WrestleWatch: WWE Wrestlemania 36 (Part 1)
What a weird and not so wonderful world we currently live in. Even if you've been living under a rock, you know that 2020 has been an absolute shitshow of a year so far. Australia got hit by bushfires, the coronavirus emerged as a worldwide pandemic, Justin Bieber released a new album, and Donald Trump is still the President of the United States. Shitshow.
But in all seriousness, the coronavirus- or COVID-19- has basically forced the entire world to shut down. Social distancing has become a thing, which is basically a polite term for "keep the fuck away from me". Also the term "self-isolation", which means "stay the fuck home". I live somewhat of a hermit life anyway, so this wasn't so bad for me at first. But now that I don't have the option of going out, staying home all the time has me a little antsy.
Why is this stuff that you all know relevant to a wrestling show review? Because, dear reader, WWE is the one form of entertainment that has ploughed forward throughout this pandemic. Concessions and changes have needed to be made, but while the NBA, the NFL, the UFC, and various other sports and entertainment shows have closed shop, Vince has done his hardest Vince-ing, and persisting with Raw and Smackdown every week, moving it to a closed set at the WWE Performance Center with very limited personnel. After some initial cat and mouse games, with neither side wanting to deliver the bad news... Wrestlemania was shifted from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida, down to the PC in Orlando- with no fans present. Everyone who bought tickets to the show all over the world got refunds, and with more and more lockdown restrictions being put in place, the show format began changing further. All of a sudden, Wrestlemania became a two-night show, with WWE giving it the tagline "Too Big For One Night!" Gotta love how they try and put a positive spin on anything. Incidentally, the word "coronavirus" has been about as welcome on WWE TV as "Chris Benoit". The dude living in the woods with his awesome Wi-Fi connection has no idea why his favourite wrestling show has made all these changes. And the final blow- with the city of Orlando tightening their laws on groups of people gathering, WWE would be forced to pre-tape the entire Wrestlemania event. How would they make this work?
I have to admit, my expectations for this show were extremely low. As a die-hard wrestling fan, I've continued to watch every Raw, Smackdown and NXT leading into Wrestlemania, even as we've gotten the taped shows in an empty Performance Center with no fans, no life and no soul. Yeah, the shows have been a slog to watch. But it's still the Road to Wrestlemania. And while the matches have suffered big time without the crowd interaction to feed off, the promos and segments have been outstanding- to the point that I think, strictly from a storytelling standpoint, that this has somehow become one of the best builds to Mania in years. But the matches have mostly been figurative fellatio.
Anyway, it's still WrestleMania. The biggest show of the year(?)
Let's do this.
Kick-Off- Cesaro def. Drew Gulak (at 4:25)
Thoughts: The no-hands airplane spin was pretty cool. Nice hard-hitting, yet technical short match. Feels weird with both guys wrestling to absolute silence. Well, apart from Michael Cole doing commentary solo. What atrocities did I commit in a past life to be subject to that torture? (**)
Kicking off the main show, a message from Stephanie McMahon. She references "current circumstances" and says that every Wrestlemania is unique. WWE are here to provide a diversion during these tough times. From there, a very fun pirate-themed opening video package with a Jack Sparrow impersonator taking the piss out of things in a voice-over.
We go to the Performance Centre. Looks EXACTLY the same as it did for Raw and Smackdown, just with Wrestlemania signs everywhere, including a giant one behind the announce table. "Hall of Fame-elect" JBL joins Cole on commentary.
Rob Gronkowski, or Gronk, is the host of WrestleMania. God I hate Gronk. He's the most obnoxious person that's ever lived- but we're supposed to like him and think he's some super cool party boy. His friend Mojo Rawley joins him, and he's not much better. He asks Gronk to chop him for some reason. Ugh. They welcome us to the show. Whatever hype I had, those two morons just took it away. Not really, but damn they're the worst!
