A once-in-a-lifetime performer returned at WrestleMania 38a major surprise was revealed, and the match of the night is one that instantly stands as a candidate for match of the year.
And that was only night one of WrestleMania 38.
The legendary “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had his first match in 19 years, closing out WrestleMania in a no-holds-barred match against Kevin Owens. His performance brought back memories of a past era, one where pro wrestling on Monday nights was must-see television and Austin was the leader of the revolution.
Even at the age of 57, with two balky knees supporting him, Austin’s connection with the audience is as pristine as ever. He worked a physical match with Owens, a performer he holds in extremely high regard, and he felt like old times to see Austin close out the show with a victory celebration of stunners and beer.
Following a six-year absence—one in which he left WWE and established himself as a bona fide main-event talent, helped run the wildly successful All In pay-per-view in 2018 and became an indistinguishable part of All Elite Wrestling—Cody Rhodes returned at WrestleMania to defeat Seth Rollins in dramatic fashion. From the entrance to the finish, this was reminiscent of the famous WWE-WCW battles when a star would change brands. Even though All Elite Wrestling was not directly acknowledged, it was significant that Rhodes came out to the same music and wore the same gear he did while starring in AEW. On a night where it was revealed he signed a a multi-year deal with WWE, Rhodes’s return captured the magic of pro wrestling.
The match of the night took place when Bianca Belair defeated Becky Lynch. The match was incredibly well-executed, beginning with a near-repeat of the frustratingly quick finish that took place at SummerSlam when Lynch beats Belair in only 26 seconds. This was 19 minutes of back-and-forth action and detailed, nuanced storytelling. It is also the single best WrestleMania match of Lynch’s career. For Belair, it is hard to compare this to last year’s WrestleMania main event against Sasha Banks as that was a history-making bout, but it is undeniable that, for the second year in a row, Belair has redefined brilliance at WWE’s signature event.
Belair and Lynch have built to this match over the last eight months, and they seized the moment. This was the only title of the night to change hands. The Usos retained their SmackDown tag titles, and in a surprising finish, SmackDown women’s champ Charlotte Flair pinned Ronda Rousey.
The night was not perfect. Rick Boogs’s right knee gave out on him in the opening match of the night, and the show ran long, preventing The New Day-Sheamus/Ridge Holland match from taking place. But there was solid action throughout the night, genuine tension before the Rhodes reveal, and even an appearance from Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson, who was introduced during the show by Stephanie McMahon.
Here are the results from night one of WrestleMania 38:
- The Usos defeated Shinsuke Nakamura and Rick Boogs to retain the SmackDown tag titles
- Drew McIntyre defeated Happy Corbin
- The Miz and Logan Paul defeated Rey and Dominik Mysterio
- Bianca Belair defeated Becky Lynch to win the Raw women’s championship
- Cody Rhodes defeated Seth Rollins
- SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair defeated Ronda Rousey
- “Stone Cold” Steve Austin defeated Kevin Owens in a no holds barred match
The match of the night was the masterpiece put forth by Belair and Lynch. In just over 19 minutes, Belair and Lynch told an outstanding story, one that capitalized off what appeared to be a wasted opportunity last SummerSlam when Lynch made such quick work of Belair. A key detail was Lynch consistently countering every time Belair attempted a move for a second time. But after escaping the KOD on the first attempt, Lynch met her match, as Belair hit the KOD to kick off her first-ever run with the Raw women’s championship. This was Lynch’s first pay-per-view pin fall defeat since May 2019, and it came together in a perfect manner to help further build Belair into one of the industry’s top stars.
No other match met the standard set by Belair and Lynch, but an altogether different moment was created when Cody Rhodes returned as the mystery opponent for Seth Rollins. This was Rhodes’s first WrestleMania match in six years, when he worked as Stardust in a multi-man ladder match for the Intercontinental title at the very same venue at the AT&T Center in Texas.
The storyline was that, no matter the opponent, this was going to be Rollins’s moment—and, clearly, that was stolen away by Rhodes. This was a compelling match, with a fair amount of emotion embedded into it given all of Rhodes’s history with WWE. He left in 2016 amid frustration and abject disappointment that WWE’s decision-makers did not see him as someone that could work the top of the card or carry the brand. During his time away, which included runs in Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and throughout the indies, and then in a star-making run in AEW, Rhodes proved he is, in fact, a headline act. As the first major talent from AEW to defect, his run in WWE is critical.
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The most surprising finish of the night was Charlotte Flair defeating Ronda Rousey. The finish took place right after Rousey made Flair tap with her arm bar, but the referee was knocked out and never saw it. After Rousey turned her back on Flair to help the ref back to his feet, Flair dropped her with a big boot for the win.
Speaking earlier this week with Sports IllustratedFlair shared that she dedicated the match to her late brother Reid.
“My little brother put me on this path,” Flair told SI. “That’s why I’m here. That’s why I take this all so seriously.
“March 29th is the anniversary of when he passed away. It’s such a gloomy time. Nine years ago, he was going to see me wrestle at Axxess for the very first time. He came home from Japan, but that’s when he passed away. So this time of year is extra emotional for me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”
Rousey is an MMA pioneer and a massive star, yet she has failed to connect with WWE crowds as a fan favorite. Becoming a villain would prolong his career in WWE. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Rousey—who won the Royal Rumble this past January—was not booked to win this match due to concerns of the crowd’s reaction, which likely would not have been positive, had she beat Flair.
“I’m protecting my business,” said Flair. “She’s an outsider. This is my world.”
The show opened with The Usos defeating Shinsuke Nakamura and Rick Boogs. The match was marred by injury, as Boogs’ right knee collapsed during a spot when he had both Jimmy and Jey Uso on his back. He was carried to the back and it was later revealed he tore his quadricep patella. This wrapped shortly after the injury, as Nakamura was pinned by Jey Uso following the 1D. The Usos are integral components in the success of WWE’s week-to-week product, and they deserved this moment—but the mood was dampened by the Boogs injury.
Drew McIntyre defeated Happy Corbin in the second match of the night, which should put a bow on their seemingly never-ending feud. This match wasn’t star-making by any means, but it is important for McIntyre to string a number of wins together if he is going to make a run at Roman Reigns in the coming weeks.
There was some star power in the next bout, as The Miz and Logan Paul teamed together to defeat Rey and Dominik Mysterio. The Miz outsmarted the Mysterios with a blind tag, then surprisingly pinned Rey—and not Dom—for the victory. During the post-match celebration, Miz hit a Skull Crushing Finale on Paul, further illustrating he is only looking out for himself. Paul was outstanding in the ring, as well as naturally disliked by the crowd, and appears to be a natural fit for WWE.
The first night of WrestleMania 38 went head-to-head with the NCAA Final Four, including the most highly anticipated college basketball game of the past decade in Duke-North Carolina, yet it will steal its share of mainstream headlines. Watching Austin wrestle in the main event was equal parts nostalgic and captivating, Rhodes’s return will live on as a genuine WrestleMania moment, and the Belair-Lynch match was phenomenal. Overall, the night was a resounding success for WWE.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @justin barrasso.
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