Wrestlemania found itself back in Orlando in 2017, the place where the company has put some of its foundation because while the offices are still located in Titan Tower in Stanford, the Performance Center in the sunshine state is the hub of its developmental program that aims at building the future. As I mentioned yesterday, re-watching these events for this article series has been a fun project, specifically to see the evolution of not only the event, but also the business as a whole and certain stars. That being said, another point I made was how tedious some of the viewing experience became as we get to the modern era of WM events. Keep in mind, I’m watching these a few days ahead and writing them before they are posted online to be able to provide some continuity throughout these articles. All things considered, watching these again, taking notes on matches and then writing the actual articles have been a good way to keep busy and avoid the barrage of depressing news on TV. However, I think it’s fair to see that in some respects, WM has gotten too big for its own good because six hour marathon shows hinder the overall presentation more than help it. I only discuss the main card because to attempt to cover the preshow matches would become too lengthy for anyone to want to realistically read. Furthermore, I found that even with watching these again, most of the action in the middle of the show simply gets lost in the shuffle. After six hours of wrestling, does the audience really recall the specific details of what happened in the second hour? A longer show doesn’t automatically translate to a better show and this is a prime example of that.
The AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon opener was a solid match and probably better than it should’ve been considering that Shane isn’t a full-time wrestler, but at the same time, this seemed like it was booked more because Shane just wanted a match with AJ Styles because he’s an incredible athlete than anything else. The only criticism I can offer here is that the contest went a little too long as the bell-to-bell action went almost twenty minutes and extended bouts like that are ultimately what made this show such a tedious viewing experience later on.
Chirs Jericho dropped the US title to Kevin Owens in a really good match, but this is a textbook example of what I mentioned earlier with matches basically getting lost in the shuffle over the course of such a long show. It wasn’t the opener so it didn’t get a chance to hit the ring when the audience was completely fresh and almost by definition, the second bout on the card doesn’t have as much of a chance to standout based on the match position alone. I say this because the Jericho/Owens angle, especially the memorable heel turn during the festival of friendship segment was some of the best TV the company had at the time, but the angle was more or less discarded as somewhat of an afterthought on the biggest show of the year. If this bout was given a prime spot on the card or had some level of major importance placed on it as a grudge match then perhaps it would’ve established Kevin Owens as one of the top heels in the organization, something the office still hasn’t done yet, but Owens undoubtedly has the skills for on Raw. Don’t get me wrong, Owens is a tremendously talented worker, but it still seems like WWE brass haven’t given him the chance to truly run as a vicious heel on the main roster yet. In truth, he hasn’t had a chance to show that side of his character since his feud with Sami Zayn in NXT. Considering that the current WWE roster has some of the best in-ring talent in the history of the company, but lacks star power, you would think management would give competitors the opportunity to try to become the biggest star possible.
Bayley retained the Raw Women’s title in a four-way match, which wasn’t terrible, but nothing great either. This appeared to be more of a way to shoehorn more wrestlers on the card than anything that was designed to provide a platform to showcase the championship. In an example of how overbooked this show became, later in the card, the Smackdown Women’s belt was scheduled for a six way match that went less than five minutes. Naomi, who is a great athlete, won the title, but similar to the Raw women’s match, the SD bout was decent, but nothing spectacular because of the limitations with the type of match that was booked for it.
The tag team title ladder match probably should’ve had more time and appeared to be a little rushed, but the argument could be made that it stole the show because the Hardy Boys return was one of the most memorable reactions in the history of the company. Granted, this event was known as too long and too tedious, but as far as memorable moments, this one will be known as the night that Hardy Boys made an epic return to the company. One of the reasons this segment was so special is because in an era when nearly everything is leaked online, their return was kept a surprise, and they were even booked in a ladder match the previous night against the Young Bucks for Ring Of Honor so nobody thought WWE brass would allow their returning stars to risk injury in a match for another promotion the night before WM. The match itself was entertaining with some really cool spots and The Hardys winning the belts was a fitting conclusion for their return.
