LECLAIR’S WWE WRESTLEMANIA BACKLASH REPORT: Alt perspective, detailed coverage of Reigns vs. Cesaro, Lashley vs. McIntyre vs. Strowman, more

By Brandon LeClair, PWTorch contributor


MAY 16, 2021

Announcers: Michael Cole & Pat McAfee, Adnan Virk & Corey Graves & Byron Saxton

-The show opened with a hype package narrated by Batista, talking about the target placed upon the back of champions coming out of their win at WrestleMania. The show’s theme played over a quick card rundown. Clips from Batista’s new film, Army of the Dead, were interspersed throughout.

-Pyro shot from all around the Thunderdome. Adnan Virk welcomed the audience to the “critically acclaimed” Thunderdome and said it’s the first time ever that a non-WrestleMania event uses the “WrestleMania” brand. Weird fact. Corey Graves and Byron Saxton hyped up the night before tossing to a video package for the Raw Women’s Championship match.

-Mike Rome laid down the ground rules and Charlotte Flair headed to the ring first. Graves said they’re on the precipice of something very special. Charlotte wore new Cruella de Vil inspired ring gear. Asuka entered next. Rhea Ripley followed. The camera focused on Charlotte, glaring at her menacingly. Mike Rome provided standard championship introductions.

(1) RHEA RIPLEY (c) vs. CHARLOTTE FLAIR vs. ASUKA – Raw Women’s Championship Triple Threat match

All three women closed in toward the center of the ring to begin the match. They circled each other hesitantly. Charlotte Flair quickly slid from the ring in retreat. Asuka and Rhea rolled their eyes, then managed to corner Charlotte by approaching her from opposite sides of the ring. Flair returned slid inside the ring and caught Ripley with a clothesline.

Asuka quickly returned to the ring. Ripley tossed Charlotte to the apron. Asuka gave her a hip check to the floor. Asuka and Rhea opened a quick sequence of chain wrestling. Eventually, Flair dragged Asuka out of the ring and gave her a capture suplex onto the floor. Charlotte returned to the apron and traded punches with Rhea. They worked to the center of the ring and hit concurrent shoulder tackles. Flair pointed to herself, screaming “fourteen time.”

Flair managed to take Ripley down in the corner and deliver a series of boots. Ripley tossed Charlotte to the apron and Asuka pulled her to the floor. Asuka tried to hop in the ring, but Ripley knocked her to the floor. All three women rose to their feet in front of the announcers desk. Charlotte tripped Ripley on the apron and tossed Asuka back in the ring. Flair laid her boot into the face and neck of Asuka in the corner.

Charlotte tossed Asuka to the mat and covered her for a two count. Flair covered her a second time, garnering a second two. Graves said it was a smart strategy. Asuka rose to her feet and connected with a flurry of strikes. Asuka took Charlotte down by the arm and grabbed an armbar. Charlotte rolled frantically, eventually catching her leg on the bottom rope. Asuka transitioned the hold, but Rhea quickly broke it up.

Ripley dropped Charlotte with a pair of short arm clotheslines, then delivered a dropkick to Asuka in the corner. Ripley delivered some quick knee strikes to the face of Flair, then hit her with a seated dropkick. Rhea hit a Northern Lights suplex for a near fall, broken up just in time by Asuka. Asuka caught Ripley with a knee strike to the face. Ripley no sold it, kicking Asuka right back. Both women stumbled to the mat.

Asuka rose first. She elbowed Flair in the back of the head and hit a pair of release German suplexes. She connected with the hip attack to Rhea in the corner, then roundhouse kicked Flair in the head. Asuka delivered swift kicks to the stomach and chests of Flair and Ripley. She hit a sliding knee on Flair for a near fall.

Flair and Ripley rose to their feet as Asuka climbed to the top rope. She hit a dropkick on Ripley, but Flair managed to move. Charlotte tossed both women to the outside, then psyched herself up. She climbed to the top rope and hit a moonsault to the outside, just barely grazing her opponents.

Asuka rolled back in the ring. Charlotte climbed back to the top rope. Rhea followed. Ripley set up for a superplex, but Asuka intervened. She joined in with Ripley, and together, they hit a double superplex on Flair just before the 12:00 mark. All three women puled themselves to their knees in the center, trading punches and headbutts. Asuka and Ripley went for another double suplex, but Charlotte flipped through it and then hit both Asuka and Ripley with Natural Selection simultaneously. Flair tried covering both women, but both kicked out at 2.

