wrestling / TV Reports

Hawke’s WrestleMania 34 Review

April 9, 2018 | Posted by TJ Hawke
Undertaker's Undertaker WrestleMania 34 Image Credit: WWE

What follows is my attempt to provide the most honest review possible. WWE is not my cup of tea, but their big shows are fascinating from a number of perspectives, and there are usually always a handful of really interesting (for better or worse) matches.


A list of my 5-Star Matches.


I know I missed a lot of 2017 (and you all missed me even more), but here are some notable reviews of mine during my catch-up.

Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles

AJ Styles vs. Finn Balor

Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate

Tomohiro Ishii vs. Keith Lee


Some of my notable reviews from 2018.

Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi vs. The Young Bucks

Pete Dunne vs. Oney Lorcan

Low Ki vs. Amazing Red

WALTER vs. Timothy Thatcher

Mike Quackenbush vs. Jonathan Gresham


April 8, 2018
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA


Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

WWE battle royals are usually REALLY bad. Even at Wrestlemania, the matches tend to not feature all that much effort and do not stand out in any positive way. Sadly, this year’s edition was not the exception.

The match came down to Matt Hardy, Mojo Rawley, and Baron Corbin. Just as Matt was about to be eliminated, Bray Wyatt showed up. Bray’s presence helped Matt win. Matt thanked him, and then they hugged it out. Oooookay. Bray Wyatt being in a midcard comedy team is probably for the best at least.

There are two contradictory takeaways from this match. 1.) 90% of the participants in the match could be cut tomorrow, and the company’s product would probably be better off. 2.) It’s a good thing all the great talent in NXT is stuck down there so they don’t have to be wasted in this shit. (1/4*)


Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali

These two put on a good show and delivered a very fun contest. They worked a great pace and delivered a lot of entertaining spots and sequences. We even got a clean finish. All good things.

The phrase “put on a good show” though also captures the tonal issues with the match. They established from the start that this match was about being entertaining. That is never ideal for a tournament final to crown a champion at the biggest show of the year.

Oh well. At least the actual cop lost. [Cedric defeated Ali cleanly to win] (***)


WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal

This match was not too bad at all, and it was helped due to the inherent comparison to the Andre shit fest that happened earlier in the night. Everyone was trying hard. A number of wrestlers got moments to stand out. And then it actually ended on a wonderful note that continued a storyline incredibly effectively.

Sasha and Bayley were somewhat unintentionally working together and having a lot of success towards the end of the match. Sasha then held out her hand, and the big question was how Bayley would respond. It would normally be in character for Bayley to accept the handshake and then lose for doing the “right thing.” Bayley was smart though and used this supposed handshake attempt to jump Sasha and eliminate her.

And then Bayley, thinking she had won the match, promptly got eliminated by Naomi. She was punished for acting out of character. It was beautiful.

This was such a good and rich finishing sequence that you could not help but question whether WWE occasionally knows what they are doing. Wild stuff. (***)


Finn Balor vs. The Miz vs. Seth Rollins

This was for Miz’s Intercontinental Championship.

This was an excellent example of three talented yet flawed wrestlers being put into a position to succeed and then delivering accordingly. They worked a match that was heavy on action and limited the amount of needless dead time. They did not try to tell a terribly substantive story, but instead put a focus on cool sequences and genuinely surprising in-ring moments.

It all organically built to a chaotic (if cliche) finishing three-way sequence with loads of finishers and reversals. This was the ideal opener for Wrestlemania in that it got the fans excited while not being so high-level as to make it impossible to follow. [Rollins won via Curb Stomp on Miz.] (***1/2)


Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka

This was for Charlotte’s Smackdown Women’s Championship.

While this match did not really come close to the heights of the very best matches the womens’ divisions have put on in recent years, there is no question that this match was a success on a number of levels.

For starters, both women established an awesome tone from the get-go, as they were working with something to prove to themselves and each other. They worked like this was going to be a tough challenge, and they could not let their guard down for a second.

To make things even better, they did a great job of progressively getting more and more physical throughout. It was an even fight, and both women had to simultaneously limit their mistakes while taking more chances if they wanted to win.

It all built to a dramatic, if surprising, finishing stretch that resulted in Asuka tapping out cleanly to Charlotte. The match itself was unquestionably good within the bubble of bell-to-bell. (***1/2)

That decision will obviously result in a lot of second-guessing from fans and critics. It’s mostly troubling because Asuka seemed happy that Charlotte won after, and then the commentators pulled out the “overcome with emotion” bullshit line.

Asuka finally losing is a significant moment that should lead to impactful change in characters. It’s not simply yet another accomplishment for Charlotte. And it’s also not a mere transition moment to the show-long John Cena story, as the WWE decided Asuka standing in the ring was the time for Cena to learn that The Undertaker was in the building which caused Cena to run backstage. Yawn.


