The road to WrestleMania is often regarded as the most exciting three month period in the WWE season.
It’s where all the big returns, dream matches and thrilling storylines take place. Basically, the only three months of the year the writers actually do what they’re paid to do.
Here at TWM, I’m going to analyse every road to WrestleMania from the last decade.
Last week, I brought you the lowdown on WrestleMania 33, which brings us nicely to the next installment which saw the in ring debut of Ronda Rousey, Undertaker’s demolition of John Cena, and Roman Reigns once again fail to slay The Beast Brock Lesnar.
WrestleMania 34 had a mixed bag of a build, but for the most part it delivered on the required beats of the stories being told. Where Lesnar and Reigns completely failed to tell something compelling that connected with the masses, Ronda Rousey’s rivalry with The Authority was pitch perfect. The return of Daniel Bryan was also a miss, somehow, but Undertaker’s resurrection was a touch of genius which brought us the long awaited John Cena heel turn. On the undercard, Seth Rollins attempted to steal the show along with The Miz and Finn Balor for the Intercontinental Championship, but came up short to The Baddest Woman On The Planet.
The main event of WrestleMania 34 was Roman Reigns’ 4th straight at the Showcase of Immortals, and second against Brock Lesnar. To put that into perspective, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin headlined 6 WrestleManias between them. The Big Dog is truly the chosen one. His last bout opposite The Beast was something of a throwback classic to a bygone era, but the hopes of them repeating it were soon destroyed when rumours began circulating Brock would be leaving WWE to rejoin the UFC.
That was basically the crutch of the story – Lesnar didn’t want to be there, and Reigns was the conquering hero who was going to bring the Universal Championship back to WWE. Lesnar had held the title since last year’s WrestleMania, and defended it only a handful of times. The fans still weren’t cheering for Reigns, which must’ve been a concern for Vince McMahon, who didn’t have a Seth Rollins to cash in MITB to save everything from collapsing this time around.
The Undertaker seemingly retired at WM 33, but was talked back into returning by McMahon, as told on Stone Cold’s Broken Skull Sessions. On camera, the role of Vince McMahon was played by John Cena who was desperate for a spot on the WrestleMania card and was willing to do anything to get it. He was even willing to turn heel, something he vowed never to do.
Cena cut scathing promo after scathing promo on Undertaker, trying to course The Phenom back into the squared circle. Cena openly mocked The Deadman, took out Kane and even insulted his wife. But there was no reply from Undertaker. It was a genius way of booking a marquee WrestleMania bout, and something WWE should do more of. We all knew Undertaker would show up on the Grandest Stage Of Them All, no matter how much Cena said he would be going there to watch as a fan, but the anticipation grew to something bigger than the event itself.
Over on Smackdown, co general managers Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan were having trouble keeping rebels Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in check. The two heels felt they were being mistreated by the men in charge, and took it upon themselves to do something about it in the form of a brutal attack on The Boy Wonder. Shane was taken off Smackdown for several weeks as a result of it, but somehow Owens and Zayn were still getting booed.
Daniel Bryan delighted the WWE Universe by announcing that he was medically cleared to wrestle again, telling fans to never give up on their dreams. I thought the promo was good, but could’ve and should’ve been much better considering the announcement. Bryan’s feel good moment didn’t last, however, as Owens and Zayn destroyed him in the same way they did Shane. Thus, the WrestleMania tag team affair was booked with big implications – if Bryan and Shane lost, they would be out of power. If Owens and Zayn lost, they would be out of jobs. At least on Smackdown anyway.
The WWE Championship was defended in a dream match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura after The King of Strong Style surprisingly won the Royal Rumble bout. They had an epic battle in Japan, and fans were rightly anticipating something akin to that on the Grandest Stage possible. Sadly, that didn’t happen.
The build up was non existent, which is often the case when both are beloved by the fans. It was basically just a game of one-upmanship that garnered zero response. But surely they would redeem themselves with a classic to end all classics at WrestleMania? The answer would be a big fat no.
The first ever Women’s Royal Rumble winner Asuka fared much better, at least in the build up, opposite Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair. We all knew they would deliver something special, which they did, but the rivalry itself was decent too. Asuka had an undefeated streak, while Charlotte was virtually unbeatable on PPV. Something had to give.
On the Raw side of things, the excellent Alexa Bliss put her Championship on the line against former friend Nia Jax, who she had fat shamed and bullied for months leading up to the big event. It was a brilliant story as Alexa showed off her acting chops and managed to do the unthinkable – make Nia Jax seem likeable.
The most anticipated match of the entire evening was of course the in-ring debut of Ronda Rousey teaming with Kurt Angle to take on Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. It was meant to have been The Rock siding with Rousey, but Hollywood commitments meant Angle had to step in. As substitutes go, this wasn’t bad, but you can imagine how monumental this would’ve been had it also featured The Great One. It would undoubtedly have been the main event.
