For the first time in 13 months, WWE welcomed fans back to its live events with 25,675 assembling in the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida for the opening night of WrestleMania 37.
Vince McMahon kicked off part one of the WWE’s biggest event in its calendar by standing on the elaborate entrance alongside the entire company roster to welcome back the fans.
The opening night featured seven matches in total with three being title bouts – Drew McIntyre challenged Bobby Lashley for the WWE Championship, AJ Styles and his monstrous bodyguard – Omos – tussled with The New Day for the Raw Tag Team Titles, and Sasha Banks defended her Smackdown Women’s Championship against Bianca Belair in the main event.
The event was hosted by WWE legend, Hulk Hogan, and company global ambassador, Titus O’Neill. Before the matches could kick off, however, for the first time in Mania history there was a delay to proceedings with a torrential downpour halting proceedings by half an hour.
Our resident star ratings aficionado, Mo Chatra, gives his verdict here – each match is rated out of six, with any match rated five stars or more generally considered to be an all-time classic.
WWE Championship Match
Bobby Lashley (c) vs. Drew McIntyre
Night one of WrestleMania kicked off with one of the weekend’s biggest contests as Bobby Lashley locked horns with former champ Drew McIntyre for the WWE title.
Both big men seem really energised by competing in front of a large crowd and pulled out all the stops in a great match. In the end, Lashley retained his belt when the referee called for the bell after Drew was unable to escape from the Hurt Lock.
WWE Women’s Tag Team Title Number One Contenders Tag Team Turmoil Match
Lana & Naomi vs. Billie Kay & Carmella vs. The Riott Squad vs. Dana Brooke & Mandy Rose vs. Natalya & Tamina
The winner of this bout would earn a crack at Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler’s WWE Women’s tag team titles on the night two card. This was comfortably the worst match on the show.
The match featured more than its fair share of sloppiness despite all of the competitors in the match working hard. Natalya and Tamina won the match after 14 minutes to set up a highly unanticipated title bout with Nia and Shayna later tonight.
Seth Rollins vs. Cesaro
Business picked up once more when two of the WWE’s finest clashed. The fans were up for this one – and Rollins and Cesaro fed off of the crowd’s energy. They contested a highly energetic, up-tempo bout that featured two big swings by Cesaro.
In somewhat of an upset, he triumphed over Seth, upending the former WWE champ with a Neutralizer after eleven minutes. A highly enjoyable outing.
Raw Tag Team Championship Match
The New Day (c) vs. AJ Styles & Omos
In Omos’ main roster debut, the 7ft 3in giant linked arms with AJ Styles to take on Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston for the WWE Raw tag team straps. Styles fought most of the match against Woods and Kofi before making a hot tag to Omos (who was competing in only his seventh career match).
The behemoth ran roughshod over the champs before defeating Kingston with a choke bomb to capture the belts for he and Styles. At less than 10 minutes, it was short but served to make Omos look like a future headline act. This was fun.
Steel Cage Match
Shane McMahon vs. Braun Strowman
Before the match began, Elias and Jaxson Ryker came to Shane’s aid and attacked beastly Braun with chairs. Shane continued with the chair-assisted attack when the match commenced in the cage. Towards the end, Strowman thwarted McMahon’s attempt to escape the cage for victory by ripping the mesh and dragging Shane back in.
He then tossed McMahon from the top of the cage right into the middle of the ring. A powerslam later and Strowman had his arm lifted in victory. Given Shane was involved, this was never going to contend for match of the night honours, but it was still perfectly fine and featured several memorable moments.
Tag team match
The Miz & John Morrison vs. Bad Bunny & Damian Priest
In the night’s penultimate bout, celebrity presence in the form of music artist, Bad Bunny, graced the WWE ring. Unlike many past celebrity appearances in the squared circle, Bunny performed impressively well and pulled out a top rope dive to the floor as well as a Canadian Destroyer. He and Priest won this very entertaining effort when Bunny pinned Miz with the Doomsday Device after fifteen minutes.
Smackdown Women’s Championship Match
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Bianca Belair
In a fitting end to night one of WrestleMania, Bianca Belair’s big moment had arrived with a crack at Sasha Banks’ Smackdown Women’s title. The emotion of the moment seemed to get to both before the bell had even rung, with Belair in particular struggling to hold back the tears during the introductions.
The match itself was great – both women crafted a creative, entertaining and emotive bout that had fans in attendance lapping up every moment. It was Belair, after 17 climatic minutes, who ascended to the WWE’s pinnacle when she pinned Banks following a KOD to capture her first championship.
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Once the show managed to commence – after rain stopped play – the seven match show weighed in at a pleasing three hours
If Mania needs to be split over two nights to accommodate all matches, but it results in two shows of acceptable duration, then we’re all in favour of it.
As for night one, it was a superb start to Mania weekend.
Three thrilling matches supplemented by another three good contests (with only one poor bout) set the bar high for night two.
The night was capped off by a thrilling, emotional main event.
The WWE is often criticised for allowing WrestleMania to be a parade of stars from yesteryear, but Shane McMahon aside, this event was framed very much around its present and future.
Let’s see if night two manages the same.