Rusev vs. Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Bobby Roode

This was for Orton’s United States Championship.

If not for Rusev, this would have been possibly the most boring collection of talent in 2018 WWE. So, you would be forgiven for noting that these guys clearly tried very hard here to put on a very entertaining contest.

The pace was good. The dead time was limited. Without a doubt, they tried to put on a crowd-pleasing affair. (They even somewhat leaned in to the Rusev Day stuff.) Who could possibly be invested in this one though?  Much like the Andre Royale, this one’s issues stood out so much on a show where a far better version of it (the IC title match) already existed.

Four-ways mostly only succeed when the majority of wrestlers are people the crowds care about or when the action is so exciting that you can’t help but get invested in what they’re doing. This was fine, but it checked neither of those boxes. (It also did not help that Jinder, of all people, defeated Rusev, of all people, to win.) (**1/2)


Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle vs. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon

This was quite bizarre.

The first half of the match was all Triple H and Kurt Angle. And wow was that bad and sad. As has been 100% evident since Kurt Angle left TNA, the dude is absolutely toast. He worked a balls-to-the-wall style for too long, and his body is completely broken. He looked it every second here, and it was honestly depressing to see on such a big stage. Triple H has similarly failed but on the biggest stage year after year. Their work here was some of the most useless and physically unimpressive stuff that you will see on a big stage in 2018.

The rest of the match mostly centered on Ronda (with another listless sequence between Kurt and HHH thrown in). The presentation of Ronda is very, very confusing. You can see what they were going for with making HHH and Steph being cartoonishly evil and then having Ronda mostly getting the better of them time and time again until she finally finished Steph with an armbar.

The path to get there though was bizarre and was really stretched out unnecessarily. The biggest issue as noted was Ronda’s presentation. She was performing here like a weird combo of previous celebrity guest wrestlers instead of the theoretical killer that she should be.

She felt like someone dressing up and pretending to be living their dream of being a pro wrestler like she was Jimmy Kimmel’s cousin taking on Santino. It’s baffling that this could be happening when Shayna Baszler is in NXT and providing the very template for how to turn a former MMA fighter into a big star.

Whatever. The crowd liked it, but it was some broad bullshit that feels incredibly artistically short-sighted if Ronda does anything else in the company. (*1/2)


The Usos (Jey Uso & Jimmy Uso) vs. The Bludgeon Brothers (Harper & Rowan) vs. The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston)

This was for the Usos’ Smackdown Tag Team Championships.

These teams have been responsible for some of the best matches in recent WWE history. This was in no way that. The whole thing was about the Bludgeon Brothers essentially dominating the whole match and then winning in relatively quick fashion. While that story can work on occasion, it does not really work when the crowd does not care about the dominating team.

And that’s what happened here.

It seems impossible to believe but being the lackeys of Bray Wyatt somehow gave Harper and Rowan a much better connection with the crowd. They consistently produced some of the most fun tag matches during that time, but this new Kane tribute act is clearly not working. Let’s hope it gets better quickly. All seven of these dudes deserve better opportunities on the biggest stage. (1/2*)


John Cena vs. The Undertaker

The Undertaker was meant to fall on his sword in the main event of the 2017 Wrestlemania against the new chosen one. Instead, the match largely flopped artistically and ended his career on a sour note.

So, he came back here to squash John Cena. Whatever. The disturbing part was that Michael Cole was talking about Taker like he was still going to keep wrestling after this match. Let’s hope that was a red herring or something because unless Taker lost all of his money in a crypt currency scheme that Val Venis pressured him into…then that made no sense.

Hopefully this was just final salute to Taker in an idiot-proof match that he could not embarrass himself in. (1/4*)


The 2018 WWE Hall of Fame Class came out for their round of applause.


Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn

The stakes of this match were as follows: if Owens and Zayn won, they got their jobs back and if Bryan/Shane won, Owens and Zayn would remain fired. No one could ever accuse WWE of being logical with their stipulations.

This was also Bryan’s return match. His last match was in 2015.

This was one of the greatest troll jobs in Wrestlemania history. In a match that featured Bryan Danielson, El Generico, and Kevin Steen on the biggest stage in wrestling, the in-ring story was in part dominated by the “gutsy heroism” of Shane McMahon (Daniel Bryan was apron powerbombed before the match and was sidelined for the majority of the contest).

Shane McMahon is the worst pro wrestler presented seriously in 2018. This includes the reanimated corpse of Kurt Angle. This includes tanning booth leather suit that is Triple H. This includes Dolph Ziggler. Shane is truly worse than all of them.

Shane threw some of the worst strikes in the history of pro wrestling in this match. He was gassed immediately. He dragged Owens and Zayn down into the one of the most boring sequences of either’s career. It was honestly almost impressive that someone could be this bad.