The John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse match was a total gimmick and that was fine. This was booked for purely a sports entertainment spot so there’s nothing to really say about the in-ring action because that wasn’t the point for this angle. The match was only used as a way to get to the conclusion of the storyline. Purists might use this contest for a bathroom break or to get another mountain dew and some pizza from the kitchen, but this angle isn’t marketed to them. As far as drawing the general public, a potential proposal from Cena to Nikki was more important than the wrestling clinic Pac and Aries put on during the preshow. The demographic for this segment was the audience that probably watches Total Bellas more often than they watch Raw. Cena and Nikki won and there was an in-ring proposal, but the two split before the ceremony.
The second half of the card is where this became a very tedious match. Seth Rollins beat Triple H despite going into the match with a knee injury and it was clear he was a step behind here. The bout had no momentum and went way too long. Sure, Triple H always seemed to get these nearly 30-minute contests on the big stage, but Seth selling the knee for several minutes on several different occasions just grinds the show to a halt. Maybe Rollins’ injury was too much, but this just wasn’t a good match at all.
On the flip side, the WWE championship bout was only given eight minutes, but managed to seem like it was much longer. This was the infamous contest that had images projected on the canvas mid-match. There’s a fine line between sports entertainment and hokey tactics. The Undertaker has the greatest character in the history of the industry and managed to make gimmicks work that stretched the logic of sports entertainment, but still impressed the audience. Bray only had the title for a month and was basically a transitional champion. Orton won the title, but the bigger takeaway here is the track record that management has for completely derailed Wyatt’s progress throughout his career. The defeat against John Cena at WM 30, the goofy projector used here, the eventual tag team with Matt Hardy that ultimately went nowhere, and the infamous HIAC match last year that was universally panned by everyone that watched it. It goes without saying, but Bray hasn’t been given the opportunities he deserves and he has much for to offer than what he’s been booked for in the company.
For as much as WWE management mishandled and completely botched Bill Goldberg’s initial run in 2003, they did the same amount right with this surprise 2017 title run. As I’ve written about before, the former WCW champion wasn’t known for his ability to work extended matches, and ultimately that’s what led to his downfall in the latter stages of WCW. Perhaps it was by designed or the fact that he only signed a one-year deal, but the office didn’t do him any favors during that 2003 stint. He wasn’t able to carry matches in his heyday, but was booked in those type of scenarios throughout the year he had a WWE contract. It wasn’t so much that Goldberg was set up to fail, but rather the booking wasn’t going to do anything to hide any of his weaknesses. When Goldberg made a shocking return to the company, many expected his title match with Brock Lesnar at the Survivor Series to be a one-off appearance, and reportedly, that was the original plan, but it was extended after he received such a tremendous reaction from the crowd. His shocking title win was one of the few legitimate surprises of the modern era and he was booked correctly for this particular run since there wasn’t a longer match until the conclusion of the series. Brock won the belt in a shorter, but physical match that showcased both athletes within the right time frame before it lost any steam. This was a basic, but very entertaining title match and it was good to see Goldberg get a better run in the WWE.
The main event was another chance to Roman Reigns to get the spotlight after a chorus of boos were heard after he won the championship in the main event the previous year. Ironically, the new documentary series about The Undertaker that recently started offered some very unique insight into this bout, as camera followed his prior to the bout. With the legendary Jim Ross on the call, who was resigned to the company just weeks after his wife Jan passed away, this probably should’ve been The Undertaker’s last match. I’m not exactly sure how management thought that beating a respected icon would get the fans to embrace Roman, especially when they audience knows that the office wanted to force the narrative to the crowd, but from the clips in the documentary, it looked like this was supposed to be the final match of The Undertaker’s stellar career. As we saw in the documentary, he had mobility problems before the match and it unquestionably affected his performance as this match didn’t really find a solid pace and didn’t build any major momentum throughout it. The match wasn’t terrible, but it’s fair to say that it was below the standard of the usual Wrestlemania main event for the show.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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