What to Make of Burrow's Transfer and What Now?

What to Make of Burrow’s Transfer and What Now?

When Urban Meyer accepted Joe Burrow’s commitment in the spring of 2014, I had little doubt that Burrow had the skills to play quarterback at Ohio St.  Not because I know anything about evaluating high school talent, but because Urban knows a thing or two about selecting the best of the best. 

4 years later, I still have little doubt that Joe Burrow can play QB at Ohio St. And I’m sure the coaches concur. So, did the coaches make the right move here or should they have done everything in their power to keep Joe Burrow on this roster? That’s the million-dollar question.

After signing Burrow in 2014, Ohio St signed another good QB in the following recruiting class. Strange how Ohio St does that, huh? And like Burrow, Dwayne Haskins didn’t come to Columbus to ride pine. Following JT Barrett’s departure after the ‘17 season, something had to give in the spring of ‘18.  

In mid August of last year, I really thought Joe Burrow would be that guy to replace JT in ‘18. But his hand injury changed things. I still thought Burrow would eventually assert himself as the heir to OSU’s QB throne, but the Michigan game made me think otherwise. Haskins had steel nerves and made plays on the biggest stage there is the very first time that he had ever stepped onto that stage.

But Joe Burrow wasn’t going out without a fight, and I responded to Colin’s pre-Spring game questions telling him not to write-off Joe Burrow just yet. Then Burrow probably outplayed Haskins in the spring game. Still, there were other signs that seemed to point to this being Dwayne Haskins’ team.

Burrow looked great throwing the ball…he always does. But more often than not, Burrow was by himself on the bench when the camera zeroed in on him. Maybe I’m overanalyzing, but the opposite was the case with Haskins, who was involved with seemingly everybody on the sidelines. 

After the scrimmage, Burrow did get props from Nick Bosa after his long TD throw to end the game. But still, when the players sang Carmen Ohio afterward, it was Haskins next to Urban in the front row, while Burrow was in the third row of players. 

In the post-game interview, it was not the Dwayne Haskins that was often grinning from ear to ear in 2017; he was all business. I thought the kid displayed a bit of cockiness….the kind of cockiness you want in your quarterback.

Again, maybe the “this being Dwayne’s team” feeling was reading way too much into this, and the 29 additional practices in August that have yet to occur would have ultimately decided this QB thing. But I don’t think so. 

Joe Burrow is pretty damn good, but I think Haskins’ is probably better and has a higher ceiling. With Haskins’ cannon for an arm, his game in Ann Arbor last November, and him appearing to fill a leadership void, I think Haskins had to get the first shot in ’18 ahead of Burrow.

It would surely be nice to have Joe Burrow stepping in this season if Haskins went down or didn’t cut the mustard after all. But despite being arguably the best coach in college football, these QB controversies appear to be Urban’s kryptonite.  

The situation with having the 3 high-profile QBs in 2015 was not handled well, to say the least. Fast-forward to the 2018 spring game – Burrow and Haskins rotate at  QB….on the same drives…on every drive. After the game, Haskins tolds reporters that this wasn’t just a spring game deal….that this rotation on the same drive was the way it was done throughout spring practice. I mean….really? That doesn’t sound like 2015 all over again….it sounds worse….it sounds ridiculous. 

Again, it’s pretty clear Joe Burrow can play quarterback at Ohio State…that’s never been the question. But there’s a good chance that Burrow’s transfer may translate into a better things for Joe, Dwayne, Urban and this 2018 Ohio State team.

If Burrow becomes a star at his next school, that wouldn’t shock me at all. I hope it happens. But this won’t be the last Buckeye QB to transfer knowing he will be appreciated more elsewhere. It is what it is in big time college football today, and having depth at QB will continue get less and less common.

--Brent Baver

BIG $'s Last Look at the QB's, Darnold's a Bum, Baker's a Brat and.....

