WrestleMania 33 Review
Another WrestleMania has come and gone, and now we pro-wrestling believers are sorting through its remains. Despite a grueling seven-hour runtime that fundamentally contradicts the WWE's mission of providing consumer-friendly, Disney-wrestling, this year's WrestleMania was mostly successful. Between the return of the Hardy Boyz, the unexpectedly superb match between AJ Styles and Shane McMahon, Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho's athleticism, Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg's animalistic war, and the haunting, visually beautiful Undertaker-farewell, this was a show that will be fondly remembered in time, if not, by some, in the present.
The individual matches get better upon repeat viewings without the cloud of fatigue obscuring the details. It's best summed up as one really good WrestleMania shoved into a pretty good WrestleMania resulting in a fun, occasionally overwhelming Frankenstein-Entertainment-Extravaganza.
But, unlike in recent years, there was more emphasis placed upon the stories that longtime viewers were invested in, and the event left room for growth for several performers. It was a full-stop period for some and an ellipses for others, and most of those Superstars who represent the WWE's priorities will benefit from this event in the coming days, weeks, and months.
For a more detailed review of the show, as well as an evaluation of individual matches, listen to The Work of Wrestling podcast EP124 where I discuss the event with Al Monelli. It is a fair and balanced assessment of the show, and we offer some ideas that I don't think you're likely to hear elsewhere.
Below is my written review, a WrestleMania match-ranking going from my least favorite match to my most favorite match.
This list is indicative of my immediate, emotional responses to the event. I would need more repeat viewings to offer an objective analysis of each individual match and rank them "objective worst to objective best".
Lists are always indications of tastes anyway, so I might as well be straight with you about it. Go into this list knowing that this isn't designed to reflect some objective assessment; it's indicative of one fan's experience of the show, with some critical observations sprinkled throughout.
There were thirteen matches in total, including the kick-off show.
13 - dean AMBROSE VS baron CORBIN
What can be said or written that won’t be said or written about this by anyone and everyone who has something to say or write about this?
Ambrose needs time off. Significant time off. He needed a new gimmick a year ago. He is quickly descending into the same waffling, seemingly bored-to-be-there gimmick-indifference that defines other, lesser wrestlers. He's too good to be in that place. This match just didn't register on my radar despite the fact that my eyes were trained on the screen. Such is a gross shame because Dean is an incredibly talented, ingenious performer. And Corbin not winning makes you wonder why they bothered having this match on the card at all, rather than just having it on SD Live later in the week (which they'll most likely do anyway, and it will be far better).
12 - Randy ORTON VS bray WYATT
This match epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the WWE’s perspective on Bray Wyatt. Creative seems to enjoy using him as an excuse to play with creepy projections rather than work with a compelling character and elevate him to a significant, interesting role in the company.
Bray Wyatt only needs to do three things to "get over".
Get the crowd singing along to "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands".
It's that easy, and it could be done overnight even after the company has seen fit to destroy his character again and again.
I hate to sum it all up with something so negative and un-nuanced, but that’s about all I can write or say about this exchange. The creepy projections definitely made me smile in the moment. I appreciated that visual change of pace. But why would the guy who can summon creepy projections also be the guy to lose?
Everything about this just left a bad taste in my mouth, as I’m sure it did many other viewers.
11 - TRIPLE H VS SETH ROLLINS
No one will remember this match.
Nothing about it was “Unsanctioned”.
As a storyteller, you can’t call a match “Unsanctioned” and then have two elaborate LED, motorcycle-filled entrances, and then proceed with what is essentially a basic NO DQ match that involves a few chair shots, a sledge hammer, and a table spot.
This was everything it needed not to be - plodding, uninventive, and devoid of emotion. This is where WWE’s tilt toward Disney-wrestling gets in the way of telling realistic stories at a moment when it must tell realistic stories. Apparently this was supposed to help get Seth Rollins over, but it certainly doesn't feel like it achieved that.