Charlotte dragged her opponents into position. She climbed to the top rop, looking for a moonsault. Both Asuka and Ripley rolled out of the way. Charlotte landed on her feet. Asuka caught her with double knees. Ripley went for the the Riptide, but Asuka rolled through it. She looked for the Asuka Lock, but Ripley blocked it. Charlotte returned and kicked Ripley. Asuka tried to grab the Asuka Lock on Flair. Charlotte rolled through and went for the Figure Eight. Ripley kicked her to the outside. Asuka walked into the Riptide. Ripley covered her for a three count.

WINNER: Rhea Ripley in 15:00 to retain the Raw Women’s title

(LeClair’s Analysis: This match had its moments, but was largely built around making Charlotte Flair out to be the superior, as opposed to making the champion. Rhea Ripley, look strong. It didn’t feel so much like Ripley won, so much as Charlotte just didn’t get back in the ring in time to save the count. Rhea’s run thus far has been disappointing to say the least, and while I commend WWE for not immediately transitioning back to Charlotte, it feels like it’s just a matter of time before it happens. The match itself was fine. It worked well enough, especially in the final few minutes. Charlotte really needs to stop doing that moonsault. It’s unnecessarily dangerous and it almost never lands or looks good, at all.)

-Bobby Lashley and MVP were shown arriving backstage earlier today. Virk, Saxton and Graves talked over a clip of Strowman beating down McIntyre and Lashley at the end of Monday’s Raw.

-Backstage, The Miz complained to John Morrison about Damien Priest choosing a lumberjack match/ Morrison said he knows where the lumberjack’s locker room is, and he prepares to be very persuasive in making them believe it’s important that The Miz wins. He said he was going to lay a “thirst trap.” Miz said he doesn’t think Morrison knows what that means.

-Michael Cole introduced himself and Pat McAfee. Cole tossed to a clip from the WrestleMania Backlash kickoff show, where Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode beat down Dominick Mysterio backstage.

Rey Mysterio entered the trainer’s room to check in on Dominick. Dominick said he could compete, but Rey shut him down. He said they’d live to fight another day. “Take care of yourself, I’ve got this.” Mysterio left his son behind.

Back in the Thunderdome, Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode headed to the ring. Cole said it appears as though Rey Mysterio will go it alone. Rey Mysterio entered,

(2) DOLPH ZIGGLER & ROBERT ROODE (c) vs. REY MYSTERIO & DOMINICK MYSTERIO – Smackdown Tag Team Championship match

Rey Mysterio attacked Dolph Ziggler nad Robert Roode right out of the gate, knocking Ziggler to the outside and rolling Roode up for a quick two count Cole emphasized that Mysterio has no one to tag and that this has become a a handicap match. Mysterio kicked Roode in the face, slid under his legs to the outside and hit a splash on a downed Dolph Ziggler. Neat looking spot.

Robert Roode shot to the outside and quickly cut Mysterio off at the pass. He set him up for a body slam, but Rey slid down his back and shoved him into the steel steps. Mysterio hit a quick senton off the apron, then returned to the ring. Ziggler helped Roode to his feet and the champions regrouped.

Roode returned to the ring and got tripped up by Rey. Rood returned to his feet and caught a quick clothesline for a two count. He tagged in Dolph Ziggler. Dolph worked over Rey, dragged him to the corner, and tagged back out. Roode whipped Rey violently into the corner. Roode taunted the virtual crowd before tossing Mysterio toward the corner again. Rey stopped himself, tripped Roode into the turnbuckle, and knocked Ziggler off the apron.

Just as it looked as though Mysterio could mount some offense. Ziggler hopped back into the apron and tripped Rey off the top rope into a tree of woe position. Roode kicked away at him until Rey collapsed into a heap to the floor outside, clutching his knee. Ziggler drove the leg into the mat, then tossed Rey back in the ring.

Mysterio sold the injured leg, collapsing as soon as he dragged himself to his feet. Roode stalked him, kicking at the leg and driving him toward the corner. Roode tagged in Ziggler. Robert lifted Rey in wheelbarrow position, allowing Ziggler to hit an assisted Famouser for a near fall.

