NEW ORLEANS -- One night after NXT served up quite possibly its strongest TakeOver card in history, the pressure was on WWE WrestleMania 34 to deliver. And it did just that for a variety of unforgettable reasons. From a pair of thrilling matches to open the main card to a thrilling swerve in the main event, which brought a dying crowd to its feet in unison, Sunday's card from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome had something for just about every kind of professional wrestling fan.
Former UFC champion Ronda Rousey's in-ring debut was arguably the show's highlight at the midpoint of the card when she teamed with Kurt Angle to defeat Stephanie McMahon and Triple H in a fun and expertly booked match. But the main event undoubtedly created the most water cooler talk for Monday morning as a bloodied Roman Reigns, after kicking out of four F5 finishers from Brock Lesnar, surprisingly succumbed to the universal champion. Because of the surprise finish amid rumors of Lesnar's return to UFC, the crowd of 78,133 went from hating the night's final match to cheering it in an instant.
The night also featured The Undertaker's return in a surprising squash victory over John Cena, and SmackDown women's champion Charlotte Flair ending the unbeaten streak of Asuka in one of the best women's matches in WrestleMania history. While the card wasn't void of low moments, those that were moved along fairly quickly. Even a Raw tag team title victory by Braun Strowman and his surprise pre-teen partner plucked from the crowd received an overwhelmingly positive response from the crowd.
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WWE WrestleMania 34 results, grades
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal -- Matt Hardy eliminates Baron Corbin (Kickoff Show): The annual 30-man cluster to start the kickoff show, featuring a smattering of mid-card performers, was boosted considerably by an entertaining finish. After Corbin dumped Kane to narrow the field down to three, he teamed up with Mojo Rawley for a double stomping of Hardy. Suddenly the lights went out and a former foe of the "Woken" one, Bray Wyatt, appeared in the ring with a slightly altered look. After helping Hardy eliminate Rawley, Wyatt got caught on the business end of Corbin's finisher. But Hardy dumped Corbin from behind to win the match. Wyatt and Hardy faced off in the center of the ring until Hardy maniacally clapped and the two embraced, likely adding a new member to the extended "Woken Universe." Grade: C
Order of elimination: Aiden English, Konnor, Curt Hawkins, R Truth, Primo Colon, Mike Kanellis, Tyler Breeze, Viktor, Zack Ryder, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, Apollo, Shelton Benjamin, Rhyno, Dash Wilder, Scott Dawson, Bo Dallas, Curtis Axel, Sin Cara, Fandango, Heath Slater, Chad Gable, Titus O'Neil, Goldust, Tye Dillinger, Dolph Ziggler, Kane, Mojo Rawley, Baron Corbin
Cruiserweight Championship -- Cedrick Alexander def. Mustafa Ali via pinfall to win the vacant title (Kickoff Show): The self-proclaimed "uncrowned cruiserweight king" finally ascended the throne. In the finals of the tournament created to crown a new champion, Alexander outlasted Ali in a showcase of what makes the 205 Live brand so exciting. The match, pairing two babyfaces, was contested in a physical and intense style as both properly sold how hungry their characters were to become champion. There were plenty of aerial highlights throughout, including a beautiful Tope Con Hilo by Alexander onto the floor and Ali's insane springboard Spanish fly. Ali appeared to have the match won following a tornado DDT from the top rope and his inverted 405 finisher, but Alexander barely got his foot on the ropes to break the pin. Ali then missed a second 405 and Alexander landed his lumbar check finisher to secure the 1-2-3. Grade: B+
WrestleMania Women's Battle Royal -- Naomi eliminates Bayley (Kickoff Show): The inaugural women's match produced a memorable swerve finish to pop the crowd. With the entire storyline for the match built around the breakdown in the friendship between Bayley and Sasha Banks, WWE did well to give the fans a false finish involving the two. After Bayley saved Banks by eliminating Sarah Logan, Banks reached out her hand to squash their ongoing beef. Bayley initially accepted only to then dump Banks over the top rope, which both Bayley and the crowd thought was the end of the match. But Naomi, who had been thrown out of the ring under the second rope earlier, reappeared into the match. She hit Bayley with her Rear View finisher before tossing her, setting off a wild celebration. Grade: B-
