WrestleMania 36 Days 1&2 Review

The Strangest Stage of them All

By Jre Best

I’m writing these opening paragraphs half a week away from WrestleMania 36. One of the reasons for that is, well, it always feels nice being ahead of your work for once doesn’t it? The more practical reason being that with every passing day the situation surrounding this show gets more and more bizarre. At this point I don’t really know what to expect from the show I’m reviewing in less than a week. At time of writing, WrestleMania is planned to be a no fans allowed taped wrestling show being filmed in multiple different locations that will be held over two days on April 4th and 5th. Besides the fact that it is a wrestling show called WrestleMania 36, all those details I just provided were decided within the last 2 weeks. I wanted to take the first few paragraphs of this review to provide my pre-event thoughts on this empty showcase of the immortals.

Let me say this before anything else: this show shouldn’t be happening. The ongoing coronavirus epidemic has had a huge impact on every industry on the planet. But its impact on institutions that rely on large gatherings of people like concerts, conventions, and sporting events is one of the most obvious. So in a time where it’s considered reckless to have more than 50 people in one building at a time, something like wrestling, a medium based almost solely around getting large reactions from an audience is fundamentally crippled by this restriction. Most of the large wrestling shows have not stopped at time of writing. There are shows being filmed on smaller sets with no audience and a minimal crew. While there’s still wrestling happening on these shows, there’s far less of it than you would typically see. Instead the shows are filled with mostly interview segments, skits and archived matches. What’s surprising is that so many shows have been quite good. Not perfect, but we’ve learned something from this last month of wrestling. If you adjust your style of wrestling to be more exciting for an at-home audience, and keep the pacing of the show fast and engaging, you can produce good, unique, and intimate feeling wrestling shows.

The problem with this show, however, is that it’s WrestleMania, and intimate has never been a word associated with Wrestlemania. WrestleMania is the biggest wrestling show of the year without question. It is a name synonymous with the sport and it achieved that level of notoriety through its spectacle. WrestleMania is about massive entrances, celebrity guests, massive moments and chiefly monumentous crowds. WrestleMania without the spectacle is hockey without the puck. And while I’ve spoken about how some wrestling shows have been able to adapt their matches to this intimate environment, WWE largely hasn’t. Most Raws and Smackdowns try to avoid having new matches as much as possible and when they do they stick to the same frequently stale WWE style match that often feels tiring even with a crowd.

On top of all of that, the safety of these no fan shows has been called into question recently. With Roman Reigns being pulled from his match with champion Goldberg due to his compromised immune system from his battles with leukemia and several wrestlers having to be pulled from the event like Rey Mysterio and Dana Brooke. So we have an WrestleMania that cannot deliver the spectacle expected of the event, cannot hope to earn as much money as the event usually does and potentially puts their talent in danger. I feel it’s obvious at this point that the show should have been delayed until this crisis is over. but the time for that conversation has passed. With all these roadblocks in the way of the show. How did it turn out? You and I will see.

So I’ll run down the card and give my thoughts and scores for each match. These will not be full match recaps so I will provide a summary when necessary.

Day 1 Kickoff Match: Cesaro vs Drew Gulak

We only had one match for the hour-long pre-show. Cesaro and Drew Gulak are some of the company’s most consistently great performers, so having them in the ring for any time at all is going to be a good thing. This was a fast, fun, inventive little five-minute match. The only negative that could be found here is that these guys are so good they made you want them to go another ten minutes. Cesaro scored the victory after a dazzling no-armed spinning fireman’s carry. These two need to get in the ring with each other again.


Women’s Tag Team Title: The Kabuki Warriors vs. Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross

For the first match on the main show we had a women’s tag team title match between champions Asuka and Kairi Sane, the Kabuki Warriors, and the challenging team of Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross. First of all I feel very bad for Kairi Sane who got to do no special entrance despite WrestleMania 36 being pirate themed. This was a fine match. All the action was acceptable, there weren’t any massive mistakes but I do have a list of nitpicks that I don’t have the self-control to keep to myself. The partner waiting on the corner starting clap or stomp to try and get a hot tag is a spot that doesn’t work in an empty arena. It only highlights the fact that there is no audience. And I fear for Alexa Bliss’s knees. She did Twisted Bliss twice in this match and both looked like she landed on her knees pretty roughly. Twisted Bliss is a great move but I’m not sure it’s something you need to use multiple times during a match, especially in front of no crowd. Other than my nitpicks the match itself was enjoyable and was a nice babyface victory to start off the night with Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross capturing the tag title to become the first two-time champions in this division.