Tune into the CD1025 Morning Show Thursday, April 26th at 8:30 am to hear Big $ talking Browns with Brian Phillips. Stream it at . Live draft coverage on Twitter follow @northcoastpossee

So enough with the smokescreens, trade buzz etc. etc. etc, the Browns have exhausted all the cutesy moves in their arsenal to avoid going all in on a QB via the draft. The "We"ll rely on this veteran to coach up a 3rd rounder," the "We'll show everyone and find the diamond in the rough on the 2nd or 3rd day," and my personal favorite, "We traded back into the first for the guy everyone else is passing on," are all tactics which have contributed to this unprecedented run of SUCK. They must take a QB first no matter how many crazy scenarios are presented. So without further adieu here are my thoughts on the QB's in question, presented in no particular order:

Sam Darnold, USC: I've decided to skip the pleasantries and just dive into the player I'm most passionate about. No player has grinded my gears this much since we were watching tape of Johnny Football holding a stack of cash to his ear. At least with Johnny FB, however, I saw some fire and grit, while ole Sam just strikes me as unaffected. In the two full games I watched him play this year (ND and OSU), I saw zero signs of strong leadership, as his head seemed elsewhere as his team got stomped. There is no doubt he is an athlete with a strong frame, but his decision-making is questionable and his mechanics are a mess (see Deshone Kizer). Sam's legacy was cemented by torching the Penn State secondary in January 2017. If this is worthy of a franchise-defining pick, Joseph Thomas Barrett IV should be considered.  (I actually threw up a little in my mouth while typing that.) With all this said, I'm 99% sure he is the pick. God help us all.

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma: So I just referenced being a fan of "fiery grit," and I'm certain it's gonna take a firecracker of a MF-er to lead the Browns out of this quagmire and affect culture change. Baker Mayfield fits the bill, as he's a dude that will not go down without a helluva fight (see police video). However, it's the same police video that concerns me. It is hard to succeed in a team or organizational setting when you suffer from an authority problem. Baker ain't big on taking orders. I mean, the cops that evening were not even looking for Baker, but he had to open his big mouth. If this was an isolated incident it could be forgiven, but petulance has long been a theme in Baker's world. Number one picks are big-time investments and making that type of investment in someone with a track record of not facing consequences due to his brat-tiness is questionable at best. I would steer clear of Baker if I was Dorsey, but if he is the pick, I hope he steers clear of the 9, Floyd Mayweather, and Vegas.

Josh Rosen, UCLA: Full Disclosure, I feel Josh Rosen is the most NFL-ready player in this draft. His tape is eye-popping and his pocket presence is top notch. I just think the concerns about bringing the shiny, West coast gunslinger to Cleveland will end up in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Eventually his low scores on the "Gets us" meter would eat the relationship alive, and both Rosen and the Browns will suffer. Josh I promise, it's not you, it's us. Best of luck, pal.

Lamar Jackson, Louisville: Not really a viable top 5 choice, but if some God-forsaken trade-down does occur I could live with him. 1-31 has not been interesting and/or fun. Lamar Jackson would be both.

Last but not least.....

Josh Allen, Wyoming: Yep, this is my guy: Huge hands...Check; Huge Wonderlic score...Check; Huge Arm...CHECK. I've head the complaints about his accuracy, but football nerds have put a big-time warning sticker on confusing NCAA completion percentage and true accuracy. Josh Allen gets the the ball put where it needs to be with mustard. He is composed in the pocket and in front of the mic, and I'm fully convinced I'm going to watch him succeed elsewhere. Mr. Dorsey, I'm sure you're reading this: Do the right thing and bring Josh to the 216.

