In April 2020, WrestleMania 36 was scheduled to take place at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, as you might have noticed, a global pandemic put an end to that and, subsequently, WWE have not had a show with fans in attendance (barring NXT, but that’s a slightly different scenario) since. Naturally, this has affected the product, and even with the impressive ThunderDome set-up, it has been hard to get excited about WrestleMania this year in the way fans might normally.
After last year’s empty arena event, it was certainly a welcome sight to see WrestleMania back on the biggest stage available and in front of an excited audience. It might have been socially distanced and limited in capacity, but this still felt like the most normal wrestling show the company had put together in over a year. Going in this event looked strong on paper, but perhaps lacking a little star power, but would it exceed expectations? Let’s dive into what happened on the first of two nights of WrestleMania 37.
The show opened with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon making his way out onto the stage with the majority of the roster standing behind him. McMahon thanked the fans for their support during the pandemic and welcomed everyone to WrestleMania in classic Vince-style. It lacked the gusto of years gone by, and McMahon looks much more frail than he did once upon a time but he’s still the boss and this was a nice moment. Notably, the camera lingered on Edge and Roman Reigns (who looked even more like a Superstar in a flashy suit), but not Daniel Bryan, which is a nice nod to the underdog status for Bryan as far as Night 2 is concerned.
After Bebe Rexha (no, me neither) gave a rendition of America the Beautiful, as per the Mania tradition, and a fly-by from two jets, we got a fantastic video package to introduce the show essentially hyping the show including the importance of WrestleMania, although this was largely the same concept as last year even reusing some of the footage. Although it was over-the-top, it would be hard to complain about the spectacle after a year in which it was sorely lacking.
In a pretty historic moment, this show had to pause for a weather delay which is a first in WrestleMania lore. To fill for time, Sarah Schreiber was backstage talking to Shane McMahon who explained that he had no problem with Braun Strowman but he enjoyed poking fun at him. Shane gave him credit for choosing a match that would limit him, but that he had some creative ideas to get around that. Bobby Lashley and MVP interrupted the interview to get a word with Schreiber. MVP hyped Lashley’s achievements and extolled the “language of violence” that Lashley works within, and cut a very good promo before a very intense Drew came in to cut them off and they argued.
After Lashley was led away by MVP, McIntyre cut a fiery babyface promo of his own explaining his history over the past year, his emotions on the occasion and promising to beat Lashley and take back his title. It was pretty good, given this delay would have been largely unplanned.
After a brief bit of back-and-forth with the pre-show panel, Kevin Patrick was backstage with The New Day talking about their match with AJ Styles and Omos. Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods talked about their experience as 11-time Tag Champions before Big E joined them to hype his Nigerian Drum Fight with Apollo Crews (it was a nice segue for Night 2), and E came across as a superstar once again.
— WWE WrestleMania (@WrestleMania) April 11, 2021
Sarah Schreiber was backstage with Braun Strowman where he cut a promo on Shane McMahon, essentially calling him a bully and stating he was doing this for anyone who has ever been bullied and was going to destroy Shane. This was a nice change of pace from the usual big monster promos Strowman is known for.
The filler interviews continued as Kevin Patrick spoke with Kevin Owens backstage. Owens made an impassioned speech about his long-time history with Sami Zayn from their time in Quebec to other places all over the world and hyped their match on Night 2 as their most important meeting to date.
The sight of Samoa Joe and Michael Cole in rain ponchos was a pretty hilarious one as they continued to try and talk up the show and fill for the rain delay. With no matches on the pre-show and this delay, it was a pretty lengthy build to the opening bout.
— WWE (@WWE) April 11, 2021
Bianca Belair was backstage with Sarah Schreiber who explained that she was not scared, but she was nervous about the main event. Belair talked about her opponent and just how good Sasha Banks is, but claimed she does not run away from competition and was ready.
Kevin Patrick was backstage with Seth Rollins who was laughing uproariously. Rollins was exhibiting some chaotic energy until Kevin asked about Cesaro. Rollins kept calling him “Mike” in what was almost certainly a nod to an old Chris Jericho bit and outlined his issues with Cesaro including the “disrespect” before he explained how he was planning to defeat his Swiss opponent.
— WWE WrestleMania (@WrestleMania) April 11, 2021
Back with Sarah Schreiber The Miz and John Morrison outlined their strategy for beating Bad Bunny and Damian Priest. Morrison called Priest a “scumbag” before Miz got serious and hyped the scale and importance of Wrestlemania as an event and promised a victory. Mercifully, that put an end to the unplanned backstage interviews.
While the rain delay was less than ideal, Sarah Schreiber and Kevin Patrick earned their money here in an unprecedented situation.
With the rain finished, things got officially underway as Titus O’Neil and Hulk Hogan came out to “co-host” the event in what still felt like a very forced PR stunt, but hearing an audience was a breath of fresh air. They welcomed everyone to the event and things finally, finally got underway.