Elias vs. King Corbin

This is the worst match of the night hands down. I’m a fan of both Corbin and Elias but they might be the worst types of wrestlers to have work with each other. It should be noted that on the Smackdown before WrestleMania they did a ridiculously cheesy angle where Corbin threw Elias off a large bit of scaffolding. So the angle at the start of this match was Corbin came to the ring to gloat about how Elias couldn’t participate in the match, and, to the shock of no one, Elias showed up with his back covered in muscle tape. He proceeded to not sell his back injury for the rest of the match. This match wouldn’t have been so egregious if it had not gone nine whole minutes. Nine minutes of excruciatingly dull brawling with spots so lacking of impact they might as well be a freckle. Elias rolled Corbin up for the one, two, three mercifully ending this match.


Raw Women’s Title: Becky Lynch vs. Shayna Baszler

This has been one of the more contentious matches of the event. For the last two years Becky Lynch’s popularity with the fans pushed her into being one of the top stars in the company. However, now she’s been starting to rub fans the wrong way with less-than-stellar character work, while Shayna Baszler has been a fan favorite in NXT for several years. That combined with the feeling of freshness that comes from being an NXT call up and her being portrayed as a badass world killer, many fans saw it as a foregone conclusion that Becky was dropping her title. That did not happen. Becky Lynch rolled up Shayna Baszler within 8 minutes. This has been a controversial move and I understand why. It does damage Baszler’s momentum to lose such a big match so soon. Along with that Becky’s run of dominance is in danger of developing a John Cena like resentment from the fans. On the other hand, Becky’s title reign, regardless of the actual quality of it, is historically significant and I’m not sure I would have it come to an end in front of no crowd either. Amongst all this discussion fans have neglected one important thing, something I am also guilty of doing in this very review. That is how good the match was up to that controversial finish. These two absolutely pummeled each other with painful-looking blows. Shayna played the part of the bigger stronger woman brilliantly. Becky Lynch’s selling is incredibly underrated, you can tell she’s feeling pain but since she is The Man she does everything she can to downplay it, it’s great stuff. The only downside to this match in the ring was how short it was at 8 minutes. Becky Lynch is the top women’s star of the company, she’s arguably the top star in the company and if she’s not she’s within the top three. She main evented WrestleMania last year and now she is tucked away in the middle of the card with a match that’s time feels downright anorexic for how important it supposedly is. The manner Becky won the bell doesn’t help either. Reversing Baszler’s Kirifuda Clutch into a roll-up, which is a good finish. In fact, it’s been done before – see Kairi Sane’s victory over Baszler at NXT Takeover Brooklyn 4. But it’s far too similar to last year’s WrestleMania with Becky Lynch winning the title off a fluke pinfall. That on top of the card placement, match length, and controversial winner it felt like WWE was trying to sabotage one of the best matches on the show.


Intercontinental Title: Sami Zayn vs. Daniel Bryan

This could have been the best match on the show easily but it chose not to be. Daniel Bryan and Sami Zayn are excellent professional wrestlers who are more than capable of delivering an excellent match within the nine minutes they were given. But the goal of this match was not to be great, it was to progress a storyline. Sami Zayns has been playing the cowardly heel champion who hides behind his bigger stronger friends for success. Daniel Bryan is the valiant technically gifted babyface just trying to improve his game with recent friend Drew Gulak, who accompanied him out to the ring. So most of this match is Sami Zayn stalling and running away from Daniel Bryan while Sami’s friends Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro interfere and attack Bryan behind the referee’s back. This goes on for frankly too long before Gulak disposes of Nakamura and Cesaro and Bryan finally traps Sami in the ring with him. Even then it’s not much of a match with Bryan just pummeling Zayn as he tries to continuously escape. It appears both men were working very stiff with each other, all of Bryan’s offense and even the little bits that Sami got in looked like they hurt. After a while, Sami was able to counter a top rope dive from Bryan into the Helluva Kick and scored the pinfall. This was not a very good match but the storyline it’s in service to is entertaining. All the men involved have great charisma, and if this segment was shorter I feel like it could have been a real winner, but as it is it was too long for its own good.


