The time for conjecture has passed. In fact, nearly half a day elapsed between WrestleMania kicking off from New Orleans’s Superdome on Sunday and its conclusion around midnight on Monday morning. And as expected, nothing—and yet somehow, everything—will be the same again. Raw is already mere hours away, par for WWE’s hectic year-round pace, as the cycle of stories and pay-per-view builds springs eternal. Still, let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the immediate impact of what we witnessed in NOLA—from Ronda Rousey’s show-stealing mojo and Bray Wyatt’s woken return to the Undertaker’s exclamation point and Roman Reigns’s blood, sweat, and jeers—while pretending the endless cross-promotion for a single from Kid Rock’s 2015 album never happened.
Complete match results are at the bottom of this roundup (’cause, ya know, we literally can’t comprehensively break down all 14 bouts, although welcome back, Daniel Bryan; “we’re not worthy” to Charlotte and Asuka; and congrats, Seth Rollins, etc.). But first, five key takeaways from WWE’s 34th annual show of shows.
1. Well, That Was Gross
Yes, Roman Reigns’s crimson mask. But also the whole strange spectacle of that main event. Mania simply isn’t the time to mess around and troll your fans. Even those of us not overtly conspiracy-minded (myself included) couldn’t help but watch triumphant Universal Champion Brock Lesnar bloody and batter Reigns—only after several unsuccessful pin attempts and apparent amnesia about his arsenal of submission holds—and think: This was all so avoidable. Let Dana White, who was conspicuous in his attendance, and Vince McMahon hash out how to halve Lesnar’s commitments between them. And if it suits people, they can debate whether Brock’s holding his title hostage or brandishing it with mystique. What matters for the average, day-to-day wrestling fan is how the company chooses to position Reigns from here on out. The way he hobbled up the ramp as the final seconds faded recalled the Undertaker circa Mania 33 in his disbelief and disappointment and seemed to indicate (hopefully?) some kind of evolved presentation to come. Wrestling is all about transformation and renewal, and not knowing what’s next. Reigns vs. Lesnar didn’t go wrong because of who won or lost. If anything, it bucked expectations. It went wrong because it never felt right. And now that some of WWE’s top executives are through playing onscreen villains, it’s their job to make good with what’s left.
2. Ronda Redeemed
Maybe it was a work all along—the unsteady debut crashing Asuka’s party at Royal Rumble, subsequent rough outings getting accustomed to WWE’s character-based development, bizarre mainstream media appearances and, ultimately, acknowledgment of her learning curve on Raw. Perhaps every stumble and stutter step was designed to lower expectations so former UFC champ Ronda Rousey’s in-ring Mania (and pro wrestling) debut alongside Kurt Angle opposite Triple H and Stephanie McMahon couldn’t help but impress. Though honestly, nothing could have prepared onlookers for the ass-kicking Rousey uncorked on both of her oppressors, from the first flurry of gymnastic offense against Stephanie to pummeling her husband like meat-locker prey and, finally, forcing Steph to call it quits. I was properly cynical up until the bell rang and downright positive the only out was for Ronda to rough up Kurt and align herself with the suits. Turns out when I opined several weeks back that “she’ll have to figure out how to compartmentalize her enthusiasm and contrive the kind of stoic badassery that came naturally as she pounced on Octagon prey,” I had it backward. Judging by that electric, next-level crowd-pleaser, all Rousey had to do was get permission to drop the possum act and play the part she was born for: herself.
3. One Good Turn …
That’s all you get for now, folks, far as main-card attractions are concerned. Charlotte and Asuka shared their genuine embraces and salutations after an epic SmackDown Women’s Championship match; neither Daniel Bryan nor Shane McMahon upended one another en route to a routine win against Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens; and Rousey proved she merely needs an opportunity to tape up and fight. Naturally, it was enigmatic Shinsuke Nakamura, in defeat to WWE Champion AJ Styles, who emerged as an answer to the burning question: Who will dick over somebody else? Granted, it was the least subtly telegraphed turn of modern times—offering Styles his belt on one knee, really?—but given the night’s relative lack of soap-opera intrigue, it was a welcome guarantee that even if Styles and Nakamura’s Mania showdown wasn’t a “dream match,” their upcoming feud is one hell of an exciting reality.
4. The Kick-Off Show Quagmire
The pre-show is a dicey proposition. You can’t reasonably promote it as such when, at Mania in particular, it continues generating outcomes and buzz that best some of the most-anticipated primary-card collisions. As the typically inconsequential Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal sputtered to its end, Bray Wyatt materialized, reborn after a dip in Matt Hardy’s Lake of Reincarnation (wrestling!) and ready to help his foe lay claim to the winning trophy. And give hugs! It was a strange scene, Wyatt playing the proud sportsman, all smiles and pats on the back, so much sooner than many of us assumed he’d be repackaged and reinstated. Alas, the character of Bray wasn’t really repackaged. It’s more about the man behind Bray—third-generation performer Windham Rotunda—having been humbled by getting protégés over with more success than his own shamanistic brand. In any case, we get it: Going forward, we dare not miss a minute of Mania’s seven hours, “kickoff” or no, lest a major superstar pull an epic swerve or—more importantly—we miss the many, many early broadcast teasers for everything else WWE Network and WWE Studios have to offer.
5. Undertaker Over?
Defeating the man Michael Cole breathlessly (how else?) designated as Mania’s other true living legend, 16-time world champ John Cena, would seem a logical wrap on 53-year-old Undertaker’s career. He already forewent the “go out on your back” route that my colleague the Masked Man succinctly summed up in his column this week. Then he sustained a second-ever Mania loss to Roman Reigns last April, priming Reigns for the run that culminated with Sunday night’s showdown with Brock Lesnar, whose own 2014 tear, as David Shoemaker noted, was turbo-boosted by pinning Taker. So it was time for the Dead Man to get his due, and the only active performer to pull off this extraordinary reverse rub was Cena, who’d not only never squared up against Undertaker at Mania but has a hotshot Hollywood future that leaves him with little to answer for. It was a squash job, to be sure, and an echo of when Lesnar (these three must have some kind of understanding) manhandled Cena at SummerSlam four years earlier. It was also a subtle statement of sacrifice from Cena, who’s so commonly accused of burying his competitors backstage. Taker’s body has been battered for decades, but on this occasion, he wasn’t asked to plod and pace for 20 minutes. He was summoned only to overpower and awe. May he retire in peace.
Complete WrestleMania 34 Results
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal: Matt Hardy (Winner)
Cruiserweight Tournament Finals: Cedric Alexander def. Mustafa Ali
WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal: Naomi (Winner)
Seth Rollins (New Intercontinental Champion) def. the Miz and Finn Bálor
SmackDown Women’s Champion: Charlotte Flair def. Asuka
New U.S. Champion: Jinder Mahal def. Randy Orton, Rusev, and Bobby Roode
Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey def. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon
New SmackDown Tag Team Champions: The Bludgeon Brothers def. The Usos and The New Day
The Undertaker def. John Cena
Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon def. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
New Raw Women’s Champion: Nia Jax def. Alexa Bliss
WWE Champion AJ Styles def. Shinsuke Nakamura
New Raw Tag Team Champions: Braun Strowman and, uh, Nicholas def. Sheamus and Cesaro
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar def. Roman Reigns