So that's my thoughts. Enjoy the draft everyone.  -  Big $

 Who would you trust your franchise to??? #eyeballtest

Who would you trust your franchise to??? #eyeballtest

The Long, Worthwhile Road of WrestleMania Part Two - Bug Vin Vader

I look forward to Kevin Owens’ PPV matches more than anyone else in the company, and even on a bad night, he’s one of the all-around best performers WWE has.  So I was trying to be optimistic going into his WrestleMania match, even knowing that he and Sami Zayn would be in against Shane McMahon.  While I was hardly a fan of Shane taking prominent roles in three straight WrestleManias, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world; his match against AJ Styles last year was somehow the best on the show, and his Hell in a Cell blow-off (supposedly) against KO last October was even better.  The story between the three of them is strong, and they even managed to up the stakes by putting Owens and Zayn’s careers on the line.  But it still felt wrong, like the kind of match we didn’t really need to see.  Then came the huge announcement that Daniel Bryan had been cleared to wrestle, and would likely be put into the match on Shane’s team.  That made it all a little better, and while I hate to celebrate his misfortune, Shane getting hospitalized fordiverticulitis and a hernia made things look even more promising from a wrestling standpoint.  Of course Shane got cleared, so it’s still not definite how much of his injury was legitimate or not.  In his absence, Zayn and Owens turned on Bryan and tried to put him out of action too, so the build was going great.  The match itself was pretty emblematic of the mixed nature of the angle, both good and bad at times, and never as great as it could have been.

Bryan came out to a massive crowd reaction, but that was the least surprising thing on the show.  Zayn and Owens skipped out on their entrances to pop out from the ring and attack Shane and Bryan before the bell, laying the latter out with an apron powerbomb.  That was where the trouble with the match started, since that move kept Daniel out of action for the first ten minutes of the fifteen minute run time.  The crowd was pretty pissed at that point too, since this was supposed to be Bryan’s triumphant return, not Shane McMahon taking a beating from the heel team.  Shane was selling his stomach the whole time, and he did look to be in some sort of pain, but definitely not as bad as we were made to believe.  I didn’t remember any of this part of the match, so I had to rewatch it the other night; turns out there was just nothing especially memorable about it.  Once Bryan did recover and make the hot tag, however, the Superdome lit up, and the match picked up a ton of heat.  You would have a hard time telling he was away for two years by how smooth he was in the ring, and yet again he’s one of the most exciting wrestlers in the company at this point.  In the last five minutes of the match, he held his own against both Owens and Zayn, and pulled out a number of his signature spots, with a top rope Frankensteiner standing out in particular.  Finally, Bryan tied Sami up in the Yes Lock and forced him to tap, leaving the heels unemployed.  It wasn’t a bad match, but if Bryan had been in the whole time, even as a handicap match, it would have been the best of the night, no question.

While it wasn’t ever going to deliver the rush that Charlotte vs. Asuka promised, I had been looking forward to Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax for the RAW women’s title regardless.  Bliss has been one of the bright spots in either brand’s women’s division for the better part of two years, with fantastic mic work and the in-ring talent to back it up.  She’s basically been the Miz of the women’s division, attracting legit heel heat while holding the belt for the better part of that time period.  Jax has always been a convincing monster heel, and lately, even if she’s lost her prestige on the card, her character has developed a bit to make her better-rounded.  That all said, this wasn’t going to be a classic match, even with the performers’ contrasting styles on full display.  Instead, we got a ten-minute contest that was about all it needed to be, with both wrestlers getting in some good offense and demonstrating some decent chemistry.  The title change didn’t pick up much of a reaction since fatigue was likely setting in for the crowd by this point, but Nia deserves a decent run with the championship.

