Professional wrestling (or “sports-entertainment” to the World Wrestling Federation) is prone to hyperbole. Legendary wrestling play-by-play announcer Tony Schiavone would always say, every night, as his catchphrase, “This is the greatest night in the history of our sport,” much to the chagrin of even the most gullible fans. This past weekend hyperbole is in this case appropriate. Ring of Honor (ROH) Wrestling held a co-promoted event with New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) on Friday that was the unofficial official start to a action-packed weekend culminating in World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) ultimate event, Wrestlemania. Almost every wrestling promotion worth anything in North America had a show of some sort in the New York/ New Jersey area this weekend, an embarrassment of riches for pro-wrestling fans for sure.
Since there is simply too much to cover from the past weekend, here are the three biggest shows and some takeaways from each show.
ROH-NJPW G1 Supercard: Saturday, April 6, 2019: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
In a gutsy move, ROH booked “The World’s Most Famous Arena” during Wrestlemania Weekend in the WWE’s backyard and default home arena. Despite a half-hearted attempt to block it, Vince McMahon and WWE had no choice but to grit their teeth and allow their direct competition to do essentially the very same thing they did to others in the 1970s and 1980s. ROH has been booking “supershows” on Wrestlemania Weekend in the same city before, but this show piqued every wrestling fan’s interest in different ways.
Cincinnati native “The Gatekeeper” Kelly Klein represented The Queen City well by defeating the Women of Honor (WOH) Champion, “The Ace” Maya Iwatani. To many fans, women’s wrestling is generally associated with more high-flying, athletic moves; however, in front of an appreciative ROH crowd, Klein employed her mat-based ground game to keep the explosive joshi from hitting too many of her impact moves. After surviving a furious onslaught by Iwatani, Klein was able to hit her finisher, the K-Power, twice on The Ace to win her first WOH championship in front of her home country. Her celebration was cut short by a run in by some veteran wrestlers now calling themselves “Allure”, attacking Klein post-match.
Other “Big Ten Country” wrestlers were at odds with each other. In one match, Bully Ray (a.k.a. Bubba Dudley from WWE) issued a “New York Street Fight” challenge to any opponent. Bully Ray then accosted a local rapper until Flip Gordon, who has a long-standing feud with Ray, came out to save the performer. Suspiciously from the back, two men who have been recruited by Ray recently ran from the back: Silas Young, from Milwaukee, WI, and Shane Taylor, from Cleveland, OH. All three men jumped Gordon, who was ultimately saved by Mark Haskins and Juice Robinson of Joliet, IL. Juice made the big save, leading to the team of Juice, Gordon, and Haskins to win the street fight against the evil-doers.
Other notable events were: The Guerrillas of Destiny defeated Villain Enterprises, The Briscoes, and Los Ingobernables de Japon to become dual ROH and International Wrestling Grand Prix (IWGP, NJPW’s governing body) Heavyweight Tag Team Champions; Matt Taven defeated Jay Lethal and Marty Scurll in a Triple Threat match for the ROH World Championship; and “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada defeated “Switchblade” Jay White for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The rest of the card went as follows:
- Kota Ibushi defeated Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship
- Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi for the British Heavyweight Championship
- Dragon Lee defeated Taiji Ishimori and Bandido in a Triple Threat match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
- Jeff Cobb (ROH Television Champion) defeated Will Ospreay (NJPW NEVER Openweight champion) in title vs. title match
- Rush defeated Dalton Castle
- Kagetsu, Hazuki and Jenny Rose defeated Sumie Sakai, Hana Kimura, and Stella Grey in a six-women tag team match (pre-show match)
- Kenny King wins the Honor Rumble battle royal (pre-show match)
WWE NXT Takeover Brooklyn: Saturday, April 6; The Barclays Center; Brooklyn, NY, NY
Just down the borough, WWE did their best at counter-programming with the brand many fans feel is the superior one of the WWE’s three, NXT. WWE Vice President of Talent, Paul “HHH” Levesque, has meticulously cultivated a brand of young performers fresh off the independent wrestling scene or home grown at the WWE Performance Center, almost treating “The Yellow Brand” as its own entity. It shows. While WWE Raw and Smackdown are the sizzle of WWE, NXT is the steak.