WWE Championship: Bobby Lashley (C) vs Drew McIntyre
Last year should have been the crowning moment for Drew McIntyre as he dethroned then-champion Brock Lesnar and took his place as the face of the WWE as a legion of screaming fans cheered him on. However, due to Covid-19 that did not happen and while he was installed as the company’s top star, McIntyre did not get the big glory moment in front of the stadium full of rabid WWE die-hards. With McIntyre relieved of his title by The Miz after an assault by Bobby Lashley, it looked as though he was being positioned to recreate the moment that never was against The Miz until Lashley defeated The Miz and also began to gain momentum as the vicious heel kingpin. Suddenly, the result was less certain.
This is not the first time these two have met. Having put together some memorable clashes in Impact Wrestling only a few short years ago, it was in WWE that McIntyre defended his title against Bobby Lashley in a couple of stellar PPV encounters last year. However, that Lashley was a different animal to the one who now sits aloft the WWE mountain. This Bobby Lashley is brutal, aggressive and merciless. Knowing what they achieved previously, it was certainly with much intrigue that this contest between two big, powerful monsters got underway. Having this match open the card also felt like a very smart move, cementing McIntyre and Lashley as hugely important, and guaranteeing a hot crowd for the title match off the bat.
Drew McIntyre was out first to a strong reaction with his sword entrance looking like an absolute megastar in a glimpse of what last year could have held for him. It appeared at this stage there was still a significant amount of rain coming down, but the match went ahead. Lashley was out next, also looking like a huge star. For a match that headlined a B-show with no fans last year, this felt like a big deal here and had a big fight feel.
As expected this was very physical from the first bell, although not as high impact as some may have assumed. Both men tried to exert an advantage from the outset before McIntyre landed a big overhead belly-to-belly suplex but this enraged Lashley and kicked off the slugfest between the two before things spilt out to the floor. Lashley made use of the barrier repeatedly to punish McIntyre and take advantage before nailing a spear in the corner and neckbreaker.
Lashley continued to try and wear down McIntyre with some ground-and-pound offence until Drew dodged a shoulder barge in the corner and Lashley hit the ring post, shoulder-first, which allowed Drew to start targeting the arm of the champion and attempt a cross arm breaker. However, this played into Lashley’s MMA style, and he retaliated with more ground-and-pound strikes. Shoulder barges in the corner followed from Lashley but Drew rebounded with a series of clotheslines and a pair of big suplexes, a neckbreaker and a kip-up to a big pop from the crowd.
McIntyre went for the Future Shock DDT, but Lashley blocked it, only for Drew to block a running tackle and nail a northern lights suplex. Lashley recovered and hit a couple of clotheslines on McIntyre before launching Drew with a beautiful powerbomb-into-a-facebuster (it does have a name, but it escapes me currently) for a near-fall. McIntyre reversed a suplex attempt into a Glasgow Kiss, but as he tried to follow up Lashley hit a massive chokeslam/spinebuster manoeuvre that floored McIntyre but only for a two-count.
As he sensed victory, Lashley went to hook in The Hurt Lock but Drew blocked. After some jockeying for position McIntyre hit some stiff-looking elbows in the corner and that weird-looking inverted Alabama slam he does for another near-fall. Lashley blocked a superplex attempt from the top but Drew locked in a Kimura on the top rope. Lashley broke free and Drew found himself in the Tree of Woe position. However, while Lashley prepared to stomp him Drew sat up and executed a snap mare from the top rope while still tied up in the ropes. That was very impressive. McIntyre looked poised to go for the Claymore, but Lashley countered with another big spinebuster. While Lashley looked on, Drew kipped up and they went again.
After trading punches, McIntyre returned to the belly-to-belly suplex and followed that with a trio of Future Shock DDTs, but somehow Lashley kicked out. McIntyre signalled for the Claymore, but Lashley rolled to the floor only for Drew to hit a spectacular somersault dive to the floor on MVP and Lashley, in a spot that will surely be replayed for years to come. As Lashley recovered in the ring, Drew went for a top rope move, but Lashley reversed it into an attempt at The Hurt Lock. He couldn’t quite lock it in, so Lashley hit a big suplex and a complete shot, before calling for his signature submission once again. McIntyre escaped once again and rushed Lashley who went for a spinebuster only for McIntyre to reverse into a deep-locked Kimura on the mat which looked very close to causing the submission but Lashley made it to the ropes.
A trade of strikes was next as both men looked exhausted. McIntyre countered an attempted spear with a big boot, followed up with a Glasgow Kiss and set up for the Claymore. However, as he went for it, MVP distracted Drew and that split second delay allowed Lashley to duck the move, nail a running forearm and sink in The Hurt Lock, including locking his fingers (which as per The Warlord vs The British Bulldog at WrestleMania 7, we know means it’s very difficult to break). McIntyre looked to be fading, going down to one knee before trying the Bret Hart counter (see Wrestlemania 8 vs Rowdy Roddy Piper and Survivor Series 1996 against Stone Cold Steve Austin, both of which I believe McIntyre will have been referencing here) only for Lashley to roll through still holding on to the submission with the fingers locked. Despite his best efforts, McIntyre passed out and the referee called for the bell.
