Did AEW Dynamite Deliver a PPV?

Tony Khan had every right to tout the May 10 episode of Dynamite as a PPV on TBS. The match card was stacked. Ring of Honor World Champion Claudio Castagnoli faced off against ROH Tag Team Champ Rey Fénix, the AEW International Championship and the World Trios Titles would be defended, with a main event of Jon Moxley squaring off against longtime nemesis Kenny Omega in a steel cage. In between we’d get Anna Jay and Julia Hart in a No Holds Barred match and hear from Christian Cage and FTR.

On paper, it really did look like a PPV. But there’s a term in football: the game isn’t played on paper. Just because a card looks good, doesn’t mean it’ll stand up. One thing AEW does well is PPVs. Even when the company has had a rare dip heading into a PPV, it always delivers. So giving a nod to that standard for a TV show was adding pressure.

The opening bout between Fénix and Claudio had the stipulation that whoever won could challenge the other for their belt. Readers familiar with my opinions will know I’m not a fan of non-title matches where a champ can lose in order to serve as a qualifier (or “title elimination match”). It’s my view that if you’re fighting, the gold’s on the line.

Having said that, this was a smart compromise. It served as an eliminator, both could look strong regardless of outcome, and the Tag Titles being in the mix add another permutation. There’s more chance of finding a universe where Donald Trump is a quiet humble man, and Aqua followed up “Barbie Girl” with an album that surpassed Led Zeppelin’s excellence, than you are to come across one where Fénix and Castagnoli put on anything other than a high grade contest. If you don’t enjoy watching these two, you don’t really enjoy wrestling.

It started high tempo and never took a breath. Taz observed on commentary that they were only four minutes in, and there’d already been so much action.

Claudio winning is a shame in the sense it keeps Rey Fénix away from a big singles match but Khan is building the Swiss star into an indestructible force. It would be logical to assume he’ll choose Wheeler Yuta as his tag parter, and that’s who’ll eat the pin when the BCC face off against the Lucha Brothers.

The show definitely got off to a PPV-worthy start but this is where we should remember it is a television show. It would be remiss of Tony Khan to go all in [is that a pun? — Danny] on weekly programming as it’d make the big shows feel less grand. Unlike WWE PPVs that consist of extensive filler, AEW is more action packed which leaves little room for storyline expansion. With this being a TV show, there was need to punctuate the matches with developments.

We saw both Miro and Thunder Rosa return backstage and went to Tony Khan’s office. Both have been sorely missed. Yes, it’s a stacked roster but these two are world class talents. Thunder Rosa especially should be thrown straight back into the world title scene. Miro probably needs to earn some trust with Khan’s creative instincts before he’s main eventing.

Two different ways to progress a feud were also presented. FTR continued their troubles with Jay Lethal and Jeff Jarrett. Mark Briscoe came out to announce he would be the special guest referee at Double or Nothing when FTR’s AEW World Tag Title will be up for grabs. In what was supposed to be a drink to toast the creation of the match, Sonjay Dutt spat the spirit (I’m guessing a fine tequila) into Dax Harwood’s eyes. A blinded Harwood acted on instinct, and during the ensuing melee delivered a piledriver to Mark Briscoe. At this point, it should be mentioned Dutt must be a genius because there’s not a character I despise more in all of professional wrestling.

Dax could play the role of impetuous hothead well. They should lean into his unhinged, hit-first-ask-later side more often.

Christian Cage went down the other path to build his issues with Wardlow. He delivered a speech that begs the question: is Christian the best at cutting a heel promo in the world? MJF has a strong shout but Christian’s are delivered with such callous precision, it’s a close call. He managed to get a dead dad remark in too, just so you know the level he’s aiming for.

There are two types of people in the world. Those who prefer Coke over Pepsi. Those who think Edge is better than Christian. I am not in the Edge camp. Christian is a legend who delivers to a higher standard in every department.

The Trios match between House of Black and Best Friends and Bandido never really recovered from a stipulation that wasn’t fully utilised. It was an average part of the show where no one expected Malakai and his crew to lose. Even Julia Hart won in the match beforehand over Anna Jay. That probably was a better bout than the Trios Title defence, and the women sold the violence well, but it wasn’t on the level we’ve seen from other hardcore female matchups.