Ziggler leapt to the outside. Robert Roode tossed slid Rey across the mat to the outside, where Ziggler caught him with a super kick in mid air. Mysterio just barely beat the referee’s ten count. Ziggler and Roode began trading quick tags in and out. They went for a double suplex, but Rey turned it into a doubt DDT. Mysterio tossed Robert Roode into the ring post. Dolph Ziggler went for a back drop, but Rey flipped through it and tossed Ziggler into the opposing post.

Dominick Mysterio sauntered down the ramp and onto the apron, begging for a tag. Rey Mysterio tripped Dolph Ziggler into 619 position. Robert Roode leapt onto the apron. Mysterio knocked him off. Ziggler recovered and hit the ZigZag, covering Mysterio for a near fall.

Ziggler tagged in Roode, who immediately began taunting Dominick. Roode slammed Rey and covered him for a two count. Roode tossed Rey into the turnbuckle, then hoisted him onto his shoulders. Roode climbed to the middle rope with Rey on his shoulders. Mysterio caught Roode with an elbow and positioned himself on the top rope. Mysterio connected with a top rope bulldog on Roode. Both men crawled desperately to their respective corners. Mysterio got close enough to his corner for Dominick to tag himself in.

Robert Roode hit Dominick Mysterio with a spinebuster. Dominick rolled around in agony. Roode tagged in Ziggler. The Dirty Dawgs hit the double team neckbreaker power bomb combo for a near fall. Ziggler tossed Dominick into the ring post. Ziggler tuned up the band as Roode screamed at Dominick. Dominick shot out of the corner with a super kick of his own on Dolph. Ziggler tagged in Roode, Dominick tagged in Rey.

Roode hit Mysterio with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker for a near fall. Roode set up for a power bomb, but Rey turned it into a Senton. Mysterio tossed Roode into the turnbuckle, then hit a corner 619. He tagged in Dominick, then hit a senton splash onto Ziggler on the outside. Dominick flew off the top with a frog splash onto Roode and covered him for a three count.

WINNERS: Rey Mysterio & Dominick Mysterio in 17:00 to win the Smackdown Tag Team titles

(LeClair’s Analysis: This went really long. It didn’t feel like the feud really earned this length, especially given the injured partner route they went to built up the babyfaces. I’d like to say I’m excited for the Mysterios, but the truth of the matter is, WWE simply doesn’t care about tag team wrestling, so it’s highly unlikely this will result in anything other than these two losing to any given heel team before too long. It’s a fun little feel good moment, but it’s challenging to get invested in anything in the tag team division. I wish there’d been a little bit more to build to this eventual moment, but that’s simply not how WWE books tag teams. The match itself was fine, with a couple of cool spots in the early going. Ultimately, I think it could’ve been benefited by shaving a few minutes out of the middle.)

-Kayla Braxton entered the ring to congratulated Rey and Dominick. Rey said they’re the first ever father and son tag team champions. “I’m on top of the world! He said. Dominick said it’s time to celebrate.

-An advertisement for Army of the Dead aired

-John Morrison knocked on the lumberjack locker room door. He opened it up to reveal a horde of zombies. Morrison took off in a hurry, but let the zombies wander out.

-Jimmy Uso walked into Roman Reigns’ locker room and discovered his brother, Jey. Jimmy said Jey’s name should be on the plaque. He asked Jey when they were going to get their own locker room with “tag team champions” on the plaque. Roman Reigns walked on screen and stared Jimmy down. Jimmy wished him luck and left.

-John Morrison informed The Miz that the lumberjacks are zombies. The Miz told him to snap out of it. “It’s all in your head,” he said. Morrison agreed and they wandered off. The horde of zombies appeared and followed them.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Man, it’s really hard to handle a serious segment with Roman Reigns and the Usos being sandwiched in between two zombie segments. Yikes.)

-The Raw announce team discussed their disbelief over the zombies. Byron Saxton pointed to a tweet from Batista, where he stated that he couldn’t make the show but some his friends would be there to help promote Army of the Dead.

-The Miz headed to the ring with John Morrison, followed by Damian Priest. Smoke filled the Thunderdome and the fan screens turned to images of a desolate city. Zombies appeared from behind the barricade, the ramp way, and underneath the announcers desk. Virk, Graves, and Saxton fled in fear. John Morrison took off. The Miz slid in the ring.

(3) THE MIZ (w/ John Morrison) vs. DAMIAN PRIEST – Lumberjack Match

The referee rang the bell as the zombies surrounded the ring. Priest and Miz traded some punches and tossed each other to the outside to deal with the zombies. The announcers voices returned, as Virk explained they’d found a “safer” location to commentate.

