NEW ORLEANS – It’s as if they script this stuff.
On a night that saw the return of The Undertaker, as well as the first Daniel Bryan victory in a WWE ring in nearly three years, Brock Lesnar blocked Roman Reigns from fulfilling his journey and successfully defended the Universal Championship in a finish that stunned the crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In this smoky little honkytonk of Louisiana called the land of dreams, an estimated crowd of 78,133 saw Ronda Rousey emerge as a genuine WWE star and AJ Styles enhance his legend. Charlotte Flair also ended Asuka’s undefeated streak in a match that stole the show, Shinsuke Nakamura turned heel, while Braun Strowman won the tag-team titles with a child named Nicholas as his partner in a WrestleMania that was good if not great.
Here are the results:
· “Woken” Matt Hardy won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal on the WrestleMania 34 Kickoff pre-show
· Cedric Alexander defeated Mustafa Ali to become the new WWE Cruiserweight champion
· Naomi eliminated Bayley to win the first-ever Women’s WrestleMania Battle Royal
· Seth Rollins pinned The Miz to win the Intercontinental Championship in a triple-threat match that included Finn Balor
· Charlotte successfully defended the SmackDown women’s championship over Asuka, ending her undefeated streak
· Jinder Mahal won the United States championship in a four-way match over Randy Orton, Rusev and Bobby Roode
· Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle were victorious over Stephanie McMahon and Triple H when Rousey tapped out McMahon
· The Bludgeon Brothers won the SmackDown tag titles in a three-way match victory over the New Day and Usos
· The Undertaker defeated John Cena
· Daniel Bryan forced Sami Zayn to tap, winning his tag-team match with Shane McMahon against Zayn and Kevin Owens
· Nia Jax defeated Alexa Bliss to win the Raw women’s title
· AJ Styles defeated Shinsuke Nakamura to successfully defend the WWE title
· Braun Strowman and a child from the crowd named Nicholas defeated The Bar to win the Raw tag-team titles
· Brock Lesnar retained the Universal Championship with a victory over Roman Reigns
And here are my five key takeaways from WrestleMania 34:
1. Roman Reigns could not fulfill his WrestleMania destiny, as Brock Lesnar successfully defended his Universal title in a match that saw a bloodied Reigns fail to win the crowd or the title.
The crowd was drained by a show that ran three hours too long and just came off a perplexing decision to have a child win the tag-team title with Braun Strowman, but fans in attendance hulked up to rain boos upon Reigns in the main event.
The match was physical, including a Reigns spear into the broadcast table and a Lesnar F5 that drove Reigns through a table. Reigns also bled, which is rare in the 2018 version of WWE, with a pool of blood collecting in the center of the ring.
WWE set the table for Reigns to be crowned champion in the closing moments of WrestleMania, but the Lesnar title reign instead continues.
Reigns could always win the title Monday night on Raw, but one would think that a moment of that significance would occur under the spotlight of the company’s signature show.
2. Daniel Bryan returned to the Superdome just like he left it.
The return of Bryan, who won the WWE championship at WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans, caused the crowd to erupt.
Bryan played all his classics in the ring, much to the relish of anyone remotely invested in his career. The sight of Bryan back in the ring, wrestling against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, was a remarkable sight.
Pro wrestling is a manufactured, well-produced business, but Bryan is an anomaly.
Much like his diet, Daniel Bryan’s appeal is organic.
Bryan is the top underdog in the business. The decision to have him tap out Sami Zayn was strategic, as that still leaves the door open for a major feud somewhere down the line with Kevin Owens.
WWE’s decision to celebrate Bryan with a victory needs to be applauded. The wrestling world is a far better place with a healthy Daniel Bryan in the ring.
Bryan’s moment, in addition to the AJ Styles/Shinsuke Nakamura match, were two of the highlights of the show.
Styles and Nakamura planted the seeds for a prolonged feud, first with Styles reversing a Kinshasa into a Styles Clash to set up an extremely memorable finishing sequence. Nakamura then turned on Styles in the match’s aftermath with a low blow, generating even more interest in a feud that no one should want to end.
Like the company once did with John Cena and The Rock, WWE should build all year toward a rematch between the two at WrestleMania 35.
3. The women have arrived at WrestleMania.
The women’s division is entirely different than it was the last time WWE had a WrestleMania in New Orleans, when the only representation of female athletes was a 14-woman match that finished in less than seven minutes at WrestleMania 30.
