MORDECAI JONES PRESENTS THE WRESTLING AESTHETIC:
WRESTLEMANIA 35 IN REVIEW
Here we go folks – the whole card seems like a gigantic troll-job. The most talent-rich roster in recent memory (maybe ever!) and this pile in front of us has somehow become Wrestlemania 35. Grab a dozen drinks and a bottle of pills (ANY pills), and let’s go.
TONY NESE VS BUDDY MURPHY (CRUISERWEIGHT CHAMPION)
Like most, I’ve only been checking in on 205 Live here and there, especially since the loss of MVP Mustafa Ali. They were clearly going for the long game with Tony Nese and Buddy Murphy’s competitive partnership, but I didn’t see any attempt to make Nese a sympathetic character or babyface (or heck, even babyface-like). So tossing the top two heels on 205 Live out on the ‘Mania pre-show seems like a puzzling decision. And indeed, the crowd doesn’t know what to make of the character dynamics here, but you can’t find two more performance-based guys in the ring to try to work around that issue. Murphy unleashes the usual mix of New Japan-inspired manoeuvres (including key set-ups from the likes of Kota Ibushi and Will Ospreay) but the highlight here is Nese able to open up completely with his high-end repertoire, and doing so comfortably with a training partner-turned-opponent. Nese manages to get a foot on the ropes after Murphy’s Law, then delivers the crushing running knee. And with that, we wind up with a tight summary of what these two can deliver – crisp highspots, clever counters, and stiff striking. That said, like most Cruiserweight division exhibitions on a pay-per-view, it’s a little dry and lacking any kind of drama. Nese receives a well-deserved ‘Mania moment, given the fact that he has quietly anchored 205 Live since the Cruiserweight Classic, efficiently and consistently. You can’t help but wonder if this ‘Mania underdog title change foreshadows things for Kofi Kingston. Approx 10 minutes, ***
WOMEN’S BATTLE ROYALE
Not much to say about the women’s “Untitled Battle Royale”. Typical modern WWE booking that featured a half-push for Sarah Logan (because why go all the way at your biggest show of the year?), all-too-quick heat segments for the doomed Kairi Sane and Asuka (aka the top female workers in the company), and going back to an old, dilapidated, completely dry well for the finish. Congratulations to Carmella. The Universe was surely waiting with baited breath for the return of this push.
RYDER/HAWKINS VS THE REVIVAL (RAW TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS)
Speaking of old, dilapidated, completely dry wells, the tag team opponent randomizer has settled in on Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins as challengers for the RAW tag team titles. Roughly 9 minutes of drawn-out bodypart work from the capable Revival guys (ideal for warming up a Wrestlemania crowd, right?) followed by one minute of blistering heat culminating in a brainbuster on the outside, and a flash roll-up pinfall from the recipient of said brainbuster (Hawkins). And here I was thinking Dash Wilder deserved a reward and victory for his performance at the Hall of Fame. And not, you know, embarrassment and loss. Approx 10 minutes, ** (maybe add a ¼* for Scott Dawson’s gorgeous brainbuster)
I see this is going to be a challenge to continue soldiering on with booking decisions like these. Combine that with the absolutely awful commentary (I’m being texted by multiple people complaining about Renee) and the situation is critical.
ANDRE THE GIANT BATTLE ROYALE
If the idea for a payoff for this SNL-crossover was Braun Strowman slapping one actor and throwing the other into a pile of WWE jobbers , then at the very least, they delivered the goods. Thankfully, we’re treated to a bit of shine for the kid-friendly Heavy Machinery, up-and-coming latin superstar Andrade, and the nearly-murdered-during-elimination Mustafa Ali. We missed out on a teased confrontation between former Wyatt family members Strowman and Luke Harper (commentary alluded to Harper teaching Strowman the ways of pro wrestling), but we did see Strowman flying across the ring in full smashing mode, while looking absolutely ripped and ready for a levelling-up that the WWE has seemed reluctant to fully lean into. Perhaps now is the time.
