For a pro wrestling fan, there is no happier weekend than WrestleMania weekend. No matter the gripes about booking or the build, fans get absolutely giddy when ‘Mania weekend rolls around. It’s not just the “Super Bowl of pro wrestling” or whatever. WrestleMania weekend means all eyes are turned towards this weird, goofy thing we love in an accepting, admiring light. It’s the weekend the world lets “rasslin” have the stage and joins in on the fun. The Royal Rumble is my favorite wrestling event, but I definitely get more excited for ‘Mania weekend.
It’s for that reason the emotional stakes are heightened. The routine lows become catastrophic, and the normal highs become monumental and legendary. This weekend we got the latter, as WWE chose to stick to the old adage: send ’em home happy.
Happy Endings for all
Sometimes, the easy and obvious way is the right way. WWE could’ve swerved yet again, but they made the right call and gave the fans what they wanted: Kofi Kingston and Becky Lynch leaving ‘Mania as champions. It was the only real way their stories could’ve ended, and props to WWE for building to the moment (however shaky that build was at times) rather than making the moment and telling us it was important. Kofi’s win means so much on so many different levels, and Becky’s victory is the living embodiment of Vince McMahon telling the audience “we hear you.”
There was also Seth Rollins win over Brock Lesnar, taking the Universal Championship and sending Brock off to UFC, much to the delight of fans. Brock leaving not only gives the audience a champion who will actually be around, but it refreshes Lesnar’s character motivations should he ever come back down the line (and pissed off Brock Lesnar is always the best).
On Friday night, we got the long-deserved crowning of Johnny Gargano as NXT Champion. It may not have been the fairytale ending win over Tommaso Ciampa (more on that later), but he and Adam Cole put on a masterclass in professional wrestling.
Even the IIconics, a heel team, capturing the Women’s Tag Team Championship was an emotional high not only for the women themselves, but for fans of the duo who were happy to see their hard work rewarded. This weekend felt like the WWE rewarding its fans for hanging on for a long, sometimes frustrating, journey.
Takeover was awesome; also water is wet
One look at the card for NXT Takeover: New York, and you knew that even if the wrestlers slept-walk through their matches, it’d be a great night. Well, they sure as shit didn’t sleepwalk. Every match was spectacular, from the tag team opener that served as a swan song for Aleister Black and Ricochet, to Gargano and Cole’s masterpiece.
Matt Riddle and Velveteen Dream did their damndest to steal the show, and I really hope that’s something we revisit down the road. Pete Dunne and Walter absolutely brutalized each other, and the Austrian big man ended Dunne’s long reign with the WWE UK Championship.
Bianca Belair didn’t win the NXT Women’s Championship, but she was the star of the fatal 4-way. Shayna Baszler is still your champ, is still a badass, and is still a million times better than Ronda Rousey.
And then there was the main event, the 2-out-of-3 falls match for the NXT Championship between Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole. Gargano finished a story that’s been in motion for basically four years now. And, yes, ideally he would’ve taken it off Ciampa, but Johnny Gargano has been the heart of NXT the last 2 or so years in the same way Sami Zayn was during his run. He fully deserves the strap and to be the face of the black and yellow brand.
The fairytale ending that wasn’t
As mentioned above, it wasn’t Tommaso Ciampa who dropped the strap to Johnny Wrestling. That’s because he recently underwent neck surgery and is out for a long time. And, to be frank, that fucking blows.
Tommaso Ciampa has been the best heel in professional wrestling since the day he first threw Gargano into the video board. His work has been nothing less than brilliant, and it’s a damn shame what bad luck he has. Seeing him come out in support of his friend after Gargano’s big title win was nice, though. I just hope like hell he makes a full recovery, has the desire and health to return to wrestling, and returns and does the most dastardly thing he can to Gargano. Get well, Blackheart.
Have they finally figured out how to use legends?
We all knew Elias would be interrupted, the game was by who? I figured the Rock, and I was happy to be wrong when John Cena showed up in his Dr. of Thuganomics gimmick. It was a nice throwback, it was quick, and everyone enjoyed it. On Raw the next night, Elias was interrupted by the Undertaker. ‘Taker entrance, chokeslam, tombstone, goodnight. There were also quick, less successful, appearances from Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall (although I must admit I chuckled during The Outsiders’ bit).
The point is this: they were all a short, “hey look who’s here!” moment that gave us a break but didn’t take away from the rest of the card. Yeah, there was still the long-ass Triple H match (longest match on the card, actually, at over 24 minutes), but aside from that they got their legends in and out. We all love the legends, that’s why they’re legends! But we don’t want to see them plod through horrible matches (I won’t mention Kurt Angle). We want to pop for their face/music/whatever, have them do a quick bit, then move over for the current stars.
Raw and Smackdown were kind of lifeless
Some years, the Raw After ‘Mania is better than the big show itself. The past couple of years they’ve even tried to build Smackdown up to the same level. Between surprise returns and debuts, hot crowds, new and exciting storylines, “SmarkMania” is always a good time.
This year, however, felt… flat. Raw pulled the bait and switch when they teased a title for title match between Kofi and Rollins, and then gave us a… tag match with The Bar? Debuts were cut down because of a slew of NXT call-ups earlier this year, (we did get Lars Sullivan attacking Kurt Angle). Sami Zayn returned and cut an outstanding heel promo. We got a weird new video from Mojo Rawley, and another creepy/weird one from what we can only assume is Bray Wyatt. But that was it.
Smackdown gave us basically the same, minus the bait and switch. The Hardys won the tag titles off the Usos, and then Lars Sullivan beat them up. The possibly/probably/definitely Bray Wyatt video played. There was a good placeholder match or two. The shows were fine, good even, but didn’t have that post-‘Mania energy, mainly because the Superstar Shakeup is next week, which means nothing on these shows matters.
So… why not do the shakeup on the nights after ‘Mania? Keep the magic going in front of hot crowds, use the nights to basically start a new season of programs.
The one complaint I have to make
Being as I am a wrestling fan writing about wrestling for the internet, I of course have a few nitpicks and gripes. But, this weekend was so well done and satisfying that they can be ignored, save for one big one: the length.
WrestleMania is too damned long. Period. No counter-argument. It’s great to try to get everyone on the card and get their ‘Mania payday, but it just drains the crowd and takes away from the show. Cut out the video packages, keep the skits short and tell the wrestlers to keep it tight. The Pre-Show started at four in the afternoon (central time), and Becky won the main event close to midnight, almost seven hours later. Or, for the people live in New York, in the eastern time zone, it was almost one in the morning. That’s ridiculous. It hurt the reaction for Lynch’s victory (that and a questionable finish, but I digress) and there were a myriad of problems for people trying to leave MetLife Stadium.
Cut the damn pre-show. Tell some people they aren’t gonna make the card. Do whatever it takes, but shorten the damn show.