Like a phoenix from the ashes, Mania Main Thoughts has risen, just as we all find ourselves on the road to Wrestlemania 34! We’ll continue to look back at the Mania Main Events (in a random order) until that glorious day we call April 8th – aka Wrestlemania Sunday!
If you don’t remember last year around this time, we started a retrospective of every Wrestlemania main event in the 33 year history of the show. It was a lofty goal, and we only made it through ten matches. This year, we’ll adjust our expectations.
We’re kicking things back off with a big look back at last year’s Wrestlemania 33 main event, but first, you know I got some links for you. Here’s every Mania Main Thoughts column up to this point!
Now let’s get to it.
(aka Wrestlemania: Orlando) / (aka The Ultimate Thrill-Ride)
Wrestlemania 33 was an interesting bag, and if you’re reading this, you probably lived through it.
The big story in WWE going from 2016 into 2017 was the return of the legendary Goldberg. Goldberg, of course, was the biggest star in post-nWo WCW. After WCW folded to the WWF, Goldberg sat out his sizable guaranteed contract. He made his WWE debut in 2003, and even though he held the World Heavyweight Title and main evented several PPV’s, the run was short and ended somewhat acrimoniously, and Bill Goldberg all but disappeared from the wrestling world.
So it was a bit of a surprise when Goldberg made his return to Raw to challenge the man who defeated him in his final WWE match – Brock Lesnar. The two hooked up at Survivor Series 2016 and Goldberg shockingly defeated The Beast Incarnate in a 90-second match. Goldberg would go on to enter the Royal Rumble, where he and Lesnar butted heads again. Goldberg dumped Brock from the Rumble, but was in turn eliminated by another recently-returned legend, The Undertaker.
Goldberg would go on to win the Universal Title at the 2017 Fastlane PPV, and set course to collide with Brock Lesnar at WM33 one last time. Beast vs Legend. Lesnar/Goldberg III for the title. You would think, with all of the ink spilled on Goldberg, that this would be the WM33 main event. You would be wrong.
Like I said two paragraphs earlier, The Undertaker also made his in-ring return at the 2017 Royal Rumble. The week before on Raw, Taker had a stare down with both Brock and Goldberg. All 3 men were rumored to win the Rumble match. Undertaker entered at #29, dumping Goldberg and several others, but he wouldn’t be the man left pointing in the end. Because when #30 hit, Roman Reigns made his way to the ring. It was the Big Dog’s yard now.
After a brief tussle (where The Undertaker attempted to not-so-gently remind Roman that it was his yard), Reigns dumped Taker, leading to an epic staredown, a chorus of boos, and musings on if Reigns had indeed claimed ownership of the yard which Undertaker had previously held rights to.
Regardless of the yard deed, Reigns found himself eliminated last by winner Randy Orton, who would go on to face the WWE Champion at WM33. Which doesn’t matter because we all know that the Rumble winner doesn’t REALLY main event Wrestlemania.
Undertaker sold the elimination for over a month, appearing again on Raw in March to interrupt a Braun Strowman tirade against Reigns. Strowman respectfully left the ring, deciding to forego any involvement in the Reigns/Taker land dispute. Taker called out Reigns, Reigns came out, staredown, chokeslam and we’re going to Wrestlemania.
It doesn’t take much to sell an Undertaker Wrestlemania match, and WWE didn’t mess with the formula. As the weeks led to Wrestlemania, the Undertaker appeared to tell Roman that it was his yard and he would bury Roman in it. Roman responded that, with all due respect, F you, it’s my yard. Heady stuff, and it would carry them all the way to the main event of WM33.
The No Holds Barred match (stipulation announced during the show) would end a marathon, six and a half hour Mania that, well, had it’s ups and downs. Aside from a surprisingly good clash between AJ Styles and Smackdown Live Commissioner Shane McMahon, and an even more surprising return by the Hardy Boyz, there wasn’t a lot to cheer about during a show that, on paper, looked like a barnburner.