Miz hit his corner clothesline on Priest, but got dragged to the outside by the zombies. Miz quickly fought them off and returned. Priest caught him with a clothesline. Damian Priest hit a quick spin kick and covered for a two count. Priest climbed to the top rope and hit another spin kick, scoring a near fall. He elbowed Miz in the face. Miz managed to take Priest down and lock in the Figure Four, but zombies grabbed him and pulled him to the outside.

The zombies got hold of Priest as well. Miz and Priest realized they’d need to defeat the zombies together. They took down the lot, then returned to the ring to face each other. Miz offered a high five, but then tried to kick Damian. Priest caught the leg and hit a Falcon Arrow for a two count.

John Morrison returned and leapt onto the apron. Priest knocked Morrison down. Miz hit Priest with a running knee and covered him for a near fall. Morrison took down a few zombies with some parkour, but was eventually overcome and dragged over the barrier. Damian Priest connected with Hit the Lights and pinned Miz for a three count.

WINNER: Damian Priest in 7:00

The zombies climbed in the ring and “ate” The Miz as Damian Priest escaped and shot his arrow at the ceiling, revealing the Army of the Dead logo.

-A promo aired for Hell in a Cell, which has been moved to June 20th

(LeClair’s Analysis: Embarrassing, awful garbage. If you needed to promote Army of the Dead, keep it limited to promos. If you really felt the need to promote Army of the Dead by bringing zombies onto the show, at least keep them backstage and out of the actual wrestling. It doesn’t matter that Miz and Priest are lower card acts – it’s completely asinine and ludicrous. No one comes out the better for this. The Miz was apparently eaten alive. Damian Priest looks like a corporate stooge who assisted in WWE’s shameless, damaging promotion.)

-Jimmy Uso confronted Jey Uso backstage. He said Jey’s locker room plaque would read “Roman’s bitch.”

-Michael Cole and Corey Graves talked up the Smackdown Women’s title match and tossed to a video package promoting it.

Bayley and Bianca Belair headed to the ring. Greg Hamilton provided customary championship match introductions.

(4) BIANCA BELAIR (c) vs. BAYLEY – Smackdown Women’s Championship match

Bayley tried to start a chant for herself as the bell rang. She invited Michael Cole to join in. The very fake “EST” chants drowned her out. Bianca and Bayley locked up. Bianca grabbed a reverse waist lock and shoved Bayley to the outside. Bayley cracked a sly smile and got back in the ring slowly.

Belair wrestled Bayley to the mat and grabbed an arm hold. Bayley worked to her feet slowly by grabbing Belair’s ponytail. Belair teased a whup of the hair, and Bayley cowered in fear. “Don’t touch my hair!” Belair screamed. The two went back to some quick waist lock exchanges. Bianca leapt onto the middle rope and flipped over Bayley, then caught her with a dropkick. Belair kipped up to her feet and invited Bayley to come at her.

Bianca whipped Bayley into the corner repeatedly, then gave her a quick hip toss. Bayley rolled to the outside to regroup. Cole said that Bayley is being dominated thus far. “Everything Bayley has tried to do has backfired,” he said. On the outside, Belair leapfrogged Bayley and gave her a clothesline. She tossed Bayley back in the ring and hit a springboard moonsault for a near fall.

Bayley grabbed at Belair’s face and ripped at her earring. She shoved Bianca’s head into the ropes and choked her. Bayley drover her knee into Bianca’s back repeatedly, then grabbed a chin lock. Bayley hit Belair with a backdrop and climbed to the top rope. Belair cut her off, but Bayley had the wherewithal to drop down to the apron and catch Belair with a guillotine. Both women struggled to their feet. Belair managed to suplex Bayley over the ropes. Belair covered, but Bayley rolled it into a small package of her own for a near fall.

Both women rolled to the outside. Bayley gave Belair a front suplex onto the steel steps, then tossed her back in the ring. Belair recovered with a shoulder tackle. She set up for a fallaway slam, but Bayley countered into a tilt-a-whirl slam of her own. Bayley covered for two. Bayley hit a running knee in the corner and covered for another two count. This time, Belair powered Bayley right out of the ring and to the floor. Bayley rushed back in the ring and attacked Belair.

