The word WWE used to describe WrestleMania 38 was “amazing”. Surreal used to be more like that. On Night 1 we saw “Stone Cold” Steve Austin have his first match in 19 years, Cody Rhodes returned, Ronda Rousey got screwed and Bianca Belair reaffirmed her star. Here are five highlights from Saturday’s opening night of WrestleMania 2022 at AT&T Stadium.
Stone cold!, stone cold!
There’s “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and then everyone else – still. The Texas Rattlesnake won his first match in 19 years in a spontaneous, no-compromise fight in the main event. It was believable, badass, and a fun trip down memory lane. It allowed Austin, whose previous match was lost to The Rock at WrestleMania 19, to finish his career where it began in Dallas.
Austin performed to some of the loudest pop you’ll ever hear after Owens continued to talk about him and Texas on The KO Show. Owens then said he tricked Austin, who played the hits on the mic and in the ring, for taking him there for a match.
While the brawl abounded, Austin took a suplex to the concrete as the two got things into the crowd. He even drove Owens to the stage in his signature buggy. They battled up there with Austin stopping to drink bear occasionally throughout the match and suplexing Owens twice onstage before rolling him down the ramp.
As they got in the ring, Owens was able to hit a beer-distracted Austin with a stunner, but the Hall of Famers kicked out. Austin turned Owen’s attempt to use a chair into his chance to deliver a stunner of his own and pin KO for the win. What followed was another stunner for Owens, lots of beer drinking and Austin finishing another WrestleMania with his brother in the ring. Owens – a lifelong Austin fan – hit and sold his butt for his hero and should be celebrated for everything he did during that feud.
WWE has struggled at times to put on true babyfaces, but they deserve credit for always hitting the right notes with Bianca Belair. The EST has a perpetual WrestleMania entry. She outplayed an entire marching band before putting on a second straight WrestleMania match and earning another championship win at WWE’s Biggest Show. Belair is a superstar and WWE treats her as such by taking the Raw Women’s Championship from Lynch.
The two began with an early callback to their SummerSlam match, this time Belair Lynch extending her hand. They traded counters until Big Time Becks hit the man-handle slam but was unable to get the fast pin this time. It set the tone that this would not end in 26 seconds. Instead, we were treated to a counters chess game with moments of doubt as to whether they could win.
The EST, who passed Sasha Banks for the SmackDown belt last year, eventually won by flipping the top turnbuckle to counter Lynch, who was attempting to hit another man handle slam. She lifted Lynch to her shoulder and the crowd to their feet in a kiss of death to seal the win.
What’s next for Lynch – who hasn’t had a bad match since returning – remains to be seen. Is she taking a break? Is she staying on as Big Time Becks or is she slowly working her way back to her babyface The Man gimmick or something else?
The rumors and reports turned out to be true, but it was surreal to see Cody Rhodes, former Executive Vice President of All Elite Wrestling, back in WWE after six years. He and Seth Rollins delivered a beautifully told story that contained hints of a war between the two companies. It ended with a touching moment where Rhodes stopped after two straight Cross Rhodes to deliver the Snap Punches and Bionic Elbow made famous by his father “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes before delivering the third to Rollins to finally put down. Cody will executive produce and appear in the upcoming A&E “biography” about his father in association with WWE.
Initially, Rollins waited a little longer in the ring before the lights dimmed and Rhodes got off the stage with a bang as American Nightmare. His presentation didn’t change his ring gear and music, but his wife Brandi was absent as he emerged as a mysterious opponent of Rollins. Gone were the boos Rhodes received late in his run in AEW when he received a huge babyface reaction. He even threw in an old Stardust taunt just to tie the dots to the way WWE fans last saw him at the company. Rollins, who was a standard-bearer for WWE, kept welcoming Rhodes, once saying, “Welcome back to the big league, bitch.”
The two had a rather old-fashioned, fast-paced wrestling match that grew in physicality and stiffness over time. They both consistently made big moves that the other stepped out of. After a series of counters, Rollins stepped out of an initial Cross Rhodes and Cody later got the shoulder off the top rope after a cute looking inverted super plex. He saw Rollins shoulder up a Cody Cutter and Seth even hit a Pedigree but Rhodes couldn’t put it away. The entire presentation was fantastic homecoming story for Rhodes, and we’re now waiting to see what he says with a mic in hand on Monday.
Not finished yet
Ronda Rousey, not winning on her return to WrestleMania, was certainly the shock of the night. While the ending of her SmackDown Women’s Championship match with Charlotte Flair didn’t feel quite worthy of WrestleMania, this is the first real adversity we’ll see Rousey in WWE, and it’s no bad thing for babyfaces. When she lost at WrestleMania 35, we didn’t see her again until her return to the Royal Rumble that year.
Flair busted out numerous ankle locks and Rousey reversed a figure 8 with some extra torque in a match centered around the story of them wanting to tie the match with the other. “The Baddest Woman on the Planet” saw the champion, Flair, step foot on the tightrope once, despite referee Charles Robinson’s count of three. Afterwards, she kicks Flair at Robinson and knocks him out before getting The Queens in an armbar and watches as she knocks with no referee to see. Flair responded by hitting a big boot to escape with the win and their title. It probably means we haven’t seen the last of Flair-Rousey and maybe slanders it in June’s Hell in a Cell.
The Mysterios vs. The Miz and Logan Paul were all about respect and the lack thereof, even after the match. Paul definitely earned the respect of pro wrestling fans and looked like a great heel while flouting the Mysterios in every way. The YouTube star-turned-boxer covered all the basics, scoring a blockbuster, a power slam and a double suplex with Miz. Then he played Eddie Guerrero’s “Three Amigo” and “Frog Slash to Rey”.
The match turned and after a double 619 on Paul, Miz tagged himself to save Paul and hit the skull crushing final on Rey for the 1-2-3. After the match, despite Paul being booed by the crowd, Miz turned on his partner with a skull crushing finale and blew him a kiss off the ramp.
While a potential feud between Logan Paul and Miz makes sense on some level, both work better as heels. Maybe it was just a shocking moment, fans wanted to see Paul get his from someone, or Miz’s character just didn’t want to be in the spotlight with anyone. On another level it doesn’t make much sense.
The Usos via Shinsuke Nakmura and Rick Boogs to retain the SmackDown Tag Team Championship
A real injury to Boogs derailed this match and reportedly resulted in the finish being altered. Jimmy and Jey Uso both jumped onto Boogs’ back early in the match and he quickly fell to the ground, clutching his knee. Social media photos showed him being carried backwards. The game quickly turned into a 2v1. The Uso eventually beat the One-D on Nakamura to win it and prolong their historic reign. WWE announced that Boogs had a torn quadriceps patella and required surgery.
Drew McIntyre on Happy Corbin
You knew Happy Corbin’s luck was running out after McIntyre became the first person to kick out of the End of Days. Great job, my Michael Cole, to mention it on the show and expect it to be used in the storyline after the lucky one’s winning streak was ended by a Claymore. McIntyre finished things off by cutting the top two ropes while Angela went after Madcap Moss. Good solid match with the big kick out and cool final moment. This long feud is finally over and let’s hope McIntyre moves on to something much bigger.
Kofi Kingston and Xavier Wood’s scheduled tag match against Sheamus and Ridge Holland has been shortened on time. Sheamus tweeted a scissors emoji. This game has been moved to Sunday.
WWE announced that WrestleMania 39 will be held in Los Angeles for two nights on April 1st and 2nd.
Biggest Winner: Bianca Belair
Biggest Loser: Happy Corbin
Best hit: Cody Rhodes vs. Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch vs. Bianca Belair
Best start: Bianca Belair