Because of the WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony taking place in the same night in the same arena, the juicy New York Strip steak was cooked up deliciously with no filler. There were only five matches, but they did not disappoint. The War Raiders (Hanson and Rowe, who is from Cleveland, OH) retained the NXT Tag Team Championship defeating the team of Aleister Black and Ricochet in a match that saw big men flying and small men using power. NXT Women’s Champion “The Queen of Spades” Shayna Baszler gooned her way to another victory by retaining the championship against “The EST” Bianca Belair, “The Genius of the Skies” Io Shiari, and “The Pirate Princess” Kairi Sane. The former mixed-martial arts fighter, amateur wrestler, and grappler outlasted all four other women in the Fatal Four Way to keep her belt. In a match that showcased arguably the brightest future stars in the WWE, The Velveteen Dream showed grit and compunction against “The Original Bro” Matt Riddle. The Dream, whose forte is American strong-style but lacks in combat skills, survived vicious knee strikes, palm strikes, kicks, and submission locks from the seasoned combat artist turned pro-wrestler in Riddle to retain his NXT North American Title. The Austrian Phenom, WALTER, warred with NXT United Kingdom Champion, “The Bruiserweight” Pete Dunne, in a hellaciously violent battle to win the championship from Dunne. Finally, native Clevelander Johnny Gargano (who has too many nicknames, frankly) fulfilled his dream of becoming NXT Champion by duking it out with Adam Cole for the vacant NXT Championship belt in a Two-Out-Of-Three-Falls match. Fans are still raving about this match forty-eight hours later.
WWE Presents Wrestlemania 35: Sunday, April 7, 2019; Met Life Stadium; East Rutherford, New Jersey
Like most sports traditions and superstitions, Wrestlemania has one. Among wrestling fans, the odd-numbered Wrestlemanias have been known to be mediocre at best. This is so ingrained in the psyche of the fans that the WWE itself kept the numeral off of the Wrestlemania logo this year. This year, so much history was made last Sunday that this year’s event might be one of the greatest ever.
Some Midwesterners who were on the card were Chad Gable from St Michael, MN; Curtis Axel, son of WWE Hall of Famer, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, from Robinsdale, MN; former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher Shelton Benjamin; Chicago, IL-born (formerly Mustafa) Ali; Detroit, MI veteran Rhyno; EC3 from Willoughby, OH; Dana Brooke, from Cleveland; and Otis from Duluth, MN. The most significant wrestler on the card who did not actually wrestle was Alexa Bliss, from Hilliard, OH; she was the official host of the card.
While Fortune smiled on Cleveland-born wrestlers at NXT Takeover, such was not the case for Parma, OH’s own Mike “The Miz” Mizanin. The Miz was involved in a brutal No-disqualification, Falls-Count-Anywhere Match with Shane McMahon. Former tag team members now bitter rivals, The Miz and “Shan-O Mac” tore the house down, literally, in arguably the best match of the night. This feud is so heated, that, at one point, proud father of The Miz and Mr. Hero franchise owner, George Mizanin, involved himself in the match, squaring up with McMahon. The Miz and McMahon brawled each other to the camera bay, where The Miz suplexed Shane off of the camera bay onto a loading bay, crashing through it. Incredibly enough, “The Boss’ Son” had the wherewithal to land slightly on top of The Miz to gain the official pinfall.
Of course, the most fulfilling moments of the night came from its historical perspective. Touting this Wrestlemania as momentous, the significance of a women’s match main-eventing Wrestlemania coupled with long-time overlooked wrestler Kofi Kingston not only getting his first WWE title match in his eleven year career but also winning the belt from WWE Champion Daniel Bryan cannot be understated. Kingston has been overlooked despite his athletic abilities and natural charisma. No excuse from WWE became logical enough to deny Kingston his opportunity other than the sadly obvious: Kingston is unapologetically African. Although the WWE has been relatively pioneering in diversifying the sport, it has been lacking in giving minorities serious opportunities for superstardom. To have someone who represents “positive blackness” and represent the company as its champion is both necessary and affirming. Not to be outdone, the Women’s Winner-Take-All match for the WWE Women’s Raw and Smackdown Championships was highly anticipated for its first. A grueling and physical match saw “The Man” (that is correct) Becky Lynch defeat WWE Raw Champion Ronda Rousey and WWE Smackdown Champion Charlotte Flair simultaneously to win both belts. “Becky Two-Belts”, as she referred herself, had to endure months of denial to what was rightly hers, much with the support of the fans.