Triple Threat Ladder Match SmackDown Tag Team Title: Jimmy Uso vs. John Morrison vs. Kofi Kingston

What? A triple threat ladder match for the Smackdown tag team titles but only one member from each tag team is competing? Well John Morrison’s tag team partner, The Miz was showing symptoms of the coronavirus so the match had to be changed last minute. Adjusting to empty arena wrestling is already odd. The lack of crowd response for moments you know would get the audience roaring in a normal match is incredibly jarring. All that is so much more unsettling in a ladder match. I’ll get this out of the way, this match was fantastic. All three of these men know how to put together a great ladder match. The action was exciting, the spots were awe-inspiring without feeling too contrived. Not only that but the typical babyface and heel match psychology was backward with the heel being the one outnumbered by two babyfaces but Morrison performed his job as the matches heel so well that I didn’t even notice. But, with the exception of maybe one other match, this contest hit it’s head on the ceiling that having no fans creates more than anything else on the show. All these fantastic spots and showcases of otherworldly athleticism were always followed up by this haunting silence which never failed to take me out of the moment. This match would have been a show-stealer in a massive stadium but inside the performance center, it’s a bunch of guys falling off ladders in spectacular ways which gets uncomfortable after a while.


No Disqualification: Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins

This was one of my most anticipated matches and while it couldn’t have been as good as I wanted it to be it was still very impressive. Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins are two amazing in-ring performers and both have recently refreshed their characters in ways that have really clicked with the audience. Seth Rollins, the egotistic Monday night messiah and Kevin Owens, the badass truth to power fighter. And this match delivered on the action. It was as exciting as anticipated, everything being perfectly executed but not feeling too choreographed. One thing I failed to mention throughout this review is that since the show lacked crowd noise all the wrestlers on the show we’re doing a lot more in-ring trash-talking than normal. Most of which was not great, to be charitable, but this match was the exception. Most of their trash-talk felt believable. It’s not like either of them are going to be verbally sparring with Conor Mcgregor or anything but it all felt like things their characters would realistically say and it didn’t come off as too lame most of the time. 

The match actually ends in a disqualification victory for Kevin Owens after Seth hits him in the head with the timekeeper’s bell. But this is not the actual finish Kevin Owens gets on the mic calling Seth a coward and challenging him to restart the match under no disqualification rules which Seth agrees to. From this point on most of the match is brawling on the outside that ends with KO doing a massive dive off a WrestleMania sign on to Seth picking up the victory. A very fun straightforward match. This also could have been a match of the night if it was able to get the fan reaction it deserved.


Universal Title: Goldberg vs. Braun Strowman 

A world title match who’s only build up has been in a tweet. An extremely limited fifty year old champion who nobody wants, facing an extremely limited big man, who’s greatest asset is his connection to the fans, who aren’t there. Not to mention his damaged reputation due to his recent stunningly ignorant comments about the industry. This match was nothing; both men just hit their finishers on each other until eventually, Braun’s finisher won. What is with WWE and their fascination with having world title matches last less than 5 minutes? Braun Strowman beating 53-year-old Goldberg, who looked gassed one minute into the match, doesn’t make him look like a strong champion. Braun Strowman has had nine world title matches before this and couldn’t get the job done till now. His victory over Goldberg here made him look like a loser who only won because he was facing someone far past their prime.


Boneyard Match: The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles

And for the main event the much-discussed Boneyard match. As a way to hide The Undertaker’s aging body WWE elected to approach his match with AJ Styles in a more cinematic manner. Something similar to the Broken Matt Hardy Final Deletion match. And I have to say it worked very well. Cinematic matches aren’t really my thing. I feel the uncanny valley between wrestling matches and film is just a little too much for me most of the time. However I did have a good time watching this. It helps that it’s an Undertaker match so some elements of camp are expected. I don’t want to go into too many specifics about the events of the match because my description could not possibly hope to capture the feeling of watching this match. But I will say that AJ Styles and the Undertaker had a very fun, very campy horror movie esque brawl through a graveyard that sought to deliver not an Undertaker match but the feeling of an Undertaker match. It brought back a sorely missed sense of mystery to Taker. In a lot of ways this felt like a celebration of his career, even starting the match by calling back to his days as the American Badass. AJ Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson played their parts as the in over his heads mook bad guys with aplomb. This whole match just left me with a smile on my face. This Boneyard beating closed out the first night of WrestleMania with style.


Day 2 Kickoff Match: Natalya vs. Liv Morgan 

This was the pre-show match for night two and for once I don’t have much to say. Natalya’s a great ring general and Liv Morgan, while still noticeably green, is still way better than she should be considering her age and lack of training. She’s very good at taking bumps and has a lot of charisma. She picked up the win here over Natalya. It seems like they might have plans for her post-mania we’ll see?