Slightly above the middling matches was the Orange Cassidy International Championship defence against Daniel Garcia. Again, no one would have expected OC to drop the belt here. It’s clear that Garcia is in some kind of holding pattern. He loses title matches but always looks strong. He put Cassidy through the wringer, his cockiness being the downfall. For a man who slayed the American Dragon, he needs another notable win soon.

Let’s cut to the chase on the main event. It wasn’t the best steel cage match we’ve ever seen in AEW. But it would never be like the Bucks and the Lucha Brothers. It was always going to be brutal. Bryan Danielson said on commentary that Mox doesn’t even wake up until he’s bleeding. And the blood flowed from both men.

You’d be surprised to hear that Jon Moxely became a top rope specialist, that most of his work was done from said rope. He wasn’t doing is best Rey Fénix impression though, he disassembled the top rope and proceeded to use its hook inside Omega’s mouth before choking him with the rubber covered steel.

Eventually both men went through the front of the cage following a V-trigger. Omega actually took the brunt of the damage, landing awkwardly on the lower portion of the cage.

Next, we entered swerve city. Moxley rolled Omega into the ring, both men now drained from barbwire wrapped chairs and landing on broken glass, and produced a screwdriver. Enter Don Callis, he snatched the tool from Moxley’s hand, pleaded not to be hit, which opened the door for Omega to launch Mox into a turnbuckle. Omega hit the One-Winged Angel, and well, nobody kicks out of that. Technically, Mox didn’t but he wasn’t pinned as Don Callis broke the three-count by  driving the screwdriver into Omega’s head.

The ultimate betrayal.

Was this episode PPV quality? Not quite, it lacked that unquantifiable ingredient that makes AEW PPV’s standout. This is okay. After all, it’s an episodic TV show and on that front we had storyline builds, returning wrestlers and still a couple of matches that were of the highest order.

The main event is one of those highly rated affairs. It wasn’t like the speed and art of the opening match, instead it was an exercise in violence and nuanced storytelling. Some may initially dislike the Callis turn but it is a masterstroke that fully opens up the rivalry between the BCC and The Elite. There is a clear distinction between the good guys and the bad, and it’s okay if you still want them all to win. With these two factions at loggerheads, the fans will never be the losers.

Moxley and Omega added another chapter to their rivalry and with this one, there will never be a thawing of the hatred. Mox has now broken up family. These two are AEW’s Batman and Joker, destined to square off forever, neither able to overcome the other in definitive fashion.


WWE Backlash 2023 — Review

The first WWE Premium Live Event following WrestleMania rolled into Puerto Rico, the first time it had held a major show for eighteen years. Roman Reigns wasn’t on the card, so it fell to the heir apparent to “continue the story” in his absence. 

Before all that, the show kicked off with Bianca Belair defending her Raw Women’s Championship against Iyo Sky. It should not surprise to say this was a strong showing. Both are gifted athletes. Bianca Belair has ascended to the true upper tier of professional wrestlers. Sky sits in the group below (which is higher than most).

Belair sold the idea she’d injured an arm, which played a pivotal role as the story unfolded. There was one spot where she lifted Iyo above her head single-handedly, and on the release it appeared that Sky was caught between the no-man’s-land of not flipping to her back or landing safely on her front. Even at the highest level, such things can happen, so it’s no criticism of either woman. But Sky then played into it, by indicating she’d taken the brunt of the landing to her face. If it was intended, it was genius. If it was accidental, Iyo Sky showed sharp thinking.

There was a Damage CTRL run-in, it wasn’t enough to sway the result. Belair retained a belt for a brand they have drafted her away from.

Even with an electric crowd, and one of the most talented performers from any generation — Seth Rollins — it’s hard to get behind a match with Omos involved. Rollins vs Omos was WWE’s latest attempt to make the giant appear a credible threat without costing an established star a loss. They tried it here by having him resist one of Rollins’s stomps. Seth rested his boot on Omos’s neck as if he were waiting for his boots to be shined.

Rollins got the inevitable win with an elevated stomp and we had our first average match of the night. This led into another average bout: Austin Theory defending his US Title against Bobby Lashley and Bronson Reed. A title change here never felt likely, they are building the Theory brand. It probably isn’t the best place for Lashley to be right now. He deserves to be more than mid-card filler. WWE learned tonight, if the Puerto Rican crowd are to be believed, that Bronson Reed could be trusted with a bigger spotlight.

