(Promotion: WWE – Brands: RAW, SmackDown Live, 205 Live – Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA. – Attendance: 78,133 – Date: April 8, 2018)
Kickoff Show hosts: Renee Young – David Otunga – Booker T – JBL
Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale
Winner: “Woken” Matt Hardy
–Dolph Ziggler did the Shawn Michaels Royal Rumble elimination tease at least three times. At one point, I almost bit that he was going to win.
-Weird thought: Baron Corbin reminds me of Kane. What if Glenn Jacobs passed the gimmick over to him upon retirement. it couldn’t be worse than what he is up to presently.
–John Cena is shown sitting in the audience drinking a beer. Where is this headed?
-Hardy to Tye Dillinger: “Hi. Who are you?” This leads to a “Delete” v. “10” chant.
-Final 3: Baron Corbin/Mojo Rawley/Matt Hardy. Bray Wyatt makes a surprise appearance. Hardy dumps Corbin for the win. Hardy & Wyatt hug. Jim Ross proclaims this to be the first WrestleMania Moment of the evening. Hmm…that’s debatable. Hopefully, this union with Hardy will jumpstart Wyatt’s ice-cold career.
-The match was harmless, if unremarkable.
Young relentlessly pushes that Mania is “free” to new subscribers. Thanks for making me for like a sucker for paying.
WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Cedric Alexander v. Mustafa Ali
–Mustafa Ali came out wearing a light up mask suspiciously similar to the ring gear that DJZ has been wearing for the last year or so. It’d be different if Z hasn’t been on television with it.
-During the match, a picture-in-picture promo for the Ronda Rousey debut later in the evening is run. Why? I realize that this isn’t the main event, but it’s still a title match with a two-month build. If the company doesn’t treat it with respect, why should I?
-Alexander wins after a Lumbar Check. The match had no sense of urgency. It was a bit disappointing.
Winner: Cedric Alexander
Charly Caruso interviews Cena. They are cutting to him too often for this not to be leading to a match.
WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royale
–Carmella is the first out. I don’t think she will be cashing her Money in the Bank opportunity later.
–Peyton Royce leads an “NXT” chant with roster mates in the ring.
–Bianca Belair splatters Dakota Kai with a pretty 450. (However, who does a spot like that in a battle royale? Kids these days…)
–Bayley eliminates Sarah Logan. Sasha Banks and Bayley square off. Bayley dumps Banks for the win…or does she? Naomi rolls back in the ring. She was never thrown over the top rope. She ousts Bayley to win the match and the trophy.
Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves, Jonathan Coachman
Michael Cole sells the show as “The Greatest Event in Live Entertainment.”
The Miz (c) v. Seth Rolins v. Finn Balor
-Announcers point out that Seth Rollins has never held this particular title. If he captures it tonight, he will become a Grand Slam champion.
–The Miz is out second. Almost immediately, he sends the Miztourage to the back. Has fatherhood made the Miz into an honorable competitor?
–Finn Balor comes out accompanied by a local LBGT group. This is his Mania debut.
-The Miz is only 22 days away from Pedro Morales‘ record of longevity as IC champ. Surely, he won’t lose.
-Balor hits the Coup de Grace. 1…2…
Rollins stomps Balor and then curb stomps the Miz to capture the WWE Intercontinental Championship. The crowd popped big for the new titleholder.
-The announcers did a good job of planting seeds of doubt regarding the outcome of the bout.
Winner: Seth Rollins
SmackDown Live Women’s Championship
Charlotte Flair (c) v. Asuka
–Charlotte Flair enters to “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” her father’s theme song. She is escorted by gladiators. It’s an amazing visual and moment. This is completely badass.
-This was a stiff match. Asuka‘s hip attack looks like it is NO FUN. Flair returned fire with a backpack stunner and a moonsault. Asuka counters with a Triangle Choke. Asuka gives zero fucks when she suplexes the champ from the apron to the floor.
Flair: “I am the queen.”
The challenger swarms Flair with strikes. Asuka is incredibly intense.
This match feels like a fight.
Flair stuns Asuka with a SPANISH FLY! Asuka fights off the Figure Eight. Flair spears her for two. She sinks in the Figure Eight and Asuka SUBMITS! Asuka congratulates her and the two hug.
-I was completely shocked by the finish. I was far more invested in this match than I expected to be. Funny how a loss means something when the Fed takes their time to build it up.
-This was a terrific match with an unforeseen finish. Good stuff.
Winner: Charlotte Flair
A referee is out talking to John Cena. Cena jumps the barrier and races past Flair as she returns to the back. Hmm…
United States Championship
Randy Orton (c) v. Rusev w/ Aiden English v. Bobby Roode v. Jinder Mahal w/ Sunil Singh
-Jeepers! Rusev is so over. The Fed HAS to capitalize on this. I know that there is some high-priced, high-profile talent on the roster, but this simply can’t be ignored.
-Rusev goes for the Accolade. Sunil Singh draws the Bulgarian’s attention. Jinder Mahal hits the Khallas on Rusev to capture the title in a bit of an upset.
