WrestleMania 38: Where the Main Event Is Not a Match

Stone Cold Steve Austin Will be at WrestleMania 38 in a main event segment. What?

I had planned to end my rant about the WrestleMania 38 card being watered down when spread over two nights with my last blog post. Then Kevin Owens announced on Monday Night Raw that his KO Show interview of Stone Cold Steve Austin will be the main event of WrestleMania Saturday.

Let that sink in for a moment. The main event of a WrestleMania event is not even a match!

Granted WrestleMania is always a different show that is intended to stand out from the rest of the pay-per-views throughout the year. It leans more on the entertainment aspects of WWE’s content than a regular show would. But the word “wrestle” is still in WrestleMania! It still should be about wrestling matches, especially in the main event.

Let us flash back to WrestleMania V at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. There were fourteen matches on the card.

Midway through the show, Rowdy Roddy Piper hosted Morton Downey Jr. on a Piper’s Pit segment in the ring. Downey was a controversial television host at the time and Piper was already a wrestling legend. The segment lasted for a few minutes and ended with a quick laugh when Piper sprayed Downey in the face with a fire extinguisher because Downey refused to extinguish his cigarette.

WrestleMania V culminated in a main event between Randy Macho Man Savage and Hulk Hogan for the WWF championship. It was an instant classic of a match between the two biggest stars in the WWF at the time that was built up over the course of the year. The main event was not the damn Piper’s Pit segment! That segment was where it belonged, filler in the middle of the card.

I was going to give my analysis of the Austin segment later in the week, but in the context of this rant, I will do it now.

The KO Show featuring Stone Cold Steve Austin

On March 30, 2003, WrestleMania XIX took place at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. In the penultimate match on the card, The Rock defeated Stone Cold Steve Austin. It was their third and final WrestleMania matchup, and unbeknownst to us at the time, it was Austin’s last match. It was kept from the public that it this would be the conclusion of his in-ring career. His body was failing, and he knew he could no longer continue.

The fans were not ready to see Austin retire, and he did not want to leave. He later would admit that he struggled through an existential crisis for years without the job that he loved. But continually refused multiple offers to wrestle any more matches. He knew that he was physically incapable of performing at the highest level. His pride kept him from tarnishing his legacy and embarrassing himself. It was rumored that Austin was once again offered to work a match at WrestleMania 38.

Austin would return for various guest appearances in the 19 years since his retirement. One memorable example was when he delivered a Stunner to Xavier Woods at WrestleMania 32, the last time WrestleMania was in Dallas, Texas. This year, in lieu of the match he reportedly refused, Austin will be in a much higher profile WrestleMania segment.

Austin’s journey to WrestleMania 38 began with Kevin Owens disrespecting and insulting the state of Texas repeatedly on Raw. In the beginning, it was hard to understand where this angle was headed. But Owens, who did not have a match lined up for WrestleMania, invited Steve Austin to be a guest on his KO Show at WrestleMania. In a taped segment, Austin agreed to Owen’s offer the next day.

Let’s consider the potential scenarios for how this will play out:

  • Scenario 1: The WWE will attempt to recreate a classic Austin “raising hell” segment with a prop like a monster truck or a beer truck, but bigger and more elaborate.
  • Scenario 2: Another Austin foil such as Mr. McMahon will interject himself into the segment and Austin will beat him up.
  • Scenario 3: Austin and Owens will come to blows, Austin will grab a microphone and demand a referee come to the ring and ring the bell to start an impromptu match between him and Owens. He will deliver a Lou Thesz Press and a quick Stunner to Owens giving us one last “match” that will total about 45 seconds.
  • Scenario 4: Austin and Owens argue about the state of Texas and Owen’s pilfering of Austin’s Stunner as his finisher. Austin will kick Owens in the plumbs and give him three or four Stunners.

No matter which scenario they pick, Austin will shotgun about a dozen beers and give the crowd the double-bird as the announcers thank us for tuning in.

If you imagine any of these scenarios as a segment somewhere in the middle of the show, it sounds great. We get to see Austin do something funny and he maintains his integrity for not wrestling one more match.