Ronda Rousey, formerly the trailblazing mega star in the UFC, made her WWE debut. This is significant on multiple levels, especially with WWE and UFC both looking for increased television deals. With UFC president Dana White sitting ringside, Michael Cole reminded viewers that WrestleMania 34 was the biggest crowd Ronda Rousey had ever fought in front of, which was a not-so-subtle reminder to the UFC of WWE’s drawing power.
Charlotte-Asuka served as more than just the best woman’s match on the card, as it is in the short discussion for best match on the card, period. The match was a fitting conclusion to the end of Asuka’s streak, which had already served its purpose in establishing her as a star on the main roster.
If a woman ever headlines a WrestleMania, Charlotte will be in the match. She is the most talented women’s wrestler, by far, in the world.
4. WrestleMania 34 stood out for the role of its former world champions, particularly John Cena, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt.
Cena started off his night by sitting, as promised, in the crowd.
Cena eventually learned “someone” was in the building, and he went running up the ramp. Cena quickly disposed of Elias in an odd exchange in the ring, before The Undertaker made his return to WrestleMania.
The WWE is smart to have Cena’s losses continue to pile up. He’ll eventually return from Hollywood to chase his record-breaking 17th WWE world championship and will enter that story arc as close as he possibly can to playing the underdog.
As for The Undertaker, his return–and match that lasted just under three minutes with Cena–certainly detracts from the once-heralded moment at the end of WrestleMania 33 that appeared to be the final farewell to The Undertaker. Give credit to Shawn Michaels, who seems to be the only major WWE star to refuse a comeback after his retirement.
WWE continues to work hard to re-establish Rollins as a main-event player. Rollins was once the company’s fastest-rising star and actually closed out WrestleMania 31 in an extremely memorable moment with his world title win.
Even though he is miscast as a babyface, which hurts because he is the perfect villain, Rollins now has the opportunity to add even more value to his stock and the Intercontinental title.
The IC title match also highlighted how the company remains unwilling to fully invest in Finn Balor.
Balor was introduced last, after both Seth Rollins and The Miz, and had a tremendous entrance that touched on the real-life #ForEveryone movement and promoted inclusion. But he was not victorious and took a backseat to Rollins.
There remains a divide between Vince McMahon and Paul “Triple H” Levesque over Balor’s future. Triple H has pushed for Balor as a main eventer ever since his run as NXT champion, while McMahon has always believed Balor, whether in a leather jacket or as The Demon, is too small to be the face of the company.
Randy Orton is a former 13-time WWE world champion, yet he is an afterthought in the title picture. Even that, however, is better than the fate of his former tag-team partner, Bray Wyatt, who remarkably did not even make it to the main card after defending the WWE championship against Orton only a year ago at WrestleMania 33.
5. In December of 2013, I had the chance to sit backstage with Angle at a TNA show in Lowell, Massachusetts.
I don’t know what Angle was told to expect before the interview, or if he even knew we were going meeting for an in-depth conversation. I can still picture him, sitting across from me in his singlet, Olympic Wrestling t-shirt, and cup of coffee in hand.
Over the course of the next 25 minutes, Angle opened up about the loss of his father, who lost his life in a horrific construction accident. He spoke glowingly of his old USA Wrestling coach/mentor, David Schultz, who could not be present for Angle’s momentous gold medal ceremony because he had been shot and killed only months prior. He spoke of how the wrestling mat became his solace, and later in life, how Vince McMahon put his life back on track and the WWE gave him an entirely new purpose.
“Vince is all business,” Angle told me as he nervously tapped his coffee stirrer against his legs. “But when the curtain goes down, he’s also a great friend. He was like a father figure to me. I have a lot of respect for him. I have to give him credit for taking what I had and producing it the way he did. It was a blessing. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
A lot has happened since. Angle has shown that he can live a clean life, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame a year ago and the team of Angle and Rousey delivered one of the matches of the night at ‘Mania.
Angle’s hand being raised alongside Rousey is a moment that will resonate with me long after WWE shifts its focus away from WrestleMania 34. Angle and Rousey defeated Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. Yes, the same Triple H who called Angle three years ago before WrestleMania 31 and told him the WWE wasn’t interested in hiring him and that they were canceling their meeting.
The end of Angle’s wrestling career is far closer than the beginning. He’s 49, and his job now is to enhance the talent around him.
The night was far from perfect, with the Jinder Mahal victory and Braun Strowman storyline two of the more curious decisions to digest. Still, there were plenty of moments to remember, with Daniel Bryan’s return, Ronda Rousey’s in-ring performance and Charlotte Flair’s victory topping that list.
And, for one night, Kurt Angle returned to glory at WrestleMania.