Alexa Bliss is out to snap her fingers and make Wrestlemania moments happen. And for her first act, she summons Hulkamania. Hogan does the usual shtick and throws in a “Silverdome” joke that falls flat. Crash TV quickly seeps in and it’s Paul Heyman speed-waddling down the ramp to announce that Brock is in a rush to get to Vegas (where he is “ultimately” more respected) so let’s get another storybook ending out of the way.
SETH ROLLINS VS BROCK LESNAR (UNIVERSAL CHAMPION)
Brock ambushes Rollins as he makes his way down the ramp, and delivers the usual F5/german suplex madness. Rollins’ back quickly becomes bloodied and battered, but if you witnessed Fliip Gordon’s back damage last night at the G1 at Madison Square Gardens, the visual impact certainly takes a hit. The match proper finally begins, and Rollins is able to sneak in a low blow to stem the annihilation. 3 stomps later and Rollins takes home RAW’s most valuable prize. Again, yet another “storybook” ending in a series tonight, as Rollins definitely took on the bulk of RAW’s heavy work in 2018/19. And there’s no accounting for the amount of reward due to a man who participated in about a dozen singles matches with Dolph Ziggler in a wrestling calendar year. Approx 3 minutes (8 total for the encounter), *1/2
AJ STYLES VS RANDY ORTON
Right away, a meeting of two big names seems slower than what we saw at TakeOver and simpler than what we saw from the NJPW matches at the G1. The whole thing was built on a neat spot at the Elimination Chamber, but the thinking is that AJ Styles can pull something interesting out of it, despite what I feel is the massive toll of underwhelming performances with guys like Daniel Bryan and Shinsuke Nakamura. This thing starts to get watchable as Orton is repeatedly countered out of opportunities to hit the RKO from AJ’s springboards. Styles eventually nails the Phenomenal Forearm both from outside the ring and into the ring, and picks up the victory. This gave me a huge feeling of relief as the worry was a king of the mat (Styles) and a king of the mic (Joe) were going to suffer from from their TNA lineage and fall to WWE royalty. This wound up being the best use of Orton possible for this year’s Mania. Approx 16 minutes, **3/4
ALISTAIR BLACK/RICOCHET VS RUSEV/SHINSUKE NAKAMURA VS SHEAMUS/CESARO VS THE USOS (SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS)
The usual 4-way madness, including the longest giant swing sequence yet (on Ricochet, who cashes in a spot receipt when he delivers the lowest-arching 630 splash ever seen) and the obligatory KICKS AND KNEES VARIATION PARTY (Brogue, Black Mass, Kinshasa, etc) . Another storybook ending for the plucky Usos, who have walked into ‘Mania as champions 3 years running. No real payoff to the Ricochet/Black pairing/call up after 3 failed shots at each and every tag title, but the true payoff for them lies in gaining some credibility before embarking on their main roster singles runs (there’s still the promise of a Black/Ricochet feud, built on respect and/or bitterness).Just please don’t let them take anymore pictures nuzzling into Triple H’s chest like The Game’s literal lap dogs. Approx 19 minutes, *** ¼
THE MIZ VS SHANE McMAHON – FALLS COUNT ANYWHERE
We can’t have a Wrestlemania match without a McMahon match, and while sheer quality bailed them out last year, we are guaranteed a blackhole of entertainment this year. Shane, master pugilist and practicing mixed martial artist, takes on the McMahonMania task alongside a touchstone of corporate branding that no one really wants to boo OR cheer. Shane gets his hands on Miz’s father right away (the crux of this sudden feud) and then controls the action with an impressive striking array that at one point looks like an old man gardening, removing some weeds and kicking an old rusty watercan out of the way. Obligatory Shane-o elbow to the announce table is blocked by Mr. Mizanin, so Shane has his way with the poor fella, enraging Miz. He Hulks up on Shane and we take a tour of the arena, Miz pummeling Shane up and down stairs, across announce tables (the Japanese commentary team absolutely loses it during the commotion, a true pleasure to behold) and Shane taking some absolutely filthy bumps including smacking his head into a guardrail at warp speed. The not-so-thrilling conclusion is a walk up some audio/sound rigging, and a gigantic superplex into a WWE/ACME brand crashpad. It wasn’t even all that impressive beyond one camera shot over Miz’s shoulders that captured the gigantic arena-full of humanity below the two opponents. Since Shane winds up on top of Miz, the ref counts 3 and awards the match to Shane. This was a gigantic waste of time and did nothing for anyone. Approx. 15 minutes, *3/4
