Much like Saturday's NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, this year's WrestleMania, at least on paper, was brimming with potential.
Looking down the card, it was easy to imagine that this could be one of the best WrestleMania's of all time. AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura were bringing their NJPW rivalry to WWE for the first time, and with the WWE Championship as the prize.
Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and The Miz looked primed to steal the show in a triple threat for the Intercontinental Championship. Charlotte and Asuka looked to cement their presence in WWE, a legacy and a streak on the line.
Lingering questions provided some mystery too: would Bray Wyatt show up reincarnated? Who would be Braun Strowman's tag team partner? Would The Undertaker show up?
Heading into WrestleMania 34, everything was looking up, the card offering up just the right amount of massive stakes and intriguing unpredictability.
So, did the actual event live up to the obvious potential? Below we've got the whole main card broken down, match by match, with some thoughts on the Kickoff show included in the Quick Hits. Let's get to this!
The Miz vs Seth Rollins vs Finn Balor
WWE made the extremely smart (and obvious) choice of putting the triple threat for the Intercontinental Championship on first. It was a smart choice because it's easily been the soundest build from Raw, and because you've got three great in-ring performers to rely on.
Outside of Styles-Nakamura, it's the closest "sure thing" on the card, so put it out there first and let the crowd get excited. And get excited they do, because The Miz, Seth Rollins, and Finn Balor put on one hell of a show.
It'd be enough for those three guys to just get in the ring and hit a bunch of spots, but this match is filled with great storytelling details. There's the Miz, right off the bat, sending the Miztourage to the back so that he can fight this battle on his own. He chooses to live and die by his own talent, and that translates in the ring, as the Miz wrestles a more focused, aggressive style.
Rollins and Balor get one sequence after another to show that they've learned from their matches with each other. Balor countering Rollins' superplex/Falcon Arrow combo into a small package is a thing of beauty and sets up the story that this could end at any moment.
A few finisher combos later, along with some glorious near-falls. and Seth Rollins, proving that he's maybe the most over wrestler on Raw, gets the win, cementing his legacy with the Intercontinental Championship, and making him the latest Grand Slam Champion.
Charlotte vs Asuka
Another smart choice is keeping that energy through the first hour high by offering up Asuka vs Charlotte for the SmackDown Live Women's Championship next.
It's the match that had the clearest stakes by far, the one that pitted a streak against an unstoppable champion and one of the most famous names in wrestling.
It's an incredible match, one that, like the Triple Threat, feels deeply rooted in good psychology. There's not a single moment here where either Asuka or Charlotte gets the upper hand. Instead, it's a constant back and forth because Charlotte and Asuka are equals.
The number of counters are impossible to count. From the moonsault into the triangle, to the consistent submission reversals, Charlotte and Asuka tell a story that isn't so much "we've studied each other" as it is "we're both that damn good."
Every move, every counter, comes across as instinctual rather than planned, and that feeds the story of these two having no other equals in WWE.
How you feel about the match as a whole likely comes down to whether you felt Asuka's streak should end, as Charlotte gets the win. In my mind, having Charlotte end the streak is a great decision. She's the anchor and future of the women's division, and the Flair name obviously carries immense weight. However, another 5-10 minutes tacked on to that match could have told the story a bit better.
The Asuka loss comes out of nowhere, and that doesn't feel of a piece of the story that's been told for weeks, or during the match itself. Still, this should do wonders for both Asuka and Charlotte. The latter gets to be the one of break the prestigious streak, and the former is freed up to tell other stories.
Randy Orton vs Bobby Roode vs Jinder Mahal vs Rusev
Because this is WrestleMania, and things can't stay great forever, the next match, at the top of the second hour, was the Fatal Fourway for the United States Championship. It was a match that had exactly zero momentum until Rusev was added in at the last minute.
Unfortunately, Rusev's inclusion really doesn't do much to elevate what's been a sluggish feud. In fact, Rusev eating the pin from Jinder Mahal is perhaps the most infuriating choice WWE could make.
The match itself is fine; it doesn't have the same spark of the Triple Threat, but it boasts a good pace. However, the ending dampens everything.
I hate to be a complete smark about this, but the only good outcome here was Rusev winning. The match was doomed to fail otherwise.
