Rey Mysterio/Dominik Mysterio vs. Logan Paul/The Miz
The celebrity pro-wrestling match at WrestleMania dates back to the very first Mania, which was built around the pro-wrestling debut of Mr. T ( who was one of the 10 or so biggest celebrities in the world in 1985—the eighties were weird). Some of the performances have been iconic (Floyd Mayweather, Lawrence Taylor), and some have been forgettable (Maria Menounos of “you got to the movies before the credits started” fame teamed with Kelly Kelly at Mania 28). Logan Paul, who is one of the 10 or so biggest celebrities in the world (the 2020s are weird too), shot up to the upper echelon of the celebrity performers list with his delightfully detestable performance in this tag match.
This was the first pro-wrestling match for either of the Paul brothers, but they are pro wrestlers at heart. They have leveraged their ability to be loved by some and hated by most into wildly successful careers (Forbes lists Logan Paul’s net worth at $245 million, and that may be an underestimation). Whether it’s stealing Floyd Mayweather’s hat, trolling Dana White, or trash-talking Tyron Woodley’s mom, they know how to make people hate them and want to pay to see them get their comeuppance.
Few heels in wrestling these days are willing to lean into being hated, but Paul was luxuriating in the crowd’s contempt. The spot where he hit the Eddie Guerrero–tribute Three Amigos suplexes and then did a shimmy on the top rope is up there with the greatest heel taunts ever. He reached peak Tully Blanchard levels of making you want to jump into the ring and punch him in the face. There are all-time-great Hall of Fame heel performers who have never reached that level of loathsomeness. There’s a moment after the first suplex when Logan pauses, takes a beat, and then swivels his hips to set up the second suplex. That pause, giving the crowd a second to register what is happening and react accordingly, is nefariously magical. All of sudden this isn’t just a regular suplex but this sleazy creep actually doing an Eddie Guerrero spot against the Mysterios, of all people.
Paul showed such a brilliant understanding of the nuances of pro wrestling and performing in general: He wore a $6 million Pikachu card in a gold chain to the ring, for god’s sake. What a glorious piece of shit. In addition to all of that, he was actually pretty good in the ring. He flinched when he got kicked the first time by Rey, but outside of that, he was pretty flawless—his running powerslam looked great, the frogsplash had a real impact, and he had nice body shots, took a big bump to the floor, and based nicely for Dominik’s arm drag. His mechanics were solid and his charisma was off the charts, a prodigy-level performance for a first match.
The Mysterios are classic babyface antagonists for great heels. Dominik was probably rushed into the WWE ring too early, but he has really seasoned into a well-above-average wrestler. His big offensive run early looked very smooth, and he did a credible job of playing the babyface in peril. He probably would have been better off working CMLL in Mexico for a couple of years under a random mask, but he totally deserves his place now.
And Rey—Rey is a miracle. During the last year or so of his run in WCW in the late 1990s/early 2000s, he was unmasked and working heel for some reason, and he looked too bulky and his knees seemed shot. At that time it seemed like Rey would be one of those supernovas who had a great 7-10-year career and burned out quick, like Rick Rude or Necro Butcher. That was 23 years ago! Austin Theory, who wrestled on Sunday night, was born right around the same time Rey Mysterio looked washed. The speed and intricacies of his offense in this match were off the charts, and his flying looked as fast and smooth as that of elite luchadores working the Mania weekend indy shows who are 20 years younger. We’ve got 20-plus more years of Rey Mysterio being an all-time performer, and this weekend we were blessed with another Rey Mysterio classic.
I also have to give a lot of credit to the Miz. He came into wrestling as a reality star, sort of a C-list version of Logan Paul, and has just been a marvelous utility performer for decades. He’s a guy who can credibly be a heel world champion and main-event PPVs and also be moved up and down the card when needed. It is clear as day that the three guys the WWE trusts to be put in tricky spots are Miz, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn, and while Zayn and Owens are longtime smart fan favorites, Miz has never really gotten the respect he deserves, and he clearly held this match together on the heel side. Not sure whether Miz jumping Paul after the match is a kiss-off for Paul or sets up a match between the two, but I loved the character work of Miz being unwilling to share the spotlight with anyone (also shout-out to Challenge icon Mark Long getting a cameo appearance at the end). The great thing about WrestleMania is when the work is a variety of different styles and flavors; the great Dusty Rhodes compared a well-done wrestling show to a three-ring circus. If you don’t like the lion tamers, just wait for the acrobats. A simple tag-team wrestling story put together by charismatic performers can be as good as wrestling gets, and on this night this particular ring of the circus shined.
Becky Lynch vs. Bianca Belair
Two WrestleMania matches, two certified classics. Bianca Belair has established herself as the Queen of WrestleMania and now has to be considered one of the great performers in Mania history of any gender. It has really only been since 2016 that women have even been given the time and freedom to try to steal the show at WrestleMania or on other PPVs. Before that, women’s matches were short popcorn breaks, and the women wrestlers before Becky Lynch’s generation were marginalized. There are rose-colored glasses for the Lita and Trish Stratus era, but they were never given the opportunity to have long featured matches on big shows. Lita’s return match on the last Saudi show was easily the longest singles match of her career. Lynch, Sasha Banks, Bailey, and Charlotte Flair showed that women wrestlers could deliver in big showcase matches during their time in NXT and later on the main roster. Bianca is really the first female star from an era that took for granted that opportunities would be available.
