With ratings flailing, Vince McMahon and family got on stage in late 2018 and promised to start listening to fans and giving them what they want.
WrestleMania 35 was the culmination of that promise.
Yes, it was messy. The show went entirely too long. Becky Lynch’s win had an awkward finish. Michael Cole’s voice was cracking. WWE didn’t even run a recap video package at the end. Lynch got the titles, a few fireworks went off and that was a wrap. Fans were likely sprinting for the exits. It was a work night, after all.
Yet the show delivered on WWE’s promise.
The full card rundown says it all. Something as simple as Curt Hawkins’ losing streak ending by winning the Raw tag team titles with Zack Ryder was a feel-good moment.
And that was just the beginning.
In as epic a tone-setting match as one will see at a WrestleMania, Seth Rollins stripped Brock Lesnar of the universal title quickly after some pre-match shenanigans.
Call it an apology of sorts from WWE—they botched getting the title off Lesnar a few times and put it on him again when Roman Reigns left. Sorry, here’s the match, boom. The title’s back on Raw.
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Nine title matches. Seven title changes.
Sixteen matches. Twelve face victories.
What else? AJ Styles put on a classic and beat Randy Orton in a 50-50 match. The Usos retained the SmackDown tag titles, surviving their punishment for aiding Kofi Kingston. Shane McMahon and The Miz did wild stunts. The IIconics were bestowed with the ‘Mania platform to ascend to women’s tag champs by downing The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection.
Then there was Kingston. It was understandable if fans felt a sense of dread about his fight with Daniel Bryan. Rollins had won earlier in the night, and Lynch was presumably going to win the main event. If WWE wanted to avoid giving out three title changes—all to the fan favorites—this was going to be the match where the good guy lost.
But he didn’t. Kingston matched the technical prowess of Bryan blow for blow and emerged the winner. In a touching moment afterward, he celebrated with not just his fellow New Day members, but also his children, wrapping up a nice 11-year journey that now feels like it’s just beginning.
The cool-down matches after didn’t swerve away from the theme. Samoa Joe, a fan favorite often clamored for as a main event contender, absolutely demolished Rey Mysterio in about 60 seconds to keep the United States title. Reigns won over Drew McIntyre, with the announcers detailing how it was a win for those affected by similar ailments as to those the former universal champion faced outside the ring.
Even Triple H and Batista was a lot of fun, with weird nose-ring pulling, tripping entering the ring and a dash of Ric Flair for good measure.
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Maybe the only negative was Kurt Angle losing to Baron Corbin in his farewell match. But that’s easily waved off—it isn’t uncommon for a legend to go out on his back, putting over up-and-coming talent as he says goodbye. Fans are safe to assume that’s what happened here.
There’s more (this show was entirely too long). John Cena busted out the Thuganomics. Finn Balor brought out The Demon to win the intercontinental title from Bobby Lashley. The Irishman’s entrance was superb, while Triple H’s was—at the very least—an acceptable length.
Then there was the main event.
It felt like a proper, brutal fight. Sometimes the hyped bouts, where participants promise violence, fall flat. Think that one time Dean Ambrose fought Lesnar at a WrestleMania.
Not here. All three women were wearing welts quickly. Ronda Rousey took a nasty spill head-first outside. Charlotte Flair went through a table. It goes on and on, but everyone upped their game, slowly breathing new life into an understandably fading crowd.
In a fitting turn of events, the main event had an odd finish. WWE backed itself into a corner of sorts with Rousey and it feels like the roll-up finish was baked into existence because they didn’t actually want an MMA legend tapping out. But Lynch had to get the win over Rowdy or it wouldn’t feel as legitimate.
So the compromise was a surprise roll-up move after a slam, where unfortunately one of Rousey’s shoulders didn’t stay down during the three-count and the announcing team went on to awkwardly talk about it.
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Yes, it’s a little disappointing the first-ever women’s main event ended on a roll-up. And the fans in attendance probably weren’t too thrilled. But this is WWE. It can get turned into a storyline in a heartbeat. The finish leaves a little wiggle room for an eventual rematch, whenever it may be depending on if Rousey decides to take time off or not.
There is an important catch to the main event—the right person won. Finish aside, WWE had its finger on the pulse of fans and didn’t blink while pulling the trigger. They could have easily treated Rousey like Lesnar and had her retain even if she is leaving. Or the belts could have gone to Flair, who certainly has the name and resume, and she would draw plenty of heat for picking up the win over the fan favorite.
But the McMahons and WWE made a promise some months ago and delivered when it mattered most. Wrestling inside the ring (or getting into it, Batista) isn’t always perfect, which fans can understand. But the decisions can be, provided the company wants to make it happen.
At WrestleMania 35, WWE did. The favorites got their wins, and by extension, so did the fans. That it was a little sloppy and exhausting at times is fitting more than anything else.