Rhea Ripley, defending the SmackDown Women’s Championship (a brand she’s been drafted away from) was next. It was an emotional entrance for her opponent Zelina Vega. She had tears in her eyes as she stood in the centre of the ring, spreading the host nation flag wide, paying homage to her late father. In other sports, home advantage has a lot of sway. On nights like this, it should serve as a superpower. Normally, the smart money would be on Rhea in this match-up, tonight, it would have been good to see Vega’s emotionally charged effort cause an upset.

It didn’t, and now we wait to see how WWE solves its lazy draft planning and gets Ripley and Belair to switch titles. A solution to prevent this situation occurring again — because it seems to happen every draft now — is to rename the belts so none of them are brand specific, like what we have with the men’s titles.

The match which may have been given the most love online during the live broadcast was the Street Fight between Bad Bunny and Damien Priest. And with good reason. Bad Bunny held his own. In the early stages, Priest carried the match well in the ring, proving his real worth and talent to WWE. It spilled to the arena where Bunny found himself put through a table and was attended to by Adam Pearce and a crew of WWE officials. They wanted Priest to show mercy — he didn’t.

It then became a spot with run-ins, Judgment Day as expected, Carlito less so. It gave the event the feel of a house show. That’s meant in a good way. It was a raw, organic energy. 

Priest began to sell an injured knee and Bad Bunny grabbed a win with a Canadian destroyer. It was a case of giving the people what they want. It also means only Rhea Ripley can win for Judgment Day when it matters.

It’s easy to skim over The Bloodline against World Tag Champs of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens who were teaming with Matt Riddle. The action itself was decidedly average. The main point was to service The Bloodline’s story. The sticking point is the beef between Jey Uso and Solo Sikoa.

The problem this faces is it’s the sequel to the best story WWE has told for years. The Karate Kid Part II isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not as good as the first. This was an above average affair but the overall programme will need something extra to stop it falling well short of its predecessor.

Brock Lesnar facing off against Cody Rhodes closed the show. Beforehand, my vote would have been for a Lesnar win. Rhodes needs his story to have a few more chapters before he faces Roman Reigns again. A setback against the Best Incarnate would achieve this. This gave WWE a few options, meaning nothing was a given.

One thing almost certain was that Rhodes wouldn’t just live through a prescriptive Lesnar suplex city match. Sure, that element featured, but only after Rhodes had given him the jump before the bell (stomping for the ring steps as if he was a Bushwhacker). Cody Rhodes is about putting on showcases and was always going to try and get a memorable bout out of Lesnar.

Eventually, a turnbuckle became exposed, and when the time came, Brock committed his head into the exposed metal. The cut was deep and instant; the blood followed in a way that would make Jon Moxley proud. Lesnar fought on and applied the Kimura lock. Rhodes rolled Brock’s shoulders to the mat and stole a win.

Brock Lesnar appearing shocked and bloodied sold the brutality.

Backlash opened and closed with matches scoring 8/10. Overall, a very fun show.

Cody’s story continues.

Overall rating: 7/10

Tony Khan’s “War”: AEW Collision and What ROH Could Have Been

First off, let’s be clear: there isn’t really a wrestling war right now. Tony Khan believes there is. Certain elements of the Internet wrestling community think there is (and actively partake in dropping bombs) and talent pretends there is when it’s contract renewal time. But the reality is, there can’t be a war when one company is so far ahead of the other in terms of TV ratings and revenue.

Nothing AEW achieves will put WWE out of business. WWE was recently valued as a $9.3 billion enterprise as it formed a new company following Endeavor’s acquisition and merger with UFC. That combination touted as being worth in excess of $21 billion.

Tony Khan couldn’t get a TV deal for Ring of Honor.

In the war between WWE and WCW, it was a fight to the death. This time—at best—it may slightly affect WWE’s bottom line if AEW continues to grow, and ran live events on the same days as WWE’s non-televised shows. AEW’s arrival has actually generated more chances for wrestlers to work. It’s opened up the wrestling world and brought in more fans, or at the very least, brought back those who had become disenfranchised.

What was notable in the Monday Night War was how WWE had to change its game. Vince McMahon’s natural inclination is to have PG, cartoony characters. When WCW produced an edgier product, Vince had to adapt. The Attitude Era was the result and has been viewed with nostalgia ever since.

In the modern day faux war, Tony Khan is the one holding the edgier, more adult based product. Blood may be banned in Stamford but Jon Moxley is contractually obliged to bleed every time he hears a bell ring. In this generation, the product closer to the Attitude Era has failed to win the ratings battle against RAW and SmackDown.

