The Eternal Optimist: Why Did Lesnar Win? Was Nakamura/Styles a Blessing in Disguise? A Wrestlemania review, Plus Takeover Thoughts and a Look to the Future

The Eternal Optimist: Why Did Lesnar Win? Was Nakamura/Styles a Blessing in Disguise? A Wrestlemania review, Plus Takeover Thoughts and a Look to the Future

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What do you think is the next move for Brock Lesnar?

Hi kids.

Wrestlemania weekend has come and gone. It was good. It was bad. It was memorable. There is so much to discuss – no need to waste any time.

The Eternal Optimist Presents – Quick Takeover Review, Not So Quick Wrestlemania Review and Thoughts Going Forward.

Quick Takeover Review:

The North American Championship ladder match was the match that I was looking forward to the most going into Takeover. It did not disappoint. It was the most insane ladder match that I’ve ever seen. All of the acrobatics that you could ever want from a ladder match were on full display, but I really think that Lars Sullivan and Killian Dain were the difference makers. Their presence allowed for the perfect blend of high flying crazy spots and power based spots with the ladder. Ricochet is on another level too, but if you watch Lucha Underground as much as I do, that comes as no surprise. All in all, I think this was the best ladder match that the WWE has ever put on.

The NXT Women’s Title Match had a really tough act to follow, but I thought that they did an admirable job. Bayzler and Moon have great chemistry together, and Bayzler continues to improve every time that I see her. This match wasn’t a classic, but it was solid and met my expectations. I was happy to see Bayzler win. She brings something different to the table than all other women in NXT, and I think she’ll continue to grow while she’s down there. Ember Moon looks like a good bet to debut on Raw tonight.

I really enjoyed the Triple Threat Tag Title Match. Putting Roddy and Dunne into the match really raised the quality of the in-ring work. Mid-match heel turns often fall flat with me, but I thought this one was executed FLAWLESSLY. I didn’t see it coming but it makes all the sense in the world. Roddy wasn’t doing much as a face, Bobby Fish is going to be out for a while, and now we will see awesome matches between The Undisputed Era and Team UK. Sign me up.

Cien Almas v Aleistair Black was incredible and on any other show would have been the match of the night hands down. I don’t think we give Almas nearly the credit he deserves. Each and every time that he wrestles, I leave thinking “Man, those two guys really clicked together”. At some point, he needs to be in the discussion of the top workers in the company. I think that point has arrived. Major kudos to Zelina Vega as well – she’s the best manager in the business today and will be an incredible asset to the Women’s Division should the WWE go in that direction. I absolutely loved this one.

Rich Latta called Johnny Gargano v Tommaso Ciampa the greatest match in the history of the WWE. I won’t go that far, but it’s not a completely ridiculous statement either. Oh my god, what incredible story-driven drama. This has been hands down the feud of the year, and I can’t remember the last time that the WWE told a better story inside the ring. An absolute A+ ending to an amazing show.

Overall – with 2 very good matches and 3 all-time classic matches, NXT Takeover NOLA is without question the greatest event in the history of the promotion.

Wrestlemania 34 Review.

I’ve decided to make changes to my grading scale. Here’s the new format:

5 Stars = 2016 Doc – I miss that guy.
4 Stars = SirSam – He’s a newcomer with a refreshing attitude.
3 Stars = Mr. Tito – He’s in the middle of a face turn ever since Doc’s podcast showed him to be a super nice and reasonable guy.
2 Stars = Rich Latta – He’s getting angrier by the day unless it involves one of his personal favorites.
1 Star = 2017-2018 Doc – He makes me sad.

Get it? Got it? Good! Onto the show.

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal Match Rating: Mr. Tito.

For a match that was devoid of star power, I thought that it delivered an acceptable level of action. There wasn’t much going on until the very end, but I loved the return of Bray Wyatt and the pairing with Matt Hardy. I don’t like to praise the man, but I thought Dolph Ziggler had a very strong showing. This wasn’t one of the stronger renditions of the ARMBAR, but it wasn’t bad.

Cedric Alexander v Mustafa Ali Match Rating: Rich Latta.

The cruiserweights had a platform to show the casual audience that 205Live was a show worth watching, but they completely blew it. In a match that should have been high flying and innovative, the WWE tried to tell a compelling story with two wrestlers that lack the chops to pull it off. I found the “heart v soul” dialogue mid-match to be hokey at best and horrific at worst. This continues to be the struggle for me with 205Live. Instead of letting the in-ring action and athleticism shine through, they aim for deep character-driven matches featuring imperfect characters and talents.

