After one year, one month, one day, and…thirty minutes, live professional wrestling was back in front of thousands of fans at Raymond James Stadium. As tacky as it might sound, it was refreshing and provided some semblance of optimism just to see the visual of a big crowd at a sports entertainment spectacle. Sure, there will be those that cite the health risks involved and they absolutely have a point, the pandemic isn’t over. But, for a brief moment, it was nice to get lost in the traditional pro wrestling environment. Speaking of which, for all of his naysayers and critics, there’s something about a Vince McMahon introduction to Wrestlemania that still has its mystic. That said, as I had wings in front of me and the Peacock app launched, the news that the show would be delayed because of the weather, while totally understandable, was disheartening. I would say that it did have an effect on the pace of the show since it was roughly 40 minutes until a match got into the ring.
Drew McIntyre vs. Bobby Lashley for the WWE championship opened the show and it was a very solid match that built well. I had written after Lashley won the title from The Miz that if management wanted Lashley as champion, especially after he was one of the most protected talents of the prior year that prehaps they should consider giving him an extended run with the title to utilize the careful booking to its fullest. Lashley was made to look strong the entire year ahead of his title victory, and if he dropped the belt in a month, what does that say about his tenure as a main event level talent? At the same time, the office invested a lot of TV time into Drew to attempt to solidify him as a top guy. The mishandling of Drew as champion is something I’ve discussed before so to avoid being repetitive, i will simply say that losing the title twice didn’t do him any favors. That’s where the intrigue was for this bout because either management was going to try to give Drew a more legitimate Wrestlemania moment with the live crowd reaction, something that makes sense with the previously mentioned investment of TV time during the pandemic era or the status of Lashley as a main eventer would conclude after a one month title reign.
I have to say, I was very surprised that Lashley got the win, but I think they made the right call. It’s completely unfair to Drew that he finally got a major push at a time when the entire world was shut down, and to his credit, he probably did the best he could under the circumstances, but the point line is, there was never a way to truly gauge how over he was in the role since there wasn’t the live reaction for some feedback. Some might cite the ratings as an indication that Drew couldn’t retain viewers, but I disagree, I think the sluggish ratings have more to do with the overall presentation of the product than any individual star. I understand why they went with the finish where the match was stopped and McIntyre didn’t tap out, but regardless, I’m not sure the writing team could rebuild him as a title contender anytime soon. Again, Drew was put in an unprecedented spot with the attempt to be the top star during a pandemic, but if Lashley is the choice then management should focus on his presentation as champion. I’m really not sure what Drew can do next since the story was the journey to the title, and if there was a time to give him the moment to try to fully establish him as the top star on the brand then Wrestlemania would’ve been the stage for it. A side note, the fact that The Hurt Business was disbanded and Lashley retained the title is one of the booking decisions that hinder the product. The stable was an over act on the show and Lashley was the center piece of the faction so how did the split benefit anyone?
The women’s tag team turmoil match was more or less just an excuse to shoehorn as many wrestlers on the card as possible. Natalya and Tamina won and will challenge for the titles tonight. Next…
It was no surprise that Cesaro and Seth Rollins stole the show with an absolutely tremendous match. It showed just how good Rollins can be when he’s not dragged down with lame scripts and a stale persona. Cesaro proved again that he has all the skills to be a world champion, and more importantly, that the office continues to miss the boat with him. As I said in an article a few weeks ago, the match will be great and then it won’t matter. Cesaro’s skills have been well-known for years, but if management hasn’t realized his potential by now then it’s doubtful that it will suddenly occur to them that he should get more to do than just a mid-carder on the show. That was the only downside of this bout, it was great, but it’s disappointing to know that it won’t lead anywhere because three weeks from now Cesaro will probably be in the same spot he was before Wrestlemania, an underutilized talent on the mid-card of Smackdown. If nothing else, it was nice to see Cesaro get the victory and at least the moment of recognition for his skills.