Eventually, the children currently watching WWE will outgrow it and migrate to AEW. Until then, Tony Khan needs to secure more viewership. Even the acquisition of big WWE names didn’t significantly budge the needle. CM Punk had a great Rampage debut but it didn’t translate into a massive return each Wednesday. Bryan Danielson is beloved by fans as one of the best wrestlers on the planet. He’s in a place now where he gets to prove it. The problem for TV ratings is, not many casual WWE fans care about wrestling, especially if it’s caked in violence.

The best way to directly compete with PG WWE is by creating PG content.

This is where Tony Khan faces a conundrum. AEW has a strong identity and style. Migrating to a PG show would all but kill the company. Its loyal fans (which are an organic fanbase) would leave, in the short-term it would fail to turn the heads of WWE viewers. The chances are, Tony doesn’t even see it as an option. But there are several (imperfect) solutions.

AEW’s TV shows are finally back in the groove after removing Ring of Honor content from weekly programming. Which brings us to option one. Ring of Honor, up to this point, has been presented along the same lines as AEW. Admittedly, its history doesn’t look like the natural fit for a PG presentation. But if you took a highlight reel from WWE’s Attitude Era, that would be a hard sell to a modern day TV exec for a PG Sports Entertainment show. Still, here we are.

ROH could easily be repackaged. The fact is, it failed to secure a TV deal after months of Tony Khan shilling the product on TBS and TNT. It would be superbly optimistic to expect the relaunched Honor Club to recruit a notable subscription count. Not many will pay $9.99 just for a weekly show.

Unless they are going to offer specials like Impact Plus, Tony Khan may need to return to the drawing board and turn ROH into the family friendly version of his universe. Women Of Wrestling’s ratings prove there is a market for a commercially friendly audience. Its ratings trounce Impact Wrestling, which itself is a solid product. He’d find it an easier sell to those in charge of cable channels to pick up a rejuvenated family version of AEW in the guise of a new ROH. There’d be enough separation between AEW and ROH to dispel fears that the PG audience may inadvertently be drawn to the edgier Wednesday and Friday shows.

The market exists to break WWE’s dominance (if not its profits) but the first rule of showbiz is to give the people what they want. The majority clearly want the soft version of wrestling that fills three hours of television every Monday night. Unless brand loyalty is so strong with WWE that people will watch it regardless of what they churn out. We know this can’t be entirely true. Ratings have improved since Triple H’s arrival as Head of Creative, proving it isn’t watched mindlessly by everyone.

Luring the WWE fanbase with a throwback product hasn’t made a significant dent into WWE’s coffers. It’s time to try with a direct imitation. It worked for WWE in the Nineties. DX was a reaction to nWo. The whole vibe of the Attitude Era was taking what WCW started and trying to do it better. History tells us they succeeded.

History has a way of repeating itself. Imitation is the best form of flattery. It’s time Tony Khan flattered WWE by creating a copy so good, it makes loyal viewers switch sides.

The rumoured AEW Collision show could be this vehicle instead of ROH. A two-hour Saturday show would need to resemble Dynamite’s story progression more than Rampage’s pure action dynamic. To differentiate, and prevent Rampage becoming irrelevant, this could be the PG show AEW has on offer. All the reasons listed above for changing ROH can be applied here instead.

Or we have the option to amalgamate and instead of it being AEW Collision, it is a ROH two-hour show called Collision headed by a returning CM Punk. The story is already written: he can’t work with the “children” in AEW and The Elite, so he’s dragged ROH to network telly.

The most outlandish—and biggest risk of all—would be for Tony to create yet another new brand. It would be free from AEW and ROH’s adult orientation and could start on a blank page. It could still use CM Punk in the role described. 

What Collision can’t be is Dynamite-lite, offering nothing new to AEW’s TV library. Being a two-hour show, all signs point to AEW needing a brand split. This would enable them to use their sizeable roster more effectively (and expect more free agents in the coming months following WWE’s buyout). But this alone won’t improve ratings or market penetration.

Tony Khan can’t win his imaginary war, but he can become something more like an equal than an afterthought if he acknowledges there needs to be a flavour for every fan out there. Whether its Collision or ROH he uses as the vehicle for this—or even a new brand—he needs to think outside of his box.

However, if he chooses to keep the new status quo and sit on one million viewers in order to maintain his vision, that should be applauded and respected. What he has created is the alternative many of us craved. And by its nature, alternative is rarely ever mainstream.