The Wrestlemania Women’s Battle Royal Match Rating: Sir Sam.

This match went how I expected it to. The major focus was on Sasha and Bayley, and I figured that they’d ultimately cost each other the match. I really enjoyed the NXT Women in the match. Bianca Belair is particularly impressive to me. Every time that I see her, she jumps off of the page as being a future star. Bayley tossing Sasha over the top was awesome. I would have preferred that Naomi and Becky were swapped, but no real issues with the finish. The women continue to impress.

The Miz v Seth Rollins v Finn Balor Match Rating: 2016 Doc.

This match was everything that we hoped it would be. It was the PERFECT choice to open the show. These three are amongst the best in the business today and it showed. I loved the back and forth chain wrestling and couldn’t have asked for anything more. I was floored that Rollins emerged victorious. With The Miz taking some time off, I can’t wait to see more of Seth v Finn for the next couple of months.

Charlotte v Asuka Match Rating: 2016 Doc.

The WWE was wise to heed my advice and put this match on early while the crowd was still red-hot. Holy cow though, these two delivered. Charlotte v Asuka was just an insane display of athleticism, the likes that we generally don’t see in the Women’s Division. I was emotionally invested in the match from beginning to end. Charlotte winning was an absolute shocker to me. I have to give Chad his due – he called this to a T. More on that a bit later. This was one of the best matches all night.

Randy Orton v Bobby Roode v Jinder Mahal v Rusev Match Rating: Mr. Tito.

It’s rare that the WWE books something that I want to see happen rather than what I think will actually occur, but they did just that with the U.S. Title Match. The match itself wasn’t anything special, but the right man won. The best stories can be told with Jinder as U.S. champ, and I look forward to seeing what his title run brings. Adding Rusev to the match was a wise decision. Doing so led to an extremely hot crowd and without him involved, this match could have absolutely tanked.

Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle v Stephanie McMahon & Triple H Match Rating: 2016 Doc.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the newest SUPERSTAR in the WWE, Ronda Rousey. Who would have ever thought that this would be the best match of the night? For all of her shortcomings on the microphone and during the buildup, she absolutely hit a home run in the ring last night. She looked like something that I never would have thought I’d refer to her as, an absolute natural. Major kudos to The Doc for his thoughts on both this and the Charlotte/Asuka match. He believed that Rousey/Charlotte was the money feud and both matches would play out exactly as they did. I think it’s pretty safe to pencil in Charlotte v Rousey for Wrestlemania 35, perhaps even as the main event. An unbelievably awesome match that has me incredibly excited to see more of Ronda Rousey. Bravo!

The Usos v The Bludgeon Brothers v The New Day Match Rating: Sir Sam.

I tempered my expectations for this match when I saw the comparatively little amount of air time that the feud was being given on Smackdown. Someone was going to have to follow Rousey, and I thought all three teams did well in a difficult spot. The match was short and reasonably one-sided, but I thought the action was excellent. How about that entrance for The New Day? You really can’t go wrong with midgets and pancakes, can you?

John Cena v The Undertaker Match Rating: Mr. Tito.

The match was a squash but the sports entertainment aspect was on point. The Doc and I were texting about this prior to the show. We both agreed that there were very few realistic scenarios that didn’t lead to an Undertaker squash and Cena looking like a complete chump. This match isn’t for the purists but it electrified the crowd and did a tremendous job of restoring The Undertaker’s credibility.

Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon v Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn Match Rating: Mr. Tito.

The live crowd couldn’t care less about Shane McMahon but wow, what an incredible moment for Daniel Bryan. The booking for this was curious to say the least. I wouldn’t have taken Bryan out for the majority of the match. Doing so led to a really quiet crowd for the lion’s share of the action. Nonetheless, Bryan brought it home like only he can. I thought for sure a heel turn was coming, but it wasn’t to be. I’ll be discussing the impact of this match in more detail a little bit later in the column. Good stuff here.

Alexa Bliss v Nia Jax Match Rating: Sir Sam.

These two certainly outkicked their coverage. I had little expectation for this match outside of a quick squash and/or a Carmella cash-in. Instead, we got a surprisingly good 50/50 match that saw both women bust out moves in their arsenal that I didn’t know they had. For my money, this is the best match that either woman has ever had in the WWE. Far from a masterpiece, but much better than I thought it would be.