But if you imagine this as the main event of WrestleMania Saturday, it is a creative trap from hell. How do you shape any of these scenarios into a WrestleMania main-event-level production? In Scenario 1 does he bring a machine gun to the ring and blow Owens away? In Scenario 2 does Mr. McMahon make a run-in only to eat a Stunner? In Scenario 3 does a quick match really belong as a main event? In Scenario 4, what can the two possibly say or do to each other that would make this better than a wrestling match in this segment? In conclusion I am not happy with this situation because of where it is placed on the show. I can not get past the fact that the main event of WrestleMania Saturday is not a wrestling match!

WrestleMania 37 Postscript

What was up with Alexa Bliss at WrestleMania?

The WWE delivered in a big way over the two-night showing of WrestleMania 37. It was dealt a tough hand with a storm in Tampa which forced a 40-minute rain delay at the beginning of Saturday’s show. Once the rains subsided enough for the show to start, the first live crowd the WWE has hosted in over a year was clearly excited for action.

Most critics tended to agree that both shows were exciting from start to finish and exceeded expectations. What makes that interesting is that this was more of a transitional WrestleMania than it may have appeared to be. Consider that this was the first time since WrestleMania XVI in 2000 that there was no involvement from The Undertaker or John Cena. Also consider that the WWE did not reach into the past to bring back a relic like Goldberg or a part-timer like Brock Lesnar to generate interest in the show. It mainly ran with the regular talent roster and one big outside celebrity. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned there.

I have been a constant critic of both Roman Reigns and the WWE Women’s division. Roman Reigns returned after an absence in 2020 to reinvent his character and put on a masterful performance in the main event of night two. Aside from the Women’s tag team matches that laid an egg both nights, even I must admit that Sacha Banks and Bianca Belair put on the match of their lives and that certainly bolstered the division.

There were some great moments along the way, along with some inconsistencies and some odd creative decisions. Out of it all emerged a clear list of winners and losers, with the winners far out numbering the losers.

Losers:

The Fiend: Here’s Bray Wyatt’s career arc: Gets built up, fans buy in, loses in a peculiar fashion, reinvents himself, repeat. That loss to Randy Orton did not help either competitor, the finish with Alexa Bliss made no sense at all.

Big E: Lost the Intercontinental Championship in his home city.

Mandy Rose: Through no fault of her own, she slipped on the wet ramp during her ring entrance. This will haunt her on the Internet for the rest of her life.

Bayley: Her championship run in 2020 was not enough to earn her an actual match at WrestleMania 37. Instead, she was stuck with a comedy bit that did not work and got tossed aside by the Bella Twins. The crowd had the wrong reaction to the episode anyway!

Hulk Hogan: Worked babyface, got booed. His magical aura is clearly a thing of the past.

Winners:

Bobby Lashley: Opened the show with a surprise win over Drew McIntyre. This was his biggest WrestleMania moment since “The Battle of The Billionaires”.

Cesaro: In his first ever singles match at WrestleMania, he picked up a signature win over Seth Rollins.

Omos: Looked like a killer in his debut. Hopefully he is always booked that way.

Shane McMahon: Even though it is entirely predictable that he is going to take an insane bump, he still makes it entertaining. His in-ring career is one car crash after the next.

Braun Strowman: Looked great in his match. He is a physical specimen that can cut a skilled promo and tell a story in the ring.

Bad Bunny: Far exceeded any expectations with his in-ring ability. Granted, the other guys helped make him look good, but he still carried himself like a pro.

Bianca Belair: Put on probably the best women’s match the WWE has ever seen in her WrestleMania debut. Hopefully, the rest of the division follows her lead and steps up their game.

Sheamus: Hit some great moves in his win over Riddle and walked out with a singles title.

Apollo Crews: It was a very round-about way to become a singles champion, but if becoming an ethnic heel is what it took, good for him.

Daniel Bryan and Edge: Both were forced to retire due to injury but ended up in the main event of WrestleMania anyway. The losses did not hurt them at all, they looked good in defeat.

Roman Reigns: Against all odds, turned his career around and is now the clear face of the WWE. Unlike in the past where he ruined every WrestleMania main event he was in, he turned in a commanding performance this time.

The WWE added WrestleMania branding to the Backlash pay per view for the first time ever. With any luck, they can continue some of the momentum they now have from a strong WrestleMania weekend into that show.

