The wait for WrestleMania normalcy, plus a weather delay, was well worth as WWE delivered great wrestling, fun moments and memorable main event — and there is another night to go.
Bianca Belair sent sell-out crowd of 25,675 fans at Raymond James Stadium happy by defeating Sasha Banks for the SmackDown women’s championship to close Night 1 of WrestleMania 37 on Saturday. There were some bumps along the way, but there was much more to like. Here are six takeaways from the show:
It was Belair’s moment and she and Sasha Banks absolutely crushed it together in a historic main event that saw two black women wrestle a singles match at WrestleMania for the first time. The two share an emotional moment before the bell rung. It was a star-making performance for Belair, who looked like a complete powerhouse throughout. At one point, Belair rolled up Banks, who just drove through the ropes, and picked her up over her head. She walked up the ring steps and dumped her in the ring. She delivered at standing shooting star press and a 450 splash on top of a bevy of power moves the looked like the hurt watching from the couch.
The snugness of the match was exactly what we’ve come to expect from women’s wrestling in WWE. Banks brought that and frustration on her face throughout put Belair over in a big way. She really was the perfect opponent. Using Belair’s braid to set up a Bank Statement was fun to see.
It was that same braid that finally did Banks in. Belair whipped her with it late, the sound of which could be heard probably outside the Stadium and it left a huge welt on Banks’ side. After a few counter attempts, Belair lifted Banks up and delivered the KOD (Kiss of Death) for the 1-2-3 and the biggest pop and moment of the night to win the SmackDown women’s championship. Tears came down Belair face as her parents went berserk ringside for the kind of moments that transcends wrestling. WWE has it new mega-star and a much-needed fresh face atop its women’s division.
It was all nearly ruined by announcer Michael Cole, who instead of reacting to Belair’s pin, calling a kick out by Banks multiple times until being corrected by Corey Graves. Cole went silent for a while, before going to a championship call. WWE may have to change the audio on Peacock at some point, but it nothing could spoil this for Belair on this night.
This One Hurt
Bobby Lashley is still your WWE champion in the biggest stunner of the night. The match opened the show and Drew McIntyre was the first WWE superstar back in front of fans like he deserved. That’s where the joy ended during the physical and believable roller coaster ride.
The match script seemed to be exactly what McIntyre needed. Lashley looked like a monster as he completely manhandled McIntyre for most of the contest, short-circuiting rally after rally. It gave the Scotsman, who had the crowd behind him, an unbeatable opponent to try to overcome. Lashley kicked from three Future Shock DDTs and then slipped out of the ring, leading to McIntyre doing a rare dive over the ropes to the outside.
McIntyre later got Lashley in a kimura lock for a great high-drama spot thanks to the champion’s selling. With McIntyre set up to finally hit the Claymore, MVP yelled to distract him in a spot that felt very realistic. It opened the door for Lashley, after a failed attempt early, to put The Hurt Lock on. McIntyre tried to use the turnbuckle to flip and break the hold. Lashley held on and McIntyre passed out to end the match.
It’s certainly noble of WWE to keep Lashley as a monster and protect the Hurt Lock, but it makes more sense to give your fans a moment to explode to after more than a year away. Yes, McIntryre fought to the bitter end, got distracted and didn’t tap, but this was a big missed opportunity. Expect a rematch in which MVP can’t get involved. Also, why break up The Hurt Business if Lasley was going to win?
Swinging Good Time
It’s shouldn’t come as a surprise Cesaro and Seth Rollins stole the show. Rollins countered The Swing four times before Cesaro was able to put it on for nine turns. The counters probably should have gone on longer to create a bigger crowd pop, but it played into the story of the match with each guy countering and kicking out of every big move the other hit. Rollin landed a gorgeous corkscrew splash at one point, too.
Cesaro eventually put Rollins in a UFO spin, then 23 swings and a second Neutralizer for the 1-2-3. This was an excellent match and an even better moment for Cesaro to get a win in his first-ever singles match at WrestleMania. His raw emotions to the crowd added even more that. It will be interesting to see what comes next. But a shot at the Universal championship should not be ruled out no matter who wins the triple-threat match on Night 2.
The Raw tag team championship match between New Day and A.J. Style and Omos was a strange one. Big E introduced Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods in a fun moment and Omos wore a pea coat to the ring in one of the oddest attires you will see. It did work considering he is a bodyguard. The phycology was completely backward in this one and only worked to some degree.
New Day cut off the ring by controlling A.J. Styles like a good tag team would — the narrative running through this one. It did have an odd feel seeing New Day working as heels, but it created anticipation from Omos. The Tampa crowd rumbled when he finally got in, but then he proceeds to work as a heel big man and that enthusiasm died. Yes, you can say he was delivering a babyface-like payback for New Day’s treatment of Style, but it didn’t feel right.
Omos treated New Day like rag dolls and had a cool moment when Styles jumped over his shoulder for a Phenomenal Forearm. The big man power-bombed Kingston to get the win while standing on his for the pin. WWE has itself a new monster and a formidable team. It just took a weird route to get there. Styles is also now the 15th grand slam champion WWE history.
Bad Bunny, who entered on the top of a semi truck in one of the night’s best entrances, absolutely nailed his in-ring debut. At no point did he feel like a celebrity trying to wrestle and that’s a big credit to him, his trainers and The Miz and Morrison, who certainly help on a number of moves. The Grammy-winning artist hit the wrestling basics early, sold the beatdown he took in the middle and delivered all the big moves late. Those included a splash off the top rope to the outside, a Canadian (Bunny) Destroyer out on the floor and a cross-body Doomsday device with partner Damien Priest to pin Miz to the crowd delight. This was a huge win for Bunny and WWE.
Weather or Not
After an emotional welcome back to fans from Vince McMahon, WrestleMania went into a 25-minute weather delay. WWE filled the time with backstage interviews It was great to hear WWE talent deliver unscripted promos and most of them nailed it. When the weather finally let up, hosts Hulk Hogan and Titus O’Neil did an open the felt too long. The WWE championship match didn’t get in the ring until 8:45 p.m. Bayley popped up throughout the night in different segments, so it was great to see WWE use her in some way since she did not have a match.
Natalya and Tamina win women’s tag team turmoil
This was pretty predictable but made complete sense as Natalya and Tamina have had the most interaction with women’s tag team champions Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler, who they will face on Night 2. Natalya and Tamina were the last team in and Tamina earned the pin after hitting the “Super Fly” splash in a nice moment.
Earlier in the match, Mandy Rose fell victim to the wet rap, slipping on her way to the ring. The Riott Squad were the runners up in the match, but won the wardrobe battle dressed as the Joker and Harley Quinn. The ring announcer also said they were eliminated even when Liv Morgan has rolled up Mandy Rose for the second fall. The Riott Squad’s time will come. But when?
Braun Strowman over Shane McMahon in a steel cage match
There a ton of weapons involved in this to even the playing field for McMahon. Elias and Jaxson Ryker even attacked Strowman before the match. But we eventually got the big moment we expected from this match. Stroman ripped open a section off the cage to stop a waving McMahon from hitting the floor and then proceeded to throw him off the top of the cage into the ring to finally bring the crowd into it He climbed down, dedicated the match to anyone who was called “stupid” like he had been and gave McMahon the running power slam for the win. This match, despite a lackluster build, was everything it needed to be.
Biggest Winner: Bianca Belair
Biggest Loser: Drew McIntyre
Best entrance: Bad Bunny
Best match: Bianca Belair vs. Sasha Banks