While all of that truly nauseating to witness, none of it even gets to the macro storyline issues. This was about Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn being held down and standing up to the powers that be. And they are the villains for that. This was about Shane McMahon, the Fredo Corleone of professional wrestling being the hero. And they constructed a story where Bryan is a hero for teaming up with a McMahon to keep Zayn and Owens down. Wrestling is not this hard.

While the crowd was beyond happy to see Daniel Bryan work again, they would have had to actually capitalize on that to make this match work. It being the WWE though, they decided to swim upstream and bore the crowd out of their minds before finally unleashing Bryan. It was so dumb and no hindsight should have been required to know that.

Bryan defeating Owens and Zayn singlehandedly was just about the least satisfying way for him to return. This was WWE storytelling at its most oblivious and one of the least interesting things Bryan has ever been in. Awful. (3/4*)


Nia Jax vs. Alexa Bliss

This was for Bliss’ Raw Women’s Championship.

The storyline for this match (Alexa being a body image-shaming bully) seemed to set this up for Nia to quickly squash her to take the title. Instead, they decided to a proper match.

Nia ran through Mickie James and Alexa to start the match. Alexa managed to cut her off and then worked her over. Nia fought back and then finished her cleanly to take the title.

Beyond a buckle Alabama Slam (ffs), there was nothing terribly interesting or exciting about this one. They just did not have the energetic dynamic required to cover for the lack of nuance to their in-ring skills.

Let’s hope Nia gets put into a better position going forward, because she has proven time and time again that she can absolutely produce. (**)


Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles

This was for AJ’s WWE Championship. It was a rematch from their rather beloved match for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at the 2016 Wrestle Kingdom.

While this was not the uninspired bore that virtually all of Shinsuke’s WWE matches have been (and the majority of his non-stadium/G1 Japan matches for that matter), this was also not the outstanding world title match you would want from these two on this stage.

Things initially looked optimistic for this one as both guys established a competitive, physical, and significant tone right from the start. They gave people an immediate hook for this match, as they conveyed everything you would want from a big match on the world’s biggest show.

Then their work slowed down for the worse. It’s not so much about the speed in which they were moving but instead the sense of urgency and tension. Things just progressively got less and less dramatic through the middle portion of the match, and they did not compensate for that with any nuance in-ring storytelling.

The match finally got intriguing in the final third as Shinsuke’s leg began to fail him after AJ’s work on it. That restored much of the match’s tension and gave them a new thread to follow. The action got tighter and more physical after that, and the initial tone established was returned.

Just as things got going though, AJ reversed a Boma Ye attempt into the Styles Clash to retain the title. This one succeeded overall through sheer force of will despite the dead environment they were in. (***1/4)

In a blessed moment, Shinsuke turned heel on AJ after the match. That is by far the most intriguing direction Shinsuke’s had in his WWE tenure even if it’s terrifying that we’re being asked to cheer AJ Styles against him.


Nicholas & Braun Strowman vs. The Bar (Cesaro & Sheamus)

This was for The Bar’s Raw Tag Team Championship.

Braun got Nicholas, a young child, from the crowd to be his tag team partner. The match was obviously worked like a handicapped match with the kid just standing on the apron the whole time (beyond a ten second sequence where he tagged in and then immediately tagged out). This was very dumb, and it should have all been done in half the time. Whatever. There have been stupider cool-down matches in WWE history. [Braun pinned Cesaro to win the belts for him and the kid) (1/2*)


Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns

This was for Brock’s Universal Championship.

Roman Reigns is the most bizarrely booked man in a company that seems to specialize in putting their employees in a position to fail.

In 2016, he and Triple H flopped in an overlong battle that seemingly was set up as a political hit on Roman.

In 2017, Reigns seemingly ended the career of The Undertaker in a match that was so poorly received that Undertaker had to un-retire this year to squash John Cena just end things with slightly more dignity.

Now in 2018, Reigns has flopped once again in this very dull match with Brock Lesnar that the fans were at best indifferent about.

The common thread in all of these Roman failures though is that the circumstances were seemingly designed to make it nearly impossible for Roman to succeed. The margin of error was just impossibly small every time. Triple H had made himself a god to the hardcore fan just in time for Wrestlemania 2016. Taker was a physical wreck by the time he fell to Roman last year.

And then there was this match.

Roman actually lost. He lost. Again. And it was in the least interesting manner possible. Brock wrestled the most cliche Brock match imaginable. Then he busted Roman open. Roman fought back. Then Brock recovered and won.

It was so inexplicable. No one really seemed to care, and it’s absolutely impossible to blame them at this point. This company has no coherent artistic vision for the main roster, and the issues infect everything up and down the card. (*1/4)