Winner: Bobby Lashley
This was, quite simply, superb. Both men went all out to provide the best possible opening to WrestleMania. It was hard-hitting, physical, it name-checked history at points and it put Lashley over strong as the dominant monster champion. McIntyre loses nothing in defeat, especially having come so close and not having tapped out. This match could easily have closed this show, but it was a fantastic way to start the show. Lashley going over was the right decision and although it would have been a feel-good moment for McIntyre, there is more mileage in Lashley right now and a potential redemption story for Drew in the bigger picture, something WWE are often criticised for not thinking about.
Backstage, Titus O’Neil was “hanging out” with the NWO, in what appeared to be a very awkward moment if body language was to be trusted. Bayley made an appearance offering her hosting services to O’Neil and Hogan, only to be left hanging when she went for the “Too Sweet” by everyone except X-Pac. Everyone made their excuses and departed, leaving Bayley alone.
Tag Team Turmoil: Lana & Naomi vs Dana Brooke & Mandy Rose vs The Riott Squad vs Natalya & Tamina vs Billie Kay & Carmella
It’s fair to say WWE has not always treated the women’s tag team championships as a major priority. Even with the likes of Kairi Sane and Asuka as Champions it never really felt like the belts were given serious consideration. However, over the past few months, it has begun to seem like that might be changing with Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax installed as the dominant yet dysfunctional champions. Going into this show the idea that teams would have to compete to qualify to face them on the second night of WrestleMania 37, rather than just having a multi-woman match thrown together or worse just a tag title bout with no backstory, was certainly encouraging and this ended up being a strong showcase for the division.
Lana and Naomi were out first, with their day-glow entrance looking pretty spectacular in this setting, and they received a pretty solid response from the crowd in the stadium. Carmella and Billie Kay were next out. Kay noticeably was trying to follow Carmella’s lead on the entrance and just managing to be both awkward and hilarious in the process. Carmella and Naomi started things off with Naomi dominating with kicks before tagging in Lana, who continued to control things until Carmella regained the advantage and tagged in Billie Kay. However, Lana managed to reverse a backbreaker attempt into a headscissors (just about) before tagging in her partner. Naomi went to work on both Kay and Carmella, nailing a disaster kick on Kay as Lana made the blind tag and tried for a kick that did not land (unfortunately Kay sold it but the commentators covered it and the wrestlers moved on instantly so it wasn’t an issue). Naomi came back in and they landed a double team facebuster for a near-fall as Carmella broke up the pin. After a superkick from Carmella took Lana out of commission, Naomi tried to fling Carmella to the floor and got caught with a roll-up by Kay (who was sneakily assisted by Carmella’s feet) for the upset elimination.
Next out were the much more established unit, The Riott Squad. Liv Morgan almost immediately took out Carmella and hit a running knee to Kay before tagging in Ruby Riott. They combined for a rope-assisted double team move and a near-fall on Kay. As Riott rushed Kay in the corner, she elevated her over the top rope and to the floor before nailing an elbow on Morgan. Carmella tagged in and hit big knees and a bronco buster in the corner before Kay came back in and landed a suplex on Morgan for a near-fall as Riott made the save. However, Riott would soon again be on the arena floor courtesy of a Billie Kay big boot. Kay and Carmella went for the same trick they used to eliminate Naomi/Lana, but the referee caught on them red-handed. As they protested, Riott was able to take Carmella to the floor and combine with Morgan to hit a very innovative double knee/senton move that ended Carmella and Billie Kay’s evening. After being eliminated, Carmella came back in and landed a petulant superkick on Morgan.
As Morgan recovered, Billie Kay and Mandy Rose made their way to the ring, noticeably in matching gear/hair/makeup making them almost indistinguishable from each other, which was weird. Riott tried to fight alone as Morgan was still unable to compete after the superkick from Carmella, but was quickly overwhelmed by her fresher opponents. It looked to be over for The Riott Squad after Brooke hit a vicious looking blockbuster, but Morgan sprung back to life making the last-minute save to break up the pin. Brooke would continue to dominate Riott hitting an impressive looking neckbreaker for another near-fall.
Rose tagged in and hit stomps in the corner to Riott, but Ruby would fight back as she tried to make it to her corner including managing a sunset flip for a near-fall before making the hot tag to Morgan. Live came in full of fire nailing Rose with a clothesline and step-up enzuigiri, and a double stomp in the corner for a two-count. Riott tagged back in and they hit an assisted Riott Kick on Rose that would have won the fall had Brooke not intervened. Morgan tagged back in but Rose turned the tables with a big forearm and a shoulder barge in the corner followed by a superplex just as Brooke made the blind tag and hit a Swanton to downed Morgan. Had they timed it a bit better they could have had something akin to the old Power and Glory Powerplex finisher, but there was too much time between the moves. Brooke pinned Morgan as Rose restrained Riott on the floor, but Morgan reversed the pin for the three-count.
With The Riott Squad having worked the majority of the match, the final entrants Tamina and Natalya made their way to the ring. Natalya immediately went for the Sharpshooter on Morgan but she countered into an inside cradle for a close two-count. However, after that brief flash of hope, it was all Tamina and Natalya for a while as they dominated with stiff strikes in the corner on Morgan. Natalya nailed an assisted sit-out powerbomb on Morgan for a two as Riott made the save, but Tamina wiped her out shortly after. Knees from both Natalya and Tamina to Morgan in the corner followed. Liv did brilliantly in her role as the plucky underdog babyface here and fought out of a move on Tamina’s shoulders as she managed to escape to the top turnbuckle and as he did Riott made the blind tag and they nailed a couple of very unique tag team moves on Tamina, including the double knee/senton combination from earlier but Tamina kicked out at two.