IICONICS VS BETH PHOENIX/NATALYA VS NIA JAX/TAMINA VS SASHA BANKS/BAYLEY (WOMEN’S TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS)
With the Shane McMahon victory, we suddenly take a strange turn in booking, indeed. This one is clunky and disjointed, much like…Wrestlemania 35. With the crowd deep in the throes of bathroom/twitter/food/merchandise breaks, even the big spots like a double sharpshooter from Natalya are met with mostly silence. After a toprope Glam Slam from the Glamazon Beth Phoenix, Peyton Royce and Billie Kay pull the classic switcheroo, slithering their way into the pinning position on Bayley and taking home the women’s tag team championship. I thought this was a lock for the incoming champs, and that the Iiconics were simply receiving a bit of a rub. That certainly derails hopes for a Banks/Bayley collision with NXT’s Sky Pirates (Kairi Sane and Io Shirai). But why worry about a thing like talent when you have personalities like Carmella and the Iiconics you can beat us over the head with? Approx 10 minutes, *1/2
KOFI KINGSTON VS DANIEL BRYAN (WWE WORLD CHAMPION)
Strange placement for the WWE championship match but hey! This is Wrestlemania 35! And if you can figure ANY of this out, well, good for you. Pity Daniel Bryan, still playing second fiddle to Roman Reigns, even after all these years, and all these championships. After Bryan slows things down with some grappling and a fully elevated surfboard, Kofi gets burned by an early high-flying attempt, crashing into the announce table face-first. Bryan, decked out in his trademark “Regal Brown” colors, offers up an old school clinic, unleashing knees, kicks, and an intense Boston Crab/Walls of Jericho remix, driving a deep knee wedge into Kofi’s lower back. At the 12 minute mark, Kofi turns it around with a top rope reversal. They exchange punches in the centre of the ring, trade roll-ups, then Kofi battles his way out of the Labell Lock. Bryan looking like a crazed yet calm madman. Extended finisher reversal sequence, including an SOS and a second go at the Labell Lock, but Kofi reaches the ropes with a desperate extension of the leg. Bryan continues to descend into a cackling, smiling madness. Still confident but fully aware of the danger and the difficulty he’s having putting Kofi away. Vicious kicks from Bryan forces a desperate and still game Kofi into a kickboxing match, but Bryan obviously gets the better of it. Kofi then nails an inverted suplex but oinly gets 2. Rowan jumps into battle with Xavier Woods and Big E. but eats the Midnight hour on the outside! Kofi cuts off Daniel’s signature suicide dive, but soon afterwards takes the running knee flush, then Bryan UNLEASHES THE STOMPS! UNCOMFORTABLE TO WATCH! Which makes it Pro Wrestling Gold. Then Kofi turns the tables, and I swear to you, oh ye wrestling faithful, Bryan looks up at Kingston and tells him to give him more, and give them good! A modern day Dusty, asking to make it look good. Kofi obliges, then nails Trouble in Paradise. Xavier tears up as the New Day reveals the original “Logo” WWE World Championship. And the celebration begins. My initial reaction was feeling something was missing, given we didn’t have the expected convoluted finish with finisher kick-outs, reversals and “I’m going to use your finisher” moments. Instead, they sprinkled that throughout the match, rather intelligently, while working the story of an overconfident champion and veteran challenger that’s been exhibiting extraordinary durability. Bryan dished out his best and it wasn’t enough to stem the rush of KofiMania. As good as it could have been. Approx 26 minutes, ****
Backstage, Hall and Nash offer prostate exams to the SNL guys. You know, I don’t know who the hell those SNL guys are. But I do know I can see a prostate joke coming from a mile away when Kevin Nash is around.