Order of elimination: Carmella, Dana Brooke, Mandy Rose, Sonia Deville, Kairi Sane, Lana, Kavita Devi, Taynara Conti, Bianca Belair, Dakota Kai, Becky Lynch, Mickie James, Peyton Royce, Natalya, Liv Morgan, Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan, Sasha Banks, Bayley
Intercontinental Championship -- Seth Rollins def. The Miz (c) via pinfall and Finn Balor to win the title: Talk about an electric way to kick off the main card. The pace was off the charts for this one, as was the sequences of near falls and late saves. The Miz's decision to send The Miztourage backstage before the match, telling them "I've got this," removed any outside interference. It also cleared the way for an incredibly smooth and entertaining match. The trio received its first "This is awesome" chant from the crowd following a creative sequence midway through. Rollins hit a superplex on Balor yet nearly lost on a subsequent roll up. The Miz then snuck in for a Skull Crushing Finale on Rollins but could only get two. The finish to the match was also well set up as The Miz hit his finisher on Rollins from the top rope before Balor broke the pin with a Coup de Grace. Shortly after, Balor appeared to have the match won after a Coup de Grace on Miz until Rollins snuck in to hit The Stomp on Balor before one more for Miz to get the pin. Grade: A-
SmackDown Women's Championship -- Charlotte Flair (c) def. Asuka via submission to retain the title: The unbeaten streak of Asuka in WWE, which dates back to her October 2015 debut in NXT, is over following a women's match for the ages. In a pairing between arguably the top two female performers in the world, both were willing to risk it all in a showcase of physicality. The match was also incredibly emotional with both left in tears afterwards as Asuka exclaimed "Charlotte was ready for Asuka" before the two embraced in the center of the ring.
You want big spots? This match had plenty, including Asuka intercepting a moonsault by catching Charlotte into a triangle choke, only for Flair to then reverse into a Boston crab. Asuka later hit an incredibly stiff suplex off the ring apron and onto the floor. But Flair received the biggest pop late when she hit a breathtaking (and dangerous) Spanish Fly off the top rope. Following a huge spear, Flair then applied her Figure 8 leg lock to produce a surprising tap out from Asuka. Grade: A-
United States Championship -- Jinder Mahal def. Rusev (via pinfall), Randy Orton (c) and Bobby Roode to win the title: Despite the flood of organic "Rusev Day" chants before the start of both the kickoff show and the main WrestleMania card, Rusev's bid for the U.S. title came up just short. Five months after his surprising WWE championship run came to a close, Mahal picked up the U.S. title thanks to a little help from sidekick Sunil Singh. Rusev appeared to have things wrapped up when he went for his Accolade on Mahal, but "The Maharaja" escaped, setting up a super kick from Rusev on Singh, who had jumped up on the apron to interfere. Mahal then snuck in to hit the Khallas for the 1-2-3. While this match was certainly a clear step down from the red-hot openers, it was exactly what it needed to be: short and action packed. Grade: C+
Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle def. Stephanie McMahon & Triple H via submission: Talk about an incredibly fun piece of business. Rousey was presented as a top-flight star in her WWE debut and did nothing short of exceed expectations in terms of physicality and timing. This was classic storytelling at its absolute finest. For whatever the match lacked in terms of high spots, it more than made up for in drama, momentum changes and steady escalation of crowd response. For a match that could've ended multiple ways over the second half, each time you thought it was over, the storyline produced one more wrinkle.
The first half of the match featured perfect tag team psychology as McMahon, at her heel best, used every trick in the book to entice Rousey and prevent Angle from making the tag. Soon, all four participants had the crowd eating out of their hand with every move. The eventual hot tag to Rousey brought a flood of energy as she ran across the ring to flip McMahon in before beating her down amid constant trash talk (including a "C'mon bitch!").
