WrestleMania 38, AT&T Stadium, Dallas, Texas
Spanning eight hours, over two nights, witnessed by over 150,000 fans inside the AT&T Stadium, WrestleMania 38 was one for the history books. Stats aside, did the ‘Show of Shows’ live up to the hype? Andy Spoors shrugs off sleep deprivation to round off a huge weekend of wrestling action…
Stupendous – (stjuːˈpɛndəs def. extremely impressive). It’s not exactly a word that most people use in their daily lexicon. Only in the madcap world of professional wrestling and sports entertainment can it feel like a conventional adjective.
Advertising this year as ‘the most stupendous two-night WrestleMania in history’, even received widespread social media ribbing for the sheer audacity and induced countless eye-rolls when mentioned on air.
But as the curtain came down on the ‘Grandest Stage Of Them All’, simply put, there are very few words that could have described WrestleMania 38 quite as aptly.
WWE has a habit of over promising and under delivering when going balls to the wall with these kinds of statements. After all, in 2022, if you set yourself up with such braggadocious claims, you can guarantee a long line of people will be on hand to bring you crashing back down to Earth.
The very best Manias have a mixture of great matches, shock results and the all important moments.
In the home of the Dallas Cowboys, WWE thankfully found a beautiful blend of each…
A stunning return
For all of the fan frenzy that WrestleMania brings, 2022 seemed to hold that little bit extra anticipation. Restrictions have eased and the first full crowd in two years certainly helped, but it was the return of one man that had social media and the wrestling fans buzzing with excitement.
Stone Cold Steve Austin. His name alone is enough to sell thousands of tickets and network buys even 19 years since his last official match. Initially billed as an appearance on the KO Show (Kevin Owens in-ring chat show), things broke down in a hurry. To the surprise of everyone Steve Austin agreed to a ‘No-holds Barred’ match.
Brawling inside the ring, taking a suplex on the concrete floor amidst the WWE Universe, to driving a quad bike up the substantial stage ramp, nowhere was off limits.
For 15 glorious minutes, Stone Cold was back. In an actual fucking match. Even the most hardened heart was for a quarter of an hour or so, glued to proceedings with the biggest grin plastered across their face.
The want to open two cans of beer, smash them together and pour them straight down your face has never been stronger. As always however, sensible heads prevailed and it was enough to live vicariously through the Texas Rattlesnake wishing it was us.
All Rhodes lead to WrestleMania
“From undesirable to undeniable.” That fantastic introduction from Corey Graves on commentary not only served up a potential t-shirt slogan, but perfectly summed up the return of Cody Rhodes to a WWE ring.
In the last six years, words have been spoken, shots fired and a revolutionary movement created in professional wrestling. When leaving WWE in May 2016, Rhodes had become disillusioned with his standing in the company. Given a comedic role in the mid-card was not after all what the son of Dusty Rhodes got into the family business for.
Helping to lay on an independent wrestling show with over 10,000 fans in attendance – on the basis of a bet with a wrestling journalist – signalled the ambition and appetite Rhodes had to prove his worth in the industry.
Joining with entrepreneur Tony Kahn, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) went from ideation and a movement, into a legitimate contender to the industry’s leader. Rhodes has been nothing short of integral to that rise, so his decision to return to WWE after aiming a number of verbal barbs at not just the company but a number of high ranking individuals within it set the industry ablaze.
For that reason, it shouldn’t be that much of a shock that Cody is taking the road less travelled. His father was a trailblazer, but in the modern day this is one of few genuine shocks.
When his music hit, AT&T exploded with noise. This wasn’t a debut or a return from injury kind of pop. This was something else. Something new. A statement of intent heard across the world.
Happily it wasn’t just the impressive backstory or entrance that fans would be left to talk about. The match with Seth Rollins proved that WWE now have two of the best wrestlers in the business on their books. Serving up an instant classic, Rhodes has set the bar high for the rest of his run in the company.
An emotional promo on Raw explained his reason for returning is simple. To do what his father never had the honour of achieving. Win the WWE Championship. With the twinkle in his eye, it would be a brave man that bets against him.
Much of the chatter before WrestleMania was the inclusion of three celebrities or non-WWE Superstars featuring in three different matches. To some, this was tantamount to sacrilege and a spit in the eye to those that tour week in week out but failed to feature on the card.
The vast majority of the WWE Universe are wary of outsiders to the industry coming in for a pay day at the expense of the industry. Happily those days seem to have for the most part come and gone. Last year Bad Bunny astonished fans with his high-flying, no fear display at WrestleMania 37.
This year it was the turn of social media personality Logan Paul, ex NFL punter Pat McAfee and Jackass star Johnny Knoxville to try their hand in the ring. Shockingly, all three knocked it out the park.