-I’m glad to see Mahal back on the company’s radar.
Winner: Jinder Mahal
Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle v. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon
-Wow! This one is going on waaay earlier on the card than expected. Doesn’t seem like a good sign.
-The “training footage” of Stephanie trying to look hard is absurd.
–Oh wait, at least she is immediate topping the absurdity by riding out on a goofy three-wheeled motorcycle. Coach is selling the “coolness” of the entrance way too hard.
–Triple H is looking like a beast.
–Ronda Rousey is out in a black leather jacket and red plaid miniskirt as an homage to her hero “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. As long as Travis Browne doesn’t read this: she looks sexy.
–Ken Shamrock is name-checked as the only other fighter to successfully jump from MMA to wrestling. (I think Matt Riddle and “Filthy” Tom Lawlor might digress.)
-The audience on their feet (“Ronda’s gonna kill you!”)
-The announcers reveal that this is the largest live audience that Rousey has ever performed in front of.
-Kurt Angle starts the match. There is a slow-build to the Rousey tag. It almost happens a few minutes in, but McMahon trips Rousey off the apron to prevent it. When Angle finally tags her, the audience loses their shit. Rousey swarms McMahon who desperately tries to block punches while avoiding the dreaded armbar.
-Rousey is showing surprising restraint. She is actually working at a reasonably reserved pace, something few rookies remember to do. Her selling is also decent and she is showing nice fire. I’m fairly impressed.
-Angle is tossed onto the Spanish Announce Table by Triple H.
-Rousey squares up with Trips. She isn’t showing an ounce of hesitation. She swarms him with particularly stiff looking punches…and a lot of them.
-Angle gets Steph’s leg and ankle locks her. Trips gets him in the Pedigree. Rousey makes the last-second save. (Audience: “This is awesome!”)
-Trips goes for a powerbomb on Rousey, who maneuvers it into a reverse ‘rana. She catches the armbar, but Steph sinks a rear naked choke on her opponent. Rousey reverses that into an armbar that McMahon desperately is attempting to block. Meanwhile, Angle catches Triple H with an ankle lock. Trips shake Angle off sending him crashing into his partner and breaking up the spot.
-Stephanie McMahon: “I HATE THEM!”
-Rousey reverses the Pedigree and goes for an armbar, which McMahon blocks. However, Rousey breaks her opponent’s grip and sinks the hold in deep. Stephanie McMahon submits within milliseconds.
-This was a great, great debut and a great, great match. I realize that Rousey had things laid out for her and there was time to practice, but she still held her end up in spades. I thoroughly enjoyed this match. I’m extremely excited to see what an experienced Ronda Rousey will be capable of.
Winners: Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle
SmackDown Live Tag Team Championship
The Usos (Jimmy & Jey) (c) v. New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston) w/ Xavier Woods v. Bludgeon Brothers (Harper & Rowan)
-The New Day come to the ring accompanied by a group of little people dressed as stacks of pancakes. Only in wrestling. LOL.
-The Bludgeon Brothers seem to be a mainstream version of War Machine (Raymond Rowe & Hanson), the soon-to-be re-branded War Raiders if rumors are true.
–Luke Harper powerbombs Kofi Kingston off the top rope to win the match and the straps. The Fed has strapped a rocket to these two. I’m cool with that.
Winners: Bludgeon Brothers
John Cena v. ???
-Cena’s music hits and he comes out. An official runs out and whispers something to him. John Cena is visibly upset. The audience chants for the Undertaker. The multi-time champion begins to head up the ramp when the arena lights go out. Is it…?
Elias steps from the shadows to massive boos.
“Hello, I’m Elias,” he says as he approaches the ring. “Were you expecting someone else?”
Even I’m getting irked at this point. This is legit heat.
Cena leaves the ring and returns to the audience. He quickly returns to the ring to give Elias the 5 Knuckle Shuffle and AA. His music plays as he leaves the ring. But then the music stops and the lights drop…
Winner: John Cena
John Cena v. ??? (Version 2)
-A spotlight shines on the mat. The Undertakers hat and gloves are folded neatly into a pile. The lights drop, lightning strikes, and the clothing is gone. The lights cut back off and a gong sounds. Fire plumes emerge from the stage. Cena looks stunned when the Deadman finally appears.
–Taker looks to be in very good shape. He doesn’t appear to be carrying extra weight.
-The moment the bell rings, Taker strikes. He does Old School and leg drops Cena. He signals for the chokeslam but Cena reverses it. Take sits up before Cena is able to connect with the 5 Knuckle Shuffle. He chokes John Cena. The pinfall follows a Tombstone. This was short and sweet and exactly what the audience wanted. (And honestly, probably all Taker can physically produce.) Taker slowly makes his way to the back. He stops to look back at the audience one final time while putting up a gloved fist.
-This was great. Cena sold his part like a million bucks. Taker came off strong and intense. Elias even got the rub by being the shithead who was taunting the audience. A prime example of accentuating strengths and hiding weaknesses. Taker isn’t the performer he once was, so it was kept short. The strongest part of Elias’ act is his entrance and song. And Cena doesn’t really need anything to shine him up at this point in his career…but he can pass the rub along.
