Heading into WrestleMania 34, the two top men’s singles title matches couldn’t have been viewed differently by the majority of fans. Most people were looking forward to AJ Style vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship, in what was heavily hyped by WWE as a “dream match.” The WWE Universal Championship match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, on the other hand, was looked on with a shrug of the shoulders by the majority of wrestling fans. It was expected to be good, but predictable, and Styles vs. Nakamura was the bout everyone was extremely jazzed about.
In the end, both matches went on in the last hour or so of WrestleMania, and both matches left fans extremely cold. Styles vs. Nakamura ended up being a perfectly decent match, but was most notable for what happened afterward, with Nakamura making a heel turn. Lesnar vs. Reigns, on the other hand, was fairly hijacked by a crowd that was done caring about the event, and only really reacted to the ending that was anything but what everyone expected.
Now we’re going to get a rematch between Lesnar and Reigns at the Greatest Royal Rumble, and it looks like Nakamura and Styles’ issues have only just begun. But what happened to these huge, huge matches that laid an egg with the live audience?
On the latest Edge and Christian Podcast of Awesomeness, the two WWE Legends spoke about the two title matches, and they chalk some of the issues up to the length of the event, which nearly every fan in the entire world would agree: WrestleMania is at least an hour too long at this point.
Christian weighed in on Styles vs. Nakamura, and why it wasn’t able to live up to expectations. In his mind, it wasn’t just a tired crowd; the dynamic was off due to both characters’ alignment. (Transcript via Wrestling Inc.)
“Sometimes the crowd can affect the perception of a match, [and] I think it happened during this one a little bit. I think that’s where it started to happen when the crowd was getting fatigued. Especially, when it’s two guys that are babyfaces. And, there’s the title on the line, but emotionally, what else is going on? And I think what they did after the match meant more than anything that did in the match.
“I was thinking about the babyface match I had for the world title with Randy Orton when we wrestled at Over the Limit, and I was thinking, what’s the difference between that and this other than one was at Over the Limit and one was at WrestleMania? So, what I was thinking about is the emotion was not good guy – bad guy, heel – babyface. The emotion was, this guy who we’ve wanted to see at this level for like 17 years has been scratching and clawing and finally won it. And then, had it snatched from a guy who’s been patented as ‘the golden boy’ for years and years, and has been molded to be a top superstar gets it back after a couple of days. People didn’t want to see me lose it yet. That was the emotion. ‘Can he get it back? Can he get back to that level already, so quickly after he worked so hard to get there?’ People liked me, but they didn’t like what happened. That was the emotion.
“On this one, they liked both guys, so [fans] are just kinda choosing a side. There’s nothing else. So, to me, now I can really sink my teeth into this, because I think Nakamura now is gonna do better work. I think he’s gonna work more with a chip on his shoulder, I think he’s gonna work more aggressively. He works aggressive anyway, I think he’s gonna have a mean streak that he hasn’t had before, and I think it’s gonna amp up, and I think he’s done himself a huge favor by the aggression he had after the match, in my opinion.”
They also talked about Lesnar vs. Reigns, and the length of the show. (Transcript also via Wrestling Inc.)
Christian: “I think that it was too long. It’s a long time for people to sit and watch wrestling and stay engaged the entire time. Like, I get it. It’s a huge event. Overall, I thought the card was really good. I thought that pretty much every match delivered. Just like I said, it seems like when people are sitting that long, they just get burnt out after a certain amount of time. Sometimes really great matches don’t seem as good maybe because the crowd is not as hot as they should be and it seems like it could affect the way the matches are viewed when they are really good.”
Edge: “I think that [has] affected Reigns two years in a row now. You want to be in the main event, but you’re in the main event after six-and-a-half hours of wrestling. That’s a tough position to be in, no matter who you are, to try and keep a crowd engaged. It is too long, but I get the flip side. You’re trying to get people on the show.
“I was surprised by [the finish of the match], but that’s not always a bad thing. I think that it’s weird because, like, when … I think the same thing, like Reigns was put in a tough position two years in a row main eventing after a long, long night.”
It was indeed a long, long night, and I really believe that both of these matches are going to benefit greatly from years of hindsight, when you can watch them as individual matches, rather than the caps on seven hours or so of wrestling. But time will tell!