I don’t think there was a more anticipated match at Mania than the WWE championship match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura.  This has been building for well over a year, and has been teased multiple times since Shinsuke was called up to the main roster.  When he won the Royal Rumble this year, it seemed like WWE had finally pulled the trigger on the surefire best possible match they could book.  The build since then was fantastic, with teases but no outright confrontations, and there was interest way beyond what would be expected for a standard face-versus-face match.  Everything was in place, with the biggest factor being that the two participants are among the best wrestlers in the world right now.  Which is exactly why it felt like such a big letdown, despite being a perfectly fine match.  The pace was definitely slower than anyone expected, but the crowd was totally vocal for the first chunk of the action, knowing how capable AJ and Shinsuke are.  They traded strikes and a number of teased finishers, but everything stayed fairly equal as they went along.  A little less than halfway through the match’s twenty-minute slot, however, the crowd started to die down, beginning to realize that this wasn’t going to be the nonstop action and drama they’d been anticipating for so long.  The chemistry between the wrestlers was there, but it just looked like they were being held back somehow, which I’d like to blame on the rehearsal-intensive WWE layout style.  And despite a lot of things failing to connect, they both looked great, with Shinsuke even kicking out of the Phenomenal Forearm and springboard 450 splash.  Unfortunately, this is another match that really didn’t stick with me apart from a feeling of disappointment.  After watching it a second time, I was still let down, but realized that it wasn’t bad by any stretch, just a very different experience from what we were expecting.  AJ eventually won by countering a Kinshasa into a Styles Clash, which was a fine way to close this one out, but the post-match angle got as much heat as anything in the bout itself.  Shinsuke and Styles looked to express mutual admiration, much like Charlotte and Asuka, but Nakamura hit a low blow and repeated knee strikes to Styles.  The heel turn was definitely unexpected, and the crowd was totally mixed on how they should feel.  Personally, it seems like a good move, as it should bring a more ruthless edge to Shinsuke’s character.  Then again, he played a “no-speak-English” card in his promo (certainly scripted by a white man), so maybe he’s just a tired, offensive foreign heel now and that’s the end of it.

I almost don’t want to write about the RAW tag title match, but suppose I ought to say something.  In the weeks leading up to it, there was a lot of talk that Braun Strowman would be alone in challenging Sheamus and Cesaro for their titles, which made sense in a half-baked jokey sort of way.  There was also plenty of speculation that a returning wrestler would be his surprise partner.  What we actually got was Braun pulling a kid out of the audience (who we later found out was a ref’s son) and putting him in the match.  I stopped caring there, and really couldn’t tell you what exactly happened in the match apart from the joke team winning.  Nicholas, the kid, looked terrified of having to do anything, but the whole match lasted less than five minutes anyway, so no worries there.  This was a mess, just a stupid idea in the hopes of getting a little attention for a throwaway match right before the main event.

I made it pretty clear in the weeks leading up to Mania that I was looking very forward to Lesnar versus Reigns in the main event spot, and that continued up to the night of the show.  The plan for Reigns to win the Universal Title had been in place for well over a year, so I had accepted it as inevitable far more willingly than most fans.  On top of that, I’ve moved beyond constantly trashing Reigns and his endless do-no-wrong push, mainly because it isn’t worth the time and energy most fans expend on it.  More than that, I’ve pretty much become a fan of the guy, enjoying nearly all of his main event matches in the last year or so, and it’s hard not to see how good he really is as a wrestler.  One of his best matches in recent years was his previous World title match with Lesnar at WM31, so I came into this one with fully formed expectations.  And even more appealing was the fact that Reigns had been scheduled to take down Brock, who I’ve made it clear I’m no great fan of.  Even as he’s had some great matches over the years, his part-time schedule and ability to simply coast with the Universal Title for more than a year have been constant sources of frustration.  And that’s just looking past his homophobia and general bad attitude.