Ring of Honor: Supercard of Honor (2023) — Review

At the start of a packed WrestleMania weekend, Ring of Honor had the task of competing with AEW and WWE programmes during its Supercard of Honor show. For any criticisms aimed at Tony Khan’s weekly wrestling shows, most would agree that he always delivers on PPVs. With many flattering to deceive over the next few days, how would this entry perform?

What should be noted, that during the course of a couple of days, performers showed up in multiple events. More than once, it was necessary to double-check on Twitter that an event being watched via Fite+ was actually live. Wrestlers must have had quick Uber drivers and super powers of recovery.

A couple who have enjoyed increased exposure lately kicked off the PPV (excluding Zero Hour). El Hijo Vikingo defended his AAA Mega Championship against Komander. It was a further example of the high-intensity lucha libre style. Dare it be said: Vikingo looked more at ease here than he did against Kenny Omega. Also, when he performed the 630 senton over the top rope, he avoided contact with the edge of the apron. On AEW Dynamite, he clipped the back of his head. This was a relief, and hopefully a sign the last incident was a one-off. The adjustment meant less direct force hit the centre of the table, alas, it didn’t break.

I’d rather have slightly damaged tables if it means unbroken wrestlers.

The champion retained in a solid start to the event.

Other notable mentions go to Athena and Yuka Sakazaki. Athena has found her groove under Khan’s banner now. Sakazaki always delivers a strong performance so Athena getting the victory adds more legitimacy to the title reign. Both women are set for good futures based on what we saw here.

There was also the emotional showdown as Mark Briscoe attempted to dethrone Samoa Joe as the ROH TV Champion. It was played up well, and the commentary team added to this, to the point, it became a 50/50 as to who would win. On a normal day, in a singles match, the bookies would back Joe. But here, with so much emotion built in, and Mark drawing on the memory of his brother, there was every chance the title would change hands

The fact it didn’t, doesn’t knock Briscoe in any way. It was slightly annoying when commentary alluded to this belt being his aim, as opposed to the world title. Why put a ceiling on the man? I can quite conceivably see Mark Briscoe as a ROH World Champion one day. Reach for the sky, brother.

Daniel Garcia lost to Hiroshi Tanahashi in what he’ll be hoping (and be coached backstage) is detrimental but development. But he seems to take the L on too many occasions. He’s a great professional wrestler, not a bad sports entertainer, but risks becoming a strong mid-carder.

The Reach for the Sky Tag Title Ladder Match, up to a certain point, was everything a good ladder match should be. It’s on the cusp of looking unsafe and makes you wince. The issue is, it became unsafe. Wrestlers at Khan’s promotions are constantly pushing the boundaries to make that one big spot which makes people gasp.

There was more than a gasp when Dante Martin went through four tables from the ladder, landed, and pivoted around, immediately pointing officials to his leg. There was a remarkable air of composure for a man whose foot was facing the wrong way. 

We all pray for a speedy and full recovery.

Next up was Wheeler Yuta defending his Pure Championship against Katsuyori Shibata. Simply put:

It wasn’t even the best Pure match you’ll see this year. But it is a great concept when done with talented wrestlers and these two pulled it off. Wheeler losing was a genuine surprise. Maybe it’s so they can lean fully into the current Blackpool Combat Club heel rage angle. It’s hard to do that when one member is defending the title furthest away from running roughshod over rules.

Can you imagine WrestleMania weekend having a finish to a main event the audience didn’t like? I know, hard to picture, isn’t it. That’s what happened when Claudio Castagnoli kept his title by beating Eddie Kingston. In the end (after a testing physical battle), it wasn’t even a big move, just a simple reversal that sealed Eddie’s fate.

The crowd (probably) didn’t boo because Claudio and the BCC are in full heel mode, it was the adoration for straight talking Eddie. This is a man who is always that next match away from cracking restraints on his main event level status. Not even the programme with Jericho alleviated the issue. Maybe backstage antics and politics plays a part? Maybe he’s very good at being in this exact place to garner the strong reaction from the fans?

When all said and done, if I was booking the match, the result would have been the same. Claudio dropping the belt again would harm his credentials. Eddie will still be adored and will get another crack at some point.


WrestleMania 39 — Review

WrestleMania Hollywood is in the books now. It led to shocking some, attempting its own cinematic ending. The anticipation fell flat in some areas, exceeded in others.