Rousey proved she's much more than a celebrity making a one-time appearance. This was a performance which teases great things to come and was helped not just by perfect booking but standout support work from the other three in the match. At one point, Triple H overruled the referee's attempt to prevent him from fighting with Rousey and the wrestling between the two produced some of the best moments in the match. Angle and Rousey appeared to have the match won when each had submission moves locked in late until Triple H powered Angle into Rousey. The finish came when Rousey and Angle each powered out of Pedigree attempts leading to an armbar from Rousey on McMahon, who an injury long after the tap. Grade: A
SmackDown Tag Team Championship - Bludgeon Brothers def. The New Day (via pinfall) and The Usos to win the titles: From the moment Harper and Rowan were rebranded from former Wyatt Family members to their new look, a stream of squash match victories has followed. Incredibly, that didn't slow down at WrestleMania even though they were paired against the two best tag teams in WWE. Harper and Rowan received one heck of a push in this short and dominant performance which ended with Kingston getting power bombed off the second rope by Harper after Rowan lifted him up. Grade: C
The Undertaker def. John Cena via pinfall: For a story featuring so many delayed reveals and false starts, the actual match was surprisingly quick and predictable. After spending two months trying to summon the return of The Undertaker, Cena was content to spend most of Sunday's card, beginning with the opening match of the kickoff show, in a ringside seat as a fan. A whisper to the ear, however, from a referee after Charlotte Flair's victory over Asuka sent Cena running up the ramp to the backstage area. Even more teases followed from there as Cena came out for what appeared to be a match only to have Elias crash the scene by playing a song on guitar featuring disparaging lyrics about Cena, Undertaker and the crowd. But after Cena made quick work of Elias inside the ring, his walk back up the ramp was interrupted by darkness, smoke and a loud gong.
The Undertaker emerged dressed in his traditional "Deadman" garb, which led to a long walk to the ring. The match that followed, however, was a one-sided squash. At 53 and coming off hip surgery, The Undertaker moved as fluidly as he has in years, erasing memories of his disappointing and long main event against Roman Reigns last year at WrestleMania 33. But while it was nice to see Cena do the job so Taker could potentially exit active competition on his own terms (should things play out that way), the actual match fell flat. Unless you're a hardcore mark for Taker, this was about as anticlimactic as it gets, nearly erasing what had been creative storytelling until his final reveal. Grade: C-
Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon def. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn via submission: The days of Owens and Zayn wreaking havoc as top heels and troublemakers on SmackDown Live is behind us. In his first match since 2015, Bryan returned from retirement to a hero's welcome. He also looked like he hadn't missed a beat either, forcing the tap out from Zayn to the Yes Lock before setting off a cacophony of cheers inside the Superdome.
The crowd was behind this match from the very beginning as Owens and Zayn snuck up from behind during their own ring entrance to viciously attack Bryan and McMahon. A power bomb to Bryan on the ring apron left him seeking medical attention and unable to contribute for the first half of the match. McMahon hit the biggest spot of the bout with his coast to coast while Zayn was stuck in the tree of woe in the corner.
After Bryan finally returned to save McMahon from being pinned, his eventual entrance into the match via hot tag set up a red-hot rally to the finish. Bryan played all of the hits in taking out both heels. In fact, he feigned a head injury before hitting a missile drop kick off the top rope only to kip up dramatically to spike the crowd. After no-selling a punch from Zayn, Bryan hit a series of hard slaps and Yes kicks to set up the finish. Grade: B
Raw Women's Championship -- Nia Jax def. Alexa Bliss (c) via pinfall to win the title: Jax's organic transition from monster heel to babyface champion is now complete. Following a particularly strong build focused on Bliss' body shaming and "Mean Girls" behavior, Jax served up a very physical dose of revenge.