WrestleMania 32 Analysis and Predictions (part 3 of 3)

The first WrestleMania in 1985 was based around one main event featuring Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.  There were other matches on the card and several celebrity appearances, but the main event was really the only draw that made the event successful.  In order for WrestleMania to grow into the global phenomenon that is capable of selling out football stadiums that it is today, it had to feature more than just one main event to make the card special.

WrestleMania 32 will feature three main event-level matches that have been heavily hyped and advertised these past few months.  They will feature an interesting mix of legends who wrestle part time, full time competitors, the boss’ son, and a featured babyface that has been panned by the critics over the past two years.  Any one of these three matches has potential to be top-10 all-time great WrestleMania match, or perhaps even take a shot at being the best ever.

This is my final of three blog posts on WrestleMania 32 and it will feature my expert analysis and picks for the main event matches.  If you are going to be betting on any of these matches, you’ll want to pay close attention!

Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar in a No Holds Barred Street Fight

Any match with Brock Lesnar in the WWE is a main event.  Brock is a once-in-a-generation gifted athlete and is among the best in-ring workers we have ever seen in the WWE.  He looks like was chiseled out of stone and displays feats of strength in his matches that are almost unbelievable.  Unfortunately, he is not in the WWE title hunt this year like he deserves, but he is still going to put on a wrestling clinic at WrestleMania 32.  Of course, always at his side, his advocate Paul Heyman is certainly going to cut an entertaining promo during the show that is going to bring the crowd to their feet.

His opponent, Dean Ambrose, has been a surprise success on his own since The Shield broke up two years ago.  When he first came up, it seemed like he was destined to wrestle as a heel for his entire career but the crowd has taken to his “lunatic fringe” gimmick and he has worked in several pay-per-view main events as a solo competitor.  This match is a better spot for Ambrose than it is for Lesnar as it really gives Ambrose a chance to elevate his status with the WWE fans if he delivers an unforgettable performance.  A lot of critics have been calling for Ambrose to make a career-defining statement in this match and I think he has a chance of doing it.

The build for this match has been entertaining.  The creative angle of making it a street fight was done to give Ambrose the appearance of having a chance to win as there is no way he could beat brock in a straight wrestling match.  Ambrose has filmed several vignettes with hardcore legends such as Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie, with each of them “passing the hardcore torch” to the younger Ambrose by giving him their favorite weapons of choice.  Of course, Ambrose isn’t going to saw Lesnar’s arm off with Charlie’s Chainsaw, but it was certainly funny watching those segments.

This match is going to be wild and will feature Ambrose and Lesnar using all kind of prop weapons against each other.  It is going to be a stiff looking all-out brawl between the two and it could steal the show if these two can bring the best out of each other.

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match; if Shane wins, he will get control of Raw and Undertaker will be barred from competing at WrestleMania again.

This is the match that nobody saw coming headed into the final stretch of WrestleMania season.  The memories of a lackluster FastLane pay-per-view were quickly erased when on the opening segment of the next night’s Raw, Shane McMahon made his return to WWE programming after a seven-year absence and was put in a high-stakes match against the Undertaker at WrestleMania in a Hell in a Cell.  This caught almost all observers off guard as almost nobody guessed that McMahon was going to be this year’s opponent for The Undertaker.

Shane McMahon is competing for the opportunity to take control of the company away from his father and sister.  The narrative for this match was somewhat hastily implemented and it is almost bizarre in the sense as it is somewhat unclear what The Undertaker’s motivation was to compete against McMahon, but when the stipulation was added that if he loses to McMahon he can no longer compete at future WrestleManias, it gave him something to fight for.

Shane McMahon will always be admired by the fans because his resume of in-ring accomplishments from the Attitude Era are staggering.  He shed the notion that he was only part of the show because he was the boss’ son by taking death-defying bumps in almost all of his matches.  He displayed a surprising amount of talent and wrestling ability for someone who didn’t look like an athlete.  His willingness to lay his body on the line and take risks earned him respect and admiration from all observers of the sport.

The Undertaker has the best WrestleMania resume of any performer in WWE history.  Despite the fact that his legendary winning streak ended at WrestleMania XXX, he still boasts a 22-1 win/loss record at WrestleMania and has set a mark that will likely never be matched.  His WrestleMania matches, especially towards the end of his streak, would look and feel more important than the actual WWE title matches on the same card.  His match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV is widely recognized as the greatest WrestleMania match of all time.  There aren’t enough superlatives to describe The Deadman’s WrestleMania accomplishments.

