Long Live WrESTleMania

Long Live WrESTleMania

I’ll be honest — overall, I really enjoyed WrestleMania 38. There were a few misfires (a two night shoutout for Gable Stevenson, 70,000+ people being forced to lay eyes on Vince McMahon in a tank top) but in general, WrestleMania weekend offered several hits. On Saturday, the world bore witness to a shockingly impressive debut from Logan Paul, who is no doubt setting up a SummerSlam return with his now former partner The Miz, as well as a loud, wholehearted crowd reception for Cody Rhodes (potentially a first in his career). Sunday brought us Sami Zayn in a giant mousetrap and nothing but memeable moments from Pat McAfee.

More WrestleMania Week

While both nights were unfortunately slim pickings for women’s matches — as is Mania tradition, I suppose — these ladies made the most of it. We had a fast paced fatal fourway tag match on Sunday, which saw Sasha Banks earn her first Mania win. Each team had a good amount of time to shine, the match didn’t outstay its welcome, and Banks and Naomi’s victory was a good call to give the division a new path forward. Saturday night had a plodding effort in Charlotte and Ronda Rousey, which didn’t even meet my underwhelming expectations for it. Somehow, this match left me feeling like I’d seen it before, and yet, at the same time, these two had also never interacted before in any capacity. Luckily, Saturday also gave us one of my favorite matches of the entire weekend (both of my top spots belong to Knoxville natives) in Bianca Belair vs Becky Lynch.

Old Wounds, Better Chemistry

Lynch and Belair first began this rivalry back at SummerSlam, when The Man returned to a huge pop and defeated then champ Belair in a tight 26 seconds. It was a bad decision at the time, and after having seen the full story play out over eight months, I’m ready to say it was still an absolutely garbage call. They then met Extreme Rules, in a pretty solid match that saw a returning Sasha Banks once again set her sights on the EST, resulting in a DQ and a triple threat rematch at Crown Jewel. From there, things fizzled out.

It’s worth noting that the chemistry here in their Mania match far surpassed what they had going on during their last one-on-one; Lynch was still newly returned at SummerSlam, easing back in after over a year away from the ring, and has since had plenty of time to dust off those fishnets. Both women brought their A-game to building their feud; Bianca’s Elimination Chamber victory punched her ticket to Mania and brought out an intensity in Lynch that we haven’t seen in some time. Unlike the SmackDown women’s bout that occurred about an hour later, this one hit all the right beats in pacing, spots, and the very clear story being told, cementing Belair as a proper WrestleMania star.

Bianca Belair Becky Lynch WrestleMania 38WWE

Bianca kicked the match off by offering a handshake, a mockery of Lynch’s actions at SummerSlam. Becky refused, and still managed to turn the exchange into a ManHandle Slam, but the EST was out at 2, and we finally got the match we were robbed of last summer. The chemistry helped sell this; I’ve been mixed on Big Time Becks since her return, but she plays the overconfident heel like few others in WWE. She also was really working those bangs, so points for that as well.

Becky dominated for much of the first half, able to counter any offense Bianca attempted. Both women completed some fantastic back and forth, trading near falls and rapid paced offense, proving just how well they’d come to know each other. The rhythm here was great; no spot felt like it dragged, and there were several moments where it genuinely seemed things could go either way. I wouldn’t hate another rematch down the line, but this does feel like the kind of thing WWE could very easily run into the ground, so maybe it’s best to leave it as it is.

Match of the Night

 

After nearly winning by count out, Becky tried for another slam by propping Bianca’s body up on the ropes for leverage, which lead to a backflip that took her straight into the KOD. It was a segment so smooth I watched it several times just to appreciate exactly how it went down, and the result was a resounding victory for the EST. On a purely wrestling level, this was our match of the night; excellent work from both women, a well-built story going into it, and a just finish. Wikipedia tells me it ran for a little under 20 minutes, but in terms of lengthy matches over both nights, this one seemed to fly by for me. Belair’s win, obviously the right call, highlights that even the most broken wrestling company is right twice a day, as they seem to understand just what a gem they have on their hands in Belair.

Bianca Belair Becky Lynch WrestleMania 38 WWE

Last year, one could have argued that Belair was still a rookie, especially against the tenured Banks. She had just made her way to the main roster in 2020, while Sasha had been there and done that on every big stage WWE has to offer, and this was Bianca’s first time at the not-yet stupendous event. This year, not a soul could make that same claim. After a 130+ day reign as SmackDown women’s champion, Belair remained a fixture in the title scene, single-handedly winning Survivor Series for Team Raw, and again lasting almost 50 minutes in the Royal Rumble. WWE has leaned on Belair to help carry the division, and every single time she has delivered. You could feel this attitude shift in her performance this year; there was no trepidation about going toe to toe with Lynch. Maybe The Man got the upperhand last August, but Bianca is someone who learns quickly from her mistakes. She hung through the worst of what Becky could throw at her, matched her move for move, and came out on top this time.

WrestleMania 37 gave us an incredible performance from both Belair and Banks, but the EST was there to play the underdog throughout. This time around, when Belair held up that title, there was no sense of just being happy to have been invited. She was confident and proud, well aware that she deserves this moment and all the ones down the road. WWE has asked a lot of Bianca over the past few years, but her ability to rise to any occasion proves beyond all doubt that she has more than earned her spot at this event for many Manias to come.