Virginia Beach, VA -- Ladies and Gentlemen, Wrestlemania 38 has finally come to a close. Exhausted and drained, I can’t help but smile thinking about the highlights from this weekend. For a show that promised to be “Stupendous,” I felt that it delivered, but who were the ones responsible?
There are a lot of people that made this show as special as it was, but I’ll try to make this as short as possible.
- “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
It was a Wrestlemania in Dallas, Texas, Steve Austin had an obligation to be there. Boy, did he show up. Austin proved that age is just a number and proved to still be as a big a star in 2022 as he was at the peak of his powers.
Stone Cold was challenged by Kevin Owens to appear on his KO Show at the show of shows. There was a ton of speculation on whether Austin would actually compete in a match for the first time 19 years. He answered the call and arrived at Wrestlemania during the main event of Night 1. Austin came out to a roar from the WWE Universe, people absolutely clamoring to see their hero open a can of whoop ass one last time on the Texas hating, Canadian Kevin Owens. A little contrived, beating up the foreigner for hating Texas and Texans alike, but the lead into this was a testament to Kevin Owens (we will get there).
Regardless, Austin whooped KO and celebrated by raising some nostalgic hell, drinking a ton of beers, and stunning Byron Saxton to the delight of the crowd as they were in late 90s heaven watching Redneck Jesus show “he still got it.”
Then during Night 2, Austin came out again to more or less save Pat McAfee from Mr. McMahon and Austin Theory as he gave a stunner to both men then one to McAfee after a little celebration. Austin proved his star-power hasn’t faded at all and left me at home wondering why that segment wasn’t the close out to Mania. That says all you need to know given that the build to Brock vs Roman was billed as the “biggest match in Wrestlemania history.” Absolutely stupendous.
- Bianca Belair
I’ll say it, Bianca Belair is one of the best babyfaces WWE has. Belair has had two title matches in back-to-back years wherein she has completely shown up and come out the victor. She continues to impress all of the WWE Universe with tremendous athleticism as well as her intricacies that make her character a reflection of herself. She has a kind smile, and an attitude towards people that do her wrong. After losing to a returning Becky Lynch at Summer Slam in 28 seconds, Belair was told by Lynch to head to the back of the line after not offering her a rematch.
Belair did that.
She won and won and then earned her way back to challenge Lynch for the Raw Women’s title. Credit to Lynch for being the bad guy that Belair needed to catapult to the biggest female babyface in the company. Belair, along with her entrance featuring a local HBCU’s marching band, gave Becky her comeuppance and delivered a satisfying KOD to solidify her position as a superstar in the company. Silenced any doubters and all of the haters. Stupendous.
- Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes is here. He’s back and quickly established himself as one of the biggest stars on the roster. It seems that this is the run that Cody always assumed he could achieve, but WWE just never saw. It took a long pilgrimage, a lot of pointing and name calling, a new company, a wait to use his own family name, and an ugly neck tattoo, but the grandson of a plumber made his grand return on the grandest stage of them all as the mystery opponent facing Seth Rollins.
Interestingly, Cody looked as though he was on AEW Dynamite the week previous, wearing the same gear, coming out to the same theme music, and coming up from the stage floor. Cody looked like an absolute star and put on a really good match against Rollins. The WWE Universe was stoked to see the American Nightmare arrive and go over vs one of the best in the world, and I was too.
Hopefully, WWE recognize the full asset that they’ve procured and do right by him. Hold off on a Rhodes vs Roman match for a bit, last thing they want is to let the bully on the block take the new shiny toy for a spin only to scuff it. I trust that Cody wouldn’t have come back unless he was able to have a place at the table and a say in his destiny.
- Pat McAfee
I’ve talked a lot about star power so far, reason being that it is important. It’s so important. Wrestlemania would never be the staple it is if not for the star power featured year after year. Pat McAfee is a star.