                I don’t think anyone, Reigns fan or not, could have predicted the sort of weird mess we actually ended up seeing at Mania, and its consequences are still fairly unclear.  The crowd was so ready to hate the match that they started with “this is awful” and “CM Punk” chants before it even got underway; it was the weirdest sort of self-defeating animosity, the kind you’ll only find in wrestling.  You can’t even claim it was fatigue from the runtime causing it, simply because they put so much energy into their vitriol.  Unfortunately, the main event’s problems didn’t end with the crowd reaction since the whole match felt completely off.  It was a typical Lesnar match, with him hitting multiple German suplexes and F-5’s in the first few minutes, all of which Reigns managed to absorb.  They spilled out onto the floor by the announce tables, but instead of ratcheting up tension and teasing table spots, they just threw each other around and looked like they were on totally different pages.  The majority of the match was Lesnar and Reigns trading big moves and kicking out of finishers, but there was no chemistry, and the entire flow just felt wrong.  Near the end, after making it back in the ring and trading some more spears and F-5’s, Lesnar hit Reigns with some legit elbow strikes and busted him open bad.  Even for me, it was a pretty shocking amount of blood, and it covered Roman’s face, the ring mat, and both men’s arms.  Again, it seems so wildly stupid and irresponsible that tiny nicks from blading are banned, but potentially-concussion inducing strikes are the approved method for generating sympathy blood.  And instead of capitalizing on that sympathetic tension, Reigns ate his sixth and final F-5 shortly afterward, ending the match totally against the plan.  Even the anti-Roman legions were shocked by that, and word is the finish was changed the day of the show, so the surprise was legitimate.  That change of plan seems to contradict the assumption that Brock is UFC-bound, as does his newly-signed (though allegedly short-term) contract, so everything is up in the air at this point.

    That was a lot of wrestling for a single afternoon/evening, and it sure felt like it at the time it was playing live.  But it was still a pretty damn enjoyable show, and in my opinion, totally worth the time spent watching.  There were no huge surprises like last year’s Hardy Boyz return, and there were no all-time classic matches.  At the same time, there were no meandering, throwaway segments catering to mainstream media coverage, or unbearable live music performances for the same purposes.  There was plenty of weirdness, a few title changes, and some legitimate surprises on the booking front, so I doubt anyone will remember this Mania as a minor event.  I’ve watched the last four shows live, and while 31 holds a special spot for me, this was definitely the best one since the 2015 incarnation, and at least the low points look to drive some interesting stories in the future.  Some things are already even set into motion, with varying results.       

            The next major show is the so-called Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia, a PPV which has stirred up decidedly mixed reactions.  First of all, nobody wants to see a fifty man rumble match that will last nearly two hours.  That’s way too long, and way too many people in the ring, even if it does mean we should get to see some NXT talent make appearances.  The biggest issue is the fact that there will be no women’s matches on the show, nor any of the female talent on the tour itself due to the cultural restrictions in place.  For a company that constantly touts its role in breaking new ground for female wrestlers, they sure did sell them down the river for a hefty sum of cash from the Saudi government.  Then again, it’s always been about the business, and progressive politics really have no place in wrestling unless you’re getting a soundbite out of them.  It’s like we shouldn’t even be disappointed at this stage.  Also, the Rusev vs. Undertaker casket match is either back on or not.  I can’t keep track, but it seems like WWE haven’t made up their mind if Rusev or Jericho will take part in the match nobody asked for.

            On the positive side, there are a number of matches that look to be pretty incredible on paper.  Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, The Miz, and Samoa Joe are in a four-way ladder match for the Intercontinental Title, which should outdo Mania’s IC match and then some.  Here’s hoping Joe is bound for a big win now that he’s back from injury.  Also, even though I should know better, I’m looking forward to the Universal Title match between Lesnar and Reigns yet again, mainly because this one is a steel cage match.  If this is the time for a title change, there’s no way they wouldn’t up the stakes as well as the brutality for such a publicized show.  Also, it’s not really good news, but the RAW tag titles are up for grabs again after Strowman and Nicholas were forced to vacate them the night after Mania.  That means that match was as much a waste of time as Nikki Bella & John Cena vs. The Miz and Maryse at last year’s WrestleMania.  As much as I want to complain about that, and the Greatest Rumble itself, we all know that I’m gonna watch at least half of it and can’t really complain.