This feud was overflowing with forth-wall bending realism and genuine stakes - the characters have a rich history together and while some of their exchanges were hit & miss during the build, it had good steam going in after an excellent contract signing on RAW. It was also an entirely unique set of circumstance given Seth's injury and the "Unsanctioned" label, but none of that manifested in the actual match.
A perfect example of WWE's fantasy getting in the way of a more interesting reality is evident in how the company interpreted the "Kingslayer" moniker literally, transforming a gutsy cross-fit athlete into a torch-carrying, Knight-tights-wearing "hero" who is completely at odds with everything we know (and like) about Seth Rollins. Presenting him in that way made him seem like Triple H’s nephew trying to play dress up for Halloween - it just makes him appear weaker, and places him even more in the shadow of Triple H’s aesthetic.
It’s ironic that for a match supposedly all about reclaiming his identity, Rollins literally descended deeper into Triple H’s gimmick. It just doesn't fit; Seth Rollins just isn't a reflection of Triple H no matter how hard the WWE tries to tell that story. It feels vein on Triple H's part and unconfident on Seth's part; the two just cancel each other out. It's time for Seth's connection to both The Authority and The Shield to stay in the past where it belongs, and for him to become something new and something real and something solo.
This was a match where the guy who invaded Takeover several weeks ago needed to show up in his hoody and his jeans and his knee brace and beat the hell out of the guy in the suit, dragging each other through the hallways of the arena until arriving on that awesome stage for a big WrestleMania spot.
The match could’ve ended with both guys knocked out or Seth scampering off the stretcher he had alluded to on RAW - defeated but still standing. That would’ve gotten him over. Seth needed to be in danger, he needed to be in real pain, and all of it needed to feel like his entire life was on the line. Instead, we got something painfully standard, and devoid of the intrigue and emotion the two had established on Raw. No one got over. No one benefitted. And it’s hard to see where either of them go from here. If Seth is still injured, he should cut a farewell promo on RAW tonight, vanish, be repackaged, and come back with a fresh start, and a gimmick that’s in keeping with who he really is as a human being. The only reason I’m placing this match here is because I can’t, in good conscious, put it below Orton/Wyatt or Corbin/Ambrose.
But it was the match that disappointed me the most, and within the larger framework of the WWE's style, I think it was the least effective. I’m glad it’s done, and I hope both characters go their separate ways.
10 - THE ANDRE THE GIANT BATTLE ROYAL
Keep in mind we're in the “least favorite” portion of this list. Still, you might be perplexed as to why I rank this match above the previous three. The reason is simple; the last two minutes of this cluster entertained me. I smiled when the security guard got involved (seemingly “for a shoot”), and Mojo’s exuberience was infectious. It was mostly pointless, but I appreciate the fact that it made me smile, and that gives it an edge over the previous three matches on this list.
9 - CENA/NIKKI VS MIZ/MARYSE
The Miz worked the crowd beautifully at the beginning of this match. And the vignette introducing it was stellar.
The match itself didn’t much register in my mind (possibly due to fatigue). It was simply good fun and not much else can be written about it. I wish the crowd hadn’t booed during the post-match proposal, of course, but such is wrestling life.
Listen to Al Monelli in the podcast version of this WrestleMania review for a thorough analysis of this moment.
8 - SD LIVE WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
Unfortunately, this match was used as a buffer between the two main events, and it didn’t have a clear direction going in.
Still, I was really happy to see Naomi win, and her awesome entrance and her victory dance gave me the visual jolt I wanted.
For that alone, I enjoyed this match more than some others.
7 - UNDERTAKER VS ROMAN REIGNS
If I'm being honest, I don’t know where to put this match on any kind of list. This is somewhat of an arbitrary position where I'm attempting to approximate the complex emotional space in which this match resides.
I didn’t really enjoy it in practice, but I loved it in theory.