“Let’s go, rookie!” Bayley said between high pitched laughs. Belair rose to her feet and punched Bayley in the face, sending her reeling. Belair fired a flurry of punches to Bayley’s back. She followed up with a pair of hip tosses and a dropkick. Bayley managed to regain control with a kidney punch into the corner.

Bayley went for the Rose Plant, but Belair blocked it and hit a spinebuster. Belair stacked up her challenger for a two count. Bayley hit a quick clothesline on Belair, then climbed to the top rope and hit an elbow for a near fall. Belair slid to the outside. Bayley went for a dropkick through the ring, but Bianca blocked it. Bayley returned to the ring and tried to dive onto Belair, but Bianca caught her and tossed her back in the ring.

Back inside, Bayley managed to roll up Belair and get her feet on the ropes. Belair kicked out at two. Bayley tried it a second time, but the referee caught her and broke it up. Belair and Bayley traded punches. Bayley raked Bianca’s eyes. She grabbed Bianca’s ponytail and pulled her into the Bayley to Belly, covering for a near fall. Bayley twisted Belair’s ponytail around her own leg and went for the Rose Plant, but Belair rolled through it into a cover for a three count.

WINNER: Bianca Belair in 16:00 to retain the Smackdown Women’s title

Bayley screamed for a replay, claiming that Belair used her hair for leverage.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Good match, and the best of the night thus far by my account. Bayley and Bianca worked hard, with Bayley clearly serving as a strong ring general for the relatively inexperienced Bianca. I liked the creative use of the braid during the finish, and Bayley’s insistence that she was cheated, despite clearly being the one who wrapped the braid around her own leg. Belair continues to improve, and impress in big match situations, and Bayley puts her name back on the map as a major title contender. I think these two will likely face off again, and given how tonight went, I can’t complain about that.)

-Kevin Patrick welcomed MVP backstage. MVP said Braun Strowman lacks business acumen to make smart decisions. Lashley said McIntyre, on the other hand, is smart enough to know the odds aren’t in his favor. MVP said he’s not concerned, but he knows that Bobby Lashley is at an inherent disadvantage. MVP said he knows Lashley will overcome any odds put in front of him.

-Virk, Graves, and Saxton tossed to a hype package for the triple threat WWE title match.

Drew McIntyre entered first to his usual rows of fire. Saxton said McIntyre is looking to avenge his mistakes from WrestleMania. Graves countered, contending that Drew made no mistakes, his body simply failed him. McIntyre stared stoically at the entrance way as Braun Strowman entered. Bobby Lashley followed. Mike Rome provided standard Championship match introductions.

(5) BOBBY LASHLEY (c, w/ Bobby Lashley) vs. DREW McINTYRE vs. BRAUN STROWMAN – WWE Championship Triple Threat match

Bobby Lashley propositioned Drew McIntyre to take out Braun Strowman together. Strowman plowed through both men immediately and with ease. Strowman grabbed McIntyre by the throat, but Lashley threw his body into Strowman to knock him down. The two began stomping at Braun. Strowman powered his way up. Lashley grabbed Strowman for a supple and convinced McIntyre to join him. Together, the gave Strowman a stalling suplex.

McIntyre and Lashley immediately turned their attention to each other. McIntyre gave Lashley an overhead belly to belly, then caught Strowman with a Glasgow Kiss. Lashley pulled McIntyre to the outside and tossed him into the barricade. Bobby hoisted Drew onto his shoulders, but Drew rolled down his back and shoved Lashly into the ring post. Braun Strowman came flying off the apron and dropped both Lashley and McIntyre.

Strowman tossed McIntyre into the barricade and tossed Lashley back in the ring. Inside, Strowman gave Lashley a chokeslam and covered him for a near fall. Lashley battled to his feet and attempted to apply the Hurt Lock. Drew McIntyre flew off the top rope and dropped Lashley and Strowman. Drew tossed Strowman into the ring post and climbed to the top rope, delivering a clothesline to Lashley.

Lashley recovered and tossed McIntyre into the corner, then threw him across the ring. Strowman charged at Lashley, but the champion gave him a spinebuster for a two count just before the 5:00 mark. Lashley rolled to the outside to retrieve Drew McIntyre. He tossed Drew into the barricade shoulder first, then tossed him rib first into the ring post. Strowman appeared out of nowhere and dropped Lashley with the ring steps. Strowman tossed them halfway up the ramp when he’d finished his assault.