The Long, Worthwhile Road of WrestleMania Part One - by Big Vin Vader

The Long, Worthwhile Road of WrestleMania    follow @Bigvinvader

WrestleMania was, as always, a mixed bag.  I went into the show fairly excited, with Asuka vs. Charlotte and AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura my picks for matches of the weekend; both ended up disappointing in some regard.  Other matches lived up to their marginal potential (looking at the tag title matches), and the Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns main event was just total dead weight despite its promise of action.  And it was an exhausting, seven hour slog counting the pre-show, so the final part of the card was just a blur.  That said, however, I had a blast watching the show, and even when the quality was lagging, something about the spectacle of the whole thing had me on board.  There’s a joy in giving over an entire Sunday to the biggest wrestling event of the year and letting yourself become immersed in the experience.  It’s the kind of exhaustion that you deserve after choosing to spend an entire day on your ass watching nothing but a single wrestling show.  After all, nobody has to stay put for the entire seven-hour stretch, but I know more people who do than give up halfway.

            Top to bottom, 5:00 PM to midnight, there were fourteen matches planned for the show, since just about everyone expected the Undertaker to answer John Cena’s challenge.  That said, I was incredibly into the idea of John getting stiffed and just sitting in the crowd to watch the action.  WWE humored me for a while, and some of the most entertaining moments of the whole evening were the cutaways to Cena sitting in the front row, sipping beer and mingling with fans.  Even better were the mid-match shots of him nodding, impressed, and giving thumbs-up to the action in the ring.  It was great, and on another level, it was Cena watching and admiring the undercard workhorses who never get the spotlight; he was seeing pre-show matches he would probably never view in any other circumstance.  But all of the fun was ruined a few matches in when a ref came out to whisper in John’s ear, and off he went backstage.

            The dual Battle Royals were put on the pre-show, which was about the wisest move they could have made, after dropping the Fabulous Moolah’s name from the women’s bout.  There isn’t really much to say about either, although it was very nice to see some representation of NXT’s women’s division in the latter match.  They also deserve some praise for their surprise choices of winners.  Matt Hardy won the men’s match over Baron Corbin, and when it looked like Bayley had the women’s match on lock after turning on Sasha Banks, Naomi snuck in and snagged the victory.  Nothing too exciting as far as overall action, and given how little has happened to last year’s winner, Mojo Rawley, it remains to be seen if there’s anything to come based on the results.  Also, the women's trophy was clearly shaped like the female reproductive system, complete with uterus and ovaries.  Can't believe I haven't seen anyone mention that.

            In between the Battle Royals was the final tournament match to decide the new Cruiserweight champion, following Enzo Amore’s ouster from the company.  Cedric Alexander was one of the strongest participants in the Cruiserweight Classic, and he’s been a highlight of the division ever since having the match of that tournament against Kota Ibushi.  Mustafa Ali has been a quieter part of the roster since the initial event, but has been putting in some impressive showings.  It made perfect sense that these two would make it to the finals (although I wouldn’t have minded Drew Gulak going further), just as it was hardly surprising that their match ended up on the pre-show.  Despite that, they had a pretty captive audience, and the crowd actually reacted to everything, which made it come off better than last year’s Neville vs. Austin Aries match, even if it wasn’t quite on the same level wrestling-wise.  All told, it was a very enjoyable twelve minutes, and both wrestlers looked great, easily outshining the other pre-show matches.  Ali busted out his great inverted 450 Splash, but Alexander rightfully got the title with a Lumbar Check.  It isn’t an all-time classic, but it was definitely the right match to get me into the spirit of the show and move things along.

