WrestleMania 36: The One With No Crowd But Plenty Of Fanfare

 

Mania logo
Source: Scottsblogofdoom

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.

baron-corbin-eats-dog-food-1
Source: WrestlingWorld

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).

Drew WWE title
Source: http://www.thesun.co.uk

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.

Taker Styles
Source: http://www.thesun.co.uk

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.

 

 

How To Get Roman Reigns Over… As A Babyface

It’s probably the most talked about topic in the world of pro-wrestling today, it’s the topic every former WWE performer with a podcast has looked into, it’s the present day ‘when will WWE go back to TV-14?’. In a world where kayfabe barely exists to the point of it being often ignored the second a pro wrestler steps foot out of an arena; the business of professional wrestling has been exposed to the extent that as fans, we probably know a little too much about the product.

This does have its positives, it’s easier to enjoy wrestling as a true art-form if you understand some of the workings that have gone into the finished product. A classic example of this is the Bret Hart vs Owen Hart storyline that ran throughout late 1993 – mid 1994. When you find out that when the original angle was pitched to Bret it was supposedly another brother of his (reportedly Bruce) who was set to feud with the hitman, and Bret threatened to leave the company if they didn’t give the opportunity to his thus far under-utilised brother Owen; understanding the pressure they were under to deliver at Wrestlemania X and Summerslam 94 makes it that much more of a beautiful watch.

But of course the major drawback of the exposure of the business in todays age is that by knowing so much, it becomes that much more frustrating when things don’t pan out the way we want. Fans attitudes have (understandably) become not just “I pay my money, I want to be entertained” but also “I pay my money, why aren’t you listening to me?”. And that’s where Roman Regins comes in, the hand-picked guy to take the mantle from John Cena and push this company through the reality era and beyond, but needless to say its far from gone according to plan so far.

Four WrestleMania main events in a row, rubs from Daniel Bryan, John Cena, The Rock, Triple H, and The Undertaker and yet still Roman is treated with utter contempt by large portions of WWE’s audience. The likelihood is that Reigns is going to continue to be pushed as this company’s number 1 guy, and as tiring as that sounds after the last four years, it doesn’t have to be. Vince McMahon and co could get everything they want from their Roman initiative, it would just take a little space and time.

While turning Roman heel would be immediate money and make him the hottest heel in the industry (honestly it’s baffling how WWE still haven’t gone down that route at this point), that would be too easy. So for the purpose of this article, there will be no heel turn for Roman, but there will be some booking ideas that will allow for WWE’s hardcore audience to buy into the character much easier.

It’s worth baring in mind that at the time of writing, The Greatest Royal Rumble hasn’t happened yet, nor has the contract length of Brock Lesnar been fully revealed – so, we will pretend that Brock Lesnar has signed a ONE year extension only to his WWE contract.

The Greatest Royal Rumble (Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns | Steel Cage Match | Universal Championship)

Lesnar Reigns GRR
Image Source: http://www.cagesideseats.com

Reports have suggested that the steel cage rematch between Roman and Brock for the Universal Title has been set up so that when Roman goes over, the crowd reaction will come across as heavily more positive in Saudi Arabia than it would have been from a hostile New Orleans crowd at WrestleMania. If this was in fact the thinking behind the concept, it all seems obnoxiously political and ignorant from the WWE creative team, who seemingly refuse to accept the idea that Roman is not yet in the position to be anointed as the new ‘guy’.

Anyway, WWE love to swerve their fans, no one expected Lesnar to retain at WM34, just like no one expects him to retain here. So swerve us again, have Roman put up another valiant effort only to be denied by another 40 F5’s – the match won’t be great, but it adds even more credence to Lesnar’s unbeatable status and puts seeds in the mind of fans that maybe the higher up’s are starting to not fancy Roman (this will become VERY important later on).

BackLash (Roman Reigns Vs Samoa Joe)

Reigns Vs Joe
Image Source: WWE YouTube Channel

This is where we need to start really relying on our imagination and pretend that Vince McMahon and co will be open to any idea they’re given. Roman loses clean here, 20 minute match of hustle and bustle, few near falls – Reigns falls victim to the cochina clutch, doesn’t tap out – just passes out.

At this point fans start questioning what exactly is going on here, is Roman being punished? Have they given up on him? This would also start affecting the negative response he receives from TV audiences. Fans always expect the Roman Empire to prevail much like the early 2010 years of “Cena Wins Lol”, the moment they feel like his push is declining, the need to boo him goes with it since he’s not on top anyway.