As the Riott Squad tried to finish Tamina, with Natalya still recovering from a Ruby Riott forearm shot, Liv Morgan ate a big superkick and Riott a big boot from the corner as Natalya made the tag back in. They combined to hit a Heart Attack on Riott, but Natalya cockily elected not to go for the pin, but to try for the Sharpshooter instead. However, in the middle of the setup, she pointed to Tamina and encouraged her to go to the top rope for the Superfly Splash, which she landed on Riott for the win.
Winners: Natalya & Tamina
As a chaotic showcase for the women’s tag team division, this worked pretty well. It suffered from coming off the back of that brilliant opener, but the women involved put in a massive shift here. None of the pairings outstayed their welcome and the match moved along at a pretty decent pace. The undoubted stars of the show here were The Riott Squad who shone very brightly and the decision to invest in Natalya and Tamina for a high profile tag title match on Night 2 seems baffling and ultimately very short-sighted. It’s hard to fathom that these two veterans offer much in terms of a fresh match with the champions, especially given both teams are ostensibly heels. The opportunity to put over the younger, more dynamic babyface tag team here and set up a far more intriguing dynamic for Night 2 seems to be a lost one unless there is some sort of swerve of shenanigans planned. Good match, but with the wrong outcome.
After a very silly montage video for “Joe Average” (AKA Eric Bugenhagen from NXT) training to win the 24/7 title, which was essentially an extended Old Spice advert, it was on to one of the most anticipated in-ring moments of the evening.
Cesaro vs Seth Rollins
Since returning from his leave of absence last year Seth Rollins has been attempting to get his vision across to the WWE Universe, while Cesaro has been on a tear at the same time racking up a number of high profile victories. As such, the two crossing paths was inevitable, and naturally, this became one of the more hotly anticipated bouts on the whole WrestleMania card. Although both men felt underutilised coming into this, it was never in doubt that this particular pairing would deliver once the bell rang.
Seth Rollins was out first to a pretty decent reaction and some lovely pyro as well as a recap of a political-smear type video on his opponent. Cesaro was out next to another strong reaction. While it was expected that this might start as something of a technical clinic, Cesaro wasted no time hitting a flying uppercut in the opening seconds flooring Rollins and going for the Big Swing, but Rollins fought him off but quickly got caught with a Dragon Screw leg whip, and Cesaro again went for his signature move but Rollins bailed to the ropes. It became clear at this point that covering this match move-for-move was going to be tricky, so this might be more of an overview of the big moments in this, such was the pace they started at. Cesaro hit a beautiful corkscrew uppercut. Rollins managed to recover and hit a rope-assisted move on Cesaro’s arm, but his follow-up from the top rope was blocked by a beautiful dropkick from Cesaro. A top rope gutwrench was countered by Rollins into a buckle bomb on the opposite side and a pin attempt from Rollins. Seth targeted the shoulder of Cesaro, but he kept fighting back. Rollins leapt to the top rope to cut off Cesaro before hitting a superplex and rolling through into the Falcon Arrow for a near-fall.
Rollins tried for a neckbreaker but Cesaro countered with a backslide for a two, a big uppercut and then several more repeatedly, including running ones in the corner and a clothesline. Cesaro called for the Big Swing, but Rollins reversed it into a pinning combination for two. Cesaro immediately went for it again, but Rollins went to the ropes. As Cesaro tried to lift him by the legs, Rollins spun around and landed on his feet, incredibly, and landed a step-up enzuigiri. Rollins tried to follow up with The Stomp, but Cesaro countered and grabbed his legs going for the Big Swing again (which is basically the story of this match), as he finally locked it in and did nine rotations, unable to complete more due to the damage done to his arm by Rollins. Cesaro transitioned into a Sharpshooter attempt, in what is always a nice tribute to his former tag partner Tyson Kidd, but Rollins quickly got to the ropes aware he was in immediate danger.
Cesaro, smelling blood, went for the Neutralizer but Rollins backdropped out of it only for Cesaro to land on his feet. As Cesaro went for a running uppercut in the corner, Rollins moved out of the way and Cesaro landed shoulder-first allowing Rollins time to hit a springboard knee strike, followed by a sling blade. Rollins went to the top rope and hit a corkscrew frog splash for a big near-fall. Rollins went for the Ripcord Knee, but Cesaro avoided it and hit a Neutraliser out of nowhere for an ultra, ultra-close two-count.
With Rollins in the ropes, Cesaro went to house him by the legs, and again Rollins flipped out of this but in a somersault that fed directly into another Neutraliser attempt, only for Rollins to flip out into a Hurricanran attempt, but over-rotating and landing on his feet into a Pedigree for a two-count, in what might have been the greatest sequence in WrestleMania history. Wow.
