There’s every chance you went into this years WrestleMania with muted expectations (not quite WrestleMania 32 levels, but muted all the same). The more broader conversation opens up ideas as to whether this years event should have even gone ahead at all – the truth though, is that no one really expected WWE to prolong their marquee centrepiece, they were always going to push on regardless.
In essence an empty venue setting gave WWE the chance to capitalise on opportunities they simply wouldn’t have had under an ordinary scenario, so why not roll the dice? Never again will Vince McMahon and co have the opportunity to stage a second night of WrestleMania for no extra venue rent cost, if they were ever going to pull a two part stunt, the timing would never be more rife.
You can commend WWE for being bold enough to take real risks with this years ‘showcase of the immortals’ (that phrase has become a bit cringe worthy now, hasn’t it?) But it’s inescapable that some flaws were exposed with weeping wounds. As the dust settled, the company had done a phenomenal job under the circumstances of, for the most part, hitting the right story beats. But when ‘The Gronk’ somehow managed to not be the worst part of this show: there are issues that need to be addressed.
For years now the shows have been just too long, last years spectacle could well have gone down as one of the greatest they had ever put on had it dropped, or at least shortened 2/3 matches (are HHH and Batista still fighting?). You’d think that now split over two evenings – the show would feel less like an absolute marathon sit through, even to the most adorning pro-wrestling obsessive.
This still wasn’t the case though, and even with both world championship encounters across both nights lasting a combined 6minutes, part 1 and 2 still felt sloggish. It has become clear that WWE’s mantra of ‘let’s put as many people on the card as we can because it’s Mania’ has started to detract from the ebb and flow of sports entertainments most important evening.
Baron Corbin and Elias were the very illustration of this problem. A feud thrown together at the last minute that people weren’t invested in and knew full well this was just a way to fill 10 minutes, that’s not what WrestleMania is. Side note: last year Baron Corbin retired Kurt Angle – one of the greatest of all time. Had they moved Corbin’s heel character forward in the months after you’d have accepted it, one year later and his most memorable moment of the last 365 was having dog food poured on him by Roman Reigns and The Uso’s. What a waste.
You’d forgive this if WWE only fell down the rabbit hole of throw away matches this year to capitalise on an extra evenings work, but that’s not the case. In retrospect – did the women’s tag title match from last year really need to happen? How about Braun Strowman and Nicholas the year prior? We could go on.
In fairness there’s some cases where crowing the show is necessary, defending titles at the biggest show of the year adds importance to them right? There’s truth to this, but importance is only added when either the story going in, or the story told in the ring MAKES the match important. Case in point: Had we removed Baron Corbin and Elias from the card, Sami Zayn and Daniel Bryan could have had a competitive, 20 minute match to add glory back to the Intercontinental Championship. What we got instead might be a nice moment for a superb, under-utilised performer in Zayn, but this did absolutely no favours for the title round his shoulder.
You could open this further if you wanted, there are simply too many titles in WWE. Would the company benefit from one show being the home of tag team, the other being the home of women’s wrestling? That’s a debate for another time, but no show exposes the company’s over abundance of gold than WrestleMania.
Even when you add in the throw away matches, lack of crowd, and… The Gronk though – it’s fair to say WrestleMania 36 was a success – regardless of circumstance. It stings that fans weren’t there to pop when Otis got the girl, or Mcintyre overcame the beast incarnate, but what’s more important is that they happened. And there’s never a guarantee that Vince McMahon isn’t going to throw an unnecessary swerve just for the sake of it.
It would have been more beneficial to Drew to have more of a back-and-forth match with Brock though these kind of Lesnar matches are infuriatingly few and far between in the present day despite how great a worker he actually is. The bigger picture though, is that a young, new WWE champion that the fans want has been put over by the older, larger name. It’s not exactly the same story for Braun Strowman taking the Universal Championship from Goldberg – as the monster among men has ‘transitional champion’ written all over him, but you can’t cry for youth at the top of the card and then moan when they get there (or at least you shouldn’t).
Yes, Edge and Randy Orton’s Last Man Standing/Performance Centre tour match went 15 minutes too long, but seeing Adam Copeland be capable of putting on a lengthy, stiff match for half an hour bodes well for the future. The right man won, the desperate brawl story telling was, for the most part interesting, and the mind boggles at what could be done with Edge and younger talent. PLEASE ALSO GIVE US EDGE AND AJ STYLES.
Depending on which side of the fence you sit, you’ll either be furious, or fine with the state of the women’s division in the events aftermath. Charlotte taking the NXT title from Rhea Ripley might leave a sour taste right now, but if there’s one woman who can elevate, and add star power to the women’s division in NXT, it’s her. Rhea Ripley will be fine, she’ll be champion again within a year, and Charlotte will have made stars out of at least two women in NXT – stop worrying.
Shayna Baszler’s failure to overcome ‘The Man’ Becky Lynch is slightly more bizarre, especially when she lost to a basic, flat looking roll up. But this goes one of two ways from here: we’re either stalling till Ronda Rousey returns, or Shayna bases Lynch’s victory on luck and suggests some kind of gimmick match where pinfalls aren’t as prominent and takes the title then. Again, it’s early days here, and the big money points to Baszler Vs Rousey somewhere down the line.
What made WrestleMania 36 a memorable spectacle though, was the matches that, had it not been for the pre-taped environment, simply could not have been as grandiose as they were. The Undertaker’s ‘boneyard’ grave style match with AJ Styles was produced, and executed so expertly, you’d be forgiven for never wanting to see Taker’ wrestle an in-ring match again.
The return of biker Taker worked, the casket entrance of AJ Styles was classic heel work, and the story the two told exchanging set pieces made for both comedy and sympathy. It was over the top, and slightly silly in places, but this felt fresh, unique, and it’s undeniably the best program Undertaker has worked since WrestleMania 34’s ‘will they, won’t they’ squash of John Cena. The Deadman feels exciting again for the first time in a long, long time.
Everything pales in comparison though to the whacky, wild, outlandish genius of the Firefly Fun House match, though. Last month ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt was almost being mourned on social media, his loss to Goldberg in Saudi Arabia felt like the harshest middle finger creative had given us in a long time. But on April 5th 2020, The Fiend was wholeheartedly rescued.
It’s difficult to really describe this (match?), it’s simply one of those: GO AND WATCH THIS moments. The references of Cena to Hogan, Vince playing the puppet master role on commentary, the NWO skit, the journey through Cena’s career, the flashbacks of WrestleMania 30, this was truly one of the greatest pieces of production, and creativity that WWE have shown in the entirety of the PG era.
His loss to Goldberg is forgotten, The Fiend has been let back in to relevancy. It goes to show that under the right setting, with the right performers, and ideas going in – anyone can be resurrected in pro wrestling. The showmanship of both Wyatt and Cena throughout the skits was unmatched, and utterly compelling. Similar to the boneyard match, this simply could not have happened in an arena with 80,000 people in, and there was more character building on show for Wyatt here than what could ever have been possible in a standard match in between the ropes. Utter gold.
Sometimes modern day WWE really makes you work for your moments of happiness, we got treated to more than our fill here. Special mention for Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins too, who put on a stellar, stellar performance on night one. When you look back at WrestleMania events over the years, though this one still highlighted much of what needs to be addressed in the company, WWE bought themselves a tremendous amount of faith on a night where under the circumstances, you can’t help but thank everyone on the company’s payroll for working to make it happen.