            Pretty much everything about the lead-off Intercontinental Title three-way between The Miz, Finn Balor and Seth Rollins was great.  It was one of the matches that seemed like a sure shot in the weeks leading up to Mania, even if its build was somewhat quieter than the other title matches.  It goes without saying at this point just how great Rollins and Balor are in the ring, and there’s no denying how over they are with the fans.  Plus, The Miz has rarely faltered since he first came into the IC belt picture after WM 32, and his terrific heel work has helped restore that title to prominence.  Also of note was Balor’s pro-LGBTQ entrance, a stance which doesn’t smack of the usual WWE cynicism simply because there’s no doubt that Finn is totally genuine.  From there on, there was nonstop action for the entire match, and the crowd was completely hot for the opener.  The pacing was perfect, and these three have great chemistry in the ring, making sure everything went smoothly and looked perfect.  The Miz kept the Miztourage out on his own accord, which proved that he can work a match and hold the crowd just as well when he isn’t a blatant heel.  At fifteen minutes, it was the perfect length, and I can’t think of a better choice to open up the show.  Rollins won his first Intercontinental title after pinning The Miz, becoming a Triple Crown Champion in the process.  Personally, I was hoping for a Balor win since he’s been title-deficient since forfeiting the Universal Championship, but I was fine with any of the three winning.  In hindsight, this was one of the best matches of the night.

               I was honestly looking forward to the SmackDown Women’s title match between Charlotte and Asuka just as much as AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, which is why it was confusing to see it come so early on the show after the IC match.  Ever since Asuka (deservedly) won the Women’s Royal Rumble, it seemed more or less certain that she would go on to challenge Charlotte as they are two of the company’s best all-around performers, let alone in the women’s division.  Plus, there was everything at stake since Asuka was putting her undefeated streak on the line for the title.  Everything about it spelled out a classic.  The match definitely delivered on its promise, and both wrestlers were fantastic, showing some good chemistry and maintaining an equal footing.  They had just shy of fifteen minutes to work, which was about the perfect amount of time, although I wouldn’t have minded it going a bit longer.  Asuka’s in-ring game is nearly flawless, definitely one of the best in the company, and she really seemed to shine here since she was paired with somebody nearly at her own level.   Charlotte always manages to step her game up at WrestleMania, and she pulled out a number of brand new moves that were especially impressive.  There was plenty of high flying, and the right balance of strikes and mat-based work to keep the crowd on edge with them.  This was probably my pick for match of the night, and everything came off so well that the finish was all the more disheartening.  After almost no work on Asuka’s legs, Charlotte got her to tap out almost instantly to the first Figure Eight she managed to lock on.  Not exactly how I wanted to see the streak end (if it had to at all), and even worse was Asuka announcing that Charlotte was indeed ready for her.  Good god.  Still, a very good match I enjoyed all the way through.  Also, this was the first time we saw the horrible 3D-projected graphics they insisted on using throughout the show.  In this case, Asuka’s entrance featured giant 3D Kabuki masks hovering above the ramp.

                The US Title match was up next, which in hindsight should have been the first warning that they were front-loading the card.  This one looked to be nothing special, just a solid title match with the ever-reliable Bobby Roode and Randy Orton, as well as Jinder Mahal for some reason.  There was a lot of excitement at Rusev being added at the last minute, and he’s arguably the most popular wrestler on the roster at the moment, despite floundering with no notable wins in some time.  The possibility of his victory was really what appealed in this match, but instead we got two disappointments back to back.  The match went less than ten minutes, which was smart, and it had some good exchanges between all four competitors, with some decent near falls and finisher spots.  It didn’t overstay its welcome, which is even better given the fact that Mahal actually pinned Rusev after another run-in spot from Sunil Singh.  Nobody was ready for that, and nobody can really claim that it’s how it should have ended.  Even discouraged as I was by this point, I was still having a great time with the show overall.

