The world of professional wrestling is so vast and fast-moving that it’s damn near impossible to keep up. Luckily, your pals at Deadshirt are here to keep an eye on squared circles everywhere, from modest bingo halls to packed football stadiums, and bring you the most notable matches and storylines from throughout the past week. And it’s a good thing, too, because there’s just TOO MUCH WRESTLING!
WrestleMania 33 (WWE)
April 2nd, 2017, Orlando, Florida
Shane McMahon Did a Shooting Star Press
We love to gush about AJ Styles here at Deadshirt—the guy may be the greatest in-ring performer on WWE’s current roster. So when a storyline on SmackDown Live had The Phenomenal One screwed out of an opportunity to headline WrestleMania for the WWE Championship against Bray Wyatt, then booked as a heel against Commissioner Shane McMahon, there were some ruffled feathers among fans who felt he deserved better. After all, Shane’s a daring performer, but he’s not exactly known as a technical wizard—he mostly just jumps off of stuff, and this would be a traditional match without any ladders or cages or other tall set pieces for him to climb. How could this match do anything but disappoint?
Now as I write this, it’s the morning after a very good, very eventful WrestleMania, and the thing I keep repeating in my head is: “Shane McMahon did a shooting star press.”
Shane and AJ opened the show (arguably a better spot on the card than the WWE Championship ended up getting, as it was fourth from the end), and blew the figurative roof off the Citrus Bowl. And it wasn’t just AJ who brought his A-game, in fact the star performer of this match was Shane McMahon, who initiated some lightning-fast offense, and some truly impressive technical counters on the mat. McMahon didn’t just throw hands and leap across the ring (though he did do that), he wrestled this match. AJ, of course, was instrumental in making Shane look like thirty-six million bucks, selling Shane’s offense as well as his own shock that the forty-seven-year-old punching bag was actually giving as good as he got. AJ hit his high spots: a springboard 450 splash, the Phenomenal Forearm, and even a Styles Clash, which was performed with one of Shane’s arms not quite tucked in to serve the dual purpose of not risking Shane’s neck and providing a reasonable excuse for him to kick out of it.
But the WrestleMania moment that keeps reverberating through my head is Shane McMahon climbing to the top turnbuckle, with his opponent supine in the center of the ring, and crossing himself as he’s been known to do before performing his more spectacular stunts, and me thinking “it’s just the top turnbuckle, why does he look like he’s about to dive off a sixty-foot cage?” Then up he went, flipping backwards 450 degrees and missing his opponent but hitting the mat perfectly, his chest flat on the mat. One of the most difficult and dangerous aerial maneuvers in pro wrestling, the move that broke Brock Lesnar’s fire-hydrant-sized neck.
Shane McMahon did a fucking shooting star press.
And then he lost the match because c’mon, he’s still Shane McMahon, let’s not go crazy.
Extra High Spots: While a lot of the joy the match was Shane and AJ wrestling a no-stipulation, honest-to-God wrestling match, a ref bump allowed the two fighters a good three minutes of lawless mayhem, during which Shane wedged a garbage can between the ropes and corner-to-corner dropkicked it into AJ’s face. I cannot stress enough what a sport AJ was for this match. They both looked fantastic—props to whoever plotted this match out.
– Dylan Roth
Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens in “WrestleMania 33: Friendship is Tragic”
“How come my name’s on this?”
This was the strangely heart-breaking phrase that finally signaled the split of Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho, a.k.a. Team JeriKO. The alliance began last August and easily became one of the highlights of Raw, especially because of the incredible chemistry between the two.
But in every wrestling bromance, there is the needle scratch moment where everything goes to hell. Shawn kicks Marty through a barbershop window. Rollins takes out both of his Shield brothers with a steel chair. Owen kicks Bret’s leg out from under him. Jericho is blindsided first by finding his name on what turned out to be “The List Of KO,” and then by having his head bashed into a flatscreen TV.