NXT Women’s Title: Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair

For the first time, an NXT belt is on the line at WrestleMania with Royal Rumble winner Charlotte Flair challenging Rhea Ripley for the NXT Women’s Title. This was my favorite match out of both nights. These two worked a stiff physical looking match based around Rhea’s left leg which Charlotte viciously attacked. But this wasn’t just Charlotte working over Rhea for 20 minutes. While a large portion of the match was Rhea selling her leg it never felt like a one-sided domination either. Both looked like each other’s equal with Charlotte just getting the edge with her experience by working on Rhea’s leg. Charlotte eventually got the submission with a deep Figure Eight. Very good match and Charlotte being NXT Women’s Champion while not fully necessary is potentially very interesting and I don’t feel like this hurt Rhea Ripley at all.


Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley

The only reason this match is happening is to give these three people a payday. There’s been no angle setting this up, they have no history with each other it’s just a match for the sake of having a match. It was fine for how short it was but nothing remarkable. The only thing notable about this match is that Bobby Lashley lost because he followed the instructions of Lana. So they are teasing a breakup of that act soon, keep the edges of your seats polished.


Otis vs Dolph Ziggler

Out of every match this WrestleMania this is the one that most desperately needed a crowd. This unexpectedly engrossing love triangle story line between Otis Dolph Ziggler and Mandy Rose has been the most compelling storyline on Smackdown 4 weeks now and the fact that the ultimate culmination of it played out to silence is heartbreaking. Dolph Ziggler, in his first Mania singles match believe it or not, was a great ring general here doing his best to get Otis over. Otis himself struggled heavily working without a crowd since so much of his routine relies on fan interaction. Particularly his hulking up spot which just came off as awkward. It was still a fun enough spectacle. Mandy Roses running to attack her treacherous friend Sonya Deville and low blow to Dolph got a massive pop for me and my friends at home. And the post-match embrace between Otis and Mandy was exactly what we wanted to see.


Last Man Standing Match: Edge vs. Randy Orton

This is the second longest match in WrestleMania history, 36 minutes and 35 seconds. With no fans. This was far and away the best built to match on this Wrestlemania. The promos were amazing, the angles were white hot, the last man standing stipulation felt perfect. This was going to be Edges first singles match. He’s coming out of retirement. Everything was set for this to be a classic and instead this turned out to be one of the most boring matches I’ve ever seen.

It starts off baffling right away. Edge and Orton have been doing this a long time, which is why I was so confused when the first thing they do during the match is break one of the most important rules to a last man standing match. Randy Orton hits an RKO on Edge immediately, Edges on the floor the referee starts counting to 10 and Edge just gets to his feet at nine. You never want to start a last man standing match like this, now every time someone falls over you have to wait for the ref to count to nine after every move. Not only does it not make sense for a wrestler who’s supposedly training for all their matches to be laid out for so long right at the start of the match. It also kills the pacing right away after every single significant move you’re waiting 20 seconds for anything to happen. On top of that there’s no crowd, which means not only is there nothing exciting happening, there’s no crowd to hypothetically get drawn into the drama. For some reason the commentary decided to be incredibly quiet, only speaking up every once in a while. So most of the nearly 40 minutes you spend with this match is just two dudes trying to stand up with only the sound of their heavy breath providing any atmosphere. 

The match is just a brawl through the Performance Center with almost nothing interesting happening. Apart from a pretty tasteless spot where Orton tries to hang Edge in a manner way too similar to Chris Benoit’s death. They slam each other on the floor, on walls, and on tables while sauntering through this building and that’s really it. The match ends once they get to a garage and then on top of some platform Edge chokes Randy out and hits the conchairto while crying. It was a decent finish but way too long and boring match for anyone to be invested in it.


Raw Tag Team Title: The Street Profits vs. Austin Theory & Angel Garza

Why isn’t this an odd little match here? The Street Profits vs Austin Theory and Angel Garza. The original form of this match the Street Profits vs Andrade and Angel Garza was my most anticipated match for this Mania. Unfortunately Andrade sustained a rib injury and could not perform; so they got Austin Theory as a last minute replacement. What could have been a potential show stealer turned into nothing more than a standard Raw match. The only thing extraordinary about this contest was how it served as a palate cleanser for Edge and Orton. The Street Profits won with a Frog Splash from Ford onto Theory. Then the heels beat down the Profits until they were interrupted by the debut of Bianca Belair on the main roster, who helped clear out the ring and hit her finisher on Zelina Vega. Okay match and exciting debut. Hopefully all these people have something more substantial to do next Mania.


