed entrance only now she was the star. Her athleticism was jaw-dropping to watch, and her and Asuka had great chemistry in the ring.

The Divas match used to be the bathroom break at every Mania, but this year it was one of the most anticipated and best received matches by the live crowd. The only issue I had was I think both characters are better suited as heels. I have not been following closely enough to care about Asuka’s winning streak, but it seems like more bad booking by WWE in this division.  The ending was typically goofy with the lame hug and comments from Asuka. By the way, the next time someone in the Woman’s Division cries on screen she should be fined and suspended.

Match Rating: ***1/2*

Randy Orton vs. Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev: United States Championship

This was a solid match with the crowd giving Rusev a hero’s welcome with chants of Rusev Day echoing through the Dome. The match was a bit of a cluster as many Fatal Fourways are, but it had a couple entertaining moments, and it was not long enough to bore the crowd.

Match Rating: **

Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon

This match was the biggest question mark on the show, but all four competitors answered them in resounding fashion.  This was a spectacular showcase that had the fans at the edge of our seats throughout. The Game and Stephanie’s entrance was excellent although not as over the top as previous years. It was obvious that we would not see American Bad Ass because the motorcycle gimmick was already displayed in grand fashion.

Rousey gave one of the great performances in WrestleMania history, not only with her intense in-ring work, but her facial expressions and the way she portrayed her character was pitch-perfect. Stephanie was nearly equally as good as the swarmy, cowardly heel. Obviously she had a little bit too much offense, but in the context of the match it only built up Rousey more when she gave McMahon her comeuppance. Triple H was an incredible heel as the bullying Cerebral Assassin. Angle looked awkward, but he was still athletic enough to give us his signature spots. Everything about this match clicked brilliantly, and the man-on-woman moments were done exceedingly well. This was easily the best match and climax of the show. Unfortunately we still had another two or three hours left.

Match Rating: ****1/2*

The Usos vs. New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers: Smackdown Tag Team Championship

After the high point of the show, WWE  utilized their usual strategy by following up with what is essentially a filler match. After an embarrassing entrance by New Day complete with pancakes, the match was a paint-by-numbers tag team battle. There was not much of interest here, but that was by design. I am a big fan of the Brothers and think they have lots of potential as an old school rugged team of brawlers. We thought this would just be a breather before things picked up, but we were wrong.

Match Rating: *½*

John Cena vs. Undertaker

This is when things got really weird. I thought the build to this “match” was one of the worst in company history. I understand that Taker cannot have a full match due to health concerns, but the segments leading to the short contest were way too long and awkward. The crowd did not quite know how to react to the odd moments such as Elias’ concert or Cena’s cheesy expressions.

The Undertaker  looked to be in his best shape in a long time and his entrance was spectacular as usual live, but I felt they could have cut the fifteen wasted minutes leading to it. Having Undertaker do some of his classic spots for the squash win was a satisfying finish for the audience, but the strange parts preceding it took some life out of the crowd.

Match Rating *

Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn

The return of Daniel Bryan was one of the most eagerly anticipated matches of the show, but by this time, the crowd was getting tired, but the last two matches were pretty flat. Bryan got a huge ovation as expected, but his pop was not as monumental as I would have thought it would be. Shane took a couple big risks including the Coast to Coast, but he did not risk his life as in previous years.

Bryan was very good in his first match back, and it looked like he was working a smarter style avoiding landing on his head in his various signature spots. I expected the crowd to give him a louder reaction during the match, but by this point many of us were already half-way tuned out of the show.

Match Rating **1/2*

Alexa Bliss vs.  Nia Jax: Raw Woman’s Chmpionship

This is when things really started to falter. This match should have been booked as a squash match, but instead it was way too long and it dissipated the crowd of some of its energy. Jax winning was spoiled by more incessant crying at the end. Again, next time one of these women cry on screen they should be fined and suspended.

Match Rating  * ½*

A.J. Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

This was the match most of the live crowd was looking forward to, but when I saw it come on in an  earlier slot, I knew it probably would not get the chance to be the classic it should have been.. Nakamura’s entrance was fantastic  live, complete with rock star guitar solo. This was one of the best entrances in Mania history. The match was very slow-paced to start, and I remember remarking they would likely go around thirty minutes.  Unfortunately, they never really kicked into high gear. Styles was sensational as always, but this was my first Naka match live, and I found it disappointing after the entrance.. The crowd was surprisingly silent during this as we were just waiting for the action to pick up, but the finish felt rushed. This will go down as a big disappointment coming out of the show. I spoke to Styles at the WWE After-Party, and I told him it was  good match, but it could have been great with another ten minutes.

Match Rating ***

Cesaro & Sheamus vs. Braun Strowman  & Nicholas

You either loved this or hated it. I fall into the latter category, and I thought it was one of the dumbest wrestling segments I have ever seen. I did not expect to be wowed by Strowman’s partner, but I did not expect to be shaking my head in disgust. This was not funny nor was it entertaining. The biggest surprise was when we found out that the mystery kid was a boy and not a girl. Additionally, I hate to criticize a kid, but at least find a child with some acting ability and charisma. I would prefer the Warrior Award winner who had enough personality in his pint-sized frame to put many of the wrestlers to shame. The highlight was the discussion I had with some nearby fans that Braun should turn heel and smash Nicholas. Yes, wrestling fans are twisted.

Match Rating: No Stars

Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns: Universal Championship

This was one of the most fascinating matches I have ever seen. It should be studied by Vince and others as how not to end a show. This was a battle nobody was really looking forward to at the end of a night that had dragged on way too long. As a result, you have one of the most apathetic responses to a major matchup I have ever seen. I think part of the problem was the buildup, and how it did not ring true. Reigns saying Brock was “Vince’s boy” and that he does not care about the fans seemed like a classic psychological case of transference.

I am not sure how it came across on television, but the crowd was completely disinterested in this bout. It was not even a Goldberg-Lesnar trainwreck where fans took over with passionate chants. This was the equivalent of the audience turning around and facing away from the ring. If you heard any audible crowd noise at home, it was likely the fans chanting the beach ball or just trying to entertain themselves. The low-point was when a loud “this is awful” chant broke out throughout the stadium. This was a complete embarrassment, but it was a setup for disaster from the start. You have a miscast babyface that comes across as arrogant and swarmy with no connection to the fans facing a champion that everyone realizes will be leaving WWE soon.

MATCH RATING: *

Hopefully McMahon learns the following lessons as a result of this atrocity of main event.

  1. He has to cut this show to a more manageable length of four hours with perhaps a half-hour preshow.
  2. Creative has to do a better job of casting their characters in their natural roles. Cena, for all his faults, was an extremely engaging, likeable guy. Reigns may be a nice guy in real life, but he comes across as a condescending prick onscreen, and that would make him a perfect heel.
  3. You cannot force a match down the fans throats that they do not want to see. Also, match order matters, and if this was in the middle of the card with Styles getting thirty minutes to have a classic finale, it would have been a far better show.

As we all left the stadium, the primary emotion was not of elation but of exhaustion. Nobody was buzzing about the show, and even the high points, which were about three hours prior, seemed forgotten. Hopefully, McMahon learns the lessons outlined above as a result of this show, and hopefully the fans eventually realize that at least we saw one half of a great show.

By the way, this was Reigns’s fourth Mania main event in a row, but does he qualify as one of the top five WrestleMania performers of all time? Check out this week’s episode of The Pro Wrestling Top 5.


Follow Shawn and send questions, comments and feedback on Twitter @shawnvalentino and subscribe to their show on Youtube.com/TheProWrestlingTop5

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