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.