Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro Match of 2021 and Hot Takes of WWE WrestleMania Backlash
WrestleMania Backlash looked like a one-match card going into the show, with Cesaro and Roman Reigns' clash for the Universal Championship standing head and shoulders above the rest. While that match certainly delivered, producing the best match of the year to date, it headlined a show where everything exceeded expectations.
Except for the zombies.
Yes, you read that right.
It got straight-up Walking Dead inside the ThunderDome Sunday night with one of the worst angles in pro wrestling history; a decision so ridiculous in hindsight that one would think WWE officials were intentionally trying to elicit online backlash (pun intended) from their audience.
The instant classic between Cesaro and Reigns, and the abomination that was Zombiegate, headline the hottest takes from a surprisingly enjoyable pay-per-view extravaganza.
Actually, Charlotte Flair Should Have Won This Title Match
Sunday night, Charlotte Flair not only proved she belongs in the Raw Women's Championship picture, but that she should have regained the gold in the opening match of WrestleMania Backlash.
The Queen oftentimes catches flack for constantly being in and around the women's title picture, and while some of that criticism is warranted, it is oftentimes reflective of her role as one of the best characters on the roster, not to mention a measuring stick in the industry.
That was on full display as she elevated the quality of her match with Asuka and champion Rhea Ripley, bringing intensity and a big-fight feel to it that Ripley and Asuka did not previously have back at WrestleMania.
On this night, Flair was clearly the best wrestler on the show and the difference between a good match and a great one. She enhanced the match to such a degree that it was impossible not to question why she wasn't already the champion, let alone winning the match.
Given the fact that WWE Creative has so underwhelmingly booked Asuka's character, and Ripley's persona has not begun to be fleshed out, Flair was the right choice to give the title to while management pepped Ripley to go on her defining run.
That didn't happen, essentially putting Flair in the position to chase the title as the top heel in the division, rather than the other way around.
Ripley will continue to struggle to gain traction, especially as fans try to decipher whether she is a heel or not. And there will be Flair, the perfect foil, and the one woman on the roster who could have brought Ripley along and made her journey to genuine superstardom on the main roster a much easier transition.
WWE Sets Wrestling Back 30 Years with Zombie Nonsense
Dave Scherer of PWInsider.com reported that WWE officials believed All Elite Wrestling's Blood and Guts match "set the business back 30 years."
It's a dynamic revelation in its own right, but when WWE presents zombies on a pay-per-view, involving them in an actual match as if they were real, just two weeks later makes it that much more jaw-dropping.
The abomination that was the Lumberjack Match pitting Damian Priest against The Miz, all while flesh-eating zombies patrolled the ringside area, stopped being laughably bad and was insulting to one's intelligence.
Whether it was the presence of the monsters in the first place, the fact that the commentary team ran away from the broadcast position because it somehow missed the brain-eater under the table, or the zombies' inability to get into the ring and feast on the human carcasses they craved, the logic behind it was nonexistent.
Yes, it was a promotional tactic to help get eyes on Zack Snyder's Army of the Dead, starring former world champion Dave Bautista, but there was any number of ways to do that without compromising whatever integrity the show had left.
Unfortunately, WWE took the most ridiculous path, and the result was one of the worst segments of television in professional wrestling history.
No, that's not hyperbole.
Nor is the insistence that it, not a double steel cage match featuring grown men beating the hell out of each other, set professional wrestling back decades.
Bayley Looks Better Than Ever in Loss vs. Belair
It is easy to forget just how great of a professional wrestler Bayley is, especially when she was left off the WrestleMania card and sent flying down the ramp by The Bella Twins.
Sunday night, back in her element, she reminded everyone of her excellence between the ropes with a fantastic performance against SmackDown women's champion Bianca Belair.
She didn't win, but she didn't have to.
Bayley played her role as the overconfident veteran to perfection, all the way to a finish that saw Belair use her own hubris against her en route to victory. Then, she cried foul, denouncing The EST's use of her own ponytail to help with the pinfall, despite the fact that she utilized it moments earlier.
Bayley is a great heel, and her talents were on full display Sunday. Best of all, the outcome and the way it came about suggests unsettled business with Belair. Not only will that screen time benefit her, but it will also be a tremendous asset for her young rival, who is still finding her footing as the champion.
Raw Triple Threat Overcomes Poor Booking to Blow Past Expectations
Anyone paying attention to the Raw brand knows how repetitive and monotonous it can be. The booking is rarely a strong point of the show, no matter how talented the brand's top stars are. That was certainly the case leading into WrestleMania Backlash, where WWE champion Bobby Lashley defended against Braun Strowman and Drew McIntyre in a Triple Threat Match.
Despite lackluster creative accompanying the match, the champion and his top contenders tore the house down with an incredibly physical three-way bout.
McIntyre showed off his underrated strength as he powered Strowman down on more than one occasion. The Monster Among Men's fury saw him drive McIntyre through the announce table, while a desire to win the match led him to fly off the apron and wipe out the opposition.
In the end, though, it was some good, old-fashioned heel work from Lashley that led the champion to successfully retain. After being driven through part of the pay-per-view set, Lashley bided his time. He waited for the perfect opportunity, and that came seconds after The Scottish Warrior delivered the Claymore to Strowman.
Sneaking back in the ring and disposing of McIntyre, Lashley picked up the win by pinning Strowman.
It was a clever, effective, and logical finish to a match that exceeded expectations and set the stage for another Lashley-McIntyre pay-per-view showdown.
Presumably as early as June's Hell in a Cell pay-per-view.
Hopefully, the writing team behind WWE's flagship can flex its creative muscles a little more before that match so fans are treated to the feud-culminating grudge match both they and the performers themselves deserve.
Roman Reigns' Win vs. Cesaro Is Early Contender for Match of the Year
The best match of 2021 thus far occurred Sunday night as Roman Reigns successfully defended the Universal Championship against Cesaro in a physical, dramatic and emotional encounter.
Starting slow, with Cesaro attempting to outwrestle Reigns early, the match steadily built over time. Ironically enough, it was Reigns who targeted a body part and worked over it while Cesaro appeared content to throw uppercuts and big boots, attempting to strike his way to the title.
An arm injury suffered midway through the bout made it tough for Cesaro to utilize said uppercuts, or to keep his grip tightened during the Sharpshooter, putting him at a clear disadvantage. Late, though, he fired up one last babyface comeback and looked like he might actually capture the title until he found himself trapped in vise-like guillotine submission with nowhere to go.
His body wracked with pain following the intense battle with The Head of the Table, Cesaro passed out and the referee awarded the match to Reigns.
The structure of the match, as well as the drama that built with every high spot, elevated it in terms of quality. Had an actual audience of fans been in attendance, the heat for the main event would have been off the charts.
Still, Reigns and Cesaro proved they did not need a live audience because they were able to manufacture heat, excitement and anticipation through the story they told from bell-to-bell. Reigns, the arrogant champion, trash-talked his way through the match, going as far as to nonchalantly express his love for actual wrestling by saying it's fun for him.
Cesaro, conversely, was excellent as the sympathetic babyface looking to prove he belonged in that moment.
He did, turning in one of the best performances of his career in the best match of 2021 from any promotion so far.
Some will argue that sentiment, but I challenge you to come up with one match that made you feel the way Reigns and Cesaro did for nearly 30 minutes Sunday night. Odds are, you cannot.