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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Reviewing A Very Memorable WrestleMania 33 With All Sorts of Great Matches And Moments, Including A Very Fond Farewell
By The Doc
Apr 3, 2017 - 1:24:29 AM

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: How would you grade WrestleMania 33 on an A to F scale? What do you think was the most memorable moment? What did you think was the best match?

WrestleMania 33, oh how do I begin to talk about you as the emotions are still fresh from Undertaker's send-off into retirement. I suppose I'll start by saying that I think it was a great show in spite of its unbelievable length, an event full of huge moments and great matches. Knee-jerk reaction to its place in history among its Show of Shows peers is to call it a better overall version of WrestleMania XX. Let's start back at the beginning...

The Kick-Off Show was far more noteworthy than any in recent memory, first for the Neville-Aries match and later for the last-minute inclusion of Corbin-Ambrose. The Cruiserweight Championship bout was tremendous, probably the best of its genre since the CWC Finale in September last year. They took advantage of the time they were given, put together several unique sequences, told a good story, and worked in several false finishes. It was a bit of a shame that the same match could not have been included on the main card, as history will reflect on Mania 33 from 7PM ET only, both on the Network and on the DVD/Blu-Ray, and will not feature the mid-card match from Aries and Neville that was of the caliber of those mid-card matches that helped build the grandest stage's reputation, but kudos to both combatants for a heck of an effort (*** ¾). Ambrose defending the Intercontinental Title on the Kick-Off was disappointing, but somewhat expected if you kept up with my running diary over the weekend. Something had to make room for the Smackdown women and it was unfortunately The Lunatic Fringe, last year's MVP runner-up and one of the Top 5 members of the regular roster. History tends not to miss things like being left off of a WrestleMania.

When the main card opened with Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles, the tone of the program quickly shifted from the “let's all have a good time” vibe that New Day gave off along with the Mania introduction video. Styles vs. Shane was a personal rivalry, no matter how hastily it was developed in recent weeks and carried with it a little extra tension in the air that worked to the bout's storytelling advantage. Instead of it being a showcase for McMahon to do his high-wire act, it was an opportunity for Styles to construct one of the greatest carries of his career. Shane deserves credit for being mostly smooth throughout the run-time in a far more traditional long-form match than he has ever been part of previously, but there is something about AJ's matches that flow so well in terms of pace, execution, and psychology; the guy really is phenomenal. To do what he did against an Ambrose or a Neville or an Owens is one thing, but to do it against a 47 year old not known for his wrestling acumen is just wildly above expectations. I predicted it would be memorable and good for AJ's career, but I was not expecting it to be that good. I thought it was utterly outstanding. (**** ¼)

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho had a tough act to follow, but follow it they sure did. The crowd was naturally coming down from their AJ high for the first several minutes, but a vintage Jericho performance, complete with the kind of advantages in sequencing that his top notch bouts always guaranteed years ago, in combination with a very game KO proved exactly what was needed to get the audience re-engaged for what proved to be the kind of mid-card title bout for this year's Mania referenced earlier in discussing the quality of Neville-Aries; we will revisit it for years to come and speak of it, I suspect, in the same way that we do Christian-Jericho and Hart-Piper. Comfortably, it was the best Jericho match since the 2012 CM Punk feud and it was the kind of match I imagine we should expect to see from Owens for many years to come if everything breaks right for him. (*** ¾)

The Raw Women's Elimination Four-Way Title match had a tall task competing both with the history that women's wrestling has established over the past two years and a fantastic first hour of WrestleMania 33. Nobody will talk about what they did in the same breath as what they accomplished in the past, but they delivered a good match with a nice presentation from hype video to 3-count that allowed all four of them to shine. Nia Jax acquitted herself well in the face of a lot of naysayers, myself included, who questioned her presence; WWE booking has not done the division many favors recently, but they did Jax plenty of favors tonight. The entirety from bell-to-bell was just 12-minutes, so it never got the chance to make a big splash; it was a testament to their collective skill that they were able to do what they did in a short run-time for the gimmick. Theirs was the kind of show-enhancing match I had expected from the IC Title bout. (***)

Surprise of the night honors went to the Tag Team Championship Ladder Match. I tweeted last week my prediction of New Day booking the Hardys on the fly, but my colleague Rob Simmons talked me out of expecting it since Matt and Jeff were in a Ladder Match last night at the ROH show. The pop for the Hardys was awesome; they really are legends and they deserved that kind of moment. As for the match itself, I thought it was a really good version of the stunt-brawl. It's all about innovation in such an environment and, even though most of the talents involved were not Ladder Match gurus, the agent for the match as usual deserves a big pat on the back, as do the eight wrestlers for putting their bodies on the line. For the Hardys returning and highly entertaining action, the match deserves considerable praise. (*** ¾)

