On Sunday, April 7, the WWE will present Wrestlemania 35. Wrestlemania is definitely the biggest event every year in sports entertainment, no matter what somewhat-jaded hardcore fans like me might sometimes think of the matches and build. And even saying that, there’s no way I’d ever miss it. This year, the show comes to us from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, with the kickoff show starting at 5 pm EDT, and the main card at 7pm EDT. The show will likely go until midnight, meaning watching Wrestlemania is like binge watching six or seven episodes of Daredevil on Netflix (RIP). Such a length is firmly in keeping with the WWE’s unofficial motto of “More is More.” However, this year promises to be a Wrestlemania even the most jaded fan might remember for some time to come. With some of the builds over the past few weeks, there are a number of matches I’m anticipating. And we should not forget the historical implications of more than one match on the card. To channel my inner Vince McMahon for a moment, this card is, quite frankly, stacked, quite frankly. As of this writing, there are 14 matches announced for the show, and more could be added on the last week of TV headed into the event.
Wrestlemania also has a unique position among events the WWE presents. It is really the Super Bowl of professional wrestling, and as such, tends to attract a large number of casual fans who might not be watching the product during the rest of the year. Wrestlemania is more than just a wrestling show. It really is an extravaganza from start to finish. So in amongst 7+ hours of wrestling and performances, 14 matches, and the accompanying hoopla, what should the casual wrestling fan watch out for? What can they hope to enjoy? And when can they take that all-important bathroom break? In this article, I’ll provide my thoughts on matches not to miss, what you can skip, and some moments to look out for.
What Not To Miss Part 1: Ronda Rousey (c) v. Becky Lynch v. Charlotte Flair
There is one important piece of history happening at this Wrestlemania. It is the very first time ever that a women’s match will headline the card, another step forward in the women’s revolution in professional wrestling. And this match deserves that coveted place on the card. The Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey will take on Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair (who is also the Smackdown Women’s Champion) in a triple threat match for the Raw women’s title (and perhaps also for the Smackdown title, but that remains to be seen). The build to the match has been happening since at least last fall, and has developed into a bona fide grudge match between these women, spilling over into social media as well. We can safely say that for the first time, not only will women headline Wrestlemania, but a Twitter feud will too.
What began on Twitter as Lynch owning Ronda’s often-over-produced tweets with her bitting and witty humour quickly escalated. Rousey soon stepped up to Lynch’s level with tweets breaking through WWE’s fourth wall, calling Lynch’s storyline arrest and in-ring armbar finisher (the Disarm-her) fake. Lynch responded by telling Rousey to get “better at this business instead of trying to remain above it.” She followed this by making fun of Ronda’s husband, Travis Brown, in a NSFW manner, prompting Rousey to tweet, “Rebecca Quin [Becky’s real name], I don’t care what the script says, I’m beating the living s*** out of you the next time I see you.”
The threats haven’t stopped Lynch, who continues to take shots at both her opponents every opportunity she gets, much to the delight of her fans (including yours truly). When Charlotte posted a picture of herself with the caption “Ms Wrestlemania”, Lynch quickly quipped “We all wish you would.” And when WWE announced their match would be the main event for Wrestlemania, Lynch tweeted, “It’s very simple Ronnie:you and Charlotte were the chosen pair since the day you signed. But when it came to it, you two planks of wood couldn’t even manage a Survivor Series main event—nevermind WrestleMania. There’s only one thing changed everything: me.” I would encourage any reader with time to kill to go look at all three women’s twitter feeds over the last few months. There’s some great entertainment to be found there.
But on April 7, the smack talking ends and we will be treated to a historic confrontation between them. It promises to be a match we will definitely remember for some time to come. For the first time in as long as I can recall I’m actually looking forward to the Wrestlemania main event as the match I most want to see. The fan in me really hopes the ending scene of this year’s show is Becky Lynch standing in the ring holding both women’s titles high in victory. It’s also not lost on me that this match for which I’m so excited is a women’s match, and that shows to me how far the WWE has truly come in promoting women’s wrestling as equal to men’s wrestling (their venture into Saudi Arabia notwithstanding). I’m hopeful that we can finally bury the horrible and misogynistic treatment of women during the overhyped Attitude Era and look forward to continued great things from all the women in the WWE for years to come. Go Becky!