McIntyre reemerged and gave Strowman a Claymore right over the barricade. McIntyre turned his attention back to Lashley, walking him up the ramp. McIntyre went for a suplex on the ramp, but Lashley blocked it and delivered one of his own. Lashley and McIntyre brawled up the ramp and toward the LED walls on the stage. McIntyre gave Lashley a Glasgow Kiss, sending him wobbling into the LED boards. McIntyre tossed Lashley through one of the LED walls on the side of the stage. Lashley disappeared underneath the Thunderdome fan walls.

Drew peered through the hole Lashley’s body created. Strowman attacked him from behind and tossed him down the ramp. Strowman bulldozed McIntyre, sending him crashing into the LED board on the apron of the ring. Braun rolled Drew back in the ring and stalked him slowly. Strowman hit a clubbing blow to McIntyre’s chest, then followed up with a running senton for a near fall. Strowman charged at McIntyre in the corner, but Drew side stepped him, scooped Braun and hit a sit-out slam for a near fall.

Strowman pulled himself up by the ropes and dumped McIntyre to the floor. Braun charged around the ring, but McIntyre caught him and hit an overhead belly to belly. McIntyre set up for the Claymore, but Strowman caught him, hoisted him up and powerbombed him through the announcers desk. Strowman stumbled to his feet just past the 13:00 mark. Braun dragged McIntyre back toward the ring. McIntyre collapsed in exhaustion. Braun tossed him in and called for the end.

Drew McIntyre slid down the back of a powerslam attempt. McIntyre hit the Claymore. Bobby Lashley returned, tossing McIntyre from the ring. Lashley hit Strowman with a spear and covered him for a three count.

WINNER: Bobby Lashley in 14:00 to retain the WWE title

(LeClair’s Analysis: Really fun match. This one went just about how you’d have expected – Lashley retains, Strowman was the fall guy. It was important not to pin McIntyre here, as he’s the more important opponent for Lashley going forward. Bobby to continues to impress as a main event, championship caliber heel. Drew McIntyre turns in another excellent, hard hitting performance. Braun Strowman, for his part, came off like a true monster who looked unbeatable at times. I’d wager this was one of his stronger in-ring efforts to date. Though 14 minutes feels like a tad bit short on paper, these three went so hard from the onset that it would’ve been hard to imagine them keeping up this pace for too much longer. This just worked, all the way around. That’s two really strong matches in a row on a show that started out rather rough.)

-Michael Cole and Pat McAfee reset the stage, standing among the chaos of the previous match. Cole mentioned that Hell in a Cell will take place in June this year. He turned his focus to the main event, tossing to a video package hyping Reigns vs. Cesaro.

Following the video package, the Thunderdome became washed in green as Cesaro’s music hit. He headed to the ring. Cole and McAfee talked up Cesaro’s recent string of successes. Cole said he’s waited ten years for this opportunity.

The camera cut to gorilla, where Roman Reigns stood, flanked by Jey Uso and Paul Heyman. Jey talked up Reigns. Reigns shrugged him off, telling Jey that he sounds like his brother. “Maybe you should go find him,” Reigns said. He and Paul Heyman stepped through the curtain.

Roman Reigns sauntered to the ring with Paul Heyman at his side. Cole talked up Reigns’ accomplishments, specifically his title matches and main events, comparing them to Cesaro’s zero. Reigns took his time, finally holding up the title in the center of the ring while a mass of pyro shot to the rafters. Greg Hamilton introduced the title match and its participants.

(6) ROMAN REIGNS (c, w/ Paul Heyman) vs. CESARO – Universal Championship match

Cesaro and Roman Reigns immediately circled one another as the bell rang. They quickly engaged in a lock up, backing each other to and from the ropes with haste. Cesaro managed to back Reigns into the corner, forcing a break. Roman looked on at him, unimpressed.

They locked up again. Reigns grabbed a waist lock but Cesaro fought out of it with ease. Reigns grabbed a side headlock and took Cesaro to the mat. Cesaro fought to his feet and shoved Reigns away. Reigns caught Cesaro with a shoulder tackle and covered him for a one count. Reigns grabbed another headlock. Cesaro shoved him away. Cesaro leapfrogged Roman and caught him with a shoulder tackle of his own, scoring a one count on the pin attempt.