Hopefully the distraction from Sunil Singh signals that Rusev isn't done with the United States Championship just yet. Simply, this is a match that doesn't do anything interesting with the characters; Rusev stays losing, Jinder gets a win because of a Singh, Orton hits some RKOs, and Roode is still a babyface with absolutely no fire. It's a SmackDown match on a massive card.
Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey vs Triple H and Stephanie McMahon
When the graphic popped up announcing Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey vs Triple H and Stephanie McMahon as the next match, I'll admit to immediately assuming that I'd be able to write about how the whole second hour acted as the popcorn segment, because there was seemingly no way the weird nostalgia/newcomer/gimmick match could be any good.
Every sign on the Road to WrestleMania suggested this would be a disaster. Ronda Rousey, meant to be the star of this feud, looked awkward in the ring, and could barely get through a promo without seeming flustered.
I was wrong. I'd guess most of us were wrong. I don't know what comes next for Rousey, or how she can go against someone like Charlotte or Becky Lynch, but this is pretty much everything you want from your ridiculous, surreal gimmick match.
Rousey looks like a million bucks here. The match is structured to delay her hot tag, and that's a smart choice. It builds anticipation in the crowd, and luckily for everyone involved, it pays off. Once Rousey tags in, she barely lets up. She beats the hell out of Steph, takes a few beatings of her own, and then beats the hell out of Triple H. She looks fierce and confident in a way that never came through on Raw.
If there's a complaint here, it's that Steph is too much on equal footing with Rousey. The whole first half of the match is built round the idea the idea that Triple H and Stephanie McMahon are doing everything they can to avoid having Steph face off against the former MMA star. Then, when Steph gets in the ring, she blocks one armbar after another, and even gets in some solid offense.
Look, it's not a deal-breaker in a match like this, but it's noticeable. Still, this match is better than it has any right to be, a potential popcorn match turned into a true spectacle.
The Usos vs New Day vs The Bludgeon Brothers
Surprisingly, the real clunker comes at the top of the third hour. The SmackDown Live Tag Team Championship match is filled with talent, and a ton of history between New Day and The Usos, and yet the match never gets going.
The teams are given no chance to tell a story, and that means nobody really comes out looking good. I guess the idea is that the Bludgeon Brothers are dominant, but the execution is sloppy.
The outcome is probably good for SmackDown Live's tag team division, but it's a mess getting there. This is by far the most disappointing match of the night.
The Undertaker comes back from the dead
After such a dud, it makes sense that WWE immediately shifts to its biggest mystery of the night, "will The Undertaker answer John Cena's challenge?" Credit where it's due, WWE had me really wondering. More credit where it's due: this might be the best possible way to run this angle.
Not only does Elias get to troll the hell out of the audience, but Cena gets to do some serious character work. He's disappointed that ‘Taker doesn't show up, and then when ‘Taker does, he's terrified.
He gets exactly what he wanted, but he never really contemplated what that would mean. Maybe he assumed Undertaker was washed up, no matter what he said on Raw. Maybe he thought he'd be immune to the entrance and the presence of the Deadman.
Whatever the case may be, he underestimated the Undertaker, and he gets beat in mere minutes because of it. I have mixed feelings about ‘Taker being back in any capacity, but this is a fascinating angle that could do wonders for John Cena for the next little while.
Daniel Bryan returns to in-ring action
That leaves us with five title matches and one that includes Braun Strowman's surprise partner. With the WWE Championship and Universal Championship going on last, that means it's Daniel Bryan's turn to bask in the glory of his return.
It should be a massive moment, and it is eventually, but boy does the match love having Shane McMahon be the focus for far too long. It's weird, because there's really not much to say about this match. It's a perfectly fine tag match, and there's some interesting opportunities to tell new stories with a fired Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, but the whole reason this match is intriguing is because of Daniel Bryan, and he unfortunately takes a back seat for most of the match.
Don't get me wrong, it's incredible to see him in there beating up Zayn and Owens, and kicking out of their finishers like the GOAT he is. Still, this didn't feel like an ideal showcase. As always with SmackDown, there's just too much Shane McMahon. Give me Bryan, the true singles wrestler, from here on out.