Rollins was first to his feet after that breathtaking moment. He shouted at Cesaro before going to a neckbreaker position and then nailing a forearm to the back of the head/neck, before landing the as-yet-unnamed rewind knee move he debuted at Fastlane. As Rollins attempted The Stomp, Cesaro caught him with a huge, huge uppercut that rocked Rollins and got the crowd off their feet before hitting the UFO and calling for the Big Swing proper, managing 23 rotations before landing a Neutraliser for the victory.
What. A. Match. That was one of the best matches I’ve witnessed in a very long time. Cesaro and Rollins did everything they could to make this a huge match, and they succeeded. This should, in theory, be a launching point for Cesaro who is as over now as he will probably ever be within WWE. Given how badly he has been mishandled over the years I don’t have much faith but this was an incredible moment. Rollins deserves a lot of credit for not only giving a lot to Cesaro in this match but also for some incredible and varied offence throughout. The audience was massively invested from early on and it built throughout. A fantastic match that will definitely be in the conversation for Match of this Night, and probably the second Night too.
After a quick recap of the André the Giant Battle Royal from SmackDown, won by Jey Uso, and the SmackDown Tag Team Championship match, the SmackDown Tag Team Champions Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode appeared backstage and gave a quick prediction for the tag team title match.
WWE RAW Tag Team Championship: The New Day (C) vs AJ Styles & Omos
In some ways going from being the “main event” against The Undertaker last year to a tag team title match with The New Day this year, could be seen as something of a demotion for AJ Styles. However going into the match on this year’s show, it wasn’t really about Styles, or The New Day because of all of the intrigues around whether Omos would be able to deliver in the ring. His stature and presence have been unquestionable strings to the bow of his partnership with Styles, but it was impossible to know beforehand whether he could have “it”. That question was answered pretty quickly once the bell rang.
Big E was out on the stage to introduce Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods to a very warm reception for the trio. Styles and Omos were out next, with Omos in his street clothes rather than a proper ring gear.
It appeared that Kofi would start things out with Omos which only served to further highlight the sheer size of Omos, but AJ was quickly goaded into the ring by Kingston. Kofi and AJ kicked off by feeling each other out with Kingston looking for the SOS, and AJ seeking the Calf Crusher before Styles locked in a roll-up attempt. They traded holds before AJ got backdropped onto his face. Kingston twerked in the ring, but as Styles ran at him he ate a dropkick from Kofi. From here Woods and Kofi cut off the ring, keeping Styles isolated, making frequent tags as they sought to wear down Styles and prevent Omos coming in. It was a weird dynamic as this was quite a heel-type move, but the inversion made sense to keep Omos’ ring work to a minimum and also keep his mystique. Styles did try to run out of the ring and round towards his “Personal Colossus”, but Woods cut him off with a basement dropkick to the floor.
Kingston and Woods maintained the pressure on AJ, with Kofi even hitting a springboard splash off a blind tag to prevent Styles from reaching Omos. As The New Day went for a double team move, AJ fought off Kofi, leading to a weird situation with Woods on the top rope and Styles debating whether to run to Omos or worry about the incoming aerial move. Styles chose the former, tagging in Omos, who chose violence. As Woods sized up the mass of humanity in front of him, he tried a leg kick to no effect, and a second, and a dropkick with not even a flinch. Kofi went for a top rope move and got swatted away like a fly. Omos tossed Kofi into the corner, hit running elbows on both Kingston and Woods before putting Woods in a backbreaker and applying a massive claw to his face, and then hitting another backbreaker on Kofi. Styles hit a Phenomenal Forearm off Omos’ shoulders to Woods leaving Omos towering over a fallen Kingston. He picked up Kofi nailing a gargantuan choke bomb and pinning Kingston with one foot.
Winners: Omos and AJ Styles
A strangely structured match, but one that was designed to protect Omos’ limitations. However, when he got in there it was very impressive. The moves looked a tad rough in places, but a giant doesn’t need to be necessarily polished and this was everything it had to be to achieve the aim of getting Omos over, as a massive threat. Putting the tag titles on Styles and Omos was the correct decision and their continued dynamic as well as giving Omos the opportunity to learn from a veteran like Styles can only be a positive. Because of Omos, AJ Styles is now a Grand Slam Champion.
Steel Cage Match: Braun Strowman vs Shane McMahon
Not too long ago, Braun Strowman seemed like a surefire main event prospect within WWE. He was big, athletic and had charisma for days. Yet WWE never really fully pulled the trigger on his big push. By the time Strowman was made Universal Champion last year the stench of failure was impossible to remove. He lost far too many big matches to the likes of Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar to ever be considered a true main event talent. However, Strowman has also got into the best shape of his career, and I imagine he was hoping for a big programme going into this year’s WrestleMania. Instead, he got a feud with fifty-something non-worker Shane McMahon, where the son of the company’s chairman continually illustrated how supposedly stupid Strowman is. The cage stipulation certainly made it feel going into this match as though things were poised for McMahon to take a big bump (as is his way) and Braun to come out looking like a winner.