What Not To Miss Part 2: Daniel Bryan (c) v. Kofi Kingston
At this year’s Wrestlemania, Kofi Kingston will challenge Smackdown champion Daniel Bryan for the title. The match itself promises to be spectacular as both of these wrestlers are excellent, and share good in-ring chemistry. Based on that alone, I’d be excited to see this one. However, the build to this match has added an extra layer of anticipation to it. The road to this title match has not been easy for Kofi, who is now in his 11th year with the WWE, and has never held a major title. In a story very similar to his opponent Daniel Bryan’s from a few years back, Kofi has had to confront obstacle after obstacle in Kofi’s path by WWE Chairman VInce McMahon, under the pretense that Vince did not think Kofi was worthy of a championship match. It’s a true underdog versus the evil corporation story, with Bryan now ironically playing the role of corporate champion, albeit with a preachy environmentalist edge. (Who doesn’t love that wood and hemp title belt?)
There is another level to this match though that goes beyond simply underdog versus big, bad corporation. Kofi Kingston has the chance to become only the second African-American champion in WWE history. Significantly the only other champion that can claim that was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and some would claim he doesn’t qualify for this recognition as an African American champion, given he’s half Samoan, and identifies primarily as Samoan (and let’s face it, he’s half African-Canadian, not African-American). Other African Americans have held titles, but in 67 years of WWE history, no other has held THE title, the WWE Championship. This is significant because the champion is also essentially the best wrestler in storyline, and, outside of the stories, presumably the best performer in the company.
The 67 year drought for African American title holders is indicative of a larger problem. WWE has not had what I would call a good record promoting African Americans. In a business that tends to build characters around larger than life stereotypes, it has been particularly bad for them. It’s not that long ago Cryme Tyme was a tag team in the WWE. We had the Godfather pimping his hos in the Attitude Era. The situation isn’t much better today. We have R-Truth dancing and rapping his way to the ring, firmly entrenched as a mid-card comedy act. Shelton Benjamin and Apollo Crews are almost interchangeable nobodies that we frequently forget are even employed there. Bobby Lashley, for all his size and promotion, has yet to be anywhere near the main event title scene. Even on NXT, the Street Profits are only one small step away from being this era’s Cryme Tyme. It’s not any better for the women either. Naomi, for all her in-ring talent and athleticism, is best known for her cheerleader-and-gymnast style neon entrance. Ember Moon seems similarly lost in the mid card forest.
In spite of all this, things may be looking up. The Kofi push and title match is hopefully a signal that there is more awareness of these kinds of issues. As African American commentator Nate Milton (@N8Mozaik, host of Kings of Sport) discussed this week on a podcast (Post Wrestling’s Cafe Hangout, March 29, 2019), this build has touched on elements of race. He pointed out that such things as Vince calling Kofi’s New Day compatriots Xavier Woods and Big E “young bucks”, a derogatory term for black men, or Byron Saxton stating on commentary that Kofi had to work “twice as hard for half as much”, or Big E referring to “people like us” in one of his promos, shows that the story is being told on multiple levels. It’s not just the underdog story, but it has that extra layer where Kofi explicitly becomes an African American underdog. This also means he’s not able to bring the level of anger to his promos when he speaks his mind like Becky Lynch can, since he would risk coming off as the “angry black guy.” As Milton put it, “In the history of society that doesn’t end well for him. He’s either going to get fired or arrested.” He sees this story as something that can hit a little harder for the African American viewer. Kofi is not just the 11-year employee finally getting his chance, but also as someone the African American fan can identify with, someone going through troubles with which they are all too familiar. Representation matters. How you portray people in stories matters. Here’s hoping Kofi’s story is a step in the right direction for the WWE.
And this is where the outcome of the match comes into play. Long time fans will remember back to when Booker T once challenged Triple H for the WWE championship. He was the underdog. The fans were solidly behind him. And when it came down to the match, Booker T ended up losing, a solid message to fans that Booker T was simply not the kind of guy the WWE wanted representing their company. Could this happen again this year with Kofi? Quite possibly. In fact, it would not surprise me if this happened. And it would be a damn shame if it did. The WWE has a good chance here to improve its track record and place the WWE championship on a man who truly deserves it. Let’s hope they pull the trigger and don’t erase all the good this build has done. I hope we see the women’s revolution WWE here, and not the “Let’s go to Saudi Arabia” WWE.
