Rasslin' - Wrestlemania 33
The biggest wrestling show of the year has come and gone. Was it the equivalent of Hulk Hogan body slamming Andre the Giant, or was it the second coming of the Gobbledy Gooker?
It was a night of champions and a night of upsets, an event filled with surprises and crammed with...TOO MUCH. Why in the ever-lovin' world was this show so long?! Wrestlemania 33 ran for 5 1/2 hours, and that's not even counting the pre-show. THAT'S TOO LONG. I'm not sure why WWE thinks that fans want (or even can) sit through hour after hour after hour of wrestling and still care about what's happening in the ring. A traditional Pay-Per-View runs about 3 hours, and even that can feel like a long time if the show isn't booked well. To expect your audience to sit there for almost six hours is asking far too much. Could we at least have done without the performances from Pitbull and Flo Rida?
That being said, Wrestlemania 33 was largely a success, especially considering that most of the matches on the card weren't booked well at all and that my expectations for the show were the lowest of any Wrestlemania I can recall. I put that success at the feet of the talent, who worked incredibly hard to tell their stories in the ring and make sure every fan went home satisfied.
A.J. Styles vs Shane McMahon - The match that I was the least excited about is the one that opened the show: A.J. Styles is considered to be one of the best wrestlers working in the business today, while Shane McMahon is not a wrestler at all and is known mostly for jumping off of tall things and/or concussing himself. Setting aside the fact that we were robbed of a really good traditional match between A.J. Styles and someone else who was at the the top of their game, this was actually a semi-decent spectacle in which A.J. forced Shane O'Mac to rise to a higher level of work. A.J. was wonderful, as he always is. Shane McMahon was better than I've seen him in a long time, and it's definitely one of the better matches of his...should I say career, even though he's not a wrestler? Could have been much better if we'd actually had a wrestling match, but it could have been worse, too. A.J. Styles came out looking like the best in the biz. Winner: A.J. Styles
United States Championship: Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho - This is one that I've been looking forward to since Jericho and Owens first declared themselves best friends. In one of the most old-fashioned gimmicks in wrestling, their friendship eventually led to a betrayal and a reckoning in the ring. Jericho has been more over with fans than probably EVER, and Kevin Owens is a very talented wrestler with a bright future. This match wasn't spectacular, but I was engaged for the entire time and really wanted Jericho to win, even though I know he's leaving to tour with his band. Jericho moves like a wrestler far younger than he actually is and always puts on consistent matches. Winner: Kevin Owens
Raw Women's Championship Fatal Four-Way Elimination Match: Bayley vs Sasha Banks vs Charlotte vs Nia Jax - Apparently WWE decided to throw all of their women wrestlers into two overbooked matches throughout the night. Why they couldn't have divided the women's division up a little bit better over the course of 5 1/2 hours is beyond me, but this is what they do: have matches with tons of people in them so that the maximum amount of superstars get a Wrestlemania moment. This match was fine. It was cool to see Bayley, Sasha, and Charlotte team up to eliminate Nia Jax before picking each other off, and it was nice to see Bayley take the win and get her own big moment. Continuing the trend of the night, there's nothing to complain about here, but there's nothing special, either. Winner: Bayley
Raw Tag Team Championship Fatal Four-Way Ladder Match: Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs Sheamus and Cesaro vs THE HARDY BOYZ
