Welcome to Wrestling Wrecap, a column focused on discussing and dissecting the week in pro wrestling.
Wrestlemania Weekend is finally over. The biggest weekend in wrestling saw a slew of events, with WWE themselves putting out close to 20 hours of content in the span of 5 days, reaching a fever pitch at the, near 8 hours long, Wrestlemania 35.
Thankfully, the length did not take away from the crowd’s heat for the main event. While not the best match on the card, Becky Lynch vs Ronda Rousey vs Charlotte Flair delivered for the most part. This felt like the type of all out brawl that it should have been and while Ronda’s sloppiness took me out of it from time to time, Charlotte and Becky kept me invested. The finish to the match has become a point of contention and I can see why some would be disappointed in an apparent attempt to keep Rousey strong, but in the moment I didn’t care. Becky Lynch was a dual champion and the first female to win in the main event of Wrestlemania. Not to mention, the first European competitor to win in the main event.
The Man wasn’t the only one who got coronated that night. Wrestlemania, for the first time in almost 5 years, felt like a culmination of storylines. A harkening back to the age when the show was more focused on sending the fans home happy. Kofi Kingston also made history by becoming WWE’s first African-born world champion, a moment that stole the show and the crowd’s hearts. Rollins shocked the world, not only by beating Lesnar in under 2 minutes, but by opening the show with it. Add in an IC title victory for Finn Balor and a surprise Women’s Tag Title win for the IIconics and it was clear that this Wrestlemania was about reestablishing good will with the fans.
Ultimately, I would say the event was a success in that regard. Aside from the interminable Baron Corbin retiring Kurt Angle, nothing on the show felt made to bore the audience and incite them to anger. Even Elias’ musical performance gave us the return of the Doctor of Thuganomics era John Cena. At a time when WWE so rarely gives fans exactly what they’re asking for it was refreshing, even for one night, to have it all go right.
The Monday Comedown
As they say, “Nothing good can last forever,” and that was certainly the case with the post-Wrestlemania edition of Raw.
The post-Mania Raw has become something of a staple in recent years for the most interesting time to watch the show. As with all things, it took a few years for WWE to figure out that people looked forward to the crowd reactions and surprises on these shows and, in usual fashion, it only took a few more years afterward for the company to forget exactly what made it a big deal to begin with.
Originally, the buzz of the post-Mania show was about the crowd reaction. Stemming from the, now infamous, Raw after Wrestlemania 28 that saw the crowd chanting “Yes” for Daniel Bryan, who was not on the program, in defiance of his 17 second loss to Sheamus. WWE noticed it and starting with Wrestlemania 30 began marketing the post-Mania Raw as its own big event. That episode saw the debut of Paige and the face turn of The Shield. It is one of the more memorable episodes of Raw in the last decade. Since then, WWE has continually saved big returns and surprise NXT appearances for these shows. It is the one time out of the year where truly anything can happen.
Logically, there is a problem with telling your audience that there is only one time during the entire year where “anything can happen,” but let’s put that aside and focus on what WWE had planned for these shows. While Raw lacked any Lesnar or Rousey appearances we did get the return of Sami Zayn and the debut of Lars Sullivan. Earlier in the show we were also given the promise of Seth Rollins vs Kofi Kingston in a Winner Take All match. The type of match that immediately makes you think shenanigans are afoot. Then again, this is the ONE time all year where “anything can happen,” so maybe there is a chance. No, of course there isn’t, you idiot. Out comes The Bar, of all people, to interrupt the match and give us a tag team main event instead.
Look, I can’t speak for all the fans in attendance, who were clearly unhappy with this development, but for myself I was expecting almost anything more exciting than what we got. Just about anyone could have come out there and gotten the crowd more excited than The Bar. It was lazy in a way that I expect from the other 51 weeks of Raw, not the post-Mania show. The good will sure didn’t last long, huh?
Johnny Takeover Wins Big
Wrestlemania Weekend kicked off with what ended up being the best event of the whole affair, NXT Takeover: New York. It has become almost predictable at this point for NXT to put on the best show, despite being the “developmental” league, but they managed it again here.
The primary components that work in Takeover’s favor are consistency and pacing. Every match was entertaining in its own right while also providing a different style than the match before. No two encounters felt the same on this show and everyone put in their best effort. All of it culminating in a slow-building main event that saw Johnny Gargano face off against Adam Cole in a 2 out 3 Falls match for the vacant NXT Championship.
The Brooklyn crowd was firmly behind Cole at the start of the match, a testament to how weird Gargano’s story feels without the proper conclusion of beating Ciampa. Without Ciampa to play off of and with no real show of remorse for his previous actions, Gargano feels less like the underdog face he was before and more like a sneaky rat waiting to stab you in the back. In other words, a less sinister version of Tommaso.
However, as the match progressed and the first two falls were accounted for, things changed drastically. Gargano’s resilience and determination to finally capture the gold won the fans back. Johnny Wrestling was reborn before our very eyes and nothing Cole or the rest of Undisputed Era threw at him could keep him down. With the crowd fully behind him again, Gargano won the NXT Championship and celebrated with his wife. Then, Ciampa came out, a tense moment that was broken with a hug between the two friends-turned-enemies-turned-friends-turned-enemies. If this is the only conclusion we get to their saga, it will still have been worth it.
The ROH/NJPW G1 Supercard was, by and large, the event I was most excited for heading into this past weekend. Even knowing the tailspin Ring of Honor had been in as of late, I, like many others, assumed they would try and put on the best show possible on the biggest stage they’ve ever had. What we got instead was a tale of two very different shows.
The New Japan portion of the Supercard was a consistently fun display of wrestling where even the worst match (the Winner Takes All Tag Title match,) was a great showcase for the talent. If this had been just a New Japan show, it would have gone down as one of the best of the year and a sign of the foothold New Japan has gained in North America in recent years.
In contrast, the Ring of Honor portion saw the company constantly finding new ways to suck the energy from the audience like it was an episode of Raw, or worse, TNA Impact circa 2010. The dismal Women of Honor match ended with the debut of Angelina Love and Velvet Sky, otherwise known as the untalented portion of The Beautiful People. The Guerillas of Destiny’s celebration as dual champions was immediately upstaged by the former Enzo Amore and Big Cass attacking the Briscoes from the crowd. A moment that was discovered to be a work, but was never actually shown on camera in a poor attempt at “realism.” All of it capped off with a main event in which Matt Taven defeated Jay Lethal and Marty Scrull to the excitement of what appeared to be two people in the crowd.
Thankfully, the show ended on a high note with Kazuchika Okada overcoming the challenge of Jay White and reclaiming the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. While I doubt we get another two year reign this time around, I’m happy to see the Rainmaker back on top. A fitting end to a show that ended up being more of a mixed bag than I was hoping for.
Performer of the Week: Kofi Kingston
Rollins, Lynch, Okada and Gargano all won big this past weekend in fantastic matches but I have to give it to Kofi. As it turns out, putting his match in the middle of an almost 8 hour show paid off as it became the emotional crux of the evening. As satisfying as it was to see the women main event and Becky holding two titles at the end of the night. The sight of Kofi’s young son lifting the title, with help from E and Woods, is one that will stick with me for years to come. And the match? With only a bit of hyperbole I can say that it is perhaps the best Wrestlemania match since Daniel Bryan vs Triple H. Congratulations Kofi, 11 years of hard work and positivity have finally paid off.
If you made it down here, thanks for reading!Tell me what you thought about this week’s events in wrestling in the comments and, as always, any feedback is appreciated. Cheers