McAfee is no stranger to a WWE ring. He has featured as part of the SmackDown commentary team, hosted Vince McMahon and Brock Lesnar on his podcast and most importantly had a couple of matches in NXT.
His feud with Adam Cole may have floated under the radar for those not savvy to the then black and gold brand, but his in-ring work and promo skills were evident immediately. Much of the match here at WrestleMania was a carbon copy of his bout at Takeover 30 in 2020. It doesn’t take anything away from the athleticism and charisma the SuperBowl winner displayed on the biggest stage, however.
Played to the ring by the anthemic White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, the WWE Universe were firmly behind McAfee. Serenaded by an acapella version of the song’s bass guitar supplied by the crowd throughout, McAfee claimed victory over Austin Theory. That’s when things really got strange.
An impromptu match with Vince McMahon himself may have ended in defeat, but an appearance by Stone Cold to give stunners to everyone in the ring rolled back the years… and provided a magic Mania moment.
Elsewhere, Logan Paul defied the expectations of many, proving a perfect heel and drawing some serious heat in his match with The Mysterios. Tagging with The Miz will get you some instant crowd reaction, but the audacity to use the late Eddie Guerrero’s Three Amigos suplexes and his frog splash from the top rope sent the fans nuclear.
After being betrayed by his tag partner, don’t be shocked to see Logan appear in a WWE ring again soon.
No-one knew what to expect when it came to Johnny Knoxville and wrestling. Sure, he has made a career out of taking an insane amount of punishment in the most ridiculous ways imaginable. But stepping into any kind of match against one of the most experienced WWE Superstars the company has to offer is another level altogether.
Here, in an ‘Anything Goes Match’ Knoxville delivered. Big time. It is worth pointing out, that the sheer idiocy and absurdness of this ‘match’ only worked due to the ultra-talented Sami Zayn. Willing to sell every single stupid stunt and make it halfway credible speaks volumes to the professionalism and talent Zayn has to offer.
In no world outside of Jackass, could losing to a celebrity after being slapped by a giant hand, hit in the testicles by a bowling ball and mechanical foot, thrown through a table full of mouse traps and bodyslammed by Wee Man work. But magically it did here.
Hats off to not just the commentary of both Michael Cole and Pat McAfee who gamely played along with the craziness as it unfolded, but to all those involved. When you stop to think about it wrestling is nonsensical, in the very best of ways. This match was a superb reminder of exactly that.
Bravo to Bianca and Becky
For all the craziness elsewhere, the WrestleMania card possessed some serious grudge matches. None more so than the excellent rivalry that had brewed between Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch and her challenger Bianca Belair.
The seeds had been sown at last year’s SummerSlam before finally blooming in the build to their match here. No funny gimmicks needed, just plenty of time for two Superstars to tell their story inside the wrestling ring.
Lynch looked every bit the star she has become over her time in WWE. From unsure of who or what she is to the most confident women in the business. Belair has risen through the ranks to effectively main event two WrestleManias in a row. That in itself should be an indication of not just her talent but the faith the company has in her.
After a furious back and forth, it was to be Bianca’s night once again, capturing the Championship and redemption for her 30 second loss last August in one go. Victory means she has now beaten half of the infamous four horsewomen. What price a full collection in the coming years?
Roman Reigns Supreme
Going on last on a wrestling show is supposed to be the most coveted position possible. It is after all, the main event. Going last after an entire extended weekend of wrestling is another thing altogether.
Years of build. Months of promos and chasing back and forward. It all came down to this. A huge weight of expectation and pressure to carry, but in the shape of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, you’d be hard pressed to find two men more accustomed to bearing that responsibility.
Unfortunately, the end product wasn’t quite the show-stopping affair most will have hoped for. Finishing move after finishing move does not a classic make. Like a greatest hits show that has been touring too long, the WWE Universe just about played along.
Thankfully a repeat of the sour atmosphere at WrestleMania 34 never really threatened to resurface, but the match was ultimately disappointingly and shockingly short.
Unsurprisingly it was Reigns that would stand tall to become the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion. Even as the Tribal Chief raised both Championships aloft, the questions of what next rang through.
This match provided a full stop, but fans everywhere will eagerly await the next challenge. The road to next year’s WrestleMania in Los Angeles will not officially start until 2023, but what happens between now and the next few weeks is vitally important to WWE.
All roads lead to the City of Angels, but the route taken will determine just how many are willing to come for the long journey.
Simply put? WWE have to capitalise on the success of a WrestleMania many expected to fall flat. It is time to step up, silence the critics and keep the momentum rolling.
Photography used courtesy of WWE.