In the first real surprise of the night, Matt and Jeff Hardy made their shocking return, transforming this match from a triple threat to a four way. Wrestling fans know that Matt Hardy has seen the biggest success of his entire career over the last year or so with his "Broken Matt Hardy" gimmick for TNA/Impact Wrestling, and they also know that when he left the company, TNA/Impact Wrestling claimed ownership of that gimmick, forbidding him to ever use it again on penalty of legal ramifications. It's still to early to tell if the Matt Hardy who returned to WWE for the first time in I believe eight years is going to embrace the "Broken" persona that has been so huge, or if he's going to revert back to same Matt Hardy he was when he was last with WWE. Though he's out of character in the behind-the-scenes YouTube videos that WWE posted right after this match, he's also clearly still doing at least a PART of the gimmick before the packed crowd at the Citrus Bowl. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out and if WWE are going to take the legal battle to TNA/Impact Wrestling so that Hardy can make all the merchandising money at his new home. It's so good to see The Hardy Boyz (it feels weird to be spelling it "BOYZ" in 2017) back in the WWE, and I can't wait to see what kind of ramifications this has on the tag team division. Oh, and Jeff Hardy can still jump off really tall ladders like he was born to do it. Winner: The Hardy Boyz
John Cena and Nikki Bella vs The Miz and Maryse - This entire feud had been built around The Miz and Maryse accusing Cena of not really loving Nikki Bella and how he only cared about himself. The whole thing seemed contrived so that Cena could propose to Bella in the ring, which is exactly what happened. I really don't have an opinion on this match, other than to admit that the whole thing feels really forced. Both John Cena and Nikki Bella have known this was coming for months (even I knew this was coming, and I don't even chase spoilers), so any real magic in the moment was lost when you realize that none of it was actually spontaneous. Oh well, there's a new season of Total Divas to promote. Winner: John Cena and Nikki Bella
Seth Rollins vs Triple H in an Unsanctioned Match - This is one that I've been very excited about for a long time. Seth Rollins is an incredible wrestler and Triple H is a spectacle and an institution who rarely steps foot in the ring anymore. Furthermore, they'd been building to this match LAST year before Rollins got hurt and sidelined for months. Unfortunately, there's just not that much to say about it. Triple H had an incredible ring entrance, as he always does, and Seth Rollins came off like the babyface that he is, but the in-ring work was pretty standard stuff. There was something very old school about this match too, with HHH working Rollins' injured leg over and over, just like bad guys used to do to get an advantage over the good guy. Triple H did everything he could to get Rollins over and make him a hero, and Stephanie McMahon took one of the night's most surprising bumps as she went backwards through a table. My takeaway from this match is that the torch has been passed from Triple H to Seth Rollins, and that's exactly how it should be. Winner: Seth Rollins
WWE Championship Match: Bray Wyatt vs Randy Orton - YAWN. This should have been so much better. Any enthusiasm I ever had about Bray Wyatt is gone now that he's a solo wrestler and The Wyatt Family has gone taken a backseat to Bray. I just get nothing out of watching the guy. He does the same stuff over and over, and the added gimmick of Wyatt projecting images of gross stuff like worms and bugs into the ring somehow doesn't belong in this era of wrestling. Furthermore, Randy Orton, while being a very talented wrestler who can have a great match if he wants to, seems to be phoning it in most of the time, and that included Wrestlemania 33. There was nothing here to discuss. Winner: Randy Orton
Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg - Whether it's a good thing or not, I think this is the match that sold this show. Ex-footballer Goldberg built his short career on beating guys quickly and being an unstoppable force. It was a great gimmick in the late '90s, and it even worked when he went to WWE for his 2003 run and speared his way through the roster, but there's been something missing since he came back last fall to face off against Brock Lesnar. What could it be? Oh yeah: wrestling. Somehow over the last 12 years, we forgot that Goldberg is an attraction, not a wrestler, and that when he was booked to face off against WWE's other biggest attraction, Brock Lesnar, there wasn't going to be a wrestling match, there would only be a quick spectacle. Neither Goldberg nor Lesnar are known for their in-ring ability, with Lesnar just throwing grown men around like rag dolls and with Goldberg doing the only two moves he knows before its 1-2-3, but we were all sucked in by the prospect that these two could actually have a decent match.