REY MYSTERIO VS SAMOA JOE (UNITED STATES CHAMPION)
This year, Rey Mysterio reps…MYSTERIO! Which is both absolutely brilliant and a very long time coming. The gauntlet-like gloves and boots are fantastic. This is gonna be like Jeff Cobb/Will Ospreay…in the future! Right? Boy was I ever wrong, and man was I ever wrong about the plot to destroy Samoe Joe and AJ Styles. Joe absorbs a 619 and traps Mysterio in the coquina clutch, ending things in less than a minute. Thankfully they’ve finally figured out the ways to properly book Joe (dominant wins, titles, and plenty of mic time). But to pick a semi-retired legend and Wrestlemania is a strange way to go about it. Nonetheless, this will make great promo fodder for Joe for months to come. Approx. 1 minute, No Rating
DREW McINTYRE VS ROMAN REIGNS
Because Meaty Thighs! That’s why! And honestly, if we’re gonna talk meaty thighs, and I am, because much like the crowd I’m absolutely fried to a crip at this point, then we have to talk Tyler Bate and Lars Sullivan. I’m talking grade A jambon, mon frère. Getting back to this endless parade of random wrestling ridiculousness, this is the 2nd “top guys with nothing else going on” match of the evening (following in the footsteps of Styles/Orton). The big dudes exchange heavy strikes, various suplexes on the outside, and then we see a superman punch and spear that ends the contest. Basically, a RAW match, here, live, exclusive, at Wrestlemania 35. “A big smile on the big dog!” Riveting stuff. Approx. 10 minutes, **
JOHN CENA RETURNS. BUT NOT J O H N CENA! JOHN C E N A! He drops the FU on Elias while rapping about turning heel and pumping up those awesome Dee Brown Reeboks. This is a fun turn of events with a lot of potential. Famous last words.
BATISTA VS TRIPLE H – NO HOLDS BARRED, IF TRIPLE H LOSES HE MUST RETIRE
Because absolutely NO ONE asked or it (other than Batista and Triple H). Batista emerges from a Cadillac SUV. Triple H requires an extended video intro and comes out atop some kind of Mad Max scenario-inspired tank. The Game has a simple gameplan: rush the big man, whip him with a chain (convincingly!) and tear his nosering off. Unfortunately once that’s all been done, there’s still the matter of winning the match. Quite comically, the announce tables seem to be triple-reinforced and refuse to crumble slam after slam, even enduring under the weight of a flying Batista getting backdropped from one table to another. A third announce table finally gives as Triple H unleashes a spear across tables. Trips sources a sledgehammer from under the ring while Batista crawls back into the ring, but Batista gets his own spear in when Triple H enters the ring in pursuit. Sly reference to Triple H/UT II (of III at ‘Mania) as H clutches the sledgehammer while going up for the Batistabomb, but is unable to take advantage, eating the finisher, but kicking out. The steps wind up in the ring and are used for maximum effect – Batista gets bounced off with a powerbomb from the top, and Triple H performs a headstand vertical DDT sell. Batista returns the favour of kicking out of a finisher, then gains control of the sledgehammer. Ric Flair shows up and delivers a 2nd sledgehammer to Triple H, then distracts Batista, allowing Triple H to unload with a sledge shot and hit a 2nd pedrigree for the win. “The career continues!” exclaims a jubilant Shawn Michaels. Entertaining enough for what it was, and of course, way too long. Approx 25 minutes, **1/2
BARON CORBIN VS KURT ANGLE – KURT ANGLE RETIREMENT MATCH
