From Friday April 6th through Tuesday April 10th, the WWE housed its largest weekend of the year. The weekend started with the Hall of Fame inductees for the WWE Class of 2018 Hall of Fame ceremony. Inductees included Hillbilly Jim, Mark Henry, Jeff Jarrett, Ivory, The Dudley Boyz, and was headlined by none other than Goldberg. While the night itself is historically uneventful, it's the kickoff to the greatest weekend of WWE's year and was highlighted specifically this year with some great speeches.
The Saturday night even could be argued as the best night of the entire weekend as NXT put on a tremendous show at NXT Takeover: New Orleans. The event started with a 6 man ladder match for the newly formed North American Championship which included Adam Cole, Killian Dain, Lars Sullivan, Velveteen Dream, and two new debuts - EC3 and Ricochet. It was a spot fest and arguably the best match on the card, but it certainly did not disappoint to kick off the show. Adam Cole ultimately won by tipping Ricochet off the ladder and quickly climbing it himself. Next, Shayna Baszler, former UFC fighter, won the NXT Women's Championship from Ember Moon (more on her in a moment) and then hugged it out with Rhonda Rousey after the match. WWE is quickly piling up a large number of former UFC fighters. The NXT Tag Team Championship match was a triple threat match between The Undisputed Era (champions), The Authors of Pain, and Pete Dunne/Roderick Strong. There was a legitimate injury prior to the match which forced Adam Cole to sub in for The Undisputed Era, fighting his 2nd match within an hour. With the help of A Roderick Strong turn, UE won the match and retained the gold. The NXT Championship also changed hands as Aleister Black defeated Andrade "Cien" Almas in a fantastic match which highlighted both competitors strengths. The final bout of the night was an unsanctioned match between "unemployed" Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. This is a long standing feud filled with real injuries and about a two year backstory. I'd suggest looking into it if you really don't know the tale.
NXT is a very different brand than either Raw or Smackdown, or the "main roster" shows as they're referred to. The crowds are more excited, the characters are more developed, and the overall action just seems better. Again, it may be an argument, but this show likely topped the majority of WrestleMania in my opinion.
Speaking of WrestleMania, Andy and I both picked each match on the card and Andy undoubtedly dethroned me from my own game. The first two matches, in my opinon, were the best two on the card. The opener was a triple threat match for the Intercontinental Championship between The Miz (champion), Finn Balor, and Seth Rollins. It was a great back and forth between three wrestlers who have great chemistry and it showed throughout. The match ended with Seth Rollins winning the title, which I think will be a good move long term. The second match was the Smackdown Women's Championship match between Charlotte Flair and the undefeated Asuka. This was possibly the match of the night as both women gave their all and Charlotte ended Asuka's streak, retaining her title. Andy correctly picked both of these matches as I personally missed them.
Ronda Rousey made her in ring debut and put on what was likely the third best match of the night as her and Kurt Angle defeated the "bosses" Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Rousey was very over with the crowd and performed very, very well after the buildup was questionable at best.
A couple dazzling returns occurred as The Undertaker finally answered John Cena's challenge and defeated him in what equated to a squash match. Daniel Bryan also made his in ring debut after several years as a part of a tag team win. He wrestled again two nights later and has looked tremendous in the ring.
The final three matches showed some surprise as Shinsuke Nakamura lost his WWE Championshp matched and then turned heel by cheapshotting AJ Styles after the bell. Braun Strowman chose a partner from the crowd for his Raw Tag Team Championship match, which ended up being 10 year old, Nicolas, and they won the belts. They forfeited them the next night because Nicolas had 4th grade interfering with his travel schedule. The last match of the night was a huge surprise as Brock Lesnar defeated Roman Reigns to retain his Universal Championship. Brock has been announced to go back to the UFC and there was reportedly a heated confrontation after the match between Brock and Vince/Shane McMahon.
Other results included "Woken" Matt Hardy winning the Andre the Giant Battle Royal, Namoi winning the Women's Battle Royal, Cedric Alexander winning the Cruiserweight Championship, Jinder Mahal winning the U.S. Championship, The Bludgeon Brothers winning the Smackdown Tag Team Championship, and Nia Jax winning the Raw Women's Championship.
The Raw (and now Smackdown) after WrestleMania serve as a hot crowd and lots of debuts and surprises so I'll highlight those below:
Raw - Ember Moon (mentioned above losing her NXT Women's Title) debuted along with No Way Jose and AoP (Authors of Pain) as call ups from NXT. Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe returned from injury and both played significant roles on Raw. Paige was forced to announce her in ring retirement due to injury in a very emotional but great segment and lastly, Bobby Lashley returned to the WWE after spending a decent amount of time in TNA (Impact).
Smackdown - Paige didn't find herself down for too long as she was announced as the new General Manager, taking over for Daniel Bryan who is now a full time in ring competitor. Again, another great segment as Paige is getting a lot of support. The Iconic Duo (now just Iconics - Peyton Royce and Billie Kay) debuted and attacked Charlotte Flair, leading to the (finally!) cash in of Carmella's Money in the Bank briefcase where she had to do nothing but kick Charlotte once and is the new WWE Smackdown Women's Champion. The only other item of note, as mentioned earlier, was Daniel Bryan faced AJ Styles in a "dream match" but was interrupted by Shinsuke being a heel, again, and attacking both competitors.
All in all, this was a great weekend for the WWE and now next week we get a Superstar Shake Up where superstars will change brands (Raw and Smackdown) and there are no more brand-specific PPVs for the remainder of the year. It should be interesting to see how the rest of the year goes. Thanks to everyone for tuning in and congratulations to Andy on winning the first ever WrestleMania Challenge (or wet dream). Next year, you won't be so lucky!