Below is the Twitter feed of scores as the two nights unfolded and post-match opinion:

Night 1— Saturday

While Cena Putting Theory over wasn’t a shock, elements of the bout were — including the finish. It was a bland start to the Showcase of the Immortals, and make no mistake, John Cena is one of the immortals in this pantheon. There’s some leeway given to a part-time performer, and they designed the finish to protect the 16-time World Champion.

But are we supposed to think Big Time John has left his in-ring experience on a Hollywood set? This isn’t even a reference to a lack of thrilling action. The false finish where he thought Austin had tapped was excruciatingly cringe.

The criticism comes from a place of disappointment. The cheap shot to win, without Cena ever looking near his best or a credible threat to Theory’s US Title, means that one big last match appears less likely. Another go around with a fellow legend doesn’t work as well when one of them has taken soft losses.

The Tag Team Fatal 4-Way was one match I saw as filler. It left me in the awkward position of having to temper its rating. It was a great match. Fast-paced, standout moments — take a bow Chad Gable. He hit a German suplex on Braun Strowman. It was a tremendous show of strength and technique. For a match this writer had little interest in seeing before the bell, it paved the night well for some great action. This felt like WrestleMania had started.

WWE has a history of dropping the ball and doing the wrong thing in big matches, killing its own stars in the process (hello, Bray?). The fear going into the event was Rollins was going to be fed to Logan Paul. Thankfully, that never happened, and arguably WWE’s most prolific performer’s legacy remains intact.

The match itself lacked the impact seen in Paul’s bout with Roman Reigns. That’s probably due to the shock factor dissipating: we know Paul can hold his own between the ropes now.

The above Tweet says it all. It had some legends, two of the biggest women in today’s WWE and it was bang average. This is what nostalgia gets you in 2023.

Many loved this result, but it makes little sense. In hindsight, it wasn’t important to keep The Judgment Day’s momentum going (more on that later), but surely it was wrestling props for Rey to put his son over? Nothing will harm the legacy of the man freshly entered into the WWE Hall of Fame. He’s not winning another world title. Letting Dom bag the win would provide his lad with the sort of boost others can’t buy.

But the babyface won — it was time to start a tab on that front.

Sometimes in professional wrestling, it’s important to give the fans what they want (more on that later). The last time Ripley and Flair met at WrestleMania, the Queen was put over to keep her legacy intact, and let her run with the NXT Title to challenge AEW on Wednesday nights. The effects were only detrimental. AEW continued to draw more viewership every week, and Rhea Ripley’s natural momentum was derailed.

Through hard work, Ripley is seen as a legitimate threat again. She avenged her loss here in a match which was the best of the night so far. Charlotte Flair — for all the criticism she gets about being too protected — is afforded this position because of how good she is at putting on bangers. This was no exception. She has a way of making you feel every klump, and the way she sold in the dying moments was nothing short of epic.

Charlotte will be back, and will reign again. But this was the right call for what WWE needs now. The match rating perhaps should have been higher but the WrestleMania calibration gauge was in a state of turmoil with what it’d already seen and what was expected to come. Ratings made in the moment shouldn’t contain too much emotion [good luck with that – Danny].

As a final thought: this always should have been the main event on the first night. It sends the women’s division back a little when the tag team division, scorned by WWE for so many years, is seen as the bigger match (admittedly, if probably was a bigger draw — even so, it feels off).

Speaking of emotions, it doesn’t come much bigger than Sami Zayn teaming with Kevin Owens to take down The Bloodline, by way of the Usos. This was another example of WWE giving the fans what they expected. It needed the feel good pay off which was duly delivered. Fans online and other reviews have perhaps graded it on heart because the wrestling itself wasn’t the best match you’ll ever see.

But it ticked all the boxes. And that is what prevents it getting a higher rating — it was an exercise in reaching certain checkpoints, almost formulaic, for a result that was never in doubt. It set the whole “is the Roman Empire crumbling?” narrative into play.

Night 2 — Sunday

Is there any bigger sign that WWE is merging with UFC and Vince is back at the creative controls than Brock Lesnar reasserting his dominance? Sorry, my bad, that line was meant for a day later. This was a match that no one asked for, and we all remembered why afterwards. Brock is too important to waste in matches like this. The whole size issue was a flat gimmick. It was Brock beating a lower mid-card talent.

There’s nothing positive to add about the Rousey/Baszler win in the Fatal 4-Way, other than it was a good excuse to fill up on the snacks, do some ironing, and tidy my bookshelf.