Other Wrestlemania 35 Highlights
Not every match I’m looking forward to is historic or filled with social significance. Here’s three more that I’m looking forward to and why:
Roman Reigns vs. Drew McIntyre. Reigns has returned from conquering leukemia to take on Drew McIntyre, WWE’s equivalent of the giant scottish highlander. For the first time in his career, the fans are almost all behind Reigns. This promises to be a hard hitting match between two guys who know how to hit and hit hard. The match should be good, and the characters are both engaging right now. I suspect Reigns will take this one, but I won’t be sad if McIntyre pulls off the victory. After all, who doesn’t love a badass highlander?
Brock Lesner (c) vs. Seth Rollins. Brock Lesner is never I guy I’ve enjoyed watching, given how one-sided his matches generally feel. I doubt this one will be an exception, and I see him throwing Rollins around the ring for most of it. However, I’m really hoping Rollins wins here, claiming the Universal Championship and returning it to a position of prominence, rescuing it from the clutches of the almost-never-seen Lesner. And you never know, the actual match could turn out to be a gem.
Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Tony Nese. Wait, you say. Who the heck are these guys? Well, they’re both cruiserweights normally confined to the wasteland that is 205 Live, one of WWE’s B shows. But here’s the thing. The superstars on that show are almost all really amazing wrestlers. And these two are no exception. Buddy Murphy has put on consistently good if not great matches on every event he’s been on. Tony Nese is simply one of the best in-ring performers WWE has. This match has the potential to steal the show, and I can’t wait to see it. If you like good in-ring wrestling and storytelling, you won’t want to miss this one, even if it’s likely on the kickoff show rather than the main card.
When Can I Take A Bathroom Break? aka What You Can Safely Miss
The one constant you can expect with every Wrestlemania is that not all of it can be amazing. In fact, there are usually huge swaths of filler on the card, since the WWE tries to get as many performers as it can onto the show. This year is no exception. Here’s a few matches that I will either spend chatting with my houseguests, getting some food, or taking a much needed bathroom break after all that coffee and Coke Zero.
Andre The Giant Battle Royal. You know, normally I don’t mind this match. It’s a good place for some mid card guys to get on the card, and it’s often at least a little entertaining. This year promises to be the worst ever though since it combines two things I dislike in wrestling: Braun Strowman and the yearly Wrestlemania celebrity guest. This year, the battle royal will include Saturday Night Live cast members Colin Jost and Michael Che, who have been “feuding” with Braun Strowman. This promises to be a disaster. So if you like watching train wrecks, feel free to check this out. If not, go grab a couple slices of pizza, maybe check in on what your wife is doing, text with some non-wrestling-fan friends, and come back in ten minutes. I promise you will not have missed a damn thing.
Shane McMahon vs. The Miz. Every year it seems Shane McMahon has to make his way onto the Wrestlemania card now. One guarantee is at some point he’s going to take some crazy dive. Since this is a falls count anywhere match, I suspect he’ll probably jump off some rails or something and people will go “ooooo”. Whoopee. I don’t care. Any match with Shane McMahon needs to be as far away from my TV as possible. The build for this match hasn’t been terrible, and the Miz has done well in his role as the betrayed babyface, but Shane is in it so I’ll be taking a pass.
Triple H vs. Batista. I prefer to think of this match the way kayfabenews.com put it: The Chaperone vs. Drax the Destroyer. But however you style it, this no-DQ match comes down to “two old guys pounding on each other for reasons”. At age 49, Triple H can still go in the ring. The jury is out on the 50-year-old Batista. To make it worse, the build for this one has been terrible. It would have been so easy for them to tell the story they started at Smackdown 1000 earlier this year when Batista made an offhand comment about Triple H never beating him. But instead they do this silly story of Batista beating up Ric Flair and then making a bunch of idiotic demands. It’s booking at its worst and it features two guys I don’t care if I ever see in the ring again. The best part of this whole build was Triple H quoting the Spice Girls as he read a letter from Batista’s lawyer. Pass.
So there you have it. In one week, we will be treated to this annual extravaganza of wrestling and entertainment. This year, there’s a lot I’m looking forward too, more so than previous years. And as usual, there’s stuff I’ll be skipping or ignoring. I’m sure I’ll have a couple “wtf was that” moments. But overall, I’m excited to spend a fun day watching Wrestlemania with some of the guys from WhoASKD, eating pizza and wondering when it’s all finally going to end. And if there’s any casual fan out there who gained a little more knowledge and appreciation for this year’s event from reading this article, then I’ve done my job. Onward to April 7!