What we got at Wrestlemania 33 was the match that we wanted to see at last year's Survivor Series. Instead of a tussle that lasted only a minute, we actually got to see these two go at it for about as long as they could. Was it better than their notorious stinker from Wrestlemania XX? I guess...slightly. I know people love Brock Lesnar and think he's "The Beast" and I know that it was nice to see Goldberg come back, but these two part timers are extremely limited. After Goldberg speared Lesnar through the barricade around the ring, Lesnar looked like a whale out of water, just rolling on his back, too big to get back to his feet. Goldberg looked like a bull that had faced his last matador. I don't know why we wanted what we did from this, but I'd say we got it. At 4 minutes and 45 seconds, these guys showed us everything that they had. Winner: Brock Lesnar
Smackdown Women's Championship: Naomi vs Alexa Bliss vs Carmella vs Becky Lynch vs Mickie James vs Natalya - This was the second and last of the women's matches for the night with the same strategy of "throw them all out there at the same time." See previous rant about 5 1/2 hours. I have nothing to say about this match. It was fine, but these women deserve better than a five-minute-free-for-all right before your main event. Winner: Naomi
Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker - This is the match that I both did and didn't want to see. The Undertaker has been looking worse and worse in every appearance over the last few years, and I think most fans secretly want to see him go home because we're all a little worried about him. It didn't help that the rumor before this show was that backstage, WWE was so worried about him that they were having doubts about this match. The Undertaker is 52, but it's not the years; it's the mileage. This guy survived the Monday Night Wars and the hardcore era of wrestling when guys took chair shots to the head and put their bodies in serious harm every single night. He's the last of the old guard, a survivor of an era of wrestling that I kind of hope we never see again, and last night appears to have been the final ride of The Deadman.
Roman Reigns is a decent worker who has gotten the short end of the stick because the WWE Universe (which is what WWE calls its fans) don't appreciate having anyone pushed down their throats and booked in ways that aren't organic. The guy comes out to boos at every show, but somehow is still selling more merchandise than anyone else, so of course he must be the next face of the company. I do not dislike Roman Reigns, but I do think that he still has a long way to go before he can be a legitimate draw. His moves are limited, the Superman Punch is stupid, and he has virtually no charisma or microphone skills. It's not his fault that he's in this position, though, and he's a hard worker who seems eager to please and is more than willing to take a beating.
I wish The Undertaker had hung up his boots back at Wrestlemania XXX when Brock Lesnar defeated the streak. The guy that we all know and love hasn't been seen since before that, with The Undertaker we've seen for the last few years being a pale ghost (no pun intended) of his former self. He's in obvious pain when he moves, and his signature move set has been MIA because he just can't physically perform most of them anymore. This match at Wrestlemania 33 had at least one botched attempt at a Tombstone Piledriver, and any hopes of an Old School, where Taker walks the ropes, were unrealistic at this point.
This was The Undertaker's final match. There have been rumors and doubts in the past, and many of us thought that Wrestlemania XXX was it, but he kept coming back. Maybe it was out of a sense of loyalty to Vince McMahon or to the business. Maybe it was because there still wasn't "the guy" for him to pass the torch to. Well, McMahon has made Roman Reigns "the guy" whether we like it or not, and the era of The Undertaker has come to a close. In a nice development, legendary announcer Jim Ross returned to call Undertaker's last match. When Jim Ross, who hasn't worked for WWE in several years, comes in to call an Undertaker match in 2017, you know it's a favor. Wrestling is all about paying your dues, showing respect, and honoring tradition. I have to believe that Jim Ross called this match for his friend Taker out of respect, and Taker wanted Ross to call it because it was Jim Ross, along with Jerry "The King" Lawler, who provided commentary for all those many years of matches when The Undertaker was in his prime.
After the match, Roman Reigns quietly left the ring with Undertaker on his back staring at the lights. Slowly, chants of "Thank You Taker" erupted across the Citrus Bowl as fans knew they were witnessing what they had come to suspect. Undertaker sat up, took a long look at the crowd, and started to exit the ring before stopping himself and walking back to the center. He slowly took off his gloves, his coat, and finally his hat, symbolically laying them in the middle of the wrestling ring.
My takeaway from Wrestlemania 33 is that it was a show that was overlong by at least 90 minutes, but it was filled with little moments that I'll remember for a long time. More than anything, I'm glad I got to see The Undertaker say goodbye. His match with Roman Reigns was actually pretty awful, but wrestling fans won't remember that. They'll remember a warrior who fought until he had nothing left to give and then literally left it all in the ring. I suppose it's not this match that we're celebrating anyway, but the thousands before this one that led us here. I have to think that this was the main event out of respect for all that The Undertaker has done for the company in the past. Remember, it's all about paying your dues, showing respect, and honoring tradition. Undertaker has given more than just about anyone to the WWE over the years, and Wrestlemania 33 was about WWE returning the favor. Winner: Roman Reigns
Now if we could do that in three hours next year, I'd be very grateful.