Cesaro quickly wrestled Roman to the mat. Reigns grew frustrated and left the ring to regroup with Paul Heyman. Heyman talked him up. Reigns returned to the ring at the referee’s count of eight. Roman adjusted his golden glove and sighed. Cesaro grabbed a waist lock. Reigns elbowed out of it and drove Cesaro into the corner. He slammed Cesaro’s head off the turnbuckle. Reigns went for a clothesline, but Cesaro ducked it and hit a springboard spinning uppercut. Cesaro set up for the swing, but Reigns inched himself close enough to the ropes to block it.

Reigns tossed Cesaro to the floor. Cesaro came up favoring his right arm. Cesaro returned to the ring slowly. He and Roman immediately began trading blows. Reigns dropped the challenger with a knife edge chop. He tossed Cesaro into the ring post. Cesaro fell to the outside, continuing to favor the right arm. Reigns tossed Cesaro back in the ring just over the 5:00 mark. Reigns covered Cesaro for a one count.

Roman grabbed a grounded chin lock. Cesaro slipped out of it and tried to give Reigns a suplex. Roman countered and hit a suplex of his own for another one count. Cesaro shook out the injured arm. Reigns caught him with a right forearm to the face. Reigns continued to work over the head and neck of Cesaro, eventually hooking his leg but still only gaining a one count. Reigns looked frustrated. He raked his forearm across Cesaro’s face repeatedly and grabbed a headlock again. Cesaro struggled back to his feet and broke the hold.

Cesaro peppered Reigns with uppercuts, but Roman shrugged them off. Reigns caught Cesaro with a Samoan Drop and covered him for a two count. Reigns hung his head in frustration. Cesaro continued to shake out the injured arm. Reigns set up for the Superman Punch. Cesaro ducked it, tossed Reigns in the air and connected with the uppercut. Heyman cupped his hands over his mouth in shock. Reigns rolled over, coughing.

Reigns wandered to his feet. Cesaro tossed him corner to corner, connecting with a flurry of uppercuts. He hit a big boot, then immediately went to work on Reigns’ legs. Cesaro turned Roman over into the Sharpshooter. Reigns was able to drag himself to the ropes, breaking the hold with relative ease just before the 11:00 mark. Reigns rolled to the outside. Cesaro launched himself, dropping Reigns with a corkscrew plancha to the outside.

Cesaro tossed Reigns back in the ring, but champion wisely rolled to the outside to prevent the pin. Cesaro followed him and connected with an uppercut into the barricade. Reigns stumbled back into the ring. Cesaro hit a top rope cross body for a two count. Reigns rolled to the apron. Cesaro dragged him toward the corner and bounced his head off the ring post. Cesaro climbed to the middle rope, but Reigns caught him with a shot to the jaw. Cesaro dropped to the apron, allowing Reigns to drape the bad arm over the turnbuckle. Reigns pulled at the arm until the referee forced a break.

Reigns stalked Cesaro as he clutched at the arm. He gave him a running dropkick into the steel steps. Reigns rolled Cesaro back in the ring and covered him for a two count. Cole called it a “weaker” kick out. Reigns cracked a smile. Cesaro elbowed him in the face. Reigns torqued Cesaro’s arm repeatedly. Roman called out to Daniel Bryan, saying he hopes he’s enjoying this. Reigns let Cesaro go, but dropped him with a clothesline and covered him for another two count. Reigns laughed at Cesaro as he struggled. “I love wrestling, it’s fun for me,” Roman said, mocking Cesaro.

Roman tossed Cesaro toward the ropes and gave him a haphazard big boot. “Roman Reigns is having his way,” Cole declared. The referee checked on Cesaro. Reigns dropped to a knee at 17:00, talking trash. “I’ve got a lot of responsibility,” Reigns said. He pulled Cesaro to his feet and shoved him to the corner. The referee admonished Reigns for not letting up. Reigns got in the referee’s face. Cesaro gave Reigns an elbow. Reigns shook it off. Cesaro gave him an uppercut, stunning Reigns temporarily. Reigns kicked Cesaro’s injured arm. Cesaro shot out of the corner with a clothesline.

Cesaro rolled on the mat, clutching his arm and screaming in pain. He dragged himself toward Reigns. Cesaro gave Reigns a headbutt. Reigns punched him. The two traded blows, slowly rising to their feet. Cesaro gave Reigns an uppercut, shrugged off the pain, then pounced. Cesaro drilled Reigns into the corner with a number of uppercuts. He climbed to the middle rope and hooked Reigns, finally hitting the superplex. Cesaro covered for a near fall just before 20:00.