The fans that were wax lyrical about this online are the same ones dismissive of AEW and the indies. Everything that was good about this match — and there was a lot of good — was a watered-down version of what you can find regularly elsewhere. Gunther winning was the correct call. He’s been handled well and when he transitions to a world title bout, he’ll appear a credible threat.

The tease that this is the one belt Sheamus hasn’t won left some doubt in the match. Personally, since he’s blocked me on Twitter following a sense of humour transplant, I’m pleased he went home empty-handed [at least you’re not bitter — Danny]. You have to feel for Drew, though. The pandemic WWE Champion has been denied a packed WrestleMania moment and appears to be slipping further down the card, perhaps out of WWE altogether.

Heading into the event, a great match was all but guaranteed. The outcome was less clear. Asuka may have been used like the modern day Sid Justice. She appeared indestructible heading into Mania, only to be beaten by the champ.

Except Bianca Belair is no Hulk Hogan — she’s infinitely better.

It takes two to make a great match, so all props to Asuka. In hindsight, this was the best match across the two nights. While the build was good, the contest itself is what pushed it over the line as the one to rewatch.

In all honesty, the match was only rated this high (6/10) because of the effort and commitment. Finn Balor clearly took a nasty blow to the head as Edge threw a set of ladders his way. Based on what we saw, one of the matches this writer was most looking forward to, fell apart and fell flat.

Where to start? Circumstance played its hand. Balor clearly needed important treatment after the ladder shot. But a company as experienced as WWE should be able to think on its feet quick and weave a new story element into play. Saying plainly that The Demon is receiving medical attention kinda kills the idea of The Demon persona.

But we shouldn’t have worried about this. Edge won the match, and with it, The Demon is dead. It’s a shame. It could have been this generation’s version of a rarely used Undertaker. Which has also been said about someone else, many times…

Once Edge won, it was clear WWE were keeping the gold on Roman Reigns. If you’ve watched enough pro-wrestling, the sign posts are always clearly marked. The tally of babyface wins reached its threshold. And with it, The Judgment Day lost its teeth. 

Before we dive into the main event, some loose ends:

I didn’t want to comment on The Miz’s WrestleMania treatment. He’s poorly utilised and under-appreciated by the WWE and its fans. He shouldn’t be getting buried in unexpected matches. But it would be remiss not to mention Snoop Dogg’s quick thinking to save the Shane McMahon segment.

There were some questionable matches on the card. That aside, there was probably about two hours wasted each night on filler. There were opportunities for people like Bobby Lashley and LA Knight to feature.

This rating took some flack online. But it was overbooked. The story (which Cody never finished) didn’t require the interference. There were more near falls than a drunkard walking on ice. Which was fine, it ramped up the tension and emotion even more. And this was a match built on emotion.

So it would have been fine to have Reigns win clear after a war of attrition. That would keep his standing as the man to beat intact, while still keeping the story alive for Cody. After such a strong showing, he could still have been considered a credible and deserving opponent.

And for the record, I have no issue with the result. (Sorry, Amy.)

Many were left dumbfounded, and one point is absolutely valid: this was the most perfect time to pull the trigger on The American Nightmare. There’ll never be a better chance to coronate Cody. But what was the best outcome for Cody was only the best outcome for Cody. For WWE, it would have created a few issues.

Firstly — and the Vince McMahon return may have played a factor here — dethroning the modern day Bruno Sammartino would make some a little uneasy in Stamford when the candidate is a guy who set up a rival company and never challenged for their world title.

Now maybe when he signed for WWE, he was the chosen one, and they could have ironed this issue out during a year-long campaign of proving his value. He was well on his way to doing this by overcoming Seth Rollins in every meeting (including the unforgettable Hell In A Cell). But due to injury, it was a small record when going up against the sheer dominance of Reigns.

A story is made up of many chapters, it feels like Cody’s WWE return requires a few more so when he does (if he does) finally become World Champion, no one can say he was gifted the belt. Everything worth working for is hard fought. Cody is about to enter his Hard Times.

While the perfect WrestleMania moment may have slipped through his fingers, a more enriched crowning now awaits.

Overall, despite how the cards looked on paper, Saturday was the best of the two nights. The general consensus has credited this WrestleMania as the best in years. Maybe that shows how lacklustre they’ve become. It was better than average, but once the dust settles, it won’t be making any top ten lists.