He’s not Hogan or Austin, but it felt like he was one of the biggest stars in the company on Night 2 during his match with Austin Theory. Truly, look back and see the reaction he got and compare it to the reactions guys like Rollins or Rk-Bro got, the difference is minimal. What makes that even more alarming, is that Pat is an announcer.
Pat McAfee has been in the ring two times prior to his Mania debut, but it seems like ages ago thinking about it now. He surprised everyone with his athleticism doing a Moonsault and even a Swonton Bomb and had people at home laughing as he put the broadcast helmet on to shout out his parents watching at home.
There’s an argument to be had that Pat McAfee is the best signing WWE has had in a long time. He’s a fresh new take on commentary and has breathed new life into the WWE resident statue, Michael Cole. Whatever he gets himself into he hasn’t failed to rise to the occasion once and has been successful. Pat McAfee is a star in media circles and in the wrestling business, he has people on notice now. I doubt he’ll go for a major title if at all, but he’d be a fun wrinkle if he wanted to take a try at the 24/7 or maybe even a tag team. Pat, we’re all watching, please never cease to amaze us.
- Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn has the heel thing all figured out. The build into his Wrestlemania match vs Jackass star Johnny Knoxville was some of the most entertaining stuff I’ve seen from a celebrity feud in a long time. Zayn was a full heel, berating Knoxville in a back and forth that saw both men try to one up the other. Knoxville was eliminated by Zayn at the Royal Rumble back in January which led to more and more antics from both men. Knoxville showed up to distract Zayn which costed him his IC title vs Ricochet. Knoxville even paid for a plane to fly over Los Angeles with Sami’s personal phone number telling folks to call.
Just really fun stuff, it takes a certain type of performer to pull a feud like this off. Someone who can make guys with the stature of the Jackass crew look like viable foes. Zayn was open and vulnerable through it all, and willing to do what it took in order to pull this off.
It came to fruition in Dallas. Zayn and Johnny went toe to toe with Knoxville using all sorts of gimmicks and props to torture Sami throughout the match. Appearances from Party Guy and Wee Man, and use of things like a leg apparatus meant for “low blows” one of which Sami received, or a giant mouse trap used by Knoxville to trap Sami and the get the pin. All in all it was an absolute entertaining, lovely mess of a match and it wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for Sami Zayn.
- Kevin Owens
On the topic of heels, let me introduce you all to Kevin Owens. Kevin Owens knew what he was getting himself into challenging Stone Cold, and rose to the occasion. Owens made Austin feel like he wasn’t missing a step and took some of the most convincing bumps of the weekend. He set aside any ego in order to have a Wrestlemania moment of him and one of the G.O.A.Ts and it’s all a step in the legacy of KO.
I want to give so much credit to Owens as without the work he put into the build this segment/match wouldn’t have felt the same. Whether it was talking a ton of smack about Texas, or faking out the audience with Austin’s music and a convincing bald cap Owens did all he could to sell that he deserved an ass whooping the likes only “The Rattlesnake” could hand out. In terms of understanding the assignment, it doesn’t get any better than KO.
- Logan Paul
It pains me to say it, but Logan Paul understood the assignment too. Paul knew that his major selling point of his Wrestlemania appearance was that people don’t like him and he played that up. The Miz had been a thorn in the side of the Mysterios, but needed a tag partner as overall disliked as him. Logan Paul fit that bill. The controversial social media star has come far from his early career antics, specifically a Japan trip reminiscent of the infamous “Plane Ride from Hell.” Needless to say Paul, isn’t for everyone and that makes him perfect for the babyface Mysterios.
Paul knew his role and put on a match that left the WWE Universe wanting more. He gave us a Three Amigos reference, and a shimmy likes of which Eddie Guerrero could onky pull off before Frog Splashing Rey Mysterio (Eddie’s best friend before his passing). Guy comes from off the street and performs some of Eddie Guerrero’s moves on Rey? That’s mega heat and allotted a ton of negative reaction from the crowd. Assignment=understood.