Jax walked quickly to the ring to start the match and instantly took out Bliss sidekick Mickie James with a beating that was capitalized by a Samoan Drop on the floor, which required medical attention. The match which followed featured strong psychology with the heel Bliss using eye rakes to regain momentum. Bliss hit the spot of the match with a Twisted Bliss off the top rope and onto the floor. But Jax had the final word and landed a memorable Samoan Drop from the second rope to gain the pin. Grade: B-
WWE Championship -- AJ Styles def. Shinsuke Nakamura via pinfall to retain the title: This one may not have played out to be the instant classic smart fans dreamed of when it was first booked, but it was thoroughly enjoyable just the same. Instead of imitating the frantic, high-wire matches from earlier in the card, this one took its time reaching a crescendo. Styles and Nakamura, former rivals in Japan, turned in a physical affair with elements of both mixed martial arts and the "strong style" featured in New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
But if this respectful clash between babyfaces, who showed huge respect for each other by hugging after the match, wasn't enough to create a pop from you, it's like the swerve which followed did the job. Nakamura went down to one knee to hand the Styles his title. After Styles raised it to the air with one hand, Nakamura cemented a heel turn with a punch to the groin. A vicious series of kicks to the face followed, sending Styles outside. Nakamura then hit his Kinsasha finisher on the floor, adding more salt to the wound.
The majority of the match saw both wrestlers exchange deliberate and sustained beatings. Styles continually sold an injured back while Nakamura favored his left knee. Plenty of memorably stiff moves ensued, including a scary muscle buster from Styles. Both superstars traded huge strikes on their feet to set up the finish. But after Nakamura landed a reverse exploder, his attempt at a Kinsasha was reversed into a Styles Clash for the pin. Grade: B
Raw Tag Team Championship -- Braun Strowman & Nicholas def. The Bar (c) via pinfall to win the titles: Strowman's mystery tag partner didn't turn out to be an active wrestler or well-known legend after all. "The Monster Among Men" scoured the crowd at length before settling on a boy named Nicholas to join him. The match which followed was short, shamelessly cheesy and infectiously fun, even if you were predetermined to dislike how "white meat" of a babyface the monster Strowman was portrayed to be.
Nicholas was completely over with the fans from the jump and received steady chants of "We want Nicholas" while Strowman worked from underneath. Eventually, Strowman crawled over to make the hot tag, which set the crowd on fire. Nicholas entered with a weary look, only to turn around and tag the giant back in. Strowman quickly hit his powerslam finisher on Cesaro for the pin, setting off a wild response from the New Orleans faithful.
Who knows where this storyline goes from here or whether Nicholas was a plant. Still, this loaded card added one more "WrestleMania moment" to remember. Grade: C
Universal Championship -- Brock Lesnar (c) def. Roman Reigns via pinfall to retain the title: The most predictable main event finish in WrestleMania history turned out to be anything but, and a dead and despondent crowd exploded with approval before the drive home. After a steady build of Superman booking for Reigns, which included an implausible four kick outs following F5s landed by Lesnar, the supposedly UFC-bound "Beast" exited with the title still around his waist. In an instant, WWE chairman Vince McMahon went from tone deaf to a creative genius, using the tease of troll booking to anger the crowd before delivering the final swerve.
Just like the WrestleMania 31 main event between Lesnar and Reigns three years ago, this one was a beautiful disaster of physicality. In fact, this one was even more violent, with Reigns getting busted open on his hairline late, leaving his face covered in a crimson mask. Lesnar's inability to finish off Reigns despite hitting him with the kitchen sink left the crowd an angry mess. Chants of everything from "CM Punk" to "We want Nicholas" broke out, as did a bunch of beach balls, which led to equal levels of cheers and boos that had nothing to do with the match. The crowd also broke out into a "This is awful" chant after Reigns kicked out of the F5 for the fourth and final time.
The match featured many memorable spots, including Reigns getting suplexed onto his head outside the ring. Lesnar was also speared up and over the announce table. Later on, a third-consecutive spear attempt from Reigns was met with an intensely stiff knee to the head from Lesnar. The finish came when Reigns, after getting a two count on a spear, went back to the well and ran into an F5, setting up the 1-2-3. Grade: B+
WWE WrestleMania 34 highlights
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