AJ Styles and Omos won the Raw tag team titles after a mostly one-sided match against The New Day. You can see the inexperience, but Omos has a look and a presence that has the potential to be money for the company. Obviously, things were kept basic, which was a smart decision, and the other three in the match really worked to showcase the debuting athlete. There are certain guys in wrestling that will get a brief moment of the spotlight based solely on their giant statue, and without the ability to work a decent match, it essentially limits their time on the card. Giant Gonzalez, God bless him, was a very nice guy from mentions of him on podcasts, but he wasn’t exactly Lou Thez inside the ring ropes. He had the fact that he was a giant and outside of that visual, he just didn’t have the skills to have any longevity as a star. That’s why his run in the WWF was less than a year because after fans saw him on the screen, there wasn’t anything else he could bring to the table. There’s a reason that specific performers had better runs than other giants. Clearly, the best example is that Andre wasn’t just a giant, he had the aura and the presence that made him a top draw with audiences around the globe. How far Omos can go, and if it’s possible to effectively book a giant in an era where there are countless hours of TV remains to be seen, but this was definitely a solid debut.
Psychology-wise, the Braun Strowman vs. Shane McMahon cage match was fine. There’s no reason that Shane should be able to go toe-to-toe with Braun so the heels jumping him before the match and Shane’s use of the chair allowed for the heel to get the advantage without anything too ridiculous planned in the match. Shane getting the sheet metal from the top of the cage was another way to make sure Braun didn’t have to oversell something as simple as punches for the heel to continue to get the advantage. The bump Shane took from the top of the cage was very risky, but at this point I think the “dangerous Shane spots” have become rather stable. Braun won a decent match. The major problem here is that the entire angle and the build up to it were completely horrendous so the majority of the viewing audience couldn’t care less about the match. Braun continues to be made to look silly after he was one of the most over stars on the roster five years ago. The swamp fight, the angle with Shane, and probably whatever Strowman is booked for next will make the audience shake their head more than anything else.
The Bad Bunny and Damien Priest vs. The Miz and John Morrison match was fun. Some purists might scoff at a celebrity getting the advantage in the ring, but truth be told, The Miz is the perfect choice for this type of contest. The Miz is as over as he’s going to be and his status within the promotion is going to stay the same regardless of if he wins or loses every match for the rest of his career. That’s not meant as a jab against him, but rather that he has a level of consistency that even a defeat from a rapper in his first match won’t have a major impact on the level of his career. It was reported before the event that Bad Bunny had spent several weeks training at the Performance Center and it showed in this match. Similar to the Omos situation, the other three involved worked to help showcase Bad Bunny and minimize his inexperience. Bad Bunny did well on the moves he performed and he didn’t take any moves that would’ve exposed any possible weaknesses. The selling was basic and it was mission accomplished. The structure of the match worked well because Bad Bunny got a chance to shine early, he was beat down to build some heat so that Damien Priest could get the hot tag with the spotlight on him. Bad Bunny and Damien Priest got the win. I’m not sure how far Priest could go on Raw, but he looked like a star at Wrestlemania.
The main event was very good, and after over a year of doom and gloom for almost everything in the world, it was really nice to have a happy moment with the baby face celebrating to close the show. Some cynics might try to claim that Sasha and Bianca were given the main event spot so the company can try to score “woke” point or something, but that’s nonsense. Sasha is an extremely talented heel that has the star quality, and Belair is a sentimental baby face that has to potential to become a major star. The only color that matters in that formula is green because that scenario is money. The back and fourth action built well toward the drama of the finish of the match, and it definitely was a main event quality performance. Overall, the card was fine, but the amount of video packages after the extended rain delay made the show drag at some point. Don’t get me wrong, one of the reasons WWE is as successful as it is, is based on the incredible production value of the shows, but nobody had to watch five minute videos packages prior to most of the matches. It will be interesting to see how night two is booked and how it compares to this event.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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