The rest of the results of the show are:
- Tony Nese defeated Buddy Murphy for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
- Carmella won the Women’s Battle Royal
- Curt Hawkins and Zach Ryder defeated The Revival for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship
- Braun Strowman won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
- Seth Rollins defeated Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship
- A. J. Styles defeated Randy Orton
- The Usos defeated Aleister Black and Ricochet, Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura, and The Bar to retain WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship in a Fatal Four Way
- The IIconics defeated The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection, Nia Jax and Tamina, and Beth Phoenix and Natalya to become WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions
- Samoa Joe defeated Rey Misterio Jr. to retain the WWE U.S. Championship[p
- Roman Reigns defeated Drew McIntyre
- Triple H defeated Batista in a No Holds Barred Match
- Baron Corbin defeated Kurt Angle in Angle’s Retirement Match
- “The Demon” Finn Balor defeated Bobby Lashley for the WWE Intercontinental Championship
Reaction and Reception
On this rare occasion, critics and fans agree that this was an all-around amazing Wrestlemania. Fan reaction on various internet boards has been positive for the most part. The consensus seems to be that the expected quality matches were average at best, while matches like The Miz versus Shane McMahon were surprisingly good.
Pro-wrestling podcasters and internet celebrities Fresh Voice and Yung Custodian, who are the hosts of the wildly popular and entertaining Heel and Face Podcast, were pleasantly surprised.
“I can’t believe how good [Wrestlemania] was! It’s better than it deserved to be,” exclaimed Yung Custodian. Fresh Voice added, “If you would have asked me how I thought this Wrestlemania was going to be, I would have told you it was subpar at best. But after watching,…I was pleasantly surprised. This was the most entertaining Wrestlemania of the past ten years.”
Yung Custodian, a connoisseur of all levels of wrestling, from “backyard shows” to WWE, found one particular match to be relevant in a different way. One of his favorite matches of Wrestlemania 35 was the dream match of Randy Orton versus A. J. Styles.
“This match up had one of the best build ups, the WWE Mainstay (Orton) versus the [long-time independent wrestler] (Styles). They hated each other on the way to ‘Mania, and they showed that hate during the match. There were a couple close calls in this match –A. J. even kicked out of an RKO (Orton’s finishing move), but, at the end of the day, A. J. Styles still proved that he is one of the best wrestlers in the world.”
One of Fresh Voice’s favorite Wrestlemania matches saw two WWE Superstars looking for respect and revenge.
“Shane McMahon versus The Miz in a Falls-Count-Anywhere Match was captivating from the get-go,” opined Fresh Voice. “The build up for the match was extremely personal with the involvement of The Miz’s father, George, and both competitors took full advantage of the stipulation.
“The match was incredible.”
Fresh Voice went on to say that the Women’s Winner-Take-All main event was “groundbreaking” and a “huge opportunity” for women in a sport dominated forever by men. The event found him to be excited throughout the match, and the satisfying result was a “perfect end” to the evening.
Speaking of opportunity, Fresh Voice went on to point out that Kofi Kingston’s victory over Daniel Bryan makes him the first wrestler of color to win the WWE’s “Grand Slam”: WWE Tag Team, Intercontinental, United States, and World Heavyweight Championships. Both podcasters agreed that this meaningful match was one of the greatest in history, culturally and socially significant or not.
As far as the entire weekend wrestling marathon, fans were treated to some bad, a little awful, but mostly good wrestling. At various independent wrestling shows throughout the weekend, there was some entertaining intergender wrestling, a mixed-combat style pro-wrestling match where two veteran wrestlers did everything but short of kill each other, an “Invisible Man Grudge Match” (not a typo), and a naked backflip (should have been a typo). For the big three cards, fans were rewarded for their passionate, unwavering love of “the squared circle”. Yung Custodian summed this sentiment up beautifully:
“This weekend has been an amazing weekend for wrestling. There were so many good shows to watch it made me proud to be a wrestling fan.”
As this entire Wrestlemania Weekend deserved, that is the perfect amount of hyperbole.
Fresh Voice and Yung Custodian host the Heel and Face Podcast every Sunday on Facebook at @HeelAndFacePodcast, and on other social media platforms.