Before either man arrived, Jerry “The King” Lawler was trotted out to do guest commentary for this match. Shane was out first to his usual entrance, while Strowman came out in a cloud of steam as WWE continue to push the narrative that he is, in fact actually a train. WWE really struggle with metaphors sometimes. As Strowman went to enter the cage, Elias and Jaxson Ryker attacked him with a steel chair injuring the leg of Braun before handing the chair to Shane as the match got underway. Shane wailed on Braun with the chair to begin in the back and leg. However, as he went for the head Strowman grabbed the chair only for Shane to kick his injured leg and go back to hitting him in the back and leg with the chair. At this point, quite sensibly McMahon tried to leave the cage but Strowman stopped him, dropping the chair to the arena floor in the process.
This was, naturally a turning point as Shane began running and climbing to avoid Strowman, who yanked him down and Shane changed tack, hitting and moving to avoid Strowman and targeting the injured leg. Braun continued to sell Shane’s feeble punches but quickly took control again. Shane tried to escape but managed to pry some metal off the cage instead and again went after the leg after a failed pin. Shane went to try and leave via the door, but again Strowman took over on Shane flinging him into the cage wall repeatedly.
Strowman dominated for a while here with big punches and slaps, and a splash against the cage wall. Clubbing blows and big impact moves were the order of the day, but as Strowman went for the Running Powerslam his leg buckled and Shane was able to take advantage again targeting the injured extremity of Strowman before hitting a big DDT. Shane looked to be going for a coast-to-coast dropkick which he landed (mostly) for a near-fall. At this stage, Elias and Ryker returned and tried to help Shane over the top of the cage, but Strowman charged the cage knocking all three of them down.
Shane climbed to the top of the cage, and Strowman tried to pull him down. As Shane got to the top, there was a carefully attached fabric bucket on the exterior part of the top of the cage wall, from which Shane plucked a toolbox, nailing Strowman in the face, who fell to the mat. Presumably, this was placed there earlier by McMahon before the structure was hoisted above the ring, but the commentators didn’t bother to elaborate. As Shane climbed down the outside, presumably to victory he inexplicably put his hand through the cage to “wave bye-bye” to Braun, who predictably grabbed his hand preventing him from dropping to the floor for the win. While holding Shane in place, Braun ripped the mesh off the cage wall and dragged Shane back inside, pummeling him on the top rope. This was very very silly.
As Shane again tried to escape over the top, Strowman followed and stood on top of the structure. As expected, this led to a big bump from Shane into the ring below. In some ways, this was more brutal than other bumps like his Hell in a Cell drop at WrestleMania 32 because there was nothing to cushion his fall. Ouch. It should have been a formality for Strowman to climb down and win, but he instead clambered back into the cage, gave a speech about bullying and pinned Shane following a Running Powerslam.
Winner: Braun Strowman
Not a good match really, but in a very silly way, it was fun. The shenanigans were amusing and the result was the right one. Perhaps Strowman shouldn’t have been selling for Shane, but in the end, he got his comeuppance and that was the main thing. Not a classic by any stretch, but something different on a busy card.
During a bit of a break, which you imagine would be for the crew to dismantle the broken cage structure, Bayley made her way out and interrupted the ringside announcers while they discussed the Hall of Fame. This introduced a video package on the Hall of Fame, and the Class of 2020 inductees getting a moment to be honoured in front of the audience, not including the people who couldn’t logistically be present for it, because of the pandemic or because they were dead (they were name-checked with a graphic). It was the usual fare as far as Hall of Fame stuff goes.
Bad Bunny & Damian Priest vs John Morrisson & The Miz
Before the next match could kick off Booker T made his way to the announce desk as a special guest commentator for the match, which given his association with Bad Bunny makes sense to an extent.
WWE doesn’t always nail the involvement of celebrities, but every once in a while they manage to convince someone to get involved who seems to not only “get it” but actively wants to do more than the minimum. For all the people who are baffled by Bad Bunny getting this spot, they should be aware that it’s quite the coup for WWE to have him on this show because in a significant number of circles Bad Bunny is an absolute megastar. Naturally, with a celebrity on board The Miz is the logical foil and although his feud started over some DJ equipment, wrapping John Morrison and Damian Priest up in it provides some protection for the inexperienced recording artist as well as an opportunity to give Priest that showbiz rub.
For Miz and Morrison’s entrance, a parade of bunnies made their way to the ring and hopped around the ring. This was strange. A terrible live performance of their song “Hey Hey, Hop Hop” followed. Thankfully, Damian Priest was out next with a ramped-up version of his usual “archer” entrance. Next out, was Grammy Award winner, Bad Bunny who arrived via an elaborate video of him on top of a massive truck looking moody, which then became an actual truck in the arena. This was pretty popular with the live crowd.
As things got underway, it looked like Priest would lock up with Miz, but he challenged Bunny to get in the ring who obliged, surprisingly. Miz offered him a free shot, and Bunny quickly floored him with a jab. Bunny looked to actually be fairly well-trained, locking in a waist lock, all while Miz sold for him like a pro. Bunny hit a double leg and rained down punches on The Miz before he took over hitting kicks and punches and ramming Bunny into the turnbuckle. As The Miz got cocky, Bunny reversed a hip toss into an arm drag takeover stunning Miz. Seconds later a drop toehold and a la magistral cradle led to a near-fall for Bunny, making him easily one of the most competent non-wrestling celebrity performers in WrestleMania history.