Match 1: WWE Women's Tag Team Championship- Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross def. The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka & Kairi Sane) (at 15:05)
Thoughts: This was fun, because all four ladies kept the energy up with both their moves and talking smack to each other, filling the void of deathly silence. Cool spot with Sane breaking up a pinfall with an InSane Elbow, and Bliss doing the same moments later with Twisted Bliss. Nikki Cross had a manic energy throughout and Cole praised it as her best performance in a WWE ring. (**3/4)
Backstage, Kayla Braxton interviews Sami Zayn, who has Cesaro and Nakamura in tow. Zayn is confident about his chances tonight as he prepares to defend the IC title against Daniel Bryan.
Match 2: Elias def. Baron Corbin (at 9:00)
Thoughts: Yeah, this was rough. Felt very much like a standard TV match, with neither guy bringing the fire and intensity you'd want for both their feud and the Wrestlemania stage. Extremely forgettable. (*1/2)
Up next, Becky Lynch vs. Shayna Baszler for the Raw Women's Championship. I am shocked at the card placement. In the guesses I made for the card placement (for my WWE 2K20 stream on twitch.tv/robboentertainment), I had this as the co-main for Night 2.
Match 3: Raw Women's Championship- Becky Lynch def. Shayna Baszler (at 8:30)
Thoughts: Shorter than the previous match, yet both ladies brought it way harder than Elias and Corbin did. Great aggression from both and in a way, the empty arena added to this, being able to hear every solid strike connect- and there were quite a few of them! Ended kinda abruptly though, with Becky using the same roll-up counter that Kairi Sane used to beat Baszler in NXT, reversing the Kirafuda Clutch attempt. Baszler losing in such short order to The Man gives some credibility to the rumours that Vince was not impressed by the Queen of Spades on Raw. This was a good effort though. (***)
WWE Network ad airs. It's about the Undertaker, and features several wrestlers, including legends like Stone Cold and Shawn Michaels, talking about when it's time to hang them up. It's for a docu-series coming called Undertaker- The Last Ride. Oooooh.
Match 4: WWE Intercontinental Championship- Sami Zayn def. Daniel Bryan (at 9:20)
Thoughts: Honestly, I was disappointed by this. I thought it could go one of two ways- Zayn and Bryan unleash their skills and put on an absolute classic, or it becomes real crazy and character-driven, with Gulak, Cesaro and Nakamura getting involved at ringside, making noise and causing chaos. I would have preferred the former, but could see the entertainment value in the latter had they fully committed to it. Unfortunately, we got a pretty half-baked version of the character stuff, with Zayn being a weasel, Bryan dominating when he was able to catch the Great Liberator, then Zayn hitting a mid-air Helluva Kick as the outside shenanigans distracted the GOAT-Faced Killer. Eh. Didn't feel like Mania. (**1/2)
Match 5: Smackdown Tag Team Championship- Triple Threat Ladder Match- John Morrison def. Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso (at 18:30)
Thoughts: This was more like it! All three guys performed like they were in a stadium of thousands, working hard, taking risks and pulling off some impressive spots. John Morrison was the MVP, incorporating ladders into his parkour moves, including doing a corner to corner rope walk before hitting a Spanish Fly! I realise this was pre-taped and that move might have taken more than one take, but I don't care, it was still awesome. Jimmy Uso took a bump off a ladder to the outside that definitely involved some post-production trickery. I don't begrudge it at all, it's smart for them to use the tools at their disposal during this unique time to limit risk and injury. All three guys went balls to the wall, and Morrison seemed especially motivated, claiming the tag belts for his partner Miz, forced off Mania due to illness (not necessarily corona, just a precautionary measure). But this was tons of fun, kudos to all three men. (***1/2)
Match 6: Kevin Owens def. Seth Rollins (at 17:20)
Thoughts: Again, these guys battled with the intensity befitting Mania. Really enjoyed this, Rollins played up his Monday Night Messiah character hilariously, coming out in a Jesus-esque all white outfit with a shit-eating grin on his face. Both men talked copious amounts of trash to each other and did some really high-impact stuff, including a Falcon Arrow by Rollins on KO that had to hurt. Ever the smarmy bastard, Rollins ends up hitting Owens with the ring bell, causing a DQ, and right as I'm about to rage about it on Twitter... Owens gets on the mic and goads the Messiah into coming back and restarting the match as a No DQ affair. In short order, they battle towards the announce table- remember that big Wrestlemania sign I mentioned behind the announce table? Yeah, so Kevin Owens CLIMBS IT, the crazy motherfucker, and hits a massive Senton, driving Rollins through the announce table! That was a Wrestlemania Moment (TM). They get back to the ring, and a wheezing Rollins begs off- nope, Stunner and it's over. That was awesome. (***3/4)
Gronk and Mojo continue to be the world's biggest douches. R-Truth shows up and Gronk tries to pin him for the 24/7 title. Mojo stops him and gets the pin himself! Oh joy. Mojo says to Gronk, "Come and get it, playboy!" in the most homo-erotic statement on WWE television since "I want a piece of Mike Tyson's ass."