A.J. Styles v Shinsuke Nakamura Match Rating: Rich Latta.

I tried to warn everyone about unrealistic expectations going into this match. Nakamura’s slow and plodding style just doesn’t work as a face in the WWE. The match was exactly what all of his matches have been – methodical and uninspiring. I won’t crush them too badly though. That heel turn from Nakamura post-match was completely unexpected and executed to perfection. Whereas Styles v Nakamura missed the mark last night, there is hope for the future.

Braun & Nicholas v The Bar Match Rating: Sir Sam.

Having Braun Strowman pick a fan out of the crowd as his partner was brilliant. It further displayed his dominance and this is a gimmick that has legs. I fully expect Braun to pick a random kid out of the crowd each and every week to be his partner. The matches will be trash but it will be a tremendous amount of fun for all involved. I believe that this is an important development for reasons that I will discuss shortly.

Roman Reigns v Brock Lesnar Match Rating: Sir Sam.

The crowd notwithstanding, Reigns and Lesnar put on a very entertaining match. I was pretty groggy by the time this one rolled around last night, so I took the time to re-watch it this morning. It was an entertaining and physical brawl with a rare use of blood and a shocking ending. It wasn’t as good as their WM31 encounter, but it was rock solid nonetheless. As for the fans – I feel like they reacted much in the same as they did for Lesnar v The Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXX. Back then, the match was met with complete indifference because The Undertaker winning was such a foregone conclusion. I believe that last night’s match got the same reaction from the crowd because everyone knew that Reigns was going to win and didn’t care to see it. Just like with Wrestlemania XXX, had the crowd known what was to come with the finish, I believe that they would have been a lot more emotionally invested in the match. All in all, I found this to be a perfectly acceptable Wrestlemania main event – far from the best but certainly not as bad as the IWC wants to lead you to believe.

Overall – Our community always has a love/hate relationship with Wrestlemania. I think the reason for that is that we want to see A+ in-ring action in every match on every card that we watch. Wrestlemania looks to appeal to a wider range of people than just us. Many matches, especially during the second half of the show, were heavy on the sports-entertainment and light on the in-ring action. I believe that’s the biggest reason for the vitriol this morning. Instead, I thought that Wrestlemania 34 struck the right balance between tremendous in-ring action early on and compelling sports entertainment during the later portion of the broadcast. I believe that this is a show that will hold up very well upon re-watch, and will rank somewhere near the bottom of the top 10 for Wrestlemania events.

Thoughts Going Forward.

With Wrestlemania 34 now behind us, I can’t help but take a look into the future. I believe that last night changed the landscape tremendously both with surprise match outcomes and an unexpectedly great performance from Ronda Rousey. Here are my major takeaways going forward:

1. Brock Lesnar Winning Didn’t Make Sense, So Why Did It Happen?

It seems crazy that Roman Reigns has been built up and put in this position only to fail against a guy who has exhausted all exciting matchups and is apparently on his way out of the company. I have a completely rational (translation: conspiracy theory) explanation.

In order for Shinsuke Nakamura’s heel turn to be effective, it had to happen post-match at Wrestlemania. Had he turned on A.J. on tomorrow’s edition of Smackdown, hardly anyone would have cared. The last thing that the WWE wanted to do was overshadow Nakamura with an even bigger heel turn just two matches later.

The WWE had Lesnar go over Reigns because they didn’t want to pull off two major heel turns in a short period of time. I still think Lesnar’s run is over and I think tonight is his last night with the company for the foreseeable future. I fully expect Roman Reigns to defeat Brock Lesnar TONIGHT after Paul Heyman turns on Lesnar and joins forces with Roman.

The Raw after Wrestlemania is one of the hottest crowds of the year but it has been somewhat lackluster for the last couple of years. I think that the WWE wants to hit a major home run tonight and restore the appeal of this particular show. Turning Roman heel and having him dethrone Lesnar is the perfect way to do it.

2. Styles/Nakamura Disappointed, Or Did It?

I have high hopes for the Shinsuke Nakamura heel turn. First, heel turns usually work out the best when we don’t see them coming. That is certainly the case with Nakamura’s turn last night. Second, the turn gives the Nakamura/Styles story the teeth that it lacked going into Wrestlemania.

