The main event of Wrestlemania has had a bit of a rough streak the past few years. That could simply be a product of cramming Brock Lesnar and his wavering dedication and attention span in there repeatedly. But it could also be that it’s just really hard for that one match to thread all the needles it has to.
It’s the only match on the WWE calendar that gets months of build, so that by the time the wrestlers actually get in the ring, you might already be sick of it. For the whole thing to work you need two (or more) personalities worthy of the stage, with the in-ring chops to match. WWE has had a habit of worrying about the former much more than the latter. And it usually comes at the end of a six- or seven-hour show where everyone in the stadium is hungover, exhausted, smelly, and questioning their choices. Since Wrestlemania swelled to basically a daylong festival, it’s nearly an impossible burden to end the show on a high.
It would be too easy, and unfair, to say that Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair benefitted from the splitting of the event into two nights, making each a much more manageable three hours. They would have torn the house down at the end of a ten-hour show. And while they did benefit from the ravenous nature of the first live crowd for a WWE show in over a year, and one that didn’t have to have its endurance tested, that becomes a reciprocal relationship. You have to give the fans something to feed on, and in turn, they give the performers the same, and back and forth it goes.
The main event has suffered at times from WWE’s insistence on giving someone “a moment” that the work going into it would lack. The company’s desperation to give Roman Reigns “a moment” being the prime example. Even moments that make themselves — Becky Lynch’s win in the first women’s match to the main event — weighed on the actual match so heavily that the match itself couldn’t possibly live up to that. And it was only an ok-to-good match.
Even if you were to remove the significance of the real-life accomplishment of last night’s match between Banks and Belair — two Black women headlining the industry’s biggest show for the first time — it would still go down as one of the best Mania events of all time. It would look both Rock-Austin matches, or Bryan-Orton-Batista, or whatever your favorite is in the eye. That’s how good it was on both spectacle and actual performance.
But the wonderful thing about the theater of wrestling, and it is theater, is that it can run stories on both sides of the fourth wall simultaneously. Because it’s interactive, it depends on the crowd after all, it can do the performance and the commentary on it at the same time.
The match was boosted by the enormity of the moment, something Belair couldn’t hide as the bell rang:
It was nearly impossible for anyone watching to not feel this, and again, when wrestling gets it right, the ability for the performers to express how much it means to be performing while performing gives the whole thing a layer that really nothing else can match.
While there was a brief worry the moment might overwhelm either or both, Belair and Banks are so gifted at what they do they were able to weave this emotional surge into the story of the match. Belair stunned at her furious rise to the biggest stage possible, and Banks’s assurance that she was always meant to be here.
And that’s how the match played out. Banks’ greater experience and ring-generalship to try and quell Belair’s barely fathomable athleticism. In a rare twist, this match was allowed to go off the normal WWE in-ring storytelling. The usual path would have seen Banks dominate the match for 10-15 minutes, with Belair working from under and threatening a comeback or two that would be nullified before finally engineering a real one into whatever finish was booked. This match saw far more back and forth, a true standoff, showcasing what both could do so much better. It was a showcase for Banks’s otherworldly story-telling abilities, and her selling of everything Belair threw at her, alongside Belair growing into being one of the biggest names in the business in the span of just one match.
Some were a little disappointed that this wasn’t Banks’s “moment,” as she’s been a main attraction during the past year and carried the company during the pandemic for long stretches, and has been threatening to be not just the face of the company for a while but the next Rock/crossover star herself. But she didn’t have to win to have her moment, which she seemed to be the first to realize at the match’s conclusion:
You know a match has hit all the notes when both wrestlers come out looking like stars.
The match will have its moment that will be remembered forever, and that was Belair using her own hair as a whip that left a foot-long welt on Banks’s abdomen. But that shouldn’t be the only one taken from this. The look between them at the opening bell, Belair’s family climbing over the barricade at the moment of her win, Banks smiling on the outside.
Maybe the circumstances cut them a break or two. But we only remember them as slices of fortune if they’re taken and cashed in. Belair and Banks made history by just being in the ring at all at that time last night. Then they made history by what they did in it.