Backstage, a Paul Heyman promo. It's good, what do you expect? He promises that Brock will victimise Drew McIntyre tomorrow at WrestleMania.
Match 7: WWE Universal Championship- Braun Strowman def. Goldberg (at 2:10)
Thoughts: This was terrible. And bad. And terribad. Goldberg looked like he couldn't be fucked being there, or maybe he's just getting too old for this shit. He hit 4 weak, slow looking Spears, sets up for the Jackhammer (yeah fucking right) and Braun reverses into a powerslam. Add two more. That's it. That's the match. Goldberg just doesn't have it in him anymore, and that's coming from someone who loved Goldberg back in the day. I even loved his Wrestlemania 33 clash with Brock Lesnar, but it seems clear he can't do anything like that anymore. As for Braun, I was shocked he won, because, well he was a late replacement for Roman Reigns and he lost to Sami Zayn a month ago. My guess is that WWE didn't want to pay Big Bill big bills to come back at another date to have the match with Reigns, so the Monster Among Men is keeping the belt warm until the world goes back to normal and Roman comes back. But yeah, this was the shits. (1/2*)
Match 8: Boneyard Match- Undertaker def. AJ Styles (at 19:00)
Thoughts: HOLY SHIT. This was amazing. The perfect main event given the circumstances. I haven't seen a whole lot of the cinematic style of wrestling, which is how this was produced, like if a wrestling match was a movie. I've seen bits of pieces of Lucha Underground- which I thought was pretty cool- and Matt Hardy's "Broken" stuff, which to me was occasionally cool and occasionally cringey. But what I loved most about this spectacle- because that's what it was- is that it hid Taker's limitations and made him look like a badass. Undertaker's one of my all-time favourites, so any time he can look good in a match, I'm here for it. This was just really well-produced, from the entrances, where AJ came in a coffin in a hearse, and then Metallica blaring and THE AMERICAN BADASS TAKER roaring down the road on his motorbike. I loved Biker Taker so much, and this was the perfect way to bring him back given the shoot nature of the feud, with AJ using Taker's real name and taking shots at his wife (Michelle McCool). The OC got involved, there were druids, fire, graves (not Corey) and endless amounts of trash-talk. So much fun. And while it was on, I totally forgot about the empty arenas, the virus, all the shit happening in the world... and just enjoyed one of my all-time favourites kicking ass again. (*****)
WrestleMania in these current times was an ambitious undertaking. Was it successful? Yes and no. Some highs, some lows, but all in all it was an escape from reality for a little while and that's why I watch wrestling. That's why I love wrestling. Highlights were the ladder match, Owens vs. Rollins and of course the absolute epic Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles, but honestly I'm grateful to everyone on the card for going to work in an attempt to entertain us. A solid show with an amazing finish, setting the stage well for Part 2 the following night.
Overall Score: 6.5/10
Until next time, take care,