John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse was exactly what history suggested it would be. There has just never been a mixed tag team match that was anything more than worth a watch on the night of and tonight's did nothing to alter that general rule from industry lore. The Miz and Maryse milked the situation while Cena played the heel-in-peril (seriously, how over was Miz?) until he could get the hot tag to his girlfriend. A pair of finishers later and it was over. I had to text my wife, who was upstairs, when Cena grabbed a microphone. I asked her if she wanted to see Cena propose in a wrestling ring. Two seconds later, I heard the thud-thud-thud of feet coming down the stairs. By Mrs. Doc and I thought it seemed like a genuine moment that fit the profiles of the people we see on reality TV. Part of me can't believe that he popped the question at Mania, part of me absolute can believe it, and another part still wonders why I even care, but it was definitely a “WrestleMania Moment.” (** ½ for the entire thing)

My favorite match of the night was either Styles-McMahon or the Non-Sanctioned match between Seth Rollins and Triple H. From the standpoint of selling and storytelling, nothing on the night came close to Rollins-HHH, but the crowd was starting to feel the affects of a long night by then and they were clearly running out of steam. Personally, I was so heavily invested in their arc that the relative lack of heat on it did not bother me and, frankly, future viewings rarely are affected by live crowd exhaustion unless it's something more ridiculously blatant like Reigns-HHH last year or Lesnar-HHH in 2013 (notice a trend?). Don't be surprised if I talk about it more than anyone else come Match of the Year decision time in December. They really delivered in my eyes, building slowly and steadily to the absolutely excellent finish that earned the crowd back in a big way; what I liked so much about Nakamura vs. Roode last night, I liked equally if not more with Triple H vs. Rollins, the culmination of a much more personal saga. (**** ¼)

Conversely, my least favorite match of the night was without question Bray Wyatt losing the WWE Title to Randy Orton. I could have lived with the title change if the match had come anywhere close to meeting expectations. What were my expectations, you might ask? I was one of the few who seemed to like their No Mercy main-event, so I simply figured that they would take what they did in October and allow a more thorough pre-match storyline to carry their actions en route to a card-enhancing performance. Geez. What happened? I will say that I enjoyed the theatrics, making it a vastly different viewing experience compared to anything else all night or really anything we've seen in a long time. However, they felt like they were progressing to something about five-minutes longer when they just abruptly ended it with a title change that I don't think many people in this community are going to understand, least of all me. Even with all of that stated, I didn't think it was a bad match by any means and it had some cool things going for it that may prove its enduring legacy on this show. (** ½)

Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar was perfect. There. I said it. If you have been following my work for the last few months, you know how I felt about this match in principle, given that the Universal Title was on the line; it seemed like a lot of the fans who made the trip to Mania felt that way too. All the while, I went into it with an open mind and ended up thoroughly enjoying it. I just cannot imagine how it could have been any better than it was, five-minutes in length as it may have been. Sometimes, when rating matches, you just have to think about what the worst case scenario could have been, ask how entertained you ended up, and grade it accordingly. (***)

Naomi winning the Smackdown Women's Title in a 5-minute cluster-you-know-what harkened back to the reason why there needed to be a Revolution. I think that belonged on the pre-show; I just cannot wrap my head around leaving Dean Ambrose off the main card for that...

Alright, so I've been writing for about an hour now. The emotions have settled as I sit here and try to put Undertaker's final match into perspective. Much like with HBK seven years ago, I knew it was coming. The moment they started talking about a special announce team for it and it closing the show, it became obvious that the bell was finally tolling on The Deadman's career. I went into it wanting so much for it; maybe too much for it that it was not capable of giving. As a Roman Reigns supporter, I wanted it to be the best match of his career; sadly, a terribly botched mid-match attempt to get Taker in Tombstone position will prevent it from being anything close to that. As an Undertaker admirer, I wanted The Phenom to be able to go out with the biggest bang that he could, thinking back to the match that saw him retire Shawn Michaels or HBK retire Ric Flair; alas, Taker was just too beat-up physically to accomplish such a feat, he wound up having a strong send-off nevertheless. Other than the botch and Taker just generally being a little mis-timed at points, it was a very good main-event that will likely be remembered for the right reasons – a big win for Reigns, a good match for both, and Taker's final curtain call. (*** ½)

Saying goodbye to Undertaker has been a long-time coming. I'm glad to see him go because we have arrived at the right time for him to go, but it's never easy seeing someone like him walk away. WrestleMania without Taker is going to be missing a piece of its soul. In spite of every part-timer gripe I've made this year, part of me will very much miss the entrance and that all-time special presence. To be able to say goodbye like this was important...


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