Two hot feuds (Kevin Owens/Chris Jericho and Seth Rollins/Triple H) resulted in lackluster matches. Another great feud, John Cena & Nikki Bella/The Miz & Maryse, forsook any sort of match time for post-match engagement shenanigans. And the Randy Orton/Bray Wyatt WWE Title match was overshadowed by some very silly fun with projectors and Orton’s weird sperm snake.
The Goldberg/Lesnar Universal Title Match played third to last and, despite its limited time and display of wrestling acumen (there may have been 4 different moves total in the match), at least got the crowd hot. Unfortunately, that good will was doused by a poorly placed Smackdown Women’s Title 6-Pack Challenge which had about as much heat as you’d expect. No fault on the Smackdown women, but you can’t make people care about 6 people in a match, and you sure can’t do it in 5 minutes.
As a side note, I wish WWE would realize that these multi-person matches booked for the sake of getting everyone on the show rarely have a good reception, and putting them in the spot before the main event is a giant crowd killer. This kind of stuff may play on the Kick-Off Show, where rowdy fans are ready to pop for all the entrances, but 6 hours in? Nah brah.
So that leads us to the main event and, in case you’d forgotten the stakes, here’s WWE’s slick video package to give you the history.
Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross made his way to the ring to call the match, just in case you didn’t realize how historic the affair was going to be.
Don’t get me wrong. The Undertaker has been synonymous with Mania for over two decades, and his 21-0 streak may be the most epic achievement in all of Wrestlemania’s, or wrestling as a whole’s, history. But Taker’s streak was ended by Brock Lesnar at WMXXX, and 23-1 just doesn’t hold the same impact. Not to mention that Taker’s WM output since WMXXX includes a lackluster win over Bray Wyatt and a Hell In A Cell match with Shane McMahon that’s solely memorable for an insane stunt by the other guy.
All this to say that, yes, Undertaker is still a Wrestlemania selling point here, but he just wasn’t something you could automatically prop your entire event up with in 2017.
Second of all, there were no stakes announced for this match – the entire thing was built on two guy’s who called the ring their yard. No titles or careers were on the line, just pride. Sure, there were RUMORS that this would be Undertaker’s final match, but those have been popping up during Mania season for at least the last 4 years.
Still, there was no denying this as a potential passing of the torch – a man who carried the company for decades handing it over to the man who had clearly been chosen to take it into a new era.
Anyway, on to the match. Roman Reigns made his way out first to the loud boos to which he’d become accustomed. Don’t get me started on the logic of WWE’s biggest face being hated by a massive majority of their audience. It supposedly worked for Cena.
Taker is out second, and you can’t deny that entrance. The smoke, the music, it’ll get you every time. Especially knowing that this could be it. The Dead Man rose up from below the middle of the entrance way, which thankfully gave the 52-year old legend less entrance ramp to walk. It still gave plenty of time for Reigns to pose in the ring and look either pensive or unafraid. Emoting is not his yard, uce.
The bell rings and, well, we get the match. I remember watching this last year and thinking it was awful. After rewatching, it really was just bad.
In fact, the first half wasn’t too offensive at all. Taker and Reigns took turns tossing each other in and out of the ring, arguing about whose yard it was. The pace was slow, but the moves – lots of punches, but still – were fairly impactful. That’s the way you book Taker – the best pure striker in WWE.
There was lots of fun outside the ring, with two big announce table spots. First, The Phenom hit a big chokeslam on Reigns onto the table, which did not give way. Suck it, Roman. Taker takes the Big Dog up on a second announce table, but Reigns recovers and spears Undertaker through a third. That one broke.
At this point, things begin to go off the rails. Taker and Roman make their way back to the ring, but Taker is blown up bad. He blows a Last Ride and then takes advantage of the No Holds Barred stip by bringing a chair into play.
Another side note – I’d love to see “No Holds Barred” actually refer to holds that are barred and see the piledriver make an appearance here. Then again, as the match plods on, I’m not trusting either of these guys with a piledriver.
