In the lead-up to a five-hour main WrestleMania card, the WWE's two-hour kickoff show serves as the warm-up act to the biggest show of the year. The WrestleMania 34 edition of the WrestleMania Kickoff Show features three matches -- the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, the WrestleMania Women's Battle Royal and the finals of the cruiserweight championship tournament between Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali.
Tim Fiorvanti is live at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, with additional coverage and ratings from ESPN Stats & Information's Sean Coyle.
Naomi wins first WrestleMania Women's Battle Royal
From the start, the subplot was just as intriguing as the allure of the first WrestleMania Women's Battle Royal.
If there was any doubt this inaugural match was going to feature anything other than a Bayley-Sasha Banks showdown in the stretch, the fact that they, along with Becky Lynch, came to the ring by themselves with their own music -- while the other 17 competitors waltzed in together -- was validation.
With WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix and Paige at the announcer's booth, 19 women went after, and eliminated, the reigning Money in the Bank winner, Carmella, immediately. Dana Brooke then suffered the same fate before an all-out melee commenced.
A pack of NXT stars made an immediate impact, led by an unbelievable 450 splash from Bianca Belair. Of note, both members of Absolution, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, were eliminated within the first few minutes. One of the trailblazers of the women's revolution, Becky Lynch, was thrown over the top early, a somewhat surprising result given she, as much as any woman in WWE, needs something to spur her on again.
Eliminations picked up and ultimately Banks and Bayley were left alone in the center of the ring, as the final two competitors -- or so we thought. After a fake handshake, Bayley threw Banks over the top rope and celebrated. The only problem was that she wasn't the last competitor remaining.
Naomi, who won the women's SmackDown title at WrestleMania last year, made her way back into the ring. She was on the floor but was never thrown over the top rope.
Naomi tossed Bayley over the top rope, winning the match. The audience seemed confused, and the reaction was not quite what it would have been if the story had been told a little more clearly. Nonetheless, Naomi can head back to SmackDown riding the wave of a much-needed victory.
Cedric Alexander def. Mustafa Ali to win the cruiserweight championship
On most WrestleMania cards, Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali could've been nestled comfortably on the main card, and they would've earned it. But for the second straight year, the cruiserweight championship match was left as part of the kickoff show -- and once again gave each competitor a chip on his shoulder as each proved what he could do.
As was the case through the rest of the cruiserweight championship tournament, Ali vs. Alexander was an intensely physical, high-flying spectacular of a match. After more than two months without a champion on 205 Live, Alexander walked away with the title in hand as the new top dog of the cruiserweight division.
Early on in this match, it was a matter of one-upmanship and respect as Ali and Alexander went blow for blow. Slowly but surely, however, as the intensity level rose and the fans brought the atmosphere up, the action got nastier and more personal. Each hit a head scissors early, but Alexander landed the first big blow with a front flip over the top rope.
Ali eventually got back into the match with a Spanish Fly, but as Ali went up to hit a tornado DDT, Alexander caught him in midair and slammed Ali's head down on the top turnbuckle. Not to be deterred, Ali hit a top rope Spanish Fly that seemingly set him up for an early victory. Ali lined up for the 0-5-4, only for Alexander to push him off the top to the outside. After rolling Ali back into the ring, Alexander snapped, pulling off a chest kick and following that up with brutal chest stomps as Ali was propped up on the bottom rope. Ali came right back, though, as a reverse hurricanrana spiked Alexander's head into the ground and allowed Ali to successfully hit the tornado DDT from the top rope. He climbed up for the 0-5-4 and nailed it, but Alexander got his leg up on the bottom rope just in the nick of time.
The crowd was really into this match from the opening bell, but at this moment, the fans really came up and began chanting, "This is awesome." The majority of the onlookers found their seats by this point, and it's fair to say this match was a key reason for that.
Ali returned the favor from earlier with some chest stomps to Alexander, but Ali's second attempt at an 0-5-4 missed. The competitors slowly rose to their feet and stared at one another from across the ring, eventually meeting in the middle as they exchanged stiff strikes. From out of nowhere, Alexander was able to catch Ali with a backfist, then tossed him in the air and nailed the lumbar check.
Both men did enough in this tournament to earn the championship, and as a headlining rivalry going forward, Ali vs. Alexander should serve as a valuable building block for 205 Live to continue to grow.
Matt Hardy wins the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal is billed as a potential launching point for the winner's WWE career. That notion has been hit or miss. It certainly launched Baron Corbin's main roster career a couple of years ago, as following his win at WrestleMania 32, he went on to have a great run as part of SmackDown Live, which included a United States Championship reign.
However, the same didn't hold true for last year's winner, Mojo Rawley, who has still yet to take that next step.
Who would get a chance to prove the worth of winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal this year?
Eliminations came at a steady pace in the match. Some of the notable moments saw Goldust eliminate his former tag-team partner, R-Truth; last year's battle royal winner Rawley toss out his former teammate Zack Ryder; and Dolph Ziggler manage to narrowly avoid elimination with rope-hanging theatrics on multiple occasions.
The final three participants featured two former winners in Rawley and Corbin, as well as Matt Hardy. However, as Corbin and Rawley were about to eliminate Hardy, the lights went out and Bray Wyatt appeared in the ring and helped enable Hardy to eliminate both Rawley and Corbin to win the match.
Afterward, Hardy and Wyatt embraced. And it appears that an alliance between the two former foes has formed. What this outcome and win means for Hardy's career -- and Wyatt's, for that matter -- remains to be seen, but it was an intriguing first bit of action in New Orleans.