We all incorrectly assumed that Styles/Nakamura at Wrestlemania was the culmination of a story instead of the start of one. In one moment, Styles/Nakamura went from a storyline that I didn’t care about at all to a storyline that I feel can carry Smackdown through the summer.

The documentary on the WWE Network as well as his more recent promos have shown that Nakamura’s English is better than we thought it was. With a more traditional face/heel dynamic and a stronger story in place, I foresee big things from Styles and Nakamura over the next several months.

3. John Cena Got Smoked, Now What?

As I mentioned above, there were very few scenarios that could have played out for John Cena that would have led to him looking anything but weak last night. I enjoyed his encounter with The Undertaker, but I really question what the future holds for him.

Cena has done job after job after job for the better part of a year. Last night was an absolute squash and made him look like a second rate superstar not to be taken seriously. Could this be the end for Cena? It’s plausible. Maybe he’s just trying to make as many people look good as possible on his way out the door.

I think more is at play though. I think that the WWE is telling a story about a legend who is getting more and more desperate with each passing failure. I can’t shake the feeling that last night was the tipping point for John Cena. This storyline feels awfully similar to the one HBK went through prior to his retirement.

I think we’re about to embark on the final chapter of John Cena’s career. Don’t be surprised if Wrestlemania 35 is his swan song and the building blocks for that are put into place tonight.

4. Braun’s Tag Storyline Means a Lot More Than We Think.

If Roman is turning heel tonight as I believe he is, there is a wide open spot for the #1 baby-face in the company. Braun’s tag partner reveal seems on its face to be a throwaway comedy storyline, but I think it stands for much more than that.

I think that the WWE is testing the waters to see how well Strowman can connect with kids. I believe that they’ve seen the reactions that he’s gotten over the past year, and are starting to get on board with the idea of him being “the man”.

The biggest obstacle that he faces is that a monster of his stature often struggles to connect with the most important piece of the audience – children. This storyline looks like it has legs and if little kids start to get on board with Braun the way that the rest of us have, don’t be surprised if the WWE straps the rocket ship to him.

5. Last Night Was a Bad Night For Kevin Owens, SamI Zayn and Asuka.

None of the three abovementioned wrestlers have an obvious path going forward after crushing defeats last night.

I think Asuka will be fine. Losing to Charlotte isn’t the end of the world and I think that her streak may have ultimately been a hindrance to her growth. She’s still very popular and I don’t foresee Nia being a long term champion on Raw. With Bayley and Sasha still going strong, I think the door is still wide open for Asuka to take the belt.

I’m far less confident in Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. I thought that they needed a win last night more than anyone else. Instead, they were more or less treated like fodder for Daniel Bryan’s return. Many are citing this to be a springboard to their move to Raw, but that doesn’t sound like a great plan to me.

Both Owens and Zayn came from Raw. Zayn was floundering and Owens has already gone through the gauntlet with Roman Reigns. I don’t see them as anything more than a mid-card act should they move to Raw, and there doesn’t appear to be a place left for them on Smackdown. They could be at the beginning of a major de-push.

6. It’s Daniel Bryan’s World Again.

Last night told me everything that I needed to know regarding how Daniel Bryan was going to be booked upon his return to in-ring action. While I expect A.J. and Nakamura to occupy the WWE Title for the next 2-3 months, whoever emerges with the strap is on a collision course with Bryan.

He’s the most over baby-face in the company by a landslide, and that doesn’t look to be subsiding anytime soon. You can more or less pencil him into the Summerslam main event against either Styles or Nakamura. As long as he’s around, all is right in the Smackdown world.

7. Ronda Rousey is the New Face of the WWE.

The star power and mainstream attention that she brings is second to none. The only question that needed to be answered was whether or not she could provide entertainment value while in the ring. We received our answer last night, and it is a resounding yes.

Despite her excellent in-ring performance, I still wouldn’t be trotting her out every single week. She’s a diamond that needs to continue to be preserved. While I think Rousey v Charlotte is a great choice for the Wrestlemania 35 main event, I still would like to see the WWE be very careful with choosing her storyline opponents between now and then.

To me, Alexa Bliss is the perfect option. She’s a cowardly heel that could play well off Rousey’s physical dominance. She’s a fantastic mic worker and can do all of the heavy lifting in that regard. She’s someone that doesn’t need to win matches to continue to be booked strongly. She’s the right call in every way. Make it happen WWE!

That’s a wrap kids. Agree or disagree with my assessment on Wrestlemania weekend and the WWE going forward? Sign off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel
Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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