Interesting wrinkle came after Miz and Paul got the win. The Miz turned on his partner and seemingly started a new feud to be settled at the next WWE PLE, Wrestlemania Backlash. I hope that means we’re in for another fun match full of more impressive moments from the Youtuber.
Coming into this three-way contest, which featured Rk-Bro defending their tag team belts vs both Alpha Academy and the Street Profits, I wasn’t all that confident that the team of Randy Orton and Riddle would be able to pull it off. Honestly, I was hoping for a potential split between the two afterwards. Although, it didn’t happen, I’m glad that I was wrong. There’s more to tell with these two and their inevitable split needs to be further down the road in order to make it as momentous as it deserves.
With all of that out of the way, it should be said that these two men are stars in this company. Orton is a hall of famer, without a doubt in my mind. The superstar has defended every major men’s title at Wrestlemania, which says something about his status as a legend. Meanwhile Riddle is no slouch either. Riddle is one of the more unique and authentic characters I can remember a WWE superstar being. With his constant jokes and Jeff Spicoli like aura, he is one of a kind, and the chemistry these two have is infectious. I couldn’t help but smile when both executed side by side Second Rope DDTs. The sheer glee on Riddle’s face symbolized the dynamic perfectly and the side smile from Orton drive it home. These two men couldn’t be more different from one another, but they sure do like each other. We should treasure that while we can.
You think you know Edge? Not anymore. The “Rated-R Superstar” has gotten a makeover and the man once referred to as the “ultimate opportunist” is now fully dark. In a Ronnie James Dio or Ozzy Osbourne fashion he’s an agent of darkness looking to make a new stable only the Brood could be proud of.
Biggest takeaway is the commitment from Edge to make this work. Super ambitious character switch that will work. I left the match vs AJ Styles thinking that he can totally pull this off. He’s recruited Damien Priest as a new disciple and there’s always room for more.
A smart move for him is to recruit a woman to this faction. Imagine if we could have a main roster run for Nicki Cross ala her Sanity days. No more A.S.H. Or if he could bring in Rhea Ripley to the fold, that may be a fun new storyline for her and provide a much-needed direction for the character as it seems she may have hit a block in her trajectory as a singles star.
Before we wrap this, the entrance needs to be talked about. The rising throne from the bottom of the stage with the evil ambiance left me with a ton of anticipation for what this can become. I trust Edge to do this sort of character, he’s gone full-circle and is now back to his roots. This time, however, there are no vampire teeth. His match with AJ was an awesome fundamental match, but it shined as we now have gotten Edge over and shown us that they are taking applications.
- Vince McMahon and Austin Theory
Enough can be said about both of these men to warrant their own individual positions on this list, but I wanted to keep it to ten and the both fed off of one another to the glee and disdain of the WWE Universe. I love these two. They are collective so despicable and compliment the other well. The Pat McAfee match would have still been great if it was just between him and Theory but sitting ringside was Mr. McMahon himself and OH MY GOD, I loved this so much. McMahon had this unpleased look on his face whenever Pat got a spot in and then a slight grin whenever Theory had his moments. Austin Theory proved the facial expressions reflecting how us fans were just as shocked at McAfee’s poise in the ring.
After the roll-up win for Pat, Mr. McMahon entered the fray. Vinny Mac got himself in the ring with the intent to fight. He wasn’t shy about wanting to compete leading into this year’s Mania and made sure to get his shine. They two men tortured McAfee with low blows and a pin for Vince before the glass shattered and Stone Cold came down to avenge Pat. This led to massive waves of nostalgia after the Rattlesnake gave Theory a stunner and came face to face with his old foe. The crowd was going nuts. Austin gave Vince a stern kick and then gave the worst stunner I’ve seen, but Vince still tried his best to sell after hitting the mat.
The two men were instrumental in what made this McAfee match feel big and the Stone Cold spot was icing on the cake. I fear that the fans may only remember the botched stunner, but I will be sure to preserve that this segment was historic from start to finish and none of that would’ve been possible without Vince and his new golden boy, Austin Theory.
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