So far Bianca Belair has been in easily the two best women’s matches in Mania history, one right after the other, and had the two best matches of her career on the biggest possible stage. There are WWE wrestlers who are more consistent then Belair, but when the lights are brightest, there are few who have ever been at her level.
The match started with Lynch being driven to the ring in a luxury SUV, which was a nifty example of her Big Time Becks character. That was followed by Belair being played out to the ring by the Texas Southern University marching band in one of the greatest entrances in WrestleMania history. There is nothing exaggerated or caricatured about Belair or what she does—she is a natural extension of herself the way all great pro-wrestling characters are. It is really meaningful that a Black woman can be her authentic self and also be a hugely pushed world champion. Lynch has made a pretty large shift in character but also delivers a relatively natural performance both in the ring and on promos.
When the bell rang, Lynch got aggressive and tried to push the pace. She’d beaten Belair in 26 seconds at SummerSlam—a booking decision they recovered from, but which is still mind-bogglingly dumb in hindsight—so it made sense that she would try to speed Bianca up and try to catch her quickly again. Belair’s strength and speed advantages meant that Lynch didn’t want to give her too many openings, and she hoped the bum’s rush could end it quickly.
The match slowed down when Lynch dragged Belair to the floor with her long braid and slammed her into the ring steps. Lynch worked her over in the next section of the match, slamming her throat into the ropes and pulling on her braid to maneuver her into a triangle choke. Belair was able to use her world-class strength to power out and lift Lynch out of the triangle, sending them both over the top rope and to the floor. The match moved into more of an even back-and-forth section, with Belair landing an insanely athletic second-rope 450 splash and Lynch absolutely pasting Belair with a teeth-loosening front-flip dropkick off the top rope.
Lynch was able to take control again when they spilled to the outside, with Lynch hitting her Manhandle Uranage slam on the steel steps. However, she was unable to either get a count out win or score a pin when Belair rolled back into the ring. Lynch’s frustration led to an opening, and Belair was able to hoist her up and bounce her off the ring with K.O.D. for the win and the title.
Belair came off like a huge star, and the crowd reacted to her winning like the major moment it was. While Belair had the flashier arc in the match, this was really a great heel performance by Lynch. Lynch felt like a wrestler who was unable to adjust to change, and that petulance cost her the title. She couldn’t catch Belair early again and couldn’t force a count-out near the end, and eventually her frustration boiled over. The build of this match was all about Lynch’s inability to deal with the fans turning on her after she beat Belair the first time, and that kind of frayed-nerve resentment is a cool character beat to play in a wrestling match.
Belair’s first title reign was a minor flub—she felt like a made woman after last year’s WrestleMania, but having her title reign cut embarrassingly short by Lynch sort of erased whatever preceded it. Hopefully another Mania barn burner like this will convince WWE to permanently affix that rocket to her back. She feels like someone who could be the face of the women’s division and of the promotion as a whole for many years to come.
Edge vs. AJ Styles
The workrate classic is a big part of the history of WrestleMania. It’s the moment where top workers on the show are given a chance to pull out the stops and have a classic match. The most famous example of this is the WrestleMania 3 match between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat, a match that is referenced to this day for its technical mastery. (Format-wise, it was actually a compressed version of the matches they had been having on house shows, where they broke out 20 minutes of moves in 14 minutes.) Bret Hart was the master of the WrestleMania workrate classic for years, having great matches with Roddy Piper and his brother Owen. Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle were put in that role in the 2000s, and Daniel Bryan held it down for much of the 2010s. AJ Styles and Edge were clearly put in that spot for this Mania season, and they put on a hard-hitting athletic match, which was especially impressive because it was one guy in his mid-40s and one guy in his late 40s given roles normally reserved for the young.
Edge has aged his way into a guy with a pretty great look and persona since his return from a nine-year neck-injury-induced retirement. Styles is really great at working a match around his failed hubris. His offense is so explosive that when he crashes, he really crashes. The drama in this match was built on Styles going for a 450 splash early and underestimating Edge’s resilience, accidentally crashing his ribs into Edge’s knees—and that gave Edge a target to focus on. Edge delivered some pretty nasty work on those ribs; during his first big run, Edge always seems to work a bit looser than his peers, but he was laying in the knees and body shots here, grinding his knuckles and the point of his elbow right into the rib cage. Styles took a great-looking sternum-first turnbuckle bump to accentuate the damage.
The match moves into more of a big-move-trading section near the end, with a super nasty superplex thrown in from the top rope to the ring apron and some big offensive runs from Styles. Still that damage early in the match was always in the back of Styles’s mind, and there were multiple near falls where Styles was unable to close the show because the ribs slowed him down a bit.
I’m not sure the match needed the weird Damian Priest staredown, although Edge spearing Styles mid–springboard elbow was a big explosive conclusion. Styles is really great at getting snatched out of midair–one of Randy Orton’s best-ever RKOs was intercepting the Phenomenal elbow. Whereas a lot of babyfaces will work matches around being underdogs and overcoming obstacles, Styles doesn’t normally do that. Instead, Styles is Icarus, a monumental talent who, because of that talent, will frequently soar too close to the sun, only for his opponent to crash him down to earth. It is always an interesting way to structure a match, and on Sunday, Styles had a memorable fall.
Phil Schneider is a cofounder of the Death Valley Driver Video Review, a writer on the Segunda Caida blog, host of The Way of the Blade podcast, and the author of Way of the Blade: 100 of the Greatest Bloody Matches in Wrestling History, which is available on Amazon.