Winner: The Undertaker
Hall of Famers Greet Crowd
-There are loud chants of “Goldberg” to be heard. However, when the camera cuts to the crowd not a single person can be seen chanting. Odd.
-Oh, and no Kid Rock. But honestly, who cares?
Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon v. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
-Humongous ovation for Daniel Bryan. But why have he and Shane McMahon come out first? I think I’ve been reading too many conspiracy theories.
-The match starts hot when the heels jump the faces from behind. Bryan is powerbombed on the apron, taking him out of the match.
McMahon staves off pin attempt after pin attempt.
A stretcher is out for the returning hero.
Shane does a solid job selling his supposed abdomen injury. He hits a coast-to-coast dropkick on Sami Zayn. He eats a frog splash from Kevin Owens but is saved at the last second by a returning Bryan.
Bryan is finally tagged in. He is clearly feeding off the energy of the crazed live audience. He hits a Frankensteiner off the top rope.
Owens: “You should’ve stayed retired!”
Owens hits a pop-up powerbomb on Bryan.
Bryan forces Zayn to submit to the Yes Lock. The crowd exalts at this result.
-It’s so nice to have Daniel Bryan back. I hope he plays it safe and is used sparingly. He is a genuine talent that, in many respects, must be protected from himself.
Winners: Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon
RAW Women’s Championship
Alexa Bliss (c) v. Nia Jax
–Nia Jax catches Alexa Bliss in an Avalanche Samoan Drop to capture the Raw Women’s Championship. Jax breaks down in tears after her victory.
-The anti-bullying/body-shaming angle leading into the match is particularly timely.
Winner: Nia Jax
AJ Styles (c) v. Shinsuke Nakamura
-After AJ Styles pins Shinsuke Nakamura following a particularly wicked Styles Clash, Nakamura gets the belt and kneels before Styles to present it to him. As the champion celebrates, Nakamura cripples him with a low blow. He begins to stomp the head of his fallen foe. This heel-turn was shocking, and, wholly necessary. Nakamura has simply come across as vanilla and “too nice.” This will give his character the teeth that his in-ring work has in spades.
-I’ve read a fair amount of criticism about this match, but it is unwarranted. This was a fiery, skillfully executed showdown between two long-time foes. I think it suffered slightly from the fatigue of the fans as well as monumental expectations. Also, with a runtime of 20:20, I don’t know if it had the time to percolate like a similar encounter under the New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) banner would, which would certainly have been allocated twice the time for the performers to develop the narrative of the bout.
Winner: AJ Styles
RAW Tag Team Championship
The Bar (Sheamus & Cesaro) (c) v. Braun Strowman & ???
–The Bar enters accompanied by a Mardi Gras parade and float. When Braun Strowman enters moments later, he shoves the float off the stage destroying it.
-Strowman takes the microphone from Jojo. He announces that he is going to pick a fan at random to be his tag team partner. Ut-oh. He ends up selecting a young boy named “Nicholas.” He brings the boy to ringside with him and the bout starts.
-After a number of minutes of action, The Bar overwhelm Strowman. He tags in Nicholas…who immediately tags back out. Strowman powerslams Cesaro and pins him. He and…*eye roll*…”Nicholas are the new RAW Tag Team Champions. This makes Nicholas the youngest champion in WWE history.
-This was…how can I put it…fucking stupid. I hope the belts are flipped on Raw tonight cuz…well…just cuz.
-This would qualify as the *DUD* of the show.
WWE Universal Championship
Brock Lesnar (c) w/ Paul Heyman v. Roman Reigns
-The announcers point out that Brock Lesnar hasn’t lost since the 2016 Survivor Series. His title reign is the third-longest in three decades.
–Roman Reigns is on offense during the opening moments of the bout. Lesnar is drenched in sweat and looks to be a bit tired.
-Things get violent. As the match nears its conclusion, Lesnar has doled out six German suplexes and five F5s. Lesnar drives a series of elbows into Reigns’ head causing him to gush blood. It pours down his face and pools on the mat. Reigns spears Lesnar twice but the champion is able to kick out of each pin attempt.
In an unexpected twist, Lesnar connects with a sixth F5 to retain the WWE Universal Championship.
-I think the narrative of the bout is helpful to Reigns’ public perception. It didn’t occur to me until this morning but it reminds me of Bret Hart v. Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13. Austin became a made man that night when he was beaten to a bloody pulp and ultimately passed out rather than submit to his hated foe. Last night, Reigns got his ass handed to him in no uncertain terms…but he hung and he hung tough. Obviously, these are different performers with different baggage, but the same components are in place. I, for one, came out of the match looking at Reigns with a new shade of respect.
Reports surfaced this morning that Lesnar has re-signed with the company. With him staying put, how much longer will it extend his stranglehold on the Universal Championship? Is the stage finally set for Roman Reigns to vanquish not only the demon that is Brock Lesnar but with his struggle for the acceptance of the fans?