The challenger went back to work on the champion’s legs, then a quick shot to the head. Cesaro set up for the Neutralizer, but his arm gave out. Reigns grabbed an arm lock. Cesaro fought out of it. Cesaro went for another corkscrew uppercut, but Reigns caught him in mid-air with a Superman Punch. Reigns covered for a near fall. Both men pulled themselves to opposing corners. Reigns stood first, setting up for the spear. Cesaro blocked it with an uppercut. Cesaro went fo the pop-up uppercut, but the arm gave out again. Reigns pounced, grabbing the guillotine.

Reigns locked it in, but Cesaro powered to his feet and slammed Reigns to the mat, breaking the hold. Cesaro twisted Reigns’ legs, punched him in the head repeatedly, then stepped through into the Sharpshooter. Reigns pulled himself toward the ropes. Cesaro grabbed the arm to prevent the break, then transitioned straight into the Crossface. Reigns forced Cesaro’s hands apart and rolled through the hold into a mount. Reigns pummeled Cesaro. Cole said it may be Cesaro’s last gasp.

Roman deadlifted Cesaro into a sit out powerbomb. Cesaro barely got a shoulder up as the match crossed 25:00. A sinister scowl overtook Roman’s face. He mounted Cesaro again and began pummeling him a second time. Cesaro caught the elbow and  flipped Reigns over him. Roman didn’t miss a beat, pouncing again and grabbing a front face lock. Cesaro rolled through it, slowly deadlifting Reigns and dropping him. Roman didn’t let go. Cesaro remained trapped in the guillotine. Cesaro pulled Reigns’ arm away for a moment, but Reigns managed to reapply the pressure. Cesaro passed out and the referee called for the bell.

WINNER: Roman Reigns in 27:00 to retain the Universal title

As Cesaro came to, Roman Reigns held up the Universal title in celebration. Jey Uso ran to the ring to present Roman with his ulafala. Reigns accepted. Jey turned his attention to Cesaro. Uso pounced, beating him down and climbing to the top rope for the splash.

Seth Rollins’ music hit. Seth marched to the ring, stepped inside, and came face to face with Roman Reigns. Seth smiled at Roman, then immediately pounced on Cesaro. Rollins tossed Cesaro to the outside, then slammed him into the ring steps. He tossed Cesaro over the announcers desk and slammed the injured arm. Rollins grabbed a steel chair and based Cesaro repeatedly. Rollins closed the chair around Cesaro’s arm and twisted it. He dragged him to the ring post. “I’m Seth freakin’ Rollins and nobody makes a mockery of me!” Rollins slammed Cesaro’s arm into the ring post. He gave him a stomp.

Rollins rolled into the ring, arms out stretched. Cole called it “blatant, unbridled brutality.” The show faded out.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Absolutely stellar. A fantastic story, from start to finish. Michael Cole did an excellent job at selling the significance of this match for Cesaro, and how much of an underdog he is against Roman Reigns. Roman was supremely detestable, failing to take Cesaro seriously at the beginning before slowly coming to realize that he was in a serious fight. Paul Heyman’s facial expressions at ringside sold the drama and momentum that Cesaro was building as the match played out. They chose to make this match a story about Cesaro overcoming an injury, and, in doing so, they ensured that he looked like an absolute star even in the loss. Cesaro was made in a pretty significant way tonight, and it would be really hard to see him just immediately falling back down the card. This felt like a main event, as all Roman Reigns matches inevitably do. Reigns sold for Cesaro beautifully. Expertly crafted, brilliantly executed. Roman Reigns is functioning on a level all to his own.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: This one took a little while to get going. The opening women’s title match felt a bit clunky and heavy handed in its attempt to sell Charlotte Flair as the dominant start of the division. The Smackdown tag title match felt overly long and underdeveloped. The Miz vs. Damian Priest managed to be one of the worst segments WWE has mustered in a long time, and that’s saying quite a bit. From there, though, the show picked up dramatically. I thought Bianca and Bayley had a very strong women’s title match that kept the door open for a rematch next month. Lashley, McIntyre, and Strowman went for balls-to-the-wall action and it worked. Lashley is succeeding as champion and I think WWE is doing a successful job at building McIntyre into a guy you desperately want to see regain the title. The main event was absolutely excellent and hit on all cylinders. What started out as a mild thumbs in the middle turned into a fairly strong thumbs up by the end of the night.


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