As strange as it seems, WrestleMania has never really been about the wrestling. From its inception in the mid eighties, moments have meant more than matches. There have been some absolute classics contested at WrestleMania of course, the likes of Bret vs Owen, Rock vs Hogan and Undertaker vs Michaels will live forever. It’s fair to say though that a lot of performers are remembered more for their WrestleMania moments than their five star classics.
WrestleMania 34 has a great mix of both. The match card is staggering in terms of both talent and absurdity. Could you have predicted, even two years ago, that Ronda Rousey, Kurt Angle, Daniel Bryan, Shane Mcmahon and a ten year old boy would compete on the same show? It was a night of shocks, disappointments, triumph and ecstasy. A night where, ultimately, the matches will be forgotten but the moments will be remembered. Here are the nine biggest and best.
1. Bray Wyatt Joins The Broken Universe
The last time anybody saw Bray Wyatt, it was face down in the Lake of Reincarnation, so his return during the Andre Battle Royal was a great way to start the show. Many had predicted that Wyatt would show up, perhaps as a partner for Braun Strowman, though nobody thought he would side with the man who beat him during the Ultimate Deletion. Just when it looked like Baron Corbin and Mojo Rawley were going to eliminate Broken Matt, Wyatt appeared in the ring and helped his former nemesis pick up the win. It wasn’t the complete transformation of character that we expected, Bray still looked more cult leader than Husky race car, but it will be exciting to see where this alliance leads.
2. Finn Balor is for Everyone
Okay, we thought we were getting The Demon. Finn Balor’s alter ego hasn’t been seen for an eternity and WrestleMania seemed like the perfect place to reintroduce him. What we got instead might not have been as dramatic an entrance but it was twice as meaningful. Balor was flanked by members of the LGBT community as he made his trademark entrance, their arms raised aloft in unison with Finn. The message was clear: Finn Balor, The Balor Club and by extension WrestleMania is for everyone. WWE have often been accused of fluffing the lines when it comes to storylines that deal with inclusion and sexuality, Billy and Chuck immediately springing to mind, but this was a great, powerful message that was as understated as it was brilliant.
3. Charlotte Breaks The Streak
It all seemed so obvious. Women’s Royal Rumble winner Asuka was going to cement her unprecedented winning streak and claim the Smackdown women’s title at her first WrestleMania. Alas, The Empress of Tomorrow came up short, as Charlotte Flair was ready for Asuka. In a tremendous match, arguably the best of the night, Asuka suffered her first defeat in a WWE ring thanks to the figure eight. (Although, given the condition of Charlotte’s arm, it was more of a six and a half.) Charlotte has had so many accolades throughout her relatively short career but this must stand out as her biggest victory to date. Asuka took the loss well and leaves WrestleMania 34 just as much a badass as she went in. Bravo to both women.
4. Ronda Rousey Makes Stephanie Tap Out
Nobody expected miracles from Rowdy Ronda’s in-ring debut. The former UFC fighter had seemed a little bit ill at ease during the build to the match, flitting between stone-faced badass and gurning fish out of water. As hard as it is to admit, most of the credit here should go to Stephanie. She needled Ronda so much that the 78,000 fans in attendance were baying for blood. It was simple, old school wrestling storytelling at its finest and it worked perfectly. By the time Ronda finally got her hands on Stephanie, there wasn’t a doubter left in the audience. Rousey proved that she is a huge asset for WWE going forward, making Stephanie McMahon tap out to one of the biggest reactions of the night.
5. Elias Trolls The World
Oh, Elias. For a moment there, you had the whole world in your hands. You fooled us all. The Undertaker wasn’t here after all, and instead, we were being “treated” to Elias in concert. People will argue that the end of the segment did more to harm than elevate him, with Cena making short work of Elias and his disappointment of that being his WrestleMania match. Let’s concentrate on the fact that Elias became an integral part of one of the more intriguing elements of WrestleMania 34. He was given time to talk and perform on a night where so many had neither. Importantly, for a few fleeting seconds, we all bought it, hook, line and Cena.
6. The Undertaker Destroys Cena
Speaking of Cena, is he okay? I ask because he’s spent the last few weeks becoming more and more unstable, seemingly having a breakdown live on Monday nights. He sat in the crowd at WrestleMania, drinking beers and taking selfies, then lost one of the most one sided matches in WWE history. And it was glorious. WWE made the absolute best out of the most bizarre build for a WrestleMania match I can remember. The Phenom dispatched Cena in under three minutes, which was probably for the best, but at least gives us an idea of why it wasn’t fully promoted ahead of time. I’ve been quite vocal in my dislike of Undertaker returning following last year’s perfect retirement angle but if they are insistent of keeping him active, this is the perfect way to do so.
7. Shinsuke Nakamura Turns Heel
Let’s be honest, the match wasn’t as good as we hoped, although billing something as a dream match is always asking for trouble. Nakamura became the second Royal Rumble winner of the night to lose their title opportunity, in a match that aimed for epic but settled for decent. The show of respect between the two men after the match was something we saw coming. They have a lot of history and the build to the match has been all about doing the right thing. What we didn’t see coming, and you’re a liar if you say you did, is Shinsuke punching AJ in the balls.
It’s something I didn’t even know I wanted but makes so much sense. The problem with dream matches is that, for the most part, the build is more about the competitors than the story. Now, with Nakamura turning on AJ, we can expect so much more.
8. Daniel Bryan Returns to Action
How could you leave this one out? Daniel Bryan’s wrestling comeback is unquestionably the story of the decade. Again, although the match itself was by no means perfect, the fact that he was in it to begin with is a modern miracle. Being able to see Bryan in a WWE ring in 2018, to be able to “Yes” along with every kick, is a WrestleMania moment for the ages. The victory itself is unimportant, really. The storyline surrounding the match plays second fiddle to the occasion and I’m perfectly happy with that. Bryan will have better matches in the future but none will be as meaningful and tear-inducing as this.
9. Roman Reigns’ Bloodbath
Roman Reigns lost to Brock Lesnar in a match that everybody thought they had figured out. Nobody predicted a Lesnar win. Nobody. Yet, for me, that wasn’t the biggest moment here. Yes, it was a shocking swerve, but WrestleMania 34 will be remembered as a night full of them. The real highlight was seeing Reigns down on the canvas, the proverbial crimson mask dripping down his face, eyes bulging, defiantly facing down The Beast.
It was the first time I’d truly bought into the character that WWE want us to accept as Roman Reigns. He looked desperate. He looked vulnerable. It suited him. The fact that the oozing blood wasn’t immediately wiped away shows that WWE knew what they had here. At that moment, I thought they had finally cracked it and a Roman Reigns victory would have been accepted rather than booed out of the building. 30 seconds later, Roman was pinned. Lesnar walked out champion and Reigns sulked away. Shows how much I know.