Night 1 of WrestleMania 37 was all about seeing who WWE has the utmost faith in as we finally begin to leave the Pandemic Era of pro wrestling. Who does WWE trust to be the face of the company and hold the top championships? Who does WWE trust to bring international celebrities to matches worthy of the “instant classic” label?
And who does WWE trust to keep a rowdy crowd happy when bad weather threatens to derail the whole show?
Yes, this WrestleMania was envisioned as being less about the stories and matches and more about the experience of having live crowds back for the biggest show of the year, and that experience certainly became the talk of the town for the first hour of the show.
So, on the whole, how was WrestleMania Saturday? Let’s go through it match by match.
The Weather Delay
But first, we have to look at the show’s opening and how it went from iconic to nigh-tragic over the course of one hype package.
The show opened with Vince McMahon and the entire WWE locker room standing on stage, all receiving the first live crowd pop in over a year together. Vince welcomed us to WrestleMania in that iconic way that he does, Bebe Rexha came out to sing “America the Beautiful,” and we hop right back into the same hype package as last year, only now modified and laden with jokes about how we’re “picking up where we left off.”
And then, as we cut back to the announce desk, Michael Cole announces to the audience at home that WrestleMania was being delayed indefinitely due to weather.
As Greg Hamilton broke the news to the crowd, the life was sucked out of the place, and WWE tried to hurry and get any sort of damage control they could out of their roster and staff. Cole and Samoa Joe kept the audience at home informed about the state of things, the pre-show panel tried to crack whatever jokes they could, and Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley got into a little war of words before their match since they were set to open the show anyway.
Aside from the two openers, however, WWE also gave the mic to Kevin Owens, the New Day, and main eventer Bianca Belair, using all of the natural charisma and star power they could to get things back on straight. As the crowd finally began filing back in, WWE trotted Titus O’Neil and (a rightfully booed) Hulk Hogan out to warm the crowd up prior to the opening match.
Bobby Lashley def. Drew McIntyre to retain the WWE Championship
This match was just two big meaty men bumping chests, the type of match that Big E loves and the type of scene that your non-wrestling fan friends envision when you mention the pseudo-sport to them. The crowd was excited to see both men, and it actually took a little bit before the crowd finally booed Lashley properly, so the energy of this one was off the charts.
The most surprising part of the match (aside from the finish) was that the Superstars both got really technical, as McIntyre locked on an armbar and a kimura lock at different points in the match. McIntyre also hit three back-to-back Future Shock DDTs and did a tope over the top rope onto Lashley and MVP after the latter pulled Lashley out of the ring, though MVP got a little retribution later as he called McIntyre’s name mid-Claymore attempt and gave Lashley time to dodge the finishing blow.
The final stretch saw Lashley get McIntyre into the Hurt Lock after clobbering him in the corner, and though McIntyre tried to kick off of the corner and roll into a pin fall attempt (the Piper/Hart classic), Lashley rolled all the way through and kept McIntyre locked in until he passed out.
A shocking conclusion to a hot start for the show. I’m very happy to see the All Mighty receive a decent run with more than one defense.
Tamina and Natalya win the #1 Contender’s Tag Team Turmoil Match
This one was a mess.
It’s a shame because the women involved in this one are talented and there are multiple duos here who have great schticks going on, but the pieces didn’t quite fall together.
Billie Kay and Carmella kicked off the match with a quick little skirmish with Lana and Naomi before Kay rolled up Naomi and got the pin with rope-assisted foot-on-the-back support from Carmella. Up next were the Riott Squad, whose chemistry made it harder for their hilariously mischievous opponents to get one over on them. The ref caught Carmella’s cheating this time, the Riott Squad hit Kay with their combination Codebreaker/senton finisher, and the Riott Squad advanced.
Up to this point, the match was just solid, but the portion of the match where Dana Brooke and Mandy Rose got involved seemed cursed from the start as Rose slipped on the rain-covered ramp. What followed was a series of botches, awkwardly timed moments and unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions that mercifully ended with Riott pinning Brooke.
Finally, the Divas division veterans and pair of generational stars came out and watched as the Riott Squad ran circles around them. Natalya and Tamina survived not because they hit more moves, but because they hit harder ones, catching Riott with a Hart Attack before Natalya tagged Tamina in and let her get the win with the Superfly Splash.
It was nice to see Tamina get a win at WrestleMania as I’ve always had a (maybe unearned) soft spot for her, but this was the team I wanted to see win the least. Now we have to see two Natalya/Tamina matches at WrestleMania, and the next one has Nia Jax in it.
Cesaro def. Seth Rollins
As a make-good from the wrestling deities, we were gifted the guaranteed wrestling clinic that was Cesaro vs. Rollins, a match full of brilliant reversals, awesome callbacks, and sweet new moves.
The story, of course, was that Cesaro wanted to swing Rollins, but because it was the one thing that he didn’t want, Rollins had come up with a dozen ways to reverse it, including roll-ups, his second-rope corkscrew enziguri combo, and just pure rope breaks. Rollins also attacked the shoulder, making it hard for Cesaro to swing him for longer than a few seconds after he finally got a hold of him.
This match saw Rollins bring the Pedigree back, hit a Low Ki-style Black Magic, hit a Chris Hero-style Death By Elbow, and bust out a new corkscrew splash from the top rope that I’ve somehow never seen in wrestling before. For his troubles, though, Rollins got caught in a UFO by Cesaro, then took a second Neutralizer to finish the match.
