By Scott Saffran
WrestleMania 33 has come and gone and there is a lot to talk about. It was a damned marathon lasting nearly seven hours. Comprised of thirteen matches in total (ten of which I’ll discuss), the event – branded as the Ultimate Thrillride – definitely came through as promised with a rollercoaster of emotion and quality.
The main show opened with a pair of “grudge” matches: one between AJ Styles and Shane McMahon and the other between former best friends Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho. Styles and McMahon put on a diverse match, showcasing some chain wrestling, a series of reversals, and some incredible daredevil dives from up top. Styles came away as the well-deserved winner after a mistimed Shooting Star Press from McMahon. Owens and Jericho kept the momentum rolling with their match. The pair dueled back and forth, both trying to execute Jericho’s signature Walls of Jericho. Owens escaped with the win and Jericho’s United States Championship after breaking a submission hold via a single finger on the ropes and powerbombing Jericho to the ring apron.
Bayley successfully defended her Raw Women’s Championship against Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax in a high-speed match that saw a series of quick eliminations. Bayley capped her win with a Savage Elbow to Charlotte. The Raw tag team titles were to be defended in a triple threat ladder match, but it turned into a four-way fight after the shocking return of former multi-time champions, the Hardy Boyz. The surprise was executed perfectly, to the elation of the 75,000-plus in attendance. John Cena and long-time girlfriend Nikki Bella triumphed over Miz and wife Maryse in a mixed tag team match, punctuated by a heartfelt in-ring proposal. With Cena and Bella primed for a sabbatical, I saw no reason for their victory. However, Miz and Maryse lost no steam as they returned on Tuesday night as popular and as potent as ever.
Seth Rollins and Triple H squared off in an unsanctioned match, pitting former mentor against former mentee. Grandiose entrances aside, this was a very solid match with a handful of well-done foreign objects spots. Dastardly heel Stephanie McMahon, who had accompanied her husband to the ring, went through a table and distracted Trips just enough for Rollins to execute a Pedigree and escape with the win. This was followed up by the far-and-away most disappointing match of the day as Randy Orton and WWE Champion Bray Wyatt clashed. On the grandest stage of them all, Orton and Wyatt had a very sluggish match that ended far too quickly with Orton’s pointless victory further burying the young star. Not a good look for the WWE.
One of the several main events was 50 year-old Goldberg against 39 year-old Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship. Goldberg had shocked Lesnar at Survivor Series with a sub-two minute victory and at the Royal Rumble with a near-instantaneous elimination, but would fall to the Beast Incarnate here. The match was, as expected, fairly short, but it succeeded in filling its limits with high-octane action and a series of signature maneuvers from both men. Both men did a lot with the limited resources they had, successfully removing their awful WrestleMania XX encounter from our memories. This followed up by a quick, but fun SmackDown Women’s Championship contest between six of SmackDown’s premier female talents that saw hometown girl Naomi reclaim her title belt. And then, it was time for the Main Event.
The Undertaker: a man, a myth, a living legend. Roman Reigns: the Chosen One. At 52 years old, many expected this to be the end for the Deadman. And it was. This was a very hard match to watch. Taker was clearly in pain from bell to bell, and he evidently had difficulty executing certain moves. While both men had their time in control, it was clear Reigns was toying with the aging icon by the match’s end. Legendary commentator Jim Ross had returned for this match, his voice only adding to the drama of the proceedings. Reigns pinned Taker clean and left the Deadman staring at the lights as he walked the ramp, fists held high in victory. The Undertaker eventually made his way to his feet and left his signature hat, coat, and gloves in the middle of the ring before descending back into the smoke from where he came. His hand, too, was held high in victory. A career spanning over thirty years, a legacy that no man or woman could ever hope to match. He will be missed.
WrestleMania 33 was, in sum, very good. It felt larger than life—the spectacle it should always be. There were, of course, a few bumps along the way, but none that even came close to derailing the “Ultimate Thrillride”. A new season of the WWE begins in the coming weeks, and after an incredible 2016/2017, there is a lot to live up to.