I feel like I should rank this match as an addendum to the entire show rather than regard it as an actual match or even a part of the WrestleMania that preceded it. It was very much its own thing, even down to JR coming out to do commentary. It’s clear that this is where most of Vince McMahon’s creative energy went, and all of it was designed to help get Roman Reigns over and simultaneously pay respect to The Undertaker.
I’m not sure it accomplished getting Reigns over (work on the back-end needs to be done, and it will), but the Undertaker’s physical limitations made it impossible to really accomplish the purpose of this match. Some awkwardly timed exchanges at the very end really got in the way of the finish. But, again, this wasn’t really a wrestling match. It was more movie than match. The heart & the mind were in the right place, but the vision couldn't be executed properly.
It was more about the expressions on their faces than the wrestling moves, and that's why it needed even more emphasis placed upon the emotions rather than the physicality. There was too earnest an attempt to have a legitimately good, physical pro-wrestling match and that just wasn't going to happen. The best moment was when The Undertaker tried to sit up and couldn’t. The symbolism of that was stirring, but then it was thrown off by some miss-timed punches (both of them lost the flow in the finish as a result of clear miscommunication).
In the end, it was all about those final moments where Undertaker disrobed and descended out of sight, though. That's what people will remember and that makes it all worthwhile. It's also great that Roman will be able to claim, over and over again, that he beat The Undertaker at WrestleMania. Only one other man can lay claim to that honor, and he just so happens to be The Universal Champion.
6 - RAW WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP
This was a match of great moments: Sasha’s entrance, Nia’s dominance in the beginning, the triple powerbomb and triple pin, Charlotte’s corkscrew moonsault.
It was certainly enjoyable overall, but some odd pacing at the finish got in the way of how emotionally satisfying the conclusion clearly wanted to be. Had Bayley flipped Charlotte off the top rope and then immediately gone for the elbow drop, it would have been a fitting exclamation point. Instead, Charlotte got back up and rushed the corner and it wasn’t clear that she knocked herself out on the exposed turnbuckle.
And that's when Bayley did the elbow drop. That pause and confusion detracted from what was otherwise an earnest effort to increase Bayley's stock. The story of Bayley needing to prove herself, even as a Champion, is never as compelling as watching someone become Champion or reclaim their Championship, however. There’s a caveat to her victory coded into her character's DNA. It's like even she is surprised by her victory, and that makes it less rewarding.
5 - Austin Aries vs Neville
This was the perfect way to start the show, and it made the pre-show worth watching.
The response Aries got was huge, and these two put on a fast, hard-hitting match where the forearms and the slaps were every bit as emotionally powerful as the acrobatics. This was one of the few matches where I felt like I was watching two performers try and succeed at delivering "WrestleMania Performances".
The only reason this match isn’t higher on my list is because it could’ve gone a couple minutes longer (subtract time from other matches and/or the musical performance) to get the most out of their story. Stellar work from two stellar talents.
4 - kevin owens vs chris Jericho
There were a lot of great little details in this match, both in terms of the characters and in terms of the athleticism of the performers. Whether it’s the counters upon counters using their knees to break offensive moves, the cannonball into the Walls of Jericho, or Kevin Owen’s single finger on the bottom rope (I hereby proclaim this “The Finger of Resume”), this is a match that will age like fine wine, giving us something new to discover every time we re-watch it.
It could’ve gone on for a few more minutes (thereby subtracting time from weaker bouts), but it was a solid match that both performers can be proud of. They could even go again tonight on RAW if they wanted, where they could have even more room to let the conflict breathe and elevate the exchange to the heights it clearly could attain.
Now with Brock as Universal Champion, KO can become the “main roster, full-time champ” with a chip on his shoulder, and elevate The United States Championship, a title that’s belonged to him since he first debuted on RAW.