The Dead Man whips the piss out of Roman with a chair, but this now begins the “Why Won’t You Die” portion of the match. It used to be that Taker’s opponents would face this frustration, but at this point, it was Taker who constantly tried to find a way to finish the match. A chokeslam on the chair and tombstone isn’t enough to put the Big Dog down.
Taker sets up for another tombstone, but Roman tries for a reversal that results in disaster. It looks like the Dead Man just can’t hold Roman up at this point, and after falling down awkwardly twice, they improvise. Roman hits a spear, but Taker reverses the pin attempt into his Hell’s Gate submission move – a very sloppy version of it anyway. Roman makes it to the ropes, and I’ll ignore how little sense it makes to do a rope break in a No Holds Barred match, but hey, the ref has to do something.
Roman takes his turn with the chair and then hits a third spear, but it’s not enough to put Taker down. Roman sets up for a supersized Superman punch, but Undertaker looks lost in the ring, barely able to get into position for it. A fourth spear, but the Phenom kicks out at two. YOU CANNOT KILL THAT WHICH IS ALREADY DEAD!
The Dead Man is trying to do his sit up move, but keeps falling back down. Reigns is all out of ideas so he starts a slap fight. Undertaker is too proud to die. Reigns reaches into his deep repertoire and pulls out…a fifth spear. Five’s a charm and, for just the second time ever, the Undertaker loses at Wrestlemania.
After the match, Roman celebrates with fireworks as the Undertaker lays dead in the ring. When Roman finally exits, Taker finds the energy to sit up as the crowd begins to thank him. Taker puts back on his coat and hat and gloves. Taker then takes off his coat, hat and gloves. Someone please stop him before he’s naked.
The Dead Man leaves his gear neatly folded in the center of the ring and then begins the walk up the entrance ramp. In spite of all of the problems in the booking and match, this is a surreal and memorable moment in WWE history. Though unannounced, it looks as though Taker has taken his last ride. He raises his fist in the air one last time as he’s lowered back down under the entrance way.
The next night on Raw, Roman appeared only to soak in 5 minutes of jeers and boos from the Orlando crowd. His whole promo? “It’s my yard now.” It would be hard to argue.
The Undertaker would not appear on WWE TV again until 2018, when he made a mildly nonsensical appearance at the 25th Anniversary episode of Raw. As of this writing, Taker is not booked for Wrestlemania 34, though a match with John Cena is heavily rumored.
As for this match, there were a lot of things that could have made it better. The drama behind the match, for one. If this was Undertaker’s final Wrestlemania match, why not hype that up more? Another issue was the match length. This story could have been told in 12 minutes instead of 25, and the match would’ve presumably ended without exposing the Undertaker’s weaknesses in his advanced age. They just did not do the Dead Man any favors here.
Finally – the cardinal rule is send the crowd home happy. Watching the symbolic death of one of the sport’s greatest heroes is not a crowd pleaser. Is it historic? YES. But Taker’s first defeat to Lesnar at WMXXX was historic without killing the show. That’s because after that happened, you had Daniel Bryan pulling it out in the main event.
Also at WMXXX, Brock was so unrepentant, so REMORSELESS for ending the streak that it at least translated to emotion. On the other end of the spectrum, when Shawn Michaels retired Ric Flair at WMXXIV, there was a TON of emotion and mutual respect on display. This match was just somewhere in the middle. Roman Reigns was just kind of there, and he just kind of won, so now he can keep his catch phrase. And if Taker does indeed return for another match (which WWE had not shut the door on), then it kind of invalidated the Dead Man’s epic exit from WM33.
Overall, maybe history will be kind to this match. I certainly – I don’t know if appreciated is the word – but I thought it was better now than I did in 2017. Not much, but some. At best, it could be remembered as a pivotal part in Undertaker’s story arc (though not a good part). But as a match, no thanks.
Final Score: 4.0 (Avoid)