10th Apr2020

Opinionated: ‘WrestleMania 36’ Was Better Than It Had Any Right To Be

by Chris Cummings

WrestleMania-36-header

Wrestling fans will be well aware of how strange this whole period of time has been, as far as the television product. Watching pro-wrestling with no audience is very odd indeed, so when it was announced that WWE would be going ahead with WrestleMania this year, taking it out of the huge arena in Tampa, Florida and taking it to the Performance Centre in Orlando, was a very intriguing and flabbergasting concept. This whole pandemic situation has been scary, worrying and horrifying in so many ways for so many people, so I was concerned, shocked yet somehow excited about the idea of WrestleMania still being a thing. So, how did the show go? Was it worth it? Did it work, being filmed in advance in a couple of locations but mostly inside the PC, with no audience?

Well… yes. It did.

Spread over two nights, WrestleMania 36, on both the Saturday and Sunday, began with Kick-Off matches before jumping into shows that lasted around 3 hours each. The Kick-Off matches were fine, with Drew Gulak losing to Cesaro in a fun albeit short foray, and Natalya taking a loss to Liv Morgan in a nice encounter on the second night. It was the main shows, though, that truly brought it. Yes, admittedly it is still very, very weird to have no fans in attendance. You can hear every word that the wrestlers are saying as they trash-talk their opponents, and you can hear every moan, grunt and whine as they sell the pain and bumps they take. Weirdness aside, though, there was plenty to love about both nights of “The Show of Shows”.

I’ll focus on the bad, first, though… because we did get a few bumps in the road. Elias against Baron Corbin was a sluggish affair, as expected, with an odd finish that felt like a typical heel-face match from a SmackDown. The Becky Lynch against Shayna Baszler match felt a bit off to me, and though it was in no way “bad”, I was upset with the ending. Lynch, who has held the RAW Women’s Title for a full year, had no place winning this, considering how WWE have booked Baszler since her call-up to RAW. Shayna, who has been one of the best women in WWE for a while, should have been the vicious victor here, but she was outsmarted. I, for one, wasn’t pleased. Maybe they’re saving Baszler’s victory for a later date. Who knows. We saw Bobby Lashley and Aleister Black have a so-so match that I forgot about until I began writing this article. I love Black, but this wasn’t exactly enthralling stuff. On top of these two matches, the two World Title battles were… well… just there. Sure, the ending of the Brock/Drew match was beautifully done, with Drew emotionally having his hand raised. The first British WWE Champion. Lovely. The match, though, was very short and just happened. The same can be said for the Goldberg/Strowman match, which saw Braun capture the Universal Title after landing a few powerslams on Big Bill. It was a nothing match. An angle more than it was a clash of titans. Still… they did what they were supposed to do, so my complaints are minor, really.

The rest of WrestleMania really did make me smile, though. Opening match of Night One was a lovely tag team match between Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross against Asuka and Kairi Sane. This was a great good vs. bad encounter that had some well done spots and had an old-school psychology to it. Bliss and Cross captured the gold in the end, and it was a feel-good start to the show that I, personally, really enjoyed. The Kevin Owens/Seth Rollins grudge match was one of my favourite parts of the whole weekend. Owens finally got a big WrestleMania moment, Rollins, the heel, got his comeuppance, and the right man won. Very nice. Daniel Bryan and Sami Zayn fought in a match that was a ton of fun, though much too short. Zayn is a terrific heel, though I admittedly miss his babyface run. Maybe we’ll get it again someday. The ladder match for the SmackDown Tag straps that saw John Morrison, Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso in a triple-threat, was a total blast. Full of big moments, exciting spots and a creative finish, it was another highlight of the whole weekend.

The first night ended with one of the most out-of-the-box matches I’ve ever seen in my 28 years as a wrestling fan. The Undertaker, back in his “American Bad-Ass” gimmick, took on AJ Styles, in a Boneyard Match. This was a cinematic match. Think about the Broken Matt Hardy stuff from a couple of years back and you have an idea of what you could expect here. It was weird and wonderful and completely out of the blue. A fun and entertaining end to the first night of ‘Mania, for sure. This will be one that people look back on for a long, long time.

The second night was just as good. Sure, there were a few poor parts, as mentioned, and we had to deal with Gronk again, but there was a lot to like. Charlotte and Rhea Ripley clashed over the NXT Women’s Title in the opener, and it was perhaps the best match of the whole weekend. A fantastic display of power and brawling between two strong and fierce women, it was a really entertaining scrap with a surprise ending that saw Charlotte Flair capture the NXT Women’s Title again. We saw the return of Edge to WrestleMania in a Last Man Standing match with Randy Orton. Now… this match has been getting some very negative reviews, but I don’t get it. I really liked this match. It was one of my favourite parts of the weeknd. A long, slow-building brawl around the Performance Centre, we saw Edge and Orton beat each other senseless with a variety of items, slam each other into weight benches, boardroom tables, walls and trucks, and hit big moves on one another in creative ways. It was a blast, and I loved it.

The SmackDown Women’s Title match was fun, with Bayley successfully defending against Sasha Banks, Lacey Evans, Naomi and Tamina. I liked this one, and expect we’ll eventually see Sasha and Bayley feud over the belt. I hope so. An enjoyable and feel-good bout between Dolph Ziggler and Otis saw the big man pick up a nice win before embracing and smooching with Mandy Rose after the match. This would have gone down a storm in front of an arena of fans. We also had a short and okay RAW Tag Title scuffle between The Street Profits and the random team of Angel Garza and Austin Theory. It was ok.

Oh… and there was THAT match too. John Cena. The Fiend. Bray Wyatt. Firefly Funhouse Match. This was… well… this was madness. The Boneyard Match on night one was insane, but this one took the whole bag of hallucinogens and threw the rulebook out of the metaverse’s window. A peculiar yet enthralling angle that saw Bray Wyatt in 80s gear, John Cena as weightlifting Johnny Largemeat, various Cena gimmicks from the past, old Wyatt Family Bray Wyatt, and various other odd moments, this was creative stuff. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it when it ended. I have my good thoughts and bad ones, but… it was certainly entertaining, and with everything going on right now, it was welcome for sure.

So, I’d say most of WrestleMania 36 was good, great or completely bonkers, and I didn’t really expect that. These men and women, all of them, put themselves at risk to put on a hell of a show for fans around the world, and I definitely appreciate that. This was a memorable couple of shows and will go down in history, not just for this terrible situation we’re in right now, but for the brilliant moments it contained.

Did you enjoy this year’s WrestleMania? Let us know! Thanks for reading!

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