Miz goaded Bunny into a test of strength and kicked him in the process before beginning to take advantage of the rookie performer. As he tried to dominate, Bunny responded hitting a shoulder to the midsection and a hands-free spinning head-scissors (it has a proper name that again escapes me). This was seriously impressive. Morrison tagged in and was met with a kick and a headbutt, before Bad Bunny landed a “hopping” elbow in the corner, only to receive an elbow from Morrison when he went to the well a second time. Miz hit him with a cheap shot as he recovered, and from there Miz and Morrison took over control, taunting Damian Priest as he awaited the hot tag.
Miz applied a pretty ropey camel clutch, but Bunny fought out hitting punches on his opponents and almost getting the win with a sunset flip. Before he could get to his corner, Miz nailed him with a big boot. Miz followed up with his short DDT and dragged Bunny back to his corner as he laid in more punishment including Morrison smashing his head off the announce table before he tagged back in. At one stage, Morrison taunted Booker T with a Spinaroonee in the ring, which didn’t go down well.
After further punishment was dished out to Bad Bunny, and further double teaming from the veteran heel team Bunny found an opening as Miz played to the crowd, to get off a kick to Miz’s face and a modified top rope DDT before eventually crawling to his corner and making the hot tag to Priest. Priest rushed in with an offence that included karate kicks to Miz and Morrison and a jumping elbow in each corner. Priest suplexed Miz onto his Morrison and then landed the always impressive South of Heaven Chokeslam on Miz for a near-fall as Morrison broke up the pin. Stereo Falcon Arrows from Bunny and Priest created a great visual and a close near-fall. As the heels bailed to the floor Priest executed his step-up flipping dive over the top before Bad Bunny followed suit with a crossbody from the top rope to the floor.
Back in the ring, Priest looked to have the match won as he went for The Reckoning, but Miz reversed in the Skull Crushing Finale only for Bunny to break up the pin at the very last second. As Miz fought off Priest in the ring, Bad Bunny hit a Canadian Destroyer (yes, you read that correctly) on Morrison on the floor for a massive pop. While Miz and Priest looked on shocked, Bunny got back on the apron and Priest hoisted Miz onto his shoulders as Bad Bunny hit a crossbody onto Miz for the win.
Winners: Bad Bunny & Damian Priest
Well, that exceeded expectations! The match was far better than anyone could have expected, with Bad Bunny taking on the majority of it. His work looked crisp and strong and this popped the crowd massively. It is hard to think of another non-wrestler who has come in and done so much in a match and looked so good doing it. A fantastic match, and a really enjoyable moment for all involved. Kudos to Miz and Morrison too for making both Priest and Bunny look like huge stars in the process here.
— WWE (@WWE) April 11, 2021
WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks (C) vs Bianca Belair
Despite the promise this match up showed when Belair won the Royal Rumble in January, the build has been less than stellar (a recurring theme across this year’s show). The reluctant tag partners trope was overused, and it never quite felt like they truly lit the touchpaper on this combination until a few weeks ago. Even then, it hasn’t felt like the star-making storyline that could and should propel Belair to the next level while continuing to shine a spotlight on Banks. It is worth remembering that the build isn’t necessarily everything. The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania X7, widely considered the greatest WrestleMania main event in history was built primarily on a silly angle with Debra McMichael (Austin’s real-life significant other) being made The Rock’s manager.
The decision to put arguably the most exciting and fresh pairing on the card in the main event slot, as well as the historic nature of two African-American women headlining WrestleMania together more than made up for that poor build. It shows incredible faith in Belair given her relative inexperience, but equally, it demonstrates the level at which Sasha Banks has been working for some time. While Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair may have been the first female combination to headline WrestleMania, Banks more than deserves this having been just as instrumental in the rise of the women’s division and the smashing of numerous metaphorical glass ceilings on the way. The only question that remained was whether these two could gel in the ring and create something truly magical on the biggest stage imaginable.
Thankfully, the answer to that question was a resounding yes.
As Bianca Belair walked out, she looked every inch the WrestleMania main eventer despite her relative inexperience. Naturally, Sasha Banks did too but that was never in doubt really. In fact, Banks looked more like a star who could, and likely will transcend wrestling here. Much like the opening match of this show, this match had a real big fight feel and the audience were massively into it from the get-go, and both competitors seemed legitimately emotional as things started off.
The match got underway slowly as the two women locked up, with Banks getting the upper hand with a takedown but Belair kipped up and a shoving match ensued. Belair showed off her athleticism from the beginning using backflips and her power advantage to almost hit the KOD in the opening minutes. Sasha hit back with strikes and went for a Lucha-style bulldog but Belair out-powered her into a high angle double chicken wing, but Banks escaped sending Bianca to the floor. Banks followed up with a baseball slide, but as Belair got on to the apron she blocked Banks’ attempt at a step-up knee, put Banks in a fireman’s carry position, but Banks again reversed snapping Belair on the top rope before she smashed her into the ring post. With Belair on the arena floor, Banks took a risk as she dived through the ropes with a suicide dive that landed, but in the process, Belair caught her and lifted her up showing phenomenal strength and dexterity. Belair took it a step further as she walked up the ring steps while carrying Banks in a press slam and dumping her into the ring. Wow.