                From the moment Ronda Rousey appeared at the Royal Rumble and signed with WWE, I had a bad feeling about her role at WrestleMania.  It only got worse as the news broke that they were planning a mixed tag match pitting Rousey and the Rock (ultimately Kurt Angle) against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon.  That just smacked of the worst sort of McMahon family egotism, and it wasn’t hard to picture the Helmsley/McMahon dynasty putting themselves in the main event spotlight.  Not to mention the fact that Rousey had yet to be tested in a wrestling match and Angle hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in his most recent outings for the company.  Luckily it wasn’t the main event, but came fourth.  Still, I carried that predisposition to hate the match with me Sunday night, and it definitely colored my first impression.  It wasn’t a great start to see another absurd entrance from Triple H, with him and Steph riding in on motorcycles like he did the previous year.  Things started slow with Triple H and Angle wrestling for the first few minutes, and it was fine.  Regardless of their ages and whatever shape they may be in, they both know what they’re doing more than most of the roster, and it was more than capable action.  The real problem is that they aren’t the people I want to see wrestling at this point.  Steph was getting in all sorts of cheap shots on Rousey, as you would expect, and it continued even after she’s in the ring.  Despite WWE’s weird mixed tag rules, there was a fair amount of interaction between each member of the two teams, and everything spilled to the outside before long.  It seemed kind of like a mess at this point, with everyone running around after one another and very little actually happening in the ring.  Still, even I got excited through the final few minutes, which had some insane spots and teased finishers.  The crowd was wild the whole time, and it was hard not to get caught up in it as Rousey and Angle blocked stereo Pedigrees, before Ronda locked Steph in an armbar to pick up the win.

                I feel weird about this match, and my thoughts now are totally at odds with my first impression as it played out.  It was definitely too long, lasting over twenty minutes, but there were no dead spots in the crowd’s reaction at any point.  I honestly hated this while it was happening, with the opening between Angle and HHH standing as the worst thing on the card so far.  Even the faster-paced wrestling and big spots that came later didn’t do much for me since I had made up my mind to hate this match before it even started.  Then, after watching the finishing sequence, and seeing the match wrap up, I had a total change of heart.  Really, in just a few minutes’ time I thought back and realized that it actually was a pretty damn great match, one of the best on the show so far.  Everything was laid out perfectly, and despite having four performers with various limitations in the match, it actually went off without a hitch.  This was a great way to introduce Rousey, and she looked way more natural wrestling than anyone could have predicted.  It still remains to be seen what role she’ll actually have on the main roster, but this was beyond promising and gives us all something to look forward to.

                Neither brand’s tag title matches seemed worth getting too excited over, not because of the wrestlers involved, but because Mania is rarely the place for classic tag contests to take place.  True to form, the SmackDown match was just over five minutes long, and ended abruptly with a victory for the Bludgeon Brothers.  Terrible name aside, I’m totally happy with that result, as Luke Harper still stands as the most underrated wrestler on the main roster, and seeing him with any sort of championship is encouraging.  Even if the match was short, it delivered some good action, which is hardly surprising given the years of chemistry between the Usos and the New Day, and Harper and Rowan are a great team of deceptively agile bruisers.  Even if Mania wasn’t the place, it would be great to see these teams have a shot at a match with a more substantial runtime to show off what they really can do.

                After all the fun I had watching John Cena act like a total dork and cheer on the show from the sidelines, it was time for him to get in the ring.  They got this one off to a false start by having Elias come out to greet Cena instead of the Undertaker.  That was a smart move: Elias can drum up some great natural heat, and any appearance from him is good for a reaction, plus he had no other spot on the show.  After Cena dispatched him quickly, however, we got more of those horrendous 3D graphics, this time in the form of crappy-looking lightning bolts zapping the ring, where we saw ‘Taker’s coat and hat from last year.  After they disappeared magically, ‘Taker came running out and brawled with Cena before taking him out with a Tombstone in under three minutes.  That was not the classic pairing they’ve been teasing for years, but it was a really fun, fresh way to handle the situation.  Undertaker looked and moved so much better than he did at last year’s Mania, which was encouraging, and Cena laid down and took a convincing loss as he should have.  My dream angle coming out of this is Cena blaming his being unprepared and drunk on the loss and the feud evolving from there.  That seems unlikely since Rusev vs. ‘Taker in a casket match is booked for the next major show (or maybe it’s Jericho vs. ‘Taker).  Regardless, this was a fun little diversion.

            There was no intermission on the show, although there certainly should have been one.  I’m going to take mine here.

 Part Two coming soon. Follow @bigvinvader on Twitter