You know Corbin is in tight with head office when Triple H hunts him down with a water pistol and spends 5 minutes awkwardly squirting him as the Hall of Fame ceremony goes off the air. If you are the source of such giddiness for the boss’ son-in-law, you are destined for…stuff. Speaking of stuff, it’s time to bid farewell to a legend. Corbin mocks the “you can’t see me” hand wave, referencing the fact that John Cena was right there this whole time, and a potential opponent for Angle’s final match. Corbin reverse two ankelocks, kick out of an Angleslam, and then finishes Angle with the End of Days. But I’ll tell ya what, Angle’s attempted moonsault was very smooth. Mostly dead audience perks up with anger at the conclusion of the match, then pays respect to Angle with a rousing round of “you suck” chants set to Kurt’s classic music. Approx 5 minutes, *1/2
FINN BALOR VS BOBBY LASHLEY (INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPION)
I thought The Demon was meant to be something unpredictable, but they chose to advertise it for weeks beforehand, because this is Wrestlemania 35, folks. Lashley counters with green contacts and his own dramatic poses…The Incredible Lashley. That’s a cool and unexpected touch – The Demon triggers a similar rage in Lashley. And hey! Lio Rush is a Power Ranger! Balor explodes out with kicks and swingblades, then shows off “Demon Power” on the outside, tossing Lashley into the barricade. An impressive spear through the ropes swings things momentarily for Lashley, but Finn recovers, nails an unlikely powerbomb, and finishes with the Coup de Gras. I can’t help but imagine what kind of pop we would have experienced if The Demon wasn’t advertised. Approx 7 minutes, *3/4
We’re treated to a dance break, courtesy of Carmella and R-Truth. There’s never been a better time for a GONG. Alas. Here’s an ad for the Miz and Mrs. reality show. And an ad for ‘Mania, coming to us from Tampa in 2020. It’s not enough that they’re about to get a Stanley Cup parade?
BECKY LYNCH VS CHARLOTTE FLAIR (SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S CHAMPION) VS RONDA ROUSEY (RAW WOMEN’S CHAMPION) – WINNER TAKES ALL
GIRL POWER! I remember attending ‘Mania 18 and going to the bathroom during the women’s 3-way match. We’ve come a long way from SkyDome’s bathroom, baby! Charlotte touches down outside the arena via helicopter in a pre-recorded segment, then slips into a mania-worthy robe. Meanwhile, Joan Jett busts out a live rendition of “bad reputation” as Ronda stomps out. Once Becky Lynch is out, we’re off to the races at a high pace that never relents throughout the match. There’s the usual clunkiness we’ve come to expect from Rousey, but her power spots and submission attempts are cleverly neutralized and allow for extended segments between Lynch and Charlotte. Flair once again shoulders the bulk of the work here, and introduces a table. At one point, Ronda removes the table screaming “tables are for bitches!” Now that’s some quality heeling. After Flair (sorta) goes through the table, Lynch bravely squares off with Rousey but eats a flying knee. Rousey goes for her ugly backdrop slam but Lynch pulls her into a crucifix pin for a flash victory! Yes, shocked faces of fans abound as Becky claims double gold. Approx. 20 mins, *** ½
This was an entirely, utterly, completely skippable show. So there you have it, the Wrestlemania weekend as we are coming to expect it: show up for the TakeOver, suffer through the increasingly bloated and ridiculous spectacle that is Wrestlemania. 7.5 hours later I’m happy to be on the other end, and happy to take a break from the mainstream WWE product. Anyone casually into New Japan has to be enticed by the great action in the New Japan Cup and G1 Supercard. And NXT is always a good time. So, there’s hope for a hopeless Wrestling Nerd yet.