Fatal 5-Way Elimination Match SmackDown Women’s: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks vs. Lacey Evans vs. Tamina vs. Naomi

All cards on the table, I was extremely tired at this point watching the show. The last two matches had worn me out. And at this point having to deal with the monotonous WWE multi-man match formula was just exhausting to me. And that’s not too slag on any of the performers in this match. They all did their jobs fine but once you notice how these matches go it’s nearly impossible to stay invested. So yes of course Tamina goes on a dominant run without actually eliminating anyone. Yes all the women team up and eliminate her. Then there’s two people in the ring doing some exchanges while everybody else is on the outside waiting for their turn. Unless somebody actually tries to make a pin fall, in which case the person from the outside will break that up before immediately leaving the ring. And this isn’t a bad version of that match but I’ve just seen it a million times. There were some fun callbacks to Team B.A.D. of all things and another angle to set up the eventual Sasha and Bayley feud but other than that I found this match really uninspiring.


Firefly Fun House Match John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt: 

So this is the second cinematic “match” of the show. John Cena versus The Fiend and I don’t know what to really say about this. I hesitate to even call it a match. AJ vs. Undertaker, while certainly closer to a movie than a wrestling match, at least felt like a movie fight scene. But the Firefly Funhouse match while certainly containing very slight bits of physical conflict, I think would be pretty hard to argue that that was any way the focus up the segment. In a sense this “match” is a surrealist look at John Cena and The Fiends career. With the use of old footage and callbacks to many different storylines and small bits of wrestling lore all done with a surprising subtlety that you would never associate with the WWE. 

Did I like it? Kinda. It was an entertaining and interesting short film and not something I’ve really seen from wrestling before. But on the other hand I’m not really sure if this is what I want from my pro wrestling or at least my big pay-per-view matches. Part of the appeal of pro wrestling to me is how you can tell these fantastical stories but still have them grounded in a real world. But in this match I’m not even sure if it’s supposed to take place in the same reality as the rest of the show. And yes I’m aware this is a criticism that the Undertaker sometimes receives. How are we supposed to take him seriously if he’s supposed to be an undead wizard? But he and his brother Kane are the last remnant of a different time, and the unreal dedication that Mark Calaway put into protecting that potentially hokey gimmick gave it a sense of respectability. And excusing all of that, The Undertaker never had a single match this bizarre. When this match ended I thought “What an interesting perspective on John Cena and Bray Wyatt.” And then I thought “How did any of the stuff I just saw happen?” And I don’t think I’m ever going to get an answer.Don’t take this to mean that I didn’t like it or thought it was a mistake. I’m a pedantic nitpicker who gets caught up on ultimately meaningless things like whether this should count as a match or not. I enjoyed my time watching the Firefly Funhouse match but I think it’s just like how most of the Fiend gimmick is to me. I respect the creativity, I respect the effort put into it, I can understand why people would like it but it’s not really my thing.


WWE Championship: Brock Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre

I thought I already reviewed Braun Strowman vs Goldberg? Oh, silly me, this was double the length of that match, clocking in at a whole 4 minutes 35 seconds, a whole 90 seconds longer then the video package for this match, aren’t we so blessed? Around 3 German Suplexes, maybe four F5 and 3 Claymore Kicks later and Drew Mcintyre is your WWE champion. Both world title matches at this year’s WrestleMania add up to less than 10 minutes. Both are the shortest match of their respective nights. Braun Strowman vs Goldberg had to be that way. Goldberg is known for having short matches and Braun Strowman sure isn’t the kind of performer to carry him through another 10 . But Drew Mcintyre versus Brock Lesnar had no reason to be like this. Brock Lesnar has two types of matches now, the once compelling vicious beating like his matches with Finn Balor or Rey Mysterio. Or these obnoxiously lazy feeling sub 5-minutes waste of time where he either dominates the match then wins, or dominates the match and then “surprisingly” loses like his match with Ricochet or Seth Rollins last Wrestlemania. I feel bad for Drew Mcintyre. He has waited so long to win the world title he has had so many great matches and not only does he have to win the world title in an empty arena but he had to do it in this flat nothing happening match.


That was both nights of WrestleMania 36 and despite all my gripes I really did have a good time watching the show. I’ve certainly never seen a wrestling show like it. And it serves as a good time capsule for this terribly strange time where living in. This show shouldn’t have happened for business and public safety reasons but it did and though I’m not sure this makes it worth it, it was an enjoyable two nights of wrestling. Take that for what you will.

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