Money In The Bank Build-up

We’re going to follow the assumption here that this years Money In The Bank has one ladder match for the men, and another for the women, with both ladder matches featuring three competitors from RAW, and three from Smackdown Live. The build up to the event itself features your standard qualifying match set-up with Romans qualifying match taking place in the main event of RAW against a recently returned Dean Ambrose. They go 25 minutes with Roman just, just coming out on top – the aftermath of the match sees Ambrose look frustrated and very tentatively shake Roman’s hand before exiting the ring.

Money In The Bank (Reigns vs Lashley vs Rollins vs The Miz vs Almas vs Bryan)

 

Money In The Bank Graphic
Image Source: WWE YouTube channel

As Roman is climbing the ladder to seemingly grab the briefcase, Ambrose returns, pulls him from the ladder, gives him a Dirty Deeds – this is followed by him shouting towards Roman “It was supposed to be my time!” Or words to that effect. The Miz wins Money In The Bank and will eventually cash it in on a Daniel Bryan Vs Shinsuke Nakamura (c) match at Survivor Series, setting up The Miz vs Daniel Bryan at the Royal Rumble.

By the way, if you’re wondering what Brock Lesnar has been doing, he and Strowman wrestle to a double count out at this event.

Extreme Rules

Extreme Rules Graphic
Image Source: WWE YouTube Channel

In the build-up here you have Ambrose’s rhetoric being along the lines of: “It’s never been about me, I took a backseat in The Shield, and I’m not taking a backseat in this company for one more day”. So at the pay-per-view there’s an extreme rules match between Ambrose and Reigns, it’s a brutal one, or at least as brutal as it can be in the PG era. Roman wins via a quick roll-up after a gruelling encounter, Ambrose carries on the beat-down to Roman after the bell and gets suspended by Kurt Angle for gross misconduct.

SummerSlam

SummerSlam Graphic
Image Source: WWE YouTube Channel

In the build-up here, Seth Rollins is still IC champion, and Roman wins a no 1 contender triple threat against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn to challenge Rollins at SummerSlam. During the promos Rollins asks Roman: “Do you think you’ve got what it takes to win the big one anymore? You haven’t won one in a while”. Now this is where Roman can start to get over with the hardcore audience: simply focus on his positives and hide his weaknesses.

For all his questionable charisma and lack of promo technique, Roman Reigns is a good worker, that’s not up for debate, and so: put him in situations where he can show off his in ring ability where him winning won’t be looked at as the worst case scenario. Rollins and Reigns go 30 minutes at SummerSlam, putting on an absolute wrestling clinic before Ambrose returns again, and delivers yet another dirty deeds to Roman, causing disqualification.

From here on out there are several ways you can book this, although the option that points to the most money would be a triple threat match between The Shield members inside Hell In A Cell for the IC Title at the pay-per-view, as long as Roman comes out on top whatever follows should work.

And here’s why: the Intercontinental Title spent a long part of WWE’s lineage being the working man’s, wrestling fans championship, the workhorse belt. Roman is particularly accomplished in the ring, so giving him 20-25 minutes on every PPV, managing to come out on top against whoever he faces not only elevates him, but also his opponent and the stature of the IC title. In turn this should build the crowds respect and enjoyment level for Roman up much more than seeing him cut generic promos on RAW about being “The big dog” and eventually holding the weird looking big red belt.

Hart Vs Perfect
Image Source: http://www.eyesonthering.com/2016/03/bret-hart-and-intercontinental.html

The thought here is: accentuate Roman’s positives i.e. his in-ring ability and hide his flaws i.e. his awkward promos and clumbsy charisma. Though Bret Hart far exceeded Roman, and most other wrestlers in terms of ability inside the squared circle, you’ll remember that Bret wasn’t the best on the mic, especially in the early 90’s; what got Bret over with the fans was their appreciation of his ability inside the ropes, after all – that’s what we’re watching for, right? Apply the same thoughts to Reigns and there’s no reason why the fans won’t gravitate.

This should all culminate with Reigns still being the champ come WrestleMania 35 where he can drop the belt to, well, anyone you’d like, although NXT’s Adam Cole stands out as the obvious choice. By this point, beating Reigns will be a HUGE rub for whomever does so, and there’s a level of prestige bought back to the IC title that hasn’t been there in years. Reigns can now take his respect level from the fans, and apply it to a world title hunt on either RAW or Smackdown Live, though SD Live would be the preferred option here – keeping things fresh and unpredictable.

A star can be made out of Reigns, Rollins, make Ambrose interesting for the first time since The Shield with a heel persona, prestige can be added to the IC Title again, as well as giving fans wrestling to get truly invested in, it all makes perfect logical sense.

There’s proof here that there could be a reason to cheer for Reigns if we are given enough reason to do so, stop treating him like Hogan and Cena and more like a modern day professional wrestling athlete and there’s the investment element right there. Or, you know, you could just turn him heel.