Rousey debuted at the Royal Rumble before signing her contract at the Elimination Chamber event which promised her any match she wanted at WrestleMania. After being told by Kurt Angle that The Authority hadn’t forgotten what had happened to them at WM 31 and were looking to humiliate Rousey, Ronda decided to choose to fight them at WrestleMania, putting an exclamation point on the announcement by slamming Triple H through a table.
So, let’s get to the event itself. It opened in electric fashion with Seth Rollins becoming the new Intercontinental Champion by ousting The Miz and Finn Balor in a Triple Threat contest. It will go down as one of the best curtain raisers in WrestleMania history, but it didn’t steal this particular show.
Asuka’s incredible two and a half year undefeated streak came to a shocking end at the hands of Charlotte Flair, who made her tap out to retain the Smackdown Women’s Championship. It was a classic that both women should be extremely proud of. New Orleans is the place where streaks come to die: just ask Undertaker.
Jinder Mahal (?!) won the a four way match involving Rusev, Bobby Roode and Randy Orton to become the new United States Champion. The bout was awful and the wrong guy went over, but at least Mahal was no longer WWE Champion. Be thankful for small mercies.
My personal showstealer was Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle defeating The Authority in an incredible tag team effort. All four must have been rehearsing for this weeks because it was absolutely perfect from bell to bell. When Triple H wants to make you a star, he is the best in the business at doing so. Ask Batista. Ask Kurt Angle. Ask Chris Jericho. And ask Ronda Rousey. He made her in one night here. This was tremendous stuff. I think I’ve rewatched it a dozen times and it gets better with every visit.
The Bludgeon Brothers smashed through The Usos and The New Day to capture the Smackdown Tag Team Championship in nothing more than a squash. This this designed to get Harper & Rowan over as unstoppable monsters, but it just angered fans who wanted to see The Usos and New Day tear it up at WrestleMania.
John Cena did indeed turn up at WrestleMania as a fan before getting word that The Undertaker was in the building. Firstly, he had to deal with Elias, who he put down with relative ease. Then, The Undertaker showed up in no mood to play games. In less than three minutes, he defeated Cena in one of the most shocking moments in WrestleMania history. Don’t mention Undertaker’s wife. Maybe AJ Styles should take note.
Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon got their retribution on Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn in a rather forgettable contest. The fans were worn out by the time this one came on. They had already seen Asuka’s streak end, Ronda Rousey steal the show, and Undertaker demolish John Cena. They didn’t have much left which kind of ruined Bryan’s big return. He looked good and healthy though, which is the main thing. This one was crying out for a Shane McMahon heel turn to side with Owens & Zayn, and have Bryam fight against the odds that summer. Unfortunately they didn’t go down that road.
Nia Jax flattened Alexa Bliss to become the Raw Women’s Champion in a very good bout that had a little bit of everything. Alexa’s character work is unmatched – she did everything she could to get Jax over, and it worked. Unfortunately WWE ruined it a month later by turning Nia into a bully to feud with Ronda Rousey.
AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura are worldwide wrestling icons, but they just didn’t click with the lights at their brightest. Their WWE Championship match was a let down of epic proportions, with AJ winning a drab affair. The aftermath saw Nakamura turn on Styles with a brutal attack, and the rivalry continued for several months with each battle worse than the one before.
Braun Strowman and 10-year-old Nicholas defeated The Bar to win the Raw Tag Team Championship in a comedy bout before the serious business of the main event. They vacated the titles the following night on Raw, deeming the whole thing meaningless.
Brock Lesnar obliterated Roman Reigns in the night’s show closer to remain Universal Champion. The bout was certainly brutal, with Roman bleeding buckets, but it lacked the drama and excitement of their previous battle. Reigns kicking out of five F-5s was also overkill.
It didn’t make Roman look strong, it made the move look weak. The fans were also silent throughout, believing it was a foregone conclusion that Reigns would win. He did not. Then came the shock and confusion at what they had just witnessed. Turned out, Lesnar was sticking around in WWE after all. He wouldn’t lose the title until SummerSlam to Roman Reigns in a bout that didn’t even go 5 minutes.
Overall, WrestleMania 34 looked epic but there was just too much to digest. The main event, while awful, was certainly not worse than Cena vs. Miz from WM 27, despite what Dave Meltzer and his silly star ratings say. The return of Daniel Bryan was good but lacked the crowd support you think it would’ve gotten. Ronda Rousey blew everyone away with a fantastic performance, and Charlotte ending Asuka’s streak was a surprise. The WWE Championship match was a major letdown, and there was also quite a bit of filler on the show. WWE should stop trying to fit in every member of their roster, and shave a couple of hours off the run time. Do that, and some of these modern-day WrestleManias will be considered the greatest of all time.
Come back to TWM tomorrow, where I will be looking back at the road to WrestleMania 35 which saw Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair headline, Brock Lesnar open the show opposite Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns return from a serious health condition to face Drew McIntyre, and Batista renew hostilities with Triple H in a No Holds Barred war.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!