The Hell in a Cell stipulation will add an element of surprise and danger to this match.  The HIAC structure became legendary when The Undertaker threw Mankind off the top of the cage in one of the most iconic moments in WWE history.  Nobody has ever been able to top that moment, but HIAC matches when done well have told dramatic and brutal stories.  Given the fact that Shane McMahon and The Undertaker are the participants in this particular HIAC match, it is a safe bet that this match could become an instant classic and be remembered as one of the best ever.  McMahon is likely going to damn near commit suicide in an attempt to wow the Dallas crowd.

I believe there are a few tells here that indicate the winner of match is going to be The Undertaker.  First off, it doesn’t seem likely that Shane McMahon is going to quit his day job and return to the WWE in a full-time capacity.  It also isn’t likely that The Undertaker is going to retire from WrestleMania competition any time soon.  He can still perform at a high level and has been advertised for future matches later this month in Europe.  If they are going to retire The Undertaker from WrestleMania, they might as well retire him for good.

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

Triple H (c) vs. Roman Reigns in a Singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

The likely outcome of this match is a moment that most WWE fans have been dreading for the last two years.  Vince McMahon’s insistence that Roman Reigns is the next face of the company is one of the biggest mysteries that WWE fans have pondered in years.  We clamor for pretty much anybody else on the card to be the top babyface champion in the company, yet we are met with Vince McMahon’s intransigent attitude on the matter.  His putting Roman Reigns in the WrestleMania main event for the second straight year is an example of his truculent stance against the fans.  It is as if he decided years ago that Reigns was going to be the top guy in the company and he is going to give it to us whether we like it or not.

The problem the fans have with Roman Reigns isn’t that he is the chosen one. The problem we have is very simple; Roman Reigns isn’t a very good wrestler.  He lacks basic in-ring psychology, never seemingly knowing when to sell an injury or when to make a comeback.  His offensive move set lacks excitement (who pops for the Superman Punch?) and he applies his biggest moves at the least appropriate times.  Most importantly, he lacks the ability to captivate the audience when he cuts a promo.  He is uninteresting and unable to properly emote.

This is not a case where a wrestler isn’t ready for the big time and needs time to develop.  Reigns was given the exact opportunity that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were to develop and get over with the crowd.  The sole problem that Roman Reigns has is that he is just not very good and he does not appear likely to ever improve.

Likely due to the rash of injuries and other extenuating circumstances in the WWE, Triple H had to insert himself in the main event picture to make this match interesting.  The WWE COO rarely wrestles anymore, but he always competes in a high profile match at WrestleMania.  This year, in his 20th WrestleMania, he enters the main event as WWE champion.  Given injuries to Seth Rollins and John Cena in particular, there weren’t too many people left that could credibly carry the title to the WrestleMania main event against Reigns.

Despite the fact that Roman Reigns is booked as the babyface and Triple H is booked as the heel in this match, the crowd have been audibly behind Triple H and not Roman Reigns.  Triple H received a huge ovation from the crowd when he viciously pounded Reign’s bloody face into the Raw announce table shortly after this match was announced.  It was a classic cowardly heel maneuver and yet the crowd loved it.  Conversely, nobody seemed to care when Reigns got his revenge several weeks later on Triple H by delivering him a beating of his own.  Both crowd reactions indicated less the fact that the fans are supporters of Triple H, and it is more likely that they are just solidly opposed to Roman Reigns and will support anybody who challenges him.

Triple H is one of the best WrestleMania competitors the WWE has ever known and can always be counted on to deliver a memorable match.  He is in his mid-40s and trains like a man half his age. He is seemingly still at his peak and will have to deliver the match of his life in order to carry the inferior Roman Reigns through this match.  The stakes are high and if Roman Reigns is going to be our babyface champion for the near future, this match is going to have to be top-notch.  If Reigns is ever going to get over, Triple H is going to have to act as the catalyst to make this change in attitude towards Reigns happen.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Roman Reigns

And with that, there is nothing else left to do than sit back and enjoy the 6-hour extravaganza on the WWE Network today, hoping for the best.  Enjoy the show!