Alexa Bliss vs Nia Jax
Nia Jax taking on Alexa Bliss for her Raw Women's Championship feels like the right story, wrong execution. Everything about the psychology makes sense.
Nia takes out Mickie James first, eliminating that variable. Then she goes full rage on Bliss, but it's only a brief flurry. Before long, Alexa is getting her offense in, and on a show that runs for five hours (not including the Kickoff show), it feels like a lot. Both the story and the card calls for Jax to destroy Bliss in a minute or less. Still, the right woman won, and that's something.
This is not NJPW
Unfortunately, there's similarly less to say about AJ Styles defending his title against Shinsuke Nakamura. The match is great, a solid 3.5-4 stars on the usual scale, but it's killed by two things: an exhausted crowd and some questionable booking.
The simple truth is that the crowd makes a difference. Their willingness to get behind Rousey, and (I can't believe I'm typing this) Nicholas (in the next match), is incredibly important.
There's nothing Nakamura and Styles can do in this moment to elevate their match. With the finish in mind, which sees Styles retain in a match much shorter than most anticipated, it’s difficult to see how this could have stood out in any meaningful way.
Of course, there's still the post-match segment to consider. There, Nakamura delivers a low blow to Styles, and the suggestion is that this is far from over. Is that a good thing? Absolutely. Nakamura gets to explore a more nuanced character, and both him and Styles get the chance to build something more personal and substantial. Still, this feels like a wasted WrestleMania moment, even if there's considerable promise down the road.
Braun Strowman recruits Nicholas
At the very least, we get a wonderful reprieve before the atrocious main event in the form of Braun Strowman making a kid in the audience his tag team partner, and subsequently winning the Raw tag team championships. It's goofy and silly, but damn if it isn't different and entertaining.
Braun is such a relatable star, and no matter what he does the crowd connects with it. That means that when he brings in a kid named Nicholas to be his partner, the crowd goes wild for the hot tag and the post-match celebration. Who knows what happens from here on out, but for now, this is a great pro wrestling moment, one that should be celebrated for being fun and unique, especially when it happens at the spectacle that is WrestleMania.
We're still doing this?
What's to say about Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns? The less the better? I don't know. I really don't. I'm sitting with the result, which is kind of interesting because almost no one expected Brock to retain, but at the same time the match was garbage and the promise of more of this is too exhausting to think about.
WWE has no idea what makes Roman Reigns or Brock Lesnar interesting. They view them as concepts and not characters, and that's a huge problem. There's no personality here, no sense that we should care. It's another WrestleMania main event that simply falls flat. It may be the worst in recent memory. Then again, we had Reigns vs. Undertaker last year.
- Quick thoughts on the kickoff show: Ali and Alexander killed it, the Andre The Giant Battle Royal was an acceptable bit of storytelling, and the Women's Battle Royal felt rushed and was pretty disappointing
- Charlotte probably had the best entrance of the night
- Jinder Mahal's promo on Tuesday is going to be insufferable, right?
- I really loved the DIY/Revival spot in the match between Angle, Rousey, Triple H, and Steph
- Undertaker didn't look as good as commentary wants us all to believe
- That was a ludicrous number of finishers in the main event. How is Roman going to eat six finishers, and Braun loses to a single one?
Seth Rollins defeated The Miz (c) and Finn Balor (Intercontinental Championship match)
Charlotte (c) defeated Asuka (Smackdown Live Women's Championship match)
Jinder Mahal defeated Randy Orton (c), Rusev, and Bobby Roode (United States Championship match)
Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle defeated Stephanie McMahon and Triple H
The Bludgeon Brothers defeated The Usos (c) and New Day (SmackDown Live Tag Tem Championship match)
The Undertaker defeated John Cena
Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon defeated Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens
Nia Jax defeated Alexa Bliss (c) (Raw Women's Championship match)
AJ Styles (c) defeated Shinsuke Nakamura (WWE Championship match)
Braun Strowman and Nicholas defeated The Bar (c) (Raw Tag Team Championship match)
Brock Lesnar (c) defeated Roman Reigns (Universal Championship match)
What did you make of WrestleMania XXXIV? Let us know in the comments section below.