From an in-ring perspective, this is my match of the night. I think after Zayn vs. Bryan from last year, I wasn’t expecting an in-ring spectacle like this to occur, but boy am I glad to be wrong.
AJ Styles and Omos def. the New Day to become RAW Tag Team Champions
After an incredible intro from Big E, the Buccaneers-themed New Day kicked the match off right by goading Styles into the ring. As soon as Styles stepped away from Omos, Kingston stayed on top of him and wouldn’t let him leave the New Day corner.
Woods and Kingston wrestled a very Revival-style match here, appearing everywhere Styles went and making sure he would never get a tag out. However, after a failed double-team maneuver led to Kingston being unconscious outside of the ring and Woods being on the top rope far from Styles, the Phenomenal One finally got enough space to tag in his bodyguard.
Omos didn’t do anything surprising out there, but it was good big man work. He no-sold Woods’ kung fu kicks, hit a huge sidewalk slam, threw both New Day members around. However, it became clear exactly which big man Omos was aping here once he hit Kingston with a two-handed chokeslam and pinned him with one foot to become champion.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Greater Khali. He’s slightly more mobile, and watching him go from smiling to super serious in a heartbeat makes me interested in seeing his character develop.
Braun Strowman def. Shane McMahon in a steel cage match
The first WrestleMania steel cage match since 1986, Braun and Shane had to over-deliver in this one since 1) their entire feud was literally idiotic, and 2) steel cage matches in WWE have become so commonplace that, if I ever miss a SmackDown, I assume the main event was in a cage.
Before this match, Elias and Jaxon Ryker came out to batter Braun’s knee with weaponry before dashing up the ramp. As the bell rang, Shane tried to make the quick escape out the door, only to be grabbed and tossed backwards by Braun. And, as expected, this was the story of the match.
The flow being “expected” didn’t make it bad, though, as we did get to see a Coast to Coast, a plate from the steel cage used as a weapon, Braun get bonked on the head with a toolbox, and all three heels falling from high places. And, when Shane waved Braun goodbye during his escape, Braun held onto his hand, ripped a hole in the cage wall, and brought Shane through it. He then went into overkill, throwing Shane off the top and THEN hitting him with a powerslam for the three.
With a great hype package and an entertaining match, this 20-or-so minute segment would absolutely work for anyone if they knew nothing about this storyline in the months leading up to it.
Bad Bunny & Damian Priest def. The Miz & John Morrison
Miz and Morrison entered to a crowd of Adam Rose’s bunnies, Damian Priest entered with a burning pirate ship, and Bad Bunny entered with a Mack truck and to the tune of “Booker T.” The winners for best entrances of the night are here.
Similar to the New Day and Styles, Miz and Morrison challenged Bad Bunny to start the match, hoping to take advantage of him. To their surprise, however, Bunny was really capable in the ring, throwing around headscissors and attempts at La Magistral. He wasn’t in control the WHOLE time, but it wasn’t the squash match the full-time wrestlers hope for.
Bunny wrestled for the first third of this match and spent the next two-thirds sharing his time with Priest, even hitting some cool double team moves together like Priest’s Broken Arrow. Miz and Morrison separated the Puerto Rican friends, but after Bad Bunny hit a freaking CANADIAN DESTROYER on Morrison, The Miz was helpless.
Priest put Miz on his shoulders, tagged Bunny in, and the pair won with a crossbody version of a Doomsday Device. A great showing for Bad Bunny, a super sweet role for Damian Priest, and a showcase of how giving Miz and Morrison are. This was probably the best celebrity match in WrestleMania history.
Bianca Belair def. Sasha Banks to become SmackDown Women’s Champion
This match was hard to watch with dry eyes, as Belair began tearing up the moment the bell rang. Banks quickly knocked her back into reality, though.
The story here was that Banks was experienced and vicious, meaning she would do whatever it took to take this rookie out. Hair-pulling, holding onto submissions despite rope breaks, crazy suicide dives, double rotation springboard DDTs. Banks kicked Belair like a soccer ball.
And in response, Belair showed off her impressive strength and raw athleticism. She caught Banks on dives, hit her with a wicked powerbomb, military pressed her from the floor up the stairs and onto the apron, and went for the 450 splash, only failing the first time because Sasha got the knees up.
After landing the second 450, though, Banks kicked out at 2.8, and Belair screamed the scream of a person who thought they had everything and quickly realized she might never get that. The desperate Banks took advantage of Belair’s frantic state and went for a backstabber, but Belair wouldn’t go down, instead lifting her up for the KOD.
Banks got out by pulling Belair’s hair again, but Belair snatched her braid away, whipped Banks with it to her loudest crack ever, and finally put Banks down with the KOD.
The crowd went wind. Belair’s family got so hyped that her dad almost jumped the barricade. And above all else, Belair herself wasn’t even crying now. She just hopped around, danced, and smiled wide as she held her new blue and white belt up for the world to see.
It was the first WrestleMania championship match, main event, match PERIOD between two black women, so that closing shot will be iconic. And as a guy whose black mom and black sister were watching the show alongside me, I feel a closer bond to this match — to this WrestleMania — than any other.
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