It all lead up to Owens, angry with Jericho for costing him his Universal Title in a loss to, of all people, Goldberg, challenging Jericho for the United States Championship. In any other scenario you might wonder why Owens would bother with a mid-level title after being robbed of his Universal belt, but here Owens was very clear: he was taking from Jericho because Jericho had taken from him.
The WrestleMania match, while a part of the bigger JeriKO feud, told its own story almost flawlessly. From the beginning with Jericho viciously going after the more composed Owens, it was less about protecting his title and more about inflicting physical pain equal to the emotional pain he’d been put through. Then Owens gained the advantage, and we go from his cool, composed destructor state to a deeply personal attack on Jericho, complete with slapping the champion across the face and yelling “You don’t have any friends!”
This was not smooth chain wrestling, it was halfway between a technical match and two guys who have waited for years to finally take swings at each other. There were counters, but they weren’t crisp enough to seem planned. Even when Jericho countered an attempted pop-up powerbomb with a Code Breaker it looked like a last-second adjustment. Then came the best visual of the match: a pinfall attempt that Owens escaped by literally just resting a single finger on the bottom rope.
It was a move of desperation, but it was also almost insulting. It felt a little bit like being flipped off, this one finger just resting on the rope, no attempt to further grab onto it or move towards it. Just this one damn finger.
Owens walked away with the title, but the more important outcome was that both men capped off an incredible story started last summer with another story told in the ring. A story of friendship, betrayal and vengeance.
Drink it in, maaaaaaaaan.
Extra High Spots: I still want to buy a poster-sized version of “The Birth of Kevin” painting and I hate that the WWE has not made this possible.
– Ashly Nagrant
It’s All About the King and How You Slay It
Triple H is the past, Seth Rollins is the future, and it’s only a matter of time before the student surpasses the master; it’s a common set up for a story long in the making. The only problem is that story ended up delayed for a year due to knee explosion. By all accounts, this match was scheduled to happen at WrestleMania 32 in Dallas but had to be postponed due to Seth’s massive knee injury, resulting in a less than stellar Triple H vs. Roman Reigns match. While this series of events threw a wrench in the gears, the rebooted build-up to this match was much more compelling.
After returning as a heel, much to the crowd’s chagrin, Seth quickly changed course and ended up targeting Triple H for replacing him after he fought tooth and nail to recover from his potential career ender. This led to Triple H explaining that Rollins never lived up to his expectations and has could be replaced by any number of future stars that are being groomed in NXT under his strict supervision. After another injury scare at the hands of Samoa Joe, one of Triple H’s top heavies, Seth accepted Triple H’s “Hold Harmless” contract and agreed to meet him at WrestleMania for an unsanctioned match.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the promos along the way, especially after all of the potential drama was put on ice for so long, once Seth had a real fire lit under him I became way more invested. This is what he needed to move him from “yeah I guess he’s a face now” to “take down the man, my man!” territory. I loved how this played out in the entrances, with Triple H rolling to the ring on a giant motorcycle with Stephanie and a police escort that just screamed “I’m the big boss that thinks he’s a hard biker, but also has police fundraisers and doesn’t provide my employees with health insurance or benefits.” Seth however seemed to think Triple H was going to do another skeleton king entrance though, and came out in Jaime Lannister-inspired gear which was fine because he’s been calling himself “The Kingslayer” for a while. When he touched the torch he was carrying to the ground, all the LED boards lit up with digital fire, engulfing the ring.
I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried about the in-ring quality of this match, thinking that all the time spent running NXT and organizing tournaments may have dulled The Game’s game. It turns out he just needs the right opponent to complement his slower, methodical style. This is one of the big reasons why his match with Roman didn’t work out so well last year, booking choices aside. Luckily, Seth is an explosive talent and he brought everything to this match, he was fire right out of the gate.
My favorite aspect of the match was the attention to detail Seth put into selling his knee injury and how much of Triple H’s offense focused on it. Good selling can be hard to find in the WWE. There was a great moment where Seth went for a sunset flip powerbomb off of the top rope and landed weird, causing his knee to buckle and dropping him into a vulnerable position to be countered. He also went for several high risk moves and each one took more and more out of him. He looked like he was willing to pull out every stop to finish off his nemesis, even if he had to retire himself in the process.