3 - Tag Titles Ladder Match
This was not only an excellent match, it offered a genuinely uplifting surprise in the form of the returning Hardy Boyz. I highly recommend watching this match a second time knowing what to expect so that you can pay even closer attention to its perfect pacing. Every spot matters and every transition is into a spot is seamless. Apart from The Hardy Boyz return, Sheamus & Cesaro got one of the best reactions of the entire night with their dueling Big Swing & Ten Beats (it was well over ten though!).
As a pro-wrestling fan and an independent artist, seeing The Hardy Boyz return to the grandest stage in pro-wrestling and reclaim the tag titles after having reinvented themselves and pushed the boundaries of their art is one of the most inspiring feel-good stories I've seen at WrestleMania. And none of it was explicit because it didn't need to be - it was a great meta-moment where every wrestling fan was "in on it" whether they knew it or not.
It's exciting to consider what the "Broken" brothers can bring to RAW.
2 - Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg
Brock Lesnar vs Bill Goldberg epitomizes the value of embracing the Shakespearian phrase, "To thine own self be true."
They know who they are. We know who they are. They know what they're good at. We know that they're good at. All of us agree on this. All of us got what we needed.
Two big, vicious warriors barreling into each other for five minutes. Nothing more, nothing less. If The Undertaker/Roman Reigns match represents an overestimation of one's abilities, Goldberg/Lesnar represents an unapologetic awareness (and accounting for) one's limitations. From Survivor Series to WrestleMania, aside from Owens being used as a sacrificial lamb, the Goldberg/Lesnar story, like it or not, is one of the best, most consistent WWE main event narratives in a long time.
Lots of great pops throughout, and lots of great emotion from Lesnar. It was the first time since his dominant streak began where Lesnar seemed like he really wanted something - he wasn’t just the stoic warrior whose victory was assumed. He was angry and hungry for the win, and that made him better and that made him nearly likable.
And Goldberg played his cards perfectly, never attempting to do anything in this feud that was outside his skillset. If you pay attention to the expressions on their faces and the precision with which they move, you will see confidence and a pure, unadulterated awareness of one's strengths as a performer. They were completely believable from start to finish, allowing less to be so much more.
Yes, we only saw four moves from these two since Survivor Series, but nothing more was needed. I watch these two because I want to see them beat the hell out of each other with high impact moves in a near shoot-style, and that’s exactly what they delivered.
And Brock at the top just makes sense, as he could literally kill anyone on the WWE roster with his bare hands. I like the idea of a part-time Champion because it gives the full-time roster someone to chase, and it allows the opportunity for other titles to become more important on the weekly shows.
Good, simple, beastly fun.
1 - AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon
I said on Work of Wrestling podcast last week that I hated this match in theory, but that I was certain I'd love it in practice (another inversion of the Taker/Reigns dynamic).
Turns out that's exactly what happened, and they even exceeded my highest hopes to deliver something legitimately good. Like many matches on this card, it will just get better with age. I just don't know how a normal human being could actually be cynical about Shane McMahon doing a shooting star splash and AJ Styles doing anything with anyone.
Would I have loved to see AJ Styles vs Nakamura?
But that doesn't change that this was excellent in its own right.
It was a well-paced, surprisingly logical contest that intelligently relied upon the strengths of both performers to tell a fun, upbeat story. There was never a lull, and all the big moves looked crisp.
This match struck that perfect balance between pure entertainment and genuinely smart pro-wrestling psychology. It is the essence of effective WrestleMania. Nothing else on the card surprised me nor entertained me quite as much as this opening match.
This was a good WrestleMania.
It was certainly overlong and it didn't fully realize its own vision at times, but, as a piece of pro-wrestling art & blockbuster entertainment, it did the job.
And, again, it can't be emphasized enough how perfect The Undertaker's final moments were. It was a unique conclusion to WrestleMania - a moment where McMahon aired on the side of artistry, symbolism, and character rather than easy, feel-good fireworks.
That alone made the whole thing worthwhile, and a Mania that will be well-remembered in the hallowed halls of wrestling history.
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