Back in the ring Banks hit a big dropkick for a two-count. Belair scored a shoulder tackle and a big slam. Belair went for a handspring moonsault but as he came down on Banks, Sasha grabbed Bianca’s massive ponytail and used it for leverage allowing her to nail a flurry of vicious kicks. This was followed up with a big running knee for another near-fall. Banks mounted Belair and hit a number of strikes before locking in a chinlock on the mat and transitioning into a double armlock. Belair powered out and was Irish-whipped into the corner. As Sasha rushed at her, Belair elevated Banks over the top rope, but as she did Sasha used her momentum to climb back up and nail a massive knee right in Bianca’s face. Brutal. Belair was able to recover and countered the swinging corner dropkick Banks normally does into a modified standing spear which looked fantastic.
As things moved to the floor, Sasha grabbed Bianca’s hair again and tried to pull her into the ring post, but this backfired and Banks went shoulder-first into the post herself. Sasha went for broke after this failure aiming a Meteora at a downed Belair at ringside, but there was nobody home and Banks crashed into the barricade. Both women managed to get back into the ring just before the referee’s count of ten, but Belair rolled through an attempted inside cradle into a delayed vertical suplex, repeatedly squatting to add extra pressure and cause more blood to rush to Sasha’s brain.
After a few moments of both competitors struggling on the mat to get back to their feet, Banks went for the springboard arm drag using Bianca’s hair, but Belair blocked and hit a big forearm, which she followed with several running shoulder blocks a dropkick and a kip-up. A standing Shooting Star Press was next as Belair began to build momentum. A shoulder barge in the corner was effective but as the referee went for a clean break, Sasha hit a desperation kick. However, Belair would not be deterred and applied a double chicken wing that she converted into a face-first slam from a high angle. With Banks down, Belair took a big risk going to the top rope for a 450 splash but Sasha got the knees up. It looked very painful simply because of the momentum and speed Belair had created.
With both Banks and Belair having suffered a serious amount of punishment, they each began exchanging pinning combinations in a sequence that surely paid homage to Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko. Sasha hit a big knee, but as she tried to execute a second running knee Belair caught her and dropped her with a huge powerbomb, and then deadlifted her for a second one. Sasha kicked out at the two-count, so Belair picked her up for a third, but the veteran Banks turned it into a facebuster. Kicks in the corner followed from Banks, who then hit a fantastic tornado DDT from the corner for another super near-fall. Banks went to the top rope and hit a frog splash for yet another close two, but Belair would not quit.
As we saw in her matches with Bayley back in NXT, Sasha Banks has it in her locker to do some great character work as the frustrated heel losing her cool, and we saw more of that here as she tried to injure Belair’s arm on the ropes before she went to the floor and threw Bianca into the ring steps. As they went back into the ring, this went a step further as Banks hooked in the Banks Statement using Belair’s own hair. It was a super creative spot and one that absolutely fits with this part of Sasha’s character. Belair had to struggle to the bottom rope, and Banks tried to roll her back, but Bianca was too powerful and was able to roll herself back to the ropes. A frustrated Banks then tied Belair up in the ropes using the ponytail and stomped her in the face until she had to break the hold. This action, combined with some trash talk angered Bianca who found her own extra gear and powered Banks into the corner with shoulder barges and kicks.
Belair shifted Banks to the top rope as she looked for a superplex but Banks shoved her to the ground, only Belair rolled through the push and ran back up with a handstand kick. Unfortunately, this allowed Sasha to trap her in a Tree of Woe position (a nice bookend with the spot in the opening match) and Banks stomped on her knees and midsection without remorse. As Banks went for the double foot stomp, Belair avoided it, Sasha rolled through and came charging back into the corner for a Meteora but again Bianca moved which sent Sasha crashing knees first into the turnbuckle.
With Banks prone on the mat Belair successfully attempted another 450 Splash, but Banks somehow kicked out at the last possible second as Belair began to freak out. As the commentators speculated on whether Belair had the mental wherewithal at this stage in the match to recover and capitalise, her expression changed and she went for the kill. As Belair lifted Banks up for the KOD, Banks again grabbed the braid for leverage and Belair, sick of this tactic used her hair to whip Sasha, creating a ferocious sound. This led to another KOD attempt, but Banks escaped and tried for a backstabber but Belair was too strong and turned it back in the KOD for the win and the title. Michael Cole seemed to be confused as to whether Banks kicked out, but that seems to have been a flub unless this is to be disputed down the road for a rematch.
Winner: Bianca Belair
The show went off the air with Belair getting the full fireworks display and the beauty shot with the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
Really strong match to finish the show. Both women knocked it out of the park and gave everything for an incredible main event to cap off a great night. Banks did everything to get Belair over here and shone herself in the process. A rematch surely beckons but for now a great way to sign off Night One.
That was Night 1 of WrestleMania 37. Overall a really strong event in front of an appreciative audience. WWE rarely missteps on PPV these days and everything on this show worked – from the silly to the sublime. Roll on Night Two…
All images courtesy of WWE