The word WWE used to describe WrestleMania 38 was “stupendous.” Surreal was more like so far. On Night 1, we saw “Stone Cold” Steve Austin have his first match in 19 years, Cody Rhodes return, Ronda Rousey get screwed and Bianca Belair reaffirm her star. Here are five highlights from the opening night of WrestleMania 2022 at AT&T Stadium on Saturday.
Stone Cold!, Stone Cold!
There is “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and then their is everyone else — still. The Texas Rattlesnake won his first match in 19 years in an impromptu “no holds barred” battle in the main event. It was believable, hard hitting and a fun trip down memory lane. It allowed Austin, whose previous match was a loss to The Rock at WrestleMania 19, to close his career where he began in Dallas.
Austin entered to one of the loudest pop you will ever hear after Owens continued to talk smack 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, because he brought him there for a match.
While there was plenty of brawling, Austin took a suplex onto the concrete when the two brought things into the crowed. He even drove Owens up to stage on his signature buggy. They fought up there with Austin, who stopped to drink bear occasionally throughout the match, suplexing Owens twice on the stage before rolling him down the ramp.
When they got in the ring, Owens was able to hit a beer-distracted Austin with a Stunner, but the Hall of Famer kicked out. Austin turned Owens’ 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 to Owens, plenty of beer drinking and Austin getting to closing out another WrestleMania with his brother in the ring. Owens — a life-long fan of Austin — bumped and sold his butt off for his hero and should be celebrated for everything he did during this feud.
WWE has struggled at times building true babyfaces, but they deserve credit for consistently hitting the right notes with Bianca Belair. The EST got an all-time WrestleMania entrance. An entire marching band played her out before she put on a second straight excellent WrestleMania match and earned another championship win at WWE’s biggest show. Belair is a superstar and WWE is treating her that way by having her take the Raw women’s championship from Lynch.
The two started with an early callback to their SummerSlam match, this time Belair extending her hand to Lynch. They traded counters until Big Time Becks hit the Man-handle Slam but was unable to get the quick pin this time. It set the tone that this wasn’t going to end in 26 seconds. Instead we got a chess match of counters with having moments of doubt of whether they could win.
The EST, who topped Sasha Banks for the SmackDown belt last year, finally won by flipping off the top turnbuckle to counter Lynch trying to hit another Man-Handle slam. She got Lynch up on her shoulder and the crowd to her feet for a Kiss of Death to seal the victory.
What’s next for Lynch — who hasn’t had a bad match since returning — remains to be seen. Does she take some time off? Does she stay a heel as Big Time Becks or slowly work her way back to her babyface The Man gimmick or something different?
The rumors and reports proved to be true, but it was surreal to see Cody Rhodes, the former All Elite Wrestling executive vice president, back in WWE after six years. He and Seth Rollins delivered a beautifully told story that had 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 put Rollins down for good. Cody will be an executive producer and appear on the upcoming A&E ‘Biography’ about his dad in conjunction with WWE.
To start, Rollins waited in the ring a little extra before the lights dimmed and Rhodes arose from the stage to a humongous pop as the American Nightmare. Nothing about his presentation changed from his ring gear and music, but his wife Brandi was absent as he proved to be Rollins’ mystery opponent. Gone were the boos Rhodes was receiving late in his run in AEW as he got a huge babyface response. He even got in an old Stardust taunt just to connect the dots to the way WWE fans last saw him in the company. Rollins, who has been a flagbearer for WWE, continually welcomed Rhodes back and at one point said “welcome back to the big league, bitch.”
The two had a more old-school, paced wrestling match with the physicality and stiffness increasing as things when along. They each continually hit huge moves that the other kicked out of. After a number of counters, Rollins kicked out of an initial Cross Rhodes and Cody later got the shoulder up after a sweet looking inverted super-plex from the top rope. He saw Rollins get the shoulder up on a Cody Cutter and Seth even did hit a Pedigree, but couldn’t put Rhodes away. The entire presentation equaled a fantastic homecoming story for Rhodes and we now wait to see what he says with a mic in his hand on Monday.
Not Done Yet
Ronda Rousey not winning in her return to WrestleMania was certainly the shock of the night. While the finish to her SmackDown women’s championship match with Charlotte Flair didn’t feel quite worthy of a WrestleMania, this is the first real adversity we will see Rousey face in WWE and that’s not a bad thing for babyfaces. When she lost at WrestleMania 35 we didn’t see her again until her Royal Rumble return this year.
Flair got out of numerous Ankle Locks and Rousey reversed a Figure 8 with some extra torque in a match that centered around they story of them wanted to make match the other submit. “The Baddest Woman on the Planet” saw the champion Flair at one point get her foot on the rope even as referee Charles Robinson counted to three. After that, she kicked Flair into Robinson and knocking him out before getting The Queens in an armbar and watching her tap out with no referee to see it. Flair responded by hitting a big boot to escape with the victory and her title. It likely means we haven’t seen the last of Flair-Rousey and maybe it calumniates at Hell in a Cell in June.
The Mysterios vs. The Miz and Logan Paul was about respect and the lack there of – even into the post-match. Paul definitely earned pro wrestling fans’ respect and looked like a great heel while disrespecting the Mysterios in every way. The YouTube-star-turned-boxer did all the basics, hit a blockbuster, a powerslam and a double suplex with Miz. He then did Eddie Guerrero’s Three Amigo and Frog Slash to Rey.
The match turned and after a double 619 to Paul, Miz tagged himself to save Paul and hit the Skull Crushing Finale on Rey for the 1-2-3. After the match, despite having Paul getting booed by the crowd, Miz turned on his partner with a Skull Crushing Finale and blew him a kiss from the ramp.
While a potential Logan Paul-Miz feud makes sense on some level, both of them work better as heels. Maybe it was just for a shocking moment, fans wanting to see Paul get his from someone or Miz’s character just not wanting to share the spotlight with anyone. It doesn’t make much sense on any other level.
The Usos over Shinsuke Nakmura and Rick Boogs to retain the SmackDown tag team championship
A legit injury to Boogs sent this match off the rails and it reportedly led to the finish being changed. Jimmy and Jey Uso both jumped on Boogs’ back early in the match and he quickly crumpled to the ground holding his knee. Social media photos showed him getting carried to the back. The match quickly became 2-on-1. The Uso eventually hit the One-D on Nakamura to win it and extend their historic reign. WWE announced Boogs had a torn quadriceps patella and will require surgery.
Drew McIntyre over 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 broadcast and expect it to be used in storyline after the Happy one’s winning streak was ended by a Claymore. McIntyre ended things by slicing the top two ropes with Angela going after Madcap Moss. Good solid match with the big kick-out and cool closing 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 was cut for time. Sheamus tweeted a scissors emoji. That match has been moved to Sunday.
WWE announced WrestleMania 39 in Los Angles will be two nights on April 1-2.
Biggest Winner: Bianca Belair
Biggest Loser: Happy Corbin
Best Match: Cody Rhodes vs. Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch vs. Bianca Belair
Best Entrance: Bianca Belair