The normal Triple H spots like his sledgehammer made their way into the match too, of course, but luckily they didn’t rely too heavily on a selection of greatest hits for this one. A focus on storytelling and drama really set this match apart from many of the night’s other events and thanks to Seth’s athleticism, the best was brought out of his former mentor in the process. I especially loved the ending sequence, which came down to several great Pedigree counters after Seth had already kicked out of one (something that very rarely happens), a bump involving Triple H knocking Stephanie off the apron and through a table, and the final Pedigree from Seth which put Triple H down for the count. A truly superb finish to an archetypal tale as old as storytelling itself.
Extra High Spots: Near the finale of the match, Seth pulled off an amazing Phoenix Splash that I believe would have made Hayabusa himself proud.
– Kyle Herr
Ain’t No Grave Can Hold Roman Down
Wrestlemania 33 was a fever dream of matches that somehow worked despite their booking and I can think of no other match that represents this then its main event: a no holds barred match between Roman Reigns and The Undertaker. Oh, did I mention that it’s The Undertaker’s RETIREMENT match? We didn’t find that news out until the end, but looking back on it elevates the match itself.
The storyline going into this match has been controversial AT BEST and at worst it has been looked on with even more derision by the “smark” fans than the cancelled Big Show vs. Shaq match. Matches that determine who’s the biggest dog in the yard are a tired concept, and setting up Roman to win seemed like a good way to make the match fail. Unless…you consider if WWE is being WAY smarter about cultivating Roman than the wrestling blogs would have you believe. There’s been a slight noticeable change in Roman’s character since the Royal Rumble. He’s been slightly more aggressive, more dismissive of the crowd, and just more heel-ish in general even if it seems subtle. The fans who’ve made up their minds don’t care either way, but something seems to be crackling under the surface here. I think this match is the catalyst.
This match was as brutal as it was sad. Undertaker started off the match with a series of vicious punches and Tombstone Piledrivers. I think Roman kicked out at least three Tombstones altogether by the end of the match. The two seemed at least evenly matched, as Taker managed to also kick out of quite a few spears and Superman Punches as well. There was nothing altogether remarkable about this match compared to the rest of the card—it was a solid display of the best of abilities of two superstars. Near the end, however, the match took a turn and became almost sad to witness. Undertaker was clearly gassed and, whether he was acting or not, we believe it because Undertaker is old and we’ve seen him run out of steam before. Roman looked…conflicted. I mean, he’s basically ending the career of a man so beloved by the WWE Universe that the next night on Raw he was getting booed louder than he’s ever been, including being met with such vile derision that certain chants had to be censored from re-broadcasts. This is an interesting story for Roman but maybe has less to do with him and more with how Undertaker meets his end.
A lot of people in my wrestling friend circle were bemoaning that Taker’s last match SHOULD have been with John Cena, and while that’s understandable, that’s never sat right with me. Why would a legend retire after losing to, arguably, another legend? That’s never been the kind of person Undertaker has been. He’s always been a man on borrowed time, a dead man with nothing left to lose until at last he was outpaced by a younger, hungrier man. I didn’t weep when the Undertaker tenderly placed his hat, his coat, and his gloves in the ring and then disappeared back into the depths below the entrance ramp. I found it to be beautiful and emotionally satisfying. Rest in peace, Undertaker. And, Roman? Maybe it’s time to start building your empire on the ashes of those you defeated.
Extra High Spots: Roman’s entrance was pretty cool. Taker’s entrance was very vanilla but considering the circumstances, it was ultimately fitting. I think my favorite thing about this match was how the shutdown crew left Undertaker’s accessories in the ring even while the crowd emptied out. I want legends to form around how his gear is still resting somewhere in the Citrus Bowl even fifty years into the future.
– Andrew Niemann
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