On an evening and weekend that’s meant to have a good time the sheer enormity of WWE–the bombast, the cultural attain, the cash, the sheer scale of all of it–it was two guys who made their names in numerous, darkly lit auditoriums and armories and bingo halls and no matter different seedy nook you would possibly discover indie wrestling reveals. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, regardless of how lengthy their WWE careers go from right here, will at all times be seen as two guys, possibly the one two guys aside from Bryan Danielson, who’ve climbed the longest street to the best level within the wrestling business. It’s what made their successful of the tag crew titles over the Usos in WrestleMania Evening 1’s predominant occasion so candy.
It’s actually in juxtaposition with what Mania usually is, and what the remainder of the cardboard shapes up. The whole lot else about Mania is simply so WWE. The model mascots had been at ringside for a few matches. The bare catering to non-wrestling followers and regardless of the firm views because the mainstream by means of Logan Paul. And most of all, WWE’s imaginative and prescient of wrestling. Just about everybody else who’s populating the highest of the cardboard on each nights are WWE merchandise wrestling WWE matches. The opposite predominant occasion tonight is Roman Reigns. Cody could brandish his indie creds as empty as they’re, however he’s a New York boy whether or not he likes it or not. Charlotte Aptitude misplaced to Rhea Ripley, who got here by means of NXT largely after it went from WWE Community experimental lab to simply one other TV product. Austin Idea, Bianca Belair, Edge, Sheamus, Drew McIntyre (a bit unfair given his historical past however he’s had two whacks in WWE too), Dominik Mysterio, that is who WWE values.
Owens and Zayn had been launched to WWE audiences by means of NXT as nicely, however they spearheaded the time when Triple H was utilizing the liberty he needed to flip NXT into an impartial wrestling workshop. The place it felt like he needed to bottle the very best of what WWE didn’t have and couldn’t do and discover a method to get it into the WWE world. Sami and KO had winded their manner by means of PWG and ROH and dozens of different corporations and had actual avenue cred amongst the indie followers, a crowd that after upon a time HHH needed to make really feel welcome into the WWE world that they’d turned away from.
They’ve been within the firm a great whereas now, however they haven’t actually modified who they’re, and so they’re each so good at it that WWE hasn’t been ready or actually even needed to plasticize them as they’ve with others. Owens’s gig has at all times been that he really watches the present and might level out each drawback with it, as all his followers are, whereas placing on nice matches with anybody when he will get within the ring, wanting and wrestling just like the fan who jumped over the railing and simply obtained within the ring and regarded so at dwelling nobody bothered to cease him.
Zayn’s path has been a little bumpier, bouncing on and off TV for pretty much his whole main roster career until he found something that stuck with his infiltration and eventual betrayal of the Bloodline. But whether he’s been the plucky DIY face or the conspiracy-theorist heel, he’s still been Sami. Hairy as shit, a little awkward in every way, and making up for it by diving face-first into everything with a wicked sense of humor and never taking himself seriously.
They can wrestle the WWE style, but they can do a lot of other things too. Because they’ve been so good at that, the powers that be have never been truly able to water them down all that much. The fans wouldn’t allow it.
They’ve always been linked. They come from the same area, they’ve toured the indies together, they joined NXT together, and they arrived on the main roster basically together. Their first Mania match was together in a seven-man ladder match. It was fated that their biggest moment would have to come together.
This moment and match call back to so much, mostly to the first big PPV match the two had with each other when Zayn hit Owens with multiple Helluva kicks. They had a Mania match against each other just two years ago. They’re never without each other.
Was it equal to having Zayn claim the undisputed title over Reigns in Montreal six weeks ago? Of course not! This was the easier path for WWE, given how it usually treats the tag division and doesn’t knock the company off the much shinier but much emptier path of Reigns and Rhodes. After all, that’s what WWE does, Big, gleaming, hollow.
Owens and Zayn are not that. Zayn claiming the title in his hometown would have stood singularly on its own as a famous moment. This one will just be in a collection of “Mania moments.” But the fact that two guys like Owens and Zayn who are so in opposition to what WWE usually projects–gruff, stained, with multitudes of depth and history–ended the first night of the biggest show is still truly special. It is a reward for fans who wouldn’t let these two change and stuck with them through some pretty fallow periods. It’s a reward for the whole wrestling world.
And frankly, the first night of WrestleMania needed it. Charlotte and Rhea had an absolute classic, proving that the four to six times a year when Charlotte actually wants to she is still capable of stealing any show. As hard-hitting and brutal as you’ll find any women’s match in WWE. Combined with the main event it turned around a show that was pretty listless. Whatever the delusion is about Dominik Mysterio I haven’t been afflicted with it yet. He’s cardboard in the ring and on the mic, and neither he nor creative can seem to lean anywhere near enough into the joke of his vision of himself as a prison hardass to the reality of his being a pampered submissive. None of it works.
The four-team tag match wanted to be the good kind of car crash, a spot-fest where the brakes are never hit but meandered for far too long between those spots to hit that speed. They couldn’t even manage to try and boost Theory’s rep with a clean win, because they had to protect (checks notes) a guy who wrestles twice a year, and thus no one looked good. Seth Rollins and Paul were fine enough, but WWE’s pandering to Paul’s fans isn’t really for wrestling fans and this feud hasn’t been going long enough or explained well enough to feel like it was truly cathartic for Rollins.
In the upset of the night, Trish Stratus saved the six-woman tag match from being an absolute disaster, as the chemistry between the other five women hovered somewhere around “sixth-grade dance.” Stratus turned back the clock and looked snappy and lively in the ring, which no one else in the match managed.
But no one cares when it ends like it did, with the catharsis that only one other match provided. Sami and KO provided what wrestling fans crave, just as they’ve always done, even when things have been stacked against them. That’s the foundational story of wrestling, right?